Harry Potter had only lived on the streets for three months, but he knew the rules as well as anyone.
Number one: Don't attract attention. Didn't matter if it was good, bad, or in between, attention was the last thing you wanted. Which had been hard for Harry at first, he'd admit it. His eyes were too bright, too magnified by his dirty glasses, which had been stolen his very first night. Without them, he stumbled around nearly blind half the time and he often needed to find himself an out of the way street corner where he could get a few coins from the passerby. His hair, always messy, had seemed to actually calm itself as it was bogged down with three months worth of dirt, snag, and tangles. His scar, which he'd always hidden, was covered pathetically by a few streaks of mud. Yes, Harry had learned that rule particularly well. Don't stand out, ever, because it never leads to anything good. He had learned it the hard way, for sure, but he had learned it and that was all that mattered, now.
Number two: Only steal when it's necessary. He'd seen countless kids, shoplifters, pickpockets, purse-snatchers, all picked up by the police, caught in the attempt to score some money for food or drugs or sex, and he never wanted to be dragged away like that, because the police might take him back, and then what would they do? Rations at the Dursley's (thinking of the Dursley's still filled him with that funny mix of anger and fear and sadnesss, so he tried not to think of them) had always been a bit slim, and that had served him well. His stomach seemed to be smaller than a lot of the other street kids, so he could go longer without food. And then he had longer to get enough money to buy something, normally at the fish and chips store at the corner. He'd always do the same thing—buy his food, then run quickly to the bathroom, locking himself in a stall as he ate quickly. He always burned his throat and lips, but it was a wonderful kind of burn, a burn that meant his hunger was sated for a few hours and that he was doing alright for himself.
Rule number three: Don't make it personal. Begging, which was Harry's only source of income, worked very well, but he'd learned after running after women, pleading for just a few cents, it scared them when he looked them in the eye. They had seen too many street kids strung out on drugs, too many crazy homeless men to trust anyone who looked and smelled like Harry did. He had seen Aunt Petunia (don't think about them, don't think about them) walk briskly away from them with that look of fear and loathing in her eyes she nearly always got when she looked at Harry, which should have told him something, he supposed. So you kept it back, you held up little cardboard signs and, if you had to talk to them, you just kept repeating the same thing over and over. Please please please please please.
Number four, and maybe the hardest rule for Harry: Never think about how you got there. Because it didn't matter anymore, how you got there, it only mattered that you were there and that you had to get out of there. No one could afford to dwell on the past, to think about warm beds in cosy cupboards, of the days when he would get half and sandwich and the leftover, burned bits of bacon (sometimes, outside café's in the morning, Harry sniffed the air and closed his eyes and pretended he was just making breakfast, which broke the rule) and soggy toast and watery soup for dinner. You can't think about the things you used to have, because, as Harry had learned, you didn't have them anymore. And you wouldn't ever have them again.
So yes, Harry had survived and learned the rules and played the game, like he always had in the Dursleys. But, for eleven year old Harry Potter, life felt like one enormous chore to get through. And some days, Harry wondered when it would end and he could got back to sleep in his cupboard.
Muggle London, Severus decided, was a stinking, disgusting place filled to the brim with stupid, stinking people and whiny, snot nosed brats and the occasional whore or two. Muggle London was a place he avoided at all costs. He remembered, vaugely, in a life he had tried hard to forget, taking a trip there once with his parents.
His mother had sniffed and sneered and clucked at the disgrace and his da had simply looked at her, and at him, little Severus with the same Prince sneer pasted on his face, and he'd grunted 'You drop those airs and get that sneer off your face or I'll leave you here with the rats.' And though his mother had tossed her hair and looked disdained, while she was in the loo he had gotten seperated from her and wandered around, lost, for an hour until she located him again with a quick spell, picking him up and crying into his hair that she'd though she'd lost him.
And though they all pretended it was an accident, neither Eileen nor little Severus denied the fact that Toby, who had a fair eye and a loud voice, who had never lost Severus before, had smiled cruelly at Severus as soon as he returned.
He had hated London ever since.
However, in some of the darker potions, certain…questionable ingredients were necessary. Some darker ingredients that were housed, unwittingly, in little magical pockets throughout Muggle London. Ingredients that he needed, if he was ever to make that damned locating charm for that blasted Harry Potter.
Severus scowled, frightening a pair of giggling, playing children, and turned quickly onto a darker, dimmer, dirtier street filled with the undesirables of Muggle society. He kicked a poor child with one arm out of his way as he kept storming through, weaving into seedier and seedier area's as he pondered the idea of that damned Potter fool.
Too good for his relatives and Hogwarts too, the fool. Caught one look at his letter and scarpered, according to the Muggles. And now Severus had to waste time, effort, and potions ingredients, PLUS a trip into bloody London to track down the little fool.
A flickering thought in Severus' mind almost made him turn around. 'You could tell Dumbledore the store had been shut down by the Ministry. He wouldn't be able to check. You could tell him they were out of October Root, and you could go home, to Hogwarts, and forget the brat exists.'
