A/N: Changed some bits at the end.

Severus walked carefully down the steps in Grimmauld, intent on reaching the kitchen in hopes of finding the Headmaster. He paused at the door when he heard the Potter brat speak.

"Remus, do you know if there are any books on Occlumency in the library here at Grimmauld? I checked the school library, but I think they might be in the Restricted Section if there are any," Potter said.

"I think I saw a couple while we were organizing, why?" The wolf replied.

"Albus has asked that I resume Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape once school resumes. I don't know why, since Snakeface is dead, but it'll be a good skill to learn, and might help me reign in my magical inheritance better. Professor Snape is constantly telling me to 'clear my mind', but doesn't really offer up any instruction on how to go about it, so I figured I should make the effort myself."

"Why would you want to make an effort for Snivellus? He's a vindictive bastard!" That was Black, and Severus nearly walked in then and there, but he heard Potter snap at his beloved dogfather.

"Shut up, Sirius! He's a hero, which is more than I can say for you!"

"He's a Death Eater! Don't you dare compare that slimy git to me!"

"He was a spy, you ponce! And he's saved my life and yours, despite his opinions, a number of times! He developed a more effective Wolfsbane for Remus, while you sat aside, mooning over the good old days! Plus, he was my mum's best friend! There's an honorable man behind that dark mask, I've seen it! You spend your days wrapped up in your prejudices, reminiscing about days long past, never doing anything to help anyone. You both only see my father in me, but at least he has an excuse. He has only had the opportunity to see my father's face, but you know me, you know who I am, and still you call me 'James' when you're distracted. I am not my father, Sirius, and I wouldn't want to be. He was a bully, and-" There was an audible crack of skin against skin and Severus gasped disbelievingly. There was a tense silence.

"Harry, I didn't-"

"Don't, Black, don't even try to apologize. You meant to do it, we both know that, so don't even try," Potter's voice was a dangerous growl. "You're just like them." With that last accusation Severus heard the 'pop' of apparition and someone suddenly moving around in the library above.

"Who am I like?" Black asked suddenly, mirroring Severus' thoughts.

"His relatives, you complete and utter tosser," Lupin supplied in an even voice, sounding somewhat bored. "Everyone thinks Harry was spoiled growing up, because he's the Boy-Who-Lived, but he was lucky if he got fed table scraps in his cupboard under the stairs. He got to eat maybe once or twice a week before he received his Hogwarts letter, and they have constantly been trying to beat the 'freakiness' out of him. You need to grow up, Sirius, because Harry's right. Severus may not ever have a reason to look past the fact that Harry looks like James, but you should have. Now you've lost him, probably forever."

"Maybe I should-"

"He won't speak to you, so don't bother. Don't try to corner him either, because until he learns Occlumency, and how to control his temper, there's a chance he could blow the entire house up since he came into his full power. And no, I won't help fix this for you. You got yourself into this and it's time you grew up and solved your own problems."

"How am I supposed to fix this if I can't speak to him?!"

"That's your problem."

Severus heard paper shuffling and Black speaking, but he was already moving back up the stairs. He needed to get something from his rooms at Hogwarts.

Harry sat on the plush carpet he'd bought specifically for times like this. He was sitting in the library, in front of the fire, surrounded by several books he'd ordered from Flourish and Blotts and the few he'd found in the Grimmauld Place library. They were all on Occlumency, but he was hoping the ones he found here had more detail. So far, he wasn't having much luck, everything he found seemed centered around meditation, which he had no clue how to go about. He'd found a book on that in the library also, but the daunting list of methods had made his head spin.

"This is bloody ridiculous, how hard is it to find a book that puts into plain words how to meditate? Turning a muggle into a wizard might be easier than understanding this. What the fuck does 'compositional soul matter' even mean?" He asked aloud to the empty room as he struggled to read the introduction to the Spiritual Guide to Separation of the Mind and Soul from the Body.

"I sincerely doubt even the author knew. That book is trash, read this," Came the unexpected response as a much thinner tome landed in his lap.

He looked up, wand in hand, but lowered it immediately upon seeing who it was. "Oh, um, thanks, Professor…I was just…"

"Making up for my less than adequate teaching skills," Snape provided smoothly.

"What?! No! You're a great teacher! I should've done this in Fifth Year, I was just being a prat!" Harry argued. "How were you supposed to know nothing was explained to me?"

Snape grunted and sat in a stiff arm chair a few feet from Harry. "I doubt you would've found anything of use, I had to get my own books," He tapped the cover of two tomes he'd set on the small table beside his chair, "From Germany. Though, you have a point, Albus should've explained in more detail exactly what you were supposed to be doing with me. Or I, at least, could have asked if you knew anything about the subject matter."

"If you say so, Professor," Harry mumbled, confused by his Defense teacher's sudden change in character.

"I do," The man said definitively. "That book, which is really more of a pamphlet, should help you to discover your own form of meditation. Basically, meditation is having everything else disappear so that you're focused entirely on one task. For some, that is a simple as concentrating on your brewing. When you occlude your mind, you're not really keeping someone out your head as much as clearing your mind, making it a blank slate. You already have the ability to force someone out of your mind, but you've probably been trying to build a wall against intrusion."

"How do you do it? Meditate, I mean."

"My potions. I make stores of the more simple potions, mostly healing, and everything else disappears. And you, Mr. Potter, do you have something you do during which there is nothing but that task? No stray thoughts, interruptions are vaguely heard if at all, et cetera."

"Er, yeah, I do actually." He let himself imagine his chores in Surrey. "When I clean, I can't hear anything, I don't have to think, I'm entirely at peace…is that weird?" Harry asked cautiously after he'd refocused his mind.

"No, it is not," Snape sniffed. "People have far more ridiculous things that allow them to clear their minds, such as the Headmaster's obsession with socks. When he thinks about socks, his mind is blank, and that is odd."

"Okay, but he's Albus Dumbledore, there really isn't anything that isn't odd about him. But…" Harry bit his lip, unsure if he should press his luck.

"What is it, Mr. Potter?" Snape seemed patient and genuinely curious.

"Well, I can see how the meditation thing works, thinking about what gives you peace, if you know the attack is coming and you're not required to carry on a conversation or do something that demands your complete attention, but how does it work when someone is slipping and sliding into your head at random? Like when you were at DE meetings with Snakeface?"

"After your mind has been breached enough times, you begin to easily recognize the feel of someone pushing past your natural barriers. You see, that's why it hurts when a Legilimens forces their way into your mind, because everyone is born with a natural defense against mind magic. It is stronger in some than others, and those with a weaker defense can be unknowingly coaxed into opening their mind. Pettigrew, for instance, had such an issue. Were one to casually brush the walls of his mind, they would crumble and you'd have free reign within until he realized what was happening. The exhaustion you feel after you've been breached is because your mind is attempting to close its walls against the intruder. The stronger the Legilimens, the harder it is to push them out and raise your walls," Snape explained.

"Is there a way to strengthen your walls so that you don't have to worry about someone brushing at your mind and winning favor from your defenses?" Harry asked, suddenly interested.

"Yes," Snape smirked and Harry wasn't sure if it was a good thing. "But it requires that you master basic Occlumency first. Would you like to see if you're adequate enough already?"

Bad, it was definitely a bad smirk. Snape knew Harry couldn't back down from a challenge of his skill. "Erm…I guess, if you want. I'm pretty confident, but when am I not?" Harry grinned cheekily.

A twitch! The corner of Snape's mouth had definitely just twitched in an attempt not to smile. "Brace yourself," He warned. Harry closed his eyes and pulled forth the feelings from earlier that Summer, when he'd cleaned his relatives' house from top to bottom the first day back. "Ready?" Harry opened his eyes and nodded, focusing on the feeling. His professor raised his wand, staring into Harry's eyes, and whispered the spell. Harry could feel Snape enter his mind, but no memories came forward, there was just pain. Pain that was ten times worse than what usually accompanied the breach.

Snape exited quickly, and Harry realized he was screaming from the pain. He relaxed his fingers from their grip on his skull and let his hands fall into his lap. "Why did it hurt more?" He gasped, looking back up at his teacher. Snape was grimacing, and gripping his head with one hand.

"There was pain associated with the feeling of peace, Mr. Potter. You need to draw on a memory in which you are not in pain whilst cleaning," He growled. "Shall we try this again?"

Harry had the decency to blush, but he pulled forth a memory of one of his detentions with the man before him. Cleaning cauldrons wasn't painful until he tried to stand, because the hard floor was too cold to feel after a few minutes. He nodded, opening his eyes again, and felt the breach. This time, there was only the usual pain, and still no memories brought forth.

Snape exited. "Well done, Mr. Potter," He murmured, studying the boy. "What were the memories you were using? Why was the first one encased with pain?"

Harry blushed…he didn't want to answer, but this might be his only chance to show the man he wasn't raised as a golden child with a silver spoon in his mouth. "Um, the first memory I had was when I got back to my relatives' house this summer. I had asked my aunt if I might be allowed to get a part-time job. I'd thought she'd be happy to have me out of the house, but apparently she really hates cleaning her own home, and it still counted as a question. I'm not supposed to ask those…She hit me in the head with a frying pan and my Uncle told me to go to my room. I reached the top of the stairs when Dudley shoved me back down. My head was already bleeding, but the shove down the stairs made it worse. My aunt made me clean the whole house for that, even though my head was pounding. The second memory was…it was of the detention I had with you the week before finals."

Snape hummed. "Why do you have to think back so far to find a memory? Do you not clean here?"

Harry smiled at the fact that Snape didn't comment about his family or him finding comfort in detentions. "I tried to last summer, but Mrs. Weasley kept bustling me out of the room the minute I started. If I was set a task to clean, I always had Ron or someone else with me and they'd complain nonstop. I couldn't concentrate on the cleaning. I've tried cleaning my room, but ever since Kreacher adopted me as his Master when I sat down and talked to the portrait of Sirius' mum, he won't hear of me cleaning either. Besides, picking up clothes isn't really hardcore cleaning, and anything more would have to be explained. Ron already thinks I'm kind of a freak for befriending Draco, I don't want any more reasons to get him riled up. He'll probably throw a fit just knowing I agreed to take Occlumency again, and that we're speaking civilly."

"Don't worry about Ron, Harry," Hermione said, walking into the room. "He's a prat, and you shouldn't dictate your life based on what he thinks. Good evening, Professor."

"Miss Granger," Snape said, returning her nod of recognition.

"Anyway, Harry, Remus told me about how you stood up to Sirius. He's your godfather. If you can stand up to him, then Ron shouldn't be much of a challenge," Hermione said, sitting next to him.

"Except Ron might start a brawl with me, instead of just back-handing me," Harry muttered, not expecting either person to hear him.

"He did what?!" The two occupants demanded in unison.

Harry sighed and swiped a hand in front of his cheek. He saw Snape shiver as he cast the finishing spell, and thought that curious, but Hermione pulled his attention towards her when she touched the bruise and small scratch on his cheekbone.

"Oh, Harry, are you alright?" She asked in worry.

"Yeah, 'Mione, I'm fine. I think I've still got some bruise salve in my trunk, I'll put it on before bed, alright?" Harry told her without thinking.

"Where did you get bruise salve?" Snape asked. "Pomfrey was out a week before school was out for the Summer, and I didn't restock the Hospital Wing until after you left."

Harry blushed, but Hermione answered for him. "He made it!" She said proudly. "He's actually quite good at Potions now that Malfoy isn't playing saboteur. If you're teaching Potions again this upcoming year, you'll see it for yourself since he got an O when he retook his OWLs."

"Did he?" Snape asked dauntingly.

Harry blushed further. "Erm, yeah…I got O's in everything I took. Potions, Defense, Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures, and Herbology. Well, no, I got an E in Muggle Studies, but that's because the person doing the exam only thought he knew about Muggles. After a long discussion with his superior, a Muggle-born thank Merlin, it was changed to an O. My Potions grade had a lot of help from you, though."


Harry nodded and raised his hand, summoning his Potions book from his room. He handed it to his Defense professor who opened it, his eyebrows shooting up. "It was in the Potions classroom and Slughorn insisted I use it. 'Mione here thought it was cheating, but I think she was just jealous that I had an anonymous tutor. I didn't figure out that you were the Half-Blood Prince until 'Mione pointed out an old newspaper article about what I think was your mum, and Ron was moaning and groaning about your comments on one of his essays. Your handwriting has always had that elegant scrawl, and it's very…specific. Remus verified my suspicion of your identity."

"Oh! That reminds me. Harry, Remus told me to tell you that Sirius has taken it upon himself to…corner you, I think is the way he put it. I told him you'd blow up at him if you were backed into a corner when you aren't ready to speak, but Sirius is convinced you won't hurt him," Hermione said as she started to get up.

Harry swore under his breath. "Do you think there's somewhere in this house he won't find me?" He asked morosely. Hermione shrugged and gave him an apologetic look before leaving the room.

"My lab," Snape said after several minutes of silence.

"Huh?" Harry asked, stopping his catalogue of the rooms in the mansion-like house.

"My lab in the basement as well as my bedroom, are the only two places Black won't go, that I know of. We're both trapped in this house until school resumes in the Summer, it's only fair that I share my hiding place with you," Snape clarified.

Harry grinned. "Yeah? That's really great of you, Professor."

"Harry!" Remus hissed quietly, sticking his head in the doorway. "Sirius just checked your room, and I think he's heading here now. If you have somewhere to hide, I suggest-"

"Harry! Where are you?!"

Remus ducked into the room and closed the door. "Hide, Harry, please. I know you don't like hiding, but I would really like to keep the house in one piece this Summer," He implored as steps began to descend the stairs down the hall. "Severus, you too, Sirius is out for your blood because of something that happened earlier, and again, I'd like to keep the house whole. We just finished cleaning it."

"Where do you expect us to hide, Remus?!" Harry hissed. Remus looked around the room and his eyes alighted on the recently cleaned out broom cupboard.

"There, go, now, before he gets here!" He whispered.

Harry was about to argue, but Snape stood and grabbed his wrist, dragging him towards the closet. Harry guessed the man wasn't feeling up to yet another sparring match with the immature dog animagus and followed him willingly into the somewhat cramped space. Remus shut the door behind them and Harry cast muffliato and Lumos as the door to the library opened.

"So, you've been getting private tutoring from me, have you?" Snape asked as he sat in a chair that had been stored in the small room.

Harry chuckled nervously, taking a seat on the floor across from the chair. "Um, yeah, I guess I have. Your teachings are way more effective than the tripe they put in our usual Potions text. Do you mind terribly?"

"No," Snape said. They both seemed somewhat surprised at this answer. "I've often wondered how many potions could be more effective if Masters took the time to experiment before writing down the instructions. I'm surprised you were able to decipher my scrawl, actually, I distinctly remember crossing out a great many things. I copied all of my notes from the book at the end of the year, and had a migraine trying to decipher what was useful information and what was not."

Harry actually laughed at that. "Yeah, well, I like your handwriting. I spent 5 years doing my best not to see too much of it on my homework and my eyes became trained for it. I liked the other ideas in there, too, though it's kind of obvious you were exhausted while writing a few."

Snape smiled softly at the memory. "Yes, I suppose this book became a sort of journal. I'm glad my innermost thoughts could amuse you, Potter."

"Harry," The 17 year old corrected. "You agreed to share your hiding spots with me, that makes you a friend…or at least a comrade in arms against Black, so you should call me 'Harry', Professor. And they didn't amuse me in the embarrassing sort of way; some of them made me laugh, especially your running commentary on the incompetency of the book's author, but some of them made me think about my own life. One of your passages was what got me to talk to Draco. How come you didn't just take the book with you when you graduated?"

Snape shrugged a shoulder. "Your father took my book during finals. It was your mother's suggestion that I write everything on separate paper the week before, and I suspect she thought your father would try something. He hid it just before my Potions final, probably trying to prevent me from studying."

Harry winced. "I'm sorry, Professor…not just for my dad being a complete ponce, but for the stuff I've done, too. I have, in the past, intentionally provoked you in the hopes of getting a detention, especially when my life seems to be off tilt. I needed to clean, and said some awful things over the years to get to that. All of the other professors only take points or they'd give me lines. I'm also really sorry for the pensieve incident. I was angry, and feeling irrational, and thought you had some idea of what was happening with the Dark Lord. Also, I had heard you were friends with my mum and thought maybe those were the memories you were taking out to be vindictive. It doesn't excuse my behavior, but I'm hoping that maybe you can understand where I was coming from. People are constantly hiding things from me, and talking about James, but people rarely mention my mum, and only in passing if they do."

Snape nodded absently in thought. He spoke after a few minutes of silence. "She was kind, incredibly so, but she had a wicked temper," He said at length, "She was good at Charms, as I'm sure most people have told you, but she had a secret love for Potions and Transfiguration. She was the best friend you could have, but the only person I ever knew to not cower in the wake of her anger was the Dark Lord himself. Even Albus was afraid of her, and she had a few choice words for him after the incident at the Shrieking Shack that Black is so fond of bringing up. You have a lot of her qualities, I've come to realize, and many of the things I attributed to your father are simply your Gryffindor side, as well as an uncommonly Slytherin way of thinking," Snape said, staring resolutely at the book on his lap.

Harry leaned back against the wall. "I was supposed to be in Slytherin, but my first influences at the school were Ron, Hagrid, and Malfoy, so I thought it was a bad idea. I wish I could re-sort, though, since Ron has taken to 'playfully' pranking me. He's trying to get the better of me, for the bragging rights I suppose, and it was funny seeing him fume when his pranks failed at first, but now it's gotten annoying and he's become more malicious. Especially when he found out I'm gay."

"You're gay?" Snape seemed surprised and Harry blushed again.

"Yeah, there was an article about it in the Prophet. I suspect Ron was the one who released it," He said.

"Why are you still friends with him, Potter?"

Harry shrugged. "I'm worried what he'll do if I stop being friends with him, really. He's got a horrid mean streak, and he's incredible at strategy. I sleep in the same dorm, there's no end to the things he could do."

"Do you fear for your life, or that you'll come to harm?" Snape asked.

"Well, yeah, I guess I do. Why?"

"Because if you fear harm from one of your dorm mates you can request a private room. If you're afraid of remaining in Gryffindor Tower, you can be re-sorted," Snape explained.

"Oh, cool." Harry murmured in thought. "Wouldn't that make me into a bit of a Hufflepuff, though? People would know I'd re-sorted because I was afraid of someone. I don't normally care what people think, but no one seems to understand that I can't hurt Ron, he was my first friend, and the only thing that bothers me more than being compared to my ponce of a father is being called a coward."

Snape seemed to think about this. "I could openly insult you," He suggested idly. "Make a few comments about the Headmaster bending the rules for the Boy Who Lived."

Harry shook his head. "No, I'd really like it if we could forego the insults, if you're serious about this sudden amiability. The less ammunition for Ron the better." He paused, thinking. "Wait, isn't there a clause in the rules that says you can be re-sorted if you no longer feel at home in your House? Something about changing loyalty from a House to the school?"

Snape nodded, and a proud smile glinted in his eye. "Miss Granger convinced you to read Hogwarts, A History, I see," He murmured.

