In Loco Parentis
Summary: A traitor. A rescue. What happens next? Snape finds himself once more a guardian of two very fragile children, and reflects on what it means to be a father. AU from HBP, age-regression, genfic. Not Severitus. FRT.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Books, and whoever else may have a hold on them. I own nothing in the Potterverse, or anywhere else, for that matter. Strictly for entertainment, and noprofit is being made. Please sue somebody else.
A/N:This is a WIP of which I have the first 6 sections drafted. I will try to update every week or two. I'm interested in seeing how my writing is affected by posting while in progress like this and, hopefully, getting feedback. I am still working on the sequel to "Lost Boys", but I'm going to wait until that one is a complete draft before I start posting it. The title, for those whose Latin is a bit rusty means "In Place of Parents" and is often used in a legal sense to indicate people, like teachers, who serve as guardians and protectors in lieu of absent parents.
Special thanks to research-girl and sahiya for beta work on this. Both of them saved me from myself more often than I can count. Any mistakes left are, of course, my own, and I blush to admit some canon impossibilities are, er, willful.
A/N: Feb 6th 2008: I have revised this opening to make the "booby-trap" idea, and the reason they can't pop back to Hogwarts, make more sense.
Hermione had always thought it would end like this: the three of them standing defiantly before Voldemort, full of what their unlamented former Potions Master had liked to call "foolhardy Gryffindor stupidity." What she hadn't expected was the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, the lack of a wand in any of their hands, and the complete absence of a clever trick up her blood-encrusted sleeve. She hadn't truly expected them all to survive in the end, when she'd allowed herself to think of it at all. But she hadn't believed they would lose like this, either, after everything.
But if grim defiance was all they could pull from the situation, she'd certainly settle for that. Even if it meant proving Professor Snape right. He was probably here somewhere, come to think of it. She lifted her head with dignity and forced herself scan the circle of gleaming silver masks and black robes. She suppressed a shudder with difficulty. She knew now, in a way she hadn't before. They were all monsters. Like their master.
She forced her keen mind back to assessing their situation, wracking her brain to come up with-- anything. She was shaken and slightly bloodied, but ironically, this audience with Voldemort had put a stop to anything worse. Ron was leaning on her heavily, and she suspected he'd broken his ankle during his valiant, if doomed, rescue attempt. She hugged him to her side a little tighter, taking comfort in his solid, warm presence.
She glanced over at Harry. He was a bit the worse for wear, too, but standing tall and even looking slightly relaxed. Certainly not trembling the way she wanted to. She stifled a fond, but under the circumstances highly inappropriate, grin of pride, and took a deeper breath. He was apparently determined to go out in style, and for some reason that thought calmed her a bit. If nothing else, at least they were together.
"What I can't understand, Tom," he was saying just then, "is why anyone follows you to begin with. Killing women and children-- yeah, that's noble. You target Muggles and purebloods alike, you're only a half-blood yourself, a little baby very nearly killed you..."
"Silence!" Voldemort extended his wand, his eyes glittering with rage.
Harry eyed him coolly for a moment, then said, "Unlike you, I'm not afraid to die. You really don't get it, do you? Endless life without love-- it's just endless. Pointless. That's you. I'll pass, thanks."
"I shall kill you slowly, as I should have years ago," snarled the Dark Lord. "In fact..."
He hissed something-- in Parseltongue, Hermione thought-- and a blue light shot from the wand. In the next moment, where a brave young man had been standing, a little boy, barely a toddler, tumbled over backwards on his bottom, swimming in robes absurdly too large for him.
"Harry!" Without pausing to think, Hermione rushed to snatch the child up into her arms. Ron limped forward and put a protective arm around them both. Hermione, still devoting a portion of her mind to finding some way out of this mess, had a sudden, mad thought. How had Harry's mother saved him, all those years ago? Was it blood alone, or would any sacrifice, made wholeheartedly for the sake of love and friendship, be enough?
It was all she had, and she was just gathering herself to try, when she heard Ron's voice rasp, "Harry's right. You really are a pathetic old git."
