A pale chest heaved in the summer heat. Sweat glistened in the rays from the street lamp outside. Glossy black hair lay in a fan around a gently tossing head on the lone, flat pillow. Long legs shifted fitfully under worn sheets, and longer fingers curled and flexed in the worn blanket atop the restless form. The perpetually shielded mind was caught in the throes of a nightmare. Visions of epic danger, of adventures gone awry, plagued assiduous thoughts in bright flashes, leaving no single idea to settle. However, a lone message stood out: danger.
Severus shot up in his bed, wand trained on the darkness that filled his room. Nothing there. He collapsed back on his pillow, black eyes staring at the peeling ceiling without seeing it. He instantly began his tried and worn routine, settling his shallow breathing and rapidly beating heart. He'd been dreaming. That was it, just a dream.
But it was more than that. The visions that had flashed in his mind were already hazy, but the message was clear. Danger. Somewhere, someone he knew and cared about was in immediate danger. Or was about to be. Or already had been. It was impossible to tell. Every witch and wizard had a touch of the Sight, but only true Seers could piece together their dreams and Visions into some semblance of sense. Still, he'd learned enough focus to at least extract who the dream had warned about, if not what.
Slowly, Severus descended into his own mind. The visions were gone, but they had left behind a faint imprint. He had only to sort through the information. Danger, of course, that much was clear. But who? Who? With deliberate care, Severus began sorting. Purple cloth…The smell of burning flesh…golden skin riddled with pale scars…a belt whistling through the air...and there, a dog, so familiar. Severus opened his eyes and stared again at the ceiling of his bedroom. Where had he seen that dog? Not recently. The Malfoys owned a dog, but that was an Irish Setter. This was shorter by a lot. Severus focused again on that faint image. A bulldog? Yes, that's what it was. But who did he know who owned a bulldog? No one. But he'd seen it somewhere.
As suddenly as he had when he first woke, Severus sat up sharply in his bed. This time, however, he did not merely sit. He stumbled gracelessly from his bed, stiff joints protesting as they did every morning. He glanced out of his window and saw the sky beginning to turn a dusty grey. He'd taken too long. If he hurried, he may make it there before the family began to rise from their own undisturbed slumber. Severus bustled about his room, gathering fresh clothing. Muggle, of course. His long hair could be a problem, but maybe not. Men had begun wearing their hair long again in recent years. He dressed quickly, sparing a moment to glance in the mirror. His clothes fit properly, at least. Everything else…there wasn't time to worry about it. He had to hurry. Rechecking that his wand was in its place, Severus didn't even bother leaving his house before disapparating. There wasn't even time enough for that.
The crack of apparition was so loud in the predawn silence that it caused several dogs to bark. Severus heard them distantly, but what he heard most was his heart in his ears. He wasn't too late. Please Merlin let him not be too late.
With practiced ease, Severus slunk into 4 Privet Drive. The locks were no match for his magic, and the creaky floorboards even less a match for his stealthy stride. In the entryway he paused, a dark shiver creeping up his spine. It was the staircase that had made the shadow that hung over his heart. What about it, he wasn't sure. He shrugged it aside. Not important now, only one thing mattered. His long legs carried him silently up the stairs two at a time. At the top he paused again. Which one? Black eyes narrowed in the dim light provided by the rising sun through the lone window at the end of the hall. His heart sunk when his vision adjusted to the dark. The door nearest him had no less than a half-dozen locks…and a cat flap. For some reason, he doubted it was a cat they kept in that room. More likely a lion.
Another wave of his wand had the lock bolts clicking free of their housings. With a heavy heart, he slipped into the room, leaving the door partially open. Fresh sunlight filtered in in checkered bars past the thick iron over the window. There was a bed against the wall, but at first it appeared to be empty. Then Severus noticed the lump in the middle. It was small, perhaps too small. He walked over. He was probably overreacting. Oh God, let him be overreacting.
"Potter! Wake up!" Severus whispered harshly in the otherwise silent room. His hand flicked out to lightly smack the lump under the worn and scratchy blanket.
The lump shifted, groaned, and stopped.
"Potter!" Severus tried again, smacking the lump a little harder.
In an instant Potter was up. He flipped over and sat up in the same movement, backing into the corner at the head of the bed. He squinted sleepily, rubbing at one eye. When his hand fell, Severus realized he wasn't really squinting. His left eye was swollen almost entirely shut, and that side of his face was bruised so dark that he'd mistaken it for a shadow. Only years of training caught the gasp of horror in his throat before it could escape. With deliberate care, Severus let his black eyes trail over the slight form. Potter was quite obviously emaciated, his skin, normally so bronzed it was golden, was a sickly pale color. That is, it was pale between the bruises evident on his neck, arms, and face. Severus doubted the bruises stopped where his shirt and trousers covered.
