AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I do realize there is a paradox issue here. I know nothing about time travel and have no desire to learn. Take this story for what it is, flaws and all. Please forgive all other errors.
WARNINGS: Foul language throughout and major character "death" (if you want to call it that).
"Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time . . . loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves!" - Hermione, Prisoner of Azkaban, pg. 399 (American version)
He is sitting in Snape's office. He has detention on a Friday night, and for what? For breathing, for existing, for being flesh and blood and bone that mold together to create a being called 'Harry Potter'.
His punishment is unjust, he knows this. Snape wraps it up in a sloppy package, disguising it as discipline for chopping his daisy roots unevenly. But Harry is certain that he chopped them perfectly; recalls the precision of his slices and the way the daisy roots lay against his work table like long identical calligraphy lines.
Snape is just a bastard with a grudge. Harry doesn't know why Snape hates him, just that he does. And the hatred is becoming mutual-a slumbering beast within that is beginning to wake. Harry wants it to wake, wants it to crawl out of him and stab Snape like a thousand hot knives. He's sick of this; sick of being a thirteen year old mediocre wizard and the target of Snape's venom.
He wants to catch that venom and spit it right back into Snape's skeletal face.
Harry hunches over a small table in the corner, its wooden surface worn and covered with fissures. Absently, he reaches two fingers on each hand up to the soft flesh of his neck, just below the jaw, right in the corners. His pulse throbs below the tips of his fingers, a steady thump-thumping like hooves. It's a subconscious action that he's done since his first year, since his encounter with a less-than-human Voldemort. It reminds him that he is, in fact, alive and breathing, with a heart that beats and nerves like cables running through his body.
Sometimes, he forgets.
He is writing an essay.
Tonight, you will be writing an essay, Potter. I want a foot and a half on how parents can pass down their unfavorable and despicable traits onto their children: For example, a father onto his son. (This was followed by a wicked smirk, of course).
Twenty minutes have passed and Harry's parchment is still as blank and clear as the pale dawn of a new day. He is too distracted by the man who sits at the big oak desk behind him. Snape is grading papers, Harry can hear the furious scratch of his quill, but he swears he can feel two black eyeballs frying the back of his skull.
More distracting is the stone basin that sits on a nearby countertop, its contents like liquid glass with fat shapeless gray blobs swirling around. Harry has never seen such a thing.
"Potter," Snape drawls. Harry cranes his neck around. "I must run a brief errand. I shall return shortly. Remain seated, continue writing, and keep your mouth shut. If you disobey, I will know, and the consequences will be most unpleasant. Have I made myself clear?"
Snape fixes him with a flinty stare and sweeps out of the office.
Harry listens to the sound of Snape's footsteps moving further and further away. When he's sure the man is gone, he relaxes. He absently taps his quill against the desk, his eyes once again traveling to the stone basin perched just a few feet away.
He wants to know.
No, he doesn't.
Yes, he does.
But Snape had just warned him and Harry doesn't really feel like being flayed alive this evening.
But he has to know.
He rises to his feet, his legs shaking. He feels disconnected from himself, like he isn't consciously doing this, like his body has decided to do this on its own. He knows he'll regret it if Snape finds out, he sodding well knows, but he cannot stop himself.
And he doesn't try to, either.
He is moving now, the walls and Snape's desk gliding past his peripheral vision like meaningless window dressing. He leans over and gazes into the basin, the shimmering substance inside bathing his skin with a gentle glow. He cautiously dips his hand in-a ghost is breathing into him, turning his bones to ice-and the floor has disappeared from beneath his feet, where the hell did the floor go? And he's pitching forwards and he doesn't know what's happening. Scenes are flashing by-two little girls, one with red hair... a sullen and awkward little boy... a playground... a floating flower... children talking in the seclusion of a thicket... greed and longing and pain... a falling tree branch... tears... the Hogwarts express... "If you'd rather be brawny than brainy"... Snivellus, they nicknamed him Snivellus... jealousy... "I thought we were friends. Best friends"... a spring in his step... words like daggers... the world is upside down, dangling in the air, and the humiliation claws and stings... "Who wants to see me take off Snivelly's trousers?"... the redheaded girl has grown into a beautiful young woman... "Leave him alone!" and words, so many words, too many words dotting like staccato marks above notes on a sheet of music... "I wouldn't go out with you if it was a choice between you and the giant squid"... rage, like fire and ice... "I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"... and she is gone, a footprint in the sand washed away by the tide... apologies, useless apologies... nighttime, a hill of some sort, a man, sheet-white with quicksilver in his eyes, desperation clinging to him like fingers... a prophecy revealed... accusations, questions... spare the life of the mother in return for the lives of the father and the son... disgust... "Protect them all" and "Anything"... a man, a fallen and broken crow, sits inside an office... "I wish I was dead"... misplaced trust... a boy who has survived, a boy with her eyes... "If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear" and "You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son"... a promise... remorse and desire and envy and grief weaving through the years like an oily thread, tarnishing and rotting...
Harry falls backwards, feels solid ground below his sneakers, and Snape's office surrounds him once again. It's the present, the here-and-now, the office still empty and looking just like it did when Harry fell into the stone basin. And now he is a pumpkin on Hallows Eve; cut open and hollowed out and carved into. There is nothing inside of him.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It was not the right time, Harry."
"Well, when is the right time, then? When I'm fifteen? Eighteen? One hundred and five? WHEN IT'S TOO LATE?"
Dumbledore holds up a dry, cracked hand to stop Harry. "Your anger is understandable, but you need to listen to me, Harry." Dumbledore squeezes his eyes shut. When he opens them, he looks a million years older than he is (How? He's already so old). He begins pacing his office, arms swung and locked at the hands behind his back. Harry stands in the middle of the room, fists clenching and unclenching.
"What you fell into is called a Pensieve." Dumbledore is still circling Harry. "It is an object that a wizard or witch uses to transfer and contain their memories in. Once the memories are siphoned from the mind into the Pensieve, they are able to be viewed."
Harry slowly nods. "Those were memories, Snape's memories. I already figured that one out."
"Right," Dumbledore agrees. "Memories are clearer when stored inside the Pensieve. Our minds are like stormy skies, Harry. Clouds and fog and rain tend to distort the way we remember things, but the Pensieve offers us a flawless and lucent view of the events."
"Right," Harry snarls through gritted teeth. "I've got that, thanks. I want to know about what I saw inside. Tell me. Now. I want to know."
Dumbledore sighs in defeat and comes to stand directly in front of Harry. He looks like a man about to deliver a death sentence. "Are you certain you want to know?"
Fear and anticipation and the bubbling panic that comes with impending doom nip at Harry's ribs. "Yes," he breathes.
"Very well," Dumbledore says, a sad smile curving his lips. He doesn't want to do this, that much is obvious, but it's too late. In front of him stands a thirteen year old boy, a child, whose life has been nothing but loss and sadness, a vulture spreading its wings and enveloping this boy since infancy. And he knows, he damn well knows, that the information he is about to divulge will smash against Harry like a mirror and shatter to pieces, the jagged edges raining down and slicing the boy's heart and soul to ribbons.
But the knowledge that even the deepest of wounds can heal with the agonizing tick-tocking of time is what allows Dumbledore to press on. And so, he comes to stand in front of Harry and they eye one another in silence for a long moment. They are both carved out of granite and separated by a string of years and experience and inexperience, and yet they are the same in this moment, at this time, in this office, connected by a wire of anxiety and grief.
"It all begins with a prophecy..."
Harry sits in front of the fire, the flames crackling and pumping heat throughout the Gryffindor common room. He's a jumble of feelings that crash into one another, contradicting and nauseating. His heart is the steady beat of a drum.
He does not turn around. He thinks he might crumble to dust if he even moves. "What?"
He feels a presence settle beside him. The scent of citrus shampoo pokes at his nose.
"What's happened?" Hermione asks.
Harry bows his head, twisting and wringing his hands in his lap. He doesn't know what to say, where to start. But he needs to talk to someone, let the truth pass through his chapped lips like puffs of clean air. Hermione can be trusted. Hermione is sensible. Hermione never offers cliché words and empty comfort. He lifts his head and meets her eyes, which are soft and curious.
It surprises him that, once he begins speaking, the words flow effortlessly from his mouth like a fine champagne. It is so easy, too easy. All the while, Hermione listens intently, nods, and furrows her brows. By the end of it, her cheeks are two red apples. She's overwhelmed.
