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Harry woke earlier than his wont the next morning, discovering that he was still sore as hell, but another application of magical salve soon healed that problem. He dressed in his normal attire and began packing his trunk methodically. His movements must have woken Ron, however, for the redhead sat up and looked blearily about.

"Harry? What are you doing?"

"Packing," Harry replied, not really up to any conversation at the moment.

"What for? We're not leaving yet."

"You're not. I am." He folded a spare set of robes and tucked them into his cauldron.

"Why? The greasy git get you kicked out early?" Ron rubbed his eyes and yawned.

"No. It's a long story." Harry didn't want to tell his friend about the attack. He wasn't sure how he knew this, but he got the feeling that Dumbledore didn't want the fact that the Death Eaters had managed to get onto the grounds to be known. And Ron was known for just blurting stuff out when he grew excited or agitated. "The Headmaster wants me to leave a little early, that's all."

"Oh. Well, have a good summer, mate. I'll write to you, okay?"

"Yeah." He turned to place his texts inside the trunk and when he glanced over his shoulder, Ron had flopped down on his bed again and was snoring. For once Harry was grateful that Ron was not a morning person.

Hermione, however, was. She was in the common room, studying, when he came down the stairs with his trunk floating behind him. "Harry! You're up early, since there's no classes this morning. I just decided to get in an extra hour of reading—where are you going?" she interrupted herself upon catching sight of his trunk.

"Home," he replied, though he knew that word and Privet Drive would never go together.

"Why? Term doesn't end yet. Has something happened to your relatives?" she asked, concern welling in her brown eyes.

Don't I wish, he thought bitterly. An instant later he said, "No. Dumbledore's sending me home early."

"How come?"

He chewed his lower lip. Hermione wasn't Ron, she could keep a secret. He trusted her. He lowered his voice and whispered, "Because I was attacked by Death Eaters."

Her eyes went wide in horror. "What? When?"

"Last night, while I was collecting ingredients for Snape's detention," he explained, telling her almost everything.

"Where did the horse go, after the professor showed up?"

"I don't know. He must live somewhere around here. He's wild, I think, and that's why he only comes to me every so often. He's beautiful, 'Mione. Like something out of a fairy tale."

"I wish I could see him."

"Maybe you can. Go to the meadow past Hagrid's cottage, you know the one I'm talking about. Take an apple and some sugar, he likes those. Then wait and maybe he'll come."

"I'll do that. He sounds like a wonderful creature. Magical even." She sighed in longing. "I always wanted a horse when I was little, but horses and dentists don't go together."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I was lucky I stayed on him as long as I did."

She rose and hugged him. "I wish you didn't have to leave, Harry. I'll . . .miss you."

"Miss you too," he murmured into her hair, which smelled like citrus.

"I suppose Dumbledore is right, you can't stay here since they've breached the wards, but why he would send you back to a place you hated . . ."

"I'm sure he has his reasons, Mione," Harry said sarcastically.

She frowned and pulled back so she could look him in the eye. "Did you tell him then? About how they starve you and lock you in a cupboard."

"No. And don't you go telling anyone either," he told her sharply.

"But Harry, what they did to you—it was wrong—terribly wrong—"

"And it's done and over with. Hermione, we've been over this before. There's nothing you can do, nothing I can do, so you just have to . . .let it go."

"Oh, Harry." She hugged him again, and there were tears in her eyes. She knew there was more to his home life than he would admit, even to her, and she wished she had the courage to tell the Headmaster, but she knew Harry would be furious if she did and she didn't want to betray him that way. What was wrong with the Headmaster, that he didn't see the signs that something was wrong? Snape suspected, she was sure of it. "Harry, you said Professor Snape was supposed to bring you back home, right?"

"Yeah. Lucky me."

"Harry, I think you should trust him."

"You're crazy."

"No. I mean it. If . . .if something should happen . . .Harry, he'll help you. Listen to me. I have a feeling about this . . ."

