Author's Note: This story was written for natasnape, with the prompt: Dumbledore doesn't send a letter with baby Harry, he sends Snape. The original story was promised at 500 to 1,000 words, but it, um, grew, and by the very nature of the prompt, became wildly AU. And became very odd. Many, many thanks to natasnape for the wonderful prompt. My undying gratitude goes to princesssteradia for beta reading and providing much-needed encouragement when I was freaking out, to Annie Talbot for her support, advice, and alpha-reading, to Christev for alpha reading and being my sounding board when I was frustrated, to verus_janus for Brit-picking and listening to me grumble about writer's block, to pyjamapants for calming my frustration and donating a line of Lucius dialogue, and to everyone else who had to listen to me wibble about this fic for over seven months. I love you all.
Disclaimer: I don't own the source material, obviously. Bits of dialogue have been borrowed directly from HP: PS/SS. No copyright infringement is intended. *hugs the lawyers and runs away*
To Make an End
What we call the beginning is often the end,
and to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
~ Four Quartets: Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot
2 November 1981
She was too old to spend her day sitting on a cold stone wall, she thought. Not that her age had ever kept Minerva McGonagall from doing anything she wanted to do…. But still, the cat in her hadn't realised what a bad idea her choice of seating had been, and it caught her by surprise how much her joints ached as she resumed her human form. That ache was nothing, though, compared to the one that gripped her heart as Albus confirmed the details of the previous night's events.
That twisting pain in her chest grew steadily after Hagrid arrived, tiny Harry Potter asleep in his arms. The little boy seemed so tiny, so innocent, and the thought that he'd grow up never knowing his parents nearly brought tears to her eyes for the fourth time that day.
Minerva trusted Albus, she truly did. She trusted him with her life, with the lives of the students she fiercely protected, with the fate of the only world she'd ever known. But watching him place a letter among Harry's blankets and turn away, doubt overshadowed that trust.
She'd watched those people, those awful, hateful Muggles, all day. How would they react, finding a baby on their doorstep in the morning? What if they said no? What if they refused him, or sent him away somewhere? What danger would befall the little boy if Death Eaters came looking for him in a place where there weren't wands waiting to rise in his defence? Not to mention the fact that it was far too cold for a baby to pass the rest of the night outdoors—her own aching bones could attest to that. And what if he crawled away and ended up in the street? The endless horrific possibilities raced through her mind, and for the first time in her life, she wondered if Albus Dumbledore was really as all-knowing as she'd always believed him to be.
"Headmaster," she began hesitantly once Hagrid had ridden away on his borrowed motorbike, "is it safe, leaving the child here?"
"Oh, quite safe," Albus assured her. "I'll have someone watching over him." He didn't go on, didn't elaborate, but he'd never lied to her, so she believed him.
"Perhaps I'll stay as well," she decided. In cat form, she thought to herself, she could offer the baby warmth while staying mostly out of sight. And then, come morning, she could make sure he was safely placed in the arms of his aunt.
That thought called another matter to her attention, and it horrified her that she hadn't realised it until this moment.
Minerva'd had a sister of her own, once, and while they hadn't spoken in the years preceding Bellona's death, when Dumbledore had brought her the news, she'd felt as though her world had changed forever. Being on opposite sides of a war hadn't negated an entire childhood of memories. Even remembering young Lily Evans complaining to her friends about her sister's aversion to all things magical could not make Minerva believe that Petunia Dursley wouldn't grieve now.
What if, instead of coming to her room in the middle of the night, Albus had simply left a copy of The Daily Prophet beside her plate at breakfast? What if she'd come across Bellona's name in a list of Death Eaters killed during a Ministry raid? She thought she may have hexed him. Surely, she'd have been angry. No, furious. And hurt, so hurt. Just imagining it made her feel ill. How could Albus do something so heartless as to leave this woman nothing but a letter?
"I'd like to talk to his aunt," she added resolutely. "She deserves to be told what happened."
"I admire your intentions, my dear," Albus said with a gentle smile, rummaging around in his pocket for more of his infernal sweets, "but I believe Mrs Dursley would be even more upset to find a strange witch at her door. If what I've learned of her is true, a letter really would be best."
