Severus Snape was in his office making last-minute changes in his lesson on the properties of Dragon Blood for the start of classes the next day. The feast had ended more than an hour ago and all of his new snakes had finally settled in. Just as he put down his quill, there was a knock on the door.
« Enter »
Harry opened the door and came in hesitantly. Snape sighed in annoyance.
"What do you want, Potter"
"Um…Can I talk to you, sir? Please?" Harry asked looking unsure.
As much as Snape wanted to throw him out, there was something in the way the usually so confident Gryffindor acted that screamed the professor to listen. He swallowed the scathing remark and gestured for the boy to have sit. Harry closed the door and sat slowly on the nearest chair, fidgeting nervously with his gaze fixed on his hands. He opened his mouth to speak but no words seemed to come out so he closed it again. Snape started to lose patience.
"If you're not going to say anything, Potter, I suggest you leave." He snapped.
Harry raised his head and look at the professor, although not quite meeting his eyes. "I need to tell you something, sir. But first I must ask you to listen and let me finish before you interrupt."
"Just get on with it, Potter" Snape said in exasperation.
"I know you don't like me and you think I'm arrogant, spoilt, worshipped, attention-seeking and whatever other adjectives. But the truth is I'm not my father, sir, and I-"
"Is this what this is all about?" Snape interrupted dryly. "Because I couldn't care less about what you think about my opinion of you. So, unless you had anything of actual importance to tell me, then I will ask you to leave."
"No! Please, sir" Harry exclaimed. "I need to tell you something important, it's just… I want you to understand and, well, to… believe me. Just listen, please, I'm getting there."
Snape sighed and gestured for Harry to continue.
"Yeah so I know you hate me and see me basically as an ungrateful pampered prince but it's far from the truth, quite the opposite actually." Harry paused, thinking about how to phrase his thoughts. "I don't know if you are aware of this but I live in Surrey with my muggle relatives, the Dursley's. Petunia is my mum's sister, Vernon is her husband and Dudley is their son, my cousin."
Harry looked at his professor and seeing his expectant look, he kept going.
"So yeah as I told you they are muggles and they don't really like anything magical, myself including. I think they're scared of what I could do to them – well it's not like I could do anything really, seeing as I'm underage and all, but they don't really understand that… or they choose not to, I don't know. Either way they've always told me I was abnormal – well the exact word would be freak (Snape cringed at the word) – and I used to believe them, you know, because strange things always happened around me. Of course, now I know it was accidental magic, but back then it just meant I was going to be in big trouble and I knew… no I thought I deserved it so I never told anyone. When I came to Hogwarts, I realized I didn't deserve their treatment but I was so ashamed. Everyone thought of me as some kind of savior and for the first time in my life people seemed to accept… well even to like me. On the train I made my first friend ever, Ron." Harry smiled fondly at the memory.
"Later I met Hermione and the three of us soon became the best of friends. For the first time in my life I felt - was happy. Then first year ended and it was time to go back to the Dursley's." The smile vanished from his face.
"I asked the Headmaster to let me stay in the castle but he refused, of course. So, I went back to Surrey, to hell. It got worse every summer than the one before and yet I never said anything. I didn't want people to think lower of me. Can you imagine what people would say if they knew the truth? Harry Potter, the savior of the wizarding world… a defenceless muggle house-elf" Harry scoffed at the thought, shaking his head.
During the explanation, Snape remained silent. More than once, he wanted to interrupt, to ask exactly what had happened to the boy in that house that made him hate it there so much. But true to his promise he kept quiet and listened.
"And then Sirius died." Harry said. First the first time since he had started speaking, his voice broke and tears filled his eyes. Still, he refused to let them fall.
"I told them about him after third year because I knew they would be afraid of him and I hoped that maybe they'd go easier on me. I thought it didn't work because they kept treating me like crap, but now I know I was wrong. After he died in the department of ministry, Professor Dumbledore owled Aunt Petunia to let her now that Sirius had passed and that I needed their... what was it ? Ah yes, attention and support." Harry laughed bitterly.
"Well I did get their attention but I can't say the same about their support. They gave me endless lists of chores. They knew it would be impossible for me to finish them all but it gave them an excuse to punish me." Harry's throat constricted and he fought to keep the tears at bay.
