"Now, stay," Snape intoned.
Harry blinked, his mind taking another second to process what was happening. Then, it struck him. "I'm thirteen!" he exclaimed in horror. "You can't put me in time-out!" The boy started to turn, the better to gape at the man, but as the Potions Master still had a hold of his shoulders, he didn't make it very far.
"Then, next time, I suggest you act like it, instead of behaving yourself like spoiled four-year-old," Snape advised. "Now, you will stand here, and you will do so quietly, until I tell you otherwise." With one hand, he took Harry by the back of the head and gently, but firmly, turned it until he was once again staring into the corner. The professor waited a moment until he was sure the boy would do as he was told before releasing him and moving over to his desk.
Severus summoned the fourth-year essays from his office as he seated himself. Harry wriggled a moment in his corner and let out a small, indignant huff before growing still again. Between Lily and himself, it was rather inevitable that the boy would inherit a temper. Unfortunately, it would seem their son had taken after him in that department – Lily had always been more rational when she was angry.
If truth be told, Snape's first impulse had been to smack the insolent brat upside the head and set him to work scrubbing the dungeons ceiling to floor. How dare he yell at him and trash his classroom? No sooner had the thought entered his mind, however, than he'd recoiled from it, images from his own youth rising up to taunt him. He was angry and – were he to be honest – rather hurt, but he was loathe to strike a child. That the idea had even occurred to him unnerved the man. Snape did not want to become his father.
So, he'd put Harry in the corner, not only to punish the boy, but also to give himself time to master his own temper. He needed to speak with his son, without alienating him further. The man knew what he ought to say, but could he actually say it? And would it have any effect?
Stone, Harry decided, was about one of the most boring things to stare at known to mankind. He imagined plaster might be even more dull, but as he'd never actually stood in time-out before, he couldn't say for certain. He shouldn't have pushed over the tables. Yelling at Snape probably wasn't among the most intelligent things he had done, either. Harry knew that just because he was still breathing didn't mean that Snape couldn't still kill him. The man could probably turn him into potions ingredients and no one would be the wiser. Hermione and Ron might suspect, but they'd never know for certain. Harry would simply become the Boy-Who-Disappeared.
As the Gryffindor was contemplating this, there was a quiet knock at the classroom door (which hadn't been closed after Harry burst into the room). "Professor Snape?"
The Potions Master looked up to see one of the fifth-year Ravenclaws standing in the doorway with his textbook. "Yes, Mr. Myers?" he inquired.
"May I ask you something about the reading, sir? I'm not sure I quite understand," said Myers. Snape waved him forward, and the Ravenclaw boy complied. His gaze flickered about the room, taking in the toppled tables and stools on either side, and the half-empty bookshelf. Spying the younger boy standing in the corner, his eyebrows rose in surprise. Isn't that..? Shrugging to himself, he said nothing.
Harry had believed himself to be humiliated upon realizing that Snape had put him in time-out. That was nothing compared to the embarrassment of another student bearing witness to his standing in the bloody corner. With a groan of distress, he let his head fall forward so his face rested against the adjoining walls.
"No leaning," the professor admonished as the Ravenclaw opened his text to the baffling passage. Harry straightened obediently and the man turned his attention back to answering Myers' question.
"Right," the boy said, looking like he wanted to smack himself. "I should have remembered that. Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome," Snape told him, "Close the door on your way out."
Snape picked up his grading quill and rolled it between his fingers for a moment before setting it back down. "Come out from there," he said, then added, "Please." Harry trudged over to stand in front the desk, his gaze directed somewhere past the man's right elbow. "Clean up your mess, then we will talk."
"Yes, sir," Harry murmured. The boy moved to the first table he'd shoved over and gripped the edge nearest himself. Bracing his feet against the stone floor, he tugged. Nothing. Attempting a better hold on the thick wooden slab, he pulled again. This time, he was rewarded by a slight shift in position, but by and large the table remained obstinately resting on the tables and stools beneath it.
Harry decided if he survived righting all the furniture, he'd let Snape talk to him all he wanted.
Severus watched, quill once more in hand, as Harry dragged a table away from the others and attempted to lever it up from the other side. "I HATE YOU!" The boy's words had stung, even if he knew he had earned them. Those words, which he himself had been too frightened to speak to his own father until he was almost out of school, had been flung back in his face by his own son.
His son. Not James Potter's – his and Lily's. He was struck with the realization that he didn't want Harry to feel the same about him as he had for the embittered Tobias Snape. He didn't want his son to hate him, nor have any reason to do so.
Harry had managed to get the first table upright again, leaning against it to catch his breath. The tables in the Potions classroom were large and dense. In fact, an adult would likely have difficulty maneuvering them, Snape thought, let alone a boy. And Harry was a boy – no bigger than many first-year students, really. Such a small boy... had he been that small?
With a flick of his wand, Snape righted the remaining tables and stools. Harry jumped in surprise, turning to eye him incredulously. Another swish of his wrist towards the bookshelf and the fallen volumes replaced themselves.
"Come over here," he said, after casting a privacy charm on the door.
