"If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much."
--Marian Wright Edelman
Severus sighed and collapsed into a faded armchair. Albus had asked him to come to Headquarters for a meeting about Harry as a stand-in for McGonagall. The Gryffindor Head was currently in St. Mungo's, recovering from four stunners to the chest. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. It was draining at the best of times to hold up Occlumency shields on someone else's mind, but distance made it even harder.
"My godson says that you've been helping him." Black sat down in a chair across from him.
Severus simply half-closed his eyes and settled back in his chair.
"I know about your vow to Lily," Black began again.
"What of it?" Severus asked.
"It's why you've been helping Harry, isn't it?" Black asked.
Severus inclined his head. "His Occlumency skills are improving," he said.
"It's not just that," Black said.
Severus shrugged. "I don't like him, and I probably never will, but he is one of my students."
He ignored Black's suspicious look and told himself that it was the absolute truth. He did not like Harry Potter. While it was true that he didn't hate the child any longer, there still wasn't a good reason to like him. But he'd become... accustomed... to protecting the brat.
It was merely habit, and the unwillingness to see a student of his suffer. Yes, that was it. That was all. Before Black could say anything else, the werewolf entered and flopped onto the sofa. "Is it true?" he demanded. "Did those Muggles hurt Harry?"
Severus simply nodded. "That kind of treatment is all the boy remembers." He watched with silent amusement as Lupin's eyes started to change colors, becoming more gold as time passed. He would hate to be Vernon Dursley if Lupin ever ran across the man during a full moon.
"Moony, calm down!" Black commanded. "Harry needs us here, not in Azkaban or dead."
Lupin favored Black with a predatory smile. "They can't tell which werewolf bites whom," he said. "Snape, how about we do some... hunting... next full moon?"
Severus snorted. "Going to forego your wolfsbane?" he asked mildly.
"Hell, no," Lupin said, his smile growing sharper. "I want to remember every moment of it."
"Planning on killing them, then?" Severus asked.
"I'm going to bite them; and when I'm done, they will be very much alive." Lupin snarled. "With as magic-phobic as Dumbledore said they are, after the first full moon, they'll most likely die from shock."
Severus snorted. "As nice as that sounds, why not just poison them and get it over with? It's even less traceable than a werewolf bite."
Lupin leaned back in his chair and half-closed his eyes. "It's not as... satisfying," he said. "They hurt my Pack. It's only fair that we turn them into something they'd hate."
"Remus!" Black objected. "You know as well as I do that they'd end up hurting other people!"
"I fear that Black is right," Severus said after a pause. "The boy would not want you to end up Kissed. I considered transfiguring them into cockroaches, but I need to stay free as well."
"And why would you do that?" Remus asked. "I've personally seen how much you hate Harry."
Severus shrugged negligently. "They're filthy Muggles who have abused a Wizard child," he said. "That is reason enough."
Black snorted. "You know, I never agreed with my family on much of anything; nor have I ever been in agreement with you, Snape. Now, however, I agree. They're filthy, rotten Muggles, and the Kiss is too good for the likes of the Dursleys."
Severus slouched further into his chair. "We might not have to do anything," he said mildly. "The Weasley twins have been interviewed by now, and I doubt that they took the news well. Now that they have left school, they have plenty of time to formulate... appropriate... revenge."
Before anyone could say anything else, Dumbledore appeared with a soft, almost inaudible, pop. He sat down, his eyes twinkling, and smiled at the three men. "Good afternoon," he said.
"Did you know, Professor?" Remus demanded. "Did you know what the Dursleys were doing to him?"
Dumbledore seemed to deflate before their eyes. "No," he said quietly. "I knew that his life would not be easy there," he admitted. "And when he came to school, he was thinner and smaller than I would have liked, but I never thought that they would abuse him."
Severus snorted. "And how long have you been teaching, Headmaster?" he inquired silkily. "We have a few children every year that come from abusive homes--you should have known better!"
