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Chapter 9 : Midnight Sanctuary
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"Potter, take a breath. That's it. Another. Still feeling dizzy?"
"No. It's passing," Harry said in obvious relief, his eyes shut. So was the churning in his gut, for which he thanked whatever deity was watching over him, because the last thing he needed was to throw up on Snape's boots. He was certain that the man would have put him in detention for all of next year and made him scrub them without magic if that had occurred.
When Harry opened his eyes, he beheld a slope of emerald green grass leading down to a medium-sized house fronted with some kind of white stone that shimmered as the sun hit it, it was two stories, shingled in obsidian roof tiles with two chimneys at either end and two peaked dormer windows. Two enormous spruces flanked the house and a cobblestone pathway led up to the porch, which was circular. The door was painted a light blue and had a crescent shaped window at the top, and below was a silver knocker in the shape of a horse's head, holding a horseshoe in its teeth.
"You live here?" Harry blurted before he could think better of it.
Snape raised one eyebrow half-mockingly. "Yes. Why? Were you expecting, perhaps, a decrepit old ruin? A shack in the middle of the woods? So sorry to disappoint you."
"No, I just . . ." Harry trailed off awkwardly, for the truth was he had never given much thought to where Snape lived when he wasn't teaching. He had always assumed the man lived at the school, in the dungeons, though that was a foolish assumption, since the school was closed during the summer holidays. "It looks like a nice house, Professor."
"Too good for the likes of me?" Snape queried, though his tone was not quite as sharp. "I purchased this house cheap, as its former owner was leaving for France. I chose it mainly because it was situated far enough away from nosy neighbors and because it has plenty of land. Sixty acres, to be exact. It used to be a horse farm." He beckoned Harry across the lawn towards the house. "There's a barn out back and a paddock and a very large pasture that runs right up to the forest."
"Where are we, sir?"
"Nottinghamshire, right next to Sherwood Forest," Severus announced.
Harry's mouth fell open. "You mean where Robin Hood lived?"
"Do you know of another Sherwood Forest in Britain?"
"Yes, it is the same one. But it has shrunken considerably since Robin's day and you won't find any merry men about in it, only royal foresters making sure no one is poaching or hunting, since it's a preserve. Despite that, there are places within Sherwood that still retain the old magic, and remain hidden from prying Muggle eyes. There are two sides to the forest, Mr. Potter, one mundane, the other as magical as the Forbidden Forest by Hogwarts, and you would do well to remember that. Do not wander within it until I give you leave."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Only to those it does not recognize. But I will speak more of that later. Come, let us get inside, you need a hot shower and I daresay you are hungry as well."
"I am," Harry said, watching as Snape put a hand on the door and it swung open.
The door opened into a large area that appeared to be a combination of a living room and kitchen, the floors were of a light golden oak, sanded to a smooth finish and waxed till they shone. Harry stopped in the entrance and looked about in astonishment. To the right was a wraparound couch of soft muted green with heather colored pillows and a library table at one end filled with books and topped off with a sculpture of a winged falcon. There was a large area rug facing the fireplace, colored a soothing blue and green geometric pattern.
The fireplace was huge, it looked as if it could have roasted an entire deer, it was made of large gray stone and had a slate hearth. Some wood was piled next to it along with a stand of fireplace tools. The mantle held a hand-carved German clock with curling ivy leaves, and a strange emerald and purple crystal was to the right of it. To the left was a piece of petrified wood. Above was a picture of a beautiful glade, with a stream that glittered in the light of the moon. An owl flew across the sky and a unicorn drank at the pool. The sight reminded Harry of the evening when he had escaped the Death Eaters and woken to find a unicorn stallion standing over him. He would never forget the feeling of peace and awe he had felt looking into the great creature's eyes.
There was a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling, it cast enough light to illuminate the entire living room area. A simple oaken table was set in the middle of the couches.
"Does this house run on electricity or magic?" was Harry's next question.
"A little of both. This was originally a Muggle dwelling, but I have my own lab and distillery for potions down in the basement and that is run entirely by magical means." Severus explained. He waved a hand at the set of stairs leading up to a large loft. "The rest of the house, however, does have electrical lights, though I heat and cool it by magic, because it saves on bills."
The kitchen area was separated from the living space by a large counter. To the left of it was a breakfast nook with a small table and seats built into the walls around it. They were covered in simple blue cushions. On top of the table were parchments and an ink well and a jar of quills.
The kitchen was done in a Lincoln green motif with small tiles of different woodland animals, like a doe, a bear, a fox, and an owl, decorating the walls inbetween the stove, sink, and refrigerator. Pots hung from a rack in the ceiling and the counter was done in more of that strange white stone. Harry ran his hand across it.
"What is this made from?"
"There was a quarry here of this stone, it came from the river Trent, but I have no idea what it is," Severus replied. "The woman who sold me the house claimed it had been much prized and it would never crack or break, no matter if I put a dish scalding from the oven on it or not."
"Oh. It's very . . .unusual."
"Yes. To the right of the refrigerator is the pantry and down that small hallway is one of two bathrooms and the door leading to the back entry and my room is there as well."
Harry spotted another door off to the right of the breakfast nook. "Is that the basement?"
