AN: Thanks to Fawkes Song for betaing.
Harry marched into the kitchen to find Draco on his knees, trying to shake off the scrub brushes that had apparently been magically glued to his hands. Kreacher danced around him, snapping a dishcloth at him and ordering him back to work.
"Get them off!" Draco howled. "They won't come off. I don't want scrub brushes for hands."
"All right," Harry began, but Kreacher launched into a tirade, thwacking Draco on the head and shoulders with the heavy dishcloth.
"Now, look what you is done – disturbed the Master. For that, no talking for you so Master is happy."
"Wait," Harry objected before Kreacher could take away Draco's voice. "Let's not do anything too hasty."
"He glued my hands to these," Draco said. "And then –"
"Shut up, Draco," Harry ordered. "Kreacher, find a way to get him to work without hurting him. Draco, you go along with him or – or –"
"Or what, Potter?" Draco raised defiant eyes in challenge. "What are you going to do?"
"I'll ship you off to Azkaban," Harry said, but the threat seemed empty, even to him. He wished he could believe that he was a ruthless leader, but inside he felt hollow.
"You wouldn't," Draco retorted.
In that moment, Harry felt absolutely bare. His pretenses and masks were ripped off, and he felt like a skeleton of uselessness, just a young man without a clue what to do next.
He turned away from the kitchen and started walking. He heard Kreacher snap the towel a few more times before forcing Draco back to work followed by Draco's cries of abject misery at being made to scrub the floor like a servant, but Harry kept moving. He meant to go into the library and bury himself in a book for hours, distracting himself from his feelings until the others got home and he could distract himself with their chatter.
But Harry found himself climbing the stairs all the way back to Snape's room. Snape was asleep, but Harry slipped into a large armchair by the window. He sat watching the street for a while, biting the tips of his fingers and listening to Snape's deep breathing. It felt soothing to sit in the comfort of the quiet bedroom and watch other people bustle around the street, busy with their own lives.
Harry even made up short explanations for why they were on the street: a young woman going to find food to cook for a dinner party, a man on his way to work, two teenagers strolling to the nearest music store. They kept going and coming, chance encounters that brought them into Harry's view-line. If Harry had not been there sitting, he never would have seen them, and there might have never been another time when they would have crossed paths. Just a random occurrence of fate.
Unless, it wasn't random. He made a conscious decision to sit there and watch the people. They made a decision to walk on his street. Was life really random? Or was it orchestrated by something bigger and greater? Was it just people plotting their own courses?
"Harry. Harry!" Snape's voice shot through the room.
Harry lifted his head up, blinking fast. He realized he had fallen asleep and his glasses had slid off. He jerked up in the chair and put the glasses back on.
Snape was in bed, but he fixed Harry with a stern look. "What are you doing in here?"
"It's my house. I can go wherever I like," Harry evaded the question, pretending to straighten his clothes.
"I didn't ask whose house it is," Snape retorted. "I asked why you choose to take a nap in this room when you have other rooms available."
"You don't know that," Harry kept avoiding him. "All the other rooms could be being remodeled or repainted or something. You're assuming something that you don't know for sure. Arrogant of you, isn't it?"
Snape narrowed his eyes. "I suggest you change your tone with me."
"Or what?" Harry stood up and flung his arms out. "What are you going to do to me if I don't? What is anyone going to do to me? What can they do?"
"What is wrong with you?" Snape demanded. "You've gone mad."
"Look at that, Severus Snape finally notices what is right in front of his face," Harry taunted. He wasn't sure what he was saying; his mouth just kept moving of its own accord. "After seven years, the ugly bat finally figures something out. Not the sharpest tool, but we can't blame you for not trying. Give you another seven years, and you might be able to realize another piece of information right in front of your face."
Snape said nothing, just watching him.
"In fact, I'll help you out," Harry marched to the end of the bed. "The war is over, and Voldemort lost. We won, and the trials started, and everything is just as screwed up as it was before it began. I hate it, I hate it, and I can't do a damn thing about it. That's the news, Snape. Now, I want you to try to remember one of those things. Remember two things, and there'll be a special prize for our most special resident."
Harry's voice was dripping with sarcasm when he finally finished, and he stared at Snape, waiting for the man to respond to him. Snape was always good with the insults.
