Author's Note:

Thanks to everyone who is still reading and to all of my generous readers who leave me comments and let me know you're still here! I've been trying to plan out the next few chapters and was deciding on some major plot points, but hopefully we've got an exciting few chapters ahead.

To any of my readers living in India, or those with family/friends/loved ones there, I just want you to know I'm thinking about you and sending love. I hope EVERYONE is staying healthy. Be safe.

I hope you enjoy the chapter!

The sound of metal slamming together resonated around them as Snape opened the rickety garage door. Harry stood behind him, peering inside. Dust floated through the rays of sunlight illuminating a cluttered mess of random knick-knacks, old tools, lawn chairs, and gardening supplies. Two rusted bicycles with deflated tires hung on the back wall, looking very much in a sorry and neglected state.

Closing the garage door behind them, Snape pulled out his wand and floated the two bikes from the back wall until they were sitting in front of him. With the wave of his wand and a few quick spells, the bikes were clean, the tires inflated, and the frames straightened.

"That should do," Snape said, nodding in satisfaction at his own handiwork. He turned to Harry with a mischievous glint in his eye, "Unless of course, you'd prefer I add streamers and a basket to your handlebars?"

"Very funny," Harry replied, smiling sarcastically before giving Snape an impressive scowl.

Snape let the corner of his mouth turn up slightly in amusement. "Yes, I thought so."

When Harry grabbed one of the bikes, Snape realized he would have to make some additional adjustments, the seat came up past the middle of the boy's chest. He often forgot just how small Harry really was for a 12 year-old. He honestly didn't look a day over 10.

"Stand next to the bike and hold it still, it's way too big for you." Once again, Snape pointed his wand at the bike and shrank it down to an appropriate size. With a final flick of his wrist, he turned the bike a shiny red color.

Harry smiled. "Wicked! Thanks!"

Snape put his wand away and opened the garage door again, leaving the bigger bike inside as he made his way into the sunlight. Unfortunately the driveway was made of gravel, so he'd have to take Harry up to the main road and just pray it stayed devoid of cars. Thankfully there were few people living in Cardigan and traffic on this particular country road was practically non-existent. Nonetheless, before he left the garage, Snape grabbed an empty cardboard box and silently transfigured it into a helmet.

"Put this on," he said sternly.

Harry turned around to see Snape holding a bicycle helmet. "Are you having a laugh? I'm not wearing that, I'll look like an idiot. No one wears a helmet!"

"You will, if you want to get on this bike," Snape said firmly. It was not up for discussion. He stared Harry down for a moment before he continued. "While I consider myself quite proficient at healing spells, there is a limit to what magic can do. I can mend your bones and heal your bruises, but if you damage your brain, there's not a healer in the world who can fix it. I mean it, Harry, you will not ride this bike without a helmet. Ever. Do you understand?" He fixed a stern gaze on the boy without blinking.

Harry knew it was futile to argue with the man. As annoyed as he was, there was still a part of him deep down that felt happy to know that someone cared for him enough to keep him safe. Even if he was going to look like a prat.

"Fine," Harry moaned, as he grabbed the helmet out of Snape's hand. "But can't you at least make it invisible or something?"

"I will not. Now if you're done whinging, we'll get started." Snape gestured for Harry to keep walking. Once Harry turned away again, Snape glanced quickly around him before pulling out his wand and silently casting a quick cushioning charm on the boy. He was tempted to spell the bike with a stability charm, but he figured he'd be doing Harry a disservice in the long run.

When they got to the road, Harry put on his helmet and clicked the strap under his chin. He let out a loud groan. "I look ridiculous."

"You'd look a whole lot more ridiculous with tubes coming out of every orifice and me having to wipe drool off your face all day," Snape said matter of factly.

"OK, OK, I get it." Harry rolled his eyes and then focused on holding the handlebars with both hands. Next he threw his right leg over the bike, keeping one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal. He turned back around to look at Snape. "So, now what?"

"Put your weight on the pedal, and push down as quickly as you can. The more speed you can get, the easier it will be to maintain balance. I'll hold onto the bike for now, but don't stop pedaling. Are you ready?"

Harry swallowed nervously and nodded his head.

Snape gripped the back of the bicycle seat and stood with one leg on either side of the back wheel. "Up you get, I won't let the bike fall."

Harry lifted up his other foot and put it on the peddle, slowly pushing it down. He knew Snape had a grip on the seat, but he could still feel the bike wobbling. "I'm going to fall!"

"Keep pedaling. You need more speed to stay straight."

Snape gave him a bit of a push as he jogged along the back. Once Harry got going, he let go of the seat and Harry continued to peddle. After a second or two, the bike wobbled a bit and Harry panicked. He stopped pedaling, but just as he tried to put a foot down, the bike fell over on the right side, taking him with it.

Snape squeezed his eyes shut. He was glad he'd put on a cushioning charm, but he knew he couldn't prevent the boy from getting a bit bruised and scraped. He hated to see him fall, but he knew it was part of the process.

Without a word, Harry got up and dusted himself off. His hands were a little scraped but nothing hurt too bad. He looked back at Snape with a half smile. "I'm fine."

Snape nodded and tried to keep his cool as he walked toward the boy and helped him pick up the bike. "Don't stop moving your feet, just keep pedaling and you'll keep forward momentum. Try again."

