"'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' says the Lord. But 'If thy enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing thou wilt heap coals of fire upon his head.'" ~ Romans 12:20, St. Joseph, New Catholic Edition.

Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if Snape had stayed unconscious in the Shrieking Shack. Perhaps it would have been alright if he had sufficed himself with only standing between him and Lupin's werewolf form. But no, Snape had go and physically restrain him from confronting Lupin as he and Sirius battled in their animal forms.

Harry felt a strange magic settle over him as he settled in the hospital wing. It felt wrong and cold, and it chilled Harry to the bone. He pulled the covers about him closer, and tried to close his eyes. He was tired from the adventure in the Shrieking Shack and wanted to sleep it off. He quickly drifted off into a dark twilight, half dreaming about the previous days events. Secretly, he was glad Snape had chosen to save his life, despite the fact that that year he had come to hate the man more than anyone alive. In fact, having to choose between Snape and his previous impression of Sirius, Harry would have been hard pressed to choose who he hated more.

Severus paced in the Headmaster's office, back and forth, a formidable scowl on his face, one laced with worry.

"I'm sure it's not that bad, Severus," Albus soothed, though his voice belied his worry as well.

"I've felt the magic before," Severus ground out. "I'm not mistaken." He paused his pacing, closed his eyes, and folded his hands over his mouth and nose.

"Perhaps - " Albus began, but Severus cut him off.

"I don't want this," he said. "I never wanted this. I thought I was finished the night James Potter died."

"There is an optimistic view you could take," Albus said quietly.

"What's that?" Severus spat.

"You're in James' position now," Albus pointed out. "Prove to me that you can be a better man than James." Severus raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know what you mean," he said blandly. Albus looked at him pityingly, and Severus felt his cheeks burn. He hated it when people looked at him that way. He didn't need their pity; he didn't want it. No matter how many times he swallowed his pride, it never made it any easier.

"Severus," Albus said softly. He rose and rounded his desk, putting a sympathetic hand on the younger man's shoulder. Severus lowered his head and shrugged Albus' hand from his shoulder. "I know James was cruel to you. I know, and I'm sorry."

"You don't know," Severus murmured, almost too softly to be heard.

"But I believe you can do better, given the same situation," Albus continued.

"I'm not sure why you think that," Severus swallowed.

"Because I don't think you have it within you to do to James' son what James did to you."

"And what if my temper runs away with me?" Severus gasped, stepping away from Albus and looking out the window at the clear night sky.

"You are a Slytherin, and therefore prone to an abuse of power," Albus grossly generalized. "You are also a good man, at heart, and you know to guard against that. James didn't."

"What am I going to do?" Severus almost sobbed, sinking into one of Albus' large, purple armchairs, bracing his elbows against his knees and covering his face with his hands. "Doesn't he belong with his relatives?"

"Yes, he does," Albus said, nodding. He resumed his position, sitting behind his desk. "The blood wards. Is there anything stopping you from simply not doing anything?"

"What do you mean, 'not doing anything'?" Severus asked, looking up.

"Just continue like nothing's happened," Albus suggested. "Do not speak to Harry of this. No one need know. Harry can spend the summer with his relatives as planned, and you can prepare for the upcoming school year." Severus dragged his hands over his face wearily.

"And if there's a problem with this?"

"Then come speak to me, and we'll see what we can do."

"Alright," Severus agreed. He sighed and relaxed into the chair, stretching his legs out a bit.

"Lemon drop?" Albus offered casually.

"You're just waiting for the day that I'll accept," Severus smiled as he leaned back, laced his fingers behind his head, and closed his eyes. "And I love to be difficult."

"That you do, Severus," Albus chuckled. "May I ask a personal question?"

"Ask," Severus approved, cracking an eye open, "but I retain the right to refuse to answer."

"How did Lily cope with the situation?" Albus asked.

"She never knew," Severus replied softly, a shadow passing over his face. "We never told her. It was better than way."

"Undoubtedly," Albus agreed. "So she didn't know of anything?"

"Nothing," Severus confirmed.

"What did she think of your status as a Death Eater, then?" Albus asked.

"She thought I chose it of my own volition," Severus explained. "I never spoke to her, and James never told her." His voice felt sluggish, and a calm feeling of sorrow enveloped him.

"Why didn't you tell her then?" Albus asked. "I'm sure she would have understood." Severus sighed.

"She had stopped speaking to me the previous year," he murmured. "I couldn't bear to speak with her."

"Severus, I know she would have forgiven you if you had asked for it," Albus soothed. Severus' eyes snapped open and he sat forward.

"I did ask," he snapped. "She refused."

"Given some time, though - "

"What was I supposed to do after?" Severus cut his mentor off. He rose and stood opposite Albus' desk. "What was I supposed to say? What could I tell her?"

"The truth?" Albus asked.

