He couldn't take it anymore. He hated himself, and he hated his life. Sirius was decidedly gone; Harry had accepted that. But he couldn't, try as he might, shake the feelings that it was his fault. He was responsible for his Godfather's death, because he hadn't bothered with the occlumency lessons. It was him who let his foolish pride and damned curiosity get the better of him, and it was he who had looked in the pensieve. For all of his assurances to himself that at the time that he'd had a right to look, it didn't compensate for the fact that Sirius was gone. His raving mind was brought back to earth when he heard his Uncle's voice suddenly cut the silence.
"Those freaks have no right to threaten me," he was mumbling, over and over.
After a time, they reached the house. Petunia and Dudley hurriedly slipped in, fearing the neighbours may hear Uncle Vernon's outbursts. Harry was trying to lift his heavy trunk from the boot of the car when he felt a beefy hand grab the back of his neck. He hissed, and his trunk fell and smashed onto his foot, causing him to give a muffled shriek. Muffled, that is, by his Uncle's sweaty hand being shoved over his face, before he was pulled forcefully into the house.
Before Harry could protest, he was stripped of his wand and thrown to the floor. He felt a foot crash into his side, and he let out another muffled cry. The torrent of kicks seemed endless; Harry could feel his ribs snapping, and eventually, blood gushing down his stomach and chest. He felt himself being dragged, by the collar of his shirt, up the stairs. Each time one connected with his broken ribs he groaned, only to be silenced when Uncle Vernon slammed him down harder onto the ground. He was thrown unceremoniously into his room.
"There now, you'll write to your freaky little friends, and tell them what a great start to the summer you're having, got it?" growled uncle Vernon.
Harry nodded numbly, before picking up a discarded quill and parchment. Slowly and carefully, he somehow managed to write his letter;
To the old crowd,
Hope this reaches you! It's Harry (of course!) and I just wanted to send you this letter to thank you for what you said at the Train station, I'm sure the Dursleys will treat me heaps better now! In fact, they already are!
Hope to see you soon,
He felt the letter slip from his hands, and he watched his Uncle's piggy eyes as they showed satisfaction at his seemingly cheerful demeanour. He handed it back to Harry, as Dudley entered the room, lugging Hedwig's cage with him. Harry swiftly unlocked the cage and tied the letter to her leg, before Uncle Vernon opened the window and allowed the owl to swoop past him. He turned back to Harry and delivered a final kick to the stomach, before walking out of the room, Dudley close behind. Harry heard the locks on his door being activated. He felt the two whales of men walk away, before he finally allowing tears to fall down his face.
He heard the locks on his door being opened as he lay on his bed that night. Surely Uncle Vernon had gone to bed already? The door creaked open, to reveal the bulky frame of his cousin.
"Dudley?" he whispered stupidly.
Dudley walked the length of his room, and jumped onto Harry's bed, causing it to almost collapse under his weight.
"Dudley…wh..." his words were cut off when, for the second time that day, a heavy hand was placed none too gently over his mouth. He gasped in surprise as he felt a hand start prying to open his loose jeans. He began to struggle, but gave up after feeling immense pain in his ribs. He felt his jeans being pulled down, and his underwear soon following them. He felt Dudley fumble with is own pants, and then extreme pain as he was penetrated. He tried to scream but his cousin just dugs his nails into Harry's cheek and he stopped. He just let his cousin do it, as he dully tried to remember what it was like to be loved. Dudley suddenly spilled his seed with a massive grunt. Harry, who had been staring blankly at the light coming in through the door, realised that suddenly it was back in shadow. His Uncle entered the room, holding a belt in one hand. He flicked on the light switch, and grinned maniacally when he saw his son on top of Harry.
"Move aside, my boy," he grunted proudly. "It's my turn,"
Harry ached all over. His ribs were all snapped and pointing inward, leaving the area around them a greenish tinge. His stomach, back and thighs all bore the brunt of his Uncle's previous beating. He hadn't eaten in days; his body was unable to keep anything down. His torture had become nightly, with both men slackening their lust on his poor defenceless shell. He had tried to get them to stop, tried to unleash the anger and make it form into some sort of magical defence, but it was useless. He didn't truly want to live, and some part of him craved the belts and the fists, as if they were punishing him for his slackness that had killed Sirius. A final blow had hit Harry when he received his first and only letter of the holidays. It read;
We are at you-know-where, but I am afraid that you cannot join us this summer. The old crowd has asked us to thank you for all your letters ensuring you are ok, but we cannot send anything back, it is just too dangerous. McGonagall has told us you will receive your OWL results when you arrive back at school. Moony sends his love.
