Chapter 46...Revised

Harry had been back in his father's quarters for four days and he was ready to climb the walls. For the first two days, he had slept most of the time, just as he had done in the Hospital Wing, but now his energy levels were rising, bed had become totally anathema to him. He did not think he would care if he was never horizontal again.

True to his word, Severus had arranged to have Harry moved to their dungeon quarters the very day he had told him of his plan. The move had taken place just before midnight because it was necessary for the corridors to be empty. Harry could not use the Floo network because every time a wizard travelled by Floo, there was an infinitesimal drain on his magical reserves. In the normal course of events, a healthy wizard would not even be aware of this slight depletion because the lost magic was restored by the wizard's own system within twenty-four hours. But because Harry was suffering from magical exhaustion, it was inadvisable for him to utilize even that tiny amount of magic because his core was so badly drained. Time was what was needed to enable Harry's magical reserves to reach full capacity again. Magicfree time.

Harry had not been told all the ramifications of his illness and when he had suggested that such a miniscule drain could hardly be a problem, Severus had nearly blown a fuse. Before Harry's eyes he had immediately morphed into Hogwarts' notorious Potions Professor, monumentally incensed as he glared at Harry Potter, and pointing out in a very Snapeish way that if Harry had followed orders from the beginning, then the Floo may well have not proved to be a problem.

Harry had known that any further discussion was pointless.

So, instead of travelling by Floo, Severus had—much to Harry's mortification—used a hover charm to transport him to their quarters on a stretcher, it and its passenger totally concealed by the invisibility cloak. Harry may not have used any magic, but he had been afflicted with a severe case of motion sickness, and no sooner had Severus guided the stretcher through the door of his rooms, Harry's stomach rebelled mightily and relinquished its contents onto the stone floor just inside the door.

An ecstatic and enthusiastic Dobby had been waiting excitedly and upon seeing his hero's distress, had immediately produced a receptacle for Harry to finish retching into and banished the pool of vomit, all before Severus could even lower the stretcher.

Severus had been privately irritated by this elfish display of power and he had insisted upon settling Harry into bed himself and providing him with an anti-emetic potion. The journey and its culmination had exhausted Harry and he had fallen asleep before he could even hand the phial back to Severus or thank Dobby, who was hovering nearby, for his attention.

Dobby's ears had drooped with disappointment when it became obvious that Harry Potter's father was not going to give the elf total autonomy with Harry Potter's care. When Dobby had first been summoned by Professor Snape he had been told that the professor was Harry Potter's father and that if Dobby told a single, solitary soul that piece of information, then Professor Snape would force feed Dobby a potion that would make him forget that he was a free elf and think that Professor Snape was his very, very sadistic master!

Dobby was very frightened of Professor Snape, so his lips would remain sealed upon this particular secret until the day he died.

Soon after the professor had given Dobby this all important task and after he had assured Dobby he had nothing to be worried about as long as he kept his mouth shut, Dobby had gone to Madam Pomfrey so she could give him instructions as to Harry Potter's care: his potions and his current health regimen.

After seeing the elf's enthusiasm and affection for Harry, Severus had—despite his irritation with not being able to fully care for his own son— accepted that he had chosen the best elf for the job. He had no fear that the elf would talk out of turn because he had pointed out just how dangerous such knowledge could be in the wrong hands. That should have been enough to ensure the elf's silence, but Severus added the threats just to be sure. He never left anything to chance.

To aid in the subterfuge, Severus had charged Albus with the task of telling the rest of the house elves that Dobby was looking after Professor Snape exclusively. He did not have to give a reason because he was the headmaster and the elves had to obey without question.

Albus had happily complied but Severus had wiped the vacuous smile from the old man's good-natured face by telling him that this simple task in no way exonerated him for the high-handed way he had shanghaied Severus that morning and forced him to bed as if he were a child.

When Harry had awoken on his first morning in the dungeon quarters, he had been irritated to find that he had fallen asleep within seconds of being back in his own room; he had not even had the opportunity to revel in that fact, and it was all the more galling because he had spent most of the daylight hours of the previous day, sleeping. It seemed to Harry as if he was giving Rip Van Winkle a run for his money. Dobby was ecstatic to be able to care for Harry Potter and he served his hero with fervour and dedication, though never once ignoring the strictures of Madam Pomfrey or Professor Snape.

SSHP

Even though he was bored out of his brain, day four saw Harry's invalid strictures lightened a little, with him being given bathroom privileges. For the first time in he did not know how long, Harry revelled in having a shower. Madam Pomfrey had removed the bandages from his hands the day before; Harry had been able to clench his fingers into fists with only the mildest discomfort. Severus' Stringywort Unguent had worked its magic given that Harry had not done anything for a while to counteract its efficacy.

Harry had not been impressed to find he had to use the same stool in the shower that he had used all those weeks ago following the poisoning and though he complained bitterly, he found, just as he had that first time, that he needed the stool as he was well and truly done-in halfway through his ablutions.

After his shower, and despite his mind and body telling him that he needed to sleep for a while, Harry had fought his body's dictates and declared that he would be fine sitting in an armchair. Dobby had regretfully denied the suggestion and had instead fashioned several pillows into an armchair arrangement.

When Severus dropped in at lunchtime, Harry was just waking from the nap he had denied he needed; he had slept semi-recumbent, ensconced in the armchair-pillow construction. As soon as Harry saw Severus, his face took on a mulish irritation and he awkwardly wriggled into a more upright position to give him a little more dignity and authority when he voiced his growing displeasure with his current circumstances.

Severus eyed his son with sardonic resignation as he handed him his glasses; he had known that Harry was just about at the end of his not-very-long-tether. The poor kid had been laid up for a week now and though Harry still had a way to go before he was fully back to normal, the peace and quiet in the dungeon quarters had had the impact Severus had been hoping for. With little in the way of external stimulus, Harry had had nothing to do but rest and recover.

Harry's convalescence was taking so long, the boy was becoming a bit nervous about how much work he was missing. Severus had not pushed at all, being more concerned with his son's health at this juncture, but Harry himself had asked for his books and as often as he was able (which wasn't as often as he would have liked) Harry had immersed himself in the 'Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6', 'Confronting the Faceless' and 'Advanced Potion Making', as well as the assignments Severus had collected from Harry's teachers.

But it was obvious that a mutiny was brewing, and Severus could not really blame the boy. He knew he would have been just as crazy with such a length of time of enforced inactivity when he was a teenager and even now, when common-sense was supposed to be part of the equation that made him an adult, Severus knew that spending so long virtually bedridden would be just as abhorrent.

Not to mention the fact that Harry had two very close friends he was practically joined at the hips with and a girlfriend (whom he probably wished he was joined somewhere with), who were all very important to him and he had to be missing them enormously.

Severus remembered how much he had missed Lily during the school holidays. But those weeks of suffering withdrawals from being deprived of her company had ultimately not stopped him throwing it all away when his anger and embarrassment had fused into an all-consuming momentary hatred of all things Gryffindor, including the love of his life.

