Little Whinging was an attractive enough place, Severus thought, contemptuously. Assuming, one liked houses all made of ticky-tacky.
He emerged into the sunlight from the dim confines of Arabella's house, which was not more than a block away from the Dursleys. The less time they spent here, the better.
Lupin strode beside Severus, not saying a word. Severus was half tempted to Obliviate the man as soon as they were done here. But no, there was still the little matter of needing a witness, should the Ministry ever decide to audit the papers.
Not likely, but possible. Of course, the placement of the Boy Who Lived was more likely to raise an alarm than others.
The custody of a child was, ideally, considered a private matter. However, due to inheritance laws, a child going from the custody of a blood relative to a custodial situation with a non-relative would have to be approved by the Wizengamot. Even if the blood relative consented.
Severus ground his teeth over laws that had been written in the 16th Century.
Going from the custody of a relative to the custody of another blood relative would raise no such issues. In fact, the record would change itself with no interference from the outside. Severus need only get Petunia to sign.
Hopefully, in the spring, Albus could use his influence with the Wizengamot to change the custody quietly. Madam Bones was always reliable for delicate matters. It wasn't as though the boy was the first child to be conceived with the help of Occludus Paturnus. Merlin only knew how many times Severus had brewed it, in the last twelve years. He very purposely did not keep a record of it.
Few others were in a position to know how common the problem was. Women did not go to respectable healers for this.
Many an assumed Pure Blood was actually a Half Blood or the child of one. It was always tactfully hushed up, if it ever did come to light. The delicate egos of the Pure Blood males could never admit that a genetic defect caused many of them to be unable to produce children. Severus had the suspicion that the Pure Bloods who could father children had a Muggle ancestor only a generation or two back.
Severus was much more concerned with keeping this abuse business off the radar (he smiled grimly at himself for the Muggle expression). He shuddered to think of what would happen if it got out. It wasn't even the public outcry he'd mentioned to Lupin and the Ministry could go hang itself. The real problem was that the boy would probably end up in the custody of some influential family with Death Eater ties, like as not.
Moreover, Severus was not going to let Petunia collect who-knows-how-many pounds over the course of the next school year. Severus knew that Lily had left a Muggle trust for her son, as well as whatever Gringott's was sending from the Potter vault. Add to that, whatever Petunia was collecting from the state in the form of family allowance. No doubt, the Dursleys had their reasons for not refusing to take Harry.
After some discussion, Severus and Lupin decided they would visit the Dursleys in wizard robes, rather than attempt to pass as Muggles. After again reading the diagnostic parchment, Severus, at least, had no intention of trying to put these people at their ease.
So, Severus swept up the walk in his black robes and Lupin in robes of grey.
The neighbor, mowing his lawn looked at them curiously. Both wizards steadfastly ignored him. Severus lifted his hand and knocked, loudly.
For a moment they heard nothing, then, "Petunia? Would you get the door?."
"Coming." called a woman's voice.
The door opened. A thin, horse faced woman stood there. She stared for a second, before she tried to slam the door in their faces.
Lupin was quicker and caught the door, holding it open easily.
"Hello, Tuney." said Severus unpleasantly.
All the blood seemed to drain from Petunia's face and she was pale to the lips, "You." she hissed, "Go away. Your kind isn't wanted here."
"I'm terribly sorry," said Lupin pleasantly, "But, we need to have a word about your nephew." he made no effort to keep his voice down, and the neighbor had stopped mowing the lawn. He was standing in his driveway, pretending admire his lawn. All the while, giving the wizards surreptitious glances.
"Come in, then." Petunia whispered, furiously, "Don't stand there, where the whole neighborhood can see you."
"What do you want?" demanded a large man as they came in. He was taller than Lupin, nearly as tall as Severus and seemingly as wide as he was tall, "If that boy's caused more trouble, that's your look out. That man you sent said we only had to take the boy back this year until the end of summer."
Severus assumed this was "Uncle Vernon".
"We just wanted to discuss some issues Harry's been having.." Lupin continued in that conversational tone, "Perhaps it would be better to talk in the living room, rather than here where half the street can hear us."
Petunia gasped, jumped around the men and closed the door with a snap, "All right, come in here." she led them into the living room, but she didn't sit. Nor did she invite the men to.
"Well, I hope you don't have any complaints." Vernon said "I took him in hand, just as...what was his name?" Vernon looked at Petunia,
"Fudge." put in Petunia. She crossed her arms and glared at the wizards.
"Fudge. Asked me to." said Vernon, sharply, "We didn't put up with any more nonsense from him. If you can't control the brat, that's not my problem."
"So you feel you've been keeping him under control?" asked Lupin. His manner still pleasant and easy.
Severus was happy to let Lupin do the talking as he looked around the room obsessively neat room. Pictures hung on the walls and sat on the mantle piece. Severus noted that Potter appeared in none of them.
