Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. This story belongs to me.
A/N – Okay, so this might be another interlude chapter. It wasn't in my plans, but when I re-read the last chapter, I couldn't help but feel that Harry and Snape had only had half a conversation, and I wanted to continue it. And thus, this chapter was born. It covers quite a lot of topics, but there is a lot of Harry needing a mentor and Snape being a mentor, so I hope you like it!
~ Strength in Weakness ~
Harry all but fell onto the rickety kitchen chair, his body heavy and weak and barely under his control. He let out a shaky breath, then another, trying to get a tighter hold on his emotions, suddenly desperate not to seem any weaker than he already did in front of a man he had come to respect.
Without pausing, Snape took the seat opposite him at the table with far more grace than Harry could ever manage - even on a normal day – but although he didn't take his dark eyes off Harry, the Professor didn't speak, perhaps recognising that Harry needed a little time to get his bearings.
Grateful for the respite, and well-aware that it wouldn't last forever, Harry took another deep, albeit still shaky breath and released it slowly, finally allowing his gaze to travel around the relatively dark, yet somehow comforting room he now found himself in in an attempt to centre himself in the present and not the past.
It worked, mostly. He sighed softly this time as he felt himself relax a little bit more. It was strange, but despite some rather rough memories of the place, Harry didn't actually mind being back here.
They were Snape's quarters at Hogwarts, sat at the man's small kitchen table. The room was dark, lit only by small flickering candles, but it wasn't at all oppressive or cold, not like he'd always imagined Snape's living quarters to be back when he was eleven and scared of the man.
Instead, it was warm, and...familiar. He liked it.
Harry let out another long, slow breath; thankfully, it came easier this time. Harry blinked slowly, rubbing his achy eyes from behind his glasses. It felt rather like he was waking up from a long, deep sleep. His vision was a little blurry - even though he could feel his glasses digging slightly into his nose as always – and his body felt shaky and weak, almost as if it was recovering from a horrible illness.
Even so, he still felt some more of the tension leave his body now that he was back in familiar surroundings. Everything still felt wrong, a little out of whack, but Harry at least felt a little bit less wrong than before. Standing by the rough sea of the English Channel for a while had helped. Snape had helped.
Being away from it all now…helped.
Harry shook his head slightly, but it only served to make him feel dizzy. He couldn't remember what had happened before Snape had whisked him away, not with any sort of clarity. It felt like a dream. Or a nightmare…
"Tell the jury about Cedric Diggory, Mr Potter. Explain to them what happened to him. Tell them what you did…"
Harry clenched his fists and closed his eyes, but it didn't stop the green light from flashing across his vision.
"Kill the spare…"
And then suddenly he could hear birds and waves crashing against the shore and a different voice was speaking to him…
"It was not your fault."
Harry didn't know what to believe anymore.
He hated not knowing.
A warm cup of tea was pushed into his hands. Harry took it, glad of the specific instructions he was being given. He felt…disconnected. Safe, yes, but disconnected.
"Drink," Snape repeated, soft in tone and yet firm in sound.
The tea was sweet, too sweet for his taste, but he drank it anyway. It was warm as it slipped down his throat; comforting, like a thick scarf on a cold day. The warmth began to spread through his whole body in seconds, and he suspected that a calming draft had been mixed in with the liquid judging by the way his heart-rate slowed and his mind stopped whirring.
Harry felt better, so he didn't complain, even though he hated that he needed it at all.
"What's wrong with me?" Harry muttered to himself.
"Nothing," Snape told him, obviously having heard his words. "Nothing is wrong with you."
Harry lifted his head and met Snape's concerned eyes. "I feel wrong."
"Perhaps," Snape allowed, his words coming slowly, as they were meant for a small child, not the teenager sat in front of him. "But there is nothing wrong with the way you are reacting."
Harry let it go, if only because he didn't have the energy to argue.
Instead, he gestured around the dark kitchen. "Why are we here? I thought we were going back to Grimmauld Place?"
They had spent almost an hour on the shores of Dover, standing side by side but saying very little. Harry had wanted to stay there for much longer, but Snape had been adamant that it wasn't safe. Harry had been a little anxious about returning to the real world at first, but to his surprise they had returned to Grimmauld Place only briefly, and even then it was only to use the fireplace in order to floo to Snape's private quarters at Hogwarts.
