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The Seven Year Snitch


Dudley was actually too excited to eat? Harry couldn't believe it, either. He kept sneaking glances at his cousin, as well as at the untouched food on his plate, wondering if maybe it was some optical illusion. Dudley Dursley was never without his appetite.

And Harry didn't really understand why his cousin was so excited, either. Yes, for his birthday, his parents — Harry's aunt and uncle — were taking him to Disneyland in Orlando. Harry, who was not to accompany them, would have given his eyeteeth to go along. But Dudley always got everything he wanted, usually before he even wanted it, and so was rarely excited at the prospect of anything.

Harry shrugged and continued with his eggs. Maybe if Dudley really didn't finish his breakfast, Harry could eat it instead. But he wasn't counting on it. He had never seen one crumb left on his cousin's plate. Usually, Dudley was on his third or fourth helping when Harry was still blowing on his third or fourth mouthful.

Dudley may have been ready to wet himself in his anxiety to get going that morning, but Harry was somewhat less than aroused. After all, he wasn't invited. Not that it was anything new. Every year, on Dudley's birthday, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon dropped Harry off at old Mrs. Figg's over on Magnolia Crescent, where he watched the telly and listened to her talk about her cats all day while his cousin (sometimes accompanied by his friends) got chauffeured anywhere he wanted to go. This was Friday; this year, Harry would be staying at Mrs. Figg's for the whole week. He would leave her house for school every day until the next Monday, and the Dursleys would be home by the time school broke up. Dudley, of course, didn't have to go to school on Monday. Today, school was closed for some kind of teachers' meeting, otherwise Harry would already be there.

Aunt Petunia, a thin, nervous woman, was fluttering about the kitchen, muttering to herself. "I put the passports out so they'd be right here, and now I don't know where . . . Boy, what did you do with the passports?" she snapped, turning on him. Harry held up both hands and shook his head, but he was chewing and couldn't answer. She glared at him before resuming her search. In one sense, Harry thought it would be hysterical if they couldn't find the passports and had to stay home. However, even at seven years old, Harry knew that life was a lot easier when the Dursleys were happy, particularly Dudley. Revenge did not serve him well.

Petunia gave a gasp of relief when she spotted the passports on top of the microwave, and Harry got Dudley to finish his breakfast by reaching for a piece of the bacon on his plate. Dudley would have eaten ground glass had Harry expressed an interest in doing so himself — and he had contemplated pulling that particular stunt one or two times while locked away in his cupboard, after Dudley had gotten him in trouble for something, nothing, or both — and Harry had learned how to apply such tricks of reverse psychology at a very young age. He was probably the world's youngest therapist.

Too soon, the car was loaded and the Dursleys were ready to go. Somehow, the luggage had been packed in so tightly that there was only room for one passenger in the back. It was decided that Harry could walk down the road to Mrs. Figg's house, which didn't bother him very much, as it meant he'd be rid of his relatives' presence all that much sooner. They drove away without a backward glance, although Dudley stuck his tongue out at Harry as the car was backing down the driveway ahead of him. Harry hoisted his duffel bag of clothing up onto his shoulder and set off for the cattery where he was to spend his week.

Sunday afternoon, in the dungeons of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, twenty-seven-year-old Severus Snape was busy at his desk, catching up on paperwork. Severus, whose robes were black to match his mood, hair, and eyes so dark brown they might as well be black, was enjoying his solitude in the dark dungeon. Ebenezer Scrooge liked darkness because it was cheap, as are all things common; Severus Snape liked it because it was dear, hard to come by. He was not amused, then, to see his fireplace suddenly blaze green and reveal the head of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster.

"Severus, I know it's a bad time to disturb you, particularly with exams imminent, but something of grave importance has occurred. Would you be able to come to my office for a moment?"

"Would you be able to catch me if I ran?" Severus muttered under his breath. The Potions master sighed, but he wasn't entirely loath to leave off correcting his third-year students' essays. Sometimes he got so tired of marking things wrong that he skipped over the less glaring errors. Pausing for whatever Dumbledore wanted would mean he'd be raring to go with the red ink whenever the headmaster was through with him. "I'll be up directly, Albus," he promised, and the head disappeared, the flames returning to their normal colour.

