"Harry. Harry? HARRY!"
Harry Potter jerked back from his reverie to see the faces of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger peering at him over glasses of pumpkin juice.
"Harry, did you hear a word that I said?" asked Hermione, her right elbow pinning open a potions book, hand paging through another text, while her left hand held a half-eaten apple. "Apparently not," Ron interjected, flipping through the Daily Prophet, ignoring the front page in favor of the Quiddich section. Hermione sighed, glancing at him once more, the lines between her eyebrows changing from those of irritation to concern. "You look a bit pale, and you haven't eaten any lunch. Are you ill?" she asked.
Harry shook his head slightly, pulling himself back to reality "Just tired. I haven't been sleeping …well." Or at all, he added mentally. "Bad dreams," he explained.
"Is it you-know-who again? Have you told Dumbledore—"
"Just the normal sort of bad dreams, Hermione," Harry said, cutting her off before she could fall into her full-blown lecture mode. The normal sort of dreams, the kind in which Sirius tumbled away again and again to death, as Harry uselessly tried to pull him back. Or Cedric Diggory's wide, dead eyes filled with terrible accusation. Or the newest one, which featured a solemn-faced, rumple-haired James Potter, who, sitting with Sirius, Lilly, and Cedric, informed Harry that really, he had expected more from a son of his;asking which friend would have to die next; asking if he was sure that he was worth these sacrifices--James' steady stare seemed to say that he doubted it. They were the normal sort of dreams that woke him in a cold sweat, that haunted his nearly sleepless nights and had begun to haunt his days as well. "Not every little problem in my life is an effect of dark magic," he said, forcing a smile.
"Lay off him, Hermione. Tuning out your monologues on NEWT potions is probably a sign of mental health, not of illness," added Ron with a roll of his eyes. Hermione shot Ron a dirty look as Harry snorted.
"Ron, Harry and I will be late to potions if we don't leave now, and I'd rather not give Snape any excuse to take points from Griffindor," announced Hermione, pushing back her chair and shoving her scattered books into her bag.
"Not that he needs one, the greasy git," muttered Ron. "Merlin's beard, I'm glad I dropped that class. Oy, Harry, have a pumpkin pasty, you'll feel loads better," he said, tossing one in the direction of Harry's head. Harry's stomach churned as he glanced at the orange pastry.
"I think I lost my appetite when you mentioned Snape," he replied with a wan smile, as he flipped the pasty back to Ron, who shrugged and took a bite from it.
Harry settled beside Hermione at their desk at the rear of the Potions classroom. The dungeon door gave an agonized creak, then an ominous thud, closing behind Severus Snape as he entered the dungeon and stalked to the center of the room to face the class, upper lip curling faintly. "As you should well know, NEWTs are fast approaching. Great diligence and focus is required for potions-work at this level." He surveyed the Gryffindors with cold eyes. Granger, he saw with faint amusement, was leaning forward with rapt attention, nearly falling off the edge of her seat. His gaze paused on Potter, who seemed transfixed by a jar of dried flobberworm gizzards at the front of the front of the room. Snape noticed the bruselike darkness under the boy's eyes, only accentuated by the flickering torchlight of the dungeon, then felt a flicker of irritation at his own concern. "Some of us," he continued silkily, "will require more effort than others. Wouldn't you agree, Potter?" Granger elbowed the boy sharply in the ribs, and his attention returned to Snape. The boy blinked, then replied blankly,
"Yes, sir." Well, thought Snape, at least he seemed to be less arrogant than usual. Even if he likely had no idea what the question had been. He continued with the lecture.
"Today, we will be attempting the Draught of Melancholy, a NEWT level potion. I will advise all of you to pay close attention to the proper procedure, as the potion is extremely volatile during the middle stages of brewing. Instructions"—He waved his wand—"are on the board. You will have one hour. Begin."
"Honestly, Harry, you have to focus!" Hermione admonished. "This is the sort of thing that will be on the NEWTs, and if you plan to be an Auror…"
"I get it, Hermione. Honestly, I just have… a lot on my mind. I'm focusing."
She looked at him sharply. "Are you sure that you don't need to go to the infirmary?"
"Positive. Positive, Hermione! I'll crush the wartcap powder, you can distill the Glumbumble extract." Harry said. Hermione nodded, mollified, and lit a fire under their cauldron with a poke of her wand. Harry poured a handful of wartcap into his mortar and began grinding them with a pestle. Turning towards the front of the dungeon, he came face to face with Snape, who had silently glided across the room. Lack sleep was dulling his reflexes, Harry thought. Sloppy.Snape stard into Harry's face for a long moment, then glanced at the wartcaps.
