A/N – Horridly late, yes. But, have no fear. I never abandon a story.

Chapter 24 - Betrayal

Harry fiddled with his cloak nervously as he stood in the middle of the sitting room waiting on Severus. His father had told him to dress appropriately for cold weather, because they were going shopping. A part of Harry couldn't believe that he was actually going somewhere with his father; while another part of him feared that he would do something inexcusably idiotic while out in public.

Severus' hand touched his shoulder and he turned to look at the man.

"Ready?" His father asked.

Mutely, Harry nodded and grasped his crutch.

"Apparition would be best, but Hogwarts has anti-apparition wards placed all through it. Likewise, a portkey would deliver us directly, but portkeys are hardly easy to manufacture. If I trusted the headmaster . . ." Severus frowned and Harry grit his teeth against the thought. "If I trusted him, then I would simply have him charm one for us. However, given the circumstances, that's not a viable solution."

"How do wizards and witches get along then? Do they all take the train?" Harry asked, feeling almost certain that he knew the answer to his question.

"Grown and single adults typically apparate. Everyone else typically uses the floo," Severus patiently explained.

Harry nodded, silently tucking the knowledge away in his mind.

Severus walked them into the sitting room where the fireplace was and reached for something atop the mantle. It was a small bag filled with something soft that shifted in his father's hands as he moved it into Harry's range of sight.

"This is floo powder," Severus told him after he had taken a moment to stare unblinkingly at it for a moment.

To Harry, it just looked like some kind of thick dust, but his magical senses were prickling in a way that said it was anything but. Oddly enough, the memory of a book he'd read as a child came into his mind and he jerked his head back toward his father.

"C.S. Lewis wasn't a wizard, was he?"

The corner of Severus' lips turned up slightly at his question. "No, C.S. Lewis wasn't a wizard, but he was related to a few. He's what the wizarding world calls a squib. Essentially, it's the opposite of what Miss Granger is; a non-magical born into a magical family."

Harry frowned as he processed that.

"Does that happen often, then?"

"Often enough," Severus said. "Now watch. Only a pinch is needed for one person to travel on. You throw it into the fireplace and then say the name of your destination."

"Which is what?"

"The Leaky Cauldron," Severus told him.

Harry's eyes narrowed. He remembered that from his trip to Diagon Alley with Moody.

"We're going to Diagon Alley?"

"Yes," Severus answered with a slight upturn of his lips.

A few minutes later, Harry stumbled out of the Leaky Cauldron fireplace. He landed hard enough on his left knee to make him scowl with pain, and then narrowly avoided being tripped over by Severus as he exited a few seconds later.

Ignoring the few stares from the mostly empty tavern around him, he clambered to his feet and followed his father to the Alley entrance. Despite the pain in his knee, and the attention he knew they were sure to draw, he was glad that they were out today. The trip gave him extra time to think about things—things like Lupin.

"Do you need a pain reliever?" Severus asked after pulling him to the side.

"Maybe some bruise salve later tonight," Harry admitted in what he hoped was a soft voice.

Around the side of his father's torso, he could see questioning looks in their direction from the Alley's other patrons.

"They're watching us, Professor," He added when it felt like Severus was going to argue the point.

Severus' eyes narrowed and his back straightened slightly. "Come along, Mr Potter."

Harry walked on the left side of his father in order to keep his crutch from tangling in his long robes. He would have preferred to walk on the inside next to the store fronts, but logistically, it was easier this way. He just hoped there wouldn't be another riot over him. Moody had warned him about his popularity during his first trip, but he hadn't been prepared for the sheer insanity of it. Someone had noticed him on their way out of the Leaky Cauldron, and Moody had been forced to side-along apparate him, lest he be trampled in the rush of people.

Even with the chance of being seen by his so-called "loving fans," Harry was glad that they were out today. The weather, though cold, was bright and dry for once. The trip also gave him a much needed break from the castle and the ever-present possibility of having to talk to Lupin. He was torn between wanting to beat the man into telling the truth and simply forgetting the entire thing.

It's not as though his presence changes my life now, he mused.

A light touch to his shoulder made him glance up at Severus.

"Lucius Malfoy is headed our way," Severus said, turning his head just enough that Harry could see.

Harry looked up and saw a man with long white-blond hair strolling toward them. Now that he knew what he was looking at, Harry was able to see the resemblance between him and his classmate. He glanced back up at Severus in time to see his scowl disappear and be replaced by a more neutral expression.