Capping his bottle of red ink, Severus stretched his arms over his head and flexed his fingers, which were cramped from all the corrections he'd been making. He let out his breath with a whoosh and headed over to the fireplace. Throwing some Floo powder over the crackling fire, he gave the simple order, "Headmaster!" Stepping into the green glow, Severus braced himself for the whirling journey upstairs.

Dumbledore was waiting at a safe distance when Severus stumbled out of the grate, ash sifting off his billowing robes. He gave his Potions master a smile before pointing to one of the chairs in front of his window. Severus saw the man's lips forming a "W" and hastily cut him off. "No, Albus, I would not care for a lemon drop, thank you."

"Ah. Well, you won't mind if I help myself, then," Dumbledore rejoined cheerfully, placing a small enameled dish of the yellow sweets in his lap.

Like I care, thought Severus, drumming his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. But he hadn't long to wait; the headmaster got straight to the point.

"You remember, Severus, how nearly six years ago we placed Harry Potter" — at the sound of the name, Severus grimaced — "in the care of his aunt and uncle in Surrey. Arabella Figg has just informed me that they were killed while, ah . . ." Dumbledore's brow furrowed as he tried to recall Arabella's explanation. ". . . rolling on a coast, I believe."

"Potter is dead?" Severus asked in disbelief. His hands stilled. Surely the headmaster was mistaken.

"Oh, no, don't misunderstand, Severus; the boy is alive. His relatives went on holiday and left him with Arabella."

Severus relaxed. Not that he cared for the brat one whit, of course. But . . . Harry was Lily's son, after all.

Dumbledore steepled his fingers, the sweets forgotten momentarily. "We hardly saw this one coming, and it's a delicate situation. His aunt, as his only living relative, was the only one who could offer blood protection pursuant to Lily's sacrifice," the old man continued, "and at this point, anywhere we send young Harry, he'll be vulnerable."

"Well, what difference does it make, then?" snapped Severus. "Any Wizarding family would be happy enough to adopt the little brat, regardless of the dangers."

"It would hardly be fair to Lily, who gave her life for the child, to let him be raised by people who were only interested in the fame it would bring them," Dumbledore said severely. "You did promise to do all you could to protect him once we knew she'd fallen to Voldemort." Severus heard the unspoken words as clearly as if the old wizard had said them aloud. After you betrayed her . . .

"Well, then, what do you suggest?" he asked in exasperation. "You always know best what's to be done; I don't know why you even ask my advice." He half rose from his chair as if ready to leave.

"I'm not asking your advice, Severus. I'm asking you to become Harry's guardian."

Snape slowly sank down into the chair. "Albus, it's May, not December, so I don't know what kind of mulled mead you've been imbibing, but I beg you to think about what you're saying for a moment."

Dumbledore's gaze over his half-moon spectacles remained steady. "You are the most capable wizard I know. You will be well able to protect Harry from anyone who may wish him harm."

"I am not raising James Potter's spawn!" Severus had leapt from his seat and was now shouting in the old man's face. "If I wanted children . . . I don't want children. But that one? Absolutely not. James left him behind, just like he always left his messes behind for others to clean up, and I'm not picking up the pieces." He turned and stormed for the office door.

"He had some help, I think," Albus rejoined in a deadly calm voice. Snape froze, his hand dropping from the doorknob. "It was even requested of the Dark Lord that he spare the woman while showing no mercy to the man. They both died protecting their son, yet you place all the blame on James." Dumbledore slowly walked over until he was standing next to Severus, who still stared at the door, refusing to meet his gaze. "Normally, fraternisation with such kind would land the accused in Azkaban. Need I remind you why you were spared?"

Severus ground his teeth. "To protect Lily's child when he should come to Hogwarts," he admitted.

"To protect him, full stop. And he needs protection now, not in four years when he shall start school," Albus corrected. "Perhaps I've been too subtle by wording this as a request."

