Author's Note: Written for the Survival Challenge by Bratling on Potions and Snitches. Not mine. I'm working on next chapters for Hello, Journal and Remember, so those should be up soon.
It started out as nothing. After James - the war - Harry - they had all been traumatized. Harry used to cry, for hours, or go silent. He had always been such a happy baby, before. That first year, alone, without James, waiting for it not to be true, waiting for the peace to fail, for something to give, it was torture. They both felt it, Harry and Lily. Severus felt it too. That was why it worked. He had been in Azkaban for part of it, under house arrest with the headmaster for the rest. Hearing him time after time, testifying, being interrogated - he was humiliated and his voice was pained and he looked at her and he looked like she felt, lost and frightened and wounded, and so when the headmaster asked her to move to Hogwarts with Harry, for their safety, for Harry's own good, she said yes. And after another year, a year of late night tea when Harry was sleeping, of quietly brewing with Sev, side by side, of it being between them like it was before Hogwarts, before James - a year later they moved out of the guest quarters and down to Severus' apartment, and Harry had a father again.
She hadn't seen anything at first. Harry was only three. He was so quiet, compared to how he'd been. She thought what it must be like, to see your own father - right in front of you - and she thought that was why he and Severus didn't get along, at first. It wasn't very much - Harry had been so small, then. He spent a lot of his time in the headmaster's office, strangely enough, playing with blocks or strange clockwork toys, staring up with big, wide eyes. He trailed around after Minerva in the staff room, thumb stuck in his mouth, he watched Filius enchant, and sometimes it seemed that Hogwarts was his parent, too, as much as her, or Severus. Severus didn't like children, she knew. She thought about his upbringing, his father and mother, the marks she'd see on him sometimes, and she reasoned it must be so hard. To be around children, to know what to do. So she tried to show him, cutting up Harry's food, reading him books, tucking him in. She thought eventually, Severus must warm up. He loved her, that she knew. And Harry was a part of her, she felt, in every breath, in every touch, a part of her, and James. She had loved him when he was born, but after - without James - somehow she loved him more. Severus had always liked what she liked - books, brewing, swings. Surely, someday, soon, he would warm up. But he never did.
It was just his temper. That was what she would tell Harry, at three and five and seven. He had a temper, he always had. He would shout at Harry sometimes, in front of her, over the littlest things - a book out of place, an overturned glass, forgetting to flush the toilet. At seven, Harry started private brewing lessons with Severus - an idea she and Albus had cooked up. "Father son bonding," Albus had twinkled, but it never seemed to work. It was just more for him to yell about. Some nights, she'd hear Harry crying, snuffling into his pillow, and she would go in and hold him as he clung to her. She'd kiss his forehead, card her fingers through his fine, wild hair, and wonder what had happened to that joyful baby that had been hers and James.
"He hates me," Harry whimpered one night. It had been a particularly disastrous brewing day. They'd been working on the first year curriculum - too hard, for a boy of seven, she'd thought, but Severus disagreed. There'd been a mishap, and Harry's boil cure had given him an enormous, oozing set of pustules, that Severus had not thought to fix. "A motivator," he'd said, when she confronted him. He looked almost confused at her, and she forced herself to remember, again, his father, his mother. He didn't know any better, maybe. But it was hard to tell herself that and look at Harry, her Harry, the best part of her, the only part of James, as he rubbed fiercely at his eyes and his lip wobbled. "He hates me."
"He doesn't hate you. It's his temper. It's horrid and terrible."
"He never yells at you."
"That's because I yell right back. That's what you should do. Just yell right back, yell, 'Dad Sev, you're being unreasonable!'"
Harry blinked at her behind his glasses. "He hates it when I call him that. He's not my father."
"Don't say that, darling. Of course he isn't, but he's doing his best. Your father - " Was a prince, she wanted to say. A wonderful man, the best man, the love of her life, someone funny and kind and gentle who had grown to be brave and strong, who had given everything for them - everything. But as always, when she thought too long on James, on how he made her laugh, on his face pressed up with wonder against her swollen pregnant stomach, on him just off the Quidditch pitch with that ridiculous hair, of him fallen in front of the crib, wand out, his eyes - when she thought of him her throat closed up and she couldn't think anymore.
"He isn't my real father, but he's the only one I've got," Harry said miserably. "And he hates me."
"He doesn't," she whispered, but then could say no more.
After that, she started to notice more. How Harry would hover by her, in the house, how he never wanted to be alone with Sev. How Sev never seemed to think of Harry unless he was in the wrong or in the way. She talked to him, she got Albus to talk to him, and for a moment, it seemed to get better. Sev made an effort. He would touch the boy, sometimes - a hand on the shoulder, the back of the neck.
But Harry still always called him sir, always shied away, never got close, never loved Sev as she did. Sev had saved her, in a way. She couldn't think of what would have happened, if all of those years had been like the first one. She had needed Severus. She had thought Harry needed him. And she tried to explain to herself, it was just Harry's nature, he was sensitive, he missed James, he was scarred from that night in ways so much less visible than the lightning bolt on his forehead - but then one day Minerva came to her and told her the truth.
She hadn't wanted to believe Minerva at first. Minerva had loved James, more than other students. James had made her laugh, had been able to soften her when no one else could, and James had always had the gift of making people care about him, a gift Severus lacked and coveted. She had always thought Minerva disapproved, of her remarrying, of her moving on, in any small way. She wanted it to be a lie. But it wasn't.
