It was only first week of holidays, and things were not going well.
It was the fifth night at the house, and Severus was reduced to pacing his bedroom at 3 a.m., cursing the Dursley's, and thinking over his late arrival at King's Cross. Again.
While he had indeed collected a scrawny bespectacled boy wizard at King's Cross, it was clearly not the same boy he had escorted onto the train that very morning.
The Harry Potter he had dropped off at the Express on the last day of school had been smiling. He had participated in the expected sentimental good-bye with the groundskeeper and had boarded the train (in a mixture of hopping and running, as if performing some sort of childish ritual dance) with a confident wave to his guardian.
There had been no need for reassurance. No whispered fears or encouraging shoulder squeezes, no panic or tears, and surprisingly no frustrations on either of their parts.
The fates must have been saving those for their reunion mere hours later in London.
Severus was running ten minutes late when he arrived at the station, which had done nothing for his already foul mood. Cursing muggles everywhere – at least some of them had the sense to scurry out of his path as he approached – he made for the barrier at Platform 9 and ¾ with haste.
It had not taken him long to find Harry. In his tardiness the crowd had dissipated considerably. Not to mention the fact that a crowd of redheads surrounded the boy. From the looks of it the youngest Weasley – another to join them next year, Snape thought with dismay – was regaling her brothers with questions about their year, while the Weasley matriarch fussed over the lot of them.
To anyone else's untrained eye the boy's demeanour would have been unchanged from the morning, all patience and confidence. But Severus saw the slight clench in his jaw and the way he curled and uncurled the hem of his T-shirt in his fist. Those familiar compulsive movements told him more than enough about Harry's emotional state.
He had ended up surprising the boy, that much had been clear by the look on Harry's face when he reached out a hand to pull the ragged hemline from clenched fist where it was trapped.
The memory of the strange mixture of relief and sorrow in those eyes haunted him, but it was not the thing that kept him from his bed in the wee hours of the morning.
No, he was awake because he was waiting for Harry.
He had said nothing to the child initially. He knew that Harry's mask, however badly placed it may be, would remain intact while they were in company. Instead he had simply waited for the others to depart before pulling Harry lightly towards him.
"We shall be apparating home." Hmm, he had expected some sort of reaction to the word 'home'. Perhaps he had simply grown out of his Hufflepuff-like tendencies? Dismissing the inconsequential thought, he looked down to see the lad staring straight ahead, as if facing the firing squad.
"Are you ready?" He did not actually wait for a response. "On my count then. 1. . .2. . ." Before he could hit 3, however, Harry let out a strangled noise somewhere between a squeak and a hiccough and spun himself around to bury his face in Severus chest. He did so with such force that the teacher was taken off balance; it was all he could do to tighten his arms around the child before disappearing.
He managed to land upright, although with a minor sway. He could feel the boy's glasses digging into his skin. He did not realize that such a small person could possess such a painfully strong grip.
"If you would please to cease imitating human Velcro, we have arrived," he murmured.
Harry stepped back, with a hot flush to his face and neck. "I – I'm – Hey!" he exclaimed, eyes squinting in question at his teacher, "How do you know what Velcro is?"
"I am full of mysteries."
His response caused Harry to roll his eyes with a snort. That's better.
As he walked he began listing off points, "You are not to go any further than this fence line when you are outdoors. That is where the property wards end. Do not attempt to test them. There are no neighbours for some distance, but I'd prefer you not to go above the tree line when flying. The front door requires a password to enter, regardless of the wards, and that password is Intromittro."
At the key word the front door clicked, and Snape opened it without fuss, leading Harry into the house.
The boy didn't move from the doorway for several moments, and Severus was almost to the kitchen before he noticed.
"You do not need to wait to be invited in, Harry. This is your home for the summer."
He regretted the words almost immediately after they left his mouth. Despite his lacklustre grades at Hogwarts, Potter was remarkably quick, and adept at reading between the lines. It was proof of a survival instinct he should not have had. Learning to hear what is left unsaid is the quickest way to avoid the fist of your father, he thought. Or uncle. Yes, Potter was very skilled in this area, and Severus could see that he had immediately taken the words to mean that the situation was temporary.
Returning to Harry he could same look in the boy's eyes that he had been wearing at the train station. If he never saw such resignation and acceptance on a child's face again it would be too soon.
"I was simply referencing the fact that we will both be returning to the school come September."
Harry simply shrugged, looking about him with a falsely casual look. "I didn't give it much thought." He replied.
Severus made a noise of scepticism, but said nothing. Instead he simply put a hand on Harry's shoulder and guided him further into the house.
Harry tried to feign interest as the man led him around the house, making a mental list of the various rooms as they were introduced.
Kitchen – check.
"The sink is charmed with an autowash spell. Simply deposit your dirty dishware within and they will be cleaned."
"Like a muggle dishwasher?"
"Indeed. This is the pantry. I shall endeavour to keep it more fully stocked than it currently is. Do try to remember that there is no snacking after bed time."
