Hello! I hope you're all safe and well. Here's the next chapter – I'm so sorry it took so long to get out, but I really do hope you enjoy it :)

Chapter 12 – Parting Gifts

'Are you quite certain that you have packed everything?'

'Yep. I double checked.'

'All of your textbooks?'

'All of them.'

'And how about your jumpers? It may be summer weather now, but before long-'

'Snape, I've packed a bloody bag before!' Harry interrupted, exasperated. He regretted his words immediately, eyes widening at the irate glare that he found himself under. Before Snape could open his mouth to scold him, he added, 'But I was just going upstairs to triple check anyway!'

'How fortunate. You had best pack away that attitude, too, before you come back down,' Snape called after him as he darted out of the kitchen. 'Ida is coming for tea.'

Buoyed by the news, Harry took the ladder to his bedroom two rungs at a time and began rifling through his drawers, checking that they were all empty. Sure enough, the only thing that had escaped his packing was a lone sock, which he threw into the top of his trunk.

Flopping back onto his bed, he allowed himself a moment of rest. Snape was probably right; he did need to keep his attitude in check. Frantically running around the house in an effort to gather his scattered belongings had been considerably stressful, but he didn't want to let that stress cause unnecessary arguments with the Potions Master. It was his last evening at Spinner's End, after all.

At the sound of voices echoing up the stairwell beneath him, Harry jumped up and hopped back down to the landing, the trapdoor swinging shut behind him. He could see Ida's floral anorak hanging by the doorway, but from the murmur of voices it was evident that the pair had moved back into the kitchen. He began to descend the stairs to join them but froze at what he could have sworn was the mention of his own name.

Peering over the banister, Harry caught a glimpse of Ida standing with her back to the doorway, Goliath winding happily around her heels. From his vantage point, he could just about make out the words being said.

'-it's nothing, really,' Ida was saying.

'You shouldn't have, Ida.'

'Well I did, an' I won't hear a word of complaint about it. Here, have a look.'

There was a soft click followed by a long silence. Eventually, Snape said quietly, 'That… that was Pat's. Are you sure?'

'I'm sure, love. Your lad's obviously like a son to you-'


'Don't you Ida me, young man. It's clear as day. An' if he's like a son to you, an' you're like a son to me, then that makes him family. Paddy loved this, but he's got no need fer it anymore – it's jus' collecting dust on me shelf.'

'Ida, I…' Snape began, his voice more full of complex emotion than Harry had ever heard it before. 'I don't know what to say.'

'Then don't say anything, lad. I've known you long enough to not need words to understand what you mean.'

Bewildered by Snape's reaction, Harry craned his head further to try and get a better look at what Ida was holding. His stomach dropped as the banister creaked violently beneath him.

'Harry Potter, you had best hope for your own health that you are not eavesdropping. Get in here.'

Harry gulped, jumping down the last few stairs. Snape's voice had lost all of the tenderness that it had held before with impressive speed.

'Well?' Snape questioned once he had entered the kitchen. 'I know for a fact that the banister only complains in that manner if one is resting their full body weight upon it to try and observe the kitchen.'

Choosing not to comment on the fact that that was an exceedingly peculiar fact to know, Harry smiled innocently at the man. 'I was just stretching, sir.'

'You were stretching?' Snape repeated.

'Yep. I got this awful cramp in my leg when I was coming down the stairs,' Harry replied sincerely. Eager to change the subject, he turned to Ida and smiled. 'Hi, Ida. How are you?'

'All the better fer seeing you, dear,' the old lady said, pulling him into a warm hug with a conspiratorial wink. Harry settled into the embrace gladly; Ida was definitely one of the things that he was going to miss most about living at Spinner's End.

'Here, before I forget,' she said once she had released Harry. She picked something up from the table behind him and pressed it into his hands. 'Toby says yer off to school tomorrow, so I thought I'd bring you something to say goodbye fer now.'

Surprised, Harry looked down at what he was holding. It was a flat, square box, about the size of his palm.

'Open it, love,' Ida encouraged. 'The box isn't the present - I've not gone that doolally yet.'

Gently unclasping the box, Harry flipped it open with a click. Lying inside was a tiny golden four-leaf clover, no bigger than a penny yet delicately detailed, set upon a fine gold chain. He looked up at Ida in awe. 'Is this really for me?'

