The sensation of punching someone was one Harry could not understand as it happened. It wasn't like hitting his knuckles against a wall or a door. Flesh was soft at first, but there was muscle and bone underneath that.
Harry's right fist collided with Snape's face, right under the man's left eye, to the side of his nose.
Snape staggered a step back from the blow, and pain and shock mingled on his face as his hand flew instinctively to where he had been hit.
Any other time, Harry would have felt awful; even as he was punching he couldn't believe that he – the nice, dark-haired boy who fought against evil and cared about the helpless – was capable of such violence. He was lashing out at the man who had taken him in, who cared about him when he was sick, who got onto him when he stepped out of line, who had adopted him – he was punching that man in the face.
And Harry felt nothing but satisfaction as he did. Beautiful, wonderful, glorious feeling – striking someone as hard as he could.
Then Snape looked at him.
Harry tried to hold onto the anger. He tried to push his rage forward, to look back at Snape defiant, and he half-managed to do it. But as Snape stared at him, Harry felt his mouth start to tremble and he could barely swallow as a big knot gathered in his throat.
No one said anything, but Vampyr's barks echoed from the living room.
Snape reached forward. Harry winced, closing his eyes to brace himself for the slap that he felt certain would come. Snape would slap him and then shove him out the door forever.
A hand closed around Harry's collar, and he looked up to see Snape dragging him into the house. Harry looked back at Sirius, but Sirius was following with wide eyes and a stunned face.
Snape marched Harry into the living room and right into an empty corner.
"Stand still," Snape ordered. "Hands behind your head. Interlock your fingers."
Harry shakily pulled his hands up and laced them behind his neck. He was breathing hard, almost panting, and he had no idea what would happen next.
"You don't move a muscle," Snape told. "Black, you sit there. No one move."
Sirius must have obeyed because Harry heard the wooden chair creak as Sirius sank into it.
"I'll be right back," Snape promised in a low dangerous voice.
He left the room. Vampyr padded behind Harry and lay down on the floor, guarding him until the master of the house would return.
"Are you insane?" Sirius whispered. "Why did you go and punch him?"
"I'm not supposed to talk in the corner," Harry whispered back. It was the truth, but he didn't want to explain how furious he had been. Sirius still thought he was a halfway-decent person, and Harry wanted him to keep thinking that for as long as possible.
"I've wanted to punch him loads of times," Sirius continued. "But that put everything I've ever seen to shame. Prisoners in Azkaban weren't that ruthless."
"Shh," Harry felt sick. He wished Sirius weren't there, and he kind of wished no one was there to see him punch Snape, not even Snape himself.
Sanpe came back in the room, holding a dishcloth full of ice over his face. Harry wanted to burst into tears, but he forced himself to stare rigidly into the corner. "I'm not leaving."
"Oh, you'll be lucky if I ever let you outside again," Snape lowered the ice.
Harry looked at him, relieved that Snape wasn't going to kick him out again. But then Harry turned back to the corner again. He wouldn't cry. He was thirteen, almost fourteen, and that was all grown up.
"Black," Snape turned to talk to Snape, "I have legal custody of the brat who just punched me. You do not. You are on the run, and if I called the authorities, they would be here in minutes to arrest you."
"You didn't, did you?" Harry looked at Snape.
"But," Snape put his hand on the back of Harry's head and turned his head so he faced the corner again, "since you have been involved with this mess since the brat rescued you, you can stay. But you say one word, you try to interfere, you so much as look disapproving, and I will have the dog escort you out."
"I won't as long as you don't hurt Harry," Sirius replied.
"I'm not going to damage him," Snape promised, "but he's about to get his behind blistered."
"Wait a minute," Sirius half rose, but Harry turned back to Snape and protested,
"Not in front of Sirius."
"You want him in the other room?" Snape asked.
"Yes," Harry said at the same time that Sirius said, "Never!"
Snape looked back and forth at them, as if trying to figure out whom he wanted to agree with the most. Harry knew Snape would like to see that neither he nor Sirius got their way, but that wasn't possible. Snape's eyes settled on Harry, and there was a determined glint in them. Harry closed his eyes in resigned despair.
"Out of the corner," Snape directed. "Drop your hands. Now, tell me why you said those words. And why you punched me."
"You shut the door," Harry dropped his hands awkwardly by his side. "I shouldn't have thrown that mug, but you were being all nice and unbearable all day."
"You don't like it when I'm nice?"
"Not like that. You aren't polite and kind to me all the time like we're living in some kind of little children's story where everyone loves each other. You give orders, you make me do chores, you call me names."
