Reading Time: 134 Minutes
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Time Travel
Relationship(s): Gen, Pre-Severus Snape/OMC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Major Character Death, Rape by Potion, Dark Themes, Hate Speech (against non-purebloods), Kidnapping, Reference to canon child abuse
Author Notes: Thanks to Jilly James for being my alpha reader, and thanks to Keira for introducing the concept of dvergers to fandom. It is now firmly my headcanon!
Beta: Vanessawolfie, Thank you for all your help
Word Count: 46,750
Summary: Harry Potter is over a hundred years old when he discovers he’s been manipulated and controlled all of his life. He sends a message back in time to Severus Snape, the only person who might be able to change the future. Severus, freed from Dumbledore’s influence and finally able to make his own choices, is now the one who must defeat the powerful and popular wizard to protect Lily’s ten-year-old son.
Walking back into Hogwarts as its headmaster should have felt like coming home for Harry. At one hundred seven years old, he should feel sentimental about his time at Hogwarts as a child, his first real home. But as he walked the familiar paths through the school, he couldn’t even feel slightly nostalgic for times past. The feeling of home remained absent. Nothing had felt like home since Ginny died two years ago. The numbness that had suffused him for so long wasn’t chased away by Hogwarts’ warmth.
Harry ascended the stairs to the headmaster’s office and opened the door. The office seemed smaller than the last time he’d seen it while still a teenager. The last headmaster had cleared out all his belongings when he’d done a runner at the end of the school year, so the office was fairly bare. The books entailed to Hogwarts were still on the shelves, and there was a large stack of paperwork on the big ebony desk. Harry’s attention, however, was on the portraits of the former headmasters hanging on the wall. Displayed slightly off-centre, where you saw it straight away on entering the office, was Dumbledore’s portrait. It was slightly larger than most of the portraits, surrounded by a large, gilded frame prominently. Standing placidly in front of the golden throne he’d always used in the great hall, Dumbledore smiled down at Harry with twinkling eyes.
“Harry, my boy, congratulations on becoming headmaster. It’s so wonderful to see you following in my footsteps.”
“Oh, shut up,” Harry said, slamming the door behind him.
Dumbledore started admonishing Harry for being impolite while giving him a disappointed look. Several of the other portraits chimed in, agreeing with Dumbledore’s lecture about composure.
“Silence!” Harry commanded.
Silence indeed descended on the office, despite more than one angry or mulish look from the portraits. Dumbledore especially looked incensed at being silenced. Harry merely smiled and conjured a seat straight in front of Dumbledore’s portrait.
“Good to know I do indeed have the ability to command the portraits in here as headmaster,” Harry said as he sat down. “I wasn’t entirely sure that bit of legend was true. It would be such a shame if it wasn’t, since it was the whole reason I talked the board of governors into naming me headmaster. Not that it was difficult. After the previous headmaster had to be fired for embezzlement, they were all too happy to hire me and use my reputation as a hero to get rid of the shame Hicklebug brought on the school.”
Of course, a nice little sob story of wanting to give back to Hogwarts, now that his envisioned retirement with his wife had so cruelly been ripped away from him by her death, helped to seal the deal. The board of governors was easily manipulated, especially since they weren’t expecting it of Harry. After all, he’d always been on those Pure-blood arseholes’ side thanks to Ginny. They had no reason to suspect any ulterior motives in Harry.
Dumbledore had moulded his expression back into a genial smile, but Harry wasn’t fooled. Not anymore. There was a distinctly worried glint in his painted eyes. Harry chuckled; a dark, unpleasant sound.
“I see you’re beginning to understand. Not what you expected me to be when I walked in here, did you?” Harry shook his head. “I don’t think I had a clear thought in my head since the moment I entered Hogwarts. After the first evening here in Hogwarts, my thirst to learn everything was just gone. As for Ginny, well, I don’t think I ever truly loved her. I certainly wasn’t interested in her anymore when Ron Weasley decided to fuck off during our Horcrux hunt. And then, suddenly I was missing her like crazy again when he returned. Funny thing, isn’t it?”
Harry sat back and crossed his ankles. He lazily twirled his wand and conjured a tea set. Another wave of his wand had the teapot pouring a cup. Anticipation thrummed through him. After Ginny’s death, he’d slowly awoken to feelings and thoughts he’d never had before. She’d manipulated him her whole life, but with careful consideration of the past, Harry had determined she’d been too young when it had all started. The most likely suspect, he’d determined, was Dumbledore. Unfortunately, Harry hadn’t seen a way to get answers from a dead man. Hicklebug’s crimes being splashed on the front page of the Prophet had planted the seed of this idea in Harry’s head. Now, finally, he would be able to get the answers he’d given up on.
“Tell me, Dumbledore, truthfully and completely, what you know about any manipulations of me, my feelings, and my circumstances, done by you or any other person, in chronological order” Harry commanded.
“I manipulated your parents and by extension you, into hiding behind the Fidelius Charm held by what I knew to be a traitor. I suppressed your parents’ will so I could place you with the Dursleys. I placed a magic inhibitor on you to limit your power. I left you with your aunt even though I received reports on their abuse of you. I had Hagrid introduce you to the wizarding world to keep anyone from questioning your home situation and to keep you ignorant. I placed Molly Weasley in the train station to make you friends with the family. Molly helped me by encouraging her youngest two to befriend you and in Ginevra’s case to fall in love with you,” Dumbledore said through gritted teeth. “When you entered Hogwarts, I dosed you with loyalty potions, another magic inhibitor as your power had grown beyond what I had expected despite the first inhibitor, and I gave you regular half-doses of calming potion normally used on agitated long-term patients. It made you more docile to your circumstances, less curious, and less likely to reach out to anyone for help. I let Quirinus be possessed by Tom and made sure the obstacle course was simple enough a first year could get through it. I never spoke up about you not being the Heir of Slytherin to isolate you from your peers. As your magical guardian and as headmaster, I forbade Poppy Pomfrey from doing any in-depth health scans that could lead to questions. I stopped her from sending you to St. Mungo’s after the basilisk bit you, as my power there was less and I couldn’t have any of the healers take a good look at your health, it would have led to too much interference and your removal from the Dursleys.”
Several of the other portraits were muttering curses towards Dumbledore – the command to be silent apparently broken by Harry’s question aimed at Dumbledore – while most simply looked horrified. Three portraits actually had tears running down their faces as they listened to Dumbledore’s litany of crimes against Harry. Harry himself stayed stoic; it wasn’t anything he hadn’t suspected already. He’d had two years since Ginny’s death to puzzle out exactly how he was manipulated. The details were new, but the overall picture wasn’t.
Dumbledore continued in his litany, detailing love potions fed to him, first by Dumbledore and Molly, later by Ron and Ginny. Dumbledore’s personal hand in the manipulations ended with a fake image of his parents and Sirius from the Resurrection Stone that had already been destroyed when the Horcrux had been destroyed.
“Why do all this?” Harry asked.
“You needed to be prepared to die, of course. You were too powerful, too popular, for me to let live,” Dumbledore said. Not that he was being forced to talk about his actions, he seemed to relish finally being able to brag about his so-called accomplishments in controlling Harry’s life. “By dying, you would have served the greater good.”
“If I was supposed to die, why the love potions?”
“The prophecy wasn’t clear. There was the possibility you would survive. In that case, you would need to be kept under control. Molly came up with the plan to keep you under control with a love potion. Ginevra was perfectly willing to help us.”
Considering she’d ended up married to him and kept up the love potions until she’d died, Harry had no trouble believing Ginny had been perfectly happy to go along with their plan. Still, there’d been more than just keeping him under control. Under Ginny’s influence, all of the changes that could have been were never supported by Harry. He had even spoken out against change in some cases, slowly shifting towards a more pro-Pure-blood agenda. Was that the greater good Dumbledore always promoted?
“What about keeping the status quo? Me supporting the Pure-blood agenda by speaking out in favour of people supporting that in public? Whose idea was that?”
“There was nothing wrong with the status quo. We have always done things this way, there was no reason to let uppity Muggle-borns come in and change centuries of traditions. Molly agreed with me. Besides that, you needed to be kept from any official political position, especially with how much power you would have in the Wizengamot after defeating Tom. Upon claiming a seat in the Wizengamot the potions would have been detected by the magic of the Wizengamot and burned out of you, so that was also a consideration. If not, we could have stamped out a lot of the so-called progress that was made since the war with Grindelwald by placing you on the Wizengamot. Alas, it was not to be. We had to serve the greater good in lesser ways.”
Harry’s magic roiled inside of him. “The greater good? If I’d had my full magical power, had the desire to learn, who knows how the war would have gone? I could have won years earlier. And later on, some of the laws that went into effect? They pushed creature regulations back to the dark ages! There isn’t a werewolf left in the country, they were hunted down or fled to the continent. Between the war and the new laws, your actions caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths, you utter bastard!”
Dumbledore just shrugged. “It was necessary.”
Harry jumped up from his chair as his magic exploded out. Everything breakable in the office was destroyed and the windows shook, the castle just managing to withstand the blast. The numbness Harry had felt since realizing his whole life had been a lie finally broken, replaced by a wave of all-consuming anger.
“Potter, control yourself!”
The familiar bark of Severus Snape, despite not having heard it for so long, helped to get himself back under control. It took several minutes for Harry to bank his magic, but once he did, he turned his gaze to Snape’s portrait. Even so many years after the war and with his role in it known, he wasn’t a popular figure with the public. Far too many of them remembered his horrible behaviour as a teacher for him to ever be branded a hero. His portrait on the wall reflected that. It was small and tucked away in a relatively dark corner.
“Did you know? Did you brew the potions they needed? Answer me honestly.”
“No,” Snape answered. “I never knew any of this. It would have certainly activated my vow to protect you had I known. Dumbledore knew this, so I suspect that is why he kept me out of his plans for you.”
Harry nodded. It made sense. Unable to stomach staying any longer in the presence of Dumbledore’s portrait, who showed absolutely no remorse for any of his actions, he walked towards the door.
“Still an imbecile, I see,” Snape called out.
The anger threatened to overcome him again, but again Harry pushed it down. He turned back to face Snape, hand on the doorknob.
“What do you mean?” he bit out.
“You have the opportunity to get a full, honest answer from a man who never shared anything of import with anyone, and you stop at the obvious question. Older, but certainly not wiser. Are you truly selfish enough to think he’s done this to just you?”
The idea, once Snape had uttered it, took root in Harry’s mind. He remembered the unhappy mien of Hermione, stuck in a dead-end job at the Ministry and marriage to Ron Weasley, who, to this day, continued to criticize her more than she deserved. Thinking back on their schooldays, with Ron being his lazy self and behaving horribly to Hermione at times, how had she ever fallen for him? Perhaps Snape was right to call him selfish, as Harry had never looked beyond what had been done to him in the past two years.
“Dumbledore, you’re still to give full, complete, and honest answers to my questions. Who else have you controlled, manipulated, or abused, aside from myself?”
The list started with Arianna Dumbledore. It took nearly five minutes before he reached the name of Minerva McGonagall, the first person Harry had personally know. A small whirlwind of magic, powered by Harry’s anger, started swirling around him as more and more familiar names were added to the list. Severus Snape. Sirius Black. James and Lily Potter. Frank and Alice Longbottom. Remus Lupin. Augusta Longbottom. Neville Longbottom. Hermione Granger.
Harry’s magic, already agitated, exploded out of him like a supernova. Harry had just enough control to direct it towards the solid ebony desk. The force of the magic incinerated the parchments on top of it and cracked the desk itself in half.
One of the portraits cackled in glee. “Oh, you have the temper of a Black.”
It snapped Harry out of his blind fury and he turned around completely to face the grinning portrait of Phineas Black.
“I’d have thought you’d agree with his Pure-blood nonsense aims,” Harry said.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll freely admit I find these Muggle-borns coming into our society and thinking they know better an utter travesty. But if you for one minute think I would ever condone the spilling of magical blood, you have no idea what the Black family truly stands for.”
“How could I?” Harry asked, sinking back in the chair he’d conjured. “I never got the chance to learn anything about this world or my place in it. Let alone about Sirius’s family. Maybe if he’d been allowed to raise me, as he was supposed to, that would have been different. We’ll never know.”
“Perhaps,” Phineas said. “But what if we can change things?”
“Can we?” Harry asked, sitting straight. Hope bloomed in his chest. “I thought time-turners didn’t go back that far.”
“Time-turners, no, but there are some ancient rituals that can pierce time if you’re willing to pay the price.”
“What do I need to do?”
Phineas smiled as Dumbledore started to protest.
The time travel ritual Phineas knew was based on sacrificial magic, a branch of magic that had already been labelled as dark when Phineas’ great-grandfather had been a little boy. It wasn’t black magic, but it required the caster to sacrifice his or her own magic. All of it. More portraits than just Dumbledore’s had started protesting the ritual at that, some shouting there was a reason the knowledge of those rituals had been as good as destroyed.
“Enough,” Harry shouted. The cacophony of the portrait’s voices quieted down. “Anyone who does not have anything to add that can help me go back in time stays silent.”
Phineas explained the intricacies of the almost-forgotten ritual. The only reason Phineas knew the ritual was that at heart he was a scholar. He’d studied almost everything in the extensive Black library, where books that had long since been banned by the Ministry still existed. But he, like so many Blacks before him, hadn’t used the ritual because he wasn’t prepared to sacrifice his magic in that way. Not to mention that most magicals wouldn’t even survive losing all of their magic. On top of that, the magical power one could pour into the ritual was proportional to the time one could wind back and you couldn’t send anything living back in time. This last requirement was what had Harry stumped right now.
“Well, what good does it do then? I’m fully prepared to drain my magic and die to prevent all of this, but if I can’t send myself or even someone else back in time, how can we change anything?”
“Really, Potter, use your brain for once. You don’t need to go back to change anything, you just need to unravel one of Dumbledore’s threads,” Snape chimed in. “A message would do.”
Harry looked over at the dour man, who was scowling, but it lacked the usual hatred he’d seen in Snape’s eyes. Snape’s name had been in the list of people Dumbledore had manipulated. Harry wondered how far that manipulation had gone, as he hadn’t asked for any details save those about his own life.
“Dumbledore, answer honestly and completely, what did you do to control, manipulate, and abuse Severus Snape?”
Because Harry was watching Snape and not Dumbledore, he saw the minute widening of Snape’s eyes at his question.
“I knew about the abuse Severus and his mother endured at his father’s hands and did nothing. I gave him an obsessive love potion keyed to Lily Potter. I didn’t do anything to punish James and Sirius for the werewolf incident, to make sure that Severus remained angry and would remain in his place as a Half-blood. I made him swear an oath to keep you safe, then prevented him from learning anything about you that would trigger that oath. I gave him loyalty potions keyed to me. I directed his actions so he would die after my death before the loyalty potions would wear off. I used the presence of the Dark Mark on his arm and my help at his trial to keep him at Hogwarts and under my command.”
“People were no more than chess pieces to you, were they Dumbledore?” Harry asked, but he silenced Dumbledore with a command when the man attempted to answer. It didn’t matter anyway. He focused on Snape’s portrait. “Do you still feel obsessive love for my mum and loyalty to Dumbledore?”
“No, my portrait isn’t infected with these potions. I love Lily, yes, but as a dear friend. I had a crush on her, but that faded away before I even had my Potions Mastery. The obsessive love potion made me obsessed with possessing her under the guise of loving her. It doesn’t even mimic real love like Amortentia does, so I can still recognize when my crush faded. Now, all I feel is regret for a lost friendship,” Snape said. “And I would have no problems killing Dumbledore, so the loyalty potions are not affecting me anymore either.”
