Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. The lyrics at the start belong to Citizen Cope. This story belongs to me.

Warnings: Some explicit violence, the occasional swearword and reference to physical abuse. No slash.

Breaking Point

Part One

These feelings won't go away.

They've been knockin' me sideways.

I keep thinking in a moment that time will take them away,

But these feelings won't go away.

'Sideways', Citizen Cope

A young teenage boy, almost sixteen years old now, sat desolately on the only unbroken swing in the empty and abandoned playground, the night-time breeze ruffling his jet-black hair as he slowly swung forwards and backwards through the air, his eyes closed and his fingers gripped tightly around the can of beer he held in his hand.

Empty beer cans lay scattered around him on the playground floor, thrown in all directions without a second glance, telling a story of desolation and desperation. He had been there for hours, watching as the night slowly crept up on Little Whinging, alone and untroubled as he was by those who lived in the neighbourhood. Everyone had heard tales of that boy; stories of a hardened criminal, a hooligan who attended St Brutus' Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. It didn't surprise a single one of them that he was drinking underage and after dark, but they did not confront him. The troublesome youth wasn't their problem and they were glad of it.

The boy stopped swinging and opened his eyes, looking to the stars in the sky for a moment before raising a pale hand to take a long, deep swig from the can. A drop of alcohol escaped his lips and began to dribble down his chin but he swiped at it angrily with his worn jacket sleeve before throwing the empty can on the floor to join the others that lay scattered at his feet.

Without waiting even for a moment, the boy bent over and pulled another can free, opening the beer in mere seconds and immediately gulping down some of the bitter liquid as if his life depended on it.

The cold breeze once again ripped through the late night air but, despite the fact that he only had a thin, worn jacket to protect him, the boy didn't even shiver, oblivious as he was to the cold. Numbness overwhelmed his frame, helped by the alcohol flooding through his system, and he welcomed it.

For it was only the second week of the summer holiday after his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, had already had enough.

Harry once again dragged his eyes upwards to the heavens, looking up at the stars that were just beginning to appear in the darkening sky above him as he took another long swig from the can he gripped tightly in his hand.

Was Sirius there? he thought, pain rising up in his chest, as it did every time he was reminded of his Godfather. He took another deep swig from the can of beer, desperate to bury the memory in the swirling effects brought on by the alcohol.

He knew that Sirius had been named after the dog constellation but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what it looked like. Astronomy had never been his strongest subject, but tonight he cursed his lack of knowledge. It would have been a comfort to him, he thought, to see Sirius looking down on him.

Or would it? Would Sirius be ashamed of him? He was a mess; a stupid, arrogant teenager who had taken his friends on a dangerous jaunt that had resulted in the death of his Godfather.

Why wouldn't Sirius be ashamed?

Harry took another gulp of beer hoping to drown out the terrible thoughts that had been bouncing around his head for days, hoping to numb himself against the maelstrom of emotion that wracked his very frame.

Harry was sick of being brave. He didn't have it in him to care anymore. He wanted to hide from his memories, his thoughts.

His life.

Slowly, the time passed.

Harry found he didn't know how long he sat on that swing, drinking slowly from the cans he had stolen from Dudley as his mind fought with his conflicting emotions; pain warring with sadness, desolation with anger. Harry found that he was literally drowning his sorrows as he drank the stolen booze, hoping to lose himself in drunkenness, if only to give himself a break from his troubled mind and desperate thoughts.

Idly, as he took another sip, he wondered if he was depressed. His mind felt mercifully detached for once, thanks to the alcohol, as he thought about the idea; with everything he had been through, it actually wasn't that far-fetched. Every year, one thing after another seemed to pile onto him, and every year he found it harder and harder to see the reason to carry on.

Even Hogwarts, the one place he had ever truly felt was his home, had been tainted in the past year. Umbridge had left her mark, not least as a scar on his hand, and the events that had marked the end of the year had tested his resolve more than it had ever been tested before. After the death of his Godfather, and because of his own guilt in the events leading up to it, Harry had found that even the old castle held no comfort for him anymore. Teachers looked at him with pity, all but Snape of course, and his friends no longer knew what to say to him. They still stuck by him, and he was grateful for that, but something had changed. He had changed.

It was as if he no longer...belonged.

It had almost been a relief to return to the Dursleys. At least here he wouldn't have to put on a brave face and act like everything was okay. The Dursleys couldn't care less if he was unhappy, and despite the odd altercation that formed daily life on Privet Drive, they had so far left him pretty much alone.

