Warnings: child abuse, depression, suicidal tendancies
Summary: Devoid of the will to live, Harry decides that it is simply time to end it all. Too bad for him that one of his professors had to come and screw it up.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I am simply borrowing them; therefore, do not sue me.
Chapter 16: Tightrope Walking
Snape saw Harry at mealtimes in the great hall. He couldn't help the occasional glance. Just to check on the boy's welfare. Harry was always talking and laughing with his friends. He was glad that they had managed to cheer the boy up, and perhaps a little annoyed that he had not been able to pull Harry out of his depression as easily as they seemed to have. He couldn't remember having seen Harry smiling or laughing at all over Christmas. Not that the boy had had much to laugh about. Still, Severus supposed that he wasn't the sort to inspire happiness.
In fact, when he thought about it, Harry seemed a little too happy. Though it would be easier just accepting what was on the surface, he knew that there was no way that anyone could go from such complete despair to the sickening chirpiness which Harry was displaying so quickly. He had known that the boy could act, but this performance was masterful, everyone, including Albus, was completely taken in. It was as though this Christmas had never happened. Only Snape knew him well enough, had spent enough time with the boy, to know that he wasn't really back to normal. Harry was obviously hiding his problems.
Harry had thrown up his walls again to protect him from the outside world. From what he knew of the boy, Snape suspected that he was ashamed of who he truly was, and thought that no one would like him for himself. Severus knew how that felt. Though of course, no one liked the mask he wore over the top either. At least it kept him safe.
He was once again standing in a side passage when he heard Harry's voice and felt the familiar compulsion to eavesdrop. No, not eavesdrop. Gather information.
A fight between him and the young Malfoy. It was not unusual for them. Which was what made it stand out. That Harry should be so confident just a few days after he had been so timid was a huge change, and not one which could have been effected by natural recovery. No, the boy was definitely putting on a front. Which made Severus wonder what he was really feeling.
For the first half of the class, it was like the old Potter was sitting in Harry's place. He wouldn't stop talking and joking with his friends, he glared at Snape along with the rest of them, and there was an insolent look in his eyes that Severus couldn't abide.
He almost felt the old feelings of hatred come back. Harry obviously wanted to be seen as Potter. Wanted to be Potter.
So he went back to treating the boy the way he had used to for the duration of the lesson. The way it had been before he had discovered Harry. He scolded the boy for every slight misstep, although he couldn't help but incidentally notice that Harry got his potion right. He felt a brief surge of pride in his teaching abilities, for he had gone over this very potion with the boy during the holidays.
Malfoy got his potion wrong. He enjoyed not having to pander to the boy to stay in favour with his father any more, but he wasn't about to take points from his own house. He just gave Draco a contemptuous look.
As they were doing the write up he noticed Harry staring into space for a long period time. Now that was more like the boy he had briefly known, Harry would do that for hours during the holidays, whenever he was feeling particularly depressed. He couldn't imagine Potter ever looking that thoughtful or morose. The mask was slipping then, it had to be very hard for Harry to keep up, as it was so very different from how he really was underneath.
He asked the boy a question, to try and snap him out of it. Harry didn't reply, the glazed look remaining fixed on his face. Snape asked again. And again. He was glaring in earnest now, though his anger was fuelled by concern. When Harry finally looked up and became aware of everyone watching him a shuttered look immediately came down over his features.
Severus knew that this was not a good sign. He had seen the boy open up so he knew that this temporary facade would not help anyone in the end.
He told Harry to stay behind. He resented the commiserating looks that Harry's friends shot at the boy. He knew Harry far better than they apparently did. He was willing to bet that Harry had told them nothing of what happened over Christmas.
Harry waited. Sullenly.
"Harry, what happened in the lesson?"
Blank faced, as though he couldn't even hear Snape.
The head swivelled. Huge eyes stared at him, as though uncertain of how to act. Severus sighed. All his work, completely undone. He closed the door to the lab, checking that Weasley hadn't remained to wait.
He crossed the room until he stood directly in front of the boy.
The eyes held no recognition. Harry was shutting him out, was shutting everyone out.
The head turned away again. Snape knew that the boy was close to breaking. He had already been wavering during the lesson. He kept his voice soft and undemanding.
"Harry." Repeated again, and again, until the echoes of it sounded round the room and Harry's eyes were squeezed tightly shut as he struggled with whatever emotions were causing him such pain. Harry's snake had begun hissing.
"Harry, let me in."
And finally moisture pooled in the corners of the boy's eyes, gathering until it overflowed and spilled in twin streams down his cheeks.
Harry bowed his head. Severus could see tremors passing through his thin frame as he broke down.
Harry couldn't take this. Not from Snape. Snape did know after all. Did still see Harry. And he wanted him to come back.
But no one else would. They all wanted Harry Potter, their hero, not what was really there.
Again and again the name was uttered, driving into his subconscious. From round his wrist Sylrissin joined in, calling to him.
