Havoc of the Opera

Chapter 14 - Sirius' Shadow

By Roman

       

The look on Snape's face upon opening the door and seeing Harry rather than Hermione was remarkable. After a second of silence during which Harry was distracted by the fact that he had discarded his cloak, Snape raised an eyebrow enquiringly.

'Do I really haunt your dreams?'

Snape, who had raised a glass of water to his lips, lowered it again looking as though he didn't know what he had done to deserve this.

'Potter, I'm sure that the concept is, shall we say, alien to you, but I do have work to do. I have commitments that I must respect. So, if you will, please, leave me alone...?'

Suddenly aware that Snape could just shut the door in his face, Harry slipped into the room and closed it himself, fiddling with the knob as he had done before, trying to find his misplaced courage. Snape had taken a step back with his head cocked in Harry's direction, but he didn't seem to have drawn his wand yet, which was somewhat promising.

'Potter,' he repeated, 'I really have no time for whatever nonsense is going through your head now. Miss Granger should be on--'

'She's still in the Great Hall. Why are you so worried about her? She knows I'm here. She won't mind meeting me here. Why do you?'

'Ah, yes... this is all about you, isn't it?'

'Yes!' Harry snapped, turning around to face him. 'All about me. She'll sneeze and you'll care, but I'll be black and blue from Occlumency and you won't blink. You'll happily suffer the burden of chaperoning her, but you won't give me the lessons that Dumbledore entrusted you with--'

'-- perhaps if you tried showing up for them...?' Snape suggested.

Harry went on, ignoring him, 'You'll do absolutely everything for her. I ask you absolutely nothing, and you still treat me like I'm some sort of criminal for having been born. Is it so odd that I want to know why I'm being treated this way?'

'I rather think I've been more lenient to you this year than ever before.'

Harry snorted humourlessly, the absurd of the situation beginning to get to him. 'Oh. Yes. Very lenient. You even kissed me! You won't talk about it, you won't even bloody admit to it, but you kissed me. Will you at least tell me this? It's your wording -- am I haunting your dreams?'

'Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that the question is ludicrous... is this a pitiful attempt to pretend that I forced myself on you?'

'You're haunting mine...' Harry replied, sounding pathetic even to his own ears. And I don't know what I'll do if it's all the same to you, he completed in his mind.

The moment in which the words sank in and slowly washed away the sneer, the cynical gaze, every supercilious trait that Harry identified with Snape, was simply memorable. So, this was what Snape looked like when he was in shock. His lips were parted, ever so slightly, as though he had meant to say something and the words had fled him. He looks younger, Harry thought absurdly, staring at his teacher's unusually blank face.

He would have to say something, eventually, but what? Taking back his words was unthinkable. Claiming to have a crush might land him in the hospital wing.

'You've seen into my mind,' he finally ventured.

Snape responded by blinking at him.

'You must know this isn't a prank,' he insisted weakly.

'Of course not,' Snape deadpanned in a murmur, turning to put down the glass on a nearby shelf. Harry barely heard him.

And now, what could he say? Everything that came to his mind sounded too ridiculous to be voiced, no matter how truthful.

'I...'

'I suppose this has been happening for a while,' Snape said offhandedly.

Harry blinked. 'Yes.'

'Since our lessons began?'

'Yes.'

An uncomfortable silence followed. Neither Harry nor Snape moved. Time might as well have stopped. And then Snape spoke, his voice low, but firm and clear in the silence.

'Then they must end.'

Time now seemed to be accelerating to make up for the pause. Harry almost felt dizzy hearing the distant, indifferent words.

'What?'

Snape's back was still turned to Harry, and he was muttering something that involved the phrase 'old coot'.

'What do you mean, they must end?' Harry insisted.

With a gesture that indicated a deep breath was being taken, Snape finally turned around, his face now composed.

'We should have imagined that the... circumstances might lead to this. This new daily routine with my Slytherins, the fact that Miss Granger seems to have found new interests outside of your little group...'

Harry scowled. Here came Hermione again. At least this time, Snape was grimacing.

'This would call for a period of adaptation at the best of times. Harry Potter, of course, wouldn't be content with a regular reaction.'