"I've never called you names."
"And I've never thrown a tantrum in this house."
Snape nodded his compliance. "All right, so you threw the mug because I was too nice. I assure you that won't be a concern of yours anytime in the near future."
"But you didn't do anything," Harry felt his eyes start to prickle, but he swore he wouldn't cry in front of Sirius. "I threw a mug through the window, and you didn't do anything. Since when does anyone get to throw mugs, and their adoptive father sits there like stone? And I stormed out because I was upset, but you didn't do anything. Since when do I get to stomp out in the middle of an argument? You used to ground me for that. You made me write lines at Hogwarts – I will leave the classroom quietly even when I am upset. A thousand times!"
"I let you stomp out this evening after you threw the mug," Snape nodded again.
"And I was going to talk to Sirius for a second, and you decided that I needed to leave forever. Is that how we're going to settle arguments these days, Snape? Interaction with anyone else gets us kicked out? I talk to a hiker – I have to leave? You say hello to a neighbor, and you have to go? Vampyr chases a squirrel – dog pound for him?"
"That is not the same, and you know it," Snape crossed his arms. "I wasn't angry because you talked to Sirius."
"No, you thought I was going to choose him so you pretended to be nice," Harry said, stating his earlier suspicions.
Snape blinked, an admission of guilt.
"Please," Harry scoffed, surprising himself with his own bravery, "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I didn't agree to the adoption because you were the nicest person that offered."
"At the time, I was the only person who offered."
"Maybe," Harry crossed his own arms. "But I still chose you over ratting your ass out to Dumbledore."
Snape's eyebrows went up, and Sirius shifted on the chair.
"That's right – I said ass," Harry went on brazenly. "It's mild compared to what I said before. I shouldn't have said those words, and I shouldn't have hit you. But you shouldn't push me away and close the door on me, and you aren't allowed to be nice unless it's because you feel guilty about being awful before. I didn't agree to you being nice. You were mean and grouchy and short-tempered and fairly insane, but I took that Snape on. You think I'm going to jump ship because something better comes along? Grow up, Snape."
Sirius's mouth fell open. Harry was shaking a little, and his fingertips were buzzing. He had never spoken so directly to Snape. Harry had no idea if he should keep going, burst into tears, or leave the room. Maybe start running for his life.
"Are you done?" Snape asked between clenched teeth.
"Yes. Are you done being an absolute idiot?"
Snape said nothing, just studied him deliberately for a few seconds. Harry stared back at him. He wasn't going to back down now – he was just as stubborn as Snape, maybe more so. Snape had given up because he thought he couldn't compete with Sirius?
"Pathetic," Harry sneered.
That was apparently the end of Snape's rope. "That's enough out of you. Go upstairs and bring down the hairbrush."
Harry moved towards the hall, his steps loud and marked.
"You stomp up those stairs and I'll double what you have coming," Snape threatened.
Only once he was at the top of the stairs, having climbed up quietly, did Harry allow himself to smile. The old Snape was back.
The smile disappeared as he picked up the hairbrush that Snape made him keep on the bureau in his bedroom. The brush was heavier than Harry remembered: solid wood with a back wider than his outspread hand. He never used it, and he tried hiding it in one of the drawers, but it constantly reappeared on the top of the bureau which meant Snape was snooping through his room as well.
"Git," Harry muttered as he trudged back to the stairs. He walked as slowly as he dared, dropping his weight heavily with each step, but not stomping.
In the living room, Sirius was still sitting and watching with round eyes, but Harry tried not to look. Vampyr was gone, probably put outside. Harry went to Snape and tried to reason,
"Can't you just use your hand? It hurts as much."
"No lying," Snape took the brush. "If I wanted to use my hand, I wouldn't have sent you to get the brush."
"I'm not going over your lap," Harry tried to stand his ground. "That's for kids, and I'm too old."
"All right," Snape contended. "Bend over the sofa. But you better not wiggle around or move out of place or I'll start over."
"Evil," Harry grumbled as he went to stand by the sofa and leaned over the arm. He had persuaded Snape to buy it last year, and it was a comfortable, modern sofa with wide arms that Harry liked to prop his ankles on when he stretched out to read a book. Snape was always after him to put his feet down before he broke the arm, but of course now he didn't care about the precious arms, wretched bat.
Snape put a hand on his back. "Why are you getting punished?"
Harry looked down at his arms on the sofa cushion. "Because I swore and I hit you. I'm sorry for that, really I am. I didn't mean to."
