There was a quiet knock at the door to Snape's office. "Come." He glanced up briefly as Draco stepped into the room. Turning his attention back to the paper he was grading, he made the boy wait until he had finished.
Leaning back in his chair, the Potions Master silently regarded the boy, whose gaze seemed to be focused just beyond his left ear.
"Mr. Malfoy," he inquired, "do you recall the conditions of your restriction?"
"Yes, sir," Draco answered. "I can only have my wand for classes, and I'm not allowed out of the dorm except for classes, meals, and detentions."
"I see," murmured Snape. "So, it is not a matter of your having forgotten, but rather that you refuse to obey."
"It's not like that!" the boy protested.
"It... I – I feel shut in. I just wanted some fresh air!"
"Your punishment is not meant to be pleasant," the professor reminded him, "and your adherence to it thus far hardly earns you any privileges."
"I know, sir," Draco murmured. "I won't do, again."
"Be sure that you don't," said Snape. "You may return to your common room."
The teen turned to leave, pausing at the door. "Sir?"
"Some of the things the older students have been saying," Draco began slowly, "about you and Potter's mum... They're not – are they?"
The Potions Master let out a sigh. "While my relationship with Harry's mother is no one's business, I can assure you that nothing unseemly happened between us. Certainly nothing to support some of the speculation that has been circulating since this morning."
Draco nodded, feeling a bit relieved. He opened the door, then halted. "Professor?"
"What is it?"
"It's my fault," the boy confessed. "I-I told Goyle and Crabbe about you being Potter's father and Crabbe accidentally blurted it out in the common room. I'm sorry."
"I see," said the man. "What's done is done. Return to your dorm; I'm certain you have homework to finish before your detention."
"Yes, sir." Draco finally left, shutting the door behind him.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. It had been a long day and he could feel a migraine building up behind his eyes. Deciding to go back to his quarters and take a headache draught there, he gathered up his grading to finish in his study.
On his way out, the professor paused to look at the jar of mierdim eyes. Violet (as Harry had dubbed the receptive eye) stared back, lens to the glass. The seventh-year NEWT class would be brewing a potion which called for mierdim eyes the following day. Still, the eyeball gazed at him, optic nerve swaying behind it, unaware of its probable fate.
Upon returning to their quarters a few minutes later, Snape stopped to look into Harry's bedroom. He was unsurprised to find that the boy had already returned, even if he hadn't expected Harry to be in his bed, the covers pulled over his head. For a moment, the man thought perhaps he was merely feigning slumber, but closer inspection verified that Harry was, in fact, asleep. Changing the teen out of his uniform and into a pair of pajamas, the professor tuck him back under the covers once more, leaving as quietly as he had entered.
Summoning a headache draught from the medicine cabinet, the man went to his study. Sitting behind his desk, he took the potion and closed his eyes for a moment, leaning back in his chair while he waited for it to start taking effect. As the dull throb in his skull receded, he opened the top drawer of his desk to retrieve one of his grading quills. His gaze immediately fell upon Lily's diary.
Reverently removing the small book from where he'd placed it several months before, the Potions Master turned it over in his hands. Harry had never asked how he'd learned of their possible relation to one another. He needed to speak with the boy, especially now with the rumors and speculation that swept both Hogwarts and the Wizarding world at large. Perhaps, he should let Harry read the scattered account Lily had left of their time together. There was nothing in the diary that Harry didn't have the right to know. Furthermore, perhaps Lily's words might validate the sincere feelings Severus even yet felt for her.
"I wish you were still here, Lily," Severus murmured, caressing the lightly worn leather. "Harry is not the only one who would benefit from your guidance."
Pressing the book to his lips, he set it back in its place. Then, grabbing up a quill, he shut the drawer and returned to grading.
"So, where's your father, today?" Garrett casually asked as he examined Harry's hand.
"Potions lab," the boy answered quietly. "Working on a project."
"It was my understanding that he wanted to be here for your exam."
The healer looked up into the teen's face, but Harry diverted his gaze, shrugging his left shoulder. Garrett eyed the boy knowingly.
"I imagine these last couple of days must have been rough," he continued. "I'm sure there's been a lot of talk -"
"I'd rather not talk about it," Harry interrupted.
"Okay. Have you talked to your father, at least?"
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again, casting about for a response before finally saying, "The professor's been busy. Classes. And stuff."
"Has he?" A trace of skepticism colored the man's tone.
"He has!" exclaimed Harry, a bit too insistent to be wholly believable.
Garrett raised a brow, but refrained from comment. "Have you had any pain?" he asked instead.
"Just when I do my range of motion," the boy answered, glad for the change of subject. "That really hurts."
"I know it does, Harry," the healer said kindly, giving the boy's shoulder a light squeeze. "Any movement?"