Detachedly, Harry raised a pale hand to prod gently at the bruise on his cheek, a remnant of one of the few times that the Dursleys, and his Uncle in particular, had not left him alone. He pushed the injury with his finger, harder and harder, relishing the pain that broke over the area as it gave him momentary relief over the pain in his soul.

He'd known that the Dursleys would not respect his privacy during this difficult time, but the realisation that they actually enjoyed his pain and misery was a hard one to take. As much as he tried not to care about what the Dursleys thought, since they had always cared so little about him, he couldn't prevent a small amount of hurt from rising in his chest at their treatment.

Hurt mixed with a little bit of anger.

Because Harry was angry. He couldn't help it; his building fury momentarily broke up the numb haven created by the alcohol that he had already drunk that evening. They were the only living relatives he had left and they hated his guts. They should have loved him and cared for him, but instead they treated him like nothing. He deserved better!

Bitter thoughts swirled through his mind, and, as much as he wanted to hide from his past, he found himself unable to stop it.

Rage and injustice rose up in him and, in a furious anger, Harry launched the can he'd been drinking from as far as he could throw it, crying out in fury and pain as he unleashed what he had been holding in for weeks. He pulled himself off the swing and stumbled over to the cans scattered on the floor. One by one, he picked them up and threw them in every direction, pent up anger released with every throw.

He hated them. He truly, honestly, hated them...

"Watch it, Potter!"

Harry paused, slightly out of breath as his heart thudded loudly in his chest. The numbness that he had tried to lose himself in recently had left as easily as it had come, and he cursed its absence now. Can in hand, he turned around to face the voice, having immediately recognised who it was.

"Hey freak," sneered Dudley casually, although there was something immediately threatening in his gait as he made his way over to Harry, flanked as always by his 'gang'. Harry allowed the can he'd been holding to fall from his hand as he slowly walked back towards the swing to sit down, not wanted to give his cousin the satisfaction of getting a reaction out of him.

"Hey Potter!" Dudley tried again, raising his voice in anger. Apparently he was not just going to leave Harry alone. "Did you really think you'd get away with stealing my booze?"

"Leave me alone, Dudley," Harry said wearily as he pulled his jacket's hood over his head, struggling to focus his vision on the gang in front of him when all his eyes seemed to want to do was sleep. He wasn't remotely scared of his cousin any more, but he wasn't exactly in the mood to deal with him now. His thoughts were whirring now, and the pain in his chest was returning. He needed more beer...

"Make me, freak," Dudley taunted, obviously trying to look tough to his friends. "Not so big now are you, now that you aren't surrounded by your freak friends."

Dudley was, of course, referring to the members of the Order that had seen him off at the station at the end of term. The Dursleys hadn't taken to the threat of retribution very well. In fact, his Uncle seemed to have taken it as a personal insult and had since vowed to treat Harry however he wanted regardless of whatever 'those freaks' said.

The painful bruise on his cheek, courtesy of his Uncle's backhand, could testify to that.

Suddenly feeling melancholy again, Harry reached down and grabbed another beer, opening it with haste and drinking it down with desperation. His cousin was talking with his gang, no doubt plotting something, but Harry found he cared very little, if at all. The alcohol was doing its job once again and, after a few minutes and half a can, Harry felt control come back to him as the pain ebbed away and blissful numbness started to return.

"We're gonna teach you a lesson now," Dudley threatened, bolstered by the jeers and encouragement of his mates as he turned back to his cousin. Harry, reluctantly, since his head was beginning to feel very heavy, raised his eyes to meet Dudley's. "No one steals from Big D and gets away with it!"

"You're going to teach me a lesson?" Harry scoffed, not the least bit scared by the threat, especially with the alcohol flowing through his system. In fact, he felt oddly fearless. "Is it how to look like a pig? Because that's something I think you're an expert on. Get rid of any pig tails lately?"

His words were slurred slightly, and his eyes had struggled to focus, but Harry reckoned he'd gotten the point across. Dudley flushed at the insult, clearly reminded of the humiliation he'd experienced at the hands of Hagrid, and Harry couldn't help but feel a little bit of satisfaction at his cousin's embarrassment now.

"Shut it freak!" Dudley snapped angrily, although there was a hint of desperation in his tone. "Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you!"

