A.N. Sorry, sorry, sorry about dropping off the face of the earth for awhile. Life turned upside down on me several times in relatively quick succession. In addition, as a result of that, and other factors, I have had less time than before. So, I apologize and will try to be faster in the future. I also apologize that this chapter is shorter than average, but this seemed a cute place to leave it. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter Nine

Koto left the next day, intending to spend a few days putting some 'interesting' wards on the Dursleys, spending another night at Foxfire house, then going back to Japan. This left Liska and Harry alone, which wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that Koto's leaving left Harry with the deep fear that Liska would leave him too. As a result Harry got clingy. While Liska could understand exactly why he was doing this, and was far from unsympathetic, she did not do well with clinginess.

After the fifth time she found herself unable to leave a room without being followed, she decided to make a few decisions for her sanity's sake. Harry needed friends. Preferably friends his own age. Friends his own age that he could play with and give her a little space!

Draco Malfoy wasn't a possibility. Even if he was by some miracle the sweetest, most loyal child in the world, his father was too dangerous. Harry was her main concern, true, but being friends with Harry might put Draco at risk too. While she wanted to do something, she wasn't sure what could be done. Chances were that the Malfoys would notice if Draco disappeared, and that the world would notice if the Malfoys disappeared. It was an interesting thought but not a practical one. No, it simply couldn't be done. Not at this point at least.

However, while she couldn't invite Draco Malfoy, she might be able to invite Neville Longbottom. She had heard of the Longbottom's, and had been quite impressed by some of their accomplishments. If she wasn't mistaken, Father had even met them once. Such a shame what happened. Anyway, the possibility had merit.

Unfortunately, she didn't know much about Augusta Longbottom other than what she learned yesterday. While she was able to get a basic idea of the woman's character, she needed more. Fortunately, she had an idea on how to get more information. Liska managed to get a parchment and quill after only nearly tripping over Harry twice, and wrote a brief letter. Hopefully, she'd get an answer soon.

The problem with inviting anyone else into the secret was the fact that the more people who knew a secret, the less of a secret it was. The answer always came down to one point. Harry had to learn how to defend himself. Hopefully it wasn't too soon.

"Hey Harry, follow me." More unnecessary words were seldom spoken.

Liska led the way to the dojo, Harry trailing after her like a puppy. "I want to show you something. Stay here." Moving into the center of the room, she began what she privately referred to as her 'Exhibition routine'. It was made up of impressive looking moves from several areas of martial arts with some gymnastics thrown in for good measure. The gymnastics moves were generally to look more visually appealing, but could be useful in a pinch. Judging by Harry's scent and wide open eyes, she had succeeded.

"Can I do that?" Harry asked as soon as she was done. Perfect.

"Yes and no. I can teach you how to do all that but it will take a long time and a lot of work. I know it can be tough, but I want you to learn, okay?"

"Okay!" Good, Harry was still thinking of this as a treat. Hopefully by the time that wore off, it would be a habit.

She couldn't teach him much yet. How to fall, certain stances, that would do to start. Then from there she could teach him the forms. Aikido would be probably the best place to start, since it didn't require punches or kicks and the main focus was using your opponent's weight and size against them. She had started on Aikido, and she had been even younger than him.

"Great. Let's get started."

888

Albus Dumbledore loved Hogwarts with all his heart. He loved it as a student, he loved it as a professor, and he loved it as Headmaster. However, that didn't mean he loved everything that was involved in being headmaster. At the moment he was dealing with one of his least favorite responsibilities, paperwork. After discipline, paperwork was what he hated most. Pity he couldn't 'lose' some of it. Unfortunately, Minerva was still angry from the last time she caught him making paper phoenixes from unnecessary papers and flying them off the astronomy tower. The deputy headmistress had threatened to bring him to Madame Pomphrey if he did it again. There were limits to encouraging people to believe he was slightly mad. One of those limits was anything that put him at odds with the school's talented but formidable medi-witch.