'Aye, it is, duck,' she answered, smiling warmly. 'It's a family heirloom of mine. Me son used to wear it 'round his neck – kept him lucky, he said. I never had no grandson, but you've come 'bout as close as it gets to one in the last month. I know that my Patrick would be most happy to hear that it's in yer hands.'

Harry stared at her, at a loss for words. 'I can't accept this, Ida. It's too special to you.'

'Oh, you most definitely can, lad,' Ida said, carefully lifting the necklace from the box. Her old hands shook a little but moved with purpose, and soon she had clasped the chain behind Harry's neck. 'There, look – a perfect fit. It's like it's meant to be.'

Ida wasn't wrong; the clover settled perfectly in between his collar bones. Harry beamed at the woman. 'Thank you, really. It means a lot.'

'Yer more than welcome, love,' she said, returning his smile before turning back to Snape. 'Now, Tobes, what's this I heard about a roast chicken?'

Goliath took the mention of food as a cue to start yapping at their feet. Harry laughed and knelt down, rubbing the small dog under his chin.

'Calm down, boy, it's not for you,' he said fondly.

'You listen to the lad,' Ida agreed, wagging her finger at the chihuahua, 'you've already had yer dinner, an' you need to watch that waistline!'

Harry grinned, giving the dog's pudgy tummy one final rub before standing up.

'Do you need any help with the food?' he asked Snape.

'No, it's just about ready,' the man replied, and sure enough, they soon had a splendid roast dinner laid out on the table. The food was good, and, with Goliath's help, they made quick work of it. Before long, they were sat in the living room with steaming bowls of crumble and custard whilst Ida regaled Harry with stories about a young Snape, much to the subject's chagrin.

'I thoroughly refute the use of that adjective,' the professor cut in at one point, a small frown on his forehead.

'Well, I refute yer refuting, lad,' Ida replied, a playful glint in her eye. 'It might've been in yer own quiet way, but you were most definitely a cheeky boy.'

Snape said nothing, the tips of his ears turning a definite shade of pink.

'How so, Ida?' Harry asked, ignoring the death glare he received from his guardian.

'Oh, him and Paddy got up to some right mischief when they were little ones,' Ida answered, smiling reverently. 'If I remember correctly, one time – Toby must've been no more than four - they broke into Gerard's tool shed an' painted the whole thing pink!'

Harry laughed at the image. 'Why pink?'

'Why, that were Toby's favourite colour, of course! He used to love it – I think I've got a photo back home of him all dressed up in one of me pink-'

'That crumble was delicious, Ida,' Snape interrupted loudly, placing his bowl down on the coffee table. 'I am sure that we could talk the night away, but Harry and I must begin to tidy up if we are to leave on time.'

'I get the hint, love,' Ida said, winking at Harry. 'I'll make meself scarce. Besides, Goliath needs a walk before bedtime, or his indigestion will play up.'

They walked her to the door and said their goodbyes, which involved a lot of crushing hugs from Ida and slobbery kisses from Goliath, and then she was gone. As the door swung shut behind the jovial old lady, a strange feeling tugged at Harry's gut. He frowned and bit his lip, trying to push the unsettling sensation to the back of his mind, where it had been gnawing away at him all day. His change in mood did not go unnoticed by Snape.

'Come now, you will see Ida again before long. It is hardly something to cry about,' the professor chided, his tone far from sharp.

Harry opened his mouth to retort that he was not crying, but closed it again, blushing, as he realised to his horror that tears were indeed threatening to spill.

'It's- it's not that,' he said quietly. 'I'm… not sure what it is, really.'

Snape raised a discerning eyebrow at him. Harry shifted uncomfortably under the penetrating gaze; sometimes it felt as if the man could see right into his soul.

'Very well,' Snape said, after a long silence. 'Go and get into your nightclothes. I will do the washing up and then join you in the living room.'

'What- but- I can't turn up to the Weasleys' in my pyjamas,' Harry protested. Although dismayed that he could not travel to Hogwarts with Snape, Harry had been excited when the professor had told him that he would be spending the night at Ron's house before boarding the train the following day. The thought of arriving at The Burrow for the first time dressed in his chequered pyjamas, however, was an embarrassing one.