For twenty minutes, Harry continued to hop on his bike with Snape behind him. He fell at least a dozen times, but each time, got up again without complaint or fanfare. As painful as it was for Snape to watch him fall over and over again, he said nothing, and just held the bike each time Harry got back on. He hated to see him fall, but he was encouraged by the boy's perseverance.

Finally, after another few attempts, when Snape let go of the bike, Harry kept pedaling. Snape stood back as the boy rode further and further down the road.

"I'm doing it!" Harry shouted out. "Look! I'm riding a bike!"

When he'd gotten a hundred meters down the road, he braked and put his foot down. He managed to stop himself without falling over, his face beaming with pride. He turned the bike around and gave it a running push and hopped on, pedaling quickly to maintain his balance despite his handlebars wobbling uncomfortably. He rode back toward Snape and stopped right in front of him.

"I did it," he said, the sense of accomplishment radiating off of his face.

"I had no doubt you would." Snape gave him a small pat on the shoulder. "Well done. Now put the bike away and I'll heal your hands."

Harry looked down and saw his hands were raw from being scraped on the pavement. He also noticed a small hole in the knee of his jeans with a bit of blood seeping through. He looked up sheepishly at Snape. "Uh, sorry about my jeans."

"I'll fix them when we get inside," Snape said dismissively. He couldn't care less about the jeans, he was just glad Harry was still in one piece. The whole exercise had been way more stressful than he anticipated and he was glad there was nothing more to fix than a tiny hole in a pair of jeans.

Harry put his bike away in the garage and took off his helmet, clipping it onto the handlebars before following Snape inside.

When they got to the parlor, Harry sat on the couch while Snape crouched next to him on the floor, smearing a healing salve on his hands and then on his knee. With a lazy flick of his wrist, he removed the blood and mended the hole in his jeans. He then took each of Harry's arms in his hands, and one at a time, he carefully checked him over for any other injuries.

"Can I ride my bike over to Patrick's house?" Harry asked, looking at Snape with pleading eyes. "Please?"

Snape glared at Harry with a resolute look in his eyes. "Absolutely not." His nerves had had enough for one day, there was no way he was going to send the boy off a mile down the road on his own.

"But why not?" Harry whined. "I'm 12 years-old. Patrick's only 11 and his mum lets him ride around by himself."

Snape stood up and exhaled audibly. He loathed hearing that whiny tone from any child, and he was not about to tolerate it from Harry. "First of all, stop whining, I can promise you that I will never be inclined to entertain your argument when you whine like a toddler. Second of all, I am not responsible for Patrick, I'm responsible for you. I've said 'No' and it isn't up for discussion."

Harry sat back further on the couch and crossed his arms, his face scrunched up in a scowl. "It's not fair, you treat me like a little kid. I can take care of myself, you know, I did just fine before you showed up."

Snape bent down so his face was directly in front of Harry's. He grabbed the boy's chin in one hand, narrowed his eyes, and let his voice drop down to a low grumble. He wasn't angry, but he wasn't about to see this conversation devolve into a full-blown tantrum. "Mind your cheek, Mr. Potter. If you keep this up, I will treat you exactly like a small child and you'll spend the next half hour in the corner with a well-smacked bottom."

Harry's ears burned red and he dropped his gaze. He hated the way Snape could make him feel like he'd already been punished just with his words. He was pretty sure he wasn't in real trouble, but he took this as a warning and shut his mouth.

Snape let go of the boy's chin, stood up slowly and allowed his face to return to a neutral expression. "Now then, if you're quite done, we can have some tea and discuss things rationally. Am I clear?"

Harry nodded.

"Pardon?" Snape said as he crooked an eye-brow.

"Yes, sir."

Snape gave a single nod and headed to the kitchen. In the past, he would have scoffed at anyone suggesting he explain his decisions to a child. He was the adult, after all, he didn't owe an explanation to anyone, least of all some underage brat in his care. Nonetheless, he found himself wanting Harry to understand that he was making rules to keep him safe, not to make him miserable or keep him away from his friends.

As he puttered around in the kitchen making their tea, he rolled his eyes to himself. He was becoming soft. He used to make and enforce rules without a single care about whether some spoiled child would hate him for it. But now he found himself caring a great deal about what Harry thought and how he feels, and he didn't want the boy to think he was being a tyrant.

He set the tea service down in the parlor before making himself comfortable in his chair and clearing his throat softly. "I am not attempting to keep you from seeing your friend, but you have only just learned how to ride a bike. Once I'm sure you're safe and we've established rules for where you can go and what you can do, I will be happy to allow you to ride bikes with Patrick. But not today."

Harry sipped at his tea before setting it down. "Can I go out and ride again soon?"

"As long as you keep up with your work and do as you're told, you are more than welcome to spend your free time riding your bike in front of the house. I just want you to stay within eyesight until I'm sure you can ride safely. Do you understand?" He phrased it as a question, but his tone left no question that this was the way it was going to be.

"Yes, sir," Harry replied, nodding his head in earnest. He was determined to be on his best behavior. If he couldn't fly his broom, riding a bike was the next best thing and he desperately wanted to have the chance to go out and join the other kids.

Over the next several days, Harry and Snape continued in their routine with little drama. Harry had become accustomed to doing his schoolwork and spending afternoons and evenings in the potions lab. During his free time, Harry would ride his bike, and Snape would watch from the driveway, completely convinced he was going to develop an ulcer. But as the days went on, Harry got better and better and soon he was riding his bike with ease.

