Aside from the obvious debt to JKR, who owns the characters, I owe the inspiration of first person Snape to Cybele (who writes awesome fics). I'm afraid this begins with a well-worn plot bunny, but it was just the right place to start.....Will get more distinctive later on (or so I hope!)

Inevitably, it was because of the Potter boy that my usefulness to the Order of the Phoenix ceased. I saved his life once too often. In the process, I attained the enviable position of Next Most Wanted on the Dark Lord's hit list. Treachery was one thing, and bad enough. Getting away with it for almost two decades was something else again.

So, I was rather surprised when Dumbledore invited me for tea to tell me he had a task for me.

After the usual pleasantries (which meant Dumbledore made small talk and I sneered), he finally got to the point. I choked back my incredulity behind a polite curl of the lip.

"Are you saying, Albus, that you wish me to collect Potter from his relatives?"

Dumbledore nodded, apparently pleased I had understood him correctly.

"Are you mad?" This was not the time to mince words.

"My dear Severus," Dumbledore replied soothingly. "I need someone who is a wizard, and someone Harry knows and can therefore trust. Lupin, Moody, Tonks, Kingsley, the Weasleys…they are all busy at the moment with other projects. I myself am about to depart elsewhere on business I cannot postpone…"

Dumbledore was wrong. I had not understood him correctly at all. "You want someone Potter trusts? And, therefore, you have decided to select me?"

Dumbledore smiled benignly. "Harry does not like you, Severus. That doesn't mean he doesn't trust you. At least, not since the last time you ended up at St Mungo's on his behalf."

This memory made me growl. Then I was reminded of the canine psychopath Black. That made me want to growl even more fiercely. I contented myself with baring my teeth.

"And are you not forgetting, Albus," I added tightly, "that Potter and myself together would be the Dark Lord's idea of gift-wrapped heaven?"

Dumbledore smiled apologetically, and chose to explain his twisted logic. "Well, you see, that means neither of you will be putting the other in any greater danger."

"And," I continued, "do you not keep nag – asking me to remain confined to Hogwarts?"

"Ah yes," Dumbledore replied gently. "But you insisted, Severus, that you did not wish to live in that way. You will be at no greater risk performing this duty than you already are every time you leave the school. Which is far too often, Severus, as I keep telling you…"

I scowled. Dumbledore did not appear to appreciate the vast difference between choosing, for my own pleasure, to take a trip to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley – and stepping foot outside of my dungeons in order to do Potter a favour.

"What, Severus?" His eyes were twinkling in the way that always made me deeply suspicious. "You would risk your life for some fresh air beyond the Hogwarts grounds, but not in order to protect Harry?"

Now that was unfair. I had been risking my life to save that ungrateful brat for years. As Albus well knew.

It seemed, in the end, to have become something of a habit.

And thus, in the end, as Dumbledore knew perfectly well I would, I agreed I would go. The only bright spot was that Potter would hate the situation at least as much as I would. In this, I found some comfort. Tormenting Gryffindors – especially this one - was always so soothing.

Harry backed up against the wall, his heart pounding.

This summer had been the worst ever. Uncle Vernon had only agreed to have him in the house on three conditions. Firstly, he had to hand over his wand. This in itself alarmed Harry very much. He was supposed to be safe here, but that hadn't stopped Dementors floating down Wisteria Walk last year, had it? Uncle Vernon, however, had prior experience of Harry's unruly temper. He had insisted.

Secondly, he was not allowed to bring Hedwig, and he was to forbid his friends to send him owls. As Uncle Vernon had bought a shotgun, Harry complied with this demand for the sake of the owls. Ron and Hermione had been very indignant, but grudgingly recognized that disobeying would only mean Harry had an even harder time of it than he would anyway.

Thirdly, he was not to leave the house, and he had to remain in his room at all times except when doing chores. As it happened, he was given so many chores to do, he was not in his room that much anyway. His hands were permanently sore and on the brink of bleeding from constant scrubbing and immersion in concentrated bleach.

Harry only stayed because Dumbledore had impressed on him very deeply the life-and-death importance of him remaining here for at least six weeks in order to finally seal the magical protection charm rooted in his mother's blood. Morever, he did realize that it would be insanely stupid of him to go anywhere without his wand. He had been reconsidering that decision, however, for the last couple of weeks.

Uncle Vernon had added up the information that there was a Ministry of Magic, a wizarding prison, stringent rules about underage magic, and that Harry's own use of magic had always been carefully monitored. He had concluded that wizards were bound by laws and penalties about what they could use their magic for, and that Harry's friends would not in fact be able to seriously harm him. This had caused him great delight.

Uncle Vernon also appeared to have clicked that once Harry was of age they wouldn't see him for dust. This meant it was his last chance to take out years of rage and loathing on him. He had started by encouraging Dudley to practise his boxing on Harry whenever Harry happened to pass him by. He had progressed to whacking Harry himself as punctuation to his commands and criticisms.

Harry was not scared of the Dursleys, but they were both a lot bigger than he was, and without his wand there was not much he could do except grit his teeth and take the abuse. This was particularly the case since he often felt dizzy with sheer hunger. That Harry just put up with their treatment inspired both Dudley and Uncle Vernon to greater heights of brutality. Aunt Petunia pretended nothing was happening, and had barely acknowledged that Harry was even in the house. This was partly why he was not fed properly. And Dudley made sure that any leftovers were inedible through judicious use of spit, washing up liquid, paraffin oil and other unpleasant substances.

