Hey, Paganaidd. Where ya been?
Sorry, I've been really busy and I've had all these health issues and my husband's been laid off and we're starting a new company, and my daughters been having problems and, and, and...
Long unerving silence---
Okay. How about I put two chapters of Digging in one post, cause they go together?
Oh fine, just don't leave it so long next time.
So yes, I've been really busy, but I haven't forgotten this little corner of the internet. Two chapters in one go to make up for it!
My Dear Severus,
It appears that both the Ministry and the Board of Governors have concluded that I have no culpability in Neville Longbottom's death.
I wish I could share their opinion.
Nevertheless, I will be returning tomorrow morning, to Hogwarts. Thank you, very much, for your excellent work in my absence. Most especially, your work with the students and healers.
I believe Minerva will be staying in London another week, at the least. She seems to be very helpful to Augusta.
I did have an intriguing conversation, this morning with Arthur Weasley. He had some news I found most interesting, involving some new experiment you are undertaking. I assume you will fill me in tomorrow.
Severus wondered if he should see a dentist to have a mouth guard made. His head was hurting from the constant clenching of his jaw.
He and Dumbledore were well practiced in cryptic missives. Each of them were hesitant to say exactly what they meant in print. The experiment he referred to was, of course, Potter. Naturally, Potter had to tell his little friends about the new arrangement. And just as naturally they had seen fit to do what they could to rescue Potter from Severus' evil clutches.
Fortunately, Arthur Weasley was an experienced parent, as well as a former member of the Order of the Phoenix, in its early days. Discretion was second nature to him. Hearing a wild story through his son, he'd have enough sense to go straight to Dumbledore.
Arthur Weasley would also understand the possibility that the Ministry would, essentially, sell the custody of The Boy Who Lived to the highest bidder. After all, both the Longbottoms (Frank and Alice, before they had been attacked and injured) and the Malfoys (and who knows who else) had considered petitioning to adopt the child, at the time. It was only the Wizarding World's unshakable faith in the bonds of blood that had prevented either of the families attempting to get their hands on the boy.
Dumbledore would know to put the man off until he'd spoken to Severus, citing security or some such nonsense.
Picking up a quill, Severus penned a quick reply,
Yes, I do have a new experiment underway. Far too complicated to explain here and I doubt Arthur has technical understanding to properly explain it.
In the meantime, I have also had to deal with some family business of an old friend, so I am very glad to hear you are returning. It has been an exhausting few days.
Let me know when you arrive, I will have much to tell you.
Given the headmaster's current mood, Severus had no idea what the reaction to the Potter issue would be. To be fair, Minerva had commented to Dumbledore several times in the last two years that the boy wasn't happy at the Dursley's. Severus had always written it off as nothing more than a Muggle born's preference for the Wizarding World. Especially when, in the Wizarding World, the boy was a celebrity. None of them had translated "unhappy" into "abused".
Of course, none of them had translated Neville Longbottom's unhappiness into anything dire, either.
He gave the envelope to the owl and it flew out of the door of the dungeon classroom with practiced ease, this being one of the school owls who generally brought Severus messages here.
Severus firmly turned his mind from his ruminations. Potter would be here any minute and Severus had to endeavor to have a conversation with the boy, without causing him to have a panic attack.
Fortunately, the appetite stimulant Severus had given him was also mildly anti anxiety and more importantly, anti emetic. They should be able to get through a meal without Potter's lunch making a precipitate reappearance.
It appeared that whatever rift had occurred in the Golden Trio had been bridged, for now. At least, it had appeared so in the last potions class. Potter had been sitting with Granger and Weasley and had actually spoken to them. That withdrawal was still there, although less pronounced, now that he was on speaking terms with his friends again.
Severus wondered whom the boy was trying to fool, himself or everyone else. Potter's behavior in potions today had been uncharacteristically studious. When he wasn't working on the day's potions assignment, he buried his head in his book, in a way more suited to Granger. When he thought no one was looking, the boy's face took on a closed, preoccupied expression.
Truth be told, Severus was beginning to become alarmed by the boy.
Everyone was stressed at the moment, true, but Potter's behavior was just so...off. Avoiding the Great Hall at meals and dodging his friends was not something Severus would have expected from the boy.
It had been quite the relief this morning, when the boy had become defiant over Quidditch.
Unwillingly, Severus had to consider Potter's hidden heritage. Lily went off her food when she was upset, certainly, but she wasn't prone to this sort of shut down.