Severus closed his eyes as the memories flashed by. No, I will not go there!

Harry opened his mouth to begin the expected tirade but Severus forestalled him with a raised hand and a drawled, "I know what you are going to say, and you might as well save your breath." He turned and made his way back to the sitting room.

Harry did not heed the advice. He leaned forward and yelled at the infuriating man's back, "How can I say anything at all to you if you walk away from me before I can open my mouth?"

There was no answer and Harry threw himself angrily back against his pillows. Every instinct screamed at him to get out of bed and follow Snape, but for once, common sense won the day. To release some of his anger, he grabbed one of the pillows forming the arm of his chair construction and threw it to the floor. It was quickly followed by its opposite number.

He slumped down in the bed again contemplating whether to throw some more pillows to the floor, but in the next instant, Severus reappeared with a tray of food. Harry scrambled upwards again, his cheeks burning with the embarrassment engendered by his childishness.

Severus eyed the new floor decorations. "Very grownup."

He held the tray with one hand while producing his wand with the other and casting a Hover charm on the tray so that it came to rest just at the right height for Harry to attack his food comfortably. Harry eyed the sausages in onion gravy, mash and peas and the plate of treacle tart and cream with little interest. He knew it would be useless to argue that he wasn't hungry, so he picked up his fork and poked it into the white fluffy mound of potato.

Severus pulled the chair closer to the bed and watched Harry make railway tracks in the potato with his fork. "The purpose of a fork is to transfer food from one's plate to one's mouth, Harry. I know that you know at least that rudimentary piece of table etiquette."

Harry scowled at his food and transferred a tiny amount of potato to his mouth. He swallowed and went back to his artwork. "Where's Dobby?" he asked petulantly.

"I sent him to the kitchens for half an hour to eat his own meal."

Harry snorted. "Bet he loved that. He seems to revel in his new job of jail warden." Harry looked over the top of his glasses at his father. When he saw Severus eyeing the still full plate with a stern eye, he picked up his knife and cut a piece of sausage.

Severus leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair and steepled his fingers under his chin. His eyes remained fixed on Harry who found it impossible not to eat under that stern gaze. "The condition that you were allowed to leave the hospital wing was that you would follow orders to the letter, Harry. You do remember that conversation, do you not?"

Harry picked up his glass of pumpkin juice and swallowed half the contents in two gulps.

"Harry?"

"Yes, I remember," was the sullen answer.

"The elf is only doing what he has been ordered to do. Myself and Madam Pomfrey are the ones Dobby answers to, not you."

"So much for loyalty," mumbled Harry.

"I was under the impression that you did not covet the title of 'hero', Harry. But as soon as the elf fails in his self-imposed task to bestow upon you the worship he has always conferred, you sulk."

Harry banged the handle of his knife on the tray. "I don't want anyone hero-worshipping me!" he cried. "That's utter rubbish and you know it."

"Then stop sulking."

"I am not sulking. I'm bored and I'm irritated, and I'm angry that you still haven't bothered to tell me why I've been so sick." Harry's cutlery clattered onto the tray and he leaned back and crossed his arms." Severus saw that at least some of the food had gone and he knew he had to be happy with that; Harry's appetite was still a very fragile thing. He wasn't going to force the boy to finish the serving.

Severus stood, pulling forth his wand again. He tapped the half empty glass and Harry watched as the level of the juice increased, then Severus placed the dessert and replenished glass on the side table before banishing the tray and the remains of the main meal.

Severus stood and gazed down at Harry from his lofty height. Harry despised his infirmity, he despised being in bed and always being looked down upon. Oh, sure, Severus would always look down at him because Harry was convinced he would never attain his father's six foot height, but at least if he was upright, he didn't feel quite so insignificant. But Severus' next words made Harry sit up straight with excitement.

"If you remain in bed for the remainder of the afternoon and rest, I will bring some visitors to see you after the evening meal."

Severus would have smiled at the look of excitement on the boy's face, but smiling was becoming too easy and he most certainly didn't want to get in the habit in case he smiled at someone other than the boy.

"You're kidding, right?" squawked Harry with delight.

Severus smirked before he turned to the door. "Yes, Professor Trelawney has been very concerned by your continued ill health."

Harry grinned. Really, his father had a sick sense of humour. It was just a pity that he didn't exercise it more. The afternoon no longer seemed as if it would stretch into eternity.

SSHP

"Miss Weasley!" Ginny's head snapped upwards and as it did, her hand jerked and the rare and very expensive dragon scales she had spent so long crushing to a fine dust and was slowly trickling into her 'Teeth-toughening Solution', spilled onto the desktop.

Severus swept down the aisle, producing his wand. He stopped beside the indignant redhead and while he levelled a dark, contemptuous glare at her, he drew a small phial from a deep pocket within his robes and pointing his wand at the spillage, he directed the glittering powder to stream into the small glass receptacle. He pocketed the phial and continued to glare at Ginny, aware that the whole class was watching, the fifth year Gryffindors with scowls of resentment and the Slytherins with grins of delight. The audience was welcome to view this particular confrontation.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for your clumsiness, Miss Weasley and another twenty for wasting a rare and valuable resource." There were the expected titters from the Slytherins.

Ginny was at a loss as to why she had been signalled out, but her Weasley temper flared before she could think better of it. "If you hadn't yelled at me and frightened me half to death when I wasn't doing anything wrong, my hand might not have slipped." And before Severus could riposte, she bravely added, "And the scales were hardly wasted because you just collected every last grain."

Severus leaned forward so that his face was within inches of Ginevra's pretty nose. "And a detention for your cheek, Miss." Severus spun about and strode towards the front of the class, but not before Ginny saw the ghost of a wink. Or at least she thought she did.

"Clean up the rest of that mess that only loosely resembles the 'Teeth-toughening Solution'. And that paltry effort earns you a zero."

Ginny gritted her teeth as she took out her own wand to vanish the rest of what had been a perfect—up to Snape's untimely and unfair intervention—'Teeth-toughening Solution'. After her supplies were neatly stowed away she sat with crossed arms and glared at Harry's father. What was all this about?"

The bell rang fifteen minutes later and when Ginny tried to join the exodus, Severus called her back. Colin Creevey squeezed her shoulder when Ginny turned with a sigh to backtrack. "Try not to hex him, Gin," he whispered. "He's not worth the grief. I'll wait for you in the corridor."

Severus was holding one sample phial after another up to the light streaming in through the half-windows high on the wall behind him to inspect the efforts of his class; Ginny waited in resentful silence, her bag on the floor at her feet. Without looking up, Severus said, "You will report to this classroom at seven this evening. I have a boxful of dead fairies that need to be de-winged, and it has your name written large upon it."

Ginny mouth set in an angry line; she shuddered. She hated de-winging dead fairies. It was very delicate work and the tiny creatures had a human appearance and it made her feel as if she were desecrating a human body, albeit a miniscule one. So far in Potions her classes had only ever de-winged the number of fairies they would need for that day's potion, and those potions had been very few and far between.

