AN: Surprise! I know, it's been so many years since I've touched this story that I never thought I would re-visit it again. This story was the first one I published and has remained one of the most popular of my collection. A few days ago I got a prompt from my friend and fellow author Mandancie, and I was intrigued, so I decided I must rise to the challenge. She asked for a conversation that would have happened during the middle of chapter 6 off-camera. It happens in the few minutes that Snape leaves Harry alone after his big revelation that Harry is actually an abused and neglected child and that his own house elf has been continuing the abuse upon him. I began thinking about it, and this short one-shot was born. I wasn't sure if I should put it at the end or put it on its own, but in the end I decided to put it at the end so the story is all together. :) I hope you enjoy this.
"Headmaster!" Snape barked as he entered his office from the floo.
"Yes, I'm here," he answered. "Is there something amiss, Severus?"
"That blasted buggar just beat my ward!" Severus thundered.
"What? Who?" Dumbledore gasped. "Is Harry alright?"
"Treadle, my house elf," Severus snapped. "Apparently he's been leading a campaign of terror against the boy – threatening him, starving him, trying to force him to eat inedible food. He even stole the boy's work so that I punished him."
"And he beat Harry?"
"With a stick I believe," Snape spat. "The boy has oozing marks all over his back. I'm fetching a salve to heal him."
"How could a house elf do that?" Dumbledore wondered incredulously. "They aren't supposed to be able to hurt a human."
"They can under direction from their master," Snape sighed. "The compulsion to obey is stronger than the prohibition against hurting humans. But usually that needs a direct order – which of course I never gave. He seemed to believe that Harry was responsible for the Dark Lord's death and was punishing him to please me."
"Another cost of your work," Dumbledore nodded.
"It is a hellish price to pay!" Snape thundered. "And now my elf has a psychotic break and actually beats a child bloody in order to please the great Severus Snape, devoted servant to the Dark Lord and torturer of schoolchildren!"
"You sound guilty," Dumbledore observed.
"Of course I bloody am!" Snape snarled. "Who else is at fault? Did I even think to check and see if my ward was actually fed? I grew up like him, how did I not see him as a neglected child?"
"Neglect?" Dumbledore echoed in shock. The revelation of Harry's neglect shocked him out of even recognizing how odd it was for Snape to reference his own.
"I think we will find more as time goes on," Snape admitted, realizing with chagrin that this was not the way to break the news to Dumbledore. "But it appears he was not well cared for with his relatives. His clothes are threadbare, and he is underweight though he is not a picky eater. But more than that . . ."
"What do you see?" Dumbledore pressed when Snape paused.
"The survival," Snape admitted with a defeated sigh. "After he had been beaten instead of protesting his treatment he was instead trying to get me to not punish him further."
"Why would he think that?" Dumbledore asked.
"I may have jumped to some . . . wrong conclusions when he came through the floo while escaping my psychotic house elf," Snape admitted. "I was quite concerned that he was goofing around and was going to cause himself harm by flooing. I was intent to make him regret his foolishness. Before I could actually punish the lad, however, I realized he'd been injured."
"You have many sins to atone for," Dumbledore sighed. "And I'm afraid you have added more, my boy."
"I know, old man," Snape said without venom. It actually felt comforting to have Dumbledore acknowledge his failure without condemnation. "I know. How could I have been so blind? And to Lily's son of all people?"
"He does look a bit like his father," Dumbledore said gently. "I suppose that some resentment is natural."
"Maybe," Snape bowed his head. "But you're saying that to make me feel better. We both know there is no excuse for my treatment of him."
"Did you abuse him?" Dumbledore asked. "Is there more that I don't know?"
"Not really," Snape answered. "Not like that. You know that I spanked him the one time; but even that was fairly mild, though apparently undeserved. It's more that I just didn't care – that there was an abused, neglected child in my care and all I did was believe the worst of him. I don't know if there's any way to fix that; but I want to try."
"What can I do to help?" Dumbledore asked softly. "I have my own sins to atone for as well."
"I need a new house elf to watch over the boy," Snape sighed. "One that is very gentle, motherly even."
"I have one in mind," Dumbledore nodded. "I will send her over."
"With supper," Severus told him. "Harry hasn't eaten all day."
"Do you need potions as well?" Dumbledore asked.
"I have enough potions to heal it."
"Do you need help?" Dumbledore asked. "Healing's not exactly my forte . . ."
"I am somewhat of an expert at healing welts and stripes," Snape told him with a somber certainty. "I don't need help with that. But I would like some help with how to talk to him."
"Be honest," Dumbledore advised. "As much as you can be. There can be room for secrets in relationships, but not lies. Your goal from now on is to work to get him to trust you."
"Will he ever be able to after the muddle I've made of this?"
"He will if you're honest with him," Dumbledore nodded. "And apologize. You had done far worse to me, and I grew to trust you."
"You weren't a small, scared child."
"He's Lily's son, like you said," Dumbledore reminded him. "He's made of sterner stuff than you give him credit for. It will work out, Severus."
"Maybe you should find someone else to be his guardian," Snape told him quietly, but not in the angry or defensive way that Dumbledore would expect. Instead, Snape seemed defeated and sad about it.
"I think I chose correctly the first time," Dumbledore told him. "He needs a fierce protector, Severus. You and I both know that the path that lies before him is extremely treacherous. If he is to survive, he needs someone who is formidable, both in magical protection and in commitment to caring for him. I can think of no other."
"I hope you're right, old man," Snape sighed. "I must get back now; the boy is lying in pain waiting. And I have a house elf to fire."
"Don't kill him, Severus," Dumbledore urged. "It's probably a mental defect."
"I won't kill him," Severus promised. "But he will regret his decisions."
"Go," Dumbledore urged. "Let me know how it goes."