A/N: This is an AU, taking place just before Harry's eleventh birthday. As of 12/2/03 chapters are slowly being revised and combined, with thanks to my beta reader, Alchemine:)

Disclaimer: Harry Potter's universe does not belong to me. It belongs to Rowling.


Harry finished serving out the bacon, leaving the most burnt for himself as Aunt Petunia preferred. His birthday was in a few days, but you would never know it He still lived in a cupboard under the stairs and he was still as thin and scrawny as he had always been. The Dursleys probably wouldn't even remember that he was turning eleven. Not that he would want them to remember anyway. They might do something to make it horrid, just to spite him. He sighed inaudibly and took a bite of his blackened bacon.

Over the sound of Dudley's chewing, he heard the mail slot opening and some letters hitting the doormat. The doorbell rang barely a second later.

"Get the door, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon, "and the post." Dudley pouted.

"Make him get it!" Dudley gestured at Harry with one of his sausages.

"Get the door, Harry." Normally, Harry would have protested this duty, but he was curious to see who was ringing the Dursleys' doorbell this early in the morning. He headed for the entrance hall and the door, pushing the letters out of the way with his foot. The door opened as his hand touched the knob, and he was forced to take a quick step back.

There stood a tall man, dressed in some sort of black robe. He had long, black hair and a sallow, hook-nosed face. As soon as he saw Harry, his lips curled into a sneer. Harry got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Here was another person who disliked him. The man would probably get along smashingly with the Dursleys.

"Who is it?" bellowed Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. The dark-haired man gave Harry a penetrating look.

"You're Harry, aren't you?" He sounded very annoyed. Harry nodded.

"Yes, and may I ask who you are?" asked Harry, mindful of Uncle Vernon's earlier question. The man took a step into the house and surveyed the entrance hall with disgust.

"Severus Snape, and you may tell your uncle that I am here. I will not be kept waiting like some common visitor!" There was such force in the comment that Harry involuntarily took a step back. He revised his earlier opinion. Perhaps this man would get along with no one. Knowing that the Dursleys wouldn't like to greet a visitor at the breakfast table, he led the man into the living room, then ran quickly to get Uncle Vernon.

"Well?" grunted Uncle Vernon around a piece of toast.

"He says his name is Severus Snape. You're not to keep him waiting." Immediately, Harry knew that it was the wrong thing to say. Uncle Vernon's eyes narrowed and he chucked the last of his toast at Harry, who was just able to duck in time.

"Really, Vernon. I made that toast perfect just for you and little Duddykins," said his Aunt Petunia without looking up from her magazine.

"And I suppose Mr. Potter received all your failed attempts," said a disgusted voice near the doorway. The Dursleys turned to look.

Harry was delighted by their reactions. Aunt Petunia froze, then started shrieking at Mr. Snape. She yelled at him to get away while attempting to push Dudley under the table to shield him, though from what, Harry was at a loss to say.

Uncle Vernon was a bit braver. He stood up to confront the man, though his voice quavered as he spoke to him.

"Your kind isn't welcome here. Go away!" He motioned towards the door with his beefy hand. Mr. Snape sneered at him, and Harry reflected that perhaps he had been lucky earlier to get a low-grade sneer. He was surprised Uncle Vernon wasn't melting into a puddle of goo right on the spot.

Mr. Snape drew a long, thin stick out of his pocket and held it lightly in one hand. It was pointing straight at Dudley.

"I most certainly shall, but first there is the matter of taking Mr. Potter out of your care," he said.

Uncle Vernon looked surprised. He glanced at the stick, then over at Harry, then back at the stick.

"Take him and don't bring him back!" Harry gave his uncle a disgusted look to rival Mr. Snape's. It was good to know that Uncle Vernon cared. Dudley made a whimpering sound from the other side of the table. He was really too big to fit under the table, so his bum and legs were just visible. Harry decided to ask some questions of his own before letting this stranger take him away.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Hogwarts, for now. My house hasn't been lived in for a very long time, and it will take the house elves awhile to make it habitable." Harry's eyes widened at the word 'elves'. Was this man mad? Mr. Snape sighed and looked over at the Dursleys.

"You haven't told him anything, have you?" he asked. It was Petunia who spoke up.

"We don't tolerate that rubbish here! When he came to us, we vowed to stamp it out." Mr. Snape gave her a disdainful look.

"I'm sure that worked well," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Harry had to look away so the Dursleys didn't see him grinning at the expressions on their faces. This was amusing, but he still wanted to know what they were talking about.