Severus was still inspecting the phials. He put the last one back in the crate and with an extension of that movement, he stretched his arm a little further and pushed a piece of parchment folded so that it fitted neatly into a fisted hand, across his desk. When he looked up, Ginevra's mouth was an 'o' of surprise. "Do not be late or it will be a week's worth of detentions." He jerked his head slightly towards the piece of parchment as he said, "You may go."

Ginny bent forward to retrieve her bag, palming the note as she did so. She shoved it deeply into a pocket in her robe as she turned to hurry from the room. Colin was waiting for her and he kept up an angry tirade against Snape all the way to their History of Magic class. As Colin sat next to her, Ginny did not dare try to read the note, even though she was dying of curiosity and excitement, but as soon as the bell rang to finish classes for the day, she excused herself and rushed to the nearest bathroom.

Ginny dropped her bag on the bathroom floor before racing into a cubicle where she fumbled with the lock for several infuriating seconds. Finally, alone and assured of privacy, she fished the note out of her pocket; she forced herself to sit on the toilet lid before opening the parchment with shaking hands.

It only took a few seconds to read the missive but its contents were such that a huge grin unfurled on Ginny's lovely mouth. She read the words over and over and her grin grew wider and wider...

Miss Weasley,

I would appreciate it if you were to arrange

to have an altercation with your brother and

the redoubtable Miss Granger outside the

Great Hall just before the evening meal.

6 o'clock.

I will just happen along at that moment and take

great delight in informing your brother and the

female third of the of the Golden Triumvirate

that they may join you for detention this evening.

I am sure you can deduce why I am going to these

lengths to be in the company of three

particular Gryffindors whom it is well known, I despise.

SS.

PS: Your lost points have not been recorded and you have

earned full marks for today's potion.

PPS: I am sure I do not need to instruct you on how to

create a scene. You are, after all, a Weasley and a Gryffindor.

These final words did not even put a dent in Ginny's happiness. Clever Professor Snape had worked out a way for them to see Harry. Not only that, but he was obviously just as much in 'father' mode as he was in 'snarky, bad-tempered Potions Master' mode, or else he wouldn't care if Harry was missing his friends or not.

And, she did not have to de-wing dead fairies. Double yay!

Ginny's happiness was double-fold because it meant that if Harry could have visitors, then he must be well on the road to recovery; he must certainly be better than the last time she, Ron and Hermione had seen him. And that was far too long ago.

Professor McGonagall had called the three of them together before class four days previously and told them that they would not be able to visit Harry for a while as he had suffered a setback during the night. Their questions had elicited little in the way of details, but it was impressed upon them in no uncertain terms that they had best not try to sneak into the Hospital Wing because Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape had set up some very complicated wards to ensure Harry's privacy; even other inpatients in the Hospital Wing would not know Harry was there.

Her gimlet gaze had settled on Hermione, and the warning did not have to be voiced: do not even think about which enchantments may have been used, Miss Granger, nor try to work out any counter enchantments! Hermione's face had burst into flames, but Ginny was sure that the older girl had been equally as pleased with the implicit compliment as she had been embarrassed by the chastisement.

Ginny was refolding the note into its original creases when she heard the bathroom door open and footsteps entering. She held her breath—why, she did not know because her bag was sitting in the middle of the floor outside the cubicle, so it was obvious someone was in here.

"Ginny?"

It was Hermione. Ginny exhaled loudly and scrambled to unlock her cubicle. Hermione looked her over carefully and her brow furrowed in confusion when she took in the younger girl's excited demeanour. "Colin told me you were here and that you were..."

"Look at this..."

Both girls spoke at once and Hermione looked taken aback as Ginny thrust the much folded parchment into her hand. "A letter from an ally," said Ginny mysteriously. While Hermione opened the note, Ginny took out her wand and locked the door and cast a Silencing Charm.

Hermione's frown deepened and upon reading the missive, she did not smile as brightly as Ginny had; she had taken exception to the word, 'redoubtable' as applied to her and the other implied insults against her and Ron and Gryffindors in general.

"Well," Ginny said, excitedly, "What do you think?"

"I think Professor Snape could have been a little less insulting..."

"Hermione!" said Ginny in exasperation. "Forget about the insults. That is Snape being Snape. He isn't going to turn into fluffy little Professor Flitwick just because he has belatedly become a father."

"Would it hurt him to try?" asked Hermione, seemingly unable to shelve her peevishness.

Ginny rolled her eyes. 'Hermione, forget the personality assessment, will you, and put that brilliant mind to thinking about what we are going to do to—Ginny made quotation marks with her fingers— create a scene?

Hermione sniffed and leaned her bottom back against the nearest hand-basin. She read the note again, as if she hadn't memorised the salient points the first time. "Well," she said pensively, "It's not exactly an anomaly for you to argue with Ron."

Ginny snorted. "Surely a case of the pot calling the kettle black, Hermione?"

Hermione's cheeks began to glow. "Your brother is enough to drive the white ants out of the wood," she huffed.

"Tell me about it. You've only had to put up with him for five years. I've had him my whole life!"

"Well," said Hermione, "When we've fought with him in the past, it comes naturally. But now that we need to fight with him..."

"And we can't make it about his appalling table manners because we have to enact this little charade before we get to the Great Hall.

Hermione frowned again. "I wonder why that is?' she said pensively.

"I think Snape wants to make sure he is the one to see us. If we were in the Great Hall and arguing at the Gryffindor table, it would be up to Professor McGonagall to chastise us.

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, of course."

"Well, regardless of where this altercation takes place, I'll have to come up with a good reason. I'm supposed to be arguing with both of you.

"Well, whatever you decide, I think it prudent that we don't tell Ron."

"Take him by surprise?"

"Definitely!"

"You're right. My brother's not that good an actor. He'd stuff the performance somehow or other. Best he really thinks I'm totally peeved with him."

"Shouldn't be a great leap," said Hermione and she and Ginny both giggled.

HPSS

"What's the matter with you?" Ron looked at the disgruntled expression on his girlfriend's face as they began to descend the marble staircase. He scowled when a couple of first year Ravenclaws jostled him and Hermione as they flew past.

"Oi!" he shouted. "Slow down you two; you're not supposed to run in the corridors and especially on the staircases—it's dangerous!" But they had already disappeared into the Great Hall.

"You'd think they'd never eaten before," he groused, but he began to hurry a little himself when his stomach gave a mighty growl. He latched onto Hermione's hand, trying to pull her with him but she twisted free of his grip. Ron looked back and when he saw the thundercloud that was Hermione's expression, he suddenly remembered she was out of sorts. He sighed and stopped his descent; Hermione just ignored him though and sailed past, her face set and angry. Now he grabbed a handful of her robe at the back and hauled her to a stop.

"Merlin's baggy y-fronts, Hermione, what's eating you?"