"No thanks to any of your lot." growled Vernon, "Did you hear what he did to my sister?"
"Actually we did." said Lupin agreeably, "I understand it was accidental magic?"
"Fudge reckoned it was accidental, but I'm not so sure of that." Vernon lifted his chin.
"Yes, it can be quite troublesome, in a teenager." Lupin sounded downright empathetic. Severus thought the man would make an excellent actor. He leaned forward with his arms crossed across his chest, the look on his face both grave and understanding.
"Little freak's done other things like it." confirmed the large man. He nodded importantly.
"Really?" now Lupin sounded as though he was encouraging the man to unburden his soul, "That must be difficult for you."
"That Fudge person. He told us the boy must have too much energy." he seemed to be warming to his subject, having found what he thought was an understanding ear.
"I see. You wanted to make sure Harry was disciplined properly?" asked Lupin, he smiled at the Dursleys. Severus knew that Lupin had to be remembering the marks on the child and all the other things the diagnostic charms had found.
Vernon seemed to feel that Lupin's smile was reassuring. Severus couldn't help but shudder, as he knew it was the snarl of the wolf, "I made sure the ungrateful whelp understood his place."
"Oh?" Lupin's hands uncrossed. He put them into his pockets, one of which held his wand. His stance was deceptively casual "Perhaps you could explain to us what you mean? I'd certainly be interested in your methods."
Petunia made a little noise, clearing her throat. She seemed to understand that Lupin's voice held a veiled threat. Not so Vernon.
"Well, I'll show you." Vernon said stoutly, he beckoned to them.
"I'll stay here and catch up with Tuney." said Severus, giving her a dark look.
He could hear Lupin's voice asking Vernon questions and Vernon was replying, but Severus couldn't hear the words. A door opened and shut. Footsteps upstairs. The sounds of locks unlocking.
Neither of them spoke for a few minutes. Petunia inched near the door, apparently trying to catch what Vernon and Lupin were saying to each other. Severus moved over to the mantelpiece to look at the fussy bric-a-brac Petunia apparently liked.
"Now, listen to me, Sev." Petunia said, nastily using the pet name that Lily had called him, after a few minutes of that. She kept her voice low, and moved closer to where the wizard stood "That little freak was dropped on our doorstep without a by-your-leave. I didn't know from day to day if he was going to blow up the house and..."
"And yet, you kept him." Severus replied, coldly. He turned his head away from the photos on the mantel to look at her again, "I know that you could have contacted Dumbledore. You could have sent the boy to the Muggle authorities. Better yet, you could have taken care of him properly." he gazed into her eyes, "I never liked you, but I know Lily thought the world of you. How is it that you couldn't find it in your heart to care for the boy, for her sake?"
"For Lily!" exclaimed Petunia, her face going very red and her mouth twisted into an ugly sneer, "Oh, indeed, let's make sure everything is done for my perfect sister! It was always the same. Always! She never thought about me at all. When our parents died, she could hardly be bothered to come to the funeral. And then I find out that your lot were involved...How dare you? How dare you lecture me? I know what you are." she spat, spitefully.
"And what would that be?" he asked her, coldly.
"You're one of those freaks, just like she was. Just like that boy is." She seemed to be unable to understand how stupid it was to bait a full grown wizard.
Severus felt his face go white. He took a menacing step towards her and lifted his right fist to his left shoulder, as though to backhand her.
She squeaked and threw up her hands to protect her face.
They stood like that for about ten seconds. She, cowering almost at his feet, he, with hand raised to strike,
"Have a care, Petunia." he growled, "I daresay the rest of the Wizarding world would not be happy if I told them the injuries the boy's received at your hands." Slowly, he dropped his hand to his side, surprised at himself. It had been many years since he'd raised his hand to another person, and never to a woman
"Don't be ridiculous. It's not as if he were a normal child" she said, defensively.
"Hold your tongue, woman." Severus was having a hard time keeping to his resolve that this was not a day to seek revenge, and had heard all he could stomach.
There were footsteps outside the room, "Well, you should be pleased to hear that we came to lift this burden from you." Lupin had returned from his tour of the house evidently. Vernon was behind him.
"What do you mean?" asked Petunia, in a high pitched voice, sounding both frightened and suspicious.
"He means, that all you must do is sign this, and you never have to see the boy again." Severus said flatly, drawing the parchment out of his pocket and putting the first one back.
He held it out to Petunia, "Your sister left alternate plans. Should this placement...not work out."
The woman stared at the parchment, but made no effort to read it.
"Hmm, that's an attractive thought..." said Vernon slowly. Petunia grabbed his sleeve and tried to hiss something into his ear. He shook her off, "But I'd say I need to think about it. I mean the boy's been so difficult...we've had him for over ten years" Vernon paused, his eyes glinting unpleasantly, "What about our compensation?" he asked, in a calculating manner.
"Compensation?" asked Lupin, still pleasant, still smiling that predator's grin, "If you've been receiving an allowance, it will obviously need to stop."
