Severus strode purposefully through the Floo and into the Headmaster's office. The sun had just sunk into the horizon, and through the fenestres he could see the sky stained a deep violet hue in its wake. Severus peered around the circular office then absently brushed a trace of ash from the heavy black material of his traveling cloak. Dumbledore was waiting, predictably, wearing very flamboyantly styled wizard's robes in eye-watering shades of mint green and lavender with silver trim.
"Were you simply going to blind the Dursleys in an attempt to extract information from them?" Severus asked dryly as his employer stood then walked around his ornate desk.
"Under normal circumstances, I would attempt to wear a fashionable Muggle suit when making a visit to a student's home. It tends to make the Muggle parents and guardians much more at ease," Dumbledore replied as he smiled slyly at Severus. "However, under these circumstances, I am hardly concerned about the comfort of our hosts."
"At least we agree upon something," Severus replied derisively as he watched Dumbledore pull a battered and tarnished thimble from the folds of his robes.
"We'll be traveling by Portkey tonight, Severus," Dumbledore said. "Forgive me, I know it's not your favourite means of travel, but I think we can both agree we would prefer not to be seen by a certain person leaving the castle grounds."
Instantly, Severus thought of Quinerus Quirrell as being the person Dumbledore was referring to. Quirrell was the overly anxious Defence Against the Dark Arts professor who had recently returned from Albania. Dumbledore had asked Severus just before term started to keep an eye on his strange acting colleague. Before leaving for Albania to study the Dark Arts first hand, Quirrell had been a quiet, albeit brilliant professor who seemed quite content to teach Muggle Studies. But after his return, Severus couldn't help but notice that Quirrell's behaviour became odder by the day, not to mention the clear lack of proper hygiene.
The practically unbearable stench of garlic reeked from the ridiculous purple turban Quirrell had taken to wearing over the summer. It had turned Severus off his food when he sat next to him during the Welcoming Feast. Ever since, Severus had opted to sit as far away from the pungent professor as he could possibly get.
But it was not only Quirrell's odd turban and aroma that had troubled Severus. Dumbledore was becoming more suspicious of the man after hearing Severus' reports of his odd behaviour since term began. As such, Quirrell has been kept as far away from certain important matters as humanly possible—especially concerning a particular stone.
The Headmaster tapped the thimble with his wand and the small, innocuous item began to glow blue as both men touched it. Severus felt the familiar tug of the Portkey's magic in his navel, yanking him through space and time to Privet drive. When the pulling sensation ceased, Severus quickly surveyed the surrounding area with practiced ease. There were a few habits he had learned from his days as a spy that he preferred to keep, vigilance was one of them.
A dense ground fog caused the chilly night air to feel thick and oppressive and Severus instinctively pulled the hood of his cloak up, obscuring his face. Through the mist, he could see rows of nearly identical houses on either side of the newly paved street. Severus took an instant dislike to the air of conformity, but he would expect nothing less from Petunia. She was as envious of magic as much as she feared it. It was a fear that turned to hatred of anything that she considered 'abnormal.'
Dumbledore turned to Severus. With scarcely a noticeable flick of his wand he cast a Notice-Me-Not charm over the pair of them and together they strolled down the street in their wizarding robes without concern of drawing unwanted attention from nosey neighbours.
Severus wasn't precisely sure what to expect as they strode up the walkway to the front door of Number Four. He glanced down at the flowers planted at the edge of the walk and instinctively stopped to examine the blooms.
"Lilium candidum" Severus muttered as he leaned over and plucked one of the small, white flowers and examined it closely. "The Madonna Lily."
Severus stood confused, trying to understand why Petunia would plant such a flower. The flower was a sign of purity and Severus wondered if Petunia understood its sacred meaning.
Dumbledore contemplated the flower in Severus' hand, "They certainly are flourishing. Perhaps Petunia has not entirely forgotten the sister she once loved so dearly."
"Perhaps," Severus murmured, stowing the bloom in pocket of his cloak as they continued up the walk.
Dumbledore rang the bell. The door opened almost immediately. Severus and Albus both nearly jumped back from shock. It was as if someone had been waiting for them.