"Perhaps you would not believe that," she responded quietly, trying not to let her exasperation enter her tone, "if you'd ever had a sister."
At that Albus stopped his fidgeting, his hand freezing in his pocket as he turned to stare at her. For just the briefest second she saw something in his eyes that she'd never seen there before. Uncertainty, maybe. Uncertainty mixed with pain, or possibly sorrow. She wasn't sure where she'd gone wrong, but she instantly regretted her words.
"I'm sorry… I know you've considered all of this already. You're probably right. A letter would be best," she hurried to say because the stillness of Albus's stance and the expression on his face were terrifying, in a way. Right before her eyes, it was if he'd become smaller. She would have done anything to take back what she'd said.
"No," he finally answered, his voice sounding far away, lacking in its usual calm confidence. "No, you are correct. I sometimes suspect my efforts to—" He stopped, that worrying look flashing through his eyes again, but then just as quickly, it was replaced by the fond, warm expression he so often adopted when speaking to her. "Never doubt your own judgment in matters such as these, Minerva, and especially not for my sake."
"And yet," he continued, "I still do not believe Mrs Dursley will react well to a stranger. There is another who would be better suited for the task. Someone who may need to deliver this news himself nearly as much as she needs to hear it spoken aloud."
Minerva's eyebrows furrowed as she considered his words. "Who did you have in mind?"
"An old friend of her sister's," he said in that cryptic way that she found both maddening and endearing at the same time. "We'll take Harry to the castle in the meantime."
She wanted to press him for something more, some hint at what he was planning, but she couldn't quite bear the thought of accidentally bringing that hurt look back into her friend's eyes.
"We'd best be off, then," she said instead. "Shall we meet at the castle gates and walk up together, or are there still Death Eaters lurking about?" She didn't worry for herself—she could take down nearly any one (or two, or three) of Voldemort's minions single-handedly if she had to, and Albus was yet more capable. But Harry's life could not be placed in danger at any cost. He was too important.
"I'll go first," he told her. "Wait for my signal that it's safe before following with Harry."
She nodded, taking the Deluminator when he offered it to her, watching him as he walked down the street and turned the corner before leaving for the school, the CRACK of Apparition muffled by the distance.
Walking back to the doorstep, she lifted Harry Potter into her arms. He sleepily shifted around before finding a comfortable place to rest on her shoulder. His small cheek was cold against her own, chilled by the night air, and she carefully tucked his head into the crook of her neck and pulled his blankets up around his face. Leaning against the wall of the Dursley home, mostly hidden from the moonlight by the shadow of the hedge and a nearby tree, she waited until Albus's patronus arrived ten minutes later.
"It's safe. You may bring him along now," the phoenix told her in a hushed tone. She nodded her understanding, walking back out to the street and heading in the opposite direction from where Albus had gone. When she reached the corner, she released the street's lights from the Deluminator, tucked the device back into her robes, tightened her grip on the tiny boy in her arms, and Apparated to the gates of Hogwarts.
2 November 1981
"Severus, wake up," Albus said, standing over him. Severus opened one eye and glared at him. He'd already been awake, of course, but couldn't bring himself to care that his boss had broken into his quarters.
"Go away," he answered bitterly, turning over to face the opposite wall. Without warning, the blankets wrapped around him were jerked away, and he spun back around in outrage, his wand pointed at the older wizard's chest. "How dare you—"
Albus cut him off with a raised hand. "You're not going to waste your life away lying in this bed. Get up. There's something I need you to do."
"Go to hell," Severus muttered, climbing off the bed and grabbing his dressing gown from where he'd haphazardly dropped it on the floor two days prior. "And get out of my rooms." Storming past Albus, he went to his sitting room and pulled the half-finished bottle of Old Ogden's from his desk drawer, grabbing a dirty glass from the desktop and then flopping into a chair adjacent the empty, cold fireplace.
He filled the glass, but hadn't even gotten it to his lips before it was snatched out of his hand.
"You agreed to help protect Lily's son," Albus reminded him in a chastising tone.
