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A Walk in My Shoes
By BrightFeather 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.

Author's Note: In this little scrap of AUness, bonds formed by Occlumency training sometimes have unexpected results. And sometimes, even crotchety old potions professors learn something new that they would never suspect to be true. Canon up to and partially including OOtP. My thanks to my wonderful beta reader and Britpicker, ChrisC.

"The phrase 'lessons learned' is something of an inside joke for anyone familiar with military and/or engineering guidance specifications. (In my office, MIL-SPEC might as well be a four-letter word.) Each 'requirement' in a spec has a 'lessons learned' section, for mistakes discovered the hard way. Sometimes they look ridiculously simple, but if they're there, it means some poor kid on the flight line didn't find it quite so simple. The point of the analogy is this: even hotshot commanders and two-star admirals can learn new things. Especially about each other."
--Aerogirl, JAG fandom

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. His Slytherins were tucked into their dormitories, he was up-to-date in his marking, and best of all, he didn't have to see that arrogant, spoilt, self-righteous, self-absorbed brat for two whole days except at meal times. Thank Merlin for weekends.

He was grateful that the Headmaster hadn't insisted on giving that little snot bloody Occlumency lessons on weekends. Severus understood the necessity, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. The less time he spent in the brat's presence, the better as far as he was concerned. Best of all would be if he found some way to get Potter expelled. Or something.

Severus stood up and made his way to his bedchamber. Between spying on the Dark Lord, his Order duties, and his Hogwarts responsibilities, it had been a long week and he was exhausted. He stripped off his clothing, dropped it in the hamper, and pulled on his pyjamas. With a weary sigh, he climbed into bed. Before he had a chance to do much else, he drifted off to sleep.

He sat up quickly, biting back a scream. He'd had the dream again--about the green light and the high, scary laugh. The little boy wanted to go to his Aunt and Uncle's room for comfort, but he knew better. The last time he'd tried it, he'd gotten shoved into the wall for his efforts and told to go back to his cupboard. They hadn't let him eat the day after that, either.

He rubbed the sleepy-seeds out of his eyes and reached under is pillow for the old, discarded torch that only sometimes worked. Turning it on, he flicked it around the cupboard, brushing a few spiders off his ragged blanket. “Harry's Room,” was written in crayon in his messy, childish scrawl in his favorite corner of the cupboard.

Harry, for that was who the little boy was, smiled a little. He was safe. There was no green light, scary laughter, or mean people in his cupboard. With a barely-audible sigh, he turned off the torch and secreted it again under his thin pillow. He lay back down, curled under his thin, shabby blanket, and went back to sleep.

Severus tossed and turned in his bed. Somewhere in his sleep-fogged mind, he realized that the Occlumency lessons had formed a bond betwixt himself and Potter, but he was still too deeply asleep to try and break the connection. Another thread of the boy's memory snared his sleeping mind and drew him in.

Aunt Petunia sniffed as she yanked Harry out of the car. "How dare you embarrass me like that, you little freak," she hissed.

Harry stared at the ground and bit his lip to keep from crying. He thought he'd been being good! But in the last five years, he'd learned that he never had to actually do anything wrong to be bad. He was a freak. A good-for-nothing orphan. He should have died with his parents just like his Aunt and Uncle said.

Aunt Petunia shoved a bag of groceries at him. "Take these inside," she ordered with a scowl.

Harry started to obey, but not before he heard her cooing over Dudley. As he turned to go, he saw her give Dudley a king-sized Mars Bar and he had to will himself not to cry. It wasn't his fault that three ladies at the supermarket had made a fuss over him and ignored Dudley! He couldn't figure out how that had embarrassed his Aunt.

Harry trudged towards the house, desperately trying to keep his grip on the too-heavy sack. When he reached the door, he wanted nothing more than to set it down before he dropped it, but he'd learned better--he'd been smacked across the face the last time he’d done it.

It seemed an eternity before his aunt arrived to unlock the door. He followed her inside, ignoring his cousin's taunts as he headed towards the kitchen. Dudley shoved him aside, insisting that because he belonged and Harry didn't, he always got to go first. Harry bit the inside of his lip and hurried forward as fast as his cousin's slow pace would allow.

Just as Harry reached the kitchen, Dudley turned aside and stuck his foot out. With his vision obscured by the grocery bag, Harry didn't see it—he tripped and came crashing down on the floor. Unfortunately, the sack he'd been carrying didn't take kindly to someone falling on it, even if that someone was as small as Harry. With a loud bang and the sound of shattering glass, the contents of the bag went flying out onto the pristine kitchen floor.

Harry picked himself up, ignoring the cuts he'd gotten from a now-broken marmalade jar, and started stuttering an apology. He failed to notice the absolutely livid expression on his Aunt's face. She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until his teeth rattled. When she finally let him go, he fell to the floor, right on top of the broken glass, torn paper, dented cans, and sticky jam that was the legacy of his fall.

