AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, I just found half of this chapter hidden in the deep recesses of my hard drive and got motivated to do a little work on this. Tentatively, I'd like to start re-updating and moving forward but I would also like to start going back and revising some of the previous chapters, since I first started writing this when I was fifteen/sixteen and bits of it just make me cringe. I will get us to an easier resting place, at least. I apologize for letting this languish so long.
Down, down, down. How many times had Harry taken this same exact path? Down the shifting staircases to the Great Hall, a sharp left down the more solid stone stairway, down three corridors and a right, straight to Snape's rooms. Too many times to count. It got him there, the same as always, if a bit faster. Harry couldn't remember a portion of the journey, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was getting to Snape. Asking Snape. Seeing Snape.
Harry pounded on the door. He never pounded on the door, normally knocked, polite, quiet knocking, but he was beyond knocking. He was pounding because he felt pounding, pounding like the blood in his ears, like his heart in his chest, like the voice in his head that was saying things he didn't want to hear.
He pounded louder as if to drown it out, but he could hear it clearly no matter what he did. He told himself, desperately, that it was wrong. Snape wanted him. He had told Black, just last night, that Snape could care, Snape did care, Snape cared about him. That was better than anything in the world, Snape caring. It meant more to him than going somewhere else over the summer. He didn't even care if he had to go back to the Dursley's, as long as Snape told him he still wanted him. He'd go back gladly, stay in the cupboard, let Uncle Vernon do his worst, and feel fine because he knew that Snape cared, that Snape would ask him questions and feed him potions and worry about him.
He increased his pounding. Snape would come. He had to. He couldn't leave Harry, not like this, not now.
Snape would come.
Severus Snape had never felt worse. How many times had he stood, in that same position, staring into the fire, telling himself that, even though things were terrible, they could never get worse? How many times had he been proved wrong? Too many times to count. But now, this time, he knew that he was terribly, awfully right. Nothing could feel worse than this moment, looking into the fire, knowing that he had lost everything that was left to lose.
In school, he had hated Potter for many reasons. Potter, Black, that whole little gang-hated them not only because of what they did to Snape, but who they were. What they had. They had everything Snape didn't-money, Evans, families that cared-oh, part of the reason he had so loathed Black was that he threw his whole family away. That perfect pureblooded family, he just tossed them aside. They had friends, and they had made it their mission that all the things that made their lives liveable, bearable, all the things that made life good, they would keep them and hog them and not let anyone else have them. Especially not Snivellus. The only thing he could get his hands on, that they didn't snatch up first, was the Dark Lord, and he went so willingly, so relieved that there was at least one thing they hadn't stolen from him, one thing that was his. Oh, yes, that wasn't all of it, he had a million reasons, but that was one. To have something, for once, something Potter could never take away from him...When the Potters died, when Black had been imprisoned, when Lupin had turned ragged and unemployed and alone, so alone without that gang, Severus had been content in the fact that, at least now, they could take nothing else for him. He had Albus, now, he had Hogwarts. He had life, while all they had was death and suffering. It had felt like maybe, maybe some good would come of this.
And now all that good had been undone, and Black was back in his same damned position, taking everything. Taking Harry. Taking it all away and Snape almost screamed, right there, almost wailed and keened and let out the tumult of emotion that was lodged in his chest.
A noise worked it's way into his head. Pounding. Someone was beating on the door to his private rooms. Not a professor-they would simply firecall him. Albus had a terrible habit of Flooing directly into his rooms, which he hated. And even if they approached by the door, they would knock. The students didn't even know where this room was, save Harry.
He walked closer to the door. He was aware, faintly, of a trembling in his hands, a desperation. He put one of them up against the door, gently. He could feel the door shake under the force of Harry's hands. He put his other hand up to the door, and closed his eyes. His head dropped, and he pressed his hands into the door as hard as he could. He would allow himself this. He would let himself have this chance to be close to Harry.
Just for one last time.
After a half an hour, Harry stopped pounding. Snape must not be there, he realized. Even if Snape was angry with him and not speaking to him, he wouldn't have let anyone make such an awful noise on his door for so long without throwing it open and letting forth the most blistering telling off. So, if Snape wasn't in, he would wait. He'd wait until the train left, if he had too, if it meant he could talk to Snape and straighten it all out.
He settled himself across the hallway, leaning against the wall, and watched the door. Snape would have to come eventually. He had to.
As the hours passed, his spirits sank lower and lower, and he felt himself drooping against the wall, until he was sitting on the cold stone of the hallway. He pulled his knees to his chest and ducked his head down. He could hear his breath when he did that, and he took deep, even breaths. It was then, listening to his breath, he heard the first noise he had heard in hours-shoes. Clicking on the stone floor. An adult's gait-and he scrambled up, tugged at his robes, tried to look respectable. He looked towards the end of the hallway hopefully, but felt his whole spirit drop as not Snape, but Sirius Black came walking down the hall.
