A/N: Hey all! I apologize for my unintended absence; I was really sick on Friday and somehow managed to forget I have a ton of finished stories I can publish without needing to write anything new. As for Monday, depending on whether you're subscribed to me or not, you may have been able to guess what happened: I published an M rated story and it got taken down. After a brief hissy fit, I've let it go. In any case, I wasn't allowed to publish anything until today, so here we are.
After hearing all about it (because holy shit I touched Snape's cuffs), here is the story inspired by said cuff-touching! It ended up a lot longer than I expected at eight chapters, and I'll be sticking to the MWF publishing schedule.
For any fans of Unexpected Effects reading this: It's on its way! I promise! It morphed from an alternative ending to a full on, story-lengthed addition. It's currently at around 50k words and just shy of 200 pages, and it's still not done yet. So keep your eyes peeled, it's a-coming!
Unless Draco Malfoy was suddenly an expert at Legilimency and had suddenly decided he didn't hate Harry, it was an accident. Harry didn't think either of those were very likely, and even if they were, the means of delivery were much too convoluted to be intentional. It was a little odd, because Malfoy hadn't talked to him or engaged in any sort of physical confrontation once since they'd been back at Hogwarts for eighth year.
"Disgusting," Malfoy muttered under his breath, shouldering his way between Ron and Hermione, who were holding hands. Hermione stepped aside, only stumbling slightly, but Ron tripped and slammed into Harry, who had to wave his arms frantically to keep from falling.
"Not as disgusting as you!" Ron shot back.
"Ten points for clumsiness, Weasley," Snape said automatically, pulling ahead of their group as if nothing had happened. Harry wasn't surprised in the slightest; Snape hadn't talked to him this year either, going so far as to cease taking points from him and avoid giving him detention. Besides, it was an accident. A tiny accident. He probably hadn't even felt it.
"But he—" Ron started.
"Another five for lip," Snape added, picking up his pace and disappearing down the hallway to the dungeons.
"Malfoy shoved me!" Ron protested indignantly.
"I know," Hermione said, taking his hand again. "Let it go. It's not worth it."
"But he called you disgusting!"
Hermione blushed slightly, the corners of her mouth curving up in a smile before quickly turning downwards in disapproval. "You don't need to defend me," she said. "Come on, we're still in the doorway, and I don't fancy another collision."
They made it a few steps before Ron realized there were only two of them.
"You coming?" Ron asked, turning around to face Harry.
Harry didn't respond. He was busy staring at his fingers.
"Harry!" Ron said loudly, jerking him out of his thoughts. "What's wrong with your hand? Did Malfoy hex you?"
"No, nothing, its fine," Harry said quickly, catching up with his friends.
Ron grabbed his wrist, examining his hand as they started up the staircase. "You don't look hexed."
Harry yanked himself free. "I told you, I'm fine! Malfoy didn't even touch me, Ron. You were the one who knocked into me."
"Well he pushed me!"
"Let it go," Hermione repeated firmly. "Draco's a prat, like always. Nobody's hurt, let's all move on." A worried frown crossed her face. "You aren't hurt, right Harry?"
"Yes!" he replied, exasperated. "I'm fine!"
"Then why were you looking at your hand?" Ron asked. "Sprout an extra finger?"
Harry was still feeling a little fuzzy, and having trouble coming up with a plausible excuse. "You pushed me into Snape," he said, opting a version of the truth. "He had a vial or something in his pocket and I whacked my fingers and I hit my nail, okay? It's entirely daft, me breaking a nail, but it hurt, sort of. Like I said, nothing important."
Ron snorted. "A vial and a broken fingernail, I'm sure. There's no other reason why bumping into Snape would leave you daft."
"Well there isn't," Harry replied angrily. "I told you to forget about that."
"You can't expect us to," Hermione said with a small smile, leading them into the library. "It's hardly forgettable, that you—"
"Shut up," Harry hissed, glancing around. "I was drunk, it was after midterms and I failed everything, and I wasn't thinking."