"Goodness," she gasps. "I don't know what to think."
Harry laughs bitterly. "Tell me about it."
Hermione nibbles on her lower lip. "How does it make you feel?"
Harry doesn't know what he feels. There are so many emotions whirring and colliding inside of him, a pack of wild dogs tearing each other apart. "I... I don't know." He runs a hand through his rebellious hair, causing the black strands to stand at attention like soldiers in a messy formation. "I kind of pity Snape and I hate him, and he's a prat for what he did, and my dad was a prat for what he did." Harry shakes his head and a ragged breath escapes him. Without realizing it, he touches the points of his pulse in his neck with a twin set of fingers on each hand (I'm alive, I'm alive). "He loved my mum and he messed up, and she kind of abandoned him, and his life wasn't fair, but he's a-was-a Death Eater. And if it weren't for him, I'd still have my parents." Harry brings his knees to his chest and hugs them. "It's confusing. I don't know what I should feel. I feel sorry for him, but I want him to pay for what he did. Does that make sense?"
Hermione nods. "Of course it does, but maybe he is paying for what he did. I'm sure he tortures himself every day for it. And then he has to look at you, and you look like just like the man who tormented him at school, and you're a walking, talking reminder of Lily's preference for another man and the mistake Snape made when he told Voldemort." Hermione gazes at Harry sympathetically and apologetically. "I'm not saying that to criticize you, Harry. I'm just offering you some... perspective, from the other side." She stares into the fire. "But it doesn't excuse what he did and how he acts."
Harry's sinuses are burning and it feels like his heart is lurching in his throat. There's no way in hell Hermione is only thirteen years old. She's far too insightful and intelligent to be so young. "My life hasn't been fair, but I haven't turned out so bad."
Hermione snorts. "You're thirteen, Harry. I think it's still a bit too early to judge how you've 'turned out'."
"Maybe," Harry allows, "But I know I won't turn out like Snape."
Hermione agrees with this. "Oh, I already know that. But not everyone deals well with the bad things that happen to them." Hermione pivots on the spot, turning her body to face Harry's. "There's got to be some good in Snape, though. He made a promise to protect you. He's saved your life, hasn't he? And he's capable of love, Harry. There's a soul in there."
Harry snaps his head to look at her. "I never said there wasn't. I just-I don't know." He pulls his glasses off and scrubs at his face. "I don't want the effing prophecy to be true. I just wish I could go back, you know? Save my mum and dad, maybe save Snape from making a mistake and becoming the arse that he is today."
At this, Hermione's eyes dart around the room. She's considering something. "Harry," she says, the words spilling out in a long stream. "I want to show you something." She reaches into her shirt and for a moment, Harry is alarmed. Sure, he's a teenager, but Hermione is his best friend and he's not really curious about her like that and why would she want to show him-oh. She's pulled something out, a long golden chain with a huge charm on it. It glints in the gentle flames of the fire, looking like a bulky jewel. Hermione places the charm in the palm of her hand and thrusts it towards Harry. "McGonagall gave this to me at the start of term. She jumped through so many hoops to get permission for me to have it." Harry examines it. It's a circle with an hourglass in the middle, something like stars are etched into the gold, and there are tiny knobs poking out on either side. "It's a time-turner. It's how I've been making it to all of my classes." Hermione pulls her hand back, tosses the time-turner in the air, catches it, and begins swinging it like a pendulum from the chain that still hangs around her neck. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone about it. McGonagall forbade me."
"Then why are you telling me?" Harry asks.
"Because," Hermione replies, her eyes downcast, mouth curled into a slightly mischievous smile. "I'm not one to break the rules, you know that. And McGonagall will expel me if she finds out. And it's dangerous to mess with time." She lifts her gaze to Harry's face. "But... this seems worth it." In her hands, she gathers the links that press into the skin of her neck and takes the time-turner off. It sways limply in her fist. "What would you do if you could go back and change what happened?"
Harry looks from Hermione to the time-turner and back again. "I would save my parents."
"Yes," Hermione huffs, "But how would you do that?"
Harry thinks for a moment. "Er... stop Voldemort."
Hermione purses her lips and rolls her eyes. "Right, and how would you stop him?"
"I'd... stop Snape from learning about the prophecy and running to Voldemort."
"Yes," Hermione says, raising the index finger on her free hand. "And how would you do that?"
Harry's frustrated by now. "I'd go to Snape and tell him everything. He loves my mum. If he knows what happens in the future and how she'll be murdered, he won't want it to happen. He won't reveal the prophecy to Voldemort, which will spare the lives of my mum and dad. I'll grow up with a proper family, the Dursleys won't happen, and I'll be happy. I won't be 'The-Boy-Who-Lived'. I'll have a normal life."
"Wrong!" Hermione says snootily. "You would actually go back in time and tell an active Death Eater all of this? That would be a pretty foolish thing to do, now wouldn't it? That's like offering up a mouse to a hungry cat."
"Damnit," Harry growls. "It would be easy! I'd save lives-my parents', even Snape's. And besides, he's supposed to be a good guy now..."
"And that's nice of you, really," Hermione condescends. "But it would be a stupid way to do it. Snape may be 'good' now, but he wasn't in those days. I say you go back before your conception-sometime before October of seventy-nine-and warn your parents. They'll be prepared and they'll know what to do. They could even get other witches and wizards to help them."
Harry thinks this a good idea, much better than his. Willingly seeking out Snape the Death Eater? What an asinine idea. "That's what I'll do, then," he says.
Hermione rakes her eyes over the time-turner hanging from her hand. She takes a deep breath and tosses it to Harry, who catches it easily. "Listen to me," she demands, face flushed. "Be careful. Meddling with time can be disastrous, and I'm not joking. If you don't use caution, you could ruin your own life or someone else's. You'll come back and things will be… different. Certain things won't have happened, so just remember that. You're completely altering your current existence by doing this, you know. By stopping Snape, you won't have the same life you've got now, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The only things that came from Snape revealing the prophecy were your parents' deaths and You-Know-Who coming back, so those two things will never have happened, and you'll have your parents back. You'll still come to Hogwarts and Ron and I will still be here." Hermione looks nervous. "I trust you, Harry, just like McGonagall trusts me." Her bottom lip trembles and a look of disappointment washes over her. "I've already broken her trust by telling you about the time-turner, and handing it over to you to change the past? God, that's way beyond broken trust. Don't mess up. Please, just don't. Actually, I should come with you-"
"No!" Harry squeaks. He wouldn't feel comfortable with Hermione tagging along. It just doesn't seem right. "I need to go at this alone. I don't know why, but I do."
Fury and shock flitter across Hermione's face. "No," she argues. "You don't know what you're doing! I'm not going to leave you alone with that time-turner." She crosses her arms moodily across her chest, offended and angry.
"Hermione," Harry pleads. "Please, listen to me. I have to go by myself. I know I'm not as smart as you, but I'm not stupid enough to screw this up, I promise." His words are drawn out, sharp angled and drenched in sorrow.
Hermione studies his face, her stubborn expression loosening into compassion after a minute. "Okay," she whispers. "I trust you."
Harry eyes the time-turner in his hand, feeling hopeful. It's the missing puzzle piece that he's sought for years, the one that will fit and make everything whole, just like it should be, like it's meant to be. "What do I do?"
"You turn the two knobs on the sides," Hermione explains. "For each turn, you travel back an hour. You need to go back to nineteen seventy-nine, so that means..." Hermione narrows her eyes in concentration.
"Are you serious?" Harry asks incredulously. Hideous and complicated mathematical equations are waltzing through his mind. "We're in nineteen ninety-three, and I have to go back fourteen years, so I have to figure how many hours are in fourteen years?"
"Well, if you want to do the math..." Hermione is calculating now, turning numbers over in her head. "There are technically eight-thousand, seven-hundred and sixty hours in one calendar year, but that's not counting leap years. There are eight-thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four hours in a calendar leap year, so what you need to do is-"
"I'm not turning this thing eight-thousand plus times and counting the turns!" Harry laughs.
"But if you want it to work properly-"
"Why don't I just turn it and watch the scenes change around me until I get to nineteen seventy-nine?" Harry notices the calendar tacked to the wall in a corner of the common room. It's a magical one, spelled to update with each new year. To his understanding, every dorm has one. "I'll pay attention to the year changing on the calendar until it gets me to the right time."
