All of the usual disclaimers apply, none of this belongs to me, etc. etc.
This is set in Harry's first year. Imagine that Hagrid didn't tell Harry that all Dark Wizards come out of Slytherin, and imagine that the Dursleys were just a little bit more abusive than in canon.
The Head of Slytherin House leveled his most intimidating glare at the fidgeting first year students. Severus Snape issued his curt welcoming speech by rote, his gaze wandering across the Slytherin common room. The first years were huddled together in small clusters and some of them were shaking. Severus met the calm pale eyes of Draco Malfoy and gave the boy a faint but visible nod of approval.
Severus concluded his speech with, "Remember that you are now Slytherins and your misbehaviors will reflect poorly on a House that has been proud for centuries. I won't say that you must behave perfectly, only that you must do so when others are present. Do not bring disgrace upon Slytherin, or I will make you regret it." Before sweeping out of the room, Severus let his gaze rest on the small figure in a pathetic huddle away from the other clusters of students. Vivid green eyes, too large for the boy's face, were focused on his Head of House. In response to Severus's glance, Potter ducked his head and looked at the floor.
Harry Potter sorted into Slytherin – his parents are beating on the lids of their coffins to come back to life and rescue their pampered little prince. Severus snorted as he let the door to the common room close with a wooden clack behind him. "I'll just ignore the brat," he muttered to himself. "He's got enough attention without needing any of mine, he has the whole wizarding world to fawn over him. I won't even acknowledge him – I can't treat him as I will the other Slytherins, but he must have some redeeming virtue since he was sorted into Slytherin."
The Bloody Baron floated past Severus in a wave of silver dignity. "Talking to yourself so early in the semester, Severus? That's hardly a good sign."
Severus snarled at him and stalked down the hallway to his chambers. The Potter brat, with his waif-like emerald eyes, was driving him mad already.
Three days passed and Severus forgot some of his initial indignation at having the Potter brat in Slytherin House – after all, the boy had caused no trouble yet. He graded summer essays in his office, secure in the knowledge that his students were too intimidated to come to his office hours. The sound of his quill scratching against parchment was the only sound in the blessed quiet of the dungeons. He was startled enough to splatter red ink in a violent pattern across a Hufflepuff's essay on Mandrake restoratives when a knock came at his door.
"Enter," he called, hiding the splattered essay in a desk drawer. "Yes, Mr. Malfoy?" he asked his godson.
Draco Malfoy hovered in the doorway, one unelegant wrist twisted at an odd angle to keep his hand on the doorknob. "May I speak with you in private, Professor Snape?" he asked.
"Of course. Shut the door, and have a seat." Severus set his quill down and cleared stacks of books, rolls of parchment, and dusty potions vials off of a chair with a practiced flick of his wand.
Draco perched on the chair, one hand fidgeting with his silvery locks of hair. Severus suppressed his concern at seeing his godson's agitation and conjured a pot of tea. "What troubles you, Draco?" he asked with a voice that had gained only a few degrees of warmth.
"It's Potter," Draco said, kicking his heels against the legs of his chair and looking at the floor. "I mean, it's what Potter isn't and what he doesn't do."
Severus waited. Silence could induce coherent thought faster than any other stratagem he knew.
"He isn't what I expected," Draco said with a hint of frustration in his voice. "Is it – I don't know, Uncle Sev – I just don't understand him and maybe it's because he's meant to be in Gryffindor – everybody says he was meant to be there. He barely talks to anybody in Slytherin, he just looks at me with those big green eyes of his and I don't even know if he understands when I insult him, he doesn't even respond."
Draco took deep gulps of air, light beads of perspiration shimmering on his forehead. He brushed them away with a quick gesture.
Severus poured a cup of tea and pushed it towards him. Draco took the cup, cradled it in one careless elegant hand, but did not drink. "Is it because he's been raised by those Muggles, Uncle Sev? Is that why he's so strange?"
Severus hesitated, looked at his desk and studied the dark grain of the wood rather than meeting the confusion and frustration that were pooled in Draco's eyes. "What are some specific examples of his behavior that disturb you?"
