Severus Snape hates a lot of things. He hates dunderheads, foolish Gryffindors, and children in general. It’s a publically known fact that he loathes James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew – never mind that two of them are already deceased. He is quite capable of hating them as equally in death as he had in life, thank you very much. He also hates teaching, insufferable know-it-alls, self-entitled arrogance (certain platinum haired godsons notwithstanding), and meddling old coots. He quite dislikes stupidity, divination of all sorts, and – if he’s being honest – owls. They’re messy and an absolute menace to a well-kept potions lab.
Of course, all of this pales in the light of summer. He hates summer more than anything else in the entire world.
He hates it because he knows that as soon as the imbecilic little ankle biters are gone that it will start itching again. That he’ll have, at most, the length of time it takes the Hogwarts Express to travel from Hogsmeade to London before the vow begins to hound him. This particular one, made on November 2, 1981, burns like cuffs around his wrists. The first time he had felt it – or rather, the first time he had been aware of it – had been in the summer of ’84 and it had itched like he had stuck his hands in a vat of bubotuber pus without gloves. Given his profession and his inclinations towards spell and potion creation - with all the inevitable experimentation that goes along with that - he had passed it off as a simple reaction to something that he had been working with. He’d taken a cleansing bath and ignored it, sure that it would go away within a day or two.
Except it hadn’t gone away. Ever. In fact, in many ways it had gotten worse. More than once the pain of it had woken him from a fitful sleep, tears streaming down his stoic cheeks and an unspoken scream clawing at his throat.
It had taken him another seven years to realize the source of the itching and burning. It had abated down to practically nothing at the beginning of the most current school year and then, oh then, it had flared to something just a few steps below a good crucio when Potter’s broom had started bucking and fighting to throw its rider off a hundred and fifty feet up in the air.
The vow. The unbreakable vow he had taken to protect Lily’s son.
If he hadn’t been so busy countering Quirrel’s jinx and putting out the fire that Miss Granger had spelled onto his robes he probably would have passed out. Or screamed.
He’s learned to live with the pain since then. It’s certainly too much to ask that Potter might avoid being in danger for any significant length of time. The insolent brat.
Still, ignorance had been bliss.
It is bad enough when they’re at school, when he’s in the middle of a lecture or grading papers or – Merlin forbid – a potions lab and the low buzz at his wrists turns into full-fledged inferno. It’s worse that such a thing doesn’t stop when Potter leaves the wizarding world.
No, if anything the buzzing gets worse.
“Hogwarts is the safest magical place in Britain, especially for young Harry,” Dumbledore had waved off the first time he had brought his concerns to the headmaster. “I fear that once he is away from the school the threat from Voldemort and his Death Eaters only rises.”
“Then keep him here,” Severus had spat.
“I cannot. The blood protections on the boy are strong and must be renewed by living in proximity to the blood of those that cast them. They keep him safe enough while he is away and I do keep an eye on him.” The old, twinkling eyed coot had nodded at the shelf of silver and glass instruments across from his desk.
Severus has listened to that conversation, or a variation thereof, many times over the last handful of years. He’s listening to it right now, in fact, barely tracking the familiar words as he stares at Dumbledore with no small amount of contempt, his arms crossed over his chest.
“…threat from Voldemort is higher than ever. He knows the prophecy now, no doubt he ripped it out of poor Harry’s head, and I have managed to destroy something of value to him,” Dumbledore intones, the blackened flesh of his hand twitching with the last statement. Outwardly, Severus knows his face is the epitome of cold disinterest but inside, behind the safety of occlumency shields that not even the Dark Lord has been able to break, he snarls. “His power and knowledge are increasing, as is his desperation. It is a dangerous combination, Severus. Most dangerous.”
Even a year ago he would have accepted – but not quite believed, because he likes to think that he’s become a great deal less gullible in the last decade and a half – the explanation and let the subject matter drop.
But a lot changes in a year.
“The Dark Lord has always been dangerous,” Severus points out silkily. “And he is not the one that worries me.”