"One of your hunches?"

"Yes. Trust Snape." Sometimes she got strange impulses and had found that if she followed them, they almost always were right. She refused to call them any kind of intuition, insisting they were just educated guesses or hunches. She kissed him lightly on the lips. "Bye, Harry. Write to me, won't you?"

"Okay. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

She hugged him hard, praying that he would get help from Snape, for she didn't like his relatives one bit. Privet Drive might be safe from Death Eaters, but who would protect Harry from the Dursleys? "Do you . . .want to eat breakfast before you leave?"

He shrugged. "I guess."

She called for Dobby and he appeared, eager to help "Master Harry Potter, sir!"

Soon they were eating a nice breakfast of cereal, fruit, ham, and toast, plus pumpkin juice.

By the time breakfast was over, it was almost time for Harry to meet Snape by the dungeons. From there they would go to Hogsmeade and catch the Knight Bus, which would take them halfway to Surrey and then Snape would have to arrange transportation for them in the Muggle fashion. Harry hoped Snape had some Muggle money for a train ticket or a taxi or something.

"Write to me, Harry, please." Hermione reminded him, and gave him another kiss goodbye on the cheek. "Good luck."

"I promise. I'll see you next term. Don't study all summer and wear out your brain, okay?"

She smiled. "That would be impossible."

The last sight he had of her was her waving as he went out of the portrait hole.

Snape had told him to meet him by his classroom, and that was where he headed.

He found the professor waiting rather impatiently beside the door. "Hurry, Potter. We mustn't be seen." Snape ordered, waving his wand and shrinking Harry's trunk and handing it to him. "Put that in your pocket. Haven't you learned Shrinking Charms yet?"

"I thought you couldn't use it on too many objects at once."

Snape shook his head. "Merlin, Potter, that's only if your magic's too drained. Follow me."

Harry followed as Snape led him deeper into the dungeons, past his classroom and into a maze of corridors he had never been in. He didn't know how the other found his way among them, but Snape never hesitated. Finally he turned right, headed down a featureless corridor, and then drew a crescent moon upon the wall and whispered something Harry couldn't catch.

The wall vanished and in its place was an archway. "Step through the arch, Potter, and you'll be at the gates of the school."

Harry did so, followed a moment later by his teacher.

"I never knew that was there!" he exclaimed.

Severus shot him an exasperated look. "Did you think you knew everything about the castle, Potter? Hogwarts is old and holds many secrets, things which not even the Headmaster knows. Let's go, no sense standing around and dawdling."

Snape led them at a brisk walk down the path to Hogsmeade.

Once in the village, Severus told Harry, "If you need to use a bathroom, Potter, now is the time. They have them on the Knight Bus, but the last wizard who used it ended up somewhere in the sewers of Paris, don't even bother asking me to explain how."

Harry didn't argue, but sought out the restroom in the Three Broomsticks. Better safe than sorry.

When he emerged, he saw Snape at the bar, talking with Madam Rosmerta. She handed him a brown paper bag and bid him a cheery goodbye. Harry headed outside and waited on the corner. There were few people about at this hour, most were still lying in.

Snape emerged moments later, the bag tucked under an arm.

Harry eyed it curiously. "What is that, sir?"

"Lunch that Madam Rosmerta packed for me," he answered, then added, "I have enough for two, so don't have a fit, Potter. I told her I was going on a long trip."

"Oh. Thank you, sir."

Severus turned about and summoned the Knight Bus with a thought.

Three minutes later, they were in a private compartment, Severus had drawn the curtains, and was sitting opposite Harry. "Take a nap or read, Potter," he said, taking out a magazine. "We have an hour or two until we get halfway to Surrey."

Harry looked out the window, recalling his first time on this crazy contraption, and winced at how close Stan came to hitting a motorist backing out of a dirt drive. The bus lurched, Harry nearly fell off the seat, and then he tried to lean back and go to sleep.

