AN: Hello again! This one is going to be a guardian/mentor story, and it's set during Hogwarts. There won't be any CP, for those who avoid those fics, and there won't be character bashing either. Chapters will be updated once a week/week and a half, because I'd rather not sacrifice quality for time restraints. I'll post on my profile if there's an unexpected delay. Hope you enjoy it! - oh, and I've no idea how long this will be, but definitely more than a few chapters.
Far Beyond a Promise Kept
Albus Dumbledore enjoyed frequenting little Muggle cafes and pubs around the country during the summer. It was his way of interacting with Muggles, keeping up to date with the social and political environment of England, and trying to keep in touch with the world his Muggle-born students came from.
Severus Snape was not fond of meeting the Headmaster in such pubs, not because he had a dislike of Muggles, but because Dumbledore, for his open embracement of Muggle life, had never quite grasped the fashion trends and tended to stick out like a mad man. Even when sitting in the back of this particular pub, Snape noted that the Headmaster had been given a wide berth.
"Good evening, Severus," Dumbledore greeted, holding up his mug. His dark purple pantsuit was thankfully not velvet, but it was slightly reflective and the lapels of it were lined with some sort of cheap fake jewels.
"Headmaster," Snape returned, pulling his own chair out. In his dark trousers and blue striped dress shirt he was likely not even noticed by most Muggles, but then, Snape had spent his entire childhood standing out and took great care not to do so as an adult.
"Albus, my boy. I am beginning to suspect that you enjoy making me remind you," Dumbledore said, closing the book he'd been taking notes in. He was wearing several different rings on his hands, and Snape knew they just added to the eccentric look.
"Merely a sign of respect," Snape replied. His over coat was placed on one of the empty chairs at the table and Snape didn't bother with a drying charm. With the amount of rain pouring down outside, it would be highly suspicious if his coat dried itself in such a short period of time.
"You are looking well, Severus. I dare say you've spent more than a few days outdoors?" Dumbledore asked, in the slightly teasing tone that only he could get away with.
Snape glanced at the window, where the storm outside was battering anything and everything it could.
"I have been about the countryside, yes," Snape vaguely answered. His plan for the summer, ever since a scrawny preteen had returned bloodied and half-dead from the Chamber of Secrets, had been to search the old haunts of England for signs of Voldemort. He'd not shared the plan with the Headmaster though, and had no immediate intention to.
"Have you made your decision regarding the Defence Against the Dark Arts post?" Snape asked, cutting to the crux of their meeting.
"I have," Dumbledore said, and Snape could tell by the soft tone of his employer's voice that he wouldn't like the answer. He fought the urge to cross his arms, like a petulant teenager.
"I have taken your rather strong suggestions into consideration, Severus, and I believe I have hired a suitable professor for the position. It is someone you know, and I will ask you to set aside your past conflicts in order to ensure that the students are not caught between two warring professors."
"Who is it?" Snape coldly asked, his dark eyes boring into Dumbledore's. He refused to let the Headmaster see his reaction over being slighted yet again.
An ugly scowl set upon Snape's face, turning quickly into a snarl.
"Remus Lupin," Snape repeated, his voice coming out like a hiss. "You chose to hire a werewolf to teach the students defence?"
"Severus," Dumbledore replied, in a strict tone. "He has faced persecution for what he is, and he has had to defend himself."
"And gone on the offence as well," Snape sneered. His left eye was ticking as the blood pounded toward his head and fuelled his anger.
"He will be carefully monitored, and I wish for you to supply him with Wolfsbane. Your brew is the only I would trust," Dumbledore calmly said, paying not attention to the people around them, who were becoming more curious about their heated conversation.
"And if I refuse?" Snape silkily asked.
Dumbledore looked up from stirring his drink, with a considering look.
"If you are reneging on your duties of Potions Master, I shall have to find you another position within the castle."
"Unacceptable," Snape barked, before casting a quick spell around the table to mask their conversation.
"I have earned that position. I had my suspicions of Quirrell, and investigated him as you asked. I put up with that fool of a professor last year, because you refused to sack the man and hire someone slightly more competent than a troll. But this is too far, Dumbledore. I will not stand by as you allow a werewolf into the school amongst the children."
"Severus, I had hoped by now that you would be able to look past such skirmishes from childhood," Dumbledore said. He took another sip of his cup, barely avoiding his beard from dripping in.
"It was attempted murder! And while I am aware that Lupin himself did not set the trap, I have no desire to be in close quarters with the beast that nearly killed me as a child," Snape snapped back. "You will explain to me why I have been passed over for the position once again."
"My boy, I do believe that I am the Headmaster of the school," Dumbledore mildly said.
"And I gave my word to you to protect Lily's son!" Snape interrupted. "I swore on my life to protect him, and each year that you deny me the position, and the opportunity to teach him proper defensive skills, you make a complete mockery of my promise."
Dumbledore's face softened, and it only made Snape angrier.
"Don't," Snape started, but Dumbledore held up his hand.
"You are best suited right now for the position of Potions Master. As I do believe that Voldemort will continue trying to return, I know that your skills will be of the utmost value when that does happen. And so I must ask you again, Severus, please remain in your post, and continue to protect him. And I shall continue to keep my word, and never speak of your brave actions."
