Summary: AU. Snape-mentors-Harry fic. When Harry Potter comes to Hogwarts, Snape is forced to reexamine his initial impressions. (Warnings: implications of child neglect/abuse; manipulative/Dumbledore; sedition. Not Canon.)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I make no money from this. The characters belong to J. K. Rowling. I only borrow them for a brief while.
Author's Note: Words in italics indicate thoughts. Words in quotations indicate spoken dialogue.
No one knew how it was possible. Despite the noisy chaos – despite the bedlam of hundreds of children scurrying about in frantic turmoil, searching for lost belongings and tripping over trunks and pet cages – the pandemonium eventually subsided and somehow, every student made it aboard the carriages and to the train station in time. Not even the staff, for whom this was an annual ordeal, knew how they managed it. It was one of the mysteries of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hagrid and Minerva had accompanied the carriages, as usual, and had supervised the elves in the loading of luggage aboard the Hogwarts Express. And they had both made a point of speaking to Harry Potter before he climbed aboard. Hagrid had proudly gifted Harry with a photo album containing wizard photos of his parents and his friends. It was a project that the huge Groundskeeper had labored over for a full day (with assistance from Minerva and the Headmaster) and the boy was appropriately gratified by the gesture.
Minerva had wished Harry a happy holiday, and added a quiet reassurance that if he needed anything - anything at all – he was to contact her at once. Harry seemed perplexed by her solicitude but thanked her politely.
Minerva and Hagrid stood on the platform, waving at the departing students until the train had disappeared down the track in a cloud of steam. Minerva didn't comment when Hagrid sniffled and blew his nose loudly on a huge red kerchief. She knew the gentle giant would miss the children – he loved them so, and he was always sad to see them leave for the summer. Hagrid, in turn, pretended not to notice the McGonagall's moist eyes. He ducked his head and nodded at her.
"I'll be running along now, Perfesser," he mumbled. "I have to. . .um. . .see a fella about somethin'."
Minerva nodded, suppressing a snort of amusement. Every year after the students' departure, Hagrid always had to "see a fella". She knew perfectly well that 'fella' was a tall pint at the HogsHead.
She turned and strolled off the platform, veering towards the alley between the station and the cargo storeroom. As she passed through the alley she murmured softly, "You can come out of hiding now. The train has left."
Snape's disillusionment charm dissolved and he shimmered into view, glowering at her. "I was not hiding," he insisted sourly. "I was reconnoitering . . . .watching for threats. It was merely a precaution to safeguard the train's departure."
"If you say so," Minerva agreed dryly. She was wise enough not to press the issue, or to point out that this was the first time, to her knowledge, that the aloof Potions Master had come down to the station to see the students off. Ignoring the empty carriages that had already begun rattling back toward the school, Severus and Minerva strolled along the dusty lane, enjoying the warm June afternoon. Severus glanced at his companion several times before introducing the topic he wanted to discuss.
"Minerva," Snape began, keeping his tone carefully casual. "I was meaning to ask you…what do you know about Potter's guardians?"
Minerva snorted with mild derision. "Not much…I only saw them the once. Why do you ask?"
"No reason, really. Just curious. I did not ever meet Lily's sister, and Potter never mentions them."
"That doesn't surprise me. They didn't strike me as particularly noteworthy, even for Muggles." At an intrigued look from Severus, Minerva proceeded to tell him her vague impressions of the Dursleys that fateful day ten years earlier.
"Hmmm," Severus nodded. "And what did Mrs. Dursley say when Albus presented her with Lily's baby?"
An odd frown creased Minerva's face. "Say? She didn't say anything. We didn't speak with her."
She quickly explained the events of that night: her conversation with Albus; Hagrid's arrival – and her last sight of Harry on the Dursley doorstep, wrapped in his blanket with the Headmaster's note on top.
Severus halted in the middle of the lane and stared at her in stunned disbelief. "Albus left him on the doorstep?"
Minerva nodded, stopping to face him.
"He left him . . ," Severus suddenly sounded as if he was choking. "He left a baby – a defenseless infant – alone? On a doorstep? In the middle of the night? In October???" His face began to flush and he swore under his breath, a long string of curses that were shockingly filthy.
Minerva paled as the implications of his accusation hit her. "Oh, Dear Merlin!" she whispered in anguish.
Severus glared at her in disgust. "Why in the name of all that's magical, would the old fool do such a thing?! The child could have gotten sick! He could have been attacked! Stolen! Bloody Hell, Minerva – he could have been mauled by an animal – or worse! What in the world were you people THINKING?"
Minerva's hands shook and it was clear she was shocked to the core. "I never. . .it never occurred to me. . . Oh, Severus – I never even questioned it!" she stammered, horrified.
"I cannot believe two highly intelligent people could do such an incredibly stupid thing!" Severus snarled. He began to pace back and forth angrily. "You just dumped the boy there? Abandoned The-Boy-Who-Lived? Even if Albus cast protection spells over the child, you would think – at the very least – you could have informed the Dursley woman of a family death in person! It would have been the decent thing to do, don't you think?" he hissed snidely. "What did that old fool write? 'Your sister is dead. Here's her kid. He's all yours. Regards, Albus' ?? – Honestly, Minerva! Even I would not be so callous!"
"I don't. . . I never read the note. . .it was all so sudden and everything was so confused. . I didn't think. ." Minerva stumbled unsteadily over to a large boulder and sat on it.
The elderly witch was so obviously distraught that Severus felt a bit sorry for her, and he ceased his pacing and reined in his outrage. "I can understand your bewilderment, Minerva. It was a chaotic time. None of us knew what was happening – whether the Dark Lord was dead, or gone, or . . .I'm not blaming you."
