He apparated onto the windswept island in the teeth of a howling gale, his city boots slipping on the seaweed strewn rocks. As he peered into the driving rain he cursed Albus-bloody-Dumbledore, that over grown oaf Hagrid and most of all, and with the greatest venom, that thrice accursed Potter brat. What the seven hells did the old fool think would happen if the brat didn't get the letter until after his eleventh birthday? The End of Life As We Know It? The Return of the Dark Lord? The Boy Who Lived's Precious Feelings might get hurt?
The moon came out from behind a cloud, revealing the appalling little shack on the cliff top and he stumped towards it, his temperature rising with every icy blast of spray. When he finally arrived, he didn't bother knocking. He had no intention whatsoever of waiting outside until someone deigned to let him in. Wand in hand and a dozen suitably hexes brought to mind, he simple entered.
Less than half an hour later, he disapparated leaving behind him a mute Vernon Dursley, a hysterical Petunia Dursley and a Dudley Dursley now sporting a particularly prominent snout. He reappeared in the Leaky Cauldron with a small, shabby boy held firmly by the hand.
"Wow! So it's all real?"
"If by that incoherent exclamation you meant that magic is real, yes." Snape peered down at the child at his side before calling. "Tom! Tom! Ah, there you are. I need a room for myself and the boy and breakfast in the morning." The landlord came out from behind the counter, wiping his hands on a cloth - Snape had never seen him without it - and snatched a key from a board behind the bar.
"Number 5, "he grunted, hitching his head towards the stairs. Snape strode off, not turning to see that his charge followed but aware of the pattering feet which eventually caught up with him. Number 5 was obviously a family room, with a large four-poster and a smaller bed under the window.
"You will sleep there, Potter," he said, pointing. "You will stay in bed until I awake in the morning and you will not under any circumstances leave the room. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir." The boy made no move towards the bed. "Erm... what about, you know. The loo and things."
A door in one wall flew open to reveal elderly but clean facilities. "You will wash your face and hands, clean your teeth and use the lavatory. If you need to go again in the night, you may." The boy scurried past him and the door shut, judging by the noises his charge was obeying instructions - at least he had the brat sufficiently overawed for the time being. He sank onto the bed, wondering how on earth he had ended up here. Just because the giant's dog was supposedly "poorly" he had refused to leave his hut, and both Dumbledore and McGonagall claimed to be too old for rigours of the island. And who did that leave? Muggins, that's who. Now he was stuck with the boy until they had bought his school supplies. Which reminded him - he pulled a pillowcase from the bed and transfigured it into a nightshirt for the boy. There was no point in making those ghastly clothes look worse by sleeping in them; he had never understood what passed for fashion amongst muggles and they only seemed to get uglier year by year.
The boy scurried out, his face shining and his hair standing on end. "There is a nightshirt for you on the bed. You will get changed while I am in the bathroom. I do not want to hear a peep from you until morning." He saw Potter eyeing the nightshirt dubiously, but he obviously decided against complaining and started to unlace his shoes.
Inside the bathroom, Snape stared at his reflection in the mirror, wondering not for the first time why all bathroom mirrors, muggle and magic, made one look like death imperfectly reanimated. As he brushed his teeth and used the facilities, he thought longingly of his rooms back at Hogwarts, the thick fluffy towels, his own self-pasteing toothbrush. He stopped, the other toothbrush was unused, and he had distinctly told the boy to clean his teeth. Well, there was no way he was going to allow the boy to start by disobeying him at this early stage in their acquaintance. Better nip this in the bud right away.
He re-entered the bedroom and strode over to the smaller bed. The room was dim, but as he bent over the bed, he smelt the unmistakeably minty smell of Tunstall's Tooth Talc, and there, on the index finger of the hand which lay on top of the covers, was a faint smear of paste. What on earth was the boy playing at? He heard the soft, sleep-breathing and decided to wait until morning to find out.
He straightened up and went to his own bed, taking a nightshirt from one pocket, he returned it to its proper size and prepared to sleep. Somewhat to his surprise, it took less than a minute.
He woke next morning and lay very still, listening for sounds from the other bed. After a few seconds, he was grudgingly forced to admit that there were none. When he opened his eyes, he found the Potter boy, fully dressed save for his shoes, sitting cross-legged on the bed watching him. He grunted and stumbled into the bathroom. He was never very good-humoured first thing in the morning and the sight of that hopeful little face - that face - starting at him did nothing to improve his mood.
Breakfast started oddly and got odder. The brat stared at the food as though he had never seen porridge, toast and milk before. A pair of tentative green eyes slid in his direction and it wasn't until he started to eat himself, that the boy picked up a spoon and dug in. Then, as he read The Daily Prophet, the boy took out his letter and reread it.
It was obvious that the boy had missed the second sheet, because reading it appeared to upset him.
"What on earth is the matter, Potter?
