Harry's knees buckled into a mossy forecourt. The humid summer air around him had vanished so suddenly it was suffocating.
In the instant his surroundings became familiar, his mind flew back to a few weeks ago, when he'd been forcefully pushed against this earth, the sharp edge of the step cutting deep into his elbow.
Darkness crept along the gaping cracks in Harry's mind, along with the chill. Closing his eyes tightly, he fought of a dizzying sense of disembodiment, and prepared himself for the inevitable.
However, the added pressure of Snape's arm, briefly around his waist, enabled him to remain standing, rooted, unharmed.
''Alright?'' A deep voice murmured by his ear, and Harry nodded frantically, not wanting to create a panic.
His breathing was harsh as he gathered his bearings, silently cursing the de-orienting, horrifically unpleasant affects of side- along apparation. Any verbal gratitude he wished to express for his mentor's assistance during the split- second journey stuck deep in his throat.
Snape's dark gaze was sharp on his face, registering the moist, pale complexion with no appreciation. Unspoken concern was written along the creases of his brow.
Harry jerked his face away before the predictably grim, albeit true assessment of his weak state could be voiced.
''Potter...'' A subtle, disapproving shake of his head and Snape bent a fraction towards him, eyes narrowing, but the door to Grimauld Place was already being swung open.
Dumbledore, Harry and Snape straightened up and approached the door as voices were heard from inside.
Sirius' gaunt face appeared, apprehensively searching the darkness. A 'lumos' was cast, and the three men blinked against the thoughtless and unnecessary gesture, hands raised to cover their eyes.
Sirius opened his mouth wordlessly as he gazed down at them, assessing their identity with thorough scrutiny.
''Albus?'' he questioned vaguely.
Dumbledore responded crisply with a complicated, foreign sounding phrase that reminded Harry of a very elaborate sneeze. However, the response must have been valid, for Sirius' face eased slightly, and he pushed the door open wider. His bagged eyes wandered the length of the street, and then fixed on Harry's face as he stepped forwards.
Holding out a hand, Dumbledore lowered his wand and intercepted Sirius' abrupt move forwards. Severus took a subtle step back, his head lowering a fraction.
Harry shivered against a light breeze fluttering up his sleeves, and gazed up at his godfather, ashen faced.
A gentle, but firm nudge against the small of his back, and Harry stepped forwards. ''Hello, Sirius,'' he said quietly. ''It's alright if I stay for a while then?''
An incomprehensible croak escaped Sirius chapped lips, his face transforming with a wide grin and clearing of any previous suspicion.
He cleared his throat, and tried again. ''Welcome home, Harry.''
He either didn't deign Harry's question in need of a genuine answer, or misheard it completely, for he spoke no further. The simple statement was enough to express his willing acceptance to the boy.
Harry forced a weak smile, his heart thudding painfully hard in his chest. He wanted to run at the man, squeeze the breath from his body, but a heavy weight in his chest did not allow him to. He'd never felt more lost in his life. Never felt less at home.
''Inside, Sirius if you please.'' Dumbledore delayed the reunion as he stepped through into the house, beckoning the others to do the same. ''Safety procedures,'' he informed Harry, as he lightly took the boy's elbow.
The hallway was dark and just as Harry remembered it. Dust hung from the ceilings, coating the banister and clung to his sleeves the minute he lingered long enough for it to settle.
Even as they prepared to remove their jackets, multiple lights were appearing upstairs, the sound of hurried footsteps crossing the hallway. Harry's stomach sank a little further, even as his nerves fluttered at the thought of conversing with his best friends once again. He had no idea how to approach a valid explanation of his experiences over the summer.
Dumbledore balanced his trunk against the foot of the staircase, Hedwig balancing unsteadily on top. Swaying side to side with the motion of her cage, she was watching the proceedings with wide, inquisitive eyes.
Harry cast her a brief smile before turning wearily back towards the door, just in time to witness his mentor prevented from crossing the threshold by a fist thrown wildly at his face.
