Snape paled. Oh Merlin. He had not only lost it with the little elf, who definitely did not deserve to be yelled at, but Potter had heard him, too. He hesitated – if he told Potter that the elf had bought him clothes and more importantly, a wand, Potter might punish Winky. If he said nothing, Potter would blame him, perhaps harm him, but Winky would be safe. Potter and Dobby would undoubtedly care for her and pity her for being attacked by the insane potions master.
He remained quiet, but before Potter could respond, Winky huffed.
"Winky be telling Professor Snape off for sending secret messages with Mr Ollivander when Professor Snape could ask Winky to use Hedwig or Boreas. And then Professor Snape yells at Winky for buying Professor Snape a wand, and clothes! Winky be thinking Professor Snape be sick, still!" she glared at him.
Potter raised an eyebrow and turned to the dark-haired man. "Is that true?"
"I…I…" Snape stammered, wondering how he might get Winky out of trouble while preserving his own hide in the process.
"Professor Snape be yelling at Winky he is a slave, and not be deserving clothes!" Winky stamped her little foot, and shook her head at Potter, "Harry Potter Sir talk sense into him!"
"I AM a slave!" Snape found his voice, and turned to her again, "He bought me and marked me! I am his property, and you can't buy me things without his permission! I do not wish to get you in trouble."
His eyes widened, having completely forgotten that Potter was standing right there in his fierce explanation to the elf.
"That is why you slept in the shed?" Potter ran a hand through his hair, and sighed. "I suppose I should have left clear instructions, but I assumed you would believe Dobby and Winky. Sleep in the rooms Winky cleaned out for you. Work in the lab if you wish, use the library. You may use my owls to send messages as long as Winky and Dobby make sure they can't be traced to here; I've no wish for my home to be found."
He turned and left the room, leaving a completely confused Snape and a satisfied Winky behind. Dobby just shook his head before heading to the kitchen.
"There," Winky said, "now is yous going to be quiet and believe Winky?"
Snape slowly lowered himself down on the couch again. "I apologise for raising my voice to you," he rested his face in his hands, "I am sorry…this has just been…"
Winky patted his knee in sympathy. "We knows. We has tried to make it easy for yous. Would be easier still if yous be accepting our help!"
Snape snorted. "I came here expecting to be tortured. I still expect to be tortured. Instead Potter ignored me, and you…it confuses me."
"We has been telling yous Harry Potter Sir is a good wizard," Dobby scolded, "now, Professor Snape has not had lunch yet. Professor Snape should come sit in the kitchen and eat."
So that was it. Still unsure about Potters motivation, but reasonably sure that as long as the elves liked having him around, Potter would not harm him, Snape followed the elves to the kitchen. Dobby served him some cold chicken, leftover from dinner the night before, fresh bread and butter. A jar of honey appeared on the table. Orange juice. Snape leaned his head wearily against the wall, trying to take in that he was relatively safe for the time being and failing miserably.
A hand on his thigh pulled him from his musings. Concerned eyes peered into his own.
"Professor Snape should eat, not worry," Dobby said, "Dobby knows, not being punished is hard…Dobby found it hard at first, too. Winky not understand. Winky's Master was bad in giving her clothes, but Winky was never punished before. Could talk to her Master, and make him listen. But Dobby…" the elf shook his head, "Dobby understands. Professor Snape be thinking it is being like the Malfoys here."
Snape's lips thinned. "What would you do, Dobby, if Potter bought Lucius Malfoy and gave him to you?"
Dobby's eyes widened in surprise. "Bad old Master? Dobby….Dobby not know," the elf stammered, "Dobby…Dobby be thinking he would feel…glad…for getting to punish bad old Master….but maybe Dobby feels sorry, too, and will remember getting punished was horrible."
Snape sighed. "I am to Potter what Malfoy is to you. That is why this confuses me so."
An understanding lit Dobby's eyes, and with a final pat to Snape's thigh, he popped away.
A few days later, Snape walked back from the library to the lab, a few books in his arms. He had to admit he needed to research a little – three years in Azkaban had not exactly helped his once flawless memory for potions. As he crossed the hall, he could not help see the door to the living room ajar, and Potters voice speaking to someone on the Floo. That was so rare an occurrence – as far as Snape knew, Potter barely tolerated human company beyond an occasional visit to Granger and Weasley – that he stopped a moment and involuntarily listened to the conversation when he heard his own name.
"…have Snape here already."
The voice on the Floo said something Snape could not quite hear.
"I will send as much money to you as I can, but you and Molly must buy as many slaves as possible at the auction. Ron and Hermione are going to come back for it as well…"
Snape felt his stomach drop to his toes, preventing him from moving. The voice on the Floo spoke again, and then Potter grinned a little.
"I have been in contact with the Goblins, that is arranged…others will donate, too. The trick will be to buy all of them."
