Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of the trademarked stuff.
A/N: Okay, so a friend was dying to read a new Snape-Adopts-Harry fanfic, and I thought it might be interesting to try to write. Might be hard to keep it canon-ish in the beginning, but oh, well; it'll be fun, anyway. Obviously, even though it starts off a bit like CoS, it isn't. Oh, yeah, and be prepared for long-windedness, I'm notorious...
Oh, and I would appreciate reviews if you can give them to me, I'd like to know what you like and what you think I can improve on. Constructive criticism is great, and while I'd appreciate not getting flames, I really don't care if you do. XD
Chapter One - Whispers and Warnings
Harry Potter had just left King's Cross station after his first year away at boarding school. If he had been going home to a normal family, this would likely have been a joyous event. As it was, even Harry and his school were far from normal. Harry Potter was a wizard, and in his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he had already met and escaped from Lord Voldemort, the great Dark wizard who had killed Harry's parents and sent him to live with his horrible Muggle (non-magical) uncle and aunt, Vernon and Petunia Dursley.
So as Harry dragged his feet, dreading getting into the Dursleys' car and going back to number four, Privet Drive, he thought of Hogwarts and wanted to return there more than anything. Granted, while he was at school, he couldn't seem to go five minutes without being stared at or whispered about, because Harry Potter was the Boy Who Lived, the only person ever to survive a Killing Curse, much less one delivered by Voldemort's own wand. And it certainly didn't make him any less famous that Voldemort had disappeared when he could not kill Harry, and up until a few weeks ago, had not been heard from since. Harry's was a household name among wizarding circles because of all this, and it meant that he got hardly a minute's respite from the whispering and pointing at Hogwarts; but the school was home, much more than Privet Drive could ever be.
Yet Privet Drive was where Harry was headed now, whether he liked it or not. It was because he didn't like it that Harry dragged his feet on the way to his aunt and uncle's car, taking his time, and it was also for this reason that Vernon Dursley chose that moment to hit him in the back of the head with a flat palm and growl, "Hurry up, boy! We haven't got all day to wait on your freak show."
Harry just shook it off, but he did walk a little faster as he lugged his Hogwarts trunk and his owl, Hedwig's, cage toward the waiting car. Petunia and Dudley Dursley, Harry's aunt and cousin, were already inside, and it was partly because he would have to sit next to his cousin in the car, where there was no possible means of escape should Dudley decide to find courage and go back to his old routine of hitting Harry, that the young wizard was dreading it.
As it turned out, Harry was partly right, at least. Dudley was certainly no longer going to run screaming from a room just because Harry entered it, but he didn't show any signs of trying to hurt him - yet. Harry felt like smiling inside; the Dursleys were afraid of him! After all, they knew he was a wizard, but they did not know that underage wizards, like Harry, were not allowed to use magic outside of school except in life-threatening situations. Actually, Harry didn't even know that last part yet.
So, for a few days, the Dursleys weren't quite as horrible as usual. Dudley didn't hit him, Uncle Vernon didn't yell at him, and Aunt Petunia didn't.. well, anything. She didn't speak to him or even get him food, but Harry could do that well enough on his own, so he didn't particularly mind. Of course, his trunk and all his things were locked in the cupboard under the stairs, and Hedwig was padlocked inside her cage, but for the most part, the Dursleys were still ignoring Harry, and he much prefered it that way.
Harry knew it would never last.
It had been two weeks since he had come back to Privet Drive for the summer, and there had been no letters from his best friends Ron and Hermione, or from the Hogwarts gamekeeper Hagrid, or from anyone else Harry knew from school. All three of them had promised to write, and Harry began to wonder darkly if they had forgotten him. Then he began to wonder if his uncle was stopping the owls that delivered wizard mail somehow; but that was ridiculous. If Uncle Vernon had been able to stop the letters, he would have done it last year, when Hogwarts had been trying so despereately to inform him that he was a wizard. Harry wished that Hedwig was free so that he could send out a letter, but then he thought that he wouldn't want to do it, anyway. If they wanted to talk to him, they would have sent him one.
