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Cold as Ash by greengecko
Chapter 1 : Cold as Ash
 
Rating: 12+Chapter Reviews: 88


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Harry was having a bad summer. This was saying a lot given previous summers’ circumstances. Gangly now, but still too short for his almost sixteen years, Harry Potter sat on the kerb before number four Privet Drive. The sun was shining hot, reflecting painfully off the pavement. Very little breeze moved to cool the air.

Harry knew he was being watched, or to express it more generously, guarded. It may have been paranoia, but he thought he felt eyes on him all the time now. He hoped they thought he looked bored and unhappy, because he was. There wasn’t anything to do; he’d written his letter to Lupin, the one they insisted he write every three days at least. Harry wished he was supposed to write the letter to someone he didn’t like, then he might have been able to express more in it. As it was, he had a hard time writing anything at all to his old teacher.

Sore in the bum from the hard kerb, he stood and walked down the street. The sunlight made everything appear too bright to look at. It especially glared bright off the dark surface of the road, which didn’t really make sense. At the end of the drive, he turned, thinking of circling around on the next street over. All around him, people, Muggles, were carrying on with ordinary tasks like washing automobiles, trimming hedges and planting flowers. They all looked more alive to Harry than they should somehow. Some of them smiled at him, although most gave him a suspicious look. He smiled nicely at those who did and ignored the others.

A man cleaning out his auto gave him one of the latter looks. Harry started to ignore him, then recognized Mark Evans sitting on the walk nearby, his bicycle in pieces around him, the chain soaking in a soapy tub. When Harry hesitated, Mark looked up at him. His neutral expression changed to consternation, and he returned to using a wrench to tighten down a bent something that appeared to be spring loaded and wanted to be straight.

Harry assumed Mark didn’t like him because of Dudley, but he was desperate for someone to talk to. He stopped beside the walk and asked him what he was doing. Mark’s father stood up and watched them over the roof of his Opel.

Mark shrugged. “Tuning my bicycle.”

Harry hoped Dudley hadn’t broken it for him. He’d never seen Mark ride by their house, despite the close proximity. Mark glanced at his father then concentrated on some other adjustment he was making. He paused and looked around himself for something before spotting it near Harry’s foot. Harry reached down and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” Mark said quietly. Harry had the distinct sense Mark wished he’d go away.

Harry frowned and obliged. As he stepped away, he heard the vacuum come on again as Mr. Evans ducked into his auto to vacuum the carpets. As Harry walked, he considered that he looked pretty unfortunate in his oversized shirt and blue jeans, not to mention his really old trainers that were a ubiquitous grey from use. He probably wouldn’t want to hang around with him either, if the situation were reversed.

Harry glanced back when the vacuum went off again. Mr. Evans was leaning out of the passenger side door, talking to his son. Harry thought he heard him say St. Brutus’, but he wasn’t certain. Rolling his eyes, Harry stopped to retie his laces before continuing around to the next road.

* * *


Harry began to pay attention to the time, when his sense of his watchers shifted. After a week of this, he had a pretty good idea of the schedule. He also thought he could tell who was Apparating by the kind of sound. Mundungus was very loud when he departed.

Harry thought he heard the distinctive bang! as he made breakfast one morning at six-fifty. Nearly ten minutes passed until he heard a much quieter pop! He assumed the wayward wizard had left early from his shift for an appointment. As his relatives complained about the state of the bacon, which looked perfect to Harry, he served breakfast. Harry ate his bacon first, or he would have it stolen. He’d given Dudley the largest piece or he would have gotten in trouble for that.

“Can’t I have a little butter for my toast?” Dudley whined. He was much too old to do that, Harry thought, although since it usually worked maybe there was no reason to stop.

“You may have Marmite, Dudders,” Petunia said. “Remember what the nurse said,” she added in a disgusting singsong.

Harry finished his one slice of dry toast, one because Dudley was only allowed two, and went up to his room.

“Don’t forget the dishes!” Aunt Petunia snapped.

