"THE MASTER'S GAMBIT"

BY THE_SCRIBBER

THE_SCRIBBER (at) SHADOWGARD (dot) COM

Pursuant to the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, this work is copyrighted 2007 with all rights expressly reserved by its author unless explicitly granted. No portion may be reproduced in any fashion without the express written and notarized permission of the author.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Harry Potter characters. All characters are creations of Joanne K Rowling, © 2007, to whom I am deeply indebted. I make no money from any of this.

This section rated: PG… There is some rough language in parts.

11 AM - Conference Room; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; August 1, 1991.

"Thwack, thwack"

Albus Dumbledore's gavel struck twice on the table in front of him; bringing the room to order. There were over twenty five professors present – some new and some old – and every one of them was animated by the proposal that had been put in front of them as they had gathered.

There was a fair bit of interest in the 'why' as opposed to the 'how' of the proposal – even if each and every one of them had been recruited because of his or her awareness of the problems currently facing the wizarding community in Great Britain. As far as they were concerned, the purebloods in the UK were going to destroy the wizarding world if their attitudes weren't countered aggressively. That meant starting with their children – hence the proposal that was currently on the table.

"Before we start, is everyone in agreement that the situation is bad enough now that we have to do something drastic – even if we eventually do something other than what is not currently before you."

There were murmurs around the extended table, but no outright disagreements.

"Good. Now what I have proposed is that beginning with this incoming class, we use the Iunctus Animus ritual to help all of the first-year students find their bond-mates. The purpose of that is two-fold: (1) To give them something to live for and a reason to work hard, and (2) to diffuse the traditional house tensions that we've experienced in years past.

If there is a third reason, it is that the next generation of students is currently problematic. If the purebloods continue their current path, many of the Ancient and Noble houses will die out in two generations. There won't be enough children among the houses in order to produce heirs.

What I am proposing will solve those problems by giving every first-year child a chance to create a life-time bond and the hope for happiness that they might not have otherwise. To this end, I have sent private letters to all of the heads of houses whom we know to be either 'light-side' or neutral. I took the chance and reached out to the Greengrasses, Parkinsons, and Davises. I was delighted to receive cautious but favorable responses from them. Having already received complete support from the Lovegoods, Weasleys, Longbottoms, Creeveys, and others, I am confident that we can move forward without the kind of backlash that we might have otherwise received."

There was a sudden explosion of conversation as the Headmaster's actions were revealed. The one person who said nothing was the deputy Headmistress. Severus Snape knew that she must be onto something, given the smirk on her face, and so decided to ask her the question that was foremost on everyone's mind. "Minerva? Surely you knew about this. What is the Headmaster doing?"

She reached out a hand and placed it on his. "Johan, it's alright. He knows what he's doing. Even you must remember that James and Lily's son turned eleven yesterday."

"No hesitation about the Headmaster's plan?"

"None, really. Having children bond at such an early age has some drawbacks, of course, but they're outweighed by the benefits. We're going to have to be very pro-active though in terms of counseling both the boys and girls about taking care of each other and what it means to be in such an intimate relationship."

"You're not the only one to express that, Johan. Your lovely bride said the same thing. So did Professors Sprout, Vector, and Dill."

He did a quick calculation regarding what that meant in terms of pure numbers. Unless he missed his guess, they weren't far from an absolute majority among the staff voting in favor of the plan as proposed, if it had caveats about how the first-year students should be treated after the bonding ceremony was complete.

"Glad to see that I'm not often wrong" he said, wryly.

Just as Minerva was about to launch into a retort, Dumbledore rose and looked around; commanding the assembled group's attention simply by reminding them all of his imposing height. "My friend, my companions…thank you all for at least hearing me out on this. I am sure that all of you harbor at least some private doubts and I want, as I promised I always would, tell you why I believe this is the right course."

He pushed back his chair and, walking behind it so that he could pace comfortable, pushed it back in, so that the arms of the chair slid easily under the table and out of the way. "I have been scouting the incoming class". The blank looks on the faces of the assembled group told him that the expression was lost on them. "Oh…I'm sorry. That's a Muggle phrase meaning that I have been reviewing all the likely candidates for Hogwarts – and not just consulting the birth book, but actually making quiet contact with my peers in other countries and talking to some of the teachers who handle magical children of that age. There is a very good chance that we will have children from India, the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia here this year as well and some of them are already showing amazing signs of promise. I believe that this class might be one of the most powerful classes Hogwarts has ever seen, in terms of sheer, raw power. Also, it may be one of the most diverse that we've seen in a long while – which also plays to our advantage."

A voice from the back of the room spoke up and interrupted the Headmaster's train of thought. "Headmaster, you've still not told us why you want to have us help you perform a highly restricted bonding ritual on the first-year students."

"Patience, Septima. I'm getting there and I believe that Minerva and Johan have already worked it out for themselves. It's simply this: Harry Potter is coming to Hogwarts."

Those few words were all it took for the pieces to fall into place for the world-renowned potions master. "Harry?" He asked, excitedly.

"Yes, Johan. Harry."

Johan Severus Snape sat back in his chair; a bit harder than he might otherwise have done. That Lily and James' son was coming to Hogwarts was something that he should have expected......but somehow, he had lost track of the years and it had come as a surprise that it had been eleven years since he had been at Lily and James' side during the delivery of their only child.

Johan Snape was a soft-spoken, gentle, and understanding man who happened to be a complete genius at potions making and new-potions creation. His alter-ego, the hard-edged, irascible, and cruel 'Severus Snape – unrepentant death-eater' was how he met the world when he was trying to prevent the children of the other, surviving death-eaters from getting to close to him and discovering just how far away he had gotten from that persona.

"Johan" was the man he had really become – and the man that Pomona Pomfrey had fallen in love with over ten years ago. "You're looking pensive again, Johan. Knut for your thoughts?"

He turned to her and placed his free hand on hers. "I was just thinking how eleven years have flown by. I didn't expect it to happen quite this fast, somehow.

Meanwhile, the ruckus that kicked up in the conference room among the part-time teachers was amazing. Nearly twenty minutes passed before a general sense of order was restored and even then, the magical energy of the room remained high. "Ok, now that I have your attention again, the point I wanted to make is that Harry Potter is coming to Hogwarts and we have to do everything and anything within our power to make sure that he has the best chance possible of succeeding. I believe that the prophecy made about him will be resolved in Harry's favor ONLY if we give him something worth living for."

Dumbledore knew keenly of the private hell that was Harry's world and wished to God, for the millionth time, that he had given Harry to his Godfather, Sirius Black, when he had had the chance to do so. The words of James and Lily's will ate at him every day….and every day became a race against time to try to find an acceptable substitute for the blood wards that protected Harry's life. There had been no one left on Lily's side beside Petunia; a sister of very questionable character – since the Evens had been wiped out by Voldemort's forces early on in the first war – and the Blacks were unacceptable because of their overall associations with the forces of darkness.

He prayed that he'd not be called on the point, because having to confess his failings to them all would bring even greater doubt into the picture and they could ill afford to be battling internal dissension at the same time that they all, as a group, had to face the Ministry of Magic's yearly teacher certification boards while helping to manage the day-to-day running of the school. Fortunately, that point was allowed to slide.

Albus once again faced the group; taking a couple of steps to his right, so that all of them could see the lists that were magically appearing on the chalkboard behind the Headmaster's right hand. "I'm now putting up a list of the students whom I think are likely to attend Hogwarts this year. You'll notice that Frank and Alice's son, Neville, will be attending, as will Xenophilius Lovegood's daughter, Luna. She's skipped a year and is ready to attend, even though she'll be not quite eleven on the 1st of September. I'm expecting Ron and Ginny Weasley to attend this year as well. Ron is a year older than his sister, but was held back a grade in primary school, while Ginny was promoted a grade because of her extra efforts. Ginny is someone we'll have to keep an eye on so that she doesn't get herself into trouble and so that she has all of the support that she needs."

"Headmaster?" Johan said, quietly.

"Yes, my friend?" Dumbledore looked down at his potions professor with a warm smile.

"You still haven't told us explicitly what you think the bonding ritual is going to do to protect Harry. I mean, beyond 'giving him something to live for'."

"Well, if I wasn't clear earlier, let me put it out this way". He scanned the room, looking to see which one of his colleagues was having the most problem latching onto the idea of having a school full of bonded young people – whose private affairs they could not disturb. "Harry Potter has not known much love since James and Lily were taken from him. It is my belief, as well as prayer, that among those who are coming to the school for the first time, will be a witch who is closely enough matched with him that they'll be able to form a bond. If we guide things right, there will be upwards of thirty-five - maybe even forty - new bonds established and some of those will be made by students who will come to support Harry in the struggle that he will someday face."

"You're taking a huge gamble, Professor. Not just that, but you're risking the happiness of many, many students in order to protect just ONE student. Are you absolutely certain that this is the way to go?"

"Am I betting a lot on this? Yes. Am I risking the happiness of all of them just for Harry's sake? No. There are other ways of helping him become the person that he's destined to be…but finding him someone who he can grow to love is a start. If it doesn't work the first time, there's always next year. Maybe we'll get lucky and maybe we won't, but in the three instances where this was tried – right here at Hogwarts – it led to amazing results."

Sweeping about, Albus Dumbledore looked into the faces of each of his colleagues and tried to discern for a moment if there was anything that he needed to uncover. Seeing nothing that alarmed him, he reached into the inner pocket of his work robes and drew out two individual pages. A bit of wandless magic turned the two pages into a stack of pages – one for each of the people present in the room, save for himself and the Deputy Headmistress.

"I've passed to you your assignments. The student named at the top of the sheet you've just received needs a personal visit and, in the case of the first-born children, an escort to Diagon Alley. Once you've completed your visit, I will need a complete report from each of you regarding the child's overall well-being as well as his or her attitude towards school; a list of possible fears or dreams that we can help with; and the names of the child's non-magical siblings if they're not already known to us. You have ten days to complete this work and get the report turned in. I want each of you to take a full ten days off after doing so!! I need you refreshed, relaxed, and happy on September First. Any questions?" Seeing none, he said, "Dismissed".

The meeting broke up; leaving the Headmaster, Deputy Headmistress, and J. Severus Snape sitting on the edge of the conference table, talking.

Minerva looked at the two men, wondering what each would say to the other. She had, of course, been in on the news that Harry was coming to Hogwarts, and so wasn't surprised by anything that followed. She had suspected that the Headmaster might try something drastic – but she didn't expect a unification or 'soul bonding' ritual to be the answer.

"Albus? Why are you sending me to talk to a muggle-born?"

