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It was a simple thing, as far as things go, Harry thought as he made his way back to the Gryffindor tower after another evening spent with Professor Lupin.

Really not worth getting myself worked up about, he tried to console himself as he walked.

He had passed out again from his work with the Dementor (aka the boggart) and had awoken to find himself on the floor . . . again, was his disgruntled thought at the time. It was a bit too familiar really, except for one hair raising detail.

The top button of his jeans was undone.

True, they were Dudley's old castoffs—no reason to get his school trousers dirty if he could help it, yes? So they were a bit big and tended to be a touch unwieldy, but never in his memory had a button just popped open on its own, without any outside help.

He muttered the password to the Fat Lady and made his way inside. Hermione's head was stuck in a book, and Ron was on the other side of the room. From the way they kept furtively glancing at one another, it was clear that they weren't talking again, or was it still?

Harry didn't know, and furthermore, he was too tired to care. Tiredly waving hello to a few people, he climbed the stairs up to the dorm room he shared with the other third year boys.

It was only after he had fallen into his bed for the night that his mind dared wander back to the evening's odd occurrence.

Everything was the same as it ever was. He had awoken prone on the floor, the feeling of dried tears on his face, aware that Lupin was looking at him worriedly as he painfully sat back up. His head pounding as he automatically ate the bar of chocolate the man had given him, not even tasting it, just chewing and swallowing tiredly.

Everything the same, yet not.

The feeling that he had missed something vital niggled in his brain, making sleep elusive despite his weariness. The sleep he did finally manage was full of the sounds of his mum screaming, and the undeniable and disturbing sense that someone was watching him just beyond his peripheral.

. . .

It was winter in Scotland and it was cold. The hallways were drafty, chilling the students further as they made their way quickly from class to class. Harry felt as though he were moving in a daze, his body too cold to focus on anything other than just staying awake as he stumbled through his day. Potions was the worst though, and not just because of the frigid temperatures.

Snape's eyes followed him relentlessly as he worked on his various assigned tasks for class. He knew that at any moment, the man's silken tones would assault his ears, belittling him and his friends in front of the class as they always did.

As far as familiar routines went, this was one that he could have just as well done without.

Severus Snape's eyes were on Harry, but unbeknownst to him, it was out of concern and not pure spite.

It was clear to the hawk nosed man that Harry Potter was not sleeping, but the question was why? Was it all part of some elaborate prank that the boy was involved in? Severus's gut said otherwise. The boy was weary, his body seeming smaller than usual as he hunched in on himself in an effort to better conserve the heat of his thin frame.

Severus decided not to confront the third year on it just yet, but promised himself to keep a closer eye on the lad from here on out. It would not do for the tired child to do something stupid like blow himself up. With his luck, he'd probably take out the entire class.

He told himself that his concern was merely over the safety of the class as a whole, and not because he was worried over the boy himself. Unsurprisingly, his lies weren't any better received than Harry's.

. . .

"Professor?" Harry asked Lupin after yet another private lesson.

"Mr. Potter?" Lupin's gaze was gentle as it fell upon his messy head.

"Did you get really tired when you were learning how to cast the Patronus?" He asked tentatively, hoping that his professor wouldn't see his inquiry as a reason to stop their lessons.

"Perhaps not as tired as you Harry, but then again, I learned it when I was older. Maybe it is time we took a break? We could resume later next week—."

"NO!" He bellowed, instantly feeling embarrassed at his childish reaction. "Please sir, I really need to learn this. I think it's just because it's been so cold." He pleaded.

"So much like your father," Lupin whispered, patting him lightly on his shoulder. "So dedicated," the older man smiled sadly at him.

"Is that a yes?" He prompted, not feeling a desire to hear about his father that day.

"I suppose so, Harry, but I do think we should break for now," Lupin answered, his eyes still focused on something in the past.

"Okay, sir," he answered readily enough, backing out of the room quickly.

The man didn't even wave goodbye, but he didn't mind. He knew that Professor Lupin had a lot to be sad over.

. . .

It was later, after his shower, that he found the strange bruise on his neck.

"Gettin' some action there, mate?" Seamus called out as he passed him.

Harry spat out his toothpaste and looked at his reflection carefully in the mirror. It did look like he had a hickey on his neck. But where on earth could it have come from?

Had he been hit by a bludger during Quidditch practice that week? He didn't remember being hit by anything.

Maybe he had done it in his sleep. His dreams had been unusually active as of late. It made sense that he could have done something to himself in this sleep.

Yeah, that's probably what happened, he told himself as he washed his mouth out.

It didn't go unnoticed by him that the bruise had not been there the day before, but he tried not to focus on that part.

. . .

"Expecto Patronum!" Harry yelled out as the Dementor made its way towards him.

"Please! Not Harry!" He could hear his mother's voice in his mind just before he passed out.

He was only out for a minute or two before he came back around. Not even looking at his professor, he took a piece of the proffered chocolate and shoved it in his mouth.

"Expecto Patronum!" He yelled again, trying desperately to focus on the feeling of flying combined with the feeling of utter joy at finding out he was a wizard.

"Please! Take me instead!" He heard his father say, but this time, he shoved the dizziness away and tried again.

"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" He shouted as forcefully as he could, a small wisp of something making its way out of the tip of his wand. He was conscious long enough to grin stupidly for a few seconds before the blackness took over.

The next time he awoke, it was to find tears in his eyes and a horrid feeling of coldness in the pit of his stomach.

"I think that is quite enough for tonight, Harry," Professor Lupin told him gravely, shoving a larger piece of chocolate in his hand and then going to sit at his desk.

Wordlessly he nodded, standing up and barely making it over to a chair before dropping heavily into it. Once there, he ate the chocolate quickly, a look of consternation on his face. He needed to get out of the classroom as quickly as he could in order to check something.

He nearly ran to the boy's loo, hoping that no one was watching as he did so. He certainly didn't feel like explaining his behavior to anyone at present, especially not a professor.

Once inside a stall, he hurriedly undid his trousers and pushed them down to his knees.

It was true. It was true, was all he could think over and over.

His y-fronts were on backwards.

He hadn't done it.

And his y-fronts were on backwards.

They were staring back at him accusingly and he kept shaking his head back and forth stupidly.

No. No. No.

Quickly, he stripped them off and righted them, pulling up his trousers as he did, allowing himself to lean against the side of the stall for a moment while his brain sought to make sense out of his situation. He was panicky as he hugged his arms around his torso tightly.

Could it be true? Could Lupin—? No, I can't think that! He's an old friend of my Dad's! He's the only connection to him that I have left. I can't think that! There has to be another solution. There has to be!

He wiped his face angrily before leaving the stall with a slightly more determined air.

. . .

The next couple of weeks found Harry in the library as often as not, researching the endless books that seemed to populate the shelves surrounding him. He needed a spell that could record what was happening around him when he was—when he was asleep.

Yeah, that's exactly what I'm looking for. My sleep's been messed up for awhile. It makes sense that I need to know what's going on.

Yeah.

He looked through every book he could find about parenting and monitoring babies while they slept, but the spells involved were all to be cast by another person, and he didn't trust anyone enough to do see the results—should there be any results.

In the meantime, his lessons with Lupin continued, and he continued to make strange discoveries after each one. It was mid-February, after he had discovered what looked like a small partially healed bite mark on his inner thigh that he finally found a spell that looked like it would do what was needed.

His desperation had caused him to actually make friends with Madam Pince, and she had been the one who had clued him into the psychology section of the library. From there, he had searched for books about sleep disorders, and from there he had discovered the incantation for the "Absent Witness" spell.

"Absentis Testimonium," he whispered, writing it down as he carefully practiced how to pronounce it.

The spell merely needed to be cast sometime that day before unconsciousness overtook one's senses, and then it would actively record at that time. The book also mentioned spelling something like an inconspicuous piece of jewelry as something to bind the memories to, which would then become visible only to the wearer after incanting the words, "Revelo Testis" and specifying the date of the desired memory.

Harry learned the spell and then with the help of a kindly jewelry maker that he discreetly visited in Hogsmeade one weekend, he created a rudimentary base to attach the recorded images and sounds to. He spelled it invisible after putting it around his neck, and then cast another spell that helped keep it safe on his person, in case of accidents or whatever other mishaps might befall him.

. . .

Severus Snape was loath to admit it, even if it was true, but Harry Potter was worrying him. He seemed to be withdrawing from everyone around him, even his two closest sycophants could no longer get or hold his attention for very long.

Severus watched him in the Great Hall. He watched the boy fastidiously not eat, all while pretending to be involved in the conversation around him. True, he still played Quidditch, still did his part in the games, but he did it without his usual flair, without the typical spark that made the boy lifelike and so damned annoying.

The tiredness that Severus had seen hinted at in Harry's frame was now quite obvious. There were dark circles under the boy's eyes that were almost purple in their deep intensity. And that, above all else, made him ask the child to stay after class; his only hope being that he could somehow get to the bottom of what was going on before it tore him apart any further.

"Let me see your hands," he said brusquely, after the classroom had emptied out around them.

"Sir?" The boy asked nervously, eyes wide in his far too thin face.

"Hands, Potter," Severus growled. "On my desk, palms down. Now."

He watched as the boy tentatively put them out onto the rough wooden surface; fingers trembling as though he expected Snape to reach out and thwap them with something heavy.

"Just as I thought, Mr. Potter," he said, looking over the bitten fingernails with a critical eye; most had been taken down to the quick, and some beyond that. A few of the lad's cuticles were actively bleeding before him as he watched, and he sniffed disdainfully at them.

"Accio cuticle balm!" The small jar flew into his open hand with a slight slap of sound.

"Sir?" The child's voice was small, unsure. "What are you doing?"

"One's fingers must be clean and healthy when working with ingredients such as these, Mr. Potter," he said curtly, dipping his long digits into the cream and transferring it quickly over to the injured fingers. "Potions can be altered by the slightest change in recipe, including a stray wayward drop of wizarding blood."

Severus watched Harry's adam's apple bob nervously at his words.

"Could you tell—I mean, was that where I went wrong today, sir?" Severus frowned at the faintness of the lad's voice.

"It certainly did not help. However, it is mostly likely your lack of attention during the stirring phase of today's class that contributed greatest towards the ultimate failure of your potion. Potion masters must be well rested to do their work, and you, Mr. Potter, look anything but."

"I'm sorry sir," spoken in that same damnable whisper! "I haven't been sleeping very well lately, sir."

"And not because of any other rule breaking acts you might have been participating in?" He asked sharply.

"N-No sir," the lad's cheeks were, if anything, paler than they had been before.

"Hmph," he answered with a noncommittal grunt, clearing away the excess cream and closing up the jar once more. "Perhaps you should speak with Madam Pomfrey if your insomnia does not clear up on its own soon."

"I don't think that she can help me—sir," Harry answered, turning his face away as though ashamed.

"She is a very capable healer, Mr. Potter."

"I know, sir. She's helped me lots of times," a small smile drifted its way across the boy's face. "But she wouldn't be able to help with this, sir."

"This?" The true crux of the matter, he knew, was something serious enough if it caused the child before him to lose both sleep and appetite.

"It's personal, sir."

"And you cannot talk to your head of house?"

"No, sir," Harry said, glancing back up at him briefly with fear filled eyes.

"The headmaster?"

The scruffy bowed head in front of him shook itself back and forth emphatically.

"I have to go, sir. I have a lesson to attend," Harry said at long last, reaching over with freshly healed fingers and picking up his bag.

"You did not answer my question, Mr. Potter."

"Thank you for healing my fingers sir. And for your question, the answer is no. I don't think he would be able to help."

And just like that, Severus Snape was suddenly alone in his classroom once more; the sound of fading footsteps his only companion.

. . .

Harry showed up to the defense classroom panting and out of breath, but on time—barely.

"Ah, there you are," Professor Lupin said to him, greeting him with a pat on the shoulder that gave him an uneasy feeling.

He had activated the necessary spells earlier that day, so hopefully the necklace would record anything that happened while he was unconscious. He hoped that he would be able to fight off the Dementor successfully and not pass out at all, but most of all, he hoped that he was simply wrong. He didn't know what he would do if he was right.

Things progressed much the same as always that evening. He tried—desperately—to think of an all encompassing happy memory that would work to keep the Dementor at bay and away from him.

But he couldn't.

Time and time again, he found himself on the floor, drenched in a cold sweat; his body aching as he waited for the room to stop spinning so he could make it to his feet once more and start again.

The last time he was out for at least five minutes, and when he came to the final time, he looked at Lupin's haggard face and instantly knew that their evening was over.

"All right there Harry?" Lupin asked, pulling him to his feet with a hand that was much stronger than he appeared.

He took the proffered chocolate and bit down on it quickly, nodding his head to answer while trying to chew as quickly as he could without choking. He wouldn't have thought it possible before, but he was really starting to get tired of chocolate.

Or maybe he was simply tired of what it represented.

As was becoming his ritual, his first stop after leaving the defense classroom was the loo. It was empty and he breathed a sigh of relief and went into the stall farthest from the entrance. Taking a seat on the toilet, he pulled the necklace out from under his shirt and looked at it in trepidation.

Oh how he wished he was wrong, how he wished he could pretend he was imagining things and forget about this entire awful situation.

He clenched his fist around the small bauble and put his head in his other hand. He felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes and blinked against them forcefully. He was being a baby. He didn't even know if there was anything to see. It was probably nothing.

But if it was nothing, why did he feel sick to his stomach? Why did he always feel ill when he came in contact with Lupin in the hallways? Why couldn't he sleep and why, oh why had he found his jeans unbuttoned?

He pulled out his wand and before he could talk himself out of it, he whispered the necessary words "Revelo Testis," and spoke that day's date to activate the spell.

And then he watched in dawning horror as the events played out before him.

. . .

Severus Snape strode quickly to his classroom, an ugly grimace upon his face as he moved silently through the dungeons. His wards had gone off and he dearly hoped that he would catch whomever it was that was trespassing that evening.

There was light coming from his classroom, and he knew then that they would not be getting away from him that night. He walked through the doorway and closed the door behind him with a heavy thud, casting a series of wards that would not only keep the cretin in with him, but that would also alert him to anyone else's presence outside in the corridor itself.

"Show yourself," he growled to the empty classroom.

No movements, but something like a sob came from under his desk and he frowned at the sound.

"Don't think you can blubber your way out of this situation," he hissed, moving over to his desk and pulling out the chair with a sharp jerk of his hand.

"Mr. Potter," he said in a low voice. "I should have known. What—," he stopped mid-query and kneeled down to look at the boy more closely. Potter was rocking back and forth, his hands gripping his knees tightly to his chest as silent tears continued to wash down bright red cheeks.

"I will not have this conversation on the floor," he said in a low voice, attempting to give the boy an opportunity to stand up.

However, it was as if he had not spoken at all. The child continued his rocking, looking straight through him as though he were not even present.

"Mr. Potter," he said, reaching out to touch his student's arm.

That got a reaction. Instantly, the boy threw himself backwards, farther under the desk, and now Severus's delicate ears began picking up the sounds of hysterical mutterings.

"Can't touch me . . . don't touch me . . . he touched me," the boy sobbed, his breath hitching rather dramatically, and Snape's eyes widened as his mind processed what had been said.

His student's hands began rubbing up and down his arms, and Severus's gut told him that he had to get the boy out of there before one of them was hurt.

"Mr. Potter," he said in a soft voice, attempting to remain calm.

No response.

"Harry," he tried instead and the Potter's body gave a twitch. "Take my hand, child," he instructed, holding out an open hand to the boy.

"Might see . . . might see . . . he'll get me, he'll get me!" The child wheezed at him, his terror nearly a palpable thing in the narrow space under Severus's desk.

"Who?"

Potter laughed hysterically, throwing his head backwards against the solid oak of the desk and further alarming him.

"You . . . hate . . . him," the boy gritted out between the hitching of his breath.

"A professor?"

There were many that he hated, but for Potter to be so utterly aware of it—.

Oh.

"Lupin?" He hissed softly, watching in growing worry as the boy flinched backwards again and began beating his head repeatedly against the heavy wood.

"Harry," he spoke quickly, reaching out and actually grabbing the lad's thin wrist. "Please come out of there."

. . .

He couldn't think. He only knew that when he had seen the truth, when the images had been unveiled before his eyes, there was only one place he could go that would be safe.

Dumbledore and McGonagall both liked the man because of his house and because he had been friends with his dad. So he couldn't go to them. What if they didn't believe him? What if they made him talk face to face with the man? He couldn't do it.

But Snape—Snape hated Lupin; possibly even more than he hated Harry. And when Snape had applied the healing balm to his fingers, he had wondered if there hadn't been something more significant to his gaze; perhaps even something that said he was worried about him.

He went to Snape, because he couldn't go anywhere else.

Who else would believe that he had been molested and raped by Remus Lupin, very best friend of his father's?

Snape reached out to him, grabbing his arm, and Harry let himself be pulled forwards; let himself be held as his professor awkwardly drew him into his chest and let him cry against his shoulder.

It for that reason that he made himself talk, made himself say the spell that would let Snape see the truth as well.

"That bastard," Snape had growled in a voice more cruel than any that he had ever used on him, and he let himself be picked up and carried into what was presumably the man's quarters.

He took the Dreamless Sleep that his professor gave him and he swallowed it without pause.

He was tired, but with Snape to guard over his sleep, he knew that he was finally safe to close his eyes and relax.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape had placed the boy on the sofa in his sitting room and was now pacing agitatedly in front of it. He could barely keep his magic from exploding every vial in the room, let alone sit still!

He dearly wanted to find Lupin and break his neck, but he knew Albus wouldn't agree to that.

He stopped his pacing and looked at the boy's face, still troubled despite the Dreamless Sleep. His scowl got deeper and he came to an abrupt halt in the middle of his quarters. He closed his eyes and drew on his occlumency shields for what felt like the umpteenth time that hour. In reality, he had only needed to adjust it twice that evening, but for a man such as he, twice was far too often!

Unbidden, the recorded images of the child's testimony spell came to him and he endured them painfully as they paraded past his inner eye.

Lupin leaning over the boy, calloused fingers pushing clothing aside to reveal soft youthful flesh—Severus felt his gut churning and he forced his nausea to disappear behind his mental shields; forced himself to view the account calmly and dispassionately in order to best provide proof to Albus.

But it was too much. This was Lily's son, for Merlin's sake. He barely made it to the toilet in time to keep from making a mess on the floor as his stomach rebelled against the horrendous reality.

Once back in control of himself, freshening spells applied, he carefully made his way back into his sitting room and allowed himself to look on the sleeping form of the child. Harry was curled up in a tight ball on one end of his sofa, leaving more than enough room for Severus sink into the cushion on the other side.

"I knew something was wrong, Lily," he whispered, touching his fingers lightly to the edge of one frayed sock.

Mind made up, he stood up and made his way over to his floo. Pinching a bit of the magical dust between finger and thumb, he threw it into the grating and called out the appropriate address for the headmaster's office. It was late, but not too late, and he doubted he would have to do much else to track the old man down.

"Severus!" Dumbledore greeted him jovially through the fire. "Would you like to step through?"

Severus glanced over his shoulder and then turned back towards the fire with a grimace. "I'd think it best if I remained here, Albus."

Albus's eyes narrowed under white bushy eyebrows, his face suddenly much more serious.

"Shall I come through then?"

A pause, and then Severus gave a tiny nod. "Yes, do. We have something important to discuss."

. . .

Poppy stepped into the floo and stated her destination, her mind on the worrisome call she had just received from the headmaster only moments before.

"What's going on here Severus?" She asked immediately upon exiting the fireplace into Severus's own quarters. Behind him was a sofa, and curled up in a tiny ball was Harry Potter, asleep.

"Thank you for coming so quickly, Poppy," Albus answered instead, stepping out from the side of the room and taking her arm gently. His face was lined and his countenance suggested a man who was deeply troubled.

Poppy felt something clench tight within her gut, but she did not react outwardly and turned back to Severus for an explanation.

"Poppy," Severus began in a low voice. "Mr. Potter came to me tonight for help . . ." he trailed off, glancing back at Albus uneasily.

"And?" She demanded, peering up at them both impatiently.

"Poppy, we need you to check Harry for sexual assault," Albus finished, his face a paragon of sadness.

"What?" She exclaimed with a gasp, looking back and forth from either man; her eyes silently demanding that they explain themselves immediately.

"Would you just do as the headmaster asked, Poppy?" Severus snapped, eyes glowing unusually brightly at her.

Her first instinct was to snap right back at him, but something in his face stopped her. Severus Snape was never one to openly display his emotions, but that evening, Poppy got a glimpse of the pain in his eyes, and for once decided to forgive his harsh behavior.

"Of course," she said softly, moving past both men and beginning the diagnostic scans.

. . .

Harry awoke up to find Snape sitting in an armchair next to his head, reading what appeared to be some kind of potions journal.

"Mr. Potter," Snape said when he saw that he was awake.

Harry flinched back into the cushion farther and covered his eyes with his hands. Lupin had called him that. Lupin had called him that and then he had—he had violated the trust between them. Harry shuddered and curled up into an even smaller position.

"Harry," Snape's voice was softer and he peered out from under his hands, blinking owlishly at the blurry dark haired figure in front of him.

"Your glasses, Harry," Snape said, pressing his well worn spectacles into his hands. He grasped at them wordlessly, and then shoved him them on his face as quickly as possible. He despised being blind as much as he despised being left in the dark about issues that concerned him.

"We are alone at present, Mr. P—Harry, but I am quite certain that the headmaster will want to speak with you later."

"What about Prof—what about Lupin?" He whispered hoarsely; crossing his arms securely in front of his chest and gripping his biceps tightly. He had edged up into more of a sitting position, but he was still pressed rather deeply into the sofa itself.

I don't have to call Lupin professor now—and I don't want to!

Just thinking about it made him feel sick to his stomach and he pinched the skin on his upper arms tighter still as the nausea rolled through him.

"He has been detained by the aurors and they are interrogating him now," Snape's lip seemed to curl up in distaste at Harry's question.

Harry didn't know that Snape's use of the word "interrogating" was synonymous with "torturing;" nor was he aware of just how intimately acquainted his potions professor was with the process. But that's not where Severus's distaste was stemming from—not entirely at least.

Snape had wanted to poison the man with something particularly gruesome and slow acting, but had been denied the opportunity by Dumbledore.

Harry could sense that there was a great deal that the man in front of him was not saying, but he wasn't suicidal enough to press the issue, at least not yet.

"What happens now?" He whispered, his eyes darting around the room as they hunted for a clock.

"It was half-past three in the morning, Mr—Harry. I had not expected you to wake yet, but since you have, it would probably be best to talk to the headmaster now."

"He's not asleep?" Harry asked, pulling his knees up under his chin and repositioning his arms around them.

Snape's face sharpened and his eyes narrowed in what seemed to be surprise.

"Of course he is not asleep," the man huffed indignantly.

Harry thought about the situation for a moment and then ventured a guess. "I suppose there's a lot of paperwork involved in removing someone as a professor?"

"That is entirely beside the point, Harry," Snape answered coldly. "You, Harry Potter, were attacked under his very nose, under his care."

Harry blinked and tightened his arms around his knees. "Is he angry?"

"He is livid," Snape hissed.

"At me?" The words tumbled out before he could stop them.

"Why in Merlin's name would he be angry at you?"

Harry didn't have an answer for the growled question.

"Harry, he cares for you very deeply," Snape finally said through gritted teeth, almost as though the admittance pained him.

"Like Lupin?" Harry asked and then flinched backwards, throwing himself to the other side of the sofa and covering his face with his hands.

Oh god oh god oh god. I just spoke back to him. He's gonna kill me!

However, when no attack came—either verbal or physical—Harry hesitantly lifted his head from his hands and peered back at his professor.

Snape had moved to the end of the sofa where he had been moments before, but no farther. He was gazing back at him with a miserable expression and for one split second, Harry wondered if he should try to comfort him in some way.

"Harry, I'm so sorry that your professors did not keep you safe from him," Snape said at long last.

An apology? From Snape?

"We failed you, all of us. And Albus feels the same, but his grief is a thousand times more potent."

Chapter Text

True to Snape's word, Harry soon found himself standing in the doorway to Dumbledore's office, his professor directly behind him.

Blocking the exit, Harry thought nervously.

"Harry," Dumbledore greeted with none of his usual flamboyancy. His eyes were red-rimmed and he looked positively old. "Please come in, my boys."

Harry swallowed and took a step forwards, keeping his head bowed.

He cares for you very deeply. Snape's comment about Dumbledore kept bouncing around in his mind. His professor hadn't said the word, "love," but Harry had a feeling that he had meant the same.

Time seemed to be slowing down around him; his thoughts warring with his ability to keep moving. Dumbledore loved him, but Lupin had loved him too, hadn't he? He was one of his father's best mates. He thought of him as his "cub."

Harry came to a complete stop in the middle of the office, unaware of the worried glances he was now receiving from both Dumbledore and Snape.

He could see the images of Lupin bending over his prone form as clear as day in his mind's eye. Dumbledore cares deeply for you, but so did Lupin, and look what he did! Harry felt sick and he wrapped his arms around his midsection, hunching over as he tried to keep from vomiting.

Dumbledore's the reason that I had to grow up hated and ignored. He's the reason that no one ever hugged me or said that they loved me.

It was too much to reconcile. Lupin had loved him, but he had violated him. Harry gulped at the thought, his body breaking out into a cold sweat. Dumbledore loved him, but he had also left Harry with the bloody Dursleys!

His vision came back into focus and he looked up into Dumbledore's worried face fearfully. What else had the man done to him in the name of love?

Lupin had touched him. Lupin had touched him against his will or knowledge, and had been doing it for weeks. Dumbledore could do the same thing, couldn't he? After all, he was a stronger wizard than Lupin. Would anyone even stop him if tried something?

His breath quickening in his ears, Harry shook his head in the negative and took a step backwards, his back colliding with Snape.

He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Snape hated him. Hated him, but had never touched him. The Dursleys might have starved him and sometimes smacked him around, but they had never touched him like Lupin.

He cares for you very deeply.

Suddenly Harry realized that he didn't want to be there anymore. He didn't want to be around someone who had hired the man who had done such things to him. He didn't want to be around someone who seemed to love him, but whose actions said otherwise. Snape at least had always been honest about his feelings.

Snape wouldn't hurt him.

Barely thinking, Harry resolutely turned around and pushed his face into the front of Snape's robes, hiding his eyes from the old man who was still staring sadly at him from across his desk. He didn't want to do this, didn't want to be here. He couldn't do this.

. . .

Severus looked down in shock at the boy who was now hiding his face against his chest. Tentatively, he reached out a hand and laid it on the child's thin shoulder. His eyes narrowed as he felt him trembling, and he glanced back up at Albus with a pointed look.

"Harry?" Albus asked gently, finally standing up and walking closer to them.

The boy immediately tensed further and pushed himself harder into Snape's front.

Severus raised a hand to halt his employer's progress across the room, and then touched the child's head gently, turning his face up towards his own.

Vibrant green eyes shone out at him, made brighter by the presence of tears and he swallowed hard as a wave of nostalgia washed through him. For a split second, he had seen Lily's face staring back at him, her face tight with misery, and the image made his chest hurt.

"Harry?" He asked softly, keeping a gentle hand on the lad's cheek.

"Wanna go," the boy whispered out in a hitching voice, his green eyes pleading desperately at him.

"Albus still needs to speak with you," he answered, trying to remain calm for those present.

The child shook his head back and forth violently, his tremors becoming more noticeable by the minute. Furthermore, Severus now noticed a definite greenish tint to the lad's face, and he realized that the child was only moments away from being sick.

It was time to go.

As though Albus had read his mind, the old man suddenly spoke, "Perhaps it would be better to postpone this meeting, Severus."

"I think that would be best, Albus," Severus said, not taking his eyes off the child in front of him.

He turned to leave, his hand on the boy's back in an attempt to guide him back to the stairwell. Harry took one unsteady step and then his knees buckled. He would have fallen to the floor if not for Severus's quick reflexes.

It was easy enough so swing the child up into his arms and lay him against his shoulder the way a parent might do with a younger child. The boy was clearly underweight, and Severus made a mental note to look further into the reasons behind that.

"Will he be all right, Severus?"

Severus glanced back up at Albus with a grimace. "Would you be?"

"Where will you take him?"

Harry's eyes were open, but it was clear that he was no longer aware of his surroundings.

"The boy is in shock, Albus. He needs to be watched after."

"Then perhaps you should take him to Poppy—," Albus began, only to be cut off by an increasingly irate Severus.

"This isn't some passing Quidditch injury, Albus. A trusted adult abused and raped him," Severus said with a snarl, thinking of Lily as he spoke. "Not only is Poppy responsible for a plethora of other snotty nosed ingrates, but her talent lies in healing the physical, not the mental!"

"Are you volunteering to help Harry Potter, my boy?" Albus asked with a momentary flash in his eyes.

"Since his other trusted adults have so grievously failed him, it seems that I must."

With that angrily spoken answer, Severus turned on his heel and stealthily made his way back to his quarters, a small underweight Gryffindor third year in his arms as he went.

Chapter Text

Severus discovered a few surprises upon returning to his quarters that evening. For one, there was now an additional bedroom present, and within it, he found a battered trunk which presumably belonged to the small traumatized third year he still had in his arms.

"Hmph," he grunted, knowing that it was Albus's way of apologizing to him.

He lay Harry down on the bed, tucking him under the bedclothes carefully. The boy's eyes were still open, staring out listlessly as he moved around his prone form. He carefully removed his glasses and placed them on the bedside table gently. He had no desire to transfigure Harry's uniform into pajamas, so he went to the end of the bed and opened the trunk's lid to find the boy's own.

He was not prepared to be faced with a pile of what looked like barely recognizable rags. Not aware of doing so, he sunk to the floor and began hunting through the grayish heap; his movements becoming more and more feverish as he realized the extent of the damaged clothes.

Finally, he made himself stop. He leaned back on his heels, nearly panting in his fury at the child's reprehensible relatives. There had been signs that Harry's family didn't get on with him as well as he would have previously presumed, but he had firmly looked past those would-be concerns; far too entranced with seeing James Potter in the lad, as opposed to just Harry.

Standing, he wiped a trembling hand down his face and then with barely another thought, he reduced the rubbish down to ash and banished it out of his sight. With another small flick of his wand, he summoned a pair of black cotton pajamas from his room and then shrunk them down to a more manageable size.

He undressed Harry quickly, but paused before putting the pajamas on. With a frown, he reached out a hand and rolled the child over on his stomach, hissing in newfound dismay as he saw the number of scars present on the thin frame. A few timeless moments passed, and then Harry shivered and drew his arms and legs in closer to his stomach, breaking Severus from his stricken reverie. Severus reached for the pajamas once more and finished dressing the boy in a matter of seconds, pulling the covers up around his ears after.

Then he pulled the desk chair over to the bed and transfigured it into an ottoman long enough for him to stretch out on. He summoned a blanket from his linen closet and then turned the lights down a bit.

Lying on the flat cushioned surface, Severus stared up into the darkness for a long time, his thoughts on a multitude of things as he further processed the unsettling paradigm shift that had taken place that evening.

. . .

At some point in the night, Harry's eyes had closed and he had dropped into a mercifully quiet sleep. It was only sometime before dawn that his nightmares began, roughly rousing Severus from his own fitful dreams.

"No! Stop!" The boy screamed out abruptly into the early morning quiet.

Severus shot upright, his hand on his wand, his eyes darting every which way as he quickly tried to remember where he was. It suddenly hit him that it was Harry—Lily's Harry that was screaming beside him. He was upright and perched on the head of the boy's bed less than a heartbeat after that, quickly adjusting the ambient light in the room in order to better see Harry's face.

"Please!" Harry screamed thrashing around, his face already tear streaked and red from his sobs.

Not exactly sure if he should—or even could—offer comfort in such a way, Severus hesitantly put his arms around Harry's skinny frame and pulled him up against his chest carefully. The sobs didn't die down and the misery didn't end, but Harry stopped thrashing almost immediately, and he allowed himself one small breath of relief.

He adjusted them both, rearranging the pillows behind his back with a brief touch of wandless magic and then leaned back more comfortably. If necessary, he would sit there all day with the lad, but he hoped it didn't come to that.

"Why—Why did he do it?"

The whispered question came out of nowhere, and he blinked down at the boy in mild surprise. Red rimmed eyes were looking up at him with more much pain than any thirteen year old boy ought to possess.

"I do not have an answer for you, Harry," he answered with a shake of his head.

Tears were working their way down those bright flushed cheeks with a renewed vigor, and he stroked the boy's hair lightly; knowing better than most that offering empty promises would not help the boy to heal any faster.

The child's body shuddered against his own, but he remained calm and quiet. It seemed that Harry would talk to him if and when he was ready to, and until then he could wait.

As he had predicted, it was several minutes before the boy in his arms spoke again.

"Professor," Harry's voice cracked and he looked down at the child with a softer expression, his dark eyes hiding his pain as he waited.

"Harry?" He whispered, moving the small body farther up so that the boy's messy head rested gently on his shoulder.

"He put his—," the sentence was broken by a sob and the feel of Harry shaking his head back and forth just under Severus's chin. "He put his . . . he put it in me," the child sobbed harder, small fingers clenching uselessly against the soft surface of his robe.

Severus didn't have to hear what the boy couldn't voice to know what the lad was talking about. It was that same image that had haunted his sleep, and he gritted his teeth to keep from growling aloud.

"He put his—," Harry tried again, voice rising hysterically in his distress. "He put it inside of me."

Now Severus did shush him, tightening his arms around him as he continued to stroke the boy's hair.

He could only think of one other point in his life when he had felt nearly as helpless, and that had been over twelve years ago; the night that Harry had been orphaned and he had been unable to stop it.

He didn't know why Harry seemed to find him a safe figure. They certainly had not gotten along prior to this tragedy, but after the wreck of a meeting with Dumbledore, it was now clear that Severus had somehow become something of a safe harbor to the traumatized boy.

It didn't seem like nearly enough.

Chapter Text

Harry opened his eyes and looked up in surprise. Apparently he had fallen back to sleep after his last nightmare, but why had Snape been holding him the entire time? Was he asleep too?

The professor hadn't yet said anything to him, so Harry surmised that he probably was. His eyes were closed, but he knew better than to assume anything about Snape.

Quite suddenly, he realized that his bladder needs were at a rather critical level, and so he deftly wiggled himself out of Snape's hold and went looking for a toilet.

Severus opened his eyes only moments after Harry had left the room. Blinking hard, he sat up and stretched, wincing at the crick in his neck and the sore muscles in his back.

"No more sleeping upright," he muttered just under his breath as he made his way to his feet.

He checked the time and discovered it to be a quarter to eleven in the morning. Thankfully it was Saturday and he had not had anything scheduled for that day. Stiffly, he made his way back to his room to change clothes and freshen up a bit. He glanced at the bathroom door as he passed by and thought about the boy inside. If his suspicions were correct, his schedule was soon going to be the least of their worries.

After using the loo and vigorously washing his face, Harry left the bathroom and went back to the room where he had presumably slept the night before. Snape was no longer there, but the bedclothes were still rumpled. He found his glasses on a sturdy oak side table and he slipped them on and eyed the bed critically. Acting on autopilot, he went over and made the bed, easily maneuvering around the strange long ottoman that was sitting there beside it.

Ignoring his trunk for the moment—he didn't really want Snape to see him in his cousin's old castoffs anyway—he padded back into the main room, his bare feet slapping lightly on the cold stone floor. Once there, he found a freshly bathed Snape sitting at a loaded down table, drinking a cup of coffee and reading The Daily Prophet.

"Sit down, Harry," the man said, not even glancing up at him.

"Yes sir," he answered softly, scrambling up into the chair opposite his professor.

"You will catch your death of cold if you wander down here barefoot," Snape pointed out in a low voice, after finally turning his dark eyes on him.

"Oh, let me go get—," Harry started, pointing his hand in the direction he had just come from.

"Never mind that, child," Snape grunted and pulled out his wand. "Accio a pair of Severus's socks," he called out with a flick of his wand. Instantly a pair of black wool socks came flying in from the other room, which Harry watched with a slightly open mouth.

"Put these on," Severus said roughly, handing them over carefully.

"But," Harry whispered around the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. "They're yours, and I—are you sure?"

"Of course I am sure, idiot boy. Why else would I have handed them to you?" Snape snapped.

"Th-Thank you," Harry answered quickly, looking down and quickly pulling the socks on, his shoulders wiping carefully at his eyes as he did. He didn't know why he cared if Snape saw him cry now. It's not as though he hadn't already turned the man into a handkerchief earlier!

If Snape noticed his tears, he didn't say anything as Harry looked back, and he was grateful for it.

"Is this all for us, sir?" He asked quietly, gesturing at the numerous plates of breakfast foods they were surrounded with.

"Yes," Snape replied, taking another careful drink of his coffee while Harry stared at the table in dismay.

"I don't think, sir—I don't think I can eat this, I mean—," he rambled worriedly for a moment before being cut off with a dark look from his professor.

"Eat what you can then, Harry. But I want you to eat; do you understand me? You have skipped far too many meals so far in your life, and there is no reason for you to continue to do so."

Snape looked back down at his paper, leaving Harry open mouthed and blushing.

Does he know that I didn't skip those meals on purpose? The anxiety swelled up in his chest like an angry dragon and suddenly his hunger—such as it was—disappeared; leaving him with a sick feeling in the bottom of his stomach. It was bad enough that Snape knew about Lupin—something that Harry couldn't let himself think on just then—but for him to know how his loving family treated him was too much on top of everything else.

Harry shivered miserably and pulled his legs up to his chest, propping his chin on top of his knees and staring back across the table at his professor.

"It is difficult to eat when your hands are wrapped around your legs, Harry," Snape remarked dryly just then, glancing back at him finally.

Did he—was that a joke?

"At least drink your milk, Harry. Can you do that?" Snape's voice wasn't condescending, although by all rights it could have been. Harry felt something release ever so slightly in his body and he found himself nodding in response.

With trembling hands, he reached out and took a hold of the glass and raised it to his lips. The milk was wonderfully cold and it perked him up just a bit. He made to put it back on the table, but between his tremors and the wet condensation on the glass, his fingers slipped and he watched in horror as the glass fell to the stone floor and shattered.

His eyes wide with terror, he looked back at Snape who seemed to be frozen in place.

"I'm sorry!" He squeaked, a sob trying to come out of his throat. He quickly grabbed a napkin and was about to get off his chair and start cleaning, when suddenly Snape pointed his wand at him and shouted.

"Idiot child!"

"I'm sorry!" He answered in a sob, throwing his arms up around his head automatically.

"Must I stick you to that chair?" Snape's voice was surprisingly mellow now and he peeked around his hands warily.

"Wha—?"

"I do not wish you slice open your hands and feet on the shards of glass, Harry. As you most certainly would have done had you gotten up!"

"I—," his voice was stuck somewhere in his throat.

Snape pointed his wand at the mess and vanished it with a muttered word and then turned back to him.

"See, child?"

He nodded mutely, wiping his face again, but this time with the sleeves of his pajamas.

"Oh for Merlin's sake, Harry," Snape groused, shoving something in his hands.

It was a handkerchief, and he blinked hard at the new emotions that seemed ready to boil over in his eyes at the simple motion.

"Thank you," he whispered, wiping his face carefully.

Across the table from him, Snape was pouring him a new glass of milk.

Chapter Text

Halfway through their meal, a knock sounded on the door to his quarters. Severus wasn't surprised that someone was visiting him—especially after all that had been revealed the previous night. However, the same could not be said for Harry. At the sound of the knock, the boy flinched and turned worried green eyes towards him, his mostly full breakfast plate completely forgotten.

"Stay here," Severus directed smoothly, dabbing carefully at his lips with a spare linen cloth before getting to his feet and gracefully making his way to the door.

Minerva McGonagall, the plaque beside the doorway read in stilted script.

Why she had not looked for the boy before midday was anyone's guess. He supposed that he would be learning more about it than he would have preferred, and it was with that dour thought in mind that he opened the door.

"Severus! Why did Mr. Potter not return to Gryffindor tower last night?" The fiery older woman demanded, barely waiting for him to step aside before pushing her way into his quarters.

Severus shut the door behind him with an audible thump and swiftly put himself in-between his colleague and the terrified child staring back at them so fearfully.

"He had unfinished business to attend to," Severus diverted quickly, not really lying.

"Business that could not have waited until tomorrow?" She blustered incredulously, crossing her arms and tapping her foot on the floor haughtily.

"Yes," he hissed back, moving backwards far enough to place what he hoped would be a calming hand on the child's visibly trembling shoulder. "Why don't you go and ask Albus? He could have told you all of this."

