It was still the same day, Harry realised with a jolt. Just the same day. Not even 24 hours. It had only been this morning, early morning he'd staggered into Hogsmead, Araminta in his arms. A lost child, he was returning her to her parents, that was all, just bringing her home…
That morning felt like a lifetime and a world away.
A flood of students crossed his path as he exited the featureless corridor leading to Dumbledore's office, talking excitedly amongst themselves. He drew back a little into the shadows, not wanting to deal with another heaping of misdirected hero worship.
It seemed the universe itself of late was intent on stopping him from reaching Severus. Part of him was secretly glad. After this time, after what had happened between them - a child for Merlin’s sake! - he didn’t know what exactly it was he would do when he they were face to face. What he would say. What he could say. The future was a vast chasm open in front of him and he was desperately afraid he’d fall headfirst into it, fall forever, blindly groping for a bridge that wasn’t there.
The flow seemed endless - where there ever that many students during his
years at Hogwarts? - but soon they were gone, leaving nothing but the echo of
their voices. He stayed in the shadows a little longer, trying to convince
himself he was just waiting until he was sure they were gone, knowing the real
reason was a dragging reluctance he couldn't shake. It took a conscious effort
to get himself to move, to force his feet to carry him down the marble staircase
and into the medical wing.
Inside the door, he stopped. The urge to run was stronger than ever now, an urge he'd felt for too long, one that he almost physically had to fight. He wasn't ready for this. Wasn't ready for what he could see, for what would be said. He just wasn't ready.
But would he ever be?
He forced himself a step closer, just far enough to see and not be seen. Close enough to see the row of empty starched beds.
Harry stared for a long moment, a sick kind of fury rising up inside him. What was Dumbledore playing at? That wasn’t Severus, that couldn’t be. Severus Snape wasn’t that pale, that still. Severus Snape wasn't that pathetic huddled shape under the blankets. He couldn't be.
A motion behind him made him turn, all to eager to tear his eyes away from that beaten face and awful truth. Professor McGonagall was closing the door quietly behind her, arms full of toddler. She gave him nothing more than a cursory nod, not giving away his position and for that he was oddly grateful. In fact, the toddler cuddled sleepily in her arms paid him more attention, staring across at him with beady eyes and one finger in her mouth. Harry stared back.
He knew how he was supposed to act. Act awestruck, that this little miracle was his, was part of him, that he’d had a part in her creation.
The first thing that came into his head travelled down to his lips without any intervention from the thinking part of his brain and was pure parent. “Don’t suck on your finger,” he said quietly. “You’ll ruin your teeth.”
Araminta stared at him. Raising one delicate eyebrow at him disdainfully, she removed her finger from her mouth.
Then blew him a raspberry.
He heard McGonagall give a choked-off not-quite-laugh, then she was moving into the room proper, stopping to exchange words with Madame Pomfrey.
"How is Severus today? I brought Araminta with me, I thought it might help…"
"Minerva, perfect timing! He's awake, thank Merlin, he's finally awake. We were so worried but the Albus' help, I think we're over the worst of it now." The beam on Pomfrey's face stretched out through her voice and filled the room as she reached out to eagerly cuddle the little girl. Her voice dropped a few levels as they moved towards the bed. "He was asking for her, I didn't know what to tell him, I'm so glad she's safe, I think it will really make a change to his condition, the stress hasn't been helping. I'll leave you two alone, I don't think poor Severus really wants an audience." She walked the other Witch to the lone occupied bed in the ward, then retreated, pointedly busying herself with meaningless paperwork on her desk.
Minerva cast a single look back to the corner where she knew Harry was hiding, then took the seat beside the bed on the far side from where he was watching - on purpose, he suspected.
The little girl in her arms went ballistic at the sight of the man in the bed. "Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa!" the deputy headmistress had her work cut out trying to keep hold of the squirming bundle and she muttered something, making a brief pass with her wand before letting the child go.
Harry winced, then nearly bolted from his hiding place at the act. Had McGonagall gone insane? He stopped himself barely in time when he noticed the screaming toddler wasn’t actually putting any pressure on the injured man. She was hovering a bare inch above the covers, close enough to cuddle and touch, but not close enough to cause any hurt. Levitation spell.
