31 Aug 1991 - Night
His family didn't care. Not about him. If he suffered that was just fine by the Dursleys. Curled up in his cupboard, with the tatty old quilt that he'd been wrapped in when he was a baby, Harry Potter shivered and tried to pretend that he wasn't crying softly.
Uncle Vernon had burned it. Everything. Every page of every book for the classes at what would have been his new school of Hogwarts, was gone. His new clothing, his robes, the wonderful, leather boots he'd found at the second hand store. Those were gone, too.
Oh god! And his wand! It had made him feel so very safe and for once, unafraid. Uncle Vernon had angrily broken it under his foot, grinding it into slivers of wood and a mangled phoenix feather. Harry now had those pieces clutched in his hand.
Harry's throat hitched and he gulped back the noise of his crying.
No. He hadn't lost the beautiful snowy owl, his very first gift ever, to his Uncle's impotent rage. Hedwig, such a smart bird that she was, had bitten Uncle Vernon's fingers as he'd tried to drag her from her cage. For a heart-sickening moment, when it seemed Uncle Vernon solidly held the angry owl, Harry was certain that would have been it for his familiar.
“No!” Harry fell to his knees. He knew pleading with his uncle was futile. It might even make him angrier. Still, as Hedwig fluttered frantically against the bars of her cage as Vernon tried to catch the blasted bird, Harry begged with all his might. “Don’t hurt Hedwig!”
“What’s the matter with you, Freak?” demanded Vernon. He kicked at the stupid boy kneeling at his feet. He let out a howl of terrible pain as the bloody owl bit his hand viciously.
Harry watched in horror and triumph as Hedwig flew out of her cage as his Uncle Vernon growled angrily and in pain. Hedwig flew down the hall past Harry’s Cupboard and out the front door just as Dudley came in from the outside. Dudley let out a screech and ducked away from the white bird that screeched at him as she flew away.
His uncle's fury had become worse, but Harry was so thankful that Hedwig had escaped, that he felt none of the blows from his uncle's fists.
Now, though, in the shadows of the small cupboard that had been his since he could remember, Harry’s body throbbed in painful protest in various places. Tears dropped upon the baby crib mattress, but Harry did not give in to the desire to let out gulping, anguished sobs. As he bent nearly double over his arms wrapped over his belly, he kept the hurt and the pain to himself.
Hedwig? Are you all right? Where did you go? Only weeks had passed but for Harry the time had crawled by as his aunt and uncle took out their anger at the letters, at Hagrid, and all his freaky magic on him. He fell asleep wondering, not for the first time, what he'd done to make his relatives hate him so.
1 Sept 1991 - Morning
Harry was sharply awakened the next morning by his Aunt Petunia who had kicked the door of the cupboard to jar him from a heavy, pain induced slumber. That was the closest she ever came to touching her nephew whom she looked upon as a piece of filth she was unable to scrape or scrub away. Unsympathetically, the thin, pinch-faced woman watched as Harry hobbled as quickly as he could to the downstairs bathroom. He was able to wash his face and to empty his bladder before his aunt's exasperated voice hurried him.
"Take this!" Petunia ordered shoving a glass of water and two aspirin at her nephew.
Harry sighed, but obediently took the medication. It never helped. None of the cough syrups, or pills, or aspirins his aunt did deign to give him ever did what they were supposed to do. He shrugged and tossed the aspirin into his mouth and followed them with several swallows of water. At least his body did a fair job of healing itself.
"Hurry up and cook breakfast, Boy," ordered his aunt as she headed up the stairs. "This is an important day for Dudley."
Head bowed, Harry hurried into the kitchen and began to pull out all of his cousin's favorite breakfast foods.
Of course it's an important day for Dudley, Harry mused within his mind. Dudley was going off to a prestigious school that cost lots of money. Harry would have been going off to the mysterious Hogwarts today, as well, if his uncle hadn't burned everything and chased his familiar away.
Later, while the Dursleys ate the overly sumptuous breakfast and fussed over their son, Harry was shuffled off outside with a piece of toast, the last of the milk in the jug, which smelled kind of funny, and a list of chores to be done that day.
It was nearly noon and Harry was spreading fertilizer and wood chips to prepare his aunt's garden for winter. A hoot from the tree behind him distracted Harry momentarily. With a wary smile, he peered through the sun's rays to the snowy owl that perched upon one of the branches.
"Hedwig!" Harry was ever so pleased to see his familiar. Knowing that she was alive soothed much of the hurt over his lost wizarding possessions. The bird flapped down to his shoulder and nudged her head gently against his bruised cheek. "I sure hope you got something to eat," he murmured as he rubbed his bare wrist against the owl's breast. His hands were covered by large, garden gloves.
Hedwig hooted softly several times and then dropped something in his lap.
