The child never ate.
Five meals Severus had taken in the Great Hall on Saturday and Sunday, and the child was at none of them. Once again Severus checked with the house elves and they had not seen the boy.
Weasley and Granger were there. At each one, Granger kept looking around, as if searching the room. Severus could only conclude that the pair hadn't seen Potter either.
The house elves were making themselves useful by keeping watch on the boy. One of them said he spent the weekend reading, mostly out on the far side of the lake. For once in his life, being careful to stay in bounds. And he was actually in bed every night, according to the same house elf.
If the child didn't appear for breakfast Monday morning, Severus was prepared to drag him there. While it was true that upset might make a child lose their appetite, it was ridiculous for the boy to not eat for days on end.
But no, there he was, slinking into the Great Hall, Monday morning. Rather earlier than usual and without his two sidekicks. That was interesting.
Potter must have felt Severus' gaze. He looked furtively at Severus who looked back steadily, with what he hoped was a neutral expression. Potter flinched and looked away. Severus assumed his expression must have been closer to a scowl.
Picking up his tea, Severus resolutely turned his attention to his own food. He knew he had to tell Potter, today.
He'd avoided it all weekend, perhaps hoping that Minerva and Albus would have returned and could have helped him break it to the child.
But, of course, they were both staying in London to help with the Ministry investigation and to see to Augusta. Dumbledore's owl this morning had indicated that he had "every confidence" in Severus' capabilities as interim headmaster.
That was bloody effing brilliant, that was.
Severus occasionally fell back to his childhood speech patterns, in his mind. Sometimes, he found that all his hard won polish just couldn't do justice to a given situation.
It wouldn't have been quite so bad, if Poppy wasn't also gone. As it was, Pomona was filling in for her, leaving Flitwick and Lupin splitting up Minerva's duties between them. Flitwick was most complimentary of the new professor's abilities, which made Severus grind his teeth. He was going to end up needing new teeth, at this rate.
The first Potions class of the day, was also the one Potter was in. Severus resolved he would tell the child then, since the following class was Severus' free period and the one after that were his seventh years who could cope with merely a recipe on the board and instructions to continue to work on the research assignments they were carrying over from last year.
If this discussion took longer than that, Severus would have more important troubles. However, much Severus wanted to keep the conversation short, the boy would doubtless have questions about the change in guardian, that would need to be answered.
The Weasley boys and Granger walked into the Great Hall, together. Potter must have been watching for them. He snatched a handful of sausages off the table, pulled out a Muggle plastic bag. He dropped them into it, then ducked under the table, disappearing.
Potter was using the invisibility cloak to avoid his friends? That was very interesting.
Severus made quick work of his meal after that. When he arrived at his classroom, he was again surprised by Potter. He was in the hallway outside, reading a Potions book that looked so new, that his owl must have brought it that morning.
The Professor unlocked his classroom, merely nodding to the child, in greeting (which was more than he did most days).
Potter took his usual table, seemed to change his mind abruptly, choosing to actually move up towards the front of the room.
Severus wondered why, then realized Potter, Weasley and Granger had shared that one with Longbottom.
Potter saw Severus looking and raised his chin a little, as if daring the professor to comment. Severus said nothing and the awkward moment passed when Granger and Weasley came stomping in.
"Harry!" said the bushy haired witch, "Where have you been?" she demanded.
"Studying." Potter replied sullenly, without really looking at her.
"Harry, mate listen..." started Weasley, quietly, urgently, but with a wheedling undertone. Granger poked him in the ribs. She nodded at Severus who pretended to be reading the parchments on his desks.
"Listen," Weasley went on, in a far more casual manner, "Let's talk about it at lunch, okay?"
Potter nodded, but his eyes were hard. Severus would have wagered a hundred galleons that
Potter would be anywhere but the Great Hall at lunch time.
The other Gryffindors and the Slytherins trooped in. Weasley and Granger stayed at the table with Potter. For his part, he steadfastly ignored them.
The class went well enough. Everyone was subdued. Brown and Patil kept glancing at the table Longbottom used to occupy, looking rather tearful. The rest avoided looking at it altogether.
Severus decided he would get rid of that table. It had a huge stain on it where Longbottom had melted a cauldron, most spectacularly, last year.