Swiveling in his chair, the headmaster turned to look up at his life-long partner, lover, and friend. "Because she needs your guidance, Minnie. Ms. Hermione Granger is already exceptionally powerful. I tested her myself while she slept. Her parents, Jake and Miranda Granger and I have talked and they told me a fair bit about Ms. Granger's early, accidental magics. They were impressive. Unfortunately, I felt the need to Obliviate them afterwards. I didn't want them to let on to Hermione that she had been noticed by us. Now,what she needs is someone she can look up to – like an aunt or a grandmother. I thought you'd be great in that role. Take her to Diagon Alley and then take her to lunch. I'd suggest somewhere other than the pub, of course. She'd get overwhelmed easily there, I think."

Not having anything else to say on the matter, the Headmaster turned to his other partner in crime. "Johan – I'm sending you to Harry. Yours will be the harder assignment, because you're going to have to restrain yourself from immediately killing his relatives. I would, if I were you, transfigure them into chairs or something for a while. It will do them good."

There was a wry, almost evil half-grin on the Headmaster's face as he thought of the School's potions-master having the pleasure of demonstrating just why wizards should be feared and respected – and why, specifically, they should have heeded the Headmaster's warnings about Harry's treatment when they had had the chance. He wished that his schedule would have permitted him to have the luxury of doing the deed himself, but he knew with the Ministry representatives coming for the annual inspection, that it could not be.

"Am I also to take him shopping, Albus? You know that is not my forte. Perhaps Minerva could accompany him also?"

"No, Johan, it needs to be you. You're going to have to explain to him what he's going to encounter this year and you're going to have to show him this side of you. More, you're going to have to tell him about his parents and what Hogwarts meant to them. I can't entrust this to anyone else. It has to be you. Besides, James will be laughing himself sick, wherever he and Lily are now, when he looks down to see you taking his only son in hand."

The idea of Johan Snape – the unofficial fifth marauder – teaching Harold "Harry" James Potter how to be the best, most proficient prankster in the history of Hogwarts did have a certain appeal. More, Johan Snape knew that Lily – the woman he loved – would have approved. She married James only after his parents had forbid him from marrying her…but that loss had done nothing to stem the powerful love and friendship that had grown between them. The strength of his relationship with Lily was such that James had even confided in him, after his engagement to Lily had been announced, that he was certain that he, meaning Johan, would have made a better partner for Lily because of his greater devotion to his studies and the craft of potion-making. More quietly, James also told him that Lily still called out Johan's name in her sleep from time to time and that he expected that she would always do so; no matter how long she and James were married.

Johan had rebuffed James' claim, because it was both the politic and the kind thing to do – but never forgot it, either.

Even the Headmaster didn't know that just after Harry's birth, Lily had confided to him that their next son would have been named Johan Severus Potter, in his honor. Her death was the reason that he had devoted his life to being Dumbledore's spy within the ranks of the death-eaters and why he was looking forward to teaching Harry all he knew about potions. Lily's devotion and love for him during their years together at Hogwarts meant that he could do no less.

"I'll do it, Albus. Harry will be a potions-master by the time he leaves Hogwarts or I'll know the reason why not. You can count on it."

Reaching out, the Headmaster clasped his friends' arm in a show of support and friendship. "I know, Johan. There's no one better to do it, either. Thank you."

Sensing that the meeting had just ended, both the Deputy Headmistress and the potions-master bowed politely to the Headmaster and then left the room; leaving him to contemplate what measures he was going to have to implement in order to make the coming year the best that he could be, while ensuring Harry's complete safety. One thing was for sure: Albus Dumbledore was probably going to have to take up teaching again – because the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was once again vacant - because Quirinus Quirrell had suddenly gone missing while on an expedition in Romania, and there were precious few people to fill the post who weren't already busy doing other important work.

As he sat, he reflected on the fact that it had been a long time since he had taught and he hoped that the old skills were not lost… and he wondered whether or not his potions-master would let the Dursleys live or not. Not that they deserved to live, but he was curious to know how much restraint Johan would have, after he found Harry.

I have much to answer for. I hope that he will forgive me for what has happened to him, once Harry's safely here.

57 Mill Lane, Nonington-in-Kent, Kent, UK – July 31, 1991

The rolling, gentle hills of Nonington-in-Kent hide beautiful homes and were perfect for farms of all kinds. Hermione Granger was at home in the hills – with her 10-speed bike and the companionship of her faithful Airedale Terrier, Sean, by her side.

On this particular day, the grey calico-colored tabby cat who watched the young girl prepping for a day out on her bike thought that the weather couldn't be better, nor the day more beautiful, to introduce her to the world that would become her home. No one else was around, nor was there another home for at least a kilometer in any direction.

In fact, the day would have been perfect, if the dog which had been roaming the property hadn't snuck up on her.

"Sean! Let go of that cat!"

Hermione Granger came running down the drive way, desperate to get to her dog, in order to make him let go of the cat that he had by the nape of its neck.

Finally, Hermione closed the last five meters between her and her dog. "Sean! Sit!"

Obediently, the brown-and-tan-haired dog sat, with the cat still firmly clamped in its jaws. If Hermione had known that the cat was not a cat, but an animagus, she'd have made the dog drop the cat immediately. As it was, Hermione thought about how unusual it was for her dog to have caught the cat. It wasn't something he had done before.

Carefully, Hermione reached down and took the cat from his mouth. Other than the fact that there was dog-slobber all over its neck, the cat seemed unharmed. Deciding that it might be a wildcat, she put it down to see what happened.

Whatever she was expecting, it was most assuredly not having the cat suddenly morph into a tall, elegantly dressed woman.

Falling back, Hermione Granger found her footing and started to run towards her house and its (relative) safety. Sighing, the woman closed her eyes, disappeared, and then suddenly reappeared in front of the girl; effectively blocking her access to the house.

Holding up a hand, she looked at the young girl. "Please, Hermione, stop. I'm not going to hurt you."

Hermione's shock was complete. The very, very last thing that she could have imagined is that the cat-turned-person would know her name. She couldn't move, nor was she able to find any words to convey what she was feeling.

Sensing her unease, the Headmistress of Hogwarts closed the distance between them, so that they could meet eye-to-eye.

"Hermione Granger, my name is Minerva O'Shea McGonagall. I am the headmistress of a school in southern Scotland called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yes, I am a witch. You just saw me transform from a cat to a person. That is one of the magical skills that I have and one that you will learn, when you come to school."

Finding her voice, Hermione managed to squeak out "But I'm not a witch. I'm just a girl."

A broad, gentle smile played across the older woman's face. "You're a witch too; Hermione, or else I wouldn't be here. Haven't you ever noticed strange, inexplicable things happening around you? Did you not think that it was odd that your third-grade teacher's hair suddenly turned blue one day when you were mad at her, and refused to grow back in any other color? Didn't you think that it was weird that all you had to do was think about your toys and they'd float over to you? Did you not notice that when those silly girls down the road splashed mud on you two days ago, it stubbornly refused to cling to your clothes and you were able to walk home completely clean and neatly dressed?"

"How long have you been watching me? How did you know all that?"

"We've been watching you for a long time, Hermione. Your magic is extraordinarily, even astonishingly strong - and amazingly so for a first-born witch. Albus Dumbledore, our headmaster, sent me personally to introduce you to the magical world and to talk to your parents about what's coming for you. My job is to help teach you in the next three days and to give you all the information that you could possible want."

"Books?"

"Yes, books, Hermione. Amazing books, with pictures that move. There are even books that can get up and move on their own." Minerva shuttered at "The Monster book of Monsters", which some dingbat had actually bred by crossing the "Encyclopedic Book of Monsters" with a ferocious, magical wolverine-type creature. She thought privately that he must have been high on some Muggle drug when he had chosen to do so. It was the only way someone could have thought of creating such a god-awful thing.

Hermione's eyes went wide and the Deputy-Headmistress could tell that she had just found the young girl's 'On' button.

"I like books"

"I've noticed, Hermione. I've been watching you around-the-clock for the better part of the last three days and there's not a day that's gone by that you've not been to the library."

The young girl had the grace to actually blush at that.

"May I come in? I'd like to get off my feet for a few minutes and I could do with a glass of ice tea, if you have it."

Hermione thought about that for a moment. Her parents had been very, very clear about her ever letting a stranger into the house and she didn't want to disappoint them, even if the guest turned out to be magical and could do things she'd never dreamed of before.

"How about I bring some chairs out and I bring the ice tea out here. Would that be all right?" Minerva was not the best at legilimency, but she saw enough of the girls' most prominent thoughts to know that Hermione had been asked not to allow strangers into the house when they were not there. Not wanting to give away information about her ability to pick up thoughts from students, she allowed the young girl to dictate the terms of their meeting.

"That would be fine, Hermione. And there's no need to bring out chairs. I can conjure chairs right here, if you'd like."

That stopped Hermione up short. "Conjure? You mean like summon out of thin air?"

Minerva nodded. "Well, it's a bit more complicated than that, when you actually get down to it, but essentially, yes. That's what I'll be doing. Do you want to watch?"

Bouncing on the balls of her feet, Hermione nodded furiously. "Please!"

"Ok. Now pay attention. This is the first lesson in conjuration. You have to be able to see in your own mind what you want to do. What is it that you want to create? Once you can fix on the image in your own mind, you can put the magic to work to make it happen. I know what kind of chairs I want, so all I have to do is take out my wand and "Appareo!"

Suddenly, there were two comfortable-looking wicker chairs with down-filled cushions on the ground in front of them.

Hermione's smile was a mile wide as she contemplated what she had just been shown. It was as if a light had gone on in her head and suddenly, there were a million new possibilities open to her.

"May I try, Headmistress?"

That caught the Headmistress off-guard. She wasn't expecting that her new charge would want to try such a piece of magic immediately, but there wasn't really any harm in it either.

"Come here then, Hermione."

Hermione did as she was asked. Once she was standing next to the older woman, she started to feel a tingle all over. It was as if she had just made contact with something that gave off a low-level static charge. It wasn't unpleasant at all, but it was new and different.

"Take my wand in your hand. Feel its balance? Can you feel a tingle in your wrist or your arm?"

"Yes, but it's all over, and not just my arm. I felt it when I stepped close to you."

"Oh my" was Minerva's first thought. "If she can feel magic that strongly, then she may just be able to do this. We're going to have to watch this one very, very closely. I wonder if the Headmaster even knows how strong she is already."

"Good. That's very, very good. Now focus on the thing you want to conjure. Make sure you can see it; feel it in your mind."

"I can, Headmistress. It's my teddy bear."

