During the long boring hours in his cupboard, when Uncle Vernon had decided he had had enough of the boy and banished him out of sight, when only the smallest sliver of light outlining the door gave any testament to the bright spring day, Harry closed his eyes and wondered if there was a real Harry somewhere out there. Because, he was certain, somewhere in the unfairness of it all, there had to be a real Harry to balance it.
Harry pulled his legs up against his chest, curling up on his bed as much as the narrow space would let him, and, just before sleep carried him off, Harry stopped being and the other Harry, the real Harry, silently slipped through the cracks in the walls and out into the brightness of the day.
Some days it wasn't so bad, but weekends were awful. Uncle Vernon was home all day and even though Harry tried to be good, tried to be quiet, he was never quiet enough. Sooner rather than later he would find himself in the cupboard, the door and darkness closing in on him.
Someone was lying on his bed in the cupboard under the stairs. It was not the real Harry. The real Harry was pushing off the swing on the playground near their house, the wind tugging at his hair, the sun on his skin as the momentum carried him higher and higher into the spring air. With every passing daydream of sun and playground and happiness, Harry on his bed in the dark, felt less substantial, as if he was the one not real, as if his life the nightmare to another Harry's dreams.
The stairs shook and dust rained down on him. Not Harry stared resentfully into the darkness, the wood shaking with each of Uncle Vernon's steps. He was not the real Harry. He was not the real Harry. He was not…
The door opened and a big beefy hand grabbed his arm. "Boy!"
Harry liked strawberry ice cream. It ran in sticky sweet trickles down the cone, onto his fingers. He tracked the sweet stream with his tongue, enjoying the cold treat on this hot May afternoon.
Not-Harry carefully swirled the rag over Aunt Petunia's Teflon pan. Round and round it went, making no dent in the caked on bacon grease. Outside, Dudley and Piers had just managed to beg some change off Uncle Vernon and loudly debated what kind of sugary treat they should get. Not-Harry longingly eyed the scrubby thing. But using it on the Teflon pan and ruining it was a lesson he did not care to repeat. Harry ate his ice cream.
Sometimes, at night, when not-Harry was lying awake in his bed, Harry would just touch the door and the bolt would slide back, freeing them both. Chocolate cake tasted even better when you knew that Dudley would throw a fit over there being none for breakfast. Not-Harry always made sure they properly washed their hands and faces of the evidence and locked the door behind them.
The day Uncle Vernon tore up his Hogwarts letter, not-Harry lay awake in his strange new bedroom. Afraid and curious what had caused this change, not sure if it was for better or worse, not-Harry turned over on his new bed. The springs squeaked in new discomforting ways and he closed his eyes and wished his parents weren't dead, that he had read his letter when he had had a chance, that life was not so bloody unfair.
The next morning there would be more owls and letter and a strange journey to a rocky island off the cost. But not-Harry didn't know this. He closed his eyes and wished.
Harry sat on the edge of the bed. The torn up letter now whole in his hands, the crest glowing faintly in the dark.
Harry did not remember how he got there, but here he was at King's Cross clutching his letter. People were milling around him, children of all ages, many of them holding tightly onto their parents' hands. Harry stood alone, his letter pressed against his skinny chest like a shield.
He stood, unmoving as the people flowed around him. Some carrying ordinary luggage, others trunks and, he blinked, owls in cages? No, that couldn't be right.
A tall woman with lank hair was carrying a battered suitcase while a skinny boy about Harry's age trailed behind, dragging his feet, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his corduroys.
The train on platform 10 whistled. A man with a red backpack shoved past the woman with the suitcase, making her stumble. Her suitcase fell to the ground, clothes and books spilling out onto the dirty pavement. The man turned, mumbled a hasty apology and set off for the departing train.
The woman said nothing, just sat there among her son's possessions, covering her face in her hands. After a while she brushed the dust off her coat and haphazardly threw the shirts, socks and books back into the suitcase. The boy, all the while glaring daggers at the man through his fringe, kicked resentfully at a cigarette butt.
"Come." She reached for his hand and he reluctantly took it, still glaring after the departing train with an intensity that unnerved Harry.
Then Harry noticed it. The book was lying on the dirty concrete floor, dog-eared and face down where the woman had stumbled and fallen. He picked it up, inspecting the cover with interest. "Advanced Potion Making."
"That's mine." The skinny boy from a minute ago was glaring at him with the same baleful stare that he had given the man who had made his mother fall. He held out his hand. Harry shrugged.
"Picked it up for you. What's a potion?"
"It's for class at Hogwarts, stupid. Don't you have your own?"
Harry cocked his head at the other boy. "What's Hogwarts?"
"Are you trying to be funny?" The boy pulled a letter, just like the one Harry was holding, out of his back pocket and waved it in front of Harry's face. "H-O-G-W-A-R-T-S." He huffed and started to walk away, looking impatiently over his shoulder. "Are you coming, or what? The train is about to leave."
Not knowing what else to do, Harry followed.
He had followed the boy onto the train but then, among the pushing and shoving and fighting that was going on over the distribution of the best compartments, found himself alone again, watching, his hands and nose pressed against the cold glass of a window, as the train gained momentum and left the station behind, rumbling past the endless rows of grimy brick houses that marked inner city London.
The train seemed to be destined for a private school, since, as soon as the train left the station, children started to change into their school uniforms. They were of a kind Harry had not seen before. Long flowing and cloak-like, they bore the same crest as his letter, but with different coloured backgrounds.
Pulling out one of the emergency seats between compartments he rested his head on his arms and watched the houses fly by.
The train shook and rattled and Harry sat up with a start. He must have fallen asleep, London was gone and the train speeding through lush fields and soft rolling hills.
He wandered down the train, trying to find a seat in a compartment and maybe find out a little more about what was going on. He slid back a door and was greeted with a blonde girl's naked back, a scream and the door sliding back into place, barely missing his fingers. He mumbled his apology to the closed door.
In the next compartment three boys, one blond the others dark haired, were playing some kind of card game, chocolate wrappers littering the floor.
"Oh man, I got another Dumbledore!" The blond boy complained, popping a frog-shaped chocolate into his mouth, the front of his plaid shirt already covered in crumbs.
"Hi." Harry fidgeted. "What're you playing?"
A tall boy with glasses gave him a once over, raising an eye at Harry's oversized faded shirt and taped glasses. He poked his friend, who had been chasing a chocolate frog around the table. "What's it with all the freaks going to Hogwarts? Seems like Snivellus just got competition."
"Yeah, the freaks are that way." He gestured further down the train and then turned to his friend. "This one's a winner, Jamie; don't you think the tape on his glasses complements the rope he uses for a belt? Rather fetching, isn't it?" The speaker took a chocolate from the pile on the empty seat, unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. Harry's stomach growled.
"Maybe he'll do a trick if we give him a chocolate. He's practically drooling on it already." The sandy blond boy snickered, holding a chocolate teasingly out to Harry, before eating it himself.
"Makes one wonder what house he'll get sorted into. Hey, Sirius, is there one for freaks? He and Snivellus could found one." They guffawed, the sandy haired boy drumming his fists on the seat in mirth.
His face flaming with indignation, hands balled into fists, Harry glared defiantly back at them. He wished nothing more than to punch that stupid mocking expression from their faces.
"Who wants to be your friend anyway?" he yelled, grabbed a handful of the chocolate from the seat, stuffed it into his pocket and ran off down the corridor, into the next carriage. Hearing the sound of pursuit behind him he randomly opened a door and stepped in.
"It's okay, Lily." The boy whose book Harry had found and who had shown him the way to the train was sitting, skinny arms wrapped around his knees, looking out the window. He did not turn but continued drawing spit figures onto the fogged over glass.
"I cannot believe that prat said that to you. That, that toerag." A red haired girl in a cheerful jumper and corduroy trousers was pacing in the limited space, kicking inoffensive seats and nearly Harry. "What?"
Harry cringed and hastily closed the door. "Uh, can I hide in here for a sec?"
She huffed and folded her arms in front of her, her hair lit like flame by the mid afternoon sun. "Give me a reason."
"If I go out there, they're going to find me."
"And they are?" The boy had turned, hard black eyes looking right at Harry.
"Those prats from the other carriage, they …"
Yelling from the corridor interrupted them. "Where do you think you're going?"
The girl slid the door open a bit, peeking out. Making a shush gesture towards Harry and the other boy.
"Ah good. It's one of the prefects. I wonder what those prats were up to?" She gave Harry a speculating glance.
"If by prats you mean those three arseholes from one carriage down?"
"Smug, dark hair, one wears glasses?"
"Yeah, that's them." Her demeanour becoming a lot less frosty. "Hi, I'm Lily and that's Severus."
Harry sat down besides Severus. "We met, he showed me the way to the train."
Severus grunted in acknowledgement, turning back towards the window. "Look." He pointed to the far horizon, exhilaration in his voice. "I think that is Hogwarts Castle."
They crowded around the window, trying to make out details.
Harry grinned. He reached into the pocket of his oversized jeans. "Want some chocolate?"
The sun was setting when they rolled into Hogsmeade Station. Everyone got onto the carriages, except the first-year students. Harry watched with interest as the carriages disappeared down the cobbled road, pulled by an unseen force. He stood, eyes full of wonder in the chilly northern breeze, shivering.
"Why aren't you wearing your robes?" Lily asked but Harry just shook his head.
"He can have my jumper," Severus said, bathing in the brilliance of her approving smile. He pulled Harry aside, digging in his bag for the promised clothes. But instead of giving it to Harry he stepped closer, whispering. "She's my friend." An odd possessiveness echoing in his voice. He tossed the jumper at Harry, joining Lily in the queue for the boats.
One of the prefects helped Lily onto the gently rocking boat. She took her seat and waved for Severus to come and join her, but before he could set foot on the wobbly planks, he was shoved aside and a boy with glasses gracefully manoeuvred the slippery wood, sitting down in the only free seat left. He wiggled his fingers at the people on the shore. "Ta, Snivellus!"
The boat took off and Harry and Severus were left behind to board the next one.
Severus kicked up a cloud of dust. "I know one thing for sure."
Harry cocked his head, giving him an inquiring look.
"I don't want to be in the same house as those prats."
The boats moved silently over the black water of the lake, only their ripples visible in the moonlight, Hogwarts Castle a gleaming jewel in the night. Harry squinted and rubbed his eyes. He pointed out on to the lake's surface. "What is that?" Ripples in the water seemed to be moving towards them.
"Probably the Giant Squid," Severus said offhandedly.
"Very funny." Harry elbowed him.
"That hurt, you tit." Severus rubbed his side, pouting. "I wasn't pulling your leg."
One of the girls sitting behind them leaned closer. "My brother says the squid eats people."
"Does not!" A girl with pigtails chimed in.
"Your brother's a tit."
"You're a cow, Melinda."
"Is there really a giant squid?" Harry asked, looking expectantly at Severus.
"Why would I tell you?" Severus folded his arms in front of chest. "You don't believe me anyway."
Harry sighed. "Look, I am sorry. I just… Till today I didn't even know magic existed." He gently nudged Severus with his shoulder. "Please?"
Severus gave him a look that said he knew this to be a bad idea but answered. "Hogwarts, A History says, as the largest invertebrate known to Muggle science, the giant squid can grow to up to 70 feet. It is also the only known species of squid to have adapted to sweet water. Some claim it originated as a magical experiment." His voice apologetic, ready to stop instantly. Noticing he had several avid listeners, Severus spoke up, nearly vibrating under the attention. "More specifically, at least one giant squid lives in the lake near Hogwarts castle seems to be more or less friendly toward the inhabitants…"
"There is something wrong with that boat!" A blonde girl at in the front yelled, pointing.
Severus fell silent and they all watched in horror and fascination as the boat in front of them started to sway and rock. The sound of panicked screaming carried eerily over the water as the boat capsized.
"Lily!" Severus gripped the edge of the boat in panic. "She's on that boat." He looked in impotent horror at the students in the water and went on in a small terrified voice. "I can't swim."
"Can she?" Harry asked, swallowing hard.
Severus nodded, not taking his eyes off the swimmers, looking for a glimpse of red hair amidst the darkness. "I think so."
The boats came to a halt and a few of the students in the water made their way over to one of the nearer ones.
"Give me a hand here, will you, boys." Lily was clinging to the railing, looking like a very annoyed mermaid. "I will so throttle that prat when I get my hands on him. What a complete arse." They helped her scramble into the boat, her hair plastered to her face, her clothes dripping water. Severus took off his school robes and offered them to her.
Suddenly the air was filled with light and people on broomsticks. Harry watched in awe as older students magically righted the boat and picked the swimmers out of the water, depositing them back onto their seats.
"What happened?" he asked Lily.
She ran a hand through her dripping hair, scowling. "James Potter and his stupid friend, that's what happened!"
"I know a drying charm, if you give me your robes." Melinda offered.
"Thanks." Lily nodded and handed them to her. "This boy, Jack I think, was afraid of the squid. And what did those prats do? They started rocking the boat, calling him a cry baby, claiming the squid had come to claim it annual sacrifice. And then other people told them to quit it and they made it rock even more and someone pushed James and he pushed back and then we capsized."
Severus put an arm around her shoulder. "Was it very bad?"
She nodded and leaned against him. "We're going to get them for this, Sev."
"You can count on that, Lily."
Harry stared into the darkness, watching the lights of the castle come closer, wondering what lay ahead.
Harry stood in awe as the door to the Great Hall opened and he glanced at the enchanted ceiling for the first time. To him it seemed so unbelievable and overwhelming and utterly impossible that magic was real and that he was here, standing under an enchanted sky, lit with the splendour of shooting stars and polar lights.
Severus, for all his bluster about knowing about the Wizarding World because his mum was a witch, had reached for Lily's hand and they stood, like siblings clinging to each other for comfort, taking in the grandeur of the welcoming feast.
A stern-looking teacher, her black hair in a tight bun, introduced herself as Professor McGonagall and told them to line up. She took a minute, before opening the doors, to inform Black and Potter that their detention for endangering students would be served on the following weekends. Several people snickered.
"They have it coming." Lily said with satisfaction. "Just look what they did to my hair." She glared at Potter and Black. "It smells like seaweed."
They walked in rows of two up to a stool with a rather tatty-looking hat on it. Harry took a step back, suppressing a rather girlish squeak when the hat started to sing. The song it told about the four houses made Harry wonder which one he would end up in. It all sounded so grand and worthy and he felt too small and unimportant to be a part of it.
After it finished Professor McGonagall called the first student, Richard Atmore, forward. He sat down on the wooden stool, put the hat on and with due speed was sorted into Hufflepuff. Harry let out a breath he had not been aware he had been holding. He could do this.
The next student called was Sirius Black, who sauntered, more than walked, up the few step to where Professor McGonagall was waiting.
"Before the feast is over, if you would be so kind, Mr Black." She held out the hat impatiently.
Looking defiantly at those waiting he reached for the hat. The hat remained silent for what seemed an eternity. Faculty and student body seemed, for a few seconds, frozen in time. Then, into the anticipating silence it bellowed: Gryffindor.
Black stood up and like a tidal wave, all hell broke loose. There was clapping and booing and a lot of general confusion as to what had just happened. Severus gave a satisfied snort.
"Knew it. Serves him right, the prat. Doesn't have it in him."
Harry gave him a puzzled look.
"Was bragging on the train how his family had been in Slytherin for generations." Severus gloated. "Fat lot of good it did him."
Sirius, the smug grin back on his face, bowed to student body, and under cheering and catcalls, made his way over to his new housemates.
After the commotion had died down with a few stern words from Professor McGonagall restoring order, she called the next student, a girl named Greta Catchlove, to the front. She sat down on the stool, put the hat on and was sorted into Ravenclaw.
The three of them watched as five more students put on the hat and joined their houses.
"I think you're next." Severus squeezed Lily's hand.
She gave him a nervous smile. "It's going to be alright."
Lily was the fifth one to get sorted. Severus stood next to Harry, looking at her with a mixture of pride and anticipation. She sat down and put the hat on. Harry had never seen one word cause so much hurt in another's face, but when the hat called out: Gryffindor, Severus seemed to crack and crumble from the inside out.
Lily looked equally miserable, furtively glancing over to them as she made her way to the Gryffindor table.
Harry nudged Severus. "Hey, maybe you'll get sorted into Gryffindor, too."
Severus just glared at him. "And share a dorm with Potter and Black. I'd rather be in Hufflepuff."
"Doesn't mean you can't still be friends." Harry tried to put an arm around Severus' shoulders but Severus shrugged him off.
"Not if I am sorted into Slytherin. Don't you know anything about Hogwarts?"
They continued to watch the sorting, but the excitement, the glamour had disappeared, leaving a stale taste in Harry's mouth.
James Potter was sorted, with a 'told ya so' from Severus, and under many cheers and applause, into Gryffindor. Student after student put on the hat and found their place.
When Professor McGonagall called out Severus' name Severus gave Harry a pleading look and started walking past the tables towards the stool. A few steps later, about halfway down the aisle, he stepped on the hem of his robe, stumbled and fell, face down onto the stone flagged-floor. Laughter erupted and Harry saw Black surreptitiously pocket a long wooden stick.
Severus, his nose bleeding from the fall, was sorted into Slytherin. He was greeted with the customary applause and pointedly did not look at the Gryffindor table when he walked past. Lily stared at her empty plate, looking as if she was about to burst into tears.
Harry stood in the group of remaining students, wondering when his name would be called. He clutched his Hogwarts' letter tightly, as if letting it go would make all of this disappear.
After the hat sorted Leila Zucker into Hufflepuff, McGonagall started to roll up the name list when she noticed Harry still standing alone, waiting. She raised an eyebrow at his oversized clothes and distinct lack of school robes.
"And who are you?"
"I'm Harry." He held out his letter as if that would explain all.
She took the crumpled paper studying it carefully, then comparing it to her list. McGonagall looked at the letter again and then back at Harry, pursing her lips. "Tsk, this is of no use, you smudged the ink. Your family name, boy. What is your family name?"
Harry flinched at 'boy', looking at his feet, the heat of embarrassment burning on his cheeks.
"I am waiting. Surely that is not a difficult question to answer?" She looked down at him, her arms akimbo.
"I … I don't know, miss."
Professor McGonagall sighed, mumbled something that sounded a lot like 'what is it today' took him by the arm and led him to the teacher's table, stopping right in front of the Headmaster.
"Albus, could you please join us in your office? This young man does not seem to be on the student list."
The headmaster nodded. Professor McGonagall led him to the side and they watched as the Headmaster got up and addressed the student body, welcoming them to Hogwarts and wishing them a year full of learning and wonder. Then with a wave of his wand food magically appeared on the tables and empty stomachs won over curiosity.
Harry look yearningly at the steaming bowls and his stomach growled pitifully at the smell of roast chicken and fried potatoes. McGonagall's expression softened.
"I am sure we will have this sorted in no time."
Harry followed the Headmaster up the steep stairs to his office and stood in wonder as the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance swung back with just a casual word.
"It is most curious, Albus. The boy has a Hogwarts Letter, but he is not my list."
"Harry, your name is Harry, is it not? Would you like a sherbet lemon?"
Harry looked up at the kindly old wizard and nodded, reaching out for the sweet.
"What is your family name, Harry?" Dumbledore smiled at him.
"I don't know, sir." It was suddenly very important that he not disappoint the Headmaster. "I live with my Aunt Petunia."
"Do they have a family name?"
"Dursley. Vernon and Petunia Dursley, number 4 Privet Drive."
"There is no Dursley on the list, Albus. Nor is that a Wizarding name."
"Muggle-born then." He nodded and turned to Harry. "Can your Aunt or Uncle do magic?"
"My Uncle can pull a coin out of your nose."
"Not that kind of magic, Harry. Not a trick, real magic." McGonagall transfigured a paperweight into a bunny rabbit and back. "This kind of magic."
"Wow! How'd you do that?" Harry looked at Professor McGonagall with wide eyes.
"We will teach you. In due time." She smiled, obviously amused at his astonishment. "Now, can your Aunt and Uncle do this, too?"
"No. They do not approve of anything that is strange, miss." Harry shifted on his chair. "They don't approve of me, either."
"Only one way to know." Dumbledore handed Harry a pretty wooden stick. The polished wood gleamed. "Give this a swish and flick, will you."
Harry eyed the wand sceptically, giving it a tentative wave. Magic shot from the tip, forming a python that slithered across the floor, it hissing threats at Dumbledore. Harry squatted down, telling it that it was alright, that no one would do it harm.
When Harry reached out to touch it, it exploded shattering every window in the room. Harry stood up and carefully put the wand down on the table. "I… I am sorry, I didn't mean to …"
"It's okay." Periwinkle blue eyes twinkled at him from behind half-moon spectacles and he suddenly felt very tired. Harry rested his head on his arms, watching the flames in the fireplace; the distant voices of the adults arguing sounded faint and unimportant.
"You don't think that You Know Who …?"
"He does have Slytherin's gift, that's for sure. How fascinating. We have not had a case of it since, well …" Dumbledore stroked his long white beard. "There is a trace of malice in him, Minerva."
They both looked at Harry, worry in their eyes.
"I will try and see what I can find out tomorrow." McGonagall turned back to the Headmaster. "Maybe his Aunt and Uncle can shed some light on the whole situation." She put away the scroll. "Not much we can do tonight anyway. I say, let's sort him and have him join his classmates in the welcoming feast. A bit of pudding will do him good."
She laid a soothing hand on Harry's arm. "Time to get you sorted, Harry."
Harry blinked at her, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes. "Yes, miss."
"Well, let's see what the hat makes of you, shall we?" Headmaster Dumbledore smiled down at him, placing the hat on Harry's head.
It remained silent.
"Professors'?" Harry shifted on his chair, the silence making him uncomfortable.
"Curioser and curioser." Dumbledore leaned down, face to face with the Sorting Hat. "Got anything to say, old friend?"
The hat gave him a petulant stare. "He is not on the list."
"Oh, for heavens' sake!" McGonagall threw up her hands in frustration. "Is that it?" She unrolled the scroll again and reached for a quill. "Dursley, right?" She dipped the quill into the inkwell and added 'Harry Dursley' to the bottom of the scroll. "There. Happy now?"
Harry started to say that his name was not Dursley, but not having a better answer he took one look at Professor McGonagall's face and thought better of it.
The Sorting Hat scrunched up its leathery face. "He is not on the list."
"I give up. Albus, there is an empty bed in the first year Slytherin dorm." She huffed in annoyance. "The Forresters decided, last minute let me tell you, that Asmus would get a better education at Durmstrang." Her tone of voice indicated severe disapproval.
"He will do well in Slytherin House, won't you Harry?" The Headmaster smiled kindly at him.
Harry sucked on his sherbet lemon, and, not knowing what else to do, he nodded. "Yes, Professor."
"Very well then. I will have the elves put out a set of school robes in the bathroom." Dumbledore gestured toward an ornate door at the other end of the room and smiled encouragingly. "A word, Minerva, if you please."
Severus was still sulking when Harry joined him at the table, but he budged over to make room for him.
"Hi yourself." Severus took a bite from his apple crumble.
The feast was almost over and Harry hurriedly filled first his plate and then his stomach.
"Watch this!" Severus leaned into Harry, gesturing towards Potter and Black, grinning conspiratorially.
Harry shovelled another spoonful of mash into his mouth. "What?"
Black had a bowl of trifle in front of him, heaped to the rim with cream and glace cherries. He was digging into it with obvious enjoyment.
Severus surreptitiously slid his chair back, trying to get better aim at the opposite table. He muttered several words in a language Harry did not know.
A disgusted scream and the noise of bowls and plates falling off the table later, the attention of everyone in the room was focussed on Sirius Black, on his knees on the floor, heaving and gagging.
Potter slid sideways on the bench, raising his feet to avoid the bowl of trifle rolling away on the floor, leaving a trail of rotten food and maggots. He glared at the Slytherin table, locking eyes with Severus.
Harry looked admiringly at Severus. "That was utterly brilliant! How'd you do that?"
