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The Little Matchstick Boy

Chapter Text

Harry Potter was sick of packing boxes.

The Dursleys were moving house - Uncle Vernon had gotten a new job in the north of England - and Harry had been packing up the house at 4 Privet Drive by himself for weeks now. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into his cupboard and sleep but knew this was not an option. Uncle Vernon rarely hit him but, when he did, Harry knew about it for at least a month. Aunt Petunia was much more liberal with physical violence though Harry had gotten quite good at ducking the frying pan when it came rushing towards his head.

“Careful with that!” Aunt Petunia snapped, snatching the fine china from his hands as he went to wrap it in newspaper. She shoved past him roughly on her way back to the sitting room where Dudley was cackling at something on the television.

Harry stuck his tongue out at his Aunt’s retreating back.

The house in which Harry had lived with the Dursleys for the past six years looked nothing like it did in Harry’s earlier memories. The kitchen, once pale pink, was now light yellow. Harry had been punished for that particular incident with two weeks in his cupboard. The rooms were mostly bare now besides the few cardboard boxes which would fit in the back of the car (and, of course, the television because Dudley had bawled when Harry had tried to unplug it.)

Sealing the final box with a strip of gaffa tape, Harry stood and pushed his hair out of his eyes before sliding the box out into the hall for Uncle Vernon. Even he seemed to accept that Harry was physically incapable of lifting the boxes into the car, being only seven years old. Exhausted, Harry leaned against his cupboard to catch his breath and couldn't help but cast a longing look inside. If he could just rest for ten minutes...

Uncle Vernon’s shadow fell over Harry, dwarfing him. Harry swallowed despite himself and straightened up.

“I'm warning you, boy,” Uncle Vernon threatened, shoving meaty finger into Harry’s face. “One word out of you and you'll wish you'd never been born. Now, get in the car.”

Harry waited until his uncle had passed into the sitting room before ducking into his cupboard and snatching up his battered school bag which contained everything he owned - not that this was saying much. It contained his ragged blanket and some spare clothes which used to be Dudley’s as well as his school books and a couple of broken toy soldiers.

Bag in hand, he scurried outside and climbed into the car where just enough space had been left next to the boxes. The gap on the other side was much larger to accommodate Dudley’s massive bulk. Uncle Vernon had laid out some plastic bags to cover the seat Harry would occupy. Harry suspected his uncle was afraid he would contaminate it with his freakishness.

Uncle Vernon crammed the final box into the boot and slammed it shut. Harry realised that his seatbelt buckle was hidden under one of the boxes and resolved simply to sit on the belt instead to avoid an argument.

Once Harry and the Dursleys were finally ready to go - following many tears from Dudley who wanted to watch the next programme scheduled - Uncle Vernon started the engine and backed out of the driveway. Harry caught sight of Mrs Figg peering out through her curtains and offered her a small wave.

Harry didn't look back as Privet Drive disappeared behind them. He didn't have any particularly happy memories of that house. Instead, he watched the streets rush past and imagined what the new house would look like. He wondered if he'd have his very own bedroom there.

~

They were in London. Harry knew that. He'd been here once before for a school trip. But he didn't think London was particularly far north so, when Uncle Vernon stopped the car, Harry felt his stomach sink.

Moments later, he'd been pulled roughly out of the car by Uncle Vernon’s purple fist. He was grinning. That didn't bode well for Harry.

Uncle Vernon advanced and Harry instinctively backed away. The car door slammed shut. Harry could feel the fear building in his chest and glanced around desperately but they were in the lowest floor of a multi storey car park with not another soul in sight.

“I should have done this years ago,” said Uncle Vernon nastily.

And then they were gone and Harry found himself standing in the middle an unfamiliar city - completely alone.

Chapter Text

Harry took a deep breath. Panicking would accomplish nothing. Still, it was an extremely inviting option and he had to fight to keep it inside. In an attempt to calm himself, Harry mentally ran through the facts of his situation.

He was alone in London. The Dursley’s were gone and they weren’t coming back. Nobody was looking for him and he had nowhere to go. On the bright side, he still had his backpack. With this thought, he settled down with his back against one of the pillars which held up the next floor of the car park and took inventory of his belongings.

His blanket. Good. It was old and thin so it wouldn’t keep him particularly warm on its own but perhaps if he could find somewhere to shelter from the wind, it wouldn’t be too bad.

His clothes. These were too big to prevent the wind from whistling beneath them but if he wore them all at once Harry was sure they would keep out some of the cold. Aunt Petunia was always telling Dudley to wear layers, after all.

His soldiers and school books wouldn’t be much use for keeping him warm but it was nice to have them anyway. They’d give him something to do.

A thought struck Harry just then. Surely his teachers would notice when he didn’t turn up at school. Maybe one of them would send the police out looking for him and then everything would be alright again. But the feelings of relief these thoughts brought vanished all too quickly when Harry remembered that everybody at school knew the Dursleys were moving and that Harry and Dudley wouldn’t be going back to Stonewall Primary. He didn’t even bother to hope that the teachers at their new school would bother to ask about Harry’s absence. Nobody ever bothered to ask about him.

Not that it would matter if the police found him or not. The Dursleys didn’t want him and there was no way anybody would want to take him in. Normal people didn’t want nasty little freaks like him in the house.

Somehow, the air seemed colder than before. Harry stuffed his things back into his bag and pulled it onto his back, folding his bare arms across his chest in a vain attempt to keep warm. Unwilling to stay in the dingy car park any longer, Harry stepped out into a quiet street and turned right because it looked less scary than turning left. Still, his heart thudded in his chest. The reality of everything was beginning to hit him.

He was probably going to die out here and nobody would ever know.

~

The first observation Harry made when he finally reached a busy street was that London was huge and absolutely swarming with people rushing to and fro. Something about it made Harry feel horribly claustrophobic. The buildings towered over him on all sides and he found himself stepped on and shoved around in the streets as people twice his height bustled past importantly.

Suddenly, Harry longed for his cupboard. He wanted to be alone.

He gave a harsh chuckle at the irony of that thought. He was alone. He was very much alone.

Ignoring his growling stomach - he was used to being hungry, after all - Harry ducked into a side street to catch his breath. The restaurant across the street smelled heavenly but Harry resolutely ignored it. He didn’t have any money. Harry found himself wondering grimly if the cold or the hunger would kill him first.

Harry sat down next to some bins with his backpack nestled in his lap. He suspected the shaking had less to do with the biting cold and more to do with how emotionally fraught he felt in that moment. Being abandoned was exhausting, Harry decided, and he’d certainly worked up an appetite.

For a long time, Harry stayed put, thinking. He would need money, that much was clear. Harry had never had any money so he wasn’t sure how to go about getting some. He knew adults worked for their money like Uncle Vernon did at Grunnings but Harry was only seven and seven year olds had to work hard just for their keep. Money was only for adults. And Dudley, Harry mused. But Dudley was normal and Harry was a freak and there was nothing he could do about it. Still, money was definitely going to be a problem.

Outside the restaurant, a small crowd had gathered. Interested, Harry darted between cars and weaved through legs until he found himself close enough to peer over one woman’s handbag.


“And now,” said the man in the centre of the crowd, waving a velvet top hat towards several children who were wearing name tags and gathered around some adults, clearly on some sort of school outing. “You see that the hat is empty?”

Several of the children nodded but Harry couldn’t see into the hat from where he was. The man smirked and thrust his arm into the hat, much further than Harry thought possible, until only his shoulder was visible. Then, with a tremendous flourish, he pulled a rabbit (an actual rabbit! ) out of the hat.

Harry gasped and applauded with the rest of the crowd. He had never seen anything like it. This man could do strange things just like Harry and people liked him.

Harry stayed for the rest of the show, watching as the magician made coins appear from behind people’s ears and produced strings of coloured handkerchiefs from his sleeves. By the end, Harry was breathless. As the magician began to pack up and the crowd started to disperse, Harry rushed forwards, eyes burning with delight.

The man smiled. “Well, hello young man. Shouldn’t you be with your parents?”

Harry’s smile faltered but only for a moment. “Haven’t got any,” he said before quickly rushing on. “Have you always been able to do things like that?”

The man raised his eyebrows at Harry’s first statement but chose not to comment and instead said, “Perhaps.”

“Me too!” Harry squeaked. “I accidentally turned my teacher’s hair blue once because she yelled at me in class. I didn’t mean to turn it blue.”

“What were you trying to do?” The man asked, confused.

“Nothing!” Harry said excitedly. “It just happened.”

The man smiled indulgently. “Sounds like you have magic in your veins, lad.”

Harry flinched. The man frowned and picked up his top hat from where he’d laid it down on the pavement. Harry noticed that it was full of coins.

“Did you pull all of those out of people’s ears?” Harry asked, amazed.

“No,” the man chuckled. “Just this one.”

With that, he reached behind Harry’s ear, ignoring another flinch, and produced a pound coin. Harry gaped. If the man could teach him how to do that, he would have to worry about being hungry.

“Can you show me how?” Harry asked timidly, pressing a hand over his growling stomach to silence it. He blushed.

At this, the man’s eyes changed. “Here, lad,” he said, handing Harry the coin. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Harry’s eyes widened. Nobody had ever given him money before.

“Thank you, sir,” he breathed, turning the coin over in his palm. He looked up to meet the man’s eyes. “Are you sure?”

Instead of answering, the man said, “What’s your name?”

“Harry,” the boy answered, confused.

“Well, Harry, why don’t you run along home. You’ll catch your death dressed like that.”

Harry thought about telling him that he didn’t have a home anymore but decided against it. The man had been nice enough so far but Harry didn’t want him to know that the Dursleys didn’t want him anymore because he was a freak. If he knew, the man might take the money back and Harry really was hungry.

“Yes, sir,” he said, flashing a quick smile before scampering away. He didn’t notice the man staring after him as he weaved around the throngs of people and disappeared round the corner.

By the time he stopped running, Harry could hardly breathe. The kind man had gotten money by doing tricks in the street. Harry could do strange things too. Maybe he could learn how to do what the man did - like pulling money out of ears! - and then everything would be alright.

Right now, however, he was exhausted. Food could wait. Harry walked for a long time before he found a small park with a cluster of towering trees at one end. Wrapping himself in his blanket, he curled up as close to the biggest tree as he could and shivered until he fell into a restless sleep.