A plan slowly began to take form in Harry’s mind. “Professor, how difficult would it be to free your past self from these potions?”
Harry could see the portrait realize what he was intending in the slight narrowing of the eyes and the alertness in the man’s pose that hadn’t been there before.
“A high order flushing draught would do it. The main problem would be the Dark Mark on my arm. Dumbledore always held it above my head that he could and would have me sent to Azkaban if I dared to disobey him. He would just retract his statement that got me a pardon.”
Phineas Black snorted, drawing their attention.
“Let him try to send you to Azkaban. You can, in absolute honesty, testify that you were a spy. Aside from that, I know that upstart that called himself a dark lord never would have been foolish enough to pull you into anything truly dark. You were far too valuable as a potion’s master. Besides, a retraction would make Dumbledore look ridiculous. If you were truly a Death Eater, then why would he testify that you were a spy and then appoint you as a teacher? No, he would stand to lose too much political power if he retracted his statement. He’d never do that.”
Snape didn’t look completely convinced, but Harry figured that the threat of Azkaban that had hung over Snape for most of his life would not be so easy to shrug aside. Still, the idea of stopping a lot of the horrors Dumbledore had confessed to from happening had taken root in his mind and Harry was now determined to try. How much they could do depended on how far back they could go with the ritual, but Harry hoped they could at least prevent Dumbledore from manipulating the Harry of the past. Perhaps even save his parents from being killed. Selfish perhaps, but Harry was through sacrificing his own happiness for the rest of the wizarding world. If they could stop Riddle from waging war on the wizarding world a second time, that would be a nice bonus.
“So, flushing draught, and then what?” Harry said, thinking out loud. “How do we expose Dumbledore for the dark bastard he is? Because with how the wizarding world sees him, that’s our biggest problem.”
“You leave that to me, Potter. That is, if you trust me,” Snape’s portrait said.
It was a loaded question. Up until the very end, Harry hadn’t been sure about Snape, and even after, he couldn’t forgive the man for some of his actions. But the vow Snape had made to protect him gave Harry the peace of mind that Snape would do everything in his power to keep both Voldemort and Dumbledore from destroying his life. Besides, Snape himself had been wronged by both men. Self-service alone would have the Slytherin work towards their downfall.
“All right. So, the plan is to send you back to the past, so you can inform your past self about all of this. Now, how far back can we send you?”
“It’s a matter of calculating your magical power and how many years back that would take me,” Snape said. “It shouldn’t be too difficult. Although, it will kill you. At your age, your body will fail without your magic.”
“I don’t care. It’s not like I’ve got anything to live for. My kids hate me. Ginny often forced me to disapprove of their choices. She could remain silent in the background, so their anger went mostly to me. They don’t even talk to me if they can avoid it. No, dying would not matter to me. But I don’t know how to calculate my magical power.”
“Hey, I never took Arithmancy as an elective, how the hell would I know how to do this?”
Snape grumbled about lazy dunderheads but did walk Harry through the calculations. It took a few hours, much cursing on both Harry and Snape’s part, and Harry dearly wishing for a calculator, but in the end, the final answer was ninety-seven years. That would put them right at the beginning of the summer holidays in which Harry had turned eleven.
“Damn it, I’d hoped I could send you back far enough to save my parents,” Harry said.
Snape himself seemed disappointed too. “There’s no choice for it. Just be glad you’re powerful enough to send me back to before you got to Hogwarts. It’ll be easier to protect you if I’ve got some time to work before Dumbledore can get his claws into you.”
“Well, I’ve lived through the Dursleys once, I can live through them again, I suppose. It’s not like I’ll know the difference,” Harry sighed.
Harry stood up from the repaired desk he’d levitated in front of Snape’s portrait to work on the calculations. He felt every one of his one hundred seven years. Not long now, he told himself. Not long before all his misery would be over. For him and for all the other people Dumbledore had ruined. But now, in order not to arouse suspicion from the staff members staying at Hogwarts over the summer, he was expected at dinner.
As it turned out, it was more difficult to get a portrait in the headmaster’s office down than Harry had anticipated. Brian Geaghwilde, the headmaster that had created the spell to eternalize all headmasters of Hogwarts, had also placed protections against removing any portraits. Considering the fact that at least Phineas Black’s portrait would’ve been removed not long after it appeared for his rather disgusting views on Muggle-born, it was a sensible precaution. Harry was grateful for it in some way because it was Phineas who was giving him this opportunity. On the other hand, it made his task much more difficult. Snape’s portrait would appear in the same spot in the past as it was during the ritual, so he couldn’t stay in the headmaster’s office.
“Come on, Potter, put your back into it.”
“What do you think I’m doing,” Harry groused while carefully levitating Snape’s portrait down the stairs.
It had taken five full days of fiddling with the wards under the instruction of a taciturn Geaghwilde to undo his original spellwork that protected the headmaster’s portraits. No one had been able to do it before, because he’d cleverly destroyed any record of his spellwork and he wasn’t included in the obedience spell. Luckily, Geaghwilde had been so horrified by Dumbledore’s widespread crimes and their effects on the wizarding world that he’d agreed to help Harry fix this. It helped that back in Geaghwilde’s time, sacrificial magic was still an accepted branch of magic, as long as the sacrifices were voluntary.
The corridors were empty, as without children attempting to sneak out of bed, all of the staff at Hogwarts were sound asleep. That was the main reason they’d chosen the middle of the night to move the portrait and do the ritual. It had taken a full week after the idea was first posited by Phineas Black before all the hurdles to do the ritual had been taken. During that time Harry had managed to keep the minimal staff members already present at Hogwarts off his back by pretending to have to work through the mess Hicklebug had left behind. He used it to justify shutting himself away in the headmaster’s office instead of interacting with anyone. No one on the staff, all at least forty years younger than he was, knew him well enough to spot the lie.
Snape’s old quarters were empty. The torches lining the walls flickered on the moment Harry crossed the threshold. There was a thick layer of dust over everything that told of neglect. The house-elf population of Hogwarts had never really recovered from their brave fight in the Final Battle, where many had perished. Castle upkeep these days was limited to inhabited parts of the castle and the work needed to keep the castle’s structural integrity firm.
“All of my old furniture is still here, that will make it easier to make sure I’m not put in the same spot as a cabinet. That would ruin my painting the moment it reaches the past.”
Harry nodded and gently put down the portrait against the wall next to the fireplace. “This should do.”
He waved his wand and cleared all the dust away. From the pack he was carrying, he took out the special potion he’d brewed under Snape’s watchful eye. The man had been exacting as ever and Harry had felt a little nostalgic for the days when his horrible potions master was the great bogeyman of the wizarding world in Harry’s eyes. It hadn’t taken long before Harry had learned he had much greater enemies, of course. But those early days had been the last relatively peaceful ones he could remember. Even after the war, it had been one kind of battle after another. As an auror, in his marriage with Ginny, with his children, and with the wizarding public and press, who had remained as fickle as always in regards to him. Much of it could be traced back to Dumbledore’s manipulations and tonight he was determined to erase it all in the hope of creating a better future.
With the potion, he drew concentric circles of runes around the portrait, using the floor and the wall so he could leave the portrait standing up. Runes Harry knew nothing about, except how and where to draw them, filled the inner circle. Power enhancing runes in the next circle. Power gathering and harvesting runes in the circle that surrounded that one. The outermost circle consisted entirely of alternating raido and jera runes, two runes he actually remembered the name of, standing for journey and year respectively. Only a single rune, ansuz, broke the pattern. It was the activation rune and Harry had asked for its meaning. Phineas had told him its meaning was god. Harry figured it fit, considering what they were doing.
“Done,” he said, after drawing the last rune.
“Make sure there are no mistakes. We only have one shot at this.”
Harry shot the portrait a dark look. He did not appreciate being spoken to as if he was still an ignorant teenager. Still, he heeded the advice and double-checked the runes. It galled him when he found a slight mistake that he needed to fix. Thankfully the portrait didn’t comment on it. Once he was sure there were no mistakes in the runic pattern, he sat down on the floor in front of the portrait, just outside the runic circles.
“You promise to prevent him from controlling me?”
“He will be taken down before he can start his manipulations of you, I promise.”
No matter how much of a bastard Snape had always been and how acrimonious their relationship had been, Harry believed him. He took a deep breath and put the tip of his wand on the ansuz rune. He focused on his magic, feeling it rise within him as if he was going to cast a spell. He let it flow out of his wand into the rune, not trying to shape it but just keeping the flow consistent as if powering a shield charm. He kept the flow going as first the ansuz lit up, then all of the runes of the outer circle lit up one by one, the stream of magic flowing from one rune to the next. He kept going as the magic started lighting up the next circle, and the next. It became harder and harder to keep the stream going and for the first time ever Harry felt old down to his bones. He kept going until all the circles were lit up completely. He locked eyes with Snape’s portrait as he pushed the last of his magic into the rune. Just before everything went black, he saw the portrait disappear from the circle in a flash of magic. He died with a smile on his face.
Severus Snape closed the door to his quarters behind him with a sigh of relief after the last staff meeting of the school year. Another year over, another summer of relative freedom stretching out before him. It always took a week of hard work to wrap up the school year after the students went home, but it included preparations for next year and upkeep on classrooms and teaching materials that otherwise needed to be done before the next school year. This way, the teachers could leave and not return until the Friday before the new school year started. All Severus still needed to do was pack and he could leave for Spinner’s End.
“Well, it’s about time you showed up.”
The unexpected voice had Snape drawing his wand, but there was no intruder. At least, not in the traditional sense. Standing against the wall next to the fireplace was a portrait of himself, who was looking decidedly amused at his reaction.
“If you want to protect Harry Potter, as per your vow, you will pack your things and take me along with you to Spinner’s End. There, you will brew a high-level flushing draught and take it. Then, and only then, we will talk. You will not speak to Dumbledore or communicate with him in any other way, for it will bring life-threatening danger to Harry Potter if you do.”
Severus felt angry at the portrait for his order. He’d never had a portrait made, so how this one came into being and through which dark magic it had managed to get past his wards was a mystery. Dumbledore needed to know, the sooner the better. However, that damned vow to protect Potter’s brat compelled him to do as the portrait said. The thing had known exactly how to trigger it. But oh, once he’d taken a flushing potion – though his entire being rebelled against that idea, he would know if he’d been potioned – and heard what the portrait had to say, he would be free to burn the dratted thing. After informing Dumbledore of course, because the Headmaster definitely needed to investigate the thing.
It didn’t take long for Severus to pack what he wanted to take with him. He shrunk the portrait, disgruntled at having to take it with him, but his vow prodded him not to leave it behind. With the portrait in his pocket and his bag in his hand, he took the floo to Spinner’s End.
The moment he stepped out of the floo, he locked it down. He set his bag down next to the fireplace and opened up the hidden door to his storage room. Once it had closed behind him, he dispelled the elaborate illusion on the back wall, showing another door that led to his private potions lab. Once there, he gathered all the ingredients needed for the Complete Flushing Draught, the highest level of flushing potion there was.
Although he longed to keep the portrait out of sight in his pocket, he couldn’t risk it being destroyed should something go wrong with the potion. So, he took out the portrait and resized it. He placed it out of harm’s way against the far wall against his ingredient’s cabinet, inside the wards that protected the cabinet. The feeling of being watched was disquieting, but Severus was thankful the portrait remained silent during the brewing. This potion required all of his attention.
After three and a half hours, Severus finished brewing the draught and measured out a single dose in a beaker. Just as he was about to swallow the potion, the portrait spoke for the first time since leaving Hogwarts.
“You might want to move somewhere more comfortable before taking that.”
Severus hmphed and swallowed the dose. He could feel the mild warmth radiating out from his stomach, moving through his body as the draught sought out any potions inside his body. He shot a smug smile at the portrait, as the potion didn’t go to searing hot as it would have if anything was found. But before he could demand answers, now that he’d satisfied the vow the portrait had invoked, he had to grab the workbench as his body was enveloped in a searing heat the likes of which he’d never felt before. The heat didn’t diminish as Severus started sweating. He ended up on his knees on the cold stone floor, praying it would end soon, as the draught burned out all potions affecting his body.
Just as sudden as the heat had started, it ended. Not even the initial warmth of the draught was left, a good indication that all traces of potions in his body were gone. Severus groaned as he sat up, feeling shaky. He leaned against the wall, allowing himself the weakness as there was no one to witness it anyway.
“Still feeling the need to run to Dumbledore and tell him everything?”
Severus looked up at the portrait, startled. He’d forgotten about the portrait. It took him a moment to really register the question. It wasn’t until he thought about it that he realized that no, he didn’t want to tell Dumbledore about this. Not like before, when all he wanted to do was run straight to Dumbledore and share the appearance of the portrait.
“A loyalty potion,” he said.
“Yes. An obsessive love potion keyed to Lily Potter as well. All to keep you under his thumb.”
“How do you know all this? What are you?”
“I am you. Well, your portrait. I know all about our past. I know about the future that would have happened if I hadn’t been sent here.”
Severus shook his head. This didn’t make sense. But at the same time, it did. If the portrait, his portrait, spoke the truth, it would mean it was from the future. And so far, the portrait had spoken the truth.
“Time-travel,” he said, and the portrait nodded. “Why were you sent back? Why to this moment in time?”
The portrait gave a tight smile. “Why I was sent back to this moment is simple. It’s the furthest point in time I could be sent back to. Why to you? Because of our vow.”
“You said something about protecting Potter,” Severus said. “Is that why you were sent back? Did the Dark Lord win?”
“Forget the Dark Lord for the moment, he is but a minor problem and one that can wait at that. From the moment Harry Potter stepped into the wizarding world, he was manipulated by Dumbledore and others. He had no defence against it. He was ignorant about our world and its dangers. Many died that shouldn’t have because of these manipulations and in the end, it killed Harry too. While everyone was focused on Tom Riddle and his death eaters terrorizing the country, a dark lord far worse than Riddle ever was escaped everyone’s notice. And his name is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.”
As much as Severus wanted to deny what he heard, he couldn’t. He’d seen enough of Dumbledore’s ugly side to believe it. The man didn’t bother with his grandfatherly mask when he was alone with Severus, as he thoroughly had his claws in him. Between the threat of Azkaban, the vow to protect Potter, and within him knowing it also a loyalty potion, Dumbledore had nothing to fear from Severus. But it appeared Dumbledore had hidden more from Severus than he’d ever revealed. Because Dumbledore’s actions had apparently caused Harry Potter’s death in the future, Severus’ vow was now prodding at him to remove the threat. Something the portrait had surely counted on. But even without the vow, Severus would gladly take down the man who’d manipulated him and potioned him at every turn.
“Now what? I assume you have a plan.”
The portrait nodded. “The biggest priority is to keep Harry out of Dumbledore’s control. We also need to break Dumbledore’s powerbase. However, to do that, you need to be free to act. That, along with all the information about the future that was that I can provide you, is my task here. The rest will be up to you.”
Severus nodded in understanding. “The moment I act, your knowledge of the future will be useless.”
“Not all of it. I can tell you about Dumbledore’s crimes in the past. I can tell you who he targeted in the future. I can help you decide who to trust.” The portrait sighed. “But yes, most of my knowledge will hopefully be useless, unfortunately.”
