The empty tin clattered from Severus's fingers as he gripped the edge of his desk to keep from falling. The pain in his arm was unbelievable; far worse than he remembered it had been without potion. Severus slumped into his chair and gritted his teeth to wait it out.
It seemed to be happening more and more often these days. Severus suspected that he was being used as an outlet for Voldemort's anger, similar to the way his master used to crucio whoever was conveniently available when he got angry. Now, he channeled his anger into punishment for Severus.
Regrettably, it was not unexpected. Severus knew from the moment he attacked Quirrell that he would be punished, and now it had come.
Severus was simply thankful that it was only him and not Harry as well. For the time being.
As the pain throbbed again, Severus reminded himself that it was only a few days until the next batch of cream was ready. Until then, he could surely hang on.
On Monday, Harry didn't have Potions. Secretly, he was happy to have a reason to postpone telling Snape about his anger issues until Tuesday when they were to finish up the potion. He had forgotten entirely about his scar burning.
Until he stepped into Potions.
"Move it, Potter!" Nott yelled from behind.
Jarred, Harry stepped into the Potions classroom where Umbridge stood at the front, smiling politely. Harry moved to his seat in a bit of a daze. He had seen Snape at breakfas- No. He had last seen Severus the previous night at dinner. He had been missing from breakfast. Suddenly, Harry's heart dropped.
By the time Harry had recovered his senses, everyone else had filed in and sat down.
"What's she doing here?" Ron asked from his spot at Harry's side.
"I don't know," Harry said with a creeping feeling of dread.
Umbridge waved her wand and instructions appeared on the board in flowery cursive. "Here are your instructions. Begin."
Nobody moved. It was odd- though everyone hated Snape, they loathed Umbridge.
"Well? What are you waiting for?"
Starting out politely, Harry raised his hand.
"Yes, Mr. Potter?" she said with forced calm.
"Where's Professor Snape?" he asked a bit sharply.
Umbridge stared back at him, unwavering. "He is ill."
"I don't see how that is the concern of this class," she said stiffly. "Now begin your potion."
A few people rose to move to the ingredient cupboard, but most stayed, watching the stare down between Harry and Umbridge. "It's my concern."
"If it was truly your concern, you would have already been notified, isn't that right, Mr. Potter?" she shot back.
Harry could feel his anger rising and, despite what Sirius had said, knew it wasn't something that he could control. "No, it's not right. Because if it was you doing the notifying, I obviously would never have known!"
Umbridge's jaw hardened. "I will not be spoken to like that, Mr. Potter. Ten points from Gryffindor and you are fortunate it is not a detention as well."
"You wouldn't dare," Harry said quietly, fully aware that all eyes were on him.
Umbridge's eyes flashed, but she merely smiled tightly. "As detentions have proved ineffective to curb your recalcitrant behavior, I will have to consider my other options. Twenty more points from Gryffindor should do it for now."
Harry was now getting glares from his classmates. His fists clenched under the table. Ron elbowed him in the side.
"Let it go, mate," he hissed. "You can't win. Remember what Snape said."
Slowly, Harry's anger drained to the point that he broke off his glare at Umbridge and started his potion. After the class had resumed their routine and busied themselves, Harry looked at Ron.
"How'd you know what Snape said?" he asked.
Ron gave a bit of a grin. "I didn't. But I guessed that he gave you some kind of warning that you should probably remember."
Harry looked at him and shook his head in disbelief. "Well, thanks. I almost made that a lot worse."
"You think she's going to forget about it now?" Ron asked.
"No," Harry said, gulping. "I don't."
Hermione leaned across the table to join in their hushed conversation. "Do you really think he's sick, Harry?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "I..." He had an idea, but he couldn't bring himself to voice it. "I'll check in with him as soon as this class lets out."
"Good idea," she said. "Let us know, alright?"
Harry nodded.The remainder of the double period seemed to pass with aching slowness. Harry was so worried about Snape that he screwed up his potion and would probably receive low marks for it. Still, he could not keep the thoughts of the horrible things that could've happened to his guardian out of his mind. Harry was beginning to think that Severus being simply ill and nothing more would be a bit of a relief.
When the bell rang, Harry all but bolted from the class, headed straight to Snape's office. He gave a cursory knock but wasn't expecting an answer. Therefore, he wasn't surprised when one never came. He unlocked the door with a charm and stepped inside. The lock had been a weak one; either Severus trusted his image as a deterrent or he didn't have the time or energy to add a stronger one. Harry hoped it was the former.
He headed straight for the door at the back of the office and whispered the password, opening it to Severus's chambers.
"Severus?" he called.
"In here," came the familiar voice.
Harry headed to the sitting room. Severus sat on the couch looking haggard. His eyes were sunken and had dark rings beneath them. He didn't look paler than usual, but his whole face looked tired. Harry dropped his bag and hurried over to sit next to him.
"Severus? Are you okay?" Harry asked hurriedly.
Anyone with functional eyes could see that this was not the case. "What happened?"
"I betrayed the Dark Lord," Severus said dryly, with a hint of dark humor.
Harry frowned. "But why didn't you tell me about this?"
"I rather hoped I could deal with this on my own."
Harry opened his mouth to ask what exactly Umbridge knew when he stopped. "Can I ask you something? It's just because you're acting a little strange, which is understandable," he added quickly, "but Umbridge seemed to know that you weren't okay and...Well I just want to make sure it's you."
Harry didn't want a repeat of second year.
Harry racked his brains for a question. "What did you give me for Christmas of my first year?"
"Occlumency lessons and a trip to the Mirror of Erised," Severus answered immediately.
