And So It Begins
Vernon Dursley looked at the letter in his hands that one of those pestilential birds had just dropped on his head. A letter from those freaks! He ripped it open and quickly read the contents, and an unholy gleam came to his eyes as he looked at the boy cowering against the wall in front of him. After all these years of putting up with the freak, finally justice was going to be served!
"Read it!" He thrust the piece of parchment at the whelp. The boy timidly took the letter from his uncle and read it quickly, eyes becoming bigger behind the round frames in surprise; and what colour remained in his face, drained, leaving him as pale as the parchment the letter had been written upon.
Vernon crossed his arms, kneading his biceps with his meaty hands. "Conveniently forgot to tell us, didn't you boy! Forgot to mention that you aren't supposed to do m – m – m – that unnatural stuff outside of school!" he growled, face slowly starting to change colour.
"But I didn't…" the boy whinged, peering up at the humongous man.
"Don't lie to me, boy! I've had enough of your freakishness, I tell you, ENOUGH!" Vernon's voice raised in volume at the same rate as his blood pressure; his neck and face turning purple as the vein at his temple throbbed so much that Harry thought it looked like it was going to rupture any second. "I am going to make sure this never happens again!"
Harry took a step back away from the monster in front of him, but ran into the corner of the wall. He could hear his fat cousin giggling in malicious gleefulness from the top of the stairs at the prospect of him getting punished by Vernon. His aunt had disappeared after cleaning the mess the house-elf had made of her pudding and parlour. He never could count on her to help him; she always let Vernon deal with Harry as he saw fit. His eyes darted everywhere looking for an escape route, but saw none as his uncle closed the small gap between them. Involuntarily, he started shaking in fear, scrabbling with his hands at the unyielding wall behind him, fingernails ripping in his desperation. He even knew it wouldn't help when he pleaded with his uncle, "Please, please, noooo…", but the words tumbled from his mouth as the oldest part of his brain took over. He had never seen his uncle this furious before. It certainly surpassed the time when he had set the snake free at the zoo.
His uncle finally reached the boiling point and struck out at Harry with a surprisingly quick cuff to his nephew's head, bouncing it off the wall and dropping Harry like a stone to the hallway floor. Before Harry could react, the man had strode over to him, kicking and pummelling the small boy while yelling as to how this would be the last time Harry would ruin anything for this family.
Harry screamed, trying to protect his face and head with his arms, but Vernon kept up his own shouting and kicking, saying he would beat the unnaturalness out of the boy! Harry could feel, and hear, bones snapping, although he knew Vernon probably didn't, the man's rage overshadowed all his other senses. He kept trying to protect himself, curling in to protect his organs, but it didn't seem to help. It just made Vernon angrier and more aggressive as he tried to find someplace he hadn't already pummelled into a pulp. Harry thought, perhaps, this time he would probably die – but he wouldn't give up trying to desperately protect some part of himself.
Vernon kept on like this for a few minutes until he tired of the game and then pulled his belt off, using it to whip the boy anywhere he could get the huge silver belt-buckle to reach. The boy had stopped screaming and was only whimpering as the massive piece of metal kept whistling through the air to land on the cringing child, causing welts and dents in the flesh to tear open and bleed all over Petunia's pristine floor. The activity purged the man's system of his fury and, running out of steam, he finally opened the cupboard door under the stairs, threw the limp bundle of weeping rags into it; barely noticing as it landed haphazardly across the padlocked school trunk, striking its head against an exposed two by four along the back wall with a loud crack.
He slammed the door behind him, shot home the bolt, and locked the padlock on the hasp before entering the kitchen where his darling Petunia was dishing up some ice cream for the delayed pudding. Dudley laughed maniacally again as he hopped down the stairs, making sure to jump several times on each middle step that lay over his cousin's jail. Unfortunately, for the baby whale, his efforts went unnoticed by his victim, who was currently unconscious.
Severus Snape, premier Potions Master of the United Kingdom, was thoroughly enjoying his summer. Well, as much as a former Death Eater - who taught children he despised for most of the year, and hated most of his life otherwise - could enjoy. He had the dungeons at Hogwarts all to himself; he had already finished Pomfrey's restock order of potions for the infirmary and was spending the remaining weeks experimenting before the brats reappeared in September.