"'Hello, Lily,'" Severus began, in a mocking tone, as he held his hand out to Albus. "'I know we haven't spoken in a few years because of my lack of a filter. Now, despite the fact that you've shown no interest in speaking to me, I'm here to apologize once again, because sleeping outside the Gryffindor common room wasn't enough.'" Severus paused, as though listening to an imaginary reply. He had pulled his hand back, and braced himself against Albus' desk. "'Oh? You still don't want to talk to me? Why on earth not?'" Severus paused again. "'My Dark Mark? Oh, you misunderstand! I didn't want to take it. It was forced upon me.'" Pause. "'Yes, forced. You must believe me! I was ordered to take it.'" Pause. "'Who ordered me? Your husband, of course. For the good of the Order.'" Pause. "'Yes, James, and no, I'm not exaggerating.'" Pause. "'What power does he have over me? I'm his bloody slave!'"

Severus hung his head and his shoulders shook silently.

"Is that what you wanted me to tell her?" he finally asked. "I couldn't bear the humiliation, even if she did accept my explanation."

"Severus," Albus murmured, reaching out to touch his hand. Severus didn't react other than to heave one shuddering, incriminating breath. "I just want you to know that you've done a lot of good for the Order, even though you hate your Mark." Severus just shook his head, unable to respond. He waited a moment.

"Killed Lily," was all that was understandable. Severus stood, and kept his eyes on the floor. He turned and left, pulling his cloak about him. He felt chilled to the bone.

Severus made a side trip to the infirmary where he stood at the foot of a bed. The bed belonged to a messy-haired, shivering, third year student. Severus watched him sleep as he mulled over their new relationship.

He didn't regret saving Potter's life, no, but he regretted the fact that Potter hated him enough for this to happen. The slave bond only instituted itself in specific circumstances, and it was very rare. Magic was a funny thing. Most of the time, when a life debt was incurred by someone, it was a debt owed to a relative, or a close friend. Such life debts never caused a slave bond, because it was assumed that such people would find a way to pay the debt due to their positive relationship.

It was different with enemies. If the saved person hated the savior, then a slave bond was formed to force the saved to repay the savior. Severus crossed his arms and pursed his lips as he studied the sleeping form. So apparently Potter hated him enough that the bond had finally formed that night, when he had saved the boy's life from the wolf. Severus could only imagine that it hadn't formed in the first or second year because Potter hadn't hated him enough. Chances were good that the ill-timed comments regarding the boy's father had been the thing to tip the scales far enough to trigger the bond.

The bond was tricky. Having only been on the receiving end of it before, Severus didn't understand what he would be in for now, but he did know what Potter would be experiencing, at least in part. Potter's free will would remain, though there were ways to make it harder to disobey if the master was determined. Potter could still defy him, but only at great cost to himself. Severus knew that from personal experience. Like a house elf, Potter would feel an irresistible urge to punish himself for any infraction, and also like an elf, Potter's punishments to himself would likely be worse than what the bond would otherwise demand from him. But as long as he didn't give the boy any orders, the bond shouldn't demand any recompense, should it? Severus didn't know. James had never not taken advantage of the bond, asking and demanding everything he could. Almost everything he could.

He had never known a kind master, and he didn't know how the bond would react if he tried to circumvent it. He knew that as a slave, there was little he could do about the situation.

He would have pitied Potter, if he didn't know just how humiliating this would be for the boy. It should make the school day interesting, if Potter was kept in the dark about the situation. Perhaps he would explain it at the start of the school year. That way, Potter could have one more slave-free summer. It wasn't much, but it would be something at least.

Potter sighed in his sleep and comfortably stretched out in the bed, not shivering anymore. Severus noticed his own chill had passed as well. The bond was formed.

Harry stepped off the train and saw his relatives waiting for him. He felt his stomach slip to his feet as he realized how much trouble he would be in for being late. They didn't like waiting. He murmured some quick goodbyes to Ron and Hermione, and darted off to where he could see Uncle Vernon impatiently tapping his foot.

"You're late, boy," Vernon snarled at him, and Harry tried not to wince.

"Sorry, Uncle Vernon," he murmured.

"What was that?" Vernon snapped, grabbing Harry's jaw and forcing eye contact. Harry panicked and flailed a bit, but then remembered not to fight.

"Said I was sorry," Harry clarified, a little louder, but no less scared.

"As well you will be, freak," Vernon hissed maliciously. Harry just nodded, bowed his head and put his trunk in the boot of the car. He slipped in the backseat with Dudley, but didn't look at the other boy. Harry was scared of Dudley and his gang, and he was feeling weaker than usual. Harry hoped he would still be able to outrun them. What if he wasn't? He knew Piers was a terrible person and had no inhibitions. Harry sneezed suddenly. Dudley punched him, hard, in the stomach. Harry moaned.

"That's what you get for being such a freak," Dudley murmured in his ear.

"Sorry for existing," Harry shot back, and Dudley smacked him across the face. Harry glared at the other boy, a tingling beginning behind his eyes, but he knew better than to fight back. Dudley was always in the right, and he was always in the wrong, no matter how much it was the other way around.

And so his summer began. Harry looked up at the car roof and wished to the God that might or might not exist that he would survive.