'You can and you will,' Snape replied. 'You will be going straight to bed when you get there, and I am certain that the Weasley family will not be offended by your attire. If it really concerns you, you may borrow one of my jumpers to wear whilst we travel.'

'Fine,' Harry acquiesced, frowning. Relief flashed briefly in Snape's eyes; neither of them really wanted an argument tonight. Tentatively, he continued, 'Are we… is there still going to be time for us to read before we leave?'

'That depends on how quickly you decide to get dressed,' Snape answered, looking pointedly at the staircase. As Harry mounted it, taking the steps two at a time, the man called after him, 'Perhaps try and find a way to articulate what is troubling you so much whilst you get changed.'

Harry bounced into the living room no more than five minutes later, dressed in his pyjamas. He snagged a navy fleece from the neat pile of laundry by the ironing board and was pulling it over his head as Snape entered the room, a mug of tea in each hand.

'Well?' the man inquired, setting the mugs down on the coffee table. Harry noticed that he forewent his usual armchair, taking a seat on the sofa. 'Have you drawn a conclusion about what brought you so close to tears?'

Harry pouted slightly at the reminder, but nodded, dropping down in his spot at the other end of the settee.

'I'm really excited about going back to Hogwarts, and I'm happy that I'm going to see my friends again-'

'Mm, I too would be upset if I were faced with a whole term surrounded by little Gryffindors,' Snape mused, nodding in mock sympathy.

'You know I'm not finished,' Harry grumbled, internally relieved that the man was keeping the mood light. 'I'm excited about going back, but… I- I'm really going to miss… this.'

Snape nodded slowly, his expression unreadable. After a long silence, the professor lightly cleared his throat and said, 'As am I.'

'Really?' Harry's eyebrows shot up. Part of why he had refrained from putting his feelings into words sooner was because he felt so foolish for feeling them; he had assumed that surely Snape would be glad to be rid of him, to finally have Harry out from under his feet.

Snape nodded again. 'I am just as surprised as you are, but it would seem that I have become accustomed to- well, no, enjoyed your company. I shall be sorry to see you less often.'

'Oh,' Harry said softly, a warm feeling filling his chest. Frowning slightly, he searched for the courage to ask the question that had been playing on his mind since before he started packing. 'How- how different are things going to be once we're back at Hogwarts?'

'You know that we must keep my guardianship of you a secret, so inevitably we must keep up a pretence in public,' Snape replied. 'I will have to treat you much the same as I did last year.'

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Snape stopped him with a raised finger.

'It is for your own safety, Harry,' the man continued, his words firm but gentle. 'Besides, you are welcome in my chambers whenever you want, and when we are alone there will be no need to pretend - it will be no different to being here. And I shall endeavour to be slightly less 'cruel and horrible' than last year when we are in public.'

Harry grinned at the use of his own words from so many months ago. 'Alright,' he said, settling back into the sofa. Feeling a lot calmer, he opened his book and lost himself in the story.

All too soon, Snape flipped shut his own book and declared that it was time to go. Harry stuck out his bottom lip and tried his best pleading eyes, but at the reminder that they did not want to keep the Weasleys waiting, he reluctantly pushed himself up from the sofa.

'Ah, I almost forgot,' Snape said as Harry slotted his book back into the shelf. 'Here – you have something else to pack.'

Frowning, Harry spun around from the bookshelf. 'That's impossible! I triple checked, and-' he stopped at the sight of a package in the man's hands, carefully wrapped in brown paper with a dark green ribbon. 'Oh. What's that?'

'Have a look for yourself.'

Harry accepted the parcel, slipping off the ribbon and unfolding the paper. Inside was a heavy book, bound in black leather. He flicked to a random page and saw that it was a Potions compendium, but unlike any he had ever seen before; the instructions for each potion filled only the central portion of each page, with two blank columns down either side. Curious, he flipped through a few more pages, catching sight of an inscription on the inside cover – Property of H.J. Potter

Surprised, he looked up at Snape. 'It's mine?'

The professor nodded. 'The blank space on each page is for additional notes and alterations. With your penchant for experimentation, I thought you may find good use for it. You are welcome to put it to use in my personal laboratory at Hogwarts, if you so desire.'