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t sleep for long but it was starting to get dark by the time he woke. Though he was initially reluctant to remove his arms from the blanket, the pain in his back made stretching inevitable. Somewhat groggily, Harry sat up and rubbed violently at his hair, shaking out the grass and tiny pieces of bark. He shivered.

Wearily, Harry got to his feet and stuffed the blanket back into his bag. It was even colder now than it had been before. Harry put on another t-shirt but it made little difference. Still, he didn’t want to take it back off.

The streets were no quieter than they had been before but Harry supposed it probably wasn’t that late. In the winter months, the sky was pitch black by half past five so Harry knew it was still afternoon because the darkness was only just beginning.

Harry dug around his his pockets to retrieve the coin he’d been given earlier and clutched it tight in his fist. He’d been shopping with Aunt Petunia before so he knew that one of the shops he had passed earlier was a supermarket she frequented. It took him a long time to find it again but he managed and ducked inside before the security guard could berate him for his shabby appearance.

Harry didn’t know much about food so he went for a slow walk around the shop, comparing prices on everything he saw. In the end, he settled for some carrots, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of water. Three pennies jingled in his pocket as he left the shop with his purchases shoved hastily into his backpack. It wasn’t much but it would do for just now. Harry was small - he didn’t have to eat an awful lot to be satisfied. Unlike Dudley who had to eat an entire elephant before he was ready for his main course, thought Harry bitterly.

As Harry settled down to eat his rations of three small carrots and two slices of bread, he found himself wondering what the Dursleys were doing. Celebrating, probably. No doubt they had arrived at the new house by now. Harry wondered if new houses had working televisions. If not, Dudley was going to be unbearable. He found, however, that he didn’t care how insufferable Dudley was to his parents as long as he didn’t have to listen to it anymore. Perhaps it was true what they said - whoever they were - that every cloud had a silver lining. London was big and Harry was cold and hungry but at least the Dursleys were somewhere else.

That thought comforted him greatly. Uncle Vernon couldn’t shove him into his cupboard by his hair anymore and Aunt Petunia couldn’t smack him with her frying pan from all the way up north. There would be no more Harry Hunting, no more weeding the garden, no more pretending to be stupid at school to make sure Dudley got higher marks.

Harry liked school and he would miss it, even if he wouldn’t miss his teachers. He wondered idly if they’d take him back if he managed to find his way back to Surrey. He wouldn’t have to get bad marks on tests anymore. Maybe the teachers would like him when they realised he wasn’t as bad as they thought. He didn’t expect them to like him but not hating him was good enough.

(Still hungry and lacking willpower, Harry ate a third slice of bread and felt immediately guilty about it.)

Stomach satisfied for the time being, Harry gathered up his things again and set off at a slight jog, hoping to keep warm. All he succeeded in doing was bumping into several people when turning corners and eliciting angry shouts from them as he danced awkwardly around them. It didn’t make any difference in the end anyway - he was still absolutely freezing.

Harry caught himself thinking about the magician and how he’d pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Harry was sure, given practice, that he would be able to do the same. After all, he could already do some freaky things - like ending up on the school roof and making all his hair grow back - so surely pulling a rabbit out of a hat wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Harry suspected that pulling money out of people’s ears was much harder to master otherwise everybody would do it. So, rabbits it was to be; all he needed was a hat.

Hats were hard to come by without any money, Harry realised quickly. He should have saved his pound coin and bought himself a hat instead of food. Still, it was too late to think about that now. He would simply have to find another way.

It was too cold to sleep that night so Harry kept walking even when he thought his legs would give out under him. Sitting down only made him colder. He tried running again on quieter streets but eventually he just didn’t have the energy. By the time the sun began to rise, Harry had settled himself outside a greasy-spoon café where an air vent at ankle-height was blowing hot air out into a little alleyway. Harry curled up next to it, grateful for the heat.

He stayed there until a man with an apron and a thick accent - from somewhere in Europe though Harry didn’t know exactly where - chased him away. Harry found himself shivering all the more for the loss of heat. But, on the bright side, his fingers were no longer turning blue and he could feel them when he wiggled them. That was something.

After a whole morning of doing nothing but wandering sleepily around the city, Harry simply couldn’t stay awake any longer. Exhausted, he slumped down beside a skip and closed his eyes. His sleep was restless but it was sleep nonetheless.

Waking up was awful. He didn’t think he’d ever been so cold in his life. That was one thing which could be said about the cupboard under the stairs - it might be small but it was usually quite warm. Sometimes, especially during the summer, Harry hated being locked away in there because the heat could be excruciating. However, at that moment, he would have swapped his current situation for a month in his cupboard any day.

He remembered wondering if he’d have his own bedroom at the new house and found himself smiling at his stupidity. Was it really only yesterday he’d thought that? It felt like much longer.

Being abandoned was exhausting, that was true, but it was also pretty boring. Until he could find a hat, Harry had very little to do to distract himself from the cold and the hunger. He could only wander around shops for so long until the security guards started to eye him suspiciously so he tried to save his visits for when he was too cold to stand being outside anymore. Even shop wandering was awful because it always left him hungry but he didn’t have much left to spend - not enough to buy more food, anyway.

After two days, it finally happened. He found a hat.

It had happened quite by accident. He’d gotten the feeling the policemen behind him were following him. They probably thought he’d stolen something but Harry knew he hadn’t. He also knew that he might have to do just that very soon. He was down to his last slice of bread and he was desperately hungry. He’d been filling up his water bottle in public bathrooms but the water always tasted a little strange. There was definitely a difference between bathroom and kitchen water, Harry thought.

He’d hidden in a skip which had turned out to be full of cardboard and bits of wood and old socks and, miraculously, a battered, black bowler hat. Unable to help himself, Harry had whooped for joy when he’d found it. True, it didn’t look much like the kind man’s hat but it would do, surely. Now - to practice!

~

This turned out to be easier said than done. Despite being quite sure that he wanted to make things happen, he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. Uncle Vernon had always said it was bad to do freaky things and Harry didn’t want to be a bad boy. Even if Uncle Vernon wasn’t here to punish him, he didn’t want the people here to think he was bad because then they might not want to give him any money and he was so hungry. Harry found himself close to tears with frustration.

He tried to remind himself that the kind man had done freaky things and everybody had loved him. Evidently, there were certain freaky things which were okay. After all, Harry had never pulled a rabbit out of a hat before so he didn’t exactly know that Uncle Vernon would consider it freaky.

(This was a lie. He knew that Uncle Vernon thought anything that wasn’t normal was the result of Harry’s abnormality. Undoubtedly, he would find pulling a rabbit out of a hat to be just as freaky as ending up on the roof of the school.)

“Uncle Vernon isn’t here,” Harry told himself firmly. “You’re being silly.”

Still, he was afraid that somehow his uncle would know that he was deliberately being freaky. He’d suffered Uncle Vernon’s wrath too many times to take such a possibility lightly. But he managed, after a great deal of internal struggle, to convince himself that Uncle Vernon wouldn’t be able to see him if he practiced somewhere dark and quiet.

So he did.

The little alcove reminded him a little of his cupboard and, if he closed his eyes and ignored the biting chill, he could pretend he was back there - safe. He and his backpack fit perfectly into the small gap and Harry took this as a sign. Clearly, this little place was made just for him to practice with the hat.

It occurred to Harry then that he’d never done anything freaky on purpose before. Did he even know how?

Harry shook himself. Of course he did. The kind man had said himself that it was clearly in his blood and he didn’t think the kind man would lie to him about something like that. Harry wished briefly that he could see the kind man again and ask him to show him how to pull rabbits out of hats but he quickly banished the thought, knowing it was no good to wish for things which wouldn’t happen.

Instead, he concentrated as hard as he could for a long time but he couldn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat. With a groan of frustration, Harry threw the hat down and crossed his arms, brooding. He had been so sure this would work. Or perhaps he had simply been desperate. Or maybe the magician’s hat was a special hat.

Or, Harry thought suddenly, maybe a real live rabbit was too complicated. Maybe he should start with something simpler. After all, he thought logically, rabbits had bones and hearts and stuff and it must be pretty difficult to make all of that appear out of nowhere. He had to think smaller. With a surge of inspiration and newly-found confidence, Harry grabbed the hat again and focused. It took several minutes but, finally, he felt his fingers close around a tiny stuffed rabbit. Immediately, several conflicting emotions washed over him; he was both relieved and excited to have finally managed to produce something from the hat and terrified to have done something so blatantly impossible.

He managed to calm himself before he started hyperventilating but only just. He was being silly. The Dursleys weren’t here and, even if they were, they didn’t care about Harry anyway. Surely it didn’t matter what he did anymore. Still, the uncertainty lurked inside him as he continued his practice, managing the feat more quickly each time. Harry was sure it was technically still a Bad Thing but he tried to think about it positively. Nobody had called the kind man a freak. If Harry was very careful, maybe nobody would call him a freak either.

Harry practiced all night until the sun came up and his shivering made it impossible to keep his hand steady. By this time, however, he had managed to produce a slightly larger stuffed rabbit with a smiling face and make it disappear again. He rewarded himself with his final piece of bread and decided one trick would be enough for now. He could learn how to do the other things later.

With a spring in his step and his fingers going blue again, Harry set off for a busier street and hoped against hope that somebody would take to him. If this didn’t work, then he was surely doomed.

Chapter Text

It was a well-known fact that Severus Snape did not walk anywhere. If any student were to be asked, they would say their Potions professor stalked absolutely everywhere. Today was no exception. He strode to the Headmaster’s office with his cloak billowing behind him as it always did. Arriving at the stone gargoyle which guarded the entrance, he bit out the password (pumpkin pasties) with as much dignity as he could muster and stood stoically on the spiral staircase as it rose.

When he breezed into the room, Minerva McGonagall was already there. This surprised Snape though he did not show it. He had expected his summons to have something to do with how liberal he had been recently when docking points from Gryffindor. Clearly, this was something else.

He was not given a chance to ask what had happened before Dumbledore said gravely, “Harry Potter is missing.”

