Albus Dumbledore twinkled merrily at the younger wizard who stood sulking by his desk.
"Come on, Severus, I will only be gone a few days. I promise to be back in time for the Sorting. Surely dealing with the few owls that might drop in…"
"And Potter," the Potions Master sneered, "You expect me to pick up Potter, don't you? Oh, I know you, Headmaster. You didn't mention it, thinking I would discover this slight oversight of yours while you were comfortably away. You promised Potter to pick him up from his relatives tomorrow. I suppose you expect me to take care of this as well?"
"Why, Severus, now that you mention it…" the blue eyes twinkled even more.
The tall wizard scowled. "Why can't the Weasleys pick him up?"
"Now, now, my boy, you know perfectly well that they are still in Egypt, or Harry could have joined them weeks ago."
"He'll be here, in the castle, with all sorts of mischief to get into!"
The old Headmaster stood up. "I must be leaving, Severus. I'm sure you will handle every situation admirably."
With that, Dumbledore activated a Portkey, leaving a fuming Potions Master in his office.
Harry Potter thanked his lucky stars that he had sent Hedwig away before the Aunt Marge fiasco.
Uncle Vernon had been SO angry. Harry never got a chance to flee when the large hands grabbed him, slapped him around and tossed him in the small room, promising real pain when the situation was dealt with.
Harry listened through the cracks as the Magical Reversal Squad punctured Aunt Marge and talked to Uncle Vernon, who assured them that Harry had been grounded, the likes of it would NOT happen again and would the freaks please leave his home now.
Then he had come up the stairs.
And so Harry had been locked without food in the small room for over two weeks now. If Aunt Petunia remembered, he was let out to use the bathroom and take a bottle of water. If she forgot – well. Harry had been practicing survival techniques his entire life.
His Uncle had come back twice after that night to reinforce his opinion on Harry's little accident. His left eye was swollen shut. When he did manage to open it, the orb looked bloodshot. He didn't sleep well. The bruises prevented him from laying comfortably.
With his relatively good eye Harry checked off another day on his calendar. Only three more days until September first. He was vaguely aware of the doorbell ringing but dismissed it as one of Uncle Vernon's clients.
At least he had gotten most of his homework out of the way as soon as he got back from Hogwarts, and despite the pain and fatigue he had managed to finish his essay on witch hunting. He did have to rewrite it, though, since he absentmindedly had scribbled down 'Harry hunting' a few times.
Why was Uncle Vernon yelling at his clients like that? Aunt Petunia wouldn't like it.
A dull thud and the screaming ended. Harry shook his head and went back to rewriting his essay.
Suddenly all locks on his door sprang open at once. That was strange. Uncle Vernon knew exactly which key went to which lock but all at…
That sounded like Professor Snape. Fortunately his Potions Essay was done. On all potions that used Belladonna. He'd found an old book of Dudley's and even added some extra Muggle information. If that didn't score at least an E…
Blearily he looked up. His glasses had broken weeks ago.
"Y-Yes, Pfro – Professor?"
What on earth had that filthy Muggle done to the boy? Potter could be annoying, he would be the first to admit that, but beating up a child like this was unacceptable. However, now was not the time. The sooner they were back at Hogwarts, the better.
"Where are your possessions, Mr Potter?"
"Cupboard under the stairs," the boy muttered, "Floorboard.."
With a roll of his eyes and a few deft flicks of his wand, trunk and supplies were reunited, shrunk and stowed in a pocket.
"Come along, Potter. We are going to Hogwarts."
He turned to stalk out the door, but a sudden light made him reconsider. Before his astonished eyes, the boy changed. Bruises faded, bags under eyes disappeared and the small figure even filled out some.
"Yes, sir, I'm coming," Potter answered calmly, "Are we taking the Floo, sir?"
Gulping once, Snape responded, "No, Potter, we will Apparate to the Hogsmeade Station, where a carriage is waiting to take us up to the castle."
It had to be a side effect of prolonged accidental magic. Potter probably had to cover up so many injuries over the years that the accidental magic had turned into a spell-like ability. The Potions Master wondered if it were glamour charms or actual healing spells.
The journey to the castle was quick enough. Once in the Entrance Hall, he motioned for the boy to follow him.
"Where am I to stay, sir?"
"Your dorm, of course. Don't expect the whole staff to entertain you, Potter. You will eat meals in the Hall with us. For Merlin's sake, stay out of trouble for at least a few days. Here we are, the infirmary."
Harry halted. "But I don't need…"
"I'll be the judge of that. In."
With his arms crossed and a bored expression on his face, Snape watched the proceedings.
"Well, Harry, apart from being a bit thin you are fine. A few hearty meals and plenty of snacks should help."
"What?" Snape just caught himself before his jaw dropped to the floor, "Poppy, he had a black eye and bruises all over him. Surely they aren't all gone now? Have you cancelled any glamouries?"
The nurse nodded. "Really, Severus, you must be mistaken. Now, I have other things to do. I will see both of you at dinner."
His jaw clenched, Snape stalked towards Gryffindor tower, Harry nearly running to keep up.
"The Password is," Snape sneered a bit, "Balderdash."
