(Also known as: Of Regrets and Apologies)
The Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Severus Snape, Harry Potter, or any characters pertaining to the Harry Potter series. They are the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros.
Music lyrics at the end and beginning of the chapter belong to the group Staind and are taken from the song "Epiphany" on the album Break the Cycle (Flip / Elektra records; 2001).
I am not profiting from this.
Summary: Snape discovers something disturbing about Harry and acts . . . like Snape.
Timeline: This can fit pretty much at the beginning of any of the books.
Acknowledgements: Special thank you's are gratefully extended to Apapazukamori for betaing on short notice.
Don't steal from me: Don't steal from me.
NOTE: This story was originally launched under my secondary pen name, "Hanakai." For convenience's sake, I have decided to streamline my fics under my original pen name, Vain. SAME AUTHOR. SAME STORY. DIFFERENT NAME. As a fic is re-uploaded under my Vain pen name, I will delete it from my Hanakai profile. Eventually, Hanakai will be deleted entirely, so please update your faves and bookmarks to reflect this.
Thank you for all your previous reviews—I saved them all—and I hope you all review again. I'm greedy.
For progress notes on the pen name transition or if you have any questions, please see my Livejournal (linked both my profiles). I hope this doesn't inconvenience anyone & thank you for your patience.
Vain / Hanakai
"Your word's to me just a whisper.
Your face's so unclear.
I try to pay attention;
Your words just disappear . . .
'Cause it's always raining in my head.
So I speak to you in riddles because
My words get in my way."
They say that pain fades. It shimmers briefly atop you, chokes you, binds you better than any curse ever could or would, but then it supposedly fades. Its shrill voice withers away like a sun-starved flower and crumbles to dust around you, they say. The pain will go away with time. A year, a hundred, a thousand . . . What does it matter to them? They say that time heals all wounds.
Is that why you don't turn away when you see him standing there, robes pooled around his feet, and too-large Muggle tee-shirt laying in a gray mass on the floor? Is that why when he twists around, his too-green eyes wide and stupid in their surprise, and stares at you with that plain mouth slightly open, you simply stare back at him in silence?
Do you even know?
His mouth works silently for a moment, the lack of sound odd in comparison with the frantic motion of his lips. "I—I . . ."
But you don't say anything, simply stare back at him and his discolored back, the skin twisted oddly from the way he's turned. And you know those marks; they're obvious for what they are: belt marks. Long, thick, heavy, belt-shaped bruises, buckle-end apparently. Some are recent and some look weeks old. You wonder idly why he doesn't turn around to hide them, but understand once your eyes flick to the bathroom mirror. His chest has received similar adornments.
He continues to stare at you desperately and you can almost hear the little gears and widgets working in his head. You step all the way into the bathroom and let the door swing closed behind you, waiting for the lie to come. You are not disappointed.
"I—I fell," he says, mouth still expending far more effort than necessary to form the words. "I fell down the stairs when I was bringing down my trunk and . . ." He trails off and you can tell by the look in his eyes that the excuse sound pathetic to even him.
You stand in front of him in silence and stare, allowing your dark eyes to glide over his form. Ribs exposed. Too thin. Too damaged. Bruises everywhere. Nails too blunt—dirty and worn down. Hands red and raw at parts. Pale. Shallow, dark circles beneath the eyes. He looks old, not old for a fifteen your old, but old old. Old man old as he hunches his shoulders slightly to hide his exposed torso from your prying eyes.
He cannot, of course, and you both know it, but the knowledge seems to make him all the more intent upon drawing into himself. You sneer and he opens his mouth again as though he could possibly say something that could explain away the mistreatment of his body.
"Nothing!" you grind out for him. Your dark voice still remains silky, but there's an undertone of danger to it that makes him pale. Your sneer widens. "Of course it is. You merely fell down the stairs. So tell me, Mr. Potter . . ." You do not have to make an effort to put malice into the words. "When you fell down these belt shaped steps of yours, for what appears to be an extended duration of time, I might add, did they also manage to suck what little meat you had off your bones?"
He flinches and you smile a smile that never looks amused or happy. You don't smile because of the flinch; you smile because he now realizes just how stupid that excuse sounds. He turns all the way around and his too-thin shoulders slump in what is undoubtedly surrender and he studies the ground.
"What do you want?"
There is no disrespect in the dry, dusty whisper that leaves his lips and you narrow your eyes. Potter defeated . . . The scene is unsettling in it unnaturalness.
You decide to answer him. "I saw you break away from your House without your famed entourage and decided to follow you."
"So that I could take points for your continual rule-breaking, of course." That much should be obvious.
The corner of his mouth quirks for an instant towards a sneer of his own and his hands ball into useless fists at his side. He looks up at you, bruised, and battered, and defiant and you have the sudden urge to smack him. He moves to speak and you take a swift step towards him, one hand raised.
He cringes immediately and the raised hand merely slips into your robes to retrieve a potion. You note his sudden reversal of behavior. Masks upon masks, it seems. Perhaps there is more here than you thought . . . Perhaps . . .