When Snape looked up from his potions periodical some five minutes later, Harry was sound asleep. Asleep, the boy resembled an angel, though the Potions Master knew that was far from the truth.

An hour later, he was startled out of his own doze by Harry groaning and whimpering. He saw the boy's face, half-turned into the seat cushion, and blanched. The boy looked as if he was terrified, and tears were seeping from beneath his closed eyelids. He felt himself flinch. No child wept in their sleep unless they had suffered such emotional turmoil that they could not handle it even subconsciously.

Either he's dreaming about Diggory's death or something to do with his relatives, Snape surmised. There was only one way to find out. He leaned forward and shook the boy's shoulder, gently at first then harder when there was no response. "Potter, wake up!" he hissed in his ear. "You're having a nightmare."

Harry whimpered and curled up tighter. "Please . . .don't . . .I'll be good . . ."

Severus' mouth tightened. Harry spoke in a soft distressed tone, like that of a much younger child, which was typical of those who had suffered years of abuse. "Wake up, Potter!" He gave the boy another shake. "It's not real. You're dreaming."

Harry jerked spasmodically, as if something had slapped him, then he opened his eyes and cried, "Sorry, Uncle Vernon! I'll never get better marks than Dudley again! Promise!" He cringed away from Severus, throwing a hand across his face, and nearly hitting Snape in the arm.

His uncle beat him for getting better marks than his cousin, Severus thought angrily. That would explain the boy's lack of good study habits and his tendency to turn in half-finished assignments. If he had been strongly discouraged from doing well at school from an early age, it would lend itself to bad study habits later on and a belief that he should only do the minimum of work assigned. Snape had known Potter was not stupid, which was why it had irritated him to see the boy handing in substandard assignments and projects, and why he assumed Potter was lazy. But this put a whole new spin on things.

He shook Harry again. "Damn it, boy, get up!"

Harry's eyes flew open. "I'm awake, Uncle Vernon! I didn't mean to oversleep . . ." he trailed off when he saw the familiar face of his professor in front of him. "Oh. I . . ..thought you were someone else."

Severus drew away. "You were having a nightmare, and refused to wake, Potter." He held out a square of green cloth.

Harry looked at it, stricken. "What's that for?"

"It's a handkerchief. I presume you know what one is used for?"

Blushing, Harry took the soft cloth and scrubbed his face, horrified that he had cried and said who knew what in his sleep. He couldn't remember the last time he had had a nightmare like that, and for Snape of all people to witness it . . .

He waited for the sneer and some sarcastic comment to emerge from the other's mouth such as Crying because some of your worshippers deserted you, Potter? But when he glanced up at the other wizard, he found the black eyes were not cold and hard, but filled with an odd sort of understanding. Like he knows how I feel. Almost as if he's been there before. "I didn't mean to disturb you, Professor," he apologized.

"You cried out in your sleep, Potter," Severus began cautiously. "A name. Uncle Vernon. You sounded . . .afraid of this person. Why?"

Harry felt a chill creep up his spine. Bloody damn hell! What did I say? "It was just a dream, sir."

"Do you get these dreams often, Potter? If so I would like to know, seeing as I shall be traveling with you for several more hours."

"No. Not that I can remember. I usually don't dream at all." Harry said quickly.

Severus' eyes narrowed. "You know, Potter, I recall another boy your age who had nightmares much like yours. Nightmares in which he ran away from a man very similar to this Uncle Vernon, but he never could manage to escape from him. The dream always ended the same, with the boy being caught and beaten for using his freaky magical powers."

Harry flinched. "Sounds terrible, sir."

"It was. He suffered from these dreams even at school, in a place where he was safe from his father, for I discovered it was his father who had been abusing him. At first he told no one of the dreams, for he was ashamed and terrified that anyone should know of his weakness, and he had been taught from an early age to tell no one what went on at home. Or else it would be ten times worse. He learned how to be careful, to hide what he felt, to disguise the marks with glamours and long shirts and pants. He learned to not draw attention to himself in school, and if questioned by a teacher, to act like there was nothing wrong."