"Tell me what?" he asked. Mr. Snape transferred his gaze back to Harry. There was something indefinable in the depths of his black eyes. They stared at each other for a few moments and Harry wondered what the man was seeing.

"About wizards and magic and a good deal more," said Mr. Snape eventually. "But I don't have time for this rubbish." He put the emphasis on the word "rubbish," and Aunt Petunia coloured. "Gather whatever you would like to keep and we'll be going." His expression made it clear that he didn't think there was much Harry would be wanting. "Be quick about it!"

Harry didn't move. He could accept that there were things here he didn't understand, but there was one question he still had to ask.

"But why are you here for me? Why now?" He had been with the Dursleys for most of his life. Why would someone come for him now? Mr. Snape glanced over at the Dursleys, then took a few steps into the room so he was standing right in front of Harry. He bent down and spoke for Harry's ears alone.

"Because I'm your father."

            Harry froze, two conflicting emotions warring for supremacy – joy that he had a real family, and disbelief that this strange man before him could be his father. Disbelief won.

            "You're lying!" he cried, not caring what the Dursleys thought about his outburst. Mr. Snape straightened up and stared at him expressionlessly.

            "It would be better for us both if I were," he said. Was that weariness that Harry detected in his voice? He stared at the man, his thoughts whirling as he tried to fit Mr. Snape into his view of the world.

His parents were dead. They had died in a car crash when he was little, or so the Dursleys had always told him. Not that they talked about it much. They didn't like him asking questions, either.

All right, suppose his father had survived. His name should have been James Potter, not Severus Snape. And if Snape really was his father, where had he been for the past ten years? He opened his mouth to ask, but was interrupted by a loud crash.

Dudley had been unable to remain in the presence of breakfast for such a long time without actually eating it. Unfortunately, he had gotten stuck underneath the table, and had knocked it over while trying to extricate himself. The tabletop lay facing Harry with all the china and food in a messy pile on the floor in front of it. Aunt Petunia was sitting primly in her seat ignoring the incident, but Uncle Vernon was turning red. He looked ready to yell -- as soon as he could figure out whether it was Harry's fault or Mr. Snape's. Heaven forbid that Dudley ever do something wrong.

Harry glanced at Mr. Snape. He had been closer to the table and there was egg splattered across his black cloak. His face looked even paler than before, though Harry was sure that it was with anger.

Uncle Vernon came to a decision. "Now see what you've done!" he yelled at Harry.

Mr. Snape quickly turned to face Uncle Vernon.

"There is egg on my robe," he said in a quiet, yet threatening voice. The stick was being brandished again. "And while you may have missed it, I know who the culprit was." He turned ever so slightly, so that the stick was pointing towards Dudley and said some words in what sounded like Latin. Even as he said them, Aunt Petunia screamed and threw herself in front of Dudley. Uncle Vernon moved towards Mr. Snape, then froze as Aunt Petunia and Dudley hit the ground with a large thump.

Harry felt his breath catch as the table magically righted itself. Dishes and cups pushed themselves together and the food reappeared on top of them. The floor was left clean. Even the bit of egg that Harry could see on Mr. Snape's robes was gone. The wizard (that was the only word that Harry could think of to describe him) took the time to glare once more at the Dursleys, then seemed to dismiss them from his mind.

"Where is your room, Mr. Potter?" he asked. Harry pointed towards the stairs. Mr. Snape gestured for him to proceed, so Harry walked into the corridor and stopped beside his cupboard. They were far enough away from the Dursleys for him to risk a question.

"Why didn't you curse Dudley, Mr. Snape? He was the one who caused the mess." Mr. Snape gave him a scathing look, and Harry looked away.

"Yes, I noticed that," said the wizard in a dry voice when Harry met his eyes again. "I could have cursed him out of existence, but don't you think the looks of horror on their faces were priceless? Not to mention the Headmaster would disapprove if I were to turn your cousin into, say, a pig." Harry grinned.

"I doubt you'd notice the difference," he said. Mr. Snape did not smile. He just looked at Harry, his eyes unfocused, as if he were looking at something very far away.

Harry's good mood vanished. This man was claiming to be his father. Imagining that some long lost relative would come and rescue him had been one of his favourite dreams when he was younger. So why wasn't he happy?

