Note: Erm...This chapter is different from the rest, there's only really one event. Therefore; I'm paranoid about it, I have no idea if I like it or not, this chpt was a real b#tch to write! Pardon my french..heh. I might change this chp. if I figure out how to make it better.....grrrr....I'll let ya know.

Thanks: Thank you for reviewing! Maybe they'll help me smash my horrid writer's block!



An Old Man's Meddling

By Severitus

--Chapter 8-



The day passed by in a slow, strange fashion, with only the growing shadows within the hospital wing providing any testament to the passage of time. Everything seemed blurred by a strange sort of haze, a sleepy detachment from anything but the steady hum of thought and the frequent flare of pain. Severus Snape had experienced that same sort of drugged daze many times before, but on this occasion it was different for many reasons. The foremost difference was the fact that never before had he been injured so severely, and the second, never had he cared so little. In past instances he'd lain in the hospital bed, sorting out everything he'd learned about the Dark Lord's plans and plotting how best to thwart them. But now----now something completely different ruled his thoughts, eating away at his usual indifference to the world. It was the fact that Harry Potter had seen the Dark Mark.

Ever since the boy had left that morning, he hadn't been able to stop worrying about it. Severus realized that not a month ago he couldn't have cared less if the boy discovered his dark secret, but something was different now. Now, he felt a wave of shame and revulsion every time he thought about it. Both emotions he was intensely familiar with, he'd lived with them every day of his life for over fifteen years. But the fact that Harry had seen the hated Mark somehow made it ten times worse.

For a moment, thought paused, startled by a small realization. When had he started calling the boy by his first name? Severus wondered. When had he stopped being just another Potter, and become Harry? Frowning, he thought back, struggling to find some seemingly insignificant instance that could have caused the shift. He thought back to when he first set out to rescue the boy, an uncharacteristic action if taken at face value. However, his purpose in that had been more selfish than humanitarian. Seeing the boy treated so maliciously had triggered a barrage of unpleasant memories, memories of his own parents visiting similar tortures upon him. No, he hadn't rescued Harry just for /Harry's/ sake, he had done it to spite the Dursleys. He'd torn their 'toy' away from them, denying them the sick pleasure of cruelty for the sake of cruelty. The mission had been as much to prevent Harry from suffering a mirror of his own fate as it had been a late-sought revenge. Despite that unpleasant discovery of common ground, Severus realized that he'd still fairly detested the child afterward. So what /had/ it been, then?

Groaning in frustration, he sat up slowly in the bed, hissing sharply as a pain flared across his bruised back. He remembered being kicked there a few times, probably by Goyle. Sitting up all the way, he swung his legs off the bed and looked around, hoping beyond all hope that Poppy wasn't around. He would figure out the workings of his own mind later, at the moment he just wanted to get out of the wretched hospital garb and be back down in his own pleasantly dim rooms. Unfortunately, his black robes were no where to be seen. Nor was his wand, for that matter. Evidently, Poppy had predicted he'd try to leave, it /was/ a routine they went through every time he ended up in the hospital wing. This time, she probably suspected that he'd rather be stuck in the hospital than be seen in anything other than his trademark robes. She was sorely mistaken, Severus thought, for he'd damn well rather be butt naked than play the invalid.

Casting a wary glance around the room, he slipped quietly from the bed, padding softly toward the door. Poppy was apparently absent, for neither sight nor sound betrayed her presence. Severus slipped quickly out the door, determined to be gone and locked safely in his chambers before the nurse returned. He was just begining to feel pleased with his success when he heard the tell-tale snap of a clipboard.

"Good evening, Severus." The nurse's voice said curtly from behind. He squared his shoulders and turned around slowly.

"Evening, Poppy." He said in a monotone, glaring at her in annoyance. She was standing in the center of the hallway, clipboard in one hand and wand in the other. She had his own wand thrust into the pocket of her apron, he noticed.

"Back into bed, Severus, before I send you there myself." She said, waving the wand tip in his direction. He didn't have any doubt that she would, as she'd done just that on at least two occasions. The embarrassment of being petrified and then levitated back into the hospital wing was certainly not something he wished to repeat.

"Very well." He grumbled, attempting to stalk back into the room. The limp degraded it into something more of a stagger, though, and he just knew that Poppy was grinning. Once he'd crawled reluctantly back into the horrid little bed, Poppy twirled her wand triumphantly and returned it to its place in a side pocket.