“How dare you?” she shouted. Aunt Petunia grabbed hold of his arm and yanked him up. She twisted his skinny arm a bit too hard and Harry let out a cry of pain. It hurt, hurt, hurt, HURT! The pain did, however, have the benefit of blocking out the rest of Petunia's screaming lecture as she yelled at him for the ruined groceries.

Harry bravely tried to suppress his tears as she shook him by his arm. But he was only six, and it hurt too much for the tears not to escape. Aunt Petunia let go of his arm and slapped him, hard, before she grabbed it again and dragged him towards his cupboard. She yanked the door open and threw him inside.

Sniffling, Harry curled up on his cot, cradling his hurt arm close to his body. It wasn't until the next day when he was let out for chores that anyone noticed how swollen his arm had become. After much instruction on what to say and being yelled at for the inconvenience, he was finally taken to hospital to have the broken arm set and put in a cast.

Severus tossed and turned in his bed, still caught within Potter's memories. Memory upon memory of years of neglect and outright abuse paraded past his still-sleeping mind. Finally, he managed to pull free. He sat up quickly and his eyes snapped open, his breath coming in pants.

"Damn you, Albus," he muttered. "You told me that teaching the boy Occlumency was for the best--that I had to learn to work with the brat. You knew something like this would happen, damn it!"

Severus shook his head to clear it, pulled his dressing gown on, shoved his feet into slippers, and left his chambers. Usually, he would have taken the time to dress, but he needed to see the Headmaster whilst he could still remember his accidental foray into Potter's head. Part of him wanted to blame the boy for what he'd seen, but the more logical part of him pointed out that it wasn't an unheard-of phenomenon for certain kinds of bonds to be formed during Occlumency training.

As he hurried up a staircase, he reflected that it wouldn't be the first time that an Occlumency teacher had been drawn into their student's mind whilst asleep. 'How had they missed it?' he wondered. How had they missed that the Boy Who Lived was being mistreated by his guardians?

Severus knew why he had missed it; he hadn't been looking. The boy's unfortunate resemblance to James Potter had kept him from examining the boy too closely. 'If he'd looked more like Lily, I might have looked a bit closer,' he reflected wryly. The boy hid it well. From what he'd seen, it had been going on for most of his life, so it wasn't too surprising. What was a shock was that he'd ended up in Gryffindor rather that Slytherin. Long-term cases of abuse like Harry's more often than not turned out a child whose entire being was devoted to survival. Because of that, they usually ended up as Slytherins. For a moment, he cursed the need to report it, but if there were ever a formula for creating a Dark Lord, long-term childhood abuse would be part of it.

So lost in thought was he that almost didn't notice when he reached the stone gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office. "Spangles," he muttered, and the gargoyle sprang aside.

Severus stepped on the revolving, spiral staircase and impatiently waited to reach the top. Without knocking, he entered the Headmaster's office. He didn't expect to find the man there, but wasn't really surprised when he saw Dumbledore, dressed in nightclothes, sitting in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate in one hand. "Headmaster," he said.

"What brings you here so late, Severus?" Dumbledore inquired. "Hogwarts told me you were coming and upset, but not why."

Severus snorted. "Those damn Occlumency lessons that you insisted upon have had an... unforeseen effect." He said, dropping into a squashy chintz armchair beside the Headmaster. It simply wouldn't do for the barmy old coot to know that he, Severus, knew that this had been planned all along.

The twinkle in the Headmaster's eyes brightened. "Did you start dreaming his memories?" he asked, barely containing his eagerness.

Severus did his best not to snarl. "Let's just say that I learned that I could not have been more wrong about the boy's family. He cannot go back there, Headmaster."

Dumbledore set his mug down. "Lily had no other relatives," he said. "I put up blood wards around their house to keep wizards who mean the boy harm from having access to him."

Severus had an insane urge to laugh. He'd been friends with Lily whilst they were at Hogwarts. More than friends, actually, though they’d broken it off in the middle of their sixth year. "Did you know that Lily was adopted?" he asked mildly instead.

The only indication of the old man's surprise was a slight widening of his eyes. "NO!" he said.

Severus ignored the outburst and continued. "She found out fifth year. Since her records wouldn't be unsealed until her twenty-first birthday, she never found out who her biological parents were."

"They were in hiding by then," Dumbledore muttered.

"There are quite a few families that her red hair and green eyes could come from," he observed. "With so many families dying in the war, it’s possible that she could have been a pureblood or a halfblood."

"It explains why Petunia looks nothing like her sister," Dumbledore muttered. "It also explains why the blood wards are weaker than they should be."

Severus gave the Headmaster a half-smile. The man had asked him to keep an eye on the brat years ago. That particular duty wouldn’t be over with until Potter passed his NEWTS, but placing him with a Light-side Wizarding family would most likely make it easier. He supposed, to keep things quiet, he would have to help find out which family the boy was related to, if any.

"I will talk to the boy tomorrow, Severus," Dumbledore said quietly. "Will you brew a familias potion for us so we can find an alternate arrangement for his summer holiday?"

