I didn’t know her. That little Slytherin girl, the first year. The one who never came back from the Christmas holidays. Dumbledore broke the twisted news to the school at dinner our first night back – it had been her family. He spoke about how bright little Hallie had been and about child abuse and all the things no one ever talks about.
I was a fifth year, sixteen years old, and I never thought anything of it until then. I never thought about the withholding of food or the days in the cupboard or endless hours in the scorching sun or the quick slaps and backhands and on a few special occasions, the belt. I never thought twice. Child abuse? But some kids deserve it, like me, because I’m not normal. I dyed the teachers hair and grew my hair after Aunt Petunia cut it and placed a burden onto their perfectly normal family.
Don’t get me wrong, I had asked to stay with Ron at during summers. Actually, I had begged. Pleaded. I dreaded that gnawing feeling in my stomach and the feeling of Uncle Vernon’s wedding ring on my cheek. But no one ever listened because I wasn’t normal. Or at least that’s what I thought. I really thought that. So I went home to the blistering sunburns and flying spittle and degrading words, again and again.
But then, Hallie happened. And all of a sudden, everyone cared. Professors told us we could come to them for anything, about anyone, and by anyone they meant anyone’s angry fists or maybe their black leather belts. I knew they didn’t mean me. They never do. No one ever does. I’m not normal in my Aunt and Uncle’s world and I’m not normal in the Wizarding world, my lightening scar acts as a barrier between me and everyone else, everyone but maybe Voldemort. And he is definitely not normal.
I didn’t say anything. To anyone. Even when I heard some kids, they had cracked. They told the stories about what happened to them behind closed doors. But I didn’t because I was different and not deserving of help and I even prided myself a little bit, about being such a good secret keeper.
That didn’t stop my mind, though. While my lips would not speak, my mind would. I never really thought about the Dursley’s at school before, not unless I was still nursing bruises and welts from their loving home. I liked to forget about them. But with Hallie dying and the ensuing events, they plagued me. Memories of being locked up for days and of being gifted with a black eye on Christmas Eve (Dudley claimed I tried to open one of his presents) haunted me, day and night. After a few days of this, I realized that I had an upcoming problem: occlumency.
Snape, the cruelest professor, thought it was fun to invade my thoughts every Wednesday under the guise of occlumency lessons. I had been too busy with the mountains of OWL homework to remember them and realize what Hallie had done to me.
She had left my most private, most sacred, most well hidden thoughts at the front of my mind, like an open book. Snape thought I was wretched at occlumency, but you can bet he hasn’t seen Uncle Vernon bodily throw me into my cupboard or the one time he made me pick the belt he would beat me with (I was really in trouble that time).
But now, these thoughts of my spoiled childhood were all my mind wanted to consider. And I had occlumency that night! I was worried, but I knew I had to go, or Snape might just come kill me or steal me from my bed. Or more likely, make sure I failed my Potions OWL so that I couldn’t become an auror. The only thing I could do was spend the rest of the day trying to occlude the thoughts. I looked it up, in the library. Snape hasn’t taught me anything, but the library has. I built those
thoughts a little space to hide in the corner of my mind. A space that looked remarkably like the cupboard under the stairs.
With sweating palms and a thudding heart, I walked to the dungeons that night, knocked on his classroom door, and was invited inside by his stern and unwelcoming voice.
I had scrambled in, sat down across from him, and looked at him expectantly. He caught me off guard, that’s what he did, when he shouted “legilimens!” without warning. Usually he took a few minutes to insult my intelligence or degrade my parents. My thoughts swirled past in such a violating way. You’ll never know what legilimency really feels like, how it invades your soul, until it happens to you. Through the whirling, I felt it.
He had found my makeshift cupboard. And fast.
My head flashed in a quick moment in pain, before the memories started to wind by. Slower than a whirl. Slower than before. He was looking. That git was actually looking at these memories, of course he was. I was sure he was smug that he had found something my “idiotic head” had tried to hide, desperately.
Five-year-old Harry is hit with the spatula, still hot from the bacon it had been busy burning, over and over.
