The boy seemed tense, his green gaze flicking up periodically before being directed back to his work just as quickly. Even through his school cloak, the stiffness with which the boy unconsciously held his shoulders was obvious. Snape found that he couldn't really blame the child, though, that in and of itself didn't make any sense. Had he not frequently snapped at and ridiculed Potter since the day of his arrival? Why should one more occurrence of the same bring him any guilt?
Because, before, you didn't know he was yours, that voice in the back of his mind reminded him, and you used the very words you uttered the day you rejected his mother.
"I told you to leave!" A sting of regret coursed through him just as he was shot another uncertain look by the boy... his son. At least he'd finally realized why Potter almost always made perfect potions in detention and seldom in class: during class, he singled the boy out, taking joy in reviling him in front of his peers; during detentions, he ignored him.
If Snape's frown deepened, it was merely because Pot – Harry was butchering the roots he was meant to cut into even pieces. He made his way over to the boy, stopping beside his table.
"Work slower if you can't get it right, Potter," he drawled, as the younger wizard somehow managed to tense even more in his presence. His muscles had to be in terrible knots. "I expect better work from you." With a faint sneer, he continued on to question Longbottom's intelligence and offer reluctant praise for Parkinson's dubious success.
He glanced back as Harry finally tore his gaze from him, staring determinedly at the table, a look of surprise upon his features. The Potions Master suppressed a sigh. He needed to tell the boy before Poppy got the chance. Resolving to do so that evening, he continued prowling about his classroom as his son completed his assignment with an accuracy he usually attained only during detentions.
Harry gasped, his eyes screwing tightly shut and teeth clenching painfully together. At the moment, he couldn't say which hurt worse, his ankle or his pride. He couldn't precisely say what had happened, either. He had stayed after Defense class to talk with Professor Lupin and ask him about a few things he had read in a later chapter of their textbooks. After taking his bag up to his dorm, he hurried back down to the fourth floor to join Ron and Hermione in the library.
He was making his way down the staircase, taking the steps two at a time as he'd done dozens of times before, when he must have missed a step. Pain shot up from his left ankle as it twisted beneath him and he lost his footing entirely, skidding down several steps on his rear. Unfortunately, he had an audience. Even worse, it was Malfoy and his goons.
"Graceful, Potter!" the blond chortled. "Let's see it again!" Crabbe and Goyle joined in his laughter. Harry ignored them, clutching at his calf. He wondered why they weren't down in the dungeons, as the only thing really on the fourth floor was the library and Harry doubted if either of Malfoy's lackeys could even read. The three Slytherins finally continued on their way, still taking far too much pleasure from his plight.
Harry looked up to see Fred and George standing over him. "Yeah, I just missed a step," said Harry, moving to stand. That action was put to a halt as one twin put a hand on his shoulder while his brother took Harry's injured limb in his hands to inspect it.
"I dunno, Harry," said George. "It's starting to look pretty swollen, already."
"George is right, mate," Fred added, "I think maybe you ought to see Madame Pomfrey for that."
"But I'm suppose to meet Hermione and Ron in the library before dinner," was Harry's feeble excuse.
"George will let them know you've been indisposed, won't you, George?"
"Right, you are, Fred," replied George, gently putting Harry's foot back on the ground.
"See? Nothing to worry about, Harry," Fred told him, pulling one the younger boy's arms over his shoulder. "Up you get, now." He hoisted Harry to his feet as his sibling went off to find Ron and Hermione. Another set of stairs and a short corridor later, the two Gryffindors arrived in the hospital wing.
"Mr. Potter, I do declare," Madame Pomfrey exclaimed reprovingly as she motioned them to a bed near the double doors. "You are about the most accident-prone boy I have ever seen! Wait right here. I'll return in a minute." She bustled off to get two or three potions from her stores.
"Mind if I leave you, Harry?" Fred asked. "George and I were heading to a, uh, business transaction. It'd probably be best if I could be there."
"No," Harry shook his head. "I'll be fine. Thanks, Fred."
"Anytime, Harry." He gave the smaller boy a pat on the shoulder and departed as the mediwitch returned. She examined his ankle, carefully removing first his shoe, then his sock. Running a diagnostic spell over his limb, the woman shook her head and clucked quietly to herself as though she believed he had done it on purpose.
"Drink this," she commanded, handing him a vial. Harry obeyed, and the pain in his ankle subsided. Setting the rest of the vials aside, she uttered another spell, then fixed Harry with a stern gaze. "That's a rather nasty sprain, Harry," she said. "Almost would have been easier to fix if you had broken it. Stay off of it, though, and it should be right as rain in couple of hours. I'll give you a pair of crutches to use."
"Thank you, ma'am," Harry said. He waited for her to leave again, his expression growing puzzled when she remained beside his bed. "Ma'am?"
"There's another matter that I've been wanting to speak to you about, Harry," Pomfrey began.
Harry tensed slightly. She had called him by his given name, again. He hadn't thought much about it the first time, but the young Gryffindor was certain that her persistence in doing so couldn't mean anything good. Staff members using your first name almost always meant something bad was coming. Not knowing what to say, Harry just sat there quietly, waiting for her to continue.
Poppy regarded the boy in front of her. He had straightened at her last statement, and she was certain that his expression had been steeled in preparation for whatever she was about to say. She didn't blame him. She decided to just tell him straight out.
"It was recently discovered that your father is still alive."