Sirius felt strange. Remus had resized some of his things, but Remus never had been much good at housekeeping charms, and so the frayed pants were too short and too wide-he needed braces to hold them up, even though he'd always been the tallest of his friends. Remus had leant him a pair of shoes, as well, and they felt so strange, made such neat, precise sounds against the stone, that he felt himself looking behind him for the professor who was tailing him. When he turned the corner and saw Harry, he looked so much like James that he lost his breath for a second. The boy was ruffling his hair like James did when he was in trouble, trying to make it tidy, and for a moment everything he had lost swelled up in his chest and he couldn't say anything. The boy was looking at him with Lily's eyes.
He cleared his throat. "Er-hello." His voice sounded hoarse, and he cleared his throat again. "Fancy meeting you here."
The boy gave him a blank look, then nodded. "Evening. Sir."
"Oh-don't call me sir. Makes me look over my shoulder for the grown up. I'm just Sirius." An awkward pause. "I'm looking for Snape's rooms, but I think I must have gotten turned around."
The boy's eyes shifted suddenly, going from the door in front of him he'd been watching to Sirius' face. He studied him for a moment.
"He's not in."
"Ah. S'pose he's busy-end of term and all that." Sirius looked pleased, and turned to head back to the main level. He noticed Harry wasn't following and looked back. "Waiting for him as well, are you?"
Harry nodded jerkily.
Sirius made a choice. "Mind if I wait with you?"
Harry looked at him, then shrugged. Sirius took that for a yes and sat down on the floor-he felt so tired, back in Hogwarts. It was as if he'd been running on adrenaline and vengeance for months and now he was out of fuel. His knees cracked as he went down-he winced, remembering he wasn't a student anymore, he couldn't just plop down wherever he pleased. He patted the stone floor next to him, looking up at Harry, and Harry hesitantly sat next to him. He started tracing the seam on the edge of his robes, not looking at Sirius.
"You all right? After last night, I mean?"
"Looking forward to the end of the school year?"
Harry shrugged. Sirius kept talking. He was almost babbling-he looked desperate, to Harry, like he had in the shack when he tried to speak and could only come up with bits of words. The rest with Professor Lupin had done him good-he was talking in full sentences now, almost manically.
"I never did. Oh, the end of classes, I looked forward to that well enough, but I hated leaving my friends for the summer. Especially your dad." The boys ears pricked a little at that. "My family-well, they didn't approve of my relationship with James, really. They used to check all of the owls coming in to the house to see if the were from him-they thought he was a bad influence. We had this mirrors, you know-they were enchanted so we could speak over distances. Used to be a big thing, dunno if it is anymore. Like Muggle walkie talkies, you know? Well, we'd take the mirrors and we'd go out on the roof-well, I'd climb out my window and sit near the chimney, only place my parents couldn't listen in, and he'd sit on his porch, you know, and we'd do our Astronomy summer homework."
Harry shot him an incredulous look, very briefly, but Sirius seized it, just that little look that wasn't blank, and he ran with it. He let out a short, loud laugh. "Well, yeah, we'd chat a bit first, talk about the upcoming year, our plans for it. Your dad-I don't know if I would have made it through the summers without your dad." He swallowed, suddenly, and pressed at his eyes.
Harry was watching him and his heart gave a little twinge. He was used to missing his parents-he had gone without them for twelve years. He had always known they were gone, really, even though he had sometimes pretended differently. Black-it was as if he still couldn't believe it, he still didn't completely understand that those times were gone. That they weren't coming back. Harry looked at the floor and offered up something.
"I-I like Hogwarts. I hate leaving." He thought about last summer, Snape picking him up, the look on the Dursley's faces...
"Miss your friends, do you? Do you see them much, over the summer?"
He shrugged again. Sirius tried again. "You could see them this summer, if you want. Much as you like. I-I have a property, you know, in London, but I hate the place. Think I'll sell it, buy someplace new-we could move anywhere you want. And, you know, your friends-I like them. That Hermione, she's a pistol, isn't she? Very sharp. That Neville, as well, but I suppose you wouldn't guess it at first. Lot like his mum, in that way. People always wrote Alice off, you know, just a pretty face, though she wasn't much smart, just a good housewife, but she could hold her own just as well as Frank. I suppose he lives with Augusta, then? We'd-once I'm cleared, if it's all right with their parents, when we find our new place, we can-we can have them over, if you want. We could go see some Quidditch-do you follow Quidditch much? Suppose my knowledge is about twelve years out of date, but I love a good match. We could take your friends to a match, if you want. Or, or just to the house, if you just wanted to hang out, that would be fine too."