Severus shrugged. "I can teach you. T'is easy." He reached for a chocolate éclair. "Mum does it to Da when he complains about dinner."
That night, in bed, when he curled up to ease his aching stomach, Harry looked over to the other boys, taking comfort in their sleeping sounds. He fought to stay awake, afraid that when he awoke he would be back at the Dursleys'.
That night he dreamt of a tiny storm driven island of the coast and a giant with a black overcoat. They were just speeding off in a magically powered boat when Severus kicked his bed.
"You sleep like the dead. The prefects were in here twice already. Come on, breakfast is in ten."
Harry put on yesterdays' clothes under his new Slytherin robes, ran a hand through his hair and hastened after Severus to the Great Hall.
He saw Lily at the other end of the hall and waved at her. Sitting down at the Slytherin table, Harry reached for a slice of toast.
"What do you think you're doing?" A prefect, blond hair in a neat ponytail, gave him an irritated look. "That seat is taken. Now scram before I hex you."
Harry opened his mouth to protest but was cut short by a tall black student, whose robes also showed a prefect's badge.
"Leave the first years alone, Malfoy." The other prefect gave Harry a toothy smile.
The blond boy took a sip from his tea, his little finger extended in a rather prissy fashion. "Don't be such a tit, Kingsley. I was only showing him the rules."
"First years sit at over there." Kingsley made a gesture towards the other end of the table. "Think you can find it by yourself?"
Harry nodded, stuck his tongue out at the one called Malfoy and legged it.
Harry had about finished his breakfast when he felt someone hovering near him and turned.
"I am not your personal alarm clock, you know." Severus huffed at him, his skinny arms around a stack of books and parchment, quills sticking out from among the pages.
"So no need to hit you on the head to stop you nagging?" Harry grinned to take the sting out of his words. It had no effect on the other boy.
"Fine." Severus scowled at him. "See if I do you a favour again." He flounced off, his oversized robes billowing around him in makeshift drama.
Harry gulped down the last of his juice and ran after Severus. The flagstones were ancient and smooth with the use of centuries. When he turned a corner he tried to skid to a halt, but found himself on the ground in a tangle of arms and legs with another boy.
"I'm sorry." Harry picked himself up, squinting at the other boy. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. No harm done." His voice sounded timid but friendly, as if he was not sure who should be the one apologizing.
Harry grinned. "My glasses must be around here somewhere. Do you mind?"
"Look what I found."
Harry cringed at the now familiar mocking voice of Sirius Black.
"I wonder which of the windows lost a bull's eye pane?" A podgy blond boy chimed in, making the others howl with laughter.
"Lupin. What are you talking to that freak for?" Potter put an arm around his housemate.
"Can I have my glasses back now?" Harry held out his hand.
"Of course." Black's voice dripped saccharine sweetness. "Oops." He let the glasses drop an inch from Harry's outstretched hand. They made a metallic breaking sound as they hit the stone floor. "How clumsy of me."
Their laughter rang in Harry's ears as he scrambled on the floor looking for the pieces, wondering how he could have been so stupid as to hope that there would be a world without Dudleys.
Someone held out the second half of his glasses to him. Harry looked up into the unmistakeable red of Lily's hair.
"Thanks." He looked at the broken pieces and sighed. "Got some tape?"
"No." There was a smug pride in her voice that irritated Harry beyond words. "I know something better." She took the broken glasses from Harry and pulled her wand out of her book bag. "Reparo!" "There you go." She handed the glasses back to Harry.
"Thanks. How'd you do that?" He put them on, and blinked. The world swam into focus again.
She smiled, satisfied with herself. "I got it from a book. It's not that hard. Come on or we'll be late for class."
The Potions classroom was in the dungeons, a short walk from the Slytherin dorm. Lily followed him with slight unease at the cold dripping walls and endless gloomy tunnels.
"The Gryffindor dorms are in a tower, you know. We have an awesome view over the lake and forest."
Footsteps echoed in the distance. She stepped closer to him.
Harry shrugged, thinking back at the crowded darkness of his closet. "I rather like it. The common room has a glass roof." He nudged her shoulder. "It is under the lake and if you're lucky there are mermaids."
Lily gasped. "Real mermaids?"
Harry nodded sagely. "And weird scary creatures too. With sharp teeth!"
Harry, who had expected Lily to take the seat next to Severus, stood, undecided, as she put her bag down next to a fellow Gryffindor. The whole class seemed to have been divided neatly in half with Gryffindors on one and Slytherins on the other side. Seeing that the Professor, a portly man with neat mutton chops, who reminded him rather a lot of a Dickensian banker, was already putting things to rights at the front of the class, Harry gave Lily a confused look and slid onto the bench next to Severus.
Severus sat, hunched over, amidst his lair of books, quills and scrolls, scribbling industriously in the margins of a textbook.
"Can I sit with you?" Harry gave him a sheepish grin.
Severus glared at him from under his fringe. "Obviously you can, since you already are."
Before Harry could snip back or change his seat the Professor addressed the students, introducing himself as Professor Slughorn, Head of Slytherin House and beginning their first class with a roll call.
On the teacher's desk, in a neat little row, were bundles and bowls of dried potion ingredients. He levitated one of them, a bundle of dried greenish herbs. "Can anyone tell me what this is? And what it is used for?"
Several hands, including Severus' and Lily's, shot into the air.
"Dried nettles, Professor."
"Very good. One point to Gryffindor." He gave Lily a warm smile and levitated a bowl full of small white needle like things. "How about this one?"
Harry was not sure if Severus' hand had even been down for a second, so fast was it raised again, his friend vibrating eagerness.
Professor Slughorn gave him an annoyed stare, calling on Wayneright.
"Saguaro thorns, Professor." A cute curly haired Slytherin answered earnestly.
"That would cause a rather unfortunate reaction. Anyone else?" Slughorn strokes his beard with his index finger and thumb. "Mr Snape, I can see you are about to burst with knowledge, do enlighten us."
"Snake fangs, Professor. And, and we also need porcupine quills and horned slugs if we are brewing a cure for boils as the book says." The last was said so quickly and out of breath as if Severus had just run twice around the lake.
There was snickering and faint murmur of 'what a complete tit'.
"Well done, Mr Snape. Two points to Slytherin." Slughorn walked over to the board, tapping it gently with his wand. "I expect you to follow the instructions on the board to the letter. There will be no foolish wand waving or any other tomfoolery." The last was said towards the Gryffindor tables. "This does include you, Mr Black and Mr Potter."
Harry begged a piece of parchment off Severus, who begrudgingly gave him half a one, and then dutifully jotted down the instructions on the board.
"The board is wrong. Stirring it four times clockwise and one time anticlockwise will get you a better result." Severus had turned his head sideways, reading what Harry was scribbling down.
"Really?" Harry gave him a sceptical look. "Are you messing with me?"
Severus stood up, grabbing his own ingredients list. "Suit yourself." And stalked off towards the supply cabinets. Harry rolled his eyes at him.
"Mr Potter, potion-making is an exact science. Stop horsing around with Mr Black." Harry cringed, not knowing why.
When Harry got back, arms full of bundles and jars with strange and curious ingredients, Severus was already fast at work cutting and grinding snake fangs. Dumping the lot on his half of the table he read over the instructions again and started grinding snake fangs in the marble mortar.
The teacher made his way over to their desk holding out his hand. "Do not think, Mr Pettigrew, that I did not see you pocket that bottle of stinksap. Two points from Gryffindor."
Heads turned and there was some general snickering, especially from the Slytherin side.
They were halfway through brewing the potion, Harry dicing horned slugs when he noticed something hitting the table next to him, bouncing and nearly missing his cauldron. He picked it up and examined it. It was a tiny bit of porcupine quill. He shrugged it off and continued chopping his dried nettles. Another piece flew by his ear, heading for Severus' cauldron. Before he realized what he was doing Harry's hand shot out, catching it in mid flight, right above the simmering brew.
"What the hell?" Severus snapped his head around, glaring at Harry, Harry's hand still hovering over the cauldron.
"I just did you a favour." Harry glared back. "Someone's throwing stuff. Here!"
Harry opened his hand as proof, showing what he had caught within.
Severus picked it up and held it between thumb and index finger. "That's porcupine quill…"
"That goes into the potion, doesn't it?" Harry looked at his scribbled-down instructions.
"Yes. After you turn off the heat."
"Because it'll melt the cauldron, blow up in your face, and cover you in horrible boils." Snape went back to stirring his brew.
"Says who?" Harry's asked with more than an undertone of 'yeah, right'.
"The book, stupid." Severus glared at him from under his fringe and snapped. "Page 217. Read it yourself, since you don't seem to believe me."
Another piece landed on the table beside them. Severus stopped stirring his cauldron, put down his spoon and raised his hand. "Professor, Black and Potter are throwing porcupine quills!"
"The shade of red Slughorn turned." Lily giggled. "He was about to have a stroke, I swear!"
They climbed up the dungeon stairs to the charms classroom.
"Serves them right. Potions' too dangerous to be faffing around. What kind of dunderhead throws porcupine quills?" Severus adjusted his stack of books and quills, his voice full of righteous indignation. "But what do you expect from that lot."
"Not much, after they capsized our boat!" Lily nudged Harry. "Black is an utter arse." She turned to Severus. "He broke Harry's glasses this morning, the prat."
Severus grabbed his arm, looking straight at him. "Is that true? Well he will be knee deep in dirty cauldrons for a few weeks to come." He sounded rather satisfied with himself.
Harry, who had felt a tiny twinge of unease at Severus having ratted on Potter and Black, especially when he had not been sure that it had been Black throwing the quills to begin with, pushed his glasses back up his nose.
"Yeah, they had it coming."
To be continued in chapter 3
Transfiguration turned out to be his karmic comeuppance. While the other students tried to make a feather fly, Harry, lacking a wand, was copying the first chapter out of their textbook.
He sighed with relief when, after he was halfway through copying and was just shaking out his hand, stiff from the unfamiliar motion of writing with a quill, the classroom door opened and Prefect Kingsley entered the room.
Professor Flitwick nodded at his request to take Harry to see the headmaster. Harry was told to gather up his belongings and to not dawdle.
He followed Kingsley through half of the castle, past talking portraits and moving staircases that led to Dumbledore's office. The ride up the stone stairs was even more impressive in the light of day. Stained glass windows twinkled in the afternoon sun, making the coloured lights dance across every surface.
Professor Dumbledore was shuffling papers behind his desk and next to him, in a cosy wingback chair, sat the biggest man Harry had ever seen.
Dumbledore looked up from his paperwork. "Ah, Mr Dursley. As expected." He gestured to a wooden chair in front of his desk. "Do have a seat."
A beautiful exotic bird, with red and gold plumage, twittered on its perch.
"The reason, Mr Dursley, why you are here is your unorthodox arrival, and thus your need for proper school attire and supplies."
Harry nodded. It would be nice to have his own books so that Severus would not be able to lord it over him anymore for letting him share his.
"Since your head of house is busy with beginning of term matters and we cannot send a student to accompany you, our Gamekeeper has kindly agreed to lend a helping hand. I am sure you will be great friends."
Dumbledore shuffled his papers again. "Your Aunt's name, what was it again?"
"Petunia Dursley, Headmaster." Harry craned his neck, trying to read the letter Dumbledore was holding.
"Quite a peculiar name, if I may say so." Dumbledore quickly put the letter away and opened one of his desk drawers, taking out a leather purse. He handed it to the Gamekeeper. "This should be sufficient for his needs."
The Gamekeeper, who introduced himself as Hagrid, got up, the purse disappearing somewhere in his enormous overcoat. He put a giant hand on Harry's shoulder. "Come on then, boy."
"Good bye, sir." Harry smiled at Professor Dumbledore. "And thank you." He got up and started walking towards the stairs.
"Where do yeh think you're going, boy?" Hagrid bellowed after him. The giant man was standing next to the fireplace, gray glittering powder dripping from his hand. "We're taking the Floo."
"Sir?" Harry did nothing to hide his confusion. "What's the Floo?"
"Yeh don't know what the Floo is?" Hagrid had an exasperated expression on his face, gesturing at the fireplace. "Are yeh pulling me leg?"
"No, sir. Don't think I'm strong enough."
Hagrid harrumphed and pointed at a jar on the mantelpiece. It contained the same silvery gray powder he was holding.
Harry gave him an expectant look.
"Blimey, boy. Yeh really don't know?"
Harry shook his head and before he could stop Hagrid or ask any further questions Hagrid threw his handful of Floo powder into the roaring fire, turning it green.
"Easy enough, ain't it?" The giant man smiled at Harry, said 'Leaky Cauldron' and pushed him into the green flames.
Harry stumbled and fell onto an unfamiliar floor. He blinked, not sure what had happened; though he did have the presence of mind to scurry away when the flames in the fireplace behind him flared green again. And soon enough they spat out the huge figure of the Gamekeeper.
"Hi Tom." Hagrid greeted the bartender who was polishing glasses behind a wooden counter.
"Ah, Hagrid. The usual, I suppose?"
"In a bit, I got some official Hogwarts' business to take care of first." Harry noted the pride in Hagrid's voice. "Come on then, boy."
Being reminded more and more of Uncle Vernon Harry looked up at the giant man. "Don't call me boy. My name's Harry."
"Fine then, Harry. Let's get yer books and potion stuff first."
Before they stepped out of the pub, Harry noticed several hunched figures nursing mugs of ale in the smoky back of the room. One of them, a tiny wizard, was smoking an exceptionally foul-smelling pipe. None of them gave them a second glance.
The street was narrow and winding; wet cobblestones made for uneven footing as Harry hurried after the Gamekeeper, trying to keep up with his long stride.
When they reached a bookshop called Flourish and Blotts Harry was huffing and puffing beside Hagrid. They stepped inside and Hagrid asked the shopkeeper for the Hogwarts books that Professor Dumbledore had owled them about.
While he paid for them Harry wandered off to the rows and rows of books on topics he had never even heard about, or had thought of as impossible. Dark leather-bound volumes with rich creamy paper and colourful illustrations caught his interest. He picked one up at random. Curses and Countercurses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian. Fascinated he opened it, running his finger down the index.
"Should have known." A heavy hand closed around his arm. "Did right to put yeh in Slytherin."
The book was snatched out of Harry's hands and before he could ask Hagrid what he had meant by that comment he was steered out of the shop and into the apothecary.
Mahogany shelves ran along the walls, filled with jars and jars of strange and fascinating ingredients. Pickled snakes and barrels full of dried lizards, weirdly shaped seedpods and a big glass jar with a heavy stopper full of eyeballs in all sizes and colours.
"This is so neat!" Harry tapped the eyeball glass with his finger, gasping in delight as they all swivelled around, focussing on him.
"Yer to keep yer fingers to yerself."
Harry quickly pulled his hand back at the sharp tone. He stood behind Hagrid as they waited for the clerk to come back from the back room. Harry longed to get a closer look at the display of cauldrons. They sat, like shiny Russian dolls, one stacked onto the other. Most of them were pewter or dull iron but a cut crystal one caught the beams of the sun peeking out among the rain clouds, scattering the room with dancing rainbow reflections.
The clerk returned carrying a battered box labelled 'Hogwarts, First Year'. "The scales just needs a bit of a polish, then they're good as new."
He put the box on the counter in front of Hagrid, dusting his hands on his apron. "Is there anything else I can do for you? We just got a rather stunning array of collapsible cauldrons from Switzerland."
"Nae, thanks. But if yeh could be so good as to shrink this for me?"
The clerk nodded and Harry watched, bug eyed and excited, as his potions kit became smaller and smaller with just the touch of the clerk's wand.
He pulled Hagrid's sleeve. "Is that hard? Am I going to learn that, too?"
Hagrid gave him a lopsided smile. "S'ppose so." He pocketed the now tiny parcel. "Madam Malkin's next, Harry."
A cheerful brass bell rang when they opened the door to Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, and they were greeted by a young plump witch in lavender robes.
Hagrid filled out the doorframe looking down at Harry. "Yeh mind if I slip off to the Leaky Cauldron for a bit of a pick-me-up? You'll be fine."
He dug in his overcoat for the leather purse Dumbledore had given him and counted out a few coins. "This should do."
Harry inspected the coins curiously. They were not, as he had expected, pounds and pennies, but had an ancient, almost Roman look to them. One or two of the smaller ones appeared to be real gold.
"Come on then, dearie. Hop onto that stool so that I can get you measured up."
Harry blinked and coughed as he stepped into the smoky darkness of the Leaky Cauldron, his shrunk packages oddly heavy in his pocket.
Hagrid was sitting with his back to the door, at the bar, chatting with Tom the bartender, his loud voice carrying clearly, even through the hubbub of a busy bar.
"Am tellin' yeh, Tom." Hagrid looked gloomily into his ale. "I got a funny feeling about that boy. There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin."
Having barely spend a day at Hogwarts, Harry had picked up only on a small part of the rivalry and animosity that seemed to reign amidst the houses. He stepped into the shadows, intending to listen to the rest of the conversation, but just as he stepped backwards out of sight he tripped over a stool that he could have sworn had not been there a second ago and fell, with a loud thud, onto the wooden floor.
Hagrid turned around, his cheeks turning rather red as he saw Harry lying on the floor. "B- … Harry, are yeh alright?" He reached out with a massive hand, pulling Harry upright. "Got all yer clothes, didn't yah?"
Harry nodded, brushing off the dust from this school robes. "Madame Malkin shrunk them for me."
"Good, good." Hagrid put a bronze coin on the counter. "See yeh on Friday, Tom." He gestured towards Harry looking more than a tad uneasy. "Would yeh like an ice-cream?"
Knowing when he was being bribed and when to not question his good luck, Harry followed Hagrid out of the Leaky Cauldron and down the street where he let the Gamekeeper buy him a triple deluxe scoop with extra chocolate sauce and nuts.
Licking raspberry sorbet off his fingers he stopped in front of a narrow building with gleaming gold lettering over the door: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. On a plumb purple cushion, in front of dark velvety drapes lay a single wand, polished and gleaming.
Hagrid had to duck to enter the tiny shop, the door as low and narrow as the house itself. Harry followed him, squinting in the gloom of the place, still blind from the brightness of the setting sun. The walls were covered in rows and rows of dark shelves all filled to the rim with flat cardboard boxes. A sleek cherry-wood counter with a glass top separated the shop from the workshop. Harry longed to reach out and open one of the fancy boxes to see what they hid inside, but the aura of subdued elegance and quiet expense told him that that would most likely result in him further alienating the Gamekeeper and possibly getting told to wait outside. Harry was too curious to see more of this place to risk being sent outside.
An old man in crisp business robes looked at them with pale eyes over the rim of his glasses, smiling politely. "Good afternoon." He squinted up at Hagrid. "Hogwarts' business, I presume." He gave Harry's dripping ice-cream cone a stern look. "None of that, young man."
With a swish and flick of his wand the shopkeeper banished the remnants of Harry's treat, leaving his hand empty and his fingers clean.
"Now that that's been taken care of, what brings you here, one day into the school term?"
Harry fidgeted under the intense stare of the old man, feeling judged and found wanting.
"Dumbledore sent us. Harry here has no wand." Hagrid cut in, looking sheepish. "S'ppose you still got a few of them used ones in the back?"
Ollivander's demeanour changed from polite interest to barely hidden annoyance. "Very well then." He turned around, disappearing into the back of the shop. A few minutes later he returned with a dusty box, held together with a piece of string. He set it on the counter with a thud, wiping his hands on his robe. "Be quick, I don't have all day."
He undid the string and peeled back the cardboard, soft with age and damp storage. Then Ollivander pulled out four cloth-wrapped bundles of wands, putting them on the glass counter. "Got sorted into Slytherin, I see. Let's try these first then." He opened the bundle held together with a green ribbon. "Pick one up, boy and let's see what it does."
Harry tentatively reached out and chose a slender honey-coloured wand.
"European Maple with a dragon-hide core." Ollivander explained, sounding rather pleased with himself. "Belonged to old Eloise Humphrey. Good woman, a bit too fond of cats, if I may say so."
Harry nodded, wondering who that woman was and, more importantly, what he was supposed to do with the wand.
"Not for you, I see." Ollivander shook his head and snatched the wand from Harry, handing him a different one. "Rosewood with a unicorn hair core, very delicate. Give it a wave, boy."
Harry expectantly mimicked the motion he had learned today in Charms, mouthing 'Wingardium leviosa'. Nothing flew, or even did so much as hover. Disappointed he put the wand down.
Oak, teak and walnut wands were picked up, tried without success and placed back on the cloth.
"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere." Ollivander rolled up the bundle of Slytherin wands, tying it up with the green velvety ribbon.
Neither the Ravenclaw nor the Hufflepuff bundle of wands held a match for Harry, who grew more and more nervous with each failure. He was starting to think this was all part of some elaborate joke on the wandsmaker's part.
"My, my. Could it be?" Ollivander gave him a look that reminded Harry of Aunt Petunia studying a rather interesting but disgusting beetle on her precious roses. "A Slytherin with a Gryffindor wand…"
The first four wands continued to show no result and it looked like Ollivander was bound to be disappointed, yet when Harry's hand closed around a pale slender wand he instantly felt that this one would be different. Warmth crept through his fingers and up his hand and a multitude of stars erupted from the tip of the wand, a long overdue firework of victory.
Hagrid, who had fallen asleep on the visitor's chair, startled awake. "Congratulations, Harry. Yeh did it!"
"Well, well, well, how curious." Ollivander's whole demeanour changed. He reached out and caught Harry's chin in his hand, studying him intently before Harry could struggle free. Ollivander chuckled.
"Willow with dragon heartstring core. Hidden strength but flexible and strong at heart." The wandmaker rubbed his hands. "Belonged to the late Diocletian Vector, good man with numbers he was, a tad too fond of salty liquorice but who am I to judge …" He looked at Harry and stopped, fixing him with his pale stare. "The wand chooses the wizard, young man. Never forget that."
The unease Mr Ollivander's stare and his clammy touch had given him increased and he was glad when the wandmaker turned away to collect 2 Galleons and three knuts from Hagrid.
The shop was dark and empty when they left it and the sense of unease did not leave Harry till they had nearly walked back to the Leaky Cauldron.
Harry stumbled into the Slytherin common room, arms full with bags from his shopping trip with Hagrid.
Under the great underwater skylight, around a small wooden table, sat Severus playing chess with that blond prat from breakfast. A mermaid was watching from above. Severus sat hunched over, his hair obscuring his face, oblivious to the world around him as he planned his next move. Malfoy had his long legs stretched out in front of him, the picture of casual elegance.
Severus ordered his knight to G twelve, capturing Malfoy's rook. He looked up from the board, caught sight of Harry and waved at him.
"Heya Harry, where have you been all afternoon?"
"Diagon Alley, needed school supplies." Harry shifted the bags in his arms. "You going to dinner soon?"
"Sure. After I finish off Malfoy." Severus grinned at the older boy. "It won't be long."
"Sure of yourself, aren't you, Snape?" But there was no sting to Malfoy's words.
"I'll be right back, give me a sec to put it all away."
Kneeling on the floor in front of his school-issued trunk, Harry carefully put away his new clothes. He ran a hand over the smooth surface of his new robes. Even though most of them were second hand, these were the nicest clothes he had ever owned. He shuddered in memory at the grey sack-like things Aunt Petunia had been cooking up for him just before he left.
Aunt Petunia. Harry stopped, his hand poised in mid-air. He tried to focus on what had happened, on how he had ended up here, but no matter how hard he tried, everything before the train station was a haze, with only a few specks of clarity in between. The last thing he remembered …
"I am starving." Severus flopped down on his stomach on Harry's bed, looking over the edge at him. "Are those new?" A hint of jealousy in his voice. "Why didn't you have clothes when you got here?"
Harry put the shirt he was holding down and closed the lid, not sure how to put the whole mess into words.
"Didn't want me to come." He sat cross-legged on the floor, looking up at Severus. "When I first got my letter, they tore it up."
Severus nodded. "My Da was none too pleased about me going, either." He grimaced. "But my mum put her foot down, for once. What did your parents say?"
