Chapter 9


Snape watched as Harry stormed away from him, clearly intent on putting as much space as he could between them. Realising that Harry would calm down soon enough, and undoubtedly much more quickly on his own, Snape didn't attempt to follow him. Glancing down at the parchment he still held he let out a despondent sigh. He'd been incredibly dim-witted in his dealings with Harry. His only defence was that he hadn't actually given any thought to which sixth years would be making up his NEWT class for the coming year. In fact, Severus was slightly appalled to realise he'd given very little thought to his course work in general for the approaching school year. Folding Harry's OWL results away carefully, he slipped them into his jacket pocket and turned to head back inside with every intention of spending the morning planning his classes for the coming year.

That idea went out the window though as he found himself face to face with a rather infuriated Petunia Dursley. Her lips were pursed and her arms crossed tightly across her body, sitting just above the frilly half-apron she wore when she was in the kitchen. Unimpressed to find himself being accosted by Petunia, Snape didn't bother to hide the sneer that crept across his features at the sight of her demanding his attention.

'What do you want Petunia?' he snapped sourly, not bothered in the slightest that he sounded rude.

His question evoked a shrill, unamused laugh.

'What do I want?' she mimicked haughtily. 'I want to know what you want!'

'I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, Tuney,' Severus replied dryly, thoroughly disinterested with the conversation and more than a little irritated by Lily's sister. 'Unless you're willing to revoke your ridiculous rule regarding magic, I'm afraid I can't read your mind.'

'God, you're still as conceited as ever,' Petunia hissed disparagingly.

Snape smirked and inclined his head in thanks, knowing full well that his actions would cultivate the best reaction from Petunia. He was not disappointed when her lips narrowed even further, her cheeks blossoming into a deep red in her anger.

'If you could kindly get to the point Petunia?' he prompted sarcastically when she made no move to release him from her presence. 'I'd very much like to get back to ignoring you.'

'What are you up to with my nephew?' she demanded sharply.

'I'm sorry?' Severus asked perplexedly.

'Why were you out here with him?' Petunia ground out, her ire increasing drastically.

'Why do you care?' Severus replied easily, his smirk prominent as he continued to wind Petunia up.

'He's my nephew.'

Petunia's curt comment sucked the mirth from the conversation as Severus straightened perceptibly and fixed Petunia with a cold hard stare.

'Don't you dare claim to care about him Petunia,' he threatened quietly.

'I have every right to –'

'You have no right,' Severus snapped, towering over Petunia as his own anger rose to the occasion.

Petunia was not to be cowed though. Her hateful, bitter gaze undeterred by Severus' show of unrestrained fury.

'You are pathetic!' Petunia spat out, spittle flying as she slammed her hand forward into Severus' sternum. The force was enough to knock Snape back a few steps as her physical assault had caught him by surprise. His momentary distraction was enough for Petunia to continue unheeded as she unleashed her tirade upon him; apparently unconcerned that she was undoubtedly shouting loudly enough to be heard from half a street away.

'Who do you think you are!? Following him around all day; asking after his results; turning up here as though you have some right to be in the boy's life! Is that why you're here? Are you living out some kind of sick fantasy? He's not yours Snape. He's not your son and he never will be. Lily didn't love you, you fool,' Petunia hissed. 'She barely even tolerated you –'

'ENOUGH!' Severus snarled, white with rage as he closed the distance between them rapidly, deliberately placing himself well inside Petunia's personal space. He was pleased to note the intrusion appeared to unsettle the wretched woman.

'Enough, Petunia,' he repeated menacingly, his voice dangerously low, emotionless and entirely serious. 'I will not be held to your perverted standards. Nor will I tolerate having accusations hurled at me by a harridan. Your duplicity in this matter ends now!

