paganaidd: Pic of Snape looking thoughtful (Digging For The Bones)
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Setting Boundaries
As Harry sat down to the table in the Great Hall, he heard the tell-tale ping of one of the screws in the frames of his glasses falling out onto the table and rolling away.  

He caught it, more by instinct than anything else, before it rolled off the table to become hopelessly lost on the floor.  Sometimes, he thought that was why he was such a good Seeker.  If he lost those damned screws, he’d get stuck being half blind.

Harry wasn’t sure, but he thought he was repairing his glasses more often this year, than last.  When he was on Privet Drive, he generally held them together with masking tape, but as soon as he got on the train, he’d repaired them with magic.  It seemed he’d already done it about three times this week.

Since he wasn’t talking to Hermione, he wasn’t about to ask her to fix them for him.  He wanted to apologize for shouting at her, but he still couldn’t get away from the fact that she’d told on him.  In fact, he was afraid if he spoke to her about it, he’d end up shouting some more.  He kept going around and around about it in his head.  

The night before, Harry had skipped dinner again, instead eating the sandwiches left over from his lunch.  He’d gone in search of Snuffles, who had come bounding out of the Forest at Harry’s whistle.  This time, the dog had only stayed long enough to eat the sausages Harry had saved for him, before he’d spotted a squirrel or something and had shot away after it..

This morning, Harry came down to breakfast early, again.  He couldn’t sleep anyway, so he might as well head off to breakfast at the earliest opportunity.  It would also mean he could avoid Ron, who never came down until the last minute

There were only a handful of people here this early.  Most of the students at the Gryffindor table were sixth and seventh years, including Oliver, whom Harry knew liked to get some practice in before class, and Percy, who was deep into studying.  Ginny was there too, but she was already on her way out.

Snape and Flitwick were the only staff, at the table.  Somehow, Harry had never thought of Snape as a morning person.   Perhaps he wasn’t, given the scowl he perpetually wore. 

Harry realized when he sat down, that breakfast wasn’t worth his time, though.  His stomach was in knots, knowing that they had double potions first thing. 

Harry pretended not to notice Snape’s eyes upon him.  He refused to look up at the staff table to confirm this impression; instead he worked on fixing his glasses.  The stupid little screw wouldn’t stay in, no matter how much magic he used.  Finally, irritated, he transfigured a bit of pocket lint into some masking tape.

Glasses sufficiently fixed for the moment,  he drank a cup of tea, ate half a piece of toast and slid a handful of sausages into his bag for Snuffles.  

He knew Snape was watching him, as he left the hall.  He didn’t like to pull out his invisibility cloak with Snape’s eyes on him.  The man might try to confiscate it.  He thought he’d duck just out of sight and then he’d be able to disappear into the library for the next hour and a half before class. 

“Potter.” the man called as Harry reached the archway that led into the corridor, beyond, “I need a word.”

Harry froze.  Snape must have gotten up from the table at the same time Harry had.  Harry always forgot how quick the man was.  He did not want to have a conversation with Snape.  He wanted to pretend that they hadn’t spoken yesterday.  He, rather stupidly, stood with with his back to the man.  He felt unable to turn around, as if Snape had cast a hex that rooted him to the floor, rather than merely calling his name.

“What...what about?” Harry asked softly, studying the grey stone of the archway.

He felt the man walk up behind him.  Snape’s footsteps were completely silent, but Harry could feel his nearness.  He waited for the man to grab him by the collar or arm, bracing himself for it.

After a second,  the pressure of a finger on Harry’s shoulder turned him around, slowly.  Harry held his breath as he gave into that pressure, to face his new guardian.  He swallowed hard, gathering what courage he could to return Snape’s gaze.

Snape was looking at Harry contemplatively, but with a curl of his lip.   He absentmindedly put his finger to his mouth as he gazed down at Harry; as though Harry were an especially interesting bug.  One that, perhaps, had magical properties, but was weird and disgusting nonetheless

“What?” Harry asked, again.  This time quite sharply, taking a step back and bumping the column of the archway.

The Potion Master’s eyebrows went up, and he crossed his arms.  He raised his chin a little, so he looked even taller and more intimidating.

“Sir.” Harry added quickly, not wanting to get his ear cuffed (or worse) for insolence.

It must have been the right thing to say, Snape relaxed ever so slightly, “You have not been eating.”

That wasn’t what Harry expected, “Sorry?”

