A/N: Apologies if there are any mistakes, this chapter hasn't been beta'd.
He had never known a Sleeping Draught to make him feel like a Hippogriff had stood on his head, but as he awoke he felt like he had taken a beating. His head was heavy, his throat felt claggy and his eyes felt jammed together – if he hadn't known better, he would think it was a very bad hangover. Ungluing his eyes, he ran a hand down his sweaty face and stared for a moment at the ceiling. He couldn't even remember putting himself to bed.
Closing his eyes against the headache nesting in the back of his brain, he growled lowly to himself as the image of Harry Potter moved fleetingly through his mind.
He could not deal with that brat when his entire body felt like a lead weight. He hoped that the boy would do his usual trick and hole himself up in the study all day. Bleary-eyed, Severus tossed the covers off of himself and slowly swung his legs over the edge of the bed. With a loud groan he pushed himself up onto his feet.
Already unsteady on his feet, Snape stumbled, surprised by the outburst. Snape watched, confused, as the boy rushed towards him, grabbing his arm to steady him.
"Take your hands off me!" he snapped. "How dare you come into my private bedroom!"
"You've been sick, Sir," the boy said, taking a step back. "I found you on the bathroom floor."
That explains why I don't remember going to bed...of course, the Sleeping Draught, it was from that silly woman's apothecary.
"And it didn't enter your thoughtless little mind to fetch Professor Dumbledore?"
"You locked the floo," Harry snapped back, "Sir."
Standing in silence for a moment, Severus suddenly became aware of how dishevelled he looked, standing crookedly at his bedside in his tousled silk pyjamas. If he weren't already flushed, he would have been red with embarrassment. And Severus Snape hated feeling humiliated, especially in his own house.
"I am clearly able to take care of myself now. Your presence is no longer required," Severus said coldly, looking at anything but the boy in front of him.
Harry huffed in disbelief. "I have just spent the best part of two days looking after you! I had to be healer to you, find out what in Merlin's name had happened to you...I had to watch you convulsing on the bathroom floor having some sort of fit and I couldn't even contact anybody!"
"Yes, well, judging on past events, I am surprised the thought of calling for help even entered your brain, Potter," Severus quipped, feeling distinctly proud of himself.
"You're unbelievable, Snape." Harry shook his head and ran an almost frantic hand through his hair. "I could have saved your life!"
Severus smirked. "And you think that is your redemption? Pathetic." Yes, his humiliation was fast being replaced by a stream of scolding remarks. "One is not automatically forgiven for one transgression by suddenly finding his moral decency, Mr Potter. You should not have to find your morals to begin with – in any honourable human being, they are first nature," he sneered, looking down at the boy with as much menace as he could fathom in his weakened state.
He was expecting a teenage tantrum or even a drawn wand, but the boy seemed to be struggling with something. Severus noticed as the boy breathed heavily through his nose that he was also biting down hard on his lip as if trying to hold something in. He didn't look angry; he looked as though he'd just been struck – like his emotions were tumbling around inside of him and he wasn't sure which would escape first. As Severus straightened himself up, the boy opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Not a second later, the boy was gone and Severus' room was his own again.
Who does he think he is, invading my room...invading my house? Arrogant waste of space.
Severus took out his wand, banished his sweat-soaked sheets and muttered a quick cleaning spell over himself, not trusting his legs to keep him upright in the shower. He could just imagine it, not satisfied with the humiliation of being picked up off the bathroom floor by The Boy Who Lived, he would have to suffer the embarrassment of being found, naked, by the boy when his legs gave out.
Back in the study, Harry sat on the couch with his head in his hands. Was Snape right; was he a terrible human being? What right did he have to decide his uncle should suffer like that? Pulling at his hair, Harry finally let his emotions overwhelm him. As painful, wracking sobs almost penetrated through his chest, he cried for the first time since summer began. In a way, he was surprised he had lasted so long.