Hermione turns crimson. "Right, right, that makes sense. I don't know why I didn't think of it."
"Because you think too much," Harry teases.
Hermione smiles. "Okay, so this is what you should do: Go to the place that the Hogwarts Express leaves off... it seems the safest. Take your invisibility cloak and the calendar with you."
"Yeah, alright," Harry breathes. Something suddenly occurs to him. "What about the Dementors?"
"I was getting to that. You need to be quick about it, Harry. The Dementors aren't really patrolling that area, but they might sense you, so do it fast."
Harry already feels his blood freezing, a crystal glacier smacking into him and filling his body with that numbness that only a Dementor can cause. He gulps and fiddles with the time-turner. "Why are you doing this for me? You're risking your own neck."
"Because," Hermione smirks, "I don't like the way you look. It's worse than the way you were when the Dementors got to you on the train, and I..." she swallows thickly. "I want to help."
Harry doesn't know what to say to this, so he nods and privately thanks his lucky stars that he's got a friend like Hermione.
The railroad tracks look like icicles under the moon.
Harry huddles underneath his cloak, heart hammering. The time-turner hugs his neck, its cool metal giving him goose bumps. He scoops the charm up in his quivering hand and throws the invisibility cloak off. He plops down onto the ground, gathers the cloak up in his lap, and props the calendar on his knees. He's panicking now, the gravity of what he's about to do sinking in like the fangs of a viper.
It must be done.
He pinches the twin knobs of the time-turner, sucks in the crisp night air, and turns counter-clockwise. The world becomes a slideshow around him; night turning into day, day turning into night, sunshine and raindrops, green leaves and colorful leaves, the roar of the Hogwarts Express, flurries of children blurring and pooling together like smeared wet paint on a fresh canvas, voices fading in and out. Harry watches the numbers on the calendar in his lap change rapidly in a speedy countdown: Nineteen ninety-three... nineteen ninety... nineteen eighty-seven... nineteen eighty-four... nineteen eighty-two... nineteen seventy-nine.
He stops, tucks the time-turner beneath his shirt, and looks to the sky; waves of yellow and red and orange like liquid gas color the horizon and spread like lazy vines, fading and blotting, announcing the arrival of dusk.
Harry comes to stand, rolls the calendar up and stuffs it in his back pocket, and blankets himself in his invisibility cloak.
He traipses through the grass.
Hogsmeade in nineteen seventy-nine isn't much different than Hogsmeade in nineteen ninety-three.
Harry stands in the middle of the street, witches and wizards hurrying past him. He isn't exactly sure what to do now. He has to get to Godric's Hollow. He feels like he's got no time, none at all, his mind buzzing and vibrating as time flies by like a bullet cracking the air.
His eyes shift to the shops and bars around him. And then he sees a familiar drape of inky hair attached to a body that is hidden beneath a swell of black robes (this is entirely too coincidental; spotting this person immediately is a bit too convenient, like something written into a cheap Muggle film). And he's on pins and needles, scorched by fire and drowning in chilly waters at the same time. The sounds around him become faraway echoes.
Snape begins to walk, a wolf in the evening. He strides through the crowds, zigzagging with the grace of a bird. Harry feels his own legs stomping the ground of their own accord. He knows he shouldn't, but he can't stop himself. He follows the man, follows him as he turns down a dark and deserted alley. Harry stops to hide behind the rough stone of a building, watching Snape closely, quietly praying that Snape cannot sense his presence underneath the invisibility cloak. Snape's eyes dart along the alley, making sure there is no one else around. Harry hears his own breathing-in and out, in and out-his heart pitter-patters in his chest like the feet of a child. He hears Snape mumble something-an incantation?-but Harry can't make out the words, and then Snape is running boney white hands across the stone of the wall, and the stone bubbles like a blister (who knew stone could do that?) and a door appears. Snape opens it and disappears inside.
Harry glides to the door and examines it. A chipped and cracked sign hangs, squiggly lines are painted on it to form the word, 'LADYFINGERS'. Below the sign is a photograph of a scantily clad woman, curvaceous and dark-haired with olive skin. She winks an eye with spider-leg lashes and sways her hips. And then the door melts into the wall.
A strip club. A strip club in Hogsmeade.
Harry is young, yes, but he knows what a strip club is, has seen those Muggle movies full of guns and strippers that Dudley watches when Vernon and Petunia aren't around. Besides, he's at the age where he's becoming, er, curious about things like this and, well, reacting to things like this as well.
But he never knew there was a strip club in Hogsmeade, never ever. It's obviously hidden, tucked away and only visible with the murmuring of some Latin.
He is fascinated by this (and a little disgusted at the idea of Snape—SNAPE, for christ's sake-enjoying strippers), but doesn't dare go in. He feels his cheeks heat at the mere prospect of stepping foot in a place like this, even if he's hidden by the cloak. Instead, he opts to lean against the wall and wait, wait for Snape to walk out, however long that may be.
He really knows he shouldn't. Chasing a Death Eater around isn't exactly a bright idea, Hermione warned him, yet he doesn't feel the urge to leave. Something tells him to stay and wait, and so he decides to do just that.
An hour, an hour-and-a-half, two hours (or something like that) later, the door appears once again and swings open. Harry jolts. Out walks Lucius Malfoy, an aristocratic air wrapped around him like chains. He moves like a toffee-nosed serpent, a persnickety slither in his step, just as arrogant as he will be fourteen years later.
Snape steps out behind Lucius.
"Severus," Lucius says. "I thank you for the scotch. This was a thrilling evening, but I must be getting home before Narcissa begins to worry. I doubt she'd be happy if she knew the types of-"-Lucius waves his hand at the bare spot where the door was just a second ago and smiles wickedly-"Festivities I enjoy. I will inform the others of this interesting new development. The information you have provided will prove most useful."
Snape quirks an eyebrow. "I believe Narcissa is well aware of the places you frequent. People talk."
Lucius chuckles. "Alright, I don't deny that, but she and I do not discuss it." He eyes Snape critically. "I would be most ashamed if I were seen in one of the distasteful places you so often suggest we meet."
Snape narrows his eyes. "Forgive me, but I find it distasteful that you enjoy watching women strip their clothing off for legions of cheering men who offer them money in return for a good show. Common trash, those women are: Nothing but filth, and no better than street whores."
"Oh, Severus." Lucius is amused. "We are men, and it is only natural to appreciate the female form, no matter the environment." Lucius is grinning, a sly shark's smile. "Unless, of course, you prefer the company of men. I've always wondered about you-"
"That is not necessary," Snape growls. "I simply prefer the company of women who have dignity."
Lucius taps his walking stick on the pebbles below; the clunk-clunking fills the empty alley with a strange echo. "Narcissa is a dignified woman and I quite enjoy my wife, but it never hurts to escape a dignified woman for an hour or two and bask in the... undignified." Lucius is running his hands along his robes now, trying to get rid of any unwanted creases. "It is not as though I am sticking any... appendages inside of these women, but that doesn't mean I cannot delight myself with that which is aesthetically pleasing. It serves its purpose, prepares me for going home to Narcissa and... performing. For hours."
Snape looks disgusted, but says nothing.
"Honestly, Severus," Lucius says smoothly, "I worry about you. When was the last time you touched a woman? I see you do nothing but refuse, time and time again, when a voluptuous Mudblood is brought to us. We all indulge in the only fruit such filth has to offer, but you choose to stand on the sidelines and not partake in the activities."
"I can assure you, I would find no pleasure in defiling myself in such a way," Snape hisses.
Lucius nods, looking unconvinced. "Right, Severus. I sometimes forget how young you are." He scans the alley with beady eyes. "I am going home now. You may choose our next meeting place, but please refrain from one of those repugnant Muggle pubs you tend to visit. I'd rather not be subjected to watching burley drunken men shooting balls into holes with wooden sticks." Lucius fastens his cloak and stands ram-rod straight. "Goodnight, Severus." And he is gone on the spot in a blur of blonde hair and black cloak.
Snape stares at the spot where Lucius had just stood, his face a mixture of irritation and loathing. Harry examines him. The man looks young, his face absent of the lines that time will paint in the coming years. His oily black hair isn't quite shoulder length yet. He's softer; his eyes and jaw not quite as sharp as they will be in fourteen years. His demeanor is more relaxed and a bit twitchier than that of his future self. He radiates unpleasantness, just as he does when Harry comes to know him, but it's not as pungent. This is a man standing precariously on a precipice, one leap away from morphing into a beast.