Potter looks ready to either spring on you or flee the room as you remove the potion from an inner pocket in your robes and you can't hide another sneer. You weren't prepared to use this on him, but in retrospect, you should have been. It wasn't as though the signs weren't there . . . The odd times he'd flinch, or the strange things he'd take offense to. How underweight he was at the start of each term, yet never seemed to eat very much at the Sorting Feast. If he had been a Slytherin you'd have known and seen to this foolishness at once.
But he wasn't a Slytherin. He was the Boy Who Lived . . . for all the good it's ever done anyone . . . Still, this is most unlike you; you should have known. You should have seen the signs. You should have seen past the Dark Mark on your arm. You should have seen past James Potter's hair and glasses and Lily Evan's eyes, but you didn't. And look where it's gotten you: a forgotten bathroom on the first day of school with a boy who hates you, no Dumbledore, Pomfrey, or McGonegall to save you from him or vice versa. And you hate him for that. Not that it's his fault, but you hate him for it anyway.
Your touch, though, is surprisingly gentle as you touch his shoulder and turn him back around. "Hold still. This will feel cold."
You pour the potion you removed from your pocket into your one hand. It's a thick cream, blue in shade, and smells heavily of vanilla and birch bark. You gently spread it over the boy's maltreated skin. To his credit, he neither flinches, nor protests, simply waits until you've finished his back. He turns and, without saying a word, you give his chest, shoulders, and arms the same treatment. As the healing concoction does its work, you feel him slowly relax beneath your sensitive fingertips.
You occupy yourself with returning the potion to its pocket instead looking into his eyes once you've completed your task. "Put your clothes on, Potter, and follow me."
He accompanies you silently as you both exit the bathroom and head down the corridors. The other students are all safely in their Houses by now. Indeed, you should go check on your Slytherins, but for now Potter has greater need of your attention.
Despite the fact that you rarely frequent this area of the castle, it only takes you fifteen minutes to get from the secluded bathroom to Gryffindor Tower. The boy remains silent the whole time.
As you draw to a halt at the Fat Lady, he seems reluctant to enter the portrait. For a moment you think that perhaps he's afraid of saying the Gryffindor password in front of the Head of Slytherin House, but the look on his face steals away the insult you had on the tip of your tongue.
You feel a surge of anger at his stumbling ineloquence. "Spit it out, Potter."
He flinches again at the cold, cruel precision of your voice and you feel an annoyingly painful tug at your heart. Stupid boy.
He shakes his head as though arguing with himself and studies the closely fitted stones of the castle floor. ". . . Don't tell them?"
It's phrased like an order, but the plea is clear in his inflection. Your eyes narrow.
'Don't tell them . . .'
Somebody should know about this. You don't like the boy, but you certainly don't wish him dead—at least, not until he's dispatched of the Dark Lord. And you know those wounds. Far better than you are comfortable with.
But you also know that soft, imploring voice. 'Don't tell them.'
"Who did it?"
He looks up at the question, surprise plainly written on his smooth features. "Sir?"
You resist the urge to roll your eyes. Really, the boy could be shockingly dull at times . . . "The marks, boy, the marks! Who did that to you?"
His lips press into a thin line. Stubborn to the bone. Idiotic Gryffindor pride.
You shake your head and try a different tactic. "You live with Muggles, do you not?"
A wary nod.
You can feel your lips twitching towards a sneer, but it is not for the boy this time. Muggles . . . There are times you regret turning from the Dark Lord. But you had your reasons. You still do. And this time, at least, you know that you've made the right choice. But these Muggles . . .
No, this would not do at all. Not at all.
You should at least tell Albus . . . But then Albus would tell the boy's friends in an attempt to help and then the Weasely would tell his despicable twin brothers and somehow it would reach their mother, and . . . And it would all be a good deal more bother than it's worth.
But this cannot be allowed to continue. As amusing as you find the image of Potter beneath a herd of stampeding hippogriffs, he's your student. Your student. And no one ever, ever does anything like this to one of your students. Ever.
How do you get yourself into these situations?
You watch him carefully, trying to see his eyes, trying to see what's rattling around in that Gryffindor skull of his. Masks upon masks . . . And suddenly you understand that you have made a grave mistake.
A muscle in your cheek jumps with the realization.
Damn boy . . . He'll be the death of you.
He looks worried and you smother a dark grin. He should be. "Please, sir—"
"I assure you, Mr. Potter, that I hardly intend to run through London firing the Dark Mark up into the sky or sell them to the Dark Lord." However much you would like to . . . Potter seems a bit startled at the ease with which you can say that. "All I want to know is where they are."
He stares at you hard and you find yourself oddly unnerved by the intensity of his gaze. More masks. The boy is veritable plethora of disguises it seems. Pity. He could have done well in Slytherin.
The thought startles you.
There's no time for that now, though, because whatever Potter was looking for he's apparently found. "Number 4, Privet Drive. Little Whinging."
How . . . ordinary sounding.
