Chapter 10: Sinner’s Stairs
The days passed, and Harry and Snape continued to be who they always were. But they were together, and they were not hating it so very much after all. They were each serving as a pastime for the other. And it was becoming comfortable. They played their little games with one another, ate their strangely assembled lunches, talked, sometimes for hours and into the night, about books and the war and their childhoods and the future and muggle weirdness and the local flora and fauna. They complained about the Ministry of Magic together.
They found themselves bizarrely appreciating some of the same shared memories, even when they were sources of contention between them. Just the fact that they were both still alive to talk about it made them fond. Sometimes their conversations became macabre, and they joked about death. Both had seen enough of dying almost to be desensitized by it, to a point. It was coming, of course, to take them; but they were together now, and ribbing about death seemed to give them power over it.
And yet at the same time…they seemed to almost forget what was coming. Like, it wasn’t real. It was just a game. No real harm would come to them, as long as they could still spar with each other, still keep their silly little routine in check. So they kept at it, their antagonistic bond. And they seemed to relish in it.
One day, Snape was awake and waiting for Harry to show up for his daily dose of snark on snark, when the door opened. “Behold, the conquering hero comes,” he intoned. When he looked up at him, though, his tone of voice changed. “Bloody hell, Potter…what on earth happened to your face?”
Harry automatically reached up and touched the bad scrape running along his cheek. “Eh, it’s nothing.” He proceeded to stumble in the doorway, notably off-balance.
“Nothing…bull,” Snape sighed. “Did you have another tussle with a troll in the girls’ lavatory?”
“I outgrew trolls ages ago,” he shrugged.
“Then you slipped on a bar of soap in the shower?”
“Ouch…that’s silly. I always take baths.” He rested his hand on the side of his head.
“Sit down, you young fool, before you fall down on your rear. I am quite unwilling and ill-equipped to be nursing you in any way, shape, or form should such an accident occur.”
“Come off it; I know you’re wishing it on me,” Harry muttered, slumping into his usual chair by the cot.
Snape wasted no time in snatching Harry’s lower jaw, in a no-nonsense fashion, and turning his face to observe his injured cheek.
“Oww!” Harry yelped. “You slimy git, you…”
“Alright, spit it out, what happened?”
“I’m not telling you,” he mumbled.
“What, would it bruise your precious pride, hmm?”
“You just happen to be the merciless sort.”
“I also happen to be the knowing sort.” His eyes widened. “Was it the stairs, Potter?”
Harry groaned. “Those things have mind of their own.”
“Yes, but you’re supposed to try and outsmart that mind,” Snape noted. “You’re just lucky you didn’t get it worse. Are you injured anywhere else?”
“Aside from all my bones getting knocked together, I got a rather nasty bump on the head.”
“Let me see,” Snape snapped, feeling about on Harry’s head.
“Okay…you’re being weird!”
“Shut up,” his former teacher huffed. “Ah, yes…found it. Almost the size of a hard-boiled egg by now.”
“Thanks for the vivid description,” Harry muttered.
“Have you been nauseous, light-headed, even more stupid than usual, or sensitive to light, sound and the shrill female voices emanating from your hero-worshipping herd of admirers?”
“Herd?” Harry chortled. “You make them sound like water buffalo!”
“If the shoe fits…”
“Hey, some of them are pretty hot.”
“Then tell them to take off their outer capes and get some fresh air lest they faint and cause more disturbance to an already disturbed magical society.”
“I’m not against them taking off their capes,” Harry assured, slyly. “They kind of mess up observation accuracy.”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Just like…him. Warped little monster.”
“Oh, come on, are you telling me you’ve never had any thought about these things all this time?” Harry challenged. “I wouldn’t call you the sheltered type.”
“The fact is, Potter, I am monogamous,” he stated. “It’s a choice, not a condition. And believe me, with all the running about these days…”
“Eh, monogamy is overrated. One has to map out the lay of the land…”
“Do not interrupt the teacher, brat.”
“What are you going to do? Dock points?”
