The title felt heavy and formal in her mouth… but she didn’t know what else she could say.
“...would you read to me?”
“...Read to you?” Snape tilts his book down slightly to look at her, judgmentally perplexed.
“Only if-“ She stutters under his gaze, “If you want to, of course, I um. I know it sounds silly, it's just.... no one ever read to me, as a child, and I… I thought maybe... I've always wanted...”
She can’t meet his eyes anymore, instead staring through her hands as she grips at her fingers.
Snape pauses uncomfortably, book drooping further, and shifts in his seat... then lightly clears his throat.
She was... cute.
He wasn’t partial to the word, but anything else would have been inaccurate.
Something thudded high and deep in his chest, the reverberations of which made him inhale suddenly. Harri picked her head up to see what was the matter, and when she met his eyes he realized he had stopped reading. He hastily tried to recover the line he had last read from his memory, before it slipped away into the haze spreading through him.
They sit across from each other at the small kitchen table, like she's become accustomed to. Like she knows will soon be replaced by the familiarity of Gryffindor's long wooden table, flanked by her friends.
But this time, Harri’s heart is racing. This time, perhaps for the first time in her life, the thought of the Great Hall and her friend's company makes her dread the end of the summer; makes yearn desperately for something she hasn't yet lost. Something she isn't even entirely sure she has to begin with.
Overcome, she reaches out to touch his arm ever so lightly; “..What?” he reacts, looking up from his paper.
It spills out of her.
“I... I think I..."
She swallows hard.
"...I love you.”
It’s a plea. What do I do?
Snape looks at her, stunned, then pained, before bringing his hand up to his eyes as further unwanted emotions surface. She goes to run, crying a soft “I’m sorry-”, and he has to gather himself quickly, rising from his seat with a clatter; “Harri, wait-“
The strength of the command halts her, and Snape retreats the force of his countenance; Harri’s own upset stalled in the vulnerable look that’s overtaken him.
Insurmountable emotion bated inside her, Harri looks a breath away from flight. His mind spins; he needs the right words. Just don’t leave. They suffocate together for an endless moment; she needs answers and he doesn’t have them.
He doesn't have them.
He has her.
Realization drops though him and before he can think twice he’s pulled her into an embrace; pressed tightly to his chest, head under his. When his misgivings crash in behind him he pushes her back, hands steadying her shoulders, just enough to look her in the eyes.
It stuns him out of the deflection he had been hastily composing.
Instead, without any other words left within him, he speaks. Dangerously, and truthfully:
“...I love you, too.”
He catches her arms as she grips the fabric of his sleeves like a lost child, rattling with tears. She leans her weight against him as if upon a crutch, and he gratefully accepts the role, saving him from his own spill of emotion. He would brace, and she would cry for the both of them.
It didn’t seem fair.
“...How do you love me?”
Severus, startled out of whatever movement he had been in the process of, turns his full attention to Harri. The impact of this morning's admission had been enough to rattle them both; he wasn't expecting an aftershock this quickly. Hadn't that been enough for one day?
The word was punctuated by the click of his coffee cup returning to the saucer in his other hand, both now pulled close to his lap. There was concern behind the statement: he tried to mask it as confusion, but the driving force behind it was fear that he didn’t... truthfully have the right answer for her.
“Like.... do you...”
Harri felt hot embarrassment choke out her words, but she punished herself to force them out anyway. ...She needed to know. The question came out choppy:
“...do you love me... like a child? Or like… like a....”
Severus desperately wished he had a shot of something, ANYTHING to consume at that moment. He tilted his cup towards him: empty. His eyes quickly scanned the array of bottles within reach, but nothing appeared suitable.
Setting down the cup he covers his eyes as he steadies his forehead between his thumb and forefinger for a moment; an act of crossing himself before composing himself to speak.
“You... are not my child.”
Everything burned inside of him. The words felt like telltale smoke of an ego going up in flames.
But the way Harri then met his eyes seemed to quell the fire. She looked... relieved, somewhat. But torn at a depth he couldn’t see into. It dawned on him that the churning behind those storm-colored eyes must mirror his own internal disaster; this wasn’t easy for either of them.
...Of course it wasn’t. The shameful rush of empathy that swept through him carried him over to her, gently bracing her arms to steady the turmoil.
In a moment they were wrapped together, both of them trying to hold on, and to feel out the relationship through touch rather than words. It seemed to much clearer when they were against each other. The sudden awareness of lips, the light pulse that ran... all the way down. It mingled with dread.
Harri disrupts the moment: “...You don't... feel like my dad.”
Severus can’t help but roll his eyes sardonically: “I should hope not.”
But the both of them pull back just enough to look at one another, soft understanding hanging in the close air between them. He takes his hand and brushes her cheek, bringing her hair back just enough so that her scar becomes clearly visible. Harri.
In a swift but gentle move he brings her to him again and she welcomes it, wrapping her arms warmly around his torso and pressing her nose into his chest, unable to see the deep trouble he could no longer keep out of his expression.
What is this becoming?