Note: What would happen if events conspired in such a way that Snape was forced to take in Harry over the summer between 3rd and 4th year? Remember, the end of 3rd year was likely the time Snape hated Harry the most. Also what if Snape wasn't a walking bundle of guilt who would be undone by looking at Harry (like most authors seem to think he is). What if Snape was as cruel a bastard as he acts and not bound to play by the rules? The answer is hopefully what I'll write here.
This is broadly AU: Harry's childhood abuse is more severe and actually affected him. The events up until the summer between PoA and GoF are basically the same, if anything is different it will be mentioned as needed. Apart from that, there are some fairly significant changes to canon worldbuilding which again will be mentioned as relevant. Rated M to be safe. No smut although sex and sex-related topics might be mentioned.
Standard disclaimers apply. I will not be writing notes at the beginning of each chapter, it's a cheap way to pad the word count. Don't expect regular updates.
Harry had never thought to be grateful for the sweltering heat of the early June sun. In fact, he had rarely experienced said sweltering-early-June-sun because of the notorious British summer weather. It was an unnatural state for Surrey, not a cloud in the sky with the sun's radiance cooking the normally rainy and miserable London suburbs to a high 35 degrees. Looking down Privet Drive, the heat haze rising off the street caused his focus to waver and make him dizzy. He shook his head as if to shake off its influence, then turned back to the garden. Many of the bulbs were suffering from the continued heat wave, hanging limp brown and shriveled, though the shrubs were hardier, showing only a few crisped edges on leaves.
Weeds, the bane of any gardener's plans (or, in Harry's case, the bane of any forced laborer's plans to get dinner) still grew in the heat. Damn things grow like weeds, Harry thought with an internal chuckle at his miserable joke. His hands, caked in layers of dirt and plant juices, gently moved through the stems and stalks of the desired plants and prised out the offending ones. If I ever have a garden for myself, he thought wryly, I'll let weeds grow there, along with any other plants. He felt too much kinship with the plants he removed. They didn't fit in with the strict normality imposed by the Dursleys. To them, he was just as unwanted as those weeds he removed, just as unplanned, and just as easily discarded.
He shook his head again, getting his mind away from the well-trodden path of self-pity. He had a home and a family, one that he chose and cared about, and that cared about him in return. The Dursleys were just something to be borne with as much dignity as possible, which unfortunately, was not much. He leaned back, straightening and arching his back to relax the strained muscles there. A series of loud pops and cracks along his spine caused him to alternatively wince in discomfort and sigh in relief. He gazed up to the featureless blue sky, the sun off approaching her rest. Too much of his time at Hogwarts this past year, the sun had been hidden.
The dementors had that effect on any area they gathered in for long. Creatures of gloom and misery, they brought fog and rain and howling blizzards all year long. Though they were prevented from entering Hogwarts' grounds, they put off an aura of dread and sadness that permeated the entire castle. Many students had gone to the Hospital Wing for treatment of the unique dementor-induced depression. Harry never bothered, but perhaps he should have, if something as simple as sunlight had such a profound effect on him. Even Ron and Hermione had visited Madam Pomfrey a few times. He'd never asked after the exact treatment, but both of them came back in high spirits each time they went. He was forcefully pulled from his musings by the ever-unpleasant shrill voice of Aunt Petunia.
"Boy! Get in here!" she called from inside the house. Harry had long since learned how to determine exactly where in the house anyone was from outside. He stood up, legs protesting at the shift in position after such a long time stationary (and with inadequate food), and quickly rinsed his hands clean of the worst dirt with the hosepipe, then headed inside. "Don't you go tracking your filth across my clean floor, boy." she menaced from the sitting room. Harry slipped his feet out of the oversized trainers that Dudley wore out three years ago and padded over.
"Yes Aunt Petunia?" he said. She didn't like him to look at her directly, so he kept his head down.
