Chapter One – Unexpected Visitor:

"Crucio!"

He lifted the curse. But not for long. He watched the traitor writhe in pain as the next curse was cast.

How he loved the pain caused by this simple curse. He remembered with fondness his youthful days of experimenting with torture curses, and yet he found no joy comparable to the absolute ecstasy of casting this one spell and watching the pure, absolute and total pain it caused.

"Crucio!"

He laughed. It came out as a cackle. He was angry, no mistaking that. Yet, his rage at the newly discovered traitor had found an outlet in his favorite curse.

"My Lord…" came a hesitant voice from his left.

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…"

His long legs reached the rat in two graceful strides and he 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.

"Lucius," 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 for this, his final encounter with the Boy Who Lived.

A sudden commotion occurred off to the left. "He's getting away!" a voice called.

He turned too late, as the tortured traitor reached 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.

"Crucio!"

Harry Potter awoke with a start, his scar throbbing in pain. Another vision, he immediately realized with a groan. Of course, the pounding on his door was enough to set off a headache by itself.

"Get up, you lazy boy! You have fifteen minutes to get breakfast on the table…OR ELSE!"

Uncle Vernon had taken to tacking on that last bit to every order lately. Probably figured it made him sound more threatening.

Harry sighed. "Yes, Uncle Vernon." With this headache, it would probably be best to avoid getting on Uncle Vernon's bad side today. 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.

Pushing the vision aside for later contemplation, Harry hurriedly dressed and had eggs, bacon, and Dudley's waffles on the stove in under a minute. He quickly sneaked a finger full of batter – he never knew when Aunt Petunia might decide to cut back on his food rations again – and was just about to mix up some orange juice when he thought he heard a noise coming from down the hall.

Harry stopped, listening carefully. There it was again – a solid thud, slightly louder this time. It sounded like it was coming from outside the front door.

He cautiously approached the door, raising a metal whisk in the air…just in case…and looked out the peephole. Nothing. Maybe it was an animal? Still feeling the need for caution, Harry stooped to the mail slot and slowly opened it to peek out.

Suddenly, several long fingers reached inside, sending a startled Harry flying backward with a yelp.

"Potter!" The fingers seemed to speak, still there, bloody and scratched. Harry blinked. A pair of dark, bloodshot eyes joined the hand in peering through the mail slot. "Potter." The voice spoke again, weaker this time. The voice was familiar.

"P-Professor?" Harry croaked, now more confused than startled. What on earth would Professor Snape be doing on Harry's doorstep, of all places?

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 another thud over the firm clang of the mail slot falling closed.

Harry sat there for a full minute, too stunned to move. Finally jerked into action by a sound from upstairs, he scrambled to the door and slowly pulled it open, peering around the door jam. He nearly retched at the sight before him. An unconscious Snape was strewn in a dirty, bloody, bruised heap. But that 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.

Pausing only long enough to imagine the Dursleys' reactions to finding a dirty, bloody wizard on their front step, Harry rolled the body over and hooked his arms under Snape's, dragging him inside inch by inch.

This would be a lot easier if I weren't small for my age, Harry groused to himself after dragging the body only partway down the hall.

He felt the sudden rush of adrenaline as Dudley's big feet pounded in the upstairs hallway. Only another minute or two, and the Dursleys would be downstairs. 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 with room to spare, 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 Snape was unconscious. If he knew he'd been stuffed in a cupboard like a sack of potatoes, Harry predicted that not getting into advanced potions would be the least of his worries with the dreaded professor.

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. He scrambled to the kitchen as fast as his legs would carry him, making a beeline for the towels.

"Augh!" His nose wrinkled in disgust at the smell of burnt food. He wavered momentarily, then ran back out to clean up the floor. The burnt food would cost him, but it would be easier to explain than the floor.

The floor had barely been rid of its incriminating evidence when the slam of a 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.

"Eww! Harry burned the food!" Dudley turned right around after peeking through the kitchen door. "Mum! Dad! Harry burned the food! And I want breakfast!" Dudley whined at the top of his lungs, but he looked at Harry with a grin on his face. He loved to see his cousin in trouble, and Harry had just made it way too easy for him this morning.

Vernon preceded Petunia down the stairs, and Harry quickly hid the soiled towels in a plant by the front door as they both stormed past him and into the kitchen.

No point in hiding, he figured, and resignedly trailed behind them.

As soon as he'd walked through the door, he winced again, this time in pain, as Uncle Vernon jerked him by his already tired arm and yanked him over to the stove, his fat red face explosive with anger. "What – how – you – BOY!" Vernon stuttered, then took a breath. And another.

And another. Vernon couldn't seem to be able to form words, his face growing even more red.

"Boy!" Aunt Petunia continued for Vernon, "You cook my Dudleykins' breakfast right this minute. And you can forget about any yourself! Just look at all the food you've wasted!" she wailed in an incredibly high pitched tone. "As if having to put up with your freakishness all summer isn't enough – you have to try to burn our house to the ground as well!" Her bony face was pinched, turning ever whiter throughout her rant. She continued, punctuating each of her final words with a fierce jab of a bony finger at Harry's chest. "Get. To. Work. Now! And Clean. This. Mess!"

Harry could feel his temper starting to rise, and it took all the willpower he possessed to fight it down, especially with Uncle Vernon's vice grip still on his arm. Not worth it. Not worth it. Just keep telling yourself it's not worth it. When he felt past the danger point, he spoke through gritted teeth, "Yes, Aunt Petunia," and, shaking himself free, set back to making breakfast for the Dursleys.


One hour later, Harry pulled open the door to the cupboard under the stairs. He stood back just in case Snape had woken, realized where he was, and decided to kill Harry. Snape's limp arm fell from his side and hit the ground under 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 was allowed to use magic during the summer. The stairs loomed above him, and Harry's shoulder was still sore from where Uncle Vernon had jerked it. 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. Uncle Vernon had gone to meet with a client, and Aunt Petunia had just left to take Dudley shopping for a new computer to replace the one he'd broken yesterday. Harry figured he had a good few hours before they got home, but he was expected to be weeding the garden that entire time, too.

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 awoke.

By the time he'd pulled Snape into his bedroom, his shoulder was throbbing in beat with his head. Snape was staying on the floor, Harry decided. There was no way he'd get him on 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. Remembering loads of memories, both in and out of class, to back that up, he felt the remainder of that so-called "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.

"Hah! 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 years of ridicule and embarrassment. He could get rather used to a Snape who couldn't talk.

His evil grin faltered when he stared down at the staircase and hall to a now-familiar 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.