A/N: So, it's been quite a long time, and even though I have a full-time job as well as three side jobs, this story has long been desperate for a redo. General warnings for swearing, smoking, violence, and the usual nastiness from Snape.
"What the ruddy hell are dementors?"
"They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban," said Aunt Petunia.
Two seconds' ringing silence followed these words and then Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry's brain reeled. Mrs. Figg was one thing—but Aunt Petunia?
"How d'you know that?" he asked her, astonished.
Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsey teeth.
"I heard—that awful Snape boy—telling her about them—years ago," she said jerkily. (pages 31-32 of Order of the Phoenix.)
The ringing was in his ears this time; Harry felt as though he'd cracked his head on the Dursley's window again. Working his mouth to words that refused to come, he finally croaked, "Snape…boy?"
that awful boy
It had been many years since they'd had a summer this hot.
His shirt seemed to have permanently cemented itself to his back, as drenched in sweat as it was. There was no hint of rain to offer a reprieve, or even a breeze; Severus had half a mind to dunk himself in the trash-logged river to cool down a little. He should have known skimping out on buying an actual air conditioner last month would come to bite him in the arse. As it was, he was fairly certain he'd far surpassed his personal bathing records, what with the amount of cold showers he'd taken in the last few days.
Spinner's End had become a ghost town. Empty at the best of times, with the growing number of abandoned houses, the remaining residents had been driven into their homes by the heat, leaving the streets deserted. Not even the town's local gang was on the prowl today; even the Richardsons next door were quiet. Severus supposed they were too hot to argue.
At least they didn't have to spend the day standing over a hot stove.
Casting his umpteenth cooling charm, Severus mopped at his forehead and pushed his stringy hair back from his face. The Dark Lord couldn't have asked for a potion at a worse time. Brewing on a day like this—it was sure to be the hottest day of the year—was not his idea of fun. The fact that there was no teaching to do couldn't even lift his mood. He'd take tea with Sirius Black over this.
Finally, he thought, sprinkling a handful of ground lacewing flies into the bubbling potion before resetting the oven timer. Unlike in the unmodified recipe, this gave him twenty minutes to clean up while the Polyjuice simmered and turned brown. Severus dropped his wooden spoon onto the unused burner and flopped backward into the chair he'd pulled away from the table. Sweat slid down his face in rivulets. The mason jar he'd filled with ice earlier was now more water than anything; there was a damp ring darkening the pitted table. He took a deep gulp of water and savored the feeling of it going down his throat.
It was the simple pleasures of summer that made it his favorite season. There was no need to navigate through a minefield of painful memories, no grading to do, no little pustules to watch over…and no Potter. He could sleep til midday if the want arrose. He didn't have to grace the Great Hall with his presence, only to eat a few bites at most. He could make potions all day, until it was late at night, and then he could begin the process all over again the next day. Unless the Dark Lord called.
He could even finish that Veritaserum that had been sitting on his to-do list since the incident with Crouch Jr. Perhaps this year he'd need it; better yet, perhaps he'd get to feed it to Potter.
No—it was best not to think about Potter. It was summer. Summer was supposed to be his time to relax…unless the Dark Lord called.
The Dark Lord had become all too interested in his company since his return.
Just as Albus had predicted after the Triwizard Shitshow, he'd been lying low, making plans and gathering troops rather than making himself known to the world. This meant less Death Eater raids—or really, less excuses to make as to why he'd not attended—and more speeches, more spying, more info-gathering, and, of course, more punishments. That was the Dark Lord's favorite part. He doled out the Cruciatus like a middle-aged woman at the supermarket doled out free samples. Without copious amounts of nerve regeneration potions, he'd probably be on the brink of peripheral neuropathy.
Perhaps he'd prefer the neuropathy.
His wards hummed around him, signaling the arrival of a benevolent intruder named Albus Dumbledore. Severus's body ached in protest as he hauled himself out of his chair to meet the Headmaster. If he had thought his body hurt, it was nothing compared to how his eyes felt as they rested upon the most blinding yellow robes he'd ever had the misfortune to see, complete with painfully blue trim and agonizingly white stars.
