Severus Snape, though not entirely heartless, was not given to worrying over the welfare of others. His colleagues were old enough to take care of themselves and if he were to concern himself every time one of his students got hurt, he would most certainly go mad. All this aside, for the first time in years, the dour Potions Master of Hogwarts found himself quite concerned, indeed. Over a limp.
"The little fool will probably hurt himself worse if I don't go after him," he muttered to himself. Leaving his office, he took long strides in the direction Harry would have to go to reach Gryffindor Tower. He needed to talk to the boy, anyway.
The man was just reaching the Entrance Hall, wondering how far a thirteen-year-old could run on a hurt leg before stopping, when he saw the object of his search. Snape stopped short. Harry was laying at the base of the Grand Staircase, his body visibly trembling. The boy was muttering something to himself, over and over, too softly for him to hear from across the vast hall. Severus started to move towards him, when someone entered through the oak doors leading outside.
"Harry?" Remus Lupin rushed to Harry's side, lifting him up and gently settling him so he was seated on the stairs.
For a moment, Harry's repeated chant became more audible and his words hit Snape like a blow. "It's not true. It's not true..."
"Harry?" Lupin spoke again, firmly gripping the boy's shoulder. Neither appeared to have noticed Snape standing in the shadows. "Harry." Harry finally looked up at the professor, stopping mid-chant. "Are you alright?"
"My foot hurts," Harry answered, his tone a bit choked.
Severus watched as the werewolf carefully inspected the boy's left foot. "It doesn't look very good, Harry," he heard the man say. "Come on, let's get you up to the hospital wing." With seemingly no compunctions, Lupin gently lifted Harry up into his arms, doing his best not to jostle his injured leg. Harry winced a bit, but after a moment, he allowed his head to rest against the man's shoulder, closing his eyes.
A stab that even he had to admit was jealousy blossomed in Snape's chest. Of course the brat trusted the bloody werewolf! The man was soft-spoken and – Snape gagged – kind. Furthermore, he had been one of James Potter's closest friends and no doubt fawned over the man's supposed offspring like everyone else. But Harry wasn't Potter's son. He was his. He was Snape's son.
If he had arrived a moment sooner, he wondered, would Harry have accepted his help? Severus had a sinking suspicion that he would have refused it, preferring to injure himself further than receive assistance from his hated professor. And only one person could be blamed for that.
Lupin turned towards the steps, but paused to look back over his shoulder, his gaze immediately meeting Snape's. Then, he continued upwards to the third floor, carrying Harry in his arms. Snape stared after them.
The werewolf knew.
Harry couldn't sleep. He stared at the ceiling, his mantra repeating in the back of his mind, as he tried to make sense of what he had been told that day. It felt as though his world had been turned upside-down and shaken, leaving everything in total disarray. Innumerable emotions swept over him, one after the other, but one remained constant: Harry was confused.
Since discovering that he was a wizard and coming to Hogwarts, Harry had been able to learn so much about himself. No longer was he the unwanted little boy hidden under the stairs by his unfeeling relatives; the human house elf slaving away, improperly clothed and underfed. He wasn't a freak in a normal person's world, anymore.
No. He was Harry Potter, and he was a wizard. He was an excellent flyer, and none too horrible at classes, either. Some people even liked him just because he was famous for something he couldn't even remember, though, nothing could compare to the fact that he had actual friends – people who liked him for him.
After everything he had experienced the last two years, the good and the bad alike, Harry had felt he was beginning to know who he was. Now, he wasn't so sure. A day ago, he was Harry Potter, son of James and Lily, best friend of Hermione and Ron, student at Hogwarts, the Boy-Who-Lived. But now, who was he? The Boy-Whose-Father-Despised-Him? The Boy-Who-Nobody-Wanted? The Boy-Who... What?
He shook such thoughts from his head. They didn't have any place, as he didn't even want to believe what Pomfrey had told him, anyway. There had to be a logical explanation, or some sort of mistake. He didn't even look like... him. Everyone said he looked like James, and he was even a great Quidditch player like James had been. Surely, that couldn't possibly be true if he was really someone else's son, could it?
Maybe it was some sort of trick, Harry mused. Snape had hated James Potter, after all, so what better revenge than to make his son believe he was his enemy's child, instead? That's what it must be. Snape was trying to mete out some sort of retribution. He had somehow gotten Madame Pomfrey to believe it, also. Harry wouldn't have been surprised if Snape had suggested she tell him, either. Perhaps...
"Still awake?" Harry's thoughts trailed off as he heard the mediwitch's voice. After ignoring her instructions earlier in the day, she had insisted that he stay overnight as he had managed to re-injure his ankle and break a couple bones in his foot. She had put his entire foot in a sort of magical cast that, while not exactly uncomfortable, felt rather strange.
