Well, it's been awhile. But here it finally is: the last chapter of "Kept Behind." I know it took me awhile to get out, but I think you can forgive me. This chapter's length alone should make up for my long hiatus. I'm kind of sad to see it end, but you know what they say: all good things must come to an end. I hope everyone's enjoyed this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. It's been a blast. I just want give a big thanks out to everyone that's ever read and reviewed it. You guys have been absolutely awesome with all your positive feedback and reviews.

I know everyone's looking forward to this chapter, so I'll leave you to it. It reads more like an epilogue than anything else even though there's an actual epilogue at the end. Anyway, hope you enjoy! See you at the bottom!

Chapter Eight: A Small Break in the Storm

Rain lashed the air as booming peals of thunder crashed overhead. Forked tongues of lightening streaked across the sky, illuminating the rain-drenched land below. Through the driving rain, the dark outline of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could be seen. To many, the image of an old Gothic castle framed by the backdrop of a violent storm breaking loose overhead would have made them wary to approach. But through the castle's many windows, golden light spilled out into the night like multitudes of tiny beacons; warm and inviting, beckoning wayward students, both past and present, home.

And it was with this backdrop of crashing thunder and lashing rain that a lone figure cloaked in black made its way up the castle's front drive towards its light and unspoken promise of safety and comfort.

Reaching a small door off to the side of the castle's great siege gates, the dark figure fumbled for a moment with the latch before finally murmuring the correct set of spells to gain entry. Light spilled out into the night as the door gave way and swept inwards with a strong gust of wind to slam against the inside wall.

"Severus!" a startled cry rang out as the cloaked figure emerged from the shadows and into the castle's bright entrance hall.

Weak and limping badly, Severus Snape pushed the rain-drenched hood of his cloak back from his face to see none other than Dumbledore himself standing at the bottom of the main staircase. Standing in the warm wash of light, Snape looked terrible. Cuts and scratches marred his entire face. A small stream of half-dried blood ran down along the side of his face from his hairline almost to his chin. He moved stiffly, favoring his right leg and keeping his upper body unnaturally stiff and locked. He looked almost ready to collapse, feebly gripping the doorjamb beside him.

"Severus," Dumbledore once more said as he hurried to the Potion Master's side and caught him by the arm just before Snape's knees buckled and he stumbled forward. "My goodness, Severus, what happened?"

"Potter... Where's Potter?" Snape demanded, ignoring Dumbledore's concern for him as he tried to push himself back up to stand.

"Harry's fine," Dumbledore soothed, keeping a strong grip on Snape's arm, "He's resting now. He gave us all quite a scare when he came back though."

"What happened? Is he alright?"

"Yes, yes, he is now. But Poppy was quite disturbed by the amount of damage she had to repair when Harry's soul returned to his body. It seems he suffered quite a bit of internal damage when he was hit by that car. He had blood pooling in his lungs where one of his broken ribs had punctured it. Poppy was able to repair it in time before Harry could have a repeat experience as a disembodied spirit though..."

Snape stared at Dumbledore for a long moment of silence. "So it worked then..." he said. Taking a deep breath, Snape gave a small, unconscious sigh of relief.

"Yes it did, whatever "it" was that you did," Dumbledore replied with a grin.

Snape stood there in silent thought, bracing himself up with the old man's help as he felt a wave of unexplainable relief drain his tired body of the last of its strength. Suddenly feeling very weak in the knees, Snape tightened his grip on the doorjamb.

"Come, Severus, let's go to my office and talk," Dumbledore suggested, beginning to lead the battered Potions Master away, "I'd like to know what happened. When Harry came back he was telling us some very distressing things. He kept saying McCourn suspected your position as a spy and was going to kill you. I was just about to send word to other members of the Order to search for you when you suddenly burst through the doors. For awhile there, I had feared the worst..."

"You should have. McCourn almost killed me..." Snape replied, limping alongside the old Headmaster as they ascended the stairs towards Dumbledore's office.

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully, but said nothing more until he had successfully helped Snape to his office and situated him in a comfortable arm chair next to the fire. Snape hung his head wearily, shaking it in negation when Dumbledore offered him a cup of tea and lemondrops.

Gingerly leaning back in his chair, Snape looked up at Dumbledore. "Why was there so much damage to Potter's body? Didn't Pomfrey see to him after you brought him back from the hospital?"

