Author's Note: As always, sorry for the delay, but thanks so much for the wonderful reviews! It's the only reason I updated!
Also, I realized I never actually made the standard disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, his universe, or a significant amount of money. Please don't sue me.
Chapter 7: Taking Stock
He instantly grabbed Harry by the shoulders, trying to gently awaken him from the nightmare. The boy stirred awake instantly, jumping back against the headboard, his hands flying up to protect himself. When he realized it was just Snape, his arms lowered, anger etched onto his face. Severus, aware that he was sneering, tried to recompose his face to something more appropriate for the situation.
"Here," he finally said, offering Potter a glass of water. "You're probably dehydrated." Harry looked surprised at the Professor's friendly – well, not malignant – offer and gratefully drank the water – it had been days since he last had any clean water to drink - but his stomach was still weak, and after a few gulps, he began to regret his haste.
Severus had been disgusted by the look of gratitude on Potter's face – it was a cup of water for goodness' sake. And yet the child was gulping it like Snape would snatch it away any minute and yell "joking." As suddenly as he had begun, though, Potter stopped, his face wrenching from the sated joy of finally quenching his thirst to the pain of forcing too much into a shrunken stomach. Without questioning, Severus conjured a bucket, just in time to receive back the water, now mixed with blood. He frowned – how sick was the child to be vomiting blood? – but his musings were interrupted by Potter's anxious apologies. The frantic child was panicking, apologizing so quickly that it took Snape a minute to realize the child had misinterpreted his frown at the blood as anger at Harry for throwing up.
"Please, sir, I didn't mean to be ungrateful, I'm sorry" Harry gasped, his back pressed up against the backboard, in what had to be a very painful position for his still sore back, but gave him an extra inch away from the professor.
"Potter," Snape tried very hard not to snap at the boy, whose fearful eyes watched his hands and not his face. "Look at me." Harry gulped, then fleetingly made eye contact before dropping his gaze to his own hands. "What are you whining about?" The child sucked in a breath, before speaking in a low, almost resigned voice.
"I'm sorry for getting sick, sir, and for whining." Although he had suspected the cause, it still felt like a punch to the gut.
"Don't," Snape said, trying his best to keep his voice even. "You are sick. We're going to get you better. You're not whining."
Just then the Healer popped back through the fireplace.
"This is Healer Gaiman. He's a good healer, and a good friend. He's going to help you." Even to Snape's ears, the words sounded forced and hesitant, without his normal resentment backing them up.
"Ah, good morning, my young charge," the healer, seemingly oblivious to the tension, cheerfully greeted Harry who seemed to relax with his entrance, his shoulders slumping as his face regained an iota of hope. "You may leave him in my hands, Severus."
Snape gratefully left the room, assured by Harry's clear trust of the Healer. The boy had always trusted too easily – idiot.
But then, the nagging voice in Snape's mind corrected, Harry had never trusted Snape at all. And why should he? Snape had done nothing but belittle and humiliate the boy. He had done nothing but act like the Dursleys. And even if the Dursleys were paying for it now, that couldn't assuage the guilt Snape felt. What could he possibly do? What would happen to the child now? What would happen to the world, with their future savior just a scared, little boy, desperately, tenaciously surviving the indifference and cruelty of the adults in his life?
That's exactly what Harry felt like – a scared, little boy. He liked to pretend he could hold his own, but he had just had a full-blown panic attack in front of Snape, of all people. It was just – waking up from a nightmare with Snape's face right in his. And then, even after the professor had given him water – something Uncle Vernon never would have done – he had thrown it back up. He would be locked up for weeks for that kind of offense.
On the plus side, now that he could breathe again and Snape had been replaced by this mysterious but gentle Healer, Harry couldn't believe how much better he felt already. The Healer's potions had worked far better than anything he had ever managed to make, and the man practically oozed patience and professionalism without the fussy, overbearing mothering of Madame Pomfrey. Harry had woken up a handful of times before Snape had entered, and each time the man had given him a small sip of water before he drifted back to unconsciousness.
His injuries felt far better too – he could almost feel the bruises fading and it was nice to breath without wanting to cry or pass out. The bed was deliciously warm and soft as well, an added bonus for his still sore body. He couldn't believe such comfort existed in Snape's house. More to the point, he couldn't believe he was the recipient of such comfort in Snape's house. Wasn't the professor angry at him? Didn't he believe Aunt Petunia's lies? Hadn't he practically thrown Harry up against the wall for imaginary crimes and invaded his mind against his will?
But, Harry, always fair, couldn't stop there. Snape had also been the only one to check on him this summer. Snape had actually removed him from the Dursleys, even if it was because of a silly, concocted story. Snape had offered him a chance to shower before questioning him, and when the truth had came out, Snape had evidently contacted a Healer and provided more than the necessary aid to save his life.
So the question became, what would happen next?