Dumbledore inclined his head. "I know, Severus," he said. "I admit that I wasn't looking," he sighed. "You know as well as I do that it's only been in the past thirty years or so that we've been required to report such things."
"What do you mean?" Sirius asked.
Severus spoke first. "Muggles recognized child abuse in 1968, but there wasn't a requirement to report it for another decade," he said. "The Wizarding world, due to people like the Dark Lord, recognized it a little earlier." He glanced at Lupin; it was something that the man should know about. There was precious little preparation outside one's core subject that one had to go through to teach, but a child abuse seminar was always included.
Lupin, his eyes still glowing a soft gold, leaned back in his chair. "If I recall correctly, the Ministry's mandatory reporting law was signed in 1973," he said.
Severus waved an indolent hand. "All of this is beside the point," he said. "I suppose that I am to inform Minerva of this meeting?" he asked.
"Yes, you are," Dumbledore replied. "I would myself, but alas! I'm still wanted by the Ministry."
Black studied the Headmaster through narrowed eyes. "You never told us how much, exactly, you knew about my godson's life with the Dursleys."
Dumbledore smoothed down his beard. "I knew that they did not treat him as kindly as I would have liked," he began. "I knew that he was not as well-dressed as his cousin, nor as well-fed, and I knew that they viewed him as an imposition and a burden."
Black snorted. "Oh yes, a burden," he sneered. "I know for a fact that Lily and James arranged for whoever ended up with custody of him if they died to get one hundred and fifty galleons a month for his upkeep, with double that for Christmas and his birthday."
"And they used so much of it on him," Severus commented, his voice heavy with irony. He scowled. At the current conversion rate, the idiot Muggles had been given seven hundred and fifty pounds a month to support one small boy--to abuse him. The part of him that was still a Death Eater screamed for their blood.
The headmaster closed his eyes briefly. "I did not know," he said quietly. "When questioned, they always pleaded expense about his clothes..."
Remus snorted. "Did you even bother to check on him?" he demanded.
"I had Arabella Figg watching over him," he said quietly. "But they only took him on the condition that we would stay out of their lives as much as possible, and Arabella can't see what happens behind closed doors."
As much as he enjoyed seeing Dumbledore receive some of his well-deserved comeuppance, there were other things to consider, and he had to get back to the school before Umbridge noticed that he was gone. "And what shall we do to ensure that the brat is protected?" he asked silkily. "If we do nothing, he shall end up in the Ministry's custody... and that is the best case scenario."
"I told Harry that we'd appoint him an official guardian and he could come and live with me," Black said. "The question is who to appoint."
"I wish it were possible..." Lupin trailed off.
"Stupid werewolf laws," Black grumbled.
Severus half-closed his eyes. The Dark Lord had been more closed-mouthed recently about his plans than he used to be. He rather thought that fourteen years of not having a body had made the madman more paranoid than he used to be. That in itself was an impressive feat, as his previous level of paranoia had rivaled Mad-Eye Moody's. He'd been able to allay suspicion so far, but it looked as if his usefulness as a spy might soon be coming to an end. He could only put off giving unvarnished truth to the Dark Lord for so long.
"We cannot afford to jeopardize Arthur's position in the Ministry," Dumbledore said slowly. "Frankly, Sirius, you still have legal guardianship; the Dursleys simply had physical custody."
"Let me guess," Black's looked angry. "The bloody Muggles never bothered to file for it because it was too much trouble."
Dumbledore inclined his head. "That's why guardianship for Harry is rather, well, foggy. Legally, Sirius, he's your ward, but with circumstances as they are, you can't claim custody of him."
Severus only half-listened as Black, Lupin, and Dumbledore discussed and shot down several suggestions of on-paper guardians. He knew for a fact that Lucius suspected him. It was only a matter of time before he was uncovered. He had hoped to go longer before making his true loyalties public knowledge, but it could not be so.
The Potter boy wasn't as... odious... as he'd once thought. There was also his vow to take into consideration. Then again, they were only speaking about a technical guardian. "Minerva might do it," he said abruptly. "Flitwick would also be a decent choice," he suggested. "Lily was his favorite student."
