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While I Was Fearing It, It Came

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 While I was fearing it, it came,

But came with less of fear,

Because that fearing it so long

Had almost made it dear.

The potion was a vivid shade of green. It reminded Harry of the neon lights he’d seen in the windows of the tacky video stores Aunt Petunia always complained about. Ruining the neighborhood, she called it. She’d even filed a complaint with the local council.

This potion had nothing to do with video stores. It gurgled unpleasantly, and a bubble popped from the surprisingly viscous surface. Harry jumped back at once, peering cautiously over the edge of the cauldron once he realized he hadn’t been splattered by the potion. One of Hermione’s most recent crusades was the lack of lab safety equipment compared to the Muggle science classes she took over the summer. For once, Harry completely agreed with her. He would feel a lot safer leaning over a temperamental potion if he had safety goggles on.

“Don’t be frightened, Mr Potter. It won’t bite.”

Snape’s lazy drawl came from behind Harry, who cringed at the sound. He thought avoiding a splattering potion was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and he was certain that in any other situation, Snape would have agreed. But the opportunity to disparage Harry was too great to pass up, even at the expense of Harry’s safety.

Git, he thought to himself unhappily, refusing to respond to Snape’s taunt. After a moment, Snape moved on to harass Neville, and Harry felt himself breathe a bit easier. It was so hard to focus with Snape looming all the time.

Carefully, he diced his yarrow leaves, keeping an eye on the potion, which should be shortly turning to a shade of forest green, assuming he had done everything correctly. Besides the yarrow, there would be just one ingredient left, but Snape was saving those instructions for the end of class once everyone had their potion in the same place. “It’s the most important step in the brewing process,” he had said at the beginning of class, “and I don’t want you dunderheads forgetting what I tell you about it between now and then.”

Harry was content to wait. It certainly made no difference to him when Snape chose to share the final steps of the potion’s preparation. The potion was supposed to allow its drinker one hour of extrasensory perception, which manifested differently for each person. According to Hermione’s excited whispers when she saw the day’s assignment, some wizards could see auras or magical bonds, while others experienced events happening in distant locations. Harry hoped that wasn’t the result he got. He’d already had enough experiences seeing things through Voldemort’s eyes, and he certainly wasn’t interested in a bonus session.

His potion hissed angrily and Harry quickly jerked over to look at it, stirring it twice anticlockwise before the potion settled to a darker shade of green. Double-checking his instructions, Harry carefully added his diced yarrow leaves, stirring slowly as he did so. The leaves dissolved into the potion, and the whole thing went instantly clear. If Harry wasn’t still stirring, he wouldn’t even be able to tell that the potion was in his cauldron.

A moment later, Snape appeared over his shoulder, looming again. Harry held his breath, but Snape didn’t make any comment, which he supposed was a good sign. The professor stalked over to Ron’s potion, which was not the same shade of clear that Harry’s was, and began to berate him instead.

Harry felt bad for his friend, of course, but he couldn’t help being glad that it wasn’t his potion getting chewed out for once.

After a few moments, Snape returned to the front of the classroom. “The last step,” he announced with no preamble, “is required to key the potion specifically to your magic. The potion manifests differently in every wizard, and the differences are generally attributed to the particular strength each witch or wizard carries in his or her magic core. You will need to add three drops of your own blood, no more, no less. It is essential that you only add three. Any more will make the potion highly volatile, and I do not want to spend my evening scraping your remains off the walls. Are we clear?”

A muttered round of ‘Yes sirs’ echoed the classroom.

Harry picked up the penknife he used for whittling his quills and flipped the blade open. His reflection stared back at him in the metal, wide-eyed. He swallowed a bout of nausea. Pull yourself together, Potter, he thought angrily to himself. It’s just a little cut for the potion. You can do it.

And he could. That was exactly the problem.

He brought the blade to the tip of his left index finger, but he couldn’t make himself press it in. He held it against the callouses that his fingertips had accumulated from Quidditch, but he couldn’t bear to break skin.

Harry dropped the penknife to his desk with a clatter, breathing shakily. He was being ridiculous, he told himself. It would just be a nick. It wouldn’t be the same.

