It was almost lunchtime. Apart from a short time after supper the night before – "I have detention with McGonagall," he had murmured as he made his escape – Harry had remained in the dorm, the curtains drawn completely shut about his bed. All attempts by his roommates to draw him out or speak to him had resulted in failure. There was simply no response from within the scarlet hangings. They knew the boy was in there, though, as he'd been thrashing in his sleep again the previous night.
Ron stepped into the mostly empty room, motioning for Neville to leave. Hermione was behind him and after the brown-haired boy had left, they closed the door behind him. Moving quietly, they approached their friend's bed.
"Harry?" the boy questioned softly, slowly pulling back a curtain. "You alright, mate?"
Harry lay sprawled across the bed, one knee bent, staring at the ceiling. He still wore his clothing from the previous day, as well as his shoes. As light poured into his impromptu hideaway, he turned his head towards his friends, squinting against the sudden brightness.
"I'm confused," he stated, in the tone of one who had just come to a decision. That also happened to be the case, as Harry had decided that he was quite confused, among other things. Sitting up, Harry put his head between his hands, and groaned, "I don't know what to do!"
Ron climbed up onto the mattress to sit across from the dark-haired boy, and – after pausing to kick off her shoes – Hermione joined them. The bed hangings fell shut again and the three Gryffindors sat in darkness.
"What happened yesterday?" Hermione inquired anxiously. "Are you in a lot of trouble? Oh, Harry I told you to come back sooner!"
"I've got a week of detention with McGonagall, and I've got to write an essay on following school rules," mumbled Harry without looking up.
The girl bit her lip a moment. "Well, you do deserve it, y'know," she pointed out, though, a bit reluctantly. "At least you don't have to do detention with Filch."
"Or Snape," Ron added, earning an elbow in the ribs from Hermione.
Harry raised his head. "He apologized."
"He did?" Hermione asked in surprise, even as Ron blurted, "What?" Blinking a bit owlishly, as though only just realizing his friends were there, Harry proceeded to fill them in on the events of the previous afternoon. Ron was outraged that Dumbledore had given the invisibility cloak to Snape and had to be told to keep quiet so Harry could continue the tale.
"He told me to clean up the mess I made of his classroom, but then he did it himself," Harry concluded, "And then, he... he apologized."
"For telling you to straighten the classroom?" asked Hermione in confusion.
"No – he said I shouldn't have acted like that," the dark-haired boy replied. "But he said he deserved what I said to him and that there was no excuse for how he treated me the last two years. He said he was sorry and he hoped to make it up to me someday."
"Well, I say, sod his apology!" Ron declared.
"Ronald!" Hermione exclaimed.
"What? It's not like he actually means it, 'Mione. The only reason he apologized to Harry is because he found out he's actually his dad. He would have never thought twice about it if Harry really was James' son!"
"You can't know that, Ronald Weasley," the girl admonished, "it could be that Snape would have..."
"Snape said he probably wouldn't have," Harry contradicted. "He said if he could do it again, he probably wouldn't have done anything different."
"See!" the redhead declared. "I knew he was nothing but a greasy ol' git!"
"But he's still my dad," Harry stated softly. Hermione, who had been about to launch another argument, closed her mouth with an audible snap.
Ron gaped. "Harry – you're not going to forgive him!" he exclaimed, horrified by the prospect.
Harry gave a minute shrug, picking at the hem of his pant leg. "I dunno," he muttered noncommittally, "maybe."
"But, Harry! This is Snape we're talking about! Remember how he always -"
"I know, Ron," Harry cut him off. "But – if we could get along, maybe, I wouldn't have to go back to the Dursleys'..." Maybe, I won't ever be locked in my room, again. Maybe... But Harry wouldn't even allow himself to pursue that final thought. It was simply too much to hope for. No one had ever felt more than responsibility for him. He was a burden. Why should Snape – father or not – feel any different?
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. It was an unspoken rule that the topic of Harry's relatives was off-limits. Harry never spoke them except in passing and the other two never brought up the subject. It didn't take too long for them to deduce that the reason for this was because Harry's time with them was anything but happy. The Weasleys' rescue of Harry from a barred bedroom before the start of second year had quite soundly verified as much.