McGonagall gasped beside him. Snape betrayed no emotion but he felt his stomach drop briefly before the anger welled up inside him. How could the imbecilic boy have gone missing? Didn’t he know what was at stake? Snape swore to himself that, when they found the brat, he’d wish he’d never been born. Of all the stupid, irresponsible…

“You’re sure, Albus?” McGonagall asked.

Dumbledore said nothing but the twinkle was gone from his eyes.

“If I may, Headmaster,” Snape said smoothly. “What efforts are being made to locate the brat?”

McGonagall turned on him. “Oh, Severus, do control yourself,” she snapped. “He’s just a boy.”

“A boy who has run away from home, no doubt because he was refused the latest toy or some such nonsense,” Snape replied swiftly.

“Severus,” Dumbledore warned. “Regardless of the circumstances of Harry’s disappearance, it is vital that he is found. I need not impress upon you the importance of remaining inconspicuous.”

So, Dumbledore was sending the pair of them out on search duty. No doubt he wanted to avoid ministry involvement. Had Snape owed anything less than his life to Dumbledore then he might have objected, refused even, but he did not have that luxury. He was doomed to locate the Potter spawn. Still, at least he’d have McGonagall to deal with the child when he was eventually found. Snape was in no mood to deal with whiny, self-entitled brats.

“How long has he been missing?” McGonagall asked.

“Four days, from what I can gather,” Dumbledore said and McGonagall’s hand flew to her mouth.

“Albus,” she began, apparently having great difficulty constructing sentences. “Are we certain- I mean, are we sure the child is not-”

“He is alive, my dear,” Dumbledore confirmed. Neither Snape nor McGonagall asked how he knew this. “But he is unprotected. Though Voldemort-” Snape flinched, resisting the urge to grab at his left forearm which had just spiked with pain. “-poses no immediate threat, there are still many out there who would like to harm the child.”

With these words, Dumbledore threw a significant look at Snape who understood. Lucius Malfoy, for one, was greatly influential in the wizarding world. Likely it was his presence within the ministry which made Dumbledore so eager to conceal Harry Potter’s disappearance. Though it was true Snape loathed the boy, he did grudgingly admit that Potter’s continued survival was important to ensure the ultimate downfall of the Dark Lord.

“Have the muggle authorities been informed?” Snape asked. “Surely Potter’s relatives would have contacted them the second the Golden Boy ran away.”

Dumbledore frowned. “I have no reason to believe there is any muggle search underway for the child at this time.”

Snape took this to mean that Dumbledore had dealt with that particular problem himself. After all, Potter’s guardians surely treated him like royalty. It was no surprise that they would have contacted the proper authorities when the stupid idiot disappeared.

“Time is of the essence,” Dumbledore said and his voice was filled with quiet urgency. “I trust that you will work together to the best of your abilities.”

Snape considered himself dismissed and, nodding once at the Headmaster, left the room. He heard McGonagall behind him questioning Dumbledore but did not bother to eavesdrop.

He had been back in the dungeons merely fifteen minutes when McGonagall sought him out, fully dressed in her travelling cloak, tartan hat, and boots.

“Where do you propose we start?” She asked briskly.

Snape smirked, donning his own travelling cloak with a flourish. “Do mine ears deceive me? Minerva McGonagall asking for advice?”

“From the insufferable Severus Snape, no less,” she shot back.

“Indeed,” he said, leading the way towards the front door to the school. “I suggest we pay a visit to the home of his relatives. Perhaps they will be able to shed some light on the boy’s disappearance.”

McGonagall shuddered. “I’d like very much if I never had to lay eyes on those muggles again. They really are the worst sort.”

Snape raised an eyebrow, inviting her to continue.

“That Dursley man is like a lump of lard and incredibly rude. He tried to kick me,” she growled, resembling her cat form more than ever as she remembered. “Insufferable man. And Petunia is no better…”

Snape stopped short. “Petunia? Petunia Evans?” He asked incredulously. Surely not.

“The very same,” McGonagall said, her mouth thinning. “I suspect that poor child knows very little love.”

Snape shrugged away that thought. The Potter child was a spoilt brat. Petunia might be a vindictive woman but surely her hatred of her sister could not extent to cruel treatment of her child. He ignored the voice in his head which reminded him that his own opinion of the boy was heavily influenced by his memories of James Potter. It simply was not the same.

Regaining himself, Snape picked up the pace until they were beyond the apparition boundary.

“You know the way, I presume?” He asked.

McGonagall nodded and took his arm. She spun on the spot, concentrating hard…

When they arrived, Snape found himself stumbling despite his best efforts. He was unaccustomed to side-along apparition and it was quite different from apparating on one’s own. Straightening, he fixed his trademark scowl in place, daring McGonagall to laugh. She did not. She was not even looking in his direction. Her shocked gaze was fixed, instead, on the house looming over them.

Number Four Privet Drive looked exactly as Snape had expected with one key difference. The ‘For Sale’ sign had not been there in his mind.

“They’ve moved,” McGonagall said stupidly. That much was blatantly obvious.

Snape shivered in the harsh cold and found himself unexpectedly feeling for the boy. He must be freezing. And Dumbledore was certain he was still alive. Snape wondered exactly how much longer he had before he froze to death. Shaking such morbid thoughts aside and, with a wordless Alohamora , he opened the door and slipped inside, closely followed by his colleague.

Though empty, the house was just as pretentious inside as out. The patterned carpets and pristine white walls made Snape roll his eyes in disgust. How anyone would wish to reside somewhere so painfully cheerful was beyond him. Though he knew the students found his persona of the snarky dungeon bat something of a joke, Snape had to admit to himself that he did like the Hogwarts dungeons. He liked the solitude. He liked their dingy appearance. Houses such as this made him feel light-headed - they were far too bright to allow proper concentration.

“Arabella Figg lives not far from here,” McGonagall said behind him. “She might be able to give us a clue about where to go from here.”

Snape did not acknowledge this assertion but allowed himself to be left alone in the house nonetheless. There was little left to show that a family had ever lived there. Having made his way through all the rooms in the house, Snape found few surprises. He eventually stopped in a blue room which had undoubtedly been a child’s bedroom, likely Potter’s.

Closing his eyes, Snape tried to focus. Some spells had been known to latch onto a person’s magical signature. The Dark Lord had used such spells during his reign of terror to hunt down known muggleborns and blood traitors. Said spells had been branded Dark Magic decades ago but a fair few who had been trained in the art of magic recognition used them to this day. Snape was no expert in such things but even a weak trace would be better than nothing.

It took a few minutes and several changes of location to get a fix on the child’s magic. He had been somewhat surprised when he had been unable to detect more than a faint trace of magic having been present at all. Surely Harry Potter would have left behind a more significant magical footprint? Eventually, he found himself standing outside the small cupboard under the stairs. It was here, for some reason, that the signature was strongest.

I suspect that poor child knows very little love.

McGonagall’s earlier words rose to the forefront of his mind uninvited but he shook them away. Harry Potter was not a neglected child. It was simply not possible and Snape refused to consider the possibility. He thought he was starting to piece together the puzzle. The child had evidently run away because he was angry about having to leave his throngs of school friends behind during the move. Insolent brat.

With a fix on the child’s signature, Snape attempted the spell. He found it to be very much like Legilimency; several garbled images flashed before him, like memories. He saw a magician performing in the street and snarled inwardly at his mediocre ‘magic’ tricks. Then an angry Frenchman with a thick moustache. A street sign with NW1 in the corner in red lettering.

Snape let go, feeling himself falling back into the present.

The boy was in London.

Chapter Text

“Arabella proved fruitless,” McGonagall said upon her return and she seemed ready to say something else when she caught sight of her colleague’s pale features (not that he wasn’t always pale - Poppy always did complain that he needed to get out of the dungeons more - but he looked almost ill.) “Severus?”

“He’s in London,” Snape said, without preamble. McGonagall looked stunned. “North West area.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Does it matter?” Snape growled, making McGonagall’s mouth tighten. “The longer we wait, the greater the chance that dunderhead Fudge will get wind of the brat’s disappearance.”

He made to leave the house with these words but McGonagall threw out her arm to stop him Surprised, he didn’t fight her.

“You listen to me, Severus Snape,” she said fiercely, shoving her finger in his face. Whether she was incensed by his refusal to share his source of information or by his calling the Potter child a brat, he was not certain. He soon got his answer, however, when she went on. “I did not agree to this search only to have you lead me off on some wild goose chase simply because your opinion of the boy has been tainted by your memories of his father. In case you have forgotten, he is Lily’s child too.”

Snape blinked.

“I know you were close at school, Severus,” McGonagall continued. “I may be old but I’m not blind.”

She raised a pointed eyebrow. Snape scowled back.

“Now, tell me how you can be so certain or so help me I will tell the students that you enjoy a good snowball fight as much as the next man,” she threatened. Snape’s lip curled.

“You would not.”

“Do you wish to test that theory?” McGonagall smirked. Oh, the Sorting Hat had clearly made a fatal mistake placing Minerva McGonagall in Gryffindor - she was a Slytherin through and through. However, Snape mused, her Slytherin tendencies might have had to do with how much time she’d been spending in his company.

Without bothering to respond, he simply says, “I traced the boy’s magical signature. He is in London, of that I have no doubt.”

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed. “Severus, those are dangerous waters to tread around Albus Dumbledore.”

“You know what I am, Minerva, as does the Headmaster,” Snape snapped bitterly.

“What you were ,” she corrected him quietly.

Snape grunted at this and said, “Even the darkest of arts can be put to good use. We have a fix on the brat, do we not?”

“I would hardly call the entire city of London a fix,” McGonagall muttered. “However, it is a start.”

With these words, McGonagall silently locked the front door again and led the way to the kitchen. Snape took hold of her arm.

“I know of somewhere discreet in the area,” he said by way of explanation.

McGonagall nodded and, with a pop, they were gone.

~

Harry had nightmares that night about Uncle Vernon’s meaty fists reaching into his cupboard, his hands around his throat. He dreamt that Uncle Vernon was yelling, telling him he was a freak and a waste of space and an ungrateful little brat. Harry woke after hitting his head quite violently on the wall behind him while trying to dodge one of Uncle Vernon’s attacks.

He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. His heart hammered in his chest. It had felt so real.

Stomach grumbling in protest, Harry struggled to his feet. He needed something more to eat today. The constant shivering was using up all his energy. A few slices of bread a day simply wasn’t enough. He wasn’t in his cupboard any more. Surviving in London was clearly going to be much harder than he had initially thought.

