The small boy shivered under the cold moonlit sky. He was dressed in only a pair of baggy shorts and a ragged t-shirt that was much too large for him. The child's bare feet were nearly frozen from where he sat hunched over on the frosty pavement.
"Get out of my sight, boy!" His auntie had screeched at him that evening. He had tried to make his way to his cupboard, but had been thwarted by his aunt.
"Get out! Out! I don't want you dirtying my household for the rest of the night!"
She had promptly tossed him out the door into the frigid winter air, where he had landed rather ungracefully at a heap on the walk.
That had been at least two hours ago and the small boy was beginning to wonder if he was truly going to survive the night. He hadn't eaten anything that day, and his extremities had long grown numb.
He shook his head in an effort to keep alert. It would be so easy just to give up and die out here alone. He was quite sure that no one could possibly ever miss him.
How very wrong he was.
He jerked, barely able to move from the trancelike state he had been nearly dozing in.
Had he really heard a voice say his name?
His relatives never called him by his name; to them, he was always just "freak" or "boy." He must have dreamed it.
He shook his head slowly, trying to make himself focus. For an instance, he could have sworn he had seen a hand—a lady's hand—reaching out to him. Did everyone hallucinate before death?
"Harry, it's time to get up."
He squinted out into the darkness in front of him. The voice sounded . . . nice. It was gentle. Maybe it was talking to some other little boy called Harry. Surely no one would speak to him in such a way.
"My little one," the hand reached for him again and he took it without thinking. In his nearly frozen state, it felt no different than anything else, and yet, it was.
"Come with me," the whispered voice of the woman sounded so familiar.
"Okay," he answered before disappearing off of the cold walkway.
. . .
Severus Snape awoke with a jerk. He often had nightmares from his time spent under the thumb of the Dark Lord, but he could remember no dreams—good or bad—before waking.
He tried to lay back down and go back to sleep, but he couldn't help but feel that something was off. With a sigh, he swung his long legs over the side of the bed and put his slippers and robe on, then quietly made his way out to the living area of his quarters.
He turned the corner of his soft worn couch and came to a dead stop as he stared dumbfounded down at the small figure crouched on the floor at the other side. He blinked and realized with a start that it was a just a little boy, possibly no more than three or four years old. Hesitantly, he took a step forwards and then another when the child didn't move. The boy continued to stare at the floor as though he hadn't noticed Severus's entrance into the room.
Severus sank down onto the edge of the couch as he continued to stare at his uninvited visitor. The boy's messy black hair was dirty and matted down, and now that he was closer, he could clearly see the child's bone structure poking out from underneath pale, almost bluish skin.
Sweet Merlin, he's nearly frozen.
The child could die if he didn't do something soon.
. . .
"Why are you on the floor?" The voice penetrated his consciousness slowly. He looked up and was amazed to find himself inside, sitting beside a couch. Upon the couch sat a tall man dressed in black nightclothes and a robe. Clearly Harry had awakened the man, and he felt a short burst of guilt.
"Why are you on the floor?" The man asked again and he blinked at the odd inquiry.
"Auntie says that only people gets to sit on the furniture," he answered very slowly, his tongue and mouth having to work extra hard to compensate for their nearly frozen state.
"And what pray tell would that make you? You're much too small to be a goblin," the man said with a smirk.
"I'm a freak," he answered in a very matter of fact manner; parroting the words he had repeatedly heard come from his relative's mouths.
"Codswallop," the man's voice was hard and he shrank back in fear, not knowing how the man would react.
"You are a person, the same as I am," the man in black said to him in a gentler voice.
"But auntie said—," he started, only to be cut off by the man's sudden movement towards him. He held himself very tightly as the man came to where he was, before kneeling down next to him.
. . .
Severus easily picked up the small almost frozen child and then sat back down on the couch. The boy had stiffened even further when he had touched him and it sent warning bells off in his mind.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said in a soothing voice to the small child curled up tightly in his lap. Severus could feel the cold from the boy's skin seeping through his pants, and without thinking, he opened his robe and surrounded the child with it. Then he pulled the boy in next to his chest and put his arms around his back. Thankfully, the fire was still going strongly in his fireplace; so the room was fairly warm, but he knew that the child needed to raise his body temperature more quickly than either he or the room could help with.
He looked down at the small lump of boy that was pressed in tightly against his torso and he had to fight against smirking to himself as he imagined what others might say should they see him like this.
. . .
The man's body was like a furnace next to his chilled skin, and although it was somewhat painful to be next to, it was also amazingly comforting. He couldn't help but stretch his arms out a bit around the side of the tall man.
. . .
With the boy pressed securely against his side, he stood up and walked them both over to the doorway that led to his personal potions' lab. He pressed his hand against the enchanted door and it opened, allowing them entry. With a purposeful stride, he quickly made his way over to the cabinet that held his completed potions.
Once he had the needed potions to combat frostbite and the pain that would accompany the warming of the boy's skin, he turned around and headed back to the couch that they had come from.
He looked inside his robe to where the boy was still pressed silently against him and was momentarily taken aback by the sight of two bright green eyes staring intently back at him.
