Sorry about the long wait guys, thanks for sticking with me. I have written, read, edited and rewritten this chapter so many times my fingers are going to fall off and I'm still not happy with it, but here it is anyway. Perhaps some feedback will help me out of this disaster of a chapter.
I have checked this chapter and I see no gibberish like the last one, so fingers crossed it publishes okay today. If not, as always, please tell me and I'll use my limited technological knowledge to see if I can fix it.
As dawn broke, soft morning sunlight swept across the grassy fields of Ottery St. Catchpole, bathing the countryside in that warm glow that made one feel happiness and contentment unlike anything else. You know the one. That feeling you get when the warm sun touches your face as it crests over the horizon and the air hasn't quite thrown off the chill of the night. The one where you have goosebumps on your shoulders and all you can smell is the grass and scent of the dew on the leaves of the mint and clover that surrounds you. That one, the one that makes you think everything could be alright in the world if only every day started like this.
The warm morning sun poured into the windows of the large kitchen in the Burrow and Molly Weasley was once again making breakfast. She was minding a pan full of sausages when she heard the first of the many children occupying her home stumbling down the many stairs and into the living room.
She turned, with a smile on her face, to see that her young house guest was the first to be pulled from the many comforts of a warm bed by the tantalizing smell of breakfast. "Good morning, Dudley."
Dudley looked at the kind witch, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "G'morning, Mrs. Weasley. Do you need some help with breakfast?"
Molly smiled. "No thank you, dear. Breakfast is almost ready. Why don't you help yourself to some toast?"
As Dudley pulled the basket of warm toast over to him and grabbed a piece, Molly contemplated the rather rotund boy in front of her. He'd only been living at the Burrow for a couple of days, but she'd already seen a change in him. It seemed that the events surrounding his removal from his home and arrival in the Wizarding World had truly put things into perspective for him.
The morning that Dudley had arrived, he had been very standoffish once the sea of red-headed children came down the stairs for breakfast and the reason why had quickly become apparent.
Molly hadn't gone to the Dursley's to fetch Harry for the World Cup, but Fred, George and Ron had. When Fred and George had managed to make their way down for breakfast, they stopped short when they saw Dudley sitting at the kitchen table with Arthur, who had arrived home shortly after Severus had left. Catching their mother's eye, the twins had mouthed 'What is he doing here?'
She could see her boys were tense and Molly quickly wrapped her arms around their shoulders and guided them into the living room. She set them down on the couch and quietly explained the situation to them, including the details she'd managed to pump out of Dudley before Arthur had arrived home. At the end of her explanation, the twins were still apprehensive, but had since accepted Dudley after they had heard his side of the story. Ron, on the other hand, was still furious and Molly couldn't fathom why.
The morning of Dudley's arrival, Ron had thundered down the stairs, late as usual, to find Dudley sandwiched between the twins and Ginny at the table. He had frozen on the spot and Molly noticed he had turned white. Afraid her youngest son was going to explode and cause a scene, she quickly took him outside and explained the poor Muggle boy's situation to him, as well as the tidbits about Harry.
As Molly had explained things to Ron, his face had begun to turn red in fury. His ears and cheeks were the color of tomatoes by the time she had finished, so Molly had made Ron promise to be nice to Dudley. Ron had begrudgingly agreed after some threatening. When they returned to the kitchen, Ron sat at the opposite end of the table from Dudley, as far away from the boy as possible without sitting on the counter.
Although Dudley's reception had been icy, the children of the Burrow slowly started to warm up to him after a few hours. He was a little begrudging about household chores, but from what little Harry had said about his relatives over the years, Dudley hadn't had to do any work at all. After degnoming the garden, however, Dudley had seemed to warm to the idea of chores and that they could even be fun.
Dudley Dursley had shown a side of himself to Molly that she sincerely hoped Harry would get to see as well. She hoped she could rely on Harry's forgiving nature that he would be willing to see his cousin. Merlin knows Dudley had asked if there had been a letter from Severus every day he'd been here.
Molly set the pan of sausages on the table. Dudley helped himself to two and looked up at her. "Um, Mrs. Weasley, could you, uh, help me write a letter to Harry today?"
Molly was surprised.
"I just, uh, thought that maybe he didn't write yet because he doesn't believe what I told Professor Snape, so, um, I thought maybe I should tell him myself. Y'know, so I can apologize to him directly, er, sort of."
Molly smiled. "Of course, dear. We'll do it right after breakfast." She was happy that Dudley was showing the initiative to apologize to his cousin. Maybe the Muggles hadn't messed him up as much as everyone had been led to believe.
o – o – o – o – o
Severus woke up suddenly. He had fallen asleep on the couch after soothing Harry and resetting the charms around the bed. He listened hard, eyes still closed, breathing slow and steady as if he were still asleep. Something had woke him and he wasn't fool enough to think he had imagined it.
