The polyjuice potion was not the correct color. The monkshood must have been too old. With a sigh, Snape tilted the ruined potion into a larger cauldron of neutralizer and waited for the solution to clear before banishing it. As he began to put away the potions ingredients, a brilliantly plumaged bird appeared in a burst of flame and squawked at him, the melody gone from its voice in the phoenix's panic. It landed on his shoulder and he reached up absentmindedly to stroke it. The phoenix nipped his fingers drawing blood and squawked again. Snape swore and moved to the fireplace and flooed to the headmaster's office immediately in response to the summons. As he stepped from the fireplace, he observed Dumbledore overturning the office in a wild frenzy. "What is so important that your blasted bird had to bite me?"
"Arabella has activated the alarm and the aurorers have warded Privet Drive against me and my interference."
"I shall go then. If I think that there is cause for concern, I will bring him here. Do try to calm down." Snape retrieved a paperweight from the desk and muttered "Portus." A moment later, he disappeared from the office.
The room he reappeared in was decidedly not to his taste. If he found the putrid pink color scheme to be offensive, it was nothing compared to the millions of photos of a blonde pig-like boy bearing a vacant expression reminiscent of Crabbe and Goyle. The room bore no sign of the boy-hero who also resided here.
Snape decided that if he found the source of the yelling, he would probably find the trouble. The yelling came from a large, red-in-the-face man bellowing about his right to punish that freak of a nephew. It took six aurorers to hold him back and another two to blast the figurines out of the hands of a bony woman before she could throw them at the aurorers. It would never occur to them to use a freeze or stun spell on poor 'defenseless' muggles. Snape ignored them and glided into the small bedroom.
In the shadows, he found a young aurorer with bubble-gum pink colored hair bent over the still form of the child he had come to check on, a child laying in a small pool of his own blood.
His voice was sharper than he had meant for it to be, but he could not help it, as the scene brought back many similar memories from his own childhood. To her credit, the girl (whom he now recognized as one of his brighter if clumsy students of the past) did not recoil from him, but answered levelly.
"Beaten heavily with the leg of that broken chair, and a fancy walking stick, before producing some sort of shield. It doesn't look good, but the minister is taking his own sweet time clearing us to move him to St. Mungos for treatment. I just wish that I could do something."
Snape nodded to show that he had understood, stepped forward, and hefted the small boy's pitiful weight. "I, however, am not under his employment, and will not allow his insane power struggle with Dumbledore to cause an injured child any further pain." What had those muggles been doing? The boy weighed sixty pounds at best. "Madame Pomfrey will be a much better alternative than St. Mungos, so if you will inform the necessary author-" He was cut off by the hysterical laughter of the pig-boy. "Miss Tonks, if you would be so kind?" he said with distaste.
"Happy to oblige." Her spell gave the cruel boy the appearance of nothing more than an enormous gray sea slug. She gave her work a satisfied nod and turned back to them, smoothing the boy's hair back from his face. "Take care of him, Professor."
"You were never properly afraid of me at Hogwarts," he sighed.
"Of course not. I'm a Gryffindor." She picked up a broken toy car and muttered "Portus" before handing it to him. "That will get you there. Good luck."
Upon reappearing in the Hospital Wing, Snape caught the attention of both Madame Pomfrey and Dumbledore. Half afraid that the boy would die in his arms if he remained there much longer, he set the boy gently on the bed. Madame Pomfrey took one look at her new patient, gave a soft cry, and bustled off to gather her potions. Dumbledore approached and shuddered. "What has gone on here, Severus?"
"Miss Tonks claimed him to have been beaten with the leg of a chair and a walking stick. From the behavior I observed, I am assuming that Dursley was his attacker. Any further information should come from Mr. Potter himself.
At the mention of his name, the boy began to struggle, but Snape sat on the edge of the bed and held him in place. The boy's eyes flung open and he took in his surroundings with a shaky breath, before focusing on his rescuer. "Professor?"
"Relax, Mr. Potter. You are safe at Hogwarts."
"Thought I was dreaming," the boy whispered. "Can I stay here? Please?"
"It is not permitted, my dear boy, but we'll find you somewhere to go. You will not be returned to the Dursley's," Dumbledore soothed. "I will go and fetch your things myself, but I need you to tell me what happened."
The boy cringed and Severus began to absentmindedly rub the frightened child's back. "I'm not supposed to have any contact with wizards. After the first owl, my uncle boarded up the window. But because it was my birthday yesterday-it is Wednesday, right?-owls interrupted my uncle's business dinner with some very important clients. The owls scared Mrs. Mason and Uncle Vernon punished me for misbehaving. Dudley just got in a few good licks with his Smeltings Stick," the boy winced in pain, but tried to sit up anyway.
