Harry only lives there because he is a burden to his father.
He is the reason that his mother is dead. It is only fair that he make amends by not being a drain on his father’s life.
This is what he tells himself when Dudley receives presents on Christmas and he gets nothing.
This is what he tells himself when Dudley wears the best and his clothes are little more than oversized rags.
This is what he tells himself when he asks--begs--his father to let him come home and the man refuses.
“We can be a family again when it no longer hurts to look at you, to remember her. Maybe next year,” His father says, staring down at him with cold eyes.
This is his only birthday present for ten long years. His father’s yearly visits are steady reminders that he is unwanted, unasked for, disliked and unworthy.
The Dursleys also tell him that he is unwanted; that the only reason they allow him to share their space is the money his father pays them for his upkeep. They tell him that no one loves him and that no one will ever love him. A freak. A murderer.
Should have died when he was a baby. Should have offered himself instead of his brave mother.
. . .
His Hogwarts letter isn’t a surprise. His father had told him about it years ago.
“I doubt you’ll be a Gryffindor. In fact, I’d much rather you weren’t. If you had been, your mother would have still been alive. A family can have more children, but it’s difficult to fix a broken heart,” He says, staring down at him. “My heart is broken because of you. I wish it had been you,” The last part is whispered.
Seeing his father so emotional makes Harry’s heart hurt more than it usually does. If the man wants him not to be in Gryffindor, then so be it. It’s the least he can do. He’ll just have to find a way out of it if the Hat wants him there.
. . .
“You poor child,” The Sorting Hat whispers in his ear.
He is confused. He is a burden. Unwanted. Reviled. It is his fault she died.
“No, no, no, Mr. Potter. Harry. Child,” The Hat moans softly. “You did not kill her. It is not your fault.”
The words make no sense to him.
“Everything is my fault,” Harry corrects him dutifully.
“No, you are a child. Voldemort killed your mother when she refused to step out of his way. She protected you because . . . because she loved you more than life itself. In the absolute literal sense.”
He shakes his head in the negative.
“Doesn’t matter. She shouldn’t have. If I hadn’t been there, she would still be alive. If I had never been, my father would still be able to love. It is my fault,”He answers as his throat fills with tears.
His eyes have been dry since he was five. He can cry no more.
“I am putting you in the hands of Pomona Sprout. And then I will be having a meeting with all of the professors. They must know how you have been raised.”
“HUFFLEPUFF!” The Hat shouts in the cavernous room.
. . .
“I must speak with you, Severus Snape,” The Hat calls out at the end of the feast.
Everything comes to a standstill. The Hat has never requested anything at all. Especially not out loud to everyone.
All eyes move to Snape--who is more white-faced than usual.
“At your pleasure,” Snape answers graciously, moving down the steps to pick up the worn hat.
“Put me on and we’ll talk,” The Hat suggests.
“As you wish,” He murmurs, putting the hat on and turning his back on the rest of the Great Hall.
“Did you see where I sorted Harry Potter?” The Hat says into his mind seconds later.
“An unexpected location, indeed,” He confirms.
“Do you know where Harry has spent his last ten years?”
“I assume at home with his father?” Severus’ mouth curls into his customary sneer as he thinks of the loudmouthed cruel man that James Potter has grown to be.
“No. Let me show you where he’s been instead.”
The sudden influx of images--each more ghastly than the last--drops him down to the small stool sitting behind him. He hardly notices.
. . .
The boy is so small. Quiet even by Hufflepuff standards.
Severus supposes that it has been folly on his part to assume that all abuse cases are sorted into Slytherin. Perhaps he will learn to be gentler with the quiet ones. Perhaps they are not all shy due to incompetence. Perhaps it is because they fear to be noticed.
In that train of thought, it’s a wonder he wasn’t sorted there as well.
Potter--and it’s hardly fair to call him that when he is clearly anything but--is mild mannered to the point of non-existence. He completes his work adequately, but without any fanfare, and he is always prepared for class.
There is no fault to be found with him, but Severus makes him stay after class anyway. He needs to speak with the boy and this is the easiest way.
“Mr . . . Potter, may I call you by your given name?” He asks after all of the other students have left and the door is shut.
“Yes, sir,” Harry answers, voice barely audible enough to be heard.
His only sign of surprise at the request are slightly widened green eyes, but those too revert to normal after only a few heartbeats.
“Harry,” Severus begins, leaning back against his desk. “You are a very competent brewer. Has your father worked with you on potions at all?”
“I am surprised then. I trust that you will keep up the good work?”
“Yes, sir,” Harry’s eyes are more alive as he responds this time.
He swallows as he considers his next statement.
“Should you ever need help with something, do not hesitate to come to my office during my posted hours.”
“Why, sir?” Harry asks, with obvious suspicion.
“Gifted brewers are difficult to come by. I try to cultivate the ones I do find.”
Wide eyes stare up at him around a mouth that seems unable to form words.
“Th-Thank you, sir,” Harry finally manages after a moment.
. . .
Under any other circumstances, he would hesitate to call anyone of Harry’s age, “Gifted.” But the boy’s brewing is more than adequate, and he’s certainly the best out of the first years in Hufflepuff.
And Lily had been gifted in that field. There is hardly a reason to suspect that her son will not be also.
He begins to give out more compliments to his Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw first years. Instead of dulling their wits--as he had been afraid would be the case--the small eleven and twelve-year-olds begin to relax and even, by Merlin, improve .
His efforts do not go unnoticed.
