-1Previous to the beginning of this story, the AU world you are about to enter: The Dursleys have raised Harry for the past few years. He is 6 years old when they decide that they have tired of him. They feign bringing him to a fair w/ Dudley and while he's on a ride they ditch him and go off to a new home they've bought themselves. It is after this point that our story begins, as I don't want to have to bother with three or four chapters just trying to set up the story.
The cold wind whistled secretively through the branches of the trees overhead and whirled around Harry's fragile body, teasing it, reminding it of its vulnerability. Harry shuddered, tucking himself ever closer to the roots of the tree he had taken for shelter, barred between the tree and a thin shrub, hoping in vain that they might do something to shield him from the elements. It had been three days since the fair, three long, miserable days. He hadn't eaten, he hadn't slept, he had done nothing but pad his way southwards in an effort to find something, anything, that would get him out of his current predicament.
So far all he had come across was this tree. He was hoping that it would keep the wind away, the brisk December wind that kept him from sleeping. No such luck. It fought on, past the tree and past the shrub, as if determined that it should be the end of Harry. His body kept him moving, shivering uncontrollably, in a last ditch effort at homeostasis, but it was a losing battle. Even at six years old, Harry knew he wasn't going to go on much longer. He was too tired, too cold, too hungry, and deep inside, he was too far gone to care.
Severus groaned as he pulled yet another essay on the importance of shrivelfig towards himself. His students were not very creative. Each and every one of these essays had been exactly the same, as far as he could tell, and his cold black eyes were beginning to close despite himself. He sighed, checking the clock. It was nearing midnight. He would finish these papers later; Christmas break didn't end for another three days. With that conviction, he stood from his desk, intending to go to bed.
His fireplace crackled in protest. He frowned, staring at the flames until he could clearly make out the headmaster's head swirling in the embers. Severus tried to hide his displeasure at the late hour as he made his way to the fireplace. "Can I help you?"
Dumbledore wasted no time in getting to the point. "Harry's gone missing."
Snape frowned. "Harry?"
"Harry Potter," Dumbledore clarified.
"Ah," Snape said delicately. "My brain must not be working too well at this late hour." He gave Dumbledore and expectant look, hoping he'd take the hint.
Dumbledore gave an understanding nod, but did not leave the fireplace. His pale blue eyes were locked on Severus's, until he potion's master sighed, giving in.
"So Harry's gone missing," he repeated, "Do you suspect kidnapping?"
Dumbledore looked mildly surprised at the suggestion, "Oh, no. We have a great deal of evidence to say that he's been abandoned."
Snape frowned. It seemed a tad ridiculous to him that a family would keep a boy four five years and then chose to abandon him. Why not dump him off at an orphanage on day one if they didn't intend to keep him? Of course, if the boy was anything like his father than Snape would understand the actions, to an extent. It still seemed a bit extreme to abandon the child.
"Can't the ministry find him, then?" Snape asked Dumbledore, "I mean, he's a minor so the ministry can still keep tabs on him, correct? If he hasn't been kidnapped by someone who would put wards around him, it shouldn't be a problem to locate him."
Dumbledore inclined his head, "Of course not. I presume that they'll have located him within the hour."
Snape stared hard at Dumbledore's head, but the man still wasn't going away. Frowning with irritation, Snape wondered what further use he could possibly be to the man. It wasn't as though Dumbledore could possibly want him to have anything to do with the child… Severus's eyes widened as the situation began to dawn on him. Harry had been abandoned by his aunt and uncle. He would be needing a new guardian.
"No." Snape said firmly, "No way."
"Severus," Dumbledore began wearily, "He has no place else to go."
"What are you talking about?" Snape fumed, "There's an entire wizarding community that would love to take him in. That kid's got nothing but places to go. He has more places to go than I have socks in my drawer."
"That's exactly what we need," Dumbledore muttered, "for him to get it into his head that he's some kind of legacy before he's old enough to think for himself. Severus, you know how important Harry is to our survival! You can't possibly think that it would be acceptable to throw him into any old wizarding family. What if we chose wrong?"
"It would still be better than for him to live with me! I don't even like children!"
"You won't spoil him, Severus, and you have enough human decency to treat him correctly," Dumbledore replied calmly, "Please, tell me what other future you think should befall Lilly's only child."
Severus scowled. That was a low blow, and Dumbledore knew it. It only served to exemplify Severus's certainty that love was nothing but an emotion felt by the weak which allowed others to manipulate them. After all, at this point, what could he say?
Dumbledore took his silence as affirmation. "I've told the ministry officials to contact you when they locate Harry. It will be best for the child if you're the one who finds him, so to speak, and rescues him. It will make his transition into your care easier, for the both of you."
Still scowling, Severus turned his back on Dumbledore, not bothering to respond.
Harry didn't know at first what it is that had awakened him. He had been sleeping, it seemed, for his whole life, yet he was still tired. He shifted around, not even caring how uncomfortable the frozen ground was beneath his fragile bones. It didn't matter right now. He didn't care about anything, not even his own survival. All he wanted was to fall asleep, and somehow, to fall away from this torturous home.
It was when Harry turned his head to try and go back to sleep that he saw the man, a tall, cloaked figure with greasy black hair and hard black eyes. Harry shuddered at the sight, realizing that the man must have been the one to awaken him. An instinctive fear pulled at Harry's stomach, but he ignored it. What could be worse than his current situation? As far as he knew, there was no worse fate than death.
"You look cold," the man said, his voice a silken cord dripping over Harry's body and sending a shiver up his spine. The man was wearing a forcedly nice smile, and Harry wondered if that had been his best attempt at a nice voice. Harry certainly hoped not.
The man was walking up to him now, frowning at him. Now all of Harry's guards were up, and he was much more alert than he had been. Had he been able to, he would have run from the man. As it was, he could only watch with a weakened state of fear as the man drew ever nearer.