"I'd like to see you try," Harry taunted, fully aware that all four boys were now advancing on him and not caring in the least. He had spent almost all his childhood running from these idiots and after everything he'd been through since then, it felt like a betrayal to try to run now; he wasn't a little defenceless kid anymore. Instead he stood his ground, an act made easier by the alcohol that was ruling his senses.

Dudley seemed to take Harry's taunt as a personal challenge and charged at Harry head on. Harry, who had spent years dodging everything from bludgers to his Uncle's fists, easily stepped out of the way of his charging cousin, despite being more than unsteady on his feet.

Alcohol clouded his mind and blurred his eyesight, so much so that he didn't see the other three boys charge until it was too late. Pain erupted in his ribs as fists collided with his body. Someone pushed him with force, knocking him to the ground. He tried to scramble away but he wasn't quick enough. A hand grabbed him by the hair and yanked him up, the pain so intense that Harry was unable to prevent a groan from escaping his lips. He tried to pull away but the arms holding him were too strong.

"Not so clever now, are you Potter?" Dudley sneered as he drove a chubby fist into Harry's face, adding to the bruise already left by his father.

The other boys laughed loudly, mocking him in his pain.

"Learnt your lesson yet, freak?" Dudley asked cruelly as he pummelled another fist into Harry's chest causing Harry to double over in pain.

Harry didn't reply, and would have refused to even if he had had the ability to speak, not wanting to give Dudley the satisfaction of thinking he'd got to him. He kept his mouth firmly closed, even as the darkness began to creep on the edge of his vision and unconscious beckoned as pain overcame his senses.

Harry closed his eyes and welcomed the darkness, down, down until he knew no more.

Slowly, awareness crept back into his cloudy mind.

Unmoving from the awkward position he had been left in on the floor, Harry cracked one eye open, squinting as he tried to make out the shapes in the darkness. Memory slowly came back to him and he groaned as the pain from the beating started to become more and more noticeable in his foggy mind.

From what he could see, it was still night and he was still in the park; he could just make out the swing as it moved slightly in the late night breeze, dimly lit by the flickering street lamp nearby.

As he wiped his bloody lip on his sleeve, Harry cursed his idiotic cousin, his luck, the world...his life. Couldn't he just be left alone for one night? Was it honestly too much to ask for?

Idly, the pain registered in his lips, his cheek, his ribs and his chest, but he simply pulled himself over to where the rest of the cans were and picked up another one up before taking a deep swing, ignoring the sting as the liquid ran over his injured mouth. Harry closed his eyes as he gingerly sat back on the swing, gripping the chains as his world began to spin a little.

The beating had been painful, yes, but Harry had suffered worse, and he knew he wouldn't have to suffer much longer.

As long as he kept drinking, Harry knew that alcohol would take away the pain, both inside and out, and numb him into blissful oblivion.

Severus Snape was furious. Not only had he been forced to do guard duty on Potter's house, as if he didn't have better ways to spend his time, but he had also just been informed by the ever unreliable Mundungus Fletcher that the stupid boy was not even there.

According to the thief, Potter had stormed out of the house hours ago in a fit of adolescent rage and had not returned since. When Snape had questioned the man as to why he had not followed the imbecile and brought him back, Fletcher had simply replied that 'somefin' else 'ad come up'.

Cursing Albus Dumbledore for employing the thief's help in the first place, Snape almost turned around and left for home in an act of defiance, before common sense mercifully prevailed and he acknowledged that he should probably find Potter himself before the boy got himself into even more trouble than he was already in.

What on earth had possessed the idiot to leave the one place he was deemed safe? He could have been captured by Death Eaters and no one would have been any the wiser.

Growling as he turned away from the Dursley residence, the Potion's Master pulled out his wand and cast a quick locating spell. Letting out a small breath that he hadn't realised he'd be holding, Snape began to follow the spell. At least the fool hadn't been captured by Voldemort. Potter was still nearby; the nerve of the boy!

His robes flapped around his body but he didn't give a damn about maintaining a muggle persona at the moment. Also, Snape reasoned, it was so late that he doubted anyone would see him. Except Potter that is. A smirk began to form on his face as the thought of the brat's reaction to seeing his most hated Professor this early in the summer holidays. At least the night wouldn't be a total waste; he had the opportunity to rile the Gryffindor golden boy, and he had no intention of wasting it. He wondered, somewhat maliciously, if he could assign detentions during the summer...

