Destined to Repeat It by Bonehammer
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
8. Learning to Fly - 1
"Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!
WICKED, Defying Gravity
The morning after the welcome party was a study in human misery - with a practical application. Harry's head pounded like an abscessed tooth, all his muscles felt too short for his bones, and his breath would stun a Nundu. Served him right for accepting all those Butterbeers – but Harry had been too caught in the high of elation. Their ordeal had come to an end. They were no longer pariah, they had been accepted into the House. If it wasn't for him…
A cold shiver ran along his back as the penny dropped.
It wasn't for him.
He had been the first to acknowledge the problem but he had not been the one to come up with the solution. In fact, he had not (oh, the unintended pun).
It had been thanks to Nott if the first years had had a plan at all, even if Harry had been the one perfecting it. It did not matter that the very thought gave him shivers... following a plan from Nott. Once, he would have sooner stuck his head into a Chimera mouth.
So the Slytherin boys must have teamed up against the seniors in Harry's past, too. But then they had split up again. There had never been (Merlin forbid) a Gang of Five juxtaposed to the Golden Trio: it had always been Draco swanning around with his minions, while the rest of the House watched from the sidelines. Was that just "wanting different things", or something had driven a wedge among them?
Those were thoughts for another day.
Water, he thought, running his tongue over parched lips. Water first, then tea. Black. Strong. Lots of. He wished he could skip forward in time to the moment he'd have Kreacher around: Kreacher would fetch him breakfast and potions in bed, adjust curtains, dim lights... then Harry's thoughts gravitated from Grimmauld's Place to Azkaban, and to Sirius, who had picked an even shorter straw than Harry himself.
Too soon. Not yet. For now, Harry had to be contented with the knowledge that Padfoot, in a pinch, could escape from Azkaban on his own.
He crawled out from under the duvet, shivered, made for the bathroom barefooted.
He did not intend to eavesdrop, not consciously. But every little noise he made reverberated through his skull like goblins hammering underground, so he was careful not to bang doors or stomp his feet. But when he realized that the sound of water running was interspersed with the voices of Malfoy and Nott, who were taking advantage of the morning ablutions to have a private chat, he stopped behind the closed door, in silence.
"...nothing," the former was saying. "What's the point in coming to Hogwarts?"
"Well, you know Doublebore. On the other hand..." Nott's voice was low and somber even at this early age and Harry was unable to catch more than a few words here and there. "...with his relatives, could he?" Malfoy chuckled at that last one.
"How would you know that?"
"...gamekeeper. He went..." The words again became too muffled to hear. "...Three Broomsticks, drunk as a lord, bawling his eyes out."
What were they going on about? It seemed like they speaking about him. Maybe Hagrid had sought comfort at the bottom of a tankard, the night they had taken Baby Harry from of the rubble of the cottage where Voldemort's latest murder had taken place, and said something he shouldn't have.
More conversation, then "…try, try again!" and chuckles.
Well, weren't they cavalier about it. Harry wanted to hear more, but the conversation was quickly hushed.
"Who's there? That you, Potter?"
There was nothing for it anymore, so he just opened the door and padded inside, feigning nonchalance. "Morning, ladies."
"Merlin's beard, Potter, are you sure that's all of you? Looks like your body could still be lying dead on the floor in the Common Room."
Harry groaned for all answer. "I'm not dead, I think. I reckon it would hurt less." He picked a stall and opened the faucet. He cupped his hands and drank from there in big gulps, felt the water draw an icy trail down his parched throat.
Nott cleared his throat.
"Potter, Muggle-raised and all that, but I'm sure you know about glasses by now," he said, as Malfoy snickered.
"Sure we do. But I'm not feeling quite human right now." Harry leaned forward and put his head right under the cold stream to kick-start his thought processes. It did help. Too bad his torpid brain couldn't come up with anything to counter the zinger...
That hadn't been a zinger. It had been a... suggestion. A reminder to behave, designed to fly past Malfoy's radar... and it had flown past Harry's, too.
"That will be all. You may go, Miss Parkinson. Good night," Severus said. Parkinson made a courtsey of sort and left, leaving the door ajar for the last student to be interviewed.
"Come in, Mister Potter."
Severus adjusted his position, straightening up, splaying his fingers on the desk, steadying his expression into something neutral and benign. Potter came in, Severus indicated the chair in the briefest of gestures, and the boy sat down rather stiffly.
"The purpose of this interview is to establish your background and help addressing any peculiar needs you may have."
Potter produced a tense smile. He was rather easy to read, even though half his (Potter's) face was covered by oversized glasses (Potter's) and an equally oversized fringe (Potter's), what with all the small movements around his mouth (Potter's) and eyes…
Severus recoiled. He had sworn he would not do this. He had planned otherwise. It was stronger than him: every time he saw Harry Potter, he fell back onto the old mindset.
He closed his eyes for a moment and tried again.
Look at the evidence, Severus.
