Albus Dumbledore sat in his office, waiting for Professor McGonagall to arrive. He had just sent her to make an inspection of the Dursley household. It was to see if Harry Potter was being treated properly and if everything was okay. They had to look out for the Boy-Who-Lived after all.
Unwrapping a lemon drop, he had a painstaking flashback of leaving the boy there. He had had no choice after all. They were his only family. Even if Snape had looked at him as if he were crazy and even if Professor McGonagall had argued that they were nothing like them and that Harry would be ruined.
Dumbledore reached for another sherbet lemon and ate it. After a few minutes he heard a knock on the door.
"Come in," he said, pleasantly.
It was Professor McGonagall, looking enraged and tired. Dumbledore's smile drooped.
"Minerva?" he asked, carefully. "Did everything go alright?"
The woman did not answer until she had thrown her travelling cloak on a peg and had sat down on the chair in front of Dumbledore. "Alright?" she asked in forced calm. "Alright!? Headmaster, he is being neglected!"
Dumbledore was taken aback. "Surely it wasn't that b-"
"Believe me, it was!" Minerva cried. "They hardly feed him and the boy does not have normal child responses. As thin as a stick! Living in a broom closet-" and as if that wasn't enough-"And scared of his own guardians!"
Dumbledore's twinkle had vanished. "They're mistreating him?"
"That's an understatement," Minerva shook her head. "He hardly has clothes. And if he does, they're much too big for him. Every crumb of food is supposed to be a huge favor to him. A small tear or cry or even a sound and they glare at him. They absolutely dote on their child, though! He looks well-fed and-" She was beginning to go quite red with rage.
"Minerva, please calm yourself," but now even Dumbledore was looking quite disturbed. "If-if the circumstances are such...we will have to remove Harry from their care."
"You should. I already told them that we'd be taking him away soon. They looked quite pleased, mind you! Dumbledore, we must take the poor child off their hands at once! My word, if I ever saw such a pale thing..."
"But the question remains..." Dumbledore knitted his brow and looked serious. "Who will be his next guardian?"
Minerva stopped her rant and considered. "I wish I could, Dumbledore, but in my age... and all my duties..."
"I am not suggesting that you do it, Minerva," Dumbledore said, kindly. "Nor can I impose him on Remus, can I? The poor man is beyond himself in grief..." They thought for a few minutes. Then Dumbledore suggested, almost as if it was an after-thought: "Perhaps we could ask Severus?"
Minerva blanched and looked at Dumbledore as if she thought he was making a joke. When she saw that he was not, she gave a shrill laugh of disdain. "Severus! Why, Dumbledore, he hates the Potters!"
"Not all of them," Dumbledore said, mysteriously.
Minerva looked surprised again. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Oh, nevermind," Dumbledore said, cheerfully.
"Well...he hated James with all his being. I am not sure he'd like to care for his son..."
"Severus can do what many men cannot," Dumbledore said, sagely. "And if you ask me, he might be a good guardian for the boy." Harry was Lily's son after all, wasn't he?
"But-but what if he doesn't agree to your choice, Albus?"
Dumbledore thought for a while, using his optimistic thinking. Yes, Snape hated the Potters, but he could get over a grudge right? And besides, he would want to take care of Lily's son, no matter James was involved too. Besides, Snape had also given him his word that he would protect Harry.
"I assure you, we won't have to worry about that."
"If you are suggesting that I look after James Potter's spawn then you are sadly mistaken!" Severus Snape shouted. Minerva was looking smugly at Dumbledore with an I-told-you-so look on her face. Dumbledore was looking tired and desperate.
"Out of the question-"
"He is nothing to do with me-"
Snape stopped talking and gave Dumbledore one of his glares. Dumbledore, however, ignored it.
"Severus, Harry is being abused and mistreated. You wouldn't want the Boy-Who-Lived to suffer, would you?"
"I do not care if they are not raising him to be a spoilt brat-"
"This is beyond discipline, Severus, and you know it-"
"And what do you expect me to do? Take care of him?"
"Please, Severus. You are going to be a great guardian. And you can help Harry be ready for what awaits him in the future."
Snape flinched. "Excuse me?"
"You know he needs to be prepared. And after all...He will always be Lily's son," Dumbledore said this quietly, so that Minerva could not hear.
All the color drained from Snape's sallow face. He stared at Dumbledore, half in outrage, half in stunned disbelief.
"And," Dumbledore added. "It would help Lily's sacrifice not to go in vain,"
"I recall you saying that to ensure the protection on the boy, he had to stay with his only living relatives," Snape argued, almost desperately.
