Disclaimer: The characters belong to J.K. Rowling.
Warning:Slash. Alternate Universe. 'Out of Characterness'. HBP Spoilers.
Summary: The Spy who became an Artist. The Child who needed a home. The Recluse who became a Teacher and the Boy who saved the world. Sometimes, age is just a number and love can save the world.
Dedication: To Silverphoenix69 who kept me sane while I wrote this, and to Orionnaire for rescuing me and my French so many times.
NB: Story contains FIVE parts. Harry's age changes in each 'part'. To avoid confusion, keep this in mind as you read!
Le Petit Chat
The rain was setting by the time Severus was ready to leave, but he paid no attention to this. He would walk soaked and sick if he had to. He needed time out of the small studio that he called home and something as petty as rain was not going to stop him. Besides, it would help to break the silence or at least the monotony of his days. He liked the silence. The constant state of feeling guilt and regret, he could have done without, but time healed all wounds. Though, he was still waiting on the healing process to do its duty.
Five years, four days and counting.
That was the tally of how long he had lived with his sins. Well, not his sins exactly. He knew it wasn't his fault. He knew that he had done his best but they had still died and he still felt responsible. How was he to pay back his debt to the dead? It was a question that he had asked himself over and over but there was no solution that was acceptable. Most of them involved a healthy dose of reality and the courage to assimilate back into proper society.
As far as everyone knew Severus Snape no longer existed.
It was a name that once belonged to a wizard who had joined the wrong side. The wizard had not died but he may as well have. He was nameless now. No past, present or future because there were no people in his life to assign him one. Alone, silent and invisible to the people of this new era he was only as real as the stories that they told each night to their offspring.
He knew it. He could hear the whispers. Never mind that it had been years.
The Slytherin. No, the Spy. Some of the whispers had another tune to them, if he only paid attention to hear. The Death Eater, with the Dark Mark on his arm, who had betrayed his classmates by daring to join the side of evil. The deaths that had happened. He had been good at being bad after all. The Traitor. Well, actually not that traitor but one nonetheless. He and his comrades had sold their lives to the monster with a name too dark to say. The white shrouded in black. The recluse now. And one that had surprised all those who knew. The artist. Hidden. Talented.
The Spy who had become an artist.
It had a surreal ring to it, even when he said it in his head. He silently said it over and over, followed by words of explanation or begs of forgiveness. The dead could not forgive however. If he were brave enough he would seek out the ones who could grant him this reprieve. But, he wasn't a Gryffindor and Slytherins knew only how to be cunning.
The rain was pouring by the time he turned onto the street. Somewhere between Muggle-ville and So-what, he had lost track of the time. Since he couldn't very well go waving his wand about to use a time-telling spell he was left walking and walking for hours. And still the rain came down. Silent thanks went to whoever it was that was smart enough to invent the water-repelling spell. There were just some things that potions were too good to be used for.
Potions. Potions Master. His list of professions was long indeed.
It was the flash of peach that caught his attention. A rosier shade of peach. Peach mixed with a hint of red and the subtlety that was the colour white, to make the perfect blend of skin tone. With a mop of black hair that was not quite the shade of ebony that his own hair was. The figure was curled half lying on the mesh-looking metal of the muggle park bench. At some point the rain had thoroughly soaked him but now the little figure bent the droplets of water even in his sleep.
Severus could honestly say that he had never seen a child with that level of magic before. Most wizards relied on potions for protection when they slept because charms and spells only worked when one was conscious. Except for this child, apparently.
Severus walked over to him, a little reluctantly but determined. Up close the mop of hair was slicked over the tiny forehead and a good bit of it mingled with long lashes. He stirred, flattening the fringes of his wet hair over his forehead with a small hand, in a gesture that seemed automatic as he rose from his seat. Severus warily held his ground as the eyelashes fluttered upwards and the most amazing shade of green eyes looked up at him. They were the colour of summer grass but lit in childish innocence as if sparks of light illuminated them from within.
"Hello," the child whispered softly. "Are you going to take me home?"
"Home?" Severus asked just as softly. "Where do you live?"
"I live at Four Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey." The reply was rotary.
