Simple Lost Things
Snape first noticed it during the summer before Harry’s third year. It had been a week before the child’s 13th birthday, and a day before the Full Moon, and he had come, dutifully as always, with a goblet of Wolfsbane in hand and a conservatively wrapped gift under one arm. It was a routine, something he could find both comfortable and resentful.
Black had answered the door, his eyes dark under the shadow of a slightly protruding brow, his mouth already thinning in distaste. “Good evening, Severus.”
Politeness had become routine, too.
“You never forget, do you?” Black said, his voice even as he shut the door behind him, and Snape merely shrugged.
“I am not allowed to forget. Where is he? He should drink this right away.”
“He’s in the kitchen, making coffee. Would you like some?” It was one of those forced invitations, asked more out of some in-born politeness than genuine interest.
“No, just make sure he takes it right away.” Snape gave Black the goblet. “And this – for the boy.” He gave him the gift as well.
Black took them both and looked over his shoulder at something on the couch, and Snape noticed for the first time the small lump that lay curled up one end, small feet tucked under a cushion, cheek propped onto praying hands. His eyes were closed, his small mouth open as he breathed, his glasses lay on the table.
“I need to put him to bed,” Black said softly, looking at him tenderly. He looked back at Snape. “Stay,” he said, a little more firmly. “Have a cuppa. I will only be a minute.” He put both items down on the coffee table and went over to stand by the couch, bending to pick the boy up and heft him into his arms so he sat in the fold of Sirius’s arms, his head tilted onto the man’s shoulder.
“Very well,” Snape said softly as he watched them ascend the stairs, Black’s footsteps barely making a sound. And it would always be engraved in his mind, that moment, that fatherly embrace, its innocent shattered in a moment by the sight of Black’s strong, callused hand, lingering over the child’s bottom.
Severus Snape knew little of childhood, having not had much of one himself. Perhaps it was regret he felt when he looked back on it and remembered not happy birthdays and loving parents, but arguments and shouting, and firm slaps across his face. But it all seemed a lifetime ago, tragedies and traumas that had happened to someone else, not him.
Childhood was a mystery to Snape, one he had no interest in unravelling.
Snape had first met the Potter boy a year before he was to come to Hogwarts. It was at a small party the Headmaster had thrown for the professors and staff, to which their relations and friends were allowed to attend. Lupin had brought Black of course, along with the small, quiet, dark-haired boy who appeared absently curious about the things around him. From what Snape had heard his muggle relations had treated him quite badly and he had been yanked from their abusive clutches but a mere few months ago.
His resemblance to James Potter was extraordinary, but the similarities seemed to end at the physical, he was nothing like the loud, arrogant bully Snape remembered from his own years at Hogwarts.
“Harry,” Black said, reluctance thick in his voice, “this is Professor Severus Snape, he teaches Potions at Hogwarts.”
Still, it was easy to feel some of the old contempt rise in his throat, contort his lips into a sneer as he gazed down at the pint-sized version of his former enemy, his former dead enemy. Damnable James Potter, with his easy charm and his handsome looks, mocking the disgusting, foul, Slytherin …
Harry had craned his neck to look at him, head tilted slightly to the side. He extended a hand that barely peaked out from a sleeve that was absurdly long even though it had obviously been rolled up several times. “Hullo.”
Snape stared at the hand before giving it a quick shake. “Good afternoon, Mr. Potter.”
“Why don’t you go and talk with some of the other children?” Black had suggested, and Harry had nodded and scurried away, heading for the buffet table. “We’re going to buy him new clothes this weekend,” Black said defensively.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But you were thinking it.”
“As loathe as I am to question your psychic abilities, I believe your time would be better spent thinking for yourself than for anyone else.” With that Snape had left him, feeling a little better about this whole party business, and the fact that he would have James Potter’s son in his class in a year’s time. It was daunting to imagine, those large green eyes, luminous behind ridiculous spectacles, staring up at him from a sea of insignificant faces.
The second time Snape had noticed something was wrong was during Harry’s second year at Hogwarts. It was the first day of Christmas holidays and the castle was warm with heating spells and thick with the spicy scent of cookies and cider. Christmas had always been a cold time for Snape and such things now made him slightly uncomfortable. Still, he chose to remain at Hogwarts rather than go home, where it was barren and sterile, so he recognized there must have been something here that was … pleasant.