"Ah Severus," Lucius Malfoy greeted them once they were within arm's reach of one another. "What has you out on such a lovely crisp day?" His eyes slid over to Harry intently.

"Various errands," Was Severus' nondescript answer.

"Indeed," Lucius said, raising an elegant eyebrow. "And how is our Mr Potter? Is he part of those errands?"

Harry resisted the urge to grab hold of Severus' robes. The man's grey eyes stared unceasingly at him and he stared back in turn, despite his discomfort.

"Mr Potter has found himself in need of some new robes. You know how growth spurts occur with increased magic use," Severus said beyond Harry's hearing.

He could tell that his father was speaking, but couldn't see exactly what he was saying. Harry waited until Severus' lips were no longer moving in his peripheral vision and then he took a chance.

"Surprised to see the Boy-Who-Lived in Slytherin?" Harry countered, ignoring the hand that squeezed his shoulder in warning.

Lucius smirked in mild amusement. "I always thought your mother could have done . . . fairly well in Slytherin, if not for a few other tiny details."

"Like her being muggleborn?" Harry answered quickly before his father could interject.

The hand on his shoulder squeezed hard enough to be painful.

"Among other things," Was Lucius' cool response. "You seem to be thriving. My son has mentioned a few of your more interesting exploits in his letters home."

Those same cool eyes slid back to Severus and Harry wisely took a step backward. Glancing up at Severus, he was unsurprised to see dark eyes flash down at him.

"I was interested to learn of the enmity that seems to have appeared between you and the Weasley clan," Lucius remarked, a pleased expression settling across his features.

"The youngest boy is hardly the entire clan," Severus answered crisply. "Mr Potter would find it advantageous not to base the actions of one person on his opinion of an entire group."

"Yes, one's opinion must not be overshadowed by the behaviours of one bad egg," Lucius agreed. "Not unlike Sirius Black, hmm?"

Harry was surprised to see Severus' teeth grit briefly in response.

Who's Sirius Black? He wondered.

. . .

Severus felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. Why, of all people, did they have to encounter Lucius Malfoy?

"I see by his expression that you have not told him about Black, have you?" Lucius tutted disdainfully; the corner of his lip curling upward.

"An oversight, I'm sure," Severus reassured him with a sneer.

Harry looked up at him and then back to Lucius. Silently, Severus willed him not to speak, but knew better than to hope. This was one of his Slytherins, yes, but he was also an eleven year old boy. Subtlety was not a first year's playground.

"Sirius Black is the reason your parents died, young man," Lucius said, speaking to the unvoiced question in Harry's eyes.

Severus caught sight of Harry's hand clenching down hard upon his crutch, but otherwise he did not react.

"Oh?" Was all the boy said.

"He betrayed them—and youto the Dark Lord," Lucius remarked almost gleefully.

Severus could almost hear Harry's thoughts. He's the reason you were given to the Dursleys, was likely the progression of ideas passing through his young Snake's mind.

"Have you no opinion on that, Mr Potter?" Lucius asked; his long fingers nearly caressing the top of his snake headed cane.

"Was he," Harry paused and licked his lips. "Was he an acquaintance of theirs?"

Mentally, Severus gave Harry points for his correct usage of a multi-syllabic word.

"He was your father's best friend," Lucius informed him. The aristocrat was calm as he searched over Harry's face for some kind of reaction to that announcement. Finding no discernible distress, Lucius frowned and turned back to Severus.

"And how is Draco doing in your class? Top marks, I would hope?"

"One of them, anyway," Severus answered, thinking back to the Granger girl, as well as his own son.

Lucius frowned at his answer, and Severus ratcheted up the level of his sneer.

"Well, as delightful as it is to stand here and chat, I really must be going. The wind is rather frightful, as I'm sure you have noticed," Lucius said, excusing himself with one last glance at Harry.

Severus waited until the other man was out of hearing before turning to Harry. The boy's face was guarded, more so than usual and inwardly, Severus sighed. It seemed that the discussion of Sirius Black would have to happen sooner instead of later.

"Let's get your new wardrobe, and afterward, I will answer whatever questions you have. At least to the best of my ability," He amended.

. . .

Despite the chill of the air, Severus walked Harry to Fortescue's after their lengthy time spent with Madam Malkin.

"I find myself in need of a bit of a pick-me-up after that ordeal," Severus said lightly. The woman had been nearly uncontrollable in her zeal to revamp the entire wardrobe of Mr Harry Potter. Only Severus' sneer and glare had kept her anywhere in check, and even so, it had been tiresome for all involved.