Hermione shuffled off to the side so that they didn't impede any more traffic. "Your sister," she huffed, and Ron's brow furrowed in confusion. Hermione and Ginny usually got along like a salamander and a fire. If they did have a disagreement, it was usually done and dusted within minutes.

"What's Ginny done to put you in this mood," he asked, ignoring with difficulty the protests of his innards as they demanded sustenance.

"She's just as reckless as Harry," Hermione said darkly. "She'll get caught and then she'll really be in for it. She won't be able to get past the wards anyway."

For once, Ron didn't need any further elucidation. "She's going to try to get in to see Harry, isn't she?"

Ron and Hermione were now the only students to be seen outside the Great Hall, but a movement at the top of the staircase caught Ron's eye. Ginny, her eyes snapping with fury and her lips set in a McGonagall-like slit was descending upon them like an avenging angel. She stopped in front of Hermione and before Ron could do anything to intervene, she poked Hermione hard in the shoulder. "What did you do with it?" she hissed.

Hermione rubbed her shoulder, looking bewildered. "What did I do with what?"

"You know very well what I'm talking about Hermione. Harry's invisibility cloak!"

Hermione drew herself up but before she could retaliate verbally, Ron spoke. "Have you been sneaking around in our dorm, searching Harry's trunk for his cloak?"

"Why shouldn't I?" Ginny demanded. "He's my boyfriend and I know he would want to see me. To see you pair as well, though why, I can't fathom seem as both of you have conveniently forgotten all about him.'

Ron's ears began to glow. "Bull, we've forgotten about him." He bent forward so that his face was directly in front of Ginny's. She did not back off. "You haven't got the monopoly on worrying about Harry. He was my mate long before he was your bloody boyfriend..."

"Then why aren't you trying to get in to see him?"Ginny screeched. "It's been forever and we don't even know how he is, whether he's getting better."

"Have you forgotten what McGonagall said?" bellowed Ron.

"No, I haven't forgotten anything, you idiot. But did it occur to you that she only said there were all of those enchantments just to keep us away."

"Harry needs peace and quiet, Ginny" said Hermione, trying to inject a little common sense into the fake proceedings.

Ginny rounded and advanced on her. "I thought you would understand him a bit better, Hermione—you are supposed to be his best friend!"

"Oi!" bellowed Ron, inserting himself between the warring factions. He grabbed Ginny's arm and she immediately struggled to extricate herself.

"Let me go you..."

"Trouble in Weasley heaven?" The unmistakable tone of Professor Snape in full disdain mode had the three combatants spinning about to look towards the base of the stairs. Ron groaned when he saw that Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle and the seemingly newest member of the gang, Nott, stood just behind their Head of House. The audience meant that Snape had to play the greasy git they all knew and hated, rather than the slightly less acerbic Severus Snape, father of Harry Potter. Ron failed to register the looks of satisfaction on Ginny and Hermione's faces, though he did note that Malfoy looked even paler than usual and seemed as if he would rather be a thousand miles away than in the midst of this Slytherin congregation. He also registered that Nott looked angry for some unfathomable reason. Crabbe and Goyle just looked their usual lummoxy selves, grinning like halfwits.

Hermione took it upon herself to continue with the scene that was playing out. She took a deep breath and descended the few remaining stairs; she stopped in front of the Slytherin throng with what Ron considered foolish bravado.

"We were just on our way to dinner, sir," she said in a slightly quavery voice. The quaver was not part of the act; Snape was very intimidating, with his arms crossed and the sneer firmly in place; Hermione found it difficult to remember that the man was actually playing a part.

"And as an appetiser, you thought you would cause a scene, did you Miss Granger?"

"No, sir, we..."

"I was talking to my brother," interjected Ginny snippily, joining Hermione at the foot of the stairs and glaring up at Snape with a mulish expression that only enhanced her considerable charms and made Severus want to laugh. She really was a diminutive dynamo; a regular Chinese Fireball; not to mention a very good actress. Harry would certainly have his work cut out for him if this relationship ran the course.

Next to him, Severus could feel Malfoy's giant bookends flexing their muscles and a sideway's glimpse showed him that both of them practically had their tongues hanging out as they leered down at the pretty Gryffindor; Severus knew that they were not the only Slytherin males who appreciated the very attractive girl. Rampant hormonal activity did not seem to recognise house boundaries.

Severus now leaned forward, the better to intimidate; acting or not, this is what he did best. Satisfactorily, Granger backed up a step but Ginevra held her ground. Ronald had quickly joined the two females but he did not equal his sister for bravery and he stood back with his girlfriend out of immediate harm's way. Severus doubted the boy was privy to the subterfuge, not if the look of indignant wariness was any indication; he was not that good an actor.

"Miss Weasley," Severus drawled, "I will take great pleasure in deducting another twenty points from Gryffindor for your continued impudence, but as you already have a rather tedious detention arranged for this evening, the only way I can see to enhance my pleasure is to have your brother and the walking encyclopaedia join you."

Twin sniggers erupted from the bookends and Weasley showed a little of his Gryffindor courage. "We weren't doing anything wrong..." When Severus transferred his obsidian gaze to him, Ron's speech petered out.

"Your sister will tell you the time to report to me, and if your Gryffindor housemates are wondering, you can tell them that the sixty point deficit—ninety if you count your sister's performance from this afternoon—is compliments of you three."

"Compliments of you, more like,' snarled Ron, more bravely than Severus would have thought possible a minute ago.

"Why don't we make it an even hundred points, Weasley?" Severus asked nastily with what Ginny thought was admiral restraint—only ten points for that mouthful of lip; she only hoped that these points in the form of rubies would stay firmly in the upper bulb of Gryffindor's hourglass, just as hers had done earlier. Her ruminations were interrupted by the Professor ordering them into the Great Hall to 'enjoy your last hour or so of freedom for the evening'.

Ginny positively glowed throughout dinner and she could hardly sit still; she was definitely too excited to eat.

"What are you looking so damn happy about?" snarled Ron. "This is all your bloody fault. I had plans for this evening."

'Oh what?" questioned Hermione, sarcastically. "Not homework, surely?" Ron scowled at her.

"Oh lighten up, Ron," chimed in Ginny. "We might be able to ask after Harry." She and Hermione exchanged pleased glances.

"I'm not asking that greasy shit anything. I don't care if he's Harry's..."

"Ron!" cried Hermione and Ginny together.

"...most detested teacher," finished Ron without missing a beat."

Ginny glared at him but Ron ignored her to focus all his attention on his heaping bowl of trifle. The two girls just looked at each other; Ginny shook her head and rolled her eyes but Hermione just sighed her frustration with the boy she cared for so deeply and wondered why her heart beat such a wild tattoo when she was near him, while her brain tried desperately to tell her she was a fool.

Head or heart? Hermione had been in the grip of this conundrum for well over a year now and she still had not reconciled herself to the dictates of either.