There were murmurs of agreement from Black and Lupin, but Dumbledore cut in. "Filius isn't a member of the order," he said quietly.
"The Flitwicks are traditionally a Light family," Black pointed out. "And I'm not sure it wouldn't be a bad thing--he was dueling champion, wasn't he?"
Severus once again stopped paying attention to the conversation. He hadn't liked James Potter. Sometimes, he had even hated him. He didn't really like Harry, either. Oh, the boy wasn't the spoilt, arrogant brat he'd once thought him, but it didn't matter.
Severus didn't really like anyone much. But he had promised Lily that he would protect her child. What better way to protect him than taking him in? He could feed him, give him decent clothing, a place to live, and teach him everything he needed to know to survive the war. He smirked slightly. Aside from protecting him, it would be the ultimate revenge on James Potter--to take in his enemy's son, and raise him as his own.
Severus really didn't want to; he had grown comfortable with his solitary life. Truth be told, he wasn't sure it was even a good idea. With a quiet sigh, Severus decided that if there were no other alternative, he would take Harry, for revenge's sake if nothing else.
He would rather not, but he was sure that it would be better than anything the child had before. The only thing left that he could do was to make sure that someone else took responsibility for the boy. It wasn't as if they were searching for a real guardian for him, anyway. Severus was not ready to give up his position as the highest-ranking spy in the Dark Lord's camp. Only time could tell what would happen next.
Severus drummed his fingers on top of his desk. Potter was late again. Before he could ruminate further upon that fact, there was a timid knock at his door. "Come in," he said.
He watched as Harry entered, taking note of the boy's posture. His face tightened; something had happened. Working quickly, Severus put up some perimeter alarms and anti-eavesdropping charms before he spoke. "What happened, Harry?" he asked.
"Detention with Umbridge," was the sullen answer.
Without thinking, Severus held out his hand. "Let me see the damage," he demanded.
Wordlessly, Harry showed him his hand. Once again, Umbridge had forced the boy to carve 'I must not tell lies,' into his flesh. "What did you supposedly do this time?" he asked as he turned to unlock his potions cabinet and pull out some supplies.
Harry's face darkened. 'Supposedly, I attacked members of her inquisitorial squad," he spat. "I only disarmed and stunned them because they were tormenting four first years."
Severus knew that most members of the squad came from his House. "Who was it?" he asked neutrally. The students in question would be punished, if he had anything to say about it.
"Malfoy, Parkinson, Crabbe, and Goyle," Harry muttered. "Malfoy and Parkinson were using pain curses on two of them, and Crabbe and Goyle had the other two upside down in the air and were smashing them together."
Severus pulled a camera out of his desk and took pictures of the injury before he poured an antiseptic potion on a soft cloth and cleaned it. "Do you know who the first years were?" he asked neutrally.
"No," Harry admitted. "But I think I saw a Slytherin crest on one of their robes, and a Hufflepuff crest on another."
His mind racing, Severus opened a pot of salve and smeared some on the wound. "ďAnything else you can tell me?" he asked. If he could identify the victims, it would be easier to punish the miscreants. Slytherin, due to the House's reputation, tended to be a rather insular group. Currently, the only first year he could think of with a friend in Hufflepuff was Amarissa Kilpatrick.
Harry hesitated. "I think that the Slytherin had light brown curls," he offered. "I don't know, though."
Severus nodded absently as he put a muggle sticking plaster over the cuts. It sounded like Amarissa, all right. "I will deal with them," he promised.
"You shouldn't have to," Harry retorted. "They're bullies, all of them, and I hate that!"
Severus remembered the Marauders at their worst and gave Harry a slight nod. "So do I," he agreed. "But there have always been schoolyard bullies," he pointed out.
Some of the glassware started to rattle alarmingly. "It's not fair!" Harry's voice rose in volume with every syllable. "Umbridge is one, I bet Uncle Vernon was a bully in school, and I bet that Tom was one, too, and he just didn't get caught! All of them just love to hurt people that are weaker than they are!"
