Chapter 1: A Delirius Night

Dear Readers: I hope you enjoy this! My first SSHP work~Pairings are up in the air. Harry/Snape mentor/adoption fic! Overused premise-and I will be sacrificing Dumbly as a schemer as many others have done.

Please review to let me know how you like it! Thanks so much!

I do not own Harry Potter.

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o O o O o

Severus Snape was awoken from his restless half-sleep by a high-pitched alarm he'd magicked to alert him whenever a student wandered to one of the areas under his jurisdiction past curfew. This particular alarm was linked to the astronomy tower, and as it was 2am, whoever had decided on a nighttime stroll was most definitely breaking curfew.

Snape's instant annoyance and anger gave way to a vague relief that he'd at least been woken from the awful nightmare that had been plaguing him, off and on, that evening. Though not the most horrifying or gory of his nighttime non-fantasies he regularly glimpsed, this one held a special place in his heart for being mortifying and unbearable, filling him with helplessness and guilt.

For once again, he had dreamed of that day in his fifth year…the day he'd called his truest and greatest friend, the only woman he'd ever loved, that word. And of course, it was always pleasant to see the sneering faces of a young Black and Potter again.

Potter. An evil smirk stole its way onto Severus' face as his annoyance at being woken stepped aside for anticipation as he imagined just what he would do to the Brat-who-lived if he were the one who had decided on a jaunt at this hour.

With a quick wave of his hand, Snape was decked in his usual black, flowing robes. Grabbing his wand, he applied a little extra hair-grease for effect, and flew from his quarters, following the quickest path up to the astronomy tower.

He smirked as he imagined various scenarios that might await him. No doubt the brat would be under his invisibility cloak, perhaps with his little fan club, deeming it their right to wander the castle halls at any hour if sleep evaded them. Or perhaps they were planning something more sinister-something they would, of course, see as a harmless prank? Just as I thought. He's just like his damn father. Why Dumbledore insists on tormenting me by stubbornly suggesting otherwise escapes me.

He was now on the seventh floor, and he slowed his pace. Best to stay in the shadows, as was his specialty, for the greatest effect would be by taking the brat by surprise. Severus' lips quirked as he thought about it.

He rounded a corner, taking him outside, when he heard an odd noise. Snape froze to listen better. It wasn't what he had expected, he could definitely say. Rather than the hushed voices of scheming teenagers, or soft, sneering laughter at their own brilliance, he heard something that sounded not unlike an animal in pain.

He crept closer to the source of the noise and he heard the whimpers, still muffled, give way, occasionally, to soft, frantic whispers. They were coming from a dark area, a little bolthole beneath the winding stairs to higher levels of the tower. Stepping, himself, into the darkness but still out of sight, Severus peered around and froze.

Harry Potter. Harry bloody Boy-Who-LivedPotter, was rocking back and forth like someone on a closed ward at St. Mungos, his knees bunched up to his chest, and his hands variously clutching his own head and tearing at his impossibly messy mop of hair.

The boy's eyes were shut tight, and when he shifted slightly, Severus noticed how lost and despairing the expression on that face he despised was. And suddenly, the Potions master realized he no longer felt any pleasure at catching the boy after hours. His tormentor's son or not, the bloody bane of his last 6 years as a professor or not, the boy was clearly suffering from something. But what? A curse? A nightmare?

Slowly, Severus crept forward and crouched down before the boy. Harry didn't make any sign to show he had noticed his least favorite professor's presence, and so Snape took a breath and said, softly but firmly, "Potter."

The boy made no response. He just continued to whimper and hold his face, and then quickly shook his head back and forth before resuming his rocking motions.

"Potter! Potter, what's wrong? Wake up, blast you! Can you hear me?"

The boy seemed to hesitate for a moment before going back into his trance-like state. His breathing was speeding up, and Severus wondered if he were about to hyperventilate. A little roughly, Severus grabbed the boy's shoulders, vaguely wondering at how impossibly thin they were, and gave him a shake. "Potter!" He barked.