"Honestly, Severus, you should know better by now. You try that every time you're here, and never /once/ have you made it to the dungeons." Poppy huffed, rustling through the papers on her clipboard. Severus crossed his arms and glared, frowning.

"I made it to the stairs once." He muttered defensively, and Poppy made a disgusted sound in her throat.

"I try to heal you people and what do I get? I get to spend my day chasing down escapees like some sort of /prison/ guard. You'd think I tortured you or something, for heaven's sake!" she said angrily, placing her hands on her hips.

"Well, you ARE a bit rough…." Severus sneered, and Poppy rolled her eyes.

"Small price to pay for regaining the use of your limbs!" she shot back, and stomped further into the hospital, her back turned as she scribbled on the clipboard. Severus frowned as he remembered something, his eyes refocusing on the empty doorway.

"Where's Harry?" he asked, and Poppy turned back around, wearing a surprised expression.

"Harry? I saw him wandering around the castle several times today, he's probably still doing the same thing. Why do you ask?"

"He mentioned he'd stop back by."

--------

The long, dark halls of Hogwarts seemed unsurpassably lonely without their fill of bustling students, chattering voices, and fluttering robes. It was dark and desolate, even more so knowing that the classrooms were empty and silent, filled with patient desks and bare podiums. Harry realized he must have passed down that same hallway at least five times that day, crisscrossing up and down staircases as he wound aimlessly through the castle. All he cared about was that he was moving, physically doing something as his mind reeled in confusion, turning in upon itself and back again. For nearly the entire day only two things laid claim of his thoughts. The first was the Dursley's fate, and the second and foremost was the Dark Mark.

No matter which way he looked at it, he couldn't bring himself to believe that Snape was a Death Eater. It simply did /not/ make any sense. A Death Eater wouldn't have saved famous Harry Potter from the Dursleys, or from that monster. A Death Eater wouldn't have been allowed to teach at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and a Death Eater most certainly would not have spoken about Voldemort's secret affairs with Professor Dumbledore. That left only one conclusion, Snape must be a spy. It explained several things, the Dark Mark for one. It also explained the whispered words Dumbledore and Snape had shared before he'd ran from Hagrid's hut, and also why he'd given Dumbledore information. And yet-- Harry couldn't shake the persistent feeling of doubt that roiled within his mind.

Another thing that plagued him was why it seemed to matter so much. It was /Snape/, after all, a man whose greatest pleasure in life had always seemed to be ridiculing him beyond belief. Why then, had the discovery horrified Harry so much? Maybe Ron had been right, he thought, maybe he really was starting to like the 'evil git.' Harry stopped in the center of the hallway and shook his head, frowning. No, it couldn't be that, he thought. It was probably just the fact that Snape had saved his life (three times!), and was now was revealed as an agent of Voldemort, spy or no. Looking down toward the end of the familiar hall, Harry remembered what he'd told Snape that morning. Sighing in resignation, he trudged down the hall toward the entrance to the hospital wing.

--------

The sound of soft footsteps drawing near the hospital entrance jerked Severus Snape out of the light sleep he'd fallen into. It was near evening, as the few torches scattered throughout the room had been lit. It was by their light that he spied the figure standing reluctantly in the doorway, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. Harry had returned, and didn't look the least bit happy about it. Snape couldn't deny the fact that he was relieved by the sight of the boy in the doorway, for it meant he was at least willing to ask about what he'd seen.

"Evening, Professor." Harry said, not quite meeting his eyes.

"Evening, Harry." Snape replied, doing his best to keep his tone calm and as non-threatening as possible. It was a difficult feat, for he rarely spoke in any other fashion. Harry stepped into the room, crossing silently over to the chair by the bed. He paused, fidgeting a little and still refusing to raise his eyes.

"Professor, I..." Harry began, but Snape stopped him.

"You saw the Dark Mark on my arm." he said, and Harry nodded. "Have a seat, Harry." he continued, and the boy instantly dropped into the chair, his hands folded in his lap. He was scared, Severus realized, scared that he might threaten him or possibly even try to attack him in some way.

"You work for Voldemort." Harry stated shortly, and finally raised his eyes up to meet his teacher's. Snape's eyes instantly turned cold and hard, his lip curling in disgust and anger.

