Harry wondered if it wouldn't be better to be dead. His mother was. His Father was. Sirius was. He liked to think that there was something - somewhere else and they were all happy there: talking, laughing, being together. Harry wanted to be there with them so badly that life on this planet - where he was forced to cook, clean and endure Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia all day - seemed pointless.
He had spent the entire first week at 4 Privet Drive lying on his back thinking about this and wishing that his soul would leech out of his body and rise upwards, as fragmented and weightless as the specks of dust that caught the light.
It didn't happen, but one day Uncle Vernon knocked on his door.
"What?" asked Harry lethargically. Much to Aunt Petunia's and Uncle Vernon's consternation, he no longer tried for the semblance of civility he usually reached for.
"Someone is here for you." Harry raised his head at that. Whomever it was, Uncle Vernon did not look pleased.
Downstairs, Snape, dressed in Muggle clothes, was standing beside a thin-lipped Aunt Petunia, who looked small and mousey next to Snape, who was still imposing in jeans. Harry blinked, taken aback.
In the midst of the earth-swallowing pit of grief Harry was in, he had forgotten about Snape and potions and occlumency and everything else that was not directly related to the fact that Sirius was dead.
"Well, don't just stand there, Potter. I don't have all day," Snape said. Harry looked down at his pyjamas.
"It's Thursday?" Harry said stupidly. Snape scowled.
"Go get changed. Let's go."
Feeling stupid and wrong-footed to see Snape there in Privett Drive, wearing a black pea coat and jeans no less, Harry quickly bounded back up the stairs and got dressed. He shoved his wand in his back pocket, snatched his potions book off of his desk and ran back down to Snape.
"Let's go," Snape said, nodding to Petunia and walking out the door without a look backwards. Harry wondered what he said to them. With an awkward look at his Aunt, Harry followed. Snape stopped in front of the house and held out his arm.
"We're going to apparate," Snape said when Harry looked at his proffered arm like it was something dangerous or disgusting. Not entirely sure what that was, Harry took hold of his arm.
They ended up in a small, underpopulated neighbourhood. The identical cream cabins were lined up like tired workers waiting for a train at the end of the day.
Before Harry could ask where they were, Snape had already started to walk purposefully through a dead garden towards the little house.
The inside of the house was stuffy and, like the garden, had a dead, neglected air. In the living room, the entire East wall, excepting the fireplace was covered in books. The leather sofa by the fireplace looked relatively new, but the matching armchair was well-used. There was a wonderful cinnamon smell in the air.
Severus didn't stop, but led Harry down the stairs to a stone brewing room. Which, in contrast to the living room, looked well-used: ingredients lined the shelves, piles of cauldrons were stored in the corners, and more books were piled on a desk. It was completely windowless except for one sad, boxy window filtering a weak light.
Severus flicked his wand, lighting the candles
"Ok, let's start with the basics,'" he said.
"Where are we?" Harry asked.
"My home," Snape said, looking at Harry like he was a little slow. Harry knew this, but he couldn't help but ask.
"Grimmauld Place is still insecure given…past events…and Hogwarts is to far for regular practice. So, I will tutor you here if that suits you, Potter," Snape said, his voice tight and defensive.
"No - that's fine - uhm - thanks," he said.
"Alright then, as I was saying, let's go back to the basic elements that your Potions OWL will test."
A book opened in front of him: a boil solution.
"You have an hour," Severus said. "I will observe."
Harry nodded and started to gather the ingredients with a sigh. The idea of spending time brewing made him irritable and tired. He just wanted to be left alone, left to wallow, but after a few minutes of cutting and reading, he felt himself start to relax.
It was the first time since Sirius' death that Harry had actually done something more than stare at the ceiling. For an hour, Harry chopped, cooked and prepared potions ingredients and thought of nothing more significant than the amount of bubber-tubber pus needed in an acne solution.
Snape, for his part, was watching Harry out of the corner of his eye, assessing the child. He was thinner than usual, pale, but that was to be expected after losing the closest thing one had to a parent.
Both of Snape's parents were long dead. His Mother had died when he was during his sixth year at Hogwarts. He still remembered Slughorn's awkward attempts at sympathy, the way the man kept pulling at his sleeves. Madame Careburn, the Mediwitch before Madame Pomfrey, was there as well, and Severus remembered the indignity he felt at the unspoken assumption that he might somehow cause a scene, need professional, medical help.
He had left Slughorn's claustrophobic office as soon as he possible could and returned to his dorm to pack up his trunk and head home.
There was no one after that: no owls, no calls. His Father to drunk to make any arrangements. It was Snape who called an undertaker. Snape who stood alone at a tombstone - he had been too embarrassed to stand there alone with a Vicar, so he hadn't gotten one.