"Why don't you show me this room of yours?" said Mr. Snape, breaking the growing silence. Harry reached for the lock that held the cupboard shut and slid it back. The door swung open with a creak, causing Mr. Snape to step closer to him so he didn't get hit. The wizard reached out and pulled the string to light the single bulb that was dangling from the ceiling inside. A spider, reacting to the light, skittered hurriedly under the bed.

"You have such wonderful accommodations. Tell me, do you eat the spiders when you're in here, or do the spiders eat you? Judging by your appearance, it's probably the latter," said Mr. Snape. His voice was dripping with sarcasm, and some other emotion Harry couldn't identify. Anger? Disgust? Shame? "Well, take what you want!"

Harry jumped, his train of thought broken, and entered the cupboard. He quickly located an old, rusted tin box in which he kept a few broken things that had meaning to him. Grabbing that, he reached over to take one of Dudley's oversized jumpers, but Mr. Snape stopped him. "Don't bother. We'll get you some new clothing. You're going to look skinny enough in clothes that fit you."

 Harry gave him an annoyed look. Did the man ever say anything nice? "Get that stupid look off your face and pay attention!" Mr. Snape said. Apparently not. "How often do you think they will come in here after you leave?" Harry shrugged.

"They'll probably use it to store Dudley's toys, or they might fumigate it since I've been contaminating it all these years." Harry knew he sounded bitter, but it was impossible to keep his voice normal when he thought of how the Dursleys treated him. Mr. Snape nodded. "Good. We'll leave a little surprise here for them, then," he said.

Harry's eyes widened in shock.

"What kind of surprise?" he asked. The wizard smiled at him for the very first time. In the light of the flickering bulb, it made him look even more sinister.

"A nasty one. What else?" He did not wait for Harry to respond, but pointed his wand (at least Harry assumed it was a wand) at a spider on one of the uneven boards of the cupboard's walls.

"Engorgio," he said in an even tone. The spider began to swell. Soon, too large to perch on the wall, it fell heavily to the bed, where it continued to grow. Harry took a step back, but the wizard did not lower his wand until the spider had grown so large that its legs were dangling over the side of the bed. Harry regarded hundreds of black, glittering eyes, and took another step back. He had gotten used to the spiders in the cupboard, but seeing one this large was unnerving. He jumped when a hand came down on his shoulder.

Mr. Snape looked down at him. The smile was gone from his face. "It should be able to survive at least a week in there by eating the other spiders. Plenty of time for your relatives to check in here."

"Don't you mean our relatives?" asked Harry. The man grimaced.

"I'd rather not think about that," he said, and Harry wondered if it was because of the Dursleys or because of him. He felt a sadness creep over him. He agreed with Mr. Snape. He would rather not think about it either.

            Mr. Snape led Harry out through the kitchen and into the entrance hall. "Do you want to say goodbye?" he asked, almost as an afterthought. Harry glanced into the kitchen. The Dursleys were back at breakfast, pretending that everything this morning had never happened. You would never know that they had just given up their nephew to a total stranger -- though if the Dursleys could have had it their way, you would never have known that they had a nephew at all.

Harry's eyes drifted back to Mr. Snape. At least here was someone who wanted him. Mr. Snape seemed to read the answer on his face. "Come on, then." He held the door open for Harry. It was drizzling slightly outside. Harry walked through and looked around curiously. Where was Mr. Snape's car? He turned back, and saw the man bend down and pick up one of the letters on the floor.

"I believe this is yours," said Mr. Snape. Harry's hand closed reflexively about the letter. People didn't send him letters. There must be some sort of mistake. The address on the envelope was written in green ink, and it changed as he watched.

Mr. H. Potter

The Green Room

Hogwarts Castle

Hogwarts Grounds

            "Where is Hogwarts?" he wondered out loud.

            "Someplace we're never going to get to if you keep dawdling." Mr. Snape looked miserable. A drop of water rolled off his large nose. Harry remembered his earlier thought.

            "Where's your car?" he asked. Mr. Snape's lips curled into a sneer.

            "I'm a wizard, not some Muggle. We don't use cars!" Harry was taken aback, but decided to make an effort at peace.

            "Okay. Then what do wizards use for transportation? And what's a Muggle?" he asked. The wizard assumed a lecturing tone.

            "Muggles are people who can't use magic. They're usually resentful of those of us who can." He gestured at the house. "Though they take it to the extreme. You'll find that there are wizards who support the opposite view as well." His face was beginning to pale with anger. Harry wanted to ask Mr. Snape what he meant, but didn't want to interrupt now that he was getting some answers. "Transportation can be accomplished by any number of means, but today we will be using a Portkey." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box made of some dark wood. Strange symbols were engraved upon it, and it seemed to be lit from within.

