Hey everyone! It starts again :)
Back at work and still studying so I'm not writing as much as I'd like but I'm looking at getting a chapter done every fortnight or so.
Writing the horse scenes in this story are about to get really hard as the 16hh, bay with a white stripe thoroughbred named Mickey who taught me to love horse-riding again is going to be put down this month - I can't even find out the real date because it'll be too sad. That said, I understand that not everyone loves horses as much as I do and I'll try and keep the scenes as enjoyable as possible, no matter your preference.
As always, the usual warning applies - this story does contain abuse and Harry's not out of the woods yet. It may contain self-harm and it will contain references to eating disorders and bullying. Again as always, please, please, please seek help if you are suffering from any of these things or if you know someone suffering from these.
Not blond and since I'm Australian, not British, so please don't sue (recently found out that J. herself said that she likes it when we write fanfiction so I don't think I have much to worry about :) ). Also, don't like - don't read. I appreciate constructive criticisms but flames serve no purpose and I tend to ignore them anyway :)
"They have to what?" Harry cried.
"Move in," Professor Dumbledore replied calmly. Harry looked desperately at Severus, discouraged at his hopeless expression. "For two weeks. Severus has assured me that it could be done so that you barely had any interaction with each other. You'll won't even notice they're here."
Harry raised a doubtful eyebrow. "No offence Professor, but somehow I doubt that I'm just not going to notice the Dursley's, here. This is my home!" Harry didn't mean to sound like a brat but he couldn't believe that after all this time, he was still going to have to live with the Dursley's. "And just because I'm ignoring them, doesn't mean they aren't going to pay attention to me. Dudley's going to be even worse living here. And how are you getting this past Aunt Petunia?"
"Harry..." Severus' tone was a warning but Harry couldn't help it. He really couldn't see Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon living somewhere that a Magical person lived, at least not willingly.
"They have been told that it is for their own protection. They will arrive tomorrow. In fact, for the two weeks, Dudley will be in Severus' custody - if they prove that they are willing to change their habits for the better than Dudley will go home with them at the end of the two weeks, otherwise he will be going into foster care with a Magical family." Harry read between the lines and heard the hidden message - they'd be on their best behaviour because they'd want to be able to go home together.
"Alright, but I take orders from Severus only. And I'm allowed to hex Dudley if he tries anything," Harry proposed reluctantly.
"You are not. I agree with the fact that all required discipline and/or rules will come from me but I will treat fighting the same as I do at Hogwarts," Severus said firmly. "You will make every effort to be civil, as will Dudley."
"There, see, I thought you'd agree, Harry. Perhaps living together will allow you to grow closer to your relatives." Harry raised a doubtful eyebrow until Professor Dumbledore's gentle smile faded. "Or perhaps not."
"Still the people who abused me for ten years, sir. Not going to forget that anytime soon," Harry commented. "Can I go unpack now? Since I'm going to be hiding in my room for the next two weeks." Harry could tell from Severus' harsh look that he sounded out of character but in reality, Harry just wanted to get upstairs and lie down so the dizziness would go away.
"Go. And since your manners require some improvement, do stay up there until you are in a better mood, Harry. I understand that leaving your friends is hard but you still have no good reason to be rude." Harry knew from the tone that Severus would want to talk about this later. He stood, said a quiet goodbye to the Headmaster and walked out of the room.
"Honestly Severus, I think you're a bit harsh on the boy. His anger is understandable. Not to mention, he isn't aware what stalled the ceremony, is he? He doesn't know that you and Narcissa have this crazy plan to remove the Dark Mark." Severus raised his eyebrows at Dumbledore's scolding, ignoring the jab at his project.
"And what would you prefer? That I let the boy get away with talking to adults however he prefers just because he is upset. He must learn to hold his temper, Headmaster. And no, he hasn't been informed of that. I was going to tell him tonight but since we will all be settling in, I thought it best to leave it for later. Perhaps on a ride while we escape from the Dursleys for an afternoon." Severus smiled tiredly at Dumbledore, knowing that he would see the humour.
"If they become too much, or they hurt Harry in any way, we will find another way, Severus. This is the easiest way for now but I can find another option. And, I must admit, I thought in the meantime that you might like being able to lord it over the Dursleys and show them how their son should behave. Surely that is at least one bonus?"
"Just finished teaching a school full of students and on my only holiday for the year. Why on Earth would you think I'd want a student over the holidays as well?" Severus scowled. "Harry might be enough for me if he is as skilled at getting in trouble here as he is at Hogwarts."
Dumbledore chuckled. "I think you'll find that it will be much more mundane types of trouble that he gets in to. No three headed dogs or murderous teachers. Just staying out too late, not doing his homework and playing with friends."
"Even those will be too much. I usually have quiet holidays," Severus smirked.
"It's only for two weeks, my boy. Then they will leave and you will have a wonderful holiday with Harry. Who knows, this may just give Harry the confidence he needs to start going to therapy."
"Or the push off the deep end," Severus muttered, ignoring the twinkle in Dumbledore's eye. "Very well, when are they arriving?"
"Well, you see, I really didn't want you or Harry to go unprotected for a single day," Dumbledore paused and Severus scowled in realization. "So they are coming tonight." Dumbledore looked at his watch. "Right now, in fact."
True to Dumbledore's word, Severus' Floo flared and two figures stepped out. Severus knew that it could only be Minerva dragging that fat oaf through the Floo, as apart from Lupin, she was the only one who knew the password. "Let me go! You can't just pull a person into flames, what are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking, Mr Dursley, that I explained the process of travelling by Floo and believed that you would realize that the flames would not hurt you." Minerva's tone was scathing and Severus could see that she was fed up. "Now, I'll leave you to Severus and Albus while I go fetch your wife and son."
