"Um, Severus," Dumbledore said. "Can I please have a word with you in the kitchen?"
Snape looked surprised and then nodded and put Harry on the sofa. "Be good Potter, I'll be right back," he said and left quickly, before Harry could pester him into staying.
Harry reached out his hands at the vanishing figure of Snape's and began whining. "Nape!" he wailed, begging for the man not to leave him alone with these mad people who pulled his poor cheeks and looked at him with huge, sickly smiles.
Pomona Sprout chuckled. "Who knew one could grow so close to old Severus, huh?" she said to Minerva. Minerva nodded, smug expression back. She picked Harry up, "Okay, dear," she said a little firmly because Harry was starting to cry. "Let's have a little chat, huh? What's your name?"
Harry frowned at her. "Hawwy," he said irritably, trying to struggle away. Snape had long before taught him that his name was 'Hawwy', not 'Pot'. But this was hard to stick to as Snape always called him "Potter" and Harry was confused.
"Hawwy, huh?" Minerva said, cheerily. "Good boy!"
"My turn," Sprout said. "Tell me, Harry, who is your mum?"
"Mama?" Harry responded.
"Who is your dad?"
Sprout exchanged looks with Minerva and they both smirked.
"Who is Severus?"
Harry looked confused.
"Severus Snape, Harry, the man who just went," Minerva explained.
"Nape?" Harry mumbled hearing the 'Snape'. He was getting slightly annoyed.
Minerva burst out laughing. "Nape! What a child! Isn't he sweet?"
Pomona and Minerva cosseted Harry as much as they could, and Harry was vaguely sure that he would never be able to get out of this alive.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore spoke to Snape in the kitchen.
"...What do you mean they suspect something?" Snape demanded. "Nobody saw me with Potter,"
"Lucius did. The word spread. Apparently, he found out about the...arrangement-His sources are currently unidentified ," Dumbledore said, tersely.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Why don't you go talk it all out, Severus? This news may cause unrest."
Severus sighed and nodded. "I'll go speak to him as soon as possible. I must be going back now, I can hear Potter crying,"
He went back to the lounge and saw Harry's cheeks slightly flecked with annoyed tears while Minerva spoke to him in ridiculous, cooing voices.
Snape rolled his eyes in disgust. As he walked to the sofa, Harry spotted him.
"Nape, Nape, Nape!" he blubbered, relieved the man was back. He just wanted to go home.
Snape sat down and didn't say anything when Harry crawled back his the robes, trying to get hidden from view.
"Stop fidgeting, Potter," Snape said, irritably.
"Is there something wrong?" Minerva asked him, curiously.
Snape turned to her. He frowned. "I need to talk to Lucius Malfoy about an issue. He has somehow found out that I am taking care of Potter. He suspects me." Snape heaved a sigh. "And I have no idea how he found out about it."
"You'll be able to throw him off track," McGonagall said, soothingly. "Don't worry, Severus."
Snape wished he could believe her. Suddenly he felt very tired.
"I've had a...nice time with all of you. But I must be going," Severus said, picking Harry up.
They all chorused a sad farewell, some of them waving to Harry. Harry waved back cheerfully. "Ba Bye!" He chirped.
Snape took him outside and walked all the way home. He was really stressed at the moment, and was in no mood to talk to Harry.
Harry didn't seem to know that because he kept snuggling into his shoulder and trying to make conversation. "Nape, oww oww," Harry said seriously, indicating his cheeks, trying to tell him how hard everyone had pulled them.
"Mm," Snape said, without looking.
"Aha, Aah, oooo, gagaboohoo lalalala moota googa bika Nape," Harry said, conversationally.
Snape looked at him irritatedly. Harry peered innocently into the dark-as-night eyes and smiled.
"Stop smiling like that, you brat. They've seen us. My entire cover will be blown if I don't fix this." Snape said, sternly. "Why did I take you to parks and entertain you? If I didn't go so soft nothing like this would ever have happened!"
Snape was so anxious and scared and worried at the moment, that he couldn't help venting out some of his anger on the little boy. He knew nothing about babies anyway.
Harry's bottom lip trembled and he squeezed his eyes shut at the patronising tone. "Sowwy Nape," he whispered, thinking he was being told off for being naughty.