He had been routinely walking the halls that night, because some of the children who had not gone home for the holidays tended to think this the perfect opportunity for rule breaking, when he heard an odd, sort of popping noise.
It took him a while to recognize it as crying.
Following the noise up the hall and around a corner, Snape stopped short when he found himself in the corridor that lead to Black’s office, already he could make out the door – open a crack, buttery yellow light flittering through and cutting a jagged line across the floor.
“Harry … “
“I – I just … sorry, being stupid … “
Soft voices, more sobbing, and as Snape moved cautiously forward he found he could look into the room, see the two shadows throw onto a wall. The smaller one was leaning into the other; the head tilted slightly up, as the larger gently stroked the head.
Conversation lulled away into background noise as Snape watched the silhouettes move like players in a spotlight, the hand gently stroking, the tiny body shivering. He watched as the hand moved to the small back, moving up and down, and he heard the rumple of fabric as it was lifted and a soft, pleased sigh.
“I love you, Harry, remember that, okay?”
“I know, I love you, too, Sirius.” And Snape watched, his lips pursed so tightly they were white and bloodless, as the shadows shared a light kiss, and although he could not be sure where the kiss landed, the wet sound was unmistakable.
Turning on his heel, Snape fled like a thief.
After that Snape stopped counting, but he always noticed. Moments stolen here and there between the two, sometimes in plain sight, sometimes when Black was unaware he was being watched: touches, caresses, kisses taken like candy from a chipped crystal dish. One time Snape had even walked into the staff room to see Harry curled in the man’s lap, his head tilted back onto his shoulder as Sirius absently rubbed his stomach and pressed kisses into his hair.
The easy intimacy made Snape’s stomach both churn and ache with envy, and he had watched them for quite a time, hidden behind a rack of cloaks and robes.
He debated confronting Black, surely by now he had seen enough to send the man to Azkaban for good, but something always held him back. Perhaps it was because Harry never seemed unhappy, he was never sullen or quiet, and he never came to classes with any particularly nasty bruises. There was always Lupin, the werewolf who seemed to possess a modicum of common sense, but he would refuse to believe that anything so untoward was occurring under his very roof.
Or perhaps he knew and allowed it to continue anyway.
For whatever reason, Snape kept it to himself, never voicing his suspicions or concern with anybody. But it bled through into his treatment of the boy nonetheless, whereas before he might have been particularly harsher with him (for being James’s son if nothing else), he now found he shared a certain … companionship with the boy.
He told himself that was the only reason why.
Snape was wondering: asphodel or pumpkin root when someone knocked on his door. “Enter!”
It was the Potter boy, third year now, his bangs plastered to his head and his cheeks damp with water. He pushed open the door and shut it behind himself, smiling up at Snape. “Hullo, professor.”
“Potter. You are wet and dripping on my floor.”
Looking embarrassed, the boy nodded and took off his robe, hanging it up with care by the fire. “It’s raining outside, sir, I know you can’t tell down here but it’s been pouring for about ten minutes now.”
“I see. Well, sit down then, I’ll fetch you a towel.” Snape stood and left the room, thinking about how it had come to be that he would be caring for James’s whelps in his leisure time. Without too much mind, even.
When he re-entered the room, Potter was sitting in the chair across from his desk, feet just barely touching the floor. He smiled when Snape approached and tilted his face up and took off his glasses.
Snape frowned in confusion and handed him the towel.
Harry seemed to falter but he took it readily enough and scrubbed at his hair and neck. “Thank you, professor.”
“Hm.” Snape took his seat again. “And what are you doing out in the rain if I may ask?”
“I was just coming back from visiting with Hagrid when I got caught in it,” Harry said. He smiled sheepishly and got up to hang the towel up to dry next to his robes. “What are you working on, sir?” he asked as he came around the desk.
“A potion for alleviating chest pain,” Snape said, looking briefly over at the boy who leaned in close with a hand on his shoulder. He smelt of grass and rain. “The stores in the infirmary need replenishing and I thought I would attempt to improve the remedy before I restocked.”
Harry smiled at him. “How very progressive of you, sir.”