Minerva didn't even wait, instead stepping back through the fire. Severus looked blankly at Vernon Dursley as the big man spluttered in rage. "You can either make yourself comfortable, Mr Dursley, or you can continue to stand there venting your anger." Severus pointed to one of the lounge room chairs, raising an eyebrow expectantly. Dursley's mouth moved soundlessly for a moment before he sat with a dumb expression. Severus smirked and turned back to the fire.
It flared again and Dudley stumbled out. He turned to look back at the fire before shrugging and stepping forward. He timed it just right as Minerva came through the Floo, this time towing a startled and impressed looking Petunia Dursley. She quickly schooled her expression back to pinched and scowled as she looked around. Through the pained expression, she seemed impressed.
"Please sit," Severus said when they didn't. Dudley moved to quickly sit down, trained from being under Severus' ire all year. Petunia looked amazed at Dudley's compliance and then sat herself. "If you are to stay here, then you will do as I ask. You are here for your protection, however, I need to protect my son. Therefore, you will be under restrictions. I will be magically locking your doors at night, warding you in after ten o'clock. You will take your meals with Harry and I, at 8am, 12pm and 6pm. You will, at all times, be civil. You will not even look sideways at Harry and you will not say anything resembling a command. He will not do any chores other than what I give him and you are not to ask him to do anything. Dudley will also be under my custody for the next two weeks. Harry and Dudley will follow the same rules and have the same responsibilities. They will do their homework for the same length of time and be held to the same standards of behaviour. Any hostility between the boys will be treated with fairness and equal consequences. You are not responsible for their discipline. If you have issue with how they are behaving, you will come to me. The door to your right is out of bounds – that is my Potions lab and is not safe for Muggles. Approaching the door will alert me. Harry's and my room is out of bounds to you all. If you need to leave at any time, myself or Minerva will escort you off my property and stay with you while you go about your business. All groceries and other material needs will be provided – my House Elves will cook meals and clean. They will not tidy, which is the responsibility of the person who made the mess. If I feel either of the boys are lacking in this, I will mention it to them. You are guests in my house and you will not treat either child in this house as though you have custody of them. At the end of two weeks, I will decide whether or not Dudley will return to your custody. Therefore, it is in your best interests to encourage Dudley to follow the rules." Severus stood after this last sentence. "I will show you to your rooms. Your belongings will be placed in them momentarily."
Severus walked quickly out the living room, not giving them time to comment. He heard them rise and follow after him so he started walking up the stairs. He walked to Draco's room and opened the door. "This will be Dudley's room while he is here." Dudley frowned as he looked around the simple room but Severus raised an eyebrow and he didn't comment. "Your room is this one across the hall. The bathroom is the room in the middle on that wall. Harry's room, which you have no reason to be near, is the one at the end on the right. Mine is on the left. Please go to your rooms now and settle in. Dinner will be at six. If you miss it, you don't eat."
Severus walked towards Harry's room without listening to any of their comments. He couldn't hear anything coming from inside so he knocked assertively on the door. He waited a moment and when Harry didn't answer, knocked again. "Harry?"
There was still no answer so Severus opened the door, peering around it. Harry was curled up on his bed, arm thrown over his head, sleeping. Since Harry hadn't complained about being tired, Severus crept forward to place the back of his hand against Harry's forehead. He wasn't warm so Severus stepped away. It was possible that Harry's bad mood was due to tiredness from the last few days. Poppy had cleared him but she'd cautioned Harry not to over-exert himself.
"Did you forget us, Severus?" Minerva asked, not realizing that Harry was asleep.
"Shh, Harry's asleep," Severus said as he turned to her. He walked over to the door, pulling it closed as he passed through it. "I didn't forget you but I knew that you would be able to entertain yourselves for a few minutes."
Minerva scowled at his scathing tone but turned her attention to Harry's closed door. "Is he alright?"
"He was irritable earlier and I thought it was just anxiety from leaving Hogwarts and all his friends but that wouldn't make him want to sleep. He was fine before we left the station, even after the long train ride." Severus thought back to this morning, when he had escorted the students down to the station. Harry had been riding in the carriages with Neville, Teddy and Draco, chatting happily. Once they reached the station, Hagrid had given Harry the photo album he'd been working on all year – Severus had seen it and knew that it held photos of Harry's parents and of Harry and Severus together. Harry's gratitude was obvious, even from where Severus was standing. Severus had walked closer, wanting to overhear.
"It feels weird to be going home, doesn't it?" Severus heard Neville ask.
"That's not exactly what feels weird, Neville," Harry said quietly with a small smile.
Severus shook his head to rid himself of the memory, knowing that Harry was as new to this as he was. He thought forward to the moments at Kings Cross, watching Harry walk through the platform entrance with his friends. They were laughing, Teddy shoving at Harry playfully. Harry paused as he spotted the Dursleys and Severus scowled at the way in which they greeted their son. Teddy pulled Harry away and pointed to where Severus was standing not far from Mrs Nott and Narcissa Malfoy. Neville suddenly grabbed Harry's arm and pointed off in another direction. Hermione was standing there with someone who could only be her mother, smiling at the boys. They looked towards their parents and then toward their friend and beckoned Hermione over eagerly. The other parents moved toward their children and Severus saw Harry's head swing round to Severus' location, anxiety in his body language. Severus raised his eyebrow and stepped forward, falling into step with Narcissa.