Dumbledore, seated in another arm chair across from Snape, nodded his head. "Yes. But unfortunately there was only so much she could do for Harry when I first brought him back. A Healer must be able to work with the patient's life energy to help heal them, and at the time Harry had so little life in his body there was practically nothing for her to work with. Needless to say, Harry had a very close call, but was lucky enough to make it out just by the skin of his teeth."

"Luck always does seem to be on Potter's side whenever it comes to life-or-death situations..." Snape muttered.

Dumbledore merely smiled. "That and someone else always looking out for him and helping him through."

Snape rolled his eyes. "And I suppose you're referring to me when you say this..." he sneered.

"Well, you always do seem to be there whenever Harry finds himself in a tight situation and needs help," Dumbledore smiled.

"If by "help" you mean me saving Potter's life without any gratitude or thanks, and getting myself badly injured in the process, then yes, I suppose I always do seem to find myself "helping" him..."

Dumbledore chuckled softly, but then looked Snape's battered figure up and down, his twinkling blue eyes growing solemn and grave. "Tell me what happened, Severus," he said.

Snape heaved a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair, wincing as his injured shoulder gave a painful twinge. "As you can suspect, the Dark Lord wanted to know details concerning Potter's death. He was quite... pleased... by news of what happened."

"I can only imagine..." Dumbledore muttered.

Snape snorted in agreement. "I told him what you suggested – that we thought Potter had been killed in a car accident. He seemed to accept that as our story, but knew of McCourn's involvement."

"So McCourn did return to Voldemort..." Dumbledore said.

"Yes," Snape replied with a nod, "The Dark Lord was excited about news of Potter's death and has made plans to strike Azkaban sometime tomorrow night to free his incarcerated servants. He wants to take advantage of the chaos caused by the boy's accident and strike the Ministry while it's at its weakest. Lucius Malfoy is to lead the attack."

"Then the Order must be notified immediately," Dumbledore said, looking grave, "If we can organize a counter attack in time, we might be able to stop Voldemort from freeing any more of his followers, and possibly capture more. If we could catch Lucius in the act of attacking a Ministry institution like Azkaban, there would be no way for him to talk his way out of capture or trial. It would be a major blow to Voldemort's side if he were to lose someone as influential as Lucius Malfoy."

"It would," Snape agreed, "But Lucius is a slimy one. Even if Lucius was caught red-handed freeing the Dark Lord's servants, I wouldn't put it past him to somehow get off. His ties to other influential people within the Ministry are too strong..."

Dumbledore grimly nodded. "Only too true..." he said, tugging at his silver beard, "The most we can do is take preventive measures to ensure that those already in the Ministry's custody are unable to return to Voldemort's side and hope for the best. The rest is beyond our control." Looking up to meet Snape's eyes, Dumbledore then quietly asked, "What happened with McCourn next?"

"After the meeting, the Dark Lord summoned McCourn and I to him. He gave me orders to keep your attention turned to other matters while he made plans to strike Azkaban and the Ministry." Dumbledore smiled in mild amusement to the irony of Snape telling him such a thing, but did not interrupt the Potion Master's tale. "McCourn he pretty much just told how much he was going to reward him for killing Potter. After we were dismissed, McCourn confronted me in the hallway. We got into a... mild confrontation of words, so to speak, and I managed to lift McCourn's wand from him without him noticing. Unfortunately though, I was unable to perform the Reversal Spell on it quick enough before McCourn discovered it missing and came after me. There was a confrontation, and after exchanging several curses he managed to injure and corner me. I was unable to fight anymore, so I incanted the Reversal Spell in hopes it would somehow free the other half of Potter's soul so that even if something happened to me, he might make it back on his own."

"And I can only assumed the Priori Incantatem worked since young Harry is currently back with us in his body..." Dumbledore noted.

Snape nodded. "But it's strange," he said, staring into the dancing flames of the fire, "After the other part of Potter's soul was released, McCourn suddenly seemed able to see him. That was how he figured out I was a spy. I thought I was the only one that could see him because of the Acolant Spell."

Dumbledore sat in thoughtful silence, studying Snape's profile in the firelight. "I wonder if McCourn was able to see Harry because of the Priori Incantatem..." Snape looked back up at him and waited in expectant silence for the old Headmaster to continue. Dumbledore however merely tugged at his beard with a thoughtful expression and stared into the fire, seemingly ignorant of Snape's impatience.