This, finally, got a response, but the response baffled Snape still further.

Harry flinched violently and cringed, pressing himself further into the dark crevice, and his arms moved up in a gesture as if to protect himself in a way that made Severus' stomach pinch and squirm painfully. Severus knew that posture. He knew it far too well. But why would the spoiled, pampered son of James Potter respond to a touch that way, regardless of how out of it he was?

Struggling to make his voice softer, he tried again. "Potter, I'm not going to hurt you, now will you look at me?"

Slowly, Harry moved his hands, and he hesitantly opened his eyes. Severus' heart dropped like a solid weight had been tossed into his gut. Potter had clearly dropped his glasses somewhere, for the green eyes the potions master always tried to ignore were suddenly very much in front of him, and far too wide and familiar for comfort.

But they were glassy, unseeing, and filled with an astonishing depth of fear and grief and hopelessness that he had never seen in Lily's eyes. And seeing them this way did the impossible, and rattled Severus to the core, stunning him into shocked silence. And then the boy, eying Severus warily, and still cringing and looking more like a little boy than a teenager of his apparent 16 years, began to talk. But his tone was soft, fearful and hesitant-the voice of someone much younger.

"I'm s-sorry, Uncle Vernon. I didn't mean to sleep so long. I know I need to get up and make breakfast, I just-I had a nightmare and-and-" Suddenly the soft fearful voice turned into frantic, terrified pleas. "No! Please! Please stop! I promise I'll be good! I won't touch the couch ever again! I'm-" Severus stared, aghast, as the boy he had thought he knew, though admittedly, he had tired not to, collapsed into himself in hysterical, wrenching sobs.

"P-Potter, what is the meaning of this?" He rasped, again moving a hand forward to touch the boy. Again, Potter shrank away and whimpered, pulling his knees more securely into his chest and closing his eyes. And then, he did something which nearly made Severus' heart stop. He turned around and leaned over, bearing his back to the professor, and said softly, hollowly, with the same creepily innocent voice of a young child, "Okay, I'm ready, Uncle Vernon."

It couldn't be. All this time he had assumed, with the way he was always so negligent with his homework, the way he talked back, the way he always seemed to dissemble and answer in half-truths or simply stubbornly refuse to answer questions…Severus had seen these behaviors as nothing deeper than the influence of his insufferable father's genes. But now, suddenly, he could see all of his preconceptions crashing to the ground. Harry Potter was an abused child. It seemed too incredible, and yet, Severus knew the signs too well to deny them.

And he was 16, dammit! How could this have gone on so long? But hadn't Dumbledore missed the signs with him, Severus Snape, as well? But this was different. This was his damn Boy-who-lived! Of course Dumbledore wouldn't give a damn for the greasy little Slytherin in comparison! But if that was the case, then why had it come to this for this boy, too?

And what had led to this-this attack of Potter's? Snape quickly cast a diagnostic spell and what he found was still more worrying. There was a trace of extremely dark magic on him, but it was concentrated entirely in his head, and seemed to be swirling and upsetting the order of the boy's thoughts.

The counter curses Severus tried did nothing, but the boy was clearly possessed of some ailment that was targeting his mind and memories. Casting another, more specific spell, Severus gasped in understanding. This was a mind curse that had an effect similar to that of the Draught of Eternal Dreams, and the boy was lost somewhere between reality and fantasy, experiencing dreams and memories as if they were as real as he. Or, clearly, he was experiencing his dreams as the only true reality at the moment…

And Severus knew the only way he might help the boy, and it wasn't with a counter curse or potion. No. He had no choice but to enter the boy's mind and help him sort things through. An incredibly invasive process, but it was the only way.