Snape held him down. "Lay still. Madame Pomfrey will return to heal you in a moment. By the way, it is Thursday, and tell me the truth this time. Your uncle cannot reach you here. When was the last time you ate?"
The boy looked away answering softly, "I stole a biscuit out of the bread box on Sunday. That's when I got locked in my room. The owls showed up yesterday. I mean Tuesday and I heard Mrs. Mason scream. It woke me up. Then Uncle Vernon threw open the door." He took a deep breath. "The light blinded me for a second, and it gave him enough time to drag me out of bed. He took off his belt and gave me a whipping, twelve lashes before throwing me across the room. The chair broke under me and Uncle Vernon kicked me away and picked up part of the chair. He started hitting me with it, muttering about owls and freaks the whole time. After awhile, everything went black, but when I woke up . . ." Snape smoothed the tangled hair back from the fevered forehead and the boy seemed to calm under his touch. "Dudley was hitting me with the stick. I hurt, and I was scared, and I just wanted him to go away. I didn't mean to do magic," he whispered pleadingly.
"That's what summoned the aurorers," Snape mused. "Under-age magic is permissible, however, in life-threatening situations, a category in which this clearly falls." He stood. "I will notify the house-elves and start brewing a nourishment potion."
"Don't you move, young man!" Pomfrey ordered, returning with her supplies. "That boy has broken bones. I need you to keep him still while I mend them. Dumbledore can notify the house-elves and once the boy is asleep, I'll give you a definite list of the potions that I will need."
"Very well, Madame," he answered stiffly. Snape waited as patiently as possible for the nurse to finish examining the boy, but he worried that they might already be too late. The breathing grew steadily erratic and Snape moved forward and picked up the limp hand forcing some of his magic energy into the boy. The breathing improved, but only slightly. "What is the verdict?"
"Four broken ribs. I can mend two, but the others are old injuries so they will have to heal on their own. His left arm is broken in three places, the shoulder is dislocated, and the wrist sprained. I can heal everything but the wrist. I can fix the broken collarbone and the concussion, but he'll need to take it easy the next few days. I'm worried about damage to his throat and lungs. No solid food or strain on his voice." She bit her lip. "I've already healed the cuts, but there is nothing that I can do for the bruises."
The boy's eyes fluttered open and he took in his surroundings. Severus rested his free hand on the boy's good shoulder. "Lay still. You have many bones in need of mending." With the nurse's nod, he provided a firm but gentle brace as she began healing. They boy winced in pain but was held fast. By the time she reached the boy's ribs, he had fallen into a merciful state of unconsciousness, and Snape could not help commenting, "He's a child still. Barely twelve years old. I wish that I had the punishment of them."
"The ministry will take care of it."
"It will be much too soft, nowhere near the amount of pain that the boy suffered."
"I'm giving him a painkiller the next time he wakes up, but he'll need many more. You mentioned nourishment potions. He'll definitely need them because he's forty pounds underweight. She paused and adjusted the sheets. "His survival is nothing short of a miracle." She took a deep breath, before continuing in an almost pleading tone, hoping that she was wrong. "His eyes are very weak, Severus, as if he has not seen light for a long time."
Severus thought back to the small room. The window had been boarded shut and the door most likely locked from the outside before the aurorer's arrival. The only light came from the hall as Potter had pointed out. "He was locked in a room for four days. I would be willing to wager five crates of premium fire whiskey that he had no light for that interval."
A glass bottle crushed to the floor, a dark green potion spreading over the floor, but the nurse paid no attention. "Verbal, Physical, and Psychological abuse. Will there be anything left of him?"
"I survived. So will he."
Dumbledore found Snape in the dungeon classroom that the younger man ruled, keeping three cauldrons of sensitive potions under control with ease. He waited for his colleague to look up or acknowledge his presence in some small way before speaking. "I need your opinion on this, Severus. No, I will mind the potions for a bit. Please sit and read this." He handed the missive from Tonks to the younger man and watched for his reaction while stirring comfrey into the first cauldron. He was not disappointed.
"You can not mean to allow the minister to return him to the muggles!"
"No, but we have precious little time. A blood ritual is the only option, the strongest form of magical adoption."
"It would be dangerous to give the boy a bond to me, and Poppy is almost sixty . . ."
"No. Don't even entertain the idea, Dumbledore. I'm no parent and much too cynical to play at it."
