Disclaimer: The only place I own any part of Harry Potter is in my dreams.
Potions, one learned quickly once starting their education at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, were highly volatile substances; much like the man in charge of teaching the students how to make them. One little slip, a wrong ingredient here, a missed stir there, and you could have a veritable disaster on your hands. Then, assuming the student had survived their mistake and their consequently ruined potion, they had to further do their best to survive the uncharitable Potions Master. Because every student at Hogwarts knew how Severus Snape felt about dunderheads who caused potions to explode and melted their own cauldrons.
Likewise, students also learned, normally within the first few months of school, that potions accidents were very difficult to clean up after. Oh, simple spells could banish the fouled brew away with ease, of course, the problem was the stains the tainted elixirs would leave behind. Manual labor was the only way to truly rid any surface of a potions stain. This was why many of the students, after accidentally covering the classroom floor in discolored Healing Balm, could be found scrubbing that same floor later that very night. It was also the reason (or one of the reasons, more likely) that Severus Snape single-handedly doled out more detentions than the entire rest of the Hogwarts staff combined.
The other reason was his utter lack of patience when working with children of any age. Particularly messy-haired, first year Gryffindors who bore a strong resemblance to their deceased father.
It was, in fact, this very first year who was down on his knees of the dungeon floor that fateful night, scrubbing away at a particularly stubborn stain left there by none other than his friend and dormmate Neville Longbottom. Not because he had ruined a potion or anything like that (his had actually been quite passable), but because he had gotten cheeky with the professor. Or at least, that's what the professor had said it was for. Harry didn't feel he'd done anything wrong at all, maybe at most earned a few lost points for his house. He definitely hadn't done anything detention worthy, and yet here he was. Because for some reason, Snape hated him. Snape had always hated him.
The same Snape who was currently sitting at his desk, marking essays and occasionally pausing to smirk superiorly in Harry's direction. It made Harry's blood boil every time those black eyes fell on him, looking down at him in that condescending manner, worse than even Uncle Vernon could ever be. It wasn't fair, he hadn't done anything wrong. That was why the next time he felt the professor's dark gaze he stopped what he was doing, lifting his head to glare right back. Because he was a Gryffindor, he wasn't afraid, and he was sick of letting people walk all over him.
Severus had just written another scathing comment on a third year Hufflepuff's pathetic excuse for homework (when would these idiot children learn that newts' eyes and frogs' eyes were not interchangeable?) when he glanced up to be sure the Potter brat was still on task. He was mildly surprised to see the boy's furious scrubbing taper off only for the child to look up at him and all but nonverbally challenge him. Then again, this was the spawn of James Potter, after all. Nothing the little cretin did should surprise him.
"Mr. Potter," he purred dangerously, purposely making his voice just loud enough to be heard for added effect, "I would suggest you wipe that smug look off your face immediately. Unless of course you'd like to join me after dinner for the rest of the week as well."
Harry sucked in his bottom lip to chew on it nervously, but his glare only intensified. He wasn't afraid of this jerk. He wasn't backing down.
Had Snape been alone, he would have chuckled, genuinely amused as well as annoyed by the display of blatant defiance. Amused because the boy was eleven years old and trying to intimidate him of all people. Annoyed because in doing so, he looked more than ever the image of James. "So arrogant, Potter. Just like your father."
A warmth flared in Harry's chest at being compared to his father, the same as it always did whenever someone said he looked or acted like the man. The feeling only lasted a moment, however, before he realized what the professor had said and his hackles raised. "My father was not arrogant."
Snape sneered, already losing interest in the whole thing and turning back to his essays. "I assure you, Potter, describing him as arrogant is exceptionally considerate on my part. The way he used to strut about as though he owned the castle and—"
"My dad did not strut!" the boy cried indignantly, leaping to his feet with clenched fists and ignoring the sopping rag that drooled dirty water onto his school pants. "He was a good man, everybody says so!" Everybody except the Dursleys who had told him for years the man was a drunkard who had gotten his wife killed in a car crash, but that hardly counted for anything. In fact, in the young boy's mind, having the Dursleys' disdain only made you more worthwhile. "He was— he was good and brave and better than you could ever be! So you just shut up about him!"
