Disclaimer: I do not own these awesome characters. I'm quite sure you know who does.
Summary: Harry Potter goes missing during the final battle. Snape finds him in a most undesirable place.
Warnings: This story contains a rather detailed (though not lengthy) description of what I would call forced prostitution. It will also eventually be Snarry, which means it contains a detailed description of a sexual act between two men. If either of these things disturbs you in any way, I would suggest that you read no further.
Notes: Harry reads from a book in this story. That book is Gertrude McFuzz by Dr. Seuss. The lullaby that is sung is Scottish Lullaby by Sir Walter Scott. This story is complete, but it's longish, and I've decided to divide it into two sections. The second and final portion of the story will be posted on Thursday. Thanks for reading.
Snape eyed the Muggle establishment before him with a dubious eye. The sign proclaimed he was looking at The Ruddy Goat. "Run down" would have been a generous description of the thatched roof set over stone walls, but he'd been tromping through nearby woods and meadows, gathering plants and herbs, for hours, and he was tired and hungry. The lure of some place to rest his feet and down a pint or two was strong, and he pushed the door open and entered the dimly-lit building.
Snape stood at the door, scrutinizing the interior. Six small round tables, each with two or three chairs pulled around them. A plank set across stacked crates serving as the bar at the back of the room, a bar which at the moment was unmanned. Though there were no stools at the bar, three tall stools sat off to the right, beneath a spotlight which was currently turned off. As Snape looked his fill at the empty room, he was on the verge of a decision to leave this place in search of something more sanitary, when the most delicious smell wafted up his incredibly sensitive nostrils. His stomach growled in anticipation, and he decided perhaps he'd stay after all.
A large man wearing a stained apron over grubby clothes came from the back, wiping his meaty hands on a towel as he did so. He spotted Snape and said, "Welcome, stranger, to The Ruddy Goat. 'ave a seat anywhere ye like."
With a nod of assent, Snape moved into the room and chose a table against the wall so that he could keep an eye on the door in the unlikely event anyone else came in. Old spy habits died hard.
"What can I get ye?" the barman asked.
"I'll start with a pint," Snape said, sitting delicately and staring at the table, which looked like it hadn't seen a good washing in a number of years. "And you might tell me what that incredible smell is."
A wide grin split the man's face, revealing two teeth. "Ah! That'd be the missus. She be making a rabbit stew. Might I interest ye in a bowl?"
The thought of eating anything produced in this establishment gave Snape pause, but he wasn't a wizard for nothing. "Yes, a bowl of the stew as well."
The barman fiddled behind the bar, then approached Snape with a foaming mug. "Here ya go. I make this meself." He set the mug on the table. "Go ahead. Try it."
Apparently the oaf wasn't going to leave until he did, so Snape picked up the glass, studied it carefully for signs of obvious filth, and brought it to his nose, ostensibly to inhale its aroma but actually to cast a discrete wordless bacteria killing spell. Only then did he put the glass to his lips and sip. It was surprisingly good, and Snape said so. "Nice," he said.
The large man beamed again, showing Snape that the two lonely teeth in his mouth were in dire need of some basic hygiene soon or they would be going the way of their brethren. "I'll just have the missus put you up a bowl o' that stew."
"I'd appreciate that," Snape offered. As soon as the man's back was turned, he cast a cleaning spell on the table and sat back in his chair with his glass, studying his environment again.
"Get on out there, you lot," he heard.
Three individuals of indeterminate age and sex trooped behind the makeshift bar and sat themselves on the nearby bar stools. In the nearly non-existent light, Snape thought the one on the end, to his left, was a girl and the others were male, though it was difficult to tell for sure and impossible to guess at age. They sat on the stools, the girl on the left talking softly with the boy in the middle, who was kicking his legs back and forth and swiveling his hips to make the stool spin back and forth.
The barman approached Snape with a steaming bowl of heavenly-smelling stew. "Rabbit stew," he announced proudly. "Best in ta land."
"Thank you. Have you entertainment?" Snape asked, nodding in the direction of the three on the stools.
The man winked lewdly at him. "Well, they don't sing, if ye get me drift."
Snape did, and his nose curled slightly in disgust. "I am not interested in children."
The barman looked affronted. "Aye! They're all of legal age, or me name ain't Ewan MacDonald!"
Snape watched the boy in the middle prod the other boy with his toes, his apparently limitless energy causing him to wriggle in his chair. He stopped himself from snorting in disagreement – he had no intention of availing himself of the "entertainment" on offer, so it made little difference to him if MacDonald was peddling underaged flesh.
The man left him now, and Snape cast his antibiotic spell again before taking a bite of the stew. It was as delicious tasting as it was aromatic. The spotlight over the bar stools was turned on, but Snape hardly registered this, other than to note that the boy in the middle covered his face with both hands at the sudden brightness, so absorbed was he in filling his empty stomach. He didn't look up again until his bowl was empty and his stomach pleasantly filled. He sat back with a sigh and sipped his remaining stout. Now that his basic needs were taken care of, he looked around him with a little more interest.
The boy on the middle stool, his face still covered with both hands, was now spinning himself around in slow circles on the stool, giggling as he did so. He looked a little old for such juvenile entertainments, Snape thought. The girl beside him (definitely a girl Snape could now tell with the benefit of the spotlight) smiled fondly at the twirling boy, every now and then reaching out a hand to spin him faster. The other boy was eyeing Snape, a bored expression on his face, his mouth hanging open as he breathed. Snape returned his stare until the boy dropped his gaze.
The boy in the middle stopped his revolutions and swayed dizzily on the stool. When he dropped his hands and turned to the girl, a large happy smile on his face, Snape stopped breathing.
How was this possible? The boy had been missing since the Final Battle at Hogwart's, eight months ago. No one had seen him take a hex, and no trace of his body had been found, but it was popularly believed that the Boy Who Lived had finally died that fateful day, just after, or perhaps simultaneously with, exploding Voldemort into thousands of glittering fragments of evil. The Dark Lord was gone, but so was Harry Potter, and the ensuing celebrations were muted by a sense of sadness.
So how had he ended up here, in a tiny nondescript Muggle bar on the edge of nowhere, on display for potential customers to purchase an hour with his arse?
Snape squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that when he opened them again, he'd discover that he was mistaken and the boy wasn't Harry Potter. But when he opened them again, there was no doubt. The same messy head of black hair. The same lightning bolt shaped scar on the forehead. The same joyful grin. The same green eyes. No eyeglasses, but then Snape remembered that the boy's glasses were all that was found of him after the battle. This was Harry Potter, former savior of the wizarding world, now rentboy in this backwater dump. Snape put his now empty glass down forcefully on the table.
"More stew, Mister?" the barman asked, approaching Snape's table.
Snape tore his eyes away from Potter and forced himself to look at MacDonald. "No. That is quite enough. My compliments to your wife."
MacDonald retrieved the empty bowl. "Another pint, then?"
"No." The man turned to leave, but Snape stopped him. "That boy up there . . ."
"Strappin' lad, ain't he?" MacDonald asked proudly. "That's my Caleb. He'll take right care of you, he will."
Snape swallowed the bile that rose suddenly at the thought of a man prostituting his own son. "No," he said. "The other."
"Ah, that'd be Davey. He's right pop'lar with the customers, too, that'un."
"How does he come to be with you? He looks very like a boy I used to know."
A suspicious glint came into MacDonald's eyes, and he stared hard at Snape. "I ain't done nothin' illegal."
Well that was obviously a lie, but Snape needed information, and he let it pass. "I've not said that you have," he said soothingly. "How a man earns his living is no one's business but his own. Perhaps I will have another pint. And maybe you'd like to join me?"
Still clearly suspicious, MacDonald nevertheless nodded and plodded off to the bar. He returned shortly with two glasses, one of which he placed in front of Snape. He sat across from Snape and cradled his own glass between his large paws. Catching MacDonald's eye, Snape held his attention while he tipped a few drops of Veritaserum into the other man's pint. He broke eye contact, then watched with satisfaction as MacDonald took a large pull from his glass.
"Tell me how you came by the boy."
"Bought him off a peddler passin' through town 'bout six months ago. Boy had no memory of who he was nor where he'd come from. Peddler had named him David and that's all I knew. Seems a bit simple, if you get my drift. Acts more like a young'un than a boy his age should. And he's gettin' worse as time goes by, acting younger like. But the customers like him. He takes direction good and likes to please. Made a pretty penny off'n him, I have."
"And you've been renting him out every night for the past six months?" Snape asked, feeling ill.
"Well, not every night. Some nights are like this, and don't none of them earn a thing. But when there's traffic through here, the boy holds his own. Sometimes get took two or three times a night."
The queasiness in Snape's stomach increased. His excellent rabbit stew now felt like a ball of snakes. Potter apparently had some kind of progressive psychological condition, and he'd been raped likely hundreds of times over the past few months.
Snape turned his eyes to the boy on display. He was grinning happily at the girl beside him, seemingly unaware that he was living in one of the dark recesses of hell.
"I want the boy."
MacDonald's eyes lit up, and he smirked. So much for having no interest in children. "He goes for twenty quid."
"You misunderstand me. I will be taking the boy with me. He will not be returning."
MacDonald drew himself up in indignation. "You'll be doin' no such thing! He's my property, he is!"
"I am taking the boy," Snape promised, putting all of his considerable menace into his words and demeanor. "If you try to stop me, you will lose more than a piece of property, that I will guarantee you."
MacDonald apparently had decent self-preservation instincts because he sensed the man's dangerousness and backed off.
"What do I owe you for the stew and the pints?"
MacDonald named a figure that Snape knew was grossly inflated, but he didn't quibble. He was taking away one of the man's sources of income after all. He threw some Muggle money onto the table and stood up. "Good day to you, sir."
One part of Snape kept aware of MacDonald's position as he approached the three young people on their "block". He spared a quick glance at the others, then focused himself on Potter in the middle, who was looking up at him with guileless green eyes and a simple smile.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked the boy.
Potter peered near-sightedly at him. "Nope," he said, shaking his head and drumming his heels against the stool.
Snape sighed. Of course not. "You're coming with me."
Potter hopped willingly off the stool. "'Kay. I have to tell Uncle Ewan."
"He already knows. Do you have things here you'd like to take with you?"
A look of confusion settled on the boy's face. "Aren't I coming back?"
"No. You will not be coming back."
Now the boy looked afraid, and he turned to the girl. "Maggie!"
Maggie put a comforting arm around Harry and glared at Snape. "Whachoo playing at?"
"The boy is coming with me. MacDonald is aware of this."
"Ewan?" Maggie called to the man now cowering behind the bar.
"Let 'im go," MacDonald ordered.
Potter buried his face in Maggie's shoulder. "I don't want to go!" MacDonald's son looked on with dull, mean eyes.
Snape wanted out of here, soon, and he stepped up and took Potter's arm, pulling him away from the girl. "Does he have things here?"
The girl studied him for a moment, then left. In the few moments she was gone, Potter sobbed but didn't try to pull out of the firm grip Snape had on his arm.
Maggie returned with a cardboard box. Snape released Harry with a curt, "Stay", and took the box from her. He rummaged through it and found one well-worn change of clothing, a dilapidated stuffed blue rabbit, some rocks, two children's books with the covers almost separated, and below those, an eleven-inch wand made of holly. Potter's wand – somehow he'd managed to keep it with him all this time, though in his current condition he likely had no idea what it was. Snape pocketed the wand and held the rabbit up to Potter. "This is yours?"
Looking somewhat embarrassed, Harry nodded.
"Do you wish to take it with you?"
Harry reached out and snatched the well-loved toy from Snape's hand. He tucked it under his arm and glared fiercely at Snape as though daring him to make a disparaging remark or take it away.
"The books?" Snape questioned.
Potter shrugged. Snape dropped the box. "Let's go."
"My clothes!" the boy squawked.
If the clothes he was wearing now were any indication, the clothes in the box weren't worth saving. "We will get you some new clothes. Are you ready?"
Harry bolted toward Maggie. Snape, thinking he was attempting to flee, made a grab for him and missed. Potter only went as far as Maggie, though, throwing himself into her arms, weeping.
Maggie held Harry, trying to soothe him. Finally, Snape had had enough, and he grabbed hold of the boy again and tore him from the girl's embrace. He hauled Harry toward the door, the boy looking mournfully back at his friend as they went.
When they got outside, Snape led Harry away from the ramshackle building and toward the forest so they could disapparate unseen.
"Oh do stop sniveling, Potter!"
"Who's Potter?" the boy asked with a sniff, wiping his dripping nose on his sleeve.
