If there was one thing Harry was absolutely certain about, it was that it was never a good thing when the entire Great Hall fell silent upon one's arrival. He unconsciously pressed his injured hand against his body. Surely, his confrontation with Malfoy wasn't that great a source of gossip almost a week after the fact? But he couldn't fathom what else could possibly have the entire school talking about him.
Swallowing hard, Harry took a step further into the dining hall. Instantly, the talking started up once more.
"How long do you think they've known?"
"I still think it's a lie."
"Whattaya know. Harry Potter, son of..."
"Bet ya anything the slimy git -"
"HARRY!" Hermione exclaimed right in his ear. She and Ron seemed to suddenly materialize on either side of him, taking him by the arms and steering him back out of the Great Hall.
"What's going on?" Harry demanded, once they'd moved a ways down the corridor. "What is everyone talking about?"
"Everyone knows, mate," Ron told him.
"Knows what?" squawked Harry.
"That Professor Snape's your father!" said Hermione. "It was on the front page of the Prophet this morning!"
Harry felt his stomach clench. It wasn't that he was so opposed to Snape being his dad as he was at first – it had been actually going well, so far – he just wasn't ready for everyone else to know, too. What would people say? Judging by the reaction to his presence in the Great Hall a moment before, it probably wasn't anything good. The Slytherins were gonna hate him. Well, worse than they did, already.
"Who told?" he asked, breath quickening as panic began to set in.
"We don't know," Hermione answered.
"Think Snape did it?" questioned Ron.
"No," Harry shook his head manically, gasping to summon enough air to speak. "He – he wouldn't without a-asking me, first." Would he?
"Harry?" the witch put a hand on his shoulder, concern overtaking her features.
"You alright, mate?" pitched in his other friend.
Harry pressed the brace against his chest, struggling to calm his breathing, to little effect.
"Harry, breathe!" Hermione's tone rose in pitch as she used her other hand to lightly smack his cheek. "Harry?"
The Potions Master had stopped in his lab before breakfast, becoming sidetracked as he check the potion he'd left to cool overnight. He was a bit startled when there a sudden knock and the door opened.
"Severus? Are you – there you are." It was Lupin, and he appeared to be worked up about something. "Someone's been talking to the Prophet," the man told him, brandishing the paper at him.
Snape took it, unfolding it to read the front page.
Boy-Who-Lived Son of Former Death Eater
"The whole student body's talking about it already," Lupin continued.
"Where's Harry?" Snape demanded.
The werewolf shook his head. "I came to find you as soon as I saw the headline."
Tossing the paper aside, the man pushed past his coworker, and hurried out the door. Harry had said that he would eat breakfast in the Great Hall with his housemates, even though he still seemed reluctant to do so. While part of him hoped that the boy's reticence had gotten the better of him, Snape knew that Harry often chose to face any perceived challenges head-on. With this in mind, his long strides carried him to the dining room.
Snape had just reached his destination and was about to go inside, when he heard voices a little beyond the Entrance Hall.
"Harry, breathe!" Miss Granger's voice, a touch of panic coloring her tone. "Harry?"
He hurried towards the sound.
"Yeah, c'mon, mate – you're scaring us!" Weasley was saying as he rounded the corner. Harry appeared to be having a panic attack.
Pushing the two other teens aside, Severus took his son by both shoulders, crouching down to be eye-level with him.
"Harry," he spoke calmly and firmly. "I need to calm yourself."
Harry tried to pull away and he tightened his grip a bit, ineffectual shallow breaths just passing the boy's lips.
"Harry – look at me." Panicked green eyes met his. "Slow, deep breaths, son. You need to calm."
Finally, the boy sucked in a lungful of air, hiccuping on its way back out.
"That's it," Severus murmured soothingly. "Deep breaths. It's okay, Harry. I'm here."
"Th-they're talking about me, again," Harry managed after a few moments, tears trailing down his cheeks.
Snape brushed them away. "I know," he said quietly.
"Why c-can't they find s-someone else to talk about?" The boy's tone was so hurt that the man felt his own heart aching.
"Because they are a bunch of gossip-mongers with nothing better to do," he replied, rising to his feet. "Come along. We're returning to our quarters." He put an arm around the boy's shoulder and Harry pressed against his side.