When the class was dismissed and packing up, Severus called out, "Mr. Potter? I need a word." he tried to make his voice as unthreatening as possible, but he was tense.
Weasley looked like he wanted to stay, so Severus said, "This doesn't concern you, Weasley. Go tell whoever the teacher of your next class is, that Mr. Potter will be along soon."
Weasley nodded, uncertainly looking at first Potter, then Granger. Granger pulled him by the sleeve.
Severus flicked the door closed with his wand. On further thought, he locked it.
"Sit down, Potter." he told the boy. He pulled up one of the lab stools for himself. The child looked wary.
Severus tucked his wand away and folded his hands on the table, He waited until the child was actually looking at him, "I thought you should know, Potter. I have spoken to the Dursleys."
"What for, sir?" that had to be the most polite Severus had ever heard Potter be.
"We discussed the findings of your medical exam." Severus said, calmly, "And the treatment you receive, while you are in their custody."
Panic bloomed in the boy's eyes, his face losing color, but he only asked, "So...what did they say?"
"Frankly, their answers were not satisfactory." Severus paused, "I will not deny that I found them to be appalling people."
Perhaps, the boy smiled for a millisecond. But then his hands curled into fists on the table. Severus wondered if he was trying to prevent himself trembling.
"It appears that they are unfit to be guardians to a wizard child. That being so, I have arranged your guardianship to be transferred here, to myself." Severus watched the boy's face carefully as he spoke. It was now so still, it could have been a mask, "Since I am acting headmaster, I was able to handle it discreetly. Without involving the Ministry, as you requested."
A long silence. The boy stared at Severus with that impassive expression. Potter asked in a tight voice, "Does this mean I don't have to go back to the Dursleys next summer?"
"That is precisely what it means." replied Severus.
Potter seemed to go over the rest of what Severus had said, in his mind, "You transferred it...my guardianship or whatever...to-to you?"
Ah, now it comes, "Yes, Potter. At the moment I am your guardian. I assure you, it is only temporary, until we can find someone more suitable. For now, it seemed the correct thing to do." Severus waited for the inevitable explosion.
Harry's eyes became huge, but he didn't say a word.
"I'm sure you have questions. I'm quite disposed to answer them." prodded, Severus.
The boy cleared his throat and answered stoutly, "No, sir. No questions." out went the Potter chin.
But, those green eyes were wet and frightened. Then, they went curiously flat, "Is that all, sir?" he asked, in a strained voice.
Severus was taken aback, he had expected tears, rages, relief, fear; anything but this strange withdrawal.
"I understand this is a lot for you to take in." Severus said, trying to be sympathetic (he knew he was terrible at it), "We can discuss the particulars later."
"Yes, sir. May I go now?" the boy's voice sounding even more strained
With concern, the potion master saw that the boy had turned a delicate shade of green. Severus, belatedly, remembered Lily's nervous stomach. How she threw up before her O.W.L.s. How she'd written him to tell him she knew she was pregnant, when she'd gotten sick every morning that first week.
"Off you go, then." Severus told him. He opened the door with a flick of his wand.
The boy fled. Severus followed quietly.
As expected, he'd gone into the boy's bathroom.
For a few minutes, Severus stood in the corridor, considering who he could get to look after the boy. With Poppy gone, it was difficult to know.
If it were something serious, he could ask Pomona. But really, it was more than likely the result of emotional upset after the first decent meal the child had eaten in days.
For a second, Severus considered asking Lupin, since he was Harry's acting head of house. Unfortunately, Lupin had enough on his plate with teaching brand new classes and filling in for Minerva. Severus also knew the man's teaching schedule; he had the third years right now. They couldn't be left alone without fear of blowing each other up.
There was nothing else for it, and as the child's guardian, it was ultimately Severus' responsibility.
Sighing, Severus opened the door. That morning's meal hadn't done the child any good, judging by Potter's state.
Potter knelt on the floor, with his head resting on the cool porcelain of the toilet. He was shaking and wiping off his mouth with the sleeve of his robe. His eyes were tightly closed and he had taken his glasses off, laying them beside him on the floor. Severus noted that they were held together with little more than spells. That was something that had to be sorted, soon.