"I most certainly do /not/." he snapped, unable to completely restrain the anger that rose at the very thought. The anger though, wasn't really directed toward the Dark Lord, but rather at himself. "...though I /was/ a servant of the Dark Lord at one time." he said, and even Harry couldn't miss the undertone of shame that rode with the words. Harry's eyes widened slightly, and Snape was surprised when something like /relief/ washed over his features.

"So it's true....you're a spy!" Harry said with a smile, though he himself couldn't explain why the revelation caused such a reaction. Snape smiled too, which added yet another bit of confusion to the mix.

"Correct. I assume you guessed so because of that night at Hagrid's hut?" Snape said, and Harry nodded. Then his eyebrows tipped slowly downward and his eyes unfocused, swirling for a moment in thought. When he looked back up, his gaze was sligthly accusatory, the smile disappeared.

"But if you /don't/ serve the Dark Lord, why have you always hated me so much?" Harry asked, his eyes clearly focused and mouth drawn thin. Snape's own meager smile slipped away then, his face shifting into a more blank expression.

"You know the reason." he said, unable to keep from glaring slightly. This was not a line of discussion he wished to pursue, especially with Harry. He hoped that the boy would take the hint and drop the topic, but he persisted, now also glaring.

"I know /part/ of the reason." Harry said, the tone of his voice clearly saying that he was determined for an answer. The boy crossed his arms and sat straighter in the chair, his eyes focused in unblinking determination.

"It is none of your business, Potter." Snape hissed angrily, his jaws clenched tightly. Why was the boy suddenly standing up to him? He wondered. Normally he would back down at the first hint of anger, but now he was sitting there, arms crossed, practically challenging him to a glaring match. It was probably the fact that Snape was wandless, injured, and dressed in very non-threatening hospital pajamas, he supposed. One couldn't be very threatening while lying nearly flat on their back, after all.

"I can't believe that it's because of what my father did a couple decades ago, and I can't believe it's because I'm famous, either. There's something else." Harry persisted, his own jaw clenched in determination.

"As I said-- That. Is. None. Of. Your. /Business/." Snape enunciated, a low, rumbling growl rising deep in his throat. But Harry just continued to sit there, glaring in return. "Why did you sit there watching me last night?" Snape asked, and Harry's eyes widened in surprise. For a moment Harry looked uneasy, but then his brows furrowed in renewed resolve.

"Why did /you/ watch over /me/ after the monster attack?" he returned with equal vehemence. Snape's teeth were bared in an angry snarl, his fists clenched and white knuckled at his sides.

"Why did you return here, after seeing the Dark Mark?" Snape growled, and Harry recrossed his arms, tilting his head back as he replied.

"And why did /you/ save me from the Dursleys?" Harry snapped, and surprise briefly washed over the older wizard's features.

"Answer my question, Potter." Snape commanded, employing his fiercest glare. Harry, however, wasn't the least bit perturbed.

"Not until you answer mine." Harry replied, leaning back in his chair. The air practically hummed with the tension between the two, charged with equal anger and frustration. Something like a staring contest ensued then, as glare locked with glare. Neither one moved for a long time, not a muscle twitching or an eye blinking. What finally shattered the merciless silence was the shock of brilliant, searing pain that shot up Snape's left arm. With a pained, startled gasp, he jerked upright in the bed, clamping a hand over the flesh that bore the Dark Mark. His eyes narrowed and teeth gritted against the pain, which was far worse that it had ever been before. He supposed that it was a bit of the Dark Lord's vengeance, petty retribution for escaping punishment with his life. Severus didn't even realize that Harry had moved at first, but now the boy was standing on the left side of the bed, watching him with a calm expression.

"Move your hand." he said calmly, and Severus did as he was told, brows knitted in confusion. Harry didn't seem to be really thinking about what he was doing as he stood there, moving instead as if by some instinctual force. He raised his hands slightly and grasped Snape's forearm, palms pressed to the flesh that bore the Dark Mark. Instantly, the pain began to whither, dwindly steadily down until not even a memory of it remained. Snape stared at Harry in shock, his eyes widened and expression slack.

"What did you just do...?" he asked with a hint of suspicion. Harry released his grip and took a step back, his own eyes a sea of confusion.

"I'm...not really sure. It just...felt like the thing to do." the boy answered, his eyes darting to the Mark clearly visible on Snape's exposed arm. The Potions Master had his arm raised and was studying the mark, running his thumb over the infamous symbol.