"Why would the Reversal Spell have anything to do with McCourn being able to see Potter's ghost or not?" Snape finally demanded.

Dumbledore looked back over at him and gave his beard another thoughtful tug. "With the Priori Incantatem complete and the missing part of Harry's soul released, Harry's soul would have instinctively begun to try and reunite. I can only assume that with the two parts of Harry's soul so close together, he would have begun to regain more of his substance and being. In essence, he would have become more like a normal ghost most people would be able to see."

Snape gave a caustic snort. "How typical... Potter's victory almost turns out to be my demise..."

Dumbledore studied Snape for a long moment of thoughtful silence before he finally asked the one thing he'd been wondering ever since Snape burst through the doors of Hogwarts, "What happened next, Severus? Harry said McCourn was about to kill you. How did you get away?"

Snape did not immediately answer. Holding his injured shoulder, he turned his face away from the old Headmaster and stared into the fire, its flickering light bathing his features in dark, half shadows. "I'm not exactly sure..." he said, staring into the flames, "After I released the other part of Potter's soul, McCourn was right on top of me, ready to incant a Killing Curse. The boy was nearby, screaming at McCourn to stop, but I saw him disappear as though he'd been pulled away through some kind of Portkey. McCourn incanted an Avada Kedavra, but instead of killing me, it rebounded back on him as though it hit some kind of Shielding Charm and killed him."

For a long moment of silence Dumbledore just sat there and studied Snape. "That is most strange, Severus..." he said, his eyes narrowing in thought. "Did you use any kind of charm to protect yourself?"

"No. McCourn was too close for me to do any kind of Shielding Charm in time, and my arm was injured. I don't know how it happened..."

Dumbledore tugged his beard thoughtfully before looking back up at Snape with a small twinkle in his eye. "I wonder if it wasn't young Harry that shielded you from McCourn's Killing Curse..." he said with a grin.

Snape's eyes narrowed at Dumbledore. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Harry might have been the one to incant the Shielding Charm."

"I understand that much of what you're trying to say, old man, but that doesn't make any sense. Potter was nothing but a disembodied spirit. He had no magical powers at the time. He couldn't even physically move or touch anything. How could he have possibly conjured a Shielding Charm powerful enough to stop a Killing Curse?"

Dumbledore smiled softly to himself. "It never fails to amaze me how even after so many years of studying and practicing magic, it still always manages to surprise me..." He slowly looked back up at Snape and met the Potions Master's annoyed scowl with a grin. "I can only attribute your narrow escape with death to your shared bond with Harry through the Acolant Spell. With the other part of Harry's soul released and his spirit trying to reunite, he would have probably begun to regain some of his magical abilities. In a way, it makes perfect sense for him to have been able to come to your aide like that – even if he was a disembodied spirit at the time. Many spells that involve bonds run like two way roads between conjuror and subject. We saw such a concept play out when Voldemort first attacked Harry as a baby and created a bond between himself and Harry through the scar he gave him. You've already experienced this bond I am talking about when Harry began to fade and you sensed it happening. When McCourn was about to kill you, Harry probably used his bond with you to conjure a Shielding Charm before he was pulled away back to his body – however unconsciously so. For a boy powerful enough to have unconsciously cast an Acolant Spell he didn't even know existed, I wouldn't put it past his sheer will alone being strong enough to wandlessly conjure a simple Shielding Charm..."

Snape sat there silent, digesting Dumbledore's words. The boy had saved him? Somehow that made perfect sense. That was exactly something Potter would do. Annoying little showoff...

Dumbledore was scrutinizing him again. But this time there was no hint of sparkle in the old man's eyes. He looked troubled and apprehensive.

"Sir?" Snape asked.

"What are you going to do about McCourn? He was one of Voldemort's most powerful servants. His absence with be missed. What are you going to tell him?"

Snape heaved a heavy sigh. "The Dark Lord already knows of McCourn's death," he said, wincing slightly as his injured shoulder gave another painful twinge.

"He does?" Dumbledore said, looking at Snape in surprise, "What happened?"

"Apparently some other Death Eaters that had also lingered behind after the meeting heard McCourn and I dueling, and came to investigate. By the time they got there McCourn was already dead. They took McCourn's body and I back to the Dark Lord. Needless to say he was quite... displeased by what happened..."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him McCourn confronted me, trying to pick a fight, and that I was merely defending myself. Luckily, McCourn's reputation for mindless violence precedes him, and the Dark Lord bought it. He was still angry about McCourn's death though, and saw fit to punish me by using several very painful Unforgivables..."

