Disclaimer: JK Rowling's characters - I've just inhabited her universe.

AU - What if Snape had gotten over Harry's resemblance to James? What if Snape's Slytherin instincts taught him to use any weapon against Voldemort? What if Ron weren't quite the Gryffindor he seemed? Why not read the story and see what I've thought up?

Note: It's an AU story, set early in the 2nd year at Hogwarts, so be prepared for differences; for example, Snape's no longer a spy; some things may happen out of order (but hopefully not out of character) compared to canon, etc. This is not a Severus as Harry's longlost/biological/real life/magically contrived/unwilling/other improbable-but-what-the-heck-it-makes-for-fun-reading-reason father, but rather a "Snape as mentor" fic. In this version of the JKR universe, Harry remains the child of (only) James and Lily Potter though Severus and Lily did have a close friendship earlier in their lives.

Twelve year old Harry Potter squirmed a bit as he nibbled on a biscuit. It still seemed wrong to be here. Very, very wrong. Forget the fact that he was sitting in Snape's quarters. (Snape, for Merlin's sake.) Forget the fact that the teacup in front of him wasn't filled with a hideous potion but instead a rather nice Darjeeling. Forget the fact that the biscuits were his favorite shortbread. Things were still wrong on a mammoth scale, but Harry wasn't quite sure what to do about it.

Granted, he was hardly an expert on normal, particularly when it came to family stuff. Sure, he had been loved by his parents – on that point, at least, everyone seemed to agree. But the Dursleys weren't exactly role models of good parenting, and while the Weasleys had practically adopted him, somehow he couldn't imagine that such a loud, active, and red-headed family was exactly average either. So he knew that he wasn't really sure how normal families acted. Still, he'd oh-so-casually dropped a few questions among his classmates – at least those with reasonably normal home lives – and the answers he'd received had convinced him that this sort of thing was Wrong.

He understood the concept of getting into trouble. Unfortunately, he was quite skilled at it. Perhaps not quite to the level of the Weasley twins, but pretty good. He was unfortunately also good at the "getting caught" part. He'd rather improve on "getting away with it", but that seemed to be more a Slytherin skill than a Gryffindor one.

He knew that after "getting into trouble" and "getting caught", there was the "punishment" phase. He acknowledged that living for years with the Dursleys had confused him a bit as to the whole "appropriate punishment" thing, but he was slowly coming to accept that being locked in a cupboard, starved, punched, clouted about the head, or hit with a belt were not acceptable forms of discipline, no matter how they were explained or rationalized. He was actually rather proud of himself for coming to terms with the fact that his relatives were the freaks, not him.

If he had to be really, really honest, he could even admit (quietly) that Snape had helped him distinguish between what was "appropriate" and "inappropriate", now that things between them had changed. It was still a bit hard for Harry to believe how much things between them had changed.

It had become patently clear that Harry's return to the wizarding world had in essence painted a giant target on his forehead, and finally even the Hogwarts staff acknowledged that their "pretend he's just another student" approach was as irrational as the Dursleys' "pretend he's just another Muggle". Harry still didn't understand why it had taken the adults so long to figure out what he and his friends had known since the first time his scar had flared in pain.

Snape had actually been the first to come around, though Harry wasn't sure if that was because he was used to facing unpalatable facts or because his dislike of Harry made him indifferent to what the harsh reality of the threat would mean for Harry's adolescence. For Snape it was only a matter of grudgingly accepting that Harry wasn't, how had Snape once put it, "an arrogant spoiled brat with delusions of grandeur." It was Dumbledore and McGonagall who had been incredibly reluctant to abandon their fantasy that Harry could have the same kind of idyllic schooldays that his parents had – while simultaneously preparing (in some mysterious and ill-defined fashion) to tackle the Dark Lord. Still, once they understood that he and Voldemort had some weird kind of psychic connection, even they had agreed that things would have to change.