And in this moment, Harry is overwhelmed with the desire to pull this man back, to save him.
He forgets his discussion with Hermione and the plan that was orchestrated, and before he can even think twice about it, he slides his invisibility cloak off and now he's yelling, lungs bursting open and a name shooting from his throat like lava.
The man's eyes widen in astonishment. He looks at Harry, and the shock quickly fades to predaciousness. In the blink of an eye, he's wielding his wand. "Who are you?" he barks.
Harry reaches for his wand on pure instinct. "I-I-I'm just... I have to... just let me explain! Lower your wand, please, just... don't. It's alright, you can put your wand away."
"I think not," Snape drawls. "Who are you? What do you want? And how do you know my name?"
"Okay," Harry breathes. "There's... a lot to this story. It's complicated."
"EXPLAIN!" Snape thunders.
Harry blanches, his heart thrumming in his ears, reminding him that he is alive, alive and here and standing in front of a nineteen year old Snape who looks like a blackened wick in a candle that just burnt out.
The long explanation pours from Harry's mouth like wine, deep and red and staining. He tells Snape everything; who he is, who Snape is in the future, Dumbledore, Hogwarts, James, the time-turner, the prophecy, and Lily; Lily with the red hair and a laugh like wind-chimes. Snape listens, brows arched and eyes that aren't so black and darkened yet with years of guilt and a soul doused with death and grief.
"I don't believe you," Snape sneers when Harry finishes.
"In the future, we all joke that you can read minds," Harry admits. "Can you?"
Snape considers this for a moment. "Fine," he says. "Look at me, and do NOT break eye contact. If I find out you're lying, I will kill you right here and now."
Harry is pretty sure Snape would actually do it, too. He nods and looks into Snape's eyes, feeling unhinged as the man stares back. So, the git really can read minds. He makes a mental note to tell Hermione and Ron when he gets back.
Snape aims his wand between Harry's eyes and casts a spell-it sounds something like "Lay-jelly-mints" and Harry thinks that's a rather ridiculous name for a spell, but no matter - and now he can feel Snape kicking through his mind with steel-toed boots, shoving and pushing and grabbing. Harry pushes the memories to the forefront and Snape is sorting through them like a box of old photographs. The invasion doesn't hurt; it's a light pressure, nothing more, and it's over in minutes. Harry can feel the presence exit his head and his brain feels like it's been rattled around and played like a Harmonica.
Snape staggers backwards, eyes blazing, face contorted in surprise. He blinks twice and fixes Harry with an astounded look.
"Now do you believe me?" Harry asks shakily.
"Fuck," Snape groans.
Harry doesn't know what Snape just did. The man commanded him to grip his forearm (and when Harry did, Snape frowned like an unwelcome parasite had just latched onto him). Everything spun and Harry felt himself drowning in murky water, his intestines squeezing and shooting up into his chest, wrapping around like iron fists and choking him.
Coherency seeps into Harry's body, blood from a fresh wound soaking through a bandage. A shabby house is perched in front of them. Harry looks around to see a run-down (and very obviously Muggle) neighborhood, bits of rubbish scattered on the ground.
But Snape's hand on the collar of Harry's shirt cuts the question short as he drags Harry into the house. It smells like mold and alcohol. A light switches on and Harry is immediately claustrophobic. The place is small, very small; a sitting room with a sofa and a chair, two doors, and bookcases everywhere (hanging from doors, even!) that eat up the area like a hungry dog.
"Sit!" Snape demands. Harry heads for the chair, his limbs heavy. He sits on the edge of the worn chair and watches Snape glide through the room, the floorboards creaking beneath his boots. He throws open a door and disappears. Harry's legs are bobbing up and down now, anxiety knocking around inside of him. Snape reappears after several minutes, a glass full of something amber colored in his hand. Oddly, Harry thinks of acid. Snape takes a seat on the sofa, his long skinny legs like twigs. He sips at his drink and studies Harry. It's rather uncomfortable.
"So," Snape begins, "I now know what happens in the future, and I assume the reason for your little visit is to prevent the tragedy that's to come."
"Hmm," Snape grumbles. "Lily and James' child. You're just as ugly as your father."
Harry scowls, thinking it funny that someone as hideous as Snape is saying such a thing. "Yeah, yeah, you hate my dad. Believe me, you never fail to let me know it in the future. You also remind me constantly that I'm just like him."
"Good," Snape smirks.
"Okay," Harry says, annoyance creeping into his voice. "So, now you know. And you're not going to reveal the prophecy, right?"
Snape stares into his glass. He looks like he could bleed right into the shadows of the room. "What makes you think I won't?"
"Because!" Harry gasps. "You love my mum! You-"
"Do not," Snape growls, his hand tightening and his knuckles whiten around the glass, "Talk to me about Lily Evans. And I'm not interested in your silly notions of 'love'."
"Stop it," Harry whispers. "You don't have to lie or hide it. I know the truth, I saw it."
Snape laughs, a laugh that is blackened and decayed. "How touching." The man's face is still now, eyes clouded over. He looks haunted.
Harry feels something twitch inside of him. The Severus Snape that sits in front of him lacks the degree of severity that the present day one possesses. This Snape has an edge of vulnerability, an air of nervousness, and a lingering bite of sadness attached to him. He does not walk with the same confidence and righteousness as he does in fourteen years' time. His voice actually changes tones right now-rising and falling like a heaving chest-not the deadly whisper Harry is accustomed to. This Snape isn't nice, not at all; quite intimidating, really. But he's not as hardened as the Snape that Harry knows.
This is what gives Harry hope (and burns his lungs and his heart).
"I'm sorry," Harry rasps. "She shouldn't have-"
"Don't," Snape mumbles. "Just leave it alone." He sighs, drains his glass, and sets it on the end table. "How old are you, boy?"
A dramatic sigh. "I cannot believe I'm to go on to teach children," Snape muses. "I hate children, all of you. I hated children even when I was one."
"Right," Harry chuckles. "Believe me, you still hate them when you're in your thirties and we all know it."
"I can see why I wouldn't like you," Snape says. "Not only are you the spitting image of your father, but you also seem just as foolish and brash as him."
"Would you mind sparing me the comparisons to my father? Believe me, I hear enough of them in the nineties."
Snape's lips quirk. "I'll consider it."
There's something unnerving about the way Snape is watching Harry through hooded eyes and strands of black hair, something that makes Harry shudder.
"So, we're at Spinner's End?" Harry inquires, desperate to get Snape to stop looking at him that way.
"Ah." A beat, a long beat that stretches out like skin across bone. "So, what are you going to do?"
Snape raises his eyebrows questioningly. "Do?"
"Yeah, about-about," Harry twirls his hand and stops, palm facing upwards. "About the future."
"I will not bring about Lily's death," Snape mumbles.
Harry can't help it; his face cracks into a ridiculously large smile. "I knew it."
"Shut the fuck up," Snape snaps. He picks up the empty glass on the end table and hurls it just a centimeter behind Harry's head. It hits the floor and shatters, the sound ringing like the unholiest and most wicked cathedral bells throughout the sitting room. Snape looks murderous, a red-hot gleam in his eyes. "You just know everything, don't you? You come back here to save your mother and your worthless father and you'll smile about it and pat yourself on the bloody back, won't you? You little mug. I ought to tear you the fuck apart and hang your entrails on the walls!"
Harry flinches and nearly pisses himself. The man looks (and is acting) like a goddamn psychopath. Harry automatically regrets this, all of this. Following Snape was madness.
"What's wrong with you?" Harry croaks. "I'm just-I'm just going to leave. Sorry to have bothered you."
He is about to rise to his feet when a quaking voice stops him.
"No," Snape says. "No, no, just-" he runs a hand across his face, his body a cello string pulled tautly. "Just stay there, will you? I'll get more bourbon. You're not of age, but I'll... I'll fetch the bourbon." He turns and disappears behind the door once again (it must lead to the kitchen).
Harry swallows hard, feels his pulse pounding and hears his blood whishing in his ears like big fat waves. His legs are jerking up and down, up and down, and he can't control them. He's confused and terrified and he doesn't know what to do, but something tells him to stay.
And that's just what he does; hunches into the chair and waits, bringing a thumb up to his neck to feel his pulse (I am alive).