Harry sighed. He didn't mind being back at Hogwarts – even in Snape's quarters, it felt like home - but one day, Harry hoped it would be safe enough for him to return to the white cliffs of Dover. He was suddenly struck by the thought that he would quite like to grow old in a little house by the sea when it was all over…
"We will be going back to Grimmauld Place shortly," Snape replied calmly, his eyes watching Harry closely. "We can go now if you like, however I thought you might appreciate a break before returning to the care of your Godfather and the rest of the Order. They will have questions, questions that you will need to answer."
Snape's tone was matter-of-fact, almost unemotional, which Harry had come to appreciate more than he ever thought he would. It was much easier to keep tight control of his emotions in the presence of someone well-versed in the art of it.
"Don't you have questions?" Harry asked, oddly touched by Snape's thoughtfulness. He loved Sirius, but he wasn't sure he was ready to talk about what happened yet. He just needed a bit more time.
"Of course," Snape admitted with an incline of his head. "However unlike your Godfather, I have the good sense not to push you on it."
It was an insult aimed towards Sirius obviously, but Harry couldn't really argue with it this time, even though he loved his Godfather. Sirius meant well, but he was an emotional man by nature. It meant he cared about Harry, which Harry would never take for granted, but it also made it hard for Harry to be strong because Sirius was so willing to take the burden from him. Harry couldn't let him do that, not when it was his burden to bear, and his alone…
"I apologise, Potter," Snape said uncomfortably.
"Hmm?" Harry asked, dragging his attention back to Snape. He felt tired again, even though it was only 4 o'clock in the afternoon. He wondered how the trial was going. He wondered if his Aunt and Uncle had started to give their evidence yet…
"I…apologise," Snape said tightly, clearly annoyed at having to repeat himself.
"Why?" Harry replied, brow furrowed. He honestly didn't have a clue what Snape had to be sorry for…
"I should have foreseen the need for a calming draft today," Snape explained, nodding down to the warm, half-empty mug Harry was still holding in his hands. "I should have had one with me."
It was weird, Harry thought detachedly, to have Snape apologising to him so freely. Harry wasn't sure he would ever get used to it, not after so many years of animosity.
"You helped," Harry replied slowly, placing the half-empty mug carefully down on the table.
"My "help" arrived too late," Snape said somewhat bitterly.
Harry shrugged. He felt better now. To him, that was all that mattered.
"You helped," Harry repeated firmly. Harry had been through a lot in his life, and somewhere along the line, he'd learned to grab hold of the better moments and appreciate them for what they were. Having someone to help him when he was struggling was definitely something he could appreciate.
"Thank you," Harry said sincerely. He forced himself to meet Snape's eyes.
"Finish your tea," Snape instructed with an eye roll that told Harry that Snape thought he was being ridiculous again.
With a small smile on his face, Harry did as he was told.
"Do you feel better now?" Snape said a couple of minutes later, when Harry had drained the last of the tea from his mug and placed it back on the table.
"I felt better in Dover," Harry replied. Snape raised an eyebrow, prompting Harry to continue. This time it was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. "Yes, I feel better now. Thank you for the calming draft."
"Do you feel well enough to continue our conversation?" Snape asked quietly, almost tentatively, as if he was afraid to push Harry. Harry felt a twinge of annoyance. Did Snape think him too weak now…?
"Why?" he asked warily instead. Harry didn't want to say no, not right away, although he wasn't quite sure why. He found talking with Snape easier than talking with anyone else, but that didn't mean he wanted to do it…
"This is not something that should be put off," Snape answered seriously. "You do need to talk about this."
"Because I am neither your Godfather nor your friend, Potter," Snape told him quietly, "And this is not okay."
To have Snape repeat those words now…it showed how far they had come. Snape cared now. He cared enough to take Harry away from the Courts, to take him somewhere where he could breathe, and then to let him hide until he was ready to face the others. Snape cared enough to tell him the truth.
"You told me once that abuse is corrosive," Harry began quietly, fiddling with the empty cup. "Do you think it's damaged me?"
They had talked about this before, and they would probably talk about it again. As always, Snape seemed to follow the line of thinking immediately, even though Harry himself had no real idea where he was going with it himself.
"Irreparably?" Snape considered. "No. But do I think that it has had an effect on you." Snape fixed his gaze on Harry. "There is no shame in that, Potter. You are the person you are today because of it."
"It wasn't that long ago that you hated the person I am," Harry said, a small, knowing smile on his face. He wasn't angry at Snape anymore, hadn't been for months. After all, Harry wasn't the same boy he had been back then, and Snape certainly wasn't the same man…
"And I would have been wrong," Snape replied. "I was wrong, Potter, as you are well aware. Need you remind me of my error in judgement over and over again?"
