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Severus woke early the next morning, the weight of the young child against his side reminding him how uncomfortable he was. At least the boy wasn't clinging to him like he was last night. Severus gently pushed Harry over to the other side of the bed before sliding out from under the blanket and stretching. He looked out the window as he stretched his arms out.
The snow had finally stopped falling!
A plow was busy pushing snow off the streets and salting the roads. Cars were once more traveling along albeit slowly. This was perfect. He could finally return the boy home and be on his way.
Severus turned and looked at Harry sleeping in the bed. The boy's lashes graced his pale cheeks, his hands curled under his chin, the rest of him covered by the thick blanket. Severus sighed as he thought back to when he had first found Harry – half frozen in the snow, barefoot and wearing tattered overly large clothes. And then the bruises and calling himself a freak. It didn't take a genius to put two and two together.
But he had to return the boy. It had been his assigned task and while he may not have been able to scare the child into staying put, he will succeed in returning him home. He'd inform Albus of his findings and hopefully Albus will see to the situation and he could forget all about Harry Potter. That was the hope anyway. Severus wasn't sure how long it might take him to get the memories of that night out of his head. At least Harry had a couple new memories to hold onto, though Severus wished the boy would forget him. It would be awkward at school if Harry remembered the strange dark clothed man that had taken him in during a snow storm. He had a part to play at Hogwarts and he would have to be a bit hard on Harry to keep his image up. Besides, the brat did still look like his father – too much like him. An exact replica.
Severus pulled out of his thoughts and left to the bathroom to shower and change his clothes back. He couldn't wait to actually change into fresh clothes. Showering, Severus tried to keep Harry out of his thoughts, but his mind just kept wandering back to the boy's situation. It felt wrong – what he was about to do. Every bone and nerve in his body told him to take the boy to child services and explain the situation. However, that may not go over very well considering Harry barely spoke and he now had no proof of any abuse. And even if he had left the child's backside be, who's to say that he didn't inflict the bruises? Harry wasn't his kid and the whole situation was too complicated. He would just have to take Harry to the Dursleys' home and see how everything plays out from there.
Not that Severus wanted to see the Dursleys. No, they were the last sort of people he wished to see. He remembered Petunia all too well from his childhood and teen years at Hogwarts – which really had been about ten years since he had last seen her. She was sure to recognize him, and Severus would give her a tongue lashing for sure. That woman would learn to never treat Lily's son in such a manner.
But what if she wasn't even involved in the abuse? No, that was ridiculous, from what Harry had said, Petunia was very much involved. The boy was overly thin which meant both Petunia and her husband were neglecting to feed him properly. And Harry had specifically mentioned that his aunt and uncle called him a freak and that Petunia had even cut off all of Harry's hair. Why – Severus hadn't the faintest idea. Perhaps it was a means to humiliate the boy? Who knows with that woman.
After stepping out of the shower and using his wand for a quick shave (having no razor to do it his usual way), Severus changed his clothes back to what they were before, casting a freshening charm on them as well. Once he was dressed and had brushed his teeth, he reentered the room to find Harry wide awake sitting on the bed patiently. The boy looked at Severus with a sad face. Severus was sure the boy had tried to use that look on the other ladies who had previously spoken to him. He wasn't buying it though.
"Do not give me that," Severus frowned. "You have to go back to your relatives and you will stay there this time. Is that clear?"
Harry just stared at him with sad eyes. Severus didn't like the intense look and decided to summon the boy's clothes from yesterday, looking away from Harry. Since when did kids have such emotionally intense faces?
"Get up and dress," Severus commanded.
Harry jumped out of bed and slowly changed into the clothes while Severus transfigured the nightshirt back into a warm winter coat. He waited until Harry put on his boots before handing the coat to the boy.
"We are leaving as soon as I check out, so be ready to head home," Severus said. "I will talk to your relatives about your situation and hopefully there will be no more running away. Clear?"
Harry just stared up at him, holding the coat. What is he thinking? Severus thought, frowning down at Harry. The child was awfully quiet this morning. Not one word he had uttered. Was this the treatment the other ladies had experienced with him? Perhaps they just didn't get the extra one-on-one time Severus had gotten with Harry due to the storm.
