A/N: Hello again everyone! So I am finally back with another installment! I could give you a list of excuses for why this one is so late, but it's essentially the same list of reasons I usually give (I'm busy with work and family, etc., etc.). I'll spare you all the details.
Anyways, before we dive into the next chapter, I would just like to say that I've spent a little bit of time fleshing out the outline I have for the remainder of this story. If all goes according to plan, there will be another thirteen chapters before this tale is complete. Of course, it is always possible that some of those chapters may be split in half so that we end up with a few more than are currently planned, but we'll just have to see how it goes. For now, please enjoy Chapter 52!
No sooner had Severus stepped out of the fireplace into the headmaster's office than his eyes narrowed onto the older man sitting behind his large desk, a quill poised in his grip over a stack of parchment.
"Severus?" Dumbledore asked, eyebrows slightly raised in surprise.
One of the old man's many trinkets, a shiny silvery orb, suddenly floated across the room to hover in front of the potions master. Severus recognized the object immediately as the very same orb he had scolded Potter for reaching out to touch that day he had brought the boy here to inform the headmaster about the voice he had been hearing.
And with that thought, the man snatched the thing out of the air and hurled it at the wall, taking immense satisfaction in the sound of shattering glass as the orb made contact with stone.
After, there was silence for one long moment. And then finally, Albus Dumbledore put down his quill and folded his hands, a serious expression taking over his features.
"I take it this is not a social call, Severus," the old man finally spoke, watching his potions professor carefully over the top of his half-moon spectacles. "And I get the distinct feeling that I likely did something to deserve having one of my most prized possessions destroyed."
"I just may destroy your entire office before the afternoon is out," Severus snarled, aiming his wand at the cabinet on the opposite side of the room. The door immediately sprung open. And then the pensieve was floating across the office, guided by Severus' wand.
The younger man took three long strides over to the headmaster's desk and swept the pile of paperwork Dumbledore had been working on out of the way, much of it falling to the floor as the pensieve landed with a thunk where the parchment had been not a moment before.
Severus raised his wand to his temple then, withdrawing one long, silvery strand of memory to cast into the ancient stone bowl.
"Go on," Severus stated simply, his gaze locked with the headmaster's as his memory swirled around and around between them. "See for yourself."
The old man sighed softly as he got to his feet. "Will you be joining me, Severus?" he asked evenly.
The potions master tightened the grip he had on his wand, the anger flashing in his eyes. "No," he said in reply. "I don't believe I wish to relive this particular memory, headmaster. I'll wait for you here."
Dumbledore considered those words for a moment before eventually giving a nod. "Alright, Severus," he responded, his voice quiet and contemplative. And without further delay, he leaned over the stone basin and plunged his head into its depths.
Somehow, Albus Dumbledore emerged from the pensieve looking even older than he had before, and far more frail. Severus didn't think he had ever seen such a grave and saddened look on the man's face either. But the potions master absolutely refused to feel any pity for the old man. After the day he had had, he had no pity left to give.
"Did you know?" Severus demanded, as Dumbledore slowly moved to settle in his chair once more.
An emotion quickly flashed in the headmaster's eyes. The man almost looked hurt by the question. "Of course not, Severus," he finally responded quietly. "Had I known the situation was this dire, I would have certainly stepped in. You know that."
"What do you mean this dire?" Severus growled. "It seems to me, headmaster, that you knew, at the very least, that Potter's relatives were not an ideal placement."
"Ideal, no," Dumbledore acquiesced. "But the blood wards—"
Another one of the headmaster's numerous glass trinkets suddenly exploded behind Severus as the younger man's eyes flashed once more in anger. "Don't you dare try to justify your decision. You knew that was a terrible home for a child."
Albus just shook his head sadly. "Oh, Severus. You know as well as I that blood wards provide the strongest form of protective magic there is. I only ever wanted to protect that child."
"And you've done a remarkable job of it," Severus spat out caustically. "Except you seem to have overlooked the biggest flaw with blood wards, Albus. They only protect against outside forces!"
"But I spoke to Petunia," Dumbledore continued, almost to himself now. "I wrote her a letter..."
"And you thought that was all it would take?" the potions master asked, derision clear in his voice.