His unfriendly trail of thought was interrupted when the spell directed him to an old playground, abandoned in the night-time climate. Snape frowned. He had expected Potter to be at some sort of muggle party; drinking, smoking, doing drugs...whatever teenagers did these days.

But a muggle playground? A children's playground? Potter was immature, yes, but surely even he would not run out on his doting relatives just to spend his time at a dark and deserted playground.

Slowly, but with a determined carefulness, Snape opened the gate and made his way into the darkened playground, his wand lit and raised in front of him, a curse waiting on his lips should he be confronted with an attacker. Potter was undoubtedly in the vicinity, something he was aware of as he scanned the area, but the boy managed to attract trouble in a way that not even his blasted father had been able to achieve.

Squinting slightly in the darkness, Snape could just make out a small, skinny figure sitting on one of the swings. Looking closer, Snape saw that the figure had its head bent to the floor and had remained unmoving despite the noise that Snape had made as he had walked through the gate to the playground.

Slowly, Snape approached the desolate figure, a small tendril of apprehension making its way into his mind as he took in the empty beer cans at his feet.

He raised his wand, the light shining directly into the face of the figure, but the dawning comprehension that had hit him when he'd realised that he'd found his quarry, was soon replaced by a shock that almost caused him to drop his wand.


Harry opened his eyes a crack, his eyelid feeling heavier than usual as he raised his head to meet his new interruption.

"Snape?" Harry groaned as he squinted towards the black clad figure stood directly in front of him. What the hell was the greasy git doing here!? Why wouldn't everyone just leave him alone...?

"Potter! Get up you stupid boy!"

A hand shot out before Harry, with his dulled reflexes, could register it, and yanked at his jacket, pulling Harry off the swing so violently that he tripped up and fell to the ground hard, leaving him sprawled in an ungraceful heap on the cold floor.

"What a stupid, idiotic, imbecilic..."

The tirade continued, but Harry faded out as the blood began to pump more loudly in his ears than he had ever thought possible. His head ached, his body ached.

His soul ached.

"Potter," growled Snape, dragging Harry's thoughts back to the present. He did seem to be finding it unusually difficult to focus at the moment, and had it not been for Snape, Harry would likely had slept on the floor exactly where he had fallen, too exhausted, both physically and mentally, to do anything about it.

Instead, he reluctantly dragged his aching body off the ground, swaying slightly as he stood on unsteady feet. Harry stumbled forwards to grab the frame of the swing but his limbs didn't seem to be cooperating.

As he felt himself fall forwards again, a hand grabbed his shoulder in a tight grip keeping him upright, and Harry felt his face burn as he realised that the Potion's master was the person currently keeping his from falling back to the floor. It took all his self-restraint not to just shrug the greasy git off him, but in all honesty, Harry knew he would fall without the help.

"What on earth possessed you to leave your relative's home!?" Snape demanded, his hand like a vice on Harry's shoulder. Harry bit back a wince and kept his mouth tightly shut. He didn't think Snape would appreciate him talking back at the moment. "And to get drunk, of all things! After all the Order has done to protect you, you decide to flaunt your fame and do whatever you want. Of all the arrogant – "

"M'Sorry," Harry mumbled, more to shut Snape up than anything else. He knew the guilt would come, it always did, but at the moment he wanted nothing more than the stay in the blissful oblivion of drunkenness.

"Potter! Stand still, you fool!" Snape snapped, frustration colouring his tone.

"Hmm?" Harry slurred absently as he tried to walk back to the swing, hampered in his progress by the hand gripped tightly to his shoulder. "Wanna sit down. M'tired."

"Idiotic boy..." Snape muttered. He pulled Harry over to the swing, allowing the boy to sit down for a moment. As desperate as he was to dump Potter back at his house and have rid of him, he knew the boy wasn't able to go anywhere yet. He hadn't failed to notice the bruises and blood on the boy's face as well, but that only seemed to spark his anger. Not only drinking, but fighting as well...

"Do you have any idea how foolish you've been, Potter?" Snape demanded as he knocked the boy's hand away from trying to grab another beer from the stock pile on the floor. With a flick of his wand, it vanished without a trace.

"Hey!" slurred Potter angrily. "I...need that!"

"Why?" demanded Snape, unrepentant of his actions.

Potter frowned up at him, the bruises starkly contrasting against the boy's pale skin as his face was illuminated in the wand's light.

"Hurts," Potter replied drunkenly, his face set in a grimace.