Severus stood up from the ground and cast a cleaning charm on himself. “I assume you have a way to break Dumbledore’s hold on Potter. Tell me what I need to do to stop him, preferably in such a way he won’t know I’m working against him. If he finds out, he’ll probably retract his support of me, which will send me straight to Azkaban.”
Severus wished he could keep his wand out and at the ready. That would be the height of ridiculousness, though, not to mention suicidal as he entered Gringotts. He relaxed a little when he reached the relative safety of Gringotts, where drawing a wand was a death sentence and the Ministry had no true power. Still, he wouldn’t feel safe until Dumbledore’s control over his life was truly broken.
It was fairly busy, with long lines of wizards and witches waiting for the five tellers that were doing business. Severus was glad he could bypass the teller lines to go to a desk in the back. An ancient dverger sat behind it, writing in a large ledger. A small, gold-plated plaque with Family Matters engraved on it sat on the desk. Severus waited as patiently as he could for the dverger to look up, grateful for Lily’s research binge on what he’d then known as goblins. It had resulted in a fairly good relationship with the dverger, unlike most wizards, who called them goblins out of ignorance or prejudice. Therefore, it didn’t take long for the dverger to give him his attention.
“Honored dverger, I would like to see a will,” Severus said.
“The will of Lily Potter, nee Evans.”
The dverger clacked his teeth together. “Do you have a blood relation to her?”
“No, I do not. But I have sworn an oath to her child.”
“Vassal oaths have been outlawed by Ministry law. You are not old enough to have sworn one before that law became in effect. If you were to claim the will successfully, you would open yourself up to criminal charges that could see you serve time in Azkaban,” the dverger said. “Are you sure you want to thread this path, honoured customer?”
Severus smiled, careful to keep any hint of teeth from showing.
“Thank you for your wise words, honoured dverger. But I am quite sure my oath is both legal and will suffice.”
The dverger nodded. He wrote a note on one of the loose sheets of parchment on his desk, then pressed on a rune inscribed at the top of his desk. It didn’t take long for another dverger to join the one behind the desk. This one was much younger and although Severus couldn’t understand the dverger’s language, it was clear from their interaction that the younger dverger was lower in rank.
“Stonespear will take you to a conference room and bring you the will,” the ancient dverger said.
“Thank you, honoured dverger,” Severus said, giving the ancient dverger a short bow.
Severus followed Stonespear through an unobtrusive door at the back of the bank. Stonespear took him on a winding path through hallways that looked identical. Pale marble on the floors and walls, scones of bright, flickering flames, and wooden doors made from cherry wood without a single marking aside from the natural grain of the wood. It was an excellent security measure. No customer could ever find their way through this maze without getting hopelessly lost.
After several minutes of walking, some of which Severus was pretty sure wasn’t necessary to get to their destination, Stonespear stopped in front of a door.
“Please wait inside,” Stonespear said.
Severus stepped through the door to find a stark conference room. The grey stone was a sharp contrast to the marble from before, but Severus preferred this stark simplicity. The room was empty save a solid oak table in the middle of the room that could seat up to twenty-four people.
After a short wait, Stonespear returned with a simple scroll of thick parchment that he placed on the table.
“I will wait outside for you.”
Stonespear left, not even waiting for Severus to acknowledge his words. Severus waited until the door had clicked shut before approaching the table. The scroll was sealed with a dark red wax with the Gringott’s coat of arms imprinted in it. A will made by the dverger was uniquely protected, Severus knew. Trying to break the seal without being a direct blood relation, the executor, or having a binding loyalty oath to the one making the will would cause a backlash great enough to kill the person trying. Severus was in no way sure this would work, despite the assurances of the portrait that his vow to protect Harry Potter would be considered a binding loyalty oath to Lily, who herself had died to protect her son. But that same vow, which had been triggered by the portrait’s brief summary of Dumbledore’s horrible actions, wouldn’t let him walk away. He needed to protect the Potter brat and this was not just the best, but also the only way.
He sat down and picked up the scroll. After taking a deep breath, Severus broke the seal. Nothing happened, much to his relief, and he opened up the scroll. Worried about what he could find in the will, he took a moment to remember the bright, vivacious girl he’d befriended. Hopefully, she’d put something in there that Severus could use to help her son. After another deep breath, Severus started to read.
When he came to the end of the will, Severus put the scroll down with trembling hands. Completely unexpected, he had received absolution from Lily. Despite the rift that had opened up in their fifth year due to his own stupid actions, and had only grown since then, she’d named him in her will. Somehow, Severus had still been considered important enough to be mentioned, cherished enough to leave the guardianship of her child to. Sure, he was last on the list, but he was on the list.
That hadn’t been what he had come here for, so as much as he wanted to revel in the feeling of forgiveness, he pushed his feelings aside. He read the relevant parts of the will again, more slowly this time. According to the portrait, Potter was currently living with Petunia and her husband. They were both Muggles and as such had no recourse in the wizarding world if anything happened to Potter. They certainly could not stand against the likes of Dumbledore, who was his current magical guardian. Therefore, the first thing Severus needed to accomplish was to get Potter a different magical guardian, preferably someone with enough political clout to stand up against Dumbledore successfully. The conclusion he ended up drawing was disturbing and disheartening. Even reading the will a third time, dissecting every word, didn’t give him any other conclusion than that he himself was the only viable guardian named in the will. He clenched his jaw when he reached that conclusion. As much as he would like the words of the will to change, reading it for the fourth time wouldn’t help. Severus picked up the will, careful despite his wish to ball it up and throw it away. He took a deep breath, the familiar action used as a focal point to shore up his Occlumency shields. He pushed his emotions down, as he had so often in the past while spying on the Dark Lord, and left the room, outwardly completely calm.
Stonespear was waiting and grinned at Severus without teeth.
“Good, you survived. Do you require anything else from Gringotts today, honoured customer?”
“No thank you,” Severus said. “Gringotts has served me well today. It will not be forgotten.”
Severus left Gringotts, his mind swirling. Lily had forgiven him. Despite everything he had done, losing his friend due to his actions remained one of his biggest regrets, right after joining the Death Eaters and telling the Dark Lord about the prophecy he overheard. But even with the posthumous forgiveness, it still boggled Severus’ mind that she had named him the guardian of her child. It was a good thing Severus had apparated to Spinner’s End so many times before because he surely would’ve splinched himself otherwise.
Severus went straight to his potions room when he reached his home.
“Did you know about this?” he demanded, waving his copy of Lily’s will at the portrait.
The portrait didn’t seem impressed at all and just cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Know about what?”
The unconcerned tone grated on Severus’ nerves. He felt at a disadvantage and consciously tried to reign his emotions back in.
“The last will and testament of Lily Potter names several guardians for her son. Black, of course, was the first one. He’s ineligible. Alice and Frank Longbottom, unfortunately also ineligible. Then Lupin. He would not be my choice, but I suppose he’d reliable enough. Of course, the laws have changed since Lily made the will and he’s no longer eligible anymore because of it. Pettigrew, dead, so not an option.”
Severus paused, shooting the portrait a look he usually reserved for the most disastrous brewer in a year.
“And last on the list was me.”
Severus had the great pleasure of seeing the portrait lose his composure. Apparently, he’d learned a few new curses in the time between now and when he died.
“So, not something you knew, then,” Severus said, feeling better now that he knew the portrait hadn’t withheld the information from him.
The portrait shook his head. “No, the wills filed at the Ministry were never read. And I never had the presence of mind to think about Lily filing one with the dverger as well. Not then, anyway.”
“Why would she put me on the list? I’m quite sure Potter’s will wouldn’t have had me in it.”
“Perhaps she regretted losing our friendship as much as we regret losing hers.”
“It’s more likely she was covering her bases. If all the people on her list but me were incapable of taking her child, it was likely the Dark Lord had won. Giving me, a Death Eater, guardianship might have been the thing to save him,” Severus said. “She could be ruthlessly practical like that.”
As much as he wanted to believe the portrait’s interpretation, Severus just couldn’t let himself go there. It might look like the absolution he was looking for at first glance, but doubt had crept in since he left Gringotts. Before the portrait could comment further, he changed the subject.
“This does put a wrench in the plan to get Potter away from Dumbledore’s influence. We still have no viable magical guardian that can put up a fight against Dumbledore.”
For a moment, it looked like the portrait was going to say something, but it remained quiet. Severus narrowed his eyes, a horrible suspicion rising.
“Do not tell me you intend for me to take him in.”
“It would give him an advocate in the magical world that is certainly not under the influence of Dumbledore.”
“I am not taking in Potter’s brat! There has to be another way.”
“He’s Lily’s child too. And there is no other way to keep him from Dumbledore’s manipulations. You would have the right to order a full medical scan. To protest his treatment in the Wizengamot. To pull him from the school, if you had to.”
Severus drew up his sleeve. The Dark Mark was faded, but not gone.
“Pull him out of Hogwarts? Win a fight against Dumbledore in the Wizengamot? Are you absolutely out of your mind? There is no way I’d win that fight.”
He took a deep breath and pulled his sleeve down again, hiding one of his greatest mistakes. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
“No, I’ll keep him safe as a teacher,” Severus said, his mind already going to the safety measures he would need to install. “As long as Dumbledore doesn’t find out I’m no longer under his control, I can keep the boy safe. At the same time, I can gather evidence against Dumbledore.”
The portrait remained silent as Severus turned around to walk away, his mind filled with plans for weekly flushing draughts and plenty of detentions to keep an eye on the boy. Just before he crossed left the room, the portrait spoke.
“At the very least check on the boy. He’s with Petunia, you know how horrible she can be. She lives at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.”
Severus had apparated close to the address Petunia lived at. He’d changed his clothes into a Muggle-style suit, so he would blend into this neighbourhood better. It was exactly the kind of neighbourhood he’d expected Petunia to live in. As far away from anything magical or fantastical as could be the place was utterly boring in its normalcy. It was also as far away from their childhood in Cokeworth as it was possible to get. No dingy streets and even dingier houses. No, everything was perfectly manicured and maintained.
Severus rang the doorbell of number four and waited for someone to open the door. There was a car in the driveway, so the family should be home. Once the door opened Severus stared at the rather portly boy that had opened the door.
“Who are you?” the boy asked in a demanding tone.
“Where are your parents?” Severus asked, ignoring the child’s question.
“Mummy, there’s a rude man at the door,” the boy shouted, then walked into what Severus presumed was the living room.
Petunia came to the door and scowled when she saw him.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hello to you too, Tuney,” Severus said. “Why don’t you invite me in?”
Petunia pulled a face as if she’d smelled something bad. “I don’t want your kind in my house.”
“I’m afraid I am not giving you a choice. I am here to check up on Harry Potter and I will come in, one way or another.”
Severus was already at the end of his patience with Petunia. He hadn’t wanted to come here but felt he at least the obligation to check on Potter’s brat. If only to make sure he had fulfilled his obligation to Lily, her faith in him. Perhaps not quite the way he was meant, but at least well enough. After all, if the boy was well taken care of, it was better to leave him here for the time being. Until he reached Hogwarts, Dumbledore wouldn’t be interested in controlling the boy’s life. He would be safer here than with Severus.
“Fine, but none of your freakishness here.”
It was said begrudgingly, and the welcome was anything but warm as Severus stepped into the house. His eyes went over the pictures on the wall, noticing they were all of Petunia, a rather portly man and the equally portly and rude boy who’d opened the door. He could see no pictures that had another boy in it that could be Potter. Perhaps they all held pride of place in the living room.
Petunia led Severus to the kitchen where she gestured for him to take a seat. She didn’t offer him anything to drink and she remained standing near the door.
“I would like to see Lily’s son,” he said.
“The boy is out with friends.”
The words came quickly, too quickly. Severus had been teaching for close to ten years by now and if there was one thing he knew how to do it was telling when someone was lying to him. The question was why. What would Petunia have to hide?
“Well, then tell me about him. Has he shown any signs of magic already?”
Petunia shot a quick, fearful look into the hallway.
“Don’t say that word! I don’t want my Dudders to know anything about this freakishness.”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “How do you expect to keep it from him once Potter’s Hogwarts letter arrives?”
Petunia got a mulish look on her face. It was the same one she’d worn for much of her childhood, whenever Lily went off with Severus, or to Hogwarts, or did anything that had to do with the wizarding world.
“He’s not going. We won’t indulge in that freakishness here.”
Severus’ patience, already frayed by having to be here, snapped.
“Potter’s magical, Petunia. You can’t change that any more than you could change that Lily was magical and you are not. Now, where is Potter?”
“I already said he was out,” Petunia blustered, but her eyes flicked into the hallway again, towards the cupboard under the stairs. Severus suddenly got a horrible suspicion about why the portrait had been in favour of him taking guardianship, despite all the trouble it would bring to his doorstep.
“Petunia, what have you done?” Severus whispered, horrified.
Petunia’s face clouded over for a second with regret, before it was washed away by bitterness.
“I did what I had to. It’s not like I asked for this! He was dumped on my doorstep, with nothing but a letter saying my sister had been killed and that he would be safe here. But what about us? What about my family? That boy doesn’t belong here. He’s just as much a freak as you are.”
Severus stood and pointed his wand at Petunia, whose already pale complexion whitened even more.
“Where is he?”
Petunia wordlessly pointed at the cupboard under the stairs. Severus pushed his way past her and she didn’t protest. He opened the lock on the cupboard and then the door. Inside of the cupboard, a boy with Lily’s green eyes stared back at him. The shock of seeing those eyes and the stab of pain it brought prevented Severus from taking in any other detail for a moment. When he looked away from those eyes, he saw that Potter was sitting on a thin mattress. A ratty blanket was piled in a heap at the foot of the mattress; a thin, almost flat pillow at the top. A pile of folded clothes was set to the side with a pair of worn-out shoes standing next to it. It dawned on Severus that this was not, as he’d first assumed, some kind of punishment for the child. He was looking at a bedroom.
Severus looked back at the child. Now that he was properly looking at him, he saw the threadbare, oversized clothing, the thin, too-pale face, big, round glasses that were taped together, and the horrible Potter hair. He looked a great deal like his father, but James Potter had been dressed in a new Hogwarts uniform and was well-fed and bright-eyed when Severus had met him on their first train ride to Hogwarts. Potter was none of that. He looked sickly and was several inches shorter than his father had been at that age. His green eyes were looking at Severus with curiosity, but also caution.
“Hello, Mr. Potter, my name is Severus Snape. I was a friend of your mother.”
Potter’s eyes lit up. “You really knew my mother?”
“Yes, I grew up with her,” Severus said. “Why don’t you come out from there and we can talk for a bit.”
Petunia made a small noise of protest, but Potter seemingly found the lure of knowing more about Lily greater than his fear of Petunia’s disapproval.
“Mummy, I’m hungry!”
“I’ll get you a snack, Dudders. You just stay there!”
Petunia shot a concerned look at Severus, but he was in no way interested in her child. Instead, he steered Potter, who’d clambered out of the cupboard, towards the kitchen with a hand on his shoulder. A cold rage brewed in his gut. He hadn’t missed the slight flinch as he’d touched the child. It was a flinch Severus was familiar with, he’d given one often enough as a child. A learned response as a reaction to his violent father. He gave Petunia a dark glower behind Potter’s back. She scuttered around him and Potter into the kitchen, where she grabbed a rather large slice of cake. She then left Severus alone with Potter without a second glance. It galled Severus. If he’d truly been a Death Eater, he could’ve done anything he wanted to Potter. He wondered about the wards on the house. They might be intent-based. They surely weren’t keyed to something like the Dark Mark or even all magicals except Potter himself.
