It was all Severus could do not to demand answers the moment he strode into the chamber. He mentally ran through the issues at hand, firstly finding the culprit and dealing with them, it was clear to Severus that this was the Dark Lord's work, interference in a complex magical tradition, manipulation of a magical artefact, putting Harry's name in the cup, it couldn't be more transparent. Then they needed to find out how someone clearly affiliated with the Dark Lord managed to get into the castle.
To Severus' consternation the conversation wasn't quite going in that direction. The Head Teachers were content to squabble amongst themselves about whether Harry had entered himself and whether he was going to compete! As if a fourteen year old child was going to be participating under what was clearly a suspicious and malicious entry. Harry was following the conversation with stunned embarrassment, obviously quite uncomfortable with being the centre of attention and indignant that no one seemed to believe he hadn't entered himself into the tournament. Not until Moody interrupted was a word said about the fact that it was quite obviously a threat, not a treat! It was the first time he'd been grateful to be in the same room as the ex-auror.
Severus found himself watching Karkaroff's outrage on behalf of the famous quidditch player he was constantly doting on. The man was no actor, nor had he any interest in aiding the Dark Lord's return. Igor Karkaroff was a name synonymous with coward and traitor with even those who managed to escape Azkaban by feigning bewitchment or ignorance. He would be killed on sight, the Dark Lord had no patience for traitors. Besides, the Dark Lord was reported to have been in Albania and that's one place where Severus was certain that Durmstrang was not located.
"Eet ees not fair, ze boy cannot compete, 'e 'as tricked ze goblet-" complained Madame Maxime.
"His magical skill is mediocre at best even for his own age, he cannot have fooled that goblet or the Headmaster's age line himself," Severus snarled, throwing Harry a contemptuous glance for good measure.
Ludo Bagman's reaction was to chuckle jovially. "What's done is done now, I'm sure we can all agree…" What's done is done? His input into this situation is 'what's done is done.' Severus cast a seething glance at the man in question. What does he have to be so cheerful about? He's not as simple as he appears, although with the amount of bludgers to the head he's taken that's quite some feat.
"Well, now that's all sorted," Bagman said, darting Severus an uncertain look before rounding on the children or champions.
Sorted? Nothing was sorted! Despite the fact that the statement Bagman uttered was a complete lie, everyone else seemed taken in. It was a struggle to keep him jaw clamped shut and allow the conversation to play out. He had to trust that the Headmaster would take care of this. He was waiting for the right moment to act, perhaps... It wouldn't be terribly subtle to hold a crisis meeting with a group of near strangers.
"A moment of your time, Headmaster," Severus requested in as bored a voice as he could manage, attempting to convey that any situation including Potter was an utter waste of time and not nearly as important as whatever banal topic he was about to discuss with the Headmaster. He barely spared a glance for Harry who was speaking to Diggory and seemed a bit disconcerted.
Severus waited until every person in the room had filed out before rounding on the Headmaster.
"You aren't seriously meaning for him to compete in the tournament?" he asked, certain that there was some plan, some reason, that the Headmaster had not spoken up earlier.
"It is a binding magical contract, our hands are tied. Harry has survived much worse-"
Severus blinked in shock at the headmaster's attitude. "Harry didn't put his name in that goblet. He cannot be constrained by a contract that he didn't enter himself into," Severus growled, trying to rein in his anger and disappointment.
"It is not me or even the minister for magic himself that you need to convince. It is whether the contract understands that Harry did not enter himself," the Headmaster said speaking as if he was explaining the concept of magical contracts to a child. "Ancient magic can be rather simplistic at times-"
"If someone can fool the enchantment into accepting a fourth school for a triwizard tournament then I see no reason why you, of all people, can't reverse it," Severus interrupted.
"I think you overestimate my abilities. I understand you have concerns but the contract was sealed upon the names being ejected from the goblet. There is nothing to be done."
"I will not accept that there is nothing you can do. Harry did not enter himself into any magical contract and I refuse to believe he will be subject to it. If someone can fool the contract then you can amend it," he persevered. "He is fourteen and the Dark Lord is trying to kill him!"
"And a poor attempt it would be if that was the case. The tournament is at Hogwarts, he will be quite safe."