Snape's lips tightened at that, and his throat visibly tightened as he swallowed back his first response.
"Have you not thought about Lupin's old friend, Sirius Black? And that he is now on the run?"
"Yes," Dumbledore said, with a serious note to his voice. "And I do believe that, like yourself, Remus Lupin is not all together forgiving toward his friend for his friend's betrayal."
"But you could be wrong," Snape pressed. "You have Remus Lupin at the castle, Sirius Black has escaped, and Potter has grown into the exact Gryffindor replica of his father. The only thing missing, to help relive my merry days in fifth year is Peter Pettigrew."
"Ah Severus, you have always had a gift for the melodramatic," Dumbledore said, with a smile. He spoke again quickly, interrupting Snape's objection.
"But I believe you should take a closer look at Harry. I've been told that the Sorting Hat nearly placed him in Slytherin."
"Preposterous," Snape scoffed, coughing a little. "That boy is the very definition of impetuous. And as soon as he finds out what Black did, he will go after him."
"If Harry finds out before Black is captured, I shall impress upon him how important it is to keep be on guard. For now, Harry is safe at his relatives, and will be safe at Hogwarts."
Snape checked the time quickly and then rose from the table, realising it had gotten late and he was pushing his luck with his temper and tolerance of Dumbledore.
"As he was with the stone, and the basilisk?" Snape asked, putting his coat on. Before Dumbledore could answer, Snape shook his head.
"Three eleven year old children were able to bypass seven protective challenges set by professors. Potter's luck and headstrong determination is dangerous, and the boy needs to be taught properly how to avoid the perilous situations he often finds himself in."
Dumbledore smiled up at Snape, with a slight nod to his head, just as he had at the Leaving Feast when he'd stolen the House Cup from Slytherin. There had almost been a riot in the dungeon that evening, and Snape felt his anger start to rise again.
"We share the same concern of impending war, Severus," Dumbledore quietly said. "But we must remember, that no matter how vital Harry Potter is to that war, he is still a boy. He need not concern himself with grisly tales of murder and betrayal, not yet."
"He is a thirteen year old boy," Snape impatiently said. "They're all interested in murder and muck and mayhem. If Potter agrees, do I have your permission to privately tutor him with defensive spells?"
"I'm quite sure that Remus will do an adequate job, Severus," Dumbledore said with slight surprise, holding up his empty mug toward the front cash and smiling at the waitress.
"Headmaster," Snape prompted.
"However, if Mr Potter ever wishes to study further under your guidance, I shall of course not stand in the way."
Snape nodded, buttoning up his still slightly damp overcoat. A muttered spell dried it, though Snape could hear the rain battering the cafe windows and knew it'd be drenched again soon enough.
"Fine," Snape said. "Good evening."
"Good evening," Dumbledore cheerily replied. "Oh, and please have the first dose of Wolfsbane ready by the start of term, if you will."
Snape scrunched up his mouth, as if he were going to swear, and after a second continued walking out of the cafe. Crossing Dumbledore over this would be merely a trivial matter, and if Snape were ever going to be reprimanded, he intended to deserve it.
"Albus sodding Dumbledore," Snape muttered, shedding back his thoroughly soaked cloak. It fell to the floor with a satisfying splot, landing near the muddy footprints Snape's boots had made. Covered in mud from the wet lanes and splashing cars that led from the cafe to an apparition point, Snape rested a damp hand against the wall as he wrestled the boots off his feet. Wool socks, damp enough to itch, but not enough to wrinkle the skin of his toes, were tossed in the pile next to the cloak. For good measure, Snape peeled the trousers from his legs, the wet skin prickling as sense returned to them. His lower legs were chilled, ankles splattered with a mixture of cold grit from the mud, and he cast a strong wandless spell to start his shower running with hot water.
He'd had a thoroughly wretched end to a dismal teaching year, and though the weather was acting as miserable as Snape felt, Snape was determined to spend this August warm. He left uneven footprints as he stalked half dressed through his small flat, the ball of his foot leaving more of a mark than his heel. After four weeks roaming the old Death Eater haunts, late nights in murky and depressing places, the only thing he had to show for it was a chill in him that usually had nothing to do with the weather, and a wariness that came with compounding insufficient sleep. He hadn't found any sign of Sirius Black, nor whatever remained of the Dark Lord. And Snape was determined to seek both out, as he refused to lie in wait and allow them to strike at will.
It was enough to be looking out for both of these threats now, with the Potter boy's penchant for finding trouble, and then to be told that he'd have to work alongside a werewolf that had once nearly killed him, well. That was the last straw.
Snape stepped into the large glass shower, the remainder of his clothes forgotten on the floor and his eyes closed as his skin warmed up to room temperature again. He didn't like to take baths, didn't have the patience to sit soaking in his own body's…additions to water. No, he preferred showers, and as his clothing silently floated toward a laundry basket, he dispensed shampoo for his hair. Now that it was summer and there were no students around, his own careful brewing habits meant his personal appearance didn't suffer from the protective washes he used as a professor.