Stumbling backwards, Snape clutched the doorframe for support as he grunted in both pain and surprise. Another sharp bark of pain was ripped from him as his fingers were locked in the hinges, the heavy wooden door thrown against his bony hand.
''Sirius!'' Harry jumped forwards, nudging his godfather out of the way with a hard elbow. A dull shudder of discontent accelerated Harry's adrenaline as he pulled the door back open with a forceful tug, all thoughts on the man left vulnerable and exposed on the doorstep.
A swift movement from Dumbledore prevented Sirius' second blow from proving far more dangerous to Snape, with Harry caught in the cross-fire as he recklessly planted himself in the middle.
With the headmasters' help, Snape was pulled unceremoniously inside, the door locked and warded behind him.
Remus and Arthur Weasley appeared a moment later from the direction of the kitchen. Lunging forwards, they hauled Sirius back, struggling to retain him.
''God, sorry, Albus,'' Arthur apologised breathlessly, as he pinned one of the man's arms to his sides. ''We rather suspected he'd so something like this.''
''We didn't even hear the door,'' Remus added apologetically. ''Sirius got there before we could stop him. You have to understand, he's been worried sick about Ha-''
''Oh shut up, Mooney,'' Sirius struggled, though he did not deny the fact. His eyes were fixed on Snape with a deep-seated hatred, refusing to be reasoned with. ''We all know you want a crack at the old creep as well. He tried to kill the boy for Merlin's sake.''
Ignoring the restrained tussle between the Order members, neither willing to hurt the other in their attempt to get what they wanted, but just as determined, Harry pushed aside a stack of umbrellas and knelt down beside Snape.
He winced. ''Professor?''
Snape appeared to regain his wits as he was addressed, a greasy lock obscuring his face irritably waved aside.
Harry chose to ignore the obscene profanities muttered under Snape's breath. Instead, he crouched an inch closer, groaning quietly as he eyed the dark bruise that was appearing on the man's hand and wrist, covering the main portion of the swollen skin.
Harry's lips tightened in sudden anger, but Snape seemed to read his expression, for he shook his head at the boy, the anger draining from his face to be replaced with something far more unreadable, yet no less agitated.
''Leave it, Potter.'' His eyes flickered to Sirius' angry form with brief apprehension. As much as he loathed to admit it, Harry would need his godfathers' emotional support in the coming weeks. Snape would not be the cause of a dispute, as satisfying as it would be. He would not have the boy hurt for some foolish belief that he needed protection.
Glaring sullenly at the boy, he added tersely, ''This fight is between Black and I. You have no place in it.''
Harry's face registered poorly concealed annoyance. ''That's why I'm stuck in the middle, is it? You think I like to see two people I care about, constantly at each others' throats?''
The response caught Snape so off guard, his surprise was clearly evident before gradual disdain smothered the brief emotion. He expected the boy to take back what he'd said in a fluster of regret, but he didn't. Harry just stared at him defiantly.
Snape sighed heavily, hesitating before making an attempt to stand. Glad for the commotion continuing to surround them, he used the moments privacy to tug Harry a little closer, while he had the chance.
''You must understand. Your emotional imbalance, Potter, is partly a result of long-term lack of... affection. As a minor, your requirements are, unavoidably, sentimental-''
''I know all this-'' Harry begun, but Snape silenced him with a low grunt of frustration.
''He is the one you need.'' Snape cringed, as though each word was vomit passing his lips, but a desperate sense of determination pressed him to utter them. ''You may not like it at the moment, Potter but the paternal devotion you require lies with that man. Aside yourself with me, and you shall compromise it. Now go.''
''But you're hurt,'' Harry protested, casting away the man's words with little thought, though they stirred something deep inside him that made considering the point incredibly uncomfortable.
Snape gave a tight-lipped hiss of pain as his hand, clearly broken, gave a throb under Harry's inspection. He considered pushing the boy away, as was undoubtedly natural, but the look on Sirius' face was too priceless to ignore, despite its danger.
His every present concern was with regard to Harry and his comfort through the next few weeks. It was unlike him to be so unselfish, but Harry seemed to have developed the rather irritating tactic of softening the harshest of his characteristics.
