Disclaimer: I don't own any of it.
A/N: I've been mashing this idea around in my brain for about two years now, and I've got some half-dozen versions of this story on my computer. This is the one that finally made it into some sort of presentable form, though perhaps someday some of the others will make it onto as well. This isn't meant to be long—I'm just going to add bits and pieces as I figure them out—and it doesn't really have chapters. It's just a string of occurrences that led to something.
Have fun reading and let me know what you think.
Chapter: First Impression
"So you've met the Potter boy."
Severus didn't turn at first, taking a moment to register the cool but interested voice. He watched the thin form of sixteen year-old Harry Potter disappear around the corner first, and then turned obsidian eyes on the man that had spoken. "Pardon?"
The man nodded in the direction of the teen that had just left the store. "Potter. Harry Potter, I think it is. I saw you speak to him a moment."
"So what if I did?" Severus asked, trying not to sound too irritable.
The man shrugged. "I've owned this shop twelve years now, and haven't seen more than three others talk to the boy." The shopkeeper looked around a bit, then spoke a little more quietly. "That boy's been in and out of this shop ever since I opened it."
"We only exchanged a few words," Severus pointed out.
"A sullen boy, isn't he?" the man commented. "I can't ever get more than a word or two out of him."
"So it would seem." Severus was beginning to wonder just where this conversation was headed.
"People around here don't like to talk about him, much," the man went on, obviously feeling more at ease now. Despite what the man said, Severus got the idea that people around Little Whinging really did like talking about Potter.
"Oh?" Severus said, trying to look a little less interested. He wanted to leave as soon as possible, but he was supposed to await the signal that Potter had arrived home again.
"Used to be such a cheery little lad, too," the man said with a nostalgic nod. "Used to come here to hide from his cousin, you know. Big lump of a boy that intimidates all the others." The man sighed and wiped off the counter in front of him before sitting down and leaning back in a chair. "Couldn't imagine how the poor boy could have been so chipper. Not with his parents getting themselves killed in that crash and all."
"Crash?" Severus echoed, jarred. What crash?
"According to Mrs. Dursley, the Potters got themselves killed in a crash…driving drunk or some such. A miracle that the boy survived that," the man said, and Severus had to do his best not to look enraged. He may not have liked the Potters…and that was a terrible understatement…but to say that they had gotten themselves killed in something so…Muggle…and…
"Potter has lived with the Dursleys since then?" Snape asked, though he knew the answer. He just wanted to spend the time between now and his signal as quickly as possible.
"I suppose," the man said. "Of course, there's been a couple of times…every now and then Potter used to disappear for a few weeks. Especially durin' the summer, I didn't see him for a month or so at a time. And then he started goin' to that St. Brutus's place when he turned eleven."
Snape turned fully to face the man, actually surprised and certainly thrown off.
The man mistook Severus's surprise, though. "Oh, I know, hardly seems right—an eleven year old in a criminal center—but it's not all the boy's fault."
"How so?" Severus had to ask.
"That boy's had it rough," the man said, shaking his head. "It's not his fault he's turned out as he has."
Severus felt a tingling in his pocket. Potter was back home. He stood up, even as the man spoke again.
"Everyone knows that Dursley knocks his nephew around," he said.
Severus only hesitated a moment before sweeping from the shop and apparating a moment later.