"The circumstances are different now. Harry is being starved and abused. If he died, they wold hardly care, and then the Wizarding World would be in grave danger-because when the Dark Lord returns, there will be no saviour. You can care for him until he is older, and understands better and is stronger. But when the time comes we will once again return him to his aunt and uncle. But for now, his safety is our first concern...and Harry is suffering."
Snape said nothing, even though his insides were writhing slightly. He didn't want Lily's child to suffer but nor did he want to take him in either.
Dumbledore lowered his voice again so that only Snape could hear. "It is not the time for old-school grudges. It is the time of trying to defend the Wizarding population-and Harry will be our only hope."
"You gave me your word, Severus. Please."
It took a long time, but finally Snape agreed, after thinking.
"Fine..." he said, not meeting Dumbledore's eyes. "I-I will take him."
Minerva blanched. Yes? He had said yes?
"Well!" she said, breathlessly. "That's a good thing! Severus, you must bring Harry from his relative's at once."
Severus nodded curtly, looking defeated. He stepped out of the room.
The minute he did, however, he cursed. The son of James Potter thrust upon him! He would never forgive Dumbledore! Sighing irritably, he went to get himself ready for the meeting.
Snape walked along the road to the neat, square houses of Privet Drive and knocked on the door of Number 4, scowling. How old was Potter exactly? A baby, not more than a toddler? Great, just great.
He waited for a while and then the door opened. A pudgy man with small watery eyes and an enormous face peered at him. "And who are you?" the man said, rudely.
Snape glared at him, affronted. "My name is Severus Snape and I'm here to-"
"Oh no! You're not one of-one of-his kind are you?-"
"You mean a wizard?" Snape asked, coolly.
The man looked as if he had been slapped. "You-you-STAY AWAY FROM MY FAMILY!"
Snape looked at him stonily, eyebrows raised in mock surprise. "I assure you, I couldn't care less about your 'family'. I simply want to escort Potter-"
"You're here for the boy?" The man's face brightened and he looked more relaxed.
"Who is it, Vernon?" A woman appeared at the door too. She was bony and had her hair in a tight bun. One look at Snape and she paled considerably. "I think I may have seen you before..." she mumured.
Snape knew her too. Petunia. She had been Lily's rather annoying elder sister.
"He says his name's Snape something," Vernon hissed to Petunia.
Petunia flinched and recognized him immediately. "It's-it's you," she hissed.
"Good afternoon," Snape said, evenly.
"You were-you were her friend," Petunia said tersely, as though trying to make him remember. She grimaced as if this was quite an unpleasant thought.
Snape paused and then said. "Lily Evan's? Yes, I suppose I was."
Petunia stared at him for a few seconds, and then realizing that Vernon was gaping at the two of them suspiciously, hastily said, "Are you here to take the boy?"
"Yes I am. I will need all of his belongings,"
"In...In a minute," Petunia gave him another odd look and went away. Vernon narrowed his eyes at Snape. "Wait here. I'll go get the boy."
Severus nodded curtly and stood waiting. He had never thought much of Petunia.
A few minutes later Petunia came back with a small bag of Harry's things. There were just a few T-shirts much too big for a baby, and two trousers. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"
"Yes," Petunia said, handing the bag to him. Then she said. "I haven't seen you in years."
"No, you haven't." Snape sneered.
"I was really sorry when she died. She really liked you."
Snape flinched. No, he didn't want to talk about that. Why couldn't this woman just be quiet? He didn't reply.
"Will you be taking care of him, then? I really can't cope with the child. He's really-"
"I am aware that you've been mistreating him," Snape said, coldly.
Petunia blanched and a pink tinge came to her cheeks. "You should all be grateful that we didn't ship him off to an Orphanage."
"Oh, of course," Snape said, giving a slight, ironic bow. "Very grateful. An orphanage would have fed and clothed him-but you seem to have already covered that adequately, haven't you?"
Petunia blushed. "Still as sarcastic as you used to be." She muttered.
"Flattering. Now if you don't mind, I have places to go to," Snape said. At that moment Vernon carried baby Harry and thrust him into Snape's arms. Snape gave the man a sharp look which made Vernon gulp and then carefully held Harry comfortably in his arms. Harry was wide awake and looking very, very scared and painfully thin, his eyes vivid green and his scar showing rather plainly.
Snape nodded curtly and then departed, taking a last, fleeting look at Petunia, who looked at him apprehensively.
