Summary: Severus has debts to pay, headmasters to kill, and various Potters to hate. And on top of all of this, he is as illogical as ever.
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns it, and I have fun playing around with it to kill time waiting for Book 7.
Severus had always understood why he hated Potter. It was something of a tradition, after all, what with Potter Number One and his arrogance (not to mention the damn werewolf, the dog that almost got him killed by the damn werewolf, and the stupid rat who stood by and laughed as the dog almost got him killed by the damn werewolf). Severus had sworn from about sixth year on that if he ever had the utter and complete misfortune to meet the demon spawn any of the Marauders produced, he would hate those beastlings with as much passion as he hated their parents. It wasn't a rational or fair thought, but Severus had never been one to pay much mind to his conscience (for a time, he was almost positive he didn't possess one).
And so Severus Snape had become a teacher. He had never intended to have to bother himself with brats ever again, but he owed Dumbledore a favor, and sometimes beggars couldn't be choosers. He'd been sure he was in line for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position—but Dumbledore had refused, and Severus had seethed. Potions? Why the bloody hell would he want to teach that? This was again illogical; Severus had excelled at Potions in school, gotten top marks in every class on the subject he'd ever taken, aced the O.W.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, but he'd never loved it the way he'd loved dark things.
Indeed, hadn't a good half of the margins in his Potions book been filled with spells--clever, imaginative spells that worked? Muffliato, for example, had proved to be excellent for keeping enemy spies from discovering plans. Why, if Dumbledore himself had been using it that night with the seer in the pub…well, Severus would've been in a lot less trouble, that was for sure. And he'd certainly never intended Levicorpus for the use the Death Eaters put it up to; Severus didn't care much for dirty blood, but nobody could say that he'd harmed a person just because of that. Well, not when he hadn't been under orders, at least.
And so he had felt disgusted with the old headmaster, angry, furious even, that while he was obviously the best choice for the job, obviously a complete shoo-in, he was instead stuck with Potions, stuck with the job that no right thinking teacher really wanted—dungeons were gloomy, cold, unpleasant. Dungeons were meant for prisoners, something Severus had sworn he would never be again. And perhaps because of this, Severus blamed Potter (James, not Harry) for the loss of yet another thing he wanted.
Again, this theoretically made no sense, but Severus had his reasons. Bloody hell, he always had reasons. Perhaps, Severus brooded darkly, Dumbledore thought him weak. Weak! Severus had never been weak, for all the times he'd appeared it. No, Severus had never asked for anyone's help, never wanted it. Weak people were like…like Pettigrew. People who needed others victories and talents to make them powerful, people who cared too much about themselves and not enough about the rest of the world. And somehow, it was not Pettigrew who looked the coward during his schooldays--well, perhaps not too much of the coward. It was instead Severus Snape who was outcast and loathed, who was tormented and pushed to what was well beyond his limits. It was Severus Snape who appeared to the entire school, including the faculty…weak. And it was Potter's fault, at that.
If only Potter and Black and Lupin had smelled the rat, if only they'd seen Pettigrew to be the pathetic one, him to be the traitor…
If there was one thing Severus could never forgive them for, it was that. He may have been Slytherin (what in the name of Merlin was so wrong with that, Severus would never know), he may have been greasy, he may have been foul tempered, and his robes were probably more often than not more uncared for than Lupin's—but he had never betrayed them, had never made an orphan of their children, had never sold them to the Dark Lord for power. The Potter brat could believe what he liked, but it had not been Severus who had virtually given the Dark Lord the key to that house in Godric's Hollow.
That is why it had made sense, to Severus at least, that the moment the Boy Who Lived set foot into Hogwarts, Severus had hated him with more passion than he had ever hated Harry's father. Potter was simultaneously exactly like his father and then the complete opposite. Yes, he was brilliant at that damned Quidditch, and yes, he looked exactly like James had (except for Lily's eyes; Severus thought that was perhaps the one part of the boy not to be loathed), and yes, the entire wizarding world worshipped at his feet. Precious Potter. Precious, precocious little Potter, always catching Snitches, breaking just about every single rule in Hogwarts history and yet still managing to be generally well-liked by all, and saving the bloody world.