Contemplating the futility of paperwork, he spotted an owl heading to his window. Eager for a break, even if the letter would likely require more paperwork, he took the letter from the unknown owl. He was pleasantly surprised to see that it was from Liska, and wouldn't require paperwork at all.

Headmaster Dumbledore,

I would like your advice on a certain issue. Harry very much needs friends his own age. Yesterday, I took him to a puppet theatre where he met and befriended, while somewhat incognito, one Draco Malfoy, and one Neville Longbottom. I know enough of the Malfoys to realize that Harry can not spend time with Draco, but perhaps he can safely befriend Neville. I realize that one can not ask a five year old to keep his identity secret to a friend so I request your advice in this matter. In your opinion, can I safely tell the Longbottoms? You would know them better than I. Thank you for your time.

L

P.S. I would appreciate a timely response if at all possible.

Albus sat back and pondered. While it was a coincidence, the thought of Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, and Neville Longbottom becoming friends amused him tremendously. Quite frankly, if Liska was willing to relax her security enough to let the Longbottoms in, he saw no particular reason why she shouldn't. He thought about the Malfoys and wondered again, what, if anything, could be done. Again, he came to the conclusion, nothing.

Putting that thought away before he became depressed, he took a lemon drop and decided to test to see if he could still slip past her anti-scrying ward. If so, he would warn her about the hole. However to his mixed relief and disappointment, he could not track her magical signature at all. That done, he was about to start a reply when he was informed that Severus was at the door.

The potions master had come to drop off more paperwork, in this case, a list of required potions supplies. "Ah, Severus, how are you my dear boy?"

"Well enough, headmaster."

"Excellent. Lemon drop?"

"Thank you, no."

"Very well, when do you plan on visiting Harry and his guardian again?"

"It has only been two days! Surely there is no need?" Severus did not look very happy at the idea of going again.

"Need? Perhaps not. It is simply that I received a letter from her and wondered if you wouldn't mind giving the reply."

"Is there a particular reason you can not reply by owl post?"

"No, owl post will be sufficient."

"Then why send a messenger?"

"No reason at all, except………"

"Yes, headmaster?"

"Except I wonder at exactly how she acts when she thinks no one is watching."

"I see. Very well, I believe I can take a little time off of work. What message do you want delivered?"

Albus smiled, eyes twinkling. He knew of the child's drawing still locked in the professor's desk. The more positive experiences Severus had with the boy, the better he could over come his hatred of Harry and hopefully the boy's father. Besides, Severus really had to get out of the castle more.

888

Despite his respect for the headmaster, Severus Snape could not shake the feeling that he was going on a fool's errand. Even worse, he was very sure that should Liska discover him sneaking around, her reaction would be……. unpleasant. He was in no particular hurry to get threatened at sword point again.

Fortunately, time as a spy had granted him a few skills including a very strong disillusionment charm. Fully disillusioned, still as a statue, thoughts as quiet as possible, even the headmaster would walk past him as long as he wasn't specifically looking. Hopefully, that would be enough.

He reached the house without difficulty, and stood for a moment listening at the door. Making out the sound of voices a few rooms away, he dared to slip inside as quietly as possible. He shut the door, and paused, trying to hear if he had been noticed. From the sounds of it, he hadn't been.

The voices led him to an unfurnished room with permanent cushioning charms on the floor, and one wall spelled to be a mirror. Neither inhabitant looked to the doorway as they continued doing, well, what were they doing?

"That's it Harry, now just move your feet a little farther apart. That's it. Shoulders back, elbows and knees loose. Feel it?"

"I think so."

"Great! Hold that pose. See in the mirror? That's what the stance should look like. And remember what that feels like. Okay, we're done."

Potter started to relax then suddenly went back to position. Liska smiled. "Good catch. Owari."

"Owari." The child repeated, and the two bowed slightly to each other. Then they relaxed.