“Mr Potter?” Snape said, swooping up from behind him. “Why haven’t you added your final ingredient?”

“S-sorry, sir,” Harry said breathlessly. He was having a hard time focusing on the room around him. All his attention was locked on that shining blade and his unbroken skin. He could feel his heart racing in his chest, feeling like it was about to burst out. He picked up the penknife once more, moving slowly, hoping that Snape would stop his damnable lurking and move on to the next student. He should have known he would never be so lucky.

Harry could feel Snape’s dark presence over his shoulder as he lined the blade up against the tip of his finger once more. Just push it in, Potter, he told himself. Three drops. That’s all you need. Around him, other students were finishing up and bottling samples of their potions, but he felt dazed and unable to focus. I can’t do it, he thought with a rising sense of panic. I’m not going to be able to do it.

Snape turned away and returned to the front of the classroom. “Label your samples and turn them in to me,” he announced to the class. “They require one week to steep, and then you will be able to sample them if I deem them safe for consumption. Dismissed.”

Harry put the penknife back down again. Maybe this was the solution. He could just turn in the clear base potion without adding the final ingredient. Then Snape wouldn’t make him test it, would he? He’d said it was volatile and dangerous if not done right. There was no way that he’d force Harry to drink an incomplete product.

Well, Harry reflected, it was Snape. He might do just about anything to Harry.

He’d almost decided to bottle the sample and leave when Snape moved back over to him. Harry stifled a groan. The classroom was mostly empty as this point; only a few stragglers were still packing up their school bags.

“Mr Potter,” Snape said quietly, his voice deadly calm as always. “Why have you not completed your potion?”

Harry swallowed nervously. “I, uh… I think I messed it up too much. Sir,” he hastily tacked on.

Snape raised a sardonic eyebrow at him. “Really? Perhaps you’ve never brewed a potion correctly before, so you wouldn’t know what it looks like.” At Harry’s blank stare, Snape added, “The potion is acceptable, Mr Potter. It just requires completion.”

The classroom was empty now. Ron and Hermione were probably waiting for him in the hallway, but if he didn’t come out soon, they might get worried and barge back in. At Snape’s expectant look, Harry slowly grasped the penknife for the third time and held it to his finger.

Then, with the lightning-quick reflexes of a seeker, he dropped it, snatched up his wand, and Vanished the entire potion from the cauldron.

Snape’s face went from calm to a funny shade of purple. The sight made Harry nervous, but for once, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Twenty points from Gryffindor,” Snape said sharply. “What in the name of Merlin was that, Potter?”

Harry’s wand trembled in his grasp. He could feel the Dark Place swirling around in the recesses of his mind. His flight instincts were screaming that he needed to get out of that classroom as quickly as possible. “I… it…” He didn’t have a remotely valid excuse. “It was…”

Snape looked at him coldly. “Clean up your equipment and come to my office, Potter,” he said. “And tell Mr Weasley and Miss Granger you will not be joining them for lunch today.”’

Shaking slightly, Harry did as he was told. When Snape disappeared from the classroom into the door that connected to his office, Harry dropped back into his chair, taking long, shuddering breaths. He could feel the tears welling up inside his eyes, and he forced them back angrily. He would not do this here. It would have to wait until the end of the day.

Just a little wouldn’t hurt.

Harry curled his right hand and dragged his fingernails along the length of his forearm, just hard enough to leave scratches but not to break the skin. He repeated this process twice more, focusing on his breathing becoming calmer and more even. After a moment, the niggling sensation of an itch in the back of his mind started to fade, and his surroundings slowly came into focus.

Harry took a shuddering breath, pulled down his sleeve, and finished packing his school bag. After assuring Ron and Hermione (who were indeed waiting for him) that he had to see Snape for some petty reason, the two went off to lunch without him, though Ron had threatened to complain to Dumbledore if he wasn’t back in time for Charms. Feeling like a man facing the guillotine, he turned back into the classroom and knocked on Snape’s office door.

“Enter,” came a lazy voice from the other side of the heavy oak door. Harry pushed open the door nervously and stepped inside.