"It certainly is, dear," the fat Lady giggled, sipping what looked suspiciously like Ogden's finest from a teacup. She swung open.
The Potions Master stalked through his rooms trying to focus on something, anything!
"Stupid boy…brat…why would I care…" he muttered, "foolish woman, not to believe me."
His anger at the boy diminished. Clearly concealing his wounds from outsiders was something he had been doing for many years. It was most likely at best a semi-conscious effort. But his colleagues! Surely someone ought to have noticed something off with the child?
The boy refused to talk, hadn't said anything to Poppy over the years and not even now, when he know the Potions Master, of all people, would back him up.
"Well then," the wizard finally muttered with the tiniest of smirks, "if we can't do this the Gryffindor way, we'll just have to take the Slytherin route…"
Harry hesitatingly made his way to dinner that evening. Fortunately, he arrived at the same time as Professor Sprout, and she smiled kindly at him.
"Hello, Harry. It's still the holidays, so it's alright if I call you Harry, right?"
"Of course, Professor. I ah…"
"Oh, yes, feeling a bit shy at having to eat with your teachers, aren't you? Well, don't worry – just come with me, we'll find you a nice spot to sit."
Soon Harry found himself sitting between Professor Sprout and Madam Hooch, who happily engaged him in a Quidditch discussion. While they talked, the other professors trickled in. The staff table was replaced by an oval table, allowing for easier conversation. Professors McGonagall and Sinistra were next. Hagrid and Madam Pomfrey came in, discussing some creature Hagrid was caring for.
Finally Professor Snape stalked into the Hall, robes billowing behind him. He was accompanied by the Muggle Studies teacher, Victor Fairchild.
"What was taking you so long, Severus?" Professor Flitwick asked, "you didn't mention any plans to brew today."
"I wasn't, Filius," Snape replied smoothly, "I ran into Victor and we had a discussion about Muggleborn students."
"Did you, now?" Sprout smiled as she served herself some grilled salmon and lightly seasoned potatoes.
"I've been doing a study," Fairchild explained, "about the careers of our Muggleborn Alumni. Severus here seems to think magic is addicting."
"It is," Snape snapped, "how many Muggleborns go back to live among Muggles? The Ministry usually has to deal with a few cases of underage magic each summer, mostly from Muggleborns unable to control themselves. Magic is addicting. I bet that none of our students would be able to live without their ability to perform magic, meagre though those abilities might be, for even a week."
"That is ridiculous, Severus. Most Muggleborn students perform no magic at all in summer."
Snape sneered at Hooch. "Because they are not in a magical environment. But how many would be able to resist using magic HERE?"
Fairchild was eagerly jotting down notes on his napkin with a Muggle biro. "You do have a point, Severus, I should look into this. You, boy – Harry, isn't it?"
Harry looked up from his mashed potatoes in surprise. "Yes, sir?"
"Are you taking Muggle Studies this year?"
"I…" he looked around anxiously, "I haven't decided yet…I was thinking Divination and Arithmancy…"
"Take my word for it, Harry," Professor Sprout said, "Don't bother with Divination. Muggle Studies or Ancient Runes is a much better option."
Fairchild beamed. "Do take my class, and help me with this project for extra credit."
"Victor, Potter isn't Muggleborn," several staff-members reminded the over-eager professor.
"He is Muggle - raised, which is practically the same when it comes to this…project," Snape said disinterested, taking a roll from a basket and slicing it open as if it were a delicate potions ingredient.
"Just a few weeks – say, three or four. What do you say, Harry? For extra house-points and a better grade?"
"But..but I haven't decided if I'm taking your class yet!" Harry protested, "and my other classes? How am I supposed to go to class when I can't do magic?"
"See?" Snape motioned vaguely in Harry's direction, "he's backing down already at the very mention of not being able to do magic. Addicted."
"Am not," Harry reacted impatiently.
"Such an extensive vocabulary," Snape drawled, "alright, Potter. I would be willing to excuse you from the PRACTICAL part of my class for those weeks. You'll be doing extra theory instead. Does that solve your little dilemma?"
McGonagall looked pensieve. "It would be interesting, and my class doesn't start on the practical right away."
"Mine does, but I'm sure that practicing the wand motions and incantations with a pencil…" Flitwick squeeked, eager to help his colleague.
"My class doesn't require magic," Sprout said, and Vector nodded in agreement.
"Quidditch season doesn't start for another six weeks," Hooch nodded.
Fairchild was practically bouncing in place. "Wonderful, wonderful!"
"But…Divination…" Harry tried, confused.
"I'm sure Sibyl will be inconsolable," Snape said dryly, "it's a useless subject, Potter. While I would think Runes would be a better choice than Muggle Studies, it is at least a class that will teach you something decent."
"How do you think we should go about this?" Fairchild asked Snape, "to prevent accidental magic as well? Or the magic one uses for flying or brewing?"
"I suppose a magical inhibitor," the Potions Master replied, savouring a bite of fish, "I have one laying around somewhere."
"Oh, excellent! Harry, go with Professor Snape after dinner to get it fitted. I bet St Mungo's will be highly interested in the results of this study."
The Professors excitedly talked amongst themselves and some betting even seemed to be going on. Harry sat back a bit bewildered. What on earth had just happened?