            "That's a Portkey?" he asked. Mr. Snape impatiently opened the box's lid, allowing Harry to glance within. There was a purple sock with a pattern of tiny red hearts lying inside.

            "That," said Mr. Snape, "is a Portkey." Harry gave him a questioning look. "Albus is partial to socks," Mr. Snape said in a long-suffering tone. A high-pitched scream came from the house and a very evil grin crossed Mr. Snape's face. "That would be your aunt." There was a loud crash. "And that would be your uncle. Shall we take our leave?" Harry nodded and smiled weakly at him. He was confused about the Dursleys. Sure they had treated him horribly, but he wouldn't wish that spider on anyone.

            "When you touch the Portkey it will feel like someone has hooked you about the waist, and you will end up at the destination the Portkey is set for -- in this case, Hogwarts. You would do well to plant your feet before we go," said Mr. Snape. Harry nodded in understanding and settled his feet firmly on the ground.

            "Okay. Now what?"

            "Just place your hand on the sock." Harry reached out a tentative finger to stab down on one of the hearts, just as Mr. Snape grasped the sock's toe. The world whirled around him, and suddenly they were standing on a well-trimmed lawn near a lake. Off in the distance, Harry could see a magnificent castle that looked too big and strange to be real. He swayed, his balance still upset from the Portkey, and felt a hand on his shoulder steadying him. Harry gave Mr. Snape a smile of gratitude.

            "Thanks," he said. The wizard stared at him, and abruptly Harry recognized the emotion that was written on the man's face. Pain. "What is it?" he asked, wondering if he would get an answer. Mr. Snape turned away and strode towards the castle that dominated the landscape.

            "You smile just like your mother," he said over his shoulder. Harry stood for a moment gaping at the man, then had to hurry to catch up. He was slightly out of breath when he came even with Mr. Snape at the front of the castle, but the wizard didn't even spare him a glance.

            The huge, wooden doors opened before them, and an old man in purple robes came out to greet them. He had the longest beard Harry had ever seen, and his eyes twinkled when he smiled.

            "Hello, Harry. Welcome to Hogwarts." The old man looked him over, giving him the same penetrating look that Mr. Snape seemed to have perfected. He appeared satisfied with what he saw and caught Mr. Snape's eye.

"He looks just like you, Severus," he said, his eyes twinkling again. Harry wondered what the old man was talking about. Other than their hair colours, he and Mr. Snape looked nothing alike.

            "Very funny, Albus." Mr. Snape scowled at the man. "Harry, this is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, among other things."

            "Headmaster? Is this a school?" Harry asked. He had seen pictures of Smeltings, where Dudley was going this year, and it hadn't looked nearly as grand. Mr. Dumbledore chuckled.

            "I've never liked the word school. It implies that it is only the children who are learning and being taught," he said. Harry looked at the man perplexedly, trying to understand what the he meant. The Headmaster gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm sure you have lots of questions, Harry. If you'll follow me, we'll have some tea and see if we can't answer a few of them." Harry looked at Mr. Snape, but the wizard's face was frozen in a frown that seemed to be directed at Mr. Dumbledore. The older wizard ignored it and started walking up the staircase that took up most of the entrance hall.  

            Harry and Mr. Snape followed Mr. Dumbledore through the school. They walked up staircases that moved unexpectedly, and Harry jumped the first time he realized that the people in the portraits were animated. Just what was this place? And why was he here? Mr. Snape was a wizard, and perhaps he was his father … Harry's mind shied away from the thought. But why had he been brought to a wizard's school? What did you teach wizards anyway?

            "It's only magic," said the dark-haired wizard beside him, breaking into Harry's thoughts. "You should read your letter." Harry remembered the letter in his hand, and opened it to read the first page. He read it once as he walked, then read it again.

            "I can do magic?" he asked incredulously. Mr. Snape gave him a disdainful look.

            "You wouldn't be here if you couldn't," he said. Harry felt his heart sink.

            "So you would have just left me with the Dursleys if I couldn't do magic?" he asked in a quiet voice. Mr. Dumbledore stopped walking and turned to meet Mr. Snape's eyes. The younger wizard looked away after a moment and focused on the wall above Harry's head.

            "No," he said after a long silence, "I would have come for you regardless of your talents."