Life Debt

Harry leant back heavily against the trunk of an apple tree in the Burrow's orchard. From time to time the wind carried voices to his hiding place but most of the time it was very quiet there. With the sinking sun painting the sky in hues of red and orange, the scene even looked peaceful, hadn't it been for the silhouette of Fred's tomb.

It was nothing fancy like Dumbledore's but a simple piece of rock. George and Mr. Weasley had fetched it from the other side of the hill. George said it had been Fred's favourite spot to sit when the twins roamed the woods around their home in more peaceful, safer times.

Harry was brought out of his brooding by soft footfalls.

"Here you are." Ginny sat beside him, leaning against his left arm, resting her head against his shoulder. Her hair smelled of lilies. The girl shared the silence of the place for a few minutes before she straightened. "McGonagall firecalled. He's awake."

Harry nodded. He had asked the headmistress to notify him once Snape was awake. For the past two weeks Harry had prayed to whichever god would listen to him to let the potions master survive the ordeal he had gone through.

When Harry had rushed to the Shrieking Shack after Voldemort's downfall he had found the man barely alive. Luckily the Hogwarts house elves wouldn't let the headmaster die. Five of the little creatures had been fighting for the wizard's life frantically for hours and as soon as Harry had told them that the castle was safe once more, they had taken him to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey finished what the elves had started.

Snape had lost a considerable amount of blood, nearly too much, and hadn't it been for the expertly brewed Bloodreplenishing Potion at hand, he would have died despite the house elves' first aid. Harry thought that the man was going to appreciate being saved by a potion once he was well enough to do so.

"He wants to speak to you," Ginny continued. "McGonagall says tomorrow would be fine."

Harry acknowledged the message with a nod and a chaste kiss pressed to Ginny's forehead. "Thanks."

"I'm glad he's awake," muttered the girl, settling back to the spot at Harry's shoulder. "I want to thank him for saving you."

"For saving us all," Harry corrected her softly. He freed his left arm from under the sweet weight of Ginny and wrapped it around the girl's shoulder.

"Us all," she agreed.

Harry bent down to kiss her again and this time the kiss was all but chaste.

-x-

It was good to be back at Hogwarts. The traces of the battle were still fresh, but here and there first repairs had been performed. In a way, it looked like the castle was a living entity whose wounds were healing little by little.

Harry met a group of Ministry wizards near the Great Hall. They were working to restore the vast room where young witches and wizards had met for their meals for a millennium before it had been damaged in the battle against the darkest of wizards.

One of them spotted Harry and signalled his co-workers. They stopped their spell-casting and the leader of the group, a man in his sixties, walked up to Harry.

"Mr. Potter," he said respectfully and hinted a bow. "We were just about to finish here. Would you like to have a look?"

Actually, Harry would have preferred to go straight to the Hospital Wing, but the expectant expressions on the workers' faces left him no choice. "Why not," he smiled.

"Ambrose Watson," the gaffer introduced himself. "We've restored the windows and pillars, just like they were. It was easy. Everybody has spent seven years at Hogwarts and remembers how they were supposed to look like. We've added a little something though." He led the way to the middle of the room, where a brass plate was placed on the floor.

"This is the spot where Harry James Potter defeated the dark wizard Lord Voldemort to save us all," the plate read.

Harry blushed. "This is too much!" he protested weakly.

"On the contrary, Mr. Potter," Mr. Watson smiled. "We think whatever we do cannot be enough. We were thinking about replacing the statue of Gryffindor with yours, but the headmistress insists you wouldn't want the founder of your house replaced." He looked at Harry hopefully as if expecting him to order Gryffindor be thrown out. When Harry said nothing of that kind he cleared his throat.

"We were just going to reinstall the ceiling." The man looked at his co-workers for backup. "And we were wondering whether you would honour us by..." he hesitated.

"What is it that you want to ask?" Harry looked from one wizard to the other.

"We were wondering, since you are here, whether you would cast the final spell."

"You want me to put the sky on the ceiling?" Harry had no idea how to do that!

"Well, we had no idea you would come," Mr. Watson said apologetically. "We're nearly finished. All it takes is a simple Lumos spell, but we would consider it a great honour."

Harry cleared his throat and drew his wand. "The honour is all mine," he said solemnly. He pointed his wand up at the ceiling. "Lumos!" A small spark of light left the tip of his wand and when it hit the ceiling it set up a myriad of little sparkles, it looked like fireworks. When the sparkling had ceased, the ceiling showed the vivid blue of the summer sky outside, with a small cloud here and there.

The Ministry wizards clapped and admired Harry's handiwork. When a thestral flew across the sky with slow strokes of wings, there was an uproar.

"Unbelievable!" a red bearded man cried.

"That's completely unheard of!" cried another.

"I'm sorry," Harry hurried to apologize, unsure what he had done wrong. "I didn't mean to spoil your work."