But how to get the boy calm enough to let him in? For such a thing to work, Potter needed to trust him, and he sure as hell didn't trust Severus Snape. Why would he? For the first time, Severus felt a sharp pang of guilt for how unfairly he had treated the boy since the day he'd met him. He had judged him for his father's sins and never spared a glance for the boy beneath the obnoxious messy hair and thick-rimmed glasses. He had truly misjudged him.

But each moment wasted could be devastating to the boy's sanity, and even the time waiting for Dumbledore, the only other accomplished Legilimens in the vicinity, might be too long. And so, Severus gritted his teeth and tried to make his voice as soft as possible, to do the impossible and get the boy to let him in. Even if it was far too late to forge a bond of trust, he had to. For Lily, he had to try.

"Po-Harry," Severus said, softly and as gently as he could. "Harry, it's okay. I'm not Uncle Vernon. He's not here. Can you turn around and look at me?"

Harry seemed to relax a small bit at the unfamiliarly soft tones and words, but then he shook his head back and forth.

"Harry. Harry, it's Professor Snape."

The boy froze, and his posture straightened. Damn! I should have known that was the wrong thing to say!

"Pro-professor?" Harry asked in a whisper, his tone suggesting disbelief.

"Yes. You're at Hogwarts, on the Astronomy tower. It seems you've been the target of a curse. If you'll just turn around, I can try to reverse the effects…"

Slowly, much to Severus' surprise, the boy spun around to face him. In the slight light of the potion master's wand, Severus could see the drying tear tracks on the boy's face, and the worried lip. And those eyes-those eyes he had never thought he'd see again, looking at him this way-not in hatred, but in confusion-were fixed on him.

"Professor…Snape?" He said softly, his words stilted.

"Yes, it's me," Severus hurriedly reassured him, for he could see the recognition in the boy's eyes wavering once again-the glassy look coming back.

"Harry, I promise you. Those people aren't here. I won't let them hurt you, now I need you to listen to me. I'm going to enter your mind, okay?"

But Harry was shaking his head again. "No…hurts…please don't make me go back again…I'll be a good boy. I won't be a freak anymore. I promise, aunt 'Tuney! I didn't mean it, honest!" And he was sobbing once again, shivering in the cold night air and looking utterly lost and small.

The sight snapped something within Severus and before he knew what he was doing, he was leaning forward and gently gathering the boy in his arms, pulling him protectively into his chest. Harry froze for an instant, but then melted in the warm, secure hold, and looked up hopefully at Severus' face. His eyes were glassy. He clearly didn't know what he was doing or seeing, but then he whispered, in still far too child-like a tone, "Is that you, Daddy?"

Severus stiffened and almost pushed him away, but then Harry spoke again. "You finally came! I've been waiting for you for a long time, Daddy…"

Severus was speechless, but then realized he couldn't find it in himself to destroy the boy's momentary reprieve from his horrific-seeming nightmares. And so, when suddenly the boy's skinny arms were wrapping insistently around the professor's neck, and the boy was sobbing and laughing into his shoulder, Severus found himself holding him more tightly to his chest, and hesitantly carding a hand through his hair.

Severus was frozen in a battle with his feelings. The boy was delirious, and it was his job, as a Professor, to see Potter through this safely, but what was this odd clenching pain in his chest? And then, he sluggishly thought of how good the boy's warmth felt against him, and he felt himself struggling to push down feelings he hadn't felt in over 15 years…

Finally, the boy calmed down and his breath seemed to regulate slightly, and Severus quickly transfigured a soft cushion for the boy to lean back against, and a blanket to wrap around him.

"Harry, you need to trust me, okay? I'm not going to hurt you, but this might be uncomfortable. Right now, it's hard to tell what is a dream and what isn't, right?"

Listlessly, Harry nodded.

After a curt nod, Severus continued. "I'm going to go in and show you reality and fiction. Can you be calm and let me in without pushing against me?"

Again, Harry nodded obediently, and yawned, his eyes half-lidded and said, "Sure, dad."