Harry grinned. "Yeah, though it wasn't hard for her to do. Once I stopped listening to Ron's constant pleading to skive off schoolwork and have fun, I realized how much fun learning something new can be. 'Mione gets her fun from learning information and sharing it, thinks she's helping people even when she's being annoying, but I think learning new information is fun just because I never know what might come in handy and it's kind of fun knowing something someone else doesn't. The rules in Hogwarts, A History aren't incredibly detailed, though. They should really send a rulebook in the Letters inviting children to Hogwarts. Dress code and all that, because learning things gradually throughout your education and only because you get punished for it is a horrible practice. I mean, it's not like you can't find out what laws exist until after you've broken them, right? Some stuff is common knowledge, but most stuff, especially at school, is specific."

Snape actually gave a snort of laughter, making Harry do a jig for joy in his head. "Yes, you have a point. Perhaps you should suggest this to our esteemed Headmaster? Or Draco's father at least. In any case, to answer your question about the Loyalty clause, you have to be at least a Seventh Year, and intend to fill an empty position at the school. Defense, for instance."

Harry hummed softly. "Will there be a position open after I graduate? I already planned on getting my Defense Mastery, but that's supposed to take years."

Snape nodded. "Yes, I expect that very position will be open. As I'm returning to my Potions, I imagine Albus will have hired yet another buffoon to fill the Defense position. I really think, if one considers the teachers he's hired besides myself, that he may have always been intending to convince you to take the position, Harry. As to your Mastery, your accomplishments in Defense are well-known, and really all you need to do is to write a thesis. All anyone ever needs to do to earn their Mastery is to write a thesis that is approved by the Mastery Board at the Ministry. Your notes on the Dark Mark would translate into a fantastic thesis, I think. The classes involved with a Mastery are simply a formality to encourage you to continue to learn, and you don't really even need to attend a formal school to sit your exams such as OWL's and NEWT's. You do, however, require an O in your subject of Mastery for your thesis to even be considered."

Harry nodded and they sat in silence as he mulled over the information. "Could you help me study for a Mastery in Potions? Minerva already agreed to help me study for a Mastery in Transfiguration and is confident that Filius will help me with Charms. I'd like to keep my options open, and really, I'd like to be remembered for more than the whole 'defeating Snakeface' thing. I feel that, if I do become a professor, I'll have a better chance if I know how other fields of magic are used in my own subject." Snape nodded, and Harry took that as a yes to his question. "Brilliant! Do you know who will be hired as the new Defense professor?"

Snape shook his head. "No, it is, as usual, a complete mystery. I think you should remove the muffliato, your dogfather will begin to sense the difference in the room soon."

Harry nodded and waved his hand, canceling the spell. With the sudden quiet this afforded, he was able to hear his godfather pacing the room and speaking angrily with Remus. As the footsteps began to approach their hiding spot, Harry cancelled the lighting charm and cast a casual Disregard ward on the door, directing his godfather away from the closet with an unnoticeable nudge. He sat in the dimly lit closet with his professor, his knees tucked close to his chest, and tried desperately not to be drawn into memories of his cupboard. As the dark closed in, he slowly began to descend into the memories of his own personal nightmare.

"Harry, why are you trembling?"

Harry looked up to find his professor kneeling in front of him, a hand reaching towards his face. "I…It's nothing, Professor, I'm just thinking of my cupboard at my relatives. It's…well, it's not a pleasant memory. I was often in pain, or starving, or both, when I was put in there, and sometimes my aunt and uncle would forget I was in there for several days. I'm a bit claustrophobic in small spaces; not detrimentally so, but enough that I'm in severe discomfort." He tried to chuckle reassuringly, but Snape seemed unconvinced.

The professor grabbed his hand and pulled him forward so he was kneeling. The man moved so he was sitting beside him, and Harry gasped when he was pulled sideways so that he was being cradled in the man's lap. "Relax," Snape whispered, running his fingers soothingly through Harry's hair. "My mother used to do this for me when we'd hide from my father. Concentrate on my fingers as they move through your hair and on nothing else."

Harry nodded and allowed the warm body to comfort him as he rested his head against the surprisingly soft, bony shoulder. As the long fingers carded through his hair he felt himself begin to drift off, but couldn't bring himself to care. He relaxed further into the slim body beneath him and curled his fingers around a fistful of the dark robes as a preemptive strike against being left alone in the dark. Minutes later he fell into a deep slumber.

Harry sat up with a shout and ripped his sweat-soaked shirt off over his head, mistaking the cold, sticky feeling for blood as his dream flooded his thoughts. He blinked rapidly and shuttered his coarse thoughts when a light flicked on in the darkness. He looked over to see Snape sitting up groggily in a very large four poster, staring at him in concern.

"What happened?" The man asked.

Harry took in the bookshelves covered in large tomes and potions, and the cot he was sitting on, and looked back at his professor. "Why am I here?" He blurted out as his mind caught on to the fact that he was in Snape's room at Grimmauld.

The man cleared his throat, but his voice was still sleep-roughened when he spoke. "Black warded all of the rooms except mine to alert him of your entry and Lupin asked me to safeguard you while you slept to avoid the disemboweling of the mutt. Why did you scream, Harry?"

Harry blushed and shuddered as he remembered the horrible dream he'd had. "I had a nightmare…about you…" He paused and he could swear he heard the man mutter 'I'm flattered' in a biting and sarcastic tone. "I watched you die…I don't remember what happened, but your body was cold, and your eyes looked so dead…there was blood everywhere…" He shuddered again and pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging them close.

"Do you require Dreamless Sleep?" Snape asked, looking at his shelves.

Harry shook his head. "It's my off week, sir, I can't take it until midnight on Saturday. It's only Wednesday night. Normally, on my off weeks, I…never mind, sir. I'm sorry I woke you, good night, Professor."

"Potter, finish your sentence. I hate it when you trail off," Snape growled.

Harry blushed. "I…well, I…" He ducked his head when the acerbic man scowled. "Well, at school, the girl's dorms don't see me as a threat, so I usually crawl in to 'Mione's or Ginny's bed, unless Neville wakes me up and pulls me over to his bed. It's just…safer with someone next to me, y'know?"

Snape grumbled. "You would inherit that particular quirk from Lily," He said in a low growl as he slid over to the far side of the bed and pulled the covers back in invitation. "If you kick in your sleep like she did, I will expel you violently from my bed."

Harry balked slightly. "You slept with my mum?" He squeaked.

Snape growled again and rubbed his hands furiously over his face. "Only in the most literal sense, Harry. It is very late, or early, and I'm tired. I'll explain it in detail later, at a more reasonable hour. Now come, I plan to get at least a few more hours of sleep before Black renews his search for you, and I can't very well do so if you're waking up screaming at random and interrupting my rest." Harry hesitated visibly and Snape raised an eyebrow as he lay back down on his side. "Unless you're afraid of the Greasy Bat of the Dungeons?"

Harry glared at the challenge and deliberately got off the cot and walked over to the bed. He only hesitated slightly before crawling under the covers and lying on his side close to the edge. He squeaked when a warm arm wrapped around his bare torso and pulled him back against a firm, thinly clothed chest in the middle of the mattress.

"You'll fall off if you sleep that close to the edge," Snape mumbled. He waved his hand to turn off the light before wrapping the arm around Harry's torso once more. He gripped the opposite shoulder in either a possessive or protective gesture, and as the shadows closed in around them, Harry remained tense. His heart began to beat rapidly as the darkness became almost suffocating and he grabbed Snape's hand on his shoulder for reassurance. The calloused thumb rubbed his bare skin soothingly and Snape held Harry tighter. "Sleep, Harry, I'm here, and you're safe," The gruff voice murmured softly, continuing to gently rub along Harry's collarbone with his thumb.

Harry shifted, snuggling further back into the toned warmth. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the movement of the chest behind him, the shift of his hair as each breathed ghosted across the top of his skull, and the rough feel of the pad on Snape's thumb as it brushed over his collar bone again and again, and quickly drifted into a restful sleep filled with comforting caresses and whispered endearments.


Severus awoke slowly, feeling around the cold sheets for the warmth he'd fallen asleep with the night before, only to come up empty. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, glancing at the clock on the wall that was lit by the sun shining through the windows. It told him that it was almost 7 in the morning, which was late for him.

"Ungrateful brat, couldn't even be bothered to wake me when he got up," He grumbled aloud, shifting his legs so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed. "At least he doesn't kick in his sleep." He stood up and stretched his lithe body, then lifted his foot to rest on the bed to check that his wand was still secured in the calf-holster beneath his sleep-pants. He normally kept it under his pillow, but with Black being a bigger prick than usual, he felt safer keeping it on his person. As he straightened out the thin gray material on his leg, he glanced at the bedside table to see a folded piece of parchment.

He picked it up and lifted the fold.

Professor Snape,

I make breakfast at 7 for Hermione, Remus, and myself. I always make you a plate, too, but you never join us, so…Anyway, Kreacher says the others won't be up until about 10 since last night was apparently a late one, so feel free to come have a small breakfast with me before you retreat to your lab, if you like. Either way, here's your coffee. I got Dobby to bring some over from Hogwarts.


As he finished reading, the smell of freshly brewed Kopi luwak wafted up to him. He looked at the side table again and found his usual mug filled with the black ambrosia. He allowed a small smile as he raised the steaming brew to his lips and sipped it lightly, humming in contentment. He left the room and passed Black's room with a self-satisfied smirk at the echoing snore emitting from within. The bastard was in for a rude surprise when he woke if he attempted to corner Potter again, and it served him right for tangling with the most powerful wizard of their time.

Severus made his way down to the kitchen, straightening his threadbare black t-shirt as he walked silently down the stairs. He opened the door and stepped inside, his bare feet slapping against the freshly polished wood floor. He spotted Harry standing in much the same attire before the stove, though his clothes were far baggier than his skinny form could assuredly hold up. As such, much the same as his hair did, his clothing defied all logic and perfectly outlined the Quidditch-toned body beneath. Severus walked forward and sat in the chair closest to where his young companion stood stirring something delicious-smelling in a pan. As he sat, sipping at his coffee, he heard over the sizzling food a soft humming of a vaguely familiar tune.

"What is that that you are humming, Mister Potter?" He asked, smiling softly when the young man jumped.

Harry turned, a grin and blush on his face. "Um, it's from a Muggle song artist 'Mione introduced me to last summer, Jon Bon Jovi, and the song is called 'It's My Life'. It's not the world's greatest song, but I admit I love it, and I've always thought it sort of fitting."

Severus chuckled. "Yes, I remember when that album first came out last year I've always found it quite enjoyable, and a touch ironic."

Harry's grin widened as he turned back to the stove. "I have a mix tape that Hermione made me with that song featured as the first track. Would you like to borrow it?" He asked as he summoned two ceramic bowls from the cupboard beside the sink. He dished out whatever the tantalizing meal was and placed a bowl in front of him as he sat across from the teacher.

Severus studied the food as Harry handed him a fork. It was simple, a mixture of potatoes, bacon, and eggs, and several easily identified spices. "I would have no way to listen to it, as I do not own a cassette player, but the sentiment is noted and appreciated." He said before sampling the dish before him. It was heaven and he had to swallow back the moan of appreciation to maintain some dignity. "This is very nice, Harry."

The man ducked his head bashfully with a muttered thanks and they ate in silence for a few minutes. "You're a much more amiable person in the mornings than I would have guessed, sir. I'm struck with the idea that it's your company that affects your mood," The messy-haired man teased lightly. Severus nodded slightly, leaving open the interpretation of which company affected him in what way. "Perhaps, then, you are feeling amiable enough to tell me about that 'particular quirk' I inherited from my mum?"

Severus smirked. "Ah, yes, I had forgotten," He began, setting his fork down as he thought back. "It started in our first year, about a month in." He began. "She was feeling homesick and for someone reason she thought that my small 11 year old self could protect her from whatever imaginary creature was creeping in the shadows. She came to my dorm room, Slytherin only houses two to a room and I had been the odd man out so I was alone, and I awoke to her cold toes bashing repeatedly into my shins in the middle of the night. I ignored it the first night, and several times after that, but after a while I began putting her in a Half-Body Bind so she could still sleep comfortably, but spare my bruised shins. She came to my room a lot in the first year, and many more times, especially at the beginning of each semester, every year after until our fifth year, when she felt she was getting too old to be huddling in bed with her 'brother', which she had taken to calling me. Before you ask, no, I do not have any idea as to how she got into the Slytherin dorms, let alone how she found my room. I certainly never told her, no matter how much like a little sister she was to me."

Harry shrugged and continued eating. "One of the many tricks of Hogwarts, no doubt," He excused. "Thank you, for your help last night, by the way, sir. I'm sorry I didn't wake you when I got up, but it was really early, and I'd already woken you once this morning and thought you might want to sleep. I hope I didn't kick you at all?"

Severus smiled softly, noting the insecurity the boy felt. Lily had been just as awkward after the first night, afraid he'd tease her about being so weak as to crawl into bed with a Slytherin. Even though they'd only just started school, he'd expounded on the foolish bravery of Gryffindors for the three years beforehand and she'd been convinced he would mock her lack of courage in the large castle. He'd settled for teasing her mercilessly for a few months about warming charms on her feet. Harry had been uncommonly warm, though, the night before and so he couldn't continue the tradition.

"Are you always so warm, or were you feverish last night?" He settled for asking in response as he sipped his coffee.

Harry blushed. "It's an anomaly that has taken hold in earnest since I came into my power inheritance, but I've always been warm to the touch. Madame Pomfrey said it was my magic as it moved through my veins and over my skin, but I've never felt any warmer than anyone else…except in the dungeons, it's much warmer down there than most of the Gryffindors say it is, in my opinion," He said, pushing his food around in his shallow bowl.

Severus smirked. "I've been told it's rather frigid in the dungeons, by my own Slytherins, though I agree it's doesn't seem as cold as everyone supposes. I find it to be more comfortable than the rest of the castle, excepting the towers."

Harry chuckled. "You think it's comfortable probably for the same reasons I do, I'd guess, because your body is as warm as mine. I wonder what that says about your own raw magical power?"

Severus only raised an eyebrow and stood, taking up his coffee mug again. "Lupin will check on Black first thing when he wakes, and thus will dislodge your locking charms," He pointed out.

Harry winced, smacking his head deliberately into his palm. "Damn, I forgot about that. Remus is forever trying to coax Sirius out of bed at a more reasonable hour. I guess you'll be going to your lab, then?"

Severus nodded.

"Where is your lab anyway? I've asked Kreacher on more than one occasion to take something to you, or to tell me where you are so I might find you myself, but it would appear he's in your confidence, and no one else is safe to ask," Harry commented, taking their bowls to the sink. "You didn't eat much, sir."

"I don't usually enjoy a large breakfast right after I wake up. It's lunch by the time I have gathered appetite enough to eat more than a piece of toast," Severus said.

Harry smiled. "Me as well, but I was up at 5, so…" He trailed off, glancing at Severus with a practiced smirk, teasing him again.

Severus paid the smirk no mind as he considered. "You only ate half of your still meager portion, Harry, and you consider that an appetite?"

Harry laughed softly with a shrug as he turned and leaned against the counter. "It's more than I'd eat in a month at the Dursley's, sir. I was sick after gorging myself at my first Welcoming Feast and have come to realize that my stomach is rather small. I've managed to fill out despite that, and grown taller if you haven't noticed, only because I've been nicking Nutrition Potions before we leave the school ever since 3rd year. I've begun making my own, too, since last Summer, and since I couldn't grab more than one for each Summer month from the infirmary and am now taking the proper dosage every week, it's why the sudden growth spurt," He explained, grinning happily at his own cunning.

"Ah, yes, your newly discovered skill in potions. I'd like to witness this, if you'll accompany me to my lab," Severus said blithely, letting the challenge shine in his eyes.

Harry looked more shocked and worried than the happiness Severus would have expected. "Are you sure, sir? I'm still rather intimidated by your skill…I mean, you're a Master, and bloody well forthright in stalking your students in the classroom. It scares the crap out of me every time you look over my shoulder at my potion, and if you did it in your lab, where I'll already be scared shitless about screwing up, I may very well blow us all sky high," He said meekly.

Severus raised an eyebrow and refreshed his coffee. "Do I frighten you, Mister Potter?"

Harry blushed. "Not in the least, sir. I find intimidation is really better at procuring distant reverence than fear. Although, when pushed too far and prodded in just the right way, distant reverence can quickly become beleaguered respect and beguiled confusion, or downright hatred towards the intimidator," He said, straightening to his full height.

Severus tightened his jaw as he thought of a comeback, but found himself bewildered by the boys shifting moods and larger vocabulary. "Did you memorize the dictionary, Harry? Your vocabulary lends itself to the idea that you are far smarter than I'd ever have given you credit for before. Though, I suppose that still doesn't say much for your overall brain mass." Severus inwardly cheered himself on when he finished and the boy's eyes narrowed.

Harry sniffed and walked to the kitchen door. "I've lived my life dumbing down my speech patterns and everything else so as not to seem the least bit intelligent in front of my relatives or Muggle teachers. When I came to Hogwarts it was second nature to appear steadfastly stupid, though not as much as Ron, or Crabbe and Goyle. It was Draco who convinced me to appreciate my thirst for knowledge and show people I was more than just the scar on my forehead. Are you threatened, sir? Suddenly you've met your match in unfailing wit and extensive vocabulary, you must feel a bit off balance to be sure," He looked down at his attire. "I need to change if we're going to be making potions," He muttered, leaving the room.

Severus followed him up the stairs. "Do not be so pretentious, Potter, as to believe you are the first student to be capable of holding their own against me," He growled.

Harry glanced at him over his shoulder as he reached the top of the stairs. "Ah, but there's the rub, Professor: capable. You said 'capable of holding their own' against you, so it begs the question," He paused at the bottom of the main staircase, hands on hips as he turned with his head at a slight tilt. "How many have actually had as much spine as I have to really stand up to you, in and out of class?" He turned sharply and continued up to his room, Severus following in a stew.

The brat had a point, damn it. He was the first to stand up to him, to spar with him verbally, while still his student. Many students had come to him in the past immediately after the Leaving Feast to have him on, or had occasionally made an effort to meet him outside of the school after their graduation to do so. Sure, plenty had gotten fed up at some point or other and snapped, but when they realized he wasn't fazed by their venom, they became meek once more. Harry was the first student to stand against him consistently throughout his schooling.

Severus thought about how best to repay the brat's cheekiness as he watched the green-eyed savior disable the wards on his own room and walk thought about it for a few minutes as he leaned against the curling wallpaper beside the doorway when an idea struck him.

He began walking to his own room, humming a short tune loudly and repeatedly. There was a crash behind him, and he heard the whoosh of Harry's door opening quickly as the boy stumbled out. "It was you!" The boy exclaimed.

Severus turned with a smirk, and tried to ignore the quickening of his heart beat and his suddenly dry mouth at the sight presented. Tight jeans clung to the boys hips, only half-zipped and unbuttoned revealing black boxers beneath, while a white t-shirt hung loosely in the boys grasp as he stomped forward. The golden, hairless torso was…washboard was the word that came to mind, though god-like was an accurate substitute. The young man stopped before him, waiting for an answer as he impatiently tapped his barefoot on the wooden floor, fists planted on slim hips.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Mister Potter," He purred, turning and continuing towards his own room.

"But…but why?!" Harry exclaimed, stumbling along the hall beside the Potions Master while he tried to get his shirt on over his head.

