Summary: Harry Potter is being mistreated by the Dursleys. Everyone wrings their hands and bemoans the situation, but only one man has the fortitude to do something about it.
Note: I have divided this fic into three parts for posting. I've tried to divide it into three roughly equal parts. The entire thing will be posted by the end of the week.
Warnings: Mentions of child abuse, though not a lot of detail is provided for the acts themselves. Also, later in this fic, there will be a scene of a sexual nature, as witnessed through the eyes of a child, so there will not be any graphic detail. There will, however be nudity, so be prepared to shield your eyes. This scene, and some naughty language that follows it, is the reason I've given this fic a T rating.
Severus Snape sat alone in the dimly-lit bedroom, his head in his hands, the fingers of his hands gripping his hair so tightly that it hurt. Not that he noticed really. He'd killed her. He'd killed his Lily. Oh, he hadn't cast the killing blow, but he'd given the Dark Lord the incentive he'd needed to find her and kill her. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he gave vent silently to the grief and guilt that was tearing him apart inside. He'd done many things he regretted in his almost twenty-three years on this earth, but this – he wasn't sure how he would survive this. He wasn't convinced he wanted to.
Noises in the adjoining room caused him to raise his head. He'd been alone here in this safe house, waiting for the emergency meeting Dumbledore had called. He knew that the others who would be attending would look at him with suspicion. None of them had accepted him into their little clique, and this latest tragedy would be added to the rather large pile of evidence that Severus Snape couldn't be trusted. When Dumbledore wasn't present, many of the older, diehard Order members didn't hold back their opinions of him. But Severus Snape was used to being on the outside looking in, and he held most of them in just as much contempt as they held him. And right now, he held himself in much more contempt than any of them could possibly muster.
But he dealt with them best by not dealing with them except when strictly necessary, and he took his grief into the attached bathroom and closed the door quietly.
Moments later, Snape heard the bedroom door open, then the soft murmur of a male voice, speaking so low that Snape couldn't identify the speaker. A flare of magic which Severus felt in his hiding place, more whispered words, and then the sound of the door closing again.
Severus counted to one hundred before cracking the door open and peering into the poorly-lit room. It was empty, and Snape ventured out once again. He stopped, however, when he noticed the cot which the room now contained. It hadn't been here before, and Severus guessed that the missing armchair had been transfigured into something more useful.
Moving slowly, Severus crept to the edge of the cot and steeled himself to look down. He knew what he'd see when he did – the Potter child. Dumbledore had said he'd be bringing the baby here while arrangements were made for his care. In the brief time Snape had spoken with the Headmaster, Dumbledore had expressed his absolute astonishment and ignorance as to how a mere toddler had survived the killing curse thrown at him by the world's most powerful and maleficent wizard. Snape had hardly listened. What did he care for Potter's spawn or why he had survived when his Lily was dead?
Finally, Severus looked down into the cot and stared at a miniature James Potter, asleep with a thumb in his slack mouth. Severus took in the dark, curly hair that lay in unruly waves about the boy's head, the plump rosy cheeks, the blue pajamas adorned with snitches. He snorted contemptuously – so like his father.
As Snape stared down at the sleeping boy, anger began to grow inside of him, pushing the grief aside for a moment. This boy – this boy who slept as though he didn't have a care in the world – was the reason that Lily Evans no longer drew breath on this earth. She'd been killed because she'd stood between her son and a mad man bent on harming him. Severus had asked his Lord and Master to spare her, and the Dark Lord had agreed, though he'd given Severus a stern and lengthy lecture on choosing the women with whom he mated more wisely. Severus had spared nary a thought for the fact that James Potter was to be killed, and his son, too. He had some stupid fantasy in his head that he could go to her after, despite the rift in their friendship and his recent activities, and comfort her in her time of grief. He would hold her and soothe away her pain, then he would kiss her, and she would kiss him back, and she would realize that Severus had been meant for her all along. Severus knew it was unlikely, more like impossible, but the heart wants what it wants, and he couldn't stop himself from picturing what their life together might have been like.
But whatever ridiculous fantasy he had involving Lily had died along with her. As Severus looked down at her son, he wondered why was she dead and this mere slip of a boy was still here. Severus thought he could guess. He knew Lily well, after all. She'd never step aside and let the Dark Lord kill her husband and her son without a fight. She was a Gryffindor through and through. So either the Dark Lord had changed his mind and had just killed her outright, or she'd been given the choice to step aside and had declined. Severus thought both scenarios were equally likely.
Severus' anger threatened to overwhelm him, just as his grief had a short time ago. He was angry at himself, yes, for being the instrument of all this destruction. He was angry at the Dark Lord, for going back on his word, even though he knew that his Master kept promises only when it suited him. He was angry at James Potter, for stealing away his Lily, for being such an insufferable bastard in his teenage years, for impregnating Lily with this . . . scrawny foundling who was a threat to Voldemort's way of life. He was even a little angry at Lily, for choosing to protect this creature with her very life.
But mostly, he was angry at the tiny wight who lay sleeping below him, unaware that he was being blamed for the devastation of one man's life. Severus knew he could reach down into the cot, put his hands around that fragile neck, and squeeze. It wouldn't take a lot of pressure, and it likely wouldn't take long. This boy, who looked so like a man Severus had actively hated for half his life, did not deserve to live while its mother – Severus' only friend – lay cold and dead. His raised his arms and began to inch his hands slowly toward the boy, without even being aware that he was doing so. When he was an arm's length away from the boy, something startling happened.
The boy's eyes opened, and the greenest, most beautiful, most familiar eyes looked up at Severus. The child blinked once, dragging impossibly long eyelashes over those porcelain cheeks, before opening his eyes once more and leaving them open. The boy stared at the man, and the man stared back down at the boy. Severus seemed to realize suddenly that he was reaching for the boy, moments before intent on doing him harm, and started to draw back in mortification. The boy, misconstruing the outstretched arms, raised his own arms toward Severus in a beseeching plea.
"Up," the boy said.
Startled that it could speak, Severus lowered his arms quickly and took a hurried step back. The boy – Harry, Snape remembered Dumbledore had called him – rolled onto his belly, hoisted himself to his hands and knees, then used his arms to push his bottom up, straightening his legs as he did so. Using the bars on the side of the cot, the toddler pulled himself upright, turned to Snape, and extended his arms again.
Snape couldn't drag his gaze away from those green eyes. His Lily wasn't gone, he suddenly realized – she lived on inside this tiny creature, and she was looking out at him now, chastising him for his mistakes, yes, but also forgiving him, providing him with a means for atonement in the form of a stone's worth of boy-child with messy black hair.
Awkwardly, Snape reached out and lifted the boy into his arms. Harry came willingly, and the two stared at one another. Harry jammed his thumb into his mouth and sucked it busily while studying the tall man who held him now. "Mumma," he said around the thumb. "Mumma hee-yah?"
"No," Snape said, his voice rough with emotion. "Your mother isn't here. I'm afraid it is just me."
"Me," Harry repeated. He removed the thumb and used the slippery appendage to point at his own forehead. "Owie."
Severus shifted the boy so he could move the thick, soft hair aside. Under the fringe, on the forehead above his right eye, there stood an angry, red welt, carved into the skin in the shape of a lightning bolt. It was obvious to Snape's practiced eye that this mark hadn't been left by any light spell. So the Dark Lord had attempted to curse this little imp and something had happened, something strong enough to mar the perfect skin with an ugly, likely permanent, scar, but not strong enough to kill the boy, as intended.
As Severus looked down into the angelic face, he wondered what type of person could look at this picture of perfection and cast a killing curse at it. That took a special kind of evil, Snape knew, and he held the boy a little tighter, suddenly pleased that he hadn't followed his mother into the afterlife.
"Tiss owie," Harry said.
"I'm sorry – what?" Severus asked.
"You tiss owie," Harry repeated, ducking his head toward Snape. "Make bettah."
Oh. The boy wanted him to kiss his pain away. Severus supposed he could try, though he wasn't sure he possessed the requisite "mother's magic" to make it work. Gently, being sure that Harry's thick hair covered the scar, he pressed his lips to the boy's wound.
"Better?" he asked.
Harry smiled, and that simple act transformed his already cute face into the realm of the angels. Severus felt his heart melting into a small hot pool in his chest.
"Bettah," Harry confirmed, shoving his thumb back into his mouth.
"That can't be sanitary," Severus offered.
"'Tary", the boy tried to repeat before dropping his head to Snape's chest, snuggling in just below his chin. Severus' large hand came up to cradle the back of the boy's head and hold him close, and his chin dropped down onto the boy's soft tresses. The tears he'd indulged in earlier came back to him now, and they dripped down his cheeks onto the boy's head. One of them ran down onto Harry's cheek, causing the boy to look up.
When he noticed Snape's tears, Harry asked, "Owie?"
Severus nodded, unable to speak.
"Me tiss," Harry offered. Suspecting that the hurt must be in the same place as the tears, Harry reached up and pressed his open mouth to Severus' cheek. "Me tiss bettah."
"Yes, you kissed it better. Thank you."
Harry settled against Severus' chest again, mouth working busily on his thumb, until the downy head popped up again. "Mumma hee-yah?" he asked again.
"No, Harry, your mummy isn't here," Severus said.
The door opened and Albus Dumbledore sailed into the room. "Ah good, Severus, you've met young Harry. Why don't you bring him out? We must discuss arrangements for him now."
"Albus, the scar – " Snape started.
"Is likely permanent," Dumbledore confirmed sadly. "Come. We have much to do."
Snape was surprised by the lack of Order members invited to plot the future of the child some were already calling The Boy Who Lived. Said boy, currently wide awake and sitting on Severus Snape's lap, was busy with two paper cups, fitting them together, then taking them apart, then banging them vigorously on the table. He was blissfully unaware that his life was being planned out for him by the adults sitting around him.
Those adults included only Minerva McGonagall, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape.
"Harry has no family left on the Potter side," Dumbledore reported. "His grandparents on the Evans side are dead, but he does have a maternal aunt."
"She'd be a Muggle then?" Minerva asked.
"Yes," Dumbledore confirmed.
"Headmaster, you cannot mean Petunia Evans," Snape spoke up.
"Yes, although I believe she is now Petunia Dursley."
Snape was horrified. "I knew Petunia Evans when we were children. She is petty and cruel and was incredibly jealous of her sister's magic. Surely there must be somewhere else the boy can go."
"You were children, Severus. She has grown up, as have you," Dumbledore said with a pointed glance down at the child Severus was holding. "He is of her blood. Do you really think she will reject him because of some childhood jealousy?"
"Yes," Snape said. "I do."
Minerva followed this exchange with concern. "Surely there is someone else who would be willing to take him. Wouldn't he be better off staying in our world?"
"He is very famous in our world," Dumbledore countered, "for something he will not even remember. That can bring with it a certain kind of pressure. It is better that he grow up somewhere people will not idolize a mere boy for something he had no control over. But more importantly, I can use his blood relationship with Petunia to weave very powerful protections around their home. Also, the Dursleys have a boy only a little older than Harry here. He will grow up with his cousin."
"Have you spoken with Petunia about this? Asked her if she is willing to take him?" Snape asked. Given what he knew about Petunia, he would be surprised to learn that she would willingly take in her sister's child.
"There hasn't been time. I cannot believe that she would turn him away in his hour of need. Her sister has been killed. Her nephew is in need of a home. What kind of woman would she be if she turned him away?"
"Exactly my point. That's what I've been trying to impress upon you, Headmaster. She is exactly that kind of woman." He looked down at Harry. "I beg you to reconsider. There must be any number of families, magical families, that would be willing to take him. I myself would be willing to take him." That slipped out there before Snape could really think it through, but as soon as he'd said it, Snape knew it was true.
"You, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, somewhat amused.
"Yes, well, I have something to atone for, do I not? What better way?"
The twinkle left Dumbledore's eyes and he said, more gently, "This is not the way. The blood wards are his best protection. You know that Voldemort will not stop until he has completed what he set out to do last night."
"But it appears that You Know Who has been vanquished," Minerva protested.
"And what evidence is there of that, Minerva?" Dumbledore challenged. "I personally do not believe he is gone forever. He has been . . . damaged, perhaps by what he attempted to do last night, but I do not believe that we have seen the last of Voldemort. When he does return, Harry will be in danger. I can construct wards around the Dursley home that Voldemort will not be able to penetrate while Harry lives there. I cannot do that without a blood bond. Harry will be safest behind those wards, and he will grow up among his family. No one else can offer him that."
Snape agreed that the Dark Lord was still out there, somewhere, and that he would one day return to make their lives miserable. He also believed that he could protect Harry from whatever might come his way. But he could see that Dumbledore had made up his mind, and there was no changing it. He held onto the boy in his lap a little tighter, knowing that his life would change drastically, in a bad way, in the next few days and feeling a tremendous amount of sympathy for him.
As he had been doing periodically, Harry looked up at Snape now and asked, "Mumma hee-yah?"
Snape ran a hand through the boy's unruly hair. "No, little one, Mumma is not here."
Harry's eyes filled with tears. He was getting tired, and he'd been waiting a very long time for his Mumma. When was she coming? And what about Daddy? "Dadda?" he asked hopefully.
"I'm sorry, Harry. Dadda's not coming either."
Harry dropped against Snape's chest and began to wail out his distress. He'd had enough.
Surprised and a little overwhelmed, Snape held the boy close, rubbing circles on his back and making what he hoped were soothing shushing noises.
"Here, Severus, let me take him." Minerva got up and came around the table. She attempted to take Harry off of Severus' lap, but Harry actually screamed and clutched onto Snape, trying to burrow himself into the man's robe. Minerva drew back, affronted.
"It's all right, Minerva," Severus soothed. "I don't mind."