Harry's scowl deepened and he tried to reply. Snape cut him off. 'Yes, there are other elements to this. Your summer with the muggles, the daily news regarding the Dark Lord's activities -- and the subsequent scrutiny from everyone in this school, who are apparently still convinced a child can save them...'

'I'm not a child,' Harry snapped.

'Of course you are. As I was saying, under these conditions, it should have been a given that you'd feel drawn to anyone who gave you some semblance of safety. Due to our unfortunate circumstances, that person turned out to be me.'

'That's absurd...! I'm not--'

'In a manner of speaking, Potter. I'm, in essence, the only one teaching you something that might help you in that great battle to which everyone is so anxious to send you.'

The arrogance of the statement was such that Harry was momentarily speechless. Snape went on, unfazed, 'Neither of this, of course, would have happened if the headmaster had given you these lessons himself instead of passing you on to me. I'll talk to him about this. You're dismissed.'

Harry, who hadn't moved past the door, remained rooted to the spot.

'I'm in love with you.'

There they were, the dreaded words, without preamble, and he was still alive. Perhaps in face of Snape's ludicrous assumptions, the words had regained their true meaning, that of a simple statement of affection, rather than the confession of a dirty deed.

'Well, I'm not in love with you, so we might have a problem there,' Snape replied, with an indifference that bordered on cruelty. Harry gulped discreetly before going on.

'And you're wrong. I'm not a child, I'm not trying to escape reality, and I have a pretty good grasp on my own feelings.'

'Doesn't every sixteen-year-old? At least until you've changed your minds.'

'I'm not a typical sixteen year-old--'

'You're not a typical anything, Potter. And still, you're a sixteen year-old child making a fuss over nothing.'

Harry closed his eyes and swallowed the urge to insult him. 'I'm in love with you. I don't know why it happened, but it did, and I'm not going to pretend it didn't just because you're uncomfortable with it.'

'Why, how brave and true to yourself you are,' Snape snarked. 'And what do you propose -- that we face the world and elope?'

Somehow, the predictable fact that his feelings weren't reciprocated was easier to bear than seeing them cheapened in this fashion simply because of his age.

'I don't propose we do anything. I know how absurd this all sounds. I just... no-one cares that I'm sixteen when I'm facing Voldemort. You don't care that I'm sixteen when you're giving me grief because I'm my dad's son. I just think that I've earned some credibility when I say that I know how I feel,' Harry justified himself bitterly.

'And you're in love, are you?' Snape dragged out the words lazily.

'Yes,' Harry bit out, reddening madly, his eyes firmly set on his trainers.

'I can make you change your mind.'

The change in Snape's tone made him raise his eyes. The urge to look away again was immediate. Harry pressed himself a bit further against the door, mesmerised by the unsettling smirk that danced on Snape's lips. Words dripped out of those lips in the smoothest, most caressing tone, as though Snape wanted them to sink in as slowly as possible.

'Tell me, what would your godfather think of this?'

A dark, secluded corner of Harry's mind knew that Sirius would eventually be mentioned. Yet, he wasn't ready for the chill that swept over him at Snape's quietly amused tone. He couldn't, wouldn't talk about Sirius. Not now. Not with Snape -- not when he knew so well what Sirius would think.

'Sirius has nothing to do with this,' he managed to say, in a carefully even voice.

'You see, I think he does,' Snape replied silkily, 'A month ago, in this same room, you accused me of killing him, and my very existence was obnoxious to you. Tonight, you say you love me. Was a mere month enough to make you forget him?'

Harry, who doubted that he could ever forget Sirius, eventually croaked out, 'I can't control this.'

'And this matters more to you than the memory of him?'

'I think he'd feel far more disrespected if I stopped living simply because he has.' A familiar lump was forming in Harry's throat. He didn't even know how the conversation had come this far. Snape gazed firmly at him as he searched for words.

'He wouldn't approve of you-- of my-- of this. I know that. But he's not here any more. And I... I am. I need to move on.'

'With the man who killed him?'