"Oh, I think you did. But this is for more than what you just did. I'll admit your reaction was partly my fault, but what did you do before? Specifically at Hogwarts?"
"I rescued Sirius," Harry closed his eyes.
Thwack! Thwack! The hairbrush whacked him on one side, then the other. "Ow!" Harry arched his back up.
"Tell me the truth," Snape said, still keeping a hand on his back.
From the corner of his eye, Harry could see Sirius move. Harry was surprised Sirius hadn't already decked Snape and tried to kidnap his godson.
"Harry," Snape's voice had a warning in it.
"I put myself in danger. I put Hermione in danger too, but really Snape I had to –"
Thwack, thwack, thwack! The hairbrush swung down in rhythm, and Snape kept spanking with vigor. The hairbrush hurt way more than Harry remembered, but he wondered if Snape was swinging hard because he thought Harry was older and could take more.
Ugh, it was awful!
Harry twisted back and forth, trying to get out of line of that horrid thing. "Snape, please! I'm sorry – I said that. I won't do it again."
"Really?" Snape mercifully paused, and Harry drew in a shaky breath. "What about the Chamber? What about stealing the Stone? What about sneaking around at night?"
"You punished me for that already!" Harry said, trying not to yell. "You can't punish me for something twice."
"No, but I can remind you about it."
"Once something has been punished, it should be erased," Harry insisted.
"If it were a bad attitude or poor marks, maybe," Snape replied. "When you start doing things that will get you killed, I'll bring them up every time I feel like it."
Harry had no intelligent reply for that, so he huffed, "I want the nice Snape back."
No reply came. Snape started swatting again. The brush smacked so effectively, so horribly, that Harry grit his teeth and blinked quickly. He hated being punished. He wished he could hate Snape, but the opportunity for that had passed.
And honestly, Harry had guessed where the whole situation was heading the moment he started swearing and punching. If Snape hadn't done anything, Harry knew he would have felt cheated. And the fact that Snape had turned him into a boy who wanted everything to be fair, well, that was the worst punishment of all.
Snape swatted hard, and Harry hissed, clenching his hands into fists.
"For Merlin's sake," Sirius said, his voice sharp, "let up on him. He's just a kid."
"I am not," Harry said as Snape said, "He's fine."
Sirius looked like he was about to get up and interfere, and Harry added, "I can take it. I've had worse."
"From him?" Sirius's expression darkened.
"No, in the Chamber. And a few weeks ago in the woods, being chased by the werewolf . . ." Harry trailed off as he felt Snape's hand stiffen on his back.
"Always seeking danger!" Snape began to paddle with spirit, but Harry was less than enthusiastic.
"Ah! Ow – no, stop. That's enough. You've been at it for – ow, stop it. Please!"
"You will stop putting yourself in danger," Snape ordered. "You will think before you act. You will not run off without telling adults where you are going and what you're doing. And when we tell you no, we mean no. And no more worrying me with these ridiculous stunts. They scare me, and I care about you too much to stand by and watch you rush around foolishly."
The tears came then, and Harry lowered his head so Sirius wouldn't see him cry. He hated himself for being such a baby, but Snape was still swatting and it was all too much for Harry to bear stoically.
"I'm sorry," he choked out. "I'm really, really sorry. Don't be angry, Dad – please."
The swatting stopped. The hand moved from his back up to the back of his neck. Snape squeezed warmly, and Harry straightened up and turned around. He could barely see, but he hugged the dark blur in front of him.
Snape put an arm around him, and Harry felt the world return to normal again. The scary fear disappeared, and he calmed down.
He might have hugged Snape longer, but with Sirius watching, Harry pulled back and tried to look grown-up again.
"I want you to apologize to Sirius for using such language in front of him," Snape said.
"Sorry for swearing," Harry said. He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt as the world went blurry.
"Would you let me take you to a wizard doctor and have them fix your eye problems?" Snape asked in exasperation. "A simple spell, and your sight would be whole. I could probably do it if you wanted."
"You're not getting anywhere near my eyes," Harry put his glasses back on stubbornly. "I'm used to them – I look weird without them."
"You look ridiculous without them," Snape scoffed. "Oh, go hug your godfather. I know you want to."
"You don't know anything," Harry muttered, but he went to hug Sirius. Sirius stood and put both arms around him, and Harry enjoyed the warmth of the embrace. He thought he didn't get hugged enough, but he would have died before he admitted it.
When he pulled back, he snipped at Snape, "Should I go hug Vampyr, too?"