“You haven’t been eating, Mr. Potter.  In the past three days, I have seen you at two meals.  I had food sent up yesterday at lunch, that I was reliably informed was half eaten.  This morning you had one cup of tea and half a piece of toast.”  He stood there looking as if he expected Harry to reply.

“Er--yeah.  So?” Harry said, blankly. There wasn’t any rule that said Harry had to go to meals.  

Snape rolled his eyes, “You are underweight, Potter.  And suffering from several nutritional deficiencies.  I would like to know: why you are missing meals?”

Harry shrugged.  He wasn’t about to tell Snape that he was avoiding Ron and Hermione.  Nor was he going to tell him that he was accustomed to missing meals, or that his appetite often vanished when he was upset.  Or the last month or so had been one of the most upsetting times of his life.

“The attack of nerves, I witnessed yesterday.  Is this something that happens often?”  Snape asked in a low voice, because several students were walking past them.

Harry dropped his eyes, to stare at an especially fascinating bit of stone on the floor, rather than continue to meet his gaze.  Harry didn’t know how to answer that. He shrugged again.

Snape pulled a potion out of one of the pockets of his robe, “I want you to swallow this before lunch today.” he held out a small vial, with a light blue liquid, “I’ll send up some more, this evening.  A single vial before each meal.”

“What is it?” asked Harry suspiciously, he hesitantly put out his hand to take it.

“A slow acting poison to rid the world of people who annoy their teachers.” snapped Snape, darkly.  He took a deep breath, seemingly to get a get his irritation under control, “It’s an appetite stimulant.  I want you to take it every day before meals.  If you don’t put on some weight, I will have no choice but to ban you from Quidditch.”

Harry’s eyes flew to meet Snape’s again, “You can’t!” he burst out, angrily, his hand still outstretched,  “That’s not fair!” That was just like Snape, to find some reason to stop him playing.  

It must  have been Harry’s imagination, but he thought he saw a brief gleam of something like approval in the teacher’s face

Then those eyebrows rose again, “I think you’ll find I can.” Snape said quietly,  in his silky voice,“I don’t believe I need you making yourself ill.  Madame Pomfrey would have my head.”

“She’s never said anything about my weight before.” growled Harry, he crossed his arms over his chest, lifted himself to his full height, unconsciously mimicking Snape’s posture of a moment ago, “You can’t ban me from playing.”

“Appear at meals and actually eat something, and I won’t have to.” replied Snape, dryly.  He was still holding out the potion. 

“Oh.” Harry subsided, confused,   “Yessir.” he mumbled.  He took the proffered potion.  Stuck it and his hands into his pockets, sullenly going back to examining the stone in the floor.

Snape sighed, “It is clear to me, that you don’t care for the company in the Hall.   I intend to have my lunch in my office.  Given that we have an unfinished conversation, I think you should join me.”

Oh, yes.  That would improve Harry’s appetite, certainly.  All he said, however, was, “Yessir.” To that same bit of stone.

“Noon, Potter.”  Snape said, “Don’t be late.” his mouth turned up in a sardonic smile, and he swept away.

Jumping from the Astronomy Tower looked more inviting every minute, it really did.

Harry thought about that for a moment.  It was a little disquieting, to realize it, but it did indeed have appeal.  

Neville’s death had him considering death, in general.  Harry wondered if he died, if he would be reunited with his parents.  Since coming to Hogwarts, he had discovered that there were real ghosts.  He wondered once or twice, in the back of his mind, why his parents hadn’t come to look after him as ghosts.  Now, the question occupied an uncomfortably central place in his head.

Perhaps, they simply hadn’t wanted to.

If that was the case, perhaps wherever they went was better than here.  Vernon and Petunia weren’t churchgoers, so Harry didn’t know much about the idea of Heaven, but he’d like to think his parents went somewhere like that.

For himself, he doubted anything like that existed.  He wasn’t even sure he’d want it to.

Perhaps, if you didn’t stick around as a ghost, you just went nowhere.  Like sleeping, but with no dreams.  That really was appealing.  

Sighing, Harry followed in Snape’s wake, turning to the stairway that led to the library.  

“Harry!”

Damn.

Harry thought he’d slipped by them again, but Ron was hurrying to catch up with him, Hermione following more slowly.

Harry considered just running for it, but Ron had longer legs than him, now.  It wasn’t as if Ron were Dudley, who’d just give up after a while.  Ron could out-stubborn anyone Harry knew.  He’d just lie in wait for Harry. 