As Thursday afternoon rolled by, Harry and Snape were reviewing History of Magic at the kitchen table when there was a knock on the door.

Harry jumped up to answer it, but Snape put a hand on shoulder and shook his head. "Stay here. Don't move."

Snape strolled casually to the door and looked through the peep-hole before letting out a low sigh and answering the door. "Ah, young Mr. Owens, to what do we owe this pleasure," he said sarcastically, looking down on the boy with a somewhat disapproving glare.

If Patrick was intimidated, he certainly didn't act like it. He smiled up at the scowling man, completely unfazed. "Hi Mr. Prince. I just wanted to see if Harry could maybe come out and play for a bit. Me and my friends are just riding bikes, we thought he'd like to come" he said as he gestured to boys on bikes in the distance.

My friends and I, thought Snape. Do they not teach grammar in schools anymore?

Despite Snape's concise instructions to stay put, Harry had slinked off the kitchen chair and was making his way quietly toward the front door in an attempt to hear what was going on. When he heard Patrick's voice, his face lit up, and he was filled with excitement. In all his years of childhood, no one had ever come to the door asking for him to come out and play. He couldn't help himself, he scurried toward the front entrance.

Snape did not invite Patrick in, and in fact he opened the door only wide enough for his face and shoulders to be visible from the outside,with the rest of his body blocking the opening entirely.

Nonetheless, Harry weaseled his way behind Snape, standing up on his tiptoes to make his head just visible over Snape's right arm. "Hi Patrick!"

Snape turned around to Harry and snapped, "Didn't I ask you to stay at the table?"

"But the door is for me!" Harry said incredulously. He looked up and gave Patrick a small wave.

Snape ignored the boy and turned back to Patrick. "I'm afraid Harry still has school work to complete today, but perhaps we can arrange something for tomorrow."

Patrick shrugged his shoulders, "OK. I'll come back tomorrow then." He was about to turn around and head back up the drive when Harry pushed himself between Snape and the door, forcing him to open it wider.

"That'd be great! I'll see you tomorrow!" Harry yelled out the door, smiling.

"Yeah, see you Harry," Patrick said somewhat dismissively as he picked his bike up off the gravel where he'd let it drop unceremoniously a few moments earlier. There were two other boys waiting up on the road as he walked his bike up toward them. Within ten seconds, and without another look backward all three boys were pedaling away. Harry could hear them talking and laughing as they disappeared down the street and he felt a pang of jealousy.

Snape closed the door, looked directly at Harry and scowled. "When I tell you to stay put, that's exactly what I mean. I don't speak just to hear myself talk."

"But he came to see me!" Harry exclaimed, annoyed that Snape was giving him a hard time.

"Yes, and if you'd like to spend time with him tomorrow, I'd suggest you mind your tone and go back to the table and finish your work," Snape said as he pointed to the kitchen. "We're only sitting here right now because you rushed through your assignment this morning. I hope you don't dare try to turn in that kind of rubbish when you're back at school. You should be ashamed to hand in something that atrocious."

Harry was clearly sulking as he walked back to the table. It was true, he had rushed through his essay this morning and done such a sloppy job, Snape was making him redo it instead of spending the afternoon in the potions lab. He looked up at Snape with big puppy dog eyes, "But it's not fair, other kids are playing outside and I'm stuck in here writing a stupid essay about the stupid History of Magic. You could have at least let me go out for a little while."

Snape was unmoved and irritated by the whiny tone, and he snapped his fingers and pointed to the kitchen chair. "Sit down. Focus on your work and we will finish this conversation when you're done."

With a dramatic sigh and the smallest roll of his eyes, Harry sat down in the chair and went back to writing his boring essay.

Later that night, when they were sitting in the parlor after dinner, Snape turned to Harry. "While I am reluctant to allow you to leave my sight, given your egregious history of getting into mischief, I do not want to deny you the opportunity to spend time with children your own age," he began, closing his book and then folding his hands on top of it as he looked over at the boy from his armchair.

"I'm not a child," Harry replied quickly, with clear annoyance in his tone. "I'm 12. And I'll be 13 in a few months."

"Well you're certainly not an adult and not yet a teenager," Snape replied, "Nevertheless, if you'd like to get out of this house and spend time with other adolescents your age, we need to set a few ground rules. Are you paying attention?" He scanned Harry's face with a pointed look in his eyes.

Harry smiled back at him and nodded. "Yes, I promise, I'll do whatever you say, please just let me go and hang out with him! I swear, I'll follow all of your rules."

"You'd better. While this goes against my better judgement, I am willing to allow you to spend time with Patrick, provided you follow every rule. To the letter." Snape paused for effect, staring down into those bright green eyes that were lit up with excitement.

"First of all, you do not ever, and I mean EVER leave our property without letting me know where you're going and whom you're with. I mean, exactly where you're going. If you tell me you are going to Patrick's house to play, I expect that is where you will be. Is this clear?"

Harry nodded his head enthusiastically. "Yep! I promise, I'll tell you where we are going."