“Yes,” he hissed. “And then hold you to your honor as a would-be graduate of Hogwarts to reveal to Professor McGonagall, after I am decidedly deceased, that I docked them.”
“That’s…putting a lot of trust in me,” he noted.
“Point of fact, I have come to believe that somewhere in there you have a conscience. Which brings me back to the original point: you don’t go chasing after a girl on sight. You don’t go looking her over like she was a milk cow…”
“You’re the one who called them a herd!”
“Irrelevant,” he snapped. “It’s still not the right thing to do, you little beast. It’s putting the horse before the cart. You’ve got to…care enough about her to make things right by her, before biological stimulation comes into play.” He exhaled. “The fact that a defected death-eater has to be the one to tell you that is pathetic, but it’s obviously got to be done, no two ways about it.”
“Well, thank you for that snippet of advice from dating central,” Harry chirped.
Snape’s eyes sparkled dangerously. “You’re lucky you already have a head injury…or you’d get something to make up for the lack.”
“Wait, so you’re saying you’ve never entertained any…fantasies?”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “If you mean, vagrant, have I thought upon the general gist of the process at given points in my life, then I will concede to that. However, if you are asking if I entertained wild illusions of sensual bliss with mythical females too perfect to even be desirable, than I must decline from association with it.”
“So what do you find desirable?”
“You know, romantic? Sexy? Whatever you want to call it?”
Snape shrugged. “I’m sure you’re just dying to know…”
“Look, you just gave me a big lecture on what not to do, and I’m curious about your alternative. Your philosophy of romance.”
“Anything can be romantic, including nonsexual things, believe it or not,” his teacher grumbled under his breath. “Walking can be romantic, if you don’t care particularly about getting anywhere. Talking can be romantic, if there’s trust in it, and something more meaningful than sweet nothings, with quiet spaces in it that aren’t awkward, like a symphony. Reading can be romantic, eating can be romantic, making things grow can be romantic….as long as someone is there who understands, even in an unspoken way, that it all is worthwhile, that there’s something greater to life than running about like chickens without heads in search of a thousand ways to amuse or thrill or entice each other onwards, in some perverted little game, to prove to the world that you’re not…alone. That you can keep the other party constantly entertained, like a painted clown at a circus, and always terrified of dropping the juggling balls someday, and having the audience break up.”
Harry stared at him with his mouth open. “That was…quite a rant.”
“You got what you asked for; now you’re complaining?”
“I was originally asking about fantasies, but that…that was…actually, I don’t know what that was…”
“Fantasy is not my forte. I deal in facts.”
“Not even fantasies about…well, you never think about…?”
Snape tightened. “Don’t…ask me that.”
“I’m not trying to mock you,” Harry disclaimed. “I just…wondered. It wouldn’t be unnatural if you had or anything. You obviously…cared beyond anything skin deep.”
In all truth, Snape did not often fantasize about making love to Lily; he just imagined with brutal accuracy how it might have gone, and the result was far from uninhibited bliss. He knew he was no ladies’ man like James Potter, and he had always been reticent about physical interaction of that sort. Indeed, when he first read about it in a text book at around 12, he had felt rather unwell.
He could not imagine that his sexual shyness would have just evaporated if he and Lily ever did wind up having a wedding night. In fact, he vaguely envisioned himself gulping down some type of generic “courage” potion (that tasted more like cough syrup) in a shoddy bathroom before entering his own room in a barely-make-ends-meet cottage somewhere.
Lily in the flesh would have been beautiful, of course; gazing at her fully would have been pleasurable. But Snape himself would no doubt have tied himself up as tight as he could in a black robe and been terrified to take it off. He had heard enough about women’s unrealistically high expectations for wedding nights, and would have been afraid that what he had to offer would send hers crashing down. He was not the most handsome man in the world, simple fact, and he didn’t think nakedness would have improved him, either.
He could imagine his young self having said something totally unappealing like, “Want to just try to see how far we get with this thing while our clothes are still on, and see if you even like it up to that point?”
