A/N: So…hello everyone. Yes, I am alive! And, believe it or not, I have another chapter for you. It only took a little more than a year to complete….I really am sorry about that.

I'd say that the biggest reason for the long hiatus has been my job. I've been taking on more responsibilities and complicated work at my job over the past year. It's been a very stressful time for me, and the last thing I usually feel like doing after a full day of legal analysis and writing is to come home and expend even more brain power writing a story.

Which isn't to say that I don't spend quite a bit of time thinking about this story. Because I absolutely do. It's just been difficult to find the time and energy necessary to sit down and compose the next part of this tale into coherent sentences.

But the next installment is finally complete! I always seem to get a good amount of writing done when there's a hurricane raging outside (Probably because I get a bit of time off work when that happens). To my fellow Floridians, I hope you all make it through Hurricane Ian okay. As I write this, there is currently a lot of wind and rain pounding against my house, but otherwise I am faring well and I have been lucky enough not to lose power…yet (knock on wood).

But enough about me. Without further ado, enjoy this next installment!

Harry spent a good portion of the day on Sunday trying to convince Madam Pomfrey to release him from the hospital wing. His fever had receded, his scar had stopped bleeding, and his headache was – mostly – gone.

It was that "mostly" part that had kept the mediwitch from granting his request.

"The fact remains, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey told him, for perhaps the hundredth time that day, "that your body has not responded as it should to the headache potions I've given you. You should not be feeling any lingering pain whatsoever. You will therefore remain here for observation."

"But people walk around with headaches all the time," Harry complained. "And they don't have to lie around in a hospital bed all day."

The boy knew he had little chance of actually winning this argument. But at this point, he was just bored. And he really, really wanted to go find Ron and Hermione so that they could finish their discussion about Hagrid.

"People don't normally come to me with undiagnosable illnesses, Mr. Potter. Until I know what we're dealing with, I would prefer if you remained nearby."

"But, you- you're not just going to keep me here forever, are you?" Harry asked worriedly. "I have classes tomorrow. And I already missed Friday."

Madam Pomfrey sighed as she began stripping the sheets off the bed next to Harry's.

"There's no need for dramatics, Mr. Potter. I will continue to monitor you for the rest of today and tomorrow morning. If your condition hasn't worsened by that point in time, I may consider clearing you to attend classes. Alright?"

Harry sighed as he settled back against his pillows. "Yes, ma'am."

"Honestly, Potter. Most students jump at the chance to miss a few classes," the mediwitch shook her head.

Harry just shrugged. Would he really be upset to have to miss Lockhart's class tomorrow? No. But then people would talk and whisper and spread gossip about why he hadn't been seen since potions class on Thursday. And somehow, someway, Harry feared that they might just get to the truth.

And he couldn't let that happen.

"What happened to Justin and Colin?" Harry suddenly asked then, looking towards the empty bed where Colin's body had been deposited that night in the hospital wing when the first year had been petrified. "Why aren't they still here?"

"They were moved to more private accommodations in St. Mungo's," Madam Pomfrey replied. "Per their families' requests."

Harry frowned, wondering for a moment what would become of him if he got petrified. Would anyone, the Weasleys perhaps, ask to have him moved somewhere private? Or would he simply be left in the hospital wing, exposed to every gawking student who wandered in here?

The boy sighed in frustration thinking about the Weasleys again. He was now more convinced than ever that he would only serve as a burden to them should he ever join their family. They simply didn't have the time nor the financial ability to take on another kid. He couldn't do that to them.

And the next time he saw Snape, he was going to tell him so.

"The mandrakes are coming along nicely, though," Madam Pomfrey said then, distracting Harry from his thoughts. "Both Mr. Creevey and Mr. Finch-Fletchley will make a full recovery. It will just take a little more time."

"And Nick and Mrs. Norris?" Harry asked a bit anxiously. What if the mandrake treatment didn't work the same on ghosts and cats?

"They will all be just fine, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey reassured. "Now why don't you try to get some rest?"

"Yes, ma'am," Harry murmured reluctantly as the mediwitch began walking away towards her office. The boy closed his eyes for a minute. But his mind was soon flooded with thoughts of the Weasleys and of Hagrid.

And Tom Riddle.

Harry tried to think back on Tom Riddle's memory. He remembered Riddle cornering Hagrid in some remote part of the castle. And then Harry had tried to get Riddle's attention. And he did get his attention.

But the details of their brief encounter were now fuzzy in Harry's mind. Riddle had asked him something, hadn't he? But what?

Harry's head started pounding again. He sighed. Madam Pomfrey wouldn't be happy about that. She'd probably make him stay in the hospital wing indefinitely if he told her.

He would just have to do his best to keep it from her, then. Though if Snape decided to come by at any point today, the man would no doubt be able to detect if he was lying.