"You will also be back before the sun sets, or whatever time I tell you to be back. If it takes you 15 minutes to get home, I will expect you factor that into your timing. If I say be back by 6, you will be here by 6, with your bike put up properly in the garage. I can promise if you are late or you make me go looking for you, you will not be a very happy boy when you return." Snape narrowed his eyes slightly and made his tone slightly more intimidating.

"Yes, sir, I promise. I'll be back whenever you say, I won't stay out after dark, I swear!" Harry promised, bringing his hands together in front of him as though he were praying.

"Very well...but I mean it, Harry. This is an exercise in trust. If I let you go out on your own with Patrick, I expect you to behave yourself and do exactly as you are told. I'm sure I do not need to go into detail about what would happen should you fail to follow my instructions." Snape lifted an eyebrow and hoped his veiled threat would be enough.

Harry nodded along enthusiastically. "I promise, I will do everything you tell me!"

"Well, that would certainly be a first," Snape quipped. "Alright then, up you get. Go change and get ready for bed, I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

Although Harry generally tended to argue when it came to bed time, this time Harry jumped up, eager to prove he could follow directions. As he skipped toward his room, he paused for a moment. He wanted to give Snape a hug as he passed by him in his armchair, but he stopped himself, not wanting to seem too soppy. Not to mention, Snape still didn't seem to be big on hugs.

The next day, at 3:30pm, there was again a knock at the door. This time Snape gave Harry a nod and the boy ran into the foyer to open it. As expected, Patrick was standing on the doorstep, looking relaxed and cool in his blue and white striped school rugby shirt.

"Hey mate, wanna come out? We were just gonna ride back to my place," Patrick said as he glanced behind Harry, keeping an eye out for Snape. If he was lucky, he'd escape without having to interact with the grumpy man today.

Harry turned back around and yelled to the kitchen, "Hey Dad, it's Patrick, can I go ride bikes with him?"

They had already discussed this at length the night before, and again during lunch, so although Harry tried to appear nonchalant in front of Patrick, Snape had already carefully laid out all of the rules and Harry knew exactly what was expected of him. Although he was trying not to let on, he had been waiting for this knock on the door all day.

Snape got up from the table and sauntered toward the front door. "You may. Please be home by 6:30pm at the latest...And wear your helmet," he added.

"Thanks, Dad!" Harry said as he threw his arms around Snape's waist, smiling hugely and unable to contain himself. Snape wasn't prepared for this unexpected display of affection, so he just gripped the open door and waited it out until Harry released him and bolted outside.

Snape stood in the doorway as Harry and Patrick walked their bikes up to the main road. As he watched Harry click on his helmet and jump on his bike, he said a silent prayer that he would stay safe, and he lingered on the threshold until he could no longer see the boys in the distance. As soon as they were out of eyesight, he closed the door, leaving it unlocked so that Harry could come right in as soon as he got back.

He had been looking forward to this alone time all day, but with Harry gone, the little cottage felt quiet and empty. He hated to admit him, but he felt a bit lonely without the boy there. For Merlin's sake, Severus, get it together, these are the only Potter-free hours you've had in weeks! He let out an exasperated sigh as he sat down in his chair and picked up his manuscript.

Over the next few hours, Snape constantly fretted and looked up at the clock. Time seemed to pass in slow-motion, and he was so distracted he barely edited three pages before he heard the front door open. He glanced up at the clock. It was only 6:22.

"I'm home!" Harry yelled from the foyer as he closed the door rather loudly behind him. He kicked off his trainers by the door and ran into the parlor, energy and joy just radiating off of him.

Snape was filled with relief, but he forced himself to look up casually, "You're back early, I may just die of shock," he drawled.

"Did you miss me?" Harry asked cheekily as he plopped himself down on the couch. His face was pink from wind and exertion and his hair was sticking up even worse than usual, but he was grinning from ear to ear.

"About as much as one might miss having a root canal," Snape replied drolly. "Without you here, I was finally able to get some work done." This was a complete and utter lie, but Snape wasn't about to admit he'd spent the entire time worrying about the boy, hoping he was safe and having fun, and completely unable to enjoy the peace and quiet he'd been looking forward to for weeks.

Without taking a breath, Harry put both of his arms behind his head and leaned back on the couch, talking a million words a minute. "It was so fun! We rode our bikes around and Patrick introduced me to his other friends, Gavin and Rhodri, they all go to school together, except Rhodri's in the class above, but he's really cool. And then we just hung out for a while in Patrick's yard. He has a dog named Coco, and we played with her for a while. She's so cute! She loves to play fetch and chase us on our bikes. And then we tossed around the rugby ball for a bit. Gavin plays rugby with Patrick, so they showed me how to pass and kick the ball. And then-"

Snape held up a hand and stopped him. "Take a deep breath before you hyperventilate. You sound like you've been hexed with Cheer-up Charm, you're absolutely manic."

"I'm not! It was just fun is all," Harry said as he wiped the sweat off of his brow with the back of his hand, smearing a thin layer of dirt all over his forehead.

After setting his papers aside, Snape looked back over at Harry, "Well, I'm pleased you were able to follow instructions and get back on time."

As he leaned in to get a better look at Harry, he scrunched his face up in disgust. The boy was covered in sweat and grime, and he thought he got the faintest whiff of teenage boy. "You're absolutely filthy. You look and smell like a farm animal that's been rolling around in a pigsty all afternoon. Go take a shower."

"But I showered this morning!" Harry whined.

