Disclaimer: If you think these characters belong to me, you're sadly mistaken. I borrowed them, hugged them, squeezed them, called them George, then gave them back like a good girl. All things Harry Potter belong to JK Rowling.
Author's Note: Spoilers up to OOtP, by the way. This begins somewhere around the Quibbler interview, but before Dumbledore leaves Hogwarts. I'm not taking into account HBP.... So this is AU. In the US, teachers are mandated reporters--if they are aware of any kind of child abuse or neglect occurring within a household, they are required by law to report it to the proper authorities. My research has turned up similar laws within Muggle UK, and I doubt that, with the emphasis on families, that child abuse would be tolerated within Wizarding society. (Yep, I've a background in US Education...) No pairings so far, but that can change.
And no, this is not going to be your generic Snape-rescues-Harry story. However, child abuse is an issue central to the plot. If you know of a child who is being abused, visit http://www.Kidsafe-caps.org/report.html for your local reporting hotline (US only), or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD in North America. In the UK, call Childline at 0800 1111.
While I have attempted to make our favorite Brits sounds British, I'm an American who has learned all the Britishisms I know from internet friends, British literature, exchange students, and watching far too much Changing Rooms, Bargain Hunt, and Cash in the Attic on BBC America. My thanks to my wonderful British beta readers, Jenni Debbage and Chris Carr, for helping me fix Americanisms that tend to crop up every once in a while.
"Each of us, in the journey through mortality, will travel his own Jericho Road. What will be your experience? What will be mine? Will I fail to notice him who has fallen among thieves and requires my help? Will you? Will I be one who sees the injured and hears his plea, yet crosses to the other side? Will you? Or will I be one who sees, who hears, who pauses, and who helps? Will you?"
--Thomas S. Monson
"Legilimens," Snape whispered, then once again attacked Potter's mind. Images flashed past, each imbued with the thoughts and feelings that constituted the boy's memories. He had gotten past the child's defenses far too easily. Arrogant, spoilt brat that the boy was, it didn't surprise Snape that he wasn't even trying!
He saw three-year-old Harry being knocked to the ground for burning breakfast, seven-year-old Harry being screamed at and locked in the cupboard without meals for a week for performing accidental magic. Snape frowned. He didn't like Harry Potter. Hated him, in fact--there was too much of James in the child to like. But, aside from the unbreakable vow he had made to Lily, he could not knowingly allow a student of his to return to an abusive situation.
He was a teacher; it was part of his job to protect the children in his care. Absently, he watched a few more memories before Potter finally threw him out of his head. Panting, the boy glared at him. "Satisfied, Professor?" he growled.
Severus frowned. "You must learn to throw me out with your mind, Potter. Not a curse, not a hex, but with your mind, only."
Potter gave him a curt nod and positioned his wand at the ready.
"Legilimens," he whispered again. This time, he ignored the stream of memories in favor of building a subtle, almost undetectable link between their minds. Potter was not yet a good enough legilimens to be able to find it. And Severus intended to sever the link before the child ever found out that his memories had been seen.
Years of experience as the head of Slytherin had taught him to use that kind of subtlety; not all the children at Hogwarts came from happy homes, and if abuse was discovered, he was required by law to report it. In this, as a former abused child himself, he always did his duty. In most cases, the child in question refused to talk, but pensieved memories had long-since been deemed acceptable evidence, being less traumatic for the victim.
It was not unethical, exactly. But these things were usually done with the knowledge and consent of the vic-er-subject. Potter had neither the knowledge of what he was doing, nor had he consented. But Snape knew that, if he were right, Potter's treatment at the hands of his so-called family had been hidden for so long that it was more than likely that the child would never tell.
Potter cast another curse and threw him out. "Enough," he said.
Severus walked over to his bookcase, extracted a certain volume, and gave it to the boy. "I should have given you this before," he said. "But the Headmaster and I did not wish anyone to know that you're studying Occlumency. It's charmed to look like a potions book to anyone else." He glanced over at Potter to find a surprised look on his face.
