I would like to thank VAspera, Gingerljf175 and Jasmin Kain!

Chapter 9

Ingredients

Monday, July 24, 1995

Harry woke up early. He rolled onto his back and groaned in pain as his buttocks touched the mattress. He blushed with embarrassment, remembering the previous day's events. He was beaten like some stupid kid.

"Fuck," he cursed, wincing as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

A month earlier, Voldemort's Crucio hadn't made him cry, and yesterday a mere Muggle and his belt made him wail like a child. He kept apologizing to Tobias and promising an improvement.

'Yeah, a real hero of the wizarding world.'

Harry went to the bathroom to take a shower. He refrained himself from seeing in the mirror the damage Tobias had caused. After that, he returned to the room and checked his watch. Cursing himself for his sluggishness, the teen put on yesterday's clothes, which were sprawled on the floor, and ran out of the house to get through to Snape's as soon as possible. Harry didn't want to give the man even more weapons to use against him, even though he knew that yesterday's situation was more than enough. At least Harry hadn't had time to stress out.

'Two days. Two days of Snape's tortures, and then it'll be relatively over. I will just avoid Tobias, Nott and the oversized bat. I just need to endure two days,' Harry repeated over and over in his mind as he ran through the park, gritting his teeth at the pain caused by Tobias' beating. Breathless, he finally found the right house and rang the doorbell. The Potions Master, dressed in black as usual, opened the door.

"You're late." Snape let him come in and shut the door behind him. Harry looked at the clock that hung up in front of the entrance. It was precisely three minutes past nine.

Severus gestured for the boy to follow him. They entered a modest but clean kitchen. Snape sat down at the table, and Nott was already there. The latter nodded towards Harry, watching him, as he did the same.

"Sit down, Potter. As you can see, we're still in the middle of breakfast."

With hesitation, grimacing, Harry walked over to the table. He sat down in the vacant chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Snape glared at him, and he looked up defiantly, waiting for a malicious comment.

The older wizard sighed dramatically.

"Have you eaten breakfast yet?

Harry hesitated before shaking his head. The nerves that he felt during the Potions lessons were back in full force. He regretted accepting Snape's offer. It's because of his damned pride and impulsiveness. Now, sitting across from the Slytherins, he saw nothing wrong with waiting until Wednesday to give back the money and then never coming here again. The whole thing wouldn't take more than a few minutes.

"Then help yourself," Snape smirked, pointing his hand at the table, quite copiously set as just the two of them.

"I came here to work off the money I borrowed, not to eat."

"As you can see, Potter, we're having breakfast right now. In the kitchen. And perhaps you've been hit in the head with a bludger too many times if you think I'll let you go to my laboratory just by yourself. So, if you're going to sit here for the next twenty minutes anyway, and you haven't had anything in your mouth yet today, you'll at least make yourself a bloody toast and eat it. I don't need the additional problem of a fainting Boy-Who-Lived." The irritation in Snape's voice grew clearer with each word.

"I don't…"

"Potter, at least once, do something without unnecessary discussion," the teacher interrupted him.

Harry carefully took a slice of bread and smeared it with jam, conscious of Nott's and Snape's gazes on him. After a few seconds, however, the teacher turned his attention to the Slytherin and began to question him about some potions.

As Harry nibbled on his toast, he prayed silently that time would speed up and this awkward moment would be finally over.

He felt Snape's gaze on him again. The man narrowed his eyes but didn't shoot any cutting remarks.

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Half an hour later, they were in the basement. Harry had always wondered why the Potions laboratories were underground. After all, if such a high-powered cauldron exploded in the basement, it could destroy the building's foundations and, as a result, the whole house could collapse. However, if it exploded in the attic, it would destroy just the roof. He wasn't going to ask Snape about it, though.

All the walls in the room were covered with shelves, on which stood potions, ingredients, cauldrons, and some other brewing equipment. There were several tables in the centre, each with a cauldron or two. Harry felt a bit like he was in Potion's classroom at Hogwarts. He had an awful feeling about the next few hours in this place.