'You have no affection for your nephew,' Severus continued, his features twisted into a disgusted sneer as he stared down his nose at the horrible woman before him. 'That is the truth. In your eyes he has been nothing but a burden to you. As you so rightly pointed out, Petunia,' Severus drawled, his tone heavy with sarcasm, 'Harry is not my son. But neither is he yours,' he added viciously. 'Although, had you one scrap of decency within that hollow body of yours, he would have been your son. Instead, you and your husband systematically and knowingly exploited him from the moment he arrived in your life. Well, Petunia,' Severus sneered nastily, 'that ends now!

'Your apparent concern for him presently, stems only from your perverse sense of "sisterly love",' he continued ruthlessly, pleased to note that Petunia seemed suitably intimidated by his soliloquy. 'You think that by degrading me you can somehow prove your worth to Lily. It won't work Petunia,' he declared triumphantly. 'You cannot hate me more on Lily's behalf than I already hate myself. She may not have loved me, as she did you, but I at least can seek comfort in the knowledge that I truly loved her. That twisted organ, Petunia,' he finished deliberately, 'the one to which you ascribe the term "heart"? Truly, it is incapable of love.'

For once, Petunia had no response and Severus enjoyed the triumph of finally putting the woman in her place after so many failed attempts. Having well and truly blown open the taboo topic of "Harry Potter", Severus decided to capitalise on Petunia's current state of passivity to discuss the remainder of the guardianship arrangements with the Dursleys. Unable to resist one final warning, Snape lead the furious and belittled woman inside.

'A word to the wise Petunia: if you ever accost me again with such vulgar assertions I will not hesitate to curse you!'

He paused only long enough to ensure Petunia acknowledge the threat as credible before opening the patio door for her.

'Inside,' he commanded. 'You and I are going to have a little chat about guardianship arrangements.'

XXXX

Harry was just walking up the driveway of 4 Privet Drive when the front door opened to expel a rather harassed looking Professor Snape. He looked grumpy, Harry thought. The moment the man caught sight of him though the slight scowl disappeared and he simply appeared a little worn.

'There you are,' said Snape in greeting. 'We're going to the bank.'

'I'm sorry?'

'It's high time you had an account,' Snape continued imperiously.

Snape was halfway up the road before Harry called him back.

'It's Saturday!' he called perplexedly.

He'd expected Snape to still be brooding over the morning's appalling behaviour or at least feuding with Aunt Petunia if Dudley was to be believed but the man appeared to be neither angry nor upset.

'Correct,' Snape replied sarcastically. 'Unfortunately, I can't open your account for you. So if you'd desist from standing still, I'd like to get this errand done.'

'The bank doesn't open on Saturday,' Harry continued doggedly, ignoring the sarcasm.

Considering his earlier behaviour Harry did his best not to laugh at the comical "O" shape Snape's mouth formed as he realised Harry was right.

'Bollocks,' the man muttered, stalking back towards Harry. 'Remind me to take you on Monday.'

'But why?' Harry asked. 'I've already got a Gringotts account.'

Snape rolled his eyes.

'I want you to have a Muggle account,' Snape explained. 'Who knows when you might need access to pound sterling and pence?'

Harry raised an eyebrow at the odd statement but Severus did not elaborate.

'I really don't keep that much Muggle money to warrant an account,' Harry replied warily.

'You need not worry about that,' Snape said darkly, glancing towards 4 Privet Drive. 'You'll be getting money transferred into the account.'

'Where from?' Harry asked suspiciously.

Snape met his inquiring gaze impassively, appearing completely unconcerned with Harry's doubts.

'Your parents were quite particular about how their money was to be spent,' he offered with finality.

'What's that supposed to mean?' Harry grumbled, earning a pointed look from Snape.

'Sorry,' he muttered, despite feeling anything but apologetic.

Harry wished he'd been a bit quicker returning to Privet Drive. Snape was definitely up to something and he had no doubt that it had something to do with his relatives. Standing on the drive Snape glanced down at his watch before appearing to come to a decision.

'Your aunt is feeling particularly spiteful at present,' Snape commented dryly. 'I suggest we occupy ourselves elsewhere for the rest of the day.'