A strange feeling came over Harry then as he suddenly realized that he fully expected Snape to come by and see him again. Of course, the man hadn't said that he'd be back. But just yesterday, he had said that he had Harry's best interests in mind.

So the professor did care about him. At least a little bit.

A thought entered Harry's mind then. And the more he mulled it over, the faster his heart began to race. It wasn't that the thought hadn't occurred to him before. It certainly had. But it wasn't until this moment in time that Harry believed it could be a real possibility…

If the Weasleys were unable to care for him, then maybe…just maybe…

Despite what the professor had said, Harry couldn't imagine that any other families would want to take him in. He had intruded on his Aunt Petunia's family for most of his life. Took up space in the Dursleys' house where he wasn't wanted. He didn't want to do that to the Weasleys or to anyone else's family.

But Snape…well, as far as Harry knew, the man didn't have anybody else. He certainly never spoke about his family if he did have one.

So then maybe Harry wouldn't be such a huge burden to the man if he were to…

I'd take you in myself before sending you off to an orphanage.

The man had said that, right?

I'd take you in myself…

But did he mean it? Would he really?

Harry's head gave another throb. Maybe he just had too many thoughts racing around in his mind. He needed to stop thinking.

Harry sat up and took a long drink of water from the glass on his bedside table. Then he closed his eyes once more and began trying to clear his mind. He imagined himself down in the dungeons with Snape, arranging all of his ingredients on the back counter as he prepared to brew a potion. Within a minute, the cauldron the boy imagined in his head was bubbling. And soon, everything else melted away from his mind as he lost himself in the brewing process.

Quite some time had passed when Harry suddenly felt a familiar presence brush against the outer edge of his mind. Startled, he immediately dropped the walls he had been building around his most precious memories and opened his eyes.

"The idea is to strengthen your defenses when someone attempts to enter your mind, Mr. Potter," Snape practically growled from the end of the boy's hospital bed. "Not to drop them!"

"But I didn't know you were there," Harry countered. "You startled me."

"Do you expect the Dark Lord to provide fair warning before he attacks?" the man asked scathingly. "Perhaps send you a greeting card with an expected date and time to be ready for him?"

"Well, that would be nice," Harry answered, trying hard not to laugh at the image of Voldemort taking the time to send him an owl.

"This is quite serious, Mr. Potter," the potions master said then, clearly unamused.

The smirk immediately dropped from Harry's face. "Sorry, sir. I know. That's why I've been practicing."

"And how have you been faring?" the man asked. "Do you believe you've made any improvement?"

Harry smiled again as he nodded. "Yes, sir! I think I'm finally getting the hang of clearing my mind. It's so much easier to do now."

"Good," the potions master said simply. "The next step will be to work on strengthening the shields around your mind. We will work on that at your next lesson."

"When will that be?" the boy asked.

"We will schedule an appointment just as soon as you are discharged from the hospital wing," the man replied. "So how are you feeling, Mr. Potter?"

Harry couldn't help the sudden burst of warmth that spread throughout his chest at that question. He just knew the professor would come to see how he was doing. "I feel fine," he answered. "I don't see why I even have to be here anymore."

"Your headache?" the man inquired, reaching out to feel the boy's forehead for any lingering fever.

Harry thought about it a moment before coming to a sudden realization. "It's gone!" he exclaimed then. "I feel completely normal now."

"Hmmm…" the man hummed skeptically, dropping his hand once he was satisfied that the boy's body temperature was normal. "You're quite certain of that?"

Harry nodded, relieved that he didn't even have to attempt to lie. He really did feel much better. "Yes, sir! I'm certain. So can I go now?"

"Excuse me?" Snape inquired, eyebrows immediately shooting up.

"Can I go now?" the boy asked again. "I really don't want to stay in the hospital wing anymore."

"Do I look like Madam Pomfrey to you, Potter?" the man asked with one of his customary sneers. "I do not have the power to discharge you."

Harry sighed. "Well then could you talk to her for me? Tell her I'm fine now? Please?"

"And why on earth do you believe I would do such a thing?" the potions master questioned. "If Madam Pomfrey wants to keep you for observation, I will not interfere with that decision."


"No, Mr. Potter."

"But sir," Harry tried again. "I don't want anyone to find out I'm staying here. What if they start to talk-?"

"I do not care one whit about the gossip of foolish adolescents," Snape cut in. "And as I have stated before, nor should you. Your focus should be on your health, Mr. Potter. Not the Hogwarts rumor mill."

Harry slumped back against his pillows with a sigh. "Yes, sir."

Snape jerked his head in approval. "I should be going now," the man stated.

"But you just got here," Harry protested.

The man raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Surely you can't be that bored, Mr. Potter. Ask Madam Pomfrey for a book to read."