Green fire flashed in the boy's eyes, and Severus knew that he'd have to calm the child before they had an accident. Slowly, so as not to set him off, he approached the boy and laid a hand on his shoulder. Harry looked away and flinched back, but Severus had expected that.
"Look at me," he said softly. The boy didn't obey, and the rattling grew louder and more frantic.
Harry pulled back and balled his hands into fists. "I would never hurt anybody if I had a choice," he growled. "Little bullies like Malfoy grow up into big bullying gits who think it's all right to hurt people who can't fight back!"
The boy was almost shouting now. Severus took hold of the boy's chin and made him look. "Calm down, Harry," he ordered. "I don't want to explain to Madam Pomfrey how you got potion laced cuts from my glassware. Deep breaths; you have to control your temper."
Harry shut his eyes and obeyed this time.
Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. Severus led the unresisting boy over to a chair and pushed him into it gently. Part of him wanted to revenge his first-years, but the more logical part of him pointed out that while revenge might be temporarily satisfying, justice was better. "I will see to it that justice is done," he promised.
Harry bit his lip. "Thank you," he said. "I just--"
"You want revenge on the people that tormented you and are tormenting others," Severus supplied. "It's natural, but that path is a dangerous one. Justice will serve you better than revenge, Harry." The boy was more like himself than he had thought.
"Now," he began briskly. "I need to remove my shields. Can you create your own, now?" he asked.
Harry frowned. "I've been watching you do it," he said. "I think I can, but I'm not sure."
Severus nodded sharply. "Fair enough," he said. "I will, however, leave the link in place so I can help in an emergency." He eased himself into Harry's mind and began carefully dismantling the shields he'd been holding up. With a critical eye, he watched as they boy started to replace what he took down, but they were interrupted.
He was thrown violently from Harry's mind as a vision took over. Severus snarled as the child's body began to twitch and he started to cry out. Just as Harry was about to fall out of the chair, he grabbed him so that he wouldn't get hurt. Swiftly, he used the link between them and gave the child a path out of the vision.
Harry woke up with a gasp, his scar bright red. "Tom's got Sirius," he said. His beryl-green eyes were filled with worry. "He's torturing him!"
"Deep breaths, Harry," Severus reminded him. "I spoke to him today, and he was still at Headquarters. Do you have a way to talk to him?"
Harry nodded. Severus helped the boy up before he rose to his feet. "Go check," he ordered. "If he's still there--"
"Then it's time," Harry interrupted.
Severus gave him a brief nod. "Gather some of the members from your club," he said. "We'll keep them safe, but they have to be with you; it would look suspicious if you went alone."
"Then we trap the bloody bastard and his lackeys, throw him in Azkaban, and toss away the key," the boy said with satisfaction.
Harry turned and hurried out as Severus grabbed his scrying bowl and filled it with water. He was sure that Black hadn't left the house; he'd been spending a great deal of his time preparing a room for the boy to live in. As fast as he could, he incanted the communication spell. As soon as the Headmaster's figure appeared in the bowl, he uttered a single sentence, "It is time."
Before he could say anything more, his office door burst open and the Weasley girl ran in. "Umbridge has Harry," she said.
With a muttered finite incantatem, Severus ended the spell. He dumped the water out, put the bowl in a drawer, and followed her out of the door. Quickly, he closed and locked the door of his office, then headed to Umbridge's office with long, seemingly unhurried strides.
He was a few feet from her office when he heard it. "Crucio," echoed through out the still air. He lengthened his stride and without knocking, burst into the room. Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Carter, Fletcher, and Wainright were engaged in restraining Granger, Longbottom, Lovegood, and the youngest Weasley boy. Harry was writhing on the ground, screaming in pain as the defense professor's curse hit his scar.
He pointed his wand at Umbridge. "Petrificus Totalus," he yelled. Severus looked around, noticing the absolutely shocked expressions on the faces of his Slytherins.
