Chapter 17:


"No man stands so straight as when he stoops to help a boy."

-Knights of Pythagoras

Severus finished the last of his marking with a flourish. Finally! It had been a week and a half since he'd first taken Harry to St. Mungo's. Since then, he'd managed to do everything from order ingredients for the next school year to brew a third of the potions needed for the Hospital Wing. He had tutors lined up to teach the boy, along with semi-permanent Portkeys made to transport them to his estate. He glanced over at the boy, absently noting how the new, thinner, silver frames made him look a bit less like his father. Yes, much had been accomplished in the short time he'd had custody of Harry. They'd even done the return trip to St. Mungo's, complete with overnight stay, to correct the improperly healed bones and the dearth of vaccinations.

Most importantly, the amulet he'd commissioned was finished. It had long been tradition in the wizarding world for newborns to receive amulets on their name-days. Usually, the pendants had protective magics woven into them during their making, and made impossible to remove by the child in question. In the cases of old pureblood families, they were usually in the shape of the family crest. Severus knew that Harry had been given one, but he didn't know what had become of it. It was time that the boy wore one again, and the Master jeweler he had commissioned it from had finally finished.

"Harry, come here," he ordered.

Without a word, the boy stopped playing with his snake and obeyed. Briefly, Severus wondered what had happened to the cheeky, insolent brat he'd taught for the past five years. He still wasn't used to instant obedience from this one. He pulled a box from his pocket and opened it. "This is a family crest amulet," he said. "I'm sure you've seen Weasley wearing one."

Harry nodded hesitantly. "Yes, sir," he said.

"These are given to minors in pureblood families," Severus explained. "You had one, once. To activate this one, we need to put three drops of your blood on it. It will alert me if you should end up in danger and allow me to Apparate straight to you."

Evidently, the boy understood the benefits, for he held out his hand immediately, without question or hesitation. Severus pulled a small, silver knife from his pocket and carefully made a tiny cut on the end of one finger, then squeezed three drops of blood from it onto the amulet before quickly healing the cut. The amulet let loose a flash of brilliant light before settling down.

Severus stood up and clasped the chain around the boy's neck. "You will not be able to remove it until you come of age," he said.

Harry touched the amulet before replying. "Professor," he protested. "You've given me so much—"

Inwardly, Severus cursed the Dursleys. The boy had spent a considerable amount of time thanking him in the past week, and the rest almost blindly obeying him. It wasn't natural. "I promised to keep you safe," he said. "That will help." He had been telling himself that the amulet was necessary since right after he commissioned it. He was determined to protect Lily's boy, and he had just told the truth; it would help. He would be alerted if the child were in any danger or distress. It was worth it. At least, he kept telling himself that. He'd never thought he'd use one after Cassandra and their unborn baby died.

"Thank you, sir," Harry muttered.

"How are your summer assignments coming along?" Severus asked, abruptly changing the subject.

Harry shrugged. "All right," he said. "Sarah Sue Rae's been trying to make me do them ever since I explained the concept of homework."

Severus smirked in amusement. "Get it done, Harry," he ordered. "We'll be moving to my estate next week, and your summer tutors will be coming every day."

"Yes, sir," Harry said. "May I please Floo Ron?" he asked.

Severus gave him a measuring look. "Perhaps after dinner," he said. "Have you shown your new pet to Hagrid?"

Harry shook his head. "I've been... busy," he murmured.

Severus had noticed that, at least. The boy hadn't left their chambers except for meals and short trips to the library. "Very well, then," he said. "Get your cloak-Hagrid should be in his hut at this time of day."

Hurriedly and without a word, the boy scrambled to obey.

Once again, Severus found himself disturbed, off-balance, and annoyed by Harry's instant obedience. Where had the child he'd been teaching for five years gone? Then again, part of him was wondering if he'd ever met the real Harry Potter. After all, he'd seen the child's stock of healing potions, and some of them were quite advanced. To make matters more puzzling, they'd all been perfectly brewed.

It didn't take more than a couple of minutes before Harry reappeared, wearing a summer-weight cloak and carrying Sarah Sue Rae. Severus nodded his approval. "I must speak to the headmaster," he said. "You are still not to walk across the castle grounds alone."

Harry nodded, looking resigned. "I won't," he said.

Together, they left their quarters and headed outside. It was a matter of minutes before they arrived at Hagrid's hut and knocked on the door.

"Come in!" Hagrid's cheerful voice called. His face broke out into a broad smile when they came through the door. "Glad ter see yeh," he said. "It's bin a long time since yeh came ter visit, Perfesser, Harry."

Severus inclined his head. "Hagrid," he said.

A big smile spread over Harry's face. "Hey Hagrid!" he said cheerfully. "Professor Snape and I thought you'd like to meet my new pet."

"I would tha'," Hagrid said with a smile.

Severus reached over and squeezed Harry's shoulder. "I have a meeting," he said. "Would you please escort Harry back to the castle when you're finished visiting?"

Hagrid nodded. "I will," he said.

Severus inclined his head in thanks. "Be good," he ordered then left the hut. He headed back towards the castle. Perhaps Albus would know what to do about the boy. He didn't know, but he was damn sure going to find out.

