"Hmmm?" The boy sleepily opened his eyes, but they dropped heavily closed again.
Severus smirked fondly at the ridiculous brat. He indulged the rush of affection he felt as he rubbed Harry's back a couple of times, but then he landed a sharp swat on the boy's behind.
"What? I'm up!" Harry squirmed around and sat up groggily. "What'd I do?"
"Nothing. Yet," Severus said sternly. It took very little for him to summon the concern that had arisen as he'd toured his home earlier.
"Wait, what?" Harry said in confusion. Now he was waking up. "Are you angry with me?"
"I'm determined to avoid a dire situation by nipping a bad habit of yours in the bud. Right now." Severus told him. When the boy gave him a look of pure exasperation, he knew he would be heard. "I could tell that Spinner's End had been tampered with. The wards held, of course, but someone had made a very determined effort to dismantle them."
"Oh," Harry said. "I haven't sensed anything here yet."
"That's good," Severus said. "But you are no doubt a target, and possibly your Trio counterparts as well."
"Okay," Harry said, growing miffed. "So what was the smack for?"
"That was me taking a fatherly tone with you, and I am prepared to follow through far more thoroughly, if needed." He raised himself up to sit beside Harry on the couch. By now the boy was openly testy and defensive, eyeing him warily. "The first thing I thought of when I recognized the level of skill in the tampering, was that whomever is behind it is quite determined. Anyone who is that determined to get at me, or at Lucius, will likely be equally determined to get to you. My primary concern is you, and your safety. You realize, that is not a new theme for me. I cannot help but recall the numerous times in the past, when I was trying to protect you from behind the scenes, in spite of my vicious attitude towards you, and you made it utterly impossible to do so."
"I was at school-" Harry sputtered.
"You took matters into your own hands, rules and help from more capable adults be damned," Severus told him severely. He was aware that he was coming across as his former self, but felt it necessary to get through to Harry right now, not later, in the event of an attack.
"Severus, I'm not a child now, er, well, I'm legally allowed to defend myself," Harry said, clearly confused by his former professor's tone.
"You are not legally allowed to take the law into your own hands," Severus told him harshly. "And if you would stop and think about the way you act when someone you care about is threatened, you will know exactly what I'm getting at. The war is over, Harry. Law and order have been restored. There is no legal ground for you to decide you know how to handle criminal activity better than Magical Law Enforcement. If you do, you will be treated as a criminal yourself. Are you hearing me?"
"Yeah," Harry said, uncomfortable with being called to the table this way. He darted his eyes up to see that Severus was not satisfied. "I'm hearing you, sir," he tried again. But he turned back to glare at the flames and kept his profile to the older wizard.
"Albus purposely rewarded your foolish risk taking, rather than punish it. I always felt he was quite mistaken to have done so, as I know you are aware," Severus continued, still stern and unrelenting.
"I know," Harry said in a pained voice. "I always expected to be in horrible trouble, but then he'd give me so many points that Gryffindor would win the house cup instead. It wasn't all that great on my end either, you know. I knew I was resented for it, and it didn't feel particularly good."
"When I spoke with Hermione, one of the things she said about you and your plight, that rang quite true, is that you'd never gotten real parenting. You'd had to make due with your friends' input, and an indulgent old coot who thought the world of you, and who carried a world of guilt over his suspicions of what lay ahead for you," Severus said. His tone was softening now because Harry's emotions were getting the better of him, and the sight was nothing short of heartbreaking. Severus watched tears well up and spill down Harry's cheeks as he continued, "I'm encouraged to hear that you knew you'd overstepped and should have been punished. If it had been up to me, you'd have been walloped on several occasions. And perhaps, if you had been, we wouldn't be having this conversation now."
Harry hated hearing this about himself. Nothing about the incidents at school had been fun or easy for him, and knowing that people saw him as spoiled by Dumbledore upset him in ways that he couldn't begin to define. His mind ran through incidents Severus was likely referring to: the troll, the three headed dog, the basilisk, chasing after Padfoot when he'd dragged Ron under the Whomping Willow, chasing after Padfoot, who was chasing after Wormtail, and being chased by Mooney, the time turner, the flight on Buckbeak…. probably for the gillyweed, definitely for the pensive…
"What's behind your tears right now, Harry?" Severus asked softly.
Harry shook his head and buried his face in his hands, feeling mortified. He'd had no one. No one, but his friends in those days, and had always handled things for himself. He'd never wanted to disappoint any of his professors, including Snape, even if only on principle. He could just imagine how much more horrible he'd have felt if Severus had been allowed to punish him back then. It was nothing short of ironic that the arms that were circling around him right now belonged to the very person who'd condemned him the most openly during those times. There was a huge disconnect between that vitriol and this level of caring, and he didn't know how to reconcile it in his mind.