He stood up, clutching the boy tightly against him, and he began to walk, jiggling the crying boy, though he knew not why. He spoke in a low, soothing voice, telling Harry that everything was going to be all right (though he really doubted it would be). After several minutes and several revolutions around the room, Harry's cries turned to sniffles and he fell asleep, his thumb in his mouth, gasping every so often as he lay in Severus' arms.
Dumbledore stood and approached the man and the boy. He stroked Harry's hair gently. "Will you be all right with him here, Severus? I must go and prepare the wards."
"Yes. We will be fine," Severus was surprised to admit. He'd had absolutely no experience with children this young, and he was amazed to find that he'd formed a bond with this particular child. And he didn't want to put this boy down, ever. He settled himself into a rocking chair and prepared to hold on to Harry until he awoke or someone took him away by force.
Harry slept for a little over an hour, during which time Snape stared down at him, rocking the boy gently. When he awoke, Harry smiled sleepily up at him, and Snape lost his heart completely. He actually felt it leaving his body, being sucked up out of his chest and out through his eyes, which moistened in the process. Harry reached up with his tiny fingers and touched Snape's bottom lip. Snape captured his little hand and kissed it, then pressed his lips against the boy's palm and blew.
Tickled, Harry laughed, the sound coming from deep in his belly, making Snape feel even more like crying. That the boy could laugh, considering that he'd lost everything he treasured most in his life in the last few hours.
Harry squirmed until he was sitting in Snape's lap, and the two of them stared at each other. What now? Snape wondered.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
"Hungee," Harry agreed.
"Well, let's see what we can find, then."
Severus spent the afternoon doing something he'd never done before – playing with a toddler. He found Harry to be a very engaging child – he was quick-witted and curious, with a vocabulary far beyond the average fifteen-month old (though Severus didn't know that – he assumed all children this age conversed in complete, multi-word sentences). He laughed often and was physically affectionate, snuggling with Severus or sitting in his lap, even kissing him. Harry seemed just as taken with Severus as the man was with the boy. Severus even managed to change a diaper successfully. Harry asked frequently for his Mumma, but he didn't cry again when Severus said "No," seemingly content, at least for now, to be with Severus.
When Dumbledore returned, Severus was not ready to let the boy go, and he spent many more fruitless minutes attempting to convince the old man that Petunia Dursley was not an appropriate guardian for the magical little boy. Dumbledore, having spent the last several hours constructing blood wards around the Dursley home in Surrey, heard his potions master out, but had no intention of changing his mind about the child's placement.
"It is time," Dumbledore finally said.
"Headmaster, please," Severus tried one more time, perilously close to begging, holding Harry just a little tighter against his chest.
"Severus, it is time," Dumbledore repeated. "We must return him to Godric's Hollow."
"Why?" Severus asked, appalled at the thought of Harry returning to the place where his parents had been killed.
Dumbledore sighed. He was tired, and he wanted this endless day over. "It is important for the stability of the wards that Harry go directly from the place of his mother's demise to the protection offered by her sister." Severus shivered when he realized just whose blood had gone into the creation of the wards. Dumbledore had taken no blood from Harry, of that Severus was sure. Which meant that he'd taken the blood from Lily's corpse. "There are spells that must be cast while Harry is in the presence of his mother." Seeing Severus' stricken look, Dumbledore said, "I know it isn't pleasant, Severus, but it must be done. Hagrid will then take the boy to Privet Drive. I will meet them there to cast the final protection spells, effectively sealing Harry within the wards."
"May I take him, Headmaster? May I take Harry to Godric's Hollow?"
Dumbledore smiled gently at Severus. "I think it would be easier on you if you took your leave of him here. Lily is there, Severus, and you do not need to see her that way."
Severus hugged Harry to his chest and turned away from the Headmaster. He kissed the boy's head. Dumbledore was right – Severus did not want to see the evidence of his treachery, any more than he wanted to let this boy go to relatives who were sure to dislike him. He looked down at the boy.
"I must say goodbye, Harry."
"Bye, Hawee," he repeated.
"You must go with the Headmaster now."
"You tum, too?"
"No, Harry, I can't come. I . . ." There was so much he wanted to say to the child, but Harry would understand none of it. He pulled the boy close and whispered in his ear. "I will never forget you. Should you ever need me, I will be there for you. I promise you this. On your mother's magic, I promise you this."
He smoothed the boys' hair down on his forehead and turned back to the Headmaster.
"Come, Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "It is time for us to go."
Dumbledore reached out for the boy, but Harry turned away and hid his face in Severus' robe. "Harry, we must go," Dumbledore said firmly, and he took hold of the boy.
Harry began to cry. He did not want to go with the old man. He wanted to stay with the dark man and wait for his Mumma. The dark man had been nice to him and played with him, and he wanted to stay, so he curled his little fists around the dark fabric covering his new friend. But the old man was pulling him away. The volume of Harry's wails rose as his distress increased, and by the time Dumbledore pulled him forcefully from Severus' arms, Harry was outright screaming.
Severus wanted so badly to wrap his arms around the boy and apparate the hell out of here, but he put his faith and trust in Dumbledore and stood still while the sobbing boy clung to him, pulling his hair and breaking his heart. When Dumbledore finally wrenched the toddler away, Severus was crying as well.
"No!" Harry wailed as Dumbledore wrapped the struggling boy in a blanket, held him close to his chest, and apparated away.
Severus' arms, which had been stretched toward Harry in a futile attempt to stop him from leaving, dropped slowly to his side. "Harry!" he whispered, sobbing freely now. Gathering his robes around him, Severus turned and apparated out himself. There was a bottle of firewhiskey that he intended to put a serious dent in in an attempt to forget the horrible events of the last few hours.
~three years later~
"Chief!" Firefighter Colum McAllister yelled into his communication device. "We've cleared the top floor and most of this floor. I'm just going to check the kitchen, and we should be good to go."
The smoke was thick here, but Fire Chief Roger Chandler could clearly see the outline of the door set in the wall under the stairs. "Make sure you check that cupboard. The homeowners said there's no basement, so just make sure the cupboard is cleared. Then check the kitchen and get out of here, and we'll put the water to her."
"No pets?" the firefighter asked as he made his way toward the cupboard door.
"None," the Chief confirmed. "And the homeowners have indicated that all family members have exited the premises."
"Door's locked," McAllister said, tugging on the handle. He removed his axe from the holster at his side and struck the knob a solid blow, separating the knob from the door. He swung the door open and peered inside.
"Jesus Christ, Chief!" he called. "There's a little boy in here!" Then softer, "Hey there, little man. Come on out of there now."
"Is he all right?" Chief Chandler asked, approaching them quickly.
McAllister's top half disappeared inside the cupboard, and he returned with a tiny, coughing child in his arms.
"Get him outside!" Chief Chandler ordered. "I'll clear the kitchen."
As McAllister made his way toward the front door, Chandler heard him mutter, "Who the hell locks a little boy in a cupboard when their house is on fire?"
Snape yawned discretely behind his hand and shifted his bum in the very hard chair. They'd been assembled here at Grimmauld Place, waiting for the Headmaster, for what felt like forever. He'd been summoned in the middle of a potion, which was now ruined, and he was grumpy (grumpier than usual) as a result. Dumbledore had given no indication what the emergency was, or why they'd been summoned immediately, but that was certainly not unusual. The man thrived on holding all the cards.
"Minerva, have you any idea why we are here?" he asked.
"No, Severus. I know nothing more than I did ten minutes ago when you asked me."
Severus sighed and drummed his fingers on the table. If Dumbledore wasn't here in five minutes, he was going back to Hogwarts. As soon as he'd completed this thought, Severus snorted internally. Who was he kidding? He and everyone else in this room toed Dumbledore's line without any second thoughts. And why, he wondered? What had the man done to inspire such confidence in his followers?
Snape was interrupted from his musings by the man himself. Everyone fidgeted in their chairs and turned to their intrepid leader as a harried-looking Headmaster entered the kitchen. He accepted the cup of tea pushed at him by Minerva with a silent and tired smile.
Dumbledore sipped the tea before saying, "We've had an incident in Surrey."
Snape sat up straighter in his chair, his attention solely on Dumbledore now. Surrey. Harry. Hurry up, old man. "Is Harry all right?" Severus had to ask.
Dumbledore sighed. "He is . . . fine," and Severus couldn't help but notice the hesitation. "The Dursleys had a small house fire this evening. The fire appeared to have started in the sitting room, perhaps as the result of electricity and Christmas decorations. I cannot explain to you any more than that." Dumbledore had never understood electricity and couldn't begin to explain how it could cause a fire. He took it as read that it could.
"Firefighters responded promptly to the scene," Dumbledore continued. "When they arrived, the Dursleys had exited the premises and were waiting in their car by the curb. They encountered a house filled with thick smoke."
"The Dursleys had exited the premises?" Snape echoed. "What about Harry?"
"Firefighters clearing the home after knocking down the blaze discovered a child locked in the cupboard beneath the stairs." Dumbledore's announcement was met with shocked looks of disbelief.
"They put him beneath the stairs when there was a fire in their home?" Severus demanded.
"No. It appears that the cupboard beneath the stairs is where Harry usually slept. He was in the cupboard when the fire started," Dumbledore explained.
"They locked him in a cupboard?" Severus repeated, enunciating each word clearly, wanting everyone to understand the horrific nature of what they'd been told. "And they made no effort to retrieve him when their home was on fire? They took the time to drive their automobile to the curb, to ensure it was not damaged, but they left a four-year old boy locked in a cupboard?" Snape's voice rose until he was nearly shouting at the Headmaster.
"That is apparently what occurred," Dumbledore confirmed.
Snape stood up. "Where is he now?" he demanded, fully intent on retrieving Harry himself if he had to.
"He is currently at the local Muggle hospital being evaluated. The Muggle authorities have removed him temporarily from the Dursleys' custody due to concerns about their care of the boy. Mrs. Figg is at the hospital now and will alert me when the boy is left alone. Once he is, I will go and get him and bring him here."
"And what will happen to him then?" Minerva asked.
Snape sat back down, aware that everyone was looking at him. He had to force himself to stay in the chair, everything inside him screaming at him to go and get the boy NOW.
"That is what we are gathered here to decide," Dumbledore answered. "I have some ideas percolating in my brain. I hope by the time I get back to have some decisions made. And there is my summons from Arabella," he said, responding to a signal only he could here. "I will be back shortly with Harry, if everyone could just sit tight."
He stood up and left the room, leaving the rest of his soldiers to stare at each other in horror.
They heard him before they saw him. As instructed, those present at the meeting had sat around the table, waiting for Dumbledore to return. When the floo flared in the next room, they could immediately hear the voice of a small child, saying over and over again, "No no no no no." The voice got louder until the Headmaster entered the room with a squirming child in his arms. He put the child on the floor, and Harry scurried to the corner, placed his back against the wall, and stood looking out at all of the gathered adults, obviously terrified.
"He is inconsolable," Dumbledore offered unnecessarily.
Severus got to his feet and slowly approached the frightened boy huddled in the corner. When he was several feet away, he dropped to his knees, then sat back on his heels. "Hello," he said softly. "Do you remember me? We met when you were just a wee baby." Severus sent his magic out towards the trembling child in soft waves, hoping in some visceral part of him that the little boy would remember it, remember him.
Harry stared at Severus for many seconds before launching himself at the man, throwing himself into his arms and burrowing into Severus' robe. Severus' arms folded around the boy, holding him close. Severus could feel the tiny body in his arms shaking, and he ran a hand soothingly over the boy's back. "Shhh," he crooned. "It's all right. You're safe now."
Severus stood up, bringing the boy with him when he did so. He turned to see that everyone else in the room was staring at him in disbelief. Ignoring their incredulous looks, he brought Harry to the table and sat down, settling the sniffling boy in his lap. Harry kept his face hidden from the others, pressed into the folds of Snape's voluminous robe.
Dumbledore smiled proudly at him and settled himself at the table. His smiled disappeared quickly as he began his tale. "I have reviewed the reports from the Muggle firefighters, as well as the doctor who treated Harry on an emergent basis at the hospital. It appears certain that the Dursleys left Harry in the cupboard, making no attempt to rescue him as they left the house after the fire was discovered. For this reason, authorities removed him from the custody of the Dursleys and took him to the hospital to be examined.
"The doctor examined Harry, and due to the fact that they suspected abuse, they took pictures, which they called x-rays, of his entire body. What they discovered is disturbing." Dumbledore withdrew several sheets of paper from an inner pocket of his robe. "Starting from the top: a hairline skull fracture, a fractured zygomatic bone, spiral fractures of both humerus, a fractured radius, four fractured digits on the left hand, and a fractured intermediate cuneiform, which is a bone in the right foot. This is in addition to multiple bruises over the body and several burns, mostly on the hands."
As Snape listened to this litany of injuries, he found himself gripping the boy more tightly. What had those horrid people done? Three years ago he'd been a perfectly healthy, perfectly happy baby. What he was holding in his lap now was a severely damaged and quite likely traumatized pre-schooler, who didn't seem much larger than the last time he'd held the boy in his arms.
"What are the local authorities doing now?" Minerva asked, her compassionate eyes resting on the boy in Snape's lap.
"They have begun legal proceedings to have Harry removed from the Dursley home. He is currently in emergency government custody and will be placed in a foster home while they investigate whether or not to file charges against the Dursleys."
"Surely we will intervene now and take the boy ourselves," Minerva exclaimed.
"I have thought this through carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that the safest place for Harry is back with the Dursleys."
"You must be joking!" Kingsley Shacklebolt nearly shouted. "Look at what they've done to him, Albus. You can't seriously be considering sending him back!"
The boy in Severus' arms flinched at this outburst, and Snape drew him closer, glaring at Kingsley.
"The wards are intact," Dumbledore told them. "I have checked them myself. Voldemort cannot get to Harry while he resides within those wards."
"But surely the danger posed to him by his family is, at this point, greater than the risk of Voldemort returning and harming him," Kingsley argued.