The next two days were much like the first, except this time Harry was too consumed by his own misery to drag himself from the couch. He made it to one meal a day and spent the rest of his time drowning in his own unhappy thoughts. He thought about the unfairness of everything, about his own suffering, about Snape's words and how he was seen so differently in the eyes of Dumbledore. Who was he? What was he? One question drifted in and out of his mind as he sat, alone, in the study:
Does watching a monster suffer make me a monster too?
He truly didn't know.
By the weekend, Severus felt back to his old self again – apart from one niggling feeling that kept hammering away in the back of his mind. Potter had made himself scarce – Severus expected no less – and the one time they had bumped into one another, no words were exchanged. Even his usual condescending sneer didn't get any rise out of the boy. Either his intimidation techniques were in need of a tune-up, or the boy just didn't care anymore. As Severus sat down to lunch on Saturday afternoon, his thoughts were drawn to the unusual events of the last week, to the study, and to the invisible presence residing in it.
And there was that niggling feeling again.
What was it? Something akin to regret? No, of course not, he thought fervently, but in reality it was impossible to deny this emotion. Severus Snape already had his fair share of regrets, he knew exactly what it felt like, the ways it manifested itself. It was like guilt, except it ebbed and flowed. One minute it he would be drinking his tea and the next he would be angrily tipping it down the sink. Why should he regret what he'd said to Potter? It was certainly nothing he hadn't heard before.
So what if the brat wants to wallow in his own misery. He'll be getting no sympathy from me.
From nowhere, another part of his brain piped up – the little angel on his shoulder, his conscience.
He did save your life, Severus. Potter or not, if you had been left on that bathroom floor, you would be dead.
Severus squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Yes, perhaps he did owe it to the boy that he was still alive, but the brat certainly didn't need to know that.
I will not be one to stroke Potter's ego like the rest of them. After the countless times I have saved his sorry hide, I do not owe him anything.
Though his thoughts were harsh and unrelenting, he wasn't sure if he truly believed them. But no, he would not dwell on it; on Monday Dumbledore would retrieve the boy and take him directly to Hogwarts to await his fan club. Potter would soon perk up around his insufferable friends, and the boy would be out of his hair...
...until lessons began. Severus decided to forget that for now.
Early Monday morning, Harry sullenly opened his eyes in the study. He'd fallen asleep in his clothes again and his neck ached from the sleeping upright all night. Today he would go back to Hogwarts for his sixth year. And today Harry realised that his last week of summer, despite all of Snape's tormenting, was a far cry from the disturbing experience it could have been. For that he was thankful. But still Harry moped. Despite the physical punishments he'd escaped, he'd been thrown into mental turmoil instead. The worst part was knowing he'd soon have to see his friends – they could always tell when something was wrong, but he was too ashamed of himself to tell them what he'd done. Or rather, what he didn't do.
Harry jumped as Tibble suddenly appeared beside him.
"Master Severus is wanting Mr Potter ready in an hour," Tibble says, "Master Severus says Mr Potter must leave Master's study tidy or Master Severus will be mad." In a click of his fingers, Tibble was gone before Harry even had a chance to say yes. Thankfully he had barely bothered to unpack, so packing was not a problem. By the time he'd tidied the couch and cleaned up the room, it was almost time to leave.
As Harry emerged from the study, he walked tentatively into the kitchen where Snape was sitting with a cup of tea. For a moment, silence hung between them.
"Professor Dumbledore will be here any moment," Snape said emotionlessly before taking another sip of his tea.
Harry wrung his hands in front of him. He was not thankful for Snape's attitude, or his terrible temper, but he appreciated one thing.
"Thank you, Sir," he said awkwardly, "for letting me stay."
Snape didn't even look up from his tea. "I assure you, Potter, the pleasure was all yours."
"I know, Professor," Harry said quietly. "I'm sorry for spoiling your holiday."
Snape snorted. "I'm sure you are."