"Oh yes, so we get nothing for the years of support we've given the boy? I don't think so." The man drew himself up to his full height, a full head taller than Lupin, and looked down his nose at the shabby schoolteacher, "After the trouble we've been to? The.." Vernon was cut off when Lupin grabbed the larger man's lapels and slammed him against the wall.
"Listen to me, " Lupin growled. He punctuated his words by thumping Vernon into the wall, three more times.
Severus was very glad that the full moon wasn't near. As it was, Lupin's eyes had taken on a yellow, feral gleam.
"You and your wife will sign that paper. When you are finished, we will leave you in peace. Otherwise, I will not bother with magic, I will rip you to pieces with my bare hands" Lupin said very softly, his voice sounding like the warning growl of a mastiff.
He let go of the man, and straightened his shabby robes, "Now, it appears we can come to an agreement?" he said, going back to his amiable demeanor.
Petunia snatched the parchment from Severus' hand, grabbed a pen off the desk and signed on the blank line.
Vernon stared at Lupin with his mouth hanging open and his face gone grey. It appeared he'd just recognized the danger he was in.
Petunia turned to him. She picked up his hand and wrapped it around the pen, "Sign it, Vernon." she pleaded, "They'll go away, if we sign it." she glared at Severus, "We won't have to see the boy again."
"Yes..." Vernon said, shakily. He pulled himself together, visibly, "Yes, I'll sign it." He blustered. He seemed to be trying to convince himself of something. Hastily, he scribbled his initials on the paper.
Petunia snatched it from her husband and shoved the parchment into Severus' hand, "Go. Get out."
Severus countersigned it and handed to Lupin, who did the same. The parchment glowed with a golden light for a moment. The corresponding record at the Ministry would have changed.
Severus looked closely at the parchment ,making sure it was all in order.
Underneath the rambling legalese and the signatures, in golden ink, was the word Severus had been wagering all this nonsense on:
Because of the accident of blood, no notification would be sent to the Wizengamot. It was considered strictly a family matter. It wouldn't get out of the records room.
"Lupin, is there anything of the boy's we need to take?" Severus asked tucking the parchment back into his robes..
Lupin shook his head, "I did pick up the few things that I thought Harry might like, but on the whole, I think that everything he owns is in his school trunk." Severus didn't miss the man's jaw clenching.
With a withering glance to Petunia, who was clinging to Vernon's arm, Severus said, "We'll see ourselves out."
Neither of them spoke until they'd apparated to the school boundary.
"What the Weasley boys said about locks...It was true, " Lupin finally said in a low voice, "That creature told me all about it. He didn't even have the sense to be ashamed. They were keeping a child like a prisoner."
Severus didn't stop walking, didn't even turn his head. He had never imagined Petunia was capable of what she'd done. On the other hand, if she believed that "freaks" just didn't have human feelings...
He certainly did not want to discuss this with Lupin. The boy was safe. This arrangement was purely temporary and would be changed as soon as it was feasible. And now that it was done, he could sleep, without fear of Lily haunting his dreams.
"Why do you suppose, he's never...?" Lupin trailed off, sounding as though he were speaking to himself.
"Never what?" asked Severus sharply. He disliked people who maundered like that.
"Well...never told anyone?"
Severus did stop now, the realization hitting him like a blow to the stomach, "He did. He told Shacklebolt." Severus tried to remember exactly what the man had said, "And then the Minister." Severus found himself repeating every one of his father's curses in his head, one after another.
Lupin faced Severus, horrified, "Harry's Uncle said he'd spoken to Fudge. The Minister took Harry back. Dumbledore told me; they were so afraid Black would find the boy away from his guardian's home. The Minister must have told them to..."
"Use a 'firm hand' to discipline the boy. And, keep him from running away again," finished Severus, bitterly, "I have no doubt the boy believes his treatment was sanctioned by Dumbledore as well.
"No wonder he was so reluctant," said Lupin, he passed a shaking hand over his face, "It's a wonder Lily and James haven't come back to haunt us."
Severus sighed. Lily had appeared several times to him this week, in his dreams. She never spoke, just looked at him with sad, green eyes.
He hadn't gotten much sleep this week.Author's notes on Chapter 8:
The first version of this chapter was written rather flatly. One of my betas remarked that she felt I'd gone into social worker mode, and I do think she was correct. It was very easy to slide into passive voice which is how one writes reports of this type. I rewrote it to move into active voice and do more "showing" and less "telling".
Lupin does that creepy-friendly thing at the end of POA. He's generally so controlled.
The thing about Fudge's conversation with the Dursleys: another reference to abused children not having the same language as other people. Harry told Fudge and Shacklebolt he'd get "A good hiding" and he'd be in "so much trouble". It is very common for adults to dismiss the concerns of abused children as merely the normal anxiety of a child not wanting to get into trouble.