He added the next ingredient to his potion, checking his notes as he did so. Yes, four ounces of ground monarch butterfly wings gently dusted evenly across the surface of the potion. Perfect. The iridescent rainbow shimmers were just the right consistency and matched his theory perfectly. He began to stir with the gold rod, so that it added just the right amount of reaction to the potion. One… two… three… four… five… six…
"Severus? Are you there, my boy? I need to speak with you urgently!"
He was not thrilled when he heard the headmaster's voice coming from the floo in his private quarters. The moment of hesitancy caused him to lose count in his stirring of his latest experiment and the potion congealed right before his eyes into a glutinous mess as he apparently took one rotation too many.
With a disgusted sigh and a wave of his hand, he evanesco-ed the contents and levitated the cauldron over to the sink sideboard to await cleaning. If it wasn't weeks until the start of term, he might even have left it for a detention – but it was one of his favourite cauldrons and he wanted to keep it in its pristine condition. Maybe he would wait for school to start and assign it to Potter's first detention; the boy always managed to clean his cauldrons the best… No, too long to wait, he mused as he turned to leave his private lab.
"Albus, this had better be something dire for you to call and make me ruin an experiment!" he thundered as he stormed into his sitting room.
"May I step through?" the old wizard asked. Severus waved him in with a muttered "Fine, you may as well," and joined his mentor in the wing chairs in front of the fire.
"Alright, Albus, what is it?" Snape asked, while resting his elbows on the armrests and clasping his hands over his midriff.
"Harry has just gotten a warning for underage use of magic…" the wizened old man began.
"So? That happens all the time with Muggleborns, I don't see the urgency," sniffed Severus with disdain. In fact he was surprised it didn't happen more often than it did, especially with Potter.
"And normally, that would be the case – a warning from the department of Misuse of Underage Magic and that would be that. The urgency comes in, my boy, with the fact that the blood ward warnings went off soon afterwards. Something has happened to jeopardize the boy's safety in the home."
"Safety!" Snape sneered. "Albus, I told you at the beginning of term that Potter did not look right! I suspected abuse then, but you wouldn't listen to Minerva or me."
"Yes, yes, I know – but none of it was physical abuse that threatened his life," he said sounding totally reasonable in his convictions.
Severus just looked at his headmaster incredulously. He would never get Dumbledore to understand that deprivation and verbal abuse was just as bad as physical blows – sometimes worse. He had given up trying, as a matter of fact, after years of trying to get the man to see reason, and just handled what cases he could find on his own, in his own Slytherin way. For instance, with Potter he had the elves spike his juice all year with a nutrient potion, as the boy appeared to be malnourished when he had arrived at the school. He would've taken a more direct hand in the situation if he could, but the boy had not been sorted into his house, and he had to maintain his distance from James' son; it was expected of him. Besides, he wasn't completely convinced that Potter was only verbally abused and woefully neglected; he was too skittish at times, suggesting that physical abuse may be mixed in with everything else. How he wished the boy had been sorted into his house so he could have taken a more direct hand.
"And I take it you believe this has changed?" he enquired dryly, not letting his thoughts play out on his face.
The old coot popped a sweet, from some hidden pocket in his robes, into his mouth, nodding in the affirmative. "I need you to check on his well-being and remove him if you think the situation warrants it."
Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Why me?" he mumbled to himself.
"You have more experience with Muggles than I do…" Albus started to reply.
Severus glared over at the other man. "That was a rhetorical question," he stated flatly.
"Oh." Dumbledore paused a moment. "Then you'll go?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, I'll go," he sighed. I owe it to her, he thought quietly to himself.
"Excellent!" Dumbledore grinned.
Harry was caught in a nightmare. He twisted and turned, moaning in his sleep as he relived his uncle's beating. He felt himself trying to protect his body and head by holding up his arms, only to get them strapped by Vernon's belt buckle. He writhed in his dream, and on top of his trunk, unable to escape.
His dream morphed into that of going after the stone. He tried to yell out warnings to his dream self, but he was ignored. He screamed when Ron was hit by the queen and went down with the rubble of his knight. And he screamed even harder when Quirrell removed his turban and Voldemort's face appeared at the back of his teacher's skull, the red eyes piercing his brain as they came closer and closer… He heard his mother's scream and a flash of green light, as he screamed even more!