"I'm sure it is no one's fault but your own, Potter," Snape said unsympathetically as he made another grab for the boy, pulling him up by his jacket once again. It was time to get the stupid idiot home to his adoring relatives.

"Don't...touch me!" Potter snapped, shrugging away from Snape's grip. He overbalanced though, and hit the floor again with a painful thud, almost knocking his glasses clean off his face.

"Shit," the boy groaned as he rolled over onto his back.

"Language, Potter," Snape snapped, having lost patience with him. He made no move to assist him the idiot as he tried to pull himself up from the floor.

"Oh if only the wizarding world could see the great Harry Potter now," Snape taunted nastily as he watched with his arms folded as Potter continued to struggle.

"Shut up...Snape," Harry muttered, although it was loud enough for Snape to have caught it.

Snape merely smirked in reply before bending down and pulling Harry up by his jacket. Harry struggled against the grip, inadvertently causing his t-shirt to rise up.

There was a soft gasp, and Harry's clouded mind took a while to work out who had made the noise.

"Potter?" Snape began with a frown, his tone coloured with concern. "Who did this to you?"

Harry shrugged. He had no intention of talking to Snape about what his cousin had done. Obviously Snape had noticed the bruises on his face, but he hadn't seemed bothered about those, so Harry couldn't understand why the man suddenly cared now. It wasn't as if his bruises were even that bad...

"Potter..." Snape warned, his face suddenly turning into the threatening expression that Harry knew so well.

"Muggle boys," muttered Harry reluctantly, closing his eyes as dizziness overcame him all of a sudden. He began to walk away from the park as best he could, eager to escape the uncomfortable conversation with Snape.

Snape frowned as he followed, keeping a hand on Harry's shoulder to steady him. "What in Merlin's name did you do to them to deserve this?"

He gestured to the bruises on Harry's chest, but instead of replying, Harry angrily yanked his t-shirt back down, covering them up once again.

"As annoying as you are, Potter," Snape sneered, although something in his tone seemed off; as if some of the anger had left him. "I find it hard to believe that you did anything that would warrant such treatment."

Harry just shrugged as they continued to stumble awkwardly down the street, Snape's hand still gripped tightly on Harry's arm to keep him upright.

"Or maybe the Golden boy is not as golden as we all thought," Snape continued, frustration creeping into his words. "Perhaps this was merely justice. A bully who got what was coming to him. Like father, like son..."

"Didn't do anything, you git!" Harry slurred angrily. "They just started...on me."

Snape didn't react, but there didn't seem to be any surprise in his expression. Harry had had enough of this though; his body ached, his mind was foggy, and exhaustion was creeping up on him rapidly. All he wanted to do now was to go to sleep.

"M'going to bed," Harry declared as his head throbbed and his world spun dangerously.

"Fine," snapped Snape in annoyance, dragging Harry down the street at a quickened pace. They turned onto Privet Drive and suddenly Harry felt sick for an entirely different reason. He stopped suddenly, causing Snape to snap round in frustration.

"Potter –"

"Don't...wanna go back," Harry slurred stubbornly, refusing to move another step. "I'll...be in...trouble."

"You are already in trouble, Potter!" Snape snapped. "Do you know how much danger you were in tonight? Do you know how easily you could have been killed, you fool! Had I not found you when I did..."

"S'not my fault," Harry defended himself drunkenly. "Was there...all night." His head lolled slightly as he nodded in the direction of the playground they had just left behind.

"Yes," Snape ground out as if he was trying desperately not to strike the boy. "But we did not know that, you imbecile. You were told to remain at home."

Harry just shrugged again, determined not to move another step.

"Foolish boy!" Snape growled as he tried to pull Harry forward once again, Harry resisting as much as he could without falling over.

"Like you care, you greasy git," Harry muttered, but Snape heard him.

"Do you have a death wish, you imbecile?" Snape asked angrily, frustration clear in his tone.

Harry just shrugged in reply. Thinking about death always led him to thinking about the Prophecy, and so far he had done a good job of avoiding that particular topic.

"And stop that infernal shrugging!"

"Yes, Sir," mocked Harry, attempting an exaggerated bow to make his point even further. Unfortunately Snape had let go of Harry's arm for a brief moment, and he found himself stumbling forward, the ground coming up to meet him more quickly than he had imagined possible.

A hand grabbed him again, none too gently, but it prevented him from losing his footing completely.

"Thanks," Harry muttered.

