WOW! I'm once again completely floored by the response to this fic. Because of this I'm updating a much more frequently than I originally planned. Reading all your nice reviews just gets me in the mood! Thank you so much. Of course, because of this you only have yourselves to thank for this update!

Almost all the reviews specified they didn't want to see Ron redeemed, or at least that he isn't forgiven. As I said, I have already decided what to do, but obviously I'm not going to tell you!

-:-

Chapter 6.

Severus Snape dropped the quill onto his desk and slowly unwound his fingers. They made a satisfying cracking sound, and Severus knew he had worked enough. The inkpot, full to the brim with nice red ink this morning, was now completely empty. It was a little after dinner, but Severus would just order something light, as he preferred on Sundays, and relax with a glass of his favourite red wine. Wine stored in casks made from trees woodland-fairies had abandoned. Very, very rare, but Severus had managed to procure a case. That felt like ages ago now.

Trying not to think how many bottles were left Severus retired to his study after stacking up all the papers he had been grading. He settled himself in his favourite chair, his eyes lingering on the coffee table for some reason. He distracted himself by summoning his glass and bottle, forgetting his hunger completely. He set the bottle aside to breathe a little, on the coffee table. Its polished surface seemed to call to him, begging him to cast a certain spell over it. For some reason the bottle had ended up at the far end. He quickly repositioned it in the middle of the table, along with his glass.

Severus was by now feeling slightly ridiculous. Why on earth should he not just use the Scios Totalus as he pleased? Potter's actions clearly justified his own. Perhaps it was not that he didn't want to view something private - well more than just something private, more like everything Potter was - but because of how often he had thought about it. What was it that was so interesting about the boy? Severus wanted to know, wanted to either confirm or refute these new thoughts he had about the Boy Who Lived To Serve His Relatives. He wanted, needed, to understand, because Severus Snape was a man determined to learn from his mistakes, even if he never actually admitted he had made any… except perhaps for the one big one.

Realising the absurdity of trying to deny himself while at the same time sitting there justifying everything, he removed the wine and glass to the side, but not before pouring a healthy amount. He settled back and said two spells in quick succession, ending with another to flip the image up so he could view it almost as a TV, though of course he didn't know that.

Harry Potter came into focus…

Harry groaned as he sat back on his heels, trying to straighten his back. He had been bending all day doing all kinds of chores. 'Hopefully things will get better once I'm used to this again,' he thought without much enthusiasm. He put the toilet brush back in place and stored away all the cleaning agents for the bathroom. He then thoroughly washed his hands and arms, splashing some water on his face for good measure. 'God I'm tired. Maybe I should just go to bed without asking if there was anything else? Oh, but the dishes aren't done yet. Damn.' Harry sighed and realised that tomorrow would only be worse if he didn't go back down.

'Wish Hedwig would turn up,' Harry thought as he descended the stairs. 'I have half a mind to owl Sirius despite Dumbledore's warning. If it weren't for the moment of peace this morning when the Dursleys went to church I might have run away. Go live as a muggle somewhere else. Being on the street is better than this… well, most of the time.' Harry entered the kitchen then, and was relieved that Vernon and Dudley were already in front of the TV in the living room. Petunia had already begun the dishes, but once she spotted Harry she immediately set the plate she had been holding down.

"What took you so long?" she demanded. She didn't care for his answer, though, as she waved her hand over the mess. "Get to work. And don't put my mother's plates in the dishwasher. Do everything by hand on Sundays."

"Yes, aunt Petunia, I remember," Harry said, making sure not to sigh at the end. Every single year when he came back they always assumed he had forgotten everything about cleaning and stuff. 'They think I'm stupid, obviously. Which I probably am, considering all the stupid stuff I've done over the years. The last of which of course was letting Ron get hold of that drawing. Fuck, this Hell is all my fault. I deserve this.' Harry washed the dishes efficiently and carefully. Petunia watched him for a moment, but then left to bring Vernon his tumbler of brandy. Harry's thoughts began to wander aimlessly, like he usually preferred when he worked. He was just lamenting the fact that he didn't have his broom, when he was interrupted quite violently.

"OI!" Harry jumped about two feet in the air, the wet glass in his hand slipping and crashing to the floor. He whirled around, almost making a move as if to draw his wand, but he was pushed hard against the sink before he could manage it. Dudley laughed nastily and shoved him again for good measure. "Nice work, there, Pothead," he said before turning and walking out of the kitchen quickly. Harry wanted to slap himself on the forehead. 'How the bloody hell did he sneak up on me?'