"Why now, Professor?" Potter asked.
Snape gave Potter his best sneer. "Because I have no wish for the Dark Lord to find out about these little lessons," he said. "Because I will not let him win due to your rash and irresponsible behavior!"
Anger flashed in the child's eyes and he started to reply, but, with visible effort, stopped.
"I want detailed notes on the first five chapters of that book the next time we meet," he ordered. "I will not see Lily's sacrifice come to naught because you can't learn to occlude your mind!" Snape scowled at him. "Dismissed," he snapped, before Potter could reply.
Shooting him a death glare that might become formidable with practice, Potter left his office in a huff. Severus put on a neutral expression as he left his office and placed the locking spells to keep intruders out. As much as he hated to admit it, he despised the thought of Lily's child being mistreated. Even if it weren't for the vow that she had extracted from him, he would have protected the boy for her sake alone.
His motivations for saving the boy's life had little to do with James Potter, and everything to do with Lily Evans; she had been the first true friend he'd ever had. Although nothing had ever come of it, he had even loved her, more than a little. He was honest enough with himself to admit that.
Severus headed down the corridor to his quarters, said the password, and headed inside where he settled in his favorite chair. He half-closed his eyes and carefully, invisibly, inserted himself into the boy's memories. A large part of him hoped that his old assumptions about Potter's life were absolutely correct, but after weeks of Occlumency lessons, he was no longer sure. And if his suspicions were correct, his inaction would lead to his death.
Severus cursed softly and creatively under his breath as he came out of Potter's memories. No, not Potter--Harry. Funny, that. The child wouldn't seem as detestable if his name were Harry Evans rather than Harry Potter. He rather thought that it would be harder to mix him with his bullying git of a father that way.
After viewing his memories and experiencing his emotions, Snape knew for a fact that, despite similar looks, the differences between Lily's child and James Potter were like chalk and cheese. Yes, Harry managed to find trouble--but unlike James, he almost never sought it out. As much as he hated to admit it, Dumbledore had been right; he had much in common with the child.
Severus frowned as he considered what action to take. With Umbridge around, he couldn't be too careful as to how he approached the problem. After all, he'd heard rumors that she'd been abusing some of the students with an illegal Dark item as it was.
Frankly, the blatant neglect and obvious physical, mental, and emotional abuse angered him. It was bad enough that a wizard child had been damaged, it was worse that it was the same child whom all their hopes to defeat the Dark Lord were pinned on had suffered that kind of treatment. Aside from that, it bothered him even more that the child in question was Lily's child. He vaguely remembered her saying something about Petunia Evans not liking magic, but he'd never thought that it would lead to the mistreatment of her own nephew!
Severus got up and started pacing back and forth. He could not allow the child to be sent back to the Dursleys. He knew the reasons behind it, but it would do them no good to keep him safe from the Dark Lord if his family managed to kill him over the holidays!
Frustrated, he turned on his heel and strode out of his quarters. His robes flaring, he started climbing the stairs. It was well past curfew, and in the mood he was in, woe betide any student he caught wandering the corridors.
If he were lucky, he wouldn't run into the odious Umbridge woman--all appearances to the contrary, he couldn't stand her! And if the rumors he's been hearing about her detentions were accurate, he'd see her locked up in Azkaban before the end of the school year. People like her had no business being around children.
With his long strides eating up the ground, it didn't take long for him to arrive at the gargoyle guarding the staircase to the Headmaster's office. "Sugar Quills," he growled.
When the door slid open, he stepped onto the moving staircase and headed up to Professor Dumbledore's office. He paused briefly to knock on the door, then entered.
"Severus," Dumbledore greeted him with a smile. "What can I do for you?" he asked. "Lemon drop?"
Severus sneered in response; he was upset, and his preferred response to any upheaval was anger. He clasped his hands behind his back and glared at the Headmaster. "Are you aware of Potter's home life?" he asked without preamble. "Did you look into the kind of people Lily's sister and her husband were before you left the child with them?"