“Would you like some tea?” Severus asked.
“Yes, please, sir.”
Severus waved his wand, summoning a tea service. Potter’s eyes grew big and he hastily stood, his chair clattering backward.
“I’m sorry, sir. I promise I wasn’t trying to do anything freakish! Please don’t tell Aunt Petunia.,” he whispered furiously.
“Do sit down, Mr. Potter. In case you hadn’t noticed, I was the one to summon the tea service.”
Keeping his anger inside and making sure not to show anything to the child in front of him was getting more and more difficult, like climbing up a hill that kept getting steeper. He poured some tea, purposefully not looking at Potter. His strategy worked, as the boy picked up his chair and sat back down. Severus put down the cup of tea in front of him and took one for himself as well.
He took several sips before he felt confident enough to look back up at Potter. The child hadn’t touched his own cup of tea. His hands were picking at the edge of his t-shirt, unravelling a loose thread.
“When I first met your mother, I knew she was magical. But unlike me, she’d grown up in a household without magic, so she knew nothing about it. My mother was a witch, so I knew all about the magical world. I was the one who told her that what she could do was magic.”
“So, she was like me?” Potter asked.
He still wasn’t looking at Severus and his shoulders were hunched.
“Yes, she was. Or rather, you are like your parents. Both of your parents were magical, just like you,” Severus said.
“Are you sure I’m magical?” Harry said, scrunching up his nose in a way that reminded Severus of Lily. “I mean, I’m just Harry.”
Severus suppressed a grimace. The poor child had no idea that he hadn’t been ‘just Harry’ since he was a little over a year old. He would have quite a shock coming into the wizarding world, where his fame was, quite honestly, obscene. But Severus didn’t think this was the time to bring that up, so he ignored it in favour of soothing Harry’s doubt about his magic.
“You’ve never done anything that seemed impossible?” he asked.
Harry bit his lip. “My hair grew back overnight after Aunt Petunia cut it. And I ended up on the roof of the school when I was running away from Dudley and his friends. I don’t even know how I got up there. Everyone was really mad at me about it, though.”
“That’s magic. Young children often show what is called accidental magic, especially when they feel strong emotions. So those things happened because of your magic.”
Potter looked up at him at that, his green eyes wide and sparkling. He opened his mouth, but before he could utter a word, the front door opened and a deep, male voice could be heard greeting Petunia and Dudley. The spark that brought back memories of Lily’s joy at discovering the wonders of the magical world was extinguished. Whatever question or remark the child had wanted to make died.
Potter nodded and his eyes slid towards the kitchen door. His hands once again started picking at the loose thread in his shirt. Severus felt his jaw clench. He put his cup down with a clank, nearly sloshing the liquid inside over the edge.
“I was supposed to take care of you,” he said. “Your mother…She wanted me to take care of you if anything happened to your parents.”
Severus swallowed and looked away from the green eyes that stared at him. Had they held anger it would have been easier to take. There was no anger to be found anywhere in the boy’s face, though. The child was so much like his mother, it made Severus’ heart ache. He wondered, for a moment, if Dumbledore had interfered in his friendship with Lily. Could they have repaired their friendship but had the old coot meddled? Perhaps the portrait would know, but Severus wasn’t quite sure he could bear to know the answer.
“If I was supposed to be with you, then why…”
“Why wasn’t I there? I didn’t know. I found out yesterday that I was supposed to take care of you, not your aunt.”
“And you came.”
Severus smiled at the tone of wonder. It was the final push to make his decision.
“Why don’t you pack your things so we can leave.”
Wide eyes looked at him.
“Go on. I’ll tell your aunt you won’t be returning. Unless you’d rather stay here.”
The boy left the kitchen at a trot, half tripping over his feet. Severus rose and followed more sedately. He found Potter on his hands and knees, gently prying up a loose floorboard in the far corner of the cupboard. Good, the child had some Slytherin cunning. He left the boy to grab whatever he wanted to take with him and entered the living room.
Petunia’s husband and child were both on the couch, faces glued to the TV. Petunia was in a chair facing the door and the moment he walked in, she stood. It drew Vernon’s attention and he turned towards Severus.
“You’re leaving?” Petunia asked, sounding hopeful.
“Of course, he is, Pet,” her husband said, never taking his eyes off Severus. “We don’t want your freakishness here.”
“It seems to me you don’t want your nephew here either.”
“Dad says the freak should’ve been drowned at birth,” Petunia’s son said without looking away from the TV.
Severus shot the boy a poisonous look and Petunia stepped in front of the boy as if to protect him. It looked ridiculous, as the boy was large enough that Petunia’s thin frame hardly hid him from view. Not that Severus intended to do anything. He couldn’t risk setting off the wards.
“Did he now? Well, I think Lily would disagree with that, don’t you, Petunia?” He didn’t give her the time to answer. “It doesn’t matter, I’m taking the boy with me.”
“Good riddance. And don’t think you can bring him back if you get sick of him. We won’t take him back!”
“But Vernon, what about…”
“It doesn’t matter. The boy is nothing but trouble.”
Severus’ famous self-control was all that kept Vernon from being transfigured into a flubberworm. Not wanting to tempt fate, he let the man have the last word and turned around. In the hallway, the boy was waiting with nothing more than a few broken toys and a baby blanket clutched into his hands.
“Are you ready?”
Wary of any observers, Severus disillusioned Potter before leaving the house, deeming that use of magic an acceptable risk compared to being seen leaving with the boy. The child giggled as Severus’ magic hid him from view. With a warning to the boy to stay close to him, Severus then turned on his heels and walked outside, leaving this cesspool of normality behind him. And if the wards had notified someone of the use of magic, they would be gone before anyone had a chance to react.
When he reached the apparition point, he cast a widespread revealing spell. Potter lit up, standing about two steps away from him. No one else was detected by the spell, so Severus dispelled the disillusionment charm.
“Come,” he said. “I’m going to apparate us to my home. It won’t feel pleasant, but it’s the fastest way to get there.”
Potter obediently stepped closer and Severus took hold of the boy’s shoulder. He used his grip to keep the boy upright upon landing, as the child took in several gasps of air, looking decidedly pale. It didn’t take long, however, before Potter had himself under control, so Severus didn’t deem a stomach soother necessary.
Severus guided Potter inside his home. The small, dark living room with its books lining every available bit of wall space seemed to fascinate Potter if the wide-eyed look he was giving the place was any indication. He reminded Severus of Lily, who should have been a Ravenclaw if love for books was the only measure for that.
“You’re allowed to read any book here you want, as long as you put them back where you found them and don’t damage them.” Then, remembering James Potter’s exploits, he added, “Also, no trying out any of the magic in them.”
The meek response grated on Severus’ nerves, as it continued to shatter all of Severus’ preconceived notions about Potter. Although he was starting to doubt how many of those preconceived notions had been his own to start with.
Severus took the child on a quick tour of the house, showing him the hidden mechanisms to open the doors to the kitchen and to the stairs that took them to the first floor. There, Severus pointed at the door to the left.
“That is my room. You’re not to enter it. If you do, the situation had better be dire, understood?”
Potter nodded. Severus pointed out the door next to it that led to the bathroom. Then he opened the door to the right. It led to a small room with a narrow window looking out onto a dirty alleyway. If one looked straight ahead, the view was a solid brick wall of another house. It held a bed, side table, and dresser, alongside a tiny, rickety desk. The room hadn’t changed since Severus had called it his own as a teenager, aside from the fact that all personal belongings had been removed. Anything he hadn’t taken with him when he’d left the house after his Hogwarts graduation, his father had thrown away. His mother had been dead by then and thus there was no one to protest the erasing of Severus from his father’s life. The joke was on his father, though. The man had died of liver failure three years later, leaving Severus the sole owner of the entire property.
“This will be your room,” Severus said.
“A whole room for me? Thank you so much, Sir.”
“Make yourself at home. I have work to do, but I’ll see you at dinner.”
He left the boy behind in the room. He didn’t look back but heard the boy opening and closing the window several times in a row. The dark, depressing view was something Severus had always despised, and it was disconcerting to see the awe Potter had for it.
He went down to his potions’ room and confronted the portrait.
“You sent me there. Knowing what I would find.”
“Suspecting,” the portrait said. “I inferred it from what little Harry said about his childhood, but mostly from what Dumbledore’s portrait confessed. Apparently, he knew Petunia and her husband treated Harry horribly. That fitted beautifully into his plan to have Harry downtrodden and easily controllable, so he stopped several people from interfering.”
“And what am I supposed to do now?” Severus hissed.
The portrait shrugged its shoulders. “You could leave him there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If you are truly me, you know I wouldn’t.”
“Brought him home already, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Now, what am I supposed to do with a child? Potter’s child, at that.”
The portrait got a sad look on his face. “Remember he is Lily’s child as much, or perhaps even more than James Potter’s child. Right now, he’s ignorant of the wizarding world. You can introduce him to it. Properly.”
Severus stalked out of the room with a growl. Useless piece of paint on a canvas. The portrait hadn’t told him anything he hadn’t known or deduced yet. And because of it, he was now stuck with Potter’s spawn living under his roof. Just when he thought his life couldn’t get worse. Above his head, he heard the squeaking of bedsprings and the giggling of a child. With a sigh, Severus went in search of a headache potion.
Severus woke up early the next morning because he heard a noise from downstairs. He quietly slipped out of bed and put on a robe. With his wand in his hand, he cautiously got out of his room. The wards hadn’t given any warning and felt solid still, but he hadn’t survived this long by putting his trust in anything but himself. The door to the guest room Potter was sleeping in was still closed and with any luck, the boy would sleep through whatever was going on. He made his way downstairs and waited at the bottom of the stairs. The sounds seemed to come from the kitchen, so Severus cautiously opened the door to the living room. A shield spell at the ready, he stepped into the room. It was empty.
The door to the kitchen was slightly ajar. Severus snuck towards it and peeked inside. Potter was inside, cooking something at the stove. If Severus’ nose didn’t deceive him, he was making oatmeal. With a small curse at the unnecessary scare, Severus put his wand in his robe pocket and entered the kitchen. Potter turned around and smiled.
“Good morning, sir. Breakfast is on the table.”
Severus looked at the small table crammed into the tiny kitchen. There was a pot of tea and a carafe of coffee. What looked like all the preserves he had in the pantry were put on the table alongside a large stack of toast. There were some grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and a plate of bacon.
“What do you think you’re doing? Feeding an army? I don’t know what kind of overindulgence you are used to, but around here I don’t waste perfectly good food by cooking far more than is needed.”
Potter froze, the spoon he was stirring the oatmeal with clattered against the pan.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I wasn’t trying to be wasteful; I promise.”
The child cowered before him, causing Severus’ headache of the day before to flare up again. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“What were you trying to do?” he asked, intentionally keeping his irritation out of his voice.
“I always cook breakfast this way, sir. I did try to make about half of it since there are fewer people. I’m sorry if it’s still too much.”
Severus sighed again and sat down at the table.
“Turn off the stove and take a seat. I didn’t mean to bark at you. I am not at my best in the morning, especially without coffee.” It was the closest Severus would come to an apology to Potter’s son. “I am not a big breakfast eater. Some toast, marmalade, and coffee will be enough, should you be up before me and wanting to make breakfast. But it is not something you need to do.”
Potter took a seat across from Severus, who grabbed himself a coffee. Halfway through his cup, Severus grabbed some toast and orange marmalade. Curiously enough, Potter hadn’t grabbed a single bite yet.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Severus asked.
Potter looked up with surprise written all over his face. “I’m allowed to eat?”
Severus very carefully placed his cutlery on his plate. He counted to five, thought of at least three ways to murder Petunia without ever being caught, then counted to five again. Only then did he feel calm enough to answer Potter.
“You are always allowed to eat.”
Tentatively, Potter grabbed a piece of toast and put it on his plate. He cast a furtive glance at Severus and his hand inched towards the strawberry jam. But it seemed he lost his nerve, as he didn’t grab it, instead just taking a bite of the plain toast. Severus pushed the strawberry jam towards Potter. Slowly, Potter pulled the jam a little closer to himself. Severus deliberately didn’t look at the child as Potter started spreading jam on his toast, instead concentrating wholly on eating his toast.
The rest of breakfast passed quietly, with Potter losing his fear of eating when Severus didn’t react at all to him grabbing a piece of bacon. The tension went out of the boy’s shoulders and he stopped following every move Severus made. After breakfast was finished, Severus cleaned the dishes with a wave of his wand, while Potter put the preserves back in the pantry and the butter back in the fridge.
“What’s my chore list for today, Sir?”
“I expect you to keep your own room clean.”
“The rest of the housework is easily done with a little magic. I don’t see any reason to make you do a job without magic when I can do it with magic in a fraction of the time.”
“But what? Speak up, boy.”
Potter flinched when Severus called him a boy. Severus made a mental note not to call the child that again, apparently it was some sort of trigger. Severus knew all about that.
“I… What do I do the rest of the time, sir?”
Severus looked at the boy and noticed he seemed rather anxious. It reminded him of living with his father, never knowing what the man would do when he was drunk. Often, the uncertainty and the fear that came with it would be worse than the inevitable beating. He realized that Potter hardly knew him and had no idea what to expect from him.
“Come with me,” he said
Potter dutifully followed behind as Severus went into the living room. It didn’t take long for him to find his battered copy of Hogwarts: A History. It had belonged to his mother and was therefore not the newest edition, but the information in it was still good.
“Once you turn eleven, you’ll get your invitation to Hogwarts School for Wizardry and Witchcraft. It’s a boarding school where you will spend seven years learning magic. This book gives its history and further background information. It is also a great introduction to the wizarding world, even though it does expect a certain amount of knowledge about the magical world.”
Severus handed the book to Potter.
“Read at least one chapter a day. Consider it one of your chores. Write down any questions you have. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand, as well as anything you want to know more about. We’ll talk about what you’ve read during dinner and I’ll answer any questions you’ve written down.” Then, just to make sure, he added, “I’ll cook dinner. You can grab something for lunch when you get hungry, don’t wait for me.”
Potter nodded enthusiastically.
“If you’re done with your reading for the day, you can play some chess or gobstones.” Severus waved towards his chess set. “My only rule is that you don’t go outside. I haven’t legally arranged to take over custody of you from your aunt, so I want to avoid any well-meaning busybodies from taking you back to your aunt.”
When, not if, Dumbledore found out Potter wasn’t at his aunt, Severus wanted Potter within reach and protected by his wards. Then, remembering how headstrong teenagers could sometimes be, Severus decided the best thing to do was come clean about why he wanted Potter to remain inside.
“Sit for a minute,” Severus said.
Potter took a seat in one of the armchairs, the book clutched to his chest. Severus sat down in his armchair.
“I want you to know exactly why I am restricting you to the house right now. As I’ve said before, I’ve only known since yesterday that I was supposed to be your guardian. Your aunt wasn’t even on the list, but a fairly powerful man in the wizarding world, Albus Dumbledore, took you to her.”
“Could he just do that?”
“He’s not supposed to be able to, by law anyway. But he is a big figure in wizarding politics, as well as the headmaster of Hogwarts and something of a hero in the wizarding world. Therefore, no one asked any questions or stopped him, as far as I can tell.”
“That’s not fair,” Potter complained.
“Life’s never fair, Mr. Potter But my point is, that if he finds out you are with me, he will try to send you back to your aunt.”
“But I’m supposed to be with you!”