"Someone powerful enough to bewitch that goblet and a magical contract is trying to kill my-"
"He's not your son, Severus," the headmaster interrupted quietly, his blue eyes sharp and assessing, but a lack of his usual warmth indicated that he didn't appreciate what he was seeing.
"I know who he is!" he shot back through gritted teeth. "He's my ward, he's my responsibility, he is fourteen years old and he is not entering this competition."
"He has been entered and as much as I appreciate your concern for Harry it will be far less of a trial than those he has already faced."
"Trials he should never have faced. Forgive me Headmaster but I am attempting to teach the boy not to rush into dangerous situations, exactly these kinds of situations."
"And what of the future? It is exactly these life experiences that will prepare him when he next faces Voldemort," the headmaster said calmly as if he wasn't discussing the life of a child.
"When he next faces the Dark Lord he may not be ready, he may still be a child and I will not see him throw his life away in some foolish attempt at bravery and self sacrifice."
"Voldemort will come for Harry. You know the prophesy. It would be better if Harry was ready to face him than left untrained and unprepared."
"If Harry needs to be trained to face the Dark Lord then I will see to it that he is. He will not be fighting anyone, Dark Lord or anyone else, while he is at school."
"I fear we are straying from the matter at hand," the Headmaster stated dismissively and Severus felt his irritation rise.
"He is younger than the age that was agreed by all the schools and Ministries, he did not enter himself into this competition and there is reason to believe that this could amount to a threat to his life."
"The fact remains that he is under the obligation of a binding magical contract and even I cannot alter such a powerful and ancient enchantment."
"Because you would rather not try," Severus accused. "Perhaps Minerva will be more inclined to agree with me when she is presented with the unbiased facts."
"I am disappointed that you do not trust me. You do not believe that I would allow Harry to come to harm?"
"He has fought the Dark Lord within these walls in some form or other twice. Black got into this castle when we were under the impression he wanted to kill Harry. I do not think it is worth the risk. I'm his guardian and I'm asking that you do what you can to get him out of this competition."
"It is astounding how much you have changed, Severus." It was impossible to tell whether the man meant that as a compliment or not. "I will do what I can to alter the enchantment, though it is extremely likely that I will fail." Severus was fully prepared to leave with that victory, reluctant as he may be, the Headmaster would not go back on his word. Just as he reached the chamber door the Headmaster spoke. "Your guardianship of Harry is a technicality, it is by no means legal or recognised by the ministry, I would rather you did not try to use it against me."
Severus felt himself go cold all over as that statement sunk in. "Am I to view that as a warning?"
"Not at all, it is merely a reminder of where you stand. We are on the same side; you are not the only man with Harry's best interests at heart," the Headmaster replied, the kindness returning to his eyes.
Harry made it back up to the tower almost in a daze. Hogwarts champion! Sure, he'd thought about being a champion but he never actually wanted the reality of it. He wasn't sure what to expect when he got to the portrait hole, would everyone think he'd entered himself? There was only one way to find out, he could hardly stand in the corridor all night.
Harry was hit by a wave of noise as he climbed through but managed to grin and nod through the crowd of well-wishing Gryffindors. "Go on Harry!" And a chorus of 'So how'd you do it? The latter made his grin seem more of a grimace than anything else but at least they weren't angry at him.
"I didn't put my name in, I don't know how-" Harry started to say until he spotted Hermione.
"Hermione! Where's Ron?"
"Um, I'm not sure," she said, uncertain. "I think he's up in your rooms."
"I'll go get him so we can talk. Colin, don't," Harry complained, quickly dodging the camera on his way up to the boy's dormitories.
"What are you doing up here?" Harry asked when he saw Ron sitting on his bed, fishing out his pyjamas.
"Going to bed, what does it look like?" Ron replied curtly.
"Everyone's downstairs, I was looking for you."
"I'm sorry I missed your big party then."
"Shut up," Harry returned, Ron's tone making him uneasy. "What's wrong with you? 'Mione's waiting downstairs so we can talk."
"If you're going to tell us how you did it then you're a bit late aren't you? Would have been useful a few days ago."