"It was funny," Severus offered as he walked into his room and shut the door.

"It was humiliating!" Harry fired back through the barrier. "Fred and George sang it nonstop the whole day! And that dwarf was probably the worst messenger you could possibly have procured!"

Severus smirked maliciously as he exited the room, dressed in form-fitting black slacks and a blue turtle neck sweater. "Precisely," He commented.

"But why?!" Harry repeated in a moan of humiliation.

Severus decided to take pity on the younger wizard as he led the way to his hidden lab on the first floor. "Every year, the night before the Welcoming Feast, the teachers receive a challenge from the Headmaster to help them better their relationship with their least-liked students. It's to promote more respect and amiable communication. My choices were to offer Longbottom extra tutoring or send you a Valentine. I made the less painful choice, as Albus had only specified that you should be, and I quote, 'clued in as to the sender's identity'. I thought the clues were rather obvious. The second line was obscenely indicative of a teacher, and the first was obviously a potions reference. Admittedly, the third was a touch sardonic, but I couldn't make it too easy for you. From what I hear, though, the dwarf opted into the less-fitting 'hero' he'd suggested, rather than 'the brat who conquered the Dark Lord' that I'd written," He explained.

Harry nodded as Severus began to set out the ingredients for a minor healing potion. He settled onto a stool to watch. "I had caught that, that 'hero' was a syllable too much. And your use of 'Dark Lord' should've been a dead giveaway, not to mention I should've recognized it from the riddle with the seven bottles, but you've got to consider it from my perspective! Fred and George had already been teasing me relentlessly that year for the parseltongue crap and…well, that's not important. The point-"

"Potter, will you stop trailing off!" Severus interrupted, slamming the jar of toad's eyes down with more force than necessary. "How could you possibly have fit into Slytherin if you cannot think before you speak?"

Harry grinned abashedly, blushing, and Severus found it more endearing than he should have. "I guess that's your pet peeve, then, huh? It's a learned skill, alright? I'm getting there, but around you I'm…" Severus raised an eyebrow, squaring his shoulders as he let loose a low growl of irritation. "Alright, geez! I get embarrassed easily in your presence. Fred and George were subtly teasing me all through second year just because I defended you to Ron when he was ranting and raving about the amount of homework you'd assigned us. He said something about you not showering regularly or something, and that was why your hair looked greasy. I said I knew for a fact that you normally smelled clean and that your hair was soft. Fred asked how I knew, and I slipped into a higher vocabulary. I told them it was because we'd osculated often due to our mutual disdain. I'd forgotten the other definition, so when they looked it up, they latched onto it."

Severus chuckled. "You alluded to the two of us having kissed? In your second year? You were a child!" He laughed.

Harry gaped and flushed angrily. "I did not! I had suggested we'd come in close contact, especially because you had a problem respecting personal space when either checking my potions in class or belittling me. It's not my fault the twins weren't mature enough to see what I'd meant. I was twelve and even I knew that it was a ridiculous idea, especially considering the adult involved! Anyway, it's an easy leap to assume it was them that sent me that ridiculous valentine as one of their many attempts to humiliate me without exposing my crush on you to scorn from both you and my peers!" He shouted in a rush. Severus choked on air and Harry gulped when they both realized what had been said.

They were silent for a few minutes until finally Severus raised an eyebrow in question. "You were different from everyone else," Harry excused softly, rubbing his neck and looking away abashedly. "Even McGonagall treated me better than other students on a one-on-one level, but you treated me just like any other nonsensical student. I mean, yeah, I thought it was unfair of you to expect me to be some genius in Potions, especially considering I didn't even know magic existed until Hagrid brought me my Hogwarts letter, but you were still more likely to treat me like the average student than anyone else. Except in that first class, when you seated yourself right in front of me, like I was an equal but still your student, and let me know the correct answers. Plus, you've always had this mysterious charm about you. All the girls notice it and whisper in the corners about how, if you were a nicer person, you'd be the perfect guy. Tall, dark, mysterious, etc. I didn't need you to be nicer, I was just coming into puberty, so physical attraction and respect were enough."

Severus nodded and tapped his fingers against the table before continuing to lay out the necessary ingredients. He was not avoiding eye contact, it was just bothering him that the unicorn hairs weren't lying straight. He moved away to his cauldron counter to find the perfect cauldron.

"It's not like it matters," Harry started again, walking around the lab table to begin preparing the ingredients. "I mean, once I started getting a feel for real attraction, I realized just how acerbic you were and got over the crush. Don't get me wrong, you're still the hottest teacher ever at Hogwarts in the eyes of most students 4th year and up, you even outrank Lockhart; but there's not a chance anyone's going to approach you, or, heaven forbid, become seriously infatuated. If you started acting as genial as this, or even slightly more pleasant, around your students though, you'd certainly have higher grades."

"Better results or more drooling? If I were more friendly with my students I'd have issues alike with Lockhart, and I'd never welcome that," Severus commented as he studied the younger man's work.

"Lockhart had incredible results. Remus commented on it once. It wasn't just his lack of knowledge in the subject, it was because the girls and a few of the boys wanted to impress him. That's something you don't understand. If you were attainable, then yeah, you'd have students tripping over themselves to get close to you, but because you're a teacher the only way for them to impress you is to make good grades and play nice with their peers. It's perhaps the most important thing for teachers to learn. A certain level of professionalism is necessary, of course, but make yourself relatable and still unattainable and you've got top scores. It's why the DA worked so well for me. I was teaching them and talking to them on their level, but everyone knew the Boy-Who-Lived didn't really date. There are exceptions, like Cho with me and Susan with Lockhart, but they're not common if you have as unapproachable a reputation as yours," Harry said, finishing off the ingredients with a flourish. "What do you think?"

Severus thought about it, setting down the polished pewter cauldron. "You have a point, I suppose. Still, I think the upper years would die of shock if I suddenly had a genial personality. That, or I'd be hexed and accused of being an impostor." There was no danger in being approachable, he thought, and he'd already begun showing fairness towards the other houses in the last two years. The first year it had been to offset Umbridge's unfair removal of points from the boy before him, but the second was purely a result of being in a slightly less dangerous classroom, safe from Slytherin prying. It was definitely a concept worth exploring.

Harry chuckled and set his knife down. "That's true, but I was talking about the ingredients."

Severus started, still considering the pros and cons of being nicer to his students. He studied the collected diced, chopped, and shredded ingredients and nodded. "Well done, Mr. Potter, you certainly have a better aptitude for preparing ingredients than you've ever shown before," He commented lightly.

Harry grinned and began to make the potion while Severus half-watched, still lost in thought. "I'd like to see you properly slice a shrivel-fig with an obnoxious red head beside you, poking you, prodding you, and pestering you with questions about even the simplest of assignments," The younger wizard said as he stirred the contents of the cauldron. "I can't believe you never noticed, in my 5th year, that I did fine when you paired me with someone else."

Severus resisted the urge to shrug as he concentrated on what the boy was doing. "I paired you with Granger, Longbottom, or Malfoy. Draco was still sabotaging you, and I just assumed that with any other pairing you were getting help from Miss Granger," He explained. "Where did you learn this technique?"

Harry grinned, carefully stirring in the aniseed. "Experiments, mostly; I had to find a faster, but just as effective, way to make the potion so my relatives wouldn't discover me in their kitchen at night. During school, I experimented with 'Mione, then with Draco as well, until I found a faster, sometimes more effective, way of brewing most healing potions." When he'd finished stirring, he set the crystal stirring rod aside and pulled his wand out, casting a cooling charm. "There, see? A potion that normally takes an hour and a half reduced to just a half hour. It works; the only problem is the preservative properties. This potion only has a shelf life of two weeks, but since when I was with my relatives I'd use up more than half my stock in that time, the shelf life was less important."

The Potions Master looked at the ingredients on the table, noticing that the prepared ingredients meant to be the preservative were still lying there. "Then why bother preparing these ingredients at all?"

"That's the best part, I discovered something fascinating about this potion, wholly by accident…well, what should have been a disastrous accident. Anyway," Harry said, gathering all of the remaining ingredients into his hands. "Watch this." He dumped the last of the ingredients in all at once.

"Potter, stop!" Severus shouted. He dove at the younger wizard, dragging him to floor in anticipation of the explosion that should have come.

Harry chuckled breathlessly from underneath his professor. "See? This potion, and, as far as I can tell, just this potion has some strange aspect that allows all of the preserving ingredients to be added at once, after the cooling process, and still have them work. If you'd kept watching, they dissolve immediately into the potion, and I tested it: they do exactly what they are meant to. The potion will keep for months."

Severus rolled off of his student and sat up, looking at the cauldron sitting innocently atop the table above them. He rounded on the younger wizard and pulled them both to their feet, keeping a firm grip on Harry's shoulders. "What were you thinking, Potter!? I believe you said something about NOT BLOWING UP MY LAB!"

Harry flinched and smiled at the man sheepishly. "I didn't blow up your lab, though; I just wanted to show you. I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to worry you."

Severus narrowed his eyes and released the boy. "The potion likely held its stability because your method of creating the potion has you putting the aniseed in at the end rather than the start. But don't you ever try something like that again without explaining yourself first, that was dangerous."

Harry ducked his head, ashamed, rubbing at his arm in discomfort. "I'm sorry, sir…I-I guess I should go." He turned to leave.

Severus growled, angry enough to spit fire, but swallowed his pride. "Potter, wait…" He said as calmly as he could manage. The younger wizard turned, looking upset. The Potions Master sighed, he hated this. "I apologize, Harry, I may have over-reacted. You may remain here, if you think you can control your behavior better."

Immediately, the seventeen year old brightened and set about bottling his potion. Severus turned away from him to start work on a potion of his own and for a little more than an hour they worked in total silence. Halfway through the potion, Severus found he was calmed down enough, and looked at his silent companion. Harry had finished bottling the minor healing potion and was currently working at cleaning out his cauldron properly. The Potions Master was startled when he saw what appeared to be a tear of blood dripping down the young man's cheek, then recalled the scratch Black had left under the Gryffindor's eye the night before. He cast a stasis spell on his potion.

"Potter, come here, you're bleeding," He called softly.

The brat looked up immediately and frowned, apparently confused. He reached up to touch his cheek, and pulled his hand away with a hiss. After studying his fingers and the blood on the tips, he stood and did as Severus had commanded. The Potions Master summoned a clean cloth and gently wiped away the blood on the lad's cheek, dispelling the glamour charm that hid the damage. He grimaced at the dark, bruised skin, and the small cut that was oozing blood.

"It seems worse than it is," Harry murmured.

Severus brushed his thumb gently over the blackened skin. "Hush, Potter." He leaned closer, examining the troubling cut in the flesh, and cast a wandless healing spell. Slowly, the skin pulled together, stitching together as if there had never been a cut there. When the skin had closed entirely, Severus summoned his own jar of bruise salve. Gathering what little was left onto his fingers, he set the jar aside and lathered a thin layer onto the painful-looking purple cheekbone.

As he layered on more of the bruise salve, Severus looked into the vibrant green eyes of his companion and realized just how close they were. If he were to lean forward just so-

"Harry, you can't!" A voice ordered from the doorway to the lab.

Severus straightened even as his companion jumped back guiltily. "We weren't doing anything, 'Mione," The younger wizard replied instinctively, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. "Professor Snape was just looking at my cut, and helping me to apply some bruise salve."

Granger looked unconvinced, crossing her arms over her chest, but eventually relented when she saw that she wasn't going to get a different story from Severus. "I suppose it doesn't matter what you were doing. I just came to tell you that Ron and Ginny are coming around today to stay for the rest of the summer, and Sirius has started throwing a fit in the library. Remus is pretty sure he's going to start destroying things if you don't talk to him."

Potter groaned in frustration. "Geez, 'Mione, don't give me all the good news at once," He told the girl sarcastically. "Fine, I'll talk to him, but I'm not happy about it. I suppose it's for the best, anyway, if Ron and Ginny are coming. The last thing I need is Ron teaming up with Sirius to try and rile me." He started to follow his friend out of the room.

Severus hesitated, then called out to the retreating form. "When you've finished with your dogfather, you may return here, Potter," He told the younger wizard stiffly. The Gryffindor looked back and nodded before disappearing up the stairs.

After he heard the door at the top of the stairs close, Severus leaned heavily on the bench in front of him. It wasn't hard to figure out what he'd wanted to do, what he probably would have done before Granger interrupted. The only thing he couldn't figure out is why. He'd certainly noticed in the past that Potter was growing into a handsome man, looking less and less like his father with each passing year, but he had never thought himself attracted to the lithe—

The Potions Master cut off his train of thought before he could start listing the many things that might have attracted him to his young companion. This was a dangerous circumstance to find himself in; he was the brat's teacher, and not only that but despite the death of the Dark Lord, their lives were still in jeopardy until the last of the Death Eaters had been caught. Giving a deep, suffering sigh, Severus returned his attention to the potion he'd been working on before everything had gotten complicated.

It was a few hours later when Severus looked up and realized that Harry had yet to return to the makeshift Potions lab. Deciding his potion was at a stage where it could sit untouched for a time, the Potions Master cast a second stasis charm on it and left the cellar. Upon nearing the Library, he soon understood what had kept the Gryffindor. He entered the room quietly to see Potter fuming while Black shouted at him, Granger and Lupin trying to calm the animagus down to no avail.

"You're being an idiot, Harry! James-"

Severus saw that Harry was close to exploding with anger, and quickly cast a spell, quieting the mutt. The powerful young wizard caught his eye and gave a short nod of thanks before approaching his godfather, who was still attempting to shout past the silencing spell.

"Sirius, I have no idea how to get this across to you, but I will say it again so that perhaps you will understand: I am not my father, and will never be my father. How could I be? He died, Sirius, and he isn't coming back. I appreciate that you wish I was him, that you want to see me follow in his footsteps, but the simple truth is that I don't want to. Being an Auror was your dream for me, and I have decided to follow my own dream of teaching. As disappointed as you may be that I am never going to be the little Prongslet you envisioned, teaching has interested me since last year, and I intend to pursue it. I realize that you think it is a waste of my talents, but given time I think you'll come to see that it's actually the best use for them." Harry said calmly. He cancelled the silencing spell on the stunned animagus. "Now, if you're quite finished throwing a tantrum, I believe we have guests arriving soon, and it would be impolite to not have everything ready for them when they arrive."

Potter walked past Severus, head held high, and the Potions Master followed after him, Granger and Lupin not far behind. They reached the kitchens before the Gryffindor addressed them.

"Hermione, I would like to cook lunch, so if it's not too much trouble, could you see to it that Kreacher has rooms prepared for Ron and Ginny? He seems to like you more, now that you and he have had a talk about House Elves," The young wizard said, already getting ingredients down from the cupboards.

"Sure, Harry, but what about Sirius? I don't think he's quite done yelling at you about wanting to be a teacher," The girl said nervously.

Potter turned to look at her. "I don't very much care if he has anything more to say on the subject. He'll probably stew for a little while, and then come to his senses. Although, Remus, if you could perhaps distract him, at least until Mrs. Weasley has come and gone, I'd appreciate it. Maybe take him flying on Buckbeak, get him out of the house for a few hours until he's cooled down?"

"That's actually not a bad idea, and Buckbeak could use the exercise. If you don't mind handling dinner, we could go around to the old Quidditch Stadium a few miles from here. Playing Quidditch has always given Sirius a clearer head," Lupin suggested.

"Dinner is a small price to pay if you can get that man to see reason, Remmy," Harry said honestly, smiling. Lupin nodded and left, Hermione following him out to go and find the resident House Elf.

"Is there some small task you would like to assign me, Potter, to ensure you're entirely alone?" Severus asked playfully.

Mischief danced in the striking green eyes. "So you've seen through my ploy, Professor. However shall I get rid of you now?" The seventeen year old chuckled. "Actually, if you aren't busy, I could use your help. Molly likes to see a table laden with food, and Ron is always starving, but I haven't time enough to make everything on my own, even with magic. If you were to help me cook, however, I think we could be done by the time they're due to arrive."

Severus thought of his potion, sitting in stasis and waiting to be advanced to the final stage. He looked into the pleading eyes of his companion. "I suppose my potion can wait while I assist you, Mister Potter, if you can promise to behave."

"Behave?" The brat answered back, faking a look of shocked hurt. "Why, Professor Snape, when have I ever not?"

Severus couldn't help but smirk as he answered. "Would you like the list alphabetically, or categorically, Harry?" The Gryffindor laughed and together they set upon the task of preparing a lunch fit to feed an army.


Several weeks later saw Harry Potter boarding the train to Hogwarts with his two best friends. He hadn't told Ron about his decision to re-sort yet, and he hoped that breaking the news on the train would soften the blow, so to speak. Already the redhead had expressed his anger at Harry wanting to teach rather than go into the Auror program with him, and Harry was hoping that having more of his friends as back up would keep the taller boy from lashing out physically, at least.

Quickly, the trio found the compartment that Neville and Luna had already commandeered. Ginny followed not far behind, taking up the last available seat in the compartment. Harry waited as his friends caught up on each other's summer, thinking back on his correspondence with Albus. Apparently, changing his loyalty to the school entailed a lot more than Hogwarts, A History had illustrated.

Because of the difficulty typically involved with ascertaining whether or not a position would be open once the Seventh Year graduated, the student was required to do a sort of 'internship' for each of the basic courses: Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, History of Magic, Potions, and, of course, Defense Against the Dark Arts. For each he would be required to help with the grading, as well as assist in a couple of lessons, and afterwards he would be graded by the current teacher as to whether they would recommend him to the post. If, at the end of the year, no position became available, then he would have to stay on as an assistant to whichever post he was best recommended for and would serve in this position until such a time as a post became available or he had served a five year contract. There were stipulations and exceptions of course, in case it was obvious he was being graded unfairly in an evaluation or he decided that teaching was not to his liking in the end. If the first, a secondary professor would observe his skill in the subject and evaluate that in addition to his teaching ability in their own class; if the second, he would be immediately moved back to his dorm in Gryffindor, forfeiting any chance for teaching at any point in the same five year period he'd have been contracted into.


The Boy Who Lived started as someone snapped their fingers under his nose. "What? Sorry, I was just thinking."

Neville smiled, leaning back into his seat, and Ron scoffed. "You've been doing nothing but thinking all summer, Harry. Thinking, and reading, and meditating, and cleaning Snape's cauldrons. You've gone bloody mad!"

Harry scowled at his friend, who was sat across from him. "I wasn't just cleaning Snape's cauldrons, Ron; the man was kind enough to let me use his lab while we were at Headquarters, and in return I offered to tidy up when he was too busy. And I haven't gone mad, I've been concentrating on my schoolwork, and the Occlumency lessons Snape was giving me. Lessons which have helped me to master the subject in just two months, I might add."

"That's brilliant, Harry!" Ginny exclaimed. "I knew you'd gotten better at it, but you didn't tell us you'd mastered Occlumency! D'you think Snape will teach you Legilimency now?

Harry grinned. "I think he might, yeah, but not until we're certain I've got complete control of my mind's barriers. Snape says it's dangerous to start practicing Legilimency without mastering Occlumency first, because you could permanently damage your own mind if you leave it open. He also said-"

"Snape said this, Snape said that," Ron interrupted. "You're always going on about him, Harry, give it a break."