"Hermione!" Harry moved his attention. "You're okay!"
Hermione stepped forward and hugged Harry. "Of course I'm okay."
"Harry worries," Teddy said as he stepped forward with a laugh.
"Really? I never noticed," Hermione shot back. Over their heads, the parents were looking at each other knowingly.
"Shut up," Harry groused good naturally. Even though he was talking happily to his friends, Harry had taken a step backward until he was standing within reach of Severus. Severus reached forward, resting his hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry's glance back was appreciative but he kept talking to his friends.
"He was probably pushing it aside that so that he could have a pleasant goodbye. He won't be seeing them for a little while whereas he knows he'll be able to make it up to you," Minerva's comment brought Severus out of the memories.
"That's not it. I'll keep an eye on him tonight, make sure he isn't relapsing," Severus said as he led the way downstairs. From the sight of his empty lounge room, Severus guessed that the Headmaster had already left.
"And pray tell why that is not it?" Minerva drawled.
"He really seemed out of sorts. If it was like that at the station, I don't think he would have been able to hide it. It must have come on after that," Severus explained.
"How did you get here from the station?" Minerva asked and Severus could see that she was thinking.
"That might explain it," Minerva said. At Severus' raised eyebrow, she continued, "Magical transportation can sap the magic of the people being transported as well as yours. In fact, Apparation requires it – it's why Muggles find it so much more horrendous. With Harry's magical core so low…"
"It's exhausted him again. No wonder he was cranky." Severus walked over to the stove and started the element under the kettle. With the Dursleys in the house, Severus was glad that he had decided to make his kitchen Muggle friendly. Merlin knows he wouldn't want to be at their beck and call for a mere cup of tea. He went through the motions of making the cups of tea, handing Minerva her cup.
"Have you given any thoughts to how they got out of your quarters after you warded it so well, Severus?" Minerva had mentioned the anomaly while Severus was recovering but they hadn't asked the children – the boys had all been too upset and Hermione had gone home almost immediately.
"Trixie. She convinced another House Elf to help her break through the wards – something she can only do within Hogwarts. She told Harry that he should go to the Hospital Wing and wait there but they didn't listen," Severus answered.
"You should have fired her," Minerva said in shock.
"And waste a good Elf? No. Trixie did what she thought was right and best for Harry – he was not coping with being kept away well. While I wish she had taken them to you or the infirmary, I cannot blame the Elf for where they went afterwards." Severus knew that most other House Elf owners wouldn't have even investigated beyond that and merely dismissed their Elf. But Trixie said that she knew that her Master was in trouble and she knew that the strongest motivation for Severus to survive was his son.
"Hmm, you are more forgiving than me," Minerva snorted. Severus sat at the table with her, sipping on his own cup.
"That Elf helped me through some hard times and kept me healthy when I didn't want to keep myself healthy. Firing her for this would not only be ungrateful but would likely entice her into some very inventive forms of revenge." Severus smirked as he said this, remembering the pranks played by Trixie on students who had hassled the House Elves.
"However true that is, have you at least disciplined her? Told her that she placed you and Harry in danger?" Minerva asked.
"I have. Hopefully she plans on listening to me next time. I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't though. She is spending some time with Poppy, helping her re-stock after this year. Hopefully that will give her some space to distance herself to the proper level." Severus leant back in his chair and turned his eyes to Petunia Dursley when she walked down the stairs. "Is there anything wrong with the rooms?"
"They're too small." Severus narrowed his eyes at Petunia's petulant tone.
"A real problem?" Severus clarified icily.
"Then no. Though I don't know what you expect our Dudley to do for two weeks without his computer and TV," Petunia grumbled.
"The same that he did at Hogwarts, where computers and televisions do not function. You are lucky that the electricity works here at all, as it is primarily a Magical property," Minerva replied scathingly.
Petunia studied them for a moment, trying to hide the shock on her face. "And what should I do? Or do you just expect us to languish around doing nothing?"
"My library is open to you and Minerva will return everyday to take your husband to work. That is, if that horrible accusation of fraud didn't make him lose his job," Severus drawled with a smirk.
"It didn't. It was very embarrassing but I'm going to assume you know that," Petunia said before stalking back up the stairs.
"Well this is going to be interesting," Severus muttered. Minerva laughed and he scowled good-naturedly at her. "Oh yes, laugh. Just wait until I'm sending Harry to you for babysitting because they can't be in the same house. Or maybe I'll just send you Dudley." Minerva's smile dropped and Severus laughed.
"You wouldn't," Minerva said in horror.
"Technically I only need Petunia here. And you could teach Dudley manners just as well as I could." Severus contemplated the idea for a moment while Minerva shook her head then gave up on the idea.
"You didn't have to have him for a whole school year, Severus. If you had, you wouldn't even joke about that," Minerva said as she lent back in her chair. "However, I'll quite happily look after Harry, should you need it. So will Lupin for that matter. I take it he didn't take you up on moving in?"
"I didn't offer. Just because I've adopted his best friend's son doesn't mean I have to start playing bosom buddies," Severus drawled.
Minerva snorted. "You don't have to like him to see that he's good for Harry. You know they've been writing all year. Plus, you and Harry are going to need time apart at some point – Lupin could act as a buffer between you."
"And what of his transformations? Are you actually suggesting I let him stay in the same house as my far too curious son? The only thing I'd be able to tell him would be not to go into Lupin's area and we know how well that works." Severus scowled at thought.