"What's this?" asked the small boy as he shucked off his gloves and picked up the neat, rectangular envelope of parchment. He turned it over and noted a red seal stamped with a curious insignia of a snake in the shape of an "S".
Once more Hedwig hooted and then flew back up into the tree just as Harry broke the seal and unfolded the envelope to reveal a short note. He settled on the ground and began to read.
Please present yourself this evening at 7 o'clock sharp to be escorted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. Your trunk is to be packed and you are to be wearing your school robes. If you are not ready, I shall be terribly displeased.
The Headmaster, who is no less busy than anyone else, has requested that I take time out of my own busy schedule to escort you to school. I expect a full explanation as to your most discourteous behavior in not having arrived at Hogwarts as your fellows did.
Professor of Potions
With an aggrieved sigh, Harry folded up the letter and tucked it into the pocket of his overlarge jeans.
"He doesn't sound like a nice sort," muttered Harry as he bent back to his gardening. He knew that whatever that Headmaster or what's-his-problem-snarky Snape wanted of him wasn't going to happen. By seven he'd be hidden away in his cupboard while his aunt and uncle watched television. Snape would get a rude awakening when Uncle Vernon told him that the freak wasn't going to school because freaks were too dumb to waste money for school on!
1 Sept 1991 - Early Evening
Harry was caught off guard at five o'clock when he went to wash up so he could get dinner ready for Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. Aunt Petunia was all dressed up and flittering about the house with an insipid smile upon her face. When she took a moment to notice Harry, she scowled.
"Into your cupboard, Boy! Vernon and I are going out to dinner tonight to celebrate and we don't need to see a reminder of you at any time this evening. So, keep it quiet!"
"Yes, Aunt Petunia," Harry crouched down and dutifully entered his cupboard. Just as his aunt was about to lock the door, Harry entreated, "Please, Aunt? Can't I have some dinner?"
Petunia slammed the cupboard shut and Harry yelped as his fingertips had been caught. "You're a burden, Boy! You'll get nothing tonight!" The lock clicked thoroughly with a sharp snick and moments later, Petunia was heading up the stairs for some last minute primping.
Harry curled up on his side on the thin mattress, drawing his injured fingers to his chest and cradling them. Silent tears dripped onto the mattress as his fingers throbbed painfully.
Hagrid, the giant who had delivered his letter and taken him to Diagon Alley for all his wondrous new things, had told him how his parents had really died. An evil wizard had killed them, but his spell to kill Harry had backfired, leaving him alive with the curious lightning bolt scar upon his forehead and the evil wizard dead. As the child closed his wet eyes, he wished very much that the evil wizard had killed him, too.
1 Sept 1991 - Ten minutes to 7pm
Severus Snape was rarely in a pleasant mood and this errand that he'd been cajoled into by the Headmaster made any potential pleasantry run, screaming, in the other direction. Because of a foolish vow he'd made, one night, to Lily, he was now on his way to Little Whinging, #4 Privet Drive.
It seemed that Harry Potter, the arrogant son of James Potter, had taken it upon himself to not join all the other first years on the Hogwarts Express. The spoiled brat had, it seemed, decided to stay home, making this journey by Snape necessary. The note that he'd sent after breakfast had been an afterthought when the unknown snowy owl had shown up in front of him at the Great Hall.
--earlier during the Welcoming Feast--
"Oh dear," sighed Dumbledore as he spotted the pure white owl now looking expectantly at his Potions professor.
"What?" snapped Snape. He been preparing for the new term late into the night and had gotten very little sleep.
"If I am not mistaken, I do believe that owl belongs to Harry Potter," sighed the Headmaster. The bird pecked at Snape's bacon and he growled at it. Hedwig merely hooted and snatched the piece the wizard held between his fingers. The Headmaster had laughed and Snape was prepared to cast a wandless, silent hex at the older man. Maybe something to make his shorts itchy.
"Oh, do lighten up my boy," chided the Headmaster. Snape huffed, wondering, if once again the man was psychic. Snape knew Dumbledore would never use Legilimency on him; he was too good an Occlumens. "After all, we did discuss the problem of Mr. Potter this morning and you..."
"Yes, yes, yes," Snape waved his hand, both to shoo away the owl and to shut the Headmaster up. "I have already agreed, have I not, Headmaster?"
"That you did, Severus, and I am quite grateful that you will be looking after the young boy. I've no doubt he will need someone to look..." The rest went unheard as Snape's attention had been diverted by a distinct, scathing sort of snort coming from the Deputy Headmistress and Head of Gryffindor House.
"Have you something to add, Minerva?" asked Severus slyly. The older woman's tight expression practically dripped contempt towards Albus Dumbledore and it intrigued the elder Slytherin.