"He doesn't talk. I said that, Uncle Sev. He talks when a teacher asks him a direct question, otherwise he just stares."
"He may be shy, though we all know how unlikely that is. He may be arrogant. The Muggles that raised him might have thought he was above simple things like manners. What else?"
"He never gets any mail," Draco fiddled with his teacup, his pale fingers tracing the gentle curve of the handle.
"Probably can't be bothered to write to his Muggle relatives. They wouldn't have an owl to write to him. What, Draco, you're surprised that the Boy Who Lived is too arrogant to write to his doting family?"
"Well, then, there's meal times." Draco spun his teacup in circles on the desk, making a rough scraping sound. "He doesn't start eating until everybody else has finished, and he only eats a tiny bit."
"So he's sulking because he misses the meals his adoring relatives prepare for him," Severus retorted.
Draco's eyelashes fluttered. "He ate a piece of burnt toast for breakfast – without jam or anything. He usually takes just a piece of bread or something. Uncle, have you seen how skinny he is?"
Severus shrugged. "He's a picky eater. All boys your age are skinny – it's a consequence of growing too fast." With an arched eyebrow, he asked, "Any other peculiar behaviors from the perfect Boy Who Lived?"
Draco caught his tongue between his teeth and held it there for several seconds. Silver-blond hair swung in front of his eyes and he pushed it back. "He sleeps in the closet. I don't know, maybe it's a weird Muggle thing or something. He waits until he thinks we're all asleep and then he creeps into the room and sleeps in the closet. He uses his shoes for a pillow."
Silence stretched between them for a moment before it broke and snapped back on Severus like a broken elastic band. "How peculiar."
"It isn't some Muggle custom then?"
"It is not a custom of which I'm aware, no. I will speak to Potter about this, Draco, thank you for bringing it to my attention." Severus sighed after Draco closed the door behind him. "A conversation with the Potter brat – what joy is mine."
Potter approached Snape's desk after being told to remain after his Potions class. Severus bent his attention to the work on his desk and watched Potter through his eyelashes. The boy stood as still as a winter lake, with none of the fidgeting or sighs his classmates would have displayed. Severus considered the boy's strange behavior, the trepidation evident in his pose. The brat had brewed an acceptable potion, hadn't misbehaved in class, and yet he held himself wary and tense.
Severus set down his quill. "Let us adjourn to my office, Mr. Potter. Follow me."
Severus seated himself behind his desk. Potter remained standing several paces away from the desk, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Do you know why I wished to see you, Mr. Potter?"
The boy darted a glance up at Snape before staring at his feet again. His eyes were emerald bright. "Er … I'm sorry, sir," Potter mumbled.
Severus hated those wide innocent eyes. "Speak in a clear and distinct manner when you address me, Mr. Potter. I will not tolerate indistinct muttering from you. For what are you sorry?"
Another quick glance upward and then Potter stared at the floor again. "Er … I don't know, sir. I guess," he said, with another quick look at his professor, "I guess I'm sorry for … for the potion I made?"
"What was wrong with the potion you made, Mr. Potter?"
Potter chewed on his lower lip and risked another glance at Severus. "I was … umm … reading last night … this great book, I found it in the library … I didn't think you'd mind if I read it, sir."
"How does that book relate to today's potion?" Severus kept his tone of voice neutral despite his annoyance with the boy's skittishness and evasion.
"Well, sir .. umm … it suggested that the reaction of comfrey with thyme would stabilize the interaction … the belladonna with the hedgehog spines … I'm sorry, really I am, sir." Potter looked at him again before ducking his head.
"You added comfrey before adding the belladonna, then? That would explain why your potion was a few shades off. You were correct about the reaction of the comfrey, but it is often left out of this potion. It strengthens the potion, but it also shortens its shelf life."
"I'm sorry, sir." The Potter boy stared at the floor.
"Can you tell me why it shortens the shelf life of the potion, boy?" Severus asked in a silky voice.