"How I did what?" Harry replied, not wanting to believe what he was hearing.
"You knew I wanted to enter too, if you used your cloak it would have covered me too!"
"Have you gone mental? My cloak wouldn't have gotten me over the age line."
"However you did it, then," Ron replied stubbornly. "You're not the only one who's done dangerous stuff."
"I didn't put my name in that goblet," Harry said for what felt like the hundredth time that evening. Of all people he never thought he'd have to tell Ron.
"Sure," Ron scoffed.
"You'd have to be an idiot to think I did!"
"Are you calling me an idiot?" Ron said, rounding angrily on Harry.
"If that's what you think then yeah, I am!" Harry shot back, refusing to back down.
The door banged openly loudly as the rest of the boys clamoured to get in all at once, the festivity downstairs obviously tailing off.
"What's going on?" Seamus asked, sensing the tension in the room.
"Nothing, I'm going to bed," Ron growled, climbing into bed and shutting the curtains of his four-poster angrily.
"I'm going for a walk," Harry said, fishing in his trunk for his map and cloak. How could Ron think he'd put his name in and then think he'd keep it from him? Ron was his best friend! He felt another headache coming on but he was getting used to them by now.
"It's after curfew," Neville said from his own bed but Harry ignored him.
Severus warded the door to his quarters. The frame of mind he was in he would likely curse the next unfortunate person to cross him that evening. He was stunned that despite the threat to Harry, the headmaster refused to act. He had done nothing to address the fact that someone with access to the castle was plotting to harm one of the students in his school.
Severus still seethed over the headmaster's parting words, although he was right in one respect, Severus had no real rights over Harry and his guardianship was a 'technicality'. But contrary to the headmaster's denial, Severus knew a threat when he heard one. Previous to this summer Severus had boundless respect for Albus Dumbledore; the Headmaster had given him a second chance, had vouched for him, had kept his word not to tell a soul about Lily… Now, he found his respect for the man being eroded away by his loyalty to Harry.
Severus had a duty to Harry, he had to protect him. He'd sworn to protect the boy on the Headmaster's request but he'd done it for Lily. He was certain he knew what Lily would have wanted for her son and this was not it. She would not have sacrificed his childhood for the greater good. She protected her son with her life and he fully intended to do the same. Harry would not be thrown into danger while he was there to protect him. If Harry needed training for his own defence and protection then he would have it, but it would be on his terms. Technicality or not, Severus was his guardian, Severus would be raising the boy and he would protect from the whims of Albus Dumbledore just as he would from those of the Dark Lord.
Harry found himself glaring angrily at the entrance to Snape's quarters. The stupid thing wouldn't let him in anymore! He'd found himself heading straight for the dungeons knowing that Snape wouldn't send him away now, this tournament was a massive deal and he did say Harry could talk to him, he couldn't ignore this. He pulled the marauders' map out of his cloak pocket and checked that Snape was actually in, he wasn't about to stand in the middle of the dungeons all night if Snape was up in the staff room. No, there he was, right in his quarters only a few centimetres from the little 'Harry' dot. Harry knocked, lightly though, just in case Snape decided to moan about Harry being discreet. Snape didn't move, not even a millimetre. Harry stared hard at the map just to be sure. He knocked again, louder this time, and still... nothing.
Harry hammered on the entrance, it's not like there was anyone around anyway. Bloody Snape! Bloody Ron! Harry pounded on the entrance and finally having enough, lost it and kicked the wall. He swore loudly as he hopped on one foot. Fine, that's it. That's enough. He wasn't going to do this anymore; Snape wasn't going to help him with anything, not Malfoy, not this tournament, nothing. He could take a hint.
Harry stomped his way back up to Gryffindor tower in an even fouler mood than when he'd left so when he almost collided with Professor Moody he let out a sharp gasp of surprise. He stared up at Moody wide eyed and frozen, who stared back in equal shock. It looked almost comical with his perfectly round blue eye. Harry backed away slowly, Moody couldn't see him, he was under his cloak, it was fine. He could have just been a ghost or... anything.
"Watch where you're going Potter. And you can take that cloak off too," Moody growled after a moment.
"Yes, Sir. You can see through it?"