« Every night, when he came home, my uncle had me standing shirtless and palms against the wall and he… he wh-whipped me with his belt. » Harry shut his eyes and big hot tears rolled down his cheeks. "My aunt and cousin watched the whole thing and you could tell they enjoyed it. Dudley kept cheering Uncle Vernon, telling him to 'make the freak scream'. When my uncle got t-tired of the b-belt he punched and k-kicked me until I couldn't s-stand anymore. Then he g-grabbed me, th-threw me in the c-cupboard and locked me in without f-food. I was so s-sure I was going to d-die there, sir. I thought it was I'd n-never see my f-friends again."
By this time, Harry was sobbing uncontrollably. Snape looked shocked and even if he had wanted to say something he wouldn't have been able to find words.
"I c-can't take it a-anymore, sir. I'm s-scared that if I go back I w-won't make it out of th-there alive this time. He'll k-kill me, sir. He will. P-please d-don't send me b-back. P-please, sir."
Snape slowly stood up from his desk and got closer to the broken boy. He knelt at his side to look at him in the eyes and put a comforting hand on his knee.
"You won't be going back there ever again, Harry. I will not allow it. You have my word." He said firmly but not briskly.
Harry looked in his teacher's onyx eyes and found honest compassion and sadness. He nodded and attempted a smile before launching himself at the man's neck, hugging him tightly. Snape stiffened for a moment but then relaxed and return the embrace, wrapping his arms around the small frame of the sobbing boy. Then, he put a gentle hand on the back of the raven-haired head and stroked the dark locks soothingly.
"Shhh it's alright, Harry. Everything is going to be alright." Severus whispered in the distraught boy's ear.
When the sobs and whimpers subsided, Harry pulled away and his face flushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry" He mumbled.
"There is nothing to be sorry about, Harry." Snape said.
"I didn't mean to break down like that, I don't know what happened. I'm sorry, sir."
"You have every right to be upset, Harry. What those horrid relatives of yours did was appalling. I will personally see to it that they spend a long time – or better yet the rest of their lives - rotting in Azkaban."
Harry smiled at his teacher. "Thank you, sir."
"If anything, I'm the one who should be sorry, Harry. I should have seen the signs but I was so blinded by my hatred for your father that I missed them. I thought you were spoilt rotten by your family and I wanted to show you your place. I apologise for making it worse for you."
"It's okay, sir. I don't blame you." Harry said honestly. "So, what now?"
"First I think a trip to the Hospital Wing is in order. Madam Pomfrey needs to run tests on you in order both to scan you and to gather proof of the abuse to charge your relatives."
"Charge them, sir?" Harry asked, uncertain.
"Surely you don't want them to get away with it."
"Of course not, sir. It's just… well if I press charges there will be a trial and then it will probably be in the prophet and then the whole wizarding world will know about it"
"Not if the headmaster has anything to do with it. Don't worry about this, Harry. Let us handle the papers, the lawyers and the courtrooms. What you need to focus on is your recovery. Do you think you can do that?" Snape asked softly and Harry nodded, smiling. "Alright. I guess the next step would be to tell the Headmaster so that new living arrangements can be made. At last, I would recommend that you inform your head of house, miss Granger and the Weasleys, seeing as you usually spend a lot of time with them both at school and during the holidays. »
Harry grimaces at the prospect but nodded nonetheless.
« Now, if I may ask, why did you come to me and not your head of house or any other teacher or that matter?"
Harry chuckled. "Good question, sir. I knew you'd ask. I guess it's because you're one of the only people who don't see me as the Boy-Who-Lived and, even though you hate me, you've saved my life quite a lot of times now, so I thought maybe you'd do something about it. Besides you don't strike me as someone that likes the beating of children… And I was right, wasn't I?"
"That you were." Snape said seriously. "Come now."
Both of them got up and headed to the infirmary. Snape went to talk to Poppy to fill her in and then went to fetch the headmaster. Just before closing the door of the infirmary, he spoke again.
"Oh and Harry?"
"I do not hate you. I could never… not anymore. You are too much like your mother. She would be proud of you."
Harry beamed. "Thank you, sir"
Severus returned the smile and closed the wooden doors.