Severus suppressed his urge to laugh. It was nearly humorous, the way Petunia's long, horse-like face, melted from a simpering smile into a mask of horror and disgust when she realized who was standing on her front stoop.
She quickly moved to slam the door, but Severus had been prepared for this; after all how many times had she slammed the door in his face when they were children? Severus pushed the door open with brute strength, forcing Petunia to take a stumbling step backward across the floor of the foyer.
"It has been a long time, Tuney. I see the years have not been kind."
Petunia let out a soft squeak as she gaped at them, raising her hand and pointing her bony index finger at Severus. "You have no right to be here!"
"On the contrary," Dumbledore replied calmly. "As the Executor of Harry's trust, from which you receive a handsome sum every month for his upkeep, I have every right to be here. And since I have recently determined that Severus has a vested interest in Harry's wellbeing, I thought it prudent that he should come along."
Petunia stared gormlessly at the two wizards as she unconsciously backed away from them. After a few awkward seconds, it was clear she wasn't about to practice simple etiquette and invite them into the house.
"Let's assume you have invited us into your sitting room," Dumbledore said almost cheerfully as they moved over the threshold and proceeded into the painfully neat house.
Petunia finally moved because she had no other option and led them into the sitting room. The over-decorated room was the most awful shade of salmon Severus had ever laid his eyes on. There were fussy, little pillows scattered everywhere and more tacky nick-knacks than he cared to count. What was most noticeable to Severus, however- in a room that screamed to be noticed, was the complete lack of evidence that Harry had ever existed inside this house.
There were countless photographs of a hulking mass of what vaguely resembled a blonde boy placed strategically over every flat surface in the room, yet not one of Harry. On a small table next to the entrance was an unopened post written in unmistakable child's handwriting from Smelting's Academy. Severus had heard of the boarding school. Good. They would only have to deal with adults this night.
Severus noticed an obese, walrus-looking man sunk into the couch. He assumed it was Petunia's husband, Vernon Dursley. Lily had described him to Severus once and once again, Lily had been unfailingly kind in her description.
Petunia spun about and faced them. Her pinched face was even paler with barely contained anger. She did not invite them to sit down, which Severus expected; she wouldn't want their 'freakishness' sullying her over-priced, fussy-looking furniture.
"Pet, who was at the door?" Dursley asked, not bothering to he look up from his evening paper as they entered the room. Only when Petunia failed to answer, he finally removed his bulbous nose from the paper. Dursley's face immediately turned a mottled puce as he saw the two wizards standing before him. He threw his paper to the floor and struggled to heft his considerable weight to his feet.
Spittle flew from Dursley's moustache as he bellowed, "I meant to be shed of freaks and degenerates when we sent the boy to that school! Now get out my house now!"
"Petunia, I think it would be wise if we were to all sit down. We have a few matters we need to discuss with you regarding young Harry Potter," Dumbledore said pleasantly, completely ignoring the Dursley patriarch's vitriol.
Dumbledore conjured two brightly coloured, comfortable-looking armchairs for himself and Severus. He then flicked a wand in Dursley's direction, and the man was shoved back down onto sofa as though by an invisible hand.
The disgustingly obese Muggle appeared overtly enraged and frightened simultaneously. He amazingly made no sound or movement, but simply stared at the two wizards until Severus thought his eyes would surely pop out of their sockets.
Dumbledore serenely rested his elbows on the arms of the conjured, overstuffed chair and steepled his fingers together, his wand at the ready in his lap.
"Petunia, we have corresponded and you already know Severus," Dumbledore said pleasantly, gesturing to the sofa. "Please sit."
Petunia obliged, and quietly slid onto the sofa beside her stunned husband, neither daring to utter a word. Vernon Dursley's mottled, red face had drained of colour so rapidly, Severus thought he might faint dead away at any moment. Severus noticed Dumbledore, meanwhile, was eyeing both of the Muggles quite keenly.
Dursley's face, which had gone frighteningly pale, now began to colour again so rapidly Severus wondered if he could possibly burst an important blood vessel. Severus sorely hoped that was not the case, for if this shapeless mass posing as a Muggle had hurt Harry, a stroke would be too merciful an end when Severus could think of one or two old Death Eater party tricks that would more than fit the bill.