"That's a good thing then. Let's try it on the count of three. We'll count 'One', 'Two' and then you'll say the charm. Do you remember what it is?"

"Yes, it's "Appareo!"

"That's it, Hermione. Remember, you're going to be doing actual magic for the very first time. It will either feel very, very good or it won't, in which case, you'll feel slightly sick to your stomach. I'm betting that you'll feel very, very good after this. You are strong magically and this will help to start your magical core growing."

"Ok? Ready? Remember…on three."

Hermione tensed up a bit and then nodded. They counted together "One, two, "Appareo!"

The next thing Hermione knew, a powerful, almost orgasmic feeling swept through her whole body. The pleasure she felt almost caused her to panic, as it centered in her groin and in her chest. In front of her, when she opened her eyes, was her teddy bear, lying on the ground.

Bending over, she picked it up. It smelled perfect and was soft and furry, just like the bear that she loved so much. The smile that came over her face was priceless. She believed.

Minerva McGonagall stood back for a moment and thought about what had just happened. A first-year student had just performed a fifth-year, perfect conjuration…with someone else's wand. "Oh shit" she thought, "How am I going to explain this to Albus? More, what am I going to say to the others? No one was expecting this."

"That was very, very good Hermione. Even more so for a first-year student. If you'd been sorted into a house already, I'd definitely award you fifty house-points for that effort."

"Does this mean that I'm going to come to your school?"

"Hermione, there is no way that you could be kept out, especially after that demonstration. I'll be hard pressed to challenge you enough this coming year, if that's what you're already capable of doing."

Hugging her teddy bear, she twirled around once and then sat down on one of the chairs.

Taking advantage of the break, Minerva McGonagall said "if you're that pleased, would you be willing to go and fetch back the ice tea? I find myself parched."

The look on the young girls' face was mortifying. It was as if she had just been reminded of an enormous responsibility – where lives were on the line or something. She gave a small 'eeeep' and then sprang out of her chair and ran to the house. Talking to no one in particular, Minerva said "Well, that settles it. She's responsible, thoughtful, and powerful. No wonder Albus wanted her in the class."

When Hermione returned a few minutes later, she was carrying a sterling silver tray laden down with cookies and a jug of ice tea; a small bucket, and two tall glasses. She set it down on the horizontal granite slab which sprang, perfect and gleaming white, from the ground. "Oh! Excellent, Hermione. That will do nicely. And it's nicely presented. I'm sure that your mother would be proud of you."

"Actually, Headmistress, my father is the cook in the family. He taught me about food presentation and how to treat a guest. My mother is good, but he's better."

That set the Headmistress back on her heels a bit. She didn't expect such defensiveness from a young girl for her father. It was a welcome change from the typical familial relationships which she had seen in the wizarding world and bode well for her charge. She knew that usually, girls who like their fathers end up liking men in general and have better marriages.

"It's nice to hear you speak so well of your father, Hermione. He must be incredibly proud of you."

Blushing, Hermione said quietly, "He's my best friend, Headmistress. I love him very much. He protects me and teaches me all sorts of things."

"Tell me about them?"

That was the last word that the Deputy-Headmistress got in for the next half-hour. Hermione talked about her parents at length; making observations about their relationship, their work ethic (which stunned Minerva), what she knew of their sex-life, and talked about the trips they had taken as a family.

Finally, she reached a point where she paused (for breath, Minerva thought). "Hermione? Which one of them taught more? Where did you learn to love reading so much?"

In retrospect, the question was so loaded that she should have known that she'd not get another word in for a long time….and she didn't. It was a trait that she'd have to watch in class, lest Hermione be made outcast simply because she answered every question with an entire chapter.

"Hermione, you've told me a great deal now and I think I have a much better sense of who you are. What questions do you have for me? What can I tell you about the magic world that you want to know immediately?

That was mistake number two. Questions there were…and they came fast and furious. For more than another hour, Hermione peppered the Deputy-Headmistress with questions about food, the other students, dorm life, the houses, uniforms, schedules, the library, and what happens during holidays. By the time it was over and she seemed satisfied with the answers she had received, two hours had passed.

Looking down at her watch – a Girard-Perregaux, 1928, diamond-encrusted platinum lady's watch – she saw that it was almost four in the afternoon. Smiling, she looked up. "Well, Ms. Granger, it's almost four now and I expect that your parents will be home soon. How would you like to play this out? Do you want me to change again and wait for them as I waited for you or would you like to save that surprise for afterwards?"

Hermione actually giggled – a soft, sweet sound that Minerva knew would enchant the boys at school. "Well, I think that my parents suspect that something is different about me, but they can't put their finger on it. Why don't you change, just before they get here and I'll hold you in my arms. When they ask me where I found you, I can tell them that you were in the driveway, and that I think you're special. You can do your change then. It will certainly 'break the ice' with them."

"Ms. Granger – if I didn't think that you belonged in my house – Gryffindor - I would most certainly expect you to be sorted into Slytherin house, for a move such as that."

"No worries there, Headmistress. I think I will like being in Gryffindor very much, if you're head of house."

Putting her hand on the young woman's shoulder, Minerva said more quietly "Don't get your hopes too high, Hermione. The Sorting Hat has a mind of its own – and I say that literally – and you can't always guess where it is going to place students. Now, I will tell you one thing that the other students don't know. The Hat will talk to you – speak into your mind – and tell you what it sees. You can ask it to put you into Gryffindor…but it will acquiesce only if it generally agrees that such a placement is best for you."

"Is that Hat alive?" she said, looking up at her knew friend.

"Well, that's hard to say. Magic is funny about preserving people's essence. You're going to find that the people in the pictures at school will speak to you, if you speak to them and by and large, they'll answer coherently and in a way that is true to the personality of the person who is depicted. The Hat, we believe, is a magical construct made by the four founders of the school: Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin, and Godric Gryffindor. The Hat has been sorting students for almost nine-hundred and fifty years and in that time, the magic which makes it 'live' has never waned."

"How does it see into peoples' thoughts? How does it see their character or their desires?"

"Ah, Hermione. That's the true magic of the Hat. It does what no other magical item that I've ever heard of can do: It can see, for lack of a better term, your soul. Of all the magical artifacts that I've ever come across, and believe me I've seen a few, the Hat is the most wondrous and powerful. What makes it even more amazing, if that's possible, is that during the rest of the year, the Hat talks to the Headmaster or spends its time making up the song for the next sorting feast. I suspect, though I can't prove it, that each new Headmaster or Headmistress gives the Hat vital new energies which keep it going."

Hermione was amazed by what Minerva McGonagall had to say and was soon lost in thought. She sat back and scratched Sean behind his ears, thinking about all the things she had been told and the amazing magic that she herself had performed just over two hours earlier. If her friend, Jeffrey, could only know about all that she had learned, then life would be amazing.

Thinking about Jeffrey – her first and best friend in primary school – brought a pang of fear and sadness to Hermione's heart. "Headmistress?"

"Call me Professor, it's easier and less formal"

"Professor? I can't talk about this with anyone else, can I?"

Minerva shook her head. "No, Hermione, you can't. There's a law – called the International Statute of Secrecy­ – which makes it a high crime to tell any Muggle, any non-magic person other than immediate family, about the existence of magic. Every magical person in the United Kingdom has, as his or her first obligation, the requirement to protect the knowledge of the existence of magic from the outside world. There are just under 100,000 of us here in the Kingdom, as opposed to over sixty million Muggles. We are so outnumbered that we have to prevent them from knowing about us, or else we could be easily destroyed. You cannot, ever, unless your life is in immediate danger, disclose the existence of magic to any of your friends – including Jeffrey. I'm sorry."

Hermione was very quiet for a long while after that, as she contemplated what joining the magical world was going to mean for her 'old' life.

"Professor? Did you ever have to make the choice to leave the Muggle world?"

"Yes, Hermione, a long, long time ago…and it wasn't any easier then, either."

Hermione didn't know what to do, so she did what she had always done with her parents: She sought comfort and reassurance by hugging Minerva.

Putting a comforting arm around the girl, Minerva said to her "Shhhhh. It's alright, Hermione. In the long run, you'll find it's worth it. There are things about the magical world that I cannot describe, but are more than worth it." "If the ritual works as Albus believes it will, that is" she thought to herself.

"I hope so, Professor."

At a quarter of five, a dark green BMW 3 Series Touring Sedan pulled into the driveway and two tall, striking people got out. Miranda Granger, younger than her husband Jake by seven years, was a lithe, brunette bombshell of a woman. At age 31, she had the body of a twenty-year old and moved like she was 18. Jake, for his part, stood 6'3, and easily commanded his compact, 102 kilo frame. With striking blue eyes, auburn hair and an easy, gentle smile, Jake Granger was the most popular (and most successful) oral surgeon for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. Having long since opted out of working for the National Health Service, he and his beautiful wife had created an amazing successful private practice. It didn't take long for Hermione to run to her parents and hug them both. "Mom! Dad! Look what I found today! Isn't she beautiful!" Hermione held up the kitty-cat that she had 'found' and showed her off to both of them. Once she was done, she said to them both (after putting the cat down). "Want to see what she can do? It's a really neat trick." "Sure, honey. Let's see what tricks she does", Jake said, not expecting anything much. Hermione smiled her private smile – the one that said that she had a surprise up her sleeve. "Oh Professor? Will you join us now?" The cat nodded and was suddenly replaced with the statuesque form of Minerva McGonagall. Miranda dropped her clutch purse and screamed. Jake took several steps back and looked all around, as if to wonder whether there were any more like her lurking nearby.

Calmly, the Deputy Headmistress put her hand out and said quietly "It's alright. I'm friendly. No need for alarm."

Jake reached out and pulled Hermione to him; roughly turning her around to face him. "Did you know about this? Is this your doing?"

Stepping back, and out of his reach, Hermione looked up and said angrily, "No, Dad, it's not my doing. The professor here is from a school that wants me to attend this fall. It turns out that I'm a witch…and a powerful one, apparently. Professor McGonagall here is what's called an Animagus – a witch who can turn herself into an animal at will. Her form is a cat, as you've just seen."

"You sure this is no trick, Hermione. You know the penalty if you're lying to us."

"Dad, I've never lied to you, or to mum. I'm telling you the truth. Professor? Would you kindly send those chairs back to wherever they came from?"

"No problem, Ms. Granger." A moment later, after a silent swish of her wand, the chairs just disappeared. With them went, at least temporarily, Miranda Grangers' voice. The casual display of obvious magic had completely unnerved her.

Jake, though a professed Christian, still had to see and feel some things for himself before believing in them. This was one of those times. "Ah…Madame, if you could, would you please do that change that you just did. I'm not sure that I really saw it the first time."