SSHP

Severus spent the time waiting for the errant Gryffindors correcting some of the abysmal homework offerings of his first year Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw class; the Ravenclaws in that class were far from Filius' brightest stars. As Severus slashed through a whole paragraph of pointless and indeed erroneous information with his red-inked quill, he had to admit, though grudgingly, that the Slytherin/Gryffindor first years were the brighter class. Severus smirked as he scrawled a very decisive red, 'P' at the bottom of the parchment. It should have been a 'D' but he was feeling beneficent.

The knock came at three minutes to seven, and Severus smirked; an eager Gryffindor was an obediently compliant Gryffindor rather than one who was compliant through fear. Three was triple the treat: a novel experience for all of them.

Severus pointed his wand at the door so that it sprang open; the three supposed miscreants stood in a huddle for several seconds before Ginevra took the initiative and crossed the threshold at a clipped pace. Granger followed , her attitude a little more wary than the younger girl and the male Weasley sloped in, his hands buried deeply in his robe pockets and a look of ill-usage adorning his freckled visage; he was obviously still in the dark about the whole charade.

Severus brandished his wand again and the door slammed, making his guests jump satisfactorily, and an extra flourish of his wand assured him the privacy he needed. He watched a petulant Ronald look around furtively for containers of creatures that might need skinning, deboning, gutting or squeezing. Severus' detentions were the most reviled in the school; he did not see the point in punishments being an exercise in improving a student's penmanship.

Severus now leaned back in his chair, steepling his forefingers beneath his chin as he gazed at the three young people who were absolutely necessary to Harry's happiness. As was to be expected, Ginevra took the initiative. "Are you taking us to see Harry, sir?"

Severus watched in amusement as Ronald's head snapped around to his sister. His mouth worked wordlessly for a moment before he swung back to face Severus. Severus couldn't hold back a slight smirk. That seemed to release Ron from his speechlessness. "Wh-what's going on?"

"Professor Snape is going to take us to see Harry," answered Ginny without taking her eyes from Severus. "That is what this is all about, isn't it Professor?"

In answer, Severus began to straighten the two piles of parchment on his desk; he didn't have to wait long for Weasley to begin his whinge. "So that whole performance on the marble stairs was an act?" Ron's voice was high with indignation.

"Ron..." began Hermione.

"Of course it was an act," said Ginny" unrepentantly. "If we'd told you what we had planned, Malfoy and co. would have seen through the act without you even opening your mouth."

Ron did his 'landed fish' impression again. "You're a crap actor, Ron. Face it."

Severus waited for the explosion and was surprised when Weasley stared at his sister for several seconds before shaking his head. "You're bloody amazing, you are," he said with more resignation than bitterness. He turned to Hermione.

"And you were in on this?"

"Ginny was the one Professor Snape communicated with," said Hermione hurriedly. "It was her plan, but I went along with it." She looked regretful, but then she squared her shoulders as she continued. "I'm sorry Ron, but Ginny's right. We couldn't tell you because we needed your reaction to be natural."

Ginny shut them out and turned back to Severus. "So, sir, will you take us to Harry? How is he?"

"So, we haven't got detention, then?" interrupted Ron, rather rudely, his blue eyes challenging as they locked with Severus's black tunnels of inscrutability.

Severus glared for a moment, irritation and amusement warring for dominance in his expression at the boy's rudeness. For Harry's sake, he opted for composed forbearance. "No, Weasley, you do not have detention... not tonight at any rate.

"And though nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you elbow deep in something you consider disgusting, I am afraid that my future sanity would be in jeopardy if I presented myself to the sickroom without the three of you in tow."

Severus stood and gathered his robes about him. His eyes narrowed and he included the three of them in their flinty glare before focusing solely on Ron. "If the subject should come up, however, you will vigorously and bitterly inform anyone who will listen that you had to squeeze a barrelful of Flobberworms. The black eyes shifted to Hermione, "and you, Miss Granger had to scrub cauldrons."

Without being subjected to the same death's glare, Ginny said, "And I had to de-wing dead fairies."

Severus nodded briskly. "Exactly." He gestured with his head for the three of them to precede him to the fireplace. Ginny moved immediately but Ron and Hermione looked at each other before following hesitantly, both wishing that they had Ginny's courage.

Severus reached up for the container of Floo powder; Ginny was amused to see that an old pottery salt pig was the receptacle used to store the glittering substance. Severus took a pinch of the powder and held out the container to Ron who also took a pinch.

"We will travel in pairs; Miss Weasley, you will come with me and you two..." he nodded to Ron and Hermione, "...will precede us."

"Are there no other patients in the Hospital Wing, sir?" Hermione was brave enough to ask.

"We are not going to the Hospital Wing, Miss Granger."Harry has not been there for the last four days. Your destination is 'Severus Snape's dungeon quarters'."

Three Gryffindor mouths dropped open but speech returned to Ginny almost immediately and she cried, "I knew it!"

Severus raised his eyebrows. "Indeed," he drawled. He pointed his wand at the fireplace and muttered, "Incendio", before indicating that Ron and Hermione step in. The thought of visiting their professor's private rooms made them so nervous they were rooted to the spot for several seconds before Ginny elbowed Ron into action, and taking Hermione by the hand, he threw the powder into the flames. When they were burning high and emerald green, Ron pulled Hermione forward with him into the pleasantly warm tickling fingers of flames. When they turned to face outwards again, Ron said in a reasonably steady voice, "Severus Snape's dungeon quarters" and immediately the two of them vanished and the flames returned to a red and yellow flicker.

Severus waited several seconds before he threw down his powder and indicated that Ginevra precede him into the gentle flames; he assumed the other pair would have been so nervous, they would end up on their backsides at the other end and he did not intend to become the token Slytherin in a Gryffindor heap.

HPSS

Harry was doubly excited: Madam Pomfrey, after that afternoon's examination had told him he could leave his bedroom to sit in the living room, and Ron, Hermione and Ginny were coming to visit.

Madam Pomfrey had also informed him he could 'be ambulatory for very short periods' as long as he did not tire himself. Harry figured she knew the exact dimensions of Snape's rooms and she knew he had nowhere to go that would require more than twenty steps there and twenty steps back. Certainly no room for running a marathon.

But the impending visit of Ron, Hermione and Ginny was going to be the highlight of his day. Truth be told, he would have been willing to spend another day in bed as long as he got to see his friends this evening. So his release from full time bed-rest combined with the promised visit was a double bonus.

Harry had been making a half-hearted effort to read his Transfiguration textbook but he was too restless to make any kind of sense of chapter two. He had made a poor stab at eating his dinner; the serving wasn't overwhelmingly large but he had been way too excited to be able to finish his chicken and mushroom pie or even his strawberry ice-cream. But even having eaten so little, hefelt a bit like a stuffed chicken himself as it was the most food he had consumed in one sitting since he had left the Burrow before term started.

Harry looked at his watch for about the tenth time since he had finished his dinner; it was only three minutes later than the last time he had looked. His father had not told him what time he was going to bring his friends to call or how he was going to get them together to bring them down here.