Of course, even madly impassioned kissing that he had observed others engaging in had sort of confused him…how would they not bite each other’s tongues or clash noses (of which he was particularly concerned, possessing a decidedly large specimen)? Lily being Lily, she probably would have indulged his awkwardness, because he would have that frightened little boy look in his eyes that she had a hard time resisting. But her patronizing him would probably only have made him feel worse.
Finally, he hoped, his body would have just taken over…but even then, he had a feeling he probably would have been half sick worrying about doing something wrong and hurting her and somehow sending her to the hospital…or maybe just failing to meet her needs, which was almost certain given how his off-beat “drive” took forever to strike on, and then struck off again with noteworthy rapidity and little ceremony. Then he probably would have apologized forever and a day for destroying her whole experience.
But in the back of his mind, he thought of a way the worst could have been averted by trying to establish the mood. He could have read to her in bed first, something old and richly romantic, the kind of thing that reads like honey off the lips, like “The Lady of Shalott”.
“On either side of the river lie long fields of barley and of rye, that clothe the world and meet the sky, and through the field the road runs by to many-towered Camelot…”
The gilded sweetness of it might have aroused the slumbering passion that sometimes stirred in his voice, deep and dark, simmering beneath the surface like hot, melted chocolate.
“And moving through a mirror clear that hangs before her all the year, shadows of the world appear…there she sees the highway near, winding down to Camelot…”
The ribboned roll of timeless words could have been the silver dagger that cut to the heart of him, and his hands might have spoken more words, his own words, and stroked the sunbeam hair and moonbeam skin as covers fell away and they became an open book to one another. Her emerald orbs then would have swallowed him up in the moment, and their lips clasped, tasting the words “I love you” over and over again, with no other concern to taint it. And oh, he could have died to taste it…
“And in her web she still delights, to weave the mirror’s magic sights, and often in the silent nights a funeral with plumes and with lights and music went to Camelot…”
And in the intensity of becoming part of each other, his tongue would have murmured it too, and after the tension had passed. He imagined the feeling of her holding him, of the softness of her breast against the hard support of his chest, and how the pulsing of their hearts’ blood inside of them would run together in a unison of sound, like two streams trickling into a great river that gushes out into the fathomless, saltwater sea of longing and tears.
“She left the web, she left the room, she made three paces through the room, she saw the water lily bloom, she saw the helmet and the plume…she looked down to Camelot…”
And he would have known that all this was a new expression of the same love, not some mechanical act, disconnected from all that had gone before. No, they would have still been able to embrace with warmth, as their love had blossomed warm with childhood…but it might have been matured, finalized, and run deeper down.
“So…are you going to tell me whether you outsmarted the stairs or not?”
He snapped back to reality after his rare attempt at a partially successful fantasy, and averted his gaze from the boy.
“Oh, go on, be fair,” Harry teased him. “Tell me how you got yours.”
“Perhaps I prefer to keep the circumstances to myself, you reckless intruder,” he growled. “Have you not learned any respect for the privacy of others?”
“Okay, okay,” Harry conceded, and then fell silent. “Let’s just forget the whole thing.”
Snape seemed somewhat surprised by the boy’s willingness to let it lie. “I will say this,” he offered quietly. “The stairs have a way of getting their man…even if they have to wait up to the last year.”
“So…for both of us then?”
Snape shrugged. “Those sadistic stairs have inflicted worse damage than a good clean knock to the head. They can crush you, body and soul, if they have the mind to do so.” He exhaled, and added, “Sometimes I think this whole damned place has a hankering for inflicting harm.”
Snape remembered the day the stairs had taken him down…he remembered it because it was the day of his mother’s funeral. He had asked her, before leaving for his final year at Hogwarts, if she wanted him to stay with her. She was almost too weak to get off the sofa, and his father had been gone for days. She had insisted he go. He had protested harshly to cover his feelings, too harshly about it not being seemly even for “bad boys” to leave their mothers to cough to death. And then she had cried, and he had cursed his father, and she had cried more, and somehow, for once, he found himself cradling her skin-and-bones body against him. And then she had pushed him off of her and told him to go. And so he had left.