The evidence was as follows: Potter had not received a haircut in four months and had the worst pair of glasses ever seen on a wizard: ill fitting (he had already pushed them up his nose no less than three times in so many minutes), with a sellotaped tip and scuffed lenses. And he was giving off Dark vibes like blue cheese gives off stink.
No wonder that he had attracted the Baron's attention.
In the Slytherin Common Room, layered with centuries of magical residue, it had been too faint to notice, but in the small office, one to one, it was unmistakable. An instinct that had lied dormant for years told Severus to batten the hatches in his mind, just to be on the safe side.
The first half of the interview was pretty standard. Family composition, parents' occupation, last school attended? All were answered promptly and to the point. Then came the part Severus had been looking forward to.
"What did you know of the wizarding world before you received your Hogwarts letter?"
"Well- my wardens didn't know much about it in the first place, so. Um," Potter replied dully, staring at the ink pot. Severus let the silence linger, mentally adding a notch for every topic of conversation Potter did not bring up to break the awkwardness. He only spoke when it was clear that the boy was not going to forward more of his own accord. Had he ever used a wand receiving this one, practiced with a stick, overheard incantations? No, sir, none, sir and never, sir.
It did fit with the last Severus remembered of Petunia - so angered at having been turned down, no matter how politely. Had she been the fox in the tale, not only she would state that the grapes were sour, she would come back with a bulldozer and raze the vine into the ground.
"Answer in complete sentences, unless you want to seem slow. Did your aunt and uncle tell you about... your parents?"
There was a brief pause before the answer.
"Yes, sir. They did."
Severus hummed while taking notes. Heaven knew what slander Petunia had concocted about James Potter, but it would play right into his hands if he was careful with the truth. "How do you feel about having Muggle relatives?" he asked quickly. It was a standard question for a half-blood in Slytherin.
Potter's features were carefully arranged into something meek and uncertain. "I dunno, sir. It just... is. How would a – say, a fish, how does it feel about being wet?"
It was a cheeky answer, but Severus let that pass. It was also the third deflection in a row, and that was more of a problem. That aptitude could not come from either Lily or Potter senior, both as straightforward as a Gryffindor could be. So he had either picked up the habit through example, or practiced it as a defence mechanism... Severus decided that the next questions would have to be better worded.
"I'm asking this question because of your choice of the term wardens. It sounds as if you wouldn't consider them next of kin."
"I did not think choosing a word over another could be so meaningful," Potter said. "Sir. I cannot complain, really. Things are as good as they could be."
Oh, so that's how you're playing it. Severus was starting to appreciate and worry about this soft-spoken, reserved boy. He did not tattle, and yet not deny. You could extricate the actual facts from underneath the turn of words - but you could also remain deceived, on purpose or otherwise. Very Slytherin.
It was about how different from his expectations as Potter could get.
"But not as good as you wish," Severus deduced.
Potter gave an imperceptible nod. "There are things that I cannot change."
"Such as who I am. The son of Lily and James Potter, wizards."
Was there a faint smile on Potter's face? Severus terminated the interview in a hurry lest he actually saw it.
Once alone, he stayed in the office for a while, pacing a rut on the carpet. This boy of eleven was succeeding at cornering him to the place where his own conscience wanted him to be. He would be no better than Petunia if he let an indignity of twenty years earlier rule his actions, wouldn't he?
Well, that was something he could see for himself. Dumbledore would never allow him to pay the Dursleys a social call, but what the Headmaster did not know, the Headmaster could not forbid. As the boy's Head of House, he was allowed a certain leeway. And regarding the other matter, which everyone else had failed to notice... no one was as qualified to address the matter as he was.
The doorbell rang again, slightly longer this time, as if to inform the residents that pretending to be away was not going to work.
"Get the doorbell, Duddykins?" Petunia called, taking off her rubber gloves.
"Can't," Dudley replied from his place on the rug in front of the TV. The poor thing was exhausted after a whole week at school. Petunia could not really blame him, and she made a mental note of offering him a tub of Wall's Double Dutch later: her big boy was growing and needed calcium for his bones. She went to the door herself.
The peephole returned an unknown figure, a man, dark hair, dark suit, dark hat, average age, average class, holding just a clipboard. Reassured that she wouldn't have to deal with a peddler or a God-botherer, she opened the door.
"Hello?" she said.
"Good day, madam. I'm from the Board of Elective Education," the man replied, briefly dipping his head to touch the brim of his hat. "We're doing a survey on this district. May I ask you a few questions?"
She opened the door. "Certainly, how…", then the penny dropped.
"...You," she hissed. Twenty years had gone by, otherwise he would have recognized him immediately. As he straightened his back and stared quietly at her, his heinous features carefully set in a polite mask, her first instinct was to slam the door in his face, as hard as she could, and if he'd do something so stupid as to try and wedge a foot in, too bad: she'd maul it.