"Those... Muggles," she snapped under her breath. "I knew they were the worst sort..."
Albus interrupted, "And I did explain, my dear, that the Blood Wards were important to the child's survival. That, and you cannot honestly tell me that Petunia Dursley would turn away her only sister's child. Lily adored Petunia!"
That, it seemed, was the end of that. Snape, knowing what he knew about Petunia Evans, added that knowledge to what little Minerva had said, and was now, at least, curious to know what had kept Harry Potter from the train and thus from coming to Hogwarts. Curiosity aside, though, he was still put out that he was nothing more than the Headmaster's errand boy, and if that child did not have a reasonable explanation, well, he would rue the day, that was for certain. So inspired, Snape penned the small note, and gave it to the obnoxious owl, and Hedwig flew off, leaving the Potions Master to the remains of his breakfast in peace.
Snape had Apparated to Privet Drive, without a thought to changing his robes into those of Muggle wear. After all, he had instructed the boy to wear his robes, so it would be inconsistent if he'd insisted upon the wizarding clothing, yet had not shown up himself properly attired.
A simple Disillusionment Spell solved the problem of any Muggles seeing him, though, and he marched up to #4, and was immediately fuming as he saw no sign of life at the little house. Not a single lamp was lit either within or without. No one, it seemed, was at home. Snape nearly turned sharply on his heel to return to Hogwarts when he heard the hooting of Potter's damned owl. To his surprise, the owl, perched upon the roof, swooped down from the top of the house and onto Snape's shoulder. She then nipped his ear, eliciting a gruff exclamation of outrage from the wizard.
"Watch it!" he admonished as the owl flew away. "I know several potions that are enhanced by owl livers!"
Hedwig had not resumed her perch, but was now precariously settled on the black mailbox to the right of the door. She pecked the door for several seconds and then looked towards the wizard. She let out an ear-splitting screech, as one might hear from an owl triumphant in her hunt.
"Quiet!" snapped Snape. He watched the owl as she pecked again at the door. Thankfully, this time she only hooted, and gave the Potions Master what could only be an imploring glance with her wide, yellow eyes.
Snape frowned, now his curiosity was more than just piqued. An apprehensive air settled uneasily around him as he made his way to the white painted front door. "Alohomora!" he whispered. The simple lock snicked and the door slowly swung open.
The interior of the Dursley house was dark and quiet. Snape had his wand out, holding it in front of himself defensively. He cast a complicated spell that would cause the exterior appearance of a darkened house to remain dark. Once that was accomplished, Snape cast the Lumos spell, lighting the tip of his wand with a bright light that gave him enough light to traverse the first floor of the house.
All was empty. Quiet. Still. As he walked towards the kitchen, though, his very sensitive nose picked up on a smell he was only too familiar with. The smell that sometimes pervaded the boys dormitory in Slytherin when they chose not to clean their spaces and beds. Unwashed clothing, sweat, filth. But, there was something else as well, and this had the hairs on the back of Snape's neck rising with foreboding. He could smell blood. Old, but with it was the unmistakable reek of sickness and infection. All of that was masked from the normal olfactory sense by the cloying sweetness of roses.
Another spell was cast to amplify the disagreeable odours so that the wizard could better identify them. The sickness and infection were old, as was some of the blood, but a sharper aroma of copper taint told him that there was new to join the old blood. It was as though someone had not washed their clothing or bedding in between those times when they were ill, or hurt. A child. A neglected child. It sickened Snape and he cancelled the amplification spell so he would be better able to ignore the offensive odours. Besides, he knew where it was coming from, now.
Snape stared down at a small door set beneath the stairs. A cupboard used to store cleaning chemicals, perhaps rags, a bucket and or a mop or broom. Snape recalled a similar such cupboard underneath the stairs in the old house he'd grown up in. He had hidden there, many times, from his father when he was in his cups and needed to hit something. Preferably Snape. Seeing this cupboard door, coupled with the offensive odours, Snape found he couldn't immediately continue with his investigation.
What if the Boy-Who-Lived was in that cupboard? What if the child of Lily Evans wasn't the arrogant prat he expected, but was an abused child? What would Snape do if he discovered someone whose childhood mirrored his own?
It wasn't as though Severus Snape hadn't dealt with other children from abused homes. It was an unfortunate statistic that those children suffering abuse tended to be sorted into Slytherin because they developed very Slytherinish traits in an effort to survive a less than ideal home life. Snape was Hogwarts greatest advocate as far as his Snakes went, and he was even more protective of those children he discovered were hurting. Unlike the other Heads of Houses, Snape kept a sharp eye on his Snakes, children that he considered, without hesitation, to be his own. He was strict, assigned bedtimes, and age appropriate punishments. Within the House of the Snakes he had devised a network of prefects, older students who had proved themselves capable, to help him in watching over and taking care of the younger students, and to maintain the rules for all his Snakes to adhere to.