"I was so shocked and saddened by James' and Lily's deaths. . ." Minerva muttered helplessly. "And Albus seemed to know what he was doing. . .I hardly questioned his actions. . ." she gave him a grim look. "Not until this very moment."
"So Albus didn't even ask the Muggles if they were willing to take Harry in? He never insured the boy would be welcomed and cared for? He just left him there?"
Minerva nodded sadly.
"Why would he do that? It makes no sense." Severus muttered more to himself than to her. There was a long pause as they both pondered that thought, then Minerva spoke up, her voice quavering slightly.
"Perhaps he thought the Dursleys might refuse if given the chance."
Severus eyed her speculatively. "Is that what you think, Minerva? Do you have reason to believe the Muggles didn't want Harry?"
She shook her head slowly. "No reason. . .it's just. . .I don't know - I didn't like them, Severus. . . I didn't like the feel of them. I told Albus I had reservations. He said there was no other choice."
"No choice? I wonder. . ." Severus muttered.
"Severus – do you think there is a definite problem with the Dursleys? Do you think Harry has been unhappy with them?"
"I don't know," Severus admitted softly. "I asked him and he denied it. He claimed to have no problems at home, but I was unconvinced." He scowled. "Did you know Harry asked if he could stay at Hogwarts over the summer?"
"Did he?" Minerva looked surprised.
"He practically begged me. . . even offered to work for his upkeep. Apparently, he had already asked Albus, but the Headmaster told him students weren't allowed to stay. Harry claimed he merely wanted to remain in the magical world, and not return to the Muggle one. But I am not so certain. . .there was a desperation beneath his request that concerned me. " He shrugged. "Do you know of any other reason why Harry would want to stay here? Why wouldn't he want to return home – to enjoy his summer vacation like any normal child?"
"I don't know. It's not typical. Most students can hardly wait to return home. In fact most students – especially First Years – are thoroughly homesick by the time the year is out," she admitted. "But Harry has never mentioned any homesickness to me."
"Not that he would," Snape commented. "For all his youth and impulsiveness, I have found him remarkably uncomplaining. . .intrepid, even."
"Yes, I recall when Poppy was treating his injuries, after the Quirrell business, that the boy never whined – or even flinched, for that matter." She smiled grimly. "That boy is a Gryffindor, all right."
Snape snorted, then scowled. "Perhaps. Or perhaps he's more." He reached out, giving her his hand to help her rise. He took her arm absently, and began to escort her up the lane again.
At Minerva's quizzical glance, he shook his head uneasily. "There are other motivations besides courage that will make a child hide his pain," he said darkly. "Listen, Minerva - we've no real proof of a problem, but you obviously feel as I do – something isn't quite right. I think the next time I'm in London, I'll make a small side trip to Surrey. It wouldn't hurt to look in on the boy."
Minerva nodded thoughtfully. "That's an excellent idea. I will also do a little discrete feline prowling – I should be able to slip away without raising suspicions."
"Good. I won't be able to investigate immediately. I'll be out of the country until early July – I'm attending a Potions Conference in Marseille."
"Really? I didn't know that," Minerva was surprised.
"It's no great matter. It seems the fools wish to present me with some absurd award or other – for my work on blood replenishing potions. I have to give a lecture," he admitted woefully.
"Why, Severus! That's marvelous! Congratulations!" Minerva beamed with genuine approval.
Severus shrugged dismissively. "I wouldn't even go, but Albus has insisted. He feels such meaningless honors are good for the school's image."
"But it's not meaningless! The acclaim of your peers is the most flattering of praise, Severus. I'm very proud and pleased for you!"
"Thank you." He stopped at the Entrance doors, and glanced around, then pulled her gently aside, murmuring guardedly. "But after the conference, I'll be traveling on the Continent a bit. Albus has asked me to discretely contact some of our former allies from the War. . .just in case this business with the Stone is a harbinger of future events. Which means I will have to delay my trip to Surrey."
"Don't worry about that," Minerva reassured him. "We can discuss what to do about Harry once you return. It will keep, I'm sure. The boy has lived with those Muggles for ten years now. . .a few more weeks shouldn't make a difference at this point."
Severus agreed grudgingly. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I'll check up on the boy. You just go to France and enjoy your conference."
Severus grimaced. "It's a foolish business – mostly self-congratulatory posturing by brewers with little right to boast. . ," his scowl softened and a glint of animation lit his black eyes. "But there are a few innovative brewers attending, whose experiments I have been following. . . I am looking forward to their lectures."
"Of course you are," Minerva agreed proudly. "Now – you just enjoy yourself in France. . .we will take care of Mr. Potter when you return – don't you fret now. You mustn't spoil your vacation with needless worrying."
"Fret?" Severus retorted frostily. "Minerva McGonagall, I'll have you know I do not fret."
"Of course you don't."
"Just because I express a smidgen of concern for a student, does not mean I indulge in needless worrying," he huffed.
"I'm aware of that, Severus. But I know you when you're faced with a riddle – you lay awake nights, gnawing over it like an old dog with a bone until you have solved it. "
"I do not! What a revolting image!"
"You'll solve this one as soon as you return. Don't worry," she added mischievously. "I won't betray you. No one will learn from me, how fond you are of Harry Potter."
"I never said I was fond of him!"
"You didn't have to, you old fraud," Minerva chuckled. "It's as plain as the nose on your face. . . and in your case, that's saying something!"
"Really, Minerva! You needn't be insulting!" He treated her to his most offended glare, then swept away in mock indignation.
Minerva smiled at his retreating back, then followed him inside, worriedly pondering the future health and well-being of one small boy wizard, far off in the Muggle suburbs of Surrey.
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Author's Note: This is the conclusion of Equilibrium. This story will continue in the sequel - Evolution - soon to be posted.
My thanks to all my readers for their continued inspiration and support!