"You are, imbecile! Come close to me." Harry unquestioningly stepped up to Snape, put his arms tightly around Snape's waist, and rested his head on Snape's chest. Surprised by the boy's willingness to touch him like this, Snape put an arm around him and turned them both on the spot.
When they arrived in Spinner's End, Snape released Harry, but Harry held him fast, disoriented by the apparition experience. "You can let go now," Snape growled.
Slowly, Harry did, and he stepped away from Snape and looked around curiously. "How did we do that?"
"My name is Davey."
"No, your name is Harry James Potter. You've been missing from your school for the past eight months."
"Nuh uh," Potter argued. "Davey. My name is Davey."
"Davey nothing. Just Davey. Do you live here?"
"Yes. Have you eaten dinner?"
"Nope. We always eat after . . ." Harry ducked his head, embarrassed. "After the last customer."
Snape led Harry into the kitchen. "I don't have much here, but I can put together something simple." Snape found bread and cheese and fed the boy at the kitchen table. Potter ate ravenously, as though he hadn't had enough to eat for some time. He ate every last crumb of bread and every last morsel of cheese and then devoured three biscuits Snape found in the pantry. It was obvious he'd have to shop soon if they stayed here any length of time.
"When is the last time you bathed?" Snape asked. He'd noticed Potter smelled a little ripe and was more than a little filthy.
Harry wrinkled his nose and scratched his armpit. "Dunno. Last week?"
"You will bathe tonight."
"I do not care if you want to. You smell, and you will bathe."
Harry shrugged. "Okay."
"The bathroom is this way."
Snape supervised Potter while he undressed and got into the hot bath. He retrieved a healing potion from his stores and rubbed it into the deep scratches on Harry's back, which looked as though they had been made by fingernails, and into the numerous flea bites covering the boy's skin. Suspecting Potter might also be infested with lice, Snape checked through the thick, filthy black mess of hair on Potter's head and was not disappointed. Thankfully he had a very strong soap which he used to clean chemicals from his hands which he suspected would also kill lice, and he cut the boy's hair magically and then scrubbed what was left forcefully with the soap, drawing loud protests from the boy which Snape ignored. Other than neglect (Potter was painfully underfed), he seemed to have no serious physical ailments.
As they struggled in the loo, Snape questioned Potter about his life and activities over the last eight months. Potter could and did answer those questions willingly. He spoke in a low voice and with eyes downcast about his time with MacDonald. He remembered the man who had left him with MacDonald. However, when Snape pressed him about what had happened prior to that, back to the time of the final battle and his years at Hogwarts, Potter professed to know nothing about anything. Snape was inclined to believe him.
When he climbed out of the tub, clean now, Harry toweled off, then stood before Snape, naked as the day he was born and with no apparent modesty about standing nude before a man he did not know. "Do you want to put your willie in my bum now?" he offered.
Snape nearly swallowed his tongue. "What?!" He could feel his face flaming. "No!"
"Oh. Do you want me to suck you then?" Harry asked, dropping to his knees and reaching for Snape's trousers.
"No! Potter, stand up now!" Snape demanded, taking a step back.
Slowly, Harry rose to his feet, tears starting to fall from his eyes. "Why did you bring me here?"
Snape inhaled deeply. Obviously, the boy thought Snape was just another "customer" and had brought him here to . . . that didn't bear thinking about. "I brought you here because you did not belong there. There are people who have been looking for you, people that care about you."
"You?" Harry asked, sniffing pathetically. "Do you care about me?"
"Others, Potter," Snape said, unwilling to admit that he cared about Harry Potter, although it had certainly bothered him to know that the savior had been forced into a life of prostitution. "You have friends. Do you remember?"
Harry shook his head, miserable.
"Why are you crying?" Snape asked, already out of his element here with this boy and his problems.
"How am I going to eat if you won't let me do things to you?"
Snape was taken aback by Potter's assumption that unless he performed, he wouldn't be allowed to eat. He really shouldn't have been, he supposed. After all, the boy had been earning his keep on his back and his knees for the last several months. "Potter – Davey, you don't need to worry about that. I will take care of you. I will feed you and provide you with a place to sleep and clothes to wear." At least until someone else took the child off his hands. "We will figure out what has happened to you, and we will make it better. I promise you this. And you do not have to do anything to pay for this. You are Harry Potter, and we owe you – I owe you – everything."
Harry smiled weakly. "Okay."
"Good," Snape breathed a sigh of relief. "Here's a nightshirt you can wear tonight. Get dressed now. And don't forget to brush your teeth."
"You will sleep here," Snape said, leading Potter into his spare bedroom.
"Can't I sleep with you?" the boy asked.
"No. That would be inappropriate. I am just down the hall if you should need me." Snape peeled the blankets back. "In," he ordered.
"That filthy creature you brought with you? It's here." Snape picked up the disgusting toy and pointed his wand at it.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked, alarmed.
"Relax. I'm only going to clean it." And hopefully kill any germs and vermin it may be carrying.
After a strong and effective cleaning spell, Snape handed the toy to Potter. Harry jumped onto the bed and slid under the covers. He lay back on the pillow, hugging the rabbit, and smiled up at Snape. "Good night kiss?"
"Go to sleep, Potter," Snape growled.
Potter snuggled under the blankets with his stuffed rabbit and closed his eyes, a playful smile quirking his lips up.
Snape rolled his eyes and extinguished the light.
When Snape woke later that night, he immediately realized that there was someone in the bed with him. In the moonlight, he could see Potter sleeping, curled up at his side, arm clutching that battered rabbit. He should make the boy return to his own bed, he knew, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, and he rolled over away from the irritating whelp, and went back to sleep.
Snape was awakened another time, somewhat later in the night, by Potter whimpering and twitching in his sleep. The pest had followed him and was once again lying directly by his side. Snape's initial impulse was to push him roughly away, maybe onto the floor even, but he resisted and simply lay on his side studying the boy.
Potter was obviously dreaming, and not pleasantly. In repose, his face lost several years, and he looked very childlike and vulnerable. His incoherent mumbling was punctuated here and there by the word "no" clearly. Snape wondered at what the boy had been through over the past weeks, and he sighed. Tomorrow would be a difficult day. An owl to Headmistress McGonagall was the first order of business. After that, his house was likely to be filled with Potter's legion of fans, a thought which filled him with loathing.
Potter's agitation was increasing, and Snape reached out and prodded the boy to quiet him. Potter latched onto his hand and rolled onto his side, pulling Snape with him so that they lay spooned together.
"Potter!" Snape growled, but the boy didn't stir, quiet now.
Snape sighed again and allowed himself to melt into the boy's heat, slowly slipping back into sleep.
Snape awoke in the morning with the still-sleeping Potter whelp plastered against his side. He got quietly out of bed and made his way to the kitchen. After making tea, he sat at the table with parchment and quill and a hot cuppa and wrote a terse note to Minerva McGonagall.
I have found Potter. He is with me at my home. Come at once.
Bring Poppy. And Granger, if you can find her quickly. But
tell no one else.
He attached the note to his tawny owl and released her. "Make haste, Freedom."
While Snape waited, he apparated quickly to the market and back, then began breakfast, assuming the boy would be hungry when he woke. He scrambled eggs and toasted bread and cooked sausages, and as though the aromas had woken the boy and summoned him, Potter appeared in the doorway, hair sleep-tousled, still in the nightshirt. "Morning," he said brightly.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
Harry was eyeing the food on the table with great interest. "Yeah."
"Are you hungry?"
"Sit and eat," Snape ordered.
Like a shot, Harry was in a chair and stuffing his face. Snape looked on in disgust for a moment. "Potter," he finally said. "Davey!" he tried when "Potter" got no response.
Potter looked up, a sausage sticking half out of his mouth.
"Have you no table manners, boy?"
Harry swallowed a large mouthful of food and bit the dangling sausage in half, allowing the uneaten part to fall back into his plate. "Sorry."
"There is plenty of food," Snape said gently. "You may eat your fill. Slowly."
Harry smiled gratefully, but he kept a wary eye on Snape as he resumed eating, more slowly this time, but still hunched over his plate as though to protect it from the other wild animals.
Snape sipped his tea and studied Harry over the top of his cup. "I have sent an owl to Headmistress McGonagall," he announced.
Harry's eyes widened in interest. "You have an owl? Cool! You can send it places? Why would you send your owl to this 'Gonagal'? What's the owl's name? Is he like one of them homing pigeons? They carry messages and stuff and always go back home. Guess that's why they call them homing pigeons!"
Snape blinked at this barrage and wondered where he should begin to respond. "The owl's name is Freedom. She does carry messages for me. Packages as well. And she has taken a message to Minerva McGonagall, who is one of the people who has been looking for you."
"She works at a school?" Harry asked after washing his toast down with a large, slurpy drink of juice.
"You remember her?" Snape asked, his pulse quickening.
"No. You said she was a headmistress."
"Oh," Snape said, deflated. "So I did."
"What kind of juice is this?" Harry asked, taking another gulp. "It's really good."
"It's pumpkin juice."
"Pumpkin juice?" Harry repeated, amused. "How do you get juice from a pumpkin? Do you smash it, like an apple? Did you know people make juice out of carrots? That is just gross. Least apples and pumpkins are juicy. Carrots are just . . . not juicy." Harry shuddered, as though carrot juice were the most horrifying thing he could imagine. "Why did you send that lady a letter?"
Snape was getting whiplash trying to keep up with Harry's disjointed conversation, and he ignored most of it. "She will be very happy to know that you are back. I have asked her to come here, and I expect her to be here shortly. She will be bringing a nurse with her. They will help us figure out what happened to you."
Harry seemed unconcerned about what might possibly have happened to him. "Can I have more juice?"
"Certainly," Snape said, and he summoned the pitcher from the ice box.
Harry's eyes widened to comical proportions at the show of magic. "You just . . . how did you . . . Wow! Do that again!" Harry was bouncing in his seat in his excitement.
"Why would I need to do it again?" Snape asked as he poured more juice into Harry's cup. "I already have the juice." But he sent the pitcher floating back to the ice box, just to see the unabashed awe on the boy's face.
"I would so like to be able to do that," Harry said enviously.
Snape was about to tell him that he could do that when he stopped himself because he didn't know if Potter could any longer. "The headmistress may also bring with her a good friend of yours, Hermione Granger. Do you remember her?"
"No." Harry drained the juice in his cup then and smiled slyly at Snape. "Can I have more juice?"
"No," Snape said, suspecting the boy didn't really want more juice but was only interested in seeing the magic again.
A knock on the front door distracted both of them.
"Go upstairs and get dressed," Snape instructed. "I laid some clothes out on the bed. Come back down when you're ready."
Snape watched the boy wipe his mouth on the sleeve of his nightshirt, then get up and leave the room. He inhaled a fortifying breath and went to open his front door.
"Where is he, Severus?" Minerva demanded anxiously as soon as he opened the door.
"And good morning to you, too, Headmistress," Snape said drily.
"My apologies, Severus," Minerva said as he ushered her and Poppy into the sitting room. "Your note was a shock, obviously. I'd never given up hope that he'd turn up some day." Her eyes were filled with tears. "So forgive me if I'm a little anxious to see the boy."
"He is upstairs, dressing. Were you unable to reach Granger?"
"She is on her way. She was even more anxious than I am, as you might imagine."
"You told her, I hope, not to blab this news to the Weasleys."
"She is a smart girl. She'll tell no one. Is something wrong with Harry, Severus?"
"Yes, something is wrong. I am unsure exactly what. I was hopeful that between the four of us, we could work it out." What was taking the boy so long? "I will go up and see what is keeping him. I should warn you – he won't remember you. He remembers nothing of his life at Hogwarts, up to and including the Final Battle. He remembers none of us. Or so he claims."
"You don't believe him?" Poppy quizzed.
"Actually, I do, but it is possible that he is pretending for some reason. Let me get him. We will figure out what to do together."
Snape entered his bedroom after not finding the boy in the spare bedroom or the loo. A great lump under the duvet on his bed, which was wriggling when he walked in but which stilled immediately, revealed Harry's location.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothin'," came the muffled response.
"Are you hiding?"
Snape grasped the duvet and pulled it off, revealing Harry lying tightly curled around the decrepit rabbit. He was obviously crying, a fact which he tried to hide by covering his face with the toy.
Snape sat on the edge of the bed. "What is wrong?"
"I miss Maggie," he said miserably.
Maggie? Oh, the girl from yesterday who, now that Snape thought about it, had bushy brown hair and bore a passing resemblance to the Granger chit. Perhaps that was why Potter had bonded so with her.
