A/N: I own nothing, make nothing.
No, don't! I already told you!" the first voice shrieked. "Told me? And I'm suppose to believe that? I'm supposed to believe anything?" There was nothing to be seen except for that strange dark grey colour as the darkness descended. "Please! At least let me.." The first voice was sounding distant now. "NO! I'm not letting him touch MY CHILD! He's not taking anything else! After everything..." roared the other voice. It was almost dark. A coldness was approaching.
With that the dream became distant. Harry could feel the chill of morning and the green eyes slowly opened in the half darkness. Now the dream was forgotten and a new day begun.
Harry slowly pushed open the door to the cupboard and peeked outside. The house was quiet and pale sunlight was shining through the window. It had to be just about dawn. Harry crawled out of the cupboard as quietly as she could. Perhaps if she was quick and quiet about it she could walk outside for some fresh air.
Slowly the girl got up and made her way across the living room. She was still wearing what she'd been wearing when she was shoved inside the cupboard last night – saggy jeans and a tent sized T-shirt. Even though she was fully clothed she was freezing. How could a July morning be this cold? She comforted herself with promise of the warmth that would come in an hour or two as the sun rose further on the sky.
The front door was locked. Harry stood still for a moment and tried to find the courage to unlock it. She raised her hand and bit her lip as she slowly unlocked the door. The lock made a sharp clicking noise as she succeeded and Harry held her breath hoping that no one was awake to hear it. If she was found in the garden again she knew Vernon would lock the door on her and have her stand shivering in the garden until they needed her to help cook breakfast.
Harry opened the door and crept into the front yard. The lovely neighborhood was silent and peaceful. The sun was almost over the horizon and coloured the surrounding sky a vivid warm orange but above Harry the clouds were thick and grey.
She took a deep breath. It was uncomfortably cold and especially so for such a scrawny child but Harry was enjoying a few Dursley free moments. Life rarely had such moments and Harry knew she was going to need them to get through a whole summer's worth of gardening. That was the preferred chore given when she and Dudley were out of school for the holidays. Of course Dudley's only responsibility in that connection was to once in a while 'check on Harry' and see that she was still working which usually involved Dudley destroying one of the flower beds and blaming it on his cousin.
A few houses down a dog was walking about in the front garden and Harry decided it was best not to take a stroll down the lane today. The last thing she needed was a dog barking the whole neighborhood out of their sleep. She wrapped her arms around herself and winced when she squeezed her sore arms a little too much.
Harry looked down at her hands. Her palms were full of tiny cuts and scrapes from weeding for hours without gloves or tools. There was still some dirt left under her fingernails – this was what caused all the commotion last night as aunt Petunia had insisted that 'the dirty little freak' wasn't fit to be in her house. This had meant dinner came and went and having had next to nothing all the day Harry ended up begging for food – of course that just got her thrown in the cupboard so she'd learn gratitude.
Realizing that standing around in the front yard would look odd as soon as people began to stir she sat down on the doorstep. She rubbed her arms slightly as she sat there deep in thought. This month she would turn eleven. She wasn't quite sure when though as she had lost track of the date spending so much time outside.
"One more year down – seven to go," she mused.
Seven years. Seven years and then she would be free to go and do whatever she pleased. Seven years and there would be no more Dursleys. Of course the Dursleys preferred to describe it as them 'throwing her out on the street in seven years and finally getting to be rid of her' but Harry wasn't about to tell them she wasn't as scared of that prospect as they hoped she was. In fact, she wished they would do it now! Or send her to the orphanage which they also enjoyed threatening her with.
She could to it again. No one was around. She could just get up and walk away. She could run down the street and into the uncertain future. She sighed. That had not gone well before. Last time she tried to run away the first shopkeeper she asked for directions had called the police on her and held her at the shop until they came to get her. She wasn't surprised. She did look like a street urchin in Dudley's clothes and her refusal to let him call her parents for her had not helped either. Harry shuddered as she recalled what she had had waiting back at number four for her.
Uncle Vernon had been civil with the police officers and explained how his nephew was a troubled child. Petunia had put on an act complete with crocodile tears, wrapping her arms around Harry and repeatedly exclaiming her gratitude for them returning her silly little boy as well as telling Harry that she would be brokenhearted if it ever happened again. When the door had closed after the police officers and the sound of the police car driving off could be heard the act was over of course.
Harry didn't want to think about the rest of that night – not did she have time to for at that moment the door to number seven opened. Harry got up quickly and carefully opened the front door. She cast one last glance at the grey clouds that were slowly dissolving above her before she disappeared into number four.
Elsewhere on the island the clouds were still completely covering the sky. The countless halls, corridors and classrooms at Hogwarts were abandoned for the summer and only a few staff members remained. Deep within the bowels of the castle one of these individuals sat completely ignorant of the colour of the sky and the time of day.
Severus Snape was seated in his favorite chair in his personal quarters. However the man appeared to be anything but comfortable. The dark circles around his eyes told of a sleepless night and his ridged posture suggested that none of it had been spent in a bed. The man was quiet and starring at a glass of firewhisky in his hand as he continued the battle against the temptation of downing it all at once.