It took a few seconds for Severus to get his bearings properly in place. Somehow, he hadn't quite been expecting the little brat to start yelling at him and therefore wasn't prepared for it. He was even willing to overlook the childish outburst with only lost points and further detentions when the boy dared to compare him with James Potter. To tell him that James was better than he was. And then tell him to shut up.
Rage igniting, he surged up out of his chair, hands slamming down hard enough on his desk to make the wood buckle warningly. "How dare you speak to me in such a manner, boy!" Unlike Potter his voice never raised, but it hardly needed to, seeing as the boy flinched back a step at the tone alone before raising his chin stubbornly and standing his ground. "You know absolutely nothing of James Potter, you horrid little brat. Nothing at all."
Stung badly by the reminder that he indeed didn't know his own father, Harry flung the rag still in his grasp down onto the ground, a horrible burning, twisting feeling wrenching through his gut. He hated Snape. The man who picked on him, who tormented him. He hated him, he— "At least my dad wasn't a bloody bully like you!"
The moment the child shouted those words, something inside Severus snapped. Not a bully? James Potter not a bully? This stupid, pretentious, disgusting little beast of a boy!
Striding in two quick steps over to a closed cabinet, he slammed the door open, reaching both hands inside to yank the contents out and set it on his cluttered desk. Wand at his temple he ripped a single, milky strand violently from his head, not even caring as he winced at the pain of it. Letting it drop into the swirling mass, he rounded his desk to approach Potter, ignoring the way the boy flinched when he closed his hand around his upper arm and bodily dragged him towards the waiting Pensieve. He knew he was likely hurting the brat, could feel and hear the little monster struggling, but he was completely beyond rational thought by this point.
"Come now, Potter, don't you want to see your precious father?" Bringing his free hand up to the back of Potter's neck, he forcefully pushed the boy's head forward, following not even a second later himself. He'd show him the truth.
Harry was terrified when Snape grabbed his head and shoved his face into what looked like smoke, thinking the man was surely trying to drown him or something equally as bad. Then when he felt himself tumbling through nothing, he very nearly wet his pants in panic. It wasn't until he landed safely and solidly on his feet in what was recognizably a regular Hogwarts corridor that the boy was able to calm down and attempt to catch his breath. How had they gotten there from Snape's office? Was it a form of wizard travel?
Glancing uncertainly over his shoulder and seeing his professor was indeed there, he hesitantly started to ask, "What are we—"
The command was bitten out in one single, strict syllable, and Harry found himself unable to even protest, still shaken by the man's earlier fury. He figured if he just played along, Snape would eventually let him go; then he could spend the next seven years making perfectly sure he never pissed the man off like he had back in his office again.
The sound of laughter drew his attention away, and looking up, the boy felt like his heart had just skipped several beats when his eyes landed on what he at first thought was a slightly older picture of himself walking towards him. It was after a moment's consideration and a glimpse at the other boy's decidedly not green eyes that he realized who it was he was truly seeing. "Dad," he breathed, taking an unconscious step forward, only to have his professor's hand descend heavily on his shoulder.
"It's a memory, Potter, not real," the man sneered, his voice still taut and gravelly. "Just shut up and watch."
As much as he wished he could actually speak with his father, Harry was far from stupid. He understood easily what Snape meant by saying they were in a memory, not really surprised at all wizards had found a way of looking at the past. He took the opportunity for what it was and studied his father carefully, committing every last detail to his own memory.
The James Potter he was seeing truly did look a lot like him. Same messy hair, glasses, facial structure, nose... Really the only noticeable difference was the eyes, as he'd been told before. His father here was a year or so older than he was now, second or third year most likely, and flanked by three other boys. Another dark haired boy with light eyes, a somewhat wan-looking brunette, and a short, slightly round boy with a mousy face. His father's friends, the same way he had Ron and Hermione. Smiling as he watched the four boys laugh and joke around as they grew steadily closer, he couldn't even begin to fathom just why Snape had given him such a gift.