Snape headed him to a table by the wall on which lay various potion ingredients.

"Sit down," he said, pointing to a chair. As Harry reluctantly obeyed, the teacher handed him a long parchment.

"Here's a list of the ingredients you need, with a description of how to prepare them and the amount. All ingredients are on the table, and they are labeled. You should be familiar with them by now, but your marks indicate otherwise. There are clean jars." Snape pointed at them with his hand. "Put the prepared ingredients in those. Get to work." Without waiting for an answer, he walked over to Nott, with whom he began talking. Harry was sure the topic of their discussion was potions, so he didn't even bother to listen. He just wanted to do what he was supposed to do, get up from that hard chair and get out of here as soon as possible. Therefore, he picked up the parchment and began to read.

27 crushed frog brains

Seeing the first item, Harry grimaced. This was one of the reasons he hated Potions.

210 ml of leech juice

120g of crushed snake fang

80g of powdered snake tusk

75g of powdered bicorn horn

58 aconite flower leaves

32 cubes (0,4in x 0,4in x 0,4in) of mandrake root

175 g of grated mandrake

The list went on. Reading it, Harry groaned inwardly. He quickly started to work, however, so as not to expose himself to insulting comments.

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"Potter!" Harry jumped in his chair, hearing his name. "How the hell do you think you will powder those snake fangs when you are using the chopping board you just crushed frogs' brains on!? Are you blind?! Can't you see it's all granulating? Not only that, but the surface is wet, it can also cause the properties of the component to be skewed or completely changed by contamination!"

Harry looked at his work. Indeed, he didn't quite manage to powder those fangs. Instead of powder, some lumps would not fall apart.

"'m sorry," he said meekly. He was angry with himself that this oily haired asshole was causing him such irrational fear. He was much more afraid of him than Vernon. His uncle was rather hot-tempered, petty and despised Harry, but over the years, the teen had learned how to deal with him in order to somehow endure. And this overgrown bat was ruthless. And what was worse, Harry grudgingly had to admit, he was intelligent. The man knew how to attack where it hurt the most. But, Dumbledore trusted him. So, that's why even though Harry's very existence made Snape angry, his brother hadn't done anything really bad to him yet. He just sometimes threatened him with poison or Veritaserum in the classroom. However, the teen was convinced that if he had only stepped a little too hard on the teacher's toes, there would not even be dust left of him. And, of course, the Potions Master would have had an indisputable alibi anyway. Harry was also aware that he wouldn't have had the slightest chance if their wands crossed on a battlefield.

"Potter, are you listening to me?" Snape angrily banged his fist on the table. "Merlin, focus, Potter! You have the attention span of a preschooler!"

Harry heard a snort coming from the other side of the room. He gritted his teeth to keep from saying that Snape's hair-washing habit was definitely worse than a preschooler's.

'Two days, I can do it,' he repeated in his mind.

"Throw it away. And start over," the Potions Master drawled. "After each ingredient you prepare, wash the utensils you used thoroughly. There's a sink over there if you haven't noticed yet. There," he pointed at the wall to Harry's left, "is everything you need on the shelf. Clean and dry." Snape stressed the last two words.

Then, he turned and walked over to his bubbling cauldrons. Harry glanced at Nott. The Slytherin was watching this exchange, but oddly enough, he wasn't smiling maliciously.

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"Potter!" Once again, Harry flinched as he heard his name barked by the Potions Master. "Bloody hell, do you even know what a cube is?" Harry looked at the pieces of mandrake he was cutting. "A cube is a geometric solid that has six faces, and each face is a square. In this case, the edge is to be 0,4 inch long. What you have on your cutting board are some octahedrons or dodecahedrons," Snape pointed at the boy's work. "Damn, Potter, try a little!" The man looked at Harry's bony hands, which were now trembling slightly.