There it was again, a noise from the kitchen, like something had been set down harder than it was meant to be. Noiselessly, Severus sat up and cautiously peered over the back of the couch.
Harry James Potter, the Boy Who Was Apparently Intent on Giving Him Grey Hair, was in the kitchen. He was standing with his back to Severus, doing something over the stove. Harry turned toward the cupboards and Severus saw the teapot sitting on the range. He watched as Harry reached up to get the tea box down from an upper cupboard, wincing as he did so. He set the box of tea on the counter and Severus could see his hands were trembling violently.
Severus quietly stood up and smoothed out his wrinkled robes. Then he quickly walked over to the kitchen. "What do you think you're doing out of bed?" he drawled, arms crossed over his chest.
Harry jumped and fell against the counter, eyes wide. He swallowed. "Um, I remembered you said you'd be up late, so I thought you might like some tea, sir."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "If it weren't for the fact that you should still be resting, I'd say you should have been Sorted into Hufflepuff." Severus pulled a chair out from the table. "Sit," he said sternly.
Harry nodded and shuffled over to the table. Severus had to say shuffle was the most appropriate term for the slow, trembling limp the boy exhibited on his trip from the counter to the table. The boy's face was white and clammy looking, and Severus wondered what possessed the child to think that he was in any shape to be getting out of bed and making tea.
Severus pulled two teacups down from the cabinet and turned his attention to the kettle for a moment before turning back toward Harry, leaning against the counter. "I appreciate your efforts, Mr. Potter, but you're in no condition to be moving around right the moment. Your body still hasn't recovered and it needs to rest."
"Harry," Harry said quickly. "You called me Harry yesterday and, um, it's – it's kinda nice."
Snape fought the muscles that threatened to turn the corners of his lips up into a grin. "Very well, Harry. I will use your first name in private, but it will have to remain Mr. Potter in public."
Harry nodded. "I understand, sir."
The kettle whistled and Severus turned, making two cups of tea. He grabbed both cups and turned toward the table. He set one cup in front of Harry and the other in front of himself as he sat down.
Harry's cup rattled in its saucer as he picked it up, tea sloshing over the side. He set the cup back down and picked up just the teacup instead. His hands still shook, but he managed to make it to his mouth this time. He took a sip and set the cup back down in the saucer as gently as he could, cringing when it made noise. He quickly loked up at the Potions Master, who watching him impassively. "Sorry, Professor."
"There's no need to apologize, Harry," Severus said. "You're unable to control your movements in the manner that you wish to, through no fault of your own."
Harry looked down into his tea. He didn't know what to do with this new information. Snape wasn't angry Harry had clinked the thin china together. At the Dursleys, Aunt Petunia would have slapped him for that, after she slapped him for even thinking about using the china. Harry was to be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen.
"What are you thinking about?"
Snape's voice snapped Harry back to reality. The professor looked…curious? What was so interesting about the thoughts that churned inside his head?
"Nothing," Harry answered. Snape raised an eyebrow. Harry sighed. "At the Dursleys I was to be seen and not heard. Although, they'd really rather not see me, either. They liked to pretend I didn't exist." Harry gestured vaguely at the teacup. "If I had clinked Aunt Petunia's china together, even accidentally, she would have slapped me. That would be nothing compared to what Uncle Vernon would have done when he got home from work though. He would have taken off his belt if I even thought about using the china and then he would have thrown the whole set in the bin because I'd have ruined it."
To Harry's horror, once the words had begun tumbling out of his mouth, he couldn't get them to stop. He hadn't meant to tell Snape that much. Harry supposed the man deserved the truth, Snape hadn't ever lied to him that he knew of, but that didn't mean that Snape needed to know everything about everything.
Severus's face remained expressionless and he was glad for his years of spying that allowed it to remain so, because inside was a completely different matter. He suddenly found himself wishing he hadn't let the Dursleys off so lightly. Transfiguration would have done nicely. Maybe some Verumsui Serum, to reveal their true selves. Hmm, that wasn't a bad idea. Severus was pretty sure he had everything required to make it. He would have to remember that if any more sordid details about Harry's life with the Dursleys found their way into the light.
Harry took a sip of his tea, his hands still shaking but not quite as bad as a few minutes ago. "Did you speak to Dumbledore, sir?"
"Professor Dumbledore, Harry," Severus reminded. "And I did. He seems to be under the impression that it's safer for you to return to the Dursleys."