"Oi, look who we have here," the tall, dark-haired boy said suddenly, nudging James as he did so. It was only then that Harry saw another boy, walking down the corridor from the opposite direction, elbow deep in a dusty old book, much the way Hermione often was. Though the nose wasn't quite as hooked and deformed, it didn't take Harry long to recognize his Potions professor. Not only had the man been just as greasy then as he was now, but Harry didn't know anyone who had eyes as black as his.
He was so intent on now examining his teacher as a teenager that he nearly missed seeing his father throw a hex at the young Snape, forcing his book to go flying as he fell face-first to the ground. Harry easily recognized the tripping hex for what it was. He couldn't do them yet, but Malfoy sure could. Frowning, he watched as his father approached the downed boy, wand in hand and smug smile in place. What had he done that for? Maybe it was payback for something Snape had done previously?
"Good morning, Snivellus. So nice to see you."
The frown only increased. Snivellus? Harry knew Snape's first name was Severus and this was obviously a play on that, but... well, it was a lot like when the kids back at primary had called him Potty-head and other things like that. It was pointless, immature, and... mean. Though then again, this was Snape so...
Young Snape had whipped out his wand, a spell on his lips before an, "Expelliarmus!" was shouted, though not by Harry's father. It had been the other boy, the tall, broad one, and he caught Snape's wand, smiling triumphantly as he did so. Like he hadn't just ganged up on and disarmed someone who was already on the ground.
Snarling, young Snape was up and charging the group, but he only got a few steps before a leg-locker, this one from James, hit him, forcing him back down. Somehow as he fell, Snape's robes managed to get wrapped up around his legs, and everyone present could clearly hear the audible RIIIIP sound as the fabric tore somewhere around the waist. Harry winced sympathetically at the sight.
"Oops," James said in tones of mock concern, stepping towards Snape as he did so, "what have we done? Looks like Snivelly ripped his robes."
Harry bit his lip as his forehead creased, trying to understand. Yes, okay, they were angry at Snape for something, and they didn't like him; so they'd tripped him, just like Harry and Malfoy. They called him that nasty name because, well, because he was Snape; but enough was enough. It had already gone too far.
"Aww, did we do that?" the tall boy asked, playing along with James easily. "We really are sorry there, Snivelly. We just thought your robes weren't quite pathetic enough. Needed a little something extra, y'know?"
Pathetic? Harry's eyes looked over Snape's robes, obviously used, second, possibly even third or fourth-hand. So what? That was no reason to make fun of someone, just because they couldn't afford the best, because they wore hand-me-downs. That was like someone making fun of Ron or one of the other Weasleys.
It was like someone making fun of him.
"Maybe we should try and fix it?" James suggested, looking to the other boy.
The boy shook his head. "Naw, don't bother. If we're going to fix Snivelly's appearance, we ought to start with the most offensive part."
"Why yes, Sirius, I do believe you're right." Eyes gleaming in a way that couldn't be called anything other than predatory, James pointed his wand at the still struggling young Snape on the ground and recited a spell Harry didn't know. A jet of water shot out of the end straight into Snape's face, soaking him... or more precisely, soaking his hair.
Harry felt ill as he stood there, staring down at the still spluttering young Snape, a curtain of dark hair covering the teen's face as he tried to push it away, his legs still firmly cemented together, robes still tangled. His chest constricted as he switched his gaze to James Potter and the other boy, standing over the fallen Slytherin wearing identical expressions of deleterious happiness while the short boy laughed hysterically and the other one just looked away, clearly uncomfortable but not saying a thing.
His breath started coming in short shallow bursts. This was wrong. This was all wrong. His father was supposed to be the good guy, the Gryffindor hero. Snape was supposed to be the bad one, the slimy snake, not the innocent victim who was picked on and bullied when —Harry shivered convulsively— when he hadn't even said a single word.
Suddenly it wasn't James Potter and a group of Gryffindors standing there jeering anymore, it was Dudley and his gang. James became Dudley, his pudgy face twisted in a grin, while the tall boy was Piers who laughed softly next to him, eyes alight and malicious. The short one could be either Dennis or Malcolm, take your pick, and then the other one, the quiet one was Gordon, the only member of Dudley's stupid gang who occasionally looked as though he felt guilty for beating the shite out of Harry the way they did but still never said a word in his defense...