Scowling fiercely, Severus reached out and grabbed Potter by the arm, dragging him off the bed. "Get your things, Potter. We're leaving."
Potter scoffed and struggled against the hold on his arm. "I'm not going anywhere with you, Snape! Get off me, that hurts!"
Severus released the Gryffindor. "You would rather stay here?"
Potter stood up straight, so much shorter than Severus, and glowered. He did not, Severus noticed, give any answer either for or against. Instead, dull emerald met angrily shimmering onyx defiantly. Severus understood. It wasn't that he wanted to stay, it was that he didn't want to leave with him. Severus sighed in frustration.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," He bit out sharply. "But I cannot allow you to stay in this environment. Either you come with me, or I will alert the proper authorities and you can stay in an orphanage until your 17th birthday."
Potter's scowl slowly slipped into a frown. "Why do you care?"
Severus knitted his brow together, trying to find the words. "I-" He was cut off by hard knuckles rapping at the door.
"Boy! If you've done any of that freaky magic in my house, I'll have your head!" A deep voice growled as the door was pushed the rest of the way open. "You'll not escape again!"
Severus drew his wand as a remarkably large man walked into the small bedroom. The man he took to be Vernon Dursley froze at the sight of him. He sneered at the glutinous blob, and the bristly mustache screwed up in a sneer of it's own.
"Who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing in my house?!" Vernon demanded.
Potter surprised Severus by stepping between him and the whale. "Uncle Vernon, I can explain. This is-"
Dursley slapped the boy. Severus grabbed Potter as the younger wizard stumbled, and pulled him back. He lifted his wand again, and this time Dursley saw it. Severus smirked when the pasty, loose flesh paled remarkably. At least the imbecile knew to fear magic. Severus began leading Potter around the man, who lumbered around them with beady eyes staring fearfully at the black wand.
"Potter, get your things," Severus commanded again.
Potter shrugged off the hand on his shoulder. "Yes, Professor."
Severus was immensely grateful that the brat hadn't argued a second time. Instead, the Gryffindor Golden Boy moved around his uncle, giving the man a wide berth, and slithered under his bed. Severus expected him to come out with his trunk, but after a long minute, the younger wizard backed out with barely an armful of items which Severus took to be mementos. As Severus watched, Potter took his broken glasses off the table near his bed and slipped them painfully onto his swollen face.
"Where are the rest of your things?" Severus asked, leaving his wand trained on Dursley.
Potter looked down with chagrin. "In the cupboard under the stairs. Except Hedwig, I loaned her to Hermione for the summer, so she wouldn't be locked in a cage all the time."
Severus snarled at Dursley, who looked more and more like he wanted to bolt. At least that explained why Potter's summer homework was almost never complete. Severus felt more and more like clobbering the Wizarding Savior's relatives over the head with the thickest book he could find. Albus was always inquiring as to Severus' dislike of Muggles. This was why. He looked at his student.
This was all he said, and all he needed to say. Potter shrugged and turned, leading the way out of the room. Severus spared a moment to sneer distastefully at the Dursley whale before following the younger wizard down the hall and back down the stairs. At the bottom, Potter turned sharply left and led Severus to a small, slanted door. Wordlessly, Potter pointed to the obscenely large padlock, setting his things on a nearby table.
Severus frowned. "Where's your wand?"
Again, Potter pointed to the slanted door. Severus snarled his anger. His own wand slashed through the air violently, and the padlock shattered from the force of his spell. He knew better than to cast while angry, but it could hardly be helped right now. Potter immediately pulled the door open and reached into the dark space. Slowly, laboriously, he dragged his trunk out of the small space. When he was clear, Severus stepped forward to make sure he'd gotten everything. He didn't want either of them to have to return to this house for any reason.
Severus stuck his head into the cramped cupboard, and his sharp eyes adjusted to the dim light from the hallway. Obsidian widened with dawning understanding. Against the back wall lay a small cot. With trembling fingers, Severus lit the tip of his wand, and light flared in the tiny room. There was indeed a small cot against the back wall. A bestirred purple blanket lay haphazardly over the bare mattress, as if it's owner had gone suddenly. But neither the blanket nor the thin layer of dust could hide the maroon stains that stood out on the faded fabric of the mattress. Severus backed out of the cupboard and looked at his student. The Wizarding Savior looked away self-consciously.