Harry hung his head. "Well, I guess it's a good thing you didn't grab my stuff when you rescued me." He sighed. "I guess I just hoped he'd listen this time," he said quietly. He knew it had been foolish to get his hopes up. He should have known that this time would be no different than any other time he had gone Dumbledore. It was foolish to have hoped that Snape would have able to do anything; he was just as helpless in all this as Harry was.
Harry sighed and looked at his professor. "Thank you for healing me, sir. It won't be so bad now. I won't be getting new bruises when the old ones haven't healed for at least day or two." It would take at least that long for Uncle Vernon to lay down the first layer of bruises. He liked to take his time when Harry had been particularly bad and he was sure this would be considered one of those times.
Severus blinked. The boy was willing to go back just because Dumbledore thought he should? The boy had shown Severus he was bright, but acceptance wasn't something he had expected from Harry. Then a lightbulb flicked on. Of course! Harry was only willing to go back to the Dursleys because he felt helpless in the Wizarding World. A helplessness that Dumbledore was capitalizing on.
Being raised by Muggles, Harry would have no idea how the Wizarding World worked, so he would be reliant on the first wizard that took an interest in him and Dumbledore had relied on that. Severus had known Dumbledore had kept the boy in the dark, but not to this extent. Not to the extent where Harry thought it was acceptable to leave a child in an abusive household.
"I believe you misunderstand me, Harry," Severus interrupted. "Just because Dumbledore thinks jumping off a bridge is a good idea doesn't mean it is. You will never be returning to the Dursleys if I have anything to say about it." And I have a lot to say about it.
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. "Sir? What can you do? The Dursleys are my legal guardians and there's no way they would let me go." They'd never willingly do their own work, went unsaid.
Severus sighed and rubbed his face. Shit. This was not the time nor place he was planning on having this conversation. He wanted Harry to get accustomed to him a bit more first. Oh well, he'd better get this over with.
"I think it would be better to continue this conversation in the living room, Harry," Severus said, standing. He helped Harry up and walked him slowly over to the couch, settling the teen down on the soft cushions and placing the afghan in his lap. "Stay here and I'll get some more tea," Severus said, walking back into the kitchen. I have a feeling we're going to need it.
Grabbing two fresh cups of tea, Severus walked back into the living room. He handed one to Harry before settling into his armchair next to the fire. Severus took a sip of tea, stalling while he gathered his thoughts. There was a right way to do this, a way where he wouldn't have a teenage tantrum on his hands, nor a distrustful Harry. The last thing the child needed was to think he couldn't rely on yet another adult in his life.
Facing the son of Lily and James Potter, Severus began. "Am I right in assuming that you feel like a ship tossed about in the ocean? That you feel you have no control over what's going on in your life and that you're at the mercy of the decisions made by other people, regardless of whether those decisions are what's best for you?"
Harry nodded. "It feels like no one cares about what I want. It's always about what's best for them and the Wizarding World and then they explain it to me like I'm stupid, like I don't see what they're doing. Dumbledore is just ridiculous." Harry shifted forward on the couch and stared intently at Severus. "You know what? I think Dumbledore set me up first year. Knowing what I know about magic now, there's no way those six fairly simple challenges were at all meant to keep out Voldemort."
Severus winced, his left arm tingling. Harry kept going, like the floodgates had finally been released.
"No, they were designed for an eleven-year-old with rudimentary magical education to be able to pass them. They were designed for Ron, Hermione and I to make it through them. They were tailored to us and our strengths. Who in their right mind would expect an eleven-year-old to defeat the Dark Lord? It's insane! And Dumbledore has groomed me for the last four years to defeat an evil wizard he can't even destroy. And there's nothing I can do about it because he has absolute control over me and the Dursleys are my legal guardians, so there's no help there. They'd help Tom kill me," Harry added wryly.
Severus took another sip of his tea. "It's true that the Dursleys are your legal guardians and in the Muggle world that would be the end of it. Permission from the Dursleys would be required to transfer guardianship. However, guardianship in the Wizarding World is a bit more…fluid. Proper care of children is of the utmost importance to the Wizarding World due to the already limited numbers of wizarding children. For example, guardianship of every student in this school, whether they be Pureblood, Half-blood or Mubbleborn, is transferred to the Headmaster or Headmistress of this school during the academic year. The necessity of proper childcare in our world is why older witches and wizards are unable to understand why a family would neglect, let alone lay a hand on, a member of their own family, regardless of how distantly related they are or whether the relations get along or not. Do you understand so far?"
Harry nodded. "If that's the case, then that makes Dumbledore my guardian during the school year. Even if, somehow, I don't have to go back to the Dursleys this summer, he can just make sure I do at the end of the year." Which would make everything much worse.