"'m sorry, I'm doing what I can." Harry looked down, gritting his teeth. If only Ron were here, he would have made some malicious comments about Snape, which would cheer Harry up and make him relax a little. Harry didn't know how he would have survived those four years of Potions without Ron by his side.

Snape turned on his heel to take care of his cauldrons again. Harry saw Nott add something to one of them, mix it, then walk over to the other and throw in something again. Both Slytherins had nine bubbling cauldrons altogether.

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After some time, Snape extinguished the flame under most of the cauldrons and headed for the exit from the laboratory. He just shook his head as he passed the Gryffindor but held back any nasty comments.

"Nott." Harry tried to get Slytherin's attention. "What are you actually doing here? Why are you staying with Snape?" he noticed the Slytherin hesitated a moment, then shrugged.

"I'd like to be a Potions Master. Snape offered to help me, and I just couldn't refuse. Not everyone has a chance to attend private classes with a Master in this field. Snape is one of the best in Europe."

"And how long are you going to stay here?" asked Harry. He couldn't believe that anybody would like to stay with Snape of his own free will.

"I don't know, probably until the end of holidays," he replied, stirring the Potion.

"What about your family? Do they mind that you spend the entire school year at Hogwarts and then your holidays here?" He was always curious about his peers' family relationships. Aunt Petunia was counting down the days Dudley would be home for holidays, even though he was home every other weekend. Last summer, the woman barely agreed to a week-long camp because she wanted her son with her. Then, according to Ron, each year, the redheads' parents held a little welcome party for their children when they returned from Hogwarts. Mrs. Weasley spent the next week indulging them, cooking their favourite foods and baking cakes.

"Potter, stop talking. I'm brewing two potions at the same time, and Snape won't be happy if I screw them up," Nott said grimly.

"Why are you acting like Snape is Merlin incarnate himself?" he asked after a moment.

"Shut up, Potter. I just don't want him to make my life difficult."

Harry snorted.

"Yeah, right. You Slytherins lick the boots of those in power, and it doesn't matter that they treat you like dirt, and you look down on the others.

"Of course, Potter. But at least I'm not some idiotic Gryffindor who starts a war even if he is doomed to fail. For your information, it's called the self-preservation instinct. Besides, Professor Snape treats me very well."

After a while, the Potions Master returned to the laboratory. He cleared his throat, staring at Harry. The boy barely noticeable straightened his shoulder blades and looked up.

"Potter, usually we have a lunch break at this time. I will not leave you here alone because I know very well how it will end," the man said, looking at him pointedly.

"Seriously, I'm not three years old. I won't touch anything," the boy growled, irritated, and rolled his eyes. Snape had no reason not to trust him so much as to not be able to leave him for half an hour in the potions lab unattended.

Snape ignored his comment.

"You will join us. In the kitchen."

Harry froze. Although he was slowly getting hungry, the thought of having to sit with Nott and Snape at the same table again made him sick.

"Theodore, are you finished?" After the Slytherin confirmed and put out the fire under the cauldrons, Snape ordered them to wash their hands and come upstairs, where he headed himself.

Upon entering the kitchen, Harry looked horrified at the three plates on the table, filled to the brim with food. There was no way he would eat that much without getting sick later. His stomach tightened again, and he felt nauseous. Harry closed his eyes. He knew that if he miraculously swallowed it all, he would get sick, and if he left something, Snape would yell at him for being an ungrateful spoiled brat and wasting food. He will probably still refer to yesterday's situation. And all of this in front of Nott, who will pass everything to Malfoy. Harry found himself at a dead end. He knew, either way, it wouldn't end well for him. He couldn't help but moan.

This caught Nott's attention, who looked at him questioningly, and Harry threw him a dirty look.

Nott took his seat. Snape put a cup of coffee by his plate and motioned for Harry to join. The boy reluctantly sat down in the same place as in the morning. The food looked really inviting. There was roasted chicken, blanched vegetables, and mashed potatoes. If only he had such food at home, he would undoubtedly have eaten most of it. But not here when he was a nervous wreck. He looked at Snape. The man poured the water into the glasses containing the tea leaves, then put his hand in his robe pocket.