Hot anger flared in Severus' chest, and he turned towards the foot of the stairs. Dursley stood there, as well as a woman that was about the same size. Behind them, a familiar horse-faced woman came down the stairs. He turned his devilish black gaze on her, though she had yet to notice him.
"What on earth is- Severus!"
The Potions Master glowered. "This is how you treat the son of your sister, Petunia?!"
The slightly older woman stood to her full height defiantly. "I never asked to raise the little freak," She argued. "I did my best by him."
"This is your best?!" Severus demanded, gesturing to the cupboard. "And what of this?" He gestured to Potter's bruised person.
Petunia sniffed indignantly. "The little freak fell down the stairs. The clumsy little fool."
Severus felt his anger flare. "Do you take me for a fool, Petunia? I knew you were jealous of your sister, but to treat her son like this…" He trailed off, too angry to continue.
"How they treat their nephew is none of your concern," The large woman said. "The little bastard should have been in an orphanage from the start. Good-for-nothing child that he is, he was lucky to be given a home here."
Severus raised his wand. Finally, Potter reacted. He leapt in front of Severus' wand.
Severus started, and looked down into Potter's pleading green eyes.
"Please," Potter murmured. Hesitantly, his hand reached out and lay upon Severus' wand arm. "Please, Professor, they aren't worth it. You-you'll get into trouble. Let's…let's just go, yeah? Please?"
Severus looked between Potter and his relatives. After a long moment of consideration, his anger was doused. He lowered his wand, sheathing it under his sleeve, and gave a stiff nod.
"Very well, Mister Potter," He answered with infinite patience. "Get your things. We're leaving."
Potter visibly relaxed as he moved back to his trunk. He flipped open the lid and dropped the things from under his bed within. After taking his wand out, he closed the lid again, latching it, and took the bulky trunk by the handle on the side. Emerald turned to obsidian expectantly, and Severus gave a stiff nod of approval. He turned back to the gathered family at the base of the stairs, but spared them hardly a glance. If he caught their eye, he knew, he would not be able to control his anger. A large part of control was knowing when you had none, and he was very aware of the precipice on which he stood. Instead, he led his student past the monsters that had so mistreated him, and left the house. Potter followed dutifully, and together they made their way down the walk. Severus briefly considered summoning the Knight Bus, but thought better of it. The chance that the family, or even one of the neighbors, was looking out the window, was too great a risk. He turned to Potter questioningly.
"There's a park about two miles from here. It's in disrepair, so no one ever uses it. Slightly closer, there's Mrs. Figg's house. She's a Squib, but she has floo access so she can keep Dumbledore apprised of my well-being," Potter answered. "And before you get angry at a little old lady who doesn't deserve it, she has told Dumbledore about how my relatives treat me, and he's chosen to ignore it in favor of the blood protection."
Severus frowned, studying again the bruised and swollen visage of the Wizarding Savior. It boggled the mind, to think he'd survived Voldemort for six years, only to have this done to him by Muggles. "I will have to have a discussion with the Headmaster about the definition of 'protection'. For now it would be best to apparate. Is there somewhere closer from which we can apparate?
Potter nodded. "Sure. There are some bushes around the side of the house that we can hide in. But…can we apparate with my trunk?"
Severus gave a stiff nod. "It is difficult, but it can be done. Lead the way, Mister Potter."
Potter gave a nod of his own and turned back towards the house. Severus followed him around the side of 4 Privet Drive, and saw immediately the stand of bushes Potter had mentioned. Without hesitation, Potter pushed through a hidden weak spot in the foliage. Severus entered behind him, and saw how worn the earth was in this secret place. How many times had Potter hidden here over the years to escape his brutal relatives? With a final look at the house (Severus knew without a doubt that he would return quite soon to do what Potter had prevented him doing already), Severus grabbed Potter's arm and apparated them without warning.
With a sharp crack, the two wizards landed in the back garden of Spinner's End. Potter immediately collapsed to his hands and knees, and Severus watched the emaciated form heave, trying to empty an already empty stomach. Guilt gnawed at his heart for forgetting to warn Potter about the effects of apparition. Rather than apologize, however, Severus merely took up the trunk Potter had released and began walking towards the house.
"If you're going to be sick, Potter, then do so before you come inside." He said harshly.
He heard Potter gasp a gulping breath behind him. "Yessir."