"It is and you are to stay out of it unless I tell you otherwise. The door will be spell-locked, and if you try and open it, it will singe the skin off your fingers, so I suggest you not try it."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, shivering at the image that conjured, unaware that Severus was exaggerating. The charm upon the door would give a mild shock and sting, enough to startle one into releasing the handle and send a silent alert to Severus.
"My potions lab is private and there is no reason you should be in it unless I am instructing you," Severus told him. "Have a seat there. After we eat, I shall show you the loft where you'll be staying."
Harry slid onto the cushioned seat and peered out the window through a gauzy white curtain. The window overlooked the back . . .pasture he thought it was called and he could see a corner of a barn that was weathered and old, though not exactly falling down. The fence around the pasture, however, had been whitewashed recently.
In the distance he could see the large birches and oaks of Sherwood and staring at them made a quiver run through him. He was not exactly afraid of the forest, but rather a bit in awe and respectful of it. He hoped that Snape would tell him more about it after they ate.
Harry continued staring out at the forest while Severus moved about the kitchen, fetching ingredients for a large salad with breaded chicken strips. He eyed the boy, his new charge, Selene help him, and hoped that he had done the right thing. Oh, there was no question that the boy had needed to be removed from that place, but Severus was uncertain if he could be what Harry needed of him. He had more practice being a strict snarky professor than he did a compassionate authority figure. Still, he alone knew what Harry had endured at the Dursleys' hands, and so perhaps he could manage to show the boy some understanding and empathy. He rattled a dish in the cupboard and Harry started.
"Relax, boy. Nothing will ever harm you in this house. Myself included. Unless you push me past all endurance and I chop you into potion ingredients like my last houseguest," Severus said wryly.
Harry flushed and remained staring out the window, but Severus caught the slight smile upon his face. "I'll try not to do that, sir." He looked cautiously back at the professor, who was cutting a green apple into neat slices. "Do you . . .want any help, sir?"
Snape shook his head. "No. Here I prefer to prepare meals, and unless I specifically ask you to, you will not be doing all the cooking or cleaning around here. I am used to fending for myself."
"Then you don't have a house elf?"
"No. I prefer not to have any creature bowing and scraping to me. I like my solitude."
"So you clean your own house?"
"Why, yes, I do, and tie my own shoes and everything, Potter." Snape tossed the apple into the large bowl of salad greens and began cutting up a red onion. "Have you never been shown a cleaning charm?"
"No. I was the cleaning charm at Privet Drive," Harry said, daring to be a little cheeky.
"Humph! The less said of those . . .people, the better." Severus sneered. "Here you will be expected to clean up after yourself, pick up your room, and scrub that bathroom upstairs, but it doesn't necessarily need to be done by hand."
"But professor, I can't use magic outside of school."
"Not with a wand, no. But a cleaning charm is an easy magic to master without one."
"You can do magic without a wand?"
"Yes. Though only the most focused and powerful wizards and witches manage it. I am one." He eyed Harry shrewdly. "Your mother was one also. I believe, with practice, you could master it. If you concentrated and studied hard. There is nothing wrong with your brain, Mr. Potter, save for the fact that you are not used to performing up to your full potential. I know that has to do with your relatives, but here you will be expected to use every shred of your mental capabilities. I will accept nothing less. Understood?"
"Good. Wandless magic improves with practice, and I will see you get plenty of it."
Normally, Severus would have demanded a verbal response, but he sensed the boy was tired and uncertain and he recalled how in times of stress as a child and an adolescent he would retreat into himself and become still and silent. It was a defense mechanism, because if one was quiet, one might be forgotten about, and escape the beating from one's vicious father . . .or uncle. Easy, Severus. This one is as skittish as a whipped colt. You need to go slowly, he reminded himself. Snape returned to cutting up his salad, and mixing ingredients for the poppy seed vinaigrette dressing. Ever since he had been granted his Animagus form at sixteen, he found he preferred more vegetarian meals, though he did like to eat fish and chicken and eggs and sometimes ham and bacon.
Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as his professor deftly chopped and mixed things. As in his lab at school, Severus was precise and swift, his motions practiced and easy. Harry could tell the man was used to looking after himself from how he cooked. The professor was neat and had the chicken and apple-walnut salad ready in fifteen minutes.
Along with the salad, Snape served whole grain rolls with butter and honey and cold glasses of lemon water.
Harry ate the nutritious and tasty meal without complaint, he actually enjoyed green food, unlike Ron, who had an aversion to it as if it were poison, and he would never turn his nose up when offered a meal. There had been times in the past that he would have taken food from Voldemort's own table in lieu of starving. He ate slowly, however, savoring the tangy dressing and the crunchy walnut and juicy chicken. All too soon, his plate was empty.
Severus gestured and the plate refilled itself.
Harry's eyes widened.
Severus answered his unspoken question. "In my house, you shall never go hungry, Potter. There will always be food in the pantry and refrigerator, and you do not need permission to eat it. However, I do expect you to tell me if something is finished, so I may buy more. I do not keep many sweets on hand, so I hope you like healthier snacks, like fruit, nuts, and vegetables, or bread with honey."
"I eat anything, professor," Harry assured him.