Black lashes flickered against pale bruised cheeks, eyes stuttering open, then Snape came awake to the sight of his daughter returned, safe, whole.
For a long moment he was frozen in sheer, wondrous disbelief. His lips formed shapeless syllables, one hand reaching up, fingers shaking to caress a tiny cheek.
Whispering his daughter’s name like a prayer, the syllables a bare kiss on the air, then his hand left her cheek, reaching up to cup the back of her head, pulling her down to him.
"Araminta. Oh merlin, Araminta…" his lips quivered, caught between a smile and tears as his shaking hands stroked over her hair, her face, wavering then breaking through to tears, and Harry pulled back further into the shadows.
Ridiculous. He knew Severus could cry, on a deep, logical level even though he’d never seen him – not for lack of trying a traitorous part of his mind whispered – but he didn’t know that he could cry like this.
Not like this…
McGonagall helped Snape to sit upright, supporting the taller man like he was little more than a helpless kitten and he leaned unashamedly into her, shaking with exhaustion and elation as he clutched almost desperately at the little girl in his arms, almost afraid she would disappear leaving him with nothing but a handful of dreams.
The toddler had his neck in a near-crazed grip, screaming his name over and over into the nearest ear in her piping voice, clinging to him in a frenzy of desperate happiness. "Papa! Papa! Papa!"
"Araminta…" it was all he could say, over and over. The little girl was near-hysterical with joy at the reunion and Snape seemed not far behind her, murmuring reassurances, not in any recognisable language, just a continual, soothing mantra, a little prayer keeping them in their own world as he returned the desperate little kisses, leaning forward and pressing his face to the little mop of black hair as his arms around her tightened. "Shh papa's here, papa's here, oh thank merlin, you're safe, you're safe.." the words dissolved into tears and wordless murmurs again.
Harry felt like an interloper, a pervert, standing here watching this and he pulled further back, looking away for a briefest instant before turning back. He couldn't look away. Not for a million Galleons.
Snape had now hooked an arm around Minerva, clutching both of them to him now, pressing a kiss on the surprised witches cheek. "You found her, oh merlin Minerva, thank you, thank you…" the witch returned the embrace, then pulled back, a pleased flush across her features.
"I'm glad Severus, but I didn't find her." She paused for a moment, face darkening a little with hesitancy before surging ahead. "Harry did."
Snape's elation seemed to drift a little awkwardly at that, face dipping down and pressing into his daughter's hair, eyes closing for a moment. "I should thank him. " the words were barely audible.
"He's here now, but if you're not ready, I can send him away Severus, it's not too much trouble, you need your rest - " the flow of words was halted by a hand on her wrist as Harry himself finally stepped forward.
"Hello, Professor Snape…" he managed quietly.
McGonagall hesitated, waiting for her cue from Severus before nodding and
relinquishing her seat. "Poppy is in her office," it was both a courtesy and a
warning as she helped Snape sit up, aided by a mountain of pillows. "Call her if
you need her, and I'll be out in the hall - " she cut off at a look from
Severus, then flustered, straightened her robes. "Yes. Poppy will be here."
Then she was edging out of the room, as if reluctant to leave the two men alone.
There were no joyful embraces for Harry. No impulsive kisses. Severus merely reclined on his bed, robes pulled around him, toddler nestling on his chest, face solemn and suspicious.
“I understand I have you to thank for the return of my daughter.” The bite was familiar, but no strength to it, and odd overtones of genuine thanks to it. “Thank you.”
“Our daughter..” Harry sat on the edge of the bed. So many questions, accusations, once he’d wanted to scream the question in anger at the man before him, but now he was soul-weary, hurt. He just wanted an answer.
Brief, blinding…panic?… flared up in Severus’ eyes. Flabbergasted, Harry followed his gaze down to see he was clutched the toddler in his arms in an almost crushing grip, as if afraid that Harry would snatch her away from him.
When he raised his gaze again, Severus was calm, controlled.
