Balm in Gilead
Verse II of the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc
"'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil!—prophet still if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—IS there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me I implore!'
"Quoth the Raven 'Nevermore.'"
Edgar Allen Poe
He stiffened—eyes suddenly just a little bit too intent on the rippling surface of the lake, shoulders just a little too hunched, breathing just a little too shallow—and all he could think was, What are you doing here! The outrage of it was—was—
Well, Harry didn't quite know what the outrage was of it was exactly, but he didn't particularly care at the moment. And he just stood there . . . Not moving, not talking, not . . . anything . . . Well, nothing other than sucking up what little peace of mind Luna Lovegood had given him. And smelling like tea and roses and something sweet and bitter and . . . infinitely Snape-ish.
And to think, the boy thought with a bitterness that was rapidly becoming familiar, I could be packing . . . finishing packing . . . repacking neatly . . .
Alright then, he wasn't sure what he could be doing other than avoiding everyone's eyes at the end of term feast, but even that beat out standing here with Snape, right? Didn't it? Regardless of the fact that the man smelt like roses and tea.
And there was the anger he wanted! Anger and a sudden strange hyperawareness of the void inside him since Sirius . . .
Harry took a deep breath and resolutely pulled his knees up to his chest. A cool wind ruffled his hair and Snape's robe whispered softly around the man's ankles as he silently towered over the boy. He was close. Far, far too close. The green-eyed Gryffindor wrapped his arms tightly around his knees, so tightly he thought his knees might crack from the pressure. He would not tempt Snape. He wouldn't. Not when he was almost free of the greasy, hooked-nose git. Not after—
He shivered; it had nothing to do with wind. Snape remained silent.
"Well?" Harry demanded at last. The sun was beginning to set, casting odd bars of red, orange and gold across the lake and reminding Harry uncomfortably of that day last year, just like this, only a bit colder, a bit later, a bit less . . .
That was Before. After the Triwizard Tournament and Cedric, but Before Lestrange. Before Mysteries and Prophecies and Educational Decrees and the mad shrieks of Mrs. Black and portraits that could not accept the deaths of their who-knows-how-many-greats great grandsons. Simply Before.
His head throbbed and he automatically rubbed his scar, though the scar was not the cause.
For a moment, Snape didn't respond, but then he stared with that same too intent glare at the sinking sunset and cleared his throat. "Does your head hurt?"
"Do you care?" Harry snarled, immediately forgetting his vow not to tempt Snape. He turned around, tilting his head uncomfortably, to glare up at Snape.
The Professor's angular jaw clenched and his eyes flickered with some unnamed emotion before relaxing into the strange, mellow expression that Harry had only seen once before.
For some reason that softness in his normally acidic teacher infuriated Harry. He twisted to his feet with a grace he normally only displayed on a broomstick and turned to face Snape. He clenched his fists helplessly, body shaking with barely suppressed violence, and took a menacing step towards the man who held his ground with a calm that would have been unnerving if Harry had been thinking.
But Harry was not thinking. He was feeling—feeling beyond anger, beyond hate, beyond fear . . . beyond everything except the burning in his eyes and the cold, aching empty, void where Sirius had been. Where Sirius would have been if not for this . . . this . . . Man. This Severus Snape.
Snape, who stopped Harry's Occlumency lessons.
Snape, who hated Sirius. Hated Harry. Hated his dad.
Snape, who wasted time getting the message back to the Order.
Snape, who could have gotten him away from Umbridge sooner.
Snape, who poisoned everything he touched.
Poisoned James Potter. Poisoned Remus Lupin. Poisoned Lily Potter. Poisoned Sirius Black. Even poisoned himself.
Snape, who . . .
Who . . .
Who . . .
Cowered against a wall and sobbed, small and unnoticed, while his father shrieked obscenities at his mother.
Who shot flies off his ceiling during holidays when he was bored. He was skilled enough at it to have been bored often.
Who was a plain, twitchy, ungainly, nervous, unloved, "oddball" of a boy once.
Snape, whom his father hated.
Snape, who had once been dangled upside down, stripped half naked in front of nearly everyone who knew him, and mocked for no other reason than the boys who were everything that he would never be were bored. Bored. He was their entertainment.
And then those boys grew into men. Men who loved a little boy named Harry. Men who died for that little boy.
Men who died.
They all died!
And Snape didn't.
And for that, more than anything else, Harry could not forgive him. For that, Harry hated him.
"BASTARD!" His voice did not come out like the roll of thunder that he wanted, but staggered out of his throat as a wounded, cracked thing, and his steps were ungainly and uncontrolled as he surged forward, fist raised to hit the man in front of him. And they were far, far too close to one another.
Harry didn't notice.
Snape caught his hand easily before the clumsy blow could land and his grip was warm and gently unyielding. He had the audacity to look surprised, stupidly confused, as though he didn't understand.
Rage ran through Harry, white hot and waxy in his veins, making his skin feel too cold and his body feel too hot and his muscles weak and jumpy as though they were receiving small electric shocks that made it impossible to control himself.
He jerked backwards away from the roseteasweetbitterpaledarksoverywarmARSEHOLE of a man in front of him with twitching, shuddering motions that were too large to be natural and too weak to be effective. Harry felt like a marionette, wooden and empty, and he couldn't seem to stop his mouth from moving. His tongue was thick and clumsy and tasted faintly like raw meat in his mouth as his free hand made a second attempt to hit Snape.
The second hand was caught with humiliating ease. "Potter, have you gone mad!"