Severus slowly turned to face the old man. Albus Dumbledore may be getting on in years, even according to wizards' longer life spans, and perhaps he wasn't prone to raising his voice or making threats. He wasn't even doing so now, really. But Severus understood perfectly that he wasn't being offered a choice, nor was Dumbledore going to appear calm much longer unless he acquiesced immediately.

"All right," he said in a low voice. "I will take the br — the boy in. But," and here Snape wasn't planning on giving an inch, "I shall raise him as I see fit. That does not include pampering the spoiled Boy Who Lived. He'll be treated like any other child, and that includes discipline if he needs it. And I'm certain he will." He waited for the headmaster's response.

Albus smiled, and Severus relaxed slightly. "I certainly wouldn't want him pampered, nor spoiled by too much recognisance of his circumstances. However," — the spectacled eyes once more darkened — "if I suspect that young Harry is being actually mistreated . . . I will not be so forgiving twice."

"Where is he now?" asked Snape, to avoid direct rejoinder.

The headmaster stepped back, and the atmosphere cleared once again. "Still at Arabella's," he said easily. "You'll be taking him home to Spinner's End, I presume?"

Severus hadn't really thought about it. "I . . . what about teaching? Exams? O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s?" he asked, feeling a mounting frustration building. Could Potter have chosen a worse time to impose upon him?

"I see no reason why young Harry can't stay at your house while classes are in session," Dumbledore suggested. "I'm sure that Professors Flitwick or McGonagall would be more than happy to keep an eye on your students while they're testing, and Professor Sinistra could oversee Slytherin House in the evenings." He crossed to his desk and sat down. "There's such a short time until end of term. We'll have plenty of opportunities to make plans for next year."

Snape had to hand it to Albus; he always had a head for details. "Is it wise, though, to leave a seven-year-old alone all day?" he asked.

"I'm sure Harry will be perfectly safe," the headmaster smiled. "You still engage the house-elf . . . Noddy, I believe?" Severus . . . nodded. "House-elves are very trustworthy. He'll keep Harry safe, I have no doubt."

I meant will he tear my house to shreds? Snape inwardly rolled his eyes. Trust Albus not to care a whit for him or his possessions. He pulled out his watch and checked the time. Almost three p.m. "I'll bring him home and be back in the morning," he sighed. "If the little beast doesn't prevent it somehow."

"Thank you." The two words held a much deeper meaning than normal.

Severus nodded curtly at the old man before taking more Floo powder and saying, "Arabella Figg's!" Once again, he disappeared in a flash of green flame.

"Why is he dressed like that?" Harry whispered to Mrs. Figg. He was mesmerised by the ominous appearance of the man who'd just stepped out of the fireplace, of all things.

She smiled at him and answered, "Those are wizard robes, Harry. He's a wizard."

Harry was stunned. "A real wizard? Like Merlin?" He pictured the animated blue-robed old man from The Sword in the Stone with the pointy hat, and tried to reconcile that image with the man in the room. "He looks more like a vampire."

Mrs. Figg threw back her head and laughed, earning a disapproving glare from Snape. "Harry Potter, Severus Snape," she introduced, still chuckling. Harry nodded at the vampiric presence, but Snape did not reciprocate. Instead, he sat in the chair opposite the ones they occupied, staring so pointedly that Harry became uncomfortable and looked away. Finally, the man called Snape spoke to Mrs. Figg.

"I've just come from Albus's office," he said, "where he informed me that Potter's relatives had passed away."

"Oh, yes," she replied, squeezing Harry's shoulder and clucking her tongue. "It was terrible, just terrible. Apparently no one was paying attention to the weight limit on the roller coaster, and the wheels just went —"

"And as such," Snape interrupted, rolling his eyes, "the boy is now once again left on our hands." He glared at Harry, who felt guilty when he heard the situation put into that light. "What do you suppose we'll have to do for you now, Potter?"

"I dunno," Harry mumbled, scuffing the toe of his trainer on the floor. "I guess I'll get put in an orphanage."

"Well, there is one other option," Snape told him. "The headmaster of the school where I teach thinks it would be a good idea for you to come and live with me. So that I can protect you." His upper lip curled in a sneer. "I felt that it was a poor arrangement, and I assure you that I have infinitely better things to do with my time and houseroom. If you come to live with me, I won't put up with any nonsense, you just remember that."