"Or you could tell Harry that Lupin is a werewolf, explain the dangers, and allow him to make an informed choice." Severus raised his eyebrow, about to respond. "And then tan his silly hide if he decides to go anywhere near Lupin during the full moon."
Severus smirked. "I don't think Harry would react very well to that; no matter how much I've wished the solution was that simple over the last couple of days."
"Have you decided on a punishment? Or do you believe that his experience was punishment enough?" Minerva asked.
"He's grounded, for two weeks. And since the Dursley's are here, I don't believe Harry would invite his friends over anyway. So the punishment is kind of redundant anyway." Severus lifted his empty cup and picked up Minerva's, making his way to the sink to place them inside.
"Have you talked to him about it? Apart from explaining the details?" Minerva asked.
"No. To be honest, I haven't even sorted out how I feel about it and I'm not entirely sure what he's going to bring up," Severus admitted with a sigh.
"Would you like me to talk to him? He's going to need to talk to you eventually but it's not going to help either of you if you can't talk about it honestly. And you need to talk about it to someone – Poppy knows the medical facts more than I ever could but I'll be around if you need me. Now, I'm going to wake Harry and have a chat with him. If he sleeps much longer he'll be too awake to sleep tonight." Minerva stood without giving Severus a chance to reply, though he knew she was right.
"Harry, wake up please." Harry groaned and covered his face. When a hand shook his shoulder he rolled over. "Now, laddie, don't make me pour water on you." Harry bolted upright as he realized that Professor McGonagall was the one talking.
"Professor!" McGonagall stepped back as Harry sat up, sliding to the edge of his bed.
"During the holidays, you may call me Minerva, if you wish." Professor – no, Minera – went to Harry's desk and picked up his chair, placing it next to Harry's bed. "I thought we might have a little chat about what happened down in the dungeons. Severus says that you haven't talked yet."
"Why isn't Severus asking me this?" Harry asked, narrowing his eyes and trying to decide whether to play along or not.
"Because Severus went through something very big as well. Being resuscitated can leave someone's emotions a little bit confused. I thought it would be best if someone who wasn't personally involved offered to let you talk about it." Minerva waved her wand and a tea set appeared. "Milk and sugar, I assume?"
Harry blinked at the change in conversation and then nodded. "I've never had tea before."
"Then milk and sugar would be a good choice," Minerva said as she passed Harry his cup. Harry took a sip of the warm drink, surprised at the sweetness. He kept his eyes on Minerva, waiting for her to start the conversation. When she raised her eyebrow at him, he just set his jaw mulishly. He didn't want to talk about what happened in the dungeons. He didn't know what he thought about it anyway. He ignored the twinge that said Harry should tell Minerva about the nightmare he'd had last night, the one where Severus hadn't gotten up. "Harry, I'm not going to force you to talk about things you don't want to talk but I know what happens when you bottle things up. It's not healthy for you."
"Why did you send Hermione home early?" Harry asked.
"Because having someone's life hang in your hands can be very distressing, especially when you are only eleven years old. Hermione put herself under a lot of pressure when she decided to perform CPR. If someone doesn't survive CPR, the person who attempted to resuscitate them would experience feelings of guilt because they would feel like they should have done more. We didn't want Hermione developing these feelings and her parents are best equipped to help her find help if she needs or wants it," Minerva explained matter-of-factly. "Just like we're trying to help you by talking about how you felt when this was happening."
"Yeah well I don't want to talk," Harry said stubbornly, deliberately looking away from Minerva until she sighed.
"Harry, what's wrong? You haven't behaved like this since before Christmas. Is it the Dursleys coming to live with you?" Minerva slid forward in the chair, not touching Harry but inviting him to talk.
"No," Harry rubbed at the pain blossoming between his eyes. "No, I don't know." He shook his head and scrambled back on his bed. "I don't want to talk!"
Minerva's eyebrow raised at Harry's shout. "Okay, no need to shout. I can hear you." She sighed and run her hand over her face. "If you need to talk, Floo Remus or I. I'll try to come as quickly as I can."
Harry bit his lip, knowing he shouldn't have shouted at Minerva. She placed his chair back in place and walked out of the room. "I'm sorry," Harry whispered at the empty room. "I just don't know." The pain in his forehead was getting worse the longer he was awake and he turned away from the door and laid down again. A neigh from the horses outside reminded Harry that he hadn't gone to see Mickey yet. He sat up, nursing his head.
Sneaking across the landing so that he didn't run into the Dursleys, Harry crept down the stairs.
"I don't know whether he's going to talk, Minerva," Harry heard Severus' voice.
"Well he has to talk to someone. The boy has a migraine, and I bet it's from stress. After the year he's had, who would doubt it," Minerva replied.
"Did he say anything?" Severus asked as Harry crept toward the back door, constantly checking that Severus wasn't sitting in the right place to see him.
"That he didn't want to talk – he said 'I don't know'," Minerva said.
"That's standard Harry talk for he's overwhelmed. He probably hasn't thought it all out and wants the space to do so first. I'll try to convince him to write Lupin in the next couple of days," Severus said with a sigh. Harry paused as he opened the back door, upset at hearing such a disappointed tone in his Dad's voice, but shook his head and kept going. Once he was out of the house, he picked up his pace and trotted towards the stable. The door was already partly open and Harry slipped inside without trouble.
"Hey Mickey," Harry whispered as he stepped up to the stall door. He peered into the half lit stall, picking out Mickey's white markings against the dark. Mickey nickered quietly and came up to the stall door. "Hey boy, sorry I don't have any carrots." Mickey lipped at his sleeve, following it up towards his chest. Once he reached Harry's chest, he butted him. "Hey!"