Suddenly, Harry dropped the coat and fell to the ground, wrapping his arms and legs around Severus's leg, his glasses falling off from the way he dropped his head against Severus's leg. Severus nearly jumped back in surprise at the sudden movement.
"Don't take me back!" Harry cried loudly, probably the loudest the boy had ever been thus far. Severus just stared down at him, unsure of what to do. The boy kept crying. "I'll be good! I promise! I can clean, I can garden, I can cook, I'll be so quiet you won't even know I'm around! Let me stay with you!"
"Harry," Severus started to say, but as he was unsure of what else to say, he just stared down at the boy. This wasn't something he was used to at all. Most children wouldn't dare touch him. He was highly uncomfortable with how Harry was acting and debated whether he should kick the boy off his leg or wait until the child released on his own.
"Please, Mr. Snape!" Harry whined, clinging tightly to Severus's leg. "Don't take me back there! I don't want to go back! They won't be happy if I come back! They don't want me!"
"And you think I do?" Severus snapped. It was completely the wrong thing to say and Severus regretted it immediately after he spat it out. He was just a little overwhelmed with this emotional behavior.
"No one wants me," Harry mumbled into Severus's leg as he buried his face against the fabric of Severus's trousers. "But you won't even know I'm around. I promise. I'll be good."
"That's not what I meant to say," Severus said in a softer tone, reaching down and pulling on one of Harry's arms. The boy didn't budge. Sighing, Severus added, "I just . . . it's complicated, Harry, but you can't stay with me. Whether I wanted you or not, it wouldn't be possible. No one would allow it."
Especially the Ministry, Severus thought. Given his history, being granted any child would be a miraculous feat. Regardless, Severus didn't know the first thing about raising children. Yes, he wanted to help the boy out of this situation, but this wasn't quite how he had planned it. The boy deserved better, perhaps a nice family with a devoted mother and father and a couple caring siblings. That would be better for Harry.
"Harry, let go of me," Severus commanded.
Harry didn't respond, just clung tighter to him. Sighing, Severus glared down at Harry, hoping for some intimidation factor, but the boy wasn't even looking up at him.
"Harry," Severus growled. "Let go."
"Please, sir," Harry said, finally looking up at Severus with teary green eyes. Severus realized that without the glasses, Harry's eyes seemed brighter – much like Lily's. Having to look away from those emerald orbs, Severus took a deep breath. He summoned Harry's glasses and handed them to the boy, who let go of Severus with one arm to put them on before clinging tightly to the man.
"Just one more night, then?" Harry asked, looking up at Severus with sad eyes again.
Severus looked back down at Harry. The glasses did help; the child looked so much more like his father. It was slightly easier to feel more detached from the boy this way. Why did Harry have to have Lily's eyes? Why couldn't he be a complete replica of his father? Severus reached down and tried to remove Harry off him once more.
"Let go of me," Severus commanded, pulling at Harry's arms.
"No, please," Harry cried, resisting. "Just one more day with you! One more."
"Harry, I'm serious," Severus growled, managing to pull Harry's arms away but the boy tightened his legs. "Let me go this instant! This is childish behavior!"
"I am a child!" Harry insisted, trying to wrap his arms around Severus's leg again. "Just one more day!"
"Harry!" Severus growled in a low tone, resorting to his ominous teacher's voice that scared most of his students. "Let go. Now."
Harry finally stopped struggling and just stared at Severus with hurt eyes. Then, Harry released Severus, crawled away from the man and stood to his feet.
And away he ran.
Severus watched astonished as Harry opened the door and ran out of the hotel room. Was running away the boy's answer to every problem he encountered? Well, that certainly wouldn't solve anything. Grabbing his winter coat, checking to make sure his wand was in a hidden pocket of a sleeve, he quickly ran out of the room after Harry. All this time he spent with the lad, he'd be damned if he lost the boy right before completing his task.
Severus ran down the hall and looked for the child. A loud door slammed shut and Severus followed it to the stairway. Merlin, the boy moved fast on two small legs. Severus opened the door and ran down the stairs, following the footsteps he heard. Another door slammed as he neared the bottom of the steps and he rushed through the door after the child.
"Harry!" Severus yelled after the boy who was just in front of him now.
