Harry whimpered, tossing his head from side to side, as if trying to escape something terrible. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, then he blurted, "It's so warm here . . .never been this warm before . . .I must be dead and in hell or something . . .Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon always told me all freaks go to hell, 'specially ones that murder their mums . . ." His breath began to catch and tears trickled from his eyes. "Sorry, Mum . . .so sorry . . .that crazy madman blew you up 'cause of me . . .'cause you wouldn't let him take me, so he killed you and my dad too . . ."
Severus felt his jaw come unhinged and fall onto the floor. "That's not true!" he half-protested. "It's a monstrous lie! How could that . . .that rotten bitch tell him that? He was just a baby . . .any mother would have given her life to save her child, Lily was no different!" He had never liked Petunia, even when they were children together. This revelation made him long to cut her tongue out with a dull knife. To tell her nephew such an awful thing, out of sheer spite and malice . . .she belonged in hell, not Harry!
**Hush, S-s-severus. There is more to this ssorry tale, I'd wager.** The Wise One hissed.
After a moment, Harry went on, "I'm sorry, Mum and Dad, I tried to make them like me . . .but I guess it's true what they always said . . .nobody loves a freak, even if they're related to them . . .that's why they love Dudley and not me . . ." Suddenly he flinched and cringed, whimpering, " . . .I won't do it again, Uncle, promise . . .don't leave me here . . .it's cold . . .I'll freeze out here . . .please, sir, I won't ever magic Dudley again, it was an accident . . ." He began to tremble, shivering with remembered cold. " . . .so cold in the shed . . .nothin' to keep warm . . .idiot . . .shouldn't've lost my temper . . .now you've gone and done it . . .if you're lucky, Aunt might let you out b'fore you freeze . . ."
Severus stared at the boy with disbelief and horror. Surely he was not hearing right. Harry Potter was the Golden Child, placed with rich relatives who catered to his every wish and whim. He was spoiled and arrogant, just like James Potter. Dumbledore sent money every month for his keep, making him even more spoilt than the average rich boy. Or so Snape had always assumed. Dumbledore had never told him otherwise, and whenever Severus had asked about the boy, the old wizard always assured him that he was being looked after. "No need to concern yourself, Severus. Harry is fine, he lives in a large Muggle house and his relatives are well off, they only have one son and Harry, I am sure the boys are best friends and he is being well taken care of. He is their nephew, why wouldn't they love him? You've kept your promise, my boy, no need to interrupt your experiments to check on him."
Severus had always allowed himself to be swayed by Albus's words, because the Headmaster would never allow anything bad to happen to The Boy Who Lived, the celebrity of the wizarding world, now would he? It had been so easy to just let things go, and allow his jealousy to prevent him from doing what he should have done long ago, keep an eye upon Lily's son. Once again, he had failed her. And failed himself. "They left him out in the cold to die!" he muttered furiously, though he didn't know if he were angrier at the callus Dursleys or himself.
The Wise One looked puzzled. **Correct me if I am in error, but . . .do not humans cherish and protect their littlings as snakes do? Or, at least, ruffed serpents raise their young till they are grown enough to fend for themselves. Yet it seems to me that . . .he was neglected and unloved. I do not understand why this should be so. Why would they hate him? He bears no true dark taint upon him.**
"Most humans love their children, Wise One. I know Lily and James did. But there are some who . . .fear those with magic's gift. His aunt and uncle do. Like my father, they believe that anyone with magic is . . .abnormal."
**Ah, the old story. Fear gives way to hate, and hate to destruction. It was that which caused my kind to be driven from my homeland and hunted without mercy, reviled as beasts and called evil. They claimed snakes lived to slay humans, when nothing could be further from the truth! We wish only to be left alone, to live out our lives in peace, and would be quite happy to never encounter a human. Yet somehow we are made to be the aggressors.** The Wise One made a disgusted noise.
Severus felt compelled to apologize.
**For what do you owe me an apology? You were not among those who drove me out of Delphi. You have nothing to be sorry for.** She gently nuzzled Harry, whose green eyes were still haunted and seeing things that had happened years ago, lost in the horrors of the past.
"Coming, Aunt Petunia! I'll . . .try not to burn the bacon next time . . .Brilliant, Harry! Guess that means no breakfast again . . .Right away, Uncle Vernon! . . .If I finish early, could I . . .maybe . . .have a bit of lunch, sir . . .Yessir, they won't see me, I'll be in my room, pretending I don't exist . . .I'm not being cheeky, Uncle, honest . . .I know how important this account is . . .But I have to go back to Hogwarts . . .it's the one place I feel at home . . .it can't be any more dangerous than being here . . .they want me to leave . . .and I can't wait to go . . .no one at school gives me dirty looks or hates me there . . well, except Snape . . .wish I knew why . . .he has it in for me. But at least . . .he can't starve me or lock me up, all he can do is give me detention . . .and scrubbing cauldrons isn't half bad compared to cleaning up Dudley's room . . .or his bathroom . . .or mulching the beds with my bare hands . . ."
Severus flinched. He thinks I hate him. Only I . . .don't. He annoys me past bearing with his insolence and disrespect and his reckless behavior, his disregard of school rules, but I don't . . .hate him. I saved his life last year, for Merlin's sake!
**S-Severus, you are his master, why then does he believe you hate him? Do you not treat him well?**
The Wise One's probing question made him feel something he had not felt in a long time—shame. "I . . .not always . . ." he admitted, in Parseltongue it was well nigh impossible to lie, snakes did not practice deceit, rumors to the contrary. "I assumed, wrongly, that he was a spoiled brat who needed discipline and a firm hand . . .I did not know what sort of life he lived, till now . . .he never said anything to anyone . . .I thought he was like his father . . .a strutting preening bully who loved his fame and himself more than anything . . ." He shook his head in disgust. "Some spymaster I am! Bah! Lily would boil me in my own cauldron if she knew what a bloody imbecile I'd been."
