Evolution: Contradiction in Terms
Summary: SEQUEL TO EQUILIBRIUM : A mentoring relationship is developing between young wizard Harry Potter and his dour Potions Professor, Severus; but away from Hogwarts, Harry's life is not all it seems. Summer before Year Two
Warnings: AU; child neglect/abuse; hurt/ comfort; manip/Dumbledore; sedition. Rated for language and some violence.
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.
Note: Dialogue in italics indicate thoughts. Words in quotations indicate spoken dialogue. Some scenes revised from both books and films. (AU – this means NOT CANON!)
A/N: I apologize to all my readers for the long delay in updating this story! RL has played havoc with my writing for several months. I'm so sorry for the delay and I'm happy to be able to finally return to this.
I received many, many responses to my question about the characters' aliases. The majority of responses were in favor of referring to them as Cary and Charles while they played those roles – which was lucky, since I felt I should do this as well. So I will continue this way, making certain to include a disclaimer with each chapter to remind about their alias names. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who replied! And now – on to the story….
Reminder: Aliases : Cary is Harry. Charles is Severus.
"Excellent work," Filius Flitwick studied the younger man before him with obvious approval. "Your new disguise is quite distinguished, my dear boy! You were so exceptionally talented in Potions as a student, that I sometimes forget your impressive aptitude in other disciplines. While you were not the most naturally-gifted Charms student I ever taught, Severus, you always had a creative instinct for detail. Most impressive!"
Severus felt the warmth creeping up his neck and cheeks at his former professor's lavish praise and silently cursed Charles Westlake's rosy, revealing complexion that blushed so readily. "Not as impressive as your own facade," he replied politely. He eyed the tiny professor with mild amusement.
The Charms professor had made no effort to alter or obscure his diminutive size, but had conceded to Muggle fashion by concealing his longer hair and beard. His Muggle attire was rather whimsical but somehow fitting. The elfin wizard wore oversized denim trousers that drooped over the tops of tiny, bright red trainers with neon blue laces. A t-shirt boasting the bold colors and emblem of a popular national football team hung nearly to his knees, and his hooligan status was reinforced by a pert team cap in matching colors. A faded black athletic jacket with a drawstring hood completed the ensemble. The outfit looked rather like something one would purchase in the children's department of a cheap Muggle market – and yet the overall effect worked, for reasons Severus couldn't have explained. When the elderly dwarf had waddled into the dimly lit tavern, the barkeep hadn't spared him more than a passing glance.
Severus took a sip of lukewarm ale and surveyed their surroundings warily. The stark tavern was plain and dreary – satisfyingly lacking in any cheer or charm. It was tucked into a drab alley in a squalid, nearly deserted slum on the northern outskirts of Manchester. The sprawling vacant factories that had once nearly swallowed up the local ancient wizarding village, had expired in the last gasps of the waning Industrial Revolution. They loomed over the grimy neighborhood like cavernous relics– leaving behind a residue of neglect and abandonment as thick as the gray, oily sediment from derelict smokestacks.
The sparse local community of indigent wizards that had survived the Muggle industrial decline, was an insular clique, surviving on the fringes of society and mostly forgotten by the wizarding world at large. Few were aware of the existence of the dingy pub – the last vestige of social interface in a desolate neighborhood – which was precisely why Severus had chosen it for this rendezvous. At this hour of the morning the place was almost empty – inhabited only by an indifferent, churlish bartender and an elderly drunken wizard in tattered dirty robes, passed out in a corner booth. As soon as the diminutive professor had joined him, Severus had erected a privacy ward around their table – more to block out the grating snores of the old drunk than out of fear of anyone eavesdropping.
"And how is our young protégé doing?" Filius asked cheerfully, ignoring the none-too-clean mug of cheap ale before him.
"He's all right," Severus admitted stiffly. "He has adapted surprisingly well to his masquerade and has managed to behave himself so far." Realizing his assessment could be construed as complimentary, he scowled a bit and added, "Of course it has only been a week. . .the brat has hardly had time or opportunity to bungle things. . . yet."
"I'm sure you will continue to keep him out of trouble, Severus," Filius grinned impishly. "It's clear that you have a very positive influence on the lad."
"I don't know about influence, but I am an experienced teacher. I should hope I am capable of handling one eleven-year-old boy." Severus snorted indignantly, rather embarrassed to realize that he was secretly pleased by the Charms Professor's appraisal.
"Who's looking after him now?"