No, Severus dismissed that. Potter was suffering from grief and shock. And given Petunia's miserable failure providing a home, it was understandable that the boy would withdraw.
Yet another thing that was wearing Severus' teeth to stubs. Lily had adored Petunia, when they were children. They had fought after Lily had been accepted to Hogwarts and they had been distant for years, but Albus had assured everyone that Petunia was at least willing, if not thrilled, to have her sister's boy.
Of course, that might have had something to do with the two-thousand or so pounds a month Petunia received from Potter's trust, Severus thought cynically. When Severus had received the note from Gringott's, yesterday afternoon, he had understood that much, right away. The letter had named the sum of four hundred Galleons per month as support payment for the child.
Severus stood from his desk, pacing the length of his office. He took a deep steadying breath, making a conscious effort to relax his jaw.
Potter was now two minutes late. Severus would give him until ten after, and then he would go find the boy, who would find himself mopping floors all week.
At five minutes after the hour, a soft knock at the door.
"You're late, Potter." growled Severus as he opened the door.
The boy flinched a little, then narrowed his eyes and visibly steeled himself, "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." he gritted, hoarsely.
Severus moved aside and beckoned the boy in, "Well, come along then." he said, impatiently, "Sit down." he indicated the chair at the desk, "Do you still have potion I gave you?"
"Yes." said Potter sullenly. He pulled the potion out of his pocket and sat down, putting it on the desk.
"It won't do you any good, sat there." remarked Severus dryly. He tapped his desk and the lunch he had instructed the house elves to make for himself and Potter appeared.
"Just drink the damned thing, Potter." snapped Severus, sitting down himself.
"Fine." muttered the boy. He uncorked the vial and tipped it down his throat, "Oh, that's not so bad." he said, surprised, apparently to himself..
Severus suspected that, left to himself, the boy would never have taken the potion. One of the reasons for this little meeting. Potter was more than underweight, according to the diagnostic charms Severus had done on Friday evening, he was positively malnourished.
The meal set before them was directed toward alleviating some of that. Severus could give the boy potions to help with the deficiencies, but nothing took the place of real food,
Severus noted that Potter was waiting for him to start, before he served himself. That was more manners than he really expected from the boy. Perhaps, Granger had been giving him etiquette lessons. Deftly, Severus filled a plate from the various dishes on the table and set it in front of Potter.
"Thank you, sir." The boy said, very quietly, glancing at Severus through the messy fringe of his hair.
Severus finished serving himself, and picked up his knife and fork. Potter followed suit.
The potion really took hold, then. Severus saw the boy's shoulders drop, slowly relaxing. In a very short time, Potter became completely engrossed in his meal. Severus didn't even bother to try to make conversation in the first few minutes. He wasn't going to disturb the child now that he was actually eating something.
Potter had nearly cleaned his plate, by the time his eating slowed down a little. He was actually the first to speak, "Why did you want to see me?" he asked with the air of one trying to get the worst over with.
"As I said, we had an unfinished conversation, yesterday." replied Severus evenly, "So we'll start there. Did you have any questions about this arrangement?"
The boy didn't even look up from his plate, "No." he made a sharp movement with his hand though, and his glass tipped.
Potter swore and caught the glass in mid fall, but the pumpkin juice inside went everywhere. Including Severus' lap, the desk, and the sleeve of Potter's robe.
Without missing a beat, the potions master had his wand out and cleaned himself up with a simple cleaning spell. He looked at Potter and was very glad that the potion had contained an anti-anxiety agent, otherwise the boy would be having another panic attack, judging by the look on his face.
"Sorry." Potter whispered tensely, biting his lip. He put down the glass, very quietly on the desk and laid his hands on either side of his plate, as if he were trying to prevent them from trembling. He eyed Severus' wand warily, as Severus cleaned up the surface of the desk.
When Severus pointed his wand at Potter to clean up the juice that had splashed the sleeve of the child's school robes (since the boy had made no move to take out his own wand), Potter jerked back with a little gasp.
Severus raised his eyebrows at him.
Potter set his teeth and raised his chin, "Go on, then." he hissed, defiantly, his green eyes flashing behind his glasses
Severus huffed to himself and cleaned the child's sleeve. Potter's mouth dropped open and his cheeks turned red. Whatever he had been expecting, it had not been that, "Erm...Thank you." he mumbled, awkwardly.