“I won’t,” Harry said. “I’m sure you’ll yell when you’re finished,” he said more quietly, mostly to himself, as he reached the stairs.


That afternoon, Harry walked around the same way again. He found himself trying to be predictable, but he wasn’t sure if it was to make his guards’ job easier. He felt more like he wanted to lull them into being overconfident.

As he rounded the block, Mark rode up on his bicycle. He stopped with a chirp of his tyres and stood before the pedals. He watched Harry walking in the street a moment with a doubtful expression.

“Are you really a criminal?” Mark asked with a hint of challenge.

Harry stopped and blinked at him. “No.”

Full of bluntness apparently, Mark then asked, “Why do you dress like that?”

Harry shrugged. “These are the only things I have to wear. I have some other better stuff that I wear at school, but my aunt and uncle would take them away if they saw them, so I don’t take them out.”

“Oh,” Mark replied, sounding slightly sympathetic. He looked around, especially behind himself, as though worried they’d be noticed talking. He nervously flicked the brakes on the bicycle loudly a few times. “My dad thinks you are worse than Dudley, but you aren’t really.”

“I hope not,” Harry said dully. Why was it he was always having to work around preconceived notions with everyone he met?

“Dudley doesn’t have to go to St. Brutus’s School for Incurable Criminally Something, though,” Mark pointed out.

“No, though maybe he should,” Harry commented dryly.

Mark grinned at that, then sobered. “Is it really bad at your school?”

Harry sighed silently. “It’s fine. I’d rather stay there than come back to my aunt and uncle’s house.”

Mark hadn’t run out of questions. He glanced around again and said, “How did you get that funny scar?”

Harry started walking again. “It’s hard to explain.”

Mark awkwardly walked his bike without dismounting it. “Mum and Dad were arguing about it last night; that’s the only reason I’m asking,” he reluctantly explained.

Harry stopped again. This time he looked around. “Arguing?” he asked in confusion.

Mark sounded like he didn’t actually care about the topic, really. Casually, he elaborated, “My mum kept saying that Mr. and Mrs. Dursley insist it was an auto accident, but my dad said that’s a lie.”

Harry studied Mark a long moment. “It is a lie,” he said. “How does your dad know that?” he asked, trying to sound just as casual, if not more so, but failing.

Mark shrugged. “I think the family knows something. My dad keeps saying he’ll explain it someday.”

“The family?” Harry parroted, trying to grasp for a thread.

As though Harry were slow, Mark said with forced patience, “The Evanses.”

For an almost frighteningly long interval Harry couldn’t draw in a breath. That connection had never, ever occurred to him. He had assumed if he were related to someone else, he’d have met them. “Your dad is Aunt Petunia’s . . . cousin?” My mum’s cousin.

Mark nodded, now giving Harry a very dubious look.

“Aunt Petunia never said anything about that,” Harry explained, embarrassed, mind spinning fiercely. He looked Mark over more closely. He just looked like an ordinary boy, Harry couldn’t see anything else in his facial features. Mark looked like he had slipped into feeling sorry for Harry, which made him angry. “Sorry I didn’t realize we were cousins,” Harry muttered quickly and began walking again. He wanted to get up to his room and write another letter to Lupin: an angrier one that insisted he ask Dumbledore why he’d never explained this to him.

Mark levered himself onto his bicycle seat and pedaled forward slightly then rapidly backwards to freewheel alongside. “Well,” the boy said, “cheers, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, deep in his own thoughts. “See you around.”

Back in his room, Harry pulled out a parchment. He’d written Lupin just yesterday and his aversion to writing at all made another letter this soon seem silly. Harry put the parchments away, deciding to think things over before scrawling off an angry letter.

As he lay in bed that night, Harry imagined what would happen if he demanded to know why he hadn’t been told. This was just one more thing, really. Past ones had always been in the interest of protecting someone, supposedly Harry. Maybe this one was to protect Mark and his parents. The more he thought that over, the more reasonable that seemed, and putting something to that effect in a letter that could be easily intercepted seemed unwise. Harry fell asleep thinking it was a good thing he hadn’t just let his anger get the better of him.