“Yes, and I am going to make sure you can stay here no matter Dumbledore’s opinion,” Severus assured the boy, though he had no idea yet on how to do it. “However, until I can make sure he won’t be able to interfere, I want to keep your presence here a secret. So, no going outside, understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Potter said earnestly, and Severus even believed him. The child was far too afraid of being sent back to break this rule.
Severus withdrew to his potions room after that, needing a distraction from the thorny problem he now found himself with. He tried to lose himself in his normal experiments, but despite not hearing or seeing Potter at all, it still felt different knowing he was in the house. He wondered if he should be checking on the boy periodically, but then decided that Potter was almost eleven and that should be old enough not to need too much supervision.
Despite the oddness of knowing someone else was in the house, Severus eventually managed to lose himself in his work until his stomach grumbling alerted him to the fact it was lunchtime. He went upstairs, where he found Potter reading in the living room. He had moved on from Hogwarts: A History to a book on charms that was probably a bit too advanced for him. Not that Severus cared, if the boy wanted to know what it all meant, he could either do more research or ask Severus about it during dinner. Still, Potter looked up with a guilty look on his face. Severus stared at the boy for a bit, then looked around the room, but could find no reason for the guilt. The wards on the house hadn’t been tripped either, so Potter hadn’t gone outside.
Severus decided to ignore the guilty look, not in the mood to figure out the intricacies of the teenage mind. He went into the kitchen. There, he made quick work of putting some sandwiches together, but the idea of eating together with Potter was not a pleasant one. His summer holidays were the only child-free time he got, and he didn’t particularly want to spend it with James Potter’s spawn. Deciding that providing lunch would be enough, he put together two plates and slid one onto the side table near Potter’s chair.
“Here, lunch,” he said, before taking his own plate downstairs.
After lunch, he owl-ordered some necessities for Potter. The child had no proper clothes whatsoever, so those went on the list, as well as a pair of shoes that would self-size. He sent it to a small shop in Ireland, where it was less likely anyone would question why a man living on his own would order child-sized clothes.
He kept himself busy downstairs after sending off the list and didn’t resurface until it was time to start on dinner. Potter was scratching on a piece of parchment with a quill, and Severus cringed at the number of splotches and stains he could see. Perhaps he should add writing practice to Potter’s list of chores.
Dinner that evening was a simple soup. Severus managed to avoid any awkward silences during dinner easily, since Potter had a long, though slightly illegible, list of questions for him. Some required extensive answers, such as Potter’s question about the separation from the Muggle world. For those, Severus gave a short, general answer along with a book recommendation from his bookshelves for if Potter wanted to know more. All of his suggestions Potter dutifully wrote down on his list. Others, like which courses were taught at Hogwarts, Severus could answer more fully without feeling he was giving a complete lecture.
“There are the core classes, Potions, Herbology, Transfiguration, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, History of Magic, and Astronomy. First years also get flying lessons. Third years and up have a choice of some electives, namely Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures, Muggle Studies, and Divination. Although the latter is somewhat ludicrous if you don’t have the gift for it and Muggle Studies is hopelessly out of date these days.”
“Which course is the best?” Potter asked.
“I believe Potions is the best course, but since I am the professor that teaches it, I might be a bit biased,” Severus said.
He realized the tactical error he’d made in admitting he taught at Hogwarts seconds after he’d made it, but by then it was too late. An excited Potter fired off one question after another about the castle and living there and teaching there until Severus quite happily pushed his empty bowl away from him.
“I think that’s enough information for today. Save some questions for tomorrow.”
Severus quickly cleaned the dishes with magic, much to Potter’s delight. They then moved to the living room, where Severus sat down in his armchair with the potions journal he was currently reading, as was his normal routine. What wasn’t part of his normal routine was Potter sitting down across from him at the small table. He didn’t interrupt Severus’ reading with useless chattering. Instead, he started playing around with the chess set that was on the table, moving the pieces around without care for their normal movements in the game.
“You can play a game against the chess set, if you want,” Severus said. “I can set it to single-player for you.”
Potter shook his head. “No thank you, sir. I wouldn’t know how to play anyway.”
Severus put his journal aside. “How about I teach you the basics?”
The boy seemed excited. Severus didn’t deign to answer such an irrelevant question. He wouldn’t have offered if he didn’t mean it. As an answer, he just tapped the chessboard on one of the runes etched into the border. The chess pieces marched towards their starting positions. The bishop in Potter’s hand struggled to get down to the board. Potter put it down with a giggle. Severus suspected he put it down amidst the black pieces on purpose so it would have farther to march towards its own side. It was always fascinating to see the things Muggle-born and Muggle-raised children found fascinating in the wizarding world that he took for granted these days.
Severus explained the way the chess pieces moved and the objective of the game before he let Potter make the opening move. It didn’t take many moves for Severus to win. He manually set the board back to how it was and replayed the game’s moves, giving a running commentary on why certain things Potter had done weren’t smart, as well as why he made some of the choices he did.
“The trick to chess is to think a few moves ahead. Don’t just move one piece and wait for your opponent’s move before deciding your next move. Before you move your piece, think of what I can do in response. Then try and come up with your next move based on what I can do.”
Potter nodded his understanding. Severus tapped the rune again and once the pieces were back in their place, they started another game. After every move Potter made, Severus made him try and predict Severus’ possible moves. Severus made sure to stick to one of the moves Potter managed to predict most of the time, as he didn’t want to discourage the boy’s learning. Whenever Severus made a move that Potter had predicted as one of the possibilities, he beamed. Unlike when he was teaching his potions classes, Severus didn’t find himself becoming impatient, despite Potter only grasping a fraction of the possibilities that were possible. Playing this way managed to draw the game quite a bit, and Potter grinned when he lost.
“That was fun.”
“Indeed. And you’ll get better with more practice.” Severus tapped another rune on the board. “I’ve set the board to tutoring. You play one side, the pieces will play another on their own. Your side will give you advice. There are different levels. The higher the level, the more difficult it will be to win a game and the less advice you will get.”
Potter started trying it out right away. Severus looked on for a moment before returning to reading his journal. Still, he couldn’t help but peek over the journal every once in a while, to see Potter focused on beating the opposing side, enthusiastically following the chess pieces’ shouted advice. Focused as he was on learning, he reminded Severus of his mother so much it hurt. Superficially he might look a lot like his father, but he was definitely his mother’s son. Severus was more determined than ever to keep him out of Dumbledore’s hands.
Two days later, Severus and Potter had settled into somewhat of a routine. Potter’s new clothes had come in, baffling the child, which made Severus want to throttle Petunia all over again. But it did make him feel good to see Potter properly attired. Severus had even repaired Potter’s glasses, and at the boy’s request changed the colour to bronze. Potter made breakfast every day, mostly because he was up earlier than Severus, who liked sleeping in a little during his summer holidays. Severus then retreated to his potions laboratory, while Potter did his reading of the day and entertained himself. They had a quiet lunch, where Severus made sandwiches and gave a plate of them to Potter before he retreated to a different room to eat his own. The next time they’d see each other was during dinnertime, where Severus cooked and they ate together, making conversation about what Potter had read that day and Severus answered any questions he had. In the evening, Potter usually played chess on the tutor setting, before persuading Severus to play at least one game against him. Severus had to give it to the boy, he was improving.
Severus liked this routine, as it required little interaction with Potter, and what interaction there was, he found tolerable. Therefore, he wasn’t exactly happy when Potter broke the routine at the end of breakfast.
“Sir, do you think I can do some real magic today?”
“What do you mean? The dishes cleaning themselves and the chess set you play with not magical enough for you?” Severus groused.
“I want to do some magic today. You know, myself.”
Typical Potter. Whining, entitled little brats. Like father, like son. Severus’ silence caused Potter to keep blabbering about his ridiculous request.
“It’s just… You said I’m a wizard, but…”
“I can’t be! I mean, I’m just Harry.” Potter curled his shoulders inwards, making himself smaller after his outburst. In a softer voice, he continued. “And this is all wonderful, but what if I can’t really do magic? What if you made a mistake?”
Severus heard the unasked question ‘will you send me back then?’. He sighed. Deciding to end this doubt and fear once and for all, Severus nodded.
“Very well. One time. What would you like to try?”
He was fully prepared to hand over his wand to let the child try out a simple spell, like Lumos. Anything beyond the basics, though, would probably just fail and increase Potter’s fear. But he was sure he could steer the boy to try out something age-appropriate.
“Can I make a potion?” Potter eagerly asked.
For a split-second, Severus thought he heard wrong. But no, the child hadn’t asked to try a flashy spell. Severus smiled.
“We can do that.”
Severus took Potter down into his potions room. He set Potter up with a simple pewter cauldron at the workbench, after conjuring a stool for him to sit on. This room was designed specifically for Severus, and Potter was simply too short to reach anything otherwise. That bit of magic had made Harry gasp in delight, drawing out a smile from Severus.
“Now, we’ll be making the Boil-Cure Potion. I usually teach it in the first class at Hogwarts.”
Severus grabbed a piece of parchment and quickly wrote out the ingredients list and instructions. He gave the parchment to Potter and waved him over to his ingredient’s cabinet.
“Grab the ingredients you need.”
Potter eagerly trotted over with the list. It took him three trips to bring all the ingredients back to the potions bench, which was better than bringing everything at once and dropping half of it, as Severus saw often enough in class. Potter started the potion, putting six snake fangs in the mortar and started crushing them. He kept grinding until he ended up with a fine powder. Severus waved his wand to vanish it.
“Crushed, Mr. Potter, not ground. Again.”
Potter sighed but dutifully started with six new snake fangs. This time, he pounded them a little, then checked with Severus to see if it was enough. It took just a few more poundings with the pestle before Severus nodded that it was correct. Potter carefully followed the steps in the instructions, but Severus had to make him slice the horned slugs again, twice. The boy mangled them completely the first time and the second time the pieces were uneven. The second time, as Severus vanished the slugs and told Potter to do it again, the boy huffed. Severus clenched his jaw and sent Potter a quelling look. He might not be in his classroom, but he would not tolerate disrespect when he was taking the time to teach the boy.
Eventually, the potion was bubbling away. It was a bit thick in consistency as Potter hadn’t quite worked fast enough and a little too much water had evaporated before the horned slugs had bound the base together. It was a frequently made beginner mistake and wouldn’t affect the efficacy of the potion, so Severus didn’t comment on it.
Potter put in the five drops of essence of dittany, then stirred seven times clockwise. Severus waved his wand and vanished the potion.
“Hey!” Potter exclaimed.
“Six times clockwise, Mr. Potter. You stir in the essence of dittany in six even strokes. Otherwise, it will ruin the potion. Since you can’t seem to follow such a simple instruction, you’ll have to start over.”
With a mulish look on his face, Potter walked to the ingredients cabinet and grabbed the jar of snake fangs again.
“And get that look off your face,” Severus said sternly, “or we’ll stop this lesson entirely.”
“What lesson? You’re not explaining anything! Just telling me that it’s wrong after I do it and then having me do it again,” Potter shouted.
A row of empty flasks, waiting for Potter’s finished potion to be decanted into them, exploded in a fit of accidental magic. Potter paled and cringed away from Severus, taking several large steps back until he hit the wall, as if more distance would mean less association with the magic he’d just done.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to,” he whispered.
Potter’s fear punched through Severus’ irritation. He could only imagine what consequences accidental magic would have brought in Petunia’s home.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, fixing the glass with a simple reparo. “Although perhaps this was a bad idea.”
“I’ll do better, I promise.”
Severus shook his head. “It’s not your fault, it is mine, I’m afraid. I am not very good at teaching beginners. Potions seem so simple to me, they always have. It is therefore very difficult for me to understand beginners and what they need to succeed.”
If Severus was truthful, he had never even tried to become a better teacher. He’d been far too busy feeling resentful for being tied into a teaching position by Dumbledore, instead of being able to tinker with potions as he wanted and brew the most difficult potions for a very good salary.
“Aunt Petunia taught me to cook by doing it once and then having me do it,” Potter said, cautiously stepping closer to the workbench.
Severus smiled at the child. “Perhaps that could work here as well. Good idea.”
Severus set up a second cauldron and showed each step as he carefully brewed the potion, slowing his hands down a bit so Potter could easily see what he did. Potter watched him intently and when the time came for Potter to try the potion himself once more, he mimicked the steps almost perfectly. As proud as Severus was of the child, he couldn’t help but wonder how many punishments from Petunia it had taken before Potter was able to learn so efficiently this way.
Potter carefully decanted his potion into new flasks. Severus wouldn’t tell the child, but the broken flasks couldn’t be used to store potions in anymore, even fixed. The magic of potions could interfere with the magic now holding the flasks together, causing the flasks to break again with a potion inside. Not wanting to cause any more guilt, Severus would just vanish them once the boy wasn’t there.
“Well done, Mr. Potter.”
Potter beamed up at him. “Thank you, sir.”
Perhaps it was the fear Potter had shown earlier. Or perhaps it was because Severus suddenly had no desire to be seen as merely a teacher by Lily’s son. But something prompted him to say, “You can call me Severus if you’d like.”
“Only if you’ll call me Harry,” Potter, no, Harry said with a smile.
The previous week had almost lulled Severus into a false sense of security. Luckily, life had taught him that quiet moments always preceded the biggest disasters. Therefore, it didn’t surprise Severus to find both an owl bearing a letter from the Ministry and Fawkes bearing one from Dumbledore in his kitchen. He carefully checked over both letters before untying them from their messengers. The owl left straight away, but Fawkes just settled in on the back of one of the kitchen chairs.
“Wow, what’s that?”
Severus turned to Harry, who was still in his pyjamas.
“That is a phoenix. This particular phoenix is called Fawkes and belongs to Dumbledore.”
Harry pulled a face and walked around the chair with Fawkes on it with a big bow. Fawkes thrilled a sad tune, but Harry ignored the bird in favour of making himself breakfast.
“Why is he here?”
“Owls deliver messages in the British wizarding world, but some countries use other types of birds. And although a phoenix isn’t normally used as a postal bird, sometimes one is prepared to take a message. In this case, Fawkes has deigned to deliver a message from Dumbledore.”
Harry looked worried. Severus merely turned to Fawkes and told the phoenix that he wouldn’t be sending a reply. Fawkes regarded him for a minute with his black, beady eyes before flashing away. Just the removal of the bird from the kitchen had Harry relaxing from where he was eating his toast at the counter.
“Now, what are you planning after breakfast?” Severus asked, gesturing for Harry to take a seat.
Harry took a seat and looked at Severus with a look that told him the boy wanted something.
“I thought I could work on potions?”
Severus smiled, pleased the child showed such an interest. Unfortunately, the likelihood of him having to deal with the content of the two letters was too great to say yes.
“Perhaps later today,” Severus said. “I have some business to take care of and I don’t know how long it will take. And you know the rule.”
“I am not to be unsupervised in the potions lab.”
“Exactly,” Severus said, giving the boy a nod that made Harry’s face light up. “Now, any other plans?”
“I’ll probably read a bit and then perhaps try some wizarding chess games with the tutoring charm on.”
“If you reach level two on the tutoring charm today, we’ll play a game together tonight.”
“Awesome,” Harry said. The boy choked down the last bit of his toast before tearing out of the kitchen.
Severus shook his head. He was happy the boy seemed to forget that Dumbledore had sent a message, but he couldn’t put it aside so easily. He took both messages up to his bedroom, where he’d stashed the portrait after Harry had asked to make a potion.
“We have a problem,” he told the portrait, holding up both letters. “Fawkes delivered Dumbledore’s.”