Harry had been sitting by the fireplace in the Headmaster's office when it was decided that Snape would be pulled from his spying duties to become Harry's tutor in defense of the dark arts and occlumency. His own outraged yell of "SNAPE? Are you kidding me?" had been completely drowned out by Snape's own bellows of fury.

Surprisingly, though, he hadn't been objecting to the Headmaster's proposal that he teach Harry – he was okay with that, and even now that thought made Harry smile a little inside. Rather he was furious at Dumbledore's and McGonagall's plan that he would just start the lessons with Harry without any other changes to their relationship. He had demanded guardianship of Harry, and McGonagall and Dumbledore had been as opposed to that idea as Harry had been. Then, that is. Now, Harry had rather gotten accustomed to the idea. And to the biscuits.

But when Snape had first demanded oversight of Harry's entire life, Minerva had rushed to defend her student from what she perceived as Snape's control freak nature. "Severus, we are all aware of how much you disapprove of Harry," she had scolded, eyes snapping. "Why in Merlin's name would you demand to have control over a boy whom you dislike and who – as you very well know – despises you?"

Harry had flinched at that. McGonagall was a lot braver than he was; he would never have blurted out his feelings like that, though she was exactly right about them. He'd expected Snape to send a glare his way, but Snape had just ignored him completely.

"Why? Because, Minerva, despite what you seem to think, I am not in the habit of raping little boys." Snape's cold pronouncement stopped the conversation in its tracks. He watched the others' thunderstruck expressions for a moment with a rather self-satisfied smirk before adding, "Or big boys for that matter, Potter, in case you were wondering."

Harry had gasped and squeaked and tried to turn invisible without his cloak. Dumbledore had finally found his voice. "Severus, I am certain that none of us would consider you in the habit of assaulting anyone in that manner, of any age or sex, but what does that have to do with teaching Harry?"

"Because, Headmaster, if occlumency is not taught by someone whom the student both likes and respects, the lesson is little more than a repeated and brutal violation of his mind. In order to show Potter how to keep me out, I must first get in, and to do that, I would insist upon his cooperation. I will not be responsible for adding to his psychic traumas. Besides," he added, "it would be nearly impossible to teach occlumency otherwise. Why do you think there are so few Occlumens?"

"And how will giving you supervision of Harry lead to him viewing you with affection?" Minerva had sounded almost as bewildered as Dumbledore.

Harry had wanted to know that too. It hadn't sounded very likely to him.

This time, Snape did turn to look at him. "Ignoring the fact that much of the tension between us comes from the heretofore necessary deception designed to enhance my reputation with the Dark Lord –" Harry had blinked at that. Did that mean that Snape had only pretended to hate him? That he actually liked him? At least a little bit? "Part of the reason that Potter and I do not get along well is because he is undisciplined, reckless, and allowed to run wild. He has had no adults in his life – present company included – who have consistently and firmly set reasonable limits on his behavior. It is therefore hardly surprising that he feels he has impunity to engage in whatever hare-brained idea occurs to him and his little friends." Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Snape's voice wasn't harsh, but rather (for Snape) surprisingly sympathetic. "What is more, he has also lacked an adult to whom he can turn with his problems, who will actually listen to his concerns and take them seriously." Well, Harry had to admit Snape was right about that. McGonagall and Dumbledore tended to pooh-pooh any fears he took to them, and of course he had learned early on not to look to his aunt and uncle for any help. "I intend to provide Mr Potter with the support, limits, and consequences that any adolescent needs, because without that framework, any other lessons I teach him will be useless."

Harry had remained unconvinced, but McGonagall and Dumbledore had caved in, and from that moment on, Snape had become Harry's de facto guardian.

It hadn't been all bad, though Harry had carefully not shared that aspect with his friends. As far as they were concerned, Snape was just giving Harry extra lessons so he could fight Voldemort. That was why Harry had to go to the dungeons pretty much every night. The first few weeks had been pretty rough, but after a while, Harry got rather used to the routine, and it was undeniably nice to have an adult all to himself to discuss his day. He hadn't understood how useful it could be to talk about school stuff with someone who wasn't another student and therefore wasn't involved in the different cliques and crises. And he had to admit that Snape had definitely helped him with his schoolwork. Hermione was actually impressed, but no one – even her – had ever explained to him all the little tricks, like how to organize notes or read a chapter with an essay in mind.