He'd assumed he and the boy had an unspoken agreement to remain distant in the realm of Harry's godfather. He'd thought Harry would be ashamed, or at least self- conscious about the new closeness of their relationship. He was hardly a welcomed man by the boy's remaining family, after all.
Harry, however, did not flinch when Sirius called his name, a warning underlining his confusion. Harry could feel his neck burning under the stare of the countless others that had joined them at the front door, but refused to act in any way that did not feel entirely natural.
Snape's eyes connected with Sirius's over Harry's gently shaking shoulder, all warmth descending rapidly. Indulging the pain for a mere moment, seeing as the boy was so set on causing a scene, he gave a soft whimper, and smirked in satisfaction when Harry's face crumpled further in sympathy.
The effect was immediate. Sirius face was livid, his blatant confusion evident.
Even Arthur and Remus had slackened their hold, distracted by Harry's evident concern over the harm of his once hated professor.
''Enough,'' Dumbledore interjected finally, when the lull in the proceedings enabled him to. His eyes held an unusual amount of anger as he turned a critical stare on Sirius.
''As you are well aware, Severus had a serious mission tonight. One that is accepted with the safety of your godson solely in mind. He does not need aggravation tonight, nor mocking, and neither does Harry.''
Gently, but firmly, he pushed Harry aside and hauled Snape to his feet in one decisive movement. He cast the man brief once over, lined his wand with his wrist to heal the wound, before nodding once.
Snape issued him a quiet thank you, running his fingers over the tingling skin, while flaying Sirius alive with his eyes.
''Severus,'' Dumbledore warned quietly, before he returned his attentions to the others. ''I must ask you to make this as easy as possible. If not for my sake, then for Harry's.''
Shaking his head distastefully at Dumbledore's closeness to Snape and willing acceptance, Sirius reverted his attention to his godson. ''Harry, this man poisoned you.''
''Poisoned me?'' Harry repeated blankly. ''Professor Snape would never poison me!''
Sirius snorted, casting the man in question a dark glance. ''No, he'd do far worse and he'll pay for it, I can assure you.''
And then, as though a weariness had overcome his anger as quickly as it had arisen, Sirius rubbed a hand over his face and his gaze lightened upon Harry. ''Step over here now, Harry. It's all over. You don't have to go through this anymore.''
He held out a hand, and for a moment, Harry very much wanted to take it, and ease back into that feeling of security and warmth his godfather had once so easily provided. But when that feeling failed to materialise, and the demons in his mind growled louder than they had in days, he shrunk instinctively back towards Snape.
It was in that moment that Snape realised, with a sickening jolt in his gut, that he needed to take action. All eyes in the room flickered towards him at Harry's curious behaviour, and he sniffed unappreciatively at the attention.
Harry was but a second away from clasping at Snape's robed arms with his hands, when the man's cold tones cut through him like ice.
''Must we all be delayed to indulge the Golden Boy his tantrums?''
Harry frowned in genuine confusion, searching the well-known lines of his teachers' face for the reassurance he had come to expect. When that too, was absent, Harry realised finally what the man had meant when he refused to serve as an anchor. He was leaving him to Sirius. Wilfully handing him over. Refusing to accept the possibility of strengthening their relationship, rather than demining it.
Snape crossed his arms over his chest. ''Come, Potter. Get a move on. Allow this meeting to begin, and we can all part in our own ways.''
Swallowing sharply, Harry lowered his gaze to the floor, effectively rebuked, and muttered a brief assent.
Snape wanted to shake some sense into the boy as he watched the thin shoulders slump. How dare Harry take his word so easily? Did he really believe their relationship so fickle as to crumble under the nearest pressure? The boy's instant acceptance of his rough verbal shove almost hurt, if he hadn't been so relieved.
''Let us move into the kitchen.'' Dumbledore suggested, his eyes for once, unreadable as he looked briefly between the two men. With a moments hesitation he included Harry in his decision. ''Harry, I'd like you to come as well. I think it's high time you knew of these discussions. Unless of course you'd rather-''
''No!'' Harry answered quickly, eyes snapping up and holding a ray of hope. ''I want to be a part. I want to help.''