Dumbledore winced and looked Snape's battered figure up and down. "I am sorry to hear that, Severus. But luckily you were able to make it away alive. I can only imagine what going through something like that with Voldemort must be like..."

"It was nothing I'm not already used to..." Snape muttered, unwilling to meet Dumbledore's gaze.

Dumbledore studied Snape for several moments of thoughtful silence before moving on to other things. "What are we going to do about Harry? Will Voldemort suspect you when he hears he is still alive?"

Snape gave a weary sigh. "I don't know. It's possible. McCourn took Potter's wand after the boy was hit by the car, and gave it to the Dark Lord as a trophy. Before my confrontation with McCourn, I stole it back."

"That could prove problematic..." Dumbledore said, "Voldemort will begin to suspect you of some involvement if he hears Harry is still alive with his wand miraculously back in his possession."

Snape scowled and nodded darkly, not saying anything.

"Well," Dumbledore said with a sigh, "I guess we will just have to deal with that when the time comes... For now though, you and Harry are safely back with us and that's all that matters..."

Snape nodded uncommittingly and looked up at the clock on the mantle. It was almost two in the morning. No wonder he felt so exhausted...

"If there is nothing else, Dumbledore, I think I will take my leave," Snape said, getting to his feet with a wince, "I need to wash up and rest. I haven't slept in almost two days because of Potter, and feel like I've been trampled by a herd of Hippogriffs."

"Of course, Severus," Dumbeldore nodded, "You might want to stop by the hospital wing though before you retire for the night and have Madam Pomfrey check your injuries. Several of them look very bad."

"I'll think about it," Snape said, moving towards the door in a painful limp. Dumbledore smiled to himself behind Snape's back. He already knew the acerbic Potions Master had absolutely no intention of seeking out Madam Pomfrey. He was too proud and stubborn a man to admit his weakness and have someone else tend to him unless his wounds were anything but life threatening. And even then, Dumbledore had known Snape long enough to know it sometimes took someone else to drag the unwilling Potions Master to a Healer... But that still didn't mean he couldn't try...

Limping the last few feet to the door, Snape opened the door and was about to leave when he heard Dumbledore call after him, "In case you're wondering, Harry is still in the study down from my office. He's too weak right now to move down to the hospital wing. You should know he was quite frantic about us finding you when he returned to his body. He was very worried about you..."

Snape paused and looked back at Dumbledore. The old Headmaster said nothing, but leveled a twinkling gaze at him over the rims of his half-moon shaped glasses.

They stayed like that for several moments, the sound of crackling fire the only thing to break the empty silence between them. Finally, Snape gave a caustic snort and pulled one of his trademark scowls. "Well of course Potter would have been worried if I lived or not. If I had died, I would have been a black mark on his perfect track record of saving people." Then turning, Snape left. But even as he shut the door behind him, he swore he saw Dumbledore smile to himself as if in satisfaction.

Snape decided not to dwell on the old Headmaster's eccentricities though. He had other things to worry about. Dumbledore's concerns about Voldemort eventually finding out he was a spy still weighed heavily on his mind.

Damn Potter... Always making my life difficult... This last little stunt may have just jeopardized my ability to spy for Dumbledore besides almost getting me killed... Snape scowled as he descended the spiral staircase from Dumbledore's office. His right leg was killing him and his whole body felt like it'd been run through a grinder.

I'm getting too old to do this kind of stuff anymore... he mournfully thought as he descended the last stair and stepped out into the dark hallway. The stone gargoyle immediately leapt back into place behind him. Looking to his left, Snape saw a faint glow of light seeping out into the hallway beneath one of the doors – the study below Dumbledore's office.

In case you're wondering, Harry is still in the study down from my office...

For several minutes Snape just stood there, staring at the soft glow of light.

He was very worried about you...

Snape scowled at the memory. What did Dumbledore expect him to do? Go to the boy's bedside now and hold vigil there like that pitiful fool Black? Hardly... It wasn't like he owed Potter anything...

Except saving your life... some treacherous voice in the back of his head instantly piped up.

Snape stood there in the darkness for several minutes of unbroken silence, torn by a strange sense of obligation to see the boy and his own stubborn pride not to.

Damn Gryffindor–loving old man... he finally cursed, and angrily limped towards the door.