They sit for hours, sucking down glasses of bourbon. Harry's never had alcohol, but the scorch in his throat faded nineteen sips ago. He's come to appreciate the tingle that runs through his body, starting under his ribs and spreading to the tips of his fingers (an eagle spreading its wings inside him). His head is buzzing pleasantly, eyelids as heavy as bags of sand, and he feels like he could float right off the chair. He would save this feeling, if he could; lock it in a box and keep it forever. It's the opposite of death and cupboards and Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers.
There hasn't been much conversation, just the sounds of lips smacking against glass. Harry doesn't mind this and thinks that his lack of discomfort is due to the keen nibble of alcohol in his system.
"Boy," Snape finally says. "Do you have anywhere to go?"
"Don't call me 'boy'," Harry slurs. He can hear himself slurring, the words tripping out of his mouth. He is amazed that Snape does not slur, sits straight and composed, Mister 'Look-At-Me-I-Can-Hold-My-Alcohol', the freaking son-of-a-bitch.
"As long as you are in my house, I will call you what I like." Snape looks bemused.
"Hey!" Harry chirps. "I never (hiccup) knew there was a (hiccup) strip club in Hogsmeade."
"That's no surprise," Snape scoffs. "Not many people are aware of its existence."
"Do all the (hiccup) Death Eaters hang round there?" Harry asks this rather casually, as if the phrase 'Death Eater' is to be spoken just as smoothly and conversationally as the Chudley Cannons.
Snape's lips are pressed together, a thin white line. "Do you always speak so cavalierly about Death Eaters?"
Tipsy or not, Harry quickly realizes he's talking to a Death Eater and, though he doesn't know the specifics, he at least knows that Death Eaters don't sit around braiding the hair of Muggle borns and playing chess with them. He sucks in a breath, sticks his tongue to the roof of his mouth, and stays like that for a good sixty seconds. When he's certain his hiccups have been alleviated, he finally answers Snape.
"No, I don't always talk about Death Eaters like it's nothing."
"Good," Snape says imperiously. He swirls the bourbon in his glass, eyeing the moving liquid. His eyes look like two chunks of coal. "You don't want to cross a Death Eater, boy. You may be in my home, sitting on my chair, drinking my last decent bottle of bourbon, but it would be wise to remember who I am, what I am." Snape is saying this to frighten Harry, to make him feel threatened, and the desired effect has been achieved. But Harry knows that the older Snape doesn't have to use words to be menacing; his mere presence, all shadows and quiet dread, are enough to put the fear of Merlin in someone. He doesn't have to try, he never has to try.
This Snape, however, does. And Harry notices it, despite the fact that the man's effort is as subtle as a piece of dust on a hardwood floor.
"I asked you to stop calling me 'boy'," Harry whines. "You're only, like, six years older than me."
"It is six years beyond where you currently are."
Harry's forehead scrunches up. "Duh."
"The age gap itself may not be much, but in terms of experience, it's exponential." Snape pauses. "You know nothing."
"I'm thirteen," Harry argues. "I'm not supposed to know everything. Isn't that part of growing up? Learning new stuff?"
Snape looks like he's somewhere faraway, stuck in a time and a place where parents fight and pretty redheads walk out on you and disappointment is a daily smack in the face.
Harry's heart slides down his body like melting ice.
"Some of us reach adulthood much faster than others," Snape mumbles. "It's not always in age."
Harry nods. "Yeah, it's not... yeah."
"Well," Snape changes the subject, "The strip club is quite lucrative. The few people who know about it visit quite often. Lucius Malfoy is a fan."
"He's slimy," Harry offers. "His son is slimy, too."
"Ah, so he goes on to produce an heir, then?"
"Yeah, little bastard. Draco's his name. Right git."
"My," Snape raises an eyebrow. "I assume there's a fair bit of animosity between yourself and Malfoy junior, judging by your colorful choice of words."
Harry snorts. "You could say that." He rests his heavy head in his upturned hand. "Why do you go to that place if you don't like it?"
"There are things that need to be discussed amongst-" Snape searches for his next word, "... us. So, we choose a place to meet - sometimes there are others who also attend - but it's usually just Lucius and I who handle the information."
Quiet settles over the room like a dusting of snow on grass. Harry feels his eyes grow heavier and heavier by the second. He's warm, though he doesn't know how that's possible; the house is as cold as the feet of a dead man. But he's warm anyway, his body strumming with a delicious euphoria. He smiles, and he's sure he looks a fool, but he doesn't care.
"Hm?" Harry moans, not even feeling the need to chew the man out for calling him 'boy' once again.
"Learn how to handle your alcohol in the future," Snape drawls.
"Mmkay," Harry mutters, and everything turns to gray and then fades to black.
He opens his eyes and it's dark. Panic sets in: 'Where am I? Where the hell am I?' He reaches in his back pocket and feels a trickle of relief when his hand meets the smooth holly. He flicks his wand and whispers a Lumos. The tip of the wand lights like a tiny ball of moonlight, casting a glow on everything around him. A sofa, walls, bookcases-his neck hurts, it hurts, goddamnit. He realizes he's balled up on a chair and everything slowly comes back to him, an inkblot growing larger and larger as it soaks into a sheet of parchment. Time-turner, Snape, a house, bourbon... oh, yes. He must've fallen asleep on the chair, a feverish alcohol induced mini-coma. Snape left him there to sleep in the most uncomfortable position imaginable, the prat.
And then it occurs to Harry that Snape could've just tossed him out into the unforgiving streets of Spinner's End like a vagrant.
But he didn't, did he?
Harry shoves his wand back into his pocket and stretches, his back cracking and his joints popping. He feels a light pressure in either corner of his neck and looks down to see his sharp elbows bent, the arms connected to the elbows reaching up, the hands attached to the arms hidden underneath Harry's chin, the fingers of the hands prodding at the beating pulse in his neck (Alive, alive...). He pulls his hands away and rests them in his lap. The house feels even more suffocating with the night sky pouring darkness through the windows. Harry assumes Snape must be upstairs in bed. He's still pretty tired himself, but this chair can piss off. He stands and feels his way to the sofa-he knows he's discovered it when his shin bashes against something. Tears stab at his eyes and he stifles a series of curse words as the pain shoots white-hot rays throughout his entire leg. He gingerly climbs onto the couch and lays flat on his back. Staying here is unnecessary; he only came back to nineteen seventy-nine to find his parents and warn them. Well, that was a bust. He couldn't help it; when he saw Snape, instinct told him to shift his plan and shape it like clay into something else.
Seeing Snape at nineteen years old unravels something inside of Harry. Looking at the man so young, seeing what he is and thinking of what he'll become fries Harry to the core.
He coughs and it bounces off the walls. Harry thinks of Snape living alone here, in this run-down house on this run-down street, the echoes of the man's footfalls his only company. Snape blends right in with the cobwebs and the unlit corners and the mazes of ancient books, just another patch of darkness on a quilt that's already streaked with several shades of black.
Harry envisions a man with lanky hair and a sour face sitting on the sofa in a murky room on Christmas Eve; iridescent decorative Muggle lights from the houses across the street shining through the open window like hundreds of frenzied stars, dotting the man's face with reds and blues and yellows. A sneering face as yet another chorus of 'Good King Wenceslas' flows into the house from the street outside, nothing but drunken music. And then it's New Year's Eve, the same unhappy man sits on the sofa, sipping bourbon or scotch or whatever. 'Auld Lang Syne' is playing outside in the distance as the man sips his alcohol, nothing but the pounding of his own heart and the alcohol in his hands keeping him company as he greets a new year.
Such isolation and solitude would drive Harry to madness.
He really should be leaving. He's already told Snape and he honestly feels like it's enough. Snape will alter his actions and act accordingly, twist the future into something much less tragic. Harry will have his parents, and maybe Snape's life won't be so miserable anymore.
Tomorrow. He'll go back to nineteen ninety-three tomorrow.
Harry falls asleep and dreams of red hair.
The smell of coffee tickles his nose. He opens his eyes. the sun has invited itself into the sitting room through the window, bringing rectangles of light with it that stream across the floor.
Harry stretches and pulls himself off the couch. His entire body is aching and throbbing, his muscles wound tight. He feels like he's swimming in a fog: everything seems far away, and this definitely isn't the haze that you experience when you first awake from a deep sleep. No, this is entirely different. Harry assumes it's the combination of spending the night on a lumpy, dusty sofa and taking a trip into the past. Time-travel can be a bitch, you know.