Harry thought that had grasped Snape's point at last. Keeping his voice as calm as he could, he said, 'What happened to Sirius was... a fatality. I don't blame you -- not anymore. And I... I apologise for... the memory was still... I'm sorry I blamed you. I was distraught. It wasn't your fault -- you couldn't know what he would do.'

Saying it had been much harder than Harry had anticipated, but it was a relief to hear the words and know that he meant them. It didn't assuage the pain or the nostalgia that had gripped his memories of Sirius, but at least it appeared to ease their hold just a bit.

'Yes, I could.'

Something in the tone Snape used to utter these words made Harry frost over before he had completely assimilated them. Looking up, Harry no longer resisted the urge to take a step back. The door behind him hindered his moves, and he plastered himself to it so completely that he could almost imagine himself slipping out through the keyhole.

'I knew precisely what to say, what he would do, what would happen. What do you say to this?'

Mesmerised by the vicious parody of a smile that had crept onto Snape's lips, Harry could only murmur, 'You couldn't know.'

'I couldn't know?' Snape's voice was now amused. 'I, who knew him so well, I, who knew he would sooner die than remain in that house, reminded at every step of his own uselessness?'

Leisurely, Snape approached Harry, his bestial smile clearer and harder to escape with every step. His breath grazed Harry's face when he spoke again.

'And, you know... I enjoyed it.'

Snape had seized Harry's wrists, pinning them to his sides and efectively forcing Harry to remain focused on him. It was a useless precaution. In spite of the bile rising in his throat, of the growing sense of peril, Snape's words held him still more surely than brute force possibly could.

Snape leaned in to whisper in his ear, in a mockery of a caress, and Harry had to close his eyes, a faint protection against the upcoming words.

'I relished the anticipation. I relished his reaction. I relished the countdown until news came from the Ministry of Magic.'

'What could he have done to you that you hated him so much?' Harry croaked out, a feeble attempt to cut through the barrage of reminders that he had always been right about Snape, everyone had always been right about him.

Snape tilted his head to scan Harry's face, his voice casual for a moment. 'Will it make you feel better to know that we had a healthy, balanced relationship, and that he hated me just as I hated him?'

No, Harry didn't feel better for it. He could barely breathe. He opened his eyes and the room swam. Something that resembled a gurgled groan left his lips.

'I'll let you go in a moment, Mr Potter,' Snape informed him silkily, though his grip on Harry's wrists was tighter still and he had leaned further in. 'One last word about how I felt about your godfather's passing. I told you how I felt about the anticipation. Well, it pains me to put the adage to rest, but the moment when it was confirmed...'

He paused for a brief moment. Harry's hands were curled in fists, but his arms hung limply, desensitized by the words.

'The anticipation couldn't possibly compare to the moment I knew that he was gone for good. That moment... was bliss.'

The last words had again been whispered in Harry's ear. He felt a bit like Snape had poured acid down the side of his head. In a fleeting moment of self-preservation, he considered running out of the room, but Snape's hands gripped him like a vice, his body was an inch from grinding against Harry's, and his calm, amused breath lingered against Harry's neck. The intimacy of the touch, undesired for once, kept him still. The thought that he might move and find himself in actual, full-body contact with the man was momentarily unbearable.

'Tell me,' Snape said silkily. 'Do you still love me now?'

Harry's throat was so constricted that it actually hurt. Even through his blurry eyes, he recognised in Snape's the maddened glint that he had seen only once before. In the Shrieking Shack, when Snape had been about to hand Sirius over to the dementors for having been a foolish youth.

Snape must have read his mind. His grip on Harry tightened and his smile spread. Harry slumped slighly, his heavy eyelids dropping shut of their own accord.

'Look at me.'

Harry ignored him. He felt weak, not quite in charge of himself. Above all, he was painfully aware of the body holding his upright and, this once, it frightened him beyond all belief that he might open his eyes to find desire in Snape's. Desire born of nothing resembling attraction.

'Look at me!' Snape lashed out.

Harry made the mistake, the terrible mistake of obeying him. The room vanished before his eyes, and the space around him was instantly flooded with a horde of random images. The lump in his throat was acrid. He knew what awaited him.

'Can you really say that you're ready to move on?'

No... no, he couldn't. If only he could will that door shut, if only he could stop himself from entering that room...