Harry frowned.

The teacher put a hot drink next to Harry's and Nott's plates.

"You put something in my tea," Harry snapped accusingly.

"No, you idiot. I'm not going to poison you." The man pointed his head at Nott. "At least not in front of a witness," he added, smiling ominously.

"Veritaserum... It's colourless and odourless, and you've already threatened me with it..."

"Bravo Potter, you've finally learned something about Potions," he said dismissively.

Harry was sure Snape had put something into his tea. Maybe nothing lethal, but something that will humiliate him or be painful. The man had threatened him more than once. Harry decided not to drink it. He looked down at his plate piled with food and hesitated. If Snape thought Harry was an arrogant, spoiled bastard anyway, there was nothing to lose. Maybe he could even get his teacher to kick him out of the house now, and he won't have to come here tomorrow.

Harry closed his eyes for a second. Then, he opened them and, looking straight at Snape, said:

"I'm not gonna eat it. It looks disgusting. And… I don't like it." His words sounded so inappropriate that he himself winced at them. Yesterday he would have given a lot to eat such a nice dinner. For half of his life with the Dursleys, he'd dreamed of such food.

The teen waited tensely for Snape's reaction. He wondered if it had upset his teacher enough that he would try to strike him or if he would just start yelling and kick him out.

However, Snape did neither of those. He just took a deep breath, trying to keep his composure, and got up from the table. He took a clean glass from the cupboard, poured some of the boy's tea into it and, without taking his eyes off his student, drank it in one gulp.

Harry looked away.

"Now, Potter. You will be a good boy and drink it without a fuss, and if at least two-thirds of this plate doesn't disappear in twenty minutes, I'll cast a sticking spell on you and won't take it back until you've eaten it all. And I don't care if it takes you half a day or half a month."

"You can't…"

"Yes, Potter, I can. And I think now you should end this childish tantrum because time flies." He nodded toward the clock on the wall. It was 12:30. Another hour and a half and Harry could get out of this horrid house.

Reluctantly, he picked up his fork and took his first bite. He had to admit, it was delicious. Snape could cook well. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising at all. After all, he was a Potions Master. On the other hand, it was not a determinant because Harry was also a great cook. Still, he was hopeless on the hated subject.

He looked at Snape, who was now talking to Nott. Finally, he left Harry alone.

The teen looked at the clock. Ten minutes had passed, he wasn't even halfway through, and he was already feeling full. What if Snape fulfills his threat, and Harry will be trapped here until the evening? He won't be able to go to football practice. Tobias will find out and definitely won't be happy about it. Harry was sure he couldn't bear another beating so soon. Panic slowly started overwhelming him, and the boy felt sick. He couldn't get up from the table; Snape probably won't let him go. Harry decided to have some tea after all. He tasted it. It was herbal and bitter. He drank almost all of it. He hoped it would ease his stomach at least a little.

Fortunately, it helped. Nausea completely stopped.

He had seven minutes left. The Slytherins ignored him. They were finishing eating themselves. Harry took the fork in his hand again. Fortunately, thanks to the fact that he no longer felt like he wanted to throw up, the food tasted even better. When twenty minutes had passed, the boy was not able to swallow any more, not even a single bite. He felt so heavy that he would gladly go to sleep. His stomach was so full that Harry thought it might explode. He looked uncertainly at Snape, who was starting to pick up the plates. The man just nodded and didn't pull out his wand. Harry slowly put his fork down, never taking his eyes off the teacher, and pushed the plate away. Tensely, he waited for a comment. Snape took the dish, threw away the leftovers and put it into the sink. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

They went back to the laboratory. Harry sat down in his seat and began chopping the valerian root. Fortunately, his companions began to ignore him again. He looked at the list. The boy knows he didn't have the slightest chance to finish it. On the other hand, Snape said he would pay him per hour. Harry wondered if he would amend it depending on how much Harry will fail to do? At the Dursleys, failure to complete the entire list of chores meant a huge row. Harry gulped. Admittedly, he never broke the record of the boa constrictor incident—three weeks spent in his cupboard, living only on scraps which he didn't even get every day. In fact, even a week there was quite hard. Snape's company always reminded him of the Dursleys. No matter what he did, it was always wrong, and when he did make an actual mistake, he remembered the lesson for a long time. Though Snape had never really punished him this much. In fact, he rarely gave him a detention, but he loved to humiliate him in public.