Dumbledore’s bushy eyebrows nearly fall off his head. “Is there something you need to tell me, Severus?”
Truthfully, Severus can think of quite a few things that Albus would classify as need-to-know should he, in fact, know that Severus knows them. Which he doesn’t. Thank Merlin.
“Nothing that you do not already know,” he drawls and barely resists the urge to roll his eyes. “It is his home life that I am worried about.”
“His home life?”
If the old fool’s eyes sparkle any harder Severus thinks that he might go blind.
Severus picks his words carefully. More carefully than usual, at any rate. “I do not think that with…” That Bitch Petunia and the piece of flabberworm excrement she had managed to procure as a spouse “…muggles is the best place for the so-called Chosen One.”
Albus suddenly looks like someone has kicked his puppy. Or phoenix. Yesterday had been burning day, it seems. The pathetic potential is nearly at maximum for the crimson and gold flaming chicken.
“Severus,” the disappointment in the headmaster’s voice is enough to make him want to hurl. “They are his relatives, his only living family. It would be a great disservice to keep Harry from those that love him just because they don’t have magic. I thought you beyond such petty foolishness.”
He stares, absentmindedly rubbing his wrist against the softness of his robes as he struggles not to drown in some sort of desperate laughter. “Love him?” he repeats quietly, thinking of the memories that he had seen and felt.
Dumbledore stares him reproachfully. “Of course. They are his family. Of course they care for him.”
Oh, you blind old fool, Severus growls behind his mental walls. Do you really not see? Or do you simply not care?
Given that Severus himself had not seen until he had literally witnessed it happening he admits that the chances for the former are higher than he would like. Of course, given a great number of Dumbledore’s decisions over the last couple of decades he can’t rule out the latter either. Or perhaps the twinkly eyed bastard has finally gone senile.
Perhaps it is a mixture of all three.
The grimace stays buried with his thoughts and he fights the urge to grind his teeth as the lines of magic around his wrists give another jerk.
They beat him, he wants to say. I watched ‘Tuney strike him in the side of the face with a frying pan for burning the bacon.
They starve him, he longs to point out. You know that nearly every adult in this castle has remarked on the brat’s small stature. Have you never wondered why?
They’ve beaten him down and robbed him of all affection, he wants to snarl. Merlin, ‘Tuney and her beast of a husband and their lard of a son make his father look loving. They’ve taught him that he’s worthless.
And doesn’t that just explain… pretty much everything, actually… of the last handful of years.
He wants to shout, to yell, and break every damn thing left in this office. Not that there’s nearly as many of the absurd little devices as there used to be, thanks to Potter. He wants to lean over the desk and shake Dumbledore until the headmaster understands but he doesn’t. He can’t. He tells himself that he doesn’t want to invade the boy’s privacy any more than he already has. He tells himself that Harry wouldn’t appreciate his secrets, his weaknesses, being aired for public consumption. He tells himself this and it’s even the truth. All good lies are.
The truth of the matter is that in the dark, quiet recesses of his heavily shielded mind he fears that Dumbledore already knows every injustice that Potter undergoes – that he knows and does nothing. He wonders and he is too much of a coward to ask.
Suddenly unbelievably weary, Severus rubs at his wrist and lets Dumbledore steer the conversation into less rocky waters.
Severus is still thinking about it when he leaves the Headmaster’s office.
He had been angry, so unbelievably angry, after their first occlumency lesson. It had been awful enough that he had been instructed – by both masters, nonetheless – to not actually teach the boy anything of use. Rather, he was supposed to use the time to rip Potter’s mind open. The Dark Lord wanted to exploit the connection, Dumbledore wanted to provoke the Dark Lord into revealing himself. Both had gotten what they wanted and not only had Potter been caught in the middle but he’d had to endure a man he hated rooting around in his head like an overexcited niffler, crippling visions, and – thanks to both of the former – the loss of his beloved godfather.
Shit. He hates the stupid mutt, but even thinking about the whole thing makes Severus want to drink until he’s staring at the bottom of the bottle. Multiple bottles.