Inching it quietly open, Snape peered inside. The room was dimly lit, a low fire burning in the fireplace its only source of light. But what little light it cast was sufficient to make out the outlines of the room's only two occupants.

Sirius Black sat perched on the edge of the divan close beside the figure of his sleeping godson. The boy looked terrible. Snape could make out his one leg propped up on several pillows beneath the blankets draped over his body. Bandages wrapped halfway up the his arms. Even asleep, the boy looked exhausted and beaten – like he'd just survived a bad encounter with several dozen Death Eaters. Snape wondered fleetingly if the trials his spirit suffered in the last few days had somehow transferred back to his body when he returned to it.

Snape however didn't get a chance to ponder that possibility any more as Sirius suddenly looked up and spotted him in the doorway.

"Well don't you look like something the Squid dredged up from the lake..." he said after a pause, keeping his voice carefully low in respect for his sleeping godson.

Snape gave a small, caustic snort and took a few more steps into the room. "It's all Potter's fault," he sneered, "If it wasn't for that boy's constant disregard for doing anything normally, none of this would have ever happened." Despite his cold, uncaring front, Snape's voice lacked its usual venom. Looking the boy's battered figure up and down, he softly asked, "How is he?"

Sirius sighed and looked down at his godson's sleeping face, gently smoothing back some of Harry's wild black hair from his forehead as he did. "He has several broken ribs and a broken leg. When he first woke up, he had a punctured lung along with some other internal damage Pomfrey was able to heal before they became life threatening. She says he should be fine, but will need a week or so to recover before he's ready to get up or do anything."

Snape nodded and stared at Harry's broken body. It seemed so strange to see Potter like this after spending almost two days in the boy's company. He had tried so hard during that time to ignore the boy's presence, but now found himself almost wishing the boy would wake up and move, or flutter his eyelids – anything just to show him he really was alive.

But Snape was not about to admit such feelings to anyone (least of all Sirius Black) who could misinterpret them for more than they were worth. His unspoken mission now completed, he turned to leave.

But before he could, Sirius called after him, "You know Harry was worried about you before. When he first came back, he kept screaming McCourn was going to kill you and that we had to help. I was afraid we were going to have to strap him down to the couch to keep him from going back after you.."

Snape paused and turned back around. "So I heard from Dumbledore..." he said.

A tense moment of silence ensued, broken only by the sound of snapping wood in the fireplace.

"I think I owe you a thank you," Sirius finally said, adverting his eyes from Snape as though unable to meet the Potion Master's gaze, "You helped get my godson back into his body, and for that I'm in your debt. Thank you..."

Snape stared at Sirius for several heartbeats of unbroken silence, wondering if he hadn't just imagined what he thought he heard. Never in a thousand years would he have ever thought Sirius Black of all people would one day thank him – like he actually appreciated what he'd done. Over the years he'd grown used to doing thankless tasks, the ones no one else wanted to acknowledge or deem fit for praise. It was his lot in life – he'd come to accept that. And to be thanked now, by none other than his old childhood enemy... well, it was just beyond his scope of reality.

But the acerbic Potions Master betrayed none of his surprise, and stared back at Sirius with unreadable black eyes. "You're welcome," he finally murmured after a long pause.

Snape would have once again tried to make a hasty retreat, but was once again stopped by a weak and groggy voice calling after him.

"Professor...? Is that you...?"

Looking back towards the divan, Snape was surprised to find himself staring back into the cloudy green eyes of none other than a very exhausted looking Harry Potter.

Just like before, the boy looked terrible. But somehow seeing him awake only reinforced Snape's original assessment of the boy's state.

Harry's head was weakly rolled to the side, lethargically staring back at Snape. He looked mere moments away from drifting back to sleep. But he seemed to be stubbornly holding onto some small shred of consciousness.

Headstrong Gryffindor indeed... Snape couldn't help but remark with a small grudging of respect.

"Professor... you're alright..." Harry murmured, visible relief washing over his exhausted features, "I thought McCourn was going to kill you..."

Against his better judgement, Snape slowly came back into the room to stand next to the divan beside Harry and Sirius. "He almost did, but I managed to get away with only a few minor injuries to my person..." he said, leaning over to look at his resurrected charge.

"I'm sorry, Sir..." Harry muttered.

"What for?" Snape asked.

"For not being able to stop McCourn..." Harry replied, "I saw him about to kill you, but I couldn't do anything about it... He could have killed you and it would have been all my fault. I'm sorry, Sir..."

