Harry threw his quill down on the desk in frustration, then gave his textbook a shove for good measure. No way would he complete all his missed work by Monday – he couldn't even write legibly. Rising fitfully from his chair, he pushed it in and flopped down on his bed, grabbing his pillow and holding it close.
Snape promised to help him, but since Harry refused to talk to him, that meant he wouldn't anymore? How was that any more mature than Harry was acting? At least Harry was still a kid.
The boy sat up, staring at his door. He hadn't meant to sound so desperate to evade the man. Maybe the professor's feelings were hurt? And Harry did want to talk to him, missed talking to him – missed everything they had achieved before that stupid article came out. Furthermore, he needed help, or at least more time, to complete all the essays he needed to write.
Jumping to his feet, he made his way to the door, hoping the professor would still be awake despite the late hour. His hand was just closing around the doorknob, when a seventh-year's leering tone filtered through his mind once more.
"Betcha ol' Snape-"
Harry shook his head violently to rid himself of the memory before it could fully play out – and it wasn't the only one, either.
He backed away from the door. He couldn't speak to the man, he just couldn't. The teen was too afraid of what the professor might say... or not say. Over the past few months, he had allowed himself to grow close to the man, to trust him, to think of him as his father. If Snape had really – if he'd...
Harry scrubbed sudden tears from his cheeks. He wouldn't think about it. He couldn't. Pressing his braced arm against his chest, he leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so lost and uncertain and alone.
Hermione stopped, turning to look back into the study nook she'd just passed. She'd been certain yesterday had been a fluke, or an exhaustion-induced dream from running herself a bit thin with all the time-turning. But, no. Real as life before her eyes sat Gregory Goyle, studying in the library once more.
"Where's Crabbe?" She had not meant to voice the question aloud. In fact, she didn't realize she had until Goyle's head whipped around to face her.
"Said he's taking the morning off," the boy responded. "Let me guess, you need a book?" He eyed her critically.
Hermione shook her head. "No, I just... I didn't know you studied so much in the library," she blurted, again without meaning to speak at all.
"Did you need something, Granger?" Goyle asked after a minute.
"Why do you get headaches from reading?" She had to stop this, but the questions just kept popping out before she could clamp her mouth shut.
"What?" the Slytherin demanded.
"I... Well, yesterday, I overheard Crabbe say our History of Magic readings give you headaches."
For a moment, the boy looked at a loss as to whether to be angry or just ignore her. Finally, a faint flush coloring his face, he looked down, frowning at his textbook.
"My brain don't work right," he answered quietly, "so, when I look at a bunch of words, the letters don't stay where they're s'posed to."
This time, Hermione managed to keep her next thought to herself, filing the information away for later. "I still have to read our assignment, myself," she lied. "Would you... would you like me to read aloud to you for a bit?"
Brown eyes raised to narrow on her skeptically and Hermione was careful to appear as neutral and kind as she could.
"I guess," Goyle said slowly. "If you really want to."
"Great," Hermione smiled, taking the seat across from him and pulling his book towards her. "Where were you?"
"Here," he said, pointing a third of the way down the first page.
"It was three years later that Darkscalp the Inquisitive discovered the means by which to even the odds against their oppressors..." the girl began, noting that the Slytherin allowed his eyes to fall shut before she had finished the first sentence. Never would she have expected to see the boy so... vulnerable. Shaking her head incredulously to herself, she continued reading aloud.
Harry stood on the edge of the frozen lake, staring off into the distance, his right arm pressed against his diaphragm. It had become a bit of a habit, really, pressing his arm to his front when he was anxious or upset. Not that Harry was consciously aware of it.
A cold breeze swept past and the boy pulled his cloak tighter about himself. He should really go inside, he knew, especially since he was already chilled to the bone, but he couldn't bring himself to do so. The more time spent indoors, the likelier he would hear someone gossiping about him or Snape or his mother – or any combination of the three. There was also a greater likelihood that he would run into Snape, himself, and the more Harry put off facing the man, the more terrifying the thought became.
The boy started when something damp pressed against his hand. Turning, he found himself facing a large, black dog, who looked up with him with sad, brown eyes.
"Oh, hello, there," Harry said, crouching down beside the dog as he reached out to scratch its ears. "Where did you come from?" He looked around, but no one else was currently visible in the snowy landscape.
The dog put its head forward to press its nose against his arm brace.
