Severus Snape strode down the Great Hall, his cloak billowing about his ankles. He glowered darkly at all the excited chatter around him. In a few hours all these insufferable brats would be gone for the holidays; off to do whatever nauseating things families did over the Christmas break.
He sat at the staff table, resolutely ignoring the small pile of cards sat beside his coffee cup. Every year the staff insisted on this irritating ritual and he felt his mood deepen further. He never send them back and they still would not desist in wasting their time and filling them in for him. It really was incredibly irritating.
Minerva automatically filled his coffee mug for him and he nodded silently in thanks, his irritation level dropping slightly.
'I hear you will be looking after the stragglers this year?' she asked quietly.
Severus almost growled in response. 'Apparently I have that honour yes.'
Just what he wanted, to baby sit a group of students over the break who didn't have the decency to go home to their loving families like the rest of their peers but instead thought it would be fun to hang around and give him a hard time. Even better, the only other staff member here this time would be Filch.
'Do you have the list Minerva?' he asked quietly.
'Yes,' she pulled out a parchment from her diary. 'Only four students this year. Three 7th years from Hufflepuff and one 6th from Griffindor.'
He glanced at the list and winced. 'Potter! Bloody brilliant.'
His colleague gave him a sharp look and he slurped his coffee, ignoring her scowl.
'Severus,' she hissed warningly. 'Harry will be here all break without any of his friends. The last thing he needs is you giving him a difficult time. He's still struggling with the loss of his godfather.'
'I know, I know,' he spat at his colleague. 'We mustn't upset the golden boy; mustn't let him get any less coddled than he already is.'
'Oh don't look at me like that Minerva,' he sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose. 'I'm not going to hex the boy the second your back is turned. He can always go home if he finds my presence intolerable.
'Harry never goes home for Christmas,' she stated quietly and with something in her tone that caused him to glance at her curiously.
Trouble in the golden boy's family? Surely not. Severus couldn't help a small smile at the thought that maybe the brat's family were a little more immune to the boy's charms than the wizarding world seemed to be.
He watched the staff wave the little horrors off to the train later that morning and turned to face the four students waiting for him in the hallway. He noticed grimly that they seemed as pleased to be stuck with him as he was with them. There would be no cheery xmas day meal with the staff this year. He was pleased to note that the three Hufflepuff students consisted of the head boy and the two prefects and he knew they were unlikely to be any trouble; which just left Potter whose middle name was trouble.
'Right you four,' he said in his most intimidating voice, noticing with annoyance that Potter raised a sardonic eyebrow at him. 'I'm sure you are as delighted to be stuck here with me as I am with you. We have exactly three weeks and four days together and I have a great deal of work to do in that time. None of you are first years so I do not expect to find myself having to babysit or deal with any rule breaking. You are free to wander all public areas of the school and grounds and your curfew will be 11pm at which time I expect you to be in your dormitories. Potter, as you are the only student staying from your house you may stay in Hufflepuff if you would prefer.'
Harry shuffled nervously. 'Actually sir, I would prefer to stay in my own dorm if that is allowed?'
Severus raised an eyebrow at that but replied simply.
'As you wish. You may share passwords with each other if you are comfortable doing so. They will be changed before the rest of the student body returns.'
The four students exchanged looks and seemed to agree to that with a nod.
'Breakfast will be served in your respective common rooms at 9am, lunch at 1pm which you may order elsewhere if you prefer. You will all dine in the hall at 5.30 each evening after which I expect one of you to report to me in my office so I can be assured that you haven't drowned yourself in the lake or done anything stupid.'
He glowered at them for a moment to make sure they knew how displeased he would be if that should be the case.
'Understood? Good. Now as you are at Hogwarts you may continue to use your wands and practice magic unless one of you gives me reason to doubt that is wise. You may also use your brooms so long as you tell one of your fellow students you are doing so and report back afterwards.'
Severus noticed that Potter perked up a bit at that and had to bite back the irrational desire to take the last concession back.
'The library will remain available as will the small potions lab beside my office. I suggest some of you use the time to improve in those subjects in which you are less able.'
His gaze slid over Potter again and he saw the boy flush in embarrassment as the older students glanced at him curiously. Feeling somewhat cheered by that, the Potions Master stalked away, before they could bombard him with ridiculous questions.
The four looked at each other for a moment and the head boy who Harry remembered as being called Eric something spoke first.
'He seemed really cheerful about spending Christmas with us didn't he?'
They all sniggered and Eric turned to Harry.
'Harry this is Emma and Morgan, I'm not sure if you've met?'
Harry shook his head and politely shook hands with the two older students.
Emma smiled, 'Except on the pitch of course.' Emma was a chaser on the Hufflepuff team although Harry could only remember playing against her once.