On the other hand, at lunch, the man had eased up on him a little. He didn't proceed with his threat, even though Harry didn't quite meet his expectations. He looked at the list and hastened his work.

"Potter, clean up after yourself, and you can go." Snape's voice snapped Gryffindor out of his thoughts. He was so immersed in work that he lost track of time.

He started cleaning up, then, when he summoned up his courage, added:

"I haven't finished the whole list."

"You'll finish tomorrow. Nine o'clock, you are going to be here." He looked at the Gryffindor. "Understood?"

"Yes."

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"What did you put in his tea, professor?" asked Theodore after Snape escorted Potter to the door.

"Why are you so sure I added something?"

"Potter said he saw."

"He did not see anything." Theodore raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "You don't believe me? So, let's try it. There is Potter's tea glass upstairs. Check if I have added anything to his tea. If you think I did, then you have to say what exactly I added. If you succeed, Slytherin will get fifty points at the beginning of the year, but if you don't, you'll get detention with Filch. You have time until the end of August. So, what do you say?" Snape smirked at the young Slytherin.

"Okay, deal," the teen grinned at the teacher.

Theodore headed towards the kitchen to get the glass when Snape's voice stopped him.

"But before you start, go over the ingredients Potter had prepared, please. Save whatever you can and throw the rest away."

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Tuesday, July 25, 1995

Working for Snape was as enjoyable as the day before—more or less like pulling out your toenails with tweezers. The earned money was by no means worth it. And Harry would prefer to go out for tea with Voldemort than go back to 37 Flukey Road. He promised himself that his feet would never cross Snape's doorstep ever again.

When it struck two, the Potions Master allowed him to finish, and Harry was finally able to rise from the stone-hard chair that was not kind at all to his bruised buttocks. He cleared his workstation as quickly as he could, and the teacher escorted him to the door. Harry was about to grab the doorknob to open the door when Snape stopped him.

"Potter," Snape said, handing him the money.

The boy looked at him suspiciously. He noticed that the man was holding two notes—a twenty-pound and five-pound—but he didn't reach out to get them.

He was sure it was some kind of trap. There was more money than it should have been after paying for the purchases at Mrs. Maggie's. It also seemed that the Potions Master had not docked anything, neither for breaks nor for breakfasts or lunches. And Harry had learned long ago that when it comes to people like Snape, nothing was for free. He remembered very well the gift he had received from his aunt and uncle for his fourth birthday.

One day, while helping his aunt to carry the shopping bags, Harry saw a lovely white teddy bear with silver-grey eyelets and a green bow around his neck at a toy store window. He paused to look at it. The bear seemed so sad that Harry thought that he would like to be his friend. The stuffed animal could sleep with him in the cupboard under the stairs. Even then, the Dursleys used to lock him there as a punishment. Maybe not for long, but these several, sometimes over a dozen, hours in a cramped room was really boring for him, so at least he would have company there. Recently, he started to understand the concept of birthdays. Dudley had celebrated it a few days earlier. He had gotten loads of toys—from his parents, from his friends who had come to his birthday party, from Aunt Marge, and even from Aunt Petunia's friend Ivone. So, Harry knew you got presents for your birthday. He had no friends, and he was sure Aunt Marge hated him because she thought his mom was a bitch, and his dad was a lazy, unemployed drunk (but he was confident his mom was human, not a dog, so Aunt Marge was ill-informed). But...maybe Mrs. Figg would give him something, or that friend of Aunt Petunia's—Ivone, who couldn't dislike Harry yet because she didn't know him (Aunt Petunia always made Harry sit in his cupboard when she came to visit them). However, he quietly dreamed that although his aunt and uncle didn't like him very much, maybe they would give him something. Dudley got twenty-three presents from them, so perhaps they'll buy at least one for him. So, he asked his aunt if he could get this teddy bear for his birthday. When she heard his request, she just pursed her lips and said they had no money for rubbish. Then she grabbed his arm and yanked him away from the window.