"Marge is coming over for two weeks." she informed him. Harry stifled a groan. Aunt Marge was more loathsome than any of the Dursleys. "She'll be here starting the thirteenth, and I expect you to make this house perfect all while she's here." Now Harry's slumped posture wasn't even an act. Three days to get ready for the woman with Uncle Vernon's bulk, Dudley' temper, and Aunt Petunia's seething hatred for all things Harry. Not all things hairy-she loved her vile bulldog, Ripper, and spoiled him worse than she did Dudley.
And of course, Harry had inflated her to the size of a dirigible the year before. Not that she remembered the incident, but he was sure the emotions of it were still clear in her mind. Aunt Petunia continued, "I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the consequences if anything freakish happens." Her voice hissed out, so sharp and dragging on the sibilants that Harry was halfway certain she was speaking Parseltongue.
"Y-yes ma'am" he assured her, shakily. He'd been having strange dreams the past few nights, nothing he could remember except that Voldemort featured prominently in them. He was so caught up in his shock that he almost missed Aunt Petunia's next threat.
"If I get one sniff of anything, you backtalk so much as a single word to her, you'll sleep out in the shed for the rest of the summer," that was a new threat "And I will personally be in charge of exactly how much food you get." That was nothing new. Uncle Vernon would always believe his wife's word on things. Before Hogwarts, Harry almost always ate breakfast, but Aunt Petunia would never pack him a lunch for school (and never registered him to get it at school) and would lie to Uncle Vernon about his behavior so Uncle Vernon would send him to bed without supper. He thought Harry was still getting two meals a day, but instead it would be just one (and a meager one at that).
The thought of Aunt Petunia being in control of every scrap of food he got for two and a half months was a terrifying thought. Something like that… he might not survive that long. "Oh and before I forget, send that awful creature away before Marge gets here. I will not have it disturb her."
"Yes ma'am." Harry sighed. It was certainly for the best, Hedwig was smart but if Ripper got hold of her, there was no doubt who would be the victor. Not to mention Aunt Marge and Uncle Vernon in a rage at her for waking them at two o' clock in the morning. No, for the lasting integrity of Hedwig's neck, Harry would send her away to Hogwarts that evening. After the series of disasters over the last few years, Uncle Vernon had decided that bars over Harry's window were not a good idea, and Harry also suspected that the man had gotten a lot of awkward questions about them for the short time they were up. Barring only one window in the house, and on the second floor at that? Mighty strange.
It was late in the afternoon and Aunt Petunia had failed to send him back to work, so after putting the tools away and throwing the weeds into the compost bin, Harry trudged up the stairs to his tiny room. Harry wondered for a moment how the Dursleys explained away the multitude of locks on the outside of his door to visitors when he was away at school. Before going back into his cell, Harry used the loo and drank as much water as he could, then filled a tall glass and brought it with him to his room.
"Hey girl," he said as he moved the sheet off Hedwig's cage "I've got to send you away for the summer." Hedwig looked at him and hooted softly as he opened the cage. She nibbled on his finger as she stepped onto his arm. "I wish I didn't have to, but Marge is coming over and she's got a really nasty bulldog. And a temper too, she's worse than Uncle Vernon." Hedwig bobbed her head and hooted again. "I'm sorry to send you off like this but at least you'll be at Hogwarts. You won't have to worry about if you can get food there, and time to fly.." Harry trailed off. He scratched the back of her neck. "Well, once it's dark you should get going. I don't know what the Dursleys will do if you're not gone soon." Hedwig launched off his arm and flapped over to the windowsill. Boy and bird shared a long quiet moment looking out over the world suffused in gold as the sun went down.
Smells of the meal being prepared seeped into Harry's room and his stomach gurgled uncomfortably. Water could still hunger pangs for a time, but with Harry as hungry as he was, it wasn't very long. Harry saw Uncle Vernon's car pull into the driveway, and heard the rumblings of conversation below. The sun went down fully and purple twilight set in. Harry opened the window and gave Hedwig a farewell scratch. She launched silently into the air like a ghost, making her way northward. Harry stood for a few minutes watching her turn from a white owl to a white blur to a white dot and then to nothing.