And he knew. He knew the message would come, any time. And it did, in the form of a phone call…from Tobias Snape. His father, broken-voiced, asking him to come back, come back to Cokeworth for the funeral. And 17-year-old Severus, with the coldest of precision, had refused. And with the coldest of precision, he had wished his father dead. Then he hung up the phone.
The day of the funeral came, and the whispers ran scurrying through the school, of his Slytherin cruelty in refusing even to bid his last respects to his mother. But he felt a pair of green eyes upon him in the classes, the first time in a long time, and he knew that she knew the truth. She very nearly had come over to him at the end, but the Gryffindor goons had cut her off, delayed her motion as Snape, torn up inside, shunted out of the class room.
Later that day, the final straw was drawn. He was called into the headmaster’s office to receive some “urgent news.” What he heard drained him white. Tobias Snape…was dead. Killed himself. Cut his wrists. Dead. He had written the beginning of his son’s name in blood, they said, on the wall. No one knew what he had meant.
Snape did not properly recall at what point his breaking point was breached. It all was a haze after coming out of Dumbledore’s office, still processing his father’s suicide…then he remembered hearing Potter taunting him in the hall with an old drinking song…
“If I had another penny, I would have another gill…I would make the pipe play ‘The Bonny Lass of Byker Hill’…”
Snape had made an honest effort to get away from him; he felt too out of sorts to even fight, and knew that if he let himself go it would certainly be to the death. But Potter blocked his path. They were on the edge of the stairs, and their faces were only inches apart. And then he had started the taunting…about his washerwoman mother with loose morals and his drunken brute of a father caked in factory grime…and what a fine, very fine son they had raised…who wouldn’t go to his own mother’s funeral, and wished his father in his grave.
Severus had grunted some shivering warning, but Potter pressed it, one step further…Snape did not even recall exactly what was said…perhaps it was something about his lack with the ladies…but it made him snap. He snapped, snapped like a twig in the wind, like a sword over the knee, and they both found themselves in mortal combat on the stairs.
They fought and fought, thirsting for blood with no lesser prizes being offered or accepted, scratching and striking and spitting and kicking, ramming into each other beyond the realm of restraint. Potter struck him below the belt, and he crumpled, but then Snape managed to flip him over by reaching between his legs and tripping him. Sprawled on equal terms now, Snape pounced on his nemesis, and before he could properly worm his way out of it, the Cokeworth commoner had the mouthy-southy in a death-grip around the throat.
It would take strength, Snape estimated, to keep his former tormenter subdued until the strangulation was complete. He was already writhing with all he had to free himself. But Severus was beyond compunction now, and all he wanted was to feel his tormenter’s life melt away in his hands. He had Potter’s one arm pinned behind his back, and the other could do little but weakly dig nails into Snape’s shoulder. He could put up with that last pain…well enough…
“Brat…brat, you cunning bitch-born brat…” Snape hissed, as he consciously let Potter draw a breath before siphoning it off again. “You’re going to know…how it feels…slow torture…like you made my every…waking hour…how dare you…torture me…”
It was a strange thing, being so physically close to his arch-enemy, to the point of feeling the thumping in his tightening chest, and feeling how hot his neck was becoming under the merciless collar of his bony fingers. He felt Potter twitch under the extended agony cutting off his breath. Snape imagined he was in a state of disbelief…how could a perfect, charmed life end this way?
“There, do you feel it?” he demanded, but his voice was breaking, beginning to feel as if he himself was the one losing air. “Do you feel…that?” Again, he purposely let Potter draw breath, more like a stifled gasp this time, before once again applying the pressure to his windpipe. And again, there was squirming, writhing, clawing…
“No, no more,” Snape snarled. “You’re going to know what it’s like…to die…like you…killed me…” He leaned his body weight into him, and held it, and held it, and held it…
He held the grip ever tighter until Potter’s eyes grew foggy and his face turned a grisly shade of purple. His body began to respond automatically, and he regurgitated the saliva being pressed out of his throat. The foam flaked his trembling lips like the frost of death. It was then Snape decided he wanted to see the last thoughts of his enemy, to relish in them as they muddled in his mind and then ceased to be.