Dudley was quick to notice this, as well as the fact that every time Harry threatened him with magic, nothing happened. He seemed to love tormenting Harry more than anything. Harry supposed it was because Dudley couldn't get to the boys at Smeltings, the private school that the Muggle boy attended, and he was no longer afraid of his cousin's empty threats.
Harry was always good at dodging Dudley's gang, but he couldn't do it forever, and at last they caught up with him. When he came home covered in dirt and blood, Aunt Petunia just told him to be careful not to get it on the carpet. Naturally, he hadn't expected anything more; but he did wish that he could use magic to fix his glasses instead of tape.
The next thing Harry knew, it was the day before his birthday. Dudley, Piers, and Gordon had found him again two days before, so he once more looked rather like he had been hit by a slow-moving car. Of course, the Dursleys didn't notice (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they didn't care), and they had much more important things on their minds than Harry's birthday.
"Right," Uncle Vernon said as they sat down to breakfast. "Today is all planned out. Petunia, you make dinner and wait for the Masons to arrive. Dudley, you wait for them at the door. And as for you, boy," he shot a death glare at Harry - "you will keep very, very quiet in your room if you know what's good for you."
If that wasn't the most perfect birthday present in the world - getting to spend it pretending he didn't exist! Perfect, just perfect. But his aunt and uncle were beginning to follow Dudley's lead, fearing his magic less and less as he had as yet not proven his ability to use any, and he didn't want to make them too angry. Yet. When he was seventeen, though, he planned to take them to a highly wizard-populated area and leave them there just for the amusement of it... but that would have to wait.
So at dinnertime, Harry walked grudgingly up to his room, wanting very much to tell Uncle Vernon exactly what he thought of their precious little dinner guest. He wouldn't dream of actually doing it, of course, but that didn't stop him from wishing with all his might that he could. So it was with a weary sigh that he opened the door to Dudley's second bedroom, now his - and then stopped dead in his tracks.
There sitting on his bed was one of the strangest creatures Harry had ever seen. It looked like some kind of dwarf with no hair, batlike ears, and a very long nose. The fact that it was wearing what looked very much like a ragged pillowcase didn't help, and Harry found himself wondering in shock what his aunt and uncle would think if they found this - well, whatever this was - inside their house.
"Harry Potter, sir, I am Dobby, sir, Dobby the house-elf, sir!" The creature said in a squeaky voice. "Sir, I come to warn you, sir, that danger is coming to Hogwarts, sir, and that Harry Potter, sir, must not go back to school this year, sir!"
Harry stared at the house-elf, probably trying to decide whether or not to say anything about the fact that about every other word out of the elf's mouth seemed to be 'sir,' before he finally said, "Dobby, is it? Dobby, I can't stay here. I'm a wizard. My aunt and uncle are Muggles. They try to squash the magic out of me. I don't belong here."
"No, sir, no! Harry Potter, sir, must not go back to Hogwarts, sir! There is a plot, sir, to make most evil things happen, sir!"
"A plot? About what? Who is plotting it?"
Dobby promptly threw himself toward the window and started hitting himself in the head with a lamp. In the dining room below, Vernon Dursley could be heard saying loudly, "Dudley probably left his television on - I had best go turn it off!"
Harry grabbed Dobby and hid the elf in a wardrobe just as his uncle walked in the door. "What the devil are you doing, boy!?" Uncle Vernon demanded. "One more sound from you and you'll wish you were never born!"
Vernon Dursley disappeared back downstairs, and Harry let Dobby out of the wardrobe. "You see!?" Harry said earnestly. "You see what they're like? I have to go back to Hogwarts; I have to go back to my friends!"
"Friends who don't even write to Harry Potter, sir?"
Harry's green eyes narrowed. "How do you know that?"
"Sir... Dobby... Dobby only wanted to protect Harry Potter, sir!"
"You have my letters!?"
"Yes, sir, Dobby has them, sir." Dobby proceeded to pull a stack of letters from inside the pillowcase, and Harry stared.
"Give them back to me!"
"No, sir! Not unless Harry Potter, sir, promises not to go back to school, sir!"
"Then no, sir! No, you cannot have them, sir!"
Dobby promptly disappeared out the door and Harry ran after him, terrified that he would be blamed for such a strange little creature being found inside the house. He gasped when he came to the foot of the stairs to see that Dobby was causing the huge pudding that Aunt Petunia had spent all afternoon making to float in midair.