The evening had most certainly turned sour, the rain not withstanding. The meeting had not gone anywhere that Snape had hoped, though if he were honest with himself, he'd rather expected the slight of position, and the fact that security around Potter wouldn't be stepped up regardless of what had happened in the previous two years. A student had been possessed, kidnapped, and nearly killed. Naturally, Potter would once again be left to his own devices to fend off such threats.
While Snape didn't like the boy, he certainly didn't wish him dead, and felt insulted that his promise to safe guard Lily's boy was met with such a lackadaisical disregard for proper protection. Snape was not a lazy man, and while he was strictly a man of his word, he'd also observed that Potter attracted ill fortune like a damn magnet, and Snape knew it would only get worse.
Snape wrapped himself in a flannel pyjama set, with a thick fleecy house robe over top. Warm wool socks waited for him on the cast iron heater in his kitchen, and he mentally replayed the meeting through his mind as he waited on the kettle.
As irritating as Dumbledore's outward nonchalance was, Snape had spent enough time as a Hogwarts professor to know that his concerns would be ever present in the back of the headmaster's mind. Albus Dumbledore had never been one to lay all his cards on the table, and Snape suspected that even if the Dark Lord returned, and the wizarding world was thrust into a second world war, Dumbledore would continue to hold his plans and secrets close.
Pausing to turn on the small wooden wizarding wireless radio on the bookcase, Snape rolled his neck and listened to the produced crackles with a sort of satisfaction. He was only thirty-three, yet his body offered its own rather boisterous opinion to the treatment Snape had subjected it to over the years.
Snape sat back in his white armchair, sinking into the soft material of it and carefully holding onto his mug of hot chocolate. A personal indulgence that he'd never grown out of as a child, the chocolate permeated a pleasant aroma around the chair as Snape summoned the newspapers from his satchel on the coffee table. He'd bought several of them, from a tiring round of apparition to different counties in southern England. All had varying reports on Sirius Black, and though the Muggle news was slightly less detailed than the wizarding, the message was the same. Black had escaped from Azkaban, and hadn't been seen since.
On the book case to the left of the mantel was the post, which had arrived through the charmed mail slot in the door and been immediately whisked to an inbox on the bookshelf. He spied a colourful glossy magazine in the post pile, and Snape summoned it to his seat. It was too late to go to the shops now, but perhaps in the morning he'd treat himself to a new training game.
Holding the mug of hot chocolate in his left hand, the one that felt the damp more due to several long-ago broken knuckles, Snape flicked through the magazine and circled the games he found interesting. That is what he would do tomorrow, he decided. Sod the rain, and sod the investigation for the moment. He'd tried his best to explain to Albus Dumbledore why his concerns for the safety of the school were so numerous, and the man had simply smiled away the complaints. Snape had some irritation to burn off now.
Snape relaxed back into his chair, watching the storm outside, until his hot chocolate was finished. Tomorrow he'd go into Upper Tarrow and get some of his own practice in, before making his way over to Little Whinging to check just how protected Potter was at that Muggle home. Snape had been to Surrey a few times, and been utterly unimpressed with the cookie-cutter impression the town gave. It was boring, unimaginative, built within the last fifty years and without any sort of character whatsoever. And no matter what the Headmaster believed, it wasn't safe. Severus Snape was quite certain he wasn't the only wizard, half-blood or otherwise, to discover that Dursley, V P had been in the telephone book long before 1981.
Snape turned up his overcoat collar as he walked up Privet Drive, glancing up at the dark clouds overhead. Dusk had just fallen, and it was just that time of day that the insides of houses, all lit up, were far more visible than the outside.
Despite not paying attention to the house numbers, it was easy to pick out Petunia's house. The front garden was manicured to perfection, and even the way the front windows had been painted and decorated with plant boxes reminded Snape of the Evans's home when he was a child.
There was a lot of noise going inside as Snape approached, from the incessant barking of a small dog to a curious thumping sound near the front door. With an instinct that had rarely served him wrong in the past, Snape stepped into the shadows of the plants in the front garden, removing his prized Demiguise-hair invisibility cloak from his coat pocket and covering himself with it.
The voice shouting through the door belonged to an adult, not a child, and after a second the door burst open and Snape got a good look of what must have been Vernon Dursley. His cherry-red face and pained expression made him look more grotesque than Snape suspected he normally looked, and his chubby pointing finger was out and shaking at Potter.
Potter was an interesting study himself. The boy was standing at the front door, with his trunk and owl cage, holding his Uncle at wand point.
"She deserved it," Potter said, his hand never wavering. "I've had enough."
Dursley's face twisted further with rage, and Potter wisely stepped out of the house, out of reach of his Uncle.
"You fix her. This instant," Dursley threatened.
"No," Potter said, shaking his head. "I won't. And I'm not sorry either."
Before Dursley could respond to that cryptic statement, Potter yanked his trunk trolley over the front step and stormed off down the walkway. Snape watched the boy leave, with a determined walk he'd seen many a stubborn student do after they'd just received detention.