Severus had a horrific childhood. His drunken father, his bitter mother, the marks he'd have, bruises on the top of his arms, bloody noses, sometimes welts that tramlined up and down his back, livid and purple. After James - she had sworn to herself that Harry would have a normal childhood. A happy childhood. A mother who loved him, a father figure to be there for him. In the end, she had given Harry none of these things. And he had been marked, too. And she had never seen.
Hogwarts had few secrets from Harry, but Minerva's animagus form was one. She had been sunning herself on the top of the Astronomy tower. It was summer, and Harry loved heights. He was perched there, at the top, had started to scratch behind her ears, coo to her. It had apparently been shaping up to be a very pleasant afternoon before Severus arrived. Minerva extracted the memory for her. She didn't want to watch it, but she had to.
Severus had always had a sort of clever cruelty to him. It was dangerous, but it had made her feel safe. In school he was always making spells, mean spells, spells to protect himself and her, and they had always been just a little unpleasant. He said that was the point. He was smarter than his father, or perhaps he knew that people cared about Harry. He never hit him, never left marks. But spells could hide everything, spells could hurt horribly, spells could flip Harry upside down and dangle him over the edge of the Astronomy tower for missing a brewing session. It wasn't a spell that had made her blind to this. It was love and hope and wishful thinking and longing and it was her.
When she asked Harry how long it had been going on, he didn't answer and just looked at her. His eyes were hers but in that moment they looked like James', blank and accusing and - and -
"Why didn't you tell me, love?" she had whispered, and the eyes just watched her and she knew. She thought of all the times she had urged him, cajoled him, soothed him. She thought of all the times she had held Harry late at night, his whispers of 'He hates me' that she had never really heard. And so she said "Harry, Harry, Harry," and held him and hated herself more than she had hated anyone.
Severus had walked in on them like that, sitting in Harry's room. "Lily," he had said, softly, his eyes looking concerned. "Why are you crying?"
"What have you done, Sev?" Severus looked almost baffled. Then he looked at Harry, Harry who was halfway in her lap and who was hiding his head in her shoulder, and his face went perfectly furious.
"What has the boy been saying?" he hissed.
"Nothing," she spat back. Her voice broke halfway through, because it was true - Harry had said nothing.
"Then why are you upset? He's upset you. Get off her, Harry," Severus snapped. Harry flinched and burrowed his head deeper into her robes. She noticed the venom in Sev's voice and she almost flinched too. Instead, she put a hand over Harry's head.
"He's staying right here." Pause. "Severus. I thought - why would you do this?"
"I haven't done anything," Severus said. It was the same tone he'd had as a child, when her parents had caught them sneaking sodas from the liquor cabinet, when Slughorn found them brewing in the labs after hours. That's how she knew he was lying.
"Don't," she said. She didn't know what else to say. "How could you do this to him, Sev? He's just a boy." He's my boy, she thought, her hand resting on his wild hair. He's mine and James and I tried to make him be yours but you threw him away.
"He's a brat and a liar."
"What's Minerva then, Sev? A cat and a liar? She saw the whole thing."
"She was mistaken."
"She showed me. Your mistake, Sev."
After that, Severus looked almost broken. Like a puppet with the strings cut. He sat, heavily, in the rocking chair in the corner, one of the few things that had been in Harry's nursery that she had been able to save. James had brought it in from the Potter estate, when they were furnishing their little home in the Hollow. He sat and he covered his face with his hands.
"Why would you do this, Severus? I loved you," she said, and now she was crying in earnest, for sounding so stupid, for being so blind, for feeling so betrayed and angry and heartbroken, for still wanting to know the answer.
"He upsets you. He always has. You - you were so unhappy, Lily." Severus sounded almost eager, now. He sat up in the chair, animated almost grotesquely, face lit up like when he was trying to explain some esoteric potions theory to her. "Always, around him. Don't you remember, how sad you were, when you came here? nd being around him made it worse. It always did."
"I was in mourning," she whispered. Harry flinched again, this time at the sound of her voice. "We both were."
"You were a wreck. You were destroying yourself. All for him. He wasn't worth it. Without him, you could have been happy again. We could have been. Together, the way it was meant to be."
"I couldn't be happy without Harry," she says, and she knows it is true.
Severus' face goes ugly and puckered. "He was a reminder. Running about, crying, whinging, a little Potter carbon copy - "
"He is a Potter!" she said fiercely.
"Exactly! With him around, James was always here, James - "
"James is dead!" she screams suddenly, and she realizes she has never come out and said it before. Her throat feels raw and choked and the tears that normally come, the tears that are all she has left of James except for the boy she is cradling in her lap, are gone and all she has is anger. "James was killed!"
"With the boy here, you'd always remember! And remembering was killing you, Lily. It was poisoning you!"
"It poisoned you," she throws back, and stops. She looks at him, Severus Snape, the boy she has known almost all of her life, and she realizes he is not that boy anymore and he has not been for a long time. He has been poisoned, slowly, over the years, with anger and jealousy, rage and hatred, tainted but darkness and fear and despair and obsession and the boy she knew, who had been her friend, who had needed her, had been slowly worn away. The boy she knew would never hurt a child, not after being so hurt himself. The boy she knew would have done anything for her.
The boy she knew was dead, and so was James. But she was alive. And so was Harry. And that had to be enough, for now.
They stayed in Harry's room that way for a long time. Severus in the rocker, she and Harry on the bed, folded into one another, become one person again, the way they always should have been. She lets it happen. It is the last moment of their broken, awful family, and she lets it wind down itself, like a clock that slowly ceases to tick.