Dumbledore popped a lemon drop into his mouth and frowned slightly. "Minerva had reservations," he said slowly. "But the Dursleys are his family; I'm sure that it can't be too bad there--even though Harry always seems reluctant to return."
Severus scowled. "Of course the boy is reluctant to return," he said silkily. "Any child treated as he has been would be reluctant to go home to the tender mercies of people like that."
The Headmaster pinched the bridge of his nose. "Did he tell you?" he asked softly.
"Of course not," Severus scoffed. "During our... lessons," he sneered. "I saw something that made me suspicious."
"You initiated the link," Dumbledore said. It was more of a statement than a question.
At Snape's almost imperceptible nod, Dumbledore continued. "Does he know?"
"He would not have agreed to it," Severus crossed his arms over his chest. "He does not trust me; I doubt he trusts adults much at all."
His eyes sad, Dumbledore nodded. "He has asked for precious little help in situations where most students would be clamoring for it."
Snape glared at Professor Dumbledore. "He will not be sent back to the Dursleys this summer," he said quietly.
"Severus," Dumbledore began, "The protection that his mother's blood provides--"
"Might as well mean nothing if his loving," he spat the word out sarcastically, "Family manages to starve or beat him to death whilst he is out of our sight!" He leveled a death glare at his mentor. "The boy must not go back--and we must not raise a fuss about it, either." Severus frowned. "It isn't like the Dark Lord isn't aware of where the Dursleys live, Headmaster."
Dumbledore closed his eyes and nodded. "I know. It was only that he couldn't get past the wards that stopped him from killing Harry. I knew that they didn't treat him as well as they do their own son, but I still can't believe that they treated him that badly."
Severus cursed softly. "Lend me your pensieve, and you can see for yourself."
"Language, Severus," Dumbledore chided. He hesitated for a few minutes, then got up and fetched the pensieve.
With a muttered incantation, Snape used his wand to remove a selection of Potter's pertinent memories from his mind and transferred them to the pensieve. He watched stoically as Dumbledore hesitantly leaned over and let himself be drawn into them.
Severus knew exactly what Dumbledore was engaged in watching; he had put in memories, which, spread out over time, catalogued a long-term history of abuse and neglect in the Dursley household. Thinking back to the child's behavior, he was more than a little angry at himself that he hadn't noticed the signs.
After fourteen years of teaching, he should have bloody noticed, damnit! For that matter, the other professors should have noticed, too! His only defense was that he hadn't been looking; nobody had because no one expected the Boy-Who-Lived to have those kinds of problems. Severus knew better than most that, as a general rule, people saw only what they expected to see.
He glared at the Headmaster, his neutral mask firmly in place, as the man came out of the pensieved memories. "He mustn't go back," Snape repeated. "Aside from the fact that it might kill him, you would lose my services as well."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and examined him. "What do you mean, Severus?"
"Have you forgotten my unbreakable vow to Lily Evans so easily, Headmaster?" Snape questioned. "Now that I am aware of her son's condition, if I do nothing, I will die; it is within my power to protect the brat now."
Dumbledore sighed heavily. "For what it's worth, Severus, I didn't know," he said quietly.
"Like many children with his set of problems, he has become adept in hiding it," Severus sneered. "I will question Granger and Weasley to find out what they know tomorrow."
"If you must," was Dumbledore's noncommittal reply.
Realizing that the older wizard had not yet agreed with him that Lily's boy wouldn't be sent back to his horrid relatives, Snape leaned forward and placed his hands, palms down, on the desk. "He will not go back," he said forcefully. "I want your Wizards' Oath on that, Headmaster."
"You have it," Dumbledore grimaced. "I should have listened to Minerva when she said it would be a bad idea to leave him there."
"I will talk to members of the Order," Snape said abruptly.