"And who taught you how to say that?"
A small blush and a smile this time. "My Aunt Petunia."
"Do you live with this aunt?"
"What is your name?"
He fiddled with the hem of his small shirt. "My Uncle Vernon says not to tell anyone my last name."
"How old are you?"
"I am five years old." Proud again, because he remembered.
"I suppose your Aunt Petunia taught you to say that too."
"Well where is your aunt and uncle now?"
Green eyes darkened with doubt. "I don't know."
"How did you get here?"
"My aunt took me and my cousin Dudley to the park but she's gone. She told me to stay right here and I stayed."
"Do you always listen to such preposterous instructions young man? It's raining, why didn't you try to find your way home?"
"She'll come back!" Indignant then, although 'preposterous' had him obviously baffled.
"So they have left you alone like this before?"
"Yes I thought so."
He was being very brave, fighting tears. Severus didn't like the look as the boy tried to unravel the thread on his grey shirt. His little fingers plucked at it. With his lower lip clenched between his teeth as his head bowed, small wisps of wet hair managed to separate from the mass of black still clinging to his head. He made quite the little image of innocence standing there. Severus gave in to whatever it was that clawed at the pit of his stomach at the look of tears in such pretty little eyes. He had seen eyes like that before, although those had been burning with anger. They reminded him of the debt he still owed to the dead.
"I cannot take you home. I don't know where this Privet Drive is, but I can have you over to my studio. I'm sure you probably feel rather uncomfortable in those wet clothes and you look as if your aunt and uncle haven't fed you for a year. Perhaps you'll come with me for a proper meal or at least until the storm has passed?"
His tone was all business-like as he proposed his solution. He had no idea what sort of intelligence someone of five managed, but he thought it insane to dumb himself down to that level.
Harry simply nodded. "Alright, but you'll bring me back here when the rain stops falling, right? My Aunt Petunia will be very angry if I don't come back. You won't steal me will you?"
"Steal you?" Severus looked down at him thoughtfully. "The idea had briefly crossed my mind but I'm not one to suffer fools lightly and I should think I am above even that. No I'll return you here as quickly as possible, provided you don't give me reason to send you back sooner."
They walked back in silence as each was caught in their own web of thought. Severus' stride took four of the little person's at his side so the walk was a little slower than it could have been. They knew each other's name now and Severus even knew a little more about his companion than he cared to but neither of them was the chatty type.
Severus actually hated to break the silence. "We're here."
"Oh." Green eyes blinked. "It's pretty."
He blushed as he said that as if he was barely ever allowed to give his opinion. Severus looked at him as he ducked in shyness and he couldn't help thinking that perhaps that was the case. The bits of information that he had gathered made him slightly uncomfortable and not just in the realization that although he couldn't stand children, this little boy had managed to capture his attention for a prolonged period.
"Pretty or not, it is all that I own."
There were three regularly occupied rooms - a bedroom, a bathroom and an everything-else room - but 'studio' was the name that he had dubbed it. There were canvases lined along the walls and paint sitting on the floor. Brushes were left balancing on any available space. For furniture there was a small couch near the centre of the room and a table and chair, for dining, behind it. There were paintings everywhere too of course. Hanging on the walls, drying where they were propped up against something else, lying on the mattress that was shoved into a corner for sleeping, the paintings gave the room a surreal air. Looking down at Harry, Severus supposed that this was what procured the comment of beauty. At his height the paintings were probably the only things worth admiring.
They ate in silence too.
Severus didn't have an house elf and it had been quite some time since he remembered to cook, so he relied on a quick flick of his wand and a spell that his mother had taught him years ago when she fell ill. The broth was simple because of the simplicity of the magic that made it. He had always liked the taste though because really, he had no other choice. Severus hoped that Harry liked it. It had no vegetables to deter from the taste and besides, he couldn't imagine someone as skinny as his little guest turning down food offered for free.
"Would you like some more?"
Harry shook his head.