Harry just sighed again and mumbled another, "Yes, sir." Then, in a louder voice, he asked, "What are you going to go do?"

Severus crossed his arms and glared at the young boy. "I need to go review some lesson plans for tomorrow. If there is any hope of my Gryffindor and Hufflepuff students understanding the work I will be assigning, I must ensure I don't use too many large words in my presentation."

Harry made a face at the insult. "I think even the Ravenclaws have trouble understanding your vocabulary sometimes," he grumbled.

"Which only supports the argument I've been making to the headmaster for years," Snape responded, "that Hogwarts really ought to have a mandatory English course added to the curriculum."

"Ugh, no thanks," Harry shook his head. "I have enough work as it is."

"Yes, Merlin forbid you be required to do any more learning in a school," Snape's voice dripped with sarcasm as he made to turn away.

"Thanks for coming to see me, sir," Harry blurted out then. "I-um…really appreciate it."

In that moment, the potions master turned back briefly to face the young Gryffindor. And Harry quickly noted that the man looked rather uncomfortable. Which was strange, since the professor was so often the perfect embodiment of cool indifference.

"Well seeing as I had to deliver some more potions to Madam Pomfrey anyway," the man stated then, his mask suddenly dropping smoothly back into place, "I figured I should ensure you were doing as you were told and not giving the mediwitch any trouble."

Without warning, Harry's heart sank. So the man hadn't come by to see him. Just to drop off some potions. And here Harry thought…after everything that had happened…after staying in the man's quarters and letting him mend his wounds…after the potions master had hurried to check on him at the Burrow and bring him back to the hospital wing…

The man's mood swings were really starting to get to him. "Oh, well…if you still need to do more brewing…I'd be happy to help," the boy offered, sounding slightly put out.

The man jerked his head in a quick nod. "I shall keep that in mind. Good day, Mr. Potter."

"Goodbye, sir."

Harry watched then as the potions master quickly turned and swept from the room, robes billowing out behind him as he went. And it was only then that the boy realized he had forgotten to tell the professor about his thoughts on staying with the Weasleys in any kind of permanent capacity.

But before he could dwell on that too much, Madam Pomfrey was bustling out of her office and towards the back of the hospital wing, several potion bottles clutched in her left arm.

"Honestly, I will never understand that man," the mediwitch grumbled to herself. "I really ought to give him an examination the next time he comes in."

"Is something wrong, Madam Pomfrey?" Harry asked curiously.

"Never you mind," the woman replied, stopping at the large cabinet at the back of the room where most of the hospital wing's potions were stored. It sprung open as she approached to reveal many rows and rows of fully stocked shelves. There was scarcely any room for the bottles in the mediwitch's arms to fit.

"I told him I didn't need any more potions for the time being," the woman sighed in irritation, as she continued to speak to herself. "So what does he do? Brings me a couple dozen fever reducers…"

"Professor Snape?" Harry questioned, interested.

"Well, who else?" the woman responded, using her wand to direct some of the bottles in the cabinet to shift around so that she could set the new ones down. "Honestly, I think the man does it just to irritate me."

Harry smirked just a little bit. That certainly sounded like Snape.

But it still seemed odd that the man would take time out of his busy schedule to brew potions for Madam Pomfrey if she didn't need them. The professor didn't seem to be fond of wasting time. So then why…?

Harry's heart suddenly leapt just the tiniest bit.

The professor had implied that he had only bothered to check up on Harry because he needed to drop off potions. But that had been a lie. Madam Pomfrey didn't need any potions.

So then…

Harry's smile grew as he shifted around into a more comfortable position on the hospital bed.

The man had come to see him. And not just as an afterthought.

And with that, the man's previous words once again echoed inside of Harry's head.

I'd take you in myself…

And suddenly, Harry was willing those words to be true.

The following morning, Harry found himself dashing through the corridors, determined not to be late to his first class of the day. Though Madam Pomfrey had finally agreed to release him from the hospital wing, she had only done so after ensuring that the young Gryffindor had eaten a full breakfast to her satisfaction. Then she had performed one final diagnostic spell and asked him several questions about how he was feeling.

And when the woman asked Harry quite pointedly if he was still feeling any ache or pain in his head, the boy found that he only had to lie a little bit. Though he had felt a bit of a dull ache right behind his eyes as soon as he had woken up, it had all but disappeared when the young Gryffindor concentrated for a few moments on clearing his mind and putting his occlumency shields in place. Just like yesterday. Harry was actually feeling quite pleased with himself that he had managed to find the perfect way to manage his symptoms.

The boy finally skidded to a halt in front of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, completely out of breath. But though the lesson was due to start in just seconds, he found that the rest of the class was still milling about in the corridor, apparently waiting for Lockhart to open the door.