"Leave him alone, Ron, he's allowed to talk about Snape if he wants to, and it's a sight better than listening about Quidditch nonstop," Hermione retorted angrily.

"Yeah, Ron, Snape's my friend," Harry argued.

The red head jumped to his feet. "Snape is nothing but a greasy git, Harry! I thought I was your friend, but all summer you barely spent any time with me! Does Snape know how you treat your 'friends'?"

Harry jumped up as well. "I might have spent some time with you if you hadn't been pulling mean pranks on me ever since last year! You want to talk about friends, then why don't we talk about the mean little traps you kept trying to lay for me all summer? Snape may be a git sometimes, but at least he's helping me instead of trying to hurt me!" Ron was already fuming, but Harry wasn't done. "I'm glad I'm switching my loyalty to Hogwarts, there's no telling what a mean-spirited little brat like you might pull if I remained in Gryffindor Tower for another year! You're an ass, Ron, and you aren't my friend!" Harry didn't see the other boy's fist until a split second before it connected with his face, sending him reeling headfirst into the window. He crumpled to the shaky floor of the compartment, dazed, before his vision went completely black.

When Harry opened his eyes a few seconds later, he first realized that his glasses were skewed. Taking them off, he sat up with a groan of pain. His jaw and head were pounding. He resettled his glasses properly on his face, and looked up. Ron was struggling to unbind his legs, Ginny was standing over her brother with her wand drawn, and Neville and Hermione had vanished. Luna helped Harry up from the floor, dusting him off.

"Hermione and Neville have gone to find the Head Boy or Girl. Are you okay? That looked like it hurt." The Ravenclaw sat him down on the bench beside her.

"M'alright," Harry mumbled, in too much pain to open his mouth properly. He conjured a mirror and realized that his cheekbone was once again turning black. More concerning was the bleeding lump near his hairline, where his head had connected with the glass.

Ron managed to get the Half-Body Bind cancelled just as the compartment door slid open to reveal Draco Malfoy, with Hermione and Neville behind him. The Slytherin immediately put the boy in a Full Body Bind and levitated him onto the empty bench across from Harry. He stepped into the compartment.

"I can't take you anywhere, Potter, honestly," Draco joked. Luna made space for him to sit beside Harry and the blond examined the growing bruise and troubling head wound. "Pity I don't know any healing spells. Do you feel alright?"

Harry worked his jaw, wincing at the pain but gaining enough leeway to speak. "No concussion, at least, but I've got a killer headache. What do we do about him?"

Draco shrugged, not bothering to glance at the frozen Gryffindor. "I'll take him to the Prefects compartment, where I, and a few others, can keep an eye on him." He lit the tip of his wand wordlessly and waved it front of Harry's eyes. "Well, pupil dilation seems fine, but you should keep an eye on that head wound. Weasley must hit like a Hippogriff, to cause this much damage. You're sure you feel fine? I could get Pansy to come have a look at you." He produced a pain potion, which Harry swallowed before handing the phial back.

Harry started to bat his eyelashes at the boy. "I'll be just fine if you'll kiss it all better, Dray-Dray!" He said in a sicky-sweet voice. The Slytherin rolled his eyes and ruffled his hair, pushing him away slightly when he started making kissing noises.

"You'll be fine, Potter. Let me get this wretch to the Prefect compartment and I'll come check on you before we get to Hogwarts. Try not to get hit again before I get back, eh?" He stood and looked at the rest of Harry's friends. "Would you four keep an eye on him? Keep him awake, make sure he doesn't overdose on candy from the trolley, et cetera."

They all nodded and bid the Slytherin farewell as he levitated Ron out of the compartment and down the train's corridor. When they'd all retaken their seats, Ginny and Hermione started cooing over Harry's injuries. He waved them off.

"I'm fine, guys, really. I'm sure Madame Pomfrey will have some bruise salve by now, and the cut is actually pretty shallow," He demurred, wiping away the blood trickling down the side of his face. His jaw was already starting to swell, but the pain had gone down a bit. "It bothers me more that I owe Snape a knut."

Hermione chuckled, brushing some of his hair off of his forehead. "I don't think it really counts, since you sort of provoked Ron, Harry. Mind, it's not your fault that he hit you, but you did provoke his anger first."

"Do you really think Snape will see it that way?" Harry scoffed. "He'll see the bruise and say I owe him, and no excuse will change that. It's my own damn fault for betting against Ron physically attacking me."

"If it helps, Harry, I was banking on Ron hexing you as well," Ginny told him, smiling. "He's my brother and I didn't think he'd hit you. You're sure you're all right?"

"I know some healing spells, Harry," Luna jumped in suddenly, turning from where she'd been thoroughly wiping Harry's blood from the window.

The Wizarding Savior rolled his eyes. "Its fine, Luna, I'd rather wait until we get to the school if it's all the same to you. Not that I don't trust your healing skills, I just want to make sure that Ron gets what's coming to him, and it might help if McGonagall can see the severity of the damage."

"I can understand that," The girl said evenly, returning to wiping down the already clean window.

The five of them sat for several long moments before Neville broke the silence. "So you're going to try for a Hogwarts Loyalty position?" He asked suddenly.

Harry nodded, ignoring how the action made his head swim. "Yeah, I am. After the Welcoming Feast I'm supposed to go to the Headmaster's office instead of our dorm, and the Hat will determine whether I'm really capable of setting aside House prejudice. Then, if I'm deigned worthy, Albus will give me a set of rooms near to whichever professor I'm going to be assigned to first, and those will be my rooms for the term."

"But where do you sit at meals if you aren't with a House?" Ginny asked curiously.

Harry frowned, which caused him to grimace. "I dunno, I guess Dumbledore will tell me when I get my rooms."

Hermione joined the conversation now. "Will your assisting the professor's interrupt your schoolwork? Are you going to be assisting with our classes or one of the younger years? What about the grading, will you be grading your peers or will that be younger years, too? What happens if your assisting coincides with a different class?"

"Slow down, 'Mione, I did just suffer a head trauma," Harry said laughingly. "No, I don't think my being an assistant will interrupt my schoolwork too much, and I hope it doesn't because I have to maintain at least an E average, and as for your other questions, I'm only assisting with the First Year classes. I did get to look at my schedule early, though I was sworn to secrecy, and according to the time table most of the classes I'll be assisting with are during my break periods, and the ones that aren't I'll be excused from whichever class and have to make it up on the weekend. Does that answer your questions?"

The know-it-all nodded, blushing abashedly at having pressed him so much, and the five of them settled into easier conversation as the train rattled along to Hogsmeade. Luckily, Harry saw no more incident, and when Draco came to check on him as promised the blonde decided to pass the rest of the trip with the group.


Severus sighed internally as Minerva led Potter and Weasley into the Headmaster's office. He had made that silly bet with the powerful young wizard in hopes that he would try not to rile the hot-headed Gryffindor, but it was obvious that he had failed in his attempt. The dark, swollen bruise on Potter's already previously damaged cheekbone clearly said to anyone with medical knowledge that the bone underneath had suffered a hairline fracture, and the bruise itself was likely to be intramuscular, if not entirely bone deep. Idly, the Potions Master wondered why Potter hadn't gotten at least basic medical treatment from one of his friends.

"Headmaster, I realize that this was supposed to be Potter's ceremony, but I must insist that something be done about Weasley before we take this any further. I don't know that Potter can safely be taken as an assistant if he faces physical retribution from one of his classmates," Minerva said huffily.

Severus looked at the aged Headmaster. The usual twinkle was gone as the man surveyed the damage to Potter's face and head, and Snape suddenly realized why Potter hadn't bothered to get even some basic healing: effect. It appeared to be working if the claw-like grip Minerva had on Weasley's shoulder was anything to go by.

"Ah, Mister Weasley, I had thought you were better than this," Albus said sternly. Severus had to swallow his scoff. "As you've seen fit to viciously attack Mister Potter without anything more than an apparent verbal provocation, and as this is not your first reprimand, I can think of nothing to do with you other than to remand all of your privileges, including that of Prefect. You will remain within the boundaries of the school, breaks will be spent with a professor doing detention, and your curfew is to be that of a First Year. You will not be allowed to participate in Quidditch, Hogsmeade Weekends will be spent with Mr. Filch, and any further issue will be cause for a call home, and very possibly suspension from this school. I seriously recommend you learn to control that temper, Mister Weasley, lest it get you into any more trouble."

Weasley stood gaping at the Headmaster, completely stunned, and even Potter seemed surprised, apparently having forgotten the number of times Weasley had gotten himself into trouble in the past. The injured boy stepped forward.

"Headmaster, if I may…Ron did hit me, and I do think he deserves to be punished for that, but I did provoke him to it by reneging on our friendship. I know that that doesn't excuse his behavior, but I'm sure Ron didn't mean to hurt me as bad as he did," Harry intoned carefully, glancing at the red head.

Albus sighed and glanced to the assembled Heads of House. Filius and Pomona both gave slight nods, and Severus shrugged in turn. McGonagall seemed torn, but with a pleading look from Harry she gave her own nod of approval. The Headmaster addressed the youngest Weasley male gravely.

"Very well," He started. "Because Mister Potter seems to have a level of faith in you that surpasses any I've seen, I will give you some leeway, Mister Weasley. The other remanded privileges will stand, but I will allow you to play Quidditch and have your breaks to yourself on a probationary period. If another incident like this occurs, however, I will be in contact with your parents, and any and all privileges will be completely remanded. You may go to your bed now. Let us hope you have learned something of what real friendship is from Mister Potter's vote of confidence."

Weasley nodded pathetically and turned to leave the office, but not before touching Potter's arm and thanking him for standing in his defense. Severus noted that the boy failed to apologize for hurting his friend, but realized that even Potter hadn't expected that much from the proud Gryffindor. When the subdued Seventh Year had gone, the assembled teachers turned their attention to the Boy Who Lived, and the mood brightened considerably.

"Are you ready to be tested, Harry?" Albus asked excitedly. "We could, of course, wait until you've had medical treatment. I think an exception could be made that we wait until morning, if you think it better to seek Madame Pomfrey's attentions tonight."

Potter grinned, and even with his bruised face it seemed to light up the room. "I'm okay, Headmaster, Draco gave me a potion to help with the pain, and I don't think I could sleep tonight if we postponed until tomorrow."

Albus grinned as well, obviously happy with Potter's decision, and gestured for the seventeen year old to take a seat in one of the cushioned armchairs in front of the desk. When Potter had situated himself comfortably in the chair, sending one last hopeful glance to Severus, Minerva placed the Sorting Hat lightly upon his head. The room waited with bated breath as the testing began, each one hoping that Potter would be the first student in over two centuries to be granted the title of Unhoused.

Several minutes passed where nothing happened before the Hat opened its brim to speak to its waiting audience. Potter sat unmoving, giving no hint as to the hat's decision. "I am sorry," It began evenly. There was a collective slumping of shoulders, and several disappointed sighs. "Mister Potter can no longer remain in Gryffindor, as he has proven himself unable to maintain absolute loyalty to his House. Mister Potter is officially Unhoused."

All the teachers save Severus cheered as Minerva replaced the Hat on the shelf, and Filius saw fit to throw his own hat in the air in his joy. Potter stood and looked at the Headmaster expectantly, as the aged wizard had the final say.

"I will of course bow to the Hat's greater wisdom in this matter," Albus told the Seventh Year diplomatically.

Harry gave a light whoop for joy as Severus looked on proudly. He himself had tried for the title of Unhoused when he was a Seventh Year, but had been unable to let go his prejudice against Gryffindor. He was glad that Potter had succeeded, even if it did appear that the threat Weasley had posed was now at an end. He gave the young wizard a nod of approval when the grin was turned on him.

When congratulations had finished, everyone's attentions were returned to the Headmaster. "Your quarters shall be on the Ground Floor, off the Entrance Hall. They will not be large, I'm afraid, but you will be provided with all of the necessary amenities." The Headmaster turned to Severus, who straightened from where he'd been standing in the darkest corner in the room. "Severus, as Mister Potter's rooms are on the way to your own, I trust you can show him the way? I'm afraid I must detain Minerva for the time, as she will be Harry's first assisting job."

The Potions Master bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. "As you wish, Headmaster. Although, I think I shall see Mister Potter to the Hospital Wing, first, all things considered. I don't think his wounds should be ignored much longer, lest the damage become too settled for magic to overcome."

"Of course, Severus," The Headmaster replied, looking somewhat abashed for having forgotten the obvious damage to his student. "I bid you both a goodnight, and pleasant dreams."

Again, Severus bowed his head in acknowledgment, and then led the Seventh Year from the room. When they were in the corridor, he realized Potter seemed disappointed. "What's troubling you, Harry?" He asked softly, walking alongside the powerful young man towards the Grand Staircase.

Potter shrugged. "I'm not sure. I'm thrilled that I passed the test of my loyalty, but Ginny asked me something on the train and it's got me thinking: what about my friends? Will I be able to spend time with them, study with them, like before, or have I become irrevocably set apart? I don't even know where I'll be sitting for meals, let alone how different everything will be starting tomorrow."

Severus gave the boy a gentle, reassuring squeeze of his shoulder. "You'll still sit meals with your friends, Harry. Yes, it will be harder to find time with them, but as long as you're all willing to work at it you should be able to find time to spend together. Hogsmeade weekends still belong to you, your friends can come to your quarters as long as they are in their dorms by curfew, and you'll still have some of your breaks to yourself. It will be difficult to transition, Potter, but I believe you're strong enough to see this through."

The younger wizard smiled up at him appreciatively. "Thanks, Professor, I appreciate that. You don't have to walk me to the Hospital Wing, y'know. Madame Pomfrey will probably want to keep me overnight, she always does, so you could show me my quarters tomorrow if you prefer."

"Nonsense, Harry," Snape murmured softly. "There is nothing else I need to be doing right now, and I'm happy to escort you. If nothing else, I can perhaps curb the Mediwitch's constant desire to strap you to one of the Hospital beds."

This time, Harry gave him the full benefit of his grin, only wincing slightly as the bruised skin near his eye wrinkled with the movement. They made their way silently towards the First Floor. When they arrived, the matron was, unsurprisingly, displeased at having to treat Potter before the school year had even properly begun.


"I wish you'd seen fit to come to me with this sooner, Potter," Poppy groused, fussing over his injuries. She'd managed to heal his head wound rather easily, but the bruised cheek was proving to be difficult. "I'm afraid you've fractured it, dear. I can heal the fracture, but because you waited so long to seek my treatment there is little I can do for the bruise except to give you some pain potions. Not even Professor Snape's bruise salve will do more than lessen the swelling. I suppose you'll have to use glamour charms for the next several weeks, if you don't wish to look like a Muggle boxer."

Severus came forward with the potions and salve she required as she gently prodded at Potter's face. "I'm sure Mister Potter will live, Poppy. Perhaps carrying the bruise for a time will deter him provoking his classmates further."

The brat blushed, though it was only visible on one side of his face. "It's not as if I do these things on purpose, Madame Pomfrey. I'll try to be more careful from now on, scout's honor."

The Mediwitch eyed the lad critically. "If you were a scout, Potter, then I'm a toad. However, there's nothing more to be done, and I doubt I could convince you to let me observe you overnight. Take this potion, and I'll send some more along to you tomorrow. You'll take them twice a day, and apply the bruise salve each morning to keep the swelling down. With any luck it will be gone by Christmas." She handed the potion to Potter and started to uncap the salve when there came a sudden ruckus from the door as several students stumbled in, a few of them obviously hurt. Shoving the salve back into Severus' hands, the matron left to see to her newest patients.

Severus pulled a chair over to sit in front of his bruised companion and opened the salve. He sat before the younger wizard and carefully started to apply the thick cream so that it would absorb properly into the skin. Potter winced at the pressure, but settled, allowing Severus to continue.

"I'll have to give you that knut when you take me to my rooms," The former Gryffindor said lightly.

"That won't be necessary, Harry. I only made the bet in an attempt to keep precisely this from happening. I'm glad that you will only have to live with a bruise for a few weeks, rather than several. Draco told me that Weasley was highly displeased with your declaration that you were moving out of Gryffindor," Severus replied.

Harry shrugged. "I think he was bothered more by my saying that he wasn't my friend. It's my own fault, I let Ron rile me up, and in turn I incited his rage. I just couldn't stand it when he started in on me about ignoring him all summer, not when he had clearly sown a rift in our friendship last year with his cruel pranks." When Severus was done he recapped the salve and handed it to his young friend, as well as the pain potion he had to take. Potter downed the potion without a word and Severus stood to lead the former Gryffindor to his new rooms. "Thanks for helping me and all, Professor. Especially over the summer."

Snape waved him off as the younger wizard stood. "Don't mention it, Potter. I imagine the days may have turned disastrous had I not offered you a safe haven away from your friend and godfather. We should go now, while Madame Pomfrey is distracted, lest she find some reason to further detain you." He led the way out of the Hospital Wing, and Potter followed after bidding the Mediwitch farewell.

It was a short walk down to the Entrance Hall from the Hospital Wing, and as they trailed down the staircase at a sedate pace, Severus realized that the quarters Potter had been assigned were actually nearer to him than they were to Minerva. Whilst not technically any closer to his office than hers, the Gryffindor Head of House kept her classroom off of the aptly named Transfiguration Courtyard. He wondered then if he was to be Potter's next assignment, as he'd yet to look at the schedule they'd all been given.

He stopped in front of the barren oak door that separated Potter's quarters from the Entrance Hall. "This will serve as your quarters for the term. It is small, only one room, but it should serve your needs well. As you know, you are forbidden from entering the common room of any House, but your friends may come here, like I said before. There is the typical password protection on the door, but if you wish to change the ward, it can be arranged. Right now, the password is set to Gryffindor. If you wish to change it, simply step inside and knock three times on the door before stating aloud what your new password will be."

Potter gave a stiff nod. "Three times and say the new password, got it. Thank you, again, Professor Snape, for everything you've done. I don't think I'd be able to do this without knowing you were here to help."

Severus hesitated. "I'm afraid there isn't much I can do for you in the coming months, Harry. As your teacher, and one of your mentors, I can't offer you much more assistance than to wish you luck. Whether you succeed or fail is entirely dependent on you. I trust you know what to do come tomorrow, about reporting to Professor McGonagall and such?"

"Yeah, the Headmaster explained all of it in his letters a few days ago. Anyway, thanks again, even if you can't really help me anymore. I'll see you tomorrow, Professor," Potter said. He turned to give his password and the door clicked open.

"Goodnight, Harry. Don't forget to use the salve and to take the potions when Madame Pomfrey sends them along," Severus gently reminded the younger wizard. Potter gave him one last grateful smile before disappearing into the room. The Potions Master waited to hear the three knocks before taking his leave, content that his young protégé would do well in his new setting.


"Foolishness," Severus muttered as he set aside another First Year essay. A knock on the door to his office interrupted his perusal of the next essay on the stack and he called for whomever it was to enter, not bothering to look up. Any student would know to wait until he addressed them, and his fellow teachers would say what they needed and leave. After a few minutes he looked up to see Potter standing on the other side of his desk.

"Hi, Professor," The brat said shyly.

Severus scowled slightly. He had seen very little of the former Gryffindor outside of classes and meals in the last two months. He knew the young man was busy with his assisting, and studying for the NEWTs he would take at the end of the year, but he hadn't expected to be set aside entirely, as the brat had been seen more than once gallivanting about with his friends, so he clearly had some time for other things.