H. & R.
Harry glanced up as he felt the letter being torn from his grasp. His Uncle's eyes skimmed it quickly, before throwing to the floor, and laughing. He threw parchment and a quill at Harry, ordering him to write a cheery reply.
Night after night, he felt the pain over and over again. Every time, they found new and creative ways to make him feel pain. Sometimes, it wasn't just physical pain. They had gone through his trunk, and found the Photo album Hagrid had given him in his first year. They forced Harry's eyes open, and made him watch as, one by one, the pictures of his mother and father burned. His body was now just a battlefield of scars, fresh wounds seeping blood, were littered over his thin frame. Most of the cuts were pus-filled, because he couldn't even clean himself up. He couldn't even move from his own bed to go to the toilet, and his hands shook so much it was hard to write his letter once every three days. He made up happy stories of playing Dudley's computer, and of eating dinner with the rest of the family. It was just so easy now, to write all these lies under the scrutiny of Uncle Vernon. He didn't even have to think they weren't true anymore. He still thought he deserved to be treated the way he was, and he didn't want the Order to know what he was going through.
"Albus, I don't think the boy's fine! He's just lost that flea-bitten excuse of a godfather, how can you tell he's not going to do anything stupid?" shrieked Severus Snape.
Albus folded his hands and rested his head on them.
"If you are so worried, Severus, then you may check up on Harry. I assure you however, that he is still alive, and the wards on his house haven't changed in the slightest," he coughed out, in his usual hoarse self.
Severus scowled darkly, and swept from the headmaster's room. He kept walking until he crossed the boundary between Hogwarts and the forest. Taking a deep breath, he disapparated.
Severus did not even spare a glance for the muggle surroundings he had apparated into. With his usual confident manner, he strode up to the door of Number 4, Privet drive. An unusually large man opened the door. Vernon Dursley's colour drained from his face when he saw the long robed, sallow skinned and long haired Potions Master.
"What do you want?" he squeaked.
"Potter, where is the boy?" snarled Severus peering into the muggle's house.
Dursley paled even more.
"You…s…said that h…he only had to w…write," he stuttered fearfully.
"This is a social call," replied Snape, barging into the house.
A horse-faced woman pointed up the stairs, shaking. Severus swept up the stairs, his robes doing their usual billowing. He happened upon a room, bearing several muggle locks. Perplexed, he opened all of them using magic. What he saw in the room wasn't what he'd expected.
Harry wasn't as well as he'd said in his letters to the Order. He was lying, tied to the bed, almost completely lifeless. Snape walked hesitatingly over the carpet, and he looked down when he felt his shoes sticking to it. Horrified, he almost stumbled back. He was standing in blood, and heavier things besides. He gagged, and brought a hand to his mouth. Harry turned his head, as it lolled back in thin air. He started whimpering and trying to move away.
"No…no…' he whimpered. "Please….Uncle Vernon," came his pleading voice.
Decisively, Snape cut the bonds keeping Harry tied to the bed. As Harry struggled, Severus quietly put a sleeping charm upon the terrified boy. He clutched Harry to his chest, and walked sedately down the Dursley's sweeping staircase. He glared at the quivering form of Harry's relatives.
"I'll be back to deal with you," he said, before leaving the house and disapparating in the street.
Petunia broke down to sobs, when she realised the extent of what her family had done.
Snape cradled Harry softly against his chest, as he apparated outside of the Hospital Wing. Calling swiftly for Pomfrey, he laid Harry down on the nearest bed, gently surveying the damage. He hadn't expected to find Harry like this. He had, like everyone else in the Order, heard Harry's letters and merely thought that he sounded too cheerful, and was worried Harry might have turned suicidal. He wasn't very far off the mark however, and he'd had a right to be worried after the state he'd found Harry in.
"Severus? What's the matter….oh my!" Gasped Madam Pomfrey, rushing to his side.