"Harry!" Ron and Hermione said in unison, pulling themselves away from the rest of the group at their friend's arrival.

"How are you?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, Potter. How are you?" Malfoy sneered, pushing himself away from the wall he had been leaning against and strolling forward. "You must have really ticked Severus off in potions class if it took this long for Madam Pomfrey to heal you. So what did he poison you with? Do tell. It's a shame he didn't just do it in front of the class. I, for one, would have really enjoyed that show."

"Oh, shove off, Malfoy!" Ron exclaimed, even as the rest of the Slytherins laughed and the Gryffindors turned to Harry in concern.

"Did he really poison you, Harry?" Neville asked with wide eyes.

"That has to be a fireable offense," someone else put in.

"You really ought to go to Dumbledore."

"He can't just do that!"

Harry frowned as the frantic chatter eventually died down in the corridor, and he was left to just stare at the smirking face of Malfoy, who seemed quite pleased with himself for succeeding in getting the Gryffindors all worked up. And yet, when he finally opened his mouth to respond, only a single word came out.


But no sooner had the word left his mouth than the door to the Defense classroom finally swung open, and Gilderoy Lockhart stepped out.

The students' eyes were instantly assaulted with the bright neon pink of Lockhart's robes. Harry doubted that anyone else, even the headmaster, would ever dare to wear such an offensive color. But as usual, Lockhart appeared to be completely oblivious to the looks of shock and horror on the faces before him.

"Yes, yes, inside quickly everyone!" the man exclaimed excitedly, clapping his hands together. "Sorry to keep you waiting. I was just finishing my preparations for today's class."

Lockhart turned to lead the way into the classroom, and the class slowly filed in after him, a mixture of curiosity and anxiousness plain on their faces.


Everywhere they looked was pink.

Or red.

There were ribbons and streamers and festoons decorating every inch of the walls and ceilings. Above every desk hovered a bright pink glowing orb, covered in lace and sparkling pink glitter. And on the surface of each desk was a vase full of red or pink roses.

And if that weren't enough, Harry soon noticed that there were little red birds fluttering throughout the room, carrying what looked like little paper hearts in their beaks.

"Why are there always winged creatures involved?" Ron muttered, as everybody else just stood there in stunned silence. But a quick glance to the other side of the room told Harry that Millicent Bulstrode was likely having the same thought as Ron. No doubt the memory of being chased out of this very classroom by a couple of bats a few months back was running through her mind at this moment.

"I've seen so many long faces around the castle of late," Lockhart finally spoke again. "Ever since the holiday season ended. But there is absolutely no reason to be down!" the man bounced on the balls of his feet excitedly. "Why, my very favorite celebration of the year is fast approaching. Can anyone guess what that may be?"

A long and awkward silence descended over the room as the students exchanged mixed glances of confusion and horror. Harry thought he heard someone behind him whisper under their breath that this had to be a joke. And then finally, when it appeared that no one else was going to offer a response, Hermione cleared her throat and provided the answer.

"Would that be Valentine's Day, professor?"

"Very good, Miss Granger! Take ten points for Gryffindor!"

There were a couple of disbelieving scoffs from the Slytherins at this news, but Professor Lockhart didn't seem to notice. The man clapped his hands together excitedly, his beaming smile never wavering.

"Alright, everyone! Take your seats, and we can begin."

Harry was careful to dodge a swooping red bird as he made his way over to his usual table with Ron and Hermione. At least the creature didn't seem interested in attacking him, he noted to himself. Though as he took his seat and ventured a glance towards the ceiling, he found himself nervously eying the glittery pink orb swinging over his head.

"Excellent!" Lockhart began speaking again, just as soon as everyone was seated. "Now, today we will be making Valentine's Day decorations while reading aloud from one of my favorite books, Break with a Banshee. Everyone open your books to chapter fourteen! I can't wait for you all to discover how I used a love potion, a rose bouquet, and a well-aimed confundus charm in my quest to ultimately banish the Bandon Banshee from the continent!"

"I think he just gave away the whole plot," Ron muttered as he reached for his book. Harry had to stifle a chuckle at that.

"Valentine's Day decorations? Seriously?" Harry heard Malfoy complain from across the room. And then louder, so that the entire class would hear, "Is this a joke?"

Everyone turned their eyes to Lockhart then, wondering how he would respond. For once, everyone agreed completely with Malfoy's sentiments. But no one else would have dared to so openly question the lesson plans like that.

If possible, Lockhart's smile grew even wider. "I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, it is no joke! I grew the roses and brewed the love potion myself, of course, but….Oh now, I'm getting ahead of myself. We should start from the beginning. Would you like to read the first page, Mr. Malfoy?"