Dumbledore's eyes softened in a sudden pride, as did two others in the room, but Harry felt too unsettled to notice.
Without needing to be told twice, Harry followed Dumbledore's lead. On impulse, he grabbed Sirius' wrist as he passed and dragged the man along beside him before he could create any more damage. Not that the man needed much encouragement. He stayed close to Harry's side as they followed the dark contours of the house, their feet creaking rhythmically on the ancient floorboards.
Harry caught a glimpse of pale pink sandals as he passed the staircase... the flicker of familiar faces, but could not bring himself to look up.
Stale, damp air met Harry's nostrils as the kitchen door was pressed open, the vacant scent of food making his stomach churn instinctively. He crinkled his nose, before blinking in surprise as he followed Dumbledore into a room full of witches and wizards, gathered round the long kitchen table and looking apprehensive.
The headmaster hadn't been kidding when he'd initiated a meeting between the entire of the Order of the Phoenix.
Many he recognised. Moody was present, as was Professor McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebot. But equally so, there were many faces Harry wasn't familiar with. Calculating, inquisitive faces that he'd rather not deal with at present.
It might have been his imagination but he thought he saw Snape's recoil slightly as well from the crowded scene, noticeable from where the man came to a hesitant halt beside him.
''Albus...'' Snape begun warily, but Dumbledore was already striding purposefully towards the head of the table.
Harry hadn't realised just how emotionally attached he'd grown to Snape until he was faced with a room full of people, and the only person he felt safe with was the Head of Slytherin House.
Probably because they had been alone together for so long, but Harry just wanted to eliminate everyone else and go back to the way things were. Where he felt safe and comfortable, without judgement pressing on him from every side.
He didn't want to communicate with people who only saw his scar... A flawless hero. He was none of these things, and Snape seemed to be the only one to get that.
A few witches rose to their feet and acknowledged Dumbledore with friendly smiles as he walked in. Others merely nodded, their faces strained, blatantly sizing up their newest member.
Feeling a miserably familiar sense of disdain against their thoughtless rudeness, Harry stood awkwardly to the side until Dumbledore beckoned him forwards. It had been a while since he'd felt this young around his elders, but the harsh blow his confidence had received recently was not aiding his attempt to appear the willing saviour they all assumed him to be.
A firm palm was placed on his shoulder, and his nerves waned for a moment. He smiled warmly, turning to look over his shoulder, expecting Snape, but Sirius was looking down at him, eyes brimming with gentle encouragement.
Harry shook his head, closing his eyes briefly and exhaling. If Snape was never going to be there, standing at his shoulder at moments like this, he needed to get used to it.
Before Harry could speak , his godfather was gently, but persistently pushing him across to the far end of the table, where he took a seat close beside Remus. He gestured Harry to take the place between himself and Dumbledore.
Harry met his godfathers' eyes for a second as he lowered himself into his chair, and felt himself pale with shame. He did not want to disappoint the man, or reduce him to second best, for he'd never shown Harry anything but love.
Snape, Harry noted, had followed Dumbledore and taken a seat vaguely opposite him, his face set into an emotionless state Harry knew he used when he was distinctly uncomfortable, and wished to merge in with the wallpaper.
The others filtered round the table accordingly, the voices picking up, some aiming direct questions at Harry, which he pretended rather childishly that he couldn't hear.
Snape himself suffered a similar hounding, though his cold indifference quickly subdued the eagerness for report.
''Quiet,'' Dumbledore instructed finally.
Instantly, silence fell across the table, broken short by a late Molly Weasley, returned from ushering the children back upstairs.
''Sorry, Albus,'' she uttered quietly, chancing an affectionate glance in Harry's direction. ''Ginny was making a fuss, as per usual. All settled now.''
She had lost weight, Harry noted immediately as he nodded in response to the small wave. Matched with considerable bags under her eyes, the hollowed look did not suit her.
Following close behind, Fred and George Weasley threw Harry matching grins, which he returned queasily.