Severus nodded, taking a bite of his bread. He had not expected Potter to protest, not after seeing what his home life had been. Like a starving stray, the boy would eat whatever he was given and enjoy it.
"This is really good." Harry said belatedly, after he had taken another bite.
"And you haven't died yet," teased the other, smirking.
Again the boy flashed that gimlet smile. Then he finished his plate and took a second helping of bread. "Did you make this too?"
"No. But a very fine bakery nearby in town did. Later I shall take you over there."
Harry finished his bread before asking, "Why don't you use magic to cook like Mrs. Weasley does?"
"Because I find it easier and more satisfying to cook by hand. And if you use magic for everything, Mr. Potter, you will soon become too dependent upon it. In addition to that, any spell you cast uses up energy, and cooking dinner by magic uses up energy I would rather spend elsewhere."
"Like brewing potions."
"Or layering wards about my property. I prefer to conserve my magical strength until I need it most, and so I do not use it frivolously. I was raised in a Muggle household and old habits die hard. I suspect the same will be true of you."
"Umm . . .probably. I . . .don't mind doing chores. I'm used to it."
"I realize that. I shall make a list of chores you will be expected to do each week. But it will be nothing like what you were made to do at Privet Drive. You are not my slave, Potter, but my student, and Selene forbid I ever behave like those abominable freaks of nature."
Harry giggled softly at how his teacher had spat those words and the way Snape's eyes glittered with disgust. It felt good to have someone else know what hell he had been through and who disliked the Dursleys as much as he did. Though he had to admit, he didn't detest Dudley half as much as he did his aunt . . .or his uncle.
"If you are finished, let me show you the loft. Go scrape your plate into the garbage and leave it in the sink. I'll wash up after."
Harry obeyed, then followed his teacher up the stairs, which had a runner on them of beige carpet, and into the spacious skylight loft.
The railing about the loft was formed of spiraling wooden columns, that reminded Harry of a unicorn's horn. It had thick plush carpeting of a chestnut brown color. There was a comfortable looking beige couch and an endtable with a lamp. A Tv on a stand was set up in front of it and Harry turned and said, "You have television here, professor?"
"Yes, the television works, though I hardly ever use it, unless I need to see the news or the weather. You may watch it after your chores and summer schoolwork is completed."
Harry hid another smile. Imagine that, a TV all to himself. It would take some getting used to.
All the way in the corner of the loft, against a dormer window, was the bed, a large one, with a plump looking mattress and a comforter in earthtones with a sunrise printed on it. There was a dresser and a small closet as well, and next to the closet was the second bathroom.
It was a small bathroom, done in gray and black, containing a toilet and a sink and a small shower. "There are towels and such in this linen closet and any other essentials you might need in this cabinet," the Potions Master told him, before they exited the restroom.
Harry saw his trunk at the foot of his bed.
"You make take some time to unpack, Mr. Potter. The potion should be wearing off soon, so you may feel a bit tired. Feel free to have a lie down if you need it. I shall be out back, tending my herb garden."
"I . . .I need to write to Ron and ask him to send back Hedwig," Harry recalled. "What should I tell him, sir? Should I tell him that Vol—"
Snape abruptly clamped a hand over his mouth. "Do not say that name, Mr. Potter! I told you, it is not safe!"
"But why?" mumbled Harry from behind Snape's hand.
"Because he has caused an enchantment to be linked to that particular name." The professor answered, removing his hand. "You may not know this, but he was not born with that name, he created it to make himself feel important and set apart from others. He made it so that whenever people spoke his name, he would hear it, and if he felt like it, could Apparate instantly to them and either aid or destroy them. Or cause them to come to him. He loved when people feared him. You are familiar with the phrase "speak of the devil?" That is just what He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named became to most everyone in the wizarding world."
"But Dumbledore says his name."
"He can say it because he knows the Dark Lord will not seek him out."
"But I said it once or twice too."
"Were you in the Headmaster's presence?"
"Then it didn't matter. He was also not fully back in the world. But now it does. See that you guard your tongue, unless you desire a meeting with him."
"No! I'll be careful. I'm glad you told me why. You're the only one who ever has."
"Potter, I will try to tell you the truth as much as possible. I cannot promise always, because there are things that you do not, or should not, know. But I will never outright lie to you, not when it concerns your safety. By Selene's Grace, I will promise you that."
"I understand." Harry said. Snape was an intensely private person, one who did not reveal much about himself, and Harry suspected the professor knew secrets he would take to his grave. But at least he had Snape's word that he wouldn't be kept in the dark "for his own good", he was not a sodding baby, after all. He cocked his head, then asked the other burning question that had been on his mind. "Professor, do you . . .worship . . .the Moon goddess Selene?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I noticed that you swear by her and usually that means you worship someone when you do that."
"And you would be right. She is my goddess, and I am Her Initiate."
"An initiate? Like a . . .priest?"
"No. Say rather a favored follower who has sworn himself to Her. But that too is a story for later. If you wish to write to Weasly, use discretion. I would prefer if you not mention where you are right now. Unpack, Potter. The trunk will not get any lighter by you looking at it." He turned on his heel to depart.
"Would you mind . . .sometimes . . .calling me by my first name? Just sometimes."
Severus turned. "Since it is the holiday and we are not at school, I will agree. But back at school, I shall address you like any other student. . .Harry."
