ABOUT THIS STORY:
Sept 2019 Note: If you're wondering why this has been a WIP for over a decade, the first 21 chapters of this story were published in 2007, at which point it was abandoned. I've wanted to finish it many times over the years, and I've finally decided to dust it off and give it the ending it deserves. I recently revised the published chapters, mainly for grammar and word usage, but also to rework a few scenes. You might notice some changes if you've read it recently, but no major scenes or plot points have been altered. Thank you to those of you who have continued to read and review it after all these years, and welcome to any new readers who are taking a chance on it!
Canon notes: Please note that I plotted and began writing this story before books 6 and 7 were published. Horcruxes didn't even exist yet! Everything up until the end of Order of the Phoenix is considered canon here. Beyond that, this story may be similar in some ways to the final two books in JK Rowling's series (most notably, Snape's background is very close to full series canon), but other events and backstories will be different (i.e., no Horcruxes or Deathly Hallows, Harry doesn't own Grimmauld Place, etc.).
Review notes: I love to hear what you love about this story, but I also appreciate constructive feedback. I am a bit of a perfectionist, but I am not perfect and do not have an editor. If I miss a typo or an issue with plot/character continuity, please bring it to my attention. If it is a legitimate mistake, I will always go back to correct it. Thank you! :)
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just my way of coping with not getting everything I wanted out of JK Rowling's world. (Not that her world isn't amazing.)
"Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise…"
Micah 7:8, KJV
Chapter 1 - Unexpected Visitor
He lifted the curse, but not for long. He watched with glee as the traitor writhed in pain, his body shuddering during the brief respite.
How he loved the agony caused by this simple curse. He remembered with fondness his youthful days of experimenting with torture curses, and he knew no joy comparable to the absolute ecstasy of casting this one.
He laughed. He was angry, no mistaking that, but his rage at the newly discovered traitor had found an outlet in his favorite curse.
"My Lord…" came a hesitant voice at his side.
An interruption. His rage bubbled to the surface again, and turning, he found a new object for its relief.
"Crucio!" The rat-like man dropped to the ground, screaming in pain. "You dare to interrupt me, Wormtail?"
"M-my Lord, I have brought th-the information y-you desired…" the small man stuttered, shaking from the effects of the curse, "about P-Potter…"
He reached the rat in two graceful strides and snatched the papers from the shorter man's trembling hands. Yes…yes, it was all here. His need to cast torture curses abated as a feeling of impending triumph replaced it. They had wasted enough time already; they must put the plan into action.
"Bella," he hissed, seeking out his most trusted follower. "Wormtail begins watch in one hour. We strike the next time the boy leaves the house. You know what to do then. Follow the plan." His lips twisted in anticipation of this, his final encounter with the Boy Who Lived - a boy who was about to prove more useful alive than he himself could ever have imagined.
A sudden commotion occurred to his left. "He's getting away!" a voice called.
He turned too late, as the tortured traitor stumbled to the edge of the clearing and Apparated away. "You fools," he thundered, rage taking over once again. "He can't have gone far in this state. Find him and when you do, bring his dead body to me!"
His mood properly spoiled, he searched for a new victim, any victim.
Harry Potter awoke with a start, his head throbbing in pain. A vision, he realized with a groan as he rubbed his burning scar. He winced as the pounding in his head was matched by a firm pounding on his bedroom door.
"Get up, you lazy boy! You have five minutes to get downstairs to help Petunia with breakfast…OR ELSE!" Uncle Vernon had taken to tacking on that last bit to every order lately. He probably thought it made him sound more threatening, but whatever was included in the "or else" threat had never been made quite clear to Harry, so he didn't let it bother him too much.
Harry sighed. "Yes, Uncle Vernon." No matter how much he hated being treated like a house-elf, sometimes it was best to swallow his pride and fly under the radar…and with this headache, it would probably be best to avoid getting on Uncle Vernon's bad side today.
Pushing the vision aside to think about later, Harry hurriedly dressed and rushed downstairs and into the kitchen, where Petunia already had eggs, bacon, and Dudley's favorite pancakes cooking on the stove. "Took you long enough," she sniffed without looking up.