Severus contemplated a drying spell but thought it best not to startle the child. When he had made the soup Harry had been preoccupied gazing in awe at the painting of a dragon that Severus had been working on just that morning. Just that morning, before mail had arrived. Before Severus had found the need to clear his head. Now that Harry had refused more soup there was no reason for Severus to whip out his wand. And although his mind could not entirely comprehend the reality of a wizard, as powerful as this child, not understanding what magic was, Severus thought to spare himself the bother of actually explaining. Besides, he could always dry the child later. Perhaps give him a potion to prevent him catching a cold also.
"You look like a wet little cat," Severus said thoughtfully, effectively breaking the new silence that they had fallen into.
Harry smiled his baby smile and ducked his head shyly again. "I like cats."
"I bet you do," Severus commented dryly. "Unfortunately you don't have quite the survival capabilities that they are rumoured to have and although nine lives would be beneficial at this point, I'd rather not assume that dying of a cold is beneath you. We will have to remedy that likelihood."
He moved away from the table. Since he had been standing to eat it was easy to manoeuvre his way to the other side of the room to fetch the potion that he would need. He showed Harry the vial just so as not to scare the child. Children hated medication, he remembered. Harry however seemed not to care. In fact he seemed pleased.
"One would think you've never been taken care of before," Severus said, thinking out aloud as he gave Harry a dose. "It's quite disgusting tasting you know so swallow quickly. I suppose you can feel lucky that you were never given medicine like this before."
Harry shuddered when he swallowed the potion. Severus took pity on him.
"Go lay on the couch and try to sleep. It will work better if you're not awake and I bet you would no sooner wish to remember the taste than you would if you happened to get sick." He instructed.
Harry didn't even think twice to follow the command. Instead he curled into the couch and seemed to immediately fall asleep. Considering that Severus had found him sleeping, it was no surprise really. Severus let him rest there for a while before finally giving in and pulled out his wand. He stood over the little figure, ready to cast the spell when he spotted it. Now that the child wasn't taking random swipes to hide it in his nervous little habit, Severus could see what hid beneath the fringes of wet black hair.
It was a tiny little scar in the shape of a lightning bolt on the child's forehead.
Severus' first impulse was to back away from the chair as quickly as humanly possible. The second was to levitate the child out of his presence. The third was to exact revenge against this offspring of the previous bane of his life, but that was silly because he still had a wizard debt to pay.
In the end he simply cast the drying spell on little Harry Potter before staring in awe at the true implications.
This little boy had saved the world at the price of his parents' lives. He had killed the Dark Lord and was left with only a lightning bolt mark. This little boy, who looked like he barely weighed twenty pounds and was the epitome of innocents had been marked by death and come out relatively unscathed. Severus had James' son in his home, on his couch, sleeping. Would wonders never cease indeed?
He looked like a kitten all curled up on the chair.
The artist in Severus reared its head and he barely had time to grab a fresh canvas, his other set of paintbrushes and paint, before his mind was working out angles and shadows. He took a seat on the carpeted floor, facing the couch. He wondered about moving the couch just a slight bit to the left, but then decided that the light was not so bad and he would rather not risk waking the child again.
And then he painted.
He got lost in the strokes of his brush and the colours that mixed and mingled on the canvas in just the right way to catch the cherubic face or the small body. He paused only to add a blanket at some point. He charmed it red and with hints of gold. Gryffindor colours. He dimmed the light with his wand to enhance the shadows even more. He wanted to capture the sense of innocence that seemed to dance in the air above the sleeping child. It had been so long since Severus had found himself in the presence of one so pure. It almost hurt to try and capture it but he was determined to get it right.
When he was finish he sat looking at it for the longest time. It seemed perfect, but perhaps his perception would change the next day when the little hero was no longer lying so trustingly on his chair. Still, it was probably one of the best pieces that he had ever done and something told him that it was more the model than his skills that had brought about such an effect.
Somewhere near the painting of the dragon he had left the letters. They were what had driven him to walk in the rain and now that he remembered them he looked around the room for them again.
They had arrived by owl post that morning within minutes of each other and were each stamped with an official looking seal of course. Severus had stared at each for so long that the wax had probably begun to melt from the heat of his gaze. It wasn't that he hadn't received letters before but these two were from the highest orders. One from his mentor and the other from the government. Either of them could render him a destroyed man in one way or another.