(He wondered if he would make it through this winter. He didn’t think so. He didn’t think anybody would care, anyway. He wasn’t even sure he would care himself. He just wanted to be warm again. Maybe heaven was warm. And maybe he’d see his mum and dad there. That would be nice.)

With a surge of something like happiness, Harry remembered the hat and his successes with it only the last night. Today would be the first time he did freaky things in front of other people on purpose and that thought made him nervous. But the rumbling in his stomach spurred him on.

First things first, he needed to find a busier street. So, that was what he did.

~

McGonagall pulled her emerald cloak tighter around her body to combat the cold. It had been threatening to snow for days but nothing had come of it. For this, she was grateful. If Harry Potter was indeed lost in the city, she dreaded the think what would become of a seven year old child in the snow.

Beside her, Snape scowled.

“Oh, do come out with it, Severus,” she said, eyes twinkling. She was in a much better mood than she had been at the Dursley home - being there reminded her too much of the muggles who had once lived there. “If you hold it in much longer you might very well explode.”

Snape glared at her and looked for a moment as though he may be about to ignore her but he always had been full of surprises.

“Idiot boy,” he growled. “Just like his Father…”

“You haven’t even met the child yet,” she interrupted, more amused than angry. “Surely you’re not going to let a schoolboy grudge tarnish your opinion of young Mr Potter before you’ve even laid eyes on him.”

Snape’s scowl deepened but he didn’t refute her and so they continued their commute in silence, catching snatches of conversation as people rushed past.

“Well, I never thought it would…”

“...seventeen today! I wonder…”

“Hillary! Come back here, I…”

“...magic child…”

“It’s not as though I asked for this!”

McGonagall turned to find her colleague had halted a few paces behind her. She sighed and made her way back to him.

“Severus, what…”

“Quiet!” He said urgently but there was no command in his tone. She fell silent, listening.

They stood not far from a group of muggles chatting excitedly together rather loudly. Their excited voices carried easily over the din of the London traffic.

“You’re the magician, Jack,” a woman said, punching the man next to her on the shoulder. “How did he do it?”

The man - Jack - shrugged. “He was very good for a kid his age.”

“Magic!” Yelled the little boy who sat atop Jack’s shoulders. “Magic! Magic!”

McGonagall, transfixed by the conversation before her and its implications, didn’t see Snape approach with cloak billowing until she was too late to stop him.

She watched with mild amusement as Snape pushed his way into the gathered group, sporting his best glare.

“The magic child,” he said sharply, making several people flinch. “Where is he?”

“Now, listen here, mate,” Jack began timidly, falling silent at the sight of Snape’s menacing stare.

“Where?” Snape repeated, voice dangerously quiet. McGonagall smirked. She didn’t usually stand for terrifying muggles but even she had to admit that Snape had a particular flare for the art.

Jack lifted a trembling hand and pointed down the street. “He’s just round the corner,” he whispered.

Snape smiled nastily. “Thank you,” he said though he hardly sounded sincere.

Without another word, he stalked away, followed closely by McGonagall whose lips quirked in amusement.

“Severus, have you ever considered a different approach?” She teased. “Civility, perhaps?”

Snape scowled at her but there was no malice in it. “It worked, did it not?” He said haughtily. “We have the information.”

The crowd gathered just around the corner was much larger and passers-by craned their necks in vague interest to see what was causing all the fuss but few bothered to stop. Careful not the draw attention. the two teachers slotted themselves into a gap in the crowd where they caught a glimpse of the child they’d been tracking down for days.

Harry Potter was much smaller than Snape had imagined he would be. Frighteningly thin, he shivered violently in the bitter wind and his small fingers trembled as he pulled a stuffed rabbit out of a tattered hat. The crowd gasped and applauded. Snape rolled his eyes, fighting against the feelings of respect fluttering in his chest. The boy was obviously powerful if he could perform such concentrated wandless magic at will. With proper training, he’d be an excellent wizard.

Snape found himself wondering vaguely if Potter would be any good at Potions.

Beside him, McGonagall tutted softly. “Poor thing,” she said softly.

Snape scoffed. “I see no reason to pity him for being the centre of attention.”

As though the prove his point, the brat flashed a cheeky grin at the gathered crowd as he made the stuffed rabbit vanish again. Snape rolled his eyes. Any sympathy he might have had for the Potter boy was quickly drying up.

When his little show was over, the boy gave a little bow and laid down his hat. The crowd began to dissipate and several of them tossed their spare change into the hat on the pavement. Potter eyed his earnings longingly, one hand curled surreptitiously round his stomach. McGonagall wondered when he’d last eaten.

Fed up with waiting around, Snape started forwards only to find himself held fast by McGonagall’s grasp on his arm. He turned to frown at her but her raised eyebrows made the protests die in his throat. Instead, he shook himself free and, taking hold of his cloak, folded his arms across his chest, saying, “Do try not to spent too long coddling him, Minerva. A few minutes more and we shall be scraping icicles out of our eyes.”

The child snatched his hat back as soon as the last coins tumbled into it and McGonagall was worried for a moment that he would run before she had the chance to speak to him but he did nothing. He didn’t appear to notice her approach until she was just a few steps away. When he glanced up, surprise at her strange appearance flashed in his eyes before his expression turned wary and he clutched his hat close to his chest protectively.

“It’s alright, Harry,” she said quietly. Harry’s eyebrows raised in shock but he didn’t ask how she knew his name. Aware that he did not quite trust her yet, McGonagall held her cloak out to obscure herself from the street and lit a flame in her hand with a flourish.

Harry’s eyes widened with delight and he squeaked, “You can do strange things too!”

McGonagall smiled. “Yes. It’s magic.”

The child flinched, much to McGonagall’s surprise. He seemed to regain himself rather quickly, however.

“Magic isn’t real,” Harry said matter-of-factly.

McGonagall frowned. She’d known right from the start that those muggles were the worst sort - not a scrap of imagination between them. But to not even believe…

“Then what would you call this?” McGonagall asked, gesturing to the flame. Harry looked conflicted.

“Is it really, magic?” He said in a small voice and McGonagall nodded, extinguishing the flame. “Uncle Vernon says magic is a bad word.”

“Well,” McGonagall sniffed. “You needn’t worry about saying it in front of me. It’s not a bad word in my books.”

Harry shot her a shy smile.

“Lots of people are very worried about you, Harry,” she told him. Harry looked merely confused, as though he couldn’t understand why anybody would be worried about him . “I suspect your relatives are frantic with worry about you.”

Even as she said this, she doubted its truth. At her words, Harry’s eyes flashed briefly with anger - so like his mother’s quick temper - before it was replaced by infinite weariness which looked out of place on his young face.

“They left me behind,” he said solemnly. “They don’t really like me anyway.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” McGonagall said, choking a little on her obvious lie. Harry, however, seemed used to this disbelief from adults and simply shrugged. McGonagall wished she hadn’t said anything.

“Who’s that?” Harry asked, looking over her shoulder curiously.

McGonagall turned to find Snape staring at them with obvious impatience. Passing muggles gave him a wide berth, eyeing him suspiciously. She turned back to Harry.

“That’s my colleague, Professor Snape,” she told him.

He looked troubled for a moment and dropped his voice to a whisper, saying, “Why is he so sad?”

McGonagall couldn’t help but be taken aback. She glanced back to Snape again, reading only anger in his posture and expression.

“There are lots of sad people in London,” Harry continued, looking downcast. “But the m-magic makes them happy.” He paused thoughtfully. “Do you think the magic would make ‘fessor Snape happy too?”

“I’m not sure,” McGonagall said, smiling. “Maybe.”

“Well, then you should show him yours,” Harry went on, adding simply, “I don’t think he likes me very much.”

McGonagall blinked. How was it that a child could be so perceptive? Perhaps he had been right about the sadness too.

“Oh, do hurry up, Minerva,” Snape snapped, striding up behind her. “Hasn’t the boy caused enough trouble already?”

McGonagall took note of Harry’s subtle flinch at Snape’s voice but did not comment. Instead, she scooped him up, ignoring his squawk of surprise, and set off towards the nearest alleyway. Snape strode after her. Once a safe distance from the main street, they disapparated.

Chapter Text

Snape was used to apparating and landed with his usual grace. McGonagall, unused to doing so with a child in her arms, stumbled a little. Harry whimpered, his face buried in McGonagall’s shoulder and his hat still clutched tightly to his chest.

“Apparating can be rather unpleasant the first time,” McGonagall told him softly. “But it’s the fastest way to travel.”

Ignoring Harry’s shock that they were no longer in London, Snape conjured his patronus and sent it to the castle to let Dumbledore know they were returning with the brat safely in hand.

“Woah,” Harry breathed. “What was that?”

Snape grunted. McGonagall, seeing that he had no intention of answering, took it upon herself to explain.

“That is Professor Snape’s patronus, Harry,” she told him. “It acts as a protector and can be used to send messages, as you’ve just seen.”

Harry looked thoughtful. “Does everyone have a pa-pa-”

“Patronus, Harry.”

“Patronus,” Harry finished. “Does everyone have one?”

“Conjuring a patronus is very advanced magic,” she explained. Harry flinched slightly at the word. “It requires a great deal of concentration on one very happy memory. Not everyone can conjure one.”

“Where are we going?”

“Hogwarts. It’s the school where Professor Snape and I teach.”

“Do you teach magic?”

“Yes, Harry. Hogwarts is a school of witchcraft and wizardry.”

“Are you a wizard?”

“I’m a witch. Professor Snape is a wizard, however, as are you.”

Harry either did not hear this final remark or he did not understand it because instead he asked, “What do you teach?”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. Dear Merlin, did the boy ever shut up? He could feel a headache forming just listening to him nattering away behind him. McGonagall, however, seemed unperturbed by the boy’s unquenchable curiosity.

“Transfiguration. It is the art of changing one thing into another.”

“Wow,” Harry said. Then, his voice dropped to a whisper though Snape could still hear him ask, “What does Professor Snape teach?”

Before McGonagall could answer, Snape stopped dead and whipped round the face them. He took no small measure of delight from the way the child’s face paled in shock.