"Master's pony needs brushing, Master Harry," Poppin said as he appeared behind Harry. "If Master is wanting to do it."
"Thanks, Poppin. I'll do that." Harry took the pro-offered grooming kit and moved into Mickey's stall. Mickey moved backward to let him come in and Harry realized that he'd forgotten the lead rope and halter.
"Master can tie Master's pony in there if he wishes. The ropes in his stall will tie to his halter." Poppin held out the halter as Harry glanced around.
"Oh. Severus didn't tell me that." Harry reached for the halter and ignored Mickey's ear flick toward it.
"Master was working his pony that day. Needed him out of the stall," Poppin answered.
"That makes sense. Are you going to be here long, Poppin?" Harry stood with the halter at his side, waiting for Mickey to come back over.
"No Master Harry. Poppin is done with Master's horse and has dinner to prepare," Poppin answered.
"Oh, well avoid the Dursley's then. They won't much understand what you are." Poppin tilted his head at Harry like he was confused and Harry shrugged. "They're Muggles."
Poppin nodded sharply and Apparated out of the stable. Harry turned around and slipped his hands around Mickey's neck, stopping him from moving away. He used his other arm to slip the halter over Mickey's nose and did it up, cursing his clumsiness. Once that was done, he used the halter to move Mickey over to the tie up line on the right side of his stall. Once that was done up, he went and got the over one, stretching to catch Mickey's halter so that he could bring him over and clip the other line on. Mickey grumbled and Harry paused, wondering if he was doing something wrong. He thought back to the books on horses Hermione had helped him find in the library. Mickey's ears were forward and his tail wasn't switching from side to side, so Harry thought that it might have been in good humor. He grabbed a brush out of the kit and started rubbing Mickey down with it. The pony bobbed his head and licked his lips, giving Harry the idea that he was happy.
"I shouldn't have yelled at Minerva like that. She was only trying to help, right, Mick?" The pony didn't give an answer, which Harry didn't expect. "I just don't know what to think. It all happened so fast and yet so slow. And it all worked out okay in the end. Severus wasn't even asleep for more than a couple of minutes. And Hermione knew what to do. So big deal right?"
Mickey snorted and bobbed his head, making Harry laugh. "Maybe you do understand me." Harry sighed. "Except, I was really scared, Mickey. That whole time. He was so still and pale and, and Dad's always in control. He's never the one getting beat up or picked on. And if we hadn't gone down there, he would have been fine. He would have got his wand back, if we hadn't distracted him." Harry looked around before voicing his traitorous thoughts, "But what if he hadn't, Mickey? What if he'd died?" Harry whispered the last word, hating to even think it. Mickey turned his head, and Harry hugged him. "What would have happened to me?" Harry ignored the tears that were stinging his eyes, brushing at his eyes roughly. Harry slid to the ground, leaning against Mickey's legs. Mickey put his head down into Harry's lap and Harry stroked his nose.
Harry sat like that until he heard the barn door slide. He picked up his brush and stood, moving back to Mickey's side. He kept moving the brush when he felt someone come up to the door of Mickey's stall.
"Don't be too gentle, Harry, a little bit of pressure helps get the dirt out of his coat," Severus said in a quiet voice. Harry nodded and increased his pressure on the stroke, not turning around so that Severus couldn't see the tear tracks. Harry heard a sigh and winced, knowing that Severus wouldn't appreciate the rudeness. Severus undid the latch on the door and stepped inside, picking up a brush from the kit. "Minerva left. She said to say goodbye. And that she forgives you for yelling," Severus said. Harry could hear the smile in his voice so he lifted his head slightly, turning towards Severus.
Harry knew that Severus had spotted the state of his eyes when Severus placed two fingers under his chin and tilted it up. Severus raised his eyebrow, and then sighed and pulled Harry into a hug. Harry returned the hug, sniffing a little. "Sorry for being rude."
"Minerva said that she thought you had a migraine. Is she correct?" Severus asked while looking down at Harry.
"I have a really bad headache," Harry admitted. Severus withdrew his wand from his sleeve and flicked it into the air towards the house. A few seconds later, he plucked a vial from the air.
"Take this," Severus said as he held it out. Harry downed the potion and felt his headache instantly recede.
"Thanks," Harry answered. He turned back to Mickey, pretending that he'd seen a spot he'd missed.
"Do you want to talk about it or are you going to avoid it with me as well?" Severus asked. Harry blushed and shook his head. "You don't want to talk about it, or you're going to avoid it?"
"I'm not going to avoid it. I'm sorry Dad. I just didn't know what to say. I don't know what to think," Harry complained.
"Nothing that you're thinking is wrong or bad, Harry. It is okay if you think that what you're thinking is selfish or is absolutely out-of-line. Even if you think it's completely unrelated to what happened in the dungeons." Severus was using his quiet voice again, which Harry knew meant that he was trying to give Harry the chance to talk.
"What happens to me if you die?" Harry barely managed to say the last word but he knew that Severus heard him.
Harry wasn't looking at Severus so he was surprised when Severus hugged him around the shoulders and bent down so they were at eye level. "My will has been changed to reflect our relationship and, given your age, I thought that your opinion should matter. Therefore, it states that you can choose between Narcissa, Lupin or Minerva, if there ever comes a time when I can't be here for you. My lawyer is in charge of looking after you until you make that decision. I have also asked Minerva, Lupin and Narcissa to alter their wills, so that if you go to them and they don't get a chance to change it and, Merlin forbid, something happens to them, you'll stay within that circle. And I don't think there will ever be a situation where you can't go to one of them but if that happens, we've all written that you can't ever go back to the Dursleys. But nothing is going to happen to me, Harry. Professor Dumbledore and the teachers at school are all working to make it even safer next year and Narcissa and I are working on something that will make it much easier to stay out of harm's way if Voldemort comes back."