Harry shook his head. "My fingers have been tingling, though."
"I'm sure you'll be seeing some, soon."
"How's learning to do things left-handed going?" Garrett wanted to know as he rose to his feet. "Your father is helping you, isn't he?"
The teen felt a wave of anxiety as the topic abruptly shifted to include Snape again. "I can teach myself!" he declared, voice raised slightly with his agitation. "I don't need the professor to help me."
"Harry, you're not avoiding your father, are you?"
Harry just stared at his injured hand.
Healer Cowan crouched down to be eye-level with his patient. "Severus meant to be here, didn't he? You say he's in his potions lab?"
"I didn't want to disturb him."
"You were supposed to remind him, weren't you?"
The boy's only response was to silently redirect his gaze to the far corner of the hospital wing.
"Why are you avoiding your father, Harry?" Garrett questioned. "Is it because of what was printed in the Daily Prophet? Or something you heard the other kids say? Don't you think you need-"
"I don't need him," spat Harry.
Before Garrett could reply, the sound of one of the hospital wing doors closing quietly against its frame drew both of their attention. Harry felt his heart lurch in his chest upon seeing Snape standing just inside the ward, sallow features lacking a readable expression. The man's dark gaze rested upon him for a minute before turning to the healer.
"I apologize for my tardiness," said the professor. "It would seem I got caught up in my work and lost track of time."
"It's quite alright, Severus," Garrett responded genially. He cast Harry another glance before standing. "We were just finishing up. Harry's to continue his range of motion exercises. He may have a mild pain draught when and if he needs one. Also, I'd like him to keep wearing the wrist brace for now, just to help support the joint until he's gotten some movement back."
"I'll see that he does so," Snape assured him.
"Excellent." Garrett gave a nod of acknowledgment, then turned back towards the teen. "Anything else, Harry?"
Harry shook his head, eyes fixed on a flagstone.
"That'll be all for this week, then, Severus," said the healer. "You have my contact information should anything come up."
"Of course," the professor replied. "Thank you, Healer Cowan. We will see you again next Saturday."
"Until, then." The man made his way to Poppy's office where he departed through the floo a minute later.
Harry hunched his shoulders as Snape drew closer, coming to a stop beside the bed on which he sat. An uncomfortably long moment passed, during which Harry wondered why the professor didn't say anything. Finally, Snape picked up the brace from where the healer had left it on the tray table.
"While my assistance is not needed," he said, keeping his tone matter-of-fact, "I should like to give it, anyway. Unless, of course, that would be entirely unacceptable."
Harry ducked his head, cheeks burning. How much had the man heard?
"No, sir," he murmured to the older wizard's toes.
"'No, you don't want my assistance' or 'no, it wouldn't be unacceptable'?" questioned Snape.
"It's not unacceptable," responded Harry. He forced himself to raise his head, though, he couldn't bring himself to look up into the Potions Master's face. "Please, will you help me, professor?" He extended his arm towards the man.
Wordlessly, Snape proceeded to put the brace on the boy's right hand, his gentleness belying his chill demeanor. Harry remained just as quiet. While he could have gotten the brace on, himself, he still hadn't gotten the hang of doing so. Knowing this, the professor often assisted him.
"Thank you, sir," the teen said quietly once the last strap had been put into place.
The man silently regarded his child. Just as they seemed to be growing closer, something would happen to pull them apart again. Weren't their lives already complicated enough? Why was it that nothing could be simple for either of them? He let out a sigh.
"Harry, I've been meaning to speak with you since Wednesday," he began.
"Professor, I've still got a lot of schoolwork to catch up on," Harry replied, a trace of anxiety lacing his tone.
"I'm certain you can spare some time so we can have a discussion," Snape countered, feeling a twinge of annoyance and hurt.
"Please, sir." Imploring green eyes rose to meet the professor's.
There was a brief pause.
"Fine," the man bit out curtly. "See that you have all of your work ready to turn in by Monday." Whirling around, the hem of his robes slicing the air, he stalked from the hospital wing. If the brat wouldn't speak with him, then so be it.
Harry watched as the Potions Master left, feeling a bit hurt and ashamed. Hurt, because part of him wanted to talk to the man, to sort out some of the confusion he was feeling; and ashamed because he didn't want the professor to think he didn't appreciate everything he'd done.
He also felt afraid... so very afraid that he might lose the only father he'd ever had.
"I thought this book was supposed to help," a deep voice complained, a little loud for the library's hushed interior. "Now, I'm more confused."
"We could ask Malfoy to explain it," offered a second, this one a bit gravelly. "It's not like he has anything better to do."
There was a groan of protest. "And listen to him go on about how smart he is? I can hear him now, 'Must I explain everything to you two morons?'" The owner of the voice did a remarkable impression of Malfoy's aristocratic tones.