Harry looked at his shoes. He should have known Snape would twist everything, he always did. Snape seemed surprised not to get a reaction. It was a tense moment before he spoke again.
"This new respectful Potter, this act, it does not fool me." He put down his tea.
"I'm not trying to fool anybody," Harry said, "I'm just –"
"Tell me," Severus interrupted, "how tempted were you to watch me suffer as you did your own uncle?" he said in a voice all too casual for the situation.
"I would never watch someone suffer for no reason," Harry said, choked by his own words.
"Even your lies rival those of your father."
"I'm not lying, I –"
"Silence! I don't want to hear it, Potter. Get your things," Severus said coldly before tipping the rest of his tea down the sink and sweeping fiercely from the room.
As Harry stood there, tired and defeated, his thoughts shifted to a book he had read in Snape's library. Memories. Harry could think of no other way. After gathering his things together he ran to the bathroom in the search of an empty vial. As he stood there in front of the mirror, he thought about what he was about to do. Snape would see one of his most private memories; he would see why Harry did what he did. Only then would Harry know what kind of person he was. Severus Snape was a cruel man, but somehow he knew he would tell him the truth. Thinking back to the book, Harry took his wand from his back pocket and pointed the tip at his temple. He was nowhere near advanced enough to remove the memory completely – mores the pity – but the book had told him how to replicate a memory to show it to somebody else. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply. He would need to bring the memory to the forefront of his mind – a task he was not looking forward to. He thought back to that day, to the heart-attack...before the heart-attack...he swallowed uncomfortably. As the scene played out in his head, Harry found himself biting down hard, trying not to make a sound. He could feel the wetness behind his eyes, but he willed himself to stay collected. The memory ended the moment he and Snape disapparated.
Slowly opening his eyes, he looked up to see a small ribbon of blue detached itself from his temple and hang from his wand like a cobweb in the breeze. Taking the empty vial, he dangled the memory inside, quickly corking the bottle before it could escape. He looked in the mirror once more. His face was ashen.
Harry collected his trunk from his room and wheeled it slowly into the kitchen. As he walked, feeling like he was walking to his doom, he did his best to convince himself that he was doing the right thing – that this was his last option. Perhaps he knew that by giving Snape this memory, the man would have leverage over him – Snape would no longer be worried that Harry would divulge the details of his humiliating flobberworm mucus overdose. But perhaps Harry wasn't thinking straight at all. He just wanted somebody to tell him he was a good person – somebody impartial and unbiased. He needed it.
Snape was standing by the floo when he walked in the room; the man couldn't wait to get rid of him.
"Professor?" Harry said, parking his trunk in the middle of the floor. The man barely turned his head, his face as sour as ever. Harry removed the vial from his pocket. He didn't know what to say, so he just held it out in his hand. Snape looked, but also said nothing. As time ticked on, Snape made no move to take the vial. Harry's face, he was sure, was anxious by now, but the man didn't care. Harry let out a warm breath from his nose and shook his head, feeling desperate and furious at the same time. Turning on his heels, Harry marched across the room and, after looking pointedly at Snape, placed the vial in the middle of the kitchen table. And almost as if on cue, the floo lit up in a blaze of green and out stepped Dumbledore, dusting off his robes.
"Ah, Severus! Ready and waiting for me I see. And Harry, my boy, good to see you." Dumbledore strode over to Harry and spoke in a low voice. "I trust Severus has not made your stay too unbearable?"
"No, Sir," Harry said and Dumbledore smiled down at him. Harry couldn't gauge whether or not the man thought he was lying. With a quiet incantation, Dumbledore shrunk Harry's trunk and placed it in his pocket before walking swiftly back to the floo.
"Thank you for your help, Severus. I trust I will see you tonight at the welcoming feast?"
"Of course, Headmaster," Snape replied.