Severus took one disgusted look at him, decided he was too sticky to stomach such a hideous assemble, scoffed, "What in the name of Merlin you wearing?" and returned to the kitchen. Albus followed with what was probably a sickeningly serene smile.
"You must be aware of how busy I am, Headmaster," he continued as the timer went off and he set back into his potion. A curl of ice-cold air swept across the back of his neck as Dumbledore performed a cooling charm infinitely more powerful than his own had been. Severus resisted the urge to shudder as the sweat dried on his back. "I don't have time to play host to guests."
"Even if you did have the time, Severus, I must admit that I find myself having difficulty imagining you wanting guests over." He could hear the smile in the Headmaster's voice. "Alas, my visit here today isn't of the cheery sort. Have you been reading the papers?"
Did anyone, these days?
"I skim it," he lied, adding four measures of boomslang skin to the cauldron on his stove before moving to place bicorn horn in his mortar on the counter.
"They have not been kind to Harry Potter as of late," Albus said quietly. Severus paused for a brief second before beginning to crush the bicorn. "Cornelius has been taking as many measures as possible to discredit the child. I can't imagine it's doing wonders for Harry's morale."
Why do you think I care about the boy's supposed morale? he thought, Occluding just a tad harder than before to keep the idle scathing away from Dumbledore. "And?" he pressed, before adding, "Headmaster?"
"I fear it won't be long before more extreme measures are taken, whether they are from Cornelius himself, or from one of his associates. I'd expect nothing else from the Minister these days," Albus said, and there was a grim edge to his voice. "Sending somebody after Harry is no longer something I would consider to be beneath him."
He sprinkled a measure of bicorn horn into the potion and cranked his stove on high for twenty seconds. Waving his wand sharply over the cauldron, Severus finally stepped back, marking the time. The copper cauldron he'd chosen to use allowed him only eighteen hours until he had to begin the fourth stage of the Polyjuice. "If you're here to ask whether the Dark Lord has mentioned a plot to hire someone to kidnap the boy, posing as the Ministry, I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed. He's said nothing of the sort."
The Headmaster was silent. Then, even more softly than he'd spoken before, "Are you sure he has no suspicions of your loyalties, Severus?"
"I'm certain he does, but then, he's always been the paranoid type," he muttered, wiping down his stove and setting the lacewings flies aside for later, safely closed in a tupperware box. Dumbledore's beard twitched at the sight of it. Gritting his teeth, Severus shoved the box out of view and turned to face the older wizard. "You could have asked all this with your head shoved through a fireplace. What do you want, Albus? It's too hot for games."
"As straight to the point as ever. It's a wonder people ever read your studies, Severus, what with your lack of—"
"I am very busy," he snarled, cutting Dumbledore off. The handle to his oven door creaked alarmingly; he stopped attempting to crush it, forcing his hands to unclench and drop to his sides.
The Headmaster's smile faded. "Harry is to be transferred to headquarters in August. His safety is far too compromised in Privet Drive. However…I cannot be certain of the Order's continued safety, if Harry is to be stationed there. His link with Tom is growing ever more concerning. I must confess that I am now wary of being in same room as him."
"Do you believe he's being possessed?" Severus asked, and the very thought of it sent a cold drop of what felt like poison into his stomach. What would he do, if he saw those eyes—Lily's eyes—turn red with the Dark Lord's taint?
"I am unsure. As far as I know, he has yet to show signs of possession."
"It doesn't take much effort to take control from behind the curtains. The Dark Lord is a powerful Legilimens; it is safe to assume he has long since mastered the art of subtle possession." It was a worrying idea. "You wish for me to probe within the inner circle."
If anyone would have information on the Dark Lord's habits, his schedule, it would be the inner circle. They would know if their Lord had been spending hours of each day in a seeming trance.