Harry felt his stomach clench. Here was another adult that thought he was nothing but a nuisance. Mrs. Figg, strangely, spoke up on his behalf; he'd have thought she'd feel the same. "Now, Severus, Harry isn't any trouble." But the man wasn't finished; he waved off her protests.

"I'm not about to spoil you rotten as your family would," he continued, "no matter who your parents were or how famous you think you are."

Harry looked up eagerly, focusing on the message behind the words and disregarding the tone they were delivered in. "You knew my parents? What were they like? My aunt and uncle never talked about them, except they said my mum was a freak and my father was good for nothing. Aunt Petunia said I should have died with them when the car crashed."

Snape looked a little taken aback. "Your parents didn't die in a car crash, Potter," he said slowly. "They were killed by . . . your mother wasn't a freak, she was a witch. Didn't you know that much?"

Harry shot to his feet and drew himself up to his full height — which, granted, only brought him up to Snape's chest, though the man was still sitting — and his emerald-green eyes were flashing. "Don't you call my mother names!" he shouted.

Snape stood, too, and towered menacingly over him. "Sit down, Potter. Your mother was a witch because she could do magic; it's not an insult." Harry didn't move. "Sit down," Snape repeated, taking Harry's shoulder and pushing him back down on his chair. "In the future, you will address me as 'sir,' is that understood?" he ordered.

Harry nodded, gritting his teeth. "Yes, sir," he mumbled.

"Good. Now . . . you'll be staying at my house, in the care of my servant, until the school term is ended."

Harry had to ask. "What about school . . . sir? My school?"

Severus waved him off. "I hardly think you'll suffer from missing a week of Muggle school." Harry didn't understand that word, but missing school sounded wicked enough. "I'll come home in the evenings, and when summer holiday starts, I'll be there all the time. You will follow the rules I set you, is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," Harry muttered.

"Good." Snape stood up, Harry and Mrs. Figg following suit. "Come, Potter. We'll stop by the house and get your things."

Harry hesitated. Dudley had so many toys. This Snape man had no way of knowing whose things were whose, and he'd never guess Harry slept in the cupboard. He might not even especially care. He would probably think it odd, in fact, if Harry claimed that he had all his possessions in the duffel bag beside him. Harry could easily claim that Dudley's second bedroom was his, take a few of Dudley's toys and books, and put them in his bag without anyone being the wiser.

But the Snape man was shifting impatiently, glaring at him. He didn't want to go all the way back to the house if it was going to make his new guardian irritable. Besides, Harry was feeling so tired and empty. He really just didn't care about Dudley's toys. He didn't even care that Dudley was dead. He didn't care, period. "I have everything here, sir," he said quietly, pointing to the bag by the sofa.

Snape looked momentarily surprised, but then his eyes narrowed. "We'll not be coming back, Potter. Hear this, I'm not running errands hither and yon for you. If you leave your things behind, they're gone."

Harry was incensed by this; he'd been trying to make things easier for Snape. "These are all my things, sir," he repeated with a slight edge. "Everything else belongs to Dudley."

"As you wish." Snape dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Arabella, I thank you for your hospitality. We'll be leaving now."

"Of course," Mrs. Figg rejoined, and she hobbled over to Harry, running her wrinkled hands through his hair. "Goodbye, love. I hope you'll come back to visit," she said, giving him a kiss on the top of his head. She'd never been so nice to him before.

Harry murmured a goodbye and looked to Snape for what he should do next. The dark-eyed man walked over to the fireplace, and with his wand he lit the dormant logs until a fire blazed merrily. He then took down a pot from the mantel. He reached in and removed what looked like a handful of ash, which he threw into the flames, saying in a loud voice, "Spinner's End!" He turned back and beckoned to Harry, who hesitated. Snape impatiently grabbed his arm and pushed him toward the fireplace. "Hurry up, Potter. I haven't all day." Taking a deep breath, Harry squeezed his eyes shut and stepped into the fire.