With that, he sailed down the stairs, leaving Harry alone to get settled in.
He had little to unpack and after he was through he went and lay down upon his bed and thought about how odd it was to finally live somewhere safe, somewhere he didn't have to worry about working his arse off and getting punished for doing better than Dudley, somewhere he needn't fear looking at Uncle Vernon in what might be construed as a "cheeky manner" and getting walloped for it. Somewhere he could eat his fill and not make himself ill eating scraps from the rubbish bin. Somewhere finally where someone cared about him . . .not the Boy Who Lived, but Harry.
I ought to write that letter to Ron. I ought to write another to Sirius. Does Snape have an owl? I've never seen him with one. Have to ask that later . . .right now I'm so tired . . .He fell asleep in mid-thought and slept for an hour and a half.
When he woke again, he felt refreshed and quickly scribbled letters to Ron and Sirius and also Hermione. Hermione he went into more detail than he did the other two, because he knew she appreciated that sort of thing and she wouldn't have a problem with him living with Snape. Because of his concerns over privacy, he asked Hermione not to mention that little telling detail to Ron, and in his own letter him and to Sirius, he told them he had been removed from Privet Drive because of a safety issue and couldn't tell his location, but he needed Hedwig back and that he was fine.
He found Severus sitting at the table, looking as though he were marking tests and hating it. "Does anyone even read the bloody material anymore?" he was saying to no one in particular,
"I do. Only sometimes I forget stuff," Harry replied honestly.
Severus glanced up from his horror show of end-of-term exams and said testily, "You wouldn't if you tried harder. What is it?"
"I . . .have some letters I wanted to mail, but I don't have Hedwig here and didn't know if you had an owl."
"I do. She is probably asleep in my room." He gave a soft whistle.
A moment later they heard a sleepy hoot and then a brown and white barn owl flew onto Severus' shoulder. He stroked her and fed her a treat from a small dish on a shelf behind him. "Nighteyes, meet Harry. He'll be staying with us the summer."
The owl looked up at him and Harry tentatively went to stroke her chest. She made a soft clucking noise and nibbled his hand before settling down.
"Hello, Nighteyes. Sorry to wake you but I really need these delivered. Would you mind?"
The owl hooted again, and gently took the letters in her beak. Severus opened the window and she flew away with them.
"How do they always know where to go to bring the mail and how to return?" Harry asked curiously.
"It's bred into them. Merlin created the first post owl and used magic to make the bird willing to fly during daylight and stronger, faster, and hardier than its normal counterpart. He also gave it a homing instinct, like a pigeon's, and another instinct that would allow the bird to sense where it was to go, no matter how far away it was. Finally he made them incredibly intelligent for an owl, so it could almost comprehend human speech. I find the barn owls are very smart, Nighteyes especially."
"Oh. I never knew that."
"They really ought to have a lesson on post owls in Care of Magical Creatures," said the professor. "Anymore questions, Harry, or can I get back to my infernal grading?"
Harry had loads of questions, but sensed that now was not the time to ask them. "No, sir. Guess I'll just go walk about outside."
"Fine, but be careful inside the barn, there are old rusted tools there, if you cut yourself you could get tetanus. And do not enter the forest, or else!" Snape stressed. He fixed Harry with a glare. "If I am interrupted because you disobeyed me and set one foot in there, you will wish a bugbear or a wyvern ate you."
Harry flinched. Then he nodded.
Severus checked his watch. "It's three o'clock. Be back inside by five, we'll have supper then. Now get!" He waved him away.
Harry went, not wanting to annoy the already irritable professor. He had no wish to discover how Snape punished misbehaving Gryffindors this first day . . .or any other day, for that matter. He went out the back entryway and down off the porch.
A few meters to the left he saw a large herb garden and a greenhouse. He supposed that was where Snape grew plants for potions. He walked down the small dirt path to the barn.
When he cautiously pushed open the door, a musty smell of old hay and dust came out, and he heard the rustle of several mice and owls above in the rafters, but nothing else. Harry groped about before finding a light switch and the lights came on, soft ones, down the corridor and inside each stall. The barn was quite large, it had stalls enough for fifteen horses and also a tack room and another room that had probably once been used for feeding and storing oats. There were several empty sacks of feed and a lone oat scoop. Some rusted pitchforks and rakes and a broom were standing in a corner.
In the tack room were a few old horse blankets, buckets, containers of hoof polish and saddle soap, a halter and lead, and a currycomb and brush. There was even an old saddle. Harry noted that though worn, the items were still in good condition. Looking at them made him wish that he could return to Hogwarts and try and befriend the moon stallion. He closed his eyes and imagined what it would be like to ride the horse once more, with a proper saddle, and how fast they could travel, faster than a unicorn could run.
Smiling, he stroked the smooth leather of the saddle and then looked up and saw some rolls of bandages and a bottle of linament also resting on a shelf. He wondered why the people had left this stuff here and why Snape had kept it. Then he shrugged. Maybe Snape intended to get a horse one day, though Harry couldn't picture the man mucking out a stall or riding one.
He left the tack room and peered into another smaller room, empty except for some built in bookshelves and an old metal desk and chair, perhaps this had been an office at one time.