"I knew she wasn't particularly… thrilled at the prospect of taking in her nephew," Dumbledore conceded, still speaking quietly. "But I really believed that…given time—"
"What?" Severus interrupted. "That Petunia would actually come to care for her dead sister's child? Maybe even love him?" the man scoffed. "You actually did believe that, didn't you? It is your greatest weakness, headmaster. You think a bit of good resides in everyone. I could have told you there wasn't a shred of decency in Petunia Evans. I believe I did tell you. But you wouldn't listen to me!"
"You knew her as a child, Severus," Dumbledore sighed, shaking his head. "Children do grow up. They can change."
"No one changes," Severus responded bitterly. "I believe you just saw evidence of that," he indicated the pensieve.
"I've certainly seen a change in you over the past few months," Dumbledore responded, eyebrows slightly raised.
Severus had to resist the urge to throw the pensieve at the older man's head. Instead, he leaned forward across the desk, a deadly glare fixed on the older man. "We are not talking about me. Now did you or did you not ever even once check up on the boy?"
"I had Arabella watching for me," Dumbledore answered, as he ran a hand over his weary face.
"Oh?" Severus asked scathingly, his voice suddenly rising to a shout. "And how often was Arabella Figg invited over to Potter's home for tea?! How often was she given the opportunity to see what was going on inside that house?! Face it, Albus. You failed that boy! I made a vow to protect him. You asked me to make a vow to protect him. And then you made it impossible for me to honor that vow!"
With those words, nearly half of the tomes on one of the bookshelves behind Dumbledore's desk suddenly tumbled to the floor as the piece of furniture gave a violent shake. Fawkes squawked indignantly from his nearby perch, but Dumbledore didn't flinch.
"You're right, Severus," the headmaster sighed heavily. "You're right, and I am sorry. I've made…a grave error. A foolish mistake in judgment."
There could be no doubting the sincerity in the headmaster's words. There was such a deep sadness there. And his eyes were full of regret. But in that moment, Severus really couldn't bring himself to care.
"Foolish, indeed. He will not be returning to that household," Severus growled, almost daring the headmaster to disagree.
"Of course not, Severus," Dumbledore responded immediately, eyebrows raised. "Did you honestly believe I would require him to stay?"
"I am merely ensuring that there is absolute clarity on this issue between us, Albus. Blood wards or no, returning Potter to that place is not an option."
Dumbledore nodded. "A new plan will need to be put in place. I must ensure Harry's safety—"
"You will no longer be making unilateral decisions regarding the boy's safety," Severus interrupted. "You have proven that you cannot be trusted on such matters."
Another flash of what could only be described as hurt passed across the headmaster's face. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as he ran a hand through his long white beard. "Perhaps you are right, Severus," the man finally responded, clearly deep in thought. "Perhaps it would be wise to seek counsel from others regarding this matter."
Severus just continued to glare at the older man, his mentor. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he believed the headmaster to be nearly infallible. Incapable of doing wrong. The thought made him almost scoff now.
"So," Dumbledore continued, when Snape did not immediately respond. "What would you have me do, Severus?"
There was a part of Severus that was angry that Dumbledore was being so agreeable about this whole thing. He had been partially hoping that the man would be difficult, placating. Trying to calm him down or telling him that he was overreacting. At least then the potions master would feel justified in continuing to yell his frustrations and in destroying the headmaster's possessions. The younger man suppressed a growl as he further tightened the grip on his wand.
"Perhaps you could start by actually taking the time to research suitable placements for the boy, rather than decide in the course of about five seconds to dump him on the doorstep of one of the most spiteful and hateful people I have ever had the displeasure of knowing!" Snape snarled.
"You know there was more to it than that, Severus," Dumbledore sighed. "I had to act quickly. And I wanted to get Harry within the safety of the blood wards as soon as possible."
"And you never looked back." Snape's lip curled in disgust.
There was silence for a moment. And then Dumbledore let out another sigh. "I hope one day you will find it within yourself to forgive me, Severus."
Snape scoffed. "It is not my forgiveness you should be seeking, headmaster."
Dumbledore nodded his understanding. "Yes, of course. I take it Harry is still in your quarters?"
"He is. Poppy is seeing to him now. But I'm afraid he won't be receiving visitors today. He will be taking a sleeping potion after all of his injuries have been tended to."