He opened the first as quickly as he could without actually damaging the letter.
Dear Severus Snape,
We are pleased to inform you that after a thorough investigation the Wizengamot has found you innocent on the count of treason... Your family estate and all personal property are hereby reinstated in your name and on proper identification will be returned to your possession... We hope to have your understanding that it was necessary to carry out this investigation and regret the years that have passed as we made our decision... We hope to have found you in good health...
There were a few bits of mundane information in between but Severus could focus only on the fact that he had been granted his identity again. That they had the power to previously rid him of it for five years, burned angry and bitter in his throat as it had for all this time. He had no reason to be an artist anymore. His manor was now back into his possession, if he wished he could disappear even further from existence. But he still had a debt to pay and he owed the world for his mistakes.
He reached for the second letter.
My dear Severus,
I hope this arrives to find you in good health. I am sure that by now you have received word of your acquittal from the Ministry of Magic. I was rather pleased to note that they have finally admitted what I have been adamantly trying to prove for all these years. Still it is better late than never and I am sure that while you will not find it in yourself to forgive the injustice of having them taken away, you are perhaps enormously pleased to be given your possessions again. If you allow it, together we can work to clear your name of the propaganda that has surrounded it for so long.
Perhaps a new identity is in order? There is a job that I have been saving for you these years and I wonder if now is the best time to offer you the position of Potions Professor of Hogwarts? Write me back as soon as possible to tell me of your decision.
And Severus, although you may dearly yearn to get as far away from England as possible now that you are allowed, and with your ties to France or the sheer brilliance of your artistic talent, I implore you not to run from your past. It is only in dealing with it by facing it that you will begin to heal. You have paid for your mistake of becoming a Death Eater many times over by becoming my spy and now that the Ministry recognizes this, there can only be a time of peace and healing ahead.
Keep in touch as always.
The letter fluttered to the ground. Severus hung his head. A thousand thoughts flickered through his mind and each as opposites of each other. He could go away to France and walk the streets of Paris selling his painting. He would be recognized since his work was already famous. No one there would truly know him as the Severus Snape who had been a Death Eater. His fluent French would hide the British accent and if the wizards there accepted him as one of their own then there would be no need to hide. He could teach at Beaubaxtons. Not Potions, although he loved the subject. Perhaps Defence against the Dark Arts. He would never be allowed to teach it at Hogwarts. He could see the world again and heal in his own time instead of becoming the embittered man that he was well on his way to becoming. For now, at twenty-five, he was young and free. He didn't have to stay in England.
He looked over at the couch where the most innocent creature to wander into his life now slept. One day he would meet this child again. The cherubic look would be gone but the lightning bolt would still be there and if he cared to admit it the image of James would look out at him from the emerald eyes to judge him as the father had judged Severus. One day, if he stayed he could repay the wizard debt to the son in place of the father.
He accio-ed a fresh strip of parchment and a quilt, before he could change his mind, then he began to write a reply to the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
Dear Albus Dumbledore,
I would indeed be willing to accept the position of Potions Professor at Hogwarts if the offer still stands for my acceptance... I would however stipulate some conditions to this acceptance and hope that you will not find them too difficult to grant me the favour...
When he was finished he went into his bedroom to open up a floo to the castle and quickly flooed the letter over, lest he changed his mind at the last second.
On returning to the room he returned to sitting on the floor facing the sleeping boy and he grabbed the painting he had done. After only a moment of hesitation he began to paint again. This time he added the rug on which he now sat but instead of drawing himself, he drew a green and silver boa constrictor raised to stare enchanted at the boy curled on the chair. When he was finished with that he dipped a finer tipped brush into black paint and with a flourish, gave the painting a title, before adding his signature and the date.
Le Petit Chat…
The name seemed fitting to describe this little kitten. The hour was approaching in which he would have to wake the child but for now he could probably afford to fall asleep also. It had been a while since he had slept peacefully, but for now he knew that rest would come easier. Especially with an angel in the room who was a hero after all. Never mind that he was five and the son of Severus' childhood enemy. Perhaps in time the healing process would be completed.