''Now,'' Dumbledore continued, as they settled in. His left hand tangled in his beard as he eyed each occupant in the room in turn. ''I would like to take the rare opportunity that we are all grouped together, minus a few noticeable figures, much missed, to make an assessment of our current progress...''
Harry's ears perked up at that, his back lifting a little straighter as he realised he was to be privy to such secretive knowledge.
Snape snorted softly from across the table, resigned amusement in his eyes as Harry's thirst for information finally prepared to be satisfied.
Despite the obvious interest the boy held in the proceedings, the meeting lasted longer than expected. After a long day, Harry's eyelids grew heavy as Dumbledore's' voice continued to fill the silence, longer responses chipping in when appropriate.
Voldemort, it seemed, was still very much alive and set on causing as much stress for the Order as possible. The responsibility was, as predicted, left to Harry to bring the war to the nearest possible end.
Dumbledore turned a resigned stare on Harry as he made the myth of the 'chosen one', into a very firm reality. Harry kept his face blank, refusing to meet probing black eyes as he accepted the unasked question wordlessly.
''Finally, as many of you are undoubtedly already aware, one of us is tonight undertaking a dangerous move for the Order, with the intention of regrouping within Voldemort's ranks.''
All eyes swivelled to Snape but the man barely twitched, his impassive gaze fixed on Dumbledore.
''Perhaps just as importantly, he shall attempt to reclaim his wand. As investing in another would not enable him similar powers as before, we have both deemed this a worthy cause, considering his current position in relation to Mr. Potter. If, however, a reconciliation with the Dark Lord proves a possibility, he had agreed to do all in his power to do so. Severus' efforts in the past have been essential to our cause, and I see no reason why he cannot triumph once again.''
Harry made a disapproving noise in the back of his throat. Sirius cast him a small, sideways frown. Harry lowered himself in his seat, pretending to cough until the attention passed.
''Harry, as you can see,'' Dumbledore continued finally, changing the topic of conversation when all tactics had been covered, and it seemed Harry's presence could be ignored no longer, ''has joined us for this evening.''
Harry forced his gaze upwards as he was scrutinized openly by countless eyes, very aware of the havoc wrecked hair he'd not bothered to brush that morning. He nodded politely at them all, feeling a dull flush rise to his cheeks.
Arthur Weasley, directly opposite him, was a friendly face among many, smiling gently in unintentional encouragement, that Harry chose to focus on, while Dumbledore explained his progress over the summer.
He caught brief words, feeling strangely exposed as his progress was made knowledge of the entire Order.
''... Strenuous period... Advanced methods... Defensive properties... Occlumency...Stamina... And after a bout of sickness, he is slowly, but surely, regaining health-''
''And what exactly did happen with regard to Mr. Potter's... illness?'' asked a middle aged witch Harry had never seen before. Her hard, merciless eyes switched to Snape for an instant. ''There have been rumours that his teacher-''
''Rumours exactly,'' Dumbledore cut swiftly across her, as though he'd been expecting such an interruption. He smiled at her, quite calmly. ''While Severus does not remain entirely blameless for Harry's less than healthy state, he is not the sole cause of his... rather unfortunate bout of illness.''
Sirius stiffened beside him and Harry automatically reached out to touch his wrist, willing him with every muscle in his body not to make a scene.
But it seemed his silent pleas fell on deaf ears, for Sirius was the next member to speak, anger barely suppressed. ''Snape doesn't buy into the whole idea of student welfare, Melissa. And especially not if it involves Harry.''
A hush fell across the table as the accusation spread, Snape's response anxiously anticipated.
When, however, his dark eyes failed to register emotion of any sort, irritation included, Dumbledore stepped in, casting the man a grateful glance.
''My staff are fully qualified in the needs of our students, Sirius,'' he explained calmly. ''Severus included. I am unfamiliar with the exact symptoms of Harry's fever myself, as they include both physical and psychological upsets.'' He cast Harry an apologetic glance, as though he knew perhaps the boy would be uncomfortable with sharing such private information.