"What, this?" asked Harry, stretching his arm out for the mutt's perusal. The dog let out a faint whine. "I got injured," the boy told the dog. "The nerves got damaged, so I have to wear this until they get better. … if they get better."
A soft huff was emitted by the dog and Harry gave a small smile.
"I reckon you're right. I should be more optimistic, shouldn't I?" Harry shivered from the cold and the dog cocked its head, whining once more. "Bit cold, isn't it? Guess I should go inside."
The boy stood, his gaze again sweeping their surroundings. "Isn't there anyone to feed you?" he wondered aloud, looking back at the animal. "Tell you what, I'll bring you something a bit later, alright? You'll have to stick around, though."
Brown eyes stared calmly back at him. Scratching the dog's ears one last time, Harry moved towards the castle, the canine trailing along behind him.
After Harry had a chance to warm up and eat lunch, he'd gone back outside to take some scraps to the dog, but it was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, he went back inside and wandered the corridors. Ron and Hermione had offered to join him in all this, but Harry had wanted to be alone.
Rounding a corner, Harry immediately turned around again, but it was too late. He'd been seen.
"Well, what do have here?" one of the two sixth-years exclaimed loudly to his friend. "If it isn't ol' Snape's little bastard!"
Harry clenched his teeth. Several people had been referring to him that way, recently, and he didn't care for it one bit.
"Now, now," interjected his companion. "He still goes by Potter, after all."
"Then, it's bastard Potter, is it?" chortled the first boy.
"Sounds about right," agreed the second.
"Leave me alone!" Harry told them, sending a scowl their direction.
"Whoa-ho! Certainly looks a bit like Snape, doesn't he? Funny how I never noticed that before."
"Well, that's probably because he looks like his mum, don't you, Potter?" His first tormentor fixed him with a rather foul sneer. "So, did your daddy tell you all about it, Potter? How a filthy Death Eater became the father of the Boy-Who-Lived? Did he tell you all about what he did to your mother? How he -" He broke off, yelping as he was struck with a stinging hex.
"I see you still have to speak ill of people to feel better about yourself, Brighton." Malfoy stood at the opposite end of the corridor, wand still raised.
"Malfoy," Brighton growled as he faced the younger boy. "I see you're still sticking your nose where it doesn't belong."
"Leave him alone," the blond intoned seriously.
"Or what? Rather funny thing coming from the one who crippled him, don't you think?" Bringing his own wand to bear, Brighton hissed, "Furnunculus!"
Draco, narrowly dodging the spell, retaliated with, "Incarcerous."
"Petrificus Totalus!" Harry shouted before Brighton's housemate had a chance to join in the fray. Both of the Ravenclaws fell to the ground, unable to move.
"Nice one, Potter!" Malfoy remarked with a spontaneous smile. It soon vanished at the stony expression on Harry's face.
Harry stepped over Brighton, who was cussing under his breath, and made his way towards the Slytherin. "Thought you weren't allowed out of your dorm?" he demanded quietly as he continued past.
"I got permission to do some research in the library," the Slytherin explained, falling in step beside the dark-haired boy.
"And for carrying a wand outside of classes?"
At this, the blond looked vaguely guilty for a second. "Well... no. I asked Crabbe to loan me his," he admitted. "Just in case. Probably would've been fine if I hadn't used it. Not sure if the monitoring charm I'm on picks up whether I use magic or not. It'd be just my luck that it does."
They moved along quietly for a few minutes. Harry was just about to demand why the other boy was following him, when Malfoy spoke up.
"You didn't actually listen to those prats, did you?" he asked. "I mean, I know it's none of my business-"
"You're right. It is none of your business," the Gryffindor snapped.
"All I'm saying is if you want the truth, you ought to talk to the professor. Don't listen to a bunch of morons who don't know anything."
"What's it to you, Malfoy?" Harry stopped to face him. "Why do you even care?"
"Because Professor Snape's my godfather," Malfoy answered bluntly, "and I don't like all the rumors going around about him. It's not fair to him and-" He paused, momentarily closing his eyes before opening them again. "And it's not fair to you, either. It's obvious that what Brighton and his goon said is bothering you. You should talk to Severus."
The blond turned and walked back the direction from which they had come, back towards the library. Harry watched him go, fingering one of the straps on his brace as he pondered the other boy's words.
It wasn't until Harry was halfway through the doorway to Snape's quarters that he realized that he hadn't so much as uttered the password. In fact, now that he thought about it, he couldn't recall saying 'Cliodna' for at least a week. He'd been so distracted with everything going on, that he'd failed to notice that the professor had keyed the wards to his magical signature.