But Severus knew about how different the boy was from James, too. The brat didn't know that, but Severus wasn't stupid. He saw how Potter never tormented students just for the fun of it. He saw the seriousness about him that James had never had, the sincerity. He saw how Potter struggled to stay out of the limelight, how he had never once asked for any of the attention the world seemed determined to give him. Severus saw all this, and yet, he could not stop hating him. He could not stop wanting Potter to fail.
Potter was a menace; he knew that right from the start. So what if he'd saved the world a few bloody times—didn't people ever notice how many damn rules he broke? Didn't they see that his heroism thrived not on himself, but on luck (How many times had Dumbledore been there to save him? How many times had the boy been virtually handed exactly the right thing at exactly the right time?). That was not talent, Severus thought bitterly, that was a knack for attracting trouble and somehow surviving it.
Just because Severus didn't like the Boy Who Lived to Be a Pain in the Arse didn't mean he wanted him dead, however. Take first year, for example—good job Severus was paying attention when that backstabbing traitor Quirrell tried to make the eleven-year-old fall a good thousand or so feet. Lucky for Harry that Severus was there when Black could have killed him. Well, yes, ok, he'd made a mess of that one, but his intentions had, for once, been well-meant. This also would have been unfounded to most, Severus' strange need for Potter to survive. But that was the thing, you see. Severus had a debt to pay.
While Pettigrew was laughing at Black almost getting him killed, James Potter was busy saving Severus. Damn it, that plagued Severus to this very day—James hurdling down the passage in the tree, arguing with him and cursing, screaming, "For the sake of bloody Merlin, you greasy haired git, I will not let you get yourself killed! Don't do this to Remus, don't do it!" Of course, Severus hadn't paid James much mind; he'd been all too eager to catch Lupin at what he was up to, and he almost had. He'd seen the werewolf, and James had cursed even more furiously and virtually dragged Severus away, far away to safety. Severus could still hear the anguished, furious howling of that…that monster, could still see the torment and rage and hate and bloodlust in its eyes. Even after Dumbledore made him swear to never say a word, he never quite forgave quiet, bookish, mysterious Lupin for having such a hideous secret. He never forgave him for having that horrible secret, and still managing to fit in with the Marauders…still managing to have friends.
And he never forgave James, either. When Severus looked back on it, his mind always jumped to the last part of what his archenemy had so furiously yelled. Don't do this to Remus, don't do it! If James hadn't been worried about Severus exposing Lupin for what he was, if he hadn't been so damned concerned about the guilt one of his friends would suffer for the murder of an (almost) innocent student, would he have gone down that tunnel after Severus? Severus was inclined to believe that he wouldn't have, and now he owed James, and he owed him his life. This very thoroughly pissed Severus off, that he should have to pay James Potter of all people back somehow, because while he had somewhat questionable morals, he was a man of honor and principle, and by no means in hell was he going to have a debt to James bloody Potter hanging over his head.
He couldn't have saved James, and it nagged at him that he should have, if not to only be able to throw it back in the prat's face for years on end saying, "Now I've saved you. Who's brave now?" So what was a debt-owing Potions professor to do? Save the life of the prat's kid, that's what. He had thought that after the Quirrell Fiasco, his debt had been paid, that he could at last sleep more easily at night. But for the love of Merlin, the Boy Who Lived just kept almost getting himself killed, and Severus kept saving him. He had a strange sort of idea that when he died, he would look up James Potter and tell him, "You saved me once. I saved your kid fifty thousand times. Who's the pathetic one now? Come on, Potter, let's hear it."
So Severus Snape's strange, passionate hate of Harry Potter thrived for four and a half glorious years. Severus saved the boy, then he tortured him. He took points away, graded homework unfairly, taunted him in front of his friends, in front of his class. He made Potter hate him as much as his father had, more so even. And for a time, he felt he had succeeded in a perverse kind of way. And then came the bloody Occlumency lessons.