"You stopped the pain." Snape said, and lowered his arm, quickly tugging a sleeve down to cover it. "That is how The Dark Lord summons his followers....but the pain doesn't subside until we've answered the call, or the Dark Lord stops the summoning. What did you do?" Snape asked again, and Harry shook his head.

"I don't know....it just, popped into my head. I didn't mean...." Harry started to apologize, but Snape stopped him fast with a short, piercing glare. However, once the words had died in Harry's throat, the glare disappeared and was replaced by a highly unfamiliar expression. Snape seemed incredibly uneasy about what he was going to say next, as if he had to fight an inner war simply to put voice to the words. Finally, he turned to Harry and cast his eyes downward slightly, drawing a deep breath.

"Your question." he stated at first, then shifted slightly. "I don't really care about what your father did, nor do I care about your fame. It's obvious to everyone that you hate the attention." he paused again, and Harry stared at him in fascination and bewilderment, and Snape continued, "I've hated you out of jealousy, for who you are. You're strong, Harry, stronger than I ever was at your age. You've lived with pain and ridicule your entire life and it hasn't weakened you. You resisted Voldemort's call, the allure of power-- fought him twice and WON twice. No one had to tell you which side to fight for--you /knew/. I didn't. I envy you for that, Harry. And I've hated you for it." Snape finished, and was staring at the floor, his face more open than Harry had ever seen it. His expression was awash with pain and shame, and Harry stared at him in shock, his mouth slightly gaping. Then, the emotions disappeared, dissolving into a softer, yet still vaguely pained expression. "And as to why I watched over you after the monster attack--Quite simply, I was worried. Now, YOU answer /my/ question." he said, focusing a blank, attentive gaze on Harry. Harry gaped for a minute, wringing his hands in unease. Finally, his shoulders slumped and he stared at the floor, hands hanging lifelessly at his sides.

"I was worried about you, Professor. You saved my life--twice--and I thought that it meant--maybe--you didn't hate me so much anymore." Harry said, scratching the back of his neck nervously. Snape raised an eyebrow, confused by the odd, almost pleading tone of the boy's voice at the last. It almost seemed as if he was desperate not to be hated, grasping desperatly for some hint of human concern. Severus had never expected such a thing, had completely ignored what should have been blatantly obvious. Harry had never been cared for by an adult in his life. The Dursley's despised him (or had, the tense was in question), Dumbledore was more of a mentor, and Hagrid wasn't a permanent figure in the his life. Harry wanted someone permanent, he wanted a parent. It was no wonder that he was desperate, but now that he had focused on /Snape/, he didn't know what to think, or /do/ for that matter. The situation was getting a bit too complex and uncomfortable for Severus' ease of mind, for he realized that he himself wasn't completely innocent on the matter either.

"I don't hate you, Harry." he settled on saying, unwilling to venture into an explanation or a tour of his own mind. The boy looked up in surprise, his eyes filled with an unconscious hope. "You're damn annoying, sometimes, but I don't hate you." he added with a smile, and Harry smiled in return, his entire face lighting up.

"I'm sorry I thought you were evil." Harry said, obviously a little ashamed of himself. Snape snorted in amusement and laughed once, and then fixed a stern glare on the boy.

"Now don't go saying things like that, you'll ruin my reputation." he said in all seriousness, then his expression shifted again, and he motioned for Harry to return to the chair. "Poppy will be returning shortly, care to join me for dinner? Nothing hospital issue though, I assure you." Snape said, and Harry nodded vigouresly.

"Sure, that'd be great." Harry said, and Snape sighed in confusion over the bright smile now plastered to the boy's face, and the light one crossing his own. He had a feeling things were going to be a little odd from now on. Severus had no idea whatsoever what to do about Harry, he wasn't even sure what he thought of the boy anymore. The hate was gone, that much he realized, and he didn't truthfully /dislike/ him, and that itself was confusing enough. But when you threw in the additional variable of Harry's growing attachment, Severus recognized fear curling deep within his chest. Fear of the past, the future, and especially of the unfamiliar, increasing fondness for the Boy-Who-Lived. For the first time since the summer had begun, Severus Snape had no idea in hell what he was going to do.

------end Chapter 8----

Note:: Sorry this was so short, I'm suffering from a bit of writers block and struggling to tame the chaos known as ,"Spring Semester Starts Monday!!!! AHHH!" I also had winter session finals to worry about. So Don't worry, I'm not ignoring this story. I WILL keep with it 'til the end. And again, thank you SOOOO much for reviewing! Honestly, it does inspire me!