"What do you want, Potter, I'm busy."

The brat frowned. "It's my first day to assist you, Sir, don't you remember?"

Severus looked at the calendar clock on the wall above his fireplace and realized that it was indeed the first day of December. "So it is. Very well, I am currently working on the very essays you are meant to assist with." He conjured a small desk near to his own. "You may work there. If you have any questions concerning the exact assignment, or on how to grade a certain item, I shall endeavor to answer what I can." He pushed the stack of essays across the desk, expecting Potter to take some portion of them, but the younger wizard didn't move. Finally, Severus looked up with an eyebrow raised pointedly. "Was there some part of that that was unclear Potter, or have you decided that staring at me dumbly is a better waste of your time and mine?"

The frown deepened, furrowing the skin around the uncommonly bright green eyes. "I'm sorry," Potter began slowly. "Sir, have I done something to upset you? If I have, then please tell me so that I can fix it."

"It is nothing, Potter. I had merely hoped that our return to the school after the summer we spent together would not herald the dissolution of the easy camaraderie we had enjoyed, and I find myself somewhat disappointed at the lack of reciprocation of these hopes," Severus told the lad stiffly.

Potter sat in the chair in front of Snape's desk, setting his book bag aside. "You mean you thought…Sir, I haven't been talking to you because I've had other things on my mind, and because you said that I couldn't." It was Severus turn to frown. "At the start of term, you told me rather clearly that we couldn't continue our friendship, because it would be inappropriate with you as my teacher and mentor."

Severus sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I said that I would be unable to offer you help, Harry, not that we could not remain friends."

"And you really think that, as my friend, you'd have been able to resist the urge to at least give me a nudge in the right direction?" Potter challenged. Severus found he couldn't argue. "I didn't want to put you in that position, Snape, that's why I tried my best to stay away from you. Believe me, I could have used your friendship these last two months, or at least the escape cleaning your caldrons offers; especially after Ron started back in with his harmful 'gags' last month."

Severus looked at the boy in surprise. "He has? Why haven't you said anything? Have you mentioned this to the Headmaster?"

Harry shook his head. "There's nothing to tell because I can't prove that it's him. To be honest, they've become less prank-like and more malicious, and I think he's got help from some of the other Gryffindors."

"I'm sorry, Harry, I had no idea," Severus sympathized.

"It's fine," Potter demurred. "No one has any idea, actually. You're the first person I've told besides Hermione. But, do you understand why I haven't come around? I really, honestly didn't want to put you in a position that might compromise your ability to stay neutral. The only reason I'm confident that won't happen here is because you know just how important it is that you grade me fairly on my assistance in Potions."

The Potions Master nodded. "I understand, Harry, and I appreciate that you were trying to help. However, despite the position it would put me in, I hope that we can maintain at least some of our past companionship in the future. The last thing I want is our roles to get in the way of our friendship."

"I'll be sure to come to you more readily in the future, Professor." Potter stood. "Anyway, now that we've wasted plenty of time gabbing like a couple of schoolgirls, what say I help you with these essays?" He took some of the stack and pulled the chair he'd been occupying over to the small desk Severus had conjured, pulling a quill and a bottle of red ink from his bag. He grinned when Severus gave him a questioning look about the last. "McGonagall thought it might be useful for when I help with grading. The First Years have actually started to hate my handwriting as much as they hate yours. Binns was especially surprised at how steeply I grade."

Severus chuckled lightly and the two settled into a comfortable silence as he returned to his grading and Potter began his own. They worked for a few hours, with Potter occasionally asking an insightful question and Severus answering as best he could. Finally, they had finished with the last of the essays, and Severus had done going over the ones Potter had gone over. He looked up to see Potter dozing lightly at the small desk.

"Harry, I think you're supposed to be awake while assisting me," The Potions Master said, startling the young man awake. Green eyes stared at him blearily. "Are you alright, Harry?"

The former Gryffindor rubbed at his eyes under his glasses. "Yeah, I'm fine. I've been having trouble sleeping, is all. Madame Pomfrey made me quit taking the Dreamless Sleep because I was having to take double doses for it to work, and, besides the nightmares, I'm up most nights doing my homework until the wee hours of the morning." He stretched, and the way he moved seemed to outline his toned physique in every way possible.

Severus tried hard to keep the blush that threatened from rising to his cheeks, ignoring it as his thoughts from the summer returned in full force. "Have you not found something to help with the nightmares? Meditation, for instance, has been shown to help keep nightmares at bay."

Potter shrugged mid-stretch, and Severus caught the slightest glimpse of skin when the younger wizard's shirt rode up with the movement. At last, the boy completed the stretch and leaned on the desk tiredly. "I've tried, Professor, but it's been difficult. Over the summer I didn't need the potions as much because I could go to your lab and clean cauldrons, clear my mind of the cobwebs so to speak, whenever I liked. Here, though, there aren't exactly a lot of opportunities to clean. I pick up my rooms whenever I get bored, but it's really not the same, as the House Elves do most of the work for me."

The Potions Master hummed thoughtfully, trying desperately not to think of how much he wanted to touch the small expanse of skin he'd been given the privilege of seeing. "Well, you couldn't come down whenever you liked, as I may have a detention or other thing that required my attention, but if you like we could work out a schedule for times when you could come to my lab here at the school and clean the many cauldrons I use up throughout the year. It would save me time and allow me to focus on the needs of the Hospital Wing, and it would perhaps give you the chance for rest."

"That would be brilliant, Sir," Potter said, grinning. "And I wouldn't feel as bad about using up the Hospital's pain potion supply since I'd technically be helping restock it."

"Ah, yes, your bruise," Severus said, glancing at the unmarred skin beneath the young man's eye. He cast a silent finite incantatum and was presented with the hard truth that the injury had receded very little. In fact, besides a slight lightening in the color, it didn't appear to be very much healed at all. "Does it still hurt?"

"Only when I touch it, or move my face in some way," Potter intoned jokingly. "It'd probably hurt less if I could remember to use the bruise salve on it every night like I'm supposed to. I just get so busy with my homework, and making sure I know what the First Years are doing in whichever class I'm assisting in that it slips my mind."

The Potions Master frowned. "You should be more methodical about it, Harry. The longer that bruise remains, the more likely you could suffer permanent damage to the area. If it helps, you could move the application time to a different period in the day, when you're more likely to think of it."

"Like after I assist with the first years?" Potter suggested, lightly fingering the tender, discolored skin. "I go through such an array of expressions with them, mostly frustration and exasperation, that I'm always in the most pain after dealing with them."

Severus chuckled. "Yes, that would seem to be the perfect opportunity. Although, you shouldn't let the little dunderheads get to you, they are just learning, after all."

Potter raised a challenging eyebrow. "Right, and if I'd said that to you after you reamed me in my first ever Potions class, would you have taken your own advice? The little rugrats just don't seem to want to try to learn, they just expect it all to come to them, and if they don't get something on the first try most of them just seem to give up."

The Potions Master nodded sagely, though he couldn't stop a small smile. "I probably wouldn't have, no. But it does get better with the older students. Look at you, when you first came here you were all about having fun-"

"And saving the school from a megalomaniac," Potter put in.

"But now you have put in the effort and it's earned you a position in the school that a very select few can ever claim to have achieved," Severus finished. "You changed, you've grown up to be a powerful wizard, and in time they shall as well. Yes, there will always be students like Mister Weasley who think school is about having fun and being with friends, but students like you, or Miss Granger, or even Mister Malfoy, make up for those few."

Harry grinned. "Thank you, Professor. I guess I've been kind of second-guessing my decision to pursue teaching ever since I watched nearly every First Year fall asleep in Binns' class, or sit there staring blankly in McGonagall's."

"Well, those classes are not the best examples either, Harry, as I'm sure you'll recall from your first year at Hogwarts," Severus told him. "And it helps that you were assisting in those courses at the very start of term. Now that we're nearing the end of the first term, you'll be able to see in my classes, which are more interactive, that there are far more students than you realize who have the aptitude and desire to learn, be it Potions or another subject. You have to remember, these are First Years you're dealing with, and the ones who grew up with magic think they already know everything pertinent, and the ones who didn't are somewhat lost at first."

"That's true," Harry agreed. "I do remember that I didn't really start to understand what my professors were trying to teach me until about this time my First Year. The only class I ever thought I had a chance of success in from the start was yours, and that was only because I already had a great love of cooking. Of course, you proved from the first day that I had a lot to learn; but, because I already wanted to love Potions, it was easier to grasp whatever you were trying to teach me."

Severus gave a slight nod. "That's one of the purposes of these assignments, Harry. Now, I'm not helping you with anything you hadn't already noticed on your own, so pay attention. One of the reasons you're assigned to different professor's throughout the year, instead of working with one or two, is because you're meant to discover what drives the students in the different classes. Obviously there's the hands-on portion, but what means do the professor's use to grab the attention of their students? Professor Binns tries to focus on the gorier details of the wars he discusses, McGonagall uses flashy magic and her animagus form-"

"And you use intimidation because you want the student's attentions without making them so excited that they blow up the classroom," Potter added for him. Again, Severus gave a slight nod of acknowledgment.

"You see, Harry, these assignments aren't just meant to test your abilities in the classroom, but to show you different means of teaching that would help you to succeed if, and when, you take a position. When I told you I couldn't help you with your assignments, I only meant that I couldn't give you advice or help with your essay on teaching, but I am allowed to be your sounding board and give you a nudge in the right direction occasionally when you seem lost. Basically, I can fulfill the role that Crouch did when you were in the Triwizard Tournament, by giving you books that might help, or asking you questions that will lead you to conclusions you might have reached on your own given time," Severus explained. "You aren't meant to take these assignments entirely onto your shoulders alone, we're supposed to guide you in small ways. Surely McGonagall and Binns both spoke to you about the assignments when you completed your assisting job in their classrooms?"

"Yeah, I guess they did," Harry agreed thoughtfully. "McGonagall did so more than Binns, but at the time I'd thought they were just trying to ascertain if I'd learned anything from the assignment. It makes sense now, though, why their questions seemed leading, rather than just basic inquiries. I guess they were trying to lead me to the same conclusions you've led me to, and I was so worried about doing it all on my own that I didn't realize the help they were offering."

"Don't be afraid to lean on your professors, Harry. It's why we're referred to as your mentors and not something else: We are here to help in whatever way we can, as long as you find the answers on your own," Severus chided him lightly. "And you don't necessarily have to rely on whichever of us you're working with at the time. If you find one professor's form of guidance more helpful than another's, you can return to whoever that is as often as you like. Don't be afraid to ask us questions, either, because if it's in the range of our ability, we can answer most of them. There will be times where our answers only raise more questions, but that's when you know you're on the right track, and we can always recommend articles or books that will answer your questions, if we know of any that exist. None of us became good teachers alone, we had the help of our fellow instructors, and that's one of the reasons you're assisting now, is to get that same guidance without all of the trial and error we went through when we first started. It's our job to help you find answers, and your job to apply those answers in your assignments and final essay."

Potter grinned again. "Okay, so I'm still a total bonehead then, for trying to go it alone the last two months. Thank you, Professor, for helping me with all of this. I feel a little more confident, now that I know I'm allowed to ask questions, even if I won't always get the answers I'm looking for."

Severus smiled softly at the younger wizard. "You don't have to thank me, Harry. As I said, this is why we're here: to help you. Now, it's gotten late and dinner will be starting soon. Why don't you go, and I'll see you in class tomorrow?"

The boy stood and took up his bag. "Alright, Professor. Maybe I'll try to sneak in a nap, so I'm on my toes with the First Years tomorrow. Do you have the list of assignments I'll be assisting you with in the classroom? I could probably go over it before I start on my homework after dinner."

Severus opened a drawer in his desk and rifled through the papers there before pulling out the roll of parchment he'd made up for Harry a week or so ago. He handed it over. "These are the assignments, and if you'd like to stay for lunch after the First Year class tomorrow, we could discuss suitable times for you to come and assist me in the lab."

"Sure, that sounds great," Harry agreed readily. "And thanks again, for everything. It seems like I've spent most of my time thanking you today, but I really do appreciate the help you've given me. I'll see you tomorrow, Professor." He left the room, tucking the scroll he'd been given into his bag, and Severus turned to the Second Year essays, feeling somewhat lighter than he had before Harry had come to his office.

The next day saw Harry entering the Potions Classroom only minutes before the First Years were due to arrive. Severus studied the young man carefully as he set up at a desk in a corner at the front of the classroom. He was dressed sharply, his typical school robes forgone for the dark grey robes of his station that Albus had given him. The robe was open at the front, exposing crisp black slacks and a white button-down. Harry caught Severus looking and blushed, looking down at his attire.

"Do I look alright?" He asked shyly. "I wasn't sure if you would mind my leaving the robes open, but I've found that I've got a better range of motion this way. If you prefer, I could button it. It's your classroom, after all."

Severus waved the boy's comments off. "Nonsense, Harry. That's the same reason I wear robes that only close about halfway down. I can't very well leap to the rescue of a boiling over cauldron if I'm tripping over my robes, and it would be unfair of me to expect any different from you. Are you clear on the role you'll be playing?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I think so. The students will be working on the Wit-Sharpening Potion, which you gave a lecture on in the last class?" Severus nodded to show Harry was on the right path so far. "Right, so for my part I'm supposed to walk around when they start brewing and take notes on the list of students you gave me about who is brewing the Potion correctly and who isn't. I can't help because they have to pass or fail on their own, but I can stop a student if I see them about to make a disastrous mistake. Any time I see a student too far gone from the instructions I let you know and you will take care of it, and if the students have any questions I'm meant to direct them to you. Is that about right?"

"Yes, that is almost correct," Severus answered. "However, if you see a student doing something disruptive, I want you to feel free to step in. Observation is the main portion of your assignment, but as I'm sure Professor McGonagall informed, you are technically acting as a secondary instructor in the classroom."

Harry nodded that he understood and Severus waved open the door to the classroom. As soon as the First Years filing in saw Harry, there were several groans, and whispers of disappointment. Severus glanced with amusement at the Seventh Year standing beside his desk, and the younger wizard shrugged, clearly unbothered by the reputation he'd already built up as a strict instructor.

Severus silenced the First Years with a stern look. "As I'm sure you've guessed by now, Mister Potter will be assisting with this class for the next two weeks, as well as your first two weeks back following Christmas Break. You've all seen him lurking in your Transfiguration and History classes already, so I'm sure you know what to expect. Let me be clear, however: Mister Potter is within his rights to assign detentions to any unruly students, and to take or give House Points when it is deserved. While he will not be allowed to assist you with your potions, he is going to be grading you on your assignments as I would. Do not think that you can be lax on your work just because he will be the one observing you instead of me. From what I've been told, Mister Potter can be as strict as I am, so I recommend you try to stay on his good side."

"What good side?" One of the Gryffindors muttered sarcastically, making several of the other students giggle, and several more shush him loudly.

Severus narrowed his eyes at the young boy. "That's five points from Gryffindor, Mister Hurst. I recommend you keep your comments to yourself in the future, unless you want to earn a detention."

The boy flushed angrily, but bowed his head without another word and Severus spelled the instructions onto the board. Immediately the students went to the cupboard to begin gathering their ingredients, giving Severus a chance to have a short discussion with his assistant.

"They seem to dislike you as much as they fear me," He commented in a low voice.

Harry smirked. "I did tell you yesterday that they've begun to fear seeing my handwriting on their essays as much as they fear seeing yours. I'm supposed to be helping the professor, not the students, so when they realized that I don't take slack very well, I became as feared and respected as you are. McGonagall was quite pleased at the improvement she saw in her assignments, since I'm a lot less lenient about taking points and assigning detentions than she is. Some of the First Years have even begun to think I'm worse than you, because I'm more than willing to call out an unruly student from across the room, which you rarely do."

Severus smirked as well. "I can see now why you're banished from the House common rooms as part of your contract. If you're as bad as you say, the First Years might very well lynch you if you stepped foot in their territory, otherwise."

Potter shrugged and began to make his rounds, quill and parchment poised, as the students started work on their potions. Severus was impressed by the nervous silence that overtook his classroom. In all his years teaching, he had seldom managed to earn this level of absolute attention, especially from his Slytherins, as he'd never been secretive about favoring them. He began to understand why Potter had said over the summer that being a harsh instructor, but kind to those who earned it, would elicit better results; several students had already sent wayward, longing glances in the attractive young man's direction, hoping for the rare compliments he'd begun handing out to the better brewers. Confident now in the former Gryffindor's ability to control his classroom, the Potions Master sat at his desk to work on finishing the grading he'd begun the day before.

Surprisingly, the class passed without incident, and Severus was drawn from his grading when the bell rang and the students began placing their finished potions on his desk. He could already tell that more than usual had followed the explicit instructions, as many of the phials were at least in the range of the correct coloring and viscosity. When the last of the students had filed out, he took the piece of parchment Potter handed him with the participation grades. Despite the correctness of the students' potions, Potter had apparently caught several misbehaving, as at least half the class had earned low grades from the young man.

"I realize it might seem skewed due to the success of the potions, but a lot of the students who I graded poorly were pestering their classmates, or were caught trying to sabotage someone else's potion. I wrote down the reason why they'd earned the grade they were given, so if you feel I graded them unfairly you can correct it," Harry explained. He moved back out amongst the desks to begin putting away the unused ingredients and cleaning away the little messes that were always left after a class.

Severus unrolled the parchment further and did indeed find anecdotes about the poorly graded students beside a second list of names. He checked over it thoroughly, making notes where he felt Potter had graded too sternly, and called the younger wizard over. Potter finished putting away the ingredients in his hands, and then approached the front desk. Severus gestured for him to come around the desk and stand beside him.

"The only issues I see are these," He said. "I can appreciate that you were only doing as I said, insisting that the students do the assignment on their own, but a student can't be faulted for asking their partner to help the with the next step of the instructions. I have always given the First Years some leeway in this regard, as they can't be expected to do it all completely on their own. With the older years, I do become stricter about them having to ask me for help if they require any, so that they aren't disturbing their peers, but for the First Years they still have to learn to trust that I won't fail them for asking questions."

Potter nodded, leaning over the parchment with one hand on the desk and the other on the back of Severus chair. "I guess I can understand that, and I'll be sure to keep it in mind. It might be easier, though, if you told the students that they are allowed to ask questions. I certainly don't remember you ever telling my class that."

Severus chuckled. "Yes, I imagine that might help, Harry." He paused thoughtfully. "I have to say, it never occurred to me that the students wouldn't be automatically aware that I'm available to answer whatever questions they might have."

Harry grinned, leaning back against the desk so that he could look Severus in the eye. "Well, were it any other class, they'd know to ask for help, but you're just so intimidating…" He trailed off, letting Severus fill in the blanks on his own.

The Potions Master leaned back in his chair. "I suppose I do present myself as being unapproachable. I believe we even discussed the merits of being nicer to my students this last summer. I have to admit, Harry, I hadn't thought your method would work until I saw it in action today; you have a way with the students on a level that I've never quite managed, not even with my Slytherins." The Seventh Year blushed at the praise and Severus stood. "Would you join me in my office after you've finished here? We can have our discussion over lunch while I grade the students' potions."