Severus had assured Dumbledore that Potter would be hopeless at them. The boy had never been able to hide his emotions, had always worn his heart very loudly on his sleeve, and now was not the time to be teaching him to lock his thoughts. He felt far too much. When he loved or hated or was bitter or scared, he felt them with all of him. Potter was emotional, not pragmatic, and Severus had insisted that there had to be another way. Dumbledore did not share this opinion, and suggested that Severus at least try. Severus could have howled with laughter. Teaching that hard-headed Gryffindor anything that was practical was as useless as asking the Dark Lord to play nice with the Muggles. It just wasn't going to happen.
And Severus proved to be quite correct. Potter was an emotional rollercoaster, skyrocketing from intense hate to self-pity to fear in the space of about two seconds. The lessons were a mess from the beginning (the mutual hate between teacher and student didn't help matters), and at first, Severus had even more inclination to mock and taunt and torture his unwilling pupil. And then, one day, while he was browsing idly through Potter's thoughts after the boy failed yet again to lock his emotions, he came across a startling image—a dog chasing an eight-year-old Potter up a tree. An absurdly large woman laughing her head off as the boy covered his ears and buried his face in his knees, looking miserable and scared. Potter being shut into a tiny closet, an ugly woman screeching at him as he bowed his head in shame.
This jolted Severus, and it shouldn't have. He had known Potter's upbringing hadn't been exactly idyllic, but for some reason it had never occurred to him that he hadn't been happy, hadn't always been treated as he was now. He'd always imagined Potter with the entire world worshipping at his feet, confident and brave and never, ever resigned. But the boy Severus saw was not a confident or brave or worshipped boy. He was small and terrified, forever in somebody's shadow or mistreated. He was so much like Severus had been, it scared him.
Severus' father had been brutal, the lurking, murderous presence who called his own son scum of the earth. If Potter hadn't been able to escape from that house of his wretched childhood, if Potter hadn't been able to come to Hogwarts and see the world didn't have to be that way, would he have turned out to be the same as Severus? Bitter, cold, sarcastic, and seemingly unfeeling? It made Severus shudder just to think of the now so-called Chosen One ending up like him, not pleased as it once might have.
And that is how Severus Snape came to stop hating Harry Potter. He did not like the boy, not by a long shot, but he felt that perhaps now he could understand him a bit. Potter's sixth year was a strange one; Severus was bound by oath to protect the Malfoy boy and he spent less and less time making Potter's life miserable—until he found out about his Potions book. He had been incredibly suspicious when the fat oaf, Slughorn, had mentioned what a remarkable knack Potter had for Potions.
"He must get it from his mother!" Slughorn had cried.
But Potter had never shown any special talent for brewing, Severus had thought, narrowing his eyes at the nervous looking student in question. He had never done better than average in class. If he'd taken after Lily, it had certainly taken him a long time to show it. Severus wrote it off at the time, however; perhaps Slughorn was just trying to get on Potter's good side, he'd always had that thing about having connections. But everything changed when Moaning Myrtle's terrified screams had led Severus to an abandoned girls' toilet, where Draco Malfoy was lying in a pool of his own blood and Harry Potter was kneeling beside him, horrified and stunned.
Severus had not ever been slow, and it took him less than three seconds to recognize his own spell. He demanded to see Potter's Potion book as soon as he'd seen to Malfoy, and yet somehow the little monster had evaded even that, bringing forth a text that bore the name Roonil Wazlib. Roonil Wazlib indeed! Potter had his old text book, Severus was sure of it. He could have cursed himself for losing it midway through seventh year. How had it turned up now? Still, though, it did not bother Severus unduly. He had scheming Slytherins to be attending to, Dark Lords to be tricking. He did not have time for Potter anymore.
Then came the night he killed Dumbledore. He felt sick even as he performed the spell, cold and horrified that the elaborate plan he and the headmaster had created had to be acted upon. He wouldn't have been able to do it had not Dumbledore been saying, Severus, please…with a look in his eye that meant, Do this, Severus Snape, and you will do what is right. You will make me proud. Dumbledore's trust and respect of him had mattered the most at that moment, it had mattered just as much as doing the right thing, and so Severus had done the unthinkable. He had killed the one man who had been more of a father to him than anybody else—who had been more of a father to countless people than anybody else.