"That will need to be very coarsely ground, Potter," he said curtly, then turned on his heel to continue stalking through the rows of cauldrons. Harry squinted at the blackboard through the gathering haze of cauldron smoke. Salamander blood… glumblebumble extract…syrup of hellbore…wartcap powder..belladonna leaf. As he inhaled the acrid vapors of the dungeon, a slow throb of pain began in his temples and a wave of dizziness passed through him . Hermione mixed the salamander blood and the glumblebumble powder with two counterclockwidse and one clockwise stir of her wand, and the cauldron bubbled deep crimson. She turned to shred the Belladonna leaf into precise strips, using a freshly sharpened silver knife. Focus, Harry, he told himself firmly.
Perhaps, with Hermione's help, this potion would satisfy Snape, Harry thought with a glimmer of hope as he poured the wartcap powder into the cauldron with six clockwise stirs of his wand. It hissed, then glimmered a soft silver. He added three drops of hellbore, and it sizzled louder and turned a violent green …two stirs clockwise or counter-clockwise? Harry thought, taking two steps towards the board. Two. He turned to see Hermione leaning over the cauldron. "Harry, this color isn't right—" the cauldron sent up a plume of smoke, and she stepped back, just as the potion shot up in a miniature fountain while the cauldron crumpled beside her. Oh god, Hermione. What have I done? Harry's stomach dropped as adrenaline jolted through him , and he dove forwards to snatch the back of her robes, pulling her back against the dungeon wall as another shower of livid red sparks shot up.
Snape was suddenly there, swooping in like a massive black bat, wand moving in what was apparently a fire-extinguishing charm. The potion hissed as it was quenched. Hermione clutched Harry's arm, whitefaced and unsteady on her feet. Singed bits of her robe still smoked faintly, and livid burns were evident on her right hand, but, to Harry's great relief she seemed otherwise in one piece. Harry could feel the adrenaline jangling through what remained of his nerves, hands trembling as he pressed his shoulders to the cool stone of the wall for support. Snape turned from the smoking remnants of the potion to face the pair, black eyes narrowed and glittering and jaw clenched with the tension of anger.
"Brown. Bell." Snape hissed, taking Hermione's shoulder with near-gentleness and guiding her towards them. "Take Granger to Madame Pomfrey. Now." He passed a still-dazed Hermione to them, and they hurried from the room. "I hope that you're very proud of your work, Potter. Everyone's golden boy, isn't that right?" he asked softly, facing away from Harry. "Tell me, Potter!" he snarled, wheeling about, "Are you entirely incapable of following instructions? The directions that I have given specifically stated that the wartcap powder is not to be added before the syrup of hellbore, and moreover not before cooling the potion! Or shall we believe that you intentionally disobeyed the instructions in order to play the hero and save your friend, Miss Granger? Anything to feed your hero complex, isn't that right, Potter?" he paused before adding softly, "One would have thought that you had learned the repercussions of risking the lives of others with your selfish, headstrong behaviors."
For a moment the boy stiffened, as though he had been slapped, pain flickering across his face. For an instant, the black eyes met emerald, and in those wide emerald eyes, it was clear how deeply the boy was wounded. Then the vulnerability was gone, replaced by a masklike expression of impassivity, as blank as a closed door. The brief silence stretched for an eternity, the only sound in the room the dying sigh of the gently smoking potion. The mouth tensed, released. "You can go to hell," Harry said, voice unfathomable, before turning, exiting the dungeon without a backwards glance.
Harry walked from the dungeon, only the last vestiges of his self control keeping him from the run he broke into as soon as he was past the doorway. Breathing grown ragged, legs burning, his heart flung itself in a wild beat against his sternum as he sprinted up flight after flight of stairs, no destination in mind. He only stopped running when there were no more stairs, finding himself in one of the many unused towers of Hogwarts.
The open windows of the tower gave a view of the grounds of Hogwarts, the trees of the Forbidden Forest clinging to their last battered leaves in the chill the last fading days of autumn, but Harry had no appreciation for the view. Instead, he spread his cloak on the floor by the window, where he sat, back pressed to the wall, and buried his face in his hands. He could feel that something had crumbled within him, and that something tore at the edges of his soul with razor teeth. The perfect self-control had shattered. The carefully maintained balance had been lost, and he had fallen hard. The mask of impassivity, thought by Snape to be a sign of arrogance, had crumpled as surely and as irreparably as the destroyed cauldron. The last straw had been broken, and Harry felt devastatingly lost. His pulse trembled in the hollow between his collarbones and his hands shook as his head throbbed. The pain rattled through him like a drum whose meter was his heartbeat, leaving his soul bruised. He was so tired now, more tired than he'd ever been before. Oh god.