"Not particularly," Malfoy huffed as a few of the other students snickered.

"Oh and before I forget," Lockhart announced, not seeming to have heard Malfoy's response, "I wanted to remind you all that the fun does not need to stop in this classroom. I encourage you all to fully embrace the Valentine's Day spirit by getting the other professors involved as well over the next few weeks. For instance, if you want to learn how to make a love potion as powerful as the one we will be reading about shortly, just ask our resident potions master-"

"Yeah, no thanks," Seamus interrupted. "I think Professor Snape would likely poison anyone who dared to ask him about making a love potion."

The Gryffindors nodded in agreement and a few of the Slytherins snorted.

"Now, I'm sure that isn't true, Mr. Finnigan," Lockhart responded. "Now, I know Professor Snape may seem intimidating at first. But really if you just-"

But before Lockhart had the chance to finish that sentence, one of the fluttering red birds overhead took a sudden dive and collided with the floating orb hanging directly over Malfoy, sending a shower of pink glitter down onto the Slytherin's blond head.

The room erupted in laughter as Malfoy sat there for a moment in stunned silence.

And despite all that had happened over the last few days, Harry found that he couldn't help but to join in.

The dungeon classroom seemed colder than usual that evening. But Harry wasn't sure that it had anything to do with the temperature of the room.

The boy stood nervously in front of Snape's desk, waiting to hear what the man had in store for him that night for detention. But apart from demanding to know if Harry's head was causing him any pain the moment he set foot in the classroom - to which the Gryffindor responded with no small amount of exasperation that he was perfectly fine - the man had yet to say anything. The classroom was completely silent. The potions master was just staring at him, the look on his face icy and dangerous. It made the boy shiver slightly.

Definitely not the temperature of the room.

The boy waited anxiously then, shifting from foot to foot, and doing everything in his power to avoid direct eye contact with Snape.

And still the professor said nothing. As the seconds dragged on, Harry grew more and more wary. And he soon wondered if perhaps the potions master was waiting for him to speak.

But what was he supposed to say? Was it finally time for him to beg forgiveness for the whole Polyjuice incident? Or did Snape expect him to speak about the Dursleys and the newly revealed secrets of his home life?

Neither one of those options sounded pleasant. And the longer the silence filled the room, the harder Harry's heart began to pound inside his chest. Until finally, unable to stand it any longer, the boy opened his mouth and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind.

"Have you ever made a love potion?"

The surprise and confusion were unmistakable in the potions master's eyes. And had the circumstances of this meeting been different, Harry likely would have laughed at the man's expression.

"Excuse me?" the man asked then, his features quickly morphing back into an indiscernible expression.

"Um…we made Valentine's Day decorations in Defense class today," Harry hurried to explain. "And Professor Lockhart said that we should ask you about brewing love potions as part of the "festive" spirit. I can't imagine that you've ever needed to brew one, of course…though I'm sure you know how."

The potions master's expression was stony. "Valentine's Day decorations," he finally repeated softly. "In Defense Against the Dark Arts class."

Harry nodded in confirmation, unable to keep a small, amused smirk off his face as the professor briefly closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

But the man recovered only a moment later with a quick sigh. And when he opened his eyes and fixed Harry with a particularly nasty glare, the smile slipped off the boy's face almost immediately. Maybe Seamus had been onto something when he suggested Snape might poison anyone who dared to bring up such a topic of conversation.

"Well, Mr. Potter," the professor's voice came out silky smooth. "When it comes to your detention, you have managed to stall for a grand total of thirty seconds. Now, do try to stay on topic for the remainder of the evening. You and your little friends committed a very serious offense. And it is now time to face the consequences of such a foolish and dangerous act."

Harry let out the breath he had been holding. It was strange, but he couldn't help but to feel a tiny bit relieved that Snape didn't seem to be interested in talking about the Dursleys just then. Nor was there any pity in the man's eyes at the moment, which was a welcome change from all of the concerned and sympathetic glances that had been thrown Harry's way all day. No, for the time being, the professor seemed to be entirely focused on the Polyjuice incident.

And as difficult as it was likely to be, Harry knew this was going to be the far easier topic to discuss.

"I'm really sorry about the Po-" the boy began. But the potions master quickly raised a hand and interrupted.

"Before you speak, Mr. Potter, and say something that may require me, as the potions master of this school, to advocate for your expulsion," the potions master stated, "perhaps I should inform you of the facts as I understand them."

Harry's heart dropped suddenly at the mention of expulsion. Up until this point, the professor hadn't really said anything that would indicate just how severe of a punishment he and his friends could expect for brewing the Polyjuice Potion. In fact, the man had scarcely mentioned the incident at all, so concerned had he been with Harry's "living situation." And now it suddenly occurred to Harry that perhaps the reason Snape had been so focused on finding him a new home in the first place was the fact that he was about to get thrown out of Hogwarts and needed a place to go immediately.