'Because of this morning?' Harry asked guilty. 'I am sorry about that,' he added sincerely.

Snape's brow furrowed in confusion momentarily before he realised Harry was referring to the OWL incident.

'Merlin, no,' he assured Harry. 'Petunia was simply in fine form this morning.'

Harry still looked doubtful, which prompted Snape to continue.

'We are allowed to argue, Harry,' he commented wryly. 'You were upset and I was being dim-witted. There's no need to apologise for wanting a little space.'

'Even though I yelled at you?' Harry asked sceptically.

'Harry, you're a teenager,' Snape replied with amusement. 'I'm certain you'll be testing my limits for a good while yet. And that's normal,' he added assuredly.

'Ok,' Harry laughed, amused by Snape's candidness.

'Come on,' said Snape, smiling as he took a long sip from the strong dose of Polyjuice he'd bought with him to Privet Drive. 'I've no doubt you're starving and I really suspect Petunia's going to need a few more hours to cool off.'

Harry laughed outright at that, following the blonde-headed man whose identity Snape had borrowed.

'You didn't curse her, did you?' Harry asked deliberately; well aware that Snape would never let his rivalry with Aunt Petunia jeopardise their stay at Privet Drive. Still Harry suspected that something had definitely occurred between the pair whilst he'd been out of the house.

'Ye of little faith,' Snape called over his shoulder, shaking his head in mock-disgust. 'I simply had a very brief conversation with your charming aunt.'

Harry snorted in disbelief, but didn't bother to question Snape further. Whatever had happened was between the pair of them and if he was honest the thought of lunch was much more enticing than pressing Snape on details he was unlikely to give up. Content to let it go, Harry hurried to catch up with the polyjuiced Snape and together the pair made their way into town.

XXXX

It was the afternoon before they were due to leave the Dursleys that Harry came to realise what it was that had been bothering Snape on Saturday morning. The remainder of their time at Privet Drive had been blissfully uneventful with days spent out and about in Surrey. As promised Snape had taken him to a bank on Monday and organised an account for Harry. According to Snape, Harry's parents had organised for £500 to be deposited fortnightly into his Muggle account until he reached the age of twenty-one, in addition to an initial lump sum payment of £2000. Harry was highly suspicious of the story and it had only been after Severus had sworn on his life that the money was not coming from him that Harry had begrudgingly agreed to sign on the dotted line.

Petunia had been perceptibly cooler in her reception towards Snape since that Saturday morning but she'd held her tongue and the pair had not argued since. Now though Aunt Petunia had summoned Harry into the lounge room, capitalising on Snape's temporary absence from the house after he'd been called away urgently to an Order meeting.

Entering the lounge, Petunia gestured for him to sit on the couch as she closed the door behind him. Wondering just what his aunt was up to Harry seated himself, his expression politely inquisitive as he watched her collect a bundle of papers from the side-table before joining him on the couch. As she lay the papers down on the coffee table Harry glanced at them and was surprised to see they were the guardianship papers Snape and Dumbledore had drawn up. Unease flooded his system as he glanced suspiciously between Aunt Petunia and the papers.

'I was asked to sign these forms,' Petunia offered in explanation, studying the papers with a look of revulsion, undoubtedly horrified by the fact several of them were written on parchment.

'But you haven't,' Harry stated bluntly, not particularly interested in beating about the bush.

'Oh I'll sign the wretched things if that's what you want,' his Aunt replied sourly, 'but I refused to sign them before I spoke to you.'

'Why?' Harry asked, genuinely confused and more than a little thrown by the tȇte-à-tȇte he was currently having with his aunt.

'Because Severus Snape is not a good man,' she replied bitterly.

Harry's confusion vanished abruptly and he scowled as his Aunt's true intentions were revealed. There had clearly been a discussion regarding the guardianship papers on Saturday morning and apparently Snape and Petunia had come to an impasse. It explained the subsequent behaviour of the pair and his Aunt's sudden interest in Harry's welfare.

