Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the copyrighted stuff.
A/N: You people are insane, and I mean that in the most amazingly, enthrallingly, best possible way. I sat here for ages while I was waiting on my Pottermore potion to brew (What? No, I certainly don't empathize with Severus on that level… After all, according to Jo Rowling, I'm a Gryffindor.) and watching the stats roll up as you lot had a go at this little story of mine, that actually originated as a writing project for a friend who no longer speaks to me.
Stalkerish though it may sound, I watched as those hits rolled up from 2 to 500 in a matter of an hour. I watched as the UK and the US traded back and forth over whose citizens were reading more. I watched as a reader each from Belarus, Malaysia, Japan, Suriname, Barbados, Taiwan, Costa Rica, and Jersey forged through all thirteen chapters—which I could tell, as there was only one reader from each of those countries at the time. I have no idea how many of you out there did just that, reading through like I do when I find a great new fic that pulls me in. And it makes me feel so awesome that I can do that for you guys in return, which is why I made it my goal to start on this new chapter so early. Now that I'm back in the groove, I remember exactly how much I loved writing this fic and the responses I get from the fanfiction community out there. There are views on there from more countries than I knew existed, and I can't tell you how amazing that is.
Of course, I love reviews, as every author out there does, but I'm not one of those authors who demands them before I will post another chapter. I write because I love to, and because I know there are those of you out there who like what I come out with. Trust me, I notice those extra favorites and followers, and you guys keep me inspired, too. :) Unfortunately though, you shouldn't expect updates to come every day like this for a bit, because I do work 10-hour shifts now and it's the end of my weekend.
… I'm assuming that by this point, I no longer have to warn you guys about DH content. XD And don't worry, I'm not going to leave you on the hook much longer; the next chapter will center around Draco's conversation with Severus and the favor he was doing for Lucius. Thank you guys so much for all your support, and for not giving up on me! And sorry for this incredibly long author's note, haha…
Chapter Fourteen – Visiting Hours
"Severus," Madam Pomfrey said in surprise, blinking at the dark-cloaked Potions professor as if she wasn't quite sure that he was real. Harry tried to look up at the name, but found that his eyelids were too heavy. Just barely, through his eyelashes, he managed to make out the vague shapes of two adults clad in robes, but he was unable to do much else.
"Poppy," Severus's voice greeted smoothly in return. "I'm here for Harry Potter. He was a victim of a potion sabotage in my class today, and I wish to ascertain the identity of the culprit from him."
"Potter's been given a Sleeping Draught," Pomfrey responded with a shake of her head. "He'll be out for at least an hour while he recuperates."
There was the briefest of pauses, and then Severus decided, "I'll wait."
Madam Pomfrey seemed to shrug with a suit-yourself type attitude and bustled off to deal with a third year who had tried to manicure her nails by magic and instead turned her fingers into talons.
Harry heard Severus pull a seat up beside his bed and sit down with a soft sigh, but still the Gryffindor couldn't get his eyes to open. Silence echoed for a few long minutes, and then a near whisper escaped Severus's lips before he even realized he had been giving voice to his thought: "How very like Potter you look when you're sleeping."
It wasn't the words themselves that were surprising; Harry had heard often enough that he looked for all the world like a younger version of his father, except for his eyes. But the tone in Severus's voice, though admittedly bitter, wasn't the harsh, hateful intonation that Harry had always heard when the professor spoke James Potter's name. Severus's words were regretful and almost sad, or as close as Harry could ever imagine that voice being to sorrow.
Harry could almost see it then, how a younger Severus must have felt about Lily Evans. Hadn't Hagrid always said how Harry's mother had been beautiful and brilliant and the best witch in her year? And his father had been liked by everyone who spoke about him, except of course the surly Potions master. Harry couldn't imagine what it felt like to love someone that much, to still lament that future that had never been after she had been dead for ten years… and yet, suddenly he found it hard to resent Severus for his anger of the previous year.
But even if Harry had been able to wake up before, he would have been stunned into stillness anyway when he felt the tips of Severus's fingers on his forehead, brushing aside his bangs from matting to his skin. "No… not just like Potter. She wrinkled her brow like that when she was sleeping, too."
Severus stood up slowly, his arms crossing across his chest, and suddenly Harry saw that what he had always assumed was a gesture of anger was actually an attempt to hold the Potions master together. "Maybe I couldn't protect her," Severus whispered hoarsely, "but I'll be damned if I let them do the same to you."
At some point, the Sleeping Draught did truly whisk him away to unconsciousness. And when Harry awoke, Severus had gone.
"How are you feeling?" Hermione asked for the third time since classes had let out and she and Ron had come to visit.