Suddenly unable to find his voice, the boy simply nodded as the color noticeably began to drain from his face.

"Breathe, Potter," the man stated then, his voice full of exasperation. "Did I not just inform you that I have no desire to see you go anywhere?"

Feeling a small bit of relief, Harry drew in a breath and forced himself to utter a response. "Yes, sir."

Snape gave a curt nod of approval. "Now, as I was saying, the facts as I understand them are as follows…you and your little friends, for a reason that remains a mystery to me, decided it would be a good idea to brew a potion by yourselves outside of a potions laboratory and in an unsupervised environment. As of yet, I do not know for certain which potion you three chose to brew."

Harry's eyes widened at that. Did Snape really not know that they had brewed Polyjuice? The boy wracked his brain, trying to remember if Snape had said anything about Polyjuice Potion over the last few days. He had really just assumed that the man knew everything about the incident.

"That's right, Mr. Potter," Snape responded to the surprise on Harry's face. "Though Miss Granger explained to me that the potion you brewed could produce the same effects as a concealer spell, she did not divulge the name of the potion, and I did not ask." The man paused for a brief moment before continuing. "Of course, I have a guess as to which concoction you three managed to cook up. But for your sake, you better hope those suspicions are never confirmed."

Harry swallowed audibly at that as the professor quirked a knowing eyebrow.

"Now, regardless of which potion you brewed, I know for a fact that none of the recipes for the potential candidates can be located in your second-year potions textbook. Which means that you either borrowed materials from an older student, or you managed to find what you needed in the library. . . Most likely the Restricted Section, I'd wager. I am quite certain Madam Pince would be able to pull up the records if that were the case."

With every sentence that Snape spoke, Harry's face paled even further. If Snape went investigating what book he and his friends had checked out of the library, the man would no doubt figure out exactly what potion they had brewed.

Once again, the potions master fixed Harry with a knowing look. "Of course, I am quite willing to put the matter to rest and move on after this evening if I receive reassurances from you that you will never again do something so foolish," the man continued, his voice still stern and dangerous.

Almost immediately, Harry began shaking his head frantically. "No, sir. Never. I promise."

"Because if an incident like this does happen again-"

"It won't," Harry interrupted, desperate for the man to believe him.

The professor just continued to glare at the young Gryffindor. "I sincerely hope that that is true. Because next time, there will be no leniency. You will face the full extent of the consequences for your actions. As will any others who may be involved in such illicit activities. Do you understand what I am saying to you, Mr. Potter? Next time could very well mean your expulsion."

Harry ducked his head in shame. "Yes, sir. I understand."

"Eyes up, Mr. Potter."

Harry forced himself to look up into the professor's black eyes.

"No more mischief," the man stated slowly and clearly.

"Yes, sir."

Snape nodded then and gestured for Harry to take a seat at the table directly in front of his desk. As the boy lowered himself onto the stool, ink and parchment suddenly materialized in front of him.

"For the first part of your detention this evening, you will be engaging in a writing exercise for me," Snape spoke then, waving his wand in the direction of the bookshelf at the back of the room.

Harry turned his head to watch the thick tome moving towards him. Inwardly, he groaned. Was he going to have to use this book to write another essay? He wasn't sure he'd be able to muster up enough brain power at the moment if that were the case.

The book landed with a plunk in front of the boy. But before he could even get a good look at the title, Snape once again waved his wand, and the cover flew open. Then the pages began turning themselves furiously until they arrived at the correct page.

"Ah, yes. Chapter Thirty-Six," the potions master stated then.

Harry leaned forward to read the chapter title aloud. "Potions Accidents: Cautionary Tales for Every Potioneer."

The potions master nodded. "You will copy the entirety of this chapter, word for word, onto your parchment. Any questions?"

Harry's eyes grew wide in alarm as he quickly flipped through the pages, trying to find the end of the chapter. His sense of dread grew with every turn of the page. And when he finally reached chapter thirty-seven, he glanced up at his teacher in horror.

"But sir, it's fifty pages long! And the writing is tiny!"

"Yes," Snape responded simply, folding his arms across his chest. "And?"

Harry bit his lip and sighed. "Nothing, sir. I just…don't know if I'll be able to finish it tonight."

"I do not expect you to," Snape replied. "You will work diligently for the next hour or so on this and then you will scrub some cauldrons to finish out your detention. Whatever you do not finish copying tonight, you will complete in your free time."

Harry sighed and picked up his quill. "Yes, sir."

"And no paraphrasing or abbreviations," Snape added. "If I find that you have neglected so much as a single comma, you will be starting over."

"Yes, sir," Harry repeated glumly.