"Come here, Potter," Snape motioned with one thin hand.
Rolling his eyes, Harry went to the side of the bed. Snape would tell him that he was a spoiled, rotten person who was arrogant and selfish and horrible or something insulting like that.
Snape reached out and slapped Harry on the side of his face.
The slap didn't really hurt – Snape wasn't strong enough to do much damage – but Harry froze as he stared down at his former teacher.
"I suggest you get control of yourself or I'll have to reprimand you again," Snape said.
Harry swallowed hard. He knew he could have driven his fist right into Snape's face. He could have beaten Snape to death right there in the bedroom, and no one would ever know. He was ten times as strong as Snape and almost as tall and certainly more powerful magically.
But Harry was not prepared for the rush of relief that flooded over him. Here, in the strangest of places, in the smallest bedroom of his house, from the most unlikely of people came an answer. Control yourself or get slapped again. Control yourself. No discussion, no lengthy argument, no heated debate, just a simple end to his tantrum. Control yourself.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I – I shouldn't have said those things."
"What did they do to you?" Snape looked hard at him. "Merlin, you – you're broken."
Tears suddenly filled Harry's eyes. "Don't say that," his voice broke. "Please, don't say that. I'm trying and I can't let him win and I can't –"
"I told you to get a hold of yourself," Snape said. He leaned back on his pillow and frowned at Harry. "If you're going to give way to hysterics, then you might as well leave and come back when you're more composed. I don't have time for your childish antics."
"I'm not childish," Harry blinked away the tears. "I've been fighting for so long and so many people died and –"
"I'm sure those people were glad to give their lives so you could pout for the next few years," Snape observed.
Harry felt so angry he could barely speak coherently. "I am not pouting. Don't you dare suggest I feel anything besides regret and guilt over what happened to them. I did everything I could to protect them. They died anyway."
He crossed his arms, but several tears spilled down his cheeks. Harry wiped them away quickly and then tucked his arms across his chest again, hugging himself tightly.
"This self-pity is not attractive on you," Snape said.
"I am not having self-pity," Harry actually stomped his foot on the wooden floor in uncontrollable rage. "I don't feel sorry for myself, you ugly bastard. If you were well, I would show you just how I feel, but I can't fight a pathetic invalid."
Silence fell over the room as Snape observed him calmly. When the silence grew longer and longer, Harry started fidgeting.
"Say something," he insisted when he couldn't stand it any longer. "Don't just sit there."
"I refuse to discuss anything when you're acting so irrationally."
"Irrational! I'm not irrational. I'm –"
"Potter," Snape's voice, though weak, dipped in a low, stern tone, "that's enough. Go sit in the chair and look out the window until you've gotten yourself under control again."
Harry's eyes went as wide as they could go. "What? You can't order me around like a child."
"Go sit in the chair and calm down. Then we'll finish this conversation."
Harry considered grabbing one of the pillows and smothering Snape with it. Or maybe even hurling Snape out the window to the street below. He would not let Snape order him around.
He meant to stomp out the door and tell Kreacher to let Snape starve himself to death, but Harry actually walked across the room and dropped into the chair. He banged his shoes on the floor as he settled in and he huffed a few times to show how out of sort he felt, but he didn't say anything because he couldn't articulate anything coherent to say.
More than anything, he wanted to lift his head to the ceiling and howl out his frustration like a wild animal until the rage left him, but as he thought that wouldn't impress Snape or prove his calm, logical side, Harry stayed quiet. In his head, he started forming arguments that he would throw at Snape. Reasonable, cogent arguments that made lots of sense and didn't make him seem crazy and made Snape seem like the childish one.
He supposed this was some version of time-out, and while Harry had met plenty of adults that he thought would do well with a time-out, he had never expected that he, himself, would be put in time-out. He was eighteen, for crying out loud. He had fought monsters, he had defeated evil, he had proved himself a hero. Snape couldn't deny that his actions had been heroic, even if his attitude at the moment was a bit . . . stressed.
Several times, Harry almost turned around to tell Snape exactly what he was thinking, but each time Harry lost his nerve and kept quiet.
After what seemed like forever (but was, according to his watch, only twelve minutes), Harry worked up the courage to look at Snape. He was afraid he would find the man glaring back at him with cold black eyes, but instead, Snape lay on the bed, asleep.
