In the Midst of the Night
Chapter 1 – On the Street
The tiny boy sat with his knees pulled up and his arms wrapped around them. It was early in the morning, but he had woken up from another nightmare and the pain had yet to melt away. It seared through his body and he shut his eyes as a small whimper escaped his lips.
Nearby, a figure rustled under the covers of the other bed. "Harry?" whispered another boy. "D'you have another dream?" He sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes tiredly, his youthful face filled with exhaustion.
The boy called Harry bit down on his lip and his eyes fluttered open to reveal strangely bright, emerald green orbs. "Go back to sleep, Aden," he murmured in a strained voice. He couldn't have been more than seven years of age (though he looked about five), but his eyes held a sense of maturity that most at the age of forty didn't have. He quickly turned his face away so that the other wouldn't be able to see the sudden drops of liquid that fell from his eyes.
Aden smothered a yawn behind his hand and shook his head. "Was it the same one?" he wondered quietly, as to not wake the other boys. Harry sniffed and didn't answer so Aden crawled off his bed and padded his way over to his friend's. Gently, he laid a hand on the other's bruised shoulder and peered carefully at him. Harry tensed at the touch, but didn't shrug it away. "It was just a dream – he can't get you. He ain't real," said Aden. He shook light brown hair from his chocolate brown eyes.
Harry told him, "Aden, go back to sleep. You'll get in trouble if you get caught again."
His friend rolled his eyes heavenward. "So'll you, git."
The raven-haired boy glanced over at the child next to him and a lopsided grin appeared upon his face. The pain was receding and so were his fears – the nightmare was over, for now.
"Thanks," he said softly, and Aden grinned.
The next morning, both boys found themselves roused violently from sleep by a tall lanky figure of a man. His face seemed set in a scowl while his eyes held depths of grey and ice. Mr. McKinnon was the head of St. Mary's Orphanage and he despised children. It wasn't known why, but all the boys knew it.
"Up, scamps! Else you can spend the day in the chastise room!" he growled and each boy quickly jumped out of bed stimulated by the threat.
Harry rubbed his eyes and stifled a great yawn. He followed the others to the kitchens where they would set up the tables with the proper mismatched silverware, plates, and cups for breakfast. The elder boys would cook the food. About an hour after their talk last night, Aden had fallen fast asleep, but Harry had sat up and in the end, had gotten next to no sleep. Now, he stumbled through the swinging door of the kitchen and went to the cupboard. The boy was short for his age, whether from malnutrition or genetics, it was hard to tell.
An elder boy named Jerold took a large stack of plates and shoved them towards the smaller boy who struggled to keep a firm hold upon them. Harry then sauntered towards the swinging door and only had time for his eyes to widen before it swung straight into him. The mismatched plates went flying and the sound of shattered glass echoed in the suddenly silent kitchen. A feeling of dread arose within his chest as the boy tentatively glanced up and saw Mr. McKinnon looking down at him with the icy color of his eyes more pronounced then ever. The man reached down and Harry scrambled backwards, but wasn't quick enough. By now, the silence seemed deafening and his almost inaudible whimper seemed to ricochet off the walls.
McKinnon's grip on Harry's arm tightened and his face contorted into a mask of fury. "What are you brats gaping at? Get on with your work!" he growled, then proceeded to pull the boy towards the door.
Aden ran up and tugged on his shirt. "Please, sir, t'wasn't Harry's fault! He couldn't help -," but the elder man backhanded him so that the boy fell hard upon the floor.
"Quiet, boy, else you'll get a beating like this 'un," snarled the man. Harry tried tugging his arm away as he was half dragged into the chastise room. He was rewarded with being thrown into the room, landing on his side. The tiny boy winced – that would leave a mark. "Now I'll have to spend what little money I've saved to get out of this hell hole on those blasted plates you shattered!" yelled McKinnon.
Harry struggled to get up, but was kicked back down and he gasped at the shooting pain that radiated up his ribs. "I'm not afraid of you," he said in the bravest voice he could muster, but the slight quaver gave him away.
The elder man raised a brow, a smirk appearing upon his face as he withdrew a belt from his coat pocket. Harry's eyes widened. As McKinnon approached, the small boy edged hastily backwards, emerald green orbs transfixed upon the familiar tool. "Afraid of me now, boy?" implored the man menacingly.
Harry shook his head defiantly, despite the fact that he had begun to shake. Was he afraid? No, he was terrified.
Severus Snape scowled at Albus and pursed his lips. "I shant do it," he replied, anger laced in every syllable.
The headmaster had begun to lose patience with his former student, and that within itself was a hard task to accomplish. "Severus, it must be done," said Dumbledore.
The younger man's scowl deepened considerably. "Well, why must it be me? Tell that blasted oaf, Hagrid, to -," but he was cut off by the stern expression on his mentor's face. "All right, I'm sorry," he muttered after a short moment. "But I've a lot of work to do and I just received an ingredient I've been waiting for the exact moment you called me. Couldn't the boy just wait? He's been there for years already, I'm sure a few more days wouldn't hurt…"
Amusement twinkled in Albus' eyes. "No, Severus, he can't wait," he said, the sparkle dimming. "It seems I have made a grave mistake and it must be fixed at once." He held out a key to the potions professor. "That's Mr. Potter's key to his Gringotts account. I trust you'll see to it that the boy gets the proper necessities. I believe he will be residing somewhere new for quite a while." Dumbledore paused, anxiety traced in every ancient line upon his face. "And please, go quickly."