"Minerva's with him. She's agreed to teach him about his family history," Severus grimaced. "She will no doubt be filling his head with fanciful tales of his parents' noble accomplishments, even as we speak."
"I'm so glad to hear it – the child should know about his own heritage," Filius approved. "It's reprehensible that his Muggle kin denied him all knowledge of his background and magical legacy," he scowled gravely. "Speaking of his relations. . ."
"Must we?" Severus scoffed nastily.
"We do need to address their future, I'm afraid." Filius sighed regretfully. "I've been keeping an eye on them. The curse is definitely taking its toll. None of them has slept properly in a week – and they're all three visibly pale and sickly. The aunt has withdrawn - shut herself up in the house and won't even answer the door. The uncle is stumbling around in a morose stupor like a grieving inferi: the rumor at his place of business is that he's become unstable and irrational, flaring into uncontrollable rages - when he's not mumbling incoherently to himself. Even the little horror of a cousin is suffering: he flinches from any contact; he's avoiding his mates and spends hours cowering in the back garden shed, weeping – he's even lost a bit of weight, believe it or not."
"How gratifying," Severus smirked. "I'm so pleased."
"Yes, well, as satisfying as I may find their suffering, I'm afraid it creates issues we need to address," Filius slipped a tiny flask from the pocket of his jacket, and tossed down a swift swig of the contents, then covertly offered it to Severus. Severus shook his head, and with surreptitious glance toward the aloof barkeep, the little professor concealed the flask out of sight beneath the table. "I am rather concerned by the Dursley's rapid decline. It would seem that Muggles possess far less resilience than wizards. If this continues much longer, it seems certain that one of them will snap."
"And your point is?" Severus sneered.
"My point is, that if one of the Dursleys plunges into total insanity, it could bring unwelcome notice to the family. The uncle seems most likely to shatter – I suspect he is rigidly inflexible in his views, and is least capable of coping with the nightmares. If he becomes violent, the Muggle authorities may become involved." Severus shrugged but Filius shook his head disapprovingly. "As much as we may crave revenge on these despicable Muggles for their treatment of Harry, if they completely lose their ability to function, or if their growing madness creates some sort of scandal or commotion, both Albus and the Ministry are bound to take notice."
Severus grimaced sullenly. "I suppose you're right - we can't afford for those creatures to call attention to themselves. . . thereby calling attention to Harry's absence. What do you propose?"
Filius sighed and paused for another swig from his flask. "I think we have no choice but to remove the curse. . .at least for the time being. We can stop the recurring nightmares without removing the memory of them. That way the Muggles will be able to at least sleep again – if their own consciences will allow."
"I doubt they possess anything we might classify as moral scruples or remorse," Severus grumbled. "But I see no other recourse. I will agree to remove the curse for the time being. . .however I make no promises for the future. Once Harry is permanently free from any association with those monsters, I reserve the right to exact a more lasting retribution."
"When that time comes, I will applaud your reprisal – and gladly participate," Filius agreed with a unpleasant gleam in his eyes. "Can you meet me tonight in Surrey to remove the curse?"
"It would have to be quite late," Severus scowled. "I have to make a hasty journey to the Continent to meet some contacts this afternoon. . . if I don't make at least nominal progress with my mission for Albus, he might begin to question my whereabouts."
"Later would be better – this will be less risky if we approach the Muggles after they are asleep."
"I'll contact you as soon as I've returned – about midnight?"
"I'll wait for your message at Mrs. Figg's," Filius nodded and eyed Severus thoughtfully. "Speaking of Harry. . ."
Severus cocked an eyebrow, waiting for the tiny professor to continue.
"You know as well as I do that the current situation is merely a temporary solution. We may succeed in deceiving Albus for the next several weeks, but that doesn't solve the ultimate problem – which is the Dursleys' continued guardianship of the child. I think we have to consider what happens in the future – what do we do about Harry next summer? How do we continue to protect him? Our present success aside, I don't think we can realistically presume that the Lily Guild can repeatedly abscond with The-Boy-Who-Lived without anyone noticing!" Filius' bright eyes glittered sardonically.
Severus chuckled. "You make us sound like a nefarious gang of kidnappers!"
"If Fudge and the Daily Prophet were to get wind of this, I've no doubt that's exactly how we'd be painted," Filius snorted. "But I'm not concerned with our welfare – only with Harry's. You mentioned a desire to remove Harry permanently from his relatives' authority. Do you have a plan for achieving this?"