"Our daughter? Were you there when she was born? Mmm I think not, although Poppy assures me I did create several inventive curses expressly for you during her delivery. Madame Hooch has the entire event stored in her pensieve, the woman did take a perverse tables-are-turned delight in my condition. I'm sure she'll share the memory with you if you can be bothered." His hand drifted down the toddler's back. "Were you there when she smiled her first smile? Did you ever awake at night, hearing her cry, and feel your heart clench, that something was wrong?" the words beat at Harry, guilt echoing hollowly in his chest. "Were you there when she took her first step, said her first word? Did you ever comfort her when she fell, or help her blow out the candles on a birthday cake, face smeared with chocolate and cream, helpless giggles echoing in your ears? You seem so intent on claiming your daughter Mister Potter, can you tell me why you were never there?"
The guilt sounded louder building into a crescendo of anger and remorse. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't his fault! "Jesus christ Severus, did you ever give me the chance? IT WASN'T HIS FAULT, DAMMIT!
"Jesus who? Ah, yes, the muggle saviour. Perhaps you should be swearing by your own name. "Harry J Potter", it does have a ring to it."
Harry clenched his fists and found to his utter shock he was less than a breath away from attacking a seriously injured man on his sickbed. He forcibly calmed himself down, much to the relief of the unobtrusively hovering Pomfrey, who'd taken a few anxious steps closer to the pair.
He took several breaths before continuing, fumbling for the chair beside the bed. "You never gave me the chance. You never told me. I could -" the words broke and it took all of him to continue. "I could…I would have been there. You know I would have." Truth etched out of the words, spilling like ink across a blank page. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I was so stupid, I swear, but I was wrong, I do love you god Severus, why didn't you tell me?"
Snape watched him with colourless eyes, betraying nothing, seemingly unaffected by his impassioned words. "And you were so easy to reach, Mister Potter. Tucked away in your world of Aurors and intrigue. Tell me, if I had told you, would you have cared?"
The words were an outright slap in the face. Harry reeled under the impact, unable to think, unable to form words. Severus didn't even bother to look at him, filling the void between them with soft, almost lazy words. Horrible words, words Harry wanted to block out.
"You never knew because you never cared to know. You were never given the chance because you were never there to give the chance to. After all, what would the Great Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived, the greatest Auror of all care for a greasy evil Slytherin and his bastard child?" the words flowed out like raw silk, deadly as nightshade. "Why stay, why bother with a lover you don't need, why have any ties when there's nothing here compared to the gentle roar of the world outside, the adoration of thousands, basking in the adulation heaped so lovingly at your feet? What would one, small child be compared to all that?"
Tears pricked at his cheeks, chest heaving around a howl of anguish so strong it was silent, beating at his ribcage. He wanted to…oh merlin he wanted to so badly, he didn't know where to begin, didn't even know what he wanted. Everything. Anything. Scream against it. Run away. Pull Severus and their daughter into his arms and hold them close, never let them go, make the years disappear and do it over again, never leave this room, never come back, take another path, any path but this!
A hand reached up, fingers shaking with fatigue to brush against the tears on his cheeks and he leaned into the motion. The fingers were cold, impersonal, and quickly withdrawn as Snape pulled his hand back to observe the dampness glistening on the tips of his fingers. "Tears?" he mocked gently. "Oh come now, the Great Harry Potter isn't crying over a simple fuck is he?"
"Don't - " Harry choked out, but the other man's words rolled over him, somehow harsher for the pained softness of the tone.
"Don't what, Potter? Don't mock you? Don't walk away? Don't leave you cold and alone? Don't deride your misguided affections? That's all they are, after all. Simple childish crushes and idiots games. Oh…" the last was drawn out in a long sigh as he rested back on the bed, face turned to the ceiling, eyes half-lidded, lashes brushing against pale cheeks like butterfly kisses. "So the great Harry Potter has discovered his actions have consequences after all. mmm, and so brave he is now, coming home. For how long, I wonder? How long this time? After all, what will the world say of its golden boy when they discover his dirty little secret? How long before their adulation fades, and you chase after it again? It's just a mistake, that's all, and mistakes are so easily remedied when you run away. Another denial, another Death Eater defeated and you're once more bathing yourself in the splendor of being Harry Potter, the Great Harry Potter, the Glorious Harry Pot-"
"I'M NOT LIKE THAT AND YOU KNOW IT!" Harry finally screamed.
