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The Potion Master's Apprentice

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Severus Snape settled down into his favorite arm chair in the small den of his private dungeon quarters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and let a long heavy sigh escape from his chest. He felt exhausted, which was pretty standard fair these days, however he never allowed his state to show when in public. In the privacy of his own room was the only place he felt he could let down some of his guard and breath freely.

 

There was just over a month until the end of first term, but the increased workload that inevitably piled up as the end-of-term exams drew near was only a small part of the cause for his exhaustion. The Order was meeting fairly regularly now, not to mention the other meetings he was occasionally called to. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on certain angles, he hadn't been called to one of those in about two weeks.

 

It was fortunate because Severus was never one to actually want to spend any time in the Dark Lord's presence, nor any of his other followers, if he were being truly frank. It was always a tremendous gamble. He never knew if this time would be the last time. If the Dark Lord would finally uncover some reason to stop trusting in Snape, or finally decide he wasn't useful enough to warrant the security risk he provided.

 

It was unfortunate that he hadn't been summoned, only because it left the Order more and more in the Dark. Severus knew that Voldemort did not tell him all of his plans – hell, he probably hardly told Severus anything of true value – but what little information he did gleam from the meetings he was summoned to, was precious to the Order. And right now the Order was in turmoil.

 

The Ministry was still stringently disavowing the Dark Lord's return, with Fudge doing everything in his power to hinder any reasonable efforts towards practical security, for the sake of appearing unconcerned and 'safe' in the eyes of the public. The Order had members on shifts, hiding under Invisibility Cloaks, to guard the entrance to the Department of Mysteries, and they'd already had several close-calls with getting caught my Ministry personnel.

 

But that wasn't really what had the Order in such a tizzy. No, they were panicked because one Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived-to-make-Severus'-life-a-living-hell, had gone missing.

 

It had been three weeks now and there was still no sign of him at all. The day before Potter had vanished, he had apparently had some sort of fit in the middle of class, passed out, and ended up in the Hospital Wing for the rest of the night with no apparent signs or explanations for what the hell was wrong with him. Umbridge had suggested moving the boy to St. Mungo's in that sickly sweet tone of hers, and he, Dumbledore, and McGonagall had all shared a look at that. It was clear that no matter what, allowing Potter out from their direct care put the boy's life in peril, and not just from the Dark Lord. After all, there were some serious concerns over whether it was the Dark Lord who had sent those Dementors to Little Winging, or if it had been someone in Fudge's office. Most likely the very pink toad they were all faced with now; in fact.

 

And so they had been dedicated to keeping a tight watch on the irritating brat to ensure the woman wouldn't take advantage of his vulnerable state.

 

That had apparently not worked all that well, because the boy had up and vanished completely. No one knew where he'd gone or how he'd left. Potter's two friends didn't even seem to have the faintest clue where he'd gone, and Severus had performed a subtle scan of both of their minds to see if they were lying and... well, they apparently weren't. Weasley had come out and said after a brief search of Potter's trunk he'd found some things missing. Potter's money bag, his blasted invisibility cloak, and his broom were all missing, which seemed to suggest that he'd left of his own free will.

 

It didn't stop them from casting worried and suspicious glances at the vile toad woman. She seemed supremely smug that Potter had up and vanished and had made statements to the press furthering the earlier claims that Potter was unstable and attention-seeking, et cetera, et cetera.

 

As far as Severus could tell, the Dark Lord knew just as little as they did. He certainly didn't seem to have Potter, and had been furious with Severus the last time he'd been summoned, for still not being able to report back with any useful information on the boy's location. Severus did not look forward to the next time he was summoned because, no doubt, the Dark Lord's wrath would only be that much greater at the continued lack of progress.

 

The Dark Lord wanted the Prophecy, and he had determined the best way to get it would be to lure Potter into the Department of Mysteries to get it for him. But he could hardly do that if Potter was missing.

 

These were the thoughts lazily floating through Severus' rather worn and tired mind when all thoughts were suddenly replaced by the sharp pain stabbing through his left forearm. His right hand shot over and grabbed it on reflex and he grimaced sharply at the knowledge of what it meant.

 

He was being summoned.

 

He jumped to his feet, knowing he had very little time, for the Dark Lord would not be made to wait. He ran to the Floo, tossed in some powder from the tin on the mantle and called out 'Headmaster's Office'. As the fire turned green, he got down on his knees and leaned his head in. There was the brief disorientation where the world felt like it was spinning, before his head emerged on the other end.

 

“Albus!” he hissed urgently.

 

The elder wizard was, fortunately, sitting at his desk and quickly rushed over.

 

“What is it Severus?”

 

“I've been summoned. I must leave.”

 

Concern instantly flooded the headmaster's expression, but he nodded his head firmly. “Go, and be safe.”

 

Severus felt like rolling his eyes, but refrained. He pulled his head back out from the flames and then rushed into his bedroom to fetch his cloak and mask. After donning his garments and mask he returned to the floo, tossed in a handful of the floo powder and called out 'Spinner's End'. He'd determined long ago that the journey from the school dungeons to the front gate and edge of the apparition wards was far too time-consuming and that this was simply a much faster option. Once in his unfortunate family abode, he pressed his wand to the Dark Mark upon his left forearm and allowed the bit of magic inside it that acted a bit like a portkey, or perhaps more like a homing target for apparition, and apparated directly into the hall that presently held the Dark Lord.

 

In a smooth, well-practiced and graceful motion, he was instantly down on one knee with head bowed in submission to the monster he had been foolish enough in his youth to swear allegiance to.

 

“Stand, Severussss,” the Dark Lord Voldemort hissed imperiously from his graceful perch in a high-backed chair slightly atop a dais at the end of the long meeting hall. Severus didn't exactly like the fact that he was the only one summoned. It was hardly a rare thing – after all, the Dark Lord preferred to keep the information his spies provided him between himself and the spy in question, rather than share it with any large groups, but Severus still preferred it when others were present since it gave the Dark Lord additional targets to get out his displeasure on. When it was just him and the Dark Lord, he was the only available target for the madman's curses.

 

“My Lord,” Severus intoned silkily as he fluidly stood, but kept his head mostly bowed in submission.

 

“What news is there of Potter?” Voldemort asked sharply, cutting straight to the point, which was rarely a good sign.

 

Severus raised his head, keeping his face impassive, masking the horrible nerves swirling like a hurricane through his gut, and met the Dark Lord's penetrating and obviously impatient gaze. Avoiding eye-contact was a wasted effort and it only led the Dark Lord to suspect you of treachery, so Severus never bothered.

 

“My Lord, I am afraid that –“ Severus began, but before he got another word further the door behind him flew open and Severus instinctively turned to look. It was merely an instinct of self-preservation – he did not approve of unexpected things occurring behind his back, after all.

 

What he saw emerging through the door made his jaw drop and his eyes widen in shock.

 

“What's this now? Looking for me?” Harry Potter asked, grinning wolfishly and twirling his wand in one hand.

 

“Potter?!” Severus gasped. A sound behind him had him whirling back around and he saw as an equally stunned Dark Lord was standing to his feet, his eyes alight with a mixture of fury and surprise.

 

“Harry Potter,” Voldemort spoke, emphasizing each syllable and slowly stalking forward, an expression of growing interest spreading across his serpentine features. “What a... surprise. How did you get in here?” he ended, his voice going harsh and accusing.

 

Snape took several steps back towards the side wall so that he would no longer be directly between the two. No doubt the Dark Lord would not give a damn if Severus was there, when he started throwing curses.

 

Potter smirked and continued twirling his wand playfully between his fingers as he slowly walked further into the room.

 

“I walked through the front door,” he said cheekily.

 

Voldemort's eyes narrowed. “Is that so? And what of the guards?”

 

“Hmm? Guards? There were guards?” Potter replied innocently with a look that Severus decided to deem 'mischief' in the boy's eyes. If ever there was a time when 'mischief' was inappropriate, now was that time. He felt himself so stunned by the inexplicably unpredictable events transpiring before him, that he merely stood there, rooted to the ground like a statue. What the hell was Potter doing there?!?

 

“Yes, Potter, I'm quite sure that there were several guards out there,” glaring accusingly. “Which one of them let you in here?”

 

Potter laughed, quite loudly, before quieting and simply smirking at the Dark Lord again.

 

Stupid arrogant child! Severus screamed mentally,

 

“There's no one left out there to come to you, Tom,” Potter said as he began to casually circle the room.

 

“Insolent brat! You dare?!” Voldemort hissed and his wand was instantly pointed at Potter, a shot of red light shooting from it, right for Potter. Severus' gaze darted to Potter, waiting for the inevitable, but was shocked when Potter's absently twirling wand was whipped through the air and it almost looked like Potter just swatted away the red spell as it came to him, and sent it off in a different direction until it impacted a wall and died away.

 

Voldemort's eyes widened in surprise at the casual way in which Potter had just deflected one of the unforgivables as if it were little more than a tickling jinx. Voldemort pinned Potter with a far more scrutinizing glare now and watched as Potter continued to stroll around the room like he owned the place.

 

“Tell me, Potter... where have you been these last three weeks? I know there are those among Dumbledore's crowd who have been convinced I had you, but obviously I know that hasn't been the case...”

 

The boy actually had the gall to giggle before coming to a stop and looking across the large room at the Dark Lord with a gleam of dark accomplishment. It was not an expression that Severus honestly could say he'd ever seen grace the boy's face.

 

“Oh, I've been all over,” Potter said, smirking darkly. “First... before leaving the school, you understand, I paid a visit to this fascinating room in Hogwarts. I know you're familiar with it. The elves call it the Come and Go room. A room filled with... hidden things.

 

Severus was almost shocked to see a glint of fear seem to pass across the Dark Lord's face. He looked back to Potter and the boy was still grinning, almost manically.

 

“After that, I went back to Little Hangleton – although, I didn't visit the graveyard this time. Just a rundown little shack on the outskirts of town,” Potter went on and resumed his casual stroll around the room as he spoke. “I also visited Gringotts and made a... a withdrawal,” Potter said, snickering. “The goblins didn't even notice. I have to admit, I had expected that one to be harder to get than it was. I was almost disappointed. I think some part of me was almost looking forward to an encounter with one of the dragons. Oh well,” he ended with a dismissive shrug.

 

The Dark Lord was looking almost frozen with fear at this point and Severus had no idea what was going on and almost wanted to just go over and strangle the boy for being so damned confusing, not to mention idiotic.

 

“I also got the locket – were you aware that it wasn't where you left it? It wasn't even in the cave anymore, so I didn't even have to contend with the infiri. Regulus Black betrayed you years ago and stole it. He left the task of destroying the locket to his house elf, and the poor wretched creature had no idea how to do it, so it remained in tact. Or... well, it did until I dealt with it.”

 

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”Voldemort bellowed and in an instant curses were flying through the air. Potter bent, twisted, and deflected every one of them with the most unexpected and shocking display of power and agility Severus had witnessed in years, if ever, and he found himself pressed back against the far wall, just staying out of the line of fire.

 

Part of him thought he should be helping the idiot-who-was-lucky-to-still-be-alive, but another voice insisted on self-preservation until the most beneficial moment where he could intervene and actually do some good.

 

Severus hadn't even realized that Potter wasn't sending any spells back until the moment when Potter finally did attack. He aimed his wand after deflecting a particularly nasty purple curse like he was swatting a fly, and without saying a single word, sent what could only be described as a shock-wave of raw power, from the tip of his wand, sending the Dark Lord flying back and landing spread-eagle on his back.

 

Potter laughed.

 

“Tell me something, Tom,” Potter continued, still snickering as the Dark Lord pushed himself up on his elbows, looking at Potter as if he were watching a star about to go supernova. “Where is Nagini?”

 

The Dark Lord gasped, and his gaze suddenly darted around the room, as if he were expecting the snake to suddenly materialize out of no where.

 

Severus flinched as the Dark Lord suddenly called out in the hissing tones of parseltongue, but was shocked by how different it sounded than the usual silky smooth, threatening and deadly hisses, he generally associated with the snake speech. This speech sounded... terrified.

 

“She won't be coming, Tom,” Potter said, mockingly. “She's dead.”

 

Fear moved into horror, into fury, and the Dark Lord leapt to his feet, once again firing curses. Potter danced and hopped around the room, laughing like a loon and Severus just stood there and watched in utterly stunned silence.

 

“How does it feel Tom?” Potter asked mockingly as he continued to dodge the ever increasingly desperate spells sailing at him from the Dark Lord's wand. “How does it feel to know you're mortal, just like the rest of us? How does it feel to stand on the threshold of death's gate and know you can't turn back?”

 

Voldemort roared again, his fury seemingly endless.

 

“You can't kill me, Tom. Death favors me, and you angered him by trying to defy him. Death does not approve of horcruxes, Tom Riddle. He does not approve at all,” Potter said, making a reproving clucking sort of sound with his tongue, and looking ever-smug. Something the brat-who-lived said caused a momentary shock to jolt through Severus. The word horcrux hung in the air like a thick dark cloud and Severus knew... he knew what that meant. He had heard of such a thing, though he never thought he would ever encounter someone mad enough to actually make one. Obviously that was a naïve thought, considering how insanely mad the Dark Lord was. Still, Severus had never honestly believed...

 

“You're doomed you know,” Potter said then. “There is a world beyond this one, but you will never see it. You have too little of your soul left. When you leave this world, there is nothing for you beyond. You will shrivel up and become nothing more than memory and dust.”

 

“You are the one who will die, Harry Potter!” Voldemort screamed as he sent yet another bolt of sickly green light at Potter. But this time Potter didn't move. He just stood there, looking smug as the bolt crashed into his chest and... did nothing.

 

“I told you,” Potter said, softly into the silence that followed as the Dark Lord panted heavily and stared at him in dumbstruck shock. “Death favors me.”

 

Potter raised his wand, aimed it right at the Dark Lord Voldemort, who's eyes widened and filled with absolute fear and horror. “Goodbye, Tom. Avada Kedavra.” The same sickly green light from before, now emerged from the tip of Potter's wand and shot straight across the room, hitting Voldemort square in the chest and sending him flying backwards several feet before he crumpled to the ground. Dead.

 

The room was silent for several long seconds that, to Severus, felt like an eternity. Surely, he was dreaming, for what had just transpired was simply impossible. A flight of fancy. Perhaps he fell asleep in his armchair and it would wake in the morning with a crick in his neck and only a vague memory of having one of the strangest and most irrational dreams in recent memory.

 

But then Potter heaved out a big sound of relief and twisted his neck until it made a popping sort of sound.

 

“Ow,” the boy muttered. “Think I pulled something.”

 

Severus slowly turned his head and his eyes landed on Potter. He was still in a state of shock, but his mind registered as Potter began casting seemingly random spells. Lumos, Finite, Nox, Scourgify, Tergeo, and then he cast Deletrius, which made the random jumble before it make a slight bit more sense. Deletrius was a spell used to get around Prior Incantato, the spell used to identify the last few spells a wand had cast. Potter was covering his tracks after use of the unforgivable killing curse. Casting Deletrius by itself would normally be 'good enough' to prevent anyone from finding out the last few spells you'd cast, but if a person was dedicated enough, they could still find traces of the most recent spell or two. Potter, apparently and wisely, Severus had to admit, wasn't willing to take that risk.

 

“I don't suppose you have something obscenely convenient like an emergency portkey directly back to Dumbledore's office, do you?” Potter asked suddenly, causing Severus to flinch in surprise.

 

Severus nearly said 'what?' in response, but managed to pull himself together just in time to stop the moronic response. He blinked and centered himself as much as possible, considering what he had just witnessed.

 

“No, I'm afraid not,” he bit out, finally.

 

Potter grumbled slightly and began to walk across the room to the Dark Lord's corpse. Once he got there, he pulled a small draw-string pouch off his belt, pulled at the opening, expanding it a bit and then sticking his arm down into it so far the opening of the bag was at his armpit. The bag itself, obviously had an undetectable extension charm on it, because it was barely four inches deep; certainly not deep enough for the entirety of Potter's arm to fit inside it.

 

Potter finally withdrew his arm, but as far as Severus could tell, he had nothing in it. But then Potter draped the nothing over his arm and a sliver of his arm vanished. He re-secured the draw-string bag to his belt, unfurled the invisible-nothing and covered the Dark Lord's body, causing it to vanish.

 

“Your invisibility cloak,” Snape drawled with distinct disapproval in his voice.

 

“Well, we're going to have to apparate to the school's gate, right? Do you want to go walking along the path, and then through the halls, with Voldemort's corpse floating behind us?”

 

“You're taking him to the school?”

 

“To Dumbledore,” Potter said with a shrug. “I figure if anyone knows what to do with it, it'll be him. Honestly, I wouldn't mind just burning it to ash right here and now, but with only you and me as witness, I'm sure there are those that would like something a bit more tangible to prove that he's actually dead.”

 

“And is he?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Dead? Is he really dead this time?” Snape asked, a bit of desperation managing to leak into his tone.

 

Potter's expression softened a bit and it was odd and left Severus feeling disturbed. “Yeah. He's dead.”

 

“You mentioned a Horcrux...”

 

“They're gone. All of them.”

 

“All?” Severus whispered in horror. The Dark Lord had not only made a horcrux, but had made more than one?!

 

Suddenly another thought pushed that horror aside and Severus needed to comment.

 

“He shot you with a killing curse,” Severus said in an almost accusing tone.

 

Potter actually chuckled. “You don't say?” he commented airily as he aimed his wand at the invisible Dark Lord and cast mobilicorpus on him. Severus noticed as a sliver of a hand poked through from under the cloak, becoming visible. Potter didn't seem to care.

 

“Why aren't you dead?” Severus asked, pointedly.

 

Potter just looked at him and smirked.

 

“The anti-apparition wards are down,” he commented instead, “they fell as soon as he died, so we can apparate straight from here.”

 

“Are you saying that you can apparate?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Potter said, giving him a blank look.

 

“And when, exactly, did you learn how to do that?

 

Potter smirked. “When did I learn how to cast the killing curse?” he shot back, instead of answering Severus' question. It caused the Potions Master to pause and blink, somewhat thrown by the reality of what the boy had just pointed out. He had just cast – successfully cast – the most deadly dark curse there was. A spell that few could ever perform successfully, and most certainly never on their first try. Most who tried to cast it were lucky to cause a nose bleed in the victim. It was one of the reasons that the Dark Lord had been so feared. He could cast that spell as if it were no more difficult than shooting sparks from ones wand.

 

Snape shook himself from his shock as Potter began to walk with the floating corpse behind him, towards the center of the room.

 

“Wait,” Severus called out and Potter stopped and looked at him with uncommonly patient curiosity in his eyes. It nearly made Severus flinch. It also made him realize that Potter wasn't wearing his glasses. Those green eyes that had taunted him for more than four years, were now looking at him with simple curious anticipation. Not even the slightest hint of the hateful, distrustful, glower the boy usually aimed at him was present.

 

“I have a better option,” Severus said, pushing forward and looking away from Lily's green eyes. “We will apparate to my home and from there we can Floo to Hogwarts. My floo there is connected directly to my own and the headmaster's office. It's best we avoid any possible encounter with Umbridge and she tends to patrol the halls this time of night.”

 

Potter nodded. “Good idea. Can you side-along me and the body at once? Or do you need to take two trips?”

 

“I can take you in one,” Severus said, hating the idea that he was going to have to touch the Dark Lord's corpse to do this. He was no stranger to dead things, but somehow the thought of coming into direct contact with that was legitimately disgusting.

 

Potter didn't seem to be nearly so squeamish in that regard, although Severus would not admit such a thing, even to himself. Potter pulled the invisibility cloak up slightly and grabbed hold of the robe-covered upper-arm that he exposed to their field of view. He appeared to have a tight old over it and offered his other hand to Severus. “I've got him. Lead the way,” Potter said.

 

Severus would also not admit how grateful he was that he wasn't going to be touching Voldemort after all.

 

He grasped Potter's hand and apparated them back to his run-down childhood home.

 

Potter looked around briefly as Severus quickly released his hand and went over to activate and unlock the floo.

 

“Is this your home on Spinner's End in Cokeworth?” Potter asked casually. Severus spun around and looked at him with shock and confusion.

 

“How do you know that?” he whispered.

 

Potter didn't answer him, but instead asked, “So how far away was my mum's home from here?”

 

Severus' mouth floundered for a moment before he looked away at the fireplace instead. “There is a park down the road. Four blocks west of that is where she lived.”

 

Potter nodded absently and walked over to the fireplace, the floated and mostly invisible corpse levitating behind him.

 

“Do you want to go first? Does he have a password we need to use to get into his office from here?”

 

“The password is ignis avis,” Severus said.

 

Potter grinned. “Firebird? Appropriate. Okay, so you first, or shall I?”

 

“Can you floo with... with that?”

 

“Yeah sure,” Potter said, dismissively. “I've taken bodies through Floo's before,” he said snorting sardonically.

 

Severus eyed him curiously for a moment before hesitantly turning to the floo and tossing in a handful of powder. “Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts School, ignis avis!” he spoke loudly as he stepped into the green flames.

 

Harry waited a few moments after Severus had vanished before stepping in, grabbing the corpse and wrapping his arm around the upper-body tightly. He tossed the powder into the magical flames and repeated the same words Severus had spoken only a moment before.

 

He stepped out of Dumbledore's large fireplace with a quick, smooth action and let the corpse begin to simply float behind him again. He turned and saw Dumbledore standing up slowing, looking stunned.

 

“Harry?” he asked, sounding both surprised and immensely relieved.

 

“Headmaster,” Harry replied with a firm nod of his head before striding forward and coming to stand in front of Dumbledore's desk. Severus followed, keeping his eyes trained suspiciously on Harry as he went. He stood to the side of the headmaster's desk, while Dumbledore himself remained standing behind it.

 

“Where... where have you been?” Dumbledore asked in a breathy, still-stunned voice.

 

“Oh, here and there,” Harry said dismissively. “Hunting horcruxes, mostly. I destroyed them all, by the way. This one too,” he said, dipping his chin, reaching up, and tapping his finger on his forehead, directly over the lightening bolt shaped scar.

 

Dumbledore gasped and his eyes widened.

 

“I removed it first, actually,” Harry went on, still speaking with a casualness that belied the utterly astonished expression gracing the venerable old wizard's face. “I must admit, I wonder if you ever even tried to find a way to get rid of it without... well, you know, me having to die. It really wasn't that hard. In any case, once I figured out how to get rid of this one, without the requites destruction of the host, I was able to rid the other vessels of their various bits of Tom's soul without them having to be destroyed either.” At this, Harry reached down, pulled the draw-string pouch off his belt again, opened it up and began digging around inside it.

 

First he pulled out a jewel encrusted tiara of some sort.

 

“Ravenclaw's lost diadem,” Harry said in a bored tone as he tossed it onto Dumbledore's desk. “A cup that was enchanted by Helga Hufflepuff,” he continued as he pulled out a golden cup with two finely wrought handles on either side and a badger engraved on it. “A locket that belonged to Slytherin,” Harry continued, this time pulling out a silver locket with emeralds set into it's front in the shape of an 'S' and let it fall to the desk with the other two. “Those were the only founders objects he managed to get and use. I figured I'd hand them over to the school since they're historical artifacts.”

 

“H-how...” Dumbledore's voice was hoarse and he was staring at the artifacts in shock for a moment before looked back up at Harry.

 

“Of course, those weren't the only ones, as I'm sure you've already guessed by now,” Harry resumed. “One of the other horcruxes was his familiar, Nagini. I cut her head off this morning. Then, of course, there was me, but as I said, I took care of that one first –“

 

“Wait, what?!” Severus said, finally catching on and pulling himself out of his own stunned stupor enough to finally say something.

 

“I was a horcrux,” Harry said with a dismissive, bored drawl. “It happened when he tried to kill me as a baby. A piece of his soul broke off and got in me. It's why I was a parselmouth and why I would get visions from him. Anyway, his goal was to have his soul split into seven pieces. The first horcrux was a diary and I destroyed that in second year. He never intended for me to be one, and never knew about it either, so the bit that was in me doesn't count. The final horcrux was this one,” he flashed his hand, very briefly and Severus noticed he was wearing a ring on his right hand middle-finger. “But I'm keeping it,” Potter finished, pulling his hand back before either could really look at it.

 

“I... I... Harry – how... I just don't understand –“ Dumbledore said, and Severus took a moment to soak up and enjoy this entirely rare opportunity to witness Dumbledore being legitimately shocked and at a loss for words.

 

“Oh, yes, there was one other thing I did –“ Potter said, smirking rather deviously now. He reached over into the apparent nothingness beside him and pulled the cloak off the still-floating corpse of the Dark Lord. “That. I did that too.”

 

Dumbledore gaped at the body of Voldemort. “Is that...?”

 

“It is,” Severus said in a silky drawl. “I witnessed it myself.”

 

Dumbledore turned his gaze on Severus, still stunned, but now also questioning.

 

“I had just arrived to stand before the Dark Lord and had just begun to speak with him when... Potter suddenly barged into the room. The Dark Lord was clearly surprised and the two of them...” he paused and sneered in mild disgust, “bantered back and forth for a bit. Potter appeared to be taunting the Dark Lord by mentioning... these objects, I would assume.”

 

Harry smirked and nodded.

 

“The Dark Lord became furious and began attempting to curse Potter. I still cannot rationalize how the idiotic brat survived.”

 

“Hey, I'm right here, you know,” Harry complained, although he honestly looked more amused than legitimately annoyed.

 

“He's dead...” Dumbledore whispered, turning and looking back at the body. “How...?”

 

“Potter cast the killing curse,” Snape growled mildly.

 

Dumbledore's eyes shot to Harry, wide and looking slightly horrified. “Harry, is this true?” he whispered.

 

Harry rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

 

“That is not all,” Snape said, drawing the headmaster's attention back to him. “Before that, the Dark Lord cast a killing curse at Potter and he didn't dodge. It hit him square in the chest and he didn't so much as flinch.” Now Snape was pinning Harry down with an accusatory glare. “He made some ridiculous statement about being favored by death.

 

Dumbledore turned his gaze on Harry as well. It was an even mixture of bewilderment and concern. “Harry...?”

 

Harry heaved an over-dramatic sigh and threw himself down into one of the overstuffed armchairs that flanked Dumbledore's desk. “I'm not the same Harry Potter you think I am. Not that it really matters because I am still Harry Potter, and I did just fulfill the prophecy, so we're square.”

 

Dumbledore's eyes narrowed and suspicion filled his face. “If you're not the Harry Potter we think you are, then who are you?”

 

“I'm Harry Potter, age 46.”

 

“Forty-six?! That's preposterous!” Snape exclaimed.

 

Harry turned and looked up at the man with a smirk. “Are you so sure? Have you ever meddled with the magic of Time, Snape?”

 

“Of course not! Temporal rifts and causality loops! Tampering with the very fabric of space and time! Meddling with time magic is forbidden for a reason Potter. Any number of things could go wrong and destroy us all! It would be idiotically reckless!”

 

Harry actually laughed at that point. “That is what you always accused me of, isn't it? Being a reckless dunderhead who charged ahead without thinking things through first?”

 

“Because it's what you are,” Severus seethed through clenched teeth.

 

Harry chuckled and shrugged. “I won't argue with you on that part for the most part. I would say that I've grown a bit more cautious in my older years, but accidents still happen.”

 

“Are you suggesting that you somehow came back in time and it was an accident?” Snape bit out sarcastically.

 

“No, not quite. Actually I died, but Death made me a deal and sent me back in time, instead. But he really had very little choice in the matter, and in the end it was to his benefit anyway.”

 

“And what exactly is that nonsense supposed to mean!?”

 

“Severus –“ Dumbledore said in a soft voice, putting a temporary halt to the sharp anger of the Potions Master, who after a brief glance at the headmaster, switched to just glaring suspiciously at Harry. “Harry... can you perhaps explain things from the beginning?”

 

Harry sighed and shrugged. “It's fairly simple. In my original timeline the war lasted quite a bit longer. You had to come clean about the prophecy at the end of my fifth year after Sirius was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange. But you still didn't tell me about the horcruxes until more than half way through sixth year and even then you only gave me riddles and hints. Then you went and died, leaving me to fend for myself, entirely,” Harry said, giving the older wizard an accusing glare.

 

“Took me ages to find them and even longer to figure out how to destroy the blasted things because you never told me how. But I eventually did destroy them, all except Nagini – Neville actually got her,” he chuckled and smirked. “Then just as Snape here was dying, he gave me a memory from when the two of you were speaking before he died. Albus here had told you to make sure I saw the memory right before the final battle. That memory informed me that I was a horcrux and that I would need to die before Voldemort could actually be killed. Again – I can't help but wonder if you ever even looked for an alternative, because I found one in a week, dodgy old coot...” he muttered under his breath. Severus still heard it and raised a single eyebrow, while Dumbledore, if he heard it, opted not to react.

 

Anyway,” Harry continued, with an exaggerated tone, “at that point I got this for the first time – “ again, Harry flashed his hand, but held it up longer and Dumbledore was able to lean over the desk and apparently get a better view of the ring this time. Recognition graced his face and his eyes widened and he gasped.

 

“Is that – ?!”