Professor McGonagall, having been through the same song-and-dance with the parents of prior Muggle-born students, took the request in stride. "Certainly. Watch closely."

Centering herself for a moment, she drew out the time that it took for her to make the change into her cat form. Walking around for a moment as a cat and playing with her own tail for the comedic effect it would have, she gave them the full show of her as a cat. Once she was convinced that enough time had passed, she reversed the change slowly and then straightened up, so that she was back to her normal posture.

"Well?" she said kindly, "Usually I get a round of applause for that change. There are not many wizards or witches who can do it as quickly or as smoothly as I can. It takes practice."

"It's bloody brilliant, Professor. I'd never, ever have believed it, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes….but now….wow. It's incredible. You said that there are others who can do the change, too?"

"Yes, the Ministry of Magic has a book which records all of the names of the wizards and witches who are capable of making the change into an animal. Right now, there are about 100 or so who can do it. That's out of a population of just less than 100,000 witches and wizards in the United Kingdom."

"Ministry of Magic? Really?"

She nodded. "Yes. How else would an autonomous group govern itself? The Minister of Magic reports directly to the Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be. Ours is a government unto itself – unless things get seriously out of hand and we have to ask for help. It's been two hundred years since that last happened, but the option is still there. We're loyal to Crown and country, just like you are, and some witches and wizards actually serve in the Muggle government and armed forces."

Realizing that they were still standing in the driveway, Jake stopped for a moment and turned to his wife. "Mir, love? I think we're going to be just fine. Let's take this discussion inside, where we'll be more comfortable. I think our guest here would like to sit down and perhaps we can learn a thing or two over dinner."

Finally finding her voice, Miranda Granger looked at her husband, her daughter, and the tall, mysterious woman who her daughter referred to as "Professor". "I guess so, Jake. It's just taking me a moment to come to grips with all of this. It's a bit to handle."

"Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I'm sure you have lots of questions and I'll do what I can to answer them. I've spent all of this afternoon talking to your daughter and showing her how to do her first bit of magic. You're both going to be pleased with what I have to say on that subject, I think, and my guess is that you both want to know more about the world your daughter is about to enter. If we go inside, I can show you both some more magic, so you'll have a sense of what Hermione here is going to be learning, and we can talk about the practicality of having a witch in the family."

Jake pointed towards the side door and led the way inside, with Miranda bringing up the rear.

As she entered the cool, dark home, Hermione wondered how long it was going to be before her parents gave their blessing to her leaving home and going away to a school that none of them had ever heard of before. Her bet was four hours.

She was wrong by only twenty minutes.

4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey; July 31st, 1991; 5:15 Pm.

Johan Severus Snape hated babysitting. At least, he hated having to deal with snot-nosed children who were unwilling or unable to work up to their potential. It robbed him, he thought, of time that he could be spending with students who actually cared about learning and wanted to be in his class. He desperately hoped that Harry James Potter would be such a student. The unknown factor was what living with Muggles had done to him and what kind of attitude he had towards learning. That was the real key.

His current assignment from the Headmaster was as complex as it was emotionally laden. He was going to see, for only the second time in almost eleven years, the young man who had, he hoped, sent Voldemort to the hell he so richly deserved.

Apparating as far as Bog Lane; just off the A329, Johan Severus Snape looked around and then disillusioned himself for the half-mile walk to No. four, Privet Drive. The sun was still bright in the sky and there was a decent breeze, which made the afternoon cooler than it might otherwise have been. Just before his arrival he had received a Patronus from the Deputy-Headmistress telling him that she had made successful contact with Ms. Granger and that she showed even more promise than the Headmaster had indicated.

The Potions-master had already become more than a little interested in what the future might hold for the incoming first-year students and then suddenly more so because of what she had told him in the short message. His thoughts, jumbled as they were, were betrayed in his increased pace as he made his way over and down the narrow byways towards No. four, Privet Drive. No one saw the consternated man as he made his way, carefully, between the rows of houses, and it was a good thing, too, because where he was going was a very, very closely guarded secret.

In reality, only four people knew of the location: the Potion-master himself; the Headmaster, the Deputy-Headmistress, and the Grounds-keeper, Rubius Hagrid. Johan Severus Snape – the second-most careful one of the group, thought that the number was three too many – but accepted the fact that the Deputy-Headmistress probably had a need, as well as a right, to know. He was much, much less sanguine about the Grounds-keeper knowing. Rubius Hagrid kept secrets the way that a strainer keeps in water…and that was being generous.

"That's probably unfair to him", he thought to himself as he walked. "So?" Replied the more analytical part, "Since when did we care what was 'fair' or not? Hagrid just can't keep secrets. He wasn't raised to do so and it's just not reasonable to expect that he'd start doing so now."

"Well then, all we have to do is keep him away from the ale at the Hogs Head Inn and we won't have a problem. Better yet, keep him away from the Firewhiskey too, as well as the Stout and the Mead and don't forget to remind the elves that they can't help him procure any more and *then* we won't have a problem."

Snape snorted. Keeping a half-giant away from his drink was just as easy as keeping the Acromantulas out of the forest; which was to say completely and totally impossible. "Might as well as try to bottle true love". Not going to happen, he knew.

Arriving at the front door of No. four, he looked at his watch. Twenty-five past five. "Not bad. If I play my cards right, I can be away and gone before sun-down".

Ringing the door-bell, Johan Severus Snape straightened up and waited for the one person he most wanted NOT to see again answer the door. Sure enough, a minute later, Petunia Evens Dursley answered the door.

Her first reaction was the predictable one. "You! How dare you come to my house!"

Snape's first reaction was also the predictable one. "Stupefy".

Thud.

"Much better. She always did look better when she was silent."

Stepping over the unconscious body of Petunia Evans Dursley, the Potions-master soundlessly entered the house, closed the door behind him, and looked around. Scanning for magical signatures, he found himself in front of the closet under the stairs. "Couldn't be", he thought. But, to his horror, it was. Opening the door, the black-haired man thought to himself "Lumos" and immediately, the tip of his wand lit up so that he could see everything within four feet of it. On the back wall, in unmistakable scrawl, were the words "Harry's room".

A fury such as he had rarely felt was beginning to gather in the pit of his stomach and he knew that he had to find the boy and find him quickly. Stepping back, and out of the small closet, Snape looked around and then laid his wand flat across the palm of his hand; thinking "Point me". It was not even a spell, really. More of a cantrip…but it served the purpose of pointing him towards the object of his search. Through the back door and out into the postage-stamp of a yard, Snape looked around until he found a small boy; thin and disheveled, bending over a perfectly manicured rose-bed.

As he looked down, he saw that the boys' hands were bleeding and realized that he was trying to wipe them off on his ragged, unkempt jeans. His presence was unnoticed until his shadow crossed in front of the boy. At that moment, he whipped around and looked up, frightened.

The boy started to raise his hands, to ward off….what? Snape wondered. "There's real fear there" he thought. A picture was coming together and it was a terrible, awful picture – one that if the Headmaster knew about, he surely would have done something about…"Wouldn't he?" Snape didn't know, but he hoped. The Headmaster was not a man given over to cruelty or abuse. In fact, Snape knew, the Headmaster was prone to quite the opposite and tended to be forgiving in even the more extreme circumstances.

"Come with me, Harry. I'll get you cleaned up and you'll be safe."

"Wh….Who are you?"

"I'm a friend of your parents, from long ago Harry. I'm here to help you and to get you ready for school this fall. You're going to be leaving this place tonight - soon I hope - and you'll never have to come back."

The boy brightened at that and started to stand up. That was the moment that the Potions-Master chose to look into the boys' thoughts. It was an unguarded moment, when the boys' attention was elsewhere.

Pain.

Sadness

The images came fast and furious and almost staggered the older man. Harry at five years old, being beaten for cooking the bacon too much; Harry being whipped almost raw for answering a question faster than Dudley; Harry being forced to take cold showers because Dudley had used all the hot water.

The injustices; the cruelty, the beatings….it seemed to go on forever.

Johan Severus Snape backed out of Harry's mind; unable to cope with the pain. Never, in all the times that he had been tortured by the Dark Lord, had he ever felt such sadness or hopelessness – and it was all contained in a little boy who had just turned eleven years old. The man feared by so many; the mask of Severus Snape, unrepentant death-eater, became real for a moment, as he promised himself that Petunia and Vernon Dursley were going to know pain. A world of pain and anguish such as they had never known before. Lily Potter's son deserved revenge and Lily would curse him forever if he stood by and did nothing.

"Stand for a moment, Harry. I'm going to help you now and you're not going to feel a thing."

Taking out his wand again, Snape thought "Scourgefy". That cleaned all the dirt from the baggy pieces of fabric which passed for clothes on the rail-thin boy. With a simple, wordless, "Evenesco!", the grime and blood was gone from Harry's hands. A third swish of the wand and the clothes were mended and neat. Suddenly absent were the multiple tears, frayed seams, and broken belt loops. "One more, Harry, and I'll have you looking decent. At least, decent enough to travel. There's much to talk about and much to do, if you're to come with me to Hogwarts."

"Hogwarts, Sir? What's that?"

Johan Snape was ready for the question and answered, with a soft smile, "It's the school in Scotland where your parents learned to use and control their magic, Harry. You're to come with me, if you want to learn how to control your magic and be the wizard that your parents knew you could become."

The boy looked skeptical, as well as sad. "Sir? I'm just a normal boy…I'm no wizard."

"Well Harry, your parents were James Harold Potter and Lily Evans Potter, and they were the best witch and wizard of their year. I should know. Your father, James, was one of my best friends, and your mother, Lily, was someone whom I loved very, very much."

"You're a wizard?"

At that, Johan Severus Snape actually threw his head back and laughed from the pit of his stomach.

When he was done, he looked at the boy. "How many times, in the last several summers, have your clothes suddenly mended themselves, or your hands and face become suddenly blood or dirt-free? Yes Harry, I'm a wizard. More, I'm the Potions-master at Hogwarts and I've come to introduce you to the life you're going to live."

"But…I don't know anything about being a wizard. I…I have no money to go to some special school with and I don't…." His voice trailed off, as he slumped, crest-fallen over the number of things that he thought would stand in the way of his leaving the Dursleys and starting somewhere new.

"It's all right Harry. Your parents provided handsomely for your education and for all of your needs. You come from a family that is over nine-hundred and fifty years old!! Money is something you're never, ever going to have to worry about, I promise you."

Harry Potter's eyes lit up. Money was something he understood, if only in its absence. He had never had the chance to do anything fun at all, nor buy anything that he needed, because his guardians had not permitted it, nor given him the quid necessary.