Harry looked down at the book and back up at his guardian, lost for words. At his silence, Snape continued, 'I know that it is not the most exciting gift. I do not expect you to-'

Harry placed the book on the coffee table and flung himself at the man, cutting him off. Snape tensed slightly but soon returned the hug, placing one hand on the back of Harry's head and holding him tight with the other.

'Thank you,' Harry mumbled into his chest.

'It's nothing, really.'

Harry pulled back slightly and looked up at the man, shaking his head. 'No, I mean, thank you for everything.'

Snape did not reply, but for once, his gaze was perfectly readable. It radiated slight surprise, a hint of gratitude, and, above all else, an incredible warmth; one that Harry would have doubted could have existed at all in the professor a few months ago, let alone be directed at him. Grinning, he leant back into the hug.

They remained in the embrace for a while longer, the action speaking words that neither of them could articulate. Eventually, Snape patted Harry's shoulder and quietly said, 'Alright, then. We should be off.'

His trunk and Hedwig's cage were already stacked neatly by the door when they entered the hallway. Hedwig hooted reproachfully from her perch at the sight of them, and Harry threaded his fingers through the bars to give her neck a sympathetic scratch. 'Sorry, girl. You'll have all of Hogwarts to fly around soon.'

He took his rucksack from where it hung on the hook and carefully slipped the Potions compendium into it, slinging it over his shoulder.

'Ready?' Snape asked. At Harry's nod, he picked up the trunk in one hand and held out Hedwig's cage in the other. 'Take this. Do not let go if you want to see her at the other end.'

Widening his eyes, Harry gripped the handle of the cage tightly. 'Can't we use the Floo instead?' he asked, wrinkling his nose at the unpleasant memory of their last apparition. 'I don't think apparating agrees with my body.'

'You will find it less unpleasant now that you know what to expect, I am sure,' Snape replied, an amused glint in his eye. 'Besides, it is considered rude to Floo directly into someone's home if you are not good friends with the owner.'

'And you're not good friends with Ron's parents?'

Snape raised a wry eyebrow. 'I would not call us bosom buddies, no.' He placed his hand on Harry's shoulder. 'Take a deep breath. We shall apparate on the count of three. One, two-'

'Wait!' Harry turned to the professor, panicked. At the questioning look he received, he stuttered, 'I just- I- I wasn't ready to go.'

Blushing, he looked away from the man, his gaze lingering instead on the kitchen that he had spent so much time in over the last month. His raincoat no longer hung on its hook by the door, and his schoolbooks were not strewn across the table, but the mug that he always had tea in still sat next to the kettle, and there were faint muddy scuffs on the back step where he had kicked off his trainers countless times.

'It's still going to be there when you come back, Harry,' Snape said. 'The house will not collapse in your absence.'

Harry turned back to him, surprised. 'I'm coming back? Definitely?'

Snape nodded. 'Should you choose to remain at Hogwarts for the holidays, that is perfectly fine, but you will have a home here for as long as you want and need one.'

A home. Harry had never really had one of those before, not outside of Hogwarts; Privet Drive had been little more than four walls and a roof over his head, and he had been too young to remember the house that he had shared with his parents. He couldn't help but grin at the concept. 'Thanks, sir,' he said quietly.

Snape allowed a rare smile in return, squeezing Harry's shoulder. 'Shall we try apparating again?'

Harry nodded.

'Very well. Are you sure that you are ready?'

'I'm sure,' he said, tightening his grip on Hedwig's cage and taking one last look around the hallway.

'On the count of three: one, two, three,'

Severus looked up at the teetering conglomerate of woefully incongruent architecture in amusement. Trust the Weasleys to inhabit such a rickety yet oddly impressive abode.

'It's amazing,' breathed the boy next to him.

'That's one word for it,' Severus agreed. It was certainly amazing that the building was still standing. He stepped forward to knock on the door, asking, 'How do you feel?'

'Fine, actually,' Harry answered. 'You were right – it wasn't as bad as last time.'

'Good,' Severus said, slightly relieved. Molly Weasley was a famously fierce matriarch, and he knew that he would be under her scrutiny for his care of the boy. It would not do to present a queasy-looking child to her, even if it was only apparition sickness.

The door swung open in front of them, revealing Arthur Weasley in a patchwork dressing gown. 'Severus,' he acknowledged politely.

'Arthur,' Severus returned, shaking the man's proffered hand. 'How is the family?'