Poppy let out a quiet sigh. "I shouldn't have told you," she admitted.
"No, it's fine, ma'am," Harry said.
"It isn't fine," the witch contradicted. "I should have left it to your father, instead of meddling, as I am so often accused of doing."
"He's not my father."
"Case in point," she muttered softly, then said, "All the same, I should have gone about it differently, and for that, I apologize."
Harry shrugged indifferently, careful to avoid her gaze.
"Now, then, Mr. Potter, are you in any pain?" Poppy asked. He shook his head. "Would you like something to help you sleep?" she persisted. Again, a head shake. "Very well. Do try to get some rest, and call me if you need anything."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry responded obediently. The mediwitch returned to the quarters behind her office, leaving her patient to himself once more.
Harry stared at the ceiling. His mantra continued.
"It was not your place!" Severus fumed as he paced back and forth, robes flapping behind him.
"I said I was sorry, Severus," Poppy began.
"Sorry is not good enough!" the man hissed.
"Severus, I realize now that I was wrong, but I really did have the best intentions. I was afraid if I didn't tell him, you never would."
"You didn't even give me a week! Furthermore, your 'best intentions' might have well undermined the very tenuous truce I may have been starting to develop with the boy. You had no right to tell him – he's my son!"
"Oh, so you're willing accept that, now?" the mediwitch demanded shortly, unappreciative of the tone he was taking with her. "Because a few days again, you told me straight to my face that I was wrong about it."
"I was planning on telling him myself last night," Snape informed her. "Today, he wouldn't even look at me. I don't pretend to know how he might have responded, but I believe it fairly safe to say that at least his foot wouldn't be broken."
"You cannot blame me for that, Severus Snape!" Poppy stormed. "Not entirely! I told him to stay off that leg. I had no idea he would react in-"
"He's Potter! How did you think he'd react?"
"Just like you at that age. It was foolish of me not to take that into consideration."
Snape glared at her for a moment and the mediwitch glared right back. Finally, he broke their stalemate. "You know that I have a lot of respect for you," he said quietly, "but I would appreciate it if you would stop meddling. Let me handle this my own way. My relationship with my son is really none of your business."
She regarded him silently for a moment, before giving a reluctant nod. "Fine," she said. "But Severus?"
He met the older woman's gaze.
"You have to give yourself a chance, too. Just... keep that in mind."
"Harry, are you alright?" Hermione asked. They were in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione seated on the edge of a chair as Harry perched upon the arm of the sofa, his chin resting atop his hands where they loosely gripped a pair of crutches. The dark-haired boy had been withdrawn the entire day, not even so much as offering protest when he friends insisted upon carrying his books for him. Madame Pomfrey wanted him to use the crutches until the end of the week. Ron looked up from where he'd been pretending to read Quidditch Through the Ages on the floor in front of the floo, awaiting Harry's response.
"I'm fine, Hermione," Harry answered, still staring vacantly into the middle-distance. Ron nudged Hermione's foot and they exchanged a quick glance.
"Harry, does this have anything to do with the potion Snape had you make?" she ventured.
Harry tensed. "I don't want to talk about it," he said, a note of warning in his tone.
"Do you know whose blood he had you put in it? You said the potion turned black. That means, whoever's blood you put in with yours belongs to your father. Did you..."
"I said I don't want to talk about it, okay?" Harry snapped. "Just drop it, alright?"
"But, we're just worried about you, mate," Ron spoke up. "You've been acting funny since yesterday, and we think it must have something to do with that Abbers Potion."
"Abbas Potion," Hermione corrected. "And Ron's right, Harry – we just want to help you."
"Well, you can't!" Harry shouted at them. "And I don't want to talk about it. I don't even want to think about it. It's a lie – it's gotta be a lie." His eyes had brimmed with tears and he quickly scrubbed them away with the back of his hand.
Hermione moved to stand beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder, her face a mask of concern. "Whose was it?" she asked again. "Snape told you whose blood you put in the potion, didn't he?"
"He said it was his."
They stared at him in shock for a moment, before Ron recovered his tongue. "Well, that's obviously a lie!"
"Madame Pomfrey said so, too," Harry revealed. "She's the one who told me that Snape... I don't think she would have done that if she wasn't sure."
"But Harry," Hermione began uncertainly, "isn't this sort of happy news, too?"
"Are you barmy?" Ron demanded. "Harry might be related to Snape – that's terrible news! The greasy git's had it out for Harry since our first day of class. Personally, I still think it's a lie."
"All I meant was if it's true, then Harry would have someone," Hermione shot back. "And I hardly think a certified mediwitch would be wrong about something like this, Ronald."