Harry inspected his fingernails. "They're dead. Died in a car crash when I was little. I live with my Aunt and Uncle."
Severus gave him an inquisitive glance. "Are they Muggles?"
"What are Muggles?" Harry asked.
"People who can't do magic. Da's a Muggle, mum's a witch. He doesn't like magic much."
"Hah. That's them alright." Harry pushed his glasses back up his nose.
After a while Severus sat up giving him a tight smile. "What are they like?" His voice hushed, barely audible.
"They don't like me much." Harry looked at his shoes. "Yours?"
"They don't even like each other."
Silence fell and settled on them like a thick hot blanket. After a few minutes Severus got up and started rummaging in his trunk. He pulled out a battered leather pouch.
"Any good at Gobstones?" He raised a challenging eyebrow at Harry.
"Don't know. What is it?"
Severus grinned at him, extending a hand. "The best game in the world!"
He pulled Harry off the floor. "Let's go to dinner."
Harry's stomach rumbled. "Sounds good."
Severus put an arm around Harry's shoulder. "It's easy, all you gotta do is knock them seven Gobbers out of the hole before I do…"
To be continued in chapter 4
That night Harry dreamt of a tall boy with carrot-red hair and getting sorted into Gryffindor. He woke with a headache.
"Time for breakfast. You're late." Severus was, again, kicking his bed. "Don't think I'll wait for you."
Harry yawned at him, not bothering to cover his mouth and padded over to the bathroom to wash up.
Despite his threat to go to breakfast without him, when Harry got back Severus sat on the edge of Harry's bed, his arms folded in front of his chest.
"Aren't we a ray of sunshine this morning?" Severus mocked, but he waited patiently as Harry packed his supplies for their first class.
Taking a bite from his bacon sandwich, Harry chewed with relish, reaching for his pumpkin juice. And nearly spewed it across the table.
"What is this … stuff."
Severus took the glass from him, sniffing it carefully. He surreptitiously searched the room for Potter and Black, but they were nowhere to be found. "Smells fine to me."
"Foul is what it is." Harry grumped, taking a big bite of his sandwich, wishing he could erase that slimy taste from his memory.
"Have some tea, then." Severus pushed the pot over and went back to wolfing down his eggs.
"What is that smell?" Harry sniffed the air.
"I have no idea. Washed your socks lately?"
"Hah, bloody hah."
A small paper crane landed on the table right in front of Severus' plate enveloping them in the foulest stench they had ever smelled. As soon as it hit the table it unfolded. Bold letters read: YOU STINK SNIVELLUS!
Harry twirled his wand between his fingers, enjoying the feel of the magic flowing through it. Severus was, again, scribbling in the margins of some book, bent over so far that his fringe nearly touched the page.
"You need glasses." Harry teased him. "And there's ink on your nose."
"Do not." Severus didn't even look up. "And this is a pencil."
Professor McGonagall entered the room in a flurry of tartan robes. She strode to the teacher's desk, turned around and addressed the class with a stern glare over the rim of her spectacles.
"Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she said. "Anyone messing…Mr Potter, pray tell, what is so amusing?"
"I was just wondering, Professor, what that funny smell was? Smells like rat."
Several other students started giggling.
McGonagall flicked her wand and the room filled with the pungent smell of fresh cut pine.
"Since that has been cleared… Now, where was I… there will be no messing around in my class." She fixed Potter with a disapproving stare. "You have been warned."
"Let's begin with the roll call." With a snap of her wrist she unfolded the roll sheet. "Atmore?"
Harry listened to her call out the names of his classmates, waiting for his to come up. McGongall went from Atmore to Catchlove and on to Evans. Harry sighed. When she was done he raised his hand.
"Professor? I'm not on the list."
"Again?" McGonagall huffed in annoyance. "Never mind. We will see to that after class."
Harry was sure he heard a sneezed 'freak' from somewhere at the back of the class. He had a good idea who from, too. He stared at the top of his table, feeling every eye on him and hating it. "Yes, Professor." He replied dutifully.
"The topic of this class is transfiguration. Now I am sure that most of you are not quite clear on what this entails. Watch!" She changed her desk into a pig and back again.
There was impressed aw and oohing from the students, who shifted in their seats in anticipation. Yet anyone counting on changing furniture into animals in the near future was soon to be disappointed. Professor McGonagall picked up a big box of matches from her desk, handing it to Pettigrew. "Hand them out. One per student."
"Today you will, if you pay attention and follow my instruction, learn how to change a match stick into a needle." She held up one and demonstrated. "Like this …"
By the end of the class Harry proudly held up his match stick. If you turned it just so, it sparkled a tiny bit silver.
Severus threw his still rather wooden looking one down in a huff. "This is stupid."
He proceeded to forcefully gather up his things.
Harry, recognizing frustration when he saw it, tried to cheer him up. "Hey, it's flying next. That's going to be fun."
"If you say so…"
"Not so fast, Mr Dursley." McGonagall looked at him from over her spectacles.
"Yes, Professor." Harry, suddenly feeling rather queasy, turned around and walked over to his teacher.
"Oh, no need for that kind of face, Mr Dursley." McGonagall gave him a tight little smile. "The Headmaster would like to talk to you after lunch hour. In his office."
Harry nodded, still looking at her expectantly.
"That is all, Mr Dursley." She rubbed the bridge of her nose and made a shooing gesture. "Don't be late for Professor Vogel's class."
She didn't have to tell him twice. Harry grabbed his bag and ran more than walked after his classmates.
Harry was nearly quivering with excitement when Professor Vogel handed out the broom sticks. He was going to fly.
He was about to nudge Severus, who was standing rather rigidly, looking a tad green.
"Yes. Why should I not be?" Severus hissed.
Lily put a soothing arm around his shoulder. "Sev?"
"Awww ickle Snivellus is afraid." Potter taunted and continued in an irritating sing song voice. "Snivellus is afraaaaaid."
"Shall we floo your mommy and ask her for training wheels?" Black chimed in.
"Shut it, you tit."
"Who are you calling a tit?"
"Gentleman." The broad figure of Professor Vogel loomed over them. "Is there a problem?"
There was a chorus of shaking heads.
"No, Professor, just …" Black looked slyly at the teacher. "We were just assuring Snape that there is nothing to be afraid off."
Vogel put a big callused hand on Severus' shoulder, who was glaring daggers at Black. "Don't worry me lad, we will have you up and flying before you notice."
"Okay, let's get started." Professor Vogel clapped his hands in a cheerful manner and turned towards the class. "Put your right hand over the broom and say up."
As soon as Harry said it he felt the broom smack into his hand, the magic flowing through him; knew that this was something he was born for. He waited impatiently for the teacher to let them have a go, to soar off from the ground into the sky. Harry wanted it so much he could taste it.
Lily did not seem to have any problems with her broom, but Severus', even though it smacked into his hand at first try, bucked and bent wilfully in his grasp.
Harry gave Potter and Black a scathing glare, sure they had their fingers in this somehow, but they seemed to be occupied with trying to help a brown haired Gryffindor who had trouble getting his broom off the ground.
"That broom does not look alright. Wanna ask Vogel to take a look?" Harry held out his hand for Severus' broom, concern in his voice.
"NO!" Severus snatched the broom away, his voice low and dangerous. "I don't need your help, Dursley."
Stung by the use of his last name Harry shrugged. "Fine, suit yourself. See if I care."
Harry turned his back to Severus and the second Professor Vogel told them to gently swing one leg over the handle, Harry was off in the air, climbing higher and higher, stopping only briefly to wave at Professor McGonagall who was standing at the window of her office. Higher and higher he climbed, the air rushing past him, the sun on his skin, Harry felt he could touch the sky. Hogwarts looked tiny from this far above and he could make out the giant squid swimming laps in the lake.
"GET DOWN HERE, NOW! YOU STUPID, STUPID CHILD!" Professor Vogel's amplified voice echoed menacingly.
Harry flew an extra round around the castle, deciding that if he was going to get punished he might as well enjoy it.
Back on the ground he was greeted by the tales of how Severus had fallen off his broom and broken his wrist and got sent to the hospital ward and a rather angry Professor Vogel who doled out a week's worth of detention and a three foot essay on 'why we don't do stupid stunts like this'.
Harry had just sat down, a bowl of rather tasty smelling stew in front of him, when he saw Severus and Lily enter the great hall, Severus' arm in a tidy white sling.
Harry, his mouth full, waved at them, pointing his spoon at the bench beside him. There was what seemed to be a short discussion and, to Harry's surprise, only Severus made his way over, Lily sitting down next to a curly haired girl at the Gryffindor table.
"What's up with her?" Harry asked between mouthfuls of stew.
"Lily?" Snape sat down opposite Harry, reaching for the ladle.
"No, Greta." Something about Severus' attitude today was really rubbing Harry the wrong way. "Of course I mean Lily. Why's she not sitting with us?"
"She is in Gryffindor, of course she can't sit with us." Severus tried to tear up a roll with one hand, then reached for a knife and stabbed it into submission.
"You know, I could have helped you with that." Harry raised an eyebrow at Severus' huffed "I don't need help."
"Fine." Harry reached for one of the bread pieces, dumping it into his stew, narrowly escaping Severus' attempt to stab his hand.
"You still have not answered my question."
Severus' face took on a sullen pout. "She's in Gryffindor, we are Slytherin. What else is there to say?"
"But that's stupid. She's your friend."
"It is tradition." Severus' voice turned to ice, letting no room for arguments.
"Fine. I've to go see the Headmaster." Harry stood up, brushing crumbs off his robes. "Come and find me when you're done being a prat."
The steps of the gargoyle creaked and groaned as they transported him up to the Headmaster's office. Harry ran his hand over the stone, fascinated how something so brittle and hard could move so effortlessly. When he reached the top, the door creaked open and the angry voices spilled out.
Harry recognized three of the four speakers. Professor Dumbledore, his Head of House Slughorn and Professor McGonagall. The fourth voice belonged to an older woman who talked with an unfamiliar accent.
"The boy should be here any minute now."
"Albus, I do not think this is the right thing to do…"
Harry stopped, his hand inches away from pushing the door open. Professor McGonagall sounded vexed. The ungood feeling he had had about this meeting increased tenfold. Were they going to send him away after all?
"Minvera, nothing has been decided yet. Let us first see what Felice can devine."
The Headmaster's voice had an edge to it that made Harry's skin crawl.
"That seems to be the wisest action, and may I say, as his Head of House, I do wish to have some input into the decision making. I cannot believe you left me in the dark this long."
There was no use in delaying it. Harry took a deep breath and pushed the door all the way open. The room fell silent.
"Headmaster, professors, you wanted to see me?" He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, feeling their combined stares weighing him down like lead.
"Ah, Mr Dursley. Do come in." Dumbledore walked over to him, patting him on the back. "This is Professor Kapalaran. She teaches Divination."
A tiny old woman in a sequined blue dress looked at him over the rim of her reading glasses. She sat on her straight backed chair, prim and proper, her white hair hallowing her head in a neat old lady perm.
"Do take a seat, Mr Dursley." She poured and handed him a cup of tea. "And do drink up."
Harry looked at the other professors, who nodded at him in quiet encouragement. The tea was unsweetened and lukewarm with a bitter metallic aftertaste to it. Harry made a face. He was about to ask for sugar, when the cup was snatched out of his hand, Professor Kapalaran bending over it, running a long fingernail through the remains, murmuring to herself.
"Harry, my boy, would you care for a sherbet lemon?"
He did not, not really, but something in the Headmaster's voice, his kindly twinkling eyes, made Harry reach out and take one. He popped it into his mouth and let the sweet tangy flavour spread through his mouth.
Dumbledore had pulled his armchair close and was leaning close to him. "Look at me, Harry…" And then everything went foggy, the Headmaster's voice far away and too close at the same time. Harry tried to squirm but his limbs felt like moving through cotton wool.
"What year is it, Harry?"
His answer was followed by gasps and muffled outcries. Professor McGonagall covered her mouth with her hand as to not make noise.
The Headmaster shushed them with a raised hand. "Now, Harry, I want you to concentrate on your home. Can you do that?"
Harry nodded. He thought about Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, about Dudley and the cupboard under the stairs. He was crying with a bloody knee, reaching out for Aunt Petunia, who turned away from him. He remembered the boiled cabbage smell of Mrs Figg's home and the taste of her ancient chocolate. Once again he felt the pang of jealousy as Dudley opened present after present and he sat, silent and empty handed. Once again he was in his new strange bedroom, Dudley's second best bedroom, wishing … what was he wishing again?
Harry tried to hold onto that thought, onto any thought, but they became insubstantial, like wisps of smoke, tendrils of the past that he could reach for but that would glide through his fingers like silvery water.
"I will keep those safe for you, my boy." Dumbledore turned away, pulling, tearing at Harry's mind.
The last thing he heard was the soft sound of the Headmaster's voice: obliviate.
Harry was more than happy to leave the Headmaster's office. His head spun, leaving him with a hot, tight pressure behind his eyes, as if he had not slept for days.
He spit out the last of the sherbet lemon Dumbledore had forced on him, the sweetness making him nauseous.
The sun was bright outside and a soft breeze blew ripples over the lake, and suddenly Harry had the strong desire to be anywhere else but in the stuffy underground dorms and gloomy corridors.
He blinked when he stepped outside, taking a few minutes to adjust to the Scottish autumn afternoon. Harry walked the grounds a bit, exploring and revelling in some of the stranger landmarks. When one of them, an imposing willow tree, took a swipe at him, Harry decided to go down to the lake.
On his way down the well trodden path, Harry saw Potter, Black and Pettigrew in the distance. He considered stepping off the path to avoid the idiots, but that turned out to be unnecessary. None of them paid him any heed, on the contrary, they seemed to be in rather a hurry. Harry snickered. Black was spewing soapy bubbles with every breath.
Harry walked along the stony shore, back towards the castle, enjoying the cool breeze coming from the water. When he turned a corner and suddenly found himself in a little clearing, facing a rather enraged Lily.
She was standing in front of a rock, stomping her foot.
"Reparo!" she angrily flicked her wand at something on the rock. "Reparo! Damn it!"
"Can I help?" Harry carefully approached her.
"What do you want, you shit?" She twirled around, her wand inches from his nose.
"Hey!" Harry swallowed hard. "What did I do?"
"Oh, sorry." She stepped back, lowering her wand, sounding tired. "I thought you were Potter."
"What happened? Are you okay?" Harry gestured towards the boulder. "What broke?"
"They broke Sev's nan's gobstones." She sat down heavily on the small patch of sand between the rocks. "We were playing," Lily pointed towards a small hole in the sand. "… and then that toerag," she slammed her fist on the ground, eyes silver with tears and anger, "and his stupid friends came by and ruined it. Rotters."
"Where is Severus?"
Lily shrugged. "I don't know. He stormed off." She gave Harry a long-suffering look. "You know how he gets when he is angry…"
Harry nodded. He had not known Severus for much longer than a few days but even after that short amount of time he had seen him stomp off or lash out in a fit of temper more than once.
"Anything I can do to help?" Harry offered, even though he had been annoyed at Severus earlier but, well, he was still his friend.
"You can try to reparo this." Lily gestured towards the broken pieces on the stone. "I've not been having much luck."
"It's reparo and then a flick like this?" Harry mimicked the motion with his wand.
"A bit more flick in the wrist, but basically, yes." Lily nodded.
Harry took a deep breath, aimed and yelled. "REPARO!"
The gobstone pieces hovered, twisting and turning, trying to fit together. Then with a noise like a sigh, they sank back onto the stone, still broken.
"See!" Lily covered her face with her hands. "Told ya. It's no use."
"Let me try again." Harry was not going to give up that fast.
"I've been trying for more than ten minutes." She huffed and stood up. "Go ahead. It's no bloody use I'm telling you."
Harry watched her stalk off towards the castle, shrugged, started picking up the pieces.
His Charms book propped up against a stack of Quidditch magazines he had found on a shelf in the common room, Harry reread the passage about the Reparo charm again. For the twentieth time. It was doing nothing for his temper. He let out a grunt of frustration.
"Reparo!" He tried to mimic the book's instruction. Yet, despite his best efforts, in front of him, on a roll of parchment, were the still shattered gobstones.
"What happened to my idiot cousin?" An older blonde girl with a haughty expression demanded to know.
"Who's your cousin?" Harry stopped practicing the wand movement from the diagram, looking up at her.
"Sirius Black." She rolled her eyes at him as if he should know. "Nice Scourgify by the way." She casually leaned against the table, picking up a gobstone shard, turning it between her fingers, studying it.
"Give that back." Harry snatched the piece of glass from her. "I'm trying to repair that."
"So, do you know or not?" She twirled a blonde lock between her fingers. "I've seen you two fight with him before. It was Snape, wasn't it?"
"Fine. Will you leave me be if I tell you what happened?" Harry looked directly at her, trying not to lose his temper.
She leaned in closer, clearly amused. "Aren't we prickly today?" She snatched the book from the table. "Oh, ickle second year stuff." She made a dismissive sound and put it back down, looking just like the cat that had eaten the proverbial canary. "I, Dursley, will do even more than that. I will help you with those." She gestured at the gobstones.
Harry tilted his head at her, not quite sure what she would get out of all of this. Then he took a deep breath. "Lily and Severus were playing gobstones at the lake."
"Lily? Severus?" Her brow wrinkled for a second. "Oh, you mean Snape and that red-haired Gryffindor."
"Yes." Harry huffed, annoyed at the interruption. "As I said, Lily and Severus were playing gobstones. Potter, Pettigrew and your prat of a cousin came and started a fight." Harry pointed at the broken game pieces. "They broke these and Severus hexed Black."
The girl giggled. "I heard Pomfrey say he'd be leaving a soapy trail for another couple of hours."
"Good." Harry was feeling slightly less annoyed at her for sharing this gossip with him. Black had it coming. "You said you can help me fix those?"
"I keep my promises." She reached for her wand. "Watch!" With a delicate flick and Reparo the pieces joined together, forming three swirly blue gobstones that looked like they had never been broken. "Not that hard is it?"
"Bella!" She pushed herself off the table, waving at a dark haired girl who had just entered the room. "Guess who's blowing bubbles in the infirmary?"
Harry picked up one of the gobstones and held it against the light. It sparkled and flashed, the tiny swirls and bubbles catching and reflecting the light, sending it in multicoloured rays all over the room.
They were beautiful, but more than for their beauty, Harry yearned for a connection to his past. Sure there had been photographs of Aunt Petunia's parents, black and white and out of reach, looking aloof and distant in their Sunday clothes, but nothing, not even a family picture, remained of his mum. He did not even know what she had looked like.
He pocketed the gobstones and went to find Severus.
He found him lying face down on his bed, his feet dangling over the edge. His hands were bunched up in the blanket, which he had securely pulled up over his head with only a few strands of tangled black hair visible, stark against the white sheet visible. He hadn't bothered undressing.
Harry sat down on the edge of Severus' bed, the mattress dipping under his weight.
"Go away!" Severus' voice sounded muffled with tears and blanket.
"I have something to show you." Harry rummaged in his pocket for the gobstones. "I met Lily at the lake."
Severus peeled himself partly out of his cocoon, his face red and blotchy with angry red tear tracks running like rivers of rage down his sallow cheeks. His voice was scathing.
"What did she tell you?" He glared daggers at Harry. I don't want your pity."
Harry, by now rather used to Severus' posturing, didn't bat an eye.
"So, does that mean you don't want these either?" He grinned and held out the gobstones for Severus to inspect.
Severus made a grab for them, sitting up so that he could get a better view. "Where did you get these? I thought they were … " He swallowed hard.
"Lily and I picked up the pieces." Harry explained "And, you know the blond prat you play chess with?"
"Malfoy." Severus nodded, not being able to take his eyes of the game pieces, fearing they would crack and fall apart if he looked away.
"His girlfriend, well she's Black's cousin and she said he was an idiot and helped me repair them." Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Oh and she thinks your mouth-soaping hex is brilliant."
"Really?" Severus gave him a tentative smile. "And…" He ran one caressing thumb over the gobstones on his palm. "Thank you."
Harry gave him a gentle nudge with his elbow. "Hey, that's what friends are for."
The weather changed abruptly in the Scottish Highlands and with rain and a cold wind blowing in from the North, the students were confined to the common rooms and hallways of the castle.
The change of weather, bringing with it the first tendrils of the long harsh winter to come, set something else in stone. Friends were found and lost, grudges born and set to fester. The events of the past week, big and small, seemed to have defined their places at Hogwarts.
When Harry saw Lupin, the boy he had accidentally run into on his way to class on the first day, bent over a book in the library Harry waved at him. Lupin slumped down even further, ignoring him and when Harry made to sit nearby, grabbed his books and left.
The period of grace was over.
Days turned into weeks and excitement into routine.
The wind was howling around the castle like a ferocious autumn beast, shaking the trees in the Forbidden Forest, rattling the windows in the great hall and turning the lake into a mucky frothy bowl of waterweed and mud.
Harry looked up into the Slytherin common room skylight and wondered, not for the first time, how much battering the magic could withstand.
He had just dotted the last 'i' on his three-foot essay on 'Why throwing my wand in frustration and thereby turning Melinda Horton partially into a pin-cushion is a bad idea," when Severus stormed in, dripping from head to toe with yellowish-green slime.
He slammed the door, green droplets of ooze flying everywhere and made directly for the dorms.
"Watch it, Snape." Older students and classmates edged out of aim. Some giggled, heads bending together, delighted with this opportunity for gossip, which would break the monotony of the afternoon.
Harry rolled up his parchment and stuffed it into his bag. He would take it to Professor McGonagall's office before dinner: he had intended for Severus to read it over before handing it in, but that would have to wait. He grabbed his bag and ran after his friend.
When Harry reached the dorm room it was empty. Harry put his bag down at the end of his bed and went to look in the showers. The first years' bathroom was gloomy, the sconces in the walls unlit. There was a muffled sob from the far end of the room.
"Severus?" Harry approached slowly, knowing how touchy his friend could be when upset.
"Go away." A stinging hex bounced off the tiles and hit the one of the mirrors on the opposite wall. It cursed them loudly screaming about defacing and breaking of school property.
"Severus, tell me what happened." Harry sat down on the tiled floor waiting.
The sound of dripping water echoed loud in the silence.
"I hate them."
"I know. I do too." Harry got up on his knees, inching closer.
Severus sat, his spindly arms defensively around his legs, in the shower stall furthest from the door. He was still dripping slime, his eyes red from silent tears. He looked up at Harry, impotent anger in his eyes. "Why is it always me?"
Not knowing what to answer to that, Harry shrugged. Then he had an idea.
"Severus, get cleaned up. I have to show you something. We're going to get even!"
Madame Pince gave them the evil eye when they stumbled into the library, out of breath and in high spirits. She raised her index-finger to her lips and made a shushing sound.
They tiptoed over to the card catalogue's long rows of polished wooden boxes.
"You go look under Viridian." Harry pushed Severus over to the other end of the alphabet. "I'm going to see if I can find something under curses."
Severus pushed him back and hissed: "Don't push me, you tit." But he went and opened the drawer labelled U-V and ran his fingers through the cards, pulled one out only to push it back in with a sigh. He stepped over to Harry, whispering. "Nothing there. Not even close. Got any more luck?"
Harry shook his head. "Kinda, but not really." He pulled out "Curses and Defensive Hexes" by Maleficent Brown. "This sounds exactly like what we need." Harry shielded the card with his hand, letting only Severus see it.
"Awesome, let's get that one." Severus vibrated with anticipation of getting one over on Potter, Black and that toady of theirs that seemed to tag along these days.
"Can't." Harry sounded resigned.
"What do you mean by can't? Explain it to me as if you're stupid."
"Ha, bloody ha." Harry elbowed him and pointed to the little red RS in the lower right corner. "Restricted section. We'd need a pass."
They looked at the tiny yellowing card and its red lettering that held them back so close to victory. Harry shoved it back into the catalogue and put an arm around his friend.
"We'll figure something out. I am not giving up this easily."
Severus just nodded, but Harry could tell his heart was not in it.