"Clearly," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
"You did fine," Hermione replied. "Good marks all around."
"I didn't know that at the time," Harry said indignantly. "I thought we were here to study. Finals next week, remember?"
Hermione once again looked worried and pushed them over to the nearest table. "I've got so much to do," she said distractedly, pulling out a pile of textbooks. "Arithmancy, Potions, Transfiguration…but Harry, really, you said it and now we know. There's no point in denying it."
"I didn't say anything," Harry said, taking out his Defense book and flipping it open to a random page. "All I said is that he wasn't as bad as we thought, because he isn't. It's not my fault he's decent."
"That's not all you said," Ron replied. "Once you got done with that, which took you quite some time, by the way, you went on to say—"
"Nothing," Harry interrupted. "I didn't say a thing. Merlin, he's such a bloody arse, assigning a three-foot essay just before finals. He doesn't actually expect us to get this done, does he?"
"It's not that hard, I've already finished," Hermione said, pouring over her Transfiguration book. "Besides, it's actually rather helpful, combining everything we've covered like that. It's basically just a study guide."
"Snape, helpful," Ron grumbled. "If only. And Harry, you're only complaining to throw suspicion off. We know you fancy him and we're sick of you denying it. It's bizarre and gross and completely uncalled for, but stop denying and do your bloody homework. You couldn't get bad marks in Defense if you tried, not with the way he's been treating you."
"He hasn't been treating me any way," Harry muttered, yanking out a roll of parchment and a quill. "Hasn't said a single word to me all term. He's only giving me decent marks so he doesn't have to talk to me."
"Yeah, that's what I said," Ron replied. "You could say the—what did he say, some bollocks—"
"Culmination of your studies," Hermione supplied.
"Yeah, that your culmination is unicorns fart magic rainbows and that's how you defeated Voldemort and he still wouldn't fail you."
"Right," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure he'd be thrilled to pieces." He smoothed out his parchment, flattening it with his left hand while he started writing. He made it through half a sentence before he glanced over at his hand. His fingers, specifically. More specifically, his pinkie, ring finger and middle finger. The ones that had brushed Snape's robes. Well, not robes exactly, but his cuff. The cuff of his shirt. Thick woolen robes would have been one thing, but it had been his shirt, the shirt that lay directly against his skin, the shirt that was the only barrier between Harry's fingers and Snape's wrist.
"You haven't got any broken nails," Hermione said suddenly, looking at his hand.
Harry pulled his sleeve down over his hand. "I have, too," he replied. "Or something. It hurts. Can we stop micro analyzing my fingers and get back to work? This bloody essay is going to kill me."
"Magic rainbow unicorn farts, I told you," Ron repeated. "Either you'll get good marks and can write off the class entirely or you'll finally land a detention, and then you'll have hours and hours of time alone with him. Either way you win."
Harry considered it, much to Hermione's horror.
"You'll do nothing of the sort!" she exclaimed.
"You're right," Harry replied. "Not unicorn farts. But I don't think Ron's got it entirely wrong." He looked down at his page. "All I've got so far is 'This year in Defense Against the Dark Arts, we've covered—', and that's it. Maybe I should put something ridiculous, just to see what would happen."
"No!" Hermione yelled, attracting several stares. She lowered her voice. "Really, Harry, don't. It doesn't matter if you fancy him or not, or whether you'll admit it. He clearly wants nothing to do with you and he probably would pass you just so he doesn't have to talk to you. You don't want to get good marks like that."
Harry's stomach twisted angrily. "Says who?" he snapped. "If I'm going to do well no matter what, I'm taking advantage. I've got enough to deal with as it is." He quickly scribbled something down, shoved the parchment to the side and took out Transfiguration.
Ron took the parchment. "'This year in Defense Against the Dark Arts, we've covered how to nap in class without being noticed'," he read, then laughed. "Brilliant."
Hermione's eyes were wide with incredulity. "You're not actually going to hand that in, are you?"