You nod and reach into your robes again and retrieve two bottles. One is the lotion you rubbed on him earlier. As you give it to him you tell him to rub it on tomorrow morning after he bathes and to reapply it one last time tomorrow night before he goes to sleep. You hand him the next vial with a slight frown. "Drink that immediately before you lay down tonight and immediately after you wake up tomorrow. And don't eat anything with tomatoes in it for the next three days. It will help the lotion work and rid you of the stiffness."
He accepts them, looking both confused and grateful. Idiot child. His large green eyes stare up at you for a moment longer, questions linger in their depths that you neither will nor can answer.
So you merely turn on your heel and walk away. You pause briefly when you hear the whisper of the painting swinging out. "Potter?"
You can almost hear the look of dread on his face and the image brings a bitter smile to your lips. You don't turn around. "5 points from Gryffindor for breaking curfew."
There's no sound for a moment and you can feel his eyes boring into your back. Then the portrait closes with a soft sigh and the Fat Lady grumbles something under her breath. Still smiling, you make your way back down to the dungeons to greet your newest Slytherins.
All in all, it hasn't been a bad night. Unexpected, yes, but you never have been one to run from a challenge . . .
And as for Potter . . . Masks upon masks . . . There was more to the boy than you thought. . . . Interesting. Unwelcome, but unavoidable. Besides, the boy was still young and even the most fathomless ocean had a bottom. You'll just have to handle the brat . . . boy . . . a bit differently. The people who should be watching over him are not as competent as you thought. No matter, though. Perhaps you'll just watch a bit more closely . . . it couldn't hurt. Besides, given the way trouble seems to gravitate towards the boy, more eyes could only be a help. Especially discreet ones.
Your student needs help, so it's help he gets. Even if he doesn't want it.
Still, as you mutter the password to get into the Slytherin dungeons, you can't help but think that you should have taken more points from Potter—if only to see the look on James' face through him.
Number 4, Privet Drive was as normal looking a place as could be. Nice, normal garden; nice, normal, white picket fence; nice, normal birdbath; nice, normal, smooth black asphalt—you get the point. And it's terribly important that you do get the point, because the people who occupied the meticulously comfortable normalcy of 4 Privet Drive made certain that everyone knew that they had no truck with any sort of abnormality. None at all. It wouldn't be tolerated.
Therefore, it was with no small amount of glee that the Dursleys breathed a bit freer in the months between September and May, for that was the time that their particular little abnormality was sent away. In fact, the euphoria that Vernon Dursley lived in during the whole of the month of September was unsurpassable. It was his absolute favorite time of the year. The air was cleaner. The grass was crisper. Dudley actually seemed a bit thinner (but not too much thinner—they couldn't have him ending up like some horrid, scrawny layabouts . . .), and it was generally a time of peace, plenty, and prosperity for 4 Privet Drive.
And it was three weeks into that blessed, holy month of September (at 9:17 am on a Saturday, to be precise) that someone rapped firmly three times on the ever so normal-looking door. Vernon squeezed his rather considerable self out from the equally considerable gap between the food-laden table and his chair with a rough grunt and lumbered to greet his visitor as he normally would on such a fine, normal morning.
There was only one hitch to this plan: this visitor was not normal.
In fact, even by abnormal standards, he was pretty weird. He wore long, heavy black robes that gave the impression of a great bat. He was tall, with a prominent, hooked nose, dark, deep set eyes, a thin, drawn mouth, and shiny black hair that fell to his broad shoulders, yet never seemed to be quite in control. And the moment Vernon Dursley opened the door, this not-so-normal stranger removed a wand (10 and ¾ inches, rather stiff, and with a core of dragon's heart), pointed it at Vernon's ample chest, and smiled pleasantly at the shocked man.
"Mr. Dursley, I believe it is?" the stranger asked in a smoldering, unpleasantly smooth voice.
For his part, Vernon merely turned bright red and began to sputter.
The stranger's smile turned into a nasty-looking sneer and he muttered a strange sounding word.
Vernon went from red to purple as his throat seemed to close up, trapping his voice inside him.
The stranger's lip curled in disgust. "Thank Merlin the boy's not related to you by blood. He can barely speak as it is; the last thing I need is to hear him squeaking and squawking like you in my dungeons once every seven days." And he pressed his wand threateningly a bit further into Vernon's fat chest and pushed the portly man back into the house.
"My name is Severus Snape. I am a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and it has come to my attention that you," the wand jabbed a blubber-lined rib painfully, "have been . . . negligent in your duties towards one of my students. I'm here to put that to a stop." The stranger's—Severus Snape's—eyes narrowed dangerously. "Right now."
Two voices floated out of the kitchen as the wizard slowly advanced on the larger man.
"Daddy, who is it?"
And Severus Snape smiled a cold, cruel smile. The door to house number 4 on Privet Drive closed with a dull, quiet click.
"And I talk to you like children,
But I don't know how I feel.
I know I'll do the right thing
If the right thing is revealed.
But it's always raining in my head;
Forget all the things I should have said."