* * *


Harry began to fantasize more to pass the time. Rather than dramatic Quidditch victories over Slytherin, he was starting to daydream, in alarming detail, what it would have been like to have been taken in by the Evans household rather than the Dursleys. The differences, in his imaginings, were vast and always positive. After days of this, even Mr. Evans’ warning Mark away from Harry seemed noble and fatherly.

Nice as the daydreams were, he should have known better than to have his mind elsewhere while cooking breakfast. He burned the toast and the bacon, which hadn’t happened in a long time. It brought down a rain of true wrath that also hadn’t happened in a long time. Harry was sent off to his room and ordered to remain there without any meals that day. By dinnertime, Harry’s stomach was exceedingly unhappy. He couldn’t concentrate on anything, not even a Quidditch book that he’d managed to sneak into his Muggle things when his uncle was locking everything else up for the summer.

Exceedingly hungry, as well as unhappy, Harry crawled into bed early, thinking that once asleep he wouldn’t notice either one. Unfortunately, that night’s extra discomfort opened his mind to dreams that snapped him awake, shaking and churning in his stomach. Not wanting to risk rousing his sleeping aunt and uncle by visiting the toilet, he swallowed hard on the bile in his throat and turned on his torch under the covers for company.

The white cave of the bedding made him feel trapped as well as snug. He reached under the mattress for the mirror and propped it on his legs. He wondered then if he should have repaired the glass. He couldn’t do that now since he was forbidden from doing magic, and now he regretted not doing it before leaving school, although he remembered also that he’d been far too upset to think of it. For the hundredth time, it seemed, he replayed an alternate version of last term where he remembered the present from his godfather and had contacted him on it instead of chasing off to the Ministry. Harry might be at Grimmauld Place now instead of here. He might have someone to talk to about his bad dreams. He might have someone who cared what happened to him.

Overcoming a strong desire to throw the mirror against the wall, Harry put it back under the mattress and switched off the torch. With a sigh, he rolled over and tried in vain to sleep. His scar throbbed every time he let his mind wander so he was forced to Occlude it every few minutes, exhausting his mind even as he was supposed to be resting.

* * *


Several uncountable days passed, each hotter than the last. Harry’s routine grew mind-numbing, so much so that he even began to feel inured to the verbal abuse of his relatives, as though there were a crystal ball around him, isolating him from them and rendering them meaningless.

Harry took his daily walk at exactly the same time and along the same route. His sense of being followed didn’t waver. Mark stopped to talk to him again one cloudy afternoon. He got off his bike and dropped it into the grass beside the pavement.

He looked a little skittish but defiant as he said, “Dad said not to talk to you. I told him Dudley was the deranged one, but I don’t think he believed me.”

Harry shrugged silently. He looked where Mark’s gaze was fixed, back at his house, watching for his father, presumably. Harry hated Mark in that instant, because he had everything Harry did not and could not have.

“Don’t talk to me then,” Harry snipped and turned away. He walked along in the road. His scar burned as he let the hurt anger course through him. He rubbed it, stumbling a bit when it seared momentarily.

“What’s wrong with you?” Mark asked, not sounding concerned so much as fascinated.

Harry breathed deeply, trying to Occlude his mind. In the back of his waist band under his shirt, his wand felt hard, reminding him it was there, reminding him that if he lost control to Voldemort, he could do enormous damage.

“I said, leave me alone,” Harry whispered harshly and nearly sobbed in relief when Mark picked up his bike in a huff and walked it away.

Shaking with the effort at control, Harry finally pulled himself together. He’d reached the main road that led to the motorway. In the distance he could hear the whine of tyres on the overpass. A rumble sounded as a lorry traversed the overpass. To the south the road stretched to the horizon.

* * *


The next morning, Harry rose early and made breakfast quickly. His aunt actually stared at him when she came down and struggled for a minute in a vain attempt to figure out how to yell at him for that. Eventually she shook herself and sat down to eat.