Then Dumbledore had appeared at Eileen's graveside. Severus had been too surprised to say anything. Dumbledore didn't seem to expect him to.
"Is there anything I can do to help you, Severus?" he had asked finally. Severus shook his head.
"You're so brave, Severus," Dumbledore said. "but I hope you let the people who care about you help you through your grief."
Severus muttered something in agreement, but he hadn't meant it. He had already been well on his way to the dark side, and he had barely heard Dumbledore's words at the time, but the Headmaster's kindness had been the only kindness offered during that horrid time and Severus had never forgotten it. It was part of the reason he knew he could meet Dumbledore on that hilltop years later.
Severus considered opening his mouth and saying something to Potter. He had made ginger snaps. He had decided he was going to be kind to boy, supportive, reassuring. But Potter looked so drawn, and Severus suddenly had no idea what to say. Did he really expect cookies to make this better?
Potter's potion thickened and turned an acceptable beige. Severus nodded in approval.
"Alright Potter, that's enough for today. This is just to get you started" Snape said. "Next week we will work on Occlumency."
Harry nodded, although the relief had gained from the hour of potions was both surprising and welcome. Severus handed handed him a battered, red tin.
"This is a port-key, it will allow you to bypass my wards and it will return you to your home," Severus said. "Until Next Thursday."
Harry nodded. He expected Snape to make a joke about not using the tin except for the designated Thursday practice, but he didn't. In fact, Snape hadn't said anything mean to him all day.
"Remember, clear your mind before you sleep," Snape said. Harry nodded and gripped the port-key.
Snape's steady face turned into a swirl of black as Harry was rudely jerked back across the country to Surrey.
Uncle Vernon was waiting for Harry when he got home.
"Who the ruddy hell was that?" he yelled the moment Harry entered. Harry shrugged.
"I don't want your freak - "
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia said, looking around the room like she might be being watched. "Vernon it doesn't matter, just let the boy go." She lowered her voice to a dramatic whisper "Remember?"
Uncle Vernon's rage melted to some sort of fear, he scowled at Harry with deep loathing.
"Go to bed," he snapped. Harry swallowed, and nodded, running up to his room before Vernon changed his mind.
It was only 5. but laying his head down on the pillow he'd knew he'd sleep immediately.
Remembering Snape's instructions, Harry closed his eyes and focused on 'clearing his mind', which really just meant he breathed deeply and tried not to think of Sirius. In moments, he was asleep.
Cedric was dying - slowly. His eyes were pained; his fingers reached for Harry.
"Help me," he mouthed, unable to speak. Harry couldn't moved. He was frozen, useless.
Then it was Sirius. His face covered in soot and blood. Dementors swirled behind him.
"Sirius, look out!" Harry said. He reached for his wand, but it wasn't there.
Cedric started to convulse. Harry ran over.
"This all your fault, Harry," Sirius said. The Dementors whipped around him faster now, pulling his soul from his mouth, ears and eyes.
"SIRIUS!" Harry said. "Expecto Patronum." He had no wand. Sirius fell to his knees.
Harry woke with a hot, pain on his cheek. Uncle Vernon had slapped him.
"I'm sorry," Harry said instinctively. Before being fully awake, he had pulled himself in to the corner of the wall. Vernon looked down at him, blisteringly angry.
"Sorry! You woke the bloody house up you ungrateful little rat," The dream, the pain, the freshness of Sirius' death and the cold reality of what he was now left with hit Harry as he stared up at Uncle Vernon.
He shoved Harry hard against the bed.
"Wake me up again and I swear to God you won't have any food for a week," Uncle Vernon promised and Harry had no doubt he meant it.
With that, he gave Harry a final shove and strode out of the room.
Uncle Vernon's yelling and shoving never affected Harry, but in that moment, in the wake of his dreams, he had a mad desire to cry.
"What happened to your face?" Severus asked as Harry floo'd into the .
"A fight with my cousin," Harry lied. Snape looked at him for a long moment.
"I'll get you some bruise salve," Severus said simply. Harry nodded. He had woken his Uncle up again the previous night. He had tried to clear his mind, to meditate, but the dreams kept coming: Sirius, Cedric, his parents. He had not gotten a good night sleep in weeks. Neither had Uncle Vernon, and it was doing nothing for his temper.
Severus handed him a bottle of thick cream and Harry dabbed it on his eye. After a moment of assessment, Severus nodded tightly.
"Let's get to it then," Severus said. Before Harry could respond, Severus shouted: "Legilimens."