Harry smirked when he thought of the expression on Ron's face when he found out he would be coming here rather than to the Hospital Wing. Another glance at his watch showed that time was creeping forward even more slowly; only another minute had elapsed. Harry stood up—he could do so now without his head swimming—and began to wander around the room. He had become quite used to its proportions and its contents and found himself immensely comfortable with its worn furniture and the smells of ink and parchment, wood-smoke and old books.

In fact, Harry was beginning to worry himself. After living in close proximity to such a large number of books for a fair percentage of the last couple of months—and with nothing much else to do but read—he was becoming rather fonder of the printed word than he ever had been before; he definitely did not want to turn into a male version of Hermione! To that end, Harry was desperate for a game of gobstones or exploding snap. He was even looking forward to losing spectacularly to Ron at wizard's chess.

Of course, soaring through the air on his Firebolt would beat everything else if he was told to chose an activity, but he knew that was not going to happen for a while. He only hoped he was one hundred percent fit when the Quidditch season started at the beginning of October, because as the captain of Gryffindor, he had to pick his team and try to mould them into a cohesive and hopefully, a winning unit.

Harry ran his finger along the spines of the books at shoulder height in the largest bookcase, pausing every now and then to pull a volume out and peruse its contents more closely. He tucked a book entitled 'The Origins of Magic in Mankind' into his dressing gown pocket to read later and then he glanced up higher. A particularly shabby spine of a small book tucked right at the end of a row of much taller and thicker volumes caught his eye. The tomes on this shelf were some of those that Severus had charmed so that Harry could not remove them but this fact momentarily escaped him and he unconsciously reached up. He remembered when his finger made contact with the top of the book and with a slowly dawning sense of excitement he angled it forward and pulled it down.

Harry could only assume Severus had needed a book from this shelf and so had removed the charm and forgotten to replace it—surprise, surprise. Harry's eyebrows rose when he saw the book was a very old and battered copy of his current Potions text, 'Advanced Potion Making'.

Harry had already perused his own copy of Advanced Potion Making, so he wasn't sure what made him open this grotty old book. What he found between the covers bore little resemblance to his more modern copy of the text. Even though the printed contents seemed identical, someone—and Harry was positive that it had been a teenage Snape—had added his own written (and sometimes illustrated) embellishments. Nearly every page had writing in the margins and the upper and lower borders; the writing was miniscule and in some places, the person (Snape surely?) had crossed out printed text and squeezed alternate instructions, in even tinier writing in the space between two rows of text.

Harry stared, fascinated; the book was a maze, a mishmash, an absolute puzzle and Harry's desire to explore and discover, which had lately been in abeyance, was all of a sudden re-ignited.

Harry shut the book and ran a finger along the worn spine. His brow furrowed; what to do? If he put the book back on the shelf, Severus would no doubt eventually discover that he had forgotten to recast the charm that prevented Harry from removing any books from that shelf. And Harry really wanted to investigate what his teenage father had written so industriously throughout the Potions text.

He reasoned that as the volume was his current Potions text and his father must have been around his age when he added his scribbles, then there could be nothing there that would be unsuitable for his sixteen year old eyes. Severus probably had not realised the book was even on that shelf when he cast his charm.

Yeah, that must be it: it was a stray. Why would his father deliberately keep an old school book under virtual lock and key? Other than the old Charms text of his mother's that Severus had given him for his birthday (and which Severus had kept for sentimental reasons) Harry had never seen hide nor hair of any other old school texts in Severus' bookcases.

Suddenly galvanised, Harry hurried to his room, pulling up short when Dobby appeared in the bedroom doorway. The elf had taken the opportunity with Harry's absence to put fresh linen on the bed and do a general tidy up. He had left Harry settled in the living room and now Dobby's wizened face took on a worried frown as he stared at his charge.

"Harry Potter should not be tiring himself out before his friends is even getting here. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape will be most displeased with Dobby if I is allowing that to happen."

"I'm fine, Dobby," said Harry, ducking past the elf. He crossed to his desk and opening the drawer, pushed the grungy old textbook to the back and positioned a couple of rolls of parchment in front of it to hide it from view—at least to the casual observer.

"Harry Potter should be sitting down and resting," insisted Dobby, his voice a high pitched squeak. He was practically rubbing his hands raw in his agitation.

Harry sighed; it was easier to comply than have Dobby wearing himself to a frazzle and flapping around like a mother hen, not to mention punishing himself. Harry was sure the little elf was, on occasion, hiding himself away and punishing himself if he didn't think he was following Pomfrey's or Severus' orders to the letter, though he made sure he now never inflicted a punishment upon himself that would leave visible marks.

Harry was reassuring his little nursemaid that he would go back to the living room to sit and wait for his friends when they heard the roar of the Floo. Dobby's large tennis ball eyes took on a tragic cast and his ears drooped practically to his shoulders. Harry knew the elf thought his hours were numbered because Professor Snape was no doubt stepping out of the living room fireplace at this very moment and he would find that his son, Harry Potter was not comfortably ensconced in a chair with a rug draped over his legs, a cushion at his back and a cup of chamomile tea at his elbow.

Harry's excitement had reached its peak but even in his tearing hurry he took the time to squeeze Dobby's bony shoulder and say, "It'll be fine Dobby. Don't worry,' before he shot from his bedroom, around the dining table and into the living room.

Ron and Hermione were attempting to untangle themselves from where they had landed spreadeagled on the rug. A grin split Harry's face in half and he reached out an eager hand and hauled Ron to his feet who in turn pulled Hermione up. Without pause and with a squeal of delight, Hermione launched herself at Harry, almost throwing them off balance; if not for Ron latching onto Harry's dressing-gown sleeve, they would have formed another heap on the floor.

"Merlin, Hermione!" groused Ron, but he was smiling at the antics of his friends as Harry laughed and kissed Hermione on the cheek. It was Ron who registered the roar of the Floo and he who pulled his friends out of the way so that Ginny and Snape could join them on the rug.

Harry was still clasped to Hermione when Ginny stepped out from behind Severus's black-clad form. Severus watched as his son's eyes locked on Ginevra. Happiness radiated from all four friends but it was almost painful to look at the unadulterated delight on Harry's face as he gazed at his girlfriend. Hermione knew that Harry's interest had changed allegiance for the moment and she extricated herself from Harry's arms and stepped close to Ron who was now torn between interacting with his friends and keeping a wary eye on Snape.

Severus felt like the spectre at the feast so he distanced himself from the young people by crossing the room to hang his outer robe on the coat tree; he could feel Weasley's popping eyes following his progress across the room. What did the idiot boy think he wore under his robes?

Severus didn't know how long he would be able to put up with four Gryffindors intruding on his already diminished solitude. Whenever he was around an assembly of teenagers, he was customarily the one in charge, but here, and in a situation where he was trying to please his convalescing son, and knowing that the boy's happiness (and maybe his continuing return to good health) depended upon the presence of a group of previously, barely tolerated individuals, then Severus knew himself to be at a disadvantage.