The headmaster nodded as he finally got to his feet and moved towards a small cabinet next to the fireplace, careful to avoid the debris of shattered glass on the floor as he went. Then, upon reaching his destination, he withdrew his wand from a pocket of his robes and swished it quickly through the air in one complicated movement.
The door to the cabinet creaked as it swung open to reveal several shelves full of trinkets of various sizes and shapes. The headmaster took a moment to move some of the objects on the top shelf aside before withdrawing a small glass cube into his palm. Upon closer inspection, a dim red light glowed weakly within the center of the object.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked, eyebrows raised. "What is that?"
"I'm beginning my research," Dumbledore replied, eying the cube thoughtfully as he walked slowly back to his desk and placed the object carefully on its surface.
Severus frowned at the headmaster's actions. "Do you mind informing me what is going on?" he snapped impatiently, as the older man took his time in settling down behind his desk once more.
Dumbledore just stared at the glass cube for another moment before answering the potions master. "This cube is of my own invention. It allows me to keep track of the status of the blood wards at Harry's home."
"It is no longer his home," Snape reminded the older man, placing emphasis on each word as he leaned forward, both hands planted firmly on the headmaster's desk. Then, viewing the cube with interest, he asked, "How long have you had this?"
"Since I left Harry with his relatives," Dumbledore answered. "It is charmed to alert me if the blood wards ever fail."
"And has it alerted you?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "No. The blood wards are still very much intact. The light would be completely extinguished if they were not."
"Odd," Snape drawled. "I got the impression that Potter is no longer welcome at his relatives' home. Wouldn't that be cause for the wards to drop?"
"Yes, it would be," Dumbledore mused. "Unless…"
"Unless what?" Severus snapped once more.
Dumbledore turned his gaze away from the cube to look at Snape. "Do you believe Harry still considers the Dursley residence to be his home?"
Severus scoffed. "Well, of course he does. I don't imagine that will change until he is placed in a new home."
"Then perhaps that's the key," Dumbledore frowned, deep in thought.
"What does any of this matter at this point?" Severus growled. "Whether the blood wards remain intact or not, Potter will not be returning there!"
"Of course not, Severus. But as long as the blood wards remain intact, it may just be possible to harness their power to offer some level of protection to Harry in his new home," Dumbledore said thoughtfully, his eyes still studying the cube.
Anger flashed across Severus' face. "If you knew this was possible, then why have you waited until now to test this theory?" he demanded.
"I did not know it was necessary," Dumbledore answered. "And it is highly unlikely that any imitation we attempt to create will be able to match the protective power of the original blood wards."
"Well we'll just have to make do, won't we?" Snape practically sneered.
Dumbledore sighed before nodding his head in agreement, allowing silence to reign between them for several long moments.
And then the headmaster was suddenly speaking again. "You have every right to be angry with me, Severus."
"I am thrilled to have your approval on the matter," the potions master responded, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"And I want to thank you for looking out for Harry," the headmaster continued, ignoring the venom in the younger man's voice.
Snape scoffed, attempting to hide his discomfort. "I've done nothing more than what is required of me."
"If you say so," Dumbledore gave the younger man a disbelieving look over his half-moon spectacles.
"I do say so," Severus emphasized. "And I would very much like to get back to the matter at hand. What is our next step?"
Dumbledore adjusted his spectacles as he considered the question. "We will need to find a new family for Harry. And quickly. We want to ensure he will have a place to go for the summer holidays, and it may take some time to secure the location with the new protective wards."
"I don't suppose you have anyone in mind already?" Severus prompted, knowing just how fast the headmaster's mind often worked. He would need to ensure this new "family" was properly vetted.
The headmaster was quiet for just a moment before giving a response. "What do you think of the Weasleys?" he asked without any further preamble.
"I think they are unable to afford the children they already have," Severus answered bluntly.
"Do you have no other objection to them?" Dumbledore pressed.
Severus let out a huff. "If you place Potter in that home, there is little doubt he will disappear in the crowd."
"I believe you underestimate Molly Weasley," the headmaster disagreed. "I don't believe she would allow Harry to disappear if he wanted to."
