Snape found himself staring silently into a pair of furious green eyes. Their owner stood across from him, his shoulders squared, jaw set, and everything about his posture stiff, almost tangibly hostile. The boy's words, spoken quietly and with no amount of uncertainty, still hung in the air: "I hate you."
How long had he been fostering such loathing in the child, giving him no reason to have any other feelings towards him? How many times had he secretly hoped the boy would utter those very words to his face, to justify his own ill treatment of him?
Oh, he had heard Harry Potter mutter the words under his breath or whisper them to one of his friends, but never had he spoken them to his face. Never would Severus have imagined those words would hurt him at all. But they did. The hate he had nurtured in the boy, in Lily's child – his son – hurt more than he could have possibly anticipated.
"Pott-" the professor began, but Harry moved, turning abruptly to stalk from the room, his school robes billowing behind him in a decidedly Snape-like manner. In different circumstances, Snape might have been amused by the display. At present, however, he felt a growing sense of shame.
Severus Snape had never hesitated in giving the son of James Potter reason to despise him. It was one thing to treat an enemy's child poorly, after all, and another to do so to one's own – or was it? He had honestly never considered the matter at length, merely acted on his own feelings towards a man long gone from the world. But the truth was that every spiteful word, every unearned gesture, every uncharitable thought and judgment had all been directed towards his own flesh and blood, the child of his only love. Had he not discovered that Harry was his, Snape would have never thought twice about his actions. For that, he was ashamed.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, the Potions Master drew in a trembling breath. His son hated him, as he well deserved. It was, after all, his goal since the moment the boy arrived at Hogwarts.
Suddenly, Severus Snape felt incredibly small.
A student sat in the Owlery, next to the cold gray stone of the wall. His legs were bent, face buried in his arms where they hugged his knees. Perched on one of the boy's hunched shoulder was a snowy owl, nipping comfortingly at the ear of her distraught owner. Accompanying this image of dejection was the saddest sound that had ever pervaded that particular tower: Harry Potter was crying.
At length, he straightened, leaning back as Hedwig flitted to his knee. The boy gently stroked her soft feathers, tears still streaking his young face. "Why, Hedwig?" Harry murmured thickly, scrubbing at his face with the back of his hand. "It's not fair. I never did anything to make them h-hate me." He was speaking of his relatives, as well as the teacher he had recently discovered was his father.
The news, more than anything his aunt and uncle had ever done, had convinced him that he was unlovable, a mere nuisance. After all, if even his own father hated him, how much value could he really have? Perhaps Uncle Vernon was right. Maybe he really was just a freak that nobody wanted. He didn't know how else to explain their loathing.
"My dad's still alive, Hedwig. It's just not who I thought it was," Harry quietly told the bird, his tone conversational. "Know who it is?" A pause. "It's Snape. He's only my dad biologically, though. He's not really my dad. It doesn't change anything – he's never liked me. I don't like him, either, it's just... I wish..." He trailed off into silence. Hedwig hooted plaintively, but Harry's wish remained unspoken.
Snape frowned deeply from his place at the Head Table. The boy was skipping meals. In fact, he hadn't been to the Great Hall since lunchtime the day before. His own plate was scarcely touched. The man's black gaze fell upon the boy's two friends. Harry was thin already – he shouldn't be missing meals.
Pushing his plate away, the Potions Master rose from his seat and left the hall. Granger and Weasley raised their heads to watch him pass. Their carefully guarded expressions clearly informed him that they were aware of his relation to their friend. He made no attempt to acknowledge their attention, even as he silently hoped that at least one of them was making sure Harry was getting proper food.
The man returned to his office, ostensibly to grade essays. Not that he didn't give it a good effort, but his mind was elsewhere. His grading had been suffering for the last several days, actually, as he had been finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the mediocre scribbles of his empty-headed students.
By the time he had managed to get through the fifth-years' papers, it was already growing late. Severus decided that he needed a short break and a strong cup of tea, or maybe even a cup of black coffee, before he could tackle the essays of the third-year class. Thus decided, he left his dark lair and wended his way to the better lighted and rather warmer staff room.
The man let out a faint sigh of relief upon finding the room seemingly deserted, the only light coming from the fire in the grate. He was in no mood to deal with idle chitchat or – in the case of his more observant colleagues – probing questions. Grabbing up the kettle, Snape filled it with water and placed it over the fire. Turning back to the chairs before the floo, he was startled to meet a pair of eyes made amber in the flickering light. Silently, the Potions Master cursed himself for being so inobservant.
"Lupin," he uttered coolly, not quite a greeting, nor exactly a sneer, either. His animosity towards Remus Lupin was unique to that which he felt for the other Marauders. Lupin had always been intelligent, as much as any Ravenclaw, and he was kind, gentle. In fact, had it not been for his association with the likes of Potter and Black, Snape could have easily respected him and might have even been friends with the quiet boy. After all, Remus Lupin had far more in common with Severus Snape than he did with the two pompous prats with which he'd spent his time.
No, his dislike for the werewolf – a factor which later added fuel to his loathing – lay rooted in the man's own actions, or rather, inaction. For, though Lupin had never raised a hand against Snape himself, he'd never once heard the man speak up in his defense, either. It was due to this that Snape hated him. Had he had even one friend who showed the loyalty Lupin had given to Potter and Black, he might never had joined the Dark Lord's followers, he might have never lost Lily...