"Come along, Potter," Snape said, and Harry thought he just sounded weary now. "It's time you went home to your relatives. I'm sure they've sent out a search party by now."

"They won't care," Harry said, resisting the urge to shrug again. Reluctantly he allowed Snape to pull him along towards Number Four. As much as he wanted to avoid the Dursleys, he found that he wanted to sleep more.

"Of course not," Snape replied sarcastically, before his tone turned serious once again. "They have pampered you and spoilt you to the point where you think you can get away anything..."

"Nah...they hate me," Harry told him matter-of-factly as they walked up to the front door. The numbness was starting to fade and he wanted nothing more than a hot shower to sooth his injuries and his bed.

"Of course they don't hate you –"

"Dudley," Harry said, pointing to his bloody nose and his chest. "Uncle," he said pointing to the bruise on his cheek.

At the back of his mind, somewhere amongst the swirling fog that made up his thoughts, Harry realised that he had just told one of his deepest secrets to the one person most likely to use it against him. At this point, though, he couldn't seem to bring himself to care. Harry was tired, so tried that his brain didn't seem to be working properly.

"Your relatives struck you?" Snape sounded shocked for some reason. Was it honestly that big of a surprise? Everyone knew he hated going home in the summer...

"Not my aunt," Harry confirmed drunkenly, his head lolling dangerously as they stood on the cold, dark street outside number four. "Does try though. I duck...m'fast..."

"Do you require healing?" Snape asked with a frown, his grip loosening slightly on Harry's arm. Harry took this as an invitation to stumble over to the front door.

"Nah, m'fine," Harry slurred. "I've had...worse."

Harry stopped at the door, frowning as he noticed that the curtains were drawn around the downstairs windows and that no light was sneaking through the gaps. The Dursleys must be asleep, which posed Harry a bit of a problem...

"Potter, you imbecile," snapped Snape, breaking into Harry's jumbled thoughts. "Get inside!"

"No key." Harry shrugged, trying to keep his balance as he leant against the door.

"Move aside then, you foolish boy," Snape said with a frown. The Potions Professor raised his wand, muttering a quick spell as he did so. Harry heard the tell tale sound of the lock clicking and took this as an invitation to get inside.

Without waiting to see if Snape followed him, Harry immediately began to make his way up the stairs. By the time he reached the top, he was practically on his hands and knees, exhaustion gripping at his entire body. He cursed Snape for getting rid of his beer. All he'd wanted to do was pass out in drunken obliviousness, but it obviously wasn't an option anymore.

Sighing slightly as he pushed open his bedroom door, his relief at being in his room quickly turned into annoyance when he realised that Snape had indeed followed him.

"Lovely," the man commented sarcastically as he took in Harry's small and undecorated bedroom with a distasteful eye.

"Shuddup," Harry slurred as he stumbled over to his bed and practically fell on it, face first. His mind whirred and he felt vaguely sick as he lay there, waiting for the dizziness to fade away so that he could sleep. Minutes passed though, and the illness had yet to leave.

"Why?" Snape asked calmly. Harry jumped, startled by the man's presence. He'd thought his Professor would have left by now.

"Why were you out there tonight?" Snape continued.

Harry muttered something in reply, but his voice was muffled by his pillow. Sensing that Snape was close to losing his patience, Harry reluctantly rolled over onto his side, gasping in pain slightly as the movement jostled his injuries.

"Don't want to...remember," Harry slurred quietly, tapering down the urge to be sick as best he could as he stared up at his ceiling. "Better t'be numb, you know? Better not...to feel."

"Feeling is what makes you human, Potter," Snape said, his tone uncharacteristically understanding. Or maybe Harry was just really, really drunk and this was all a horrible dream. And if it really was a drunken dream, did it really matter if he told Snape anything?

"Don't want to be human," Harry admitted brokenly, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the ceiling to avoid looking at Snape. His drunken mind may have decided that this was a dream, but that didn't mean it was any easier to admit these things out loud. "Told Dumbles that already..."

"He knows you feel this way?" came Snape's response.

"Don't know," Harry replied honestly, his tired eyelids closing, almost against his will. "Left me here...again though. Knows I hate it..."

Snape was quiet for a while following that statement, and Harry could almost believe that his mind had given up on the entire charade and dream-Snape had vanished. Harry felt oddly let-down at the thought.

"Wanna go...sleep now," Harry told the room, his body taking the shape of the foetal position subconsciously as he curled in on himself.