"Our most important objective is preserving Harry's life. He is safest within the wards, and he will be returned there. We have a significant amount of obliviating to perform. Kingsley, I could use your assistance with that. Minerva as well. Once that is taken care of, I intend to have a long and serious discussion with Petunia and Vernon Dursley about their care of the boy."
"Albus, please. You must reconsider," Minerva pleaded. "Next time, they may very well kill him."
Severus knew that arguing with the Headmaster was a pointless exercise, much as he agreed with the sentiment. "What would you have me do, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore looked at the boy in Severus' arms. Harry was now sleeping against his chest. "I think that's obvious, dear boy. You will stay here and care for Harry. You are the only one he feels safe with at the moment. When we have finished our respective tasks, I will return here for the boy and take him back to Surrey."
Snape stood up, cradling Harry carefully. He wanted them all out of here. He needed them gone. "Godspeed, then," he said, and he strode from the room.
As soon as everyone had gone, Snape paced furiously up and down the room, cradling Harry in his arms as he did so. He marveled at how small the boy was. He didn't know a lot about children, but he would have expected Harry to have grown much more in the three years since he'd seen him last than he had. In addition to the physical abuse, had they been starving the boy as well? He nearly growled aloud as he thought of those people, those horrible, abusive people whom he would so like to hunt down and murder painfully. How dare they? How could they?
And Dumbledore wanted to send him back, into the very situation that had left the tiny child in his arms broken. He was going to have a "long and serious" discussion with those monsters? That was supposed to help? How long would it be before Dumbledore was calling another emergency meeting, this time to inform them that Harry had been killed by those who were supposed to be caring for him? Given the litany of injuries, and the actions that had caused them, that outcome was all too likely.
He couldn't let this happen, not again. He'd argued for Harry to go somewhere else, anywhere else, three years ago, but Dumbledore had disregarded opinions that didn't coincide with his own. He'd placed Harry in a dangerous situation despite warnings from someone who knew Petunia and her petty and jealous nature. Dumbledore's single-minded belief that he knew what was right, to the exclusion of all else, was going to get Harry killed.
Snape could not let that happen. This little creature lying in his arms was valuable to the cause, yes, but he was precious in himself. He was Lily's son, and he deserved so much more than daily suffering while being raised as a sacrifice for the good of the cause.
But what could he do? He knew that arguing with Dumbledore again would be pointless. He'd had that proven to him already. So what were his options? As he saw it, he only had one. He must take Harry and go, take him away somewhere where Dumbledore could not get his meddling hands on the boy.
But was he willing to give up life as he knew it for this boy? Because there was no doubt in his mind that if he followed this course, if he took Dumbledore's favorite pawn off the board, he could never come back. Dumbledore would hunt them down with everything at his disposal, and should he ever catch up with them, Snape would likely find himself in Azkaban. Was the child worth giving up his job, his home, his freedom?
Snape looked down at the boy, so battered and bruised. Someone had to stand up for him, or he'd likely never see another birthday. Who better than Snape, who owed the Potters so much and who already had fallen in love with the little imp and who had sworn on Lily's magic to be there for him? Harry was worth it – there was no need to spend any time figuring that out.
But he had to act quickly, before Dumbledore came back, to put as much time and distance between them as possible. Dumbledore had brought nothing with the boy – no clothes, no toys, nothing but the child and his medical records, which Dumbledore had left on the table. Snape snatched them up – they would be important for healing Harry's many injuries.
What else was there? He could think of many things he'd like to take with him, things that would be useful to them and things that he didn't want to think about living without. But that would mean going back to Hogwarts. Did he dare take that chance? Could he do that while carrying Harry? Wouldn't someone stop him, challenge him, ask him what he was doing with the child?
While he was thinking this through, Minerva returned, huffing angrily. "That man will not listen to reason." She caught Severus' eye, and like the Head of House she'd been for many, many years, she sensed instantly that he was up to something. He looked quickly down at Harry, then back up at Minerva, and she somehow just knew what he was planning.
"Minerva," he said guiltily, though he tried to appear nonchalant. She'd caught him before he'd had a chance to don his perpetual mask of indifference.
"Do it, Severus," she urged, wasting no time explaining what "it" was. They both knew. "Do it now."
"There are things that I need from Hogwarts. Do I have time to get them?" he asked anxiously.
"You should, if you are quick. Albus still has many to obliviate. I got disgusted with what he was doing and refused to help any further. He doesn't know that I came back here. I will stay with Harry – you go get what you need and get back here as quickly as you can. I will then return to Hogwarts and let Albus believe I went directly there. He need not know that I saw you here or that we talked. But you must hurry. The sooner you get out of here, the better."
Snape immediately transferred the still-sleeping Harry into Minerva's arms. "He is so small," she whispered, stroking the boy's hair and kissing him on the forehead. "Go . We will be fine."
And Snape went.
Snape returned as quickly as he could, fearful that Dumbledore would return in his absence. When he re-entered the sitting room at Grimmauld Place, though, Minerva was sitting with Harry, who was still sleeping. This surprised Snape and caused him to wonder if the hospital had drugged the boy, or if Dumbledore had done something to him. Well, he couldn't wonder about that now. In fact, it might make what he had to do easier.
Minerva stood, cradling Harry carefully in her arms. "You must go soon," she advised. "He could be back here at any time."
They transferred the sleeping boy from one pair of arms to another, and Minerva smoothed Harry's hair back from his forehead. "Take care of him, Severus. If you can, please keep in touch with me and let me know how you are doing."
"I will have to change my name, my appearance," Snape said.
"Well, that will make it easier, then. Perhaps you're a distant cousin who sends me a Christmas card and a letter every now and again. I would like to know that you are all right. You have my word as a witch that I will never tell Albus where you are or anything else about you that he might use to find you."
Severus stared at Minerva. He'd always liked the older witch and respected her and her abilities. He'd even come to think of her as a friend over the years they'd been teaching together. He smiled gratefully at her now, glad that he would be able to maintain this one small link to his previous life. "Thank you, Minerva. I will be sure and let you know when we are settled."
"You take care, Severus, of yourself and of Harry." Minerva reached up on her toes and kissed Severus on the cheek. "May the Gods be with you both."
"Thank you," Severus said, suddenly emotional. He stepped away from her, and without looking back, strode to the floo with Harry.
Snape first visited Gringott's, cleaning out the contents of his vault. He'd swiped Harry's vault key from Dumbledore's office, and he thought about cleaning out the Potter vault as well, but decided against it. Harry's assets would be best protected here, and he could return to claim them when he was grown. He converted all of his own galleons to pounds, shrunk his few family heirlooms to fit in his pocket, and left the bank with his pockets bulging.
Spinner's End was as depressing as it had been every other time he'd been here. Snape placed a sleeping Harry on the sofa and looked down at him, concerned. He'd been asleep for a very long time now. Could something be wrong? Snape ran very basic medical scans over the boy and was reassured that his vital signs were completely normal.
Working quickly, Snape cast glamours, first on himself, then on the sleeping child. He now had sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, as did his son. His features were much more rugged looking, and he had an actual tan. He and Harry – Jameson – even shared cleft chins. And most importantly, the boy no longer sported a highly-recognizable lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
Snape studied his own new face in the mirror, thinking it a significant improvement. He smiled and admired his straight, white teeth. When he was as happy as he was going to get with his appearance, he cast the charm to set the glamour permanently. He then did the same to Harry – Jamie, damn it – tweaking his charm to allow for growth over the years.
Looking around, Snape gathered up the few remaining things he wanted from his childhood home. He knew that coming back here would be too dangerous. Both of his masters – former masters – could be watching this place, waiting for him to return, and he knew it would be extremely foolish of him to do so. There wasn't much to take, and he shrunk it down and placed it with his other possessions.
Then he gathered Harry back up into his arms and returned to London. First stop, a Muggle forger introduced to him by Death Eater colleagues years ago. Here he obtained fake passports, fake insurance cards, and fake identification cards for both himself and Harry. He next visited a Muggle bank, where he deposited all of his pounds and obtained a safety deposit box for his family possessions.
And then he took Harry, and they left the wizarding world, for maybe the last time.
Rafe Carnaby lay his sleeping son on one of the two beds in their newly-rented hotel room, sure now that Dumbledore had done something to the boy to induce this lengthy sleep. He hadn't pushed the issue while he'd been running errands and apparating from place to place, since it had made the job easier, but now he needed the boy awake. Before attempting to revive the sleeping child, Snape pulled out Harry Potter's medical records. He went down through the list as Dumbledore had recited it earlier:
hairline skull fracture - Harry had been struck in the head forcefully, or perhaps he'd fallen from a height or down the stairs
fractured zygomatic bone - again, Harry had been struck in the face hard enough to fracture a cheekbone
spiral fractures of both humerus - this was a common injury in child abuse victims, Severus knew, and was caused by a forceful wrenching of the arm
fractured radius - Snape could only speculate as to how the boy had had his arm broken
four fractured digits on the left hand - the fractures were lined up horizontally, almost as though a hard, fairly thin object had been brought down on the tiny fingers, or as though they'd had a door slammed on them
fractured intermediate cuneiform - had a heavy weight fallen on the boy's foot, or had someone perhaps stomped on the foot?
Severus found himself close to tears as he speculated what might have happened to the tiny child during his stay with his abominable relatives. It was all too easy to imagine the scenarios that might have caused the various injuries. Harry was so small and completely vulnerable and defenseless to the attentions of vicious adults. Severus Snape never would have succumbed to such a weakness, but apparently Rafe Carnaby was a different type of man because he found himself wiping at the stray tears as they slipped down his face.
Severus forced his attention back to the medical records. Aside from the multiple fractures, the doctor had chronicled several bruises over the boy's body and several burns, mostly on the hands. He picked up one of those hands now, so impossibly tiny in his own. The palm clearly showed two curved lines of red, angry skin, and Severus knew exactly what this was, because a young Severus Snape had suffered the very same injury, at the hands of his father. The boy's hand had been held to the burner on the cooker, until the flesh had seared. The burns had likely blistered and had definitely been incredibly painful, he knew from experience. The fact that Harry had not developed any type of infection or blood poisoning as a result was somewhat of a miracle. Scrutiny of the other hand revealed it had been subjected to the same treatment.
Fighting the desire to go to Surrey now and hex those child-abusing bastards until their hearts gave out from the sheer amount of pain he wanted to inflict, Severus instead cast a general healing spell over the boy, which should heal the bruises and what remained of the burns. He'd give Harry a salve later to eliminate the scarring on his hands. Then, holding his breath for whatever reaction he'd get when the boy woke, Severus intoned, "Finite incantatum."
Harry's vibrant blue eyes fluttered open and stared up at Snape muzzily. Slowly, comprehension seemed to come into his eyes, and they widened with fear. Looking around frantically, Harry tried to scoot away from Snape on the bed, his eyes taking in the strange surroundings and the strange man standing so close. He was breathing quickly and heavily through pursed lips, and Snape thought he could see the small body trembling.
"It's all right," Snape soothed, staying where he was. "You're all right. I will not hurt you." He sent his magic out in gentle waves toward the boy. He knew that Harry couldn't recognize him with the glamour, but he hoped that the familiar feel of his magic would remind the boy that he could trust him. It seemed to work, because Harry's breathing slowed and quieted and he seemed to relax a little.
"Good," Snape approved. He sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to get too close. "How do you feel?"
Harry – Jamie – stared back at him but did not speak. Snape wondered if the child no longer spoke. He remembered back to the first time he'd met the toddler Harry Potter – he'd been energetic and curious and gregarious and talkative, miles removed from the child he saw before him now.
Well, it made sense for him to start with the basics. "Do you know your name?" he asked.
Harry did not answer.
Severus placed a hand against his own chest. "My name is Rafe Carnaby. What is your name?" Still no response. "Rafe," he repeated, pointing at himself. "Me." He pointed at Harry. "You . . ."
"Me boy," Harry said, then flinched visibly as though not able to believe he'd been so daring as to answer.
"Yes, you're a boy," Severus agreed. "What is your name?"
"Me boy," he repeated, pointing at himself as Severus had done.
Snape sighed. They'd apparently called him "boy". It was possible the child didn't even know his own name, which actually made things easier, he supposed. Severus pointed at himself again. "Rafe." This time, when he pointed at Harry, he said, "Jamie. You are Jamie."
"No. You Jamie. Are you hungry, Jamie?"
This got no response at all, though Severus thought he detected interest in the boy's eyes. He crossed to the desk and rummaged around until he found a room service menu. He thought taking the boy down to the hotel's restaurant might be too overwhelming for him at present. "What do you like to eat, Jamie?"
A note here: As I was writing this, I found it difficult to keep referring to Harry as "Jamie." I caught myself using Harry so many times that I finally just decided that he's going to be Harry when he's being spoken about and Jamie when he's being spoken to. I hope that doesn't prove too confusing – they are the same person after all. The same will hold true for Severus Snape/Rafe Carnaby. Just wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Sorry for the interruption. Now where were we?
Unsurprisingly, Harry said nothing. "All right. We'll get a couple of different things until we know what you like." There were several children's items on the menu, and when Snape called down to the kitchen, he asked for a hot dog and chicken nuggets for Harry and a club sandwich for himself.
While they waited for the food to arrive, Severus turned the television set on and found a station showing children's cartoons. Harry seemed to perk up a little and take notice, so Severus sat with him on the bed and they watched in silence, Harry hugging his knees to his chest and resting against the pillows at the head of the bed, alternately watching Severus and the television set. Snape felt the probing eyes on him but didn't turn to look at Harry. He suspected he was being sized up, judged on his trustworthiness. In every aspect of his life, Severus Snape had repeatedly failed this test. But Rafe Carnaby would not.
Even if it was difficult. He held a vial out toward Harry. "I need you to drink this. It's not going to taste very good, but it will help you." He pressed the vial into the boy's hand.