Dumbledore simply inclined his head. "Come, Harry," he said jovially, "we will floo to my office!" Harry watched as Dumbledore took a pinch of floo powder and disappeared in the flames. Snape wasn't looking at Harry when he walked into the fire place. Taking one last glance at the memory on the kitchen table, Harry gulped uneasily.
"I'm not a monster, Professor. I'm not like him." Even as he said them, Harry felt unsure of his own words. Before Snape could retort, Harry had picked up the floo powder and vanished completely, the memory on the table the only sign that he had been there at all.
The boy didn't need to tell Severus what was in the vial; he knew what it was as he watched the memory float inside the glass. Severus sat down at the kitchen table and rubbed his forehead. What kind of memory would Potter have wanted him to see? And who was "him"? Severus harrumphed. He had but a few hours to pack his belongings ready for the new school year and he certainly did not need this hanging over his head. With a growl, he picked up the vial and stuffed it in his pocket. He would deal with it later. Even if he did want to watch it, he reasoned, he would need to use Dumbledore's Pensieve. It would have to wait.
Severus packed his belongings, but found himself distracted by the tiny vial in his pocket. His own curiosity was infuriating him.
Potter's not even here and yet he's still managing to ruin my last few hours of freedom.
By the time Severus' cases were stacked by the floo, he realised he had less than an hour before the feast. He couldn't help but blame that on Potter and his mysterious memory vial. He must have dwelled for some time on the vials contents, considering it had somehow taken him almost seven hours to pack. As he shrunk down his cases and stood in the fireplace, Severus took one last look at his home. He would not see it again until Christmas.
The welcoming feast was underway and the professors were chatting cordially about their summers. McGonagall had tried to engage Severus in conversation, but to no avail. His mind was on other things as he agitatedly picked at his food.
"Something the matter, Severus?" Dumbledore asked from his left.
"Nothing of importance," Severus replied distractedly. His eyes moved from his plate and slowly scanned the Gryffindor table. He could just see a shock of black hair that could only belong to one Potter, but his face was obscured by the Weasley boy. Setting his plate aside, Severus turned abruptly towards Dumbledore and said in hushed tones, "I am conducting an Occlumency experiment tonight. I...was hoping it might be possible to make use of your Pensieve, Headmaster."
"Can it not wait, my boy? Surely you can give yourself one evening of freedom before the hard work begins?"
Severus knew that freedom wasn't possible with this silly memory business hovering curiously over his head.
"I'm afraid not, Albus," Severus said, voice quieter this time, "In fact, I am eager to finish this experiment before classes begin. I am sure you understand."
"Very well, Severus. I am at a meeting with the Ministry this evening; it may go on into the night. You may make use of my office then."
"Much appreciated, Headmaster."
Dumbledore returned to eating his food and Severus sat back listening to the bustle of the Great Hall and waiting for the feast to be over.
When Severus went back to his quarters, he took the vial out of his pocket and studied it. Holding it in his hand, he paced the floor. Dumbledore would be leaving soon and Severus was eager to get to the Pensieve. He couldn't help but wondered what the vial contained. Had the boy done something even worse than the things Severus already knew? Was it a confession? Was the memory that of his own illness? Was the boy trying to redeem himself once more by offering back the humiliating experience? Hell, was he trying to get Severus to see what he'd done to save his life? If that was the case, the boy was more egotistical than he thought! Prince Potter needed to be praised for his actions, was that it? He felt hard-done-by because he hadn't got a thank you? Well where was Severus' thank you for all the times he'd put his own life at risk for the boy? Severus looked again to the vial in his hand. It was time. Severus tore out of the room, a man with an agenda, all the while growing angrier and angrier at his own inability to rein in his curiosity. This anger quickly morphed into loathing...loathing for one Harry James Potter.
Severus ascended the stairs to Dumbledore's office and was pleased to find it empty. The headmaster had even left the Pensieve out, ready for Severus to use. He locked and warded the door behind him. Settling himself in front of the Pensieve, Severus eagerly uncorked the vial. With a smirk, he poured the contents into the bowl. Whatever the boy had done, it must have been bad if he was more willing to show him than Dumbledore, Severus reasoned.