Potter jumped as though he'd been slapped and took a step backwards. "Umm … umm … is it because the comfrey reacts with the powdered beetles?"
"Correct, Mr. Potter. I must admit that I am impressed. Did you study your Potions textbook before your arrival here at Hogwarts?"
The boy took another step backwards and kept his gaze on the floor. "No … no, sir, I'm sorry."
Severus exhaled. Take deep breaths, release your irritation, he told himself. "I'm not angry with you about the potion or about the reading," he said.
Potter started to fidget for the first time. He kept his gaze fixed on the floor and leaned backwards. He was now closer to the door to Severus's office than he was to the desk.
Severus sighed again. "Have a seat, Potter. Do you really not know what you've done?"
The boy slid into the chair that had been cleared off for Draco. He looked tiny in the large wooden chair. Severus decided that he was even scrawnier than Draco had described to be. "I won't do it again, sir," Potter said.
"Oh?" Severus leaned forward, his elbows scraping against the edge of his desk. "What is it that you won't do again?"
Potter, who had perched on the edge of the seat of the chair, slid backwards until his back was ramrod straight against the chair's back. "What … whatever you think it is that I've done wrong, sir," he said.
"Oh no," Severus said. His Slytherin senses scented a weakness. "I think it would be best for you to tell me what transgression you've committed." The boy cowered, and Severus reveled in his power for a moment before pressing his advantage. "Surely you did not expect to come to Hogwarts to be coddled as you were coddled by your adoring relatives, Potter. I am your professor, as well as your Head of House, and I will hold you responsible for your infractions of the Hogwarts rules, just as any other student."
Potter looked up at him for the briefest second, his green eyes dark and immense against his pale skin. "I … I'm sorry, sir. I knew it was wrong of me, to take the food, but … umm … no one else was taking it and they all were done eating … I'm sorry, sir, I thought it might have been okay. I won't do it again, sir, please don't punish me."
Severus's hands clenched into fists around the arms of his chair and unclenched. "I … what food are you talking about, Potter?"
He saw another flash of green as the boy dared to look at him for an instant. "The food in the Great Hall, sir … I ate some of it. I … umm … well, it disappears after the meals, so I thought – I thought it might not be too wrong of me to take some but … well now that I know it's wrong, I won't do it anymore sir, I won't. Please … please don't tell my uncle, sir. You can punish me however you like."
"Potter …" Snape paused. With a nonverbal Legilimens he brushed against the boy's mind and felt overwhelming fear and hunger and desperation, but nothing to indicate that the boy was lying to him. "Mr. Potter, let me assure you that I am not angry with you about the food that you have eaten. On the contrary, I wish to assure you that you are welcome to eat as much food in the Great Hall as you wish to eat. That food is provided for the students to eat, it is provided for all of the students, and you need not wait for the others to eat or starve yourself unnecessarily."
The boy sat hunched against the back of the chair, his shoulders slumped and his arms wrapped around himself. Severus could see the outlines of his frame now that his overlarge robe was pulled tight around his body, could see that the boy was very thin. With a snap of his fingers, he summoned a house elf. "Tea for two, toast and chicken broth for one," he said.
The Potter brat was trembling at the sight of the house elf. Severus suppressed his irritation at the Muggle-raised boy. Now it was more important to ensure that the boy managed to consume some calories rather than sniping at a boy who hadn't seen a house elf before or worrying about old rivalries. The slights that Potter's father had committed against Severus, the condescending kindness of Potter's mother – Severus pushed those to the back of his mind. Potter was a child and he was a Slytherin and he was so thin.
The house elf returned with a tray and set it on Severus's desk. Steam rose from the bowl of soup and Severus pushed the bowl towards Potter, setting a spoon next to it. "Eat this, Mr. Potter, but eat slowly. If your stomach is unused to food, it would be unwise to upset it."
Severus picked up the teapot and poured tea into the two cups that the house elf had brought. The porcelain of the teapot left a pleasant warmth on his fingers in the cold air of the dungeons.
Potter looked up at him and his green eyes were wide and his gaze rested on Severus for more than a second. "Is this for me, sir?" he asked.