Harry didn't answer, just ran ahead to the dining room, running through in hopes to get to the front door and run outside. Severus was sure that was Harry's plan and he wondered briefly if he could perform a quick spell to trip the boy or at least slow him down enough to catch up to him and grab him. But there was a lot of people around, many checking out, many grabbing a complimentary breakfast, and some chatting at tables.
Severus saw Harry look back at him. It was a mistake on Harry's behalf because the boy ran right into a table where two gentlemen were talking, nearly falling face first into their breakfast. Finally, Severus thought as he approached the table to grab Harry and apologize to the two men.
Until . . .
"Harry!" One of the men snapped.
Severus froze at that. The man who had spoken was large and neckless. How did this man know Harry? Harry looked up at the man terrified before pushing away from the table and backing away quickly, only to have his arm grabbed roughly by the large man. Severus glared at him before stepping forward to grab Harry himself when a voice sounded behind him.
"Vernon, what's wrong?"
Severus turned to see Petunia (he recognized her immediately) coming from the kitchen with a plate of food, followed by a child who looked around Harry's age, though much larger than Harry. Petunia's eyes fell on Harry.
"Harry!" she glared at the boy.
"What is he doing here, Mummy?" the child asked, pointing at Harry. "Is he stealing my breakfast?"
"Of course not, Duddykins," Petunia smiled at the boy, handing him a cinnamon bun off the plate she had.
"He's interrupting my meeting is what he's doing," the man, Vernon, Severus presumed, said as he stood and dragged Harry away from the table. "Excuse me, Mr. Smith. I need to take care of my nephew. He's a troubled boy, you see. I'll be right back."
Troubled? Severus thought angrily.
Vernon began to drag Harry to a different table where Petunia was leading the child. Harry whined in protest as Vernon yanked roughly on his arm, and Severus was sure the tight grip would leave bruises. Growing angry, Severus finally decided to intervene. He followed the family and grabbed Harry's arm himself, surprising Vernon enough that the man released the boy. But before Severus could open his mouth, Vernon was shouting at him.
"What do you think you're doing putting your large nose in my family's business?"
"You!" Petunia snapped. "What are you doing here?"
Ah, so she remembered him as he remembered her. Good. Then there was no need for introductions.
"I could ask you the same," Severus returned, keeping a firm grip on Harry's shoulders when the boy flinched at all the yelling.
"Well, if you must know," Petunia sneered, "My husband, Vernon, was in the middle of a making big drill order from that client there, Mr. Smith. We were courteous enough to come meet him here since he was trapped here by the storm. You see, Vernon owns his own company. And what do you do now, Snape? Still live in that shabby house on Spinner's End?"
As matter of fact, Severus thought to himself while glaring at Petunia, I do.
"That is none of your concern," Severus said. "But what is your concern was outside freezing to death a couple nights ago."
"You mean him?" Petunia pointed at Harry. "That was his own doing. He runs away all the time and after everything we do for him. He's an ungrateful brat. If he had stayed put, then maybe he wouldn't have been freezing to death."
Severus couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You didn't bother looking for him!" Severus growled. "He could have died out there!"
Petunia gave a careless shrug and said, "Then he would have died. It's not our fault he ran out in the middle of a storm. And I wasn't going to risk my poor Dudders health by dragging in a sick, frozen child. Besides, he looks fine to me."
Severus's grip on Harry's shoulders tightened as he listened to the words that came out of Petunia's mouth. These people . . . no, they didn't even deserve that title . . . these creatures were ruthless. And Albus left Harry in their care? He would have a word with Albus and see to it that Harry was placed in a different home. Anything would be better than this! He could give the boy to a stray mutt and it would have done a better job caring for and protecting the boy. This was just pure neglect and carelessness for an innocent child. Pure disregard for familial blood. Harry whined uncomfortably, and Severus loosened his grip, realizing what he was doing. His glare deepened at Petunia.
"No thanks to you."
"Oh please, Snape, if you're returning him like those other freaks did before, then just give him to us and be on your way."
Severus stared at these vile creatures. His mind was torn between dragging the boy out of the hotel with him and just letting the Dursleys take Harry home. Well, to their home. He was sure Harry didn't call it home. The boy practically begged for Severus to take him in. Any place else would be home to the child – he was desperate enough for it. What was he supposed to do?
"Is there a problem here?" a policeman suddenly asked, stopping in front of them after noticing the tense atmosphere surrounding them. Lacey, the desk clerk, was with him, probably having alerted him to the strange situation going on.