"You mean I have my own money? That I can use for things I want and need?"

Johan Snape nodded. "Yes Harry, you do. Lots of it. More than you can imagine, actually. More than I can imagine too, probably. You'll see it too, when we go to Gringotts."

"What's it like?"

"So many questions Harry. I'll tell you what. Let's go inside and we can talk more there. Then I'd like to share some memories with you."

As they walked towards the sliding glass door, Harry looked up at his new friend. "You said you were a friend of my parents, but you've not told me your name."

"I'm sorry Harry. You're right, I haven't. My name is Johan Severus Snape. I teach Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I've been teaching there for more than eleven years. Actually…now that I think about it, it's been almost fourteen years."

He shuttered a little bit at the thought of how quickly the time had passed. "It seems like just yesterday that I was playing chess with your mother or Quidditch with your father. Those were easier days, Harry."

Once they stepped inside, Harry could see his aunt's feet sprawled out in the hallway. Running over to her, he felt to see if she was still breathing. He was about to pick up the phone and dial 999 when his friends' hand closed about his shoulder. "It's all right, Harry. She's just unconscious. She was a little upset by my presence and so I had to stun her. She'll come around in a while." "If I let her live that long." He mused to himself.

Unable to show the Potions-master up to his room, Harry decided to cover for it by offering some tea in the living room. When asked, Johan replied "Just some milk with it please, Harry. I never acquired a taste for sugar in my tea."

Harry laughed at that. "My uncle Vernon puts in five teaspoons. It's awful."

"How do you take yours, Harry?"

Harry looked down at the floor as he said quietly, "I don't know. They never let me have any."

That brought the Potions-master up short. "Sit, Harry. Now. In front of me, so that we can make eye contact. I need to know some things right now and I don't have time to play twenty questions."

Harry sat obediently and looked his new friend in the eye. "This is not going to hurt, Harry, but it might be disconcerting. You'll feel….pressure…for lack of a better term, in your mind, as I look at some of your memories. There are some things I have to know in order to make the right decisions. Once I'm done looking, I'll show you memories of your mother and father from when we were in school together. I'm betting, from what you've told me so far, that you know nothing about them at all, is that correct?"

"Yes sir." Harry said, almost ashamedly.

"Don't get down Harry. There's much to live for still." He paused. "Ready then? Let's begin. Legillemens!"

Suddenly, Harry felt a pressure in one part of his mind as Johan Snape pushed his way in, past the boy's natural defenses. Sensing that there was much to discover, he ranged his probe all over; gathering memories as he went. There was the glass wall in front of the snake at the zoo; being punished for trapping Dudley inside the cage and letting the snake out.

Talking to the snake!

Being chased by Dudley and his gang and then suddenly finding himself on top of the school…

Petunia cutting off all his hair and then finding it having grown back in by the next morning…

The beatings for peeing in his closet because they had locked him in…

The constipation because of not being allowed to use the toilet for days at a time…

The broken arm after Dudley hit him with the fire-poker…

A single, dirty sock for Christmas…

Birthdays forgotten year after year….

The scars on his back from being whipped with the riding crop…Vernon's leather belt

"NO MORE!" Snape roared as he backed out of Harry's mind. Standing up, Snape took three strides before he was standing in the front hallway. Kicking Petunia Dursley, so that she was on her back, Severus Snape – the Dark Lord's third-in-command – said "Enervate!" It took Petunia Dursley a moment of coughing before she was fully alert. "You! What are you doing here? Vernon with throw your arse out of here..."

That was the last thing that came out of her mouth before the pain came. "Silencio! Crucio!!"

She screamed. And screamed….and screamed…and no one heard her.

For almost thirty seconds, Severus Snape poured his hatred into making Petunia Evans Dursley feel the pain and rage that he had gathered from Harry's mind. When he was done, she was broken - finally and completely. What was left of her mind wasn't worth worrying about.

Snape raised her body up and then dumped her, unceremoniously, onto the floor in the living room. Her body was still twitching, but her mind was completely and irrevocably gone. There was no longer anyone home in the small piece of real estate which passed itself off as Harry's aunt.

"Don't worry about her, Harry. She'll never bother you again. I can assure you of that. Soon, your uncle and cousin will join her and then we will depart this place for good."

Somehow, Harry could not bring himself to care about the fate of his aunt, nor the impending fate of his uncle and cousin. He had hurt too much; for too long, to care about them. They had never cared about him for so much as a moment… and so he was beyond the point at which he could be convinced to have empathy towards or sympathy for them.

"Will they die, Mr. Snape?"

"Yes Harry, they will die. At some point, in about a week, someone will come looking for them because they will not have turned up at their jobs or at school. Their bodies will be found here in the living room, just as you see them right now. They will die peacefully…which is more than they deserve…and more than they would have gotten, if you were not here. What they've done to you deserves a much, much worse fate than the one I am giving them."

"Will I be blamed?"

"No Harry, you won't be. You've not done anything to them. Neither the magical world, nor the muggle world will think you had anything to do with their deaths. It will be just one more 'tragic happening' in the life of Harry Potter."

Harry thought about that for a while, before he said anything. "Mr. Snape?"

"Please Harry, call me Professor, or simple 'Johan', when were alone together. Mr. Snape sounds so….Muggle."

For the first time since they had met, Harry laughed. Something about the sincerity of his new friends' tone-of-voice when he said 'Muggle' struck Harry as being very funny indeed.

"Is 'Muggle' a bad thing, Johan?"

The Potions-Master kicked Petunia's leg with his foot. "That's 'Muggle', Harry. The very worst sort: Uninformed, incurious, insular, pedantic, and parochial. Worse Harry, is that the Muggles think that they have the answer to everything and that there are no real mysteries left. They're wrong, of course, and we know that. I mean…don't get me wrong…some of their technology is amazing and really very useful…but on the whole, their very limited in their thinking. You're going to find that there are those in the wizarding world who discriminate against those who are born of muggle parents or who have one parent who is 'muggle-born' "

That made Harry scratch his head in curiosity. "What do you mean when you said 'muggle-born' ?"

"Good question, Harry. Muggle-born means anyone who is magic, whose parents are both Muggles. You're going to have a classmate this fall – Hermione Granger – that's like that. I was told this afternoon, before I got to you, that she is really exceptionally powerful. So much so that she might give our Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, a run for his galleons – which is saying something indeed."

"Were my parents muggle-born?"

"Your father was not. He's a 'pure-blood', but your mother was. The women in the Evans family had been giving birth to magical children once every two or three generations and so it was Lily, your mother, who was born of two parents who weren't magical at all. For what it's worth, Harry, I'm a 'half-breed' just like you. My mother was Eileen Prince – a 'pure-blood', but my father was a Muggle named Tobias Snape. It was a bad marriage and they ended up screaming at each other most of the time as I was growing up. It was, if anything, my mother's fault. She carried her family's prejudice about 'blood-purity' and what she was 'owed' by society because of it, into her marriage. I grew up confused and hurt by her comments towards my father, and resentful of my mother's attitude because I thought she didn't love me due to my 'blood-status'. It was…painful."

Harry looked at his new friend and did the only thing that he could think of: He got off his chair and hugged him.

It was at that moment; when Harry Potter showed his empathy towards a lonely, confused man, that the friendship between the two was sealed for good.

7:15 Pm.

Johan Severus Snape never expected that he would find himself in the position of being Harry Potter's guardian angel, nor did he expect to have the young man show himself to be such an adept pupil. Within thirty minutes of seeing the abbreviated potions book that the professor had brought for him, Harry Potter was already making connections and asking questions that were worthy of a fifth-year student. He had figured out, by comparing two of the potions in the middle of the book that Asphodel and Wormwood together made the most powerful sleeping potion possible. A bit of further reading taught him that Monkshood and Wolfsbane were the same thing; differing only in the time of year during which the ingredient was harvested. He also pointed out that by adding a tenth of a gram of pure sulfur to another potion, it might be possible to create a potion version of Fiend-Fyre.

The Potions Master of Hogwarts sat back, astonished. He couldn't believe that a young man, who had never before set eyes on a potions book, could create a new potion in a matter of minutes.

"Harry, you know that what you've just done would get you past your fifth-year tests and put you on the path towards your seventh-year exams, don't you?"

It was a rhetorical question, but he was trying to drive home the point that Harry was truly exceptional. "No, I didn't", Harry replied hesitantly.

"Would you like to have private lessons from me? I have just two slots open and I was saving them for seventh-year students who showed promise…but if you can keep doing like you've done tonight, I'll take you on and teach you everything I know."

Harry's eyes went wide. "Promise, sir?"

"Yes Harry, I promise. And please, don't call me sir unless we are in class together. It's really very impersonal otherwise." That earned him the second hug of the evening – and embarrassed him a bit, because he felt a tear accumulating in his eye that had not been there before.

"I'm sorry…Johan. I didn't mean to…."

"Don't worry about it, Harry. You've done nothing wrong. I'm very, very proud of you for what you've learned so far. If you can do as well in your other subjects as you've done here, it's going to be an amazing year for us both."

Turning, Snape was about to reach for his now-cold cup of tea when the door opened and in walked Vernon and Dudley Dursley.

They never had a chance. Before their coats were even hung up, they were both silently screaming and begging for their lives. It was a shame, for them, that those pleas went unheard.

Harry couldn't watch. Not that he didn't desire their deaths; rather he just couldn't stand to watch the veins throb in his uncle's forehead one more time. It was too much like the times he had been beaten for some illusory infraction and it was a mental image that he didn't want to have, so he found food for the two of them in the kitchen while his teacher 'took care of' the two portly problems.

What the Potions-master didn't count on were the blood-wards falling. He could actually feel them starting to melt away as both Vernon and Dudley Dursley experienced fatal coronary events and Petunia Dursley's body breathed its last.

"Harry, I didn't count on this, but the wards around this house are falling, even as we speak. I'm afraid we're going to have to move right now, if we're to get out of here alive. Is there anything in this home that you want to bring with you to school?"

Harry shook his head. There was nothing in the entire house that he wanted or needed – except for the candy-bars in the jar above the sink. Cleaning out the bowl of all four, he skittered around the corner to where his teacher stood. "Take my hand, Harry, and we'll go directly to our next destination. From there, we'll make plans, ok?"

Harry nodded. So far, Johan Severus Snape had been honest with him and shown him wonders that he could have only dreamed about…so he was excited about what tomorrow would bring. More, he was leaving behind nothing but cruelty and pain. Anything therefore, would be an improvement.