Before Arthur could open his mouth to answer, his wife appeared at his side, directing a very stern look at Severus.

'I'll tell you now, Severus Snape,' she said, wagging a finger at him, 'if you haven't been looking after that poor boy to the very best of your ability…'

She tailed off as she caught sight of Harry behind him. 'Harry, dear,' she said warmly, 'come here, let me have a look at you.'

'Hi, Mrs Weasley,' Harry said, stepping into the warm light of the doorway. Molly looked him up and down, and, apparently satisfied that he was in one piece, pulled him into a tight hug. When the Weasley matriarch caught Severus' eye again over Harry's shoulder, the sternness had vanished from her face, and she was instead regarding him with a motherly tenderness. Silently, she mouthed, 'Thank you.'

In another time, the gesture would have rankled Severus. He would have taken the gratitude at Potter's health as an implication that the task of caring for the boy was beyond Severus; that he must have extended himself to achieve it. That was in another time, however. He was certain now that Molly's words were genuine.

A blind man could have seen that Harry had thrived under Severus' care. The boy standing between them was far from the scrawny child that had disembarked the Hogwarts express at the beginning of summer – he now filled out his clothes properly, had definitely gained a few inches in height, and he carried himself with a new confidence that was notable even in the fading light. He was simply well, and Severus knew that Molly saw that; her words were an utterance of approval - an invitation into the common ground that those who cared about the same person shared.

Severus nodded his acknowledgement, allowing his features to soften a little. Molly smiled back at him and gave the boy in her arms one final squeeze before releasing him and standing back.

'Would you like to stay for tea, Severus?' she offered affably. 'I was just about to put the kettle on.'

'Thank you, but I must refuse. I have business to attend to at the school.' In truth, his only business at Hogwarts was a glass of 1976 single malt Scotch in front of a roaring fire, but it had been his tradition since he began teaching and it was not one that he was about to forgo for a cup of tea. 'Besides, I have already occupied too much of your evening as is.'

'Oh, nonsense. You're welcome here, Severus,' Molly said, with a firm sincerity in her eyes. She turned to the boy next to her. 'Are you ready for bed, dear?'

Harry nodded. 'I'm in my pyjamas and stuff, yeah… but, erm, can I…' he glanced meaningfully between Severus and Molly, the latter of whom gave him a knowing smile.

'Go on, love, you take all the time you want,' she said, gently propelling the boy towards Severus. 'Arthur and I will be in the kitchen – just give us a shout when you're ready for me to show you upstairs.'

'Thanks, Mrs Weasley,' Harry said, returning the woman's smile. His gaze lingered on her as the couple retreated from the room, then he turned back to Severus, his eyes displaying an uncertainty that matched Severus' own. The child opened his mouth slightly as if he were going to speak, but closed it swiftly, biting his lip.

Equally unsure, Severus resorted to what he knew best: the rules. 'I expect you to be on your best behaviour for the Weasleys,' he said. 'That means no cheek, no whining, and make sure to say thank you before they leave King's Cross.'

'I will,' Harry replied indignantly. 'I'm not a child, you know.'

Severus raised an eyebrow. 'I think the dictionary may disagree with your definition of child, Harry. And you must keep in mind that the Weasley family are doing us quite a favour by taking you to Hogwarts – they already have their hands rather full with children. '

'I know,' the boy said quietly, looking intently at the floor where he was toeing the edge of the frayed doormat with his shoe. 'It's not too late for me to travel to Hogwarts with you tonight.'

When he met Severus' gaze again, the child's eyes were full of an almost desperate hope.

'Harry…' Severus struggled to ignore the pang of guilt in his stomach, cursing the boy's unnatural ability to resemble a sad puppy. 'You know that is not an option. Suspicion will be aroused if you are not onboard the Hogwarts Express, and suspicion is dangerous.'

Harry nodded glumly, his shoulders deflating slightly. 'I s'pose.'

'Besides, this is not a real goodbye. I will see you tomorrow evening in the Great Hall.'

His words were met by an angry glare. 'Yeah, but things will be different. It won't be, you know… happy… like summer's been.'

Ah. A sense of understanding settled on Severus. He was well acquainted with the desperate need to cling onto what felt like transient happiness that the boy was exhibiting, and he was uncomfortably certain that Harry's too had arisen from a childhood all too parched of joy.