Harry looked at Severus curiously and was about to ask his question when Severus continued. "Narcissa came to me to know if I had found a way to remove the Dark Mark, which is the brand that Lord Voldemort gave all his followers when they vowed loyalty to him. It allows him to summon us and to cause us pain. I'm not going to show it to you, but it is placed on the inside of the left arm, near the elbow." Severus indicated the spot through his sleeve. "Previously, I had thought it impossible but Narcissa has done a lot of research and we think that together, we may have found a way. If we can remove it, we take away Lord Voldemort's ability to track us, which he would most certainly used if he realized that we had turned traitor. Therefore, we could safely go into hiding and not have to fear him finding us through it. I have been so focused on that, for many reasons, that I haven't seen to arranging the Blood adoption, hence the Dursleys staying with us. I am sorry for that; I never wanted you to have to share quarters with them ever again." Severus looked sad and worried as he spoke, but there was a kind of urgency in his speech that gave Harry the impression that removing the Dark Mark was something Severus wanted dearly.
"That's okay, Dad. It won't be so bad, really," Harry said. Severus raised his eyebrow skeptically and Harry shrugged. "Okay, so I hate it and I wish it didn't have to happen but-" Harry paused. "-You're here. And I know that if they do anything bad, you'll protect me. And at least we get to stay here instead of Privet Drive. It's all open and Mickey's here and I have my own room that isn't Dudley's second bedroom and Trixie." Harry paused again, trying to think of the best way to say what he was thinking. "It's home."
Severus smiled softly. "It is. And I will always do my best to protect you, Harry. I am putting off starting my holiday brewing until the Dursley's have left, so I will always be close by to help you. And if you think of anything else you want to talk about in regards to the night in the dungeons, you can come to me, any time of night or day." Severus straightened up and squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Now, I think Mick deserves a proper grooming for putting up with us just standing here, don't you think?"
Harry smiled at the change of mood and nodded. "Yeah, I don't think I was doing a very good job before."
"Horses understand pain, Harry. Most animals do. I'm sure, on some level, Mick knows that you really came out here to talk." Severus picked up the brush that lay abandoned on the ground and began brushing. Harry didn't answer, instead moving to Mickey's other side to brush there.
They worked in silence for a while, Severus teaching Harry each step of grooming. Mickey quietly stood, even when Harry accidentally pulled him off balance as he lifted his foot. Harry stepped back, expecting Mickey to pin his ears and nip, but the pony just shifted his feet and lifted his foot back up expectantly. Harry glanced at Severus to see him watching with a smile and frowned in confusion.
"He won't bite you, Harry. Strider would have but Mickey knows you're just learning." Severus patted Mickey on the shoulder and then walked to the stall door. "I'm going to go check on dinner. Once you're done with his feet, let him free and come up to the house." Harry nodded and went back to tending to Mickey's hoof. Harry quietly finished his task and unclipped the leads and hung them back up. Mickey rubbed his face up and down Harry's back and Harry turned around with a "Hey!". Mickey just snorted and stuck his nose in Harry's chest, so Harry took his halter off.
"Thanks for listening, Mickey." Harry slipped out of the stall, being careful to latch the door behind him. He dropped the halter onto the hook outside Mickey's stall and walked out of the quiet building, noticing that the sun was well on its way to set. He could see the Dursleys in the kitchen from the front of the barn and tried desperately to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach as he realized that he would have to face them for dinner. He walked slowly up the hill to the house, pausing before pulling the door open. He could hear Uncle Vernon and Dudley loudly discussing something at the kitchen table and Severus talking quietly, he assumed to Poppin. Knowing that Severus was in there gave him the courage to open the door and walk through, nervously wiping his hands on his jeans.
"Use the sink in the laundry to wash your hands, Harry, and then I'll dish up," Severus said, noticing him immediately. Harry nodded, ducking his head as he saw Dudley glare at him.
Severus noticed Dudley's glare at Harry and frowned, wondering what could have set the slightly older boy off already. Since they had each made a point of ignoring each other for the last weeks of term, Severus has assumed they would merely act as though the other wasn't there. Instead, Dudley seemed emboldened by his parent's presence.
"What's for dinner?" Dudley turned to Severus and asked bluntly. Severus raised his eyebrow and sneered warningly, making Dudley pale slightly. "I mean, what's for dinner, sir?"
"Slightly better, Dursley. The polite way to phrase that question would be, 'may I ask what we are having for dinner, sir?'. We are having lasagna and salad, which Poppin kindly prepared for us. After dinner, I believe there is fruit salad for desert." Severus noted Harry's return and nodded towards the table to ask him to sit. The Dursleys were already seated, Vernon at one end and Petunia and Dudley on one side. Harry quickly took a seat on the opposite side while Severus sat in his usual place at the head of the table. With a flick of his wand, the plates that Poppin had dished out and placed under a Warming charm floated over to the table and in front of each person. Severus noted the dismay on Vernon and Dudley's faces and smirked internally. Portion control was something Poppy had asked him to instill in Dudley during his stay here and it looked as though Vernon would benefit from it just as much as his son.