Harry bit his lip as hard as he could and looked yearningly up the hallway, hoping Snape would turn the corner. This was terrible, hearing Sirius talk about their summer. He sounded-well, he sounded nice. He didn't sound crazy, not as much, and he didn't sound like a murderer, or the Dudley-esque bully he'd built up in his mind thinking about what he had done to Snape in the Shack. He sounded desperate for Harry to like him. He wanted to take Harry away from the Dursleys. He wanted to make Harry happy. Surely that meant something?
Harry knew it did. After the Dursleys, who seemed to be of the opinion that if Harry had anything to smile about, they weren't raising him right, he knew that someone who wanted to do best by you was worth a lot. Almost everything. He should be grateful. He should be pleased. This was something out of his most wild pretends from childhood, coming true, and all he felt was heavy, like his chest was weighed down. He had let himself hope for something real, that was his problem. He had let himself dream about that mirror and Snape for almost three years, and he'd broken one of his own rules, not to really want anything, and it was his own damn fault.
He jumped. Black had put a hand on his knee and was looking at him with concern. THe hand on his knee was shaking, slightly.
"What's wrong? Do you-I suppose you want to-you don't have to come live with me, you know. Twelve years-I'm sure you want to stay-I don't want to take you away from your family. Did you have-plans? For the summer, I mean?"
Harry closed his eyes and let his head lean back towards the wall and swallowed.
"I-I was going to go to the Dursleys. But just for a week. Then I was supposed to go to stay with Professor Snape."
Black's eyes widened. "What-really? With him? Why?"
"Last year he gave me Potions lessons. He says I'm a natural." Sirius looked too shocked to speak. "He said-this year, he said he'd come get me sooner. I'd only have to spend a week there."
"Don't you like it there?"
Harry shook his head once, a sharp jerk. "I hate it." He listened to himself for a moment-had he ever said it like that? Straight out loud, just saying exactly what he felt? Not even to Snape, he thought, had he been this blunt. The thought of Snape made his chest twinge a bit. "They hate me. They hate magic, and they hate stupid kids that aren't even really family, and they never wanted me, and they never wanted me to go to Hogwarts, either, even if it meant I'd be out of their hair. They-they tried to get rid of me, for good, I mean, they tried to lose me, and Snape found me, and I like being with him here or at Spinner's End or anywhere as long as I'm not on Privet Drive. It's not-this summer was meant to be different." He gripped his leg, trying to distract himself from the feeling in his chest and throat.
"He doesn't want me to come anymore. It's-" He looked at Sirius, who was looking a mix between confused and angry. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"
Sirius interrupted him. "What do you mean, he doesn't want you to come anymore? Rotten bastard! Why'd he promise you he'd do something for you and back out? Typical Snivellus-"
"Don't call him that!" Harry got angry and he glared at Black. "It's not anything like that, it's not because of him, or he wouldn't have offered in the first place! He wouldn't have done it last year, if it was about him! It's-I don't know, I did something, maybe I shouldn't have gone to the Shack last night, he gets mad when I get in danger like that-after the Chamber and the Stone and last Christmas and all that, he always gets upset-but you leave him alone! He's not-he's better than you because he's been here, the whole time, he-he looked out for me, don't you understand? No one had to, ever, no one has but him, and it's-I just, I don't know what I did, that's all. If I knew, I could-I wouldn't do it again, and maybe he'd take me-or at least, you know, talk to me. But it's not his fault, any of it, and you've got no right to call him that, not everything. So don't!"
Sirius looked t Harry, wide eyed, and then he nodded, quickly. "He-you really like him, huh, Harry?"
Harry looked at his shoes and shrugged.
"Is that why you're waiting, then? To talk to Snape?"
Harry gave a tiny nod. Sirius looked at him, and put a hand on his untidy hair. He stayed there for a second, then, using Harry as leverage, stood up.
"Wh-what are you doing?"
Sirius started to bang on the door. "Open up, then, Snape! I want to have a word with you!"
Harry looked aghast and stood up as well. He grabbed Black's arm, trying the wrench it away from the door, where he was banging. "No, don't! Stop, you'll make him mad! Don't-"
The door opened to reveal a Severus Snape with two red spots on his cheeks and a strong glare on his face that turned into a stony look when he saw Harry. Harry cringed. Black caught Snape's gaze and sneered.
"Well, then, Snape, let us in. Not polite to leave guests on your doorstep, you know."
Harry gave Black a look, then snuck a peek at Snape.
Severus was struggling between slamming the door in Black's face and slamming the door on Black's face. Repeatedly. It was only the sight of Harry, holding on to Black's arm, giving him a reproving look, that made him falter.
"Come to show off your newest acquisition, Black? I must say, I'm a little too busy to-" He started to close the door, but Black shoved his foot in and pushed the door open, dragging Harry into the room with him.
"We need to talk, Snape. Now."