"Fine, I swear," Harry assured her. "Really, only my toes feel like they're asleep, but other than that I'm good as new."
"You gave us a right scare though, mate," Ron said, munching on a chocolate frog that had been sent to Harry's bedside by one of the Patil sisters.
Harry grinned. "No, I think I just gave you a right shove. You're welcome, by the by."
Ron looked abashed. "You should have just jumped for it yourself. Neville broke my fall well enough."
"You know, Harry," Hermione broke in, looking thoughtful. "I really think Snape was worried about you."
"Rubbish," Ron scoffed. "He was just upset he was standing so close when it went off."
"He docked ten points from Slytherin, Ron," Hermione said with a look that asked if he had gone nutters. "When has Snape ever even reprimanded a Slytherin in Potions before?"
"Well they almost got him with that evil mist stuff too," Ron pointed out.
"But he conjured a mattress to protect him and everything," Hermione countered.
Feeling an argument of truly epic proportions brewing, Harry sighed and cut off their bickering. "Hermione's right, Ron. He really isn't that bad."
Ron gaped. "Are you joking? After everything he put us through last year!?"
"Well…" Harry looked away, uncertain how to explain what he had learned these past few weeks, or even if he really wanted to. "He's kind of explained that, a bit. And it's really hard to explain, but he's not been like that since, and, well, I understand. And if I do, can't you?"
"Of course, Harry," Hermione said, beaming. "We trust you." Noting Ron's silence, she frowned and nudged him. "Don't we, Ron?"
"I don't know, mate," Ron said slowly. "If you're really sure, I guess I can try to not hate the bloke, at least. But say he's not like that all you want, he still shouldn't have picked on Dean and Seamus like that."
"McGonagall would have docked them points for being late too," Hermione argued. "She might have even been as sarcastic about it. You would just think it was fairer because she's our Head of House and you know she doesn't like doing it."
"But that's just the point!" Ron objected, tossing a sweets wrapper toward the bin and missing, but turning back to Hermione anyway. "Snape really, really enjoys docking points from us."
Hermione fired back with a retort, and Harry sighed, settling back into bed and staring out the window. They wouldn't notice that he wasn't paying attention when they were bickering like this anyway, and the only way he could think of to distract them from it was by divulging the secret Severus had shared with him over the summer… and Harry was certain now that he wasn't ready to do that yet. Merlin knew Harry didn't even really understand it yet anyway.
Madam Pomfrey came to collect Ron and Hermione at six o'clock, saying that dinner in the Great Hall was beginning and that meant visiting hours were over. Harry wasn't exactly sad to see them go, at the moment, as they were still arguing on their way out the door.
The healer brought him his own dinner on a tray, and he was pleased to see that it included his favorite treacle tart. He was still only halfway through with it when Severus appeared at the door, only to be cut off promptly by Madam Pomfrey.
"I told you I need to talk to Potter," Severus said simply.
"Visiting hours ended ten minutes ago," Madam Pomfrey asserted, trying to block his way in.
"Poppy, go eat your dinner. I'll only be a few minutes, and it's not as if the boy is going to fall asleep at six o'clock."
Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips, but allowed him to pass and returned to her office, where presumably she ate in solitude.
Severus took the same seat he had been in earlier, Harry noted, and he paused for a short moment before asking, "How are you feeling?"
"Better," Harry said shortly, trailing his fork across his plate like it had a purpose, though he didn't take his eyes off Severus. It was hard enough to puzzle out what the Potions master was thinking even when he was within eyesight.
Severus looked at him for another long moment, then sighed. "It was Draco, wasn't it?"
"Probably," Harry admitted ruefully. "I don't know what his handwriting looks like, but there was a note on the paper aeroplane that sounded like it was from him."
Severus's eyebrow raised. "Paper aeroplane?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. They threw it into the mortar with infusion of wormwood in the seams."
Severus looked surprise. "You realize what it was, and what would happen, in enough time to push Weasley out of the way?"
"Yeah, I guess," Harry said, sounding a little surprised himself. And there on Severus's face again was that odd look, like when he had gotten the question right in class earlier. Harry really needed to stop imagining that he could see pride behind that well-practiced façade of impassivity.
"Impressive," Severus said out loud, and Harry stared at him for a moment.
"Was that… a compliment?"
Severus raised one eyebrow. "I suppose it was, though I don't exactly agree with your handling of the situation." He paused, his gaze shifting from one of Harry's eyes to the other, and when he spoke again, his voice was a touch quieter. "You should have gotten yourself out of the way first, Harry."
Harry was just about to argue when he picked up on another thread of what had just been said, and a crease appeared between his eyebrows as he frowned. Severus almost missed what the boy said next, remembering how Lily had used to frown in exactly the same way when she was thinking very carefully.