“Yes, Professor?” he said, feeling a little more steady on his feet.

Snape was sitting behind a massive desk made of dark wood. He peered at Harry like he were a particularly distasteful species of slug he needed to pickle. “Sit,” he said sharply, gesturing to a tall-backed wooden chair that Harry knew from experience was incredibly uncomfortable. Harry sat.

“Tell me,” Snape said slowly, “why you Vanished your work in class today.”

Harry knew it was coming, but he still didn’t have an excuse ready. “I just… did,” he said lamely, knowing that Snape wouldn’t buy that answer for a second.

“You just… did,” Snape repeated, his voice sounding dangerous. “That’s not a reason, Potter, and we both know it. Normally I wouldn’t care about your own attempts at self-sabotage in my class, but you deliberately disobeyed me when I instructed you to complete your potion, and that does not sit well with me.” His dark eyes glimmered malevolently. “Now I ask you again: Why did you Vanish you potion today?”

He had to say something. Harry settled on a half-truth, hopefully something embarrassing enough that Snape would accept it at face value and let the whole thing go. “I was scared,” he said quickly.

“Scared?” Snape repeated. “You were scared? Of what, might I ask?”

“I… uh… the… blood.”

Snape rolled his eyes. “You’re not scared of blood, Potter. For one, you’re a Gryffindor. For another, you seem to face down the Dark Lord with alarming regularity. If you were afraid of blood, you wouldn’t have made it past your first year in this castle.”

“What do you want me to say?” Harry shouted, suddenly filled with the same irrational anger that’d been so hard to shake since Cedric’s death. He jumped to his feet, unable to sit any longer. “What would you have me do? I couldn’t make myself break skin, okay? Is that so hard to believe?”

Snape was still eyeing him with curiosity. “It is hard to believe,” he agreed. “Why were you afraid of breaking skin?”

Harry clenched his fists tightly. “I just… I couldn’t… I was afraid that I…”

All the anger drained out of him at once, leaving him exhausted. He slumped back in the uncomfortable chair. “I was afraid that if I started again, I wouldn’t stop,” he whispered to his knees.

Snape didn’t respond, and Harry didn’t look up. The moment dragged on longer and longer until Snape abruptly said, “When?”

Harry didn’t need clarification. Still staring at his knees, he muttered, “First time I was seven. Last time was this summer.”

“Seven,” Snape whispered. Harry got the sense he was talking to himself more than Harry.

Abruptly, Snape stood up. “Come,” he said sharply.

Harry stood up as well. “Where are we going?” he said quickly.

“By all rights, I should be taking you to the hospital wing,” Snape muttered. “But I won’t. Come with me.”

Harry supposed he didn’t have much say in the matter. He trudged along behind Snape, following him back through the Potions classroom and down a long corridor and two sets of stairs, leading them even further into the dungeons. His mind was just starting to entertain possibilities of Snape murdering him and hiding the body in the deepest bowels of the dungeons when they arrived at an innocuous wood door. “Hemerocallis,” Snape said quietly, and the door unlocked with a click of the latch. Snape swung the door open. “In,” he said.

Harry stepped inside, and immediately felt the need to flee. He was standing in what must be Snape’s personal quarters. They were in a large room with a massive stone fireplace dominating the better part of one wall. Bookshelves lined most of the available wall space, and the stone floor was covered with an odd variety of mismatched area rugs. In front of the fireplace was a black couch and two black armchairs. There was a coffee table in front of the couch that had dirty dishes on it. The knowledge that Snape had left dirty dishes behind suddenly felt far too intimate to Harry.

Despite his panic, Snape refused to move away from the doorway that represented Harry’s escape route. “Sit,” Snape said instead, pointing at the sitting area. Feeling skittish, Harry walked over and sat on one end of the black couch, fidgeting nervously. Snape closed and locked the door, then followed, sitting in the armchair perpendicular to Harry’s end of the couch. After a moment of silence, he stood back up again and said, “Tea?”

Whatever Harry had been expecting, it wasn’t that. “Err… yes? Please?”

