A/N: Hello everyone! I thought it would be a good idea to upload one of my old one-shots while I'm finishing up the next chapter of Reverberations. This takes place the summer after the events at the Ministry. I hope you all enjoy this! Please tell me what you think :)
It was perhaps the hottest day of the year, the scorching summer sun cooking the pavement of Privet Drive. The streets were silent and empty, as though it were the middle of the night and not the middle of the day. Then there was a sound, a loud cracking noise, breaking the stillness of the street and bringing with it even more noise. Next a figure appeared, his peeling gym shoes greeting the pavement with great force. He had been the source of the noise, slamming the front door of his neat little house behind him with a resounding bang. The boy ran, not minding the heat. He just wanted to get as far away as possible.
The sun seemed to mock him, focusing the intensity of its gaze upon the lone figure who dared enter its presence. But the boy continued to run, glad he had something to focus his full attention on. The sweat was slick, sliding down his back and sticking to his faded t-shirt, making his glasses slip down his nose. Quickly pushing them up, the boy ran harder, trying to distance himself from the cruel taunts he had heard back at the house. But the words were still there, like a swarm of bees that followed him no matter how far he ran, punishing him with their vicious stingers. Freak. The boy imagined a large red welt appearing on his arm. Then another bee drove in a stinger. Burden. Again another imaginary sting appeared. Why don't you just go live with that godfather of yours? Dozens of bees stinging him at once. He just wanted to curl up and let the pain eat him away. But he pushed on.
As he ran, the sun dipped almost imperceptibly downward, and the slightest resemblance of a breeze tickled the grass. Time was slowly drifting toward evening. The boy wasn't sure how long he ran for, but when he suddenly stopped the sky was turning toward dusty twilight. He stood there on the sidewalk, panting heavily, a few drops of sweat climbing downward. Almost like tears. Or were they tears?
Why had he stopped? It wasn't because he had reached the end of his neighborhood, and along with it the stinging realization that he had no where else to go. As much as he resented it, he still paid attention to Dumbledore's instructions. He had to stay put. No, the more obvious reason he had stopped was because he was simply exhausted. His run had taken everything out of him, and he had at least achieved his goal of numbing himself to the words. The red stings were fading, if only for a little bit.
The world spun; it was like the boy was seeing two of everything. Had he dropped his glasses while running? Raising a shaky hand, he felt the smooth glass underneath his fingers. That wasn't it. Waves of nausea rolled through his stomach, and he dropped his hands onto his knees, leaning over slightly. Maybe it hadn't been the best idea to go running in this heat when he hadn't eaten anything for lunch. Or breakfast or dinner the night before. He allowed his breathing to slow, hoping it would clear his head. Raising himself up slowly, the boy was surprised when dizziness and lightheadedness nearly caused him to collapse. Blurred thoughts jumbled together in his mind. The boy couldn't just stay here in the middle of the sidewalk, but he was much too far away from home to think of making it back there. Up ahead, he saw the shadowy outline of an alley. Stumbling forward, he entered it, his back sliding down the wall and his head resting on his knees. He could stay here until he felt better, then try to get back to his aunt and uncle's house. He would be in loads of trouble when he arrived home so late, but he would worry about that later.
The boy closed his eyes briefly, thinking he would just rest them for a moment or so. Before he knew it, Harry Potter had entered the blissful world of unconsciousness.
Another boy was now walking toward the streets of the neighborhood, cutting across a parched field with a gang of other boys following behind him. An air of self-satisfied smugness hung around him, and he was clearly the leader of the boys. A smirk was playing at the corners of his pudgy mouth, and he was holding a brown paper bag in his hand. The other boys around him were laughing and jeering rowdily, a few of them clutching at similar paper bags. The paper bags seemed to be the source of their extra rowdiness; or, more precisely, what was in the paper bags.
Dudley took a large swig from the bottle concealed with in the bag, swiping his mouth with the back of his hand and grinning appreciatively. He couldn't believe he had pulled this off, for he normally wasn't the one to come up with the plans. But he had done it this time, had gotten them fake id's which allowed them to purchase this alcohol. He thought he was quite brilliant, really.