It had been a long night. A night of reliving things that he had long since pushed into the back of his mind. Severus swirled the liquid around in the glass and placed it on the small round mahogany table on his right. He too considered whether any of the other occupants were awake. What time was it? He reached into his robes and pulled out a small pocket watch. It was neither as practical nor as beautiful as the magical options available but Severus had a history of holding on to things in more ways than one.
Noting that it was by now far too late to try to sleep and far too early to go outside he rose from the chair and headed for his private potions lab. He would find something to do. Something simple and mindless to take his mind off of things. How many hours had passed now since he received the message from the Headmaster?
Severus had been reviewing schedules for the next term when a little paper bird soared through his fireplace. It landed gracefully on his desk and unfolded itself to reveal a letter. The potions master had not needed to read it to know who it was from.
He had picked up the letter carefully and, sure enough, it was from Dumbledore who requested his presence in his office. Severus got up as quickly as he could and walked towards the door. He wasn't going to bother to floo there. The letter had said nothing about any urgency and Severus wasn't about to sprint to the Headmaster's side as if he was a dog eager to please his master.
In fact Severus wasn't pleased at all. He had looked forward to a quiet night. There was nothing more satisfying than the silence and peace of the castle once the noisy horde of students was gone. He had finally had a few hours in the day for himself. Of course there were still Pomfrey's supply of potions to brew so he still had something to keep himself busy. However, as if brewing hundreds of potions wasn't enough, the old coot had taken it upon himself to summon Severus at multiple occasions for the most trivial tasks.
"If this is about that schedule again - or Merlin forbid those drapings I'll turn him into mouse and feed him to Minerva!" Severus muttered under his breath as he neared the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
"Cherry hearts!" he sneered at the gargoyle and proceeded up the stairs as it jumped aside.
When he opened the door and entered, he was surprised to see McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout gathered around the desk.
"Ah, Severus! Do come in!" Dumbledore greeted him from his chair behind the desk.
Severus carefully studied the faces of his colleagues looking for any hints as to the nature of this meeting.
"Then we shall retire, Headmaster," said McGonagall and nodded to Sprout.
The potions master gracefully swept aside as the three other heads of houses went past him and down the stairs.
"Headmaster, I received your message. May I ask...?" he began.
"Lemon drop, my boy?" the older wizard offered and gestured for him to take a seat.
"I'm surprised you haven't turned into one – as many as you eat," sneered Severus.
He took a seat in front of the desk and crossed his arms while the old man merely chuckled at his comment.
"I suppose you're not going to tell me what you were discussing before I arrived?" he inquired.
"On the contrary, Severus! I do, however, have additional things to discuss with you that your colleagues need not be present for!"
Severus' ears perked at that. Dumbledore had his attention but he kept his face disinterested.
"Do you need my opinion on curtain colours in the library again?" he huffed.
"I only thought it polite to ask all of you if you had anything against purple," the twinkling wizard replied as Severus snorted at the memory of that conversation. "No, Severus, this is serious."
The older man's eyes caught Severus' and his voice became serious as he continued:
"As I've just reminded your colleagues - Harry Potter will coming to Hogwarts this year."
Now? Already? It can't be... Has it been so many years already? he wondered.
"I see," was his only reply.
"Regardless of which house he will be sorted into I would like you to fulfill your promise to me. I am sure you know what I am referring to."
And so it had begun. Now Severus was standing in his lab after having had no sleep all night and having been reminded of his oath to protect the Potter boy while he was at school. He had tried to argue that the boy couldn't possibly be safer anywhere else of course but Dumbledore had been quick enough to remind him just how much he owed the cause and just how much he owed Lily!
What had followed was a night of unwanted memories surfacing. Severus had found himself alternating between pacing the carpets thin and sitting frozen in the darkness. For a man who was said to be devoid of any feeling except for contempt he had gone through more emotions that night than imaginable. It had been no use trying to occlude his mind. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Lily's lifeless body. Finally in an attempt to make sense of the emotional mess he had settled on rage and destroyed a few good vials in the process.
The anger was undeniable. He was angry with the Headmaster demanding such things of him, he was angry with time for separating him from Lily and moving him closer to this and lastly he was furious with Harry Potter for existing and for slithering back into his life and causing him such misery. But he had sworn to do it all those years ago and he had little choice.
The potions master picked up a knife and began slicing rat brains with acute precision. He sighed and turned his focus towards the task at hand. At least this was going to be interesting.
A few days later Harry was washing dishes when Dudley came through the front door. The loud bang that came as the door shut itself alerted her to the imminent danger and she quickly placed the plate she was holding back in the sink before Dudley could push her on his way past. The push came as Dudley stampeded into the kitchen.
"Mum! MUM!" he exclaimed stopped only the grunt his annoyance that no plate had been broken by Harry in the process.
"What's that, sweetums?" Petunia replied and nodded towards the paper in Dudley's grasp.
"Mum, the other children are making a play!" he cried and stomped his feet.