Severus growled inwardly knowing that he couldn't argue with the elder man. He owed so much to the headmaster already and this was the least he could do – but why did it have to be the Boy-Who-Bloody-Lived?
He looked at himself in the mirror and noted the sinister air of his ebony black robes. "Blasted muggles," he mumbled to himself and quickly disregarded the idea of trying to dress like one of the inferior beings. Severus then proceeded to walk out of the room and the Hogwarts grounds.
After apparating into muggle Manchester, he sniffed in disdain at the particularly soiled end of the city. Ahead stood the shabby residence called St. Mary's Orphanage. He clenched and unclenched his fists before reluctantly making his way inside. There, he was greeted by a tall lanky man whose scowl rivaled Severus' own. Currently, the head of the orphanage was in the process of shuffling papers without a purpose and muttering obscenities that went beyond the imagination of the former Death Eater.
The potions professor cleared his throat. "Pardon," he said in a low, gruff voice.
The other man glanced up, glowered, and said briskly in a very unfriendly tone, "What do you want?"
Severus pursed his lips and fingered the wand that lowered slightly in his sleeve. "I'm here to see a Mr. Harry James Potter," he said, "please," he added as an afterthought.
The man looked up quickly, panic flashing briefly past his eyes. "We have no one by that name here," he said quickly. "You may exit by whence you came."
"There is a Harry Potter here and I demand to see him. I'm on strict orders to retrieve him."
Jack McKinnon scowled darkly at the stranger in the strange robes. "Well, you may not because, as I have told you already, there is no one by that name here! Now, you can either leave or I can alert the police!"
But Severus would not be daunted. He pulled out his wand, and muttered a quick, "Petrificus totalus." After smirking down at the immobile body of the head of the orphanage, he walked down the hallway. A boy ran out of a room, followed closely by a larger young man whom Severus stopped with a tap on the head with his wand. "Kindly point me to Mr. Harry Potter," he said.
The boy looked up at the ominous man and swallowed. "Er – I'm not quite sure where he is…sir."
The smaller boy glared at Severus. "What do you want with 'im?"
He glanced down at the child. "That's none of your business. Now direct me to where he is," he demanded.
Aden crossed his arms. "No," responded the boy simply.
The elder man picked the boy up by the collar of his shirt. "Where – is – Harry – Potter?" he asked once more.
The child's eyes widened considerably and he pointed all the way down the hall. "Though, you mayn't wish to see him now…sir," he said softly.
But Severus didn't much care about the thoughts of a child and continued down the hall. It was on his reluctant walk to the designated room that he noticed the shabbiness of the setting. The place was as clean as could be, but the stains upon the once white walls, the holes and scratches on the floors, and the overall decadence of the orphanage told a different story. He wondered what kind of home this was for children.
After what seemed like only a minute, he stood before the door. His hand lingered on the handle before he turned it and…it was locked. A scowl appeared upon his face in irritation and he brandished his wand. "Alohamora," he muttered. As he stepped in, he noted the distinct smell of the room. He couldn't quite place it, but the feeling that the particular aroma projected sent shivers up his spine.
"Who's there?" wondered a small voice. The small light bulb flickered continuously and radiated solely a dim illumination.
Severus' eyes wandered to where the voice had originated and fell upon a small figure sitting Indian style in a corner. He brandished the wand and saw the child start in alarm. "Lumos," he said in low tone and sat who had spoken.
The boy was small and looked tinier in the baggy clothes he wore. The color was a dank looking gray and its original color was hard to determine. His eyes were large and seemed to be a deep green, but they swirled with shadows of black, and the potions professor could tell why. The boy's expression was blank, at the moment, and the color of his eyes helped to keep an unreadable and guarded expression permanent upon his face.
"My name is Professor Severus Snape, Potter, and I was sent by the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to come here and collect you," said the man in disdain.
Harry stared wide-eyed at the professor and felt tired by the amount of information issued in the solitary sentence. He was tired and aching, but the marks from the previous day seemed to have disappeared. It was hard to comprehend exactly what this strange man in the strange robes meant by all the long words, but nevertheless, he nodded as if he understood.
Severus watched as the boy's eyes took him in and sighed as he saw the confusion display across his face. "Stand up, boy; you are leaving this…place." The child hesitated a moment, before slowly climbing to his feet. He seemed to stumble for a minute, but reached out for the wall to steady him. "Come," he ordered, and led the way out.
The boy trailed after the man in the billowing black robes with excitement and fear building within him at the same time. He didn't know why exactly he was following the stranger and had no idea what it was that the man wanted, but he had had a certain feeling of home-coming when…what did he say his name was?...oh yes, Professor Severus Snape walked into the chastise room. Harry felt the eyes of the other boys of the orphanage and the heat of a blush arose upon his cheeks.
Just then, the professor stopped and Harry nearly ran into him. "Pack your things. You won't be returning," said he and the child took a few steps back.
"Not – not returning?" he stuttered, his brows furrowing with a mixture of fright and bewilderment. "Why not?"
Snape scowled with impatience. "Because this establishment has been deemed unfit for your upbringing," said the man in a near growl.
"Unfit…" repeated Harry numbly. He was so confused. Why did the strange man in the strange robes have to talk in such big words? And why, in heaven's name, did his robes have to billow like that?