Entry into the Potions and Snitches Prompt Fest 2009 (Posting it here at last, sorry for the delay, I was absorbed with reading everyone else's fabulous entries. They're over at P&S (a brilliant site!) if anyone wants to read some brilliant Guardian!Snape and Harry stories. There are some real gems!)
Title: The Biggest Mistake of Them All?
Beta: Graciella, thanks so much!
Prompts: A boggart under a bed and Bravery is overrated.
Summary: Everyone makes mistakes, even great men like Dumbledore. But was placing six-year-old Harry Potter with Severus Snape the biggest mistake of them all? Or maybe…it could work out after all.
Quick note: I am going to update my other fics soon, I promise, things have been ridiculous hectic, I wrote this ages ago and have only just got round to posting it. I haven't been writing this when I should be updating. I hope this will satisfy you for the meantime, please enjoy...
The door attacked the wall with a loud bang as one Severus Snape threw it open.
Albus Dumbledore looked up as his youngest teacher arrived, loudly, onto the scene.
"Ah, Severus. So glad you could make it," Dumbledore's eyes twinkled infuriatingly.
"I was given little choice," Snape pointed out stiffly. "I was given little choice on everything, actually. I do not see anyone else making all of these 'sacrifices' and yet they expect me to without a word of complaint."
"Come, come, Severus. Harry is just a little boy, and it's only for a few days."
"I would merely have liked to have been given the option to refuse."
"But you would have taken that option, Severus. I couldn't allow that."
"Anyone with any sense would have taken that option!"
A small whimper from the back of Dumbledore's chair informed Snape that the burden had arrived.
"Now, Harry. Uncle Severus — " He paused very briefly and then continued over Snape's instant eruption. " — doesn't mean it. He's just a little unhappy that he wasn't given more warning. I'm sure the two of you will be best friends by tomorrow."
The sceptical expression was mirrored on both of their faces.
"Now, shall we go through the arrangements?"
"Should we not have done this before now?" Snape demanded.
"Now, Severus, we are rather behind schedule. You did prove harder to convince than I anticipated, and — "
"Ah, it's my fault. So sorry, I hadn't realised. Do ignore me and continue the plan for the annihilation of the very first week I've had off since last summer holiday."
So Dumbledore did, with the accompaniment of rather loud tooth-grinding by an angry Potions Master.
"Don't be scared, Harry, you'll just be staying with Professor Snape" — at least he had learnt from his previous mistake — "until your aunt and uncle come back from Florida. I'm sure you'll be quite sorry to leave when that time comes."
If he lives for that long, Snape added silently.
Harry whimpered, as if he could tell what the surly man was thinking.
Immediately, the onyx eyes fixed on the small boy who was shaking hard, his eyes wide and fearful and his hands clasped together so tightly that a small bead of blood ran down one palm. Evidently, Snape thought, the new generation of arrogant Gryffindors was even more foolish than the last.
He realised that Dumbledore had not yet ceased his enthusiastic bumbling, to which neither Snape nor the boy seemed to be listening, and fought the urge to tell the old man just what he could do with his instructions. If he was going to be forced into looking after the brat for over a week, then the least they could do would be to let him conduct himself in his own way without poking their infuriatingly long noses in.
He still wasn't sure how he had even managed to get this job. One minute he was steadfastly refusing, and the next they were discussing Lily and he found himself agreeing to all sorts of things. It always was Lily who could persuade him to do anything. Even now, it seemed that her spell had not broken.
Eventually, the urge refused to be bit down. "Thank you, Albus. I can assure you that I will be positively running back with the br — boy next week and he will be in one piece. I'll try to remember to feed him too, and restrain myself from chopping him up for a potion. I think I'll just take the boy back to my rooms now, I need to finish off a potion…and…Potter will want to…settle in?" The prospect seemed highly unlikely to Snape as he stared down at the boy; as if a Potter would ever be 'settled' in his lair.
"But I hadn't quite finished — " Dumbledore attempted.
"We won't be down for dinner tonight, so the elves shall bring us something. Perhaps tomorrow we'll eat in the Great Hall, if we're still surviving," Snape continued as he propelled the six-year-old, who had looked positively terrified upon hearing about 'elves,' out of the door. "Goodbye, Albus." Try not to choke on a lemon drop.
He strode along the corridors, little Harry tripping after him and making a tremendous racket. How could anyone creep up on first years to take away House points and get a little therapy when they had the thumping and bumping of a six-year-old at their heels?
"Now, Potter, here is your room. I'd appreciate it if you could limit all of your annoying tendencies to the boundaries of this room." Like breathing.
"My potion will be useless now — all credit to you, Potter — and so I shall occupy myself in the living area with Potions Weekly. I'll leave you to…settle in."