Harry decided he should just get it over with.

“What?” said Harry irritably, as they caught up with him.  Ron stopped on the next step down from him and Hermione stood behind Ron.

Ron looked angry, “This is stupid.” he said, “You can’t keep avoiding us, like this.”

Harry shrugged, and changing his mind about having this conversation, tried to walk away, up the stairs.  Ron grabbed the sleeve of Harry’s robe, “Harry!” He said again,loudly. 

Harry turned around to look at him.  Ron glanced around.  Still standing one step down, so that their eyes were at the same level, he gently pushed Harry against the wall with a hand on his chest.  He stood close enough that Harry would have to push him out of the way to get away.

Harry hated to be crowded like that and Ron knew it.  But, before Harry could shove him away, Ron leaned in close to his ear. “Look,” Ron said in a whisper, his lips almost touching Harry’s ear,  “Hermione told me.  About...about Snape, being your guardian.”

“And it’s her fault.” Harry acidly whispered back, jerking his head at Hermione, but he didn’t move.  At least the two of them understood that he wanted to keep things quiet.

“I was worried about you.” hissed Hermione. She’d come to stand on the same step he did, now. “I only told because I was tired of you coming back every term all beaten up.” her eyes held the same hurt they’d held yesterday in the common room, ‘I’m sorry, but after Neville, I just couldn’t...” she broke off, tears were running down her face.

Harry was overcome with remorse, thinking about shouting at her.  This was the second time in twenty-four hours he’d made her cry, “Hermione, don’t” he said, hoarsely.

He closed his eyes, sagged against the wall and slid down to sit on the step, “I’m sorry.” he said softly.  He wrapped his arms around himself, miserably and told himself he was not going to cry.

He felt Ron sit down next to him.  Hermione sat on the next lower step, leaning against his shins.  She put her hand on his that was sitting limply on his knee.  He could hear her sniffle and he squeezed her hand.

Harry opened his eyes,  when he was sure they weren’t going to start streaming, as well.

“Listen,” said Ron, in that almost inaudible whisper.  If he wasn’t sitting so close, Harry wouldn’t have heard him, “I wrote Dad last night.  I know for a fact that Mum and Dad’ll put in to have you.  It’s just that the Ministry’s in an uproar, I bet.  That’s why Snape got it transferred to him, on the quiet.”  Ron said, confidently, “I bet Dumbledore worked it out.  He’s got a lot of influence at the Ministry.”

Hermione put in, “Professor Snape probably only did it because he’s acting Headmaster.  Professor McGonagal’s gone as well,  there was just no one else to ask.”

Harry nodded again, that made sense.  Maybe, there was a way out.  And Snape had said it was temporary.  McGonagal would be all right.  The Weasleys would be brilliant.   The fact that Ron had written to his parents to ask them about it, gave Harry a warm feeling in his chest.  Even if nothing came of it, Ron was still his friend.

“So, it’ll be all right, yeah?” said Ron, bracingly, speaking in a normal volume.

Harry didn’t like to hope too much,  “Can we...just not talk about it now?” he didn’t like the begging whine in his voice, but he couldn’t help it.  If he could just not think about it for a few hours, he’d be grateful.

“Yeah, all right.” shrugged Ron, looking relieved, “Are we...okay now?”

Harry let his shoulders drop, “Yeah, okay.” he smiled.  Hermione squeezed his hand, looking pleased.

“Have you eaten?” she asked.

“No. Not really.” he admitted, sheepishly.

“Well, come on, then.” said Ron, standing up, “I’m starving.” he took the stairs back down to the Great Hall two at a time.

Hermione and Harry followed.  Hermione gave Harry’s hand a last squeeze before letting go.

Harry felt much more like eating now.

I called this chapter "Setting Boundaries" because this is the first time Harry's ever had them expressly set for him. Most of the time, he is expected to just know what the rules are. At the Dursleys, the rules change according to Vernon and Petunia's mood with the only consistent one being "pretend you don't exist".

We also see  the beginning of suicidal ideation in Harry.  It's not really all that straight forward, just a kind of idle wondering that any child who's suffered a recent loss might have. It takes a more sinister turn when he realizes that throwning himself from the astronomy tower has appeal, that's almost a plan. When dealing with someone who's possibly suicidal, its always good to find out whether their scary thoughts have direction this way or  not.

Ron and Hermione are trying to come to Harry's rescue here. Hopefully, their plans will be of some help.



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