"And by my calculations, that gives me nine-and-a-half years, or until the Dark Lord comes back, before I have to come out of my drunken stupor. Give or take a month or two," Severus answered petulantly, taking a sip of the Firewhisky straight from the bottle. "Don't be a hypocrite, Albus. Sybill drinks herself into unconsciousness more nights than not these days, and I don't see you bothering her."
Albus sat down in the chair opposite Severus. "Sybill still teaches her classes—something you haven't done in two days."
"I'm mourning," Severus replied sarcastically, frowning as the Firewhisky in the bottle turned into water with a wave of Albus's hand.
"I'll allow you the rest of the day to sober up," Albus said after a long moment spent watching Severus stare into the non-existent fire. He looked the younger man up and down before adding, "And to bathe. If you are truly interested in doing all you can to protect Harry, then you'll be in my office by nine a.m. tomorrow."
"I thought you dumped the brat with some relative?" Severus asked, not looking up.
"He's going to live with Lily's sister."
A bark of humourless laughter exploded from Severus's lips. "I'm sure thatconversation went over well."
"It hasn't happened yet," Albus informed him. "You're going to go talk to her, and turn the child over to her for safekeeping. I believe she'll take the news coming from you better than from someone she doesn't know."
Severus stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. When Albus seemed to fail at seeing the ridiculousness behind his idea, he said, "Don't be daft. Petunia Evans hates all things magical—that probably includes babies, and most especially includes me. She didn't even like her sister very much."
"Dursley now," Albus said, conveniently ignoring the rest. "Petunia Dursley."
Severus sneered. "Someone actually married that bi—"
"Severus!" Albus growled. Severus just shrugged, but didn't finish his sentence. "Come to my office. Nine a.m. I'll have the boy ready to go, as well as a letter explaining to Mrs Dursley why it's imperative that she provide him a home. You'll deliver both to her, and inform her of what happened to her sister. Do you understand?"
"I'm not a child, Albus," Severus muttered, getting up and heading back into the bedroom.
"You're certainly acting like one," was Albus's reply as he too rose to his feet, turning and walking in the direction of the door.
3 November 1981
Petunia lifted her somewhat-food-coated son out of his high chair, settling him on her hip and deftly plucking the spoon out of his hand just a second before it ended up in her hair.
"Mummy!" Dudley exclaimed in annoyance, and she smiled until a sticky hand smeared mashed bananas across her cheek. Sighing and shaking her head, she quickly wiped him clean with a damp towel and then set him on the floor. He toddled away, plopping onto the ground and crawling the rest of the way before he'd even made it out of the kitchen. Watching him go with a fond expression, Petunia finally turned her attention back to the messy high chair.
A knock on the door made her stop what she was doing. She couldn't imagine who could be at the door—the post had already come, Vernon had left for work nearly a half hour ago, and anyone else who might come over usually called first. Pausing in front of the hall mirror in order to wipe the remnants of banana from her face, she hurried to the door as a persistent knock rang through the house again.
"Shan't!" Dudley yelled in the direction of the sound—he only knew two words as of yet, and this was his new and favourite one—and Petunia couldn't keep herself from smiling as she opened the door.
The sight of the person on her doorstep made the smile fade into a surprised stare within seconds.
At first she didn't quite believe her eyes. Severus Snape here, on her doorstep, was so far outside the realm of anything she'd ever believed possible that she couldn't fully comprehend what she was seeing for a few seconds. He stood unmoving, watching her from behind a curtain of the same oily black hair at which she'd always turned up her nose. He was wearing black robes, much like Lily had worn for school—robes, on Privet Drive.
It took a moment for her to get over her shock, and she may not have at all if he hadn't finally spoken.
"Petunia," he began in greeting, his voice low and scratchy-sounding. He didn't get the chance to continue; as soon as he opened his mouth to go on, she slammed the door in his face, then leaned back against it, her hands trembling.
This can't be happening, she thought in a panic. He had no business being here, no right to intrude on her life yet again after all these years. What was he doing here? Had Lily sent him? Why would she do such a thing? Petunia's heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest, and she couldn't quite bring herself to go to the window and peek outside to see if Severus had gone.