'I'd like you to sign the papers,' said Harry firmly, straining to keep himself from becoming impertinent; an attitude that was certain to delay Petunia signing.

'How long have you known that man?' Petunia continued, ignoring Harry's request. Clearly she was not going to be satisfied until she'd had her say.

'Years,' Harry replied succinctly, determined to supply as little fuel to Petunia's assertions as possible. Her opinion of Severus would not change his decision.

'He never bothered with you before now though, did he?' she continued spitefully.

'He had his reasons,' Harry replied stubbornly, refusing to be baited by Aunt Petunia.

'Oh I'm certain he did,' Petunia replied scornfully. 'I highly doubt he enjoyed watching Lily's son growing up, knowing just who your father was.'

Harry didn't have answer to that. He suspected Petunia had no real idea the impact James Potter had had on Severus' life but he suspected she knew enough to take a stab in the dark. If the triumphant gleam in her eye was anything to go by, she was more than a little impressed that she'd apparently hit the mark with her hypotheses. His silence seemed to hollow her victory though and Harry watched as Petunia's brow darkened with displeasure.

'Undoubtedly my sister,' she began haughtily, 'would want you to have this opportunity. She was always one for second chances – God knows she gave that man enough. But I want you to think carefully before you ask me to sign that form. I agreed to protect you even though I could never love you.'

Petunia broke off and Harry struggled to stop himself from gaping in surprise at his Aunt's frankness. He'd always known he was unwanted in the Dursley household but he'd never known why. For the first time in his life though his Aunt was studying him with something akin to sorrow and regret.

'Fourteen years,' Petunia whispered, 'and all this time you're still every bit her.'

She shook her head in disbelief, as though surprised by her own admission. Harry found the admission surreal. His mother had always been such a mystery until he'd spent six weeks living with Severus but even now he found it odd to think that all his life it had been Lily Petunia had been seeing in her nephew. The rare moment of openness in his Aunt's expression disappeared though and a much more familiar sneer took its place.

'I loved her,' she admitted bitterly, 'so very much until she met him.'

Harry didn't need to ask who "him" was; the sneer with which she spoke was the one she reserved specifically for Severus.

'Lily left me behind that day,' she continued angrily, 'and he led her away from me. I will never forgive him for that. Your world took her from me and your world killed her. She died and you were left on our doorstep. I hated her for that.'

Petunia broke off and Harry simply gaped wordlessly at his aunt. He had always assumed his aunt was an emotionless and petty woman. He'd been wrong. Harry did not doubt that she had loved her younger sister immensely – until Hogwarts had divided them – but those feelings had corrupted over time and now Harry understood the shallow, petty, and bitter woman he'd grown up with. At times he'd despised his aunt but now, he simply felt sorry for her. Petunia was not quite done though and her final words broke into Harry's thoughts.

'I am still your aunt though,' she finished stubbornly, 'and I will not knowingly give you over to that man until I'm certain he means you no harm: Severus Snape is quite capable of systematically destroying those he confesses to care about most.'

Petunia appeared to have said her piece as she repositioned herself stiffly against the couch. Sniffing disdainfully she looked expectantly towards Harry, undoubtedly expecting a torrent of rebuke. Harry did not oblige. Leaning forward he carefully picked the papers up off the coffee table and silently handed them across to his aunt.

'With respect,' he said calmly, 'you do not know him at all. Please sign the forms, Aunt Petunia.'

His aunt gave him a long hard look, before silently retrieving a pen from the side table. Harry watched as she flicked through the pages leaving her signature where necessary. Finally, she recapped her pen and with a sharp flick handed the papers back to Harry. Without a word she stood abruptly and made to leave the room. She was about to step through the doorway when she turned back to Harry an odd expression on her face that he could not identify. For a moment he thought she was going to say something but she didn't and without further ado she stalked through the door leaving Harry alone in the lounge. Unsure of what to make of her behaviour Harry spent a moment longer in the lounge before making his way back upstairs to his bedroom, the precious papers held securely in his hand.