"Do not come back here, Potter, if you know what's good for you!" Dursley finally growled, slamming the door hard enough to rattle the plant boxes. Snape heard two locks clicking closed inside, and the porch light was killed.
Before Snape could take a moment to figure out what on Earth had just happened, he heard the faint noise of apparition from somewhere behind the house. Snape had a slight sinking feeling upon recognising the noise, for the safety wards that Potter was to be under had strong anti-apparition barriers within them. A quick peek through the window showed a man wearing a Ministry of Magic uniform inside, and Snape felt slightly mollified that it was at least someone official (and therefore traceable), who had been able to enter the premises.
He looked toward the end of the drive to see if Potter had stopped there to collect his wits. The boy was nowhere to be found though, and Snape stomped out of the garden, cursing. Surely Potter wasn't dim enough to actually leave.
"Stupid, stupid," Harry muttered, kicking the woodchips of the Magnolia Crescent playground. He couldn't hear Aunt Marge yelling anymore, but he could still see her dark shape floating between the clouds. It was a damp night again, and Harry was quickly realizing that he had no idea where to go.
London was an option, but only if Harry used magic to get there. A cat yowled from an alleyway to Harry's right and he shivered, wanting to get out of the park. Dudley and his friends often chased Harry through the park during 'Harry Hunting', and by night it wasn't any more pleasant of a place.
Harry reached into his trunk for his invisibility cloak and froze as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Glancing round quickly, Harry's fingers clenched the lid of his trunk. There was nothing there, nothing that he could see. The shadows were darker though, in contrast with the illuminated windows that showed other families settling in after dinner.
He reached down again, sure that once he'd found the cloak and a way to be unseen, he'd be able to think with a clearer mind. It'd be safer, at the very least. The chilling feeling of being watched washed over him again, and Harry whipped his wand out as he spun around. Through one of the side streets, between two parked cars and in the direct path that Harry had walked not moments before, a giant black dog was growling. The eyes seemed to glow, and the beast was hunched over.
"Canus exumai!" Harry yelled, though his spell hit the car instead of the advancing dog. Harry frantically tried to think of another spell to use, as the dog was snapping as it approached, when he felt the presence of someone else behind him. Harry didn't turn to see who it was though, as the appearance of the stranger had really set the dog off. Barking and foaming at the mouth, the dog started to run and Harry hoped that the man beside him would mistake his wand for just a stick. Seconds before Harry was going to try another spell, the rubbish bin at the kerb exploded. Bits of paper and old food went flying, causing the dog to bark in frustration and run off.
Harry, his fingers pulsing as he gripped his wand strongly, fought his instincts to not turn around. While he was happy to be rid of the snarling dog, he was now quite certain that whoever was behind him was also a wizard.
"I suppose it would never occur to you to aim for the eyes?"
There was no mistaking that voice, and Harry's eyes widened as he took in Snape. The man was standing about ten feet behind him, swathed in black Muggle clothes and with nary a hair out of place. He looked irritated, but then, Snape was almost always irritated at something. Even though that something was probably Harry, Harry couldn't help but feel a rush of relief upon seeing the man. Snape was scary as hell, and there were worse people to have at his back in the dark.
"I was trying to," Harry sarcastically responded, before snapping his mouth shut. Professor Snape was in Little Whinging, in the middle of the summer. That wasn't good.
"You've come to expel me, haven't you," Harry asked in realisation, his stomach flipping over and settling somewhere down near his knees.
"Expel you?" Snape softly asked, raising his eyebrow in a way that demanded an immediate explanation. His voice sounded slightly rougher than normal, as if he had a sore throat.
"For what I did to my aunt," Harry miserably said, pointing up to where Aunt Marge was floating.
A strange expression came over Snape's face, one Harry was fairly certain he'd never seen before.
"You overinflated Petunia?"
"No," Harry said, disappointment in his voice as his mind was trying to figure out how he'd be able to self-study enough to still live in the wizarding world. "That's Uncle Vernon's sister."
He caught a fleeting glimpse of disappointment in Snape's scowl, before it was replaced by the familiar sneer that Snape usually had when he looked down on Harry.
"I see. However fun you may find it to turn your relatives into weather balloons, I assure you I am not here to discuss that particular bit of underage magic," Snape said, crossing his arms. "That is the reason you have fled your home with all your belongings, three weeks before school starts?"
Harry shrugged and looked up at the floating Marge again.
"I'll be lucky if they even think about letting me back next year," Harry grumbled, before narrowing his eyes. "Why are you here?"
"Proving a theory," Snape muttered, ignoring the attitude. Snape flicked his wand toward Harry's trunk, closing the lid and locking it.
"To summarize, Potter. It is half eight in the evening, you have fled your relatives' home, and the safety of the wards, due to a bout of accidental magic. And you will not go back, because, as you say, they will be less than inclined to take you."
Snape did not make any mention of having overheard the final warning of Dursley, nor that he thought Potter was likely correct.
Harry kicked his shoe along the pile of loose gravel on the pavement.
Snape's tongue clicked audibly in his mouth, as if he were physically holding himself back from making a comment. Finally he drew his wand, and gave a significant glare toward Harry's trunk.