“Potions, Mr Potter,” he said softly, adding, “Has no-one ever told you that it is rude to discuss other people as though they are not present?”

Harry blushed.

“Sorry, ‘fessor,” he muttered.

Snape blinked. He never thought he’d see the day a Potter apologised. Without another word, he turned on his heel and resumed their walk to the castle which was beginning to loom over them far ahead. He could almost hear McGonagall’s infuriating smirk.

The boy asked no further questions. Snape refused to feel guilty about that and decided instead to enjoy the blessed silence which accompanied them for the rest of the journey.

~

Harry stared with poorly concealed astonishment at the various whirring and blinking objects which adorned Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore himself, however, was by far the biggest source of the boy’s curiosity. He wore robes of purple velvet and a matching hat with golden tassels dangling from the end. The long white beard which covered most of his front was tied around the middle with a royal blue ribbon (Snape personally thought the old man had never looked more ridiculous). His blue eyes twinkled behind half-moon spectacles as they eyed Harry appraisingly.

Unused to such attention, Harry looked down at the floor, shifting from foot to foot self-consciously. With his head ducked, Snape could see a faded bruise at the base of Harry’s neck. It had to be more than four days old. He had been prepared to leave Harry in the hands of the others until that very moment but he now felt an overwhelming urge to stay put.

A distressing scenario was beginning to piece itself together in his head but he refused to fully acknowledge it until he had more information. He would not feel sorry for the offspring of James bloody Potter.

“My dear boy,” Dumbledore said with a warm smile. Harry looked up. “How you have grown.”

Snape observed how Harry worried his lower lip, uncertain.

“My name is Albus Dumbledore,” continued the headmaster. “I am the Headmaster of Hogwarts.”

Harry cleared his throat and managed to squeak, “Hello, sir,” before falling silent again.

Dumbledore’s penetrating stare remained fixed on the child for a long time until it was clear that Harry was immensely uncomfortable. McGonagall cleared her throat, prompting the headmaster to continue.

“I must say, Harry, it was very unwise of you to run away from home,” he said mildly.

“I didn’t run away!” Harry said, fists clenching by his sides. Snape was reminded, unbidden, of Lily’s fiery temper.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow but, this time, Harry did not shrink. His green eyes burned with defiance.

“Indeed?” Dumbledore asked. “Then I must ask you to tell me the whole story of how you came to be in London on your own.”

The anger left the child’s eyes to be replaced by the same infinite weariness McGonagall had seen there in the street. Dumbledore seemed to notice this too because he invited Harry to sit on the sofa. To Snape’s surprise, the boy looked to him for permission. He nodded curtly and Harry sat.

McGonagall excused herself with a significant glance at Snape and he knew in that moment that she suspected, just as he did, that Dumbledore knew more about the child's disappearance than he was willing to share with his employees. 

“Been packing for weeks,” Harry said quietly. “Uncle Vernon got a new job and he said they had to move.”

“They?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry nodded. “Dudley and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.”

Snape’s lip curled at the mention of Petunia Evans.

“Not you?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “No, Sir.”

“And why might that be, Mr Potter?” Snape cut in, making Harry’s eyes meet his own. The child swallowed reluctantly.

“Spit it out, Potter,” Snape growled impatiently.

Dumbledore shot him a warning look which he ignored. “Come now, Severus. Harry must be exhausted. Perhaps it would be best if we were to continue this conversation once he is well rested.”

“On the contrary, Headmaster,” Snape argued. “I am quite sure Potter’s relatives will be climbing the walls by now. The least we can do when we inform them of his retrieval is explain why he felt the need to run away.”

“I already told you,” Harry said, eyes narrowed at Snape. “I didn’t run away.”

“Well, what would you call it, Mr Potter?” Snape smirked. “Hide and seek?”

“They left me there!” Harry yelled. “They didn’t want me anymore. They never did.”

Snape held the boy’s gaze unflinchingly even as the child stood and crossed the room to stand in front of him. He had to crane his neck to speak.

“You can tell them whatever you like but they won’t care,” he added, folding his arms firmly across his chest. Then, with a complete change of tone, he asked, “Why are you so sad, Professor?”

Snape’s eyes widened briefly before he regained himself. “Be quiet, Potter,” he growled.

“You look sad when you look at me,” Harry continued bravely, ignoring the warning note in Snape’s voice. “Like you’re remembering.”

“Enough!”

“Severus,” Dumbledore warned, making them both flinch. They had been so caught up in one another that they had forgotten Dumbledore was still in the room.

Snape took a deep breath. “I shall escort Mr Potter to the infirmary,” he said and, before Dumbledore could interrupt, he went on, “Merlin knows where he’s been sleeping these past few days. Poppy will need to check him over.”

Dumbledore sighed, defeated. “Very well.”

“Come, Potter,” Snape glared at the child and swept from the room. Harry Potter trotted diligently at his heels.

They made their way to the hospital wing in silence for which Snape was eternally thankful. It was perhaps the first time the boy had shut up since they’d found him. Snape had to snap at him once for dawdling - he’d been staring at a bloody portrait, for Merlin’s sake, as if he’d never seen one moving before - but they managed to make it to the infirmary without serious incident.

“Poppy?” Snape called when they arrived. He was thankful to see that all beds were empty, decidedly not in the mood to explain why Harry Potter was at Hogwarts several years too early.

Moments later, Poppy Pomfrey appeared from her office at the far end of the hospital wing.

“Severus, please tell me you have some supply of Pepper-Up potion in your stores,” she said, without glancing up from her sheet of parchment. “I’m running low.”

“Poppy,” Snape tried again but she was paying him no mind.

“Oh, dear,” she muttered, frowning at the parchment. “How in Merlin’s name can I be expected to- oh.”

She finally looked up from her parchment and saw Harry who had taken to hiding behind Snape’s legs, peering out shyly. The matron certainly didn’t look scary but neither did Aunt Petunia and she was very quick with her frying pan. Besides, he found himself with an inexplicable desire to be close to Professor Snape. Harry couldn’t shake the feeling that the Professor understood, even if he seemed to hate him. Harry actually found Snape’s hatred rather comforting. McGonagall had been so nice to him that he’d found himself caught off guard. Snape was hateful but Harry felt safe around him. It was a difficult feeling to describe.

“Poppy,” Snape said for the third time. “The Headmaster may have informed you in my absence that young Mr Potter has been missing for the past several days.”

Judging by the look on Pomfrey’s face, she had been informed of no such thing. Snape continued, regardless.

“He is in need of a check up.”

“Yes,” Pomfrey said, almost to herself. “Of course.”

Harry grabbed a handful of Snape’s cloak absently but ended up shying away with a mumbled apology when the Professor turned to glare at him. He still looked sad, Harry thought, even when he was angry.

“Over here, Mr Potter, if you please” Pomfrey said briskly, beginning to fold down the sheets on a nearby bed.

Harry took a few hesitant steps forwards, looking back to Snape for permission as he had done in Dumbledore’s office. Snape nodded once, his face neutral once more, and Harry allowed the matron to lift him onto the bed as he was too small to manage himself. The beds were clearly built for people much larger than him. Then again, most people were larger than him.

Madam Pomfrey raised her wand to begin the child’s check-up and Harry fought valiantly to contain his automatic flinch. It did not go unnoticed by either adult, however. Snape was unsure as to why he had decided to stay with the brat but he imagined it had something to do with the bruise he had seen in Dumbledore’s office. That, coupled with the strange magical energy surrounding that cupboard in Surrey, had Snape’s mind in a place he had no wish to remain. If the child had been neglected or perhaps even abused, Madam Pomfrey would know. Once she’d proved his suspicions to be unfounded, Snape could return to hating the Potter spawn in peace.

When Madam Pomfrey spelled the boy into a hospital gown, Snape paid little attention to his sounds of indignant surprise. Rather, his eyes were drawn to the child's back which bore the unmistakable marks of a belt strap.

Snape scowled; things could never be simple with Harry bloody Potter.

Chapter Text

Harry looked down at himself in shock, quite certain that he had been wearing outdoor clothes mere moments ago. He felt himself begin to shake against his will. He’d had enough freaky stuff for one day. Uncle Vernon was going to pitch a fit when he found out.

“How did you do that?” He asked timidly, unaware of the adults’ critical eyes upon him as he tugged at the gown in disbelief. Only when the silence stretched on beyond what was natural did Harry look up in panic, unsurprised to see Snape’s face contorted with fury. He should have known that asking questions was a bad idea.

“Mr Potter,” Snape’s voice sounded tight. “Would you care to enlighten us as to where you got those marks on your back?”

Harry swallowed anxiously. Snape sounded angry but he wasn’t shouting and he certainly wasn’t berating Harry for asking questions. Harry didn’t know why he was angry and that scared him.

“Mr Potter,” Snape said again. “Answer me.”

“Severus,” Madam Pomfrey warned, regaining herself. “I’d rather this conversation be postponed until after Mr Potter has been examined.”

Her voice left no room for argument so Snape nodded curtly and pulled his wand from his sleeve. He transfigured the bed behind him into a chair and sat down, keeping his back poker straight and his black eyes fixed on Harry who was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable. He had a tight feeling in his chest and his head was starting to spin. If something else freaky happened, he didn’t think he’d be able to handle it.

Being abandoned may be exhausting but being found was even more so.

Madam Pomfrey raised her wand again and Harry squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, entire body tense. He didn’t see the matron frown in concern or feel the spell she cast over him but he did hear her mutter something strange under her breath. When he opened his eyes again, there were tears glistening in her eyes. Harry shifted nervously and threw a glance at Snape who looked angrier than ever. He swallowed. He was definitely in for it now.

Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat and Harry’s eyes snapped back to her. He watched her hands warily, noticing that the one holding her wand was trembling.

“You have a chest infection, Mr Potter,” she said quietly though Harry wasn’t sure why this information would make her cry. “I shall return with something to help you in a moment.”

Without another word, she disappeared through the door she had first come from and Harry was very aware that he was alone with Snape. Despite the man’s obvious anger, Harry did feel safe with him. He remembered the sadness he’d seen - though it wasn’t visible now - and wondered if maybe Snape understood what it was like to feel alone.

Snape’s stare, however, was a little unnerving and Harry couldn’t hold his gaze.

“M’sorry,” he eventually whispered without looking up.