"Then how did you find out, sir?" Harry asked, curious in spite of himself.

"I watched him very closely. He tended to dress shabbily and eat sparingly, though I learned later that he also tended to hoard food, because he never got enough to eat at home. The night terrors grew worse the closer it got to the end of the term, for he knew he would be sent back again to that house—unwelcome, unwanted, to be taunted and slapped about by his father, who thought the boy a disappointment because he resembled his mother, was small and slender with her eyes and hair and worst of all, her magic. The thing that made him jealous, which he would never have, because the magic was not in him. He had expected any son of his to be like him, but the boy wasn't and worse, his wife could have no more, and so he was stuck with this freakish disappointment. He became bitter and hard and took it out on the boy every chance he got. Until the boy dreaded going home, and woke screaming at the thought of it."

"What about the boy's mum? Why didn't she help him?"

"She tried. But she had learned to fear her husband and she had taken an oath in the beginning of her marriage to never use her power to harm him. She never expected him to turn on her, or her son. She tried in various ways to protect the child, taking him on trips to her family, until her parents died and she was forced to sell the family property, because they had been in debt. Now the refuge was gone, and with that went her hope. She died of despair, leaving her son at the mercy of his father."

"What happened then? Was that when you found out?"

"Hush, Potter. I'm telling this story, not you." Severus ordered. After a moment, he continued."The boy returned to school an emotional wreck, he couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, was wracked with guilt because he blamed himself for his mother's death. He went to class but learned nothing, for he was suffering too badly to concentrate on his assignments. He wore himself to a shadow, but was too stubborn to seek help. Until he collapsed over a cauldron and woke up in the Hospital Wing."

"Then you talked to him, right?"

"I had no need to talk to him, Potter. I knew everything he had been through." Severus said carefully.

"How? Did you . . .read his mind?"

Severus snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter. I'm not a telepath, and you can't read minds, only scan surface thoughts and memories."

Harry frowned. "Who was he, this boy you knew?"

"Can't you guess? Or is your brain still muddled from sleep?"

Harry blinked. Then he gasped. Surely he was wrong, but . . .it made sense, it was the only thing that made sense out of this whole trip. "You . . .the boy . . .was you."

"Twenty-one years ago." Snape confirmed.

Harry was stunned. He just sat there, his mind running around and around in circles, trying to process what he had just heard. Snape had been like him . . .unwanted and unloved, labeled a freak for doing magic. Snape had been . . .hurt by his father as Harry had been by his uncle. It was unbelievable. He could not picture the tall, stern, professor as being a shy, skinny boy, shivering and afraid. But neither could he doubt Snape's story. The man had been meeting his eyes the entire time he had been talking, and Harry had seen the flicker of pain as he had spoken, heard the odd rasp in his tone. That was not something that could be faked. Harry knew how to lie, he had become quite good at it over the years.

But he had seen nothing in Snape's posture to indicate the professor was lying.

And he had no need to go through all the trouble of inventing a fictitious child simply to taunt Harry about a dream.

"But how . . .why . . .would you tell me this?"

"Because I see myself in you."

"No! I'm not like that!" Harry protested automatically.

"Aren't you? Potter, does your uncle or aunt abuse you?"

Harry shook his head, though he could feel the awful lie strangling him. Tell him the truth! Tell him so he can help you!

"No? Perhaps you don't think of it that way, not after so many years of them telling you that you deserved it. How many times were you beaten for getting better marks than your cousin? How long did they keep you locked in a room and starving?"

"Stop . . .it's not true . . " he whimpered, putting his hands over his ears. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"You can lie to me all you want, but don't lie to yourself. For I know the truth, I have lived in the shadow of fear. The fear that curdles in your gut, that leaves you hollow and shaking with shame, because you can never anticipate what will set him off. And the best you can hope for is that the damage isn't bad enough to warrant a trip to a hospital. And you wonder why no one else can see what you endure, and yet you fear to tell. And they fear to ask, to know. Because then it will spoil their image of the perfect Boy Who Lived."