At the same time, far away in a tall, imposing castle in southern Scotland, alarms of every sort ringing in the office of the Headmaster and each one of them made the Headmaster smile.

The Leaky Cauldron; just off Charing Cross Road, London, UK – 7:48 Pm.

It had been a very long time since anyone named 'Potter' had entered the Leaky Cauldron. Therefore, it was no surprise that when Professor Johan Severus Snape suddenly appeared in the Bar's foyer, there was a stir among the patrons. Tom, the Inn-keeper, was the first to get coherent words together in greeting.

"Professor, what brings you here on a mid-summer's evening?"

It was patently obvious what had brought the professor to the Inn, but there were certain things that one was expected to say and do in polite company. "I'm here with a new student, Tom. Please, make a room ready for us. We'll be here a day or two."

Professor Snape – the professional persona – was all business. Brusque, cold, and sometimes callous, the public image helped keep certain kinds of inquiries at bay. This particular night was not one that he wanted to spend in discussion with the sheeple – a term that he and some of his fellow teachers used to describe the run-of-the-mill wizard or witch. "Harry, please follow Tom and head upstairs. I will have dinner brought to us and we can talk more in private."

Harry became, once again, the obedient student. "Yes, Sir. I will see you upstairs."

Harry turned and followed the elderly Inn-keeper upstairs to room No. 11, which was at the front of the hall on the right-hand side. Tom opened the door and let the young man in; knowing that the young man in front of him was the putative savior of the wizarding world, but unable, or unwilling to provoke the fearsome Potions-master by inquiring about more than he ought.

"Here you go, young master. There is a wash basin on the table and there are fresh towels behind the vanity door. If you need anything, please tap on the mirror twice and call out my name. I will answer as quickly as possible."

Harry had never heard of such a thing, but accepted that it was possible and said nothing about it other than 'thank you'. "I will let your professor know that dinner is served up until 10 Pm. and can be sent to the room directly."

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate it". Harry said, thinking that it was somewhat odd that the man was being so respectful.

As the Inn-keeper was leaving the room, he turned and said quietly, "You are welcome, Master Potter…and thank you for what you've done for us all."

It confused Harry and left him thinking that something had happened when he was young that he didn't remember, but that others did. He made a mental note to ask the Professor about it as soon as he could.

While he was waiting, Harry took the time to look around the room. It had two full-sized, solid-oak beds – which were a huge step up from the ratty mattress and single sheet that the Dursleys had given him – and there was a full-sized vanity mirror plus a chest of drawers, as well as a small desk to write at. The south-facing windows looked out over Diagon Alley, but since it was dark, he could see not much more than the occasional reflection of the street lamps in the windows of the stores below.

He was taken in by the fact that he could feel something at the window-ledge. It was warm; fuzzy. It was almost like he was touching velvet or the soft fir of Mrs. Figg's cat, Mr. Tibbles from down the street. He couldn't see anything, but he knew that there was some force there. With his hands, he followed the flow of the 'fuzziness', to see if it had a border or where it went if it didn't. Slowly and carefully, Harry followed it up around the window; realizing belatedly that he was going to have to stand on a piece of furniture in order to do a full inspection. That he thought, after a moment's consideration, was something that Johan would probably not want him to do, so he stopped.

Just then, as he faced the window, the door opened and the Professor walked in, carrying a tray heavily laden with steaming-hot foods.

"Dinner, Harry. Come and sit. There's still much to talk about and I've not yet shown you the memories of your parents that I promised."

Just then, Harry's stomach rumbled loudly. It had been early morning since he had last eaten and he was most assuredly hungry. "Thank you. I'm very hungry."

"I can tell from here, Harry. Your body is crying out for something more than whatever you've been fed recently. It's time to get you healthy and put some height and meat on those bones. Your father was almost a full two meters tall by the time he and your mother were graduated. At the rate you're going right now, you'd barely make a meter and a half. Speaking of which, I have three potions for you tonight."

Out of his inner-robe pocket, the Potions-master drew three stoppered vials. "Take the blue one first, Harry. It needs to be taken with food. The next one you'll take an hour after desert, and the third one you'll take in a couple of days, once you've had a couple of cycles of regular food. That one we'll leave on the dresser, so that it's not forgotten."

Harry nodded and then pried the top of the first vial. "Drink it in one go, Harry. I'm not sure how the taste is, but Madame Pomfrey has never been overly concerned with how her potions tasted and it just can't be that good."

Smiling, Harry knocked back the contents; grimacing as the last of it burned his throat on the way down. Snape laughed as he caught the look on his charges' face. He was completely familiar with that look and envied Harry not at all for it. "Eat now, Harry. I brought up some prime rib, gravy, potatoes, fresh bread, and some cranberry sauce because I figured this was a bit of a celebration for the two of us."

Eat he did, in a way that he had never done before. For more than twenty minutes, Harry dedicated himself to tasting and savoring everything on his plate. When he was done, he looked up at the man he was starting to think of as an uncle or relative of sorts.

"Johan? May I ask you something?"

After wiping his mouth with the napkin from his lap, the Potions-master looked at his charge. "Of course, Harry. What's troubling you?"

"Are you going to get in trouble for taking care of my relatives?" Harry placed a peculiar emphasis on the last word. "I don't want anything to happen to you because of them."

Severus was actually touched by the young man's concern for him. "Thank you for thinking of me, Harry. That's…..well, it's very kind of you. To answer your question, I think I need to show you some memories. I want to tell you before we do this that some of the things I'm going to show you might make you scared and others….well….I don't want you to misunderstand who I've been, Harry. I've done some terrible and cruel things in the past. You'll understand, at the end I hope, why I've done what I've done. It's not been an easy life."

Harry looked at him and then nodded slowly. "You've been kinder to me than anyone else, Johan. I trust you."

"You and who else, Harry? It's a short, short list", the Potions-master thought to himself sadly. "Well, let's begin then. Come sit across from me and take my wand in your hand. I'm going to teach you what you need to know to see my memories. Tomorrow, or maybe the day after, we'll start training you on how to keep people out of your thoughts. We can practice on each other and that way, you'll know how much progress you've made."

"It is important, Johan? If it is, I'll do everything I can."

Leaning forward and putting his hand on the boy's forearm, Severus Snape said, "I know you will Harry. More, I know you'll be great at it. But don't worry about that right now. Let's do what we need to do and then we can talk about what you've seen and perhaps, talk about more pleasant things – like what we're going to shop for tomorrow in the Alley. There are lots of surprises waiting for you there."

Harry's eyes lit up at the prospect of shopping for himself for the very first time. He had never, ever gotten to spend his own money on things that he, alone, would own and get to use and it was a thrill to know that he could do so.

"I'm ready, Johan."

"Ok, Harry. Here's what you're going to do. You'll hold my wand, so that the tip is facing me. At the time I tell you, you'll think about the word 'Legillemens'. Think of it as a command, as if you're telling the wand that command. Think about it in your mind – as if you're yelling the word. That will help to put your magical power behind it. If the spell works for you, and I'm pretty certain it will, you'll feel….well…a door, for lack of a better word, open in your mind. It will connect your thoughts to mind. I'll will help you through the door and draw you in. Once you're in my mind, I'll push the memories at you, one at a time. Can you do that?"

"I think so, Johan. I'm to take the wand in my hand, with the tip pointing at you, and think as hard as I can about the word 'Legillemens'. I have to do it like I'm yelling the word and push it at the wand. Is that right?"

"Very good Harry! That's it exactly. Now, shall we try it?"

"I think so, Professor."

"Good, let's do it. Here, take my wand in your hand and let's do this."

Over the next half-hour, they worked, back and forth, until Harry successfully entered his professor's thoughts. Once the contact was made, Harry took to it readily and the two shared thoughts of every kind. As promised, the thoughts that Snape showed him about the things he had done in the past were horrific and made Harry very, very sad. Snape felt his sadness and for the first time in a very long time, felt real shame for those acts. He also felt, perversely, a certain amount of joy that Harry didn't condemn him for the acts, but rather sympathized with him for having had to do them.

Severus showed him his relationship with Harry's mother, Lily, as well as his father, James and felt Harry's pride in being the son of two wonderful people. He felt his professor's profound sadness at not being able to marry his mother and some of the depression he carried with him after he was graduated from Hogwarts. In return, Harry showed his teacher the one memory of his mother that haunted him – of the night that his parents were murdered.

Suddenly, the connection broke and Harry felt alone. It was not a nice feeling. It was cold and uncertain and made him feel like he had accidently crossed some kind of line or something.

After a couple of minutes, Severus Snape looked at his young charge and said quietly, "You did nothing wrong, Harry. I had to break the connection because of what you showed me. I'm not as strong as you are. I couldn't have lived with that memory the way you have."

Harry thought that was wrong. There was steel in his voice as he said, "You're wrong, Professor. You are strong. I could never have given up my life to do what you did. I couldn't leave the people I love and go around with people I hate."

If he had ever wanted to hug a student before, he had suppressed it – but he wasn't at the school and there was no one around to know anything. It was mutual, apparently. Harry leaned forward and hugged his new teacher and friend. "Thank you, Johan"

They broke apart eventually and the black-haired, publically-shunned potions-master looked at Lily's only son. "No….thank you, Harry. Thank you for trusting me and letting me share my memories without judgment. You know more about me now than anyone else. Please remember how precious and private those memories are."

Harry made a motion across his mouth, as if to zip it shut. "No one's getting anything out of me, ever, Professor. You have my secrets and I have yours. We protect each other."

Smiling, the Professor looked at him. "Exactly Harry. We protect each other."

Two things came of their conversation that night that neither had expected and neither was unwelcome. The solitary potions-master of Hogwarts gained a loyal and dedicated student; someone whom he could teach all of his skills and discoveries, and Harry learned just what it took to cast the Unforgivables.

It was something that came up the next morning, while they were eating at the table in their room. "Johan? Can I tell you something?"

"Of course, Harry. Anything."

"I learned something last night, and I thought I should say something first. One of the things that I learned from your memories was to…." Harry paused. He wasn't sure just how to say it.

"Out with it, Harry. Don't hesitate for my sake."

"I learned how to cast the Unforgivables."

That set the Professor back on his heels for a moment. It wasn't exactly a surprise, given the number of memories that Harry had seen in which the Unforgivables were somehow a focus.

Almost two minutes passed before the Potions-master spoke again. When he finally did, he seemed resigned. "Well Harry, I can't tell you, honestly, that I'm happy to hear it, but at the same time, I think you understand now just what the real cost is for casting any of them. They're not called the Unforgivables for no reason. If you're ever caught using them, it's a one-way ticket to Azkaban."