“For what are you apologising, Mr Potter?” Snape asked impatiently.

Harry swallowed. “For whatever I did to make you angry. I didn’t mean to make you angry!” He looked up at Snape imploringly but couldn’t read his expression.

“I am not angry with you, Mr Potter,” Snape explained slowly. “I am angry with whomsoever saw fit to beat you with a belt.”

Harry took a deep breath but made no move to refute the statement. He was just thankful that Snape wasn’t going to start yelling quite yet.

“You are aware, are you not, that such abuse cannot be justified?” Snape asked tightly.

Harry didn’t know what to say to that and so dropped his gaze to the bed again. He knew Uncle Vernon only beat him when he did really freaky things and usually only when they had something to do with Dudley. It had only happened three times and Harry had no desire for it to happen again. He hoped Snape wasn’t going to tell the Dursleys about the freaky things he’d been doing in the street. The lady, Professor McGonagall, had called it magic and Harry had enjoyed pretending but he knew that magic wasn’t real.

“Mr Potter?” Snape was apparently discontented with his lack of response. “Look at me.”

Reluctantly, Harry met Snape’s eye and was unsurprised to see him looking sad again. He was getting used to the Professor’s strange and subtle changes of expression.

“Who did this to you?”

Harry shook his head. He wasn’t supposed to tell. Snape sighed but he didn’t sound angry. Tired, rather. Worn.

“I am not the man for this conversation,” he muttered.

“No,” Harry argued quickly, flushing under Snape’s sleetly gaze. “I- I don’t want to tell anyone else.”

Snape raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “And why might that be, Mr Potter?”

“They wouldn’t understand, sir,” Harry mumbled.

“And you believe that I would?”

Harry paused thoughtfully. “I’m not sure, sir,” he said eventually.

He did not voice what he really felt - that Snape was safest to talk to about this. He did not say that something about Snape’s demeanour reminded him of Uncle Vernon but without the threat of violence. It was both familiar and reassuring. He did not say that he was unsure how to act around the others because they were so uncharacteristically gentle. He did not say that he had the overwhelming feeling that Snape would believe him.

Because Snape was sad and sad people were always ready to believe the worst and less likely to seek out the good in others. His teachers were happy people. They didn’t want to believe him.

“A Slytherin answer,” Snape murmured but Harry didn’t understand what that meant nor did he ask. “I shall ask you again - who did this to you?”

“What happens if I tell you?” Harry asked warily. Snape might believe him but that didn’t mean he would do anything about it or even that he could do anything. After all, Harry knew that most grown-ups could be trusted only to say one thing and do another.

“That rather depends on what you tell me,” Snape returned and the impatience was creeping into his voice again.

“If I tell you,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Will you tell me why you’re so sad when you look at me?”

A flash of fury crossed Snape’s face and Harry recoiled instinctively. It disappeared as soon as it had come but Harry didn’t let his guard down. He was starting to think he might have been wrong about Professor Snape and that thought felt like ice inside him. Being wrong about people was dangerous. He hated feeling so confused and would have cried had it been allowed. Harry didn’t know Snape’s rules and didn’t want to accidentally break one and make him angry again.

“If you answer my questions to my satisfaction,” Snape replied at last, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “Then you may ask me whatever you like.”

“And you’ll answer?” Harry clarified. He’d been tricked this way before.

The corners of Snape’s lips quirked in amusement. “Very good, Mr Potter. Indeed I shall.”

Harry didn’t allow himself to smile though he held the compliment close to his heart all the same. It felt warm and comforting.

“I will ask for a third time and I expect an answer,” Snape went on sternly. “Who?”

Harry looked down. He thought about avoiding the question but they’d made a deal and he desperately wanted to understand the cause of Snape’s sadness. He remembered catching Aunt Petunia giving him a similar look once or twice but he’d never plucked up the courage to ask her about it.

“Uncle Vernon,” he mumbled, hoping Snape wouldn’t ask him to repeat it. Just saying it once made his heart race. “Oh, don’t tell him I told you! He’d be so mad if he knew! Please don’t” He’ll-”

Harry pressed his lips firmly together to stop anymore panicked words tumbling out. Snape’s expression remained neutral.

“What will he do, Mr Potter?” He asked levelly. “Beat you again?”

Harry couldn’t help but notice the way Snape’s lip curled at the expression. He shook his head. “No, sir. That’s only for when I’m really bad.”

“What will he do if I tell him?”

“He’ll put me in my cupboard without food, sir,” Harry said desperately, forgetting that they no longer lived at Privet Drive and that the cupboard under the stairs wasn’t really his cupboard anymore. He hadn’t expected to feel such a profound sense of loss at that realisation. The cupboard was the only thing which had ever truly been his. It was the only time the Dursley’s had ever granted him ownership of anything; even the clothes he wore were ‘Dudley’s old clothes’.

“Your cupboard?” Snape asked carefully. “In your bedroom?”

Harry frowned. Freaks weren’t allowed bedrooms. “No, sir.”

“Then where?”

“The cupboard under the stairs,” Harry clarified.

“Why not send you to your bedroom like any normal guardian?” Snape asked, clearly avoiding the question he really wanted to ask. Harry knew that Snape just wanted to hear him say the words himself. So, he did.

“The cupboard was my room,” he said flatly. “It was mine.”

The fury was back and this time Harry saw it settle in Snape’s curled fists and shrunk back, frightened. Snape was so impossible to understand and Harry hatedhatedhated being so confused. Was Snape going to hit him? He probably deserved it. People didn’t hit other people for no reason. Even when it felt like Uncle Vernon was punishing him unfairly, Harry knew it was because he was a freak and that freaks deserved punishment all the time because they were always freaks.

Harry rubbed at his chest nervously. It was hurting and it felt tight. Snape seemed to notice because he said, “If you are feeling unwell, we can continue this conversation at a later time.”

And suddenly Snape was being almost kind. Harry didn’t understand. He shook his head.

“I’m fine, sir,” he said firmly. He took a shaky breath and said, “What else do you want to know?”

Snape’s hands weren’t fists anymore and his expression was indecipherable. He tapped his long fingers against his knee for a moment. Finally, he spoke. “Mr Potter. What do you know of your parents?”

Harry was taken aback but he answered nonetheless. “Not much, sir,” he admitted quietly.

Snape raised his eyebrows expectantly. Harry continued.

“I know that they died in a car crash because my dad was driving drunk,” he admitted, blushing in shame. He didn’t like to think of his father as someone who would do that. He lifted his fringe gingerly and said, “That’s where I got this, Aunt Petunia said. She said it’s because they were freaks.”

“I see,” Snape said, voice clipped. Without another word, he swept from the room and Harry was left staring after him feeling very foolish.

He should have known better than to make a bargain with an adult. They never kept their promises. Despite being used to such actions, he felt his eyes welling with tears at the injustice of it all. He had thought Snape was different. He hated being wrong about people.

The pain in his chest was unbearable when the tears finally broke loose and he found himself sobbing quietly into his pillow. It hurt to keep silent and sometimes a horrid cough would rattle his lungs but he just couldn’t calm down. His damp coughing appeared to have summoned Madam Pomfrey whose eyes were suspiciously red but he paid little mind to that detail. He felt awful.

“Oh, dear,” she whispered, placing one hand on his back. He shied away at first but she kept her hand there nonetheless. Harry forced himself to take comfort in her touch.

She let him cry until the sobs sent him into a coughing fit which showed no signs of relenting. Then, she helped him sit and rubbed his back, soothing him while he calmed. Harry kept one hand on his chest, rubbing circles in the hopes of relieving the tightness but nothing seemed to work. Even when he stopped coughing, his chest still felt horribly uncomfortable.

Madam Pomfrey felt his forehead and tutted. She was like Professor Snape in some ways, Harry realised. They could both switch between two personae with very little effort. Madam Pomfrey seemed to have mastered the art of being a gentle nurse one moment and a strict matron the next.

“Do you feel up to eating, Mr Potter?” She asked gently. “You’re seriously malnourished.”

Harry shook his head, unable to tell if the lump in his chest was the infection or the tears returning. His stomach churned at the thought of food. He’d never felt less hungry in his life.

Madam Pomfrey sighed. “Very well,” she said, pulling the cork out of a vial of clear liquid and handing it to him. He eyed it warily. “It will help you sleep,” she told him.

Harry downed the contents in one. It tasted of nothing.

Even in sleep, his body was tense, but it was nice not to be aware for a while. It was nice not to think of how stupid he’d been.

Chapter Text

Snape burst into McGonagall’s office so suddenly that she spilled ink all over her parchment. She went to berate him but the fury written in his features silenced her. Instead, she got up to shut the door and said lightly, “Most people knock, Severus.”

This did nothing to lighten the mood. Snape merely threw himself into the closest armchair with a huff. McGonagall sat down behind her desk again. Snape stood and paced. And then he sat. McGonagall didn’t know what to say to him. She’d never seen him quite like this before.

“Severus,” she tried gently. “What do you know?”

He looked sharply at her but any biting remarks died on his tongue. It was about Harry, she reasoned. It had to be. She personally feared that the boy’s home life was less than acceptable but Snape was much better at reading the nuances of such situations. He knew something and, by the look of things, it wasn’t a good something.

Snape was on his feet again. He walked to the window but restlessly came to sit again after a few moments.

“Potter is...not what I expected,” he admitted eventually. McGonagall noted that his posture remained stiff and awkward. She knew this wasn’t easy for him and so said nothing.

“He has been severely mistreated by those muggles,” he spat out the last word in ways which reminded McGonagall - with a shudder - of The Dark Lord.

She swallowed. “What did they do to him?” She asked hoarsely, fighting the waves of guilt which threatened to crash over her. She hadn’t dissuaded Albus from leaving Harry with those wretched excuses for humans. It was her own fault that the child had faced such hardships in his pitifully short lifetime.

“There are belt marks on his back.”

McGonagall couldn’t breathe.

“You mean…”

“Yes, of course I do!” Snape yelled, on his feet again. “What else could I possibly mean, you stupid woman?”

“Severus!”

He froze, apparently realising what he had said and he had the good sense to look at least vaguely apologetic.

“I-I apologise, Minerva,” Snape said, though his tone was still laced with fury. “That was unfair.”

