Harry could barely believe his luck. Caught, and by Snape? He would have thought it was karma for cutting that kid if he wasn’t already convinced that the universe was out to get him anyways.
Snape made him walk all the way to the Leaky Cauldron. The man remained close, and Harry felt slightly claustrophobic. When the dingy tavern came into view, he felt dread begin to pool in his stomach.
Snape had said he probably wasn’t expelled. Was that just a ploy to get him to come quietly?
They entered the tavern, which immediately fell silent. A glance at the room through his fringe proved that everyone was staring at him, several with open mouths.
Then a cacophony of noise erupted from the various patrons, and Harry flinched. A sinewy hand pressed between his shoulder blades and propelled him towards the staircase as Snape shouted for everyone to keep their distance. Harry would have been grateful if it wasn’t Snape, and if he hadn’t been so convinced that he was going to be yelled at and expelled.
He probably would have run back in the street if he hadn’t known Snape as he did. The man had been practically apoplectic, and would not have hesitated to bring him here by force, whether physical or magical. As soon as Harry had been spotted, it had all been over.
Tom, the bartender, met Snape at the foot of the staircase leading up to the rooms. A quick whispered conversation later, and Snape was dragging Harry up the narrow stairwell.
Tom opened one of the doors and Snape towed Harry inside.
“Sit,” he commanded, pointing to the edge of the bed.
Harry grudgingly obeyed, watching Snape as he pointed his wand at the fireplace. It erupted into flames, and Harry winced, forcing painful memories to the back of his mind.
His captor tossed a handful of floo powder into the fire, and Harry immediately began planning his escape. If the professor stepped into the floo network to talk to someone or bring someone in, he’d still be out of the room for long enough for Harry to sprint—
But the man only knelt on the floor and stuck his head into the flames. “Dumbledore’s Office!”
Harry watched, open mouthed. He didn’t know you could communicate with people like that!
In fact, there was a lot about the wizarding world that Harry didn’t know. He morosely wondered if he would ever be able to learn more, or if he was forever ostracized…
“I found him,” Snape said. After a pause, he added, “Yes, alive.”
Harry couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but figured that he was probably talking to the Headmaster.
“No sign of Sirius Black… wandering around Muggle London-!... I’ll bring him through as soon as he’s fit to be seen.”
“Oi!” Harry protested, but the man ignored him.
“Yes, yes. Happy indeed.” The man’s tone was quite dry. “Good day, Headmaster.”
Snape pulled free of the fireplace and turned to glare at him. Harry met his gaze levelly. He wasn’t the same frightened first year that Snape had enjoyed taunting in Potions class anymore.
“Where are your things, Potter?”
Harry was momentarily distracted. “What do you mean?”
Snape scowled. “What do you mean, Sir?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “You’re not my professor anymore, are you?”
Snape looked ready to strangle him. The man took several deep breaths, then asked in a tone of careful control, “Your things. Where are they?”
Harry was nonplussed. He hadn’t really owned much of anything out on the streets. As for everything else…
“Didn’t you check at the Dursleys’ for me?” he asked.
“Wha—of course we did,” Snape asked, apparently confused at the question.
“Then shouldn’t you already know?” Harry spat, acid rising up his throat as he thought back to the night he’d run off.
“Know what, Potter? We went to their house, found your trunk and other belongings missing, and assumed that you had taken them with you.”
“Ha!” Harry exclaimed. “Yeah, sure. I’d be running around getting into street fights if I had my invisibility cloak.”
“Were they stolen?” Snape asked, brows coming together, no doubt at the thought of several magical artifacts floating around London.
“No,” Harry said bitterly, looking away. He glanced out the window, observing the people walking around in Diagon Alley. “They never even left Privet Drive.”
“What are you blathering on about?” Snape snapped.
“The Dursleys! They burned them! They burned everything! My trunk, my cloak, my broom… everything except my wand’s gone! Then they kicked me out, so I ran, because I didn’t want to get expelled, and I knew the Ministry would be looking for me, so I ended up in Muggle London.” Harry was breathing hard, glaring at Snape, who seemed taken aback.
The man’s face was pale, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet. “Is that true?”