The portrait cursed. “We’re lucky he didn’t just order that ruddy bird to grab Harry.”
Severus nodded; the thought of Harry just being gone making his stomach clench. “He probably knows Harry came willingly and just grabbing him like that will make him look like the bad guy. Makes it harder to manipulate him.”
“Or maybe he just wants to see if he can get you back under his control again or if he has to take more drastic measures,” the portrait muttered.
Severus pursed his lips. That actually sounded more plausible, but also more dangerous. The only way to know, though, would be to open up the letters. With a large dose of trepidation, he opened up Dumbledore’s message first. It expressed Dumbledore’s disappointment in his decision to take Harry from Petunia. Dumbledore mentioned, couched in his usual vague terms, that Harry would be in great danger if he wasn’t staying with Petunia. It was probably designed to trigger Severus’ vow to protect the boy. It might have even worked if Severus didn’t know better. The letter ended with the message that he had left Dumbledore with no other choice than to take action unless he immediately brought Harry back to his rightful guardians. In that case, Dumbledore would be able to make the whole situation go away. Dumbledore didn’t specify what he meant with that exactly, but the Ministry’s letter held an explanation. It was a summons to report to the Wizengamot on account of unlawfully gaining custody of Harry Potter.
“He’s playing his games again,” the portrait commented after Severus had read the missives aloud. “Hoping you will back down and bring Harry back instead of fighting this in court.”
“They might word it differently, but if it is determined I am not Potter’s legal guardian, I can be thrown in Azkaban for kidnapping him.”
“And if you don’t do what he wants, he won’t even have to send Fawkes in to grab the boy. He’ll just get the aurors to do it for him. That is, if you try to keep Harry without being awarded custody. So, we just have to make sure you win this court case. You have Lily’s will.”
“Yes, but I am fairly sure Dumbledore will either produce a different one or show James’ will. I won’t be in there. He can successfully argue that a Pure-blood’s will should override a Muggle-born’s will, even though Lily died after James. Those prejudiced sheep of the Wizengamot will eat that reasoning up with a silver spoon, you know that as well as I do.”
Severus shook his head, pacing in front of the portrait. Even with a good lawyer, it would be a very difficult case to win. But he might have tried that, if it weren’t for the other problems this court case would bring.
“Even if I could win the case, we both know it won’t matter what the law is,” he said. “Dumbledore’s popularity is too great. Even if they don’t rule against me for taking Harry away from Petunia, this trial will open up the avenue of having me be declared an unfit guardian. He’ll drag my past up in court and public opinion will be against me. They might agree with my reasons for taking him, but still not allow me to keep him. He’ll end up with one of Dumbledore’s cronies, or worse, one of the Dark Lord’s supporters. The Malfoys can even claim a sort-of familial relationship through Sirius Black and they’re in good standing with the Ministry. Whichever way this goes, there is no way to win it.”
The portrait scowled but didn’t refute his words. Severus sighed as he sank down on the bed. He thought about the boy downstairs, who had probably finished dressing and would be practicing his chess game by now. How was he supposed to go down there and tell the boy he would have to go back to live with Petunia, after making the promise he would never have to return there again?
“Perhaps I can make sure Petunia treats him right,” Severus mumbled to himself. “And after the summer holidays, he’ll be at Hogwarts. Dumbledore will want me back there, so I’ll be there as well.”
The portrait let out a gasp. “Don’t tell me you’re genuinely planning to let him go back there!”
“It’s not like I have another choice,” Severus said, gesturing sharply at the portrait. “Going to Azkaban won’t help anyone, least of all Harry. All that will do is ensure Dumbledore can get his claws into him unopposed.”
The portrait sneered at him as it crossed its arms. Severus scowled right back, not appreciating the portrait’s judgment.
“I cannot believe you would give up so easily. You’re not even willing to fight. Stop being a coward and start being a man. Take the fight to Dumbledore. Control the narrative. You’ve got the most powerful PR weapon right here under your roof. Get out ahead of this thing.”
“You’re suggesting that I use Harry in a PR campaign to try and win over the public opinion. You honestly believe the Wizengamot will be swayed by that?”
“Isn’t it worth it to try?”
Severus snorted. “I don’t know how the world worked where you came from, but here Dumbledore’s word is the absolute truth. There is no way I will win this. No, he’ll have to go back and I’ll have to bide my time. There’s no other way.”
Severus put the letters in his nightstand, determined he’d write back after talking with Harry. He didn’t want to spring this on the boy and knowing Dumbledore, he’d send someone to take Harry back the moment he received Severus’ decision. Perhaps it was also a way to stave off the inevitable. Severus could only think of Petunia’s husband’s ruddy face as he’d declared Harry would no longer be welcome at the Dursley’s and Harry’s face glowing with happiness that morning at the thought of a chess game against Severus.
“You’re a coward,” the portrait said when Severus made to leave the room, “just as you were when you refused to apologize to Lily, when you joined the Death Eaters, and when you went to Dumbledore instead of straight to James and Lily to warn them. For once in your life, do the right thing!”
Severus whirled around.
“It’s not that easy!” he shouted. “Don’t you think I want to keep him with me? I have to give up the one thing I have left of Lily; the one thing she asked me to do I failed at!”
“Then why don’t you man up and take a stand?”
“Because I will lose, and I refuse to fight a hopeless battle. Perhaps you’ve lost your cunning somewhere along the line and became a foolish Gryffindor, charging in without thought to the consequences. But I have to think ahead. If I go to Azkaban, which will surely be the outcome of this ploy from Dumbledore if I fight it, then how am I going to keep Harry safe? Who is going to make sure Dumbledore is taken down? There’s no one in the country we can entrust with that. And running with Harry won’t work either. There isn’t a building in this country that I can go to that has a ward that can keep a phoenix out.”
The moment the words left his mouth, he realized exactly how true they were. Dumbledore had a chokehold on the country. Between his popularity after Grindelwald’s defeat, his position as headmaster of Hogwarts and Supreme Mugwump, and his manipulation of people through potions and other means, there would be no one who could be trusted in Great Britain. There was nowhere safe to hide either. But there was another option.
Severus fairly flew out of the room and downstairs. Harry, who was indeed practicing chess in the living room, looked up startled.
“Harry, gather your things, quickly. We have to go on a trip and we might not be back, so don’t leave anything behind you cannot replace.”
Even though Severus found it galling that Harry had learned obedience without question in Petunia’s household, he was thankful that the boy followed his order without the typical teenage questions and comments. Time was of the essence. He suddenly feared that Dumbledore wouldn’t wait until the actual hearing to take action. He could send someone here, or the aurors could come knocking on his door to take Harry away from him until the hearing. He couldn’t take the chance.
Severus made his way down to his potions laboratory, where he took ten minutes to pack up the most valuable of his ingredients, his equipment, and all of his prepared potions into his special traveling trunk. He then made his way upstairs, leaving his potions trunk in the living room. Upstairs, he packed his personal belongings in his regular trunk. He shrunk the portrait down before placing it inside as well, in a hidden compartment that he secured with wards that made it almost impossible to find even when you knew there had to be something to find. The portrait tried to find out what he was planning, but Severus ignored its questions.
Once he was completely packed, he went to Harry’s room. The boy’s things were gathered on his bed already, much to Severus’ relief. He added them to his trunk.
“Do you have everything?”
Harry nodded, but Severus noticed the child’s nervous glance.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Harry peeked up at him from beneath his fringe. “Can I pack some of the books and the chess set?”
Severus nodded briskly, determined to ignore the warm feeling in his chest which bloomed up at Harry’s words. He followed Harry downstairs with his trunk floating behind him. It didn’t take long before Harry had picked out a stack of books to take. Severus packed them away together with the chess set. Then he shrunk his trunk and stuck it in his pocket, leaving only his potions travel trunk unshrunk. One illegal set of spells later and the trunk was an international portkey.
“Hold on to the trunk,” Severus told Harry, gesturing at it.
Once Harry had a good grip, Severus cast a sticking charm on Harry’s hand. Harry shot a questioning look at him but seemed to understand that now was not the time to be asking questions. Even since the idea came to him, Severus had felt rushed, scared this one avenue that could give him a fighting chance would be closed before he could use it.
Severus grabbed hold of it and gave it a tap with his wand. The portkey whirled them away and away, spinning in what seemed to be an endless motion. Severus heard Harry shouting, but couldn’t make out if it was surprise, dismay, or something else.
They came to a stop by crashing onto a floor of polished grey stone. It was a good thing the trunk was warded against impacts, or the contents wouldn’t have survived the trip, let alone the landing. Severus was dizzy, despite being used to portkeys, and sat down next to his trunk. He could hear Harry throwing up and had the presence of mind to undo the sticking charm he’d cast on the boy’s hand. The next instant, his wand went flying out of his hand as a disarming spell hit him.
Severus looked up to find a wizard pointing his wand at him. He was in his thirties, but his eyes showed he’d seen the darkness as well as the light side of life. He wore the uniform of an ICW war mage. Good, that meant they’d arrived at the ICW War Mage Headquarters in Switzerland, as planned. Despite being a very dangerous man with a wand pointed at him, the war mage in front of Severus exuded a calmness that felt in no way as a front. The lightly mocking grin on his face made him unfairly attractive.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here? A Death Eater entering the ICW War Mage Headquarters with an illegal portkey. It’s like my birthday and Christmas all at once.”
“Sanctuary,” Severus shouted, making sure he’d been heard by more war mages than just the man in front of him.
Severus treasured the look of surprise on the war mage’s face, but the sound of more retching made him turn to Harry.
“Deep breaths, Harry. You’re doing well.”
Harry shot him an incredulous look even as he was dry heaving.
“This was your first portkey and even experienced wizards have trouble with an international portkey. Perhaps our friendly host will allow me back my wand, so I can grab a stomach soother for you.”
It was clear from the war mage’s face he wasn’t at all happy about giving Severus his wand back, but under Sanctuary rules, he was allowed his wand. And it did make him feel better to have it back in his hand, even though he knew that under the best of circumstances he wouldn’t be a match to the man before him. He was good, but he wasn’t arrogant enough to think he was at the same level as a war mage.
After Severus had grabbed a stomach soother for Harry, the poor boy finally stopped dry heaving. He was still looking pale and leaned heavily against Severus’ side.
“Can we never do that again, please?”
The war mage chuckled.
“You get used to it, eventually. Or at least enough that you don’t throw up anymore.”
The war mage stepped closer and Harry flinched away from him. The war mage’s face darkened for a second before he tucked his anger away behind a passive mask.
“Perhaps we can move somewhere else. A visit to a healer would be a good idea as well.”
Severus flicked his eyes from the war mage to Harry and back again. The mage pursed his lips and kneeled down in front of Harry.
“So, I think we started this off on the wrong foot. Why don’t we start over? I am Marco Tarragona. What’s your name?”
Harry shot a wary look at Severus, who merely nodded.
The only sign of shock was a slight widening of Tarragona’s eyes. Severus was thankful when his reaction remained just that.
“And you are?”
“He was a friend of my mum,” Harry piped up. “And he’s a potions master.”
Tarragona’s lips twitched at Harry’s attempt to defend him, but Severus also noticed that his wand no longer pointed straight at Severus. Instead, it was now aimed at the floor.
“Well, I think he’s got a good idea. Why don’t we all get up off the floor and find ourselves a healer? You’re still looking a bit pale from your trip.”
In short order, Severus and Harry were following Tarragona, Severus’ potions trunk bobbing behind them like an eager crup following its master. Severus was glad that once they’d left the central hallway they’d landed in, he could no longer feel the eyes of a host of people on him. Being in the limelight was distinctly uncomfortable, especially as Severus was aware of the fact that he was one wrong move away from being cut down where he stood. Sanctuary at the ICW was an ancient construct with strict rules, especially before final confirmation that Sanctuary was granted. Severus could only pray he remembered all of them, for breaking one meant he lost the right to Sanctuary.
Tarragona brought them to a private conference room. There, he conjured a Patronus. Harry gasped as the white jaguar appeared. The animal pranced around the room, then headbutted Harry, who giggled, before coming to attention before Tarragona.
“Message for Healer Petterson. Please come to conference room fifteen for an immediate consult on a Sanctuary case. End message.”
The white jaguar bowed its head at Tarragona and ran off, going straight through the wall. Tarragona turned to Harry, who was looking at the spot the white jaguar had disappeared with wide eyes.
“Looks impressive, doesn’t it? It’s called a Patronus and is usually used to defend against certain magical creatures. However, as you’ve just seen, the ICW also devised a way to use it as a fast messenger that can’t be intercepted and is always available.”
Well, Severus thought, that explained where Dumbledore had learned that trick. He wondered if the ICW made the information public or if Dumbledore had broken a rule by teaching the Order how to use a Patronus like this.
“Cool. I wish I could do that,” Harry said.
“I’ll teach you once you have your wand,” Severus promised.
Still a bit dizzy from the portkey, Severus took a seat at the conference table. Harry sat down next to him but seemed incapable of sitting still. Tarragona remained standing, his wand still out. Harry continued to fidget next to him and Severus just wanted a moment to think. Between getting the idea to ask for Sanctuary at the ICW and leaving with Harry there had been less than half an hour. He suspected the urgency was in part his vow pushing at him to get Harry to safety when threats looked to be coming from every side. Severus pulled his trunk from his pocket and resized it with a wave of his wand, ignoring the slight twitch from Tarragona.
“Why don’t you dig out the chess set. We’ll play a game.”
Harry dug out the chess set and they started a game. Severus toned his usual game down so Harry would get to play a bit instead of losing in a few moves. It helped that Tarragona was giving Harry advice, without telling him what to do. It stretched the game out for long enough that Harry just grinned at Severus when he lost and suggested another game. They had barely started the next game when a man in pink robes came sailing into the room. He was large, with long blond hair and a rugged beard. The only thing missing was a great, big battle-ax and he could have been one of the Viking wizards of old.
“Well, who’s my patient?”
“That would be both of these gentlemen, Healer Petterson,” Tarragona said, gesturing at Severus and Harry. “Harry Potter and Severus Snape.”
“Hmm, let’s start with the youngest person in the room, shall we?”
The healer transfigured one of the chairs into a bed and invited Harry to lie down.
“He’s not familiar with magical healing,” Severus warned.
“Well, Mr. Potter, it’s fairly simple. I’m going to do a scan to see if there are any problems. It might feel a bit tingly, but you just relax and let the magic do its work.”
Harry nodded. Petterson waved his wand in a complicated pattern, muttering a spell under his breath. Different colours started lighting up on Harry’s body. The healer frowned.
“Who is this child’s guardian?”
“I am, ” Severus said.
The look the healer gave him would have struck him dead if it had been a spell. Severus hurried to add that he’d only been Harry’s guardian for a week. That soothed the healer, who turned to Tarragona.
“Do I have permission to do a deep scan?”
Severus gritted his teeth. He hated the fact that he wasn’t asked for his opinion, but under Sanctuary rules, Tarragona was responsible for any minors, not their guardians.
“Do whatever you think is necessary.”
The healer performed three more scans in rapid succession. With each one, his face grew more concerned. Severus suspected, from what he had seen at Petunia’s, that there were signs of abuse to be found.
“One more, Mr. Potter, and then I’ll be done,” the healer said. “Somnus.”
The sleeping spell was unexpected, and Severus jumped up from his seat.
“What’s wrong with him?”
The healer ignored him but instead shot an Incarcerous Spell at Harry’s sleeping body.
“Tell me what’s going on right now!”