Before he could sort through his feelings over the matter, a voice broke through his thoughts.
"Come in and have a seat, Harry. I need to speak with you."
Harry looked up to see the professor standing behind the tan armchair, dark eyes fixed upon him. Swallowing, Harry closed the door and crossed the room, taking a seat on the end of the sofa. He focused his gaze on the corner of the coffee table.
Sighing aloud, Severus moved around to sit in the chair, continuing to study his son as he did so. Harry's shoulders were tense, his right arm pressed securely to his chest – a rather quick habit that had become – and his eyes remained stubbornly diverted. He had yet to make an excuse to leave, though, and the man chose to count it a small victory. That was not enough, of course, but it was certainly a start.
"I loved your mother," said the Potions Master, waiting as the boy's head rose at the confession before adding, "I still do. A part of me always will."
"Y-you do?" Harry asked.
"She was my first love," Severus confirmed.
"But..." the boy began. "How did –? What about..? People are saying..." Unable to voice any of the thoughts that had been swarming his mind for days, Harry broke off, gaze falling once more.
"This," the man said, picking a small, leather-bound book up off the table, "is how I discovered you might be my son. I'd like for you to read it. It may... answer some questions you might have."
Harry took the thin volume, glancing up at the professor before opening it. For a moment, he simply stared at the first page, then, he looked up at the man and back down again. Finally, he exclaimed, "You read her diary?"
"Yes, well," Severus shifted minutely in his seat, "the headmaster gave it me. I read it only at his behest." Which wasn't strictly true, as he had been curious as to what Lily had written, but Harry didn't need to know that.
"And you want me to read it?" the boy demanded.
The Potions Master solemnly met his child's gaze. "I believe it would be best, yes," he replied. After all, it was the only way for the boy to know Lily's side of the story; the only way to convince her son that she had loved his father.
"Okay," Harry said finally. Turning his green eyes downwards, he started to read.
Severus watched the boy's expression as he read. There were a few times throughout when an undeniable flush spread across Harry's cheeks. Then, quite abruptly, he looked stricken, as if he'd received an unexpected blow. The man briefly closed his eyes, knowing precisely which entry the teen was reading. When he opened them again, an accusing green gaze met his own before turning back to the diary.
It only took a few more minutes for Harry to reach the end.
"Mum loved you," he said quietly after a moment. Then, his head shot up and Lily's accusing gaze sought out Snape's once more. "And you rejected her! You joined Voldemort and rejected her for being muggleborn!"
Severus felt his heart clench at the tears that shimmered in the boy's eyes. "Yes," he admitted. "I did."
Harry drew in a sharp breath, then asked, his voice hurt and pleading, "Why would you do that? If you really loved her like you say you did, why would you hurt her so much?"
"At the time, I was lost. I had yet to discover who it was that I wanted to be," the man replied. "The Dark Lord – Voldemort promised great things to his followers: power, control over their own lives. The first, I thought I desired, and the latter, I felt I lacked.
"It did not take me long to realize that it was all a sham – that the only person Voldemort desired power and control for was himself. By then, it was too late. Lily told me she was marrying Potter before I had a chance to beg her forgiveness. Then, she married him and had you. When I realized that the time between their marriage and your birth wasn't long enough, I... I assumed that she had cheated on me; that she had chosen Potter over me even before I'd made my mistake.
"It never occurred to me that she might have been pregnant before she went to Potter," he confessed ashamedly.
"You trusted her so little?" Harry asked bewilderedly.
"It wasn't that I didn't trust her," Severus countered. "I just never believed I was worthy of her."
"That's bollocks!" the boy shouted, jumping furiously to his feet. "Even if you didn't think you were 'worthy of her', she thought you were! If you loved her, you shouldn't have let her go so easily! If you really loved her, you should have known that! If you weren't so... so selfish, you would have never gone to Voldemort in the first place!
"She loved you – and if you really loved her, you would've realized that. She would've married you and she wouldn't be dead now, and I wouldn't have had to grow up with the Dursleys!" Harry's voice broke, and he turned his face away as the tears in his eyes escaped his control. "That's bollocks," he repeated quietly. "Utter, complete shite."
Without a second glance, he fled to his room, slamming the door behind him.
"Utter, complete shite," Severus echoed softly to the empty room. "I'm sure Lily would have agreed."