Harry set the table and put out a pitcher of orange juice without comment. This summer had been predictably awful, but at least he and the Dursleys had gotten into a routine of sorts. As long as he did whatever chores he was assigned and stayed out of their way, they mostly left him alone. Sure, Uncle Vernon like to grab hold of Harry's arm and shake him for effect most times he yelled "or else," but Aunt Petunia hadn't tried to swing any frying pans at his head lately, and Dudley seemed to have outgrown his desire to use Harry as a punching bag. It probably also helped that Harry was so despondent over the loss of Sirius that he kept forgetting his usual urge to be defiant. Whatever the reasons, his summer with the Dursleys had been almost tolerable.
Harry winced at the pounding footfalls on the stairs, followed by his cousin's loud entrance into the kitchen. Dudley demanded extra eggs and pancakes while he squeezed his large bottom onto a chair at the table. Harry barely managed not to roll his eyes as Aunt Petunia rushed to her sweet little Dudders and deposited more than half of the cooked food onto his plate. Ever since Dudley had managed to lose enough weight to fit into his school uniform, Petunia had found it difficult to force him to continue his diet, and in consequence, he was quickly gaining back the weight he had lost.
"That's my boy," Vernon said happily as he took his own seat at the breakfast table. "Got to keep up your strength for the big match next weekend. None of those puny runts will stand a chance."
Harry sat in his usual spot, and Petunia scraped a small portion of eggs onto his plate before dividing the rest between herself and Uncle Vernon. She set the plates of bacon and pancakes out of Harry's reach, and he knew better than to make a grab for either one. He glumly stabbed his eggs with a fork. Dudley's diet may have been over, but Aunt Petunia had conveniently forgotten that Harry wasn't on one.
Breakfast passed in a blur of conversation between the Dursleys, but Harry couldn't be bothered to pay attention. It's not as if they wanted him to join in anyway. His mind drifted back to the vision he'd had that morning. He couldn't remember too many details - something about a traitor, a bit of torture. There wasn't much to it, but he deliberated over whether to tell someone about it. The urge to owl Sirius welled up so suddenly inside him that he shoved the thought aside as quickly as he stood up from the table.
"May I be excused?" He interrupted Uncle Vernon's play by play retelling of Dudley's latest boxing victory and waited only long enough for Petunia's sharp nod before rinsing off his plate in the sink and sprinting upstairs to the relative peace of his room. He threw himself onto his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He tried to clear his mind the way Snape had continually urged him to do last spring, but unfortunately, he still didn't have any clue how to do it. For once he wished he had paid closer attention to those Occlumency lessons. An empty mind had to be better than his too-full mind, images of the battle at the Ministry always lurking around the edges, ready to crash into his thoughts without warning.
Harry took another breath, closed his eyes, and tried again to clear his mind…but once again he failed, just like he had every day since summer had begun.
It was just as well, as fifteen minutes and another rude awakening by Vernon later, Harry found himself standing next to his uncle in the backyard, staring out at the garden. The very large, very weed-filled garden.
"Every weed," the man was saying. "Every last one. And then the front yard. Understand, boy?"
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry muttered out of habit, though his uncle was already stomping back into the house, keys jangling in his pockets as he readied to leave for the office.
Harry sighed, rolled up his baggy sleeves, and got to work. Weeding wasn't so bad, really. Being outside, breathing the fresh air… Even with the hot sun beating down on his back, it was loads better than being locked up in his bare room all summer. When he focused on the repetitive motion of pulling, discarding, pulling, discarding, he could even almost imagine that nothing had changed since last year. He was still the Dursleys' house-elf, but Sirius was alive and merely biding his time until his name was cleared and he could whisk Harry away to have a family of his own.
Harry shook his head in self-reproach as he imagined this. He was fifteen - almost sixteen. He'd already faced down Voldemort multiple times, and a little over a year from now, he'd be of age. He wasn't a little kid in need of a mummy and daddy to tuck him in at night. Still…although he would never, ever admit it aloud…a large part of him always had and always would long for exactly that.
How pathetic was that?
He frowned and tore at the weeds with a sudden fierceness that didn't bode well for a particularly bright chrysanthemum that got in his way. Only the thought of Aunt Petunia's face if she saw it made him take a few more deep breaths and deliberately slow his movements. It wouldn't do Harry any good to get into more trouble with the Dursleys, he reminded himself.