McGonagall accepted his apology with a curt nod of her head, any anger she felt towards him quickly fading to be replaced by grief. That poor boy. She’d failed him. They all had.

Eventually, she muttered, “His uncle, I suppose?”

Snape sighed, looking older than she had ever seen him. He nodded his affirmation but still looked troubled.

“There’s more,” McGonagall said knowingly.

Looking drained, Snape gingerly took up his seat again and pinched the bridge of his nose. “There’s more,” he confirmed.

McGonagall pulled out her biscuit tin and offered it across the desk. To her surprise, he reached in an extracted a piece of shortbread. Well, there was a first time for everything. She was less surprised when he started to crumble it absently into one hand. One thing she had learned about her colleague since coming to work with him was that his constant fidgeting - for which she had constantly reprimanded him as a student - was not in fact a sign of boredom. He was simply incapable of sitting still. She suspected that, in keeping physically engaged, he found it easier to order his thoughts. It was no surprise to her, therefore, that Potions was his forte - it involved constant action and concentration.

She waited. Eventually, it became apparent that Snape was going to volunteer no further information and McGonagall sensed that it was best not to push him to do so. His mood was volatile enough as it was.

“If I’d known you weren’t going to eat it, Severus, I’d have offered you the boring biscuits,” she quipped.

Though he did not smile, she knew from the way he relaxed slightly that she’d made the right decision in not pursuing more information about Harry’s mistreatment. He wouldn’t keep it from her if it would put the boy in immediate danger and he was certainly in no danger at Hogwarts. McGonagall assumed that the child had been taken to the hospital wing and was in good hands.

They sat in silence for a while. McGonagall returned to her marking and Snape, having vanished the crumbs from his lap and those which had fallen onto the rug, wandered thoughtfully around her office, observing. She found she didn’t mind having him there and suspected that he needed her company as much as she did his. That being said, she did appreciate the silence.

After a while, she grew bored of marking and watched as he ran slender fingers along the spines of books on her shelf. The usual books one would expect to find in the office of the Transfiguration Professor - course books and suchlike - were the most easily accessible and those which she consulted most regularly. He steadfastly ignored these and instead reached to the shelf above and pulled down an older book about advanced defence spells. He flicked through it with practiced disinterest.

“You may borrow it, if you like,” she said mildly.

Snape shook his head and replaced the book on the shelf. “I have plenty of my own to be getting through.”

She knew this to be true. She’d never known a man to own as many books as Severus Snape. Sometimes, she felt he could have done so well in Ravenclaw; bright, studious, and an absolute thirst for learning. Perhaps Ravenclaw House could have tamed his passion for the Dark Arts. Perhaps, she thought wryly, he would not have followed that wretched path had he not been so heavily influenced by Lucius Malfoy and the like.

But the past was the past and it did not do to dwell on what could not be changed. The future was what mattered and, more specifically, what would become of Harry Potter. He could not return to the Dursley family, even if they were located. She had no doubt Albus would see to it that the boy was placed somewhere more suitable.

As though reading her thoughts, Snape said, “He cannot return there.”

“I should think not,” McGonagall sniffed.

Snape looked undeniably relieved to hear her agreement and she felt a pang in her heart. Harry was not the only one whom she had failed. She didn’t often think about the effect the Potions Master’s childhood had on him these days - after all, it was in the past. But now she wondered just what lessons she had taught him without even meaning to so do. She wondered if he truly thought she condoned such things or if this train of thought was a remnant of the helpless child inside him. She hoped it was the latter.

“Where is the child now?”

“I left him with Poppy,” Snape told her, moving to sit down again only to be interrupted by Madam Pomfrey’s prompt entrance. “Speak of the devil,” he muttered.

Pomfrey was trembling, McGonagall noticed.

“Poppy?” She asked worriedly, standing and beginning to make her way round the desk. She placed a comforting hand on her friend’s back and attempted to guide her to a chair but the matron held her ground.

“What did you say to him?” Pomfrey demanded, glaring at Snape. Without waiting for an answer, she went on, “If this is about your relationship with James Potter then so help me, Sever-”

“Poppy,” he interrupted calmly, apparently too tired to summon a harsher tone. “What are you talking about?”

Pomfrey faltered. “Harry. After you left, he was distraught. He kept calling himself stupid and seemed to think he’d made a terrible mistake in trusting you.”

Snape grimaced. “I made a bargain with the boy which, I admit, I did not uphold.”

“Whyever not?” McGonagall demanded, managing to wrestle Pomfrey into the armchair which Snape had vacated earlier.

“I was angry,” Snape admitted easily. “I did not consider myself to be in any fit state to talk to the boy without further jeopardising his mental health.”

McGonagall blinked and Pomfrey looked stunned. Snape showing consideration was not something one witnessed every day.

“He has a name, Severus,” McGonagall said, emphasising his own name pointedly. “You would do well to use it.”

Snape frowned. “I hardly think it would be appropriate.”

Pomfrey snorted. “Nothing about this situation could be deemed appropriate. However, as Harry is not yet a student here, I see no reason not to refer to him by his given name.”

“Other than the small fact that he will indeed be a student here in years to come and it would serve him well not to become overly friendly with his Professors beforehand?” Snape replied smoothly.

“I believe he’d already surpassed formality with you,” McGonagall said sadly. “After what he told you.”

“What did he tell you?” Pomfrey asked. “I couldn’t get any sense out of him.”

Snape looked uncomfortable but he relayed what he had told McGonagall and Pomfrey’s face crumpled with grief.

“That poor boy,” she whispered to herself. “That poor, poor boy.”

Tentatively, McGonagall turned to Snape. “You said there was more?”

Snape rubbed at his forehead where an ache was beginning to manifest. He had absolutely no desire to betray the child’s confidence but he could hardly justify withholding such a secret.

“What did your scan reveal?” He asked Pomfrey, hoping she would be able to understand at least some of the implications herself.

Pomfrey frowned. “He’s suffering from a chest infection and narrowly escaped hypothermia,” she began before her voice became quiet. “Chronic malnutrition like nothing I’ve seen in all my years here.”

McGonagall sat down heavily behind her desk, head in her hands.

“Those bastards starved him,” she growled at the table, making her colleagues blink in surprise. When she looked up and saw their expressions, she gave a dry chuckle, “You can take the girl out of the highlands-” she said with a watery smile.

“The boy- Harry-” Snape amended awkwardly, disliking the feel of the name on his tongue. “He did admit to being denied food as punishment. I suspect such punishments were a highly regular occurrence.”

Pomfrey sighed. “He won’t eat. The best I could do was a sleeping potion spiked with nutrients.”

“Hardly sustainable,” Snape murmured thoughtfully.

“No,” Pomfrey agreed.

There was a momentary lapse in conversation during which McGonagall reached into the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a bottle of Firewhiskey and a single glass which she duplicated until there were three. Pouring a small measure into each - they were still at work, after all - she sent them floating towards her colleagues with a wave of her wand.

They drank in silence.

McGonagall considered having another glass before remembering that tomorrow was Monday and that it was vital she be on her toes to keep the first years from accidentally transforming each other into tadpoles.

Snape cleared his throat and both women turned to look at him. He was staring down at his empty glass as though uncertain of how to begin. After a moment, he said, “There’s something else.” He paused, contemplating. “He didn’t have a bedroom.”

McGonagall blinked. “Didn’t have-”

“No,” Snape confirmed before she could even complete her sentence. “Those muggles locked him up in the cupboard under the stairs. A cupboard!”

He looked livid, an emotion which was reflected in the expressions of both witches.

“Merlin,” Pomfrey whispered.

“And I would be shocked if that were the end of the matter,” Snape went on flatly. “Neglect and physical beatings are rarely found without emotional abuse.”

“He didn’t know about magic,” McGonagall murmured. “He flinches when it’s mentioned.”

“He shied away from my wand,” Pomfrey put in, pulling out said wand as though to examine it for any other possible reason why Harry might have been afraid.

“Indeed, he was unaware of the true circumstances of his parents’ deaths,” Snape added bitterly. “The muggles made it seem as though Potter Senior’s carelessness was to blame.”

McGonagall seethed with silent fury. Pomfrey, on the other hand, placed her head in her hands and shook with silent sobs. This seemed to pull McGonagall out of her stupor and soon she was comforting the matron as best she could.

Snape had stopped paying attention. Such an emotionally charged situation was beyond him and so he turned away to look out the window, giving them privacy. He tried to clear his mind. The confusing mishmash of emotions was making it difficult to concentrate. Instead, he tried to see the situation objectively. He tried to treat the boy like a Potions puzzle, like a logic problem. But this proved difficult; having spent a little time with the boy, he couldn’t help but see Lily in him. Little Harry Potter was his best friend’s child and he needed somebody to be there for him.

“Excuse me,” he muttered and left, leaving the two witches alone in one another’s company. They didn’t even notice him go.

Chapter Text

Harry woke feeling distinctly uncomfortable and a sharp pain in his chest soon reminded him of why. Without warning, panic seized him and he was certain he was back in Privet Drive. He could hear Aunt Petunia at him to keep his filthy germs to himself and he could see Uncle Vernon’s face turning purple with rage because he was out of his cupboard and spreading disease everyone.

So he hid. He curled up in the nearest cupboard he could find and he tried to cough quietly into his hands but it hurt in his chest. Everything hurt. He wanted to cry but he was a big boy now  - seven and a half! - and big boys shouldn’t cry. (He tried not to remember how he’d behaved beforehand.)

“Harry?”

He head Madam Pomfrey’s frantic voice and curled even tighter in on himself, mistaking her agitation for anger. He’d done the wrong thing again . They were never going to let him stay if he kept messing things up.

The coughing was too hard to hold in and it soon alerted Madam Pomfrey to his hiding place. He shrunk further into the supply cupboard as she bent down to his level, looking both relieved and afraid.

“What are you doing in there?” She demanded, though there was worry in her tone.

Harry shook his head and apologised, unable to meet her eye.

“Harry? It’s alright,” she went on. “You’re not in any trouble.”

Cautiously, Harry looked up to meet her eye and was surprised to find compassion there. She held out her hand, slowly, for him to take. Hesitantly, he accepted and allowed her to pull him out of the cupboard and back to his feet. He felt unstable.