 

“Yes,” Potter bit out and quickly pulled his hand back and put it on the arm rest, when Dumbledore made to reach across the desk towards his hand. “And no, you can't have it.” Severus frowned and looked between the two of them feeling a rush of annoyed bewilderment at being out of the loop. “I was already master of your wand at that point, so once I got this, I was officially master of all three, and thus, master of Death, and I couldn't die. I didn't realize that though, so when I walked out to offer myself up to Voldemort so he could kill me and destroy the last horcrux, I honestly thought I was going to die. I didn't – I came back, but now, without the horcrux, so after that Tom and I dueled, and he ended up dead. The end, Happily ever after and all that rubbish nonsense. I remained master of Death after that, even though I stuck your wand back in your tomb. The wand still recognized me as it's master, apparently. Thanks to that, when I died just recently, Death had to come to me and... we had a little chat. He presented me with a few options and I took the one I found most appealing. Thus – I'm here.”

 

“That doesn't make any sense! Master of Death?” Severus scoffed.

 

“How did you become master of my wand?” Dumbledore asked, ignoring Severus and giving Harry a very pointed look.

 

Harry snorted. “You knew you were dying for the better part of a year before you finally died. You'd gotten cursed... because of this, actually,” Harry waved his hand with the ring again. “So you convinced Severus here to kill you before the curse could finish you off, in order to maintain his position as spy and remove any of Voldemort's doubts about his loyalties. But since it was basically assisted suicide, you were hoping that it wouldn't be considered 'defeating' you, and thus, the wand would never switch it's alliance to him. However, things didn't exactly go as planned and there was this death eater attack on the school and someone disarmed you before Snape could kill you, and then I disarmed the wizard who disarmed you, and thus, I gained the wand's loyalty. So no, Albus, I did not kill you to gain the loyalty of the Elder Wand. At that time, I didn't even know about the Hallows or any special significance your damned wand held.”

 

Dumbledore slowly sat down in his own chair and seemed to eye Harry speculatively for several long moments.

 

“Severus says that you were hit with the killing curse and survived. You say you were master of the Deathly Hallows in your own time, but right now, at this moment, you are not. The Elder Wand is still mine. So how do you explain your survival of Voldemort's curse?”

 

“Death gave me a temporary free pass,” Harry said with a shrug. “He said until Tom was dead, I couldn't die. I'm pretty sure that if either of you hit me with a killing curse now, I'd keel over just like anyone else. I'm not immortal. Nor would I ever want to be,” he added with a shiver and a grimace.

 

Dumbledore looked less suspicious, but he was still eyeing Harry warily. “How did you die?” he asked with a softer tone now than before.

 

“Magical accident. There was an explosion in the lab I was working in and I got caught in it,” he said chuckling weakly and shrugged. “Nothing spectacular or noteworthy. Just a stupid magical accident.”

 

“For what reason did... Death, permit you to come back in time?” Dumbledore asked, looking more curious now than the suspicious looks from earlier.

 

Harry stiffened. “That's personal. The truth of the matter is that every one of the options he gave me, were basically just different circumstances that would remove me from my position as his master. As you pointed out earlier, I am no longer master of all three Hallows – one of them is yours and I think we can all say it's safe to assume you won't be handing your wand over to me. So now, Death no longer has to answer to me, or anyone. The same went for the other options, but out of all of them, this one benefited me the most. I was fairly confident that I could wipe Tom out fairly easily this time since I actually know now what I needed to know to do it – and I was right. As seen by our lovely corpse here,” Harry smirked and jerked his head towards Voldemort's body.

 

Severus flinched as his attention was drawn back to it, having somehow managed to block out the fact that the Dark Lord's body was floating in the room with them.

 

“Ah... yes, it would appear you were right,” Dumbledore said dryly. “So what do you intend to do now, Harry?”

 

Harry heaved a sigh and for the first time seemed to lose some of that arrogant smugness that seemed to be clinging to him since Severus had first seen him appear earlier that evening.

 

“I don't know...” he said softly. “Probably disappear somewhere under a glamour or something. Maybe I'll go overseas.”

 

“You'd leave Hogwarts?” Dumbledore said, frowning and sitting up straighter.

 

“I hardly belong here anymore, do I? I'm thirty years older than all my old friends here – what the hell would I have in common with those kids? Hell, I'm older than Sirius by, what? Ten years? And that's assuming he actually had the mental maturity of his literal years, which we all know he doesn't. He was probably mentally stunted by his time in Azkaban. It's enough for me to know I actually saved them all this time. Cedric still died, so... well I guess I didn't manage to save everyone, but I couldn't go back far enough to prevent the tournament or Riddle's resurrection. But I saved Sirius, Moody, You, Fred, Remus, Tonks, Severus here and... so many more. So many died in the war...” Harry shook his head and looked away from the pair of them into the depths of the office and his eyes caught on Fawkes, sitting atop his perch. He grinned sadly. “So this is enough for me. There won't be a war, and I came back before Riddle broke the Lestranges and the others out of Azkaban, so we don't even have to deal with rounding them up. I already sent Pettigrew to Amelia Bones at the Ministry – we'll see if anything comes of it, or if Fudge just finds a way to bury the whole thing.”

 

“You realize, Harry, even if you are... mentally, forty-six, you are still in the body of a fifteen year old. You are not of age, nor are you even legally qualified to retain a wand. Even after you reach the age of seventeen, until you have taken and passed OWLs in a minimum of three subjects, you will not, legally, be allowed to keep a wand. That fact will not change, even if you do go overseas. You will still be required to fulfill their local education and qualification requirements if you are going to be allowed to continue practicing magic.”

 

Harry sat up and eyed Dumbledore for a long moment as if he were trying to work something out in his mind first. “What are you getting at?” he finally asked.

 

“It seems to me that it would be wisest to stay here at Hogwarts – for this year, at least – and take your qualifying exams.”

 

Harry pulled in a slow breath as he looked thoughtful, if not still a bit put out. “I know what you suggest is probably logical, but it would require spending the rest of this school year here and pretending to be bloody fifteen again.” Harry let out another frustrated-sounding sigh and sat forward a bit, resting his elbows on his knees. “But after the end of the year, I could petition to take my NEWT exams at the Ministry early, so I wouldn't have to come back after that.”

 

“Are you so sure you wouldn't want to come back?” Dumbledore asked, clasping his hands and smiling softly at Harry.

 

Harry snorted. “I look back at myself as a teenager and violently cringe. I was a class-A moron as a kid, not to mention naïve and gullible and biased and headstrong. I was an idiot, and so were my friends. The thought of spending vast quantities of time with younger versions of my old friends is not appealing to me, and pretending to be myself at age fifteen is just as unappealing a prospect. Not to mention that bloody Umbridge is here this year and I remember quite clearly how much of a miserable hag she was. You are aware that she's using an illegal dark artifact to torture students during detentions, right?”

 

What?” Dumbledore gasped.

 

Harry snorted and looked away. “That really was always one of my problems as a kid. I had this absurd idea in my head that you were omniscient or something. Of course it's your fault for encouraging the idea with how you act all the damn time,” Harry muttered bitterly. He turned back and leveled Dumbledore with a flat stare. “Umbridge is making students write lines with a blood quill for detention. Hundreds of lines and for hours so that the obscene rubbish she has them writing, ends up scarred into their flesh for life. Even at forty-six, I could still faintly see traces of the scar on the back of my hand from all the detentions she put me through when I was fifteen.”

 

“Great Merlin... I didn't know,” Dumbledore whispered and his normally twinkling-blue eyes darkened with anger.

 

“You've permitted a monstrous harpy to take run of your school, Dumbledore. You've got more power than this, I never could figure out how you could possibly have sat back almost the entirety of my fifth year and done nothing while Umbridge ran rampant like a mad woman, torturing the students, humiliating the faculty, and spouting propaganda and lies at every turn. You know, in my original timeline, she managed to run you out of the school, took over as headmistress, started using veritaserum to question the students, and tried to cast crucio on me once during an interrogation? The woman is insane and dangerous and I cannot even fathom what reasoning you would have for not taking action to get her the hell out of this school. She shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children!”

 

“Perhaps, Harry, if you would be willing to lodge a formal complaint with the Board of Governors and testify in regards to her use of a Blood Quill on a minor, we might find some grounds on which to get her out –“

 

“You can't be serious!” Harry exclaimed. “You're Albus Bloody Dumbledore! Your head of the Wizengamot for Merlin's sake! You've been headmaster of this school for decades! Are you telling me that a single summer of slander and libel from one idiotic politician has stripped you of every bit of political pull you've acquired over the years? You need me to file a complaint in order to get her out? Do you honestly think me that naïve? Okay – you want me to stay at Hogwarts, I can totally accept that. You probably want to keep an eye on me because you're paranoid. I did just spend three measly weeks away and manage to slay Voldemort, not to mention not die from a killing curse – again. I'd be paranoid and suspicious of me too. But you don't need to spout rubbish like this to keep me around. Besides, my word would mean nothing against Umbridge. The Ministry and the Prophet have seen to that. No one would believe anything from the boy-who-lies-to-get-attention. There are loads of kids who've been getting the same sort of detention I was, so get them all in on a group petition of accusation or something. But leave me out of it.

 

Severus was now eyeing Harry with critical interest and was, in fact, almost intrigued by this Harry Potter. He was starting to consider the boy's ludicrous claims of being from the future as a legitimate possibility, simply on his increased vocabulary alone, which was certainly something he'd never known Harry Potter to exhibit. Merlin knew the boy's grammar was atrocious, and even worse in written form. Not to mention the fact that the boy had apparently developed a backbone and removed his rose-tinted spectacles, in regards to the great Albus Dumbledore.

 

Dumbledore sat, looking thoughtful for several long beats before folding his hand on the desk in front of him. “Alright. Then I will simply ask. Harry will you please consider staying at Hogwarts until the end of this year, at least?”

 

Harry shook his head and chuckled before heaving a sigh. “Oh, I suppose. It'll take me some time to sort things out and make some plans, anyways. But only if Umbridge is gone, very, very soon. If she's still here next term, I'm not.” Harry paused and looked over at the floating corpse and frowned. “So what do you intend to do with that? I'm fairly sure if you showed it to Fudge, he'd just insist it's a fake or something. If they did believe it's real, a simple examination will make it obvious the killing curse is the cause of death, and I have no desire to get sent off to Azkaban for use of an Unforgivable.”

 

“Are you saying, Potter, that you do not want credit for slaying the Dark Lord?” Severus said, with a disbelieving drawl.

 

Harry scoffed. “Are you kidding? Yeah, no thank you. I did the whole 'Boy-Who-Vanquished-the-Dark-Lord' bit and it got old instantly. If no one ever knows about this, I at least have the hope of slipping into celebrity obscurity after a few years of keeping my head down and out of the press.”

 

“You? Keep your head down?” Snape drawled sarcastically and in a disbelieving tone.

 

“Have you ever been hounded, twenty-four-seven by paparazzi? Had your house staked-out by a horde of camera-happy lunatics, desperate for the latest shot of you doing something even remotely interesting? Or not interesting at all. I had witch weekly run a reoccurring article that debated the merits of my weekly wardrobe choices. I want nothing to do with it! Tell them one of his Death Eaters turned on him and offed him. Tell them that you killed him,” he said to Dumbledore. “You're already known as Grindlewald's defeater, so why not add Voldemort to your resume.”

 

“Ah, but I'm afraid I would also rather not have a killing curse on my record,” Dumbledore commented lightly with a small grin.

 

“Right. Good point. Well then – say one of his Death Eaters turned on him. Or say you have no idea how he died at all – that Severus here just found him dead in the meeting room when he was summoned, or something. Er – assuming you're willing to come out and say you were acting as a spy again.”

 

“I was unaware that I ever gave you permission to refer to me by my first name,” Severus bit out in obvious irritation.

 

“Er... right. Sorry uh... Professor Snape. That's going to be odd... oh whatever.”

 

“Are you saying, Harry, that you and Professor Snape got on closer speaking terms in later years?” Dumbledore asked, his eyes twinkling now. Severus glared at him before turning his icy hard gaze on Harry.

 

Harry took one look at it and snickered. “Um... yes and no. I ended up speaking with his portrait a lot the last few years.”

 

“How did you get access to a magical portrait of me?” Several asked, looking mildly scandalized.

 

Harry paused looking thoughtful for a moment, as if he were debating whether or not to answer before he shrugged one shoulder. “I was made Headmaster of Hogwarts eight years ago when Minerva finally decided to retire. Before that I was the Defense professor for for about um... oh, it was twelve years, I suppose. Anyway, after I became headmaster, this became my office and as such, I had access to both of your portraits.”

 

You were the headmaster of Hogwarts?! And why would my portrait be here?” Severus asked, the slightest hint of bewilderment making it through his stoic sneering mask.

 

“After Albus here died, Voldemort didn't waste much time in his war efforts. By the end of the summer, he'd assassinated the Minister for magic and got his own guy in there to take his place. He had complete control of the Ministry and control of Hogwarts before the school term even started. He put you in place as the Headmaster of Hogwarts since he trusted you. After all, you'd killed Albus Dumbledore for him so you'd proved your loyalty. So in that regard, I guess your plan worked,” he said dipping his head to Dumbledore. “In any case, you were, technically, the headmaster of the school for that school year, and as a former Headmaster of Hogwarts, you deserved to have your portrait here with the rest. It took quite a lot of petitioning and stupid political bickering to get the Board of Governors to approve putting your portrait up here since loads of people believed you were just a traitor since details of your spying were often skimmed over in the reports after the war.”

 

“Are you saying that you fought to get my portrait included?” Severus said, incredulously.

 

“Yes, of course,” Harry said looking mildly offended. “Honestly, the people who ended up in power didn't want to admit the work or sacrifices you made in the war effort at all, and I know they were substantial – more than many, many others. By making a stink over your portrait, I at least got some news coverage and generated some public response to the issue. It was the least I could do. I never did manage to get them to issue a posthumous Order of Merlin,” he ended bitterly. “But at least I got them to retract Pettigrew's.”

 

“That's... an incredible tale,” Dumbledore said after a few moments of silence had settled between them. “Well, I suppose you did pose me a question earlier. What shall I do with... this...”

 

The three turned their gazes back to the corpse.

 

“Well?” Harry asked, looking at Dumbledore expectantly.

 

“I'm not sure,” Dumbledore said with a simple smile. “I must say, out of all the plans and contingencies that I have taken into consideration, this is not a likelihood I ever considered taking place. I must think on it. However, I can promise you that I will not reveal your involvement in the event, if that is truly what you desire.”

 

“I appreciate that,” Harry said with a nod.

 

“People will wonder, no doubt. It is quite publicly known that you have been missing for the last three weeks. It's been in the Daily Prophet quite a bit, as I'm sure you know. I can place his body in stasis so that it does not decay right away, but I can only do that for so long. The longer I do that, the more evidence there will be that his death is not necessarily an immediately recent occurrence. The closer together your reappearance is, to his reported death, the more likely it is that people might... connect the dots.”

 

Harry scowled. “Right. Since it's so logical to assume that a fifteen-year-old boy would be capable of defeating someone like bloody Voldemort,” he said sarcastically.

 

“But you did,” Dumbledore pointed out with a grin and a twinkle in his eye.

 

Harry snorted. “But I'm hardly really a fifteen-year-old. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that when I was really fifteen, I definitely couldn't have done it. It was mostly a matter of dumb luck that I managed it at seventeen.”

 

“So I assume it's safe to say that you would like me to wait to reveal Lord Voldemort's death?”

 

“I guess I should be seen in the school and reported back for several days before it gets out. Can you put him in a stasis that long without it being obvious that it was done?”

 

“I believe I can manage a few days without any evidence of a delay being obvious.”

 

“Good, thanks.” Harry sighed heavily and let his head fall back against the chair.

 

“Dolores will no doubt contest his return to the school. An unexcused and unexplained absence of this length can be terms for expulsion,” Severus pointed out.

 

Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before the corners of his mouth turned up. “There is an exception in the school rules that state unexcused absences of prolonged duration become excused if it's discovered a magical accident beyond the student's control was the cause of their absence.”

 

“You're going to claim you've been missing because of an accident? I'm assuming you have something specific in mind?” Severus asked.

 

“Yeah, actually I just had a student a year ago – er... well, in the future however many years, minus one, so... nevermind. Anyway, she was missing for most of the second term for her sixth year. When she finally managed to reappear it turned out she'd been trying to become an animagus in secret for a while. She managed the transformation without supervision, but got stuck that way and couldn't manage to turn back for months. She had to re-take a year because she'd simply missed too much to just make it up, but since she had no control over her absence, I couldn't expel her, even if I'd wanted to. The poor girl was a real mess though...”

 

“This is your plan? To claim that you transformed into an animal and got stuck? Are you even an animagus?” Severus scoffed.

 

“I was...” Harry said, frowning slightly in thought. “Haven't tried it yet since I came back in time though. I didn't actually manage my first transformation till I was twenty-one though. Of course, I hadn't exactly had a lot of time before then to study the magic involved... well, I suppose I'd may as well see if I can still do it.”

 

“Now?” Severus exclaimed.

 

“Why not? Although, if I can't manage it right off, I don't see that being a big problem. Loads of people have been recorded managing a partial or even whole transformation on an early attempt, but then taking months of practice to pull it off again. It should still fit with the story.”

 

Harry stood up, and gave a shove to the floating corpse, sending him floating a good five feet away from them. Severus grimaced at the reminder that it was still there, but refocused on Harry as he moved a foot away from his chair and closed his eyes.

 

He stayed like that for nearly a whole minute with nothing apparent happening, and Severus was about to make a sarcastic remark of some sort when the teen-who-wasn't-a-teen began to blur and shrink. Tufts of grayish-brown fur began to sprout from the sides of his jaw and his black hair started to lighten in color and shorten.

 

The transformation was a bit jerky and awkward, but considering this was the first time that Harry was doing it in his younger body, it was probably rather impressive. Not that Severus would actually admit to thinking such a thought.

 

A blink of an eye later, Harry Potter was gone, and in his place was some sort of feline. It was about twice the size of a large domestic cat with big heavy paws, and it had grayish-brown fur with black spots and a whitish belly. The sides of the cat's jaw and around the front of the neck were feathered with fluffy poofs of fur, and the tips of it's tall rounded ears had black tufts sticking up. It had a short, stub of a tail instead of the traditional long tail one associated with a cat, and black bars of spots along it's limbs.

 

“You're a cat,” Severus drawled, rolling his eyes. Minerva was going to love this. Just brilliant. Another cat animagus roaming around the castle.

 

The feline-Harry hissed at him, stuck his chin into the air and looked away as if he were imperiously dismissing him. He walked around in a circle then and seemed to be trying out his form as he lifted and moved each of his four paws, one after another. Finally he began to shift and shimmer again and grew in size as he transformed back.

 

“I am not a cat,” Harry said indignantly the moment he was back in human form. “I'll have you know I'm a lynx. There's a difference.”

 

Severus just rolled his eyes and looked away with an air of boredom.

 

Harry did the same, looking in the opposite direction. “Well, anyway,” Harry said, turning back to Dumbledore, “I managed it, and I think this works as a great cover story. People will ask where the heck I've been and I can just tell them I've been eating rabbits and foxes in the forbidden forest. Simple.”

 

“Won't people wonder why you didn't try to get someone's attention in the school in order to shift back?” Severus asked.

 

“Have you ever studied the animagus transformation?” Harry asked Severus flatly.

 

“It was not an area of study that interested me,” Severus bit out coldly.

 

“Afraid your students would be right and your form would turn out to be a bat?” Harry asked, grinning.

 

“Mind you cheek Potter!” Severus snapped back angrily.

 

“Honestly, I would think it would have helped tremendously with your spying, but whatever,” Harry said, shrugging. “Anyway, the first few times an animagus fully transforms, its surprisingly easy to lose yourself to the animal's instincts. It's one of the reasons that it's considered such a dangerous area of study and you're always supposed to do it with trained supervision. It's very easy to just stay that way, in animal form, and forget all about your human responsibilities and your human life.”

 

“Yes, that is true. Well then, it appears that we have our reasonable explanation for Harry's absence,” Dumbledore said, happily. “And it will provide valid grounds to fight any attempts Dolores makes at having Harry expelled.”

 

“You will be taking steps to get her removed, yes?” Harry asked, warningly.

 

“Yes, of course. Her treatment of the students is unforgivable, and the various reasons I had for not taking action before are now all but null so I no longer have to hesitate. And, once I can make moves in regards to Lord Voldemort's body, I feel that Cornelius will no longer have the same intense desire to fight me, as he has been these last months.”

 

“Well, I leave it to you then. I suppose I ought to be heading off to Gryffindor Tower... er... do you know the current password?”

 

“I believe it is presently 'Wattlebird'.” Dumbledore replied. “One last thing though, Harry.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Who else do you intend to inform of the true nature of your recent... changes?”

 

Harry frowned and looked thoughtful. “I don't know, really... I'll have to tell Sirius I think, but that can wait until the Christmas holidays when I see him in person. Part of me doesn't want to inform too many people because the more people who know, the greater the chances of it getting out, but I have no doubt that Ron and Hermione will notice I'm different. Once Hermione gets herself interested in a puzzle, she won't give up until she figures it out. If I try to hide this from her, it'll only drive her more to figure me out and that would get rather bothersome, so I might just have to tell them.”

 

“What of Professor McGonagall? She is your head of house and seeing as your cover-story involves you being an animagus, she will surly insist upon giving you lessons in that area now.”

 

Harry hummed in thought. “I think I'll stick with the cover-story for her unless events change and I feel it's necessary to tell her the truth.”

 

“That is your decision to make,” Dumbledore conceded with a nod of his head.

 

“Alright. 'night Professors,” Harry said with a yawn. He turned and headed towards the door, giving the two a parting wave as he stepped through and closed it behind him.

 

Severus' eyes remained trained on the closed door for several moments longer before he managed anything coherent. “I fear I may be in shock,” he muttered. “Did this evening truly just happen?”

 

Dumbledore chuckled. “If you are in shock, dear Severus... I believe I may be right there with you.”

 

Dumbledore looked over at the floating body of the now-deceased Dark Lord and let out a long, slow sigh of heavy relief. “I can hardly believe that it is truly over.”

 

“Do you think it's true? What he claims about somehow being from the future? Sent by Death?! And what the devil was all that nonsense the two of you were going on about with his ring and your wand?”

 

“Ah, Severus, that is a very complicated story.”

 

“Please, Albus, indulge me,” Severus sneered.

 

– –

 

“Wattlebird,” Harry spoke to the large portrait of the Fat Lady as he came to stand before it.

 

The large sleeping woman yawned and blinked a bit owlishly before beginning to swing her portrait aside and allow him entrance. Harry crawled through the circular entrance revealed behind it and entered the common room.

 

It was empty, which wasn't really a surprise, considering how late it was. He took a moment to just look around. It wasn't all that different, really. But that was probably going to cause him more trouble than it was going to help.

 

He still had serious misgivings about being back here in the role of a student. It probably wouldn't have been so odd if it weren't for the fact that Hogwarts had been his home for nearly two solid decades, anyway. He'd been made head of Gryffindor House when he came on to teach Defense at age 26. He'd given up his title as house head to his Defense position replacement when he took over as the new Headmaster upon Minerva's retirement, but he still occasionally visited Gryffindor tower, even after that. It was hardly an unfamiliar site, being back here.

 

But the familiarity was what would likely make this the most difficult. He'd developed habits over the years, of course, and being somewhere so familiar would make those habits hard to break. He knew that calling Minerva 'Professor McGonagall' again would feel really strange, but slipping up on that one would be one of those things he'd have to watch himself for.

 

He was wondering whether he could consider this a reprieve on his responsibilities, or if he was just forgetting how difficult classwork had been. He knew that when he was younger he had never really considered just how much work was involved in running a school and had never realized just how much stuff he would be doing on a day to day basis as Headmaster. So he was hardly intimidated by now being a student again and suddenly having to worry about homework and exams. In fact, perhaps this would provide him more time to work on some of his projects. He could refocus on some of his experiments – admittedly, it would be annoying starting nearly from scratch and not having any of his notes or any of his colleagues around to bounce ideas off of, but at least he wasn't going to have nearly so many other responsibilities to pull at his limited time.

 

Of course he would need to be careful – after all, it was one of these experiments that had ended up with him dying so... right. Caution was important.

 

Hopefully Umbridge wouldn't be too much of a pain in his neck and Albus would actually manage to get the harpy out of the school.

 

Finally deciding that he would just have to handle things as they came at him and decided to climb the stairs and find his bed.

 

– –

“HARRY!!”

“Hwuh?” Harry muttered blearily as he squeezed his eyes shut tighter against the sudden glare of bright light that was washing in across his pillow.

“Merlin's great saggy balls! We were afraid you were dead!” Ron bellowed as he pulled Harry's hangings back further, letting even more of that loathsome light into his bed and causing Harry to groan miserably before pulling his pillow up over his head to block out the light.

“Harry?! He's back?” came Neville's voice from somewhere else in the room.

“He's back?!” Dean called out.

“HEY! HARRY'S UP HERE!” Seamus called out, and it sounded like he was calling out the door.

“Oh for Circe's sake! You cannot be serious!” Harry groaned, although it was quite muffled by his pillow. “All of you, get the bloody hell away from my bed and Ron – pull back the hangings, I'm blinded. I'll get up when I'm damn well ready!”

“No way, mate! Where the heck have you been? We've been worried sick!”

“Did you say Harry's back?!” Hermione's voice suddenly called from somewhere beyond the entrance to the boy's room and Harry groaned. There was no way he was going to be getting any more sleep now. He heaved a disgruntled sigh and pushed himself up and out of his bed, glowering at Ron as he did so.

“Hey, don't give me that look! You owe us an explanation! You up and vanished for three weeks without a word and now you just appear back in your bed!” Ron exclaimed defensively.

Harry heaved a sigh and glanced over to see Hermione's head poking around the open doorway looking at him with an expression of shock that instantly morphed into absolute relief.

“Harry!!” she said as she shot past Seamus who called out 'Oy!' and muttered something about this being the boy's dorm, but she either didn't hear him, or ignored him. The next thing Harry knew he was being plowed into by an overly bushy mane of brown curls as Hermione wrapped him up in her arms. “Oh Harry, I was so worried! We thought you were taken by Him! Where have you been!?”

“Hermione... can't... breath,” Harry choked out and she finally released him, taking a step back and flushing slightly. He guessed it was either embarrassment over the overeager hug, or it was from her realizing that he wasn't wearing a shirt. Or both. Probably both.

“Well?!” Ron said impatiently.

“Well what?” Harry groused as he pulled open his small student wardrobe and dug around for a shirt, grimacing distinctly at every one of the ratty Dudley castoffs that filled it before settling on a gray t-shirt that was only slightly threadbare and pulling it over his head.

“Well, where the heck have you been?!” Ron and Hermione exclaimed at the same time. “What happened?” Hermione added.

Harry turned back and looked hesitantly at them before glancing around the room and seeing Neville, Dean, and Seamus also standing around watching him expectantly.

“Was it You-Know-Who?” Ron whispered, seriously.

“No,” Harry answered, figuring that he could at least say that much with those who were watching.

He was fairly sure that, no matter what, he would eventually be telling Ron and Hermione the truth, but he wondered if he should start with that, or give everyone the story about the animagus accident and then try to introduce the truth gradually... But then again, another part of him still wondered if he should tell Ron and Hermione the truth at all. No. No, he'd changed too much over the years and suddenly becoming an animagus wouldn't explain all that. He would have to tell them.

“Well, if it wasn't You-Know-Who, what was it?” Ron asked.

Harry grumbled and ran his hand through his messy hair and rubbed a hand over his face roughly before sighing and leaning in close with Ron and Hermione. “I'll need to tell you two the truth later, okay? Just... what I'm about to tell everyone else isn't the whole truth, but play along, okay?”

He leaned back and Ron and Hermione shared a look before looking back and Harry and giving him determined nods of acceptance.

“Okay, how about you all let me get dressed and head down to the common room so that I only have to go over it once, yeah?” Harry said and they all grudgingly allowed him to go to the bathroom and shower in peace.

Ten minutes later Harry rounded the staircase to look down into a crowded common room with all eyes expectantly trained on him. He sighed and finished making his way down the stairs and walked over to an open seat on a couch beside Ron.

“So what happened?! Where have you been?” Ginny asked sounding just as impatient as Ron had sounded ten minutes earlier.

Harry sighed. “I had an accident... a magical accident.”

“Is this to do with that fit you had in Transfiguration class?” Dean asked.

“Er – no. That was actually totally unrelated. The accident I had, actually happened after I'd snuck out of the Hospital Wing and went outside for a walk. Uhm...” he pulled in a slow breath, sounding a bit frustrated, and honestly feeling rather irritated with all the eyes trained on him. “Okay, so I've been secretly trying to become an animagus and it was a stupid mistake. There's a reason why there are rules in place stating that you need to be instructed and monitored by someone who knows what they're doing, and I'm a walking example of that.”

“Animagus?!” Someone exclaimed.

“Did you do it?” said someone else.

“Yes, I did,” Harry said loudly since quite a few voices were starting to speak up now, and his statement quieted them, except for a few quiet exclamations of 'wow!'. “The thing is that it's really easy for someone performing the transformation for the first time to sort of... lose themselves and forget that they're really human, and that's kind of what happened. I spent nearly two whole weeks just confused and disoriented and running off of animal instinct, and when I finally started to straighten my head out, I realized I had no idea how to turn back. I only just managed it last night. That's all there is to this. Nothing else. Are you all satisfied now?”

Lots of murmuring and excited whispers filled the air as people began to talk amongst each other.

“Show us!” a voice called out.

“Yeah! Can we see you transform?”

“Don't be ridiculous!” Hermione reprimanded. “The last time he transformed without supervision, he was stuck that way for three weeks!”

“Er, I actually transformed back and forth a hand full of times last night with Professor Dumbledore. I'm pretty confident I can manage it without any problems now,” Harry said, shrugging and grinning sheepishly to Hermione who gave him a reproving glare.