"And now you will shower again. Off you go. If you stay another minute on the couch, I'll be forced to cast a fumigation spell to get the stench out."

Harry knew Snape was being melodramatic, but he got up and went to the shower, waiting to roll his eyes until after he was out of eyesight. But despite Snape's tepid welcome home, he had had a brilliant afternoon, and he couldn't wait to do it again.

After Snape put Harry to bed, he sat by the fireplace, quietly reading in his chair while he waited for Master Barclay to come through the floo. On time as always, Barclay popped through the flames at exactly 10pm.

"Good to see you, Severus," the older wizard said as he brushed the ash off of his jacket.

Snape stood up politely from his armchair to greet the man. "Good evening, Master Barclay." He gave his head a small bow and gestured to the couch, waiting for the man to make himself comfortable before he repositioned himself back in his chair. "Can I get you anything? A glass of wine or fire whiskey?"

"No, thank you Severus, I won't keep you long. I just wanted to update you on where we are with the apprenticeship."

"Yes, thank you for making the time to speak with me," Snape said as he smoothed his hands down his thighs, subconsciously soothing himself. He tried not to let his emotions show, but he was still exceptionally nervous.

"Things have fallen into place. As expected, I've had to grant a few favors, but I think we have the numbers. I've called a meeting for tomorrow. If all goes well, we will vote on the apprenticeship. Although not required, I feel it's imperative that you're there."

Snape was not a voting member of the APM board, but he knew most of them quite well. "I see. And should I bring Harry?"

"No, I think it's best you come alone. I'd like you to be there to answer any questions and to give your pitch, as it were. We're sitting on just enough votes, but I think if the board can hear from you directly, it will make things go more smoothly and we might be able to flip one or two more."

Barclay paused for a moment to look at Snape before he continued. He could tell the man was anxious, even if he refused to allow it to show. But Barclay knew him better than almost anyone, he could see the tiniest tension in his jaw and the nearly unblinking eyes that gave away that he had slid his Occlumency shields into place to avoid expressing any emotion.

"This is mostly just formality, Severus, I've worked hard the last several weeks to ensure we'd have the votes, and I'm confident we've got them. I just think having you there will certainly ease any concerns, and could buy us a few additional votes from those who are on the fence. There's nothing to be concerned about."

Snape nodded his head and hummed in agreement. He took a slow sip of his firewhiskey. "So this is tomorrow, you say? At the London headquarters?"

The APM had a large office in Hammersmith where they would often hold meetings. It also held the archives of several hundred years of Proceedings of the APM and other potions journals, as well as an enormous library of published books and theses of past members.

"Yes. Tomorrow at 2pm. If you'd like to come by my house early, we can go over anything you'd like to say and then floo to the HQ to make sure we're there before everyone arrives. It's likely to be a long day, Severus. I imagine there will be some spirited debate before we have the vote, even from those who have already pledged their support. I plan to ensure we have plenty of small breaks so you can schmooze and talk to the members individually. You know how these things are."

Just the thought of having to pander to these people filled Snape with loathing, but he knew it was part of the deal. He wanted to have as much support from the APM as possible, so he'd have to force away his antisocial tendencies and put on his best social graces for a day. It would be tiresome, but he would do it. He'd promised Harry he'd do everything possible to make sure this Apprenticeship was approved, and he wasn't one to go back on his word.

The two Potions Masters sat in silence for a few moments before Snape spoke up, setting his tumbler of whiskey down on the table with a soft but audible thud. He ran his right hand across his forehead, massaging his brow roughly with his thumb and forefinger as he closed his eyes. He let out an exasperated sigh. "I will have to find somewhere for Harry to go while I'm away. I'm not leaving him here on his own."

Barclay chuckled slightly. "I'm sure he'll be fine for a few hours, Severus. He's not a small child."

Snape opened his eyes and looked up from under his hand, raising an indignant eyebrow. "Then you obviously don't know Potter. I can assure you, when left to his own devices, the boy is a magnet for trouble. No, no, I will find somewhere for him to go for a few hours. Supervised."

"I see," Barclay smiled. "Well, do whatever you need to do, but try to floo to my place before noon. I would like to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible. If all goes well tomorrow, we will arrange for the bonding ceremony early next week."

Snape nodded his head. "Of course, Master Barclay. I'll be there."

And with that, Barclay got up to take his leave. Snape stood and walked him to the fireplace, pulling a small jar of floo powder off of the mantle and opening the lid before offering it to him. Barclay took a small handful of powder, said his farewell, and stepped into the fire.

Sitting back down in his chair, Snape reached for his firewhisky and finished it off in one large gulp. He had just let out another dramatic breath when he heard a door creak behind him.

"You're supposed to be sleeping, Mr. Potter," he said from his armchair, not needing to turn around to know the boy was peeking out of his bedroom. "Come here."

Harry couldn't tell if he was in trouble or not, Snape sounded irritated but calm. He opened his door fully and walked out, treading softly in his socks as he made his way toward the back of Snape's chair. "Sorry, sir, I just heard voices and I couldn't get back to sleep."

"Don't talk to the back of my head. Come here, Harry," he said, as he pointed to a spot directly in front of him.

Harry made a wide berth of the armchair, still unsure if he was in trouble and wanting to avoid coming within smacking distance, just in case. "Yes, sir?" he said in his most innocent voice, his head bowed slightly as he stared down at the rug.