But when he found his own thoughts penetrating that strangulated boy, he suddenly felt overwhelmed. So many feelings and memories, hopes and despairs, piercing through him all in an instant….Quidditch matches won, and the skateboard he got when he was 10, and how his parents would handle seeing their only son in a casket. Pain, terror, shock…the realization that the life was slipping away, and he could hold it back. And the random acknowledgement that his neck must be bruising…
And then…and then…Lily….she was in his mind first in memory, and Snape saw them both at the parties, the picnics, the social gatherings for House Gryffindor…the two of them dancing playfully by an outdoor fountain, and later sharing an ice cream cone and getting brain freezes and laughing…of a beautiful opal necklace he had fastened on her, and how he naughtily kissed her neck….and how she had blushed and smiled.
Then he saw not memories, but dreams…dreams of the future that now would surely never be, of her in bridal white, of the bouquet thrown, and the kiss of passion she would share with Potter…of the wedding night, oh, God…flesh upon flesh creating one flesh….and knowing that she enjoyed it, that she was happy…and happier still in the future, as she cradled a child…Potter’s child…in her arms. But the child…had her eyes…
Snape felt his hands shaking and his eyes welling up with tears. “You….you!” he spat. “Look…what you’ve done to me…look…at your monster! May you burn in hell before you touch her!” He felt himself losing himself so badly, bloodlust was burning like fire through his brain, like all the torments of hell…
And yet even so, he felt himself loosening the stranglehold and allowing him to chokingly draw another breath. He started coughing hard on his own spittle, and Snape roughly shoved him over on his side to spit it out.
“I hate you…hate you…hate…” Snape’s words ground to a halt as hot tears coursed down his face. If he killed Potter, no matter how deserved he felt it was in that moment, he would somehow be killing Lily’s own future, her own child-to-be…and in that way, he would be killing a part of her very self. And that…he could not do. No…even throbbing in the apex of hatred…he could not do it.
The next thing he knew, the Marauders were on him in force, dragging him off of his half-conscious victim…and then beating the living daylights out of him. Snape did not even bother to fight back; there were too many, and he just didn’t care. He was too burnt out inside to bother. He just let the pain soak through his broken soul and when it became too intense, tried to stagger, stagger away from them so they wouldn’t keep hitting him…and then the stairs…those cursed stairs joined in the fun…they moved, they betrayed him…and everything flashed away…
Laying there at the bottom of the stairwell, he had been unable to let the fragmented imagery tearing through his head coalesce into actual thoughts. Everything, inside and out, felt shattered like mirror glass, and he felt submerged in his own cursed bad luck. All he knew was that the pain was gnawing at every part of him, and he could not find the strength to move. He felt warm liquid running down nose …he struggled to breathe through it.
And then there was Potter in front of him, staring down at him. Snape couldn’t talk, but just stared blankly, blearily into the eyes of his enemy who he had nearly strangled to death. He couldn’t even direct his hatred properly anymore. Everything felt off-balance and tangled up inside. He felt as if he were slipping away somehow, and everything outside his own sphere of pain was in another dimension.
But all he knew was that look in Potter’s eyes was the look of someone watching a snake, just having been bashed in the head, writhing in twisted circles. And no one pities a snake in agony. They just wait and watch with a strange fascination, a disgusted stimulation, for this slithering evil to go stiff and still. And Snape had never felt so very evil before, realizing that indeed, he was embodying it, that his pain was seen as evil, and evil suffering, and evil rendered helpless…it was a triumph, it was a good thing…it hurt…
He heard some voices off in the distance; he assumed they were going to get help, after all. The reluctant kind of help that keeps body and soul together, just barely, but does nothing…to stop…pain…
“Your snout’s broken, Snivelous,” Potter rasped, barely audibly, from the intense swelling in his throat. “It was never much to look at…anyway.” Shakily, he dug into his pants, and threw something on the ground. The clatter made Snape tighten. He felt so battered, even sound pierced him. He couldn’t do anything but keep looking with empty eyes at his enemy, tasting the air clotting in his spittle.
Then he managed to see…it was…a coin, lying on the ground next to him.