Harry watched the clock. At precisely six fifty-five he stood up, took his jacket down, put on his best trainers, which wasn’t saying much, and left.

At the main road he was certain no one was watching him. He turned south and started walking, feeling free and almost joyous.


An hour into his walk, Harry stopped and took a break on the kerb before a fast-food restaurant. For a long time, he watched families and working people going in and out for breakfast. They were laughing and rushing, holding hands and glancing worriedly at watches. There was no Voldemort here. Harry could almost believe he was deluded and everything that had happened since he was eleven was just his own twisted imagination tormenting him.

A lot of cars were pulling into the next road. Drawn, Harry walked that way and found it led to a large parking lot. It was the zoo, which he hadn’t been to since he was eleven. Harry walked in with a large group of schoolchildren, easily fitting in with the younger kids. Inside he worked his way to the edge and wandered slowly around the displays. Most had benches before them. He sat before the pandas in their idyllic bamboo garden. Their slow movements and peaceful purpose made his mind relax more than it had in a very long time.

By late afternoon Harry had grown bored. He used the toilet, drank his fill from the fountain, and wandered out of the zoo. This time he picked a different direction on another road. His feet were hurting at first but as he went the pain faded until he no longer noticed it.

Another hour or two went by. Harry hadn’t brought a watch, so he couldn’t be certain. As he walked down a nice street with little traffic, a tall figure stepped into Harry’s path. Harry reached behind him and had his wand in his sleeve in an instant and held it out.

“At least there is some limit to your stupidity,” Professor Snape’s voice said.

Harry dropped his arm followed by his head. He was glad it was Snape, since they already hated each other and Harry didn’t have to lose any face with someone he might actually like.

Snape stepped up to him and exhaled loudly. “Shall I even ask?” he sneered. He was wearing the closest thing to Muggle clothes Harry had seen on him. Black trousers and a white starched shirt of indeterminate style. His only nod to wizard fashion was a waist-length black cloak rather than a windbreaker for the cool evening.

Harry shook his head.

“Let’s return then, shall we?” his teacher said with thin patience as he steered Harry by the shoulder down the pavement. Harry willing walked alongside, more for lack of any options.

They walked along a different route than Harry had taken, this time through a large office park. Row upon row of nondescript red-brick buildings went by with their car parks in between.

A man was approaching the car they were nearing. Harry looked up in surprise at Martin Evans, who gave him a vaguely suspicious look. “Well, I guess this isn’t a surprise,” Mr. Evans said.

Harry’s brow furrowed at that. Snape stopped on the pavement beside the car and crossed his arms.

“You are a Snape, aren’t you?” Evans went on.

Harry looked between them in utter confusion. Snape replied flatly, “Yes.”

Evans shook his head and got into his car. Harry wanted to shout for him to stop and explain that. He mutely watched the man pull away instead.

“How did he know you?” Harry asked. He’d wanted to demand the answer, but instead could hear his voice truly curious and worried about a lack of reply.

“I don’t think you wish to know,” Snape commented before he started walking again. He checked immediately that Harry was following.

“Why not?” Harry asked. “I just found out a week ago that he’s my mum’s cousin. How do you know him?”

“In case you didn’t notice--it was he who knew me,” Snape pointed out.

“Yes, but how?” Harry said. “He’s a Muggle, isn’t he? He’s scared of me--I can tell.”

“Yes. Definitely a Muggle,” Snape commented meaningfully, garnering a narrowed look from Harry.

They stopped at a major intersection and waited for the lights to turn their way.

“The Muggle world is much too noisy,” Snape complained as the cars whined past, sometimes with their engines roaring as they accelerated. Harry had to agree, once he thought it over.

After they crossed Harry picked up the topic again, mostly because he knew it would make him nutters later if he didn’t get it worked out. “How in the world did Martin Evans recognize you?”

Snape huffed lightly in annoyance. “What do you know about your grandparents? Mr. Evans’ aunt and uncle?”