Dudley passed off his bag to another boy, who greedily took a drink from it himself. They were now reaching the outer edge of their neighborhood, and Dudley realized that everyone would have to get home soon. Grinning to himself, Dudley knew that it didn't matter what time he arrived home. Whenever he strolled through the door was his curfew, and heaven help Potter if he tried to show up after him.
Dudley slowed his walk, throwing a glance toward the boys who were behind him.
"We've got to get rid of this stuff now," he said, and a few of the boys groaned or took a last large swig from the bottles.
"Malcolm, you'll have the guys crash at your place. Your parents are out of town." Dudley had thought this through, making sure that no one's parents would find out about it. He hadn't had too much to drink himself, and his parents wouldn't notice the smell of alcohol clinging faintly to his clothing if he told them he was too tired to talk tonight.
Malcolm nodded his agreement, and they continued on. Dudley kept his eyes peeled for a garbage can, but before he could find one, someone called out.
"Look at this!" shouted Piers gleefully, and Dudley hurried back to where he was standing, a finger pointing into the nearby alley.
"What?" asked Dudley roughly, moving around him to get a better view, his mouth falling open in surprise when he saw who was there.
"Isn't that your cousin?" asked Piers, a grin on his face. Dudley only nodded, moving closer toward Potter. He seemed to be passed out, his head buried in his knees and the crooked edge of his glasses visible against his untidy hair.
"What's he doing here?" asked another boy, gaping at the sight.
"How the hell should I know?" answered Dudley, shaking Harry's shoulder. He didn't respond.
"Is he dead?" asked someone, coming for a closer look.
"Of course not, you git," scowled Dudley, not sure what he should do. Of course his cousin had to ruin his night of fun, just like he ruined everything else. Piers walked back up to Dudley's side, his smirk in place.
"I know what we can do," said Piers, looking gleefully at Harry.
"What?" asked Dudley slowly.
"Let's leave our bottles here, so if anyone finds Potter, it'll look like he got drunk and passed out in the alley!" The boys nodded and let out raucous laughs.
Not about to be outdone, Dudley thought quickly. A malicious smile slowly spread across his features.
"I have an even better idea."
It had been simple. Potter hadn't even put up much of a fight. All they had had to do was push him into a sitting position, open his mouth, and tip the last few contents of their bottles down his throat. He had coughed some of it out, but they were sure their plan had worked. Then they had left him there, the five or so bottles they had bought strewn about him. There hadn't been much left in the bottles really. Still, the boys had found giving those last swallows to Harry hilarious. Dudley allowed their praise to wash over him, glad that Piers hadn't been the one to think this up.
They reached Malcolm's house, and the rest of the gang trooped up his front steps, a few of them stumbling slightly.
"See ya later, Big D!" came the various calls, and Dudley waved a hand in farewell, making his solitary way to Number 4.
Harry didn't know what was going on. Rough hands pushed at his arms, and odd noises drifted back toward his ears. Lifting his heavy eyelids seemed to take all his strength. Why were all these people around him? What were they doing? He could make out the outline of his cousin crouching before him, holding something in his hand. It wasn't until the cold rim of the bottle was pushed to his mouth that he realized what was happening. He had kicked out, but a sharp blow to his face had drained his last burst of energy. He had coughed and spluttered as best he could, but he still felt an unusual burning sensation tearing down his throat. Then he had blacked out again, the laughs of Dudley's gang echoing in his ears.
Severus Snape was relaxing, one arm resting on an armchair in his study. He was staying at Hogwarts for the first few weeks of summer, where Dumbledore was staying as well. This allowed Snape to finish up some of his potions that needed to brew longer, as well as be near Dumbledore in case he had any information from Death Eater meetings that needed to be revealed right away. It was a comfortable enough arrangement for Severus, who enjoyed the castle now that there were no brats running around and causing trouble.
A copy of Practical Potioneer lay open on his lap, and his dark eyes scanned the page with interest. He had tended to his potions for the day, and he was now reading an intriguing article about replacing doxy eggs with newt eyes and the effects this had in some test potions. Perhaps he would try it out, if his strengthening solution finished fermenting by tomorrow.