"Um.. All these things - I haven't got any money. I can't pay for them and Uncle Vernon won't. "
"Surely you have learned not to believe a word those muggles told you. You have money. We will fetch some from the bank this morning."
The boy considered this. "Will there be enough for other things than the list?"
Typical! "I will not stand by while you waste your inheritance, young man. You will not throw your money away on toys nor rot your teeth with sweets."
"No, no." The boy dared to protest. "I only meant for pants and socks and... and.. pyjamas and things. I haven't got any that didn't used to belong to Dudley." He looked down in embarrassment. "I don't want the others to laugh at me there too."
Snape sat back in his chair and contemplated the child before him. While the muggles were definitely an unsympathetic bunch, he had not thought of them as actively neglectful. Or was it worse than that?
"Potter?" The boy looked up from the bowl of porridge he was examining as though it were the most fascinating object in the room. "Are all your clothes cast-offs of your cousin?"
The boy nodded uncomfortably. "I don't mind, usually," he said. "I know I'm a burden they didn't want, but it would be nice to have some things that fit. Um...." He looked up, his eyes huge and guileless behind his broken glasses. "If there's only money for one thing, can it be shoes? I've got toilet paper in the toes of these to keep them on."
A wave of rage swept over Snape and he seized hold of it with all his might, anything to avoid the underlying pang of compassion. He jumped to his feet. "Have you finished that?"
No fool, the boy dropped his spoon and got up. "Yes, sir."
"Then follow me!" They swept out of The Leaky Cauldron at high speed. Madame Folds' Family Outfitters was their first stop. A startled shop assistant ran to serve them. "This young man," said Snape in a don't-argue-with-me-just-get-on-with-it sort of voice. "Has lost all his clothes in a muggle house fire. He needs 7 pairs woollen school socks, grey. 4 pairs woollen socks, casual. 7 pairs of boxers, 7 winter vests, two pairs of pyjamas, one dressing gown, two pairs of casual trousers,(one of them can be muggle-style jeans), 5 white school shirts, 3 woollen school jumpers, a scarf, gloves, 3 casual long-sleeved shirts, 4 casual short sleeved shirts and two casual jumpers . Please have a selection of the casual wear ready for our inspection when we return. "
Harry watched in delight as a quill pen, hovering in mid-air apparently took notes of all this without anyone holding it, then had to race after the professor as he swept out of the shop and into one next door.
This was a shoe shop and within minutes Harry had been provided with one pair school shoes, one pair really rather nice trainers, one pair slippers (a bit old-fashioned-looking but warm) and one pair Wellington boots, all enchanted to grow with his feet until the same time next year.
"Have I really got enough money to pay for all this?" Harry panted as they left the shoe shops and, so far as he was concerned, sprinted into another. Madam Malkin, Magical Outfitters.
"Don't be ridiculous, children do not pay for their own necessities. I am paying for these." He cut right across Harry's astonished thanks. "Ah, Madam Malkin, a complete set of robes etc. for Hogwarts, please. We need to pick them up by the end of the afternoon."
"That won't be a problem, sir," said the motherly lady in the shop, who simply picked Harry off his feet and set him on a stool to be measured, although why they needed to know some of the measurements he could not imagine. What did they need to know the diameter of his knee caps for?
Then back into the first shop where Harry was confronted with a bewildering array of casual clothes. He knew he did not like black shirts or jumpers, or the yellow ones come to that, but other than that he had no idea. Some of these didn't even look like the clothes he was used to. One T-shirt had a dragon that moved on the front! And though it looked wicked, it was probably too expensive.
He was conscious of the professor at his side, tapping his feet and looking impatient and eventually he had to ask. "I don't know what to have. I've never chosen my own clothes before." He flinched, expecting sarcasm at the least and a clip round the ear at worst. It was all right though, because the professor looked at first annoyed and then took a deep breath and, together with the shop-lady, Harry and he sorted through the clothes until he had a set that satisfied them both.
For the first time in his life, Harry knew he wouldn't be the one in the class who looked like a right dork. Even the pjs were nice - warm flannel in blue and white stripes, like the ones they had in the Famous Five books he'd devoured at school. He didn't even mind when the professor made him take off Dudley's old trainers and put on a new pair of socks and his new trainers, right there in the shop where every one could see the holes in Dudley's old socks. It was worth it, just for the way he could wiggle his toes and he'd be able to run like the wind. He looked up to see the shop-lady taking the old shoes and socks away at arm's length. "Miss! Miss! Please can I have those back?"
Snape and the lady both looked at him in astonishment. "If I have to go back to the Dursley's tonight, I can't wear the new ones or they'll take them off me."
Snape's face grew thunderous and Harry couldn't help taking a step backwards. He reckoned he was probably safe in a public place but even so.....
"They will do no such thing, not if they want their ears to stay attached to their heads. Don't worry, Po-- Harry. I shall be coming with you when you go home, I shall have words to say to the Dursleys."