And Snape... Snape wasn't Snape anymore. The nose shrunk, as did the hair, the robes changed into a vastly oversized t-shirt and torn jeans, the thin frame grew even thinner... and broken glasses, mended by only tape, perched precariously over a pair of bright green eyes.
The scene played out while Severus watched silently behind a shuttered gaze. He had picked this particular memory for several reasons and thought it got the point across rather nicely, though it was far from his worst one of James Potter and the Marauders. It was, however, one of the few where he put up almost no fight while they tormented him, giving a clear view of just how much of a bully Potter could be.
Once his younger self had been given an impromptu shower and the group of bastards had walked away, talking calmly as though nothing had just happened and leaving him to crawl over to his wand where Black had dropped it in order to release the leg-locker, Snape put his hand on the boy's shoulder once more and pulled him out of the memory; and it wasn't until his office came back into sharp focus that he began to wonder just what the hell he had been thinking.
Why, for the love of all things magical, had he just shown such a pathetic side of himself to a student? And not just any student, not even just any Gryffindor, but Potter spawn. The boy now had something, something legitimate, that he could take back to share with all the rest of his little friends, something to use against him. By breakfast tomorrow the whole school would know, some know-it-all Ravenclaw would probably find an obscure spell to reveal Potter's memory of the memory for everyone to watch like a bloody telly program. They would all see him go down without anything that could even respectably be called a fight; and despite all the names the students had given him over the years, all the insults, never had he been seen as weak. Honestly, what had he just done? He hadn't even been thinking, he'd just been so damn angry with the snot-nosed little...
Taking a slow, deep breath, he brought his steadily rising panic (yes, even Severus Snape could panic, he just didn't show it) down to an acceptable level before turning on Potter with his most menacing glare. The scrawny brat was still a first year, after all. Maybe he could be back-handedly threatened and frightened into keeping quiet. Even if the boy had just recently taken on a troll, Severus had it on good authority that he was much scarier. Besides, if worst came to worst... there was always Obliviate.
"Listen well, Potter, because I will not repeat myself. You will— look at me when I am speaking, Potter!"
When the child made no move to comply, Severus strode forward, fed up with the boy's defiance and complete unwillingness to cooperate. A potion-stained hand shot out to grab the little urchin by the chin and wrench the disheveled head up, not really caring if his grip was tight enough to hurt. Snarling with barely suppressed rage, the man opened his mouth to dare the damn child to ever repeat to anyone what he'd been shown— and his breath caught painfully in his throat.
Green eyes. Anguished, haunted green eyes. "Lily."
The boy appeared not to have heard him. He was currently taking short, sharp breaths in through his nose, sniffling as he did so, clearly trying hard not to sob. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't stop the moisture from filling his eyes and slowly leaking out the sides, down his cheeks, down onto Severus' still latched hand.
With a start, Severus jerked the appendage back as though he'd been burned, watching guardedly as Harry wrapped his arms around himself, protecting himself, hugging himself. "Everyone said he was good." The boy began breathing through his mouth instead, an action that made his chest heave sharply with each inhale. "They said— they said he was good. He was supposed to be good."
Severus felt sick as he watched the child slowly fall apart. What the fuck had he been thinking? He had taken an orphan's image of his dead father (orphaned only because of him) and completely destroyed it without mercy or pause. He had enjoyed watching the boy's face fall as the scene wore on. He had reveled in the way James Potter's son had looked at him, disappointment and despair on his features. He was a sick, twisted bastard who had sincerely wanted to hurt a child.
Only he hadn't really expected it to hurt the boy, not like this. The memory truly hadn't even been that bad, not anything like the one where he'd been hung upside down on display for the school or the one back on his very first day of Hogwarts where he'd been given that horrible name. He thought the boy would just see his precious father wasn't the perfect, saintly hero he thought and brush it off. Part of him even imagined the brat might condone his father's actions entirely. Instead...
Instead he had an eleven year old boy trying to apologize to his bastard professor because of something the father he had never even known had done before he was born.