Liska gave the fan in her hand a negligent wave before saying something to the boy that Severus couldn't hear.

The boy suddenly started to run towards the doorway, and towards Severus. Startled, Severus quickly moved aside, so as not to be accidentally discovered. And he wasn't accidentally discovered.

Relaxing slightly at what he considered a near miss, Severus closed his eyes a moment. Until one nearly six year old missile nearly knocked him over with a hug. "Uncle Sevy!" Potter cried happily.

The shock was enough for him to drop the disillusionment charm. The feared, dreaded, and avoided head of Slytherin stood with disbelief and no small amount of horror at the small child latched on to him, looking extremely pleased. He tried to speak, but all that emerged from his throat were strangled choking sounds. Which, was actually probably just as well. If he shouted at the child, the boy's guardian would be most angry.

That's when he remembered that Liska was still in the room. After all, she wouldn't want the child hanging on to him, right? His hopes of a speedy rescue were dashed as he spotted the kitsune, shaking with silent amusement and attempting to record everything with a magical camera that she must have summoned from somewhere.

Finally Liska evidently decided they had traumatized the professor enough. "Okay Harry, time to let go of Uncle Sevy. Why don't you go play a bit? I need to talk to the professor for a little while." Turning to the sputtering man, she calmly offered him tea as Potter left reluctantly, promising to see him later.

Severus found himself directed to the kitchen, and had drunk half of the confounded tea before he was able to speak, and even that wasn't as articulate as he would like. "Uncle Sevy?" He choked out.

"Well, you can't expect a five year old to pronounce 'Severus'."

"He can call me professor Snape." There, that came out almost normal. Snappish even. Unfortunately, Liska was immune.

"Nonsense. In my skulk we call all adults who aren't parents or grandparents 'Aunt' or 'Uncle'. If I understand correctly, many of the purebloods in this country do the same. Besides, I already told him to call you Uncle Sevy. If you go back now, he'll feel unwanted. That would be bad." She was smiling, her tone was light, but her eyes promised pain and lots of it should he make the boy feel 'unwanted.'

"You could have asked before having him call me..." He couldn't even say it. "By that ridiculous appellation."

"Oh, but I knew you wouldn't mind. Not once you get used to it."

"Is he also being so familiar with the Weasleys?" Actually, he probably was. They likely wouldn't mind. Liska confirmed his suspicion quickly.

"Oh yes, they're absolutely delighted."

"Of course." He grumped. He wasn't pouting. Only a complete idiot would think he was pouting.

"Well, I'm glad we have that settled. So, are you here to visit with Harry or did you have another purpose?"

Shuddering slightly at the idea of coming so far to visit the Potter boy, Severus answered, "The headmaster has asked me to deliver a reply to your earlier letter."

"Ah, yes. And……?"

"He sees no reason you cannot extend your secret to the Longbottoms if you wish. Personally, I don't see why you want to." He would have continued, but she cut him off.

"Good, thank you. I believe I shall. Harry needs friends his own age. Anything else?"

Pride and curiosity warred over whether he should ask her about how they knew he was there. Curiosity finally won. "How on earth did you even know I was here?"

"Please, the instant someone steps foot over the wards, I know they're there. If I hadn't recognized it was you, well, let's just say that strangers are not getting in here easily."

"Alright, but the Potter boy can't see through disillusionment charms…… can he?"

"No, but knowing approximately where you were, I was able to show at least a blurry outline for him to find."

He scowled and shook his head. Still, what was there to say? And quite frankly, he felt a bit more respect for her as a result. Just a smidgen. "I didn't see you cast anything."

"Don't blame me because you can't recognize what's right under your nose." Before he could decide whether that was an insult or not, she changed the subject to when the next lesson would be. Before they finished that discussion, the child came back, with yet another picture for him. This time he thanked the boy before that infernal woman could do something to his hair. He still decided it might be best to leave as soon as possible.