Voldemort raised his wand again, and there was no way he could miss. She pushed Harry into Ron's arms and moved to shield them both. She, at least, was going to die. And she was surprised to find herself strangely calm about it.
At that moment, she caught a blur of black out of the corner of her eye. She felt the pressure of a hand slapping her shoulder, then a dizzying darkness and rush of wind, then...
They were standing in the sitting room of what appeared to be an abandoned house. Moonlight streamed through large windows to illuminate furnishings draped in white sheets, and there was at least a half inch of dust on the floor. "Whoa," she heard Ron say shakily. "That was close. And who the hell are you?"
The Death Eater stepped back from them, pulling off its mask and unfastening its outer robe, frantically rifling through its pockets. Hermione gasped as she recognized the dour, angular face.
"Professor Snape?" The calm that had enveloped her moments before was shattered, as much from realizing she had not, in fact, been killed, as from seeing this man again. He had killed Dumbledore less than a month ago, and apparently fled back to his true Master. Except, something about the whole situation had never added up...
"He told you to do it, didn't he?" she breathed, as the light suddenly dawned and her heartbeat began to slow to normal. The flicker in the man's dark eyes told her all she needed to know. He carefully avoided looking at them as he pulled a handkerchief-wrapped object from an inner pocket of his robes.
Ron cradled Harry protectively in his arms and backed up as well as he could, given his injury. "What are you playing at, Snape?" he asked bitterly. "Found some new Master to betray us to?"
Snape paused, then said simply, "The Headmaster chose both the manner and instrument of his death. Believe what you will, but you two need to take this now and go, before they find us. Give me the boy."
"Are you mental?" Ron yelped. "You think I'll just let you have Harry, after everything you've done? Thanks for saving us, if you have, but you have got to be kidding me."
Hermione was looking curiously at the object Snape was was holding out to them. "What's that?"
With exaggerated patience, he replied, "It is a portkey, Miss Granger. As I cannot apparate all three of you and myself any further tonight, this will send you and Mister Weasley safely back to Hogwarts. But I would appreciate it if you would utilize it before my little Confundus charm wears off and they track us to this place."
He thrust the handkerchief at Ron and continued, "Tell Minerva, or whomever in the Order you can reach, what has occurred. I will take Potter and apparate a few more times to throw them off the scent, then go to ground for a bit until..." He trailed off and blinked, and Hermione knew in that instant that he had no more idea what to do beyond that than she did.
She glanced over at Ron and noticed how pale his face was, and how he was starting to shake a bit as his injuries and the exertions of the night began to catch up to him. "Here, Ron, let me take him before you fall over." He reluctantly relinquished his hold on his best friend to her, took the object Snape was extending toward him, and sank weakly down to the floor as she turned to face Snape.
"Come, Miss Granger, give me the boy," he said imperiously. "We do not have time to debate this."
She stepped back, out of reach of both her companions and said, in what she felt was a perfectly reasonable tone, "What do you know about caring for infants, Professor?"
Snape gave a pained grimace. "Oh dear Merlin. Read all about it, have you, Miss Granger?"
"I'll tell you what I have read about, sir. I've read that side-along apparition can be very dangerous when attempted repeatedly, and even more so when the caster is physically ill or exhausted." Even in the moonlight, the sheen of sweat on his face and the pallor of his complexion were apparent to her, as was the fact that since she had seen him last he had lost weight he could ill-afford to lose.
"I've also read," she continued, a little more gently, "that if a companion of the caster consents to allow his or her magical energy to be tapped for the purpose, the procedure can be made much safer. Since I am not about to let you go off alone with any child, much less this one, I so consent. Besides, given your current condition, I'm frankly shocked you didn't splinch us jumping this far under just your own power. You're going to need my help."
The look Snape fixed on her made Hermione feel as if she were something particularly loathsome suspended in a jar of preserving solution. "And how's your medical history, Miss Granger? Up to date on all your vaccinations? Muggle and Wizarding?"
Hermione gave him a puzzled look, then turned her eyes to the child in her arms. "You don't think..."
