Title: Of Children

Author: Becka
Pairing: Snape/Harry

Warnings: Angst, AU, Dark, Disturbed, Mild Squick, References to NCS, Pre-slash.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to Becka; characters are used without permission for a non-profit purpose. No infringement is intended.

o

Potter stands by one of the many windows, one hand casually propped against the cool, stone tile. The breeze trickles in, rustling the mop of rustic dark hair like a parent affectionately would a child. The soft lines of his face have long since melted, angular and regal now, but without the touch of arrogance that so often predominates the purebloods of the wizarding world.

The eyes, mystic emeralds of the finest cut, are downcast as he stares out of the window, fixed on somewhere distant and away. Perhaps he's watching the children, and make no mistake, to him that's all they can ever be. It is one thing to be aware of the evil that looms on the horizon, but to meet it? To ride the sunset and the winds, hands curled around a wand that sparks in the overbearing sea of green, to hear the snake's hiss, 'Avada Kedavra', and to know that all that is wrong in this world wishes nothing more than to crush the spirit within?

They are children; even now, they cannot even speak his name.

And though perhaps he may wish it, he is not.

It takes time for children to grow, to learn. It takes the fluttering beat of a heart inside their chest as they close their eyes and kiss and fall in love with the idea of being in love. It takes the tears of brine that trickle down past their chins as they bite their lips and know the stings of that first broken promise. It takes the hysterical laughter and floodgate of emotion as they experience the catharsis of having their safe, warm world ripped from them and cast to the floor like a broken heart.

Potter was never given a chance for these things.

Few know of his fifth year, save that he did not come to school on the Hogwarts Express, and he was not present in his classes for that first month. They only know that on the night of Halloween, he stepped into the great hall, his face thin and gaunt, his eyes alive with an unearthly glow. They remember his words – "He's gone," and they remember the strange little chill that went up their spines.

They don't know what happened after he left the Great Hall, footfall sturdy and unshaken, after Albus followed him, a scramble of wizened skin and a scuffle of robes, after he was away from the curious eyes of children. In the hallway, torches of flame casting shadows on his face, he turned, age written in every deliberate movement, pain seeping like ink through every pore of his skin. His eyes unnatural and bright with the tears that he'd never been allowed to shed, and he was not a child.

Albus extended his hand, slowly, reaching for a wounded animal, and Potter took that hand, letting himself be drawn into the folds of those robes, and then he fell apart. He did not cry, or scream, or shake. He stood there, white knuckled fingers clenched tightly around the hilt of his wand, and he allowed himself to be led to the hospital wing.

They don't know about the small room connected directly to Poppy's office, or the bed that was his home for nearly six months. They don't know about the denim blue bruises or the rigid scars on his back. They don't know how creative Lucius can be with a whip.

They don't know that all that kept him alive for those first precious months were the potions, unicorn's blood and phoenix tears. For every wound that closed, another opened fresh, some a side effect of an obscure curse, others by his own hand.

They don't know about the seizures, a product of prolonged exposure to Cruciatus, or the nightmares that creep like dementors through the night, wrapping cold hands around his neck and leave him only as the sun gives life to the new day.

They don't know about the blood Poppy found between his legs that first night.

They pat him on the back and thank him from saving them from "You-Know-Who," and they celebrate and laugh and live as children do. And when they see him like this, now, leaning casually against the wall, staring out past the Forbidden Forest and to the golden sky, they look no further than the small smile painted with care on the corners of his lips.

He should have been a Slytherin.

While the children fall in love with their ideals of love, he stands there with the memory of Lucius Malfoy raping his mouth, teeth scraping against lips, choking on the taste of blood and bile. While the children mourn their broken promises of trust, he stands with Albus' kind words, "Trust me, Harry, it'll all turn out all right in the end," a thousands times crueler because he is intimately acquainted with necessary evil.

And because he slew the beast, these children will never know catharsis.

It is in these moments that I watch him from the shadows. It is in these moments that I wish to tell him that I am not a child and that I understand. But I can no more get these words past my lips than he can turn to me with eyes far too perceptive for his own good, and acknowledge that I am here with the ghost smile on his lips.

It is enough that I stand here, a swirl of black robes, to pull him back when he reaches for the sun.

o

fin

o