“Worth your weight in gold,” Potter spit out, falling weakly against the wall, but the contempt still crawling through his bloodshot eyes. “Go…buy a gill with it.”
With a shaking, insanely shattered sense of fury, Snape had snatched at that coin to cast it as far away from himself as he could, but he could not manage the throw, and it fell only a pace away from him. Then he found himself mindlessly cursing, using every swear word he could remember from out of his father’s mouth, mixed with the magical curses that, wandless as he was, would have no effect. Still, he continued swearing brokenly until he was half-drowning in his own blood, unable to lift himself up to let it drain out of his nostrils. And he found that he was afraid.
He felt a rough shove from a boot and found himself flat on his stomach. It made it easier for him to breathe, although the movement made his nerves feel torn apart. He found himself ranting inarticulately in the midst of his helplessness, sinking into a lurid haze of delirium, and then unintentionally finding the anger melting into more tears, and his words of hatred falling in and out, like sobs. On an instinct that ran deeper than the will, “Lily” formed on his lips. After all, she had been more than a mere friend or even potential lover…for when his mother was not there for him, when she had been more worried about pleasing his father than protecting him, Lily had been made up for it…she had been a little mother to him…and even the most hardened soldiers, when wounded sorely, might cry out for the touch of a mother’s gentle hand…
“She’s not…your little ‘mudblood’ slave,” Potter panted, obviously in pain himself. “She’ll not… be coming at your beck and call anymore, nor getting her hands…dirty on you. You’ve made your bloody bed…now learn to lie in it alone!”
In the hospital he was taken too, Snape fell into a coma. He nearly died, he was told later by Lucius Malfoy and the Slytherins who came to see him after the fact. He had to be hooked up, with tubes up his nostrils to keep him breathing. He could not remember clearly; all he knew was pain and murmurings around him, that he had nearly strangled one of his fellow students – the glitteringly popular James Potter, no less! – and that the stairs had given him just what he deserved.
They debated what they were going to do with his books if he died, since he had no family, and the Slytherins would want no part with his musty memory if he no longer served their purposes. And even though Lucius would go on to offer Snape a place to stay in the Malfoy estate in the aftermath, he knew well enough it was only because he would make a valuable death-eater. That was all.
He felt the disgust in the hands of the hospital attendants that forcefully tended to his injuries, a coldness in the healing incantations that were spoken, and in the plastic gloves against his skin, applying the splint. He was in and out, in and out and dreaming of her, and the past, and the future, and death. In his conscious moments, he instinctively sought out eyes, any eyes that might look at him, tell him he’d be alright. But no one looked. He wondered if anyone might sit by him. No one did, and when the lights were shut off at night in the ward, he found himself deathly afraid. He wanted something to hold onto that would comfort him, but all he had was the metal edge of his hospital bed. And he gripped it till it dented the flesh of his palm.
He was far too badly injured to be released from the hospital so soon, but release him they did, and let him struggle alone to pack his few belongings onto a little trolley and lug them back to his dorm. He had missed the end of the final examinations; he would have to take them over if he meant to graduate. He was low on money, and all his Slytherin friends and Gryffindor enemies had up and left. She had up and left, with him, and he hadn’t even had the chance to process it. He was on his own, alone in the crippling embrace of pain.
As a boy, he had suffered from a weak constitution, and now it reared its ugly head. He caught a nasty flu that wracked his body and mind, making it next to impossible to concentrate on the second round of tests being extended by the headmaster to those “deserving but unfortunate” who had been left behind. How kind of him, who had allowed the bullying and marginalization of grubby-faced working lads, and undeservedly awarded the filthy rich tormenters high honors.
For Snape, it was a living hell. Coughing with his recently broken ribs was excruciating. His only relief came from the blue gel capsules he had been given in hospital. But even they turned against him, slapping him down with the side effects of nausea, cramping, and bleeding.
His hands also started to shake, and his balance became compromised. He became paranoid of falling down again, of splitting himself open on the castle floor, but when he stumbled and the room spun in his vision, no one ever reached out a hand to steady him. Maybe he would have proudly shrugged them off anyway. He didn’t know. He just knew…that no one cared, and the isolation felt like pinpricks deep inside.
