Prompt from KimSpiritTalks: Snape melts into the shadows as he overhears Harry tell Ron how he shouldn't complain that he has someone that cares enough to send him a howler, complain about his schoolwork, and send sneaky older brothers after him to be sure he gets to bed at a decent hour, because when you have someone like that in your life, it means you're loved.

Watcher in the Shadows

"Ron, wait!" Harry called out as Ron fled from the Great Hall. He had just received a Howler from his mum about driving his dad's car into the Whomping Willow. Ron didn't slow down though; he kept running pell-mell through thecorridors. Harry chased after him until they came to an unused area on the third floor.

"Leave me alone, Harry," Ron pleaded.

"Only after you tell me what's wrong. We deserved getting yelled at by your mum, you know."

Ron reddened at the reminder of how they had arrived at school the day before. "Yeah, but you didn't have the rest of your family read you the riot act last night!" he complained.

Severus Snape had been checking on the area where the Philosopher's Stone had been hidden the previous year. He'd wanted to make sure that the trap door had been melded back into the floor stones and that all the traps had been removed – just in case some wayward students… He halted in his travels as he heard two sets of footsteps run past his corridor and slow to a halt a few feet down the crossing hallway. He made as if to descend upon the students, but stopped when he heard who was talking.

"Leave me alone, Harry." Ah, the Weasley boy and Potter; this should prove to be interesting… two-thirds of the Golden Trio at odds? Severus snuck as close as he could without being seen, and listened in.

"Only after you tell me what's wrong. We deserved getting yelled at by your mum, you know." Severus was amazed: Potter admitting he was wrong?

"Yeah, but you didn't have the rest of your family read you the riot act last night!" He could almost see the acid spitting from the red-headed boy's mouth.

"You're lucky, at least you have someone who cares, Ron," Harry said, a touch of righteous indignation in his voice. "I wish I had someone like your mum who cared enough to send me a Howler, or even care if I did something wrong!" That seemed to halt Ron in his tracks.

"What do you mean?" the redhead blustered.

"You didn't see me get a Howler, did you? I'm sure Dumbledore sent the notice to my aunt and uncle, just like he did to your parents." Snape nodded to himself in the shadows. Now that he thought about it, Potter hadn't received anything past what detentions Minerva had seen fit to assign.

"I can guarantee you," Harry continued, "they were more upset over the fact that I survived the crash!" He looked askance at his best friend. "C'mon, Ron, you know what it's like at my relatives. What you saw when you and your brothers broke me out of the house was pretty typical. Before this summer, though, they didn't have to put bars on my windows, 'cause where I slept didn't have any windows."

Ron looked puzzled for a moment. "Wasn't that your regular room?"

"Not until I got my letters last year," Harry explained in a small voice. The watcher in the shadows had to strain to catch them.

"Where'd you sleep before then?"

"In the cupboard, under the stairs," Harry whispered. Severus was glad he had taken the step to cast an eavesdropping charm; otherwise he would not have caught the last answer. But surely Potter was exaggerating?

"Blimey, Harry, are you serious?"

"Yes. The Dursleys don't like magic: they consider it abnormal. I guess they thought they could starve and work it out of me, but apparently it didn't work. They would always find some reason not to feed me, or lock me in my cupboard. I would give anything, Ron, absolutely anything, to have a family like yours!" he said passionately.

"You can have 'em, mate, they drive me nuts! Always on my arse about something; and the expectations on me, with Bill, Charlie and Percy as role models? It's impossible!"

"But why do you think they do that, Ron?" Harry asked slyly.

"Huh? Oh, I dunno, my family's always been like that, watching out for each other. With so many of us, we kinda have to self-patrol."

"Right, they watch out because they care for each other," his friend pointed out. "Because you all love one another. I would give all the money in my vault if I had just one person love me like that."

"Harry, you've got to be joking!" Ron said, mirroring Severus' thoughts. "You've got the whole wizarding world practically worshipping at your feet! Remember Lockhart at the bookstore?"

"But they aren't family, Ron. None of them love me unconditionally, like a family does."

"You wouldn't say that if you had my family! My parents set a lot of conditions."

"For behaviour, yeah, but if you mess up, they aren't going to disown you. If the Dursleys could, I would be out on the street in an instant! If I died tomorrow, they would probably celebrate! But yours… yours care, Ron. Your parents love you."

"I guess." Severus heard the boys sit down on the floor.Merlin, they were in for the long haul. "But, Harry, your mum and dad had to have loved you?"

"I'm sure they did, Ron, but I don't remember it. All I remember is a flash of green light." Severus started at this; the boy remembered the killing curse?

"What I wouldn't give to remember how that felt," Harry said. "You know, how it felt to have them love me? If I never came home, the Dursleys would be ecstatic! Dudley would get his second room back, and they wouldn't have to worry about me doing something freaky."

"You're not a freak, Harry," Ron protested.

"According to them I am," Harry groused. "Ron, you have everything: a family that loves you, people who care if you mess up, people who are… proud of you…"

Severus lost track of what Harry was saying as he pondered the boy's previous statements. Apparently, Petunia was acting true to form – just as she had when they were little. He remembered when she had called him and Lily by the same names she used on her nephew.

Therefore, Potter was not the pampered prince he had believed him to be. Lily would be turning in her grave if she knew how her sister had been treating her son. And what was that about letters? He thought the students only got one. He vaguely recalled Hagrid telling the teachers last year about him having to go and finally hand-deliver Potter his letter… He'd have to ask Minerva, later. He thought it might do well to pay a little more attention to Potter. The boy could obviously use some guidance and discipline; certainly wasn't getting it from home and the rest of the teachers doted on him, without offering constructive criticism.

Severus could certainly supply that! Maybe keep a better watch on his antics, as well. He was starting to see a lot of himself in the messy haired offspring of Potter. Too much of himself, and the wizarding world certainly didn't need Potter to go Severus' route. He tuned back in to the boys' conversation.

"… I just wish they wouldn't all gang up on me at once!" Weasley was still complaining.

"They just love you, Ron. Learn to live with it, that's my advice. You could do so much worse."

"I know, I know," his friend said resignedly. "Look, let's go play some chess down by the squid – classes start tomorrow, let's take advantage of the day!"

"You're on!" Harry agreed enthusiastically. Severus heard the boys scramble to their feet and take off back towards the Grand Staircase. They left their Potions master mulling over what he'd heard; what the implications were, and what he would do with the information he now had. After a few minutes, he followed the students: a tall, lean shadow haunting the hallways as he headed for the Transfiguration office.