"So I'm Harry again, am I?"
Severus blinked, but that was the most confusion that he let slip into his visage. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you're back to calling me Harry now? What, only when no one else is watching? Only when Malfoy or Zabini or Ron isn't going to call you on it?"
For a few breaths, Severus was silent. Harry was just thinking he wasn't going to answer when the Potions master said quietly, "I thought we had established that, at Hogwarts, I am still your professor."
Harry remembered that conversation; it had been his first day in Spinner's End, and he had still been very unsure where the two of them had stood. Then again, he still wasn't very sure about that… but maybe it was just about time that he did.
"In class," he began slowly. "When you asked that question about valerian… You knew I would have the answer, didn't you?"
"I was fairly confident you would remember the topic of your summer essay, yes."
"So you gave me a question on purpose that you knew I could answer." Harry paused. "You never did that before. You always asked me things only Hermione would know, and then docked points when I didn't."
Severus sighed softly. "So I did." A very faint smirk turned up the corner of his lip as he added, "But you did spend a good deal of your summer in your Potions master's house. You were bound to pick up a few things."
"Just a few," Harry agreed, but even by the tone of his voice, it was obvious he wasn't just talking only about school topics. He bit the inside of his jaw for a second, then smiled wryly. "Thanks, Severus."
A crease appeared between Snape's eyes now, too. "Whatever for?"
"When I was falling, you Transfigured that cushion out of the air, didn't you?"
Severus made a soft hmph sound, as if this little detail was of no consequence. "You would have split your head open on the stone."
"Yeah, I would've. And you would have let me this time last year."
Severus's black eyes bored into Harry's for a moment, and for the tiniest of moments, they almost looked like they held a trace of regret. "Perhaps I would have," he agreed quietly. "But this time last year, it was James Potter I kept expecting to see in my classroom. You have… surprised me."
Harry looked a little uncertain. "In a good way or bad?"
A smirk twisted Severus's lips, but it wasn't the condescending one that Harry had grown accustomed to seeing; no, Severus Snape seemed to be just genuinely amused as he said, "Both, I assure you." He let the smirk fade until it could almost, almost pass for a slight smile, and then added in a softer tone, "But mostly for the better."
The incident with the Weasleys' flying car replayed in Harry's mind at that moment, and suddenly in the light of what had happened this day, it made a little more sense. The way Severus had been seething with rage at the Slytherins today matched exactly the anger that had been aimed at Harry on the first of September. He didn't actually mean to voice his realization, but without thinking, he murmured, "So that's why."
Severus's eyebrow rose again. "What?"
Harry almost looked away, but he found himself meeting Severus's gaze instead, again trying to read the thoughts in them before they vanished away behind that Occlumens shield. "Why you were angry," he said quietly. "You blew up at the Slytherins today just like you blew up at Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Just like you did at me, after Ron and I hit that tree."
"Mm," was all that Severus said for a moment, and he seemed to debate for a moment whether he wanted to say more. Finally, he allowed another faint almost-smile and said, "That's exactly what I meant about surprising me. You're more observant than I realized."
Something bordering on disbelief showed in Harry's eyes as he asked more than stated, "You were worried about me."
Severus tapped one long finger on the arm of his chair—once, twice, three times. Finally, he said in a quiet voice, "Someone should be. You obviously don't worry nearly enough about yourself."
A long silence followed, broken only by the sound of an owl outside the window. At last, Harry swallowed hard and looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry. For the car. I wasn't thinking; I guess we just panicked and it seemed like the thing that made the most sense at the time…"
"Harry." Severus sighed softly and waited for the boy to look up before stating plainly, "Harry, you're twelve. You're going to not think everything through. You're going to make mistakes. Merlin knows I did… do. Did you really think I hated you for that?"
Harry avoided the professor's gaze again. "Maybe a little."
"Well, I wouldn't." The boy looked up, those bright green eyes Severus had loved behind the glasses he had hated, and suddenly the Potions master knew how true that statement was. Harry was not James Potter, and neither was he Lily Evans. He had part of both of them, certainly; but Harry was Harry. And with a jolt that almost made him sit up a little straighter in his chair, Severus realized that it was because of that, because of Harry himself, that he had stood up in the boy's defense today.
Severus Snape was no longer protecting Lily Evans' son only because of the oath he had made to her. Sometime in the past month, between realizing the situation the child had been held in that he didn't deserve and attempting to free him from it, Severus had come to care not only for the pieces of Harry that had come from his mother, but also the traits that were entirely his own.
Somehow, right in the middle of trying to reassure the boy that nothing had changed, Severus was hit with the epiphany that everything had.