Wearily, he pauses in the shadows and pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s getting to old for this. Too old, too tired.
Merlin’s saggy balls, he’s thirty-six. Thirty-six.
So he had ripped the boy’s mind wide open, as requested, and what should fall out but memories that had made him want to vomit all over his office floor. To grab the boy and hold him and promise him that he would never, ever have to go back to that bloody house. To march straight up to Dumbledore’s office and strangle the man with his absurd beard and demand what in bloody hell made him think that Petunia Evans would be a suitable caretaker for a magical child.
But, contrary to popular belief, Severus Snape does control his temper. He has lost too much to choices made in a rush of emotion. So he waits and continues their lessons…
… and then the brat looks in his pensive.
And then he’s drowning under a whole different tsunami of anger.
And then the mangy mutt dies.
And now he’s standing here in the shadows of the alcove on the second floor that the bloody Hufflepuffs like to use for their more amorous pursuits, rubbing at his wrists and wondering if his life could possibly get more complicated.
So of course the magical bindings pick that moment to go from uncomfortable burning to fiendfyre against his skin and the suddenness of it takes Severus to his knees.
Arabella Figg’s garden is a mess.
Severus’ lip curls in disgust as he steps out from behind an overgrown rhododendron bush and into the still, buzzing warmth of a late afternoon in Little Whinging. The tangle of vegetation obviously agrees, leaves faded and limp beneath the weight of an unheard of English sun. Wordlessly, he flicks his wand and sighs a little in relief as the cooling charm washes down the back of his neck and spreads over damp skin. Still hidden by the ungroomed hedge and the wooden slats of the fence he transfigures his frock coat into a hair ribbon, which he uses to pull his hair back from his face. His boots, trousers, and deep green button down are all close enough to muggle fashion as to pass unnoticed but he does take a moment to undo the top few buttons and roll up his sleeves to the middle of his forearms.
And reinforce the glamour over his dark mark, of course, because he is not a dunderhead.
Notice-Me-Not and Muggle Repelling charms in place – a duo which, in combination with actual muggle clothing, is more powerful than a Disillusionment spell, doubly so with his versions because he’s woven in some minor memory charms that encourage those who see him to forget what little they see – Severus steps over a cat lazy on the gravel walk and makes his way out of the squib’s private jungle.
He wants to run, to fly, to move in a blur of twisting black smoke across the hazy blue sky and eat up the distance between him and Potter as fast as he can. But he can’t. It would attract too much attention. Not from Albus, because if the old fool can still believe that Potter is fine when Severus’ wrists are being sawn from his wrists by the weight of his oath then clearly the headmaster’s monitoring wards are faulty or simply not there to begin with. No, he is more worried by the prospect of actual observation both from the nosy muggles and from the Order of the Phoenix member on guard duty.
Severus spares a moment to hope that it’s not Lupin camped out near the boy’s house today. He hadn’t had the time or the presence of mind to grab the potions necessary to mask his scent and the spells aren’t exactly foolproof. Not to mention that he has serious doubts about being able to perform the necessary wand movements when his hands are trembling like this.
So he ignores the way his muscles are twitching and the way his heart is seizing oddly in his chest and strolls calmly down the street until he reaches the hedge at the corner. There he pauses and peers casually up the length of Privet Drive to the tree across from number four and inspects it for the tell-tale shimmer of movement that denotes a disillusioned being. The paltry, dappled shadows are empty and still and he’s not sure whether to sigh in relief or growl at the fact that Mundungus bloody Fletcher has clearly abandoned his post again. He’s going to strangle the useless bastard. Or feed him to a werewolf.
“…in the car Duddykins! We don’t want to be late for our reservation!”
