AN: This chapter contains talk of abuse and neglect, and abuse apology from abusers.
Severus adjusted his robes around him one more time, then looked to his companions. The Headmaster was dressed in one of his louder and more flashy robes, a deep royal blue with shimmering suns and moons near the hem. Minerva, who had only left Saint Mungo's this morning, had opted instead for an old-fashioned, high necked set of robes in a more subdued maroon, and Severus, of course, was in his perpetual black. They looked ready to blow the Statute of Secrecy to smithereens, he thought, and the idea gave him deep satisfaction.
Petunia wouldn't like this one bit.
"Are we ready?" Dumbledore asked genially, as though they were about to take a stroll. Minerva nodded, and Severus gestured towards the floo.
Minerva entered first, disappearing in a whirl of green flames. He waited a moment, so that she would have time to move away from the fireplace, before tossing a handful of the floo powder and whispering, "Arabella Fig's."
He arrived after a long moment of spinning and nearly tripped over a cat running past the fireplace. He caught himself on the back of a small settee placed nearby as if for just such a purpose. "I'm sorry, Severus," Arabella said, scooping up the cat. "Mr. Tibbs does like to see visitors right away, and it's very inconvenient." This last part, she said directly to the cat in her arms, who did not appear to be bothered by her scolding.
"Cats do as they wish," Severus replied, siphoning ash from his clothing and moving aside to make room for the headmaster.
"Indeed," Minerva said, and she smirked slightly. She and Arabella gave each other a fond look. Of course they would know, he thought.
Albus came through then, and also siphoned ash from his clothing. "Greetings, Arabella," he said. "Thank you for allowing us use of your floo this afternoon."
"Of course, Albus!" Arabella replied, her wrinkled old face cheerful. "You're always welcome, you know that." She scratched behind her cat's ears, then released him to the floor. "I'm very glad you're going to have a discussion with Harry's family, you know. They don't treat him like a family ought, I've said it time and time again."
Severus wondered, had she told this to Albus? He didn't think she had known exactly how poorly Harry Potter's family had treated him, because squib or no, she would not have allowed some of the things he had seen in the boy's mind. A mental image of the woman attacking Vernon Dursley with an oversized handbag, cats at her heels, ran through Severus' mind, and he smirked slightly.
"I know, Arabella, and we are here to rectify that," Albus replied, patting her hand. "Now, we must be off or we'll be late for our appointment."
Severus knew that Albus had not made an appointment, as such, but he also knew that Vernon would be home from work at any moment, and Albus' timing had always been rather good.
Severus glanced out of the front window as Albus finished his conversation. A shiny car was making its way down the street, and pulled into a driveway. He watched with narrowed eyes as large, walrus-like man got out of the car and went inside the bland, identical house marked with a 4.
"And we shall be off," Dumbledore said, and Severus opened the front door for Minerva and the headmaster. The three of them walked down the street, conspicuous yet unnoticed, as no one was on the street save a few of Arabella's kneazle-cat hybrids.
It was Severus who rapped on the front door of Number 4 Privet Drive, and he stood in front of his co-workers. After all, Dumbledore had reasoned, with a glimmer in his eye, Petunia would know him best out of the three of them. It made sense.
Severus' dark sense of humor had enjoyed Albus' reasoning.
Petunia's rather horsey face appeared in the window, and Severus felt dark amusement at the shock on it. The door burst open. "What are you doing here?" she hissed, before glancing to his co-workers behind him. "He's not meant to be back for another WEEK, and I won't take him early! I won't!" She brandished a rolling pin in his face.
Severus pushed it aside, wondering if this was the same one she had used to batter her nephew. "We are here to discuss summer arrangements for Harry Potter," Severus said, not bothering to keep his voice down, "and if you do not want your entire neighborhood to be aware of the horrible way you and your family have treated the boy, I would suggest you invite us in."
Her eyes darted from him to Minerva and Albus, then past them to the quiet street. "I...I...Vernon!" she called.
"Was that, perchance, the same rolling pin you used to beat your nephew?" Severus asked, his voice low and pointed. Her eyes went wider, and she stepped back. Severus used the opportunity to push past her, followed by the others.