Harry jerked back again, only to be pulled forward towards that thin, surprisingly solid chest and it occurred to some part of Harry, the part that was horrified at what he was doing, who he was doing it to, and where this was going, that he just barely came up to Snape's collar bone. The observation only fueled his rage.
And his mouth, amazingly detached from his brain, continued to work, pouring out accusations and obscenities that Harry was afraid to think, but somehow knew he had always believed. "BASTARD! Traitor! COWARD! It should have been you! Mum, Dad, Sirius . . . It should have been you. They didn't deserve to die!"
"Potter, stop it!"
The more words poured out of his mouth, the more rubies he could see vanishing from the bottom of the Gryffindor hourglass. "SNAKE! Death Eater! It should have been you! You always hated them! Hated me! You wanted them to die!"
"Potter, you're going to hurt yourself!" The grip on his wrists tightened painfully as Harry thrashed wildly against him, his feral struggles making his shrieks almost incomprehensible. "Potter! Stop this this instant!"
"I hate you! You're the spy. You could have known! Should have known! They died because of you!"
Harry . . .
"It should have been you! You took them from me!"
He called me Harry . . .
"It should have been YOU!"
And then suddenly Harry stopped, slumped against Snape's chest and glaring up into those fathomless black eyes, feeling both wild and empty and knowing only that he desperately wanted to be anywhere but here, but he somehow didn't much want to leave either.
It wouldn't have been like this Before. Not Before.
There was Before and there was After and it wasn't Before now. Not anymore. And Harry suddenly hated After even more, so he buried his face in Snape's strong chest, listening to the older man's deep, strong breaths, the heavy pounding of his heart, and inhaling great gulps of the roseandteasweetandsourSnape smell. His eyes stung and a hard lump arose in the back of his throat that he couldn't seem to swallow around.
Harry's knees gave way and Snape's hands felt like brands wrapped round his wrists as the older man used them to allow him to slowly sink to the ground. The boy sat heavily on ankles, the black robes gently brushing his face as he murmured to the ground, "It should have been you . . ."
Snape said nothing, merely held up outstretched arms to ensure that the boy didn't collapse entirely and stared down at him with such sad eyes . . .
Harry's position was weak and submissive and Snape seemed to rise out of the earth with all the impassivity of a mountain and the black robes were warm and soft against Harry's face.
Green eyes blurred as tears welled up in them and Harry wondered if it was sick of him to think that this was the most comforting thing he would ever find anywhere in this unfamiliarly familiar world of After.
He hurt inside.
Snape watched him passively for a moment, supporting him as best he could in that strained, uncomfortable, so-very-wrong position, before squatting down and gently folding Harry's arms on the tiny space of June green grass between them.
"Don't call me that."
". . . Potter . . ."
A strange, strained noise left the teen's lips, but Harry's face remained dry and pale just as his eyes remained dry and red.
"Potter . . ." And the Professor sounded so ridiculously bereft . . . as though Harry were asking something of him that he couldn't possibly be expected to give.
Harry hunched over slightly, pulling himself into a ball.
"Harry." Desperate. Strained. Thin.
Harry had the distinct impression that the word had been physically forcibly drawn out, trembling and wet with blood. It occurred to him that this was the first time Snape had ever said his name. And the first time anyone had ever said his name like that.
Green eyes looked up, red and angry. For a moment the two of them stared at one another and something . . . something so heavy, so big, so infinitely important seemed to pass between them that Harry reached up to grasp it for inspection. His hand only passed ineffectually through the air, though. Quidditch calloused fingers gently brushed a sallow, shockingly soft cheek and Snape shivered slightly.
Harry was involuntarily reminded of all those old, smutty muggle American flatfoot mysteries that Aunt Petunia seemed so fond of with their smooth black and white pictures, voluptuous and enigmatic characters, bitter scripts, and long heavy silences during which so very much was said. "Of all the lakes at all the castles in all the world, he had to walk up to mine." He almost laughed, choking on it instead, knowing instinctively that it would have come out as a hard, manic sound.
The hand fell away and some of the strain relaxed from Snape's too-close face. "I—"
"I know," he interrupted.
Harry barely smothered a desperate need to know just what Snape thought he knew because Harry sure as hell didn't have a clue what was going on.
"I know," Snape repeated. Calmly, but intensely. Sincerely. A statement of fact.
Harry looked away, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, and barren feeling.
After a moment Snape stood. "You should go to bed, Mr. Potter." Now coldly. "The train leaves early tomorrow." And then he turned so sharply that the grass churned up beneath his heel and headed back to the castle, robes swirling around him like a small storm.
Harry looked up at him from his place on the ground, his expression strangely intense. "It was rotten. What they did to you that day. It was really rotten. I—I wouldn't have done it. I . . . would have tried to stop it." Like Mum did, he wanted to add. I would have been like Mum. He didn't say it, though.
Snape's head turned, his expression hidden from sight by a curtain of greasy black hair. "Would you have?" Snape tilted his head slightly and Harry looked away, feeling inexplicably ashamed.
"Go to bed, Mr. Potter." His voice was both rough and gentle, like honey dripped over a new razor. Sex and silk and something like pain. Harry shivered. "You'll catch your death out here."
And then Snape turned and left him alone in the silence.
That night Harry didn't dream of snakes or unopened doors or Ravenclaw Seekers or Dark Lords. Instead, he dreamed of a tall, dark man with molten silver hands who whispered secrets in his ear that he could no longer comprehend upon waking.
"Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul—
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll—
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole—
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole
"Our talk had been serious and somber,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere—
Our memories were treacherous and sere—
We knew not the month of October,
And we marked not the night of the year—
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here)—
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."
Edgar Allen Poe