Severus shrugged. "My first preference, of course, would be to convince Albus to change his mind and support the boy's removal."
"And if that fails?"
Severus sipped his weak ale and shrugged. "I have an alternate strategy in mind. . .it will take some time to facilitate, but I have begun the preliminary groundwork."
"Would you be willing to share this strategy with the rest of the Lily Guild?" Filius asked with a slight smirk. He leaned forward and studied the younger wizard earnestly. "You are not alone in this effort, Severus. I understand you are concerned for Harry and are committed to seeing him safe and happy, away from those despicable relatives of his. Please do not forget that the rest of us – Minerva, Pomona and I – are equally committed to Harry's well-being. I know you are accustomed to struggling alone, against all odds. . .this is one time you don't have to. Trust us, Severus. Let us help. We all have our own talents – our own contacts and influence. Together, I'm certain we can prevail. Give us chance to prove it."
Severus' austere face softened, and he glanced at Filius with just a trace of gratitude in his dark gaze. "You're right, Filius – I am used to working alone. Forgive my wariness – it is habit only. I do trust all of you – and I do want your help. I have given considerable thought to Harry's predicament. I want to do what's right for the boy. . .I think. . . .I believe I know how to best provide for his well-being, but I confess I have some misgivings. I suppose it would be helpful if I knew that the rest of you approved my plan and would support it."
"Of course, Severus," Filius nodded encouragingly and clasped his hands together. "So what is this plan of yours?"
With a twinge of nervousness, Severus rubbed his face with a sweaty hand, sighed, and quietly explained the idea that had been hovering in the back of his mind for over a week.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----
"I'm pleased you're enjoying your summer, Harry," Minerva smiled at him over her tea.
"It's the best holiday I've ever had!" Harry enthused as he munched contentedly on a slice of warm shortbread. "I especially like visiting the Keegans. I never had other kids to play with before…and Mr. and Mrs. Keegan treat me like I was part of their family." He shook his head in bewildered pleasure, blinking up at her.
"They sound like very nice people," Minerva agreed. She leaned back in her chair and glanced around the pretty walled garden where they were enjoying their afternoon tea. "You should have had this all along…a home and people who care about you…this is what you deserve, Harry," she sighed unhappily.
Harry frowned at her and shook his head. "It's okay, Professor….it's not your fault, you know." He reached out and patted her arm a bit hesitantly. "It doesn't matter, anyway. I'm all right now. I have you, and Professor Snape…and the other professors. If it wasn't for all of you I'd be back at the Dursley's. I'm really grateful, you know."
Minerva smiled at him, marveling at the boy's gentle concern for her. "I just want you to be happy, Harry. You are, aren't you? Happy, I mean – here with Severus?"
"Oh yes, m'am!" Harry agreed fervently.
"You seem to be getting along well together."
"Yes, m'am. When he's being Charles, he's much nicer," Harry assured her, then frowned thoughtfully. "He hardly ever snarls or insults me any more….at least he didn't until today. I don't know why he was so crabby this morning!"
"Perhaps he was just fatigued," Minerva suggested. "Perhaps he didn't sleep well, or was feeling a bit under the weather."
"Maybe," Harry glanced at her worriedly. "It's just… well. . .it seemed like he acted different when…well, when you got here."
Minerva nodded gravely, suppressing the smile that tugged at her lips. "You may be right," she agreed, her suspicions confirmed by the boy's observations. "You must understand, Harry…..Professor Snape has been forced to play a certain role for many years: the role of the surly, hard-hearted potions professor that the students all fear and dislike. He has played that role for so long that I suspect it is hard for him to relinquish it."
"I guess," Harry nodded doubtfully. "I mean, I've only played at being Cary for a week so far, but I think I could get used to it. If I played Cary for a long time it might be hard to go back to being Harry." He studied her seriously from under his curly fringe. "Do you really think Snape's mean side is just a part he's playing…I mean, do you think he's really like Charles underneath?"
Minerva nodded thoughtfully. "In truth, I suspect that he is both…that the real Severus is probably a combination of both Charles and Professor Snape. Of course, he would never admit it." She grinned at him. "I think that you bring out the "Charles" in him, Harry. Professor Snape may have difficulty expressing his fondness for you, but I'm sure he truly cares for you."
"You really think so?"