With a sneer, he plunged his face into the Pensieve.
It was almost dark by the time Harry left the park. He immediately slowed his pace at the sight of Uncle Vernon's car in the driveway. The man would do worse than have his guts for garters. Bracing himself, it took all his strength to drag his feet up the driveway. The house was quiet as he entered; no sign of his uncle anywhere. With a deep breath, Harry went to the kitchen to start on dinner for his uncle. At least if he got one of his chores done Vernon might lay off a bit. Maybe that was just wishful thinking.
The fridge was full of food and Harry longed to just grab it all and pig out.
"Boy!" Harry jumped at the sound of his uncle's voice reverberating on the landing. Footsteps thundered down the stairs and Harry barely had time to shut the fridge door before Vernon had stormed into the kitchen. "I see nothing is done again. Waste of space!" Vernon marched out of the kitchen and for a second Harry's racing heart almost stopped beating in the hope that he wouldn't come back.
The rattling of keys.
The click of a lock.
Uncle Vernon had locked the front door.
Not a second later, Vernon's burst back into the kitchen and with his meaty hand grabbed Harry by the t-shirt and violently pushed him backwards into the worktop. Harry winced at the pain in his back. Still holding and twisting Harry's shirt, Vernon leant in close, his breath hot on Harry's face. His body moved until there was barely a hair's width between them. Harry's stomach roiled as he stared, wide-eyed, at his uncle's menacing smile.
"I warned you, boy," Vernon growled. A hand suddenly found its way to Harry's groin and he instinctively tried to shuffle backwards.
"No! Get your hands away from – stop!" Harry pleaded, but Vernon kept him pushed against the side.
"You earned this, you little freak!" And Vernon was swatting at Harry's frantic hands, pinning them down. "It takes a more...hands-on approach to control your kind." And Vernon's hands were scrabbling at Harry's belt, pulling it, pushing it, undoing the buckle and loosening the strap.
Harry's hands were now squashed behind him as Uncle Vernon forced all of his weight onto the boy to keep him still.
"Please, please...please," Harry begged and his eyes began to glisten with despair. Tears of frustration, fear and shame filled his eyes as he struggled...and he struggled so hard! The man kept going, groping and breathing in a heavy, breathy way that made Harry want to gag. Vernon's hand brushed the skin of Harry's torso and he shuddered violently under the touch. And then Vernon's wandering hand yanked roughly at Harry's jeans, pulling them loose enough for his hand to venture downwards. Harry heard his words jumbling together, a chorus of no and please and stop. His voice was thick and his hands were numb. His breaths were coming in pained gasps. But the man's hand kept touching and groping, and he kept smiling that sick, disgusting smile that made Harry's stomach do flips.
And then the hand was gone. Vernon backed up, hunched over like a sick dog. Harry stood, paralysed in the corner, watching as his uncle's face turned from red, to purple, to grey. As the man's legs collapsed from under him, his eyes stared straight back into Harry's, and to his shock, those eyes were not pleading with him, they were full of hatred and resentment. And Harry watched as Vernon curled into himself, clutching his chest, clutching his arm, pain radiating from him.
Numbness washed over Harry as his uncle lay sprawled on the kitchen floor. Did he want him dead? No, truly he didn't. Did he want him to suffer? Harry didn't know, his head was so confused. Why should he want to help this man, a man that had violated him so mercilessly, a man that could have done so much more had the fates not intervened? But standing there, frozen and numb, just watching his uncle suffer – it made him sick with himself, ashamed and yet nothing could make his body move and help the man.
"He'll never touch me again," Harry whispered, "never again." That thought made him sicker still.
As the memory unfolded, Severus felt like a piece of him had been stripped away, replaced by something new, something deeply distressing. He watched intently as his own body came into view.