He half-expected Snape to berate him, but the Potions Master said nothing. The man simply walked across the room to the open kitchen, filled a kettle with water, and put it on a stove burner to boil. Harry sat silently, staring at his hands.

When Snape returned, he was carrying a tray with two teacups and little containers of milk, sugar, and lemon wedges. He pushed the dirty dishes aside and set the tray on the coffee table without comment, then sat back down in his armchair, sipping from one of the cups. When he looked at Harry expectantly, Harry leaned forward and dumped a tablespoonful of sugar in his tea and topped it off with milk. He stirred it all together and took a tentative sip.

Snape nodded approvingly. Good. Harry just had to keep meeting Snape’s expectations and Harry thought he might have a chance of avoiding this conversation after all.

His hopes were unsurprisingly short-lived.

“Why did you stop?”

Even though he knew the interrogation was coming, the question startled Harry. Still, there was no point in backing out now. He was in Snape’s private quarters, sipping tea Snape had prepared for him. Whatever Snape wanted to ask him, Harry wouldn’t deny. He was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but he wasn’t going to incur Snape’s wrath while he was still in the man’s living space.

Why did he stop? It was a good question. He’d stopped on and off ever since he’d started, with varying degrees of success. Most recently, he’d stopped because he’d managed to turn his despair into a constant simmering rage, and when he was angry, he felt the need to hurt others, not himself.

“I stopped… because I didn’t need to anymore,” Harry said.

Snape raised a single eyebrow. “But you were worried you would start again?” he said.

“I… yes.” Harry took another sip of his tea, avoiding Snape’s eyes. “I was worried that I would relapse. It’s happened before.”

Snape sighed, suddenly sounding incredibly bone-weary. “Do you think you will start again?” he asked, more gently than Harry would have thought possible.

Harry shifted nervously in his seat. “Honestly… probably. At some point. The longest I ever went was all of first year. I thought I was done then, but things… just kept happening, you know? And once you start…”

“It’s so much harder to stop,” Snape finished. Harry looked up sharply. “Why did you start?” Snape asked when Harry met his eyes.

Harry turned away and looked at the teacup still clutched in his hands. “My aunt. She told me I had bad blood. And I mean, I was just a kid, I didn’t know better! And I thought… you know… if I got the bad blood out, then maybe…”

“Potter,” Snape said sharply. Harry jerked his gaze up again. “Your aunt. Did she say this in jest? A poor example of a joke, perhaps? Or did you misunderstand an adult conversation?”

Harry shook his head. “It definitely wasn’t a joke, sir,” he said with a wry grin. “She told me that my whole life. Said I got it from my no-good freak parents. Of course, now I know she meant magic, but as a kid, I didn’t have a clue.”

Snape stilled from where he was reaching to pick up his cup. “You didn’t know you were a wizard?” he said slowly, clearly unable to believe what he was hearing.

Harry shook his head. “No. Not until Hagrid came and told me. The Dursleys really hated me after that, since they know their efforts at fixing me didn’t work.”

Snape’s expression was cold. “And how did they try and ‘fix’ you, exactly?” he said.

Harry shrugged. “Aunt Petunia never told me anything about my parents,” he said blandly. “She said they were no-good lazy unemployed drunks who died in a car crash. Of course, I didn’t know any better until Hagrid told me otherwise, so I guess I always thought they were doing it for my own good. Trying to make me better than my parents were, you know? That’s what Aunt Petunia told me. She said I had bad blood and what they were doing was trying to fix all the bad stuff my parents gave me.”

Snape’s face was contorting in barely-contained fury. “They told you… that your mother was a lazy drunk?” When Harry nodded mutely, Snape stood, picked up the dirty plate from earlier, and threw it at the ground with savagery that surprised even Harry. It shattered loudly, pieces of ceramic flying in all directions. The man stood still for a moment, chest heaving, then turned to face Harry.

Harry couldn’t help it. He flinched.

Snape anger dissipated at once. He sat back down heavily and ran a hand through his long hair. “I apologize for my conduct,” he said stiffly.