Harry nodded and Severus left the cleaning of the classroom in his assistant's capable hands, carrying the two long racks of vials across the corridor to his office. When he was about halfway through grading the potions Potter came in after knocking lightly on the door. Severus gestured for the boy to come in and have a seat as he continued grading.

"I assume you brought along your timetable for me to look at, so that we might find reasonable times for your coming to my lab?" Severus asked, not looking away from his marking.

"I did," Potter agreed. "I actually brought my revised timetable, which includes the times I set up with my friends for hanging out or studying. We found it was easier to find time together if we planned it all out in advance, much like you and I are about to do."

Severus glanced up at the younger wizard with an amused smirk. "I can see now why you were so easily swayed to my plans yesterday, rather than complaining about not knowing when you'd have time for anything. I informed your House Elf, Dobby, of our arrangement for lunch today, so if you would like to help me finish grading these potions, we can retire to my rooms to look over your schedule together."

Potter agreed readily, blushing as his stomach gave a hungry growl, and began plucking out the labelled phials from the remaining rack. "Do you want me to just write down the name and whether they passed or failed?" He asked.

Severus nodded. "That will do. I trust you know the criteria of a passing grade, and I will look over the potions that passed to determine the exact grade later."

"Alright," Potter said. He pulled out a scrap of parchment, as well as a quill and ink, and set to work helping Severus grade. When they'd finished after only a few minutes, Severus attached the extra sheet to the proper page in his grade book and led the young man through the adjoining door to his rooms. He quickly shucked off his robes and gestured for Potter to do the same, hanging the robes on a hook near the door.

The younger wizard gave a low whistle of approval as he looked upon Severus' rooms for the first time. "You weren't kidding when you said my room off the Entrance Hall was a bit small. Compared to your rooms, I live in a broom cupboard."

Severus smirked as he guided the young man over to his dining table, already laden with food. "As a Head of House, I am required to stay on at the school during the term, and because of this I have larger rooms than say, Madame Pince, who is free to go to her home off the grounds on the weekends. Other teachers who choose to remain on the premises are also afforded rooms such as these. Starting next year, I imagine you'll be given similar accommodations if you choose to stay on at the school full-time, whether as an assistant or as a professor. At that time, you will also be allowed to stay at the school in the summer, if you choose. Excepting the last few years where I was required to stay at my family's home, or at Grimmauld, I have usually stayed at the school year-round. Without the students, the castle can be a great place to relax in the summer."

"Well, I haven't got anywhere else to go, except maybe Grimmauld, so I'll probably wind up staying here as well," Potter commented idly. "I guess I just never realized that even teachers needed a place that was their own, to unwind and relax after the school day is done. I figured you used the teacher's lounge, as that's where you all are during the day when not in your offices."

"It is a matter of preference for some, but you aren't wrong. Even I have found myself drawn to the Lounge now and again, when I wished to relax, but found myself wanting company," Severus assured the would-be professor.

They sat at the small dining table and set about making their own plates from the array of foods Dobby had provided. When they were settled, Potter produced the promised timetable and Severus looked it over. The Potions Master looked at the lad critically.

"Harry, you realize you've got most of your weekends and Friday afternoons completely unscheduled? I thought these were times you spent with your friends?" He asked in concern.

"They were," Harry told him, poking at the food on his plate with his fork. "But, ever since Ron started being an ass, my time with them has sort of dwindled. We remade the schedule last week, and suddenly most of my friends were more concerned over other things. I think he might have begun torturing them as well, and they don't have the reprieve of rooms outside of Gryffindor. Only Ginny, 'Mione, and Neville have remained as steadfastly friends with me from Gryffindor, but they don't have a lot of free time because of their individual clubs, so we spend most of our time together studying when it's not a Hogsmeade weekend."

Severus frowned and touched the younger wizard's arm lightly. "I'm sorry, Harry, that your friends have abandoned you."

The green-eyed assistant forced a smile. "It's alright, Sir. Without trying to divide my time so much between friends, I have had lots of time to concentrate on my studying. Anyway, I'm used to friends stopping hanging around me thanks to someone else bullying them for it; I've had to put up with that since grade school."

Severus continued to frown, but could see that Harry had no intention of pursuing the subject further, and so let the topic drop. He continued to look over the schedule for several minutes while they ate in silence, before speaking.

"Well, since you have so much free time, I suppose you could come down to my lab on the weekends and Fridays, in the afternoons. It won't be difficult for me to assign my weekend detentions in the mornings, and I could always inform you beforehand if circumstance forces an afternoon detention. Aside from Quidditch games, I'm not usually needed on the weekends for any reason, nor most Friday afternoons, if that would work for you?" Severus suggested.

Harry grinned. "It's fine by me, Sir; as long as you're sure I won't be any trouble. I know you said you could use the help, but I just want to make sure I'm not going to be bothering you."

"Of course you won't, Harry," Severus assured him. "After we've finished eating, I'll show you where my lab is. When you do come around, you'll have to let yourself in, as I may be working on a Potion that requires my undivided attention, as I often was over the summer."

Harry agreed and they returned to their meals, speaking occasionally about idle and inconsequential matters. After lunch, Severus led Harry to his lab, just off his office, and gave him the password so he could enter at will. They parted company just as the bell announced that lunch was over, and Severus left to his classroom to prepare for the next class.

For the next two weeks Severus saw Harry a lot in his classroom and lab, and he found himself hating that Christmas Break would arrive so quickly. He knew that the younger wizard was going to Grimmauld, under Albus' orders, and knew that even if he decided to join them (Albus had all but ordered him as well), Harry would likely spend most of his time studying or with Black now that they'd mended fences. In the summer, he had come to enjoy the young man's silent company, and the two weeks leading up to Christmas Break had only served as a reminder of how much he'd missed it upon their return to the school. No part of him could imagine that their camaraderie from the summer would continue into the winter holiday, no matter how much Potter insisted it would.

The day before break, Severus was working on a second supply of pepper-up when Potter came into the lab. Unable to look up from his task, Severus watched from the corner of his eye as the lad went about hanging his robe on a hook by the door and began rolling up his sleeves as he surveyed the massive cauldron in the corner by the sink. Finally, the potion was stable enough for Severus to take his attention off of it just as Potter set to filling his usual bucket with hot water.

"Harry, I thought you would be spending the day with your friends?" Severus said by way of greeting.

The former Gryffindor smiled at him over his shoulder. "I hadn't made any plans to, no," He replied evenly. "We said our goodbyes and exchanged gifts yesterday, since Ginny and Hermione have their book club, Neville has to give out the Herbology Club gifts, and Draco has to lead the Slytherins in a final training session to remind your Quidditch team not to get soft over Break."

Severus furrowed his brow, trying to recall if Harry had mentioned this at all, but came up empty. "Will none of your friends be joining you at Grimmauld?"

Harry shook his head, lifting the filled bucket from the sink and placing it beside the cauldron half his height. "Nah, they've all got plans. The Weasley's were going to but, uh, well let's just say that a fiery little red-head got fed up with her brother's behavior and ratted on him to their mother."

Severus smirked. "I see."

"Yeah," Harry chuckled, "So Mrs. Weasley wrote to badger me about not coming to her about Ron, and to let me know that they would be unable to join us for Christmas, as Ron will be helping the twins in the shop over break. They'll stop by for Christmas dinner and so we can exchange gifts, but otherwise they're going to stay at the Burrow. Apparently, Mrs. Weasley wants to make sure that Ron gets plenty of work in, and since Remus and I keep Grimmauld fairly clean she'll be able to find more work for him at home. Anyway, I didn't think you'd mind if I came to help. I had to take Luna to the Infirmary because she accidentally shriveled her big toe when she was practicing her Shrinking Solution, and I saw how many kids were there with steaming ears. This has to be the worst year for colds."

"It is that," Severus agreed with a heavy sigh. "That cauldron was the first batch of Pepper-Up, and already Madame Pomfrey has commissioned a second. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't appreciate a little help."

Potter grinned. "Then I'm glad I came." He turned and dunked a sponge into the steaming bucket of soapy water and set to work on the large cauldron.

Severus watched, ignoring the heat slowly rising to his cheeks, as Potter bent double over the edge, his toes nearly leaving the floor. The position presented Severus with a perfect view of the younger wizards back end, outlined perfectly by his tight slacks. After a moment, the Potions Master cleared his throat, looking away before his own slacks could grow tighter.

"Uh, Harry," They boy practically fell out of the cauldron as he stood up. "I think you might have more success if you were to tip the cauldron onto its side." Severus suggested idly.

Harry grinned foolishly, scratching at the back of his head. "Right, heh, I guess I should've thought of that." He murmured, blushing.

Potter turned back to the cauldron and carefully tipped it onto its side so that the opening faced where Severus was working. When the young man got down on his hands and knees to crawl inside, the Potions Master realized that this was, in fact, a worse position to see his student in, and quickly returned his attention to his potion. They worked in silence for several long minutes, Severus pointedly looking anywhere but at his student as he waited for his cauldron to heat up enough for the next stage.

"Professor," The word echoed loudly out of the cauldron, and Potter sat back on his heels, gripping one ear. "Ow, that was dumb," He muttered, rubbing the appendage roughly. Severus shook his head slightly, but smiled at the endearing actions. The younger wizard turned to look at him. "You are coming to Grimmauld, aren't you? Professor Dumbledore said you would be, but earlier you asked if any of my friends would be joining me, not us, at Grimmauld."

Severus sighed. "I don't know, Harry." He admitted softly. "The Headmaster has expressed his desire that I join you, but I'm as safe here as I would be at Headquarters, and I wouldn't wish to dampen everyone's Christmas. I have never been a great celebrator of the holiday."

"But you have to come, sir!" Severus was taken aback by the vehemence in the boy's tone, and Harry blushed. "I-I mean…well, if you don't come I won't have a very good Christmas, is all. You and I both know that Sirius will want to kick up all kinds of hell, especially without anyone else coming, and Remus is mild enough to let him. If you don't come, I won't have anyone to take my side when Sirius starts to grouse about me not being any fun just because I won't pull pranks with him. Besides, I want to be able to see your face when you open the Christmas present I got you. Please…Severus?"

The Potions Master chuckled lightly, stirring his potion. He'd given the brat permission to call him by his given name when they were alone just last week, but Harry had thus far not used it. It surprised him how much he liked hearing the younger wizard say his name. "All right, I'll come; I wouldn't want to disappoint the Boy Who Lived, after all." He answered after a long minute. The former Gryffindor grinned, and Severus found himself wondering just when he'd become so compliant to the young man's wishes.

Severus growled and unsheathed his wand when he felt his bed dip slightly. He opened his eyes and saw the shadowy form of his student sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Potter, what are you doing?" He asked tersely. They'd been at Grimmauld for three days and the mutt had taken to complaining loudly each night about not getting his 'Prongslet' to himself. Severus, growing tired after an hour of the animagus' whining, had been up until after midnight arguing with the idiot over whether or not the very brat currently trying to crawl into his bed was allowed to spend his time as he pleased, with whomever pleased him.

"I had a nightmare, and Remus is still feeling sick from the full moon," Harry whispered softly. "I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't at the school, but you were fine with me crawling into your bed on the summer."

Severus sighed and sheathed his wand before scooting backward on the large mattress to make room. He could practically feel the brat grin as he crawled under the covers and curled up against his chest. "Its fine, Harry, I didn't mean to growl at you." He wrapped his arms firmly around the smaller form.

The room was silent for several minutes, and Severus had nearly fallen back to sleep when the boy spoke. "Severus, am I weak for needing this?"

The Potions Master hummed. "You're not, Harry. Sometimes we need to draw comfort from others, it's a part of being human. Even I have been known to seek the Headmaster's counsel late at night after a troubling nightmare. We all seek comfort in different ways, and no one can fault you for that. Why do you ask?"

He felt the smaller man shrug. "It's something Remus said last summer…he told me that, because I was an adult now, I needed to stop bothering my friends and learn to deal with my own issues."

"The werewolf is an idiot," Severus said pointedly, scowling. "You have suffered not one, but many horrific traumas in your short life, Harry. If you need to curl up with someone to sleep peacefully, and you have friends willing to let you, then you shouldn't let one man's foolish words stop you. You survived a war, Potter, and did so from the front line, so to speak; in my eyes you're stronger than most of the men I know for only needing this small comfort." Several more minutes passed with the younger wizard picking nervously at Severus' shirt. With a sigh, Severus realized they would not be getting to sleep any time soon. He sat up and waved the lights on. "Do you want to talk about it?" He offered.

Harry visibly hesitated before sitting up as well and drawing his knees to his chest. "I dreamt about my mum…are you sure you want to hear about that?"

"If it will help, Harry, then I will hear whatever you have to say," Severus told him honestly. "Even if it means you tell me that you dreamt I turned into a fluffy pink rabbit and rode Fang around the grounds of Hogwarts, wearing a top hat."

Potter snorted, and seemed to relax some. "You're odd when you're tired, Severus."

Severus smiled softly and leaned back against the headboard. With an arm around the younger wizard's shoulder he gently coaxed Harry to lie against his chest. "Only when I'm with you, Harry. Tell me about your dream."

The seventeen year old gave a deep sigh. "I was back in the hedge maze, from the Triwizard Tournament," He began softly. "Only this time it was day, and the maze was full of beautiful things. I was playing a game of chase with my mum, who looked beautiful and happy in a gorgeous yellow dress. I'd almost caught up to her when I rounded a corner and found myself in a Death Eater meeting. My mum was bound in the center, and I was looking through Voldemort's eyes as he tortured her. She kept screaming for me to save her, but I couldn't make it stop, I couldn't even pull out of Voldemort's mind. Then I, as Voldemort, raised my wand and cast the killing curse. That's when I woke up, but I could still hear her screaming in my head. The really sick thing is that I remember feeling grateful that Voldemort was casting the Killing Curse, because then at least her pain would stop."

Severus tightened his hold on the young man's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Harry," He murmured gently. "You should never have had to go through all that you have, and I wish I could take away the horrors you witnessed through the Dark Lord's eyes." He began to gently card his fingers through the young man's short, black hair soothingly.

After several minutes, Potter's breathing evened out and Severus carefully laid them back down against the pillows. Turning out the lights, he curled around his bed partner and let the younger wizard's uneven breathing lull him into a fitful sleep filled with memories of his best friend.

The next morning, Severus woke up to find Potter leaning against the headboard, reading one of his school texts. "What time is it?" He grumbled tiredly.

Harry smiled and dog-eared his page. "Still early, not even six yet. Nobody else will be up for a few hours yet."

Severus found himself having to forcefully not think about what he could do with the Wizarding Savior currently residing in his bed in that time. He sat up against the headboard. "Did you sleep all right?" He asked, rubbing his eyes.

"Yeah, no more nightmares. You, however, seemed to be having some trouble with that. Did my telling you about my nightmare bring back painful memories?" Potter asked carefully. Severus glanced at him curiously and the younger wizard clarified. "You said, or rather, growled my mum's name a couple of times, right before you'd start kicking me."

Severus chuckled as his dream came flooding back. "No, Harry, not painful…Well, perhaps physically. I was actually dreaming of the many times Lily used to crawl into my bed. I always woke up some time after, and had to try and wake her while fighting off her feet with my own. Your mother was nothing if not a lucid dreamer." He glanced at the text in his companions hands. "I thought you'd finished all of your holiday homework yesterday, why are you reading your Charms textbook?"

Harry closed the book and ran his hand over the cover reverently. "It's not mine, actually, it was my mum's. Professor Flitwick found it and gave it to me before we left, as an early Christmas present. Apparently, like you she had no qualms about writing in the margins. Her anecdotes are even funnier than yours." He looked up at Severus with a grin, and Severus had to resist the urge to kiss away the sadness he saw there.

He cleared his throat. "I did tell you that your mother had a wicked tongue, and wasn't afraid to give someone a lashing when they deserved it. It's not difficult to imagine that even the authors of her texts couldn't escape her temperament." He started to shift out from under the covers. "Come on, Potter, we're wasting the day."

Potter groaned. "Aw, but your bed is warm, and I'm comfortable, Severus."

The Potions Master chuckled as he got out of the bed and stood on the freezing hardwood. "That's no excuse for laziness," He countered. He leaned over the bed and placed a careless kiss on the messy mop of black hair. When he pulled back and realized what he'd done, he turned away from the rising blush on tanned cheeks. "Come on, if we don't cook our own breakfast then we'll have to eat whatever Kreacher cooks."

Severus led the way out of the room, and Potter followed wordlessly. They made their way down to the kitchens quietly, but when they got there they saw that they weren't alone. Remus looked up from his newspaper with a smile.

"Ah, Severus," He frowned in confusion as the Potions Master's companion followed him into the room. "And Harry…what are you-"

"Do you want some breakfast, Remus?" Harry interrupted cheerfully. Severus was proud of how easily the young man hid his guilt as he set about helping gather the necessary ingredients for their meal.

The werewolf continued to stare suspiciously at Severus, but the trained spy only sneered back, leaning against the counter. The last thing he needed was a pissed off werewolf waking an even angrier mutt with accusations of impropriety. Finally, Lupin seemed to accept that he was imagining things and Severus dragged over the book Harry had left on the countertop.

"Do you mind if I look at this later, Harry?" He asked innocently.

Potter looked at him, the slightest hint of a blush peeking over the collar of his nightshirt. "Sure, if you like, Professor. Don't get mad, but my mum had some things to say about you in there," He replied, sniggering.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Did she now?" He began combining the ingredients for griddle cakes in a large bowl.

Harry nodded sagely. "Yeah, but it isn't anything I didn't know. Bit of a nag, surly, stubborn, kind of snobbish," He caught Severus eye and said the last part under his breath so that only he could hear. "Cold toes."

Severus wrinkled his nose playfully at the younger man and flicked a pinch of flour at Harry. In retaliation, the seventeen year old tossed a blueberry back in his direction. It bounced off his forehead to roll along the floor, and the two silently chuckling men looked up to see Remus staring at them patiently.

"I don't suppose she mentioned how childish he could be," The man said evenly. This seemed to break the tension, as Potter snorted loudly, making the werewolf laugh. Severus found he couldn't hold in his own chuckles at this, and the three men laughed themselves breathless. Eventually, they all returned to their tasks, the mood much lighter than it had been when Severus had first entered.

After a little more than an hour, Severus helped Harry to lay out the breakfast they'd cooked while Remus led a groggy, bleary-eyed Sirius Black over to the table. The smell seemed to wake the dog animagus somewhat, and they each ate their meals in peace. Black continued to shoot dark looks at the werewolf for waking him so early, but the former Defense instructor seemed impervious as he carried on a conversation with Harry about his success thus far at being an Unhoused student of Hogwarts. When they'd all finished their plates, Potter wandlessly sent the dishes to clean themselves in the sink. Black disappeared quickly, likely to crawl back into his bed, and Harry left soon after with a comment that he felt foolish still wearing his pajamas, leaving Remus and Severus alone.

"I'm not an idiot," The werewolf said, picking up his newspaper.

Severus sipped at his coffee. "That depends entirely on the subject, Lupin."

The man looked at him over his paper sharply. "You know what I'm talking about, Severus. Harry had another nightmare last night, didn't he?" Severus started to protest, but the werewolf waved him off. "No, don't be like that. I don't care, Severus, I already know Harry was going to you sometimes in the Summer. The thing that bothers me is that he's stopped coming to me."