"The Headmaster would be delighted to hear it," Snape said, reaching to grasp Harry's arm.
"Wait," Harry said, twisting slightly away, but trying to make it seem like he was not avoiding Snape. "What was that thing over there? That wasn't a normal dog," Harry asked, pointing his wand out in the direction of the dog's last location.
A giant bang sounded and Harry flinched at the noise. Snape had his wand raised against the new threat within a second, and scowled deeply when the purple bus came into view.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. I am Stan Shunpike, your conductor for…"
"Piss off," Snape said, not lowering his wand and still managing to look extremely intimidating, despite not having his teaching robes on. "Your services are not required."
The spotty teenaged conductor looked between the two of them, and seemed to realise his speech had been interrupted.
"Now 'old on 'ere. Dinn't one of yous stick out your wand?"
Harry blinked, caught between looking at the garishly bright bus and the spot where the dog had been.
"I was pointing at something," Harry said, confused. "I didn't...what is a Knight Bus?"
"Emergency Transport for the Stranded Witch or Wizard," Shunpike picked up, looking warily at Snape. "Anywhere you want t' go, but nuffink underwater."
"Neither of us is a stranded wizard. You may leave," Snape curtly said. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and managed to blow his considerable nose in a condescending manner.
The conductor, who either didn't recognize Snape or didn't remember him well enough to be bothered, gave a slight shrug and yelled at someone named Ernie to hit the gas. With another loud bang and a cloud of exhaust, the bus took off and popped out of existence.
"I could have used that, sir," Harry said, trying not to sound too disrespectful. "I need to get to Diagon Alley; I've got no where to stay tonight, and only a galleon or two."
"A thirteen year old unsupervised in Diagon Alley?" Snape silkily asked, and there was a threat in his voice that dared Harry to say it was a good idea. "You will thank me for not forcing you to ride that atrocious excuse for transport."
Before Harry could argue either point, Snape grabbed Harry's arm and started marching him, trunk, owl cage and all, down the dark side street toward Privet Drive.
"Absolutely NOT!" Vernon Dursley yelled, before slamming the door. Harry blinked as the plant boxes rattled slightly from the force of the slam. Rain clouds were gathering overheard, the wind was picking up, and the inside of the house still slightly smelled of dinner. He could hear Dudley laughing about something stupid inside – probably the telly. Still, Harry thought his Uncle's reaction was rather tame, all things considering.
Snape stood slightly behind him, trying to stifle a cough, and with a miserable look on his face. Harry wondered if he was getting sick, as when they'd been walking up the street, Harry thought he saw Snape drink from a potion phial and then steam escaping Snape's ears. He wasn't dumb enough to ask though.
"Dursley!" Snape yelled, pounding on the door with his fist. Harry did a quick mental check as he waited for his Uncle to open the door again. Invisibility cloak was hidden under his shirt, wand was tucked into his long sock, and a packet of biscuits were sellotaped to the underside of Hedwig's cage, which had a slightly raised bottom.
"Get rid of him," Vernon hissed, swinging open the door again and filling it with his large frame. "We didn't want him as a baby, and we don't want him now."
"I don't recall giving you a choice," Snape coldly replied. "I am quite certain that the Ministry of Magic will reverse whatever accidental magic Potter used on your sister," Snape growled, and his hoarse voice made him sound even more threatening than he usually was. "And regardless of whether they will or not, you are his guardian and are legally responsible for him."
Vernon's eyes blazed, and beyond the door Harry could hear Dudley now yelling at the television.
"Severus Snape," a nasty voice suddenly said, and Aunt Petunia came into view. Harry clenched the handle on his trunk's trolley tighter, waiting to see what she would say. Uncle Vernon was a loud and quick-tempered man, but Aunt Petunia could be vicious and cutting.
"You used to do accidental magic too," Petunia waspishly said, crossing her arms. "When we were children. But it was never quite accidental, was it?"
She glared strongly at him, and Harry fought to keep himself from looking too shocked. Aunt Petunia knew Professor Snape? And not only knew him, but hated him.
"You'll be glad to hear I've become much more subtler in my ways of seeking revenge," Snape nastily replied, and Harry was suddenly confused. Why would Snape need to take revenge on his Muggle Aunt?
Vernon grunted, placing his arm behind Petunia as if it was to guard the interior of the house from Harry and Snape. He looked over at Harry with a scowl.
"I knew they were making you ever more horrid than you were," Vernon said.
"Thinks he's better than us," Petunia added, never once taking her eyes away from Snape. Harry didn't know if she was referring to him or Snape. "He started out a nasty little boy, just like you. And now you're back, to tell us to take him in? Forget it. We've had enough."
"I believe you have been informed that the boy must stay here, for his own safety?" Snape said, looking down his large nose at Aunt Petunia.
"He should have thought of that before he blew up my sister!" Vernon growled. Finally Aunt Petunia looked at him, with such an expression of antipathy that Harry had never seen from her before.
"I don't care. You took Lily away from me. Now you can take her kid."
With that brazen statement, she turned into the house and stormed off. Vernon gave a triumphant harrumph, and slammed the door.