“Yeah! Let's see it, Potter!”

“What animal are you?”

“Yeah!”

“Harry, did Professor Dumbledore say if it was okay for you to transform without a teacher?” Hermione asked, pointedly.

“Er... He actually didn't say one way or the other,” Harry replied with a cheeky grin. “I'll be fine, Hermione. Besides, if I don't show them now, they'll be pestering me all day. And if anything goes wrong you lot are all here and you can just take me to Professor McGonagall and get me sorted out. Yeah?”

Hermione let out a frustrated sigh but waved her hand as if saying 'well, get on with it.'

Harry stood up and those standing around all moved back to give him some space. A few more called out, asking what he was, but he decided that he'd just show them.

He closed his eyes and a second later he had shifted, twisted, and shrunk down into his feline form.

“Whoa!”

“Wow!”

“He can really do it!”

“Blimey mate!” Ron exclaimed. “You've really become an animagus!”

Harry made a few circles in his form, pawing his way around the thick rug on the floor before jumping up on the sofa beside Ron, who made a small yelp of surprise and jumped slightly. Harry would have laughed, but the sound came out weirdly so he stopped. He settled himself seated on the couch as a lynx and smoothly transformed back into human, still sitting there, looking perfectly relaxed.

“Wow!” someone called out again.

“So you're some kind of mountain lion?”

“He's not a mountain lion, moron.”

“I'm a lynx,” Harry answered.

There was more excited talking amongst the Gryffindors and Harry turned to look at Ron and Hermione, who were both looking at him with semi-hurt and bewildered expressions.

“Um..,” Harry said, not entirely sure what to say.

“Why didn't you tell us you were trying to become an animagus, Harry?” Hermione asked, frowning.

Harry heaved a heavy breath and looked around. People were still looking at him, but they were mostly just talking amongst themselves now.

“Like I said, there is a lot more to this than what I just told everyone else,” he whispered, leaning over. “It's Saturday, right?”

“Yeah,” Ron replied, looking at Harry like he was a bit mental for not knowing.

“Okay, good. Let's head to the Room of Requirement, so we can talk in private,” Harry said as he stood up. His two childhood friends were quick to follow him and the trio vacated the common room without too much interference and were standing in front of the blank wall opposite the tapestry of Barnaby the Barmy two minutes later.

Harry walked back and forth in front of the stretch of wall three times before the door appeared and quickly ushered his old friends inside. The room that greeted them was a comfortable sitting room with three squashy armchairs around a small circular coffee table, and tall arched windows all around the top of a domed ceiling. It was actually reminiscent of the Ravenclaw common room, but he doubted that either of his friends knew that.

All three sat down and Harry picked at the hem of his tattered t-shirt for a moment, wondering how to start.

Finally he just shrugged to himself and looked up at his two expectant and anxious friends.

“Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it. This is going to be really hard to believe, but I swear I'm not lying. Alright... I traveled back in time. That fit I had in Transfiguration was from when I, from the future, with my future memories and magic came back in time and entered my younger-self's body. The two of us had to merge a bit because I had my consciousness, my magic, and my memories; he still had his soul, mind, and magic as well, of course.

“Now our memories were compatible because his were identical to mine, up to a point, so that merger really just meant my old memories from when I was sixteen were clarified and strengthened from the faded things I had at my older age. The merger of our magic had some really unexpected side-effects. I'm still trying to get used to it and figure out exactly how powerful I am now, but... well, it's a bit mind boggling, honestly. Uhm... merging our souls was basically just an instant combination. A soul can't really be duplicated or doubled, it just is. But our conscious minds... well, mine won out. I think that a person's personality is really just the result of our life's experiences, and all of my experiences from my future life came with me, so... I'm not exactly the same Harry that you two knew three weeks ago. I'm still Harry, but I'm a much older Harry than you remember, but crammed inside my younger-self's body.”

Harry paused and took a breath. His two friends were gaping at him in stunned shock.

“Mate... are you kidding?” Ron asked in a shaky voice.

Harry gave him a sad smile and shook his head. “No. I'm not. It's really really complicated. But I sort of accidentally became immortal when I was seventeen. It saved me from Voldemort in the final battle where I finally managed to kill him, and after that I had just sort of assumed that the um... immortality thing was gone, but it apparently wasn't. I died again in an accident just well... three weeks ago, from my point of view. I was forty-six at the time, but because of this thing that happened when I was seventeen just before the battle with Voldemort, I couldn't quite die. Death came to me and gave me a set of options for what I could do from that point, and one of them gave me the opportunity to come back in time to this point and... well, change things. So that's what I picked.”

“Change what sorts of things?” Hermione asked. Her brow was furrowed, but she at least wasn't instantly arguing that he was delusional and he took that as a good sign.

“The war,” Harry said simply. “Too many people died before. Now that won't happen.”

“How can you be sure about that, though? I mean... if... if this is all for real and you really are from the future, then you've taken a huge risk! Tampering with time is incredibly dangerous, Harry! You have no idea what sorts of repercussions your changes could have! For all you know, you could change things and it could all end up worse!”

“Well, it's already pretty improved. I mean, the first time around, I didn't kill Voldemort for another three years, basically, and the Ministry and Hogwarts had been taken over by Death Eaters, and the muggleborns were being hunted down and 'disappearing'. And Sirius, Dumbledore, Moody, Remus, Tonks and... and Fred... they all died in the war before I finally managed to end things.”

“But that could still happen, Harry!”

“Er... I rather doubt that,” Harry said, smirking, now.

“How can you be so sure?!” she asked, indignantly.

“Because I killed Voldemort last night.”

Whatever Hermione might have been about to say, clearly died in her throat and she gaped at him. Ron made a choking sort of sound.

“Say what?” Hermione squeaked.

“That's where I've been these last three weeks. As soon as I woke up in the hospital wing, after you know... coming back in time and getting my scrambled brain sort of sorted out, I headed out and started working on what needed to be done to strip him of his safe-guards. He had these things that he created to make himself immortal and until they were destroyed, I could kill his body a hundred times and he could always come back. So I had to get rid of them first. So... I did. Yesterday morning, I got the last one, and last night I broke into his manor, took out the few measly servants he had standing around, and then he and I faced off in his meeting hall. Snape was there, actually. I hadn't expected an audience, but I was glad it was him instead of anyone else. He just stood there and watched, it was rather amusing, honestly,” Harry paused and snickered. “It also helped to have a witness, plus Snape knew a faster way to get back to Dumbledore than I was planning, so I had less distance to traverse while hauling around Voldemort's corpse. I left it with Dumbledore last night.”

“You... Vo-v-v... C-corpse?” Ron stuttered.

“You-Know-Who's dead?” Hermione whispered in shock.

“Yeah,” Harry said grinning smugly. “Bloody bastard never knew what hit him. It was rather cathartic, really. A hell of a lot more fulfilling this time than the first time I did it. Mostly then I was just desperate and terrified. I mean, I knew what I was doing this time and was pretty damn sure it was going to work, so that really helped with the whole confidence thing.”

“Wait, if You-Know-Who is really dead, how come we aren't telling everyone?!” Ron exclaimed, standing up suddenly.

“Er.. well, I don't want credit for it,” Harry said, hesitantly, grimacing slightly. “I mean, who would believe it anyway? I mean, most people don't even believe that he's really back at this point.”

“But if you've got his er... his body,” Ron grimaced and looked a bit sick, “then we can prove to everyone that it was real! That you and Dumbledore weren't lying!”

“Well, I think that Dumbledore is going to reveal the body, but he promised me he'd wait a few days. He's putting the body into stasis so that when it's revealed, it'll appear that he only just died that day, and by that point, people will have seen me back at school for several days and I'll have an alibi. That's also what this whole animagus accident story is about.”

“That's crazy! Why wouldn't you want people to know you did him in?!” Ron yelled.

“Er, maybe because I don't want the publicity?” Harry asked, sarcastically. “It was a nightmare before and I'm not even vaguely interested in a repeat of that. But there's also the fact that I used the killing curse, and Fudge has me paranoid enough to know it's best if no one accuses me of using a spell that can land me with a one way ticket to Azkaban or something.”

“You cast the killing curse,” Ron whispered with a mixture of awe and horror.

“Yeah... I really wasn't willing to risk it by using something less effective. I wanted him dead for sure, and well... that's what that curse does,” Harry said with a slight apologetic grimace.

Ron's legs appeared a bit shaky and he sank back down into the chair he had stood up from a moment later and seemed to nod and mutter slightly under his breath.

“So you're an animagus,” Hermione said, in a forcefully light tone, drawing attention away from the previous subject.

Harry gave her a soft, appreciative grin and nodded. “Yeah. Originally I managed the transformation when I was twenty-one. Last night when I was talking with Dumbledore and Snape and I was trying to come up with some excuses for why I had been missing that could keep me safe from the chance of expulsion, the idea of a magical accident involving a transformation into my animagus form came to mind. I practiced the transformation to make sure I could really still do it, and since I could, we decided to go with that for the public story.

“It's really the simplest explanation, and it's very plausible. Plus, since it's a 'magical accident beyond my control', Umbridge can't have me expelled for my unauthorized absence. It also helps because if anyone asks what I was doing these last three weeks, I can just tell them I was roaming around the Forbidden Forest hunting rabbits and sleeping in trees,” Harry chuckled.

The trio remained silent after that for several long moments and Harry didn't offer up anything, opting instead to let his old childhood friends mull over the information he's presented so far.

“This is a lot to take in, Harry,” Hermione said eventually with a heavy breath. “It's just all so sudden. I don't think I can even really get it to sink in. You-Know-Who – dead? Really?

“Yes. He's dead,” Harry said with a firm nod.

“So... so there's not going to be a war?”

“Nope. There really shouldn't be. In my original timeline, he broke a bunch of Death Eaters out of Azkaban in mid-January, but I made sure that I came back before that happened so I'd have less to deal with. Oh! And I caught Pettigrew and sent him to the DMLE along with a ton of Death Eater documentation and stuff I came across. Only time will tell if it does any good, but who knows? Maybe I'll actually get Sirius' name cleared.”

“He never got cleared in your um... future timeline?” Hermione asked, unsure of her words.

Harry shook his head sadly. “He died at the end of fifth year. Killed in a battle against a bunch of Death Eaters. There's this prophecy that was made before I was even born and it's kept at the Ministry in the Department of Mysteries and the Death Eaters went there to steal it. I went there with you lot and some of the DA to stop them, and Sirius and the Order came to save our sorry arses,” he snickered before sighing sadly.

“Prophecy?” Hermione said, sounding rather skeptical and Harry chuckled at the memory of her disapproval of divination as a whole.

“Yeah, it's why Voldemort was after me like... my whole life. A prophecy was made stating that I'd be the one with the power to vanquish him, and that it was either him or me. Last night I fulfilled it.”

“Whoa,” Ron whispered hoarsely, still looking dazed and shocked.

“So... how old did you say you were when you were sent back?” Hermione asked.

“Forty-six.”

“Forty-six?!” Ron squeaked.

“So, mentally, you're still forty-six years old?” Hermione asked.

Harry let out a slightly exasperated sigh and nodded. “Yeah, I'm not even sure how I let Dumbledore talk me into sticking around as a student. It's going to drive me a bit barmy, really.”

“You can't leave!” Hermione exclaimed.

“What do you mean, mate! Are you kidding? Where else would you go?” Ron asked.

“Guys, it's been like... thirty years for me since I was a student at Hogwarts. The only reason I'm sticking around at all is because if I don't get my OWLs, I won't be considered qualified to wield a wand. After that, I'm going to try to petition to take my NEWTs early through the Ministry so I don't have to go through and repeat two more years.”

“But... but Harry...” Hermione started, looking lost. Ron just looked stunned.

“Hermione,” Harry said gently, leaning forward and locking gazes with her. “Do you want to know what I was doing – professionally, I mean – before I died and came back?”

“What?” she asked quietly.

Harry grinned. “I was headmaster of Hogwarts. I started teaching the DADA post when I was twenty-six and did that for twelve years before Minerva finally decided to retire and asked me to take over as the Headmaster. I've been doing that for years now, so... well, the idea of being a student here again is just... mind boggling, honestly. I've been a teacher here, and I've run the school for years, but to go and start pretending I'm only fifteen again? I'm not even convinced I can manage it.”

Hermione's eyes were wide and her jaw had dropped with awe. Ron just looked stunned. Suddenly, Hermione's jaw snapped shut and she suddenly looked conflicted and began gnawing on her bottom lip.

“You want to ask me what you were doing, but you're also worried about the implications on the timeline, aren't you?” Harry said with a knowing smirk. Her eyes snapped up and met his for a moment before she sighed and nodded.

“Yes,” she groaned. “I'm just... Oh! I want to know!”

Harry chuckled. “I can give you a vague overview without really risking ruining things, I think. Besides, it's not like my being here is reliant on a causality loop that I have to maintain. There's no risk of a paradox because of how I was sent back. I guess you could say I'm here because of a loop hole,” Harry chuckled. “Anyway, um you went into the Ministry for a while after you graduated, trying to work towards equal rights among magical creatures and such, but after a while you got so damned frustrated with all the red tape and ridiculous politics, you quit and went into the private sector focused mostly on research and spell-creation. You still chaired several committees, fighting for the increased rights of werewolves, veela, centaurs, and house elves, among other things.”

“What about me?” Ron asked suddenly.

“You and I became Aurors right after the war and did that for a number of years. We all pretty much bailed ship on the Ministry around the same time. When Hermione gave up on it and went into the private sector, I quite and ended up coming to Hogwarts to teach, and you left and became partners with George and helped him run the joke shop.”

“An Auror?” Ron said with awe in his voice and a huge prideful smile. Then it shifted to confused concern. “Wait, why would I be helping just George with a joke shop? What about...”

“Fred died in the war. I mentioned that... but I guess I said a lot. Sort of information overload before.”

“Fred... died,” Ron whispered, looking horrified.

“But he isn't dead now,” Harry said quickly and firmly. “And he won't be dying either. No Voldemort, no war, no huge battle, no deaths.”

Ron looked a bit relieved and nodded his head, muttering under his breath, no war, no battle, no deaths.

“But it's not like any of that is set in stone. You guys can go on to do anything, really. Who knows what I'm going to end up doing, this time. I suppose I could come back and teach again, but chances are I'll have to wait a number of years before that's an option,” Harry said.

“Harry... before... you said that... that Dumbledore died?” Hermione said, disbelievingly.

“Yeah, it was at the end of our sixth year. Death Eaters stormed the castle. I'd really rather not get into it. None of the details matter anymore. It's all irrelevant now.”

“Yes, I suppose you're right,” Hermione admitted reluctantly, but she obviously wished she could ask more.

Another pause of silence filled the space between them and Harry let out a low sigh after a bit. “Well, I've got to admit I'm really surprised with how well you're both taking this,” Harry said with a chuckle.”

“Honestly Harry, I think a big part of me is still in denial and is vaguely convinced I'll wake up and this will all be a dream,” Hermione said.

“So you said you died, but you were immortal?” Ron asked, looking confused.

“Right, right,” Harry said. “Well, technically what happened was that I became Master of Death.” Harry went on to explain to them what the three Deathly Hallows were – the fairytale that was based up on them, what they really were, and what it meant to be Master of them. Admittedly, he skimmed over a fair bit, but covered enough for the whole thing to make sense.

“So Death didn't want you to be his master anymore, and that's why he gave you the option to go back in time?” Hermione asked after listening quietly for a while.

“Yup, basically. He had to bring me back from the dead, he had no choice in that, but he didn't want to be stuck in that position forever. He wanted to strip me of my title as his Master. He gave me several options that he thought might entice my interest, as alternatives to just coming back to life at the moment I died. I was... not happy... and he knew it. He took advantage of that fact, hoping to free himself from me. Coming back to this point in time was one of the options and I figured it was too good an opportunity to pass it up, just as he had hoped. I mean... well, like I mentioned earlier – we all became disillusioned and fed up with the Ministry. It's a mess now, but it was an utter ruin after the war, and it just kept getting worse and worse. It was nothing but radicals who refused to compromise on anything, so nothing was ever accomplished. And that was just one thing among a mountain of problems that sprouted up as a result of the war. I figured, if I could prevent it from ever even starting, it was worth having to re-do more than thirty years of my life.”

“This is just so much to take in,” Hermione said, shaking her head and looking down into lap, clearly overwhelmed. “I mean... you're not really even our Harry anymore, are you?”

Harry gave her a sad look and shook his head. “No... not really. And I truly am sorry for that... sorry for basically taking away your friend and replacing him with a jaded old man. I'm already really torn on how to approach the two of you. I... well, I miss your older counter-parts rather sharply as well. You're still Ron and Hermione, but you're not the same ones I left behind. Hell, they don't exist anymore. That future is gone. Only time will tell how things go now...”

Harry heaved a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair looking thoughtful. “It wasn't all bad, of course; my old timeline. Politics and bureaucracy were a miserable headache, and I think my old 'saving people thing' drove a lot of my stress in that regard. I wanted... I wanted to fix things, but I couldn't. No matter who I was, I was still just one person, and I couldn't fix everything that was wrong. So I closed myself away in Hogwarts and tried to pretend the insanity outside the castle walls wasn't happening, but I couldn't. It would eat at me, constantly, and it was that, that Death took advantage of. But I can hardly put him at fault, and I am grateful for the opportunity this has given me. Still – I will miss my old past. There were good things too. There was family, and my students, and my friends... There were... there were good things in my life too, but now it's all gone. Wiped clean.” Harry sighed again and looked towards the wall of the room that featured a large fireplace and just stared at the flames.

“I think... I think that my largest regret or... fear in regards to this whole thing is the worry that my actions will prevent some of the good things from happening too. I mean... hell, without the war, I have to wonder if Teddy will ever even exist at all...”

“Teddy?” Hermione asked, gently.

Harry smiled sadly, still focused on the flickering flames in the fireplace. “My first godson. Teddy Lupin.”

“Lupin?” Hermione exclaimed, smiling with happy surprise. “Professor Lupin had a son?”

Harry's soft smile faded slightly and he nodded. “Remus married Tonks, if you can believe it,” he chuckled weakly. “You met her over the summer at Grimmauld Place, right? Right... Anyway, we got closer over the following years, but they both died in the final battle. They'd made me Teddy's godfather, and I helped look after him a bit, but mostly he stayed with his grandmother – Tonk's mum, Andromeda. After I gave up being an Auror and started working at Hogwarts, I started taking Teddy in every summer and he and I would go on holidays all over the world. It was brilliant.” Harry smiled with the memory before it slipped into sadness again and he sighed. “Teddy didn't show any signs of having inherited Remus' Lycanthropy when he was a kid, so we all thought he was... safe. Around the time of puberty though...” he trailed off and grimaced. “He stayed with me more consistently after that. Me being an animagus helped, and I pretty much mastered brewing the Wolfsbane potion.

“But I'm pretty sure the only reason Tonks and Remus got as close as they did was because they worked together in the Order on a few assignments. Now, without Voldemort or the war, I wonder if they'll ever even end up together. Remus fought their relationship tooth and nail in the early days – he kept insisting he wasn't good enough for her and that he was too old. It was probably the looming threat of death and war that finally drew them together. Will that happen without the war? I don't know.”

“Well... at least they won't have to die now, yeah?” Ron offered up hesitantly.

Harry smiled softly and nodded his head. He turned back and looked at his two friends for a long silent moment. “Merlin, you're both so young. You know, it still hasn't all set in for me either. I'm still adjusting to all this too.”

“I can't even imagine,” Hermione said quietly. “So... Harry, you mentioned family; you also said that Teddy was your first godson, so I assume there were more? Did you ever... um... well, marry anyone?”

Harry laughed lightly and shook his head. “Oh no. Not me. The eternal bachelor, you always called me. You were always pestering me to date but...” Harry shrugged. “No, I never married. Never really even had any long relationships either; just a few failed flings, I suppose. And yes, as you noted, Teddy was my first godson. Rose was my goddaughter and Hugo was my second godson. I also took on temporary guardianship of a few students with especially troubled home situations.”

“Rose?” Ron whispered. Harry looked up and their eyes met. “Was that my daughter? I always thought that if... well, if I had a daughter someday, I'd like to name her Rose.”

Harry gave his young friend a lop-sided grin and nodded. “Yeah. I don't want to say too much. I... well, who knows, but I don't want to say something and screw it all up. The timing probably wouldn't be the right anyway and even if you do have a daughter someday and name her Rose, it probably won't be the same Rose I knew... eh, I'm just talking myself in circles here.”

“Who was my...” Ron started to say, but then he frowned and paused for a moment as if debating his words.

“I shouldn't say,” Harry said, not giving him a chance to ask, although Harry's eyes did momentarily flicker over to Hermione before looking away. Her eyes widened minutely before looking over at Ron, then back at Harry.

“Well,” Hermione said, drawing the attention of the other two, “it's sort of nice to know that we were all still close, even thirty years from now.”

Harry smiled. “Yeah. I'll admit, we didn't see each other as often as I would have liked... we were all busy with things, of course, but we always saw each other at holidays and such. And over the last year I'd been working on this cure for Lycathropy with this woman named Seraph Melkin, who was the apprentice to my Potions Master at Hogwarts. I saw you, Hermione, a bit more often, because you were sort of acting as a go-between with us and the larger werewolf clans in Britain. You got a few willing test subjects for us since you already had a lot of contacts with them after all your years of working for equal rights and such.”

“A cure for lycanthropy?!” Hermione gasped. “Oh, Harry! That's incredible Do you think –“

“Yeah, I'm actually going to be working on it as soon as I can get some freetime,” Harry said, nodding. “The problem is that I'll be starting from scratch, and without any of my notes or the materials that I'd collected, so it's going to take me ages to sort through my memories and get it all organized and down on paper. Not to mention trying to acquire a few key ingredients that were a right pain in the arse to get a hold of in my original timeline. Honestly, that was one of the reasons I was hesitant to come back to Hogwarts as a student. I could really use this time to get cracking on some of my work, but... well, I suppose finishing out this year is probably important. I need to get my OWLs down on record no matter what so...” Harry shrugged. “At least I know I'll get better marks on them than I did the first time around,” Harry snickered.

“Man, this is blowing my mind,” Ron said. “I've got a headache, and I'm hungry. We missed breakfast....” he groaned.

“Ronald Weasley! This was more important than breakfast!” Hermione scolded and Harry laughed.

“We can probably slip down to the kitchens and get brunch,” Harry said.

“I second that motion!” Ron said excitedly, causing Hermione to roll her eyes.

– 

Harry had to recount his cover-story about the animagus accident a few more times over the weekend, and was almost constantly hounded by people who were excited about his sudden reappearance and wanted to hear all the details about his absence. The members of the DA were all rather persistently curious if he was going to take-up teaching the lessons again. They'd missed three weeks in a row, but seemed eager to have another meeting as soon as possible. Harry had almost forgotten about that entirely and had actually been taken by surprise the first time it was asked, but quickly recovered and just told anyone who asked that he'd be getting in contact with the charmed galleons whenever any plans were set. He had a lot of classwork to catch up on, after all, and needed to focus on that first.

McGonagall cornered him on Saturday afternoon and after a lengthy session of being questioned and scolded for recklessness, she then assigned him to weekly lessons in animagus training and informed him that he wasn't permitted to transform without supervision from herself until she was satisfied that he wasn't going to get stuck again. She also said that she would have the proper paperwork so that he could register with the Ministry and that they'd best do it as soon as possible to avoid a fine or other legal recourse from the Ministry.

McGonagall also informed him that she and the Headmaster had already had a discussion with Umbridge in regards to him – Umbridge had, as expected, wanted him punished and/or expelled for his absence, but they'd managed to point out that with the current rules, that wasn't possible, since it was an accident beyond the student's control. Umbridge then insisted that Harry be punished for experimenting with magic beyond his level without supervision, and McGonagall insisted that she, as his head of house, would deal with his punishment and give him weekly 'detentions' for it – the detentions were, in fact, his new animagus lessons. Unnecessary lessons, but McGonagall didn't know that and Harry couldn't exactly tell her that.

Harry was grateful that McGonagall and Dumbledore had dealt with the toad without him having to be there. He rather doubted he could restrain himself from hexing her at the moment.

Monday morning, Harry dragged himself to the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione, dreading the day. His day would start with History of Magic with Binns, followed by Potions, then Divination, and then Defense with Umbridge. An all-around awful day.

Only ten minutes into his History class, Harry had decided that he would be scheduling a meeting with Dumbledore as soon as possible to insist the man hire an actual living history professor. This was just ridiculous. Hell, even Minerva hadn't put up with the dead man's miserable teaching and had hired a living teacher for the year Hogwarts was finally opened back up and classes started again.

Harry really hadn't known what to expect from potions, but wasn't really surprised when Snape started bombarding him one rather high-level question after another mere minutes after starting the lecture portion of the class. Harry hadn't known every answer exactly, since it had been a damn long time since he'd read his old fifth or sixth year potions texts, but he'd gotten most of them right simply from memory of having actually brewed the various potions, or having repeatedly handled the ingredients Snape questioned him about.

One question he answered actually seemed to throw Snape for a loop and it took Harry a moment to realize he'd mentioned, in some detail, an attribute and use for Tessaricarpa Begonia that hadn't actually been discovered yet. He back pedaled and tried to cover it up a bit, but the effort seemed pointless. Snape clearly comprehended the full meaning of what he'd said and appeared both shocked and intrigued, but no one else in the class, save, perhaps Hermione, seemed to realize Harry had said anything that no student should be able to know. That didn't mean that the other students weren't looking at him funny. The fact that he was able to answer any of Snape's questions accurately was a rare anomaly in behavior for Harry Potter. The fact that Harry was keeping up and answering a lot of questions was shocking.

Harry had been conflicted when he first started answering the questions. On one hand, he felt like he should be trying to maintain his old behaviors and pretend to not know the answers, but his pride, and the knowledge that Snape was testing his claim at being from the future, egged him on.

It seemed after that one shock with the Begonia properties, Snape pulled back and finally started assigning some more practical class work for them to start work on. They were working on a bruise-healing paste that day that Harry had practically memorized, so it didn't give him any trouble at all. Near the end of class when Snape had come over and examined the final product from Harry's efforts, he had simply sneered and walked away without making any comment.

After lunch, Harry had grudgingly dragged himself up to Divination and was only sitting in the class for a handful of minutes before he was desperately trying to recall when during the year Trelawney had been sacked by Umbridge, and wondering if there was any chance of having Firenze come in to take over half her classes, even if Dumbledore managed to get rid of Umbridge before she got rid of Trelawney.

He'd never developed much of an appreciation for Divination, even as he matured and opened his mind a bit. Even in his future, where he ran the school and had finally gotten a teacher who wasn't a fraud, the subject was still considered a 'soft choice'. It was the 'easy O', in contrast to one of the more difficult subjects like Arithmancy or Ancient Runes.

He ended up spending most of Divination working on a list he'd started in History class, detailing some things he needed to get, or things he needed to do as soon as he could manage. Mostly it looked like a shopping and a to-do list of chores. Get new clothes, blank journals, books, speak to McGonagall about dropping Divination, Speak to Dumbledore about Binns, write a letter to Snuffles, Write George Mueller about rocks ASAP, Contact Gringotts, etc.

It was the class that followed that he dreaded the most. And with good cause. Umbridge made the entire hour and a half block miserable for the whole class, but most especially for him. Yet he remained stoic and blank-faced through the whole thing. He ignored every sickly-sweet underhanded jab, and verbal slap with bored indifference and didn't react to any of her baited remarks. She tried to antagonize him numerous times, and it was obvious she was trying to get him into a detention with her, but he knew better and had years of experience dealing with the nastier side of human nature. He had dealt with nastier Ministry workers than the toad; although she was definitely among the worst.

When the bells finally rang, signaling the end of class, Harry breathed a sigh of relief and escaped with Ron and Hermione to the Gryffindor Common Room.

Things progressed in much the same fashion for several more days. It was odd being with these younger versions of Ron and Hermione, but he felt he was managing well enough. He compared it to spending time with Rose and Hugo, actually. He almost felt like he was babysitting his niece and nephew, while playing the cool uncle, rather than when he had been their Headmaster during the school year. Of course, both kids had left Hogwarts a few years prior to when he was sent back here. Rose was twenty and Hugo was eighteen... or... they had been. Now they were... gone. Now they never were.

That was another thing he just tried not to think about. There were a lot of things he was trying not to think about. He tried to spend time in the common room and play chess and exploding snap and even some gobstones, but he felt awkward and out of place. When Angelina Johnson came to him to explain that they had a Quidditch practice Thursday night and she expected him there, he'd stared at her in surprise for a moment before he snapped himself out of it and said he'd be there.

He'd completely forgotten about that! Which was sort of stupid, really. He should have remembered that he was still on the Quidditch team. He had missed the first quidditch game of the season, since it had taken place while he was hunting down the horcruxes, and that had been when he and the twins had originally been banned by Umbridge. Apparently his absence had been enough to change the events completely because Fred and George hadn't been banned either. Ginny had apparently taken over during his absence and played Seeker and Angelina said she was going to have Ginny come to the practices too to train as a backup for chaser and seeker positions. Apparently she was rather bitter at how stressful it had been to suddenly be short a seeker only days before the match against Slytherin.

A match that they had apparently lost. Angelina wasted no time in guilting Harry with that bit of information.