The familiar shrill voice tears Severus away from thoughts of punishment for the dirty, shifty-eyed little thief. It’s been twenty-one years since he’s heard that voice but it’s not one he’s ever likely to forget. If nothing else, it’s still as sharp and braying as it had been when she’d been screaming at them – at him, at Lily – across the park. Petunia Evans. Dursley, he corrects himself as he eyes the woman currently hustling an enormous, lumbering boy towards the back of the car. She hasn’t changed a bit in the last two decades. Oh, she’s clearly older, with lines bracketing her lips and eyes, and she likely colors her hair, but her face is still a little too long, her lips a little too thin – and made even thinner by the way she keeps them pressed together. She’s still the ‘Tuney that he’s despised and pitied for the majority of his life.
“…the finest for our son!” a fat, red faced man adds in as he follows Petunia and the fat boy out of the house. “Got to celebrate, haven’t we? That’s my Dudley, Smelting’s Heavyweight Champion!”
Severus sneers. The boy is certainly a heavyweight something.
Thankfully it is only a few painful – utterly painful – moments before the trio of Dursleys are tucked inside of their vehicle and pulling out of their driveway, all of them utterly ignorant of the dark haired man strolling across the street as they leave. Nor do they see him pause on their front porch, staring at their front door like he expects it to strike out and bite him.
Part of him, the part that has spent five years staring at Potter’s face and seeing nothing more than the boy’s bloody father staring back at him, wants to turn around and leave. He’s not supposed to be here, after all. He’s not even supposed to know where here is. Surely Potter is okay. His relatives certainly wouldn’t be going out to celebrate if he wasn’t.
Severus chokes back the snort that pulls at his throat. He doesn’t need memories or even the burn of the oath to know that that hope is utter hippogriff shit.
He eyes the door. He has come this far, left Hogwarts without warning and violated Albus’ standing orders to not contact or disturb Potter while he is at his relatives. How could he not with his promise burning around his wrists so fiercely that it is only by the sheer strength of his occlumency skills and his conditioned tolerance of pain that lets him stand and move when he should, by all rights, be screaming on the floor.
It takes nothing more than a wandless alohomora to get inside the house.
The shock of it leaves Severus standing in front of the cracked open door for nearly a full minute. All of these years, all of the times he has stood before that enormous desk and bit back his hatred for James Potter and informed the headmaster that the oath was acting up again and been soothed with reassurances of powerful wards and monitoring charms and yet here he is. He is a dark wizard and a marked Death Eater and yet he has been able to stroll up to Number Four without a by-your-leave and breach the security of the home with nothing more than a first year spell.
An overly ornate lamp in the far corner of the sitting room shatters beneath the surge of his anger and he snarls wordlessly in response, struggling against the emotions and shoving them back behind the smooth emptiness of his occlumency shields. Shaking, he leans back against the door and takes several deep breaths while rubbing at his wrists. “Where are you, Potter?” he mutters, once he finally has his emotions back under lock, stock, and key. The brat is here. He can feel it. The oath is practically buzzing against his skin. Taking another deep breath he shuts his eyes and drifts through his mindscape, mental fingers drifting over potion stores until it comes across the vial of powdered asphodel that represents his oath. The moment he touches it is aware of it, glowing like spell fire and taunt like a string drawn between him and Potter. He follows it, drifting silently up the stairs and down the hall to a door.
A door locked by seven different types of locks and fitted with a small cat flap.
Severus shuts his eyes and forces himself to let go of his wand before he inadvertently snaps it. Or burns the house to the ground around them in a surge of sheer, furious, wordless will. When he has the rage shoved down and locked away in a box of fresh aconite he undoes the locks with a wave of his hand, unwilling to touch them with his bare skin, and pushes the door open.
The smell of blood hits him hits him in the face immediately, the overly artificial lemon of ‘Tuney’s cleaning chemicals no longer able to overcome it in the face of a lack of air flow. “Merlin and Morgana,” he breathes as he steps across the threshold and stares at the room. It is a small room. He knew that, had seen it in Potter’s memories, but truly the memory hadn’t done it justice. Less than ten feet square there’s nothing in it but an old single bed, a desk, and a wall covered in shelves holding a remarkable number of broken toys and a small handful of books. There are no longer bars on the window but he can see where they were once attached.