"Now wait a minute-" Vernon Dursley said, coming into the entryway. "The boy isn't even here! There's no reason for you to be!" He grabbed his wife around her waist and pulled her back to him. Severus couldn't tell if the gesture was meant to be protective or if he was using the skinny woman as a shield.
Albus closed the door to the outside, and a flick of his wand locked it. Both muggles jumped as though he'd threatened them.
"Let us make our way into the parlor, shall we?" Albus said, stepping towards the Dursleys. "There is a conversation regarding Harry that we really need to have."
They nearly tripped over each other, backing away. "I-I don't think that's necessary," Petunia stuttered, even as her feet traveled backwards.
Severus watched as Albus herded them into the sitting room. The big man tripped over the leg of the sofa and ended up sitting with a loud, "Ooof!" Petunia landed in his lap, then scrambled to sit at his side, her hand against his chest.
Albus pulled up a chair and sat in front of them, and conjured a second for Minerva with a flick of his wand, which caused the muggles to gasp and clutch at each other's hands. Severus stood behind Albus' left shoulder, watching menacingly.
"You...you can't do that stuff here!" Vernon Dursley sputtered in protest. Petunia just watched, wide eyed and jittery.
"I think you will find that we can," Snape said acerbically. "And I would suggest that you close your mouth for the present time and listen." He crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow.
Both of them shut up, staring at the wizards in front of them.
"When I left young Harry with you," Albus said, his voice soft, "I made some assumptions. He was an adorable child, with chubby cheeks and those beautiful green eyes, just like his mother's. He was well-loved, curious, intelligent. I assumed that any mother would fall deeply in love with this poor, orphaned boy.
"He was, after all, the same age as your son. The boys should have been brothers, raised together, given the same opportunities. I assumed that your distaste for magic would be overcome by your maternal nature, because after all...who could blame an innocent for war?"
Petunia and Vernon were breathing shallowly, their eyes locked on Albus.
"I was told that you took rather reluctant care of the child, but did not include him as a member of your family." Albus' voice became harder. "Indeed, I was told that although you did not love him as you should, that he appeared to be fine. He grew into a rather lonely, skinny little boy, and it was plain that he didn't receive the love and support he deserved, but he was alive, healthy, and self-reliant. I wanted better for Harry, but he needed to stay here, and as he did not appear to be harmed, I could not justify changing this situation. He was safe from Voldemort and the Death Eaters who wanted him dead, and that was my greatest priority." Severus suppressed a flinch as a sick jolt traveled up his left arm. " If he was perhaps, not as happy as I would have hoped, he was still all right. That, I assumed, was all I could ask. After all, I had promised you that as long as took care of the boy, the wizarding world would not interfere."
Severus felt a slow burn of anger in his chest. They had not cared for the boy, and worse, Albus had known. Maybe not the extent, not the degree of neglect nor of the abuse, but he had known all was not well at the Dursleys, and he had allowed it to continue.
"We would not have interfered, as per our agreement...except that you broke it. And you have been breaking it for years," Albus said, and his voice made the tiny hairs on the back of Severus' neck stand up. "It has come to our attention exactly how poorly you have treated your nephew." Severus watched as both Petunia and Vernon's faces went pale.
"We took the boy in, d-didn't we?" Vernon stuttered. "Fed him, kept a roof over his head! We never-"
"You never cared for him, never provided anything but the most basic of necessities, and often not even that," Snape snarled at the man.
"We did! He got everything that he needed!" Petunia said, her voice squeaking.
"Everything he needed? Do not tell us such bold faced lies Petunia. The wizarding world can do many things that the muggle world could hardly dream of. One of those things is called Legillimency." There was no comprehension on her face. Severus pushed slightly. "Muggles might call it 'mind-reading' although it is more complex than that."
"Severus," Albus said sternly, raising his hand in a prohibitive gesture.
"Do not worry, Albus. I would not violate her mind so." He saw her face go nearly grey with fear. "I was teaching your nephew how to avoid allowing another to read his mind when I saw some of the things that you, your husband, and your son have done. Do not pretend that you took care of that child in any meaningful way!"