"Enough!" Harry cut in before they could continue bickering. "I agree with Ron – I don't want to believe it, anyway."
"There's one way you can know for certain," Hermione declared. The two boys turned to look at her.
"What's that?" Ron inquired.
Hermione looked at Harry as she answered. "Ask Professor Snape to let you make the potion again, and this time watch him put his blood into the cauldron, instead of doing so second-hand."
"I'd rather not know," Harry groaned.
"Me, neither," Ron agreed.
"You two are hopeless! He's not that bad!" With a huff, Hermione turned and made her way to her dorm room.
"I'd like to hear her say that the next time we lose points," the redhead muttered darkly.
Harry settled his chin back on the crutches. "You're telling me."
Obsidian eyes met green.
Harry raised his chin and Snape couldn't help a slight sneer at the brat's defiance. The younger wizard had blown off his detentions the last three nights and skived off class the previous day. He really ought to take the boy to task for such behavior...
"Potter," he said.
"Professor," Harry replied.
Snape appraised his appearance, quickly noting that while he was no longer using the crutches, Pomfrey still had an immobilizing charm on his ankle. "Strange," he drawled, "I was certain you must have taken ill, but alas, you seem entirely fine. Which, naturally, begs the question of why you have been missing classes and detentions."
"Just yours, sir," came Harry's response. Why, the cheeky, little...
"Unacceptable, Potter," Snape growled. "Miss detention again tonight, and I promise you, you'll be making up for it the rest of this term and quite possibly well into your winter holidays."
Harry continued to gaze defiantly back at him, and Snape continued to feel a twinge of annoyance and a bit of something else that was most certainly not pride. Standing up to angry professors – or angry people of any sort, for that matter – was undoubtedly a Gryffindor trait and not one to be encouraged in his s... students. The Potions Master moved around the boy and proceeded down the corridor.
"I want to make the Abbas Potion again," Harry spoke up. Severus paused and looked back over his shoulder, but the Boy-Who-Was-Acting-Defiant had his back to him.
"After you make up what you missed in class, yesterday," the professor responded.
"Good. Seven o'clock."
"Four," Harry countered.
Snape stared at the back of the boy's head for a moment. "Fine," he acquiesced, "four o'clock, but don't keep me waiting. I will not tolerate tardiness from you today, or at any time in the future. Understood?"
"Good day to you, Potter."
"Good day, sir."
They parted ways and Snape couldn't help but note that they'd had a civil exchange. Harry, on the other hand, just thought it bizarre. After all, a foul-tempered Snape he knew how to deal with, but a civil one? No one would ever believe it.
Teacher and student worked in silence, though, the latter had been surprised when the former began to help him brew the potion.
Harry had brought a copy of the Abbas Potion from a book Hermione had found in the library. If Snape was offended by this precaution, he certainly didn't say anything. In fact, the man had had all the ingredients they would need laid out when Harry arrived, and after he'd finished his missed assignment, Snape had joined him at the table.
"How long..." Harry began, awkwardly trailing off when he realized that there were only so many ways he could word the question he wanted to ask and that he didn't particularly like any of them.
Snape was tempted to pretend he didn't know what the boy was getting at. Instead, he said, "I've known it was a possibility for a few weeks, now."
As he internalized this, Harry stared down at the Abbas Potion, which was currently a light gray. All they had left to add were a few drops of blood from each of them. The boy looked up, his stomach clenching as he watched Snape slice his finger and let several drops fall into the brew. The potion turned blue.
Healing the cut, Snape cleaned the knife before wordlessly offering it to the boy. Harry took it slowly, hesitating before also adding his blood to the potion. He healed his finger himself this time, then turned his attention to the potion. Just as before, it became that pearlescent black, confirming what he so fervently wished to deny.
His thoughts whirled. He was eleven, taking notes just like he'd been taught by his elementary teacher, when he was suddenly scorned by his professor. Then, it was the beginning of second year and Snape was taking Ron and him to task for the incident with the car. This year, and the man was belittling him in front of a group of Slytherins. Instant after instant flickered through his mind so quickly, Harry could hardly think straight, but one thing didn't escape his notice. In the last few weeks, when Snape had supposedly known, nothing had changed. Nothing at all.
Snape watched the boy as he continued to stare at the potion. He wondered if he should say anything, but not knowing what that might be, he remained silent. How would Harry react, once he had finished whatever musing seemed to have possessed him?
Slowly, Harry lifted his gaze to look at the man across from him; the man who had humiliated and reviled him since his first day of class; the man whose unearned vitriol had made a part of every week hell; the man who was his father. Staring at this same man, Harry finally uttered the only appropriate phrase that came to mind.
"I hate you."