It also wouldn't do him any good to wish for a life he would never have. Almost unbidden, familiar words from long ago came to mind…
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Even now, years after Dumbledore had spoken those words to Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised, they had an amazing power to ground him. His parents and godfather were gone, yes - but he was still here. More importantly, so were his friends. He had a life to live, and he couldn't live it while he clung to the past and dwelt on the might-have-beens. He steeled his shoulders and picked weed after weed with as close to a clear mind as he had managed all summer.
By midday, the garden was looking good enough that Harry chanced a break. Petunia and Dudley were home, he knew, but thankfully were nowhere in sight as he helped himself to a drink of water in the kitchen.
He wiped sweat from his forehead and smiled in relief as he placed the cool glass against his scar. It hadn't outright burned much this summer, but it had been prickling every so often. Harry tried not to think too much about Voldemort's attempts to possess him little more than a month ago, but he did wonder if it had messed with their connection somehow. Whether it had strengthened or weakened it remained to be seen.
An odd clanging sound startled him, interrupting his thoughts, and he quickly gulped down the rest of the water in his glass before Aunt Petunia could catch him dirtying up her kitchen with his grubby hands and shoes. He set down the glass, wiped his hands on his dirty shirt - which barely helped - and had just reached the back door when he heard it again. He stopped, confused and alert. Oddly, it sounded like it was coming from the front door.
He absently groped for the first bit of metal his fingers could find and held it over his head…just in case…as he quietly made his way down the hall and to the door to investigate. The wooden door was still, the entry way perfectly clean and free of disturbance, but years of being hunted by the world's most dangerous wizard had taught Harry the importance of being on his guard. He cautiously looked out the peephole.
Harry nearly laughed at himself as he lowered the "weapon" in his hand - a harmless wire whisk. He shook his head in wry amusement. He was becoming as paranoid as Moody these days. He began to turn away, when suddenly, several long pale fingers reached through the mail slot.
"Oh, sh-" Harry stumbled back, heart racing.
"Potter!" a voice rasped. The fingers, bloody and scratched, trembled as they gripped the mail slot. Harry blinked, unsure whether to attack the hand with his whisk or charge upstairs to try to free his wand from his locked trunk. A pair of dark, bloodshot eyes peered through the thin opening of the slot. "Potter," it repeated, and this time the voice was all too familiar.
"P-Professor Snape?" Harry croaked, now more confused than startled. What on earth would Snape be doing on Harry's doorstep?
Snape was speaking again, so low that Harry had to strain to make out his words. "Must…not leave…stay…house…" His words trailed off, the hand and face disappearing as suddenly as they had appeared. Harry heard a dull thud over the clang of the mail slot falling closed.
Harry stood in place for a long moment, too stunned to move. Finally jerked into action by a sound from upstairs, he scrambled to the door and pulled it open to peer around the door jam. He nearly retched at the sight before him. An unconscious Snape was strewn in a dirty, bloody, bruised heap. From the dried blood on the side of the step, Harry wondered how long the professor had already been there. Hopefully not long enough for a neighbor to notice. Harry gave a quick Petunia-like glance around the neighborhood.
He gave Snape's body a slight poke, but the blood disturbed Harry only slightly more than what the man was wearing. The Death Eater robes brought back a string of better-forgotten memories for Harry, even if Snape had apparently ditched the mask prior to arriving.
Only the thought of the Dursleys' likely reactions to finding a wizard on their front step moved Harry into action. He rolled the body over and hooked his arms under Snape's, dragging him inside. It would have been a lot easier if he hadn't been small for his age, Harry groused to himself after dragging the unconscious man only partway down the hall.
He felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as Dudley's big feet pounded in the upstairs hallway. He could be a matter of seconds from bounding downstairs, Aunt Petunia in tow. And Harry had absolutely no clue what to do with Snape's limp body.
Or did he…?
Harry impulsively flung open the closest door and the only one he knew for sure the Dursleys would not open – the cupboard under the stairs. He could still fit in there as long as he didn't stand to full height, so the space would be sufficient to hide a Death Eater's unconscious body from a few Muggles for an hour or so. It's just a good thing that Snape was unconscious. If he knew he'd been tossed into a cupboard like a sack of potatoes, Harry predicted that not getting into advanced Potions would be the least of his worries next year.
He sighed with relief as the cupboard door closed on its occupant…until he noticed the trail of dirt and blood he had left in his wake by dragging Snape's body through the hallway. He scrambled to the kitchen as fast as his legs would carry him, making a beeline for the towels. He barely managed to clean up the worst of the blood streaks when the slam of an upstairs door was followed by the telltale stomp of Dudley's footfalls on the stairs.