A third of the way through the school year, a missive arrives from the headmaster, requesting his presence in his office.
Formalities aside, Dumbledore cuts straight to the heart of the matter.
“I hear that you have been . . . unnaturally kind to our little badgers and eagles this year.”
“They are unusually well behaved,” Severus deflects, trying to sidestep the issue altogether.
“Does it have something to do with what the Hat told you at the beginning of term?”
Dumbledore’s eyes blaze with power as he awaits an answer.
“I am not at liberty to speak with you on that. I believe the Sorting Hat informed you of this restriction, yes?” He hisses back.
“Yes, yes,” Dumbledore answers, waving a dismissive hand. “Perhaps I should have been more blunt. Does it have something to do with Harry being there?”
“Not per se. It merely happens that there are an unusual level of competents in that class this year.”
“And he is one of those competent ones?” Albus’ smile is deceptive in its mildness.
“Is that all?” Severus asks, rising to his feet and heading to the door.
. . .
Harry barely talks to him at all during his first year.
He wishes Severus a, “Happy Christmas” at winter break, and neatly sidesteps a question of why he is staying at the castle for said holiday, but otherwise their interactions are limited to classwork.
At the end of the year, the philosopher’s stone is stolen from the school and Quirrell disappears as well; leaving behind a sea of questions amidst the lingering stench of garlic.
. . .
In Harry’s second year, Severus’ office becomes something of a safe place for him to escape to. Those who think he is the heir attempt to make his already unbearable life even more so.
His father even takes out the time to write him a nasty note about it, accusing him of being illegitimate and cursed in addition to unwanted.
Severus catches him burning the note, but doesn’t say anything other than offering him a clean handkerchief to blow his nose into.
He doesn’t ask him any questions and Harry doesn’t really give him an answer. He suspects that perhaps his professor knows more than he lets on, but he doesn’t really know how to broach the subject.
. . .
The issue with the voice in the wall comes to a head when Ginny Weasley goes missing.
If they shut down the school, then he will be returned to the Dursleys earlier than usual, and his father will blame him for it.
If she dies, his father will blame him for it.
If anyone gets hurt, it will be his fault.
He takes Snape with him to the bathroom, and then jumps in after him despite his professor’s instructions otherwise.
A full Snape glare awaits him at the bottom of the nasty slide through the pipes, and he averts his eyes at the sight.
“I told you to guard the entrance,” Snape hisses at him.
“And?” Snape asks in a low growl.
“It’s my fault if anyone gets hurt,” He says.
If anyone dies, is what he doesn’t say.
“I very much doubt that James Potter will give one iota of concern whether or not I get hurt,” His professor spits out at him.
His mouth is open at the revelation that Snape knows why he said what he did.
“You know my father? Sir?”
“I know him.”
“And, sir?” Harry’s voice is anxious.
What if Snape spoke to his father and changed his opinion of him? What if Snape no longer saw him as competent? No longer saw him as useful? Would he throw him away too?
“There are very few people that I absolutely cannot stand. Unfortunately--for me, mind you--your father is one of those people. I despise him and he feels the same for me.”
“Do you hate me now, sir? Because I disobeyed you?” Harry’s fingers twist in the cheap material of his robe as his voice grows thick with tears.
Snape looks at him steadily and unblinkingly before softening the corners of his eyes.
“I despair of your lack of self-worth, and frequently fear for your safety, but no, I do not hate you now.”
He can breathe. There is wetness on his cheeks and he can breathe, and he’s never been so happy to breathe, even if there is a large monster waiting for them at the end of the corridor.
“You can’t go in there, sir!” Harry begs, grabbing desperately onto his professor’s robe covered arm.
“I can, and I will. And you will stay here,” Snape’s tone is gentle but firm.
“You,” Harry gasps desperately for air, “You don’t hate me. Even though I messed up, you don’t hate me. I don’t understand. Did you not know my mother? Is that why you don’t hate me?”
A grimace passes over Snape’s face, and he almost lets go of his arm at the sight.
“I knew your mother better than your father did,” Snape answers in a strangled voice.
If Harry had been older, a comment like that might have made him blush, but he was not, and it did not.
“And I daresay, I loved her more. Thus, if I do not hate you for something you had no control over, then he should not either. Now, you will release me, and I will go do what I mean to do. And when I come back, we will talk more. That is a promise. Do you understand me?”
He nods soundlessly, fingers falling numbly away from the man’s arm.
. . .
The harvest of incredibly rare basilisk ingredients is what gives Severus enough money to take Potter to court over his treatment of his only heir.
The other man doesn’t even try to fight the case, choosing instead to give up his custody--such that it is--over to Severus.
With that, Harry loses his birthright and his name, but he doesn’t immediately lose the years of hate that have been pounded into his mind since before he could talk.
Harry’s life has been one long disappointment after another. When Severus tells him of the transfer of guardianship, he doesn’t believe him immediately. And by the time he finally does, he tries--half-heartedly--to argue that it is a foolish move on Severus’ behalf.
But his guardian doesn’t let him change his mind.
Shortly after the court case, the decision is made by the headmaster and his head of house that he is to be given a room within his guardian’s quarters. It's a beneficial decision, because with Severus, Harry finds himself experiencing separation anxiety at levels he never experienced while with the Dursleys. He can’t let Severus out of his sight without the possibility of panic attacks, but Severus handles that problem and the problems to come with graceful aplomb.
He even lets Harry stay with him while he is brewing, something that no one else is allowed to do, and after a while, he starts to relax. Just a little.