A/N: OMG, I'm so sorry it's taken me this long to update. I want to thank everyone for their encouraging reviews, and I swear I won't always take this long to write another chapter. I got caught up in high school this week, I'm sure most of you know how that goes, but I'm a writer at heart so please believe me when I say that normally I won't be able to help but update in a fairly quick fashion.
Severus was in no mood to be nice to a six year old, especially one who looked as utterly pathetic as Harry did. It was all he could do not to snap at the child to suck it up and take it like a man, but he held his tongue. After all, he couldn't be sure how far gone the boy was at this point. One wrong word and Harry could decide to let go entirely… He thought about that. It would make his life a heck of a lot easier if he didn't have a child to look after. He snorted. Dumbledore would kill him.
"Harry, you're coming with me. It'll be easier for both of us if you do so willingly."
Severus saw Lily's eyes staring out of James's face, wide and fearful. He shook his head, brushing the vision away. It wouldn't do him any good to go nostalgic right now. He needed to safely transfer Harry from his current place, squashed between a shrub and a tree, back to the castle. There was no telling how difficult it would be. He knew that scared and desperate people were five times as dangerous as they would normally be, and although it wouldn't be any problem for him to overpower Harry, there was a likelihood of him hurting the fragile boy if he went that route.
Well, he would just have to try and go the normal route. He frowned at the position the boy was in, realizing that his only choice would be to crawl into the child's cove on his hands in knees. He let out a little grunt as he worked his way into the boy's crawlspace, scowling when he thought of what people would say if they could see him now. All this for a six year old he didn't even want.
Finally getting into the same spot that Harry was in, he was amazed to find that it was no warmer here than it had been on the other side. He had automatically assumed that he spot had been chosen for its protection from the elements, but if that was true, it didn't seem to be working for him.
Harry's eyes became even wider as Snape took picked him up, but Snape noted that he didn't struggle. He couldn't tell if that was because Harry was used to having his decisions made for him, or if he was simply too weak to fight against it. Either way, it was good for Snape.
He stood awkwardly with the boy in his arms, but as for getting out of the tiny area he was in, he couldn't figure out how to do that. He sighed; he'd have to apparate from right here. Looking at the fragile body in his arms, he could be pretty sure that Harry would pass out on the way. Apparating was strenuous enough if you were perfectly healthy, and if you were as sick as Harry clearly was, even more so.
He frowned. Why had Dumbledore sent him to fetch the child? He had no special forms of transportation as the Ministry Officials did, and he was pretty sure that Harry wouldn't even remember him when he awoke, anyway. Oh, well. He'd get the boy to the hospital wing, and then he'd get to sleep. Nice and easy.
Severus was right in thinking that Harry would be asleep by the time that they got to Hogsmeade. He sighed, looking down at the pathetic thing in his arms before setting off towards the castle. What a mess…
"Poppy!" he called, setting Harry on a vacant bed, "I've got a patient for you! I'd say he suffers from malnutrition, dehydration, and probably hypothermia."
"What are you on about?" Poppy Pomfrey, a stern looking witch, stormed out in her night clothes, an irritated expression clouding over her face. When she saw Harry, her mouth widened to form an O of surprise and she rushed forth, checking his pulse and feeling his forehead.
Severus had planned to slip out after dropping Harry off, but instead found himself pestered with a slew of questions. Where had he found Harry? What was he doing? How was he lying down? What was his response to seeing Snape? Severus found a dull throbbing sensation begin to form in his temple as he was bombarded. He didn't know much more about Harry than Dumbledore had told him, so why was it that he was the one being interrogated?
Finally she seemed to settle down, bustling about the room coming up with potions for this and that. Severus took it as a sign that he was free to leave, and took it gladly. He turned away from Harry's fragile body and started towards the door.
"Severus?" Pomfrey hailed him.
He turned around wearily, one hand still on the doorknob, and raised and eyebrow at her critically. "Yes?"
"Should I send a house elf in the morning to tell you he's awake?"
"No." Snape turned around again, opening the door.
"Who should I send?"
He didn't even bother to turn around this time. "Nobody."
He felt her eyes on him as he swept from the hospital wing, his cloak billowing out behind him, but he didn't care. He could hear the dungeons calling to him, reminding him of his warm bed.
The next morning, Severus awoke at his usual time, despite his late night. For once in his life he wished he had the ability to sleep in, but he was far too self disciplined to allow for such a lax disposition. Instead he made his way to the bathroom and freshened up a bit, putting on a clean robe and combing his hair. He was more thoughtful this morning than he usually was, mulling over the events of the previous night.