The other leftover students avoided him, avoided him like a plague victim, or worse, made sport of him. They dared to mock him for his slow shuffling in the halls, for “getting in the way”, and once someone viciously shoved him forward to “help him along”. He had crumpled to the ground instantly, his heart pounding with anxiety as the memories of the stairwell flashed through him, and his books and class notes flew everywhere.
He swore, swore hard…but it did nothing to stop the pain. He wanted to kill…but he dare not, he dare not. One more infringement and he’d be thrown out after all this torture without even the courtesy of a diploma. He looked for his bottle of capsules and found they had rolled across the hall, and were now being picked up by another left-behind student…the last Gryffindor of the year.
“Give – it – to – me…” Snape had demanded hoarsely, stretching his trembling hand out to take it, although he knew not how he was going to manage standing up again on his own. “Give me…give me…you damned bastard, give me…”
The Gryffindor just looked at the bottle, unscrewed the lid, and let the blue capsules empty onto the floor. They bounced everywhere, and Snape felt the bottle flung at his face.
“See ya ‘round, druggie,” came the taunt, and then he was left alone.
Snape felt the rush of a full-fledged panic attack as he tried to scoop up all the capsules. He needed them, needed them so much…and he’d been told that he couldn’t get a refill without payment, and he was already half starving himself for lack of funds to continue on with his classes. A major reason for the side effects he had been experiencing was that he had been taking the pills too regularly on an empty stomach.
But no one…no one cared…no one cared at all…
And perversely, he started to giggle, clutching at his stomach, alone in that hall. And in the midst of that giggling that made saltwater flow down his face, he very nearly stuffed a whole handful of the pills into his mouth. Fortunately, he laughed so hard he choked, and he could not swallow them. They spilled out of his hand and onto the floor again. He would live another day.
And…no one cared.
No one cared to squeeze his hand until it stopped shaking and let him grip something made of flesh and blood instead of inanimate objects like the scraped edge of his desk to refer his pain. Instead they studied the way it shook, and turned away with wariness in their eyes and contempt on their tongues. No one offered to help him study, to bring him something warm to eat, to even put up with him so he could snap and growl and talk and then sob it out.
No, no…he was no more than an insect for observation that just might have a lethal sting, and he thought he might very well like being one if he could just pay them back in the end.
But in that hall, his body’s needs superseded his mind’s intellect, and the starvation of his soul yearned for the wrap of human warmth and the taste of hot chocolate and raspberry scones. These things, these stupid, stupid things he thought about as he stared blankly at the wall across from him and let a whole hour pass motionless. He wanted touch and taste, and something nice to read to take his mind out of the darkness.
Then he remembered…he had one such volume among the books that had slipped from his hand, and he snatched it up with trembling fingers. It had once been his mother’s, although he had changed the cover to hide its true contents. And the words blurred in his eyes, and his hands shook, but he read one line, over and over and over again till the torches dimmed and he could see no more:
“Oh night, thou was my guide…oh night more loving than the rising sun…oh night that joined the lover to the beloved one…transforming each of them into the other…”
And Snape, somehow, had gotten himself up. And he walked down the hall. And he earned his diploma. But the one time protégé had lost most of his love of learning. No. Now he felt himself board stiff, rock hard. Now he felt himself taking pleasure in the promises of the dark mark, as he was drawn into the Malfoy contingent, closer and closer yet, into the inner circle of the dark lord. And he felt he might just as well turn into the monster everyone thought he was…
But now, lying in a Hogwarts shack, with his life flashing before him, Severus Snape saw himself again…saw himself, scraped and spiritually drained, in the boy in front of him.
“You should…go to the hospital, Potter. Those stairs aren’t something to laugh at.”
Harry seemed listless, like he wasn’t quite listening. Snape felt a lump of concern lodge in his throat. That bump on the head could be a sign of worse things within…
“You, I’m talking to you! Don’t go nodding off on me…here, look at me!” He snatched Harry’s collar and jerked his face towards him.