Still, on the morning of July 31, Harry, hoping he might get a gift from someone, entered the kitchen. Uncle Vernon was already sitting at the table reading the newspaper while Aunt Petunia set breakfast on the plates. When the boy saw the teddy bear he had dreamed of for several days, lying on the table, he was struck dumb. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like it was about to pop out of his chest. He was afraid to ask if the teddy was for him. He wouldn't bear the refusal. He looked hopefully at Uncle Vernon, but the man ignored him completely, so he looked at his aunt.

"Happy birthday, Harry," my aunt said, smiling. The smile, however, did not reach her eyes.

"Yes, boy, happy birthday," growled his uncle over the newspaper.

"Harry, you're already a big boy, aren't you?"

"Yes," he nodded, staring greedily at the teddy bear.

"You are almost an adult. Here you go, this is your gift," she said, handing him the toy.

Harry couldn't believe his luck. He stroked the teddy bear's fluffy head with his fingertips as if afraid he might destroy it. Its fur was so incredibly soft.

"Thank you," he said in a trembling, emotional voice.

It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever owned. He never wanted to let go of it again.

At this point, Dudley appeared in the kitchen. Rushing to the table, he pushed Harry, standing in his way, sat down, and began eating breakfast. Harry lost his balance and crashed against the kitchen table.

"Boy, put your teddy bear on the worktop and have breakfast."

The boy did not want to let go of the toy, but not wanting to dirty it either, he obeyed his aunt. As fast as he could, he ate what was on his plate to get back to his plushie. When finished, he got up from the table and headed for the toy, but Aunt Petunia stopped him.

"Harry. You said you were almost grown upright?" Harry, not knowing where she was heading, nodded. "So, tell me, where do we get the food?"

"From the shop."

"And do we take it for free?"

"No."

"That's right. We pay for it. And tell me, what are we paying with?"

"Money." Even though he felt more and more impatient, Harry decided to politely answer his aunt's questions so as not to anger her.

"And where do we get money from?"

"Uncle's work."

"Yes, your uncle is a responsible man and earns money. And since you are big yourself, you also need to start making a living."

"But Dudley's older than me, and he doesn't make a living." He pointed to Dudley, who was already stuffing himself with a third serving of bacon.

"You are right; however, Dudley is our son, and it is our duty to provide him with everything. You don't have a mom or dad, so you have to earn your own money," her lips curved with a malicious smile while she was calmly explaining it to him. Harry froze. His aunt's face was telling him that something very unpleasant was about to happen. "We took you in. And yes, you should be grateful to us. But now you are old enough that you should start earning your keep. We cannot afford to feed all foundlings for free. At least you have a place to sleep. So, as you ate breakfast, now you have to pay us for it."

"But I don't have any money." He still couldn't understand his aunt's words, but he knew it was something terrible and tears appeared in his eyes.

"No?" Harry shook his head. "I'm sorry, but in this case I have to give back the toy. We need to return it to the store so that you can pay for breakfast.

"No. Please, don't do that." Harry looked at her pleadingly.

"I'm sorry. There's no such thing as a free lunch. You've eaten so, bring me the teddy bear."

"Please, this is my friend. I promise I'll do anything."

"Give me the toy, now!"

"No, I won't give it back!" Harry started crying in earnest but still didn't pass the toy.

"Stop bawling immediately and bring the toy, you horrible child!"

Harry started crying even louder.