**I see. Did you . . .s-s-strike him then? I have s-s-seen wizards discipline their apprentices thus . . .** The Wise One's eyes narrowed in disapproval.
"No! I have never raised a hand to him, such is not my place, I am a teacher not his father, and even so I would never stoop to physical correction, not after . . ." he trailed off, trying to repress his own awful memories.
But the Wise One saw the memories in the flicker of an instant before he closed off his mind. **Not after you endured such yourself as a youngling,** she finished.
"What? How do you know that? No one knows that, no one except Lily ever knew . . . and she took that secret to her grave."
The Wise One gave him an inscrutable look. **Forgive me, I do not mean to pry, but your aura is very bright and therefore easy for me to read. I catch glimpses of your life and Harry's as well, through your auras I see what has gone before.**
"Is that how you became so wise?" asked the Potions Master, somewhat sarcastically.
**Not entirely. Most of my wisdom has been gained over centuries. It would seem to me that you and your apprentice seem to have some misconceptions to work out. Both of you come from sssimilar s-s-situations, perhaps you s-s-should think about that and use it to . . .find some common ground, hmmm?**
"Yes, I suppose . . ."
**You hesitate. Do you not wish to make amends for your actions towards this child?**
"I . . .yes, but I . . .don't know how. . ."
**You s-should start by apologizing for your misconceptions . . .yes-s-s?**
Severus frowned, apologies had never come easy to him. But the Wise One was right. He had to start somewhere. The boy deserved that much. What he had learned of Potter's life chilled him to the bone. "You are sure these . . .revelations are true memories and not . . .hallucinations?"
**Indeed. The mist I exude has an odd effect upon humans. Under its influence, no lies can be told.**
"Sounds like Veritaserum," Snape muttered.
**Pardon? I am not familiar with that term.**
"It's a potion that makes people speak the truth, even against their will."
**How interesting. But the mist does not compel, it merely s-suggests-s-s.**
Severus arched an eyebrow, suspecting that the suggestion was probably hard to overcome, unless one was very skilled in the mind arts. Which Potter was not. Which meant that everything Potter had said was nothing but the truth. How could it have happened that Potter had been abused right under the nose of Dumbledore and the Order, who were supposed to be keeping an eye on him? Someone should have noticed. Unless they didn't know what to look for. Snape knew, none better, how an abused child was trained to hide it, and to never ever let anyone know about it. He had been conditioned thus, and even now, years later, when the one who had hurt him was long since dead, he still found it difficult to speak of it. Had you kept your promise and gone to see what was happening at Privet Drive, you might have noticed something amiss before now, chided his conscience sharply. Who knows the signs better than one who has lived through it? The other members of the Order wouldn't recognize them, they all had happy home lives, and they wouldn't notice things that were obvious to another survivor.
But he had become complacent, and ignored the first rule a spy ever learned, to never get information secondhand, but always see for oneself. This never should have happened. He thought back to yesterday as he started massaging Harry's foot again. How the boy had rushed out to play in the snow without a coat or hat or even a pair of snow boots. He had assumed that was because Potter had been too eager to play with his friends and disregarded the weather, like most children did unless a parent prompted them to remember. But what if Potter had done so because he didn't own any winter wear? Given what he had learned, Snape wouldn't have put it past the Dursleys to not have bought the boy proper outerwear, why throw good money away on a freak who they wish had died?
He would have to talk with the boy once he was fully awake. He only hoped that Potter would not try and hide the truth from him. For in order for Snape to take action against the Dursleys, Harry needed to admit to the neglect and abuse without being influenced by anything. That was one of the first things the Wizarding Children and Youth Department insisted upon, that no coercion of any sort, magical or otherwise, be used to make a child speak about an abusive past. It had to be totally voluntary on the part of the child, unless the child was too young to know the difference, then Pensive memories might be used as evidence.
Finally satisfied that circulation had been restored to both feet, Snape replaced Harry's socks, after casting a Drying and Warming Charm over them. The Potions Master was now exhausted and his last bit of spellcraft was to conjure his Patronus, a white doe, and send it to Dumbledore, to inform the Headmaster about what had occurred, though he made no mention of Potter's past. That discussion was one he needed to have later, in private, once they were back in the castle.
Right then, Severus was too tired to contemplate any kind of discussion with Albus or Harry. All he wanted was to sleep. He wrapped his cloak about his lean frame, coughing slightly, and removed his boots. He managed to Transfigure his extra handkerchief into a pillow before curling up on the floor. Within moments he was asleep.
The Wise One hissed in annoyance. **Stubborn wizard! You shall make yourself stiff lying upon the floor that way!** She carefully uncurled and slithered over to the black-robed figure, gently wrapped him in her coils and lifted him up. He never woke. The golden snake quickly coiled half her body beneath Potions Master and Harry, so the two wizards were sleeping atop her, warmed by her high body temperature. Sleep is the panacea for all ills, thought the Wise One. May Hypnos bring you good dreams, my Speakers. Tomorrow is s-ssoon enough to resolve what lies between you.
Then she laid her head down and drifted into a lazy doze, accompanied by the snores of the congested Severus and Harry.
So there it is. Hope you all liked this and are anxious to see how the talk goes between Harry and Severus. How do you think Harry will react to discovering Severus knows about his life with the Dursleys?