"What? I mean – snacking?"
"Snacking – eating between meals, usually small amounts –"
"I know what it means! It's just, I mean, that's allowed? My Aunt and Uncle never…"
"If it aids you, just try to behave as you would at Hogwarts. With less trouble making, of course."
"But I didn't snack at Hogwarts."
"You didn't --? You mean to tell me you ate only at the prescribed times in the hall?"
Harry scowled. Why did every question make him sound like he was incredibly stupid? "No I didn't OK! I didn't know it was allowed."
"Well it is allowed here. Just attempt not to ruin your appetite for your meals. Or gorge yourself on junk. Keep your Dursely cousin in mind as a warning and you should be fine."
Harry laughed, in spite of himself.
Living Room – check.
"No muddy shoes, or substances that have the consistency of goo. No Weasley twins products. I would really like this room to survive the summer."
"I'm not that bad!"
"Hmmm. If you are planning on having your little friends visit it will have to wait until I have the floo reconnected."
"My friends can visit?"
"Against my better judgement, yes."
"What's a floo?"
Cellar – check.
Harry looked into the blackness with concern. "I won't ever have to go down there, will I?"
Snape seemed to narrow his eyes at the question, but only shook his head and closed the door.
"It is an interesting place to explore on a rainy day."
"I'd rather read my potions textbook thanks." He shuddered as they moved on, and fought the urge to press himself into the man's side.
Potions lab that I am 'not to enter without express permission upon pain of death' – check.
Harry could only roll his eyes and snort with derision. Like he'd go into a potions lab during his summer holiday.
Finally, Snape led him up to the first door at the top of the stairs and opened it with the closest thing to a flourish Harry had ever seen him perform.
"And this is your room Harry."
The boy took in the room in silence at first. He did not move from its centre, instead he twisted around on the spot to see everything. Severus had to admit that he was eager to see Harry's reaction.
With a smile his charge turned to him. "It's a wonderful room, sir. Luka must have really loved it."
Severus suddenly found it very difficult to swallow. He had not expected that.
"I think you've misunderstood Harry. This room is yours. No one else has slept here. It is only for you."
He watched as Harry's jaw dropped open, and the snap back shut as he attempted to reign in his reaction. "But it's his stuff, right? I mean a different room, but the furniture and books…" He was almost pleading, and it bothered the professor more than he could account for.
"No Harry. They are not Luka's things. They have been sold or put in storage. These are yours. I know you would have probably preferred to choose your own furnishings, but I wanted your room ready for your arrival."
As he spoke he quietly moved into the room, until finally he was standing beside Harry. Unable to stop himself, he crouched down beside the 11 year old, trying to see the space from Harry's point of view.
His patience was rewarded when he heard the whisper.
"I've never had my own room before."
"Mmmm. Well, there is a first time for everything, yes? Now why don't you unpack and explore your room." He stood and pulled the boy's shrunken trunk from a pocket of his robe and returned it to normal size, along with Hedwig's cage and a few other sundry items. Harry, however, had not moved.
"What are you waiting for? I am more than aware of your penchant for tactile exploration, I'm surprised you haven't run your hands over half the objects in this room yet."
"I can't. It's all too nice and new. What if I get something dirty? Or ruin it?"
There was only one way to get past this barrier quickly, and with frustration Severus quickly lifted Harry into the air and proceeded to set him on his feet, dirty shoes and all, on the bed. Before there was a chance for a reaction he simply said, "There are such things as cleaning spells Potter."
Before he could leave the room however, Harry stopped him with a question.
"Where is your room, sir?"
"Right beside yours. Directly across from the toilet."
And that is where he found the boy at 4 am that night. Or, be more precise, he found Harry in the corridor directly outside his room, curled against the wall and half-asleep.
That first night he thought nothing of it; perhaps it was simply sleep walking. He simply guided Harry back to his room, tucked him in and returned to bed. By the third night he attempted to question the boy about what was wrong, but despite being semi-conscious, Harry did not respond.
The fourth night Harry arrived like clockwork. And if Snape had needed any proof of the fact that this behaviour would not go away on it's own, it was there in the blanket wrapped around the boy. Harry had never brought bedding with him before; he was clearly settling in for the long haul.
Severus was at a loss, which is how he found himself pacing his room at 3 a.m. the fifth night. Soon the monitors he had built into the Harry's room would sound, that much he knew. What he didn't know was exactly what was causing Harry's need to camp outside his room.
He blamed the Dursley's, mostly because they were obvious. But also obvious was that somehow this problem was tied to him. The only explanation he could point to was his late arrival at King's Cross. But could 10 minutes have really impacted Harry to such a degree?
Ringing alarms interrupted his thoughts. Damn it Harry, what is going on in that head of yours? Why this, why now?
With a sigh he moved towards the door and his now nightly ritual of putting Harry back to bed.
Something had to be done.
Not for the first time, Severus Snape wondered what he had gotten himself into.