Author's notes: This story could be a stand-alone, or possibly a (very) future chapter of my other story, "Harry Potter and the Potions Professor." It is a glimpse of an AU of HBP, where Harry and Severus develop a close friendship and guardian-type relationship.

I have to be honest and admit that I should have been working on the next chapter of my other story, but Harry and Severus are a long way from being all warm and fuzzy in that one, and I'm suffering from mush-withdrawal. This piece is my guilty little indulgence.

Harry and Severus are already close in this story, and if you don't like mush, you should run like the plague from here. But if you do like warm fuzzies, I hope you'll enjoy it!

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter.

Harry eyed the clock on the mantel for what seemed like the thousandth time. He knew Ron and Hermione weren't likely to be back from Hogsmeade yet, but it seemed like he'd been waiting for them forever. For what was definitely the thousandth time, he wished he could have gone with them, but he did understand that it was just too dangerous for him now. After his ordeal at the Death Eaters hands when they'd captured him the past summer, he was not going to take any chances on something like that happening again.

And truthfully, staying at Hogwarts hadn't been too bad. He hadn't felt nearly as frustrated and isolated as he had back in third year when he hadn't been able to visit the village. Ron and Hermione had given up several Hogsmeade trips to stay with him, and the other times he'd spent the day with Severus.

But today when he'd headed down to his guardian's rooms in the dungeons, there had been a note for him on the table. Severus was sorry, but he had to meet with a seventh year student who had missed some classes because of illness and help her prepare for her N.E.W.T.S. Harry was welcome to wait for him to return, but he might be gone for a couple of hours.

Harry had debated returning to the Gryffindor dormitory, but he really didn't want to trudge all the way back up to the Tower and he did want to see Severus, so he selected a book from the shelves along one wall and settled down to wait. Unfortunately, Severus had what Harry considered regrettably bad taste in reading material. Most of his books and journals were dry tomes on potion-making, and the book did nothing to hold Harry's attention.

He was so bored that he was actually considering getting started on the Potions essay Severus had assigned them for the weekend when the door opened and the professor came in, carrying several jars of ingredients in his arms. He didn't actually smile when he saw Harry curled up on the sofa, but the corners of his mouth softened. "I wasn't sure if you would want to wait."

"Well, we've been so busy, I've hardly seen you this week, except for class, that is. What are you doing?"

"I need to prepare some things for next week's lesson on the Draught of Living Death," Severus motioned for Harry to follow him as he led the way back to his private office and set the jars on the worktable.

"Can I help?" Harry asked.

Severus nodded, looking pleased, and cleared a space for Harry to work beside him. They took out scales and knives and set to work chopping and dicing. For a time they worked in companionable silence; then a thought struck Harry and he grinned.

"Something amusing you, Potter?"

"I was just thinking that if anyone had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd voluntarily be down here chopping flobberworms on a Saturday, I'd have said they were completely nutters."

"You and me both," Severus remarked dryly. He hesitated, then added. "I am glad you're here, though. I enjoy your company, Harry."

Harry ducked his head, a warm feeling spreading through his chest. "Me, too."

They were finishing up when they heard Ron and Hermione call from the living room. Harry felt another rush of affection for his guardian when he remembered how Severus had given the password to his quarters not only to Harry, but also to Harry's friends. It was another sign of how much things had changed between them, and that Severus really did want him to feel welcome.

He called back to them and started to clean up his work area, but Severus waved him away. "I'll clean up this time. Go visit with your friends."

Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent a pleasant couple hours talking about the Hogsmeade trip and munching on the bag of sweets that Ron had brought back from Honeydukes. Hermione sat at one of the sofa with her feet tucked under her while Ron lounged at the other end. Harry perched on an ottoman across from them, and marveled at how relaxed they all were. It really was like having a home of his own.

Severus stayed in his office for most of Ron's and Hermione's visit, but he did venture out a few times and spoke quite civilly to them. They were polite as well. It was a big change for them all, but for Harry's sake, they were trying. It was easier since Severus had decided to be a little more just towards the Gryffindors and had stopped disparaging them all in class. And as hard as it was to believe sometimes, Ron and Hermione couldn't deny that the Potions professor really had come to care for Harry a great deal.

The afternoon grew late and finally Ron and Hermione rose to leave.

"I do want to start revising that Potions essay before dinner," Hermione remarked.

Severus happened to be in the dining area and overheard her. "I trust you gentlemen have also completed the assignment."

Ron was suddenly very busy gathering his things, but Harry just smiled at the man. "I'm going to work on it after dinner."

"Hmm, just remember it's due Monday."

"I know," Harry told him. "And I've already read the chapter. I'm really understanding Potions a lot better now. Sometimes it's almost fun, kind of."

"Yeah, it's nice that you don't have to have 'Potion-itis' anymore," Ron said, then turned red as Harry shot him a fierce glare. "Uh, see you later, Harry. Good-bye, sir."

Ron and Hermione left and Harry looked over to see Severus watching him shrewdly, his coal-black eyes appraising. Harry had hoped that Severus might not have noticed Ron's choice of words, but he knew that was a foolish hope. The man was much too sharp. He never missed a thing. But Harry didn't want to discuss 'Potion-itis' with him. There was no reason to bring up the past now, not when everything was going so well.