Exploration over with, he decided to walk a little down by the pasture.
The sun felt good on his back as he walked through the thick green grass, listening to the singing of birds in the trees and watching a bee buzz over a wildflower. He felt at peace here, drowsy almost, it was not a feeling he was accustomed to, but one that he found he rather enjoyed. He walked all the way down to a large beech tree and settled himself on the ground.
He wondered if the Dursleys had finally rid the house of the grasshoppers and spiders and frogs. Did they still have boils all over them? He smirked a little at that. He recalled once as a young child getting sick with chicken pox and Petunia hadn't even given him a bath or put Calomine lotion on him, she had simply left him in the cupboard and he had been driven nearly mad from the itching. So he didn't feel very sorry for them at all now. He also wondered how Dumbledore would take the news that he was no longer at the Dursleys.
He dozed, the sun and the breeze combining to make him sleepy.
When he woke and glanced at his watch, he saw that it was nearing five and he hurried back inside to take a shower and change before supper.
For supper that night they had pasta primavera and more bread, Harry was allowed to eat as much as he wanted and then they stored the rest away to eat tomorrow.
"Come here, Potter," Severus ordered after they had put away the leftovers. "Now is as good a time as any to begin learning wandless magic." He indicated the sink full of dirty dishes. "The spell you need to learn is a simple cleaning spell. It can be used for dishes or for small messes. You simply speak the word Scourgify and point at what you wish to be cleaned." He pronounced the incantation slowly, so Harry go the right pronunciation down. He made Harry repeat it several times before he was satisfied.
"Now. When you use a wand, it is mainly to focus the magic within you, to channel it into a form that is easy for you to use. You can also do the same with your mind. Think of your will as you would a wand, and use it to summon your power and then focus it into a narrow tube. Then speak the incantation and concentrate upon what you wish to be done, point, and see what happens."
"All right." Harry did so, trying to call upon his magic and then channel it.
He felt it swirl within him and he pointed his hand and spoke the incantation. "Scourgify!"
"You're not concentrating enough. You have to focus, Potter. And you have to want it. Try again."
Harry did. Over and over, until he was red-faced.
"Stop." Severus ordered impatiently. "You look like you're fighting a bout of constipation, not summoning magic."
Harry scowled. "I'm trying, sir! I am!"
"You're too tense. Relax. Breathe in and out, slowly. Summoning your power shouldn't take that much effort."
"It doesn't. It's trying to focus it."
"Ah. Don't try and call up all your magic at once. Make in your mind a cup and summon that much and no more."
Harry closed his eyes and tried to imagine a tea cup, slowly filling with the golden magic, and when he had done so he opened his eyes. "Okay, sir. Now what?"
"Keep the image of the cup in your mind. Now, slowly call the magic from the cup and shape it into a narrow fine tube."
"That's the part I'm having trouble with. I can't picture it."
Severus thought for a moment. "Imagine an empty quill. Imagine dipping the quil into your well of magic and filling it. Have you got that image in your head, Potter?"
Harry thought hard. He slowly imagined the white quill filling with magical "ink". He could feel his power pulsing and throbbing, but he clamped down on the quill image. Focus. Focus.
"Now speak the spell."
"Scourgify!" Harry cried, remembering to point at the sink.
He felt the magic flow out of his hands and then the water turned on and soap appeared and the dishes began to wash themselves.
"I did it!" He opened his eyes and grinned.
"You did. And it only took you . . .forty minutes." Severus said. "Not bad. As I said, practice makes perfect. You shall wash all the dishes in this manner for weeks and by the time you return to school, you will have mastered this wandless charm as well as a few others I shall teach you."
"I'll be faster next time, sir," Harry said, eager to please his teacher.
"Eventually, yes. You are young to master wandless magic, but I felt you had a natural aptitude for it. It's not something all wizards can do, you should be happy that you managed as well as you did. Most students don't learn wandless magic until they are in sixth year."
Harry was elated. He was determined to master this magic and for once know something that most of his classmates didn't, even Hermione. Suddenly, he felt extremely tired. "Huh? Why am I so tired?"
"Wandless magic takes a lot out of you in the beginning. Come, let us retire to the den."
Harry padded into the den and sank onto the couch.
Severus sat beside him and snapped his fingers. A green vial appeared which he handed to Harry. "Drink this."
"What is it?"
"A Nutrient supplement. You need it. Now drink it."
Harry obeyed. "Ugh! Tastes like rotting vegetables."
Severus handed him a glass of water. "You'll be taking that for a month, after supper each night. You need the extra vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. You're malnourished from your summers and early years."
"Will this help me grow taller?" Harry asked hopefully. He had always hated being shorter than all the boys in his year. Ron towered over him by a foot.
"It may. It will keep you healthy, which is what I need it to do." Severus answered.
Harry made a face. "Why does it have to taste like rubbish?"
"How would you know what that tastes like?" asked Severus sarcastically.
Harry bit his lip and looked away, towards the unicorn portrait.
Snape leaned forward, frowning. "Po—Harry, answer me," he said in a much quieter tone. Harry continued examining the portrait, avoiding Snape's eyes. "Tell me those bloody Muggles didn't—" he broke off and swore furiously.
