Chapter 7

Whatever he had been expecting when approached the bed, it was not having the Potter boy jump up and latch onto him like a long-lost relative and cling.

No one clung to Severus Snape, not for any reason.

And here was the son of his most hated… schoolboy enemy… clinging to him.

He found he had absolutely no idea how to react. On the one hand, he wanted to pull away, as this was an uncomfortably unfamiliar situation and he had never been good at being comforting to begin with. On the other, the boy was now his responsibility—an emotionally unstable responsibility, it appeared. Pulling away could cause great damage to an already fragile situation and he didn't need the Bond to know it.

After a moment, Severus cautiously lowered his arms to the boy's shoulders and offered a tenative hug before equally carefully pushing the distraught child to arm's length, examining him with a Healer's critical gaze.

"You should not be out of bed, Potter," he observed aloud, steering the child (backwards) towards the bed and gently forcing him to sit.

"Sorry, sir," Harry lowered his gaze to the floor, flinching. He should have known better than to react like that—it was Snape, for Merlin's sake!

Snape cursed silently, not knowing what he had done for that wave of fearful, shamed depression to wash over the bond. "Potter—Harry—"couldn't keep calling him 'Potter' now that the boy was his ward—"calm down. I'm not angry."

The boy should not be afraid of him. It felt… wrong.

The feelings filtering through the bond lightened, touched with something else—hope?

"You're not?"

Severus sighed quietly, "No, Harry, I'm not."

The boy relaxed, a draining of tension that the Potions Master hadn't even noticed building up past a strange tightening on the edge of his mind that he had brushed aside as irrelevent. But the tightness eased as the boy sagged back against the sheets and allowed himself to be looked over.

Nothing serious, but Severus had never considered himself an expert on the nervous system and knew he would feel better if Madame Pomfrey also took a look at the child—where was the woman? She was better at the whole 'comforting'… thing, as well.

He mentally shook himself—Severus knew exactly what he was avoiding, now that the opportunity had arisin.

What was he going to tell the boy?

"Po—Harry," he began, only to stop, uncertain.

"Professor?" There was hesitence there, and questioning. "Why are you calling me 'Harry'?"

And that, of course, was the perfect opening—that Severus was loathe to actually take. Still…

"You are my ward, now, Harry." He'd never really done tact, anyway.

He wasn't sure what response he was expecting, but it was not the one he received. Confusion and hopeful anxiety washed through him, a torrent so strong that for a moment he was uncertain who the feelings belonged to.

"Your ward?" The feelings were ehoed in the boy's voice, as though he wasn't sure he had understood correctly.

"Yes, Harry, my ward."

Hope filtered through a bit stronger, "What does that mean, sir?"

Severus repressed the urge to sigh again and began to explain.

xxxx

Severus found himself strangely pleased at how well the boy took the news once he actually understood. He had been expecting… here Severus hesitated. He didn't actualy know what he had been expecting, but the hopeful, if slightly apprehensive, repressed excitement on the edge of his mind was certainly not it.

"You mean I don't have to go back to the Dursleys'?"

And quite suddenly it all made sense. Though he wished it didn't—that the boy would rather be with someone he had long seen as an enemy than his own family spoke volumes about their treatment of him.

"No, Harry, you will not have to return to the Dursleys'."

And the emotionaly unstable whelp sat up and hugged him again.

xxxx

Severus returned to his quarters that night filled with a turmoil unlike anything he had felt before. Some of it, he was certain, was the bond settling into place and the boy's own lingering confusion, but the rest…

He did not like being proven wrong. More especially when it involved something like this.

The Dursleys needed to be punished.

And that was probably the Bond speaking, it's enforced protectiveness coming out as anger at the ones that had so hurt Harry.

And that—Harry. Severus was uncertain when he had begun to think of the boy by his given name, but he was relatively certain it had actually been before the Bonding—another puzzling fact.

Snape sighed forcefully, turning to his training as an Occlumens to put the thoughts out of his mind. Dwelling on these things would not change what was.

… And he wasn't even sure he wanted to change this. It felt… good… to be needed.

xxxx

I know I promised it would be up sooner—and I think that it actually is—but it did take loner than I had planned. My Dad collapsed and there was quite a bit of testing done before the conclusion ended up being that his blood-pressure medication made him pass out and the impact with the ground caused a brain-bleed. He's all right, now.

Then Grandma died and things are still a bit hectic from that, but I needed to take a break from the real world for a bit, so I started writing.

Although I'm not sure I managed the 'longer' part… sorry.