AN: So sorry for the delay of this final (for now) instalment of LAP. Fortunately my exams are now over so I've finally had time to type this up and post it. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the chapter, a long and serious conversation where everything is explained to Severus at last. Happy reading :)
Albus sighed and abandoned his half-brewed cup of tea to go and sit at the kitchen table, gesturing with his hand that Severus should do the same.
Albus' voice was heavy as he spoke, "I imagine you have a number of questions about what you have seen tonight. What would you like to know first?"
Severus' brow furrowed as if he were weighing up the likelihood of actually getting some information out of the headmaster. After a few moments of mental deliberation, he asked the simplest question he could that would quickly confirm what he believed to be true.
"Where are we?"
"Surrey." Albus stated with calm and ease.
"This is Potter's relatives' home?" The note of surprise could not be kept from Severus' voice, as the bleak bungalow was not what he would have expected of Potter's home.
"No, no." Albus shook his head. "The Dursleys live five minutes from here on the nicer side of Little Whinging. No, this little place belongs to me."
"You own this?" Severus was even more surprised.
"Yes, I'm afraid we haven't quite had time to do the place up yet, but it suits its purpose."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "And what exactly is its 'purpose'?" He asked in a low tone.
Behind his half-moon spectacles, Severus could see that Albus' eyes were tight with stress, but the Headmaster still spoke casually.
"To give Harry a place to go when he is injured and hurting. Somewhere that he can rest and eat, and somewhere that he can safely contact me to come and heal him or care for him in any other way he needs."
Severus was beginning to have his worst fears confirmed, but he still needed more information to understand exactly what was going on. He spoke carefully as he asked his next crucial question, enunciating every syllable. "Who has hurt him, Albus?"
For a moment Albus regarded his colleague warily, discerning whether the stern man could be trusted not to burst into a murdering rampage. Finally, he simply said it. "His uncle."
It took all of Severus' willpower not to reach for his wand. Knowing how to close the man must be, he desired nothing more than to hunt the bastard down and make him hurt the same way Potter had this evening. Severus may not like the boy, but he was Lily's son and for a grown man to do that to a child, any child, the man in question deserved to have a certain appendage permanently removed from his person.
Sensing, however, that he had not heard all there was to know about the situation, Severus turned back to Albus.
"How long has this been going on for?" He growled.
"Of that, I am uncertain. It is difficult to get such information from Harry, but I believe the most violent of the abuse to have started when he returned from school this summer. I imagine, however, that there was a fair amount of mistreatment before this period that Harry has only hinted at."
Severus frowned. "And how long have you known?"
At this question Albus looked down at the table, and when he finally summoned the courage to look back up at Severus it was with a pained and helpless expression.
"Arabella Figg contacted me a few weeks ago with her suspicions that all was not well with Harry. When I came to investigate things for myself I found the poor boy on a park bench with a black eye and a broken nose."
Dumbledore may have said more but before he had chance a wand was pointed in his face and a furious potions master was scowling at him.
"Weeks! You've known for weeks and you left him in that house! You sent him back to that bastard to be beaten! Why, Albus? Because of the wards? Because of the protections supposedly put in place to keep him safe? How could you, Albus? Are you so blinded by your mission that you've forgotten that evil exists outside Death Eaters and Dark Lords? You're a manipulative fool, Albus, and you've sacrificed that boy to a monster!"
Severus glared at the Headmaster with anger rolling off him in waves. He expected to be met with excuses and defensiveness after he finished his tirade; instead, Albus' steely blue eyes looked back at him with a fierce anger of their own.
"You think that it is my choice to leave Harry there? You think it doesn't kill me every time I have to heal his cuts and his bruises and his broken bones? Do you honestly believe me capable of sacrificing that boy for my own purposes?" Finally, the old man's voice lost its edge and became broken and pained. "I love that boy, Severus, and I would do anything in my power to keep him safe, but Harry has to allow me to help him."
All former fire left the potion master's body. Realising that he was missing a piece of the puzzle, Severus drawled, "Explain."
Albus rubbed his eyes behind his glasses before he began wearily. "I wanted to remove Harry from his relatives' custody as soon as I saw him that first time, but in order for me to do so, Harry would have to testify."
"No, he –" Severus began to object but was stopped sharply by Dumbledore.
"He would, Severus. His relatives are muggles and must therefore be prosecuted by muggle authorities, in their courts. Thus, Harry would have to testify."
"Why will he not testify against his abusers?"
"Why are any abused children reluctant to testify?" Albus countered. "Shame, fear, a misguided sense of loyalty? Though as this is Harry Potter we're talking about, of course his reasons would be greater in number and complexity; many of which he is yet to share even with me."
"The boy is too proud." Severus griped.
"No, Severus, Harry has never been proud." Albus' voice was soft but stern. "No longer will I allow you to delude yourself with your own hatred. You must now see Harry only how he is and not how you imagine him to be."
With a heavy sigh, Severus rested his head in his hand, elbow propped on the table. He had to concede Dumbledore's point; Harry Potter was not who he had believed him to be, at least in terms of his home life. Now it seemed as though he'd have to re-evaluate his whole perspective on the boy.
