"Is this what you wanted, Professor?" Harry brought the red plant that he'd found from outside in the garden over to the table Professor Snape was currently working at in the laboratory. The same laboratory he had painstakingly painted a hideous color mere days before. It had been difficult that morning to open the basement door and enter the room after everything he'd endured. He was beginning to think of the basement as the depths of despair. Dramatic? Yes, but he hated it down here.
"Yes, that's the one." Snape picked up a short knife and handed it to Harry, handle first. "Use this and cut it into thin strips. Eight total should be sufficient," he instructed, before turning his attention back to his meticulous stirring.
Harry nodded absentmindedly and set the plant down on the table proceeding to hack away at said plant. A strong hand wrapped around his wrist and stilled his movements. "Cut, Mr. Potter, do not chop it into ruin. You'll damage the potion if it isn't done precisely as I say," Snape said sternly. "Try to pay attention."
His professor definitely didn't know what he was asking of him. Paying attention was more difficult than it should have been, and he was surprised Snape hadn't thrown him out of the laboratory yet for irritating him half to death. Everything Snape had asked of him he'd done wrong. Well, all except finding the correct plant from outside. Though, he figured he'd technically messed that up too, considering the hack job he'd done of cutting it.
He realized his attention had been wandering yet again when his Professor suddenly took his chin and forcibly, yet gently, turned his face so their eyes met. Snape didn't say anything at first, just looked into his eyes. Harry could tell the man wasn't legilimizing him or any such thing, but merely watching him.
"What?" Harry asked self-consciously a few moments later, tearing his eyes away from the intense onyx ones.
Instead of saying anything, his Professor went back to stirring the potion, which had suddenly turned a light red color. Harry waited a few more moments and when still nothing was said, he picked up the knife and started cutting the plant again, this time correctly. The concentration it took to make sure he didn't mess it up a second time actually kept his thoughts from drifting to Kirkpatrick and what he'd experienced down in the basement with him. However, as soon as he was finished with that chore, his mind drifted once again.
Instinctively, he felt eyes watching him and glanced up in time to see Snape's face turning away. He'd been watching him. Harry was waiting for the rebuke or to be yelled at to get out of the laboratory. But neither came.
"If you would prefer to work on the lighthouse that would be acceptable," Snape suggested out of the blue.
Harry glanced sideways at him. "But you said I had to work with you today," he reminded the man, recalling their conversation after he'd gotten up that morning. "So you could keep an eye on me since my throat swelled up so much last night." It had been quite a scare, actually. He'd been in his bedroom at the time, well past midnight, when he'd had a coughing fit the likes of which his already damaged throat hadn't been able to withstand. Breathing had become difficult, and he'd been forced to go to Snape for help. The man had honestly seemed concerned.
"You seem to be doing fine, Potter. Your throat isn't still aggravating you, is it?" asked Snape.
Harry swallowed and cleared his throat to test it. "No, its fine," he answered cautiously. It was still a bit sore, but nothing like it had been previously. Snape's remedy really did its job.
Obviously, however, Harry's answer wasn't good enough for Snape since a moment later the man's large hands were cupping either side of his neck. "I'll be the judge of that," he said, indicating that he wanted Harry to open his mouth. Harry did so, trying hard not to jerk away from the man. He hated the feeling of hands around his neck, for obvious reasons. Snape ran his thumbs up the column of Harry's throat and pressed lightly in certain areas. "I need you to cough," he instructed. He did that too, and after it only left a slight tickle in his throat, Snape found he was sufficiently healed.
"Are you sure you don't need me to help out more with the potion?" he asked, clearly not wanting to have to stay, but feeling obligated to ask.
Snape watched him for a moment. "Your assistance isn't necessary, no. However, it occurs to me that you might not want to be isolated in the lighthouse, either."
Harry glanced up at him before averting his eyes. "I wasn't asking if you wanted help to get out of working in the lighthouse," he thought to say. Snape probably thought he would want to get out of the grunt work that would be required. "I just…" he trailed off, not wanting to sound like an ungrateful little brat.
"You just didn't want to walk away from your self-given commitment?" inquired the Professor. Snape sighed at the confused look on the boy's face. "What I'm trying to get across is you don't have to stay here, nor do you have to go to the lighthouse. You could make yourself useful in the house, if you were so inclined."
It was beginning to occur to Harry that Snape was giving him the option to stay away from the two places where Kirkpatrick had abused him. He thought it was pretty thoughtful of the man, considering. Smiling timidly, Harry nodded that he acknowledged what the man was offering. "If you don't mind then, would it be okay if I just cleaned or something?" he asked, knowing it was one thing he was really good at.
Even though he was the one who had suggested it, Snape seemed surprised. "You enjoy cleaning?"
Harry shrugged. "Well, no, not really. But, I'm good at it. I got lots of practice at the Dursley's."
"Ah, your daily chores then?" inquired Snape.
Well, he wouldn't exactly call them chores, since he was more or less their slave. He preferred to think of it as work, if anything. Chores would imply he could talk his way out of doing them, as he knew most of his friends had done on more than one occasion. In his case, there were dire consequences if they weren't completed. He knew none of his friends had to deal with those types of consequences for not finishing their chores. His stomach suddenly clenched in painful remembrance of the many meals that he was deprived of. And there were quite a few.