Severus had apologized once—in a vague sort of way, back when he and Harry had first begun to get along better. At least Harry supposed that the professor's awkward-- "I was wrong about you, Potter. I wish I had gotten to know you sooner."—was meant to be an apology. After that, Harry had tried once or twice to discuss their painful past. He'd wanted to clear all that up between them, but Severus had always brushed him off rather brusquely and then quickly changed the subject. After that had happened a couple of times, Harry had decided to let the matter drop. He hadn't wanted to risk losing their newfound comraderie and since Severus had started treating him so differently, Harry had decided that he would just try to forget their history.

Sure, it still hurt when he did remember the years of cruelty he'd endured at Severus' hands, but most of the time Harry was able to bury those feelings deep down and forget about them. Severus was genuinely sorry, he knew, and everything was different now, so it did no good to hold on to old hurts and resentments. More than that, Harry loved his guardian and he didn't want to let the past come between them. It was best for both of them to just let bygones be bygones.

So now he quickly turned away from Severus and shoved the ottoman back to its place. "Maybe I will go ahead and start on that essay before dinner. Can I borrow some parchment and a quill?"

Severus ignored the question. "You know, Harry, in all my years of studying and working, I've never heard of such an ailment as 'Potion-itis.' Care to enlighten me?"

"Oh, Ron just meant how we didn't like Potions so much before this year," Harry said with pretended indifference. "It's nothing."

"It seems to be something, since you are upset by the mention of it," Severus answered quietly.

The concern in his voice and eyes was almost too much for Harry. He really didn't want to talk about it. Not anymore. Because he didn't want to hurt Severus, but he didn't think he could deny his own pain if the past came up. He suddenly realized that he was on the verge of breaking down, and decided that he'd better leave before Severus could push him to talk any more.

He swallowed hard against the lump that had appeared in his throat and stepped towards the door. "I think I want to catch up with Ron and Hermione. I'll see you tomorrow, Severus."

He'd forgotten how fast his guardian could move. Severus was at his side in an instant and laid his hand on Harry's arm. "Harry, I just want to help. Please?"

All the hurt and anger he'd bottled up these past months exploded inside him, and in that moment Harry couldn't hide it or forget it. If Severus wanted to know so badly, well, then Harry would tell him.

"All right, you want to know? Fine! 'Potion-itis' is what Ron and Hermione and I used to call it when I would sick up before Potions class. And I always did, ever since first year! I would sick up before every class, for years and years! I hated it so much! My stomach would knot up and I couldn't stand it! You always picked on me, in front of everyone! For no reason! From the very first day! And you know something? I was paying attention that day! I was taking notes on your stupid lecture! And you never gave me a chance! You hated me from the beginning and nothing was ever good enough for you. Even if I did the exact same things as everyone else, and my potions looked just like theirs, you jeered at it and punished me. Why did you do that to me? I never did anything to you! Why did you do that to me?!"

Harry was sobbing by the end of his tirade and he tried to slip by Severus and run out the door, but once again the professor stopped him.

"Harry, no. Please." Severus' voice was rough with emotion, and even through tears, Harry could see the raw pain on his face. All of Harry's anger vanished, leaving only the hurt and guilt like bitter ashes after a fire. Severus took a steadying breath. "Let me hold you, Harry."

For a second, Harry almost stopped crying he was so startled, but then he moved into his guardian's arms. Severus pulled his wand from his sleeve and conjured a large overstuffed rocking chair. Then he sat down and pulled Harry onto his lap, holding him close and rocking him as if Harry were a small child.

But no one ever had rocked him when he was small. Well, his parents surely had, but Harry had only been a baby then and he couldn't remember it. It was nice—the easy sway of the chair, the arms wrapped around him, the hand cradling the back of his head, and the strong fingers lightly carding through his hair. And it was nice not to have to be strong for once, not to have to deny his hurt, but to just be able to cry it out. He buried his face against Severus' shoulder and wept, for hours it seemed like.

At some point, Severus spoke, his words halting and clumsy, but laden with his own sorrow. "I'm---sorry. Harry, I'm sorry."

Harry drew a shuddery breath. "S' all right,"

"No," Severus said firmly. "It's not all right. But I am so terribly sorry. I have been for months. I should have said so before. It's not easy for me to talk about my feelings, Harry. But I do feel things very deeply, and I'm sorry." He paused and when he spoke again, his voice was a little awkward once more. "Harry, you are the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I was—afraid—to talk about the past because I was afraid of losing you. I love you as if you were my own child."

Harry froze, afraid to move, as if even a breath would make it all disappear, like the dreams of a family had always disappeared before. But finally he had to lift his head and look Severus in the face. Green eyes and black eyes met, both filled with pain and sadness, but with hope, too.

"You love me?" Harry asked softly.

Severus nodded and reached to gently brush the tears from the boy's face.

Harry gave him a slow, tentative smile. "I love you, too, Severus."

"You don't have to say that," Severus immediately responded, his voice much rougher than his fingertips still tracing the tearstains on Harry's cheeks. "I know it will take a long time before you could even think of forgiving—"

"Severus, I already forgave you. I mean, I guess I was still pretty upset obviously, but I decided to forgive you months ago. And I do love you."

The black eyes glimmered and then Severus was holding him close again. Harry hugged him back and it seemed hours more before they finally pulled apart. When Severus arched an eyebrow and said dryly, "We're getting entirely too maudlin here, Potter," Harry had to laugh.

They stood up and Severus Vanished the chair, then looked at Harry. "I believe we've missed dinner in the Great Hall. I'll send word to the kitchen to send something here. What would you like?"

"Roast beef, potatoes, and treacle tart." Harry smiled and leaned against Severus briefly. "And after we eat, maybe you could help me with that Potions essay."