Harry had been pointedly avoiding Ginny up to that point, but it wasn't really that difficult to do since he hadn't really interacted with her much in 5th year outside of the DA. And Harry was avoiding dealing with the questions regarding any further meetings until the news came out about Voldemort. He'd wait to see if Umbridge vanished from the school right away after that, or if she was going to try to keep her claws in the school longer. If she remained on as the defense teacher, he'd continue the DA, just for the sake of making sure the students didn't flunk Defense – especially those with OWLs and NEWTs coming this year.

While he had been busy purposely avoiding Ginny, he'd completely forgotten to avoid Cho, who managed to corner him one day in a corridor before dinner and awkwardly ask him about the DA, and then about the next Hogsmeade trip. It had taken him a moment to remember that the two of them had sort of awkwardly almost-flirted for the majority of his first term in fifth year. Any attempt at a relationship had failed utterly for numerous, very valid reason. Cho had felt guilty about Cedric's death, and Harry had been an awkward, confused, idiot with too much on his plate. Well, that and the other, more significant reason it could never have work, but he'd been sort of ignorant, or at least in firm denial, of that reason when he was actually fifteen.

By the time it was Friday, Harry felt utterly exhausted, and he wasn't even sure why. His work load was hardly all that hard by his own standards – although he had a rather hefty pile of make-up work. Ron didn't seem to agree with Harry's insistent that while the pile was mildly daunting, it was hardly the worst he'd ever had to tackle. Ron couldn't stop complaining about the homework load, and he didn't even have make-up work that Harry did. Hermione just scolded Ron for always putting everything off so much, and refused to help him with any of his essays.

This was around the point that Ron seemed to wake up and suddenly realize that Harry had been a professor for twelve years and started trying to get help from him. Harry had laughed, but actually went ahead and tried tutoring Ron on the subject. It was clear that the ginger wanted Harry to just let him copy off of him, but Harry wasn't about to let that fly and Ron quickly realized that.

Saturday morning was when the news of Voldemort's demise broke in the morning Prophet. It was a huge front-page spread that, shockingly enough, included photos of Voldemort's corpse surrounded and being examined by Ministry wizards. It had details on Peter Pettigrew's capture and questioning under Veritaserum which confirmed Harry's report from his abduction at the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament and Voldemort's return ritual. They'd also captured several of the Death Eaters that Harry had left at Voldemort's manor house bound and stunned. He actually flushed at the realization that he'd completely forgotten about them. Apparently Dumbledore went back for them or something.

The Death Eaters had no idea how Voldemort had been done in, nor did they know how they'd come to be unconscious, so it was reported that they were likely obliviated. The running theory that the paper was pushing was that Voldemort had been done in by one of his own followers who wasn't quite so pleased that their old master was back and once again demanding their subservience.

There was a call for any information regarding the identity of the person who actually killed 'You-Know-Who', and the paper was actually offering a reward for any information. The statement from the Minister was that the individual would be granted amnesty for any other crimes if it could be proven that they were, in fact, the one to do away with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry didn't give a damn, he was just thrilled that his name wasn't being tied to it at all.

He was mentioned though. Mostly in regards to the Ministry and the Paper attempting to pretend that they'd never accused Harry of being a deceitful, attention-seeking liar, and instead praising Harry's heroics and bravery for surviving and escaping the Dark Lord's clutches after having been abducted at the end of the previous school year.

Fudge was also scrambling to save face, and made several statements in regards to praising Harry and Dumbledore in their efforts to raise awareness and other such pandering rubbish. Harry was too disgusted to finish reading it. When he looked up at the head table, he felt a wide grin spread across his lips as he noted that Umbridge was missing.

The hall was generally a mass of chaos that morning. Heck, the whole school was in chaos all weekend. Loads of people came up to Harry either to claim they'd believed him all along, or to apologize for not having believed him before. Once Harry was sick of trying to dodge all of the students, he slipped out through the secret passage between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade that led into the basement of Honeydukes. Once in the wizarding village Harry cast a glamour over his face and spent the day shopping in blissful anonymity.

It seemed that Gryffindor house – and most likely the majority of the school's population – intended to party the whole weekend through. Harry found the common room a bit too rowdy for his tastes. He certainly couldn't blame them for holding a bit of a celebration, seeing as how they'd all just learned that Voldemort was well and truly dead, but the reality was that most of them hadn't believed the bastard was back in the first place. Just the same, Harry was well and done with the issue and wanted to just put it behind him.

He now had some of the books he needed, as well as several journals so he could keep track of his various research projects in a more orderly fashion. He ended up hiding out in the Room of Requirement in order to compose a number of important letters, in relative peace

Out of all of the things he needed to get done, the one he expected to be the most convoluted and time-consuming was getting in contact with an American Scientist named George Mueller, so he set to work on that first.

It was convoluted, mostly because the man was a muggle. He was also a muggle who probably didn't know about the magical world... well, yet. He had known about it in Harry's time, but that was because of a grandson who turned out to be a wizard, but Harry wasn't clear enough on the dates to know if that grandson was old enough yet to have been contacted by the magical governing body in America.

The first thing that Harry needed to do, unfortunately, was enlist the aid of a solicitor who was familiar enough with both the magical and muggle worlds to be able to get Harry's letters and things sent to a muggle in the America's, not to mention deal with the delicacies of revealing sensitive information to a muggle in a foreign land.

Again, Harry knew of a firm that he had used in the future-past, but that was a great number of years from now and he had no idea if the people working there now were as reliable or trustworthy. It was all sticky and vaguely frustrating. Not to mention how annoying it was to have to try and do all of this from Hogwarts. It would be so much easier if he could just travel to America and talk with Dr. Mueller himself in person.... perhaps over the holidays? That was something to consider. He would need to apply for an international portkey, not to mention getting his magical passport registered...

Harry quickly set to accomplishing as much as he could mange with the limited means and information he had available to him. The solicitor was first, and he got a letter prepped and set to the side for later mailing. Then he slipped into the Library and managed to track down the names of who to contact in the International Travel office for getting the forms necessary for getting a passport, as well as for applying for an international portkey, from a directory listing of different Ministry departments that was kept there for the NEWT students who had to do their career interview and research projects.

He was fairly sure that at this point in time Dr. Mueller was still working at Kitsler Aerospace, which was in Oklahoma at this point, so he wrote off another letter to the Ministry's international travel office requesting information on any magical settlements in Oklahoma City, in hopes of getting the information necessary to arrange a hotel.

In the end, he had to make use of a number of school owls, but he sent Hedwig off with the first of his many missives, so as to assuage her annoyance at him using owls other than herself. When his house mates questioned him about his disappearing act, remarking that they'd expect him to want to celebrate more than anyone else, he had made vague excuses about a stomach bug and being tired before slinking up to his dorm room to sleep.

Monday came and Umbridge was still missing. Harry ate his breakfast with a very pleased grin plastered across his face.

History was once again used as an opportunity to attend to his own studies, and he spent the class making notes in one of his new journals in regards to his lycanthropy project. Potions was actually slightly enjoyable, if not even amusing. Snape set about trying to stump him again with another onslaught of questions. These were even more advanced than the ones he'd attacked Harry with the week before. Those questions had actually been theoretically around the level of a student preparing for their NEWTs; these, in contrast, were around the level of someone early in their prep for their Masters or at least an apprenticeship. Amusingly enough, Harry actually found these questions easier, since they focused on subject matter he'd paid attention to more often in recent years.

The OWL-level questions had caused him a bit of trouble the way a middle-aged man who had grown accustomed to the crutch of a muggle calculator might stumble if suddenly required to do long division by hand without any refresher. But maybe that was just his problem. In any case, he hadn't given the OWL-level material any though in ages, but the questions posed to him now were much more familiar territory, and he found himself getting into the question session with vigor.

At one point he and Snape seemed to verbally tussle back and forth, playfully arguing the merits of Skrabager's Arc and the use of Bloodroot and Elecampe as a bonding agent in the Elixir of Longevity. When the two of them suddenly became aware of the rest of the class's continued existence and their dumbfounded stare at the pair of them, Snape quickly barked out orders for everyone to open their books to page 183 and start brewing while he stalked back to his desk and pointedly refused to meet Harry's eyes for the remainder of the class.

Divination was rubbish, and Harry was seriously considering just dropping the subject. He knew Minerva wouldn't really fight him if he made a reasonable argument, and the free block would give him more time to work on his personal projects.

Defense was canceled. It would seem that Umbridge was still missing, and no one had yet been arranged to take over her classes. Making a split second decision, Harry asked the students who were all standing around the door looking at the note tacked there and gossiping excitedly, if they'd like to join him for a real Defense Against the Dark Arts study session.

There was some questions and some debating, and not everyone opted to stick around, but a fair enough share of students did and they all migrated into the classroom. Harry plucked a lesson plan at random from his mind and went seamlessly into lecture mode before switching to a practical lesson for the last half hour.

It was clear that his classmates hadn't exactly expected it, but by the end, they honestly seemed pleased with the time spent, and several asked if he'd be doing it again. He shrugged, honestly having no idea. Ron hinted at the existence of the DA to a few who weren't already in-the-know. Since they still didn't know what the final word about Umbridge was – whether she was coming back or not – they opted not to make the club public knowledge yet.

The following day was fairly packed with charms, transfiguration, care of magical creatures and then herbology. Once that was all done, Harry thought he might finally have some time to continue working on his notes, but was pulled aside from the fifth-year Ravenclaws who had apparently heard about his efforts with his canceled defense class the previous day. Umbridge was still gone and the 5th year Ravenclaws had, had a canceled block and were not asking Harry if he would consider repeating what he'd done for his own classmates the previous day. He'd paused, considering whether or not he wanted to set himself down this path, But the reality was that they were all in their OWLs year and having several months of incompetent instruction, compounded now by absolutely no instruction, was not helping anyone.

He told them to contact anyone else they knew in their year from Hufflepuff or Slytherin to see if they'd like to join to, and to meet him in the Defense classroom right after dinner.

The room was pretty full when he finally arrived that evening. Hermione came, even though she'd been there during the Gryffindor session. She'd tried to get Ron to come along too, as moral support, but once Harry said he'd just cover the same stuff as before, Ron backed out. All of the Ravenclaws, and most of the Hufflepuffs had shown up, and surprisingly enough, several of the Slytherins. They were the “Neutral” ones – Zabini, Greengrass, Davis, and Nott. The ones that never really tagged along as part of Draco Malfoy's 'gang'. Harry was almost surprised that Malfoy himself hadn't shown up just to hassle Harry for kicks.

At the very start of the 'class' there was a momentary hesitation where his nerves threatened to take control, but he beat them down quickly enough. Never show weakness before a classroom full of teenagers. He'd learned that early on. He'd taught this subject for more than a decade, and it didn't matter if these people saw him as one of their peers. If he took control quickly and confidently enough, it wouldn't matter.

And so that's what he did. He went right into lecture mode, just like the day before. He covered the same subject, basically, that he'd covered with the Gryffindors, in hopes that if this teaching 'trend' continued for much longer, he could keep them all in sync.

There was a little hesitation to cooperate, but confidence, experience, and no hesitation on his part, got things in control quickly enough. In the end, he was actually pretty pleased with the outcome. He had to stop himself from assigning homework. He rather doubted they'd accept that too willingly. But he did 'recommend' a reading.

As they were all filing out of the room, Terry Boot came up to Harry to tell him how impressed he was with the class.

“You were right brilliant, Potter. Have you ever considered being a teacher?” Terry Boot had asked. Harry had just grinned at him and shrugged.

The following morning, Harry had Divination first thing and Transfiguration afterwards. Before Transfiguration could actually start, Harry went up to Professor McGonagall and asked if they could speak after class and she'd agreed. As soon as class was over and everyone else had cleared out, Harry cut straight to the point and told her he wanted to drop Divination. It was a waste of time and effort, and gaining an OWL in the subject wouldn't even be worth the effort.

She looked torn between agreeing with him outright, and the more responsible response of trying to talk him out of it. Her practical nature won out, and she approved of his choice and took him into her office to fill out the drop course form. She had also heard about the Defense lessons he'd done and asked him a bit about that, which included her confiding in him that it was looking more and more like Delores Umbridge would not be returning to Hogwarts – she smiled quite smugly at this revelation – but that they were having difficulty working out a schedule for the other teachers to try and cover the Defense lessons until a replacement could be found. They talked lightly on the subject on the way to the Great Hall for lunch, at which point they went their separate ways.

Wednesday Harry finally started getting some owls back with replies to some of his post. He got the form for his passport, as well as the form for applying for an international portkey – however he would have to get the passport before he could apply for the portkey, and it looked like he would have trouble going without a guardian who was of age to accompany him. That reminded him that he hadn't yet written to Sirius, which then reminded him that he still didn't know what progress, if any, there was on the front of Sirius' exoneration. He wrote a quick note to Dumbledore, figuring that would be the quickest and easiest source of information on the matter, requesting a meeting at the Headmaster's convenience. He figured he could bring up the subject of a proper History teacher while he was at it.

That day just before dinner, a third year Harry didn't know handed Harry a rolled up scrap of paper that was tied with a red ribbon, saying that he was told to give it to Harry. It was from Dumbledore – a short and simple missive informing Harry that he was free that evening at eight, and that he was quite fond of peppermint humbugs.

At eight that night he gave the password to the gargoyle and rode the spiral staircase up to the Headmaster's office that had once been his own, in another life that would never be. Dumbledore called him inside and offered him lemon sherbets and tea as Harry took a seat on the side of the desk that felt oddly foreign and mildly disorienting to him. He grinned and accepted both.

“So Harry,” Dumbledore began with a wide, welcoming smile as he folded his hands on his desk. “What was it that you wanted to speak with me about?”

“Well, several things, I suppose,” Harry began as he sipped at his steaming tea. “First, I was wondering what you know of Sirius's legal situation?”

“Ah, yes, yes. He's in communication with Amelia Bones at the moment, and they are arranging for him to turn himself over willingly for a proper trial. It would appear that Madam Bones was most outraged when it came to light that there were no transcripts of a trial, or even an interrogation of Sirius, because such events had never taken place at all. She is seeing to it that justice is served properly, and I believe there have already been talk of Ministry reparations to the House of Black.”

Harry nodded his head, taking it in. He'd never really gotten a chance to know Madam Bones since in his old timeline, she'd been killed by Voldemort himself in the summer shortly after the incident at the Ministry and the Department of Mysteries. Still, he'd always heard very good things about the woman. With luck, she might even replace Fudge as the next Minister of Magic. The man's reputation was taking a very steep dive down the toilet at the moment. His attempts to save face were clearly not sufficient enough to save him from all the bad press he'd been getting lately. It made Harry very smug.

“Right, okay then, I have a few other matters I wanted to bring up as well,” Harry said then.

“Feel free, my boy,” Dumbledore replied with a warm smile.

“They're mostly staffing matters, I suppose. I'm afraid I don't really have any suggestions for the Defense post, but might I recommend you consider hiring a History professor that actually breaths oxygen? Hogwart's History NEWT and OWL scores are utterly abysmal, and it's a real disgrace. Surely you can offer Binns a position as a... a... I don't know, a guest speaker and an adviser or something? I mean, he was still around, even in my day, but Minerva replaced him with an actual living teacher the first year after Hogwart's repairs were made, and it made a tremendous difference.”

“Did she? Oh... well, I suppose I could begin looking around for candidates...”

“That would be a good idea, I think. Also... now that Voldemort is legitimately dead and gone and the prophecy is fulfilled, do you really need to continue protecting Trelawney up in her tower with her sherry bottles? The woman really and truly is a hack. I mean... maybe keep her on out of pity as an optional section, but getting a different Divination professor would go a long way.”

“A different Divination professor?” Dumbledore said with some surprise. “I hadn't considered it...”

“She would have been sacked by Umbridge this year,” Harry said as he leaned back in his chair and took another sip of his tea. “You wouldn't let Umbridge kick her out, of course, because you still needed to protect her. But you ended up hiring Firenze, the centaur, to fill the post and he was brilliant. Even after you reinstated Trelawney, he stayed on since the other centaurs wanted nothing to do with him. They taught alternating sections of the course, but there really was no questioning that Firenze's were leaps and bounds better.”

“Firenze? My, what an idea,” Dumbledore said, smiling slightly.

“Yeah, I kept him on even when I was headmaster,” Harry said, nodding absently. “Trelawney left on her own after a while, thank Merlin. After that Firenze taught all Divination at the school.”

“Who was the History Professor that Minerva hired?”

“A girl named Griselda Hookum. She graduated um... four years ago, I think.”

“Ah yes. A Slytherin, I believe. She did have impressively high marks in History.”

“For a Hogwarts graduate, that's for sure,” Harry muttered under his breath. “Anyway, she was really quite pleasant. She left the same summer that I became the Headmaster though, and I ended up hiring a rather nice girl, Emma Dobbs, to fill the post.”

“Ah – a muggleborn? I believe she was sorted in Hufflepuff last year.”

“Yup,” Harry said nodding before taking a bit out of one of the small ginger biscuits that sat on a tray on Albus' desk beside the bowl of sherbet lemons.

“How interesting. A muggleborn teaching History of Magic?” Dumbledore said twinkling with apparent approval and amusement.

“Her father was an historian and an anthropologist. She carried a similar passion, and really involved herself into the study of magical history. I'm sure that she would appreciate you hiring on a decent teaching for the History post, especially. I recall any number of times when we'd all reminisce in the staff room about our school days and she's complain about how absolutely worthless History of Magic was when we were all students here. It's seen as a throw-away class and that's a real shame.”

“I suppose I cannot argue with you on that point. I will take it under serious consideration and perhaps I will contact Ms. Hookum.”

Harry grinned and thanked him.

“Were there any other issues that you wished to bring to my attention?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry hummed in thought, debating what subjects he could bring up with Dumbledore and what things the man might actually be able to help him with. He considered mentioning his intention to travel abroad during the holidays, but didn't want to set any sort of precedence where the man thought he had the right to dictate Harry's travels. He certainly didn't need the man's permission, and the last thing he wanted was for Albus to think he did. He figured he could always bring certain subjects up with the man later when things were a little clearer.

“Not at the moment, Harry said slowly.

“Well in that case, I do have one thing that I would like to bring up with you,” Dumbledore said smiling.

“Oh?” Harry said slowly, eyeing the man with the slightest hint of suspicion.

“Yes. I've heard from Professor McGonagall, as well as from the school 'grape-vine', as it were, that you hosted two rather successful Defense lectures for your classmates?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“As I'm sure you are no doubt aware, we have a bit of a staffing problem at the moment, with the sudden departure of Madam Umbridge. I had expected that I would need to take steps to persuade her to leave, but it seems she had decided that, with all of the upheaval and general commotion at the Ministry since this last Friday's news, that her presence is more needed back in London, and thus, we are without a professor.”

Harry cocked a single eyebrow, silently urging the man to just get to the damn point, but not actually commenting verbally.

“I am trying to contact a number of potential candidates to fill the post but it looks unlikely that anyone can come on such short notice, as to actually be here before the winter holidays. As such, the present plan is to have the existing faculty, as well as myself, assist with substituting the remaining defense lessons.”

Both of Harry's brows raised into his forehead now. He knew enough from his own experience as both a teacher, and then the Headmaster, that expecting the already over-taxed professors to take on more work, was expecting quite a lot from them. Rather unreasonable, actually.

“I will personally be taking on the NEWT level students for Defense, and will likely be lecturing in most of the OWL-prep lessons as well,” Dumbledore continued, “since those students are the ones who are in the most dire assistance in preparing for their accrediting exams. The other teachers will be combining many of the classes into larger groups and doing lectures once or twice a week as they can manage to fit into their schedules.”

“Well, I suppose something is better than nothing, and nothing just might be mildly better than Umbridge herself was,” Harry said with a mild snort.

“Ah, yes, that just might be so, but even if all of our staff were to take on some role in helping teach the classes, it appears that there is not quite enough.”

Aaand?” Harry asked slowly, giving Dumbledore a slightly impatient look.

“As an unaccredited fifth year who has not yet even taken his OWL exams, you are obviously not officially qualified to actually teach any of the classes – especially to the older students – but I was thinking that perhaps you could supervise bi-weekly 'study sessions' for the first and second years. I understand that you've dropped Divination. I think we might be able to re-work the schedules of two sections of first years to take their Defense class during your Monday and Wednesday blocks when you would have had Divination before. The second years could be during your Friday block.”

Harry gave Dumbledore a rather disbelieving blank stare before he snorted slightly with amusement and heaved a sigh. “How long would this last?”

“Not long. Just until the end of term.”

“Assuming you actually find someone to come and take the Defense post. That is, after all, why you got landed with Umbridge this term – you couldn't find anyone to fill the post, so the Ministry took advantage of the situation and did it for you.”

“Well, that is true, in part. I do, however, feel that I can find someone to take the post now that we know Voldemort is well and truly dead.”

Harry shrugged one shoulder. “True – the curse was lifted after his death in my original timeline, so it should be gone now.”

“Yes, and that is quite a relief. I cannot emphasize enough how distressing it was to have to find a new professor every year.”

Harry snorted. “I bet. I hated dealing with staffing.”

“Yes, it is quite unpleasant. So will you consider my offer? It would lighten the burden considerably if the first and second years were taken care of, and they are young enough that they will hopefully not give you too much trouble.”

“How are you going to work the logistics of this? I'll need to be able to take and give points, as well as assign detentions for misbehavior,” Harry pointed out seriously.

“I was thinking that perhaps we could take advantage of the powers gained automatically when a professor takes on an apprentice,” Dumbledore said, smiling with a look of someone who is quite proud of themselves for having worked out a puzzle in a particularly clever way.

“Apprentice?” Harry repeated, with slight incredulity. “Whose apprentice would I be? There's no Defense professor!”

True, it was a reasonable solution to their problem, since the apprentice system was so old, it predated the OWL and the NEWT exams. You didn't actually have to have any OWLs or NEWTs to be accepted as someone's apprentice. Not technically. But no one with any sense, these days, ever accepted an apprentice who wasn't already fully qualified. And only those already holding Masteries in the subject at hand, could accept an apprentice. So... it would have to be someone on staff with a Mastery in Defense.

“Ah, but it just so happens that we have two different professors on staff who hold a Mastery in Defense, so not having a Defense Professor, at the moment, is not really a problem.”

Harry frowned, going over the staff in his head to try and figure out which ones held Masteries in Defense. He knew Minerva didn't. She hadn't bothered to get her Mastery in it, although she no doubt was qualified. Flitwick, perhaps? He didn't think so. He may have been a dueling champion, but he had only ever bothered to get his Mastery in Charms. Oh... oh wait...

“Snape?”

“And myself,” Dumbledore said with a proud smile and a nod.

“Ah okay then. So... wait, really? Are you offering to take me on as your apprentice?” Harry asked, going a bit wide-eyed. It was a rather enormous honor, really. It was also quite unheard of! It really just was not done for the Headmaster of Hogwarts to take a student who was currently enrolled, on as an apprentice. A teacher could do it, perhaps, but not the headmaster!

“Oh, dear boy, I would most certainly love to do just that, however I am unsure of exactly how such an action would be seen in the public eye. If it comes to it, then, yes, that just might be our best option, however I was actually hoping for the alternative.”

Harry blinked at him for a moment before he realized what the headmaster was actually suggestion.

“Wait – Snape? You want me to be Snape's apprentice?! Have you actually discussed this idea with him?”

“Well-not yet-however I imagine that he could be persuaded...”

Harry laughed. Loudly.

“Did I say something funny?” Dumbledore asked, in all apparent innocence and seriousness. Harry managed to reign in his snickers until it was muffled to a few escaped coughs.

“Erm... I suppose it's a matter of perspective. Anyway, I suppose I'm totally fine with the idea, assume of course, you can get Severus to actually agree to it. Good luck with that. Let me know how that works out for you.”

“You don't wish to be present when I present the idea to Professor Snape?”

Harry made an incredulous, yet also amused, sort of choking sound that he muffled by biting one of his knuckles and shaking his head. “No,” he squeaked out. “No, I think I'll just leave that task up to you. Let me know how it all turns out.”

“Very well.”

The two called it a night, shortly after that and Harry headed back to the Gryffindor dormitories.

The rest of the week progressed smoothly enough. The next DADA class the Gryffindors had was a double shared with the Ravenclaws, and once again Harry took on the role of defacto lecturer, and this time, no one left, or argued. Some were still mildly bewildered – after all, Harry Potter had never been a star pupil. He'd always been rather better than most at Defense, but this seemed to be a very different Harry Potter than most knew. Granted – very few people really knew Harry Potter. He'd always been rather tight with his close friends, and very distant from everyone else. It had been a defense mechanism, as much as a result of insecurity and a youth of near total isolation.

It was also something that he had eventually grown out of – to some extent, at least. As much as was necessary for his professional career as a person who quite regularly partook in public speaking for the sake of instruction. As far as personal relationships went, the habit had never really left him. He had always kept only a few close friends with whom he felt comfortable being open and honest.

But this was a public venue for the sake of education, and he had adjusted a long time ago – from his perspective, at least – to being comfortable and outgoing in such a situation.

His classmates seemed authentically impressed with his performance. Even the Ravenclaws were impressed – and perhaps a bit thrilled at having an instructor that seemed actually capable of helping them prep for their exams.

That Friday evening was Harry's first 'animagus lesson' with McGonagall. He found himself slightly unsure how best to approach the lesson. He could either fake a few amateur mistakes and the time-consuming quality early animagus lessons normally required, or he could just show her that he knew what he was doing and get the lessons done away with quickly. He preferred the later, but was unsure he could get away with it without her growing suspicious.

In the end, he did a bit of a mix. He intentionally stumbled over the first and second attempts of everything she told him to do, in the course of their beginner practice exercises, but got it perfect on the third, and every subsequent try. She eyed him and accused him of having practiced on his own time, and repeated that he was absolutely not to do any of this without supervision. He insisted that he hadn't even attempted to transform since she had told him not to. She didn't exactly look convinced, but set the issue aside.

– –  

Chapter Text

Saturday morning brought a couple more owls. He finally heard back from the solicitors office he had contacted. They didn't think they could help him, but had compiled a small list of people they recommended instead. Seeing as how he was Harry Potter, they thought he would be best served by someone with very high references, indeed, but of course there was also the requirement that the solicitor also be well versed in dealing with all things muggle. It was a difficult combination to find in the Wizarding world, so the list of recommendations was thankfully quite short.

 

Harry wrote off letters to four of them inquiring for additional information and availability, as well as retainer fees. He was vague in relaying any specific details in regards to what he needed of them, but gave just enough information that their response would tell him if they were really capable of doing what he needed. He also noted exactly what sort of confidentiality oaths he would be requiring. If they weren't willing to submit to that, they would be cut from the list instantly.

 

Sunday was another Quidditch Practice. It was frightfully cold and sleeting. As Harry soared through the blistering air, desperately searching for any glint of gold, he seriously debated the value of quitting the team and letting Ginny take over as Seeker permanently. It was just so damn cold.

 

Monday morning brought yet another owl – this one with his Ministry issued magical passport. He used his free block – also known as History of Magic – to fill out the form applying for an international portkey that would take him to New York City, New York. He had another form and a small schedule booklet from the Ministry's foreign travel office, so he could also schedule the portkey that he would take from New York to Oklahoma City.

 

Hermione looked over his shoulder long enough, during this whole process, to apparently determine what he was doing. As a result, he found himself on the end of a Hermione interrogation as soon as class was over, as to what he was doing.

 

“I need to go see this American scientist,” he said as they walked through the halls towards the dungeons. Ron was looking at them in total confusion, but remained quiet.

 

“An American scientist?” she echoed in confusion. “What sort of scientist? What for?”

 

“The man's name is George Mueller. He's an aerospace engineer and he worked for NASA in the 60's. He worked on the Gemini and the Apollo missions that actually went to the moon.”

 

Hermione looked utterly confused at this point – so much so, that she stopped walking entirely and just stood in the hallway staring at him blankly.

 

“Harry-why?” she finally got out.

 

“I need moon rocks.”

 

“Whut?” Ron said, looking even more confused than ever.

 

“For the Lycanthropy cure, I need actual rocks from the moon. They've got a pretty nice sized cache of them at NASA in the Lunar Sampling Building at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, but you can't exactly walk in and take them. They're considered practically priceless. In '93, three small samples were sold for nearly $500,000 American dollars. That's nearly 50,000 galleons, Ron.”

 

“Merlin's Beard!” Ron shrieked.

 

“But Harry,” Hermione began hesitantly, “if they're so expensive, how do you expect to get any?”

 

“Well you can get special permission to actually go to the Space Center in Houston and perform specific tests while there, if you jump through a ton of hoops. Knowing someone on the inside can go a long way, which is why I need to get a hold of Dr. Mueller. He was my 'in' the last time. His grandson was a wizard, so that helped, and I met him at a conference and we got to talking... he was the one who got me in contact with his grandfather... of course, right now I'm afraid that Dr. Mueller's grandson might be pretty young and I'm not sure the man even knows about the magical world yet. Which is why I need to visit him in person so I can explain things.”

 

“But Harry – even if you do get in there, I... I mean, how are you going to get moon rocks? It just sounds impossible! Besides, you're fifteen! Or, at least, you look it. There's no way that scientists at NASA are going to let you in there to mess around with their moon rock collection!”

 

“Well, that's what magic is for,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

 

“What are you going to do?” Hermione asked, accusingly.

 

“I'm going to do what needs to be done,” Harry replied flatly. “Fortunately, I don't need a lot of moon rocks. Just a few small ones. I can transmute some base materials into duplicates using alchemy and use my transmuted duplicates in the potion, rather than the original actual moon rocks. But I still need actual moon rocks to start from.”