The doors banged open, and the Headmaster ran in.
"Severus! You have taken Harry from his relative's care!" he shouted hoarsely, as he spotted him. Dumbledore looked murderous.
"It's a good thing he did," muttered Pomfrey, as she anxiously peered at his cuts.
Dumbledore stopped short, and his eyes fell on Harry's limp form.
Severus didn't say a word; he just left the room, and closed the doors quietly behind him.
When he reached his dungeon Office, Snape quickly shut and locked the door behind him. He cast a blocking spell to keep Albus from communicating with him from the fire. That done, Severus collapsed against the wall, head in hands, sobbing quietly.
Dumbledore stared disbelievingly at the thin boy in front of him. Gingerly, he took hold of the boy's clammy hand, and he started to rub in gently for reassurance, only to feel the bones underneath his fingers slid out of place. He gasped and quickly dropped the hand. Pomfrey dabbled about behind him, ashen faced and lips tight with worry. She started pulling potions from the shelves, but Dumbledore couldn't stand to watch as she sadly poured some in Harry's mouth, and he thrashed and jerked as the potions attempted to mend his broken body.
He did try and call Severus through his fire, but, as he suspected, Severus had it charmed against him. Sighing, he walked slowly down to the Potion Master's office, and knocked quietly.
Severus heard the slight rap on the door, and he quickly picked himself off the floor, and dusted himself down. He opened the door, and unwillingly let the Headmaster inside.
"Severus, I…" Severus, who could contain himself no longer, drowned Dumbledore's words out.
"YOU WHAT? YOU WANT TO APOLOGISE, FOR SENDING HIM TO THAT HELLHOLE? YOU WANT TO CLAIM YOU DIDN'T KNOW? WELL, THAT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! HE WOULD BE DEAD! DEAD! HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN THAT MISTAKE TO THE WIZARDING WORLD? IT WAS EASY ENOUGH WITH MINE, YOU COULD KEEP IT A SECRET, AND EVEN IF PEOPLE KNEW THEY WOULDN'T HAVE CARED…" he let out every dark thought he'd had of the Headmaster since he'd seen Harry's near-dead body.
Albus quaked under Severus' anger, and for once, said nothing as he left the room. Severus gently rubbed his temple, before making up his mind and walking out after him.
By the time he got back to the hospital wing, a now scarred body had replaced Harry's bloody one. Pinkish gashes of new skin had appeared over the worst infected, as Pomfrey wearily waved her wand over the last few. Severus watched as his ribs gave a wet pop and slid into reasonably normal positions. Harry thrashed in pain, and gasped. His silky green eyes flashed open, as Pomfrey finished the last of her healing. At a glance from Severus, she left the room.
"Potter?" he said nervously.
Harry jerked his head and caught sight of him.
"Pro…Professor?" he whispered disbelievingly.
Severus nodded, a lump forming in his throat as he looked at the distraught boy.
"How…?" asked Harry, as he watched his teacher. Suddenly it dawned on him.
"You...You found me!" he gasped at Severus.
Severus nodded mutely. Harry's eyes became downcast and he looked over his young body with horror. Tears began coursing down his cheeks, and uncontrollable sobs were racked from his body. Instinctively, Severus moved to comfort Harry, but Harry almost screamed. He started whimpering again.
"No...no…no!" he moaned covering his face.
Severus caught hold of his hands, and pulled him to his chest. Harry sobbed weakly, and found himself clutching at his former nemesis for support. Through his hot tears, he felt a soft hand stroke his wavy hair, and under this supposedly comforting gesture, broke down even worse. He didn't hear the hospital wing's door open.
Albus entered, and took in the odd scene in front of him. Harry Potter, crying into the robes of Severus Snape. And Severus it seemed, was making no move to stop him. Dumbledore coughed, making his presence known. They both looked up, but neither moved from the other. He met Severus defiant glare, and Harry's dumbfounded glance.
"Harry…I'm sorry," was all he managed before he fled the room again.
Harry turned his tear-streaked face up to met Severus'.
"Why is he sorry?" He asked, confused.
'Severus felt the lump in his throat tighten further.
"He is sorry that he sent you back there," he whispered, struggling to control his emotions.
Harry looked quietly shocked.