Harry nodded, reluctant to say anything further. Snape let them sit in silence for a moment before continuing his line of questioning. “What kinds of things would they do?” he asked. He seemed to make making a tremendous effort to seem gentler. Harry appreciated the effort, if nothing else. He almost found himself wanting to open up to Snape, and Merlin, wasn’t that a thought! He’d told other people bits and pieces of it, but never all at once, and never enough to piece the whole story together. Then again, he realized with a jolt, this was the first time anyone had ever bothered to ask.

“Punishments,” Harry said quietly. “I had chores, and if I didn’t get them done, they’d punish me. Or if I did something to make things bad for Uncle Vernon or Dudley. Or if I did something ‘freaky.’ They hated that more than anything.”

Snape closed his eyes. “I assume by ‘freaky,’ you mean common accidental magic?”

“Yes,” Harry said softly. “One time I Apparated onto the roof of my school. My cousin and his gang were chasing me, and I wanted to escape, and then –”

“You Apparated,” Snape repeated, sounding dumbfounded.

Harry nodded. “Yeah. Obviously I didn’t know the word for what I’d done then, but in hindsight, that’s what it had to be. Same with the snake right before my eleventh birthday. I didn’t know I could speak Parseltongue then, so I didn’t know anything was wrong about talking to snakes until I accidentally set one free at the zoo.”

Snape exhaled a shuddering breath. “And your chores?”

“The usual stuff,” Harry said. “Cooking, cleaning, gardening. That sort of thing.”

“Indeed,” Snape said, his lips pursed. “And why did you continue after that first incident with the… bad blood?”

Harry didn’t respond. He took a long sip of tea from his teacup and avoided Snape’s gaze, watching the hypnotically crackling flames in the fireplace. They were so dangerous, but they were also so beautiful. The raw force and power was fascinating. As Harry watched, a flame licked its way up a thin branch of kindling and wrapped around the top, burning merrily. The fire cracked and embers jumped out on to the stone hearth. They glowed determinedly for a few seconds before their light was extinguished, unable to be sustained any longer without support.

“Because… it made me feel good. Calm. In control.”

Snape exhaled a deep breath. “And why would hurting yourself make you feel in control, Potter?”

“Because…” Harry closed his eyes, and his words were barely a whisper. “Because at least then it would be on my own terms. Sir.”

Snape nodded, but to Harry’s great relief, did not speak. Harry stared at the glowing embers in the ashes of the fire, watching their lights wink out one by one, like clusters of burnt-out stars. He startled when Snape sat down next to him on the couch. So intently he’d been focused, Harry hadn’t even noticed the man moving from his chair. He pulled in his elbows a little tighter, unable to resist the instinct to make himself seem smaller.

Snape gazed at him with that same oddly discerning look he’d had ever since he’d brought Harry to his quarters. After a moment, he seemed to come to a decision.

“Cokeworth,” he said.

Harry blinked. “What?”

Snape ignored him. “It’s a town in the Midlands. Nasty place. The streets are narrow and packed with identical row homes. The sky is always dark from the smog that the factories put out. The factory owners also owned the workers’ houses, and they took a substantial rent stipend out of each paycheck. There was a river that ran directly through the center of town. It might have been wild, once, but it was penned in by stone canals and polluted besides. It was vile, and the air always smelled of ash and dead fish. The people couldn’t risk demanding better conditions because they couldn’t afford to lose their jobs and their homes. It’s a town where hope goes to die.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Harry asked warily. Snape looked at him appraisingly, and seeing nothing mocking in Harry’s demeanor, seemed to decide to continue.

“It is where I grew up. It is also where your mother and your aunt grew up.” At Harry’s aghast look, Snape’s upper lip curled and he continued. “I think it will help you make an educated guess as to the nature of our upbringings.”

“You knew my mum?” Harry breathed. “Why didn't you ever tell me?”

Snape sighed. “It was never something you needed to know. What I am also telling you, Potter, is that I know your aunt. She was a spiteful, wicked child, and I dread to think about the kind of woman she grew into later in life.”

Harry chuckled without much humor. “Like you said, sir. She may be an adult, but she still acts like a spiteful, wicked child.” After a moment’s silence, he added, “Sir? What was my mum’s last name?”