"Potter, are you all right?" Snape had moved closer and was standing toe to toe with him, staring in his eyes. It was disconcerting.
Harry flinched away before the man had a chance to legilimize him.
Sighing, the Professor took back the steps he had gained on the boy. "Perhaps you should rest," he finally said after a moment's pause.
"I'm fine," said Harry, still not meeting the man's eyes.
Snape suddenly took Harry by the shoulders and spoke in a tone that Harry couldn't ignore. "I wouldn't violate you in that way again, Potter. You needn't fear that from me," he said, meeting the boy's eyes as he finally looked up. "Never again, without your permission. You have my word."
This was an odd turn of conversation, but Harry was willing to go with it, since this was something he often worried about. The man had seemed more inclined not to do it without his permission recently, but the fact that he had done it at all made him wonder if it was something Snape would really stop himself from doing. And now with the intensity in the man's eyes, such conviction, Harry knew it to be true. It would never happen again, at least not without his permission.
"I believe you," answered Harry a few minutes later.
"Thank you," returned Snape. "Now, I really do believe you should rest. You haven't done nearly enough of that. I had intended for you to spend a quiet day in. Quite frankly, I thought helping with potions would be something that would relax you, as it does me. This has not been the case," he paused at Harry's undisguised snort. "as you clearly do not enjoy the fine art of potions," he finished with a sarcastic look in the boy's direction.
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I thought you would have figured that out from Potions class."
Nodding his head in agreement, "Yes, I had noticed your work was lackluster at best."
That kind of stung. "I'm not that bad."
Snape glanced over at him. "Are you not?"
Harry thought that last was a bit below the belt. "Why are you being so mean?" he blurted out and felt like an idiot when Snape's head shot up in surprise.
"I'm not trying to be mean. I'm just being honest," he said softly. "But that's beyond the point. I truly believe you need to rest, Potter."
This time he wasn't waiting for Harry to take the incentive and go upstairs. Gently grabbing him by the arm, Harry found himself being led up the stairs by his Professor. They crossed through Snape's rooms, which Harry still found just a little bit odd. It just was surprising that he was even allowed in them. Even if it was just to get into the basement.
In the hallway outside of Harry's room, Snape held the door opened and then seemed to pause in thought. There had been more than just two places Harry had been abused by Kirkpatrick. Glancing in the room, at the bed to be precise, and then back at Harry, Snape seemed to be realizing that fact.
"Perhaps you would prefer the couch?" he said suddenly. Harry almost laughed. Having Snape of all people being considerate of his needs…well, it just wasn't what he had been expecting at all.
Harry stopped to actually think about it. He hadn't slept very well during the night and it was because he kept expecting someone to jump out at him from the shadows. It was ridiculous and felt seemingly childish to feel that way, but he couldn't help it. That's how he felt. Sleeping on the couch for the time being sounded like a great idea. It was open and the light streamed through the windows making it seem a lot more comfortable than his dark and depressing room. He did realize it hadn't seemed that way until after Kirkpatrick.
He sighed. "Yeah, I'll take the couch if you don't mind," he said. He wasn't exactly tired, but he didn't want Snape hovering all over him either. He needed some time to think.
When his Professor left the room, Harry collapsed onto the couch and curled onto his side. It was a little uncomfortable, so he grabbed a throw pillow from the chair nearest to him and stuffed it under his head. That was better. He had just gotten settled when Snape came back in.
"Here, I thought you might need this," he said as he unfolded a thick blanket and carefully draped it over the boy.
Harry stared at him. "Thank you," he finally muttered.
Snape had started out of the room already but paused on his way out. "You're welcome."
It had been a long time since he'd even thought about it. He supposed all the issues with coming to stay with Snape, dealing with Kirkpatrick, and everything in between had caused his thoughts to drift. But, now there seemed to be no end of thoughts he didn't really want to have. However, he did notice a change in them. They weren't as all consuming. It didn't make him angry anymore. But he didn't think he'd ever stop feeling bad about it. Or blaming himself for his death. Poor Cedric. If only he hadn't taken the cup with him, he'd still be alive. But if only's didn't get him anywhere, so he turned over on the couch and tried to think of something else.
It was difficult, Cedric's face kept flashing before his eyes, and it made him sad. After a few minutes he finally started to drift into sleep, though he hadn't thought he was tired. He had kicked the blanket off that Snape had brought him earlier, but now he was starting to get chilled. Leaning down sleepily, he grasped blindly for the beige blanket and pulled it up to his chin. With that accomplished, his eyes slowly closed and he knew no more.
But only briefly.
The nightmare took him by surprise. He just hadn't expected to have one in the middle of the day, lying on the couch with the sun shining brightly in the window. It just hadn't seemed plausible. But here he was, screaming his head off and trying futilely to get untangled from the blanket that he had somehow managed to get wrapped around his legs. It was mainly this problem that was keeping him from completely waking up. He thought he was being subdued, held down, but it was just the blanket. Something he couldn't see yet.
He felt someone grab his arms then, knocking them away, and suddenly hands were yanking at his legs, but then he could move and he practically fell off the couch. The same person who had freed him from the restraining force was currently steadying him on the couch.
Harry hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath. After taking in a deep shuddering breath the world around him finally came into focus.
If anything, after all that thinking before falling asleep, he would have thought his nightmares would be about Cedric. But, surprisingly, they were about Kirkpatrick. It was a little disconcerting.