"The neighbours are watching us, Petunia. Would you rather we had our screaming match inside, or right on the front door?" he stated, matter-of-factly, and indeed they were. There was a head poking from above the hedge, curtains at Number Five were slightly parted and that old bat Figg was standing in the middle of the drive and ogling. Seething, Petunia stepped back, letting him in, and shut the door rather forcefully.
"Of all the people Dumbledore could have sent, he had to choose you," she hissed as he strode past her and down the corridor without any permission to do so.
"At least I can pass for a Muggle," he threw back from over his shoulder. "Would you rather deal with the half-giant again?"
His head was still turned as he passed beside the stairs and saw her suddenly stiffen. No, surely it wouldn't…
It was. Muggle officers, if called, would have counted hairs and collected fingerprints and skin oils but for Snape it was the residual magic clinging to the corners like torn cobwebs.
So it had come to this.
"It just… is," says Potter with his hair untrimmed and his eyesight unchecked and what else? His skipped meal, his denied treat, his forgotten birthday?
"I see he did not waste any time in tattling," Petunia sneers.
"No, Tuney, you gave yourself away, fretting as I stood next to this door. The boy did not snitch. He might have fooled, me, in fact, had I not been gifted with a first-hand experience of your MO."
"Have you come here to chat about the good times we never had, Snape?"
"Thankfully for us both, I'm not," he replied, drawing the wand from his sleeve, making her screech like a banshee.
"You'd better not be doing anything funny in there!"
She marched towards him, only to be stopped by a raised hand - the wandless one.
"Watch your step. I don't need magic to hurt you. And there's enough gravy, in this cupboard alone, to give the Muggle social services a field day. Just your luck that I'm not here about this either."
"So what the hell are you here about, Snape?" she hissed.
"I said I was doing a survey and I'm keeping my word. Taking readings, not casting spells. I'm capable of decency, see?"
"Do what you came here for, and get lost," she huffed. "Decency! You're going to kill him. Fill his head with grand ideas about courage and duty and God knows what else. And then you'll send him to slaughter, just like you did with her. Another dead hero for your war."
Snape nodded towards the open cupboard. "Oh, so this was your idea of protecting him all along! Forgive me, Tuney, for misconstruing your motherly intentions."
For a second they looked at each other, both with their face contorted in a rictus of anger, despite, and righteousness. Then she burst out laughing.
"Look at the two of us! You fell for her so hard you still haven't got up. Of course you would! She always brought home all the fallen fledglings and scabby strays she'd find. She would spot a wretch in a crowd of thousands and make a beeline for them. Only it never lasted, it couldn't. Sooner or later she gave up on you, and somehow it was always your fault... She wanted to fix everyone, then she grew bored and left them in a worse state than if she'd never bothered!"
Her voice was starting to crack and Snape's next words were spoken in a low, almost soothing tone.
"On that, you couldn't be more wrong, Tuney. There were discarded drafts, failed experiments, but eventually she managed to turn a conceited prick into a war hero, and that was no small feat given the starting material." There was sincere admiration in his voice.
Then he turned practical again. "This cupboard has not been used for months. Where was Potter sleeping lately?"
She pointed upstairs. Snape barely had the time to look up as the clack of the front door announced the return of her husband.
Petunia looked at him with narrowed eyes and a newly-regained firmness in her voice.
"Put away that stick," she said. "And leave."
Snape complied. There was no point in exasperating her to the point that the desire to get back at him would overcome the pledge to stay well away from the wizarding world.
"I've got the magazines!" the newly arrived Mr. Dursley announced as he lumbered into the hall, overweight and flabby, a portrait of gluttony. But Petunia seemed happy to see him and not just because he had cut short this unpleasant reunion. She had a rapt, slightly manic expression on her face, like her husband coming home was a miracle that repeated itself every day. Perhaps it was, given that the man looked like a poster for Heart Condition.
"Who's this?" he asked suspiciously, studying the newcomer with narrowed eyes and a sour curve at the mouth, but mellowed at once when Snape shoved an Omnibadge under his nose.
"DAAAD!" A porky boy ran out of the living room and barrelled into him, hugging him as much as his arms' reach and the abdominal circumference of the father would allow. Snape looked at the scene, mellowing somewhat. A loving, if ordinary, and imperfect, family. Well, if this was Petunia's dream, who was he...
Then the boy pushed himself back and spoke for the first time. "Dad! Did you bring me any trading cards? Cards, cards, give me, give me, gimme!" he cried, shaking the man by the belt of his trousers.
Severus was done here. He tipped his hat to Petunia – receiving a stiff smile and a venomous glance in return - shook her husband's hand and was out of the door.
Riding the Metrobus to a convenient Apparation spot, he sat with his clipboard on his lap, trembling with unreleased nervous energy. The cupboard had etched itself onto the back of his eyelids, and he stared out of the window at the flat suburban panorama, dark thoughts revolving in his head ad nauseam.
Next: Condition grounded, but determined to try
A/N: This chapter and the next were supposed to go together, but the result was a whopping 9K words behemot that I decided to split in two.