He could see the smile tugging at Harry's mouth and wondered what his soon-to-be protégé was thinking. "What are you thinking, Harry. Why the smile?"

"Well, I think that the active word in your last statement is that they have to actually catch you."

"Exactly, Harry. There's no instant alarm or anything that suddenly goes off at the Ministry of Magic which alerts them to the use of the Unforgivables. It's only if there's a witness or they perform a Priori Incantatum on your wand which gives away the use of them can they actually prosecute you for it."

Harry was lost at "Priori Incantatum" and told the Professor so.

"Latin Harry. You've got to study Latin. It means 'prior incantation' and it's a spell we use to find out the most recent spells that were used though the wand. I'll teach you how to do it – and the Headmaster and I will teach you how to do wandless magic so that this is not a problem for you. There's no point in letting the Ministry control you any more than is absolutely necessary!"

"I'd like that, Johan. I want to learn everything I can from you. I'll help you by doing whatever chores you need and when I'm done each day, you can teach me what I need to know."

"Well, if that's going to be our arrangement, then I'll find some things that need to be done and we'll trade. But first, we have to go shopping!"

Harry heard the excited emphasis in his teacher's voice and his enthusiasm. "Don't tell me you're like my aunt and get wound up by clothes shopping. That would be just too scary."

A deep growl rumbled from the Potions-master. "That will be five points from whatever misbegotten house you end up in, Mr. Potter, for your cheek!"

Harry almost fell out of his chair laughing at the sound of the gravelly voice and the obvious humor coming from his teacher. When he recovered, Harry looked up and with a grin said, "If you're very lucky, Johan, it will be your house."

The Potions-master clutched his hands to his heart in mock-alarm. "May Merlin protect me, Mister Potter. Slytherin House would never, ever be the same!!"

Harry laughed. "Nothing better then! We'll upend them all arse over kettle."

Holding his sides laughing at the trouble which Harry might cause inside Slytherin house, Severus Snape put his hand on the young man's shoulder and said, "You just might do that, Harry. You just might."

When they finally calmed down, Snape pointed a hand towards the closet. "Get a robe, Harry. There should be at least one there that's small enough for you. We'll get you dressed properly today, but first, we have to go to Gringotts and have you see your vault."

"I can't wait. I've never had my own money. Can I buy some chocolate?"

"Within reason Harry, within reason."

After Harry found a simple black robe with the Hogwarts logo in the closet; put it on, closed the cabinet, and walked back to his professor's side. "Ready, Johan."

"Ok, Harry. We're going to go downstairs and then through the back door, where the entrance to the Alley is located. There may be some people who recognize you and want to shake your hand. Be polite. Greet them, offer your hand, and thank them. Make sure you make eye contact. That shows respect…and gives you a chance to see if you can pick up any immediate feelings from them. It's not legilimency really, but it's close. However, it's legal and gives you an immediate advantage in dealing with them."

"I'll do as you ask, Johan."

"Oh…that's the other thing. You know that when we're in public, you have to call me 'Professor' or 'sir'."

"I assumed that was the case, professor."

"Very good then, Harry. You're as smart as your mother."

Turning, Severus Snape opened the door and the two departed.

August 1st, 1991 – 9:35 Am.

Down two flights of stairs, Harry and his master walked; finally coming to a stop in the foyer of the Inn. The Inn was quiet, but save for a couple of patrons sitting at the bar itself. Tom, the innkeeper/owner waved to them as the two walk quietly toward the back door which leads to Diagon Alley.

Snape guided Harry gently by the shoulder; directing him towards the door and then down and into the brick-lined alley between the Inn and the shopping area. The two stopped in front of the magical wall which served as a barrier to all those who didn't know its secret. The renowned potions-master took out his wand and tapped the bricks three times in order; counting three up and two across from the center brick on the left-hand most side. They rippled magically and shimmied out of place; forming a perfect Roman arch. The keystone above the arch was engraved with the words, "Veni, Vidi, Vendi"

"See, Harry? No problem. We've much to do today. First though, we're off to Gringotts. I want you to see your vaults and claim that which is yours."

There was a note of caring in the older man's voice that moved Harry in ways with which he was having a hard time coping. His whole life had been spent hiding his emotions and his fear – and suddenly, he was feeling…safe. At least, safer than he had ever felt before.

Feeling both magic and emotion pouring off Harry, the professor stopped and turned so that he was looking at his charge. "Harry?"

That was all that he had so say. Harry's thoughts were going a mile-a-minute and whatever guard he might have had, he let go of completely, so that Snape could sense what he was feeling. Harry purposefully made eye contact with his new mentor, so his intentions were understood.

The first probe; tentative and gentle, slipped into Harry's mind and Harry pushed his feelings towards it, so that the communication was clear. It didn't take long at all and soon the probe was gone.

Drawing his charge aside, into a shadowed overhang, Snape looked at him and said quietly, "Well done, Harry….and thank you." The last part he said very quietly and softly. It was as if he was acknowledging something important and memorable and perhaps it was. Harry could not have know that his new friend had never, ever expected to be in the role of a parent or guardian and was surprised by how quickly and immediately he had taken to it. Harry Potter, whether he knew it or not, had gained a guardian and a friend for life. Johan Severus Snape would not let any harm come to his new charge, from any corner. That much he was absolutely certain about.

Putting a hand on the boy's shoulder and making eye contact with him again, Snape said sadly, "Harry, we're going into public now. I have to be seen as a stern taskmaster and live up to my public image. You should take nothing seriously I say today while we are in public. I am now and will always be your friend and your protector. However, part of that responsibility means that others can't know…at least for right now….about our friendship. They have to see me doing the 'unpleasant' job of escorting you around the Alley. "

Harry nodded. "I'll do whatever you ask, Johan. I'm just sorry that they can't know we're friends."

"I am too, Harry. But there are still people who might try to hurt you because of what you did to Voldemort – Tom Riddle – eleven years ago. I have to protect you from them and the only way to do that is to make it appear that I'm still a death eater and still working for Riddle's return. I'm hoping that soon, I will be able to eliminate some of the immediate threats to you, but today is not that day and we must get your things for school together soon. There's a lot for you to learn and not much time to do it."

Harry felt sad, but determined. "I'll not let them come between us, Johan. You're my very first friend."

Harry's sincerity and the forcefulness of his voice made Johan Snape think that Tom Riddle had indeed signed his own death warrant the day that he attacked Harry Potter. "You're a credit to your parents, Harry. Don't ever forget that. Now come. We've gold to spend and much to do. When we get among the crowds, I'll refer to you as 'boy' or simply 'Potter'. If we get into real trouble, I will call you Harry. If you hear me use your first name, know that anything I say after that you MUST listen to and do as I say."

"I will, Johan. You can count on it."

"Let's go then."

The two turned and entered the Alley; emerging into the middle of the upper Alley, where the sun's rays had not yet reached. May storekeepers were just opening up and few, if any, displays were outside. Harry could feel the same kind of tingling field that he had felt around the window the night before and wondered if what he was feeling was magic itself. He made a note to ask his professor about it later, after they were finished shopping.

They had just passed around a corner and were facing down towards the more sunlit part of the Alley when Harry looked up and saw the name 'Gringotts' in large, off-white letters which were carved into a granite façade. There were short, green creatures exiting and entering the tall, granite-and-wooden front doors. Harry tugged on his mentor's robe discreetly he hoped and then pointed toward the creatures. Snape looked down and said, sotto-voce, "Goblins, Harry. They run Gringotts. You don't want to run afoul of them. They have their own laws and domain and can make things very, very unpleasant for you if you cross them."

Harry simply nodded his understanding. He knew that there were lots of things for him to learn and this was one of them. They approached the front doors together and Harry reached out and opened the door on the left – holding it open so that his mentor could enter. Snape noted the small, polite gesture and nodded his appreciation.

The main hallway leading to the main foyer, where the commercial tellers resided, was decorated with the mounted heads of the previous Goblin clan-chiefs. Harry stopped to look at one and realized that the dates below the head signified the fact that the goblin in question, Silverclaw, had lived for over two hundred years – but had led Gringotts for only twenty of those years – the final twenty years. Out of curiosity, Harry looked at the next goblin clan chief and realized that he, too, had died in office. It was obviously not a job that was great for the clan-chief's health!

"Come, Potter. We can't be all day here. My master has better things for me to do than to babysit you."

The words of his mentor brought him out of his reverie and would have stung, for their tone, had he not been forewarned that while in public, they were going to have to portray a much different relationship than what was the actual case.

Deferentially, Harry said, "Yes, Sir" and quickly returned to his mentor's side; matching him stride for stride. Soon they were in front of a goblin teller, Griphook.

Harry looked up at him in wonderment. Griphook had multiple teeth – many more than a human ever did – and was green-grey. He was about three or four inches shorter than Harry, though far sturdier and stockier in build. "Mr. Griphook, sir? My name is Harry Potter and I need to get to my vault. Can you help me, please?"

Griphook looked down, over the edge of the huge bank-ledger which covered his desk. It was the first time that any wizard that he could remember, had called him sir and had said 'please'. It was unusual enough that he was taken aback for a moment. "Well, Mr. Potter. You are an unusual one. I do believe that I can help you. Do you have your vault-key?"

Harry turned to his mentor, who quietly and quickly produced a small, golden key. "Here it is, Harry."

Harry took it and then immediately reached out and carefully placed it in the Goblin's hand. "Here it is, sir. I've been raised by Muggles and I don't know what to do or what to ask of you. Would you be my help here at the bank?"

He didn't know it, but he had accidentally elevated the head day-clerk from his staid position to that of advisor to the head of the third-oldest family in all of wizarding Britain. It took all of the goblin's reserve calm not to immediately call for Ragnok himself; the current head of the bank.

"Mr. Potter, sir, if you want me to be your advisor here at Gringotts, I am pleased to do that. May I ask you if you're sure?"

Grinning, Harry looked at him. "I think so. Have you ever lied to a customer?"

"NO, of course not!"

"Good. Do you want to help me?"

"Yes, of course I do. That's my job."

"Fine then. You're the person I will come and see then, whenever I need help or advice."

Taking out a small bit of parchment and a small, golden bowl, Griphook said, "I just need a small bit of your blood to make it official."

Harry held out his hand, obediently, and let the goblin prick his finger with the very tip of a small knife that he had produce from somewhere in the desk. The two drops of blood fell onto the parchment which rested in the bowl and the entire bit flared to fiery life and burned red, and then gold, and then green. When it was done, the goblin extended his hand and Harry shook it.

"Would you please follow me, Mr. Potter? We have much to discuss. There are many things that you need to know today that can't wait."