“Of course it’s true!” Harry yelled, burying his face in his hands. Even two months later, the memory of it all still hurt. He’d managed to free Hedwig before the cage was thrown on the bonfire, and she’d dove at Uncle Vernon, screeching in rage. She’d clawed at his face, but he’d slapped her away and hit her wing. She’d made it over the fence, flying erratically when Harry screamed at her to get away, but he’d never found out what happened to her.
Snape seemed at a loss for words. Harry vindictively hoped that he was feeling bad, then scoffed. Snape, possess any feelings even close to human decency?
“So I’m sorry about the ‘disgusting rags’ that I’m wearing, but they’re the only clothes that I own.”
Finally finished, Harry slumped and looked down.
The silence seemed to stretch on forever. Harry began to wonder if Snape even believed him, but didn’t look up from his tattered knees.
“Have you eaten today?” Snape finally asked.
Harry’s head snapped up. “What?” Why did Snape ask? What did he care?
“It’s a simple question, Potter,” Snape said.
“No, I haven’t,” Harry said. “I forgot.”
“You… forgot.” Snape sounded doubtful.
Harry thought back to this morning. He’d been on his way to Petrelli’s to snatch some food from the dumpster when he’d seen that one kid bullying a couple of younger children and stepped up. After the fight, he’d totally forgotten to search for something to eat, too angry with the kid and just wanting to get away from the scene. “Yeah. I forgot.”
Snape stared him down for a moment, then walked to the door. “Stay here.” He left the room, and Harry frowned. He considered running for it again, but figured that he wouldn’t get past the crowd of people that were almost certainly waiting for him to come down so they could get another look at him.
Snape soon returned with a tray of food. Despite himself, Harry felt his mouth watering and couldn’t take his eyes off of the food.
Snape plunked the tray down on the table near the fireplace and pointed at the chair next to it. “Eat.”
Harry didn’t need to be told twice. He leapt to his feet and hurried over, picking up the first piece of toast before he’d even sat down.
Harry was unaware of Snape until the man tapped the tabletop with two fingers. “Slow down. You haven’t been eating much lately. If you eat too fast, you’ll throw it all up again.”
Harry hadn’t said anything about his eating habits besides that morning, but since it was true, he didn’t contradict him. He did slow down, though. Marginally.
There was a knock and Harry froze, eyes flitting to the door. He carefully set down the sandwich he was eating and pushed the chair back slightly, preparing to jump up and get out of the way of any danger.
From the way Snape looked at him, the man had noticed, but he walked over and opened the door. “Thank you,” he said to the person on the other side. Harry couldn’t see who it was, as the door blocked them, but when Snape shut it and turned to Harry, the teen was surprised to see that the man was holding a change of clothes.
“When you’ve finished eating, you can take a shower.” He pointed at the only other door in the room, which Harry assumed led to a bathroom. “Then you can put these on.”
Harry looked at the change of clothes on the bed, a strange feeling closing his throat. He swallowed and said, “Where did those come from?”
“I paid Tom to send a serving boy to get these from a shop in Diagon Alley.”
“I… don’t have any money,” Harry said confusedly, not understanding why his heart would beat harder at the thought of anyone going out of his way to help him like that.
“It wasn’t much, I assure you. Do not worry about it.” Snape seemed slightly uncomfortable, and since Harry didn’t know what to say, he returned to his meal.
He only finished his sandwich before grabbing the clothes and hurrying into the bathroom. He showered quickly, turning the water to full heat to try to cleanse himself of the slime of the streets. Afterwards, he found that the clothes were a bit loose on his skinny frame, but fit much better than Dudley’s old castoffs. He tossed the bloodied, ripped things he’d been wearing before into the rubbish with a smile.
“You need a haircut,” Snape said when Harry returned to the main room.
Harry brushed his wet hair away from his face. “It’s not terrible.” People didn’t stare at his scar when it was covered.
Snape snorted, taking a sip of tea from the cup that must have arrived while he was showering. “You could compete for a spot in a Muggle rock band.”
Harry tried not to smile, but the sight of his former professor sitting there in an armchair, sipping tea and telling him to get a haircut was just too strange.
“Now that you look somewhat presentable, we will go to the Headmaster’s office.” Snape moved to stand, but a sudden wave of anxiety made Harry say,
“What?” Snape asked, sitting back down.