"Dobby, put it down, please!" Harry begged. "They'll kill me; put it down!"
"Harry Potter, sir, must say that he will not go back to school, sir!"
"Dobby - I can't -"
"Then Dobby must do it, sir," Dobby said sadly, "for Harry Potter's own good, sir."
The pudding promptly began to float toward the sitting room, and Harry ran after it, trying to be quiet and catch it before it dropped at the same time. But then, just as he almost had it, the pudding dropped on Mrs. Mason's head and Dobby disappeared with a crack.
Aunt Petunia gasped and ran off toward the kitchen. Then: "I'm so sorry," Uncle Vernon said apologetically. "It's my nephew - he's very disturbed - he hurts himself, as you can see clearly, and strangers upset him..."
On the pretense of escorting Harry away, Uncle Vernon grasped the boy's arm so hard that he seemed to be trying to snap it in two and hissed just loud enough for Harry to hear, "You wait until the Masons are gone, boy... you just wait..." And there was a manic gleam in his eye that made Harry dread whatever it was that he was waiting for.
They had barely reached the doorway to the kitchen, however, when an owl suddenly swooped through an open window and dropped a letter on Mrs. Mason's pudding-covered head. Apparently, this was the last straw; with a scream that could rival a banshee, she ran from the house, leaving the slightly stained letter and a trail of pudding behind her.
Uncle Vernon grabbed the letter and tore it open to Harry's protests. It was obviously meant for the only wizard in the household, and by the evil grin that was spreading across Uncle Vernon's face, Harry had a very bad feeling. Turning back to Harry, Uncle Vernon shoved it into his hand. "Read it, boy," he said dangerously, and Harry, his heart pounding, did so.
Mr. Harry James Potter,
We have received intelligence that a Hover Charm was used at your place of residence this evening at twelve minutes past nine. As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school. We would also ask you to remember that any magical activity that risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offense.
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic
Even after reading it, Harry continued staring at the paper, though he knew he couldn't do this for long. At last, he looked up at Uncle Vernon, who was now smiling as if Christmas had come early.
"You know what this means, boy?" he growled, and Harry shook his head meekly. "This means that we can keep you here - lock you up - do whatever we like - and if you try to magic yourself away, you won't get to go back to your freak school, anyway!" Then, with a laugh like he hadn't given since he had found the hut on the rock where he thought he was safe from the wizard post a year ago, Vernon Dursley proceeded to grab a handful of Harry's jet-black hair and drag him up the stairs by it.
Harry found out quickly that it is very hard to climb stairs while another, taller person is trying to pull you up them by your hair. He stumbled on the fourth step, fell on the sixth with a gasp that Uncle Vernon ignored, was dragged up five more, and at last managed to regain his footing three steps before the second story landing. He wished Uncle Vernon would let go of him, but it seemed unlikely that that would be happening any time soon.
Uncle Vernon stopped rather abruptly in front of Harry's door, which refused to open, sending Harry crashing into him and him crashing into the doorframe. "Blasted door," he growled before turning back to Harry and continuing, "Watch where you're going, boy!"
His hand thudded on the back of Harry's head, and the boy saw stars but still managed to say, "The door opens the other way."
Grunting to admit that his nephew was right, Vernon Dursley flung the door open and threw Harry inside, where the boy managed to trip over a book in the floor, back into the foot of the bed, and fall spectacularly into a pile of Dudley's broken toys, which were still stacked along the wall.
Uncle Vernon ignored this and said in a dreadful voice, "Best get used to it, boy; you're going to be in here for a long, long time." Then, with another maniacal laugh, Vernon Dursley slammed the door and there was an ominous click as it was locked.
And it stayed locked for days. Uncle Vernon installed bars on the window, a cat-flap on the door to push through what food they deemed necessary, and additional locks on the doorframe. The door now only ever opened twice a day, so that Harry could be allowed a couple of trips to the bathroom. Harry suspected that they wouldn't even allow him that if they didn't imagine the state the room would deteriorate into if they denied him that, too.