Harry stared at it, feeling numb over his Aunt's reaction. She usually just acted resigned to Harry's presence.
"You can go," Harry said, staring at the door. "They'll either let me in tonight, or I'll go to Diagon Alley."
Snape stared at him, before letting out a loud sneeze that made Harry jump and drop Hedwig's cage. It sounded like a broken foghorn had tried to sound an alarm.
"Don't be an idiot," Snape growled, grabbing Harry's arm and apparating with a loud enough crack that Harry knew his relatives had heard it.
The landing was quite a bit rougher than the take off, and Harry yelped as his trunk landed squarely on his foot.
"What was that?" Harry demanded, blinking as he took in his surroundings. They were surrounded by a patch of trees and it had started to drizzle.
"Apparition," Snape answered, still holding onto Harry's arm as he led Harry over a small bridge toward the village. Harry realised that most of the lights along the street had been dimmed. There was a constant running water splash to his left, as the creek they were passing over flowed down toward a large wooden millwheel that was mostly lost to the shadows. The building it was connected to was two stories tall, with an attic, and had a little front garden and entry tucked in behind the slope of the bridge. There were two doors in the entrance way, one painted a cheery dark purple colour and decorated with an ornate pull and knocker. The other was a plain blue/black colour, with a cast iron knocker and plain door pull.
Unsurprisingly, Snape unlocked the dark door.
"This isn't Diagon Alley," Harry said, clutching the handle on his trunk trolley tightly.
"Well spotted. Remove your shoes," Snape ordered, opening the door and slipping inside. There was a faint scent of coffee drifting up the narrow hallway, and the place was warm, as if Snape had only stepped out moments earlier. Harry removed his shoes and looked around with unhidden curiosity.
To his left was a small living room, the windows of which faced the brick retaining wall of the bridge outside, as well as the creek that ran to the mill. It was a cosy living room, and though there were three rather full bookcases in it, they didn't overwhelm everything else. A large chesterfield sat beneath the main window, and two chairs were slightly off kilter across from the chesterfield.
"Potter!" Snape ordered, from wherever he'd disappeared to down the hall. "Leave your things and come here."
Harry hastened to do so, but couldn't help glancing around as he moved. The hallway seemed to be the spine of the house, connecting five rooms together in a row. The first was the living room, the second a tiny office, filled with paperwork and more books, the third a plain bathroom, the fourth a shut door which Harry suspected was Snape's bedroom, and the fifth, at the very end, the kitchen. It looked to be the same size as the living room, and had a large table that was covered more in books and parchment than in kitchen-y items.
"It goes without saying that you will not breathe a word of this house to anyone," Snape said, giving Harry a threatening look. It was a look that Harry had trouble taking seriously, as Snape was leaning up against his kitchen counter as a coffee maker percolated beside him. The wind was picking up outside, and in addition to raindrops splattering against the window; a few tree branches were scraping up against it as well.
Snape rubbed his throat as he was waiting for the coffee, like he was giving himself a massage.
"All right," Harry answered, sitting at the table.
"Yes, sir," Snape growled, glaring at Harry.
"Yes, sir," Harry dully repeated. "Does Dumbledore know I'm here?"
"In the three seconds it took for us to arrive?" Snape asked, giving Harry a withering look. "Yes Potter. I told him all about our wondrous summer plans."
"So he doesn't," Harry said, looking up at Snape with a calculating glare.
"The Headmaster doesn't even know where this house is," Snape answered.
"What?" Harry dumbly asked. "You can't just kidnap students!"
"Students fully packed and stomping around outside after curfew?" Snape sneered, glowering right back. "I didn't kidnap you, Potter. I intercepted your pathetic attempt at running away."
"I'm not pathetic," Harry argued, trying not to recall that he'd not even had a place in mind to run to when he'd left.
Harry waited for Snape's counter answer, but the man looked like he was trying to decide whether he was going to say something important or not. Harry had learned at a young age to let people like that decide without asking. Uncle Vernon was far less repulsive when he'd not been pushed into saying what was on his mind.
Instead, Harry looked around the little kitchen and noticed that Snape kept this room fairly similar to his dungeon classrooms. There was a cauldron set up on the counter, but other than that, the kitchen was basic and seemed to be well stocked. The window over the kitchen sink was against the wall where the giant millwheel was, and it looked dark and slightly ominous in this evening rain.
"Potter," Snape said, finally coming to a decision. "What did the Headmaster tell you of the events of your first year? Regarding Quirrell."
Harry snapped back to attention and focused on Snape. The kitchen was quite warm and Harry no longer felt chilled, but Snape looked almost like he was too warm.
"What? Like how he died? Voldemort was in the back of his head, and neither of them could touch me," Harry said, noticing Snape's very slight tightening of the lips at the name usage. He had been expecting a conversation about his relatives though, not Voldemort.
"So you are aware that You-Know-Who is not dead," Snape deadpanned, pouring his coffee. He seemed to consider Harry for a slight second, and without asking, poured another cup.
"Yeah," Harry said, rubbing his eyes. It had been an edgy night, and now that he was indoors and safe, fatigue was starting to set in. "Professor Dumbledore said not to worry so much yet, but I know he'll keep trying to find a way to come back. He was trying in the Chamber, last year."