“Sorry,” he whispered again and she bundled him back into bed. She fussed around him, tucking in his blankets and fluffing his pillows, all the while telling him not to be silly and that he had nothing to apologise for. Harry wasn’t sure he believed her.

Harry watched, amazed despite himself, as she took hold of a tray which had been floating in mid air and placed it down on the table by his bed. He felt his stomach lurch at the sight of the meal. It was so much. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to eat that much. Honestly, he didn’t think he’d be able to eat anything.

Seeing his expression, Madam Pomfrey smiled reassuringly. “Just do your best,” she told him.

Harry, who had never heard this expression directed at him before, felt a warm glow in his chest. Someone wanted him to do his best and it felt so nice.

Madam Pomfrey waved her wand over the food and said, “It should stay warm for you. Just eat when you’re ready.”

She tucked a book into his hands. He tilted his head curiously as he examined it.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Harry had never heard of it. They didn’t have anything like it in the school library - which was where Harry spent most of his breaktimes and lunchtimes - and he had been sure they had every book in the world.

“Is there magic in this?” He asked carefully, unable to contain his excitement. He’d never dared even touch a book about magic in the school library because Uncle Vernon had told the school that he wasn’t allowed.

Madam Pomfrey smiled. “Indeed there is. Lots of magic.”

Harry flashed her childish grin and opened the book, delighted to see that there were many magical stories contained within it. Forgetting about the food entirely, Harry settled back against his pillows to begin The Wizard and the Hopping Pot.

~

Snape slammed the door to his dungeon office shut behind him as he stormed into the room, letting out a growl of anger as he did. Unsure of how else to let out his anger, he paced and allowed his hands to periodically clench into fists. He wanted to hit things - wanted to smash vials and punch walls and swear until he was blue in the face - but he didn’t. He just clenched and unclenched his fists and breathed and paced until he was exhausted.

Eventually, he sat down heavily in the chair at his desk.

Harry Potter: abused, mistreated, neglected. Unloved.

The words sprung unbidden to the forefront of his mind. He was still struggling to fathom how Harry Potter, of all people, should have ended up like this. The saviour of the wizarding world - a hurting child. It was preposterous. And yet it made perfect sense. The boy had likely learned to lend little value to his own life and had clearly shown himself willing to place his trust in anyone who was kind to him.

It was obvious to him - and apparently to McGonagall - that Dumbledore knew far more about the child’s home life than he let on. As a spy, it was difficult to ignore such things as Dumbledore’s complete lack of surprise when the boy practically admitted to neglect in the Headmaster’s office. The old fool had known and that angered Snape almost more than the mistreatment itself.

Snape wanted to hit himself, then, because he had known too; perhaps not consciously, but he had known. He had known ever since he felt the child’s signature emanating from the tiny hovell under the stairs. He had known when he saw the boy flinch at sudden movements. He had known when he saw the bruises on under Harry’s collar. He had known and he had kept silent, more than willing to believe the boy pampered despite all evidence to the contrary.

If those marks hadn’t been visible, would he ever have asked? If Pomfrey hadn’t done a full medical scan, would any of them have known? It cornered him deeply to know how easily such a blatant case of abuse could have slipped through their poorly cast net - and Harry Potter, no less!

It disgusted Snape to think that he had disregarded the possibility purely because he had hated the boy’s father. If Petunia had harmed him based on her hatred of her sister, did they even differ at all?

Consciously, Snape tried to calm down. It would do Harry no good to see him like this.

What should it matter to me how the child sees me? Impotent brat.

“He’s just a child,” he muttered to himself, rubbing his temples to block out the other voice which was always ready with a biting remark. It mattered because Harry had been through far too much in his short life. He deserved some stability. More than that, he needed consideration and he needed people to be gentle with him. He needed someone to trust.

A child needed a great many things, after all. A heavily mistreated child with no remaining family needed a great deal more.

~

Harry’s coughing had died down somewhat while reading for which he was thoroughly grateful. To make matters even better, he adored The Tales of Beedle the Bard. After finishing the first story, he’d skipped to the final one which was about three brothers who met Death at a river. He thought about the three gifts Death had given the brothers and decided he definitely would have wanted the invisibility cloak most of all because then Dudley’s gang wouldn’t be able to find him.

(He did think about the stone - seeing his parents had been a dream of his for as long as he could remember - but the girl that the brother in the story had brought back had been sad and he didn’t want his parents to be sad.)

Harry was so engrossed in the story that he didn’t notice Professor Snape standing in the doorway until he cleared his throat, making Harry jump. Seeing who was there, Harry eyed him warily, uncertain of how much he could be trusted. Snape knew things he’d sworn never to tell anyone and he hadn’t kept their bargain so who was to say he’d keep his promise about not telling the Dursleys?

“Mr Potter,” Snape greeted smoothly. He was carrying a small black box - about the size of a shoebox - under one arm and Harry found himself curious.

“Hello, sir,” he said quietly, looking away.

Snape took up his seat from before, setting the box carefully in his lap. He was silent for a long time and, unable the stand the tension, Harry turned his gaze to the Professor. Harry didn’t think he’d seen the man look so incredibly sad before.

“I must apologise,” Snape said stiffly and it was clear to Harry that this was not something the man did very often. “I did not uphold my end of the bargain.”

“No,” Harry agreed softly.

Snape’s lips tightened briefly before his entire posture relaxed slightly and his face became impassive. “You may ask me whatever you like and I shall answer to the best of my ability.”

Harry was shocked. He hadn’t been wrong after all.

“Really?” He asked warily.

Instead of answering, Snape opened the box and took out a photograph. Harry tilted his head in question and Snape seemed to attempt something like a smile but it might have been a grimace. Harry wasn’t sure.

Snape held the photograph out to him and Harry took it, recognising - with a jolt in his heart - that the girl in the photograph had his eyes.

“Your mother,” Snape said unnecessarily.

Harry thought he might cry. She was so beautiful, like everything Harry had ever imagined but more. Her red hair bounced elegantly around her shoulders, vibrant green eyes sparkling with mischief. Her smile was so full of joy that Harry wasn’t sure he could remember how to breathe. He felt the tears in his eyes and his throat and managed simply a hoarse, “Thank you, sir.”

For a long time, there was silence and Harry just couldn’t tear his eyes away from the picture. Harry guessed she must have been not much older than himself when the picture was taken and she had her arm slung around a pale boy with dark hair and a crooked nose. He supposed that the child must be the Professor.

“Some day you will grow tired of hearing this,” Snape said beside him, sounding almost fond. “But you have your mother’s eyes.”

Harry blinked back tears. “I’ll never get tired of hearing that.”

Reverently, Harry ran his thumb over one fuzzy corner, quite unable to believe that he was actually holding a photograph of his actual mother. His mother. He felt a pang in his chest suddenly when he realised that Professor Snape had known her probably for longer than he himself had.

After a moment, he whispered, “She’s so beautiful.”

“That she was,” said Snape quietly.

Snape’s use of past tense brought the reality of the situation crashing down on Harry so suddenly that he found the air sucked out of his lungs. Was. He swallowed.

“You were friends,” Harry said but it wasn’t a question and so Snape did not supply an answer. Harry didn’t mind. He was content simply to gaze at this one photograph for the rest of his life.

Harry noticed that the young Snape was also smiling in the picture and thought he might now understand why the man was so sad. He missed her and Harry had her eyes.

“There are others, if you would like to see them,” Snape offered cautiously, clearly hesitant to interrupt Harry’s privately intimate moment.

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “Please,” he whispered desperately.

At these words, Snape withdrew from the box a small stack of photographs. Harry accepted them with shaking fingers and mumbled thanks. He felt a lurch in his chest when he saw the photograph on the top of the pile moving - one of his mother throwing a snowball at the young Snape. He looked indignant while she was clearly laughing delightedly. They were both dressed in black robes and cloaks but, while his mother sported a tie of red and gold, Snape’s was green and silver. The scene continued to replay itself and Harry almost felt that, if he wished hard enough, he could fall straight through the picture and into the moment.

The rest of the pictures were also moving. There weren’t many, seven in total, but it was more than Harry could possibly have hoped for. He saw his mother and Snape lying by the lake, saw them sitting under the shade of a tree on a bright summer day. In the second to last picture, Harry saw the young Snape mouthing something at her, something Harry couldn’t quite decipher.

He really did start crying then, his eyes blurring with tears until he could no longer see the photographs. Some of them were a little grainy but Harry couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d never seen a photograph of his mother before and his heart ached desperately to be able to touch her, have her hug him and kiss his forehead and love him.

Snape sat somewhat awkwardly by the bed, unsure what to do with a crying child. He supposed he should really have expected it. The boy was clearly emotionally exhausted after everything he’d been through in the past few days and no doubt what he’d suffered at the hands of those cursed muggles. He settled for placing one hand over Harry’s tiny one and squeezing gently. He was certain he’d seen Poppy do this when he brought frightened Slytherins into her care and it did seem to bring the child back to reality.

“Thank you,” Harry said again and his voice oozed sincerity. “Thank you.”

Snape nodded, giving Harry’s hand a final squeeze before letting go.

“Lily would never have wanted you to suffer as you have done,” he felt the need to say. “You must remember that she loved you deeply.”

Harry, however, had ignored the significance of this sentence and had focused only on one word.

“Lily,” he whispered to himself.

Snape’s heart stuttered in his chest. Lily’s own child hadn’t known her name.

Harry coughed, rubbing a hand against his chest in pain. Noticing, Snape took the small pile of pictures from him and placed them on the nightstand. He made sure to leave them where the boy could reach.

“I think perhaps it would be best if you were to rest some more before we continue,” he said, pulling the boy’s blankets up to cover him. Harry pulled off his glasses and obediently lay down, seriously doubting the possibility of being able to sleep after receiving such precious information.

Lily.

As Snape made to leave, the box under his arm once more, Harry propped himself up on his elbow and said, “Professor?”

Snape turned, one eyebrow raised in invitation.

“Did you know my dad too?”

Snape hesitated and then said, “Once you are better rested, we will talk.”

Satisfied for the moment, Harry tucked one arm under his pillow and lay back down. Snape had propped up the photograph containing the snowball scene against the glass of water by his bedside. Harry gazed at it for a long time until his eyes started drooping and he finally fell asleep.