Minerva's heart wrenched slightly at the aching hope in the boy's unguarded eyes. "I'm certain of it, Harry. In all the years I have known him, Severus has never devoted himself so entirely to the care and happiness of anyone like he has for you. I think he just has a hard time showing it. Professor Snape has had a difficult life, Harry…much as you have had. I doubt he realizes it, but I think he protects his heart from being hurt by pretending to be callous and unfeeling. But when he's with you it is hard for him to pretend not to care. He may be embarrassed for anyone else to see how much he cares about you. I suspect that is why he is colder towards you in the presence of others."
Harry fiddled with his teacup as he pondered her words. "You mean, he was just being crabby when you got here so you wouldn't know he acts different when we're alone?"
"Then you don't think he's really mad at me?"
"Probably not. Why? Have you done something to make him angry?"
"I don't think so," Harry shrugged worriedly. "Course, with Snape it's hard to tell. Sometimes he gets irritated with me for no reason at all, that I can tell!" He gave her a wry grin and snorted softly. "The other day in the library he barked at me for sneezing too loud!"
Minerva chuckled and shook her head. "Despite his many years as a teacher, Severus has never actually lived with a child before. . . I would imagine it's something of a difficult adjustment for him. You must be patient with him, Harry. I'm sure he's doing his best."
"He's all right, really," the boy admitted with a smile. "I mean, the rules and schedules and stuff are a bit much, but I don't mind. He's way better than the Dursleys, that's for sure!"
"Hmmm,' Minerva grimaced distastefully. 'Yes, well – that's hardly a ringing endorsement – anyone is better than those despicable people…but I daresay Severus is a vast improvement by comparison." She downed the last of her tea and primly daubed her napkin to her lips. "Well now, we'd best return to our studies," she announced firmly, opening the copy of Potter Chronicles on her lap to the page she had marked. "When we left off, I believe we were discussing the innumerable legislation reforms sponsored by your great-grandfather, William Marcus Potter. . ."
"I thought I told you to go to bed." Charles glared at the irritating boy curled up under his coverlet with a book in hand.
"I am in bed," the child retorted defensively.
"Don't be cheeky! I meant for you to go to sleep – not read – as I'm sure you know perfectly well," Charles growled softly. "Put the book away and turn out the light."
Cary obeyed with a sullen scowl, then turned away from Charles onto his side, hunching up his shoulders in a clear sign of displeasure. He clutched his quilt around himself like a shield, his body stiff with tension. Charles stared down at him, slightly dismayed by the boy's dismissal.
"Don't sulk," he admonished quietly. "It's childish."
When his comment prompted no response, Charles sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily. He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at the boy's rigid back. "There's no need to get defensive. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"You've been snapping at me since this morning," the boy accused sullenly. "You yelled at me during dinner!"
"I never yell," Charles flushed slightly, chagrined to realize that Cary was correct…he had been unjustly impatient with the boy.
"You made fun of my table manners in front of Professor McGonagall. You didn't have to do that!"
"I wasn't …I didn't mean to make fun of you."
"I know my manners aren't so good, but I was really trying!" There was a distinct quaver of hurt in the boy's grumbling tone.
Charles grit his teeth and forced the uncomfortable words out. "You're right. I shouldn't have corrected you or criticized you in front of a guest. I apologize."
There was a tense pause, then the boy's shoulders shrugged slightly. "S'kay," he mumbled.
"I could tell you were paying attention to your manners and trying very hard. I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable." When his apology failed to soothe the boy, he laid a hand lightly on the child's shoulder and gave a slight squeeze.
"Cary…turn over. Look at me, please."
Cary sighed heavily. Then he turned over slowly and blinked up at him. "Are you mad at me?"
His soft question startled Charles and he shook his head quickly. "No…not at all. Are you still angry with me?" He watched the boy shake his head, visibly relaxing. The bright hazel eyes were a bit red and suspiciously moist but Charles chose not to embarrass the child further by commenting. "I wanted to tell you that I have to go out for a little while this evening."
The boy's breath hitched and a frown of worry creased his forehead. "Where are you going?"
"I have a small errand to attend to. I won't be gone long," he hastened to reassure him. "You'll be perfectly safe here. Mercup will look out for you."
"Okay," Cary replied doubtfully.
"I just wanted you to be aware I was out, in case you came looking for me," Charles explained calmly. "If something should happen, you know what to do, don't you?"
Cary nodded. "Go to the safe room."
"Exactly." Charles confirmed. "Even if you're not sure if there's any real threat… if you become frightened or concerned for any reason – don't hesitate, all right?"
"I shouldn't be gone for long – no more than an hour at most."