Dursley leaned forward menacingly, his fat jowls quivering with barely contained anger. "Now see here," he spat, as he lumbered to his feet, clearly taking the offensive. "We didn't ask to be saddled with that boy! You abandoned the little brat on our doorstep in the middle of the night, with just a blasted note. Now ten years later you appear at my house, at ungodly hours and attack me. You have some nerve to ask about him now!"
Dumbledore reclined serenely in his chair as he listened Dursley's rant. When the fat lump was finished, Dumbledore leaned forward and said diplomatically, "It seems that I was sorely mistaken in placing Harry in the home of his mother's only sister. If you were not agreeable to the arrangement, I left a means for Petunia to contact me. Other arrangements could have been made."
"Although I believe I am safe in assuming," he continued, levelling an icy glare at the Muggles. "That the afore mentioned money allotted to you each month for his upkeep was a large factor in you deciding to keep him."
Severus glanced over and saw Petunia blanch and clutch a shaky hand to her bony chest. What little colour that remained in her face faded until the skin that was stretched over her cheek bones seemed completely bloodless and waxy.
"I see," Dumbledore acknowledged calmly, inclining his head. It took every bit of Severus' Occulmency skills to compartmentalize his emotions, which was the only thing preventing him from leaping to his feet and playing some of the Dark Lord's favourite games. As it was, his fists were clenched so tight, they were aching.
It was then, that Petunia seemed to have gathered some of her sanctimonious defiance that Severus remembered so well. "If you were so interested in the boy, why did you wait until now to show up on my doorstep," she said heatedly.
Petunia quickly jutted her chin in Severus' direction. "And what of him? 'Vested interest,' indeed," she said as she looked down her nose at Severus contemptuously. "It's been obvious whose sprog the boy was since he was two! Where have you been all of this time while I've been feeding your bastard and putting a roof over his head…Sevie?"
"Sit down, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted with deceptive calmness. Severus slowly lowered himself back into his chair, never taking his hateful glare off Petunia, and never taking his grip off the wand concealed in his left cloak pocket.
"In all these years, Petunia, never once did you voice your complaints to me over the situation," Dumbledore said. "And I blame myself for trusting that your better nature would welcome Harry as part of your family."
Severus thought that at least Petunia had the grace to look embarrassed whilst her husband looked as though he were about to blow a major artery again.
Dumbledore continued, "As for Severus, however, he has only become recently aware that it is possible that he may be Harry's father. That is why we are here. We don't wish to say anything to Harry unless we are absolutely certain. We can perform an easy…test, to determine paternity, but we need something of Harry's—a hair from a brush or pillow, perhaps."
"Just one moment," Petunia said in a clipped tone.
Both Severus and Dumbledore followed Petunia with their eyes as she bounded up the stairs in a very unladylike manner which was completely out of her character. Frankly, Severus had no idea the woman could move so quickly.
"Wait!" Dursley said, becoming suddenly more animated. "You mean that you want to take the boy?" He asked, looking directly to Severus. "Where do we sign?"
Severus could feel the hair rise on the back of his neck. "You mean to tell me, that after ten years of…caring for the boy, you are so eager to foist him off on a complete stranger?"
"If you're his father, then the boy ought to be with you." If it weren't for Dursley's contemptuous delivery, Severus would contend it was the only reasonable thing the lump had said during their entire visit.
"And if I'm not?"
Before Dursley's bloated face could answer, Petunia scurried back down the stairs.
Petunia practically shoved a small, bristled brush under Severus' nose.
"Will this work?" she sneered.
The brush was obviously old and so battered, the bristles practically laid flat. There was black hair matted inside that was too short and fine to belong to the lummox sitting before him. As Petunia and their spawn were blonde, the hair most likely belonged to Harry.
To the shock of their hosts, without a word, Severus pulled his wand from his pocket, and produced a white kerchief from thin air. He wrapped the brush in the cloth then tucked it in his robe pocket.