Harry winced, hoping that Snape wasn't easily awakened from whatever state he was in.
Dudley stopped short at the sight of Harry on his hands and knees in the hallway. "Eww. Mum! Harry got mud all over the house!" He whined at the top of his lungs but looked at Harry with a grin on his face. He loved to see his cousin in trouble, and Harry had just made it far too easy for him this morning.
Harry quickly hid the blood-streaked towels in a plant by the front door while Dudley's back was turned, and he braced himself for a world of trouble at the traces of mud that were still left. No point in hiding, he figured, and resignedly waited for his summer to officially get worse.
At least Uncle Vernon hadn't been home, he decided later while on his hands and knees cleaning and polishing Petunia's floor. His aunt was furious at him for traipsing mud through the house, and he'd gotten quite a wordy lecture. But while Vernon would have given him a firm, maybe painful, shake with an "or else" rant, Petunia had simply jabbed her bony finger into Harry's chest with a "Get. To. Work. Now! And Clean. This. Mess!"
Even so, he hadn't finished the weeding yet, and now he had to see to the floor as well. If he didn't get both done by the time his uncle came home, there would be hell to pay.
Harry could feel his temper starting to rise at the unfairness of the situation, and it took all the willpower he possessed to fight it down. He didn't even know why he'd bothered to drag Snape inside in the first place. He hated the man. If he had an enemy other than Voldemort, it was most definitely Snape. Maybe he should have left him outside to clean up his own mess.
He gritted his teeth and scrubbed another line of dirt from the hallway floor.
Harry only had to wait an hour for Aunt Petunia and Dudley to leave the house. They didn't say where they were going, but that was okay with Harry. He never cared where they went, as long as they stayed away for as long as possible.
As soon as he heard the car pull away, Harry opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs and stood back in case Snape had woken, realized where he was, and decided to kill Harry. Fortunately, Snape's limp arm fell from his side and hit the ground of the cupboard, attesting to his still-unconscious state. Harry let out the shallow breath he'd been holding and pulled the man shoulders-first out of the cupboard and around to the foot of the stairs.
Not for the first time, he wished he were allowed to use magic during the summer. The stairs loomed above him, and his shoulder was acting up from where Uncle Vernon had continually jerked it these past few weeks. His headache, though not as pounding as when he'd first woken up, had never completely left.
Nevertheless, he had to get Snape upstairs to his room, and he had to do it now. Harry figured he had a good few hours before anyone got home, but he was expected to be weeding that entire time, too.
He sighed as he sat on the first step, hooked his arms under Snape's from behind, and scooted first himself, then Snape, up one step…two steps…and three. He continued that way up the entire flight of stairs and couldn't help feeling some satisfaction at how sore Snape's bum was going to be when he woke.
By the time he'd pulled Snape into his bedroom, his shoulder was throbbing in beat with his head. One look at the bed, and Harry decided that Snape was staying on the floor. There was no way he'd be able to lift him onto the bed and still have enough good will left in him to see to his injuries.
Not that he had much good will in him toward the Potions master to begin with. An image of Sirius rose in his mind, and a sudden wave of fury engulfed him. Harry knew that Snape was one of the main reasons Sirius had felt driven to charge off to the ministry that night. If Snape hadn't taunted Sirius about his inability to help the Order, he might never have left the safety of his home to follow Harry.
If not for Snape, Sirius might still be here.
As one, loads of memories, both in and out of class, rushed through his head of the spiteful professor and his bullying ways. Harry felt the remainder of any good will abruptly leave. Hadn't he already done more than enough in bringing him up here? Not to mention that no thanks to Snape, Harry would be lucky if he ate at all today. And it's not like Snape would have a problem leaving Harry to die if the roles were reversed.
"Ha! You'd probably draw up a chair just to watch me die!" Harry exploded at the still-unconscious man. "Well, you can just stay there and suffer for all I care! And believe me – I don't care!"
Harry stormed out, feeling the tiniest bit avenged for the loss of his godfather and for years of ridicule and embarrassment. He could get rather used to a Snape who couldn't talk.
His resolve faltered when he stared down at the staircase and hall to a brand new trail of dirt spotted with blood. He closed his eyes against the pounding in his head and firmly decided that revenge or no, he was having a very, very bad day.