"What's going on? What've you broken this time!?" Vernon bellowed as he came into the kitchen. Harry almost swore aloud. 'Fucking arsehole! He did that on purpose. Wish I could hex his balls off!' Petunia just made her way past Vernon, who was almost blocking the entire door to the kitchen.

"My glasses!" she exclaimed. Harry wanted to point out it was only one, but bit his cheek to keep his expression neutral. "I knew it! You want to make trouble! You only came here to cause us misery! You ungrateful little boy! You did it on purpose!" Vernon was glaring at Harry, his eyes telling anyone who cared to look that the street was looking better and better from where Harry was standing. Petunia bent down and started picking up the pieces of what was obviously something much more precious than her nephew.

"Say you're sorry, boy, right now!" Vernon bellowed when Petunia gave a little sniff.

"I'm really sorry, aunt Petunia," Harry said as he bent down to help her. She swatted his hands away. Harry knew better than to tell her Dudley had startled him. Suddenly a beefy hand was clutching his collar and hauling him to his feet.

"Good, but it won't save you boy!" Vernon roared. 'Saved? I'm a lost cause. I'm already dead.'

"Vernon! The neighbours! Not so loud!" Petunia hissed. "Take the boy upstairs." Harry's whole body went rigid. 'Upstairs!? For breaking a fucking glass!?' Before Harry's brain could tell his body what to do he was already flailing and struggling against Vernon's grip, but the man pulled Harry against him and shifted his grip so he was using both hands to hold onto the front of Harry's shirt.

"That's right, boy. You need discipline if you're going to live here year round. Those freaks at that school probably let you run around wild, but not here. You're going to learn your place quickly." Harry shook his head, instinct taking over and making him push against Vernon's chest, but the man was like a mountain, unmovable. All the time his mind could think only one thing: 'Not upstairs! Not upstairs!'

Whenever aunt Petunia uttered the phrase 'Take the boy upstairs,' it only meant one thing: that she thought Vernon needed to punish Harry properly, so thoroughly in fact, that she couldn't bear to watch. That was almost worse than having her stand beside her husband, because it meant that somewhere, deep down, she knew it was wrong, but she didn't care. Not at all.

Vernon dragged Harry up the stairs, throwing disgusting insults along the way. He opened the door to Harry's bedroom, and just before he pushed the boy inside, Harry glimpsed Dudley peaking out of his room down the hall, smirking and with glinting eyes.

Harry fell into the room and quickly turned around on his back so he would know what was coming. 'He can't hurt me too bad. He needs me to work! I can't work if I'm bloodied up. This isn't like the summers where he knows I'll be gone eventually and he wants to get at least one good beating in. I'm here for good… but maybe that means he doesn't mind waiting till I heal up… or perhaps he won't care to wait at all.'

"I'm going to teach you some respect, freak!" Vernon declared as he towered over Harry.

"I'm not a freak anymore! I told you! I can't do ma-"

"You dare say that word in my house!" Vernon snarled.

"I'm s-sorry!" Harry stammered, scooting backwards, but trying to remain as flat and small as possible.

"You'll always be a freak! You're were probably even too freakish for that school, and that's why they pawned you over to us! Everyone would be happy if you were dead, but as you're not I'm going to make the best of it," Vernon promised, an ugly twisted smile gracing his face. His hands went down to his belt. Harry's eyes went wide. That was the worst. His fists were so big and fatty they were practically soft compared to Dudley's; they boy was now a boxer after all.

"No-… please, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

"Oh, you'll be sorry alright," Vernon quipped maliciously. "Get on the bed. On your stomach!" The man's voice made it very clear what would happen if Harry refused. He hadn't used the belt since before third year, afterwards they were too afraid of Harry's godfather, the escaped convict. Now, though, it seemed they assumed Harry had been abandoned by Sirius as well.

Harry had to crawl to the bed, as his legs would not hold him. He had never felt so in need of a wand. Not even in the graveyard with Voldemort himself had he wished for one more. At least then, he had stood up and accepted his fate; death. This mindless beating would leave him in pain for days and weeks. 'I don't deserve to be in Gryffindor,' Harry suddenly thought, laying down on his stomach and hiding his head under the pillow. 'I'm just gonna lay back and take it. If only I had my wand!'

