Snape perused the castle on night rounds, making one last sweep of the North corridor before turning in. In the distance, he heard the clock in the Great Hall ring twelve midnight, each chime reverberating through the ancient stone walls. As he walked through the corridors, the cool autumn air whistled through the stones, raising gooseflesh on his bare arms.
He approached the entrance to the North tower, the last station on his rounds, and flung the door wide. Scanning the darkened staircase, he saw nothing. Then, as if an apparition had appeared out of thin air, a dark mass huddling in the shadows revealed itself. He blinked, not sure if his vision was playing tricks on him. As the outline solidified in the dim light, the form quivered. Snape leapt into action, wand drawn, taking the stairs two at a time.
Upon closer inspection, he saw that the huddled mass was a teenager. Snape took in the sight before him, the bloodshot eyes, the dilated pupils and vacant stare. The shaking hands and the spasmodically kicking legs. The cold, clammy skin.
Snape took a step back and leaned against the stone wall of the tower staircase, his wand held loosely at his side. "You are a disgrace to the name of wizard."
"Fuck you," the boy spat.
"Potter," Snape snapped. Grabbing the boy by the chin hard enough to leave bruises while dragging his face upward, he seethed, "How dare you speak me to me like that."
Potter simply stared back, defiance written in every line of his trembling body.
"You make me sick," Snape hissed, resisting the urge to snap the boy's neck. "The Boy-Who-Lived, a drug addict. What is it, Potter? Coke? Heroin? Ecstacy?" Snape flung the boy away from him.
The motion made Potter wretch, vomiting bile onto the stone steps and collapsing once again against the wall, not even bothering to clean up after himself.
"You are pathetic," Snape spat. "And to think the Wizarding World put their faith in you."
"Shut up!" Potter yelled in a hoarse whisper, wrapping his arms around himself as he shivered. "You have no idea..."
Snape scoffed. "No idea what poor Harry Potter has been through?" Squatting down on the dusty stairs in front of the boy, he grabbed Potter by the shoulders and shook him. "It's you, boy, that has no idea. You who can't see beyond the end of your nose. You with your sense of superiority and entitlement, your over-inflated ego, you arrogant, little…"
"My name is Harry, H-A-R-R-Y," Potter interrupted, his eyes swiveling up to meet Snape's.
"Not James," the boy whispered.
"I know who you are…"
"No, you don't," Potter shouted, shoving Snape's hands off his shoulders. "And you never have." He wiped the sweat from his brow with his trembling forearm. "I'm not my father."
Snape stood, dusting off his robes. "Get up," he sneered, his voice laced with disgust. "Drug abuse is grounds for automatic expulsion, even for you, Potter. And it's only the second day of classes…"
"Fuck you," Potter cursed, huddling closer to the stone wall as his legs flailed of their own accord and his whole body shook. "I'd rather die here than go anywhere with you."
Snape's hand struck bone and flesh and Potter's head hit the stones with a dull thud. "How dare you speak to me as if…"
"As if what?" Potter spat, his eyes rolling wildly, scrabbling for purchase on Snape's face. "As if you are a prejudiced, presumptuous bastard who hasn't got a clue about who I am or what my life is like?"
"Why you…" Snape seethed, his eyes locking with Potter's. And then, in an instant of inspiration and madness, Snape whispered, "Legilimens."
"Come with me," Snape commanded.
"Go to Hell," Harry spat. "You had no right!"
Harry watched through bleary eyes as Snape turned away and rested his arms loosely on the stone wall of the narrow staircase, leaning his forehead on his forearms.
"You are correct, Potter. I did not."
"What?" Harry asked, stunned.
"I should not have entered your mind without your permission. But that does not change what I saw…"
Harry looked away and cursed. Tears prickled at the corner of his eyes and slid down his cheeks. "Fuck," he said again, burying his head in his knees. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
"Potter," Snape said from somewhere near his left ear. "You need help."
Harry buried his head further into his knees and sobbed harder. Why did Snape, of all people, have to find out? Why him? Why now?
"I have some potions that can help…"
"I don't need potions," Harry moaned. "I need a fix."
When there was no response, Harry looked up to see the all too familiar expression of annoyance and impatience on Snape's face. But there was something else there too, something like concern. Harry shoved the thought aside and flinched when Snape reached toward him.
"Be still," Snape muttered.
Harry made himself as still as he could, considering the trembling in his limbs that he had no control over. Snape stroked Harry's right temple, then pulled his hand back to study the dark substance that coated his fingers. At Snape's sharp intake of breath, Harry realized it was blood; his blood.
"May I?" Snape asked.
Warily, Harry nodded.
With a wave of his wand, Snape vanished the blood from Harry's face and hair. Then, holding Harry's head steady with his free hand, Snape healed the gash that had resulted from when he had slapped Harry and Harry's head had hit the wall.
Snape closed his eyes for a moment, as if to summon patience. Opening them once again, he said, "I owe you an apology, Potter."
"You owe me several," Harry retorted before he could think better of it.
Snape cocked an eyebrow. "Don't push your luck, Potter." Snape straightened and offered Harry a hand. "It's me or the headmaster. The choice is yours."