Snape instantly felt guilty...he hugged Harry close and patted his head. He set off home in this fashion, Harry's face on his shoulder.
Harry was not burbling now, but just keeping silent, sniffing now and then.
"Nape, home!" Were the first words he spoke after a while. It was when their house finally came into view. Harry looked joyfully at it. "Play, Nape?" He asked hopefully.
"It's your bedtime..." Snape said uncertainly, looking at Harry's eager face. Oh, it would do no harm to let the child be slightly late once in a while... It wasn't spoiling...
"Fine, you may play in your room, but then I will put you to bed. I will be working, however. Tomorrow, I need to go to Wiltshire,"
He went inside and put Harry inside his room. Harry crawled his way to his toy chest and began pulling things out. He had never been so happy at the Dursleys. Oh, he really did like Nape! He hadn't had toys or such a nice cot back at his auntie and uncle's...just a small, dark room.
He felt like giving Nape a big hug, but the man had disappeared into his room. Oh well, he'd do it later. Harry picked up a block and began constructing.
"Nape!" Harry called out for the hundredth time, from his cot. He had fallen asleep on the mat last night, sucking his thumb and snuggling against the stuffed cat. Snape had picked the little boy up and had put him into his cot, wrapped him in a quilt, and quickly made off.
And now that Harry was awake, he wasn't coming as he usually did. He wasn't entering the room early, just when Harry seemed to have awoken and he wasn't scooping the boy up, greeting him and taking him to the kitchen for some breakfast. He wasn't even listening to him.
What was wrong with him? He hadn't even played with Harry last night! How mean.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut in annoyance. All his toys were over theeeere, on the mat. All he had here in his cot was his stuffed cat and a single block. He picked the block up and threw it onto the floor, annoyed.
"Nape!" He called out again, nearly in tears. No Nape arrived for a little more time. Now Harry was fed up. He began crying silently. Whatever had happened to his loving Nape?
Just when Harry was about to fall asleep again, Snape burst in through the door. "Potter?" He said, carefully. He went to the cot. "Potter? What's wrong with you?
The little boy was lying on his stomach, feebly kicking his legs and crying quietly-mouth agape, eyes shut and tears streaming down slowly. His face was red and he looked utterly helpless.
"Oh, don't make such a fuss. I was only a little late," But Snape said it uncertainly. He had been so engrossed in checking the train timings, packing and quickly rehearsing what he was going to say to Malfoy, that he had forgotten all about Harry.
He had figured that Harry was always half awake when he went to get him in the morning anyway, and a bit of extra sleep wouldn't hurt. But maybe he had come in a bit too late.
He picked Harry up and rocked him. "There, there, fine-I'm sorry I took so long. Now stop being a fussy brat and cease your crying. I'll fix you some breakfast." He took Harry to the kitchen, rubbing his back and putting him in his high chair.
Harry was still looking sulky and sniffly. He spoke to Snape sharply as if he was scolding him in his baby language. "Gogaa caiwon angkor noo waa bikliv!" He said, sternly.
And then he stopped because Snape wasn't even listening. He stopped his silent crying and clumsily wiped away his tears. He had learned to do that while living with his auntie and uncle. Before, in his previous house, whenever he had been hurt or ignored no one came to him. He would cry like normal babies did, wailing for attention. Yes, someone would finally come to him then! But instead of helping him, they would give him a smack. A sharp one, on the side of his head. So he had learnt to keep quiet, as he'd only get smacked. He would cry silently, letting out his grief and misery but not risking himself to be hit. He knew Nape had assured him that he wouldn't hit him many times, but he still felt insecure.
Snape fixed Harry his favourite breakfast: Cheerios and juice. Harry ate it silently.
"Don't you give me the cold-shoulder treatment, young man," Snape admonished, sternly. "You've put me in a tight situation already."
Harry didn't reply. Snape decided that he didn't care. He picked the boy up when he was done with the food and put him down on the sofa in the living room. If the boy didn't want to be helped, he wouldn't bother trying to make it up to him.
But he watched uneasily as Harry played with his toys, without calling for him as he usually did. Woah, did Harry get upset.
"Spoilt boy," Snape muttered. "If I ignore him, he'll realize his rubbish won't work with me."