"Potter!" he'd shouted when he'd seen the boy just standing idly in the corner. But no, he hadn't seen the boy at all, had he? Had he been looking, he'd have seen a pale, dishevelled boy, hiding in the corner. He'd have noticed the boy's eyes, not cold, but wild and unseeing.
Dumbledore was right; he had been blinded by hate. He was finally seeing Harry Potter for the first time. How could he not see it? How could this image of Potter that he had conjured in his mind long before they met, the Potter he once thought he knew, be so wrong...be so different from this boy, Harry, that stood, back to the kitchen counter, wronged so much by his own family?
Severus watched himself as he scolded the boy and took him coldly by the arm. Seconds later, they had disapparated and the memory was over. As Snape emerged from the Pensieve, he stumbled to the floor. He had made the boy's last week a misery. Harry had escaped the Dursleys only to be set upon by Severus himself.
"I called him depraved," Severus whispered aloud. "I said he had no morals."
He thought back to the last thing the child had said to him.
"I'm not a monster, Professor. I'm not like him."
His words sounded so uncertain and Severus knew that was his fault.
"You're not a monster, child," Severus said to the room, if anything, I am the monster here. Severus felt sick, but he wasn't sure what made him feel worse, the thought of the torture the boy had been through at the hands of his own uncle, or the thought his own appalling behaviour.
Harry sat in the common room with his friends, happy to hear about their summers, if only to take the attention away from his own. He held up a smile as Hermione recounted her trip to Egypt with her family and he mustered a laugh when Ron explained how he'd bought him some Kendal Mint Cake from his trip to the Lake District, but he'd accidentally eaten it on the way home. But deep in the back of Harry's mind, he didn't feel he deserved to laugh, or smile, or have such kind, accepting friends. Maybe they were as blind as Dumbledore; they couldn't see passed the hero to the twisted teenage boy that he was.
Ron and Hermione were laughing again, but Harry had stopped listening, instead his eyes were transfixed on the dark figure standing in the Gryffindor portrait hole. And he wasn't the only one who had noticed the man. The common room quickly grew silent. Ron's laughter faded and his face turned to a scowl.
"He hasn't been here long enough to do anything wrong!"
"Ronald!" Hermione scolded, pulling Ron back into his seat.
"Mr Potter, a word," Snape said tightly, and Harry knew this was it. The man must have watched the memory. Would he tell everybody? Would he show Dumbledore? Would the Prophet reveal his shame to everyone? So many questions ran through Harry's head as he followed Snape into the corridor. The portrait closed behind him. Snape looked awkward. This was the first time Harry had ever seen the man look so uncomfortable. It was disconcerting to say the least.
"Please follow me," Snape said, and although he didn't give Harry a chance to refuse, the man had never said please before, not to him. As they strode through the castle, Harry was very aware that Snape seemed to be finding it impossible to look at him. His heart sank to his feet. The further they walked, the more Harry managed to convince himself that Snape still thought he was morally bankrupt – that, somehow, the memory had only served as proof of this.
As they descended into the dungeons, Harry felt his skin tingle with goose bumps. Through twists and turns, they eventually made it to a door, and only when it opened did Harry realise exactly where he was.
"Mr Potter, these are my private quarters. Since you have already visited my home, I see no reason to sacrifice my own comfort by having this conversation in the cold of my office. Come in," he said, but Harry was too busy trying to gauge the situation. "I said come in!" Severus snapped, but immediately regretted it, hard as it was to break the habit of a lifetime.
Harry quickly crossed the threshold as Snape paced the room. "Take a seat," Snape said and Harry slid into the nearest chair by the coffee table. The man continued pacing until Harry drew him from his reverie with an anxious, "Sir?"
"Sir?" The boy's voice was soft but troubled. He only then realised he was pacing.