Snape reached out and grabbed Harry's wrist, gently pulling him closer until he was standing between the man's knees. "Look at me, please." His voice was firm, but not angry. He waited for Harry's eyes to lift up before he continued. "It's rude to lurk in doorways and listen to other people's conversations. How much did you hear?"

Harry's head shot up and he shook his head. "I wasn't listening, honest! I just wanted to know who was here."

"If I'd wanted you to know, I would have told you, or arranged for this meeting while you were awake," Snape scolded mildly. He wasn't angry, but he didn't want Harry to make it a habit either. "I will not tolerate eavesdropping, do you understand?" He fixed his eyes on Harry as he made his point.

"Yes, sir. But I wasn't listening, I promise. I didn't hear anything."

"Good. As long as we're clear that if I ever catch you eavesdropping again, there will be consequences. This is your first and only warning" Snape tapped Harry's hand gently with his finger to emphasize his point. "Now, it's well past your bedtime, you should be asleep."

"Aren't you going to tell me who was here?" Harry asked.

"We will discuss it in the morning, right now you need to be in bed, you've had a long week." Snape stood up and put his hand on the boy's shoulders, turning him around and guiding him back in the direction of his room. "Off you go, back to bed," he said as he gave him two firm pats on the back.

"But I'm awake now, can't I just stay up for a little bit? It's the weekend. Pleeeease?" Harry whined, turning around to give Snape his best puppy dog eyes.

Unmoved, Snape shook his head. "Absolutely not. And quit your insufferable whining. It is way past your bedtime, and unless you'd like to go back to bed with a smarting backside—which I would be well within my rights to give you for sneaking around trying to listen to my private conversations—I'd suggest you get back in your bed straight away."

Harry let out another small whine and gave him one more backward glance.

Snape raised an eyebrow and pointed to his room. "That's enough. Now go, before I change my mind and put you over my knee first." He gave Harry a gentle push on the back of head. "Bed. Now."

Harry dragged his feet slowly and then turned around again. "Will you read to me again? Or just come sit with me? I don't think I can go back to sleep."

"We've already done the bedtime routine, Harry. You need to stop dawdling and go to sleep. Now. My patience is wearing thin." Snape crossed his arms and looked up at the clock on the mantle, it was nearly 11pm. He still needed to figure out what he was going to do with the boy tomorrow as well as spend some time thinking about his pitch to the APM. He didn't have time to play games with the brat right now and Harry knew better.

"Please?" Harry whined one more time as he got to the hallway. "Just a few minutes?"

Snape looked down at Harry menacingly and raised his right hand, snapping his fingers loudly and pointing down the hall. "To bed. Now. If you're not in bed by the time I count to three, you'll get the attention you're so desperately after but I can assure you it will not be pleasant."

Harry turned around and walked slowly toward his room. "It's only 11, I used to stay up way later than this at Hogwarts. It's not that big of a deal," he mumbled. "You always treat me like such a baby."

"One," Snape said loudly, ignoring Harry's whispered tirade.

"Fine, I'm going," Harry said loudly over his shoulder. "You don't have to count at me!"


Harry reached his door and turned around to scowl at Snape who was still standing in the parlor with his finger pointing at Harry's bedroom, unwavering.

"Goodnight, Harry. Now go to sleep!"

Snape waited until he heard the door click shut before he went back to his armchair. He picked up his empty tumbler and considered allowing himself another nightcap, but quickly decided against it. He didn't want to take any chances that he wouldn't be at his absolute best tomorrow. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, inhaling deeply and then slowly breathing out. He could feel the anxiety building up in him as his mind swirled with all of the potentially negative outcomes of tomorrow. He trusted Barclay had secured the votes, but he still worried deeply that something would go wrong and he'd lose the boy.

He sat quietly in contemplation for fifteen minutes as he tried to meditate himself out of his negative headspace. After calming himself down, he got up and washed his glass in the kitchen sink before walking back to Harry's room. He listened at the door for a moment before opening it slowly and peeking in.

Harry was tucked in bed on his left side, completely still. Whether he was sleeping or just pretending to be, Snape didn't care, as long as he was where he was supposed to be. He was tempted to go in and sit on the side of the bed, but he didn't want to wake him, so he closed the door softly, hoping the boy would soon be deep in slumber.

Seeing the boy so innocently in his bed gave Snape just the amount of motivation he needed to work on his pitch for the APM. Harry was finally settling into a routine and thriving under Snape's strict boundaries and tutelage, and the last thing he wanted was to have the boy ripped away and denied a certain and secure future. And with that in mind, Snape set to work on drafting what he would say.

The next morning, Snape let Harry sleep in a bit, since it was the weekend and they'd both had a late night. He had stayed up until at least 3 o'clock, scribbling notes and practicing what he would say to the APM. It was exhausting and stressful, but he was confident he was prepared, even if he wasn't looking forward to the whole ordeal.

When he dragged Harry out of bed around 9, Harry still looked half asleep. Normally Snape insisted that the boy comb his hair, put on clothes, and make himself presentable before he was allowed at the table, but he occasionally made an exception on the weekends, and Harry enjoyed being able to lounge around in his PJs for a bit.

The two ate breakfast quietly for a few minutes before Snape finally broke the silence, hoping Harry was awake enough now to hear what he was going to say.