But all those years with Dumbledore had given the man a small, almost miniscule conscience, and he trudged on, thinking off all the ways he could hold this over Potter's head when the boy was found.
He strode down the dirty, muck infested street, and he pasted that Prince sneer on his face, brushing off the various beggars and homeless vagabonds that brandished their coffee cups and cried for help, salvation, a few pence.
Severus kept on walking.
He ducked quickly into a dark store front, whose peeling sign read 'FORTUNES TOLDE BY PROFESSIONALE INSYDE! PALMES REDDE ANDE CARDES SHOWYN!' and showed a faded, worn palm print on the edge of the sign with the life and marriage lines clearly marked.
Severus pressed his hand to the palm and simply faded into the shadows, focusing his mind on the intense round of bartering to come instead of who the bartering would benefit.
Harry woke up that morning to find that someone had stolen his shoes in the night.
He had known, as soon as he had found the little crawl way under the dumpster, that he would be found. But it had been so late and dark out that he could hardly see, and he knew that if he slept in the open it might be he himself who was taken away. So he had resigned himself to losing something valuable, because all the things he had left now were valuable, and he merely thanked God that it had been his shoes, and not his life (or something more important, but Harry didn't like to think of that) that was spirited away.
He set to tearing spare bits of fabric from Dudley's old, baggy trousers (wincing even as he ripped, knowing that when fall fully settled in he would regret that, probably) to wrap around his feet, which were already pink with cold through the holes in his socks. They had neglected to take his socks, and Harry once again thanked his lucky stars that his thieves were either incredibly kind of incredibly dim-witted, or both.
He managed to patch his feet up slightly presentably, and he then yawned, shook his head, and felt his stomach rumble. It was the third day he'd been without food—it wouldn't be ignored. Harry started to look around him, squinting to try to make out the letters on street signs and stores.
He missed his glasses something awful.
He stumbled about blindly for about twenty minutes before settling down outside a palmistry place. People that came out of there almost always gave a few coins, sometimes even a pound or two. He just had to be patient, as always.
He entertained himself, as he waited, about who was in there, getting their forune told. It was a woman, he decided, a tall, beautiful, red-haired lady, like in his dreams. And she was very sad because she hadn't any child and she wanted one very badly. She would go in there and the fortune telling lady would stare into her crystal ball, and the lady would cry because it was useless and she never thought she would have a child. But then the fortune lady would look out of her crystal ball and she would smile and say 'Look outside' and then the lady would run outside and see him and she could know, right away, that she was his real mum. She hadn't died in the car crash, just hit her head like him and gotten amnesia, but no scar, he decided, because she was too pretty. She had looked and looked for him, knowing he was missing but not remembering his name or what he looked like, and now that she had found him they would live in a big castle and she would feed him sweets all the time—
His lovely daydream was interupted, however, by a foot kicking him in the back, hard. So hard he toppled sideways and banged his head on the pavement, hard.
"Out of my way, you filthy child." Severus Snape snarled as the little ragamuffin flew forward and hit his head on the ground. Severus frowned in concern, then sighed and, distastefully, pinched his nose and leaned over the boy, who scampered away the closer he came.
Harry could almost cry. The daydream had seemed so real, this time, and even though he knew he was too old to be so babyish, to see this ugly, angry man emerge from the same doorway his mum was supposed to appear from was too much. Harry bit his lip and, seeing the man advance, pushed himself backward.
"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to be in your way. I'm sorry." He was flinching and pushing back, until he backed into a signpost.
Severus scowled and sneered distastefully. What an ugly little urchin. He could even see properly, it seemed, and his face and hands were extremely dirty. His clothes too, were stained and baggy. Second or third or fourth hand, he wagered. A cut on his forehead had appeared, due to his tumble from the porch, and he was starting to bleed. He, unsuccessfully, tried to wipe it away with his hands.
"Here, boy," Severus snarled, tossing him a handkerchief. The boy murmered a small thanks, wiping and pressing the handkerchief to the cut. He pulled the handkerchief away, frowned at it, and then spat on it. Severus nearly slapped his grubby little hands. But he was mopping away at his bloody forhead, removing most of the blood and the grime and revealing---
A scar. A lightening bolt scar.
The boy shyly handed him back the handkerchief, and Severus tried to process what he was seeing. A boy, a small, thin, ragged street boy, with dirty, shaggy hair that could have looked like James', if it had been combed, and big, green eyes that looked like Lily's. And a scar, a scar that he had heard countless tales and theories about.
The boy, while Severus was staring blankly, had picked up a tattered carboad coffee cup and held it out.
"If you can spare it, sir? Not that you have to, what with lending me your hankie and all, but if you have any I would be right thankful. Truly."
Severus blinked, slowly, and made his decision. Even if this boy was just some crude look-a-like, he would take him to Dumbledore. Yes, Dumbledore would know what to do.
Severus reached out, and the boy looked tentatively happy, holding out his little cup. However, that happiness turned quickly to anger and fear as Severus latched on to his bony wrist and, with a powerful jerk, pulled him into his arms.