"I don't know what to do," Harry repeated his earlier statement, sounding very young and lost. "He was awful to me before, but... part of me really wants to give him another chance." Had the boy known how palpable the longing in his voice was at that moment, he would never have spoken.
Hermione laid a hand on his knee, her brown eyes seeking out her friend's. "Then, you should do that, Harry," she said, earnestly.
"Yeah, mate," added Ron, a bit hesitantly. He wasn't sure he truly agreed, but he hated to see his best friend looking so sad. "I mean, maybe, Hermione's right. Maybe Snape can change. He didn't wallop you for trashing his classroom."
"And he has been trying not to be as acerbic."
Harry looked from one to the other and back again. Finally, he threw himself back against the pillow, bringing one arm up to cover his eyes. "I don't know what to do!" he mumbled from beneath the crook of his elbow.
Ron and Hermione sighed. They didn't know what Harry should do, either.
Goyle managed to pass off a sigh as a slow, deep breath. The next time he saw his best friend, he decided, he was going to hex him. Malfoy was in a snit and however Vincent had managed to disappear without the blond noticing, he had forgotten to take Greg with him.
It was times like this that the boy wondered whether he actually liked the direction his life was going. "Go along with Draco," his father had told him, "do what he tells you. The Malfoys are a very important family, son, it's best if we remain in their good graces." And so, Greg had done as was asked of him, which had also been requested of Vince by his father.
Was this really all he could expect for his life, though? Sure, he was pants at school – he never had learned to read properly, and the effort often gave him a horrible headache. He and Vince had developed a system where Vince would read their homework aloud and Greg would in turn explain it to him. This didn't help their grades much, however, as Greg's comprehension of the material wasn't a lot better than Vince's. Furthermore, they could only do so when they could get away from Malfoy for a bit. Neither was inclined to give the arrogant boy yet another reason to insult their intelligence.
Some would call him stupid, and maybe he was, he supposed. Be that as it may, Greg Goyle was certain there had to be more to his life than being a Malfoy's mindless, bloody lackey. Surely, his father did enough groveling and simpering for the both of them.
"What's your problem?"
Oops. Forgot to suppress that sigh. "Nothin'," Greg muttered in his low tone. He'd once heard a girl describe his voice as 'raspy', but he didn't think that the case, at all. He considered his voice to be more... 'airy' didn't sound right, either, actually. Maybe his voice was beginning to suffer disuse from allowing Malfoy do so much of his talking for him since he started Hogwarts.
"Right," Malfoy drawled sarcastically. "You're doing enough huffing to power a windmill. Am I boring you?"
Yes. "No. I'm just tired, I guess."
"Well, perhaps you ought to have stayed in bed rather that sneaking out to do Merlin only knows what in the common room last night," the blond declared haughtily.
Greg still had a mild headache from working through half of their assigned reading on his own. He didn't feel any better prepared for classes the following day, either. Sometimes, he really wished he could receive marks even half as good as Draco's. It just didn't seem fair that the blond should have money, looks, and brains – and all of it shamefully taken for granted.
He merely shrugged in response.
With a indignant huff of his own, Draco turned back to stare moodily into the fire, deciding it wasn't worth his time to repeat himself. Perhaps if Goyle weren't such an imbecile, he'd get a little more sympathy from the boy. Sometimes, he wondered if perhaps his two frequent companions were merely humoring him, but each time he just dismissed the idea from his mind. Crabbe and Goyle were simply not that clever.
Speaking of whom... where was Crabbe, anyway? Probably off stuffing his face, somewhere, Draco thought spitefully, so much for his diet. Again. He wasn't pleased with the response he'd gotten from the two of them. They really ought to have been more sympathetic. His godfather was the father of the Boy-Who-bloody-Lived!
Draco had been on the way to Severus' office the day before on the pretense of telling him what had occurred in Hogsmeade. The Malfoy scion loved spending time with his godfather, but also knew the man was busy and had little patience for 'idle chitchat', as he called it, so he always tried to make sure he had some sort of reason before visiting the man.
He was just reaching the door to the Potions classroom – which had, for some reason, been left open – when he'd heard Potter start yelling from within. "Why should I do anything you tell me to? So, you're my father by blood – BIG DEAL! You're no father to me..." Draco had stood beyond the doorway, just able to make out the professor's face as Potter railed against him. And he waited. He waited for Uncle Sev to say something – anything – to contradict that horrible claim that had come out of the other boy's mouth; to tell Potter that he was being an idiotic dunderhead, that there was no way he was possibly related to him, let alone his father.