Having hands suddenly on his throat made him lash out in fear. He kicked his foot straight into the man's stomach that was hovering over him. It wasn't until the man was on the floor, gasping for his own breath, that he realized it was Snape. And that his Professor probably thought his throat had swollen up again the way he'd been reacting to the nightmare, hence the hands on his throat.
Snape glared at him. "Was that absolutely necessary?" he asked, his gaze withering.
Harry cringed. "I'm so sorry, Professor. I thought you were…someone else," he ended lamely.
Snape's angry expression melted away completely. "Are you all right?" he asked, calmly getting to his feet and very slowly, he sat down beside him on the couch.
Harry scooted over a bit so he could have more room. "Sorry, yeah, I'm fine. Nightmare," he said by way of explanation.
"Kirkpatrick?" asked Snape, as if clarification was needed. It was pretty obvious what the nightmare had been about. But sometimes clarification was needed.
Nodding a little self-consciously, Harry felt like an idiot having reacted as he did, he pulled his legs up until he could rest his chin on his knees. "Stupid, eh?"
"Definitely not," Snape said vehemently. "Your experience with Kirkpatrick was disturbing at the least. Having nightmares about him is only normal."
Harry sat silently. What the Professor said was probably true, but he still felt like an imbecile just the same. Idly twirling a loose strand from the blanket Snape had brought him earlier, he didn't notice Snape had moved until he felt a hand skimming down the back of his hair. After a few moments of the comforting touch, it settled at the nape of his neck. Harry glanced up then. It hadn't gotten past his attention that Snape had a little bit of a tendency to act…well, like he gave a damn, when the occasion arose. Such as when Harry was feeling particularly low.
Having almost not noticed at first, Harry found himself more attuned to it now. Probably because he never in a million gazillion years believed Professor Snape would feel anything but loathing for him. And probably also because he enjoyed it more than he ever thought he would. He wanted someone to care about him, more than anything, and he was beginning to entertain the notion that maybe Snape wouldn't mind having someone to care about. However, he never mentioned it aloud. Shattering his dreams weren't on his list of things to do anytime soon. Because even though he was beginning to realize it would be nice, he still wasn't deluding himself that Snape wouldn't drop him like a hot potato once summer vacation was over.
Any lingering pleasant mood he'd hung onto instantly vanished in that instant. Suddenly the hand on his neck moved so that an entire arm was wrapped around his shoulders and he found himself leaning against his Professor. Awkward. But still nice, though he would never admit it.
"Your mood shifts from one extreme to the other quite frequently," said Snape unexpectedly, his tone indicating that he was pointing something out to himself, though he obviously was trying to get a point across to Harry, too. "What goes through your head that makes you so miserable?" he paused, considering something, then continued, "Is it Diggory?" he asked.
It was a valid concern considering it had been the cause of all the uproar when he'd first arrived. However, that seemed like such a distant memory now. Not that he didn't still think about it, he did, obviously. But, it wasn't as painful anymore. Time heals all wounds, or so they said. Harry personally thought that was a load of crap. How could time heal the loss of someone you were close to? But, in his case, he hadn't been exactly close to him. It had been the guilt which had eaten him alive. And now the guilt wasn't as all consuming as it had been. He knew what-if's would only make it worse, so he'd given up on that. You couldn't change the past.
When an answer wasn't quickly supplied, Snape jumped to the next possible reason. "If not Diggory, then Kirkpatrick?" he asked, his tone suddenly filled with a menace Harry hadn't ever heard from the man before. Was he upset about it, then? That Kirkpatrick had abused him on more than one occasion? Or was he angry that he'd lost a friend over his stupid little summer dweller? He didn't know where the last thought came from. Snape had been nothing but welcoming from the start…well, for the most part. At least he'd been more considerate than he'd ever thought the man would be.
His thoughts were all over the place, he realized. Pick one and stick with it, he thought. Snape thought one thing and Harry was thinking another. It was a bit bewildering and overwhelming and he wondered if he wasn't getting ahead of himself with the whole 'father who could possibly care about me' thing. Like distant repressed needs showing themselves in his time of weakness. Wow, that was pretty deep, even for him. Deciding Snape was going to think he'd completely lost it if he didn't start speaking soon, he finally answered. Or said what he figured his Professor would want to hear. No one wanted to deal with him and his ruddy emotional upheavals.
"Nothing's wrong," he finally provided. "I'm just thinking. About a lot of things," he thought to add considering it was true.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Snape asked.
Harry shivered, though he wasn't cold. He couldn't imagine talking about any of those things with Snape. He'd probably laugh in his face. Snape took hold of the blanket Harry had been messing with and drew it closer around his much smaller frame. Ah. Snape must have thought he was cold when he shivered. It was a nice, parental thing to do, he thought.
Pulling himself back together, Harry glanced up at his teacher. "No, I don't think so. Not right now, at least," he amended at the calculating look Snape threw at him.
"I'm willing to listen whenever you're ready," Snape said. He stood up and glanced at the clock on the living room wall. It was well past dinner time. "Are you hungry?"
Harry wasn't starving, and he certainly didn't feel like cooking anything. Snape had discovered earlier that he could actually put a meal on the table that rivaled anything the man could make. He was damn good at it, but Snape didn't realize all the practice he'd gotten due to his relatives was the reason why. And if Snape asked him to cook, Harry felt it was the least he could do, even though he absolutely loathed doing it.