Harry immediately started to scream, kick, and bite. At first, Severus was so shocked that the boy was resisting—who dare resist him, Severus Snape?—that he didn't take in the words fully. Nor could he really be bothered to. He simply scooped up the boy and started to make the long fight to an alleyway where he could apparate to Hogsmeade.
Harry was terrified. He had only been grabbed by a strange man once before this, and after that experience he had never wanted to do it again. The man hadn't wanted to do more than look, but he'd terrified Harry. He had run for weeks on the edge of tears and exhaustion, too scared the man might find him again and demand a higher price.
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had always lectured Dudley on the finer points of what to do if someone grabbed you. Harry had always listened, part of his mind merely absorbing as he nibbled his toast, the other part wondering who in their right mind would want to steal Dudley. But he remembered. You were supposed to scream and fight and kick him in the crotch, that much he knew. However, against this tall, terrifying man, Harry didn't know if it would be enough.
He flailed and kicked and wailed, not even words, just streams of anger and fear. He screeched and shrieked and bit. But, in the end, the man had sucessfully dragged him into an alleyway and suddenly, he got the distinct feeling the man had somehow drugged him, because the walls and his stomach dropped down, down, down, and the colors all span and ran into each other.
Harry and Severus were no longer in the alley.
Harry and Severus, in fact, were no longer in London, or even England.
Severus let out a bark as, when they landed from one of the most difficult Apparations he'd ever worked, a foot came out of nowhere and nearly hit a strong blow to his balls. The shrieking hit his ears again and Severus quickly cast a Bubble-Charm over them, constricting all noise to the inside of the bubble.
The boy had finally resorted to words.
"I won't let you touch me, I won't, I won't, I won't! You can't touch me, never, and if you try I'll bite off your hand, I swear I will, and my mum and daddy won't let you hurt me, they'll kill you, you hear me? My mum will kill you dead, you pervert, let me go! Please, please, let me go! They'll kill you dead!"
Severus' jaw dropped. The boy thought—
Well, it wasn't unreasonable, he supposed. As a fear for a boy from the streets, he supposed it was valid. Severus ducked behind a building, planted the brat firmly on the ground, and before the brat could run, slapped him firmly on the cheek.
The boy wouldn't stop screaming.
"I won't do it and if you make me I'll stab you in the heart and leave you in the dumpster and my mum will grind you up for sausage!" It was a good thing that, with his other hand, Severus had kept a tight hold over his wrist, because the boy was tugging against it something fierce. Severus slapped him again, and this time the boy seemed a bit dazed and quieted for a moment.
"Be quiet, you little wretch, it's perfectly safe here!"
"That's a lie! You're a liar and a pervert and if you don't let me go I'll bite it off! I'll do it, I'll do it!"
Snape snarled and snapped "No one wants anything of that sort, you fool, now stop screaming so I can get us a bloody carriage!"
"They all lie, how should I know that you're not lying too?"
Severus looked into the boys eyes, heaved a sigh, and said "Because I knew your parents. Lily and James, correct?"
The boy looked starstruck, dazzled, and he swallowed and whispered "You knew them?"
Severus nodded. "I did. It was a great loss to the world when they died."
Harry's eyes, which had lit up, dimmed slightly. "So they really are dead, then."
"Yes, Mr. Potter. I'm afraid they are."
The boy seemed to weigh this in his head, and he slowly nodded, but glared. "I don't trust you any. If you try anything, I'll kill you dead, I swear."
Severus gave a small sneer. "That is acceptable, Mr. Potter."
He dragged the boy into the nearest carriage, paid the fee, and relaxed for a bit of a ride. Just as he closed his eyes, he heard a small, hesitant throat clear.
Without opening his eyes, he stifled a groan. "What is is, Mr. Potter?"
"Well…I was just wondering, uhm…how you know my name?" That air of fear was back again, and Severus sighed and opened his eyes to see the boy staring, apprehensively, at his chin. He was chewing on his lower lip as if determined to wear it through, and all his muscles were tensed up, like he was ready to run.
"Your scar is quite distinctive, Mr. Potter."
The boy reached up and traced it, slowly. "My mum and daddy didn't have any scars, did they? From the crash?"
Severus frowned. "What on earth are you talking about, boy? What crash?"
Harry wass immediately on the alert. "I thought you said you knew my parents. Don'tcha know how they died?"
Snape glared at the stupid, irritating boy. "Of course I do, you idiot child, but what in the blazes are you on about? The only crash that night was between yourself and the Dark Lord."
Harry cocked his head to one side in confusion. "Who?"
"You-Know-Who," Severus corrected.
"No, sir, I don't. I'm sorry."
"You ignorant whelp, You-Know-Who. The Dark Lord. He Who Must Not Be Named." Harry's face was still clueless and wary.
Severus moaned and put his hands to his head. "I'll explain it when we reach the school."
Harry seemed to ponder this, then nodded slowly. "Kay."
Then they both settled in for a long, bumpy carriage ride.