"You are very nearly frozen through, little one," he murmured softly, uncapping the first potion with the fingers of his left hand.
"Auntie told me to get out," was the soft and unexpected reply.
"Out of her sight?"
"Out of her house," was the softly spoken correction.
Such bright green eyes! They remind me so much of my sweet Lily.
"And she didn't have you put on a coat or any warmer clothes?"
"Don't have no warmer clothes," the boy shivered suddenly and Severus looked down at the potion he had waiting ready in his hand.
"We need to get you warmed up before you get sick," he said, stroking the thin back of the boy.
Before you die, was his unspoken addition.
The potion he had the boy take was not a particularly pleasant tasting one, but the child surprised him by not making any reaction to drinking it.
Once again, the boy's bright eyes caught his attention and he found himself thinking of his friend.
"I had a friend once who had the same eyes as yours," he told the child, surprising himself with his admission.
"Was she nice?" The boy looked up hopefully at him and he found himself unable to speak.
"How did you know that it was a 'she'?" He asked instead.
"I dunno," the boy looked confused.
"She was very nice," Severus continued softly.
He uncapped the other potion and the boy surprised him again by opening his mouth obediently. Once that was complete, Severus banished the empty potion vials back into their places in his lab; aware that the child's attention followed his every movement as he did so.
. . .
He was warm, he was safe, and if it weren't for the persistent ache in his stomach, little Harry would already have fallen asleep.
The tall man was still looking at him, but he found that he was not threatened by the man's gaze; certainly not like he was with his auntie's. Somehow, she always made him feel as though he had done something horribly wrong, even if all he was doing was sitting there quietly breathing.
. . .
The child was clinging to his side like a baby opossum to its mother. It was a ridiculous mental image for a figure as stern and imposing as he, but it was fitting nonetheless.
The boy was rail thin, little more than a tiny sack of bones; each of which he could feel from where they were pressed against him.
He has been starved.
It was an infuriating thought.
"Kayla," Severus said, summoning one of his personal house elves with a word.
There was a pop of displaced air, and then Kayla was standing in front of them. At his side, the small boy gave a cry and buried himself even tighter against his body; somehow managing to worm his way around to the small of Severus's back in the process.
"Masters Snape, what can—? Oh!" The small elf said with a squeaky high pitched cry, wringing her hands together as she did.
"Hold on," he instructed the elf, as he turned his body around enough to grasp the small boy by his shoulders and pull him back out into the light.
Now holding a little squirming boy in his large hands, he presented said child to the elf for a moment, before pressing the lad squarely into his chest.
"Hush, it is only a house elf. Have you never seen one? I suppose not, judging from your reaction," he murmured mostly to himself, unaware of how soothing the little one was finding the sound of his voice rumbling against his much smaller body.
"Kayla," he said, turning his attention back on his elf for a second, "I need a small bowl of warm broth and some clean clothes for the child. You saw his size; perhaps you can find something in the attic, but if not, feel free to make something." This particular Snape elf was well known for her sewing prowess, which was why Severus had called her.
"Yes sir, Masters Snape," she said, nodding her head energetically, her bulbous eyes bright and shining with the prospect of providing help, especially to a little one in such obvious need.
Then there was another pop, and then they were alone once more.
"In the meantime, perhaps we can find you a bath," Severus said, looking down at the bright green eyes that were once again staring up at him.
. . .
Little Harry didn't like baths. They hurt. They scared him. Auntie's nails pinched his skin; leaving blood filled crescent shaped marks that he would find afterwards. The bath water would scald his skin, and Auntie was never too careful about his head in regards to the sides of the bathtub. Sometimes she scrubbed him with a wire brush and he would scream, resulting in a need for her to punish him later. And always, he could feel her hands around his throat, threatening to snap his neck like some kind of wayward chicken.
No, it was fair to say that little Harry didn't care for baths in the least.
"No! Please! No bath. Please," he begged, as he felt the man stand up, arms still firmly around his back.
"Baths are nothing to fear," the tall man soothed.
Little Harry whimpered, but stopped protesting; knowing all too well that the fight against big people was ultimately fruitless.
Meanwhile, the man carried him into presumably the bathroom, and then knelt down beside a large claw footed tub. Only one arm was around Harry's back now, as the other was fiddling with the water that he could now hear pouring into tub next to them.
He whimpered again, he couldn't help it. The word "bath" brought back so many bad memories for the little boy; scenes filling his mind's eye of him screaming and being slapped for it; seeing his skin turn bright red with the burning water; watching his aunt "slip" and accidentally nearly drown him. He was quaking in fear by the time the man finally deemed the water ready and began to remove his overlarge shirt.
"Please," he gasped, "please," he seemed unable to form sentences now, his fear completely overriding his ability to do much else.
He could only clamp weak fingers down on the tall man's soft pajama shirt and peer helplessly up through the dirty mane of his hair.
"Look here," the man said, showing him the water. It wasn't very deep, barely enough to cover his rump—little as it was.