There is, however, a smear of blood on the floor and the size of it literally makes his heart stop in his chest, occlumency shields be damned.
Nothing else is out of place. The bed is still neatly made - though the thin blanket and lumpy pillow make Severus scowl - and the desk is neatly organized with a stack of books on one side and a half filled piece of parchment lying in the center of it. There’s nothing on the floors, save for the empty owl cage in the corner, and not a speck of dust to be seen anywhere. In fact, the only thing marring the room is the violent mar of crimson spread across the floor: a puddle and a scarlet arch that disappears beneath the bedframe.
Severus gets down on his knees and peers under the bed.
“Merlin,” he breathes again at the sight that greets him. Kicked under the bed are a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, but beyond them he can make out the golden expanse of flesh huddled against the back wall. “Potter?” he calls gently.
The flesh does not move and his heart limps against his ribs.
When there is still no response, no twitch of movement or whisper of sound he doesn’t hesitate to move the bed away from the wall with a slash of his wand. The ball of flesh flinches at the sudden light streaming across skin brushed with blood and painted in bruises. For a moment Severus just stares, the sight of Potter, huddled and broken completely whiting out his mind until it is so empty that even the silence of it rings. Because this, this can’t possibly be the boy who has sat in his class for the last five years and matched him glare for glare. This can’t possibly be the boy who dives hundreds of feet in pursuit of a shiny metallic object. This can’t possibly be the boy who has tangled with the Dark Lord not once but five bloody times and emerged from each encounter with his life. Nothing he knows of Potter – rash, foolhardy, brave, and impetuous Potter – fits with the cowering, quivering lump on the floor.
Nothing? He asks himself silently as he sinks back down next to the boy. Now you’re just lying to yourself, Sev. He’s seen the memories inside the boy’s head, not all of them, and clearly not the worst of them, but he’s seen them. There have been other signs over the years, signs he should have paid more attention to, signs that he should have…
Severus shakes his head sharply. “Harry?” he calls again and the boy whimpers, curling tighter and pressing himself to the floorboards as if he wishes to simply sink through them and be gone from this horrid little room. Severus doesn’t blame him. Waving his wand he quietly casts a basic diagnostic spell and watches, his face growing paler and paler as he watches the spell lit words scroll past his gaze. Broken ribs. Pierced lungs. Internal bleeding. Dislocated shoulder. Broken wrist. Concussion. Dehydration. The list goes on.
In short, injuries that are far beyond his abilities to heal. If they had been simple flesh wounds – slices, cuts and the like – he could have healed them, at least partially. Likewise wounds caused by dark spells he could have countered and unwound or at the very least put into stasis and while potions could heal a great deal they were usually secondary measures, given after the charm work had been done. Simply put, he’s too educated, too specialized. He's an unlicensed medi-wizard who deals almost exclusively in potions and curse wounds – and he doesn’t need to see the darkening finger marks on Potter’s arm to know that this damage has been done by foot and fist.
Gently he slides his fingers across the boy’s neck until they rest, light as a butterfly, on the point of his pulse. “Easy, Potter,” he murmurs when the boy jerks like he’s been struck. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to check your pulse.” It’s only partially a lie. The diagnostic spell is already telling him the boy’s pulse: thin and weak and far, far too slow. He just wants it to be wrong.
Severus shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. He has to get Potter out of here, now, and to medical help. But to where? And whom? His first thought is to take the boy to Hogwarts but there are two problems with that. First, it is very likely that Poppy is not there as she frequently spends the summer holidays traveling to study and work in clinics around the world. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the fact that Albus is there and he does not trust the man with Potter’s life. Not now. Not anymore. He could take the boy to St. Mungos even though it would likely spark a complete shit storm with the press. Especially as they’ve spent the last couple of weeks heralding him as the bloody Chosen One. Plus, the boy is still underage and Albus is his magical guardian. The headmaster would be notified as soon as they stepped foot in St. Mungos or any other magical clinic. He could take Potter to a muggle doctor. If no one looks past the surface they might pass as father and son. As long as Harry remains unconscious, anyway, or delirious. He rather imagines that getting into a shouting match with the boy in the middle of the A&E coupled with the superfluous use of last names would likely dispel that image rather quickly. Besides, the moment Potter’s core is stabilized the boy will start healing at a rate that is positively alarming and that is sure to bring either Albus or the Ministry down upon their heads.