Severus flinched and cursed himself for taking advantage of the boy's delirium, but there was nothing to help it. He was inconsolable otherwise. Gently positioning the boy to look at him, Severus gently cupped the cheeks which were really not so much like James Potter's after all, in his hands. Looking into those half-glassy green eyes, he said firmly, "Legilimens!"

Torrents of images passed him, and emotions to accompany them. A child, looking to be no more than four years old, was being tossed into a dark, tiny space with mops and other assorted cleaning equipment. A tattered, huge shirt was draped over the shivering boy, who grasped at a pitiful, paper-thin blanket, pulling it to his chest for some semblance of comfort.

From behind, a monstrous, Walrus-looking man boomed, his tone and purple, mustached-face livid, "Next time you want to eat, you'll make sure not to burn our damn dinner! You miserable freak! Don't expect anything until I say so, you hear? And no sniveling, brat, because you know you brought this on yourself! Your aunt and I give you a roof over your head, we give you more food than you deserve! You're an animal! Now stay there!"

With that, the man slammed the door closed and there was the distinct sound of a door locking. The little boy, shivering and biting his lip to keep from crying, curled up on a miserable-looking mattress with springs poking out and tried to sleep.

Severus, being a visitor in this particular memory, was able to step out of the dark, incredibly small enclosed space to take a better look at it from the outside. What he saw confirmed his suspicions. A fucking cupboard. They kept him locked in a damn cupboard under the stairs of their sickeningly sterile house!

Rage was fermenting, congealing, building within him. Oh, how he wished this were not just a memory so he could clout that damn Walrus! But this was not the time. Gently, Severus took this memory and pushed it back into the boy's mind, securing it with other memories of a horrific, neglected childhood.

One by one, scenes flashed by…a blond child, who, though clearly no older than 6, was not much smaller than a young killer whale, was howling and throwing a disgusting temper tantrum for only receiving 31 Christmas presents, while a little dark-haired child with broken glasses stood in the corner, opening a pitifully-wrapped gift to find a pair of holey, barf-colored socks. The boy sniffed and bit his lip, clearly trying to hide his disappointment. His efforts were of course wasted when the huge pig-boy waddled over, pointing his fat finger in Harry's face.

"Is that whacha got for Christmas, Scary Harry? Hah! That's cuz no one loves freaks! And you don't gotta mum or daddy neither! Hey freaky geeky, I'll make you a deal! You can ride my bicycle for one hour if you do me a favor!"

"Really?" Harry's tone was hesitant, but such hope flashed in his eyes that Severus could barely stand it. I really don't want to see what's next…

"Yeah!" The fat boy sneered. "All you hafta do first is clean me and my friends' shoes-with your tongue!"

Harry paled instantly.

"What's wrong? Thought ya'd be happy to have somethin' to eat! And don't ya eat garbage anyways?"

Severus turned to look at the parents' reactions, but the enormous father was reading his newspaper and throwing approving looks at his lard of a son, and Petunia (she sure hasn't aged well, Severus thought to himself) ran over to the scene between the boys. For one instant, Severus wondered if she was actually going to do something somewhat decent and scold her brat (Merlin knows he needs it) but instead, she wrapped her bony arms around his fat neck and then glared at her horrified nephew. "You! Boy! Leave Dudders alone! He doesn't have to let you near his presents!"

"Yeah, boy! You should be grateful for what we gave you!" The Walrus added, chuckling to himself as if he'd just made a great joke.

Severus watched helplessly as the little memory-Harry held back his tears and turned to run into his cupboard. Once inside, he finally let out dry, wracking sobs as he clutched his blanket once again.

This and many other episodes flashed by. Though it seemed to be hours and days that Severus experienced the life his best friend's son had endured, it took, in fact, only moments in the real world. He increased his speed shuffling through as he came to Harry's older memories, feeling somewhat sickened at watching himself sneering at Harry in Potions class, or callously declaring his likeness to James…but the thoughts eventually began to settle themselves back in some semblance of order. Harry's brain was becoming less of a mass of jumbled thoughts and emotions and dreams and more of an organized library of his lifetime.