He decided to test his luck and see if his door was left unlocked. Surprisingly, it was. Dinner was almost ready, and Harry could smell the marvelous roast as he descended the stairs. He paused in the doorway to the kitchen, asking permission to eat with his presence. Uncle Vernon saw him first. "Well boy, did you finish all of your chores today?" he asked. He was relaxed, for once, and it seemed even Harry wasn't worth getting upset over today.
"Yes sir, I did. Aunt Petunia also asked me to send Hedwig-my owl-away while Aunt Marge is over." Harry responded. Aunt Petunia had not asked, of course, but she and Uncle Vernon liked to play their little games like that. Orders were requests and demands were recommendations. Merlin help me if they ever say 'please' and 'thank you' to me, it'd mean they were gonna kill me!
Vernon nodded, a small frown creeping onto his face at the mention of Hedwig, but nothing to worry about. "Very well. I assume you know what will happen if there's a repeat incident from last year." Suddenly chills went down Harry's spine. He knew Uncle Vernon in a towering rage was something to be scared of, but this type of threat was much more… threatening. He wasn't even remotely red, beyond his ruddy complexion.
"Of course sir." Harry finally choked out, suppressing a shudder.
Not having been forbidden from dinner today, Harry set a place for himself and decided to try and build on the sudden outpour of good will from Uncle Vernon by assisting with the final touches to the meal. A great beef roast dripping with juices, hearty root vegetables, and hot yeasty bread rolls found their proper places on the dining table. Dudley was summoned from his sty to feed at the trough, and the family settled in to a dinner that was so normal looking it was bizarre. Harry, of course, had to take all his food last, but it was a large meal so he was able to get a sufficient serving of everything, and there was enough for Uncle Vernon and Dudley to get their usual second helpings. Once everyone was finished, Harry made the appropriate noises of gratitude and set about clearing the table and starting the dishes.
He made short work of them. Doing chores from the time he was old enough to push a broom had made him remarkably efficient. As he worked, he let his mind wander, wondering what the summer would have been like if Sirius had been able to prove his innocence and take care of him. I probably wouldn't be doing all the housework Harry thought. Though he had actually gotten a decent meal tonight, it was the first one he'd had since getting home a week prior, and the Dursleys acting decently never lasted more than a couple days. Aunt Marge's being here for two weeks would be a nightmare, she believed every word out of Petunia and Vernon's mouths and was vocal in her advocating for Vernon to take the belt to Harry. He hadn't ever done it while she was around, but Harry was no stranger to that brand of "discipline".
Sirius wouldn't take the belt to me, Harry thought, suddenly sullen. He'd not yet received any mail from Sirius, or Ron or Hermione for that matter. It was only a week into the holiday after all, Hermione had said something about going on holiday in France on the Express, and Ron was never great about writing. All too late, the thought struck him. He had no way to contact them. He'd sent Hedwig off to Hogwarts without penning either of them a letter explaining the situation (or at least, a sanitized version). He resolved to send Ron a note with Errol whenever the aged creature made his way over.
Finally done with the dishes, which usually marked the end of his chores for the day, Harry returned upstairs. His room seemed more barren than usual. The walls were bare. At some point during the school year Uncle Vernon had taken out all of Dudley's broken toys and removed the shelves. The holes from the bolts hadn't even been filled in. A grand total of three pieces of furniture occupied the room: a wardrobe with broken door hinges, a desk with one of the legs propped up on a stack of cardboard boxes, and his rickety, narrow bed. The mattress had been bought used, and Harry had decided to sleep on the floor until he had purged all the bedbugs from it. He collapsed Hedwig's cage and left it on the desktop.
He finally collapsed onto the bed. The springs groaned at the sudden weight, and the paltry bedding did nothing to pad it. For a while, Harry imagined what the room might look like if he were allowed to decorate it even a little bit. Just some stuff on the walls. He'd have a Gryffindor banner there on the wall beside his bed, have a few photographs of his parents duplicated and framed, maybe even a small plant to put in the window. His eyes traced the cracks in the ceiling that traced out from the doorframe. Uncle Vernon's repeated slamming had caused them all. His old cupboard had had cracks in the wood siding from being slammed for so many years, but those were smaller and Harry had been forced to repair those last year.