"Not a lot gets past this, Potter," Moody replied grimly, indicating his magical eye. "You shouldn't be wandering these halls, nowhere is safe for you now... someone's out to get you, Potter. Think on it." His words sent a shudder down his spine and suddenly the halls didn't feel quite so safe.
"Right. Yes, Sir." Harry agreed, hoping to escape fast enough to avoid detention.
Everyone was fast asleep when Harry got back to the dormitories but that didn't help him drop off at all. He slept fitfully, his headaches coming back full force. He'd finished off the little potion Hermione had gotten from Madam Pomfrey when Harry refused to go to the nurse himself but it didn't work properly. The ache in his head eased but the burning pain flared ever sharper when Harry started to feel himself drifting off.
Exhaustion, frustration and anger were too hard to fight off as he tossed and turned but he let out a shocked gasp as his scar gave an almighty throb. "Oh no," Harry mumbled to himself as his breathing settled. The burning was coming from his scar.
There were two things Harry was certain of that morning; firstly, he and Ron were not talking and secondly, he wasn't going to Snape with his headaches. He'd write to Sirius. He'd eliminated the option of speaking to the Headmaster, he'd been wary of him ever since he realised Dumbledore had wanted him to stay with the Dursleys. If even Snape thought that was wrong then he wasn't sure he wanted to take his problems to him.
"You two are being ridiculous; will you just speak to each other?" Hermione said from between the two angry Gryffindors after a tense walk to breakfast, interrupting the stony silence that had fallen.
"I'll talk to Ron when he gets over himself and admits I didn't put my name in the goblet."
"You've been leaving us out for longer than this and everyone knows you put your name in the goblet seeing as your name came flying out of it!"
"Leaving you out of what?"
"We both know you're keeping something from us for ages and you went off to fight Malfoy without us."
"I didn't 'go to fight Malfoy' and if this is what you think being a friend is I'm glad Neville was helping me out there and not you," Harry replied venomously, though for all that he was surprised when instead of sitting beside Hermione, Ron stormed off to eat beside his brothers. "What does he mean 'you both know'?" Harry demanded, rounding on Hermione.
"Ron took what I said completely out of context. I'd just said that it seemed like there'd been something on your mind that you haven't been telling us. I've thought it for a long time and it's not like you. I'm not having a go at you, I was just worried."
"Don't be worried, I don't want to argue."
"Good, because I don't want to either," she replied matter-of-factly with a reassuring smile.
As supportive as the Gryffindors were, the same could not be said for the rest of the houses. Both the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs were sporting 'Support Cedric Diggory' badges- even some of the Ravenclaws had them. Malfoy was overjoyed when Harry appeared early enough to potions to be able to show him the witty remark he'd charmed them to change to at a moments notice and 'Potter Stinks' was emblazoned on every Slytherin's chest in the room.
Hermione put a reassuring hand on his arm. "Just ignore it," she murmured, obviously worried he'd start on Malfoy just as Snape entered the room.
"Ignore it?" Harry replied taking in the scene with wide eyes. "I'm not going to ignore it, this is fantastic!"
"What?" She looked at him as if he'd gone mad.
"Don't you see? No one's going to mention the Dursleys anymore, it was already starting to get old. Everyone's going to be too busy hating me about this! They've made badges," Harry enthused as if 'Potter Stinks' badges were the solution he'd been looking for all along.
"Well, I suppose it is old news now, not that it was news in the first place…"
"Well, whether they meant to or not whoever put my name in that goblet at least did me a bit of a favour. Aside from entering me in a tournament in the hope that I'd die, of course."
"You won't die, Professor Dumbledore won't let anything happen to you. Don't say that."
"Maybe you should go get Ron one of these…"
"Oh, Harry, just try and talk to him."
"I'm not talking to him. He's the one who thinks I put my name in the goblet."
"He doesn't really think that… You remember how excited he was when everyone thought he was nearly killed by Sirius Black in your dormitories..."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"It was his turn to have the limelight that day and it meant a lot to him. You're the famous one, his brothers are Fred and George and even the others were Head Boy or popular or…" Hermione drifted off as Snape walked in before hissing under her breath. "He's jealous, can't you tell?"