Snape placed the coffee on the table, and fetched cream from the fridge.
"Ah yes. Two twelve year old boys forcing their Defence Against the Dark Arts professor to go after a basilisk with them," Snape said, sitting at a chair and stirring the cream into his coffee. His voice was thick with sarcasm, and Harry was trying to work out what the point of the conversation was, and exactly whom Snape was angry with.
"Well he wouldn't have gone on his own. He was a fraud," Harry strongly said. "I learned more from you in the duelling club than I did from Lockhart."
"Precisely," Snape said, his eyes flashing. "And you hate me, don't you, Potter."
Caught, Harry wasn't certain if a lie or the truth would be best.
"You've never been my favourite professor, sir," Harry answered, a flush rising on his cheeks.
"Of course not," Snape snorted, before drinking his coffee. Harry took a tentative sip of his and scrunched up his face. He reached for the cream that Snape had placed on the table, and hoped that would help.
"It should come to no surprise to you that you are not my favourite student," Snape continued, drumming his fingers on the table. "And yet, I have brought you to my personal home. Can you tell me why I might have done that, Potter?"
Harry had been wondering that since he'd arrived, but he wasn't just going to say that. He felt like a first year again, facing Snape's impossible questions on his first day of potions class.
"I don't know, sir. If it's because of the Dursleys, there's no need. That's rather normal for them."
Snape leaned forward, his elbow on the table and his fingers massaging his temple. His skin was slightly less pale than it normally was at school, and his cheeks were a bit flushed.
"Potter, I dearly hope that you have been keeping up with the news all summer, and not stuck your head in the sand. I don't care one whit about your relatives."
"Only Muggle news," Harry defensively answered, holding his mug closely in his hands. The coffee still tasted strange, but it was warm. He racked his memories of the past few weeks to think of anything in the news that Snape would be referring to. The only thing he could think of was the escaped convict that his uncle had been ranting about a few days earlier.
"Is this about that Black bloke? The Muggle murderer?"
"The wizard," Snape corrected, withdrawing his handkerchief and blowing his nose. "The wizard who likely has escaped to find you, Potter."
"To find me?" Harry repeated, sitting straight up in his chair. "But I've never even heard of him!"
"Naturally, as he's been in Azkaban for eleven years," Snape answered, unearthing a Daily Prophet from the far end of the table and tossing it over. "And obviously you haven't done any research into the history surrounding the man who murdered your parents."
Harry ignored Snape's jeer and bit his lip at the mad laughing photo of Black on the front. He read the news article, becoming more concerned as he saw that Sirius Black had managed to kill thirteen people with just one curse. He certainly sounded like the right kind of man to work for Voldemort. And if he worked for Voldemort, he, like Malfoy, probably blamed Harry for being in prison. Harry blinked strongly as he took in the information. He automatically took a sip of his coffee, finding that the taste got slightly better after a few sips.
"Right. So Sirius Black, Mr Malfoy, and Voldemort all want to kill me," Harry numbly said, resting his feet up on the bottom rung of the kitchen chair, noticing again the flinch his stern professor gave at Voldemort's name.
"And myself upon occasion. My job would also be much easier if you assumed everyone was out to get you," Snape muttered, crossing his arms. He looked up and summoned the coffee pot to the table.
"What about Lucius Malfoy?" Snape asked a moment later.
"At the end of last year he threatened that I'd meet the same sticky end as my parents," Harry distractedly replied. The facts were starting to settle into his brain, and Harry wanted to curl up into a ball in his cupboard. He'd just turned thirteen; his relatives loathed him, people wanted to murder him, and he currently in the house of the man who hated him just for who he was.
"Professor Dumbledore won't tell me why Voldemort wants to kill me. Or the others," Harry quietly said. Though they mutually detested each other, Professor Snape had been very consistent in his treatment of Harry, and likely wouldn't lie to him to make him feel better. And while he didn't have a clue why Snape had come to fetch him from Little Whinging, at least he was indoors and safe.
Snape knocked his cup back to the table, the coffee sloshing slightly over and dripping down the outside.
"The Headmaster does a lot of irritating things that he thinks are for the greater good," Snape grouchily said, using his finger to wipe up the coffee drip on the mug.
Harry opened his mouth and shut it again, mentally reviewing the bizarre events of the night. Inflating Aunt Marge, running away from the Dursleys, seeing that dog…and Snape appearing out of nowhere, telling him to aim for the eyes next time. And then telling him about the danger of Sirius Black, instead of keeping Harry in the dark.
An absurd thought came to Harry's mind, but he was slightly overwhelmed and voiced it before he could tell himself better.
"Are you actually concerned about my safety?"
A strange look came over Snape's face for a second, and then he put his coffee mug down and added a bit to it, from the coffee pot.
"Are you not?" Snape quietly asked, and Harry instantly looked up. Snape was always quiet in class when he wanted to give important information.
"Of course I am," Harry quickly said. "But, it's usually up to me. I mean, Dumbledore's never really..."