Hermione and Ron looked on anxiously, suddenly finding themselves outsiders to the scene. Neither Snape nor Harry seemed to pay them any mind.
"Think he'll be alright?" Ron asked as they watched their friend leave with the Potions Master.
"Of course, he'll be alright," Hermione snapped, though, she sounded less certain than she usually did.
A group of upper-year students exited the Great Hall and walked pass them, eagerly talking about the article in the Daily Prophet.
"How long do you think it'll be before everyone stops talking about this?" he queried.
The girl chewed her lip a moment before answering. "Too long," she decided.
Snape moved between desks, going through the motions of monitoring his sixth-year NEWT level class despite the fact that his thoughts were elsewhere. After the appearance of the article in the Daily Prophet, he had intended to have Harry excused from classes for the day. When he'd suggested as much at breakfast in their quarters, however, the boy had insisted on attending. Not that Snape had been surprised by this.
I only wish I'd had time to speak with the boy, first, he reflected grimly.
"Professor Snape, sir?" One of his Slytherins flung her hand into the air. Suppressing a sigh, he turned to face her. She'd been shooting him speculative glances every time she thought he wouldn't notice since class began. It had only been a matter of time before she spoke up.
"Yes, Miss Harding?" he inquired. He didn't fail to notice that the entire class had grown still to listen.
"The article in the Prophet this morning," said the teen. "Is it true? Are you really Harry Potter's father?" Her tone, though genuinely curious, was laced with skepticism.
The Potions Master deliberately swept his gaze over the room, causing the more timid amongst his students to lower their eyes. "I presume all of you are interested in the answer to Miss Harding's inquiry?"
"Yes, sir," responded a Ravenclaw, others murmuring in agreement.
Snape refrained from frowning. Instead, he took his time in drawing in a breath and candidly replied, "It is true. Harry is my son."
Everyone seemed to start speaking at once.
"Told you it was true!"
"How is that even possible? I bet that-"
"Wasn't Potter's mum a mudblood?"
"So that's really why Malfoy attacked him?"
"It's a lie. Has to be. Poor Harry..."
"Professor, how long have you known? Does Potter know?"
"No wonder Malfoy's been even more of little prat than usual. If I found out my godfather..."
"This is ridiculous – the entire school knows how much you hate Harry!"
"SILENCE." Snape commanded. The room fell abruptly quiet. "If you are all quite finished prying into my private affairs, I do believe that all of you have an assignment to be completing. Unless, of course, you have grown weary of learning, in which case, I shall simply fail all of you and spend this time doing something far more constructive.
As one, the class immediately turned back to their potions. Snape recommenced stalking around the room, scowling at any who dared to look up from their work. He almost wished he had insisted Harry remain in their quarters, but he knew that would have only been putting off the inevitable. He just hoped that the boy might somehow be spared some of the ghastlier speculation that was certain to be going around.
Harry stubbornly shook his head. He was not setting foot in the Great Hall again, not after all the gossip and speculation he'd been hearing all day. Had Snape really been a Death Eater? Why hadn't he told Harry himself? And if that was true, did that mean that what those seventh-years had been saying was also true? What else had the professor not told him? Had the man really...
The boy shook his head again, right arm wrapped firmly about his middle. "I'm not hungry," he croaked. "I'm not eating dinner." He stepped around his friends to make his way towards the dungeons. Ron and Hermione quickly fell in step on either side of him.
"We'll walk you back to your quarters," Hermione stated needlessly, shooting a glare at a group of Hufflepuffs who started whispering as they passed.
Harry kept his gaze fixed on the floor as he walked, his friends moving along beside him. He was grateful for the lack of conversation; he didn't feel as though he could have stood it, just then.
They made it to the corridor Snape's quarters were on without incident only to come face to face with Malfoy. Crabbe and Goyle were following a short distance behind him. The blond stared at them for a moment, before wordlessly walking around them.
"Hope you're happy, Malfoy!" Ron spat after him.
The Slytherin turned to look at him. "I don't know what you're talking about, Weasley."
"Well, obviously, you're the one who spoke to the Prophet," Hermione reasoned. "You had the most to gain."
Goyle's brows drew together as he nudged Crabbe, who was looking anywhere but at the three Gryffindors.