"What were you expecting me to do?" Severus asked him, irritably. He was trying not to snap at the child, but honestly, the boy was enough to make a saint swear.
The child shrugged, jerkily. Put his hands into his lap. Stared at them, "It's just you usually go mad when I-when someone spills something."
"Pumpkin juice does not explode, create poison gas, eat through the desk, catch on fire, or otherwise create a hazard." Severus said harshly, "I have never had any injuries in my classroom and I wish to keep it that way." The last potions master had had several major accidents. One of them during Severus' N.E.W.T. seminar. That was not something Severus ever wanted to witness again. And he certainly would not have it in a classroom he was supervising.
"Oh." the boy still looked down at his hands, his face now red to the ears.
"While we're on the subject, " growled Severus, trying to address the child's unwarranted fear, "You must realize that a teacher raising hand or wand to a student is against this school's policies."
"Yes, I know." the boy nearly whispered. He raised his eyes to look at Severus, although he didn't move his head. He did not seem at all reassured. Severus was getting damned tired of the child's manner. This was not the Potter he was accustomed to.
"Well, moving on then." sighed Severus, "I would appreciate if this arrangement were not mentioned to anyone. I have no wish to be in the newspapers." The more quietly this could be taken care of, the happier Severus would be.
"Yes, sir." said Potter, to his hands.
"I understand you've already mentioned it to Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger." Severus continued, "Please inform them that I prefer it go no further."
That made Potter look up, properly, "How did you know?" his eyes were wide.
"I am not stupid." replied Severus, coolly "Now, we should speak about practicalities."
"Practicalities?" Potter asked, his eyes were narrowed again "What does that mean?"
"Your school robes need replacing, at the very least." said Severus firmly. The ones the boy was wearing, were at least an inch shorter in the sleeves than they should have been and rather threadbare. They brought uncomfortable memories of wearing second hand robes to Severus' mind, "And I imagine other things could do with it, as well."
The boy glared at him, "I didn't have a chance to do any shopping." he said, flatly.
"Your Aunt didn't take you?" asked Severus. He shouldn't be surprised, he thought, "Why not?"
Potter's lips curled in contempt. He crossed his arms across his chest and looked away. "I always do it myself."
"I see," Severus replied in a low voice, his ire at Petunia beginning to rise again. "And when was the last time those glasses were replaced?"
"Replaced?" Potter said blankly, looking back at Severus, "I got them when I was eight. The school nurse complained to Aunt Petunia that I couldn't see."
Severus was very glad he hadn't had this conversation before he'd seen Petunia, "I'll make an appointment with the oculist in Hogsmeade." he said.
"Sorry?" again that blank look, "But there's no problem with my glasses. I see just fine."
"Those glasses are composed of little more than masking tape and spells." Severus said, venomously, "It's completely disgraceful." That the child had been denied something as basic as decent eyeglasses by those people made Severus' stomach knot in anger.
The boy seemed to hug himself more tightly and looked away again.
"I believe everything you need can be obtained in Hogsmeade." Severus said, "I'll make your appointment for Saturday morning and we can accomplish it all, then."
"I...uh...haven't had a chance to visit my vault." muttered Potter.
It took a second for Severus to understand what Potter meant, "That won't be necessary." Severus said.
"But," Potter, "I can pay for it. My parents..."
"Arranged for your support before they died." Severus said, firmly. Not wanting to take charity was an impulse Severus could understand, very well, "There's no need to go into the central vault. Gringott's sends support funds along, monthly."
"Are they sending it to you because you're a Wizard?" asked Potter, he seemed to be struggling with something, "Is that why Aunt Petunia never got any money for looking after me? Because Gringott's couldn't send it to a Muggle?"
Severus' was unsure how to answer that. He settled on part of the truth, "She did, in fact, receive funds for your care. Gringott's has no difficulty dealing in pounds." he said carefully.
"No." Potter started to shake his head, "No, she always told me..." he stopped suddenly, compressing his lips and looking upset.
"I think it's safe to say that many things your Aunt told you are untrue." said Severus. He thought it was unwise just now to tell Potter just how much the support fund provided monthly. It was quickly becoming apparent to Severus that the scruffiness that had always irritated him about the boy, ascribing it as he did to the vagaries of teenage fashion, had much more to do with his guardian's neglect.
Potter's mouth twisted and he shrugged, again.
Severus glanced at his clock, almost sighing in relief when he saw that it was almost time for the next class.