Oh Merlin. Oh dear sweet Merlin. Snape nearly gagged as he realized Potter was making arrangements with his old friends to get his hands on all the prisoners-turned-slaves. Mental images of what Potter might be planning to do once he got his hands on them all ran through his mind. He slunk away from the door, quickly returning to his own rooms, his head spinning.
Ever since Severus had been sold to Harry, Dumbledore had not had a moment's peace. Harry refused to sell Severus to him, refused to talk to him at all. Repeated offers were also rejected, and by now Dumbledore had offered to empty his entire vault, throwing his house into the bargain, but Harry refused to even consider any offer or even reply to the letters. Dumbledore could only hope Severus would manage – the man was strong, but everyone had their breaking point, and imprisonment had been a much better alternative, to the proud Slytherin's mind, than slavery.
It was a few weeks, but eventually word reached Dumbledore through the few connections he still had left that Severus had been seen in the company of one of Harry's elves – shopping in Diagon Alley. His informant said that Snape looked well, but could not be certain that the man had not been charmed to appear unharmed. Ollivander later confirmed this, saying Snape had asked him to relay a message.
Then, later that day, a familiar snowy owl had arrived. It brought a letter from the Potions Master himself, thanking the Headmaster for his attempts to buy him. Severus wrote he was reasonably well, that the elves had healed him from the injuries he had sustained in Azkaban and that Potter had been gone for quite some time, only recently returning.
This missive eased many of the old man's fears. If he was honest with himself he had to admit he had not treated Severus fairly in the past, and that his motives in helping him now were not entirely altruistic. After years of planning, leading, a life so busy that he rarely slept more than five hours a night, the once famous Albus Dumbledore was nothing but a tired old man who had lost almost everything he once had. When he was Headmaster of Hogwarts, leader of the Order of the Phoenix and many other organisations, Severus had merely been one of the many to consider and frankly, there was always someone he considered to be more important than the young repentant Death Eater. Now, however, Severus was all he had left and the lonely years, interrupted only by his regular visits to Azkaban, had taught him a new appreciation for the younger wizard.
As he lay in his bed the week after getting Severus's note, brooding, he heard a swoosh and the flare of the Floo in his office. He jumped out of bed and rushed to his office, wand out.
A dark figure had stepped from the fireplace, and Dumbledore startled. "Severus!"
The former Potions Master turned to him, his face uncharacteristically panicky. "Headmaster, please, help me!"
Severus took a step forward, "Potter – Potter is going to get all of them, all of us…he is planning…he…"
Dumbledore tucked his wand away and grabbed the younger wizard by the shoulders. "Severus, take a deep breath and calm down….there, good. Now, tell me what happened. What did Harry do? Are you hurt?"
"Hurt? No…no, he has not hurt me. He has barely looked at me," Snape's voice sounded high and slightly hysterical, "he is saving me for the right time – when he has us all!"
Seeing that he would not get a proper explanation, and Severus was on the verge of exhaustion, Dumbledore summoned a vial of Calming draught and held it to Snape's lips.
A few moments later, Dumbledore finally got a proper explanation of the conversation Snape overheard.
"He is buying every single one of them, that is his plan," Snape said, defeated, "Headmaster – please. Help me escape. I – do not beg, but now I am…please."
He took a breath and looked up when Dumbledore did not reply immediately.
"You won't," he concluded, "It would cost you all you have left and Potter would prosecute you to the fullest extend of the law for stealing his property. I – I am sorry. I will try not to leave any traces of my presence here before I go…"
Dumbledore shook himself from his thoughts. "No, my boy, you misunderstand me," he reached out and his hand closed around Snape's wrist in an iron grip, preventing him from taking another desperate Floo trip. The younger man looked up at him in surprise, and a little fear. The Headmaster sighed, deciding he had earned that mistrust.
"I was merely considering our options. Staying here will be far too dangerous. I am also uncertain whether or not he can trace you through that mark he gave you."
He stroked his beard thoughtfully, still holding Snape by the wrist. "My home can be well warded - it would serve as a temporary hiding place until we make more definitive plans. When will you be missed?"
"I am unsure. Perhaps not until evening. Potter ignores me, but when Winky and Dobby discover I am missing, they will inform him – they think highly of him," Snape sadly thought of the two elves before raising his eyes to meet Dumbledore's, "then you will take me in?"
"Severus – Harry already took everything I have left. He took you," the old man slowly loosened his grip and moved to take an astonished Snape's hand in his own, "I have only recently realized that. So yes, I will do whatever I can to help you and keep you safe."
He led the Potions Master to a room hidden behind his own bedroom – one of Hogwarts many secrets. A quick transfiguration provided a bed.
"I will need to go in the morning and raise the wards on my house. Doing so in the middle of the night will rouse suspicion. Stay in here and try to sleep a little."
Severus nodded, though he doubted he would be able to sleep. He knew it was only a matter of time before Potter found out he was gone – and then, he suspected, all hell would break loose.