"Can I get a coffee?" Was Harry's surprising question.

"Do you like coffee?" Severus asked.

Harry smiled his peculiar half-grin back at him and then shrugged. "Been drinking it since I was first out on my own; you know, when I was a kid."

Severus inwardly scowled darkly at Harry's words. No child—magical or otherwise—should be left to fend for themselves on the streets at eight bloody years old!

"You are still a child," He said instead.

"Am I?" Too serious eyes stared back at him and he fought the urge to sigh.

His Slytherins were used to getting the short end, but never had such a case like Harry existed within his knowledge. It burned in his gut and made him want to curse Dumbledore and those muggles all the way to hell.

But then where would his Slytherins be?

"I've never noticed you drinking coffee before."

That wordless shrug preceded Harry's answer. "The elves don't serve it on my end of the table. I guess they don't think that a bunch of kids would be interested." He smiled as he said the word, 'kids,' but Severus noticed that there was no mirth in his expression.

"Coffee, then," Severus acquiesced, his mind already back on Sirius Black.

Once they received their order—along with a few blueberry scones—Harry's green eyes focused back on him once again.

"Who is he?"

"He was, as Lucius stated, a friend of your father's," Severus stated evenly, blowing on his coffee to cool it. He was surprised to see Harry drinking his own drink black, but did not remark on it.

"Did you go to school with him too?" Harry asked perceptively.

" . . . Yes."

Harry raised an eyebrow at him, and he fought to keep the smirk off of his face at seeing his own signature look staring back at him.

"The enmity that exists between you and Mr Weasley is somewhat similar to my relationship with Black."

Harry's eyes narrowed briefly.

"He was a Gryffindor born into a family of Slytherins."

"Like the opposite of me?"

"Indeed," Severus agreed. "He and your father were fast friends with two other boys as well: Peter Pettigrew and Lupin. They found it great fun to prank and torment anyone they liked; particularly those students that they felt to be under them."

This was harder than he had thought it would be. There were still many unpleasant memories of Potter and his gang, and his emotions were closer to the surface than he had expected. One would think time might have healed him, but the feelings of bitterness and resentment were nearly as strong as they ever had been.

"Like you?"

Severus barked a bitter laugh, causing an elderly woman to cross the street to avoid the frightful sound.

"Quite."

"Sounds a bit like my cousin Dudley," Harry remarked with a dark scowl.

"A bit of a bully?" Severus asked, leaning in slightly. Harry hardly ever spoke of his life before Hogwarts, and he was always interested to hear anything about it.

It was Harry's turn to laugh, and Severus was secretly horrified to hear such a bitter sound coming from Lily's young son.

"Not as bad as my uncle, but yeah, a bully," Harry answered. "He and his 'mates,' and I use that term loosely, used to go 'Harry Hunting.' They liked to get me down on the ground and beat me to a pulp. I managed to, to—apparate? Was that the word? I jumped and found myself on the roof once while running from them."

Severus felt his eyebrows raise to his hairline. Apparating at such a young age was almost unheard of.

"And how did your uncle act toward you?" Severus asked, not sure if Harry would answer or deflect him.

Cold green eyes found his own and his insides knotted up.

"My uncle?" Harry sneered coldly. "My uncle hated me." Harry's eyes unfocused; while Severus surreptitiously murmured a combination silencing and disillusionment spell around them.

"He left me to die," Harry managed a moment later. "He left me to die in the car after he crashed it; after he had got my aunt and cousin out. He left me to die with the smell of petrol in the air and smoke already coming from the engine. And you know what my aunt told me!?" Harry's lower lip trembled and his eye filled with tears.

"She told me to stay. She told me to stay and die!"

Heart aching and fearing an explosion, Severus tentatively reached out and took Harry's hand. The boy jerked at the touch but didn't pull away. A moment later, the clarity returned to his eyes and he blinked hard.

"She . . . she wanted me to die," Harry said in a younger child's voice. Wide green eyes found dark ones and Severus cursed the Dursleys for all he was worth. How could Dumbledore ever have found them suitable as guardians of this child? "Why?"

"Why did she hate you?" Severus asked carefully.

"I was . . . I was just a little kid," Harry said, his voice still unsure. "What did I do to her?"

"Nothing. You did nothing to her. Petunia is a bitter and wretched woman and it sounds as though her family is exactly like her. You did nothing to deserve such treatment."

Smaller fingers clenched around his long digits and Harry swallowed hard.

"But why then? Was it because I'm a freak?"