 

“And this will really help with a cure for Lycanthropy?” she asked, sounding both skeptical and excited.

 

“I was so close, Hermione,” Harry said. “It's honestly rather frustrating.” He sighed and shook his head. “Anyway, we'd better get going or else we're going to be late for Potions.”

 

“Oh!” Hermione squeaked, quickly casting a tempus spell and then squeaking again in alarm. The trio raced through the halls and only just barely made it into the dungeon potions lab as the bells rang.

 

Snape spent nearly the entire class glowering and glaring at Harry, but he never once called on him in class. Harry wasn't entirely sure what to make of it at first, but then he wondered if the Headmaster had mentioned to the man his brilliant idea of Harry taking on the role of his apprentice.

 

Harry brewed rather lazily, but the sleeping-aid draught he brewed came out near-perfect. He bottled it and took it up to Snape's desk to set it along with the samples from everyone else.

 

“Potter,” Snape said in a quiet yet sharp tone, just as Harry was about to turn and go back to his desk.

 

“Yes, Professor?” Harry replied calmly.

 

“Remain behind after class. We have-things-to discuss.”

 

Harry blinked, but then nodded before returning and beginning to clean up his work station.

 

Hermione wanted to grill Harry more on his intention to go to America during his holidays in order to steal moon rocks, but he was able to dodge her interrogation with the news that he had to remain behind and talk to Snape for some reason. Hermione and Ron both tried to linger at the back of the class and wait for him after everyone else had left the class, but Snape sneered at them and instructed them to leave; that they could see Potter again later at lunch.

 

Finally everyone was gone and Harry turned a questioning gaze on the tall, raven-haired man, standing before him and glaring down his rather long and slightly bent nose at him.

 

“You wished to speak with me, sir?” Harry finally asked after Snape chose to simply glare at him in silence for several long beats.

 

“Yes...” Snape said slowly. “Has the headmaster spoken with you? Perhaps mentioned certain-plans-the man has concocted recently?”

 

“Ah. That stuff about me teaching Defense to the first and second years until the Headmaster can find an actual Defense professor?”

 

Snape sneered quite deeply at that point. “Yes. That.”

 

“We discussed it,” Harry said with a simple nod. “I pointed out that, as an unqualified wizard who hasn't even taken my OWLs yet, I'm not legally qualified to teach at all, no matter if they're eleven and twelve years old, or not. To that, he pointed out that an apprentice of a teacher, is qualified, no matter if the person has taken any exams at all. I countered by pointing out that I'd have to be apprenticed to someone with a Defense Mastery in order for that little loop hole to work, at which point he informed me that there were two teachers on staff with Masteries in Defense. Him, and you. I then assume he intended to take me on as his apprentice, even though it's just not done. He however, said something about approaching you first. I thought he was off his rocker, but I've always thought he was off his rocker, so I just laughed at him. I wished him good luck and left. I'm guessing he has since brought the matter up with you?

 

“Yes, he has.” Snape bit out rather sharply.

 

And?

 

“And what?” Snape growled.

 

Harry raised a single eyebrow at the tall, glowering man. The same sort of look he tended to give his students when they tried to be snarky with him. He suddenly realized what he was doing, smirked in amusement at his ridiculous habits and looked away.

 

“I assume that you refused,” Harry said then. “I mean, for it to actually survive any scrutiny, it would have to be legitimate mentorship bond. An apprenticeship contract would be necessary, and they all require a minimum of one year before the apprenticeship can be canceled by either party. And it's not like there's a lot of time left before the winter holidays. I agree that the kids need defense instruction, but considering how little is gained by the arrangement, I assumed that making a year-long commitment would be unacceptable to you.”

 

“And I most certainly agree with you,” Snape said after a moment, and he grimaced as if it didn't sit well with him to ever admit to agreeing with Harry Potter on anything. “However, the Headmaster is being quite insistent. He thinks that the arrangement could have further benefits, outside of the brief option to assist in the defense classes in an official capacity.”

 

Harry eyed him warily. “I don't suppose he actually confided in you what any of these 'further benefits' might be?”

 

“He was not specific on all fronts.”

 

“But he did mention some?”

 

Snape gave a rather put upon sigh. “He is, for reasons I cannot fathom, still intent upon keeping you at Hogwarts beyond this school year. He feels that committing you as my apprentice would guarantee that you would return for your sixth year, and ideally, your seventh following that.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes and snorted. “Well, that is true I suppose. If we made a year-long bond agreement, I'd have to come back to Hogwarts, at least for first term of next year. But if he really wanted to keep me around, you'd think he'd just go against tradition and take me on himself, rather than asking you to do it. It's certainly no secret that you despise the very ground I walk upon simply for carrying the genetic data of James Potter in my veins. I can't fathom how he ever thought it would fly – you taking me on as an apprentice... Besides, what's the benefit of going to all that trouble when we're supposed to get an actual Defense instructor by January?”

 

“He... may have also suggested a dual apprenticeship,” Snape muttered, looking away at a far wall and scowling.

 

“Duel apprenticeship?” Harry echoed in confusion.

 

“Both Defense and Potions. He said that, since you were not thrilled with the prospect of taking regular classes next year, that you could instead take on teaching the first and second year students in Potions – perhaps, even the third – so that I could concentrate more on the elder students as well as my duties as head of house.”

 

“Aah...” Harry said with dawning understanding. “That does sound more appealing from your end, I imagine. Your own portrait admitted to me how much you despised teaching the younger children simply because of the danger involved, the need to constantly babysit them, and your loathing of teaching a subject to those who don't appreciate it. At least the older students have some appreciation for it's importance, while the first and second years are little-more than children being handed explosives.” Harry chuckled. “And now you want to pawn them off on me.”

 

Snape snorted, but covered it up with a cough an instant later. “You do seem to have gained a... surprising proficiency in potions,” Snape admitted in a tone and with an expression that seemed to suggest the admission caused him great pain. Harry grinned and rolled his eyes.

 

“My main field of study after I became a teacher actually ended up being Alchemy. In addition to teaching the Defense classes for twelve years, I also ended up teaching the Alchemy class that's occasionally offered to the seventh years. Even after I became headmaster, I continued on with the course. Since it was only one section, once a week, I was still able to squeeze it into my schedule.”

 

“Alchemy? You?” Snape said, disbelievingly. “How the devil did that happen?”

 

Harry chuckled and shrugged. “Nicholas Flamel put me in his will. He left me a number of his journals and a few of his books. I was reading through them and found myself rather engrossed. The subject was fascinating and I discovered that I was surprisingly good at it.”

 

“Nicholas Flamel?!” Snape exclaimed.

 

“Mnn. Yes. The Philosopher's Stone really was destroyed in my second year – there were times when I wondered if Dumbledore had been lying about that – but Flamel had quite a stockpile of the Elixir of Life, so he and his wife didn't actually die until I was 28, at which point I was notified that I was to receive a portion of their estate, and to show up to a will reading. It was quite a shock, actually. I hadn't even realized they were still alive, and I couldn't fathom why the hell they left me anything.”

 

“Why did they?” Snape asked incredulously.

 

Harry laughed. “I still don't know,” he said with a shrug. “There were certainly numerous other scholars who it could have gone to. Although, I think that the materials I got were merely copies, so I suspect that other scholars did get them as well. I wasn't the Headmaster of Hogwarts yet, at the time, so it wasn't because of that. If it were, they would have gone to Minerva and she only got one book from Perenelle and she refused to show it to me.

 

“Aside from lending Albus the stone, they seemed to remain completely neutral and well... gone, during the war and the Ministry take-over, not to mention all of the political aftermath. It seemed weird to think that they would leave me things, just because of what I did in regards to Voldemort... but I can't really think of any other reason. It's all just speculation anyway, because nothing they left behind or was written in the will explained why they chose to leave me with anything. I suppose they're still alive right now, and I could always track them down and ask them why they might do it...” Harry chuckled and shrugged helplessly.

 

Snape made a sort of 'humph' noise and turned to scowl at the wall again.

 

They were silent for several long moments after that. Harry shuffled slightly and propped himself against the side of one of the tall work benches while Snape appeared to brood and scowl at the wall.

 

“What did that wall ever do to you?” Harry asked after a moment, which caused Snape to turn his glare on Harry instead. However, Harry just grinned in response, which seemed to just annoy the Potions master further.

 

“It is entirely surreal to consider that you might actually be older than I am,” Snape muttered eventually.

 

“Mentally,” Harry conceded with a nod. “Physically, obviously, I'm younger by half. Which, is still quite an adjustment, let me tell you. It's great in some areas – my arthritis is completely gone which is such a blessing. It was getting pretty bad. But great Merlin, teenage hormones are outrageous! I mean, when you're older and looking at them all running around the school like horny dogs, you can roll your eyes and make jokes about youth, and hormonal teenagers, and you think you remember what it was like, but trust me – you don't. I certainly didn't. I was not prepared for how distracting and all consuming it can be sometimes –”

 

“Potter, please just stop. I don't want to hear this from your mouth,” Snape ground out as he reached up and pinched the bride of his nose.

 

Harry snickered quietly under his breath, earning him another glare from Snape.

 

“This-apprenticeship ordeal...Snape began jerkily a moment later, “it is not entirely up to me, obviously, and I am not the only one that would be roped into a minimum of twelve months of cooperation by the agreement. You have to also agree. How do you feel about it?”

 

Harry looked at him with mild surprise at being asked before looking thoughtful. “Well, Dumbledore's idea about me assisting with Potions classes next year does sound a damn sight more interesting that coming back here to take normal classes. I know that Ron and Hermione were quite upset when I informed them I wasn't planning to come back. Being at Hogwarts as an apprentice, instead of a normal student, would give me a lot more free time to work on my personal studies, as well. I have to admit that the offer is actually rather tempting. I don't specifically have anywhere better to be – I just need a place where I can do my work, and honestly, Hogwarts is the best place for that. It's just inconvenient if I'm expected to maintain the role of a normal student while here.”

 

“And being my apprentice? You would tolerate such an arrangement?” Snape asked while looking anywhere but at Harry.

 

Harry rolled his eyes and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Don't be ridiculous. I got over any petty bitterness in regards to our early interactions, ages ago. I've actually got a rather significant amount of respect for you; professionally speaking – but also in regards to your character and the sacrifices you made for the war. I'll admit that I think the way you treated me from the very first day I set foot in the school as an eleven year old, was extremely out of line, but you were angry and frustrated. Plus you had a persona to maintain. The looming threat that Voldemort would one-day return, and that you might need to return to your role as 'loyal death eater', no doubt played some role. But I'm over it. I really am. I moved on.

 

“I think the thing is that I've had decades of distance between my years as a student at Hogwarts, and where I'm mentally at right now. You haven't had that luxury, however. For you, it's all still rather fresh, I imagine. It's you that I figured would have the most trouble with the idea of such an arrangement between us. The master and apprenticeship bond is a serious one, and not to be taken lightly. I honestly assumed that you would just refuse outright, but I personally have no real qualms with the proposal.”

 

Snape eyed him speculatively for several long beats before looking away again.

 

“I might not be so- entirely averse, to the idea,” he said somewhat reluctantly.

 

Harry's eyes widened and his brows raised into his hairline. “Really?”

 

“Yes, Potter, don't make me repeat myself,” Snape bit out.

 

Harry leaned back on the work table and looked up at the low ceiling. “Hmm... it might not be such a bad idea, really,” he said thoughtfully. “It'd be nice to have someone with your expertise on hand for what I'm working on at the moment, in fact.”

 

“And what are you 'working on at the moment'?” Snape asked, looking mildly curious.

 

“A cure for Lycanthropy,” Harry said absently.

 

Snape's eyes widened and he swiveled on his heal to properly face Harry with a look of surprised intrigue. “Are you serious?”

 

“Yeah, I'd been working on it for quite a few years, actually, and recently made a real breakthrough. I was so damn close too, when I died. My godson was a werewolf, you see, so I was especially motivated by that. He wanted to have children, but unless he could guarantee that they wouldn't inherit the curse, like he did, he wasn't willing to take the risk.”

 

“And you think you can recreate your research and progress?” Snape asked, looking both interested and skeptical.

 

“I'm pretty sure I can,” Harry said with a nod. “Besides, I'm planning on getting my own pensive so I can literally view my old memories and check for any important steps I might be missing. I'm already making plans to travel to the colonies to get a key ingredient I need for the whole process. If I can manage to get it while I'm there over the Christmas holiday, I can get started on some real trials during next term. Might even have a real working elixir to try out by spring break if I'm lucky. I dare say my chances would be rather improved if I had your help.”

 

“A worthwhile ambition,” Snape drawled airily, but Harry could see the spark of interest in his piercing black eyes.

 

“Obviously, if you helped me out on this, in the end you'd get most of the credit for the development and discovery,” Harry said, smirking up at the Potions Master. “No one would ever believe that a fifteen year old could come up with something like it.”

 

Snape turned his sharp gaze back on Harry, pinning him down with narrowed, skeptical eyes. “It is your work, I hardly think that it would be appropriate for me to take credit for it.”

 

Harry just shrugged. “I really don't care about the credit. There's a reason I'm not in Slytherin, and it's not just because I argued with the hat during my sorting. I'm not the right sort of ambitious for Slytherin. I don't want fame or critical acclaim. I just... I just want this out there. No one should suffer through lycanthropy if they don't have to. I've experienced first hand what it's like to raise a kid that you love like your own and watch them suffer through the transformations month after month; feeling helpless to make it better... unable to make it stop.” Harry let out a broken breath and shook his head. “I just want to get it done and working. I don't give a damn who gets the credit, I just want it out there.”

 

Snape looked mildly surprised for a moment before fixing his penetrating gaze back on Harry for several very long minutes. Harry just stood there, enduring his careful scrutiny without flinching or fidgeting.

 

“Well, Mr. Potter... if we are in accord then I suppose this means that you and I will be entering into the apprenticeship bond. The sooner the better, I suppose, if you are to be taking on teaching Defense to the first years.”

 

Harry's eyes widened and he found himself smiling in amusement at this most unexpected turn of events. “Yes, I suppose so,” he agreed, still grinning. “Have you ever had an apprentice before?”

 

“No, of course not. When would I have had the time?” Snape drawled in a voice that questioned Harry's intelligence simply with it's tone.

 

Harry rolled his eyes. “An apprentice can free up time as well. They can take over the duties of reading and grading essays, marking tests, and teaching the lower years.”

 

“Yes, but one is also expected to teach their apprentice. What other value would the entire arrangement have to the apprentice if they were not getting an education in return for all of their trouble and effort. It is one of the few reasons I find our arrangement potentially acceptable. You are already trained. And you apparently have teaching experience, already. I will have to exert very little effort, but will gain all of the assistance that you just described.”

 

“Ah, I see,” Harry said with an amused glint in his eye. “I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Albus probably has all of the paperwork already prepared?”

 

“No doubt,” Snape drawled with a sneer that made Harry chuckle dryly.

 

“Well, then shall we see if he's already in the Great Hall for lunch?”

 

Snape let out another put upon sigh and glanced over at his desk. “I should straighten up first. I have a class right after lunch.”

 

“Two wands are better than one. Let me lend a hand and we'll get it done quicker.”

 

Snape looked mildly surprised at the offer, and for a moment it looked as if he would flat out refuse, but he seemed to hold his tongue. He opened a cabinet and pulled out a drawer that appeared very shallow from the front, but was clearly spelled to be deeper when opened. It had holders inside it to keep the potion vials from moving or breaking and the pair of them quickly moved all of the potion samples from the day's lesson into the drawer. A few quick spells cleared the room of any other debris or mess and the pair then left for the Great Hall.

 

They decided that it was best to get this particular chore out of the way first and that if there was time afterwards, to have lunch then. So Harry remained just outside the doors to the Great Hall, leaning against the wall and waiting, while Snape went inside to collect the Headmaster. He wasn't waiting long before Snape re-emerged with the Grand Mugwump, and the three were quickly making their way through the castle towards the Headmaster's office.

 

As Harry had suspected, Albus had everything already prepared for the pair of them, and twinkled merrily through the entire preparation process. The apprenticeship contract had to be witnessed by someone of a certain official standing, but as the member of the Wizengamot, Albus qualified for such a role. Snape and Harry both signed the appropriate forms for the Ministry's sake, and then prepared to perform the proper ritual oaths, that would bind them magically for no less than twelve months. It was obvious to Harry that Snape was still rather unsettled by the whole idea. He was fairly sure the man was having second thoughts throughout the entire proceedings, but Snape never backed out.

 

Harry himself wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the whole thing, either. It was a serious agreement to make and it was not one that was usually rushed into like this. He hoped he wouldn't regret it, but it did appear like a pretty good plan. It would raise a lot of questions and confuse the heck out of a lot of people, but he could deal with that as it came at him.

 

He had a general sense of approval for the whole idea, mixed in with curiosity. He knew that it could likely blow up in their faces, and he had no delusions about Snape's 'people skills'. However he'd had the man's portrait in his office for the last eight years and had actually grown quite accustomed to – even fond of – his forked tongue and sharp, scathing remarks; his witty sarcasm. In fact, being in the man's presence was oddly calming in a familiar and reassuring way, in this world where everything was so different from what he had grown accustomed to for years now.

 

But being the man's apprentice? Although, Harry rather doubted they would have anything resembling a traditional apprentice and master relationship. As Snape himself had pointed out, Harry was, in fact, the older of the pair – mentally speaking, at least. In his old timeline, Harry had a Mastery in Defense, and could probably have acquired one in Alchemy as well, if he bothered to go through the hassle of gaining the title – which he hadn't, but he hadn't really seen any point.

 

Alchemy was a culmination of high level potions study, combined with advanced transfiguration and metallurgy. As a result, Harry's own expertise with potions had grown exponentially after he had begun to seriously study the field of Alchemy. Potions and Alchemy were intrinsically bound together. All things considered, Harry could quite possibly even manage a Mastery in Potions if he set himself to some serious dedicated study. But there were still some areas of Potion making that he had neglected, as they weren't necessary in his field of study. It was the main reason he had been working with Seraph Melkin on his Lycanthropy research before. She was the apprentice to the man who had been potions master at Hogwarts when Harry had so unfortunately died.

 

Even as an apprentice, Seraph had knowledge about certain aspects of brewing that Harry had neglected in his studies and as such, her help had often been valuable. Having Snape assisting him would no doubt be a tremendous aid. He was actually looking forward to it, some.

 

“Now, for the final step,” Dumbledore said, sounding quite serious, in desperate contrast to the nearly obscene level of twinkle in his eyes. “Please grasp each others' wrists. Right hands. Yes, like that,” he said as Harry and Snape stood opposite each other, stretched out their right hands and grasped them so that each of their hands were actually around the other's forearm, in a tight grip.

 

“The relationship of a Master and his Apprentice is a sacred bond of trust and learning. Responsibility and respect,” Dumbledore spoke in a powerful tone. “A Master swears the oath to relay the sacred magical knowledge of his craft to his student, and the pupil swears to serve his master to the best of his ability, defer to his wisdom, and take the opportunity to grow and learn -not for granted, but for the wonderful opportunity that it is.”

 

Dumbledore withdrew his elder wand and pressed the tip to the spot where their wrists were touching and spoke in a low, melodic voice. “Mentoras, mathitevomenos, desmos. Do you, Severus Snape, come willingly and with due understanding of the measures to which you are agreeing, accept this man, Harry James Potter, as your apprentice and pupil?”

 

“I do,” Snape said in his deep, smooth voice.

 

A thread of golden light, shimmering like silk, seemed to ooze out of Dumbledore's wand and began to twine its way around their joined hands like some sort of coiling serpent. The thread made elaborate twists and swirls, forming loose-looking braids and Celtic knots within itself.

 

Mathitis, kathigitis, desmos. Do you Harry Potter, come willingly and with due understanding of the measures to which you are agreeing, accept this man, Severus Tobias Snape, as your Master and guide?”

 

“I do,” Harry said firmly, and faintly tightened his grip on Snape's forearm.

 

Another shimmering thread of glowing silk, this one silver, emerged from Dumbledore's wand tip and joined the golden thread, completing the complex knots and braid-work that the other thread had started. A small gasp escaped Harry's slightly parted lips as he felt a surge of magic course through him, binding him to the man he stood opposite from with more power than he had really expected. But he had heard that the more magically powerful the two people involved were, the more intense the sensation would be. It didn't surprise him that Snape might be a fair bit above average in magical power level, and he himself had increased in power by double thanks to the bizarre way in which he'd come back in time.

 

Seliniakou etous. Dodeka minon. One year from this date, the bond can be renewed or dissolved, but no sooner. From this day forth, you are master and apprentice. Etsi mote den einai.” Dumbledore's voice rumbled through the office and a final wave of magic shot from his wand and engulfed their brightly bound hands before the intricately braided threads dissolved into sparkling dust and vanished.

 

Harry slowly released a deep breath he'd only scarcely been aware he had bee holding. He looked up at Severus and felt a strange surge sort of coiling its way through his mind. It had the slightest similarity to various sorts of compulsion magic. He recognized it for what it was easily enough. The Apprenticeship bond was supposed to foster a positive working relationship between master and student. It was intended to promote trust and respect and help two people work well together, no matter how conflicting their personalities might be. Not everyone was a good teacher, after all, but knowledge must always be passed on or else risk being lost. Back in the days before institutionalized learning, the apprenticeship method was the only real option for passing on information.

 

Harry puzzled over the sensation for a moment, and he suspected Snape was doing much the same, judging by the look on his face. It was a bit stronger than he had expected it would be – although that was also likely a side-effect of the two of them both being rather above-average wizards. Still, he was sure that it was hardly anything that would control his action and choices, against his will. It wasn't intended to work that way. It was supposed to just be a nudge in the best direction. An inclination to forgive each other of of disagreements; to tolerate annoying habits, to appreciate each others' idiosyncrasies, rather than find them annoying.

 

He recalled a conversation with Seraph not too long after she became Professor Pritchard's apprentice, when she had described her experience so far, working as the man's assistant and pupil. Seraph had been a Hufflepuff in her school days and Graham Pritchard had been a Slytherin and had quite a forceful personality. Not quite equal to Severus' – Harry rather doubted anyone could ever match the sharp tongue of Severus Snape – but it was clear the man had taken his old teacher as a role model for maintaining order in a Potions classroom. Seraph had feared her new master's intimidating presence, but after taking the bond had found working with him wonderfully fulfilling, and grew quite fond of the man.

 

The magic of the bond was there to smooth things over, but it was not something that could truly force two people to like each other. Most especially not if those people were powerful in the mind arts. Even Veritaserum could be defeated by someone with a sufficiently strong will and skill in occlumency, which was why it was generally not admissible evidence in court cases. Both Harry and Snape were skilled, considerably above average, in the mind arts, and no one would ever deny that both were extremely willful and stubborn people.

 

Harry had pretty much assumed right off, that any compulsion aspects of the bond would be near meaningless with the pair of them. Yet here it was. He could definitely feel it. Of course, he had been hyper aware of any foreign influences on his mind ever since the war, and he suspected Snape was much the same.

 

“How do you feel?” Dumbledore asked to the pair of them and Harry pulled his gaze away from Snape to look at the Headmaster.

 

“The compulsion is stronger than I'd expected, but its hardly something that I expect to be a problem,” Harry replied dismissively.

 

“Severus?” Dumbledore prompted, looking over at the Potions Master.

 

“I would–echo, Mr. Potter's observation. I do not expect it to cause any true problems,” Snape drawled.

 

“No, I would expect not. If anything, it might smooth things over, mightn't it?” Dumbledore said, smiling and twinkling at the both of them. “Well, there's less than fifteen minutes left of lunch. If either of you hope to get anything, you'd best be off now. I expect the two of you can work out the logistics of your new arrangement between yourselves. Harry, I'll discuss this with Minerva and we shall work out a schedule for the first and second year Defense students. I'll let you know as soon as I have a firm timetable written up.”

 

“Alright, sir,” Harry said with a simple nod.

 

Harry and Snape left the Headmaster's office shortly there after and made their way towards the Great Hall – Snape would likely skip lunch, however, and go straight to the dungeons to prep for his next class.

 

“Shall I come by your office tonight?” Harry asked as they walked.

 

“That is probably for the best,” Snape said with a nod. “There are details that we must work out. We will have to determine exactly what we will tell people when inquiries are made as to our unexpected arrangement.”

 

Harry made a humming sort of noise in his throat and nodded. “Not that it's anyone's business.”

 

“It most certainly is not,” Snape agreed with a sneer and a drawl. “But they will still ask, and if we give them nothing, they will merely concoct ridiculous stories of their own that will likely be far more outrageous and beyond our control than anything we could come up with ourselves to feed them.”

 

“Trying to preemptively squash the Hogwarts rumor mill?” Harry asked with a laugh. “Good luck. But I agree that we need to come up with a story that we both agree on so that we aren't contradicting each other unknowingly. I'll stop by your office after dinner. I could bring some of my notes along as well, if you're interested in looking over what I've managed to get written down on my old research, so far.”

 

Snape looked over at him with the slightest indication of interest. “That sounds like an acceptable idea. Seven o'clock; my office.”

 

“See you there.”

 

Harry broke off and entered the Great Hall while Snape, as he'd expected, headed towards the corridor that led to the dungeons. Ron spotted Harry first and waved him over. As soon as Harry sat down the two started to ask him worried questions, wanting to know what Snape had wanted that had taken so long.

 

Harry delayed their questions and instead quickly grabbed a few articles of food and some juice. He did finally manage to breath and pause from his speed-lunch long enough to make them understand that it was a sensitive topic that would need to be discussed in privacy.

 

Normally, Harry's next class would be Divination, but he'd officially dropped it, so he had the next hour and a half free. Ron was obviously put out and grumbled about being abandoned to the horrors of tea leaves and suffocating incense on his own. Hermione didn't seem the least bit disapproving of Harry's choice to drop the class, since she herself had dropped Divination back in third year. She did ask Harry what he intended to do with the free block, and he said he'd likely prepare a lesson plan for Defense, which perked Hermione up quite a bit.

 

She had to race off to Ancient Runes while Ron brooded through his journey up to Divination. Harry went up to Gryffindor tower and pulled out one of the still-blank journals he's purchased in Hogsmeade, deciding to use it as his lesson planner, and then dug through his trunk until he found Quentin Trimble's 'The Dark Forces: a Guide to Self-Protection', the textbook that had been used in his first year of Hogwarts. It was actually a good book, it was just that Quirrellmort had been intentionally worthless. The books used in second year were dismissed instantly since they were all garbage from Lockhart.

 

The rubbish defense manual from the Ministry that Umbridge had put on the book lists for the year was even more worthless than Quirrellmort had been, but hopefully there would be enough copies of The Dark Forces, for the first years to each get a copy from the school. The second years should already have the book from last year... at least he hoped so. The kids could always pair up and share for the first few classes, if it came to it.

 

Harry cracked the book open and began making an outline of what he wanted to cover for his firsties and the second years. He chuckled and shook his head at himself at already thinking of them as 'his firsties'. There was just about five weeks left of first term, which was hardly anything at all, and with as useless and counterproductive as Umbridge's instruction had been, he had a lot to make up for. There was also the likelihood that he'd encounter some resistance from the students – but then again, maybe they'd just be grateful to have an actual teacher, rather than Umbridge, and would welcome his role, no matter how young he was.

 

He ended up so engrossed in his work, he was actually startled when the sonorous-amplified bells, from the bell tower, started ringing, marking the end of the class block. Harry checked the time, mildly surprised, and quickly packed up his books and notes and headed down to the Defense classroom. He had already figured out what he'd cover in the Defense lesson today with the other Gryffindors, but he wondered for a moment if Dumbledore would actually be there to cover the class, since he had mentioned taking over the OWL and NEWT classes until Christmas.

 

When he got to the Defense classroom, there was no note on the door, denoting a canceled class, as there had been all previous week, so he went inside and sat down.

 

A minute later, Hermione arrived and joined him, followed by a few others who were in Ancient Runes. He realized with a start that quite a few of them were Ravenclaws. The Gryffindors had double-defense with the Ravenclaws on Thursday, but not on Mondays. He soon learned that the Raven's had been told by Flitwick, along with some minor rearranging of their schedules, to take the Monday Defense block with the Gryffindors now. Harry wasn't surprised, really. It was unlikely that, until a full-time defense professor was hired, that they could afford the small intimate classes that they were used to.

 

Ron showed up with the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors who had Divination, and that pretty much filled the room. A few people asked Harry if he was doing the teaching again, and he found that he really wasn't sure.

 

“I can't quite say for sure,” Harry said hesitantly, as he turned and looked towards the door. The bells rang, signaling the start of class, and still there was no teacher. “Professor Dumbledore actually said he might be taking on the OWL and NEWT year classes until the holidays, but I don't know if he was going to start this week or not,” Harry said.

 

“You talked with the Headmaster about this?” Hermione asked, looking interested.

 

“Yeah, er... there's been some arranging of things, since Umbridge is gone –“

 

“Is she really gone?” Seamus asked, excitedly. “Like, gone for good?

 

Several others excitedly asked the same question, and all eyes were expectantly on Harry.

 

“From what I understand, yes.” Harry said. “I can't make any guarantees though, but it sounded like a fairly sure thing that she isn't coming back.”

 

Cheers erupted in the gathered group, as well as several very relieved sighs from the Ravenclaws.

 

“But what about our Defense lesson?” Mandy Brocklehurst asked suddenly, looking worried at several of her friends. “This is our OWLs year! You did great last week, but you can hardly teach the class. We need to prepare!”