“They’re dead, aren’t they?”

“Nevertheless.”

“That’s all, really,” Harry admitted as they crossed a small park. Children were squealing as they chased each other around the sand pit beneath a swing. “No one tells me anything,” Harry pointed out flatly. “No one answers questions when I ask them.” In fact, Harry thought, I’d lose a week of dinners with anything remotely on that topic. Breakfast too. Thoughts of food made his stomach grumble painfully.

“Your grandparents were reputed to be very pleased to have a witch for a daughter.”

“How do you know that?” Harry asked, remembering his aunt Petunia’s complaints on that exact thing.

“Are you going to let me finish?” Snape asked.

“Sorry.”

Snape went on, “This glee was in very sharp contrast to your great grandfather’s attitude. Martin Evans’ grandfather. He disliked witchcraft and wizardry so much he broke from his own family.”

“Was he a wizard?” Harry asked. He’d stopped before a magazine stand to look over the headlines, a habit he couldn’t help. The newsstand man’s hairy belly hung out from under his stained t-shirt as he sat on a stool off to the side, reading and smoking and paying them no mind.

“No,” Snape replied. “And his father placed a curse upon him to the effect that his line shouldn’t sire another magical child, ever.”

“Well, that didn’t work,” Harry commented disparagingly. “Are you making this up?” he asked, unable to fathom why the Potions master would know all of this.

“No,” Snape insisted snarkily. “It worked for the next generation, and for Mr. Evans’ next as well. Your mother was the exception.”

Harry looked up at him, trying to read him. “Okay,” Harry said. “So you are saying Martin Evans is still in the anti-wizard camp with my Aunt Petunia.”

“If your aunt is in that ‘camp’.”

“Oh, she is,” Harry insisted as though Snape were a little dim to not know that. He started walking again, slower this time to delay returning to the Dursleys. Talking with Snape was turning out to be far more pleasant than any evening at home could ever be, which said a lot. “So,” Harry said, counting generations. “Martin Evans’ great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather . . . “ He paused to check that. “Cursed his son, correct?”

“Correct,” Snape said levelly.

“Because his son hated wizardry?”

“Yes.”

The walked in silence for half a block. “And the point of all this?” Harry prompted.

“He forbade his son from using the family name as well,” Snape drawled, now sounding as though he might be enjoying his tale. Harry slowed his footsteps before coming to a stop. Snape went on in a conclusionary tone, “So his son, reversed his family name and Mugglized it.”

Harry’s brow furrowed as he thought that through. “So, Sn . . . Snave--” Harry blinked and stopped breathing for a moment. “You aren’t serious,” he said in a very dark tone of near doom.

“Yes. I am. I would hardly make that up.” He started walking again.

Harry hurried to catch up. “You can’t be telling me my mother is the descendant of some Muggle throwback of your family? Aye,” he breathed, shocked silly by the thought.

“You said it, not me,” Snape intoned.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Harry asked.

Snape stopped dead at that. “For what reason?” he asked a little nastily. “Four generations is a very loose relation.” He started walking again immediately, faster this time.

“Among Muggles, yes,” Harry said, “but not among wizards.” He worked hard to keep up with Snape’s longer stride for a while, trying to determine how in the world he could be feeling cheated right now.

They stopped at another intersection and waited for the lights. Harry actually felt a little better knowing this story, a little more connected to things. He also hoped to Merlin no one ever found out. He glanced around them, feeling observed. He didn’t see anyone, but he did see an ice cream store on the corner and the scent of the waffle cones made his stomach clench painfully. He hadn’t consciously moved but he found himself standing before the open door, checking his pocket. He had only a few pence of Muggle money.

“Don’t tell me you were running off with no funds?” Snape sneered.

“I have wizard money,” Harry snapped at him, feeling stung.

“And no one would recognize you using that,” his teacher retorted snidely.

“Frig off,” Harry said angrily, then hoped normal detention issues didn’t extend into the summer. “What do you want, anyway?” He waited for a woman pushing a pram to pass them. “Come to rub it in that I have no one now?” he snarled.