"Aren't you?" Snape shot back, just as furious, voice tempered by pain and
weakness, but mind losing nothing of its edge. "Do I?" He clutched the silent,
wide-eyed toddler in his arms closer to his chest protectively. "You come to me
singing songs of how you've grown and what a fool you were but I look into your
eyes and I see nothing but the same spoiled vicious little shit that lied
his way into my bed and fled when he was no longer amused. Time and time again I
have seen your peers and betters bow to you simply because of who you are and I
will not! You broke my heart and tried to ruin my life THERE'S NO WAY IN THE
DEEPEST HELL I WILL LET YOU RUIN MY DAUGHTERS."
Harry bolted from his seat, the chair flying backwards with the sheer force of his movements. His lips formed around a scream in retaliation, vaguely aware of the way his daughter's face was twisting into an unhappy howl, even Poppy was running forwards, Severus' name on her lips.
Snape himself beat all of them to it, face suddenly contorting in agony, hands stiffening and claw-like in a paroxysm of torment. Beads of sweat sprang freely on his forehead, teeth clenching around a thin scream and both Araminta and Harry cried out in the same instant, their voices drowned out by Poppy's as she hurried forward, pushing Harry out of the way. Snatching Araminta up, the mediwitch gently put her to one side, the toddler sitting on her backside in thin air, finger in her mouth, lips trembling on the way to a full-throated howl of fear as Pomfrey worked frantically on her father.
Harry wasn't far behind. He felt sick, helpless as the woman worked, stress throwing her thin features into sharp relief ash her hands worked quickly but steadily, muttering mild charms under her breath, spilling a sickly-coloured potion between the pain-thinned lips, one hand gently rubbing Snape's chest to help him swallow. "Breathe, Severus, try to breathe, it will ease, I promise…" and her words held true as the frantic gasps for air gradually quietened into ragged breaths, features relaxing and soothing into slumber. Poppy watched him for a moment longer before relaxing herself, pulling the blankets up and gently brushing a lock of sweat-soaked hair from Severus' face.
"He'll sleep now," was all she said to Harry, an abrupt dismissal as she took the now frightened and bewildered Araminta into her arms and gently soothed the crying child. "shh, shh, it's ok now poppet, Papa just got a little over excited, he'll be all right, it's ok now, it's ok…"
Harry slowly pressed himself away from the wall, fumbling for the chair. Legs shaking, he took the seat. Tiny lines of pain still showed on the other man's forehead and he reached out to soothe them, anger suddenly drained by the terrifying display. He took one of Severus' hands into his own, staring at the other man, willing the pain-filled breathing to ease, trying to calm down his own panicked heart. In the anger and argument, he'd forgotten how weak the other man was, that he'd been injured, and it had all been reminded him in a single, horrifying moment.
The hand in his felt odd, and his gaze drifted downwards. The fingers were splinted and bandaged, he noticed with the odd clarity of shock, the thin strips of cotton barely hiding the deep imprinted bruise in the shape of a boot.
They’d stomped his hands. His marvellous, long-fingered, skilled hands.
Harry felt the anger start a slow burn again. A dangerous anger. Behind him, Pomfrey was ratting bottles as she sorted through them. This was muggle medicine, not wizard – why? It would be a matter of moments to heal, why hadn’t they? The rattling grew louder, biting on his nerves as the sight of those marvellous, ruined hands filled his vision and he twisted in his chair, shouting the question at her.
“Why won’t you heal him? What the hell is the matter with you!”
“Harry!” Pomfrey hurried forward, shushing him. Araminta stared at him, fear sketching stark lines on her tiny face, clinging to the mediwitch as she perched on one hip, fingers once more back in her mouth. "Please, be quiet! That potion won't keep Severus asleep very long with you yelling like that and he needs to rest. I don't dare give him a stronger dose, not in the condition he’s in.”