"You will not be seeing Maggie again," Snape said. There was no point in lying to the boy. Regardless of what turned out to be wrong with him, Potter would not be returning to what had passed for the life he'd been living since the Final Battle. "However, there are people downstairs who care very much about you and who have missed you a great deal. They want you back in their lives and want to help you recover your memories."
Potter did not look comforted by this news. "Will they take me away?"
"I hadn't thought about that." Snape had been looking forward to making Harry Potter someone else's problem, actually, sure that someone would expect (demand even, perhaps) that Potter return to Hogwarts for diagnosis of and recovery from whatever was afflicting him. "I assumed you would want to go to the place you considered home for so long."
"I want to stay with you," Potter mumbled.
"Why?" Snape asked, taken aback.
Potter shrugged without uncurling. "You can do magic."
"So can they." Snape decided to throw caution to the wind. "And so can you. We will get that back for you, Potter."
"Davey," the boy corrected.
Snape sighed. "Davey," he conceded. "Come now. Get up. You are a lot of things, Davey Nothing, but you are not a coward. Get dressed, and we will face the future." Snape summoned the clothing from the other room, which made Harry sit up and take notice and actually smile.
Snape supervised the dressing, unwilling to give the boy another opportunity to malinger, and then led him down the stairs.
By this time, Granger had joined the party. She was bouncing from foot to foot in her agitation, clearly close to coming undone.
"Miss Granger," Snape said, low but firm. "I must ask you to restrain yourself. This is not the boy you knew."
Snape stepped out of the way and allowed Potter into the room. Minerva gasped upon seeing him, and Severus could actually see the battle taking place as Granger fought with her instincts to rush Potter and hug him.
"Hello, Harry," she said instead as a tear slipped down one cheek.
"Harry," Minerva breathed.
"Davey," the boy said stubbornly. "My name is Davey."
The three women looked to Snape for guidance. As though he had any answers.
"Davey, why don't you go into the kitchen and get some more of that pumpkin juice you liked so much," Snape suggested. With a grateful smile, Harry took himself away.
"He is suffering from memory loss," Snape explained. "He cannot recall anything more than eight months prior to today. He also seems to be suffering from some sort of dementia. He seems – almost childlike. He knows nothing of magic. I recovered his wand, but I haven't given it to him yet to see if he can use it."
"Wherever did you find him, Severus?" Minerva asked.
"In a small Muggle pub in the outskirts of a minuscule village near where I was gathering potion ingredients. He was . . . being prostituted."
Granger's horrified gasp earned a glare from Snape.
"The owner informed me that he purchased the boy named Davey from someone who was passing through the village. He'd been there for six months. This man says that Potter's mental condition deteriorated over the time that he was with him."
"And this man just let you take Harry?" Poppy asked.
"I didn't give him any choice in the matter," Snape said simply.
"Thank Merlin you were there, Severus," Minerva breathed, wiping at her eyes.
"Is he injured? Physically?" Poppy wanted to know.
"There are no obvious physical injuries. He's underfed. He was infested with fleas and lice, both of which I have eradicated. He has some minor scratches and bruises. There's the amnesia obviously, and the mental difficulties. I suspect a curse is likely responsible for that. And, of course, there's no telling what psychological issues he has as a result of the sexual abuse he's suffered."
"Severus," Minerva said, the warning in her voice obvious.
Potter stood in the doorway, self-consciously holding his juice cup, looking as though he wanted to flee. When all of the adults turned their eyes to him, he took a drink of the juice, hiding as much as he could behind the cup.
"Come here, Davey," Snape ordered, and without hesitation, Potter crossed the room to stand beside his new friend and protector. "Davey, this is Minerva McGonagall, Poppy Pomfrey and Hermione Granger. They all knew you before. Poppy is a nurse, and she's going to examine you to make sure you are healthy."
"Will you stay with me?" Potter asked, looking up at Snape with pleading eyes.
Snape flicked a nervous glance at Granger, though he wasn't sure why. "Yes, of course."
"Har–" Hermione started, then stopped. "Davey. I have something that belongs to you. May I give it to you?"
Harry looked up at Snape first, then nodded at Hermione. Hermione reached into the pocket of her robes and then extended her arm toward Harry. Harry's glasses lay in the palm of her hand.
"I've kept them for you. We found them after the battle. I knew we'd find you and you'd want them back. Go ahead – put them on."
Again, Potter looked up at Snape. When the older man nodded, Harry carefully removed the glasses from Hermione's hand and put them on. Through the blessing of improved vision, Harry looked at them all, blinking owlishly to adjust.
"I can see!" Harry gasped when his eyes settled on Hermione. "You look like Maggie," he whispered.
"Who's Maggie?" Hermione asked.
"She was my friend."
"I'd like to be your friend, too," Hermione offered, tears slipping down her cheeks.
"Why are you crying?" Potter asked.
"I'm just so happy we found you," she said. "I've missed you."
Potter smiled uncertainly at her. She seemed like a nice lady, and he would have liked to be able to say he'd missed her, too, but he couldn't because he didn't remember her.
Snape had had enough of the tender reunion in any event. "Davey, why don't you sit so Madam Pomfrey can begin her examination."
Looking somewhat nervous, Harry settled himself on the sofa. When Poppy approached him with her wand, his eyes widened.
"Don't worry, dear," she assured him. "This isn't going to hurt at bit."
Harry sat, trying not to squirm as Madam Pomfrey ran her wand slowly down his body. When she was finished, she sighed. "You were right, Severus. There are no real physical injuries. He needs to gain some weight, but other than that, he is quite healthy. A mental status examination would reveal significantly more about the state of his psyche. We should call in a curse detection expert as well."
"Can you see any reason not to use legillimency on him?" Snape asked. "It may be useful if I can find a memory of the Final Battle. Perhaps the answer to this question lies locked in his mind somewhere."
"He's too fragile," Granger asserted. "You could do irreparable damage."
"I believe it worth the risk. If we can identify the curse, we're that much closer to being able to reverse the damage," Snape argued.
"But we could be risking Harry's long-term mental health," Granger countered.
"That's always been at issue," Snape shot back.
"Poppy," Minerva interjected with a stern look at the man, "what are the risks?"
"Well, that's difficult to say. But Severus is right – if we can identify the curse, we can begin to counteract it. Without this knowledge, there is no telling how much time we will spend identifying the curse and what effects Harry might suffer in the meantime."
All the juice Harry had drunk was catching up to him. "I have to pee," he announced to the room.
"You know where the loo is, I believe," Snape said.
Harry jumped up off the sofa and retreated quickly up the stairs.
"It may be the quickest route to a solution, Hermione," Minerva offered.
Hermione nodded. She understood that. "He just seems so vulnerable. Like a little boy lost. Could it be some kind of de-aging curse?"
"That possibility had occurred to me already," Snape said. "Unfortunately, there are many, many types of de-aging curses, and if we were to attempt a cure without knowing the exact curse used, we could cause him to lose what's left of his mind."
"It's progressive," Minerva offered.
"That is generally the case," Snape admitted. "And I believe the evidence we have supports that assumption."
"What exactly does that mean?" Hermione asked.
"It means that if we can't stop the progression of the curse, Potter will simply de-age himself out of existence. Physically, his body will remain as it is now, but his brain will eventually basically cease to function."
"How long do we have?" Hermione again.
"That's impossible to say. It's been eight months, so obviously the curse, if that is indeed what it is, is slow-acting, or he would be dead already. You must see the advantage in being able to identify the curse sooner rather than later."
"I do," Hermione agreed. "Just – don't hurt him, Professor. He's already been through so much."
Snape instructed Potter to sit on the sofa and then sat beside him. The three women hovered nearby out of sight, all of them anxious, Hermione especially wringing her hands. With everyone looking at him, Harry was nervous, and he toyed with the hem of his shirt.
"Look at me," Snape softly ordered.
When Potter raised his green eyes trustingly, Snape wasted no time. "Legillimens!" With no ability to occlude or even any knowledge that he should, Harry offered his memories up for Snape's examination.
Potter, looking up at a large-nosed, black-haired stranger who seemed to know him
Snape passed quickly by this one – it was of no assistance.
Potter sitting on the floor next to the girl Maggie, her face bruised, her lip swollen and split. Potter stroked her head as she cried.
One of the problems with being a pimped whore, Snape noted, was the inability to say "no" to a customer, even one that brutalized you.
Potter, this time on the bed of straw, the boy's eyes squeezed shut as he grimaced as though in terrible pain. He was trembling. His head
lay in Maggie's lap, and she sang sweetly to him as she held a cool flannel to his forehead, lessening somewhat the pain that thundered
through his head.
Snape made a mental note to himself to examine this memory more closely later. And now a succession of images of men.
Potter doing things to men. Men doing things to Potter. To his mouth, his arse. Men hitting Potter. Men being incredibly loving and gentle
with Potter as they raped him. Men insisting that Potter call them "Daddy". Caleb, the barkeep's son, taking what he wanted from Potter.
And mixed among those images:
Potter waking up next to Maggie with a morning erection, the girl pulling him close, and Potter entering her with something close to
reverence, the two of them moving in synchronized harmony until both found their release simultaneously.
It was almost beautiful to see, and Snape stopped to watch with only a little shame. But then it was:
MacDonald telling Potter that he'd bought him, and damn it, he was sure going to test his new merchandise before offering it to his customers.
From the way he begged the much larger man to stop and at the pain from the less than careful preparation before penetration, Snape surmised this was Potter's first time, and he winced for the boy, that his virginity should be stolen by such a man and in such a way.
MacDonald then allowing a starving Potter to eat, explaining to him that if he wanted to eat again, he'd best learn to satisfy his customers. And Potter, confused and adrift and abandoned, had done so, understanding on a primitive level what he needed to do to survive.
Potter with a different man, a man he'd called Steven, a man to whom he'd attached himself when he'd found himself disoriented and alone, with no memory of who he was or what had happened to him or how he'd come to be where he was and an inability to focus long enough to even attempt to figure it out.
As best Snape could tell, Potter had been with this Steven for a couple of months. Steven had been nothing but kind to Potter, sharing what little food he had with the boy, protecting him, keeping him warm and safe. There were no memories of the man harming Potter in any way, at least until the final betrayal of selling the boy to a pedophile and into a life of prostitution.
The last concrete memory Snape found was of Potter, wandering in a sparsely wooded area, alone and with no apparent idea of a destination as he put one foot down in front of another, hunger gnawing at his belly, an emptiness clawing at his brain, an ill-defined need to put distance between himself and . . . something. There was a feeling of intense desperation and terror that made Snape shiver.
Before that, there were only fleeting images: battle sounds, cries and shouts, the sizzle of hexes flying, bodies falling, blood, lots of blood. A moment of light so intense it was painful, so intense nothing else could exist in the world. And then, inexplicably, birds singing.
And before that? Nothing. Not nothing the like of which a Legillimens encounters with a novice Occlumens learning to block mind access by blocking everything. Just – nothing. Where should have been memories of Potter's life at school, with his friends, suffering with his horrible relations, quidditch, there was a blankness, a lack of thought and memory. Encountering no resistence, Snape continued to search for a time for something, anything, until he became convinced there just wasn't anything to find.
He pulled out of Potter's mind, exhausted by the length of the session, glad he was sitting as he surely would have collapsed had he been standing. His first thought was to check on the boy, but Potter seemed unperturbed by Snape's foray through his subconscious. Snape sat back against the sofa and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Severus?" Minerva prompted impatiently. "Did you learn anything helpful?"
Snape opened his eyes. "I don't know. My pensieve is there on the shelf," he instructed. He felt too weak to get up for it himself. "If you would be so kind as to fetch it here."
"Excellent idea," Poppy said. "We can see for ourselves what has happened to the boy."
"Are you all right, Professor?" Granger asked him solicitously, eying him with concern.
Snape had collapsed against the sofa and closed his eyes again, but at her question, he sat up straighter and forced his eyes open. "I am fine, thank you, Miss Granger." And because she had shown him kindness, he would attempt to do the same for her, though he knew she wouldn't heed his advice. "You should stay out of the pensieve."
"Is it that bad?" she asked quietly as Minerva set the pensieve on a small table she'd transfigured from a potions journal.
"It is not a pleasant experience to watch a friend go through. I would not like for what has happened to Potter against his will to change how you view him."
Snape saw the understanding dawn in her eyes, but her jaw set more resolutely. As he had known it would. "I want to help him, sir. I think I can do that best if I know what happened." She looked at Harry and smiled, a heartbroken smile. "I'll not love him any less for it."