"Given the circumstances, I believe you are getting off quite lightly, Mr. Potter."

Harry reluctantly nodded in agreement then as Snape turned to walk back to his desk, where a stack of essays were waiting for him to begin marking.

And with that, the classroom descended into silence, save for the light scratching of quills coming from both student and teacher.

Sometime later, the potions master looked up from his work and glanced at the clock. Harry noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye and silently prayed that the man was about to let him stop writing. The part of the chapter the boy was currently copying down involved a particularly gruesome tale about a witch whose hand had melted away into her cauldron after she foolishly attempted to experiment with an especially volatile potion. Harry hadn't been able to keep the grimace off his face for the last several minutes as he was forced to read and then copy down every excruciating detail.

"I believe that is enough writing for one night, Mr. Potter," Snape stated, then, his eyes still on the clock. "You may start on the cauldrons now."

Harry sighed in relief and immediately stood up. "Yes, sir."

The boy made his way to the back of the room then and immediately set about filling the first cauldron with hot, soapy water in the sink.

A moment later, a cutting board and several jars of ingredients sailed across the room and landed on the counter near where Harry was working. The boy's brow furrowed in confusion, and he turned towards the professor, a question on his lips.

But the man had stood up from his desk and was now walking towards the back of the classroom, a small knife in his hand.

"Keep working, Mr. Potter," Snape stated calmly. "I need to prepare some ingredients for an upcoming project of mine."

"Oh," Harry stated simply, suddenly feeling a bit nervous. Internally, he tried to tell himself to relax. He had worked alongside the potions professor many times before now. Why should this time be any different? But he just couldn't shake the sense of foreboding that they were about to have a very uncomfortable conversation.

It was silent for a while. Snape emptied a jar of daisy roots onto the cutting board and began chopping them finely with an expert hand. Harry couldn't help but to stare in fascination at how quickly the professor was able to work and still get perfect results.

"Are you using magic?" Harry suddenly blurted out. Then, realizing that he was supposed to be serving a detention, he clamped his mouth shut and returned to scrubbing his cauldron, his shoulders tensing in anticipation of a scolding.

Snape looked over at the boy, eyebrows raised. "As you well know, Mr. Potter, it is ill-advised to use magic to prepare delicate potions ingredients. Preparation by hand yields far superior results."

"But then how do you get your roots chopped so perfectly so quickly?" Harry asked, suppressing a small sigh of relief.

"Years of practice," the man replied. "Just wait until the end of your seventh year, Potter. By then, I am certain you'll be just as efficient at scrubbing cauldrons as I am at chopping up potions ingredients."

Harry grimaced at that comment, but relaxed at the smirk on the man's face. The boy had the sudden urge to splash water in the professor's direction for what he considered to be a very unfunny joke. But he resisted. The man may be in a good mood at the moment. But that didn't mean he would tolerate such a retaliatory response.

It was still fun to imagine, though, and Harry returned to his cauldron with a small smirk of his own gracing his lips.

"Did you enjoy your short time with the Weasleys?"

The smile immediately slipped from the boy's face at the sudden change in topic. Harry scrubbed harder at the sides of the cauldron as he groaned inwardly. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly.

"That was quite the enthusiastic response," Snape stated sarcastically. "Don't worry, Mr. Potter. I am sure we can arrange for another weekend visit to the Burrow soon."

"That won't be necessary, sir," Harry responded.

Snape set his knife down momentarily and stared hard at the unruly mop of hair bowed over the cauldron. "No? Did something happen while you were there? Apart from falling ill?"

Harry shook his head. "No, sir. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were really good to me."

"Then why do you not wish to return?"

Harry bit his lip and purposely focused his attention on scrubbing the cauldron even harder.

"Harry, look at me."

Harry immediately paused in his task and snapped his eyes up to meet Snape's.

"Why do you not wish to return to the Weasleys'?" the man repeated.

The boy's gaze shifted then to rest on the pile of chopped daisy roots. "I don't want to be a burden to them."

There was a short pause. And then the man spoke again.

"Look at me," he repeated, waiting for the young Gryffindor to obey before continuing. "You are not a burden, Potter. And the Weasleys certainly do not see you as such. They already care very deeply for you. They were beside themselves with worry when you fell ill."

A look of doubt crossed Harry's face, and he turned back to the cauldron once more.

"You disagree with that assessment?" Snape inquired.

Harry shrugged.

"A verbal response, please, Mr. Potter."

Harry sighed. " I think they have enough kids to worry about without me getting in the way."

Snape frowned. "I can assure you, Potter, that the Weasleys have more than enough room in their hearts for you. I observed them in the hospital wing when you were unconscious. They couldn't have been more concerned for you if you were their own child."