"Might make him feel better, what with everything else. And we have been sorta avoiding him."
"'Cos he started acting bloody menstrual!"
Hermione slowly peered around the corner of a bookshelf, her eyes confirming what her ears had already told her. It was Crabbe and Goyle. In the library. With their textbooks and various research materials spread out between them. Most of the books seem to be situated near Crabbe, an open text right on the tabletop in front of him, whereas it appeared that Goyle had been taking notes.
"He's always been like that," replied Goyle, leaning back in his chair and tossing his quill onto his parchment. He sighed. "At this rate, we'll be here all night figuring out McGonagall's ruddy assignment. I wanted to get our History of Magic assignment read tonight."
"Dunno why you bother." Crabbe wrinkled his nose in disgust. "It's not like you can actually fail Binns's class."
"I like History," said Goyle. "Everything happened when it happened. There are no rules that are always changing like in Potions or Charms or -" he indicated the books between them with a sweep of his hand "- Transfiguration. No guessing; just facts."
"And headaches, for you."
Goyle shrugged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
"Still think it's dull as chalk, mate," Crabbe declared.
"Maybe," his friend conceded, "but at least I don't need anyone to explain it to me." He pulled his schoolbag closer and started to put his books away.
"Y'know, I'd almost give my inheritance for some of Malfoy's brains," Crabbe mused aloud, following Goyle's lead. "Though, it might not be enough to buy very much to do me much good. Maybe, I could afford some of Granger's."
The girl in question couldn't help but gape in surprise. Goyle shrugged his shoulders, glancing up from his task. He'd opened his mouth to reply, but broke into a mild coughing fit upon seeing the Gryffindor standing less than two meters away.
"You alright?" Crabbe asked. The other boy regained his composure, indicating with a slight nod that his friend should look behind him. With a faint frown, Vincent did so, jerking his gaze back to Greg's once he saw Granger. His eyes went wide. How long has she been there?
Dunno. Greg shrugged one shoulder. "Granger," he said, his tone gruff.
"I needed a book," Hermione told them, pointing to the shelf behind Goyle.
"Oh. Sorry," Greg murmured. He scooted closer to the table so she could get past him.
As she withdrew the book she was supposedly looking for from the shelf, she glanced at them thoughtfully. They were part of a puzzle she'd been putting together since the end of last term and there was just one piece she couldn't quite place...
"What're you looking at?" Crabbe demanded rudely.
Goyle nudged his shin under the table, giving a minute shake of his head. "Was there something you needed, Granger?" he asked the girl. His best friend stared at him incredulously.
Hermione shook her head.
"Then, beat it, already, mud-" Crabbe broke off mid-retort as Goyle kicked him, this time.
"Actually," Hermione said, temper flaring at the partially-spoken insult, "there is one thing I was wondering about."
"And what's that?" Goyle questioned warily.
"Well, you obviously knew about Harry and Professor Snape last term," the girl began, her tone slightly condescending in response to her irritation.
Both boys simultaneously opened their mouths to deny it.
"I saw you push him into Malfoy right before Christmas Hols," Hermione continued before they could speak, motioning first to Goyle, then Crabbe. "I think it was to keep Malfoy from saying that Harry was related to Professor Snape."
"So?" sneered Crabbe.
"I want to know why you waited so long to talk to the Prophet, when you knew all the way back then."
"Why should we tell you?"
"Vince," Goyle sighed. "Shut up."
Crabbe looked offended.
"And if you hafta know, we didn't talk to the Prophet," the more diplomatic of the two continued to Hermione. "We didn't mean to tell anyone. You probably never let anything slip on accident, but we can't all be perfect, can we?
"Now, you've got your stupid book," Goyle concluded, "why don't you return to your high and mighty tower and leave us alone?"
"Yeah!" put in Crabbe, earning a reproving glance from his friend.
Hermione eyed them for a moment, clearly deliberating something. Finally, she nodded her head and left, setting the book down on a table a few rows away as she processed what she'd just learned from Malfoy's most frequent companions.
"Ouch..." Vince groaned once she was gone. "What'd ya kick me for?"
"You talk too much," Gregory replied, closing his book bag. "And you were being rude."
"Why do I hafta be polite to one of Potter's friends?" his companion grumbled, noisily shoving the rest of his belongings into his own sack.
Greg made no response.
Remus entered the staff room, immediately alerted to the presence of his coworker by the scent of stale herbs which hung in the air. The Potions Master was seated before the fireplace, moodily contemplating the flames. Picking his way across the room, the werewolf sat in the chair across from him.
"Don't often see you in here on the weekend," Remus noted.
"One doesn't often see anyone in here on a Saturday night," Severus pointed out neutrally.
Nodding, the brown-haired man regarded the other for a moment. Against his own better judgment, he asked, "Something troubling you, Severus?"