'Can you bury your anger so callously?'

All those people... the spells... the das... its veil undullating delicately... eerily... alluringly...

'Can you bury your sorrow?'

The maddened woman fighting his godfather, each holding their own despite a decade of inaction...

'Your regret?'

The flash of light... the ultimate irony... ambushed by criminals, killed by a maniac... in a fair duel. Because she had been more focused than Sirius.

'Your guilt?'

Sirius falling through the veil... to the sound of her manic laughter... Harry had hoped... if only Sirius had stayed at home...

'Or mine?'

The memory faded. Harry sat on his legs, trapped between Snape's taut, cruel smile and the wall.

'Can you?'

Harry looked up blankly, barely aware of the question.

'I thought not,' Snape sneered, walking away from him, leaving him alone, unsupported against the stone.

A deathly silence followed. For the first time since that night, it occurred to Harry that everything was unnaturally empty without Sirius. Without his laughter... his mood swings, his juvenile yet complete devotion to Harry, his voice... his laughter. He missed Sirius' laughter. He hadn't heard it often. A tear slipped from his eye and down his face, larger and wetter as it went. The first tear he shed for Sirius.

Sirius' joy when Harry told him that he wanted to live with him. The glimpse of the young, happy, Sirius that Harry had recognised then. Sirius handing him the authorisation to go to Hogsmeade, welcoming him to Grimmauld Place, worrying over him during the Tournament, scolding him through the fire, racing to his aid in the Ministry...

He had been Sirius' reason to live. It didn't matter that it was partly because he was a reminder of James -- he had been Sirius' very life since they had met. And now he would never see him again. Never hear him laugh. He had been his life and death... Sirius was dead... he would never again hear him laugh...

The piercing emotions that he had repressed for so long crowded in his chest, clenching his heart as they poured out all at once. Another tear followed the first. And a third.

He would never touch Sirius again. Would he remember his scent for long? Never see him walk excitedly around the house. Would he forget the sound of Sirius' voice? A silent sob joined the tears.

Never hear him speak again. A second sob. The tears ran freely over his blank, expressionless face. It was a scary sight. It was as though longing had taken on a bespectacled human form.

Never see him again. Never even have a grave to visit... his restraint broke and Harry cried in earnest, feeling like never before the heavy, sad absence of Sirius. He missed him so much. He wished he could undo everything he had done last year, he wished he had never been born... Sirius would be alive...

He sat there, huddled on the floor, racked by convulsive sobbing, until he felt he no longer had the strength to sob, nor tears to shed. Then he quieted down, breathing heavily, painfully, unshed tears brimming in his vacant eyes, an occasional hiccup still shaking his body. Sirius... Sirius would never laugh again... Harry wouldn't see him smile... he barely felt the tears as they fell again. He cried until his legs were numb and his knees ached. Dying of sadness might have been preferable.

Finally, finally, Snape took pity on him. He sat beside Harry, lifting his chin concernedly. Harry winced before noticing that the inhuman smile was gone. In fact, Snape no longer looked the least bit amused. It crossed Harry's mind that maybe Snape hadn't meant what he had said, but he had no energy to dwell on the thought. Forgoing articulate speech for the moment, he slumped forward, against his teacher's chest.

'Why?' he eventually whispered, although he didn't quite know what he was asking.

Snape didn't answer, but he gingerly put an arm around Harry to straighten his back.

When Hermione arrived for dinner, it was fortunate that the door didn't creak, and that it opened just enough to allow her to see, without be seen, that Harry's tears were still nonchalantly wetting the front of Snape's robes. Hermione stayed put just long enough to make sure that Snape wasn't doing anything ungodly. Aware that she had intruded in a private moment, she stepped back silently and returned to the Great Hall.

Snape and Harry, however, only returned upstairs for the rehearsal. In the meantime, they did no more than what Hermione had seen. And as he walked upstairs, Harry could only try to wrap his mind around the one answer that Snape deigned give him, in response to his pleas.

'You don't want a lover. You want a father. And I can't give you that.'

 

 

A/N: Writing this chapter sort of sucked my soul away. Any opinions at all that you might have about it are deeply appreciated.


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