And he could see—could feel—Potter's intense hatred of him skyrocket, could practically feel the murderous waves of agony and pain and loathing flowing off the boy, where ever he had been. That fact alone made Severus ashamed of himself, for reasons he could not quite understand. Then it took him ages to get Draco away from the others, to calm the boy down and tell him that he was going to be safe, that he didn't have to worry about the Dark Lord anymore. That he had a place to hide. It took longer to fight past Minerva, who still did not know about Dumbledore's death and was pleading, "Severus, Severus, help us! Help us!" The agony and confusion rolling off the normally stern, strong witch was nearly enough to make Severus stop and fight and prove that he was good.
But the Unbreakable Vow would not allow it, and Severus needed to live.
He raced past Minerva, dodged spells, guided Draco, and then they were almost out. Trust Potter, of course, to try to ruin it. Each spell he shot at Severus riled him up more and more, each untruth the boy spluttered at him made the Potions-cum-Defense professor seethe with bottled up fury. He deflected his spells so that Potter wouldn't follow and most certainly be killed by the Death Eater guards that Severus and Draco could easily avoid, but his temper was kept just barely in check. And then the boy called him coward, called him coward in the same tone James had used countless times so many years ago, with the same level of disgust and vehemence, though Harry's voice was more amplified with betrayal and fevered rage and incredulity. And Severus snapped. He had just killed the only person who had ever given him a second chance, the bloody hardest thing he had ever done, and he had done it to save not only Draco, but yet again, Potter himself. But it was not enough for the world, nothing was ever enough; stillhe was loathed, still he was called evil and weak. He had bellowed at Potter not to call him coward, and cursed the boy, and then he had revealed what he had sworn he wouldn't—that he was the Half-Blood prince. As he had known it would, this shocked Potter, and he was able to force Draco ahead, and escape.
It took many months for the boy to find him, and at first Severus half expected that Potter would kill him on the spot. Providentially, Potter seemed too tired to even seek revenge. He just sighed when he found Severus—no shouting or raging or Unforgivable Curses.
"You," the boy had half sighed. "Well, I suppose you've got some explaining to do." This had surprised Severus, who thought at the very least he would have to convince Potter he was innocent.
"You have decided I'm not an evil bastard, then?" Severus wanted to know, smirking characteristically.
"No," Potter said at once. "I didn't say that. It's just…well, Merlin, Hermione's always been so clever and 99.9 percent of the time she's dead right." He leveled Severus with a steady glare. "She doesn't think you're evil. She never did, and she's never been wrong about that so far. So Snape, Goddammit, tell me the truth: did you kill Professor Dumbledore because you were working for the Dark Lord, or did you kill him for the greater good, like Hermione keeps insisting?"
"Miss Granger always was too clever for her own good," Severus drawled. "Most fortunate that you pay her mind, Potter." The seventeen-year-old's eyes narrowed.
"Don't play games with me, Snape!" he snapped, brandishing his wand, and for a moment, Severus could see the real Potter again, the willful, foolishly brave moron with a horrid temper. "You're either good or you're evil! Just tell me, and then we can either talk about working together or we can have a duel and try to kill each other. Out with it!"
"You're quite wrong, Potter," Severus informed him. "I am not 'either good or evil,' as you so eloquently put it. There is more than mere black and white, boy. I am not 'good' as you put it, I never have been, as you are well aware of." Potter's grip tightened on the wand. "But I am not 'evil', either, Potter. There is far more to it than that—and even that answer is simple. I am human. I have made some horrible mistakes, and I have redeemed myself by being truly sorry for them. I have been unfair and needlessly cruel to you, and yet I have saved your life. I am neither saint nor demon, but man—and I am not a coward." It was now Severus' turn to stare steadily at Potter, to make him squirm under his gaze.