Everybody stayed quiet as they started eating. Severus sneered slightly in disgust at Vernon and Dudley's table manners, glad that Harry was still in the habit of watching him before acting. As it was, he caught Harry casting glances at him every now and then and could tell it wasn't just checking whether his table manners were appropriate. "Did you close the barn door when you came up, Harry?" Severus asked casually, deliberately dropping his tone so Harry wouldn't react overly much.
"Um, no, I didn't know whether I should," Harry replied, biting his lip. Severus stoically ignored the gleam in Vernon's eye as he thought Harry would get in trouble.
"I didn't expect you to. I'll need to ward the barn after dinner anyway so I can do it then. I was thinking that we could start your riding lessons tomorrow afternoon? I have correspondence I have to answer in the morning and you have assignments you should be getting a start on. In fact, so do you, Mr Dursley." Severus looked pointedly at Dudley, raising his eyebrow as the boy lifted his chin.
"We've got all holidays. Why would I start them now?" Dudley said, mouth full of food.
"While your parents may enjoy the half-masticated cow rolling around in your wide-open trap, I do not; chew, swallow, then speak. You will start them now so that you have time to do them properly instead of rushing them in your final week. You should also consider that doing them while in the same house as one of your teachers may work to your benefit as I will be able to help you improve the quality of your assignments and possibly prevent you from starting the year on the poor footing you have finished this one on. Rest assured, Mr Dursley, that while we dislike to expel students for academic reasons, it has and can be done. You would be wise to improve your work ethic and grades if you wish to stay in school," Severus scolded the scowling boy.
"Our Dudders has always had trouble at school, it's not his fault if he fell behind. He's had a very hard year, what with your lot saying that he can't come home at the end of the year," Vernon protested angrily. His glare in Harry's direction said that he was also blaming Harry.
"Dudley has had every chance to approach his Head of House about any concerns or troubles he has had. Hufflepuff has an autistic child among their ranks, as well as a few children with ADHD, who manage to achieve sufficient grades. Perhaps more effort on Dudley's behalf would uncover a talent in at least one of his subjects?" Severus drawled with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't like the stupid subjects at school. And all the teachers like precious Potter over me anyway," Dudley protested, though Severus noticed that he had at least rid himself of his mouthful first.
"You are treading on very thin ice already, Dudley. Do not make me remind you about being civil to your cousin again. And your teachers, myself included, respect effort and enthusiasm. Since you show neither for any of your subjects, of course they appear to prefer Harry's work ethic and curiosity in their subjects more." Severus paused, aware that the conversation was going in a direction he did not desire. "Back to my original point, you are expected, while in this house, to follow my rules. And in this house, I require at least an hour of time spent on your assignments each day until their completion to my satisfaction. After this time, I expect that that hour be spent doing something quiet and/or creative. It creates an active mind and allows you to find solutions to boredom and the laziness that is usually attached to the summer holidays."
Dudley looked mutinous but didn't retort again. His parents looked as though they could not come up with a suitable retort and stayed silent as well.
"May I be excused?" Harry asked in the quiet that followed. Severus cast an eye over his plate, noting that he hadn't eaten much.
"You may be excused to the bathroom but you haven't eaten enough, Harry. I would prefer that you returned and finished at least half of what is left," Severus replied quietly, taking note of Harry's tense posture.
"Thank you." Harry rose and moved quickly up the stairs to the second story, no doubt to take himself to the bathroom. Severus watched him go and then returned to his meal, enjoying the Dursley's silence for a minute or two.
"Why's he get to go; that's bad manners, right?" Dudley pointed out with a return of his former charm.
"Harry was recently injured and is still recovering. Since he could be asking to be excused due to nausea, I see no point in forcing him to remain. However, since your appetite is at it's usual level, you are required to remain until the meal is finished." Severus said this casually, not wanting either of the Dursley males to think that Harry was weak in any way. Dudley harrumphed but went back to the meager remains of his dinner. When he looked up again, Severus could see that both the elder Dursley and Dudley had finished.
"If you could place your empty plates on the sink, Poppin will wash them later. Starting tomorrow, Dudley and Harry will share the responsibility of washing the dishes. If one washes, the other will dry, clear?" Severus looked at Dudley and was happy when he agreed, even if his tone was sullen.
Vernon and Dudley placed their plates on the sink and then stood silently, looking around. "What are we meant to do now? Can't very well go back to hiding in our rooms, can we?" Vernon asked roughly.
"There are board games in the cupboard in the library or, after dinner only, you will find a television and a supply of Muggle videos in the tall cupboard in the living room." Severus smirked at their shocked looks. "I don't care what you do, Dursley, but Dudley and Harry are restricted to two hours of electric entertainment a day, unless they are using them for something constructive. Therefore, I highly recommend board games as a way of bonding with your son over the television." Severus could see that his words were falling on deaf ears, so he turned back to his dinner as Vernon and Dudley waddled over to the cupboard he had indicated. Severus smirked as they turned it on and found out that the volume was limited to a certain level. Once Severus had finished his own meal, he took both Petunia's and his plates to the counter and then used his wand to summon a Nutrient Potion. He turned to Petunia, wondering what she would choose to do with herself for the night. "There are many Muggle and Magical books in my library. Those that are dangerous are on shelves that you cannot reach easily. There may be something that interests you in there." She looked at him in surprise, shock taking away her nasty expression for a moment. Petunia's sudden shriek of surprise announced Poppin's presence.