And more, if the old man had been so inclined. It was not a thought he cared to think on. Behind him, a chair scraped and he felt the shoulder disappear from under his hand, before suddenly feeling Harry's thin frame push up against his back; the lad literally hiding behind him.

In another set of circumstances, he might have been amused at the idea of a Gryffindor hiding behind a slimy Slytherin.

"I caught him as he was leaving," she sniffed, walking closer to him—or rather, them.

"Leaving?"

"'Business at the ministry' was all he said," she answered, her eyes glinting in frustration as she tried to peer around his unmoving form.

Lupin.

"Mr. Potter, come out of there at once," Minerva called out in a strict voice.

Behind his back, Severus felt the trembling increase.

"Mr. Potter will be staying where he is," he answered instead, peering down his nose at her as she gawked back.

"Might I remind you that he is my student?" She countered, the fiery glint quickly returning to her eyes as she got over her shock.

"He is my student too."

"You know perfectly well what I mean," she hissed in a low voice. "Have I ever so blatantly interfered in the dealings of your house?"

Yes, he didn't say.

"Harry," he called out over his shoulder. "Go wait in the other room, please." He turned his head and caught the boy's eye, giving a discrete nod.

"Yes sir," Harry whispered far below the hearing of Minerva.

The trembling form behind him vanished. Out of his peripheral, he saw the child slip around the far edge of his sofa and then scurry off across the expanse of his sitting room. Minerva's eyes followed him the entire way and Severus dearly wished to call her on it.

He managed to remain silent until he heard the door shut. And then he told her in no uncertain terms that if she wanted to know what was going on, she would have to wait for Albus to return. Until then, Harry was staying with him and that was final.

She argued, as he had known she would, but finally conceded the argument to him and left in a huff.

He allowed himself a moment of silence and then he went after the boy.

. . .

Albus stepped into the cell and waited for it to clang shut behind him before giving a nod to the auror on duty. Without another word, the auror waved at the guards and they left together as a group. The corridor seemed to be empty, but Albus checked it with a spell regardless.

The guards truly had left them alone.

He turned back towards the prisoner and walked over to where the man was laid out atop the prison issue cot. Albus summoned the only other chair in the room to his side and then sat down carefully, keeping his eyes on Lupin the entire time.

"I'm glad you came," Lupin's rough voice broke the silence between them.

He knew about the aurors' interrogation techniques. He knew what they had done. And though Lupin's healing skills were heightened because of his condition, it did not mean that the man had been left unaffected by their harsh treatment of him.

It was clear to him that the man was worn out; barely able to keep his eyes open as he lay there on the dirty cot, in an underground cell far beneath the Ministry.

"Are you now," Albus answered calmly, his eyes harsh and unyielding in the dim light of the cell.

Lupin coughed harshly, his breath still wheezing painfully in his lungs when it finally passed. And Albus couldn't find it within him to be sorry—to feel any kind of remorse for this man.

"Remus," Albus began in a cold clear voice. "Tell me why."

The twinkle was gone from his eyes. This was not the doddering and foolish old headmaster that so many children and parents adored. No, this was the man who had defeated Grindelwald; the man whose presence had provided one of the only real threats to Voldemort during the years of terror and darkness.

"Why?"

"Why Harry?" Albus asked again, leaning in towards the other man ever so slightly.

"Because I love him," Lupin answered simply, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. A slight smile pulled the corners of his mouth up, revealing sharp teeth.

"Only Harry?" Albus asked sharply, his heart beating unnaturally fast in his ears.

"I'll admit that James was a treat to look at, Albus," Lupin answered softly, giving that frighteningly soft smile again. "But my heart lies with Harry. Such a sweet boy—so much like his mother," Lupin's eyes had become unfocused as he stared off into the distance at something only he could see.

"So responsive, Albus! He responded to the slightest touch," Lupin's face relaxed in something near bliss, making Albus's anger broil in his veins at the memories the man was now clearly entranced with. "Lovely boy. And eager to please too, Albus. Reminded me a bit of when I was a lad."

"You have no regrets about your actions then, Remus?" Albus asked, fingering his wand delicately.

"Why would I?" Lupin's eyes came back into focus and he looked up at Albus questioningly. "He never told me 'no,' after all. I loved him, and he let me," he continued, relaxing back down once more.

Albus turned his eyes to Lupin's own, hesitating briefly before making the decision to look into the man's mind. He pushed past recent memories of torture and abuse, callously ignoring everything in his search for the truth. It took some time, but finally he found the pertinent memories. They were hidden behind a very plain door; which he would have missed it altogether if not for the aura of discomfort he felt coming from around it.

It was with a resolute heart that he chose to walk through and see exactly what kinds of horrors Harry had been subjected to in the name of "love."

Sometime later, he came out of the experience with a pained gasp and a mind full of nightmares. Tears trickled out of red rimmed eyes, falling into his beard as he stared back at the man in front of him in disbelief.

Although Albus had never been hugely skilled at healing, he did know a thing or two about anatomy; at least enough to know where the heart was located and how it worked. He didn't look up as he laid his hand over Lupin's chest and muttered the incantation, imagining the specific muscle with his mind's eye.

It only took five minutes to stop the man's heart.

Just before he finished his task, Lupin took one last breath and whispered out to him, "I will miss him."

Albus deliberately waited until it was too late, until the man's blood pumped no more in his veins and his eyes were permanently fixed and staring, before he answered.

"I daresay that Harry will not feel the same, my boy."

He got up and closed his former pupil's eyes with a gentle hand, and then he left.

Chapter Text

Albus stepped heavily from his fireplace and made his way into his office slowly.

From his perch, Fawkes trilled worriedly at him and he acknowledged the sound with a half-hearted wave of his hand. His mind was on Lupin, on the images that he had taken forcibly from the man's mind; images that were now swirling around in his mind at a sickeningly fast pace.

Not looking at his surroundings, Albus slowly walked across the room and went into his bedroom. Behind him, he heard a rustle of feathers, and then quite suddenly he felt the comforting weight of his familiar land on his shoulder. Fawkes touched his head with a brightly colored wing and gave a mournful trill into his ear.

He didn't respond to his feathered friend's sadness for the tragedy unfurling around them. He didn't respond when Fawkes began to sing. He merely carried his body to the edge of his bed, seeing himself move as though he were looking through someone else's eyes.

Now sitting, he turned his face into the phoenix's body and breathed in blank silence.

. . .

When Snape had sent him back to the room he had spent the night in, Harry had gone without thinking; his terror far too great for him to remain in the same proximity with an angry McGonagall for very much longer.

Unfortunately his fear had not abated when he had closed the door behind him. Instead, it had continued to rise within his chest like a great winged beast, reaching its clawed fist around his throat and slowly choking him until the room was spinning around his head.

There was too much open space around him; too many places for things to reach out and grab him.

Although he would have had difficulty explaining it to anyone else, he suddenly found himself dearly wanting his cupboard. Therefore, he had chosen to move to the closet and hunker down in its narrow confines. It was the closest thing available to what his mind desired.

. . .

Severus knocked on the lad's door and waited. There was no answer and he frowned at the silence. Without further ado, he opened the door and went in. There was no sign of the boy. He ignored the quickening of his heart rate and looked under the bed.

No Harry.

Could the lad have left under his invisibility cloak?

No, the wards would have alerted me.

The door hadn't opened. He was sure that the door hadn't opened since had sent Harry in here.

He was sure.

He took his wand out and whispered, "Point me Harry."

It spun around in his hand before coming to a stop. His brow furrowed further as he realized that it was pointing at the closet door.

Why in Merlin's name—?

Quickly, he crossed the room, his feet making little to no sound on the carpeted floor. He came to a stop in front of the door, but hesitated before opening it, his hand on the knob.

Why was the child in the closet?

He shook his head. He didn't know. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know. It didn't matter. The spell wasn't wrong. Harry was in there and he needed to come out.

Finally, he turned the knob and slowly pulled the door open.

. . .

Harry blinked hard as the light suddenly came into his hiding place. There was a dark figure standing in the doorway and he scrambled backwards from it.

"Harry," the dark figure said in a soothing voice, crouching down and reaching a long fingered hand out towards him.

Huddled at the back of the closet, Harry cocked his head at the sound of the man's voice. It wasn't his uncle. His uncle would never speak so civilly to him. A freak like him didn't deserve such treatment.

"Harry," the dark figure tried again. "Please take my hand, child."

Suddenly it clicked and he blinked hard at the unexpected wave of emotion that went through him at his realization.

"P-Professor Snape?" He whispered, still holding his hands tightly around his knees.

"That's right," his professor said with a nod; his voice still so very calm. "Won't you take my hand and come out of the dark?"

Harry hesitantly reached out a smaller hand, but jerked it back a few inches before reaching the older man's hand. Snape didn't yell and he didn't move any closer. It was for that reason that Harry finally got up the nerve to try again. He reached out and touched his much smaller fingers to his professor's warm hand. Snape gripped his hand gently, but didn't pull on him and didn't pinch.

Harry let out a breath and let his body creep forwards a bit into the light.

"That's it, Harry. Just a bit more now," Snape said encouragingly, his dark eyes looking sincere.

With his free hand, Harry picked up his sodden handkerchief and shoved it into the pocket of his pyjamas. Then he pushed himself up on his knees and allowed himself to move closer to Snape's still crouched form.

"Are you angry?" He whispered.

"At you? Why should I be angry?" Snape began stroking the back of his hand with a potion stained thumb and Harry scooted just a little nearer. He was sitting less than a foot from his professor now, feeling strangely unthreatened by the man's close proximity.

"'Cause I got so scared?" He asked, still whispering.

"I believe you had an appropriate response to a trying situation, Harry. There is no shame in that."

Harry shook his head in disagreement. Uncle Vernon hadn't driven him to tears since he was eight. In fact, as he thought about it, he had never acted so—so cowardly before in his entire life. Was he a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff?

Or just a freak like always?

His eyes burned and he had to look away from Snape's intense dark eyes. Not looking up, he hastily pulled his hand back from Snape and wrapped his arms around his stomach.

What's wrong with me? Why can't I just push through this like usual?

To his great mortification, his vision started blurring up as his eyes filled with tears once again.

"Harry," Snape murmured, laying a hand on his shoulder and gently drawing him into his side.

"You're not 'posed to hug me!" Harry cried out hoarsely, trying to pull away again.

"Because of what Lupin did?" Something flashed in his professor's face and then he was calm again. However, unlike before, Snape didn't let go of his shoulder; he just kept holding Harry close to the side of his chest.

"'Cause freaks don't get hugs!"

"'Freaks?'" Snape's lips twisted as though he didn't particularly care for the word.

"You know," Harry blinked hard and glanced briefly into the man's stern face. "Freaks? Weirdos? Monsters? Outcasts?"

Snape was staring down at him as though he had frozen and Harry ducked his head in embarrassment.

Maybe he doesn't know what I am? He asked himself. Not true! He knew something was wrong the first time he met me!

"Harry," Snape started, but had to clear his throat before he could continue. "What else can you tell me about 'freaks'?" He asked, making another unidentifiable face as he said the word again.

"Freaks don't get love. No one loves a freak. You just put up with them," Harry began, unaware that his voice had taken on the quality of a younger child's.

"Freaks shouldn't be heard or seen. No one wants to look at a freak. They're worthless," his voice trembling as he continued his recitation. "Freaks oughta be glad for what they get, 'cause they're lucky to get anything. No one wants a freak."

"Why is that, Harry?" Snape asked very softly.

"'Cause freaks are bad," Harry answered automatically.

"How so?"

"They don't act right. They make weird stuff happen. You can't be seen in public with a freak. People stare and point. Good people don't spent time with freaks. They smell bad and look funny. You can't trust a freak. They cheat and they lie and they don't know how to be good."

Snape's face was completely unreadable now. Harry decided it might be better not to look up again. He didn't really want to see whether Snape agreed with the Dursleys or not.

"What does it take to be good?" His professor finally asked; his voice strangely hoarse.

"Do what 'm told and not talk or do anything freaky."

Silence, and then Snape said, "It sounds as though you are not allowed to be good, child."

"If I tried harder—," he whispered, feeling the old yearning deep in his heart again.

"What happens if you are 'bad,' Harry?" Harry could hardly believe that Snape still had his arm around his shoulders; that he was willing to continue touching him.

"Get punished," Harry said with a shrug of his shoulders, his eyes still on the floor.

"Like what, child?"

"Spankings and—and I get locked in my cupboard without food. Well, now I get put in my cousin's second bedroom. They moved me after I went to Hogwarts," he said, giving another shrug.

"Your cupboard?" Snape sounded slightly incredulous, and he didn't know whether that was a good thing or not.

"Yeah. Freaks don't deserve rooms. They're not like people. They don't need that much."

"What are they like then?"

Harry thought for a moment and then answered hesitantly. "They're more like animals."

"Like pets?" It seemed that Snape was really trying to understand the intricacies of being a freak.

His mind went automatically to Aunt Marge's dog Ripper, and how he was allowed to terrorize Harry.

"No. Pets are more important. You can love a pet. You can't love a freak." He lifted up his glasses and ran his hand across his eyes impatiently.

"Harry," Snape's hand touched his cheek and he flinched backwards slightly. "Harry, look at me."

He raised his head, fearing the worst, but his professor's face was calm.

"Is Ms. Granger a freak? Her parents are muggles too, correct?"

Harry had to wipe at his eyes again.

"Not as much," he answered at last.

"Explain."

"Hermione lives with her parents," he explained.

"And?" Snape prompted when he did not continue.

"Well, they wanted her. She's their kid," he said, gritting his jaw tightly and pinching the skin against his ribs tightly between the tips of his fingers.

"And your relatives?"

"Don't," Harry's voice was bitter. There was nothing he could do to make things better, no matter how hard he tried. He knew this. He knew it. He pinched harder; trying to replace the pain in his heart with the pain in his skin.

He felt Snape shift beside him and then suddenly his hands were being gripped by much larger ones.

"Stop that," Snape hissed in his ear. He stopped, surprised that the man had noticed. No one ever had before.

"Come child. It's time to get up off this floor," Snape said then, pulling them upright. Walking beside him the entire way, Snape directed him to sit on the sofa in the other room and then sat down beside him.

"Does the headmaster know any of what you have just told me?"

"Maybe?" His voice was uncertain and it caused Snape to look strangely at him.

"Either he does or he does not, Harry," Snape answered in the same soothing voice from before.

"He put me there. He said I'm safest there. I asked if I could stay at Hogwarts for the last two summers. He said I couldn't, because my aunt's love would keep me safer. I dunno if he knows how they really feel." Harry looked away, feeling the pain in his heart searing again. "Maybe he thinks I deserve it," he admitted in a barely audible voice.

"For what?"

"For what I did," Harry whispered, his throat closing off around the wet lump forming there. Maybe that's why Lupin got away with what he did. Maybe Dumbledore really did think I deserved it.

"Harry, what could you possibly have done to deserve your relatives?"

Harry's lip started trembling against his will and he closed his eyes tightly against the insistent tears.

"Voldemort wanted me. If I hadn't been born, my parents would still be alive. It's my fault."

"Harry, you idiotic boy," Snape growled, clearly exasperated with him. "Look at me. Look at me."

He made himself look up into Snape's blazing eyes as his professor's hands covered his own with a surprisingly gentle touch. He wondered if the man realized that Harry was crying on him. He wondered what he would do if he did.

"Their deaths are not your fault, child."

He shook his head 'no.'

"They chose to protect you with their lives. It was their choice to save you. The dark lord chose to kill that night. It is his fault alone that they are dead."

"Then I wish I had died too!" His tears wouldn't stop and he couldn't see, and the entire situation was completely surreal.

"The headmaster should have checked on you more often than he did," Snape said in frustration.

"He didn't care what happened to me. He just wanted me to suffer for what I did!" Harry cried out in a hitching voice.

"He wanted you to be safe," Snape answered more loudly. "Were you not listening to me? He loves you Harry. Surely you can see that?"

Harry recoiled from his professor. Dumbledore might not have raped him in the name of love, but he had placed him in the care of his relatives.

"Child?" The man's ferociousness had disappeared as fast as it had begun.

His chest felt as though it might burst from the conflicting emotions that were running rampant through his heart. He remembered what it looked like to see Lupin's hand caressing his skin; his face loving and caring, even while he forced himself inside of Harry's body. He remembered watching his own face, how his tears continued to roll down his face even though he was unconscious. Occasionally Lupin reached up and wiped the wetness off of his face, but he didn't stop what he was doing. He didn't stop until he had mixed himself with Harry's bloody innards.

Abruptly, he snapped back to the present and without warning began vomiting over the side of the sofa. Quickly Snape conjured a bucket for him and he threw up into it until he could give no more. He cried as he emptied himself; he cried and begged silently for it to end, for his insides to be clean once more.

Eventually his sobs quieted as weariness took over him once more. When Snape pulled him against his side, Harry allowed himself to be held. He was too tired to resist.

Snape didn't love him, didn't want him, and it was better that way.

It was safer, especially for a freak like him.

Chapter Text

Harry lay in the center of the bed, curled up as tightly as possible. He was asleep, but Severus could not believe that the sleep was well. Not even with the Dreamless Sleep Potion he had given the boy before putting him to bed.

He scowled. Severus did not know why . . . well, he would not admit to himself why he did. A small part of him could not help but feel resentful for being in the position he now found himself in. Harry did NOT trust him. The few that the child had trusted had either failed him, Albus, or hurt him deeply, Lupin.

"He trusts me," Severus muttered through gritted teeth.

"That he does, Severus."

Severus whirled, his wand in his hand, his body poised to protect the sleeping child at any cost. His eyes widened at what he saw.

Standing, no leaning, against the door frame, was himself. Slowly, and warily, he rose, but did not put his wand away. Severus studied the man in the doorway with sharp, narrowed eyes.

Something about this doppleganger was relaxed, but harder . . . so it seemed, but Severus knew he could be wrong.

The other Severus spoke, "Let us not waste time on unraveling a mystery, Severus. Just call me Snape, if it makes this any easier."

Severus sneered. "Nothing would make this easy."

Snape chuckled softly. "No, I do not suppose it would." He moved into the bedroom, and looked down upon the small boy. He did not hesitate to reach out, and brush the dark fringes of hair off the pinched face. Severus stepped forward, but not out of a need to protect Harry, but from a well of jealousy within himself, that nearly made him dizzy.

Snape turned. "I have not much time, so I shall say this now," said the duplicate Potions Master. Snape had noted the flash of jealousy in the other's dark eyes. "Harry does trust you, but he is unaware of that. When he does realise this, it will frighten him, and you need . . . no, you must be there for him, Severus."

"I am already," Severus declared tautly. He did not care for being cautioned by this other . . . him.

"At the moment you are, Severus," Snape moved smoothly back to the doorway. "There is much going on in your world, and your duties are going to be twisted as you try to be what he needs." Snape's voice lowered. "Do not let anything else turn you away from him, Severus. He is in a hell no child should ever have to suffer, and if you forget yourself, or lose your temper with him, when he is not at fault, you could hurt his soul."

Severus' eyes glitter with affronted anger. He hissed, "I would not do that to him!"

Snape ignored the anger, and leaned closer. "Whether you feel burdened or not, my friend, you are the one that Harry has turned to. His fragile psyche is in your hands; to crush, or to repair." His voice had a gentle firmness Severus did not think he had ever heard from his own voice.

Severus still felt out of sorts, insulted, perhaps, and opened his mouth to argue further, but Snape only smiled at him. "It will be hard, but I know you will do the right thing, Severus." The other Snape turned into the small hallway, and Severus heard an unfamiliar chuckle, "After all, you are me."

A whimper from the bed drew Severus back to the coiled form in the bed. He put away his wand, and seated himself on the side of the bed. A small part of him found comfort when Harry turned, and uncurled just enough to fall gently against the older man. Severus watched in surprise as the pinched features smoothed out, and the child sighed. The Potions Master believed that the child's sleep was finally sweet.

. . .

The floo flared and a voice called out from the grating. "Severus, are you there?"

Severus flinched and opened his eyes.

It was a dream, he thought, shaking his head and looking down at the boy still sprawled beside him, scruffy head now perched upon his lap.

"You must be there for him, Severus," his other self had told him.

"I will be," he whispered to himself, clenching a fist briefly.

"Severus?"

It was the headmaster's voice, and he looked up sharply at the sound.

"Dumbledore?" He called out in a soft voice.

"Might I come through, dear boy?" Dumbledore asked from his place in the fire.

"Please," he answered. He didn't rise to greet his mentor however; his attention still on the form of the sleeping child partially draped across his lap.

"How's he doing, Severus?" Albus asked after sitting down in the armchair beside him. The old man had given Harry a somber look upon arriving, but now his eyes were back on him.

"The family you left him with, the family that raised him," Severus hissed back, keeping his voice in that deathly quiet range that most students feared. "It was his uncle and aunt, correct?"

Albus peered closely at him before answering his question. "It was," he confirmed slowly. "What else have you discovered?" There was no twinkle present in his eyes, and Severus vaguely wondered when—if ever—it would return.

"He will not be going back there, do you understand me, Albus? He will not."

"What has he told you?" Dumbledore's voice was pained, but Severus pushed past his mentor's discomfort.

"'Freaks don't get love. No one loves a freak. You just put up with them,'" he whispered in a furious voice, his hands balling up into tight fists once more.

Albus wheezed harshly inwards at his words, but before Severus could continue, Harry gave a small whimper from his lap, drawing his attention back down.

"Hush," he whispered down to the boy, stroking a long fingered hand through scruffy black hair. The child turned on his side, putting his back to the headmaster and relaxed into silence once more.

Severus lifted his head to find Albus staring thoughtfully at him, and he let himself scowl back.

"You truly care for him," Dumbledore remarked softly.

"It is only because I must," he said.

"Do not let anything else turn you away from him, Severus," the words of his other self abruptly came to him.

"Because the other responsible parties have failed him so heinously," he continued when Dumbledore didn't respond. "He needs someone to help keep him in line."

He needs someone who gives a damn, Albus, is what he didn't say.

"Can you do it here?"

Severus cocked his head slightly at the unexpected question.

"Can he be helped here?"

Severus contemplated the meaning behind his mentor's casually worded question. Could he put Harry back together again while each of them juggled classes and everything else that went with that?

"It would certainly take longer here," he answered contemplatively.

Albus nodded at him, blue eyes suddenly wet, and Severus felt a chill go down his spine at the sight of his mentor looking so emotionally vulnerable.

"Albus," he whispered, reaching out a hand and lightly touching the older man's loosely held fist. "What else has happened?"

"I—," Dumbledore started, only to break off and look down at his feet.

"Albus."

"Lupin won't be hurting Harry ever again," the older man replied, expelling his words in a rush as a nervous first year might.

"What," he swallowed against an abruptly dry throat, "What happened?"

"He is dead, Severus. He is dead, because I killed him."

Remus Lupin, the werewolf that almost killed him, the man who molested and raped Harry Potter under their very noses was dead.

Severus focused on Albus's grey tinged face and allowed himself to continue staring in silence back at the old man beside him.

"Lupin—Remus was as much my boy as you are Severus," Dumbledore continued, the tears growing in his weary eyes as he spoke.

Severus didn't answer that, but continued to watch his mentor somberly.

"I couldn't—," Dumbledore looked away, clenching his jaw briefly. When he turned back, his eyes were clear and steady as they stared back at Severus. "I couldn't let him continue on like that. And I couldn't let him get away with what he did to Harry, Severus. Do you understand?" His voice was a whisper once more, and Severus couldn't find it within his heart to argue anymore.

"I understand."

"He caused Harry to be afraid of me, Severus. Of me," Albus's whisper was desperate and Severus had to close his eyes against his mentor's distress.

Albus Dumbledore was not supposed to be so damned human.

It was unsettling.

"Perhaps you should get some sleep, Albus," he finally said when he opened his eyes again.

It took a moment for Dumbledore to process his words, but finally he saw the old man nodding his head in agreement.

"I think you might be right, my boy," Albus answered slowly, rising uncertainly to his feet. "We will talk more tomorrow."

Chapter Text

Monday morning finally rolled around, and with it came more than a few surprises. For starters, those students with Potions that morning found an empty classroom and a detailed note on the board for what their homework was to be for the next week.

The other surprise was announced at breakfast that morning.

"Students, may I have your attention please?" Dumbledore stated loudly, using sonorous to broadcast his voice throughout the hall.

The Great Hall quieted down immediately. The headmaster, although still a formidable force, looked decidedly worse for wear that day; even his clothes were less garish than usual.

"Professor Lupin has had a family emergency and does not look to be back with us in the immediate foreseeable future."

The room broke out into excited whispers, only to be silenced with a harsh look from Professor McGonagall. Dumbledore turned and nodded tiredly at her and then continued his announcement.

"It has been decided that I will be taking over all DADA classes for the remainder of the term. Thank you." He cancelled the spell and sat down as the hall burst into loud and questioning hubbub.

At the Gryffindor table, Hermione sat in the midst of wildly gesticulating students, her mind racing as she ignored their hyper and inane conjectures regarding what Dumbledore had just told them.

Harry hadn't returned to the tower that previous Friday and she was very worried about him. She had been to McGonagall about her concerns, and although the older woman had listened to her and promised to look into the matter, her fears were still quite present within her mind.

What would cause Professor Lupin to disappear at the same time as Harry? As she looked at the head table, she also noted with some unease that Professor Snape was also absent.

"You gonna talk to McGonagall again?" Ron asked from beside her, his mouth half full as usual.

"I might just go straight to the headmaster this time," she answered slowly, a determined gleam coming into her eye.

"Well, leave me out of it. If she says he's fine, then he is," Ron shrugged and went back to eating.

"But she didn't say that at all! She just said that there he was involved in some kind of situation."

At the head table, she noticed that Professor Dumbledore had gotten up and was already halfway across the Great Hall.

"He's leaving!" She hissed as she grabbed her book bag and gave a glare to Ron. "Are you coming or not?"

"Hermione! I haven't finished eating!"

"Fine!" She huffed angrily and then took off across the hall.

She caught up to Dumbledore just at the entryway, her breath pounding loudly in her ears as she tried to ignore the whispers and catcalls of the other students.

"Professor—!" She panted out.

"Miss Granger," Dumbledore answered, his usual twinkle noticeably dimmed in his tired eyes.

"Sir, I was wondering if you could tell me where Harry was?"

The older man's hand came out as though to pat her shoulder, but it stopped halfway and dropped back down to his side before completing the distance.

"Let's not talk here, Miss Granger," and he directed her out into the hall and towards his office.

"He didn't come back to the dorms on Friday, even though he had a lesson with Professor Lupin! And now Lupin is gone, and I noticed that Professor Snape wasn't at breakfast either!" She explained her worries quickly as they walked down the hallway, trying to keep her voice low. "What's going on sir?"

They had reached the gargoyle and Dumbledore leaned in close to its stone head and whispered something that sounded a great deal like 'everlasting gobstoppers.' The gargoyle must have understood though, because it immediately slid aside. The headmaster wordlessly waved her inside and they rode the stairwell to the top in silence. It wasn't until they were safely ensconced in his office, with the desk in-between them that he gave any kind of answer at all.

"Miss Granger, I would offer you tea, but as we both have class in less than fifteen minutes, I'm afraid that we simply do not have the time," he said with an apologetic smile.

"Where's Harry, sir?" She asked in a faint voice.

"He is safe, dear child. He is with a very trusted friend of mine."

"But why?" She pressed onwards.

Dumbledore brought his hands together and peered benignly across the desk at her. "Have you heard the reports regarding Sirius Black?"

"I know he's the first prisoner ever to have escaped Azkaban," she answered, feeling confused. What did that have to do with anything?

"Indeed he is," Dumbledore said with a small nod of approval. "What you might not know is that he is also Harry's godfather."

"I-I knew that," she stuttered softly, dropping her head in embarrassment as she revealed her knowledge. "Harry overheard Mr. Weasley talking about it."

"Ah, I see." Dumbledore answered. "Then what I'm about to tell you may or not be a surprise, but it is still something that does not need to leave this room. Do you understand?" His eyes glowed unnaturally bright for a moment and she gave a jerky nod of her head.

"Sirius Black escaped and is largely believed to be coming after Harry. But you knew that, didn't you," he muttered, more to himself than to her. "Although the sightings are believed to have died off, last week I was made aware that Black is still in the area. That, combined with Mr. Potter's bad habit of wandering off the grounds at inopportune times," here his eyes flashed with what felt like a warning at her, causing her to gulp nervously. "I have decided that for his safety, it would be best if Harry were to go into hiding for a short while."

Who is Harry staying with? Dumbledore mentioned that he was with a trusted friend, but whom is he referring to?

A wash of cold abruptly rushed through her gut and she flinched and then stared accusingly back up at him.

"He's with Professor Snape, isn't he?"

"Miss Granger—," Dumbledore tried to soothe, but she wasn't listening.

"Professor Snape hates Harry! You can't possibly be serious," she spluttered, only to be cut off with a stern glare reminiscent of Professor McGonagall.

"I am quite serious, Hermione," he answered in a soft voice, a wave of strong magic building around him. His use of her given name spoken with such magical intent caused her to slump backwards in her seat and she stared dumbly back at him.

"It is time for us to continue our day. Come, we must get you to class and I need to go to the defense classroom."

She didn't know what he had done, but it felt as though her limbs were being worked by someone else. She jerkily made it to her feet and stiffly picked up her bag.

"I am sorry that you feel Harry isn't safe with Severus, but I would hope you would believe me when I told you I had only his best interests in mind."

Her body was moving easier, but her extremities were extremely cold, almost as though she had been outside for too long and was just starting to warm up. Now she did feel his hand on her shoulder, pushing her in the correct direction, and once again they rode down the stairwell in silence. Only this time, it was because she literally could not make her mouth work.

Once they were back in the hallway, she felt the headmaster pat her shoulder once more and then turn and rush off in another direction. She made it to her class in time, but only just. The compulsion to keep silent didn't wear off until halfway through first period, and by the time she could speak again, she found her mind too full of theories and questions to bother doing so.

. . .

"Aren't you supposed to be somewhere?" Harry asked him shyly that morning during breakfast.

Severus glanced up from his bowl of oatmeal at the child sitting opposite him. Harry was chewing his lip and wiggling nervously in his seat as he waited for Snape's reaction.

Although the question reeked of impertinence, he really couldn't find it in himself to be angry at the boy. That previous night had witnessed not one, but two nightmares of bloodcurdling intensity, and they were both tired as a result. He had considered giving the child Dreamless Sleep, but he had been unable to properly rouse him in order to do so.

"We are both excused from class," Severus answered.

"Who's gonna take over your classes?"

"No one is. I have assigned projects for the rest of the week."

Harry's eyes grew wide and Severus sighed internally. It seemed that this conversation would have to happen now whether he wanted it or not.

"The rest of the week?" Harry whispered, his fidgeting completely stilled as he took in the new information.

"The headmaster has decided that you need some time off."

"Because I freaked out?" Harry asked him, his breath stuttering loudly in the silence between them.

Because he thinks I'm a freak? Harry's eyes added; their fear making his words more than palatable.

"You have been through an ordeal," Severus said in a slow voice, hoping to calm him before the inevitable panic attack started.

"He doesn't think I can handle it?" Harry's voice was hurt, and Severus had to do his best not to look at the tears beginning to gather in those green orbs.

"He doesn't think you should have to," Severus disagreed with a growl.

He watched patiently as Harry's small hands pushed his glasses up and knuckled away the insistent tears.

"I c-can you know," Harry whispered shakily, blinking hard. "I can handle it, really. I'm not weak," he added, tightly crossing his arms over his chest.

"It isn't a question of being weak."

Harry shook his head and started to speak as Severus stood up and went to kneel beside the child's chair.

Gripping the boy's chin with a hand, he said crisply, "You are not weak. No one thinks that. Understand?"

"I—," Harry started to say, but clamped his mouth closed after gazing back into Severus eyes for a moment.

"Yes sir."

. . .

Before he had learned about what Lupin had done to him, Harry wouldn't have cared so much about what Snape thought of him, but now it mattered a lot.

"I don't have to be coddled, sir." He said once breakfast had concluded.

"Good, as I do not coddle," Snape answered with an unpleasant curl of his upper lip.

Just hearing his snarky professor say something so normal made something inside his stomach relax a little.

"Come," Snape said, indicating that Harry should follow him across the room.

He was perplexed when he saw that they had stopped in front of the fireplace.

"Sir?" He asked. It had finally dawned on him that Snape was fully dressed, while he was still in yet another pair of the man's shrunken black pajamas, complete with borrowed woolen socks.

Snape threw a handful of floo powder into the open flame and called out, "Headmaster's office."

"Are you going somewhere?" He asked, not liking the idea of staying in his quarters by himself, but also not relishing the idea of traipsing around the castle in the man's pyjamas.

"We are, Harry," Snape answered curtly, holding out a long fingered hand to him.

A lump formed in his throat at the motion and he swallowed hard against the nostalgia that image raised in his mind. The Dursleys had never bothered to hold his hand, and on more than one occasion had actually tried to lose him.

Shyly he reached out his hand and grabbed hold on Snape's much larger one. The lump in his throat grew he felt the man's fingers tighten around his own, and then he felt himself being pulled forwards as they went through the green flames together.

As always, Harry tripped walking out of the fireplace, but Snape's firm grip kept him from falling.

"Ah, there you are," Dumbledore greeted them congenially.

Harry flinched backwards and tried to hide himself in the voluminous folds of Snape's teaching robes.

Stupid stupid stupid! It's the headmaster's office; you should have expected him to be here.

Harry felt his cheeks grow hot as he hid his face against Snape's side, but even with his extreme embarrassment, he couldn't bring himself to look up.

"No shoes, Severus?" The headmaster admonished from the other side of his professor.

And then there was a rush of magic around his feet and suddenly Harry found himself wearing a pair of slightly scuffed trainers. He opened his mouth to say something, to thank the headmaster, but nothing would come out of his mouth. He couldn't even bring himself to look at Dumbledore, let alone speak.

Feeling somewhat mortified, he looked straight up into Snape's piercing eyes and made a sort of strangled sound in his throat.

"Yes Albus, thank you for correcting that oversight," Snape answered stiffly for him, dark eyes not moving from his own.

"Thank you sir," he managed to whisper, feeling relieved when Snape gave a tiny almost imperceptible nod in response.

"Where shall you be flooing to?" Dumbledore's voice pierced the moment and he couldn't help but flinch again. Snape's unoccupied hand found his shoulder and gave a brief squeeze.

"The Leaky Cauldron," his professor said, glancing over his shoulder at the headmaster.

"And from there?" Dumbledore asked, sounding more and more like Mrs. Weasley did when talking to one of her brood.

"Muggle London."

Silence, then Dumbledore said, "Likely a safer option."

For what? Harry wondered, looking steadily up at Snape.

"Have a good trip," the headmaster said as he felt Snape's hand on his shoulder once more, directing him to the fireplace.

"What are we doing?" Harry whispered.

Snape's face twitched and then his expression became unreadable once more.

"Shopping."

"Sir?" He blinked in surprise.

"For clothes."

"For me?" He squeaked.

"Yes," Snape retorted testily, throwing the floo powder in finally and calling out "Leaky Cauldron" as their destination.

And then that hand around his was pulling him forwards, and he was falling headfirst through the swirling green flames.

Chapter Text

He fell through the floo like he always did, bracing himself to hit the ground as he tripped forwards.

Only he didn't fall, because as the floo spat him out into the dingy interior of the Leaky Cauldron, someone's hands were there to catch him.

His heart rammed itself into his throat, his brain already starting to panic, before his eyes opened and he realized who was holding him.

"P-P-Professor Snape?" He whispered, staring upwards in befuddlement.

"Silly boy," Snape admonished softly as he helped to put Harry back onto his own two feet.

"Thank you," he answered. It was then that he realized that the other patrons of the pub were all staring at them. Nervously he pushed himself slightly behind his professor, cautiously slipping his hand back into the man's much larger one as he did.

"Ignore them," Snape said so quietly that Harry thought he must have imagined it.

Snape turned them to the door and then flicked a critical eye down at his borrowed pajamas and transfigured shoes.

"I would have brought your coat with us, but seeing as how you did not seem to own one . . ." Snape trailed off, his dark eyes glinting dangerously.

"Sir?"

"Warming charms will have to do," Snape finished, taking his wand out and performing the necessary incantation. Harry instantly felt warmth settle over his limbs and he involuntarily let out a little sigh of pleasure.

"Luckily we are not going far," his professor said, briefly stopping before the door that led to muggle London and flicking his wand once more.

Instantly his heavy teaching robes changed to a long black trench coat, and Harry goggled a bit at the black jeans and long sleeved gray pullover that were clearly visible underneath it.

"Come," Snape said, opening the door that led to the frigid outside.

Harry was thankful that Snape did not let go of his hand as they walked briskly down the sidewalk through the blowing snow. Luckily, the bitter cold weather seemed to limiting the number of pedestrians around them, but there were still a few close calls. The third time he accidentally tread on his professor's feet to avoid being touched by stranger, Snape stopped and without warning suddenly lifted him up and propped Harry on his hip before continuing onwards.

It was a shock initially, but Harry felt much safer by the next block and was able to relax a bit by the time they had reached their destination. He was somewhat grateful that Snape put him down just outside of the shop itself, but couldn't help missing that warm safe feeling that had been present in his chest while Snape had been carrying him.

. . .

The boy was thirteen, but he was very small for his age, looking to Severus more like the ten year old Draco had. And yes, he hadn't usually carried the ten year old Draco, but there had been times where it had been necessary—say, at the end of a very long day when the child was completely worn out.

Besides, it was frigid and there weren't any of the boy's little friends about to mock him, and Harry's grip on his hand was beginning to cut off circulation to his fingers. Interestingly enough, when he had picked him up, the boy had instantly melded to his chest, wrapping thin legs around his waist and burying a cold nose in his neck, seemingly holding on for dear life.

The muggles didn't care. No one was there to judge either him or the boy, and even if they had been, he couldn't say that he definitely wouldn't have done it again.

He looked down at his charge, at the wide green eyes staring out of a too thin, pale face.

Lupin did this, his mind snarled.

But it was more than that. His relatives had a hand in it too. In fact, as he looked around the plush surroundings of the muggle clothing shop they now found themselves in, he realized that the muggles had more to do with this than just a hand. They had delivered a kick to the boy's backside, throwing him on his knees before he had ever entered Hogwarts.

It made his blood boil.

. . .

The shop was every bit as different from the outside world as it could possibly be. It was warm; so warm in fact that Harry was thankful when Snape ended the warming charm shortly after their entrance. The floor was covered in plush maroon carpet, the kind that made him want to take off his shoes and run barefoot through the store.

And if not for the people and Snape's disapproving glare, he might have considered it.

The people were all around him, still staring at him like they had on the street. He could feel their eyes judging, knowing what he was: a weakling, a victim, another man's plaything. He shivered and automatically took a step closer to his professor, pressing his body up against Snape's side, slightly behind him and ready to run should it become necessary.

. . .

A older female employee greeted them, coming over to them from the far side of the store with an accusatory expression on her face that seemed to demand an explanation from him without her even asking.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" She demanded through a pseudo aura of politeness.

"Good morning," Severus answered politely, feeling Harry twitch in surprise from beside him.

Please do not speak, child. For once in your life . . . his thoughts trailed off.

He was a spy and as a spy, he could adapt to the roles and the expectations that were laid upon him by the various situations he found himself in.

"My sister's family experienced a rather devastating fire in their flat last night, and as such, my nephew needs an entirely new wardrobe."

The woman narrowed her eyes before tersely demanding, "And your sister? Why isn't she here?"

He dropped his voice in a mild version of the deadly whisper he used with his students. "My sister and her husband were injured while rescuing him," here he glanced down at Harry pointedly, before shooting his eyes back up to the nosey hag before them.

Then, almost as though they had planned it beforehand, he felt Harry push his face into the front of his shirt and make a very soft whimpering sound, as though his parents' "injury" had truly just occurred the previous night.

It was all that was needed to break down the rest of the woman's defences, and quite suddenly Severus witnessed an about face in her behaviour towards them.

"Oh my goodness!" She whispered; her hand going up to her mouth in a public display of silent horror. "And your nephew?" She queried, looking down at Harry with a shocked expression.

"Is suffering a bit from smoke inhalation and is under strict orders not to speak unless absolutely necessary," Severus reeled off easily.

"Oh you poor dear," she said in a slightly louder voice, making Harry twitch again. "Let's see if we can't get you some new clothes, shall we?"

"Yes, thank you," Severus replied smoothly, waiting for the woman to begin walking before putting a hand on the boy's shoulder and steering him also in that direction.