Harry studied the potions master for a long time. If he had to go through withdrawal in front of someone, better it be someone who already thought he was a worthless waste of space than someone who would be disappointed in him. Finally, Harry nodded, and ignoring the outstretched hand, pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.
Snape sat in the leather arm chair in his study, shaking with a mixture of rage and despair. Potter lay on the couch across from him, finally asleep, though periodic spasms still wracked his body. The various potions he'd given the boy had taken effect, leaving Snape to stew in his own misery. He'd not been wrong about many things in his life, but when he was, his mistakes tended to be catastrophic. The horrific images that danced in his mind had sunk their fangs into his subconscious and Snape didn't think their venom would leave him anytime soon.
"You can't stay awake forever, boy," the fat man sneered, spittle flying from his lips as he taunted the teenager who stood rigid against the far wall like a cornered animal. Exhaustion marred the boy's features. It was by determination alone that the boy still stood on wobbly legs.
"How long has it been, boy? Two days since you've slept? Three?" The boy's hands had balled into fists but he didn't respond. Instead, his eyes darted nervously to what the man held in his hand.
The fat man laughed, waving the syringe so that beams of sunlight glinted off of the sharp steel needle. "Soon you'll be begging for it," the man said, his words a threat as much as a promise.
The scene changed.
The boy huddled in a corner on a stained gray blanket atop a threadbare mattress, his arms wrapped around his knees, shaking uncontrollably.
"You want it, don't you?" the fat man taunted. "You want it bad, I can tell."
The boy buried his face and moaned, tightening his grasp on his legs.
There was a click as the man set the syringe on the dresser. Then the sound of a belt being undone, leather being pulled through belt loops. The boy drew further in on himself, whimpering.
A metallic snap, a zipper being unzipped, fabric rustling as it was shoved aside.
The boy looked up through a fringe of black hair, his glasses askew, and tears on his cheeks.
"You know what you have to do to get it, boy," the fat man said, motioning to the drug-filled syringe with one hand as he stroked himself with the other, his bulbous purple member bobbing in anticipation.
The boy turned aside and vomited.
Snape forced himself out of the memory, his hands balled into fists. It had been damn fortunate that he'd not been able to leave Potter alone for even a second, and that Albus had dispatched Aurors immediately to deal with Vernon Dursley, or else Snape would have killed the man himself with his bare hands. The desire to do so, to hunt that excuse of a man down and eviscerate him, hummed within Snape's veins. The cruel, sadistic bastard! How anyone could do that to a child! To the Boy-Who-Lived no less!
Snape downed another glass of brandy and spent a moment fantasizing about how he'd make Vernon Dursley pay if he ever got the chance. As much as Snape would have liked to believe that the abuse had started just the past summer, he could not. A man with that much talent for cruelty had surely inflicted it on the boy over many years. And where had precious Petunia been in all of this? Blissfully ignorant? Doubtful. A willing accomplice? She was Lily's sister! How could she?
Despair settled over him once again at the thought of Lily. He had failed her in so many ways. His hand shook as he refilled the brandy sniffer. "I'm sorry, Lily, so sorry."
A groan from the sofa snapped him back to the present. He set the glass of brandy aside and walked over to the couch, studying the boy sleeping there. Potter's skin was pale and clammy; his cheek bones hollow from malnutrition. The boy writhed in his sleep, as if fighting off demons. His uncle, Snape wondered. Or his frail body's need for heroin? Or the memories? Did it matter?
Snape sighed and stepped to the fireplace, sorting through the various potions he'd set atop the mantle. He'd been so wrong about the boy. Had he taken more interest, seen past his own prejudices, perhaps he could have done right by the boy long before now. Perhaps he could have saved Lily's son. But he hadn't. He'd been too caught up in his own childhood memories to see that what he'd thought was defiance and arrogance was actually an abused child's attempt at self preservation.
He uncapped a lavender colored potion and stepped across the room. Sliding an arm beneath the boy's shoulders, he lifted Potter into a sitting position and placed the glass vial against the boy's lips. "Drink this, Potter," he commanded.
Potter startled half-awake and began to struggle. Snape tightened his grip, holding the boy's too thin frame against his chest. "It's okay, Potter, drink this. It will make you feel better."
Harry calmed. "China cat? Smack?"
"Yes, it's heroin," Snape lied, tipping the contents of the nerve tonic mixed with calming draught into Harry's willing mouth. After all the muttering, screaming, and hair pulling Harry had done in one of his withdrawal-induced fits, Snape had had to come up to speed fast on street drug lingo.
Carefully laying Potter back down on the sofa, Snape resisted the impulse to smash the now empty vial against the stone fireplace at the injustice of it all. Instead, he took a deep, steadying breath and sat back in his chair, head in his hands. He could brew potions to ease Potter's withdrawal from the heroin. That was the easy part. But after the haze cleared, the boy would still be left to deal with years of abuse and torment at the hands of his sadistic relatives. No potion in the world could heal those kind of wounds.
Snape looked over at Harry and sighed with a mixture of resolution and resignation. "I will do right by your son, Lily, if it's the last thing I do. You have my word."