Severus opened his mouth to inform that there was no problem when Petunia spoke first.
"Kidnapper!" she shrieked loudly, pointing at Severus. "He has my nephew!"
Shocked, Severus glared angrily at Petunia but when the officer moved towards him, he immediately let Harry go and stepped back, holding his hands up defensively.
"Whoa, wait! I can explain!"
Harry tried to go to Severus, but Lacey grabbed Harry gently around the waist and pulled him back and away from Severus, keeping him close to her and staring back and forth between Severus and the Dursleys, a look of shock and confusion on her face. Another officer came from the front desk area, pausing nearby and watching.
"I think I'll do the talking from here," the officer said. He pointed at Harry. "Is this your kid?"
Severus looked at Harry. The boy was just staring at him once more. He sighed.
"No," Severus answered, "but –"
"Are you related to him in any way?"
"I found him outside barefoot in the middle –"
"Are you related to him in any way?"
"No, I am not. But if you just hear me out –"
"You have the right to remain silent, sir," the officer interrupted. "Did you have any guardianship permission over this kid to have him with you?"
"No, damn it!" Severus snapped. "Why aren't you asking her why she never reported the child missing? I found him during the storm and brought him here . . ."
"And you didn't think to call in a report to the police about a child you found?"
Well, the officer had him there. He should have just used his right to silence. Well, this wasn't looking good.
"Ma'am, this is your nephew?" the officer turned to ask Petunia.
"Yes, he is."
"Do you have proof? Photo ID, birth certificate, guardianship papers?"
Petunia was silent for a moment before saying, "I have his birth certificate at home, if you'd like your friend there to take me home and I can provide it."
"You don't have a picture or anything on you now?"
"I do not, sir."
"He is our nephew," Vernon added, helpfully. "His parents died when he was a baby. He has a scar on his forehead. Shaped like a lightning bolt."
The officer looked over at Harry. Lacey looked down at the boy as well and pushed the boy's hair back, revealing the scar. The officer nodded.
"Well, I think that's proof enough, considering this man admitted to finding and taking the child. I am so sorry you had to go through this, ma'am, sir. We'll remove this man immediately."
Severus seethed where he stood. He was furious with Petunia, who smirked smugly in his direction. He was going to kill that sinister woman. Her and that beefy husband of hers.
"Sir," the officer was speaking to him again, the second one stepping forward with handcuffs. Severus groaned but allowed the second man to grab his arms roughly yank them back to handcuff him. "At this time, I am placing you under arrest for child abduction. You are not obliged to say or do anything unless you wish to do so, but whatever you say or do may be used in evidence. Do you understand?"
Severus nodded, too angry to speak anything polite. He glanced in Harry's direction, who was still being restrained by Lacey. Harry was struggling against her, whining and yanking his arms away trying to get out of her grip. He reached out towards Severus, whining again, his eyes tearful. Harry's eyes met his for the briefest second, and Severus shook his head at the boy. Harry just gave him a sad face and continued to reach out for him until Petunia grabbed his arm and pulled Harry away from Lacey and out of Severus's line of sight. Severus himself was led away by the two officers.
"Luckily for you," the second officer spoke, "we can actually drive you to the prison. Roads are cleared away."
"Lucky me," Severus mumbled sarcastically as he allowed himself to be pushed in the back seat.
Severus ignored the stares of the other prisoners in the holding cell with him, choosing to stare at the floor instead. He wasn't the least bit intimidated by them. He knew they were judging, calculating, trying to figure out what he might be in for. As long as they tried nothing, Severus would try nothing. Prison was nothing new to Severus – he was accustomed to the process. He'd been in worst prisons before, namely Azkaban when he had been waiting trial for his involvement with Death Eaters, so this experience was nothing.
Alas, that wasn't to be so.
One man, a tall and stocky figure, stood and approached Severus, standing in front of him.
"What are you in for?"
Severus ignored him, keeping his eyes on the cold, stone floor.
"Hey, I'm talking to you. What are you in for?"
Severus didn't respond.
"You one of those dark and silent types? I bet you're a psychopath. Murder someone?"
Growing annoyed, Severus bit out, "I believe my reasons here are none of your concern."