XXXX

Come Wednesday morning they departed Privet Drive. Dudley saw Harry off before breakfast with a rather sincere handshake and a "see you next summer", carefully offered well out of sight and hearing range of his parents. The only sign Petunia and Vernon gave that Harry and Snape would be leaving that morning was a slightly more hurried breakfast than usual and a noticeably more cheerful mood on his Uncle's part. Harry had returned the guardianship papers to Snape the moment he'd returned from the Order meeting.

'Aunt Petunia insisted on having a chat about it,' he'd told Snape as the man hung up his travelling coat.

'Did she?' Snape had asked, not altogether surprised.

'The way she paints your character,' Harry had joked, 'I expect you'll be selling me out to Voldemort any day now.'

Snape had laughed outright at that.

'Perhaps I've just been busy,' he'd replied good-naturedly, casting an eye over the signed papers before safely sequestering them away.

Although Snape couldn't lodge the papers until after Voldemort was defeated, Petunia's signature made the documents official. The man's relief at having secured the signature was obvious and Wednesday morning saw the arrival of a practically jovial Severus at the breakfast table – something Petunia had noticed immediately. It was with a solid scowl in place that Harry's aunt saw them through the front door that morning, making a point to shut it sharply the moment they'd left the house.

Snape simply smirked at the juvenile behaviour before hurrying Harry up the street and into the nearest secluded area he could find. With very little ceremony he took tight hold of Harry's arm and spun them on the spot, apparating them precisely to the front door of 118 Spinner's End.

'In a hurry, Severus?' Harry commented amusedly, hefting his trunk up to carry it inside.

'The next time I see Petunia will be far too soon,' Severus answered distractedly, focussed entirely on restoring his hair to its natural length.

'Well, I'm impressed,' Harry admitted honestly, although the humour was evident in his voice. 'I really didn't think you'd manage to go a week without cursing her!'

'Your humour leaves a lot to be desired, young man,' Snape replied dryly, although he too was smiling.

'I bet you were tempted though,' Harry added mischievously, picking up his trunk and ducking upstairs before Snape could reply.

'More than you could possibly imagine,' Snape murmured into the empty hallway, recalling the argument he'd had with Petunia.

He remained at the foot of the stairs for a moment longer before breathing a sigh and disappearing into the living room. Despite his distaste for Spinner's End, he'd missed his collection of books and if there was one thing that would remove all thoughts of Petunia Dursley it would be immersing himself in a Potions textbook.

XXXX

By the weekend the novelty of returning to Spinner's End had worn off. Although Harry was thrilled to be back in the house – which to him represented a holiday well away from Privet Drive – Severus' dislike towards his childhood home put a damper on Harry's cheerful mood. The longer he spent in the house the darker Snape's mood seemed to become. The man kept his temper well in check but the easy banter Harry had enjoyed with Severus and the care-free atmosphere of their time at Hogwarts had disappeared. Plus Harry suspected Snape's tendency towards insomnia had returned with vengeance. Knowing why Severus disliked Spinner's End so fervently, an idea had occurred to Harry that he was certain would make the next few weeks at the house bearable. It wasn't until Monday morning though that an excuse to broach the subject with Severus presented itself.

'Do you have a toolbox?' Harry asked sheepishly as he poked his head into the kitchen.

'Under the stairs,' Severus replied absentmindedly, apparently entirely absorbed in his copy of the Daily Prophet.

Harry disappeared from the kitchen to retrieve the tools and hurried back upstairs. He'd been washing his hands in the bathroom when the water pressure had dropped off suddenly. Glancing under the sink he'd discovered the problem immediately: the rusting pipe that delivered the water to the fixture had sprung a leak. He'd immediately attempted to close the shutoff valve to the sink but had discovered it was too rusted for him to turn without a spanner. Entering the bathroom with toolbox in hand, Harry scrambled to find the spanner. What had started out as a small leak was fast becoming a high-pressure hose as the pipe continued to separate further from the fixture. It didn't take very long before Harry's shirt was suitably soaked from the deluge of water. Fumbling with the spanner Harry spent several minutes tightening the obnoxious shutoff valve before it finally sealed and stopped the flow of water. Grabbing a towel off the rack he mopped up the excess water that had dispersed around him as he'd fixed the leak. Packing the spanner back into the toolbox he made his way back downstairs. Severus would need to deal with the broken pipe.