"How about some soup?" suggested Snape. "Something thick and warm for your throat."
Harry nodded resignedly and started to get up from the couch. Cooking was the last thing he wanted to do. "Sure," he said despite his feelings on the subject. "Tomato?" It sounded good at least. Some grilled cheese to go with it sounded even better, now that he was thinking about it. Though he still preferred to rest a bit. He was much tired now.
Snape grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back to the sofa. "Rest, I believe I told you. I'll fix the meal for this evening," he said, a slight smile resting on his lips. "I'm quite capable."
This was a welcome surprise and he did as instructed, easing himself back onto the couch. "Do you need any help?" he asked just to be polite.
"No," was the only answer he received.
The following two weeks passed in a blur for the most part. Harry kept himself busy by finishing up with the lighthouse, which wasn't as frightening to be in as he had originally assumed. It helped that Snape was with him a majority of the time and that every other second was spent doing busy work. It facilitated in the 'don't think about it' category. In the end, all the changes made to the lighthouse alleviated the anxiety he normally would have suffered. He liked the place and went there on his own if he wasn't busy in the house or helping Snape with his potions. The latter being something he'd picked up to make Snape happy. For whatever reason the man seemed to enjoy his company. Who would have thought?
In the evenings, Harry would stay out on the couch sitting with his Professor as the man read the newspaper or they occasionally played Wizard's Chess or just sat comfortably and talked about the day's events. Sometimes Harry even broke down and discussed the things which plagued him. Cedric and Kirkpatrick being the hardest of the lot.
The conversation regarding Diggory had been difficult at best. Snape had pointed out Harry's propensity to blame himself for the other boy's death. Ultimately, that one conversation with his Professor finally made him believe it wasn't his fault. It made him truly believe it. The only one to blame had been Voldemort. It was like a weight had been lifted afterwards and Harry would be eternally grateful. Oddly, Harry thought Snape would have made a kick ass therapist.
It was about a week before school began when they received the news. Snape had been in his study for most of the day when he suddenly came out looking as frustrated as Harry had ever seen him.
"I'm sending you home," he said without any preamble and Harry stared at him in shock. What had he done wrong?
"Why?" he sputtered out, managing to get up off the couch without falling back onto it. He didn't understand. Things had been going so well. Hell, he liked Snape. That wasn't even supposed to be possible. He thought Snape returned those feelings. "Did I do something wrong?" Harry followed Snape into his bedroom as the man started gathering his belongings and throwing them into his trunk.
Harry thought back on the past few days, trying to figure out how he'd screwed up so badly. "Look, I'm sorry," he apologized, coming up behind Snape, twisting his fingers together anxiously.
Snape dropped the overlarge t-shirt he'd been gathering and spun around to the boy. Harry flinched back but the man merely grabbed him by his shoulders and stared into his eyes. "Do not be an idiot."
That stung and Harry was appalled to feel his eyes prickling like he would cry. Snape's face suddenly changed from one of frustration to one of dismayed concern. "Harry, I'm not trying to get rid of you," he suddenly said.
Harry was beyond confused. "Then what are you doing?" he asked, cringing at the hoarseness of his voice. "I thought we were…" he paused, not knowing what to call it. He had thought Snape actually cared about him, but he didn't want to voice it in case he was delusional about the entire thing. "Friends," he finished lamely. When what he really wanted was someone to care for him as a son.
Snape really smiled for the first time that Harry could ever remember. "We are friends, Harry. That's why I'm trying to get you out of here. I want you where you'll be safe."
Harry scoffed. "How is being with my relatives safe? I'd be safer here! What's going on?" he asked, trying to reign in his growing hysteria. He couldn't go home.
"There have been sightings in the village. Death Eaters are nearby and to top it all off, someone released Kirkpatrick from jail," said Snape slowly, staring into Harry's eyes as the realization set in.
"Oh," he muttered resignedly. Snape wouldn't let him stay here, not with what was going on. "Hogwarts?" he questioned, vainly hoping for some kind of respite. Surely he wouldn't have to go home.
"No, you'll be safest at your relatives. No one is currently at the castle and the wards at your home are unattainable for the Dark Lord."
"What about the wards around us now?" Harry tried one last time.
Snape sighed and gently took Harry's face into his hands, raising his chin until the boy's eyes were level with his own. "The wards surrounding my home can not compare to those around the Dursley's."
Harry sighed, accepting his defeat. But he had one last desperate question. "Can you come and get me when it's safe?" he asked, wondering if he even would, considering it was so close to the new school term.
"I'll see what I can do, Harry," was the man's only response. And in Harry's experiences that meant no.
The Dursley's were less than pleased at his return. And that was an understatement. They had been expecting a full summer without Harry to mar their plans. Now they had to put up with their nephew for an entire week. The horror.
Harry discovered that Dudley had a friend staying with them for the past few weeks. Harry had never met him before but realized soon enough why he and Dudley were such good friends. His name was Jared. No one ever bothered to tell him what his last name was and Harry frankly didn't care. Jared was sleeping in the spare bedroom so Harry was dumped in the basement for the remainder of the holiday. And, as fate would have it, it was this month that the nights dropped to unseasonably record lows.