"What do you mean, darling?" Petunia said as she rose from her chair - now noticing her sons distress.
"The neighborhood children are making a play for all their parents to see and they didn't tell me anything!"
Harry tried to hide a smirk. She knew Dudley was upset about being left out. At any other occasion he would have ridiculed anyone who suggested drama as an activity which was probably why he hadn't been included.
"The Hendersons are putting up a stage in their backyard!" Dudley huffed and finally let go of the crumpled paper that Petunia had been trying to get from him.
"Goodness," was all Petunia could say as she glanced at it.
"Vernon? Vernon! Come down here, please!" She called as she wrapped her arms around Dudley.
The sound of Vernon's footsteps down the stairs resounded through the building.
"What? What is it? Boy! Why are you standing about again? Get to work!"
Harry lowered her gaze and began scrubbing the plate as if her life depended on it while she listened to Petunia explain the situation to her husband.
"They are assigning roles later! I just want to be King Arthur! I WANT TO BE KING ARTHUR!" screamed the baby whale.
"Hush! Now, hush little diddykins! Mummy's sure they will give you the part if you ask them for it!" Petunia purred at Dudley.
"How did you get the manuscript, son?" Vernon smirked.
"Got it off Oliver, when he rubbed it in my face. Shoved him to the ground," Dudley mumbled.
"Serves him right!" sneered Vernon.
"I know you'll be brilliant baby, I know you will! Why don't you show mummy and daddy?" suggested Petunia as she tried to take Dudley's mind off the injustice of it all.
"Okay," grinned the huge boy. "Sit down, I'll read it now!"
The parents took their seat and Petunia cast a quick glance at Harry who was still pretending to see and hear nothing. Silence ensued as Dudley realized this would require him to actually read and tried to decipher the lines.
"Go on, son!" urged Vernon.
Dudley threw the manuscript to the floor in frustration.
"I cant! I can't! I need someone to read for the queen!" he wailed.
Then his eyes narrowed and a smug expression appeared on his face.
"Make Harry do it!" he grinned and applauded the brilliancy of his own idea.
Harry froze with a sponge and a teacup in her hands as she waited for the reaction.
"Honey, you know Harry can't be Guinevere. Harry is much too ugly to be a girl!" Petunia replied.
This was what Dudley wanted to hear.
"But mum, I need a queen even if it's worlds ugliest one," Dudley argued and glanced at Harry who was trying her best not to show any emotion.
"Didn't I tell you to get to work, boy!" Vernon suddenly yelled and got up from his chair.
The yelling startled Harry who dropped the cup into the sink. Vernon's hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her around.
"Do you think you can just stand around? Get out! Get out of my sight!" he cried and shoved Harry towards the front door.
Harry didn't need to be told twice. She picked up her feet and hurried outside to the safety of the view of the neighbors.
At this point she didn't care about being a girl anymore. She didn't mind the pretending. Of course she had found it weird at age four when Petunia had decided that she was much too hideous to be a girl and had invented the game. Harry was eager to please – or at least to stay out of trouble so she went along with it. Once in a while Petunia would slip up and refer to her as her but these days it rarely ever happened. But Dudley enjoyed taunting her:
"You throw like a girl!"
"Can't you run faster than that, princess?"
It didn't matter to Harry. For all intends and purposes she was a boy and even she considered herself ugly. She wasn't quite sure which part of her face made her so ugly but since the Dursleys said she was she had to be, right? Besides, she really did look like a boy. Her mop of hair had been somewhat short ever since Petunia started cutting it and Dudley's old clothes didn't help either. She had often wondered if her mother looked like a boy too or whether she looked just like her father but she was unlikely to ever know the answer to that.
Harry got down on her knees by one of the flower beds. There would be hell to pay if she hadn't done any work by the time the Dursleys needed her. She ran her hand through her unruly mop of hair. She remembered when Petunia had cut it short that day when she was six and how it had grown back during the night. After several attempts the haircut finally succeeded in the end and the fact that Harry looked very much like a boy had never been more apparent.
Playing the game and making sure none knew she wasn't exactly a boy was easy for the most part as Harry was able to let herself believe it. However when she was reminded of it as she had been today she always became nervous about it and felt that everyone around her knew.
Harry didn't notice Dudley storming off to see his friends and she sat there deep in thought and weeded. The day passed by without any incident and when she was finally called in for dinner she washed her hands as clean as she could with the garden hose and entered. When she later went to bed she had actually been given enough food to stop the pain of hunger. Not enough to be full of course but she had been allowed a little more as the Dursleys celebrated Dudley getting the lead in the play. Harry wondered just how many children Dudley had been out bullying to make that happen. Still, she kept her mouth shut and crept inside the cupboard.
When she woke next morning she could already hear her aunt in the kitchen and as she crept out she could hear her uncle in the living room order her to get the mail. She rubbed her eyes and walked out to the front door. There were a few bills and a letter to Petunia but what caught Harry's attention was a queer looking letter addressed to her!
Mr H Potter The Cupboard under the stairs