"It's unfair! I want my mom and dad! I won't give you my teddy bear! Dudley has plenty of toys, and I only have my teddy!" Harry screamed louder and louder and began to stamp his feet. This was the first time he had gotten so angry. He felt so hurt and so sorry, but he didn't know what to do to prevent them from taking his toy away.

"Petunia, stop him from screaming so loud, I'm reading here!" grunted Vernon from behind his newspaper.

"Spank him, Mum, spank him!" Dudley shouted, his mouth full of food.

"Shut up! You damned brat!" Petunia shouted.

"Listen to your Aunt," growled Uncle Vernon, but his words were drowned out by the sound of a bursting chandelier.

Everyone was shocked for a moment. Harry calmed down, looking up.

Petunia quickly recovered. She walked over to Harry, grabbed his arm and gave him a few smacks on the bottom, making the boy sob again.

"Say goodbye to the bear because this is the last time you see it. Now, go outside and weed the beds if you want to earn dinner!" Pulling him hard by his arm, she led him to the back yard. "And stop wailing, or I'll really give you a reason to!"

Leaving Harry crying on the grass, she returned to the kitchen to her family.

A few hours later, a sunburnt Harry saw Dudley and his friend Dennis kick his teddy bear's head.

"Potter… Potter, can you hear me?"

Harry snapped himself out of his thoughts and looked at Snape.

The boy had no idea what to do. He didn't want to be indebted to Snape because he knew the man would take something Harry cared about later when he least expected it.

Snape was even worse than the Dursleys. If Harry wasn't careful enough, he was sure the Potion Master would destroy him.

"I don't want it, but thanks." As he said that, he looked at the man defiantly. He felt more and more nervous. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

"Take it, Potter. You've earned it," said Snape, gritting his teeth. He took one ominous step towards the boy so that they were less than half a meter away from each other.

Harry's eyes widened. He turned on his heel, trying to open the door. But he was too slow because Severus waved his wand and the bolt slid.

"Potter, turn to me and tell me what's going around in your stupid mind."

Harry only started tugging harder and harder on the door handle.

"Let me out, Snape."

"It's Professor Snape to you. Look at me."

"No, let me out."

"No."

After a few moments, seeing that it was useless, Harry lost his hold on the handle and turned slowly towards Snape. The man looked impassive and folded his arms across his chest.

"Have you stopped being hysterical? Good," he said when Harry nodded. "I won't let you go until you take the money you've earned."

"But there's more in here."

"Potter, I rounded the amount. That's what you sometimes do."

"What about the breaks, lunches, and breakfasts? I didn't need..."

"You did. And whether you wanted to is a completely different matter. Just shut up, take it and get lost." Snape rubbed his temple, trying to get rid of the impending headache.

Without meeting Snape's eyes, he took the money. The man waved his wand without saying a word. As soon as Harry heard the soft sound of the door unlocking, he turned quickly, pressed the handle and ran out into the street.

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Harry threw himself onto the bed. He knew he had made a laughing stock of himself even bigger than usual. He was sure the Slytherins would never let it go. The stories from his holidays will be the number one news in their common room. He could imagine their laughter already. Malfoy won't let it rest at least until Christmas.

"I hope that once they start laughing, they won't be able to stop until they literally burst", he muttered grimly.

Harry banged his head on the pillow a few times. He was the biggest fool in the world. He had to pull himself together, stop acting like a moron, and begin to control himself.

At least those two hellish days were practically over. And Harry was going to bring his plan for a relatively quiet rest of summer into force. One month in Cokeworth left, and the teen decided it would be a month without any mishaps. He's gonna do his bloody homework, try to open that bloody trunk, get out of bloody Tobias' way, and avoid the bloody Slytherins.

His thought was disturbed by the sound of the front door opening. He looked at his watch. It was already after five o'clock. He had lain on his bed for several hours again. After a moment, he heard Tobias' voice calling him downstairs. He groaned. Apart from one comment that he deserved "ass whooping", the man acted as if the Sunday incident had not happened. As if he hadn't knocked him about so severely that Harry was still bruised. Harry would like to stay in bed forever and never get out. Never. However, as ignoring Tobias wasn't a very smart idea, he reluctantly got out of bed and headed towards the kitchen.