A knock sounded at Snape's door, and he rose with a scowl to answer it. Dumbledore stood waiting for him on the other side, his customary cheerful grin suspiciously absent from his face.
"Good evening, Severus," said Dumbledore. Snape recognized his tone at once; it was the one he used when he wanted something done.
"Evening, Albus," he said, arching an eyebrow and gesturing for him to come in. Dumbledore nodded courteously before stepping into Snape's quarters.
"Care for a drink, headmaster?" asked Snape coolly, though he knew Dumbledore wasn't here for a social visit.
"Ah, no thank you Severus. I'm afraid I can't stay for long. I actually have a favor to ask you."
"Indeed," said Snape, crossing his arms and looking expectantly at Dumbledore.
"It involves Harry. Arabella Figg has informed me that he ran away from his house late this afternoon and has yet to return, and I need you to go and check on his whereabouts."
"Absolutely not," said Snape flatly. "I will not spend my vacation babysitting Potter."
"Severus, something could be seriously wrong," said Dumbledore sternly, peering at Severus over the top of his glasses.
"Then have someone else do it."
"You know that everyone else is away on missions for the Order, and I can't leave Hogwarts in case one of them comes back or owls here," said Dumbledore calmly.
Severus scowled. "Fine," he said shortly, not seeing how he could get out of it.
Dumbledore beamed. "Thank you, Severus," he said, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
Striding along the sidewalks of Privet Drive, Severus ground his teeth together. He had just visited Arabella Figg to confirm that Potter hadn't shown up at his home yet. The place had smelled like cabbage and there were cats everywhere, and Snape was not very fond of cats. Thinking that when he found Potter he would turn him into Potions ingredients, Severus turned down the sidewalk into a new street. His wand was clenched in his hand, though Dumbledore had told him not to use magic.
Snape walked around for perhaps another twenty minutes, going on the hazy instructions he had received from Figg. These instructions had consisted of pointing her finger in the direction she had seen Potter run off in. The night air was a bit chilly, and he really wasn't in the mood for this. He was about to go down a different street when he saw something glittering up ahead. Quickening his pace, Snape saw that it was merely a shiny bottle. He was about to turn away when he heard something. Was that…breathing?
Severus crept closer, raising his wand. Approaching the source of the breathing, he realized with a jolt that it was Potter. Idiot, he thought, kneeling down next to the boy. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the alley, Snape noticed several other bottles lying next to Potter. Decided to get drunk, Potter? He snidely thought to himself, prodding the boy to see if he would respond. When he didn't, Severus reached into his cloak pocket, searching for a potion that would help him. He didn't seem to have anything for this situation, however. He didn't have a hangover potion with him, but even if he did it wasn't likely he'd give it to the boy. Better to make him learn his lesson for his stupidity.
The boy had a bruise on his cheek, most likely from falling down in the alley. He didn't have any bruise balm with him, either. As the few potions he had brought with him clinked together, Harry slowly opened his eyes. Snape looked up and saw that the boy was awake.
"Potter," Snape sneered, not sure how drunk the boy was.
Harry giggled. "You look like Snape," he said.
Snape scowled. This was going to be a lot harder than he thought. The only thing he could do was walk him home, where his muggle relatives could deal with him.
"Give me your hand, Potter," he growled, holding out his hand to try and hoist the boy up.
"You sound like Snape too," Harry said, that stupid giggle coming out of his mouth again. "Why d'you wanna hold hands with me?"
Gnashing his teeth together in frustration, Snape leaned down and grabbed onto Potter's arm, holding him steady. Harry looked surprised at that, his mouth dropping into a comical o. Snape began to walk, jerking Harry along in his wake.
"Slow down!" Harry protested, slurring the s slightly. Snape slowed his fast pace a bit. He wanted to drop Potter off and get this over with, not waste his night taking a walk with him.
"You imbecile, getting yourself drunk and passing out in an alley. Anyone could have harmed you there. Don't you ever think? I suppose not, exactly like your father," Snape hissed, glad to vent his frustrations on the boy, who he was sure wouldn't remember anything in the morning.
"I didn't get drunk," protested Harry, stumbling slightly as he walked. Severus sighed, slowing down to practically a crawl. "Dudley got me drunk."