''Nevertheless, no Potion Master could have brewed such a deep level of discontent.''
''You're saying that Mr. Potter's condition is unique?''
Harry watched the proceedings, half grateful that his opinion was not being sought after, and half bewildered that they could talk so casually while he sat at the very same table, his presence ignored entirely.
But for fear of Sirius' temper erupting once again, Harry cleared his throat and made it known to Dumbledore that he wished to speak.
''It was... and I think Professor Snape agrees,'' Harry begun hesitantly, addressing the table for the first time, ''that there was fault on both our parts. I should have stopped training so hard when he told me to. When I'd reached my limit. I pushed myself too far and allowed myself to get exhausted. But... I will take better care of myself now.'' Harry glanced at Snape, recalling their conversation earlier in the day. ''I'm working on my occlumency skills and I think, with further tutoring, my mind will be as clear as it was-''
''Further tutoring?'' Sirius repeated, looking away from Harry to raised an eyebrow at Dumbledore. ''You cannot be serious?''
Dumbledore nodded gravely. ''A weeks rest Sirius, in your capable hands, and all things permitted, he shall return to Severus' care-''
''Over my dead body-''
''That can be arranged, Black,'' Severus sneered from across the table, speaking for the first time. ''Or shall it be Harry that pays the price for your selfish-''
''I can train him,'' Sirius argued heatedly, only prevented from rising to his feet by Harry's stubborn pressure on his arm. ''There's no reason for you to interfere with the boy, Snape. I don't know what twisted game you're playing here, but you've had your fun. You damn near killed Harry.''
''Sirius,'' Remus begun, leaning towards his friend, but found himself carelessly brushed aside. ''Harry is just-''
''Look how pale he is, Mooney. Does he look he's been having the time of his life to you?'' Sirius snapped. ''I know you live off cold blood, Snape, but a kid does need to eat for Merlin's sake.''
''Hm,'' agreed Snape, eyes narrowing in intense hatred. ''As does a child in the care of less than adequate relatives. I do not recall your influence then Black, administering appropriate nutrition? It must have been hard, locked up in Azkaban, to be such an... attentive carer for the boy.''
Sirius paled considerably, before turning the deepest shade of red. He got no further chance to retaliate, however, for another voice, much calmer, carried across the table.
''What do you want, Harry?'' asked Mr. Weasley, as though there was not a life-long dispute occurring directly across him. ''How do you see your training progressing?''
Harry was no longer quite so pale as everyone took this as an opportunity to scrutinize him afresh, his cheeks burning crimson.
''I...'' Harry faltered, taken off guard. Ignoring Sirius hopeful expression, he forced himself to be honest. ''My training isn't finished. There's still so much more I need to learn,'' he stated nervously. ''And... seeing as I started off with Professor Snape, I don't see why I shouldn't go back if he'll have me.''
''How in Merlin's name did you do this?'' Sirius asked quietly, almost incredulous, looking back and forth between Harry and Snape as though daring himself to believe it. ''Have you manipulated my godson so he's too blinded to remember what a callous bastard you are-''
''If that is what Harry wishes, I can assure you it is a decision made entirely of his own free will,'' Dumbledore interjected firmly. ''And he is right. Severus can offer him resources that no other can.''
Despairing of making Dumbledore see sense, Sirius turned his attention solely to Harry.
''Look at me,'' he instructed, bending Harry towards him by a firm hand on his shoulder. He took a deep, calming breath, though his determination remained strong.
''Whatever... relationship you seem you seem to think you have with this man, it's an illusion. I can understand, Harry, if I have to, that you've been ... tricked into trusting him. I was a fool to allow you anywhere near him this summer. This never should have happened. But once you're back here, and you've calmed down, things will become much clearer I promise you.''
''It's not like that, Sirius,'' Harry sighed. He knew there was little chance of the man ever understanding his position, but he had to at least try to explain. ''Professor Snape has been really good to me. We didn't get on at first. We still don't really. He made life pretty much unbearable, but then things started to change. If you would just look closer, Sirius, and get over whatever arguments you had when you were my age, you could be friends-''
''Friends?'' Sirius scoffed, looking at Harry as though he were seeing him for the first time. ''Is that what you think you and Snivelly are?''