"Well, perhaps if you hadn't made him feel guilty," Severus growled maliciously. "You made Harry feel like a child when you told him he needed to learn to deal with his issues on his own. In case you hadn't noticed, Lupin, that man not only survived a war he never should have been a part of, but he won it by killing someone else."

The other man sighed, setting his paper down. "I never meant for Harry to take it like that. I'd been trying to convince him to seek counseling; to see if that would stop the nightmares."

Severus scowled. "Counseling can only do so much, Remus, you should know that best of all of us. Everyone has their little rituals to try and forget the war. You have Black to distract you, I have my Potions, and Albus when it gets bad, but who does Harry have if not his friends to lean on?" He demanded. "That young man has gone through hell so that the rest of us could live our lives free from war, and if he feels the need to innocently crawl into bed with his friends, or me, or the man he thinks of as a father, just to get a few hours of peaceful sleep, then by Merlin you should let him."

Remus flinched. "A father? Did Harry say that?"

"He didn't have to, it's written all over his face," Severus sneered. "He looks to you for approval, Remus, I could see it when you were talking about his position at the school. Harry wants nothing more than to make you proud of him."

"I am proud of him," The werewolf insisted.

Severus stood with his coffee in hand. "Then perhaps you should tell him that." With those parting words, he left in search of the relative solitude of his potions.

After changing his clothes, Severus locked himself in his lab. Whether out of embarrassment or because he knew Severus needed the time alone, Harry had hidden himself away in the library, claiming that he needed to work on his teaching essay. Three botched attempts at brewing a simple antidote later, Severus realized he was going to have to speak to the younger wizard eventually, or he'd find no peace, not even in brewing.

Banishing the most recent attempt at the Wiggenweld Potion, Severus leaned heavily against the table behind him, rubbing at his face furiously. He didn't know what he'd been thinking, kissing Potter. The action, at the time, had seemed as natural as anything. Granted, the kiss had been innocent, and innocently done, but the Potions Master found he could no longer kid himself about the growing attraction he'd been feeling for the former Gryffindor since some time in the summer. Never mind that, as his student, even being friends with Potter was bordering on impropriety , but now he had willfully shared his bed with, and then kissed the damned brat. Whilst helping Harry with his nightmares might be an acceptable explanation for sharing his bed, he couldn't imagine anything could excuse the touching of his lips to the brat's brow.

A knock on the door dragged Severus from his dark thoughts. "Come in, Harry," He called, sighing in exasperation.

The door opened and the familiar black head appeared. "I don't want to interrupt your work," The younger wizard said, chewing his lip nervously.

Severus waved for the boy to come in. "You're fine, Harry. I find myself unable to concentrate."

The young man stepped into the room and closed the door, rubbing his arm nervously. "I get that…I couldn't concentrate on my essay, either."

"I imagine for the very same reason I couldn't," Severus murmured. "Come sit down, Harry." The seventeen year old walked over and pushed himself up to sit on the table in front of the one Severus was leaning against. "I want to apologize for my actions earlier. They were outside the bounds of what I should have allowed."

Harry frowned and Severus began to wonder if he'd mistaken the reason the brat had come down there. "Is that what was bothering you earlier?"

Severus frowned now. "Why are you down here, if not for my apology?" He countered.

"I came down because you seemed bothered earlier, and I thought it might be because I didn't leave your bed as soon as I was awake. I know I'm not really supposed to sleep in your bed, since you're my teacher, and I wanted to apologize if I had unknowingly overstepped. Do you mean the thing bothering you was the kiss on my head?" Harry asked disbelievingly. Severus nodded slowly, making the brat snicker. "Oh, Severus, don't be silly. I know you didn't mean anything by it, you don't have to apologize for acting like a father figure."

The Slytherin's frown deepened. "Father figure?"

"Yeah," Potter agreed, smiling indulgently. "I mean, I crawled into your bed like a little kid just last night, and for the last several months you've sort of been acting as my protector and mentor, so it's an easy enough leap for you to start feeling a little paternal. You don't have to feel bad about that. I don't really think of you that way, I just think of you as my friend, but it's totally okay that you're feeling kind of fatherly. To be honest, I guess I sort of put you in that position, because of how much I've been relying on you lately."

And that's when Severus did something he instantly regretted: he lied. "You're sure you're fine with it? I can't say I even realized I'd been feeling that way, it just happened."

Potter laughed and hopped off of the table. "It's fine, Severus, really. We've gotten really close since the summer, it's totally natural that you'd start feeling this way. Like I said, I only think of you as my friend, but it's okay if you see yourself taking a paternal role. As long you don't start acting like my father, I'm fine with it."

Severus stood up straight and faked a smile. "I'm glad we've cleared that up, Harry. Maybe now we can both concentrate on our work. Why don't you go work on your essay since I haven't got any cauldrons yet for you to clean?"

Harry grinned. "Sure, Sev'rus, I'll let you get back to your brewing." He waved and left the room.

When he was gone and the door had shut behind him, Severus slumped back against the table again. This was even worse than before; now Potter thought he looked on him like a son, or something near to it. Severus cursed internally at his own foolishness.

"Get back to my brewing indeed," The Potions Master muttered to the empty room. He summoned a book from one of the shelves on the wall knowing he wouldn't be able to do any such thing. Transfiguring his cauldron into a cushy armchair, he sat and tried to read as he pondered this somehow deeper hole he'd just dug for himself.

The rest of the holiday passed quickly after that. Presents were exchanged Christmas morning (Severus gave Harry a book on improving his wandless magic so he could start practicing more than just common spells, and received a goblin-crafted silver clasp for his cloak in return) and the evening was spent in the company of the Weasley's. Ronald was forced to finally apologize for his behavior, and promise that it would not continue, and they had a pleasant dinner. New Year's Eve heralded a change in Sirius' position about Harry spending so much time with Severus, and saw him trying to trick the two into standing under the mistletoe together (as a joke, of course). His attempts failed at every turn, but because of the spell he'd placed on the offending plant, had ended with Severus being forced to kiss Remus twice when they'd gotten distracted in their discussion (twice because they'd forgotten the mistletoe in their attempt to escape a drunk Sirius Black and tipsy Albus Dumbledore). Harry, of course, had found both instances to be absolutely ridiculous, and had laughed raucously at them both each time.

The return to Hogwarts saw Harry and Severus returning to their old routine from before they'd left. Harry finished his time as an assistant in the Potions classroom and Severus felt no compunctions about giving him a resounding evaluation. Most of the rest of the semester passed without a deviation from their routine, until one day Harry showed up at the Potions lab unannounced.

Severus was luckily working on a potion that didn't require his complete attention when the door to the lab opened, startling him. He looked up to see Harry shucking off his robes. He frowned.

"Harry, aren't you supposed to be studying with your friends tonight? NEWTs are only a couple weeks away," Severus said, unable to keep the concern out of his tone. Something obviously had the younger wizard riled up.

"I begged off," Harry said curtly. "I just –I really need to do something with my hands, Severus. Do you mind?"

The Potions Master shook his head and watched in concern as the young man stomped to the sink to fill his usual bucket with soap and water. As soon the bucket was filled, he watched the boy immediately start scrubbing viciously at one of the cauldrons stacked on the counter. Deciding that he couldn't just let the former Gryffindor stew, Severus set his potion in stasis and moved over to him.

"Harry, what's wrong? Has Weasley done something again?" He ventured carefully.

"No, it's not Ron," Harry growled, not looking away from his work. After a minute he stopped scrubbing and leaned his hands against the counter, his shoulders slumping. "I'm going to fail as Hill's assistant."

Severus placed his hand on the younger wizard's shoulder. "What happened, Harry?"

When he looked up, the vibrant green eyes were swimming with unshed tears. "It's so stupid. He wanted me to do something, and I refused, and now he says he's going to fail me on my evaluation because I'm obviously not prepared to work as a DADA assistant, let alone as a professor. But I couldn't do it, Severus, I wouldn't hurt them."

"What did he want you to do, Harry?" Severus asked insistently, growing angry now himself.

Harry turned completely and slumped against the counter, drawing a few deep breaths. When he spoke again, he sounded much calmer. "The First Years having been working on their shielding spells throughout the year. Apparently, Hill would randomly test their ability to cast them. Today was supposed to be my last class with them, and he wanted me to walk around the room while they were taking a quiz and cast a multitude of spells at them. He gave me a list of the spells he wanted me to cast." He pulled a folded piece of parchment from the pocket of his slacks and handed it to Severus. "But, these are spells most Third Years aren't strong enough to defend against. And he wasn't just expecting the students to shield against these hexes, he wanted them to sense the spell without warning. If I had agreed to cast these at the students, most of them would have been seriously hurt, so I refused, and now I'm going to fail because of it." The powerful young wizard slumped further, sliding down the front of the cabinet to hug his knees and stare hopelessly at the floor.

Severus, now completely pissed off, unfolded the parchment to find a list of Sixth Year hexes and curses, among them spells that would burn their target like acid, or dig a deep gash into the target's flesh. Carefully, the Slytherin folded the parchment back and reached down, dragging his companion back to his feet by a hand on his arm.

"Severus, what-"

"We need to take this to the Headmaster, Potter, before that idiot permanently scars his students," He growled.

"But Hill said he had the Headmaster's permission, Severus," Harry argued as he was led out of the lab.

Severus scowled at the brat's foolishness. "I can guarantee he didn't know exactly what he was giving permission for, Harry." Leading the way through several hidden passages, the two made it up to the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's Office in record time. They arrived in time see Marcus Hill leaving.

"Ah, Potter, I've just finished giving the Headmaster your final evaluation. He was very disappointed," The man cooed.

Severus grabbed his former student by the nape of his neck. "We'll see how disappointed he is, and in whom, Mister Hill, when he sees what it was exactly that led to Mister Potter's poor evaluation," He hissed dangerously. He barked the password at the gargoyle, which jumped out of the way readily, and walked the Defense instructor up the stairway. "Potter, come!"

Severus forced the Defense instructor through the door, not bothering to knock, and shoved the man to his knees on the floor. Albus stood from his desk, appearing stunned by the display of violence.

"Severus, what on Earth are you doing?" The aged wizard demanded. "We do not manhandle our fellow teachers!"

Severus scowled at his mentor. "We do when they are undeserving of the title, Albus. I want this filth removed from the grounds, before he injures or kills one of the students."

At this, Albus stayed his anger. "What has happened, Severus?"

The Potions Master threw the folded parchment onto the man's desk. "I believe my former Slytherin just gave Potter a failing evaluation because the boy refused to perform the actions of his station, am I correct?" The Headmaster nodded, looking at the folded page warily. "That, Headmaster, is the list of spells Hill asked Harry to cast on a group of unsuspecting First Years."

Retaking his seat, the old wizard quickly looked at the list over his half-moon spectacles, concern growing in the impossibly blue eyes with each passing second. When he had finished, he looked at the man still kneeling in front of his desk. "Is this true, Marcus?"

"Potter fabricated the list," The man spat. "I would never ask a student to cast a harmful spell on another student."

Albus was quite obviously unconvinced. "And are you willing to testify to that under Veritaserum?" He demanded.

Severus smirked and produced the phial he always kept on hand from the folds of his robes. The man paled, but maintained an indignant air.

"If you had a reason to use it, then fine, but I'm not taking anything without evidence enough to warrant it," He argued.

"I'll take it," Potter spoke up. He stepped forward from the back of the room where he'd been waiting. "I don't have anything to hide, and I'd swear on it that that is the exact list Professor Hill gave me, with instructions to cast those spells on First Years. I'll even give you the memory, if it will keep Hill from ever going near children again."

Albus eyed the kneeling Defense Instructor. "Do you wish to change your story?" He asked. "Answer carefully, as I doubt Mister Potter is bluffing."

Hill struggled against the grip Severus was maintaining on the back of his neck. "I didn't give Potter that list."

Albus sighed wearily. "Very well. Harry, I am sorry that it must come to this, but if you will have a seat, Severus will administer a small dose, just enough to get your testimony."

Severus watched the young wizard fearlessly sit down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Casting a spell to bind and gag the Defense instructor and former Slytherin, he stepped over to the boy and pulled the dropper from the phial. Harry tilted his head back, opening his mouth.

"Just the one drop, Severus," Albus warned. "We don't need Harry going around the school telling his secrets to everyone he passes."

The Potions Master rolled his eyes at the pointless warning and let a single drop fall into his student's waiting mouth. "It will take a few moments to kick in, Harry. You should start to feel light-headed, but don't fight the urge when it comes, it could cause internal damage."

The room waited in muted silence, the only sound being the muffled shouts of the instructor on the floor to be released. When Harry's head began to shift slightly, as if his neck couldn't quite hold it up, Albus spoke.

"A test question, first, to be sure," The Headmaster said quietly. "Harry," The powerful young wizard looked at him. "In what capacity do you view Severus Snape?"

The brat had the audacity to chuckle. "That's not much of a test question, Headmaster. Severus is my friend, and mentor, and escape from the world at large when it all gets to be too much. Though I wish he didn't view me like a son…I didn't mean to say that out loud."

It was Albus turn to chuckle. "It's working." He exchanged a glance with the Potions Master, who looked away guiltily. "Harry, where did you get this list of spells?" He held the creased parchment up for Harry to see.

"Professor Hill gave it to me earlier today, at a meeting he'd called to discuss what I'd be doing in my final class with the First years. He gave me explicit instructions to stay at the back of the room and to cast those spells on the First Years when they least suspected it. He told me to have fun with it," Harry answered truthfully, grimacing as he said the last sentence as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.

Severus looked at Albus. "Headmaster, I have never felt the need to employ the training I received as a Death Eater, but if you don't see that this piece of trash is put away for endangering the children of this school, I will take him where no one will hear his screams, and use every ounce of knowledge I have to make him regret ever coming here." He promised angrily.

The Headmaster sighed. "I don't doubt you, Severus, and in this case I cannot fault you. However, that will not be necessary. If you'll escort Mister Potter out, I will summon the Aurors to take Mister Hill of the premises. Unfortunately, so late in the semester, I will have to ask you to take over the Defense classes once more."

"I could help," Harry offered. "We have to redo my Defense evaluation anyway, right? And I already know what the classes are working on because Professor Hill made me memorize his lesson plans. 'Course, he probably wanted me to fail at that, but with my Occlumency at such a high level I've practically got a photographic memory. Assisting Severus with the First through Fifth Years should make up nicely for his only being able to evaluate me for two weeks instead of four. Even my NEWTs are perfectly scheduled so that I'll only miss one or two classes, and that's the week for Finals so I won't be as needed. I'm sure if you explained to the other professor's they'd let me take my own finals this weekend and next."

"Harry, that's a lot to take onto your shoulders," Severus said hesitantly, even as the Headmaster seemed to be seriously considering the offer.

Harry waved off the Potions Master's nervousness. "Nonsense, I love working with you, Severus, er, Professor Snape." He weaved dangerously. "Wow, now I know how a Weeble feels. I think the potion's wearing off."

Severus chuckled. "It is, Harry. You'll feel woozy for a little while once it's worn off completely. Why don't I walk you down to your room, and then once Albus is done with this," He nudged Hill viciously with his foot. "We can all discuss it when you're feeling better."

Harry nodded, gripping his head. "I think the floo might actually be better, Professor. I can't even see straight. If we tried to walk all the way to my rooms, you'd wind up carrying me. Hell, the floo will probably look like I'm standing still with how dizzy I feel."

The Potions Master looked to his mentor, who nodded that they could use his floo. Helping Harry to stand, Severus half-carried him to the fireplace; he tossed in a pinch of floo powder and called their destination. Before stepping into the green flames, he looked at the younger man leaning on him heavily.

"If you vomit on me, Potter, I am going to be very upset," He chided gently.

The Wizarding Savior held up a hand unsteadily. "I promise to do my very best not to throw up, Professor, but I can't make any promises that it won't happen despite my efforts."

Severus rolled his eyes and ducked into the fireplace. They were whisked away through the network, and landed almost immediately in Potter's small chamber. He stepped out as gracefully as he could with the brat still using him as a crutch. He waited nervously as the boy dry heaved.

"Yep," Potter said finally. "Felt like I was standing still." He looked up at Severus with a playful grin, and the man smiled back.

In the next moment, the gorgeous green eyes rolled back and Severus found himself with an armful of unconscious Wizarding Hero. Carefully, he lifted the smaller man into his arms bridal style and carried him over to the large bed in one corner of the room. Laying him out on the mattress, he took off the black dragon-hide boots and slid the covers from under the slack body of his protégé, tucking him in snugly. After a moment of hesitation, he sent his Patronus with a message to the Headmaster and took off his own boots. He knew better than anyone that Veritaserum could induce horrible nightmares when it was wearing off, and he hoped that his presence might stave off the worst of them. Crawling over the former Gryffindor and sliding under the covers, he held the young man tightly to his chest. As he settled slowly into the magically cooled bedding, he found himself beginning to drift. He soon fell asleep with Potter curled against his chest.

A few hours later Severus woke feeling unusually warm. He opened his eyes blearily and stared around the room, at first forgetting where he was. Slowly, he began to recall the events of the day, and the clock on the wall told him that it was nearly time for his and Harry's meeting with the Headmaster. He leaned up on his elbow and stared down at the younger man beside him, who had turned away sometime while they slept so that he was backed snugly into the former spy. Potion stained fingers itched to run along the firm body pressed against him. Instead, he shook the younger man's slim shoulder gently.

"Harry, it's time to wake up," He cooed softly.

The former Gryffindor groaned and swatted his hand backward, missing Severus entirely. "Leave me 'lone, 'Mione, 'm sleeping."

Severus chuckled warmly. "Mister Potter, I do not have bushy hair, nor do I sport bucked teeth."

Green eyes opened a just a crack. "Neither does she, anymore. In case you hadn't noticed, she's grown into an attractive young woman." He turned and burrowed into Severus' chest. "I feel like my head is going to explode. What was I thinking, taking that damn potion?"

Severus chuckled again. "You were thinking that you might save the lives of the students of Hogwarts, something you have made quite the habit of. Come on, we have a meeting with the Headmaster to discuss your earlier offer, and I'll bet he has a pain potion to give you."

The messy head shook fervently. "Nope, don't care, too comfortable. If you're going to insist that I get up, Severus, you should really start trying to be less addictively comfortable when you're sleep warm," The younger wizard countered.

The Potions Master rolled his eyes and prodded at the boy. "Comfortable or not, you can get up now or you can wait until the Headmaster comes to see why we missed our meeting."

Harry gave a frustrated groan and threw himself back on the bed to stare at his canopy. "Fine, I'm up…I'm not happy about it, though." He grabbed his glasses from the bedside table where Severus had left them and situated them on his face. When they were properly seated on his nose, he turned to smile softly at the Potions Master still partially leaning over him. "You really are very comfortable."

Severus smiled back gently and brushed away the younger man's bangs, resisting the urge to kiss the full lips beneath him. "You're the first to say so, Potter, but I'll take your unwillingness to get out of bed as a compliment. Now come on, the Headmaster awaits." He nudged the body beside him with his legs and they both moved to sit on the edge of the bed.

Harry leaned his head against Severus' shoulder. "You better be right about the Headmaster having a pain potion, or I am going to be so upset. I feel like my head is playing host to twenty clocks chiming at once, with a jackhammer as the main event."