It was a state of affairs he found odious in the extreme.

Severus could hear the soft voices of Harry and Ginevra as they greeted each other, but he was sure that, no matter how difficult, the couple would remain circumspect with him in the room; he had lectured Harry enough on the subject. Regardless of what Harry and Ginevra were doing, however, Severus could still feel the Weasley boy's eyes on him.

Perhaps a little mischief would lift his mood.; if the ginger Gryffindor was shocked to see his linen, then what would a glimpse of his bare arms do? Smirking, Severus began to unbutton his cuffs. He slowly turned back to face the cluster of Gryffindors, rolling up his sleeves as he went. Weasley's eyes were definitely in danger of severing their moorings and rolling across the floor, but when Severus scowled at him, he blushed to the roots of his hair and turned his attention back to his friends.

Harry and Ginevra were standing, holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes like a pair of hypnotized rabbits and Granger was smiling indulgently at the besotted looks on their faces and it was not until Severus moved back into their orbit that Granger realised that he had shed his 'Bat of the Dungeons' persona and she too blushed a gratifying shade of magenta.

Severus noted the patches of hectic colour high on Harry's cheekbones and though it might have been solely due to his excitement, Severus wasn't taking any chances. "I think," he said into the silence, "that as Harry is still convalescing and as the proviso for this visit was that he not over-extend himself, I think sitting down would be an excellent idea at this point."

When the four of them remained as they were: indeed, Harry and Ginevra were still gazing at each other and might well have been deaf for all the notice they had taken of his words, Severus raised his voice.

"Harry! Sit down!"

Dobby, obviously taking his courage in hand, trotted into their midst. "Dobby is asking Harry Potter to be returning to his chair before his friends is arriving, Mas—err, Professor Snape." The elf hung his head and wrung his hands together again. "Dobby is failing in his duty, sir."

"Stand up straight!" ordered Severus, and Dobby complied though his little body quivered all over. "Now that Harry Potter is no longer essentially moribund, I am sure it will prove practically impossible to keep him confined to either bed or chair."

Severus felt the narrow-eyed glare his son bestowed upon him but he ignored it as he charged the elf with contacting the kitchens and ordering an early supper. He was sure that in all the excitement of the impending visit, three of the company would not have eaten their fill of dinner; Ronald hadn't been in on the plan so Severus was sure he had eaten his usual gargantuan meal.

"How are you feeling, Harry?" asked Ginny, who had dragged him down onto the sofa with her.

"Yes, Harry," said Hermione from where she had planted herself in Severus' chair. "I must say, you look so much better.

"Yeah, mate," added Ron. Almost back to normal."

Severus poured himself a cup of tea and listened with half an ear as the teens exchanged stories of their time apart. He found some work to occupy him at his desk and left them to it, trusting Dobby to feed and water them.

The next hour was taken up with laughter and chatter, whispers and the odd little silence; without being a voyeur, Severus was sure these times were taken up with Harry and Ginny making goo-goo eyes at each other and Weasley trying to ignore their antics while surreptitiously doing a visual exploration of his quarters.

Granger had been eyeing his library with longing and after twenty minutes of agonised temptation she had taken her courage in hand and asked him if he would mind if she looked at his collection. Knowing she could not access anything unsuitable, he had allowed her to peruse to her heart's content. Weasley looked as if he wanted to counsel her to touch nothing but prudence won the day for once and he bit his tongue.

When a couple of hours had passed and Severus could no longer find anything more to occupy his time, he was preparing to gather the Gryffindor chicks together when the Floo roared unexpectedly. He wasn't surprised, just irritated to see Dumbledore step onto the rug.

"Good evening Severus," said the infuriating old goat, before he turned a full wattage smile on the teens who were now all standing, their faces registering surprise and welcome rather than the irritation Severus felt.

Severus shook his head in resignation as he leaned back in his chair and began to unroll his sleeves. What was the wily old coot doing here at this time?

Dumbledore indicated that the children return to their seats and without waiting for an invitation, he conjured his signature chintz-covered armchair and seated himself in a flurry of carmine velvet robes.

Severus stood and feeling less than wizardly in front of his mentor without his robe—and wondering why he had been perfectly happy for the Gryffindors to have seen him without his customary camouflage—he crossed the sitting room and reached for the voluminous black garment, thrusting his arms impatiently into the wide sleeves.

"A most fortuitous arrival, headmaster," said Severus, stiffly. He registered Harry looking at him strangely, wondering why he was talking to the headmaster in that manner. Of course the boy had no idea that Severus had been put to bed by the headmaster as if he were an infant and that he was still peeved—no doubt pettily —about the incident. He continued in the same vein, unwilling to drop his resentment, petty or not.

"Perhaps you could accompany Harry's guests back to Gryffindor Tower?"

Dumbledore nodded agreeably. "I would be only too happy to be of service Severus, but while the young people are all together, and, according to Madam Pomfrey, Harry is so much stronger, now might be the time to talk about the reasons behind Harry's ill health."

Severus' eyes narrowed in anger as Harry sat forward eagerly. "I do not think now is the time..."

"But Dad..."

"Quiet, Harry."

"On the contrary, Severus," said an entirely unperturbed Dumbledore. "Now is the perfect time. You yourself said..."

Severus raised a hand and brought it down in a decisive gesture, cutting off Albus' words. He stalked into dining alcove, snarling, "If I could have a word, headmaster," as he swept past the comfortably ensconced older wizard.

Albus sighed but he smiled at the four young people who were looking more than a little worried. "Do not look so worried, my young Gryffindors. Professor Snape and I will be with you momentarily."

Severus had not stopped in the dining alcove but had chosen his lab for this discussion. As soon as Albus entered, the door slammed behind him and Severus was weaving several charms to block out what Albus surmised was going to be a very loud discussion. Sure enough...

"Who the hell do you think you are, old man?" roared Severus. Albus held up a placating hand but Severus ignored it.

"You forget that it is now I who makes the decisions concerning Harry. I am his father. It was your desire that that fact be established beyond a shadow of a doubt. And now that it has been established, I have taken on the mantle of father and the last time I looked, a parent's wishes override that of a teacher, or even a headmaster when the subject has nothing to do with curriculum or school rules."

Albus tried to speak again, but Severus wasn't finished. "Harry's health—be it concerning body or mind—and anything to do with its maintenance is now under my purview, not yours, until he comes of age.

"And let's face it, Albus, as you were the one who took it upon yourself to be responsible for Harry from the time of Lily and James' deaths—even if the first ten years of said care was conducted from a considerable distance and with very poor factual input from your scatterbrained emissary—your efforts as far as his mental and physical health goes have been pretty piss-poor!"

Severus' rant came to an end. Immediately he felt as if he might have gone a little too far—the whole set-down was probably too far, his less than grown up vocabulary was definitely too far—and he clamped his lips together in case something even less appropriate to his age and education spewed forth.