Dumbledore nodded, resigned. "It has to be reported, and Order Aurors would be the best to handle it," he agreed. "It needs to be taken care of quietly--especially since, well, who exactly has legal guardianship of Harry is questionable."
Snape smiled. Frankly, he didn't care about those kinds of issues. As long as the boy didn't return to his abusive family and he had reported what he knew, both honor, duty, and a fourteen-year-old vow were satisfied. "I'll leave you to it," he said.
Severus swept out of the room and headed down the staircase. It was a matter of minutes to reach his quarters--and he could easily request both Granger and Weasley to stay behind to talk to him the next day. He would find out what they knew, and if they'd been concealing the brat's secret, they would pay, and pay dearly.
His eyes hooded, Severus watched as the students bottled their potions and carried them up to his desk. For once, the lesson had been uneventful; nothing had blown up. He savored the rare moment of peace--between Neville Longbottom and the combination of the idiot Gryffindors and his Slytherins in the class, it was a rare occurrence when they made it through a lesson without an explosion or a similar disaster.
"Granger, Weasley, see me after class," he snapped as the students started to clean up.
He sneered at the look that Weasley shot him, unconcerned what his students thought of him as long as they obeyed. "Yes, sir," was the grudging answer.
One by one, the students finished cleaning up their mess, stored their extra ingredients, and left the classroom. Potter hovered by the door, obviously waiting for Weasley and Granger. "Get to class, Potter--unless you'd like a detention--your friends will join you soon enough."
Potter glared at him, then left. "Shut the door, Granger," he ordered.
Silently, she complied. Weasley was glaring at him, probably for threatening detention, and perhaps a little worried about why he'd been kept back. Severus crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you know about Potter's home life?" he asked abruptly.
"Why do you care?" Weasley demanded. "You hate Harry--everybody knows that!"
Before he could say anything, Granger butted in. Insufferable know-it-all that she was, he figured that she just couldn't resist. "You saw some of his memories," she said. It was more a statement than a question. "I read about that."
"Correct, Miss Granger," Severus replied. "I would be remiss in my duties if I left any child in such a situation," he paused for a moment. "Even Mr. Potter."
Weasley bent his head and studied the desk. "I'm not sure he'd want us to tell you what we know," he said.
"If Potter is being mistreated," he began silkily, "he need never return to his relatives. Otherwise, he will have to return home at the end of the term."
"They don't feed him much," Weasley finally volunteered. "We send him food every summer," he paused. "And the summer before second year, Me and Fred and George broke him out--they'd locked him up in his room with bars on the window and weren't feeding him more'n a bit of soup a day."
He nodded in encouragement and turned to Granger. She bit her lip. "I send him food, too," she said softly. "First year, he got me to help him learn about healing potions. At the end of every year, we make a lot of them for him to take home with him, bruise balm, too."
"Has he said anything about how the Dursleys treat him?" Severus demanded.
"He mentioned once that they'd be disappointed that he hadn't managed to get killed," Weasley said. "It was on the train last year. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood were there, too."
"He doesn't like to talk about it," Granger said softly. "I think he wants to pretend that he's normal whilst he's here."
"He was laughing once about his cousin, Dudley, practicing 'Harry Hunting' with his little gang," Weasley said hesitantly. "And he's got scars that he won't tell us how he got—he comes back with more every year, too."
Severus gave them a sharp nod. "Is there anything else that you can tell me?"
Weasley and Granger shook their heads. "No, sir," they said.
"Get to class," he ordered absently. "I will see that Potter has somewhere else to go at end of term."
Granger grabbed her bag and left, but Weasley lingered behind for a moment. "My Mum and Dad would be happy for him to come home with us," he said. "All but adopted him, we have; he's almost as much my brother as the twins are."
Severus frowned. "I don't yet know what will happen, Weasley--I can only promise that he will not be permitted to return to the Dursleys'."
"Thank you, sir," was the soft reply. "We worry about him; he's my best mate, and he really doesn't have anybody." With that, the boy left, leaving Severus to his thoughts.