Harry said in a colorless tone, "Sometimes they kept me in the cupboard for days and then made me cook for them. And when they were out of the kitchen . . .sometimes I was just so hungry . . .I couldn't stand it . . ."
Severus took a few moments to get his temper under control. Then he said, "Sometimes we must do things to survive that might seem shameful, but necessary." He gave the boy's shoulder a squeeze. "Do not think less of yourself. It was not your fault, but rather the fault of those you lived with, who were such greedy bastards they couldn't even leave you a piece of toast or a slice of ham for breakfast."
Harry was silent, shame curling like a snake in his gut.
"That will never happen here," he reassured the boy. "I have plenty of food and you may eat as often as you like. In fact, I think small meals a few times a day would be easier for your system to adjust to." Severus said. Now he wished he had summoned a plague of ants and locusts down upon the Dursleys instead of merely grasshoppers. The more he learned of what they had done, the more sickened he became.
"Can we talk about something else?" Harry asked softly. "Please?"
Severus changed the subject. "I will be making an appointment for you to see an Occular Specialist by the end of the week. I think you need new glasses. How long have you had that same pair?"
Harry shrugged. "Years. But it was either them or be blind."
"You will be getting a new pair. Then perhaps your handwriting will improve, since you can see the paper." Severus said.
"I'd like that. How much would they cost? I have money in my vault."
Severus cut him off with a quick slash of a hand. "No. I shall pay for them. As your new guardian, that is my responsibility."
"Guardian? When . . .when did that happen?" Harry asked, dazed.
Severus smirked. "When your fat uncle signed that piece of parchment this morning. See for yourself." Severus picked up the piece of parchment lying on the table in front of them.
Harry began to read it aloud. "I, Severus Tobias Snape, do hereby claim guardianship of my own free will over one Harry James Potter, until such time as he comes of age at seventeen. I agree to provide my ward with all basic necessities and comforts . . ." When he reached the end, he said, "All that's missing is one signature."
"That's right. Yours. Dursley, that rotting piece of dogshit, signed away his rights to me. Now all that remains is for you to willingly agree and I shall be your guardian instead. Do you wish for that to happen?"
Harry blinked. Asked that same question a week ago and he would have screamed a most emphatic "NO! NEVER!" But since then he had come to see Snape as someone else. Someone who might be able to help him in ways that no one, wizard or Muggle could. And really, what other choice did he have? He would rather die than return to Privet Drive. Or go to some foster home. "Sir, if I signed this, it would mean you would have . . .authority over me."
"Yes, I would be responsible for your wellbeing and discipline," Severus said, then he made one of those eerie jumps of logic and answered Harry's questions before he spoke them. "However, I would never use that authority as those creatures did, to humiliate you or harm you. I swear this by Selene's Grace, child. You will receive no beatings at my hands, or neglect, or starvation. My punishments will consist solely of lectures, chores—like whitewashing that pasture fence—and periods of groundings and restrictions to your room and no flying."
"Oh. Like Ron's parents. Well, sometimes Ron's mum swats him one with her spoon."
Severus chuckled. "When he has tested her patience past bearing, no doubt. But I am not Molly Weasley. When you have pushed me that far, Mr. Potter, I will leave."
"Leave to calm down," he clarified. "Then return and issue any punishment necessary afterwards. That is one lesson I learned from my bloody father. To not punish in anger."
"But when you give detention at school, you're angry."
"No, Harry. I am exasperated, annoyed, irritated, but you have never seen me angry. Not truly so. Not even that time I caught you sneaking back from Hogsmeade."
"Yes. Much of how I behaved at school was not . . .real. I play a dangerous game, Mr. Potter."
"I don't understand."
"Someday you will. Do not pry, it is not safe for you to know anymore." Snape told him. "Are those consequences acceptable to you? I am not the easiest person to live with, but you need never fear I will harm you. In return I ask that you make a serious effort to follow my orders, to not whine and sulk, and to keep yourself out of danger as much as possible. Your mother gave her life for you, and you should respect that gift. Your life is not worthless, it matters a great deal."
"To who? The bloody wizarding world?"
"To me. And to your friends. Do not throw it away, Harry James Potter. Selene have mercy if you do, for I swear I shall come to the afterlife and drag you back to the Other Side kicking and screaming and then you shall truly see me in a temper. Am I clear?"
"Yessir," Harry answered. He did not doubt for a moment that Snape could do it. Or that he would. And though Snape's threat was scary, Harry found that it felt good to matter to someone. To matter to an adult. Was this what his friends felt with their own parents? If so, he didn't want to lose it. Not ever.
"Good. You may take a day or two to think on it, and then sign the paper if you wish. There is no rush—" Severus halted because Harry had risen and fetched a quill from the kitchen table and came back and signed the bottom of the parchment.
Then he handed it to Severus. "I trust you, sir. Don't ask me why, but I just . . .do." Now he was safe. Safe at last. He could feel it in his bones. This was where he belonged.
"Thank you," said the other sincerely.
"Will you inform the Headmaster then?"
"I shall. I shall also show him the pictures I took of your former home and maybe that will convince him that you were treated worse than a slave and you are better off anywhere else than there."
"Yes. Will you . . .tell me more about Selene? Hermione told me a little, but I know you know more about her."