"I did not kill Albus because I wished him dead," Severus now said softly. "I killed him because it was what he wanted. It was the right thing, boy, and you must understand that. If I had not killed him, I myself would have broken a very serious vow. You, the only one who can truly defeat the Dark Lord, would have died because I would not have been able to divert Death Eater attention from you. Draco Malfoy would also have died, and Albus saw so much potential in him. So much potential for greatness. I spend many a sleepless night wondering if I have, in fact, done the right thing, and for the love of God, Potter, I hope I have. I hope I have."
Severus had watched Potter the entire time he was talking, and he had seen the boy look stunned and sad and angry and enlightened almost simultaneously. He had expected a few things—perhaps a furious tirade about not being told what was going on, maybe an acknowledgement that Severus was not to be hated, perhaps a bit of apologizing, even. He did not expect for Potter to do what he did, which was to break down sobbing. Severus had thought a lot of things about Potter, but he had never thought that this boy ever cried.
It was yet again completley unreasonable to believe this, but to him Harry Potter had always seemed…well, he had always seemed invincible and brave, even as he had seemed cocky or easy to read. He had never seemed like the type of person who ever allowed himself tears, and perhaps, Severus realized with a start, he wasn't. He considered the pressures this teenager had to endure, the weight of an entire world crushing him to save the day, to defeat the most evil wizard of all time, and at the same time to protect the people he loved and survive everything himself. For Merlin's sake, the boy had had this heaped on him since age eleven, and it had only gotten worse every year.
"Damn…" Potter swore in a choked voice. "I—Snape—" He attempted to straighten up, to stop his exhausted weeping. "I…I've…tried, I really have, you know. I hope that Dumbledore would be happy, I hope that he would want us to work together and fight evil. I don't know what to do, Snape, I just…I'm not sure Hermione, Ron, and I can do this alone, even with the help of the Order. Snape—sir—we need you. I'm still not so sure whether I trust you…even remotely like you…but Dumbledore wanted you to live for a reason, didn't he?" As much as Severus was amazed by the boy's immediate acceptance of what he had said, he thought perhaps it was not so surprising. What reason would Severus have to lie; truth be told, if he were working for the other side, he could've killed Potter the moment he walked in. And perhaps somewhere in the back of his mind, Potter had known it all along. But now was not the time for Severus to be glad that a person other than Dumbledore had at last recognized some good in him, some usefulness.
"Potter," Snape said sharply, "stop it."
"What?" Potter was confused, his face still red with emotion.
"You head me," Snape said coolly. "Listen, Potter, I don't much like you either. You're far too much like your father for my taste, as I believe I've made clear. But listen to me: you are the most burdened teenager in both the wizarding and Muggle world, and I swear to Merlin, if you don't stop trying to hold back those long overdue tears, I'll take at least fifty points away from Gryffindor." It was a stupid thing to say, but it had the desired effect. Potter broke down sobbing again, as though in shock at first, sitting on the ground and burying his face into his hands, shoulders shaking.
Severus did not move to comfort him; the boy did not need that. He stood and silently watched as Harry Potter wept for the girl he loved, his two best friends, the headmaster he had idolized, the fate of the world he treasured, the loss of everything he'd once known, the reality that if he didn't kill Voldemort, nobody could. Severus saw all this, and he saw something more. He saw a teenage boy at last, one who felt and loved and hated and was brave and sometimes foolish, but often strong—everything that Severus had ever wanted to be.
It was illogical, it really was, but as the boy Severus Snape had for so long loathed wept for the first time in years, Severus had never respected anyone more.
This all developed from an idea I had about how Snape might come to respect Harry instead of hate him. This is probably more of a character sketch than anything, because I spent a great deal of the two hours I wrote the story pondering Snape's character and things that might explain why he became the way he is. I didn't want to go into a complicated plot with a plan involving Dumbledore and death and blahblah, so which is why this is short and fairly simple and also why I didn't elaborate too much on where Snape might be or anything. Ok, so wow, this author's note is probably boring the heck out of you, so before you give up all hope on me, please read and review! It would be greatly appreciated.