Severus suppressed a sarcastic retort – it wouldn't encourage the boy to eat. "Yes, Mr. Potter. The soup and the toast are for you. I expect you to eat them."
The boy made a movement towards the food but then he jerked back. "Professor – what – what would I owe you for the food?"
Severus suppressed a sigh and made his voice gentle. "You would owe me nothing, Mr. Potter. The food here at Hogwarts is for everyone."
The boy jerked backwards. He pressed his body tight against the back of the chair that Severus wondered if the boy could melt into the wood. "It's for … everyone? What sort of everyone?"
Again Severus suppressed a sigh. "The food here is for all of the students. This food, here, is for you. You owe me nothing for it. Your parents paid for your tuition, room and board at Hogwarts before you were even born." Severus kept his thoughts away from James and Lily Potter. He was a trained Occlumens. He could organize his thoughts so that Harry Potter did not remind him of James and Lily Potter. The boy was a separate entity after all.
Harry Potter made a tentative movement toward the spoon. When Severus did not react, he picked up the spoon and took his first mouthful of chicken broth. The boy made no noise as he ate, and he glanced frequently at Severus. It was as though he expected the food to be taken away from him, or as though he expected to be punished for eating … Severus shuddered. The sudden motion made Harry drop his spoon with a metallic sound on the saucer underneath the bowl of soup.
"Eat all of it," Severus told the boy. "Eat the toast as well."
The boy nodded, his wide green eyes fixed on Severus for a fleeting second before he looked down at the bowl of soup. It was half-empty, and he resumed eating.
Severus put cream and sugar into one of the cups of tea and pushed that toward the boy. "Drink some tea, Mr. Potter," he said, ignoring the way that the boy jerked away from him.
Severus toyed with his own teacup while the boy ate and drank. Steam rose in faint pale wisps from the tea, which cooled rapidly in the cool dungeon. Severus pretended to be focused on his teacup but instead watched the boy eat. It was clear that the boy had been starved – he was so thin, and the half-grateful half-wary looks he shot at Severus made it obvious that few people had ever fed him.
Severus ran a fingernail around the rim of his teacup. This was extraordinary. The Boy Who Lived, precious treasure of the wizarding world, beloved son of – Severus stopped himself from reciting the litany of reasons to hate the boy. A wizard, a child who could not protect himself, a Slytherin under Severus's care – that was the boy who sat before him, a boy who had been starved and neglected. The boy is a Slytherin, Severus reminded himself. A Slytherin, and therefore he was the responsibility of the Head of Slytherin House – Severus's responsibility.
Severus smiled a sharp vicious smile. The Marauders would have recognized his expression for he had worn it when he was about to retaliate for one of their pranks. The Potters can beat their fists on the lids of their coffins, but it will do them no good, Severus reflected. The boy is mine now – my responsibility – and it is their fault for not having taken better care of him. The sainted Potters, Lily's Muggle relatives, the interfering old Albus Dumbledore, had all failed this child. It would be the sweetest vengeance possible to rescue this forlorn waif, child of his enemies, to care for him as they could not. Severus smiled his sharp vicious smile and hoped that the deceased Potters were watching their boy from the afterworld beyond the grave, that they watched him care for their boy, and that they suffered, knowing themselves to be helpless and in his debt.
Severus was drawn from his musings on the sweetness of vengeance when the boy finished eating the last crumb of his toast. The boy moistened a finger with his tongue and ran it across the plate to catch any last morsels.
Severus grimaced. "We will discuss table manners at a later date, Mr. Potter," he told the boy.
"Sir?" the boy looked at him with those huge green eyes and Severus sighed and set his teacup down on the desk.
"There are certain topics which we will discuss now, Mr. Potter, and certain topics which we will discuss later. We will discuss your lack of table manners at a later date, as I am more concerned now with what you eat rather than how you eat it."
"I … I won't …" the boy began, but Severus interrupted him.