He looks around and his eyes freeze on the door in the back of the room. He presumes that it leads to a kitchen and wonders if he's got the bollocks to go in there. This is not his house, after all. Snape will probably rip him into bloody strings for being audacious enough to go gallivanting around the man's home.
The particular door in question swings open before Harry can immerse himself any further into his musings. Snape strides out, a charcoal colored mug in his hand; ah, coffee. The mug is chipped and bulky and ugly. Steam is poking its moist hands from the mug and, considering the temperature of the house, Harry is reminded of long winter afternoons on the grounds of Hogwarts, puffs of breath clouding the air in front of him as they leave his mouth.
Snape takes a seat on the chair and rests his mug on the arm of it. He does not look at Harry, who stands rooted in front of the sofa.
"Er," Harry begins. Well, this is a little awkward. "G'morning."
Snape doesn't acknowledge this, just sips at his coffee and stares out the window. Tendrils of sunshine spill beams of uneven light all over the man, curling around him and inviting one another into a spiraled dance, mixing and meshing to create a bizarre statue in the middle of a stuffy room that's part of a pitiful house on a dead end street in an even more dead end town.
"Well," Harry tries, "I'm going to head back to, erm, my time. Thank you for letting me stay the night."
At this, Snape's eyes snap up. "Why the hurry?"
Harry's a little taken aback by this reaction. "Because, I did what I needed to do. There's no reason for me to stick around."
Snape studies him for a moment, face closed and eyes unreadable. "Did you ever stop to consider that I may need your help?"
"In my endeavor to alter the future," Snape clarifies. "I'll need your assistance."
"Me? How the bloody hell am I supposed to help?"
"You know," Snape says, "You've got a foul mouth for someone so young."
Harry scoffs. "Oh yeah? And what are you going to do, give me detention? You're not my teacher, not here."
Snape's upper lip curls. "I was just pointing it out, you mouthy little brat."
"What do you need me to do?" Harry sighs. "All you have to do is not tell Voldemort about the prophecy. I don't see how I can help you with that."
Snape looks mildly shocked. "You said his name."
Harry is puzzled for a second until it finally sinks in. "Oh, I always do. Is that surprising? I thought everyone was creeped out by hearing his name after he killed my parents. Does it bother everyone in these times, too?"
"Yes," Snape replies. "No one likes to speak or even hear his name. Wizards and witches know what his stance is, what he's aiming to accomplish. He is feared the world over."
Harry shrugs. "Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself."
Snape raises an eyebrow. "My, that sounds like something Albus Dumbledore would say."
"Actually," Harry supplies, "Dumbledore did say it."
"Ridiculous old fuck," Snape mutters into his mug. His face is full of hatred, which is a weird thing for Harry to see. He's not used to a Snape who looks like he's tasted sour pumpkin juice at the mention of Dumbledore.
"You won't always hate him," Harry says. "He gives you a second chance in the future."
Snape stares at Harry with narrowed eyes. "Shut up, boy."
Harry has resigned himself to this Snape calling him 'boy'. He sits back down on the sofa and catches sight of a photograph sitting on one of the bookshelves. It's cased in a scratched gold frame, a crack running diagonally down the glass. In it, a sallow woman with long black hair glares and turns her head.
"That's your mum, isn't it?" Harry points at the photograph.
Snape nods. "Yes."
"This was your parents' house?"
"Where are they?"
"Well, aren't you a nosey child?" Snape rumbles.
"Sorry." Harry is blushing. He really does ask too many (personal) questions.
"They're dead," Snape says. The words are empty and cold, splashed with ice water.
"Don't even say it," Snape cuts him off. "I don't need your condolences, thank you. Tobias Snape was a lazy, worthless imbecile who couldn't even hold down a job. He didn't deserve to live."
Harry feels like choking. This bit of information makes him uncomfortable. "Well, what about your mum?"
"What about her?"
"How did she—what caused her dea—I mean, what hap—"
"Suicide," Snape reveals. "She was a weak woman. My father beat her daily and dictated her every move, yet she stayed with him. She convinced herself that she needed him to survive, despite the fact that he very nearly caused her untimely death on many occasions. That woman was pathetic; she needed someone to control her, to give her a structured life with rules and regulations. When Tobias died, she lost that structure she craved. Moped around for a good year, the stupid bint, until she finally took her wand to herself." He snorts and his face twists into a look of naked disgust, yet the tone of his voice hitches with sorrow and something like agony.
Harry doesn't know what to say, but he notices Snape's look of dismay. The man snaps his mouth shut and his face is stern once more. He is clearly shocked and upset that he's shared this information with Harry.
Harry says nothing. How do you respond to something like that? Instead, he stares at a book on one of the shelves: 'Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories' by Truman Capote. Harry has never read it, but he's seen bits of the film with that lovely Audrey lady. He never would've pegged Snape as someone who enjoys stories like that.
"When I used Legilimency on you," Snape says, "I saw flashes of you inside a cupboard."
"When you used what on me?"
"Legilimency, you moron!" Snape barks.
"What is Legilimency?"
Snape looks like a geyser that's about ready to erupt. "When I looked at your thoughts earlier! Merlin, boy, you're an idiot."
"Hey!" Harry cries. "I didn't know what it was freaking called, okay? Excuse me for only being a third year."
"That's no excuse."
"You know what?" Harry bristles. "I'm tired of you insulting me all the time. I don't care if it's nineteen ninety-three or nineteen seventy-nine; keep your mouth shut if nothing but crap is going to come out of it."
Snape is amused by this. "You've got a temper."
"Only when stupid pricks are insulting me."
Snape appraises Harry for a while and then finally speaks. "As I was saying, I saw a cupboard."
Harry blushes from cheeks to neck. "Yeah."
"You were kept in a cupboard?"
"Yeah," Harry croaks, tugging at the collar of his shirt. He swears the temperature in the house has shot up by at least forty degrees.
"Who takes care of you in the absence of your parents?"
Harry feels a slight prickle at Snape's use of the word 'absence' in place of the word 'death' but chooses to ignore it. "My uncle and my aunt. You know my Aunt Petunia. I saw her in your memories."
"Ah," Snape says darkly, "Yes, I knew her. She's nothing short of a bitch."
Harry feels the sudden urge to laugh. "I agree."
"They are not good to you," Snape says. It is a statement, not a question.
"Well," Harry replies, nervous that he's admitting these embarrassing secrets to Snape. "They're not too bad. They kept me in a cupboard for eleven years, make me wear my fat cousin's castoffs—which are three sizes too big, by the way—I have to do most of the cleaning and the gardening, and they think I'm a freak because I can do magic. But they don't, like, beat me or anything."
Snape scans Harry's face. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were to join the Dark Lord's ranks."
"What?" Harry squeaks. "Why do you say that?"
"That type of treatment is known to breed the worst kind of person."
"Yeah, but not everyone turns bad just because they didn't have a great childhood."
Snape shakes his head in disagreement. "That which is born and raised in chaos cannot flourish."
"That's a lie," Harry snarls. "Loads of people turn out good, no matter how bad things are. Having a shitty life doesn't give you the right to become a Death Eater."
Something like shame flashes through Snape's eyes, but it's quickly replaced with anger. "Not everyone is as golden as you, boy."
Harry sneers a very Snape-like sneer. "Don't even go there, Snape. It's not about who's 'golden' and who's not. It's about making choices and dealing with stuff. I will never decide to run with Voldemort just because my aunt and uncle don't love me and chose to stuff me in a cupboard and think I'm weird. It could be much worse, anyways."
"Men have become monsters for less." Snape is staring into his coffee again, and Harry wonders exactly what type of men Snape is referring to.
The room grows quiet as the sun seems to grow even brighter. Harry tilts his head back as a ray pours through the window and hangs over him. He feels his sinuses tingle as sunlight shoots up his nose and he releases a sneeze.
"Why do you do that?" Snape asks.
"Do what?" Harry says, sniffling and opening his eyes.
"With your hands." Snape points at Harry's arms. "I've noticed you touching your neck quite a few times, right where your pulse is."
Harry instantly feels the tips of his fingers delicately pressing his neck. His pulse is pounding underneath them (Alive).
"I don't know," Harry mumbles, quickly dropping his hands into his lap. "Habit, I guess."
Snape looks curious (and unconvinced), but doesn't ask Harry to elaborate.