"You . . .you always thought I was a . . .spoiled brat . . .like my father . . " Harry hissed.

"No longer. Now I see true. Perhaps you think I won't help you?"

"You won't. What can you do about it? Nothing! Just like me. I can't go back to Hogwarts, and there's nowhere else for me to go." Harry said bitterly, still hiding his face.

"There is. You may come and stay with me."

"Where? In the dungeons?"

"At my home. I do not live at the school all year round. But in order for you to come with me, you must first tell me the truth."

"Why would you care about me?"

"Because no child should have to endure what I did. And you still do. And if it is within my power to prevent it, then I shall do so." Severus answered. "Look at me."

"No."

Hands closed over his wrists and pulled firmly. "Look at me, so you can see I am not lying to you."

Green eyes met obsidian.

"I will protect you, Potter. But first you need to answer my question. Yes or no. Are your relatives harming you in any way, shape, or form?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply when the bus skidded around a sharp turn.

"Hold on to your cojones!" giggled the shrunken head. "Traffic ahead, we're in for a bumpy ride!"

But the warning came too late. Harry was unprepared for the sudden change in direction and was abruptly tossed out of his seat and flung into Snape's lap. He landed awkwardly, his backside banging into the tall man's knee and his face smashing into Severus's shoulder, his arms going every which way and his foot dragging on the floor.

The bus slammed on the brakes and Harry almost fell onto the floor, but a pair of strong arms were holding him, lifting him up, settling him securely against a warm black robe. "Relax. I've got you. I won't let you fall."

Harry wasn't sure if it were the words, or the tone, or the feel of the sinewy arms about him that made him feel safe, or perhaps it was all three. He knew only that he had never felt this way in his life and that in turn broke the last of his defenses.

"Yes!" he cried, his voice muffled yet audible to the keen-eared professor. "You were right. Yes . . .yes . . .!"His voice cracked upon the last word and suddenly he was crying.

Harsh sobs shook him, dredged up from some well of tears deep within. He could not stop them, could not control them, they exploded from him in a swift savage wave and he clung to Severus and wept as he had never wept before.

Severus gestured and a bubble of silence wrapped about the booth. Then he settled himself more comfortably against the cushion and simply held his charge, letting him cry himself out. The way a certain nurse had done for him so long ago.

Harry cried for what he thought was forever, or something close to it, unable to halt the endless tears. He wasn't even sure why he was crying—from relief, or stress, or some unnamed pool of hurt—but reasons didn't matter. What did matter was that someone finally knew his terrible shame, his secret, and that someone was here, holding him. For the first time ever, he was not flinching away from a man's hand, he did not feel scared or trapped. He felt . . .safe. Safe enough to allow himself the luxury of tears.

Eventually, the tears slowed and stopped. He lay quietly against Snape's shoulder, his breath catching unevenly for several more minutes. He felt a hand gently rubbing his back and wondered how long that had been going on. His eyes felt gritty and sore.

Slowly, he sat up.

Silently Severus handed him yet another handkerchief.

Harry turned his head away and used it.

"Better now?" came the soft silky voice.

"Yes."

Embarrassment came in a rush and he felt himself go red. He made haste to get off his teacher and back onto his seat. I just cried all over Snape! I just cried all over him! He blew his nose, then slowly lowered the handkerchief.

Snape was looking at him calmly, as if having boys sobbing all over him were a daily occurrence. There was a large wet splotch on his right shoulder. He ignored it. He leaned forward and his hands gently closed over Harry's smaller ones. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, child. It was they who committed the wrong, not you. Talk to me. Tell me what happened."

Harry took a deep breath. Then he began to talk.