"Miss Granger have you finished talking or would you like another 10 points for delaying the start of my class," Snape said from the front.
That was just unfair seeing as he was five minutes late himself.
"He's got nothing to be jealous of!" Harry hissed back, ignoring Snape.
"Detention Potter, has your new status as champion inflated your head so much that you cannot hear instructions?"
"You didn't give any instructions, you asked if we were done talking, I wasn't done." Snape's expression turned murderous as he stalked towards Harry.
"20 points from Gryffindor and it'll be another 20 for every syllable you utter out of turn. Thanks to Mr. Potter you will be working in exam conditions today, that means working alone and in complete silence. Instructions are on the board."
"What was the meaning of that idiotic display?" Snape ground out, slamming the door shut with an abrupt wave of his wand.
"I need to go to dinner."
"You certainly need to have dinner but you're not going anywhere."
"My friends will wonder where I am," Harry replied, picking up his bag and feeling a stab of sadness that his phrasing probably didn't include Ron.
"You can tell them you spent your evening explaining your abysmal behaviour to me!" Snape snapped and Harry dropped his bag quickly as it flared suddenly with heat.
"Hey!" he complained as Snape summoned it and put it behind his desk. "Give me another detention or take more points then," Harry said, fully intending to leave with or without his bag.
"Do not presume to tell me what to do," he menaced before gesturing abruptly at the chair opposite his desk. "Sit. This is not a discussion I intend to put off."
Harry couldn't help but scoff at that. "I'm actually quite busy," he replied in what he thought was a fair imitation of the man in front of him. If Snape thought he was going to sit and be yelled at whenever Snape wanted to play the guardian card, he had another thing coming. If Snape had no time for him then Harry had no time for Snape either.
"Excuse me?" Snape replied as if he couldn't believe what he heard.
"You probably should have caught me yesterday if you wanted a chat seeing as I was standing outside your door for ages!"
"I can't get into your quarters anymore so I knocked and you left me out in the corridor! And I know you were in there," Harry said fighting to keep from sounding as hurt as he felt.
A strange look crossed Snape's face. "I did not intend to keep you out-" he began urgently.
"Ha!" Harry laughed bitterly. "You've been ignoring me for weeks! You only talk to me so you can have a go at me!"
"That is not the case-"
"Yes it is!" Harry yelled, his voice growing even louder as he ranted. "Every time I try and speak to you, you fob me off! I can't talk to Sirius about you and Remus is too busy. You can sod off, I needed your help with Malfoy and I needed to talk to you yesterday about this stupid tournament. All you ever want to do is shout at me and I didn't have anyone put my name in the goblet if that's what this is about-"
"I know that you did not- calm down," Snape interrupted, a look of alarm crossing his features.
"Punish me then, go on!" Harry hurled back. "I don't need you to be my guardian if you're going to be like this. I'd rather go back to the Dursleys, at least they don't pretend that they like me and then change their minds. I've been pathetic! Trying to figure out what I've done wrong and I thought-" Harry cut himself off, it was bad enough he acted like that, he didn't need to tell Snape about it. "You were the one who said I was welcome and you were the one who said I could talk to you if I needed to. You shouldn't have made me believe you meant all that if you didn't want me to talk to you." Harry said his voice catching.
Snape was staring at him, aghast and apparently lost for words as silence fell between them.
When Snape finally spoke his own voice was rough. "You haven't done anything wrong. I have no excuse, I cannot-" He seemed to realise he was being incoherent and paused.
As though he'd suddenly come to a decision Snape's features turned grim and determined. "I apologise."
"What?" Harry said, suspecting it was some sort of sarcastic joke.
"I didn't expect for you to take my behaviour quite as badly as you have done."
"You just wanted me to be a bit angry?"
"I didn't want you to be angry, I wasn't trying to hurt you. I thought for some foolish reason that I was doing what was best for you, obviously I was wrong."
"Why would you have thought ignoring me was best for me? I already had people to live with who ignored me-"
"I know you did," Snape interrupted curtly, though without any bite. "I assumed you would eventually be happier if you had a better rapport with your Godfather and Lupin as opposed to myself.