He reached into his desk drawer and picked out another vial of potion, handing it to the boy, "Take this at dinner time and I'll have some sent up to your dormitory for the next week." he told him.
Potter nodded, stowing the vials in a pocket.
"I'll let you know when we're going to the oculist." Severus stood, as did the boy.
Potter's expression had become closed again, the way it had been in class this morning. Normally, Potter was very easy to read, so Severus found this change, disquieting.
"Yes. Thank you, sir." the boy said politely, as if he were talking to a complete stranger. His voice was flat. A moment ago, he had appeared ready to rage or weep. Now, nothing.
Severus watched the boy walk off down the hall, not sure if this shutting down was a symptom of fear or grief, or something altogether more ominous.
For the rest of the day, Harry went through the motions of behaving normally. He knew Hermione was watching him, all through their next class.
It was tempting to get angry at his friends again, but Harry just couldn't. They'd truly been trying to help. Like his teacher or his school nurse who'd tried to help before, they just didn't realize the consequences of their actions.
It didn't matter much why this was happening, or whose fault it might be, Harry thought. Nothing seemed to matter much after Harry had stumbled from Snape's office in a horrified daze. This was his life and his life just could never be easy.
Luckily, the class that afternoon was History of Magic. The late Professor Binns taught it the same way he'd taught it for about a hundred years. Lecturing from the book so that, assuming one could read, one didn't miss much by not listening. Many a student caught up on sleep in the ghostly professor's classroom.
In Harry's case, today he used the time to replay the conversation he'd just had with Professor Snape. If not for the potion that seemed to be settling Harry's stomach, he thought he'd likely be throwing up again.
"You must realize that a teacher raising hand or wand to a student is against this school's policies." Snape had said, in that low, dangerous tone. The one that never failed to make Harry shiver.
Oh yes, Harry realized it. Harry realized it with a clarity born of painful experience. He completely understood Snape's meaning, the implicit threat reverberating through Harry's mind.
A teacher could raise neither hand nor wand to a student; a guardian was exempt from such restrictions.
Vernon had made similar statements, reminding him that, while other people might have constraints on their behavior towards Harry, as his guardian Vernon had free reign.
When Harry thought about Snape having this kind of authority over him (and it wasn't as if he could avoid thinking about it for long), he felt as thoroughly trapped as he ever had been locked in his cupboard.
Before, the only thing Harry had feared from Snape was a detention or loss of house points. The man's preferred punishment tended to be things like cleaning cauldrons or mopping floors. Unpleasant and repetitive, but not actively painful. He'd shouted sometimes and threatened Harry and Ron with expulsion last year when they'd arrived at school with Ron's dad's car, but he'd had no power to enforce it.
What could he do to Harry now? It wasn't even a question of Harry making sure not to break any rules, Like Uncle Vernon, Snape wouldn't wait until Harry had actually done something.
Snape was unlikely to do anything that would leave a mark or be lastingly painful, but Harry was sure that he was much more creative than Uncle Vernon. Banning him from Quidditch (which in Harry's mind would be worse than a caning) would just be a warm up. Who knew what kind of punishment he could mete out with a wand?
The threat having been made clear, Snape had taken Harry to task for every single inadequacy, right down to his oft-repaired glasses.
Harry's skin felt hot all over, as he recalled the professor's words on the state of Harry's wardrobe.
It wasn't Harry's fault that he'd not been able to get new robes this year. Snape had scoffed when Harry tried to tell him that Petunia wouldn't take him shopping. Snape didn't know it, but Harry was lucky he'd had enough gold left in his trunk to buy new text books by owl order.
The comment about his glasses being a disgrace was downright evil, in Harry's opinion. He'd done some very good spell work on them, he thought resentfully. Perhaps, he expected Harry to be proficient enough to cast a repairing spell that lasted. Snape always had a way of making Harry feel as though his magic just didn't measure up.
After some more thought, Harry wondered if the man might not be correct. Given the amount of times he'd cast that spell, he really should be better at it by now.
The revelation that Petunia and Vernon had been receiving support for him was stunning. He'd heard for twelve years how he was taking food out of Dudley's mouth. If ever they had to tell Dudley they couldn't afford something, they'd explain that it was because the Freak was there and it was expensive to keep Freaks.
Harry knew Snape hadn't believed him about that either. His voice had gotten dangerous again, as he'd said "I'm sure there are many things 'Your Aunt Told You' that are untrue." Snape wasn't much on hearing excuses.