As he'd continued to watch his godfather's unchanging expression, Draco came to a terrible conclusion. There was only one reason the professor would let Potter get away with saying such a thing: it was true. Potter really was his son.
Malfoy fled the scene when loud crashes started coming from the room. He hadn't been able to see Potter from his position, but it sounded like the other boy had pushed over one or more of the tables. For hours afterward, he had wandered the corridors, feeling like the one good thing in his life was being torn away from him.
Finally, he had gone in search of the only people who might be able to empathize with him, who might possibly comprehend what he was feeling. That was not to be, however. The two ignorant lumps hadn't understood, at all. Draco had the suspicion that Goyle had wanted to utter something dismissive again, even as Crabbe had donned that expression that always managed to make him look even stupider.
He should have known better, and he oughtn't feel disappointed by their lack of empathy, either. After all, a Malfoy didn't have friends – his father had told him that, time and time, again. All Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe cared about were his money and reputation. To them, Draco, the person who was afraid of losing the one adult he trusted, just didn't exist.
Perhaps, it'd be better if he didn't.
Harry hurried down to the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning. Discovering that he had misplaced his Transfiguration essay, he had told Ron and Hermione to go on without him while he tried to find it. To his immense relief, he found the missing assignment where he had left it the night before: on the common room coffee table with his best quill. Shoving both into his bag, he rushed out through the portrait hole and down the many stairs.
As he drew nearer his destination, Harry slowed to allow himself time to catch his breath. Glancing down, he noticed that his shoelace had come untied. He watched it flap back and forth as he walked, deliberating whether he should stop to retie it or wait until he reached the dining table. His gaze thus fixed on the floor, he wasn't aware of his surroundings enough to realize that his path was about to intersect with that of another.
Snape had woken up late. He had gotten immersed in one of his research projects and had stayed up most of the night as a result. Albus, of course, preferred that all his staff arrive in the Great Hall at the beginning of the morning meal. The headmaster would just have to sod his preference for the day, however, as Severus had simply failed to awaken on time.
Approaching the Great Hall, the Potions Master looked down to smooth his robes a final time. He wasn't really a vain man – at least, not as far as his appearance was concerned – but he'd be damned if he didn't look presentable, unlike certain other members of the staff. Before he could bring his head back up, he collided with somebody else, his hands automatically coming to rest on a pair of thin shoulders.
Harry was startled as he suddenly ran into a robed figure. The boy raised his head, an apology on his lips, when a pair of hands landed upon his shoulders, causing him to twitch slightly. Looking up farther, he soon discovered that said hands belonged to none other than his Potions professor.
Snape opened his mouth, a scathing rebuke already on his tongue as he took the reckless brat by the shoulders to prevent him from falling over. A violent flinch shot through the boy at his touch and a moment later he found himself looking down into a familiar set of bright green eyes.
"I'm sorry, sir!" Harry blurted, stepping back quickly. "I wasn't paying attention and -"
"That much is obvious," Snape drawled. Without conscious thought, he reached out to straighten the boy's robe before picking up his dropped school bag and handing it to him. "It would behoove you to pay attention to your surroundings," he admonished, suddenly feeling disconcerted.
"Yes, sir," said the boy, who felt every bit as awkward as Snape did at the moment.
"Well, don't just stand there," the man told him. "You'd best eat your breakfast before you're late for class."
"Yes, sir," Harry repeated, promptly making his escape into the Great Hall.
Snape stared after him, finding himself quite disconcerted, indeed, and not only due to his strange actions. Harry's flinch bothered him, along with the fleeting panic which had flickered in the boy's eyes. Had that been the first time he'd seen the child react in such a way? No. The young Gryffindor had often flinched when caught unaware by those around him – and his friends were no exception. It was almost as if...
As if the boy isn't accustomed to receiving a benign touch, Severus thought, his eyes narrowing. It was then that the conversation he'd had with the werewolf came back to him: "I have reason to believe his relatives don't treat him very well."
"How does a cupboard become representative of a boy's greatest fear?" he asked himself again. Perhaps it was time he started seeking answers.