Dumbledore expected him to raise a six year old child. How was that even possible? Severus didn't know anything about children. Besides, how could he be fair to the boy when he looked so much like James? It was impossible. Every time Harry looked at him, it was James that he would see. And if he didn't see James's face, he'd see Lily's eyes. He didn't know which would hurt more.
Severus was all too aware of the fact that he'd already told Dumbledore that he'd take the boy in. Besides, as Dumbledore had said, there really was no fitting place for Harry to go. Severus wasn't as afraid of what he would do to Harry as what Harry would do to him. After all, judging by the condition he had found the boy in, he couldn't really make his life much worse…. Harry, on the other hand, had the ability to hurt Severus without even saying a word. How could Severus live the rest of his life like that?
Severus sat himself down at his table for a bowl of oatmeal. He wasn't really hungry, but he ate out of habit. It would take a less disciplined person than he to ignore breakfast when he knew that he had such a long day ahead of him. He chewed each bite slowly and carefully, all too aware of the purpose of the meal, but he was still finished sooner than he would have wished. It didn't take a genius to know what he had to do after this meal, and he wasn't happy about it.
Severus swept into the hospital wing, his brows snapping together critically before he had even got through the door. He swiveled his head about to look at Harry, and was surprised to find that the boy was already awake and struggling to eat a piece of toast. He frowned at the child, noticing that he had hardly eaten any of the breakfast Poppy had given to him yet seemed to want to be done with it.
Harry looked at Snape as he entered, and upon seeing him he openly blanched, dropping his toast onto his plate and backing against the wall. Severus couldn't blame him. Had the situation been reversed, he wouldn't be apt to trust anyone, either. The realization didn't prevent a great knot of annoyance from bubbling up inside him.
"How very much like your father you are, Potter," he hissed, "I just saved your life. You should be thanking me on bended knee.
"I'll thank you for saving my life," Harry replied coldly, "but Madam Pomfrey told me not to get off the bed, so you'll forgive me if I don't bow to you."
Snape hardly heard him, for he was too distracted with Harry's eyes. They were unmistakably Lily's eyes, and he had never seen those green orbs cast so much venom in his direction before. He shook the thought from his head. This wasn't Lily, this was Harry. A mere boy. He wasn't about to be intimidated by him.
"I'd be much mistaken if Madam Pomfrey didn't also tell you to eat your breakfast, and I don't see you doing that," Snape snapped, "Or do you only follow those rules that suit you?"
"Madam Pomfrey told me to eat until I began to feel sick, and then to stop," Harry replied, "and I began to feel sick when you walked in."
It took a great deal of effort for him not to smack the boy. He had never heard such a cheeky six year old in his life. It made his blood boil to stand by and listen to the boy spit out venom like some sort of beast. He knew that Harry had a great deal of bottled up anger, and that it wasn't truly directed at him. He knew it, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He had never allowed a child to speak to him like that before, and he didn't want to start now.
"I thought that your aunt and uncle were wrong to have dropped you off in the woods, but I'm beginning to think that they had the right idea," Snape said, "It would take a strong person to take care of a kid like you, but I guess that comes with the territory. What else could I expect from James's son?"
Harry stared hard at him, "That's twice you've mentioned my dad, but you seem to have forgotten that I had a mum as well. Or don't you know that I'm the child of my dad and my mum?"
Severus stared at him a moment before turning on his heel and sweeping from the hospital wing. Outside the door, he leaned against the wall, eyes closed, as he fought down the wave of emotions that had come from Harry's words. Years of practice kept tears from forming, but the emotional drain was the same. He opened his eyes and began down the hall, only to run headfirst into the headmaster five paces along the hall.
"Severus!" said Dumbledore pleasantly, "I have the papers here so that you can get guardianship of Harry."
"I can't," Snape said, looking Dumbledore square in the eye, "I can't do it. It's not possible."
He left Dumbledore standing speechless in the hall, walking away too fast for Dumbledore to follow after him. He couldn't argue with the man about this. He knew that his decision was the right one to make, but he didn't have the energy it would take to fight about it. Today, despite his usual reservations, he decided he'd go back to his room and take a nap. Sleep was sounding really, really good right now.
Harry stared after the man who had come into his room. He didn't really know why he had said what he had. Had he been older, he might have been able to analize his feelings for Severus. The way that Severus glared at him unnerved him. It was like being home with his uncle, who would look at him with the same kind of ferocity before Harry had even had a chance to do anything wrong. His fear of his uncle had translated into a fear of Severus, and he had immediately gone on the defensive in order to keep from becoming vulnerable again.