"One moment, Potter," Snape said, but Harry only groaned in reply. So Snape was still here then. Why wouldn't the bastard just leave him alone?

"Leave me alone, Snape," Harry said drunkenly, his voice slightly muffled against his pillow. "You...did your job. You can go..."

"Don't do it again, Potter" Snape said seriously, and Harry got the feeling that the man was warning him about more than his drinking. "I do not want to have to fetch you again."

"Didn't help anyway..." Harry slurred angrily. "Didn't make it go away. I thought...it would...but...didn't..."

Harry clenched his eyes tightly as he fought not to let the tears fall. He refused to be weak in front of Snape, whether he was real or not. Harry rolled over to face the wall, a clear sign that he refused to say another word. Snape, it seemed, took the hint as it was meant, and seemed to accept that Harry had had enough for tonight. Whether or not the man left then, Harry didn't know.

Unconsciousness came upon him quickly, his mind blank as exhaustion overcame him and sleep claimed him.

Snape frowned as the boy's breathing deepened, indicating that he'd finally fallen asleep. He'd stayed until he was sure the boy was calm and comfortable, although he told himself it was only to make sure the boy didn't injure himself further.

Honestly, he didn't know what to make of it all.

Where was the arrogant, defiant Potter that he always had to deal with at school?

This Potter, the one Snape had met tonight, seemed...broken.

Had he been asked only yesterday what Harry Potter's home-life was like, Snape would have staked his reputation on him being coddled and spoilt like the prince he had always acted like at school. But tonight, his preconceptions, things he had believed with certainty only hours ago, had been destroyed one by one.

The boy was far from spoilt if this room was anything to go by. The paint on the walls was peeling; the floor wooden and cold, and the only furniture was an old wardrobe, a rickety desk and a small bed that looked as if it had seen better days. Not the sort of bedroom that one would expect a Wizarding celebrity to have.

Potter was not coddled or worshipped in this house either, that much was clear. The boy's drunken admissions forced their way back to the forefront of his mind. Had the boy really been struck by his Uncle? Had the beating really been dealt out by his cousin, his own flesh and blood?

The more telling thing, however, was how matter-of-fact Potter had been when he'd spilt his secret. That, Snape thought chillingly, spoke of a far deeper problem. Was violence part of the boy's daily life here? Was the Boy-Who-Lived, the Wizarding World's saviour, truly nothing more than a scared, abused young boy?

Snape felt pity rise up in him, an emotion he'd never thought he would ever associate with James Potter's spawn. But of course, he was Lily's child too, and she would have been distraught to learn of her son's life.

Had they all failed so unequivocally?

Idly, Snape wondered if the other Order members knew about the boy's state of mind. It would have been hard for them not to, he thought, especially when considering how close they all were with the boy. Even in spite of this, though, he found it hard to believe they'd known that the boy was abused at home. Surely, at even the merest suggestion of ill-treatment, the mutt or the wolf, or even for that matter the Weasley clan, would have rescued the boy in an instant.

Dumbledore. Did he know? Again, Snape found it hard to see how he couldn't know, although for entirely different reasons. The old man was intelligent, a genius, and he always seemed to know what was going on, no matter how much it was supposed to be a secret. Snape had always thought that Dumbledore had loved the boy, and in fact the Potions Professor had mocked his employer on more than one occasion for giving Potter special treatment. But if the Headmaster had known and had still done nothing...

Snape would speak with the man. It was the only option. Whether the Headmaster had known about the treatment or not, it was clearly no place for the boy to stay now. If tonight was any indication, Potter would not be able to take much more.

Snape left then, having done as much as he could to heal the boy with sutble healing spells while he slept on unaware. As an afterthought, he conjured a bucket and left it by the bed in case the boy was ill in the night. Considering how much he'd drank, it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility.

Snape moved through the house quietly then, leaving through the front door and locking it behind him, his thoughts too jumbled for even Occlumency to give him any relief.

He knew more about Potter now than he had ever wanted to, but as he walked alone down the cold, dark street, away from the rows of identical houses, he couldn't help but think that it was a bloody miracle that the boy hadn't broken down before.

A/N- So what do you all think? I've had this story in my mind for a while now, and I've finally gotten around to writing it. I think I'll leave it as a one-shot now, although if interest is high-enough, I might expand it into a two or three-shot. Let me know what you think! And thanks for reading!