Harry relaxed. "Okay, good. Sorry."
"It is good that you are being cautious," Severus said a little weakly.
"So how did Umbridge know you were ill?" Harry asked.
"Professor McGonagall came looking for me after I skipped breakfast. She demanded that I forgo class and recover. She doesn't know exactly what is wrong."
"So it's... your mark?" Harry asked. "My scar burned but I didn't think..."
"I didn't realize just how much I relied on that potion," Severus admitted.
"No kidding," Harry muttered, still shaken by how poorly he was holding up. "Severus, why didn't you just finish the potion this morning? I mean, right now, is it...?"
"Residual pain, yes," Severus admitted. "Compared to before, it is manageable."
Harry looked at him in horror and sympathy.
"And I cannot finish the potion until tonight. Two weeks exactly."
"But there must be something I can do," Harry said, biting his lip.
Severus looked at him with unfathomable eyes. "It was considerate of you to come check on me. Go eat lunch and come back tonight. We'll finish the potion then."
"Go, Harry." Snape looked at him insistently. "Please."
Reluctantly, Harry went. "Six thirty on the dot. I'll be here."
Severus nodded and reached for a bottle of liquor sitting next to him. Harry almost said something, but decided that if anyone ever needed alcohol, it was Snape in that moment. He left.
Harry didn't tell his friends exactly what was wrong with Snape, only that he was indeed sick and Harry was going down that evening to brew him a potion to help him recover. It was true enough.
It seemed as if someone had cast a Slo-Time spell over the entire day. Harry struggled to focus in class and strained to find an appetite at meal-times. When six o'clock rolled around, Harry was at dinner, picking at his food and willing time to go faster.
"Harry!" Angelina called, coming up on him from behind. "Do you have a spare pair of Quidditch gloves? Alicia's lost hers and she wanted to practice in them, if she can."
"Sure," Harry said absentmindedly. "When does she need them by?"
"Well practice is in an hour, so you could just bring them," she replied.
Angelina gave him a funny look. "We got clearance to reform the team. I told you this afternoon, practice at seven. What's wrong?"
Harry stared at her. "Uh... I can't be there."
"What do you mean?" she asked. "After this forfeit we have to train up if we're to have any hope of winning the cup."
"I'm sorry," he said. "But I have something else I need to do. I can't be there."
"Really, Angelina. I'm sorry, but this is far more important than Quidditch. I'll be there next time, okay?"
She frowned at him but eventually relented. "Alright."
"Thanks," Harry said. "I should really go now," he said, both to her and his friends. "See you later."
He headed down to the dungeons at a quick pace despite the fact that he was early. This time Harry didn't bother to knock, but simply let himself into the office and then to Snape's chambers.
"Severus? Ready to finish the potion?" Harry asked.
"Yes," he replied. Severus pushed himself up with some effort.
"Are you okay?" Harry asked. "Do you need help?"
"I am fine," Severus insisted. "Go on. I will be right behind you."
Harry hesitated, but Severus gave him a stern look. Harry led the way out of the room. A few moments later, Severus stepped out and closed the door behind him, re-opening it to reveal his back room.
"Will you levitate that potion to the classroom? The ingredients we need are over there and it will be easier."
Harry obliged and soon they were situated at a work station in the Potions classroom. Without needing to be told, Harry went to gather the ingredients, leaving Severus to take a seat on one of the stools.
"Beeswax first, right?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Severus said. He bumped his arm and winced. Harry quickly said something, hoping to distract him.
"Did you hear what Umbridge did at the Quidditch match?" he asked.
"Yes, Professor McGonagall waxed on at length about the injustice," Severus said. "You were truly not informed of the new notice?"
"No," Harry said.
"That is not right. As little love as I have for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, it is not right."
"Glad you agree," Harry said. "Umbridge didn't seem bothered."
"Of course not."
Harry added the beeswax and began prepping for the final step. He thought about what Sirius had said. Harry had promised to tell Snape about his anger management issues. Looking at Severus now, though, so tired and worn, Harry couldn't bring himself to add yet another worry to his guardian's mind. He turned away, back to the potion.
And yet, Harry felt guilty for not telling Severus. He had promised to be open about such things and he didn't want it to seem like he couldn't, or wouldn't, tell Severus anything and everything.
"What is going on here?" Umbridge's voice came from the doorway.
Harry and Severus spun around to face her. "We're brewing a potion," Harry said dumbly.
"I can see that," Umbridge said, stepping farther into the room. "Why is it that you are well enough to brew a potion with your privileged student, but not well enough to teach, Professor?"
"This is a potion to help me recover," Severus said tiredly. "I needed Mr. Potter's help because I did not feel capable of doing it myself."
"Hm," Umbridge said, stepping over to the bubbling cauldron. "What is it?"
"Restorative draught," Severus replied smoothly. "Was there something I could help you with, Dolores?"
Harry could tell that he meant to degrade her by calling her by her first name.
Umbridge smiled. "I simply came to see how you were doing," she said with false sweetness. "However, I must excuse myself, I suddenly have a call to make. It seems you are being well cared for," she said a bit sarcastically. "Goodnight."
Neither Harry nor Severus responded.
"That can't be good," Harry said after she had left. He poured the potion into two tins. They had made a bit more this time, hoping it would go farther. With the increasing frequency of applications, it didn't look promising. Harry filled Severus's jar much more than he had his own.
"No," Severus said while smearing the fresh cream onto his horribly inflamed Dark Mark. "Watch your step, Harry. Hogwarts isn't what it used to be."
Harry shivered involuntarily. Severus was right.