Severus nodded. "Usually yes, but you're getting ahead of me, Harry. For everything to make sense, I must explain how wizarding law views guardianship when the parents of a child are deceased." Severus took another sip of his tea.
"The Ministry takes the wishes of the deceased parents very seriously in regards to the future caretaker of the child. When godparents are chosen, both parents must agree and are required to sign the form, as well as a witness that isn't included among the godparents that have been named in the document. This ensures that everyone is clear on the contents of the will where the future of the child or children is concerned. This is also witnessed by a goblin representative of Gringotts, to ensure that the vaults left by the deceased are accessible to the right people.
In the Wizarding World, if the legal guardian of the child somehow ends up being an individual or couple not named by the parents, the guardianship is null and void and the child will go to the appropriate individual unless deemed unfit, which is rare, considering the archaic laws that govern child welfare in our world."
Harry was confused. "I though you said that it was really important for children to be taken care of properly?"
Severus nodded again. "I did, but that line of thinking, oddly enough, applies more toward making sure the child goes to the individual or individuals named by the parents in the will. There are loopholes in wizarding law that allow a magical parent or guardian to discipline the child as they see fit as long as it's outside the public eye and leaves no marks in areas that clothing doesn't cover. This rarely happens outside Pureblood families or the families that follow the Dark Lord, but it is still a loophole the Ministry has not seen fit to address. The Ministry favors operating on an "out of sight, out of mind" basis and that includes child abuse."
Harry shook his head. "That's ridiculous. You're saying that if everything the Dursleys did to me was done by a magical family, it would be legal?"
"Unfortunately, if you were any other person than the Boy Who Lived," Severus answered. "As it is, not only are Muggles at fault, but you are the Savior of the Wizarding World, which would make the Ministry have to pay attention."
Harry felt the wheels turning in his head. If word got out that Harry was being abused by Muggles and that Dumbledore not only knew, but made him return every summer, Dumbledore would have to find him a new guardian if he didn't want the entire Wizarding World to riot. If word got out, parents wouldn't want to give temporary guardianship of their children to him if he couldn't even be bothered to ensure the safety of the Boy Who Lived, meaning attendance at Hogwarts would drop and Dumbledore's reputation would be ruined. Harry grinned at that thought.
Severus raised an eyebrow at Harry. He could practically see the gears turning in the boy's head and he wondered if Harry had come up with the same solution he himself had considered. It would work even if Harry didn't take too kindly to what Severus was going have to admit to next.
Harry thought for a moment. "Wait a second. What you were saying before, are you trying to tell me that the Dursleys aren't my legal guardians?"
Severus felt a black hole open in his stomach. He was able to get through the legal babble as it distracted him from the painful truth he had to divulge to the vulnerable, trusting youth in front of him. "Correct. Your mother and father never wanted you to go to Petunia and Vernon Dursley. They weren't even named in the will. "
Harry seemed to mulling things over and processing everything and Severus was all too happy to let him. "So Sirius was my legal guardian the whole time?"
Severus scoffed unwillingly, but the thought of Black being able to raise a child at twenty-one years of age was entirely laughable. The man was barely able to take care of himself and was wild, to say the least. Sirius Black had always been a rebel and let the freedom from his family go to his head. But Harry didn't know that. The man Harry had known was an escaped convict and still not a suitable guardian for the then-thirteen-year-old. Being on the run, living cave to cave and eating rats was the farthest thing from a stable home environment that Severus could think of.
Harry's voice brought Severus out of his musings and into the hell that was about to be reality. He really hated teenage tantrums and he was about to get a front row seat to the next one. "No, Harry. Black wasn't your guardian. Both your parents realized, luckily, that after they had named him your godfather that he wouldn't have been able to provide the steady lifestyle that was needed to raise a child. He was too wild and impulsive and young to able to properly provide for and raise a child."
"Then who's supposed to be my guardian? Dumbledore?" Harry asked apprehensively.
"No. The Ministry won't let werewolves be legal guardians for children that are not their own flesh and blood due to the danger of their affliction."
"Then who, Professor?"
Severus took a deep breath. It was now or never, time to face the music, as his Muggle neighbor had once said when he was a child.
"I am your godfather, Harry."
In retrospect, Severus mused, it probably would have been best to have told Harry when there wasn't a breakable china teacup anywhere within reach. Although, Severus thought, as he watched the teacup sail across the living room and smash into the wall, not having anything within reach didn't apply to accidental magic.
Note: I completely made up the Verumsui Serum. It literally just translates to "true self" 'cause I'm very unimaginative when it come to naming things, apparently.