Harry took it and looked down at it suspiciously. He brought it to his nose and sniffed, then wrinkled his little button nose comically. He looked up at Severus, his eyes saying "no," though he obviously didn't dare to voice his objection.
Severus would have liked to let this go, but the child needed the Skelegro – there was no Muggle equivalent that might go down easier that Severus could give him. He steeled himself to be the bad guy, just this once. "Jamie, you must drink it. All of it." Severus Snape had enough experience being intimidating that even at a reduced level, the boy was clearly afraid of him. He gulped once audibly, then put the vial to his lips and drank, slowly and reluctantly, until he'd emptied the vial. He couldn't keep the look of disgust from his face.
Severus took the vial away and replaced it with a glass of water. "Wash it down," he said softly.
Gratefully, Harry drained the contents of the glass. When Severus took it back, he placed his hand gently on the boy's head, pretended he didn't notice the involuntary flinching away, and said, "Good boy. Thank you."
When a knock sounded on the door, Severus opened it to allow the young man and his food cart into the room. After tipping him and seeing him back out, Severus pushed the cart over to the bed. "Jamie. The food is here."
The boy seemed to have problems pulling his eyes away from the television, and Severus thought briefly of turning the damned idiot box off. Then he figured, what the hell? Harry likely never was allowed the luxury of eating a meal while sitting on a bed and watching telly.
"Come and see, Jamie," he urged. "What would you like? Come on."
Slowly, Harry unwound and approached the food cart on his knees. He cast wary looks at Snape as he did so. Severus uncovered each of the dishes and told Harry what they were when he did so. "Hot dog and chips. Chicken. And chips. Which would you like to start with?'
Harry looked at each of the dishes, then up at Snape. Severus thought he looked overwhelmed by the simple task of choosing, so he helped. "Why don't you start with the chicken?" Severus removed that plate and set it on the bed next to Harry.
Hesitantly, Harry picked up a piece of chicken in his small fingers. Keeping his eyes on Severus, as though he expected the man to yank the food away at any moment or yell at him for his temerity, he brought the nugget to his mouth and began to nibble on it. When nothing awful happened, he began to eat with more determination. Snape smiled encouragingly and uncovered his own dinner and began to eat it.
Once Harry had eaten several of the nuggets, he started on the chips. Seeing this, Severus reached over and opened a packet of ketchup and squeezed it onto the plate. Harry stared at it as though he'd never seen such a thing, and Severus thought perhaps he had not. He took one of Harry's chips, dipped the end in the ketchup, and held it out to the boy. Harry took it, and with his eyes wide and completely focused on Severus, he put the chip into his mouth. Then those beautiful eyes closed in rapture as the boy savored the flavor. His eyes popped open again, and he began to attack the pile of chips with gusto, dipping each one into ketchup. When he returned to the nuggets, he began to drag them through the ketchup as well until the red substance had all but disappeared from his plate, which brought a mournful look to Harry's face. Noticing this, Severus reached over and opened a second packet, drawing a small smile of gratitude from the child.
Harry piled as much ketchup onto the next nugget as he could. Half-way to his mouth, though, he dropped the nugget, which hit him once in the chest, then on the leg, before bouncing three times across the counterpane, coming to rest in the middle of the white spread and leaving a trail of red splotches in its wake. Harry looked up at Severus, panic in his eyes, and said, "Oh." His breath was coming quicker again, and he was doing that strange breathing through his almost-closed mouth thing again that Severus was coming to recognize as a sign that the boy was on the verge of panic.
"It's all right, Jamie," he said. "We can clean that up."
"Oh," Harry said again, clearly still fearing the consequences of what he'd done. "Oh."
Severus stood up and tried not to react when Harry flinched away from him again. "I'll just get something to clean that up."
Severus went into the bathroom for a towel, which he wet and rubbed some hand soap into. He could clean more thoroughly with his wand later, but for now, this would do. He returned to find Harry still staring down at the offending stain until he cast a frightened glance at Severus, still not trusting the man's mild reaction.
Severus cleaned up the mess as best he could (which wasn't very well) then encouraged Harry to finish eating. Even more subdued now, Harry finished his meal carefully. Severus was about to ask the boy if he wanted the hot dog next when he noticed that the hot dog and the chips that were with it were no longer on the plate. Had Harry eaten them while he was in the loo getting the cleaning supplies? He must have done so quickly. Severus hoped he didn't have a belly ache later.
"Did you have enough to eat?" he asked.
Harry nodded and scooted back toward the headboard and turned his attention fully back to the television. Severus gathered up the dirty dishes and piled them on the cart, then pushed it into the hallway.
"We shall have to do some shopping tomorrow," Severus informed Harry when he returned. "You need clothes. We have no pajamas for you tonight, so you'll have to sleep in the clothes that you are wearing."
There was no response, which was not unexpected by now. But this time, Harry didn't respond because he was asleep. This surprised Severus, since the child had slept so much today already. Severus lifted the boy to place him under the covers and tucked him in. Without even thinking about it, he placed a kiss on the boy's forehead before turning down the lights.
Severus began to unpack his suitcase. They would likely be here a few days while he figured out what to do next, and he didn't want to live out of a bag. He hung his shirts and trousers in the small cupboard then began stowing his underthings in the chest of drawers. When his clothes were put away, he unpacked the books, papers and potion ingredients and put them in the remaining drawers. When they were full and he still had a few things left out, he spotted the nightstand beside Harry's bed. It had a small drawer that should be large enough to hold the remainder.
When Severus opened the drawer, he found the hot dog and chips that had disappeared from Harry's plate earlier. The boy had hidden them here, likely unsure when his next meal might be coming. Severus sat on the edge of the bed, clutching his books to his chest. What had those people done to this child that left him timid and nearly silent and cowed? Was Snape capable of correcting the damage? He wasn't a nice man. Empathy and compassion did not come naturally to him. Harry was going to need support and attention and affection, and Severus sincerely doubted his ability to provide those things.
Before Severus let himself sink too far into despair, he grabbed himself by the figurative lapels and shook. He'd taken Harry out of his dangerous family situation and away from Dumbledore's clutches, and he was convinced that the boy would not survive if he was returned there now. He'd made the right decision, and now he had to live with the consequences. In the morning, he would look into the boy's mind and figure out exactly what his family had done to him. With that information, he could formulate a plan for how best to help Harry, to get back the child he'd met three years ago. He could do this, he told himself – he could be what Harry needed. He would not fail the child as he had failed the mother.
Severus removed the food from the drawer. He couldn't leave it there – it would attract insects and rodents. He had to make the boy believe somehow that food would come regularly and in whatever quantity he desired. Suddenly very tired, Severus decided to leave the rest of the unpacking for tomorrow and went into the bathroom to get ready for bed.
A noise in the hallway woke Severus in the middle of the night. Not quite the middle: Snape groaned as he rolled over and looked at the bedside clock through one squinted eye. 2:11. Nothing good ever happened at 2:11 a.m.
Severus raised himself up enough to check on Harry in the other bed. Except that Harry wasn't in the other bed. Severus sat up quickly, scanning the room. No boy. Was he in the loo? Severus tossed back the covers and jumped out of bed. The bathroom was dark and unoccupied. Where on earth was he? The chain was still on the door – the boy was too short to have removed it without the use of a chair, but there was no sign that anything had been moved closer to the door.
Severus checked under both beds, then turned his attention to the cupboard. He opened the door, and relief flooded through him. Harry was there, curled up on the floor, sound asleep. Severus sighed, then dropped to his knees. He gathered the boy in his arms and placed him back in the bed.
Harry was still wary of Severus and his surroundings when he woke the next morning. Severus kept an eye on the boy while he ate to make sure he didn't sneak any food into the drawer. When they were finished, he had Harry sit next to him on the bed. Knowing that explanations would be useless, Severus didn't bother trying to explain what he was about to do, and he just dove right in to the young mind of Harry Potter.
When he emerged, Severus was actually shaking with anger. What he'd witnessed in the boy's memories was enough to make him want to leave here, right now, and commit murder. Harry had been hit, frequently and with force, by both his aunt and his uncle. They didn't discriminate about where they hit the boy – in the face, in the head, in the arms, in the chest, on the bottom. He'd been kicked and pushed and thrown and stomped on and yes, his hand had been viciously and purposely slammed in a door. Vernon was the one that used the belt, for Harry's more "egregious" violations, on Harry's lower back and his bared buttocks.
Then there was the withholding of food, Harry being lucky if he received one meal a day, though "meal" was a generous word to describe the meager offerings given to the child.
And almost worse than either the physical abuse or the virtual starvation was the denial of affection and touch. Harry had attempted, until he finally realized it was pointless and only ended with him getting hurt, to engage his aunt – he would hug her legs or ask her to pick him up. She would react as though she'd been touched by the most disgusting creature and push him away with a sneer and nasty words. The boy hadn't received one comforting touch or hug or caress in the entire time he'd been with the Dursleys.
Motion by his side drew him away from his evil plans of revenge. Harry was looking up at him, his eyes wide with fear and his breath coming faster. The child likely had a well-developed sense of when adults were angry, and he could tell that his new guardian was not pleased. Quicker than Severus had seen him move, Harry scuttled across the bed, hit the floor, and raced into the cupboard, closing the door behind him quietly.
Severus sighed. He simply had to get himself under control. He approached the cupboard and sat on the floor just outside the door.
"Jamie? I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm sorry. Would you come out, please?"
Severus heard rummaging behind the door, but Harry didn't emerge.
"Please," Severus repeated. "We need to go out shopping this morning, for clothes for you and for food. We may perhaps even stop at a toy store. Would you like that, Jamie? You can pick out some toys of your very own."
Still nothing. Severus sighed and looked up at the television. "Oh, look. Scooby-Doo's coming on."
The rummaging in the cupboard got louder, and Harry crawled out, giving Severus a wide berth. He climbed up onto the bed and settled in to watch.
Still on the floor, Severus said, "I guess we can wait until Scooby is done."
The shopping trip had been productive, but incredibly frustrating. Severus had purchased an entire new wardrobe for the boy, from winter hat, coat and mittens, to trainers and boots. Whenever he'd asked Harry for input, the boy seemed incapable of making a choice, even between two items. Even at the toy store, which astounded Severus. In his limited experience, children wanted everything when confronted with such enticements, but Harry was silent, his large blue eyes simply staring round at everything that was on offer. In the end, Severus had chosen for him, several things which he remembered from his own childhood, educational toys geared at teaching a young child letters and numbers, a few toys for the bath, books for the boy to look at on his own and also that Severus could read to him, by his own favorite childhood authors.
They'd also stopped at a grocer, where Severus picked up several different foods they could keep in their hotel room for Harry to snack on between meals. Again, when Severus had asked Harry for his input, the boy had simply stared at him, as though he could not comprehend what it was that Severus was asking him to do.
Severus assumed Harry's inability to choose was due to the fact that he had never been allowed choices while with the Dursleys. They had simply given: whatever meager food he was allowed, the castoffs from his older and much larger cousin. This was something they would have to work on, along with a growing list of other things.
At breakfast this morning, Severus had discovered that Harry did not know how to use utensils. He'd started in on his scrambled eggs with his fingers, and when Severus had gently corrected him and handed him a spoon, Harry had gamely tried, but it was obvious that he had little to no experience eating with a tool. Severus had reached over and curled the boy's hand around the spoon handle in the appropriate manner, and then breakfast became more about Harry watching Severus, to make sure the man wasn't getting angry with Harry's fumbling attempts, than it was about eating.
Harry's vocabulary (or lack thereof) was appalling, but Severus wasn't sure if this was because the boy didn't know many words or because using them had gotten him into trouble with the Dursleys and he had learned to keep them to himself. When he'd met Harry Potter the year-old baby, he'd been talkative and seemed to have an exceptional vocabulary. The four-year old that had become Jamie Carnaby had spoken three words since they'd been reintroduced: "no," "me," and "boy". What those people had done to the bright, charming, outgoing little boy was a travesty, and Severus could see he had his job cut out for him. He hoped he was up to the challenge.
"How about a bath?" he asked after they'd had lunch.
Harry looked up at him, fear in his eyes, causing Severus to wonder what those people had done to Harry to make him dread that word. Well, they couldn't avoid it forever. He went into the bathroom and started the water. When he returned, Harry had secreted himself in the cupboard. Severus sighed and went about retrieving the bath toys they'd purchased this morning and a change of clothing.
He knelt beside the cupboard. "Jamie, would you come out, please?" When he got no response, he made his voice sterner. "Now, Jamie."
Severus heard a small sigh, then Harry crawled out and sat looking up at him.
"It is time for a bath. Come with me, please." Severus stood and offered a hand to the boy. When Harry only stared at it, Severus said, "It's all right. I promise."
Obviously hesitant, Harry nevertheless put his tiny hand into Severus' much larger one. Severus pulled him to his feet and led him into the bathroom. After testing the water temperature, he turned to the boy. Who was trembling.
"It's all right," Severus said soothingly. "We're just going to get you clean." He reached over and pulled Harry's shirt up and over his head. Harry crossed his skinny arms over his thin chest, shivering pathetically. When Severus reached for the boy's trousers, he couldn't help but see the flinch, though Harry held himself in place.
A growl threatened to erupt from his chest. If any of those people had touched this boy in that way, he was not going to even try to hold himself back. He would kill them. All of them. Even their evil spawn, just for good measure. He hadn't seen any memories in the boy's head of abuse of that type, but . . .
"Would you like to take those off yourself?"
Harry nodded, and with a trembling lower lip, he pushed his trousers and pants down and stepped out of them. Quickly, Severus lifted the boy into the water then dumped the bath toys in with him.
"Would you like to play for a bit?"
Harry's big blue eyes answered affirmatively, though he neither spoke nor nodded in answer.
"Sit down, so you don't fall," Severus told him.