Severus stopped and for the first time that evening he took a long hard look at the boy in front of him. Where was the insolence, the arrogance? He could not see it anymore. Part of him wished to see it all again so that his entire vision of Harry Potter was not in ruins – so that Potter himself was not in ruins. Severus walked to the coffee table and sank down into the chair opposite the boy.
"I have seen the memory," he said bluntly. His words hung in the air for what seemed like minutes. "I have been wrong about you, Mr Potter," Severus sighed, "very wrong."
Harry looked up as if stunned by his words.
"I regret...I regret many of the things I have said to you this past week. You are ashamed of the way you acted when faced with your uncle's suffering. You think you are a monster, Mr Potter, but you are far from it. I can say with brutal honesty that, were I in your position, I would have done more than simply watch that animal's suffering...I may even have added to it. Your restraint...it astounds me." Severus swallowed thickly, waiting for a response.
"I'm not a monster?" the boy finally said, his voice thick with emotion.
Severus shook his head. "You are not a monster."
"I'm not a monster," Harry said again, more assuredly this time.
"He is the monster, Potter, that man. You are an incredibly resilient human being. And I am sorry that it has taken me so long to see that."
As Severus' words sunk in, Harry's face crumpled and he hung his head to hide his teary eyes. "I'm not a monster," he whispered and Severus could do nothing but look on as the boy struggled to keep it together. When Harry looked up again, Severus was shocked to see that, somehow amidst the tears, there was anger in those eyes.
"You know," Harry said as he wiped his eyes angrily on his sleeve, "I thought...I thought I was a bad person." Emotion oozed from his words and Severus' guilt swelled in his chest. "I thought that was why these things kept happening to me...that I was being punished for being such a...for being so..."
Severus sighed sadly. "Potter," he said stiffly but there was no malice in the word, "I truly am sorry. I am not one to sugar coat the truth...nobody deserves what you have been through. I have been a fool." Severus' words were strained. It had been so long since he had been so squarely wrong about something, but it ripped a hole in his pride to admit to it.
The boy just sat there, hunched forward, expression indecipherable. Severus watched as Harry tried to compose himself, taking deep breaths and flattening down his wayward hair. As the boy scrubbed at his eyes and sat up straight, Severus was amazed at his resilience. Without a word, Severus conjured some tea, a special concoction of his own that seemed very fitting for the current situation. He poured the tea and pushed a cup in Harry's direction. The boy appeared sceptical.
"I assure you it is not poison, Mr Potter, though it is laced with a Calming Draught – my own brew, I assure you," he said with a half-hearted smirk. He was pleased to see the boy pick up the tea and take a drink. They sat there in silence for a long while, welcoming the effects of the tea.
"I meant it," Harry said cryptically. Severus put down his tea.
"You meant what?"
"When I said thank you for letting me stay, I meant it."
Severus could only nod. "Potter..." he wavered. A stony expression masked his face. "Your uncle...has he always been...abusive?"
Harry looked down at his knees. "Not like that," he replied and Severus understood.
"Why didn't you tell someone? Somebody could have helped."
"Until I'm of age the wards at Privet Drive are what keep me safe," Harry said. "Until the Burrow is made safer, I can't stay there. Then where would I have ended up? I might have been left with you," Harry laughed sadly, but Severus couldn't bring himself to do the same. "Besides, the last thing this war needs is a story in the Prophet about how The Boy Who Lived can't even fend off a muggle."
"He will not get away with it –"
"No, Sir, just...please, leave it. I don't want anyone else to know," Harry said quietly.
"He should be locked up, you understand that?" Severus' brow knitted together. Harry looked away. "It will be dealt with –"
"No, please Professor!"
"Let me finish, Mr Potter. It will be dealt with...discreetly, if that is how you feel." Harry's body physically relaxed. "But you must understand Professor Dumbledore must be informed; you cannot possibly go back there."
"He doesn't need to know anything," Harry said forcefully.
"And what about next year? Without a reason he will send you back."