"Master, sorry for interrupting but young Master Harry is in distress, sir. His breathing is very fast and he is very pale. He is asking Poppin to fetch Master for him." Severus stood at once, drawing his wand and summoning a Stomach Calming Draught, Calming Potion and a Breathe-Easy potion to himself, unsure of what Harry would need. He took the stairs two at a time and crossed to the bathroom door, knocking once before entering. Harry was curled on the floor with his head on the rim of the bathtub, breathing shallowly and fast, just as Poppin had described. Severus knelt down on the floor next to him, laying a hand on his knee to announce his presence.
"Harry? What's wrong?" Harry shook his head, opening wide and tear-filled eyes and staring at Severus with a pleading look. "Alright, Harry, easy. Remember your breathing; in and out, in and out," Severus directed. Harry slowed, gulping slightly as he tried to match Severus' direction. Severus watched him closely as he kept up the directing litany, knowing that if it was an allergic reaction or an asthma attack, Harry wouldn't be able to return to a normal breathing pattern. After about a minute, Harry's breathing was slowing and becoming deeper, returning to normal. He was still pale and pinched, so Severus moved to sit next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.
"That was another panic attack. A small one, but it's still worrying. Would you like a Calming Potion?" Severus asked. Harry shook his head quickly. "In that case, I would suggest at least the Stomach Calming Draught." Harry's pleading look came back and Severus raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "You can't skip meals, Harry. You've already said that you had a migraine earlier and your tiredness tells me that you aren't over what happened in the dungeons yet. Rest will help, but your body needs the real nutrients that come in food. A potion will only help so much and you will be weak for so much longer."
"Can I eat up here?" Severus frowned, not wanting to go against his own rules on the first night but knowing that Harry would be much more likely to eat upstairs.
"No." Harry turned his head away in disappointment. "Only because I don't think hiding in your room is going to make you feel any better about the Dursley's being here. I will ask them to take their dessert in the living room, which will leave you and I alone at the kitchen table, but that is the best I can do, Harry." Harry crinkled his nose slightly but nodded.
"Okay." Severus handed Harry the potion and then stood while he drank it. Once Harry had downed the entire contents of the vial, he held out a hand and helped Harry to his feet.
"One more thing – next time you have a panic attack, or feel one coming on, you are to give me a sign, Harry. I can't know these things without being told all the time and panic attacks can become dangerous. At the least, I don't want you to be suffering alone while I am here and I can help." At Harry's muffled acquiescence, Severus tilted his chin up so that he was looking Severus in the eye. "I can not help you if you do not tell me you need help. There is no reason for you to have to deal with this on your own. I need to know how much this is affecting you before I can judge whether or not to kick them out. So please don't shut me out." Harry's eyes misted slightly and Severus decided to leave it at that. He turned to walk out of the bathroom and looked back when Harry didn't make a move to follow.
"I really have to eat down there?" Harry asked with a grimace.
"Yes, you do, Harry," Severus said. Harry frowned and looked towards his room. "Harry," Severus said warningly.
"Okay, I'm coming," Harry groaned. Severus nodded and turned back to the stairs, not checking whether Harry was walking with him or not. He could hear Harry's footsteps on the stairs behind him and he pointed at the table, waiting until Harry went back to his plate before glancing into the next rooms to check on the Dursley's. They were all sitting in front of the television, though Petunia was reading a book on her lap. Severus used his wand to summon his latest book and sat down at the kitchen table with Harry to read. Harry ate quietly for a moment before he started pushing the food around his plate without really eating it.
"If you won't eat, then it's time for a Potion. It will do, though I really wish you would eat properly," Severus said. "If you're ready to sleep then you should head upstairs and go to bed." Harry nodded and got up, walking up the stairs. Severus followed him, moving to Harry's as yet unpacked trunk when he got to the room. Severus held out the Potion, shaking it to get Harry to take it. Harry shook his head stubbornly. "Don't complain. If you'd eaten all of your dinner, I would merely be placing your covers over you and leaving you for the rest of the night. It was your choice," Severus said matter-of-factly, while pulling out a pair of pyjamas. He held them up, looking to Harry. When Harry nodded, he tossed them over and then turned his back as he heard Harry half-climb, half-fall out of bed.
"I'm good," Harry said a few moments later. Severus flicked his wand, sending Harry's clothes to the hamper. Harry had sat back on his bed and Severus gestured that he should sit back fully before pulling the covers over Harry's legs.
"Potion, then you can sleep. It's a Nutrient one, it won't taste bad." Severus said as he held it out. Harry took it, eyeing it doubtfully, before taking an experimental sip. He looked pleasantly surprised and then took a larger mouthful. "All of it would be good, though it will have the same effect as actually eating a whole meal, so stop when you feel full." Harry nodded, taking another sip.
"How come I'm still so tired?" Harry asked.
"The apparition from the station toward was possibly too much too soon. You will be fine tomorrow after a decent night's sleep. And I meant what I said about starting your lessons on Mickey tomorrow. He needs it and you could do with the fresh air." Severus said, taking the vial when Harry proffered it as Severus finished talking. Severus raised an eyebrow at what was left but Harry just shook his head.
"I'm full," he said in a protesting tone.
"I know," drawled Severus. "That's what worries me," he finished in a softer tone. Harry looked down and started picking at his woven blanket. Severus placed a hand over Harry's moving one and quickly placed a kiss to the top of his head while it was still bowed. "Get some sleep, Harry. Maybe you'll feel more hungry in the morning when you are not so tired." Severus stood and walked to the door, turning back to flick his wand at Harry's bedside light. Harry had laid down but was watching him closely. "Good night, Harry."
"Good night, Dad," Harry replied quietly. Severus closed the door behind him as he left, heading to his office to write a letter to Poppy, asking what she would recommend for Harry's returned lack of appetite.
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