Cary nodded and squirmed a bit under the rumpled quilt. Charles reached over and smoothed the covers, tucking them neatly around the child in a gesture that was uncharacteristically tender. The boy's nervous expression diminished.
"Would…would you let me know when you get back?" Cary asked softly. "Just so I know – you know – so I don't worry?"
"There's no need to worry. I should hope you'll be asleep by the time I return," he scolded gently, "But yes. . .I'll check in on you when I return." He nearly smiled at the boy's evident relief. A kernel of guilt at distressing the boy prompted him to offer some sort of consolation. "Tomorrow – if you work hard at your lessons – you may visit with the Keegans after lunch."
He was rewarded with a genuine smile from the boy. "Thank you, sir," Cary murmured.
"Go to sleep now," Charles ordered, rising with deliberate dignity. "Call for Mercup if you need anything." He ignored the boy's fond gaze and swept from the room.
"Good evening, Minerva."
The Deputy Headmistress glanced up from her meal and nodded at the Headmaster. She slid her inner thoughts away behind her feline persona and blinked at the Headmaster with genuine curiosity as he joined her at the small dining table in the anti-room behind the Great Hall. "This is a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting you to be here," she commented as a platter of food materialized before Albus. "I thought you were extending your visit with your brother for another week."
"Oh, I am," Albus agreed cheerfully. "I was merely tending to a few errands." He dipped into his stew with evident relish and sighed contentedly. "Fortie's wife is an admirable hostess, and I've no complaint against his house elves, but in truth – no one prepares meals like our own elves. As much as I enjoy visiting with family, I do miss the food at Hogwarts when I'm gone. Since I needed to come back for some documents anyway, I decided to stay for dinner."
"Nothing urgent. Just some forms I promised to deliver to the Ministry," Albus shrugged.
"Huh!" Minerva snorted disdainfully. "Don't talk to me about forms! I'd swear the Ministry spends the majority of its time doing nothing but dreaming up forms for us to file. I spent half a day completing one new form designed merely to track the volume of all the other forms…utter nonsense, if you ask me!"
"Ah, yes," Albus agreed ruefully. "Such is the reality of bureaucracy. The primary occupation of most governmental departments is to validate their own existence. . .anything else they may happen to accomplish along the way is usually coincidental." He twinkled at her over his stew. "And how are you, my dear? I hope your week has been pleasant – disagreeable paperwork excepted, of course."
"I'm fine," Minerva shrugged nonchalantly. "I've nearly completed the year's end duties. I plan to spend the rest of the week working on my lesson plans for the upcoming term. Then I'll turn my attention to processing our new First Years."
"Excellent." Albus eyed her with sly curiosity. "And how is our young Harry doing? Have you received a report from Mrs. Figg?"
Minerva forced herself not to flinch and nodded casually. "He's fine, as far as I know. Arabella floo-called me yesterday. She's keeping a closer eye on him, as we requested. She says she has seen him several times this week. He came by her house two days ago to help her weed her herb garden. He appears healthy and relatively content. It would seem that whatever warnings the Dursleys' received, have had a positive effect . .so far, at least." She frowned at him seriously. "I am relieved of course that their behavior has improved, but that doesn't mean I approve of Harry's continued residence with them, Albus. The boy deserves more than mere tolerance. He deserves a home where he is loved and nurtured." She raised a hand to forestall his expected response. "I know – I know – the wards protect him. I understand your reasoning, Albus. Just because I understand, doesn't mean I approve," she noted acerbically.
"I'll admit the situation is not ideal, Minerva," Albus shrugged. "I see no safer alternative, I'm afraid."
"Hmmm," Minerva growled softly in a distinctly feline manner. "I will go along with you for now, but don't think the matter closed, Albus. I expect you to continue to seek an alternative solution, and we will revisit this subject sometime in the future," she warned crisply.
"Naturally," Albus agreed with cheerful affection. "You are fierce and diligent in your defense of your little Gryffindors, Minerva. I would expect no less!"
"Indeed," Minerva sniffed. She doubted that Albus knew how accurate his assessment was. Her animagus form might be a mild housecat, but her protective instinct toward her charges was as ferocious as any lioness towards her cubs. And her favorite cub – Harry – was an innocent victim of the old wizard's most misguided manipulations.
She sipped her tea and concealed her anger and disappointment behind the inscrutable barriers of her feline mind, content with the knowledge that Albus Dumbledore would one day rue the mistakes he had made in regard to one Harry Potter!