At some point in the evening, either Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia shut the locks on his door. He heard them close. It was the closest anyone in that house ever came to saying 'goodnight' to him. He shut his eyes and let exhaustion overtake him.
Harry was prone to nightmares, he always had been. As a child, he would often have dreams reliving the abuse he suffered at his relatives' hands, especially Uncle Vernon's. They'd often end with what he now knew to be his parents' murder. As such, he'd learned how to not make any noise while asleep. He couldn't stop himself from crying out, but he had taken to wrapping an old shirt around his head like a gag, so any noises would be smothered. When attending Hogwarts, he'd quickly learned silencing charms and cast them on his bed curtains most nights. They weren't perfect, but it was better than sleeping half-suffocated. Unfortunately, Harry couldn't do that during the summer, so it was back to the old method. He was able to sleep in almost any condition, a side effect of having to sleep in a cramped cupboard while in agony from his injuries, or even being locked outside many nights.
Running down a narrow dirt tunnel, the howls of his werewolf professor echoed in his ears and instilled that most primal terror in all humans, that they were the prey. Harry ran, but was barely moving. He could hear panting and paws pounding on the ground, drawing closer and closer to him. Lunging forward he caught hold of black robes. Thinking it was Snape, he tried to hide behind him until he looked up and realized it was actually a dementor. Rotting hands reached for him and he flung himself back. Falling on gravel, he looked up and was surrounded by hundreds of dementors. Icy cold froze his feet to the ground and the hideous sight of a dementor's gaping mouth loomed in to steal his soul away. With an almighty effort, Harry clawed his way out of the dream and shot upright.
He felt rivers of sweat pour down his body. He didn't wear a nightshirt; nearly all of Dudley's old clothing had been washed so many times that the fabric was too coarse to be comfortable. The bedding was soaked where he had been laying, and his heart raced like it was about to burst free of his ribs. The dementors had featured prominently in his nightmares ever since his first encounter with one on the train, but the events at the end of the year had been a constant source of nightmares ever since. Yet as much as he feared the dementors, he had always had a twisted appreciation for them. Because of them he had heard his parents' voices. True, they were terrified and dying, but he heard his father hold off Voldemort, alternating between bellowing spells and shouting at Lily to escape with Harry. He heard his mother, defenseless, sacrifice herself to the most evil wizard of all time.
Harry's worst memory was also his most cherished. It was only after reliving it courtesy of the dementors that he really knew they had loved him. A few times during the year, he had gone close to the edge of the wards, alone and under his Invisibility Cloak, just within the direct range of a dementor's effect. He'd had to relive being beaten and starved by the Dursleys, but he also got to hear his parents. Dementors always made him feel awful, but the fear and despair was worth it. In his childhood, he'd been made to feel ashamed of his parents, Aunt Petunia telling him they'd been worthless drunks living on the dole, that he'd been an accident that his mother was too cowardly to get rid of, and that Harry would wind up being a homeless junkie if he didn't do the right thing and get himself killed. She'd go on long tirades about his parents, then either beat him herself or have Vernon beat him senseless, and then lock him up for days on end with just enough water to stay alive and a bucket.
In those dark days, Harry had shamefully hated his parents for dying and leaving him in hell. Since he'd turned eleven though, he knew them as who they were, and that dark seed of hatred had been turned towards the Dursleys, especially Aunt Petunia. She was the worst of them. Uncle Vernon made sure he ate breakfast (usually), and when Harry was young he'd sometimes slip him a bit of food when he was locked away. True, he did beat Harry a lot, but it was only after Aunt Petunia and Dudley had made up lies about him breaking toys or something. Dudley was just a kid following his parents' example, and being encouraged and rewarded for being a bully. He couldn't not hate them, they'd hurt him too much, but he figured if they were to ever apologize he'd be able to forgive them. But Petunia… she was nothing but poison.