888

While not commonly known, some scientists insist that the sense of smell is the most memory invoking of all the senses. Most normal humans don't think much off it, not relying heavily on that sense. They take pictures, and keep them in frames or books. Remus Lupin primarily kept articles of clothing. Little things really. A shirt here, a handkerchief there. He didn't particularly want socks or underclothes for obvious reasons. His absolute favorite, to remember what happy memories used to be, of a time when he had friends and a purpose, was Harry's old baby blanket.

Baby Harry had a number of baby blankets, so no one was too worried when one went missing, even when it couldn't be found. It was even possible one of them suspected part of the truth, but no one said anything. Remus, tired of hiding behind lies for his mission for Dumbledore, while visiting with Sirius and Peter had basically taken a blanket that was to be washed, cast a spell to preserve the scents, and walked away with it. Every time he was discouraged and wondered why he was even trying to go on, he would pull out that blanket.

After the war, he hadn't pulled it out in a long time, afraid he wouldn't be able to deal with the memories. But eventually he started to pull it out again at times. Often it was when he was in a particularly masochistic mood, but still, the memories gave him some comfort. Even if all had ended in disaster, there had been good times before that. It was cold comfort, but it was all he had.

After another disappointing day, being turned down for jobs he was ridiculously overqualified for because of his condition, wondering again what happened to Harry, and other minor pieces of bad luck, Remus considered the blanket.

He knew where it was, as he kept his memorabilia together. Get it, take the charm off, and remember a different time. For a short time, he could forget his current misery. Unfortunately, no gift was without price and the price to this one could be steep. Lately, every time he tried to stave off depression by remembering the past, he could escape for awhile, before depression hit even harder. No, it was too costly. Not tonight.

The dejected werewolf fell into a troubled sleep not knowing that certain answers were as close as his closet.

888

Liska awoke, suddenly, heart racing, air catching her throat. After a moment, she could force herself to relax a little. Very little. It was only a nightmare. In the time that she had been taking care of Harry and dealing with his nightmares, she had been able to temporarily forget that she was also plagued by the dratted things. And they were certainly not playing fair.

It was alright for things to happen to her in dreams, she could deal with that. She had dealt with enough in real life. The memories of death that she could do nothing about, or even that she'd caused, was worse, but again she could cope. True, she sometimes woke up thinking she'd never be able to sleep again or even want to, but by and large she managed. But when the nightmares included Harry……. Well, that just wasn't cricket!

But it was just a dream and Harry was fine. Wasn't he?

Before she could even mentally castigate herself for being an idiot, she was at his bedside. 'See, stupid self? He's fine.' One of her more annoying, but necessary, voices pointed out. By and large, she was ignoring it, being much more concerned with watching the child sleep.

'Are you planning on going back to sleep, or are you going to stand there all night like an idiot?' Asked that same voice. She called it Critic, and ignored it whenever possible. Probably because it always sounded like a cross between Father in one of his moods where only perfection would do, and one of the nastier boys back home who had always disdained her for being a half-breed.

Unfortunately, Critic tended to raise good points even if he was insufferable about them. She did need the sleep, even if it currently felt impossible, and she really couldn't stand here all night. However, after a nightmare like that, well, not even Critic was moving her from the child's side tonight.

Finally she compromised. Moving the blanket curtaining his bed, Liska slipped into fox form, found a space on the bed, and dozed off. Even if being nearby didn't work, being in fox form usually meant that her nightmares, if she had them, were less intense.

Before she completely fell asleep, Harry started to stir, having a nightmare of his own. Liska rubbed the side of her face against his. The reminder that he wasn't alone caused him to still, and drift into a more peaceful sleep.

Neither of them had any more nightmares that night.

A.N. Okay, Liska's saying something wasn't cricket. It's a very British expression, and while Liska wasn't raised in England, her mother was, and she can pass. I figure she got the expression from her mother. Again, sorry for lateness, and thank you to all those who haven't given up on me.