Harry. He was Harry. But how could he cope as Harry? Harry had so many problems. Everything was wrong in Harry's life. And he had no one to talk to. Sirius was dead. Harry missed Sirius, missed writing to him about things and receiving non judgmental answers. Missed the thought of someone connected to him. Harry had no one. How would Harry survive?
"Harry, let me in."
It was too much. Even the smallest indication that someone cared. That someone wanted to know him, see him, rather than the boy who lived. He was Harry. And Harry could cry.
The tears were continuing to fall silently. If it was possible to curl in on oneself while standing, Harry was attempting it. Snape felt extremely uncomfortable at seeing the boy in so much distress. He wanted to make it stop. He tentatively rested a hand on Harry's shoulder, and the boy leaned into it for support as though it was the only stable thing in his world.
"I don't know..... I don't know what...." Harry choked out, before breaking off under the strength of the sobs which seemed to force themselves out of his chest.
Severus had never felt so helpless. Well, maybe he had, many times in fact, but this seemed far more poignant, the more so because there was something he could do. He could help. But he was too afraid.
Don't be a fool, said the little voice. It mocked him for being the one afraid when it was Harry who was doing all of the suffering. Harry was afraid too. It told him that he could not expect Harry to get over his fear of rejection if he did not do so himself first. He didn't bother answering it.
He tugged the boy towards him gently, and cautiously folded his arms around his back. Harry buried his head in Severus' chest, his shoulders heaving with the force of his sobs. He had seen Harry cry before, but never like this. This was truly letting go. This was really Harry.
Holding Harry in his arms, Severus felt very protective of him. He felt a need to stop the tears and the cause of them. He wanted Harry to laugh, really laugh from his heart. And he was beginning to understand that Harry's friends couldn't do that for him, as they didn't understand his character at all.
Harry cried until Snape was sure that he could have no tears left in his body. This simple physical fact didn't seem to apply to Harry, for the boy didn't stop. Not for a long time.
When the cries faded to whimpers and the whimpers faded to gasps, Severus pulled back a little. He considered letting go of the boy, but as Harry seemed to have become boneless it was perhaps not the best idea.
He backed up a couple of steps until he could lean against a desk, then just held Harry in the circle of his arms.
They had a while until dinner. And there was no way that Harry could go out like this.
He brushed Harry's unruly hair aside to glance down at the boy's face. Harry had a dazed look about him, as he recovered from letting go of his emotional control.
Snape realised that this would not be a quick thing to fix.
He managed to get the boy onto his feet and steered him out of the door and down to his chambers, which weren't far. He was very relieved not to see anyone, though it was hardly surprising down here. That was one of the reasons Snape had chosen the area in the first place.
Severus sat Harry down on the couch and summoned some cookies. Sugar would help, right? Sugar cured everything. The boy ate a couple before attempting to speak. Snape didn't rush him.
"I don't know what to do. I don't know how to feel anymore."
Snape stayed silent, understanding that Harry needed to get the poison out of his system.
"When Ron and Hermione came back, they couldn't stop talking about how wonderful their holidays were. How could I tell them what happened in mine? They just wouldn't understand. I'm not who they need me to be anymore, I'm not sure I know how to be." said sadly and with feeling.
Severus understood. Harry was trying to conform to the expectations of others. He had been trying to cram himself into a mould which was a totally different shape in order to avoid disappointing anyone. For that, Snape thought, was Harry's greatest fear. And no wonder, when he had been brought up with such awful muggles. Without love.
"Harry, your life cannot be all about other people. You need something to live for yourself as well. You should not be afraid to be yourself, if they are really your friends they will accept you."
"I don't know if they are really my friends." Harry whispered, another tear. "I don't seem to have that much in common with them, and what if they don't like the real me?"
"Then you'll find other friends who do." Snape really didn't know what he was trying to say, but he sensed that Harry needed some kind of comfort before he went over the edge. Snape could still remember the blood. How did he know that Harry hadn't been cutting himself while away from his supervision?
"Harry, you can't hide yourself away, you can't change into someone else. It will bring nothing but pain. You have to be yourself."
"But Harry doesn't have anyone." the small voice came.
Snape was confused.
"Sirius is dead, because of Harry. And no one else even knows anything other than Harry Potter, the boy who lived. How can I change from that."
Harry was talking about himself in the third person. Not a good sign.
"But you are Harry. No matter what you pretend, you are Harry. You don't need to be Potter, because Harry can be strong too. Harry can be all you need to be. You just have to work on it a little, have something worth fighting for."
Harry had been listening, hopefully absorbing what he had said.
"But I have nothing."
Snape grasped at straws.
"You have life. Life is always precious, for it holds potential. You have the chance to become something great. You have Sylrissin. You couldn't leave her all alone now, could you?"
Would it be enough? It had to be. He really didn't want the boy to do anything foolish. He really wanted Harry to be alright again.
Harry just gazed at him with a tear stained face, uncertain. He looked so young and vulnerable.
"I'll help you."
Severus couldn't believe he had just said that. He was fairly sure he hadn't meant to say that. Hadn't even been aware of thinking it. His inner voice told him that it had known he cared about the boy all along. He really couldn't think of anything he could say to dispute the matter.