At six years old, Harry was rendered incapable of thinking such organized thoughts. All he knew in his conscious mind was that seeing the hook nosed man made him scared and angry at the same time, and he hadn't been lying when he had said that he had felt sick the minute he walked in the door. Harry looked back at his plate of food with disgust. Food had been all he had dreamed of for days, and now that it was at his disposal, it was less than appetizing. He lay his head back upon his pillow in half a mind to go back to sleep when the door opened again.
Harry looked curiously at the man who came in, for in truth he had never seen anyone quite like him before. The man was quite tall and if his silver hair and beard was any sign, quite old. Harry was curious about why anyone would want to have the hair this man had, for both his hair and his beard came down to his waist. What intrigued Harry the most, though, was the intense pale blue eyes that shone at him from behind half moon spectacles with a kind of energy that even at six years old Harry could recognize as being one of a kind.
"Hello, Harry," the man said in a kind voice, unlike the silky whisper of the hook nosed man.
"Hello." Harry was cautious in replying to the old man. Experience had taught him that the world was full of the harsh and the cruel, and currently he wasn't capable of trusting anyone completely. He brought his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms tightly around them, resting his chin on his knees, thus protecting himself from the world. Only when he was bundled in a tight ball did he feel confident enough to look at the old man in the room with him.
"My name is Albus Dumbledore," the man continued, taking a seat at the foot end of Harry's bed. Harry didn't say anything to him, but continued to stare at him through suspicious green eyes.
"Were you talking to Professor Snape a moment ago, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.
Harry noticed the serious tone of Dumbledore's voice and experience told him that it would not be a good time to venture a question, but he didn't know who Professor Snape was. He decided that his best bet would be to remain silent, so he didn't reply to Dumbledore's inquiry.
Dumbledore frowned at him and tried again, "I was coming down here to see you and I saw Professor Snape coming from this direction. He seemed upset about something, and I wanted to know if perhaps the two of you had exchanged words."
Harry tightened his muscles instinctively. Someone was mad at him? This definitely wasn't a time to be asking questions, then. He closed his eyes tightly, anticipating a blow that wasn't to come. A few minutes later, he opened his eyes again to see that Dumbledore hadn't moved. He sat up a tad straighter but didn't relax his muscles.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Harry," Dumbledore said, "I just want you to talk to me. I want you to tell me if you and he were talking."
Harry swallowed. There was nothing for it. He'd just have to speak. "I don't know who he is, sir. I don't know who you're talking about."
A look of comprehension crossed Dumbledore's weathered face. "Ah… That explains it then. Do you remember who brought you here last night?"
Harry nodded. He remembered the incident, although rather vaguely. Even if he hadn't, the hook nosed man had mentioned something about it this morning. "Is that who you mean, then? I was talking to him earlier."
"Good lad," Dumbledore leaned forward, giving Harry an encouraging look, "Can you tell me about it?"
Wasn't it always the way, Severus thought, you were finally beginning to doze off and there was a knock at the door. He was grumbling to himself as he rolled out of bed and threw on some clothes, heading towards the door. When he opened it, it was to an unexpected site.
Harry was standing weakly in front of his door, leaning heavily upon the doorframe, his face rather pale with the effort of standing. Despite any misgivings Severus had about the child himself, Severus's humanity kicked in immediately and he stepped to the side to allow Harry entrance.
"Take a seat before you hurt yourself," Severus said.
"Please, sir, I have to talk to you," Harry whispered, his mouth parched.
"Take a seat," Severus commanded again. He was already on his way to the kitchen to get Harry a glass of water. When he got back, though, Harry was still standing, his whole body shaking with the struggle of staying upright.
"I told you to sit down."
"Please… I have to talk to you, I-"
"I seem to remember you speaking quite fluently this morning, and if I'm not mistaken you weren't standing then," Severus said, "Sit down."
Harry sat and found a glass of water thrust into his hands. He drank it without being told to, keeping in mind what Madam Pomfrey had told him that morning about not drinking anything too fast no matter how thirsty he was. She had mentioned something about him getting sick from it, and although he didn't understand how that could happen, he obediently set the glass aside after a few sips, turning his attention Snape instead.
"I want to say I'm sorry for being mean this morning," he told Severus.
Severus stared at him in confusion. Never in his life had he heard a six year old apologize for something without being told to by his parents. Clearly this wasn't possible now. Even ignoring the fact that Harry had no parents to tell him to appologize, no adult in their right mind would allow a boy as sick as Harry to walk all the way from the hospital wing to the dungeons unsupervised.
"You snuck all the way down here to say that?"
Harry shuddered, "You saved me from the cold and brought me to where there's food. I shouldn't be mean to you. I'm really, really sorry. Please don't make me go back there!"