Harry reluctantly complied, pressing his back against the table in front of the professor's desk. Snape laid his wand on top of his paperwork and moved around to stand across from the boy, removing obstacles from between them while still maintaining some distance. Harry watched him warily, clearly uncertain what to expect.
"Never," Snape spoke quietly, "in my years of teaching, have I witnessed such a display of temper in my classroom. You behaved abominably and the way you... spoke to me..." He paused.
Harry tensed. He was dead. He was so dead. What was he thinking? Oh, that's right, he hadn't been! Snape's tone remained even, but that had never meant anything good in the past. All too often, it had been a sure sign that Snape was royally pissed. He should have just forgotten about the cloak. Sure, it was his, and dead useful, and he'd like to have it back, but it couldn't possibly be worth his life.
"I... deserved that." Harry's mouth dropped open as Snape went on, forcing out words that were hard for him to say. "I admit that much of the way I acted towards you was to earn your loathing. I thought, if I made you hate me, my own unconscionable behavior would be justified. It never occurred to me that you might – I believed that your mother... It doesn't matter what I believed. I was wrong, and I owe you an apology.
"There is no excuse for how I treated you, even if you had been James Potter's son," Severus confessed. "I wish I could say that I would have eventually realized this on my own, and corrected my behavior, but the truth is... The truth is that I'm a petty man, who took out a schoolboy grudge upon an innocent child. If I could go back, I'd like to say that I'd act differently, but I probably wouldn't.
"I don't expect you to forgive me – I was never fair to you – but I am sorry, Harry. I'm sorry I hurt you, and I hope that... someday... I might be able to make it up to you."
Harry's mouth snapped shut, then opened again. Snape had just apologized. To him. The cold-hearted, bitter-tongued, dungeon-dwelling bat of Hogwarts had apologized to Harry Potter. His father had said he was sorry.
Finally able to get his mouth to function properly, Harry asked, "May I be excused, now? Sir?" His gaze dropped to the floor as Snape studied him a moment a longer.
"Yes, Harry," the man replied at last, his tone almost soft, weary, "you may leave, now."
Harry slid along the table until he reached the aisle, slowly taking several steps backwards before abruptly whirling about and running for the door. He jerked it open and fled down the corridor.
Severus Snape stared at the open door long after his son's footsteps had faded into the distance.
"I hate you!" Harry's words came back to him, echoing relentlessly through his mind.
At the moment, Snape hated himself.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed. She ceased her pacing to rush over to the boy as he stepped through the portrait hole, Ron half a step behind her.
"Not now, you guys," Harry pleaded, stepping around them.
"Are you-?" Ron began.
"I don't want to talk about it!" The dark-haired boy darted towards the dormitories, taking the steps two at a time. Upon reaching the room he shared with the other third-years, he climbed onto his bed and drew the curtains. Hugging his knees to his chest, Harry scrunched his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to drown out the noise in his head.
Naturally, this succeeded only in bringing the images more forcefully to the front of his mind: Snape straightening the classroom full of heavy tables after ordering him to do it; the man's dark eyes boring into his with a glimmer of something akin to regret; his firm, yet gentle grip as he steered him into the corner; his voice, betraying no emotion, yet absent of malice as he apologized.
"I am sorry, Harry."
Harry shook his head in denial. No. This wasn't happening – it couldn't be!
"I hope that... someday... I might be able to make it up to you."
Harry bit his lip, fighting back sudden tears.
The door opened. "Harry?" Ron's voice drifted hesitantly to him. "You alright, mate?" Harry shook his head again, but made no response the redhead would be privy to. The door closed and the Boy-Who-Felt-Utterly-Confused was left alone once more.
This couldn't be happening. Snape had been so terrible to him, he had treated him like no decent father should treat his son, how no teacher should treat his student. How could Harry possibly give him another chance?
Why, in Merlin's name, did he want to?
The door swung open to admit a lone figure into the elaborate common room. In a daze, he trudged across the floor, lacking his usual regal bearing. His gray eyes seemed oddly distant, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.
In the far corner of the room, one boy kicked another under the study table. "Ouch!" Goyle hissed, looking up from his headache-inducing textbook. "What was that for?"
"Incoming!" Crabbe returned, pointing with his quill, adding a splotch of ink to the wooden tabletop which matched those on his otherwise blank parchment.
"Wonder what's got into him..?" the taller boy muttered.
"Dunno," said his friend, "but I've a feeling we're about to find out." A few seconds later, Malfoy reached the table and slowly lowered himself into an empty chair.
"You alright?" Goyle asked uncertainly. Draco gazed at them each in turn, before glancing about the surrounding area. A secret matter, then, the other two deduced. Greg cast a privacy charm around them as both he and Vincent leaned forward expectantly.
Even so, Draco spoke scarcely louder than a whisper. "I know why Uncle Sev's been acting differently towards Potter," he murmured. Crabbe and Goyle exchanged a look. When the blond didn't immediately continue, the former spoke up.
"Why is that?" he asked.
Draco's face crumpled into a miserable expression foreign to his proud features. "Potter's his son."