Harry quite willingly sat in the water, then stared up at Severus, as if looking for instruction. "You may play for a while. I will come in and wash you in a bit."
Severus left him and sat on the bed, breathing deeply, trying to get his anger back under control. He listened for any sound coming from the bathroom, but all was silent, until after some time had passed, Severus heard water moving about. He smiled, glad the boy had relaxed enough to play. He'd let him have some time alone before going in to wash him up, which had all the potential to be a somewhat traumatic experience.
Thankfully, it turned out to be much easier than Severus had anticipated. After half an hour of Harry's constant splashing, Severus guessed the water must be cooling to uncomfortable levels, and he went into the bathroom. "Time to wash up, Jamie," he announced.
The boy stilled immediately and looked up at Severus. He sat, unmoving, while Severus soaped a flannel and ran it gently over the small body. He stiffened perceptibly when Severus wet his hair and washed it, but made no protest. When he was finished, he asked, "Would you like to play some more, or are you ready to get out?"
Harry surprised him when he stood up and extended his arms to Severus. "Ready to get out, I take it?" Severus asked, then snatched up a towel, wrapped the boy in it and pulled him up. He held the boy to his chest briefly in a gentle hug, then set him on his feet. He quickly toweled the waif dry, then helped him to dress. He ran a comb through the unruly hair, smoothing it down as much as possible before giving it up as a lost cause.
He carried Harry out to the bed and settled him in it. Rummaging through the bag of food they'd brought home, Rafe selected an apple, a packet of crackers, and a tin of biscuits and took them to the bed, where he lay them beside Harry. "Which would you like?"
Harry's bottomless blue eyes looked up at him. Without looking away, he tried to pull all of the items closer to him, working them into a hiding place under the blanket.
"No, Jamie," Severus said gently. "Choose one. You may have another snack after your nap if you wish. But for now, choose one." He uncovered the treats and waited for Harry to choose. The boy's hand slowly reached out to the biscuit tin, his eyes asking the question he couldn't voice.
"Yes, you may have a biscuit," Severus said, opening the tin and handing two of the biscuits to the child.
Harry took them quickly and ate them as fast as he could.
"Good boy. I'll put the other things back in the bag," Severus said, showing him where the bag was kept. "They will be here if you want them later."
Harry's eyelids dropped, and he snuggled down further into the blankets, his biscuits gone and his busy morning catching up with him. Severus rummaged through another bag and came out with a stuffed green dragon. He gave it to Harry, and the boy brought it tight to his chest and curled around it. Within minutes, he was asleep.
While he slept, Severus searched through the Muggle newspaper he'd purchased. They needed a more permanent place to live.
Severus surveyed their new home with satisfaction. It was wonderful to get out of the hotel, where they'd spent a week until Severus had found this two-bedroom fully-furnished rental. It was a small one-story house, but it was big enough for the two of them, and it had a nice large fenced-in yard for Harry to play in. It was also within walking distance of the local primary school, which Harry would attend next fall. He had a lot to do to get the boy ready for that.
He'd left Harry in his new bedroom with instructions to put his toys away. Severus didn't care how the boy accomplished the job, only that Harry make decisions about where to put his own things. He made sure to give Harry several opportunities each day to make choices, and the boy was finally responding and was able to indicate his wishes. He still, however, did not speak to his new guardian, although Severus had heard him conversing with his stuffed dragon when the boy thought Severus wasn't close enough to hear. So he knew the child could speak – he simply chose not to.
He surveyed the boxes in the sitting room, wondering which he should tackle next, when he was interrupted by a knock on the street-side door.
Curious and slightly fearful, he approached the door, his wand at the ready as he opened it to reveal a man, a woman, and a bushy-haired girl-child.
"Hello," the woman said cheerfully. "I'm Annabelle Granger, and this my husband, Clive, and our daughter, Hermione. We noticed you moving in, and we wanted to introduce ourselves and welcome you to the neighborhood. We live right next door," she said, pointing to their home. She thrust a pie plate at him. "It's an apple pie. To say, 'Welcome'."
"Thank you," Severus said, extending his hand to both of the adults and shaking firmly. "Rafe Carnaby. Would you like to step inside?" he invited, nervous about standing about here on the porch.
"Oh, thank you," Annabelle said, and she and her family stepped into the sitting room.
"Do you have a little boy?" the girl asked, peering unabashedly up the length of the strange man.
"I do," Severus said, smiling at the girl's brashness and pleased at the notion that she thought Harry was his son. "Jamie!" he called, raising his voice. "Could you come out here, please?"
Moments later, Harry entered the living room, his eyes widening at the strangers.
"This is Jamie," Severus said. "Jamie, these are our new neighbors, the Grangers."
Hermione approached Harry straight away. "My name is Hermione," she said. "I'm four years old. How old are you?"
Harry looked from the girl to Severus to the girl again, somewhat overwhelmed. Severus came to his rescue. "He's four as well. Jamie, why don't you take Hermione and show her your new room."
"Oh, I'd like to see your room," the girl assured him, taking him by the arm and turning Harry back in the direction from which he'd come. "Which is yours? Where did you come from? I've lived here all my life." Her voice accompanied them down the hall as she escorted Harry back to his own room.
"She's very forthright," Annabelle noted, somewhat in apology.
Bossy was more like it, Severus thought but didn't say – wouldn't do to alienate his new neighbors on their first day here. "Jamie is quite shy," he explained. "Perhaps she will help him come out of his shell."
"What is it that you do, Mr. Carnaby?" Clive Granger asked.
"Please, call me Rafe. At the moment, I am unemployed. I have taken over care for Jamie in somewhat exigent circumstances, and getting him settled has become my priority. I have a background in chemistry and research, and at some point, I will be looking for employment."
"Chemistry, huh?" Clive asked. "When you're ready, let me know. I can speak with my brother. He's a scientist and is always looking for research assistants."
"Thank you. I will keep that in mind. You are very kind to offer."
"Not at all. Annie, we really should be going."
"Hermione!" she called. "Time to go, dear! It was very nice meeting you, Rafe. We would like it if you and Jamie would come to dinner tomorrow evening. We're to be neighbors, and it would be nice to get to know you better."
Severus thought that over. If they were to live here and blend in in this Muggle community, they would do well to have Muggle friends and acquaintances. Isolating themselves would only draw attention. "We would be honored," he said, with a slight bow.
"Six o'clock then?"
Severus nodded. The children came into the room, holding hands.
"Mum!" Hermione said excitedly. "Jamie's got a really cool dragon! He let me hold it! I told him he should come to my house and see all my books. Can he come, Mum? Can he?"
"Jamie is coming for dinner tomorrow night, dear. You can show him your books then."
"Yay!" Hermione said. She dropped Harry's hand so she could clap her hands happily. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jamie, all right?"
Harry nodded, unable to take his eyes off his new friend.
"Goodbye, Mr. Carnaby," Hermione said. "It was very nice meeting you. I'm ever so glad to have another child in the neighborhood."
"Thank you, Miss Granger," Severus said, staring down at the child, not sure if he was amused by her manner or annoyed.
"Come, dear," Clive said. "We'll see you two tomorrow night."
"Yes, thank you for the pie," Severus said as he saw them out the door.
After they'd left, he turned to Harry. "You've made a new friend," he noted.
Harry smiled, the first happy smile he'd seen on the boy's face since he'd taken him. "My-nee," he said.
Severus' jaw dropped at the boy's word. He gathered himself quickly. "Yes, Hermione. Do you like her?"
Harry nodded happily and turned to go back into his room.
Severus watched him go, a smile playing about his lips.
Harry's good humor lasted until dinnertime. He didn't speak again, but he went about the new house with a small smile on his lips and just looked so much happier. Severus decided that having a friend close by in their new neighborhood would likely help Harry learn to verbalize much more quickly than by working with his father exclusively, and he intended to encourage this burgeoning friendship in every way possible.
Severus was disappointed to see that Harry's mood was much more glum when they sat down to dinner. He watched the boy push lima beans around his plate, lining them up, piling them up, doing everything but eating them, until finally he sighed in resignation, stabbed one with his fork, and put it reluctantly into his mouth. Without chewing, he swallowed the bean down, then immediately grabbed his cup to wash the offending vegetable down his gullet as quickly as possible.
Harry's blue eyes snapped up to meet Severus', then he looked quickly back down at his plate, sure he was about to be chastised for playing with his food. He began to quickly spear the beans on his fork and shove them into his mouth. If he was going to lose the remainder of his supper, he was going to get in as much sustenance as he could.
"Jamie, stop," Severus ordered gently, and Harry put his fork down, surreptitiously chewing the icky food he had left in his mouth. "Do you not like lima beans?"
The answer to this question was more than obvious, but Harry had never been allowed to dislike anything. In fact, turning his nose up at any offered food was self-destructive, and he had accustomed himself to eating whatever he was given whether he liked it or not. So Harry did not confess to his dislike for the slimy neon green beans, fearing he would anger his new guardian.
"It's all right not to like them, Jamie," Severus soothed the boy. "All you have to do is tell me that you don't like them, and we'll find you something else, something that you do like. But you have to tell me."
Harry nibbled on his lip, wondering if he dared be honest. Finally, in a very small voice, he said, "Yucky."
Severus' smiled beamed down at the boy, but he tried not to make such a huge deal out of the fact that the child had shared his opinion. "Thank you for telling me, Jamie," he said, keeping his tone neutral. "You may leave the lima beans on your plate. We will experiment and find other vegetables that you like. Just for tonight, you may have extra pudding if you like."
Harry's eyes widened in appreciation of that thought.
"Only for tonight," Severus cautioned. "Vegetables are very important to a growing boy. I think we'll be able to find a number of them that you like. When we do, you will be allowed pudding after you eat a nutritious meal. All right?"
Harry nodded his agreement, his good mood returning as Severus brought out the treacle tart for afters.
The adults sat at the table, sipping coffee, after an excellent meal of roast pork and vegetables. Hermione had taken Harry into her bedroom to show him her book collection. Based on the child's obvious intelligence and the size of her vocabulary, Severus would have been willing to bet that that collection was large and contained numerous volumes deemed too advanced for a child of four. Hermione was somewhat brash and more than a little bossy, but she was very gentle with Harry, and Severus decided that he liked her, despite the more glaring parts of her personality.
"You said you and Jamie haven't been together long?" Annabelle inquired.
Severus Snape would have bristled at this question, deeming it an unwarranted invasion of his privacy, and he likely would have cut the asker down to size without any hesitation. But Rafe Carnaby needed friendly neighbors, and he'd been rehearsing a story to tell them if they asked. He set his cup down in the saucer.
"Yes. Until only a few days ago, I was unaware that I even had a child. His mother and I . . . had a chance encounter. I was unaware that she had a serious drug problem. She died of an overdose when the boy was little more than a year old without ever having told me of his existence. Child welfare officials placed the boy with one of his mother's sisters. She was married, living an apparently mundane middle-class suburban life, with a child of her own the same age as Jamie. Very respectable-appearing. Unfortunately, she despised her sister and took that hatred out on my son. She was happy enough collecting the checks provided to her for his care, but she and her husband abused him, physically and mentally, for three years. Another sister became aware of what was going on, and she snatched him away. Jamie's mother had told her about me, and she was able to track me down. She found me a week ago, explained what had happened, and left the boy with me."
Severus had had a lot of experience telling a convincing lie, and enough of this story was based in truth that Severus was able to tell it very convincingly. Annabelle and Clive both had sympathetic looks on their faces by the time he'd finished.
"So the authorities don't know that you have him? Are they looking for him?" Clive asked.
"I don't know. I suspect his 'family' wouldn't willingly part with the source of income he represented, but perhaps they were happy to be rid of him and haven't informed the authorities. I simply don't know, but I could see for myself the evidence of the abuse she claimed. He was covered in bruises, he doesn't speak, he seems afraid of shadows, he has nightmares. I took him, and I left. I could do nothing different."
"Of course you couldn't," Annabelle said with understanding. "No parent would have."
"So may I assume, then, that Rafe Carnaby is not your real name?" Clive asked.
Rafe stared at him. The man was shrewd. "You may. I am trusting you with this. I hope I have not misplaced my trust." Severus knew he was taking a chance sharing this information. The Grangers could easily go to the police and report him for kidnaping.
"You have not," Clive said. He'd had a sister once, an older sister. She'd begun a relationship with a man that had consisted of almost constant verbal and physical abuse, and no offers of help from her family could convince her to leave the bastard. No one was surprised, then, when one day, in a drunken rage, he'd killed her. She'd been pregnant at the time. Clive was acquainted with domestic violence – he knew it existed. Children were being abused every day by people who were supposed to be caring for them. Women were being assaulted by men who purported to love them. Clive was grateful to see anyone being rescued from such a situation. At least this boy had a chance at a life now. He wasn't naive, however. This man sitting at their table could be feeding him a story. It was obvious they were father and son – the resemblance was too strong for anything else, but the story about the boy's past could be a complete fabrication. Clive had good instincts about people, though, and he thought this man legitimately loved that little boy. "But I can't help but think that your situation is going to make it difficult for you to obtain employment. No references, for one. No employment history."
Severus nodded in acceptance of this fact. "This is true. I wanted to get the boy away as quickly as possible. I have a little savings, so we'll be able to manage for a while. I thought I'd worry about that after he was safe."
Clive took a chance. "All the more reason for you to speak with my brother. I can explain the bare bones of your situation to him. If you can satisfy him that you can do what he needs, I think he'll be willing to take you on."
"You are too kind," Severus said, overwhelmed by this man's generosity. Severus Snape was unused to the kindness of strangers, and it was somewhat disconcerting.
"Can I set up an appointment for you to meet with him?"
Severus nodded. "If there's any chance that I might be able to work at home, I would prefer not to leave Jamie with strangers this soon."
"It's research," Clive said. "That can be done on the computer nowadays, can't it?"