The first night back, Harry had tried to sneak up to his bedroom to snitch a blanket, but when the door creaked open he saw that Jared had both the blankets laying neatly atop him. At second glance, Harry realized the boy's eyes were wide open and staring at him.
"Do you need one of these?" the boy asked.
Harry nodded gratefully and stepped further into the room. "Yeah, it's freezing down there."
"Well, too bad. Dudley told me all about you, Potter. Don't expect me to help you, either," he said angrily.
Harry's mouth dropped open in surprise. What the heck had Dudley told him that had him so angry with a kid he didn't even know? His shock turned to anger then and he stalked out of the room. Great, he'd freeze before the week was through. At least this time he didn't have to endure their blatant disregard for his well being for the entire three months.
The next day his Uncle Vernon was his usual charming self. "Get your lazy arse outside and weed that garden! Have you seen how overgrown it's become?!" he yelled and Harry had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. The only person to blame for that was the fat pig himself. Or more likely his aunt, considering she did the housework while he was away.
Outside in the garden, Harry realized it wasn't as bad as Vernon had made out. His Uncle probably just wanted him out of the house. And why was it that it got so cold at night when it was so hot in the day? Stripping off his t-shirt, Harry headed out to the shed to retrieve the tools he'd need for gardening. Once accomplished, he went to work, pulling up weeds and replanting the flowers he accidentally mutilated. Some didn't look too bad. Others had to be buried where his Aunt Petunia would never find them and have cause to throw a frying pan at his head.
Right as he was finishing up, his Uncle came out and instructed him that the lawn needing mowing. Harry looked at it and sighed. From the looks of things, it had just been done last week. Again, they were trying to keep him as far away from the rest of the family as possible. Too bad they couldn't send him to the store or something indoors. It was bloody hot out there.
By the end of the day Harry was parched and hungry. They hadn't once had him come inside and any time he tried, they threw him back out. The only good thing to come of it was he hadn't had to cook dinner.
Three days later and Harry resorted to sneaking upstairs in the middle of the night to steal food from the cabinets and refrigerator. He was starving and the minute gulps of water from the outside hose weren't helping. He also thought he was getting sick. His throat was scratchy and raw and he'd sneezed at least three times since he'd come upstairs. Trying to stifle them was hard and he hoped to God that no one heard him.
He risked going upstairs to the bathroom to see if he could find any cough syrup in the medicine cabinet. He hoped that would soothe his throat. Cough drops would be nice too, but he couldn't remember seeing any in the house before he'd left for school the year prior. Odds were they didn't have any on hand. "What are you doing?"
Harry spun around and saw Jared standing in the doorway of the bathroom. "I'm going to the bathroom," he said, indicating the toilet with a look on his face that clearly told Jared he thought he was stupid. "What else would I be doing?"
"You're not supposed to even be up here," spat the teenager. "Maybe I'll go wake up your aunt and uncle, eh?"
Knowing he would regret it, Harry immediately started begging. If his aunt and uncle woke up, it wouldn't be pleasant. "No, please don't. You'll get me in trouble!" he hissed out. "I'll just go back down now. They don't have to know."
But Harry could tell by the spiteful look on Jared's face that he wasn't going to let it go. "Damn," he muttered under his breath.
"Ooh, and cursing as well are we?" he sang out happily as he walked down the hallway to his aunt and uncle's room. Harry wanted nothing more than to knock the smug grin off the jerk's face. And then to make his situation worse, Dudley stepped into the hallway, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"What are you doing up?" he asked Jared, having not seen Harry yet.
"Getting your cousin in trouble," he answered spitefully.
Dudley looked down the hallway then and caught sight of Harry still standing in front of the bathroom door. His cousin's eyes lit up like Christmas morning. "Mum! Dad!" he yelled at the top of his voice. Harry cringed. He was in so much trouble now.
Petunia and Vernon came flying out of their bedroom, glancing quickly at their son to make sure he was okay. "What is it Dudders?" asked his aunt in a surgery sweet tone that made Harry want to puke.
Dudley merely looked down the hallway.
Harry was pretty sure his arm was no longer in its socket. It hurt worse than he thought possible and the cold stone floor of the basement making him shiver every five seconds only made the pain more intense and throbbing. He leaned up against the equally cold stone wall and tried to curl up into a ball as best as he could without hurting his arm more. Miserable and cold and in pain and knowing he would have to endure for two more days was agony. The idea of waiting two days to have his arm reset made him grit his teeth knowing it would be worse then. They might even have to do surgery or whatever it was they did to fix an arm out of socket for too long. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
It wasn't easy, but eventually Harry drifted off to sleep against the cold wall. He woke sporadically, having jarred his arm or becoming too cold to stay asleep. During one of these times he thought he heard someone walking around upstairs in the kitchen. Figuring it was Dudley up for a late night snack, the freaking lard, Harry tried to go back to sleep. That failed spectacularly when he suddenly had to cough. He grimaced in anticipation. This would make his arm hurt worse, he was sure.
When Harry coughed, it sounded horrible, a raspy hoarse sound that not only tore up his throat but the movement jarred his arm so badly he couldn't stop the tears from spilling down his cheeks. He just wanted it to stop.
When the basement door suddenly opened, Harry looked up the stairs only minutely aware enough to care. All his thoughts were on the suffering he was currently enduring.
The person on the stairs suddenly descended them rapidly. The shape was taller than either teenager currently residing upstairs, so Harry groaned in despair as he realized it must be his Uncle. His coughing was probably too loud or some such other nonsense.
