Minerva was waiting for them when their carriage finally drew up outside the castle. "Severus, Mr Potter," she greeted them, cheerfully. "Welcome back to Hogwarts."
"Minerva," Severus responded, giving a brief nod to her.
"Hello, Professor McGonagall," said Harry.
Minerva gave the boy a quick once-over, then nodded at Severus, obviously satisfied that he hadn't harmed her Lion. "Albus has called a meeting, Severus," she said to him. "We're in his office. No password yet." She turned back to Harry. "Mr Potter, you have the run of the castle, wherever you have access during the school year. I'm afraid the dorms aren't open yet; they won't be accessible until the day the rest of the students arrive. However," she cast a quick sideways glance at Severus, "I believe there has been some renovation in the dungeons."
Severus groaned internally. That meant that Albus had seen fit to create a bedroom for Potter attached to, if not outright in, his own quarters. Although he supposed there wasn't really another choice. There were no spare rooms in the castle, and the boy couldn't very well remain at Spinner's End on his own for a week.
"Very well," he sighed. "I will show Mr Potter the way, then come up to Albus' office."
"I'll inform the others," Minerva said. She smiled at Harry before turning and striding up the Great Staircase.
"Come along, Pot- Harry," Severus said. He beckoned with his head for the boy to follow as he turned towards the entrance to the dungeons. "No doubt the house-elves will have put your luggage in your new room already."
Harry made an agreeable noise, but Severus could see that he still wasn't convinced about having house-elves around his things. To be fair to the boy, Dobby was the only elf that he'd had close contact with – since Bertie's Essy hadn't interacted with him beyond greeting them at the door – and the deranged elf hadn't made the best impression on him.
It hadn't made a good impression on Severus, either, but he'd had the privilege of dealing with other elves over the years, and recognised that Dobby was the exception, not the rule.
Severus paused as they reached the end of the corridor that led to the Potions classroom. "The way I am about to show you is for you alone," he said, abruptly, to Harry. "No other student, except for my Slytherin prefects, are allowed this way. If I find out that you've been leading hordes of Gryffindors to my door, Potter, you'll sorely regret it!"
"Yes, sir!" Harry said, smartly, then he looked confused. "I mean, no, sir! Er… I mean, I won't?"
Don't smile; that'll just encourage him, Severus thought to himself. "No, you won't," he said instead. He led Harry along the corridor towards a door that looked like it led to a store cupboard. He could see the boy's surprise from the corner of his eye as the door opened to reveal yet another stretch of corridor, although one that looked a great deal more homely than the rest of the dungeons, with a dark green rug on the floor and brightly lit sconces on the walls.
"Wow," Harry murmured, mostly to himself.
"This particular corridor leads only to my – our" Severus grimaced "—quarters. Not even you would be able to get lost from this point. And don't even think about trying it, Potter!" he added, as Harry opened his mouth.
The boy closed his mouth again. "No, sir," he said, unable to squash a grin.
Shaking his head, Severus led the way down the corridor. As far as he understood it, the corridor was actually much longer, twisting its way through the dungeons under the castle, but whatever spell was on it made it appear a straight and fairly short journey before they reached his quarters.
Severus drew his wand and tapped it on the door. "Give me your hand, Harry," he ordered, as he drew the pattern that would grant entry permission on the door. "Touch the door just above where my wand is pointing."
Cautiously, Harry did so, jerking in surprise as a rush of warmth ran over his hand and up his arm. "Sir?" he asked, looking up at Severus. "What did that do?"
"It gave you permission to enter my quarters," Severus informed him, tucking his wand back into its holster. "You can stop touching the door now." Harry pulled his hand back and examined it, as though expecting to find a mark of some sort on it, before looking up curiously as Severus opened the door for him.
Casting a quick glance around as he entered, Severus briefly wondered what it would look like to Potter's eyes. He honestly hadn't cared about the décor when he'd first begun teaching at Hogwarts; he'd given the house-elves permission to decorate his quarters as they'd seen fit. Harry didn't immediately run from the room, screaming in horror, so he supposed that meant the elves had done a good job.
I should probably thank them for that, he thought, absently, as he looked around for where the new 'renovation' had been done. A plain wooden door was tucked into the far corner of his living room, half hidden by a bookcase.
"I suspect that is yours," he told Harry, pointing at the door. "I will not enter it unless absolutely necessary. The same rule as at Spinner's End applies – ensure you keep it clean and tidy. The house-elves do the cleaning in the castle, but that doesn't mean that you can act like an uncivilised slob."