. . .

The whimper hadn't been very hard to produce. The woman scared him—not like the men did, but bad enough. Snape, on the other hand, was safe. Snape was like his island and as long as they were touching, no one could hurt him, no one would dare.

They moved through the store easily enough, the other employees leaving them alone since they were already being taken care of.

Still though, Harry could still feel them watching him. There was one man in particular who gave him the creeps, but luckily he was standing all the way at the other end of the store. Harry watched him carefully out of the corner of his eye, and tried to figure out what exactly it was that set him on edge about the man.

He was rather lanky, perhaps as tall as Professor Snape, if not a bit taller, but his teacher looked positively chubby by comparison with his nearly gaunt appearance.

Maybe he's just the security guy, he tried to reason to himself as Snape began talking to the woman about what sorts of things they needed.

He wished that the man would get what he was there for and leave and stop staring at me, he pleaded silently, pushing his face into Snape's warm side once more. He also didn't know why the professor was being so lenient towards him.

Maybe he feels guilty about . . . about everything, he thought, not giving voice to the truth of what had happened.

"Harry," Snape said, catching his eye and looking at him with a brief touch of what looked like concern. "I need you to go into the dressing room and try these on," he said, holding out a pair of trousers towards him.

"Where?" he whispered back.

"Follow me, young man," the woman interjected then, forcefully trying to push her chipper persona into their private conversation.

He couldn't help but flinch back in surprise, and then it was with some embarrassment that he realized he was using Snape's dark coat to hide behind. He felt his cheeks burn and he tried to apologize, but Snape only shook his head, and then gave an empty sounding excuse to the employee about him being frightened of sudden noises because of the fire.

"Perhaps you could just point out the dressing room, madam?"

Harry was still shocked at hearing Snape be polite, let alone to a muggle, and to a muggle like her no less!

"Certainly," the woman answered, her polite tone a bit more clipped this time.

"This way," Snape instructed, pulling Harry out of from his hiding place and lightly pushing him forwards.

As they walked, Harry got the undeniable feeling that he was still be stared at, and so he risked looking in the man's direction again.

There was nothing there. No tall dark haired man staring at him around a rack of clothes. Harry looked around wildly; suddenly aware that not knowing the man's whereabouts was infinitely worse than his constant unnerving stare had been.

"Child?" They had stopped just outside of the rooms, and Harry realized that he couldn't breathe. He couldn't get enough air in, and there were too many people staring at him, and he couldn't shake the feeling that someone was trying to get to him, and—.

Abruptly the world swam before his eyes and he pitched over to the floor.

"Harry?" Snape's face was over his, dark eyes watching him carefully and his mind latched onto the sight desperately.

"No, don't go, don't go!" He begged in a rasping whisper as Snape started to sit up. He watched his professor wave irritably at the crowd that seemed to be gathering around them and then leaned over his body again, picking him up easily and then standing up.

" Somewhere private . . . " he managed to catch from the conversation around them, before closing his eyes and praying that he could be anywhere but there.

He felt them moving and then suddenly the light was different and the sounds dropped off to a distant murmur. Instinctively he knew that they were alone now, and that seemed to be all his body needed before he felt his tears begin, his sobs following not much after.

. . .

Snape was . . . concerned about Harry. He would have been concerned with just the knowledge of the sexual abuse, but with what he was learning now about the child's family, that concern was beginning to blossom into fear. The parallels between Harry and the Dark Lord were far too numerous to ignore, and furthermore, he knew all too well the perils of growing up without proper parental or mentor support.

It would be difficult enough for a well-adjusted child to bounce back from this latest tragedy, but a boy with either of their histories?

And so, he was more than a little concerned about what would happen if Harry did not find that support at the necessary time and from the correct people to give it. Magically, he knew that the child was strong; how could he be otherwise with parents like his?

But mentally, emotionally, even physically he needed help getting to where his classmates and peers already were.

Perhaps it was time to do something more than what he was doing. Perhaps it was time to take a stand, to help this boy find a path before one found him.

Chapter Text

Severus looked down at the trousers still in his grip and then looked back at the child who had cried himself to sleep on his shoulder. With the use of a quick switching spell, he exchanged the lad's pyjama bottoms for the trousers and then checked to see if they fit. Remarkably they did, and he allowed himself a private smile.

With a swish of his wand, he switched them once more and then stood up, swinging the boy's trousers over his free shoulder as he did. The trousers were the most difficult part of their excursion, but now that he had a size, he could simply fill out the rest of the child's wardrobe on his own.

Before exiting the small back room, Severus performed two additional spells on Harry. First, he applied a light sticking charm to the boy to ensure that the child would not suddenly fall from his grasp, and then he added a lightening charm. Although Harry's weight was slight, it was still more than he preferred to carry for very long without a break.

. . .

Harry was largely unaware of what was going on around him. All he knew for sure was that he was warm, relaxed and safe, and beyond that, he found it didn't really matter.

He was so tired of having to constantly be on his guard around everyone. He was tired of worrying about what was going on, and he was tired of having to remain calm in the face of everything that had happened.

A part of him wanted to rant and rage and set things on fire, but another equally loud—if not louder—part of him simply wanted to hide somewhere and never come out again. He didn't like being the Boy-Who-Lived anyway, and this latest trouble just threw everything into a tailspin.

It bloody well hurt to get betrayed by someone who should have been good to him. He had already been denied so many good things in his life, he would have thought that he wouldn't have been bothered by this, but he was.

He knew his friends were loved by their parents, and he was glad of that, but at the same time, he was so damned jealous of all the things they took for granted. Was he really that unlovable? Was he really that much of a waste of space?

Or was Lupin's kind of love the best he could hope for? Lupin hadn't really hurt him, had he?

But he had, a small voice in his mind had argued while he had cried himself out on Snape's shoulder.

He had taken away his last semblance of normalcy, his last hope for just being a regular kid.

This is what you get for daring to be more than just a worthless freak. This is what you get for wanting more than what you had in your sorry little existence.

That hurt. There had been a time at the beginning of his Hogwarts career that he thought he could be more than just his past and maybe more than just his reputation, but as he looked back on it, he realized just how impossible that hope had been.

Worthless, stupid, awful, horrible freak, nobody wants you! The mantra ran itself in his head, adding strength to his tears and simultaneously draining him that much faster. He had so wanted to not believe it. He had wanted to, well blast it—he had wanted to hope that he could be better.

But how could he now? How could just keep going forwards and hoping that things would get better when they obviously weren't? Maybe some people were destined to do great things, but not him; not stupid Harry James Potter. He was destined to be a fuck-up it seemed, and so a fuck-up he would have to be.

And yet, he couldn't help but hope just a touch, just the slightest smallest bit deep inside his heart that he was wrong. He desperately wanted to be wrong. It hurt too much to think that life wasn't going to get any better.

. . .

Severus had only just returned from London and had just barely put Harry into bed when he heard the sound of knocking at his door. As was his custom, he looked at the scroll beside the door to see who it was, and cursed aloud as he read the name, "Hermione Granger."

He didn't want to surmise how it was that she had found her way there. His snakes knew where his quarters were located, but that knowledge was not to be shared. It was a very strict rule within his house and for damn good reason too.

The knocking increased in volume, and frequency, and although he knew that he could simply cast a silencing spell to effectively ignore the little brat, he also knew that she would not give up that easily.

So it was with a foul expression on his face that he stalked over to the entrance of his quarters and flung open the door. He took some delight in watching the young Gryffindor flinch backwards, but unfortunately she did not burst into tears and she did not decide to leave of her own accord.

Feeling the need to be blunt, and knowing that a Gryffindor certainly wouldn't understand his message if he were not, he growled out his most pressing question with a fearsome scowl on his face immediately.

"How did you find my quarters?"

No niceties, no Miss Granger this or that; he was far too tired to worry about hurting the girl's ridiculous little feelings. She had no right to be there, no right to bother him in his own bloody home.

"I found it in the archives in the library."

"What archives are these?" He asked, his voice a low, dangerous purr.

Granger swallowed hard, her eyes large and fearful, yet strangely determined as well.

"It-It was a history of past headmasters and I looked up where their quarters traditionally were, and all were in the same place as the headmaster is now, except for some of them. And then I looked up the house affiliations of those other ones and noticed that most of them were the S-Slytherin ones," she blurted out, her hands twisting nervously in her jumper as she waited for him to pass his judgment.

"And this just happened to be the correct location?" He shot back at her.

"I-I-I tried three other spots before this, sir," she whispered.

I just bet she did, he harrumphed to himself.

"Explain exactly why I should not obliviate you and send you back to your dormitory?" He hissed lowly.

Any remaining colour in her face instantly faded, turning her face an interesting shade of greenish-gray.

" . . . sir," she whispered in a strangled voice.

"If you are going to waste my time," he snarled, "At least have the common decency to speak clearly."

"Yes, sir," she said slightly louder. "If you obliviate me, I won't have a chance to talk to Harry. Sir," she added as an afterthought.

"Either way, you will not have a chance to talk to him. You are not winning this argument," he said, with a cruel curl to his lip as he made a show of reaching for his wand.

"No!" A shout from behind him interrupted them, and Snape turned to see Harry standing white faced in the middle of his quarters.

"It's okay," the boy added in a softer voice. "I'll talk to her."

. . .

Harry had woken to the sound of familiar voices, and although he hadn't intended on listening in, he couldn't help but do so with the door to his room still open. However, when the conversation had gotten too soft for him to understand, he had made up his mind and crept closer.

He hadn't wanted to talk to her at all, but he also didn't want her to be obliviated.

And also, at some level it was kind of nice to know that someone had missed him enough to go to all this trouble.

"HARRY!" Hermione screeched when Snape stepped aside to let her in, running towards him at a frighteningly fast speed.

"Miss Granger!" Snape yelled just before she got to him, causing her to pause in her exuberance.

"Sir?"

"There is to be no running in my quarters," his voice deadly with the kind of malice Harry had previously feared from the man.

Harry swallowed hard under Hermione's intense scrutiny of his person, and took a step backwards as she tried to hug him.

"Please 'Mione, don't. Please," he cringed, hating the weak sound of his voice.

"Two minutes, Granger," Snape hissed as he stalked past them to the kitchenette.

"What's going on, Harry? You're so pale and—," she broke off and clasped her hands together worriedly. "How is he treating you?"

"I'm fine," Harry tried to protest, knowing it was weak in the face of his physical state.

"But it's Snape, Harry. He's never liked you, always hated you! Why are you here and not the infirmary if you're sick? He can't possibly be good for you!"

He wanted to shout at her, wanted to point at their professor who was surreptitiously watching them from the kitchenette where he was supposedly making tea.

"Look, I can't tell you about what happened, but Snape isn't the one at fault here! He's been helping me," he retorted harshly, his chest constricting at the memory of who had gotten him in the mess to begin with.

"Your two minutes are up," Snape said, striding back into the room just then.

"You know you can trust me, Harry! I'm your friend and Ron is too! We can help you get through whatever this is," she pleaded, ignoring the tall imposing figure of Snape standing beside her.

"Granger," Snape growled, putting a hand on her shoulder and turning her in the direction of the door.

"Like you helped me all term?" Harry shot back, surprising them both with the ferocity in his tone.

"What do you mean by that?" The girl answered in confusion.

"This," Harry lips quivered, but he resolutely pushed past his emotions and made himself say it. "This has been going on all bloody term, and neither you nor Ron noticed! You were my friends and you were too caught up in your stupid pets," he hissed as he angrily wiped his hand under his glasses, "to bother with me at all."

"That's not true!"

"Snape hates me, but he noticed it Hermione. He noticed!" Harry gasped out, eyes full of tears. "He. Noticed!"

"Out, Granger," Snape reasserted himself before the girl could witness Harry's complete breakdown. "Before I decide to obliviate you after all."

Her own brown eyes full of tears, Hermione took one last look at Harry before quickly exiting the room. As she left, Snape called out behind her, "And you had better keep this to yourself!"

With a burst of accidental magic—Harry wasn't sure whose—the door slammed itself shut and cut off the sound of his friend's sobs, leaving him alone once more with Snape.

. . .

Snape had expected tears from the boy, but Harry merely stood in the middle of the room, staring hard at the floor and sniffling every so often, before suddenly straightening his back and turning back towards him.

"Is it dinnertime yet?" Was the surprising question spoken in a noticeably trembling voice.

"It can be," he replied in an even voice.

"Good," Harry said, giving a shuddery breath; the hint of a sad smile just barely showing on his face.

It was after dinner, a meal where the boy had eaten more, but not anything like one of his peers might have done, that Severus dared asked him to speak of what had happened.

"It was just something I needed to say," the child answered softly, his head bowed as he studiously avoided Snape's eye. "Is it okay if I go back to bed?"

"Certainly. Do not forget to brush your teeth," Severus added as the boy exited the room.

"Yes sir," was Harry's obedient answer.

Severus waited until the child was back in bed and then he visited him in his room, a vial of Dreamless Sleep clearly visible in his hand.

"It may be advantageous to drink Dreamless Sleep at least a couple of times per week, Harry," he said after moving to sit next to his bed.

"Is there a reason I can't take it every night?" Green perceptive eyes watched him from puffy eyelids, a testament to his tears that day.

"It has been known to become addictive. And the more one takes of it, the less useful it becomes, because our bodies build up a resistance to it," he answered.

The boy merely nodded and turned over on his side with his face towards him. Quickly he drank the potion and then handed the glass vial back.

"I'm kinda sleepy, sir."

"You have every right to be," Severus answered softly, standing up and looking at the child. On a whim, he reached out and pulled the covers up over Harry's thin shoulders and tucked them in around his body.

"I need to visit the headmaster for a little while, but no longer than an hour, I think. If you should need me, you are permitted to use the floo to contact Professor Dumbledore."

The boy nodded up at him, eyes tired under heavy lids, and yet a question remained in his face.

"What is it?"

"Can anyone get in while you're gone?" was Harry's softly spoken question.

"No one. Only me," he answered confidently, happy to see the tension drop from the boy's shoulders and face almost immediately.

"Okay," Harry said, with a small yawn.

"Sleep, Harry," he said softly, laying a calloused hand on the child's forehead for a moment before leaving him in the dark, the door cracked just a bit. As he left, he cast a spell on his room to alert him if the boy had a nightmare.

Then he flooed up to the headmaster's office.

. . .

"I want to take him away from Hogwarts and give him a chance to heal." Severus said to Albus.

"And what should I tell everyone else? And what of your class?"

"I'll find a substitute. And you can tell them the truth; that I've taken him away for special training."

"I cannot cover your class, Severus. The defence position is a full-time job."

Does he think I don't know that?

"I told you that I would handle it," he answered with just a hint of a growl. "Besides, there are only a few months left of the term and then summer will be here. I'm not asking for your permission, Albus. I'm telling you that this needs to be done. I will not see the rise of another dark lord, especially not when I can do something to stop it."

Silence, and then Albus sighed and looked down at his desk. "I took his memories, Severus."

"Whose?" Severus asked with a sharp tone.

"Lupin's. I took Lupin's memories before he died. I needed to understand." Albus answered with a face of remorse.

Snape felt cold wash through him at what his mentor had seen and was still likely seeing.

"And do you?" His voice croaky.

"He loved him, Severus. He truly did as best he could, in his own way; the way he had been taught to love."

Severus swallowed hard, instantly understanding the implications of Albus's words and feeling sick for it.

"Who—who taught him thus?" His voice no more a dry whisper; his fingernails pressing welts into his palms.

"His father did."

Severus slumped back hard against the back of his chair; briefly deflated with that knowledge.

"Please tell me that you have pensieved these memories, Albus."

"I have. And they are warded in my chambers."

"And you would like me to take a look," he all but snarled back, his fury suddenly bursting out of his chest, moving past his shock like a fist through piece of tissue paper

"I wouldn't ask that of you, Severus," Albus's eyes looked suspiciously wet—dear Merlin, was the man opposite him actually crying?

"Of course you wouldn't. That wouldn't be passive aggressive enough for you," Severus retorted instead, angry at everything surrounding their current situation.

"Severus," Dumbledore admonished softly, his face looking pained.

"Damn it, Albus," Severus answered in an equally soft voice before falling silent once more.

Finally, Severus ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Fine. Make me a copy. Ward it with my blood if you must, but I cannot promise you I will look at them. I cannot make that promise Albus."

"I understand, my boy. I understand."

Chapter Text

Severus paced back and forth across his floor that night, fuming silently as his mind went over the conversation that had taken place with the old man earlier.

"Damn you Albus," he muttered, throwing himself rather violently into an armchair. "Share the misery, why don't you," he growled, leaning forwards with his head in his hands.

As if the images the boy had shown him weren't already indelibly burned into his memory, and now Albus wanted to add to that? How could that possibly help either of them?

He knew that Albus always saw the best in people.

Especially Gryffindor people, he snorted bitterly.

He could only imagine the kind of warring Albus's mind was making with those newly acquired memories.

"Love, my arse," he whispered, thankful that there was no one around to hear him utter such a pedestrian sentiment.

He picked his head up from his hands and leaned back morosely into his chair. He needed to find a substitute for his potions classes. He rubbed his eyes and then took a deep breath, before standing up to get a quill and a few scrolls. It seemed that he was in for a night of letter writing.

. . .

It was nearly dawn when Severus was hit with an epiphany. While working on his Potions Mastery, he had become acquaintances with another young man who was working as a healer in the local hospital. Given the close relationship between healing and potions, this man had also been pursuing mastery in potions, alongside Severus and under the same teacher. Eventually their working relationship turned into a friendship; one that had continued to that day, despite his years in service to the Dark Lord.

Last he had heard, his friend had left his position and gone to work at a dragon reserve of all places!

"Hadwyn Long," Severus addressed the envelope containing his missive to the old vagabond. They hadn't gotten together since before Lily's death, but they did keep up their correspondence to another—at least once a year—and Severus had little doubt that his old friend would fail to come if he asked him directly.

Severus attached the letter to his trusted falcon and then opened the door to the corridors for her to find a way back out into the world. He watched her graceful flight down the hallway until she turned to fly up the stairs, and then he went back inside, closing the door gently behind him.

Walking past the boy's room, he pushed the door open and peered inside.

Just to make sure he isn't having a nightmare, he told himself unconvincingly.

Thanks to the Dreamless Sleep, the boy's face was unlined, but from the arrangement of the lumps under the covers, it appeared that Harry had fallen asleep in a foetal position again.

Severus's jaw clenched briefly as he closed the door; leaving it open just a crack like before. Then he made his way back to his own bed in the hopes of catching a few hours of sleep before their day began anew.

. . .

Severus dreamed of his first real encounter with Hadwyn. They had known each other, but primarily had met in passing, or when their teacher had brought in guest lecturers to speak with his few students.

He had been working with the amortentia potion, learning how to subtly tweak its makeup in order to weed out a few pesky side-effects, when it had abruptly changed colour to a sickly yellow-brown and exploded all over the front of his robes.

Of course he had vanished his robes and undershirt immediately, but it had been for naught, and soon he had been nearly incapacitated with pain as he sought to make it to help. He had collapsed in the hallway, or so Hadwyn informed him later, and only by the skin of his teeth had his friend managed to find him in time to save his life.

From then on out, Hadwyn had insisted on him telling someone when he was going to be in the lab alone, and usually went out of his way to check up on him at least once a day. At first, Severus had despised the extra attention that he saw as nothing more than mollycoddling, but as time had passed, that annoyance had turned into a sort of grudging respect, and eventually he had learned to appreciate his friend's efforts at keeping him alive.

In turn, Severus had found himself opening up to Hadwyn about plans he had regarding the tweaking of other potions, and together they had developed more than one previously impossible healing potion.

"Ye could have died," Hadwyn said, speaking in his dream to the wounded Severus. Hadwyn was Scottish, but his accent was only noticeable when he was tired—or upset.

"But I didn't," Severus had argued the best he could from the bed he had awoken in.

"Should I have left ye for the birds then? There's not much on those bones of yers, but I'm sure the scavengers would have feasted well on the innards of yer skull," the other man had said, his eyes alight with harsh humour.

Silence between them, and then Severus had grudgingly said, "No. Thank you for helping me. Do you need reimbursements—?"

Hadwyn had cut him off with a sharp look to his already threadbare clothes and scrawny torso.

"I'd feel better about helping ye if you I knew ye weren't about to go back and get yourself into the same mess again. Tell me, does anyone know you're here working yourself to death?"

Severus hadn't answered.

"Thought so. Well, ye shouldn't mind me dropping by from time to time to see how me patient is faring, right?"

Hadwyn hadn't threatened him with words, but the other man had still managed to make it clear to him that saying "no" wasn't an option.

And so it had begun.

. . .

With no classes to rouse them, and the fact that they were both running very short on sleep, it was very little surprise that both Harry and Severus slept in that morning. Harry only awoke because his bladder was screaming for mercy, and upon returning to his bed, he realized that his stomach was growling rather ferociously as well.

He cast tempus and with a shock realized it was nearly eleven in the morning. Grabbing his glasses, he tiptoed back out into the main room of his professor's quarters and carefully looked around to see if he could locate the man.

Snape's door to his bedroom was closed, which wasn't that unusual, but the man's heavy teaching robes were still laid out across the sofa and his dragon hide boots were on the floor next to it. Creeping up to his professor's door, he leaned in and put his ear ever so lightly on the wood itself.

Breathing. He definitely could hear breathing.

A sleeping Snape? Surely he wasn't alone in Professor Snape's quarters with the man asleep!

Suddenly, Harry's stomach growled rather threateningly again, and he jerked backwards from the door as though he had been stung, his heart beating rather ferociously in his ears.

He turned and went to the dining table and carefully took a seat, placing his hands atop the smooth surface while he tried to figure out what to do. He needed to eat, but he didn't think he was supposed to leave Snape's quarters by himself.

He didn't think he could even if he wasn't terrified of being surrounded with that many sets of prying eyes.

Snape didn't have anything resembling an ice box, and although Harry knew it was likely there was something edible in the man's cabinets, he didn't really feel up to pushing his luck. Besides, who knew what he'd find?

"Pickled dragon's feet," he muttered with a shiver of disgust. No. Very very no.

Okay, well it wasn't like he was unused to hunger. He sighed and then brightened as a thought showed in his mind. Dobby.

Minutes later, he was the proud owner of a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat, after having convinced Dobby that he didn't need anything else. He had no doubt that Dobby was probably back in the kitchens gloating happily about helping the "Great Harry Potter, Sir."

He rolled his eyes and then went to work on his sandwich.

. . .

It was after three when Severus finally rolled out of bed, his head pounding and his mouth tasting uncomfortably sour. He went to his bathroom and took care of his needs, brushing his teeth as he did, all without ever turning on a light. He liked his dungeon living for a reason, damn it. Who really needed light, anyway?

By the time he had managed to get himself dressed, the memories of his previous night's meeting had reasserted themselves with a vengeance inside his still groggy head. It was with very little grace that he finally made his way into the main room of his quarters that afternoon.

Harry, curled up in a chair by the fire, was reading a book on Quidditch that he had found in his professor's library. He was almost, but not quite, aware of when the older man entered the living room.

In contrast, Severus made no secret of his entrance into the room. He stomped out into the light, blinking and scowling like the bastard his students typically saw him as. He needed something with caffeine. It was a bit late in the day for a coffee, but tea would work just fine.

He glanced down at the little messy haired boy who was currently taking up residence in his favourite chair, and his scowl deepened. Harry didn't react to his professor's grouchy behavior, and instead curled up tighter around the book in his lap, almost like some kind of giant snail.

The wizard glared down at the little boy until a quick glance showed him a flash of the title.

"Mr. Potter, why aren't you working upon your homework?" asked Severus, his hands firmly on his hips.

Harry raised his head, then shrugged. He didn't offer an answer.

"Answer me, if you would," Severus demanded. "Unlike some of your peers, I do not speak just hear the sound of my own voice."

Harry sighed heavily, shrugged again, but this time he replied, "Why should I, sir?" The young boy flipped a few pages idly, and then mumbled, "Doesn't really matter, does it? I'm the Boy-Who-Lived and all that stupid rot. People don't care what I can do, only who I am." He scowled briefly, and then relaxed his features into casual nonchalance.

As though their conversation had ended, Harry dismissed the looming wizard by turning slightly, and sticking his nose back into his book. Severus was not fooled by the boy's dismissal. He knew all too well that Harry was turning pages too fast to be reading them. He turned away from the child, and walked into his small kitchen.

Typically, he would summon tea from a kitchen elf, but just then he needed the quiet of preparing the tea. The boy's attitude annoyed him, but it was nowhere near the anger that he had and still felt over Albus wishing to "share" Lupin's memories with him.

Did it matter to him the abuse the grown man had suffered as a boy? Perhaps, but he was mostly concerned about Harry.

What Lupin had done to Harry was no simple fist to the cheek to be easily forgiven then forgotten. This was no simple schoolyard scuffle. This was an attack upon a child by a man who bloody well knew better. Lupin had assaulted the small boy in the worst way possible, and that was an abuse not easily forgotten; if ever forgiven.

With the tea steaming fragrantly in the pot, and Harry's favourite chocolate digestives, Severus took the tea tray out to the living room. He set it down on a low sitting table, and then poured a cup of tea for himself before sitting down upon the sofa.

He watched the boy delicately sniff the air, but he kept his smile to himself and waited patiently to see what the child would do.

Harry tried to ignore the tea, but it was a cinnamon spice that he liked. Turning his head just a bit, he could also see the digestives he liked. With a sigh, he closed his book, slipped from the chair, and poured himself a cup of tea. Taking a few digestives, he sat down with his tea, and solemnly drank it.

"Lily loved learning," Snape smiled mildly. "There seemed to be no end to the subjects that brought a sparkle to her eyes. Being around her when she wished to share a new bit of knowledge was similar to bathing in summer sunshine."

Severus could tell the boy was listening even though it appeared his attention was entirely upon the six digestives sitting on his knee.

"She would have wanted you to do your best," he said gently. It was much easier to be kind when he could feel the much needed tea slowly seeping into his deprived bloodstream.

"Honestly?" The child's voice was soft, but his green eyes made contact with his own dark amber ones in such an expressive and longing way that Severus knew there was nothing half-hearted about his question.

"Indeed. For your mother, learning was a friend to be nurtured and never forgotten, no matter what happened."

Silence fell between them once more, but this time it was a comfortable kind of quiet, almost timeless in its security.

Chapter Text

A knock sounded on his door later the next afternoon. Having received word that his friend Hadwyn was coming into Hogwarts as soon as he could, Severus could only assume that the knock was him.

Over the previous day, Harry had remained careful around him, quiet and watchful for the most part, but occasionally showing sparks of his prior rambunctious personality when Severus least expected it. It was heartening, to say the least.

Although he had warned the boy about Hadwyn's visit, the child was understandably nervous and at the sound of the knock, he had jumped to his feet and rushed to stand by Severus's side. He had glanced at the child as he stood; letting the boy know he was aware of his presence, but not that he minded. As he strode over to the door then, he felt the tale tell sound of lightly shuffling feet, and the scruff scruff sound of new trouser legs rubbing together as he moved across the room.

As suspected, on the scroll next to the door, the name "Hadwyn Long" was listed, and Severus allowed himself a small pleased expression to grace his face before pulling the door open.

Hadwyn Long stood on the other side of the threshold, a hearty expression on his wind roughened face that broadened even further when Severus came into view.

"Why Severus! You don't look a day over fifty!" The other man chortled, stepping through and grabbing him in a great bear hug, lifting him off his feet with seeming ease.

"Put me down you great buffoon!" Severus shouted, clapping a hand across his friend's back.

Hadwyn did and then stepped back to gaze at him with a large smile peaking through his auburn and silver streaked beard.

"If I remember correctly, you are the old man!" Severus growled, stepping back and rearranging his robes—and limbs—more comfortably. "Three months you have on me, and what pray tell do you suppose that is in your beard?"

"Eh?" Hadwyn looked down at his silver streaked beard and then grinned. "Don't you know? Worry lines for you, I'd say!"

"Hmph," Severus answered. Hadwyn was probably right about that.

In the brief bit of silence that had fallen between them, he suddenly felt the boy's shy presence standing behind him, small hands buried tightly in the backside of his voluminous robes.

"Why don't you pull your bags inside?" He instructed and then turned to kneel before the small third year.

Harry released his robes as he turned and he glimpsed the boy's white face and wide eyes staring back at him.

"Is he safe?" Harry whispered, eyes flitting nervously back towards Hadwyn's large form.

Severus didn't have to ask what he meant by "safe."

"Quite so," answered Severus in a sombre tone. "I would not let him in here around you if he were not. I trust him with my life and yours as well."

Seeing the child only relax marginally at his words, he tried to think of what else to say that would ease his friend's transition into his quarters.

"He is a healer, Harry and he also works with dragons; much like your own Charles Weasley."

The boy's eyes lit up a touch at that and he was encouraged enough to continue.

"Dragons will only work with people who are trustworthy, Harry," he added, more than aware that Hadwyn was standing behind him listening to their conversation.

"Are you sure?" Bright green eyes stared back at him, the hopefulness in them coming across wide and clear.

"Very," Severus answered, getting back to his feet with a muffled groan. "Shall we take a seat?" He said, turning to their visitor and outstretching a hand towards his sitting area.

"Perhaps some tea would not go amiss either," Hadwyn agreed easily enough, his voice tempered more appropriately for indoor speech and sensitive ears.

"And maybe biscuits too, sir?" Was Harry's whispered request as he carefully closed the door behind them.

"Perhaps," Severus answered with a small smile.

. . .

Harry observed the stranger closely; his brain still trying to work its way around the novelty of Professor Snape having a friend to begin with.

Let alone one brave enough to pick up Snape!

If Mr. Long is daring enough to do that, then he mustn't fear Snape very much. Does that mean he doesn't have to worry about the repercussions of his actions around him then?

That thought didn't sit well with him and he shifted in his seat a bit uncomfortably. He suddenly wished that he had left the fourth chocolate digestive on the plate and not eaten it like a fat twit.

He was seated on the armchair perpendicular to the sofa that Snape and Long were both on. Long was at the far end, while Snape was in the middle between them—something Harry appreciated!

Suddenly he realized that the room had fallen silent and that Long was staring—no, it was more like he was watching him to see what he would do. Harry's cheeks burned and he looked down at his new trousers in embarrassment.

"Snape was right, you know," the man said, sounding just a touch like Hagrid with his otherwise indecipherable accent.

Harry didn't look up, though luckily his red cheeks did begin to fade a bit as he continued to listen.

"A dragon won't touch someone who doesn't take care of the young of his own race. After all, if you can't be trusted to raise your own correctly—and their definition of "your own" is much looser than ours—then how can we be expected to raise a young dragon any better?"

Harry shook his head. He didn't know. Though, it did sound like dragons were better at being people than people were.

He only looked when he heard the big man standing up. Snape was watching closely as well, and had it been another time—say, a time prior to Lupin—then Harry would have been fascinated by the open curiosity on his professor's face.

As it was, however, he could barely stand to be still as Long took several steps closer to him, Snape in the room or not. Finally, when Long was only about an arm's length—Long's arms, not Harry's—away from him, the man stopped and kneeled down in front of him.

"Have you ever heard the term, 'A Dragon Keeper's Playmate?'" Long looked up at him slowly, his eyes so dark blue, they were almost violet in their intensity.

Harry shook his head, his hands clenched down tightly on the arms of the chair he was still seated in.

"Severus?" Long asked, turning his head slightly away from Harry.

"The name does sound slightly familiar," Snape answered slowly, his own dark amber eyes thoughtful.

"They're a bit hard to get a hold of, given their usefulness in working with dragons, but occasionally they show up where they're needed, not where they're wanted."

Harry scrunched up his face in confusion. What on earth does that mean?

He watched with bated breath as Long reached a large hand into one of the inner pockets of his coat and pulled out what looked like a small ball of fuzzy purple fluff.

"I figure he's about a month old, give or take a day," Long said, stroking one large finger over presumably the creature's back? Sides? Harry couldn't tell.

Unbeknownst to him, he had relaxed his hold on the chair and was now leaning forwards just a bit, towards the unknown creature.

Long turned the fuzzy ball over in his hand and that's when Harry saw the small almost black little wrinkled wings.

"Yeh, he flies—when he feels like it. Creature, it's time to wake up now!" Long said, not quite raising his voice as much as putting a bit more command into it.

Harry watched in amazement as the ball of purple fluff stretched, revealing four legs with individual toes and then a head with the biggest most expressive eyes he had ever seen.

Time seemed to stop around them as Harry and the small fuzzy creature made eye contact, and he was overtaken with a quite strong urge to reach out and touch the little guy. Clearly the creature felt no such inhibition and without warning, it stretched out its wings and pushed off into the air, straight towards Harry!

He easily caught the little guy and on a whim, he scratched him just under the chin. It squeaked and then latched itself onto his arm; all the while gazing up at him with those same wide, wondering eyes.

"Hi," Harry whispered, forgetting his fear ever so briefly as the little ball of fur squeaked again, and then he smiled a bit as it clicked something incomprehensible at him.

"Me?" Harry asked, pretending that the little guy was asking him to introduce himself. "I'm Harry," he answered, still in a whisper.

The small ball of fuzz squeaked an agreeing sound at him and then began climbing along his arm, towards his shoulder. Once there, the little purple thing wrapped a wing around Harry's neck, presumably for stability, and then sat down on his shoulder.

"I'd say he likes you, lad."

"He doesn't have a name?" Harry found himself asking, his head turned as he tried to look at the little thing next to his head.

"Hasn't bonded with an owner yet," Long answered with an easy shrug. "The owner names him. He won't take any other name until he bonds."

The little guy was patting his head, squeaking and clicking in his ear as though he very much approved of Harry, and for some reason that simple motion was causing him to sniffle a bit.

"Harry," Snape interjected.

He looked up, unaware that the little guy was mirroring his exact movements.

"Would you please take yourself and your friend to your room, and allow me and Hadwyn some time to speak alone?"

"Yes, sir," Harry said, in a slightly louder voice. For a moment he had been afraid that Snape would have made him leave the purple creature with Hadwyn, and now that he knew he didn't have to, he was filled with relief.

"Come on you," he said, turning to the little guy and standing up carefully. He kept a hand on the side of the fuzzy animal as he walked, even though he didn't think he really needed to. This guy was a climber and probably had excellent balance, but Harry didn't want to take any chances, especially considering how young he was.

. . .

Snape waited until Harry had closed the door before leaning forwards and pinching the bridge of his nose between his index finger and his thumb.

"What are the chances that they will bond in the next half hour?" He asked in a weary, much put upon voice.

"Keeper playmates don't bond with just anyone, you know," Hadwyn answered in a serious voice, making it to his feet slowly and then plopping back down beside him. "You heard what I said to Harry. Sometimes they appear when they're needed, not because they're necessarily wanted."

"And they are magical?" Severus asked, dropping his hand back down to his lap and leaning back to look Hadwyn in the eye.

"Usually," Hadwyn shrugged nonchalantly, a small grin threatening to take over his face.

"Hadwyn," Severus growled warningly.

"Okay okay!" Hadwyn answered in defeat, raising his hands in front of him.

"They're somewhat similar to the pygmy slow loris," he answered intelligently, his face now graced with a half smile. "They're omnivores, and do pretty well on a diet of fruit, snails and insects. Of course, this one isn't old enough for all that. He'll be on a diet of milk and fruit juice for another two to three months. I figure he's the runt of his litter; never seen a magical loris so small, pygmy or otherwise. Historically speaking, playmates are playful, like their name implies, but they're also helpful in finding things."

Severus looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know what kinds of things! I've never had one before, and this little guy doesn't seem interested in bonding with me. In fact, the most active I've seen him was after he and Harry first locked eyes."

"Intriguing," Severus admitted. "What else do you know of them?"

"I've heard stories that they're sometimes telepathic, they have been known to defend themselves and their humans with magical fire—I have no idea what that means, Severus," he clarified as he got another eyebrow. "And they're very loyal."

"What of their intelligence?"

"Smart, problem solving little guys, particularly if you try to keep them away from their bonded," Hadwyn rattled off.

"Regarding their bonded," Severus asked, looking somewhat disgusted with the entire mess he felt he was being thrust upon him, "how does one determine when and whom that is?"

"Well—," Hadwyn began, only to be interrupted by the sound of running feet and the sudden reappearance of Harry, with the small animal now cradled in his arms.

"Professor! Honest, I didn't do anything! It just happened!" Harry said in a pleading voice.

"Well yes, that's perfectly normal when a playmate bonds," Hadwyn calmly answered.

The small fuzzy creature was now a bright vibrant orange-red shade, and Severus abruptly understood that they were going to be stuck with the little guy for quite some time.

Chapter Text

"What should I do Professor?" Harry was still looking at him, wide eyed.

Inwardly, Severus sighed.

"It seems that you should name him, Harry," Severus said aloud. "He has picked you, after all."

"But—I mean, sir," Harry looked down at the small ball of fuzz that seemed intent on climbing up his chest. "Is he really mine?" The last word of his question was tentatively whispered.

"Yes Harry," Severus answered. He scowled at his friend, who was hiding a smile behind a large hand.

"Now go, child. Get to know him a bit better and choose an appropriate name," Severus said with a touch of distaste. "I will call you when it is lunchtime."

"Yes sir," Harry replied softly, his wonder at owning an exotic pet still clearly evident in his face.

Severus watched the child carefully walk back to his room, his eyes fixed on the magical creature the entire way.

. . .

"I dunno why you'd pick me," Harry whispered to the ball of orange-red fuzz that was now on his shoulder once more. Slowly he made his way to his bed and sat down. Gently, he reached up to his strange pet and removed him from his perch. He lay back on the bed and brought the creature up to eye level.

"I'm not worth very much, you know," Harry whispered to the little ball of fuzz that seemed content to sit on his chest and stare back unblinkingly at him.

"I don't have a dragon either. Except Norbert-and he was a baby-I've never even really seen one," Harry paused and turned his head thoughtfully. "Well, that might not be true. I think I saw one in Gringotts, but I might not have."

The little animal clicked its tongue once and then tilted its head as though thinking about what he had said.

"Anyway, Professor Snape said I need to name you. Unless you already have a name?"

Silence from the small animal.

"Guess not," Harry answered for them both. "I've never seen another one like you. Did you come from a big family?"

More silence, only wide intelligent eyes staring back at him.

"Yeah, I don't know either. Maybe the Potters were big once, I think they must have been," Harry answered softly, his face thoughtful. "But now all that's left is me. And I'm not much."

The little creature reached out an individual digit to touch Harry's nose and the small thirteen-year-old boy grinned in spite of himself.

"I must be pretty strange to you too!"

A tiny, but long pink tongue poked out of the animal's mouth, and Harry watched in amazement as it reached upwards to lick its own little nose. Then, quick as a switch, the tongue was withdrawn as the animal reached out both hands to touch Harry's face.

"Your hands are so tiny!" Harry observed in a voice not much above a whisper.

"I could name you 'Midget'?"

The tiny animal responded by blowing a raspberry in his face.

"Guess not!" Harry answered, delighted to have gotten such a clear answer from his pet.

He reached up and extended his index fingers to the little fuzzy guy; watching in pleasure as his pet reached out with those little hands of his and latched onto his fingers.

"You really are a baby, aren't you," he whispered.

The little tongue darted out and licked its nose again, like before.

"Does that mean yes?" Harry asked, excitedly.

The pink lithe tongue shot out again and then back in just as fast.

"Okay, how about 'Squirt'?"

The small animal blew another raspberry.

"'Little Guy'?"

Double raspberry.

"Okay, okay!" Harry said, watching his little friend walk unsteadily on its hind legs towards him, across his chest.

He leaned back and closed his eyes and thought about Hedwig. Her name had been easy to come up with. She was such a majestic creature; it was hard to imagine any other title for her. But this little guy, he was so tiny and fuzzy, completely unlike anything else except—.

Harry's eyes flew open and he scrambled upright, lifting the little animal back up to eye level to stare at excitedly.

"How 'bout I call you 'Snitch'?"

The small creature didn't answer immediately, but instead looked down to where they were still holding "hands." And then, the little tongue reached out delicately licked a stripe up his thumb, before reaching forwards towards his own nose. Harry obliged and brought the little guy in closer, and suddenly there was a tiny wet tongue petting the tip of his nose.

"Yeah?" Harry asked softly, all other thoughts briefly pushed out of his mind as he waited for his pet to meet his eyes once more.

Finally, brownish-purple orbs reached up and met his own green ones and he smiled at the visible change wrought in his pet's fur.

The fur that had been reddish-orange, was now entirely orange, and the little wings that had been black were now deep blue with—Harry leaned forwards and peered even closer at his little pet's wings.