As Severus was pondering this new outlook, Albus had gone back to his tea and, finding that it had gone cold, poured the mug away to begin afresh.
Severus frowned as the action reminded him of questions he'd had earlier in the evening. "Why are you not using magic?"
"We are attempting to remain inconspicuous." Albus answered as he pottered around the kitchen. "Too much magical activity in a supposedly muggle neighbourhood would arouse suspicions, and Harry's under enough scrutiny by the ministry as it is."
Albus came back to sit at the table. "Harry can't use magic outside of school anyway of course, but when I come here myself I use only what is necessary to heal the boy."
"You don't remove the bruises." Severus noted.
"Not the appearance of them, no." Albus confirmed. "Originally, I would, but –" Albus paused as if it pained him to go on. "It made things worse if Harry's uncle saw that he had been magically healed."
Severus could feel his nails digging into the palms of his hands as his fists clenched in anger.
"We can't leave him there, Albus." Severus said intently. "Screw the Muggle authorities and screw what Potter wants, just take him away from here."
"Merlin knows I've thought about it." Albus admitted dejectedly. "Especially tonight; I've never seen him that bad before." The elderly wizard closed his eyes and shook his head as if it could rid him of the mental image of Harry's beaten and broken body. "But without going through the proper channels Harry could end up in even more dangerous hands. Even if I could keep him safe in hiding for the summer, as soon as he turned up at school the ministry would siege him into their own custody. And with things as they currently stand at the ministry, Harry could be in the hands of Death Eaters before we've finished the welcoming feast."
Severus could see how frustrated Albus was by the situation; it was no wonder the old man had been so worried and pre-occupied lately. Severus only wished he could offer a solution.
For a while there was silence between the two men; both lost in their own thoughts. But then Severus' thoughts led him to a new question.
"How is Potter contacting you for help without magic?"
As if a switch had been flicked, the twinkle was back in Albus' eye. "Ah, now that is due to a rather ingenious contraption, if I do say so myself."
Reaching into his robes Albus withdrew what looked like a talisman hanging from a long string around his neck. The talisman laid flat against Albus' chest on the outside of his robes, a few inches in height and length, and shone silver like it was a light source of its own. Most striking to Severus, however, was the talisman's shape; an elegant and majestic stag.
"Harry has one too." Albus explained. "When he needs me he just has to hold it and say my name. Wherever I am, my own will vibrate and warm up, just as I felt it do this evening at the Order meeting."
Severus nodded in understanding.
"I need to ask something of you, Severus." Albus turned serious once more. "I need someone that I can count on who could go to Harry's aid if I were detained. Would you do that for me, Severus?"
"Surely someone else, Lupin or Weasley –"
"No Severus, there's only you." If I tell anyone else Harry will shut me out completely. You heard him today; he doesn't call me every time he's hurt as it is."
"Well he won't be bloody impressed if I turn up, will he?" Severus argued.
"Please, Severus. He needs someone else – just in case."
Severus huffed out a long-suffering sigh of air and shook his head as though he knew he would come to regret his decision.
"Fine." He ground out. "I'll do it. Just don't expect me to be nice to the boy."
A warm and genuine smile graced Dumbledore's wrinkled face. "Thank you, Severus. You're a good man."
Snape huffed, but Albus merely chuckled in response before removing his wand from his robes and taking the stag-shaped talisman off over his head. He laid the silver charm on the table and Severus watched as the old wizard performed the replicate charm so an identical duplicate of the shining stag appeared on the table right next to the original.
Albus slid the new talisman across the table towards his colleague. "There, now it just needs to be activated."
"Yes, it's quite simple." Albus explained. "You just need to take your wand and swear an oath to care for Harry."
Severus wrinkled his nose in disgust at the sentimentality of it, but he took up his wand nonetheless. Placing the tip on the surface of the silver charm, Severus spoke clearly. "I, Severus Tobias Snape, swear that I will aid Harry James Potter whenever he should require it and that I will heal and…care for him to the best of my ability."
The stag shone with a blinding light like burning magnesium, and Severus could feel its radiant heat before it became inanimate once more.
"This doesn't mean I like him, Albus, so don't expect me to be all buddy-buddy with him." Severus drawled grumpily.
Albus chuckled good naturedly. "I wouldn't dream of it, Severus. I wouldn't dream of it."
AN: That's all for now folks. As I explained at the beginning (if you bothered to read anything from me), I won't be continuing with this for a while - mostly because I really need to resume work on the sequel to my first fiction A Truth Best Left Unsaid. Incidentally, while I'm on the subject, if you enjoyed this semi-concluded ficlet, go and check out my other work - you never know, you might like that too :P Conversely, if you haven't enjoyed this, then I do apologise for wasting your time and there is no reason that you should have to suffer through anymore of my egotistical ramblings :)
So, long story short, it will be a while before I return to write more of this (assuming you want me to of course), though really that is what I'd love to do atm, but y'know, responsibilities await, and all that.
Thanks for reading and for your continued support. Do write a review to let me know what you thought - the good, the bad and the ugly - I want to hear it all. Thanks guys! x