Severus inclined his head in agreement. After a few more pleasantries, he made his escape back to the dungeons. He stripped off his dressing gown, dropped his slippers on the floor, and climbed into bed. After specifically shielding his mind from what he had mentally dubbed the 'Potter Link,' he quickly fell asleep.

Severus stirred the potion anti-clockwise three times, finishing the last of the process. Quickly, he bottled the results, pocketed it, cleaned up his mess, and headed up to the Headmaster's office. "Spangles," he muttered, and the gargoyle sprang aside.

Not content to wait for the moving staircase to take him to the Headmaster's door, Severus hurried up it, arriving at the top in record time. Without bothering to knock, he entered the room. "Headmaster," he said with a nod, not glancing at the other inhabitant of the room.

"I assume that the potion has been completed?" Dumbledore inquired.

Severus removed a vial from his pocket and placed it upon the desk, only then looking at Potter. There were traces of tears on the boy’s cheeks, and he was determinedly staring at the carpet. Looking back at the brat's behavior over the years, he realized that some, if not most, of what he had labeled as arrogance was something entirely different--fear. Mentally, he cursed himself for not realizing it. Nobody deserved the kind of treatment that was the norm in the Dursley household--not even Harry Potter.

Severus looked back at Dumbledore, who gave him a short nod. "Mister Potter," he said softly, "we need a few drops of your blood in this potion so that we can find out if there is another relative that you can be placed with."

Potter looked up. "Why?" he asked. "If Mum was adopted, they probably didn't want her, so why would they want me?"

Severus sat down in a nearby chair. It was not his responsibility to deal with the brat, thank Merlin, and his automatic, ingrained instinct was to insult the boy. But, it simply would not do to indulge that urge in the Headmaster's presence.

"Harry," Dumbledore said gently, "there were a few cases when your mother was young of families being killed by Death Eaters and the Muggle authorities being the first on the scene."

"So what you're saying is that she could've been from one of those families?" Potter asked.

Dumbledore nodded. "We simply don't know," he admitted. "With the state of things right now, you need to live with blood relatives as your guardians because the Ministry can't question that."

Potter gave him a slow nod. "But what if Mum was related to Death Eaters?" he questioned.

"Then we'll figure something else out," Dumbledore promised. "But we need to know for sure," he pointed out.

Slowly, Potter held out his hand. "All right," he said.

Swiftly, Severus stood, pulled out a silver knife, and made a small cut on the tip of Potter's index finger. He uncapped the vial and, cringing at touching the brat, squeezed three drops of blood from the cut into the vial. He let go of Potter's finger, cast a quick healing charm on it, and swirled the potion clockwise.

There was a specially prepared parchment on the Headmaster's desk. After glancing at the older wizard for permission, he carefully poured the potion onto it. Gold lettering appeared, showing the boy's family tree. Since Lily's adoption had been Muggle in nature, and the potion showed bloodlines only, the Dursleys weren't on the boy's chart.

Instead, it showed that a "Gaspar Prewett" was Lily's biological father. Along with Dumbledore and Potter, Snape peered at the parchment to get a better look.

Dumbledore straightened up and smiled at the boy. "According to this," he said quietly, "your closest relations are, in reality, the Weasleys--your grandfather was Mrs. Weasley's Great-Uncle."

Potter looked a little confused. "But how can that be?" he questioned.

Severus repressed a snort. "Lily had red hair," he said dryly. "And she had a slight resemblance to Mrs. Weasley."

"I understand that," the brat said defensively. "I mean..."

Dumbledore interrupted. "I once knew Gaspar very well," he said. "He didn't marry until rather late in life, and then he married a pretty young Muggle girl who was at least fifty years his junior." He smiled sadly.

"How late?" Potter asked.

The Headmaster's eyes twinkled. "He was around seventy-five, I believe, and his wife was in her twenties. Wizards live longer than Muggles, you know, so they thought they had plenty of time. The fact he had married a Muggle was enough to make him a target."

Potter nodded. The blasted boy had probably seen more than one raid because of those damned visions; it would be easy for him to believe it. "So I get to live with the Weasleys from now on?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, you do, my boy," Dumbledore said quietly. "If I had known about your mother's adoption earlier, you would have been there all along."

"Will that be all, Headmaster?" Severus asked. Now that the matter was taken care of, he could go back to his dungeons. He could go back to hating Potter in peace.

Dumbledore nodded. "Thank you, Severus," he said.

Severus inclined his head and began to make his escape.

"Professor?" the boy's voice stopped him right outside the door.

"What is it, Mister Potter?" He demanded with a scowl.

"Thank you, sir," Potter said. For once in his life, the boy sounded respectful.

"This changes nothing," Severus said, his scowl deepening. "I still hate you."

Potter shrugged. "Thank you anyway, sir." The boy turned and went back into the office.

Severus dismissed the apology from his mind and hurried back to his dungeons. Part of him was satisfied that he had managed to get another child removed from an unsuitable home, while the rest of him was cursing the fact that it was Harry Potter. Somewhere, though, he rather thought that Lily would have been pleased. And that simple fact made it entirely worthwhile, even though her son was also the son of his childhood enemy.

The End.