Potter had stopped screaming and collapsed on the floor, breathing heavily. Quickly, Severus gave him a cursory look to make sure that Umbridge hadn't done anything else. "Miss Weasley, Mister Weasley, Miss Lovegood, Mister Longbottom, and Miss Granger, take Potter to the hospital wing, now," he ordered.
Severus conjured a stretcher and levitated Potter onto it, then watched the Gryffindors leave. "Incarcerous," he said, still pointing his wand at Umbridge. He turned towards his Slytherins. "Do you realize what you have done?" he demanded.
The boys simply stared at him; Malfoy with an arrogant sneer gracing his face.
"All of you can be considered accomplices to casting an Unforgivable," Severus sneered. "You'll be lucky if you don't end up expelled, let alone in Azkaban."
The boys had the grace to look ashamed, but Severus knew better. They'd been taught too well by their Death Eater relatives--they were only ashamed because they'd been caught. "You will stay right where you are," he said.
Severus grabbed some floo powder and threw it in the fireplace. "Amelia Bones's office," he said, then stuck his head into the fire.
It didn't take long to inform the Aurors of the situation and have them Floo over to take care of the miscreants. Severus excused himself as soon as they arrived, then hurried to the hospital wing to check on the boy. He arrived to find Harry perched on the edge of the bed.
He looked at Poppy. "Is he okay?" he asked.
She nodded. "Luckily, it didn't do much damage."
Harry snorted. "Umbridge isn't very good at it," he said. "Compared to last year and some of my visions, her Cruciatus feels like a tickle."
Ron glared at his friend. "Then what was all the screaming and stuff about?" he demanded.
"Ron, if she thought it was actually doing something, she would have had to stop sooner, and she wouldn't try and come up with something else," Harry explained.
"How positively... Slytherin," Severus commented. "Perhaps I should start awarding points to my House on your behalf, Mr. Potter."
Harry simply rolled his eyes.
"Did you manage to check on your godfather?" Severus asked.
Harry nodded. "He's fine and still at Headquarters. I was on my way back when Umbridge caught me," he said.
Severus gave him a sharp nod. He hated the idea of sending children off to trap the Dark Lord, but the Order would protect them. He especially hated the idea of encouraging reckless behaviour in Potter--the boy needed to learn to think rather than rush off into danger at the drop of a hat. At least there was a plan in place this time; they wouldn't be relying on the boy's admittedly good luck in these types of situations. "Then the plan goes forward. You have the Headmaster's map?"
"Yes, sir," Harry answered.
"Good. I expect to be summoned fairly soon." Severus paused. "A word of advice, Harry. Once you find the prophecy, destroy it. Divination is inexact, and if whatever it says is truly fate, then it will come to pass without our meddling."
Harry seemed to consider the statement for a moment, then nodded. "Better destroy it than let Moldyfarts have it," he said finally.
Severus winced and clasped his arm as heat and pain shot up it from his Mark. "Be careful, Harry," he said. "Come back in one piece--the old crowd will be there to protect you."
With that, Severus turned and hurried from the room and out of the castle. As he strode towards the edge of the apparation boundary, he hoped to Merlin that Lily's child and the boy's friends would be safe, and that the ambush would succeed. Reaching the edge of the wards, he clamped his hand over his mark and apparated to the Dark Lord's hideout.
Severus dropped to his knees and kissed the hem of the Dark Lord's robed. "My Lord," he said, using a tone of near-reverence.
"Severus," the Dark Lord said. "I have decided that you will accompany me and my other loyal Death Eaters to capture the prophecy and the Potter boy."
Severus, who was still on his knees, bowed from the waist. "It would be my pleasure." He plastered a cruel smirk on his face before once more kissing the hem of the Dark Lord's robes.
Part of him wanted to be sick, but he'd grown used to suppressing it years ago. If he was there, perhaps he could make sure that no harm came to the boy. If he had to stuff the child into a cupboard and sit on him, he'd make sure that Lily's child was safe, and his duty fulfilled.