He trailed off, watching the storm brewing on Snape's face.
"You-Know-Who has tried at least twice to kill you since your arrival at Hogwarts. And what do you think he will try this year? I shall assume that by now you have figured out that he will not rest. And I assure you, unlike Headmaster Dumbledore or the Ministry of Magic, I believe that the Dark Lord is best defeated now, before he returns to full strength. And he will, Potter, return to full strength."
"Yeah," Harry said, finishing off his coffee. The wind was picking up outside and there was a light creaking sound coming from the kitchen window, where the millwheel was turning. "I'd figured that out."
Snape suddenly sneezed, and Harry jumped in his seat as it sounded like a poorly out of tune tuba.
"And what are you going to do about it?" Snape pressed, sitting back in his chair and ignoring the look on Harry's face. "You most certainly do not want to rely on dumb luck the next time you meet him."
Harry bristled, feeling annoyed that this was even up to him to sort out.
"I don't have any other options. Unless you know that the new Defence teacher is going to actually teach us how to defend ourselves, instead of signing autographs," Harry sulked.
"Unlikely," Snape growled. "And as it currently stands, if the Dark Lord walks through that door you've got a flobberworm's chance of surviving."
"Don't you think I know that?" Harry snapped. "When we clobbered that troll, it was 'sheer, dumb luck'. When I defeated Quirrell, it was my mother's protection that did it. After the basilisk bit me, it was Fawkes who took out the venom. And now with the dog, it was you that chased it away."
Harry paused for a second as Snape sneezed again, this time startling only slightly at the noise.
"Don't you think I know I'm useless?" Harry finished, a scowl on his face as he glared at his mug.
Snape regarded him for a moment and Harry wondered if he'd be in trouble for his attitude.
"You'll make a fine figurehead," Snape finally answered. Harry's head jerked up in indignation, but Snape was glaring at him in a way that kept him quiet and listening.
"Defence tutoring. Twice a week, on average, for the year."
Harry was grateful that he'd already finished his drink, because if he hadn't, he'd likely have spit it out or dropped the mug.
"Lessons? Even though I'm not a Slytherin?"
"This has nothing to do with houses, Potter," Snape snapped. "This has to do with the fact that You-Know-Who will not stop until he's caught you, and properly training you would ease the workload of those entrusted with your survival."
Harry blinked a few times as he considered Snape's offer. It was bloody strange to be in Snape's house to begin with, and Harry would have sworn Snape was under a spell or something to have been offering the lessons, but the impatient look on the man's face was very familiar.
"Yes." Harry said, not entirely certain he'd not just agreed to some form of weekly torture. "Please. Sir," he added.
Snape's shoulders relaxed ever so slightly, and he gave Harry a slight nod. His eyes pinched shut in an odd expression, and Harry braced for another trumpeting sneeze.
"Very well. Keep in mind, Potter, that what I will be teaching you is dangerous. And if I find you have used spells learned in your lessons against your peers, I will not hesitate to have you expelled."
"I don't hex my classmates, sir," Harry said, keeping his voice even.
Snape's upper lip curled.
"Of course not."
A low rumble passed by the house, deep and long, and warning of an impending storm. Snape checked the time on his watch, and stood up to carry the pot and his mug back to the sink.
"The Weasley family is connected to the Floo?"
Harry fought to end his yawn, and made a funny face as he did so.
"Yes, but they're in Egypt right now," Harry answered. "All of them."
He tried not to look at Snape, because he knew the man was trying to figure out where else Harry could go for the night. And Harry already knew the answer to that short list of options: back to the Dursleys, or to an inn.
"Just as well," Snape muttered, pointing at the hallway. "Black likely knows where they live."
The front room was creepier than the kitchen, as the street lamp on the bridge outside illuminated Snape's front garden patch just enough to create impressive shadows. The swaying tree branches flittered in the window, and Harry tried not to focus on them.
Thankfully, Snape cast a spell to draw the blinds shortly afterwards, and Harry noticed that the couch had been unfolded into a bed.
"You will stay here tonight," Snape said, as if there were any other sort of legitimate option. Short of ringing Hermione's parents and asking them to take him in, Harry didn't have anywhere else to go. "The washroom is down the hall. The house is warded, and there will be no need to wake me in the middle of the night."
That was accompanied by a look, and Harry nodded.
"You may read a book from the bookshelves, but only ones that are directly related to your studies," Snape continued. "And remember, I will know exactly what you have touched in this room."
Snape left not long after, and Harry quickly made use of the washroom. Even though Snape had said the house was warded, Harry lay on the sofa bed and stared up at the ceiling in the living room. He almost felt exposed, being so close to the front door. One of the few positive aspects about the cupboard that he'd grown up in was that it was hidden under the stairs, and as a little boy Harry had never really had nightmares about burglars because he'd told himself that his cupboard was safe. No one thought to look in cupboards for little boys.
Turning over in his bed, Harry pulled the covers up over his head and tried not to think about Sirius Black. He flinched at the sound of one of Snape's sneezes again, and then the man's bedroom door closed, and the only sounds Harry could hear were the branches scraping against the windows, and the running water from the creek.