Harry nodded, but remained speechless. Severus suspected he was a bit overwhelmed at the fact that he'd actually been granted a room of his own.
"Well." Severus cleared his throat, a bit uncomfortable. "Get settled in, then you may roam about the castle whilst I am in the meeting with the other professors. Remember Professor McGonagall's restrictions – do not attempt to enter anywhere you are not permitted to enter during the school year. Return back to these quarters by 7 o'clock. I'm unsure how long this meeting will last, so you may call a house-elf to get dinner if I'm not back by then."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, then paused. "Um, sir?" he asked. "How do I call a house-elf?"
Severus sighed to himself. What part of the universe thought I'd make a good parent? he wondered. "Just call for Tribble," he advised Harry. "Tribble is one of the kitchen elves."
Potter nodded, but still looked a tad confused. He'd soon figure things out, Severus reasoned, and turned to leave. "Try not to get into any trouble before school even starts," he advised, and shut the door firmly behind himself.
The castle was eerie when it was this empty. Even the holidays the previous year hadn't seemed like this, and there'd only been a few other students. Now the space seemed big and echoing, and Harry lost himself in thoughts of being the only presence left alive in the castle. Or maybe I'm a ghost, floating through the ruins of my ancestral home… he thought, and smiled at his own flight of fancy.
Snape had been spending most of his time in meetings with the other professors, doing whatever it was teachers needed to do before the school year started again. Harry had had lunch with all of them in the Great Hall on their first proper day there, but it had been horribly awkward, and Snape had agreed that he could just get his meals from the house-elves or directly from the kitchen.
He wandered through the first floor, ducking into rooms to explore whenever they caught his attention. So far, most of what he'd found was old teaching equipment and enough dust to create another copy of Hogwarts.
One such room seemed familiar, and it took a few minutes – and spinning around to determine the view from different approaches – before Harry realised it was the room that he'd discovered the Mirror of Erised in over the Christmas holidays. He didn't expect to find the Mirror there anymore but entered the room anyway.
The dust in the room looked as undisturbed as it had the last time Harry had been in there with Dumbledore. He could see the marks on the floor where the Mirror had stood. Scuffing the toe of his trainer through the dirt, Harry wondered what he'd see if the Mirror was right in front of him.
Last year he'd seen his family, his parents, the love and acceptance that was his heart's desire. Now he had a proper home, a guardian that actually acted like a guardian, even though they hadn't wanted to be one in the first place.
"It doesn't do to dwell on dreams," Dumbledore's words suddenly echoed in his mind.
Giving himself a sharp shake, Harry slipped out of the empty room again, closing the door behind him.
"The other students will be returning to Hogwarts tomorrow," Snape said over dinner one night, and Harry jumped at the abruptness of it, fumbling with his knife and fork. "The dormitories will be open as of 4 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, when the first carriages begin arriving. The Hogwarts Express will arrive in Hogsmeade at around seven, so the remaining students will reach Hogwarts soon after that."
Harry thought about this as he finished chewing his mouthful. "Does that mean that some students don't take the train, sir?" he asked.
Snape snorted, although not as derisively as Harry thought it would have been just two months ago. "No, they do not," he said. "First year is mandatory, as they travel to the castle a different way than the older years, and it is much easier to keep new students all together if they all travel the same way. After that, it is up to the parents or guardians. Students who live up here in Scotland, for example, arrive by carriages, or other methods, as their parents see no point in having to take them down to London for an eight hour train ride back again."
Harry blinked. That . . . was actually more sensible than he gave the Wizarding world credit for. "Okay," he said, slowly, "so should I move my stuff out when the others start arriving, sir?"
"Leave whatever will be going to the dorm with you in the living room," Snape told him. "The house-elves will move it up. Anything you're leaving here, leave it in your room."
Harry's brain felt like it stuttered. I can . . . LEAVE some of my things HERE?! he repeated to himself. He'd thought this was just going to be for the few days he was at Hogwarts until the term started and he moved to the Gryffindor dormitory for the rest of the year.
Bloody hell, that means Snape was serious when he said not to lead any of my friends to his door!
He wanted to laugh hysterically. He wanted to bang his head against the nearest hard surface to wake himself up from this obvious hallucination he'd fallen into. He wanted to cry.
He almost fell off his chair as a hand suddenly landed on his shoulder. The grip tightened enough to stabilise him.
"Steady, Potter," Snape said. Harry hadn't even noticed him get up from his chair.