"Lightning bolts?" He whispered, looking back at Snitch's eyes. The small creature clicked its tongue in a response of some kind.

There were now lightning bolts in the centre of each wing, slightly raised from the rest of the surface, noticeable only because they were still black.

"You're really mine, huh?"

A little pink tongue touched his nose again and Harry couldn't help but smile a little in response.

. . .

"They don't bite, do they?" Severus asked Hadwyn after Harry had left the room.

"Not their owners," Hadwyn said with another grin.

Abruptly Hadwyn's grin dropped off his face, and a much more serious look came over him. "Harry's been hurt before, hasn't he? I remember what you told me about Lupin?" Hadwyn looked up briefly. "Was that what you said the man's name was?"

Severus nodded.

"But he was hurt long before this year, wasn't he Severus," Hadwyn stated softly.

"It seems that the longer we are together, the more I learn about his unsatisfactory family situation," Severus answered slowly. "I don't yet know all the details, but I hope that the boy will open up more as I get to know him better."

"He does seem to have a certain level of regard for you, old friend," Hadwyn said with a small twist of his lips.

"Something like that," Severus admitted, not wanting to go into detail about their relationship was like before the latest crisis.

"You won't let him continue with them, will you?" Hadwyn's eyes searched his own carefully.

"I don't think Dumbledore will be foolish enough to send him back after I have explained precisely what I have learned," Severus said, crossing his legs and leaning backwards into the soft cushion behind him.

"Harry seems particularly—ah, fragile right now."

"He is indeed," Severus nodded. "He is not stable enough to continue in school, which is why I asked you here. I need to take over the rest of my classes for the term, while I take Harry somewhere more isolated."

"Have you decided where?"

"I have a few ideas. Why? Do you have a suggestion?" Severus's eyes were sharp as they studied the other man.

"There is a small dragon reserve that is unknown to most of the magical community, near the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia," Hadwyn explained.

"You want me to take Harry around dragons?"

"When I say small, I mean less than ten, Severus," Hadwyn chided.

"Ten dragons or a thousand, Hadwyn; it does not matter. They are not safe for an emotionally damaged thirteen-year-old boy," Severus hissed back.

"Beware Severus," Hadwyn turned so they were looking directly at one another. "Your prejudices are showing."

"So enlighten me," Severus said.

"Dragons don't hurt wizards unless they are provoked. Muggles, of course, are another category altogether, but in general, magical folk are safe, provided they don't attack first."

"Or harm a dragon's young?" Severus supplied.

"Well, that's a given of course," Hadwyn smiled. "However, one of the reasons the dragon keeper's playmates are so valued is because they are respected by the dragons themselves. Dragons won't harm a playmate's owner, or that owner's owner, Severus," Hadwyn added, raising an eyebrow towards the other man.

"So sure of this, are you?"

"Severus, I wouldn't lie to you about something of this magnitude. Besides, the area I'm suggesting you go to is on the other side of the lakes from where the reserve is."

"And where exactly are you suggesting we go?"

"To my cabin of course," Hadwyn said with a self-satisfied smirk.

Severus was silent for a moment, before responding with, "Is it stocked?"

"It is. I wouldn't suggest it if it weren't."

"There is space for the two of us? Running water? A roof? Doors?"

"Severus! What do you think I am? There's even tea!" Hadwyn retorted with a touch of snark.

"There'd best be tea," Severus groused, keeping his grumpy expression for an entire minute before breaking into a rarely seen grin.

. . .

It struck Harry suddenly, as he sat them down at the dining table, that Snitch looked a bit like a tailless monkey, but with bigger eyes. He figured that the size of eyes probably meant his little pet could see pretty well in the dark, but he wasn't sure, and decided to ask Snape after lunch.

Snape.

"You see that scary looking guy?" Harry whispered in Snitch's tiny ear. "Yeah, you gotta be nice to him. He's Professor Snape and he's taking care of us. So we gotta be good for him. Can you do that?" Harry asked. His familiar squeaked in what he assumed was acquiescence, and he instinctively touched their noses together.

Looking up, he realized that both his professor and Hadwyn were staring at him and he blushed a bit at the attention, ducking his head back down.

"Harry," Hadwyn spoke, ignoring his embarrassment.

"Sir?" He whispered.

"You're going to need to feed him before you feed yourself. There is a bottle next to your plate, filled with a mixture of milk and fruit juice. He's only going to eat if you feed him."

Harry looked up and saw the bottle, barely smaller than Snitch himself and looked back up at Hadwyn in surprise.

"He's going to be eating a lot more with you, Harry," Hadwyn said. "Probably best if you feed him every time you eat, and maybe once in the middle of the night, if you think he needs it."

"How much were you feeding him?"

"About," Hadwyn took a long drink of his tea, "once a day—or so."

Harry shot to his feet immediately, holding Snitch to his chest protectively.

"You were starving him?" His voice both incredulous and accusatory. "How could you do that sir? He's just a baby."

"Harry, sit down," Snape growled.

"You misunderstand, Harry," Hadwyn answered in a soothing voice, holding his hands out sympathetically in front of his body, their lunches forgotten.

"I understand plenty," Harry answered in a choked voice, pulling Snitch's little fuzzy body up higher on his chest, covering him with both of his hands. "Couldn't bother to feed the creature, could you? Too much trouble, was it?"

He missed the serious glance that Snape and Hadwyn exchanged, but he did finally hear his professor the second time he spoke to him. This time, Snape rose from his seat and grasped his shoulder, pulling his face towards him.

"Harry, look at me." Snape's voice wasn't angry, just very very calm.

"Sir?" Harry whispered, not aware of the tear that dripped down his face until he felt a little hand on his chin, pressing against the wetness. He looked down and saw Snitch looking up at him, wide eyes staring trustingly up at him.

"Sit down Harry. Listen to what Hadwyn has to say. I'm sure he has an explanation," Snape instructed, still using that calm voice.

"Are you sure, sir?"

"Don't you trust me, Harry?"

"I—," Harry thought about it. "I do."

He sat, and Snape sat shortly after. They turned their attentions back towards Hadwyn.

"I'm sorry that I wasn't clearer before, Harry," Hadwyn answered slowly, looking contrite. "He didn't need to be fed much before he met you, because he was sleeping more than eighteen hours a day. Remember how I told you that this was the most active I'd seen him?"

Distantly, Harry felt himself nod. He did remember.

"That's why he didn't need to be fed much. Magical dragon playmates—also known as magical pygmy loris—don't start to grow or develop until they have bonded with their keeper. Do you understand?"

Hadwyn looked at him carefully while Harry thought about what the man had said.

"Is it true?" He asked softly, turning his face down to Snitch for confirmation.

His little orange ball of fuzz slowly licked his nose and then squeaked loudly.

"Are you hungry now, Snitch?" Harry responded to the new sound by reaching for the bottle and bringing it towards the little guy's mouth.

"Cradle him in the crook of your shoulder and elbow, pulling your arm in close to the side of your body, and then give him the nipple. It should fit into his mouth easily," Hadwyn explained slowly, and Harry did as he said.

He watched in amazement as Snitch curled up against his chest like a little tiny fuzzy baby, mouth latched onto the bottle's nipple, hands holding onto the sides, while his little clawed feet wrapped themselves up in Harry's shirt.

But the most amazing part was that while Snitch fed, he kept his little purple brown eyes staring trustingly up into Harry's own green ones.

. . .

"Hah!" Hermione Granger whispered triumphantly from her corner in the library.

She had found her proof in one of the unending rulebooks about professor-student relationships. Quickly she packed up her belongings and checked out her book from Madam Pince. From there, she hurriedly made her way to the headmaster's office.

After all, as the rules had stated,

'Students are not allowed to spend more than a fortnight in the quarters of a professor, unless they are: 1) Related; 2) Bonded; 3) Dead; 4) Apprenticed; 5) Stuck as an Animagi and either accidentally bonded to said professor, injured, or using said quarters as breeding grounds; 6) Petrified; 7) Cursed.

"Harry's not any of those! Professor Dumbledore has no right keeping him there," Hermione swore to herself as she waited for the stairs to reach the headmaster's office.

"Ah Miss Granger, how can I help you today?" Dumbledore greeted her jovially.

"I have a complaint to lodge."

Chapter Text

Dumbledore carefully read over the portion of the book that the Granger had shoved under his nose.

"Are you sure you won't reconsider?" He asked her gently as he handed back the old tome.

"There's nothing to reconsider, sir," she answered loftily. "Harry doesn't belong with Professor Snape. He's a Gryffindor and he needs to be where he's wanted!"

"How curiously ironic," Dumbledore murmured. He was fully aware that the child's youth would allow her to hear his quietly spoken statement.

"What is, sir?"

"I seem to remember how it was just last year when Gryffindor turned its back on young Mr. Potter," he answered, standing up and turning his back to her as he made a show of looking out the window.

"Not the people who really knew him!" She retorted hotly.

"You and Mr. Weasley, you mean?" He inquired idly, not looking back to see her expression.

"Amongst others," she sniffed, still not allowing her mind to really contemplate the consequences of her actions.

"It has not yet been a fortnight, you realize," Dumbledore said, finally turning back around to face her, blue eyes noticeably missing their familiar twinkle.

"I bet the Daily Prophet would like to know where you've been keeping Harry Potter!"

Instantly, she wished she could take the statement back, as the headmaster's eyebrows rose and the tension in the room seemed to swell around them.

"Threatening me, Miss Granger?" Dumbledore asked calmly, his kindly facade as a doddering old man abruptly gone from his posture.

"I—of course not, sir!" Hermione argued weakly.

"Such an action would likely put him in great danger, Miss Granger. Surely the boy's safety is more important than proving me wrong?"

She opened her mouth to respond, but something deep in her brain warned her against it.

"Yes, perhaps you should think on this further. What precisely are you fighting against? No, do not answer me now." His gaze became downright terrifying and suddenly Hermione found herself inching towards the door.

Fawkes, who until that point had been silent, abruptly flew up onto the headmaster's shoulder and let out a frightening sounding screech much different than his usual pleasing song. That did it for Hermione, and without another thought, she turned tail and ran out the door, barely aware as it slammed loudly behind her.

Inside his office, Dumbledore put his hands on his desk and leaned over them with his head down. Fawkes cooed softly in his ear and after a moment, he nodded to it and straightened back up. It seemed that it was time for another conversation with Severus. He strode over to his floo and threw the powder in, before calling out, "Severus' quarters!"

. . .

Snape and Hadwyn looked up at the floo flared green. Lunch was long over, and Harry had left to go introduce the concept of bathing to Snitch, just in time for Dumbledore's head to poke its way into his quarters.

"Might I come through my boy?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes very serious.

"Certainly, headmaster," Severus answered graciously, glancing at Hadwyn quickly. The other man knew that he might be asked to leave them alone and he nodded his understanding at the silent warning.

"Headmaster," both men stood and greeted Dumbledore after he came through.

"Ah, and are you Severus' esteemed substitute?" Dumbledore asked, wasting no time after coming across Hadwyn's unexpected presence.

"Yes sir," Hadwyn answered formally, aware that the man standing opposite him was not only potentially his future employer, but also one of the strongest and most capable wizards of their century.

"You surprise me, Severus," Dumbledore said after giving Hadwyn a nod. "But please, let us take our seats. I have something that needs discussing."

Quickly the older man explained the situation that they were now facing, thanks to one overly involved and nosy little third year.

"I promise, the next time I have her in class," Severus began, inadvertently shooting out painfully green sparks from his wand's tip as he growled his displeasure.

Dumbledore did little more than glance at him, but it was enough of a reprimand to make him calm down.

"As I told her, the fortnight has not yet commenced, so that does give us a little time. My question to you, my boy, is what do you see your role in Harry's life being in a year's time? Is he simply another student, or is there something more?"

Severus tried to answer, but Albus held up a finger and he swallowed his response.

"The options that are available to us were: 1) Related; 2) Bonded; 3) Dead; 4) Apprenticed; 5) Stuck as an Animagi and either accidentally bonded to said professor, injured, or using said quarters as breeding grounds; 6) Petrified; 7) Cursed." The headmaster paused and quirked a large bushy eyebrow as he glanced at them both in seeming amusement.

"I think we can rule out number 2 immediately," the old man said with a slight twist of his lips at the now green looking Potions Master sitting opposite him.

"A bit too young," Hadwyn added, grinning widely as the scowl Severus was now giving them both.

"MUCH too young," Severus grimaced. "Not to mention an entire other slew of problems."

"And 3 won't work, as Mr. Potter is quite alive. I hope, Severus?" Dumbledore didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "5, 6 and 7 are out too then; leaving us with number 1, related or number 4, apprenticed. Well Severus?"

Severus shifted uncomfortably as the other two men levelled meaningful stares upon his head. "When you say related, are you suggesting I adopt the boy?"

"That would be the general idea, yes," Dumbledore answered easily.

"Or apprenticeship, Severus," Hadwyn suggested softly, laying a calming hand on his friend's shoulder.

"I believe I need time to think this over," Severus said at last, removing himself from Hadwyn's hand and walking towards his bedroom. There was a distant look in his eyes, and the others let him be.

"I can give him until the end of the week," Dumbledore said to Hadwyn as he slowly got to his feet.

"That's a fairly large decision for anyone to make, but especially Severus," Hadwyn retorted, eyes fixed on Dumbledore's own. There seemed to be an unspoken warning for the headmaster to not hurt his friend and finally the older man nodded his understanding.

"I didn't ask for any of this to happen," Dumbledore admitted with a soft sigh as he exited the quarters the same way he had come.

. . .

Harry had patiently explained the process of a shower to his little friend and now they were experiencing the real thing. As soon as the warm water hit Snitch's little furry body, the wings had shrunk in and the animal had squeaked loudly as if in indignation.

"I warned you!" Harry said with a small laugh, moving his body in front of the warm spray and giving his friend a chance to readjust. The magical pygmy loris' purple eyes stared up at him balefully, prompting him to kiss that little damp head.

"Not so bad now? Look, I'm getting all wet too!" Harry said brightly, leaning his head back and thoroughly soaking his hair. He could feel Snitch's little hands scrabbling on his chest, and as soon as he could, he stepped away from the water a bit and looked back down.

"There isn't much for you to grab onto there," Harry stated, the corners of his lips turning down a bit as he stared mournfully at his still hairless chest. "You'd best not pull anything out either, Snitch," he warned.

Snitch put his head up and squeaked a long series of sounds in response.

"Just 'cause you're furry doesn't mean we all are," Harry harrumphed. "Now hold on, I'll find a spot to put you down."

He looked and his eyes fell on the nearby soap dish. It was a bit like a little enclave carved out of the wall for the soap to sit protected from the worst of the water. Unlike the one at his relatives' house, this one sat a bit higher, nearly at his eye level. He traded the soap bar for Snitch and soon his little friend was sitting there watching him curiously as he began sudsing up his body.

He took a bit of the excess soap and carefully rubbed it into Snitch's orangey-red fur, making it stand all on end. A series of clicks reached his ears and he realized that his creature was laughing.

"Ticklish are you?" He asked, putting the soap down and picking Snitch up again to rinse off. His creature squeaked again, trying to hide behind his body as the water poured unrelentingly down over them both.

"It's not that bad!" Harry protested; pulling him back up and setting his small body gently down in the soap bar cave. "You shoulda tried taking baths with Aunt Petunia as the washer." Abruptly he shivered, even though the water was still quite warm. "Hot, cold, it didn't matter. She just dunked and chunked," he said softly, looking at Snitch sadly. "Me, that is. It didn't seem to matter to her that I wasn't really clean or that the water on the floor was her fault."

Snitch made a sad sound and Harry was brought back from his memories with a jerk.

Harry grinned suddenly, "It's shampoo time now. I figure that we might just skip the soap next time, since you seem to only be made up of fur!"

First he finished washing the soap from his body, and then he quickly sudsed up his hair and washed it clean. He reached over to his little fuzzy friend with a much smaller handful of shampoo and carefully began working his fingers into the small body.

"No, don't try to eat it! This isn't food!" He clucked his tongue warningly and the little guy looked up at him with wide eyes, frozen and seemingly contrite.

"It's for your own good, so don't look at me like that," Harry said, ignoring the urge to feel guilty. "It'll just make you sick and I can't imagine that being too good an experience—yeah, for either of us," as Snitch squeaked back at him.

His creature's body was completely covered when he carefully manoeuvred him into the spray, keeping his head free for as long as possible. He turned him to the right and to the left, keeping a hand over his little head and over his relatively big eyes the entire time.

"Alright, wings out," he ordered in a cheerful voice and to his surprise, Snitch did exactly that, letting him wash them clean as well.

He was turning his friend around in his hand when suddenly the slippery little body slipped between his fingers and Snitch dropped. Instantly his wings were out, and instead of tumbling down to the hard tile below, his little familiar took to the air instead. Unfortunately, either Snitch couldn't see very well or he simply wasn't looking, for only a few seconds passed before the little guy crashed into the opposite wall and slid to the tub's floor.

Instantly, Harry was on his knees, reaching for the little guy and placing him on the side of the tub to get him out of the hard spray of the water, lest he drown.

"Are you okay?" He asked, blinking as the shower continued pummelling on down around him.

A little tiny squeak was his answer he breathed out a sigh of relief.

"Don't scare me like that! You gotta be more careful," he began, changing position as he started to get to his feet.

His words were cut off though, as he felt the water trickling down his back and then down between his buttocks. It tickled, but that wasn't the problem. He was remembering, and that was the problem.

He was frozen in that position, his eyes caught on something in his memory and it was with a dawning horror as he began to remember the feel of Lupin's wet finger touching him in exactly the same way.

"Wasn't asleep, wasn't always asleep," he muttered as the memory insistently wormed its way to the front of his mind.

Unaware of anything around him, Harry slowly slumped forwards as his body curled up into a foetal position right there in the bottom of the tub, water still spraying down on him as he became further lost in the awful memory.

Anxiously, Snitch squeaked at him as loudly as he could—which really wasn't that loud—but he didn't respond; barely even coughing as the water went up his nose and into wide staring eyes.

He was trapped in the Defence classroom, Lupin standing over him, touching him. He moaned miserably as he felt the hard and insistent push against his arse and automatically curled up tighter, tears mixing unseen in with the shower water.

"I don't want, please!" He begged and remembered himself begging to the man who had been his father's best friend. And then there was a horrible sensation and he began mewling brokenly into the water swirling around his head.

Snitch watched as his Keeper was transformed from the strong, good creature that he had made friends with into this haunted, terrified thing before him. Unable to bear watching much longer, Snitch bravely made a decision. Shaking off a bit, he carefully climbed around the edge of the curtain and then jumped off into the air, his wings spread broadly and flapping strongly.

The length of the bathroom allowed him to get up a good wind behind him, and just as he would have collided with the door, he instead slid right through it as if it wasn't even there. He left no holes and instead flew onwards, through the main quarters of the room, ignoring the surprised looking Hadwyn sitting below as he flew on.

Another door was in front of him and he did the same thing again, instinctively knowing that it wouldn't stop him, he flew through it and into his Keeper's Keeper's living space. Squeaking loudly, he flew at the dark man and alit on his shoulder, wrapping a now dry wing around his head to get his balance.

"Where did you come from?" Severus asked, already moving towards the door and into the main room. Hadwyn was standing up, looking concerned and as he automatically followed them silently to the bathroom.

"Harry?" Severus yelled, banging on the door when it didn't open.

Snitch let out an unhappy squeak and abruptly the door swung open, letting out a billow of steam as it did.

The magical pygmy loris jumped from the man's shoulder and flew towards the spot he had left his Keeper. Severus and Hadwyn followed quickly, reaching into the shower and pulling the boy out, soaking their robes as they did so. Somehow the water got turned off and then Severus was wrapping Harry in a large fluffy towel, as he cradled him to his chest.

Snitch landed back on the dark man's shoulder and peered worriedly into his Keeper's wide green eyes while Hadwyn began running diagnostics over him.

"He's had a flashback Severus, and he seems to be shock. Let's get him into bed."

Snitch watched in silence as the two men carried his boy into the other room. They dried him off and covered him in soft clothes, and then the dark one covered him up. Without waiting, Snitch jumped off his shoulder and landed on lightly on his boy's pillow.

The dark one sat on the bed and rubbed his hand over his boy's head, while the other dried them all, inadvertently causing Snitch's fur to stick up straight all over. He gave Hadwyn an angry glance, but didn't squeak again. Instead he burrowed into the soft blankets with his boy and curled up next to him, wrapping his wings around his boy's chest.

He stopped listening as the other two continued to talk in low voices. He had done his part, gotten his Keeper—his boy—help and now there was nothing to do but wait and sleep and love.

Chapter Text

Harry dreamed that something had caught him in its clutches and was refusing to let him go. It hurt and he tried to squirm away from it, but he couldn't because he was connected to it; it was touching him; it had hooked him like a fish, and now the sharp edge was digging into his backside, threatening to gut him.

He cried and thrashed in his sleep, but couldn't seem to wake, and Severus and Hadwyn were forced to watch stoically on as he suffered from his dreams. Snitch, on the other hand, now refused to let him go, and hung on stubbornly despite Harry's jerking limbs.

Severus thought about what he knew of the boy and what would happen to the child if he didn't make a decision soon. Harry would fall apart without someone there to constantly be by his side, holding him up, and although it surprised him to realise such a thing, Severus really wasn't all that reluctant to take on such a role.

Most importantly, it wasn't as though they could just go back to the way things were before. That thought stopped him in his tracks and he paused to consider the full extent of it. For instance, now that his thoughts had identified the crux of the matter at hand, he was able to understand the Granger girl's side of things. She didn't—or wouldn't—understand that Harry was not the same boy he had been beforehand. In fact, Severus was no longer certain that Harry had ever been the boy that he had presented to the outside world as.

Harry still hadn't woken up, and though he was loath to do such a thing, it seemed that he would have to cajole the child's familiar to eat something from his hand. Hadwyn had been very clear that Harry would be the only one capable of feeding Snitch, but after catching the tiny furry creature sucking on the boy's fingertips—yet again, Severus was able to make his decision.

He put together the mixture of milk and fruit juice into the bottle the creature had eaten from before and then he tried the insurmountable task of removing a magical pygmy loris from its Keeper against its will.

After three attempts that left him nursing various bites and one ruined shirt—who knew the little thing could produce flames when provoked?—he finally tried a different approach. He supposed that Hadwyn would have been full of idiotic suggestions for Severus to try, but thankfully the man was asleep and he was left to make his own foolish blunders.

So it was with a sigh of resignation that he finally climbed into the bed with Harry and Snitch. The small furry creature watched him with wariness, but he didn't reach for him again. Instead, he pulled the boy up into his lap, against his chest and cradled him in his arms. With Harry came Snitch, and he surreptitiously avoided looking at the curious little animal as he began gently rocking the boy.

"This was my boy first," Severus said when he finally spoke, receiving a tiny squeak for his efforts. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the magical pygmy loris patting Harry's hand, and then his arms as he climbed slowly closer towards Severus.

"Harry trusts me," Severus then added a moment later. "He said so himself. You were even there." Severus felt a bit ridiculous for talking so seriously to something fluffy, winged and the size of a kitten, but he tried to keep to keep that from showing on his face and out of his voice. After all, Hadwyn had said that they were very intelligent animals, so what was there to lose by trying this approach?

This time, Snitch made a squeak that had a definite questioning sound to it.

"I put together your bottle then and I did it again now," Severus said, lifting the hidden bottle from behind him and placing it in Harry's hand with a sticking charm. "We can both pretend he's the one feeding you, can't we?" He asked, raising an eyebrow and finally looking at Snitch straight on.

More squeaks were his response.

"You won't be in any kind of condition to help him if you're underfed," Severus finally said, presenting the bottle in Harry's hand once more, his hand holding it out for the unconscious child.
He looked away, not wanting to make the little creature more nervous than it already was. A moment passed and then he could feel their hands being manipulated around, and suddenly he could hear the clear sounds of sucking, and he let himself breathe a sigh of relief.

Thank Merlin, Harry hadn't been forced to lose Snitch too. He didn't think they would have been able to weather that storm; especially not now, after the latest flashback that had occurred.

. . .

It was another day before Harry finally opened his eyes again. He was worn out; almost as though he had just pulled an all nighter, followed by a long hard game of Quidditch.

The first thing he was aware of was a small fuzzy creature pressed up against his chest, just under his chin and he smiled as he realized what it was.

"Snitch?" He whispered and then jerked in surprise as large purple eyes shot upwards from his chin and settled not two inches from the tip of his nose.

"Did you miss me?"

A tiny tongue licking his nose was his answer and in spite of everything, he giggled at the feeling.

"Welcome back, Harry," a deep voice made itself known from beside his bed and he looked up blindly into the dimness for the source.

Moments later, his glasses were back on his face and room was lit with a soft glow, illuminating Snape's tired face.

"Are you okay?" They both asked at the same time, causing another presence from just beyond the doorway to begin laughing.

"Hadwyn, this is not the time," Professor Snape growled back, although there was a slight smile showing on his face, just for Harry it seemed.

"Why would I be anything but okay, child?" Snape asked gently, brushing a hand over Harry's forehead.

"You look tired," he admitted, a yawn cracking his face as the simple touch soothed him. "Didn't you sleep any?"

"And miss out on your return to wakefulness?" Snape scoffed. "No, I did not, Harry," he clarified a second later, his calloused hand still stroking Harry's hair.

"But why?" He asked in confusion, feeling his eyes droop again as real sleep tried to summon him down.

"Because I care for you, silly boy," were Snape's last words before unconsciousness claimed him again.

. . .

The next time he woke up, he felt much more rested than he had before.

"Are you feeling better now?" Snape's voice asked, making him blink hard as he struggled to sit up.

"Yes, sir," he answered, shaking his head muzzily in an attempt to get rid of the cobwebs. After retrieving his glasses from his professor, the man helped him become upright, shoving several pillows behind his back as he did.

"Here," Snape said, handing him a bottle that had Snitch squeaking appreciatively at. "I fed him once while you were . . . indisposed. I will not be repeating that effort if I can at all help it."

"Too cute for you?" Harry grinned a bit cheekily, not daring to actually look his professor in the eye with his words.

Snape sighed and he had a sense that the man was crossing his legs beside him. "Cute I can handle, but that creature is not merely cute when its ire is raised. It bit and clawed at me and then began hurling balls of flame at me."

Harry looked up from where Snitch was happily sucking on his bottle, his mouth open in surprise.
"Balls of flame, sir?"

"I do believe you owe me a new shirt," Snape said with a smirk.

"I'm sorry, sir," Harry answered meekly, dropping his head to look at his creature's wide purple eyes.

"I think I will merely be pleased to know that you are getting better, Harry," the man said gently after a pause. "It seems to me that you need a change of venue, and going away from Hogwarts will suffice."

Harry's blood rang cold in his ears as Snape's words settled in his chest. "You're sending me to the Dursleys?" He asked, his lower lip quivering and everything around him forgotten.

"Blast it, no Harry! Look at me, child," the bed dipped and there was Snape, pulling him up to rest against him, arms locked around him safely. "No, we will go somewhere together; you, me and your little ball of fuzz."

Blood was once again pulsing in his ears and Harry could feel his lungs moving in an out against Snape's strong arms. "Sorry sir, for overreacting," he managed to say weakly after a moment.

"I should have been clearer. It is I that is sorry, Harry."

Snape sounded so contrite that Harry couldn't help but look up at him. "Are you angry at me sir?"

"Whatever for?"

"For freaking out," he whispered. In his lap, Snitch pushed the bottle out of his way and climbed up into his arms, wrapping a wing around his shoulder and falling asleep with his little claws embedded in Harry's shirt. "For being," he gulped as his tears tried to come back, "indisposed and leaving you to take care of Snitch for me."

"Harry hush," Snape answered instead, pulling him into his lap proper and patting his back softly.

"I can't do anything right lately sir, I'm sorry. I don't know why I can't stop crying. I'm like a little baby or something. I know you're probably tired of me!" Harry cried, his tears leaking out of his eyes as he curled up against Snape's warm chest. He really did feel like a baby, but he for all he said to make Snape let go of him, he resisted by holding on just that much tighter.

"Shh, child, shh," Snape whispered into his ears, holding him carefully and tucking his head under his chin like Snitch had done on his chest.

"Little Harry," his professor said at last with a mournful sigh.

"I know. I know. I'm thirteen. I'm nearly an adult. I should be taking better care of myself!" He said, his shoulders shuddering morosely.

"But you can't, can you?" Snape whispered softly into his ear.

Miserably, Harry shook his head "no." He hiccupped and then felt Snape's hand on his back again, gently rubbing his tightened muscles.

"There was a time when I would never have thought that I would care what happened to you, Harry."

Harry nodded vigorously. It was how the other adults in his life felt. He certainly understood the sensation of being pushed aside for their more important concerns.

"And I wish that something different could have happened to make me understand."

"Understand what sir?" He bravely asked, pushing off Snape's chest to stare blurrily through his tears at the man's face.

"You need someone to take responsibility for you, Harry," Snape answered slowly, pulling a handkerchief out of his robes and wiping it gently over his face. "You need someone to rely on; someone who cares about your best interests, and will be there to pick you up when you fall down."

"That sounds like a parent, sir. And I haven't got any of those, because no one else wanted me, sir," Harry gulped miserably.

Snape pursed his lips in annoyance at his words, before speaking his next surprising revelation. "I've had quite a bit of time to think these last few days, Harry."

"About what, sir?"

Snape sighed and then straightened his back. "I want you, Harry. I'm willing to be your guardian—or even parent—if you'll have me."

In turn, Harry blinked in surprise at the man's words, completely unable to formulate a response.

Chapter Text

"You would, sir?" He finally managed to whisper. "But why?"

"Because as much as I may have disliked your father, the simple truth is that no one deserves to have grown up the way you have, Harry," Snape leant his head back and closed his eyes. "Your mother was my . . . best friend," he said slowly, faltering somewhat with his admission. He sat up and looked at Harry again, blinking several times. "And I can help you. I want to help you, if you'll let me."

Harry sniffled hard and rubbed a hand under his glasses in response. The fact that Snape was being so human in front of him—him—spoke volumes. It meant that he was serious, because the man didn't show his emotions in front of mere mortals like Harry Potter.

And that realisation sunk through him like an icy blast to his nervous system. Goosebumps appeared on his flesh and he shivered, wrapping his arms around himself suddenly as he understood what Snape was saying to him.

"Harry?" Snape pulled him in closer and had brought his duvet up around his shivering shoulders.

He means it! He means it! The phrase kept chanting in his mind and he dropped his head back down on Snape's chest as it pounded through him.

"Harry?" Snape asked softly and he made himself look up into those dark serious eyes.

"Well," he stammered, feeling a strange rush go through his stomach and heart as he timidly held his professor's gaze. "What would I call you?"

"Is that a 'yes?'"

It hit him all of sudden that Snape was every bit as nervous about this as he was!

Again, Harry put his arms around his centre and hugged himself tightly against the wave of confusing and overwhelming emotions bubbling through his system.

Taking a shuddering breath, he blinked and whispered, "Yes."

At his decision, Snitch abruptly woke up and began squeaking insistently at him. Looking down at his chest, he was surprised to find that his tiny pet was . . . bigger.

"Sir, he's bigger!" An amazed Harry said, holding his pet up to Severus' eye level.

"Indeed," a surprised Severus answered.

Snitch was still tiny, but whereas before he had only been about the size of Harry's palm, now he was the length of his entire hand.

The interruption provided by Snitch allowed both Harry and Severus a much needed reprieve from the overly emotional moment. By the time his pet fell asleep again, Harry found that he could breathe normally once more; his heartbeat no longer racketing loudly in his ears as he waited for the next surprise.

"Why do you think he's larger all of a sudden, sir?" Harry's wide eyes stared up at Severus.

"Severus," his professor offered in a soft voice.

"Sir?" A very befuddled Harry responded.

"You asked me what you should call me. I think it would be prudent for you to attempt to address me as Severus. That's my given name, if you recall," Severus said slowly, the barest hint of a smile touching the corners of his mouth.

Harry only stared back as his professor's words sunk in. Not only did the man seem to mean what he was saying, but he had told him to call him 'Severus' too!

"Severus," Harry blushed furiously and bowed his head against his professors—his guardian's chest.

"As to your pet," Severus said after a moment, "I'm beginning to see that the two of you are linked. Thus, when you grow—whether it be physically or emotionally—then Snitch does as well. Harry, look at me."

Nervous green eyes slowly met dark amber.

"You've grown emotionally, and therefore Snitch has grown in size."

. . .

In the end, Harry fell asleep against Severus' chest once more; the conversation fully draining what little energy he had managed to regain after the last flashback. Severus waited until the boy's body was completely lax against his own before getting up and tucking him under his covers with Snitch.

Standing up, he stretched carefully, the knots in his back twinging uncomfortably as he did. He knew they were from not getting any proper sleep over the past two days, and so after stealing one last gaze at the boy-who-lived-to-worm-his-way-into-his-heart, he crept out of the room and made his way to his own bed. He fell into it fully dressed and did not move for the next six hours.

After he awoke, he stumbled into his bathroom and took a much needed shower and then shaved. He was still sleepy and somewhat discombobulated, but at least he felt human again.

He found Hadwyn in his sitting room, studiously going through the lesson plans he had given him for each of the classes; Harry was nowhere to be seen.

"Surely the child is not still sleeping?" Severus inquired in a soft voice once Hadwyn had become aware of his presence.

"No, I suggested that he try writing letters to his friends with whatever he wanted to say to them, and that you or I would charm them afterwards for him."

"Charm them how?" Severus asked, his mind instantly going to several nasty "charms" he'd like to use on that nosy little Granger girl.

"Severus," Hadwyn said in a warning tone, the twinkle in his eyes belying his stern admonishment. "Secret binding contracts," he clarified. "The simple kind."

A simple secret binding contract merely prevented the reader of a contract—or missive—from sharing its secrets with anyone else not already "in the know."

"And did you share with him why it would be prudent not to share everything with his fuzzy haired friend?" Severus asked with a touch of distaste marring his features.

"I may have alluded to her threatening the headmaster and therefore putting his safety on the line," Hadwyn answered vaguely.

"How did he take it?" Severus eyes narrowed worriedly.

"Stiffened up, bit his lip, knuckles clenched, that sort of thing," Hadwyn said, his own face quite serious. "The boy needs you, and I think she needs to learn to trust him before he shares a secret of this magnitude with her."

Severus nodded slowly. He was touched-although he wouldn't admit it-over Hadwyn's faith in him.

"What of you? How are you faring?" He asked, waving his hand at the piles of papers and scrolls surrounding his old friend.

"The subject matter doesn't concern me," Hadwyn said, relaxing back into his seat with the change of subject. "But the prospect of being in a class with that many unknown students does."

Severus snorted at the other man's words. His friend had spoken truthfully, and he fully agreed.

"So you'd like me to give you a rundown of which students you should watch out for?" He asked, moving a few scrolls over to sit down on the sofa next to Hadwyn.

"I know, I know," Hadwyn answered, holding up two weathered hands. "All of them. Right, old friend?"

A sly smile came across Severus' face and Hadwyn dropped his head in his hands with a groan.

"I knew I should have said 'no,'" Hadwyn said, smiling a bit. "But then I wouldn't have met Harry, or found Snitch a home."

"True," Severus admitted with a slight incline of his head. "You'd best get your quill out if I'm going to take the time to go through all of the students for you."

He waited until Hadwyn had a freshly inked quill in his hands and something to write upon, before speaking.

"The first ones you should be aware of are the Weasley twins . . ."

. . .

'Dear Hermione,'Harry wrote at the top of the parchment. This was his third attempt at writing this letter and he was nearly ready just to tear this one up too. Hadwyn's words had bothered him, but he had appreciated that the older man had been willing to give him the truth. He was tired of people trying to keep him in the dark about such things.

'I can't believe,' he wrote, and then crossed it out. 'Actually, I can believe that you wouldn't believe me when I was told you I was okay with S-,' he faltered and then finished writing out, 'Snape. You don't ever,' he paused and stared at his paper angrily, and then crossed that out too. 'You don't listen to me when I tell you how I am, and I suppose I should have just expected that this time. Snape is a good person!'

Harry forced himself to relax his clenched fists. He is a good person! He's gonna take me in. He took me in. He's still taking me in!His thoughts raged at him from within his mind.

'You threatened the headmaster? That's so stupid! He could expel you and he'd be totally right in doing it. I figure you were just trying to keep me safe, yeah?'

This part was even harder to write. He turned to Snitch and scratched him in the good spot just under his chin, blinking his eyes hard against the emotion that seemed determined to well up there. Snitch squeaked at him and licked his little nose.

"Why did she have to be so stupid, huh Snitch? Her and Ron, always fighting around me. Why couldn't they have seen that I needed their help?" He sniffled again and looked away from Snitch. When he looked up again, his little orange and red creature was pulling something across the desk to him.

It was one of Snape's handkerchiefs. Snitch held it out and clicked his mouth at him.

"Yeah, that's a good idea," he said, picking up both the handkerchief and his little fuzzy pet at the same time. He blew his nose and then wrapped Snitch in a one armed hug. "Thanks."

With Snitch perched on his shoulder, Harry resolutely picked up his quill and began writing again.

. . .

Hadwyn had a vague impression that Severus was simply doing Father Christmas' job by writing out his list of 'bad children.'

"Wait, but I thought you said Marcus Flint was a 7th year last year?" He stopped Severus with a wave of his aching hand.

"His parents," Severus gave him a much exasperated glance, "asked that he repeat his 7th year and attempt an apprenticeship with one of the professors."

"You didn't—?" He started to ask.

If anything, Severus's expression only got darker with his suggestion. "I attempt to keep my students alive. Having Flint as an understudy would severely hinder those efforts."

"So who's he studying under?"

"Hagrid."

Hadwyn blinked and felt around in his ear for a moment. "Excuse me, did you say Hagrid?"

"His parents felt that it was necessary for him to learn a skill. Hagrid is teaching him a skill."

"And his pureblood fanatical parents didn't have anything to say about that?" He retorted incredulously.

"I was extremely blunt with them. They could allow him to be apprenticed under our games keeper, or he could fail out of school and be a drain on them for the rest of their lives."

"Well, when you put it like that," he nodded and shrugged.

"And provided he stays out of trouble, he is allowed to continue playing on the Slytherin Quidditch team," Severus finally added.

"Ah."

"Ah indeed. In my absence, you will be responsible for meeting with him once per week, and keeping an eye on his studies and anything else you feel inclined to ask him about."

"Got it," he answered, scribbling his notes down once more.

"Another one you should be aware of is the young Mr. Ralph Harper."

"How young?"

"He is twelve and quite rambunctious. I daresay they will enjoy having him on the Quidditch team next year though. I suggest that you make him aware of your presence, and then proceed to pop up unexpectedly in his life several times throughout the week."

They both smirked at Severus' words. There were more than a few like that on his list so far, but Hadwyn had already decided that if Severus could keep up with the little hellions, then he could too.

"Is Malfoy's scion still in your house?" Hadwyn asked next.

"Draco?" Severus raised an eyebrow.

"Little blonde haired twit?"

Amusement shone in Severus's dark eyes, but otherwise his face was serious. "He is much more tolerable than his father."

"Any others I should be aware of, at least within Slytherin?"

"Valerie Hobbs and Jayne Darc," Severus eyes rolled, and he let out an exasperated huff. "I count myself fortunate that those two young lasses like me," the Potions teacher hinted at vaguely.

Hadwyn was intrigued. "Well? Do go on, Severus. You know I need to be prepared," he added, leaning forwards with a grin.

"Prepared? But that is precisely the problem with these two, Hadwyn." Severus chuckled lightly.

"Valerie Hobbs is an extremely intelligent, and talented girl. If she ever wishes for a career as an escape artist she would give that American magician, Houdini, a mental breakdown. I have yet to discover a ward that she cannot break." His eyes then narrowed slightly. "As for Miss Darc . . ." he trailed off and his face sobered. "Well, if ever she were to go through with some of the inventive threats I have heard her use to scare students, even those older than herself, then I do believe that the Dark Lord will be in for some stiff competition."

"Surely you exaggerate, Severus!" argued Hadwyn, skepticism showing on his face.

"Jayne Darc is a quiet thing, Hadwyn, but she knows just how to scare others. I would say that her threats are merely defensive blather on her part, but there have been times when her wild magic has acted for her, and the results have been less than pleasant."

A contemplative look came into Hadwyn's eyes, before he countered with, "Sounds a bit like a Potions Master I know." He smiled at Severus and was rewarded with a glare.

"I do not 'threaten.'"

"True," Hadwyn admitted grudgingly. "You usually went through on those threats."