If he could have, Snape would have awarded her points. Instead, he turned to the boy. "Davey." When Potter turned his eyes on him, Snape could clearly see the confusion there about what was going on, what these people were all doing here, what that large bowl was. He knew if he let Potter get started, he'd face a never-ending barrage of questions. "In the kitchen you will find a basket of kittens. Why don't you get them and bring them out here to play with?"
Potter's face brightened with obvious interest. "Kittens?"
"Kittens," Snape confirmed.
Harry jumped excitedly off the sofa and raced into the kitchen.
"You had a basket of kittens in your kitchen?" Hermione asked, disbelieving that this was a mere coincidence.
Snape shrugged. "I summoned them just now. If we're all going into the pensieve, it's best if he's occupied."
"Look at the kittens!" they heard a joyous shout from the other room.
"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said. "For finding him. For bringing him home to us."
"Don't thank me yet, Miss Granger," Snape said, uncomfortable. "If we cannot cure him, it may well be pointless."
"Not pointless, sir," she contradicted, tears in her eyes again. "Even if we can't, he'll at least be among people who love him when he . . ." She couldn't say it, couldn't make herself believe that it would come to that. They would find a way. They had to.
Potter burst into the room. "Look everyone! Kittens!"
The three women smiled fondly at his child-like glee. To counteract the maudlin aura permeating the room, Snape's tone went brisk. "Davey, we are all going to be occupied for some time. You are to play with the kittens and NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. Do you understand?"
"Uh huh," the boy said, his eyes not leaving the basket. "Can I take them out?"
"You may. We will be a few minutes. Stay in this room and behave."
Potter stared up at Snape as the man placed his wand to his temple and pulled silvery strands from his hair. Still staring, he sat on the floor and removed the kittens from the basket as the others all bent around the large bowl and stuck their faces into it. Adults sure were weird, Harry thought as he patted a squirming mass of kitten fur.
When they returned from the pensieve, it was several moments before anyone could speak. Hermione sat down hard in the nearest available chair, fighting back tears, keeping her eyes steadfastly cast down. If she looked at Harry now, she'd rush to him and hold him, which would likely scare him witless in his present condition.
Unaware of the turmoil being experienced by the others in the room, Harry lay on the floor, pulling the lace he'd removed from his trainer along the floor and giggling when the kittens pounced on it.
Finally, Minerva said, "That was awful."
"But was it helpful?" Snape asked, rubbing his eyes tiredly, wishing he could erase the images from his brain.
"It would certainly explain why Harry had withdrawn into himself, if that's what he has done," Poppy mused. She looked down at Harry. "But this seems like much more than that. The missing memories, the childlike behavior – it all points to a curse."
"I would agree," Snape said. "Minerva?"
"I would have to defer to both of you, I suppose. Your expertise in this area is much greater than mine."
"Miss Granger," Snape said. "Have you anything to add?"
Hermione lurched to her feet. "I'm sorry. I need a moment." And she stumbled from the room as quickly as she could without running.
Severus rolled his eyes and made a tsking sound of disgust. "She's falling apart. She may as well not have come."
"Give her a moment to collect herself," Minerva chided. "She's young, and she loves him. She will be strong for him."
Hermione found herself in Severus' kitchen, and she braced herself on the kitchen table, letting the tears come, knowing she'd not get it out of her system until she did.
"Are you okay?" a soft voice asked behind her.
Hermione whirled around, dashing the tears from her eyes, smiling weakly at Harry. "I'm fine," she said even as her heart broke further on looking at her dear friend, so lost inside himself.
"Are you sad?" Harry pursued.
"I am," Hermione confirmed.
"A friend of mine – someone I love very much – he's been hurt very badly, and I just feel for him and wish there was something I could do to make him better."
Harry pondered this. "That man, out there." Hermione knew he meant Snape. "He said that you're my friend."
"That's right," Hermione confirmed with a watery smile and a nod. "We've been friends since you were . . . for seven years."
"Am I the friend you'd like to help?"
"Are you going to help me?" Harry wasn't entirely sure why he needed help, but these people seemed to think he did, and they were grown-ups, so they must know.
"I'm going to try my hardest," she promised. "And so will Professor Snape and the Headmistress and Madam Pomfrey and so many people you don't even realize who would do anything for you."
"Are you still sad?"
Hermione nodded. "A little."
"Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?"
"I would really like a hug," Hermione admitted. "It's okay if you don't want to, though. I understand."
But Harry had already closed the distance between them and was wrapping her in his arms. Hermione hugged him back, rested her head on his shoulder, and tried not to bawl.
Snape found them this way a few moments later. "Everyone all right?"
Hermione pulled away from Harry reluctantly. She could do this – she could pull herself together and help Harry. They would help Harry. They would not let him die. "We're good."
"Madam Pomfrey is preparing for the exam."
Hermione smiled at him. "I'll go see what I can do." She left them.
"I like her," Harry said. "She was sad, so I hugged her."
"That was kind of you."
"I liked hugging her," Harry said simply. "She felt nice."
Snape didn't need to examine that statement too closely, as just how much he enjoyed it was visibly apparent if Snape allowed his gaze to drop south of the boy's belt. An eighteen-year old body controlled by a much more juvenile mind could be problematic, to say the least.
"She reminds me of Maggie," Harry said, somewhat sadly.
Snape didn't want to think about the unfortunate girl who had cared for and consoled Potter. "Where are the kittens?" he asked.
Harry looked around the kitchen. "I don't know."
"Never mind. We'll round them up later. Come. They are waiting for us."
Poppy was explaining the mental status examination when they returned. "The exam will give us a look at the status of Harry's mental faculties. I'll be able to determine at what age he is functioning mentally, whether any part of his brain has been damaged, if there are any other issues. Come and sit," Poppy said, inviting Harry to sit by patting the sofa beside her.
Nervously, Harry looked up at Snape, who nodded encouragingly. Harry sat, and Poppy arranged him comfortably back against the pillows. "Now, just close your eyes. This won't hurt a bit, and we'll be all finished in just a few minutes."
Harry closed his eyes and settled back. Poppy lifted her wand and twirled it in lazy circles over Harry's head. After only a few moments, she stopped. "Ten," she said, her voice flat with disbelief. "He has the mental age of ten."
The math was easy. Harry had been eighteen when he'd been struck by the curse (assuming that's what it was). That was eight months ago. Eight years in eight months. One year lost for every month since the curse. That meant they had less than a year to figure out how he'd been cursed and stop the progression of that curse, at which point they'd have to try to reverse it. Ten months seemed forever, but given the sheer number of curses that could have been used and the obscurity of many of them, the task was daunting.
"Ow," Harry said as Poppy's news was sinking in to everyone else. "Ow ow ow," he wailed as he clutched at his head.
"Harry, what's wrong?" Hermione asked. "You said this wouldn't hurt!"
"It didn't!" Poppy proclaimed. "It doesn't!"
"Owwww!" Harry wailed. "My head! Make it stop! Please make it stop!"
Snape thought he knew what this was, and he summoned a headache draught, a calming elixir, and a cold wet flannel as he knelt beside the crying boy.
Harry rolled to his side and vomited on himself, the sofa, Snape and the carpet. With the ease of long practice, Poppy banished the mess before anyone could even really react to it.
"Davey," Snape said, reaching up to pry Potter's arms away from his head. "Hush, Davey." He forced Potter onto his back and lay the cool flannel across his forehead. Harry quieted immediately and moaned in appreciation. "Drink this," Snape urged, pressing one of the vials to the boy's lips. Harry trustingly downed that one and the one that followed. Once the potions took effect, Harry lay quietly on the sofa, panting slightly, eyes closed.
Snape sat back on his heels, studying the boy, an idea forming in his mind.
"You think this is the same as what happened in the memory, where the girl . . . Maggie was comforting him?" Hermione asked, following him down his road of speculation.
Snape nodded. "A skilled legillimens can feel emotions on some level when viewing memories. He was in great pain at that time, as he was now. Davey," he said softly, not knowing if the headache was accompanied by a sensitivity to sound. "Have you had a headache like this before?"
"Yeah," Harry whispered. "I get them sometimes. But it's getting better now. The medicine you gave me was really good. Can I go to sleep now?"
"Yes, Davey. You can sleep," Snape told him. Snape summoned Potter's toy rabbit from upstairs and placed it in the boy's arms, then covered him with the thin quilt which was draped over the back of the sofa. He then turned to the mediwitch. "Poppy, do the exam again."
"But I just did it," Poppy protested.
"What if it caused the headache!" Hermione complained, hovering worriedly over Harry.
"I don't believe it caused the headache. I think the headache was a symptom of the larger problem. Do it, Poppy."
Pomfrey raised her arm and rotated her wand once again over the oblivious boy's head. "Nine," she said in wonder a few moments later. "Now he's nine."
"So the headache is an indicator that the curse is at work?" Hermione guessed.
"Yes," Snape confirmed. And now they had one less month to work with.
They moved into the kitchen so they could speak without disturbing the now-sleeping boy on the sofa.
"What do we do now?" Hermione asked.
"It would seem our primary responsibility now would be to keep him safe while we work out what curse was used on him," Minerva noted, nodding her thanks to Severus when he handed her a cup of tea. "Until we identify it, we cannot reverse it."
"So what becomes of the boy in the meantime?" Poppy asked.
"He'll have to stay somewhere safe," Minerva stated. "Someone will have to keep an eye on him, obviously. A nine-year old boy cannot be left to his own devices. Who else are we going to alert to his return?"
"The fewer who know, the better," Snape said. "There are still those who would wish him dead. In his current vulnerable state, he cannot be expected to defend himself."
"I must tell Ron," Hermione said quietly. She could not keep this from him.
Snape wanted to argue against the advisability of this, but instead he said, "I think it best that he is the only Weasley who knows. The larger the circle, the better the chance that word gets out to the world at large."
Hermione nodded. She loved the Weasleys, but keeping secrets was not their strong suit. Percy would feel obligated to inform the Ministry. Fred and George were about as discrete as two mountain trolls. No, telling only Ron was their best bet at keeping Harry and his condition secret.
"I think Hogwarts is the best place for him now," Minerva offered. "It's empty except for Filch and Sybil. He'll need someone to stay with him, of course."
Here, everyone turned to Snape.
"Why are you all looking at me?" he protested.
"Well, I can't do it," Minerva said calmly. "I'm leaving for Durmstrang next week. The annual conference of the International Society of Headmasters. My attendance was planned and paid for weeks ago."
"And I'm off to Canada for the mediwitch conference," Poppy explained. "Can't miss it – they only hold meetings every five years."
Snape turned pleading eyes on Hermione.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I'd take him in a heartbeat. It's just that . . ." Hermione stopped, chewing her bottom lip in irritation.
"It's her parents, Severus," Minerva explained. "She obliviated them before leaving to hunt for horcruxes with Harry. She's having difficulty reversing the spell."
"That's what comes of being a formidably talented witch," Snape said, somewhat meanly. It wasn't that he was lacking in sympathy for her plight – he just hadn't planned on spending his summer hols babysitting. He sighed. "It wouldn't have worked anyway likely. He very much enjoyed hugging you, Miss Granger."
At her look of confusion, Snape spelled it out. "He has an eighteen-year old's body with an eighteen-year old's hormones. And the physical and emotional control of a nine-year old. When I say he very much enjoyed hugging you, I mean he very much enjoyed hugging you."
"Oh." Hermione's cheeks flushed red instantly. "Oh. He . . ."
"Yes," Snape confirmed, then he sighed. "I suppose with the amount of research that needs to be done, Hogwarts is the best place to be in any event."
"He seems to trust you, Professor," Hermione said. "Once I get my parents sorted out, maybe Ron and I can take him. I'll help all I can with the research in the meantime."
"Fine," Snape said, resigned to his fate. "We shall return to Hogwarts tomorrow. Minerva, if you could see to some clothing for the boy. He has nothing. What he had when I found him was little better than rags. I've transfigured some things for him, but I'd rather not sacrifice my entire wardrobe."
"Of course, Severus. I'll see to it," Minerva promised. "Will you want new quarters, or would you prefer to stay in your own?"
"I will stay in mine." If he had to spend the summer at Hogwarts, he was damn well going to do it some place familiar and comfortable.
"I'll return there now, then, and get started on adding a bedroom to your suite of rooms," Minerva offered, and she apparated away after wishing them all a good day.
Poppy went into the sitting room to examine a still-sleeping Harry. "He's fine," she declared. "I'll be getting back now as well. Call me if you need anything, Severus."
Left alone with her former professor, Hermione was visibly nervous. "I'm sorry to have to leave him with you, Professor," she said, sounding tired and much older than her years.