“You said that you’d tell me about Sirius Black.”
“That can wait.”
“No. It can’t.” Harry braced his feet, determined both to get an explanation and stall for time.
Snape looked at him, and Harry got the feeling that he was being assessed.
“Sit, then,” the man said.
Slightly startled that the man acquiesced so easily, Harry plopped down in the chair opposite Snape.
The man, between sneers and many insults to the name of Black, told Harry about how his parents’ best friend betrayed them for Voldemort’s favor. Harry felt himself growing sick as he heard the tale, and a buzzing in his ears started to grow louder as he thought about the man who was largely to blame for his becoming an orphan.
When Snape finished, Harry stared at the tabletop, mind racing.
Harry had straight-up stabbed a kid his own age for kicking around a couple of little kids that probably got ten times worse from their folks, and he’d felt no hesitation or remorse. What would he be willing to do to the man that had happily betrayed his parents to their deaths?
“He can’t get away with that,” Harry said.
“And what are you going to do about it, Potter?” Snape asked, thumping his cup down on the table. “Black is a fully trained wizard with a vendetta and no conscience. He’s already killed thirteen people. Do you want to become the fourteenth?”
“No,” Harry muttered, kicking the toe of his new sneaker against his chair leg.
“No,” Snape repeated with a sneer. “Come on, Potter. The Headmaster is waiting.”
Harry stood, swallowing hard. After the conversation with Snape, his time spent as a muggle seemed like the distant past. Just like that, in one afternoon, Harry had been hurled back into the wizarding world, whether he wanted to be or not. Still reeling from the news he’d just received, Harry followed Snape to the fireplace.
Severus made Potter go through first, just in case the teen made an attempt to run while Severus was in the floo. By the time he stepped out, an intriguing scene was before him.
Minerva had dropped the cup she’d been holding, and tea soaked into the carpet amidst the shards of ceramic. Potter rubbed the back of his neck, looking awkward, while the Headmaster peered at the boy sadly.
“And that, Minerva, is what I was trying to tell you,” Dumbledore said, assessing Potter critically. “Ah, Severus! I’m glad you were able to find young Harry.”
Severus nodded. At Dumbeldore’s urging, Potter sat in one of the chairs facing the Headmaster’s desk.
“Sir?” Potter asked into the silence.
“Am I expelled?”
“One would think, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said shakily, waving her wand at the teacup to repair and sitting weakly in another chair, “that if you wanted to attend school, you wouldn’t have run away.”
“I didn’t run away!” Potter burst out, then cringed slightly. “At least, not at first.”
“No?” Dumbledore said, lacing his fingers together.
What followed was a conversation that, for Severus, was unbearably long, but they managed to extract the full story of the Dursley incident out of the child. He would not, however, reveal much of what happened during his two month stint on the street, other than the fact that he didn’t eat every day and no one injured him too badly. Severus chose not to mention the large stain of fresh blood on the teen’s shirt, for which Potter seemed grateful, but spared no details in relating their interactions in both the street and the inn.
“Well, Harry,” Dumbledore said, smiling gently. “We’re all very glad to see you back. Tomorrow, someone will take you to Diagon Alley to get new things. You’ll return to class on Monday.”
Potter sat, slightly open-mouthed. “That’s it? Back to class like nothing happened?”
“What do you think we should do?” Dumbledore asked, raising an eyebrow. “Do you wish to be punished?”
“I assure you, Mr. Potter, the mountain of makeup work that you’ll have to do will be punishment enough,” Minerva cut in, and Potter grimaced.
“Go on, Harry,” Dumbledore urged. “No doubt your friends will be eager to see you again.”
Potter stood uncertainly, and Minerva nodded. “The password is Pixie Wings.”
As soon as the door closed behind Potter, Severus turned to the Headmaster. “Surely the child is to be punished!”
“I believe,” said the Headmaster heavily, the twinkle noticeably absent from his eyes, “that the last two months on the streets have been punishment enough.”
Minerva bowed her head, hands shaking slightly. “Oh, Albus. He’s so…”
“Skinny? Skittish? Wary? Distrustful?” Severus supplied.
Dumbledore gave him a slightly reproachful look, and the Potions Master sighed as he collapsed into a chair. “Alive.”
“Alive,” the other two agreed.