Harry could feel Snape’s gaze resting on him, and he looked down uncomfortably. He probably shouldn’t have asked such an impertinent question. Clearly there was a reason he’d never been told that Snape knew his mother as a child. Nonetheless, Snape said quietly, “Evans. Her name was Lily Evans.”

Harry nodded and tried to blink back the tears that seemed to well up out of nowhere. It was such a simple piece of information, and yet… He had never known. For fifteen years of his life, he hadn’t even known his mother’s maiden name.

“Lily Evans,” he said quietly, turning the name over in his mouth, feeling the shape of his lips as his spoke. “Lily Evans. Lily Evans from Cokeworth.”

“Potter…” Snape said without menace. “How did you aunt treat you at a child?”

Harry shuddered and shook himself out of his stupor. “She hated me, of course,” he said plainly. “She hated my mum, so she hated me too.”

“She hated you, and she gave you chores, and punished you if you did magic. Is that right?”

Harry nodded, unable to see what Snape was getting at. Like a dog with a bone, Snape wouldn’t let the topic drop. “How did she punish you?”

Harry shrugged listlessly. “Mostly she didn’t want to be bothered about me. No meals, time in my cupboard, things like that. Sometimes she’d hit me with the frying pan, but only when I really deserved it. Once I learned to stop trying to make her love me, things were better because we mostly avoided each other.” When Snape didn’t respond, Harry risked a glance up at the man’s face, which was dark and angry. “Sir?” Harry said quietly. “I’m sorry, sir. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I can go now…”

“Stay exactly where you are,” Snape said without emotion. “This conversation is not yet over.”

Harry nodded quickly. “Right, right, sorry. I…”

At this, Snape softened ever-so-slightly. “I’m not angry with you,” he said to Harry, who wasn’t entirely convinced. “I’m angry with you aunt who was supposed to be taking care of you. Children are meant to be loved and cared for. Those who are unwanted and unloved know it all too well. It can affect how they see their place in the world.” He gave Harry a discerning look. “Do you think your life is valuable, Potter?”

Harry was taken aback. “I… what?” he sputtered out.

“Do you think your life holds value to the world?” Snape repeated, only a hint of annoyance tinging his tone. Harry was shocked to realize that Snape was actually trying to be civil. Surely it went against his natural instincts to be anything but sharp and irritated with Harry. Struck by this, Harry took a moment to genuinely think on his answer. It didn’t take long.

“No,” he said truthfully. “I think I’m already living on borrowed time, and I’m probably going to die by Voldemort’s hand sooner rather than later. People act like I’m some savior, but I’m not! I’m just some stupid kid who keeps getting lucky. And there’s no way my life is any more valuable than the lives of the people that died to protect it.” He closed his eyes, seeing the flash of green light across the insides of his eyelids. “There’s no way I deserved to live more than Cedric did.”

“I see,” Snape said quietly. “Potter, if I let you go now, could you promise me that you won’t hurt yourself?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He probably would be fine. He was fine in class today, for the most part. He hadn’t had a relapse since over the summer, but he’d been too busy being angry to pay much attention to the looming despair clawing at the edges of his peripheral vision. But could he one hundred percent guarantee Snape that he wouldn’t hurt himself? He could feel the need set deep in his bones, a raw, visceral instinct to attack without concern to cost. He was at once the predator and the prey.

He covered his face with his hands. “It’s under my skin,” he whispered into them. “The itch. I don’t know if…”

Snape grabbed his wrist and pulled it away from his face. “Look at me, Potter,” he said, his tone serious. Trembling, Harry looked up and tried to maintain eye contact with the man. It felt scarily intimate, like Snape was seeing into the depths of his soul. “Have you ever made a mistake and gone too far?”

Harry was sure if he could see himself in a mirror, he would be paler than Nearly-Headless Nick. His body shook, and he determinedly focused on controlling his breathing so he wouldn’t hyperventilate. “I… not by mistake.”

“Intentionally?”

“Yes.”

“How many times?”

“I don’t know. I lost track.”