Harry sat on his bed for a few hours, idly tracing the many scars he had on his front, lost in his black thoughts. His fingers trailed over a thin silvery line on his abdomen, that one was from Dudley and his pack of jackals when they were ten. They'd held him down and wanted to play 'surgeon' on him with a stolen kitchen knife. The game had lasted precisely as long as it took to cut a two inch long incision. The sight of that much blood pouring out had made everyone lose interest (and a couple of them lost their lunch as well). A rough scar on his side was from a broken rib that had punched out of his skin. There were a few of those, actually. His torso was littered with small scars from the many cuts, burns, and other injuries he'd had over the years. Thankfully, he scarred very well, most of them going thin and silvery or to match his skin tone. It made them easy to hide in the showers, as they weren't visible from more than a few feet away, and even then one had to know what to look for.
Eventually, the room lightened as morning approached, and finally Harry shook his head to clear away the unpleasant emotions and memories. He stood up and carefully stretched each muscle in his body that he could, hissing at the soreness but sighing in relief as the stretching helped. At school, he'd do some basic exercises in the morning a few times a week, but at home he didn't get enough food to bother with that. He'd started doing the exercises in an attempt to put on a bit of muscle, but then he learned that most wizards and witches went through puberty a lot slower than muggles, and at a later time. It was mostly due to their increased lifespan, and magic played some role in it that Harry hadn't remembered. Instead of thirteen and fourteen, wizards would start developing around sixteen; witches would be slightly earlier but not by much. He still did the exercises because they got his blood flowing and woke him up.
All of that meant Harry had years to go before he might expect major growth spurts or the ability to pack on some muscle. He was going into his fourth year soon, but he was still shorter than most of the first years had been, and scrawnier too! When he was a first year, all of his peers had towered head and shoulders over him. Dudley had always been a shorter kid, but he was starting to grow a lot. He had been put on a diet by Smeltings this past year, and those two things had made a visible change in him. Oh, Dudley was fat still, but the shirts he'd gotten last year hung off of him. The weight loss had coincided with (or caused) a resurgence in Harry Hunting among Dudley and his toadies. Harry had always been fast, but his small stature, now made even more pronounced, had finally been his undoing. He just didn't have the endurance or the stride the others did, and for the first time in years Dudley himself had caught Harry, and didn't even need to have four others hold him down so he could beat him to a pulp. He was strong enough to knock Harry down with a few blows, and that was the end of Harry's chance to escape.
Standing in the window, Harry watched the sky get lighter and lights in houses turn on. The newspaper lorry drove down the street, the man in the back hurling copies of the Times out. Soon, he heard rumblings in the house that meant the Dursleys were getting up. Putting on a shirt (this one from four years ago), he made his bed (which was the difficult task of smoothing out the mattress cover and pulling the single sheet over it) and waited. When he heard Aunt Petunia's light footsteps in the hall approaching him, he stood up from where he had been sitting on the floor.
"UP, get up!" She called, rapping on the door.
"I'm up, Aunt Petunia." He replied.
"You have five minutes to get downstairs." As she spoke, Harry could hear her undoing the locks and then the door swung open. She turned and went downstairs. Harry rushed into the bathroom, desperate for some water. He was dehydrated from sweating so much. Five minutes later, he was downstairs babysitting the cast iron skillet full of breakfast. Uncle Vernon lumbered down the stairs as Harry was plating the food. He was visibly in a poor mood today, so Harry decided to cut his losses and make himself scarce. After scraping the burnt and crusted bits into his hand and wolfing them down, he washed the dishes and grabbed the list of chores Aunt Petunia had written. She preferred to not speak to him, and though a list made his chores easier, it also enabled her to ignore him more easily.
It was two days until Marge arrived and Harry had a mountain of work to do. The linens in the guest bedroom needed to be washed, and the entire room cleaned. Marge had a drill sergeant's eye for detail, and a single speck of dust on any surface would be noticed. He got to work. Luckily, housework was less physically demanding than gardening and it was easier to get some water from the tap in the bathroom. He worked all morning in the guest room until it was perfect, polishing the wood furniture, vacuuming the carpet, everything he could imagine. From there, he started on cleaning the rest of the house. When Aunt Petunia said she wanted perfection, she meant it.