"We have perhaps half an hour before Umbridge comes for the boy and I've exhausted all other options. Remember your childhood, Severus. You can spare Harry from the same fate. You said it yourself, he is not the spoiled brat you thought him to be."
"What about the Weasleys?" Snape cast about desperately for an alternative.
"They already have seven, two under apprenticeship and five within school age."
"I don't have any idea how to be a parent. Besides the boy and I can barely stand each other."
"If he's willing, will you do it as a favor to me?"
"There must be another way."
"There is only the Dursleys." He had won. That was not an option in Severus's eyes.
"I will do it, but only on one condition. If I take on this task, I will educate him as I see fit. No one is to interfere with my training. I won't have people insist on coddling him or complain about what I'm teaching him."
"You have my word, Severus. When it comes to your son, you have the final word."
Snape was surprised at the lack of resistance that the boy offered, although in his own past, if he'd been given a choice to leave, his twelve year old self would have moved in with the Giant Squid and been extremely thankful for the unexpected and rare opportunity.
So the boy's unhesitant offer of his hand was perhaps to be expected. Despite the painkillers, he winced sharply as Dumbledore cut it but didn't make a sound as he clasped hands with his potions master. Dumbledore had scarcely finished the spell before a toad-like woman appeared.
In a voice that was so sickly sweet it reminded Snape of poison, she demanded, "Why was I not met at the gate as I requested?"
Snape ignored her, helping the boy to lie back down and adjusting the covers over his new charge. Instead Dumbledore spoke up. "Because Harry required our attention, Dolores. Did you want something?"
"I've come to return the boy to his guardians."
"Ah," Dumbledore nodded sagely. "Completely unnecessary. I've already done so."
"What are you on about now, Albus?"
"Harry will go home with his father this evening when Madame Pomfrey discharges him."
"James Potter is dead."
"Sadly, yes, but he is not the father of whom I spoke of. Check your records for Harry's legal father, if you will."
Snape held his breath as the woman glanced at the file she carried. Had the magic worked?
Umbridge's scream of frustration reassured him. "How was this done? The proper paperwork was not submitted for a blood ritual!"
"I'm sure it was merely misplaced. Perhaps you should check your mail."
"Fudge will find a way to overturn this!"
"He may try, but blood magic is older than anything the ministry is capable of. Would you like Hagrid to escort you back to the ministry?"
"No, I do not want some half-breed to accompany me! I am not finished here. I came for the boy. He must go back to the muggles!"
"I will not allow them to harm Harry further, Madame. If you try to remove . . . my son from this room without my permission, the magical consequences will be nothing compared to my revenge."
It wasn't enough. Umbridge didn't seem to think that the bond would be strong enough to prevent an unwilling separation. They needed a strong performance from the boy.
Harry did not disappoint. "I want to go home with my dad, Miss Umbridge. Can I please just go home now?"
"Enjoy your victory for now, Dumbledore. It will not last," Umbridge said coldly as she stalked out.
The boy relaxed back into his pillow, wincing slightly when weight was placed on his bad shoulder. Snape moved to the cabinet and withdrew a red potion, measuring out a single vial. "Drink this and get some sleep. It will wear off by dinner and if Pomfrey will allow it, you may eat in the Great Hall."
"Yes, sir." It was only a minute before the potion kicked in, and the boy closed his eyes.
"No, absolutely not! The boy is much too weak to walk all the way down to the Great Hall!"
"Very well." When the nurse returned to her office, Snape walked over to the boy and lifted him. "Do not tell Dumbledore that I went against Madame Pomfrey's orders."
"Technically you're not. I'm not walking," the boy pointed out.
"I may use that as my defense."
"Sir, Dumbledore said . . .well . . . am I really going to your house tonight?"
"Yes. It's your home now too, Pott-Harry. Consider it as such."
"Thank you sir. You didn't have to-"
His new son was fast asleep by the time that the knight bus pulled up in front of Spinner's End. Snape debated waking him for a moment before deciding to carry the boy in, directing Stan Shunpike to leave the boy's recovered trunk in the foyer. Jigger met them at the top of the stairs. "Jigger put Master's son in the biggest guest room. Shall Jigger unpack his things?"
"Not tonight. I want him to continue sleeping. I have a list of acceptable foods that I wish you to serve for the boy's breakfast tomorrow."
"Of course, Master. Jigger will take care of everything."
"I know you will. You are dismissed." Snape set the small boy on the bed and surveyed the room, quite pleased with the house-elf's choice. It was still a little bare, but not as bad as some of the other rooms. It would do.