 

“Well, like I said, professor Dumbledore said he was going to be covering the OWL and NEWT students until a full-time Defense professor could be hired,” Harry said, and quite a few people were whispering excitedly about that.

 

“Yeah, but he isn't here, is he?” Anthony Goldstien drawled.

 

“Ah, but actually, I am,” Dumbledore's airy voice suddenly said and everyone jumped and twisted in their seats to see him walking from the back of the classroom, seemingly from nowhere and coming to stand at the head of the class with a genial smile on his face. “Good afternoon class,” he greeted and everyone's whispers quieted down as all eyes trained on their Headmaster. Harry sat back down in his stair, wondering what a class taught by Dumbledore might actually be like.

 

By the end of the hour and a half class block, Harry decided that the best way he could have described Dumbledore's teaching style was as 'quirky'. Hermione was rather thrilled from the experience and kept going on about what an honor it was to have an opportunity to learn directly from someone as distinguished and experienced as the headmaster. The general class feeling seemed to be a positive one. Everyone was thrilled to be rid of Umbridge, and equally thrilled to be learning from Albus Dumbledore himself, but it was obvious that a number of the Ravenclaws, as well as Hermione, were still quite concerned about their OWLs and making up for lost time.

 

As they were all dismissed, Hermione grabbed a hold of Harry's forearm and started dragging him towards the stairs, with Ron trailing after them. Before Harry even knew it, he found himself in front of the blank bit of wall where the door to the Room of Requirement was hidden, and Hermione was pacing back and forth in front of it.

 

The door appeared, they went inside, and the three seated themselves in the three squashy armchairs, around a low, circular coffee table, in front of a large fireplace. It was the same room that Harry had called for when he told them the truth about his time travel and killing Voldemort. Hermione obviously wanted her answers and wasn't going to be letting him out of the room until she got them.

 

With some resigned trepidation, Harry began explaining what all had happened that day with Snape, and the Headmaster. He explained about how the apprentice clause in the school charter allowed for anyone who had formed an apprenticeship bond with one of the school's instructors, to teach classes, give and take points, and assign detentions, even if that person didn't have any OWLs or other accrediting exam marks recorded. He explained how the headmaster wanted to make use of this loop hole to allow Harry to teach Defense to the lower years for this term, and then to teach Potions to the lower years the following year.”

 

“Wait – Potions?” Ron echoed incredulously. “But I thought you taught Defense erm... before.”

 

“I did, but I'm certainly experienced enough to teach first and second year Potions,” Harry said easily. That's why he wanted me on as Snape's apprentice, instead of accepting me as his own apprentice. He's got a Mastery in Defense and Transfiguration, and... not sure, but I think he's also gone a Mastery in Alchemy. I could be wrong on that though. Anyway, by having me do the apprenticeship agreement with Snape, I can do a double apprenticeship under his Masteries instead, which are Defense and Potions. This way I can take some of the load off of Snape's Potions classes, and it keeps me in Hogwarts next year.”

 

“How will you have the time, though?” Hermione asked, looking worried. “That's a lot to take on, Harry. It's one thing to cover for the first and second year Defense students for a month, but teaching Potions for all next year...” she trailed off, looking skeptical.

 

“Well, next year I'll be a full apprentice. It's the only reason I really agreed to it. I won't be taking any normal classes next year. I'll only be teaching the potions classes, and doing 'independent study'.”

 

“None of your classes?!” Hermione gasped, looking horrified.

 

“Hermione, remember that I'm fourty-six years old, up here in my head,” Harry said gently, tapping a finger to his temple. “I really don't need to be taking sixth-year charms or transfiguration classes.”

 

“Oh... right. I... I suppose you're right,” she said, haltingly.

 

“Well...” Ron said slowly, breaking back into the conversation, “I don't know how I feel about you being Snape's apprentice,” he grimaced, looking disgusted by the mere idea, “but it's not like you're really his apprentice. It's just a title, right? And this way, you'll actually come back to Hogwarts next year, right?”

 

“Exactly,” Harry said with a small smile and a nod. “It'll be easier for me to do my research and work on developing my Lycanthropy cure while I'm at Hogwarts anyway, since I'll be doing my 'independent study'. My other plan was to rent myself a flat, or maybe go through the trouble of renovating one of the old Potter properties, but at this point, they're all a real mess and it will be quite an undertaking when I finally tackled any of that stuff. This is probably a better option. At least, I hope so. The most awkward part will be dealing with all the questions people are going to have once it becomes public knowledge that I've performed the apprenticeship bond with Master Snape.”

 

Ron blanched. “Ew, weird. Don't call him that.”

 

“Call him what?” Harry asked, looking up blankly confused.

 

“Call him master. That's just weird.”

 

Harry blinked, and thought back over his words, curiously. “Oh weird. I totally did that without thinking,” Harry mused before grinning and chuckling. “Oh the curious nature of the apprenticeship bond. Sorry, Ron, but stuff like that is likely to slip out from time to time.”

 

“Wait, so you've already done it?” Ron blanched.

 

“Yeah, we did it while I was missing lunch.”

 

“And you didn't tell us till now?”

 

“Ron, I didn't even know I was going to do it until after Potions class was over, and he and I went straight to the Headmaster afterwards. We've all been in classes and such since then. When else could I have told you? Surely you don't think that I had to ask permission from you all before doing this?” Harry said in a daring sort of accusatory voice while raising a single brow in Ron's direction.

 

Ron pinked a bit and ducked his head, mumbling.

 

“Harry's right, Ron,” Hermione said. “He certainly doesn't have to seek our permission for things like this. It's his life and it's his decision to make. I'm just glad that this means, he'll be coming back to Hogwarts next year, and the year after, most likely.”

 

“Well, I don't know about that. I suppose it'll depend on how well this whole arrangement works out with being Master Snape's apprentice.”

 

Ron flinched again and Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh, get over it Ron,” Harry said with a chuckle.

 

“So Harry, what can you tell me about the Apprenticeship bond?” Hermione asked, leaning forward with obvious interest and curiosity. “I've never found any texts that describe the intricacies of how the bond works or what it does.”

 

“Oh, well... I'm sure you've heard about some of the historical details about the bond – why it was necessary?”

 

“Of course – the apprentice system is the oldest system for the furthering of education, still in use in Britain today,” Hermione said with a nod. “But why was it necessary to use a magical bond to tie the apprentice and master together?”

 

Harry twisted up his mouth in thought as he tried to work out how to answer her. “Well, I suppose it was to help protect both parties, really. A Master witch or wizard would be revealing a lot of their own secrets and techniques to their student, and the bond won't permit any large-scale deception between the teacher or student. It won't allow the student to take the Master's lessons and use them against the teacher, nor will it allow them to run off and give the secrets to a stranger or enemy.

 

“It also guarantees that only someone who is really serious about their studies, and committed to learning the craft and respecting the teacher can agree to the bond. The bond enforces honesty, trust, and respect between the two parties.”

 

With Snape?” Ron exclaimed incredulously. “How is that even possible?”

 

Harry just sighed and shook his head. “I'll be fine, Ron. I'm a grown man, despite appearances. I'm perfectly capable of acting like a mature adult and treating Master Snape with deference and respect. I don't see it being a huge problem – it's not like he has to legitimately mentor me. I already know most of what he could teach me. Mostly I'm just thinking that he'll help me out with some of my research and the more complex brewing for the Lycanthropy cure, and I'll take over his lower classes. It's an arrangement that benefits both of us.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Ron grumbled.

 

“So what are you going to tell people when they find out and start asking questions?” Hermione asked.

 

“That... is a good question.”

 

– –

 

Harry knocked on the door to Snape's office that evening promptly at seven o'clock and was greeted with a muffled 'Enter,' from within. He pushed the door open, stepped inside and closed it behind him. The man was sitting at his desk with a number of papers spread out before him beside a small ink well filled with red ink. Harry smirked at it and quickly made his way to the chair placed opposite the desk. He dug into his rucksack and pulled out a couple of his journals and quickly flipped through each to identify which was which. He really needed to label the outsides of these things. He supposed that was what he got for buying a batch of identical black leather journals.

 

“I brought my notes with me,” he said absently as he flipped a few pages into the next journal in the stack before placing it on Snape's desk. The man looked up and Harry was a bit confused when the man did a double-take before looking at Harry for a long moment with a slightly bewildered expression. He quickly suppressed it, whatever it was, and focused instead on the book.

 

“Notes?”

 

“Yes, this one I'm using to sort through everything I can recall on my work on the Lycanthropy cure,” Harry said pointing to the one he'd just placed on the desk. “And this one is my lesson plans for the first and second year Defense students. As I understand it, I'm not taking over the kids in Potions until next year, correct?”

 

“Yes, I believe that is accurate,” Snape said as he reached out for the Lycanthropy journal and began to thumb through it. It was a quick dismissive scan at first, but he soon slowed and began to actually read some of what Harry had managed to get written down so far. His brows raised into his forehead and it was obvious that his interest was piqued.

 

“What is it that you're referring to here?” Snape asked as he leaned forward and angled the journal so Harry could see. Harry came closer and Snape pointed out what he was referring to.

 

“Oh, sorry, I wasn't very specific. These notes are mostly for my own value and, obviously, I know what I'm referring to. That right there–? That's referring to the moon rocks taken from the lunar highlands, which are dominantly of mafic plutonic rocks. This here, refers to mare basalts – only the VHK ones are of much use to me, and that's what I'm hoping to nick from NASA over the holidays. They're the ones with extraordinary potassium content and have been the most effective in my –“

 

“Wait, wait – moon rocks?” Snape asked, holding up his hand to slow Harry down.

 

“Right, sorry. Okay, let me start explaining from the beginning...”

 

Harry spent the next hour giving a brief overview of his process, the ingredients he needed that were the most troublesome to get a hold of, and how he'd finally realized that he needed to use actual rocks from the moon in the cure.

 

“The only moon rocks that are available are the ones collected during the American's Apollo missions, the Russian's Luna missions, and then the random rocks that have been located that were naturally ejected from the moon and actually shot to the Earth from asteroid impacts and the like. The last Luna mission was in 1976, and the last Apollo mission was in 1973. No one has gone back to the moon since, so these things are very hard to come by. There is a finite supply of them,” Harry said, very seriously.

 

“Then that obviously poses a serious problem,” Snape replied, while keeping his eyes trained on a point-curve diagram Harry had sketched into his notes that showed the scale for ingredient quantity depending on batch size.

 

“Yes, it does. Fortunately, it's a problem I already solved,” Harry said, grinning.

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah, I managed to work out a successful process to transmute a collection of earth rocks of specific metallurgical properties – mostly composed of feldspar – so that when I'm done, they identically match the important properties of the moon rocks, and I can mass produce the transmuted rocks from just a small, select batch of collected moon rocks, repeating the process again and again. It's a time-consuming process, especially considering the quantity of transmuted moon rock that is needed for each batch of potion, but it's better than trying to steal all the moon rocks the muggles collected back I the sixties and seventies, and stil lbe doomed to run out eventually.”

 

“Ah – I see where the alchemy comes in, then.”

 

“Yup. The production of the moon rocks is the largest alchemical step in the process, but there are a few other points where it's quite necessary. Those aren't what gives me trouble – it's the more complex brewing steps that I'm still stumbling over. That's why I had Seraph helping me back in my other timeline.”

 

“Seraph?”

 

“Seraph Melkin. She was apprenticed to Graham Pritchard, who was the Potions Master at Hogwarts in my old timeline.”

 

“Mr. Pritchard becomes a Potions Master?” Snape asked, his brows raising into his forehead with mild surprise.

 

“Well, he did in my old timeline. Who knows what will happen now,” Harry said with a shrug.

 

“True,” Snape conceded with a nod of his head. His expression went pensive for a moment then before he looked at Harry curiously. “Was this 'Seraph Melkin' female?”

 

“Yes,” Harry replied easily, already knowing what was coming.

 

“And she was apprenticed under a man?” Snape asked incredulously.

 

Harry chuckled. “She was a lesbian.”

 

Snape's eyes widened quite a bit before he was able to mask his expression. “Oh. I see. And Mr. Pritchard?”

 

“He was married. His marriage bond superseded any side-effects of the apprenticeship bond, and without any interest from Seraph's end, it was never a problem.”

 

“Well then that's fine, I suppose. It's still highly unusual... a man apprenticing a woman...”

 

Harry just shrugged and looked back down at his notes. He flipped to the next page and pointed out the formula for creating the Red Tincture necessary to convert the specially prepared silver brackets into gold so that they could come in contact with the werewolves without killing them, and Snape was quickly drawn in. The discussion continued on, and Snape offered up several comments and ideas that sparked quite a bit of excitement in Harry, as he hadn't considered those avenues before, and they were only just scratching the surface at this point, yet his mind was distractedly drawn back to the point that Snape had alluded to with their off-hand mention of Seraph Melkin's apprenticeship.

 

Harry had to admit to himself that he had completely forgotten about that particular concern when he'd agreed to perform the apprenticeship bond with Severus Snape, and no doubt neither Dumbledore nor Snape would give it any concern since neither of them knew about Harry's... preference. Harry wondered suddenly if the reason that Dumbledore hadn't been willing to take Harry on as his own apprentice was actually because Dumbledore himself was gay, and not because he was busy or wanted Harry to help by taking over for beginner Potions classes the following year.

 

Albus' sexual preference was a very reasonable excuse to not form an apprenticeship bond with another man. Still, even the vague thought of intimate relations with Albus was... bizarre. Surely there wouldn't really be any risk of a man of Albus' magical strength being effected enough by a simple apprenticeship bond, for there to be any risk that an attraction would develope out of it.

 

Just the same, it was a legitimate and established risk of an apprenticeship bond, and it was the reason that people of opposite genders did not perform the bond, when both individuals were heterosexual. There had simply been far too many instances of a man and a woman performing the bond, and eventually ending up in bed together. And since most apprenticeships involved a Master many years the senior of their apprentice, such relationships were often considered highly inappropriate.

 

Harry knew he preferred men to woman; although he'd been with both. The idea of the bond influencing him to form an intimate attraction to Severus Snape had seemed so far fetched, that he hadn't even registered it as something to be concerned over when he agreed to this... although at this point, he wasn't entirely sure why it had seemed so far-fetched. The man was quite handsome and distinguished, and Harry definitely held the other man in high academic regard. He'd also grown quite fond of the man's dry witty sarcasm over the years of having his portrait for company.

 

Merlin, he was going to have to watch his reactions closely.

 

But it still shouldn't be a problem. Not really. The attraction had to be returned, at least on some small level, for the magic of the bond to turn down that path. If it was completely unrequited, the bond wouldn't allow either of them to pursue it, since it would only cause trouble to their working relationship. The purpose of the bond was to foster a positive working relationship – and in some cases, that meant pulling the two people so close together that things became rather intimate – but only if that would foster the positive working relationship. Harry was sure that the chances of Severus Snape ever having even the slightest inclination towards attraction for him was quite literally nil. So it just wouldn't happen.

 

No worries then. He was just being silly to even worry about it.

 

He shook his head to clear the ridiculous thoughts and refocused on the conversation. Snape was making some ingenious suggestions for using a burette filled with a dilute solution of bromine water to help charge the silver strips before the quenching process, and the two quickly became ensconced in a highly technical and very interesting conversation, debating the merits of using cerussite over galena.

 

 

What was the name of that ridiculous show on the telly? The one that his father used to fall into a drunken stupor in front of? Ah, yes, that's right. The Twilight Zone. Yes, surely he had entered a Twilight Zone of his own, thought Severus Snape, later that evening as he closed the door behind Potter and turned to go back to his desk.

 

He had duplicates of a number of Potter's notes sitting there, as well as several pieces of parchment, filled with notes the two of them had made while Potter was there. It had been a most–startling evening. Startling because it had been a revelation. He had already come to accept that Harry Potter truly had somehow come back in time and entered his own youthful body. It was an utterly preposterous claim, but if Potter was involved, preposterous was the norm. Besides, Severus had witnessed more unbelievable and supposedly 'impossible' things in his life than most people could, and survive with their sanity in tact. He wasn't about to dismiss it right out of hand, simply because it sounded ridiculous.

 

Despite this, he had still been strongly skeptical, ever since Potter seemed to appear out of nowhere, kill the Dark Lord, and then go on explaining his insane story before the Headmaster. Severus had considered the possibility that the entire thing had been staged by the Dark Lord to fake his death, and that perhaps Potter was possessed by the Dark Lord this whole time... but he was fairly sure that was even less likely than the story that Potter had come back in time. Besides, for all the advanced knowledge the Dark Lord had about remote, obscure, and powerful magiks, the man had always been rather worthless at Potions. Severus suspected it was the largest reason that he, himself, had survived as long as he had, despite the Dark Lord's suspicions in regards to Severus' loyalties. He had simply been too useful to kill.

 

No; after watching Potter for the last few weeks rather closely, and his interactions in class, he had been fairly convinced that Potter's story was likely more true than not. Yet it had not entirely sank in, until this very evening, that Potter was well and truly an entirely different person than the teenaged delinquent that Severus had grown to thoroughly despise, over the previous four years.

 

He couldn't look at the boy and simply think of him as a future iteration of Potter, stuffed into Potter's younger body, and assume he still knew and understood what was actually important in regards to the boy... man... whatever. This person was nothing like what he would have imagined Potter to grow up to be. He was still arrogant, but it seemed warranted; and he didn't flaunt it. He knew what he was talking about, and he understood that fact.

 

Severus was also beginning to believe that it might actually be true that Potter had ended up as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He didn't really doubt the possibility of such an outcome. If Potter was publicly known as the vanquisher of the Dark Lord in this other timeline, no doubt the public worshiped the ground he walked on. Becoming Headmaster would be a simple enough task if Potter desired it. No doubt no one would refuse him anything. The precious Boy-Who-Lived and then Vanquished.

 

That thought would have caused Severus to sneer quite deeply in the past, and yet now he felt himself hesitating. It was odd, and he wondered suddenly, with no small amount of alarm and discomfort at the prospect, if the bond were influencing him.

 

The person that he spent this evening with was not Potter. Or at least, his mind couldn't think of him as Potter. He just couldn't reconcile the two beings in his mind. There was the brat-Potter who had been the bane of his life since the moment the monstrous spawn came into existence, and then there was the intelligent, witty, charismatic and engaging man that he'd spent hours discussing the finer points of potions, metallurgy, and alchemy with, this evening. Perhaps his original paranoia about Potter being possessed weren't so outrageous. Not the Dark Lord, but someone else. Someone interesting and tolerable had been placed in Potter's body.

 

He snorted and rolled his eyes as his own thoughts. He just didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he'd enjoyed Potter's company. It was nearly nauseating to even contemplate such a prospect.

 

They had eventually got to talking about their 'cover story', for when the news of Potter's apprenticeship finally broke to the public. Potter had some suggestions, but didn't want to presume anything, since it would rely a great deal on what Severus was willing to allow people to know or believe about him. It was actually a bit surprising how much weight Potter was willing to place on preserving Severus' desired reputation, even if it meant sacrificing his own.

 

In the end, he and Potter worked it out where Potter would inform anyone who questioned him on being willing to apprentice under Snape, when it was a known fact that the two of them hated each other with a fiery passion, that Potter would reply that most of their public animosity was a cover. Potter had thought this up, and had been hesitant to even suggest it, since he was unsure if Severus was willing to allow it to get out that he'd been spying for Dumbledore.

 

Severus informed him that the cat, as it were, was already out of the bag, on that subject. The Slytherins were all pretty much aware at this point, because Severus had had to give several statements to the Ministry's Aurors when the Dark Lord's body was delivered to them. He had named names, as well, although not all of them. Quite a few of his snakes had family in high levels of the Ministry, and word had spread quickly among them. Of course, some of them also knew people who were marked and who had been taken in for questioning. Theo Nott's father, for example, was now sitting in a holding sell at the Ministry, awaiting trial. Theo himself wasn't exactly upset about this, since he despised his drunken bastard of a father as much as Severus had hated his own. But Snape had named Mortimer Nott, knowing, this before hand. He knew that Theodore was miserable at home, and that Mortimer was an awful wretched man. Severus had not, however, named a number of other Death Eaters, who happened to have children under his care, and those that he had mentioned out of necessity, he may have hinted at the possibility of use of the Imperius.

 

Severus was actually shocked – SHOCKED – when Potter was relieved, instead of outraged, when Severus informed him that he had not ratted out Lucius Malfoy.

 

Harry had just given him a rueful smile and shook his head, when questioned about his reaction. “It's a very long story. Ask me again another evening when we've got more time and possibly some good cognac,” he had said with a chuckle, followed by a sigh.

 

In the end, Severus had protected his students, and they knew that, at least. Just the same, there was definitely some rough waters in Slytherin house at the moment. Some were angry or disappointed that their head of house had been a 'traitor' – although Severus suspected that quite a few of those putting up that front were just making a show for the public – but there was also quite a bit of grateful relief. Many of them had family members who quite likely would have expected them to follow the Dark Lord, no matter if the child wanted that for themselves or not. But it wasn't even always a matter of pressure from parents and family.

 

Severus knew that the Dark Lord himself would have completely expected the offspring of his followers to take his mark as soon as they were of age, or fully accredited. And what the Dark Lord expected, the Dark Lord got. He knew that quite a few of the other Death Eaters had grown disillusioned with serving their 'Lord', but hadn't the strength of character, or courage to try and walk away. Many of them would also lack the power to refuse the creature, when he demanded the servitude of their children.

 

Despite what the rest of the school thought, Slytherin house was not unanimously in favor of the Dark Lord's rise to power. Mostly, they were just in favor of looking after their own hides. There was quite a great deal of relief among his students, and as such, he was still generally well thought of.

 

The fact that he'd refrained from openly ratting out most of their parents helped as well. They knew he could have, but he hadn't. So his actions weren't a betrayal as much as they were an attempt, on his part, to protect them from a fate worse than death.

 

This being the case, Severus was not entirely against the idea of Potter informing people that he had been a spy against the Dark Lord and his followers, and that a great deal of he and Potter's past animosity was actually a 'show' so that the public would believe that Severus Snape and Harry Potter loathed each other. This, was so that if the information ever got back to the Dark Lord, he would hear the same thing. That they hated each other and avoided each other like the plague. Snape was not really trusted to be alone too much with Potter, and Potter did everything in his power to avoid being alone with Snape. Thus – no legitimate opportunity to kill or kidnap the teen for his Lord's sake.

 

They would claim that, in reality, they'd 'buried the hatchet' and called a truce a year or so ago, and that Snape had secretly assisted Harry in preparing for the Tournament, and that Harry and Snape had spent time together over the summer, working on Harry's defense and potions skills. Now, they were making the arrangement official, and could do it openly since the Dark Lord was finally dead.

 

It was plausible, and since few people were actually close enough to Potter to know it was a lie, it wouldn't be a problem. Weasley and Granger were apparently 'in-the-know' on Potter's bizarre temporal circumstances and had already been informed about the apprenticeship, in private.

 

There were a few others that would probably be confused and disbelieving of the whole thing – not to mention those who believed themselves somewhat close to Potter who would feel like they'd been deceived or lied to, by not having been in on the 'truth'. Potter would simply try and sooth their egos by pointing out the importance of secrecy and how deadly and dangerous spying was, and how each additional person who knew the 'truth' was that much more of a risk to Snape's very life. They were Gryffindors and would likely eat it up.

 

Severus himself rather doubted he would bother answering anyone's inquiries, but he'd always been brisk and closed-lipped with people, so no one would really find that surprising. Minerva would likely question him though. She would also know better than to believe their cover-story at face value. But perhaps he could convince her anyway. He didn't want to deal with it, honestly, but he knew it was inevitable.

 

Despite all the trouble and attention this was going to draw, he couldn't quite find it in himself to regret the decision. Which was shocking, really. He was sure that he just had to give it a little more time, and he's realize he'd made a monumental mistake and simply have to suffer through it until the year was up and he could rid himself of the Potter-brat.

 

But he wasn't really the Potter-brat anymore, was he?

 

In fact... Severus was actually looking forward to their next opportunity to discuss things and work on Potter's Lycanthropy cure.

 

That was another thing that was quite intriguing. It looked quite possibly legitimate. There was real potential there, and the idea of using synthesized rocks, transmuted from actual moon rocks, was certainly not something that he ever would have come up with. That anyone ever would have come up with. He still couldn't imagine how Potter had stumbled across the idea.

 

He was even considering going along with the man on his trip to America for the holidays. He wondered absently if Albus knew about that yet.

 

Severus finished up as much as he thought he could stomach of the papers he needed to grade and ended up slipping through the secret entrance behind a heavy bookshelf, that connected his living quarters with his office. He tried to push thoughts of Potter out of his mind, and yet they just kept coming back on their own, without his permission.

 

He fixed himself some chamomile tea mixed with some other herbs of his own blending and hoped it would help him calm his mind and get some actual rest. It was utterly ridiculous that Potter, of all people, should be occupying so much of his thoughts.

 

He took another sip of his tea and found himself staring into the pale yellow-ish-brown liquid, transfixed by the little flecks of leaves, floating at the bottom. He wondered when Potter would be available next for another discussion. Perhaps he should invite him for tea the following evening? He could send a note via owl, for breakfast. It could arrive along with all the other post and remain relatively unnoticed.

 

Of course, he could just wait another day and simply find some excuse to give Potter a detention during Potions class. But why bother with the subterfuge? It was no longer necessary, was it? Potter was his apprentice, and no matter how annoying, willful, and arrogant the brat had been before, the man who sat in his skin now was intelligent – brilliant, even – and Severus had to admit he would be proud to call that man his apprentice. He didn't mind at all if the world became aware of that arrangement, actually. It would become clear enough, eventually, just how brilliant the man was, and that brilliance would be attached to Severus forever now that they were apprentice and master.

 

No matter what Potter said, Severus had no intention of claiming ownership of the Lycanthropy cure as his own once it was finished and released to the public. It was clearly Potter's baby, and he would not be taking that from him. And even if it were true that normally people would never believe that a fifteen-year-old teen could come up with such a complex and incredible potion, that didn't take into account that Potter was The-Boy-Who-Lived. The public was willing to believe anything, no matter how outrageous and absurd it was, about the man. They would likely eat up the idea that he was a secret prodigy. Hiding his skill from the public in order to mislead the Dark Lord into underestimating him.

 

It was plausible, at least.

 

Severus sighed and closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind. It was far too jumbled today. He had too many thoughts buzzing around in his head for his own liking. Too many ideas and notions had to be re-evaluated today; too many opinions proven wrong, or twisted around and turned upside-down. He didn't like change. It complicated things.

 

Damn Potter for being such a hurricane on two legs and mixing everything up and making it just so outrageously complicated.

 

– –

 

Harry ended up dropping his History class that week. By ridding himself of History and Divination, he now had enough time free in his schedule to teach Defense to the first and second year students as long as they grouped up into large classes.

 

They didn't want to waste any time and Thursday morning he was standing in wait in the Defense classroom as a group of confused-looking second-years milled in, looking at him curiously.

 

Dumbledore was with him, since the Headmaster figured it would be necessary to explain the situation somewhat. After the bells had rung and the headmaster had gotten their attention and explained the situation, it was clear that they were all more excited than anything else, and Harry was left to deal with them all on his own.

 

The class went surprisingly smoothly. It was obvious that the kids were just grateful to know that Umbridge wasn't coming back, and that they were finally going to start learning some real defense. Their only other Defense professor had been the fake-Moody, but Harry was willing to admit that this was actually a blessing in disguise. No matter if the man had tried to kill him, Harry was willing to admit that Barty Crouch Jr. in Polyjuice had been one of his better Defense instructors. These kids had at least one year of pretty decent instruction. Harry had a lot of ground to make-up for with all the wasted time under Umbridge, but it wasn't so tremendous a mountain to scale.

 

Harry was given leave from attending his own Defense Against the Dark Arts classes for the remainder of that term. His classmates were confused by his sudden disappearance from the DADA classes, and some even came to him and said they were disappointed that he wasn't still teaching them – sure Dumbledore was alright, but he was a bit barmy.

 

Word spread quickly that Harry was teaching the first and second years, and there was a lot of confused muttering, especially among the older students, about how that really shouldn't be... well legal. Finally, on Friday evening, Dumbledore called the Great Hall to attention during the dinner meal and made the announcement about Harry Potter's apprenticeship to Severus Snape – studying to eventually gain his Mastery in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Potions.

 

The whole hall was stunned for all of five seconds before they erupted into conversation. The sudden onslaught of excited and confused speech was like the rush of a thunderous downpour, and even days later, it seemed as if it had hardly calmed down at all.

 

Harry had, of course, been questioned again and again by his fellow classmates – interrogated was more like it, especially with the Gryffindors. He went with the story that he and Snape had actually made peace back during his forth year, but had kept up the public animosity for the sake of Snape's cover and his role as spy. Especially since the Headmaster suspected that Harry's involvement in the Tournament had something to do with Voldemort, and they needed Snape in the proper place to gain information when the opportunity arose.

 

The Gryffindors were properly enthralled by the story, but also clearly had a hard time picturing Snape as anything but 'the enemy'. Harry insisted that the man wasn't nearly so bad as he made himself out to be in public, but no one really seemed to want to believe him. He didn't much care if they did or not, and just smiled indulgently whenever another student asked him if he was sure he wasn't under the Imperius or something.

 

He pointed out that he'd proved the year before that he could throw off the Imperius, but thanks for worrying about me just the same.