"I did enjoy the occasion where your hands turned backwards for an entire day," Severus answered with an evil shake of his eyebrows.

"I'm glad someone did," Hadwyn grumped back, his previous good humour abruptly absent.

. . .

Momentarily stalled out on the letter to Hermione, Harry decided to start on the one to Ron. In some ways, it was worse to write, if only because he wasn't furious at him. His only problem with his so-called best mate was the lack of attention the other boy had paid him over the previous term. If anything, he was disappointed in Ron.

'Ron,' he started out, his quill dragging on the paper reluctantly as he penned his note. 'I'm sorry that I can't talk to you in person, but I'm in a bit of a situation and believe it or not, Professor Snape is helping me with it. I don't know what Hermione has told you, but I'm with him 'cause I'm safe with him.'Harry threw his quill down and leaned his head back, closing his eyes tightly.

"A bit of a situation, eh Snitch?" Harry asked glumly after sitting back upright.

Snitch squeaked at him before crawling along his robes and patting his cheek with a tiny clawed hand.

'Professor Lupin,' he paused again and then narrowed his eyes in determination. A part of him almost hoped that Ron would get angry at him; maybe even angry enough to stop talking to him. 'I figured out something was going on, something bad was happening. Well, there isn't a good way to put this, so here's what happened. Lupin,' but again he stopped. His hand didn't seem to want to move.

His eyesight blurred and he sucked in a shuddery breath. "I hope he hates me. I hope he freaks out and never talks to me again," he babbled just under his breath to Snitch. His friend gave him a mournful sounding squeak, but he didn't notice. His anger and his fear twisted inside him like a living thing, fighting for a way out.

He picked up his quill again, imagining that it was the beast inside of his chest that was making him write.

'Professor Lupin raped me, Ron. And Snape is helping me and now he's going to take me away from school so I can get better and stop freaking out about everything. You can't tell Hermione. She thinks Snape's just hurting me and she's trying to get him in trouble. But he's not.' He underlined 'not' three times and then signed his name blindly at the bottom of the paper.

Tears spilled down his cheeks and he picked up Snitch and climbed up into his bed, curling up in a ball as he cried silently. His chest shook as he forced himself to keep his sobs silent, and Snitch curled a wing around his neck and lay down on the side of his head as he forced his anger and sadness out through his tears.

He only stopped when he became too exhausted to continue. And then his eyes drifted shut quite of their own volition, and he dropped into a deep sleep.

Snitch gave a mournful sigh of his own and then closed his eyes too.

Chapter Text

The preparations were completed for Severus and Harry's journey. Severus, with Hadwyn's help, had packed up his private Potions lab and readied it for travel. Aside from that, he was only taking clothes and some books. Hadwyn had assured him that his cabin was well stocked and that they would need little in the way of provisions.

Harry had finally finished Hermione's letter and it read like this:

'Dear Hermione,'

'I can't believe,' (it was scribbled out)

'Actually, I can believe that you wouldn't believe me when I was told you I was okay with Snape.

You don't ever,' (it had a large X drawn through it)

'You don't listen to me when I tell you how I am, and I suppose I should have just expected that this time. Snape is a good person!'

'You threatened the headmaster? That's so stupid! He could expel you and he'd be totally right in doing it. I figure you were just trying to keep me safe, yeah? I appreciate it. I do, but I don't need you to take care of me anymore. Snape is doing that and he's doing a real good job too.'

'I need you to just stay out of his business for awhile. Out of OUR business. Snape, well he's adopting me. He's giving me a life away from the Dursleys and if you keep this up, that's where I'm gonna have to go back to this summer. He's not hurting me. He gives me three meals a day and he bought me new clothes, and he wants me to do good in my classes. He says my mum was real smart, and that I could be just like her if I tried.

'So please, just stay outta our hair for a while. This could be really good for me. Please don't mess it up!'

'HARRY'

Both letters had been charmed by Severus, and then he had escorted Harry up to the owlery late that night to get reunited with Hedwig. Harry had taken Snitch with him and had tentatively introduced the two of them. It turned out that he needn't have worried. Hedwig took to Snitch as though he were one of her own, and Snitch had jabbered at her in a series of long squeaks and clicks that had both humans confused. Hedwig had ended the reunion by nipping Harry's hand (presumably in retaliation for his long absence) and then had held still while he attached the two notes to her leg. With one last soft hoot, she had flown out the window towards the Gryffindor tower.

"Is she going to deliver them straight to their dorms?" Harry asked Severus after watching her fly for a few moments.

"That does seem to be the case."

"How's she gonna get in?"

"She's a smart owl. I'm sure she'll find her way," Severus said softly, before slowly putting a hand on his shoulder and leading them away from the window. "Come. It is time for bed. I daresay our trip tomorrow will be tiring and you will need your rest."

. . .

Hadwyn walked them to the apparition point. They had already shrunk all of their necessary belongings, and were going to portkey to a place just outside the dragon reserve. Hadwyn had tried to explain portkeys to Harry, but most of it had gone over his head. To him, it sounded a bit like travelling by bungee cords hooked to your stomach. He wasn't at all sure that he wanted to experience such a thing, but he was trying to be brave.

Snitch was resting within an inner pocket of his robes, and occasionally he ran his fingers over the slight bulge on his chest, just to make sure his friend was still there.

They stopped just on the edge of the Forbidden forest and Hadwyn laid his much larger hand on Harry's shoulder.

"He'll be fine. Yeh'll all be," Hadwyn said with a small grin.

"Yeah," Harry whispered.

"Are you ready, Harry?" Severus looked at him seriously and he found himself nodding his head.

Severus pulled out a broken glass stirring rod.

"This is the portkey, Harry. We must both touch it for it to work."

On a whim, he stepped closer to his professor and then gave a relieved smile as he felt Severus' strong arm pull him against his much warmer side in a one armed hug.

"Three . . . Two . . . One."

The portkey hooked him by his navel and yanked him forwards into space. He could still feel Snape's arm around his shoulders, but he couldn't see and he couldn't breathe. The hook in his stomach reminded him of the unpleasant nightmares that he had experienced just after his last flashback, and although he tried to be brave and bear through it, the feelings overwhelmed him.

. . .

They landed on the side of a lesser used trail near to the Plitvice Lakes. Large leafless trees swathed in bedraggled piles of dirty snow overlooked their path. The last vestiges of winter were clearly still upon the land.

There were no sounds of birds or other small creatures in the surrounding forests. The body of water next to them was frozen over, and the trees were still and unmoving as they watched the land around them. Except for the sound of screaming, the world that greeted them was completely silent.

. . .

Harry was lost in his body's memories. True, he had been unconscious and his mind had been absent from the horrors of what Lupin had done to him, but his body remembered, and more importantly, his magic did as well.

Magic was an odd thing. It had no mass, and yet it could be found in every crevice of a wizard's body. One could not see through magic, but one could sense and one could feel. Harry's magic remembered what his body had gone through. It had not been able to fight Lupin off on its own, but it had borne witness to what had occurred, at least in a limited fashion.

Harry screamed as his body remembered the pain, remembered the sensation of being opened and split and taken. He screamed as his magic added to that memory pain; as it reminded him of the betrayal of another supposedly trusted individual.

Completely unaware of his surroundings, he fought and scrabbled and begged against the forceful onslaught of his memories.

Severus reacted quickly, dropping down to his knees in the cold snow beside Harry and gathering him into his arms. Harry clawed at his own skin, forcing Severus to grab at his hands and hold them tight as well.

"Make it stop, make it stop!" Harry begged into Severus chest, pushing against him as his feet dug further into the snow and the muck underneath.

Somewhere in the far distance, Severus heard a low roar, and his eyes widened as he recognized the sound of a dragon calling out into the late afternoon air. They weren't safe out there in the open, and the temperature was beginning to drop further as the shadows lengthened around them.

And still Harry screamed.

It was the worst flashback yet, and Severus' heart clenched within his chest at his helplessness.

"Harry! Look at me!"

Forcing the child's head up to meet his own was no easy feat, but Severus managed. Bright green eyes wracked with pain met his own as he tried to establish a connection between them, but Harry's mind was too fragile to withstand it and Severus was thrown backwards with the force of the boy's raw defensive magic.

Between them, Snitch tried to hold onto his boy and soothe him with his own kind of magic, but Harry was too out of control, too lost within the horrific memory of what had happened to him. Far too aware that his boy needed help and also knowing that there was none to be had, Snitch did what Severus could not do.

Bursting from Harry's robe pocket, Snitch unfurled his wings and took flight.

"Snitch!" Severus called out below him. "Come back here, damn it!"

Feeling bad, but not having any way to explain himself, Snitch didn't look back as he flew onwards into the woods.

Unaware of the grimace that had taken over his features, Severus fought against the bucking boy in his lap for several more minutes before finally managing to transfer both of Harry's hands to only one of his own. With a hand free, he deftly reached into an inside pocket and pulled out a stoppered vial of calming potion.

"No! Nonononono!" Harry screamed out into his shoulder, jerking his head back hard into Severus' hand and throwing the glass vial to the snowy ground beside them.

"No! I can't! He won't . . . stop," Harry babbled, begging hoarsely into Severus' shoulder.

The sharp scent of ammonia filled the space between them and Severus felt his legs grow warm as the child's bladder released.

Harry didn't realise that he had wet himself. To him, the sensation of something warm trickling down his leg was yet another reminder of what his body had endured after the rape itself.

Severus tried to reach the calming potion, but the small vial was just out of his reach. Keeping a careful hold of Harry, he began sliding sideways across the snow. He hadn't realised how far the cold wet snow had soaked into his trousers until he began trying to move his limbs. They were sluggish and heavy and he hastily cast a wandless heating spell over them both in an effort to stave off the inevitable hypothermia.

Finally snagging the damnable vial between thumb and forefinger, he pulled out his wand and carefully spelled the calming potion directly into Harry's stomach. He would have preferred to feed it to the boy, but with Harry's flailing movements, he more than likely would have choked on it.

The effect of the potion was almost instantaneous. Suddenly the screaming ceased as Harry slumped nearly boneless against his chest.

Severus slumped too for a moment; his tense muscles relaxing briefly as he allowed himself a small period of relief.

. . .

Snitch flew hard into the steadily darkening woods. His boy was in trouble. He had to help his boy. That was all he could think of as he flew.

He followed a path that he could sense more than see. It was a trail that was only visible to those with magic, and instinctively he knew that there would be someone to help at its conclusion.

A twinkling light caught his eye and he let out a soft squeak of relief, adjusting his course slightly at its sight. Barely acknowledging the burnt inscription on the dwelling's front door, Snitch gathered his magic together and with a burst of speed he flew straight into the heavily warded structure.

A woman with long golden silver hair was seated inside, and at his arrival, she looked up sharply; responding to his sudden appearance with a steely eyed gaze of pale blue.

Snitch squeaked loudly, flying around her head and shoulders as she got to her feet too slowly for his taste.

He landed on her outstretched arm and ran up its length to her face, putting his nose to her own; his eyes conveying his worry and fears much better than the words she had been trying to speak to him with.

"Peace, little one," she intoned softly into his ear and he squeaked loudly in return.

My boy! My boy is in trouble! Help help help! His mind all but screamed; volleying a series of images into her mind of both Harry and Severus.

Bending down, he caught a piece of her sleeve in his mouth and began pulling on it. It was cold outside and his boy was sad. His boy was scared. His boy needed him!

With that thought, he jumped into the air and would have flown immediately back, if not for the sound of the woman's voice.

"Wait for me, little one! Let me help your young master," she said, hastily pulling on a wool cloak and grabbing a dark scarf and mittens as she rushed to the door behind him.

. . .

Elena Magija was used to the woods that surrounded her home, as well as the surprises found within. She had lived there for the better part of five decades, and she was accustomed to the dangers that working with dragons presented her with.

She had seen a great deal of unexpected things in her time spent in the woods. She had witnessed the birth of many dragons, including the great Blue that nested in the largest of the Plitvice Lakes. She had seen dragons die and be reborn in a pit of fire and scales. She had seen what they could do when threatened, and she had witnessed their great understanding and kindness in the face of a child's innocent wonder.

And yet, for all that she had seen, never had she witnessed a creature surpass her wards as easily as the young magical pygmy loris had done that evening.

She had looked into its eyes and most surprisingly, images had begun flashing before her eyes. She was accustomed to communicating with the dragons in such a way, but typically, dragon playmates were not capable of the skill.

The cold air hit her like a slap in the face after the warmth of being inside. Just barely visible in front of her, she could see the young primate flying quickly towards the road that ran just north of her property. At seventy-nine, she was just barely past middle-age for wizards, and although running through snow covered woods at dusk was unpleasant, it was at least possible. It helped that she knew these grounds like the back of her hand.

It also helped that the pygmy loris was still in the brightest part of its development. She had never had one as a familiar, but she had seen them in the company of other dragon keepers.

The creature squeaked in front of her as she agilely leapt over a protruding root of the massive tree she was passing. Moving more carefully, she slowed her gait as she ran down the short embankment that led to the road.

Abruptly, the trees cleared and none too gracefully, she tripped onto the road itself, barely managing to keep from falling as the terrain changed. There, not ten feet from her was a weary man walking towards her, a young boy held fast in his arms. Dressed all in black, his face a pale splotch of colour against the dark sky, the man looked like a physical representation of Death himself. If not the colour in the boy's cheeks, she would have thought they were both ghouls walking the path to the Other World.

. . .

When the woman had burst from the dark woods onto the road in front of them, Severus had briefly wondered if he was hallucinating. After getting the calming potion into Harry, he had rocked the boy for several more minutes as he had wept piteously into his shoulder. The most heartbreaking thing had been just before the child had fallen asleep from exhaustion. Whispering in a hoarse voice, Harry had uttered four words.

"I want my mum," Harry had sobbed before finally closing his eyes and surrendering to unconsciousness.

Severus had damned Lupin and the Dark Lord to hell and beyond at that point; damned them all for creating this wretched situation that they both now found themselves in. In fact, he might have still been cursing them all if not for the sudden appearance of the older woman. Clearly magical, she wore her hair loose and it fell nearly to her waist in gold and silver waves. In the dim light of early evening, he couldn't see much beyond that, but her clothes did seem to be made of sturdy materials and perhaps homespun as well.

In addition, the fact that she was willing to travel alone at night spoke highly of her ability to defend herself. With that consideration, Severus felt his estimation of the woman increase a notch.

"I take it that this creature belongs to you?" The woman inquired, pointing to the small figure of Snitch as he flew towards them.

"I do apologize if he has bothered you, madame," Severus answered stiffly; his exhaustion interfering with his ability to be anything beyond strictly courteous.

"Done what no man—magical or not—has managed to do in more than forty-some odd years," she answered, walking closer to them as she spoke.

"And that would be?" Severus asked, raising an eyebrow in interest, despite his fatigue.

"Came into my home uninvited," the woman responded. She was close enough that he could see her teeth as she smiled. It was an easy expression on her face, unlike his own.

"I s'pect you're that stranger Hadwyn wrote me about," she said then. "And this is your son, then?" Her eyes glanced at Harry and Severus self-consciously adjusted his hold on the boy.

"Yes," he answered, resisting the strange urge to slip into her more comfortable form of speech.

At Hadwyn's suggestion, both he and Harry had taken a series of translation potions that would help them understand the numerous dialects and languages that abounded throughout the Dragon Reserve. For all Severus knew, the woman could be speaking Hindi, and it'd still sound like English to his ear.

"Hadn't seen a snowy owl like that in some time either. I take it that she's yours as well?" The woman was still talking, and with a start, Severus realized that he had begun following after her down the road.

"She is," he answered succinctly, not feeling the need to clarify that Hedwig was actually Harry's. "Might I ask where you are leading us?"

"Noticed that, did you!" The woman stopped and turned halfway towards him. "I'm taking you home. That boy isn't in any kind of shape to be out in the cold."

"If Hadwyn contacted you, then surely you know that we will be staying in his cabin. We can manage adequately on our own," he answered carefully, trying not to inadvertently offend this woman.

"You won't last that long," she told him in a far more serious voice. "He will wake soon. You both need to be inside when that happens. Come," she said forcefully, looping her arm into his unoccupied one.

Directing them to the right slightly, she gestured to a path off the main road that was only visible to the magical eye.

"I assure you that I do not need your physical assistance," Severus ground out between clenched teeth.

"You wouldn't even see the gateway if I weren't beside you now," she tutted at him. "And without my touch, you won't last while crossing the wards on my property," she added.

"And Snitch?" He asked, feeling the ripple of the heavily wards pass over him like waves of dense liquid. Snitch was flying behind them, and although he was still annoyed at the small creature for disappearing, he couldn't help but be relieved at his return.

"Ah, so he does have a name! Well, let's put it this way; he's the only thing I've ever seen bypass my wards and not feel the consequences for doing so," she said with a bright laugh.

In his arms, Harry chose that moment to stir and instantly Severus' attention was on him.

"Child?" He whispered into the boy's ear. Harry merely turned his head into Severus' neck and then quieted down again. Severus could feel the soft steady breaths being huffed out against his neck and without thinking he gave a small smile at the sensation.

Beside him, the strange woman smiled as well as she thought rightfully to herself that a new adventure was beginning once more.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up slowly. He blinked into the waning darkness surrounding him and yawned. He was laying on something soft and warm; something that seemed familiar and smelled faintly of spice and wood smoke.

Snape, his brain helpfully provided.

Wiping a hand over his face, a memory flashed in his head for a brief moment before disappearing back behind the blank wall of his mind. Shaking his head, he turned towards Snape.

Severus, you mean, his brain clarified.

Why was he sleeping in Snape—er, Severus' bed? Or was Severus sleeping in his? That had happened before when his nightmares had been particularly bad. Had he had nightmares the previous night?

Something fuzzy touched his face and he looked down into the wide bulbous eyes of Snitch.

"Hi," he whispered, brushing a kiss over its soft head.

Little arms reached up and a wing readjusted itself over the back of his head as the creature pulled itself farther up into his line of vision. Snitch let out a quiet squeak and then rubbed the side of his head against Harry's chin.

"Where are we?" Harry whispered to his friend, not expecting any sort of answer.

Suddenly the body under his shifted and an arm moved around his shoulders. He tensed and then relaxed when he realised that it was just Severus pulling him closer in order to hug him. He still wasn't entirely used to being hugged; the Dursleys certainly never had done anything of the sort, and if his parents had, then he didn't remember it.

"Harry?" Severus sleep roughened voice rumbled against his back, and he allowed himself to sink backwards into his guardian's chest. "Are you all right?"

He felt a short burst of magic from the man and then a small glowing orb appeared overhead; lighting the room to a small degree and allowing them to see one another. Severus' eyes were dark and a touch red rimmed, and again Harry wondered what had happened.

"I . . . I think so," he whispered, not feeling at all sure of the validity of his answer.

"What do you remember?" Severus asked him, pulling them both up into a reclining position against the pillows.

"I—," he paused. What did he remember?

Snitch chirped against his chest and idly he ran a finger over his friend's small furry head.

"I 'member us walking down to the edge of the forest with Hadwyn," he started slowly.

Severus nodded at him and he let out a small sigh of relief at the reassurance.

"And," Harry's brow wrinkled as he tried to remember past the dark blankness currently residing in his memory banks. "And, H-Hadwyn told us we'd be okay."

He received another nod.

"You held something out," he looked away and blinked several times, frustrated with how hard it was to think.

"The portkey," Severus prompted softly.

Harry flinched. He could see himself holding out his hand, touching the portkey, and he shivered at the barrage of emotions that suddenly began flowing through his mind and body.

"Harry," the voice was low and insistent, and he turned towards it slowly.

Severus was staring at him intensely, and he blinked back in bewilderment.

"Sir?" He whispered. He had been elsewhere; far away in the cold classroom, slumped over a desk, his jeans and pants around his ankles as . . .

Harry twisted away violently to vomit off the side of the bed at the memory. He heaved again and then gasped for air at edge of the bed, his body instinctively curling up around itself. A large calloused hand touched his forehead and then his cheek, making him aware of the tears that were still dripping down his face.

Severus vanished the boy's mess and then cast a freshening charm over the room itself. Beside him, Harry trembled, wide eyed, but still present; unlike the previous evening.

A warm arm slid around Harry's shoulders and he pushed his face into Severus' soft cotton shirt with something akin to a whimper. He could feel the man's long fingers rubbing soothing circles on his back, and Harry almost wished that Severus really was his father. He wished that he could have had this sort of comfort all of his life.

Merlin knew he had needed it in the past.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled into Severus' chest a few minutes later.

"Do not be," Severus whispered just as softly into his hair. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

Harry nodded, trying to believe the man. He wanted to, but he couldn't ignore the sound of his Uncle Vernon's voice ridiculing him in the back of his mind.

"Little worthless bastard! Think you can cry and get out of your chores?" His uncle had roared all too often at him.

He had only cried up until about age seven or eight, and that was only when Dudley or Vernon had hurt him more than usual that day. He had only cried because he was hungry, and he was lonesome, and instead of loving or supportive comments, all he ever received were slaps and insults.

He felt ashamed at crying now, without being in actual physical pain. He felt ashamed to cry even as he was held and hugged and given all those things he had never had.

As though reading his mind, Severus began speaking again in a low voice.

"I do believe we have more in common than I would have thought previously, Harry," were the man's surprising words.

He shook his head in confusion, not quite daring to look up from the warm perch his head was making against Severus' chest. Snitch had moved to his side and seemed to be intent on petting his hand the way Harry had often petted his familiar's head.

"Crush your emotions down deep, far down into your heart where they can't hurt and you can't be hurt by them, yes?"

He shrugged, not quite willing to tell the older man that what he was saying sounded pretty familiar.

Severus gave a soft harrumph. "You do not have to hide them from me. I shall not ridicule you for feeling. Unhappiness befalls upon everyone, and I daresay that you have a better reason than most to be miserable."

Severus' words rumbled through his head, and Harry felt himself relaxing slowly as he listened.

He barely noticed when his guardian dimmed the overhead light to almost nothing, returning the room to its previous darkness.

"I wish I could offer you reassurances, child," Severus voice was now only a very distant feeling in the side of his body. "All I can promise is that I will not let you suffer alone."

He had a vague sensation of lips against his forehead, and then sleep claimed him once again.

It was some time before he awoke again.

. . .

Breakfast was a bit awkward. Severus had warned him before leaving their room that the woman thought Harry to be his son.

"I can correct her if you like, but I thought . . ." Severus trailed off, looking at him expectantly.

Harry let a smile slip out at the corners of his mouth. "No, it's all right," he shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets rather shyly.

At breakfast, he had sat on the opposite side of Severus from their host. He had been extremely self-conscious of her eyes on him, but some of that had faded with the feeding of Snitch. He supposed that she wasn't really staring at him; likely she wasn't even looking at him! But he didn't know her, and after everything that had happened to him that term, it was little surprise that he wasn't exactly comfortable around her.

Luckily for him, Severus announced their departure shortly after they had finished eating, and after listening to his guardian politely decline her offer to escort them there, they were soon on their way once more.

Hadwyn's cabin was set off of the main road a fair ways, not unlike Elena Magija's home had been. Harry found it a bit odd to leave a place that he didn't remember visiting, but Severus didn't allow him to dwell on it for very long.

Happily, Hedwig was waiting for them when they finally made it to the front door of their destination.

The sight of his snowy owl was enough to put a real smile on Harry's face; the first in what felt like an extremely long time.

"Hedwig!" He called out joyously, and with a loud hoot of response, she flew onto his arm.

Beside him, Severus was adjusting the wards to recognize their presence, and Harry watched him in awestruck silence until he finished.

"Is that something that everyone can do?" He asked, peering up at Severus in interest.

"Not everyone," Severus said, giving a small half-smile before ushering him inside.

The inside was dark and cool, but a fire arose in the grate when they closed the front door; casting warmth over the innards of the cabin as it flared brightly before them.

The furniture was almost entirely hand made from some sort of heavy stout wood that looked as though it could stand up to anything—maybe even Hagrid, Harry thought with some awe. Hesitantly he touched the corner of one large chair, and after receiving no words of warning, he found himself running his fingers over the most of the rest of the wooden structures as well.

"Would you like to explore?" Severus asked just as he reached the edge of the room.

Harry paused, his hand on the edge of the large stone fireplace and bit his lip, thinking.

"Can we go together?" He asked in a soft voice, watching Severus' face carefully.

"Certainly," Severus answered agreeably enough, albeit with a slight look of surprise.

It wasn't that he didn't want to explore Hadwyn's home, because he did, but rather because he didn't know what was in there. Logically he knew that Hadwyn was safe, but exploring things unknown no longer had the same appeal they once had.

Who knew what or who might be waiting for him in the dark?

. . .

The cabin was a one story building with five rooms, not including a small cellar that Hadwyn used to store vegetables and various supplies in. The other five rooms consisted of the main sitting room, which doubled as a dining room—a small kitchenette in the corner, two fairly bland bedrooms, one bath and toilet, and a small out of the way corner that clearly served as some sort of a cross between a laboratory and an examination room.

"He doesn't really seem to have much of himself in here," was Harry's somewhat astute observation after they finished the tour.

"Unless I am very much mistaken," Severus answered, "All of the furniture was carved by him."

That got a round eyed look of surprise from the boy.

"But other than that, you are most correct. I believe that Hadwyn puts the primary part of himself into his work with dragons and the other people who work in this field."

Harry nodded at him thoughtfully, his eyes somewhat distant. Uncomfortably, Severus found himself associating that blank look more and more with the child's horrid flashbacks, and thus suggested, "Would you like to pick a room to make your own?"

Green eyes flicked abruptly towards him and Severus allowed a small smile to come across his face at the intense scrutiny inherent in the boy's face.

"My decision?" Was Harry's carefully spoken question.

"Yes."

"And you won't turn it Slytherin green?"

"I will not," Severus promised.

He watched as the boy's lips pursed thoughtfully. "Can I have the room overlooking the lake?"

Severus had an inkling that Harry was going to ask for that room. "You may."

"And I can decorate it however I want?" Harry's voice was small, and a touch hopeful.

"Yes," Severus answered, feeling an odd pleasure blossoming in his heart at being able to grant such a simple—yet much hoped for—request.

Harry beamed a beatific smile at him and then ran off to his room excitedly.

Chapter Text

Harry stood in the middle of his room, staring at the blank walls with a thoughtful expression. There was a bed in the corner, a single that had been stripped of its sheets and blankets. Severus had told him that they could either transfigure some for him, or actually go shopping if need be, but however it happened, they would still be for him.

He crossed his arms over his stomach and hugged the knowledge tightly to his chest. He wondered if Severus would let him paint pictures on his walls. He wondered if he could paint Severus.

Looking at his bed, he bit his lip and then ran back into the hallway to find his guardian. He had a question to ask.

"Severus," he said a bit breathlessly, finding the man in the potions laboratory.

"What did I tell you about running inside?" Severus asked without looking up from his ingredients.

Harry frowned guiltily. Severus had told him not to, but he had forgotten.

"Sorry," he quickly responded.

"Did you need something?" Severus finally looked up, fixing him with his customary dark stare.

"I w-wanted to ask a question," he stammered, shoving his hands in his pockets nervously.

"Yes?"

"Can I—er, can we change my bed to something else?"

". . ."

"I mean, like maybe, um, a, like a cave or maybe um, hide it behind a fake wall or something?"

Severus stopped what he was doing and straightened up. Turning to the boy beside him, he raised an eyebrow and waved at the exam table that was across wall closest to him.

Both man and boy sat down and Severus raised an eyebrow at Harry before inquiring softly, "Do you not feel safe, child?"

"No, I mean I do! I do feel safe here . . . with you," Harry said adamantly, going so far as to reach
out and grip Severus' hand tightly. The older man would never admit it, but such a thing touched him deeply.

"Then why the need for extra protection?"

Harry's legs swung back and forth off of the tall table, his hand not leaving Severus' own as he thought of a way to put his plea into words.

"Harry?" Severus prompted gently when no explanation came forth.

"It's just . . ." the child's voice was faint. "I slept in a cupboard for most of my life," Harry said, not aware of the slight growl that came from his guardian at his reminder. "And I know that wasn't right, really I do," he added as he became aware of the frown on Severus' face.

"One should not keep little boys locked up," was Severus' rough reply.

Harry's face suffused with colour at his sentiment. He wished . . . oh how he wished Severus could have been someone to speak to earlier in his life!

"But that doesn't change the fact that sometimes Aunt Petunia put me in the cupboard for my own . . . safety," he said, thinking back on more than a few unpleasant memories. "And I did feel safe there. It was all my own space. It was mine, see?"

Severus gave a small nod.

"Even though I like the heavy curtains that are around the beds at Hogwarts, it never was the same," Harry's voice had gone faint again, and Severus leaned in closer to hear, unexpectedly draping his arm around the boy's shoulder as he did.

"I never told anyone," Harry whispered, his eyes downcast in embarrassment. "Sometimes when I had really bad nightmares, I'd sleep under the bed instead. It was safer and smaller and reminded me of my cupboard," he said, trailing off into silence.

The arm around Harry squeezed comfortably around his shoulders and he relaxed into Severus' side at the sensation.

"I believe I have an idea," was all Severus said, before standing up and indicating that he wanted Harry to follow.

They went back into Harry's room and Severus gestured at the far wall where the bed was currently positioned.

"Have you heard of the concept of 'wizarding space,' Harry?" Severus asked.

Wordlessly, Harry shook his head 'no.'

"Have you ever seen a muggle closet that was too overstuffed?" Severus asked.

"Yeah?"

Severus nodded his head. "Have you ever seen a wizard closet that is too overstuffed?"

"You mean, other than at the Weasleys'?" Harry asked with a teasing smile.

Severus rolled his eyes and frowned; muttering under his breath something about 'lack of common sense.' "Yes, other than the Weasleys."

"Then, no," Harry answered.

"That is because wizards—most wizards," he clarified with a raised eyebrow when Harry grinned knowingly. "Most wizards utilize a form of extra space that exists within normal space."

At Harry's blank look, Severus sighed and gestured him closer. "Have you ever seen Mary Poppins?" He asked in a near whisper, as though the idea of asking about a muggle movie pained him.

"The Dursleys didn't let me watch the telly or ever take me to movies," Harry said with a shrug, looking away and shoving his hands back in his pockets. Beside him, he heard Severus growl and then stalk to the other side of the room.

After a moment he came back and surprisingly the first thing he did was draw Harry into a hug. After a moment, Severus let go and knelt down before him.

"I will never be ashamed to be seen with you in public, Harry," Severus said, looking straight into his eyes.

Leave it to Severus to cut directly to the heart of the matter.

"I will never starve you, Harry. I will never beat you or lock you up. Do you understand me?"

Harry swiftly nodded his head, and Severus lightly squeezed his shoulder before standing up and turning back to look at the wall again. It was clear to him that his guardian was embarrassed by the emotionality of the sentiments he had just expressed, so Harry let him be for a few minutes.

By the time Severus started talking again, his voice was back to its normal, snarky style and his face was calm again, but Harry wouldn't be forgetting what he had said anytime soon.

It turned out that wizarding space had a lot do with math mixed with higher level spells; which meant that most of what Severus tried to explain to him went completely over his head. Basically, the spells amounted to this formula:

Space/2 = basic wizarding space

Of course, as Harry was quickly learning, one couldn't just divide space in half without some very technical spells (as well as some very careful equations).

"Do you have to cast glamours over all of it?" He asked during a tea break.

"No, I do not. You see," Severus continued at Harry's expectant look. "Glamours are used change the appearance of space, but with wizarding space, the appearance is already changed with the application of the spells themselves. Wizarding space is not a temporary realignment of the volumes within, but rather a dividing principle altogether."

Harry blinked. He was feeling rather lost again.

"Let me put it another way, Harry," Severus said, catching his eye and raising an eyebrow.

Harry nodded.

"In wizarding space, the rules for what is inside that area change. Once that process is complete, then the spell caster sets the spell in place and defines what parts within that area are to be affected and which are not. For example, after the spell is finalized, then we can put things inside that space and they will stay the same shape and size, but if we were to put something inside before it was finalized, then those items would be subject to the same laws that I am writing for the space itself."

Harry shook his head.

Severus smiled and then continued, "Everything inside it works on the understanding that 2 equals 1."

"Everything is half?" Harry ventured tentatively.

"Yes."

"Yes."

"But only until you finish the spells? And then," Harry waved his arms in the air, trying to put words to the troublesome topic. "The space still works the same—in the new way?"

He got a nod.

"But," Harry added, squinting his eyes at something beyond the visual of the room itself, "The space doesn't affect what's put into it?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Severus said, looking pleased.

"Well, how does it all fit then? Shouldn't everything be twice as hard to squeeze in there then?"

"That is because I have only explained one part of the equation, Harry," Severus said gently, catching one of his still flailing hands in his much warmer one.

Harry eyed him suspiciously.

"I clarified how the edges of the space work, but not the dimensions within. Those work opposite of the outer edges."

"Woah," Harry twitched, bringing his free hand up and sliding it under his glasses to cover his eyes. "I think you just broke my brain."

Opposite him, he distinctly heard Severus snort.

"Perhaps I should simply show you, Harry," Severus said, standing up and pulling Harry with him.

Once back in his room, Severus pulled out his wand and summoned several large cans from the other room. He caused different coloured paints to pour from his wand into each of them, and then conjured several paintbrushes of varying sizes.

"While I am working on the space for your bed, I think your time would be better spent decorating the walls."

He's probably right, Harry thought, glancing over at his guardian repeatedly despite his reassurance to himself.

"There isn't much to see at this stage, Harry, but I will need your help when it comes time to ward the space itself."

Feeling better about it, Harry looked down at the paint colours and thought about what he wanted to create.

Tentatively, he picked up the smallest and thinnest paintbrush and dipped it into the black paint. Turning back to the nearest wall, he began to draw what was in his mind's eye; the corner of his tongue sticking just slightly out of the side of his mouth as he did.

It was several hours later before either of them did anything else other than work on their own individual tasks. As it happened, Severus finished before Harry did, and turned to speak to him, only to be brought up short by the incredible mural that the boy was creating on the wall opposite him.

Summoning a chair from the other room—and making a note to himself to get one for Harry's—Severus sat down lightly in it at the back wall and silently took in the ongoing creation. He hadn't known the boy could draw. He wasn't even sure if Harry had known.

Merlin knows he certainly wouldn't have gotten any positive feedback from those miserable relatives of his, he thought grumpily.

On the wall there was the image of a lion with a snake interwoven comfortably around its feet. Sitting beside it on the ground was a black badger with unusually intelligent eyes, and flying overhead was a clear representative of a bright golden eagle. If Severus hadn't known better, he would have sworn that the feathers on the bird were really moving, and that the sun glancing off of the lion's mane really did shine. It was a bit disconcerting to his typically logical mind, but it also managed to bring a small pleased smile to his face at the same time.

Those images were the brightest part of the mural, but not the most impressive. In the corner stood a tall imposing figure that held a rather uncanny likeness to himself. It stood next to a simmering cauldron, glowing unnaturally with some kind of unknown greenish-purple concoction.

Severus blinked as he suddenly realised that there was something more to the picture of himself beside the cauldron. Tucked under one arm was what looked like a younger version of his ward, Harry Potter. Both of their hands were on the stirring rod and . . . he peered closer, there was no scar on the boy's forehead.

Oh child.

. . .

The next morning, they finished the majority of Harry's room; beginning with the warding of the boy's sleeping space. Harry had eventually fallen to sleep while painting, a wet paintbrush still in his hand, dripping paint all down his front. It had been an easy enough task to clean him up and carry him to Severus' already made bed. There they had caught a few more hours of sleep—thankfully nightmare free for once. After a quick breakfast, Harry had run back to his room to "fix a few things," and then the boy had called him in.

Severus took the time to really take in the entire image laid out before him, and only then did he speak.

"I am most impressed, Harry."

The boy, after shuffling around for a bit, finally asked, "You don't mind?"

"Mind what?"

"That I put you in there?"

Severus laid a hand on the child's shoulder and shook his head. "I do not mind, Harry. Not in the least."

To save Harry from what looked like a case of terminal embarrassment, Severus turned back to the wall that his bed had previously sat beside.

Tapping his wand on the wall three times, he muttered a password—Lily—and a doorway appeared in the wall. As of yet, there was no doorknob. He needed Harry's "help" for that part.

"Come here, child," Severus instructed. When Harry was standing beside him he reached for the boy's hand, pleased when he did not flinch and put it on the door.

"I need you to envision what having a secret, safe place of your own means to you and then pour all of those feelings into your hand and into the door. Do you understand?"

Harry nodded and a look of concentration overtook his features. After a moment, the door glowed greenish-blue and Harry looked back up at him in surprise.

"It tickled. Was it supposed to do that?" Harry asked.

Hiding a smile, Severus answered, "It does sometimes."

"This access point is for you and you alone. I can get to you in the case of some kind of emergency—you need but say my name twice if you are conscious, otherwise the house will alert me to any other troubles."

"But—," Harry interjected, eyes wide and lip caught in his teeth.

"Harry?"

"I want you to have access too," Harry whispered.

"Are you sure?" Severus asked; a bit surprised.

Harry nodded and then, without having to be told so, he grabbed Severus' free hand and brought it up to the door as well. The door glowed again, the colours brighter than before, and then returned to its normal colour.

"On the count of three, say 'Domus,'"Severus instructed.

"What does that mean?"

"Home."

Chapter Text

Dear Severus and Harry,

I thought I understood Quidditch fervour, but now it is clear that I was clearly mistaken. The Gryffindor-Slytherin match was this past Saturday, and tensions were high all week between the participating houses. I broke up no fewer than fifteen fights this week, Severus. After the first one, I immediately began subtracting substantial points. I would have thought that the students would have realised how detrimental their actions were to their overall house points, but it was Thursday before someone—Miss Granger, I believe—managed to make them see how much further in the lead Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had gotten in the meantime.

To borrow one of your favourite phrases, Severus, they are a bunch of dunderheaded fools.

And then there the actual match itself.

Here, Severus paused in his reading of the letter to Harry and raised an eyebrow.

"Well, don't stop there!" Harry cried out, wringing his hands.

Severus merely continued to stare amusedly at him, and Harry hastily added, "Sir? I mean?"

Of course, the major discussion and dare I say it, plight of the Gryffindor house was the absence of their star seeker, Harry Potter. I have had many the student—across all of the houses—trying to get the story out of me regarding your absence, Harry. No fear; my lips are quite sealed in that regards.

"Whew," Harry added aloud, barely aware of having spoken.

"In your absence, the Gryffindors decided to go with a 2nd year girl by the name of Ginny—.

"Weasley," both Harry and Severus said in unison. "Would you like me to continue?" Severus asked snidely.

"Sorry," Harry said, ducking his head with a slightly contrite smile.

"Hmph," Severus said before turning back to the letter. "As I was saying . . ."

Weasley; my, but there certainly are a number of red haired players on the Lion's team. On the other hand, I caught Marcus Flint in the girl's bathroom, doing Merlin knows what with a couple of Hufflepuff firsties. He's been sent home, and so the Slytherin captainship has been passed to Graham Montague—.

"A fifth year Chaser," Severus clarified for Harry.

and his position was filled by young Mr. Ralph Harper.

"Isn't he just a second a year?" Harry asked.

"Is not Miss Weasley as well?" Severus countered.

"Er."

Severus rolled his eyes and then continued.

Am I the only one who sees these players as children, Severus?

At the game, although I sat in the Slytherin section, I was not alone, for a Madame Poppy Pomfrey sat beside me the entire time. Apparently she knew my name from some journal article I hardly remember writing discussing the best spells and pastes to use in the case of severe burns. Did you know that she was sorted into Slytherin when she was a child? I daresay I almost want to put on that fabled hat and see what it says for me as well. Well, almost. Perhaps after my tenure as the Interim Slytherin Head of House is over. It wouldn't do any good to have a Hufflepuff leading your house, would it old chap?

Severus snorted in disdain. Hadwyn was many things, but a Hufflepuff he was not.

What on earth is the point of having a Quidditch referee when they don't actually see the fouls perpetrated by most of the team? This was easily one of the dirtiest games I've ever seen played. If not for Madame Pomfrey informing me that it was simply the final game of the year, I would have been worried that all of Hogwarts games were played this way. As it was, we started counting injuries from the first minute in, and at one point, we were even asked to intervene during a time out and treat two of the more badly hurt children before letting them out to do more of the same.

Are the Weasley twins aware that their bats are supposed to strike the Bludgers and not the heads of the game's other participants?

Here, Harry winced. "I wish he had said who got hurt."

"I believe he means to imply that everyone did in some form or fashion."