"Snape," Lupin returned evenly, shifting slightly in his chair. He didn't appear to have a teacup or any grading with him, as though he had been merely staring into the fire. Quite likely, that was the case.
Having nothing to say to the brown-haired man, Snape busied himself with readying a cup for tea. He had originally intended to relax awhile, but now, he would drink his tea and leave. With any luck, the werewolf wouldn't try to converse with him.
Lupin leaned forward in his seat, contemplating the flames. "He smells like you," he said suddenly.
Snape suppressed a sigh. Patently, fate conspired against him. Then, he processed the other man's words. "What?"
"Harry," Lupin explained calmly, turning to face his former classmate. "He smells like you. The potions fumes almost always cover your own scent, so I never realized it until recently. It's uncanny, really. I knew I recognized it from somewhere, but I was never able to place it."
"You realized it before," the Potions Master stated. There was no need for him to specify what he was talking about.
His colleague chuckled wryly. "Werewolf, remember?" he said, then grew solemn. "Of course, I realized. Harry never smelled like James' child should, even as a baby. James told me not to question it, so I didn't. I assumed he had his reasons." Lupin turned back towards the fire, elbows resting on the arms of the chair.
"I didn't know," Severus felt the need to explain, though he certainly couldn't say why. "I had no idea the boy might be mine until just recently."
"I know," Remus spoke softly. "Not even you would treat your own child the way you treated Harry."
That stung. All the more because it was true: Severus wouldn't treat his own child poorly, only his enemy's. If he'd had any tea, he might later have claimed to have been drugged, for he found himself admitting, "I don't know how to make it up to the boy. I have no idea how to gain his trust."
"That's easy." Snape stared at the man. "Earning his trust, I mean. Harry's a little too quick to trust – a bit unnaturally so, I would say. I think your main problem will be that you've gained his distrust. I don't think that will be easy to overcome."
Severus forgot about his tea and the water in the kettle. "What do you mean, 'unnaturally so'?" he demanded, moving to stand in front of the seated man.
Lupin met his gaze again. "I believe it's strange that Harry's so trusting, as I have reason to believe his relatives don't treat him very well," he stated.
"Why do you say that?"
"As you probably know, I had the third-year classes working with a boggart a few weeks ago."
"Yes. I heard quite a bit about one of those sessions."
"Undoubtedly," Remus couldn't help but grin as he remembered Neville's boggart. Snape snorted derisively, and he continued in a serious tone. "Harry's boggart concerned me."
"How so?" Severus was growing annoyed with having to prompt the other man.
"It became a cupboard."
"... a cupboard?"
"At first, it started to change into You-Know-Who, which isn't surprising, really," Lupin elaborated, rising to his feet to remove the kettle from over the fire as he spoke. "Then, it briefly looked like a man I have never seen before, but I assume he is Harry's uncle. After a few other brief transitions, the boggart finally became a cupboard door. A locked cupboard door."
Snape waited for the punchline. Putting down the kettle, the defense teacher turned to face him.
"Harry wasn't able to banish it. Whatever it represents for him, his subconscious, at least, finds truly terrifying, and I highly doubt it has anything to do with Voldemort."
Severus considered this for a moment. "I'll have to look in it," he muttered thoughtfully, wondering how a cupboard could become representative of a child's greatest fear. He didn't like the possibilities.
"Someone ought to," Lupin agreed. "In any case, I think I'll return to my quarters for the night – I have some essays to grade before tomorrow. Good night, Snape."
"Good night," the Potions Master returned distractedly, then called out as the other man reached the door. "Lupin?"
"Thank you," the words felt foreign on his tongue, "for telling me your concerns about Pott – Harry's boggart."
"You're welcome," Lupin told him sincerely. "After all, you're his father – you have a right to know." With a brief smile, he exited the room, leaving Snape alone to his thoughts.
Harry was studiously avoiding the Head Table, plying all his attention to his supper plate. Hermione frowned worriedly at him, glancing over to see Snape's gaze briefly resting on her friend. The man seemed even more solemn than usual, consuming his meal with apparent disinterest.
"Harry..." the girl began.
"No," Harry cut her off. They'd already had this conversation, during which she would suggest that he talk to Snape, of all things, and he would insist that he had neither need nor desire to do so. He didn't care how 'reasonable' the man was being now, he'd been awful enough the past two years to last Harry a lifetime. Father or not, Harry felt not obligation to give the man a second chance. After all, if he were really James Potter's son, Snape would continue to be horrible to him, so how sincere could he possibly be?
"No, Hermione," the boy growled. Ron backed him up by giving their friend a reproving glare. Sighing, she let the subject drop.
A few minutes later, Snape rose from his seat and made his way out of the Great Hall. The professor seemed to slow the slightest bit as he passed where they were sitting, his eyes flicking in the direction of Harry's plate. Hermione would have sworn that the dour Potions Master was checking to see that Harry was eating – not that she could have gotten either Ron or Harry to believe as much. Snape was exhibiting concern for her friend, though, she was sure of it.
And sooner or later, something had to give.