"So," Harry changes the subject, "How do you expect me to help you?"
"Yeah, with changing the future and all that."
"You will find out," Snape says mysteriously. His gaze is calculating.
"How long until you tell me?" Harry whines. "I need to back to the present—er, my present."
"It won't take fourteen years," Snape snarls. "You will be gone soon enough."
Harry is annoyed. "Listen, I don't really feel like playing games with you. Just tell me what I have to do so I can be on my way."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, boy!" Snape roars. "Can't you just listen to me?"
"Fine," Harry mutters petulantly.
Snape steels himself and shuts off any expression in his face. "I will require your assistance today, though."
"Oh?" Harry asks. "And how so?"
"Getting food," Snape says. "My icebox is empty."
"So, you need me to go to the market with you to fetch groceries?" Harry finds this both amusing and irritating at the same time.
"Not the market," Snape smirks. "I hunt for my food."
"You what?" Harry is floored.
"I hunt for my food. Surely you are familiar with hunting."
"Yeah, I am, thanks," Harry growls. "I just meant that I never saw you as the hunting type. I don't even know if your older self hunts—well, I actually don't know too much about your older self, come to think of it. But hunting for your food? That's so… caveman."
Snape looks affronted. "I'll have you know, plenty of people still hunt for their food. It's rewarding."
"Yep," Harry supplies sarcastically, "Murder is rewarding."
Snape's eyes glitter. "Hunting is about retrieving that which is a necessity; you see the animal, you need to eat to sustain life. You must be precise, otherwise the animal will escape and you've lost a potential meal. When you've succeeded in killing the animal, the fact that you were able to do so and that you have provided yourself with food is an achievement—wipe that disgusted look off of your face, boy. You've obviously never hunted, so you do not know how elating it is. You will learn."
Harry grimaces. "You're mental if you think I'm killing an innocent animal for you."
"You'll do it," Snape says confidently.
"And what makes you so sure?" Harry challenges.
Snape's lips curl. "You can leave once you've helped me with this."
"I could leave right now."
"You could." Snape sucks down the last of his coffee. "But you haven't. All I ask is for your help with this, boy. That's all."
The idea of murdering an innocent creature pokes at Harry's stomach. He cannot imagine himself committing such a barbaric act. Acid fries his throat as he silently debates with himself. He wants to help Snape, but not with this—not with murder. Yet, for some odd reason, he feels like he has to do something for Snape in some way before he leaves.
The sunlight fades from the window; a cloud has blocked it. Darkness seems very fitting for Harry's current situation, drinking up the sitting room like its Ambrosia. Snape stares at him expectantly, and the man easily melts into the fresh dimness of the room.
"Okay," Harry agrees. "I'll do it, you bastard."
Snape's lips stretch into a victorious smirk. "Splendid."
Harry is following Snape up a winding hidden staircase. It coils like a great snake enshrouded by darkness. Harry's claustrophobia in the tiny sitting room is nothing compared to the claustrophobia he feels as the passage squeezes tightly around him.
He sees light coming closer and closer and exhales a breath he isn't even aware he's been holding. Snape's silhouette in front of him is visible in the light now, and the silhouettes of two unlit lamps hanging on either side of the wall at the end of the passageway dance with Snape's; they connect with the man's shoulders, stretching and warping where the blackness meets the light, clinging to Snape's boney shoulder blades like two giant wings.
The image jars Harry, and his lungs and heart merge and clink together like a set of drinking glasses.
Snape steps into the light and Harry trails behind him. The hallway is bare and just a few feet long. It smells like stale cigarette smoke. There are three doors, all closed, of course. Snape opens the first door on the left and Harry follows him inside. There are only two pieces of furniture in the room; a large cabinet and an equally large dresser. In the corner sits a vintage record player, a box of records on the floor beside it. The Who's 'Tommy', Led Zeppelin's 'Houses of the Holy', and Bob Seger's 'The Bob Seger System' are scattered haphazardly on top of the box. Harry is thoroughly surprised that Snape listens to music.
Snape saunters to the cabinet and opens a glass door, and Harry peers inside; nothing but candlesticks and useless knickknacks, but something interesting stands erect in the cabinet; a tall plant in a garden of weeds. It's a gun, a rifle, and an ancient one at that. Snape gently reaches in and pulls the rifle out, and Harry unconsciously flinches (he doesn't care too much for guns).
"Why do you own a gun?" Harry gasps.
"It was my father's," Snape murmurs. He is staring at the gun fondly, his fingers stroking the metal like a pianist caressing ivory keys.
"Do you ever use it?
Snape raises his eyes to Harry's face. He looks wickedly enticed. "What do you think I hunt with?"
"A gun? Are you serious?" Harry's eyes are bugging clean out of their sockets.
"Yes, boy," Snape says tiredly. "What, did you think I just unleash Avada Kedavras on the animals I hunt?"
Harry's face is flushed now. "Er, yeah."
Snape snorts. "That would be absurd."
"Well," Harry explains, "I didn't think you knew about guns and stuff."
"Why wouldn't I? My father was a Muggle and he forced my mother and I to live as such."
Harry considers this interesting piece of information. "Oh, wow, I had no idea."
"Hm." Snape shuts the cabinet door and slings the gun on his shoulder. "Are you prepared to go hunting?"
"I don't like guns," Harry bursts before he can even think about it.
Snape chuckles. "Well, you'll learn to like them after today."
"But what if I don't? I've never even shot one." Harry asks.
"You'll learn," is Snape's dry reply.
The two are tromping through a patch of woods. The trees bow like peasants to a king and the sky is angry and gray, a scorned lover getting ready to induce hell. Harry wonders why the storm is waiting and hopes the rain stays away until he and Snape are finished.
"Anxious, boy?" Snape inquires.
"Just a bit," Harry says shakily.
Snape laughs. "You'll be fine. I'll instruct you."
Snape comes to a stop in front of a large tree. He leans against it, a hungry look in his eyes.
"Erm, Snape, why are you stopping?"
"This is the spot, I assure you."
Harry kneels beside Snape and gazes into the distance; a huge green field is splayed out in front of them like a blanket. Harry glances at Snape and sees that the man is watching the field expectantly. He's tense and on edge.
"You okay?" Harry asks.
An astonished and flummoxed expression crosses Snape's face. "Why are you asking me that?"
"Because…" Harry tries to find the proper words. "You seem a bit off, I guess, like you're nervous or something."
"I am not nervous," Snape says incredulously.
Harry doesn't believe him, but doesn't press any further. When he looks at Snape, something inside of him pinches and bruises. In this moment, he feels the need to tell Snape—the lonely man of Spinner's End, the outcast, the one who gets the cold shoulder—something, and he doesn't care how saccharine it sounds.
"I just want you to know that I… well, I care about you."
Something fierce starts in Snape's eyes like fire, burning its way down his throat and into his voice. "What?"
"I care about you," Harry repeats, firmer this time. A blush creeps across his face, but he doesn't care.
"You care…" Snape trails off. "About me? Why? I haven't given you any reason to give a damn about me."
"Snape," Harry says gently, "You don't have to give people a reason to care about you. They just… can."
Based on the look Snape is wearing, this is obviously a foreign concept to him. He looks stricken, and it's this expression on that young face that makes Harry reach a hand out to lightly touch Snape's shoulder. The man blanches at the contact but allows it, and Harry is pretty sure that Snape probably hasn't ever received affection; another human being touching him with warmth, a simple act of comfort, something that is meant to be taken without any expectations of reciprocation. People do this: They connect through touch, an invisible rope lacing them together.
Harry smiles at Snape, widely and childishly, and Snape looks unnerved. He searches Harry's face and then pulls away and turns to look at the field.
"There it is!" Snape suddenly whispers frantically.
Harry looks into the field and sees it.
"Here!" Snape thrusts the gun into Harry's arms. "Point and shoot."
Harry's doesn't have the nerve to do this, he can't, and he won't. Everything freezes around him and his body is numb. "I can't," he chokes.
"Yes, you can."
"Goddamnit!" Snape spits. He positions Harry's hands on the gun. "Just point it and pull the trigger, boy. Don't be such a fucking coward."
"I'm not!" Harry protests. "I just… look at it, Snape. It's so helpless, not doing anything, just minding its own business."
"I'd like to eat tonight," Snape growls.
"Go to the market and buy groceries, then—like a normal person."