He stalked towards the pair on the couch, surprised when neither Minerva nor Albus tried to stop him. "I saw your care. You hit that little boy with a frying pan and locked him in a cupboard like he was a house elf! And you," he rounded on the rotund man, who flinched away, "I saw how you belted him, until he bled! Were he a muggle, you would have physically scarred him from the force of it! And that was when he was a tiny child! And then he got older, and you hit him with your fists! That is not child-rearing, Dursley!" Snape snarled. A hand on his shoulder pulled him back, and Minerva met his eyes. Her eyes were too knowing, and he let out a snarl and walked out into the entryway, trying to get a hold of himself. He never, not in a million years, would have thought he could get so worked up on behalf of Harry Potter, and yet here he was. He had a lump in his throat and fury burning in his chest.
He breathed deeply, occluding the memories he'd received from the boy's mind. Memories from this be-damned house.
He could still hear the Dursleys, though. "He deserved it, always doing those freaky things! What was I meant to do with him? Sending things flying all the time, blowing things up, disappearing! He would have torn our home to pieces!" Petunia sputtered.
"A magical child will perform accidental magic," Minerva said scathingly. "As Albus informed you the very night he left Harry with you. I saw the letter he left. He explained it quite clearly, and gave you his contact information-"
"We weren't about to get a bloody owl!" Vernon yelled. "I didn't want the boy at all, and Petunia convinced me that we needed to keep him, so that this Voldie-whatsit wouldn't find us and kill us all for being related to that freak! She said that we'd be safe as long as he lived here. So we kept the little freak, just like you wanted!"
"That child saved the world." Albus' voice was chilling, and Vernon Dursley stopped talking. "Yours and ours, both. He must stay here, for his protection and yours. I cannot and will not force you to love the boy, although he deserves to be loved. I will, however, make sure you do not mistreat him again."
"Are you going to...magic us?" Petunia asked, her voice very small.
"No," Albus said. "The only magic that could change your behavior towards the boy is both illegal and immoral. Instead, the boy will come home with a guardian."
"We aren't housing another one of the likes of you in this house!" Vernon blustered.
"His guardian is a dog, Mr. Dursley," Minerva said, her tone acidic. "A magical dog who will protect Harry with his life. As long as you treat Harry with basic decency, you have nothing to fear from him."
"A...a dog?" That was Petunia. "Just a dog?"
"A guard dog," Minerva said. "He is of the breed known as a 'Grim.' They tend to be known as harbingers of death, but as long as you do not mistreat either Harry or his dog, you will not be harmed." She sniffed. "Though you deserve it."
Severus walked back into the parlour. The Dursleys looked dubious, but were still obviously frightened by the wizards in front of them. "So we leave the boy and his mutt alone, and things will go back to normal?" Vernon asked shakily.
"Not quite, Dursley," Snape said, and watched as the man jerked again. "As I do not trust either of you not to treat the boy like something disgusting you stepped in, I will be coming here several times each week to check on Mr. Potter. He will be taking lessons with me, and he will have the opportunity to tell me of any mistreatment at your hands. And should I hear of any," and here Severus paused and glared at each of them for a long moment, "you will be very, very sorry."
"You...you can't threaten us!" Dursley said indignantly, puffing up his chest. "We're British citizens! We have rights!"
"So does the boy," Severus said silkily. "And to be frank, I care more about his rights than yours. So you will treat him with decency. And as long as you respect his rights, I shall not violate yours." He pulled his wand from his sleeve and held it loosely in his hand. "Do we understand each other?"
The pair on the couch looked at each other, having a brief and somewhat frantic conversation with their eyes. "Yes, yes, fine. We'll leave the boy alone," Petunia said.
"Oh, we will need to be more specific than that," Albus said. "I made the mistake of believing that you understood basic human decency once before, and trusted you to treat your nephew well. You did not do so. So we are going to have a remedial lesson this afternoon and clarify exactly how you will act towards Harry while he resides under this roof, for both your safety and his." He turned towards Minerva. "Will you and Severus see to Harry's room while the Dursleys and I discuss this?"
"Certainly, Albus," Minerva said. She stood and looked to Petunia. "Where is Harry's room?"
Petunia looked faint. "U-upstairs," she said, barely a whisper. "The...the door has a...cat flap."
Minerva's eyes narrowed at that. "You do not own a cat," she pointed out, her tone glacial. Both Dursleys cringed back against the sofa. She turned towards the stairs, and Severus followed her. He nearly stepped on her heels when she stopped abruptly.