"I have a meeting in London today, Harry, and I will be gone for most of the day," Snape said as he refilled his cup with tea.

Harry looked up from his plate, his eyes wide with anticipation, "Can I come too?"

Snape shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Not this time"

"So, you're just going to leave me here?" Harry was annoyed. Normally he'd enjoy having the house to himself, but he couldn't stand the idea of being left at home while Snape went off to London. "What am I supposed to do all day?"

"If you're asking if I'm leaving you here alone, the answer is no. I plan to call around to Ms. Owens to see if you can spend the day there with Patrick. I thought you might enjoy spending time with your friend. It should be nice out today, I'm sure there's plenty the two of you can do while I'm gone. Unless you'd rather I take you to Professor McGonnagal's office and allow her to supervise you doing school work all day." Snape took a casual sip of his tea and watched Harry carefully from over the top of the cup, unsure about how this was going to go over.

"No, I'd rather go to Patrick's," Harry said, unenthusiastically. If he really thought about it, he was actually pretty excited about the prospect of spending the day hanging out with the boy, but he didn't want Snape to know that. He still felt slightly put out that the man wasn't planning to take him along.

"I will call his mother shortly. Why don't you go get dressed and we can talk in the parlor for a bit."

Harry got up and brought his plate to the sink.

"You can leave the dishes, I'll take care of them today."

Harry glanced back at Snape with a look of surprise. The man must be feeling particularly generous today- not only did he let him sleep in and come to the table in pyjamas, now he was offering to do the dishes. Maybe he was feeling guilty about leaving Harry for the day. Good. He should do. He smiled to himself as he made his way to his room.

Snape pulled out the slip of paper Elizabeth had left for him with her phone number. He admired her flowery handwriting before picking up the ugly yellow rotary phone that was hanging on the kitchen wall. He started to dial the number, immediately annoyed at having to wait for the dial to rotate back to the neutral position after he spun each digit. He rolled his eyes. Muggle communication. So inefficient.

His heart started to beat a little faster as he heard the phone ringing on the other side. After three rings, he heard a female voice answer Hello? He paused for a moment to compose himself.

"Hello, may I please speak with Ms. Elizabeth Owens?" He was pretty sure it was her but he didn't want to be presumptuous.

"Speaking" she said from the other end of the phone.

Snape pulled the receiver away from his mouth for a moment as he cleared his throat. "Yes, this is Elliot Prince, your neighbor down the road. How are you?"

"Oh, Elliot! Good of you to call, I'm quite well, how are you?"

"I'm well, thank you. I'm actually calling to ask a favor. I apologize for the short notice, but I've been called away urgently today and unfortunately I cannot take Harry with me. I was hoping he might be able to spend the day at your place, with Patrick, if that wouldn't inconvenience you too much."

Snape paused, and waited for the reply. "Of course, Elliot! We would love to have him. Paddy usually spends the day outside with friends, I'm sure he'd be more than happy to include Harry."

He breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Thank you so much, I know Harry will be very excited. I need to leave around 11, would it be alright if I dropped him by then?"

"Absolutely. We'll be thrilled to see him. Does Harry have any allergies or medical issues I should know about?"

Snape paused for a moment to reflect. It hadn't ever occurred to him to ask, but Harry had never mentioned any so he hoped if he did the boy was sensible enough to avoid anything that might kill him. "Not that I'm aware of."

"Excellent. Then I'll feed him lunch here with Patrick and then the boys can enjoy their afternoon. I don't know how long you plan to be gone, but he's more than welcome to stay the night if he'd like."

"That's very generous of you, but I should be home before dinner. If there are any problems, I'll be sure to get in touch right away, otherwise I expect to be back by 6pm at the latest."

"Lovely. We'll see you in a bit then. Ta!"

Snape placed the phone on the cradle. He hated imposing on other people but this was definitely the best option. He didn't want to drag Harry back to Hogwarts for the day and he certainly wasn't going to leave him alone here, so it worked out perfectly.

While he washed the dishes, he thought about what he should say to Harry. He was tempted to tell him about the meeting today, but he knew it would make the boy anxious and he would just spend the day worrying constantly about the vote. He figured it would be better to tell him after it all worked out. Assuming everything doesn't just go tits up, in which case he'd have to cross that bridge if he got to it. No, it will be fine. Barclay says he has the votes. Stay calm.

He dried his hands on the dish towel and picked his teacup off the kitchen table before heading into the parlor.

When Harry came bounding in a few minutes later, Snape nodded at the couch. "Sit down, Harry. I want to go over a few things regarding today."

Harry sat on the couch and smiled up at Snape, clearly excited about the possibility of spending the day with his new friends. "Did you call Elizabeth? What did she say?"

"She's the mother of your friend and your elder, it's respectful to call her Ms. Owens."

"But she told me I could call her Elizabeth!" Harry complained.

"And I'm telling you to call her Ms. Owens. Especially when you're speaking about her to others."

"Fine," Harry conceded. "What did Ms. Owens say? Can I come over?"

Snape nodded his head. "She very graciously extended an invitation. I will take you over there shortly, but before I go, I just want to go over the ground rules."

Harry let out a grunt of frustration and nearly rolled his eyes. "I know, I know. Make sure we tell an adult where we're going and don't do anything daft."