Harry just shook his head. "But I thought they were only in the hospital wing because they heard that Ron got hurt. And then they left just as soon as they realized he would be okay."

"Where on earth did you get that ridiculous notion, Potter?" the potions master sounded exasperated. "The Weasleys came to the hospital wing because of you. They learned of young Mr. Weasley's injury while hanging over your bedside. And as for this nonsense about leaving after being assured of their son's recovery, they did no such thing. They wanted to stay with you, Potter. But Madam Pomfrey sent them back to the Burrow so that we may maintain discretion regarding your living arrangements at this time."

Harry frowned in confusion at this information. "Really? Are you sure?"

"I would not have said it if I was unsure, Mr. Potter. Now, if you are holding any more doubts regarding the Weasleys, I encourage you to speak now, so that we may dispense with any of the other nonsensical ideas and notions taking up residence in your head before your next visit."

Harry shook his head and once again took up the scrubbing brush.

"There's nothing else then? Are you quite sure?" Snape demanded.

Harry sighed. "I just…"

"Yes?" Snape prompted.

"I don't think the Weasleys need another mouth to feed, sir."

Snape looked startled for a moment, but then sighed. "You should not concern yourself with such things, Harry. That is something for the adults to worry about, not you."

"But I can't be a burden to them, professor. I just can't. I mean, I suppose I could offer to pay my own way-"

"You will do no such thing," Snape cut in forcefully. "Your inheritance will remain in the bank, where it belongs, until you are of age."

"But I-"

"Do you really mean to insult Mr. and Mrs. Weasley by suggesting to them that you do not believe them capable of providing for you on their own?"

"No, of course not!" Harry answered, horrified. "But-"

"Then we will say no more about it," Snape interrupted. "Let the adults worry about adult problems for a change, Harry."

Harry sighed and gave a reluctant nod.

"Good. You've started using the journal the headmaster gave you, correct?"

Harry's eyes flew up to meet Snape's at this latest shift in topic.

"You told me in the hospital wing that you stayed up late writing in your journal when you were at the Weasleys'," the potions master continued. "Would you like to talk about what you wrote?"

Harry bit his lip and turned his gaze back to the cauldron. Part of him wanted to just tell Snape about Riddle's diary. But then, if he told the man what had happened, there was no telling what the potions master might do. What if he believed Riddle about Hagrid being the one responsible for opening the Chamber of Secrets? Would he run to Dumbledore and insist that the gamekeeper be removed from school grounds?

The last time Harry had witnessed Snape interacting with Hagrid, the potions master hadn't exactly been friendly. So if Snape already held a dislike for the half-giant, it was unlikely the man would listen if Harry tried to insist that Hagrid must me innocent.

In the end, Harry just shook his head. "No, sir. I didn't really do much writing anyway. Mostly I just stared down at the page. I couldn't think of anything to say."

"Perhaps you should try writing down the first thing that pops into your head," Snape responded. "Even if it seems completely trivial. It's a great exercise for clearing the mind."

"Yes, sir."

Snape nodded. "What would you write about now, if you had your journal with you?"

Harry made a face. "Isn't my journal supposed to be private, sir?"

"You certainly don't have to share anything you don't wish to," the professor answered. "But it could be beneficial to you to talk about some of the thoughts that pass through your head every now and again."

"Even if they're trivial?" Harry questioned.

It was Snape's turn to make a face. "Yes. Of course, if you wish to prattle on about the latest pre-teen adolescent gossip, I may be forced to refer you to another member of staff."

Harry smiled for a moment before suddenly turning serious.

"We can talk about anything?"

"Anything," the man confirmed, though in a slightly wary tone.

It was silent for just a moment. And then…

"How much does a Hogwarts professor make?" the boy finally blurted out before he could lose his nerve.

If Snape was surprised by the question, he didn't let on. He simply reached for the next jar in front of him and emptied its contents onto the cutting board.

"Not enough," the man eventually muttered darkly. "Why do you wish to know? Already exploring potential future career paths?"

Harry shook his head before responding. "Just curious. It doesn't seem like very many of the professors have families. Do they not make enough money to support one?"

Snape cleared his throat before providing an answer. "While I certainly feel undercompensated for my role in dealing with a steady stream of dunderheaded miscreants on a daily basis, I do make more than enough to live comfortably. Certainly enough to support a family, though I do not have one."

"Do you want one?" Harry asked, unconsciously holding his breath as he waited for the answer.

"It is not something I have considered in quite some time," Snape finally stated. "I confess I have become rather content in my solitude."

"Oh," Harry replied, trying his best to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

But as the boy once again turned back to his work, the potions master cast a curious look in his direction.

And soon, the pair fell into silence once more.

A/N: Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of this story over the years. Your feedback and encouragement have always been appreciated!

Thanks for reading!


September 28, 2022