Seven-year-old Harry writes his name on one of the stairs above his head, as he sits on his bed with a blossoming contusion on small cheek.
Snape was still there, more oppressive now. Unwilling to leave my mind, which so desperately wanted the greasy git gone.
Eight-year-old Harry cowers under his belt-wielding Uncle, green eyes bright with fear and tears as he begs for forgiveness. He hadn’t meant to be on the school roof, he really hadn’t, it just happened! His pleas did nothing and the belt buckle flashed through the air.
Nine-year-old Harry stands, propped up by the kitchen doorway, “Please, Aunt Petunia, I haven’t eaten for nearly three days.” The curt reply, “Freaks don’t deserve food. Back to the flowerbeds, now!”
Twelve year old Harry stumbles away from his Uncle’s fist, holding his eye, “And don’t you think of touching the telly again, boy!” echoing around him.
Leave, I thought, I pleaded. Leave me alone. You have seen enough. You have seen too much.
Fourteen-year-old Harry looks through the bars on a dingy window in a small room, a room with four locks on the door and a cat flap at the bottom. A cat flap there for his measly meals.
Sixteen-year-old Harry crosses through Platform 9 and ¾ with his head down then walks quickly to a dark, unoccupied corner where he applies a glamour to hide his going away gifts – a black eye and mottled cheek.
Finally, Snape pulled out of my mind. The professor was staring at me, shock and anger written on his face. His hands were shaking and balled into fists. I cowed and studied the dirty classroom floor.
I continued staring.
“Potter. Look at me. Now.”
I looked at him, ashamed. He knew my secret. No one knew my secret. And now the worst person who could possibly know, the man who seemed to hate me from the depths of what little soul he had, knew.
“What was that?” He inquired, his voice almost shaking, but not really, because the dungeon bat’s voice doesn’t shake. It just doesn’t.
I scrambled for what to say, what could I say? So I said the first thing that came to my mind – “Nothing. It was nothing.”
“That was not nothing.” He sounded angry now.
I shrugged. I didn’t have anything to say to him, except maybe “fuck you”.
“Do not lie to me, Potter. Do you want to end up like my little Slytherin? Do you want to be six feet under, Potter? Do you?” He was demanding, and angry. At me? I couldn’t tell. I thought he was though, at my silence and my “stupidity”.
His little Slytherin? I was shocked – had he cared about Hallie? Of course, he had known her while I hadn’t. I considered it, the git of the dungeons, a heart? A caring, beating heart? And that’s when I realized it, he felt responsible. Responsible for that little girl’s death. She had been his responsibility at school and now she would never go to school again.
“The Dursley’s won’t kill me. I’m fine, sir.”
This time, he stared at me. Stared. And stared some more.
“Tell me, Potter, are you really that dense? You are not fine. Not fine at all. And you are apparently more adept at occlumency than I previously thought.”
I looked at him, than away quickly. That was almost a compliment, coming from Snape. But he was only being kind of nice because he knew. And I knew that.
“Potter, your Uncle hit you on what seems to be a regular basis. I am under the impression that you lived in a cupboard as a young child and were familiar with the buckle end of your Uncle’s belt as well as the feeling of hunger. You are not fine, nor have you ever been fine.”
This time, I was angry. Angry that he thought something was wrong with me. I was fine. Nothing was wrong and I deserved what they had done to me. I wasn’t like Hallie and the other kids and I never would be. I was different and he had to know that!
“I’m FINE! I can handle it! You don’t have to feel guilty, I won’t die because I never die because I’m a freak!” I shouted at him, I really did, I was angry. Oh so angry and scared and cornered and ashamed and angry.
His face softened a bit, in disbelief I think. And I stopped, in disbelief as well, at the human I saw in him right then. My chest was heaving, my eyes were burning, my heart thudding, and everything felt so alive and I saw it, I saw that he was real and human and breathing and hurting over that little girl. And he cared about me enough to be mad at me, for not telling and for thinking everything was fine.