"I told you they were the worst, most classless sort of Muggles, Albus, did I not?" she hissed, nearly feline in tone. Petunia looked highly offended, her lips pressed in a flat line. He imagined she did not appreciate being judged by a witch.
Albus nodded. "You did," he replied gravely.
She turned her nose up slightly and began making her way up the stairs. Severus followed, feeling very glad that he was not in Albus' shoes. Minerva was going to let him have it later.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Minerva hissed again. Severus saw Harry's room immediately and clenched his fists, trying to contain the urge to go back down the stairs and curse Petunia and her walrus of a husband into oblivion. It had a cat flap on the door, all right, and no less than four separate locks. On the outside of the door. As if the boy was some sort of dangerous animal.
"This canna be real," Minerva said. "The lad's nae a monster!" Her voice trembled with fury.
"After treatment like this, he ought to be," Severus found himself saying. His gut twisted, looking at that door. He had so misjudged the boy.
He'd thought it was arrogance that pushed him to pull all those dangerous and idiotic stunts, but looking at those chains on the door,he could see that Potter had been trying to prove that he had worth, even if that worth was only as cannon fodder. Severus had been furious with the boy in his first year when he had saved Granger from that troll, thinking the boy had so arrogantly believed he could take on a troll. But he hadn't thought that, Severus realized. He simply hadn't believed his life was worth anything at all.
Severus had been trying so hard to bring the boy down a notch, thinking he was an overindulged little berk with delusions of grandeur. Looking back on it, though, and knowing that this was how he'd been treated, he could see that all of those stunts had been, at their core, Harry Potter believing that his only worth came from being able to protect someone else. "Merlin," he breathed.
Minerva took a step towards the door and shifted seamlessly into the form of a grey tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes. She sniffed warily at the cat flap before poking her head through, followed by the rest of her.
That was probably a good idea, Severus thought. She would notice things as a cat that even the most astute human would miss. He walked up to the door and inspected the locks.
They were heavy chains, he noted, thick and attached to both the door and wall with strong, reinforced bolts. The door was a strong oak, and much tougher than the flimsy bedroom doors in the rest of the hall. Had they expected this boy, perhaps 5'4, at most 125 pounds, to break down the door?
He flicked his wand and the locks came loose easily. Another disgusted flick banished them. "Good riddance," Severus muttered.
He stepped into the bedroom and his stomach twisted again. He had seen this rather desolate room in Harry's mind, but the reality of it was worse than the memory. The bed was rickety and covered in a threadbare blanket, and he could see a spring poking through the worn mattress. A sad, flat pillow sat at one end. A shelf on the wall held a few broken toys and a couple of tattered paperbacks. The bare window had a chunk missing from the sill. It smelled a bit musty too.
Minerva came out from under the bed and shifted back into her human appearance. "There is a loose floorboard under the bed," she said. She looked shaky. "Severus, if you could smell the things that I can as a cat...there has been so much pain here."
Severus did not know what to say to that. Instead of trying to use words, he went to actions. He used his wand to push the bed and move the floorboard aside, then crouched and peered inside. He reached into it and retrieved several mangled plastic army men and a folded piece of paper with yellowing edges. Cautiously, he unfolded the paper.
It had a young child's crayon drawing, unremarkable...except for the subject matter. A giant, bearded man was flying across the night sky on a motorcycle. Minerva gasped.
"Is that...Hagrid?" she said.
Severus nodded. The size of the man relative to the bike was ridiculous, as was the sprawling brown beard across the drawing's face. The fine-motor skills of the drawing said the boy had drawn this many years before Hogwarts.
"Surely he couldn't remember that," she said, echoing his thoughts. "He was just a wee bairn!"
Severus gently folded the picture back up and placed it into his pocket, along with the plastic figures. "We need enough space to do some training in here," he said brusquely, ignoring the ache in his chest. "How are your Undetectable Expansion charms, Minerva?"
She gave him a long look, and Severus knew she wasn't fooled by his change of subject. Thankfully, she did not push. "They're nearly as good as Albus' own," she replied finally.
"Let's begin, then," he said.
They worked quietly. Severus left the expansion to Minerva, since Charms had never been his strongest suit, and instead focused on cleaning charms. At least if those failed, the boy wouldn't end up crushed in a suddenly smaller room.