'Our password is 'Dew Wort' this month,' Emma said cheerfully. 'Do come and join us in the evenings and even for breakfast if you like.'
'Thanks,' Harry replied. 'I might do that, although I'm looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet as well. I have a tonne of homework. The Griffindor password is 'Panther.'
They made arrangements to meet in the second floor corridor at 5.15 and walk down to dinner together and then went their separate ways; Harry quite happy to retreat to his house for a while.
He was surprised how strange it was to wander through the common room knowing there was no one there and that he had the whole place to himself for several weeks. He sat down in the large armchair before the fire and silently ran his wand over himself, removing the glamours that he had held up the whole term with a sigh of relief. It had been exhausting his magic having to keep them up permanently. If he hid up here during the day, he would only have to put them up for mealtimes which should speed up the healing process enormously.
Harry touched his left ribs gingerly. They definitely felt better now and he knew he had managed to put on about half of the weight he had lost over the summer so if he rested lots and ate lots then he might not need the charms by the time term started again.
Harry dozed for several hours by the fire and then wandered up to his dorm to dig out his homework list and arrange his books. He spent an hour writing out a study plan that Hermione would have been proud of and had a quick shower before preparing to go down to dinner.
He stood before the large mirror in the bathroom and examined the bruising around his ribs and hip and the red welts on his back. All of them had finally closed and were fading nicely and his skin colour was much better. There was an angry red mark on his cheek where his uncles belt buckle had caught him that looked like it might be a permanent scar. Harry wondered if he could fabricate a flying accident over the holiday so that he wouldn't need to keep hiding it.
Examining himself critically, he knew the weight thing was the main problem. He still looked half starved and that was after three meals a day for the whole term. Sighing he recast the glamour charms, feeling the familiar sense of tiredness settle over him as the drain on his magic began and dressed to go down and join the others.
When they walked into the Great Hall, they found a single table running down the middle and four places set in the very centre. It was an enjoyable meal and Harry chatted happily to the three students, glad of a chance to meet people outside of his house. They elected Emma to go and report to Snape that evening and Harry excused himself to go to the library and find the books he would need for his homework.
He wandered up through the ancient corridors feeling a sense of peace he hadn't had since last summer, not since he had lost Sirius. This was his home and he was able to just please himself for the next three weeks. Not even Snape could ruin that.
The next week was a pure joy for Harry. He had finished all his homework by day three and was now spending a few hours each day doing reading for next terms work. He and Emma had gone out twice to the Quidditch pitch and spent a few hours practising and passing the Quaffle back and forth to each other.
Best of all though was the fact that he had been able to truly sleep. Not having to hold the glamours in place for most of the day and night meant that he had managed to lose some of the exhaustion that had plagued him since the start of last term. He had noticed a slightly sore throat developing towards the end of the week and wondered if the fact he had finally relaxed had meant his bodies defences were down.
Harry woke on the Saturday morning feeling truly awful. His head and throat hurt and it felt like every muscle in his body had decided to revolt. He could feel his temperature rising. This presented Harry with a problem. He could skip breakfast but if he didn't turn up to lunch then someone would probably come looking for him. He hadn't seen Professor Snape once yet as the other three had taken it in turns to report in. He thought that they might be trying to protect him from Snape as the older man had been so scathing towards him that first day and Harry found this rather sweet.
Sensibly, Harry realised that he should probably go and tell the Professor he was ill but that left the problems of the glamours. He didn't want to risk them being detected and it was difficult to say you are ill if you look the picture of health. If he left them down the difference would be too startling and he didn't fancy explaining how he had apparently lost two stone of weight in a week.
In the end Harry decided to stay in bed for the morning and then drag himself down for lunch. Luckily the others were too busy chatting about an assignment they had been working on to notice how quiet he was and he was able to quietly slip away immediately afterwards. Dinner proved to be more difficult as by then Harry had started to cough and his already injured side was burning in protest.
Eric frowned at him in concern. 'You're sounding a bit rough there mate. Are you coming down with something?'
Harry grimaced. He was not going to get away with this. 'Yeah; just a cold.'
'Shall I ask Professor Snape to look in on you? It's my turn to report in tonight.'
Thinking quickly, Harry shook his head. 'It's ok, I'll report in tonight. I can ask him if he has a pepper up potion or something.'
Harry walked down to the dungeon wearily. He really did feel dreadful and hoped the evil git wouldn't be too hideous. He didn't think he could cope with it.
He knocked quietly on the office door, turning the handle at the curt 'come in' from inside. Wandering in he was surprised to see the Professor sat back in his armchair, his feet up on the table in front of him. He was wearing muggle jeans and a dark sweater and reading a paperback and looked surprisingly human.
'Ah, Potter. I wondered if I would even see you this holidays. The Hufflepuffs let you come down by yourself did they? Or are they all waiting outside to make sure you safely make it back to your room?'