"I won't hurt you; nor will I allow you to be hurt. That's all I can promise, but trust me when I tell you that it is enough." The man's dark eyes were piercing as they looked at one another, and he felt himself relax his grip ever so slightly from around his dark shirt.
"Baths hurt," he argued in a whisper.
"They should not," the man disagreed with a shake of his head.
"Water hurts," he whimpered, trying to keep his tears at bay by biting down on his lower lip.
He watched the tall man's jaw clench and he drew back in fear. The man was angry with him!
"Am sorry! Please. I'm sorry," he said, holding himself as he curled up into a tinier space. It completely escaped his notice that the man's arm was still holding him close even as he let go.
"Water should not hurt," the man said in a softer voice as he became aware of little Harry's anxiety. Little Harry watched carefully, but the man's anger seemed to have dissipated with that statement.
"Would you like to touch it?" The tall man asked him carefully. Little Harry shook his head in the negative. The man—as nice as he seemed—could still get behind him and push him in when he wasn't looking.
"Would you like me to touch it?"
Little Harry hesitated at this; his Auntie had never suggested anything that might potentially cause her pain.
"Okay," he whispered.
He watched as the man leaned over the edge of the tub and reached a hand in. He held his breath as the long fingers came near the bathwater, and then continued on downwards into the clear liquid itself!
"It no hurt?" He asked, curious now.
"It didn't hurt," was the response. A wet hand was now resting on his forearm and he touched the skin carefully. The man held himself completely still as he did so—something that was not overlooked by Harry.
"I will not hurt you—only monsters hurt children," the man added.
How many times had he thought the same thing about his Auntie?
. . .
The child looked at him warily as Severus slowly lowered him into the bathtub. The lad's body tensed just before he placed him into the water, but then relaxed as soon as he actually came in contact with its mild warmth.
"All right?" Severus smiled down at the tiny boy.
"Yeah," was the whispered response; although the child's grip did not slack from his hold on Severus's hand.
He washed the bruised and abused skin with a soft motion, his hand sure and steady as it cleaned away the dirt and dried blood off of the young boy. His gut broiled in anger, but he hid his fury carefully behind the shields of his occluding mind. The child's eyes followed him constantly and he did not want to frighten the boy into thinking that his anger was in any way directed at him.
Auntie, my arse, he thought to himself as he took in the emaciated form of the boy in front of him.
Someone had clearly done their best to instill a sense of fear into the small child; this he could see every time he moved anywhere in the vicinity of the boy. His movements were met by flinches within the small frame of the child—something made clearer by the lack of bulky clothes.
He washed the child's hair carefully, choosing to spell away the suds and dirt with a brief bit of wandless magic, rather than make the boy endure the feeling of having water poured over his head. The lad was doing well with the bath thus far, but Severus could see that he was getting tired.
Soon, Severus was picking the boy up out of the tub and drying him with a large fluffy towel. He securely wrapped the towel around the child a few times and then carried him back through his bedroom to his sitting room.
Waiting for them was a bowl of warm broth, and folded beside it was a pair of clean underwear lying atop a child's size set of dark green footed pajamas.
"Whose are those?" The boy asked him softly, his eyes riveted on the objects in front of them.
"Yours," Severus answered with a small smile as the child's eyes got round with surprise.
He helped the boy slip on the underclothes first, and then got him into the pajamas themselves. They were made out of soft wool, and Severus knew them to be very warm. In fact, he had once worn them himself when he was the boy's size—however long ago that had been. He could see a few spots that had been patched expertly by his house elf, but otherwise they were in pristine condition.
They were a bit loose on the boy, but still managed to cover him completely.
With that task done, Severus turned his attention to the broth that was still steaming merrily beside them. It was quite obvious to him that a warming spell had been cast over it, and he nodded his head silently in approval. Putting the boy on his lap, he wound an arm around the child's mid-section and then brought the bowl closer with the other hand.
"Would you prefer to feed yourself?" He felt a bit silly for asking, but perhaps the child was older than he appeared and already had those particular skills.
The boy reached out a couple of shaky fingers towards the bowl and he pulled it away.
"You will burn yourself doing it like that," he admonished, spooning up a bit of the broth and directing it towards the child's small mouth. Wide green eyes stared up at him as he placed the spoon easily inside the boy's oral cavity; then, quick as a whip, that mouth had closed down and he found himself fighting against a good deal of resistance just to retrieve the spoon.
"You needn't try to eat the spoon," he said with a smirk. "This entire bowl is yours to eat—provided that you want it all."
The child nodded energetically at him and reached for the bowl just as Severus was spooning up some more. Not a drop was spilled while the boy methodically ate every bit of the broth, and even though the boy's eyes were definitely starting to droop towards the end, he still did not give up on the meal. He was clearly determined to finish it and finish it he did.
Severus eventually found himself with a lapful of small sleeping boy.
"Well then, perhaps we should both go to sleep," he murmured to himself as he hoisted the child up against his shoulder and made his way back into his bedroom.
He laid them both down and then covered himself and the boy up with his covers, tucking the lad in securely against his side.
No one would believe me if I told them how I spent the first evening of the holiday break, was his last coherent thought before being claimed by Morpheus.