So, when Uncle Vernon advanced on him, meaty fist raised, Harry pressed back against the wall. His face already bore the marks of previous punches, and he had great black bruises all over his ribs.

"Boy!" Uncle Vernon growled, eyes bulging. "I told you to clean the kitchen floor!"

"I did," Harry replied, looking his uncle in the eye. Having faced up to Voldemort on several occasions, he wasn't about to let the Dursleys terrify him. The Cruciatus curse was worse by far than what he was putting up with now. And it would be over soon: the six weeks were nearly up. Any day, he hoped, members of the Order of the Phoenix would be turning up to collect him.

"You missed a bit." Uncle Vernon's voice was malicious. Harry realized regretfully that having him to bash around had taught his uncle how much he actually enjoyed crossing that line to physical abuse – an impulse he had been keeping in check for the past sixteen years. Harry wondered if the problems at his uncle's firm had contributed to his descent into physical violence.

The punch was shattering. Harry's eyes glazed and his knees collapsed beneath him. He fell to the floor. His glasses, which Hermione had luckily fortified with an Unbreakable Charm before leaving school, slipped off his face.

"STAND UP WHEN I AM TALKING TO YOU, BOY!" Uncle Vernon roared. Harry attempted, weakly, to get back to his feet. But his limbs would not obey him. Uncle Vernon kicked him, hard, in the ribs. And again. And again.

Shit, Harry thought dully. They broke that time.

The next time, his uncle's boot connected with his face. And then everything slid away.

When he dazedly returned to consciousness, he was in a painful heap somewhere cramped and dark. The cupboard under the stairs, he thought dismally. Presumably his uncle could not be bothered to drag him all the way upstairs to the bedrooms, so had just slung him in here out of the way.

Harry's hand was shaking. He thought he was probably concussed. But he managed to reach out a hand to the door and press against it. He fought back an urge to vomit when he moved.

The door was locked.

Shit, he thought again. Where, where, was the Order of the Phoenix? But then…his stomach lurched sickeningly…how could he possibly bear for any of his friends to see him in this state? He closed his eyes and groaned. It turned into incoherent whimpers before long as he drifted in and out of awareness.

What a disguisting neighbourhood. How drearily inane. That a wizard should emerge from this suburban Muggle hellhole was astonishing to me.

In deference to Muggle fashions, I had changed my robes into a long black coat. Judging from the expressions of people I passed, my capacity to intimidate simply by existing had not diminished. This pleased me.

I gazed with incredulity at a front garden decorated with little china ornaments. I guessed they were meant to represent gnomes. How very peculiar, and how utterly tasteless.

So here I was. 4 Privet Drive. I wondered what to expect. For a long while, I had assumed Potter grew up with all the pampered luxury surely deemed fitting for the Child Saviour of the wizarding world. During our completely horrendous Occlumency lessons the previous year, I had learned that his home life may not have been entirely happy. This was some comfort. At least the Muggles who cared for him did not think Potter was beyond criticism and that normal rules did not, in his case, apply. A bit of teasing would do the boy no damage. The Headmaster indulged him shamefully. I smirked to think of Potter treated in just the same way as any other surly, irritating teenager. He probably hated it. But, oh, how he deserved it.

I knocked at the door. It was answered by a truly repulsive example of the Muggle species. The man was large and meaty, with bulging little eyes. He wore a walrus moustache which did not suit him in the least. Not, I reminded myself, that I was in any position to critique other people's hair fashions. I wore my own like defensive armour plating.

"Yes?" the man grunted. "If you're selling anything, I'm not ruddy buying."

I involuntarily took a step back. I could not bear him to be so near to me.

"I am here," I said in my chilliest voice, "to collect Potter. The Headmaster wishes him to spend the rest of the summer elsewhere."

"You''re one of them, then, are you..?"

The man's reaction was perplexing. He was backing away, and his face now seemed to alternate between red and a sallow white. While I normally do my best to incite fear and trembling, this reaction was a little over the top for someone who had never even met me.

I assumed by asking whether I was 'one of them', he meant a wizard. I did not trouble to answer. I merely raised a sardonic eyebrow. I was becoming impatient.

The man had now turned tail and was crashing down the hallway. I stepped into the house and closed the door behind me. No need to encourage nosy neighbours to watch this curious display. I was supposed to be attracting as little notice as possible.

"Mr Dursley?" I said, striding in the direction he had gone.

To my astonishment, he seemed to have run out of the house by the back door. As I stood in that sparkling, soulless kitchen, I heard a car engine firing. He was leaving. The Muggle was running away. Why?

And more to the point, where was Potter? Had he fled with that man? Why would he?

I walked through the rooms of the house. It was decorated in a frilly, chintzy way which made me feel slightly ill. There were endless photos of a fat boy who must surely be Dursley's son. None at all of Potter. I frowned. Had I come to the right house? Had the man simply run off in blind fear, having no idea who I was or what I might be here for?

I stepped back into the hallway, and decided to check upstairs.

"Potter?" I called, as I began to move towards the steps.

A few moments later, I heard a faint tapping. I looked around, creasing my brow in bafflement. I could see nowhere this noise might be coming from. Was there somebody else in the house after all?

I finally pinpointed the noise to a small door set under the stairs. I frowned. This was both odd and puzzling.

I approached the door with caution. What was in there?..Or....who....