Snape crossed his arms and stared down his nose at him. “I was sent, Potter. Do not believe for an instant that I am here of my own free will.”

Harry swiped at his eye under his glasses as he felt his eyes burning. Anger made it much harder to control his grief--he shouldn’t have let Snape get to him. He’d been doing pretty well until just now. He Occluded his mind before he looked up challengingly.

Snape raised a brow. “You have been practicing, obviously,” he said grudgingly. He held out a ten pound note. “Chocolate flavored,” he ordered firmly. “Clearly, you need it.”

Harry accepted the note and went into the shop. Minutes later he emerged with a triple waffle cone of dark chocolate and strawberry. In the middle of the block was a small area of trees and benches. Harry took a seat to eat more easily, since eating had overtaken every other priority. Voldemort could have shown up and Harry would have finished every last bite before even taking out his wand.

Snape sat stiffly on the bench beside him. “Don’t they feed you?” he sneered.

Harry paused to wipe his mouth on the tiny napkin they’d given him. “No,” he replied as though Snape should have known that as well. Harry’s mouth had gone numb from the cold so he couldn’t taste what he was eating anymore. He tried to warm his tongue on the back of his hand before continuing. Snape gave him a very long, narrow look.

“You don’t seem to be lying,” he said.

Harry held out his thin arm. “Do I look like someone who gets fed?” he asked sarcastically. Disgusted with them all, he ranted, “I got two carrots at lunch. If Ron hadn’t sent two ginger biscuits with his last letter I wouldn’t have gotten anything to eat at all yesterday.”

“Have you mentioned this in your status letters to Remus?” Snape asked, sounding almost concerned.

“Like he wouldn’t know,” Harry snapped.

“He doesn’t know anything you don’t tell him,” Snape scolded.

Harry frowned and wiped his mouth again. He was down to the cone now and looking forward to solid food. In a difficult tone he said, “What am I supposed to write? Like all previous summers, I’m not getting fed this one either?” He was shaking with anger now. “No one wants to hear anything bad from me,” he added grimly.

Snape looked around them a moment before sitting back on the bench. “What else have you been leaving out?” he asked evenly.

Harry made him wait while he ate the top edge of the cone and the ice cream beside it. It was even still crunchy, not soggy at all. It tasted wonderful. “That I can’t sleep if I don’t Occlude my mind. Otherwise I see people dying and hear them screaming in my dreams. If they feel like hearing that, you can tell them for me,” he said angrily. “It isn’t like they are going to let me leave or anything so it doesn’t bloody well matter.”

“Unlike the way you seem to think,” Snape said quietly. “This isn’t entirely about you.”

Harry bit his lip as he glared at his teacher. “Don’t you think I wish it weren’t about me AT ALL?” Their eyes locked a long moment before Snape looked away, across at the row of covered steps of the houses across the street.

Harry slowed as he reached the bottom of the cone. He was actually full, which felt surprising. He forced the last few bites down anyway, hoping to store them for later.

“Anything else you aren’t saying in your letters?”

Harry wiped his mouth and hands before tossing the napkin away in the wastebin beside the bench. He shrugged when nothing leapt to mind. The street lights were coming on now as darkness fell. Harry really didn’t want to go back. He’d rather cut off a limb and stay on this bench.

“Nothing matters,” Harry said finally, feeling depressed now as well as sleepy from the food. “Nothing I can say to Remus is going to make anything better. So why bother? I’m sure he has other things to worry about. It’s only six more weeks of hell that feels like ten years.”

“If I’m not mistaken, Moody called after your first week back, correct?”

“Yeah, great. I got yelled at silly for three hours because of that. They thought I’d owled him. They locked Hedwig up for a week in a cupboard until the noise drove them insane. I’d have to beg every day to be able to change her water and feed her.” He threw his head back at the memory. “If I didn’t need her to bring me food, I’d send her to Ron’s for the summer so I didn’t have to worry about her. So, no, Aurors coming to check on me doesn’t help at all--it makes things much worse,” he insisted furiously. Ranting was feeling very good, especially ranting at Snape. Harry imagined that Dumbledore had sent him just for that reason and felt touched even though it probably wasn’t true.