Judging by the exaggerated eye roll he shot in Harry's direction, Snape wasn't being entirely serious, and the thought of that alone brought a real smile to Harry's face, a small miracle in itself.
"I've wormed my way into your heart then?" Harry teased. He felt a little lighter now. More ready to face things…
"I have it on good authority that I don't have a heart," Snape deadpanned. "And if you tell anyone I do, I will have to hex you."
"I wouldn't dare, Sir," Harry replied with a grin.
Snape snorted and took a sip of his own tea.
They fell into somewhat of a comfortable silence then, and Harry tried to make the most of it because he knew it would only be a matter of time…
"What happened in the courtroom, Potter?" Snape asked placing his mug careful down on the table.
"I thought you weren't going to push me to talk?" Harry said quietly, again fiddling with his own mug.
"I'm not pushing," Snape said simply. "But I assure you, I am not asking these questions to satisfy my own curiosity, Potter. Talk or don't talk, it is entirely up to you. I won't push you on it, but I do think that it would benefit you to talk about it now, here, rather than putting it off until later, when you have no choice."
"What exactly do you want to know?" Harry asked warily.
"What happened?" Snape asked bluntly. "When you returned from giving evidence, you looked as if you had seen a ghost."
"I told you on the beach," Harry mumbled. "They asked about Cedric."
"And I have told you, Potter," Snape retorted. "It was not your fault."
"I know," Harry muttered. "It's just…it's not exactly a nice memory, is it? Whether it's my fault or not, I don't think it's all that weird that it still bothers me."
"It is…understandable," Snape conceded.
"It wasn't just…erm…Cedric though," Harry admitted quietly. "I mean, it was, but it wasn't, if that makes sense?"
"Not at all, Potter," Snape said seriously.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Talking about Cedric was hard, but they asked me other stuff as well. Stuff that was more difficult in a way, because it just emphasised how much the Dursleys…"
Harry trailed off, almost scared to verbalise his thoughts, even with Snape…
"Hated you?" Snape asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft. Harry sighed deeply.
"Yeah," Harry replied, running a hand through his messy hair. "And how much they just…didn't want me."
Snape remained silent, and Harry didn't know if that was helping or not. It was giving him space to think, but thinking wasn't exactly a good thing at the moment. Not with the thoughts that were currently running through his head…
"Potter…" Snape prompted.
"I always knew they didn't want me," Harry began quietly. "The Dursleys, I mean. Even when I was really little, it was obvious I wasn't welcome in their home. I mean, they shoved me in a cupboard and tried to pretend I didn't exist as often as they could. Back then, if they'd known a way to get rid of me without getting into trouble with Dumbledore, they would have done it."
Harry chanced a brief look up, and was surprised to see a look of sour distaste on the face of his mentor. He knew Snape didn't hate him anymore, but it still warmed him slightly when he saw evidence of how much the man cared now.
"I was the spare, you see?" Harry continued softly. He let out a bitter laugh. "I was Cedric. I was the one they didn't want. The one that wasn't supposed to be there."
"And how does that make you feel?" Snape asked, making a steeple out of his long hands and placing it under his chin.
Harry sighed. "Angry. Sad." Harry paused to find the right word. "Unwanted."
"Unwanted?" Snape said.
"Yeah," Harry replied. "I mean, they did everything they could to make me miserable when I was younger." He let out a bitter laugh. "Part it was that they just didn't care, but mostly I think that they were awful to me because they were hoping that one day I'd run away or maybe even just…end it myself."
Harry clenched his fists, but didn't miss Snape's sharp intake of breath. Harry kept his gaze firmly down and sighed to himself. They hadn't talked about this before, and there was no way Snape was going to let it go without…
"Potter," Snape began slowly. "Answer me honestly. Did you ever consider…hurting yourself?"
"Not…really," Harry sighed. He ran a hand through his messy hair.
"Look, my childhood was horrible, okay?" Harry replied bitterly. "I don't think anyone would blame me if I thought about…doing that."
"Killing myself?" Harry finished. Then he nodded slowly. "Only on the really, really bad days though. There weren't too many of those days, thankfully, and I only ever thought about it. I never actually did anything, Snape, I promise."
Harry could hear his heat thudding in his ears, but he forced himself to remain silent. He needed Snape to understand…
Snape gave him a long look, then nodded. "I believe you, Potter."
Harry let out a breath.
"I just…" Harry began. "I just…wanted it to end sometimes. I think…I think if I hadn't come to Hogwarts, if I'd gone to Stonewall High like I was supposed to…I think maybe then I would've killed myself."