Snape stared at the boy for several moments of unbroken silence. He could have easily accepted the boy's apology and left it at that. But somehow not telling the boy the whole story didn't seem right.

"There's nothing for you to apologize for, Potter – oh, stop playing the martyr," he hissed when Harry gave a small cry of protest, "If nothing else, we're merely even now. Dumbledore seems to think you had a hand in blocking McCourn's Killing Curse."

Harry stared at him in groggy confusion. "But how?"

"He seems to think that because of the other part of your soul being released, you were able to regain some of your magical abilities, and conjured a Shielding Charm to protect me."

"But... that doesn't make sense..." Harry said, "How could I have done that?"

"I'm not sure, but I've come to find nothing is ever normal when it comes to you, so I suppose anything is possible for the Golden Wonder Boy of Gryffindor."

Harry stared at Snape in honest confusion, his eyebrows scrunched together in the middle of his forehead. Somehow seeing that only annoyed Snape more. Damn boy doesn't even know his own power...

"You should get some sleep, Potter," Snape said, brusquely standing straight from over Harry with a dramatic sweep of his robes, "It wouldn't do for you to make your glorious return to the wizarding world looking the way you do now."

Then turning towards the door, Snape made as if to leave. But before he turned even halfway around, he suddenly stopped and turned back towards Harry. "Here, Potter," he said, reaching into his robes and withdrawing a familiar brown wand, "You may need this. Lord only knows I risked enough getting this back for you..."

Harry lethargically stared at his wand as he watched Snape slip it into his hand. "Thank you, Sir," he whispered.

Snape merely nodded and stood straight again from over Harry. The boy's eyes were already starting to drift close, even though he fought to keep them open through a rapid dint of blinking.

"Get some rest, Potter," Snape said again in way of parting, and turned to sweep out the room.

But he didn't get far. For just as he reached the door and was about to slip into the inky black shadows of the night, he heard a groggy voice call out to him from behind. "Thank you, Professor... for everything, I mean..."

Snape paused on the edge of darkness and looked back over his shoulder. "You're welcome, Potter..." he muttered after a small moment of contemplative silence, and then disappeared into the night.

One Week Later...

"Do we really have to do this, Sir?" Harry asked, staring up at the normal looking suburban house of Number Four Pivet Drive.

Snape looked down at his charge with an annoyed scowl. "Oh, stop your whining, Potter. It's not like you're staying with these Muggles for the rest of break. We're only here to pick up your personal things, and then I'm taking you back to Headquarters."

Harry nodded mutely, but with a gleam of something Snape couldn't quite place in his downcast eyes.

Snape studied him for a moment of silence, but then turned his attention back to the situation at hand. Namely escorting Potter to his relatives' house, and then getting him back to Grimmauld Place and out of his hair as quick as humanly possible.

Since recovering from his accident and grand misadventure as a disembodied spirit, Harry needed to collect his things from his relative's house before start of term. Unfortunately, that also meant he needed an escort. After last week's mishap, Dumbledore wasn't about to let his wonder boy out of sight without at least some other member of the Order there to watch his every move.

And somehow the job of babysitting Potter had fallen to him.

Dumbledore had been called away on school business to the Ministry; McGonagall was still working on last minute preparations for start of term; Lupin was currently unavailable because of business for the Order; and Black, of course, was still on the run as a fugitive. Which left only Snape to escort Harry to Little Whinging and back.

It was situations like this that sometimes made Snape wonder if he wasn't just Dumbledore's glorified errand boy.

"Come on, Potter, let's get this over with," he growled, starting up the perfectly manicured walk towards the door. Harry obediently followed, though trailing noticeably behind.

When they reached the door, Snape stepped back and looked at Harry expectantly, his arms darkly crossed in front of his chest. Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped forward and knocked.

A long moment of silence ensued before they heard the soft rustle of movement inside. The click of a lock being undone sounded, and then the door swung open to reveal one of the fattest boys Snape had ever seen. He looked about Harry's age, but more than three times his size.

The chunky lump of a boy stared up at Snape in horrified silence, his mouth hanging open at the sight of the brooding Potions Master. As if in a daze, he then slowly looked over at Harry – and promptly screamed.

"Muuuum! Daaaad!" he squealed and bolted back into the house, moving faster than Snape ever would have thought someone his size capable of, "There's a ghoooost!"