A roaring sound filled Harry's ears and it seemed he had forgotten how to breath. After a moment, he finally managed to suck in a rather shaky breath. "What?" he gasped incredulously. "But, I thought Voldemort... He was murdered with the – wasn't he?"
The mediwitch felt her heart ache in her chest as she took in Harry's expression. It was was so full of confusion and hurt and hope that she suddenly felt like a very cruel person. She had started, however, so she knew that she must finish telling him the truth. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she continued quietly.
"Harry... it is true that James Potter was murdered by You-Know-Who," Poppy told him gently, "but, the truth is – Harry, James wasn't your biological father. He..." She was going to say that James had adopted Harry as his own, but the fact was that she didn't know if the man even realized that Harry wasn't his. She didn't think that Lily was the type to lie to her husband, but she simply didn't know one way or the other. The woman was trying to decide how she should proceed, when Harry spoke up.
"Who is?" It was barely a whisper. Harry's green eyes were fixed upon the mediwitch as he waited for her to answer. He had to know, yet a part of him still hoped she might never reply.
For what seemed an eternity, Harry waited for more. He half-expected her to say, "Professor Snape discovered that you were really related to this person," or "Professor Snape somehow knew that..." But she didn't. And as he sat there, everything seemed to flood his mind at once.
Snape's staring, his somewhat odd behavior, the potion... The potion. The blood-like fluid in the vial. The adding of his own blood to the mixture. Snape's reaction.
Harry's gaze had drifted down to the floor, but now his head snapped back up and he stared at Madame Pomfrey, just stared because his mind couldn't seem to settle on any given emotion. His breathing had quickened at some point, and his hands gripped the mattress on either side of him so tightly that they were beginning to cramp.
The mediwitch squeezed his shoulder gently. "Are you alright?" she asked softly. Harry nodded. "Alright, Mr. Potter, you rest here until you feel more like yourself again. I'll bring you some crutches in a bit." Again, Harry nodded, and after a brief hesitation, she left him to himself.
Over and over, the previous night's detention played through his head. He couldn't believe what Madame Pomfrey had told him – he couldn't! But then... what was that potion Snape had him make? Why would it require the use of his blood? And whose –
Harry rose abruptly to his feet. He had to ask. He had to know now. The mediwitch's command to stay off his hurt ankle forgotten, he left the ward. Pushing through the double doors, he made his way down the corridor towards the stairs.
Hermione had just descended from the fourth floor and met him part way. "Harry, I figured out what it was that Snape had you make last night," she began breathlessly. "It's the Abbas Potion, it-"
"It tells you who your parents are," Harry interrupted, a bit vacantly.
"One's father, yes," the girl corrected. "How did you..?"
"I gotta go." He moved around her and she turned to watch him leave.
"Are you supposed to be walking around?" she called after him when she noticed his slight limp, remembering that George had told them he'd injured his ankle. "Harry?"
Harry didn't answer her, just continued down the stairs, subconsciously favoring his left leg. Slowly, he made his way down the steps, moving in a daze. He reached the dungeons and walked along the long, dark corridor towards the Potions classroom and Snape's office. Gradually, he picked up the pace as his shock and confusion gave way to anger.
Snape looked up as there was a sharp knock at the door to his office. Ordinarily he would've been annoyed at the unwelcome visit, but since he'd been thinking about how to speak to Potter that evening rather than grading the essay sitting in front of him, he rather looked forward to the distraction.
"Enter," he called out. The door was thrown open and the Boy-Who-Was-His-Son stepped into the room. "Potter," he uttered coolly, even as he wondered what had brought the boy willingly to his lair. "Your detention isn't for another couple of hours." Snape looked back down at his desk and pretended to continue his grading.
"Whose blood was it?" Harry demanded.
Severus slowly set down his quill and met the boy's gaze. "Come again?"
"The Abbas Potion that you had me make," the younger wizard clarified, "whose blood did you have me put in it? Madame Pomfrey said..." He trailed off, seeming to choke on the words. Whispering, he asked once more, "Whose was it?"
Severus had to struggle to keep from shutting his eyes and cursing the meddlesome mediwitch aloud. This was not how he had envisioned the conversation going. He wasn't so foolish as to believe it might have gone pleasantly, but he had expected that he would have at least had some control over it. Now, he had no control and only one thing to say.
Harry shook his head slowly, disbelievingly, unconsciously backing towards the open door. "No," he uttered quietly. "I don't believe you." Turning in place, he ran.
The dreary hallways seemed unending as Harry made his flight. He made his way up to the ground floor, hardly slowing on the steep stairs, not even noticing the pain in his ankle. It wasn't true. There had to be some logical explanation. Snape couldn't be his father, he couldn't. Harry wouldn't accept it. He just wouldn't.
Dashing across the deserted Entrance Hall, he headed straight for the Grand Staircase. As he put his foot on the bottom step, his ankle – already sorely abused – gave out beneath him with an unhealthy cracking sound. Harry fell to the ground, biting back a cry as the fresh wave of agony washed over him.
Lying prone, his upper body still resting upon the stairs, Harry began to tremble all over, tears stinging his eyes. Slowly, he began to whisper a steady mantra to himself.
"It's not true. It's not true. It's not true..."
Snape continued to sit at his desk, staring at the place where Harry Potter had stood a moment before. Naturally, his mind was a whirlwind, yet strangely, only one thought seemed prevalent: Why was the boy limping?