Snape turned to look at something in his pocket without Harry being able to see it. He stood then and said flatly, “We should be going.”

Harry, having no real choice, stood to follow like someone headed for the executioner. They reached Privet Drive and walked down to number four. Harry hesitated on the walk.

“Go on,” Snape said. “And the next time you have the urge to wander farther than a block, owl instead.”

“Then what?” Harry asked nastily.

“Someone will come.”

Harry rolled his eyes. That potential hit on his pride sounded far worse than starving, at least with a belly full of double chocolate. He stared bleakly down at his worn-out trainers. An aching need for some form of hope was cutting him apart. “This is all going to be over someday, right?”

“One way or another,” Snape said quietly, sounding suspiciously like he himself was in need of reassurance.

Harry chuckled painfully at that. “Ah,” he said shakily, “this is all just to get me over fearing death. Summers at the Dursleys to make me wish for it.”

Snape didn’t reply and in the tricky light from the street lamps, Harry couldn’t read his expression. He started to move to the door.

“Do owl, Potter,” Snape said flatly.

Harry laughed lightly and, feeling positively grim and none too confident with them all, said, “What, so Mundungus can come sell my aunt a stolen cauldron?” He immediately felt disloyal to Dumbledore, but he felt it was true, all the same, that they were ad hoc and not too competent. That left him breathless with panic, if he let it, because more fell on him then.

The door to the house opened and the large form of Vernon moved into the square of orange light. “Boy, get the hell in here,” he said in a harsh whisper. In this weather everyone’s windows would be open. “Who the devil are you talking to out there?”

“No one,” Harry said, moving reluctantly up the walk. Snape witnessing this, of all people, had to rate amongst Harry’s worst imaginings. “Someone asking for directions.”

Vernon stalked out. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to talk to strangers, boy,” his uncle said in a threatening voice, promising worse than any stranger would deliver. He grabbed Harry by the nape of his t-shirt and pulled him toward the door.

Snape was a blur of motion. In the next moment he had the point of his wand at Vernon Dursley’s throat.

“Didn’t think you looked normal. Another one o’ them freaks,” Vernon snarled valiantly. His sudden profuse sweating gave him away, however.

“Let him go,” Snape ordered Vernon quietly.

Vernon shifted his jaw back and forth before obeying. Harry stepped around him on the lawn and onto the porch. Vernon’s look promised rather horrific retribution. A small blue flash went off. Harry didn’t know what spell it was but Snape definitely had Vernon’s attention. Their eyes were locked. Three harsh breaths later, Vernon stumbled backward in terror, falling on his behind. Snape stepped forward to tower over him.

“There is much more of that,” he said factually. “As much as your sorry little mind can toss forth.”

Vernon glared up at him before turning his tall frame over to stand up awkwardly. “I know your rules,” Vernon huffed and shifted his weight. “You aren’t allowed to--”

Snape was on him again and Vernon couldn’t move, held apparently by something in Snape’s eyes alone, since his wand was at his side. “As Mr. Potter will confirm, I make my own rules.” They both fell silent again, until Snape shifted back a half step and Vernon turned away, gibbering a bit, his hands shaking at his sides.

Snape scoffed. “Your nephew has faced that five times already and you don’t see him quivering like a flower.”

Vernon’s shaking gaze snapped over to Harry. His eyes looked a little wild. Harry figured he’d been shown Voldemort. Harry hoped it was a really awful version of him. He tilted his head at his uncle, feeling calm now. Vernon stomped by him, unable to balance well and walking crooked and drunken. Numbness filled Harry, which felt better than the agony of minutes ago. He watched Snape check the street and the adjoining neighbors’ windows.

“Do owl, Mr. Potter,” his teacher repeated, then with a pop! he was gone.





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