"Still . . ." Harry trailed off after receiving an understanding nod from Severus.

Young Mr. Malfoy truly showed off his family's more malevolent genes in the game as well. I am just as happy not to have seen Marcus Flint playing after all, especially after seeing him in action with students much more helpless than he. Of course, this meant that your team was less than pleased with me, with the notable exception of Mr. Harper—whom I think has decided to shadow me for the remainder of the year in thanks? Perhaps I shall use this time to both of our advantages and show him a few of the more interesting potions I use in my everyday practices as a dragon keeper.

I do have a tendency to meander off on tangents, Harry (Severus will surely inform you of this, I would guess).

Severus rolled his eyes again for Harry's benefit, inwardly pleased when a small giggle came from the boy.

Mr. Malfoy, as I was saying, committed some of the most blatant and idiotic acts of cheating that I think I have seen in any player, especially a Seeker! Truthfully, Severus, they don't learn these sorts of things from you, do they? I would have thought you would have taught them at least a bit of subtlety.

Severus pinched his nose in disgust. If not for his familial history, he easily could have seen Draco as a Gryffindor. Idiot, he thought.

He fouled Miss Weasley by setting fire to her broom tail, only to be hexed in return from the girl! Madame Pomfrey informed me it was something called a 'Bat Bogey Hex.' I think I may have to learn more about that one for future use!

Harry sniggered at the image of Hadwyn using Ginny's famous hex, while Severus merely glowered.

Besides the inane activities between Malfoy and the Weasley twins, there was also hair pulling, unnecessary jostling, bumping, throwing of balls into heads and other miscellaneous body parts (Mr. Warrington took a Bludger to his arm, but refused to quit playing—hence the need for a time out and intervention by Poppy and me), nosebleeds (one of those was caused by a Quaffle to the back of the head) . . . my goodness Severus, how do you watch your children play this game every year?

"Your children?" Harry asked interestedly, inching closer to his guardian.

"A figure of speech, I am sure," Severus covered, sniffing disdainfully at the letter.

"You care a lot for them though," Harry pressed on, a touch of wistfulness showing in his expression.

"Would you like to hear who won the match, or wouldn't you?" Severus asked, softening his glare a bit at the sight of the boy's face.

Eyes instantly downcast, Harry nodded quickly.

Severus grumbled, but finally added, "Yes. I care for my house. Some of them are not so different from yourself."

All of this continued for quite some time until finally the conclusion of the match was reached. I for one was simply relieved to see it over, but I cannot say that all of our house felt the same way. Gryffindor pulled out a win at long last after a harrowing chase of the Snitch by Mr. Malfoy and Miss Weasley. I have not seen Harry play, but if he is better than these two were, then I believe he must be in a class of his own.

At hearing that Gryffindor had won, Harry let out a whoop, but with Hadwyn's addition compliment, his cheeks had turned bright red and he turned away from Severus in embarrassment.

Severus frowned at the boy's reaction, his feelings augmented by news of his house's loss. "He is right, Harry," Severus did manage to say at last. "You do fly quite well."

Bright green eyes flickered hesitantly at him, and Severus felt an undeniable spark of connection with the child at his reaction.

"Would I lie to you?" He added, reaching out and gently cupping a hand to the boy's face.

Harry shook his head in the negative, but he continued to worry his lower lip between his teeth.

"Then believe me that I tell the truth," he added, reaching out and carefully pulling the abused lip out from Harry's teeth.

"Yessir," Harry whispered, eyes focused more steadily on Severus' face.

In other news, please inform Harry that Hermione has passed this missive along:

Dear Hermione,

We lost. I'm allowed to bring him back to Hogwarts. Execution date to be fixed. Beaky has enjoyed London. I won't forget all the help you gave us.

Hagrid

Tell Harry I'm sorry to hear about this. Hagrid had been rather good to me, despite my sudden appearance, and has nearly talked my ear off trying to find out about 'my' dragons.

Sincerely,

Hadwyn Long

P.S. Miss Hobbs and Miss Darc send you their regards. From what you told me about them, they are being far too quiet. I tried to cast an eavesdropping spell on them, but one of them dismantled it within an hour. Hm, maybe I can hire the Weasley twins.

Severus didn't say anything as he rolled the missive back up. Beside him, Harry was sitting completely still, his eyes wide with shock at the last message.

"Come, let's have some tea," Severus suggested softly, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder and steering him towards the large wooden table in the corner of the room.

It was after he had gotten the tea made and passed a cup to Harry that either of them spoke again.

"I can't believe that's just . . . all there is to it," the boy whispered, his fingers trembling as he reached for his tea.

"It is unfortunate that a magical animal's life can be ended by a foolish boy's ploy for attention," Severus said, knowing that Harry would understand whom he was speaking of.

Harry merely nodded, his eyes glittering with unshed tears as he continued to stare unblinkingly at the table top.

Severus let out a soft sigh and reached into his inner pocket of his robes. He pulled out a spare handkerchief and then passed it to the boy, pressing it into Harry's hand when the child didn't notice it beside him.

Looking up finally, Harry gulped hard and whispered, "Do—," he gulped again, "Do you think you could help somehow, sir?"

"With Buckbeak?" Severus prompted quietly.

Harry nodded, his lower lip quivering slightly.

Snitch chose that moment to fly in through the wall after presumably doing his business outdoors. Seeing his young master so distraught, he squeaked once in Severus' direction and then landed lightly on Harry's shoulder, wrapping a wing around it and petting the boy's face with a small hand.

With Snitch as a shield to hide behind, Harry's sobs finally broke and his shoulders began shaking uncontrollably.

Severus had resigned himself to seeing more tears from Harry because of Lupin, but this was a completely separate affair altogether.

This is unacceptable! He is unhappy enough as it is. His inner voice argued heatedly.

"Harry," Severus said quietly, but got no response. Sliding his chair sideways, he reached out a hand and laid it on the boy's shoulder, unprepared for what kind of response such a thing would engender.

Without warning, Harry launched himself into Severus' side and practically into his lap, Snitch and all. He could feel Harry's sobs as they shook the boy's small frame and without much hesitation, he soon found his arms slipping around the child's shoulders and back.

"It's—It's not right," Harry cried out onto his shoulder. "N-None of it, sir. It's just not right."

Severus had a feeling that the boy wasn't merely protesting the unfairness of Buckbeak's situation, but perhaps also his own as well.

"No child, it is not." He murmured into Harry's hair, his hand rubbing soothing shapes over his back.

"Can't you do anything about it?" Vibrant green eyes met his own ebon, tears still dripping down reddened cheeks, and Severus felt his heart clench hard at the sight.

"I . . ." Severus started, not quite sure what to say.

"Please?" Harry whispered, his breath catching in his throat as his sobs quieted down to hiccups.

"I suppose I can try," Severus agreed at last.

"Thank you," the boy whispered, arms tightening around his middle dangerously tight. Who knew the child could squeeze with such an inhuman level of strength?

Chapter Text

Severus was jolted awake one morning after hearing the ringing tone of one of his wards going off loudly in his head. His eyes barely opened, he jumped up and grabbed a lightweight robe and his slippers and headed for Harry's room.

Behind the secret partition, he found Harry jerking back and forth on his bed.

"No! Stop!" The boy cried out, physically reacting from his dreams.

"Harry," Severus said gently, trying to rouse him without causing an altercation.

Harry screamed and flinched away, nearly colliding with the wall as he forcefully threw himself backwards from his nightmares.

"Harry," Severus said a bit more forcefully, heart clenching miserably as he imagined what kinds of horrors the boy was dreaming of.

Harry whimpered and curled up in a ball, hands flailing weakly at his imagined attacker or attackers.

"Harry," Severus tried once more, reaching out a tentative hand to touch the boy's tense shoulder.

The effect was immediate. Harry's eyes flew open and he recoiled from Severus hand with a stifled cry.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Was what immediately burst out of Harry's mouth as soon as he realised what was going on.

"Harry, shush," Severus soothed, sitting farther back from the boy. It was all too obvious that Harry did not wish to be touched right then, and he didn't want to push the issue anymore than necessary.

Harry was relieved when Severus moved away from him. He wasn't certain if he could handle the sensation of another man's fingers on his flesh. He shuddered at the thought and curled up into an extremely tight ball.

He still couldn't understand why he couldn't just get past this and move on.

I mean, he thought to himself, if Severus is right about how badly my relatives treated me, then how can I be all right with it, but not with something that happened for such a short time?

It was all convoluted in his head and he had a feeling it was going to get worse before it got better.

"Would you like to be alone, child?" Severus' voice broke through his musings then.

Miserably, Harry nodded, almost regretting the action when Severus stood up and made his way back into his regular bedroom.

"Harry, I'll be waiting at the table with breakfast if you'd feel comfortable with joining me sometime this morning," Severus said, turning his dark eyes to look calmly back at him.

Harry reached out and snagged his glasses and then nodded silently when he realised Severus was still standing there waiting for an answer. He was glad that no pity looked back at him through the man's dark eyes; quite certain that he wouldn't have been able to handle it if he had.

He didn't uncurl from his ball until he heard Severus leave. His professor—er, guardian—had arranged it so that he could hear what was going on in his main room, but that other people could not hear what was going on in his hidey-hole. He listened to the man's footsteps as they slowly faded and then dared stand up, pulling himself out of sweat soaked sheets with a shiver of discomfort at the feel.

Snitch popped into his room as he stepped into it proper, and wordlessly he reached for his pet, pulling his fuzzy friend into his arms and squeezing it tightly. He buried his face in his small friend's body and closed his eyes against the urge to begin crying again. He was sick of this; he was sick of himself.

He was somewhat glad that his pet had missed his latest nightmare. He knew his friend didn't like to see him like that, and was just as glad that the little creature had been outside relieving himself—or whatever it was he did there.

Unbidden, the sight of Severus' sad face blinked up at him from his subconscious, and he felt himself drooping slightly. His guardian didn't like it any better; the difference was that where Snitch visibly fretted and worried about him, Severus only became more intense in his gaze and his composure. It was more than clear that the man didn't like to show his emotions in front of anyone, and Harry had a very strong feeling that the little he was demonstrating to him was significant.

"Want to go take a shower?" He finally managed to ask Snitch after a few more minutes of silently snuggling with his pet.

Snitch squeaked in affirmation, petting his face gently with a paw and making Harry nearly start crying again because of it.

"Come on then," Harry said, carrying his friend to the bathroom and turning on the water.

. . .

Twice now, Hadwyn had caught sight of a large black dog following him across Hogwarts' grounds. The creature was very quiet, but Hadwyn had years of experience with wildlife, and it didn't take him very much time to become aware of the thing's presence.

He was walking back from Hagrid's cabin one evening when his senses flared once more, alerting him to the presence of something dark and shaggy wandering just at the edges of his awareness. Stopping, he turned and looked back into the darkness, trying to peer into the approximate area that he thought he had sensed the thing's movements.

Slowly moving into a crouch, he reached his hand into an inner pocket and pulled out a rough hunk of dried beef that he kept in there for various reasons. He thought he heard the barest edge of a high pitched whine and he smiled to himself.

Pulling his arm back, he threw the hunk of meat forwards into the darkness of the edge of the forest and then sat back on his haunches and waited for something to come forward and eat it.

He didn't have to wait very long. The creature that darted forward was skinny—even starving, if his eyes weren't deceiving him. As he had thought, it was a large black dog, its fur blending in perfectly with the inkiness of night, making it hard to pinpoint with just his eyes.

He reached out with his magic just as the dog reached the hunk of meat, grabbing it up with his mouth and then bounding backwards into the forest itself to eat in relative privacy.

Smiling again, Hadwyn reached into his pocket again and pulled out another hunk, and then tossed it again, just not as far out as before. He repeated his action several times until the dog was practically within arm's reach, and it was then that he first spoke to it.

"My, yeh are a pretty thing, aren't yeh? Strong too, hmm?" He asked as he watched the dog rip the chunk of jerky in two with a chomp of its jaw.

"That nice thick fur must keep yeh rather warm, yes?" He murmured, reaching out an open hand for the dog to sniff.

After some trepidation, the black furry creature did just that. It sniffed his hand and then licked it and then finally bounded closer, sticking a wet nose into the inside of his robes trying to find more food.

"And a brave boy too, uh huh, yes yeh are," Hadwyn said, keeping up a steady stream of calm, non-threatening chatter as he petted the dog and fed him another chunk of meat directly from his hand.

"Would yeh like to sleep somewhere warm tonight? I can guarantee yeh'll be fed there, and brushed, and maybe even played with. How d'yeh like that idea?" He asked; rubbing under the dog's head and then finally giving the creature a good tummy rub.

The black haired dog licked his hand and face some more, and then wagged his tail energetically, barking a few times to indicate that he liked this idea very much.

"Well come on," Hadwyn said, standing up slowly, not trying to spook the poor creature into bolting.

. . .

A freshly washed Harry finally made it down to the breakfast table nearly forty minutes after Severus had woken the boy up. Considering how distraught the child had been, he was somewhat surprised that the child had not taken any longer. Judging from the lingering pinkness of his skin, Harry had scrubbed himself thoroughly and possibly to the point of pain. Although Severus could not identify with the sensation of being sexually violated, he was very familiar with having his mind violated and to a point, his body.

He remembered the sort of overzealous cleansing that usually accompanied direct violation of his person, and mentally he shuddered at the memory. He wouldn't wish that on anyone, but especially not Lily's son.

Both the dark lord and Dumbledore enjoyed testing his loyalty, but only the former enjoyed the pain that was caused from such testing. True, over the past ten years, his relationship with Dumbledore had grown past the strained days of his first foray into spying, and while he couldn't precisely call the older man a friend, he did consider him to be a trustworthy ally—at least most of the time. He was under no delusions that Dumbledore worked for himself. It was mere serendipity that his goals aligned most of the time with that of the Light, or so Severus believed.

"Hi Severus," Harry whispered, sitting down next to him shyly.

"Hello Harry," Severus responded with, trying to keep his voice as normal as possible. He was under no delusions of it being a good morning, though.

"Have you been waiting for me very long?" Harry's voice did not rise above a whisper, but Severus did not make light of it.

"Hardly. I feel that you should know that I cannot eat until I have had at least one cup of coffee—or more," he added with an eyebrow raised.

"Oh," Harry twiddled his fingers together and then looked up again. "And have you?"

"I just finished my cup a moment before you walked in. I would like to thank you for your timing," Severus said in a serious voice, letting none of his humour for his statement bleed through into his voice.

"Oh," Harry said again, glancing up at him with an almost smile. "You're welcome then, I guess."

"Yes, a welcome is typically the proper response to being thanked," Severus added, curling up a corner of his lips in kindness.

It was strange to think that before this situation had occurred, he would have never bestowed unnecessary kindness on anyone this young—particularly not a child from Gryffindor, let alone the Boy-Who-Lived.

Yet, slowly but surely, such small acts of gentleness were becoming easier for him to manage.

It was oddly bewildering.

Chapter Text

Hadwyn found the black dog from the Forbidden forest to be a mystery. The creature followed him everywhere loyally, and enjoyed every type of food he offered it, but at the same time, there was something strangely off about him.

The dog seemed to like watching him in the potions lab, and had even intervened once by getting in his way to keep him from adding an ingredient too soon. Another time he had found the creature looking at the Daily Prophet with an odd amount of understanding in its face, although at the time he had tried to convince himself that he had imagined it.

The dog was too smart, and Hadwyn had been around animals enough to know that this wasn't typical. There were only a few possibilities that could explain why the dog was like he was; perhaps he had been another wizard's familiar at another time in his life; or maybe he was under an enchantment of some kind.

On the other hand, and Hadwyn was leaning towards this option more than the other two, the dog might actually be someone's animagus form, which would easily explain why the creature was so damned intelligent.

Hadwyn had thought to peruse the list of registered animagi, but hadn't found anything exactly matching "his" dog's appearance. Thus, if he were right, it meant that the creature wasn't registered, and therefore the only thing standing between him and the truth was one simple little spell.

Of course, then there was also the question of why someone would voluntarily stay in their animagus form for such a long time (it had been over a week since he had found the dog, and they hadn't really been apart since then). Was his creature in some kind of danger?

He liked the dog, he really did. He liked the companionship and he enjoyed having a furry friend around to play with and love. He hoped he was wrong, but he didn't think he was. His hunches—no matter how annoying—tended to be right, or at least rooted in truth of some kind.

He sighed and glanced down at the foolish animal lying at his feet. The creature lifted his shaggy black head and looked back up at him, his tongue out and tail wagging as though he knew that Hadwyn was thinking about him.

"Utterly ridiculous," Hadwyn murmured, standing up with a slight wince. He'd been sitting for too long pondering nothing and everything.

"Come on, let's take a walk," he said, jerking his head at the door and waiting for the dog to scramble to his feet.

The black dog barked once and trotted on ahead of him, weaving through the stone corridors of Hogwarts happily. Abruptly, he found himself in front of a stone gargoyle, and without pause, he whispered its password, "Sixlets."

Glancing down only once to make sure the animal was still with him, he moved quickly up the spiral staircase, barely waiting long enough to let Dumbledore issue him a welcome before speaking his mind.

"I may have a problem," Hadwyn said in greeting, not bothering to sit down.

"Oh?" Was Dumbledore's mildly spoken response.

"Yes." Then without preamble, he pulled out his wand, pointed it at the dog—the now moving dog—and silently thought, Animagus revealio.

And then there was a man in the place of his dog and he watched with some interest as a Stupefy was issued from Dumbledore shot over his shoulder, stopping the haggard looking man from making it out the door.

Turning around, he raised an eyebrow at the dumbfounded Dumbledore and asked in a calm voice, "Someone who owes you money?"

. . .

Harry was running. He had to get away. He scrambled over the road that he and Severus had used to get there. Severus, the thought stuck in his mind and he determinedly kept moving, trying not to think, trying not to remember.

He had been studying, or at least trying to.

He slid over a pile of loose rocks and caught himself roughly on his hands, his feet kicking out on the offending stones angrily.

Severus had been trying to get him to study for days now, and finally had suggested he try doing so alone in his room.

But he couldn't focus, and it was driving him crazy.

He tried to keep to the shady, dark spots of the forest. He didn't want anyone to find him. He was such an idiot; such a horrible, worthless, over-emotional, simpering wimp of an idiot. Harsh tears threatened to fall, but he refused to give them his attention.

"Harry, have you still not gotten any farther?" Severus had calmly asked him. He hadn't accused Harry of wasting his time, but he'd been able to hear it in his professor's voice nonetheless.

Why on earth couldn't he do better? Why couldn't he get better? Feel better? Move on?

His guardian might not choose to say it, but Harry had no such inhibitions. What was wrong with him!

Feverishly, he ducked under a branch and then changed directions, heading off to the right slightly before doubling back for a while. He didn't want to be found. He didn't deserve to be found.

"It's not working," Harry had said, feeling horribly out of sorts.

"What's not?" Severus had leaned in closer, his voice far gentler than his classroom persona had ever managed.

Harry's eyes had filled with tears as he had tried to explain that he couldn't think anymore, couldn't make his brain work. The quiet of his room didn't help him focus; it made him remember Lupin and what had happened instead.

He was lost and he knew it. He was in the middle of a forest in a dragon preserve, and he was never getting out, because he didn't deserve it. His lungs burned as he kept moving, kept escaping, kept running . . .

"Then we'll work out another way," Severus had been so calm, so collected as he had tried to soothe his fears.

For some reason it had just been too much for him.

"It's not going to GET better!" He had screamed back. "There isn't another way! I can't think anymore! I can't feel; I can't BE!"

"Child," Severus had said, touching his arm.

His eyes were blurring with tears. He couldn't see. It was dark and he was alone and—he gasped aloud at the pain in the centre of his chest. Oh god, what had he done?

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" He had screamed, his magic surging forward, trying to protect him, no matter how belatedly.

He couldn't see the branch that slammed into his head. All he heard was a crack and then a sick pain rocketed through his skull and he dropped to the forest floor moaning and clutching his head.

His magic had thrown Severus backwards into the wall. His magic had knocked his guardian unconscious . He had hurt Severus—the man who had done so much for him; he had hurt him.

Panic had flooded his system, and he had tentatively tried to wake the man up. It wasn't until he was closer that he had realised that Severus was bleeding; that his head had actually indented the wall.

The sight of blood, of real damage had snapped the rest of his tenuous control.

"AAAAHHH!" He screamed blindly in his self-imposed solitude there amongst the trees.

What had he done! Severus, the man whom he had privately begun thinking of as a parental figure; the man who had helped him more than anyone else in his entire life; how could he have been so horrible as to hurt him!

He sobbed aloud; his body hunched over, the final dregs of his dignity finally lost. He rocked back and forth, his arms holding his middle as his shoulders shuddered under the combined weight of what had happened to him and what he had done to his Severus.

He screamed again, screamed until he couldn't breathe or swallow. He screamed until his magic spread out around him, touching the trees and other creatures and filling them with his misery. He screamed until his head had threatened to split even wider open, until he couldn't tell whether it was blood or tears dripping down his face, until his muscles clenched hard and his nerves flared and he felt so horrible that he briefly wished for it all to stop—for his life to end.

And then he slumped down, his mind teetering on the edge of unconsciousness as his blood continued to pound without mercy through his body.

Then merciful blackness claimed him and he knew no more.

. . .

Severus opened his eyes with a groan. Mentally, he chastised himself for touching Harry when he was so obviously uncomfortable.

Harry.

The thought made him sit up quickly, the world swimming in front of his eyes as his head pounded painfully. He reached into an inner pocket of his robe and pulled out a pain potion, downing it quickly before finding a handkerchief and cleaning his face of the blood he could smell dried there.

"Harry?" He called out, not liking the silence that greeted his question.

Slowly getting to his feet, he ignored the swaying of the room and the slight blurriness of his vision. He could focus on himself when he knew that Harry was safe.

He turned his mind to the cabin's wards and tried to find where his ward was, only to learn that he was alone.

Fuck!

Taking a chance, he asked the empty room one other question, "Snitch?"

There was a squeak, and then he heard the flap of wings and suddenly a little furry red and orange body appeared beside him, and Severus let out a soft breath of relief. He had no idea why the creature was not with Harry, but it didn't matter. Snitch would be able to help him find Harry, and it would be faster than any magic he could perform.

Snitch squeaked again at him, and he held out an arm so the little creature could land on him. Soon, a small clawed hand was touching his face and he strode to the front door with the creature perched securely on his shoulder.

Once outside, he breathed silent thanks that it was relatively warm for a spring afternoon.

"We have to find Harry," Severus informed Snitch. "I need you to lead me to him."

Snitch squeaked and licked his cheek and then jumped off his shoulder and started flying away. Severus immediately began jogging after him, his head automatically complaining about it. Burying the pain behind his occlumency shields, he continued after his ward's familiar.

He was glad that Snitch was so overwhelmingly loyal to Harry; otherwise, it was all too easy to imagine being led into some kind of trap and never leaving the very dense forest they now found themselves in.

The direction in which Snitch was leading him was frighteningly dark; and more than once, Severus heard the roar of dragons coming from various directions around them. He heard the sounds of strange creatures clicking and crawling around him and he shuddered to think what might happen should one of them happen upon his Harry.

It was completely dark by the time Snitch finally stopped and landed back down upon his shoulder. Severus held his wand aloft, its tip alight with a brightly cast Lumos.

"What is it?" He asked, trying not to gasp from the combination of exertion and likely concussion. His pain relieving potion hadn't worn off yet, but that didn't change the fact that he still needed to lay down and rest.

And then of course, there was the leaden feeling of worry that was sitting at the bottom of his stomach, filling every thought, straining every breath even further.

A shimmer of magic revealed itself as he took a step forward, and his eyes widened at the very ancient feel of it. Before them was a grove of trees, and he had to stoop a bit to fit under the low branch of the nearest.

Of course he had been in heavily guarded magical places before, as well as ancient and protected or holy places. Unfortunately, the ritual and standards for each was different, but luckily there were a few standards of practice that translated from place to place.

"I'm not here to hurt," he announced, speaking in a low voice and taking another cautious step forwards. "Only to retrieve someone of my . . . clan who stumbled here by accident."

Another step and the ancient wards covering the small empty space between the trees seemed to relax around him a bit. Something flickered in front of him and he gasped as the sight in front of him suddenly came into focus.

A woman clad only in bark and leaves was standing before him. Vines like those hanging down from the tree behind her covered her limbs, revealing small patches of light green skin here and there across the expanse of her body.

Barely breathing, he felt his knees bending and he carefully kneeled down in front of the tree dryad.

"I mean no disrespect," he voiced softly. Still resting on his shoulder, Snitch squeaked in what sounded vaguely like agreement.

"You have been granted entrance because you asked, stranger," she said in a strangely enchanting voice. It sounded like trickling water and rustling tree leaves and he tried to commit the sound to memory.

"My name is Omorike," the tree spirit told him in that odd lilting tone of voice.

"I am Severus Snape," he responded with.

"And what do you seek, Severus of Snape?" Omorike asked; staring into his eyes the way a hungry snake might.

"A boy—my s-son, Harry," Severus answered, knowing better than to try and explain the convoluted relationship that existed between them.

Besides, it isn't as though we aren't beginning to work in that direction—provided that the events of the day didn't set them back irrevocably, he thought in the deeper part of his mind.

She continued to look into his eyes, her face intensely focused on his. Finally, after another minute of unending silence, she nodded and broke eye contact. Shifting to the side, he watched as the vines around her feet merely repositioned themselves, sliding her across the ground like a living, writhing body of smoky green.

"Take what you seek and leave. Your passage is safe until the sun rises," she said, her form beginning to melt into the backdrop of the dark branches behind her.

Severus managed to creak upright, his stomach trying to rebel against the movement until his focus abruptly shifted to the spot of ground where the dryad had previously stood. Now alone, he rushed forward, dropping back down—this time in a crouch—as he came upon the unconscious form before him.

Rolling the boy over on his back, he winced at the darkening bruise over one side of Harry's face and the blood that had dried under the child's bitten lip.

"Harry," he whispered as Snitch crawled down his arm and buried his little furry face in the front of the child's jumper. "Come along please," Severus said, picking up the boy's still light body and turning to leave.

"Thank you for keeping him safe," he murmured just before exiting the sacred grove of trees. He did not bother to look back to where they had been.

He thought it unlikely that he would ever be able to find the spot again, and indeed, as soon as his back was turned, the green space behind him pulled away from sight once more.

It was just as well.

Chapter Text

"Harry, open your eyes," was the first thing that Harry heard after sinking into miserable darkness who knew how long ago.

Turning his head to the side (and noting its soreness), he softly groaned out, "Don't wanna."

"Very eloquently spoken, Harry," was his guardian's familiar response.

"You try taking a bludger to the brain and see how well you speak afterward," he growled, squinting up through the blinding light to see Severus' dark outline overhead.

"Tree branch," Severus corrected softly.

"Tree branch, bludger . . ." Harry muttered. "What's the difference?"

He heard a snort and he tried to smile. The light was still hurting his eyes, but not as badly as before. He didn't mind it though—not really—for it let him focus on something other than the fear induced pounding of his heart.

Severus found me, he thought. But why?

"What are you thinking about?" Severus asked, his voice still lowered.

"Why am I here?" He blurted out, wondering how Severus would react to such a blunt inquiry.

"To heal, to recover from—," Severus began to answer, before being cut off by the sight of Harry's shaking head.

"No," Harry interrupted. "Why am I here now? Why did you come after me?"

Silence. Harry tried to sit up, and suddenly felt Severus' strong hands around him, helping him to move. Rubbing at his eyes, he bravely attempted opening them again, and was relieved to find the room not as bright this time.

"Severus?" Harry prompted, blinking hard at the man sitting beside him.

Severus looked back at him; dark eyes shining even in the dim light of the room. "Why did I come after you?"

Harry nodded. "I attacked you. I hurt you. Why do you still care?"

Why do you still care so much when no one else ever has? Was what he didn't say.

He watched as Severus pressed his lips together in that way that used to mean incoming danger to any students, but he found that he wasn't afraid.

"Harry," Severus finally said; his voice much lower than usual.

"I attacked you," Harry reiterated. "You shouldn't have bothered getting me back. I hurt you," he said, frowning.

It didn't make sense to him. Perhaps he really had suffered some kind of brain injury; perhaps this was just all an elaborate dream made up for him by the bizarre fates that seemed intent on screwing with his life. He didn't really know, and as he thought about it, he wasn't entirely sure he had ever really known.

Severus abruptly leaned in closer, putting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands together on Harry's bed. "Let me ask you a question, Harry."

Wordlessly, Harry nodded.

"Did you mean to injure me?" Severus' eyes were staring intensely back at his, and Harry found that he couldn't quite look away.

"No, but—," Harry started.

This time Severus interrupted him. "Then why should I have not cared?"

"Because I hurt you!" Harry yelled, not quite sure why the man didn't seem to understand.

"But it was not done with malicious intent," Severus murmured, reaching out and taking one of Harry's hands in his own. "So why should it matter?"

Harry's throat closed over for a moment and he broke Severus' gaze by looking down at their conjoined hands. His heart was increasing its speed again, and he felt like breaking down like he had in the forest.

"Talk to me Harry, please. I want to understand," was all that Severus had to say. Severus never said please. No one had ever really wanted to understand him; no one.

Clearing his throat of the excess fluid that had suddenly accumulated there, Harry opened his mouth and tried to answer. "I . . . I didn't have to do anything," he whispered painfully around the tears that had started dripping down his face silently.

"For?" Severus asked, also speaking in a whisper.

"For the D-Dursleys to h-h-hate me," he murmured, dropping his wet face down onto the slightly uncomfortable lump that their joined hands formed. "I tried so hard to be g-good, and they always hated me."

He felt Severus lean in closer, and suddenly felt an extra weight against the back of his head. When Severus spoke, the air from his mouth tickled through Harry's hair, and he realised that his guardian was resting his cheek atop his head. It was a peculiarly intimate pose, and one that Harry had no desire to end. The Dursleys would have never dared to be so close to him; seemingly afraid that they would be poisoned with his unnaturalness if they should do something as radical as actually touch him.

"I hurt you. You should hate me. Why don't you?" Harry managed to say between sobbing gasps.

"Because I love you, Harry. You don't deserve to be hated," was Severus' all too calm answer.

Harry's sobs reached a near hysterical level, and he felt the weight from his guardian's head release him, moments before a strong arm reached out and pulled him in tightly against a warm chest. Their hands released and he pushed his arm out to hold desperately onto Severus' side.

Because I love you, he replayed the words in his head; mentally holding onto them the same as he continued to physically hold onto Severus.

He remembered a time not too long ago where he had been glad for Severus' hate for him. He remembered thinking that Severus' hate was preferable to Lupin and Dumbledore's so-called love.

This was different. He understood now. He finally understood that Severus was the only one who had managed to love him since the death of his parents. Lupin hadn't loved him, and Dumbledore hadn't either.

"You love me?" He whispered as his tears began to taper off. More than anything, he wanted to hear Severus say it again.

He could almost feel Severus' smile against the crown of his head.

"I do love you, Harry," Severus' voice was rough, and Harry thought that it was possible that his guardian might be crying as well.

He nodded and slowly let himself relax against the other man. Severus loved him. The impossible had happened, and for some reason, he was fine with it.

. . .

"Did you know that Sirius Black was an animagus?" Hadwyn asked, raising an eyebrow at Dumbledore after the older man had explained who it was.

"No, I did not," was Dumbledore's dumbfounded answer.

Hadwyn had to admit, now that he was seeing the infamous Sirius Black up close, he wasn't overly impressed. The man looked as though a stiff breeze would knock him down. As a dog, he had gained weight while in Hadwyn's care, but unfortunately, it did not appear that much of that had transferred to Sirius' human form. The man was positively skeletal.

"What will happen now?" Hadwyn asked, his face outwardly calm.

"I must contact the aurors," Dumbledore answered stiffly, despite not making any move to actually do so.

"Ah."

"Ah?" Dumbledore finally looked up at him; his blue eyes strangely dead in appearance as they stared back at him.

"As I understand his case," Hadwyn began slowly, transfiguring a rough blanket from a nearby lemon drop and wrapping it around the stunned man's still form. "Sirius Black was never given a trial, correct?"

"There were extenuating circumstances—," Dumbledore began tiredly.

"There usually are," Hadwyn very nearly growled out.

If no one else is going to act like an adult here, then I at least must try to, he thought.

"What are you saying?" Dumbledore asked, looking strangely old.

Perhaps it is just a glamour, Hadwyn thought idly. He was well aware of the other man's manipulative abilities.

Rolling his eyes, Hadwyn reached into an inner pocket and with a swish of his wand, he raised Sirius Black's blanket clad form up off the floor and perched him in a nearby seat. He cast incarcerous and waited for the ropes to finish springing from his wand before turning back to look at Dumbledore.

"Shouldn't we try to be better than our past selves?" Hadwyn asked with a thin grin, striding forward to pull Black's mouth open and deliver three droplets from the vial in his hand.

"Hadwyn, what do you think you're—?"

"Ennervate," Hadwyn said, cutting Dumbledore off again mid-sentence.

He watched as Black's eyes opened slowly, before suddenly widening dramatically as they darted back and forth between Dumbledore, Hadwyn and the door.

"Perhaps a few control questions," Hadwyn murmured, winking slyly at Dumbledore as he did. "Sirius Black, what is your animagus form?"

Black's eyebrows rose as his mouth opened its own volition and he answered dully, "A black dog."

"Hmm yes, and in school," Hadwyn thought for a moment and then grinned again, "Who was your most hated classmate?"

"Severus Snape," Black answered, his eyebrows back down where they belonged, though his eyes still darted back and forth.

"Did you, or did you not betray the Potters?"

"No."

Hadwyn looked at Dumbledore and pretended to be shocked.

"Who did?"

"Peter Pettigrew."

Dumbledore stood up with a swishy flash of his purple robes and strode over to stand in-between Hadwyn and Black. "Who was the Potter's Secret Keeper?"

"Peter Pettigrew."

"Was he also an animagus?" Hadwyn asked, walking forwards until he was slightly in front of Dumbledore.

"Yes."

"What was his form?" The question came from Dumbledore.

"A rat."

Hadwyn thought that Black's lip curled a bit on that answer, indicating that the man was regaining control of himself once more. It was probably best to finish this up soon.

"Why are you here?" Hadwyn quickly asked.

"To kill Peter," was Black's succinct response.

"Where is he?"

Point to Dumbledore, Hadwyn thought with dark humour.

"With the youngest Weasley boy—aghh, Dumbledore, you have to let me go!" Black's head suddenly slumped forward as the serum wore off within his system.

"Fawkes," Dumbledore called out instead. His phoenix suddenly appeared in the room before them, and with only one look from the headmaster, the creature flashed out again.

Moments later, Fawkes returned, carrying in its claws the thrashing form of a rat.

"That's him?" Dumbledore's question was tersely spoken.

Black merely nodded.

Seconds later, Peter Pettigrew appeared before them and once again, Dumbledore stupefied yet another man in his office.

"So, this is how you keep from getting bored, eh Dumbledore?" Hadwyn asked, taking a seat next to his pet and crossing his legs in amusement. "I don't know about everyone else, but I could do with some tea."

He ignored the looks of incredulity he received from Black and Dumbledore and instead called out, "Dobby!"

Dumbles is not the only man capable of manipulation, he thought wryly.

"Master Hadwyns, sir!" The house elf appeared delighted to see him as always. Of course, as a friend of Harry's, he was practically royalty to the nearly infatuated creature.

"Tea please, Dobby. Oh and you might be happy to know that Harry is fine. He's doing quite well, and if I remember correctly," Hadwyn made a show of pretending to think, "he recently made the acquaintance of a dryad."

He noticed but did not say anything about Black's obvious interest at his words, and instead sent Dobby on his way. He was certain that he had gone up another spot in the elf's book of great people, because the tea they received was more extravagant than normal.

"Sweet Merlin," Black said, nearly salivating beside him. "Is that roasted duck?"

"Hmm?" Hadwyn asked; looking in the direction of Black's twitching nostrils. "Oh yes, it looks as though it is, doesn't it. Would you like some?"

. . .

The days following Harry's adventure—as Severus had taken to calling it—were very different indeed. No longer content to just try and help Harry, Severus had now decided that he was the one to help the boy find himself again.

They began by taking walks through the wild forests around them. Severus tried to both give Harry his space and also to make it understood to the child that he was not alone. It wasn't enough to be his mentor; Severus was determined to show his charge that responsible adults did exist, and that Harry could find one in him.

He gave Harry a journal and encouraged him to write in it at every opportunity. It wasn't just trying to move on from what had happened that drove them forward, but trying to show Harry that there were things around them that didn't have to change just because everything else seemed to have done so.

"Even in the darkest of nights," Severus revealed one afternoon, "I still know that the moon will rise again. I know that the sun will shine and that the world will go on around me. Even in my worst moments, gravity still is at play. The ingredients to Wolfsbane must still be added in the same order, much like the Draught of Living Death. I know that I can trust in facts, Harry child."

The problem hadn't been that he hadn't believed in his relationship with Harry; the problem had been that he hadn't dared believe in himself, in his abilities to reach Harry. Now it was different. Now, Severus understood that he might very well be the only one who could reach Harry, and he had to do it, because the boy was too precious an individual to be lost to the fickle wills of fate.

The adventure in the forest had made it all too clear to Severus that he was not willing to stand by and let Harry just die. He had put far too much into this experience thus far—more than any other in his life, with one very notable exception. This was as much about Severus changing his own outlook on life as it was about changing Harry's.

And he could not fail.

He refused to.

For Harry.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25 – Part 2

They were sitting in the midst of a natural clearing within the forest near their cabin.  He could hear water trickling somewhere close by, and there were birds singing in the early morning air.  The world was waking up, both from the night and from the long winter, and the forest was bright with new life.

“I want you to clear your mind,” Severus instructed very calmly.

“I can’t,” Harry answered, more than a little frustrated. 

He heard rustling coming from in front of him. Even though his eyes were closed, he was still pretty sure that it was Severus moving toward him. 

A warm hand touched his head briefly and for once, he didn’t flinch.  He could almost hear the smile in Severus’ voice when he spoke next, and he didn’t have to guess about its origins.

“Don’t think,” Severus’ voice was soft and deep.  It made him want to focus on the sound as it wrapped around his ears and mind.  “Listen,” his mentor added, touching a thin fingers to his ears.  “Listen to the birds as they fly about and hear the sounds they make.  Don’t think.  Just listen.  Listen to the water.  Let the sounds as they surround you and breathe through it.  I’m not going anywhere.  You are safe here.”

Without even realizing it, Harry nodded. 

Feel the ground underneath your body. Feel the sun on your shoulder.”  Fingers touched his shoulder and he became more aware of the sun resting in that same spot.  He could feel the heat from the sun soaking through material of his clothes and unconsciously, he relaxed a bit. 

He was sitting cross legged and he shifted a bit to keep one of his feet from going numb from where it was pressed against a rock.  The ground under him was covered in old crumbling leaves and newly blossoming clover, and he thought he could smell a bit of both. 

“That’s right,” Severus voice murmured.  “Breathe.  Feel.  Be.”

His mind tried to interject a thought about something, but he ignored it.  He could think later. 

“Breathe with me.  In through your nose,” Severus said, as they breathed inwards together.  “Hold it for a moment,” he said.  “And now release through your mouth.” 

Again and again they repeated the process with Severus adding extra instructions here and there, reminding him to listen and to feel to his surroundings. 

“All living things, be they plant or creature or even the smallest of organisms,” Severus informed him in a slow dreamy voice that Harry could feel almost as much as hear.  “All living things carry magic within them.  We are connected to the world and the world is connected to us.  Even the earth itself breathes with us.”

Harry took another breath inwards with Severus and for a moment, he thought he could feel the earth shift slightly under his body as it too took a slow breath.  The wind in his ears and on his face moved past him as he breathed outward, and he imagined that the world was exhaling with them.  Unthinking, he smiled at the sensation. 

“When you are quiet enough, the sounds of your body can become much louder,” Severus said next, his voice as slow and quiet as before.  “In addition to the sounds of your lungs, one can learn to hear their heartbeat, and in some instances, even the movement of your blood through your veins can be sensed.”

Harry felt as though he was melting into the ground and for a moment, he pulled back, afraid of losing himself.  Luckily, Severus was watching and he effectively deduced what was going on. 

“Don’t fight the sensation, Harry.  I will not leave you alone.  I’m here, right here with you.”  Severus hands moved to touch his knees lightly and Harry immediately added that sensation to the flow of awareness surrounding him. 

