Chapter Nineteen - Epilogue

Harry leaned his head back onto his blood-stained pillow and closed his eyes in a vague attempt to renounce his return to the Dursleys. That wasn't to say that last week hadn't been rough, it definitely included some horrible moments, but he would gladly go though it all over again if it meant being away from his own private hell on Privet Drive. What he wouldn't give to be curled up with Ginny on the settee by the hearth... or playing chess with Ron... or burning breakfast with Snape?

Well, Harry thought, it was worth it. All of it. It didn't really matter what new, creative torments his Aunt and Uncle had in store for him for the remainder of the summer. Because he now knew what future awaited him. He knew that Voldemort was destined to lose, one way or another. He knew that someday, he would be a husband and a father. He knew there existed a future worth fighting for, and it was worth suffering through any amount of discomfort in the meantime.

But his present wasn't too bad either, he mused, as a small simper emerged on his face. He knew he was loved. His friends would always be there for him. Snape would always be by his side. He had promised Harry that he would be there for him no matter what may lie ahead. His smile grew as he remembered the final written words on future Harry's letter to them all...

husband to Ginny Potter

father to James, Severus and Lily Potter

best friend to Ron and Hermione Weasley

surrogate son to Severus Snape

Harry's heart swelled with overwhelming affection and devotion for the people so dear to him, loved ones who would remain resolutely by his side as the future steadily unveiled its divine truth. And even though he was certain the future would still usher in pain, fear and hardship, Harry was convinced that, armed with the steadfast love of his friends, he could deal with any obstacle.

"What the bloody hell are you doing here? Get out! Your kind is NOT WELCOME IN MY HOME!"

Upon hearing his Uncle's furious shouts, Harry leapt hastily from his bed and hurried to his door, perceiving only one way his Uncle could get that irate so quickly. There must be another wizard in the house. He seized hold of the knob and twisted violently, desperate to see who had come to call. He groaned in frustration when he realized that his Uncle must have locked him in at some point overnight. He rested his forehead on the cool wood frame and breathed deeply, trying to think what to do next. Harry turned his head slightly so that he could better overhear what was being discussed downstairs. If he angled his head minutely so that his ear rested adjacent to the gap between the door and the frame, he could just make out another voice.

"Dursley, you imbecilic, foolish, vile shit! You WILL be letting me into your loathsome home, and I WILL most assuredly be taking Harry away from this miserable existence! And I swear to God, Dursley, if I find that he has been locked up anywhere in this house, THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY!"

Harry's heart was nearly beating out of his chest. He knew that voice. He knew it almost better than his own. Snape was here... in Privet Drive... and he had come to take Harry away from the Dursleys.

Heavy, quickening footfalls could be heard briskly approaching. Harry swiftly backed away from the door, worried that he might be injured if the door suddenly slammed open.

"OPEN THE DAMN DOOR, DURSLEY!" Snape thundered in his most intimidating timbre.

Harry heard the nervous jingling of keys and the rapid panting of a man who was obviously fearing for his life.

The door quickly swung open, and in strode the shadowy, menacing figure of Severus Snape, looking utterly livid. His expression of rage dissipated instantly upon seeing Harry standing in the middle of the room. And he immediately drew closer to Harry to inspect his appearance for any possible injuries.

"Are you alright?" Snape asked in a hushed and slightly shaky voice.

"Yes, Professor, I'm OK. But... what are you doing here?"

Snape's eyes seemed to widen in disbelief before he answered, "Harry... you didn't honestly think that I would leave you here for even one moment longer than necessary, did you?"

"I... I... I don't know... I mean, Professor Dumbledore always said I had to spend at least a few weeks here to maintain the blood wards, so I just thought..."

"To hell with the blood wards, Harry. You're not spending another damn minute in this place. Come on... let's get you things."

Without having to be told twice, Harry hurtled over to the loose floorboard beside his bed and wrenched it open. He pulled out his photo album and his invisibility cloak from where they had been hidden. Then he grabbed Hedwig's cage from atop the table beside his bed.

"Um... the rest of it, my trunk and all my school things, is... well, locked up. In the cupboard under the stairs," Harry admitted, suddenly feeling embarrassed by his plight.

Snape pursed his lips tightly together as if fighting some instinct to lash out violently. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, pacifying his obvious pique.

"Come on, Harry. We'll get it on our way out."

The two hastened their way down the steps, both equally anxious to be rid of their time there. Soon, Harry was standing in front of the tiny cupboard door feeling anxious at the thought of Snape seeing the place where he had been locked up for the majority of his childhood.

Snape stayed close beside him and leaned down to whisper in his ear, "You will never again have to endure their cruelty. Do you hear me, Harry? In just a moment, you will be free from them. I promise you."

Harry felt a single tear rove wearily down his cheek and was almost startled to hear his own voice issue the command, "Open it, Uncle Vernon!"

Keys once again clanked noisily against one another as his Uncle struggled to obey.

The moment the small door swung open, Snape grabbed his trunk with one hand and, with his other hand firmly gripping Harry's shoulder, swiftly guided Harry out the front door of number four Privet Drive.

Harry wasn't certain how far they had walked and he was only slightly aware of the tears streaming copiously down his cheeks, but after a few moments Snape halted his progression and his hand, still clutching Harry's shoulder, squeezed lightly, persuading him to stop as well. Harry obliged and turned to face Snape who looked to be quite as affected as he was by the encounter with the Dursleys.

"Harry, I didn't have the time to discuss this with you in the Room of Requirement before we were quite unceremoniously dismissed, and I sure as hell wasn't about to stop and have a chat in that horrid house, but I suppose I ought to ask you... I... I was hoping you would like to stay at Hogwarts for the rest of the summer... with me. I can set you up with your own room in my quarters. Dumbledore has given his consent, of course. It won't be much, and unfortunately, I cannot be there all the time. I must periodically spend days and sometimes evenings at my home in Spinner's End. But I'll be at Hogwarts at least four days out of every week and..."

Snape's detailed, informative speech continued, but Harry could only focus on a portion of it...

I was hoping you would like to stay at Hogwarts for the rest of the summer... with me.

"You... you would want me to... live with you?" Harry choked out, feeling his eyes sting again with impending tears.

"Harry... of course I would want you to live with me," He placed his hands on Harry's shoulders, peered deeply into Harry's watery gaze and, recognizing the lingering fear of rejection radiating from his brilliant green eyes, spoke the words he knew Harry needed to hear.

"Harry, you're my surrogate son, remember? I will ALWAYS want you to be part of my life... and I will always love you."

Harry launched himself into the professor's arms, weeping with abandon, "I love you, too," he whispered amid gasping breaths and fitful sobs.

The two maintained the embrace for a long moment, until finally the Potions Master pulled away.

"Ready, Harry?"

Harry took a long, slow, tempering breath, and wiped away his remaining tears with the heels of his hands, allowing only a brief glance at the thin, white paradox carved into the skin on the back of his left hand, and looked up into Snape's dark, cavernous gaze.

"Yes, Professor, I'm ready... for a better future."

- FIN -

I sincerely hope you all have enjoyed this story. If you did, PLEASE review. I would really love to hear your thoughts. And I would also like to know if you think I should write a sequel. I do believe this story does not NEED one... however, I could definitely make it work. So, please, let me know your thoughts.

Special thanks to all of you took the time to review my story… especially YenGirl, Schattengestalt and LittleForest for your kind words and constant encouragement. I appreciate your support!

And, please, stay tuned for my next story which I will be starting very soon. :)