There was more sound of movement inside and two more figures appeared: a horse faced woman and a mountain sized man with a walrus mustache – almost definitely the fat boy's father. The woman immediately froze at the end of the hall, her face going dramatically pale at the sight of Harry and Snape at the door. The man on the other hand stared at them as if trying to decide whether to play tough and demand to know what they were doing there, or follow his son's example and run.

Finally, he seemed to recover himself. "What are you doing here?" he roared, pointing at Harry as if accusing him of a crime, "You should be dead! I saw your body in the hospital! I thought I was finally rid of you. What's this? You freaks can come back from the dead now or something?"

Harry said nothing and just stared down at his shoes as if suddenly finding them of great interest, a resigned, dejected look spreading across his face as if he'd already expected this type of greeting from his aunt and uncle.

Snape glanced at Harry out the corner of his eye, then back up at the purple faced Muggle. Somehow this wasn't the kind of welcome he'd expected Potter's relatives to give him. Most people would have been overjoyed to have a loved one they thought dead suddenly come back alive and well – especially, he had thought, from anyone connected to the famous Harry Potter. But it seemed as though his relatives were more afraid of Potter than anything else, and that the boy's return was almost a nuisance to them. Plus, he had not failed to pick up on the word 'freak' in the man's vocabulary...

"And who's this?" Vernon then angrily demanded, turning to eye Snape for the first time.

Snape's eyes narrowed, but he tightly replied, "My name is Professor Snape; I'm a teacher at Potter's school. I've brought him back to pick up his school supplies and things, and then I'm taking him back to his godfather's for the rest of summer break."

Vernon's little pig eyes widened. "So you're one of them, are you?" he said, his whole demeanor instantly becoming guarded and wary.

Snape speared Vernon with a dangerous glare. "And to whom may you be referring to when you say them?" he asked.

Vernon faltered for a moment in answering, but finally squeaked, "You know... one of them... One of those freaks that boy is always hanging around with..."

Snape's eyes narrowed even more, his black gaze boring into Vernon. "If by 'freak' you mean a fully trained wizard capable of shredding a pathetic Muggle like yourself to pieces, then yes. I am one of them..."

Vernon stared at Snape in absolute horror, his eyes flicking between the intimidating Potions Master and the open door. "Good God then, get inside before any of the neighbors see you!" he cried, starting to lumber his way forward to shut the door behind Harry and Snape.

But Snape was not about to be moved. "I am perfectly fine where I am," he hissed, halting Vernon mid-step with a piercing glare, "No one tells me what to do..."

Vernon instantly froze, the door forgotten. "Yes... well..." he sputtered, his purple face going several shades darker.

Harry meanwhile stared at Snape with something close to awe-struck reverence. No one had ever stood up to his uncle like that before, or turned him speechless with nothing more than an intimidating glare.

"H– how?" a sudden voice piped up from the other end of the hall. Looking towards it Snape saw the horse faced woman from before take a few tentative steps closer. "How is he still alive? I saw him in the hospital... How can this be?"

Snape studied the woman for a long moment of silence, then answered in an annoyed, curt tone, "Potter's soul was temporarily separated from his body because of a half completed Killing Curse being administered on him by one of the Dark Lord's followers. He was able to be restored back to his body though after a few days by a Reversal Spell being done on the wand of the man who attacked him."

Vernon and Petunia stared at Snape with blank, confused expressions.

"Professor Snape helped me," Harry softly amended.

The two of them glanced at Harry and then back at each other, a silent agreement not to ask any more questions passing between them.

"Now where's your stuff, Potter? I want to get out of here," Snape said.

"Upstairs," Vernon muttered, pointing over his shoulder towards the stairs, "It's all still in Dudley's second bedroom. Petunia wouldn't let me throw any of it out after we got back from the hospital."

Snape looked at Harry. "Go get it," he hissed.

Harry nodded and started for the stairs. Petunia stared at him as he walked past as if she still couldn't believe he was actually there. But then, as if recovering from her lingering shock, she stepped forward. "Come on," she said, motioning Harry up the stairs in front of her with a gentle, almost motherly touch to his shoulder, "Let's go get your stuff."

Harry stared at her as if he thought his aunt had just gone insane. Petunia, however, said nothing and just motioned him up the stairs again. Still staring at her as if he thought some space alien had abducted her and replaced her with someone else, Harry slowly turned and went up the stairs. Petunia followed after him, leaving Vernon and Snape alone in the hall.