He talked for the rest of the ride, and Severus listened without interruption. He knew the whole sorry tale, chapter and verse, by heart. The names might change, the reasons might change, and the location, but the hurt and the damage to one's self-esteem and the scars both inside and out remained the same. Severus listened, and found that even twenty-one years was not time enough to totally heal some wounds. They remained, hidden, scabbed over, but Harry's words caused them to be torn open and bleed anew. For a moment. Then they sealed themselves back up, for he could not afford to empathize too much with the boy, lest he be rendered useless.

When Harry finished, Severus was silent for a moment, then he said, "Good. You've taken the first step. The next step is documentation. That's where I come in. I will take you back there, but strictly for one purpose, to document what you've told me. I will not allow you to stay there for the summer, Potter. Do you understand? No matter what it seems like, you will spend at most one or two days there, no more."

"But the Headmaster said I had to stay there."

"The Headmaster did not know what I do. I am charged with your protection and leaving you to the mercy of those demons in human shape is not protecting you. I know you have very little reason to trust me, given our past, but nevertheless I am telling you that I will be as close as your shadow while you are at that house. No one will see or hear me, not even you. But I shall be there. And if that uncle of yours tries anything, he will wish he was never born. That is my promise to you, Harry James Potter, I swear it by Selene's Grace, whose initiate I am." He placed his hand over his heart.

"Okay." Harry said, relieved that he was not going to be left alone at Privet Drive. Then he asked, "Who's Selene?"

"An old goddess, the Lady of the Moon and of Magic, She was here before the dawn of time, and has ever favored those born with magic's gift. But I shall tell you more of Her later, when we have time. For now, wipe your face with this," he held out another handkerchief, this one was damp with water.

Harry did so, then he gave the professor a curious look. "Where are all these handkerchiefs coming from? You're not Summoning them."

"My pockets hold more than they seem to," the professor replied mysteriously. His robe had been enchanted with a Deep Pockets spell, enabling him to store many items within them, even fragile ones, without fear of damage.

Severus waved his wand once and his robes changed to a serviceable set of black trousers and a button down emerald green shirt, a black tie, and black shoes. "Take your robe off," he told the boy. "We're almost there."

No sooner had Harry complied, than the bus screeched to a halt. Harry stood up and followed Severus off it.

They had been dropped off at a small train station, and Severus hurried over to the ticket booth to purchase tickets for the next available train to Surrey.

Once they had boarded that train, Severus took out the brown paper sack with their lunch and they began to eat hungrily.

The train was crowded with commuters and stank of onions and cigar smoke from those passengers who smoked, but Harry did his best to ignore it and enjoy the sandwiches Madam Rosmerta had packed, turkey and bacon with tomato and mayo on a nutty homemade bread, plus chips that were magically preserved to stay hot and which burnt his tongue. But he could have cared less. They were crispy and salty and delicious. He devoured the meal, washing it down with a cold icy bottle of lemonade.

Some people looked at them and eyed their food with appreciation and envy, until Severus gave them a look and they quickly turned away.

After lunch, the Potions Master suggested Harry read and gave him the potions magazine to look at. He decided to take a short nap.

Harry began to read, reading through half the magazine before he tucked it beside him and fell asleep again. This time he dreamed of riding the moon marked stallion and when he woke, dusk was falling and they were two towns away from Surrey.

"Now what?" asked Harry, he was still a bit tired from the train ride. "You wouldn't happen to have a car in your pocket, would you, sir?"

Severus sniffed. "Regrettably,no. But we won't need one." He led the boy down the street into a small park like area. Once they were safely hidden from prying eyes, Snape took Harry's arm and Apparated with him to the Dursley residence.

Clouds were scudding across the sky and the moon was slowly rising above the trees as the two proceeded up the walk, which was still lined with marigolds and petunias and tulips. Harry gave the flowers a look of dislike, for it had always been his job to weed and plant them and if Petunia didn't like how they looked, she would lock him in the cupboard without lunch or dinner. Dudley knew this and had taken great pains to deliberately sabotage Harry's work, stomping the flowers flat and popping the heads off the tulips before Harry could call his aunt to see them when he was finished.