"There are things I am not in the best position to- that I am not as able to give you as they are. I assumed that if I was less available that you would fill in the gap with a better relationship with them."
"I only wanted you to carry on being like you were in the summer. I never wanted anything else," Harry said, still annoyed and now confused. Why would Snape not speaking to him make him any happier? It might make Snape happier but it didn't suit him at all. "You never liked me spending time with them anyway, why would you suddenly think they'd be better guardians than you?"
"I didn't want to give up your guardianship, not for a moment. You deserve more than what I was giving you," Snape replied seriously. He ran his hand tiredly through his hair. "But the way I was behaving was a mistake, you are my responsibility and those idiots are not capable of giving you anything that I am not."
"Giving me what?" Harry asked, still confused.
"Emotional support," Snape bit out, more than a bit uncomfortably.
Snape seemed to think he was explaining himself but Harry really didn't understand what he was on about. It didn't make any sense. Why would he need to be horrible to him to get him to speak to Sirius and Remus? He already writes to them, he was supposed to be manipulating Harry to like him and hate Sirius (according to Sirius at least), not the other way around. Harry really didn't know what was going on, he'd never seen Snape look so apologetic.
"I was sincere with my apology. I should not have been neglecting you, least of all when you needed my support."
"Right. Well what did you want me to be here for then?" Harry asked, changing the subject abruptly.
Severus frowned. Harry was obviously still upset and honestly just looked lost. It didn't go unnoticed that Harry had not accepted his apology and he would not delude himself to the fact that possibly irreparably dented the trust they'd built between them, more so now than when he'd gone to visit the Malfoys.
He'd been foolish to think he knew what was best for Harry. This was exactly the kind of monumentally moronic mistake he knew he'd make when he took on the boy's guardianship. It was one mistake after another, each one worse than the last and each time he felt worse about what he'd done, it wasn't a feeling that sat well with him; guilt.
To think that Harry felt as if he'd rather return to his relatives. What had he done?
"Sir?" Harry prompted, waiting for an answer.
"The headmaster is going to do what he can to remove you from this tournament, if there is a way to have you pulled out then it will be done."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. "I thought I had to compete, it's a binding contract or something."
"It is a contract that you did not enter yourself into, it is a contract relating to three champions from three schools. The system has been tampered with already and I see no reason why Albus Dumbledore should be unable to fix this," Severus all but ranted, his anger with the Headmaster's stubbornness returning.
"But I'm not definitely being pulled out?" Harry questioned awkwardly.
"The Headmaster has doubts that he will be able to succeed. I will see to it that everything is done to stop you competing."
"What if Dumbledore can't get me out of it?"
"Then I will give you every advantage possible, I am not above cheating if that's what it takes. Whoever put your name in that goblet will be sorely disappointed if they think you're going to come to harm."
"I think people will suspect something if I actually start doing well-"
"I do not care about you doing well, I care about you being prepared for these tasks and surviving with your limbs intact!" He took a breath before continuing. "It goes without saying that you need to take care in the castle, don't wander the halls alone or at night."
"How am I supposed to talk to you, then?" Harry asked scowling.
"I will sort something out."
"Sure," Harry replied, disbelief evident in his tone.
"Harry," Severus reproached. "I will sort something out this evening." Severus fought back a sigh. "Whoever entered you into this tournament is likely to be a resident or a frequent visitor to the castle. Do not seek them out, that is my job. Keep your head down and if you notice anything…odd, then come to me."
"Alright. Keep out of trouble, speak to you if I need to. Got it," Harry said grimly as if he set no store by the instruction. "I should probably tell you something though," Harry said with what could only be described as extreme reluctance. "I only realised this morning so don't fly off the handle. I've been getting these headaches, not like the ones when I was at yours. They're more like real headaches, that's why I didn't notice at first, but I can't get rid of them with a potion and it sort of feels like it's coming from my scar."
"How often do you get these headaches?"
"Not every day and usually when I'm worked up about something," Harry shrugged.
"You said potions don't work, how do you get rid of them?"
"They tend to go by themselves after a while."
"And in the evenings? Have you ever been asleep with the pain or had odd dreams?"