"Mummy!" Dudley called from the living room, and a second later, to her horror, he crawled into the hallway, heading in her direction. Snatching him up into her arms, Petunia brought him back into the living room and deposited him on the floor.
"Stay in here, sweetie," she told him in as pleasant a tone as she could manage. He seemed to sense something wrong in her voice, because he stared at her with wide, confused eyes. "How about Mummy gets you a new toy to play with?" she offered, going to the chest in the corner and pulling out a handful of toys to join the others on the floor. "Here, see?"
Dudley's eyes lit up at the new toys and, fully distracted for at least a few minutes, he didn't even look up when Severus knocked at the door again.
If I just ignore him, he'll get the hint and go away, she told herself, resolving not to answer him at all.
But a moment later he knocked again, and then called out, "Petunia, open the door."
When she didn't respond and didn't move from where her feet felt frozen in place, he added in a slightly quieter voice, "All of your neighbours can see me."
Feeling decidedly trapped and angry, she marched back to the door and threw it open. "What could you possibly want from me?" she snapped, glaring at him.
"May I come in?" He finally lifted his head to properly look at her, and his appearance—dark circles under red-rimmed eyes that would make her think he'd been crying, if she weren't so sure he was entirely incapable of such a thing—neatly cut off the tirade already forming on her tongue.
She stared at him for a long moment, unsure whether she should let him in or just slam the door in his face again. Finally, the decision was made for her. From the vicinity of his feet, she heard a small whimper. Glancing down, she found a baby watching her, wrapped in blankets and tucked inside a large basket with handles on either side.
"Who…" she started to say, her words drifting away from her as she turned a confused look back to Severus.
"Harry," he replied, his voice cracking with the word. He swallowed hard and said again, stronger this time, "Harry Potter."
Glancing back and forth from the tiny nephew she'd never met to the obviously upset man standing on her doorstep, Petunia felt like she'd been kicked in the chest. Blinking back tears that welled up in her eyes almost instantly, she nodded and stepped back.
"Come in," she said softly, pushing the door open further. Snape didn't respond, just bent down to take the handles of the basket in one hand, then stood up and walked past her, heading for the kitchen. Following him, she found him sitting at the kitchen table, Harry still in the little basket. The tiny boy crawled out onto the floor, flipping the basket over in the process, and looked around in obvious confusion as to his whereabouts, finally focusing his big green eyes on his aunt.
Petunia swallowed hard around the lump in her throat, choosing to ignore Harry's curious gaze for the time being, not wanting to think about what his presence meant. "How..." she finally managed to ask. "How did she..."
"She was murdered," he answered without looking up from where he seemed to be trying to glare a hole through the table. "Both of them were. By the Dark..." He paused, grimaced, then finished in a choked whisper, "Lord Voldemort."
Somehow, hearing it hurt worse than just knowing it. Petunia crossed the room on shaky legs, sinking down onto a chair across from Severus, tears once again gathering in the corners of her eyes. She'd known, of course, that this was a possibility. Lily had told her about the war, but... still, she'd never actually thought anything would happen to her sister. Even when they were children, Lily had always seemed indestructible.
"He's gone," Severus added suddenly. "The Dark Lord is gone. The war's over."
Mildly horrified that the news of anyone's death could make her feel genuinely relieved, Petunia looked away uncomfortably. "Will there be a funeral? Do I need to—"
"They've already had one," he interrupted. "Yesterday afternoon. She and her husband are buried in Godric's Hollow."
Petunia wasn't even sure where Godric's Hollow was, and the thought that no one had bothered to tell her anything at all until the funeral was already over made her so angry that she felt like throwing Severus out right then and there. But before she could bring herself to do that, she did want to know one thing. "And the baby? Are you taking him?"
This finally drew Severus's gaze away from the table long enough to shoot an incredulous glare her way. "No," he answered in a tone that suggested he felt her question was exceptionally stupid. "Where would I keep him, the dungeons?"
Petunia blinked at him in surprise. "Wizard homes have dungeons?"
"Hogwarts has a dungeon," he ground out. "I teach there."