Severus scoffed. "Well before you go dropping Potter off on another doorstep, perhaps you better ask this time if the inhabitants of the household would be willing to take the boy in."
"Of course, Severus," Dumbledore ignored the potions master's accusatory tone. "I'll contact Molly and Arthur later today."
Severus let out a huff, still not sure if he agreed with the headmaster's choice of potential placement.
"I promise not to rush into a hasty decision this time, Severus," Dumbledore attempted to reassure the younger man.
Severus just continued to glare at the older man through narrowed eyes. "You'll have to forgive me, headmaster, for being skeptical of that statement."
"I will not move forward without your approval," Dumbledore insisted, raising a hand to summon his traveling cloak from the hook it rested on across the room.
Snape opened his mouth to protest. To inform the headmaster that it was not his approval the old man ought to be seeking. That it was the boy's head of house that should really be involved in this matter.
But the words got caught in his throat. And instead, the potions master simply blurted out his next words without a second thought. "Where are you going?" he demanded, as he eyed the man's traveling cloak critically.
"I believe it is as good a time as any to pay a visit to the Dursleys," Dumbledore sighed, his voice full of sorrow.
Severus raised his eyebrows. He hadn't really expected the headmaster to personally go and knock on the Dursleys' front door. Not without a fight, anyway. And once again, the potions master felt a sudden swell of irrational anger rise up within him at the older man's response to this situation. Severus needed to yell. He needed to scream and to rage and to break valuable objects. But the headmaster was simply refusing to act in a manner that would justify such an extreme response.
But there were other targets for his ire, he knew. And without a second thought, he straightened up and declared, "I am going with you."
The headmaster once again adjusted his spectacles as he carefully assessed the potions master, no doubt taking note of the sudden fiery gleam in the younger man's eye. "Are you sure that is wise, Severus?" he finally asked.
Severus scoffed. "If you think I will sit back and allow you to let those deplorable human beings get off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, you have another thing coming, Albus. I am joining you."
"Do you really have so little faith in me, Severus?"
Severus let out a huff as he gripped his wand tightly against his side. But he remained otherwise silent.
"You are angry, Severus."
"A very astute observation, Albus," the potions master said dryly.
Dumbledore finally rose to his feet, his eyes never leaving the younger man's gaze. "I only mean to point out that in accompanying me, Severus, I do not wish you to do anything in anger that you will regret later. The very last thing I need is for my trusted potions master to find himself in Azkaban."
Severus scoffed. "If you are worried that I plan on murdering Petunia and her brute of a husband, Albus, don't be. I am not a fool. And I am far more creative than that."
"That's what worries me," Dumbledore sighed. "Perhaps it would be better if you stayed here. Harry is still in your quarters, is he not?"
"Yes, we've established that. Your point being?" Severus nearly snarled, suddenly getting the distinct feeling that he was about to be manipulated.
And then suddenly, as if on cue, the fireplace roared to life. And Madam Pomfrey's face appeared in the flames.
Severus turned quickly to face the fireplace. "Yes?" the potions master responded, doing his best to keep the anger he still felt towards the woman from seeping into his voice. "I take it you have concluded your examination of Mr. Potter?"
"Yes. Will you be coming back through soon? I'd like to discuss my...findings. And then Mr. Potter really needs to get some rest—"
"Did you not give him a sleeping potion?" the man demanded, irritated.
The mediwitch bristled. "The boy refuses to take it in your absence," she stated firmly. "He seems to be under the impression that you would not want him to fall asleep in your quarters."
The potions master let out an exasperated growl. "I will be along in a moment," he finally responded, coming to a quick decision. "I am just finishing up with the headmaster."
"Very good," Madam Pomfrey said in answer, before turning to the older wizard. "Albus," she stated, nodding her head in acknowledgment towards the headmaster. "I take it you have been informed of the situation?"
"Indeed I have, Poppy," Dumbledore nodded solemnly. "And I take it you have everything under control?"
The woman nodded firmly, though there was clear sorrow in her expression. "I have taken a full report of the boy's injuries…The physical injuries, anyway."
Dumbledore once again nodded his understanding. "Send me a copy of your findings, Poppy. In the meantime, please discuss your report with Severus. I have a quick errand to run, but Severus has agreed to help oversee the boy's recovery."