They sat down on one of the long wooden tables that clustered in the centre of the library. Severus rested his head on his hands.
"Why can't anything ever work out?" He balled his hand into a fist.
"Can't what work out?" Lily slipped into the seat next to him giving them a warm smile. "Hiya boys."
"You're brooding, Sev." She turned to Severus, poking him good-naturedly. "What happened?"
"Nothing." He put his head on the table, his black hair fanning out, hiding his expression, muffling his words. "Absolutely, bloody nothing."
Lily patted his skinny back and Harry felt a pang of jealousy watching them, feeling suddenly out of place.
"What did Potter do this time?" Lily asked.
"How'd you know t'was him? Who told you?" Severus, his head still on the table, turned towards her, glaring up at his friend.
"You just did." Lily gave him a bemused smile. "So?"
"They ambushed me in the Great Hall. I was on my way to the kitchen, Lockhart told me how to open it..." He glared at Harry who was starting to giggle at the mention of Lockhart. "What?"
"Nothing. Only…" Harry started to giggle again. "You sure you want to believe anything that Lockhart says…"
Severus sat up, glaring at them, daring them to contradict him. "He said you can open the kitchen door by tickling the fruit in the painting."
"Tickling the fruit …" Harry looked at Lily who was vibrating with suppressed laughter. They both lost it.
"I was not being had." Severus yelled, kicking back his chair. "Fine. If you think this is so funny…" He turned around and drew himself up to all his skinny height, desperately trying to add gravity to his words. "You will find me in the kitchen."
Severus twirled around in a dramatic flutter of robes and strode off, not deigning to glance back at them.
"Oh, my." Lily blinked the tears out of her eyes. "I think we'd better go after him. I saw the Marauders in the hallway earlier."
"The what?" Harry gathered their scrolls into his bag.
"The Marauders." Lily rolled her eyes. "Potter and his stupid little gang have decreed that us mere mortals are to call them that…"
"Prats." Harry took one look at the approaching Madame Pince and grabbed Lily's arm. "Let's get out of here, I think we riled the dragon."
They caught up with Severus who, pointedly ignoring them, was determinedly tickling a banana. It squealed and gasped and tried to wriggle away from him.
"Don't say it." He gave up on the banana and started tickling the grapes one by one.
"Severus…" Lily tried; he ignored her and reached for the huge green pear.
It giggled and turned into a doorknob.
"You were saying…?" With a smug grin Severus opened the kitchen door and stepped through. Harry and Lily shared a glance.
"He's going to be insufferable for a week." Lily sighed.
"I heard that. Are you coming, or not?" Severus' head reappeared in the hallway. "Quick, before anyone sees us. I am not getting a detention because you lot are dawdling."
The kitchen mimicked the Great Hall with its four long rows of tables and that is where the similarity ended.
The three of them huddled together, taking in the strange creatures. They were about a foot and a half tall, with huge bat-like ears and greenish-gray skin. Some were wearing aprons, others rubber gloves, all of them busy with one food preparation task or another.
Severus gasped and Harry barely suppressed a very undignified squeak.
"What are they?" Harry hissed through clenched teeth, inching closer to Severus and Lily.
"House elves." Severus whispered back, his voice not quite the superior drawl he put on when showing off his knowledge. "I think."
"Are they dangerous?" Lily gave him a wide eyed glance, grabbing his hand. "They look dangerous. That one is wielding a meat-cleaver."
None of them moved. They watched the creatures hustle and bustle around for a bit, not sure what to do next.
"So, we're here now. What's the grand plan?" Lily asked Severus, who shrugged.
"Dunno. Why're you asking me?"
"Because this was your idea, oh Master of the Pear Tickling."
"How about some ice cream?" Harry said, eyeing the bowls on the counter.
Both, Lily and Severus turned to stare at Harry.
"What?" He glared back at them. "This is the kitchen. They have food."
"Well you go and ask." Lily gave him an incredulous look.
"You're the Gryffindor. You do it." Harry snapped back, eyeing the strange creatures with suspicion.
"Sure, let's make the girl do it." She glared at Harry, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
"Fine." Severus drew himself up to his full height. "I'll do it."
He gave them the evil eye. "You owe me big-time!"
Severus stepped forward, near an elf that was ferociously beating custard with a metal whisk.
"Excuse me?" His voice broke and he had to clear his throat to go on. "Severus here…"
"Master Snape, sir." The creature squeaked and flailed, custard flying everywhere. A dab landing on Severus' nose. "What can Mimsy do for Master Snape?"
"Eh." Severus wiped his nose with the sleeve of his robe. "Can you get us some ice cream, Mimsy?"
"With butterscotch sauce!" Harry chimed in.
A few weeks later, Severus and Harry sat cross-legged on the floor of their dormitory, surrounded by fruit- and treacle-tarts.
"Hey, were did you guys get those from?" Morton Pritchard came in from the shower, skin red from the heat, a towel wrapped around his waist. He snatched one of the pastries.
"Say thank you to Uncle Severus and Uncle Harry." Harry prompted.
Pritchard wiggled two fingers at them and threw himself onto his bed. "Seriously. Where did you get them from?"
"Transfigured them from your socks." Severus leaned back against his bed, stretching his legs out in front of him.
"Right, my arse." Pritchard flicked a crumb at them. "You stink at transfiguration. Lots."
"Not as much as your socks." Severus took broke a piece of a cherry-tart, popping it into his mouth.
Pritchard grabbed a sock from under his bed and threw it at them.
Harry drew his wand, trying to transfigure Pritchard's towel into a pin-cushion.
"See. All soft and fuzzy." Pritchard pulled it off, throwing it at Harry.
"You throw like a girl!" Harry ducked the towel and reached for another pastry. "And put on some clothes, you prat."
Pritchard wiggled his naked butt at them as he reached for pyjamas.
"You going home this Christmas?" Fully clothed again he leaned back against his pillow. "My parents are taking me to see great Aunt Medusa in Greece."
"Good for you." Harry groused, dreading Severus' answer. He really did not want to stay here all alone.
"Severus picked at his jumper. "We're with my Da's stupid Muggle family this year."
"You're a Mudblood?" Pritchard looked at him incredulously.
Snape threw a pillow at Pritchard, sounding defensive. "Half-blood. Mum's a witch." He added: "A Prince." As if that meant something.
"My parents are dead." Harry got up and turned his back to them. "I'm going to bed."
Harry woke up on Christmas morning from one of the strangest dreams he had had in a while. He had been in a Hogwarts dorm, together with a red-haired boy and someone had given him an invisibility cloak for a present. As if those even existed.
Harry got out of bed and washed. Christmas had not turned out to be nearly as bad as he had feared. For one thing he was not sent back to his Aunt and Uncle, nor was he left alone in an empty castle.
Quite the contrary. The halls were decorated with garlands of holly and fir, making the whole castle, according to Severus, smell like his Uncle's foot-rub ointment.
The most splendid thing, though, was the giant fir tree in the great hall. Illuminated with thousands of real fairies (Harry had checked), it was even more splendid than the one he had once seen at Harrods.
Festive music filled the air as he made his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Harry snickered and stopped to listen. Someone had tampered with the carolling charm and a suit of armour was merrily singing about farting reindeer.
For the Christmas holidays, since so few students had remained this year, the usual house tables were abandoned, and the teachers' table had been arranged in a circle to accommodate those who stayed in the castle.
Harry chose a seat next to one of the Ravenclaws he knew and sat down. As soon as his hand touched the chair two cheerfully wrapped packages appeared on his plate.
"Brilliant, isn't it?" Howard Marsh wiped some hot cocoa off his mouth. "What did ya get?"
Harry tore at the red and green wrapping paper. It contained a black leather bound diary and a box of Honeydukes' Winter Delights.
Harry opened the book, running his hand over the creamy paper. A small brown card fluttered out, and fell onto the floor.
"Look!" Marsh picked it up and pointed a chocolate-covered finger at the writing. "It's a magical diary. Awesome!"
"Give it here." Harry held out his hand. It read, in gold printed letters:
The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry wishes you a Merry Christmas.
And under it, in Professor Slughorn's ornate handwriting:
The diary is a magical one, once you sign your name on the cover page, only you can read it.
Enjoy the chocolate and have a Merry Yule.
Professor Slughorn, Head of Slytherin House
Harry sat, staring down at his first real Christmas present, reading the card over again, careful to not miss a word.
"You alright, mate?" Marsh nudged him. "My Uncle got me the new version of Exploding Snap. Me and Harkiss are going to play later, wanna join?"
Harry put his presents on the seat next to him and beamed at Marsh. "Sure."
Harry was lying on his bed, quill in hand, trying to decide how to appropriately start the first entry in his new diary. He chewed on his quill and had just started, in his best Sunday school writing, to put down the date in the upper right corner when the door slammed open and Severus came in dragging his battered suitcase.
He flopped face down on his bed, burying his head under the pillow.
Harry put down his diary and waited till Severus had stopped hitting the mattress.
"You done or shall I help you finish that pillow off?"
Severus resurfaced and glared at him. "Guess who I met in the hallway?"
"Bastards." Harry pulled out his box of chocolates from his dresser. "Want one?"
"Where did you get those from?" Severus grabbed the cover, studying the contents list. "Any orange-vanilla truffles left?"
"Which ones are those?" Harry peered over his shoulder. "School gave them to me." He beamed. "And a real fancy diary, too."
"Nice." Severus ogled the chocolates longingly.
"You can have another one, you know." Harry offered. "How was your Christmas?"
"Fine." His tone indicated that it had been anything but.
"That bad?" Harry cringed in sympathy, remembering the Christmases he had had to endure at the Dursleys. Especially when Aunt Marge came to visit.
"No, t'was okay." Severus brightened up a bit as he seemed to remember something. "My mum said to give this to you." He handed Harry a plastic bag with a green ribbon and a bit of tinsel.
"What is it?" Harry pulled at the ribbon, peering into the bag. "Oh, ginger snaps! Thanks, your mum's awesome."
"Yes, yes she is." Severus smiled, his voice taking on an odd tone. "And…" He pulled a grubby piece of paper out of his back pocket and waved it around in front of Harry's face. "We can get even!"
The promised revenge did turn out to be at the end of a rather thick volume called Arithmancy, The Sorcerer's Companion to Magic Numbers and Formulas by Myria LeJean.
"Are you done yet?" Lily looked up impatiently at the big wooden clock at the other end of the library. "You've been at that for hours."
"Five minutes, mum!" Harry didn't even look up from his calculations.
Severus turned another page. "Come on, Lily, look at those tables." He pointed to a particularly interesting-looking one that concerned the elements.
Lily yawned. "This is third year stuff."
"We're first years."
"You saying we're not bright enough for it?" Severus bristled. "I'm way bright enough, I'll have you know."
"I am saying that you're wasting your time with this." She was starting to look rather annoyed. "There're perfectly good spells out there, you're just reinventing the wheel."
"Don't you want to make new ones? Spells that no one but you will know?" Severus sounded rather pleased with the idea.
"What I see is hours of work when we have plenty already." She wagged her finger at him. "Don't tell me you've already finished the Transfiguration homework McGonagall gave us."
"I've already done mine." Harry chimed in, not looking up from his calculations.
"When?" Her tone making it clear that she didn't believe a word he was saying.
"Tonight." Harry deadpanned.
"You two are impossible." Lily huffed, looking longingly out the window at the clear blue winter sky. "If we're wasting our time, can't we at least do something fun?"
"Like what?" Severus inquired.
"Horton said they're building a snow-fort near the Whomping Willow." Lily grinned. "Bet ya I can take you both in a snowball fight!"
"Me thinks," Harry turned to Severus, putting on a fake posh accent, "I hear the sound of Gryffindor bragging."
"Me thinks, someone is a chicken." She went on to make a clucking sound, mocking him. "I can take you both with my little finger."
Severus bowed towards Lily, pretending to brandish a glove. "You are so on. Meet you by the fort in ten."
Rain was dripping off his nose and down the front of his robe.
The view from above the Entrance Hall was actually quite nice. Winter with its early evenings and howling snowstorms had given way to spring. The snow was slowly melting under the endless drizzle, and, among patches of white, green grass and spring flowers poked their heads out of the earth.
Sadly the wind was still carrying the bite of winter. Harry shivered. Part of him wished it still were winter, so that he would just be cold, and less wet. He tried to wiggle his toes.
He would get them for this. Sneaking up on him like that. Three against one, bastards. Even though that stupid monkey hex Severus and he had come up with had worked a treat. Pettigrew and Lupin would be making ook-noises for at least another hour.
Now, if just someone would just get him off this bloody wall.
Harry tried wiggling his toes again.
"So, this is it, then?" Severus sat on his bed, his packed suitcase on the floor beside him.
"Yeah, I guess." Harry sat down on the bed next to Severus. "You'll ask your mum, right?"
"Of course." He picked at the battered casing of his luggage.
"Dumbledore said I can stay with Hagrid during the summer." Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Help him and stuff."
The memory of the meeting with Dumbledore was rather fuzzy. When he tried to focus on the details they seem to slip and fade and all that remained was the vague taste of lemon.
"Sounds more fun than my summer." Severus sighed. "Mum says da's factory's running short shifts… again…"
"Hey, at least your Da'll be around more." Harry tried to sound cheerful.
Severus hung his head. "Exactly."
Hogwarts towered, deserted and distorted in the heat of the summer holidays, a hazy shadow in the distance. The cool waves of the evening breeze rustled the reeds and splashed water onto Harry's face. He wiggled his feet a little, stretching his arms out, floating dead man style in the lake. In the distance he could hear the Whomping Willow good-naturedly thumping the ground. White puffy clouds flew by in the azure sky. One of them looked like a bunny.
His days followed a simple pattern. In the morning, he'd learned to get up early to prevent Hagrid from getting anywhere near the stove or food preparation of any kind, Harry cooked breakfast. There would not be a repeat of the scones.
Usually they would sit and Hagrid would tell him about the chores they would do that day around the castle. Hagrid would read the Prophet and hand page after page on to Harry when he was done.
Afternoons were usually his to do with as he pleased. He'd explored a fair amount of the castle grounds and the lake and even a bit of the forest.
In the evening, by the glow of the huge lantern that suspended from the middle of the roof right above the kitchen table, Harry would do his summer assignments and work on the arithmancy for their newest spell.
At night he slept on Hagrid's armchair, which, to be fair was nearly as big as his bed in the dorms.
Harry had to admit, staying with the Gamekeeper was not what he had thought his summer holidays would be like. Not that he complained. He'd never had a better summer in his life.
Harry was frying bacon in a big black cast-iron frying pan over the open hearth fire, when Hagrid came in, his beard dripping water, toothpaste staining his unruly beard.
"Morning Harry. Yeh slept well?"
"I slept great." Harry put the pan onto the kitchen table and started roasting the bread. "Can you get some tomatoes from the garden?"
"Yeh know, I'm going to miss yeh cooking." Hagrid gave him a good natured pat on the back and went to collect the asked for vegetables.
When Hagrid got back, Harry had the tea ready and was layering crispy bacon onto the fried bread. Hagrid washed and cut the tomatoes, handing the slices to Harry.
"Oh, I nearly forgot. There's a letter for yeh." Hagrid wiped his hands on his legs and pulled out a folded piece of parchment from one of the pockets in his coat.
Harry grabbed it from him, unfolding it eagerly. "Severus' mum says I can visit them for my birthday."
"Awfully nice of her, that is." Hagrid wolfed down one half of his bacon sandwich. "When's that?"
"July thirty-first." Harry did not take his eyes of his letter, running his fingers over the paper, as if looking away would make it disappear.
"Blimey Harry, that's next week. We got an awful lot of things to do before then." Hagrid poured himself another cup of tea.
"What kind of things?" Harry's palms were suddenly sweaty. Would he not be allowed to go if the chores were not done?
"Well, there's the rose beds, those need fertilizing. Got some real good dragon dung in from the preserve. And you'll need books again and robes and…" He looked Harry up and down. "Trousers that fit proper. A nice shirt, too. Can't have Snape's mum thinking we ain't taking good care of ya, can we?"
Harry beamed and threw himself at Hagrid, burying his face Hagrid's beard. "Thank you."
Hagrid ruffled his hair. "Yer a good boy."
Later that morning Harry found himself knee deep in shit. Literally.
Hagrid, a clothes peg on his nose, had rolled in an enormous wheelbarrow full of dragon dung and parked it smack in the middle of the roses.
"It needs to be about yea high." Hagrid indicated roughly an inch with his thumb and forefinger. "And make sure it forms a nice little mound around the stem."
Harry sighed, his good mood plummeting fast. "Yes, Aunt Petunia."
"Yeh not afraid to get yeh hands dirty, are yeh?" Hagrid's tone of voice clearly indicated what he thought of that. "Bit a' muck is good for the character."
"Don't mind the muck." Harry grumbled. "Just don't like roses." He grabbed a shovel and started to work.
Given, it was better than pruning Aunt Petunia's prize roses, and working next to Hagrid who was happily chatting along was actually kind of fun, it was still, when you got down to it, muck.
Harry was glad when, by lunchtime, Hagrid declared the roses to be sufficiently covered in dragon dung and they sat in the shade to have lunch.
His afternoon swim had never felt better, even though he was sure he could smell dragon dung in his hair and clothes for days after.
A few days later Mrs Snape owled Hagrid, telling him she would pick Harry up in two days, at the Hogwarts gate at noon.
Hagrid took him shopping the next day. This year's trip was shorter and they got back, even with Hagrid's obligatory stop at the Leaky Cauldron, in full daylight. When they had put away all of the bags and boxes Hagrid pulled Harry aside and handed him a pen knife.
"Yeh see those dahlias and asters next to my pumpkins?"
"There should be some freesias, too and maybe a couple of late bells of Ireland. See what yeh can find, but stay away from the foxglove, that one's poisonous. Yeh hear me."
"Yes." Harry gave him a puzzled look. "What do you want me to do with them?"
"Cut a nice bouquet for Mrs Snape." Hagrid shock his head at him. "Tis only polite, after she was so nice to invite yeh over."
His cheeks flaming Harry pocketed the pen knife and slouched over to cut the biggest, prettiest bunch of flowers he could find.
The next morning Hagrid made him heat water in the big iron kettle over the fire and insisted that he had a proper bath, with soap and all. And that he better not be forgetting to wash behind his ears, there'd be checking.
By midmorning, when it was time to go Harry was a nervous wreck. He'd tried, for the fiftieth time to smooth down his hair, but it just would not stay put and the new clothes made him feel tense and slightly unreal.
"What if they don't like me" Harry hurried to keep up with the Gamekeeper's huge steps. "What if I do something stupid?"
Hagrid stopped and grabbed Harry's shoulders between his huge hands. "Yer going to be alright, lad. Stop fretting, yeh making me all itchy."
Harry nodded and held tighter onto his flowers.
Mrs Snape waited, as she had promised, in front of the gate. She was wearing a knit skirt and a white blouse and the same sensible shoes Harry had seen her wear at the train station. Her back was turned to the gate, her eyes looking out onto the lake.
"I'd forgotten how peaceful it is out here." She turned and looked Harry up and down. "You Harry then?" She gave him a small smile. "Severus has been talking about you all week."
Harry held his flowers out like a shield. "These are for you!" He fidgeted.
She took them awkwardly, looking at them as if they were strange and exotic. "Thank you."
Mrs Snape and Hagrid exchanged short greetings and Hagrid handed her Harry's overnight bag.
"I'll be Apparating us from here." She reached for Harry's hand and before he could answer or even nod approval or protest he was sucked through a hole in and spit back out on the cobblestone road at the end of a long row of grimy houses. He bent over and retched.
"Oh my, was that your first time?" Mrs Snape rubbed a soothing hand over his back. "Come on then, it will soon pass. Severus is waiting. That boy's been driving me mad all morning."
A few houses down the street, at the end of the road, a front door was opened and Severus, wearing an oversized blue sweatshirt with a red and white diagonal stripe across the front, came running towards them.
"Mum! Harry?" He waved and skidded to a halt, giving Harry a dubious look, squinting. "Never mind."
"You kinda looked like Potter there."
"Do not." Harry fidgeted, feeling even more out of place in his new clothes than he had before.
"Boys! Severus, why don't you show Harry here your room while I put those lovely flowers into the water?"
Severus led him through a tiny weed-covered front garden into the house.
Stepping inside from the brightness of the day made Harry blink and rub his eyes. They stepped into the living room that could not have been more different and yet similar to the one in Privet Drive if it had tried. There were none of the aspiring middle-class knick-knacks to be found. No fancy upholstery, side tables with lush ferns or fancily draped curtains. But both, so far apart in space and social grace, oozed the same slow poison of discontent and long-festering disappointment.
The walls were whitewashed. In front of a boarded up fireplace a threadbare sofa, sagging on the left side, with a low coffee table in front of it. A matching armchair, a tartan blanket thrown over its back, partially blocked the kitchen door.
A wooden bookshelf, near the window, held a few books and the kind of trinkets and memorabilia small children and family add to one's life over time. A snow globe with greetings from Paris sat next to a hand-painted mug and a porcelain angel.
Severus led Harry up the spindly stairs in the back. The wooden stairs creaked and groaned under their weight. The linoleum covering was yellowing and walked down to the threads.
"Sssh." Severus pressed his index finger against his lips. "Da's still sleeping. He's on nightshifts."
Three doors opened from the narrow, dim hallway. Severus, his hand on the first one, stopped and pointed to the door one down, his voice barely above a whisper. "That's the bathroom."
He opened the other door to his bedroom. "Don't use up all the hot water. Makes da mad."
Harry nodded and followed Severus into the room. He closed the door quietly behind them. The room only marginally bigger than his cupboard under the stairs. Harry stood, memories washing over him, filling him with unwanted emotions. He had to swallow hard, shaking his head to free himself of the ghosts.
Severus threw himself onto the narrow bed, making the ancient springs creak and moan, feet dangling over the edge.
"We'll have to share." His voice petulant, daring Harry to say something against that.
"That's fine." Harry put his bag down in the tiny space between bed and wall.
They tiptoed back down the stairs and into the kitchen where Severus' mum was making sandwiches for lunch. She told them that she'd have to go back to work soon.
Mrs Snape put the sandwiches into a bag and ruffled Severus' hair.
"Oh stop squirming." She gave Severus an indulgent smile and winked. "There are ice lollies in the fridge."
Severus grabbed the bag and grinned at her. "Thanks mum!"
Harry chimed into the thank you and let Severus drag him outside. They walked a short way, down the street past identical terraced brick houses to a small playground. The sun was hot and there was little shade to be had. Most houses had the air of neglect around them. Weeds growing in cracks in the walls, peeling paint and missing cobbles. The factory in the distance was puffing white clouds into the blue summer sky. Severus kicked an empty beer bottle.
A stray dog was sleeping in the sandpit, enjoying the warmth. They sat on the swings, feet dangling in the air. Severus opened up the bag and held up a sandwich.
"Cheese and pickles or pickles and cheese?"
Harry kicked off his swing, reaching for the sandwich. "I think I'll have pickles and cheese, Jeeves."
"You'd better catch, milord, or it is cheese, pickles and sand."
Harry kicked off hard, his feet high up in the air. "I like this place." He took a bite from his sandwich. "No stupid Dudley or his stupid friends."
"My cousin. I lived with them after my parents died. He's like Potter." Harry stuffed the last of his sandwich into his mouth. "Do I really look like him?"
"Nae, not really." Severus ruffled the air above his head. "Only the hair." He stuck out his tongue at Harry and pushed off the swing. "And the brains."
Harry caught up with him by the house and punched him in the arm. They snuck inside, tiptoeing to the kitchen. A huge note in red ink was stuck to the fridge door:
ONE ice lolly, each.
Are we clear, Severus Tobias?
Upstairs a door opened and the floorboards creaked. Severus' eyes went wide with panic. He quickly opened the fridge and tossed an orange-flavoured ice lolly at Harry.
"Come on then." He grabbed Harry's hand and dragged him back outside, down the street and towards the river.
Later, they were lying in a little bend in the river, reeds shielding them from view, Severus turned over and looked at Harry, staring at him with that too intense gaze of his.