Snape was awakened by a frightened cry. His groggy mind struggled to place the voice and wondered how it had gotten into his house. As he used his deck to push himself up and stand, he remembered the boy. He hastened out of the study and found the elf punishing himself in the hallway, violently beating his head into the floor.
"Jigger does not know what to do! Jigger did not ask for instruction regarding Master's son! Shall Jigger calm the boy? Jigger does not know!"
"No need to forcibly calm the child. He has probably had a nightmare. You may stop punishing yourself." Snape moved past the house-elf into the chamber and shook his young charge's shoulder. "Wake up, Potter." The boy struggled against an unseen attacker and concerned, Snape raised the boy to a sitting position and forced his way into the boy's mind.
He saw pure hatred in the eyes of the adults trying their best to kill the child cowering before them. In the vivid emerald eyes of the boy, he saw pain, fear, and worst of all he saw acceptance. He shook the boy's shoulders firmly. "Wake-up! You are safe now, Jamie. This is only a dream." The boy's eyes were flung open and stared in shock at his teacher. His shuddery breathing was the only sound in the room as the pair assessed each other. Then the boy let out a choked sob and Snape hesitantly pulled the child to him and patted the boy's back very lightly. The tears didn't last long, and the boy pulled away, embarrassed. Snape tilted the boy's chin up to look him in the eyes. "Are you alright?"
"Yes. I'm sorry I woke you, sir."
"I was working in my study. It is of no consequence." Noticing the odd coldness in the room, Snape walked over to the hearth and lit a fire. "Do you normally deal with such nightmares?"
"Yes, sir," the boy admitted softly.
Snape nodded and left the room for a moment. He returned with a vial of the red potion he had used earlier. "This is dreamless sleep. Take all of it and it will guarantee four hours of sleep. Turn off you alarm clock and sleep in tomorrow. Jitter will have breakfast on the table no matter how late."
"Thank you, sir." The boy wiggled down under the covers again and tried to swallow the potion. Snape rubbed the boy's throat to coax him to swallow it all.
"Get some sleep."
Snape was surprised to find the boy sitting at the table when he came downstairs for his customary six o'clock breakfast but didn't show it. "Trouble sleeping?"
The boy nodded, eyes downcast as if it was something to be ashamed of. "Yes, sir."
Snape did not pursue the topic further. At the ring of the bell, Jitter appeared with a platter of hotcakes. Snape calmly served himself while observing the boy's fascination with the creature. "It is called a house-elf. You have not seen one before?" The boy shook his head. "Surprising. There's a hundred or so running about Hogwarts. Servants after a fashion, I suppose. This is Jitter and if you need anything, just let him know." He pushed the platter closer to the boy. "Help yourself. The food is here for you to eat."
The boy moved as if a fire had been lit under him, placing three hotcakes on his plate and adding some weak applesauce and toast to his meal.
"After you have finished breakfast, feel free to explore the house. Just avoid the West bedroom curtains. Infested with Doxies, and I haven't had a chance to get rid of them. We're not as haunted as Hogwarts, but Tanya haunts the second floor by the nursery. She was my great-grandmother's youngest sister and died before she could turn five. She proves to be an interesting playmate for any age."
Tanya ran down the hall as fast as she could and would have crashed straight into the pale boy if she had been solid. As it was, she slid through him and spun back around. "Who are you?"
"Harry James. I guess you're Tanya."
"Maybe. Maybe not." She surveyed him closely. He looked tired and weak and very sick. "You should be in bed," she informed him seriously. "Tell your mother to take you home and put you straight to bed."
"I can't. She's dead. Besides I kind of live here now."
"This is my house."
"Can we share?"
"Will you play with me?"
"Sure. Where's your nursery?"
Snape studied the potions compendryum in front of him. He disagreed with the effects of a winter healing draught, but was trying to figure out what the author had bungled so badly as to get icicles hanging from the nose of the drinker.
The soft sound of laughter came down the hall. Severus stood, intending to check on Tanya and make sure one of her pranks hadn't gotten out of hand before looking for the boy. He found them both in the nursery, Tanya floating just above the rug and laughing as the boy reenacted some ridiculous fairy tale for her with the puppet stage.
"Having fun, you two?"
Tanya turned and waved. "Sev, Harry James is so funny."
"I see you have many talents, Harry."
"Thank you, sir." The boy gave him a tentative smile, and turned back to his task.
A coughing fit ended the performance, the fourth one according to Tanya. Snape sent him to his room for a nap, with the promise to play Wizards' Chess that evening if the boy finished his summer's homework for one of his classes.