Snape had dismissed the class early, for perhaps the first time in his career and now he stood in the center of his classroom, rubbing the bridge of his nose, Potter on his mind. He could imagine what Minerva would say to him. Or worse, the lecture that Dumbledore would give, disappointment in those blue eyes as they momentarily lost their twinkle.
Snape's casual jab at Potter had struck far deeper than he had intended or even imagined it would. The pain in those green eyes… that was not the casual arrogance that he was accustomed to dealing with in Potter. The image flashed in his mind again and again. Merlin's beard. A wave of guilt—not a familiar feeling—washed through him. Those eyes, Lilly's eyes, held a devastation that did not belong in the eyes of one so young, but was so hauntingly familiar. It had haunted the eyes of the soldiers in the last war, those who had lost so much, those who could not forgive themselves. When had the arrogant spoiled brat become this wounded young man? Snape sighed. He had made a mistake. He had been blinded by his own anger at James… He paced the room as he thought, then turned to his stores, gathering the ingredients for a locating potion.
Snape stood in the door of the tower, eyes on the boy, who seemed entirely unaware of his presence. The boy's rumpled cloak pooled about him, his arms wrapped tightly about himself, eyes unfocused and thoughts clearly in some other place, sinking in disheveled sorrow. His battered green sweater hung about his frame and he shivered slightly in the autumn chill, and Snape winced internally at how painfully thin the boy had become. Snape cleared his throat softly, and the boy started. His green eyes were wide, his face pale as wax, his cheeks almost hollow, and his torment and mistrust as clear on his face as if it had been written there. Snape's heart broke a bit right then.
A small noise jolted Harry from his reverie, and he turned to face… Snape. Oh god, just what I need now. The potion master's face was inscrutable, black eyes as indecipherable and as deep as the depths of a well. Harry was too tired to shout at him, too tired for this fight, but he began to stand, only to have a combination of cramped legs and a wave of light-headedness return him dizzily to the floor. Snape crossed the room to kneel by Harry. He dug something from his pocket to thrust into Harry's hand. Harry looked down to see… a chocolate frog? What in the hell? "Eat this. Your blood sugar has likely plummeted," the man told him. Harry slowly became aware of his stiff body and the cold that had seeped into his bones from the floor, and with still-shaking hands, Harry opened the wrapper and began to eat, eyes firmly focused anywhere but on Snape. The jagged throbbing in his head began to fade as the sugar began to do its work. Finished, he turned again to Snape, who still had not moved his body or his eyes, his hands folded and his pale, slim fingers interlaced on his lap, his coal-black eyes on Harry. Long moments ticked by, and Harry couldn't take this staring contest any more.
"I wouldn't want to waste any more of your precious time." Harry said softly, forcing his voice to stay steady. "You can assign me detention and leave. If you came here to gloat, don't worry. It would be easier for me to walk through that wall than to imagine myself a hero. I already know that I'm nobody's… golden boy anymore." His voice cracked with that last word, and still Snape's face remained unchanged and he remained unmoving. "What do you want?" he asked, voice rising now. "Whatever it is, it's not enough. It's never enough for you. It's never enough for anyone, is it?" The words tumbled free now entirely out of his control as he threw them at Snape. Harry was on the verge of tears now, to his horror, but couldn't stop the words bleeding from his tattered thoughts. "My parents, Sirius—I know I'm not worth it. I don't need you to remind me of my failures; I hadn't forgotten them. I don't need you to remind me. I see them every night, every day. I can't eat, I can't sleep, it's all I can do to make it through the day." His voice stretched thin and taught, as close to breaking as his heart was. "You should be glad. It's nearly impossible for you to hate me as much as I hate myself," Harry choked out, then buried his face in his hands. Now truly crying, doubled over on the tower floor, sobbing, fist covering his mouth to hide the noise of the silent sobs that wracked his body. To his shock, he felt a hand on his shoulder as Snape gingerly tried to comfort him. He leaned forward into Snape's bony shoulder to bury his face in the professor's black robes. "Harry, I'm so sorry." He whispered "It's not your fault. It was never your fault." Then Snape wrapped his other arm around Harry, kneeling on the floor to hold the boy as he shook, as he fell to pieces.
This is my first fanfic! Please review! (reviews will warm my little heart; don't you want to do that?)