"Absolutely," Harry said. "I'm sick of his bollocks. He showed me everything, and now refuses to acknowledge my existence. It's his own bloody fault for being such a prick. All I want to do is talk to him, let him know I don't blame him for what happened, that his memories mean something—mean everything, really—and there's no reason things shouldn't go back to how they were."
"Sorry, I had a bit of fluff in my ear and misheard," Ron said. "It sounded like you wanted him to go back to treating you like shit, not that you fancy him and want to spend the rest of the year shagging him senseless."
"I do not!" Harry yelled, once again causing several nearby students to stare. "I just want things to be okay between us, that's all I said. All I've ever said."
"Rewrite your essay," Hermione said. "Properly. Then get on with the rest of your work. You're clearly not going to be a man and own up to what you said and I'm sick of it. If you want to be miserable, fine."
Harry's stomach twisted again. "I don't see an alternative," he replied, dropping his voice further. "Either I don't tell him and I'm miserable and alone or I do tell him and I'm miserable and humiliated. We're graduating in six months and then I'll never have to see him again and it won't matter. In the mean time, if I want to push my luck, let me do it in peace."
"At the cost of good marks?" Hermione asked. "I'm sure the Ministry would love to have an Auror who failed Defense."
"They won't care, you know that," Harry replied. "I killed Voldemort. I've got the job."
Hermione rubbed her temples. "You can be really conceited, Harry. It makes you sound like an arse."
"A funny arse," Ron interjected. "I wish I could see the look on Snape's face when he sees your parchment! It'll be priceless."
"It doesn't matter," Harry said. "I'm working on Transfiguration now. I'm already behind on studying, don't make it worse."
"Because you spent Friday night playing chess and all of today watching Quidditch practice," Hermione said. "Ginny's captain, not you. You haven't got to hover like that, not when you have exams coming up."
"Well I'm doing my homework now, aren't I?" Harry demanded. "Or I would be, if you two didn't keep distracting me."
"You're ruining a streak of good marks for nothing," Hermione insisted. "If you need his attention that desperately at least go about it like a normal person and talk to him."
"I've tried, he won't get anywhere near me," Harry replied. "We're done. I'm doing this Ron's way, and that's that."
Hermione shook her head dolefully. "Just don't come crying to me when he fails you."
Harry personally thought continuing to be ignored would be far worse than failing, but he didn't feel the need to say so out loud, and instead returned to Transfiguration.
Harry spent a lot of time staring at his canopy before he fell asleep that night. It was stupid, for such a little accident. So he brushed Snape's robes, so what? And even if it wasn't his robes per se but the cuff of his shirt, the shirt that touched his skin, that was stupid. What's more, he'd already been over it with himself earlier, while trying to study. Yes, he'd come into physical contact with Snape. It was time to grow up and get over it.
Only that wasn't particularly easy. The thing was, he had touched Snape's robes, however accidentally. He hadn't touched Snape since the night in the Shrieking Shack, and while that might have been significantly more—more everything, really—today's memory wasn't tainted with death and war. It might be stupid, but he'd take stupid over horrifying any day.
There was a benefit to horrifying, though. With horrifying came guilt and terror and the need to push the memory as far away as possible. The thought of holding Snape and trying to stop the bleeding and taking his memories was awful. Yes, there was a tiny bit that wasn't horrible, because it seemed that any contact with Snape was better than nothing, but that only led to more guilt.
This, this was an accident. Malfoy had bumped Ron and then Ron had bumped Harry and then Harry had bumped Snape. There wasn't anything to keep him from obsessing over it. It was just a brush of Harry's fingers against his cuff, but it didn't feel particularly like a "just". Instead it felt like his fingers were still tingling and he still knew exactly which parts of his fingertips had touched his cuff and even now he had to stop a stupid sort of smile from spreading across his face because, really, this was pathetic.