Surprised, Harry's image of the Gryffindor common room stood for a moment, then disappeared into a sea of blackness and fairy lights.
Cedric's sightless eyes stared up at him.
Harry himself fell through the air towards the Quidditch pitch.
Sirius fell through the veil.
"No!" Harry yelled, falling to his knees.
A moment later, the wood floors came into view, then Snape's boots.
"Are you hurt, Potter?"
Harry shook his head, but didn't get up. "I'm sorry, I'm awful at this," he muttered to the ground. His hands were shaking. He was embarrassed.
"You doing as well as can be expected," Snape said. Harry shakily got to his feet, and Snape reached out and steadied him.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Harry snapped. "Cause you're afraid I'll cry or something, 'cause I won't!"
Most disconcertingly, Harry felt his eyes start to prickle. He had been denied the last few meals and it was making him irritable.
"I'm just being objective, Potter," Snape said, frowning at him.
"Well, I don't need it! Just 'cause Sirius…." Harry took a deep breath, calming himself. "I'm fine!"
"Clearly," Snape said, looking at Harry with some concern.
Harry still looked a little too pale for Severus' taste. Severus flicked wand and tea service materialized on the coffee table. He waved it again and an assortment of biscuits appeared on plate and steam issued from the spout of the kettle.
"I think you've done enough for today," Severus said. "Have some tea."
Despite his anger, it was very hard not to ravenously shove all the biscuits in his mouth.
"Thanks,' he said gracelessly. He settled on a chocolate one as Snape poured them both tea. The strong, hot liquid burned away the sticky, cold feeling his own memories had brought. He relished it. Away from the Dursley's, eating and drinking, Harry's permanently tense muscles started to relax.
"I'm sorry," muttered Harry, embarresed for his outbutst. Snape shook his head.
"Occlumency can be very challenging," he said. "Especially when - well it just can be challenging, Potter. Your frustration is understandable."
Harry met his eye and, uncharacteristically, Snape looked away, seemingly embarrassed.
He cleared his throat.
"Potter, about Black…" Harry felt like Snape had just socked him in the gut. The minor relaxation he had indulged in moments ago was now gone. He was afraid of this, of Snape thinking that Harry wanted to talk about his feelings
"Dumbledore wanted me to inform you that there is going to be a memorial for Black this Thursday," he said.
"Oh - Right," Harry responded feeling quite wrong-footed. There was an awkward silence. "My Aunt and Uncle -"
"If you wish to go, Potter. I will ensure you are able to." More silence. Harry stole a little glance at Snape. It was odd now, their relationship. No longer did he know what he meant to Snape or what Snape meant to him. Only months ago Snape was the last person Harry ever wanted to see, now it seemed like he was only adult he could handle being around - and could handle being around him.
"Oh, ok. Thanks," whispered Harry.
Snape nodded stiffly in response and poured Harry some more tea.
As promised, Severus arrived on Thursday. The white collar and cuffs that Snape typically wore had been replaced with black. He stood beside Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Uncle Vernon kept casting sideways glances at the man. Again, Harry couldn't help but wonder what Snape had said to them to allow him to go.
"Ready, Potter," he said. Harry nodded. Snape offered him a crumpled football - a portkey - and it started to glow blue.
"What the hell is that?" demanded Uncle Vernon as Aunt Petunia gasped.
Before Snape could do more than shoot them a disdainful look the were soaring through the air, like a mad spinning top or a carelessly thrown Frisbee.
They landed hard on a cracked linoleum floor. They were somewhere underground. It looked like an old lou, but there were no toilets, just a bored, curly haired boy who looked up from his book to gave a vague 'hiya' as Snape tossed their portkey into the bin beside him.
The climbed up an iron staircase to a sleepy corner of muggle London. Black cabs rolled past, cafes were beginning to open. It was odd to be with Snape in this world, and they walked in silence through the empty streets of Maryleborne. It was a gloomy Thursday and the perpetually boring neighbourhood was seemed even more dreary than usual. Snape turned towards a small, yellow church. Harry stopped walking.
"Will his body be there?" Harry asked softly. Snape looked at him for a moment then shook his head.
"No," Severus said, clearing his throat. "No. People will just say some nice things and talk about his life. That is all."
Harry nodded, still worrying his lips. He didn't want to cry in front of Snape. He didn't want to cry in front of anyone. He had stopped walking towards the Church. Snape had as well.
"Remus will be there, right?" Harry asked, not knowing if he wanted to see Sirius' old friend or not. Harry knew Sirius' death was his own fault. While he knew Remus had always been kind to him - Harry dared to think that Remus actually liked him - but now that Harry had killed Remus' best friend, he wasn't so sure that he'd be so happy to see him.