For several minutes of tense silence Snape and Vernon just stood there, staring at each other. Like a mouse eyeing a hungry cat, Vernon looked Snape's black robed figure up and down. Inwardly smiling at the Muggle's obvious discomfort, Snape speared the man with a hard, unwavering glare.

At first, Vernon tried to hold the Potion Master's gaze with his own, but after several minutes of intense staring, had to look away in defeat. Snape let a satisfied smirk grace his face.

Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Vernon gave a nervous cough. "So..." he said, looking everywhere else except the brooding Potions Master, "I suppose we're going to have to take the boy again next summer are we?" he asked with a grunt.

Snape arched one dark eyebrow at him, eyeing the fat man skeptically. "I can only assume so," he said, "From what I understand, you are his only living family..."

Vernon gave a contemptuous snort. "Yeah, and for that we have to house, feed, and clothe the boy every summer... And here I thought I was finally rid of him..." he then softly muttered under his breath. His aside however did not escape the Potion Master's ears.

Snape stared at the man through narrowed eyes, his features darkening with some undefined emotion. He began to open his mouth to say something, but was cut off by Harry coming back down the stairs, dragging his school trunk behind him with one hand and juggling his broomstick and owl cage in the other.

"Sorry, Professor..." he muttered, struggling with all his possessions, "I'm ready to go now..." Dragging his trunk to the door, Harry made as if to leave. Heaving his trunk over the threshold, he dragged it out into the bright morning sunlight.

Snape stared after him, not really believing what he was seeing. The boy was leaving without even a second glance back at his relatives. It was like he already knew his uncle's feelings towards him; though from what Snape had seen of the uncle's reaction to seeing Harry standing there in the doorway, there really wasn't any way for anyone not to... There were no goodbyes. No farewells. Just a begrudged, unspoken knowledge he would be back next summer.

This didn't make sense. It absolutely destroyed everything Snape expected Harry's home life to be like. He had expected Potter to be welcomed back into the loving, gushing arms of his relatives, but instead all the boy got was an angry 'what are you doing back?' And by the boy's reaction to how his aunt acted earlier, a gentle word and kind touch were not common occurrences either...

It just didn't make sense. Where was the spoiling and pampering? Where was the endless praise and you-can-do-no-wrong? It was like the boy wasn't even welcomed in that house. And Snape couldn't forget the uncle's repeated use of the word 'freak'...

Shaking his head in bewilderment, Snape turned to follow Harry out the door. But just as he was about to leave, he paused and looked back at Harry's uncle. His eyes narrowed, and as if making a last minute decision, he swept back into the house and leaned over the man until his hooked nose was almost right in Vernon's face.

"I suggest you take better care of your nephew next summer," he hissed into the other man's ear, "Because if I ever find out you neglected the boy and allowed something like what happened last week to happen again, I will be back here in half a heartbeat. And believe me... you don't ever want to see me back here... Because I'll make sure you wish you were never born..."

Vernon stared back at Snape in horror, his purple face blanching with fear. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but all that came out was a series of inarticulate grunts.

His point unmistakably made, Snape stood straight and swept back towards the door. Harry was still standing there, waiting for him outside. He stared at Snape in disbelief as the Potion Master sweep down the stairs like some black wraith. Snape said nothing and just shot him a dark, warning glare.

Harry stood there frozen, wondering if he hadn't just imagined what he thought just saw. But with a bewildered, halfway glance back at the house, Harry saw his uncle still standing in the doorway, staring after Snape with a horrified expression on his purple face.

"Come, Potter," Snape called, sweeping past the boy as if nothing had even happened, "Let's get you back to your mangey godfather. I have more important things to do than stand around here all day..."

Harry stood there frozen for several more minutes of stunned silence. But then, as if pulling himself together, he gathered his things back up and hurried after the departing Potions Master.

Maybe things were beginning to look up after all...

The End

Well? What'd ya think? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between? Even if you've never reviewed before, please don't feel shy about leaving me something now. It'd really make my day!

I bet some people are probably wondering what I'm planning to do next now that "Kept Behind" is officially done, or if there's any kind of sequel in the works. Well, there's no sequel as of yet, but I've already started work on another fic featuring our favorite Potions Master. So if you're interested in keeping up with any future works of mine, look for a new story sometime within the next week or so.

So, till then,

I'm LAXgirl,
signing out