When Severus only looked blankly back at him, Clive said, "You have used a computer before?"
"I'm afraid not," Severus admitted.
"Well, that will be a necessity I think."
"There are adult education classes at the school on week nights," Annabelle offered. "You could take a class. You can leave Jamie here with us while you do. Hermione would love to have him."
Severus astoundingly found himself close to tears. "You are very kind, both of you. We must have been led here by some sort of divine intervention."
Annabelle smiled warmly at him, convinced by the man's obvious emotion that he was telling them the truth and that he genuinely cared about the undersized boy in the next room.
The children picked this moment to enter the room. "Mum, can we have a fire? Please? Jamie wants to toast marshmallows."
"Jamie does, huh?" Clive asked with an amused and knowing smile.
"Well, me, too," Hermione clarified. "Can we? Please?"
"Can you stay for a bit longer?" Clive asked Severus.
Clive started a fire in the fireplace, and Annabelle brought out the toasting forks. Hermione and Harry speared marshmallows on them and held them out to the flames. Severus kept a careful eye on Harry, ready to leap to intervene if the boy got too close to the heat.
"We do this outside in the summertime," Hermione informed them. "You have to come back then. It's ever so much nicer outside."
Severus looked at Harry, whose face was covered with sticky marshmallow. "Are you getting any of that into your mouth?" he asked with a chuckle.
Fear sprang into Harry's eyes, worried he'd angered his guardian by being messy.
"It's all right, Jamie,"Severus said soothingly. "I'm not angry with you. Do you like the marshmallows?"
Harry nodded weakly. He liked them well enough that he'd eaten five. He held one up to Severus, asking for his permission for another.
"Do you want another?" Severus asked.
"Use your words, Jamie," Severus prodded. "Tell me what you want."
Harry looked around at all of them before he said, low but plain, "More?"
"Good boy," Severus praised. "You may have one more. But only one more. We don't want you to have a bellyache."
Harry smiled and turned to toast his last marshmallow.
"You're very good with him," Annabelle said softly.
Severus sighed. "He is . . . damaged, but I'm hopeful that with time and attention and affection, he can become the child he was meant to be."
Hermione crawled into her father's lap and snuggled in happily, her face a sight cleaner than Harry's. Harry studied her through sleepy eyes, then went to stand beside Severus. When the man made a welcoming gesture, Harry climbed into his lap and settled himself down exactly as Hermione had. Severus' arms went around the boy, and he rested his chin on the downy head. He closed his eyes for a moment, to better savor the contact, and when he opened them again, he found Annabelle smiling at him, tears in her eyes. She nodded once at him, in approval.
"There's a Christmas party at the school on the seventeenth. All the neighborhood children are welcome. You should bring Jamie," Annabelle told him. "I'll introduce you to some of your other neighbors, and Jamie can meet some of the other children."
"That sounds lovely," Severus said. And he actually meant it.
When they got home, Severus cleaned Harry up, helped him to brush his teeth, and tucked the sleepy boy into bed. He then settled himself on the sofa in the sitting room, a late cup of tea and a book in his hands. He'd read no more than a paragraph before he became aware of the silent shadow at the edge of the room.
"Jamie," he said, putting his book down. "Is something wrong?"
Harry looked back at him, his blue eyes wide, but said nothing. He was holding something that looked like a book behind his back.
"Did you want to read a story?"
"Well, come here, then," Severus instructed. Harry, clad in one-piece fuzzy blue pajamas, padded across the room to stand beside Severus. Severus took hold and hoisted the boy into his lap and took the book from his hand. "Curious George again?"
Harry nodded and leaned back against his father. Severus could feel how tense the little body was, as though waiting to be rejected and pushed away. To allay that fear, he turned the boy sideways across his legs and snuggled Harry up closer against him, pressing the boy's cheek into his chest. He opened the book and began to read: "This is George. He was a good little monkey and always very curious."
When he was finished, he expected to look down and find Harry asleep, but the vivid blue eyes were just as wide awake as earlier. "Bed now," he said. Still holding the boy, he stood up and returned Harry to his room, tucking him in once more.
Severus settled himself back on the sofa, rewarmed his tea, and picked up his book. He managed to read a full page before the shadow returned.
"Jamie. Do you need the loo?"
"All right then," Severus said. He got up and escorted the boy to the bathroom, stood by as the boy took care of his somewhat meager business, then instructed him to wash his hands. That completed, Severus once again tucked the boy into bed and settled back on the sofa.
He managed another five minutes of reading before he realized Harry was back. "Jamie," he acknowledged his son. "What is wrong now?"
Again, Harry only stared at him with fathomless eyes.
"Do you need a drink?"
Severus heaved himself up off the sofa again, slightly exasperated at the boy's stalling behavior. He kept a lid on his emotions and led Harry back into the bathroom. After a small drink, Severus returned the boy one more time to his bed, tucking him in firmly, kissing him on the head, and saying, quite sternly he thought, "Good night, Jamie."
Severus sighed with relief when he slumped back into the sofa cushions. He waited a moment to see if Harry came right back out, then picked up his book again. He managed to read two pages before he was visited once again by the wraith.
"Can't you sleep?" he asked this time.
Harry very solemnly shook his head in the negative. Too much sugar tonight, likely.
"All right. Come here," Severus instructed with a sigh.
Harry looked slightly apprehensive. Did he think he was about to be physically disciplined for his behavior? His feet brought him slowly across the room until he stood before his father. Severus patted the sofa beside him. "Come on up."
Harry now smiled a little – this was clearly the reaction he'd been angling for all along, but had likely not wanted to allow himself to expect. Harry climbed up onto the sofa and snuggled up against Severus' side. Severus flipped the blanket from the back of the sofa over the boy, moved over a bit so Harry slid down to rest his head on Severus' thigh, and lay a warm, comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "Comfortable?"
Harry nodded against his leg, and Severus moved his hand up to card his long fingers through the boy's soft nest of hair. "Sleep, Jamie," Severus ordered softly.
Thirty minutes later, the man and the boy (now asleep), were still on the sofa. Severus had managed to get through a large chunk of his book, his hand leaving Harry's hair only long enough to periodically turn pages. He yawned, tired himself, and lay the book aside. Looking down at the perfection that was his boy, Severus' heart swelled a couple of sizes larger, and he curled the stroking hand into a fist to stop himself from grabbing the boy up and squeezing him tightly to his chest. This was what love felt like, Severus suddenly realized. A month ago, he would have scoffed at the notion that he could feel such a nettlesome emotion, but now he let it fill him until he felt it all the way down to his toes.
This new life was turning out much better than Severus had had any reason to expect. He'd spoken with Clive Granger's brother Alistair and had been offered a job, which would begin in the coming year, as soon as he possessed some rudimentary computer skills. He'd signed up for the class Annabelle had told him about, and she'd promised to take him shopping for a computer so he could practice at home.
Harry was slowly becoming more verbal, and he had begun seeking Severus out for affection. He would stop what he was doing and hug Severus' legs or climb into his lap. Severus always reciprocated, holding on to the boy for as long as he was allowed, stroking his hair or a soft cheek. He quickly grew to crave this contact as much as the child did.
By insisting that Harry use words to get what he wanted, he was slowly hearing more and more out of the boy. They named objects in the home, and they watched television, and they read books, and all of these things served to increase Harry's vocabulary every day. When he began to figure out that he wouldn't be punished for speaking, Harry began to be more willing to speak voluntarily. Severus also had Harry writing his letters and numbers every day and learning his alphabet. The tot was smart enough – he'd just never had anyone do this for him. Severus was quite certain that by the time fall arrived, Harry would be ready to begin school with the rest of his peers.
Severus was trying his hardest to put his anti-social lifestyle behind him and fit in to this new community. Toward that end, he and Harry walked with the Grangers to the school to meet Father Christmas.
The crowd was large and merry, and Harry held tightly to Severus' hand as they hung on the edge of the room. The children were forming a line to sit on Santa's lap and impart to him the deepest wishes of their heart, so Severus took Harry and joined the queue behind Hermione and Annabelle.
Hermione took an inordinate amount of time with the bearded man sitting in for Santa, and once she was finished, Severus led Harry closer.
"Well, young man," Santa said, his voice deep and hearty, "come and tell Santa what you want for Christmas."
Harry took one look at the large, bearded man, his eyes opened wide in panic, and he literally climbed up Severus' leg and into his arms, hiding his face in Severus' neck and whimpering and trembling in his panic.
Talking calmly and rubbing the boy's back, Severus smiled apologetically at the bemused man and walked toward the exit with him. "Shhhh, Jamie. It's all right. He's gone now. You're safe. I've got you."
Harry was breathing fast and plastered to Severus' chest. "I think I need to take him home," Severus told Annabelle.
"Of course," she agreed, reaching over to rub Harry's head. "Good night, love. We'll see you again soon."
Severus pried Harry off him long enough to thread the boy's arms through his coat, and he took the terrified child home.
That night, Severus was awoken from sleep. Groggy, he looked at the clock only to discover that it was shortly after 3:00 a.m. Unsure what had awoken him, he lay still for a moment, listening to the silent house. When that silence was broken by a whimper, Snape flung back the blankets covering him and hurried to Harry's room.
Harry was in the middle of the bed, his blankets on the floor and the sheet twisted about his legs. He was moving in agitation, his eyes tightly scrunched shut, sweat beading on his forehead. "Pease," he said. "Pease no." His little arms came up to cover his head, as though protecting himself from blows.
Severus knew that touching the boy now stood as much chance of frightening him further as it did of comforting him, but he knew not what else to do. He sat on the edge of the bed and said softly, "Jamie. Wake up, Jamie. It's all right. You're having a dream."
When this got no response, Severus reached out and gently grasped the boy's bony shoulder in one large hand. He shook gently, calling Jamie's name. With a huge gasp, Harry's eyes flew open, but his gaze was vacant, and Severus knew that whatever the boy was seeing, it was not Rafe Carnaby or his bedroom in their new house. "Jamie?"
"No Unca pease," Harry begged.
"Jamie, you are all right. You are here with me. There is no one here but you and me."
Harry's eye's cleared, and he stared around him, slowly remembering where he was and registering that he was in no danger. His breathing slowed, and he looked at Severus, his eyes wide and panicked.
"You're all right," Severus tried again.
Two fat tears rolled out of Harry's eyes, and he looked like he desperately needed a hug but was afraid to ask, his fear of rejection stronger than his craving for comfort. But Severus saw it, and he pulled the boy onto his lap, cradling his head close to his chest, rocking him back and forth. Harry melted into his embrace and sat quietly until he fell back to sleep.
In the morning, Harry padded into the kitchen, where Severus sat sipping tea. "Good morning, Jamie."
Severus watched as Harry thought furiously, seemed to make up his mind about something, gathered all of his courage and crossed the room to stand beside Severus. His little arms rose toward the man, asking to be picked up.
Severus knew in that instant that he could completely crush this little boy's spirit by rejecting him now, so before Harry could even begin to regret what he was doing, he pulled the little boy up, sat him on his lap, and asked him, "What would you like for breakfast?"
Harry didn't answer, slumping against Severus' chest with relief. Severus hugged him tightly, admiring the courage it had taken for Harry to make that gesture, most likely expecting to be rebuffed as he had always been by his awful relatives. This boy had the heart of a lion in him, of that there was no doubt.
Christmas had been a subdued affair. Harry was his usual silent self, but he seemed to enjoy the holiday which Severus had worked hard to plan with the boy in mind. He'd gone a little overboard with the presents, but he figured Harry had some making up to do when it came to receiving presents.
He had taken Harry shopping to pick out a present for Hermione, and he'd seemed to enjoy the giving just as much as he did receiving, which made Harry a truly remarkable child in Severus' eyes. He'd left Harry with the Grangers for an afternoon so that he could shop for the boy. While he was out alone, Severus went through the Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley and sent an owl to Minerva to let her know where they were, that they were doing fine, and what names they were now using. Several days later, through the regular post, he received a Christmas card from his Cousin Minerva, who promised to correspond regularly.
The next several months seemed to fly by. Severus' computer classes were extremely confusing in the beginning. He had absolutely no frame of reference for the skills they were trying to teach him, and he became quickly mired in the new terminology and unfamiliar equipment. Annabelle was very helpful, and after a month, Severus began to think that he might actually be able to learn enough about the intimidating pile of electronics to make it work as it was supposed to. He was mortified to discover that Hermione, at the age of four, knew more about computers than he did, but he soldiered on, and by the end of January, he was ready to begin his first Muggle employment.
Alistair Granger was as generous as his brother. He spent time with Severus getting him set up and explaining the research he was conducting. Severus found it all very interesting and longed to take a more hands-on approach. Alistair assured him that if things went well, he would be willing to allow Severus to take a more active role in the lab.
Severus' work with Harry on his letters and numbers was bearing fruit, and the boy was learning in leaps and bounds. Severus thought Harry would be more than ready to start school in the fall. He was also becoming more verbal by the day and was slowly losing the fears he'd come to Severus with. He had a very active imagination (he liked to pretend the arm of the sofa was a "jagon" which he rode through the sky) and was actively curious (Severus called him "Curious Jamie"). He'd finally come to believe that food would not be withheld for punishment, as Severus let him eat whenever he wanted. The boy was slowly gaining weight, though Severus doubted he'd ever catch up size-wise with his peers – too much had been withheld from him during a developmentally critical time in his life. But the boy was affectionate and loving, and Severus quickly came to wonder how he'd managed to live without the incredible little boy in his life.
And it was a simple word that made Severus realize just how much he loved the boy.
Hermione, followed closely by Harry, raced into the kitchen, where Severus and Annabelle sat sedately sipping tea. "Mum!" the excited girl shouted. "Mum! I hear the ice cream truck! First time this spring! Can we get ice cream? Please?"
"Sure," Annabelle agreed, and she rose to retrieve her purse. "Jamie, you need to ask for permission."