Harry looked up in shock as the tall figure cut through the shadows of the room and stepped into the flash of light that was coming from the street lamp outside the window. "Professor Snape?" he called, his eyes widening in hope. He'd come! Harry had given up the expectation for that to happen before he'd even left Snape's home. He tried to get up, momentarily forgetting his predicament, and tried to use his injured arm to balance himself with on the wall. The pain lanced up his shoulder and he cried out in agony, slumping back to the floor and cradling his arm to himself protectively.
More tears cascaded down his cheeks as he tried to get his gasping breaths back under control. That had hurt. Very badly. Snape was suddenly at his side, kneeling down beside him on the floor. He took in Harry's appearance and cringed. The boy looked like death warmed over.
"What happened? Where are you hurt?" he asked, his hands reaching out for the arm Harry was currently guarding with his life.
"No, don't touch it!" cried Harry.
Snape yanked his hands back as if burned. "Harry I can't help you unless you tell me what's wrong," he said calmly enough, though Harry thought he heard a touch of anxiousness in the man's voice.
Harry moaned miserably. "I-I think my shoulder's out of its socket," he said falteringly, the pain still pulsing through him making him feel sick. "Can you fix it?"
"When did this happen?" asked Snape, his tone suddenly clinical.
Harry glanced up at him. "Earlier tonight," he muttered, taking in deep breaths to try and ease the pain. As if that would help.
"Brace yourself," said Snape suddenly before he grabbed Harry's arm and forcibly reset the shoulder into the socket. Harry screamed into his Professor's chest. Immediately afterwards he felt two strong arms wrap around him and pull him close. "I'm sorry, Harry. Everything is all right, just take deep breaths," he was instructed, so Harry did as he was told, dragging the breaths in shatteringly. That had hurt like hell.
Leaning on Snape heavily, Harry glared weakly up at him. "You could have warned me," he said tiredly.
"I believe I did," returned Snape, concern still clear in his eyes. "Can you move your arm?"
Harry hesitantly rotated his shoulder and raised his arm up and down to gauge how much movement he had. He was a little surprised to find that he could move his arm. The pain had diminished, though his shoulder was still very sore. "Thanks," he said timidly.
Snape nodded before helping Harry to his feet. "Can you make it upstairs?" he asked, wrapping an arm around the boy's waist in support.
"I think so," he said, his legs shaking a bit beneath him.
"Are we going back, then?" he asked, referring to Snape's home.
Snape nodded as he got a better grip around the boy's waist. "Did I not say I would come and get you once it was safe?"
Harry shrugged in consent. Considering Harry had thought Snape wouldn't show at all, he was more than pleased that he followed through on his promise. "What about Kirkpatrick and the Death Eaters? They're gone then?"
"Yes," Snape quickly explained. "It was Kirkpatrick's large mouth that got them here in the first place. He spoke of you in jail and some unsavory characters overheard. They broke him out hoping he would lead them all straight to you," his tone indicated just how disgusted he was with the man he had once considered a friend. "Unfortunately for him, my wards sent him on a wild goose chase as I'm sure you remember."
Harry glanced up at him. "When I tried to run away and I kept going in circles?"
"The Death Eaters must have been pissed," he said, not feeling the least bit sorry for Kirkpatrick. The little jerk had it coming.
"Don't say pissed, Harry," chided Snape and Harry grinned tiredly.
They were half-way to the stairs when Harry felt his legs give out. "Whoa," he exclaimed softly, grabbing hold of Snape's shirt to catch himself.
Snape lifted him back to his feet and kept both arms around him so Harry wouldn't fall to the floor. "It appears you are suffering from more than just a dislocated shoulder," he said stoically. "Where else are you hurt?" he asked, his tone making Harry wonder if he was getting angry.
"I'm not hurt. I just haven't had much to eat," he explained, his grip on Snape's shirt increasing when a wave of dizziness struck him.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Harry thought about it. The last descent meal he'd eaten had been at the Professor's home. Harry was fairly certain Snape didn't want to know that. But, Snape was smart enough to figure it out on his own and Harry wasn't keen on getting in more trouble with him. Hopefully, Snape would take him back home with him. If he behaved.
"Technically, not since you sent me home," he answered hesitantly.
Snape snapped his head down to meet Harry's eyes. "Four days? Why have you not eaten?" he asked harshly.
Harry cringed. "I didn't have much of a choice!" he replied angrily. "They've kept me down here all the time. I snuck out at first to steal a few bites of whatever I could get my hands on. But after they caught me trying to get some cough syrup from the upstairs bathroom, they locked me in so I couldn't get out."
Snape's gaze never wavered from Harry's eyes and it made him a bit nervous. "Are you angry?" asked Harry.
"Of course I'm angry," said Snape incredulously. "They've starved you, hurt you, and denied you help for your obvious cold. Anger does not even begin to describe how I feel towards them right now."
Instead of helping Harry up the stairs, Snape suddenly swept the boy up into his arms and ascended the stairs like a dark cloud. In order to keep his balance, Harry wrapped his arm around Snape's back and held on. He'd never seen the man look so angry. Well, except for when he'd walked in on Kirkpatrick strangling him. He'd been pretty angry then, too.
Bursting through the basement door, Harry was stunned to see his Uncle standing in the kitchen with a rifle in his hand.