"Indeed. What did Miss Granger tell you first?"
"Just that she was an old goddess, the goddess of the moon, and her worshippers wore a crescent moon."
"That is so, but there is much more to Her than that. Listen closely. Back in the days of ancient Egypt, the Egyptians and their mages worshipped Isis, Mother of Magic, and She gave to them many gifts. She taught them to respect the earth and sky and the animals who dwelled there. She gave them Gifts of Foresight and Insight and the ability to change shape, spells to drive back the dark and defend against harm. Above all, She taught them how to be cunning and clever, and fight against Her Dark Opposite—Set the Destroyer, or Apophos. His followers were known as the Hungry Ones, because they were never satisfied, and would destroy all without remorse. In Rome She was worshipped as Selene, the Moon Lady, She of Mysteries, and all wizards there once paid Her homage. After Rome fell, and the barbarians pulled down Her temples and killed Her priestesses, the sorcerers and mystics who still followed Her scattered.
"Some went to France, some went east to China, and some came here, to Britain. Here She became known as the Great Mother and paired with a consort, the Horned God. But She has had many consorts and many names, for all are one. Isis, Ma'at, Selene, Hecate, Persephone, She is at once mother, lover, and wise woman. Eternal. Those who worshipped in the old Roman Way took as their symbol the crescent moon—the Mark of Her favor, and when a person was dedicated to Her service, they were allowed to wear the crescent upon them, or use it to mark their dwellings, so that any who followed Her would know that here was a place of safe haven."
"That's why your door has that window, right?"
"Yes. In this day and age, it is not always wise to be open about worshipping the Mysterious One."
"But you said that Hecate and Persephone were also names for Her. Aren't those, well, evil goddesses? The Queen of the Underworld and the goddess of Dark Magic?"
"Death and life are part of each other, Harry. That is one Aspect of Her. It may not be one we like, but nevertheless, it is there. When She calls you by your soul's name, then you must follow Her to heaven. As for the other, She shares Aspects of Dark as well as Light, as does everything. No dark without light, no night without day. All things opposite, and all things in balance," Snape quoted softly. "I do not worship Her in that Aspect, Harry. That is Her Dark Face, and those that do roam the night unceasing, and curse the rising of the sun."
"You mean like vampires and werewolves?"
"Yes. Vampires worship Hecate, and as for werewolves, they are Selene's lost children, for they bear a curse that can never be broken, and yet in Her mercy She has enabled Wolfsbane potion to be created, so that those who wish it can return to the side of the Light."
"Like Professor Lupin."
"Does . . .does You-Know-Who worship Hecate?"
Severus snorted. "No, if he worshipped any it would have been the god of destruction. The only thing he worships now is himself. He wishes to become divine."
"Is that possible?"
"He thinks it is. And in trying to overthrow Death, he has shattered the Balance. That is why even those who follow Hecate fear him. For he knows no bounds, no honor, nothing save his own whim. He is that deadliest of all creatures—a mad rogue. He must be stopped at all costs."
"And me as well. I am pledged to his destruction."
"Then why . . .why were you once a Death Eater?" Harry blurted out before he could think better of it.
Severus' brows drew down sharply. "Who told you that?"
"I . . .I saw it. In a Pensieve in Dumbledore's office. He . . .He told me to look in it, so I could see what happened during the trial of Barty Crouch Jr. Karkaroff was there and he said . . .he said you were a Death Eater. And then Dumbledore said that you were no more a Death Eater than he was now. Were you?"
"In truth, no. There are times when Selene asks Her faithful to do . . .difficult tasks. That was one of them. I agreed to be Her eyes and ears in a dark place, to seek what was hidden. To that end, I pretended to join You-Know-Who. Dumbledore knew this. That was why he vouched for me, and why I was never convicted along with the others." That was the truth, but it was not the whole truth. Once, after Lily had left him, he had flirted with temptation. Angry and hurt, he had almost succumbed to the lure of the dark, and joined them for real. Only one thing had saved him then. Selene's Grace, and her promise that he would never be alone. I shall always be with you, my child. Even into the darkness I shall light your way. Do not step off the path. You are not alone. I am here, and I shall love you always. It was then She had given him a great gift—the shape of the black stallion, Moon Fire.
But now was not the time to discuss that with Harry. That revelation could wait. Though he knew he must reveal his other form before he initiated Harry into the Mysteries.
"You were a spy then."
Harry ignored the sarcasm. If he had been a spy then, perhaps he also was one now. It would make sense, and fit with what he already knew of the man. But he knew he could not pry answers out of the wizard this time, so he asked instead, "Do you, uh, go to church or something like that?"
"No. There is no formal worship in that way. Those who worship Her are solitary, usually. Or part of a family. She is a very individual goddess, and though Selene had temples in the past, it is not a requirement. She goes wherever the moon travels, veiled in the Mystery of Magic. And once She had chosen you, you are forever changed. And you are never alone. She can be hard at times, even cruel, but She is also compassionate and forgiving. We are all Her children, wizard and Muggle, even those who have strayed from Her teachings."
"Yes. She has tried repeatedly to call him to Her, but he no longer hears Her. So She has turned Her Bright Face from him. She regrets it, but knows he must be stopped, for he threatens all. And so She summons me to fight him. And you."