The prejudice of the other Houses against Slytherin hadn't changed much since he was a student at Hogwarts, but Snape had always done his best to protect his Snakes from such prejudices. The fact that Harry Potter, the son of the reviled bully and self-proclaimed "Marauder against Slytherins" James Potter, could actually be a child that could wind up in his House due to abuse, shook the Potions Master.
He found it hard to breathe and moved away from the cupboard as memories of his own, abusive childhood, slipped from his carefully constructed walls, and assaulted his thoughts. He felt the couch against the back of his knees and he dropped to the plastic-covered cushions, and lowered his head to his knees.
He felt foolish for reacting in this manner, but the truth was, the scared little boy that often had to hide from his father's drunken tirades, or disappear into the Hogwarts dungeons in order to evade the Gryffindor Marauders, was... for the moment... fully present. It was also that little boy's fear that settled the grown up Snape. As he raised his head and narrowed his gaze down the hallway towards the cupboard, he was now angry.
Angry at himself. Angry at Dumbledore. Angry at Minerva, who seemed to know something, but never had done a thing! And he was angry with the woman known as Petunia Evans Dursley. The young girl he remembered who had taunted her sister often to the point of tears. How could he have not once wondered about Lily's child?! Had Dumbledore, or anyone for that matter who once counted Lily and James Potter as friends ever checked up on the boy?
Snape strode to the cupboard, unlocked it, and hastily slammed the small door open.
All that was the "greasy git", the teacher that despised Gryffindors, the man who had been thoroughly prepared to make the son of James Potter "toe the line" and pay for his father's youthful injustices, vanished. As Snape looked down upon the curled up, sleeping, figure of a child, Lily's son, who looked so small that he couldn't have been eleven, he felt a hardness surrounding his heart melt. His world flipped over and his mind scrambled to reconstruct what he had thought Harry Potter might be, to coincide with what he saw.
Kneeling down upon one knee, Snape stretched out his hand and touched the boy's cheek. He could feel the crusty residue of tears upon the soft cheek, and then he saw the bruise, and drops of blood upon the blanket, mattress, and the dingy shirt the child wore. Why has he not awakened? Snape wondered as he followed the tiny drops of dried blood to bruised fingers, their ends nastily scraped, perhaps by the door's hinge.
"Lily," Snape whispered as his world finally settled and accepted that James Potter's son was hurting and truly did need someone. Even if that someone was a "greasy git" who had hated the bullying boy that had stolen Lily from him.
A wave of his wand kept the small boy safely asleep so that Snape was able to lean in and gather the boy to his chest. The child smelled horribly, mostly from the rags he wore, and the dirty mattress he slept upon. In his sleep, Harry mewled a mumbled protest that begged his Uncle to "stop". Scowling down at the filthy mattress and tattered remains of a baby blanket, Snape could see something of interest within the cramped cupboard. Taking Harry into the living room, he placed the small boy upon the sofa and returned to the cupboard.
Harry had made the most of his little cupboard home by decorating the walls with patches of paper that he'd drawn upon and coloured. They were fantasies and dreams of a castle, a giant, youngsters flying on brooms, and an old man with a long beard dancing a jig. The most amazing drawing was one that Harry had done of himself. He stood beside a tall man who was black from head to toe. The only color had been in the sallow cheeks, the big nose, and the long-fingered hand that held securely onto Harry's hand. The figure, clearly it was Snape, had his wand in his other hand and had it pointed at another figure. This second, adult figure was very snake-like, and frightening with red eyes. "The Dark Lord," Snape whispered softly. Voldemort was even taller than the drawn Snape, but he was wreathed in a green glow that was contorting his body.
Once again Snape felt his world tipping precariously. He took several deep breaths through his nose, and then, when he was sure he wasn't going to faint anymore, he reached in and gathered up all the artwork. The drawing of Harry, himself, and Voldemort, Snape shrank and then tucked into a hidden pocket in his cloak. The other drawings he gently folded, and tucked them into another pocket.
Snape shut the cupboard door and then walked over to his young charge. In his sleep, Harry cried out, “Mum…! Help me?” Gathering the small boy up and close to his chest, Snape pressed his cheek to the forehead just where the scar was and whispered, so Harry could hear him in his dreams, "I am sorry I was not here earlier, Harry, but I am here now. Hush child. I shall keep you safe."
Harry's small body relaxed and Snape, with a grim, but determined expression upon his face, Disapparated from #4 Privet Drive. Harry Potter, if he had anything to say about it, would never return.
updated May, 2015 - Jayne d’Arcy
originally published on fanfiction dot net Feb. 18, 2010