"Mummy!" Dudley called from the other room, toddling through the doorway a moment later, carrying one of his tiny trains in his hand. He stopped when he came face to face with his cousin, looking back and forth from this new little boy to his mother in confusion.
"Twain!" Harry exclaimed, reaching for the toy, and Dudley pulled it away, frowning.
"No!" Dudley insisted, turning around so as to protect the train from Harry's grasping fingers. He'd never said no before, and Petunia felt the corners of her lips twitch into a half smile before she could stop herself.
Harry dissolved into tears, plopping down onto the floor as Dudley walked away with the toy. Sighing, Petunia bent down to pick him up, following Dudley back into the living room and depositing Harry onto the carpet among the scattered toys. "Here, play with these," she offered, placing a few in his lap. His eyes lit up as he snatched some blocks off the floor and promptly put them in his mouth. He gave her a grateful, wide smile, and she tried not to notice the way it seemed to be Lily's eyes staring into hers.
Tantrum averted, at least temporarily, Petunia stroked Dudley's hair as she passed by him on her way back to the kitchen. Severus was still right where she'd left him, but an envelope had found its way onto the table.
"It's from Dumbledore," he said in response to her questioning look.
Thatwas certainly a name Petunia hadn't heard in a long while—and frankly, one she'd hoped to never hear again. Frowning and not moving to pick up the letter, let alone open it, she asked, "What does it say?"
"I didn't read it, as it's addressed to you," he replied, leaning back sullenly in his chair. Petunia rolled her eyes and reached for the letter, her frustration with Severus great enough that she was willing to read nearly anything if it just meant he'd leave sooner rather than later. She still felt tears threatening to begin again at any moment, and the last thing she wanted to do was start sobbing with Severus Snape, of all people, sitting across the table from her.
Her eyes flew across the page, stopping as she reached the end of the first paragraph. Lowering the letter back to the table, she turned her gaze back to Severus. "He expects meto take him?"
"It's safer for him here," Severus answered in a weary tone. "Read the rest of it. Albus said he'd explained it all."
Petunia glared at him, but when he didn't elaborate, she returned to the letter. When she'd finished it, she again set it down, her mind racing. "He can't possibly be serious..."
Severus raised one eyebrow sardonically. "May I?" he asked, reaching toward the letter.
She absently nodded, and as he skimmed over the contents of the letter, Petunia let her gaze drift to the living room door. She couldn't keep him; Vernon would be furious, and they just couldn't afford him, and... and a thousand other reasons. She just couldn't.
But Harry could die if she didn't, as could she and Vernon and Dudley. They needed him as much as he needed them...
How could Dumbledore think that he could just send a child to her home and expect her to adopt him without a second thought, as if he were a stray cat instead of a little boy?
"What if those wizards who killed Lily and James come here looking for him?" she asked, the thought sending her into a near panic. If Harry was in such great danger, how could she and Vernon possibly offer him more protection than wizards could? Would this blood protection keep her family safe from allof Voldemort's followers, or just Voldemort himself? Before Severus had a chance to answer, she began shaking her head. "No, he can't stay. Take him back with you; your Dumbledore can protect him."
"Petunia—" Severus began to say, but she cut him off.
"No! I need to worry about my family. I'm not putting my son in danger because Lily went off and got herself killed!"
Severus flinched and looked away. After a long moment, he said quietly, "The boy is your family too."
Standing up, Petunia paced back and forth in the small kitchen, feeling trapped. Finally, stopping in front of the window, she answered, "Please, just take him and go. I can't... I just can't."
Pushing back his chair so quickly that it hit into the wall, Severus stood, snatched the basket from the floor, and marched into the other room, muttering, "I told Albus this was a complete waste of time. You've never cared about anyone but yourself," as he went. Petunia blinked back tears as she waited for him to leave, unable to keep from shaking her head as Severus ordered Harry to get into the basket. When Harry started crying, she sighed and went into the living room, eager to have them both out of her house.
"Get. In," Severus demanded through clenched teeth. Harry just screamed louder and threw a toy train at him. When he spotted Petunia in the doorway, he quickly darted past Severus and wrapped himself around her leg.