Finally, the most immediate memories fell into place near the surface of the boy's psyche, and Severus glimpsed a confrontation between Harry, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle on the 7th floor. Severus struggled with whether he should watch the memory through, and figure out what exactly happened, or go ahead and leave the boy's mind now that he was no longer in danger of going insane.

Severus, who valued privacy of one's thoughts to the extreme, was uncomfortably aware that he had just lived through and witnessed a large portion of all of Harry Potter's most secret, private thoughts and experiences. There was no way, if he realized how utterly his privacy had been invaded, that the boy would be honest with him…and yet, now that Severus knew the boy, he felt a strange sense of loss at that thought. He had truly understood nothing of the boy, and now…part of him wanted to get to know him. Yet that might not be possible now.

He decided to just watch this final scene to at least cement what happened, so that he could at least get back at whoever put the boy in this condition.

Draco, Crabbe and Goyle left a room next to a statue of a one-eyed Witch and the door promptly vanished. They turned to walk down the hallway, when Crabbe stopped.

"Ya hear something, Draco?" He grunted.

Draco froze, and looked around nervously. "It's…probably just a ghoul or something. Let's get out of here."

They had only gone a few more steps when Crabbe spun around and shot a curse at the thin air behind him.

The sound of a body collapsing stopped the three, and a foot materialized out of thin air.

"Potter," Draco whispered. "It's Potter! He's wearing that invisibility cloak!"

Grinning evilly, Crabbe raced to the form and revealed a stunned Harry Potter.

Color rose in Draco's cheeks. "Dammit, did he follow us?"

"What should we do?" Goyle asked.

"Well, we should teach him a lesson, a'course," Crabbe smirked.

"Let's just get going, Crabbe," Draco hissed. "He's already unconscious. He'll get in enough trouble anyway, once he's caught."

Crabbe scowled. "Come on. Don't be a softy, Draco. He's the Dark Lord's enemy! We have to do something!"

"And the Dark Lord doesn't want him harmed! So let's leave him alone!"

"He wants to KILL him. He wouldn't complain about him being harmed. Let's just try a little somethin…"

Draco looked at him warily. "Okay, well hurry it up, before someone sees."

Smirking, Crabbe pointed his wand at the prone figure and said "Confusus Mens!"

Though still unconscious, Harry began to move in his sleep, flinching and kicking. His face screwed up and he began to moan.

"Crabbe! That's a-that's an insanity spell! What are you doing?"

"Heh. He deserved it."

"No one deserves that! And…we're going to be expelled, idiot!"

"No one'll know! God, Draco. I thought you didn't care about this hell hole anymore. We're onto greater things, right? Get ahold a yerself!"

Draco was still staring at Harry's convulsing form, an odd look flashing through his eyes, as Crabbe dragged him backwards down the hallway.

Harry was clearly beyond delirious when he woke, and began stumbling forward, holding to his head and whimpering…

From that point, everything became fuzzy, and Severus withdrew from his mind to avoid the insanity flowing into and overtaking him as well. Already, he was feeling anxious.

Severus breathed harshly once he was back on solid ground, safe in the enclosed realm of his own messed-up world, feeling as though he'd aged 10 years from his time in Harry's head. He grimaced. Here was a boy who had been through more than he had as a child. Who had endured almost every kind of misfortune imaginable. Luckily, the boy seemed to have drifted off into a calm, even sleep now…and after running another diagnostic spell, Severus was relieved to find that the curse's effects had been corrected, and only exhaustion and some nerve damage remained.

Gently, Severus leaned forward and cradled the boy in his arms. Harry was far too light for his age, and now Severus knew why. He grimaced at the thought and again, horrible waves of red hot anger swept through him.

"Come on, Potter. Let's get you to the hospital wing," he muttered, and began to carry him back into the castle.

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