A loud pounding on his door startled him to a semi-awake state as his uncle yelled through the air vent to shut up or Vernon would do the shutting up for him. Then Vernon did the worst thing he could do to Harry in the middle of a hot summer night: he shut the vent, effectively shutting out any fresh air. Harry hovered for several minutes between the land of sleep and painful wakefulness wondering, not for the first time, if there was anyone who truly cared for him. He hadn't heard from his friends – but he soon remembered that it was Dobby's fault he hadn't received their letters. He wished he had an adult he could turn to, but he had yet to find one… none of them cared, none of them wanted a skinny, runty kid… Harry fell back into unconsciousness, unshed tears glistening in his eyes, as the air got warmer, and more foetid.
Snape flooed to Arabella Figg's house, frightening the numerous cats into setting up a yowling when he stepped out of the fireplace into her parlour. Obviously an effective intruder alert, he thought amusedly.
Arabella quickly walked into the room, hastily shoving her arms into her dressing gown, exclaiming when she saw the tall, dark and menacing Potions Master, "Well, it is about time!" She glared up at the dour man, hands now placed firmly on her hips.
That startled Snape, and he turned his gaze upon her. "About time?"
"I've been complaining to Dumbledore constantly about that poor boy's home life with Pet – but he just shrugs it off, and then the wards went off tonight!" She huffed to herself, crossing her arms across her chest in peevishness.
Severus thought quickly; he needed to get over to Potter's house and did not have time to waste, but maybe Arabella was the linchpin he had been looking for all year.
"Arabella, could you write down all your observations for me and owl them to me at the castle? If Potter is really in trouble, I will need corroborating evidence later."
"Of course, of course…" she nattered at him. "I've been doing that all this while – Dumbledore would never accept them!"
Severus strode to the front door, avoiding the cats like a pro. "Thank you, Arabella, it will be an immense help!" He opened the door, and after performing an invisibility charm on himself, strode down Wisteria Lane to where it connected with Privet Drive.
Stepping over the low garden wall of number four, taking in quickly the almost military precision of the landscaping, he hurried to the front door where a quick Alohamora gained him entrance. He gently closed the door behind him, muttered a Finite and then Lumos to light his wand tip.
Photos adorned the hallway of the immaculately kept house – all of them showing Petunia's humongous get. The boy definitely took after his father: same fat face, same abundance of blond wavy hair, same small piggy eyes. Severus had met Vernon at Petunia's wedding – still going out with Lily at the time – and had not been very impressed with the man. He remembered that his love hadn't been either – and she had felt that Tuney could have done better for herself. But the horsy woman had insisted that Vernon loved her, and she him and nothing anyone in the neighbourhood said could change her mind. He snorted at the abundance of photos and noted that not a single one showed Potter.
Some sort of sixth sense urged him to use a point-me spell to find Potter, rather than heading straight upstairs to the bedrooms. He was therefore none too surprised when the wand pointed to the cupboard under the stairs. 'They wouldn't have…'
He shook his head slightly at the padlock on the hasp and vanished it immediately. It had not been a recent addition, showing wear and tear. So this was not something new. Taking a deep breath to fortify himself, he slid back the bolt, carefully opened the door and nearly gagged at the miasma that wafted from the tiny space. He reached to pull the string for the light and muttered an oath when it didn't come on; they had removed the bulb.
He lit his wand again and found the limp bundle of rags that was a beaten, broken, bleeding and battered Harry Potter, huddled in the corner under the stair risers on top of his chained school trunk. He gently levitated the boy off the trunk and onto the hall floor, sneering at the padlock and chains around it, which he promptly vanished and, knowing the owl had to be somewhere nearby, Accio-ed the rest of Harry's possessions. He heard a door creak open above him and soon a pitifully small parade of items – including the caged owl who peered around curiously, but thankfully stayed quiet – floated down the stairs into the now open trunk. Letting the owl loose out the front door with the instructions to fly to Hogwarts, Snape shrunk the trunk, placed it in his pocket, grabbed the Portkey from his other pocket and lifted Potter into his arms making sure he had a firm hold on the boy before whispering the activation phrase that whisked them off to Hogwarts infirmary. 'Merlin, Lily – what have they done to your son?' he thought to himself as the magic pulled them forward.
Severus deposited the boy on the closest bed and was about to start cleaning him up when the head nurse walked in.
"Severus, what… who is that?" she demanded, tightening the belt on her dressing gown, as if girding herself for battle, and throwing her greying plait over her shoulder, pulled her wand out of her front pocket.
"Potter," he answered shortly as he proceeded to vanish the boy's clothes – obviously hand-me-downs from the whale boy – and cast a Scourgify afterwards.