"That's sort of why I noticed. I was a bit upset last night and I had a headache and I was falling asleep but it was getting worse and I could feel it more in my scar…"
"This was when you had come to see me?" Severus queried, suppressing a wave of guilt.
"Yeah and afterwards when I'd gone to bed."
"Do you have a headache now?"
"No, not right now."
Severus was silent a moment more. To think he almost missed this, that he had been missing this for who knows how long because he refused to communicate with him. Severus put his guilt aside to focus on the matter at hand. His symptoms certainly were unusual considering his scar's behaviour over the summer. He'd appreciate another chance to administer potions to Harry to see the effects, at times they seemed effective and at others, utterly useless.
"I would rather you slept in your room in my quarters this evening," Severus stated after a moment's deliberation.
"There is a strong chance of you being affected once again this evening, particularly as you're not in the most positive frame of mind. I would rather consider how to deal with these episodes before leaving you to deal with them alone."
"People are going to notice I'm not in Gryffindor tower."
"I've no doubt the Headmaster will inform your Head of House once I've spoken to him."
"Floo to my quarters. I'll follow you when I've spoken to the Headmaster."
Harry sighed but did as he was told without a word.
How could he have not realised how much his actions would impact on Harry? He'd deluded himself that he could not handle the responsibility of ensuring Harry's happiness and that by ridding himself of it he was doing Harry some sort of favour. This was no favour; Harry would not thank him in the future for hurting him unnecessarily now, that kind of logic was the Headmaster's own brand of lunacy.
"If you expect results after only one day Severus then I will have to disappoint you," the Headmaster said but welcomed him as usual with an offer of a seat and then regarded him steadily from behind his desk, no doubt expecting another rant.
Severus gritted his teeth, ready to try another tack. "You were right yesterday, we are on the same side but this idea of yours that you can sacrifice Harry's happiness for the sake of this prophecy, this war, it is not necessary to win. He is already brave and resourceful, he already puts the safety of others before himself, what he needs now is training and for someone to make sure his courage doesn't become recklessness."
"Harry is an exceptional young man and very lucky to have you so invested in his protection but he will not best Voldemort through skill, no amount of training will give him the power to defeat him."
"He'll be able to defend himself at least, enough so that he doesn't lose his life in the next war." He chose to take it as a positive sign that the Headmaster was giving the matter some thought and decided to quit while he was ahead.
"Harry won't be going to the tower tonight, he'll stay in his room in my quarters. He described some odd pains in his head, he seems to think they originated in his scar but the symptoms weren't following the pattern established over the summer."
"No? Exactly what did Harry describe?"
Severus relayed everything he could remember. He kept his own opinions on the origins of Harry's pain to himself. He wanted to see what the Headmaster made of them, his other qualities aside, you could not deny the man had a brilliant mind.
"It is certainly Voldemort, we can be sure of that."
"Why then are the effects so different? Harry wasn't initially able to distinguish the pain from an ordinary headache."
"A deliberate probe, perhaps. Harry's last attack was particularly violent, yes?"
"After I opened his mind to the Dark Lord." Another stupid mistake, his mind readily supplied.
"It was perhaps unfortunate timing that he was affected while he was vulnerable. I suspect Voldemort is aware of the link or at least sensed something during that last episode."
"You don't think he has access to Harry's mind?"
"Not if my hypothesis is correct. I suspect Tom is merely testing the link between them, he may or may not realise what it is. I doubt he is powerful enough without his body to do any tremendous damage or truly access Harry's mind."
"And if you're wrong? We cannot continue letting him try to break into Harry's mind."
"Of course not. I think you know what I'm going to suggest."
When he returned to his rooms he found Harry sitting on the couch looking rather morose. Severus wasn't normally disposed to be sympathetic to teenage misery even when he was the cause of it but his own guilt was rather difficult to overcome and so he wracked his brains for some clue as to how to handle Harry.
He remembered that Harry didn't mind cooking with him over the summer. "I'm going to make dinner, you're welcome to help." Welcome. he'd said that an awful lot to the child but he obviously didn't feel welcome. Severus had made sure to contradict every positive thing he'd ever said to him.