Snape even unbent far enough to occasionally discuss other topics, like quidditch and current events. Harry hadn't expected to be allowed to talk about anything but classes and potions, so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to bring up different subjects and hear an grown up's take on them. He had never before had the chance to spend time just relaxing with adults. His relatives ignored him whenever possible and since coming to Hogwarts, all the adults Harry knew were either teaching him, trying to kill him, or trying to rescue him. Just spending time with Snape was, well, nice.

Of course, the whole "enforcing limits" side of it wasn't much fun, and the first time Snape had done so, after catching Harry coming out of a very unauthorized visit to the Forbidden Forest, Harry had been convinced that this was the worst idea imaginable. It wasn't that he hadn't been walloped before, it was just that Uncle Vernon utilized the blitz approach of slappunchkickslappunchgetthebelt, and Snape's cool and deliberate smacking had in some ways been harder to take. For one thing, Harry remained conscious the whole time.

With his uncle, he had been so busy fleeing or trying to protect his vital organs, he hadn't really noticed what was happening to him. Uncle Vernon got tired quickly, too, so the whole thing tended to be a frantic blur of terror, followed by a rather lengthy period locked in his cupboard, identifying his injuries and trying to patch himself back together.

By contrast, Snape made sure Harry knew exactly what he was being punished for, and even interrogated him during the spanking on exactly that topic. Lying across his professor's lap, waiting for the next swat to land, had a wonderful way of concentrating Harry's attention on just how much his backside was stinging, so there was no ignoring the actual blows in the heat of the moment. Snape made sure Harry was completely focused on just what was happening, and why, every moment of the entire punishment.

It didn't really make much sense. When Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia beat the hell out of him, Harry gritted his teeth and remained silent. But after just a few swats from Snape's hand, he would start tearing up and whimpering like he was four years old. He hadn't yelled the time that Dudley broke his arm, but tonight, when Snape had whacked him for broomstick surfing over the quidditch pitch, he had howled. Sure, it hurt – more than he had expected, to be honest – but after the first spanking, he had been appalled to discover that Snape hadn't left a mark on him. How was he supposed to explain to eagle-eyed Hermione why he had been bawling if he couldn't display, at least to Ron, some welts and bruises that justified such an outburst?

In the end, he had had to tell them that Snape was now allowed to physically discipline him. Hermione had been appalled – apparently (and predictably) her parents believed in "time outs, groundings, and talking things through". Ron, to his friends' surprise, was much more blasé about it. Once Harry had sworn that Snape wasn't being unfair or abusive – and that was the part Ron had found hardest to believe – Ron had shrugged off the thought of Harry getting smacked. Harry had been surprised, and more than a little relieved, when Ron had admitted that his parents had been known to use the same approach as Snape.

"C'mon, Hermione. You've met my brothers; can you really imagine my folks wouldn't have to use a wooden spoon occasionally?" Privately to Harry, he had confided that he thought it was a guy thing: "Us blokes would rather just get walloped and move on, right? It's the girls who want to talk about who was right and who was wrong and how they feel and blah blah blah. Believe me, I'd rather just get a couple of whacks across the arse and get it over with."

"Do you still get, um, whacked?" Harry had asked tentatively. He had rather assumed that spankings went out after the age of six, and it had been a blow to his pride when Snape had insisted otherwise.

"Well, not that often," Ron said, then blushed. "But yeah, sometimes. You know, for the big stuff. I mean, it still hurts and all, and I still make a big fuss, because you know, you're supposed to, right? But really, I think they just use it now when they're trying to make a point. Like that I really screwed up or I'm not quite as grown up as I think I am."

"So you yell and stuff?" Harry asked. This was another point on which he was more than a little anxious.