"Go ahead, Jamie," Hermione urged. "Ask your dad if you can have an ice cream. Hurry! We don't want to miss the truck!"
Harry came to stand beside Severus' knee. His eyes cast shyly on his trainers, Harry said, "Dad. Can I have ice ceam?" His pronunciation was still a little shaky, especially when he was nervous or afraid.
Severus' breath caught in his throat. Dad. Harry had called him Dad. Harry had never called him Dad. He always called him Sir or didn't address him at all. And now he was calling him Dad. And he was waiting for an answer.
"Yes, Jamie, you may have an ice cream."
"Tanks," Harry said with a beaming smile.
Severus started to stand to retrieve money from his pocket, Annabelle stopped him. "I've got this." She handed a note to Hermione. "Make sure the truck is stopped before you approach."
"Okay, Mum! Let's go, Jamie!" Hermione grabbed Harry's hand and together they ran from the room.
Annabelle remained on her feet, watching the children through the kitchen window. "The truck stops right in front of the house," she explained.
"He's never called me 'Dad' before," Severus offered, still awed by the simple word.
"Is that why you look so gobsmacked?" Annabelle asked with a knowing smile. "You've done wonders with him, Rafe."
"He's done wonders with me, I think," Severus admitted softly.
Severus' work had been going really well. The work was interesting and challenging, and though Alistair allowed him to participate in simple experiments that could be conducted at the Carnaby home, Severus couldn't deny that he longed for a more active role. When Alistair mentioned that he thought Rafe was ready to join him in a more full-time, hands-on way, Severus had a difficult decision to make.
"So what do you think?" Severus asked Annabelle and Clive. Strangely enough, they'd become his sounding board, for parenting issues and many other things.
"Well, it's obviously an opportunity for advancement," Clive noted. "Alistair speaks very highly of your work. You seem very interested in taking the position. What's holding you back?"
"Jamie. I don't think he's ready for me to become a working single parent."
Annabelle looked at him over the rim of her cup while she sipped her tea. "He's better every day, Rafe. Many children spend the day in the care of people other than their parents. You could enroll him in Hermione's pre-school. They've a great program there."
"While that would be an acceptable alternative, I'm afraid I cannot afford it. I'm not sure Jamie is ready for that type of setting yet anyway. He is still so shy with strangers."
"You could hire someone to come into the house and stay with Harry while you're at work," Annabelle suggested. "There are agencies that will help you find someone."
Severus liked the sound of that more. Harry could remain in comfortable surroundings, which would lessen some of the anxiety he would feel from the separation. "That could be cost prohibitive as well," Severus observed, thinking out loud.
"You'd really only need someone until school starts in the fall," Anabelle said. "Then, Jamie will be in school a good part of the day."
Severus sat back in his chair. This idea had merit. If he could find the right person, someone he felt confident would be good with Harry and someone who was willing to work for a reduced rate, perhaps they could make this work.
"So, Miss Crown," Severus said as he surveyed the young woman sitting at his kitchen table. "Tell me about yourself."
"Well," she said, sitting demurely with her legs crossed and sipping at her tea. "There were ten of us at home, and I'm the oldest, so I've lots of experience with young ones. My mum worked outside the home, and I was expected to care for my younger brothers and sisters. I plan on starting university after I've saved up a bit. I haven't had a real job yet, since my parents expected me to help out at home, so I haven't got references. But I'm a very hard worker, and I look forward to proving that to you."
"And would you be able to start right away?" Severus asked.
"I could start tomorrow," she said with a smile.
Regina Crown was the third person he'd interviewed to be Harry's caretaker when he returned to work, which he was very anxious to do as soon as possible. The first two, women much older and more experienced than the young person sitting here with him now, were very well qualified and would no doubt have been excellent choices. Unfortunately, they both required payment in an amount much higher than Severus could afford to pay. Miss Crown, who had responded to the notice the Grangers had placed in their dental office, was willing to work for a pittance in comparison, as long as Severus threw in two meals a day.
"I would like to meet your little boy," she said.
Severus was impressed by this request. Neither of the other applicants had wanted to meet the child they'd be caring for before discussing details of their employment. "Yes, well, let me tell you a little bit about Jamie first. He is, as I believe I said, four years old. I was not aware of his existence until a few months ago. His mother is dead, the victim of a drug overdose. His life prior to my involvement was not a healthy or happy one. He is quite small for his age, and his speech is quite delayed. He is a very intelligent little boy, and he's working hard to get caught up."
"One of my younger brothers has a speech impediment," Miss Crown lied convincingly. "I'm used to working with him. It will be easy for me to help your little fellow, too, I think."
Severus was liking her more and more. "Well, let me get Jamie then."
Severus left her alone in the kitchen while he went to retrieve Harry from his room, where he had retreated as soon as a stranger had come into their home.
"Jamie," Severus said. Harry was sitting on the floor in his bedroom, playing with his collection of trucks.
"Dad," he said, looking somewhat anxious. "I bein' good."
Severus smiled reassuringly. Harry said that a lot, always trying to reassure the man that he was behaving. "I can see that. There's someone here I'd like you to meet. Would you come out, please?"
Harry didn't want to. This was the third stranger that his father had brought into their home, and Harry didn't know why they'd come, but he was suspicious of new people and change in general. But it had been ingrained in him to obey adults, so he got to his feet and followed his father out to the kitchen.
Harry stood shyly just behind his father, holding onto his leg. "Jamie, this is Regina Crown. Miss Crown, this is Jamie."
Regina got out of her chair and approached the little boy cowering behind the tall man. She knelt down to be on eye level with the child. "Hello, Jamie," she said. "I think we're going to be great friends." She held her hand out toward the boy.
Harry stared at her hand. He didn't like her. He didn't know why, could never have articulated what he was feeling, but he didn't like her, and he edged a little further behind his father's leg.
Severus very much wanted Harry to like this young woman. The sooner they formed a rapport, the easier this transition would be on the child. "Jamie," he urged quietly. "Can you say hello to Miss Crown?"
It sounded like a question, but Harry suspected it wasn't. "'Lo," he said, looking down at the floor.
Regina finally gave up on getting the little brat to shake her hand. "That's all right," she said with a large and very fake smile. "I was shy myself." She got to her feet and smiled up at Severus. "He's adorable."
"Will you be making a decision soon?" she asked.
"I believe I already have," Severus told her. "If you're willing, I'd like you to start as soon as possible."
"I can be here tomorrow," she said with a wide smile.
"Perfect," Severus said. "I will need to leave here by eight."
"I'll be sure to be here plenty before that then."
"Excellent. We will see you in the morning."
"Thank you, Mr. Carnaby," she gushed, seeming very grateful.
"Thank you, Miss Crown." He walked her to the door. Neither of them noticed the glare leveled at both of them by the little boy. When he returned to the kitchen, Harry was gone, and Severus turned his thoughts to how he was going to explain to the little boy why he was leaving him.
After dinner that evening, Snape settled them both on the sofa. "Coobie?" Harry asked.
"No, Jamie. No Scooby-Doo for a few minutes. I wanted to talk to you."
Jamie sat beside him, looking up at him earnestly, looking more than a little apprehensive.
"Remember Miss Crown? The lady that you met today? She's going to be staying with you during the day."
"You goin'?" Harry asked.
"I'll be going to work in the morning, and coming home to you every night. Miss Crown will stay with you while I am away," Severus explained.
Harry's eyes grew wide and moist. "I bein' good," he protested firmly, which for Harry bordered on vehemently. He'd worked very hard to behave in a way that would not anger his father. So far, things had gone very well with this man who had rescued him from the people who hurt him. So why was he leaving him now? "I bein' good," he repeated, this time with his little voice filled with misery.
"Oh, Jamie. I know you've been good. I'm not leaving you because you haven't been good. I have to go to work. And I'll be home every day at five. And you and Miss Crown are going to have a wonderful time while I'm away."
"I go wichoo?" Harry tried.
"No, Jamie, you can't go with me. It's no place for children."
"You no go. Pease."
"I have to go." Harry was making him feel awfully guilty. But many children had parents that worked. They all eventually got used to staying with childcare providers, and Harry would, too. Sure, it would be an adjustment, but they'd get through it. "Can you be good for Miss Crown, Jamie? Will you do that for me?"
Harry would do anything for this man, and he nodded, even as a tear slipped out of one eye.
Harry stood forlornly in the front window watching as his father walked away from him down the front path. Dad had explained why he was leaving, but Harry didn't understand. He liked being here with his father, he liked spending time with him. The rather dark man had never hurt him or said mean words to him. And now, he was leaving him here with this woman that Harry didn't trust on an instinctual level, a woman who reminded him too much of his Aunt Petunia.
"Kid!" he heard Miss Crown bark behind him. Harry whirled around, startled.
"Get in your room!" she ordered.
Harry scurried as quickly as he could to comply.
Harry had stayed in his room all morning. He was bored, but he was afraid to leave his room for fear of what Miss Crown would do to him. His hunger built, and he had to use the loo, until finally, he had to risk it. Maybe he could sneak across the hall to the loo and sneak right back in here without being seen.
Cautiously he inched his door open, peering through the crack. He didn't see anything, but he could hear the television. When the door was open enough for him to slip out, he did so. Immediately, he heard, "Hey, you little shite! Did I tell you you could come out of your room?"
Harry slipped back into his room and closed his door quietly. He was shaking with fear and with the need to pee. Tears fell from his eyes as he lost control over his bladder, and he cried quietly for a time before stripping off his wet clothing and putting on clean and dry pants. Embarrassed, he rolled his wet clothes up and stuffed them under his bed. He'd be ashamed if Dad discovered he'd wet himself. Harry grabbed his stuffed dragon and climbed into his bed, pulling the covers up to his chin and curling around his favorite toy. At some point, he fell asleep, his belly grumbling.
Harry was strangely quiet at dinner that evening, Severus thought. Miss Crown told him that they'd had a wonderful day, playing outside and playing games aimed at strengthening Jamie's vocabulary. Harry had been in his room when Severus had arrived home from work, and he had not come out until Miss Crown was gone. He'd expected a warm and affectionate greeting from his son upon his return home, but Harry had been aloof, staring at him with sad and accusing eyes. If Harry was trying to make him feel guilty, it was not going to work. Snape had had a very stimulating and exciting first day, and he looked forward to returning tomorrow to continue his work.
Though Harry would not speak with him, he ate heartily. He was subdued in the bath and went to bed without complaint. Severus went to bed early himself, tired from his first full day of employment in a long time. He was awakened during the night by Harry, who had the first nightmare he'd had in many weeks.
The following day was much like the first. When his father left for the day, Harry made sure he was already in his room. The morning seemed to drag interminably, and when Harry's hunger drove him from his room, he once again crept out the door and stood hesitantly against the wall.
"What?" Regina snarled from her spot on the sofa. Her mouth was full of a sandwich she was eating.
"I hungee," Harry said.
"'Hungee?'" she repeated with a sneer. "Stupid kid. Get back in your room." She removed the shoe from her foot and hurled it in his direction. Her attention was back on the television, and Harry took a chance and scooted across the hall to the loo. He relieved himself as quietly as possible, then dashed silently back into his room, where he took out the stash of biscuits he'd hidden in here last night. He ate half of them and tucked the rest of them back under the bed. He spent the rest of the day in his room, making as little noise as possible and trying to pretend as though he didn't exist.
Harry was even more withdrawn that evening. Snape tried to draw him out, to get him to talk about his day, but Harry sat silently and sullenly until Severus just gave up.
Harry's third day with Regina Crown was spent in a similar fashion to the first two. Harry knew what to expect now, though, so he made sure to use the loo before Dad left, and when he got hungry, he ate the rest of the biscuits he'd put under the bed two days ago and some of the chips he'd smuggled in from last night's supper. He left some of the chips for tomorrow, figuring he'd do well to plan for the future. It seemed this was to be his life now. The pleasant period he'd enjoyed with his father, the period when the man spent time with him, played with him, cared about him, was over. Harry wasn't really surprised: no one had ever wanted him before. The good times, brief as they had been, had been the surprise. If he had to find a bright side, at least no one here hurt him. Yet. He could be back with those people who had had him before.
Harry was surprised the following day when his father didn't leave in the morning. He was too young to realize that Saturday and Sunday, the weekend, had a different schedule than the rest of the week. Was he expected to stay in his room today? Was this to be his new routine, even though Dad was home? To be safe, Harry retired to his room immediately following breakfast. His father found him there later.
"Jamie, are you going to stay in your room all day?" Severus asked.
Harry looked up at him from his spot on the floor, but didn't say a word.
Severus was getting frustrated by the boy's reticence. Was he going to hold his returning to work against him forever? "It's a nice day. Why don't you go out and play?"
Harry rose to his feet and left the room to get dressed for playing outside. Nearly silently, he slipped out the door into the backyard. Once he got out in the fresh air, his spirts lifted a bit. He'd been inactive all week long, and his legs longed to run and jump. He saw Hermione playing in her yard next door, and he trotted over to the fence separating them and waved forlornly. She came eagerly to the fence and tried to engage him in conversation, but he wouldn't speak with her either.
Severus watched him through the window. What was wrong with the boy? Miss Crown had reported that Harry was lively and talkative during their time together. When he was with Severus, he was quiet and withdrawn. Was Harry trying to drown him in guilt in an attempt to force him to stay home? Severus refused to bow to the boy's juvenile attempts at manipulation. It was good for both of them if Severus was allowed to have a life of his own – Severus would be a much happier person, and in turn, he'd be a better father to Harry.
Severus sighed and turned away from the window when he saw Annabelle in the backyard. The house needed a serious cleaning. He'd begin with Harry's room.