"But . . .but I don't even know her!" Harry stammered.
"But She knows you. Lily was Her avatar once. The night he came to Godric's Hollow. She called upon Selene and the Lady answered. She gave Lily the ancient magic that protected you from him . . .and it protects you still."
Harry stared. "How . . .how do you know this?"
"I can See it. She set Her Hand upon you," Severus said, his tone a mixture of wonder and utter certainty. "I See it now, but I do not know why I didn't before . . ." He shook his head. Perhaps he had not been meant to see it before, only now when his mind was open and willing to accept the boy before him.
Harry looked down at himself. "I don't see anything different."
"You wouldn't. It isn't visible with the mundane eyes. Not like the scar he gave you. Her Mark is inside, and it is how you survived that curse."
"Dumbledore said it was because my mother loved me."
"Yes, he was right, but not in the way he thought. The Headmaster is not a follower of the Lady. Otherwise he would have seen it long ago and known the truth."
"But I thought he was this great wizard. Everyone says so."
"And do you believe everything everyone says? Even "great wizards" can be blind. Can miss what's right under their nose."
Slwoly, Harry nodded. That was true. For had not Dumbledore missed all the signs regarding him and his . . .abuse at the Dursleys? "What does that mean . . .that She Marked me?"
"It means you are one of Her favored. A rare honor. That you are invited to join us, to become an Initiate, as I am."
"To become a follower of the Moon goddess? But I don't . . .I'm not . . .I don't even believe in Her!"
"Do you believe in magic?"
"Then you believe in Her. She is magic's essence, personified."
"Do you believe magic is real?"
"Then so is She."
"I'm not ready for this," Harry said. He looked almost panicked. Too many things had been thrown at him, he hardly knew what to think.
"All right. I didn't mean to push you this fast." Severus relented. "I shall teach you more about Her tomorrow night. You do not have to commit to anything tonight. Perhaps it might help if you read this."
He rose and walked to the library table, removing a small volume with silver lettering on a black leather cover. It was titled The Path of Mysteries. "This is one of the few books written about Her and what it means to be Her follower. It's a history and a code of sorts. Read it when you have time, after your studies."
Harry tucked it under an arm. "Okay." What could it hurt?
"Now, I would say you should sleep. It's been a long day."
Just then the clock struck nine.
Harry would have protested being sent off to bed like a ten-year-old but once again he discovered that Snape knew him better than he knew himself. For he was tired. His eyes started closing and he yawned despite the early hour. "All right. Good night, Professor."
"Good night, Harry."
He walked slowly up the stairs, suddenly feeling as if he hadn't slept in days. Damn it, how does he do that? Maybe that's another gift from his goddess, Harry thought, a bit peeved.
He undressed and tumbled into sleep like a rock.
Then the dreams began. He was a small child again, locked in his cupboard, alone and frightened, dirty and bruised from where Vernon had cuffed him and Dudley had knocked him in the dirt. He crouched upon the cold floor and cried because he was frightened and hurting and he wanted to be let out. He wanted to be held, the way Aunt Petunia held Dudley, but he was never allowed that, because he was a freak and didn't deserve it. But oh, how he wanted it! I want my mum! Mummy, where are you?
Once there had been a pretty red-haired woman with green eyes who sang to him, and then she became another woman with silvery hair and eyes as dark as midnight, who held him and rocked him. She wore a robe of starspun silk in all colors and none and she whispered, Fear not, beautiful child. I will always be with you, Harry. Always.
He could feel her arms about him, holding him and see how she glowed even in the dark and suddenly he was no longer afraid. Her voice was sweeter than any he had ever heard, pure and true and it soothed and warmed him. She dried his tears and at her touch the bruises vanished and then he slept, knowing that he was safe and that he was not alone.
He woke all at once, and sat up. There was a small sliver of light from the window shining across his bed. He realized it was the moon, three quarters full, and stared out the window. I remember! I remember now! He had had that dream before, many times, when he was thrown into the cupboard. It had always comforted him.
So that was Selene, Snape's Moon Goddess. He closed his eyes, recalling the soft feel of the robes against his skin, and how cool and gentle her hands were, and the smell of nightblooming jasmine that had drifted from her hair. I remember.
A feeling of peace and love washed over him, so strong that he wept a little. Then he opened his eyes and looked out the window again, at the lawn below, drenched in moonlight and for one instant he thought he saw the shape of a black horse running.
He blinked and then it was gone, and he supposed he must have dreamed it, for he was half asleep, and there were no horses here. But just for a moment, the horse had looked like the wild moon stallion that had saved his life.
Don't be ridiculous! He scolded himself. The stallion is at Hogwarts and that's far away from here. You're imagining things. Go back to sleep.
He lay back down and closed his eyes, but sleep did not come. He breathed in and out and counted crescent moons in his head before finally drifting off again and the last sound he heard was not the cry of a nightbird but the drumming of hooves over the earth.
I was going to have Dumbledore and Sev's meeting in this chapter, but changed my mind. I felt it was better to focus upon Snape and Harry here as well as Selene.
Thanks for all the wonderful reviews and I hope you've enjoyed this reality and Snape's home, which is different from anything else I have written.
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