Snape's eyes are flashing red and white. "Leave, then. Get out of here; out of my face, out of my life, and go back to the future, you little piss ant."
Harry is conflicted now. He wants to help Snape, doesn't want to be a coward; but the animal is defenseless, and he's not a bloody murderer. Who is he to snuff a life out like its nothing? Death hangs languidly in his palms like an exhalation of cigarette smoke and he could easily smother it with a clap of his hands, but he doesn't think he can do it.
"I want to help you," Harry sputters. "I just—"
"Fine," Snape snarls. He jumps to his feet and begins to walk away.
It all happens in one ragged breath; the gun is pointed at the animal… Harry's finger curls around the trigger, a kiss of cool metal against warm skin… his heart flutters like a dying butterfly… he sees sparks of green light in his mind… he's pressing the trigger and there is a crack in the air, piercing the autumn afternoon like a dull blade covered in hot coals… he flinches… the animal startles in the distance and breaks into a run… the beautiful animal with its chocolate coat of fur and high antlers… the stag.
Somewhere behind him, he hears Snape shout, thunder roaring from the sky, "AVADA KEDAVRA!" A jet of light flies past Harry and he watches the stag freeze mid-run like a block of ice and fall to the ground.
Harry's done it: He's killed an animal. He's killed an innocent animal. He's got blood and death on his hands, soiling and tainting his skin.
"Congratulations, boy," Snape drawls. He comes up beside Harry and taps him once, twice, on the shoulder. Harry says nothing as Snape pulls him to his feet and drags him through the field. The air smells like spices and new beginnings, and Harry's just taken a life, and nineteen ninety three is years away, and why is Snape taking him towards death?
He is thrown to the ground beside the gorgeous stag. It lays still, eyes wide open and hollow, blood seeping from its side. Harry stares at it as the horror sinks into him, grabbing him by the hair and shredding his insides. The creature is sprawled out on the ground, its dark coat a stark contrast against the vibrant green grass. Harry leans over and vomits.
"Would you look at that?" Snape murmurs from above. Harry lifts his head and his eyes widen. The stag is melting like wax, antlers and fur and legs puddling and transforming into something else, something human. A man; brown shoes, tan trousers, a sky blue jumper, a face… a familiar face… a familiar face with glasses. Harry's heart hammers against his bones, crushing them to pieces.
His father, it's his father.
Harry would scream, shout to the clouds above him, but his throat has been torn out.
He crawls to his father's body and drapes himself over it. James Potter radiates warmth and the scent of cloves. Harry knows this won't last; the heat and the smell will disappear soon, and he wants this, wants this so badly: The feel and smell of his dad surrounding him, an embrace he's longed for. He looks into his father's face, and there's nothing but emptiness there. He's lost this man all over again and he wants to weep, but anything and everything inside of him has been sucked out. The sun is peeking out from behind the clouds now and Harry watches as it reflects off of his father's glasses, and there is sunlight pouring over a dead body, this dead body, a place where sunlight doesn't belong, but it only seems right in this moment that this man is cast in it.
The world shrinks around him and it's just him and his father for what feels like an eternity. This is how it should be, but it's not quite right; it's void of laughter and happiness and silly stories and trips to Fortescue's for ice cream and visits back home for the Christmas holidays. And Harry realizes what he's lost, what he's never had, what slipped away from him long ago like water over rocks in a river. He's always grieved the loss, but right here and now, he feels the raw pain of it; how it punctures and eats a hole right through his stomach.
And it's all Snape's fault.
Anger now, twisting and gripping and seizing with teeth as sharp as razors. Harry looks up at Snape, who stands over him, a warped image in the light of the sun. Harry rises on quivering legs and bares his teeth at the man. Snape looks smug; crosses his arms over his chest and eyes Harry with malice.
"Is there a problem, boy?"
"You," Harry seethes. "You sick fuck."
"I suppose," Snape nods.
"You made me kill him." Harry is advancing on Snape now, who doesn't look the least bit alarmed.
"I made you do nothing. You pulled the trigger on your own."
"You goaded me into it."
"It's your fault for allowing yourself to be goaded." Snape smiles, his crooked and yellow teeth visible. It is the most grotesque thing Harry has ever seen.
"What is wrong with you? You ugly, nasty, evil fu—"
"Oh, you're already used to him being dead, boy! You've never known him alive."
"But he was!" Harry sobs. "He was in this time, and you tricked me. You let me kill my own father!"
"You'll get over it," Snape offers. "I did. How do you think my father died, boy? After I was initiated into the Dark Lord's ranks, my fellow Death Eaters and I paid a visit to Tobias one evening as he left the local pub. He got what he deserved."
The instant Harry reaches Snape, he feels an overwhelming tingle all over his body.
"What's the matter? Do you feel strange?" Snape says this like he knows something.
Harry stares at Snape accusatorily. "What do you know? What's happening to me? Why do I feel this way?"
"Examine your hands," Snape commands.
Harry looks down and sees his hands slowly crumbling like sand. He's horrified. "WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME?"
"Don't you see?" Snape asks. "Your father is has just died. You have not yet been conceived, and now you won't be because the man who is to impregnate your mother is dead. Your existence has just been erased." Snape looks triumphant.
"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…" Harry is thinking and feeling a million things at once: Regret, fury, sadness, panic, fear, despair… so many things. He should've listened to Hermione. She warned him not to chase an active Death Eater around and now he is paying the price for his stupidity.
Harry's legs are turning to jelly and he falls to the ground. Snape looms over him like a shadow.
"Not a wise decision, seeking me out," Snape says. "I am not your professor, not in these days. I have nothing to lose." He is pacing now, his robes whipping around him. "You know, I'm not all that fond of spending my life trying to repent for my sins, especially not under that bugger Albus Dumbledore. I was thrilled when you came to me with your information. Because of you, I was able to thwart a life of misery—a life without the only person who ever really mattered in it. I thank you for warning me."
Harry is choking now and trying to grab onto the ground, but the blades of grass just slip through his deteriorating hands, looking like plants poking out of water.
"I am a vegetarian, by the way." Snape squares his shoulders and raises himself to his full height. "James Potter was an animagus: He had the ability to shift into an animal at will. He visits this area in the form of his stag twice a week, though I don't know why. And having you shoot him was just a bonus. You could've done it with magic, but a gunshot wound causes a period of suffering that a simple Avada Kedavra does not. I decided to end it much quicker when he began to run, though. A bit of mercy on my part, unfortunately. You are familiar with the Killing Curse, right?" Snape taps his chin thoughtfully and before realization dawns on him. "No, you likely aren't. That is fourth year material, if I recall correctly."
Snape stops in front of Harry, who is crumpled on the ground like a kicked dog. "I'm certain Lily will need a bit of comfort now that her husband is dead, and I am more than happy to give her whatever she needs." A look of greed captures Snape's face. "You have her eyes, you know."
Harry wants to say something, but his chest feels like it's been scrubbed with sandpaper. When he speaks, it burns. "I… wanted… to… help… you."
"Oh, and you have," Snape replies coolly. "You've helped me to avoid a terrible future. Now I don't have to indebt myself to a ridiculous old man and spend my days suffering and surrounded by the inane chatter and stupidity of useless teenagers, constantly hearing about a famous boy who doesn't deserve any recognition. Now I don't have to deal with Lily's husband and son, who deserve no place in her life. I'd rather not live in shackles."
The sting of betrayal slaps Harry, and he wonders how he can possibly feel betrayed by a man he barely knows. He notices his body degenerating, watches as his skin turns to something like sand and litters the grass below him. He wants to touch his neck, feel his pulse (am I alive?), but his hands are gone and he is unable to move now. He doubts there would be a pulse tapping below his skin anyway.
Snape is watching this happen with a triumphant expression. "Sometimes, you must sacrifice the lives of others in order to save your own. This is just how things work, boy."
The world is fogging up now, a hand across a chalkboard wiping and smearing the sky and the trees and Snape and the ground. Harry feels himself disintegrating, his flesh and bone morphing into something like ash, falling like snowflakes and creating a mound in the grass. The last thing he sees is Snape's figure blurring in front of him, and then Harry is gone; a distant memory fourteen years in the future and a nonexistent imprint in a world that doesn't know him fourteen years in the past.
Snape gazes at what was once Harry Potter, the time-turner looping like a worm in the pile of dust.
"I've never been a fan of penance anyway."