Harry tensed angrily but really didn't have the energy to fight with the man tonight so he shrugged instead. Severus watched him impassively, surprised not to get a rise out the boy.
'So is everyone accounted for?' he asked pointedly, keen to get the infuriating boy out of his office.
'Yes sir, we've just had dinner. Everyone is still in one piece, although..'
Snape's eyes narrowed. 'What happened?'
'Nothing sir. It's just I'm not feeling well. I wondered if you give me anything for it?'
The professor sighed in annoyance. 'You look perfectly fine to me Potter. What are the symptoms?'
Harry took a deep breath, keeping his emotions in check. Why did the man always have to be so unpleasant. It wasn't his fault Snape had such a grudge against his father.
'It's nothing really,' he said wearily. 'A sore throat and a headache and I've been coughing a bit.'
'Sounds like a cold Potter. Do you really need a potion for a cold? I know you're used to everyone running around after you but really...'
'Never mind sir, I'm sorry I asked.' He turned angrily and strode towards the door feeling the humiliation creek across his cheeks.
Harry stopped at his professors sharp retort and turned to find the man had stood and was moving towards him.
'Here,' he said handing over a small vial of grey fluid. 'A cold draught. Come here immediately after breakfast and I will give you another one.'
Harry tried to ignore the sarcastic amusement on the man's face and downed the potion in one, placing the empty vial on the table and walking straight out.
By the time he got back to his dorm he was furious. It was awful to be hated so much by someone who had authority over him. And now he had to go back in the morning and go through that rubbish all over again. Harry quickly changed into his pyjamas and climbed under the covers of his bed, shivering violently at the cold air. The potion hadn't seemed to help at all, he felt terrible.
Severus sat nursing his brandy by the fire, brooding darkly. He actually felt a little ashamed of himself. As much as he hated the boy, it had been unconscionable to use an illness against him in that way. The last thing he wanted was for students who were ill to stay away for fear of ridicule. He must make an effort to be neutral in the morning he thought as he prepared for bed.
By eleven the next morning, all thoughts of being pleasant to the brat had dissipated. He had specifically told Potter to return immediately after breakfast and the boy was nowhere to be seen. He strode through the Griffindor common room and marched up to the dormitories with a long list of unpleasant punishments and tasks already prepared in his mind. All of which evaporated at the first sign of the young man shivering in his bed.
'Dear heaven,' he whispered shakily crossing quickly to Harry's bedside and laying a hand on his burning forehead. Harry was curled up on his side shaking violently, his sheets soaked through with sweat.
But what was startling the professor so thoroughly was not the obvious illness but the fact that he could see every one of Potters ribs through his thin nightshirt. He carefully lifted the shirt and stared in confusion at the yellowing bruises that ran the whole length of Harry's sides. Rolling the boy slightly, he winced at the red marks covering his back. Old marks; a belt buckle, he thought darkly. Severus had a few of those marks himself.
'Harry never goes home for Christmas.'
Minerva's words echoed in his memory and he lay the shirt back down with a shaky hand.
'Damn it Potter,' he growled; but he knew the anger was not aimed at the boy, nor even the one who had hurt him. This time it was all for himself.
It was a little known fact that Slytherin house had more than it's fair share of abused kids coming through each year and Severus believed he had become somewhat of an expert at spotting them. But he had taught this boy for six years and had never seen, even suspected...
'You see what you expect to see Severus.'
The headmasters voice echoed in his head and Severus hissed angrily. So much for protecting Lily's child. They has all been so busy guarding against death eaters that they hadn't realized they were sealing the boy up in a vipers den every summer.
He shook the boys shoulder roughly and when he got no response, turned his head to lift a eyelid. Harry's eyes were rolled backwards and his breathing sounded rattly, his chest clearly congested.
After summoning his house elf to fetch supplies, the potions professor spent the next few hours stabilizing the very sick boy. He treated the chest infection and fever, including nutrient potions and healing draughts which he spelled directly into the boys stomach. He then cast an eye over the older injuries, finding broken ribs, a partially healed wrist and skull fracture. The ribs and skull fracture he was able to fix quickly; the wrist was going to need more expert care as it had clearly started healing at a wrong angle.
He then levitated Harry above the bed, changed the sheets, and conjured a fresh set of pyjama bottoms, leaving the boys chest bare. His temperature was still elevated so he conjured a fresh sheet to cover him but left the other blankets in a pile at the bottom of the bed. He ran his wand over the boy and nodded in satisfaction. Harry was breathing properly now, his fever was back at a safe level and the shivering had stopped. Severus cleaned away the empty potion bottles and conjured over a chair beside the bed. He called his elf back.