Harry's hand clenched convulsively on the fingers nestled in his, then he forced himself to let go. "What happened." He knew he was grinding the words out, but couldn't help himself, pushed too far and stripped raw.
Poppy paused, then settled Araminta down on the bed. She immediately crawled up and nestled down against her father, head pressed into his chest to hear his heartbeat, one tiny hand clutching restlessly at the blankets. Crooking a finger, the mediwitch beckoned the Auror out of earshot of the toddler, transfiguring a pair of chairs and sinking into one.
"Harry, you've been through a tremendous shock," she started gently. "I don't think that this is the right ti - "
"I’m an Auror now, Pomfrey,” no honourific, the words were too bitter on his lips. "Tell me. I might be able to help him. I owe -" the words broke and he had to look away. "I owe him that, at least for what I've done."
Pomfrey hesitated. In her opinion, Harry looked in no condition to help anyone in strenuous spell casting. He looked worse than he did as a child on returning from holidays with those dreadful muggle relatives of his. Half-starved and ill-slept, huge bags under his eyes she wouldn’t trust him to levitate a cat, let alone try to untangle a net of twisted curses like this.
"We haven't been able to piece together much. The Obliviate was used as well. " She took a deep breath. "It happened in Hogsmead, three days ago. From what we gathered they attacked Severus near Dervish and Banges - that was where Winky…found him, the poor thing was taking down another scarf for Araminta, she was worried she'd catch a chill in the cold - " she pulled herself back on track. "- and we know he was collecting a package of potion ingredients he'd ordered, he didn't like to go into Diagon Alley since the children started being taken, we thought it wouldn't be safe, he still has a lot of enemies, and we thought he'd be safe here. But they came for him…"
As Poppy continued her tale, Harry shrunk deeper and deeper into himself. It had been a mix of vengeance and kidnap, they'd taken Araminta and Snape had fought back. Anger at the potions master's betrayal of their Lord had spilled into their original dark purpose with horrifying results. Not content with a simple attack, they had beaten him to an inch of his life, then unleashed the most horrific curses. Some of them he knew, the Cruciatus, Caesura, Comminute, others were darker, ones he'd only learned during his work as an Unspeakable. Saguina Flamare, blood to fire, Excoriate, dozens of others, marching through his mind in a hellish parade. Curses that were never meant to be cast. Curses that should never have been formed. Curses that had tangled and mutated like a ball of string that had been dropped, forming a living hell on earth.
And when they ran out of curses, they simply beat him again.
Harry's hands twisted in his robes until blood began to seep from his palms. It was a miracle Severus was even breathing. The same stubborn refusal to submit was all that had kept him alive, a refusal to die, a refusal to end until Winky had found him, until the others at Hogwarts could even begin to work at the tangled knot of hell he'd been bound to.
But he hadn't given in without a fight. Even cursed and beaten they hadn't taken his child easily. His wand had been found broken nearby, burns on the tips of his fingers evidence of wandless magic, raw power coursing through his very skin, the bodies of two death eaters nearby.
But in the end, he had lost.
Harry's eyes closed, leaving him in hell as the tale ended. Winky had fled screaming for help, and Rosemerta had sent a frantic owl to the Castle, the people gathering around the injured man, afraid to touch him, leaving him lying there twisted in pain, fist clenched around a single ribbon of Slytherin green. Empathy washed his soul. How many other parents had he seen the same? The desperate fear, the pleading in their faces, white knuckles clutching at some precious momento of their stolen child, begging for their return - would he have treated any of them the way he had treated Severus? No, but somehow because he was involved, because it was Snape, that had made it all right in his mind, alright to berate and abuse him, pick a fight with an almost fatally injured man in his sickbed, professionalism out the door and emotions he could have sworn he didn’t have any more taking control.
Poppy let him sit in silence for a moment, watching worriedly. Truth be told, she was more afeared for Harry than Severus at the moment. Severus was tucked up safe, he was healing, surrounded by those who would care for him, whereas Harry was cast adrift, unsure of his place, not hurting physically but mentally, in a place that would be hard to reach, to heal.
After a long moment, Harry stirred. "Can I sit with him a while?" he asked softly.