"Mind your cheek, I'm quite serious. You are to be on your very best behavior. That means you will speak to Ms. Owens with complete respect and mind her at all times. You will make sure to pay attention to whatever she asks you to do. You are welcome to go outside and ride bikes with Patrick, but as always, I want you to wear your helmet and let the adults know where you're going or where you'll be. And yes, don't you dare do anything daft. No playing with fire. No playing with power tools. In short, don't do anything you know I wouldn't approve of. I hope by now you know what that means."

Snape's mind started running wild imagining all of the ridiculous things two pre-teen boys could get up to and he just hoped Elizabeth was planning to keep a close eye on them. It was the first time he was leaving Harry in the care of someone else, and he was terrified the boy would get into some kind of trouble. He'd only known the boy for two years and he'd already had to rescue him out of more dangerous situations than he cared to remember.

"Oh, and before I forget, do you have any allergies?"

Harry started up at Snape with a confused look on his face. "Allergies? I don't think so. Why?"

"Just making sure. Anyway, why don't you pack a small bag with anything you'd like to take over to Patrick's. Your football, some books, your art supplies maybe."

Harry blushed and shook his head. "Patrick's got a ton of cool stuff, besides, we're probably just going to ride around on our bikes and maybe play rugby with Gavin and Rhodri. I don't need to bring anything."

"Very well. But you should bring a jumper in case it gets cooler later. Ms. Owens will feed you lunch but I should be back before dinner. Now then, go comb your hair properly, I don't want you showing up to someone else's house looking like a ragamuffin."

Snape stood up and walked over to Harry on the couch, running his fingers through his mop of dark hair, trying to smooth it down.

"It's just going to get messed up when I put my helmet on anyway, but if you're so concerned about my hair, maybe I just shouldn't worry about wearing my helmet after all," Harry smirked.

"And maybe I just shouldn't worry about smacking you with a ruler until you can't sit down for a week," Snape replied tersely.

"I was just kidding," Harry said, pouting slightly at the threat.

"You'd better be. But I'm not. That's exactly what I'll do if I find out you weren't wearing your helmet. Now, if you're done being cheeky, we'll head out. Are you sure you don't want to take anything?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Then go fix your hair and brush your teeth and we'll leave here in a few minutes." Snape reached his hand out to pull Harry off the couch. "And don't forget your jumper."

30 minutes later, Harry and Snape arrived at the Owens' house. Harry had wanted to bring his bike, so Snape walked along with him as they made the mile trek up the road to their house.

Harry put the kickstand down and parked his bike in the driveway. Before he made it up the front steps, Snape put a hand around his arm and pulled him back.

Snape bent down so he could look at Harry right in the eyes. "Remember, I want you to be on your best behavior. Be polite. Mind Ms. Owens. And for love of Merlin, stay out of trouble."

Harry couldn't help it, he rolled his eyes. He hated when Snape fussed over him. "I knowwwww. I got it."

Snape tightened his grasp and gave him a small shake. "Want to try that again? I'll give you a hint, the correct response is 'Yes sir'. And quit rolling your eyes."

"Yes, sir, I promise I'll be on my best behavior." Harry would say anything to get rid of the man at this point. "Can I knock on the door now?"

"You may," Snape said as he stood up and gestured at the front steps.

Harry climbed the two small steps and knocked on the door. Coco barked excitedly in the background and he could hear her feet galloping across the hardwood floor as she ran toward the front of the house.

Patrick yelled after the dog to be quiet and then told her to sit, but Coco continued to bark happily as he flung the door open, grabbing her by the collar to make sure she didn't run out the door. "Hey, Harry, come on in. Don't mind Coco, she's just excited to have visitors."

"Bye, Dad!" Harry said loudly as he followed Patrick through the door.

"Be good, I'll see you this evening," Snape replied, but Harry was already halfway inside the house before he finished his sentence. He turned around and walked back toward Llewelyn's cottage, apparating into the backyard once he was sure he was out of eyesight.

Patrick turned to Harry as they ran up the stairs, Coco following on their heels. "We're gonna have so much fun today, mate. Hope you're up for an adventure! Me and Rhodri have a brilliant idea, I can't wait to tell you about it."

"Wicked," Harry replied, smiling as he bounded behind Patrick into his room where they shut the door and began making plans.

Author's Note:

Hope you enjoyed this chapter- please review and let me know! It's time to buckle up kids, the next few chapters should be filled with drama and angst and hopefully Harry FINALLY becoming official.

Also, as a kid who grew up in the 80's/90's, I had pretty chill parents, but they absolutely REFUSED to ever let me call an adult by their first name. So yeah, I'm making Snape a stickler as a nod to my own ridiculous parents. I'm in my 30's now and I still call people "Mr." "Mrs." or whatever and they're like, um, you're a grown ass woman now Dr. SnapesAngel, you can use our first names. But I still can't, LOL.

Oh, and a note on helmets. My brother had a TBI when he was 6 and I was one of the only kids I knew forced to wear a helmet after that. Now I work in the ER and I see HORRIFIC injuries all the time when people on bikes don't wear helmets. So yeah, maybe Snape was ahead of his time, but yeah, please wear a helmet. Trust me.

Anyway- hope everyone is well. Thanks for sticking with me and this story. Definitely let me know what you're thinking! Do you think Snape will get the votes? What do you think Harry and Patrick will get up to? Leave me a comment and let me know!