"What in the world are you talking about?" asked Snape. The alcohol seemed to loosen Potter's tongue, for he continued on.
"I was just minding my own business when he shoved it down my throat, the prat. Had those gang members of his hold me down. They don't like me very much. Specially not Dudley, cause I set a snake on him once. That was fun," said Harry, another giggle escaping his lips.
Shoved it down my throat…gang members of his hold me down…the words echoed in Snape's head; could the boy be telling the truth?
"You set a snake on your cousin?" asked Snape, wondering if the boy would keep talking.
"Mhhmmmm," he said, drawing out the word for a ridiculous amount of time. "Not really though, I just gave him a bit of a scare. My aunt and uncle weren't too pleased bout it though. Locked me in the cupboard for ages." He paused for a moment. "Snakes aren't so bad, you know. Don't tell Snape I said that though, cause he's a Slytherin," Harry said, hiccoughing a bit.
"I'll be sure not to," said Snape dryly, keeping a firm grip on the boy's arm; his mind was racing. Locked him in the cupboard?
"Where are we going?" asked Harry. "It seems kinda late to go for a walk."
"I am taking you home."
"Do you have to? You can just put me back where I was if you want."
"Yes, I have to."
"They're gonna be mad at me," said Harry, no longer giggling. His green eyes were filled with fear, and Snape felt his stomach clench.
"I shall explain the situation to them."
"Won't work. They'll believe Dudley," mumbled Harry, his words slurring together once more. "They always believe Dudley. I get in trouble a lot. Might make me sleep in the shed."
The words echoed in Snape's ears, and that slightly sick feeling returned to his stomach. Maybe Potter was merely talking crazy; he was drunk, after all. But somehow he sensed the truth in the boy's words.
They were close to Privet Drive now. Snape could make out Arabella peering at him through her curtains, one of her horrible cats in her arms. Snape steered Harry toward his house, up the driveway, and toward the front door. Steeling himself, he knocked sharply on the door, waiting for someone to answer.
A large man's silhouette loomed on the other side of the doorway, and it opened the front door a crack. Snape saw the man who must be Harry's uncle; his large face was quickly turning beat red.
"What is the meaning of this?" he hissed, the intensity of his voice surprising Severus.
"I am here to deliver your nephew to you," said Snape coolly, his hand reaching instinctively for his wand.
"Where the devil was he? He knows he's supposed to be home before this. Little brat, always causing trouble," said Uncle Vernon, reaching a meaty hand forward to yank Harry roughly into the house.
Snape noticed that Potter had grown quiet once they had reached his house, his drunken giggles ceasing. He saw him wince as his uncle pulled him in, and caught the quiet, "You go upstairs boy. I'll deal with you later."
Just as Dursley was about to close the door, Snape put his foot in it.
"Yes?" said Vernon roughly.
"You won't lay a finger on him," said Snape quietly, pulling his wand out from underneath his cloak. "And if you do, I'll find out."
Vernon watched him, the dislike in his eyes mingled with overwhelming fear. He shut the front door in Snape's face, the lock clicking loudly into place. Snape stood there for a few minutes, listening carefully, before he made his way to Arabella's house and flooed back to Hogwarts.
Harry woke up the next morning, the sunshine that was drifting lazily through his window intensifying the pain in his head. His mouth was dry, and he felt like he was going to throw up. What had happened last night? The events blurrily came back to him, slowly and one at a time. The last thing he remembered was Dudley forcing the drink down his throat. So how had he ended up back here?
He stood up shakily, nausea almost overwhelming him. How on earth was he going to get through his chores today? His aunt would be furious with him. As he put a hand on his nightstand to steady himself, he noticed the bottle. Grabbing his glasses and shoving them onto his face, he bent closer to examine it.
It was small, and the glass was a dark green color. A note seemed to be stuck to it, the writing on it so spiky it was nearly illegible. Two words were scrawled there: For Hangovers.
Harry paused. Should he drink it? It wasn't very likely that his aunt or uncle had left it for him, but the pain in his head was building. So, throwing away logic, he drank the little bottle in one swoop. The pain in his head eased almost instantly, and grinning slightly, he made his way downstairs.
A/N: Thoughts? :)