"I know, Harry, that's why we're going to use the floo," Severus countered.

He reached down for his boots just as the young man threw himself from the bed and tore across to the only door off of the main room. He listened to the muffled sounds as Harry retched violently, pulling on his boots as he stared at the bathroom door in concern. After a pause, there was the sound of a running tap, and a few minutes later Harry came out, drying his face on a hand towel.

"The good news is that about half the clocks in my head have shut up now," Potter said, tossing the towel into a hamper near his desk. "The better news is that you don't have to worry about me ever volunteering to take Veritaserum again."

Severus' deep chuckle echoed in the quiet room. "It is a harrowing experience, Harry, but you actually have a better reaction when given the full dose. With the smaller dose your body tries to fight off the effects, so you wind up feeling rather poorly."

The younger wizard retook his seat on the bed beside Severus and started to pull on his own boots. "I am going to keep that in mind, but I pray that it never comes in handy. I said some stupid shit with a small dose; I'd hate to imagine what you could weasel out of me on a full dose." They moved together to the fireplace and floo'd to the Headmaster's office, Severus catching Harry deftly as he stumbled and nearly crashed to the stone floor upon their exit.

Albus looked up with a cheerful grin. "Ah, I see you've made it relatively unscathed."

Severus helped Harry to right himself, his hands lingering on the embrace a little longer than necessary. "Potter needs a pain potion before we can have our discussion, Albus. I assume you have one?"

"It's in the usual place, Severus," Albus answered, waving his hand in the vague direction of his quarters.

The Potions Master nodded and guided the unsteady young man to a chair before disappearing through a nearly hidden door into the Headmaster's living quarters. He went immediately to the small cabinet that housed a selection of day-to-day potions and grabbed two of the phials. As he made his way back into the office, he heard Harry stammering an apology for not coming to the Headmaster himself immediately following Marcus Hill's request.

"It's quite alright, Harry," Albus said as Severus moved back into the room. "I understand that you were afraid, because you thought I'd given Professor Hill permission."

Severus approached the seventeen year old. "Here, Harry. The blue one is for pain and the green one-"

"For nausea, I know. Thank you, Professor," The former Gryffindor took both potions from Severus and downed them quickly, grimacing as he set the phials on the Headmaster's desk. "You did not make those, sir."

Severus smirked proudly. "No, Harry, the Headmaster prefers to make his own potions, and he is not the most talented."

The brat grimaced again as Severus took the other seat. "No offense, Headmaster, but your potions aren't as good as Professor Snape's."

Albus smiled curiously at the former Gryffindor. "No, Harry, they aren't; but why so formal, you were calling Severus by his name just a few short hours ago, were you not? Surely he hasn't forbidden you from using it even in my presence?"

Severus frowned as he realized that the Headmaster knew something, the twinkling blue eyes speaking volumes. "A precaution, Headmaster, to be sure that Harry doesn't slip in front of his peers. After all, it's highly unusual for a professor to befriend a student as I have, and I wouldn't want the other students thinking that I'm giving Harry preferential treatment."

"Oh, nonsense, Severus, preferential treatment from you? That seems as likely as Minerva suddenly changing into a bird rather than a cat," The Headmaster said, looking at him pointedly. Severus couldn't help the slight blush that tainted his cheeks. After a moment, the Headmaster brightened again and turned his attention back to Harry, who looked somewhat lost in their wordplay. "In any case, I think it would be hard to show Harry preferential treatment even if you wanted to, as from what I hear he has maintained a spot at the top of his class since last year."

"Not alone, Headmaster," The younger wizard said modestly. "I have Hermione and Draco to help me study and having reached my magical majority has helped this last year, as well. Professor Snape has helped some, too, by giving me a place to go where my mind can refocus."

"Has he?" Albus asked leadingly.

The boy stuttered. "N-no, not helping me with my work or anything. I…I clean his cauldrons some weekends. It helps me relax, and meditate, so I can concentrate on my schoolwork and my teaching essay without becoming overwhelmed. It helps with my nightmares as well. I probably couldn't have made it through this year without Professor Snape's help."

Albus gave a slow, single nod of understanding. "That's perfectly alright, Harry. You're allowed to do with your free time as you wish, of course, and I'm glad you found something that helps you settle your mind. That was, after all, my intention from the start when I asked you to resume your Occlumency lessons; I wanted you to find some way to curb your new power, and to help keep the nightmares at bay if only for a short time. And, as I said, it appears to be working in your favor, as you are tied for top of your class." He paused and pulled a roll of parchment from the pile on his desk. "Which is precisely why your other professors have agreed to let you take your final exams this weekend, and next, so that you may assist Professor Snape in the Defense Classroom," He handed the scroll over the desk to the stunned seventeen year old. "This is the schedule we worked out while you were recovering from the Veritaserum. You'll take your Potions, Charms, and Care of Magical Creatures exams tomorrow, Transfiguration on Sunday, and next weekend you'll sit for your Defense, Astronomy, and Herbology exams."

Severus studied the Headmaster carefully, unsure why the man hadn't sought him out for this endeavor. "Will I be giving Mister Potter his exams in both Potions and Defense?"

The aged wizard hesitated as Harry looked up expectantly. "Yes, but there will be some stipulations, since these are unusual circumstances. Since Harry is acting as your assistant, I will be present during his examinations, to preempt any accusation of favoritism."

Severus nodded in acquiescence. "I understand, Headmaster."

"For now, Harry, why don't you go and study, to be sure you're ready? Tomorrow will be a full day, and you'll want to make sure you've studied up properly, I'm sure," Albus suggested.

The young man stood, still looking at the schedule he'd been given. "All right, sir," He looked up from the parchment. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I'm glad I'll be allowed to make up for the evaluation I got from Hill. I don't think I'll be studying, though. I don't want to overwork my mind and be stressed for my testing tomorrow." He looked meaningfully at Severus, who gave an exaggerated sigh and smirked.

"You know where my lab is, Harry, and how to get in. Try not to destroy it before I arrive," Severus told him gently.

Harry grinned and chuckled. "I promise, Severus; thanks."

Severus watched the younger wizard leave, unable to stop a fond smile. When the door had closed, the Headmaster spoke with a deep sigh.

"I take it he doesn't know?"

The Potions Master turned back sharply, straightening defensively in his chair. "I don't know to what you're referring, Headmaster."

"I think you do, Severus," Albus replied gently.

The Slytherin pushed himself from his chair and turned from the accusing blue eyes. He began to pace nervously. "Leave it be, Albus."

"A son, Severus; Harry thinks you see him as a son," The old wizard pressed, reminding him of Harry's words just a few hours earlier.

Severus rounded on the man. "Would you rather I'd told him the truth?" He demanded angrily. Black met steely blue in a war without words, and the Potions Master broke first, slumping slightly. "I haven't touched him."

The Headmaster stood, leaning on his desk, eyeing him suspiciously. "And how long can you keep it that way, Severus? You know the rules, he is your student!"

"I haven't done anything wrong!" Severus fired back angrily. He only hoped that Lupin had kept quiet about Harry's solution to his nightmares. "He's seventeen, and you cannot fire me for merely being tempted!"

"Severus, you cannot allow this to continue," Albus spoke, his voice dangerously calm. "Until Harry graduates from this institution, he is still your student, and you his professor; so, for the next two weeks I forbid you from seeing him outside of classes and meals unless it is pertinent to his work assisting you in Defense. Am I understood?"

Severus inhaled sharply, glaring at his mentor. "You heard Harry before; he relies heavily on his being able to come to my labs when he needs to unwind. You would deny him that small comfort because you suspect me of being unprofessional?"

"I am doing it to protect him, and you," The Headmaster countered softly. "I'm sorry, Severus, but my word is final. You should go and inform Harry of this change in course."

The Potions Master scoffed at being dismissed so easily. "I would never have imagined that you of all people could have been hiding this level of distrust, Albus. You know me, and still you accuse me baselessly of debauchery with a student?"

Albus lowered himself back into his chair. "I do not accuse, Severus, but I do know you, and I know that you have, in the past, allowed yourself to be led by your feelings despite what consequences may arise." Blue eyes bored into him. "Stay away from him, Severus. I do not want to bring you up on an inquiry, but I will if you force my hand."

Severus growled in frustration, but knew that trying to argue was pointless. He turned on his heel and stalked out of the office, slamming the door shut behind him. The walk down to the dungeons was reminiscent of years past, students jumping out of his path as he stormed through the corridors. He arrived at his office, still stewing, but stopped before he went into his lab. How was he going to explain this to Harry?

After a long moment, the former spy entered his lab and looked to the counter on the far wall where Harry was rinsing out a cauldron. He walked over just as the younger wizard was towel drying the pewter cauldron and his own hands. He came to a stop just behind the former Gryffindor.

"Harry?" Severus began softly. "Can I speak to you for a moment?"

The powerful young man looked up, smiling. "Sure, Severus," He set the cauldron aside and hopped onto the counter, setting the towel next to him. "What's up? You look like someone just told you your dog died."

Severus cleared his throat lightly and gave a nervous smile as he stepped closer. "Harry, Albus has asked that you and I maintain a more professional distance until you complete your NEWTs."

The smile Severus adored so much vanished in a heartbeat, to be replaced by a disbelieving frown. "What? Why? He just said I could spend my free time as I saw fit, and I like spending it with you."

"Apparently," The Potions Master said slowly, carefully not looking the boy in the eye. "There is some question about our behavior while we're alone."

"Oh, I see," Harry said with a sudden understanding. "Well, then I guess I should go, huh? I don't want you to get into trouble." Severus stepped back as the younger wizard slid off of the counter. "I'm sorry I put you in this position, Se-Professor."

"No, Harry," Severus said, looking at the former Gryffindor sharply. "You have done nothing wrong. This is my fault, for letting myself get close to you when I should have known better."

The Seventh Year frowned. "Oh, right…of course, Professor. I'll…I'll see you around." He hugged his middle self-consciously and started to move past Severus when the Potions Master realized what he'd said.

He reached out and stopped the powerful young man with a hand on his arm. "Harry, you misunderstand me." He breathed softly as green eyes looked at him with a deep sadness. "I only meant that, perhaps, I shouldn't have let certain things get so far. Believe me, I do not regret a moment of the time we've spent together, and I wish things were different, but they aren't. However, it is only two weeks, and after that we will be free to act as we wish. For now," He indulged himself in placing a tender kiss on the furrowed brow. "I will see you in class next Monday."

Harry smiled softly. "Alright, till then, Severus." He left the room and Severus watched him go sadly.

The next two weeks were bittersweet for Severus. To Harry's credit, the young wizard had been the very semblance of professional in the classroom. A casual observer might have looked in on the Defense class and seen nothing untoward. Severus, however, was privy to much more than a casual onlooker. More than once he would share a look with the young man while they graded papers, or catch a sideways glance as he tried to help a First Year, and they would share a silent laugh. Despite missing the private moments they had shared together, Severus found that the two weeks spent teaching the majority of the Defense classes together only reinforced his love of working with the young man.

On the night of the Leaving Feast, Severus was in his office reorganizing his bookshelf when Harry came in and closed the door swiftly, leaning against it. He chuckled at the harried-looking boy. "You look like you've been through the wringer, Harry, what on Earth happened to you?"

The former Gryffindor grinned. "First Years," He answered. "Bloody ankle biters decided they were going to have a go at me, since Ginny apparently told them that my graduating means they won't ever have to see me again."

Severus continued to chuckle. "I assume you told them the purpose behind your acting as assistant in their courses?"

"Hell no," Harry scoffed. "Let the little blighters think they're safe over the summer. I want to see their faces when they see me at the Head Table next year."

"How very Slytherin of you, Harry," Severus told him, smirking. "Are you prepared for the Headmaster's decision tonight?"

The seventeen year old ran a hand through his hair nervously. "As I'll ever be. I guess I don't have to worry about an open position, huh?" He asked, grinning abashedly. "Still, I don't know if I'm ready for this, Severus."

The Potions Master sighed and set the books in his hands on a shelf, walking over to the graduated student. He took Harry's face in his hands and made him look at him. "You'll do fine, Harry. I've seen you in the classroom; you're a natural with the students, and you're going to be a great teacher."

Green eyes stared at him adoringly. "You think so?" Harry whispered carefully.

Severus smirked. "I know so."

The former Gryffindor surprised him by leaning up on his toes and placing a slow kiss on Severus' lips. The Potions Master stood stunned for a moment, but as the shorter wizard began to pull away hesitantly, he realized what was happening and followed the full lips, drawing Harry deeper into the kiss. Deceptively strong arms wrapped around him, and he snaked his arm around the other man's slim waist, pulling the lithe body against his as he curled his fingers in the soft, mussed hair. He slid his tongue past firm lips to explore the hot cavern beyond, moaning as the muscle he found there joined his in a sensual dance.

Severus sighed as he felt fingers fumbling at the buttons of his collar. He reached up and grabbed those fingers gently, pulling away from the kiss.

"Harry, stop."

Vibrant green eyes stared up at him, unsure. "But…this is what you wanted isn't it? The reason Dumbledore forced us apart? I've seen the way you look at me, and I want it, too. It's okay now, I'm officially graduated." He leaned up to kiss Severus again, only to have the Potions Master pull further away.

"No, Harry," Snape whispered. He received in response a look of hurt that felt like a knife in his gut. He cleared his throat. "I do want this," Severus assured the younger wizard, cupping a tan cheek tenderly. He moved his hand down over the boy's heart. "But I want this first."

The Wizarding Savior grinned. "It's yours, has been since Summer."

Severus couldn't help a small smile. "And whilst I am glad you say so, I still wish to earn my prize. It may seem a waste of time in your hormone fogged brain, but I do actually prefer taking someone to dinner before taking them to my bed."

"That's not fair," Harry argued, blushing. "I agree entirely."

"Then why this?" The Potions Master demanded carefully, lightly squeezing the fingers still in his hand.

The blush deepened. "I wasn't sure- I mean, what else could you want from me? I'm young, I'm not bright like you are…what other use could I have for you?"

Severus frowned, cupping the burning cheek again. "That is the single stupidest thing I have ever heard you say, Mister Potter. I do not love you because you hold some value to me, some meaningless use that I may someday tire of. I want to be with you because you are intelligent, you're fantastic company, you're handsome, and you challenge me in ways no one else can. I want to be with you because there is no one else in this world who I would rather spend my time with."

Potter gave a shy smile that slowly morphed into a grin. "Thanks." He gave a breathy laugh. "'Challenge you'; I think that's the nicest version of 'Brat' that you've ever called me."

Severus smiled as well. "I'm sure over time we will come up with much more colorful things to call one another. For now, I think we should head upstairs, the Headmaster will be expecting us any minute."

"Yeah," Harry said, nodding. "Okay. Wouldn't do any good to make him suspicious before he needs to be."

The Potions Master gave a confirming nod and moved away to his desk to grab his robe, which had been abandoned earlier. He led the way out of his office.

"And perhaps, afterwards, I might take you to dinner to celebrate the post you will undoubtedly receive? He suggested. This earned him an even brighter grin as they made their way out of the dungeons and towards the Teacher's Lounge.

When they entered the long room, the assembled professors turned to look at them.

"Ah, Harry, Severus, you've decided to join us after all," Albus said, his eyes stern. "Harry, my boy, you're quite disheveled. Are you all right?"

Severus glanced at the younger wizard with a smirk, and watched a blush blossom on the tan cheeks. "Uh, the First Years, sir, things got out of hand when they somehow became convinced that I wasn't coming back next year," He excused, trying to smooth his hair uselessly.

Albus raised an eyebrow at them, but finally relented. "Well, let us all be grateful that you've arrived in one piece then. If you'll come in, we can get started."

Severus led Harry to stand amongst the waiting teachers, most of whom squeezed the lad's shoulder encouragingly. When they were standing in the middle of the group, the Headmaster cleared his throat, gathering their attention.

"We've come together to welcome a new member to our staff. Harry has completed his schooling, and his work as an Unhoused student is at an end. After reviewing your evaluations, Harry, on which you did an outstanding job all around, I have decided to award you the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor when school resumes next Fall," Albus said, looking at Harry proudly.

Several professors reached past Severus to give Harry congratulations, but were surprised when the young man raised his hands, asking politely for silence. He stepped forward, giving Severus a sideways glance, and Severus looked back in confusion. The former Gryffindor addressed the Headmaster.

"Sir, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your giving me the post of Defense, but I'm afraid I cannot accept," He said formally.

Albus frowned. "Harry, you signed the agreement, you must teach at this school for five years, or I cannot give you a post at all."

Severus watched as the boy gave a sigh. "I know, Headmaster, and I understand that. It isn't that I don't want the post, Sir, I do. The problem is that I don't believe I'm ready for it, nor do I think I will be able to command any authority from the students, being freshly graduated myself. If it's acceptable, I'd like to work as an assistant, at least for a year or two, until I've achieved a Mastery in the subject. If the position becomes available again after that, then I will gladly take it then."

Severus saw the Headmaster visibly hesitate, obviously as surprised by this turn of events as the rest of them were. Finally, he spoke. "Very well, Harry, I give you my blessing to assist in whatever class you desire, until such a time as you've achieved your Mastery. Of course, the professor with whom you wish to work must also agree, but you received astounding reviews from all of them, so you have your choice."

Severus was stunned as green eyes turned on him. "If he'll have me, I'd like to work with Severus, Headmaster. He's my friend, and our personalities play off each other well in the classroom. I'm sure you noticed, his student's grades rose exponentially when we worked together, even most of the First through Fourth Years passed their finals in Defense because I helped Severus with their review."

"That's true, Harry, but from what I've gathered, that was true in any class you assisted with. You may not have been well liked, but you certainly got more results from the students than I've seen any one teacher get in a single year. However, if that is your decision, then I leave it in Severus' hands. As for me, I have some work to finish before my Summer Holiday begins. Good night, all," He gave a curt bow, eyeing Severus who stared back smugly.

The teacher's began to depart as well, but McGonagall nudged Severus' shoulder lightly. "You've got all the luck, Severus. I was so hoping Potter would choose me. I don't think I've ever had so many students successfully transfigure a rock into a pincushion in all my years teaching. You'd better treat him right, or I may steal him away from you." There were chuckled agreements from the remaining professors, and soon Severus was left alone with the new staff member.

Harry looked at him nervously. "Is it alright, Severus? I understand if you don't want to work with me, because of our relationship, or whatever, and I'll speak with McGonagall tomorrow if you don't want me in your classroom, but I thought that, perhaps, since we did so well last week that maybe you might-"

Severus swept forward and cut the lad off with a kiss. "Harry, I would love nothing more than to have you in my classroom."

"Really?" The boy asked with a sly smirk.

Severus nodded and placed another kiss on the beautiful mouth beneath his. "Yes, Harry. And now, I believe I promised you dinner. We can retire to my rooms, and ask the House Elves to make us something special."

Harry frowned. "Your rooms? But, won't that make the Headmaster think we've gone swanning off to do untold things?"

The Potions Master smirked. "Let him have his suspicions. Tonight, I want only to enjoy your company in a setting more romantic than my office or classroom."

The sly smirk returned slowly. "How very Slytherin of you, Professor."

They made their way to the large fireplace on one side of the room and vanished in a flash of green flame, still staring adoringly into one another's eyes.