Minerva had just finished the last of the expansion spells when they were interrupted by a soft knock. "How are things coming along?" Albus asked.
"Very nicely," Minerva replied. "And your conversation?" She pushed a stray hair off her face.
"I have made the expectations abundantly clear," he replied. "I also took the chance to alter the wards. Anyone attempting to forcibly remove Harry from the house will end up in my office at Hogwarts." He looked at Severus then. "Including the Dursleys."
Severus nodded. He would need to talk to the boy about this before the school year ended.
Albus looked around the room, which was much larger but still cold and barren. "May I?" he asked, lifting his wand.
"Please," Minerva replied. "Merlin knows that interior design has never been my cup of tea."
Watching him, Severus decided, was a bit like watching a conductor of a symphony. One flick fixed the broken windowsill and added a second, enchanted window to the new expanse of wall that looked out on the Hogwarts ground. The next hung curtains in Gryffindor red, created from one of the broken toys on the shelf. An expansive wave coated the walls with fresh paint in a soft grey, and a swish turned the rickety bed into a lovely mahogany four poster with fluffy pillows and a warm duvet exactly like the ones in the Hogwarts dorms. Another flick created the squashy armchair that Albus favoured, although this one was red and gold striped to match the rest of the room. A short jab turned another broken toy into a thick rug to cover part of the floor, and the next created a dog bed from a deflated soccer ball. In the other part of the room, which Severus had mentally designated for training, a shredded book became a thin, padded mat covered the ground, making room for physical exercises.
"There should be wash facilities as well," Albus noted. "We could squeeze a little more space over here." He waved his wand again and a doorway appeared in the wall. Albus entered it. Severus looked to Minerva.
"I ought to have thought of that," she said softly. "The less Harry has to interact with his family, the better."
"Perhaps a stasis cupboard as well?" Severus suggested. "I'm sure that odd house elf of his would be willing to keep Harry and the mutt supplied with food?"
Minerva's eyes widened momentarily, and Severus realized that he had used the boy's given name. He narrowed his eyes at Minerva, daring her to mention it.
"Indeed," she only said, and removed a pair of stacking blocks from the shelf on the wall. A wave of her wand turned them into a handsome mahogany armoire. Severus opened it and silently spelled it for stasis. Being a Potion's Master, his stasis charms would last longer than he would.
"There!" Albus said, sounding satisfied as he left the new washroom room he'd created. "Harry will, of course, be able to adjust it to his liking, but at least he will return to something pleasant."
"It is a blindingly Gryffindor sanctuary," Severus said, a bit snidely. This day had thrown him horribly off-center, and he needed to return to his usual self before returning to Hogwarts. "I am sure the boy will be overjoyed."
"Yes, he does tend to take great enjoyment in ordinary pleasures," Albus replied. "I had assumed it was because magic was so new to him." The headmaster's eyes were sad. Severus could hardly argue with him.
"He will be comfortable here, Albus. And he will have Sirius for company, and Severus will keep an eye on him," Minerva said. "Perhaps Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley will be able to visit him as well."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Wonderful. I will have to contain the Golden Trio as well as the ill-trained mutt. You may have to pay for my stay in St. Mungo's this fall."
Albus smiled. "Well, we should be returning now. I promised Filius we would return by the evening meal. Shall we?"
Minerva nodded and turned in place, disappearing with a crack. Albus took one last glance at the room with a satisfied nod, then followed. Severus took a deep breath.
The door needed a lock. He could remember being a young man, being afraid of his father and his drunken rage. He had never used magic against the man, unable to raise his wand to him even when his hatred raged. But Tobias had been a muggle. A simple, strong lock on his door had kept him protected.
He truly doubted the Dursleys would bother the boy this summer, between the fright they'd just had and the giant dog Harry was bringing home. Not to mention his own intermittent presence. But psychologically, he was sure the boy would appreciate the lock. On the inside, where such things belonged.
He concentrated, and with a sharp jab, said, "Partum cincinno!" A bronze lock appeared above the door handle. Severus studied it, and decided he was satisfied. This would protect the child, rather than imprison him.
Minerva and Albus were waiting at Hogwarts' gates, and if he didn't arrive soon, Albus would suspect he was...re-educating...the Dursleys. He was tempted. Best not, though.
He took a deep breath and turned on his heel, disappearing with a crack.