"Harry?" Severus asked. He knew he'd hit a sore spot, but didn't know where Harry's thoughts had taken him. He pulled the boy against his chest and slowly rocked him. "Whatever is going on in your head right now, it's in the past, and cannot be undone. I am concerned about you at this time, and what you will do with your impulses if faced with a crisis." Harry was not yielding to his embrace, so he continued to rock him and began to rub his back again. After several long minutes, Severus could finally feel the boy relax and lean into him, but the tears had not slowed, and he was not sharing his thoughts.
Harry was utterly overwhelmed with sadness, lost in private memories of being alone with his discomfort about who people thought he was, versus who he really was. He remembered comments from fellow students who naturally assumed he was as loved and adored by the Dursleys as they were by their own parents, and how empty he'd come away feeling. It had taken until second year for Hermione and Ron to really get that he was not wanted by his mum's sister, and even then, they still had no idea how he saw himself as a result. He was only at this moment getting some clarity on that, as Severus Snape blindly comforted him, also having no idea who Harry was, buried way down in this depth of his loneliness. And Severus also had no idea how much he'd reinforced that horrible feeling as the cruel-tongued professor. And look, all these years later, and the man was still seeing him as the impulsive brat who thumbed his nose at the poor, good-hearted adults around him, who simply wanted to care for him. Right. Harry had thumbed his nose at them, not because he was arrogant, but because he hadn't trusted any of them, even Dumbledore at times.
"Are you bothered because I threatened you with consequences earlier?" Severus interrupted his thoughts.
He had his cheek resting on Harry's hair, and had completely engulfed Harry within the warm circle of his arms. Harry was still staring into the flames in the fireplace, unable to control his sadness, wishing he was anywhere else but here. He didn't know what to do with Severus' concern. His instincts were telling him to push it away. The only other person who had tried this hard to comfort him was Lucius, and Harry had been able to put significant boundaries up in that regard, simply by physical distance. But Severus was living with him, and there weren't a lot of places to hide secrets from each other here.
The defensive numbness was creeping back, and Harry decided to tell Severus what he wanted to hear. "No, I'm not bothered. I guess you'll keep me in line if I mess up like that again." The words were said dully and his voice was hoarse.
Severus recognized the placation for what it was, and instinct finally kicked in. He reached his forearm under Harry's knees and dragged the teen closer to him, effectively closing the metaphorical distance Harry had just tried to put between them. "You know, you could probably tell me what you're really thinking about, and I'd know exactly what you mean. I am no stranger to being mistreated as a child, both at home and at school. It predisposes a person to have trouble trusting others, and it takes a toll on the way we see ourselves. After all, if our own flesh and blood could so readily dislike us, why shouldn't everyone else?" That did it. Now Harry was clinging to him, burrowing his head into Severus' neck, wracking sobs causing his body to quake. Severus resumed the rocking, his voice tightening with empathy. "Hmmm, let me see, what could you possibly have told yourself as a child that is still with you now? Something about how worthless and stupid you still are? That you should have found better ways to deal with things, so that no one would have been angry, or disappointed in you? That no one really cares?"
More time passed, the only sounds being the crackling of the wood within the flames, and the slowly quieting sobs of the distraught teen.
When Harry was finally cried out, Severus gave him a long squeeze. "You are not stupid, nor are you worthless, and nothing you could ever do would make me see you in that light, Harry," he said. "And the same can be said for every person in your life. You are deeply adored. You are deeply admired. Many want to emulate you. Many do emulate you." His back was straining from the way he was twisting at the waist to hold Harry, so he slowly released him and leaned back into the cushions. He conjured a handkerchief for Harry and the boy mopped his face, blew his nose, and flopped back too as he vanished the used cloth, so Severus draped an arm over his shoulders.
They both sat in silence.
Harry had that feeling again. It was the one he'd had after letting loose on Lucius, the one that was equivalent to dizziness at what had just come out of him. And yet, he'd said nothing this time. Severus had guessed. Severus had said it all for him. Severus got it. He understood the part of Harry that Harry himself had never acknowledged out loud. His inner loser. And Severus had one too. Harry knew this with absolute certainty because he'd seen it in his former professor's face over tonight's dinner.
"What are you thinking right now?" Severus asked gently.
"I'm thinking I'm not so alone after all," Harry told him. He felt a kiss on the top of his head and smiled slightly. "And neither are you."
They were both watching the flames.
"Are you going to tell my why you came in here, making threats and smacking me around?" Harry finally said.