My heart’s beats were suddenly all I could hear as it filled up my body. Harry? Had he just called me Harry? I knew my shock was written on my face.
“You’re not a freak. Is that what the Dursley’s always called you?”
I didn’t answer, at least not for a minute. I let the answer build up inside me until I couldn’t bear to hold it any longer, he cared, at least right now my most hated professor cared and I had to tell him. Even if he never cared about me again, it was someone and it was some time and I latched onto it.
Finally in a giant exhale of emotion, I replied, “They hated magic.”
He looked at me, I could almost see my memories, which now also belonged to him in his mind whirling behind his obsidian eyes.
“So they hated you?”
I looked away from him. His human side was new and scary and weird and new. Oh Hallie, what have you done to the dungeon bat?
“Yeah. They did.”
He nodded, gaining his composure a bit, becoming a bit more like the original Snape. His teacher mode was kicking in, I could tell. His voice was still soft but less wounded.
“Did he hit you a lot?”
I shrugged, “I guess.”
“The cupboard, did you really sleep there?”
“For ten years.”
He seems to sag under the weight of this burden, while I felt my shoulders straighten. For once, I was not alone in this, even if only for an hour.
“And the food?”
I let out a small, sardonic laugh, “What food?”
He brought his hand to his face as he lowered his head. I was startled at this display of emotion from such a stoic man. I felt a bit uneasy as I watched him shake his head. He muttered something like, “I am so sorry I failed you, you were my best friend…”
I wrote it off because I was not about to ask him what he was talking about. He may be more real than ever before, but this was still Snape I was talking to.
I hesitantly asked, “Professor Snape?”
He lifted his head, a hint of pain on his face. I was genuinely surprised at how real he was, about how upset he was.
“You won’t go back there.”
I sat up straight, surprise an inadequate word for my feeling. I felt a burst of hope swell inside my chest, before I quelled it. I couldn’t get my hopes up, not like Sirius in third year. The fists had hit harder and the hunger came quicker that summer, because I had thought, I had been sure, that I was getting away. But I didn’t because I never would and it made everything so much bigger and harder and more painful.
“What?” I replied, “I have to. Dumbledore won’t let me go anywhere else. I’ve asked. Every year.”
“You have told Dumbledore about the abuse?”
I cringed at the word as I said, “Well, no, not really. But he knows I hate it there. He never asked why.”
Snape shook his head, at Dumbledore’s inadequacies. His fists clenched again as he closed his eyes.
“I do not care if you spend your summer holidays with me, if he finds other placements inadequate. I will not allow you to return to that, for lack of a more appropriate term, hellhole.”
I grinned at Snape’s cursing and at the offer he had put on the table. Live with Snape? I had never even remotely considered it. But he had showed me today that he could be real and not a total rude, demeaning git. The thought of never living with the Dursley’s seemed too good to be true and I decided that I had to leave the dungeons and go back to familiarity, go back to my friends, go back to people who didn’t know how familiar with hunger I really was, before it all became too much. For both of us.
“Wow, uh, thank you, sir. I would love to never return to the Dursley’s, I mean, that would be great, really.” It had been such an awkward reply but I didn’t know what to say and I wanted to get away. “I really need to return to Gryffindor tower though, it’s getting late…”
For a moment, Snape seemed as if he wanted to hold me back, keep me there discussing what it was really like in the cupboard and how much Vernon really, really hit me. Then he seemed to be struggling, struggling quite a bit actually, as he nodded and took a step towards me.
“You should return. I will keep in touch.”
I nodded. His arm gave a weird twitch and he struggled a bit more with himself before he did the unthinkable.
He hugged me.
The amount of times an adult had hugged me could be counted on one hand.
But Snape, I never thought he would hug anyone let alone me, his least favorite student according to the entire school.
The embrace was quick, and I was too shocked to return the hug. This did not seem to affect him, but I could feel how unashamedly quick his heart was thumping. In that quick hug from a seemingly unhuggable, unfeeling man he said something that I never forgot.
“You are not fine, Mr. Potter. But you will be.”
And he was right.