Severus opened his mouth to argue that he had agreed to no such thing. But before he could get a single word past his lips, Madam Pomfrey uttered a quick "Very well" before withdrawing her head and disappearing completely from view.
"Well, it would seem it's been settled then," Dumbledore stated, making his way to the door of his office. "You will stay here and watch over Harry, Severus, and I'll—"
"Give the boy's relatives a good scolding?" Snape sneered sarcastically, crossing his arms. "Express your disappointment in them? Perhaps you can offer them a handful of lemon drops as you lecture them on the proper way to treat children?"
Dumbledore shook his head, a small, sad smile forming on his lips. "So little faith, Severus. You forget that I can be creative, too."
The headmaster opened the door then, but Severus was not quite finished. "I will be paying a visit to that household, Albus."
"I don't doubt it, Severus," Dumbledore responded knowingly. "But I think it will be best to do so when you have had a chance to – reflect on the situation."
Severus huffed as the headmaster nodded in farewell then and walked out the door.
And then the potions master turned back to the fireplace.
The fireplace came to life with a loud whoosh of flames, and a moment later, Severus Snape stepped out into the living room. And the man's eyes immediately found Harry.
Harry leaned back into the couch nervously as the man stalked over to him. As always, the professor's expression was completely indiscernible.
"Did I or did I not explicitly state that you were to do as Madam Pomfrey says?" the man growled, piercing Harry with his dark black eyes.
The boy swallowed as he crossed his arms over his chest defensively. In the potions master's absence, the mediwitch had transfigured his clothes into a pair of soft pajamas. "Well, I…" he stuttered out quietly.
Snape reached out and gripped the boy's chin, turning his face gently to the left and right in order to examine the bruises that still resided there, though in a diminished capacity now that the bruise balm had been applied. "Well?" the man prompted, his voice dripping with irritation as he released the young Gryffindor from his grasp.
Harry twisted his hands together as he settled back against the couch. "Madam Pomfrey wants me to take a sleeping potion," he stated, as though that explained everything.
"And?" Snape demanded, his irritation growing.
"And—well, I didn't think you'd really want me to fall asleep here, sir. In your quarters."
Snape let out an exasperated sigh as he ran a tired hand over his face. "Poppy, where is the potion?"
The mediwitch stepped forward then, holding out a small glass vial.
Severus snatched the vial from the woman's hand and immediately held it out to Harry. "Drink it," he stated firmly, "unless you would prefer to fall asleep in the hospital wing."
Needing no time to dwell on that choice, Harry accepted the vial and downed it in one swallow.
"Glasses," the potions master stated then, holding his hand out expectantly.
Harry frowned in confusion for a moment before he was finally able to work out what the professor wanted. He slowly slid the glasses off of his face with his uninjured hand and gently placed them onto the man's outstretched palm.
"Lie down," Snape commanded, placing the glasses on the coffee table and waving his wand to summon a blanket from the small closet in the hallway.
Still looking slightly confused, Harry obeyed, resting his head on one of the pillows that had been resting at the end of the couch.
A moment later, a large quilted blanket was in the professor's hands, and he wasted no time in quickly throwing it over the young boy's body.
"Sir?" Harry asked, finding his voice once more, even as the potions master could be heard grumbling under his breath about "disobedient Gryffindors" as he began to turn away. "What did the headmaster say?"
Snape paused in his movements and turned back to the child. He stared at the boy for one long moment before finally giving a response. "Go to sleep, Potter. We will discuss it when you are more rested."
The professor turned to Madam Pomfrey then and inclined his head towards the kitchen. "Let's make this quick, Poppy."
Severus' eyes scanned over the results of the boy's diagnostic exam as the mediwitch quickly and efficiently detailed her findings.
"This has been going on for years, Severus!" the woman exclaimed at one point towards the end of her speech. "Likely since his placement with the muggles—"
"Well of course it has," Severus interrupted brusquely, giving the long parchment in his hand a little shake. "I don't need to be a healer to reach that conclusion."
"Severus—" Madam Pomfrey began, clearly unimpressed at the tone in the man's voice.