Pathetic was okay, though. Pathetic was fine. He'd just lie in bed obsessing over the feel of thick linen cuffs until he graduated and then he'd never see Snape again and he'd be fine. As it was, the linen had been warm, textured and soft, not what he had expected. He'd thought it'd be stiff and overly starched and rough, but no. It was strange, enough to make Harry wonder what the rest of his robes felt like. He certainly hadn't been focusing on them in the Shrieking Shack, and no doubt he'd never have the chance to find out, but still. If his shirt was soft, what did that mean for his robes? Were they soft, too? His robes seemed so unyielding, almost like they had ivory boning running through them, but maybe not. And his cape, the one that swept around him, that had to be some sort of silk in order to billow the way it did.
Regardless of pathetic versus horrible, Harry wasn't thrilled with these thoughts. Contemplating the texture of Snape's clothes led to contemplating feeling those clothes beneath his hands, which turned towards contemplating removing his clothes—that was interesting, actually, given how many buttons and layers he wore—and then to contemplating things Harry really shouldn't be contemplating. He'd barely touched the man's shirt. That wasn't exactly the stuff fantasies were born of. Except, well. Except maybe a little bit.
But only a little.
Even, um, the problem in his pants wasn't exactly little. But he refused to act on it, not because of something this stupid. He didn't want to admit it, not in the slightest, but it wasn't that he hadn't entertained such thoughts or activities before. It was just that he refused, absolutely refused, to wank to something as pathetic as touching Snape's cuff for a quarter of a second with the tiniest bit of his fingertips. That was just. Just no.
His resolve lasted no more than a few minutes, and it was over a lot faster than that.
Utterly, completely pathetic.
Monday started with double Defense. Harry handed in his essay, not that he could really call it that. He was feeling brave and giddy and delirious. He didn't nap during class, he never did, not when he could continue his pathetic and unnoticed attempts at impressing Snape through superior spell casting and extensive note taking.
After Defense was Muggle Studies, and Harry had about five minutes of boredom before the reality of what he'd done sunk in. Elation was replaced with utter panic and he would have sprinted out of the classroom and down to Snape's office to retrieve his essay if he hadn't been paralyzed by abject terror. Instead he stared blankly ahead running over everything Snape could do to him in revenge. He could be failed, which wasn't nearly as acceptable as Harry had thought it would be, he could get detention for the rest of the year and it wouldn't necessarily be with Snape—he could be assigned to work with Filch or something, or maybe worst of all he could continue to be ignored.
The thought was equally petrifying and likely. Harry had no illusions regarding Snape's feelings for him. Harry was hated, blamed for the crimes of his father as well as his own failings. How could he have thought Snape would respond to what seemed to be yet another attempt at humiliating him? It had seemed so clever in his head but now that he thought about it, it seemed exactly like something his father would have done.
So no, it wasn't like Harry thought Snape was about to confess a secret undying love for him. That was just idiotic, especially given that Harry had to go an act like an arse and try to get his attention by being a total prick. But even if he had stepped up and given the most romantic, eloquent speech anyone had ever said, it wouldn't matter. Snape hated him. There wasn't any getting around that.
He might go on about wanting things to go back to how they had been, or even okay, but he knew that wasn't enough. This impenetrable silence might make it seem like being constantly berated and abused was a step up, or even an understanding nothing short of a miracle, but really? Realistically speaking, Snape avoiding him was the best possible outcome. Harry wasn't going to get over his crush or infatuation or whatever this was by constantly interacting with the man. No, what he needed was distance.
This was not how to get distance.
This was how to sabotage himself.
Hermione elbowed him. "Focus," she whispered. "This could be on the exam."
"Yeah, right," Harry replied vaguely, picking up his quill and setting the tip against his parchment. "Focusing."
Hermione paused for a moment. "If this is about Defense—"
"It's done," Harry said. "Doesn't matter."
She rested a hand on his for a moment before returning to her notes. "You'll be okay."
Harry seriously doubted that.