"That is not all," Albus sighed, looking to the left, out the grimy window above the sink. Suddenly aware of how much of a mess his house was, Severus felt humiliation curl deep in his gut. "To ensure the protection of the Order, I must ask you for a favor."
Alarm bells were ringing in his head. Narrowing his eyes, he leaned back against his stove before remembering his hot cauldron was there, and shifted to lean against his counter instead. The wooden spoon dug painfully into his elbow; he refused to move again. "A favor? Of what kind?"
There was an unusual hesitance to Albus's body language that made the alarm bells go from a ring to a screech. "You must know that I would not be asking this of you if it were not of utmost importance."
"What is it, Albus?"
"You must teach Harry Occlumency. I had rather meant to teach him myself, but the circumstances do not currently allow for that. As it stands, Severus, you are far more equipped to teach him—you surpassed me in Occlumency many years ago," said the Headmaster, finally looking away from the window, through which Severus could vaguely make out the sun setting. "Do you have a second bedroom in your house?"
"No." The word was so strangled that his voice sounded foreign to his ears. "I refuse. What kind of joke is this?"
"I said no. I am not playing host to Harry fucking Potter." There was glass on the floor, now, but he couldn't remember breaking anything. His hands were shaking, chest heaving, lip curled back in a wordless snarl. "Find another place for the boy. He is not welcome here."
For the first time, Albus sounded angry. "Are you so blinded by your hatred for James Potter that you cannot see simple fact, Severus? I have exhausted every option. Harry is not ready to be taken to Number Twelve. The Grangers cannot keep him safe without magic. And the blood wards have become unstable—so unstable that a single push from Voldemort could cause them to crumple. I believe it may have something to do with their blood exchange back in—"
"Do not say the name!"
"There is no other option. Tom is currently more focused on the prophecy than he is on killing Harry, and will not seek to have you bring him the boy without knowing why his failure to murder a child continues. Harry must stay here, if only for a few weeks. It is not the end of the world." Albus repaired the shattered mason jar and bent to pick it up, dusting it off. There was water all over the floor, trickling through the cracks of the faded linoleum. "Are you well, my boy?"
Severus ground his teeth. "Don't try to change the subject. Could he not stay with his precious werewolf?"
"I'm afraid the Ministry would be quite, ah, upset if they knew we were allowing a child to live with a known werewolf," Dumbledore said delicately, with a sigh. "As it stands…you are the only member of the Order with available housing for the boy."
"Have you discussed this with the boy himself?" he scoffed, forcing himself to breathe deeply for fear of his anger running rampant again. "How does your beloved 'Chosen One' feel about being shuffled about like a toy? I wonder how Potter might feel about staying with his favorite Professor."
"Harry will understand," Dumbledore assured, and whether he was lying or not, Severus couldn't tell. "It will only be for three weeks, if not less. He may be ready to be moved to Number Twelve by mid-August. I will, of course, compensate you on any food expenses, as well as any others." Seeing Severus's expression, he smiled a little. "I am by no means asking you to play the part of his father. Harry is capable of taking care of his own needs, as well as entertaining himself without causing property destruction. Simply train him to guard his mind, and keep him fed. That is all I ask. Do you accept?"
Do I have any choice? After all…he owed Albus everything. Severus nodded sharply, seething. He pushed away from the counter and let the spoon clatter to the floor, free from where it had been digging into his elbow. Grabbing the mason jar, he stepped past the patiently waiting Headmaster to refill it with ice, slamming it onto the table to melt for a while. "Fine. Three weeks, Albus. I shan't babysit your boy wonder any longer than that."
He hadn't realized, until now, just how tense the Headmaster had been. There was a noticeable relief to him. "You have removed a great deal of weight from my shoulders, Severus. Three weeks. You have my word. I'll have Harry delivered to you by tomorrow afternoon. Now—as you said, you are very busy. Allow me to see myself out. Goodnight, my boy. Rest well."
And he was alone again. Severus stood there for a time, glaring at the front door, before sinking into one of his rickety chairs and putting his head in his hands.
What the hell did I just agree to?