Meanwhile, Harry was upset that Nape had forgotten about him. He was upset that Nape didn't even care and had just dropped him here. He'd probably have felt better if Nape had played with him or talked to him softly, seating him on his lap, like he did when he was in a good mood.
Harry loved good-mood-Nape. He was still a little snarky but he played with him and read to him and spoke to him and Harry loved loved loved spending time with him. He felt lonely now, as Nape did not talk to him as he watched him play, or even take him to the bathroom to seat him on the slab and brush his little teeth or wash his untidy face.
Sniffling, he played until Nape came back a while later and took him to another house...
"...I hope there is no problem," Snape said anxiously to Mrs Weasley. "I really need to get up to Wiltshire and I can't take Harry with me." He had not told her that this was Harry Potter. "I'll be back by tomorrow evening latest." Dumbledore had recommended the Weasleys for babysitting Harry and Snape hoped they'd be efficient.
"Don't you worry, Severus dear. We'll be just fine. I'm a good one with children. Harry will have a splendid time until you get back. Good luck," Mrs Weasley said brightly.
"Thank you, ma'am." Snape gave her a small, worried smile.
"Oh it's Molly, dear," she laughed. "Well, you can go now, Severus. No need to worry."
"Right. I'll be off then...Molly," Snape said, and he walked towards the front door.
Harry was sitting on the sofa, watching them talk while nibbling his bottom lip. He had protested to not be in the lady's or Nape's arms and had sat on the sofa defiantly. But now...now Nape was leaving! Oh, no, no, no, he didn't want Nape to leave! He didn't really dislike the man! He really really liked him. He was much better than his mean auntie and uncle. He gave him proper food and good clothes and TOYS and a room! He actually cared for him.
Harry suddenly realized how good Nape had been to him. Maybe Nape was leaving him forever! Harry tried to cry out and tell everyone that he thought Nape wasn't that bad after all and that he wanted to stay with him-He had just been a little mad. He hated being ignored as he had been back at his old home...that's why he had been like that, but he did want Nape, really.
He slid off the sofa and crawled as fast as he could after Snape. "Nape!" He cried wetly, as if he was about to cry. "Nape, no go, love Nape, no go, waaa!" he pleaded, forgetting all about his sulky mood.
Snape turned back in surprise. Had Harry forgiven him now? He saw the boy crawling furiously towards him, his eyes full of tears while Molly looked at the spectacle, smiling. He knelt down on the floor as Harry crawled into his arms and he hugged the boy tight. He really did feel guilty about ignoring Harry now. He gave him a special goodbye hug and said to him softly: "Be good, Potter,"
He rubbed his back a little and then stood up, Harry still in his arms.
Harry snuffled into his shoulder, sniffling very much. "Love love love Nape," Harry said in a choky voice. "No go, love, love."
Snape was worried. Would Harry manage fine without him? He stroked his hair comfortingly. "I'll be back soon, Harry*. You will have to be very good while I'm gone, alright?"
Harry looked at him confusedly, big green eyes wide. "Nape, no go." He said plainly, trying to make Nape understand that he wasn't mad at him anymore and would like to stay with him forever and ever.
"I have no choice, Harry. I need to sort out the misunderstanding. I promise you I'll be back very, very soon." he handed him over to Molly. "Goodbye Molly, I will see you later. Bye, Harry."
Harry began to kick his legs and wail. "NAPE! No! Nape, nooo!"
Molly struggled to hold him still. When she saw the worry on Snape's face she said hastily, "Don't worry, I'll calm him down with something. Get going, or you'll be late. Come along Harry, Daddy will be back soon."
Snape would have liked to point out to her that he wasn't this James-Potter look-a-like's father, nor did he want to be, but time was ticking away. He quickly strode away, hoping Harry wouldn't give Molly too much trouble.
Molly had to wait for ten minutes for him to calm down. She eventually gave him some jam, and Harry licked it away, his eyes red and his nose running.
He was certain that Snape had left him forever. He wanted to bellow loudly for the man to come and take him back.
But Molly picked him up and held him close. "He'll be back dear, don't worry," and then she took him into a small room where there was another cot.
"I have someone I'd like you to meet, Harry," she said, sweetly.
*=Snape calls Harry "Harry" because Molly is right there and if he says "Potter" the secret will be revealed.