Severus ground his teeth at the word before catching himself and relaxing. With Harry's uncertainty, he did not want to accidentally make the child worried that Severus was angry at him.

"Your aunt was jealous of your mother for having magic. When she discovered that it was something she could never have—never have a part of, she began to hate your mother. I would assume that when your parents died, that hate was transferred to you."

"So why did they get custody?" Harry's face looked imploringly across the table at him.

"I wish I knew," Severus admitted, shaking his head. "Come. Let us continue this conversation back at Hogwarts."

. . .

Frustrated at the answers—or lack thereof—that he had been receiving about Harry, Remus finally decided to go to what he figured was the heart of the matter: The Dursleys.

He apparated to a park nearby that he remembered and walked the rest of the way, transfiguring his robes as he did. Even so, he got a few strange glances in his direction. That changed when he walked onto the Dursley property itself. A wave of magical wards settled upon his skin as he entered the lawn, and the watchful eyes that he had felt suddenly found new targets.

The yard itself was unkempt and nearly wild in appearance; reaffirming Remus' suspicions that the nearby muggles were unable to see it. There was a rusted car in the driveway, and more than a few creeping vines working their way up the side of house.

Finally casting a diagnostic spell, he was unsurprised to find multiple layers of Notice-Me-Not and muggle repelling charms. Given that the Dursleys themselves were muggles, the entire thing gave him a chill down his spine. Instead of putting his wand up, he left it up his sleeve as he went to knock on the door.

No one answered, and Remus couldn't decide whether he was relieved or not. Tentatively, he reached his hand out to the doorknob and was somewhat surprised to find it unlocked.

After all those wards? Was his confused half-thought.

The interior was dark and he murmured lumos as he swung the door mostly closed behind him. The house's interior looked impeccable, but the smell—the smell was wrong. It was dank inside, a bit like an old refrigerator that hadn't been cleaned out in a while.

He hesitantly walked forward into the sitting room and glanced upward toward a flash of light. The pictures on the wall shone back at him, and he realised that he must have caught the reflection of his lit wand on them. Smiling round faces looked back at him, frozen still faces that looked more than a bit unnatural. He looked more closely, but nowhere did he find Harry's face.

He wondered what Harry looked like with a smile, but pushed the thought out of his head and moved on. He passed by a cupboard under the stairs and paused. There was a smell of old blood and he moved his hand to the door slowly. Opening it, he found an old crib mattress and a crusty old blanket.

Could Harry have lived here? The smells matched and his stomach did an uncomfortable flip flop as he realised the implications. They had kept his cub in a cupboard—a cupboard! He stood up and backed away, closing the door as he did so.

His senses prickling uncomfortably, he finally cast a spell that he had been putting off. It was a diagnostic spell for discovering types of magic. The light in his wand dimmed and finally turned purple and his breath caught at the sight. The house was full of dark magic, and he strongly doubted that it had been caused by a small boy. His lumos returned to normal and he stepped forward to the next room.

After a quick glance through the kitchen, he went to the stairs. The fourth one up creaked unbearably loudly in the uncomfortable stillness around him, and he froze, his heart pounding wildly in his ears. When nothing came out of the darkness toward him, he began moving again. His wand in front of him, he eased his way upstairs where presumably the bedrooms were.

In the first room, he found what looked a bit like a guest room. It smelled unlived in, so he closed the door and went across the hall to the next. This one was filled to brim with old and broken toys, and it looked to him a bit like a dystopian version of a nursery. The next room was completely the opposite. Also full, everything in it seemed too bright for the drab settings it was displayed in. Strangely enough, he had found no dust in any of the rooms.

Finally, he came to the last room on the hall, what he would assume to be the master bedroom. The smell of dark magic was strongest here and he took a deep breath as he opened the door.

The sight that greeted him was a terrible one. Three forms, all in permanent magical stasis, hung from the ceiling with various horrified expressions on their faces. The largest one—Mr Dursley, Remus presumed—was missing his eyes. They had been gouged out forcefully, the blood left to drip down his face and into the large moustache.

A thinner woman hung next to him, her neck slashed open. The flesh over her mouth had grown together and Remus shuddered at the sight. To her other side, a smaller mountain of flesh hung. Presuming it to be their son, Remus slowly walked forward to the sight. In his mouth was some kind of broken toy with a great number of coloured buttons down the side. His face was blue and it wasn't hard to guess that he had choked to death.

All three Dursleys had soiled themselves, and the odour fought for recognition over the scent of their fear.

Unable to bear the sight any longer, Remus turned and fled.