"He can't. I'll be of age and I'll be stronger by then. Mrs Weasley has offered to take me in. The Burrow will have to be warded – if Professor Dumbledore really cares about my happiness, he'll help me."
Severus shifted in his seat. "He will help, even if he needs to be guided in the right direction." With as much sincerity as he could muster, Severus made a vow. "Your uncle, he will get his comeuppance. I will see to it." There was no uncertainty in his eyes, no question in his voice. He would make that man pay for the terror he'd made the boy feel in his own home.
Harry's voice drew Severus from his thoughts. "Why?"
"Why are you helping me?" Harry asked wearily.
Severus frowned. "Because you are deserving of my help. I have wronged you, Mr Potter, like so many people have. You deserve better. I cannot right the wrongs of the past; I can only endeavour to make amends...if you should allow me to do so."
The boy looked into his eyes as if searching for any signs that Severus was lying to him, winding him up, having him on. But there was nothing. He had no reason to say no. With a slow incline of the head, the boy accepted his help.
"A capacity to forgive like no other," Severus said softly mostly to himself as he remembered Dumbledore's words.
Harry let out a long breath. "It's late, Professor. My friends will think you've used me in a potion or something," he joked, trying to lighten the mood. Severus scoffed in amusement and the boy seemed surprised that he hadn't bitten back at him.
"You're right, but before you go..." Severus got up and began rifling through one of the drawers in his sideboard. As he shut the drawer, he held in his hand a picture of himself and Lily Evans as children, him lying under a tree and Lily skipping around it. The sun shone brighter that day than Severus had ever seen it shine. He looked at the picture whenever he needed reminding of the reason he was sacrificing himself so much in the war. He thought that perhaps somebody else needed it more than him.
He said nothing as he crossed the room and held the picture out to the boy. Harry took it, watching as the girl's hair flowed behind her as she skipped.
"You did know her?" Harry questioned, though he knew the answer already.
Harry brushed a finger down the side of his mother's face as she played. "Nobody talks about her much," he said distractedly, "I know so many stories about my dad, but nothing about mum."
Severus watched as the boy looked longingly at his mother and he felt a twinge of guilt that he had known Lily so well and her own son had known her so little.
"She was a wonderful woman," Severus said wistfully. "Perhaps, if you would like to hear more about her, you could come by one evening."
"And you'll tell me about her? That would be...I would like to, if it's not a bother," Harry rambled, the hint of a smile forming on his face.
"Mr Potter, you are welcome to visit my quarters any time if you feel the need to...if you require...an ear."
"What should I tell my friends? I can tell them I have detention, but they'll want to know why..." Harry mused.
"I'm sure I can think of a reason," Severus quipped, rolling his eyes.
"Thank you, Sir," Harry said with a genuine smile.
"You had best be getting back. Your friends will be roaming the halls soon and I'd hate to have to take house-points already for being out after curfew." Severus smirked darkly.
Harry got up to leave and said a small "goodbye", but as he reached the door, he paused. Turning back, he caught the Potions Master's gaze and they shared a moment, both realising how this one evening had drastically altered their relationship. Severus only wished it hadn't taken such a terrible event to change his opinion of the boy.
"Thank you," Harry gulped, "for turning up when you did that day...if he'd have died, it would have been on my conscience forever. I'm not sure I could have lived with that." And in the next instant, Harry was gone, leaving Severus to think on the day's events.
His thoughts quickly turned to plans of retribution. Vernon Dursley would rue the day he laid a finger on a wizard. Until then, he could only try his damndest to atone for his mistakes.
You've done all you can...for now.
As he retired to his bedroom, finally finding the time to unpack, his mind jumped suddenly to his earlier run-in with the Weasley boy's cheek in the Gryffindor common room. He would have to remember to give the boy a lesson on respect. A detention scrubbing cauldrons ought to do it, he thought. He was still Severus Snape, after all.
A/N: Thank you for reading - I may add an epilogue some time in the future, but until then goodbye lovely readers :)