'Could you please bring my lunch here and let the other students know that Harry is unwell and will be staying in bed today. Ask them not to visit and assure them that I am keeping an eye on him.'
The elf nodded and popped away and Severus sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He wandered around the room looking at the photos and posters displayed above each bed. He had never been in these dorms before having never had cause to come further than the common rooms in any house other than his own. He glanced at the cluttered desk at the bottom of Potters bed and picked absently at the papers gathered there and the detailed homework plan that was taped to the wall. He noticed with surprise that the list had been ticked off and the boy now seemed to be working on work for next term.
Severus sat at the desk in a position that would allow him to see if Potter woke up and reached for the book pile, selecting the two potion books that had been set for the next term. He glanced through seeing the pages that Potter had bookmarked and reading the notes the boy had made for himself.
Many of the pages seemed to have little yellow squares of paper stuck to them that the professor had never seen before. They pulled easily off the page and could be stuck back down. Seeing a pile of them on the desk he lifted them up and read the back – 'Post-it's'. Must be a muggle invention he thought absently wondering if there was anything similar in the wizarding world.
Potters notes were quite detailed,
'Revise similar potion from first year before term.'
'Practice stage one of this over holidays- ? Snape's lab'
'Look up other options for catalysts and safe combinations.'
Severus glanced at the rest of the books piled on the desk and noted that a third of them had similar yellow labels sticking out of the corners. The boy was creating a job list for himself for the rest of the holiday. He felt his gut tense slightly as another preconception slowly fell apart. This was not the work desk of a lazy pupil, drifting through school on his fame and name alone.
He glanced up to the shelves above and noticed the colour coded files for each subject, another muggle method of working that looked rather sensible. A thick purple file labelled DA caught his attention. What subject was that? Feeling rather guilty, he pulled the file from the shelf and opened it. The first page was a heavy piece of parchment that practically throbbed with magic. Scrawled across the top was 'Dumbledore's Army' with 'Defence Association' in brackets beside it. Below were 24 names signed in quill. So this was the practice group that had caused Umbridge so much trouble last year.
He spent nearly an hour reading through the detailed notes the group had kept of each session, recognising the handwriting of Harry, the Granger girl and Ron Weasley. At the end of each session the trio had noted how everyone was doing and agreed on the pairs that would be working together on the next session, deliberately putting those who had done well on a particular exercise with those who were struggling.
It was an excellent system and allowed them to begin each new class with a review of the previous one. The group had clearly mastered some very advanced defensive spells and charms and Severus glanced back at the boy with a frown. He had to admit he had thought the whole thing was nothing more than an exercise in rebellion but Potter had clearly equipped his friends with skills that may save their lives in the times to come.
Severus ate his lunch, watching the sleeping teenager and reflected how much his impressions had shifted in the last few hours and all without a word being spoken. He wondered if it was possible to start from scratch with so much bad history between them. He thought it unlikely but at least he could make amends by ensuring those bloody muggles never got the chance to lay a hand on Potter again.
It was several hours after sundown when Harry finally came round. He opened his eyes groggily, confused to find it was dark and all the lamps in the dorm were on. A quiet movement beside him made him jump and he found himself looking in the face of his most hated Professor.
Harry hurriedly sat up, surprised when Snape leant over to place a pillow behind him.
'Take it easy Potter, you are quite unwell.'
For once there was not a trace of the man's usual sarcasm and his expression was particularly grim. Harry searched his memory to work out how on earth he had found himself in his room with Snape playing nursemaid? He remembered getting into bed feeling awful and dropping his glamours and then...shit! His glamours! Harry looked down at his arms and the highly visible scars and his eyes flew up to meet Snape's who were watching him steadily.
Severus saw the fearful panic in the young man's eyes and his heart clenched painfully.
'Don't worry about any of that now Potter. Lets get you well first shall we and then we can talk.'
Harry looked down, his face flushed and Severus remembered the lengths he had gone to to hide his own abuse from everyone at that age and how ashamed he had been.
'I don't want you to worry about this Potter. You've done nothing wrong and you don't have to talk about it until you're ready.'
Harry looked up at his professor, confusion evident on his face.
'Why are you being so nice?' he whispered hoarsely.
Severus raised his eye brow at the question and then replied deadpan.
'Christmas cheer, it runs out at midnight on the 25th so make the most of it.'
The boy smiled at that and nodded gently, relieved not to be facing an inquisition about his injuries.
Severus helped him walk through to the bathroom and freshen up and then fed him several potions before seeing him safelyback in bed. As he left Harry sleeping and went to check in with his other young charges, Severus could not help the feeling that something massive had shifted in him.
He felt as if the wall he had so carefully built between himself and the rest of the world had come shattering down and was not at all sure how that had happened. It was frankly quite terrifying.
A/N - Updates will swiftly follow and are happily fed on reviews.