Severus stalked through the hallways, determined to make it to the headmaster's office, where he could snarl at someone who would appreciate it. He'd been practising what was, in his opinion, and enormous amount of self-control with Harry. He had yet to snap or yell at the boy at all. He was almost sure that Harry's current behaviour was designed to drive him mad and, to add insult to injury, it was working! The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that he was right. He clutched his final mark reports tightly as he hurried to the headmaster's office.

"Tangtastics," he said, and the gargoyle sprang aside. Not waiting for the moving staircase to take him up, he took the stairs two at a time, hurriedly entering the office. He stopped short when he saw Arthur, Molly, Minerva, and Lupin sitting in front of the headmaster's desk.

"Severus, my boy!" Dumbledore beamed at him. "We were just talking about how you and young Harry are settling in."

Severus allowed himself to sneer. "He is doing it to annoy me," he said finally.

"Doing what, Severus?" Minerva asked, a quizzical expression on her face.

"Behaving," he snarled. "He doesn't speak unless spoken to, he doesn't eat enough to keep a bird alive, he does absolutely everything he's told to do, even if it's just a mild suggestion-"

"He's reverted to Dursley behaviour," Molly said. "Every summer it takes him a few more days to come out of his shell. We knew something was amiss there. I swear, if we'd been able to prove anything before now-"

"But we haven't," Arthur interrupted. "Merlin knows we tried, but without any proof, we couldn't get Harry away from those people."

Severus was shocked. Slowly, he sank down into the nearest unoccupied chintz armchair. He'd always thought that the cheeky brat he'd been dealing with in his classes was the real Harry. Perhaps he was... wrong? "You mean that how he's behaving is normal for him?"

"He's a bit shy, Severus," Lupin said. "Hard to believe for those of us who knew him before Lily and James died, but it's true."

"If we'd only noticed earlier," Minerva said. "I knew they were the worst sort of Muggles!"

Severus snorted. "This goes beyond shy," he said. "I would say he's withdrawn, but it has been brought home to me lately how little I know the boy."

"Have you considered taking him to the mind healers?" Molly asked softly. "Ginny went for almost two years after the Chamber incident."

Severus ignored the other comments, including the headmaster's assertion that something like that could be dangerous. An Unbreakable Vow would keep anything that the boy knew away from the press. It was an idea, he supposed. Perhaps even a good idea.

They needed the boy whole and healthy. Harry needed it to be able to survive the Dark Lord and he had an Unbreakable Vow to the boy's mother to protect him. "Perhaps," he said finally. "I'll look into it."

"Have you found tutors for him, Severus?" Minerva asked.

Severus made a show of examining his potion-stained fingernails. "Of course I have," he said. "I have engaged a dueling master for lessons three times a week, for a start."

"For a start?" Lupin enquired.

"I am eminently qualified to teach him extra defense, as well as Death Eater tactics," Severus said. "But I have also made arrangements to fill in the holes in his education."

"Latin and pureblood etiquette?" Minerva asked with a smile.

"Among other things," he said. "I was considering asking if you would like to tutor him in becoming an Animagus, Minerva."

Minerva nodded graciously. "Considering his family history," she observed, "he may catch on somewhat faster than most."

"I would be willing to teach him some advanced magic," Dumbledore offered. "Take him as a sort of... unofficial apprentice, if you will."

Severus inclined his head. "I was hoping you would," he said. "You told me once that you'd hoped that the Dark Lord would not return until after the boy had grown up and was halfway through an apprenticeship with you."

Dumbledore simply nodded.

"Can we see him?" Lupin asked. "I just want to see for myself that he's all right."

"And then you'll leave again, Lupin?" Severus sneered. "You should have checked on him while he was with the Muggles."

"As you should have!" Lupin retorted. "At the time, I thought that he was in a proper home, and the best thing I could do was to stay out of the way."

"I thought the same," Severus said. "He was supposed to be safe there! There was nothing dangerous for me to protect him from-or so I thought."

"Alas, that seems to be a common failing where young Mr. Potter is concerned," Dumbledore said.

"If he'd been in Slytherin, I would have noticed something his first year," Severus grumbled.

The headmaster had a whimsical little smile on his face at that but didn't comment... much. "Has anything been done about his magical blocks yet, Severus?" the old wizard asked.

Severus slouched down further in his chair, but before he could answer, Molly interrupted. "Blocks on his magic?" she questioned. "Who put them there?"

"It sometimes happens if a magical child is abused," Lupin began.

"When a child is punished for accidental magic, they start thinking that their magic is bad, so they unconsciously wall it off," Severus explained.

"Usually we notice because their ability to do any kind of spells is severely limited," Minerva said. "The fact that Harry has, in the past, managed some rather advanced magic proves that he will be a powerful wizard indeed."

"Please may we see him, Severus?" Molly asked eagerly.

Reluctantly, Severus agreed. "Very well," he said. "I believe he is visiting Hagrid at this moment. Minerva, if you would show them to my quarters, I'll go and get him."