'Moving forwards does not make null the past, Harry. Nothing that happens from this point onwards will change what occurred this summer,' he said gently, hoping that his words were enough to reassure the child that the security he had felt over the holidays was far from transient. 'As much as it rankles me to admit it, I care about you, boy, and I will do whatever I can to ensure that you are… well, as you put it, happy.'

Severus stopped, furrowing his brow slightly at his uncharacteristic display of emotion. He had not intended to speak the final sentence aloud, but it was true nonetheless, and it was apparently what Harry needed to hear.

'Okay,' the boy said quietly, the obvious tension dissolving from his posture.

Relieved, Severus continued in a lighter tone, 'Besides, I am sure you will derive enough joy from whatever mischief you contrive with Miss Granger and Mr Weasley as soon as you are back at Hogwarts.'

Harry grinned at the mention of his friends. 'Mischief?' he repeated, eyes widening innocently. 'No idea what you mean, sir.'

Severus chuckled. 'Well, at least try and stay out of trouble for one night. Remember, the Weasleys-'

'Are doing us a big favour and that I am to be on my best behaviour. You already said,' Harry finished. At Severus' raised eyebrow he added, 'I'm not being cheeky, sir – just showing that I'm listening. I won't cause the Weasleys any trouble.'

'I should hope so,' Severus said firmly. Softening his features, he leant forwards and gave the child's shoulder a squeeze. 'Goodbye, Harry. Sleep well.'

'Bye, Snape,' the boy replied, beaming at him. 'See you tomorrow.'

Severus cast a final appraising look over the boy and nodded, before turning and striding out of the front door. The summer had brought about such a marked change in him, he mused, that even the impertinent use of his surname was almost endearing.

As the cool night air hit his face, Severus took a moment to steel himself for the coming term, shaking off stray sentimental thoughts and unnecessary emotion. With one last glance at The Burrow, Professor Snape vanished into thin air.

Harry watched the door swing shut behind Snape, pensive. He did not have long to contemplate the man's parting words, however, before a familiar voice rang out across the room.

'What the bloody hell was that?' came the exclamation from behind him. Harry spun around to see his best friend, wide-eyed and pyjama-clad, standing at the foot of the stairs. He had no idea how long Ron had been there, but judging by the way that the redhead was gaping at him, it had been long enough to witness a fair bit of his exchange with Snape.

'Erm, hi, Ron,' he said, trying and failing to find the words for an explanation. Harry had known that he would have to broach the topic of his new guardian with his friends at some point, but he'd been banking on at least one more night to mull over exactly how he was going to phrase it.

Fortunately, Mrs Weasley chose that moment to re-enter the living room. She opened her mouth as if to address Harry, but quickly noticed the other occupant of the room, and instead swooped down upon her youngest son with the fury that only an angry mother can summon.

'Ronald Weasley! You are supposed to be in bed!'

Ron's eyes grew even wider and he backed up the stairs. 'I was, I swear! I just- there were voices, and I was thirsty- I thought-'

'Well you thought wrong, young man! Your father and I expressly told you when to go to bed – we thought, for once, Harry here deserved a little peace-'

'Honestly, Mrs Weasley, its fine-' Harry tried to interject on Ron's behalf, but he was quickly waved down by the fearsome matriarch.

'And besides,' she continued, hands on her hips, 'you know thatwe have an early start tomorrow, Ronald. This is not the night to be stomping up and down the stairs and waking your siblings!'

'I did go to bed! And I wasn't stomping-Ouch, Mum!'

Harry winced in sympathy as Mrs Weasley landed a none-too-gentle smack on Ron's behind.

'You watch your tone with me, young man. You're lucky that Harry's here, or else-'

'I'm sorry,' Ron mumbled quickly, flushing beet red.

'Hm,' Mrs Weasley intoned sceptically. 'To bed with you, mister. Sharpish – if you're not tucked in by the time I get up there…'

'I'm going, I'm going!' Ron said, shooting Harry an apologetic look and darting up the stairs.

'Sorry about that, dear,' Mrs Weasley said, turning to Harry. 'Ready for bed?'

Harry nodded, slightly taken aback by the sudden return of her normal geniality.