As he put the toolbox away his stomach grumbled loudly. Foregoing a change of shirt in favour of breakfast Harry wondered into the kitchen for the second time that morning. This time Severus took notice of his arrival, having finished his read through of the paper.

'What in Merlin's name have you been up to?' he asked incredulously as he took in Harry's sopping shirt and drenched bangs.

'The pipe burst in the sink upstairs,' Harry replied disinterestedly as he extracted his cereal from the cupboard and milk from the fridge. 'I closed the shutoff valve but the pipe needs to be replaced.'

Snape grumbled an indistinct reply before flicking his wand briefly in Harry's direction, causing his shirt to dry instantly. Clearly Snape was not particularly enamoured with the prospect of fixing his sink.

'You know,' Harry began carefully as he added a banana to his muesli, his idea from the past few days taking form once again, 'have you ever thought about, maybe, fixing the house up a bit?'

Snape's flummoxed expression was answer enough for Harry without the additional explanation that followed.

'I spend as little of my life here as possible and I don't intend to waste money on this sorry excuse of a house,' he answered frankly.

'I know you don't like coming here,' Harry replied softly, 'but it is your home and, well, you don't seem in any particular hurry to give it up...'

'I spend ten months of the year at Hogwarts and less than two months here, Harry. I do not see this place as home,' said Snape candidly, deliberately ignoring the rest of Harry's statement.

Snape's purposeful neglect of Harry's suggestion only cemented the idea that no matter how much he hated Spinner's End something about the house prevented the Potion's Master from up and leaving. Harry had suspected as much ever since he'd stumbled across the hidden master bedroom stuffed full of Eileen and Tobias Snape's possessions.

'You don't like it here,' Harry continued stubbornly, 'because everything about it reminds you of growing up here. Well, it seems to me the easiest way to fix that is to make the house your house instead of your parent's house.'

Snape raised an eyebrow at the blunt statement.

'You're suggesting that I restore the house?' he asked doubtfully.

'Well, you've got to admit it's all a bit doom and gloom at the moment,' Harry replied honestly. 'Plus we've four weeks of unplanned holiday to use up here and well, I've always wanted to paint my room at home and my room here could use a spot of paint and the bathroom definitely needs new plumbing and I'm pretty sure a couple of the light sockets are close to falling off...' he trailed off as he was interrupted by good-natured laughter.

The scowl that had accosted Severus' facade since returning to Spinner's End had disappeared to once more reveal the laughter lines the man revealed to very few people.

'You've given this a lot of thought,' he said seriously.

Harry nodded, embarrassed that he'd let his enthusiasm for the idea get away from him. But in all honesty, he couldn't think of a better way for Snape to escape the demons which troubled him at Spinner's End.

'You do realise the amount of work this house requires?'

Again Harry nodded.

'And you're certain you wouldn't rather spend your holiday doing whatever it is teenagers do these days to preoccupy themselves?'

Harry grinned at that.

'Is that a yes?' he asked cheekily.

Snape said nothing but his inability to hide his grin gave away his answer.

'Yes!' Harry crowed triumphantly. 'I knew you'd say yes!'

'Potter,' Snape commented dryly. 'You will be the death of me.'