“Ugh…not again,” Harry groaned. “Looking at you is getting redundant.”
Snape smirked slightly. “Cheek, Potter,” he clucked, and pressed his thumb into the scrape on Harry’s face. He yelped accordingly. “You need to check into the hospital wing, young man, before you start seeing everything with polka dots, and black out.”
“Seeing you in polka dots would make anyone black out,” he corroborated, then twitched as Snape tugged at his arm menacingly.
Noting that Harry seemed pained, Severus challenged, “Alright, what’s wrong with the arm?”
“I guess it got…out of joint again.”
“Yeah, Uncle Vernon said I was just trying to get attention the first time when he had me moving furniture around for one of Dudley’s birthday parties.”
“How did your rotund uncle and cousin even fit inside a house with that much furniture?”
Harry chuckled. “I honestly don’t know. Maybe that’s why they had me move it around so much.”
“He shouldn’t have had a scrawny thing like you doing that kind of heavy labor on your own,” Snape conceded quietly.
“I wasn’t that scrawny,” Harry retorted. “I was small, but…tough.”
“Like a Hufflepuff badger?”
“Ouch, did you have to say that?”
“Quite so.” Snape’s eyes danced a little. Then they flashed briefly …protectively. “But doing that yanked out your arm, didn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. As I said, he was sort of like you and thought I just got a kick out of constantly making grand stands, so he didn’t even bother to have it properly fixed. I had to do it on my own. May not have done it quite right, though.”
Snape blinked, and there was a haze that passed quickly over his gaze. “I…can try to help with that now, if you’re not opposed.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Just love making it hurt, don’t you?” He felt Snape’s hand firmly grasp his arm again and hissed in pain.
“Look, it’s going to hurt; there’s nothing I can do about that,” Snape explained calmly. “But if you lean in a bit, I can make a clean, quick job of getting it back into socket, and you’ll feel better afterwards. Just…lean into me, alright?”
Harry reluctantly did as he was told. “So are you gonna cue me when…?” A sudden jerk and shooting pain caused Harry to lurch forward and practically fall into Snape. His glasses did fall off, striking the bedridden man right in the nose.
“Damn it, boy, you need some glue for those things.”
“Okay…okay…that really hurt,” Harry spit out through clenched teeth.
“Enough whining; you’re all better now.” Snape picked up the glasses and shoved them back on Harry’s face. “Must I do every sensible bit of work around here?”
“You’re the right one for the job, I guess.”
“You guess, hmm?” Snape twitted. Then he grew solemn. “I just don’t think any boy is equipped to fix themselves up on their own all the time. They need…some supervision.”
Harry then felt Snape do something unexpected. He had his hand moved up on the boy’s throbbing shoulder and was rubbing out the pain, gently yet firmly, with a professional air that still revealed some glimmer of unspoken understanding.
When he was done, Harry gazed at his shoulder. “Thanks,” he said sincerely. “Feels a bit better now.”
“Just don’t put unnecessary strain on it,” Snape instructed. “No heavy lifting or reaching backwards or moving about obese relatives’ furniture or trying to secure your feminine fan base via idiotically heroic shenanigans.”
Harry smiled. “Fair enough.”
“Now, get yourself to a hospital this instant, you scramble-headed boy!”
Harry turned his eyes down, almost shyly. “Snape…I’m not the Chosen One anymore. Voldemort is long gone. You don’t have to keep fretting over my health.”
“Your health?” Snape repeated back incredulously. “Enough with the sentimentality. I simply need you around to unload years of accumulative frustration on, and specify all the areas in which you have shown yourself to be a sullen, lazy, useless twit before I depart from this plane of existence.”
Now Harry laughed. “Well, good to know you have pure motives at least!”
“Don’t think you don’t need it, either,” Snape scoffed. “Otherwise, all that fame would go right to your already overinflated head, and you’d turn out just like your…”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Harry sighed. “I’ll go to the hospital…just because you’re giving me such a headache.”
“As you know by now, I complete all my tasks with becoming efficiency. Now…get a move on before I have to use my boot on you!”
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.