Snape nodded and, with that, started to walk towards the Church. Harry sighed and followed.
There were only a few people: Moody, the Weasley's, Tonks, Dumbledore, and Remus who was watching the door. When he saw Harry was come through, he jumped up to his feet and hurried to the door.
"Harry!" Remus' face was kind and when he put his arm around Harry and something inside his stomach unclenched. Harry hugged him back, hard.
"How are you doing, kiddo?" Remus sounded so like Sirius that Harry's heart jumped to his throat. Harry just nodded. Remus seemed to understand.
Harry could see Hermione, Ron, Ernie, Neville, and Luna sitting on a bench near the front. Luna waved at him, and he smiled. Still he couldn't face being cheerful for them, not right now.
"Come, let's go sit," Remus said, keeping an arm around Harry's shoulder. They took a few steps forward. Then Remus turned back. "You're welcome to join us, Severus."
Snape just shook his head and walked to the back row to sit alone. .
After a few minutes, silence fell over the small crowd and Dumbledore stood up walked to the podium. It was the first of his speeches Harry didn't care to listen to. He talked about Sirius' work for the Order, his exploits at school, and…
"Of course, Harry, who Sirius loved very deeply," Dumbledore said, his eyes piercing Harry's. Remus took Harry's hand, and Harry let him. The roof of Harry's mouth felt like sandpaper and he felt irrationally, deeply angry as Dumbledore continued to talk.
Dumbledore didn't know about Sirius. He didn't know that he had been the only person Harry knew who could make Snape laugh; he didn't how Sirius' eyes lit up for whenever he saw Harry; he didn't know how hard it was for Sirius to change and paint walls, buy books and study for Healer's exam, to become a responsible adult. Harry couldn't possible believe that Dumbledore understood how much it meant to Harry that Sirius had become that for him when no one else before had bothered.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Snape. His face was unreadable as he stared at the alter in front of him. Feeling Harry's eyes, he looked over. Harry snapped his head back to the front of the small church.
A wispy haired witch in purple robes started to speak about death and the after-life. Harry focused on his shoes. He never asked Sirius if he believed in the afterlife. There was so much he had never asked Sirius. The wispy haired witch finished, and Harry was glad when he did. It all seemed so pointless.
People started to rise and Harry did too until Remus took his wrist.
"Wait, Harry, I have something for you," Remus said. Harry sat back down and watched as Remus dug a pristine dragon skin box out of his pocket. He opened it to reveal a glittering gold watch with gently spinning planets. It was one of the most beautiful things Harry had ever seen.
"This was Sirius'. He wasn't much for heirlooms, but this watch was probably the most important thing he owned. Your Grandparents gave it to him when he turned 17," Remus said, turning it over so Harry could read the inscription.
We Love You.
Harry and Catherine Potter
Harry fingered the words of the Grandparents he never knew. Another loss.
"I still remember the look on his face when the gave it to him," Remus said, smiling. "You would have thought they had given him a million galleons. The only time I saw him that happy again was when he talked about you. All he ever wanted was to have a family, to belong. You gave him that, you know? You were the reason he was able to keep going on."
"I just - I can't believe he's gone. That I'll never…" Harry stopped, unable to go on and knowing Remus would understand. Remus squeezed Harry's leg.
"I know. Me too."
Harry's eyes were starting to swell. Remus slid the watch on Harry's wrist.
"Remus, are you sure?" he said. "If you want - "
"Don't be silly," Remus said, fastening the latch. "He would want you to have this." Harry swallowed.
"If you're every feeling alone, if you're ever missing him, just look at that," Remus said, squeezing Harry's forearm. "Or you write me, ok? Anytime. If you ever need anything or want to talk, you can always come to me.
Harry swallowed down a thick ball in his throat and nodded.
"Thanks," he whispered, not trusting himself to say anything else.
"Ready, Potter?" Snape said. Grateful to focus on something other than the watch, Harry nodded.
They apparated to Mrs. Figg's backyard and walked silently through Privet Drive. Snape, Harry know, would be perfectly happy to not have any conversation, but Harry found the silence oppressive, and there was something he had to say.
"Thank you, sir," Harry said, as they walked to the door. "Thank you for taking me today."
"It was no trouble, Potter," Snape said irritably, as though the idea that he would do something nice for Harry was embarrassing.
At the front door they turned and faced each other, both uncomfortable. Thinking unhelpfully that they looked like they were ending a first date, Harry had to hold back a laugh.
"Well, Potter, I'll see you next week Thursday then, for our lessons." Snape said.