And she always took her sweet time coming, so Dudley had a chance to wreck everything first. Sometimes I think she did it on purpose, so she'd have an excuse to punish me, Harry thought resentfully.

He took a deep breath and Snape rang the bell.

"Just a minute!" bellowed a man's voice from somewhere inside. They could hear the sounds of a TV blaring, some sports match was on, and then came the thudding of heavy feet.

The door opened and heavyset Vernon Dursley peered out, his moustache quivering. His florid face froze as he beheld the tall man and his troublesome nephew. "What's this? Got yourself thrown out of school, did you?"

"No, Uncle Vernon." Harry said softly, keeping his eyes down.

"Good evening, Mr. Dursley. I am Professor Snape, Harry's potions teacher," Severus interjected smoothly. "Your nephew is not in trouble, the school had to close early due to an outbreak of a virus. So I have escorted Mr. Potter home."

Vernon's eyes bugged out. "Virus? Is it contagious? Does he have it?"

"No, Mr. Dursley. It's a wizarding germ, Muggles cannot get it. Your nephew is not a carrier, the person who had it was sent home, but as a precaution, the Headmaster decided to let the term out early."

"Vernon, who's there?" came Petunia's voice.

"Just . . .Harry and his teacher, Pet," Vernon called back, remembering just in time to refer to his freak nephew by his name in front of the teacher, who reminded him of a black crow and gave him the creeps.

Seconds later, Petunia appeared and gasped. "You!"

Severus arched an eyebrow. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Petunia?"

"You know this . . .person?" Vernon sputtered.

"I . . .yes . . .he was friends with my sister when we were children."

"We were practically neighbors," drawled Snape, smirking. "I lived in the house down the street."

"Where the derelicts were," Petunia said nastily.

"Still with the wasp's tongue, I see." Severus's voice turned icy. "If I were you, I'd watch how you waggle it. I can do much more than drop a branch on your head now . . .Tuney."

Petunia gasped. "Snape, you . . you vulgar—"

"Are you threatening my wife, you freakish—"

Snape whirled on Vernon. "If I were you, Dursley, I'd not finish that sentence. If you know what I am, then you ought to keep a civil tongue in your head. To quote a famous author, Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." Severus eyes seemed to glow with black fire and his wand appeared in his hand. "I never threaten, I promise."

"What are you doing here, Snape?" Petunia demanded, her eyes wide.

"I have come to bring Harry home. There was an outbreak of scrofulous mumbletonia storafata in the school, a wizarding virus, and the students were sent home."

Petunia almost fainted. "No! I won't have it!"

"Calm yourself, woman. He is not contagious to you or your family. He should be allowed to rest and recuperate for a day or so, however, just in case. No strenuous chores, heavy lifting, that sort of thing." Snape was using the tone of voice he always used on students who were too dense to comprehend simple instructions. "Do you understand, or shall I write it down?"

Petunia glared at him. "My hearing is perfectly good, Snape. Thank you for bringing him back." She sniffed. "Boy, go up and take a hot shower. A long one, so you don't bring any of those germs in the house. Have you eaten?"

"Yes, Aunt Petunia."

"Good, then you can go to sleep afterwards." She stepped back to let Harry inside, hugging herself to avoid touching him.

"Goodbye, Professor Snape," Harry said. "And thank you . . .for everything."

"I shall see you next term, Potter. Good night." Severus turned and headed down the walk.

Harry practically skipped up the stairs, thanking his lucky stars that Snape was so very clever—fiendishly so. This would be the first hot shower he'd had on Privet Drive since he couldn't remember when. And he wouldn't have to worry about anyone starting in on him tonight, because they would all be petrified of catching some weird virus from him. Scrofulous mumbletonia storafata. Harry fought to keep from snickering. His Latin was not too good, but he knew it was not a real name of a virus, though it sounded impressive.