On the table, he saw several shopping bags with the logo of a nearby marker.

"Catch it, Harry." Tobias tossed him a candy bar. Of course, Harry's reflexes did not disappoint him.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Have you eaten dinner yet?" As Harry nodded, Tobias continued: "Then go to Maggie and give her the money back." Tobias tossed thirty pounds on the table. "And take the keys; I'm leaving."

"Okay," Harry replied, then started putting on his shoes. He had no intention of telling Tobias about his older son's involvement in recent purchases at a local store. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling the man wouldn't be pleased.

"Put the hoodie on because it got chilly!"

"Okay." He said, rolling his eyes. Somehow Tobias didn't mind that he was the reason that Harry could barely play football at practice on Monday, and now he kind of cares if the teen gets a little cold. 'Where was the logic in that?'

As he walked towards his swing, he noticed Nott sitting on a bench in the distance. As usual, there was a book in his hand. Fortunately, the bench stood at such an angle that the boy's chances of noticing Harry were very slim.

If he could somehow get both Snape and Nott forced to keep their mouths shut about what was going on in Cokeworth... Swaying slightly, he watched the boy. The Slytherin hasn't turned a page in the book for several minutes. He didn't even look at it. Harry followed Nott's gaze. Mary and Chloe were sitting on the opposite bench, talking. And Nott was smiling at them. Suddenly Harry saw the solution to his problem. At least when it came to Nott. He just hoped the boy smiled like that at the sight of Chloe because the day before, on the way back home from the football practice, Oasis was telling Harry about his date with Mary.

Completely ignoring his decision to avoid the Slytherin, Harry approached him from behind.

"Do you like her?" Harry's voice surprised the other teen so much that he jumped. "You like Chloe. You keep staring at her."

Nott turned red.

"Don't be stupid, Potter. She's a Muggle."

Harry grinned. And sat down next to him on the bench.

"Then you like a Muggle."

"Shut up. Don't talk rubbish," said Nott angrily.

"Hmm... You turned beet red when I asked you ... I wonder how your father and his master will react to the information about who infatuated you." Harry knew it was a blow below the belt, but he had to somehow silence Nott, even if it was just empty threats. This was the only weak point of the Slytherin he knew.

"Potter. It. Is. Not. Your. Business." The boy ground out. "Anyway, I doubt that such a heroic Gryffindor like you would risk not only mine but also the innocent girl's life."

"You know if I don't have a choice..." Harry shrugged. "Unless we make a deal so that neither of us will spill out at Hogwarts that we even saw each other this summer." Harry sneered a little.

"So, that's the ticket!"

"Mhmm. But you have more to lose."

"I doubt it."

"I will at most be laughed at, and..."

"Potter, when you're trying to use the Slytherin ruse," Nott interrupted him. "Then at least don't talk more than you should and don't show what you're afraid of."

"This is not a Slytherin ruse. This is a fair deal. I won't say anything, and you won't, as well. So, do we have a deal?"

"As you wish, Potter. If it makes you happy." The truth was, Snape told him not to mention that he had any contact with Gryffindor at all. "Potter, you're still here," he added after a moment.

"Nothing gets past you, Nott." The Slytherin snorted. "Er...what are you reading?" Harry asked, after a moment of silence.

Theodore raised his eyebrows, surprised by the question.

"Martin Eden."

"It's a Muggle book."

"Nothing gets past you, Potter," he shrugged.

This time Harry couldn't help and laughed. He noticed that Chloe, the girl Nott was watching, was staring in their direction while saying something to her friend.

"Nott, look at them." When he did, Chloe smiled at him. The Slytherin blushed, then he looked at his watch ostentatiously.

"I have to go. Bye, Potter." He left without waiting for an answer.

Thanks for comments. They really motivate me!