"Severus," Snape said. He was no longer her professor. "If you would like to write down for me what spell you used on your parents and what attempts you have made to undo it, I will see if there isn't some way I can assist you with that problem."
Hermione's face showed her gratitude and relief. "Thank you . . . Severus. Would it be all right if I come back tomorrow? Or Ron? Or both of us?"
"Miss Granger . . ."
"Hermione," she interrupted.
"Hermione. I suddenly find myself the sole caretaker of an overly large nine-year old. I would be a fool to refuse any offer of assistance."
Hermione smiled in understanding, then said, "Oh!" when a ball of black fur came streaking out from behind the ice box. "The kittens."
"I'd forgotten about them," Snape confessed. "I suppose I should return them."
"Where did they come from?"
"They were in a basket in the village with a sign that said 'Free to a Good Home'." Severus reached down and grabbed up the squirming kitten.
"So they don't belong to anyone then? I'll take one." She'd recently lost old Crookshanks and had been thinking about adopting another pet.
Severus extended his arm to her and dropped the kitten into her hands. "He's all yours."
"What will you do with the other two?"
"I suppose I could keep them," Severus said. "For mice. And Harry seemed taken with them."
Hermione smiled. "I'm going to see if Harry's awake to say goodbye." She stood up, cradling the kitten and went into the sitting room. She sat on the edge of the sofa and smoothed Harry's hair back away from his forehead, exposing that famous scare. Gratitude welled up inside her, that they had found him, despite the dire circumstances he was in. She'd do anything to fix him, now that they had him back.
Harry's eyes fluttered open under her stroking hand, and he smiled sleepily up at her. "Hi."
"Hello, Davey," she said with a genuine smile. "I'm sorry to wake you. How's your headache?"
Harry scooted up into a sitting position. "Gone. What are you doing with the kitten?"
Hermione looked down at the now-docile creature in her lap. "I'm taking him home with me. I'm keeping him."
"What about the others?"
Hermione smiled. "They're staying here with you."
Harry's joyful smile warmed Hermione's heart. "Listen, I have to go."
The smile faltered. "Will you come back?"
"I hope to come back tomorrow. But if I can't, I'm going to send another friend. His name is Ron. He's been your friend even longer than I have. He will be so anxious to see you again! Will you be okay here?"
Harry shrugged. "Here's all right. No one hurts me here."
"No one's going to hurt you ever again," Hermione said fiercely. "I promise you that!"
"Can I have another hug before you go?" Harry asked with a somewhat sly grin.
Hermione guessed why he wanted it, but she couldn't say no to him, not now, and she leaned forward and put her arms around him, pulling him close. Harry rested his head on her shoulder and held her tightly.
When Hermione tried to pull away, Harry held her tighter. "Har– Davey!" she scolded playfully. Harry giggled and let her go.
Hermione stood up. "I'll see you soon. Welcome home."
"Bye," Harry said. After she'd gone, he sat up on the sofa and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Are you hungry?" Snape asked.
Harry looked up. "Yeah!"
"Can't I sleep with you?" Harry whined.
"No. This is your bed. You will sleep here," Snape instructed firmly. "In. Now."
Harry leapt onto the bed and flounced to the top, arranging himself under the blanket. Snape handed over the blue rabbit and Harry hugged it before tucking it gently under the covers beside him. "Kiss?" he asked, looking hopefully up at Snape.
"Go to sleep," Snape growled. He snapped the light off and closed the door.
Two hours later, Snape lay aside the book he'd been reading, extinguished the burning candles, sank into his pillows, and lay there breathing deeply, attempting to clear his mind. Tension slowly left his body. Until he heard his bedroom door open, slowly, then, just as slowly, close again.
In the darkness, Snape rolled his eyes. Had the imp lay in bed for the last two hours, waiting for his chance to sneak into Snape's bed? He wanted to see what the boy would do. He was apparently waiting to see if Snape was actually asleep, because in the gloom, Snape could see him just standing there, the rabbit tucked under his arm. How long would the holy terror just stand there?
Another three minutes. Snape counted. Then Harry took one cautious step toward the bed. The next step caused a floor board to creak, and Harry said, "Fuck!" under his breath and stopped again.
Snape nearly laughed aloud at the boy's ineffective (non-existent, really) sneaking skills. He really should growl at the boy and send him back to his own bed, but he didn't have the heart. He was a traumatized nine-year old, alone and likely scared. So he lay still, waiting for the boy to resume his trek across the room.
Finally, Harry made it to the bed, and Snape felt him slowly and carefully pull the covers back, sit gingerly on the edge of the bed, then slide into it. Harry lay as close to the edge of the bed as he could without falling off and emitted a small, happy sigh.
Snape smiled into the darkness, closed his eyes, and let himself drift off to sleep.
Of course, when he woke up, the heat-seeking limpet had plastered himself to Snape's side in the night. Snape took himself and his morning erection off to the bathroom as quickly as possible.
Harry sat on the sofa, one of the kittens on his lap, sniggering behind his hand at Snape.
"What are you snickering at, imp?" Snape growled.
"You . . . you have a cobweb in your hair," Harry said, laughing harder.
Snape rolled his eyes. "You are acting like such a nine-year old," he said after he ran a hand through his hair to dislodge the sticky web. He'd been up in the attic rummaging for some things he'd remembered being up there. He'd found them in a far corner, and he'd brought them down. For the boy. Who was laughing at him. He set the box down with a thump.
Harry set the kitten on the sofa and, unable to contain his rampant curiosity, came to stand beside Snape. "What's in the box?"
"Some things I remembered from my childhood. Books and toys."
Harry poked inquisitively at the things in the box. "A yo-yo!" he said, extricating the toy from the box. He released the yo-yo and watched as it bounded half-heartedly at the end of the string. "It's broken," he complained.
"You just have to know how to do it." Snape took the yo-yo from the boy and demonstrated how it was supposed to work.
"Wow!" Harry said, impressed.
Snape handed the toy back. "Practice. You'll get it."
Snape searched through the box. "Ah," he said. "This is what I was looking for." He pulled several books out and looked at them fondly. They were well-worn and obviously had been read many times.
"Books?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Potter, books. Words strung together to make sentences and paragraphs, then bound together for others to peruse. Familiar with the concept?"
Harry looked at him rather blankly, and Snape realized with a start that he was being a little harsh with the boy. This was not the same irritating Harry Potter who had plagued him during his school days. "Do you like to read, Davey?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno."
Snape handed the books to Harry and said, "Bring them and follow me."
Snape led the way into the room he used for brewing potions when he was here. "Sit here," he said, patting a stool in the corner. "Read to me."
Snape began to pack the materials he wanted to take back to Hogwarts with him while Harry sorted through the books. The boy settled onto the stool and began to read.
"There once was a girl-bird named Gertrude McFuzz
And she had the smallest plain tail ever was"
Good. He could read, at least as well as your average nine-year old. Snape hadn't been sure if Harry had retained such rudimentary skills, but he obviously had. That was a good sign. He'd test his mathematical abilities later, and perhaps once they were back at Hogwarts, try to ascertain whether the boy possessed any magic or the ability to control it. For now, he tuned the voice out and turned his attention to his packing.
Severus put his fork down after finishing his lunch. "I need you to pack your things."
Harry's eyes widened and filled with fearful tears, and it took a moment before Snape realized why. "We are going away together," he said gently.
Harry sagged visibly in relief. "Where are we going?"
"We are going to Hogwarts. That is the school you once attended. It is summer, and no one is there, so we will have the place to ourselves."
"Why are we going?"
"There is a large library there which will be helpful as we attempt to help you. I have rooms there."
"I teach there."
"What do you teach?"
"What's that?" Harry asked, crinkling his nose in what really was an endearing manner.
"The science of mixing ingredients together to make compounds."
"Was I your student once?"
"Was I good at potions?"
"No, Davey. Unfortunately, you were not."
"What was my name again – before?"
"You knew me when I was – Harry Potter?"
"Why do you call me Davey then?"
"I thought you would be more comfortable with it."
"But I'm really Harry Potter?"
"You really are."
"You can call me that – Harry, I mean. If you want. I don't mind."
"All right, then. I would suggest that you go and pack up your rabbit. Put him in the box with the toys and the books. We will take everything with us when we go."
"What about George and Gracie?"
"George and Gracie?" Severus repeated.
"Ah. George and Gracie?" he repeated. "Where on earth did those names come from?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno."
"In any event, they will accompany us."
"Yay!" Harry said, jumping up so fast he nearly tipped his chair over. "I'll go get Bunny and the other stuff, then I'll find George and Gracie."
"Scoot," Snape urged, and Harry ran excitedly from the room.
Ron arrived just before Snape was to take Harry to Hogwarts.
"Mr. Weasley. I'd begun to think you weren't coming."
"Sorry," Ron said, his eyes on Harry. "I had a lot of questions for Hermione. Hello, Ha– Davey. My name is Ron. Ron Weasley."
Harry smiled shyly. "Hi. Are you my friend?"
"I am. We've been friends since we – since I was eleven."
"Mr. Weasley, we were just about to adjourn to Hogwarts. Perhaps you would accompany us and you can entertain Mr. Potter while I speak with the Headmistress."
"Sure," Ron agreed willingly. "Do you need any help?"
Snape patted the pockets of his robe. "We are packed and ready. We shall meet you outside the gates. Harry, come here."
Ron watched, amazed, as Harry Potter stepped willingly into Severus Snape's embrace before they both apparated away.
"Bloody hell," Ron breathed before following them.
"Can I take him out to the quidditch pitch, Professor?" Ron asked after they'd gotten Harry settled into his new dungeon bedroom.
There was no on one on the school grounds with the exception of a handful of staff. They should be safe enough on the pitch. "Do you intend to take him flying?"
"I thought to."
"Remember that he is nine years old, if you would, Mr. Weasley."
"Yes, sir. How'd you like to go flying, D-Davey?" Ron's tongue tripped over the unfamiliar appellation.
"He will answer to Harry," Snape informed him.
"Can I go?" Harry asked excitedly.
Snape nodded. "You may. Stay with Mr. Weasley. Behave and be careful."
Ron gawped at Snape again. The austere man sounded almost . . . parental. It was disconcerting. "I'll take good care of him."
"See that you do."
Snape was on his way to the quidditch pitch. He'd checked in with Minerva, finished unpacking, and sat with a relaxing glass of scotch. He'd expected Weasley and the boy back by now, and he was on his way to reclaim his charge. Not that he was worried or anything like that. It simply was a beautiful day and just right for a leisurely stroll about the grounds.
He heard voices approaching before he could see them, two male voices, both low in pitch, though one chattered excitedly, as if there weren't enough minutes in the hour to get all of the words out. He rounded the corner of the quidditch stadium and stopped in his tracks. Here were Weasley and Potter, walking toward him, Weasley looking just as he had when last he'd seen him. Potter, however, was covered from head to toe with mud. It was in his hair, on his face, his clothes, his shoes. Snape's scrutiny revealed a cut on Potter's forehead which was only visible through the dirt on his head because it had oozed blood, a rip in his right sleeve, and a hole in the right knee of his (Snape's!) trousers.
When Harry spotted Snape, a large grin spread across his face and he went bounding toward the older man. Snape stopped, horrified, certain that the boy intended to fling his filthy self into Snape's arms.
Much to Snape's relief, the boy stopped short in front of him. "Sir!" he said, looking up at Snape with excitement positively vibrating off him. "Flying was brilliant!"
"Can I assume it was the landing that has left you looking like a swamp monster?"
"I fell off the broom!" Harry announced as though it were the most fun he'd ever had in his entire life.
Snape turned an accusing glare on Weasley.
"He was three feet off the ground!" Ron said in self-defense. "But well, you know, it rained last night, and there was this puddle . . ."
"Are you injured?" Snape asked the boy.
"Nah! It was awesome! I fell off and splashed right into this giant puddle! Want me to show you? I could go get the broom and do it again!"
"That won't be necessary," Snape assured him. "I have seen you fall off your broom on more than one occasion. That is enough for my entire lifetime. You have a cut on your forehead."
Harry reached up to touch it, as though just realizing it was there. "It's okay," he said, smearing the blood so that it blended in with the mud already drying there.
"Did you not think to heal his injury, Mr. Weasley?" Snape asked Ron.
"I wasn't sure you'd want me using magic on him. I can do it now."
"I will take care of it. Once he is clean. Come, Mr. Potter. You are in desperate need of a bath."
"I'll just head home, I guess," Ron said. "Sorry about," he waved vaguely at Harry, "this, Professor."
Snape shrugged dismissively. "He is a boy. Boys fall off brooms and get covered in mud." Snape had not done these things as a boy, but he'd known many others who had.