He went first into his room and removed his trunk from his pocket and whispered the countercharm to enlarge it. Vernon and Petunia had been so afraid of catching some deadly disease that they had forgotten to take away his trunk and his wand. He carefully selected some clothes from it that he had resized to fit him with Hermione's help and headed into the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Severus had waited before Apparating into Harry's bedroom and casting a multitude of enchantments on himself, one to make himself invisible and one to make himself utterly silent, like the wind. He placed a vial of a Disillusionment Draft on Harry's nightstand with a note he had scribbled, telling him to drink the draft upon waking tomorrow and then imagining himself looking very sick and he would appear so. The effect would last eight hours.

He then pulled out the magical camera he had brought along and began taking pictures of Harry's room, especially the bars on the windows and the multiple locks upon the door, all of which locked from the outside and would have looked more at home upon a bank vault. The interior of the room was dusty and the furniture old and broken, the bed had a sagging mattress and faded sheet and a blanket that looked as if it had come straight from the rag bin. Old broken and discarded toys lined the shelves and it was plain this room was an afterthought, as their nephew was.

After taking more pictures, Snape glided into the hallway and down past the bathroom and into a room that had a large sign on it. Dudley's pad—Keep Out Unless Invited! Severus slipped into the room, finding it large enough to house two boys, and filled with expensive furniture, a huge TV and game system, shelves overflowing with board games, video games, and all sorts of toys. There was a king-sized bed with a plump comforter in deep blue and huge pillows, a table which had the remains of several lunches upon it and thick beanbag chairs upon the plush carpet. There was even a padded window seat. The walls were decorated with posters of strange cartoon characters like Nimrod and Pokemon and Lu Kang and Scorpion.

This one lives like a prince and his cousin a pauper! Severus sneered, incensed. He began taking pictures rapidly.

All of this documentation would serve to buttress his case when he went back to Dumbledore and showed him proof that Potter was being treated abusively, like a house elf, at home. And if that did not convince the old man, Severus would take the photos to the Ministry and show them. Either way, he would make them see just what the so-called "hero of the wizarding world" had endured for the last thirteen years. He would wager his finest gold cauldron that they would pass out on the floor once they learned the truth.

Harry would be safe, however, even if the idiots in charge did nothing about the Dursleys. For Snape intended to remove him from Privet Drive regardless, for he took his vow seriously and he would not break the fragile trust the boy had placed in him.

But first, he would document, and then he would have a bit of justice upon the creatures—he would not even give them the title of people—who had dared to make the young wizard's life a misery. He would be discreet and give them a taste of their own medicine, Slytherin style. Just as he would have given Tobias, if the bugger hadn't crashed his car while driving drunk and killed himself while Severus was in school. Selene had answered his prayers then. This time he would be Her hand, and let the Dursleys beware!

Harry finished with his shower, dressed, and returned to his room. He found the vial and read the note, then tucked them both under his mattress. Trust Snape to think of a potion that would make him appear sickly. For once he was glad the cunning teacher was on his side. Snape made a dangerous enemy, but a better ally.

He lay back on his bed, wincing as the springs poked him through the thin mattress. He had much to think about, including the surprising fact that his professor had known his mother when they were children. Was there no end to the labyrinth of secrets Snape kept? The professor was an enigma that Harry didn't think he would ever be able to solve.

He heard loud shouts from downstairs as his uncle and cousin screamed at the telly, cheering on whoever was playing like raucous hyenas. He half shut his eyes, then felt a prickle across his skin and darted a look at the door to his room, which had just opened and shut soundlessly.

"Professor? Is that you?"

"Shhh. I'm right here."

Harry relaxed. Snape had kept his word after all. He drifted off to sleep, and in his dreams he rode the black stallion far away from Privet Drive, to a ruined temple where no Muggle had ever set foot.

All your lovely reviews inspired me to write the next chapter of this super fast!

Please keep them coming!

Next up, justice is served, Slytherin style!

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