Present Day Author's Note: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, a Jedi apprentice wrote stories in her spare time. Actually, about eight years ago in law school, a law student unwound during exam time by writing hurt-comfort stories. This story is one of three ficlets that I posted exclusively to a small website which is now defunct, alas, and I've been asked by several readers to re-post them. So sorry it took me this long to get around to it!

Obviously, since this is from 2005, it is AU after OOTP (no Horcruxes, no Half-Blood Prince, nada - HBP wasn't out yet). This was my theory on what would REALLY happen if Uncle Vernon took a swing at his nephew. It takes place during the summer after Harry's fifth year. This is a Snape-POV companion piece to Defensive Magic, which is Harry's POV of the same incident.

WARNING: There is some unkind language in this story - Snape is not a polite person.

Five minutes, they told me.

Mundungus Fletcher had been "called away on an unavoidable matter," so they said, but this time he had the good sense to send for a back-up guard. But Shacklebolt and Tonks wouldn't be available from their work at the Ministry until three, and there was no one else with combat training present at Headquarters.

If the past few years have taught the Order anything, it is never to have a guard on Privet Drive who does not have combat training.

"There's no one else here, Severus!" they said. "It's only five minutes! Tonks and Kingsley will be along as soon as they've signed out."

So off I went, to baby-sit Harry bloody Potter. Five minutes, they said. Five ruddy minutes.

The first minute or two went rather as I expected. I heard the boy before I saw him, using language that would have shocked any other member of the Order save myself, Fletcher, and Moody. What the brat was swearing about, I hadn't the faintest idea, but if he was hale and hearty enough to swear, there was no need for me to move closer to investigate—although I have to admit I was impressed by his repertoire. I didn't know Potter was so well-educated.

I settled my Disillusioned self on a convenient rock in the boy's front garden—it appeared to have been placed there deliberately, as was the case in several other gardens on the street; who can explain Muggle artistry? It gave me a decent view of the front of the house, into the windows, and from there I watched Potter stomping into the house in an apparent snit.

He was cradling his hand, and from the gardening tools left in the flower bed, I deduced that he'd given himself a splinter or a thorn. Nothing to worry about.

So I cannot deny that when I heard the boy's uncle wearing him out for his language, I was amused...and gratified, yes. Why shouldn't I have been? It was refreshing to know that the brat's relatives would not take any cheek from him nor put up with any melodramatic celebrity posturing on his part.

Or so I thought.

Over the fat man's bellowed ranting, I could not begin to hear Potter's explanation, and so I was standing up, looking directly through the window, when the man struck the boy hard enough to throw him off the bottom of the stairs and into the wall.

For a split second, I could not believe my eyes. Surely Harry Potter's guardian would not strike him.

Surely. Not.

And then there was a surge of magic inside the house, defensive magic that I recognized instinctively, and I was charging across the garden and through the door.

I am uncertain of what I expected to find when I entered that house. But it was not a fat blivet of a man quivering like a dying fish on the stairs and a skinny teenager pointing his wand at me.

Fortunately, Potter came to his senses, which was impressive enough given the screeching spindly female in the sitting room doorway and the caterwauling of that beached whale on the stairs. A Ministry owl arrived only seconds after Potter lowered his wand, dropping what was undoubtedly the notice of having registered the boy's magic and intention to investigate.

Operating purely on instinct by this point, I took the missive before Potter could open it and go into hysterics over a possible Ministry sanction—how I remembered it in that chaos, I don't know, but I somehow recalled that the child had already been threatened with expulsion once.

Then when he tried to take the letter back, he looked at me, and I saw his face.

Potter's left cheekbone, just below the eye, was already an angry dark red and swelling rapidly. I could even see the darker spots where the hardest part of the man's knuckles had impacted, telling just how hard Harry Potter's uncle had hit him.

In the face.

With his fist.

The man was four times Potter's size, and had struck him so fast and so hard that the boy's defensive magic had not been triggered until afterward.

He had struck his ward, his charge, and knocked the child right off the stairs into the closet door behind.

It was not as if I had not seen innocent people beaten—and worse, much worse. It was not as if I had not seen Harry bloody Potter injured before—far more injured than this, as it happened.

But the sight of the boy, blinking at me in confusion as I withheld the letter and attempted to examine his face, alarmed me in a way I did not expect. Perhaps it was because Potter's bewilderment had nothing to do with the fact that his guardian had just punched him in the face and everything to do with my coming to his assistance. And then when I saw his hand, his stammered attempt at explanation led me to believe that that injury too had been inflicted by the uncle. And that Potter was for some unfathomable reason attempting to excuse the man.

At that point I stopped thinking, and simply dragged him bodily out of the house.