"So I can come back then?" Ron asked hopefully.
"You may come as often as you like. I'm sure Mr. Potter would appreciate your company."
"I'll see you tomorrow then. Bye, Harry!"
"Bye, Ron! Thanks for taking me flying!"
"We'll do it again some time. Maybe tomorrow."
Snape walked Harry back up to the castle, the boy chattering animatedly and non-stop the entire way. Clearly, he enjoyed flying just as much now as he had in his previous life. Harry was still yammering on when Snape helped him to undress and get into the bathtub. After healing his cuts and supervising his washing, Snape went into the boy's bedroom to retrieve clean clothes. He took a moment to enjoy the blessed silence before returning to the bathroom.
Just as he was about to enter, Snape heard a throaty moan emanating from inside. Immediately concerned, Snape pushed the door open, only to wish he hadn't. Potter was sitting in the tub, the hand wrapped around his hardened penis pistoning up and down, his face reflecting pain and confusion and a little fear. When he spotted Snape at the door, his hand slowed but did not stop completely.
"I can't . . ." he panted. "I don't . . . know what I'm doing! It hurts!"
Torn between the desire to flee and the desire to help the boy, Snape forced himself to step into the room. "It's all right, Harry. Just relax. What you're doing is perfectly normal." For the eighteen-year old that Harry's body thought he was. No so much for the nine-year old living inside the skull.
"I can't stop!" Harry wailed. "What do I do?"
How was it possible, given how this boy was "employed" for several months, that he did not know the mechanics of reaching orgasm? Likely Harry's pleasure had never been anyone's primary concern. "I am going to leave you now," Snape explained. "You are going to continue doing what you're doing. You will know when you are finished. What will happen is perfectly natural. You needn't be afraid."
Snape left the room and closed the door as Harry's frantic self-ministrations resumed. He retreated to the sitting room where, he hoped, he wouldn't be able to hear it when Potter reached culmination. Hard under his robes, Snape chanted to himself, "He's nine years old. He's nine years old," until the shout from the bathroom he'd hoped not to hear drove him to the scotch.
Twenty minutes later, Potter joined Snape, dropping into a chair by the hearth. "Is there something wrong with me?" the boy asked miserably.
Snape drew a fortifying breath, trying to draw the strength to get him through this discussion. "There is nothing wrong with you. What you did is called masturbation. It is a very normal way for young men to relieve sexual pressure. Your body, Harry, is eighteen years old, and you physically have the needs of healthy young man. There is no reason why you shouldn't satisfy those needs. However, if you choose to do so, you will do it in private and discretely. You will not do it in my bed, even if you wake with an erection."
"What's an erection?"
Merlin! This boy knew nothing! "An erection is when your penis fills with blood and becomes hard."
"Penis?" Harry repeated.
"Your . . ." What term had the boy used? "Your willie."
"Oh." Harry's eyes were trained on the floor.
"Harry," Snape said. When the boy looked up at him, he continued. "You're perfectly normal. Masturbation is perfectly normal."
"Do you do it?"
Snape flinched. Walked right into that one, hadn't he? "While it is perfectly normal, masturbation is also private, and we will not discuss it again."
Harry accepted this with an off-hand, "All right."
Snape cleared his throat, the subject closed. "Are you hungry?" That never failed to distract the boy.
Harry nodded eagerly.
Harry tuned out the adults and stared fascinated around the Headmistress' office at all of the gadgets and gizmos, a legacy, though Harry didn't currently know it, of Albus Dumbledore. His hands itched to touch, to hold, to experience, but Snape had already warned him not to touch anything. And he was still insecure enough in his position with his new guardian to overtly disobey.
"Harry, come here,"Snape requested.
Harry tore himself away from the whirling instruments and presented himself to Snape. The older man handed him his wand. When Harry took it into his hand, he felt a tingling all the way up his arm, and he stared down at it.
Snape placed a piece of parchment into the hearth and instructed Harry, "I want you to burn it. Point your wand at it and say, 'Incendio'."
Clearly hesitant, Harry looked first at Snape, then at Minerva. "Go ahead, Harry," Minerva encouraged. "Give it a try."
"I– incednio," Harry stuttered out. Nothing happened.
"No, Harry," Snape correctly gently. "Not incednio. Incendio."
"Sorry," Harry said, becoming distraught, hanging his head. Maybe if he couldn't do this, he'd have to leave here, leave this place and the kind people who cared for him and expected nothing of him in return.
"Don't be sorry," Snape said kindly. "Just try it again. Say it like you mean it."
Because he was Harry Potter, and he wasn't a coward, Harry gathered his courage, took a deep breath, pointed his wand at the unoffending parchment, and cried, "Incendio!"
And the parchment spontaneously combusted. Eyes wide with surprise and awe, Harry looked up at Snape. "I did it!" he whispered.
"Well done," Snape said, surprising everyone in the room with the note of pride in his voice.
"He's got his magic," Minerva noted happily.
"Your wand," Snape said, holding out his hand.
Visibly reluctant, Harry handed it over. "Can't I keep it?"
"We will schedule some time every day for you to use it. But no, you cannot carry it with you." A nine-year old with a wand was a recipe for disaster.
"We will begin researching tomorrow, Minerva," Snape said. "With any luck, we'll have a solution soon."
"Is there any sense in my putting you to bed in your own room?" Snape asked.
Harry smiled impishly up at him but didn't answer the question.
Snape sighed. "Fine," he said. "You may sleep in my bed. I will be in later."
"Night," Harry said with a happy smile, and he turned and ran down the hallway.
"Slow down," Snape admonished. He briefly considered sleeping in the boy's bed himself, but he discarded that idea quickly, certain the boy would find him at some point and they'd end up sleeping in the much narrower bed. As long as he was able to resist this weird attraction he felt for the boy, there wouldn't be any danger to letting him share the bed.
The end of July was only two days away, and they'd made no progress in their research into Harry's curse. Hogwarts' library was extensive. They'd started in the Restricted Section, figuring the spell that had affected Harry wasn't something that would be found in the books available to first years. Each morning, Snape started with the next section of books, selected those most likely to be helpful and stacked them on the table. During the first week, Minerva assisted him when she had free time, but then she left for her conference. Fortunately, Snape was able to help Hermione with her parents, and when Minerva left, Granger took over assisting with the research. While they were confined in the library, Ron entertained Harry. The two of them went flying, swimming in the lake, exploring in the castle. Ron liked the feeling of having a little brother, and their friendship took on a new depth.
July 31 greeted Harry's birthday with rain. Ron and Hermione arrived early with a birthday present and a cake. Harry pouted when told he couldn't eat it for breakfast, but he was easily distracted by the gift.
Harry sat in the sitting room with his present on his lap, staring down at it in wonder. "No one's ever given me a present. Well, except for Bunny. Maggie gave me Bunny. But he wasn't wrapped."
Ron and Hermione exchanged sad glances, reminded of the eleven-year old Harry they'd met their first year at Hogwarts. "Go ahead and open it, Harry," Hermione urged.
Harry did, reverently lifting the paper from the box. Inside he found a book. He lifted it out and turned it over. Dragons of Europe.
"Look inside," Ron urged.
Harry opened to a random page and gasped at the moving images of glorious dragons in flight, dragons stalking prey, dragons sleeping, dragons mating. He tentatively reached a finger to touch a photo, almost convinced that his finger would go through the page and into the photo itself. He met solid paper, though, and traced the image of the lightly-snoring dragon. The dragon snorted and lifted its head, looking around sleepily to see who had disturbed it.
"Do you like it?" Hermione asked.
Harry looked up at them, his eyes glowing. "I love it!"
"What do you say to Ron and Hermione, Harry?" Snape prodded.
"Thank you!" Harry launched himself off the chair and dropped to his knees between his two best friends, putting an arm around each and pulling them into a tight embrace.
Near tears, Hermione stroked Harry's hair tenderly and met Ron's eyes over the top of the messy head. Ron reached up and touched Hermione's cheek, smiling encouragingly.
Watching from across the room, Snape had to swallow hard to dislodge the lump in his throat. He'd known that Harry and his friends were close, but he hadn't suspected the depth of their attachment. It was like they were three parts of the same whole.
The three friends stayed embracing until Harry's youthful exuberance reasserted itself and he pulled away. "Can we go flying today?"
"Sorry, Mate. S'raining," Ron said, ruffling Harry's hair.
"So! It's only rain," Harry argued. "Please, please, please, Ron."
"Not today," Ron said firmly. "We'll find something to do inside today."
Harry stomped his foot. "I want to go flying!"
Ron and Hermione stared at Harry, then looked over at Severus. They'd never seen Harry act the petulant child.
Snape interceded. "Harry, I hear an owl. Why don't you go let it in?" Harry loved feeding the post owls.
His miff immediately forgotten, Harry suddenly smiled. "Okay," he said, and he bounded out of the room.
"What was that?" Ron asked.
"He didn't sleep well last night," Snape explained. "Nightmares." He'd kept Snape awake last night, tossing and turning and muttering in his sleep. "I suspect the curse is about to reassert itself. It is the end of the month."
"I'd forgotten," Hermione admitted.
"I expect he'll have a headache similar to the one he had previously at some point today. I would not have let him fly today in any event, for that reason. Once that happens, we'll call Madam Pomfrey down to confirm he's lost another year."
Harry entered the room now, his eyes glued to the newspaper in his hands.
"Harry?" Ron asked. "Everything all right?"
Harry looked up at them. "I'm in the newspaper. Right on the front page." He turned the Prophet around and showed them. Sure enough, a photo of Harry dominated the page, under a caption which read, "THE CHOSEN ONE – WHERE IS HE NOW?" The Harry in the photo grimaced at the camera, then turned to look to his right.
Damn! Snape should have realized the Prophet would do a story on Harry's disappearance on his birthday and taken pains to keep it from the boy. He crossed the room and took the paper from Harry's trembling hands. "It's all right, Harry. Don't worry about this. There is another present in your room that I think you and Mr. Weasley might enjoy. Why don't you take him in there and see?"
Harry and Ron accompanied Snape and Hermione to the library. Harry read from his new dragon book and Ron chose a quidditch book from the shelf while Snape and Hermione poured through dusty tome after dusty tome.
Until Harry clutched his head and groaned in pain.
Snape moved quickly, giving Harry the headache potion he'd kept on his person all day. Once Harry had swallowed it, they escorted him back to the dungeon. Snape settled Harry on the sofa with Bunny and a blanket, then made him drink a calming draught. Within seconds, Harry was asleep. Later that afternoon, Poppy confirmed that Harry was indeed functioning at the mental age of an eight-year old.
Snape threw down the latest book he'd been searching through and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "This is useless!" he said to Hermione. "There isn't anything dark enough here."
"Is there some other place we could be looking?"
"Albus had a small collection of books on the Dark Arts. I've checked it thoroughly. You may look through it as well, if you'd like."
"No. I trust you were thorough."
Suddenly, Snape slapped a palm against his forehead. "How could I have been so stupid?!"
"The Malfoy library! The most extensive collection of Dark Arts books ever known. If we could access that . . ."
"Do you think we'll find the answer there?" Hermione asked, feeling her hopes lifting.
"We're more likely to find it there than here," Snape conceded.
"What became of the library?" Hermione asked. "The Malfoy fortune was confiscated by the Ministry, the Manor taken and sold. Do you know what became of the contents?"
"I don't. But Minerva will know or can find out. I will speak with her now."
"I'll stay here and keep looking," Hermione aid, mindful of the date and not willing to leave any stone unturned. "I may get lucky."
Severus returned to the library to find Hermione's nose still stuck in a book. She looked up when Snape approached. "Did she know?"
"No, but she's going to find out." Snape sat down opposite the girl. "She told me that you plan to delay beginning at university."
Hermione closed yet another useless book. "Yes. I've been accepted, but I've asked them to defer my admission. I've got to be here, helping you find something to help Harry."
Damn noble Gryffindors. "Do you think Potter would want you to put your life on hold, again, for his sake? Has Mr. Weasley not been accepted into the Auror program?"
"They will not defer his training," Snape pointed out. "He will either enter the program when they tell him, or he will lose his place. Harry wouldn't want that any more than he'd want you not to go to university as you had planned."
"But Harry is . . ."
"Going to turn seven today. We cannot stop this. If there is a solution to be found, it will be amongst the Malfoy library. If it is not there, we will likely not find it in time."
At Hermione's noise of protest, Snape continued with his typical brutal honesty. "We knew this was a possibility, that we could not cure him. None of us will quit until he is beyond our help, but we must acknowledge that we have a finite period of time to find an obscure curse that may never have been written down. It is, indeed, like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack."