"Glad you came." He picked up a piece of straw and chewed on it. "It gets lonely."
"Where's Lily?" Harry looked up into the sky, watching the swallows rise and dive to chase flies just inches above the water.
"Her parents don't like her coming." Severus picked up a pebble and tossed it into the water, its little circles quickly swallowed by the waves. "Wrong sort living here, they say."
Harry propped his head up against an old tire. "That's rubbish."
When they got back, Severus' dad had gone to work and his mum was not back yet. They sat on the back steps and played gobstones around a hole in the ground that Severus had made by dragging his heel through the gravel.
His mum came back a bit after sunset. Dinner was eggs and beans on toast that they ate in the kitchen, listening to the wireless.
That night Harry dreamt that he was locked in the second biggest bedroom at Privet Drive and that a flying car full of red-haired children came to rescue him. They tied a rope around the bars in front of his window and pulled. He woke up when they hit the ground with a bang.
Severus was lying next to him, wide awake, staring at the ceiling.
There was another crash, the sound of something breaking followed by yelling. Harry sat up, but a hand on his arm held him back.
Harry woke again to the smell of frying bacon. The bed was empty but he could hear the water running in the adjacent bathroom.
Mrs Snape was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea. Mr Snape, who was wearing a cheerfully striped red and white apron, frying eggs and sausages on the cooker. Harry noted with amusement that the nose came through the paternal line.
"Good morning, Harry." Mrs Snape smiled at him through red, tired eyes. "Happy Birthday."
"Good morning, Mrs Snape." Harry smiled back. "Good morning, Mr Snape."
The frying pan was shoved onto the table and a heavy hand clapped him on the back a little too hard.
"Ah, there he is, the birthday boy!" Mr Snape shovelled scrambled eggs on the plates and went to fry the bread. "Hope yeh like a proper fry up."
"Yes, Mr Snape." Harry nodded. "Thank you for having me."
"Ah, nonsense." Mr Snape cut the bread into soldiers. "Come on, then, eat your sausage and eggs. Good lad, that'll put hair on yer chest. Proper men's food that is."
Lily arrived a bit after lunch, carrying a brightly wrapped present and her father's Polaroid camera. Mrs Snape shooed them off to play outside.
"Come on, open it!" Severus urged, leaning close.
Harry beamed at her, touching the bow reverently. "Thank you, Lily. No one's ever …"
"You don't even know what it is."
"Come on, Severus is right. Open it!"
Harry peeled back the wrapping from the box and opened it. Between soft white paper nestled a blue photo album with a white bunny in the lower left corner. Raised letters proudly proclaimed: Friends Forever.
"Smile!" Lily brandished the Polaroid Camera, taking a picture of Harry holding the photo album. "Da even gave me another pack so that we can start right away!"
Harry shoved his present at Severus and hugged Lily. "Thank you. This is awesome."
Mrs Snape then shooed them out and they went, arguing where to take pictures first.
Later that afternoon they sat around the wobbly kitchen table, drinking squash out of plastic cups, when Mr Snape came in, holding one of his wife's scarves.
Before Harry could protest he was blindfolded and everyone in the room started to sing for he's a jolly good fellow.
"You can take the scarf off now, Harry." Mrs Snape prompted.
On a plate, smack in the middle of the table sat a birthday cake with 12 burning candles. It was a bit lopsided, the icing a tad grainy and the candles leaning here and there, but to Harry it was the best cake he had ever seen.
"Come on, Harry!" Lily had the camera ready. "Blow out the candles and make a wish."
Harry closed his eyes, trying to focus on what he wanted most, and with the flash of the camera echoing red through his closed eyes, he realized that he already had it. He warmed himself on the feeling of hope and friendship radiating off the people in this room, nearly not recognizing it for what it was but craving it with every fibre of his being. Harry took a deep breath. I want this to last forever.
They rode the train together back to Hogwarts but this time, there were no boats to ferry them across the lake. Instead the prefects led them to wooden coaches which and bumped and rumbled on a dirt road around the lake, through the gate to the castle.
"How do they move?" Harry tried to look out the window, past the other coaches.
"What do you mean?" Lily looked at him as if he were mad. "The horses of course."
"She means the thestrals." Severus continued looking out the window, over the lake at the castle glowing in the dark.
"Are you two having me on?" Harry glared at his friends. "There's nothing out there pulling those coaches."
"Just because you need to clean those window panes you call glasses…" Lily snapped at him.
"Hogwarts, a History says…" Severus started.
"What's it with you and that book?" Lily threw her arms in the air in exasperation.
"What's it with you and the sniping?" Severus shot back. "I was just explaining …"
"Well some of us can do without you lording it over us that you read a book."
"Maybe you should try it once in a while, then you wouldn't call thestrals horses." Severus snapped, turning back to watching the castle in the distance.
"What's up with you, Lily? You've been in a foul mood ever since we stepped on the train." Harry look straight at her, daring her to lie.
"Big fat nothing." Harry looked over at Severus. "Tell me I'm not making this up."
Severus ignored them, his face a ghostish reflection in the window.
Lily gave him an I-hate-you look. "I had a fight with my sister. She thinks I'm a freak. You happy now?"
Harry sat at the Slytherin table, telling himself that he was glad to be back. Even though next to him Severus was surrounding himself with a wall of petulant silence. Harry pretended to listen to the Sorting Hat sing. Severus was still sulking and had not reacted to any of Harry's attempts to lift his mood. Harry could only take so many mphs and had given up, pretending to listen intently to the Sorting.
When Professor McGonagall called for Regulus Arcturus Black, Harry elbowed Severus.
"Did you hear that?"
"That hurt." Severus put his head back on the table, his hair fanning out around him and sighed dramatically. He raised his hand in the air making mocking cheering gestures. "Ladies and gentlemen, let's all welcome the newest addition to the Marauders. Yip yip Hurray!"
Then the unthinkable happened. The hat bellowed: Slytherin.
Harry and Severus joined into the clapping, revelling in the boos that came from the Gryffindor table.
"Hey, where have you been?" Severus, pawn in hand, looked up from the chess board. Half of Malfoy's game pieces lay slaughtered on Severus' side, his king a few moves from check-mate.
"Nowhere." Harry walked past the little table Severus and Malfoy used to play chess and slammed the door to the dormitory behind him.
"You might want to go after your friend." Lucius looked slyly at Severus. "Let's call it a draw, shall we?"
Severus raised an eyebrow at him. "If you say so, Malfoy." But he tapped his wand against the box and the chess pieces neatly arranged themselves in it. "I can always slaughter you another day."
When Severus entered the room, Harry lay face down on his bed, his shoes kicked off halfway across the room, the curtains of his four-poster nearly drawn shut. Severus pulled them open with a snap and kicked Harry's bed.
"Go away." Harry hid his head under his pillow.
"Tell me what happened?" Severus kicked the bed again.
"Sod off." Harry turned away from him, fumbling for his wand. He found it and spelled the curtains shut again.
Another kick made Harry's bed shake. "Fine, go sulk. See if I care!"
There was a muffled reply from within and then silence with the occasional quiet sob. Severus shrugged, sat down beside his bed, took out his Herbology homework and started working on the required essay on foxgloves.
About halfway through the first scroll Severus noticed that gentle snoring had replaced the sobs. He finished his homework.
Severus woke Harry in time for dinner. Harry blinked at him from the semi-darkness of the enclosed bed, his glasses crooked on his face.
"I swear, Severus, if you kick my bed one more time." Harry yawned. "I will hex your pants on backwards."
"You coming to dinner?" Severus tried to sound casual.
"Guess so." Harry reached for his shoes and put them on.
"You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?" Severus sounded cross.
"You're not going to give up till I do?" Harry sighed and stood up.
Severus just looked at him.
"Fine. I tried out for the Quidditch team." He paused, trying to suppress his emotions. "They told me to get a broom and practice and then I could try again next year." Harry kicked his bed. "Fat lot of good that'll do me. The school brooms are shite."
Severus looked at his own second hand robes, his hands balled to fists, his voice low and dangerous. "Don't you think I know…"
A few weeks later, Harry had barely made it in time to Professor Flitwick's class and sat panting and trying to catch his breath in his seat when Flitwick announced this lesson's topic: Identification Charms.
They were supposed to perform the charm on their partner, and, as Professor Flitwick demonstrated on himself, with a quick swish and flick a hovering semi-translucent scroll appeared in front of him stating his full name and title.
"Now, repeat after me: Agnosco."
The students dutifully chorused and Professor Flitwick was about to demonstrate the hand-wand movement in detail when Sirius Black raised his hand.
"Yes, Mr Black, what is it?"
Severus snickered and whispered at Harry: "Wanna bet he was faffing around and missed the charm command?"
Black, who had obviously heard Severus, glared at him but went on. "How does the charm know it's you?"
"Good question, Mr Black, good question." Flitwick beam down at him from his stack of floating books. "One point to Gryffindor."
The teacher turned to survey the class. "And now, another point for anyone who can answer Mr Black's question!"
Silence reigned in the class, several students looking at their tables, notes and out the window, anywhere but at Professor Flitwick.
"Anyone?" Flitwick prompted.
Severus tentatively raised his hand. There was snickering from the Gryffindor side.
"I don't think it recognizes us, Professor." He started, sounding more than a tad unsure. "But our wands?"
"Brilliant!" Professor Flitwick squeaked and nearly fell over backwards in excitement.
Severus beamed under the attention, sitting up straight when Flitwick went on.
"Very clever. It is indeed as young Snape says. Every wand bought is registered with the Ministry of Magic."
"So..." Potter chimed in and grabbed Lily's wand from the table. "If you did the charm now, I'd be Lily Evans?"
"No you wouldn't, you prat." Lily punched him the arm to get it back then addressed her teacher. "My wand won't work for him, will it?"
"It might work, but not very well and the results are unpredictable." Professor Flitwick clapped his hands. "Well then, we have work to do."
After a few tries most students seemed to get the hang of the charm, translucent scrolls were hovering over almost everyone's head, to the embarrassment of some with rather unfortunate middle names.
Harry looked at the scroll he had managed to charm over Severus' head. "Is Tobias your dad's name?"
"Yes. What of it?" Severus sounded slightly annoyed. "Your turn now. Let me see if I can do this."
Severus flicked and swished his wand the way Professor Flitwick had demonstrated. "Agnosco!"
A scroll appeared over Harry's head, the lettering fading in an out, changing, as if they themselves were not quite sure what was happening and where they should be. The first name that flickered into view was Diocletian Vector, quickly changing to Harry James Potter and back again only to blink once more and settle on Harry Diocletian Vector.
"Bloody hell, what was that?" Severus shook his wand as if that would fix anything.
"Professor!" Pettigrew crowed from a few tables away. "Dursley's scroll is being weird!"
Flitwick, still on his book stack, took out his wand. "Let me see."
He ended Severus' charm with a finite incantatem and cast his own identification charm. This time only one name appeared on the scroll: Harry Diocletian Vector.
"Curios. Hand me that wand of yours, Dursley."
Feeling the combined curiosity of his classmate's stares on him, Harry tried to hide his blush by looking at the floor. He handed over his wand to his Professor and sat back down as quickly as he could.
"Why me?" Harry banged his head against the table.
"Ah, I see where the problem is. We should have this fixed in no time." Flitwick finished casting diagnostic spells on Harry's wand. "This is a second hand wand, is it not?"
Harry, who had not thought that this could get any worse, just nodded. There was snickering and not so hushed whispering.
"Ollivander just didn't reset it right." Flitwick handed the wand back to Harry. "Not to worry, come by after class and I'll fix it for you."
Harry mumbled a 'thank you, Professor' and tried not to die of embarrassment.
"Where've you been?" Severus whined, looking up from his calculations. "You were supposed to help me with this."
"Went to see Flitwick." Harry threw his books onto his bed, flopping down beside them.
"And he can't sodding help me. Said I'd just have to wait till I can buy a new one."
"Shall we be calling you Diocletian now?" Severus raised a teasing eyebrow at him. "We could rename the common bath after you."
"Hah, bloody hah. As if we need more Roman emperors around."
"We certainly need less Muggle names around. Could do with a lot less Jameses and Peters in this region."
"Less Siriuses, too."
The hospital wing was bright and sunny, big windows opening up to the west, bringing in sunshine and air. Severus was staring at the ceiling.
There was only one other patient at this point in time. Frank Longbottom had caught a case of the Dragon Pox and was in a quarantine bubble at the other end of the ward.
Harry stood in the doorway wondering, not for the first time, if everything in this school was built around competition and popularity, and that even being sick was some kind of contest. Longbottom's bed and the area around him spilled over with good cheer. Balloons were tied to the end of his bed, stacks of sweets and fruit declared in bright colours their claims to friendship and camaraderie.
Severus lay alone in front of an empty table, his leg held up by a variety of strings and pulleys, his face as pale as the sheets.
Harry wished he were better at Transfiguration, or at least had remembered to ask someone else. He was considering going back to the dorm to find someone, maybe Malfoy or his girlfriend and see if he could persuade them to transfigure him a couple of balloons, when Severus turned his head and looked directly at him. And smiled.
"Hiya." Harry sat at the edge of Severus' bed. "Heard ya broke your leg."
"Really? No one told me." Severus tried to sit up and grimaced in pain.
"How'd you do it?" Harry offered his hand but Severus stubbornly refused the help.
"Forgot about that disappearing step."
Harry nodded, he had tripped over it more than once himself.
"Can't Pomfrey fix it?" He asked, remembering how fast Severus' broken wrist had been mended.
"It's splintered. She said she had to vanish the pieces and regrow the bone." Severus picked at the bed sheet. "I'll be out of here by tomorrow afternoon."
"Does it hurt much?" Harry looked over to Longbottom, who was happily picking through a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.
"I know what will make it better." Harry grinned and got off the bed. "Stay right where you are!"
"Hah, bloody, hah."
Harry sprinted from the room, nearly colliding with Madame Pomfrey and when he got back, ten minutes or so later, he was carrying a huge bowl of strawberry and lemon curd trifle.
This time Severus let Harry help him sit up in bed, holding his hand out for the spoon. "I think it's hurting a lot less already."
Severus tapped the scroll, picking up the runes with his wand, swirling them into a ball. "Redimio quod partum!"
The spell started to lift off the paper, forming a glowing ball, and then descended into a rain of useless sparks.
"Give me that." Harry snatched the calculations from Severus. "We must have overlooked something."
"Obviously." Severus snatched them back and put them on the table between them.
They both studied the scroll for a bit, trying to find their arithmancy error.
"Look here." Harry pointed at part of the Finite equation. "I think the incantation clashes with the spell base."
They both stared at it for a while, then Severus reached for a piece of scrap paper, rearranging some of the runes.
"What if …" Severus scratched his head. "If we took out the Finite Incantatem?"
"You mean, put in our own?" Harry reached for the Latin dictionary. "What should we put instead?"
"No." Severus smirked at him. "Let's not put one in."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Harry looked at Snape and then back at their calculations. "What if something goes wrong?"
"It won't." Severus chuckled. "Don't tell me it wouldn't be funny that they'd have to go to Pomfrey to get their mouth back."
"What if she can't do it?" Harry looked more and more uneasy, shifting on his seat. "Severus, I really don't think this is a good idea. Let's just put in our own Finite."
Severus made a huffy sound but said nothing.
"Come on." Harry pushed the dictionary towards Severus. "Just think about how cool it'll be when they have to beg us for the Finite."
Harry stood, wrapped in his winter cloak and school scarf, at the Hogwarts train station. Severus, his nose red from the blistering wind, fidgeted. The train whistled for the second time, signalling its upcoming departure.
The wind mussed Severus' hair, blowing it forward so that only his nose was visible. Harry had the urge to tug it behind his ear.
Severus reached into his bag and pulled a folded and sealed piece of paper out of it. He tossed it at Harry.
"Merry Christmas." He grinned at Harry's baffled expression. "No peeking. I'll know!"
He hopped onto the train and waved. The wind roared and blew away Harry's yelled Thank You.
Harry had tried to open the letter the first thing when he got back inside. It had grown teeth and snapped at him.
Now it sat on his dresser, under a spare pillow. Every morning Harry checked that it was still there. Each time he lifted the pillow he had the impression that it was watching him.
Harry woke early on Christmas morning, sat up, rubbed his eyes and reached for the envelope under the pillow. It was gone. He frantically scrambled out of bed, looking on hands and knees, but it was nowhere to be found.
Downtrodden and wracking his memory as to what could have possibly happened to his present he washed and made his way to breakfast. As he sat down, just like the year before, a pile of presents appeared in front of him. And on top, white and glistening, Severus' present.
Harry let out a huge sigh of relief. He snatched the envelope and popped the seal open and pulled out the white card inside. It had one word written on it: Volaticus.
Not wanting to try this new spell at the table, and - knowing Severus - before checking what it actually did, Harry put the card away and continued to unpack his other presents.
The next parcel was from the school, Harry opened it and groaned. Hogwarts, A History. Severus would have a field day with this.
Slughorn had send him another box of chocolates and Harry was dead set on eating all the truffles before Severus returned from the holidays.
The last present was a bit of a puzzler. Cheerful but haphazardly wrapped, it sat there in its oversized glory.
Harry pulled at the bow and took off the lid. On top of a very obviously handmade scarf in green and orange was a card with a snowman on it.
Happy Christmas, Harry
Haven't seen yeh in ages.
Come over for a cuppa when yeh got time!
That evening, when he was alone in their Slytherin dorm room, Harry took out the card with the spell Severus had given him for Christmas. He popped open his Latin dictionary on his bed, running his finger down the list of words.
His finger still on the paper, he started to grin. Harry put the dictionary down, reached for his wand and said quietly: "Volaticus."
Harry felt his feet lift off the ground, rising inch after inch, till he was nearly vertical, floating above his bed. He flapped his arms a bit, making swimming motions, trying to gain momentum when the spell gave out halfway across the room and he crashed back to ground.
Pure dumb luck had him land safely on Pritchard's bed.
His heart beating fast with excitement and adrenalin Harry lay back on the bed, thinking about all the awesome possibilities this spell harboured.
Halfway through breakfast on January 9th Severus was sulking into his porridge. Harry turned towards him and clapped him on the back.
Severus stabbed viciously at his breakfast. "Yeah, whatever."
"Does that mean you don't want your present?" Harry grinned as Severus' head shot up.
"Uh huh!" Harry surreptitiously covered his wand with his napkin. "Watch!"
Harry mouthed a string of Latin, aiming at the Gryffindor table. The Marauders sat, huddled together, whispering over a piece of parchment. Sirius Black reached over the table for another piece of toast and then suddenly stood up and started to sing.
"I'm a little teapot, short and stout…"
Students from all house started to turn and watch in bewildered amusement. Black glared daggers and tried to close his mouth and sit down, fighting a rather comic dance of dominance with his unseen puppet master. Potter put an arm on his friend, saying something but getting no answer.
" … here is my handle …."
Harry whispered the spell again and again. Soon all four of them were singing and dancing, more or less in unison and tune, to the melody of the children's song and the laughter of the student body.
"How'd you do that?" Severus stared in awe at the ridiculous spectacle.
"… here is my spout."
"Shhhh. Not so loud." Harry looked around, hoping no one had heard. "It's the carolling charm that Flitwick uses on the suits at Christmas." Harry snickered. "With a few little tweaks and adjustments."
There was a commotion at the teachers' table and a rather furious McGonagall got up and cast Finite incantatem.
"When I get all steamed up …" They bent their knees in unison. "Hear me shout…"
"Did I mention that I took out the Finite?" Harry put on a superior smirk and buttered another piece of toast. "They'll be at this for another 10 min."
"You won't believe what just happened!" Lily beamed at them, flopping down on the library bench beside Severus.
Severus and Harry looked up from their homework.
"Potter got expelled?"
"Funny. No." Lily gave Harry a mock glare, got up and curtsied. "Gentlemen, may I present you the latest member of the Slug Club!"
Severus threw his quill down onto the table. "He invited you?"
"Yes." She beamed. "Slughorn said I'm the brightest potions student he has had in years."
Harry tried to kick her under the table, but only managed to hit the table leg.
For a second Severus just looked at her then he got up, his face ashen, the silver gleam of unshed tears forming in his eyes. He grabbed the scrolls closest to him, not caring if they where his or Harry's stuffed them into his bag.
"Well, congratulations." He stormed from the library, slamming the door shut behind him.
Lily looked after him looking puzzled. "What was that all about?"
"What do you think?" Harry gave her a you-gotta-be pulling-my-leg stare. "Brightest potions student in years ring a bell?"
"Well excuse me for being happy." She snapped. "It's not my fault Slughorn didn't invite him."
"And?" Harry looked ready to throttle her.
They locked eyes.
"And what?" Lily crossed her arms in front of her chest. "He's the one that stormed out of here like a five year old."
"Right, just forget it." Harry scooped up the rest of Severus' and his belongings. He gave her an evil glare. "I'd better go after him …"
As he exited the library Harry passed Pritchard and a few other classmates from different houses. They were whispering excitedly. Some of them giggled.
Harry sped up. He had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly what he would find when he turned the corner.
Sometimes Harry wished he'd be wrong. It would be nice to be wrong.
Severus was hanging spread-eagled from the ceiling, his wand hovering just an inch out of his reach. Potter and Pettigrew were going through Severus' bag with Black and Lupin standing guard.
"Let me down, you bastards." Harry could see angry tears running down Severus' face. "You cowards. Couldn't take me in a fair fight!"
"Hey look!" Pettigrew pulled a roll of parchment out of Severus' bag, giving it a quick read over and then stuffed it into his own. "Sweet, that's next week's potions homework. Ta Snivellus."
Harry aimed and screamed. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Potter fell over forwards and Harry heard the satisfying crunch of breaking glasses.
"Look who's here." Black advanced on Harry, his wand out. "Come to rescue your boyfriend." He grinned at Harry. "Now isn't that sweet, Snivellus." He sent a stinging hex towards Severus.
"You bloody coward." Harry was seething now. "Come on, then. Or are you too much of a coward?"
"That will be enough!" The amplified voice of Professor McGonagall echoed of the walls and petrified them better than a spell ever could.
Black lowered his wand, demurely looking at the floor to hide his facial expression. "I am sorry Professor, but they started-"
"That lying son of a bitch." Harry raised his wand to send a stinging hex Black's way. "We did not!"
"I said that will be enough, Mr Dursley." She surveyed the room. "The way I see it, you all are in for a week's worth of detention."
"But Professor…" Harry tried.
"One more but, Mr Dursley and it will be two. Now do go and get your friend off the wall." McGonagall rubbed her temples, looking sterner then ever.
Harry unstuck Severus and levitated him down. Then he helped him pick up his belongings. As they walked away, he whispered, "We are going to get them for this. I promise."
"But I thought we'd all take Arithmancy together!" Severus slammed his books on the library table and glared at Lily who was looking over her schedule for next term.
"No. You decreed that we should." She brushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "You never asked."
"But we talked about it." Severus' voice took on a whiny note. "We'll only have Potions and Charms together if you don't take Arithmancy."
"Yes, so what?" Lily eyes narrowed. "I changed my mind. I'm allowed to do that, am I not?"
"So what are you taking instead?" Harry tried to peek over Severus' shoulder to get a look at Lily's schedule.
"She's taking Divination." Severus sneered. "An utter waste of time." He stalked off, his back tense.
Lily got up and walked over to where Severus was pretending to browse the books, gently putting her hand on his arm. "Sev, I'm still here. It's just one stupid class."
She held out her pinky finger. Severus looked at her through wet lashes, then nodded.
They joined fingers. "Best friends forever."
Summer came and passed just like the year before, under Hagrid's supervision, and a sun tanned Harry found himself eating Mrs Snape's homemade birthday cake for his thirteenth birthday.
That year was a good year for Slytherin. Kingsley Shacklebolt was made Head Boy and Evan Rosier captain of the duelling club. The house spirit rose to new heights.