Hesitating, Harry looked up at his mentor/friend. "May my professor come as well? I want and I need him with me."

"Certainly, Mr. Potter. If he is a friend of yours, he is our guest and under our protection."

Turning, the diminutive goblin led Harry down a side corridor and then down a half-flight of stairs, to an oak-paneled conference room. From out of nowhere, a burly-looking guard appeared, along with another goblin.

Harry sensed that there was something distinctly different about this goblin. He could not put a finger on what was different…but he was sure that there was something special that set him part from his fellows.

The older goblin made his way over to the table from the doorway and then sat in the plushest, most comfortable-looking of one of the chairs. Sensing their unease, or perhaps because of his many, many years of dealing with wizards, the goblin bid them sit.

Turning his attention to Snape, the goblin said, "My name is Ragnok. I am the current president of Gringotts. You are Johan Severus Snape – Potions master at Hogwarts, correct?"

Snape nodded. "That's correct."

"And you are Harold James Potter, also called 'Harry', correct?"

"Yes, I am" Harry said. His tone was neutral, but not unfriendly. He didn't know what he was dealing with and he could not read the goblin the way his professor said he might be able to during their talk, before they left the Inn.

"Well Mr. Potter. You've created something of a stir. By your actions today, you've elevated one of my day-managers to a position that he might not have otherwise had for another thirty to fifty years. It's going to cause some dissension in the ranks, as you humans say."

"That's not good", Harry thought to himself. "Johan said we were to keep a low profile. I hope he's not mad at me!"

Almost afraid to ask, but also afraid not to ask, Harry looked at the clan-chief and said, "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to cause any problems. Is there something you need me to do, to fix it or make it right?"

Ragnok threw back his head and laughed. "No, Mr. Potter. You misunderstand. There's no problem that you have to fix. If Griphook's service pleases you, then we are happy to have him be your assistant here at the bank. We'd much rather see you happy. You're a very, very important client to us and so there's no reason that you shouldn't have the help you want here."

Letting out a small breath of tension, Harry eased back in his chair for a moment. Snape put his hand on Harry's forearm; catching his attention for a moment. "Well done, Harry. You made the right move. That was exactly the thing to say."

"Mr. Ragnok, sir? My professor told me that goblins are very important to wizarding folk and that I should make friends with as many of you as I can. He told me that you'd help me and protect me, if I did the same for you. I'd like that, I think."

The air was suddenly thick with anticipation. Harry wasn't sure whether what he had just said was necessarily the right thing to have said and he worried that he might have gone too far in being honest. Finally, Ragnok sat up in his chair a bit straighter and looked at the pale, almost scrawny eleven-year-old in front of him.

"Mr. Potter, you have said some things about which I am positive you don't have the full understanding. If you did, you'd know that what you're offering is an alliance of sorts between the House of Potter and the Gringotts clans – which hasn't been done for over five hundred years."

Trusting his instincts, Harry looked at him and said, "Do you want to be my friend? I need friends right now and I'll be your friend – and the friend of all goblins – if you'll have me."

Ragnok was not sure which surprised him more: Harry's assertiveness, or the chance to align the bank's interests directly with one of its largest share-holders. One thing was for sure: that the young man was right. It was better to have friends than not to have them.

"You're a determined young man, I can see that. Very much like your parents when they came to us with the same offer before you were born. I wasn't president then or we would have taken them up on the offer. Twelve and half-years of delay has caused nothing but problems – so yes, Harry, I think we will take you up on your offer of friendship."

Harry rose and held out his hand to the Goblin chief. "Thank you, Mr. Ragnok, sir. I can go to Hogwarts knowing that I have another friend in the world."

"You're welcome, Mr. Potter. I will have the papers drawn up and sent to the school. We can meet there and sign them when you're ready. Now, in the mean time, I am sure you need to know about your inheritance."

"Yes, please, sir. I have things I have to buy today for school and I don't have any money."

That earned Harry another laugh from the goblin-chief. "No money? Mr. Potter, I think you are in for a rare treat. Your parents, and your father's parents, did very, very well indeed and have gathered a considerable fortune for you to use."

Harry turned and looked at his professor. "How much should I take out?"

"Three hundred galleons should cover it, Harry. It's not as if you're going to buy a house today or are trying to go on a long vacation somewhere."

They settled on three hundred and fifty eventually, given that Harry would probably want to have some Muggle currency as well, just in case. Presented with several large, magical ledgers, Harry was astonished to learn that he had, because of his parents' sacrifice, a personal fortune worth one hundred fifty million galleons and properties worth another fifteen million galleons. When they finished examining the ledgers, even Severus Snape had to admit that it was much more extensive than he could have ever imagined.

"You did the right thing by getting a goblin to help you manage your money, Harry. It will be one less thing you have to worry about while you're at school."

"I don't want it, Johan. I want my parents back!"

The tear that met the corner of Harry's eye was proof enough for Severus Snape that the feelings were real and that Harry was unlike any boy he had ever met before. It was just one more reason to protect him and give him every chance to live the life that Lily would have wanted for him. Not knowing what else to do, Johan Severus Snape reached out and gave his new pupil a one-armed hug – and Harry responded by hugging him back. It was a simple thing, but he somehow knew that to Harry, it mattered.

"Harry, your parents loved you a great deal. The money aside, they left you memories and they gave you the best start they could. I doubt many other wizards have ever been so loved."

There was nothing more to be said, really. The bank's conference room was not the place, either, to explore the pictures and memories that Harry's parents left for him.

"Come, Harry. We've much to do still. I doubt that you want to be shopping all day, even if it's your first time buying things for yourself." It was understood between the two of them that Harry had just been asked to gather himself and get ready for his next responsibility.

"I'm ready, Johan. There's nothing more for me here today."

"Very good then, Harry. Let us 'face the mob' again. Walk in front of me, but only a step or two. That way I can watch your back and make sure that you're not surprised."

Harry said nothing, but nodded slightly. It was same thing that Snape had asked of him earlier – but it didn't bother him because it was said with something other than cruelty.

They left the bank considerably burdened by the ledgers, galleons, and private treasures from Harry's family vault.

It had been a shock for Harry to stand among the 10 ft. high piles of galleons, sickles, and knuts that went on for more than twenty feet along the floor of the vault. Even the normally unflappable Severus Snape was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of money. However, it wasn't the galleons that really distracted him. Rather, it was the collection of paintings at the far end of the vault that drew the potions-master momentarily away from his charge. There, on magical canvass, Snape found her.

When he uncovered the portrait, he gasped. She was just as he had left her at the end of their seventh year together. "Hello, Sev. It's been a long time." Lily said to him, in that voice – the one that had entranced him so often. "What brings you to our vault? Wait a minute?! How did you even get in here?!!"

It was so hard….so very, very hard to tell her. "It's Harry, Lil. I….I found him at your sister's house and he's with me now. Dumbledore gave me his key."

He had never previously thought that it was possible for a magical portrait to swear, but Lily's sudden diatribe was enough to make him blush.

"Albus!! You son of a bitch! I will skin you, I swear to god! I will kill him…"

It went on like that for some minutes, until Harry was distracted by the noise and came over to Snape's side, to see what was going on. When Lily, and then James, saw him, they burst into tears. It was more than their magical selves could bear. For the first time in his life, Harry got to hear his parents' voices.

Long minutes passed, while Harry and the magical reflections of his parents talked. Snape smiled as Lily admired her son and positively beamed when Severus told her about Harry's quick accomplishments in potions-making. "He's going to be one of my best, Lil. When he tripped onto adding sulfur to the potion for making Gubraithian Fire, I almost lost it. It was so simple…and it had been staring us all right in the face the whole time."

"Mom? What should I do now? Johan came to find me…." Lily raised one eyebrow at her son's use of her former lover's given name, "and then…" He paused. What happened to his aunt and uncle was not his to explain, he thought, and yet his mother deserved to know about her sister.

Lily's 'ghost' – her magical portrait 'shadow' image – turned her attention to her former lover. "Sev? What happened? What did you do?"

Snape bowed his head. "I had to, Lily. Your sister and her scum husband tortured Harry. I had to deal with them."

James looked at his son and then back at his friend; his face literally painted with anger. "Please tell me you hurt them, Sev."

A flicker of a shadow of a smile crossed the potion-master's lips. He said, very carefully and quietly, "Unforgivably".

James looked at him and then at Harry, to see if there was a reaction one way or the other, and then replied in the same voice. "Good, Sev, good. Harry deserved better than to be left with them."

"Never again, James, my old friend. I will find Remus and we will find a way to liberate Padfoot. Your son deserves that."

"Liberate? What do you mean?"

Johan Severus Snape was horrified that he was the one who was going to have to tell two of his best friends that they had been betrayed by one of the marauders. "Wormtail betrayed you both…"

Lily's reaction was so vehement that Snape thought that he had actually felt her intake of breath – something that he knew was physically impossible – but somehow had been real, none-the-less. After taking a calming breath, the potions-master and friend to the infamous marauders went on. "Wormtail sold you out to Tom and Padfoot went looking for him. He was going to kill him…but Wormtail got the better of him and escaped. He's been living, I think, as a rat somewhere. I've never been able to find him, though I've looked. Padfoot was sent to Azkaban – without trial - for his 'murder', along with the deaths of 13 Muggles who were too close by at the time. Padfoot's still there and I want to get him out."

James was first to react. "Harry. Listen to me. Use whatever gold is here…I don't care if it takes all of it…Use it to get Padfoot free - even if you have to move Heaven and Earth to do it. Padfoot loves you and we loved him. He doesn't deserve to rot in that hell-hole."

Harry nodded. "His first burden", Snape thought to himself, sadly. "I will help in whatever way I can, James. Your son will NOT be alone."

The Son of Prongs looked at the painted images of his parents and somehow knew that they were longing, desperately, to hug their friend. It wasn't something he consciously knew, but it was that sense…the one that tells a person what another is feeling and is not often wrong.

He looked at his parents and said what he had always known was true, "I love you, Mom, Dad."

Then Johan Severus Snape saw the impossible; the improbable, and the unspeakable thing happen. A lone hand pushed its way up from each of the paintings – up and out. They were hands made flesh by the miracle that is love. Harry raced forward; grasped the hands and pressed them to his face. He was weeping openly as the hands of his parents memorized each part of the face that they together had created.

It was far too much for the lonely potions-master to bear. He too sat and cried as the only child of the marauders felt the loving touch of his parents.

Chapter two is coming. There we will meet Hermione and see the sorting and see what tricks the Headmaster has up his considerable sleeves. Please review, as you are able!