"Uncle?" he asked disbelievingly. "What are you doing?" Trying to regain his feet was pointless, Snape wouldn't release him, so Harry stayed put.
Vernon pointed with the barrel of the rifle at Harry. "I heard you screaming and then I heard his voice," he indicated with the rifle at Snape then. "I won't have more of you freaks in my house! Now get the hell out or I'll blow your head off!"
Harry was scared. Snape wouldn't know what a rifle could do to him. "Professor, you have to go! Now!" he struggled then to get out of the protective arms holding him. "Put me down and leave!" he yelled, wriggling more to break free.
Momentarily, Snape released his legs and Harry's lower body drifted to the floor. He thought Snape was actually going to leave him. Harry felt that his heart had been stabbed when he thought that the man would actually comply, even though he was yelling at the man to leave. He had hoped Snape would take him with him.
But Snape still had one arm wrapped protectively around Harry's shoulders, keeping him pulled tight against his side. In his other hand he had withdrawn his wand and had it pointed at his Uncle's chest.
"Put that…that stick down!" yelled Vernon, shoving the end of the rifle at Snape's head. "I mean it!"
Professor Snape smiled grimly. "I can assure you that this 'stick' can do a lot more damage to you than your weapon could do to me," he stated menacingly. "Now why don't you lower it while you still have the option."
Just by looking at his Uncle's face, Harry could tell he wasn't going to lower the rifle. In fact, Harry was pretty sure he was seconds away from firing it. This wasn't good. What if Snape really got hurt? He couldn't let that happen.
Harry cautiously leaned forward and met his Uncle's gaze. "I'll get him to leave, Uncle Vernon, I swear it. Please, just put down your gun and I'll get him out of here. I promise!"
Vernon looked at his nephew and could see the boy was frightened. It was because of this that he knew Harry would do as he claimed. The boy was always more cooperative when he was scared. He didn't lower the rifle, but he took a step back and nodded at the boy. "You get him out of here, Potter. Then you get your hide back in here! You're not out of trouble yet!"
Professor Snape shook his head angrily and pulled Harry back behind him. Within an instant he'd summoned the rifle and held it gripped tightly in his hand. Harry could tell Snape didn't know how to hold it correctly and he was worried the man would accidentally shoot his foot off or something. He took the rifle away from him and unloaded it before throwing it across the room. He put the ammunition in his pocket.
"You! What did you do!?" screamed Vernon, inching towards the kitchen, probably to get the knife that was still lying out from dinner earlier that evening. The dinner Harry hadn't been allowed to have.
Snape sighed in annoyance. "Stupify," he said calmly, and the exceedingly large man with down with a shuddering thud.
"What did you do to my husband!!" shrieked a high-pitched voice from behind them.
Harry snickered when Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation. "If your husband hadn't pointed a weapon at myself and your own nephew!" he emphasized unhappily, "then I wouldn't have had to resort to restraining him…as it were."
Petunia didn't understand what had been done to her husband, only that it had been done magically. "You take it off of him! You take it off right now!"
"I'll do no such thing. Your husband is dangerous and shouldn't be allowed around children," he said, motioning with his hand the two teenagers who were standing behind her.
His aunt looked disgusted. "He would never hurt them!" she yelled hatefully.
Snape's eyes narrowed into slits. "No, he only hurts his nephew. A child placed under his care! A child who you were both supposed to nurture and care for! Not starve, abuse, and lock in a cold, dark room!" he bellowed, seemingly becoming larger as his anger increased.
Crossing her arms across her chest in indignation, Petunia scowled at the frightening man in her kitchen. "You don't understand what he's like! If he lived with you, if you had to put up with his appalling behavior, you'd do the same thing!"
Snape glowered at her while Harry flinched. "Where do you think the boy has been staying these past few months?" he asked menacingly.
She swallowed thickly and took another step back. "I thought he was at his s-school for an extended summer education," she said hesitantly.
"Hardly. The boy has been staying with me. And not once has his behavior caused me to want to harm him in any way. And believe me, the boy has tried my patience on more than one occasion," he said, glancing down at the boy in question and noticing that Harry was staring at him with a slight appreciative smile on his face.
"If he's such a delight to live with, as you seem to believe, why don't you keep him then!?" spat Petunia, keeping her distance from the frightening looking man with the wand. "We certainly don't want him!"
Even though he'd known it for years and had been told repeatedly the same thing, it somehow made it more real now that she'd spoken it in front of someone he knew. Someone whose opinion he valued. Would Snape feel the same? Or was he actually speaking the truth.
Snape growled low in his throat. "You disgust me. The entire lot of you. How could you know this child and say such hideous things about him?"
Petunia smirked. "You don't know him well enough. Just wait and see," she answered knowingly. "You'll understand soon enough."
"You would allow me to take him under my guardianship, then?" asked the Professor.
"Yes!" returned Petunia ecstatically. "Take him!" She was nearly bouncing on her feet in her excitement to get rid of the bane of their existence for so many years.
Professor Snape grabbed Harry's hand then and Harry instinctively intertwined his fingers into Snape's. "Very well. I'll have Headmaster Dumbledore stop by tomorrow morning to discuss this with you and to deal with your husband."
Petunia paled drastically. "Dumbledore?" she asked, suddenly looking frightened. Harry wondered how she knew him.