"Potter? What happened? Who did this?" she questioned him as she looked down at the small battered form.
"His relatives," Severus snapped out then lit the area better with a hanging orb of light.
This let the adults see the extent of the damage done to the pitifully small body. His innate magic had already begun to heal the myriad of small cuts and bruises, but the gash on the side of his head was clearly evident and had broken open again to seep blood onto the white hospital sheets. Fractures in the legs, arms and ribs were clearly visible, as well as the welts, and puncture marks, that had risen from Vernon's studded belt.
Pomfrey looked horrified for a moment before her training kicked in and she began to take wand readings and Accio-ed potions and salves as well as Potter's already well-padded chart from her office filing cabinet.
Severus helped administer the medicines by spelling the potions into the boy's stomach and set the broken bones as she catalogued the numerous injuries that had occurred recently as well as in the past. She had never done this before, not suspecting physical abuse of the boy, but with the evidence clearly in front of her she could now officially use the deep scans to determine how many, and the age of each offence to the boy. Only her training kept her from exclaiming, and her eyes dry, as she watched the information begin its lengthy list down the pages of his chart. Instead of tears, in fact, her eyes hardened as she took in the degree of the abuse. Those Muggles should be incarcerated at the least!
Snape noticed that the headmaster had wandered in at some point and was standing nearby, silently watching the proceedings, his eyes sorrowful as they peered over the half-moon glasses. Poppy finally stepped back after conjuring a set of pyjamas on Harry and tucking him in under the warm blankets – the castle still a bit draughty despite it being the summer.
Dumbledore finally cleared his throat to gain their attention.
"Yes, Albus, I know you're there," Poppy said wearily, without looking at the headmaster, as she finished making notes in the chart, her lips pursed in disgust.
"How is he?"
"He'll live," she snapped, slamming the folder down on a nearby nightstand, finally turning her wrath on him. "No thanks to his guardians! Blood wards or not, Albus, he can't go back there." She waved her finger under his nose.
"Not this year, at least," he prevaricated, stepping back from the angry witch.
"Never!" she declared, jamming her fists on her hips as she leaned towards him. "He should never go back there!"
Severus just stood at the head of Potter's bed, watching Pomfrey give Dumbledore the dressing down they both felt he deserved. Maybe he wouldn't need Figg's journals – but no, he probably should read them; they may yet serve some purpose.
"Perhaps. It may be a moot point – the wards have fallen," Albus said with a sigh.
Severus sniffed at the news; served tuna-breath, and that monster husband of hers, right. He sent a silent thank you to the heavens for the karmic balance and vowed he might tilt the balance a little more in Harry's favour by letting this little bit of information loose to certain people and letting them handle the problem. It was the least he could do.
The headmaster turned towards his potions professor. "You've been silent, Severus."
Severus looked askance at his superior, raising a haughty eyebrow. "What is there to say, sir? I have retrieved Potter for you, we have healed him of his physical injuries." He waved a hand to include Poppy in his comments. "However, with the wards failing, what are you planning to do with him for the rest of the summer? What do you have in mind to help heal his mind, seeing as how it most likely will be nearly shattered – not that I blame him, after seeing how his loving family pampered him – and don't you dare twinkle at me, old man!" he warned, as he saw the beginnings of a sparkle in his mentor's eyes signalling that Albus had, what he obviously thought, was a splendid plan. "You haven't read that report yet, I have!"
"Severus, you are the only one staying here the rest of the summer – well, except for Sybill…"
"Perish the thought!" the dark man snorted in derision at the thought of Potter being looked after by the dingbat of the divination tower.
"My thoughts exactly. You know Lily would want you to watch over and guide her son…"
"That is low and dirty even for you," growled Severus, looking thunderous at the manipulation.
"But I'm right." His eyes dared to twinkle as the edge of his mouth turned upwards.
"Yes, damn you, you're right," he said under his breath. He glared at his mentor for several moments. "All right, I'll take over his guardianship - for the time being," he added as a caveat.
"Splendid! I'll go ask the house-elves to add a room to your suite."
"Fine," Severus surrendered. "Here is Potter's trunk." He handed the headmaster the shrunken trunk from his pocket.
After the man had left, Severus conjured a comfortable chair and reading lamp and, summoning a few journals from his rooms, settled in next to his new ward to wait for Harry to wake up. Well, he could also daydream about James rotating in his grave; he snickered quietly to himself.