"Yes, Petunia, that should do quite nicely," Dumbledore said amicably enough, though not bothering to supress his grin as Petunia and her whale blustered over such offensive magic being used in their house.
While Dursley turned red trying to voice his outrage, Petunia shrieked, "How dare you use such unnaturalness in my house! Get out!"
Severus and Dumbledore were already rising from the couch as Petunia begun her tirade. Obviously Petunia was not as intimidated by Severus' magic as she was the headmaster's.
"It just so happens, we were just leaving," Severus said coolly.
Petunia was practically on Severus' heals with her 'brave' husband right behind her as Severus and the headmaster made for the front door. As they left the sitting room and entered the hall, something unseen struck Severus as they passed the door of the small broom cupboard under the stairs.
It obviously wasn't Severus' imagination. Albus had stopped to stare at the little cupboard as well. There was the unmistakable vibe of magic practically pounding on the door.
"What is in there?" Severus asked darkly as he pointed at the little door. Something about it made Severus' insides turn. Perhaps it had something to do with the padlock.
"Nothing!" Petunia said too quickly. "It's a broom cupboard. That's where I keep my cleaning supplies," she added nervously.
"Under lock and key?" Severus queried again as he took a step towards the cupboard. He was going to see what these two Muggles had to hide.
Before he could take a second step, Dursley shoved his wife out of his way and used his bulk to usher Severus and Albus towards the door. "Get out!" he thundered. "There is nothing in there of your concern!"
It happened all too quickly, and both wizards were out the threshold before they knew it. "Don't come back without those custody papers!" Dursley bellowed once more before slamming the door in their faces.
For a moment, Severus and Albus looked at each other with a mix of shock and concern. Neither of them seemed to care that a light popped on at the Muggle's house across the street. Let the Dursley's explain their strange visitors to the neighbours.
"You felt it too, didn't you, Albus?"
"Yes," Albus replied gravely. "That cupboard has been exposed to Magic—often and for quite some time."
Damn the Muggles. Severus wanted some explanations and he would get them even if he had to force his way back into the blasted house. Severus reached for his wand, but his hand was stayed by the headmaster's.
"Come with me," Albus said as he grabbed Severus by the crook of the arm and led him away from the house. They walked a couple of blocks in the dark, until they came to an empty playground away from prying eyes.
Severus didn't want to Portkey back to Hogwarts. He wanted to have a go at Dursley's now.
"We're not leaving! Damn it, Albus," Severus said as he shook off Dumbledore's hand. "You know as well as I that the only way that cupboard could have absorbed so much magic…."Severus was so exasperated he almost couldn't finish his sentence. He finally just shouted what he and the headmaster already knew. "They obviously locked the boy in there as punishment. Just because Harry couldn't help being a Wizard!"
"I know," the headmaster replied calmly, though it was obvious he was as angry as Severus. "But we cannot lose our advantage now. Harry is no ordinary boy and biological father or not, if wind of this gets out to the Ministry before you have legal custody, it could go very bad for Harry. This must be done delicately."
"But, Albus, are they to just get away with this? They obviously abused the boy! This could just be the beginning!"
"Believe me, Severus, if our suspicions are true, there will be justice for Harry," Dumbledore said as he reached in his pocket for the Portkey again. "I just pray that paternity test comes out positive, or else things are going to get sticky rather quick."
Severus didn't bother to answer, because he knew there was no way he was going to win this argument tonight. But still, as he placed his finger on the glowing, blue thimble, the pull of magical transport was not the only thing that tugged on his gut and made him feel like he swallowed a ton of lead.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~To Be Continued~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I bow my head in shame and beg forgiveness for my lateness. Unfortunately this year has been a killer…almost twice. Not only have I had to deal with my dad's hospital stays, but also one of my own if you don't include the car accident. Anyway, Luck had her part done long ago. The tardiness is my fault.
As restitution, and thanks for everyone's enthusiasm for this story, Luck has created a new fan video for this story. You will find the link on my profile page. It is sort of a prequel telling the story of Severus and Lily's relationship and Harry's birth. We hope you enjoy it.
~Missyann and Luck