The boy's room was its usual mostly neat self. There were a few clothes on the floor, and when Severus made to pick them up, he kicked Harry's green dragon under the bed. He dropped to the floor to retrieve it, lifting the edge of the coverlet to find the toy. He pulled it out and in the process spotted a pair of jeans rolled up and shoved under the bed and a box that hadn't been there the last time he'd cleaned in here.
Severus grabbed hold of the pants and pulled them out. His nose was immediately assaulted with the acrid smell of urine. He unrolled them and found a still-damp pair of smalls inside the jeans, both smelling strongly. Harry had apparently had an accident, and he'd been embarrassed for Severus to know and had hidden his soiled clothing away. Severus wondered how Harry had been punished by the Dursleys for similar infractions and couldn't blame Harry for trying to hide the evidence.
He next pulled out the box and opened it to find food. A stash of food. Harry had stopped squirreling food away a long time ago, when he realized that Severus was not going to starve him. Why did the boy feel compelled to start doing this again? Was the upset to his routine so disturbing that he was resorting to old, bad habits?
Severus sat on the bed with a sigh. What was going on in that tousled head? He didn't want to use legillimency on the child – he wanted Harry to talk to him, confess his fears, so that Severus could dispel them. He'd give it another week – if Harry hadn't come out of his funk by then, he'd get more aggressive with his attempts to find out what was going on.
By Sunday evening, Harry was starting to thaw a little in his attitude. After all, they'd gone two days without the odious Miss Crown: maybe she wasn't coming back. Harry had missed his Dad, and when the boy climbed into his father's lap and snuggled against his chest while they watched television, Severus realized just how much he'd missed the little imp's affection. Returning to full-time employment had been tiring, and he'd had little time to concentrate on Harry the last few days. So instead of trying to engage Harry and talk to him about his recent withdrawal, Severus went with the feeling of peace and contentment that filled him as they sat together quietly cuddling.
So when Miss Crown arrived again on Monday morning, Harry felt the sting of betrayal even more. This time, when his father came into his room to say goodbye, Harry took a chance. He put his spindly arms around his father's neck and pressed his mouth to Dad's ear. "You no go," he whispered, as quietly as could be so Miss Crown would not hear.
Severus shivered at the ticklish sensation caused by Harry's moist breath directly in his ear. "I have to go, Jamie," he whispered back, though he wasn't sure why they were whispering.
"Pease," Harry tried.
Severus pulled the boy away from him so that he could see the small, serious face. "We talked about this before, Jamie. I have to go. You'll be staying with Miss Crown again. You had fun with her last week, didn't you?"
Solemnly, Harry shook his head no. He most certainly had not had fun with Miss Crown last week. Severus, of course, assumed this was more of the same manipulation the boy had tried previously, and he hardened his heart against the pleading look. He kissed Jamie on the forehead and said, "I have to go or I'll be late. Be a good boy for Miss Crown, and I will see you this evening."
Set on his feet, Harry pondered this last statement. Did this mean that Dad would only see him this evening if he was good for Miss Crown? Harry couldn't take any chances. He would hide out here in his room again today. He would "be good" for the terrible lady, and he would wait for his Dad to come home to rescue him tonight. He refused to say goodbye or even look at his father, and eventually Severus left.
Harry stayed in his room, as planned. He played quietly with his toys, wanting to draw no attention to himself. He heard Miss Crown moving about in the sitting room and the sound of the television. And then, he heard someone at the front door, and the sound of a man's voice. Curiosity overcame his caution, and he slowly opened the door and peeked out. A man was on the sofa with Miss Crown, and they were snogging. Harry covered his mouth quickly so that the "Ewwww" that threatened to escape would stay put. Fascinated, he watched as the man's hands wandered all over the woman's body as he lay nearly on top of her, both their bodies wriggling. The man spoke into the woman's ear, though Harry couldn't hear the words.
They stopped snogging and stood up from the sofa. Miss Crown took the man by the hand and led him down the hall and into his father's bedroom. Harry shrank back into his room and watched them pass. Oh, Dad was going to be so angry when he found out that they'd gone in there! Jamie wasn't even allowed to go in there when Dad wasn't around.
With the door to the bedroom closed, Harry felt safe crossing to the loo. He didn't really have to go right now, but he knew he may not have another chance today, and he was smart enough to grab it. When he returned from the loo, he heard strange noises coming from behind the closed bedroom door. The bed springs were creaking as though Miss Crown and her friend were jumping on the bed. That was strange – in Harry's experience, grown-ups didn't jump on beds and, in fact, discouraged it when children did so. He also heard noises, as though someone was in pain. Groans and "oh's" and even some cuss words. Harry wondered if the man was hurting Miss Crown. If he was, maybe he should go and help her. But Harry didn't like Miss Crown much – she hadn't been very nice to him, and he decided to let her fend for herself. He simply couldn't wait for Dad to get home tonight. When he told Dad that she'd gone in his room, Dad was going to tell her not to come back ever, and they'd go back to being a family, just the two of them, like it was before.
Harry lost interest in the weird noises and returned to his room. A short time later, he was startled when the door to his room burst open, striking the wall hard enough to leave an indent. It was the man, the man who had come to visit Miss Crown.
"Hey, kid," he said, leaning insolently against the door frame. "What's yer name?"
"J-Jamie," Harry said, inching his way backward toward the safety of the other side of the bed.
"J-Jamie," he jeered. "Come here, J-Jamie."
Eyes wide and frightened, Harry shook his head "no".
He took two steps into the room. "I said, c'mere." The menace in his voice was unmistakable.
Reminded strongly of Uncle Vernon and the consequences for not obeying, Harry got to his feet and approached the man slowly. When he was within arms' reach, the man reached out and grabbed Harry by the front of the shirt and lifted him off his feet. He brought the boy close to his face, and Harry turned away from his foul-smelling breath.
"You listen to me, runt," he said. "You tell anyone about my being here today, and you'll be sorry. Unnerstand?" He punctuated the threat with a hard shake, which made Harry's head jerk back and forth and his teeth knock together.
Harry nodded, unable to speak.
"Good. Because if you tell anyone, I'll come back here in the night, and I'll cut your throat while you're sleeping." To demonstrate, he let go of Harry with one hand and drew a finger across his throat. "And then I'll kill your father. You got it?"
Harry nodded again, tears in his eyes.
"Good," the man said, and he threw Harry on the bed. Before he left, he once again drew his finger across his throat. Harry got the message.
Harry had had his bath, and his evening cocoa, and his story, and still he would not go to bed. "What is wrong with you tonight?" Severus asked.
Harry sat on the end of the sofa, hunched up in a small ball, hugging his legs. He wanted desperately to tell his father what had happened today, about the man who had frightened him so. But he believed the man's threat, he believed that he would come here tonight and hurt Harry if he disobeyed, so he kept still. But he couldn't go to bed, he just couldn't. He couldn't close his eyes because the minute he did, the man might come anyway.
Severus sat beside him, and Harry leaned into his solid warmth and safety. He trembled with the need to unburden himself. But what if the man came and killed not only Harry, but also his dad? He loved his dad, and he couldn't bear the thought of him being hurt like that.
Severus pulled Harry onto his lap and held the boy close. He couldn't understand what was troubling the boy. Was all of this a reaction to his returning to work? Would things get better after some time went by and Harry was adjusted to all of this? Severus sometimes felt so overwhelmed by and inadequate for this parenting job he'd taken on. He stroked Harry's back and smoothed down his unruly hair until he realized that Harry was asleep. He stood up with the boy in his arms and took him to bed, tucking him in gently.
Hours later, Severus woke to find Harry snoring lightly beside him in his bed. He thought about returning the boy to his own bed, but decided instead to leave him, and he went back to sleep with the warm little weight beside him.
Harry lived in a state of agitation for the remainder of the week. Miss Crown's "friend" had returned twice more, each time threatening Harry in new and terrifying ways if he told anyone what had been going on in the house. He was eating less and less as time went by and the nerves gradually took hold of his stomach. He was becoming more and more withdrawn from Severus as he blamed his father for leaving him every day in this untenable situation. And yesterday, Miss Crown's friend, just before he'd left, had told Harry that today, they would be playing a very special game with Jamie. He'd squeezed Harry's penis painfully through his pants to indicate what type of game he had in mind. Harry had slept in his cupboard last night.
Severus had seen the changes in the boy and had no idea what to do about them. He was beginning to believe that his returning to work was not the entire reason behind Harry's drastic change in personality. They'd been doing so well, and Harry had slipped back to nearly the state he was in when Severus had first taken him. He had a few extra minutes this morning – he intended to speak with Harry, who had not come out for breakfast, in his room. He found the boy curled up on the floor with his dragon, between the bed and the wall.
"Jamie, what are you doing down there?"
Harry only curled into a tighter ball.
Severus sat on the edge of the bed. "Please come out."
Harry looked up at him, his eyes large and blue and oh so afraid. Severus was startled. Was Harry afraid of him? "Jamie, are you afraid of me?"
Harry shook his head.
"Then what has got you acting this way? Come here," he coaxed. "Come and sit with me."
Slowly Harry unwound, stood up, and climbed into Severus' lap. Severus' arms went around the boy, who was trembling, and they sat together until Harry's little body began to jerk with large, painful sobs. He simply couldn't hold the misery in any longer.
"Jamie? Jamie, what is wrong?" Severus asked. He pushed the boy gently away so that he could look into Harry's face. Tears streamed from his eyes as he cried soundlessly. "What is it, my boy? What has you so upset?"
Harry wanted so badly to tell him, he would have told him, but he couldn't find the words, both because he was incapable due to his age and because the sobs wracking his chest wouldn't allow him to force words from his throat. He could only cry and cling tightly to his father's shirt, his knuckles white with tension.
Severus stared down into the distraught face of his son. Harry was crying too hard to speak, and there was only one way Severus was going to get information. Wordlessly and wandlessly, he dove into his son's mind.
"Oh, Jamie," Severus breathed when he returned. "Oh, Jamie, what have I done?"
He'd seen it all – that woman's treatment of Harry, the man she'd brought into their home and his threats against his son, Harry's fear and despair that this was to be his life from here on out. Severus had been so eager to spend his time productively and had been so interested and intrigued in his work that he had refused to hear what Harry had been trying to tell him. He had been so selfish, thinking only of himself and what he wanted, and he had put Harry through hell. He had been fooled by Regina Crown, had thought she would be good for Harry, but she'd been exactly the opposite, and it would probably take months for Harry to recover from this.
"Jamie," Severus said, holding Harry's tiny face in his large hands. "She will not hurt you again. You will never have to see either of them again. I am so sorry, my son. I am so sorry." He pulled Harry against his chest and held him tightly. Harry was still crying, though he was quieting some, and Severus was struggling not to cry himself. A knock sounded on the door, and Severus knew he had a job to do.
He held Harry tightly for another moment, then shifted him off his lap and onto the bed. "I'll be right back."
While he strode to the front door, Severus fought to keep his temper in check. He wanted badly to make this woman pay for what she'd done to Harry, but he couldn't end up in prison. What would happen to Harry then? So when he opened the door, he didn't immediately hex the woman into a million pieces, though his glare could have scorched human flesh.
"Miss Crown," he growled.
"Mr. Carnaby," she said with a bright smile. "You have a nice day. Jamie and I will be just fine. I thought we might take a walk to the play park today. It's such a beautiful day."
Severus glared down at her. She had a lot of nerve, he had to give her that. "You will not be stepping foot in this house again, Miss Crown. And you will never come within miles of my son."
Now she looked confused. "I'm sorry, sir, is something wrong?"
"Yes, something is wrong. I know how you've been treating my boy. I know about the man you've been bringing here. And I know that he has threatened and put hands upon my son. You I merely wish to inflict pain on. Were he here, I would likely commit murder. My suggestion is that you leave, now, while I am still in control of myself. I cannot guarantee how much longer that will last."
"You owe me for this week," she baldly stated.
"I suggest you go to the authorities and try to collect," Severus suggested. "When they come to speak with me, I shall tell them everything."
She stared up at him for a moment before deciding that he wasn't going to budge. "Arsehole," she spit, then turned and stocked away. Severus couldn't help himself. With a flick of the wand still in his pocket, he hexed her with a particularly insidious and embarrassing rash which would affect her and her partner.
"She's gone," Severus told Harry. "And she won't be coming back."
"Gone?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Gone," Severus confirmed. "Forever."
Harry smiled tentatively.
"Come, Jamie. We've an errand to run, and then we're going to the zoo."
"Zoo?" Harry repeated, and his smile grew larger.
"Zoo. Are you interested?"
Harry was grinning now, and he nodded vigorously. "Monkeys?" he asked. Harry really liked monkeys. His favorite books starred Curious George.
"Yes, there will be monkeys. Though you'd better be careful. The zookeeper might think you belong in the cage with them," Severus teased.
So after visiting Alistair and explaining their situation and agreeing to go back to the way things used to be until Harry started school, he and Harry spent the day at the zoo. Harry had a wonderful time there, pointing excitedly at everything, and practicing his words at Severus' insistence. By the time they arrived home, Harry was exhausted and nearly asleep when Severus tucked him into bed. "I seep wichoo?" he asked sleepily.
"How about if I lay here with you until you fall asleep?"
"Okay," Harry agreed with a yawn.
Severus settled himself into the bed with Harry snuggled up against him. Harry was soundly sleeping within moments. Severus looked down at him and brushed the hair from his forehead. "I'm sorry that I put my own wants and needs above your own, love. When I took you away from your previous life, it was to protect you from people who did were not concerned with your best interests, and I am disheartened to find that I have become one of them. I vow to you now, my son, not to let that happen again." Severus kissed him on the forehead before getting up and tucking the boy in. "Good night."
Harry slowly but certainly improved after Severus ended their disastrous association with Miss Crown. For a solid week, Harry hung fearfully back in his room each morning until Severus went in and assured him that the bad lady wasn't coming back. Finally, after a week, he seemed to believe it, and they returned to life the way it used to be.
To be continued . . .