Vernon roughly pulled up Harry's shirt, the sudden coldness made Harry's whole body shiver visibly. His uncle laughed cruelly, probably admiring his handiwork from years past. Harry heard a horribly familiar intake of breath, and knew Vernon was bracing himself to give the best, and hardest possible, blow. It came across his back, making him cry out.

"Keep quiet!" Vernon ordered. Harry bit into the pillow. He was pretty used to staying quiet during beatings, just like with the Gryffindor boys, but the first blow was always the hardest to take. Just as Vernon raised his hand for another one a shrill voice rang from downstairs.

"Vernon! There's a phone-call for you! There's a problem at work!" Vernon cursed loudly. Harry heard him putting on his belt again.

"Mark my words, boy, we are not finished. I'll see to it tomorrow, after work. You had better be finished with all your chores by then. I want you to wash the car as well, first." With that Vernon turned and left, locking the door behind him. Once his heavy footsteps could be heard on the stairs Harry sighed deeply and went practically boneless on the bed.

'Fuck, that was lucky. I'm probably not even bleeding.' Harry got up from the bed, his legs shaking and making him grab hold of the chair by the desk. 'For God's sake, pull yourself together! It was one blow, for fuck's sake. What are you, three years old again?' Harry berated himself as he tried to calm his rapidly beating heart. He was shaking like a leaf.

"Stop it," he said aloud to himself. "This is pathetic, more pathetic than you usually are. It was one blow," he repeated aloud and closed his eyes. "You're a Gryffindor. You're better than this." 'No you're not. Your former friends banished you from the House for all intents and purposes. You just took their beating too, remember? You're no more a Gryffindor than you are a wizard,' a little voice inside his head told him harshly. Harry staggered backwards and sat down again, breathing hard.

"No, that's wrong… I'm not-…" Harry drew in a deep breath, but what came out wasn't exactly what he had planned. "I'm not a freak." The statement seemed to break something inside him. Tears came out of nowhere, making him angry at himself. He held up his hands to shield his face. "I'm not a freak," he repeated, a sob following. He lay down carefully on his stomach again, clutching the pillow like a lifeline. "I'm not a freak," he murmured into the pillow. He wasn't a wizard anymore, so how could he be a freak? To him it seemed like the most unfair thing about all of it, at least at the moment.

"I'm not a freak, I'm not a freak," he chanted again and again as he lay there, sobbing in between. It wasn't fair! How could Vernon beat him for being a freak when he wasn't one! But apparently he was, Vernon had said so. Ron had said so, Seamus had, Dean had. It seemed like many people had said so. Harry counted them in his head. 'Snape has never said directly, but it was as good as, so he counts too. At least he's hated me from the beginning. Hate to think how Ron feels about being deceived all these years…'

"Why am I such a freak?" was the last thing Harry said before he broke down completely and sobbed until he fell asleep.

xxx

Severus waved his wand dazedly when Harry's thoughts finally became dreams. They were so disturbing Severus had been startled into dropping his glass. It didn't shatter, but the red wine seeped into the deep green carpet, making it completely black.

So much had happened in too short a time that Severus' mind was having trouble catching up. He had wanted to apparate directly to Privet Drive and hex the life out of that muggle man. How dare he attack a wizard! The worst had been Potter's thoughts. Severus hadn't felt so angry since… well, since the last time Potter was in his presence actually, the pensive incident.

But he couldn't do anything about it. Of course, had the man beat Potter senseless Severus was fairly certain he had gone to the Headmaster… almost positive at least. That was a conversation Severus was hoping to avoid at all costs, well, not at the price of Potter's life, obviously.

Still, what if the brute made good on his threat to finish things? Could Severus just watch, and not do anything? The logical solution, of course, was simply not use the Scios Totalus again. If he didn't know, he couldn't do anything, right? Ha, that was as likely as Dumbledore suddenly declaring he was sick of lemon drops. He didn't want to admit it, but a tiny part of him knew he was addicted already.

Severus shook his head. This needed serious thinking over. Potter was… Severus still wasn't sure what Potter was. Not exaggerating the situation, that was for sure. He would just have to keep watching, as much as his schedule permitted.

'I'm not a freak,' echoed in his mind, along with that increasingly familiar sob. His heart gave a painful stab at that. Potter was probably as far from a freak as Severus could imagine. For one brief moment he wished Potter was there so he could tell him that. But the feeling passed away, and Severus rose from his seat, spelling away the mess he'd made.

He took a Dreamless Sleep potion before bed. Had he dreamed, you can be sure he would have dreamt giving the potion to Harry.