Lunch had been wasted on Harry. His stomach was too tight to eat anything at all. He was a nervous wreck by the time he knocked on the Potion Masters door.
"Come in," Snape called.
He was brewing. Honestly, Harry thought, he must be a die-hard. Re-aged merely a few hours ago and already brewing again.
"Y-You wished to see me?" he asked. In the past, he would've covered up his nervousness with cheek, but now, having spent so much time with Snape as a baby, he couldn't bring himself to disrespect the man.
"No, Potter, I told you to come here, knowing full well I'd be here brewing, when I didn't have the slightest inclination to see you. Don't be ridiculous. Come in and close the door."
Harry obeyed, and stood by the table where Snape was working.
"Skin those shrivelfigs, please," Snape said, apparently absentmindedly as he continued to stir.
Harry set to work. After the figs, he prepared a few more ingredients until Snape clucked.
"I'm very far behind on the potions for the infirmary. That unfortunate de-aging set me days behind in my schedule. Mr Potter, retrieve three cauldrons and enough supplies for three batches of standard healing potion from the supply closet, please, and start the potions. I need to finish this…"
And the man had forgotten about him again. Harry wasn't sure what to think, but he did as he was told.
Snape seemed to have miscalculated the time he needed, because Harry was just carefully cooling down the completed potions with a timed cooling charm when the Potions Master finally came over.
"Hmmm." He peered into the cauldrons. "Adequate. Bottle them and put them in that box. Five points to Gryffindor for not wasting ingredients."
As they washed up later, Harry looked at Snape. The man had been decent, if awfully formal, but it escaped the young Gryffindor why the Potions Master had told him to be here.
"Our situation in class has not been…profitable to your education in potions," Snape began.
"Will you – are you going back to spying, sir?" Harry asked hesitatingly.
"No, I will not. The Headmaster expressedly forbade me to do so. Which gives me some options. One is to tutor you in my subject for the remainder of the holidays."
Harry looked up in surprise.
"Only you, Severus, would offer tutoring in Potions instead of a simple 'thank you'," Dumbledore laughed when the Potions Master informed him of the new arrangement.
Severus scowled. "Thank the boy? Albus, really…"
The Headmaster grinned and ruffled the dark hair, earning a Death Glare Grade 10.
"Yes, you do mean to thank him for not taking advantage of your unfortunate situation."
"If you must know, Mr Potter's behavior was a rather pleasant surprise," Severus admitted, "and if you're serious about me not returning to the Dark Lord…"
"I am," Albus suddenly looked old, "a large part of your conviction that I did not care for you as an adult was due to my sending you back to Tom."
"You asked me," Severus cut him off, "you did not force me."
"Didn't I? Severus, did you feel completely free to refuse? Were you wholly unconcerned with repercussions had you denied me?"
There was no reply, and Dumbledore patted a once again blackclad shoulder. "We have two new spies in the Death Eaters ranks, you know that. With your help, one or both of them will soon be able to infiltrate the Inner Circle."
"So…you're just trying to…" Snape started to sneer, but a sudden stern look from Dumbledore cut him off mid-sentence.
"No, Severus, NO. I am not trying to 'suck up' to you, as it were. I, too, have learned a lot over the past days. I started out hoping that how you were treated as a baby by us would affect your feelings, but they ended up affecting mine much more. I suppose I have suppressed a lot of the affection I feel for you out of fear. Fear that I might lose you. Taking care of you has freed those feelings and I for one am not inclined to lock them up again."
The Headmaster felt a bit chocked up when he received the first genuine smile he could ever recall Severus giving.
"…and so, stir five times counterclockwise, five times clockwise, before adding any other ingredients. Questions? Good. Who can tell me some of the most likely ingredients of Felix Felicis?"
Both Harry and Hermione's hands were raised. That is, Harry's slowly crept up into the air, while Hermione's shot up as if launched from her body.
"Erm…lovage, scurvy-grass or sneezewort, to account for the overconfidence that is a side effect from extensive use?"
"Exactly. Miss Granger, any additions?"
The Potions class went on, and even Neville managed to earn a few points for a relatively well-brewn potion.
"Professor Snape changed," Hermione said after class, "especially to you, Harry. He's civil."
Harry grinned. Severus was more than civil to him when they were alone or with the Headmaster. They could nearly be considered to be on friendly terms. The man had offered to teach him, and Harry accepted. Severus may no longer spy, but he certainly was well aware of Voldemort's strategies and way of thinking.