XXXX

Over a week later Harry lay in bed watching his new bedside clock intently as it ticked closer to midnight. That morning he'd put the finishing touches on his newly restored room by putting up his English National Quidditch team poster right next to his Manchester City poster. Harry was particularly impressed by how well the sky blue colour he'd chosen by chance for his room complemented the home kit of his Football team. Although he'd stripped, sanded and repainted the walls the Muggle way – under Snape's careful instruction – the use of magic to dry the paint had sped the process up just enough to mean Harry was done with his room just in time for his birthday. He was secretly quite pleased with the accomplishment and was looking forward to taking his birthday off. He'd never admit it to Snape, but the restoration process was a lot more work than Harry had initially envisioned. Still, he enjoyed the challenge and he was determined to get as much of the house fixed up in his remaining 3 weeks at Spinner's End.

Whilst Harry had been busy with his room, Severus had been assigned the job of upgrading the plumbing and electrical wiring of the house. He'd finished the intricate work quickly enough and Harry was still getting used to the brighter fluorescent lights that Snape had replaced his candle-filled lamps with. Despite using a fair amount of magic to aide him, Harry had been impressed by Snape's knowledge and inherent skills for the work. After Harry's birthday they'd agreed to start work together on repainting and cleaning up the remainder of the upstairs rooms.

Returning his attention to the clock Harry watched as it ticked over from 11:59pm to 12:00am. He smiled slightly as he realised he was now sixteen.

'Happy birthday to me,' he whispered sleepily, his customary birthday observance completed.

XXXX

Arriving in the kitchen on the morning of his birthday he found a small pile of gifts awaiting him. Snape was seated at the table, hidden as usual behind his Daily Prophet, whilst Hedwig was perched on his chair waiting expectantly. Hearing him come in, Severus folded his newspaper away and retrieved a plate with a full English breakfast on it from the countertop.

'Happy birthday,' he said warmly, placing the meal before Harry.

'Thank you,' Harry replied sincerely, snagging a small piece of bacon to give Hedwig.

'She has you eating out of her hand,' Snape commented dryly as he re-seated himself. 'I've already given her several pieces of bacon this morning.'

Harry laughed as Hedwig gave an indignant hoot before taking off through the kitchen window. Tucking into the meal, Harry made quick work of it – content to ignore his presents for the moment. Snape had resumed his perusal of the Daily Prophet but set the paper aside once Harry had finished his meal, apparently intent on watching Harry open his presents.

The first large box was a combined gift from Ron and Hermione he discovered as he reached for the attached card.

Dear Harry,

Happy birthday! We're certain you're having a much more enjoyable holiday than usual and can't wait to see you in a few weeks time! Ron noticed this in a local market in Greece and we both thought it would be perfect for you as you're always struggling to fit everything inside your current one! It's completely retardant to all known substances and has an Undetectable Extension Charm layered into the material (a craft the town is well known for). We hope you have a lovely day and we'll see you in a few weeks at The Burrow.

Love from,

Hermione and Ron

His interest piqued Harry set the note aside and unwrapped the box the card had come with. The smell of fresh leather hit his nostrils as he pulled back the tissue paper wrapping to reveal a messenger bag. He let out a laugh as he pulled out the beautifully crafted bag, knowing that Ron and Hermione intended him to use it as a school book bag. Opening the bag he couldn't resist sticking his hand inside to test the extension charm.

'Undetectable Extension Charm?' Snape queried as he watched Harry's arm disappear into the depths of the bag.

Harry nodded and set the bag aside with a fond smile. The next package contained rock cakes from Hagrid. He'd added a PS to his card exclaiming his delight at Grawp's progress in learning English. Despite knowing Hagrid meant well, Harry still found the idea of Hagrid civilising his giant half-brother more than a little confronting. Lupin had also taken the time to remember his birthday.

Dear Harry,

Many happy returns for your 16th birthday! I regret that I have not enclosed a gift – my current work for the Order does not lend itself to shopping. I hope that you will accept my humblest apologies for the oversight. In recompense, if you would like, I would be more than happy to take you out into London once again at a time convenient to each of us. Hold me to that promise Harry, for James would be quite upset that I have let another year pass without marking your birthday.