"So, it does speak!" the man smiled. "So, who'd you murder? Relative? Stranger? Child"
"I don't see how any of this concerns you."
"I'm just trying to get to know everyone here. It's good to make alliances. Don't you think?"
"Perhaps, if curiosity wasn't such a killer."
"You trying to tell me something, psycho?"
At the point, the door to the holding cell opened and an officer stepped in, one standing by the doorway.
"Break it up, you two," the man said. "Go sit down."
The man glared at Severus before turning away and sitting back down where he was originally. The officer stopped in front of Severus.
"Let's go, sir," the officer said to Severus. "Some gentleman paid your bail."
Severus stood, glad to leave the room, and followed the officer to the office area where he was returned his coat and told to wait for instructions from the man behind the desk.
"Severus, my boy!"
Severus turned and glared at Albus, who was happily smiling as he stood from the chair he had been waiting in. The man was wearing some green muggle winter coat. Always have to stand out, doesn't he?
"Don't talk to me, Albus," Severus demanded as he dug for his wand in his coat sleeve.
"Now, Severus Snape, correct?" the man behind the desk asked, while shuffling through files and papers. Severus discreetly waved his wand, twirling it softly in his hand. "I'm filling out a paper on your court date and . . ."
The man blinked in confusion and looked at the files in his hand and up at Severus.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I seem to have forgotten what I was doing. What did you need?"
"You were clearing me of all charges," Severus said in a dull tone.
"Right, right," the man nodded, shuffling through the files again for the right paperwork. While the man filled out what he needed, Severus slid his wand away and ignored Albus's disapproving look at his wand use. Thankfully, Albus said nothing while the man had Severus sign a few papers, handing him copies of various pages before saying he was good to go. Severus thanked the man and stormed past Albus, who quickly followed him. They both left the building and walked down the sidewalk, Albus trying to catch up to Severus.
"You have to understand," Albus called out, "why this had to be done, Severus."
"Frankly," Severus spat through gritted teeth, shoving his coat on in brisk, angry movements, "I don't, Albus." Severus didn't stop walking once and he knew Albus was falling behind.
"Severus, please, stop!"
Severus immediately stopped and turned sharply, glaring at the older man.
"I understand you are angry with the results of this," Albus reasoned, continuing to approach Severus, catching up to the man. "I only want what is best for Harry and the blood wards offer the best protection the boy will ever have. He needs to stay with his relatives despite what I am sure you have witnessed. And I'm sorry I had put you to this difficult task, but if the boy experienced just a small scare –"
"Oh, trust me, Albus," Severus interrupted, "Harry's terrified! I hope you're happy!"
"I do not take pleasure in the fear of young children, my boy."
"And you think I do?"
"I do not. I had hoped it would be easier on you, but I now see that I was mistaken."
"You often are, Albus. Often."
Severus turned at that, trudging away through the snow, leaving Albus behind to his thoughts.
Severus apparated to Hogsmeade and walked the rest of the way to Hogwarts, taking the time to enjoy some peace and quiet. He couldn't shake the image of Harry reaching out for him but being dragged away by his terrible aunt instead. It didn't matter anymore, he tried to convince himself. Harry wasn't his concern. He was back in the safety of the blood wards, despite the dangers of his relatives' hateful behavior towards him. He didn't have to worry about him anymore.
But the vision of the scared boy kept eating away at him.
Once back in his own quarters at Hogwarts, he lit his fireplace and cast a warming charm on him. Severus quickly found his way to his kitchen and pulled out a bitter beer. He needed a good drink after the day he had. Harry's teary eyes kept invading his thoughts and he shook his head and drank the beer hastily, wondering if he could drink away the memories of the past couple days. He never felt so useless in his life. He should have done more. He should have told he officers the full story while they were driving him away. Would they have even believed him? Could he go back and make a report?
What difference did it make? Someone was sure to interfere with his plans. Albus more likely. Or the Ministry of Magic. Or even child services themselves. Clearly Petunia knew how to play the normal family act. It would be hard to accuse anything with her word and a child who was picky about who he spoke to.
This was the worst day of his life.
At least it was over. He should just forget these past couple days. Just let them roll off his shoulder.
Like they never even happened.
Never happened at all.
Well, I know it's not the conclusion you were probably hoping for. But I hope you enjoyed it!