Christ, he’s not really sure which meddling idiot terrifies him more: Albus or Fudge.
Severus blinks and stares down at the young man that he has spent so much of his life simultaneously hating and mourning. Familiar green eyes peer up at him through that ridiculous mop of black hair, their surface glassy and dull. Beneath his fingers the boy’s pulse jumps and stutters. Severus’ own heart nearly leaps out of his chest.
“Obviously,” he drawls to cover the sudden surge of terror. “Try not to speak or move. Your injuries…”
“…not tha’ bad,” the boy slurs, his eyes – Lily’s eyes – drifting shut. “…’snot real. You…wouldn’t…nice’me.”
Something that feels suspiciously like a tear slips down his cheek and drops off the line of his jaw.
He has to get Potter how out of here. If there is any hope of the boy recovering from this he needs to do what he should have done years ago. He needs to actually keep his oath, the one he had sworn amidst anger and grief and pain, instead of pushing it aside and accepting the platitudes that Albus bloody Dumbledore provides as an excuse to neglect his duty to Lily’s son.
In the end, he undoes the transfiguration of his frock coat with a touch of wandless magic. He can’t bear the thought of wrapping Harry in the threadbare blanket from his bed or – Merlin forbid – the ratty clothes lying on the floor.
The house is quiet as he moves across the hall and down the stairs. Almost unnaturally so. It should be louder. There should be noise. Battle, perhaps, or at the very least a dozen voices raised in concern as the heralded Boy-Who-Lived, the mighty Chosen One slowly dies in his arms. But there isn’t. It’s just them. Just Severus Snape, reviled Dungeon Bat, Death Eater Scum, and all around Greasy Git. Just another unkindness to heap upon Harry Potter.
The Fates seem to like kicking him just as much as they like kicking Severus.
Well, fuck them.
The street is empty, as far as he can tell, though he has no doubt that at least a half dozen mindless busy bodies currently have their noses pressed to the glass somewhere in the hopes of scenting out some juicy secret in their neighbors’ mediocre lives.
The thought alone has him pausing halfway out the door. The lack of wards on Petunia’s house had been appalling and almost entirely absent – some residual blood magic, anti-apparition and anti-portkey wards, and little else. But he wonders as he stands on the front stoop with a black wrapped body in his arms, why all of these imbecilic gossips had never once bothered to report the abuse clearly happening right before their eyes.
Gaze narrowing speculatively, Severus carefully shifts the bundle of Harry Potter and flicks his wand in a spell that he has performed so many times in his miserable life that he could quite possibly perform it even when fully unconscious. He’s certainly done it while half asleep more times than he can count. His magic follows the curve of his wand like a whip, snaking past the tremors and the agony in his skin and gliding through the air to touch and taste.
He doesn’t know what shocks him more – that he finds exactly what he suspects or that he expected it in the first place.
That’s it, then. He can feel the last of his loyalties going up in smoke even as he strides – carefully, so bloody carefully – down the walk to the invisible line at the street marking the edge of the anti-apparition wards.
“I’m sorry Harry,” he murmurs into the thatch of black hair. “This will not be pleasant.” The unconscious youth does not stir in his arms and there’s that to be grateful for, he supposes. Severus can only hope that the unconsciousness holds. He knows from experience just how painful apparating with injuries such as these can be. “Lily, please forgive me,” he adds hoarsely and then turns on his heel.
He knows of exactly one healer that will not go running to Dumbledore. Or the ministry.
The soft crack of his disappearance is all but lost to the lazy hum of the heated street and it barely provokes a flicker of the front curtains from Nosy Number Seven.