Snape was still gazing at him like he’d never seen him before. Harry resisted the urge to break the eye contact and dart away. Snape still had a hand on his wrist, and the warmth of the man’s fingers pressed on his pulse kept him hyperaware of Snape’s presence. He felt like a specimen in Snape’s laboratory.

“Why are you being so decent?” Harry asked before his sense of self-preservation, small though it was, fully kicked in.

Snape gazed at him for a long moment before releasing Harry’s wrist. Carefully, he rolled up the right sleeve of his robe, unbuttoned the long sleeve of his shirt underneath, and rolled that up as well. Harry’s breath caught at the sight of the faded silver lines that decorated the majority of the skin on Snape’s forearm. They were in perfectly straight lines, methodical and orderly, just like the man who had inflicted them. When Harry glanced up at Snape for an explanation, Snape said, “Your mother and I were best friends for many years. She would respond the same way to you as she did to me. In this case, I feel I am compelled to act in her place.”

Harry was sure his heart had stopped beating. “You… and my mum? You were friends?”

“The very best of friends,” Snape murmured. “Your mother is the reason I am alive.”

“Sir… I…”

Snape waved him off. “Don’t gibber at me, Potter,” he said, rolling his sleeve back down and re-buttoning it at the cuff. “Do you know how to summon ice cubes?”

“Ice cubes, sir?”

A flicker of a smile came over Snape’s face. “Yes, Potter. Ice cubes. When you need to scratch the itch, hold an ice cube to its place until it passes or the ice melts. If it is still there when the ice is melted, come find me.”

Harry blinked. “I… thank you, sir.”

“Do you need one now?”

Harry thought on it. Part of him didn’t want to admit it, but another part of him was screaming for satisfaction. He knew if he ignored it much longer, the tunnel vision would set in and he wouldn’t be able to focus on much else but the need to hurt.

It seemed Snape already knew the answer. He conjured a piece of ice out of the air and handed it to Harry without comment. Harry took it and placed in on his forearm over top of the scratches from the end of class. The cold seared deep in his skin, and Harry grit his teeth as the sharp pain washed over him. After a moment, it faded to a gently pulsating burn. He couldn’t help the shuddering exhale of relief that followed. “Thank you,” he whispered, still half-focused on the heartbeat of cold emanating from the epicenter of his forearm.

Snape didn’t reply. He stood and began clearing the dishes from the tea, eventually taking them to the little kitchen and rinsing them in the sink, leaving Harry behind in front of the fire. Harry held the ice down until he found the entire thing had melted in his hands, leaving his arm wet and numb. His senses were still inwardly focused, and Harry could feel the warmth moving throughout his body and slowly spreading back in to his arm. His heart rate seemed to have slowed, and his breathing had calmed to match it. The world felt hazy, like he had woken from a dream but was still half asleep.

He was surprised when Snape came up behind him and set a firm hand on his shoulder. Turning, eyes wide, he saw Snape’s breath catch as he looked at Harry. After a moment, Snape seemed to shake himself out of his stupor. “The lunch hour is almost over,” he said. “If you don’t want to attend your afternoon classes, I can write you an excuse. You are welcome to return to Gryffindor Tower if you so choose.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Okay… I… Professor?”

“Yes, Potter?”

Harry shuffled awkwardly. “Could I… I mean, would it be okay if I…?”

It was almost eerie how Snape always seemed to know what he was thinking. The man’s face softened for a brief moment, and he said, “You may also stay here for the afternoon. I have classes to teach, but you may remain as long as you do not venture beyond this room or the bathroom.”

Harry felt himself relax unconsciously. “Thank you,” he said, feeling as though he were repeating himself. “For… all of it. Thank you. No one’s ever… no one’s ever bothered before.”

Snape’s eyes were gentle when he said, “Lily was the only one who ever bothered for me. Someone needed to bother for you.”

Without further explanations, Snape grabbed a stack of papers from a side table and swept out the door. Harry watched him go with a surprising sense of loss. He could tell that something had changed between the two of them, but he wasn’t entirely sure how that would manifest in the future.

For the moment, Harry contented himself with curling up on the sofa and staring into the warmth of the fire, which was burning more brightly than ever.