"I'm not even nervous about the finals next week," Neville smiled, "I think I'll do well this time."
"That's good, Neville," Harry said, a bit subdued. The year was nearly over, and he would be going back to the Dursleys soon.
Snape's voice from the classroom door made them turn around. "A word, please."
"Go on, I'll see you later in the library," Harry waved his friends off.
Snape led him to his office.
The Potions Master steepled his fingers and thought for a moment, unsure how to begin.
"The year is nearly over," he stated.
"Yes, it is," Harry agreed amiably.
"I have not forgotten what you told me during the Christmas holidays," Severus looked him straight in the eye, "and I have done some careful inquiring since then. Your relatives are dispicable."
Harry sagged into his chair. "I know," he whispered, "but what can I do? I told people, when I was little, and they didn't believe me. When I came here, I kept asking not to be sent back to them, but no one listened or asked me why not. I was just told to work harder at getting along with them. No one listens."
"I suggest that you tell the Headmaster. Not only that you don't want to return there, but the exact reasons for it."
"That won't help," Harry shook his head, "I'm safest there."
"Because of the bloodwards? No. The way your relatives have treated you, it is very unlikely that they are effective even if the Dark Lord did NOT share your blood. Furthermore, the Ministry knows where your relatives live. The Dark Lord has spies there. He has known for a long time where to find you during the holidays, and only his belief in those bloodwards has kept him away. One day he is going to find out that they aren't effective."
Harry paled, and finally agreed to see the Headmaster.
"I am sure it's not that bad, my boy. Your relatives might not like magic much…"
Harry bit his lip and shot a defeated look at Severus that clearly said: "I told you so, no one will listen."
"If you just try a bit harder to get along…" the old man was droning on.
"ALBUS!" Snape slapped his hand down on the desk, "You're not even LISTENING!"
The Headmaster stopped, shocked.
Severus carried on. "Harry just told you how his 'relatives' – and I use the term loosely – are treating him, and you in so many words call him a liar. Who are you, Rita Skeeter? I have done my own investigation, and found that the Dursleys aren't fit to care for a goldfish, let alone children. I also learned that Minerva warned you about that the night you left Harry there, and STILL you refuse to listen to the boy. He. Is. Not. Going. Back."
"Severus, my boy, the bloodwards…"
"are useless. The Dursleys didn't accept him as a family member, and thus, Harry has never considered that place 'home'. Not to mention that the Dark Lord now shares his blood, and could quite possibly simply walk in through the front door. Even if it weren't for those wards, however, the way he has been treated there is so unacceptable that whatever protection the wards and the Order provide from outside attacks is nothing compared to the danger he faces within."
Harry stared at the carpet, knowing that if he looked at the Headmaster now, the old man would be instantly bombarded with all his memories of being mistreated.
"You are far too convinced that everyone cherises children as much as you do, Albus," Severus's voice sounded tired and sad, "You are unable to imagine that anyone would be capable of hurting a child. While that is admirable, it has also made you blind to the sufferings of those whose upbringing was less than perfect."
He took a deep breath. "Harry was abused, Albus. I was abused. We tried to tell you many times, only to be subjected to common platitudes and sent back. Not anymore. Harry stays here."
To his surprise, Harry saw his feared and always completely in control Professor wipe a tear from his cheek.
Dumbledore got up, and gently drew the younger man in a hug.
"I'm sorry, Severus," he released the Potions Master and sat down next to Harry.
"Is it really that bad?" he softly asked.
"Yes," Harry answered, and suddenly he felt tears run down HIS face as well. Dumbledore put an arm around him.
"You want me to fight your battles, but you wouldn't even fight for me," he said sadly, "you wouldn't even listen. I don't want to go back to the Dursleys."
"You're staying with me this summer," Snape said curtly, "one way or the other. If that is a problem because I'm not your guardian, I'll try to adopt you."
Twinkling blue eyes looked at them and they both groaned.
"Bye, Ron! Bye, Hermione! See you soon I hope! Don't forget to owl!"
Redheaded boy and brown bushyhaired girl waved frantically from the coupe window.
"Bye, Harry! Have a great summer!"
Harry grinned widely, glancing over his shoulder to the dark figure standing a small distance from the platform.
"I'm quite sure I will," he said to himself.