It was very late - well after four in the morning - when Harry finally fell into a fitful sleep. This was rather hard, considering that the only thing he had eaten that day was a piece of bread and a hunk of cheese. He had been given a small dish of canned vegetables, as well, but he had given those to Hedwig. If he had been in his cupboard last year, he would have been able to sneak up for a snack; but this year he was in a bedroom, a bedroom with too many locks to manage, and there was really no way of getting out without magic - at least, no way that Harry could think of - so at last he had resigned himself to trying to rest.
However, rest did not come easy. Harry's dreams were haunted by images of his parents' smiling faces disappearing in a flash of green light as Voldemort's face loomed out of the back of Quirrell's head and laughed, high and cold... Then that laugh turned into his uncle's, as Vernon Dursley dragged Harry out of bed by his hair and threw him down the stairs... Aunt Petunia and Dudley were waiting in the hallway and looking up at Uncle Vernon, laughing... Then Harry became aware of another voice, a low hiss, whispering from some hidden corner of the room, "Potter."
The voice had no trace of laughter in it at all, and it seemed out of place in this dream. Harry tried to get up from where he had fallen, to see where it was coming from, but Dudley put a heavy foot on top of him, pinning him to the ground... Then a hand grasped his shoulder tightly, causing him to wince from a bruise there, and the cold voice hissed again, "Potter."
Harry jerked awake to find that both the hand with the death grip on his shoulder and the whispering voice were quite real. Standing there above him, pallid face and greasy black hair illuminated by a sliver of moonlight that had found its way through the barred window, was one of the last people he wanted to see while he was hungry and sore: Severus Snape, the Potions Master at Hogwarts.
Snape had loosened his grip on Harry's shoulder, and Harry noticed that the man's black eyes lingered on it as the twelve-year-old got up and turned a lamp on. Harry looked around skeptically, as if trying to detect other wizards hiding in the room. Upon failing, he opened his mouth to say something, but found he had no idea what to say and closed it again without uttering a word. He was at a complete loss as to why a man who hated him had suddenly turned up in his bedroom in the dead of night.
"Do try not to look so stupid," Snape said harshly, though his voice was still quiet as a whisper. "You look enough like your father as it is, Potter."
Harry stared at him, slightly angered by this comment, but he decided that it would be best to ignore it for now and try to figure out what in the world was going on. At last, he found his voice and said abruptly, "What are you doing here?"
"I was sent here, Potter, being the only staff member free, to attempt to divine why in Merlin's name you would do such a stupid thing as using a Hover Charm outside of Hogwarts - and in front of Muggles, no less! Now, explain yourself - and I strongly suggest that you employ whatever manners you have in the doing."
Harry glared at Snape and made his voice forcibly calm as he tried to explain without raising his voice what had happened. Snape looked skeptical upon the mention of a house-elf, and Harry noticed it immediately.
"Look, I'm not lying!" he said to the unvoiced objection. "I didn't even know what a house-elf was before that one came in; you think I could make it up?"
"Watch your mouth, Potter," Snape said dangerously, his black eyes glinting. "The truth of any tale you come out with is to be decided by Professor Dumbledore. Most unfortunately, he is away at the Ministry and the task of watching to be sure that you perform no more illegal magic has fallen to me."
"I told you, I didn't -"
"Silence!" Snape hissed, and Harry's eyes narrowed but he said nothing. Snape went on, "Regardless of whatever your excuse may be, it remains my obligation to stay here until such time as I can take you to Professor Dumbledore this afternoon."
"This afternoon!?" Harry asked, horrified. It seemed that he would not only be spending a very long time with Snape - quite too long for Harry's liking - but that the surly Potions Master would still be there when Uncle Vernon opened the door in the morning to give his nephew whatever he was trying to pass off as a suitable breakfast and to allow Harry a trip to the bathroom.
"Yes," answered Snape, sounding rather bored, seeming not to notice the fact that Harry was lost in thought. "I assure you, Potter, I am no more happy about this than you."
"But surely - you won't be - you have other things to do?"
"Unfortunately not. I am afraid that Dumbledore gave me specific orders to remain here."
There was a long silence. Snape looked at Harry. Harry looked at Snape. Snape was still wondering about why the boy had flinched when his shoulder had been touched. Harry was trying to figure out a way to get Snape out of the room when Uncle Vernon came in. At last, he decided that honesty was the best policy.. at least, a bit of it.