Hearing the door close, the boy's eyes snapped open and he squinted at Severus, "What?" Potter snarled, obviously not realizing who was there, "I'm bloody fine. Go away."
Probably assuming that Severus' black robes were a prefect's uniform.
"Yes, Potter, clearly." replied Severus, sardonically, unable to help himself.
In answer, the boy threw up, again.
Severus tutted and conjured a wet cloth. He knelt down beside the sick child and wiped his forehead.
The boy's heaving continued even after his stomach was empty.
Again, Severus was reminded irresistibly of Lily. The first time they had gotten drunk together, they had been fifteen. Lily's parents were gone for the weekend and eighteen year old Petunia had left Lily to her own devices, telling her not to tell their parents that she'd gone.
Severus had stolen some of his father's cider from the fridge and they'd spent the afternoon getting drunk, down at the river. It was a wonder they'd made it back to Lily's house.
Severus had had a little more experience with drinking than Lily, so he knew to pace himself. He hadn't been too badly off, but Lily had been in rough shape. He remembered sitting with Lily, just like this, holding her hair up, so it didn't get in the way. She had heaved like this, until Severus had finally left her, long enough to go beg for a stomach calming draft from his mother. Telling his mother that Lily must have the stomach flu and Muggles didn't have anything to treat it with. His mum may not have believed him, but she'd given him the potion.
He hadn't even gotten in trouble for staying the night at the Evans'. When he'd wandered home in the morning, his father had merely smirked.
Severus firmly banished that memory.
Noting that Potter's shivering had gotten worse, Severus conjured a blanket to put around him.
His hair wasn't long enough to need holding up, but Severus left his hand on the boy's forehead until the spasms subsided, while he rubbed the boy's back.
Severus considered a stomach calming draft, but given that this was probably all nerves, the boy would be better off with some rest and perhaps a light meal, later. If he couldn't keep that down, Severus would give him a potion. He could excuse the boy from classes for the rest of the day, since none of the teachers had a particularly demanding day planned.
"Stay there, Potter." said Severus, unnecessarily. The boy didn't look as though he planned to go anywhere. He had put his forehead back onto the porcelain of the toilet.
Severus put his head out into the corridor, with any luck, one of Potter's cronies would be hanging about.
"Miss Weasley?" called the potion master, spotting a bit of red hair coming out of his classroom and going down the hall.
"Sir?" she squeaked, spinning around.
"Mr. Potter is ill. Would you see him back to Gryffindor tower? I'll write you a pass for your next class." he said in a clipped voice.
"Oh." she turned red, "Yes, sir."
"Wait there." Severus told her. He turned around, walked back to kneel down beside the boy,
"Potter, do you think you can make it back to your dorm, now?"
"I have classes." he muttered, mulishly.
Severus rolled his eyes, trust Potter to be contrary, "I'm sure you're a stellar pupil, in this state." he said sarcastically, "Nevertheless, I want you to lie down for the morning. I'll have a house elf bring you up some lunch. If you can keep it down, go to your afternoon classes. Otherwise, have the house elf check in with me and I'll send up a potion." he finished briskly.
The boy just nodded, capitulating.
Since he was done heaving for the moment, Severus helped him stand and gave him his glasses back. Potter gave Severus an unreadable look, as he took them.
Potter unwrapped himself from the blanket and held it out, "Thank you." he muttered.
Severus grunted, waving his wand and vanishing it.
He walked the boy out to the corridor, where Miss Weasley was waiting, "Make sure he goes straight to bed." Severus told her.
"Yes, sir." she said, quietly as she led the still-shivering Potter down the hall.
He had to smile a little to himself, when Miss Weasley whispered to Potter, "Who was that and what did he do with Snape?"
"You have no idea." mumbled Potter back, thickly.
Notes on Chapter 10
Something that keeps coming up in the reveiws of this story is the issue of WHY did no one notice Harry's state?Many readers like to imply that Dumbldore was deliberately covering up abuse.
From Medicine.net: Not until the 19th century were children granted the same legal status as domesticated animals in regard to protection against cruelty and/or neglect. In 1962 the term "battered child syndrome" entered medicine. By 1976 all states in the United States had adopted laws mandating the reporting of suspected instances of child abuse.
Snape's abuse wasn't covered up, because his father wasn't doing anything particularly illegal.