''No! Not at all. It's just that we-''
''If your father could hear you now, Harry, he'd be disappointed. Even more than I am,'' Sirius cut across stonily, stiffening in his chair and falling silent.
''Sirius,'' Harry pleaded, very aware of their audience. ''Just listen to me. There's no reason to get like this. Snape isn't... replacing anyone, or trying to be any more than a decent teacher. He's already made that very clear. We just agreed not to fight as much so that I could actually learn something!''
He sighed deeply, his hope drifting as he lowered his voice. ''He makes me feel safe, Sirius. He isn't trying to trick me, or hurt me. He could have finished me off when I got that fever, but he didn't. He helped me. Every single day. I trust him, and there's no reason why you shouldn't as well.''
When Sirius continued to stare directly ahead, not responding outwardly to Harry's explanation, Dumbledore filled the silence with a sigh of his own.
''Gentlemen, if you will remember, we are in a meeting. The requirements of which go above that of your own personal conflicts. However, I believe we are now at an end. If anyone wishes to remain for dinner, I believe Molly is preparing-''
''Wait,'' Snape interrupted, almost urgently. He looked briefly at Harry, warning him not to interrupt, and then lifted himself to his feet. ''I hardly accept that any accusations made to my person, in the case of Mr. Potter, have been rectified. That said, I do not wish to... prolong the matter. However, it is imperative that each and every one of you is aware that I would, and have, stood in the face of death for this boy-''
''Self-righteous bastard,'' Sirius muttered, and Snape was down in his face in an instant.
''Jealousy, Black, is ill-suited to such a depraved man,'' he sneered. ''As I prepare to endure myself, as I witness Harry leaning to you for support, and not I. As I do not pressure him into the solace of my own reclusive care, as we both know I could. Consider yourself a privileged man indeed, to be cleansed enough with your lazy nature, free from burden, in order to receive such affection without guilt, for I cannot do it.''
''You're insane,'' Sirius spat, though something uncertain had begun to flicker in his eyes.
''It is not James Potter that would feel such anger on behalf of his son, but you, Black, who should be cowering with shame for administering such pressure, and dim-witted ignorance that disallows you from seeing Harry for who he really is.''
''I see just fine,'' hissed Sirius.
Snape straightened up with a sneer, eyes flashing. ''Your friend is dead, Black. His carbon copy is not born in his son. They do not share the same instincts, nor the same grudges. If you disappoint Harry, you will not only suffer his inevitable rejection, but the curse of my wand also.''
Perplexed into state of emotional confusion as he watched the scene unfold, Harry didn't receive a chance to call Snape back as the man swept out of the door, black robes billowing behind him. He could barely register the messages behind the heated tones, or what they would mean for the future.
Harry was barely aware of people rising to their feet and moving around him, muttering quietly and casting curious glances in his direction.
He started when a hand nudged his elbow.
''Time for bed, Harry,'' Molly Weasley said quietly, brushing his fringe back from his face with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. ''I think you've been through enough for one day.''
Sirius was no longer by his side. Snape was absent. Harry felt oddly numb inside, like he had let them both down. He climbed the staircase, ignoring the heavy stares on his back, an absent frown on his face.
Harry eased beneath the sheets of his bed fully clothed, in a room strangely void of both Ron, Hermione, and all other red-headed children. He did not answer Molly when she bid him a quiet goodnight, but he could hear arguments continuing downstairs, echoing up to the floors above him.
His thoughts churned inside of his head, disrupting previously rebuilt walls, until he rolled over, snatched his dreamless sleep from his pocket and gulped down two vials at once. With the high dosage, his mind soon eased, and by the time he'd rolled back over, he was unconscious.
He'd no time to contemplate the coming week, or register the cold, hard panic that was settling in his gut with fabricated mental images of Snape crossing the void back to Voldemort's side, where he did not belong.
Only time would tell what was in store for the man. All Harry knew was that it wouldn't be good.