The first thing Snape did was take Harry home. The baby was quite quiet and hardly did anything. It just stared like a frightened rabbit and made you wonder why it acted like you were about to hurt it any second.
Snape put Harry on the sofa and then went to get himself some coffee. Ah. Coffee. It always worked.
Snape sipped some and then went into the living room and sipped it on the sofa, watching Harry. Harry stared up at him and his bottom lip protruded.
"What is wrong with you?" Snape frowned.
Seeing the angry look, Harry squalled and tears welled up in his eyes.
"Are you alright?" Snape was startled. He reached out a hand to wipe away the tears but Harry squeezed his eyes shut and shielded his face.
Harry had been hit a lot and crying was wrong. He wasn't supposed to cry, no matter what, especially not aloud. Unless he wanted a hard smack on the head.
"No. No, I won't hurt you. Come here," Snape pulled Harry towards him and wiped his eyes. Harry looked very surprised.
"You're very quiet." Snape said. "...Are you hungry?"
Harry didn't reply and rubbed his face against Snape's hand, tears still in his eyes.
Snape was a little surprised. Was this how babies acted? Spoilt child. Already like his father! Snape frowned at the child and growled inwardly. Why had Dumbledore thought that he could care for the child? Why not anybody else? Snape sighed and then saw Harry touch one of the sofa cushions. Harry looked at Snape, as if scared Snape might object. When Snape did nothing, Harry held the cushion and buried his head into it.
Snape watched him blankly. Harry kept on snuffling in the cushion and then when Snape was sure that tears were leaking out again, he decided that Harry was hungry.
He went into the kitchen and got a bit of dark chocolate. Snape loved dark chocolate but then he realized that it would not be suitable for a small child. Sighing, Snape looked around the kitchen. He found a small cupcake in the cupboard, which Dumbledore had given him a few days ago. He had not eaten it yet. He took it to Harry.
When Harry saw it, his eyes widened, and when Severus broke off a small piece and handed it to him, Harry stared at him suspiciously and then ate it. Very, very cautiously.
"Mm?" Snape said, desperate for some kind of reaction from the quiet child.
"Mmm," Harry copied him, a small smile forming on his lips. Snape broke off another piece and Harry ate it. "Mmmm!" he said again, looking at Snape as if expecting praise for his murmurings.
"Good," Snape tousled his hair. But then he stopped short. What in the world was he doing? This was Potter's son. How could he touch him in a friendly way? Snape withdrew his hand immediately and grimaced, making a mental note to wash it later with disinfectant.
Snape knew that was being paranoid but he couldn't help feeling some resentment for the boy, looking so like his father, expect for those eyes. Those eyes...
Harry cowered under the grimace and again tears welled up in his eyes, his bottom lip trembling. Snape tried not to care. Potter antics.
But then the tears spilled out and Harry looked at Snape heartbrokenly.
Snape couldn't help feeling slightly guilty. Scooping Harry up in his arms, he sat the boy on his lap and gave him the full cupcake. Harry picked at it apprehensively, eating it and savouring every mouthful.
"Good boy, Potter. Eat it all up. You better not waste a crumb." Severus told him.
Harry ate it slowly, blinking.
There was a long silence.
"Can you speak?" Snape asked him, finally.
Harry looked at Snape confusedly.
"What is your name?" Perhaps he should start small.
"Ha-Ha-Ha." Harry struggled.
"Haven't you been taught your own name, Potter?"
"Pot." Harry copied him.
Snape rolled his eyes.
He really had to know how to handle a baby. Okay, Harry couldn't survive on stale cupcakes forever. He needed proper food. And a room. And toys. And normal clothes. Snape was disgusted at the amount of money about to be wasted on the unworthy child. No way he was going to spoil Potter like his father. He'd be just as obnoxious.
The child kept staring up at Snape as he chewed. The baby shifted a little closer to the man, blinking upwards, wondering who this tall and strange person was.
"You better know who I am, child," Snape told Harry, seriously. "My name is Professor Snape. Alright? I'll be your temporary guardian."
"Nape." Harry repeated.
"Professor Snape," Snape said sternly, though he knew it was a hard word for a baby to say.
"Nape." Harry said again. The boy crawled off his lap and went to the cushion again, snuggling into it. He obviously needed a stuffed toy or something. Snape could work out that the boy hadn't been cared for enough while living with the Dursleys.
"Nape. Nape." Harry said again, as if testing out how to say it. He looked at Snape with his big green eyes and Snape looked at him too. This was Lily's son. The Boy-Who-Lived. He sighed and drained his coffee. How would he cope?