Harry didn't have Defense again until Thursday afternoon. The few times he saw Snape before then continued as usual. At meals he was his usual dour self, and he avoided Harry during any chance encounters in the halls just like always. His hope that Snape hadn't read the essay yet slowly faded with each passing day until the possibility was utterly ludicrous and he had to admit that Snape just didn't care. Regardless of his grade Snape felt nothing towards him, not even animosity.
Well, that was fine. That was what Harry needed. He'd be ignored and eventually the miserable ache encasing him would fade away and he'd be okay. That was how it worked, right? When someone spent half their life dedicated to protecting you, whatever their motives, trying to write them out of your life was absolutely the logical course of action. Any feelings that might be considered love were irrelevant in the face of disdainful neutrality.
Besides, finals were on Friday. All his spare time was taken up with studying, at least as much as Hermione could force him into. He continued to watch Quidditch practice and squeeze in a few games of chess. Mostly, though, he studied, and that was good. Any distraction was welcome, even one as stressful and boring as late night study sessions.
Harry had very few memories of his early classes. He didn't eat during lunch, instead pushing his food around his plate and sneaking glances at the head table. Snape was impenetrable, as always. There wasn't any point in looking for what wasn't there, not that he'd be able to see anything even if there was something. Which there wasn't, so it was irrelevant.
Harry slunk into Defense, keeping his eyes on his shoes and sitting next to Ron, like always. He took out his textbook and skimmed any passages he'd marked, trying to focus on tomorrow's exam and not his professor.
"Today will be restricted to review," Snape said once the rest of the class settled. "I will go over nothing more than relevant chapter titles; the rest is up to you. Put your books away, you are restricted to your notes. Assuming you paid the slightest bit of attention, you will have no problem." He waved his wand at the chalkboard and the chapter titles appeared, and then at his desk. Their essays flew over to their desks. "Given the state of your papers, I anticipate quite a few problems. Begin."
Fingers shaking, Harry unrolled his parchment. Beneath his one sentence Snape had scrawled Acceptable. A passing grade. Harry's teeth clenched and the parchment crumpled in his hand. This was ridiculous. Utter bloody bollocks. He shoved it into his bag along with his book and pulled out his notes. Impeccable notes. It was nearly impossible to study, but no matter how upset he was with Snape—and with himself, to be completely honest—finals were still looming. It did seem it was impossible for him to fail, but still. His brief foray into goading rendered an utter failure, he was back to trying to impress, no matter how hopeless it was.
His focus only lasted so long, and by the end of class he was practically bursting with rage. He had spent his entire Hogwarts career despising Snape and slaving away just to pass, having an Acceptable thrown at him like this was insulting. It was possible that had been the point, insulting him the way he had insulted Snape, but he highly doubted it. He was just a throwaway. It wasn't that he liked being the Boy Who lived or the Golden Boy or the Savior of the Wizarding World, but any recognition was better than this.
"Class is over," Snape announced, startling Harry out of his thoughts. "Dismissed."
Harry had a free period after Defense. As everyone else packed up their things and left he stayed behind, pulling out his essay in exchange for his notes. Ron gave him a look.
"What're you doing?" he asked quietly.
"I've got a question for the professor," Harry replied, almost certainly loudly enough that Snape could hear him. "About what we've covered. I'll catch up to you."
Hermione looked over his shoulder at the graded paper. "You're finally going to talk to him?"
"About my paper, yeah," Harry said. "I'm confused. Go ahead, really. I'll be up soon."
"Good luck," she whispered, then guided Ron out of the room.
Harry stayed in his seat for several minutes after the last student left, waiting for Snape to say something. Do something. Anything. Instead he sat at his desk, presumably grading. His bottle of red ink was out. Harry hadn't seen red ink all year, not on his papers.
It was the final straw.
Harry grabbed his paper and stalked up to Snape's desk, slamming it down.
"What is this?"
Snape didn't glance up. "A pathetic excuse for a paper."
"So you passed me?" Harry asked.
"The effort of failing you isn't worth my time."
"This isn't even an essay!" Harry said, voice rising. "It's one bloody sentence. An insult, and a lie. You know I've been paying attention."