Snape sighed. "I suspect. The Dark Lord has been working on this curse for some time. He has never used it in other than carefully controlled circumstances precisely because it carries a side-effect with the potential to decimate the Wizarding World. If the victim contracts a childhood illness, caregivers are at higher risk for infection. And magical remedies are largely ineffectual."
Hermione felt her heart drop into the cold pit of her stomach. "Like the 1918 Influenza Epidemic?"
"It would be worse than that. But yes."
Hermione took a deep shuddering breath. "I am indeed up to date on all my shots, sir. And I have had chicken pox-- well, dragon pox is the same thing. What about..."
"I have taken all relevant precautions, myself. As the one charged with studying the curse's effects."
He seemed to be waiting for her to make some reaction to that, but Hermione kept her face still. After glaring at her for a long moment, Snape sighed. "All right, let's--"
"No, wait, not all right," Ron protested. "Why don't I take Harry with me to Hogwarts? Or why don't all of us use the portkey and get out of here?"
Snape rounded on him with a vicious expression, and Hermione wondered if he welcomed the chance to vent a little spleen after the uncomfortable admissions he'd just made. "Have you even been listening, Mister Weasley?"
Ron sat up straighter and glared back up at him. "Yeah. A Death Eater who's been experimenting on people for fun wants to take my best friends Merlin knows where. A Death Eater who killed Albus Dumbledore in cold blood. A Death Eater who probably is making all this up because he knows they'll lock you up in Azkaban if you ever show your face at Hogwarts again..."
Snape had his wand out now and was kneeling in front of Ron, his face contorted with barely controlled rage. "There was nothing fun about it," he spat. "You ignorant little..."
"Stop it!" Both of them turned to look at Hermione, equally startled by the command in her tone. She continued, a little more calmly, "Ron. He saved our lives just now. He didn't have to. If we don't get going quickly, we'll all be dead. We have to trust each other."
Snape looked challengingly at Ron. After a moment, Ron broke eye contact and nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. So erm, what now?"
Hermione saw Snape's eye flick to Harry, still unnaturally quiet, watching solemnly from her arms, his overlarge glasses slightly askew. "We can't risk bringing Potter back to the School, much less the heart of the Order. The two of you, however, would be much safer--"
"No way. Hermione's right, Professor," Ron interrupted. "Taking care of a kid isn't like bullying a potions class." He blanched a little then, as if he'd just realized what he'd said. With a sheepish look that completely avoided the dark eyes glaring a hole through his chest, Ron continued, "And even if I wasn't kind of useless at the moment, I know I'd be hopeless at it. But between the two of you, you should do all right." Hermione recognized the tone as an olive branch of sorts, and she wondered if Snape would see it as such. There was a long pause as Snape studied the two of them, his face having retreated from murderously hostile to merely inscrutable.
Finally, he replied coldly, "Thank you for that heartwarming vote of confidence Mister Weasley. Now then. After you have informed Minerva about what has ocurred here, I would appreciate it if you would ask her to secure my effects from my new office. I suspect I will not be using it, after all. I am sure that will please her immensely."
Ron unwrapped the portkey carefully, then hesitated. He glanced up and met Snape's eyes. "Um... well. All right."
Snape surprised Hermione then by extending an olive branch of his own. "Good luck. Oh, and Mister Weasley? I saw what you did, back there in the glade. I must ask you, did you have a plan at all, or were you merely firing random spells?"
Ron glowered a little, but there was a glimmer of humor in his eyes. "If that second group hadn't come up behind me right then, I would have been fine. I'd like to see you defend four on one."
Snape looked almost amused himself. "I have, Mister Weasley. Rather frequently. Nonetheless, it was not... as hopeless a display of incompetence as I have grown to expect from you."
Hermione suppressed a grin as Ron blinked at him for a moment, stunned by what was, from Snape, almost a compliment. Then he turned back to her. "'Mione," he began, but she knelt down and kissed him soundly before he could say anything else.
"I saw what you did in the glade too, Ronald. You idiot." She smiled, trying hard not to tear up in front of her friend. "You were brilliant. Don't ever scare me like that again. Be safe."