Barely stopping to notice Minerva's nod of acquiescence, Severus stood and hurried down the stairs, through the castle, and outside. Suppressing his irritation at fetching the boy as if he were a trained retriever, he knocked on the door to Hagrid's hut.

Hagrid opened the door. "Dinna think you were coming back, Perfesser," he said cheerfully.

Severus inclined his head. "There are some people who would like to see you, Harry," he said.

The smile faded from Harry's face and he nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, standing up. "Thanks for the tea, Hagrid."

"Anytime, Harry," the half-giant said. "Yeh know yer welcome here, and so's Sarah Sue Rae."

Harry hissed at his snake, and she hissed back. "She says thank you, too." He left the hut and began to follow Severus back to the castle.

With a blur of white feathers, Hedwig landed on the boy's shoulder. "Hi, Hedwig," he murmured, stroking her feathers as they walked. "Where have you been, anyway? I've missed you, girl."

Severus watched out of the corner of his eye as Hedwig gently nipped the boy's fingers and hooted softly. Sarah Sue Rae hissed at the bird, and Hedwig hooted back. After a few minutes of apparent conversation, Harry giggled.

It was actually one of the first signs of life he'd seen from the boy since he'd bought the snake. Severus raised an eyebrow. "What's funny?" he asked.

Harry smiled. "From the half of the argument I can understand, they're fighting over who gets to be my mum," he explained.

Severus snorted. He rather thought that Lily would object to that. For that matter, Molly Weasley might have something to say about it as well. Instead of replying, he nodded. "Molly, Arthur, and Lupin are waiting in our quarters," he said.

"Thank you, sir," Harry said.

Severus gestured for the boy to follow him. He left the boy at the entrance to their quarters and headed for the second entrance to his private lab. Some potions ingredients lost potency when exposed to light, which was why most labs were in the dungeons. His lab, however, had an extra room that, due to charmed windows, caught a lot of the natural light that was absolutely necessary for some potions.

That room was exactly where he was headed. Severus needed time to think, and he thought best when his hands were occupied with complex potions. He honestly wasn't sure what to think of his ward. Sure, he knew that the boy had been abused, belittled, and neglected, but Harry had always seemed fine before! He entered the room and put on his dragonhide apron.

Merlin! He'd been making a concentrated effort to not belittle the child. Why wasn't that enough? Quickly, he gathered the ingredients for one of the more complex potions for the hospital wing, put them on the table, and started preparing them.

It wasn't like he cared for the boy personally, but he couldn't escape the fact that Harry Potter was now his responsibility. To Severus, that meant a bit more than just providing material necessities; it meant that he had to make sure that the boy was healthy, that his homework was done... While his heart was definitely not involved-he'd closed it off when Cassandra died and had no intention of ever making the mistake of loving anyone again-he had a responsibility to both Lily and her son to ensure the boy's well-being. If only he knew how in hell to do it.

His musings were interrupted by an owl, who was wearing a harness embossed with the Gringotts seal, tapping on his window. Severus wiped his hands on his apron before opening the window. The owl hooted and held out his leg. Deftly, he removed a thick packet and a letter from the leg before feeding the owl a treat that he kept there for such occasions. The owl flew away, but before he could close the window, another owl swooped through it and dropped a letter in front of him.

Severus sighed and picked it up. Why in Merlin's name was the Ministry of Magic's Coroner's Office sending him a letter? He spared a fleeting worried thought for his mother and sister then opened the letter. He grimaced as he read the notice. Apparently, Sirius had listed Harry as his next-of-kin, and as his guardian, he received the notice from the coroner's office. The body had been sent to Boothby's Funerals until arrangements could be made for burial. There was also an apology for taking so long; with Sirius's status as a wanted fugitive, there had been a few hold-ups before his corpse could be released.

"And here I thought his name had been cleared," Severus muttered. He opened the next letter to find two invitations to the reading of Black's will. He glanced at the parcel, but as it was addressed to the boy in care of himself, he was pretty sure that it was the financial records they'd been waiting for. The sooner the boy learnt how to at the very least read his financial reports the better.

Carefully, Severus put the letters away and turned back to his potion. Some of the lessons he had planned for Harry were to catch him up to where he would have been had Lily and James lived. The boy needed to learn to manage his money, politics lessons, Latin lessons in case he ever wanted to create his own spells, etiquette lessons... And those were just so that Harry would eventually be able to take his proper place in society when he came of age. There were also continuing Occlumency lessons, dueling lessons, both physical and magical, tactics and defense, Animagus... The list was seemingly endless.

At the moment, however, there were other things to consider. Perhaps Molly was right. Perhaps he should make an appointment with a mind healer. He'd need to find one who was fairly high up in the hierarchy, and who wasn't working for the Dark Lord. He had an obligation to fulfill, after all. Severus didn't do things halfway. Doing things halfway got people hurt or killed. Unfortunately for him, he reflected bitterly, Lily had known it, which was probably why she had extracted that damnable Unbreakable Vow from him. Even if the cost of breaking it wasn't his life, he would have done his best to keep his word, simply because his honor would not allow him to do otherwise.