"Don't you know anything about children?" she snapped, glaring at Severus even as she scooped Harry up into her arms and rubbed a hand gently over his back to soothe him. Harry quickly contented himself with fiddling with the button on her blouse.
"No," Severus retorted, irritation evident in his tone. "Put him in here." He nudged the basket toward her.
"Just hold him," she said, nudging the basket out of the way with her foot. "You can't carry children around in baskets. He's not a newborn, you know. He's going to try to climb out and fall."
Glaring at her, Severus reached out to take the little boy from her arms. Harry took one look at the murderous expression on Severus's face and shrunk back against Petunia, his lip quivering with impending cries.
"Would you stop?" she insisted. "You're scaring him, looking at him like that."
"He'll have to get used to it," Severus answered bitterly, reaching again for the baby.
Harry whimpered and turned to look at her, obviously afraid and upset, and Petunia could almost see Lily in his eyes, looking at her in the way she did when they were small, as if her older sister could protect her from all the storms and monsters under beds in the world.
Almost without thinking, Petunia took a step back.
"Just… go. Leave him and just go."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "I don't have times to play games, Petunia."
"As you so kindly pointed out, he's family, and he needs to be somewhere safe. I'm not playing games." Turning away from him, she set Harry down on the floor beside Dudley. "He stays. Besides, I dare say he'll be better off here, raised in a normal household, than with you in that world."
"The boy is a wizard, Petunia," Severus said pointedly in that tone he'd always used when they were children and he'd thought Petunia was being rather stupid for not understanding magical things. "You can't keep him from that world—it's just as much his world as it is mine and was Lily's."
"That world killed her!" Petunia exclaimed, refusing to look at him and let him see the tears that welled up in her eyes at the thought. "What's the point of bringing him here to be safe, if you're just going to send him back there later?"
"You can't protect him forever," Severus said. "He needs to learn to protect himself, and Hogwarts is where he'll do that."
"Besides," he added, "I suspect you'll change your mind when his accidental magic kicks in."
That thought gave her pause; Lily had used magic as a child, even before going away to school, and so had Severus. She stared at Harry, wondering what magic already ran in his veins.
Leaving the basket right where it lay, Severus made for the door. With a growing sense of doubt racing through her, Petunia called out, "Wait."
He sighed and turned back again.
"What do I do when he starts… you know?"
Severus raised one eyebrow sardonically—something, if she recalled correctly, he'd inherited from his mother. It was rather more infuriating on him.
"You handle it." Again he walked toward the door, but before he'd made it over the threshold, he stopped and turned back, pulling a quill and a thick bit of paper—more what she'd call parchment, really—out of his pocket. Leaning it on the wall, he scrawled something across the parchment and then dropped it on the nearest chair. "If you find yourself incapable of managing one little boy," he said scathingly, "you can reach me at that address."
In an instant he was at the door and, heedless of her Muggle neighbours, disappeared with a loud CRACK.
Angrier than she'd been since… well, since the last time she'd spoken to Severus Snape, Petunia grabbed the piece of parchment, ready to throw it into the fire. But she stopped herself. She would never use it, never—she never wanted to see that man again if she could help it—but if there were an emergency….
She tucked the parchment into her pocket, then turned to look down at her nephew, who was quietly chewing on one of Dudley's toys. Dudley twisted around to offer her a look that clearly said, "But why is he still here?"
Picking up the abandoned basket from its place on the floor, she frowned at it, unsure if she should just throw it away. Finally she just put it into the hall cupboard. Her mother had always joked that hall cupboards were the perfect places to put things you didn't want to look at anymore because you usually forgot they were even in there until the point where they practically weren't, and that sentiment had always seemed to stick in Petunia's mind. The last thing she wanted to think about was what Harry had seen and been through over the last few days—he was only a baby, for God's sake—but who knew if Severus would come back for the basket at some point? At least in the cupboard, it was out of sight and, hopefully, eventually, out of mind.
Settling herself onto the floor between Dudley and Harry, she refused to let herself think about her sister or Severus or the war she'd barely been aware of any longer, and instead focused her attention on how in the world she was supposed to explain all of this to Vernon.