Ron, still a little stunned from the kiss, grinned faintly. "You too. All of you." She stepped back and Ron grasped the portkey with his bare hand. He vanished.
Snape sniffed, but he surprised Hermione by making no other overt comment on her method of bidding Ron farewell. "We'd best be on our way as well, Miss Granger." He joined her and awkwardly slipped his arm around her. She saw Harry watch his approach, then yawn and rest his cheek against her shoulder and close tired eyes. Hermione slipped his too-large glasses off his face and tucked them carefully into a pocket of her robes. "Relax, Miss Granger," Snape instructed quietly, perhaps so as not to disturb Harry. "I'll try to take as little of your energy as I can."
She nodded her understanding, and in the next moment, they, too, vanished.
They made three more jumps: to a windswept hillside by the sea, then a shabby sitting room with books lining the walls and a cold fireplace at one end, then a small, weed-choked cemetery. They remained just long enough at the first two for Snape to cast some nonverbal spell she couldn't quite follow, though it seemed to have something in common with the Patronus Charm, sending a wispy greenish mist that coalesced into human-like shapes, then vanished, before they were on their way again. She felt Snape pulling more energy from her with each jump, and after the last, she was trembling with nausea and breathing hard, as if she had just run all the distance herself. Snape helped her to a stone bench, where she sat gratefully. "Rest," he panted, looking quite worn out himself. "They are sure to look for us here eventually, but..."
He trailed off and she followed his gaze across the cemetery to a particular stone, not far from where she sat. She read the names: James and Lily Potter. She glanced back at him and was surprised at what she saw. His face, usually so closed and forbidding, now reflected the closest thing she ever seen to an honest emotion which was not hate or rage. He looked very old, and tired, and -- bereft.
He moved forward and placed his robe and mask on the grave, then incinerated them with a savage flick of his wand. As the afterimage of the sudden flash began to fade from her eyes, she saw him sink to the grass, drawing his long legs up to his chest. She cleared her throat hesitantly. "What are we going to do now, Professor?"
He shook his head. "Hopefully they'll believe we apparated across the Channel first, then when that lead grows cold, they will think we used the floo at Spinner's End to go to London. By the time they get here, they will find we went up the street to a certain house, or what's left of it, which He knows quite well. There's a residual magic there that should mask our final destination."
He paused, then admitted, "It would be helpful if I had any idea at all what that should be."
Hermione felt the sleeping boy stir in her arms and hugged him a little closer. Somewhere Harry would be safe while they sorted out what had been done to him. She mulled it over. Then she remembered her impulse earlier, how she'd wanted to protect Harry, as his mum had.
"What about his awful relatives? Didn't Professor Dumbledore..." her voice caught a little on his name, but she pressed on quickly, "...didn't he make Harry stay with them because there was some protection passed on through his mother's family?"
Snape looked up at her appraisingly. "Through his mother's blood," he corrected. "And yes. We might be safe enough if we kept to the house proper. Albus described the wards there at length to me, the few times I attempted to--" He stopped himself and shook his head.
"It doesn't matter," he continued, after a moment. "The only difficulty is that the Dark Lord will certainly expect us to go there. He might be there already, waiting for us." He rose, then crossed the short distance between them and offered her a hand up. "Still, as I have no better ideas, we'd best make our way out of here, at once."
"But, what about them? What if he infects them?"
Snape's smile was not at all pleasant. "I would say, Miss Granger, that if any people deserve to contract a wasting and debilitating series of illnesses, they do."
Hermione frowned, unconvinced. Snape added as they rose, "There are precautions we can take. If nothing else, we can limit any effects by keeping the entire household under quarrantine. It would be dangerous for them to leave the wards now in any event."
He kept an unobtrusive steadying hand on her arm as they made their way to the cemetery gate and the lane beyond. Hermione gasped as a ruined house came into view. Standing with Snape in the doorway a few moments later, she watched him cast his last misdirection spell, saw how an eerie greenish light from the house mixed with the glowing wisps of smoke to strengthen the charm. Then he pulled her close, almost into an embrace, and they disapparated one last time.