Snape had no sooner settled himself into an armchair with a heavily caffeinated cup of Wizard Coffee and a long-awaited special edition of Potions Weekly when the slap of feet told him that the Boy Who Lived To Disturb Him was coming to do just that.
But Potter didn't immediately launch into a tirade of complaints on all the shortcomings of his room — the lack of a solid gold headrest, perhaps — or begin begging to be played with or read to. Potter did nothing.
Snape should have been happy about that, as it had been the scenario he had hoped for most. But how was anyone to get absorbed in a good magazine when an eerie pair of emerald eyes stared unblinkingly — accusingly — at them?
"Could you not use this time period productively? When I was your age, I craved stimulation." Snape did not look up from his magazine, but he didn't need to to realise that the boy made no attempt to move or answer him. He growled. He had thought even a future Gryffindor would have understood that.
"Go and read a book or draw a picture and amuse yourself," he translated crossly, looking up at the six-year-old.
Still, Harry did not move.
Throwing the paper down, Snape strode over to the boy and grabbed him by the arm, causing a squeak of protest from little Harry. He marched him down a long corridor and through a few doors — some of them hidden, much to Harry's confusion — toward the library.
The tall man plucked a tiny book from the lowest shelf, thrust it into the boy's uncertain hands, placed one of his own large hands on the boy's head and gently pushed him down into a seat.
The door banged as Snape left.
Snape left him for about an hour, plenty long enough for even a Gryffindor dunderhead to look at the pictures in the babyish book he had handed him. Potter had been completely silent, which surely was a good sign, a sign that his library was still in one piece?
Just in case the brat were doing anything which might give him an excuse to dump him straight back on Dumbledore, Snape crept into the library as silently as he could.
Potter was sitting exactly where Snape had left him, the closed book still clasped in his hands and his wide eyes just staring round. He had not moved since Snape had left him, hadn't even attempted to look at the book.
Snape felt his temper boil and he was just about to make a few well-picked, scorching comments when Harry's stomach grumbled loudly.
Snape glared at him angrily before stalking back into the living room, shouting something which sounded like, "Tea, Tinky. Now!"
Harry scuttled after him, book still tightly gripped in his sweaty palms. He paused in the doorway. The table in the corner of the lounge had been set up with huge plates of steaming food. How had that gotten there? And why had Harry not had to cook it?
"Sit," Snape barked.
Uncertainly, Harry reached towards a large crusty slice of bread, wide eyes piercing Snape's all the while. He hesitated and then slipped it onto his plate. Snape's eyes rolled as he began to fill up his own plate. Potters had to make a drama out of everything. Realising that Snape was not about to grab the food back off him, Harry began to guzzle as much food as possible. His hands splashed into bowls of pasta, he crammed it into his mouth, the sauce running in rivers down his face and spotting the table cloth.
Snape fought the urge to be physically sick. Potter did not have table manners; he was practically uncivilised. Had he never eaten at a table before?
"Would you perhaps like me to fetch you a lead and collar tomorrow?" Snape asked acidly.
Harry's face darkened, and although Snape was sure he did not understand what was meant, he did seem to sense the disapproval and promptly let his hands drop onto the table and resumed his old motionless position.
This was going from bad to worse — how did Dumbledore ever think that this was going to work out? Snape sighed, and then decided he could bear it no longer.
"Get ready for bed now, Potter."
Thump, thump, thump, bang, then the slap of feet on the cold, uncovered floor again.
Potter appeared in front of him, wearing some old rags that looked like he had wrapped around his wiry frame at least three times. His black hair was mussed up from the quick change, and his cheeks reddened as Snape looked him up and down.
Snape did not know whether the boy were doing this to make him look like a bad guardian, which seemed a heavy-duty plan for a six-year-old, or whether Potter's guardians were not all Dumbledore claimed they were. But Snape found he didn't really care either way. He was a schoolteacher; he was not an investigator any more than he was a babysitter. Dumbledore said regular checks were done on Privet Drive, and if he was being his usual senile old self, then that was no business of Severus's.
Potter didn't look like he had any injuries, and Madam Pomfrey had reported nothing when Dumbledore had taken Harry into the hospital wing, so why should Snape be the one doing everybody else's job anyway? If he said anything, then Dumbledore would only get another crackpot idea like Harry leaving with him permanently. Now that was something he would have nightmares about.
In fact, Dumbledore had probably set this up just so Snape would report it, and so he could get saddled with the brat permanently. Well, Severus Snape was a Slytherin, and he was not going to fall for that trap!
"Good night, Potter."
The brat didn't reply, just turned tail and fled back up to his bedroom. Gryffindors never had manners.
But seconds later Harry was back, an occurrence which repeated itself at an alarming rate over the following hour…
"Potter! What do you think you are doing?"