Severus' first impulse was to make a cutting retort about nosy werewolves. He had never been one to confide in others, save for Poppy, on occasion. The headmaster was another that he had spoken to, at times, but apart from them, the Potions Master revealed his thoughts to no one. Even they had been trusted with precious little.
During their education, Lupin had stood beside those who had bullied and ridiculed him, neither taking part nor doing anything to intervene.
"I never understood that," he murmured aloud.
Lupin's brows rose questioningly. "Understood what?"
Dark eyes turned towards him, even more fathomless in the dim firelight. "It was often apparent that you disagreed with the actions of your" – here, Severus sneered – "friends, yet, never once did you speak out against them. I never understood that."
"Ah," Remus breathed. He looked away ashamedly. "That."
"Do not worry yourself," the Potions Master uttered curtly. "I do not expect an explanation from you." He rose from his chair and strode towards the door.
"I was afraid."
"I was timid, insecure," the Defense professor continued. "So insecure. And scared every moment that my secret would be discovered. Lycanthropy is curse I've carried since I was five-years-old. I didn't have a normal childhood, wasn't allowed to play with others my own age. To hide my condition, I was taught to keep myself isolated, apart. Then, suddenly, I was surrounded by hundreds of others. I was terrified.
"When James and Sirius extended their friendship to me..." Remus shook his head, brown eyes seeking out the Potions Master's as he stood to face him. "It felt like a miracle, Severus. I'd always been told that people like me were meant to be outcasts, yet, they offered me the opportunity to belong. I knew they were bullies – saw the way they treated you and others they perceived as inferior to themselves. Even, Peter, at first. So, even though I knew how it felt to be treated like... like vermin, I didn't dare to openly defy them because I was afraid they'd treat me the same way – especially after they knew my secret.
"You are wrong about one thing, though: I did speak up. Several times, in fact. They never took me seriously, thought I was being overly-sensitive. Except for once, fifth year. When Sirius lured you to the Shrieking Shack – I almost never spoke to him again."
"Yet, in the end, you still forgave him," Severus reminded him.
Remus nodded. "I did," he said. "He was one of the only friends I ever had. Maybe I shouldn't have, but James was his best friend and Peter always trailed after both of them and I – I was..." The man trailed off, casting about for the right words.
"You were afraid of being alone," stated the Potions Master.
"Very much so," Remus admitted. "Severus, I am truly sorry I never did more to defend you from them."
"I like to think that I did well-enough on my own," Severus said dismissively.
"You shouldn't have had to," countered the werewolf.
The Potions Master drew in a sharp breath. Never had he realized how much that simple confession would mean to him; how much he had actually needed for somebody else to acknowledge how unjust his treatment had been back then.
How much he had given up on ever hearing it.
"No," he conceded, inclining his head slightly, "I shouldn't have."
"Severus, I really am-" Remus began.
"I think," Severus cut him off, "considering present circumstances, that perhaps we simply ought to let bygones be bygones. Don't you... Remus?"
"I would like that," Remus said, a small smile gracing his features.
"Good. Then, it's settled." The Potions Master shifted uncomfortably, unaccustomed to such situations.
Unfortunately, the werewolf was not content to leave it at that, for he said, "Now. You failed to answer my previous question: 'Is something troubling you, Severus?'"
Severus sighed, indicating that they should retake the seats they had vacated a short while before.
"It appears that Harry has been avoiding me," he said, casting a spell to reheat the cold tea he had left on the coffee table.
"He has?" Remus asked. "Because of what came out in the Prophet on Wednesday?"
"And the resulting rumor and speculation, no doubt," replied Severus. "I had suspected as much a couple days ago, but hadn't confirmed it until this morning – with the aid of the healer, no less."
"Have you considered speaking to Harry? Maybe explain to him a bit?"
"Rather difficult to do when the boy refuses to even remain in the same room with me."
An abrupt chuckle escaped the werewolf, and the Potions Master shot him a reproving glare.
"Sorry," Remus apologized. "I just never expected to see this side to you."
"I suppose not," agreed Severus.
"You may just have to make Harry listen to you," the Defense professor stated matter-of-factly.
Severus arched a questioning brow, knowing the wolf could see the expression despite the poor illumination.
"Harry's your son," said Remus, "but you mustn't forget that he's still a thirteen-year-old boy. At the moment, I imagine, he's confused. He needs his father – you, Severus – to help him sort out some of that confusion, even if he doesn't realize it."
Narrowed eyes contemplated him in the dim light of the fire. "How is it that you know so much about rearing children?"
"Well," Remus laughed, "mostly I just say whatever sounds good."
Severus scoffed. "Fraud," he accused.
"You fell for it," the werewolf pointed out unrepentantly.
The Potions Master sipped at his tea and pretended to ignore him.