Poppy nodded. "For a little while. But please, don't upset him." What happened to you, Harry? She wondered. What turned that cheerful little boy I once knew into such a hurting young man? She watched him make his way back to the bed, every motion saturated with hurt, and prayed that there would somehow be a way to make it all right again.
For all their sakes.
Severus' eyes flickered open again as Harry sat down, head lolling tiredly to face him. "Still here, Potter? I would have thought that delightful display would have sent you packing. Or perhaps you take a sadistic delight in watching others suffer?"
"You don't scare me, Severus," it was whispered, words coming slowly as he realised the truth for himself as well. "You can't. I know you."
"And still you stay." Black eyes mocked him. "Then you're an even bigger fool than I took you for."
Harry edged closer and hesitantly took Snape's hand in his own, encouraged when the other man didn't pull away. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I shouldn't have said what I did. I shouldn't have upset you - "
"Don't treat me like an invalid, Potter," the rasp in his voice betrayed the harshness of the words. "There's no weakness for you to exploit. Not where my daughter is concerned."
Harry bowed his head. Without any volition from his mind, his fingers gently stroked the other man's wrist. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wasn't there then, but I didn't know. I know now, and this changes everything. Please, you have to see that Severus. I didn't know this had happened, and I can't change that," was the other man even listening? There was no change in his eyes, but he didn't pull his hand away. "But I can change it now. Please. I didn't even know, I didn't even know, but now I do and I want, I want…" he was blabbering, not even sure he was making sense in his own head, just eaten alive by an overwhelming need, an all consuming want. "Please…" and he was crying now, openly begging. "Please, I know I was an idiot, I know but I was wrong. I should have been there, I'll do whatever you want. I'll crawl if you want to, just give me a chance, please, she's my daughter too, and I never even got to hold her knowing that." The words splintered and broke, leaving him voiceless. "Please..?"
Snape couldn't even look at him now, eyes closed and face turning away. It was demeaning, watching the other man break so completely, the feeling that he had caused this, had made him cry and at the same time a vicious sort of victory at knowing he'd succeeded, as if destroying him now could somehow make up for the anger and hurt of three years ago.
Destroying the present couldn't change the past. It was something he knew well, no matter how hard he tried. Lily, Sirius, and now Harry.
Except this time it wasn't his life alone he was cutting ties, making decisions for. It was his daughters. Their daughter. Both he and Harry. And ultimately…
...did he have that right?
Araminta crawled up his chest, whimpering. "Don't cry Papa, don't be mad, at the nice man, he's a nice man, not a bad man Papa, please.." she wrapped an arm around her father's neck and hugged him clumsily, completely unaware of the cause of the tension of the room, but not immune to the emotions charging through it.
In the end, it was her actions that broke the stalemate.
Severus turned his eyes to Harry again and this time there was no thin veneer of disgust, or disguise in his face. They were incredibly old eyes, the eyes of a man who was ill, beaten, and above all tired.
"Do as you wish, Potter. You are here, and there is nothing I can do to change that fact. Nor can I change the fact that you are Araminta's father, and I owe that to her alone not to deny her any part of heritage."
Snape finally pulled his hand free from Harry's. "I'm not a child Potter. I cannot forgive, nor forget at a moments notice. For her sake, I will attempt to be civil. But don't ask for anything more."
Hope welled eternal, even now. Harry could almost see the unspoken word in the air. Yet
"I won't." He pulled his hands back into his lap, almost desperate for anything that Severus would deign to give him. The mirror of Erised had been cruelly correct - his deepest desire was to have a family, to belong, and he'd unwittingly turned his back and walked away from it. Reaching out, he hesitantly touched, then stroked his daughter's hair, touching her for the first time as her father, revelling in that quite knowledge.
They sat there together, the three of them in a calm, if not companionable silence, a family almost united, at ceasefire with each other if nothing else. After a while, Severus drifted back into an uneasy sleep and Harry sat with him a while, grateful that Poppy allowed him this moment, and the time to recompose himself before chasing him out of the infirmary.
Perhaps there was hope, after all.
All Content Copyright © 2001 Taleya Joinson