"M'really sorry. I didn't— I thought—" Those damned green eyes sought out the Potions Master's black ones earnestly, desperately, and it was like seeing his mother all over again, James Potter nowhere to be found. "I'm sorry."
Severus worried for a moment he might honestly throw up. Reaching blindly behind him for the nearest chair, he yanked it into place, only to completely miss it and end up sitting ungracefully on the floor, unable to tear his gaze away. Those fucking eyes. He had never meant to make those eyes look like that, not ever again, never. He had never meant to make any student fall apart, not like this. He had made children cry before, oh yes, first years and above from every house had been reduced to tears by his cutting tongue and withering glare, but it was different. They'd sobbed, cowered, begged, but never before had there been this near silent devastation. He'd never wanted to do this. He never wanted to harm a child.
Merlin, he had genuinely hurt a bloody child. Lily's child. Physically or not, he had inexcusably assaulted a little boy he was meant to protect.
Bringing up a hand to cover his eyes, he didn't know what to do. He should just Obliviate the boy, make him forget he ever watched that awful memory and let him waltz about the school thinking his father had been God's gift to the earth. It would drive him absolutely mad, but at least —he swallowed thickly— at least the boy would be all right. James Potter may have been a horrible little toerag, but he was still the child's father, the man had died to protect the boy. What right did Severus really have to sully his name in such a way. Lily would be furious.
As would Albus. Blast it all, he'd be lucky to escape with his job this time.
There was the familiar rustle of clothing before Severus sensed rather than felt the child squat down next to him. After a brief hesitation, a tentative voice, rife with apprehension softly said, "Professor? It— it's all right. Please don't be sad."
It took all of Severus' self-control to keep from breaking down into hysterical giggles at the situation. The child was now attempting to comfort him. He brought his other hand up to press his palms hard against his eyes, cursing himself six ways from Sunday.
The boy shifted, fully sitting down next to him now, copying his posture and leaning back against the cold, stone wall. "It's okay, sir, really. You'll feel better in a bit. I..." Here Severus could practically hear the indecisiveness whirring around the boy's head before the child admitted in a whisper, "I know what it's like. I used to get bullied all the time too."
The older male froze, letting the boy's words sink in. What? Lowering his hands, he slowly looked over at the child sitting next to him, almost close enough to be touching. Though the eyes were still red and bloodshot from the earlier crying, making the already bright green irises nearly glow, it seemed the tears had finally abated. Likely at the shock of seeing his professor nearly have a breakdown on the dungeon floor. More importantly than the boy's appearance, though, was what he had said; because Severus knew a confession when he heard one. "Oh?"
The boy nodded slowly and actually inched closer to the usually feared, dour man. "My cousin Dudley. He used to beat me up all the time. Sometimes I could run away, I'm fast and Dudley's fat so he's awfully slow, but most of the time he managed to get me. He and his friends would gang up on me. Just like..."
The child's voice trailed off, wavering just the slightest as though forcefully fighting back a fresh wave of tears. Severus watched in shock as the boy scooted even closer still to his side, bits and pieces of a puzzle he thought he'd already completed rearranging themselves at an alarming rate. Harry being so distraught after seeing his father in the memory... Just from the little bit he'd already been told, Severus knew what Harry had truly seen. He also knew why the boy was practically cuddling up to him now, and it certainly wasn't out of love for his nasty, greasy professor.
"Tell me more about your cousin."
The boy shrugged despondently, eyes fixed somewhere on the black of his professor's robes. "Not much to tell. Dudley's really stupid, he eats a lot, and he likes to beat people up. Especially me. Then he would scare away all the other kids, y'know, so I could never make proper friends..." He bit his lip, hard. "I never had any friends before I came here."
Forgetting completely this was a Gryffindor sitting next to him and not one of his little snakes, Severus shifted his weight ever so slightly and carefully brought his arm up to wrap around the boy's thin shoulders, drawing the child further into his side. When he got no complaint he lightly pressed, "Your aunt and uncle never reprimanded him for his behavior?"
The boy snorted bitterly even as he wriggled about to comfortably mold against the older man. The man he suddenly felt inexplicably safe with because of a shared kinship. "No. They never yell at Dudley."