"Let's see," Snape continued, making a show of glancing over the parchment once more. "Scar tissue … improperly healed bones … severe malnutrition … yes, it all seems pretty clear to me. I suppose the one thing I am finding most difficult to understand, however, is how it took this long to discover these issues. How many times would you say you have examined Mr. Potter at this point, Poppy? Because I find it absolutely fascinating that apart from the malnutrition, everything else on this list has essentially gone completely unnoticed up until now."
"Severus Snape!" Madam Pomfrey responded in a furious whisper. "How dare you suggest—"
"That you've been negligent in your practice as the mediwitch of this school?" Snape asked scathingly. "At the moment, I'm failing to see any other explanation."
Madam Pomfrey's face heated up as she snatched the parchment from Snape's hand. "I have never, in all my years at this school…" she trailed off.
"Well go on," Snape prompted, folding his arms over his chest.
The mediwitch huffed before changing the topic. "First off, the diagnostic spell I performed on Mr. Potter to get these results was a very deep, very uncomfortable scan, Severus. It is not a spell I just perform on any patient who comes in for a minor injury or routine checkup. Any injuries that had already healed would have gone undetected."
"And what of the injuries that healed improperly?" Snape inquired. "Would those go undetected?"
Madam Pomfrey's expression suddenly changed to one of frustration. "Normally, no. I am fairly certain that I should have detected something before today. But then, it is not completely unheard of for some abused children to unconsciously use magic to hide their injuries."
"So you believe Mr. Potter was employing accidental magic to keep you from discovering his mistreatment?" Severus asked skeptically. "Do you have any literature to back up this theory?"
Madam Pomfrey huffed again, clearly insulted at the insinuation that she had performed her duties incompetently. "I will send you a list of the literature, Severus. Now if there is nothing else, I must take my leave. I've been away from the infirmary too long as it is. I trust you have matters under control here?" the woman asked as she made her way back into the living room.
"Of course," Severus answered simply, following closely behind the mediwitch.
"Instructions for Mr. Potter's care are on the side table," Madam Pomfrey said absently, quickly packing up her bag with a wave of her wand. "If you have any questions—"
"I will not hesitate to seek out your expertise." Snape's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Really, Severus! You are being downright unreasonable about this whole matter! I just can't imagine why – Mr. Potter!"
At the sudden exclamation of surprise, Severus whipped around to see the wide eyes of one Harry Potter staring straight at him from his place on the couch. It was clear that the boy's body was completely tensed up underneath the quilt. The man sighed as he once again ran a hand down his tired face. He hadn't even bothered to throw up a silencing spell when he began conversing with Madam Pomfrey, having assumed that the sleeping potion would work instantaneously. That meant that the boy no doubt heard every word the two adults had spoken in the last few minutes.
Severus suppressed a groan. He could definitely feel a headache coming on.
"I believe you can see yourself out, Poppy?" Severus finally asked, his eyes never leaving the child's.
Madam Pomfrey looked as though she wished to say more, but she quickly decided against it. With her bag now clutched firmly in hand, she gave a short "of course" in answer to the potions master's question, before walking swiftly towards the fireplace.
No sooner had Madam Pomfrey been whisked away in a burst of green flames than Severus took a step towards the child.
The boy flinched nervously. "I'm sorry, sir," he nearly whispered. "I don't think I can sleep."
"Stop fighting the potion, Potter," Snape answered simply. "Or I will be forced to give you a larger dose."
Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste. Then he blinked a few times and shifted around in an attempt to find a more comfortable position. But he still couldn't seem to take his eyes off of the agitated professor.
Sighing, Severus suddenly turned and strode over to the armchair across from the couch and eased himself down onto the seat. Then he picked up the book he had left on the side table and opened it to the bookmarked page. And without another word, the potions master cleared his mind of all that had taken place that day and began to read silently.
The room was finally quiet and still. The only sounds were the flames crackling softly in the fireplace and the whisper of paper as Severus turned the pages of his book. At first, the young Gryffindor just continued to eye the professor warily. But as the seconds and then the minutes ticked by, and as the potions master continued to sit calmly, reading his book, as though absolutely nothing was unusual or out of place, the boy's features eventually smoothed out and his eyes fluttered closed.
And when Severus finally raised his head to check on his charge, he noted with satisfaction that the young boy was fast asleep.
A/N: As always, feedback is both welcome and appreciated!
Thanks for reading!
September 26, 2020