"All the more reason for me to be here, helping you!" Hermione pointed out.
"The Malfoy library is also finite. Minerva and Poppy will continue to assist. You will assist when you are able. We will get through it in the time he has left," Snape said with more confidence than he felt.
"But you begin teaching tomorrow. Surely you can't devote the time necessary for this?"
"I will be on sabbatical until this is over. Minerva has already made arrangements for Gideon Blackstone to take over potions."
"So you're sacrificing your job, but I'm not allowed to sacrifice my education?" Hermione challenged angrily.
"I am at the end of my life, Miss Granger." Hermione snorted in disagreement with that statement, but Snape ignored her. "You are just beginning yours. Besides, I am the one who owes a debt to the Potters. This is my penance."
"You paid that debt at least twice over already, Professor. Harry knew that . . . before."
"Be that as it may, we are basically at a standstill until we gain access to the Malfoy collection. You may as well do what you can in the meantime to live your own life to the fullest. If Harry were here, the real Harry, he would tell you so."
Hermione bowed her head, defeated. "You must owl me when you have the Malfoy library. I will do whatever I can."
"I know you will. Shall we go down and see how the boys are faring?"
Hermione smiled. Ron and Harry together were like two overgrown juvenile delinquents. They'd stayed in Severus' quarters today, anticipating the headache that would incapacitate Harry. Ron had been given the potions required to treat him, and while Snape had faith that Weasley could administer two simple potions, he was reluctant to be so far away, in case the boy should need him.
They met Poppy in the dungeon corridor. She'd been summoned by Ron after Harry's episode. They all went in, and Poppy confirmed that Harry was now seven.
September expired while the Ministry twiddled its thumbs, alternately ignoring and considering Headmistress McGonagall's request that she be allowed access to the Malfoy library.
"We must tell them, Severus," Minerva said finally. "We must tell them why we need access to the library."
"No. It is too dangerous."
"If we don't tell them, they will relegate our request to the dust bin. We can't afford to lose any more time. We must tell them why we need that particular library. Once they know, they will be only too willing to give us what we need."
"Once they know," Snape argued, "it will become common knowledge that Potter is here and that he cannot defend himself. You would pit a six-year old against those Death Eaters who escaped justice and would like nothing better than to avenge themselves on the boy for killing their master?"
"And if we don't tell them, and we can't find an answer to this problem, in six months, Harry Potter will die," Minerva countered. "We can protect him here. This is our only hope!"
"Set up a meeting with the Minister," Snape conceded. "Stress to him the importance of keeping this a secret. Not that I expect the news won't be all over the Ministry within one day of your telling him," Snape said bitterly.
"Harry!" Snape barked. "Come! We're going home!"
Harry looked up from where he was sitting on the floor playing with some of Dumbledore's less harmful trinkets. "Okay. Can we have spaghetti for lunch?"
Snape stepped to the hearth and grabbed a handful of floo powder. Harry stepped up beside him and slid his warm hand into Snape's.
Snape stared down at the boy, emotion choking his throat. His affection for this boy had grown with every week they'd been together, and the thought of putting Harry's fate into the hands of the incompetent Ministry of Magic twisted his insides. The boy was so sweet and vulnerable and was absolutely no match for the evil men and women who would like to see him dead. Grasping Harry's hand tightly, he flung the floo powder down, growled, "Snape's quarters," and pulled the boy into the floo.
When they stepped into Snape's sitting room, he ruffled Harry's hair. "I will speak with the elves about lunch. Go wash up, little monkey."
"Now, Minerva," said Minister Gerhard. "What is this all about? Is all this cloak and dagger really necessary?"
"Yes, Minister. I'm afraid it is. Please sit," she invited.
Severus Snape joined them, coming through a door behind Minerva's desk.
"Severus," the Minister acknowledged him with a nod.
"Minister," Snape said coolly as he seated himself and waited for the others to follow suit.
"Minister, I wish to speak with you concerning a recent request I have made to view the contents of the Malfoy library," Minerva informed him.
"Oh, Minerva! Not that again!" The Minister was clearly perturbed by this colossal waste of his time. "I was led to believe that your request for an audience this morning, here I might add, was of critical importance. As I've told you repeatedly, and as I believe members of my staff have told you repeatedly, your request will be handled through the proper channels . . ."
"But it's not being handled, Minister," Minerva protested. "It's been well over a month."
"It will take as long as it takes," Hodge said. "Now if you will excuse me," he said, rising from his chair. "I have more important things to occupy my time this morning."
"More important than Harry Potter?" Minerva asked, cocking an eyebrow at the man.
Hodge dropped back into his chair, stunned. "What has this to do with Potter?"
"We have found him," the Headmistress informed him.
"What? He's alive?!"
"He is. He was struck by a curse during the final battle, perhaps at the exact moment he killed Voldemort. The curse caused him to become confused and obliterated his memories. As best we can determine, he wandered away from the battle in the confusion, and was found somewhere by a man named Stephen. This Stephen was most likely a Muggle, as he apparently did not recognize Harry. After perhaps two months, this man was passing through an outlying village and . . . left Harry with a local who owned a pub there. Harry apparently . . . worked there until Severus happened to stumble upon him during an herb-gathering expedition."
"He's alive, but he has no memory?" Hodge asked, incredulous. "But why didn't he return to us?"
Snape rolled his eyes. If the boy had no memory, how could he know where to return to? It was only his iron self-control that kept him from pointing out just how much of an idiot this man was. They needed his help.
"As I mentioned," Minerva said slowly, as though she also realized she was speaking with someone of very limited intelligence, "his memory was obliterated. There also appears to be some type of de-aging component to the curse. He has not been affected physically, but his mind has regressed. Poppy has confirmed that he currently has the mental age of a six-year old. When Severus found him, he was operating at the level of a ten-year old."
"And how long have you had him here?" Hodge demanded, angry that they'd apparently kept the fact of Harry Potter's return from him for any length of time. He was the Minister! He had a right to know these things! "I assume that Mr. Potter is here?"
"Yes, he is here. He was recovered at the end of June," Snape said.
"The end of . . . But it's now . . . You've kept this to yourselves for three months?! The world deserved to know he was alive! You had no right!"
"He is not able to defend himself, Minister," Minerva explained. "The fewer who knew, the safer he was. We have been attempting to identify the curse used and end its effects. So far we have had no luck, and now we need your help. We've searched the Hogwarts library and have found nothing about this curse. This is, frankly, not surprising as it obviously is a very dark bit of magic. We need access to the Malfoy library – that collection of Dark Arts books is legendary, and it is likely to be of assistance to us in our research."
"Of course. Of course, if it will benefit Harry, I will see that you have access today. How long do you think he has . . .?"
Minerva looked at Severus, who said, "At the rate of progression we've observed, I would estimate he has six months."
"Then we'll get started immediately," Hodge said, and they could see the wheels turning in his brain, calculating when best to make the announcement, how to most effectively use this stunning piece of good news to help himself. "The entire might of the Ministry is at your disposal."
And that is exactly what Snape had feared. "You must tell no one," Snape warned. "If word gets out, the boy's life won't be worth a knut."
Hodge looked appalled. Keep something this good to himself. "May I see the boy?"
Severus glared at the Minister, who had sidestepped Snape's edict. He wanted to refuse the odious man, but he knew they had little choice. "Harry, would you come out here, please?"
Harry had been told to stay in the room behind the Headmistress's office, and he had done so. At Snape's directive, he left this room and joined the others. He stared curiously at the stranger sitting beside Snape.
"Harry, this is Gerhard Hodge. He is the Minister of Magic," Minerva said.
"Hello," Harry said politely.
"Harry! How are you, my boy?!" Hodge asked heartily.
Harry glanced nervously at Snape. He wasn't this man's boy – was he? Was this another man from his past? Someone he should know? Someone who was going to take him away from here and make him do things that made him feel bad inside? Tears came quickly to his eyes, and he edged closer to Snape until he could hide behind the man's voluminous robes. "Don't let him take me away," he whispered, looking up at Snape with pleading eyes.
"No one is taking you anywhere, Harry," Snape assured the trembling boy, putting an arm around his shoulders and pulling Harry close. Harry hid his face in Snape's robes.
"Do you see, Minister?" Minerva asked quietly. "It is imperative that we keep the fact that Harry is alive a secret until we can cure him and he regains his faculties."
Hodge stared at the quivering boy burrowing himself into Snape's robes. "Yes, I see. This is not the Harry we all know." He cleared his throat. "When would you like to view the library?"
"It would be most helpful, Minister," Minerva said, "if the library could be brought here. We will be working around the clock, and having the collection here will be most helpful."
"You'll need some serious warding. Some of those books are positively leaking Dark Magic," Hodge warned.
"I am familiar with the type of wards required," Snape assured him as he rubbed soothing circles into Harry's back.
"I suspect you are," the Minister countered. "I shall have it delivered this afternoon." Staring worriedly at Harry, the Minister took his leave.
"It's all right, Harry," Snape said. "He's gone."
Harry peeked out, then stepped away from his guardian. "Sir, I don't like that man."
"That, Harry," Snape said, tapping Harry on the end of the nose with a finger, "just goes to show what a good judge of character you are."
It took Snape a week to ward an appropriately large empty dungeon classroom and sort the Malfoy books into some semblance of order according to subject matter and what looked promising, what looked like it would yield nothing helpful, and those books with an unidentified subject matter. The latter two categories would be kept close to hand in the event the others proved fruitless.
Because Snape did not want to expose Harry to the almost palpable Dark Magic emanating from this collection, Hermione took an indefinite leave from university, moved into the dungeon, and stayed with Harry during the day. After dinner with the boy, Snape and Hermione returned to the research for a couple of hours while Ron sat with Harry and put him to bed. Poppy replaced Snape at ten, and she and Hermione worked until midnight, when Minerva took over until three. At that time, Snape returned, having rested as much as possible, hating the fact that he had to trust others to this very important task. He'd never get through it all himself, he knew, not in the time they had left. Under other circumstances, he would have thoroughly enjoyed making his way through the fascinating collection at a pace leisurely enough to actually gain knowledge from the texts, but a careful perusal just now was not possible.
One week to the day, as Snape had known it would sooner or later, word of Harry's existence leaked from the Ministry directly to the Daily Prophet.
BOY WHO LIVED LIVES STILL! the headline proclaimed, followed by a story that summarized the details as Minerva had relayed them to the Minister. Snape wasvery glad they had decided to withhold details concerning Harry's time at the pub, as those would surely be splayed before the world in all their horrifying glory as well.
"Fuck!" Snape swore when he saw the headline.
Harry drew in a quick breath and covered his mouth with his hand. "Sir said a bad word!" He giggled, and his eyes sparkled merrily.
"You must be mistaken, Mr. Potter," Snape said innocently.
"I heard you, you sillyhead!"
Snape stared down at the imp. "Did you just call me a sillyhead?" he asked sternly.
Harry was so not afraid of his Sir. "Yup!" he said with a mischievous grin.
"Do you know what happens to me when someone calls me a sillyhead?"
"No," Harry admitted, bouncing in his excitement to find out.
Snape twitched his robe, making it billow ominously. "I turn into a . . . TICKLE MONSTER!" he bellowed, and he wiggled his fingers and lunged at the boy.
Harry made a noise that was half-shriek, half-laugh and turned tail and raced to the bedroom, Snape close behind but letting Harry keep just out of his reach. Harry leapt onto the bed, laughing uncontrollably and curling into a tight ball to keep himself safe from the dreaded Tickle Monster.
Snape looked down at the boy. He hadn't laid one finger on one rib, yet the boy was a shrieking mass of hysterical squirming giggles. He couldn't help but smile, but then quickly felt like crying. The world now knew that Harry was alive and that he was vulnerable and even where he was. A target had been painted squarely on the boy's back again. A six-year old boy, defenseless and vulnerable. How long could they keep him safe now?
Snape sat on the edge of the bed, fighting his emotions – worry over Harry's safety, anxiety over finding the answer in the time they had left, anger over the bungling Minister who couldn't keep the most important of secrets.
Still giggling and aware of none of this turmoil, Harry rolled himself over and rested his head in Snape's lap. "I love you, sir," he said, smiling up at his guardian.
Snape smoothed the hair back from Harry's forehead, placing his thumb gently on the scar that still shown there. He looked down into those guileless green eyes and said something he never thought he'd say to anyone, let alone Harry Potter. "I love you, too."
And suddenly he had to get up and go into the loo because he had something in his eye.
Snape settled back at the table with a cup of tea and the newspaper. He had no sooner finished completely reading the Prophet article when Hermione's head appeared in his floo. "I came to warn you. Molly and Arthur are on the way."