At least whatever potion that the professor had given him had worked. Even though Harry sat down with the man with absolutely no interest in food, soon after taking it, everything became very appealing. Once he'd started eating, the hot food seemed to settle his nerves, making the meal, if not the conversation, much less of an ordeal than it could have been.
He had considered just not taking it at dinner, but reasoned that there was no need to cut off his nose to spite his face. The potion had done what it was supposed to do at lunchtime. Plus Harry had no interest in inviting Snape to ban him from Quidditch. He knew the man was looking for the slightest excuse to do so.
By dinner time, Harry could stop worrying about Hermione being concerned about him. She and Ron were having some disagreement about Hermione's new cat. Sometime after class, it had been chasing Ron's rat and now neither animal was to be found. They were so busy sniping at each other, that they didn't notice Harry's quiet withdrawal. Harry just listened to them listlessly.
Harry caught Snape watching him at dinner, though. Harry returned the man's gaze as coolly as he could and made sure that Snape saw him take his potion. Again, after the first few bites that tasted like cardboard, the food seemed to suddenly become delicious. In fact, Harry found himself taking seconds of both his dinner and dessert. That was unusual for Harry. It must have reassured Hermione, because she gave him a bright relieved smile, which he returned as well as he could.
After dinner, Harry headed out to the lake by himself, to look for Snuffles. The grounds were empty, as the weather had turned cold again. Most of the students were already in their common rooms.
As Harry wandered closer to the boundary of the Forest, he felt a cold chill that went deeper than his skin. He thought he saw a movement of a dark figure among the trees. It had to be one of those dreadful dementors doing a patrol.
His hair standing up, he left the sausages where he'd first seen the dog and hoped he'd be back tomorrow. Feeling he had no choice, he retreated back up to his common room.
Hermione was off at the library, but Ron was there, starting on his homework, "She's just mad because I won't let her cat eat Scabbers." Ron said scathingly, "I found him hiding in my trunk, with that evil thing scrabbling to get in."
Harry shook his head at Ron, noncommittally. He was not going to get in the middle of this one. Harry tried to be sympathetic, but really, it just didn't seem fair that the worst thing that Ron had to worry about was his rat being eaten.
Mechanically, Harry sat down to do his homework, reading through his assignments more attentively than normal, trying to stop thinking about Snape and Neville and the Dursleys and this whole horrible month.
He wondered what would happen when Dumbledore came back. It likely didn't matter. It's not as though Dumbledore had ever been particularly sympathetic to Harry's problems with the Dursleys. Now, with Snape, it was likely he'd be less so.
Harry refused to think about the possibility that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would adopt him. That would hurt too much if he hoped for it and it didn't happen. It was quite likely they wouldn't be able to afford another mouth to feed, anyway.
That night he found himself in the common room, unable to face his bed. Even if he were able to drop off, he knew for a fact, that the nightmares would be waking him up soon. He'd gotten hardly any sleep since this whole thing started.
He'd found that sometimes he did better sleeping on a settee in the common room, with the lamps burning all night and the sound of the fire to keep him company.
I have also been told that it seems unlikely that Harry could misinterpret Snape so badly. However, this came directly out of a couple of conversations I had with my teenage daughter where she wildly misconstrued what I was saying with far less reason than poor Harry.
Even the simplest of interactions can be misinterpreted. Years ago I had a teenage foster child. She dropped a jar of popcorn onto the kitchen floor and reacted with terror when I said, "The brooms in the closet over there." I was baffled as she went to get it and handed it to me, only to stand there trembling. I asked her to get the dustpan too and handed the things back to her, explaining as I did so that she needed to sweep the popcorn up. She did and then explained in a rather small voice that she thought I was going to hit her with the broom.
It had never occurred to me (as it is not occurring to Snape in this chapter) that my words echoed a threat that had preceded violence in her life. It turned out that her mother frequently told her to retrieve her own implements of punishment, statments like "The broom is in the closet" meant "You're getting a beating."
I can imagine Vernon telling Harry after the mess with Marge something like, "Well, they can't raise a hand to you, so they sent you to me." Snape is also given to making veiled threats and he doesn't tend to explain himself as well as he should.
It is much safer for Harry to believe Snape will mistreat him. In his experience, do-gooders have only caused him trouble--even discovering he was a wizard and being spirited to a Wizarding school didn't stop the violence in his life, so why should being taken away from the Dursleys? For people in this sort of situation, hope is something of a luxury.