Albus had gone quite pale; he continued to stand where he had come to a halt when Severus had slammed the door—just a few steps into the room. Halfway through Severus' rant, Albus' twinkle had begun to fade and he had shifted his gaze from the younger wizard to the shelf of empty flasks and jars on the wall immediately behind him.

The agonising silence dragged on and just when Severus was beginning to squirm like a recalcitrant schoolboy, Albus spoke. "You are right, of course, my boy, though my past actions, or inaction, in regards to Harry and my culpability are not events I need reminding of—they are painfully etched into my psyche and I live with the guilt every minute. I do thank you for refreshing my memory though."

A dull red appeared, riding high on Severus' cheekbones; he had not set out to hurt Albus, just make the old bugger mind his own business; he knew the old man had done what he thought was right, knew that danger still abounded in the form of Death Eaters who were enjoying their liberty, himself included, though Harry had never been in danger from him, despite his previous fermenting hatred.

The old eyes, so bright only minutes earlier were now tired and dull. They finally focused on Severus's face again, and Severus's guilt intensified. But then anger welled up; Severus was suddenly convinced he was still being manipulated by the master!

But he waited in vain for Albus to begin to talk circles around him, waited in vain for the old man to take charge and make it seem as if his suggestion was the most natural, the only sensible option. Instead, Albus sighed and moving as if every day of his one hundred and fifty odd years was weighing him down, he turned to the door. Severus did not see Albus' wand, but suddenly the locking and privacy charms were being dismantled with embarrassing ease; it was as if the charms had been erected by a child.

"I am sorry," Albus said quietly, half turning back, but still not looking Severus in the eye, "to have presumed too much. I will not interfere with your parenting again, Severus. What you tell Harry and how much you tell him will be entirely up to you."

Albus grasped the doorhandle but did not pull the door open. Severus saw his head droop, the long hair shielding the old face from view. "I will need to speak to you however, when Harry is fully recovered and back in harness as it were. There are things that I know, that Harry needs to know for the future."

"What things?"

Albus waved an airy hand. "It is not necessary that enlightenment comes now. There is still time."

Severus sliced an angry hand through the air for the second time that evening. "Even when you are promising to no longer interfere, you speak in riddles that you know are designed to drive me insane."

Albus dipped his head even further in what Severus took to be a half-arsed apology, and before the old man could once again attempt to leave, Severus spoke again, his voice a peremptory demand because he was having great difficulty keeping his prodigious temper under control. "Why did you come down here at this time, Albus?"

"I would not have invaded your privacy if I had thought myself so unwelcome, Severus. But, as I have often dropped by in the past without overt censure, and as I knew you had planned for Miss Granger and the two Weasleys to visit Harry, I thought—as Harry is so much recovered—that it would be a good opportunity to tell him about recent events and try to explain why his powers have suddenly increased so dramatically."

Severus was staggered. He crossed his arms and leaned forward aggressively. "And you thought having Granger and the Weasleys here would be a good idea because..."

Albus sighed. "Because it will save time and effort. Harry will only tell the others what is conveyed to him. You may not like it, my boy, but Harry's relationships with his friends and now also with his girlfriend, are unusually close.

"Regardless of any orders you may give him to the contrary, Harry will tell his friends what you tell him regarding his health and his augmented powers." A weary Dumbledore finally looked at Severus. "But of course, that is none of my concern, so I will bid you adieu and leave you to deal with your son and his friends as you will."

Without further ado, Albus left the room and retraced his steps into the living room. The four young Gryffindors stopped talking as soon as Albus appeared but after directing a smile at them—a smile totally at odds with the one he had bestowed upon them when he had arrived—Albus prepared to bend his tall frame into the fireplace.

Harry scrambled to his feet. "Sir...err, where are you going?"

"Harry my boy, I do apologise, but I appear to have overlooked an important task that needs my immediate attention. I am sorry, but I must go."

"But sir, what about..."

"Leave the headmaster to get on with his important task, Harry," said Severus; he had appeared silently in Albus' wake and now stood with his arms crossed and his expression tight.

Albus bestowed another smile all around and after calling out his destination, he disappeared in a flash of green flames. Harry stared at the empty fireplace and it was Severus' voice informing Ron, Ginny and Hermione to don their discarded robes that bought him back to the present.

"What did you say to him?" asked Harry angrily, totally disregarding the forbidding look on his father's face. Even Ginny's light touch on his arm didn't deflect him from his annoyance.

"We will speak later, Harry."

"He was going to tell me—us—what's been going on with me for the last week!"

Severus ignored him, focusing a narrow-eyed glare at the visitors two of whom hurried to finish donning their outer robes; Ron and Hermione moved with the frantic haste of the fearful, but Ginny scowled ferociously and just scooped up her robe and held it tightly in her fisted hand—a blatant show of defiance. She ignored Severus' glowering displeasure and raising one arm to loop it around Harry's neck, she pulled his unresisting head down so that she could plant a defiant kiss on his lips.

Ron groaned his dismay and Hermione bit her lip. Ginny ignored them as thoroughly as she ignored Severus. After a whispered, "I love you," to Harry and a gentle touch to his cheek she stalked into the fireplace and stood with her arms crossed and a mutinous expression marring her pretty features.

Severus' glower intensified but it was more in an effort to hide the burst of secret amusement at the diminutive Weasley's defiance. It was a shame that her performance could not stretch to her roaring off through the Floo network by herself, which is what, he was sure, she wished she could have done. Unfortunately, she could not reach the bronze goblet of Floo powder on the high mantel, and she knew it.

"Miss Granger, would you join Miss Weasley?" Hermione's eyes widened and she shot Ron a look that was half apology and half fear before she scrambled to obey. Even through his pique, Harry wondered if Ron was going to pass out; the thought of travelling through the Floo with Severus was either giving his best mate an acute case of indigestion, or a heart attack! He would have laughed if he had not been so angry.

Harry didn't stick around after the girls were swept away and ignoring Severus, he clapped Ron on the shoulder, said, "See you soon, mate," and headed to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Harry took off his dressing gown and flung it across the room before throwing himself down on the freshly turned down bed. The best time he had had since this latest episode of ill health and the prospect of finding out what the hell was the matter with him, and his bloody father had gone and stuffed it all up!

Bloody typical!

Harry did not realise just how tired he was until he felt himself sinking inexorably into sleep, just as surely as he sank deeply into his comfortable mattress. He fought it by trying to sit up again but the lure of Hypnos and the dictates of his still recovering body were just too strong.

Harry still wanted to have a go at his father, wanted to find out why he had dismissed Dumbledore and put a decisive end to any explanation he might have gotten. He needed to stay awake to confront Severus when he came back from taking Ginny, Hermione and Ron back to the potions classroom and setting them free from their detention.

Harry widened his eyes in an attempt to stay awake, but no matter how hard he tried, his lead-heavy lids just closed again.

Stay awake...stay awake...stay a...