“Right here together with you, Harry,” Severus added again and this time when Harry felt his endings begin bleeding into his surroundings, he let himself go.  Severus was with him and if need be, he’d bring him back.  He trusted the man to keep him safe.

For an unknown amount of time, Harry floated somewhere between awake and asleep, awareness of the world around him steeping within his consciousness and mingling with his own sense of himself. 

. . .

That night, he dreamed of something different from his usual round of Lupin nightmares.  He was in his room and the strange thing was, he knew he was dreaming.  He looked out the window of his dream room and saw the lake that sat behind their cabin.  Harry had specifically picked his room so as to have this view, and as always, the sight of its moving water calmed something within his centre. 

What was unusual though was the strange greenish-blue flower that had now opened just outside his window.  It seemed to be swaying in the not-quite light of the dream, and as Harry looked closer, the flower seemed to pulse and grow larger. 

He heard a ghostly tune begin from somewhere, and with a start, he realised that the sound seemed to be emanating from the direction of the stranger flower. 

“What are you?” He whispered, quite unafraid.

The flower pulsed again and the tune grew louder, just as a leafy vine began extending toward him.  Harry’s eyes went wide as the vine tendril passed through the window as though it wasn’t even there, and then suddenly he was reaching out his hand.  A thin green tendril wrapped around his finger before the dream faded and he found himself awake in his bed. 

Quickly bouncing to his knees, he clambered over to the end of his bed and drew the blinds on his window and looked out.  Dawn was just barely beginning to break over the world and he tried to see if he could spot the flower from his dream.  There was nothing beside his window—which was just as well, since he was fairly positive that he would have been a bit disturbed by its appearance there—but down by the very edge of the lake, his eyes caught on something and his eyebrows rose in surprise. 

There was a small flower growing there, just barely visible in the greyish light of the early morning, but there was no mistaking its colour.  It was greenish-blue, just like the one in his dream had been.  

. . .

“I believe,” Hadwyn said at the end of their somewhat awkward tea, “that you owe me a life debt.”  He turned to the partially bound man sitting beside him and raised an eyebrow.  They had released one of Sirius’ hands to allow him to feed himself, but otherwise he was still bound in and to the chair. 

Over Sirius’ spluttering of disagreement, Dumbledore eyed Hadwyn with a look that clearly asked, Are you sure you want to do this?

With brief smirk, Hadwyn nodded. 

“He’s correct, Sirius,” Dumbledore’s voice broke through the other man’s protests, bringing a brief moment of silence to the room.

“How so!?” Black finally managed, clearly outraged.

“Without me,” Hadwyn answered with a sharp grin, “you’d be on your way to the Dementors right now.”

Sirius shut his mouth with a snap and looked at Dumbledore with a baleful expression. 

“What do you require of him, Hadwyn?” Dumbledore asked, purposely not looking at Sirius.

“Even with the testimony of the rat,” he said with a sneer, feeling quite certain that Severus would be proud of the level of his disdain.  “The legal process will take a bit to catch up with Mr. Black here, and until it does, I would like to keep him as my guest.”

Dumbledore’s lips were quirking as though he found the situation entirely too amusing to speak to, while Sirius’ face was caught somewhere in between dismay and wariness. 

“If you’ll excuse us, headmaster,” Hadwyn stood and gave the older man a nod.  “We must be on our way.”  With a flick of his wand, Sirius was floating behind him, and with one more spell, the man was disillusioned.

“I’m sure I don’t have to warn you to remain quiet,” Hadwyn warned just as they arrived at the base of the stairs.

For the most part, the trip was silent.  Students passed him with hardly a glance.  Although he wasn’t nearly as frightening a professor as Severus, he did manage to have an air of focused intent around him that made many would be troublemakers back off. 

Finally, as they neared Severus’ (and his) quarters, the impossible happened; someone saw past the disillusionment and witnessed who he was transporting. 

“Professor Long,” a young voice said somewhere around his right elbow. 

He looked down and found that there were two young girls standing just beside him.  Both second years, they were two of the most elusive members of the house of snakes that he had met. 

“Miss Darc, Miss Hobbs,” he greeted them with a nod. “Can I help you with something?”

Staring past him, in the direction of Sirius, Hobbs nodded and said, “Did you know that you have a hitchhiker behind you?”

Hadwyn raised an eyebrow and glanced at Sirius out of the corner of his eye.  The man looked utterly gobsmacked.

“You should tell him that it isn’t polite to leave his mouth hanging open like that,” Hobbs added demurely. 

“I believe you just did,” Hadwyn said with a small smile. 

“See you tomorrow?”  Hobbs asked.

“9 o’clock sharp,” Hadwyn nodded. 

“Goodbye,” Hobbs said, turning to go back down the hallway.  Darc turned a bit slower after her friend, the small round faced girl having not said a word during the entire exchange.

“Goodbye Jayne,” Hadwyn said to the child.

“Bye sir,” Darc whispered before running quickly after her best friend.

“Strange children,” Sirius murmured.

“You have no idea,” Hadwyn said just under his breath, opening the portrait to his quarters with a softly spoken word.

Sirius floated in behind him, his head bobbing just under the top of the portrait doorway.  Hadwyn directed him into the bathroom, following just behind him, before ending both spells with a quietly voiced “Finite.”

“You are going to take a bath,” Hadwyn said, waving idly to the huge ornate tub sitting beside them.  “Unfortunately for the both of us, I don’t actually trust you enough to do so on your own.”

“Now come off it!  Where am I going to go?” Sirius asked belligerently, the ropes around his body twisting as he unconsciously fought against them.

“The world is not the same one that you left.  Your friends, do you even know where they all are?” Hadwyn asked. 

His face closing off, Sirius barked back, “Peter is hopefully with the aurors now; James is dead; as for Moony, last I heard, he was here teaching.”

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” Hadwyn murmured, cancelling the incarcerous, causing the ropes to disappear into oblivion. 

“I can bathe myself!” Sirius growled, taking a step away from Hadwyn.  “What do you mean, two out of three!?  Where’s Moony?”

Hadwyn stepped up to the tub and fiddled with the taps for a moment before turning back to the irate man beside him.

“Where. Is. Moony.”  Sirius demanded, advancing on him when he didn’t immediately answer.

“I really think you’ll be more comfortable sitting down,” Hadwyn said, waving his wand and spelling the other man’s haggard clothing off into a corner of the room. 

Sirius yipped in embarrassment and immediately transformed—or at least, he tried to.  One of the wards that Hadwyn had enacted on his way in kept unauthorized persons from transforming within the walls of his quarters.

Instead of turning into a dog, Sirius found himself naked and hogtied on the floor.

“Must we go through this again?” Hadwyn tsked, choosing to forgo magic and simply pick the blasted man and put him into the tub himself.

He released Sirius of his bindings just as he dropped him in the water.

“Augh!” Sirius yelled as he got water up his nose.

Rolling his eyes and sighing, Hadwyn pulled off his outer robe and calmly rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a bar of soap.  Picking up a flannel with his other hand, he set about making suds and then turned the soapy washcloth to Sirius’ dirt encrusted flesh.

“Don’t touch me!”  Sirius floundered in the water in front of him, splashing and ducking every time Hadwyn came near him.

“Were you this contrary as a child?”  Hadwyn asked with a frown.  “Merlin, even Harry doesn’t make as big a fuss as you when it comes to bath time.”

As he had expected, at the mention of his godson, Sirius stopped raising a racket and went completely silent. 

“What do you know of Harry?”  Sirius’ eyes were wide and Hadwyn took the opportunity to start scrubbing the man’s back. 

“More than you, I’d say,” Hadwyn answered vaguely.

Sirius squeaked and flinched back as Hadwyn reached the top of his arse, but he only stopped to roll his eyes again and then continued. 

“Get over yourself,” Hadwyn instructed, the Scottish lilt in his voice becoming stronger the more he was forced to fight with Sirius for control.  “I’ve seen more naked men in my life than you, and believe me when I say it, I don’t care what yeh look like!  More importantly,” he added as Sirius once again squeaked and tried to squirm away.  “I’m not interested!”

“Why are you here at Hogwarts?  Where’s Snivellus?” Sirius dared sneer in response.   

Narrowing his eyes, Hadwyn chose that moment to suddenly pull Sirius underwater, sending a great tide over the side of the bathtub as the man fought against him. 

“What was that?  I didn’t quite hear you,” Hadwyn said with a scowl as he surveyed the sopping wet mess in front of him.

“Are you trying to drown me?” Sirius retorted haughtily between gasping breaths.

 “If I wanted to kill you, I could find a drier way to do it, trust me.” Hadwyn answered, raising his wet sleeves up to eye level.

“Why am I here!?” Sirius asked just as Hadwyn began to pull him out of the bathtub.

“To keep you outta trouble,” Hadwyn answered, drying him off brusquely before wrapping a large towel around his waist and marching him toward Harry’s room.

After getting him dressed in a pair of Severus’ old trousers and a grey button up shirt, Hadwyn pushed him into bed and sat down on the chair next to him. 

“Yeh asked where Moony was.  I’m assuming that’s Lupin, correct?” Hadwyn said.

Sirius nodded; his eyes wary and dark as he stared back at the man whom he now owed his life.

“Yeh asked where Harry was too, but I can’t tell you one without the other, since they’re related.”

“What happened to my godson?”  Sirius leaned forward in the bed and reached out as though to wrap a skeletal hand around Hadwyn’s throat, but he stopped short at Hadwyn’s warning glare.

“You know much about Lupin’s childhood?”  Hadwyn asked instead, leaning back and watching Sirius with a wary eye.

“Only that—.” Sirius stopped. 

“That he got bitten as a child, yeah?” 

Wordlessly, Sirius nodded. 

“Know much of his father?”

“Kinda quiet,” Sirius shrugged.  “What’s this got to do with Harry?”

“Lupin’s father raped him as a child,” Hadwyn stated, not bothering to sugar coat the news.

Sirius’ eyes nearly bugged out at this information.  And then, “That bastard!!!” Sirius screamed, lunging forward at Hadwyn.

He caught the other man easily and kept him from hurting himself until he had calmed down a bit.

“I’ll kill . . .” he heard Sirius mutter.

“You won’t,” Hadwyn contradicted.  “He’s dead.  Been dead at least half a decade, it seems.”

Sirius slumped back against his pillows, briefly defeated.  “What about Moony?  Where is he?  Is he all right?”

Hadwyn shifted in his chair and stared back at Sirius thoughtfully.  “You two were close?”

“Closest,” Sirius confirmed, his voice rough with unreleased emotion.

He frowned. 

“Just tell me,” the other man pleaded with him.  “Please.”

Hadwyn crossed his arms and braced for the explosion he felt certain was coming.  “It seems,” he cleared his throat carefully, “that your friend was more like his father than anyone knew.”

Sirius’ eyes were incredibly wide.  “Who?” He whispered hoarsely, his hands clenched in the bedclothes.

“Harry.”

. . .

‘Dear Professor Snape,’

‘I want to apologize for upsetting Harry the last time I was in your quarters.  I’d been so worried about him, and I thought that you were taking advantage of his vulnerable state in order to do something to hurt him.’

‘I just wanted to say that if he’s happier with you, then I’m glad.  Really.’

‘Sincerely,’
‘Hermione Granger’

She folded the letter over with trembling fingers and attached it to Hedwig’s leg.  She had been up in the astronomy tower having a good cry when Harry’s owl had flown in out of seemingly nowhere.  She had tried to write back to Harry before, but all of the letters had been returned.  Now it seemed, she had her chance. 

She hoped she could be forgiven.  Ron was still angry at her, and with Harry gone, she was alone again.  She missed them both, but especially Harry.  She hoped he was healthy and happy without her.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 26 - Responsibility

Hadwyn crossed his arms and braced for the explosion he felt certain was coming.  “It seems,” he cleared his throat carefully, “that your friend was more like his father than anyone knew.”

Sirius’ eyes were incredibly wide.  “Who?” He whispered hoarsely, his hands clenched in the bedclothes.

“Harry.”

. . .

“Noooooo!!!”  Sirius howled at finding out what had happened to his best friend and his godson. 

Surprisingly for Hadwyn, the other man didn’t cause things to explode; he didn’t suddenly try to run away; he didn’t try to attack him.  He just . . . wept.

He watched for a while, somewhat dumbfounded over Black’s softly heaving sobs, until he wasn’t sure whether he should leave or try to say something.  He was a healer by trade, but with friends like Severus and the various dragons he worked with, it was hardly surprising that his people skills were a bit rusty.  Of course, Sirius Black wasn’t anything like a typical person, but that wasn’t really the point at all.

In the end, he opted to remain silent and wait it out; arms uncrossed and body language receptive to whatever it was that Black wished to deal at him. 

“How—when?” Black finally managed to choke out.

Hadwyn pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it into the other man’s hand before answering.  “After the holidays ended, I believe,” he stated slowly, watching Black carefully the entire while.

“O-Once?” 

Hadwyn wanted to do nothing more than lie to him.  He wanted to placate him and tell him what he wanted to hear, but he couldn’t.

He shook his head tiredly.  “More than once.”

In response, Black’s chin dropped to his thin chest and his arms flopped loosely at his sides.  His eyes were almost lifeless, and for a moment, Hadwyn feared the man would go into shock.  Touching him lightly on the arm, he tried to use his magic to sense Black’s status, but the only response he got in return was the feel of a full bodied throb of misery. 

“Sirius,” Hadwyn said, leaning him straight back and elevating his feet with a quick flick of his wand. 

While he waited on something to indicate that Black was once more back with him, he thought about his beloved dragons and tried to find correlations between their reactions.  Both creatures mourned, to be sure, but only man seemed fully capable of withdrawing into himself when faced with such overwhelming trouble. Dragons, by nature, were more action oriented creatures, and until just now, Hadwyn had thought the same to be true about the man in front of him. 

Of course, shock had a way of changing everything, but he had a feeling that this morbid silence wouldn’t last for very long once Sirius was given some time to process. 

. . .

“Three things, Harry.”

They had stopped next to one of the numerous beautiful lakes that populated the area around Hadwyn’s cabin.  Walking everyday was one of Severus’ new ideas for ways to help Harry, and as the boy had quickly discovered, their trips out were about more than just exercise. 

Harry crouched down and wrapped his arms around his legs, resting his head on his knees.  Severus knelt down beside him, his near presence both comforting and yet still slightly intimidating.

“Three things,” Harry dutifully repeated, looking out at the strangely clear water beside them.

“What are three things you know to be true?” Severus’ voice was soft and deep, barely audible over the gentle lapping of the water beside them.

Harry sighed and finally sat down, stretching his legs out in the direction of the water.  It wasn’t the first time that Severus had asked that question, but it was the first time that he had actually wanted Harry to give him a verbal answer.

He looked around at his surroundings as he tried to decide what to talk about.  His friends were his friends forever? 

But they’re not, his mind argued sadly.  Hermione isn’t.  And even if she was, how do I know that she will be forever?

“Try limiting your truths to what you see around you,” Severus’ voice was just barely audible as he prompted him.

“I’m Harry,” he answered with, not really feeling that sure that he knew what he was saying.

“What is Harry?”  Severus dark eyes glanced in his direction and he turned his head to stare back.

He pushed his fingers into the earth beside him, feeling the cool moistness of the dirt as it resisted his motions. 

“The Boy-Who-Lived,” he spat a little more bitterly than he had intended.

What is Harry?”  Severus’ voice was still very calm, but there was a touch of challenge in it now. “You’re not simply what people want you to be, Harry.  At least,” Severus smirked lightly at him, “You don’t have to be.”

He frowned and pulled at a twig that was halfway sunk into the ground.  “What do you think I am?” This time he avoided his guardian’s eyes.  He wasn’t sure if this was cheating or not.

Severus’ warm hand enclosed around his and squeezed lightly.  “You are a boy.  You are a Gryffindor.  You wear glasses and have green eyes.”

“But that’s not all I am,” Harry pointed out, his mind involuntarily drifting in the direction of other, less pleasant things.

Another squeeze of his hand. “It isn’t who you are, but details that can describe you.  They are truths about you that are unlikely to change in the face of adversity.”

He didn’t like that Severus wouldn’t mention the “adversity” by name. 

“Freak,” he growled out.  “Whore,” he added in a choked voice, looking away quickly before Severus could see his tears.

“Victim,” Severus countered; his voice a low rumble against Harry’s chest. “Child.  Innocent.”

“Broken.  Dirty,” Harry hissed back, wrenching his hand away and running it through his hair, making it stand up worse than before.

“Mistreated, hurt,” Severus answered; his intense gaze unblinking as he stared back at him.

“Stupid,” Harry shook his head, his lower lip trembling.  “Blind.”

“Betrayed,” was Severus’ soft response.

Something caught in Harry’s throat at that.  He wanted to add on another idea, but suddenly he couldn’t say anymore without fear that he would cry.  Instead, he nodded his head and hastily wiped a hand under his glasses. 

“Betrayed,” he managed in a whisper a few moments later.

“He broke your trust,” Severus sounded angry, but Harry knew it was not an emotion directed at him.  “He was the monster, not you.”

“I should have . . .” Harry trailed off, his hand creeping back toward Severus’ own.

“Should have, could have, would have,” Severus shot back, reaching out and taking Harry’s hand in his own once more.  The man barked a bitter laugh.  “I despise the discussion of should haves.  The past is the past, and we are here, in the now.”

“Still happened,” Harry argued stubbornly.

“Of course it did, silly boy,” Severus’ eyes were searching as they moved across his face.  His other hand reached out and took hold of Harry’s free one, forcing them to turn to look directly at one another.  “But we don’t give up just because we want to.”

“We?”  Harry cocked his head to the side. 

“We’re in this together,” Severus answered, his words sounding more like a promise than anything else.

“This?”

“Life, Harry.  The good, the bad, the struggle,” Severus said. “I’ll help you to live and you’ll help me. And you do.  And I will.”

Harry’s mouth quirked upwards into an almost smile.  The idea of helping Severus Snape with anything was ludicrous, and yet . . .

“I get to help you?”

“Should we clean out your ears?” Severus’ tone was chiding, but there was warmth in his eyes, just like there had been since he had come to live with the man.

. . .

“Going somewhere?”  A child’s voice broke his concentration.

“None of your concern,” Sirius growled, moving through the maze of dungeons as quickly as he dared. 

He was currently stopped at an intersection with two hallways on either side of him to choose from.  He had no idea where the little girl had appeared from.  He recognized her as one of the snakes that had seen him while he was disillusioned, but surely that had just been Long’s fault for miscasting the spell?

Valerie Hobbs looked up at the strange man and smiled.  This could be fun.

“I wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” she suggested in a sing-song voice as he started down one hallway.

“And what would you know about it?” Sirius sneered, jerking his head over his shoulder to look imperiously back at her.

“Oh nothing . . .” she grinned and wandered off.  It wasn’t her fault that the wards down in the dungeons were so much fun to play with. 

. . .

Hadwyn was only slightly miffed when he finally caught up with Sirius. The man had managed to escape from his rooms while he had been in class, but luckily had not yet disengaged the tracking spell that Hadwyn had secretly stuck to his left elbow. 

He found Black sitting in the middle of the floor of the dungeons staring at a wall with a bewildered expression on his face.

“Something the matter?”  Hadwyn asked in a mild voice, his wand already in his hand.

Black jerked at the sound of his voice and jumped to his feet.  However, instead of running, he turned to Hadwyn and pointed his finger at the wall angrily.  “That was not there before!”

“Before?” Hadwyn halfway expected the other man to stomp his foot on the ground.

“Earlier today!” Sirius growled, his dark eyes narrowed with frustration.

Hadwyn pursed his lips and took a step closer.  According to the reports he had gotten from various portraits and Snakes, Black had been wandering back and forth on this hallway for the better part of two hours.

“What was there before?”

“The way out!” Black retorted, crossing his arms defensively and stepping right up to Hadwyn. 

“Of the dungeons?”

“The way out is right here! I saw the path to the lake!” Black screamed back at him, his pale face flecked with drops of sweat, despite the cool temperatures.

Raising his eyebrows, Hadwyn desperately sought to keep a smile from spilling across his lips.  This had all the trademark signs of being engineered by one of his Snakes, the little imp by the name of Hobbs.

“Did you know,” Hadwyn said instead, grabbing a hold of Sirius’ thin arm and pulling him alongside as he began to walk back to his quarters. “That the Slytherin dungeons have long been warded against letting intruders travel without trouble?”

“We never had trouble like this when I was a student!” Was Sirius’ stubborn response.

“Ah,” Hadwyn gave into the urge to smile slightly.  “That was before Hobbs became a student here.”

Sirius’ face twitched and he jerked in Hadwyn’s hold.  “That little girl!  I saw her!”

Hadwyn’s smile grew.  “It seems that you have managed to land on her bad side.  I’ll be surprised if she ever lets you leave Hogwarts again, let alone the Slytherin dungeons.”

“You can’t keep me here forever,” Sirius disagreed as Hadwyn shoved him back into his quarters, shutting the portrait door behind them with a soft thump.

“No?”

“Harry needs me,” Sirius said, throwing himself into one of Severus’ armchairs as though it were his own.

“Harry has what he needs now,” Hadwyn answered idly, already casting new wards to cover the ones that Sirius had managed to work around.

“What?  Snivellous?  Snivellous can hardly walk outside in the daylight without burning,” Sirius sneered, seemingly unaware of Hadwyn’s warning glare.  “He’s an overgrown bat with the people skills of a broken windup toy.  Harry should be with me, and I don’t care if you agree or not, Hadwyn.”

Hadwyn licked his lips and watched the cruelly smiling man in front of him for a moment before stalking forward and grabbing him by the front of his borrowed shirt. Shoving Black not so lightly into a nearby wall, Hadwyn lifted him off his feet easily and leaned in close enough to cause them both mono vision. 

“You are a Gryffindor, aren’t you,” he hissed, leaning a little more on Black’s still sunken chest.

Able to twitch against him now that his shock had worn off, Black wheezed back, “Better than a slime ball!”

“The only slime ball was Lupin, so try again Black,” Hadwyn retorted, pulling the man away from the wall and bodily throwing him backward a few feet.

“Harry is mine!  You and Dumbledore can’t keep him from me!” Sirius responded, growling at the end of his tirade.

It was Hadwyn’s turn to narrow his eyes.  “You gave up that right when you tore foolhardily after Peter Pettigrew that night.  You were supposed to be there for Harry, but you picked revenge instead of responsibility.”

“THAT WAS MY RESPONSIBILITY!!!” Sirius howled, throwing himself forward with his fists.

Hadwyn dodged the wildly flying fists easily and grabbed Sirius by an ear, causing the man to stop and grab futilely at his hand.  

No,” Hadwyn answered, staring down into the demented man’s eyes with the sort of intensity he reserved for working with the less stable of the dragons.  Sirius flopped in his hold but didn’t break his eye contact.  “Harry needed you and you ignored that need.”  He let go of Sirius and the other man fell to the floor panting.  “You will cease from insulting Severus in my presence, or you will regret it.”

“You gonna rough me up, Long?  Just like a bloody Snake, can’t believe you’re supposed to be a healer,” Sirius said, dark eyes staring up accusingly.

Hadwyn grimaced and said, “Just like a fool to accuse first without further evidence.” 

Sirius clambered to his feet and poked his finger into Hadwyn’s chest.  “Say that again.”

“Fool,” Hadwyn said, whispering a spell that made Sirius squawk.

Hadwyn looked over his creation with some satisfaction.  Sirius’ long hair was now done up in curlers and his clothes had changed to a lacy dress with many pink bows.  There was a camera floating in the air beside him that began snapping pictures as soon as the spell was complete and Hadwyn watched in great amusement as Sirius began chasing it around the room spewing curses the entire time. 

With a sigh, he dropped into an armchair and put his feet up.  At least he’d have blackmail to work with now.

. . .

Harry dreamed that night of the lake once more.  The lake with the singing plant and the creeping vine, and then, just before he awoke, he saw something ripple near the middle of the water.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 27 – Tell me . . .

It had taken him a week to get around Hadwyn's new wards, but he finally did it. Sirius was headed toward the castle main doors in his dog form when an enticing smell reached his nose. Following the scent to its conclusion (a hot meat pie in a secluded corner in a corridor a floor above the Potions' classroom), he immediately dug right in. He noticed the taste of a sleeping potion too late and woke up only briefly as a spell was performed upon his unmoving form to change him back into his human state.

. . .

Sirius scowled down at the children below him . . . or rather, he stared up at them. He was trussed up and hanging upside down from one of the danker corridors within the Slytherin dungeons.

"Slimy snakes . . ." he started to growl, only to be silenced by a spell that somehow made his tongue stick to the top of his mouth, effectively gagging him.

"You really are an idiot," said the small girl whom he belatedly realised was the student Hadwyn had referred to as 'Hobbs.'

"Insulting your captors?" another one shouted out in a derisive voice.

Yup, same old Slytherins, he groaned internally as he glared back down (up) at them.

"Treat us like shit all you want; think we're the lowest of the low and the scum of the earth, but don't insult us when we're the ones who decide whether you live or die," the small girl spat, taking a predatory step forward and jabbing her wand just in front of his eyes.

Live or die? He scoffed in his mind. Someone needs to back off from the drama potions.

"Don't believe us?" Hobbs asked with a cool sneer. "Fine. Confundus."

. . .

Three hours later, Hadwyn finally tracked Sirius down from where he was wandering up and down the 3rd floor corridor muttering about finding a garden gnome to "take to the ball."

"Must you really annoy the younger years?" Hadwyn sighed as he bodily forced Sirius back to the dungeons.

"Have you seen my date? She's about this high . . ." Sirius answered earnestly, making a vague waving motion with his hands.

"Honestly Black, you're worse than Severus hopped up on too much absinthe; talking cauldrons my arse."

"They talk!?" Sirius sounded delighted at the idea and Hadwyn groaned aloud.

"You just wait, Black," Hadwyn responded darkly after a moment. "I'm going to pensieve this and then make a copy to send to Severus."

. . .

Really, until his dream had turned into a nightmare, it hadn't been too bad.

In fact, he reflected as he rocked back and forth in his bed gripping sweat soaked sheets, it had been pretty damn good.

Before his dream had turned into a pair of giant floating eyes intent on getting him, he had been dreaming about his parents. It hadn't even felt like a dream, despite the lack of surrounding details.

Somehow, Harry felt, it had been real.

They had all been sitting next to the lake just . . . talking. He had told them—somewhat fearfully—about what had happened with Lupin, and though his father glowered frighteningly and his mum got a bit teary eyed, they had still managed to assure him that they weren't angry at him for what had happened.

It had been somewhat of a revelation for him to imagine that his parents would take his side and not the side of one of their oldest friends.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to remember what it felt like to have his mum's hand on his arm, to have his dad's shoulder bumping against his, but the dream was already slipping from his grasp. Instead, the nightmare blossomed forth again, pushing itself into his mind's eye with a frightening level of clarity.

He had fallen into the lake and sunk deep down to the dim bottom. He hadn't been able to move his legs, his voice was muffled and the silence had pressed in around him on every side, pounding violently in his ears. Then, out of nowhere, a pair of bright blue luminescent eyes had appeared in front of him and his heart rate had skyrocketed, thrusting him back into the waking world with a barely suppressed scream of terror.

A wave of intense nausea rippled through him and abruptly he bolted out to the hallway. He barely made it to the toilet before vomiting forcefully, banging his shins rather painfully on the floor as he did.

Heaving again, he barely noticed the warm hand that suddenly appeared on his shoulder.

"A nightmare?" Severus murmured comfortingly in his ear.

He nodded, not trusting himself to open his mouth just yet. He reached up with a shaking hand to wipe off some of the tears and sweat that were mingling on his cheeks, but Severus was faster. A wet washcloth cleaned his face methodically and he slumped backward into his guardian's chest with a soft sigh. Severus' other arm came around his chest and held him until his face was cleaned.

"Do you think you can stand?"

Harry shook his head and turned his face into the soft nightshirt behind him.

A huff of air over his ear and he hid a smile as Severus picked him up, sweaty pyjamas and all. Instead of delivering him back to his bed, the man took him to his own bed and placed him carefully within its covers. After a liberal use of freshening charms to dry out his pyjamas and to clean out Harry's mouth, Severus then climbed into the bed and wrapped strong arms around him.

Harry buried his face into the man's chest and scooted as close to him as he could get without suffocating. A long fingered hand moved to his head and began stroking his unusually wild hair and he felt himself relax slightly.

"I dreamed . . ." Harry began haltingly.

"Of?" Severus' soft voice rumbled across his head.

"My mum," he admitted in a whisper. "My mum and Jam—my dad." Harry could feel his cheeks flaming at his slip of the tongue. So what if he'd started thinking of Severus as his Papa? It was only a secret still. It was only a fantasy.

"And?" Severus sounded measured and calm; almost as though he had understood Harry's verbal slip, but had decided to ignore it.

"They—They don't think it's my fault," Harry managed, clenching his fists into the front of Severus' soft cotton nightgown. "What Lupin did, that is," he added.

Severus didn't respond immediately, and Harry's imagination started supplying answers in his silence.

Of course it's not your fault, he'll say, Harry thought, mentally kicking himself. But it was! If only I had done something earlier!

"What precisely is not your fault?" Severus finally said, surprising him somewhat.

Flustered, Harry pulled away slightly from his guardian and with a miserable expression, he spat, "The rape!"

Severus winced at the loudness of his words and Harry flinched backwards, his eyes wide.

Oh god, oh god, oh god! Harry's consciousness gibbered.

His brain fell silent when Severus reached out a hand to cup his cheek. Strangely enough, Harry saw the corner of Severus' mouth turn up in an almost smile. He narrowed his eyes in the dim setting of the bedroom, thinking perhaps it had been a trick of the light, but then his guardian spoke, distracting him completely.

"I am proud of you for saying that aloud."

Harry blinked. The hand on his face rubbed a calloused thumb over his cheek gently and he blinked again.

"You've come so far, endured so much this year. I've begun seeing signs that you were healing from this ordeal, but this is by far the clearest."

The hand on his face felt nice. And the feeling in his chest felt even nicer, even if it did constrict his insides in an unusual way.

Proud. Proud of him even, Harry thought half-numbly.

Hesitantly, Harry found himself smiling back. His face felt clumsy, almost as though it had forgotten what it was like to turn upright.

In response, the twist on Severus' lips turned into a real smile as he spoke three coveted words to Harry.

"That's my boy."

. . .

The next day, over a breakfast that was closer to lunchtime (thanks to their late night conversation) Harry broached another subject. It was one that he had been mulling in his head for some time, and now with newfound confidence, he managed to actually ask Severus.

"Could you teach me Potions?"

Severus inclined his head once, his black eyes glancing at Harry once warmly, before returning to his meal.

That's how Harry found himself standing in Severus' potions lab less than an hour later with his guardian patiently going over all of the basics of brewing.

"I wish you could have covered the different ways of cutting and slicing at the beginning of our class," Harry said wistfully at the end of the lesson.

"I did not find it necessary to spend time on something so basic," Severus retorted, ebon eyes boring into Harry pointedly.

"Well," Harry answered, fidgeting on his wooden stool, "Some of us weren't from magical households, so we didn't know how to do a lot of that stuff."

"And what of Ms. Granger?" Snape's eyebrow rose pointedly, and Harry frowned.

"She reads a lot." He shrugged. "I tried to read the Potions textbook too, but I—I guess I felt like I was missing a lot or something. My fam—the Dursleys, I mean," he noticed Severus nodding sharply at that correction. "They got angry whenever I did better in class than Dudley, so it's taken me a lot of time to figure out what real studying looks like, I guess. And if I could have had more practical lessons on the basics," he shot a nervous glance at Severus, "I think I would have had more success, even with your, you know . . ." He shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to think of the time when he had thought Severus had hated him.

"Even with my unusually harsh treatment of your person," Severus finished for him, getting up from his own stool and walking over to the table where Harry's textbook still sat.

"Yeah," Harry said softly. "That."

"Do you know what an appendix is, Harry?"

"That sort of worthless thing in your body?" Harry asked, cocking his head to the side as he tried to figure out where Severus was going with this seemingly abrupt change in conversation.

His guardian's lips quirked once before his face smoothed out again. "Not in this case, child. An appendix is typically found in the back of a book for the purpose of providing extra information."

Frowning, Harry stood up and walked over to where Severus was flipping through his textbook.

"Like what?"

Severus finally stopped on a page and pushed the book toward him. "Like the differences in crushing and pulverizing," he said, showing Harry a page with full colour, moving pictures that demonstrated precisely what he had just said.

Harry's eyes went wide and he hesitantly reached out and turned over the page. A section on the appropriate dismantling of Jabberknoll parts was given. The next page showed the suggested method for grinding down a Graphorn.

Still speechless, Harry turned his eyes up toward Severus and asked, "This was here the whole time? Why didn't anyone say anything about it?" He sounded faintly hurt as he tried to imagine what his potions might have been like with the extra help this provided.

"It was mentioned in the footnotes of various chapters," Severus answered, confusing him further.

"Footnotes?" Harry squeaked.

"Here," Severus answered calmly, turning back to chapter 1. At the bottom of the page, Harry saw a section printed at the bottom of the page in very small font.

Squinting, he tried to read what it said, and finally managed to make out that it had given the exact page numbers of the aforementioned Appendix. He looked back to Severus, only to find his guardian looking at him quizzically.

"What?" He fidgeted uncomfortably under Severus' gaze.

"When was the last time you had your prescription checked?"

Harry frowned, but answered, "The last year I was in muggle school. So . . . three years ago."

It was Severus' turn to frown. "Your reprehensible relatives should have taken you in for a check-up when you came home at the beginning of your first year," he said, before curling his lips upward again. "Perhaps I should teach you how to make an Eye Strengthening Solution. Tell me child, how would you like to be free of your glasses for good?"

Chapter Text

"Severus?"

Severus looked up from his reading to see Harry standing in the doorway. The boy's eyes, no longer fettered by the bulky glasses that had reminded Severus so much of James Potter, shone brightly back at him.

"What is it, Harry?"

Harry walked into the room proper and then perched on the edge of the sofa beside him.

"I was wondering," the boy started slowly, biting his lip nervously.

Severus put an arm around him and pulled him close before prompting, "What were you wondering?"

Harry sighed and then said very quickly, "Do you s'pose my mum would have liked me?"

What a question!

"Of course she liked you. She loved you more than anything in this world," Severus answered quietly.

"I mean," Harry shifted uncomfortably and twisted his hands in his lap several times before continuing. "I mean," He said again, "Would she have liked me as me?"

"In what way, child?"

Harry's cheeks turned pink in response to Severus' term of endearment and his lips turned up in a shy smile. "I mean, would she have liked me as a person? Do you think . . . would she have sat next to me on the train?"

Severus was silent as he remembered his first ride, and how a young girl with bright red hair and sharp green eyes had made his trip so much more enjoyable. He couldn't but help remember the sheer feeling of being honoured to be the one chosen to sit with, especially after watching her turn down so many other worthwhile invitations.

Glancing at the boy still waiting patiently on his answer, he forced himself to remember Harry back during his first year, but without the prejudicial tempering of his then tilted view of the boy. Harry had been small and shy; ragged clothes peeking out around his robes at the sorting ceremony reminding him far too much of himself.

"She would have liked you a great deal," Severus managed, blinking hard against the sudden wave of sadness his thoughts had caused to surge through him.

Harry nodded and then wrapped his arms around Severus tightly. Severus could feel Harry's body shaking and had to blink once more against the unfairness of it all.

I wish you were here, Lily. I wish it so much.

. . .

As the temperatures continued to warm, Harry found himself beginning to fall into a bit of a routine.

In the cool dark of the predawn morning, he would creep into Severus' room and stand at the side of his bed until the man noticed him.

"Well get in," was Severus' normal gruff greeting. This was accompanied by a lifting of the blankets on that side of the bed and Harry would dart in.

Severus didn't seem to ever wake fully with Harry there, which pleased him somewhat. It seemed that his guardian was comfortable enough with him that he didn't have to be always fully alert when in Harry's presence.

He would curl up against Severus with his back to him and wait for him to drape an arm over him. It always happened, but if Severus was a little too slow for his tastes, Harry would reach out and do it for him. Severus used that arm to pull him in a little closer, making him relax and close his eyes.

He had been far more tentative when he had started doing this, but now it was a comfortable place to relocate after waking too early and not being able to go back to sleep. Occasionally, Snitch would join him, but most of the time Harry went alone.

Harry was always amazed at how much heat the man put out. Sometimes he wondered why his guardian bothered to use blankets at all; it wasn't as though he needed them. When he was feeling particularly malicious, Harry would put his cold feet on Severus' warm legs and cause the man to jerk awake with a snarl.

"Haven't you got enough sense to wear socks!" Severus' voice, always rougher than usual in the morning, would growl out next to Harry's ear.

"I am!" Harry retorted with, more often than not. "I can't help it if my feet are still cold."

Much grumbling would be his response, but following that, Severus would usually either cast a warming spell on the bottom half of the covers, or simply cover Harry's feet with his own long legs. Both worked, but it depended on Severus' level of wakefulness as to which would happen.

Most of the time though, Harry would just revel in the secure sensation of being warm and safe next to someone whom he was beginning to regard as something of a parent. He would close his eyes and try to absorb the experience as fully as he could, from the feel of Severus' firm pillow to the slightly unpleasant smell of morning breath that was puffed out regularly against the shell of his ear.

It was at these times that he would think about calling Severus, "Papa," and see if he could get away with it. His wish had started as a passing thought that had grown into a hope, and he desperately wished he knew how Severus would take to the title.

He had a dad—well, James was dead, but he was still his dad. Harry's thoughts were very firm on this point, but that didn't mean he couldn't have a Papa, right? And Severus, he was so much more than his previous guardians had been; they weren't even playing in the same game, the difference was so great.

The Dursleys had hated him and he had accepted that. Originally, he had thought Severus had hated him, but in the past few weeks he had come to grips with being wrong about that. Severus had told him that he loved him. He loved Harry, not The-Boy-Who-Lived, not James' son or Lily's child or anything else. He loved Harry, and so if that was possible, then Harry could love him, and if that was possible, then it meant that Severus wasn't just Severus. He was more and people who were more deserved better names.

Like Papa.

. . .

After the sun would come up, Severus would inevitably awake and raise an eyebrow at finding Harry snuggled so firmly into his side. Of course he had been aware of inviting him, but he was always a bit surprised at finding him still there upon waking.

He wasn't sure when Harry had started this little routine of theirs, but he already knew that he would miss it whenever it inevitably stopped. That's how things worked. He got used to one thing and it would stop, so he'd enjoy it while it lasted.

Extricating himself from the warm tangle of arms and legs—and hair, mustn't forget the tangled mop that was Harry's hair—Severus headed to the bathroom and took a shower. Sometime while he was gone, Harry would wake and head back to his room to get dressed and prepared for the day.

After breakfast, he would have Harry assist him on any number of potions, from the mundane to the vitally important. Severus smiled to himself in the privacy of his shower as he remembered Harry's excitement at being able to assist him on the brewing of his Eye Strengthening Solution.

"And I really won't need to wear my glasses anymore?" Harry asked; his face mixed with both hope and apprehension. Severus knew that he had experienced far too much dishonesty from the adults around him to simply believe what he was told.

Yet another reason Harry would have done well in Slytherin, was Severus' additional thought.

From potions to studies to teaching Harry the finer intricacies of playing chess, Severus made sure that he and Harry had enough to do without trying to be overbearing. They took walks every day, weather permitting—and occasionally when it wasn't. At least once a week, they took a walk down to visit Elena and talk about her work with the reserve's dragons. Less frequently, she would contact them with an offer to go and see a dragon in the flesh, as it were.

Of course, Severus always preferred to get an idea beforehand of exactly what sort of dangers they were submitting themselves to, but thankfully Elena had the same sort of mind set and always made sure he was as informed as possible. It was obvious that she had grown fond of them, although Severus often wondered whether she would have ever talked to them if not for that early intervention by Snitch.

Elena Magija was, by all rights, every bit as antisocial as some of the students thought he was. It wasn't true, but it helped his image as the all-knowing dungeon bat, and in turn that helped keep discipline within the ranks.

. . .

One afternoon, after a brisk walk down to a nearby creek, Severus and Harry had inadvertently stumbled over Elena in deep conversation with a rough looking man.

"Ah Severus," Elena waved them forward, glancing back at her companion as they made their way over to her carefully. The trail that they were on was a lesser used one, and as such, there were more rocks and roots to trip over.

After catching Harry by the elbow when he nearly tripped over the edge of a hidden root, Severus turned his full attention to the two people standing opposite them.

"This is one of my colleagues," Elena announced before introducing the man as something completely unpronounceable. Translation potions or not, some things simply did not make sense unless one had the cultural background for the necessary understanding.