"That's bad, isn't it?" Harry said, letting out a harsh noise that felt more like a sob than a laugh. "I have Voldemort after me and all that shit with Umbridge and the Ministry and all the people at school judging me, and I'm still happier now than I would've been if I'd stayed at the Dursleys."
"You have friends, Potter," Snape said. "You are not alone. Some people might underestimate the power of that, but not someone who has gone without for so long."
Harry considered that, then gave Snape a long look. "You don't underestimate it either, do you, Sir?"
"No, Potter," Snape replied heavily. "I do not."
Harry nodded to himself and let the silence fill the room. He had plenty to think about, plenty to worry about…
"What's going to happen to me now?" Harry asked quietly. He felt his chest tighten in anxiety. Even when the trial was over, nothing was certain. He had no home now. Nowhere to go…
"At the end of term," Harry clarified. "Where am I going to go?"
"It is still…unknown, at present," Snape sighed heavily. "As I understand it, the Headmaster is still considering all the potential options."
"Will I get any say?" Harry asked, a burst of annoyance rushing through him.
Snape seemed to consider that. "Fine. Where would you like to go, Potter?"
Harry thought about it for a long moment, weighing up what was really important to him, what really mattered…
"Somewhere I'm wanted," he told Snape simply.
Snape actually let out a bark of laughter at that. "Potter, there are no shortage of places like that, you foolish boy."
"I know," Harry replied, letting out a small smile. The smile fell quickly though. "But I don't want to put anyone in danger either. I can't be selfish…"
"And that is where is gets a touch more difficult," Snape admitted. "If it helps, I am in somewhat of a similar quandary myself."
"I was a revealed as a spy, you dunderhead," Snape replied. "I am as wanted by Voldemort as you are. He means to make an example out of me."
"And he knows where you live?" Harry asked, eyes widening. "When you're not at Hogwarts, I mean."
Snape nodded. "He knows where I live. Or where I used to live, at any rate."
"So you're…homeless now?" Harry asked.
"That house is no great loss, I assure you," Snape told him. "And regardless, I still have my quarters here." Snape paused, then seemed to come to a decision. "As do you, Potter, if you ever feel the need to…escape.
Harry stared at him. The words didn't really him him at first…
"…though I will have to ask the Headmaster to get a spare room added to my quarters if you are ever to stay here," Snape continued, oblivious to his student's shock. "I certainly will not be giving up my bed for you in the future, no matter how ill you might be…"
Harry let that sink in for a moment, brow furrowed. "I really must be wearing you down if you're offering to let me stay with you."
"Hardly," Snape scoffed. But then he met Harry's eyes, his gaze fixed and true, and Harry knew then that the offer was sincere. That Snape really would ask Dumbledore if he would add a room to Snape's quarters if Harry wanted him to…
Harry swallowed back the sudden rush of emotion.
"Are you being serious, or are you just trying to to…cheer me up?" Harry asked. He didn't know what else to say.
"Both," Snape replied seriously. "Is it working?"
"Yeah," Harry replied slowly. "I think it is."
"Well," Snape said a little uncomfortably. "Good."
"You'd really let me stay with you?" Harry asked, still a little unsure.
"Yes," Snape replied, apparently a little frustrated with Harry's inability to grasp such a simple concept. "As far as company goes, you are not as…intolerable as I had once thought."
Harry snorted. From Snape, that was high praise indeed.
"Thanks, sir," Harry said softly.
"You are not alone, Potter," Snape said quietly. "And you will not be alone, no matter what happens to you now, and no matter where you go at the end of term. You will not be alone."
Harry smiled, some of his anxiety finally leaving him. Even if he had to bunk with Snape during the summer, he would not be alone. The thought should have scared him, but oddly, Harry was almost…excited by it. Eleven year old Harry would have been quaking in his school shoes, but fifteen year old Harry could certainly think of worse things in the world than spending a summer with Snape.
Harry smiled at Snape, widely and sincerely, and Snape nodded back, albeit a little more reservedly. Harry didn't care though; instead he felt the lost, little boy in him rejoice as Snape's words finally sank in. Because after all those years of being alone, he was finally wanted; by his friends, by the Weasleys, by Lupin and Sirius of course. He had known that already, but now that Snape of all people had joined those ranks – the people who wanted Harry Potter - it all felt a little bit more real.
He was the spare no longer.
Now - finally - he was wanted.
A/N - So, I hope you liked that chapter! That should mark the end of this not-so-little interlude now, so expect some more trial drama next chapter. Until then, thank you for all your follows, favourites and reviews so far - you keep me going through the darkest of times (writer's block) - but most of all, thank you for reading!