Snape sighed in defeat. This was not unexpected. "You may as well come on through."
Hermione had no sooner stepped into the room when an insistent knocking sounded on the door.
"Perhaps you could let them in, Miss Granger?" Snape requested.
Hermione went to open the door. "Hermione!" Molly's voice sounded surprised. "What are you doing here? Where's Harry?"
"Come in, please," Hermione invited.
Snape rose to greet his guests. "Molly. Arthur."
"Severus," Arthur said in his usual jovially pleasant way.
"Where is he, Severus?" Molly asked, getting straight to the point.
"He is in his bedroom. But I must ask you to sit and listen to me before you see him." When Molly made as if to protest, Severus held up a hand. "Please. I must insist. Have a cup of tea. We will explain everything, and then you can see Harry."
"'We'?" Molly asked, sliding into a chair and staring accusingly at Hermione. "You've known all along and you haven't told us?"
Before Hermione could respond, the floo flared again, and Ron burst forth on the hearth. "Bloody hell! The Ministry's in an uproar today! Canceled training, they have, with the news about Harry. Oh – Mum. Dad. What are you doing here?" Ron's feigned look of innocence hadn't improved with age.
"Ronald Weasley!" Molly scolded. "You knew, too?! How could you not tell us?!"
"Mum! Well, I – "
"I swore them both to secrecy," Snape interrupted. He poured tea for Molly and Arthur, and invited Arthur to sit. "Mr. Weasley," he said, looking at Ron. "Would you make sure Harry's eating? I asked him to breakfast in his room this morning."
"Sure thing," Ron agreed, more than glad to get out from under his mother's accusatory glare.
Once Ron was gone, Snape started to talk, and he didn't stop until he had explained everything – how he'd found Harry, what they suspected about the curse, their on-going research, Harry's current condition. When he'd answered every question the Weasleys (mostly Molly) had, he stood up.
"I'll get Harry."
Ron and Harry were laying on the floor of Harry's room, a checkerboard between them. Harry looked up. "I'm beating Ron!"
"Excellent. There are some people here who would like to see you."
Snape and Ron both saw the look of uncertainty and fear cross Harry's face. Even after all this time, he couldn't shake the fear that someone was going to take him away or force him to do something awful.
"It's okay, mate," Ron assured him softly. "It's my mum and dad. They knew you before. Kind of thought of you as one of their own kids."
"Like I was your brother?" Harry asked, scrunching his nose in thought, sounding as though he liked the sound of that idea.
"Yes," Ron said with a warm smile. "I should warn you – Mum'll want to hug you. Big hugger, she is. Might not be able to help herself. But if you say the word, I'll tell her not to."
Harry sat up and sat cross-legged, looking worriedly at Ron. "Is she a nice lady?"
"Well, I certainly think so."
"Sir?" Harry asked, looking up at Snape.
"She's very nice," Snape affirmed.
"I guess it would be all right if she hugged me. Hermione hugs me sometimes. I like that."
"Well, Mum would love a hug, but if it makes you uncomfortable, then we'll tell her – NO hugging."
Harry scrambled to his feet. "I don't mind."
"Coming, Mr. Weasley?" Snape asked Ron.
"Think I'll stay here," Ron offered, rolling onto his back and clasping his hands behind his head.
Snape snorted. "Coward," he taunted.
"Smart," Ron countered. "And I was letting him beat me, by the way."
Nervous, Harry slipped his hand into Snape's, and the two of them left the room.
"Harry," Molly said when they entered the room.
Harry stared at Molly. Something about her called to him on a visceral level. He knew her, somewhere in time, somewhere inside himself. He didn't remember her name, and he couldn't recall ever having seen her face, but she represented comfort and love and safety and home. Without stopping to think about it, Harry launched himself at her. She opened her arms to accept him, his momentum knocking her backward until Arthur steadied them.
"Oh, Harry," Molly muttered into his hair. "We're so glad you're home."
As they clung to each other, Arthur put an arm around both of them and surrounded them with his strength.
Hermione smiled happily at the reunion until she noticed the sadness on Snape's face as he watched the three of them and the unexpected way Harry had reacted to Molly. She could almost feel the rejection Snape apparently was experiencing, and she felt sadness for him. He'd been taking care of Harry for weeks, months, and the bond between the two was deep and strong. Snape obviously thought he was losing Harry.
Molly pushed Harry away so that she could take a good look at him. "How are you?"
"Good," Harry said shyly, looking at his trainers as he scuffed the carpet.
He looked good, Molly thought. Well-fed. Well-cared for. She looked up at Snape. "Thank you. For taking care of him. But we'll take him now."
"What?" Harry asked, instantly alarmed, looking frantically at everyone in the room. His panicked gaze landed last on Snape, and he ran to embrace the man. "Sir?" he said, looking up at Snape pleadingly. "I don't want to go. Please, sir."
"It's all right, Harry," Snape said, pulling him close, a look of relief on his features that only Hermione caught. "You're not going anywhere." He looked up at Molly. "He's . . . attached. He's also likely safer here. But we do need you. If you would be willing to spend the days here with Harry, that will free Miss Granger up to return to university."
"Of course I will," Molly said, willing to do anything to help Harry.
"Professor," Hermione said firmly. "I'll not argue with you about this again. I am NOT returning to school until Harry is cured."
Snape smiled thinly at Hermione. He'd been hoping she'd feel that way. They still had so much to do. "Ten points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger."
"No," Severus said firmly. "No. They can't really expect . . . I cannot believe they would even ask."
"I told the Minister that. I felt safe speaking for you on this." Minerva pursed her lips in disapproval. "They really are all the same, aren't they? They think only about how something looks and how it will help them win votes. He's given no thought as to what this would do to Harry or the danger it would place him in."
The Ministry had requested Harry's presence at its official belated celebration of the defeat of Voldemort. The public, aware now of Harry's existence, was clamoring for sight of him, and the Ministry, in its all-seeing wisdom, thought that having Harry visible and active at the festivities would be perfect.
"A speech!" Severus spat. "They want a six-year old to give a speech! In front of thousands of screaming idiots! Just when you think the world has gone insane and can no longer surprise you, the Ministry sinks to a new level of stupidity."
"Shall I write the refusal, or would you like that privilege?"
"Do you want it tactfully worded or blunt in its assessment of the originator?" Severus asked.
"I shall take care of it right now," Minerva hastily offered.
"Miss Weasley," Snape said, surprised to find her lurking outside his door.
"Professor Snape," she said, pushing herself away from the wall.
"Was there something you needed?"
"I wanted to ask you about Harry, sir."
"Surely you are kept apprised of his condition by your mother."
"Yes, sir. It's not that. I wanted to ask you if I could take him to quidditch practice. Gryffindor has practice on Saturday, and I was hoping . . ."
"I'm afraid that would be impossible," Snape said.
"We'd take good care of him, Professor," Ginny argued.
"How could you possibly plan for every possible way that former Death Eaters might concoct to harm Harry out in the open like that?" Snape challenged.
"But how could Death Eaters even get onto school grounds, Professor? All of Gryffindor House will be there. He's one of us. We'd never let anything happen to him. We'll have people in the air and on the ground. I can have Ron come, too. He'll be perfectly safe, and he'd probably love to have a little time outside. He always loved the outdoors."
Snape sagged against the wall and closed his eyes tiredly. First another day of fruitless research, then an idiotic request from the Ministry, now this.
"Maybe I could come inside and see Harry. Let's ask him if he'd like to go."
Snape opened one eye and stared at her. "Is this a shameless ploy to get in to see Harry?"
"No!" Ginny said immediately. "Well, I would love to see Harry, of course, but I genuinely want to do this for him. We've talked it over in the Common Room, and every last one of us will be there."
Snape sighed. Every part of him wanted to say no, but was he being fair to Harry? The boy did love the outdoors and had been confined to the dungeons for weeks. Would a couple of hours in the fresh air and sunshine, surrounded by a hundred noble Gryffindors on the warded-to-the-teeth Hogwarts grounds, be remiss?
"He must not fly alone, Miss Weasley. In his mind, he is a child, with the judgment of a six-year old." And for emphasis, Severus added, "He cannot tie his own shoes!"
Ginny smiled, sensing a "yes" in the offing. "Of course not, sir. Perhaps he could go up for a little while with Troy Morrison?" Morrison was a solid wall of a boy, outweighing Harry by a good fifty pounds. "With an appropriately reinforced broom, of course."
"Of course," Snape agreed dryly.
"So do you think he'd like to come?"
"Why don't you come inside and ask him yourself?"
Ginny leapt up in her excitement. She hadn't seen Harry since his return. "Thank you, Professor!"
"I must ask you not to rush at him. He is easily overwhelmed."
Snape opened the door to his quarters and went in, followed by an eager Ginny. He expected to see Harry playing or reading, but instead found the boy cradled in Molly's arms in the rocking chair she'd modified to contain both of them. Harry's eyes were closed and his cheeks were flushed as he rested his head against Molly's substantial bosom.
"What is wrong?" Snape asked.
"Our boy has the flu, Severus," Molly said quietly. "Ginny!" she added, surprised to see her daughter behind Snape.
"Have you called Poppy?" Snape asked, crossing swiftly to the boy and laying a hand on his sweaty brow. "He's burning up!"
"Poppy has already been. She's dosed him once already. The fever come and goes." Molly rocked, petting Harry's head soothingly, unconcerned.
"Why didn't you summon me?" Snape asked, dropping to his knees beside Harry. "When did this start? He was fine this morning!"
"There was no need to summon you, Severus. He began feeling unwell just after lunch. Poppy said there's lots of it going around the school just now. He'll be fine. Children get sick all the time."
Snape's children had never gotten sick, and he couldn't help but worry. "She's convinced it's just a standard case of the flu?"
"Yes, Severus. Don't worry. He'll be fine in a day. Two at the most. Ginny, dear, what are you doing here? Did you need me for something?"
Ginny seemed unable to take her eyes away from the sight of Snape, on his knees beside a feverish Harry Potter, obviously worried almost to the point of distraction about a simple case of childhood flu.
"Your plans will have to wait until Harry is feeling better, I'm afraid," Snape said before Ginny could pull together an answer to her mother's question.
Ginny nodded. "Of course, Professor."
"Sir?" a weak voice called.
"I'm here, Harry," Snape said immediately, taking Harry's hand into his own. "How do you feel?"
"Hot," the boy complained.
Snape summoned a cool flannel from the loo and placed it gently across the boy's forehead. Harry sighed happily. "Sir," he said, twisting his body and extending his arms out toward Snape.
"He wants you, Severus," Molly said. "I've tried putting him down several times, but he wants to be held." She levitated Harry up off her lap. "Here, you take him."
"But . . ." Snape protested. He'd never rocked a child, let alone one Harry's size. "I've never . . ."
"Nonsense," Molly dismissed his concerns. "It's what he needs right now."
Molly stood up and Snape positioned himself in the space she had vacated. When she lowered the boy into his arms, Snape was surprised by the way he seemed to fit there. As soon as Harry settled, Snape could feel the fever waves of heat rolling off his body.
"Sir," Harry muttered sleepily, turning his face into Snape's robes. He settled himself more comfortably in Snape's lap and fell back to sleep.
"I'll have the house elf bring you up some sandwiches," Molly told Severus, affectionately pushing Harry's hair back off his forehead. "And Poppy said she'd be back at seven to check on him. Will you be all right with him?"
"Of course," Snape said with more confidence than he felt.
Molly left, towing her daughter behind her. After they'd gone, Snape stared down at the feverish child in his lap. He lifted the cool flannel and replaced it when he discovered it was doing its job. Slowly, tentatively, he began to rock, holding the boy tighter against himself. He dropped a kiss on the sweaty brow, charmed a potions journal to hover in front of him so he could read, and settled back to wait for his supper.
Snape missed two days of research while Harry fought off the flu. Molly came each morning, but Snape found himself unable to deny Harry when he cried sickly tears and asked him not to go. They spent much of the two days in the rocking chair, and Snape came to cherish the closeness that developed there.
But, as predicted, Harry was completely recovered two days later, and Snape saw no reason not to allow him to attend Gryffindor's quidditch practice on Saturday.
Because he'd missed two days of pounding the books during Harry's illness, Snape took advantage of the boy's absence to seclude himself in the library of dark material they'd collected. He was thus engaged when a horse patronus burst through the door and Ginny Weasley's voice spoke to him. "Lucius Malfoy is here."
"Harry," Snape said, and before the echo of the second syllable had died away, Snape was gone from the room.
Continued in part 2, coming soon . . .