"Do not take my use of the word "discussion" literally, Mr. Potter. In this case, I will be speaking and you will be listening. I will be sure to let you know when and if your input is required, but until then you will be silent and you will listen." Severus tried to keep his voice gentle, or to at least be less intimidating than his classroom persona. "I am concerned with the low caloric intake that appears to have been the norm for you and with your dietary habits in general. You are to understand from this point forward that the meals provided in the Great Hall are intended to be eaten by the students at Hogwarts and that you are included in this. You are not obliged to wait for the other students to finish eating before you take your meal and you should understand that there is no shortage of food here."
Severus paused and regarded the boy, who had raised his gaze from the floor to the desk. That was progress of a sort, Severus supposed.
"I will be present at all three meals in the Great Hall, Mr. Potter, and I can assure you now that I will be watching you at every one of them. If I find that you are not eating, I will call you into my office and we will discuss the matter further. While I am prepared to be lenient with you for a short period in which you will be adjusting to this … change … let me assure you that you will not be happy if I am forced to discuss your eating habits with you in more detail than this. You are a Hogwarts student now, and a Slytherin, Mr. Potter – and we do not starve ourselves. Do you understand me?"
The boy looked up from the desk to glance at Severus for a second before plunging his head down to stare at the floor. "I … umm … I don't think so, sir."
Severus silently reviewed the first ten ingredients for the nutrient potion that he would have to make for the brat in an attempt to calm himself. "How precisely was I unclear?" he snapped.
The boy curled further in upon himself and scooted back in the chair further. "I'm sorry, sir, I'm sorry, I …"
Severus interrupted him again, trying to make his voice soothing. Vengeance on Potter's parents might be sweet, but it was much more work than Severus had expected. Mollycoddling the boy was the last thing he wanted to do. "I didn't mean to snap at you," he said – he would not apologize directly to the brat. "It's all right if you don't understand. Just tell me what you didn't understand and I'll explain it again."
The boy looked at him with wide eyes and Severus fought to keep his expression calm and reassuring. "I don't … don't, um … understand the part about eating, sir."
Severus suppressed a sigh. "You are expected to eat food three times a day in the Great Hall, every day, and I will watch you to make sure that you do so. Is that clear enough for you to understand?"
"I …" the boy ducked his head to look at the floor again. "Are you … are you sure that there isn't some mistake, sir?"
Severus waited, fixing his dark eyes on the nervous boy. Patience and silence and a damnable amount of mollycoddling, that's what it would take to rescue the boy from the plight to which his lamentable parents had left him.
"I … I just mean … I don't deserve it, sir … I … I don't want Uncle Vernon to be angry with me, sir, I … I don't mean to question you … I just … please …"
Severus interrupted the boy before his incoherence could descend into babbling. "You must understand that the food provided at Hogwarts is for all of the students, including you, Mr. Potter. There is no question about any of them deserving or not deserving food. It is – it is expected that you will eat the food that is provided for you. Your uncle will not be angry with you for eating, I am sure."
The Potter brat trembled and shook his head. Severus tried another approach. "Your uncle will never know about it," he said. "Is he the only thing that is stopping you from eating?"
Another darting glance from huge green eyes and the boy clutched at the arms of the chair. "He said – he said that freaks like me don't deserve to eat."
With slow, unthreatening movements, Severus leaned across the desk toward Potter. "He was wrong. He was wrong, do you understand me?"
The boy looked up and held Severus's gaze for a full moment. Then, slowly, he nodded. "Yes, sir," he said.
Severus leaned back in his chair again. "That's very good, Mr. Potter. That will be all for now – I think that we will need to have another discussion in a few days, but until then, remember that I will be watching you to ensure that you are eating proper meals."
The boy nodded and slipped out of Severus's office, needing to open the door only a sliver in order to slide his thin body out of the room. Severus heard his footsteps echo in the hallway in a frantic beat that indicated that the boy was running.
Severus allowed his body to slip out of its rigid perfect posture and slumped at his desk, his head coming to rest in his hands. This was the brat who was meant to save them all – this shy, flinching waif. He sighed. It would take a lot of work to turn this boy into a savior.