Christmas came and went and everything seemed to have fallen into equilibrium. If anything, the Marauders seemed more occupied, busy with whatever project they were pursuing, though Harry and Severus caught them sneaking around the dungeons on more than one occasion.
With summer came exams and the last Quidditch match of the season. Potter had made it onto the team as chaser. Gryffindor won the Quidditch cup.
James Potter got off his broom, ruffled his hair and bowed to the cheering student body.
"I hate him" Severus stuffed his fists deeper into his pockets. "He's a complete pillock."
"Who?" Lily's looked flushed, her eyes following the players leaving the field.
"Potter of course." Severus snapped. "Who do you think I am talking about?"
"Oh, him." Lily looked guilty. "He's a total toerag."
Harry looked from Severus to Lily. "Cup's stupid anyway. I'm going to the lake."
He picked up his bag and left.
"What's up with him?" Lily looked puzzled.
"He didn't make the team." Severus shrugged. "Shouldn't you go celebrate with the toerag?"
"Nah." Lily hooked arms with him and smiled. "Let's go to the lake and cheer Harry up."
That summer, when Harry went to visit the Snapes for his birthday, Lily did not come. Later she showed them pictures from their vacation in France.
James Potter started fourth year with a new broom and a haircut and a tall tale about the girls he'd kissed that summer.
Severus started fourth year with a bruise on his arm and wouldn't tell Harry where it was from.
The warm weather that year lasted long into September. The lakeshore, usually a secluded place couples went to snog, became the centre of social life.
"Your toes are getting pruney." Harry was floating dead man style next to Severus. "Mine are too!"
"Your grasp of the obvious is amazing." Severus folded his skinny arms under his head, gazing into the bright blue sky.
Lily, pretty in her polka-dot bathing suit, a wide brimmed hat keeping her nose from freckling, sat on a rock near the shore, gossiping over a glamour magazine with Leila Zucker.
A bit down the beach Potter and Black were practicing handstands on their brooms in front of an audience of giggling clapping girls. Harry watched their tanned bodies, the play of their muscles under their skin, the innate confidence in their every move and was suddenly aware of his own scrawny body and all its imperfections. Severus followed his gaze and Harry saw the raw envy, the same raw envy he'd just felt seconds ago, rush over his friend's face and settle in a scowl.
"I'm done." Severus turned over onto his stomach and started swimming towards the shore. Harry watched him step out of the water, his eyes following the scrawny milk-white body, smooth skin marred only by patches of sunburn and the ugly remnants of a bruise turning yellow.
Laughter echoed down the deserted corridor. Severus was running, out of breath, his face a pale terrified mask.
"I know you are there!" He yelled at the empty corridor. "Show yourselves."
He twirled around in a mad dance, his robes flying, his eyes wild.
"Snivelluuuuus. Oh, Snivelluusssss." A chorus of mocking voices, echoing in a singsong tone came from behind him. "You can't run from us, Snivellus."
Severus turned around again, his wand in his hand. "Petrificus Totalus!"
The spell bounced off the wall, disappearing down the hallway.
"Now that wasn't nice, Snivellus." An unseen force pushed him, making him stumble. A different voice continued. "I think old Snivelly needs to be taught a lesson."
Then there was the laughter again.
Invisible hands lifted his bag off his shoulder, dangling is just out of arm's reach. Severus made a grab for and was pushed forward. He stumbled, his hands and knees smacking into the cold dungeon floor.
"Is ickle Snivellus crying?" There was more laughter.
Severus tried to stand up when his bag smacked against his head and he fell face first onto the floor.
"Quick, someone is coming." His bag was dropped to the floor. There was more laughter and the echo of footsteps coming down the hallway.
Severus hugged his knees and tried to reign in the wet hot tears running down his cheeks.
"Dinner is ten minutes." Harry sat down next to the lump that was Severus hiding under his covers.
"What's he sulking over again?" Pritchard strolled in from the bath and rifled through his trunk for clean socks.
"Nothing." Harry and Severus said in unison.
"Riiight." Pritchard grabbed his cloak and turned towards the door. "I, for one, am going to dinner. You girls have fun."
There was a long moment of stifling silence. Then Harry tentatively reached out and put his hand on Severus' back, rubbing in awkward circles.
"Why is it always me?" Severus asked to the world in general. Harry had no answer.
"I know it was them." Severus fist hit the mattress, his voice hiccoughing. "I know it."
Harry stopped the rubbing and reached for Severus' hand, squeezing it gently through the blanket.
Severus curled up on his side, holding onto Harry's hand. "How do they always know when I'm alone?"
"You won't believe who I just saw creeping around the dungeons." Harry flopped down on one of the cushy couches in the Slytherin common room.
Severus' nose nearly touched the parchment he was writing on. "Bastards. They have no business here."
Wilkes looked up from his DADA text. "Who's been sneaking round the dungeons?"
"Potter and his idiot friends." Severus spat.
"Gryffindors, ey?" Wilkes, the captain of the Duelling Club, asked. "Aren't they your year?"
"Is my idiot cousin harassing Snape again?" Narcissa Black shooed Harry from his couch, pulling a glamour mag from her bag.
"When isn't he…" Harry muttered, sitting down next to Severus.
"Can we change the subject. Please." Severus was trying to hide his blush behind his curtain of lank hair.
"Lucius promised to take me to Madame Puddifoots on Hogsmead weekend." Narcissa unfolded her magazine with a snap and smiled as Severus. "Oh, and he asked me to tell you he'll drop by for a game of chess after."
"Puddifoot's" Wilkes shuddered, smirked at Rosier who made a rude gesture. "Man, she's got that man whipped."
Narcissa narrowed her eyes, reaching for her wand. "Got something to say, Wilkes?"
"Who? Me? Do I look like I have a death wish?" Wilkes threw his hands into the air in mock surrender. "But I think," He patted Severus on the back "That we should see to that Gryffindor infestation in our dungeon."
"One each!" Professor Flitwick levitated the box of mirrors around the classroom. "Today's assignment is to charm a mirror with a personality."
"Miss Horton, put those mirrors back into the box. Now. I don't care if you'd rather have a pink one." Flitwick levitated the box to the next table. "We don't have time to waste for such nonsense."
Flitwick finished handing out the mirrors and then levitated himself in front of the teacher's desk.
"Now, we discussed personality charms last week." He flicked his wand at the blackboard. "I want you to charm your mirrors with a persona of choice. The basic charm is on the board. You have until the end of class."
Professor Flitwick sat down behind his desk and reached for the stack of essays due that lesson. "If you have any questions, feel free to come to the front and ask. Do not activate the mirrors till I tell you to do so. Is that clear?"
The students chorused their yes, Professor and started to work on their assignment.
"How's yours coming along?" Harry snuck a glance at Severus' charm work.
"Fine. I set it to complain about any colour that is not black." He smirked. "It also may sound a tad like Madam Pince."
"Ouch." Harry cringed at the mental image of the librarian scolding him to wash behind his ears and brush his hair. "I hope that's not my Christmas present."
Severus put on his innocent face and Harry elbowed him. "This better not be giving you ideas."
"What's yours doing?" He looked over at Harry's notebook and frowned. "That's our new spell. You done already?"
"Yeah, mine's nothing special." Harry shrugged. "Couldn't be arsed."
Just as Severus had finished his, Black got up and walked over to where Pettigrew sat, bumping into Severus' chair, kicking his bag, scattering the books all over the floor.
"Can't you watch where you're going, you twit?" Severus snapped at him.
"Can't you watch where you're putting that greasy bag of yours?" Black shot back, giving one of the books an extra nudge to make it slide further down the room.
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" Flitwick looked up from his grading. "Mr Black, sit down, class is not over and Mr Snape, do pick up your books, if you please." Flitwick checked his watch. "Presentation is in five minutes."
"Prat's too stupid to walk." Harry hissed. "Come on, I'll help pick up your books."
They had just about finished when Flitwick asked for volunteers to present their work to the class. Several hands shot up and he called on Lily, who had charmed hers to sound like a sweet little old lady.
Another student was called on and, to the giggling delight of the Muggle born, had his mirror dramatize Edgar Wallace style.
"That is bloody awesome." Harry nudged Severus. "You should show them yours, they'll love it."
Severus tentatively raised his hand. There was giggling and snorting from the Marauders.
"Ah, Mr Snape, do show us yours please." Flitwick nodded at him.
Severus stood up and held up his mirror, tapping it gently with his wand to activate it.
To Severus' abject horror it started to sing in a rather wobbly tenor and a fake Italian accent.
The beauty of your eyes, so ebony
Makes me love you
"Professor, that is not mine…" Severus tried to protest, but the mirror was already in full swing.
The gleam of your hair, so glossy and sleek
Makes me want you
So fair your skin, like the new winter's moon
I want to kiss your lips so fine…
There was utter silence for a moment then the commotion started. Laughter and barely hushed enquiries as to who had done that, what a hideous poem and can you believe the nerve?
"You arse, that is mine." Potter got up and pushed a guffawing Black off his chair. "I made that mirror for Evans!"
There was further snickering and a few kissy noises.
Severus' face drained of what little colour there was. He grabbed the mirror, that was now singing about the virtues of his slender build and smashed it on the floor, shards flying everywhere, continuing to screech their declarations of love in a multitude of voices.
Severus grabbed his bag and ran from the room, his shoulders slumped, his robes flapping behind him as if moved by an invisible wind.
Later, after much searching, Harry found him hiding in a corner up on top of the Astronomy tower. The wind howling with the early winter fury.
"We both got detention." Harry sidled up next to him, sliding down the stone wall, sitting on the cold stone floor. "I hexed them."
Severus nodded. "Good."
Harry leaned against the tower wall, feeling the harsh wind tugging on his hair.
"How long have you been out here?"
"Don't know." Severus shivered, as if only now noticing the biting wind. "Don't care."
"It's cold here." Harry shifted closer to Severus, surprised at the amount of warmth Severus' skinny body radiated.
"Don't care." Severus kept on staring into the gray distance, jaw set determinedly.
Harry undid the clasp of his cloak and draped it over both of them. Severus first stiffened but when Harry made no further move, leaned into the warmth.
They sat for a while in silence, watching the afternoon turn to sunset and dusk. At one point Harry thought, amidst the looming mist, that there were two people walking towards the Whomping Willow. He blinked and the mist shifted, swallowing them. He rubbed his eyes, but could see nothing but the dark treetops of the forbidden forest sticking out of the mist like shrivelled arms. He shuddered.
"I think we missed dinner." Harry shifted, his bum numb from the cold.
Severus just grunted.
Harry got up and offered his hand to him. "Come on let's sneak into the kitchen for some hot chocolate. I'm freezing."
Snow had fallen overnight, transforming the winter-barren hills into a glistening wonderland.
Harry looked longingly out of the big library windows and then back to his half-finished Transfiguration essay. He sighed and started a paragraph about the correct wand movement necessary to transfigure a badger into a lifeboat.
The snow outside looked soft, like a down cover. Harry put his quill down, watching the sunlight glitter and sparkle, making the forbidden forest look like it was covered in diamonds.
"I wonder if someone has built a fort yet?" He sighed, looking longingly out the window.
"Are you suggesting a rematch from last year?" Severus rolled up a piece of paper, tossing it at Lily, who was not paying attention. "You in?"
"In for what?" Lily looked up from her homework, looking annoyed. "Don't throw stuff at me."
"They are building a fort near the Whomping Willow." Harry repeated.
"Yeah, and?" Lily pursed her lips. "Some of us don't want to fail Transfiguration."
"It just sounded like fun." Harry sighed and looked at the clear blue sky. "You know, a break."
"All right then." Lily still sounded put upon, but did close her textbook.
"You meeting us the gate in ten?" Severus smiled at her and Lily nodded.
"Severus, we've been waiting for twenty minutes." Harry stomped his feet to warm his freezing toes. "Let's go, she knows where to find us."
"No." Severus wrapped his cloak tighter around his skinny body and sat down on the stairs. "She said she'll come."
Harry sighed and sat down next to Severus. "Fine. Five more minutes."
They sat in silence for a while, watching the occasional warmly dressed student pass them by.
"Stop tapping your foot." Severus snapped. "It's annoying."
"I'm cold." Harry tried hard to keep the whine out of his voice.
"Are you a wizard or a Muggle?" Severus cast a warming charm on Harry's boots.
"Thanks." Harry gave Severus a sidelong glance. "I don't think she's coming."
"She said she would."
"And how long do you think we'll need to sit here to prove that she's not?"
"You don't have to wait." Severus crossed his arms in front of his chest, looking into the distance, not meeting Harry's eyes.
"This is childish."
Severus refused to answer, his jaw set defiantly.
"Fine, be that way." Harry stood up. "I'm going."
Harry stalked off toward the snow fort, hands buried deep in his pockets. He would have fun without Severus. Damn it.
When Harry got back for dinner Severus was not sitting on the stairs any more, nor was he in the dorm. There was also no sign of him at the Slytherin table. Harry sighed, wondering where his friend had gone off to sulk.
Harry was about halfway through a bowl of beef and carrot stew when he saw Lily entering the Great Hall, talking animatedly to Lupin. Harry set his spoon down with a clonk and got up.
He walked over to where Lily was just about to sit down. He grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to turn around.
"Where the hell were you?"
Lily shook his hand off, green eyes flashing at him in anger. "Don't you yell at me."
Lupin got up and walked to the other end of the table where the rest of the Marauders sat. Not that Harry cared, he was still focused entirely on Lily.
"We waited for you. For more than twenty sodding minutes." Harry lowered his voice, glaring at her. "So where were you?"
Harry felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. Galvin Gudgeon, the Gryffindor Quidditch captain, stepped up behind, looking at Lily.
"Is he bothering you?"
Harry squirmed under the strong grip, reaching for his wand. "Take your hands off me."
"Or what?" Gudgeon gave him a shark's grin.
"No, Gudgeon, it's fine." Lily shook her head, locking eyes with Harry. "I was helping Lupin with his Divination homework."
The rest of the Marauders had come to stand beside Lupin, who blushed and looked at his shoes.
"Great, I hope you had fun." Harry snapped. "Thanks for letting us know."
"Where's your slimy little friend, Dursley?" Potter chimed in, twirling his wand. "You got some nerve coming over here starting trouble all by yourself."
"Oh yeah?" Harry challenged. "Took all four of you oh so brave prats to take me last time."
"Shut up, Harry." Lily growled. "And you keep out of this, Potter. You and your idiot friends are the last thing I need right now."
"Yeah, where is dear Snivellus?" Black drawled. "Sulking again under a rock?"
"Don't call him that, you arse." Lily yelled and threw her hands in the air. "What is it with boys?"
"Piss off, Black!" Harry cast a why are you hitting yourself curse at Black and watched with satisfaction as he started to smack himself in the face with the palm of his hand.
"What'd you do that for?" She stomped her foot, glaring at Harry. "You're no better. You lot know what? I'm done with you!"
Harry watched Lily stalk off and swallowed. He suddenly realized that her departure left him alone on enemy grounds. Outnumbered.
"Eight against one." His wand held out defensively, Harry locked eyes with Potter. "So much for Gryffindor courage."
"Yeah, what's up with that?" The stinging hex Pettigrew had aimed at Harry hit a shield charm. Narcissa Black sat down on the table, legs dangling. "Must be a mighty beast Gryffindor is hunting." She smoothed down her skirt. "Oh my, what a fearsome creature a fourth-year is."
"What do you want, Black?" Gudgeon challenged.
"I think you've got something of ours." Wilkes and Rosier sauntered up to stand beside her.
"How'd you feel now that the odds are bit more even?" Rosier grinned and Wilkes groaned at the pun.
"Let's hope that your friends will always be around to save the day." Potter hissed.
"Don't worry. We will be." Narcissa hopped off the table.
"Always wanted to know how many Gryffindors it takes to take on one Slytherin." Wilkes looked amused. "Seems the answer is eight."
"Seven." Narcissa corrected, pointing to Black who as still hitting himself in the face. "One is down."
Rosier put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You coming with us?"
Harry nodded. "I could have taken them."
Wilkes gave him a hearty laugh. "Sure you could've."
To Harry's surprise Severus was not sulking in the dorms, but was standing around a table in the common room besides Mulciber and Avery. As he saw Harry enter he ran over and grabbed his hand, dragging him to the table where he'd been standing.
"You gotta see this!" Severus gestured wildly at the wooden box on display. "They caught it in the Forbidden Forest!"
Someone had cast a glass-clear charm on the lid and when Harry leaned over the see what was inside he had to suppress a very indignant squeak.
"What is that thing?" Harry took a step back, only to lean closer to get a better view when he was sure the box was securely fastened. "That is the biggest bloody spider I've ever seen."
"It's an Acromantula." Mulciber proclaimed proudly. "Caught it myself!"
Avery smacked him in arm.
"Fine, Janson helped a bit." Mulciber teased, evading another smack.
Wilkes tapped the lid and watched the spider attack, venomous fangs glistening. "Fierce little bugger. Whatcha gonna do with it?"
"Am gonna keep Charlie." Mulciber grinned. "Always wanted a pet spider."
"Aren't they poisonous?" Severus asked.
"Sure are." Mulciber grinned. "But that ain't a problem. Watch this: Imperius!"
He cast the spell on the spider. "Isn't this neat? The Dark Lord showed me the spell. Isn't it neat?"
Mulciber opened the lid and everyone took a step back.
"Are you daft? That things' gonna jump in your face." Avery snapped. "You sure you did that spell right?"
Mulciber did not answer, instead he bowed, a superior smirk on his face. "Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Charlie, the tap-dancing Acromantula!"
He waved his wand and the spider sluggishly crawled out of the box. With another wave of his wand Charlie was merrily jumping up and down in a fair imitation of an Irish jig.
There was clapping and catcalling as Charlie was put back into his box.
Harry had just gotten back from lunch and was on his way to the library, when he found Narcissa Black reading by herself on one of the cushy couches in the common room.
For a few days now there had been this question in his mind. He'd tried asking Severus, but he had grumbled and pretended to be tired, like he always did when he, for once, didn't know something.
He walked over to where she was sitting, trying to decide how to ask. Narcissa put her book down, looking annoyed.
"Quit hovering. What do you want, Dursley?"
"Ehm." Harry fidgeted. "Who's the Dark Lord?"
Narcissa gave him a probing look and made room for Harry on the couch. "Why are you asking?"
She patted the seat beside her and Harry sat cautiously down, as far from her as he could manage without being rude.
"Mulciber mentioned him a few days ago." Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair. "And I… I've read about him in the Prophet, but …. You know how they are. He sounds important. Just thought I'd ask."
"Someone really needs to tell him to get rid of that horrid spider." Narcissa shuddered, then her eyes narrowed. "You are Muggleborn, aren't you?"
"Me? No." Harry shook his head, he wasn't quite sure how he knew, but he was sure that his parents had both been magic. "I grew up with Muggles. My Aunt and Uncle."
"Half-blood then." She nodded. "Do you by any chance remember your mother's maiden name?"
Harry shook his head again. "They died when I was young. My Aunt never told me anything. She hates magic."
"Really?" Narcissa gave him a sympathetic look. "Must have been horrible. I've always said Muggles just don't understand us. I mean, how could they? Magic must be so strange to them."
"They were afraid of me. Locked me in a cupboard." Harry nodded and sighed. "I didn't even know I had magic till I got my letter."
"That's just not right." Narcissa turned to Wilkes who was working on the duelling roster at the other end of the room.
Wilkes looked up. "What's not right?"
"Dursley's Aunt and Uncle looked him in a wardrobe for having magic."
"Cupboard." Harry chimed in.
"Is that so?" Wilkes got up and walked over to them.
"Dursley wants to know about the Dark Lord." There was an odd tone to her voice that Harry could not quite place. "Don't you?"
Wilkes pulled a chair close. "Glad you asked, Dursley."
"So, who is he?"
"One of the most influential political leaders of our time." Wilkes smiled at him. "I think you should meet some friends of ours."
"Did that mirror just tell you to have a bath?"
"Piss off." Harry made a rude gesture at Pritchard, grabbing his towel.
"And here I thought that smell was one of Snape's potions gone bad." Pritchard gigglensorted, collapsing in fits of laughter on his bed.
Harry undressed and wrapped the towel around his waist. The tiled floor of the Slytherin bath was cold under his feet he walked past the row of sinks to the door, embossed with the Hogwart's crest, that separated them from the showers.
The room was fogged up from earlier showers, condensation dripping off the walls. Harry stepped into the room, surprised to hear the sound of running water. He stopped dead, taking in the sight before him. In the steam of hot running water, the muscles of his back moving under smooth gleaming skin, stood Lockhart, his blond curls plastered to his head, one hand on his prick, the other holding him up against the tiled wall.
Harry watched, hand on his towel, as Lockhart's fingers moved in a steady rhythm, up and down…
Harry slipped into the next shower stall, closing the curtain, breathing hard. He turned on the water, letting the water run over his face, cooling his blush. He closed his eyes, trying to capture the after-image of what he had just seen. Reaching for the soap he fumbled for his own release.
That night Harry dreamt, not of Lockhart but another handsome blond and a bathtub full of multicoloured bubbles.
"The nerve." Lily smacked her book bag onto the library table, gaining her a glare and a shush from Madame Pince.
Harry chewed on his pen, giving her a look. "What did Potter do now?"
"That toerag asked me out." Lily huffed. "Conjured me a dozen roses. The prat."
"You aren't, are you?" Harry inquired, making a kissy face.
" Not in a million years." Lily huffed, sticking out her tongue at him. "I'd rather date the squid."
Severus and Harry looked at each other, rolling their eyes.
"Seen you around a lot with Lupin." Severus tried to sound nonchalant but did not quite manage it.
"Yeah, and?" Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "You jealous?"
"Well, do tell me what to think, you spending time with one of the Marauders?" Severus spat.
"Lupin's not that bad." Lily glared at their snorts. "What? I'm not telling you who you can be friends with, either."
"Oh, yeah? Who do you mean?" Harry was starting to get annoyed.
"Avery and that creep Mulciber and his stupid pet spider." Lily crossed her arms in front of her chest. "That's dark magic he's using."
"Well, I know one thing," Harry spat. "They never ganged up on one of my friends. Can you say as much for Lupin?"
"Are you sure he's not up to something?" Severus turned his head to where the Marauders were sitting. "Wouldn't be the first time…"
"Up to what?"
"Could be a prank."
"This is not about you, Severus. Believe it or not, people want to be friends with me." Lily snapped, reaching for her quill. "Anyway, I have an essay to finish."
'Fine." Severus open his transfiguration book with a snap. "Me too."
They did their homework in icy silence, none of them speaking much beyond the occasional: pass me the ink, please.
The next day Lily sat with Lupin during study hour. Severus pretended not to notice but Harry caught him sneaking glances whenever he thought no one was looking.
There still were good times, like when they snuck down to the kitchen together on Severus' birthday and got so sick on trifle and ice cream that they had to go see Pomfrey. Yet with winter turning into spring and then a late wet summer, an awkwardness settled in, tearing at their friendship with tidal force, and no matter what they did to mend it, the rift seemed to widen, pulling them apart.
More and more often Lily would spend her study time with Lupin, leaving Harry and Severus desperately trying to ignore the empty presence of her absence.
Summer came and went and Mrs Snape just looked at them with sad eyes, cut four slices of birthday cake and put the fifth plate back into the cupboard.
When they met Mulciber and Avery at the train station, and Lily was nowhere in sight, they clapped backs in greeting and shared a compartment.
"You still got that creepy spider of yours?" Harry asked.
"Sure do." Mulciber pointed at the luggage over their seats. "Charlie's doing fine. Grown a lot, too!"
"We believe you." All three of them were quick to assure him.
"How was your summer?" Harry asked Avery.
"Was all right." Avery twirled his wand. "Me nan had a bit of a Muggle problem. She's an animagus, you know. Can turn into a cat, just like McGonagall. Stupid brats been throwing stones at her."
"That's horrible." Harry looked shocked. "Is she okay?"
"Don't be daft." Avery grinned. "Course she is." Avery's grin grew wider and a tad nasty. "Oh, we learned them good."