Severus moved to stand between Harry and the healer but didn’t dare to raise his wand. Pointing his wand at an ICW employee would break Sanctuary. He’d do it if necessary, but for now, he wanted just answers and didn’t want to risk breaking Sanctuary to get them.
“If I find out you knew about this, I will end your miserable life,” Petterson told him, before turning to Tarragona. “Get me a curse-breaker. The boy has a Horcrux in him.”
Severus had to grab the bed to stay on his feet.
“What?” he whispered. “How is that possible?”
Petterson turned back to Severus as Tarragona left the room. He grabbed Severus’ arm and guided him back to his seat with a stern hand.
“He will be fine. The Horcrux seems to be contained in his scar and our curse-breakers are trained to deal with them,” Petterson said, much more kind than he’d been before.
“Then why…?” Severus waved a hand at Harry’s bound form.
“Just a precaution. He’s asleep, so he won’t even notice the bindings. But if the Horcrux thinks it’s in danger, it might try to take him over. The sleeping spell will keep the Horcrux dormant as well and the bindings are there in case it does try anything. Don’t worry about it.”
Severus made an incredulous noise. How could he not worry about it! Where did the Horcrux come from? If it was in his scar, it probably had something to do with the Dark Lord. Had Dumbledore known about this? Had the portrait? Severus was determined to have a good, long talk with the portrait at the very first opportunity.
“Now, why don’t we check you out while we wait for a curse-breaker to arrive.”
It didn’t take long for Severus to be lying down on a bed similar to the one Harry was in. He wasn’t surprised when Petterson did not only perform the regular scan but also the more in-depth scans he’d performed on Harry.
“You don’t have any outstanding issues, but I can see you were under the influence of several potions for a fairly long period of time. Your body is still recovering from them, so you’ll feel a bit more tired than usual.”
“Loyalty and obsessive love potions,” Severus said. “I took a Flushing Draught about a week ago.”
The healer hummed but did not show any other reaction. Severus stood back up and took up position next to Harry as the healer undid his transformation. Despite Harry being unconscious, Severus placed a hand on his shoulder, where the ropes didn’t reach.
A perfunctory knock on the door was the only warning Severus had before it opened and Tarragona came in, followed by a tiny woman who came no higher than Severus’ waist. He suspected she had some non-human blood in her. She wore dragon hide battle robes and he wouldn’t be surprised to hear she’d slain the beast herself. She commanded the room with a single glance and introduced herself as Madam Ashwood, curse breaker.
“I hear there’s some work for me here?”
“Yes, ma’am. One Horcrux, seemingly contained in the boy’s scar.”
Madam Ashwood clucked her tongue, then ran her own set of scans on Harry. Severus tried to get a read on the situation by watching her face, but she gave nothing away.
“Can you get it out of him without harming him?” Severus asked.
“Of course. We’ll need to do it in ritual, but other than that there shouldn’t be a problem. Whoever contained the Horcrux when it was trying to take over was very talented.”
“I think it’s a side effect of his mother’s efforts to save his life,” Severus said.
Madam Ashwood gave him a look that prompted Severus to elaborate.
“He’s Harry Potter.”
Recognition lit in her eyes. “Well, that makes the case more interesting. The end result doesn’t change, though.” She waved her wand and vanished the ropes. “The Horcrux is in no position to do anything, it is completely suppressed by his mother’s magic at the moment. The boy doesn’t need to be contained. I would hazard a guess that the Horcrux will be unable to possess him even during the ritual when the ward containing it is weakened.”
“When can we remove that foul thing from him?” Tarragona asked.
“If he is in no danger from the Horcrux, I want him in better condition before we put him through a curse-breaking ritual,” Healer Petterson said. “He has malnutrition, with all of the associated problems, several past breaks that didn’t heal right, and a weakened immune system. Not to mention there are several magical blocks on his core that are so dark and restrictive I want him in better health before removing them. On top of that, he’s never had any wizarding inoculations. Considering how weak his immune system is, that’s a considerable risk as well.”
Severus hadn’t had a clue how big Harry’s health problems truly were. The magical blocks he’d known about, the portrait had told him in great detail all the ways Dumbledore had controlled Harry. But the hardships the child had suffered in Petunia’s house were worse. She had never been a pleasant person, but Severus couldn’t understand how she’d become so bitter that she’d mistreat her own nephew like that. Had Dumbledore played a role in that as well, or was it all Petunia? Either way, she’d just made Severus’ list of people to take down, just below Dumbledore and the Dark Lord.
Severus was unpleasantly reminded of the time just after the Dark Lord’s fall. Before Dumbledore had spoken up for him at his trial, he’d been thrown in a small, dark cell at the Ministry. Then Dumbledore had come swooping in as a grandfatherly saviour and gotten him released. As benevolent as it had seemed at the time, Severus knew better now. Only once, when the Ministry had tried to question him, had they taken him from the cell. The interrogation room had been bare, with no windows, and only a table and two chairs in it. Just like this one. Then, Severus had chosen to remain silent. He didn’t have that choice this time.
Tarragona sat across from him. His wand had been taken before they’d even entered the room. The chair Severus was sitting in had some very strict honesty hexes placed on it. They came just shy of compelling him to answer. He felt he could choose to remain silent, but once he started speaking, they wouldn’t allow him much wiggle room to leave anything out. Keeping the portrait a secret might be more difficult than he had first thought. These types of chairs were only legal to be used by the ICW, but Severus honestly hadn’t expected to be placed on one of them.
“Why did you ask for Sanctuary?” Tarragona asked.
“It’s complicated. Just after the summer holidays began, I was advised by…” Severus choked on the word friend.
Tarragona leaned forward, one hand disappearing beneath the table. It didn’t strike Severus as a coincidence that it was his wand hand.
“Don’t try to lie. It won’t do you any good.”
“I wasn’t trying to, just trying to call him a friend. But truth is, I don’t entirely trust him. And I don’t think of him as a friend. So, more of an acquaintance, I guess.”
Tarragona hummed and leaned backward in his chair. He sprawled lazily, but Severus didn’t buy the illusion of relaxation the war mage was selling. His chair’s magic prodded at him to keep talking. It tingled uncomfortably. Ignorable, if you were strong-willed, but not in any way comfortable.
“It doesn’t matter. I got the advice to take a high-level flushing potion. I thought it was ridiculous, but he used a vow I’d made against me.”
Severus could see Tarragona’s gaze sharpening when he mentioned a vow, the lazy veneer Tarragona was projecting thinning for a second. He ignored it and kept talking, telling the man about finding out what Dumbledore had done to him. About feeling the need to check on Harry. He left out the vow, the memory of why he’d made it in the first place too painful.
“When Dumbledore made his move to regain control of Harry, I decided to ask for Sanctuary. We came here and you know the rest,” Severus concluded his story.
Tarragona hummed again and the sound grated on Severus already frayed nerves. He held his tongue, not wanting to antagonize the man who had his fate in his hands.
“I think I don’t know nearly as much as I should. For instance, why do you believe that Sanctuary is the only option? If what you said about Dumbledore is true, then why come here? As Supreme Mugwump, he has just as much influence here as in Great Britain.”
“You can’t be as dim-witted as you pretend to be,” Severus bit out. “If you truly believe Dumbledore has as much power here as he does in Great Britain, you don’t deserve the title of war mage.”
“Why don’t you explain it to me then?”
“Aside from the fact that most of the people in government grew up with the great Albus Dumbledore, or have had Dumbledore as headmaster, and thus look up to him as some sort of paragon of goodness? Dumbledore has already shown he uses potions to compel loyalty. Merlin knows what that man has done with access to our country’s children that he’s had for decades. There are far more stringent checks on people’s magic and mind in the ICW. Dumbledore might have political influence here, but at least I can be sure it is only political. And since the ICW counsel’s headquarters is in Brussels, I figured we could keep Harry and mine’s request for Sanctuary away from Dumbledore and, quite frankly, from any others who would inform him.”
“You believe Dumbledore has more people under his control than just you?”
Severus snorted. “I think Dumbledore is dark as fuck. I think he sees people as pawns. And if he isn’t controlling more people, I will never brew a potion again.”
“You seem very certain.”
“Certain enough to come here asking for help.”
“Why are you so invested in Harry Potter’s safety? You hardly know the child. So, I’m guessing it’s that vow you made. What was the vow, when and to whom was it made and why?”
The questions about the vow came rapidly, shot out of Tarragona’s mouth as if shooting out spells in a duel. Severus flinched.
“I was friends with his mother,” he whispered.
The penetrative look of Tarragona didn’t waver. He’d now dropped all pretence of being lazy and relaxed and was as focused on getting answers as Severus was when brewing a complicated potion. Grudgingly, realizing he would not be getting out of here without answering Tarragona’s questions, Severus continued.
“When I was working for the Dark Lord, I had become disillusioned. It was not as I had expected it to be. Then again, I was a foolish, angry teenager when I joined, so I doubt it would ever have been.” Severus shook his head. What a fool he’d been then, and he was fairly sure he couldn’t even blame Dumbledore for that decision. More the pity. “I had been friends with Lily Potter before she was married, but we had a falling out in our fifth year. I suspect Dumbledore fed me the obsessive love potion somewhere later that year. It… didn’t help my attitude.”
“And that’s when you made the vow?”
Severus shook his head.
“No, that came later. I learned that the Dark Lord was targeting two families, the Longbottoms and the Potters. I wanted to save Lily. The potion made me so concerned with having her, that I went to Dumbledore to warn him, so he could warn her. I didn’t even care if Potter or Harry died, all I cared about was her.”
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. The potion had been insidious, but he really should’ve at least questioned why he didn’t care whether an innocent baby lived or died, despite who his father was.
“I was so obsessed with saving her, that I even tried to get the Dark Lord to spare her. In the end, it didn’t help. None of it did. In my grief, exacerbated by the potion, Dumbledore struck his claws deeper into me. He made me vow to protect Harry. And it is that vow that’s driven most of my actions since flushing the potions from my body.”
“Well, we can rule out you’re a danger to the boy, at least.”
“Does this mean you’ll grant me Sanctuary?”
Tarragona stood and held out Severus’ wand to him. “Severus Snape, I grant you and Harry Potter Sanctuary. My wand and those of all my brothers and sisters in magic will protect you until such a time as you will be able to protect yourself.”
Severus accepted his wand, glad to be armed again, and breathed a sigh of relief. With Sanctuary formally granted, he would no longer be walking a tightrope of rules. The only rule he now had to be mindful of was to not cast offensive magic against anyone granting him Sanctuary, meaning anyone working for the ICW. That might be a problem with Dumbledore as the Supreme Mugwump, but if Dumbledore managed to stand before him without anyone there to fight him off, the last thing Severus would be worried about would be breaking Sanctuary.
He stood up. “Thank you.”
“Let’s get you back to the kid,” Tarragona said, gesturing for him to walk out of the room.
As Severus passed him, he placed his hand on Severus’ arm. Severus tensed.
“Maybe you should ask yourself exactly how much influence that vow you made really has on you.”
Without waiting for Severus, Tarragona started walking down the hallway back towards the conference room. Severus, pondering what Tarragona meant, had to hurry to catch up to him. All along the way back to the conference room, Severus turned over Tarragona’s words in his mind. Was the war mage worried about the influence of the vow on Severus’ actions? Irritated at the cryptic question, Severus decided to put it out of his mind when they reached the suite. It didn’t matter anyway. The vow was made, and he would have to live with the consequences.
“You can move freely through the War Mages building if you wish,” Tarragona said, as they reached the conference room. “Though I don’t recommend roaming too much, considering who you’re seeking Sanctuary from. Keeping your presence here a secret will be best. None of the war mages will talk about anyone under Sanctuary, but we do get other visitors who won’t be as circumspect.”
“What about Dumbledore?”
“Don’t worry about him.”
It didn’t sound like a brush off. Instead, it sounded like a promise with enough venom underneath it to make a basilisk jealous. Severus nodded his thanks and went inside. The first thing he did was check on Harry, who sat sullenly on a chair. The child perked up at seeing Severus but still seemed a bit downtrodden.
“Everything alright, Harry?”
“The healer says I need a lot of healing,” Harry muttered.
Severus sought out Healer Petterson with his gaze, who nodded at him.
“He needs all of the childhood inoculations. Several of his bones will need to be vanished and regrown. I will need to deal with the effects of malnourishment. And that’s not even getting me started on the possible effects of the dark magic clinging to him.”
“Dark magic?” Harry piped up.
“You were hit with a killing curse when you were a baby,” Severus said, thankful the healer had enough tact not to mention the Horcrux. “No one that we know of looked you over afterward and dark magic like that tends to linger. It can cause problems in the long run if not dealt with properly, so it’s better to get rid of it.”
Harry frowned, but seemed to accept it.
“I’d like to do a daily healing session of about two hours, for however long it will take to rectify all damage,” Petterson said, directing his comment mostly towards Tarragona.
“Why does it need to take so long?” Harry asked.
All the adults in the room turned towards him and Harry shrunk back a little under the scrutiny.
“Good question,” Severus said, wanting to reassure the child that he wasn’t in trouble. “I know it has something to do with the well of magic you have, but I don’t have the required medical knowledge to answer it. Perhaps Healer Petterson is willing to answer your question?”
The healer smiled. “Of course, I’m always happy to answer questions. Your guardian is right, it does have to do with your magic. Magical healing doesn’t use some of my magic to heal you, it uses your own magic to heal you. I’m only directing it, telling it what to do to heal you. That’s why magical healing doesn’t work on Muggles. Do you understand so far?”
Harry nodded, a look of concentration on his face. “So how much magic you have determines how fast you can heal?”
“Exactly,” Petterson said with a big smile. “Your magic gets used to heal you and it needs some time to build back up. Since there is no hurry to heal you completely, we can take our time and not use all of your magic at each session. We’ll use maybe half of it, so you’ll feel a bit tired, but not so tired you’ll sleep until the next time I see you. That would be no fun, now would it?”
Harry quickly shook his head with a laugh. Severus, with a lot more knowledge on magical theory, heard what the healer had only obliquely mentioned. Harry’s injuries were big enough that to heal them all at the same time would deplete his magic completely, causing him to get magical exhaustion. That Petunia had managed to damage Harry that much, on top of the neglect of Dumbledore when it came to the Horcrux, made Severus wish he hadn’t left without doing something to exact revenge.
“So, daily healing for about two hours, until all of your health problems are fixed. That is, if you agree to it, War Mage Tarragona?”
“Of course,” Tarragona said.
Severus wasn’t even asked. He clenched his hands into fists, but bit back the words that threatened to spill from his lips. He couldn’t demand they asked him, as long as they were under Sanctuary it was Tarragona who would be making the decision about Harry’s welfare. He’d even have the final say over Severus’ medical treatments, in the event Severus was unconscious. Didn’t mean Severus had to like it.
“I’d like to start tomorrow with the inoculations you missed,” Petterson said to Harry. “I’ll be by to pick you up at eight o’clock, but don’t eat breakfast. Some of the inoculation potions need to be taken on an empty stomach.”
Severus was gratified when Harry looked at him, the question clear on his face. Severus nodded, the healer wasn’t lying about the empty stomach. Only with Severus’ silent approval did Harry agree to be picked up.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Petterson said.
The healer left. Severus moved closer and placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder, if only to remind himself that even though Harry wasn’t in perfect health, he was fine for now.
“Now that we’ve made the plans for tomorrow, let me take you to the set of rooms you can use,” Tarragona said.