"Then I'm sure you won't let any pettiness get in the way of future assignments," Snape replied. "I told you, class is dismissed. Leave."
"No," Harry said determinedly. "I get that you hate I know what you showed me. Fine, whatever. You've always hated me, though apparently mostly because you hated my dad. If you need to hold that grudge, hold away. At least have the decency to look at me when you lie about my paper."
Snape finally looked up, eyes carefully guarded. Not angry, not hateful, just shielded. "I told you, Potter. I lack the energy and motivation to continue to go out of my way to show how little I care."
Harry flushed from a combination of anger and upset. "I don't understand, professor. I can spend the rest of the year turning in this shit and still pass my N.E.W.T.s?"
"I am entirely apathetic towards your test scores," Snape replied. "Apathetic and tired of having you in my life. The fastest way to remove you is to get you out of Hogwarts as quickly and painlessly as possible. I could not care less whether or not you are adequately prepared for a job at the Ministry, I only want you to leave."
Harry forgot why he thought this was a good idea. The paper, the confrontation, any of it. He hated himself for it, but he was terrifyingly close to tears, all because some stupid crush was one-sided. Obviously one-sided. Getting Snape to say it out loud did nothing other than break what was already broken.
"You spent seventeen years watching out for me," Harry accused. "Seventeen years erased because I saved the world? Isn't that what you wanted, for me to kill Voldemort?"
"I fulfilled a promise, nothing more," Snape said. "I upheld the wishes of Albus Dumbledore and your mother. The war is over and I have no reason to have you in my life. I refuse to reply to the accusation that I'd rather the Dark Lord triumph."
"That's it, then?" Harry said, deflating. "You're done with me, just like that?"
"Would you prefer I make your life miserable?" Snape asked. "I wasn't aware you were such a masochist, Potter."
Harry turned away, leaving the paper on Snape's desk. He grabbed his book bag and started towards the door. "I'd prefer you acknowledge your memories," he said. "That maybe something's changed between us, and not that you don't care. You shared something with me, you can't just expect me to forget that."
"It is irrelevant," Snape said sharply. "It is the past, both the memories themselves and the mistake of giving them to you. Of all people, I would assume you are aware of the rash decisions that accompany dying. The fact that I lived is incidental and, in this case, exceedingly irritating. Now leave me alone, Potter. I can think of nothing I would like to do less than speak with you, especially about this."
"I'm not my father," Harry replied, almost calmly. "I don't hate you, I don't want to fight with you anymore than you want to fight with me. You're—" He searched for the right word, one that wouldn't embarrass him. "You're incredible, Severus. If you're not willing to own up to that, fine. It's not my fault that you have a human side. Don't expect to see me for exams; if I'm going to pass anyway, there isn't any point."
None of that was at all embarrassing nor had he used the wrong words or anything like that. He left, closing the door behind himself. The strange calmness was still there and, as satisfying as a good slam would have been, he didn't want that sort of satisfaction. He'd talked to Snape. That's what he'd meant to do. It hadn't gone how he'd wanted, in fact probably as far from it as possible, but he'd done it. He could relax.
"Detention, Potter." Snape's voice echoed down the hallway and Harry wondered how he could have opened the door and stepped out of the classroom so silently when every movement rang out like a gunshot. "Tonight at seven. If you so much as think about skipping your exam, I'll fail you and mark your end-of-year report so badly you won't be able to land a job as a house elf, let alone at the Ministry."
Harry smiled to himself. "Yes, Professor." Then the words sank in, and he whirled around, smile gone. "Wait, tonight? I have to study!"
"If you are not prepared by now, a few extra hours will do nothing," Snape replied with a sneer. "Either you are ready for your exams or you are not, it is no concern of mine. I have been remarkably lenient with you, Potter. It was your decision to push me the day before testing."
Harry glared furiously at him before dropping his gaze. "Fine," he said through gritted teeth. "Seven."
"Don't be late."