"You keep up the attitude, and you'll spend the summer in your room."
"You can't do that," Sirius objected. "You already punished him, rather harshly."
"I can take it," Harry squared his shoulders. He didn't want the men to start fighting, and he scrambled for a way to defuse the tension. "Do you want to walk down to the village with me and Vampyr? It'll be bright out for a few more hours. Can we, Snape?"
"For a little while," Snape agreed hesitantly. "But no going past the village, and come home by nine. You're going to bed at ten."
Harry would have argued, but all the running from the afternoon made an early bedtime sound appealing. He wasn't going to ask Snape to come, but he wanted it made clear that both men had distinctive roles in his life.
"It looks like more rain – take a coat," Snape directed.
Harry rolled his eyes, but he went to get Vampyr.
Snape saw them out with a firm, "No buying candy in the village, Harry."
Once they were out of sight from the house with Vampyr trotting along, Sirius took Harry by the shoulder and turned him around.
"What –" Harry started to ask, but a spell hit him on the rear. He yelped, but then the lingering pain from his spanking disappeared.
"Evil bat," Sirius said, grinning impulsively.
Harry looked back, but Snape wasn't running down the lane so he guessed they were safe. "Thanks, but he's not really that bad. At least punishments are over quickly. They don't go on and on with parents giving you the silent treatment or grounding you. Though I do have to do chores sometime, but he's never as bad as he promises to be."
Harry thought about telling how bad the first summer had been, back when he was sure Snape was insane, but he stopped himself in time. Sirius wouldn't understand – Harry wasn't sure he himself understood what had happened – but at the end of the day he belonged with Snape.
"You can come visit, every so often. Snape will raise hell, but I can manage him. What happened tonight – that wasn't all you. I was in trouble when we got here from Hogwarts, but he was making me wait because he likes to torture me sometimes, but only in small ways. I can take it. I can't take him being all nice and polite though. That's like pulling my fingernails out."
"Snape has done a number on you," Sirius shook his head.
"Maybe," Harry shrugged. "But he was the only person who did anything. I'll take him with all his flaws and problems any day over someone perfect and boring."
Sirius looked like he might say something, but he walked on in thoughtful silence.
The village was in sight when Sirius finally spoke. "The offer with me still stands. I just want you to know that."
"I appreciate it," Harry replied. "Once you find somewhere safe in a year or two, I'll come visit for a week or more. Just because I need to stay here doesn't mean I can't come visit. You were important to my parents, and you're important to me, too."
"James would be rolling over in his grave to hear you call Snape dad," Sirius said quietly.
"Yeah, I'm a traitor all right," Harry grinned. "You know how much it kills Snape that I look like my dad? I got Mum's eyes, but the rest of me is all James Potter. In the end, I'm the best revenge you could ask for."
Sirius laughed and tussled Harry's hair.
"What do you think?" Harry smiled mischievously as they stopped at the door of the small shop in the middle of the village. "How much candy could I sneak back into the house without Snape finding it?"
Later that evening, after Sirius had left, promising to tear Snape apart if he ever harmed Harry, Snape did find the candy and had it all lined up on Harry's bed. Harry came in from the bathroom to see it all out with Snape standing over the evidence.
"What did I say?" he demanded.
"You said I couldn't buy candy. Sirius bought it for me," Harry scooped up the candy and put it on the bureau. "I'll make it last. He promised to send me treats whenever he got the chance."
Snape said nothing. He swatted Harry once.
Harry made a face, pretending he was still sore.
"Don't even start. I know he healed you while you were out."
"Sometimes," Harry climbed into bed and settled back on the pillow, "you are too clever for your own good, Severus Snape. Why couldn't I have chosen someone stupid? I want to get away with more than you ever let me. Next time – idiot adoptive father."
"Good thing for you, I'm watching," Snape opened the top drawer of the bureau and raked all the candy in. He pulled out the hairbrush and set it on top firmly.
"Evil," Harry yawned and closed his eyes. Before brushing his teeth, he had shoved the brush back in the drawer, secretly wishing he could set it on fire.
"Get some sleep," Snape stepped towards the door.
"I didn't tell you earlier," Harry raised himself up on one elbow, "but you know how I had the map that Lupin took away from me? The Marauders Map that my dad, Lupin, Peter, and Sirius made?"
"Yes?" Snape said suspiciously.
"I got it back. Lupin gave it to me, I hid it, and I'm never telling you where it is."
In the dim bedroom, Snape seemed to swell with outrage. Harry grinned recklessly.
It was going to be a fun summer.