 

He and Snape started meeting every-other-evening or so, an hour before curfew. Harry had found it especially amusing when Snape actually sent him an invitation via owl to meet for evening tea one morning. He'd gone, of course, and the two had discussed a number of topics – Harry's Defense classes and his lesson plans, as well as continuing their discussion over Harry's notes on the Lycanthropy cure. Their discussions were always engrossing and oftentimes rather enthusiastic. Snape had such fantastic ideas, and he had the most remarkable understanding about how things interacted when put into a brew.

 

Harry was actually given some slack on curfew now thanks to his status as Teacher's Apprentice, but only by an hour. Filch still tried to get him in trouble a time or two before the squib finally accepted that Harry really did have permission to be out a bit later than the norm. Harry was enjoying teaching, and enjoying the time spent with Snape so much that it was nearly enough to make up for how mind-numbing the rest of his daily tasks were.

 

Transfiguration and Charms were both great classes, but the subject matter in both cases was a bit elementary for him at this point. It made the lectures rather boring; the practicals easy; and the essays an utter chore. He was beginning to debate the merits of looking into dropping all of his classes, and switching to full-apprentice mode and teaching the first and second year potions students for second term, instead of waiting for the following year.

 

He wasn't sure he could get away with that though, since he still needed to take his OWL exams... He hadn't gotten word from the Ministry yet in response to the change in his status, and Dumbledore hadn't mentioned if there had been any reaction, negative or otherwise, to his apprenticeship being registered with the Ministry. He almost wondered if they even realized it had happened yet, but that question was answered Thursday morning when the Daily Prophet arrived in the Great Hall at breakfast.

 

On the front page, but in the lower right-hand corner, was an article about Harry being appointed Apprentice to the Hogwarts Potions Master, studying a duel apprenticeship for both Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. While it was on the front page, it was small and greatly overshadowed by the far larger, and far more attention attracting article featured far more prominently on the front page, top and center.

 

SIRIUS BLACK AQUITTED ON ALL CHARGES

 

Sirius had finally gotten his trial – fourteen years late, but finally, it had happened. He was found innocent and was now a free man. The article went on, rehashing all of the old information surrounding Sirius' arrest and the accusations against him, then going over what the new evidence had revealed had actually happened. It was basically a repeat of the information that came out when Pettigrew was found guilty a couple weeks before, but this article also detailed the reparations that the Ministry would be paying Sirius, for suffering and time served unjustly and without the benefit of a trial.

 

It was labeled a horrible miscarriage of justice, finally set to right. Harry couldn't help but look down at the brightly smiling face of his godfather, and smile, himself. Sirius looked as if he were about to cry tears of joy, and he was laughing and grinning like the cat who caught the canary, in his magical photo on the front page. Harry noticed that Remus was in the background, also looking remarkably relieved and happy. Harry was glad that Sirius had Remus to be there with him for the trial.

 

The whole thing made Harry realize that he couldn't really avoid talking to Sirius until the holidays about everything that had happened. He imagined that things were likely rather crazy busy for Sirius right now, with finally being able to go out into public, finally being able to go into Gringotts in person and start settling the Black Family Estates assets, and whatever other aftermath was a result of the trial, but it was still quite likely that Sirius would get word about Harry's apprenticeship to Snape, and Harry would really rather his godfather not find out about that from the newspaper, and blow a gasket.

 

Harry retreated up to his room and quickly penned a letter to Sirius congratulating him and asking if he could come to Hogsmeade that weekend so they could talk in person. Since Sirius was now free and clear, there wouldn't be any need for sneaking around. They could meet up at the Three Broomsticks and get a private room so they could talk. He sent it off with Hedwig and quickly gathered up his things since he had class with the second years in only twenty minutes.

 

The following morning, Harry received two letters. One was Sirius' reply, sent back via Hedwig, and it was a happy and enthusiastic 'yes! 'along with details of when and where they should meet the following day. The other was a short note from the Headmaster asking Harry if he was free for afternoon tea, so they could discuss how Harry was adjusting to all the changes so far. Harry replied that he'd be happy to meet with him, and set the time to just after 3:30, when his last class ended.

 

He had Potions that afternoon, and Severus had him working on a large batch of fever reducing potion for the Hospital Wing instead of working on the WideEye potion the rest of the class was working. He barely managed to get it done in time for the end of class, bid his master a simple farewell, noting that he'd likely be back to visit that evening after dinner, and Snape simply replied with a curt nod. He hurried up through the corridors and made it to his Charms class just before the bells rang.

 

It was rather tiring, but it was at least amusing to watch his classmates struggle through the complex steps involved in constructing the small model houses Flitwick was having them build. It was sort of a scale process, and Flitwick was having them perform the spells to move objects into place, to bind them temporarily so that it was held until they could then perform the spells to permanently secure them by magiking tiny nails into place in the bits of balsa wood. He even had them magically inserting piping between the wooden beams and the slabs of thin wood that was acting as the drywall.

 

Some of the students felt it was a pointless exercise since, if they ever had a house built, they'd simply hire professional magical builders to do it for them, but Harry thought it was one of the far more practical lessons he'd seen covered by the diminutive professor. It was a fair sight more useful than conjuring tiny birds to fly in circles over ones' head.

 

The class finally came to an end, and Harry had an extremely elaborate model house put together, complete with paint, carpet, and wallpaper, and a miniaturized version of the insulation necessary for putting muggle electrical wiring in a house with so much magical activity always in use.

 

Flickwick was especially interested by this addition since, after all, it hadn't technically been developed yet at this point. He asked Harry if he could keep it to study and Harry easily obliged.

 

Finally it was time to meet with the Headmaster, and Harry wasted little time in making his way to the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the man's office. After giving the password, he ascended the rotating spiral staircase to the top. He contemplated, for a moment, intentionally dodging the man's wards that would alert him that Harry was there, but decided not to bother.

 

He didn't bother to knock, and by the time his hand had reached for the doorknob Dumbledore was already calling him inside. He entered and pleasantries were easily dispensed with as they each took seats on either side of the desk and Harry was presented with tea and biscuits.

 

The two sat in silence for a moment as the tea was prepared to each of their liking and they sat blowing on and sipping, or, in Albus' case, munching on some raspberry flavored biscuits.

 

“So how are you doing, Harry?” Dumbledore asked, finally breaking the silence.

 

“Great,” Harry replied honestly with a soft smile, “taking the normal classes are a bit bothersome, but I figured I probably couldn't get away with dropping any more until after I've taken my OWLs.”

 

“Ah, yes. In that regard, you would be correct. You do not necessarily have to take Defense Against the Dark Arts, or Potions, since those are the two subjects under which your apprenticeship is focused on, however, if you intend to sit the OWL exams in Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, Astronomy, or Care of Magical Creatures, you will need to continue taking the subjects, until the end of the year.”

 

Harry sighed in resignation, but nodded his head. “I expected as much. I don't really need OWLs in all of those subjects though. Astronomy for one... although I actually enjoy the evening classes – they're peaceful – and it's only once a week. I'd drop Care of Magical Creatures if I didn't know it would devastate Hagrid,” Harry sighed.

 

“Yes, Hagrid would likely take it rather hard. He's so very fond of you, after all.”

 

Harry nodded and picked up a lemon biscuit.

 

“You seem to be spending quite a number of evenings with Professor Snape. I must admit I was mildly surprised when I first realized it. I had somewhat expected the two of you to...” Dumbledore trailed off.

 

“Avoid spending any unnecessary time in each other's company?” Harry offered up with a grin.”

 

“Well... yes,” Dumbledore admitted with an amused smile of his own.

 

“I'm not the same bitter person I was as a teenager. I understand a bit better the things that were driving Master Snape's behavior towards me when I first started school. I don't think it was appropriate behavior from a teacher towards a student, and I have not forgotten how miserable it made me when I was younger, but it was a very long time ago, and the sting has worn away for me. I think he was immature and childish in his grudge, and directing it upon me when he was, in reality, still just very angry with my father, was uncalled for and I do not dismiss what he did was terribly wrong. Still, I'm at the point where I can forgive and forget, so long as he's able to grow up and doesn't continue the behavior now. Which he isn't. So we're doing rather well together.”

 

“Well, I must say that I am relieved,” Dumbledore said with a wide, grandfatherly smile. “I will admit that I feared I may be making a mistake in maneuvering the two of you to enter into an apprenticeship bond. I had hopes of it working out for the best in the end; mending old wounds and such – but I had not anticipated it going over quite so well, quite so quickly.”

 

“You're very pleased with yourself, aren't you,” Harry asked, rolling his eyes with an amused smirk.

 

Dumbledore just twinkled back at him while sipping at his cup of tea. Harry chuckled.

 

“So how are you adjusting to teaching the first and second years?”

 

Harry smiled warmly. “It's great. Sort of nostalgic, I suppose. I never totally stopped teaching, of course. Even after I became headmaster, I still taught one class a week, but it was to the seventh years, and as you know, there is a huge difference between teaching seventh years, versus teaching first and second years.”

 

“Ah, yes. Quite true. What class was it you taught?”

 

“Alchemy.”

 

“Really?” Dumbledore asked with interest as he leaned forward a bit and set down his tea cup. “You developed an interest in Alchemy?”

 

“Yes. In my late twenties I came into possession of rather valuable and rare documents on the subject and it sparked my interest. Became quite a passion of mine by the end there,” Harry chuckled and shrugged. “That accident I mentioned? The one that killed me? It was an alchemy experiment gone wrong. But I can't exactly complain. I'm adjusting rather well to being back here, all things considered, and I'm actually rather enjoying the opportunity to teach again. I missed it, to be honest. Being Headmaster is such a tremendous chore,” Harry said with an exaggerated moan.

 

Dumbledore chuckled and nodded. “It does tend to be that. I must admit, I'm enjoying teaching some of the Defense classes myself. Sometimes I regret not having the opportunity to teach anymore. My schedule, unfortunately, simply does not leave me with the room to manage it, however.”

 

“Yeah, I can only imagine,” Harry said seriously with a nod. “I was only the Headmaster of Hogwarts. My only other obligations were to my research. I got offered a bunch of different positions and people were always asking me to Chair this, or help run that, or take an active role with the Ministry. Bugger that. I was forty-six when I died, so I was only four years away from inheriting the Potter family seat on the Wizengamot, but even that I wasn't sure I wanted to bother with. I was considering designating someone to sit in my place, though.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Harry grinned cheekily. “Yeah. I had been thinking of appointing Hermione, actually. Just to rub all those old snots the wrong way. A muggleborn, sitting in one of the old family seats,” Harry snickered to himself, but then sighed and shrugged. “Although, as amusing as I found the idea, I still probably wouldn't have done it. In all honesty, in the later years, we tended not to agree on a lot of political issues. We had the most outrageous rows sometimes.” Harry sighed, but still smiled fondly.

 

“It must be very difficult, leaving so much behind,” Dumbledore observed quietly after a moments silence. “Seeing younger versions of dear friends who are hardly even the same people you've grown to know and love...”

 

“I try not to think about what I've lost, and instead focus on what I've gained,” Harry said with a determined nod, but keeping his eyes trained on his lap, and the teacup in his hand.

 

“A wise goal. Also a difficult one to achieve, I imagine. Just know, Harry – if you need someone to talk to, I am here.”

 

Harry smiled at the man opposite him, feeling both grateful and nostalgic, once again. How many times had Albus' portrait told him the exact same thing?

 

– –

 

Harry was eating dinner that evening while absently watching the students around him and throughout all of the Great Hall, as they ate, talked, and generally socialized. It was still curious for him to observe the hall from this angle, again. For two solid decades, he'd taken his meals sitting at the head table, and had grown accustomed to the view. Even the last few weeks at the Gryffindor table hadn't been enough time to counter twenty years, and so, he still found his seat back here among the gold and red to be rather weird.

 

Everyone was excited about the upcoming Christmas holidays, and there was a lot of chatter about gifts. It made Harry grimace. He hadn't yet bothered with that particular chore yet, but he knew he needed to. He tried to remember what he might have gotten Hermione and Ron for Christmas this year, the first time he lived it, but it had simply been too long ago.

 

He remembered that, in his original timeline, they spent the Christmas Holidays at Grimmauld Place entirely because it left them in walking distance of St. Mungo's, and that was important because Mr. Weasley had been there, recovering form being attacked by Nagini.

 

Obviously none of that was going to happen now. Nagini was dead. Voldemort was dead. No one was after the prophecy, because the prophecy had been fulfilled and was now pointless, so there was no need for any Order members to guard it any longer.

 

The Weasley's would have their family Christmas celebration at the Burrow this year, and Harry had already been invited. He had already sent a letter of apology and gratitude to Mrs. Weasley; thanking her for the offer, but gently refusing it. He noted that he had other plans, and that he intended to spend at least a portion of his holidays with Sirius. Mrs. Weasley had replied back suggesting that he and Sirius come and join the Weasley's for Christmas meal on the 25th, and Harry had not yet written back with his response.

 

He hoped to get his business in America done as quickly as possible. At this point, he had plans for staying there for one week, and hoped he wouldn't need to extend the visit for any reason. The Christmas holidays were three and a half weeks long; the last day of term was the 20th of December, and the first day back was the 13th of January. Obviously this meant that if he headed straight off to America as soon as the holiday started, he would likely miss Christmas day. He didn't really want that, but at the same time, he had no guarantee of how long his trip would take.

 

If he waited until later, his trip might end up running over a few days into the start of the new term. It was a risk he figured he could risk though. He was currently planning on leaving for America on December 28th. That basically gave him two weeks, which should be enough wiggle room.

 

He was pulled from his thoughts by one of the forth years calling out to him and asking him a question about Harry's teaching, and if it would continue on through the next term. Harry just shrugged, saying he wasn't sure yet. It depended mostly on who the headmaster got to fill the Defense post, but it had been discussed that Harry might continue on with teaching the first and second years through second term, to help the new DADA professor focus on the older students.

 

In the end, it was up to whoever came in to teach.

 

This, of course, led to more questions and then speculation on who might end up coming in to teach. Harry realized that he should have asked that while meeting with Dumbledore earlier that afternoon, but it hadn't occurred to him.

 

Oh well. He would find out eventually.

 

– –

 

“It is a sound plan, but I cannot help but question the value in enlisting the assistance of this muggle,” Snape said as he settled into the brown-leather wing-backed chair in his quarters that Harry had come to realize was Snape's favorite.

 

Harry was already settled into a plush armchair that was placed at an angle with Snape's chair, with a low wooden coffee table placed between them. Both chairs were facing the Floo in Snape's quarters, and a fire was alight in the hearth.

 

“Dr. Mueller helped me a great deal before,” Harry pointed out as he reached across and accepted the sifter of cognac the man was handing him.

 

“I really should not be offering you this,” Snape grumbled under his breath, and Harry just grinned at him. Snape picked up his own glass and took in a slow drink before focusing back on Harry. “Even if the muggle was helpful before, it was mostly because he already knew of the magical world, and understood the value the cure would have for a great many people. The man, as he is now, is totally ignorant of our world. It is far more likely that you will just waste an enormous amount of time trying to convince the man that you are not a stark raving lunatic, and end up having to obliviate him.”

 

Harry sighed and swished the amber liquid in his glass in a circular motion while he stared into the depths of it. “I'll admit I've had the same worries myself,” he conceded finally. “A lot of what he helped me with was making the right connections and getting access to the rocks in the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center without going through a mountain of red tape...”

 

“And in the end, you had to use magic, and stole them, anyway,” Snape pointed out. They had discussed the methods Harry had ended up resorting to in order to acquire the specimens he needed, earlier in the week.

 

Harry grimaced, but shrugged. “True.”

 

“Then I see little point in even wasting time in going to Oklahoma. You should go straight to Texas and confund the muggles working there. Do not bother with this muggle doctor. He doesn't even work for NASA anymore!”

 

“But he has contacts there,” Harry argued. “He's well respected...”

 

“He could make some calls and pull some strings to gain you access to look at the rocks, and nothing more. It would only leave behind evidence of your presence and risk leading someone back to you, should it ever be discovered that some of the rocks are missing,” Snape said, pointedly.

 

Harry sighed and let his head fall back against the back of the chair. “I know you're probably right.”

 

“Of course I am,” Snape said with a smug smirk that made Harry chuckle when he looked up and saw it.

 

“I suppose it'll probably mean spending quite a bit less time there,” Harry said a few quiet moments later. “It would give me the opportunity to come back here with the samples. We could probably even get some of the transmutations started before the rest of the students are back in the school.”

 

“Also true.”

 

Harry sighed again and stared off into the room for a long moment, lost in thought. His eyes flickered and he looked to have made a decision because he gave a firm nod of his head before sitting up straighter and taking another sip of his French brandy. “Alright, I'll just go straight to Houston then. The majority of the rocks are stored in Building 31 at the Space Center, but as I recall it, about twenty percent of them are actually kept in another, nearby building in a sort of safe deposit box, just in case disaster should strike building 31.”

 

“Don't keep all of your eggs in one basket, as it were,” Snape said and Harry nodded.

 

“Precisely.”

 

“Which building has the least security concerns?”

 

“That – I'm not sure of. I suppose I'll have to recon the whole area. I can do it under my invisibility cloak during the day – the Lunar Building is partially open to tours, so I can slip in that way.”

 

“Do you need assistance?” Snape asked, looking away.

 

Harry stared at him for a moment before grinning widely. “Why, Master Snape – are you offering to help me commit first degree grand larceny? It's a Felony, you know. Serious business.”

 

Snape snorted and rolled his eyes.

 

“You haven't mentioned to Albus what I'm planning, have you?” Harry asked after the moment of levity, with a more serious tone.

 

“No, of course not. He would never approve.”

 

Harry snorted sardonically and sighed. “He would approve of the end goal, but he would insist I try harder to acquire the stones I need through legitimate means.”

 

“Is that even possible?” Snape asked, skeptically.

 

“No. It's really not. I tried in my previous life. I suppose that's why I had all my plans set on getting a hold of Dr. Mueller. I wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as I did without his help – but I had been trying to get a hold of the rocks using more legal avenues back then. I guess if I'm going to go ahead and nick the things, I'd may as well just plan that from the start and not waste my time.”

 

“It's a wonder that you were not discovered before, if you'd gone through all sorts of documented legal hoops in an attempt to acquire the rocks. A person who had gone to great lengths to gain something, then failed, would be a prime suspect if said object suddenly turned up missing.

 

“Yeah, although I don't think the muggles realized that I'd stolen anything. I duplicated several of the other rocks through permanent conjuration, and transfigured them to look like the ones I was stealing, before I left. Obviously, if the scientists actually examined the duplicates closely, they'd realize they were fakes. Making legitimate, perfect, copies would require an alchemical process, which is what I'll be doing later anyway, but when I was in the lab, in person, I didn't exactly have the time or luxury to do that.”

 

“Of course not. So what will you do now? Will you go prepared with substitutes?”

 

“That's the plan.”

 

Snape nodded and looked away, thoughtful again. “You never answered my earlier question.”

 

Harry blinked at him in confusion for a moment. “Refresh me?”

 

“Do you need assistance?”

 

“Oh! With getting the rocks?”

 

“No, with walking back upstairs to Gryffindor Tower,” Snape sneered sarcastically and Harry rolled his eyes.

 

Harry hummed in thought for a moment and shrugged. “I suppose it wouldn't hurt. How long as it been since you bothered trying to sneak around in the muggle world though?”

 

“I will grant you that I haven't spent a great deal of time among the muggles in recent years, but I am no novice in dealing with navigating the muggle world.”

 

“Yeah, your father was a muggle, right?”

 

Snape blinked at him, looking mildly surprised. “Yes he was,” He said quietly.

 

Harry looked into the fire and swished his cognac in his sifter for a silent moment. “I don't know a lot of the details about him, mind,” Harry said quietly, “but... I think that your father and my uncle had a number of things in common. I suppose I should be grateful that Uncle Vernon wasn't much of a drinker though. He certainly yelled a lot though,” Harry shuddered and then grimaced. “Merlin, he's still alive, isn't he? Ugh... what an awful thought! He's still my guardian!”

 

“What sorts of things are you suggesting that your uncle had in common with my father?” Snape asked, looking rather alarmed, but also slightly angry.

 

“Fear and anger, mostly,” Harry said with a shrug, still looking into the fire. “Your portrait did confide a few things to me after I'd told him some of the more unpleasant tales from my youth. My uncle despises anything that isn't normal. Magic, and of course me by extension, are the antithesis of normal. As far as he was concerned, anything and everything that ever went wrong, was some how a result of my 'freakishness.'

 

“He was the sort of man that liked to believe he was in total control of everything in his life. Magic was something beyond his control. Something more powerful than him, and that he could never have any chance to stand against it. He feared it, and so he responded with anger and hatred and bitter resentment. I was the focal point for all of that misery. He took it all out on me, and I never understood why because they never told me I was magical. I was just the freak.” Harry snorted bitterly, and then sighed, pausing to take another drink form his glass.

 

“He avoided hitting me – not because he realized it was wrong, but because he was afraid he wouldn't be able to restrain himself enough to just hurt me and not kill me, outright. He still managed to dislocate my shoulder and both of my elbows when I was younger, just by him dragging me out of my cupboard with more force than my joints could stand.”

 

“Your cupboard?” Snape asked and Harry glanced over to see that the man looked quite entirely horrified.

 

“They weren't good people, Master Snape. I'm not going to bother going into the details – I don't see much point,” Harry said shaking his head and giving the other man a sad smile. “It's done and over now though. There is quite literally no reason for me to ever go back there again. Sometimes the past is best left behind us. I'm sure you can agree with that sentiment as well.”

 

“Yes... I suppose so,” Snape said in a quiet voice.

 

Harry took a longer drink from his glass, nearly emptying it now and sighed happily before closing his eyes and just absorbing the warmth from the fire.

 

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Harry said suddenly, opening his eyes again and looking over at the Potions Master sitting beside him.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Tomorrow I've got a meeting scheduled down in Hogsmeade to see Sirius and try to explain things.”

 

Snape sneered deeply and quickly looked away, glowering at the fire and saying nothing.

 

“I know you hate him,” Harry said blandly and with a slightly amused smile, curling the corner of his lips, “as you should, considering all he did and how little remorse he has for those actions.”

 

Snape snorted darkly and took a long sip from his glass.

 

“I'm never going to ask the two of you to get along – I'm not delusional or stupid – but...” Harry sighed and shrugged, “he's still important to me. Somewhat at least. It's rather strange for me, honestly. His death effected me for a long time, and in such a huge way, but in retrospect, I realized that I barely even knew the man. Mostly what I lost wasn't a man that I knew and cared about, but rather, the hope that his existence gave me that I would one day get away from the Dursley's. I don't need him in that way now, obviously, but I'm not going to just throw the man aside either.”

 

“I suppose I can... understand that.” Snape said reluctantly.

 

“Sirius Black is far more of a child than I am at this point,” Harry said and Snape snorted in agreement. “I almost feel sort of... responsible for looking after him. Which is sort of ridiculous seeing as how he's my godfather. But I feel like the man needs looking after and that I'm the only one that can really do it.”

 

“Leave him to the werewolf,” Snape sneered.

 

“I'm hoping that he and Lupin might move in together,” Harry said honestly. “Remus could use someplace nice to stay and Sirius will certainly have no trouble affording nice things. Remus will also likely be a good grounding force for Sirius. Keep him restrained a bit. Obviously I can't look after Sirius all the time, and even if I could, I don't want to.”

 

“I should certainly say not,” Snape grumbled.

 

“Still... I'm worried about how Sirius will take all of this – about me being suddenly older and no longer needing him the way I did before. I worry he'll have difficulty figuring out what to do with himself. The goal I provided him with gave him something to work towards. A reason to do something with himself outside of his own personal needs. Without me needing him, I worry what he'll do...”

 

“Black is not your responsibility, Harry.” Snape said flatly and Harry glanced over at the man, wondering if he even realized he'd used his first name instead of calling him 'Potter'. “Supposedly, he is the adult, and you are the child. You are his responsibility, not the other way around, and it is not your fault if you do not need him to look after you.”

 

“Technically, I'm older than he is,” Harry pointed out, smirking. “Technically, I'm older than you.

 

“Do not remind me,” Snape said with a mild grimace and Harry snickered. “While I can understand your apprehension and worry in regards to how Black will take you revealing to him that you are no longer the child he expects you to be, I rather suspect that his reaction to the revelation that you are now my apprentice, will be far more explosive.”

 

Harry twisted up his face before heaving a sigh and nodding. “I rather suspect you're right. I'm really not looking forward to tomorrow, at all, but I know I can't avoid it forever. The article in the Prophet about me becoming your apprentice was in the very same issue as the one proclaiming his innocence. Somehow I imagine him getting a copy of that paper and saving it for posterity, so there's no doubt that he's going to come across the news eventually.”

 

Harry heaved yet another resigned sigh before knocking back the last of his cognac and setting his glass down on the coffee table. Snape looked at it for a moment before taking another drink of his own and eyeing Harry.

 

“As I recall, there was actually a reason that I bothered to share my rather expensive liquor with you. I believe there was a story in regards to Lucius Malfoy that you alluded to at some point.”

 

Harry blinked at him for a moment before recognition dawned on his features. “Oh, that! Right, right. Well, it's not really Lucius Malfoy so much, as it's Draco.”

 

Draco?” Snape echoed questioningly.

 

Harry leaned back in his chair staring, unseeingly at the mantle over the hearth and frowning in thought. “He saved my life in the war. Not a huge thing, really. Nothing so dramatic as pushing me out of the way of a curse, or something, but he bought me time and delayed Voldemort being called when I was captured by some snatchers and brought to the Malfoy's home in Wiltshire. I'm positive I would have died that day if not for what he did.”

 

Snape looked positively shocked when Harry looked over at him. “Draco Malfoy saved your life?” Snape said in an incredulous deadpan.

 

Harry snickered and shrugged.

 

“He was forced to take the Mark the summer after fifth year, because Lucius ended up captured in a raid on the Ministry and was landed in Azkaban. Voldemort demanded Draco's service in repayment for Lucius' 'failure',” Harry explained. “But Voldemort really had no use for a sixteen-year-old, and even the tasks he assigned him weren't things he actually expected Draco capable of. He was expected to fail so that Voldemort would have excuses to display his displeasure. The whole thing was orchestrated just to punish Lucius further. Voldemort let him stew in Azkaban for a while, but did eventually break him out. Not that being back in his own home was better. At least in Azkaban he was safe from Voldemort,” Harry snorted sardonically. “I don't know... I think that the Malfoy's suffered a tremendous amount from the return to Voldemort. Honestly, I almost feel a bit of remorse, knowing that the Draco I knew in my old life will likely never exist here.

 

“He suffered a great deal, and it taught him some humility. After the war had ended, Lucius was sent back to Azkaban and he eventually died there. I managed to keep Draco and Narcissa out of there though. Narcissa saved my life as well, and it was her actions that actually gave me the opportunity to kill Voldemort in the end.”

 

Snape's jaw actually dropped marginally and it made Harry smirk, which in turn snapped Snape out of his stupor and he simply glared at Harry.

 

“Even though Draco was Marked, my testimony that he took it under intense duress, and my statements about him saving me, managed to get him off on some leniency. The Ministry still took a pretty significant chunk of the Malfoy's assets in the end though.” Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before turning his gaze back on Snape. “Have you spoken with Lucius Malfoy since Voldemort's body was 'found'?”

 

“Only through letter; not in person.”

 

“Probably a wise precaution.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Have you gotten any clear impressions on how he feels about all of this?” Harry asked.

 

Snape contemplated the question for a moment before responding. “Lucius is often a difficult person to read through missive. Of course, he would never risk putting anything incriminating down on paper. I would have a much better idea if I were to see him in person, but even then he is one of the more accomplished wizards I have ever known, at keeping secrets and putting on any front that he desires to show to the public. However, if I had to wager a guess, simply from my own knowledge of the man and my past observations, I would say he is likely relieved.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“The Dark Lord was already quite insane, even during the late seventies, but at the time Lucius, I, and the others, really only saw a powerful, ambitious, and daring magical genius. We were young and stupid, and we did not recognize his insanity for what it was until it was too late. After his resurrection last spring, there was no denying the insanity had grown leaps and bounds during his time spent as little more than specter. Far easier to anger; far quicker to react with a painful curse with little to no provocation; and obsessively driven towards the most inexplicable goals. Lucius is a smart man – brutal at times, but smart. He's always been ambitious and driven, and he has gained himself quite a lot of power, wealth, and influence over the years. He did not want to risk his comfortable life of power and prestige for a stark raving lunatic, but he was too afraid to go against the Dark Lord.”

 

Harry hummed thoughtfully and nodded. He fingered at his empty glass on the table beside his chair, and debated asking for more. He was already feeling very pleasantly warm and possibly even a bit tipsy if he were being honest. He knew he was probably quite the light-weight at this point; being as young, and thin as he was. He had very little body fat to absorb the alcohol, and he was fairly sure this was the first time his current body had actually consumed alcohol.

 

Harry stared into the fire lost in his thoughts and the two sat in silence for several long minutes.

 

“This is nice,” Harry said with a soft smile.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Sitting here with you. It's calm. Spending time in the Gryffindor common room is a bit maddening for me sometimes. And I feel so out of place there. Like I'm babysitting,” Harry shuddered, and he noticed that Snape smirked in amusement out of the corner of his eye.

 

“I certainly can't imagine trying to spend time in the Slytherin common room, socializing,” Snape drawled with a sneer and Harry chuckled.

 

“Precisely. I really have little in common with those kids anymore. But they don't know that and they try to include me, and I feel like I'm just humoring them. Like when you look after a younger kid and you try to play with them because they ask you to... don't look at me like that. Alright, I guess you probably never bothered to even try to play with any kids, but I have. I had two godsons and a goddaughter over the years that were basically like nephews and a niece. They called me 'Uncle Harry', anyways. And when they were younger, they'd want me to play with them, or entertain them or something, and I'd play along, but really just out of obligation and to humor them. That's how I feel with the other Gryffindor kids. It gets old, really fast.”