Harry giggled and his hand curled on Snape’s shoulder. “Is there anything I could do to help?”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “No, not at the moment. Do you not have something else you’d rather be doing?”
Harry stepped in closer and put his head down on Snape’s shoulder. “No, not really.”
Snape jerked away so quickly his chair banged into the side of the desk and Harry actually stumbled sideways, having to grip the arm to regain his balance. His eyes were wide as Snape stood, glowering at him. “What in blazes are you doing?” he demanded.
“What? I – nothing, I – “ Harry backed away nervously.
“You can’t do that,” Snape said firmly, one hand fisted at his side. “You can’t touch adults like that, whatever he told you, it’s not right to do that.”
Harry’s surprised turned to genuine bewilderment. “What?”
Snape leaned forward urgently, being careful not to touch the boy, not to taint further already tainted innocence. That damnable Black and his filthy hands, corrupting him like this. “If Black is doing things to you, things you don’t like, then it is alright to tell me,” he said in as calm a voice he could muster, even as his heart hammered in his chest. “Or Lupin, you can tell Lupin.”
“Professor, I – I don’t know what you mean … “ Harry said, looking worried now.
“Does he touch you? Black?”
Harry blinked. “Well, yes, of course he – “
“I mean inappropriately!”
Harry gulped. “Sir, I think I better go.”
“Wait, Harry … “
Snape stood, staring numbly at the door, one hand curled over the shoulder where the boy’s cheek had rested, as he left in a flat-out run. By the fireplace, his robe hung loose and dripping, like a human skin ripped from its skeleton.
He had been expecting Black, but he got Lupin. It was a tired-looking man who stood on the other side of his door that night, his expression slightly weary but lacking any anger or defensiveness.
“Harry left his robe here.”
“Yes, I’ll fetch it.” Snape paused and stepped back, opening the door wider in a silent invitation.
Lupin came in and shut the door behind him, and he took the cloak that was handed to him silently. He looked down at it for a moment, dry now, before slowly lifting his eyes to meet Snape’s. “Harry told us what happened, it was very hard to keep Sirius from coming down here.”
Snape’s mouth twitched slightly. “Yes, I imagine so. Well, I suppose you should sit.” He gestured to the couch and they both took up their spots, the cushions sinking in slightly. “So you know what he does to Harry?”
Lupin’s weary look got impossibly wearier. “Severus … “
“There’s no use denying it, I’ve seen them together on several occasions.”
“You don’t understand.”
Snape’s eyes widened. “You can’t possibly be defending this – this perversion.”
“No,” Lupin said firmly, “Severus, you really don’t understand.” He took a breath and looked at Snape sadly. “What do you think is going on?”
“I know exactly what’s going on,” Snape said sourly. “Black is – is doing highly inappropriate things with his own godson, and he has probably been doing it for quite a long time. I was under the impression that you didn’t know, I hope to Merlin that I am misinterpreting you now in that you actually condone such behaviour.”
“I wouldn’t,” Lupin said, “not ever. If that were what was happening.”
“Surely you can’t deny … “
“I don’t deny what you saw, Severus. Yes, Sirius and Harry are very affectionate, they hug and they kiss and Sirius often holds Harry in his arms, but … “ Lupin just shook his head, his expression still incredibly sad, “but it’s not that way.”
Snape opened his mouth to object, but then he saw something that made him stop. Lupin’s expression was not about Snape’s accusations or Black’s actions, but it was … pity, sadness for him.
“Why the bloody Hell are you looking at me like that?” Snape demanded.
“Because I pity you,” Remus said softly. “I pity the small boy in your past that grew into a man who can’t seem to understand the innocence of a kiss or a touch.”
Severus Snape had never had a childhood, and as he watched Remus Lupin stand to return to a family who waited for him, one full of warm embraces and soft kisses, he felt his stomach clench again into something knotted and painful. He thought he would never feel it release.
“Thank you for your concern,” Lupin said, “but it is quite unnecessary.” Then he did something quite unexpected: placing a hand on Snape’s shoulder he leaned down and kissed lightly the top of his greasy head. “Goodnight,” he said softly, and was gone.
Snape sat where he was for a while, contemplating the fire, contemplating this odd way people treated each other – a way that didn’t involve pain or guilt or hidden motives. Was that love?
He didn’t know.