Rather than relief, Harry felt guilt again. He had yelled at Snape who was still recovering, Snape who couldn't feed himself that morning.
"Sodding idiot," Harry muttered about himself as he got out of the chair. He tiptoed over to the bed, wondering if he should spread out another blanket in case Snape got cold. But the room seemed warm enough, and Harry crept out, careful to leave the door open a few inches should Snape need something and call out for help.
Downstairs Kreacher had moved Draco into the hallway and was forcing him to scrub the floor with the brushes and a bucket of soapy water.
"All right, Kreacher," Harry said as he carefully stepped over the wet floor. "Another few minutes, and then you're done. Draco can spend some time in the library. Or maybe listen to some music. We have to stay quiet so Snape can get some rest."
"If you hurt him, I'll kill you," Draco threatened.
Harry grabbed the handle of the broom before Kreacher could pummel Draco with it. "Stop saying things that are only going to get you hurt," Harry told Draco. "You are our prisoner for now. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it isn't fair. Yes, you have to suffer under a house-elf. But the more you speak out, the worse you make it for yourself. I'm not going to hurt Snape, seeing as how I was the one who rescued him, and you need to worry about yourself for now."
Draco glared, but didn't say anything.
Harry let go of the broom handle. "Kreacher, after you finish here, can I speak to you in the living room for a while? I want to get an idea of how the household is running. I know you're doing a great job, but we've added so many people that we probably need to talk every few days."
Kreacher beamed. "Of course, Master Harry." He gave Draco a tiny shove to get him to hurry, and Harry went into the living room to wait.
He kept repeating Snape's words in his head over and over again: Control yourself. The answer seemed so easy, but for Harry, Snape might as well have told him to sprout wings and fly to the moon. How could he control himself when bad things happened to people he cared about? How could he control himself when he saw injustice or cruelty? He had become a hero because he had spoken out.
Control yourself. So easy for Snape to say.
And when had Snape ever controlled himself? Maybe in the whole spy thing, but never with Harry. Snape had always been spitting out mean criticisms and threats and angry words every time Harry had done something wrong. And those wrongdoings weren't even that bad . . . mostly. Snape always trying to get him into trouble, Snape picking on him in class, Snape wanting him expelled. Control yourself, Snape!
Yeah, that's what Harry would lead with when he went up to see Snape in a few hours. Here's an idea – control your own sodding self, you miserable excuse for a human being. Yeah, that sounded good and vengeful – turn the tables on Snape and watch him squirm.
When Kreacher finally came in, Harry was feeling very satisfied with himself and wasted no time in demonstrating his satisfaction to his house-elf.
"This is my house, isn't it?" he asked Kreacher.
"Of course, Master."
"And people who don't like me can just leave. Okay, now that we've got that sorted out, let's talk food and supplies. Do you need more money?"
"No, Master is generous with the budget. Master is the best master the world has ever known," Kreacher gave a regal bow. Harry sat a little straighter in his chair. At least someone recognized his worth and potential.
"Well, you tell me when we need more. I don't want anyone scrimping and scrounging for anything here. Even Draco and Snape – they're going to have food and clothes and nice stuff like the rest of us."
"Master is too generous," Kreacher bowed again.
Torn between enjoying his generosity and feeling a little full of himself, Harry nodded graciously. "Thank you. Make sure you have whatever you need. I couldn't run this house without you."
Kreacher beamed at the praise.
Once he left, Harry sprawled across an armchair and began doodling silly drawings over a few blank pieces of parchment. He even drew himself flying right into a tree, and he filled the tree with owls who all wore glasses.
The pang of losing Hedwig hit him, and he sniffed twice as he drew a full-sized owl on the next sheet of paper. He missed her so much, his first friend, the faithful pet that had stood by his side for so long.
He was debating between giving into real tears or busying himself with a book, when Kreacher appeared with a tray of food.
"Mr. Snape needs to eat again," the house-elf said. "Kreacher would be glad to take it up, but Kreacher thinks that Master might want to."
"I'll do it," Harry folded up his drawings and stuffed them into his pocket. Taking the tray, he climbed the stairs and knocked on the door twice before pushing it open, without waiting for an answer.