Harry looked as if he was considering the offer hard before agreeing with an short nod and following Severus into the kitchen.
"What did Dumbledore say?" Harry asked as Severus summoned the ingredients and divided them between himself and Harry.
"You need to learn occlumency sooner rather than later. That's going to mean regular stays away from the tower, which will cause some problems. You're to act as if you're seeing the Headmaster and not myself but it will be me teaching you and you'll stay here overnight so I can keep an eye on you while you're vulnerable."
"So we should have just carried on occlumency like I wanted to."
"In hindsight it would have been better. I would not have agreed to do it now if I didn't think there was sufficient danger to warrant it. It was akin to watching torture the amount of pain you were in."
"I was alright with carrying on."
"It's not your judgement that matters."
"No, what I want doesn't matter."
"That is not what I said. Unless there's a damn good reason I will not do anything that can cause you to be in that much pain. It wasn't bearable Harry, I don't have the faintest idea why you wanted to carry on."
"Because I didn't want this to happen! I wanted to spend time with you so you'd remember that we got on or that you didn't hate me."
"I don't need to be reminded that I don't hate you. I wasn't acting out of hatred or dislike, I thought I was doing what was best for you."
"Well, I don't understand, alright?" Harry burst out.
"Of course you don't, it doesn't make any sense. It was an error of judgement, Harry. The way I saw it, I took on the responsibility of providing for you and anything I couldn't provide for you myself I was determined you would get nonetheless. I didn't realise that what I was doing was counter-intuitive."
"Sometimes I think you don't want me to get what you're saying."
"I was trying to make sure that the rest of your childhood was spent happily, I didn't realise I was doing the opposite."
Snape wasn't being any less confusing but he had apologised and quite frankly he wasn't sure what else he wanted Snape to say but he knew he wasn't okay yet.
"What am I doing then?"
"You don't have to help if you'd rather not," Snape replied and Harry realised he had spoken with a bit more hostility than was warranted for helping cook dinner.
"I do want to," he insisted. Snape regarded him carefully but then nodded.
"The vegetables then. Wand out, the spell's tagliarum, aim for the vegetable, obviously. Do it on the table. It's a sharp downwards motion, as if you were using a knife."
"I ruined it," Harry said after a moment, staring at a pile of destroyed carrot.
"I'm going to cook it, it doesn't matter what it looks like. Try not to get it on the floor."
It was actually quite therapeutic; mangling vegetables. Maybe that's why Snape wanted him to do it. He probably thought he was going to start yelling again any second.
The rest of the evening passed by incredibly quietly for an evening in with Harry. Severus was certain he'd never seen Harry so deep in thought. His sole unprompted remark before he went to bed was that he didn't have his pyjamas.
Severus summoned a garish tee-shirt that had been an awful gift from the headmaster and a newer pair of his own pyjama trousers and shrunk the latter to something approaching Harry's size. "For tonight. I'd rather not have to deal with an elf this evening."
"Thanks," Harry replied, giving him an odd look.
He didn't know how long he sat by the fire before Harry reappeared from his room.
"No, just wanted a drink," he yawned sleepily. "How come you're still up?" he asked, surprising Severus by sitting down on the sofa opposite and curling up there instead.
"I was thinking."
"Thanks for saying sorry," Harry said suddenly. "I still don't understand what you were thinking but I get that you thought you were doing the right thing and I do believe you. I do remember you saying that you didn't know how to be a guardian so... "
"I didn't say that as an excuse."
"I know but still... It's sort of nice though that you try and think about what's best for me even if you get it really, really wrong. No one else does that."
"They do. I'm frequently informed that I'm not the only person who cares about you."
"McGonagall said that it was an impossible commitment for someone to take me in, because of the wards," Harry mumbled, burying himself deeper into the sofa. Severus wasn't sure how to reply to that, he didn't want Harry to feel like he had to accept his apology out of gratitude. "I wouldn't really have wanted to go back to the Dursleys," he continued. "I just really wanted you to be normal again, I really needed you to be normal."
"I don't think Voldemort's doing anything tonight, it was probably a waste of time having me stay over," Harry commented, grabbing a cushion to use as a makeshift pillow.
"No, it certainly was not."