Something about the statement, the tone used... it set off alarm bells in the experienced professor's head. It was likely nothing but, "They yell at you, though?"
"Well yeah, all the time."
It took well over an hour of gentle coaxing, but by the end, Severus felt he was now much better informed about the Boy-Who-Lived-to-Shatter-Expectations. He was also getting quite a bit of extra practice at controlling his oft explosive temper. Harry-hunting? Car crashes? Ripper? A cupboard? The more the boy talked, the more relaxed he became, and the more he continuously revealed to the professor whose voice had taken on a soft, soothing tone completely of its own volition. By the end of it all, the Potions Master wanted to kill the disgusting Muggles who would dare hurt a wizarding child, hell, any child in such a way. Even his own father, who had a heavy hand he used liberally when drunk and whom Severus had come to hate with a passion, had never been as neglectful and just plain hateful as the Dursleys. It was astounding the child wasn't more damaged than he was.
"Your relatives don't seem to be the most pleasant of people."
That at least managed to get a small chuckle from the child. "Guess not, sir." Harry brought one hand up to his mouth and attempted, poorly, to cover it as he yawned. With a small sigh, he nestled further into the inviting warmth of his professor's robes. "M'sorry for what I said, sir. Y'know, calling you a bully n'all. I was wrong."
Severus took a deep, cleansing breath. "Apologies are hardly necessary," he said softly, letting the boy bury his face against his shoulder. "And you were not entirely wrong." Because Severus wasn't foolish enough to think otherwise. He was no hypocrite. He had been a bully to Harry.
A fact he knew he had to make up for. Starting now.
"In all fairness, that scene was not a very accurate portrayal of the relationship I shared with your father and his little group of miscreants."
Sleepy green eyes blinked up at him.
"I normally gave as good as I got, Potter," he clarified, only mildly exasperated by how slow the boy was sometimes. In fact, he was surprised to suddenly find the trait nearly endearing in its innocence. "In that particular memory, I was especially engrossed in my current choice of reading material and was therefore not paying attention to my surroundings. I had also not slept well the night before, leaving me very drained that day. I let my guard down."
The child frowned at that, an adorable little furrow forming between his brows, the same way it always had on Lily. "But, sir... you shouldn't need to have your guard up. Not— not at Hogwarts. It's—"
The boy stopped there, but Severus knew what the child had been about to say. 'It's home'. "You're absolutely right. Nonetheless, I normally put up quite a fight against your father."
Harry turned his face into the hollow between the older man's neck and shoulder, grumbling something Severus didn't quite catch. Something that he knew was said in his defense, not James Potter's. Instinctively, he brought his hand up to cup the back of the boy's head, letting the messy locks slide through potion-stained fingers. It took all of his self-control not to growl when the boy leaned into his touch like a cat, blatantly starved for physical affection. He was going to show no mercy to Petunia and that fat slob of a Muggle she had married.
"M'sorry I look like my dad."
Severus felt as though someone had just hollowed out his insides with a giant spoon; a feeling he would gladly trade for ten Cruciatus instead. "Potter—" Glancing down, he stopped immediately when he saw the little boy fast asleep against his side. Casting an Imperturbable Charm on the boy, he lifted him easily (far too easily) and carried him through the hidden door between his classroom and his office, then once more from his office to his private quarters. Setting the boy down gently on the couch and removing the glasses digging into his nose, he took a moment to simply stand back and study the features of the boy's face.
He supposed he should have been more surprised when he no longer found himself looking at James Potter. To his eye, Potter— Harry didn't resemble his father at all. Not anymore.
With a calm he didn't really feel, the Potions Master and Head of Slytherin walked over to his fireplace, grabbing a pinch of floor powder to toss inside the grate. "Headmaster's office."
His night was far from over.
Just something I threw together when none of my current muti-chapters were cooperating. Takes a bit of a look into two questions I've heard people ask: What if Harry had seen what James was like at a younger, more impressionable age? and What would Snape do if Harry (particularly young Harry) ever started to really cry because of something nasty he'd done? *shrug* Here's my probably OOC, ridiculously fluffy take on it.