Severus chuckled in spite of himself. "I did no such thing," he said, but before Harry could start sparring with him he went on to explain his earlier mindset. "The Lestranges, if they are indeed the ones behind the tampering, are a threat to our safety. Kingsley said there had been a couple of unconfirmed sightings, and as they are the only ones I know of who would have the gall to think they could get past my wards, I take this as confirmation that it's them. We cannot be foolish about our actions in public, Harry. Neither one of them is particularly skilled in the instinctive magic required to dismantle wards, but that does not leave us safe. They are each powerful, and ruthless, and have nothing left to lose. They are alone in their quest, so it's doubtful they'd openly attack in public, or in a situation where backup on our behalf would be readily available. I'll wager the first plan was to try to do a home invasion and abduction. Having failed at that, they will study our habits and find a weakness where we could be caught unaware." He cast a wandless tempus. "It's late to bother Lucius, but I will want to gather with not only him, Narcissa, and Draco, but also your close friends, and Kingsley and Arthur to compare intelligence on the matter as soon as possible."
"Alright," Harry said calmly. "I've got the gang coming over here to have a go at dueling tomorrow after lunch, so we could meet here if it is convenient for our esteemed Ministry officials."
"Good," Severus said. He reached his hand up to card through Harry's hair. "Could you sleep now?"
"And Harry, about what I said earlier-"
"Ugh, please don't repeat it," Harry begged. "I heard you. I'd rather die than be arse over tea kettle, getting whacked by your fatherly hand, alright? It's not going to happen." He jumped to his feet and scooted around the table as if to get out of Severus' reach.
"Goodnight, Harry," Severus called in amusement from behind him as he darted out of the room.
The following day did not yield the meeting Severus had hoped for. It did however result in a planned event at Malfoy Manor, which would include opportunities to learn and practice warding on the manor's grounds, as well as a few rounds of dueling for those who wanted to have a try. Severus had been more than a tad alarmed at both Miss Lovegood's and Neville Longbottom's declarations that the existing wards on their family homes had been there for years. Luna added that her father had been reluctant to replace theirs, even after he'd rebuilt over the damage the Death Eaters had done to their home. Her mother had been the original castor, and Xenophilius still considered her waning magic as the final tie to his wife.
Severus and Harry were taking tea at Malfoy Manor, discussing the most practical starting point for teaching Neville and Luna how to ward, and then which in their group could help add layering if Madam Longbottom and Mr. Lovegood were open to the enhancement to their security.
"I've never seen Neville's home," Harry commented. "But Luna has. She's referred to it as a manor, so I've envisioned it to be quite grand."
"It certainly was in its day," Narcissa confirmed.
Severus nodded. "I've been there. Alice and Frank hosted Order meetings early on. It's about half this size. I'm betting Augusta set her wards with the two of them years ago. She had little reason to fear invasion by Voldemort's despots because she has always kept to herself, and kept her silent support of the Light as much under the radar as was possible. Neville could feasibly add a layer to what exits to adequately enhance it."
"It's frustrating that Father and I can't help with this off grounds," Draco griped. "I'm good at warding. I'd like to help."
Lucius nodded his approval and agreement, his expression grim as his own frustration began to surface.
"We are reaping the rewards of our previous actions, gentlemen," Narcissa said in an authoritative tone, "and that will be the end of the complaining. We are Slytherins, are we not? Certainly there must be a way to provide the help we'd like to provide, and still honor our restrictions."
The corner of Lucius' mouth curved up slightly. "Yes, love."
"What about hosting some sort of…. class, or would it be a symposium?" Harry suggested.
The Malfoys looked at each other and then at Harry. "Good idea," they all said in unison.
Severus smirked at Harry, who was on a roll now.
"Yeah, that would be perfect!" Harry enthused. "This is the 'giving back' opportunity that you wanted. Your manor is perfect for teaching both the theory and the practical, and as word gets around that you really know what you're doing, people will be more willing to come over here to attend. And everyone truly will be safer. It'll be great."
"Slow down, Harry," Severus said, although he could see the boy's enthusiasm was contagious. Lucius' eyes had lit up and he'd no doubt started a mental class syllabus in the past thirty seconds. "We have the not-so-minor issue of the Lestranges. I think it would be best to limit the access of guests just yet. You aren't the only one who knows how to Polyjuice himself to gain entry to a restricted building, are you?"
Harry frowned. "Hmmm. Good point."
"But it can be the long term plan," Lucius said. He gave Harry an approving look before turning to Draco. "And you are correct, son, you are excellent at warding."
"Thank you," Draco said with satisfaction.
"So, for this weekend, then," Lucius continued, addressing Harry again, "we will limit the attendance to present company, plus your Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, Mr. Longbottom, and Miss Lovegood. Agreed?"