Harry didn’t emerge from his room until the next morning. He had gotten hungry but didn’t want to risk facing Snape. It was not that he was frightened exactly, but perhaps conflicted. He needed time to sort out whatever it was that had happened and how he felt about the matter. Unfortunately, there was no way Harry could reach a conclusion in one night.
A pop sounded, a noise that was quickly becoming familiar to Harry. “Hi, Nimby,” Harry said without even turning around from where he stood staring out the window.
“Master Snape would like to see Mr. Potter,” Nimby said in a small voice.
“I’m not really hungry,” Harry lied, trying to seem as if he simply didn’t want to go to breakfast. In the silence that followed, Harry’s stomach rumbled, giving him away.
Nimby looked nervous. “Master told Nimby to fetch Harry.”
Harry gave in, not wanting Nimby to get in trouble for his being difficult. “Alright, then.”
They walked downstairs rather slowly. Harry’s palms began to sweat and he hated himself for it. Why was he embarrassed? He had no reason to be. Keeping this in mind, Harry walked into the kitchen where Snape was already seated. His eyes were cast down into a cup of coffee as Harry sat. The chair scraped on the floor as Harry pulled it out but still Snape did not look up.
Harry bit his lip and fiddled with straightening his robes under the table. After a few moments, Harry cleared his throat. Snape’s eyes snapped to his and Harry blinked, a bit startled.
“Er, good morning?” he tried.
Snape’s fathomless eyes studied Harry for so long that he began to squirm in his seat. Forcing himself to relax, Harry poured himself a cup of pumpkin juice. It seemed like an awkward eternity before Snape finally spoke.
“I suppose thanks are in order.”
“Not really,” Harry replied dismissively. Snape didn’t respond. Harry cleared his throat again. “So, uh, were you being, er, called last night?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry asked, brows furrowing.
“I am sure you do not wish to know and I do not wish to explain it,” Snape replied flatly. “In any case, attending that meeting would surely have meant my death.”
“I didn’t realize you had an option not to go,” Harry muttered.
“Then how?” Harry asked.
Snape’s face was blank as he replied, “The way that the Dark Lord works is that he makes it so painful to resist that you would have rather gone and been killed.”
“But you resisted,” Harry noted with a questioning undertone.
“I am aware of this.”
“Okay,” Harry said, dropping the matter. A feeling sprung to his mind but he instantly dismissed it, refusing to acknowledge its existence. “So, uh, Nimby said you wanted to talk to me?”
“The potion was obviously not started last night,” Snape pointed out. “Therefore, unless you wish to push the break-in back another day-”
“-I will certainly need help to catch the potion up to where it should be. As much as I abhor the notion, I simply do not have enough hands nor hours in the day.”
“I’ll help,” Harry offered. “When do we start?”
“As soon as possible,” Snape said. For a moment, Harry was worried that he meant before breakfast but just then, Nimby arrived with some food. With a slight annoyance, Snape amended his comment. “After breakfast then.”
Harry tried to hide a smile of relief as he dug in without preamble. The food at Grimmauld Place was sketch at best; nothing like Nimby’s cooking. Even if Kreacher had shown up after Sirius’s death, Harry probably wouldn’t have trusted anything he cooked. It had probably worked out for the best, Harry supposed.
After they had finished, both Snape and Harry rose to leave. Harry moved to follow Snape, being that he didn’t know where the laboratory was located. As Snape pushed in his chair, his left forearm bumped hard against the squared off corner of its back. A grimace of pain shot across his face for a fraction of a second before it smoothed into a blank mask, as if nothing had happened. Harry witnessed this but didn’t let on.
He didn’t let on because he couldn’t. If he had admitted it to himself, the feeling that he was studiously ignoring would surface again. A feeling of begrudging respect.
Harry quickly learned that working in Snape’s laboratory was not nearly as bad as Potions class. Perhaps it was due to a lingering feeling of good will towards Harry that Snape refrained from making more snide comments and harsh corrections than necessary. Harry was tasked with brewing one potion that would be mixed together with the two that Snape was brewing. The result would have to sit a few days before the next step, but it was invariably quicker than the alternative involving brewing the third potion within the other two.
“Quarter inch slices, Mr. Potter,” Snape corrected Harry. “Not a half.”
“Sorry,” Harry apologized out of reflex.
“Fix it and there will be no need to apologize,” Snape responded stiffly.
Harry drew in a sharp breath and carefully ignored the retort. He adjusted his slicing and carried on with his work. After finishing with the root, he moved to add it to the bubbling cauldron in front of him. Scooping up the small slices, Harry brought them to the edge of the cauldron, about to dump them in.
“Stop,” Snape snapped.
Harry froze. “What?” he asked in annoyance.
“You need to turn up the flame first.”
“I did,” Harry replied petulantly. “You must have missed it,” he said, dropping the root slices in. The potion turned yellow like it was supposed to. Harry shot Snape a superior look. “See?”
