Severus sighed. He hated being patient, especially being patient with Harry Potter. However, there was the promise he had given, the promise to be kept.
"I understand that it is a lot to take at once," he said peacefully. "I will reiterate, and then I will let you go to think about the matter."
Potter pushed his glasses up his nose in a nervous gesture – for about the hundred and first time during the "detention". "Okay," he said with a nod.
Severus sipped tea to ease his throat and mind, and started in a voice laced with the slightest hint of irony. "As I said, once upon a time I made a promise to a person I won't name to keep you safe for reasons that I won't share. I have tried to protect you through the four years here, against Quirrell, et cetera. Now, with the Dark Lord resurrected and with you barely escaping death at his hand, I suggest protecting you by removing you from the scene at the moment. As running away would hardly be successful, I see no other option than de-aging you and thus breaking your curse scar connection to the Dark Lord. Using another potion I will alter your physical visage and leave you in an orphanage. You will get a new life. A life of your own to make."
The green eyes blinked at him owlishly. "It won't break a timeline or something?" Potter asked hesitantly.
"Definitely not. I'm not sending you to the past; thus, you won't alter it." Severus was glad that he had laced their tea with calming potion. He took another sip and waited for more questions.
"I won't lose my magic, right?" was the next question.
Severus just shook his head negatively.
"So nobody will find me, because they will look for a teenager with another face and you'll place me in a different country?" Potter apparently needed to retell the story to himself, using his rudimentary language.
Severus nodded, once more limiting himself to a non-verbal answer.
"Why do you ask at all, anyway?" Potter looked puzzled. "You might have done the de-aging and the rest of the plan without telling me."
Finally, a relevant question. "Two reasons, Potter," Severus answered. "I would like to have a note written by your hand indicating that you asked me to de-age and hide you. An alibi for me in case you are discovered, you see. The de-aging will be permanent, and you won't be able to vouch for my innocence."
"Oh indeed. The second reason... Well, in this life you will be hunted by the Dark Lord for revenge, and also manipulated by Dumbledore to become his soldier against the dark, and will probably die young in the war." Severus didn't mince his words.
"I guess," the boy nodded.
Weren't Gryffindors aggravating?
"Still," Severus continued, ignoring the remark, "it's improbable but still possible that your new life will be even worse. I chose the orphanage well, I think, and you will get proper care there. Still, you can have an accident; you can be adopted by an unfit family; you can grow up a criminal and be sentenced to death when you are eighteen; and so on. Anything can happen in your new life. Also, you will be giving up your memories, relatives, friends, Hogwarts..."
Severus fell into silence and let the words sink in.
"I'll miss Ron and Hermione, and Sirius," Potter informed him sadly. "Apart from that, no great loss. Go ahead, I've decided. When will you have the potions ready?"
Gryffindors, Severus thought with a mixture of contempt and fondness.
"The potions are ready. We will carry out the plan after you leave the Hogwarts Express, then. Give your relatives the slip and meet me at this spot." Severus took a quill and swiftly sketched a plan of the King's Cross Station, indicating the place of their meeting.
"Okay." The boy nodded and got up. "In four days' time, then. Thanks," he added in a barely-audible whisper and slipped out of the classroom.
They met in a far corner of the station.
Potter handed Severus a parchment. "Here," he said with his typical eloquence.
Severus unrolled the note.
I, Harry Potter, asked Severus Snape, the Potions master at Hogwarts, to help me hide from the Dark Lord and his henchmen. I agree with his plan and am deeply grateful to him for carrying it off. Harry Potter
"Thanks," Severus said, forcing the word through his lips. He handed the boy the first vial and added, "Good luck."
The plan worked just perfectly. No, even better than that.
Severus made himself comfortable in his seat at the premium stand of the Quidditch stadium, and while watching the game – England versus France – lazily, he let his mind drift.
When Harry Potter disappeared eighteen years ago, the magical society became blissfully divided. Half of the people wanted to find the hero, the other half was of opinion of letting him go. That had been before the Dark Lord stepped out in public, of course. Afterwards, everyone wanted Harry Potter back to save the world again. Meanwhile, though, the trails and scents were long gone, and each and every search failed.
The Dark Lord was killed two years later by an until-then-unknown Auror protecting his family. Apparently, the prophecy (that Albus had kept secret for years and that he had published to further motivate wizards to search high and low for Harry Potter) proved to be false – or more likely broken by the de-aging process.
With the Dark Lord gone, the war soon ended and the magical world blossomed. Albus finally retired, and appointed Minerva – now sitting beside Severus, watching the game with rapt attention - as his successor. Fortunately for Severus, Minerva appointed him as her deputy. Since then, Severus blissfully divided his time between inventing potions, teaching sixth and seventh years only, and organizing school affairs. Oh, and discreetly watching the fate of the boy who had once been Harry Potter.
The cute one-year-old baby boy, found at the doorstep of a French orphanage with a name-tag saying "Liam", was soon adopted by a lovely Muggle couple. The good people didn't balk at finding the child magical, and at the proper time sent him to Beaubatons. Liam passed through school with average results and right after graduation he threw himself into professional Quidditch.
And so, here was Severus Snape now, watching Liam Nébing, the French Seeker, throwing wild maneuvers and figures. When Liam caught the Snitch, the whole stadium, English and French fans alike, stood up and applauded. Severus didn't join the undistinguished shouts, but he clapped his hands politely. Yes, he decided, his quest was over, his promise fulfilled, his bill clean.
"You know, Severus," Minerva told him wistfully when they were slowly making their way through the excited crowd, "every time I watch such a talented Seeker, I can't but remember Harry. I can't help wondering where he is and what is he doing."
"Leading a lazy life somewhere well hidden, I suppose," Severus remarked cynically. Inwardly, he laughed.
- the end -