Severus and Harry followed the man to a different part of the building, Severus’ trunks once again bobbing along behind them. Tarragona showed them to a suite of rooms consisting of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, and a small kitchen.
“It’s one of the suites for war mages that prefer to live on the premises. They’re not often used these days, so we have plenty of them standing empty,” Tarragona explained. “Consider this your home for the time being. The trunks you brought have been put in the living room. You are welcome to use the library or any of the other facilities but do try to stay out of the more public areas. In fact, I suggest you try and remain in the suite as much as you can. We don’t need word getting out you are here.”
Tarragona looked mostly at Harry as he said this. The child merely nodded, seemingly overwhelmed. And perhaps, Severus thought, tired as well. He was still fairly pale. An early bedtime today would not be amiss.
“Now then,” Tarragona continued cheerfully, “as I’m responsible for the two of you under Sanctuary rules, I’ll be seeing you quite a lot. Expect daily visits.”
Tarragona pulled a charming smile, but Harry seemed too tired to really appreciate it and Severus saw it for what it truly was. Daily visits to check up on him, to make sure the Death Eater that had managed to claim Sanctuary wasn’t up to anything. Therefore, he just looked at Tarragona like he would look at the Weasley twins when they were brewing up trouble again. The man’s smile turned into a smirk.
“Well, I’ll let you guys get settled in. Goodnight and until tomorrow.”
Tarragona left and Harry sank down on the couch. Severus said down next to him.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Harry said.
Severus sighed. “I know I didn’t really explain, and I’m sorry. There wasn’t any time to lose. Do you remember the letters I got this morning?”
“The letter Fawkes brought was from Dumbledore, the man who put you with your aunt. He wanted to take you back there.” Severus hesitated, not quite sure how to explain that fighting it in court would have been a disaster. He decided to go for the simple explanation. “I could have fought it in court, but I believe that even if I was officially given custody, Dumbledore wouldn’t have accepted that. He could have sent Fawkes to just grab you.”
“A phoenix can carry a full-grown person with them, flame away, as you saw him do this morning, through most wards. I wasn’t prepared to risk him just taking you.”
Harry looked scared now, exactly what Severus hadn’t wanted, but he didn’t believe in lying to children or keeping information away from them that they asked for.
“But he can’t get me here, can he?”
Severus pulled Harry in a side-way hug, though the boy remained tense against Severus’s side. “No, he can’t. There are wards that can keep phoenixes out and this building has them. They’re complex to cast and blood-based, which has been illegal in Great Britain since the nineteen-fifties. There are buildings that still have blood-based wards, but almost none of them are the type to keep out phoenixes.”
“Why not?” Harry asked, curious. He was relaxed now, leaning his weight completely against Severus.
“Every ward you put up must fit with the ones already there, or you can get a real mess that either won’t work as well or worse, blows up. The ward that keeps a phoenix out is very fiddly and difficult to cast in such a way it will work with other wards. Since phoenixes are rare, most people don’t bother with it.” There were a few in Britain that Severus knew had that type of ward, but they were either Death Eaters like the Malfoys or very firmly in Dumbledore’s camp. None of the options had been safe for Harry and him to hide out in.
“That’s interesting. What other kind of wards are there?”
The words were slurred and Severus saw that Harry was half-asleep against him, the day’s happenings catching up with him.
“Go to bed, Harry,” he said. “Don’t fall asleep here. I’ll see if I can get you a book on wards tomorrow.”
Severus retrieved Harry’s belongings, including his pyjamas, from his trunk. Harry dragged himself up from the couch. With a sleepy goodnight, he took his small pile of things from Severus and went to bed. That meant that for the first time since arriving at the ICW, Severus was alone and unlikely to be disturbed.
He retreated to his bedroom, taking his trunk with him. After casting every revealing spell he knew, Severus opened his trunk. He accessed the warded compartment with a password and a small droplet of his blood after dismantling the wards. When he opened it, a very grumpy miniaturized portrait stared back at him.
“I want answers,” it demanded. “What in the hell have you been doing?”
“You don’t get to demand anything. In fact, I think it’s time I get some answers.”
The portrait looked mulish, but Severus ignored it. It was long past time the damn thing started giving him all the information he needed.
“Did you know Harry is a Horcrux?”
There was no surprise, so even before the portrait nodded Severus knew that sometime in the future, he’d known the answer.
“He died,” the portrait said, looking away. “Dumbledore told me that a fragment of the Dark Lord’s soul had latched on to Harry. I doubt he knew I knew of Horcruxes, but my interest in Dark Magic led me to some truly dark books, as you know. Dumbledore convinced me the only option at removing the Horcrux was for Harry to die. He gave me a thread of hope, that if the Dark Lord himself would cast the Killing Curse, Harry might have a chance at surviving. So, behind the scenes I helped to push and pull a seventeen-year-old child I had vowed to protect into walking willingly to his death, so the Dark Lord would be mortal once more.”
Severus sat down heavily, bile rising. He swallowed heavily.
“He lived,” the portrait said shortly. “Impossible Potter luck.”
Severus breathed out a sigh of relief. Even knowing Harry – his Harry, this timeline’s Harry – was safe and would never walk willingly to his death, it was a relief to know that the Harry of the portrait’s timeline had survived Dumbledore’s plot to kill him.
“So once the Horcrux is gone from Harry, anyone can kill the Dark Lord?” Severus asked, already thinking about how he could finish him off.
“I wish,” the portrait said. “There were more Horcruxes, I know that much. Harry gave me all the information before sending me back.”
Severus grabbed some parchment and wrote down the list the portrait gave him. A diary in hands of Lucius Malfoy, a ring in an old shack where once the Gaunt family had lived, that came with dire warnings about the curse and compulsions on it, Salazar Slytherin’s locket, in Grimmauld Place, one of the Black residences, Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, in Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringotts vault, and a diadem in a special room at Hogwarts. As far as the portrait knew, Nagini wasn’t a Horcrux yet, although she had been turned into one eventually. To be safe, Severus wrote her down as well.
“Some of these might be difficult to get to,” he told the portrait.
“Once you get them, they can be dangerous as well. They’re known to affect anyone that possesses them.”
“Right, so research containment and how to destroy Horcruxes. I don’t think the ICW war mages will buy my explanation for how I know all this.”
“Even if you manage to find and destroy all Horcruxes, you might still not be able to kill the Dark Lord because of the prophecy,” the portrait warned him.
“You know the entire prophecy?” he asked hoarsely.
The portrait recited the familiar lines, then added ones Severus hadn’t overheard.
“So that night he marked Harry as his equal,” the portrait said. “I’m worried that Harry might still need to be the one to end Voldemort, for ‘either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives’.”
Severus snorted. “Die at the hand of the other doesn’t automatically mean you need to do the deed yourself. I count, because of my vow to him I could be considered his hand, just as a vassal would.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” the portrait said. “Now, I’ve answered everything. Tell me, what is happening?”
Severus detected a faint threat of concern in the portrait’s voice.
“We have been granted Sanctuary by the ICW.” Severus had the distinct pleasure of seeing the portrait’s mouth fall open. “They take a dim view of old men trying to possibly control a government through potions and other types of shenanigans. They weren’t really happy about the Horcrux in Harry’s head either.”
“That’s another thing to put on Dumbledore’s list of crimes. I always wondered if he even looked to see if there was another way to get rid of the Horcrux instead of having Harry die.”
“I want to bet he did know there was another way,” Severus said. “Unfortunately, we’ll never know if he wanted Harry to stay dead or stay alive to control even further. You did say Harry was controlled by Dumbledore all his life; I take it you meant after he survived the Killing Curse as well?”
“Yes. Potter lived a long life, but it was far from happy. Dumbledore’s cronies took over controlling him with potions and spells, including the woman he ended up marrying. His whole life was a sham and though he didn’t know it, he had almost no free will. Only when he outlived the last in the plot to keep him controlled did he break free. By then, it was too late to change things. At least, in our timeline.”
“He was the one to send you back.”
The portrait nodded gravely, a dark look on his face. Severus realized Harry must have given his life to power the ritual. It was the only way Severus could see it working. How bad must Harry’s life have been, to be so desperate to change it that you risked your soul for a small chance? He closed his eyes, swallowing heavily. Dumbledore had a lot to answer for.
“So now what?” the portrait asked, fixing Severus with a stare. “You’re going to hide out here with Potter until the ICW takes care of all your problems? You actually think that will happen?”
Severus raised his eyebrow. “You want me to storm in, take care of it myself? Really? What happened to me that I became such a Gryffindor? That’s a good way to get myself killed. If that happens, Harry will be straight back under Dumbledore’s thumb. No, I’m doing the Slytherin thing. As far as I can see, with Dumbledore removed from the picture the future you came from cannot happen. I set the ball rolling, now I can sit back and watch how it squashes Dumbledore like a bug. ”
With that, Severus shrunk the portrait and put it back in its warded compartment.
Severus made his way back from the ICW War Mages Library, which took up half a floor of the building, so he’d be back in their suite before Harry came back from his healing session. They took two to two and a half hours, so Severus always erred on the side of caution and made sure to be back before the two-hour mark. After Dumbledore was taken care of and Harry was safe from him, Severus planned to use the school holidays to hunt down and destroying the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes. The portrait had given him a list with the locations, if they were all accurate at this point in time, so finding them would hopefully not be a big problem. Severus was currently working on ways to destroy a Horcrux without basilisk venom-infused swords or fiendfyre. While the portrait had told him about those two options, Severus felt neither one was truly a good option to use. Killing a basilisk wasn’t high on his list of things to do. Fiendfyre could be used if he couldn’t find another way, but Severus wasn’t confident in his ability to keep it under control. Very few wizards could.
When he entered the suite, he saw Tarragona leaning against the far wall, his arms loosely held by his side. Severus’s heart jolted as a shot of fear went through him.
“Is something wrong with Harry?”
“He’s still with Petterson and as far as I know, he’s fine,” Tarragona said.
Severus closed the door behind him and stepped further into the room, his hand straying to where he kept his wand. Now that the initial fright of thinking something had gone wrong with Harry had left him, he recognized Tarragona’s posture as ready for action. It was the tensest he’d seen the man since the interrogation he’d had to endure upon arriving here.
“Then, what, pray tell, is the problem?”
He moved slightly to the side, so the large sofa was between Tarragona and himself. If the man decided to start flinging spells, Severus was at a big disadvantage. He couldn’t use magic against an ICW employee without breaking Sanctuary, but he refused to go down without a fight if it came to it. Of course, avoiding the fight Tarragona seemed to be aiming for was preferable altogether.
“If something is wrong, depends completely on your explanation of what exactly you’re doing in the Dark Magic section of our library.”
“I wasn’t aware I couldn’t use the library,” Severus deflected. “I thought, under Sanctuary rules, I had access to it, despite it normally being restricted to ICW employees.”
“You have access to it, yes, as long as you’re not going to use the knowledge you learn here to continue whatever unspeakable acts you did as a Death Eater.”
Severus narrowed his eyes and almost ripped his robe when he pulled his sleeve up to show the Dark Mark.
“This thing doesn’t define me,” he spat at Tarragona, who looked surprised for a change. “I was eighteen when I was pressed into joining him. Just graduated from Hogwarts, started my Potions Mastery, and a lot of the crowd I was involved with were marked the moment they were out from under Dumbledore’s nose. So, when He approached me, I said yes. Because I was young, stupid, and afraid. Because I wanted to belong to something.”
Tarragona took a step towards Severus, but he shook his head and took a step backward. Now that he’d started talking about this, he wanted to get it all out at once.
“It wasn’t until a few months later, when I attended my first real meeting, that I realized what I’d gotten myself into.” Even now, thinking back at the torture and killing of a young Muggle-born and her family, bile rose. He swallowed heavily and tucked the memory back in a far corner of his mind. “But by then it was too late. I managed to stay mostly out of the more violent aspects, using my potions ability to become too important to send out on raids. I will not deny that some of the things I did were…horrible. But I have never taken a life and I have never used the truly darkest aspects of Dark Magic.”
“And your interest in the library?” Tarragona pressed.
“Even after his supposed death, the Dark Lord still had his claws in me. I’m finally free of one master, now that you have granted me Sanctuary. I want to be free of the other one as well. I want this thing off my arm.”
Technically, it wasn’t even a lie. The Dark Lord’s death would certainly get the Dark Mark off his arm.
“I had to ask,” Tarragona said, looking a whole lot more relaxed now.
Severus huffed and pulled his sleeve back down, covering up one of his biggest mistakes.
“Well, now you know.”
Then, in consideration of the fact that this man visited the suite every day and currently had a rather large amount of power over his life, Severus invited Tarragona to stay for tea.
“Why not,” Tarragona said, sitting down on the couch in a lazy sprawl.
Severus wondered at how the man seemed to let go of his suspicions so easily but was thankful for Tarragona’s easy-going nature. Though Severus had to admit that a certain kind of tension was gone from Tarragona’s frame that had been present before during his visits. Something about Severus’ speech, most of it far more emotional than Severus cared for, must have instilled trust in Tarragona. The man was such a Gryffindor, despite having gone to school at Castelobruxo.
“Still haven’t read that?”
Tarragona waved to the unopened letter he’d given him three days ago that Severus had shoved half underneath one of his potions books. It had been diverted to the mailroom of the War Mages Headquarters due to the owl redirect ward Tarragona had cast on both Harry and Severus.
“It’s from Minerva McGonagall. I already know what it’s going to say, she’s always caved to Dumbledore’s demands. She’ll probably be urging me to bring Harry back to Petunia.”
The worst part of it was that Severus couldn’t even be sure if Minerva agreed with Dumbledore out of her own free will or if she’d been potioned to be loyal just like he’d been. He supposed he could ask the portrait, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. Minerva had helped him a lot when he was just starting as a teacher and she was perhaps the one person he could count as a friend. Not being able to help her would grate on him, but learning she willingly followed Dumbledore would hurt him just as much.
“It’s your decision I suppose,” Tarragona said.
While Tarragona had let things go, now that he’d brought it up the matter stayed on Severus’ mind. After Tarragona had left, he tried to put the letter out of his mind by keeping himself busy. But with Harry’s imminent return he could not leave the suite, and there wasn’t much he could do to keep his mind off of it. When he found himself straightening his bed covers for the third time, he gave in to the inevitable and opened Minerva’s letter.
I heard from Albus that you took Harry away from his aunt and uncle. I understand why you did it. I warned Albus that they were the worst kind of Muggles. Knowing of your father’s attitude, I can imagine why you took him, despite your feelings towards James. However, Albus has his reasons for wanting Harry to remain there. Although he hasn’t shared them with me, I trust it is necessary.
Know that I don’t agree with the way Albus is handling the situation. He could have listened to your reasons and explained his reasons to you. I am trying to convince Albus to withdraw the kidnapping charges, but you know how stubborn he can be. Rest assured that I won’t let him rest until he desists with this foolishness. Then the two of you can talk it out so we can all keep Harry as safe as he can be. I am certain we can all sit together and think of how we can keep Harry safe while still staying with his aunt. Albus will see this too, once he stops and listens to me.
Please let me know Harry and you are safe somewhere.
Stay safe and well,
Severus sighed as he put the letter down. It wasn’t anything other than what he’d been expecting, really. Minerva would cave to Albus’ demands over Harry, though she was going to bat for him more than Severus thought she would. Perhaps that was a sign she was also under loyalty potions? As he heard Harry come into the suit, Severus put the letter in his trunk. A potion or true blind loyalty, it didn’t matter either way. Severus was in no position to do anything about it.