At their blank looks, the man laughed loudly and added, "Your friend Hadwyn calls me 'The Trail Guide."

"Is something the matter?" Severus asked, not caring for the still serious air that continued to hang around them.

"Poachers," was Elena's hissed response.

Severus felt Harry's hand slip into his own and he squeezed gently in silent assurance.

"Seen or suspected?" Was his next question.

"Both," The Trail Guide answered.

"I thought most spells bounced off of dragons," was Harry's hesitantly voiced supposition.

Severus' eyes narrowed in thought.

"They're not here for the dragons, lad," The Trail Guide answered gruffly. "They're here for the eggs."

In Severus' peripheral vision, he noted that Harry's eyes had gone wide, and a heartbeat later, he felt the boy's hand squeeze down tightly around his own.

"For the babies?" Harry squeaked, clearly distressed at the idea.

"Where were they seen?" Severus interjected.

"A little over 20 kilometres west of here, Severus," Elena answered softly, her eyes looking on in concern at Harry.

That wasn't quite next door, but it was close enough. A thousand questions whirled through Severus' mind, but one was more important than the others.

"Are we in danger from these criminals?" Severus asked, his mind already thinking of what wards he should add to Hadwyn's cabin and the surrounding woods.

Elena hesitated and in her place, The Trail Guide answered. "If you cross 'em, yes, but the bigger danger comes from the dragons themselves. You do not mess with dragon eggs. Even people who are trained to work with dragons stay away from their eggs unless specifically invited. Dragons are real protective of their young. They find out someone's been tampering with their nests, and they are more likely to lay waste to the entire countryside, rather than hunt down one measly creature."

Fire protection. A great deal of fire protection, Severus thought, already making lists. He was fairly certain that Hadwyn's cabin was already warded against such things, but he wasn't willing to take any chances.

He had promised to keep Harry safe, and by Merlin's soul, he was going to come through on that promise. He was shaken from his mental preparations when Harry spoke again.

"Can we do anything to keep the nests safe?"

Severus fought to keep a rueful smile from showing on his face. He was pleased that Harry was beginning to regain some of his old behaviours, but he almost wished that the boy's strident selflessness hadn't been one of them. Helping people was one thing; helping people—or dragons—without concern to one's own wellbeing was an entirely separate issue.

Previously, he had thought that such behaviours stemmed from an arrogant need to be recognized and constantly in the limelight, but over the past months, Severus had realised that Harry's lack of regard for himself was almost certainly due to an extremely low self-esteem.

"Harry—," he began, only to be cut off by The Trail Guide.

"Me and El were talkin' about this as you two came up. Most of the nests can be protected pretty easily, but there's a few—," here, The Trail Guide broke off to briefly glance at Elena, who gave a nod back. "There's a few that are a bit more difficult."

"Such as?" Severus raised an eyebrow.

The Trail Guide crossed his arms and then answered softly, "Like Big Blue."

At Severus' look of confusion, Elena spoke again. "Big Blue dragons are one of the oldest—and rarest—dragons in the world. Plitvice Lakes is one of the few places left that they still nest in. Many of the other nesting grounds have been invaded by wizards and muggles alike, effectively destroying the chances of those dragons returning there."

Severus nodded. This was old news. Dragons and magical creatures across the world were retreating farther and farther back into the wilderness in order to escape the far reaching effects of mankind.

"Where do these dragons nest?" Was his next question.

"The larger of the lakes," Elena answered with a small smile. "Like the one nearest your cabin."

Severus' eyebrows rose quite of their own accord. That was unexpected news.

He glanced at Harry and was perturbed by the strange look that had come over the boy's face.

"Why have we not noticed the presence of a large dragon living next door?"

The Trail Guide's face broke into a smirk and Severus automatically scowled. He didn't care for the idea that the other man was laughing at him.

"I s'pect you have noticed the presence, but you weren't aware of it. Dragons interact with the flora and fauna surrounding their nests, same as anyone, but they tend to have a bigger effect on it than most."

"Like what precisely?"

The Trail Guide grinned back at him, seemingly unconcerned with Severus' growing bad mood. "Might say that the land changes to fit them; gives them a bit of camouflage even."

"You mean stuff like flowers?" Harry interjected softly, causing all three of the three adults to look at him.

Clearly flustered at their sudden attention, Severus watched as Harry shrunk down and hid slightly behind him, his hands now gripping the back of his robes instead of his hand.

"You seen something like that, lad?" The Trail Guide asked softly, squatting down to look Harry in the eye.

Severus felt Harry nod and his lips twisted as he wondered exactly what Harry had seen.

And why he did not tell me.

"One more question," The Trail Guide said, finally glancing up at Severus as though to gauge whether it was acceptable to continue. Silently, Severus jerked his head in permission and The Trail Guide turned back to Harry again.

"You ever dream about the water? Bein' in the water even? Maybe, dreaming about something bein' in there with you?"

A part of Severus wanted to argue that the man had asked far more than one question, but the look on Harry's face stopped him.

Kneeling down to pull Harry's eyes back onto his own, Severus asked gently, "Have you dreamt about such things?"

Silently, Harry nodded his assent and then tightly wrapped his arms around Severus' neck. "They were scary, Papa. I don't want to remember them. Can we go home now?"

Chapter Text

Momentarily speechless, Severus automatically gathered Harry up in his arms, idly noticing that the boy had put on weight since that last time he had picked him up.

"Is he in danger from the Big Blue?" He asked, once Harry's arms and legs had situated themselves around his body.

"No Severus," Elena said, stepping forward. "It's not like you think. Not everyone dreams of the Big Blue, only a certain special few."

"Don't wanna be special," Harry mumbled into Severus' neck, making it tickle. "Just wanna be normal."

Elena reached out a hand to touch Harry, but hesitated at the last moment. "May I, Severus?"

"Elena wishes to touch you, Harry. Is that acceptable?" Severus murmured softly to Harry.

Another lengthy exhale against his neck and then Harry nodded. Elena stepped forward once more and then rested a few fingertips lightly atop his shoulder. At once, Severus could feel the air around them change as Elena's natural magic began gently probing them both.

Unexpectedly, Harry's body relaxed against his and he had to fight the urge to see if the boy had somehow fallen asleep. The magic around them continued to grow, and then without warning, his eyes also abruptly slid closed and the outside world faded completely away.

Darkness. Inky dark blue-blackness filling every corner of the world around him. Silence so powerful, it blocked out his every thought, his every breath—leaving only the thump thump thump of his heart beating in his ears.

He turned slowly in the space around him. Shapes were beginning to appear before him as his eyes gradually adjusted. A dark shape by his knees and he kneeled to find Harry curled up in a foetal position, eyes clamped shut as he shivered with what could only be fear. A tickle at the base of Severus' spine, and he looked upward into the massive face of a patiently observing creature.

Inwardly flinching, he steeled himself with the resolve of a man who had faced both a legion of Dark creatures and multiple years of unruly children.

"Who are you?" He asked, but nothing came from his mouth save a few bubbles.

Underwater, then, was his distant thought. The creature swam closer with a lazy flick of one large finned forearm, but he forced himself to remain still under its scrutiny. Their situation had all the makings of a dream, minus their means of arrival, and somewhere in his mind, he knew they were not really there.

The creature in front of him raised that same forearm, but this time it was pointed in a direction off Severus' line of sight. He followed the line of the arm with his eyes and then sucked in a sharp breath as he finally understood what the message was.

Eggs, a dozen perhaps, but they were certainly eggs and they were quite definitely dragon eggs. This creature, this watery expanse of seemingly nothingness . . . This was the home of Big Blue. Somewhere in his distant reaches of his mind, he felt that sentiment echoed by the benign presence of Elena.

Abruptly, reality shifted around them once more and suddenly Severus found himself blinking hard against the sudden brightness of day. He was standing on the edge of the lake near their cabin, but he wasn't alone. There, sitting on the bank a few feet from where he stood were the last two people he had ever expected to see: James and Lily Potter. Sprawled in-between them was none other than his ward, the boy who had so recently called him, "Papa."

Blinking hard against the wave of bitterness that threatened to rise in his gullet, he turned to give the dead and their son a moment of privacy, only to come face to face with Lily Evans, the small fiery eyed girl from his childhood.

"Hi Sevvy!" She gushed, running toward him until her arms were extended around his neck, her feet on tiptoes as the small girl that she had been reached out to the man that he had become.

"Merlin," he breathed, reaching around to gently pat her back. "What sort of rabbit's trail is this, Lily?" Never did it cross his mind that there was anyone but Lily Evans standing in front of him. He knew it was her.

"Madeline needs your help, Sevvy." Lily answered in an earnest voice after finally releasing the near strangling hold she had around his neck.

"Madeline?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"The dragon of the lake," Lily answered patiently.

"That's her name?"

Lily smiled at him and then said with a shrug, "For now. She changes it when she gets bored. If you were thousands of years old too, you'd probably change your name once in a while too!"

Severus couldn't help but smile back at her. "I've missed you," He said simply.

"And I you," She replied, reaching out a small delicate hand to touch his arm. Her touch sent chills through him. Abruptly he glanced back toward the shore of the lake to check on his Harry.

"He loves you, you know," Lily's voice was soft in his ear.

A small smile curled at the corner of his lips. "I love him." It was strange that such difficult words could fall so easily from his mouth.

"Madeline didn't mean to frighten him."

"Are you in direct contact with her?" Severus asked, turning slightly away from where Harry was still conversing with his adult sized parents.

"More of a representative of her interests," Lily said with a gentle smile. "I suspect Charlie Weasley could explain more, were he here. He works with us—the dragons—too."

"And are you a dragon now, Lily?" His eyes narrowed carefully in thought as he spoke the question.

"What's to say I wasn't always?" She answered with a bright laugh. "What's to say we all aren't?"

He shook his head in honest bewilderment. "I suspect you know a great more than you're letting on."

"Another day, when we meet again, perhaps I'll go into more detail. For now, it is enough to know that Madeline is in trouble and she has found it easiest to contact our Harry for help."

Severus felt a tingle in his heart at her words, especially when she said, "our Harry."

"Why is it so easy for her to contact him? Is it because of that Boy-Who-Lived farce?" He very nearly snarled, but managed to contain himself.

"It is because he is old when he is young, and young though he is old," Lily said, but Severus had a feeling it was the dragon speaking through her this time instead.

"Because of what he went through?"

"In part, yes. He has been through a great deal, but he has not been tainted by the darkness."

"Unlike me," was his bitter reply.

Lily smiled sadly at him. "Your taint has dissipated significantly in the past twelve years."

Blinking hard, he reached out and cupped her cheek gently. "Because of you. I am forever sorry, Lily."

"You have been forgiven, Severus. In taking in Harry, in loving him and in protecting him, you have done enough to be absolved of your guilt."

The figure in front of him was dissipating and he fought the urge inside himself to beg her to stay.

"Papa?" A voice said from behind him.

He turned and found Harry waiting for him by the lake near their cabin. The shadows had shifted around them and The Trail Guide and Elena were nowhere to be found.

"Is it okay that I called you Papa?" Harry stared up at him, green eyes harkening back to his mother.

Severus knelt down and reached his arms out for the boy. Harry immediately rushed forward and wrapped his own around Severus' neck tightly.

"Always, little one," He murmured. "Always."

Hedwig was waiting with a letter when they returned. After quickly scanning it anything malicious, Severus took a look at the return address and briefly scowled. Granger.

"Who's it from?" Harry quipped from beside him, leaning forward on his tiptoes to see the letter in Severus' hand.

"Granger," Severus answered disdainfully, handing the piece of mail over.

A series of emotions flickered across Harry's face at the news; including sadness, fear and longing.

"If she hurts you . . ." Severus trailed off. There wasn't a good way to say what he meant without scaring him.

"Maybe she wants to apologize," Harry whispered, lower lip quivering just slightly.

"We can hope," Severus said softly.

. . .

He went into his room to read the letter. He wanted to be alone in case—well, in case it was bad. He didn't want to cry again in front of Severus.

Not today, was Harry's firm thought. Maybe tomorrow, but not today, he added with a hysterical sort of giggle.

He went through his secret door and climbed into bed. A squeak at his elbow made him aware of Snitch's presence and he reached out and picked his friend up. He cradled him to his chest and stroked his soft back at the juncture of his wings, just the way he liked it. Snitch cooed for a moment and then with another squeak, he turned and looked up at Harry questioningly.

"Yeah," Harry sighed. "I am stallin'."

With one hand still on his friend, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the now slightly crumpled letter.

"Papa said," Here he giggled again, half nervously and half gleefully. "Papa said that he'd be mad if she says somethin' to hurt me."

He frowned at the idea of Hermione doing something to hurt him. They had been friends for nearly three years, and she was only his second ever friend. She was important—or at least she had been. And that's what made all of this so very painful.

His mind drifted over everything that happened that day. He supposed it was just another way of stalling, but this time Snitch didn't stop him. It had been scary to hear that the dragon in the lake was getting into his dreams. Did that mean that the dragon wanted to hurt him? That it wanted him to be even more afraid of going to sleep at night?

Did he just have some kind of target painted on his head that screamed out loudly to all the monsters in the area to come and mess with him?

But then, Elena had touched him and he—they'd gone back through all of his dreams again, and he'd gotten to see them in the presence of his Papa.

Not alone.

And seeing them again hadn't been so bad; in fact, he'd gotten another chance to see his parents and had even been able to broach the topic of having Severus as his Papa with them.

"We just want you to be happy, son," his dad had said.

And that, well, it had meant a lot to him.

He still didn't know how he and Severus had wound up back by the lake, but he figured Elena had something to do with it.

Or Big Blue, was the slightly terrifying thought. He liked the idea of the dragon being able to think and talk to them, but he wasn't as certain that he liked it having so much control over his life.

He groaned aloud and looked back down at the letter in his hand.

"I'm just making it worse, huh Snitch?"

Snitch squeaked an affirming sound and he groaned again.

"What if she tells me she hates me?" He whispered, closing his eyes tightly against the wave of rising fear.

Snitch squeaked and grasped the letter with his forepaws in an obvious attempt to pull it closer.

Slowly he slid a nail under the wax holding the letter closed, cracking it open with a barely audible snap.

"What if she only wrote to say that she can't be my friend anymore?"

Snitch scrabbled at the letter inside the envelope in an attempt to pull it out.

Harry sighed and slowly slid the letter out for them both.

"Dear Harry," he read aloud, taking some comfort in the familiar heading.

"I'm so . . ." he broke off with a sob of relief. "So desperately sorry, Harry. I should have seen that you needed me, but I didn't and now I can only think that this whole thing might have been avoided if only I'd been acting like a good friend instead of a prat."

Hastily, he wiped at his eyes and pulled his knees up to his chest. Snitch scrambled up onto his shoulder and he leaned into his furry little friend's soft body.

"Please forgive me. If you're happy, that's all that really matters, right? Please tell me you're happy and that the Professor is taking good care of you. Please write back and give me another chance. Hermione."

Snitch's wings covered his face as he cried.

. . .

"Hey dumbarse."

"Yeah you, Sirius. I'm talking to you. Wake up."

Sirius turned over.

"Get your lazy arse up now!"

Sirius scratched the side of his head and yawned.

"Oy! Dildo head! Get a move on!"

Sirius opened his eyes slightly. There was someone sitting beside his bed and it didn't look like Hadwyn. That was enough to rouse him and he abruptly sat up.

"'Bout time, you lazy piece of shite."

Sirius could only goggle wide eyed back at the person sitting next to him. It was James.

"What—?" He whispered, going pale.

"Do you have any idea how annoying it is to not be able to touch anything properly?" James asked, leaning back in the chair next to his bed.

"You're—you're dead," Sirius whispered.

"Very astute! Ten points to Gryffindor!" James snarked, rolling his eyes.

"I didn't know you had chosen to be a ghost," Sirius managed after sucking in a few needed breaths.

"Oh believe me," James sneered disdainfully. "This is only short-term. I'm here for one reason and one reason only."

At Sirius silence, James huffed and rolled his eyes again. "Really Sirius, this is why you ended up in Azkaban the first time around. I'm here for Harry's sake."

"I've been trying to get to him!" Sirius nearly shouted, more than a little frustrated from his time stuck in the Slytherin dungeons.

"No one can say that your heart isn't at least in the right place," James said with a snort.

"But?" Sirius whispered.

"Snivellous—as loathe as I am to say it," James glowered. "Sniv—SNAPE is not the problem."

"Of course he is! He stole Harry!"

"Merlin's balls, Sirius, if I could hex you right now, I bloody well would!" James shouted, standing up and glowering down at him.

Even as a ghost, James' anger was impressive and Sirius quickly found himself scooting backward in an attempt to avoid being hit by the violent pulses of magic swirling around the room.

"One," James spoke through gritted teeth. "Peter sells out to the Dark Lord. Two!" James growled, his face turning luminescent in his anger. "Harry grows up with the fucking Dursleys. Three! Remus rapes my son repeatedly. The boy is only thirteen, damn it!" James' voice broke and the magic surrounding them began to drop in intensity.

"Four," James coughed in an attempt to keep from crying. He hadn't liked emotional weakness when he had been alive and he sure as hell didn't care for it now. "Four, Harry finds out the truth. Five, Sni—Snape finds him. Snape holds him. Snape cares for him. Snape does for Harry what none of us ever did for him."

James took a deep breath, despite his utter lack of need for it.

"Six. I get Harry from Snivellous and we live happily ever after!" Sirius interjected, getting to his feet.

James only stared back at him. "Were you this fucking stupid when we were in school? Or is this Azkaban speaking?" He asked after a minute.

Sirius bristled. He was tired of people thinking he was an idiot! First Hadwyn, now James? What the hell had happened while he'd been incarcerated?

Almost as though reading his thoughts, James suddenly nodded and his lips curled up in a bitter parody of a smile.

"You want to know?"

Sirius nodded his head.

"Fine. It just so happens that Hadwyn is teaching a class right now. You remember where Lily's sister lived, don't you?"

Hesitantly, Sirius gave a nod.

"You're in luck. They happen to be home right now. Why don't you take a bloody stroll over there and ask them about Harry. Go find out what a fucking great time my son had growing up. Go on."

"What's the catch?" Sirius asked, his own voice sounding loud after the quietly spoken words of James' challenge.

"The catch?" James' lips twisted into a cold sneer. "The catch is that you either figure out the truth or I'm going to find a way to bludgeon you to death. Get me?"

Sirius flinched backward from his old friend's frightening expression. He wasn't sure if ghosts could kill and he didn't really want to find out.

"Well?"

"I'll go," Sirius nodded, feeling sweat beginning to gather in his armpits and at the small of his back.

"Then GO!" James suddenly howled, pushing him backward through space with a rough shove that left Sirius breathless and bruised.

Thunder clapped around him and then Sirius landed face down in someone's immaculately cared for rose bushes. A moment later, his shoes dropped atop his head with a dull thunk.

"Fuck," Sirius growled.

Chapter Text

 Last time . . .

"You want to know?"

Sirius nodded his head.

"Fine. It just so happens that Hadwyn is teaching a class right now. You remember where Lily's sister lived, don't you?"

Hesitantly, Sirius gave a nod.

"You're in luck. They happen to be home right now. Why don't you take a bloody stroll over there and ask them about Harry. Go find out what a fucking great time my son had growing up. Go on."

"What's the catch?" Sirius asked, his own voice sounding loud after the quietly spoken words of James' challenge.

"The catch?" James' lips twisted into a cold sneer. "The catch is that you either figure out the truth or I'm going to find a way to bludgeon you to death. Get me?"

Sirius flinched backward from his old friend's frightening expression. He wasn't sure if ghosts could kill and he didn't really want to find out.

"Well?"

"I'll go," Sirius nodded, feeling sweat beginning to gather in his armpits and at the small of his back.

"Then GO!" James suddenly howled, pushing him backward through space with a rough shove that left Sirius breathless and bruised.

Thunder clapped around him and then Sirius landed face down in someone's immaculately cared for rose bushes. A moment later, his shoes dropped atop his head with a dull thunk.

"Fuck," Sirius growled.

Chapter 30 - Maybe Even Love

Harry stared out the window glumly. It had been raining for three days straight since their strange meeting with Elena and Big Blue, and he was sick of it. He missed the sun and the sky, and—and he was homesick for Hogwarts. The rain wasn't as cold as the rain was in Scotland, but it was still as dreary and dark as it had ever been. He missed Ron and Hermione; especially now that he knew she didn't hate him anymore.

He sighed and then nearly jumped out of his skin when Severus spoke from just behind him.

"What are you thinking about?"

"Geez! Don't do that!" Harry complained after having whirled around, wand already in hand at the sound of the voice.

"I apologize for interrupting your gloom," Severus answered with a slight smirk.

Harry scowled and turned back to the window. He wasn't in the mood to deal with snark—even his Papa's. The thought interrupted his dark thoughts and he smiled to himself. Papa. It sent a warm chill up his spine and he hugged his arms around his centre.

"It's just so wet outside," he murmured. Little rivers were starting to be formed as they made their way to the lake that was just out of sight.

"That bothers you?"

Harry turned back toward his guardian and hugged himself. He needed to ask Severus a question that he had been wondering about for more than a week.

"Do you s'pose . . ." He broke off and bit his lip.

"Child?" Severus knelt in front of him and put a long fingered hand on his shoulder.

Harry took a fortifying breath. "When we get back to Hogwarts . . ." he licked his lips nervously, "Will you still be able to—will I still be able to—?"

"What?" Dark brown eyes waited patiently for him to speak.

"Claim me?" He squeaked.

"In what form?" Severus asked softly.

"Are you gonna go back to . . . you know, hating me?"

The hand on his shoulder moved to one of his clenched fists.

"I never truly hated you, Harry," Severus said softly.

"But—," Harry started to protest.

"Shush. As to your question, the answer is no. I will have to treat you as I treat any student—at least while we are in class," Severus hastily added when Harry looked to interrupt again. "But outside of class," the corner of his mouth twitched upward. "I would very much like to acknowledge you as my son, provided it wouldn't cause you too much undue embarrassment."

The smile Harry bestowed on him was beatific.

. . .

Sirius was angry, and he was certain that it showed on his countenance when Petunia Dursley opened the door. She took one look at his face and squeaked before trying to slam the door. He caught it on his arm and shoved the rest of the way inside.

He was angry that James had chosen bloody awful SNIVELLOUS over him—over him! He was angry that no one was answering his questions about Harry, and he was angry that Dumbledore didn't seem to give a rat's arse about how Hadwyn was treating him.

"You—You can't just barge in here and—!" Petunia spluttered as he whipped out his wand and pointed it at her.

"Shut. UP," He growled, his eyes methodically going over all of the pictures in the room. There weren't any of Harry. Why weren't there any of Harry?

"Where's Harry's stuff?!" He barked, shoving his wand in the face of a trembling Petunia.

"He—He has it all with him! He never forgets anything here!"

"He has nothing here!?" He snarled. He had always left things at home; at least until he had moved out, and even then, there were remnants.

"Nothing," she spat back at him. "We don't want any reminders of that—that menace of a boy. He knows what would happen if he were to leave anything behind." Petunia's face was an expression of disdain, even open contempt.

Her expression reminded him of his mother's, only it was clear that Petunia had never cared for Harry. At least his mother had some concern for him when he had been a child, when he had been too young to know better.

And Dumbledore left him here?

"Now you—you c-can get out of here freak! Before I call the p-police!" Petunia stammered at him; the light in her eyes as crazy as his mother's had ever been.

"You don't want to cross me, you half-crazed bint," he growled back.

"We never wanted him, you hear me!? We never wanted one of your wretched kind darkening our perfectly normal household. If we could have beaten the magic out of him, we would have! He's been nothing but trouble for us his whole entire, miserable life!" Petunia screamed, her voice rising in shrillness with each vile statement.

"Marge was right. We should have drowned him as a pup instead of allowing him poison us slowly from the inside out! He should have died with my bitch of a sister!" Petunia was panting at the end of her rant; her face pale with two spots of dark red in her cheeks.

Not even thinking, Sirius snapped out the first spell he could think of at her.

"Harry needed you and you ignored that need," Hadwyn's words echoed in his brain as he turned on his heel to explore the rest of the house.

Behind him, Petunia continued to scream wordlessly, her severed tongue a bloody mess on the floor and more dribbling down her front with every breath. He found the stairs and then turned around and shot a cauterizing spell at her too.

"I might have been locked away for being a murderer, but that doesn't mean I am one," He growled at her, an off colour light shining in his eyes.

She wailed weakly in response and then without further ado, her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed to the floor with a thump. Sirius' smile was all teeth as he made his way upstairs.

. . .

Part of the way through the summer and more than a week after receiving an answer from Harry, Hermione received an invitation via owl to spend the week with the Weasleys. She wondered at its validity, given how rotten they had been to one another after Harry had left with Snape, but in the end she decided (after conferring with her parents) to go and see how Ron and his family were doing.

Molly Weasley greeted her as warmly as ever as she stepped out from the floo. She wondered whether Ron had even told her about what had happened between them.

She passed Ginny on the way up the stairs and nodded to her. The other girl barely acknowledged her presence, despite the fact that they were usually on good terms with one another. Hermione frowned but continued up the stairs.

"Don't mind her," Ron's voice came out of nowhere and she nearly took a tumble back down the way she had come.

"Merlin!" She exclaimed, seeing him on the landing just above her. "Don't you ever do that again to me!"

Ron's smile was present, but only a shadow of its former self.

"She seems to think that Harry's leaving is our fault. And she's mad because no one will tell her any different." He shrugged and held a hand out to her. She took it after a split second of hesitation and allowed him to lead them into his room.

"Do your parents know?" Hermione asked softly, thinking of the warm way Molly had met her.

"A bit," Ron shrugged again. "Harry's been writing me, you know. Said he got your letter and sent you back an answer."

Hermione's eyes instantly filled as her emotions tried to take over her composure again. Hearing that Harry had forgiven her had been both the best and worst moment of her summer—of her life, even perhaps.

"Harry's a good friend," She managed a few minutes later, her voice thick.

"Better than we were," Ron admitted, throwing himself onto his bed and looking away from her.

"It wasn't just me?" She asked in a small voice.

This time, Ron's smile was bitter and it transformed his face into that of someone older. "It wasn't just you. We should have noticed something was wrong. We shoulda done something, like he woulda done something for us."

She tentatively sat down next to him. "Is he really okay with Professor Snape? Not just in comparison with the Dursleys, but really better?"

Ron let out a gusty sigh beside her. "I think, I think yeah. I think he is. Snape brewed him a potion to fix his eyes, you know that? And," Ron ducked his head with a grin reminiscent of the old Ron. "Snape listens to him. I think Harry loves him even."

Tears brimmed in her eyes again, but she smiled through them. "And does the professor love Harry, do you think?"

Ron reached out and grasped her hand, squeezing her fingers almost too tightly. "I think he'd have to by now. Harry doesn't just love people for just anything. I think Snape's showin' him what it's like to be loved."

. . .

The room with all of the broken things. The locks on the doors. The cat flap in the door. The bars on the window. It all made his blood boil. Without even a word, Sirius' magic blasted a man-sized hole in the flimsy plywood door. Shards of wood flew past his face, not a one daring to actually scratch him. And then he blasted the rest of the hallway in a similar fashion.

It wasn't Snivellous who took him from me. The thought ran rampant in his mind as he set fire to the beds.

It wasn't even Remus, he thought as the electronic doodads in the other room melted as he walked past.

Not even Hadwyn, damn the man. All of the toilets in the house suddenly exploded spraying backed up water and sewage and god knows what everywhere.

On a whim, he transformed as he went down the stairs, spraying the bannister yellow as he went. Following his nose, he went after the scent that he had found in what had been his boy's room. It let him to a cupboard under the stairs which magically burst open as he came up on it.

A bare mattress met him and he climbed onto it, still in his Padfoot form. A child sized handprint had been traced on the wall just beside the doorway. He nosed it and whined. Above him, he heard crashes as more things collapsed in the burgeoning fire. The smoke was beginning to thicken as he hopped off the bed and trotted back into the kitchen where Petunia Dursley lay moaning incoherently in a puddle of her own blood.

He transformed back into his human form and knelt beside her, avoiding the blood.

"I should leave you here to burn, you know that?" His lips curled back in a snarl as he spoke to the barely coherent woman. "That's what you'd do to Harry, isn't it?"

With a roar, he grabbed the front of her blouse and threw her against the windows hard enough to make them rattle.

"Isn't it?" He whispered.

. . .

The police arrived at #4 Privet Drive just in time to watch the roof cave in. The fire was peculiar in that it never strayed from the foundation of the home, not even burning the grass in front where they found the sole survivor on.

Chapter Text


"And how is his aunt?" Dumbledore asked the face in the fire sombrely.

"She's been healed and more obliviated than a Quidditch Cup Muggle, but she'll be up and feeding herself soon, I suspect," Kingsley answered.

"Well, that's something," Dumbledore breathed. "What of her family? And the house?"

"Too many witnesses for the house, but we've managed to plant evidence that should lead to a decision that it was nothing more than an electrical fire. Electricity is what—."

"No, I know what it is," Dumbledore interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. "Her husband? Son? How are they?"

"Bit shaken up, though her husband seemed rather happy that his car hadn't been there at the time," Kingsley said with a roll of his eyes. "Neither of them connected the event with their nephew, openly or silently."

"Good good," Dumbledore said enthusiastically. "It may be prudent to consider obliviating the existence of their nephew from their memories completely at some time in the future."

Kingsley's eyebrows rose slightly in surprise at this, but otherwise his face was impassive.

"For their protection, of course," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Of course," Kingsley answered agreeably enough. "So he no longer calls their home his own, then?"

Dumbledore's eyes lost their twinkle briefly. "No, I daresay not. Safer lodgings have been found with one of our members."

Their floo conversation might be protected, but it was always safer not to use specifics whenever possible.

"Perhaps those obliviations should occur sooner than later?" Kingsley asked.

"Perhaps," Was Dumbledore's ambiguous response.

. . .

Sirius' journey didn't stop at the Dursley's house. It was just the beginning. While at Hogwarts, he had started shaving his face clean in anticipation of not being recognized by his Wanted Posters. He further added to the deception by cutting his hair short with a pair of shears he had found in the Dursley's shed. He spelled his eyes grey-green with one of the only cosmetic spells he knew.

After doing that, a thought occurred to him and he froze for a moment looking down at the wand in his hand. It was his wand, but he hadn't had a wand since they had thrown him in Azkaban. For all he knew, they had snapped it, but the wand he was holding was clear evidence against that.

"James?" He whispered, but there was no response.

Feeling very wary against angering the irate spirit any further, he continued on with his plan, but that didn't alleviate the cold lump that had settled in the bottom of his gut.

He apparated from the backyard of the Dursley home mere seconds before the aurors arrived. He arrived in a back alley of London that just happened to be near the Leaky Cauldron. It had been spelled secret by he and James over a decade before. The muggles could build a bloody shopping mall there, and he could still apparate in and out without anyone the wiser. It was one of those spots that he had planned on sharing with Harry when the boy got a bit older. And now it seemed that there was at least a fighting chance of that still happening.

On his way to the Leaky Cauldron, he ducked into a few different muggle clothing shops and made off with a few inexpensive clothing items. He avoided the more respectable places, like the place he had first seen Harry and Snape together. By the time he reached the magical pub, he was dressed in a brown plaid shirt with a pair of semi-worn green corduroy slacks. Hiding a grim smirk, he wondered if they brought out the green in his eyes.

Over one arm, he carried his robes, which he had transfigured to look like a black trench coat. It was rather warm out, and he didn't want to draw attention by sweating unnecessarily.

With that thought, he took a breath and stepped into the cool and predictably gloomy atmosphere of the Leaky Cauldron. It was the middle of a warm afternoon, and traffic was uncomfortably sparse. He nodded idly to Tom as he strolled past. In his mind, he was acting the part of a distant Black relative; one who didn't speak the language very well, and had no interest in stooping down to the level of 'commoners.' It didn't matter that he was dressed like a muggle ragamuffin. His muggle clothes were of no consequence here. They were merely a disguise for traversing the muggle world. It also didn't matter why he had found it necessary to deal with the non-magical world. Blacks didn't need a reason behind their actions.

Thankfully, he felt no unwanted eyes as he made his way to the wall behind the pub. Tapping the bricks in the prescribed order, he waited for the wall to dissolve and focused on his breathing. Blacks didn't get ruffled, and he didn't want to break character by appearing nervous or suspicious.

Walking through Diagon Ally, he surreptitiously scanned his surroundings as he headed in the direction of Gringotts. He was taking a risk, but it was a necessary one, should he ever want to find where Harry and Snape had stashed themselves.

One of the gifts that James and Lily had given him upon naming him godfather was a handy little pendant that had Harry's magical signature infused into it. In the middle of the plain gold disk was a tiny blood coloured thumbprint. During the godfather naming ceremony, baby Harry's thumb had been pricked and pressed into a piece of malleable gold. It had then been magically hardened and Harry's thumb had been healed. The disk had been spelled with a borderline dark spell that would keep Sirius aware of Harry's general location, regardless of space and even time—if so necessary.

James, at least, had been aware of the kind of magical activities that involved time travel, and knowing the sorts of trouble a son of a Potter was likely to get into, he had included that part of the spell even though Lily hadn't understood the need for it.

He hadn't been wearing the pendant at the time of James and Lily's deaths, because of a paranoid worry that its existence would cause him to become a target for the dark. His occlumency skills were slightly above average, but every auror knew of the Dark Lord's prowess in the magical mind arts. It wasn't worth the risk of having his godson revealed. It was better for everyone if Sirius didn't know how to find them—at least until the unthinkable had happened.

With his thoughts on such dark memories, his travel through the expanse of the magical alley seemed to take almost no time at all. Pushing through the large doors of Gringotts, he waited a brief moment for his eyes to adjust from the brightness outside to the dim chill inside the large marble building. Stepping away from the entrance, he briefly scanned the tellers and then picked one at random. There was only one other patron there; a portly gentleman who didn't even bother glancing up as he quietly conversed with his teller.

"How can I help you?" The goblin teller asked with a sneer that told Sirius he'd rather be doing anything else but.

"Is Flensing here?" He asked, referring to the name of the goblin who had long handled the finances of the expansive Black vaults.

The goblin on the other side of the desk turned suddenly aware eyes on him, and Sirius just barely managed to keep from flinching under the scrutiny.

"He is busy," The goblin answered after a moment of tense silence.

"I need to speak with him. Family matters," Sirius answered lightly.

The goblin stared at him a moment longer before reaching down and pulling out a jewelled dagger.

"Three drops of blood are needed to confirm," The goblin barked at him.

"Certainly," Sirius answered, still playing his role.

He took the dagger and cut his pinkie finger. He let three drops of blood fall out onto the piece of parchment that the goblin held out and then watched as it healed itself. Magic was a wonderful thing. He was especially thankful for its existence after so many months on the run.

On the piece of parchment, a brief family tree was forming from where his blood had landed. It named his parents and grandparents, but went no further back. At the bottom of the page was his name, shining out darkly in bold script.

The goblin did no more than raised an eyebrow at the sight before turning to bark orders in gobbledygook to a waiting goblin standing a few feet behind him. As the other goblin marched off, his teller turned back and snapped his fingers. The piece of paper blackened and crumpled with invisible fire as Sirius watched with pleased surprise. When the piece of incriminating parchment was nothing more than ashes, the goblin gestured him toward a set of heavy metal doors at the nearest end of the lobby.

Flensing met him as he pushed open the large ruby encrusted door. He was an elderly goblin with long silver ear hairs that flowed seamlessly into his grey beard.

The goblin didn't say a word until the doors were firmly shut behind them, and then all he said was, "Come."

Sirius followed him down a long hallway with a number of unlabelled closed doors. Finally, Flensing stopped and pushed his long fingers at a very plain looking door. It opened at his touch and Sirius followed silently behind him. Flensing sat behind a large oaken desk and indicated that Sirius should sit in the plush armchair that sat opposite him.

"Imagine my surprise when your name appeared on my list of acceptable Black heirs," Flensing said, speaking in a gravelly voice that sounded like it didn't get much use.

Narrowing his eyes, Sirius answered, "I thought that Mother blasted me from the family tree."

"It seems that she forgot," Flensing answered and then paused. "The last time I saw you here was before you had started Hogwarts. Do you remember? You tried to catch my beard on fire," Flensing added with a dark glare.

Internally Sirius winced. It wasn't as though human-goblin relationships were particularly well maintained as is.

"Is it too late to apologize?" Sirius asked, attempting to look contrite. It wasn't too terribly difficult, considering the circumstances. He needed access to his vault in order to find Harry. Flensing could potentially keep him from that task.

Flensing paused to look at the contents of a folder on the side of his desk.

"As the only Black heir, your account's outgoing funds have severely decreased. Luckily, thanks to my constant supervision, the incoming monies have only increased."

Sirius only frowned. What was Flensing saying?

"In other words, Mr Black," Flensing continued, fixing a knowing gaze on him. "Your lack of spending has made this goblin a very rich goblin indeed. I think I shall overlook your prank as mere 'youthful indiscretion.' I suspect," Here the goblin smirked cruelly, "That you were punished adequately for your actions that day."

Sirius remembered the punishment from that prank very well. He had only started using a chair again a few days before attending Hogwarts for the first time. For several months, he had been something of a non-entity within his parents. Of course, that had only changed for the worse when he had been sorted into Gryffindor, but that was all in the past.

More explicitly, he didn't care to think about it. Flensing seemed to pick up on that and instead of gloating, the old goblin asked him his business.

He described the pendant as he remembered it. Flensing asked no questions at the end of Sirius' description, but merely summoned a goblin with a short bark. Another thought occurred to him shortly after the goblin was gone, and he turned questioning eyes to Flensing.

"Aren't my accounts frozen?" He asked bluntly. If old Flensing was doing this for an unspoken fee, then he wasn't certain the price was actually worth it.

Flensing gave him a sharp toothed grin. "Are they, Mr Black?"

Sirius frowned. "Escaped or not, I'm still a convict, yes?"

Flensing waved a dismissive gnarled hand. "You are a customer first and foremost. Our dealings with the Ministry are secondary, at best."

"But the Black accounts?"

"Frozen monetarily, yes regrettably so. However, there are a number of other related accounts which you also have access to."

Sirius only raised an eyebrow.

Flensing sighed gustily and began ticking off on his fingers, "Bulstrode, Crabbe, Flint, McMillan . . . of course, I would use their accounts in name only. The real money would be derived from what you have made me in the years you've been incarcerated. Oh dear," Flensing grinned evilly again. "I suppose what the Black account has made in the past decade isn't actually on the books anywhere. I suspect that the oversight would be fixed if you were to ever be pardoned, but I for one am not holding my breath."

Sirius snorted. Oh dear indeed. He decided that he really didn't want to know.

At that moment, the door opened, and the unnamed goblin returned with a small wooden box atop a wooden tray. He put it on the desk and then left without another word.

"Do you mind?" Sirius asked, reaching in the direction of the box.

"I certainly wouldn't want to risk losing a finger," Flensing answered. "That box is spelled directly to you, if you remember."

He didn't, but that was entirely beside the point. His memories of the years just prior to Azkaban were pitted with holes, but he wisely kept that knowledge to himself. He remembered this, though he hadn't when he had first escaped. It seemed that Hadwyn's influence over his life had resulted in at least one positive.

He touched the box and pulled it closer. His finger prickled at the magic imbued within the box, but none of it was directed at him. The top opened easily on smooth hinges. Inside was the golden pendant strung on a simple chain. It was as he remembered it and he quickly picked it up and put it on. He closed his eyes as his connection with Harry was reawakened and leaned back in his chair as the information mounted in his mind.

A few minutes later, he opened his eyes and looked at Flensing with a determined expression.

"Can you get me a translation potion and a bottomless pouch?" He asked; his mind on the brilliant lakes that surrounded his godson's location.

"May I ask where it is you are travelling?" Flensing leaned in toward him conspiratorially.

"Croatia," Sirius answered simply.

"I can get those requested items for a small fee, of course."

"Of course. I would expect nothing less."

"Then we are agreed. However, Mr Black, I do have one final question."

"Only one?" Sirius grinned wearily. Merlin, they're in Croatia? Bloody hell, he thought.

"Only one," Flensing grinned, flashing his teeth in a frightening manner. "Why did you choose to travel here under such a façade today? Why not use your other talent to enter the Alley?"

Sirius blinked twice. How the goblin knew he was an animagus was beyond him. But his other question . . .

"I suppose I felt like conducting my business as a man for once," He answered contemplatively.

"A wise decision, I think. I think I shall enjoy doing business with Sirius Black, the man."