"Yes, sir," Harry said. Snape looked at Harry. His face was emotionless, but Harry could detect the whirring and spinning of thoughts in Snape's mind as he tried to figure out what to say.
"And my condolences," he said stiffly. He half-raised an arm, like he might pat Harry on the shoulder or something, but thankfully for both of them, he didn't. If it was anyone else 'my condolences' would have seem cold and out-of-place - Snape had, after all, held Harry as he had cried all night - but But Harry knew that even that had been hard for Snape, that he had likely been working himself up all day to say it. Harry was as touched by those three words as he had been by Remus' speech.
"Thank you, sir," Harry said genuinely. Snape gave a stiff nod and turned to walk away. Harry turned back to the Dursley's door with a sigh, feeling oddly alone as he heard Snape apparate back to Hogwarts with a pop.
Harry opened the door. Uncle Vernon was there, almost as though he had been waiting for Harry.
"So, he's dead." Uncle Vernon's blunt statement washed over Harry. He wasn't sure he could feel anymore. Harry just shrugged and started to walk to the stairs.
"Don't walk away from me boy."
When at home with the Dursley's, Harry tried his best to be quiet and obedient just to make the time pass with the least amount of pain and trouble. Right now, he didn't care. Knowing he'd pay for it with a missed meal later, Harry continued up the stairs.
He had only gotten two stairs up when Uncle Vernon grabbed him by the back of is collar and yanked with all his might. Harry slid backwards down the stairs, landing painfully on his ankle.
"You think you can give me cheek now, do you?" Uncle Vernon asked, his purple face and spitting mouth inches from Harry.
"No, sir," Harry parroted, trying not to stutter.
"You think you're a big man now? I don't care what people from the freak school of yours say. You're nothing," Vernon said, painfully grabbing Harry's shoulders. Vernon wasn't usually like this. His anger, his rage, it was usually directed at something Harry had said or done. This unfocused vitriol unsettled Harry.
"You're under my roof," Vernon said. "You will respect my authority."
"Yes, sir," whispered Harry.
The back of Vernon's hand connected painfully with Harry's cheek so hard that it sent Harry to the ground. Apparently, Harry could still feel something.
"Get upstairs," Vernon said, loathing on his purple face. Trembling, Harry picked himself up off of the ground and walked passed Vernon, not daring to look him in the eye. The metallic taste of blood dripped into his mouth.
Ignoring the throbbing in his jaw, Harry lay on top of his thin duvet, watching the sky darken. There was always a point in the summer when Hogwarts finally felt far away and the realization that he had three months with the Dursley's sunk in. This was that moment. Hogwarts was far away. Sirius was gone. As the sun dipped beyond the horizon, Harry imagined the last light in his own soul finally extinguishing.
What would he be doing now if Sirius was alive? Sirius had promised to show him how to fix up a motorbike, maybe they'd be doing that. Perhaps they would be walking around Muggle London, chasing each other on broomsticks, watching Quidditch. Perhaps - and this was Harry's dearest, most painful thought - they'd just be sitting in Sirius' new living room talking.
Harry tasted salt and realized that tears had been running down his face. It made his lip sting. Harry pressed against the cut with his tongue. Sometimes, when he was a kid and really upset about something, he'd throw himself down the stairs. It started when he noticed that when Dudley tripped, fell, Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia would sweep him up and kiss and cuddle him. Harry had been so desperate for affection that he threw himself down the stairs in hopes that Aunt Petunia would comfort him, hold him.
She didn't. Harry landed at the bottom of the stairs with a squawk of surprise and genuine tears (it had hurt a lot more than he thought it would). Harry was not held. Aunt Petunia told him to stop making a fuss and went back into the kitchen. Harry had found solace in the sharp pain of the tumble. For once, he wasn't sad.
He did it time-and-time again until one day, the falls stopped hurting and bruising him. His magic must have protected him. Harry hadn't thought about that pain in a long time - since well before Hogwarts - but lying on the bed, agonizingly alone, feeling his insides burning with emptiness, he craved that physical pain.
His maudlin thoughts were disrupted by the sound of a grey owl pecking insistently at his window. Surprised, he got up and let him in. The bird landed on the bed, seemingly looking at the messy room in disapproval, and stuck a leg out. Harry took of the parcel and the letter and tossed some of Hedwig's owl nuts at the bird, who took them skeptically and flew off.
Harry tore open the first letter.
I thought these books may provide a productive diversion.
Harry ripped open the wrappings. Cavalier and Klay, Moby Dick and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Slowly, Harry ran his fingers over the embossed leather cover and a slow, small smile broke out over his cracked lips. He lay back on his covers and started to read.