 

“I imagine it would,” Snape said dryly.

 

“This is much better,” Harry said with a smile and let his heavy eyelids slide closed as he just basked in the warmth of the fire, and the warmth in his veins.

 

“Don't you dare fall asleep, Potter. I'm already crossing the line, just by allowing you liquor. The last thing I need is the scandal that would follow if you spent the night here.”

 

Harry snorted, but didn't open his eyes. “The Gryffindors would be too horrified by the mere idea of it, to even dare voice any suspicions of that nature.”

 

“Perhaps, but my Snakes would not be quite so hesitant.”

 

“Well then you're snakes have better taste and more sense. Th' Gryff'ndors are all too blin'd by their view of you. They don't see how bloody hot you are. Stupid little blighters.”

 

Snape sat motionless and blank for several long seconds, unsure how to process what he'd just heard. His stunned stupor was interrupted by the soft sound of Harry's snore, a moment later.

 

“Potter?” No response. “Potter! Damn it, I told you not to fall asleep!”

 

The sound of Harry's gentle snoring was all the response Snape got before he growled in frustration and stood from his seat. He returned a minute later with one of his heavy spare blankets from the linen closet and draped it over the sleeping teen-who-wasn't-really-a-teen.

 

He gathered up their now empty glasses and stowed the remainder of the congac in his small liquor cabinet in the little kitchenette he had in his quarters. He tidied up a few things just to keep himself busy and distracted, but eventually found himself standing in front of the chair the Harry occupied, watching the man sleep.

 

He felt confused and conflicted. He couldn't quite pin down or label of any his feelings and that only served to frustrate him further. The uncertainty over how much the bond was influencing his feelings only served to irritate him more.

 

He had grown shockingly fond of the man before him in less than two weeks span. He had been aware of the bond influencing some parts of his interactions with the man early on. It was always small things really – just the moments hesitation necessary to second think the biting, sarcastic, or especially nasty, remarks that often slipped through out of habit. The ones that he often regretted uttering, moments after they'd escaped him and it was now too late to take them back. He would never allow his regret over such utterances show on his face, nor would he ever apologize for them, but he did often regret them just the same. They were the things, after all, that pushed so many people away from him. Even his colleagues that he respected were often driven away by his bitter angry and uncontrolled remarks.

 

But over the past week and a half since forming the apprenticeship bond with Harry Potter, he had felt the tiniest of nudges in the back of his mind, each time one of those remarks was about to slip out, and he has hesitated. Just long enough to decide whether or not he really wanted to say it.

 

That certainly didn't mean that he'd stopped being scathing and sarcastic, but that seemed alright because what he did let through seemed to amuse Potter more than irritate or insult him. Potter actually seemed to appreciate his subtle, dry, humor.

 

And he appreciated Potter's humor as well. It was rather a bit like Snape's own brand of humor, actually. But kinder and less biting. He was a quiet man, Snape had come to realize. He spent more time sitting and silently observing other people than he spent actively interacting with them. Although, Severus suspected that had more to do with the fact that Potter was interacting with teenagers who, he himself had noted, he had little in common with anymore.

 

Among intellectual peers, however, he opened up and his enthusiasm over his work was surprisingly contagious. Severus had rarely, if ever, felt a professional kinship with someone, the way he had this last week with Harry.

 

The rush of pride and elation that he experienced after working out a particularly challenging and tricky brew – when he discovered the perfect way to substitute certain ingredients with different ones in a dire situation, or in a situation where he simply wished to improve the potency or effectiveness of a certain aspect of the potion – it was something he had only ever experienced when working alone. And yet, he had experienced a very similar feeling when he and Potter worked out a few particularly complex formulas, or worked through some theoretical ideas that neither really would have been able to work out alone.

 

Who ever would have thought that Harry Potter could be such enjoyable company. Certainly not Severus Snape. He never, in a million years, would have seen this coming.

 

He'd had students over the years that he couldn't stand when they were younger who grew up to be at least tolerable once they'd matured, but that was entirely different. He still had a very difficult time connecting this Potter that he'd grown quite fond of, with the one that had been the bane of his life for so damned long. He even wondered if the bond itself was working to separate the two in his mind, just to help guarantee he could work well with the man now.

 

He looked down over the peacefully sleeping face of the man who he had so quickly grown to respect and admire. He looked obscenely young, laying there like that, and it made Severus feel rather uncomfortable for some reason. He didn't like to think of Potter as 15-years old. He wasn't fifteen. He just looked like it. Technically, it was true, so he'd stick by that and just not think about it.

 

Potter shifted in his sleep and some of that tousled, untamable black mop on his head fell down over his eyes. Severus was overcome with the most absurd impulse to reach down and tuck the escaped strands behind Potter's ear.

 

As Severus stood there observing the sleeping man he couldn't help but take the rare opportunity to really observe him. Despite his physical youth, Potter was quite attractive. He would grow to be a very handsome man, indeed. Which really wasn't in question, considering how much he looked like his damned father. It had been universally accepted that James Potter was an attractive teen, and a very handsome man. Even Lily had eventually fallen under his thrall, despite all common sense.

 

Lily's son. He often forgot that Harry was not just James Potter's son, but also Lily's son.

 

Severus suddenly felt very inappropriate standing there in the dimly lit room, and quickly left. He went to his private potion stores and dug out a small vile of hangover remedy and returned to the sitting room just long enough to place it on the small end table next to Potter, and set an alarm spell to go off at five o'clock in the morning. Ideally the man would take the hint and leave before Severus came out in the morning.

 

– –

 

“There you are!” Ron said as he entered the Great Hall with Dean and Seamus the following morning at breakfast.

 

“Hmm?” Harry hummed in question around his cup of orange juice, as he swallowed and looked at the other boys with blank confusion.

 

“You didn't come in last night,” Ron pointed out as he sat down next to Harry.

 

“Oh, that,” Harry said dismissively. “I was up way late brewing this really complex potion that gets rid of kidney stones and I fell asleep on my stool in the lab. Master Snape transfigured one of the work benches into a cot, levitated me over to it and bailed once the potion was done.”

 

They looked incredulous.

 

“He left you to sleep in the potions lab?” Seamus squeaked.

 

“He set an alarm spell for five a.m.,” Harry said with a grimace and then yawned loudly, just to emphasize it.

 

“I'm stunned he didn't just wake you up and kick you out,” Dean said and the others hummed in agreement. Harry just shrugged and bit into his toast.

 

“He's really not bad to me when we're in private,” Harry said after he'd swallowed. “We get on really well, actually. I've already explained this to you guys.”

 

“I still say you're under a spell or something,” Seamus said with an exaggerated shudder.

 

“If Snape being a huge git was just an act for the sake of his cover as a spy, how come he's still a right arse in classes?” Cormac McLaggen, who was sitting just a bit further down the bench from them, and who had apparently been eavesdropping, asked Harry.

 

“Habit,” Harry said with a shrug. “Besides, it's not like his teaching habits were entirely for the sake of his cover. He really does hate teaching kids who have no respect for brewing. It drives him crazy. It was just his excessively shitty treatment of me that was a cover. I mean, everyone knows that he hated my father when they were younger and a lot of that resentment came through easily enough for him to treat me like shit, but people forget that he and my mum were best friends for years, even before coming to Hogwarts. He treated me like crap in public, but we buried that hatchet a while ago. Working with him really isn't bad at all.”

 

McLaggen snorted, rolled his eyes and went back to his own breakfast.

 

“So Harry, when are you meeting Sirius in Hogsmeade?” Ron asked.

 

“At ten,” Harry replied. “I'll probably start walking down right after breakfast though and do some light shopping. I still need to finish up my Christmas shopping.”

 

“Bugger, I still need to get something for my sisters,” Dean moaned.

 

“Last Hogsmeade weekend of term, mate. You'd better not waste it,” Seamus said with a grin.

 

– –

 

“Good Morning, Mr. Potter,” Snape voice came from behind him and Harry turned around, slightly startled to see the Potions Master walking down the path towards the front gates, just a number of feet behind him.

 

“Master Snape!” Harry said in surprise. “Did you need something?”

 

“I need to make a trip to the apothecary, actually,” Snape said and he came equal with Harry and the pair resumed walking.

 

“Ah, I see.”

 

“When is Black expected in Hogsmeade?”

 

“We're not scheduled to meet until ten, but that doesn't guarantee that he won't be there early,” Harry said with a slight hint of warning.

 

“Then I shall make my trip brief. I only need a few things. I would simply owl for them, but they are too delicate for owl flight.”

 

They walked in silence for several minutes as they passed the gates of Hogwarts and began to make the trek down winding path that skirted along the edge of the Forbidden Forest, to Hogsmeade.

 

“Thanks for the hangover drought, by the way,” Harry said, grinning up at Snape.

 

“No doubt your body's youthful metabolism wasn't accustomed to such fine liquor. I thought it was safe to assume you would wake with quite a headache.”

 

“And you would be right,” Harry said, chuckling weakly. “It's kind of sad, really. I only had one glass. I didn't realize I would be such a pathetic light-weight in my youth.”

 

“Are you suggesting that you didn't often engage in the consumption of alcohol in your teen years?” Snape asked with sarcastic disbelief.

 

“Believe it or not, no, I really didn't,” Harry said smirking. “The first time I had an alcoholic drink was a shot of Firewhiskey a few days before my seventeenth birthday, in honor of Moody, just after he died.”

 

“How did Moody die?” Severus asked with a tone that was mildly more gentle than Harry would have expected.

 

“Voldemort killed him.”

 

“In person? Quite an honor,” Snape drawled sarcastically and Harry snorted.

 

“Yeah, I guess so. It'll be weird the first time I see him alive, I think. Of course, it's also going to be weird to see Sirius today, or Remus whenever that happens.”

 

“How did Lupin end up dying?”

 

“In the final battle at Hogwarts; he was killed by Dolohov. Lupin was a good friend to me. He made me godfather of his son, Teddy, actually. It was for Teddy Lupin that I first started my research into the Lycanthropy cure. But part of me was also doing for Remus' sake. For his memory, I suppose.”

 

“I'm... sorry,” Snape said softly.

 

“Thanks,” Harry said, smiling gently up at the man walking beside him. “It's good to know the man who killed him in my old timeline is still in Azkaban in this one, and will remain there. It will be so odd to see Remus again though. I can't help but wonder if there's any hope of Teddy being born in this new, altered timeline. Without the war, I'm not sure that Remus will grow close to Teddy's mother, or ever actually get married. War has a way of bringing people together.”

 

“And tearing them apart,” Snape said sagely and Harry nodded.

 

“Yes. That too.”

 

“I can't say for sure how I feel about the idea of Lupin breeding,” Snape said stiffly, looking away into the dense dark woods they were walking beside. “There is too great a risk of passing along the curse. It's dangerous and irresponsible.”

 

Harry shrugged and nodded. “It didn't actually activate in Teddy until he reached puberty, and up until then we'd all thought it had passed him by. It was such a frightening shock when it happened, and he was so scared...” Harry sighed. “But if we can get this cure worked out, it won't matter anymore.”

 

When we get the cure worked out,” Snape corrected him, and their eyes met. Harry smiled and nodded.

 

“When.”

 

– –

 

Harry accompanied Snape to the Apothecary and browsed the shop while the Potions Master collected his order from the shopkeeper, who had it already prepared for him. The shopkeep had heard about Harry becoming Snape's apprentice and chatted happily and excitedly with the both of them for several minutes before Snape interrupted and pointed out that he needed to leave quickly, and to speed things up.

 

Harry was grateful for the diversion and went back to his shopping. Along the far back wall, separate from all of the ingredients, were a few shelves with various sizes of empty potion phials, bottles, and vials for storing your potions once brewed. Most were very generic and plain; coming in glass, crystal, and diamond among other materials. Harry spotted a box, dusty and tucked away in the back corner of one of the display cases. He pulled it out, opened it and found it filled with a set of decorative empty potions phials. They were crystal and perfectly clear, but curling along the outside of each bottle were intricately molded sterling silver designs. Some were snakes, twined and coiled around the bottles in interesting designs, other were leaves and vines or floral designs, and yet some others had Celtic knot patterns decorating the edges, or runes. They were all beautiful and of high quality.

 

Nine phials, he counted and ran his fingers over the contents of the box. It was perfect, he realized. He'd seen a number of decorative potion bottles lining the shelves in Snape's private sitting room, so he knew the man would probably appreciate the gift. It was a bit pricey though, and he worried that Snape would consider the gift 'flaunting his wealth' or some such rubbish. He hoped that Snape's appreciation for the gift itself would overwhelm any inclination to feel insulted by having Harry's financial situation 'rubbed in his face'.

 

Granted, Harry's financial situation wasn't technically all that impressive at the moment. He had enough for his schooling, of course, but he didn't actually have access to the Potter estate until he came of age. Until then, the only way to access it was to involve his 'legal guardians', and the last thing he would ever do was inform the Dursley's that he had money.

 

Still, he had sufficient spending money to afford a few splurges like this. Harry closed the box and tucked it under his arm. Snape was finishing up with his order just as Harry walked up.

 

“Heading back up to the castle?” Harry asked casually.

 

“Yes. I think it's best I go now-before certain individuals arrive in town and there is an unpleasant altercation.”

 

Harry smiled indulgently and nodded.

 

“I'll see you later then, Master Snape.”

 

“Good day, Mr. Potter,” Snape replied with a slight incline of his head before he turned and left the shop.

 

As soon as Harry was sure the man was gone and wouldn't be returning, he went up to the counter and set the box down.

 

“I'll take this.”

 

– –

 

 

“Harry!” Sirius exclaimed happily as Harry was led into one of the private meeting room on the second floor of the Three Broomsticks by Madam Rosmerta.

 

Harry walked over and Sirius pulled him into a one-armed hug, complete with awkward back pat before they pulled apart and made their way over to the table and chairs. Rosmerta had already provided two mugs of foaming butterbeer for them and Harry took a small sip from his before looking at his godfather. It was... surreal. He had thought he was somewhat used to it by now, but it was still just so strange. Both Dumbledore and Snape had been dead nearly as long as Sirius, and Dumbledore's death had definitely had a profound effect on him – probably quite a bit more so than Sirius' death had – but seeing them alive and speaking with them again wasn't quite as unreal feeling as seeing Sirius alive again, was.

 

He suspected it had something to do with having had the almost constant company of both Dumbledore's and Snape's magical portraits for quite a number of years now. Sure, the men were dead, and Harry was more than aware that their magical portraits were not the same as the men themselves, but it didn't feel quite so weird for them to be alive again, as it did for Sirius to be alive.

 

Sirius looked good, that was obvious. Even better than he had the last time he'd really seen him alive during the summer and then Christmas holidays of his original fifth year. Obviously being declared free and clear suited him nicely. The man's eyes were alight with a happiness that Harry had never actually seen on his godfather's face and it made him smile.

 

They made small talk for a few minutes where mostly Sirius talked, filling Harry in on what had been happening since Pettigrew was found and the Ministry had first made the offer to re-examine his case. He still hadn't actually gone forward until after the report of Voldemort's death had come out, and even at that point, he had made initial contacts only with Amelia Bones and only via owl until he was actually confident that Fudge or someone else would try to make him disappear.

 

“Oh hey! I nearly forgot!” Sirius said suddenly. “You were missing for three solid weeks and the Order was going crazy trying to hunt you down!”

 

“Er... yes?”

 

“The Order had a meeting at headquarters about three weeks ago when it came out about Voldemort being dead, and McGonagall told me what happened. You're an animagus!!”

 

“Oh! Right. Yeah, that.”

 

Yeah that,” Sirius echoed sarcastically before snorting. “I can't believe you didn't tell me! This is incredible! McGonagall said your form is some kind of big cat, is that right?”

 

“Yeah, I'm a lynx.”

 

“That's brilliant!” Sirius said excitedly. “So how come you didn't write and tell me?! Are you trying to keep it from the Ministry or something? It sounded to me like it had already gotten out and McGonagall mentioned something about you having to register.”

 

“Yeah, I'm already registered,” Harry said, shrugging. “I didn't write about it because... well, I've got a lot to tell you, and that's really only a small bit of it. It seemed kind of unimportant in the grand scheme of things, so it just slipped my mind.”

 

“Unimportant he says! Harry, you're an animagus!! It's incredible! I didn't even know you'd been studying it! You should have said something, I could have helped you out.”

 

“Sirius,” Harry said, holding a hand up and trying to put a stop to the other wizards excitement. “There really are a lot of very important things that I need to tell you.”

 

“More important than you becoming an animagus?” Sirius asked skeptically, although he sounded marginally more serious now.

 

“Yes,” Harry insisted firmly. “More important.”

 

Sirius sat back in his chair and folded his hands on the table in front of him looking intent. “Alright, pup. What's up?”

 

“First off, can you cast a silence ward around the room?”

 

“Madam Rosemerta –“

 

“I don't care if she's got wards on the rooms or whatever. I'd feel a lot better if one of us cast a spell and technically I'm not supposed to do any magic outside of school. I could probably get away with it since we're in Hogsmeade and the Ministry would have a hard time proving that I was the one to cast the spell, but I'd rather not take the risk with the political climate as it is right now.”

 

“Okay, okay. I'll do it.” Sirius drew his wand, stood up and went to the four corners of the room, muttering quietly under his breath. Harry felt the ward raise once it was complete and Sirius came back over and sat back down. “Happy?”

 

“Very.”

 

“Okay, so what's up?”

 

“The story about me succeeding at the animagus transformation and getting stuck in my animal form for three weeks was a lie. It was just a cover story.”

 

Sirius' eyes widened. “Are you really an animagus?”

 

“Yes, I am.”

 

“Wait, then for how long have –“

 

“Sirius, me being an animagus really isn't the important part of the story, alright?”

 

Sirius scowled a little, but sighed and waved his hand as if to tell Harry to continue.

 

“The day before I disappeared from Hogwarts I had a sort of... fit, in class. I went unconscious and they put me into the hospital wing – did they tell you that?”

 

“Yes, Dumbledore explained all of that at an Order meeting early on when we first started searching for you.”

 

“Okay, what really happened that day is that I... well that's the day that I came back in time and entered my younger-self's body. I'm still Harry Potter, but I'm Harry Potter from the future.”

 

Sirius stared at him for several long seconds, looking entirely bewildered.

 

“I don't get it. Is this a joke?”

 

Harry sighed and sank back into his seat more. “Let me start from the beginning...”

 

Harry spent the next several hours explaining a great many things to Sirius, including a brief history of how his original timeline progressed; who died, who lived, his career at the Ministry and his eventual disillusionment and utter frustration with it that led to his quitting the Auror forces and becoming a teacher at Hogwarts instead. How he even eventually ended up as Headmaster.

 

He explained the Hallows and how it made him 'Master of Death'. He also explained how Death didn't like having a master to which he had to bend to the will of and how when Harry had died, Death had offered him an alternative. As a part of the rules that bound Death to serve the one deemed 'Master of Death', he had to bring Harry back to life; again and again, if it came to it. So long as he remained Master of Death, he could never die. But Death was only required to bring Harry back to life at basically the same moment he died. What he offered was an alternate path that was potentially far more valuable to Harry. The catch was that it would remove Harry from his position as 'Master of Death' and thus free Death from his bondage.

 

Harry had accepted the offer easily. He didn't care about remaining Master of Death. He hadn't even really realized he still was Master of Death. And the opportunity that Death had offered him truly was too great chance to pass up. And so he had gone back in time and re-entered his own fifteen-year-old body.

 

Sirius remained quiet through most of what Harry said, and Harry wasn't entirely sure the man was even believing a single word he said. When Harry got to the part where he returned to the past, woke up in the hospital wing, and instantly set to the task of making Voldemort mortal, Sirius perked up with greater interest again.

 

When Harry finally revealed that it had been he who killed Voldemort, Sirius had balked. Then he had laughed. It was a stunned laugh, but also a happy laugh.

 

It took a while to get the whole process done and over with, but finally the two had talked it all over and Harry was fairly sure that Sirius did, in fact, believe him. Sirius also realized that Harry was the one who sent Pettigrew to the Aurors. Harry insisted it was nothing, but Sirius wouldn't have any of it and seemed to be of the mind that he owed Harry a tremendous debt for what he'd done for him.

 

Sensing a potential opening, Harry pulled in a deep breath, steeling himself for what he was sure would be a very unpleasant experience.

 

“Okay Sirius,” Harry began hesitantly. “If you really want to try and repay me, then I do have one thing I'd like.”

 

“Anything,” Sirius said intensely.

 

“I want you to accept, and not freak out about what I'm about to tell you.”

 

Sirius' brow furrowed and he frowned. “Wait, that's it? In repayment for saving me and getting my named cleared, you just want me to not freak out? What is it? It can't be that bad. Not after what all you've just told me!”

 

Harry laughed weakly and fidgeted before pushing down his nerves. “Well I don't think it's a bad thing at all. In fact, it's been working out fantastic so far. I'm happy with this arrangement, which I suppose is why it's so important to me that you accept it and don't try to fight me on this.”

 

Sirius looked worried, but nodded his head.

 

“I'm forty-six years old, Sirius, and I've got some work I want to focus on – academic research of a sort that is important to me. Playing the role of an actual fifteen-year-old is really rather bothersome and tedious and I was pretty dead set on just... leaving once Voldemort was dead. Albus managed to convince me to try and endure this school year so that I can take my OWL exams and become legally qualified so that I won't have to worry about anyone claiming I'm not qualified to keep my wand.”

 

Sirius nodded his head and looked a bit relieved, himself.

 

“But I'd told him that I had no plans for coming back for my sixth year,” Harry continued and Sirius mild scowl returned. “Obviously, he didn't exactly like this, but he didn't outwardly complain. Albus doesn't work like that, after all,” Harry said with a fond, but mildly annoyed tone. “He set to trying to work out a way to guarantee that I would have a reason to come back next year, and he actually managed to find one.

 

“You see, my biggest problem with coming back for next year is that I don't want to deal with the tedium of classes I took and passed twenty years ago; the amount of time consumed by said classes, and the delay it causes in continuing my research. The old man actually found the perfect solution, so I've got to give him credit.”

 

“What solution?” Sirius asked, hopefully.

 

“I've become an apprentice to one of the professors. I still have to finish out this year so I can take my OWL exams, but after that, I can remain at Hogwarts as an assistant teacher. I'm already teaching the first and second year defense students, since we've been without a Defense professor since Umbridge left. I'll teach a few classes to the lower years next year too, but I won't have to take any classes at all, other than that. That means the remainder of my time can be spent on my research projects. It's actually ideal to be at Hogwarts for that, so long as I'm not having to take normal classes, so this arrangement works wonderfully for me. And I really missed teaching the lower years, after I became Headmaster, so it's actually been a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to next year now.”

 

“Oh wow. Well that's great Harry! It's a big change, but... well, all of this is pretty crazy and a bit much to take in. I guess I prefer this to you just dropping out entirely, but if you did still want to do that, you can always come and stay with me and Remus.”

 

Harry's face lit up a bit. “So you and Remus are rooming together, then?”

 

“Yeah. I figured I could use the company, and I really couldn't stand to see him barely scrapping by and staying in a real pit of a flat. This way I can help him out while pretending he's doing me a favor by keeping me company,” Sirius said with a smug smirk.

 

Harry chuckled and nodded. “Well, it's a good arrangement for both of you. I'm glad. And thanks for the offer. I'll definitely come and visit you guys, but I'll probably spend most of my time at Hogwarts. The thing I'm working on right now is really important. In fact...” Harry hesitated before making a decision. “Okay, I'm not sure I want you to pass this on, because I'd hate to get his hopes up and then have everything fall through, but... I'm working on a cure for Lycanthropy.”

 

Sirius gaped at him. “Are you serious?”

 

Harry nodded. “Yes. I've been working on it for years now, actually, and I was so close, right there at the end when I managed to blow myself up in a lab accident. But I'm working through my memories and recovering my notes and my work. So far things are coming together really well, and my Apprenticeship master is actually being a load of help and things are progressing great so far. I've got high hopes.”

 

“Merlin's balls, Harry! That's incredible!” Sirius exclaimed His eyes went unfocused and Harry could tell his mind was spinning with the possibilities. A moment of silence passed before Sirius' brow furrowed slightly in confusion. “Why did you think that I'd take the apprenticeship thing badly? This whole thing started with you telling me I couldn't freak out...” he trailed off before frowning at Harry. “Who's your master?”

 

“You're not allowed to freak out.”

 

“Who is it, Harry?” Sirius growled.

 

“Snape.”

 

“SNAPE!?”

 

You're not allowed to freak out!” Harry said again, louder this time and with a firm voice that managed to surprise Sirius enough that he settled back into his seat, looking simply stunned.

 

“But... Snape? How did this happen, Harry!? How are you okay with this?”

 

“In the beginning, the reason for doing it was so that I could teach some of the Defense classes, so I had to apprentice under someone who held a Mastery in Defense. The only Professors on staff who hold that title are Master Snape and Dumbledore. Dumbledore, being the Headmaster, isn't technically supposed to take on an apprentice who is still a student at the school. On top of that, with this arrangement, next year I can help teach the first through second or third year potions classes, as well as maybe covering the first and second years in Defense. It'll give Master Snape more time so he can focus more on brewing for the Hospital wing, teaching his upper years, and finally get some time to work on academic research. Namely – he'll have more time to help me with the Lycanthropy cure.

 

“I've already worked through the theory of two of the trickiest problems I was still dealing with, just with our talking and working over my notes. And that's just in this last week. He's a brilliant potioneer and probably the best help I could hope to get.”

 

Sirius scoffed dramatically. “Help? From Snivellus? As if he would seriously help anyone unless it served his own needs. And why would he ever help you to cure Remus? He hates Remus.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes. “First off, it's hardly a matter of just helping cure Remus. It's a cure for all werewolves. And you're argument is obviously unfounded since he still brews a batch of woflsbane each month for Remus, and he does it for free, ignoring the significant cost of the ingredients. Secondly, he most certainly will get something out of helping me. He'll get co-creator status on this thing which will probably be known as one of the most important breakthroughs of the century. He'll also own half of the patent on the cure, and it'll generate revenue for years, since I rather doubt we'll manage to completely wipe out lycanthropy. There will always be people like Fenrir Grayback who don't want to be cured. So both of your arguments are mute. However, even beyond that, he's not the cruel evil man that you see him as. You're just blinded by your own prejudice and your teenaged rivalry. I like him. I enjoy his company. We buried the hatchet, so to speak, and I am pleased with the arrangement I've got with him.”

 

Sirius sat in his chair gaping like a fish with a rather dumbstruck, but also still very confused, expression on his face.

 

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair in a slightly frustrated gesture. “I'm forty-six years old, Sirius,” He said in a tired voice. “I got over my resentment for Severus Snape a long time ago. You can't live the life I've lived without learning how to get over old grudges. They aren't productive.”

 

“But he's Snape!”

 

“You were locked in Azkaban for more than ten years, Sirius. He went on with his life during that time. He's not the exact same person he was when he was seventeen. And the only times you've seen him since then were bitter interactions fueled by old animosity. You don't know the man that Severus Snape is today. I'm not the same person I was when I was actually fifteen, and even if I was, let's be honest with each other – you didn't even know the fifteen-year-old me very well. We only just barely were able to spend time with each other, and always had to be careful when sending post, just in case it was ever intercepted. I would wager that even when you two were students together at Hogwarts, that you didn't know the real Severus Snape. He's a very private man, and he would have been a very private boy. You only saw what was on the surface.”

 

“He was a slimy, nasty git who knew more Dark Arts coming in than –“

 

“I really rather doubt that, Sirius,” Harry sighed. “Look, let's just agree to disagree on this, okay? You don't like Snape. I do. I've already performed the Apprenticeship bond with him and signed all of the contracts. We are bound together for one year, and no amount of dislike you might have for that fact, will change it.”

 

Sirius really looked like he wanted to argue, but he just heaved a defeated sigh and sank into his seat. “I guess it won't,” he grumbled bitterly.

 

The two sat in heavy silence for several long moments while Sirius seemed to stew and think.

 

“I can trust you to keep everything I've told you, to yourself, yes?” Harry asked finally.

 

Sirius looked up at him with confusion for a moment before he quickly nodded. “Of course!” he insisted.

 

“Good, because it's a lot of very sensitive information, and I'd rather it never get out. Right now the only other people who know are Dumbledore, Snape, and Ron and Hermione. No one else knows.”

 

Sirius nodded, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Will you tell Remus?”

 

“Eventually, yes. I plan to,” Harry replied. “The only other person I might ever tell is McGonagall, but I'm not sure yet. I really don't want to tell much of anyone more, if I can help it.”

 

“When um... well, for Remus...?”

 

“You said you two are rooming together, right?”

 

“That's right.”

 

“Well, I think the plan was to come and stay with you for a portion of the Christmas holidays, so I'll see him then. I'll tell him then, I guess.”

 

“What about the Lycanthropy cure?”

 

“I'm not sure,” Harry admitted. “I'm actually pretty confident that it'll be a success, but I'd hate to give him hope and then have to pull the rug out from under him if it doesn't work out.”

 

“I think he'd be okay. Any hope it something to live for.”

 

Harry looked up and met Sirius eyes and Harry knew, he knew that Sirius was talking from experience.

 

He nodded his head. “Alright. I'll tell him over the holidays.”

 

– –