Harry felt his anger rising to the surface. “You know, you don’t have to be so critical all the time,” he snapped.
Snape looked up at him with no expression.
“What, you can’t even admit when you’re wrong?” Harry demanded.
“Watch your tongue, Potter,” Snape said in a carefully controlled voice.
Harry slammed down the silver stirring rod he was holding. “No.”
A flash of anger flickered over Snape’s face. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner.”
“Yes you will,” Harry replied defiantly. “You will because, as little as either of us like it, we’re a team now. We’re partners. I can’t do this without you and you can’t do it without me. So we ought to start getting along, don’t you think?” he raged angrily, words in direct contrast with his tone.
Snape gave a signature sneer. “And how do you propose we do that? Did we not try that already? Unsuccessfully, I might add.”
“I don’t know,” Harry spat in frustration. “You could at least try, don’t you think? Try not to be so critical.”
“I will not have you messing up the potion and forcing us to start over.”
“You could be nicer about correcting me then,” Harry told him.
Snape frowned. “I will attempt it.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied begrudgingly.
There was silence for a few moments as both Harry and Snape looked away. Eventually, he turned back to his potion and set about the next step. Unfortunately, the next step was to wait twenty minutes. Harry tapped his fingers against the table, bored.
“I kindly request that you cease to make that noise with your fingers,” Snape said in a mocking exaggeration of politeness.
Harry stopped. “You’re not helping.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine. Let’s have a normal conversation then, why don’t we?” he asked, half sarcastically.
Snape, however, did not take it as such. “About what do you propose?”
Caught off guard, Harry scrambled for a topic. “So this used to be your house?”
“Still is, as I recall,” Snape said flatly.
“I mean, you grew up here?”
Harry cocked his head. “Was it always this dreary and dark or did you make it that way?”
“Not helping,” Snape pointed out.
“Sorry,” Harry replied, almost in earnest. He had slipped.
Snape paused for a moment before replying, “It was always as such.”
“Fun childhood,” Harry muttered, feeling a stab of sympathy despite himself.
Snape sneered. “Very.” After a long moment of silence where he appeared to be struggling with himself, Snape asked, “And you?”
“And me what?” Harry asked in surprise.
“You were raised by muggles, correct?”
Harry scoffed, “Hardly raised. More like I happened to live in the same house as them.”
“And it was not as ‘dreary and dark’ as this, I suppose?” Snape asked, seemed forced to continue making conversation.
“Worse. It was prim and proper. Horrifyingly so.”
Snape sneered. “Yes, I am certain that keeping your room neat must have been a horror for a Chosen One such as yourself.”
“Cupboard,” Harry corrected automatically before rolling his eyes. “And you’re not helping.”
“I apologize,” Snape replied dryly. “What was that you said?”
“It was a cupboard. Not a room.”
“I am not sure I understand,” Snape said with a furrowed brow.
Harry sighed, feeling a bit embarrassed. “I guess I have to spell it out for you? I lived in a cupboard under the stairs. There was hardly anything to keep neat.”
Snape’s eyes snapped up to meet Harry’s. His lip twitched into a frown.
“And I’m hardly the Chosen One,” Harry replied in annoyance.
“Even so, I am sure that a cupboard is not fit for any child’s living quarters.”
Harry looked at the dark look on his former professor’s face. “Merlin, you aren’t feeling sorry for me, are you?”
“Certainly not,” Snape replied immediately.
Harry’s lips spread into a slow grin. “You are,” he accused.
“I simply think that it is poor parenting, especially for the-” Snape cut himself off with a deep scowl.
“The what?” Harry asked curiously.
“What were you going to say? The Chosen One?” Harry taunted.
“No...” Snape trailed off, eyes distant. “No. I suggest we drop the matter.”
Harry hesitated before agreeing. “Alright.”
Turning back to the potions book in front of him, Harry flipped through the pages. Many of them were marked with words in the margins, scribbles and crossed out notes. Harry squinted to read the handwriting. They seemed to be corrections of many of the recipes.
“Who wrote all of this?” Harry asked.
“Really?” Harry asked, looking closer. “You corrected all of these potions?”
“I improved them,” Snape corrected dryly. “They were already correct, however inefficient.”
“Oh,” Harry stated, flipping back to his page.
“You can start crushing the snake fangs for the next step,” Snape suggested.
“Sure,” Harry said with a shrug, taking up the mortar and pestle. As he crushed the fangs into a fine powder, he became aware of Snape’s eyes on him. Harry looked up and was caught off guard by the depth of emotion he saw in that split second before Snape pulled down his usual mask. Unnerved, Harry slid over the bowl of powder. “Here.”
Snape took it without comment, leaving Harry to wonder just what had prompted such an odd occurrence. In all the years that Harry had been Snape’s student, he had never seen him drop his guard like that, not even after he kicked Harry out of his office for looking in the pensieve. It was more frightening than anything he could possibly have said. Harry wished he had never seen it.