Ron had looked at him as if he were mad. "Well, sure. Snape doesn't make you keep quiet or anything, does he?" At Harry's head shake, he relaxed. "Good. I think only really twisted freaks refuse to let you yell." Like the Dursleys, Harry thought. "But the way I figure, if they're going to the trouble to hold you down and whale on you, then it's only polite to let them know you notice." He grinned at Harry. "Y'know, it's kind of a game, really. They're letting you know that you went too far, and you're letting them know you admit it. I guess girls can come out and say that, but I'd rather just yell and complain and tell them they're killing me when we both know that they're not. It's like if I pretend that the punishment is a lot worse than it is, then I'm saying that I accept what they're doing, that they're right to punish me, but I don't actually have to say it. I mean, a guy's got his pride, right?" Harry grinned. He followed Ron's logic perfectly. "To be fair, though, when I'm getting whacked, it's not like I think this stuff through. I just start howling like part of my brain really does think that I'll never be able to sit again." Ron abruptly colored, as if he had revealed more than he had intended. "If you ever tell anyone I still get smacked, let alone that I cry –"

Harry interrupted. "I do too, remember? That's what started this whole conversation."

Ron relaxed. "Oh, yeah. Right. Well, so anyway, I don't know what Snape's like, but my folks definitely expect us to yell. Plus, if you don't, then they tend to hit harder to make sure they're getting their point across."

That conversation had made Harry feel better and like less of a wimp. Spankings just struck him as so… Muggle. Not that he really wanted Snape to start hexing or cursing him instead, and when he had protested that a spanking seemed too personal, Snape had pointed out that it was exactly that kind of close bond that they were trying to forge. Besides, he had said, as Harry improved at his DADA lessons, the two of them would be dueling, and Snape didn't want there to be any confusion in Harry's mind as to when he was being deservedly punished for misbehavior and when he was being attacked, whether for training purposes or in reality.

Harry had rolled his eyes, like only an idiot wouldn't be able to tell the difference, but if truth were told, he really did prefer keeping the two separate. For one thing, Snape had said that by the time he had finished training Harry, it would be second nature for him to be on guard and always ready to rebuff an attack. That meant Snape couldn't punish him without warning. No more surprise clouts when he wasn't expecting it or sucker punches flying out of nowhere. Harry liked the idea that punishments were now formalized and only came after due warning and with his own cooperation (relatively speaking). That meant that Harry could, with a clear conscience, defend himself against everything else. For the first time, Harry began to feel safe.

The other thing, which Harry would never, ever admit, even under torture, was that when Snape first pulled him across his lap – and before the first smack hit – he felt a sense of release, like whatever he'd done wrong was about to be expunged. He'd never really had that sense of absolution before, but being swatted, as unpleasant as it was at the time, did give him an actual, physical way to atone for his misdeeds. Being lifted back up when the punishment was over, he felt he'd been forgiven and the matter was closed.

That was good. Unfamiliar but good. The actual stinging-throbbing, scorched butt, painful sitting side of it was a lot less pleasant. What was downright weird, though, was that after the walloping was over (and the hopping around and the bawling and the sniffling and the rubbing and the hiccupping and the sulking), Snape always made him come into the parlor and perch on the overstuffed sofa and have tea and biscuits.

Harry sighed and took some more shortbread. This was just wrong. He was supposed to be limping back to his dorm, sullen and smarting and cursing Snape under his breath. Instead he was sitting, more or less comfortably on the soft cushions, sipping tea and nibbling biscuits and having an amazingly pleasant conversation with the greasy bat who had just walloped his behind. This was not how it was supposed to be.

"Why do we have tea and biscuits after you, erm, punish me?" Harry finally burst out.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "We always have tea and biscuits before you leave. It is calming and conducive to bonding."

Harry frowned at the logical reply. "Well, yeah, but it's one thing to have it after a lesson or a study session or something, but it's just weird after a …" he trailed off awkwardly.

"Spanking?" Snape supplied, a faint sneer indicating his contempt for Harry's embarrassment.