Five bloody minutes they had told me, and I had seen a child whose life we were trying to safeguard for the sake our entire future beaten and bloodied by those first and foremost charged with his welfare.

Contrary to what many at Hogwarts would assume, I am not a man blind to my own faults. I am ill-tempered, utterly disinterested in tact, inclined to hold grudges for decades against individuals and the very human race. I am not a good man. Certainly not a kind one. And I am not inclined to stirring passionately over the injustices visited on my fellow man.

But as I led the bruised and bleeding Harry Potter from his home, within the confines of which he had been assaulted by his own guardian, I knew no emotion save rage.

How dare he?

I have little use for Squibs or Muggles, but I was grateful at that moment for Figg's presence, as her fussing over Potter gave me the opportunity to clear my head—which was fortunate for the guardians, who had the temerity to follow us to the street.

And had Figg not taken the opportunity to visit her wrath upon Dursley via her handbag and not-inconsiderable lung capacity, they would have suffered my wrath—which might well have landed me in Azkaban. But as Arabella was taking care of letting the Muggles know her displeasure, I had the opportunity to concentrate on my charge—specifically, my admittedly irrational insistence on keeping him within my physical control and nowhere near his aunt and uncle.

Whatever my ill feelings toward the brat, at least I had taken Albus's instructions to heart.

I very seldom lose my temper with Albus Dumbledore. I suppose I owe the man too much for that.

Never in my life did I imagine that I would be driven to it for the sake of Harry Potter.

But Dumbledore is not omnipotent; even I know that. He has certain blind spots, particularly as relating to the depths of depravity to which human beings can descend—wizard or Muggle. I suppose one might even blame him for much of what has befallen the wizarding world. On one hand, he has taken notice of danger stirring long before the Ministry...on the other, perhaps if he had recognized Riddle for what he was to BEGIN with...

If wishes were Firebolts...

But I saw at once at Headquarters that Albus was out of his depth where Potter's welfare was concerned. I would presume that one with no concept of the cruelty that men visit on those in their power would be unable to comprehend that abuse of a child is never a one-time occurrence, but that does not explain how Molly Weasley recognized it and Albus did not.

Then again, Molly Weasley understands many things about children that no one else does. I suppose it is the only explanation for that brood she reared by choice—and the strays she constantly takes in.

Harry Potter has a way of making strange allies. Molly, Lupin, and myself, against Dumbledore. Albus was as surprised as I was. But none more surprised I suspect than Potter himself.

I don't know why I did it. Albus didn't ask. He hadn't broached the subject all. I expect he intended to teach the boy himself now.

But when Shacklebolt and Tonks returned and made their report, I handed her a vial of Bruise Healing Potion and heard myself say to Albus, "Now that he is here, we should resume his Occlumency training."

Do not ask me why. I don't bloody know. We have a war to win, after all, and whether I like it or not, the Potter brat will be a central figure in it.

More infuriating still was the fact that even after I departed, I could see the boy. The image of him seemed permanently ingrained in front of my eyes, stammering excuses for the bruise on his face. Excuses for the man who had put it there.

Do not mistake me: it is Potter I was angry with.

Have you no self-respect, boy? No pride?

But as I made ready to endure the brat's company for another interminable number of evenings, I recalled the memories I had seen in his mind during the first ill-fated round of lessons.

I had thought those memories came to the forefront because Potter was trying to hide them: bad points, things he wished to conceal, as I did with my memories.

But no. Potter was highly inept during those first sessions, and he knew too little about occluding the mind to even begin to prioritize those memories he wished to keep from my sight. He tried to pull them away when I found them, of course, but that was not the reason I constantly saw him humiliated and punished at the hands of his guardians.

The memories were frequent because they were so plentiful.

As much as I owe the man, I resent many of the choices Albus Dumbledore has made in his leadership of the Order of the Phoenix. Granted, we would be far worse off without him, but that does not mean our successes have not had their price.

I admitted to myself long ago that I was to be a knight on Dumbledore's chessboard, forever on the front lines in the war. I accepted it because, in that place in my mind that I prefer to forget exists, I know it is my due. It is the price I pay for the choices I have made, and by the reckoning of decent men (among whom I do not number myself) I have paid cheaply indeed.

But Harry Potter...

What was he paying for, all those years?

How ironic that I should have such thoughts, given the vicarious vengeance I visited upon him for the sins of his father—oh no, I do not deny it. I am well-acquainted with my darkest impulses, and when it comes right down to it, tormenting a schoolboy for his father's deeds is among the least vicious things I have done. It's a question of prioritizing.

I know myself. I am a cruel man.

But until I brought that boy from his home with the mark of his guardian's fist upon his face, I never considered Dumbledore a cruel man.

Nor took offense at this puppet dance we are all doing upon his stage.