"Sorry, sir, I—" The rest of the words wouldn't come out; they just got stuck in Harry's throat.
Snape crouched beside him. Surprisingly, his gaze on Harry was steady and calm. "I had a similar reaction once," the professor told him. Harry gaped at the man. "When your grandmother offered to let me sleep in their spare bedroom for two weeks during one summer. So I understand this may take a while to sink in. But if I am now your legal guardian, then you will have, at the very least, your own room both at Spinner's End and here at Hogwarts, and anywhere else we may end up. It will be your room, Harry. You may freely leave anything you like in there, rather than carting everything you own with you all the time."
Harry had to clear his throat several times, and even then, his "...Thank you, Professor," only came out as a barely-there whisper.
Snape gave him a faint smile as he rose to his full height again. "Tomorrow is likely to be a long day, so I suggest you go to bed now," he suggested.
"Yes, sir," Harry agreed. Not that he thought he'd actually get much sleep, but at least it would give him a chance to reflect on today's events.
By the time his friends were due to arrive, Harry was almost jumping out of his skin with excitement at seeing them again. Hedwig had arrived at Hogwarts a day later than he and Snape had, and she had come bearing a long-ago written letter from Hermione. Once he'd had a chance to read it, Harry was thrilled that at least that part of Dobby's plan hadn't worked either; his friends had not abandoned him.
The students that had arrived earlier that afternoon were now hovering in the Entrance, waiting for the first glimpse of the carriages coming up from Hogsmeade Station.
"Here they come!" someone screeched, and Harry found an involuntary yell of delight escaping from him. Luckily, it went unnoticed amongst the other yells that were given off.
A whole crowd of students dashed in front of him as the first lot of carriages pulled up and spat out a horde of people, and Harry strained to make himself as tall as he could, trying desperately to see over everybody's head. He had been one of the shortest people in their year last year; he couldn't wait until he hit a growth spurt!
Where are they? he wondered, searching for a hint of either Ron's flame-coloured or Hermione's bushy hair. I hope they're not still at the station searching the train for me!
The shrill screech of his name was the only warning he got, before something was crashing into him so fast and so hard that he was almost bowled completely over.
"Let the man breathe, Hermione!" he heard Ron's voice say, and he squinted around whatever was obscuring his vision to spot his friend grinning from nearby. "Hiya, Harry!"
Harry grinned back, spat out a piece of Hermione's hair that had managed to get in his mouth, and wrapped his arms around Hermione just as tightly as she was hugging him.
"Oh, Harry, we were so worried!" Hermione gasped, finally pulling back a bit so she could examine Harry for herself. "I tried to send Hedwig back to you, but she just kept coming back—"
"It's okay, I know. I've got a lot to tell you," Harry assured her. "You won't believe everything that's happened to me this summer!"
Ron stepped closer and clapped Harry on the back. "I even convinced Fred and George to go and fetch you from your relatives' house," he said. "But they came back and said there was nobody there! Mum went spare, I tell you." He rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"The Dursleys moved to Canada," said Harry. He let go of Hermione and began leading them towards the Great Hall. "I spent the summer at Spinner's End, with Professor Snape."
"Snape?!" Ron and Hermione chorused, stopping dead in their tracks. "Neville said you tried to get him to believe that," Ron continued, "but I didn't think—"
Harry nodded. "It's true," he said. "Snape's likely going to be my guardian from now on. I've got a room down in his quarters and everything!"
His friends simply gaped at him.
"Harry, WHAT has been going on?" Hermione demanded as they finally reached the Gryffindor table.
Harry glanced up towards the staff table, where Snape was already seated beside Professor Flitwick and deep in conversation with him. He smiled, then turned back to his friends. "Well," he began, "it all started six hours after we got back to King's Cross and the Dursleys hadn't turned up to fetch me..."
A/N - The End. Finish. Finito. My God, I can't believe it. It has taken four years, but Summer has finally been completed! A HUGE thank-you to everyone who's come along for the ride, and who've had to put up with a two-year wait for the ending *winces* yikes!
There may end up being a sequel, as people want to know what happens during the school year, and they keep giving me *ideas*, but if there is, I'm afraid it will be a long way off. Firstly, because I have quite a few stories that I've been neglecting for this [and in general], and secondly because I don't want to put myself under pressure so as not to leave people hanging for literal years again.
As I stated somewhere in this behemoth, the entire story was dedicated to my dear friend, Katy. It's been almost six years now since she passed, and I still miss her. The Strawberry Meadows figure is based on her. I hope she would have been pleased with the whole thing.