"Just drop it, you guys," Harry murmured quietly.
"Obviously," Malfoy sneered. "Because I'm clearly not in enough trouble, already."
"Shoulda kept your mouth shut," Goyle hissed to Crabbe, but his tone wasn't quiet enough to keep their classmates from overhearing.
"You told those two morons?" Ron demanded incredulously.
"Oh, shut up, Weasley!" Malfoy snapped, coming to their defense. "No stupid blood-traitor's-"
"Just STOP IT!"
Everyone turned to stare at Harry, who swiped at each eye with his left hand. He stared back at them, before finally shaking his head and walking away, arm once more pressed to his chest. Malfoy took a step after him.
"Pot-" he began, but broke off. An expression foreign to his arrogant features flickered across his face before it settled into one of indifference. "Crabbe, Goyle," he said, clearly expecting them to follow, which they did after exchanging a glance between themselves.
Hermione frowned after them, but kept her thoughts to herself, even as Ron gazed worriedly after their retreating friend.
Draco glanced up at the Head Table, slender fingers picking at his dinner roll. Professor Snape was absent, which made sense – he was probably down in his quarters with Potter. He scowled bitterly down at his plate for a moment, then sighed. Potter... Snape – whoever he was, now – hadn't looked that well when he'd seen him a short while before. The blond didn't blame him, though, he'd sooner die than admit it. Draco, himself, wasn't entirely unscathed by the article, having so recently been the source of injury to the celebrated Boy-Who-Lived.
And some of the things people were saying about his godfather...
He gave up on the dinner roll, placing its remains atop his napkin and adding another for good measure. Relieving a platter of its last two slices of meat, he wrapped up the food and tucked it into his pocket. Another glance at the staff confirmed they were all sufficiently occupied by their own meals. Rising from his seat, Draco quickly made his way out of the Great Hall and exited the castle a moment later.
A large, bedraggled black dog sat on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, ears laid back, growling quietly every few minutes. He'd read the article in the Daily Prophet that morning. Harry Potter the son of Severus Snape – ha! He didn't believe it for a second. At the moment, he couldn't decide which infuriated him more: that such a blatant lie was being circulated as truth, or that Malfoy's brat actually tried to kill Harry.
The dog's attention snapped towards the voice calling out to him. Rising to his paws, his trotted towards the boy standing near the castle. I'll show you, 'Here, boy', he thought darkly.
Draco smiled as the stray ran in his direction. He knew it was only a matter of time before he got in trouble for his unauthorized excursions but he hadn't, yet, and seeing the large dog made it feel worthwhile.
"Hey, boy," he greeted as the animal came nearer. It didn't slow, however, and his smile was quickly replaced by an expression of surprise and fear a split-second before the dog rose up on it's hind legs and hurtled towards him, slamming him into the ground. Large, sharp teeth appeared as the dog barked and snarled in his face. Draco brought an arm up in an attempt to shield himself, whimpering in terror.
The dog drew back as the boy beneath him whimpered in fear. Abruptly, he recalled a bit of what the boy had said the day before. "Wh-when I thought I'd killed him, I... I felt so – I never want to feel that way again. I don't want to be that sort of person, I don't!" He stepped away from the teen, who remained on his back in the snow, arm across his eyes.
"You have committed a very grave offense, Sirius."
The boy pulled his arm away from his face, gasping to slow his breathing and fight back the urge to cry.
"I already said I was sorry!"
"For nearly getting your friend discovered, yes, but I don't believe you feel any remorse for what you've done to Severus."
Draco sat up slowly, eying the dog warily as he brushed snow from his robes.
"Who cares? It's just Snivellus. He's nothing but a no-good snake."
"I'm very disappointed in you."
He gazed at the boy in front of him, whose gray eyes were reddened with unshed tears. "I messed up," this boy had told him, those same eyes full of guilt. "I don't want to be that sort of person, I don't!"
The dog growled again, though, he couldn't have said just for whom it was meant. Huffing to himself, he nosed the pocket of the boy's robe, where he could smell the scraps that had been put there.
Draco gave an incredulous laugh as he scrubbed a hand across his eyes. "Crazy mutt," he accused. Nevertheless, he handed over the food he had brought, and the dog heartily accepted it.