"Yeah," Harry blushed. "Shouldn't you just throw me out afterwards? Aren't you sending mixed messages this way?" He was rather proud of that term. "Like on the one hand, you're mad enough to smack me but on the other hand you're being nice and stuff."

Snape frowned into his teacup. "I am constantly amazed at how much damage those Muggles did to you."

Harry's jaw dropped. "The Dursleys? What do you mean?"

"Potter, it is immediately after you have been punished that you are most in need of reassurance and affection. If I didn't permit you to have our usual tea and biscuits, that would be sending the wrong message: that I will only like you if you behave yourself. Children – including adolescents," Snape amended, seeing Harry's outraged expression, "are supposed to make mistakes. Though," he added swiftly, "I consider trying to stand upright on a speeding broomstick thirty feet in the air a particularly egregious example of childish lapses in judgment.

"Regardless, you need to know that my – relationship – with you is not contingent upon your being perfect. You will in fact anger me on many occasions, but that will not alter my concern for you. By engaging you in pleasant conversation after your punishment, it allows us to move past the negativity and re-connect in a positive manner."

"Did you read a lot of psychology and parenting books before agreeing to do this?" Harry asked suspiciously.

Snape smirked. "I imagine that after this, I'll be able to write one. Perhaps several."

Harry's eyes widened. Was that a joke?

"And now," the professor continued, "as I see you have finished the biscuits, it is time for you to return to your dormitory. Remember that you are grounded from flying for the next week, except for supervised classes or quidditch practice. Furthermore, if you engage in any unnecessary aerobatics during those activities, you will be grounded completely for another two weeks."

"Yeah, yeah," Harry grumpily agreed, getting to his feet. He winced at a twinge in his backside and shot a glare at Snape, using both hands to try to rub away the lingering sting. Snape watched with an amused gleam in his eye, but he didn't actually smirk.

"Well, thanks for the tea," Harry said uncomfortably. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Do not forget to bring your History of Magic essay. I want to review it before you hand it in."

Harry rolled his eyes. "It's not even due until next week. You're turning me into Hermione!"

"I suspect you will need to make some revisions," Snape replied calmly, "and there is nothing wrong with completing your work ahead of time. Indeed, it is a habit you should cultivate."

"What for? So I can compete in the Biggest Prat Contest? Just because you probably had your assignments completed two seconds after they were assigned –"

"Because once we start working on more advanced DADA topics, you will have less study time available."

Harry's pique evaporated. "More advanced? Really?"

"Yes. You have been making reasonable progress, and I think you are ready to move on. But if your schoolwork starts to slip –"

"It won't!" Harry promised, beaming. He really liked DADA, and Snape was a surprisingly good teacher. He had wholly abandoned the caustic, sarcastic attitude he used in Potions, and while his teaching style would never be warm, he was clear and precise. Harry was enjoying himself and steadily improving.

In a much happier mood, Harry left the dungeons and headed for the Gryffindor tower. As usual, he slipped into a nearby lavatory to check the damage, and as usual, there wasn't much to see. His bum still felt warm and uncomfortable, but other than a faint pink blush, there was no sign of his recent punishment. Harry knew from past experience that by morning, he'd be fine. It made a nice change from previous punishments he'd endured. Uncle Vernon's belt, for one, had left him sore for days. Snape had made it clear that such punishments were abusive, but Harry still wasn't sure how Snape was able to make his backside hurt so much during the spanking, yet not cause long-lasting damage. Harry was positive that when they landed, Snape's slaps stung every bit as much as had the blows from Uncle Vernon's belt, but the pain lasted only minutes, not days. Harry finally shrugged. Maybe it was magic.

He left the dungeons and obediently headed straight to the Gryffindor Tower. He wasn't suicidal enough to defy Snape so soon after being punished by him, and besides, the professor was correct: the tea and biscuits were soothing. Harry was more than ready for bed.

Maybe that's why he didn't hear his attackers until they were already upon him.