The train rattled through the British countryside and Harry watched Severus' reflection in the window.
A frown had settled on his friend's face, indicating an oncoming sulk that would last days.
Harry pulled Severus into the bushes, landing half on top of his friend. He made a shushing sound, pointing at the three dim figures, vague shadows against the night.
"What are they doing here?" Harry looked puzzled, suddenly very aware of Severus' body under his, Severus' mouth just inches away. Harry shifted, hoping the darkness would hide his flush. "Surely Malfoy didn't invite them?"
"Why would he? Potter and his idiot friends have made it more than clear where they stand." Severus sneered. "They are up to something. I swear they are."
They waited a couple of minutes, Harry growing more aware of Severus' presence by the second.
"I think they are gone." Harry got up and brushed the dirt off his robes. He held his hand out to Severus. "We really shouldn't be late."
They hurried over to the Whomping Willow, ducking the aggravated branches.
"If Black's been pulling my leg, I'm going to hex her, girl or not," Severus grumbled, barely evading getting hit.
Harry picked up a fallen branch and poked the knob, holding his breath. The tree stilled. He sighed in relief. "That was easier than I thought it would be."
Severus cast a lumos and they stepped down into the narrow tunnel. It wound in narrow corners down and up again. Roots grew out of its low ceiling, and stones underfoot were wet with moss.
"Did you hear that?" Severus spun around, the shine of his lumos dancing eerily on the wet tunnel walls.
"What?" Harry stepped closer to Severus, his wand out. "I didn't hear anything."
Severus shivered. "Let's get out of here, this place is giving me the willies."
They both breathed out a sigh of relief when they had climbed the steps up into the Shrieking Shack and stood outside in the light of the full moon. Hogsmeade lay deserted, the streets dark, lit only by the light of some distant windows.
They followed the main road past the post office, Zonkos and Gladrags, where they turned. The Hog's Head, paint peeling off the sign over the door, stood at the dead end of the street, a short distance from the other houses.
Severus pulled at the door. It opened to a dark, smoke filled room, the only light an oil lamp over the bar. Shadows and hooded figures, sitting in the gloomy nooks and crannies around wobbly tables, turned towards them in eerie unison, only to dismiss them and go back to whatever shady business had brought them there.
The barman, an older man with an unkempt goatee and a grimy leather waistcoat, looked them over, noting their school uniforms and house ties. He gestured to the back, where the gleam from inside outlined a door in the dark.
Harry heard Severus take a deep breath and raise his hand to knock on the wood.
A wooden panel was pushed open and they were surveyed by a rather suspicious looking eye. "Password."
The door swung open, making them blink in the sudden light. The difference to the main room could not have been bigger. Around big round tables, laden with all sorts of mugs and bottles, sat witches and wizards of all ages chatting merrily. Many of them were former Slytherin students. Harry also recognized a couple of older Ravenclaws and one or two Hufflepuffs. The wireless played softly in the background.
Lucius Mafloy leaned against the armrest of the armchairs near the fireplace, older and regal looking in his adult robes. Narcissa sat, engagement ring sparkling on her left hand, in the armchair beside him, sipping from a glass of red wine. She smiled at them, beckoning them to come closer.
Lucius got up and slapped Severus on the shoulder in greeting. "Snape, old chap, glad you made it. Been missing your little games of chess."
The presence of familiar faces setting them at ease, Harry and Severus pulled chairs closer to the fire, sipping the butterbeer they were offered. Severus, especially, seemed to glow and bloom under the friendly atmosphere, participating vigorously in the ongoing political discussion.
Later that night, they lay in their beds, having successfully snuck back to their dorms, Severus turned to Harry, his eyes searching for clues in the dark. "What do you think?"
Harry grinned, resting his head on his arms. "That was fun."
Harry adjusted the telescope, reaching for his quill to jot down the position of Jupiter's moons in relation to each other when Severus pushed him to the side and swivelled the telescope around, pointing it towards the Forbidden Forest.
"What the hell did you do that for, you prat?"
Severus shushed him, pointing to the edge of the trees. He adjusted the gears and wheels, zooming in on a patch of gray amidst the darkness, and let out a shout of triumph.
"I knew it!" He pulled at Harry's arm. "Look!"
Harry pinched one eye shut and looked through the telescope to where Severus was pointing. Amongst the wavering shadows of the early evening he managed to make three figures heading for the Forbidden Forest. One of them had tell-tale messy hair.
"It's the prat parade." Harry shrugged. "What else is new, they're sneaking out of the castle at night.
"They're up to something." Severus balled his hand into a fist, punching the crenellated wall. "I'm sure of it."
"Mate, you are obsessed." Harry tried to make light of his friend's fierce reply. "What can they be up to? Probably same as us, meeting friends in Hogsmeade."
"You're not taking this seriously!" Severus glared at him.
"Yep, you're right. I'm not." Harry swivelled the telescope back into place. "Come on, we've got homework to finish."
Harry entered the dorm and was greeted with kissy noises. He threw down his bag and rolled his eyes at his classmate.
"Piss off, Pritchard."
Pritchard guffawed. "I'm not the one who snogged Bertha - the rumourmonger -Jorkins."
Harry blushed to the roots of his hair. "Who told you?"
"Mate, you snogged Jorkins. What did you expect?" Pritchard rolled over on his belly looking up at Harry. "She any good?"
"Yes." Harry lied. "Pretty damn good." Awkward but not entirely unpleasant would have been a far better way to describe the whole incident in Harry's opinion.
"Did you get a good feel?" Pritchard leered and made a boob grabbing gesture.
Harry threw a pillow at him. "You're a pig."
Severus looked up from the book he was reading. "Why'd you snog her?"
"What do you mean?" Harry gave him an irritated look and sat down to untie his shoes.
"I know you weren't looking at her before." Severus raised an eyebrow at him. "So, do spill, why'd you snog her?"
Harry pulled of his shoes, setting them down next to his bed. "She asked me for help with the Arithmancy homework and then she asked me if I liked her and I said she's okay and then, well she snogged me."
This sent Pritchard into new fits of laughter.
"She snogged you?" Severus turned a page, his voice irritatingly calm and casual, as if he didn't care one way or the other. For some reason this set Harry's teeth on edge.
"Yes she did, so what?" Harry undid his school tie and grabbed his towel. "I'm having a shower.
"Needing some alone time, do we?" Pritchard catcalled after him. "Just lock the bloody door, will ya. I walked in on Lockhart last week. Obliviate me, someone? Please?"
This time, to Harry's relief, and a tiny bit to his disappointment, the showers were indeed empty. He chose the one at the furthest end, closed the curtain and cast a silencing charm.
The warm water running over his head, his eyes closed, it was easy for him to conjure up the memory of Bertha pressing her lips against his, her small soft hand on his cheek, the swell of her jumper where her breast were.
Harry's hand followed the slick water running his chest, wrapping around his prick, sliding up and down from base to crown, his thumb caressing the head.
Unbidden images swam into view, and Bertha's curves were replaced by the slender v-shape of Lockhart's back, and her soft hands broadened, turning into Severus' gently stirring a potion.
Before he could deny the erotic effect of the memories, Harry tilted his head back, letting the water run over his eyes, nose and mouth, and came in generous spurts, white on a the white tiled wall.
"You're watching them again." Harry tore a piece of his roll and dunked it into his tomato soup. "Aren't you getting bored with this?"
"I'm not watching them." Severus glared, taking a big gulp from his pumpkin juice. "I'm watching her." He made a gesture towards where Lily was sitting. She was chatting with Lupin.
Harry watched him lick a spot of soup from the corner of his mouth, mesmerized, then he shook his head. "Yeah, I don't like that either, but there's nothing we can do about it."
"Potter fancies Lily." Severus spat, as if that sentiment was the foulest he could image.
"I know." Harry ate another spoonful of his soup. "She told us. Remember?"
"They're setting her up." Severus stabbed at his congealing soup. "They're up to something. I know it."
"Severus…" Harry reached out to pat his friend's hand but thought better of it. "This is not a …"
"Don't you patronize me." Severus snapped and got up. "I know they're up to something, and I am going to prove it."
Later that day, when Harry had to unstick Severus from the ceiling of an unused corridor he refrained from saying, told you so.
"Lupin's a werewolf." Severus shoved a roll of parchment under Harry's nose.
"He's what?" Harry took the scroll, studying the various charts and notes.
"They sneak out at night, and Lupin's sick every full moon." Severus pointed to a moon-phase calendar. "See! It all matches up."
"Severus, sit down." Harry patted the bed beside him. "They are messing with you, mate."
"What? No, they're not." Severus huffed. "I'd know if they were. I've got more brains than that lot combined. They're up to something."
"Of course they're up to something. They're trying to drive you barmy." Harry pushed his glasses back up his nose. "And it's working."
"I am not crazy." Severus grabbed his scroll back from Harry. "You don't believe me, do you?" He sounded hurt and angry.
"Severus." Harry inched closer, trying to put an arm around Severus, but was shrugged off. "I do believe you. I really do, but I'm also sure they're doing this to mess with you."
"They're not." Severus grabbed his cloak. "And I'm going to prove it."
Harry woke in the middle of the night with the urgent need to use the bathroom. With his eyes half closed, his toes searched for his slippers on the cold stone floor, trying to avoid contact as much as possible.
He tiredly dragged himself over to the bathrooms, avoiding turning on the lights, preferring to feel his way around the room, his eyes small and drowsy with sleep. When he got back to the dorm he was greeted by Pritchard snoring, lying face down on his bed, drooling into his pillow, his left foot hanging out. Severus was… not there. Harry blinked.
Harry walked over to the empty bed, checking for notes or any sign of where Severus might be, then it struck him: Severus had not returned after storming off that night to prove that the Marauders were up to something.
The tempus spell Harry cast glowed one in the morning. Harry groaned. Severus was probably glued to some wall somewhere in the castle, having stuck his nose too deep into the Marauders' business and gotten caught. Part of him wanted to let him hang till morning and just crawl back into his warm soft bed, but compassion won and Harry dressed quietly in the dark, sneaking out of the dorm to go find Severus to unstick his paranoid arse before one of the teachers caught him. Or worse, their classmates on the way to breakfast.
The Great Hall lay dark and silent when Harry tiptoed in, the House banners dark and still in the moonlight. The glimmer of a lumos appeared at the far end of the hall and Harry had just enough time to dive under the Hufflepuff table before a very irate Madam Pomfrey entered the room, levitating a stretcher in front of her.
"Mr Potter." She glared at the student running circles around her, apologizing and looking worriedly at the person on the stretcher. "All I can see is a student with a broken leg, severe cuts on his arms and chest and possibly a concussion," Pomfrey snapped, levitating the stretcher toward the hospital wing. "Now get out of my way and back to your dorms. The Headmaster will deal with you tomorrow."
Harry tried to tell himself that it could not be, that it had to be someone else, but as they drew closer his fears took on form and became a nightmare of reality. On the stretcher, eyes closed and face deadly pale against his dark lank hair lay Severus, breathing shallowly, the front of his robes torn open, shirt and hands covered in blood.
The light disappeared down the corridor and Harry remembered to breathe. He sat down heavily on the floor and tried not to panic. What the bloody hell had happened?
Trying not to think the unthinkable he crawled out from under the table and dusted himself off. One thing was echoing in his mind, pushing any other thought aside: He had to go see Severus, check that he was all right.
Harry followed them to the Hospital Ward, staying in the shadows, watching Madame Pomfrey dress wounds and mend bones. Her movements were precise and professional. Severus looked so small, fragile even, on the hospital bed, his skin impossibly even sallower as she washed the blood off his freshly mended skin, tutting to herself while Severus remained eerily silent.
After what seemed forever, Pomfrey held his head up and fed him a blue-tinted potion. She gently laid his head back against the pillow and cast a monitoring charm, grimly nodding to herself.
Harry waited for a couple of minutes after she had cleaned up and left for her quarters before he dared to leave the safety of the shadows.
Stepping up to Severus' bed he whispered his name. Severus lay with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He did not turn until Harry gently touched his arm.
When he did his eyes were empty and wild at the same time. "They tried to kill me."
Harry reached out to grasp Severus' hand. It was shaking. He gently took it into his, wrapping his fingers around Severus' trembling ones, making sure not to put any strain or pressure on Severus' bandaged chest. "Are you okay?"
Severus shook his head violently, clumps of sweat matted dark hair flying from side to side. "It hurts, Harry. It hurts so much." He tried to curl up on his side but winced and thought better of it. Harry could see wet hot tears running down his cheeks.
"What did they do to you?" Harry prompted gently. "I saw Potter…"
"They want me dead." Severus' eyes went glassy and he grabbed Harry's hand with force. "Don't leave me. Please don't …"
"I won't." Harry watched as Severus' eyes fell shut and the potion induced sleep overtook him. He gently touched Severus' face, trying to smooth away the tears with his thumb.
"I won't." Harry promised again. And he didn't, until dawn crept into the room, darkness giving way to shadows then shades of gray.
Severus did not show until lunch, when he, pale but whole and vibrating with anger, stormed into the Great Hall. He sat down next to Harry.
"Severus?" Harry gently prodded. "Are you right?"
"Does it look like I am?" Severus snapped. "James bloody Potter decided not to kill me and I'm to be grateful for it."
"Dumbledore happened. I can't tell you much." Severus pulled out their DADA textbook, ran his finger down the index and shoved the opened book at Harry. The title of the chapter was "Unbreakable Vows".
Harry read and paled. "This is horrible. Why would he do that?"
"Dumbledore made sure his precious Gryffindors get away with murder," Severus spat. "But what does it matter, it's only slimy, greasy Snivellus, so who cares."
Harry looked over to where the Marauders usually sat. Their normally so unified group was split up and at opposite ends of the table. Lupin, paler than ever, was sitting next to Lily, who seemed to be comforting him. Pettigrew and Potter, picking at their food, sat at one end of the table. Black, all by himself, at the other.
Severus' eyes followed Harry's and he went pale. "I have to talk to Lily. Warn her."
Harry grabbed Severus' arm. "Warn her about what?"
Harry never found out who had started the tale, but soon everyone was lauding James Potter's heroic deed. Oddly enough that did nothing for Severus' mood. He came back from his talk with Lily in a foul temper, snapping at anyone who dared speak to him or offer sympathies. After a few attempts, Harry gave up, dropped the subject, hoping that Severus would tell him in his own time.
If anyone had thought that nearly getting killed would change the dynamics of the game, giving Severus some well earned respite from the constant tAunting, they were soon to be proven wrong.
Not even a week passed before the Marauders had tentatively regrouped and their antics reached new heights.
James Potter went around giving sanctimonious advice, cautioning Severus to be careful where he went, always a step or two behind him, sitting near him in class, hovering, amused by the fits of histrionics this would drive Severus to.
When Severus lost it and snarled that they'd better be careful, that he knew their secrets, they backed off. Later that day he was summoned to the headmaster's office for a talk.
When he came back he looked visibly shaken and even more taciturn than before. When any attempt of Harry's to jolly him out of it was met with resigned silence, he'd had enough.
The gargoyle gave way to Dumbledore's office just as Harry remembered, and Harry stood on the moving staircase, hands sweaty, thoughts wild. For once the door did not swing open when he arrived at the top, and he had to knock and wait for the Headmaster to permit him to enter. He waited a couple of minutes and was nearly ready to walk back down when the door finally swung open and Dumbledore greeted him, sitting behind his desk, a steaming cup of tea in front of him.
"Ah, Mr Dursley. I was expecting you. Do have a seat." Dumbledore's voice was soft but not entirely friendly.
"Tea?" He poured Harry a cup without asking.
"No, thank you." Harry stepped up to the big oak desk the Headmaster was sitting behind. "If it's all the same to you, Headmaster, I'd rather stand."
Dumbledore looked at him over his half-moon glasses and steepled his fingers. "You're here to find out what happened to Mr Snape."
"Yes. I saw him when he was brought to the Infirmary." Harry swallowed hard, kneading his fingers, reliving the gut-clenching feeling the memory of Severus' pale blood-covered body evoked. "He was hurt, badly hurt."
"You were out after curfew." Dumbledore sounded as if he was contemplating giving detention.
"What? That is not the point, Headmaster." Harry snapped. "Severus was hurt and I want to know why nothing is being done about it."
"As far as I'm aware," Dumbledore said, steering two sugars into his tea, "Madame Pomfrey did an excellent job healing him."
"Is that all?" Harry gasped at him, trying to comprehend what he'd just been told. "What about Potter, Black and Pettigrew?"
"Mr Potter saved your friend's life. Quite a heroic feat, I might say." Dumbledore put his cup down, steepling his hands again. "Are you sure you don't want a cup?"
Harry ignored the Headmaster's attempt to derail him. "They tried to kill him and you're letting them get away with it."
"No one is trying to kill anyone, Mr Dursley." Dumbledore sounded tired.
"Then how come Severus needed rescuing?" Harry yelled and then, trying to calm himself, went on, "I saw how badly he was hurt."
"Mr Snape has chosen a dangerous path to go down." Dumbledore adjusted his half-moon spectacles. "Be careful not to follow him."
"I know everything that goes on in this castle, Mr Dursley." Dumbledore's voice was stern, disapproving. "Who comes and who goes. And I also do know about your little meetings at the Hog's Head."
"Are you saying it's okay for Severus to nearly get killed and you're going to sit back and do nothing because you don't agree with this political opinions?"
"I am saying, Mr Dursley, that you should think over clearly what side you choose. Lord Voldemort is a dangerous man with dangerous ideas." Dumbledore stopped, looking as if contemplating what to say next. "I am deeply disappointed in you, Mr Dursley, and I know your parents would be, too."
"You are disappointed in me?" Harry gave up any semblance of trying to keep his temper.
"I'm not joining anyone. Even if I were, why would I join your side? Your side nearly got my friend killed." Harry took a deep breath. "And let me tell you, having lived in the Muggle world, being feared and locked away because I had magic didn't endear them to me. Magic and Muggles don't mix."
"Is that reason enough to want to kill them?"
"Kill them?" Harry screamed. "The only side trying to kill anyone, that I have seen, is yours. Great way to convince me: Join us and we won't kill you or your friends."
The windows in the room started to rattle under the onslaught of Harry's angry magical energy. A picture frame, depicting a dashing blond man in his twenties, fell over. Dumbledore picked it up, taking the time to restore it to its original place.
"I think it is time for you to go, Mr Dursley." The door swung open at the wave of his hand.
Harry slammed it on his way out.
Harry made a point of attending the next meeting at the Hog's Head. And the one after.
One starry night in March they stopped by the kitchens on their way back to the dorm after another meeting. These days they would fly, or walk, rather than take the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack.
"What do you think of Dolohov?" Harry took a bite of his bacon sandwich. "A bit creepy, isn't he?"
Severus popped a gravy-dripping chip into his mouth. "Yeah. Bit keen on torturing."
"There seem to be more like him every time we go…" Harry mused.
"We really should owl Lucius next time." Severus agreed. "It's rather dull without him."
"That's not what I meant." Harry paused, trying to put his feeling into words. "It's just that there seem to be more and more people intent on torture and killing." He looked at Severus, locking eyes. "I don't want to kill people, Severus."
"Not even Muggles?" Severus asked, only half jesting, rubbing his arm.
"Not even Muggles." Harry took another bite from his sandwich and grinned. "Now turning Potter into the ass he is, that I'm up to."
The weeks before their OWLs flew by in a frenzy of classes, homework and studying. Though the hostility from the Marauders did not decrease, and they seemed to take delight in unnerving Severus with their presence, sitting and walking next to him whenever they could get away with it, they themselves were caught up in the last minute cramming that precedes any major examination.
The OWLs themselves seemed oddly anticlimactic. When Harry put his quill down after their DADA exam, he did not feel the anticipated relief; only a vague sense of dread for the yet unnamed grades.
The Great Hall was awash with a sea of bowed heads, students desperately scribbling the last lines onto their exam papers, hoping to gain a point or two.
Harry turned his head, craning to see how Severus was doing. All he could make out was his bent head bowed low over his parchment, Severus' nose nearly touching the parchment itself. He really needs glasses, Harry mused, turning back to his own essay to give it a last once-over before their time ran out.
"Quills down, please!" squeaked Professor Flitwick. "That means you too, Stebbins! Please remain seated while I collect your parchment! Accio!"
Harry watched in shocked amusement as the combined scrolls of all students flew towards Flitwick, burying him in an avalanche of exams. There was snickering and a rather annoyed looking Flitwick resurfaced.
"Dursley, Zucker, Horton." Flitwick snapped. "Get over here and help me get those to my office."
There was more snickering as the unfortunate students sighed and the Great Hall cleared of those free to go.
Harry sighed and followed Flitwick to his office, levitating his share of the scrolls. He wished they'd hurry, since he really wanted to compare notes with Severus on their upcoming Transfiguration OWLs.
Harry hurried down the path to the lake, nearly tripping over a root. Lily was coming towards him and he smiled and waved at her.
"Hey, have you seen Severus?"
"Get out of my way, Dursley, before I hex you." Lily spat, pushing him out of the way, storming up to the castle and not looking back.
Wondering what that was about, Harry continued down the path to the lake to where he could make out a group of students crowding around some sort of spectacle. The wind carried their laughter towards him and he could not help but shudder at the unpleasant undertone.
Turning around the bend, he cursed and started to run.
Severus was suspended in mid-air, naked from the waist down and struggling against the magic that bound him into place, bubbles and tears of humiliation streaming down his face.
Black was levitating Severus' pants through the air to great laughter and the catcalling of the students around them.
"Oh Snivellus, you've not even started to pay for what you said to Evans." Potter flicked his wand, making Severus jerk up and down, as if suspended from an invisible rubber band.
"I think he needs a bath, doesn't he?" Black chimed in, nudging Pettigrew, who guffawed. "A bath surely would do him good, looks like he hasn't had one in years."
Harry came to a skidding halt, casting an out of breath finite incantatem at Severus, who crashed to the ground in an undignified heap. Then Harry turned towards Potter and Black.
"You just bought yourself a world full of trouble, Dursley," Black snarled, and ducked the Petrificus Harry threw at him.
"Funny." Harry said without humour, blocking Potter's Impedimenta. "I was about to tell you the same."
Harry was never sure how it would have ended if not for Amelia Bones, this year's Head Girl.
Lupin had been down with a body bind and Pettigrew was smacking himself in the face when Bones and her boyfriend came around the bend, on their way to Hogsmeade.
She took one look at them, two down and Harry, who had just barely dodged a Petrificus, lying panting on the grass, his robes and face stained and sweaty, and pinched her lips in annoyance.
"What is it about you lot?" She frowned, her arms akimbo. Her boyfriend, Harry was not sure what his name was, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and she turned her head to look at him and nodded. "You know what, you lot bloody lucky I can't be bothered to report this right now."
She took ten points from their respective houses with a wave of her wand. "Scram, before I change my mind and report this to the Headmaster."
Harry watched the Marauders limp back towards the castle. He offered his hand to Severus, who got up on unsteady legs, shaking visibly.
"Are you hurt?" Harry propped Severus' arm over his shoulder, supporting him.
Severus shook his head. "I don't wanna go back there." He gestured at the castle, his voice small. "Please, don't make me go back there yet."
"Let's go to Hagrid's." Harry suggested, his eyes still following the Marauders in the distance, making sure they were well on their way to the castle. "He usually nips down to the pub in the afternoon, the hut's gotta be empty."
Severus just nodded, head hanging, and Harry more carried than dragged him the short walk to Hagrid's home.
Just as Harry had said, it lay deserted, surrounded by freshly tilled fields and the bright green of summer flowers not yet ready to bloom. A morning glory was winding around the trellis on the porch, blossoms white and tightly closed in the late afternoon.
Harry sat Severus down on Hagrid's massive bench and told him to wait. He came back a few minutes later, carrying two jam jars and big earthenware jug with a cork rammed tightly into its neck, sealing whatever was inside off safely.
"Hagrid's homebrew." Harry grinned and worked the cork loose. A pleasant spicy aroma filled the area when he poured it into the jars and handed Severus one. "Hagrid says it's made from apples. Well, mostly apples."