'Perfect. Arthur's already taken your trunk upstairs, so I'll just show you where the loo is and then we can get you settled. This way, love.'

He followed Mrs Weasley up the stairs, trying his best to focus as she described the plan of action for the following day. It was hard not to be distracted – he had never been inside a wizarding family's house before, and The Burrow practically exuded magic from its very walls. There was not a corner without some curious housework charm in action, and the walls were cluttered with moving family photos and enchanted Quidditch memorabilia. It was beyond what Harry could have imagined, but it suited the Weasleys eminently, and he could not help but feel at ease there.

Once they reached the top of the winding staircase, Mrs Weasley placed a finger on her lips and quietly pushed open the first door. Inside was a small attic room with two single beds, one of which was already occupied by a balled-up duvet and a mop of red hair. The walls were plastered with intensely orange Chudley Cannons posters, and the room teetered on the fine line between messy and tidy in a way that was very Ron.

'There you are, dear,' Mrs Weasley said softly. 'We're up bright and early, so do try and get some rest. Go on, into bed.'

Harry climbed into the empty bed and pulled the covers up, smiling at the woman. 'Thanks, Mrs Weasley. Night.'

'Goodnight, love. Sleep tight.'

With that, she stepped out of the room, drawing the door shut behind her with a soft click. Harry sank back into the soft pillows, waiting for the inevitable. Sure enough, no more than two minutes later, there was a rustling noise from the bed next to him.

'Harry?' Ron whispered loudly. 'Harry, are you awake?'

'Yeah,' Harry replied, scooting up the bed so that he was propped against the headboard. 'I s'pose I've got some explaining to do.'

'Just a little, mate.'

Taking a deep breath, Harry outlined the events of the past month as best he could. To his relief, Ron didn't interrupt him once, simply listening. Once he was finished, the redhead let out a low whistle.

'Sounds like you've had quite a summer, Harry,' he said. 'I'm sorry for being a git earlier, you know. I just didn't expect to come downstairs and see you holding hands with Snape.'

'We were not holding hands,' Harry grinned, tossing a cushion at Ron's head.

Ron caught the cushion, laughing. 'Yeah, well, close enough. Seriously, though, mate,' he continued, his tone more sober, 'I'm sorry that you lost your aunt and uncle, but I know they weren't the nicest. Even if it's hard to believe, it sounds like Snape's really got your back, and I'm happy for you. You, erm… you deserve that.'

Harry gaped at his usually emotionally illiterate friend, a sense of immense gratitude filling his chest. 'Thanks, Ron,' he said quietly.

'It's just the truth,' Ron replied sincerely. 'While we're at it, have you got any other secret guardians to tell me about? You don't sleep at McGonagall's on weekends, do you?'

'Don't be ridiculous,' Harry said, 'that would clash with my Sunday morning manicures with Filch.'

Ron snorted and flopped back on his sheets. 'Yeah, 'course.'

They lay in comfortable silence for a while. Just as Harry was beginning to suspect that Ron had fallen asleep, the other boy spoke up again.

'It's really good to see you, Harry.'

Harry smiled in the dim light. 'Yeah, you too, mate.'


'Night, Ron.'

As Harry drifted off to sleep, his last thoughts were ones of absolute contentment. Whatever Dobby had promised was waiting for him at Hogwarts, there was no doubt in his mind that he would not be facing it alone.

And that's the end of summer – on to Hogwarts! Thank you so much for reading – I really hope that you enjoyed it. If you have time, I'd love to hear from you in a review (critique included), but even if not, have a good day :)

I am genuinely ever so sorry that I took so long to update this chapter, especially as with everything going on write now, I know that regular fic updates are particularly valued. It was a combination of being slightly overwhelmed by work/life, general fatigue, and just writing at a snail's pace – I wrote the chapter in chunks over more than a month, which is very unlike me! I apologise, and I will try and do better in the future.

I know that the bottom of a fanfic is not the best place to mention this, but also do please get involved in BLM. In whatever way you can – donate, sign petitions, protest, educate yourself – I think (perhaps controversially) that even silent support is still a form of support, so please, do your bit :)

[Also, American/English difference side-note: when Snape says 'I will do the washing up', he's not saying that he's going to clean his hands/face in a syntactically strange way – in the UK, 'to do the washing up' means to wash the dishes]