"Yes. Have a lovely evening," he added sarcastically as he gathered Harry towards the door. He stopped suddenly having remembered something. "You'll give the Headmaster Harry's things as well," he instructed as he shut the door in the ugly woman's face.
"You don't mind keeping me?" asked Harry timidly when they returned to Snape's home. Light was just filtering in through the windows making Harry wonder where the night had gone. He was exhausted without having gotten much sleep the night before. It had been a busy evening.
Severus glanced at him contemplatively. "Do you mind that I keep you?" he asked, turning the question around on the boy.
Harry sputtered. "Well, I d-don't know," he said seriously. It was one thing to spend the summer with the man, it was an entirely different thing to live there permanently. "I guess it depends on your answer to my question." He stared at Snape pensively. "I'm not an easy person to get along with. I don't want to become a burden on you as I did with the Dursley's. They hated me for it. I mean, I want to be happy here. And that won't happen if you still hate me. I…I can't live the way I did with my relatives. So, if you think you might treat me like they did, or even the way you treat me at school, on a daily basis…well, I'd rather go somewhere else," he explained shakily.
He waited solemnly for Snape's reply, bracing himself for getting kicked out, though he was terrified to think about where he would end up.
Severus sat on the couch and invited Harry to sit beside him. "I think we should talk for a moment," he said instead of answering Harry's question. This only proved to make the boy even more nervous.
"Okay," he shrugged his shoulders and made his way to the couch. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I thought that would be obvious," he started, patting the seat next to him as Harry had yet to sit down. "You residing with me permanently. It's something I wouldn't mind, and considering your startling lack of any prior parental guidance, I thought it would be wise to discuss it."
"Are you thinking this completely through?" asked Harry skeptically. "I mean, did you listen to my aunt Petunia? She has lived with me for years and years. My aunt and uncle...well, you saw. Neither one of them could stand me. You should really consider this thoroughly before you decide."
"Harry, I'm not going to want to get rid of you. Your aunt and uncle have made you feel like you're a burden and that is simply untrue. I enjoy your company and would be quite pleased if you decided to let me keep you."
Harry smiled shyly, those last words that Snape had spoken somehow making him feel more cared for than anything else. Knowing the man wanted him to move in and become his son, as it were, it just felt wonderful. He was just afraid to let his guard down.
"We can give it a test run, if that would ease your fears," suggested Snape. "If by the time next summer rolls around you don't feel completely comfortable with me, we can come up with some other solution."
"But, I'll be in school. How am I going to get to know you as anything more than my Professor? I mean, you've never been nice to me before during classes or even just when you've come across me in the hallways or the Great Hall. Are you going to keep doing that? Because that won't help, you know," Harry pointed out questioningly; pulling his knees up to his chest self consciously.
Snape was looking at him regretfully. "That was an act I had to put on for the benefit of some of the less than noble students in Hogwarts. Some of their parents are Death Eaters, as I'm sure you've ascertained. It's imperative that they not know my true allegiances."
Harry frowned, his brows furrowing as he considered what the man had said. "Well, if that's the case, then how is this even going to work?" he looked down at his lap feeling let down already. This would never work out, not if Snape still had to put on that he was an evil Death Eater.
A gentle hand wrapped around his own smaller one and Harry looked up to notice that Snape had leaned forward and was looking into his eyes. "I can assure you that the Headmaster and I are quite able to ensure our meetings are kept secret."
"Meetings?" Harry wasn't sure what his Professor was talking about.
"Yes, I thought you could join me for dinner or breakfast, whichever meal you prefer, so we could talk to each other. Get to know each other better," he explained patiently. "If meal times aren't acceptable, any time we both find free then…I would greatly enjoy your company if you would like to visit."
Still looking depressed, Snape gripped the boy's hand tighter. "What is it, Harry?"
Harry sighed deeply. "Well, what happens if you do decide to…adopt me, or whatever. I'm not going to feel comfortable if you get summoned by Voldemort!"
The hand on his own momentarily released him before gripping him tighter. "You worry about what I will have to do?" he asked stoically.
Rolling his eyes skyward, Harry shifted his hands so that his fingers could intertwine with Snape's. "No. Well, yes, but I'm more concerned about what could happen to you if it were discovered you had adopted me. They would kill you!"
Snape nodded, though it was more likely they would try to use that information to try and get to Harry. And he would never let that happen. All the more reason for him to stay near the boy and keep him safe from the harm they would no doubt descend upon him.
"We have no way of knowing what will happen, Harry, but I promise you to do my best at keeping you safe. We both will play a part in what's to come and neither of us will be entirely out of danger. I prefer we stick together. We'll have a better chance that way," he said quietly, his eyes delving deep into Harry's soul. "What's your opinion? Will you stay?"
It was worth the try. So Harry made his decision. If things didn't work out, at least he'd given it a go. And he wanted someone to care for him and wanted to care for Snape in return. He wanted a father. "Yes," he finally answered, making Severus' lips turn up in the hint of smile. "I'll stay."
A/N: Sorry for the massive delay on the final chapter, peeps. I know this probably isn't the most ideal place to end the story, but I've really just run out of ideas. I'd also like to start on another story in my SIB universe. I know I said I wouldn't, but now I'm probably going to.
Shoonasasi, I hope you liked your story! It's been almost a year since I started this for you! Happy Halloween!