They sat in silence for a bit, both nursing their drink, which turned out to have quite a bite to it. Then Severus sighed and seemed to deflate.
"I'm so stupid." Severus put his drink down, covering his face with his hands. "So, so stupid." He started to sob, his skinny body shaking. "She'll never forgive me."
"What happened?" Harry reached out and put an arm around Severus' shoulders. "I mean, before …"
Severus just shook his head, drawing deeper into himself. "She'll never forgive me…"
Harry waited till the sobs quieted a bit.
"You could try apologizing?" He reached for Severus' jar, putting it back into his hand. "Drink up. You need it."
Severus hiccoughed and nodded, leaning into Harry's embrace.
Later that night Harry found Severus curled up on a chair in the deserted common room, glancing up at the underwater skylight, face waxen in the dim light.
He looked at Harry, face red and blotchy with tears. "When did it all go wrong?" His voice quiet in the empty room. "I thought we'd be friends forever."
Harry pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. "I'm still your friend."
"It's all Dumbledore's fault. They tried to kill me and he did nothing." Severus rested his head on his knees, his voice biting with sarcasm. "Let's all make Snivellus' life hell, it's fun. He should have died anyway." Severus hiccoughed and closed his eyes sounding defeated. "I wish I had."
"Don't say that." Harry snapped. "Don't you ever say that." He reached for Severus' hand and held on tight. "Dumbledore's wrong. They are all wrong."
He inched closer, resting his head on Severus' shoulder. "You're worth more than that lot combined."
A couple of weeks later, Severus got an owl at breakfast. "It's from Mum."
He tore the paper open, read the contents and paled.
"Da lost his job." He whispered, handing the letter to Harry. "There won't be a birthday party this year. It's going to be only Da and me. Mum's working in Sheffield now, staying with her sister."
Harry didn't know what to say, looking down at his plate, pushing his scrambled eggs around with his fork.
"He drinks when he's out of work." He bunched up the envelope in his hand, his voice soft. "I don't want to be alone with him."
"I'm sorry. Maybe …" Harry read the letter and then brightened. "Maybe I could ask Hagrid if you can stay for a week or two." He punched Severus in the arm. "That would be awesome."
Severus smiled for the first time in weeks. "Yes, that would be."
The day before Severus was due to arrive Harry had badgered Hagrid into cleaning the whole place by hand, and then, after a bit of whinging and the promise not to tell anyone, by magic. Harry'd even scourgified the curtains and under the cupboards.
Hagrid's armchair had been lengthened and widened and, after a few failed transfiguration attempts, did resemble a bed in most ways.
Harry was just washing the breakfast dishes when Hagrid came back in, carrying a bunch of daises from his garden. Hagrid grabbed an empty pitcher and filled it with water, crammed the flowers in and put it on the kitchen table. "There yeh go, nice innit?"
Harry wiped his sudsy hands on the towel he's tied around his waist and grinned. "Really nice!"
At noon, Harry was sitting on the porch, drinking iced lemonade from a jar. His feet were dangling off Hagrid's massive rocking chair, the sun was shining on his bare legs and all was well with the world. Hagrid was dozing in the shade near the pumpkin patch, yesterday's newspaper covering his face. They were supposed to pick up Severus at the Three Broomsticks later in the afternoon.
When Harry got back from refilling his lemonade from the pitcher in the cold-box, he noticed a lone figure approaching them from Hogsmeade. Severus was carrying a duffel bag and a huge grin, waving at him from the distance.
Harry put down his jar and hopped off the porch, running towards his friend, matching his grin. He skidded to a halt, throwing his arms up, intending to hug Severus, when he noticed the huge purple bruises on his arm and cheek. His smile froze on his face.
"What? No 'hallo Severus, nice to see you'?"
Harry gently touched Severus' arm, not sure how many other bruises his long-sleeved shirt was hiding, drawing him into a gentle bear-hug and grinned, teasing him. "Hallo Severus, nice to see you."
"Prat." Severus tossed his bag at him. "Help me carry that, will ya."
"Do you need me to …" Harry offered tentatively, gesturing at his bruises, not sure how to ask.
"Yeah, could you? I'm pants at healing charms and Da smashed all my potions." Severus slung an arm around Harry's back, and they started walking up the path towards Hagrid's hut.
"He'd just have done it again if I'd healed it anyway," Severus replied to Harry's unasked question.
Hagrid met them at the back door, bits of leaves and grass still stuck to his beard. He frowned when he saw Severus but said nothing. Later, when they were all settled and drinking lemonade on the porch, Hagrid went back inside, taking down a small brown pot from a shelf. He held it out to Severus.
"Put it on before yeh go to bed. They'll be gone by tomorrow."
"Thanks." Severus pocketed the ointment.
Harry showed him around the house and after they had put away Severus' things Harry suggested they go swimming.
When they floated dead-man style in the water, Harry, for the first time, got a real glimpse of the marks that night in the shack had left.
Pink welts, healed but still angry looking, stood out pink on Severus' pale forearms where he had tried to protect himself from the werewolf's claws. His back held similar, deeper looking wounds.
"I'm quite a sight, am I not?" Severus seemed to sense Harry's stare and turned his face away. "That night, and the bruises …"
"They're nothing to be ashamed of." Harry ran his finger along an especially thick scar on the side of Severus' neck, down to his shoulder. Severus shuddered under the gentle touch.
"I'm thinking about joining the Dark Lord." Severus turned to look at him. "What about you?"
Harry shrugged. "Don't know yet. Not sure I want to join anyone."
"Will you still be my friend?" Severus' voice was tense, determined and sad at the same time.
"Don't be daft." Harry splashed water at him. "Of course I will."
Harry woke in the middle of the night, wrapped around Severus, skin touching skin, painfully aroused. He untangled himself, not certain whether any kind of affection from him would be welcomed and snuck out of the hut to have a desperate quiet wank behind the pumpkin patch.
He lay back down on their makeshift bed, wanting to touch but didn't dare. He watched the moonlight outline the fading bruise on Severus' cheek, worrying how he could broach the subject without potentially losing his best friend.
Sleep came late and deep. Harry woke to Severus kicking the bed. "Breakfast's ready."
"Who made it?" Harry rubbed his eyes and yawned.
"I did." Severus grinned. "Or would you rather Hagrid had?" He watched Harry make an ew-face and kicked the bed again. "It's tea and toast, you prat."
The coming days they helped Hagrid around the grounds. Severus' bruises faded and he even developed a bit of a tan and some freckles around his nose. At night Harry still woke and snuck out, wishing it'd been Severus' hand bringing him off in the dark, not his own.
In the afternoon of the fourth day, they'd just settled amongst the cushions on Hagrid's enormous bench, escaping the worst of the day's heat with iced lemonade on the porch, when Hagrid came and sat with them. He was wearing his good shirt and had polished his boots.
"I got some business to take care of in Diagon Alley." He put a massive hand on Harry's back. "Yeh boys going to be all right for a couple of hours?"
"Sure we will." Harry looked slyly at the Gamekeeper. "You going to be back for dinner?"
"Nah, don't yeh wait up for me."
They watched as Hagrid's huge figure disappeared down the path to Hogsmeade. Then Harry nudged Severus.
"I know where he keeps the scumble." Harry grinned and got up. "You in?"
Severus spat out the blade of grass he'd been chewing. "You bet."
They lay gazing up into the starry summer night, outside Hagrid's hut.
"Look, a falling star!" Severus pointed to the sky.
"Where?" Harry turned his head, trying to see.
"Right next to Uranus." Severus broke down in drunken giggles.
"Prat." Harry punched him in the arm, then reached for the jug and missed. He made a second attempt, and managed to refill their jars. Handing one to Severus their hands brushed and Harry, full of youth and Dutch courage, propped himself up on one elbow.
"Ever kissed a girl?" Harry asked, voice soft in the dark.
"You kissed Jorkins." Severus took another sip of his scumble. "What's it like?"
"Wet." Harry poked him with a finger. "Answer my question."
"Who'd want to kiss me?" Severus snapped.
You'd be surprised, Harry thought, but asked. "Ever wanted to?"
Severus nodded slowly. "Kinda wanna know the fuss is all about."
"You could kiss me." Harry tried not to sound too hopeful. He reached out and gently tugged an errant lock of hair behind Severus' ear. The tips of his fingers brushed against Severus' cheek.
Severus swallowed hard, his Adams apple bobbing up and down. "Why'd you want to?"
Harry smiled and leaned closer. "To know what all the fuss is about."
He leaned over and gently pressed his lips to Severus', feeling for a second the indescribable sensation of soft lips against his. He gently pulled back and looked at Severus, searching for any kind of reaction in his dark eyes.
Severus had closed his eyes and was licking his lips, pink tongue darting out between them. Harry's eyes followed it, mesmerized and without thinking he leaned forwards again, wanting to chase and catch that bit of tongue with his own.
Their lips touched again and Severus moaned. Suddenly Harry found himself being pushed backwards onto the grass, their fingers entwined, Severus' lips on his. Harry wrapped his leg around Severus' and held on fast, kissing him back for all he was worth.
The next morning was less glorious. Harry woke, fully clothed, hot, sweaty and with a splitting headache. He wasn't quite sure how they'd ended up in bed, but right at this moment he didn't really care.
Severus, still passed out and drooling into the pillow next to him, had a rather telling bruise on the soft skin right below his ear.
Hagrid was at the stove, frying bacon and Harry's stomach rebelled. He was out of bed, out of the door and heaving over the porch rail with phenomenal speed.
"Morning Harry." Hagrid waited besides him, handing him a glass of water when Harry finished retching.
"Yeh did find me scumble, didn't yeh?" Hagrid clapped Harry on his back in a friendly manner. "Here this will make yeh feel better."
He handed Harry a mug with what looked and smelled like pond slime. "Drink up, boy, it ain't tasting better congealed." Hagrid grinned. "And it'll put hair on yeh chest."
Harry swirled the contents around in its mug, watching it gloop from one side to the other. Then, deciding that it could not get worse, downed the brew in one foul gulp.
He sat down heavily on the wooden porch, trying desperately not to heave it right back up. After a minute or so his head stopped spinning and the pounding and nausea eased to fade to nothing. Harry eyed the remnants of the hangover potion with new found respect. "Wow, that worked."
"Good on yeh, mate." Hagrid took the mug from him. "Had a bit of night yesterday, didn't yeh?" They walked into the house together. "I do remember me first time, was quite young, back then."
Harry's step faltered, guiltily looking over to where Severus still lay passed out and snoring a little, his nose an impromptu sundial. Harry wondered how much Hagrid had seen and why on earth he felt the need to discuss it like that.
"Why don't yeh wake yeh mate?" Hagrid started to heap eggs and bacon onto a plate. "It's a rite of passage really."
Trying to hide his red hot blush, he went to wake Severus. Resisting the temptation to kick the bed in retribution for all the times Severus had woken him that way, and saving it for a day when he would not get barfed on for his trouble, Harry gently touched Severus' shoulder.
"Severus?" Harry resisted the urge to run his fingers down the soft skin, his eyes coming to rest on the tiny purple bruise marring that pale skin. A pleasant shudder ran down his spine in memory of last night. "Severus, it's time to wake up."
Severus cracked one sleep encrusted eye at him. "Kill me."
Hagrid guffawed and handed Severus a mug of the same foul brew he'd given Harry earlier. "Drink up. As I told Harry here, it's a rite of passage. No need to be ashamed of yeh first hangover. Happens to the best of us."
Severus looked at Harry and mouthed: what's in that?
"No idea." Harry shrugged. "It helped and I really don't want to know."
Breakfast was more than a tad awkward. Hagrid was making cheerful chatter, wolfing down huge amounts of sausage and eggs. Severus and Harry were sneaking glances at each other, not sure what had happened last night and how to deal with the consequences. Later, when they sat nursing their tea, Harry pushed part of a soldier around his plate.
"What are the chores for today, Hagrid?" Severus broke the silence.
"The Thestrals need feeding and a good mucking out. The coaches need a once over, some of them could do with a lick of paint and the lamps need a jolly good shining up, too ."
"We can do the coaches." Harry offered, not too keen on lugging rotten meat around in this heat. "And the lamps."
A little later they stood in the gloomy half-light of the storage shed, naked from the waist up, brandishing paintbrushes. They worked in silence, sneaking glances when they thought the other was not looking, neither willing to breach the topic that hung like a huge purple elephant in the dusty air.
"You got a speck of paint right there." Harry reached out and touched Severus' nose, leaving a black fingerprint on its tip.
"You just didn't …" Severus growled, looking for a reflective surface to check his face for spots. He studied his face in a carriage window then advanced on Harry, twirling his paintbrush between his fingers.
Harry let out a rather undignified squeak and backed away, trapped against one of the carriages. He was suddenly very aware of Severus' body, so close he could feel the heat of Severus' breath on his skin. "I surrender," Harry breathed, eyes on Severus' lips, not knowing how to ask for what was on offer.
He didn't have to. Hot lips covered his and Harry didn't hear the wet thud of the paintbrush hitting the dusty floor. Severus' hands were in his hair and sliding down his back, pulling him closer.
Harry moaned, running his hands down Severus' naked back, his fingertips sensually sliding over every bump scar and birthmark, coming to rest over Severus' arse. Rubbing against him, Harry grabbed hold and pulled their bodies against each other. Harry moaned and Severus slid his hand between them.
"Do you want to…?" Severus broke away, dark eyes hazy with lust, lips slightly parted, swollen from their kisses.
"Yes." Harry nodded, reaching for the fastening of Severus' trousers, making him gasp as Harry's fingers touched his skin.
Their trousers and pants around their ankles, Harry and Severus ground against each other with passion desperate for relief.
Hot, sweaty and high on the afterglow, they slid to the floor and Severus rested his head against Harry's shoulder. "I think I quite like the fuss."
Harry smiled, running his fingers through Severus' hair and down his spine. "I think I do too."
Harry woke to billows of smoke coming from the kitchen stove and Hagrid nowhere in sight. He rushed over, opened the oven door, quickly cast an Aguamenti and closed it, cutting off the smoke coming out of it. He coughed.
Severus, eyes watering, opened the windows with a flick of his wand, casting a ventilation charm for good measure.
"Happy Birthday, Harry." Hagrid stood sheepishly in the door, kludging a bunch of daisies for the breakfast table. "Oh blimey. Forgot the cake, didn't I?"
Harry walked over to Severus and whispered: "Be very, very grateful that cake burned."
"Why don't yeh boys wash and I'll get breakfast going?" Hagrid suggested, pulling out the still smoking cake from the oven, cutting at it with the bread-knife. "Maybe I can save some of this…"
"Yeah." Severus whispered. "Why don't we go wash and I can give you your birthday present."
"I got a present?" Harry gave him a puzzled look. "You've never …"
"Yes, you do." Severus leered at him and pushed him towards the door. "I hid it in the cabbage patch. Get going, you dunderhead."
The cake, to everyone's relief, was a total loss. Hagrid looked a tad sad but promised to take them to Fortescue later that day, after getting their school supplies.
Harry was frying bacon, watching Severus beat the eggs with a fork and trying not to get too excited over where those elegant fingers had just been minutes ago, when there was hooting outside the window.
"Must be yeh OWL scores." Hagrid snatched a piece of bacon from the pan, blowing on it to cool it a bit and offered it to the owl on the window sill.
"Vector? I thought yeh name is Dursley?" Hagrid handed Severus his envelope.
Harry sighed, trying to think of an easy way to explain the whole mess. "Remember when you took me to buy my wand?"
Hagrid nodded, refilling their tea mugs.
"There's something wrong with it, it always shows the previous owner's name." Harry reached for his letter. "Dumbledore told me not to worry about it, it'll fix itself once I buy a new wand." And a little voice in the back of his head asked: do you want it to?
Severus had ripped his envelope open, greedily studying his grades. "I got an Outstanding in potions!" He crowed. "And one in DADA. Full score, too. With all the bonus points."
"I got an Exceeds Expectations." Harry grumbled. "But an Outstanding in Arithmancy."
"How about DADA?"
"Exceeds Expectations, same for Herbology." Harry grinned sheepishly. "And an Acceptable in Transfiguration."
"Good on yeh, boys." Hagrid looked proud. "That way y'all can be Aurors one day."
Severus and Harry exchanged a glance, rolled their eyes and chimed in unison: "Sure we can be, Hagrid."
Later that night, after a busy day in Diagon Alley, they sat on Hagrid's porch, sipping the two finger's worth of scumble Hagrid had allotted them in celebration of their scores.
"Vector is a good wizarding name, isn't it?" Harry pulled his feet out of his trainers, wiggling his toes, then propping his feet up on the balustrade.
"Yeah, why?" Severus snuck an arm around Harry's back, resting his head back against the bench. "You thinking about keeping it?"
"Yep." Harry leaned into the hand caressing his neck. "Never liked Dursley much. Stupid Muggle name of my stupid Muggle relatives."
"Wish I could change mine." Severus groused. "Mum's name's way better."
Harry took another sip of his drink. "I kinda like Snape." He let Severus' name roll of his tongue. "Sounds good together. Rather sexy, all those s-es."
Severus craned his neck, making sure Hagrid was still busy knitting a scarf by the wireless and not paying them any attention. "Sexy, huh?"
"Very." Harry leaned close and brushed his lips against Severus'.
"Is that so?" Severus kissed him.
They saw Lily at the Sorting Feast. Severus pretended not to notice but Harry snuck a glance, every now and then, watching her deep in conversation with Lupin. He tried talking to her before classes, but found it impossible to catch even a minute alone with her. Pettigrew, Potter or Black always looming close by, always cutting him off.
One night, after getting hexed by Lupin and told to stop harassing her, he pulled out the photo album with the white bunny, running his fingers over the pictures that were all that was left of their friendship. He flicked through the pages of frozen images, wondering how they could ever have been so young and carefree. Harry slammed the album shut and hid it at the bottom of his trunk before Severus came out of the shower.
"Lucius sent me an owl." Severus said, sitting down, clad only in a towel, dripping water on Harry's bed.
Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Are you?"
"Yes. I've made up my mind." Severus nodded, his voice grim. "I don't care what Dumbledore says. Or Lily." He hugged himself as if suddenly cold, belying his claim to not caring. "What have they ever done for me?"
The bed creaked as Harry inched closer. Not knowing what else to do, he put his arms around Severus.
"I don't want to be stuck at Spinner's End, with no power over my life. I don't want to be grateful for crumbs of what should be mine by birth." Severus went on, his voice barely above a whisper. "I don't wanna be my mum."
The one comforting thing about the Hog's Head was that it never seemed to change.
Harry and Severus stood on under the dim light at the entrance, the pub's sign gently creaking with the breeze.
"Come on, hurry." Severus complained, making angry little huffy sounds at Harry. "We're going to be late for the meeting."
"Oh, piss off." Harry cast a cleaning spell on their clothes. "Don't tell me you want to wander in there looking like you just had a little romp in the meadow."
Harry leered at him. "Besides, you started it."
The typical bar smell of stale beer, sweat, deep fried food and goat greeted them when they stepped in. Aberforth was polishing glasses behind the bar and nodded in recognition as they walked by.
"The Dark Lord may come by later tonight." Severus observed excitedly. "I really hope you'll get a chance to meet him."
A giant patch of darkness got up from one of the booths and took on the familiar shape of the Gamekeeper.
"Another pint of ale, if yeh would Aberforth." Hagrid hollered at the barkeep.
"Hagrid," Harry greeted his friend, walking over to him. "Good to see you. How are you?"
"Harry? Severus?" Hagrid turned around looking them up and down, sounding mildy disapproving. "What are yeh doing here? Sneaking out after hours?"
"We're going to meet friends." Harry gestured towards the backdoor.
Hagrid stepped a bit closer, his face furious. He made a grab for Severus' left hand, pulling the sleeve up all the way to Severus' elbow, revealing the dark mark.
"Yeh are with that lot?" Hagrid bellowed, sounding betrayed. "How could yeh?"
Severus tried to yanked his arm free but stood no chance against the giant man's strength. "Let go of me, you big lump."
"I've made excuses for yeh for years now. Thought yeh were decent kids" Hagrid let go of Severus' hand, sitting down heavily on a nearby stool, disgust on his face. "Just shows, doesn't it."
"Shows what?" Harry looked confused and angry. "They're our friends." He tried to smile at Hagrid but it came out all wobbly. "Why don't you join us for a drink."
Hagrid slammed his huge fist on the table, nearly breaking it. "I ain't friends with Death Eaters."
"Is that how it is?" Severus backed up, his wand out. "Come on, Harry, the others are waiting."
"Don't bother coming round me place anymore. Yeh not welcome." Hagrid clumsily got up and walked over to the bar, turning his back to them.
"Fine," Harry yelled, furious and hurt by Hagrid's attitude. "Who wants to be friends with you anyway."
The day Severus caught Potter and Evans holding hands near the lake, he went out and didn't come back till late that night, smelling of cheap whiskey and burned wood and the stink of Unforgivables.
When Harry asked him where he had been, Severus turned away from him and said: out.
In seventh year James Potter was made Head Boy, under much applause from the Gryffindor table. Harry listened to Dumbledore's speech about the rewards of bravery, kludging his wand under the table an Unforgivable on the tip of his tongue.
Classes that year were strained, a war was brewing on the horizon, and with most people having chosen sides, classroom interactions became indefinitely more hostile, fractionizing the student body more clearly than House rivalries ever could.
The day they stood in the Great Hall, in front of all the houses, listening to one of Dumbledore's rambling speeches, waiting to get their NEWT certificate and move on into the world, reminded Harry of his first day here at Hogwarts in more ways than one.
Not separated by houses anymore, they stood, alphabetically, just like they had at their sorting. He'd spent seven years with these people, many of them he'd never see again. And some he hoped he'd never lose. He surreptitiously grabbed Severus' hand and gave it a squeeze as Head Boy Potter climbed the podium under much applause and lauded his wisdom onto them.
"One more hour and we're rid of that prat forever." Harry whispered, then caught Severus' gaze lingering on Lily. "He doesn't deserve her, she'll realize what a prat he is sooner or later."
Severus squeezed back. "I just want this to be over with."
Later that day, when they were back in their dormitories for the last time, packing up their belongings, Harry again opened the photo album he'd hidden over a year ago. Severus took it out of his hands, shook his head, closed the album and tossed it back into Harry's trunk.
"So, what're you going to do next?" Pritchard sat on his bed, his belongings still all over the place.
"I think I'm going to take that apprenticeship with Slug's and Jiggers." Severus said, closing his trunk. "They said they'd let me stay on for a Masters in Potions, if I work hard. What about you?"
"My Uncle's got me set as a clerk at the MoM." Pritchard leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. "Not really what I want to do, but it'll tide me over."
"Yeah." Harry agreed. "Same here. MoM let me into the Spellcrafters. Always liked Arithmancy, so there's no harm done."
"Been sharing a dorm with you lot forever. Makes one kinda sentimental." Pritchard looked at them pensively. "Still see you 'round, won't I?"
"Who knows…," Harry said. "We might all end up here again, someday."
"Come on then." Severus shrunk his trunk down to pocket size. "Lucius is waiting and you know how Narcissa gets when we're not on time…"
Fourteen years later, Harry was late for the Sorting Feast. He snuck past the high wooden teachers' chairs and Quirrell's odd garlic-heavy turban. Taking his seat next to Severus, Harry ducked under Dumbledore's disapproving stare, and dropped to his seat next to Severus.
"Sorry about that." Harry squeezed his knee under the table. "Got held up in Diagon Alley."
"Potter's spawn was sorted today." Severus pushed his peas around his plate, hiding them under his potatoes. "Thought you might want to know."
"Gryffindor?" Harry looked over to where the Headmaster was quietly talking to McGonagall. "Was to be expected, wasn't it?"
"It's a tragedy." Harry gently mocked. "Where's he sitting?"
Severus looked past Quirrell's absurd turban to the Gryffindor table and locked eyes with a boy with messy hair.
"Bloody hell." Professor Vector's mouth fell open. "He looks just like his father…"