I do not know when I will next see you Harry and I cannot guarantee that I will be able to write you. I wish it were otherwise. Know that I am very proud of you, Harry, for the way you handled yourself at the Ministry. Do not doubt that. It is difficult to grieve and I am only sorry that I cannot be there for you at a time like this. I hope that you can find strength and comfort in your friends.

Until we next meet.

Warmest regards,

Remus

The familiar tightness that reminded him he had lost Sirius gripped his heart as he read Lupin's missive but it was not as strong as it had been. Although he still missed his Godfather terribly he knew he could not dwell in the past and with Severus' help he had not let his grief overpower him. Carefully Harry tucked the letter into his pocket, glad that Remus had contacted him.

Finally he turned to the remaining package, wrapped neatly in dark blue paper. The attached card simply read: For your 16th birthday. It was signed "S". Harry glanced up to where Severus was watching him intently, confirming that the present was from him. Carefully Harry undid the wrappings. The package opened to reveal a small-leather bound journal embossed in the lower right hand corner with the initials H.J.P in beautiful golden calligraphy. Wordlessly, Harry flipped open the first page admiring the fine quality of the parchment which filled the journal. To his surprise on the cover page he found an inscription written in Snape's familiar cramped handwriting – although his Professor had clearly taken some care with his penmanship.

A place to store your thoughts, lest you find yourself overwhelmed

Harry smiled to himself as he read the words, touched by the thoughtfulness of the gift.

'Thank you,' he said sincerely, smiling up at Severus.

'You're welcome,' the man replied earnestly. 'I thought you might like somewhere to store your notes,' he continued, referencing Harry's collection of parchments pertaining to his work with Dumbledore. 'The journal is charmed so that only you alone can open it now and only those that you wish to see the contents will be able to read what has been written.'

'Thank you, Severus,' Harry repeated seriously, knowing that the intricate charm work was of the highest quality.

Harry knew without a doubt that Severus had provided him with the perfect place to record information and expound his theories regarding Voldemort's Horcruxes without risk of someone finding his notes. He resolved to copy his notes into the journal as soon as possible and destroy the loose sheaths of parchment he had hidden deep within his trunk. Severus seemed to sense his desire to disappear upstairs and the man chuckled slightly.

'Off you go then,' he said easily. 'I'm certain you have plenty of thoughts to occupy yourself with but you'll have to be done by lunchtime as we're going out.'

Harry shot him a grin before carefully placing his gifts into his new messenger bag and disappearing back upstairs.

XXXX

With his birthday gone, the rest of the summer holidays seemed to fly by and before Harry knew it Dumbledore was due to arrive any minute to take him to the Weasleys. Harry was quite proud of what he and Severus had achieved in the weeks since his birthday and in his opinion Spinner's End was almost unrecognisable from the house he had first entered in April. They had finished remodelling the upstairs and had made a good start on the kitchen. Severus had gone through the boxes in the master bedroom, finally deciding that he was ready to part with certain items. The few boxes that he'd decided to keep contained items that had belonged to Severus as a child which still held some meaning for him and a few of his mother's more personal possessions. He'd lugged the rest of the boxes down the stairs and taken any useful items to the local Salvos. They'd then stripped the paint and redone the room in a pale green. Harry thought they should convert the room into a cosy library but he hadn't quite convinced Severus yet of the merits of that idea. The fact that the living room was surrounded by bookshelves was the main point of contention and Harry suspected Severus simply couldn't envisage the room without its safety net of books. Still they had until next holidays to work it out and Harry was relatively certain he could convince Severus by then.

As it was they'd have to finish the kitchen before they got to the living room. Currently it was half-painted a cheerful yellow that was just bright enough to make you smile but not so bright that it was brazen. Severus had just stepped out of the kitchen, dressed in his teaching robes as he too was leaving Spinner's End that night, when the fireplace roared to life. The green flames leapt about wildly as a spinning figure hurtled into their fireplace. As the flames died down the tall lanky figure unfurled itself from the fireplace and stepped out into the living room. Albus Dumbledore had arrived.

XXXX