"Sir," he began, knowing this would make Snape more receptive to what he had to say. "Sir, you will be here until then?"
"I have already said so, Potter."
"But, sir - my uncle - he won't be happy," Harry said at last.
"Your uncle is a Muggle, correct?" Harry nodded, and Snape went on: "Then I am certain that he will oblige a wizard sent by Dumbledore."
"You don't understand," Harry said quickly. "Uncle Vernon despises magic. He won't want you here, and if he finds you, he'll take it out on me."
Snape's right eyebrow twitched ever so slightly and Harry bit his tongue, realizing what he had just said. He immediately wished he hadn't, but he couldn't take the words back.
"What do you mean?" Snape asked quietly, his voice icy.
"Nothing," Harry said quickly, shaking his head. "I didn't mean anything."
Snape looked skeptical, but he did not say anything immediately. Harry got tired of waiting for a response. "There isn't any way you could leave? For a little while? Sir?" he asked desperately.
It had been growing steadily lighter outside since Snape had arrived, although Harry hadn't realized it because of the lamp he had turned on earlier. As a ray of light sifted through the bars on the window, however, Snape was suddenly given a clear view of Harry's face, and his jaw tightened at what he saw.
"Where did that bruise come from, Potter?"
Harry's veins were flooded with ice until his very heart seemed to freeze. "I - what bruise is that?"
"Don't play stupid, boy. The bruise on your face."
"Oh, that! I - I walked into a door..."
"Don't lie to me, Potter," Snape said, his eyes black slits in that pale face. Noting that Hedwig was padlocked inside her cage, Snape decided to work on a hunch. He crossed the room to the door and, despite Harry's protests, tried to pull it open. As it was locked from the outside several times over, the door did not budge.
"You are locked in this room," Snape observed coldly. "Why?"
"I - I -"
"Why are you locked inside, Potter?"
"Because I - that is, when the pudding crashed - I -"
"Answer me, Potter!"
"Because Uncle Vernon found out I wasn't allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts!" Harry blurted out before he even knew what he was saying.
Snape looked at him with cold black eyes, and Harry tried to avoid that gaze, but he couldn't. He didn't want Snape to know even what he already did; he should have kept his mouth shut... And then Snape said something quite unexpected.
"Get your things, Potter. We are leaving."
Harry stood rooted to the spot, unable to believe or understand what he had just heard. "I - what...?"
"Get your things," Snape repeated, and Harry was surprised at the lack of venom in his voice.
"But I - I can't."
"And why not?"
"I don't have them - Uncle Vernon - they're locked away," Harry tried to explain, but his brain was still somewhat numb from shock.
"The cupboard under the stairs..."
Harry was going to continue, but Snape was already unlocking the door with his wand. He disappeared and Harry paused for a moment before following, still completely dumbfounded by what was happening.
He found Snape unlocking the cupboard, and there was a look of disgust in those black eyes as he saw how the trunk and broomstick were stacked haphazardly inside, obviously with no care for them at all.
"Take this," Snape said when he saw Harry, and thrust the Nimbus Two Thousand into its owner's hands. Snape then pointed his wand into the cupboard and said "Locomotor trunk," and the heavy trunk that held almost all of Harry's belongings in it lifted into the air.
Snape sent Harry back upstairs, and directed the trunk back to Harry's room. Upon settling it on the floor without a sound, he said to Harry, "Bring your owl and broomstick, and keep a tight hold on them."
Harry did as he was told, though he had no idea why. He settled Hedwig's cage on top of the trunk and held the Nimbus Two Thousand in the other hand. While he was doing this, Snape had chosen a copy of Moby Dick from the floor, tapped it with his wand, and murmured, "Portus."
Looking back at Harry, Snape said, "This book is now a Portkey; it will transport us out of here."
"Sir, where are we -"
"Keep hold of your owl and broomstick, and place a finger on the Portkey."
After a glance at Snape, Harry did so. There was a jerk behind his navel and his finger was suddenly glued to the book. His hands seized around his broomstick and Hedwig's cage, and he found himself unable to let go of any of it. He felt his feet leave the ground and he knew that he was leaving Privet Drive behind, but he still had no idea where he was going...