Harry held up a glass silently before padding over and filling it up with water.
Snape glared at him as the boy slowly walked back to his allotted bedroom.
"Potter! What now?"
Harry pointed at the bathroom door.
Snape gritted his teeth. Was he really so low down in the hierarchy that Prince Potter could not even bring himself to speak to him?
A toothbrush was held up confidently; it looked suspiciously like Snape's own.
The teeth ground harder.
"For the love of Merlin, Potter!"
A blanket was fetched from the cupboard.
"Just go to bed, Potter!"
One second later he was back — this wasn't a surprise, judging by the evening so far, but at least before the brat had always given him a few minutes to recuperate before his next appearance.
"T-t-t-there's something under the bed," Harry whispered. The very first words he had said since setting foot in the castle. He looked like he was screwing up every ounce of courage he had to say them, too.
Silently, Snape cursed the child as he led the way back into the brat's bedroom. He was only succumbing to this, instead of just throwing the child back into bed, because Potter had finally deigned to talk to him, so he realised it might be important.
Plus, he had promised Dumbledore that he would protect the child…not that he cared what that meddling old coot thought. If Voldemort is hiding under the boy's bed, then I will find him.
"No, nothing there. Good night."
"But you haven't even looked!" Harry protested. "I'm scared."
"Bravery is overrated, Potter." Snape snarled.
Snape wondered if Dumbledore would mind very much if he did a quick practice of the Cruciatus Curse. He was about to risk it and do it anyway when the dratted eyes met with his again.
Snape looked over his shoulder to check that the coot hadn't come down to say good night or anything equally invasive. The hallway was as empty as ever. Sighing, the scariest teacher ever to teach at Hogwarts knelt on the floor and glanced quickly at the vacant space under the bed.
"There is nothing there, Potter. Stop procrastinating and trying my patience and get into bed."
"Unless you want to help me do some late-night brewing. Human brain is most useful for certain potions," Snape threatened idly.
Potter's face crumpled, much to Snape's horror.
"Potter, I can assure you that any potion with any trace of you as an ingredient would be much darker magic than would ever be brewed in my laboratory. I am merely…persuading you to return to bed."
Harry did not look convinced.
"Potter! I have neither the time nor the inclination to chop you into little bits. It is typical Potter arrogance that you would even believe yourself to be a valuable ingredient!" Snape snarled angrily, then immediately peered worriedly at the child who he was sure would be a snivelling mess by now. Already he was dreading having to mop the little brat up.
But Harry had his hands pressed against his mouth in a desperate attempt to stop himself from laughing. Snape glowered at him. He had had to tread carefully around the brat all day and now he had finally given into temptation and told the brat what he thought and the brat thought it was amusing!
"Bed, Potter. Now," he growled.
Harry's face dropped instantly.
"B-b-b-but there's something under the b-b-bed," he stuttered, eyes filling up.
Harry was about to start sobbing at any second. Snape attempted to prevent it with a deep scowl, but the first tear just trailed down his cheek. Snape attempted a smile, which turned more into a grimace as the first tear was followed by several more. He needed to do something, quickly.
"Okay, Potter, I'll check again." He knelt back down, quickly swiped his arm under the bed and then leapt back to his feet pretending to be holding something very wriggly.
"There you go, Potter, you merely had a boggart under your bed. It's gone now, so you can pop into bed and go to sleep."
Harry's face brightened instantly and he smiled toothily at the surly Potions Master. Who said he wasn't good with children?
"Can I have a bedtime story?" he asked hopefully.
A bedtime story. He has a Death Eater scrabbling around on his floor at his bidding and he still isn't satisfied that he has caused enough embarrassment for one day.
Snape opened his mouth to refuse, a smouldering criticism on his lips…and the eyes got him again.
Harry's face lit up and his eyes shone, just like Lily's always had…
Of course, just one quickly turned into just four.
Snape consented to reading dull adventure stories about dragons and witches that all had disgusting boils on their noses — why did he even have these things on his bookshelves? — and Harry repaid him by looking utterly contented, his green eyes fluttering occasionally but continuing to shine happily.
He'll fall asleep in a minute, and then I can stop. He'll fall asleep and then I c —
Severus Snape's head fell forwards and the book fell out of his hands with a crash. Harry looked up in alarm and then, only half-conscious himself, he clamoured up onto the scary man's knee and let his head fall against his chest.
As the clock struck twelve, the fire roared and Dumbledore stepped out. His half-moon glasses slipped down his nose as he saw the two cuddled up in a chair together, fast asleep.
Minerva owed him three bags of lemon drops — he knew this would work out. Now he just had to tell Severus Snape that Harry's one-week stay was looking more like one lifetime…