"Spoil?" cried Mr. Watson. "The quality of the image depends on the power of the wizard who switches it on. Even Albus Dumbledore wasn't able to put bypassing animals on the ceiling!" In awe, the group watched a robin flutter by.

Embarrassed, Harry took his leave, pointing out that he had an appointment with the headmistress.

McGonagall awaited him by the stone gargoyle guarding the headmaster's office. "It seems the castle regards Severus fit enough to fulfil his duties as headmaster," she smiled. "It let me enter his office while he was unconscious, but since yesterday, the beast won't move for me." She motioned Harry to precede her to the hospital wing.

"How is he?" the boy asked.

"Poppy says he's better than she dared hope for in this short time. He's terribly thin and pale, but that's easily understood given his condition when you found him."

Severus Snape was sitting in his hospital bed, several pillows tucked behind him to lean on. The man was, indeed, pale and thin like death himself. The impression of sickness was strengthened by the bandages around his throat. His hair hung in strands and his hands, which were currently holding a copy of the Daily Prophet, were so thin you could see the bones.

McGonagall stopped at the door to the hospital wing. "I'll go and see Poppy," she said softly. "Call if you need anything."

Harry nodded and stepped into the room.

"Good morning, Professor," he said softly.

"Potter," the man on the bed snarled as a greeting. The deep voice Harry had come to fear as a student sounded hoarse, probably as a reminder of Nagini's bites. He motioned Harry closer and pointed at a chair by his bedside.

Harry sat awkwardly. He had hoped for a chance to speak to the man, but now that he was here, he was lost for words. How did you thank a man who had saved you over and over again and finally had been ready to give his own life to save yours?

Under the intense gaze of the potions master, Harry felt like he was eleven again.

"Sir," he started at last, looking up from his hands into the man's dark eyes. "I wanted to thank..." The memory of when he had last looked into Snape's eyes left Harry lost for words. He had been convinced the man was dying then.

"A simple thank you won't do, Potter," snarled Snape.

"What?" Harry piped. Here he was, humbled by what Snape had done for him and the man didn't appreciate his gratitude at all? Instead he was being nasty!

"As I wasn't able to do more than read," Snape shook the newspaper he was holding, "for the past three days, I have a rather accurate image of the public opinion on me."

Harry hung his head. "It's completely unfair," he admitted. "I swear I told them what you did and that you are a hero in this war, but..." he gestured at the newspaper helplessly.

"They suggest I be grateful I don't get the Kiss for killing Albus and remove myself from polite society," Snape finished the sentence. "However," he paused, "this is not acceptable. I don't expect monuments, but is it asked too much to continue my life?"

"No, Sir," Harry agreed solemnly, "that's not asked too much. You deserve their gratitude."

"Well, as they're not ready to leave me in peace, I will have to resort to ... other means. You are aware that you owe me a life debt, Potter, aren't you?"

Harry nodded.

"As much as I hate to do it," Snape didn't look uncomfortable at all, "I have to demand you pay for that debt."

Harry nodded again. He was the heir to the Potter and Black fortunes, he could easily afford to give Snape whatever he considered an appropriate reward. "How much do you want?" he asked.

"How much?" Snape sneered. "You misunderstand me. Money will not buy me social standing. You will do that."

"What?" Harry was confused. "I don't understand."

"What a surprise." Snape shook his newspaper. "You will allow me to adopt you," he then elaborated. "They won't dare treat the father of the Golden Boy like a social outcast." The potions master glared at Harry, daring him to refuse, but Harry was too dumbfounded.

"You want to do what?" he cried at last.

Snape smiled a lopsided smile. "I want to adopt you," he repeated. "You carrying the Snape name will wash it clean of fault. I'd appreciate it of you took care of the legal issues as I'm not really in a condition to do so at the time being." Snape gestured at the Hospital Wing at large.

Harry sat in silence for several minutes while the potions master returned to his reading. From time to time the boy opened his mouth to say something, but no sound would come out.

"You can't be serious!" Harry cried at last.

"I've never been more serious about a thing in my life," Snape informed him, looking up from his newspaper. "Rest assured, should you refuse, I will make it a well known fact that you, Mr. Potter, are an ungrateful brat."

-x-

"Well, part of me understands his reasoning," sighed Mr. Weasley. "They have all but asked his head in the Prophet and we all know the influence that paper has on the public opinion." The balding wizard scratched his head.

"He wants me to give up my father's name and carry his!" Harry cried in protest.

"I've understood that," Mr. Weasley assured the boy. "And I think he's right. They will not dare mess with him once you carry his name."

"But that's cruel," Ron chimed in. The whole Weasley family and Harry were assembled around the kitchen table at the Burrow. "He hates Harry and Harry hates him! How can he expect Harry to go through with that plan?"

"I can understand he feels he has sacrificed enough," mused Molly. "He must be desperate if he asks that of you."

"Hee only wants youu tou carry the name, n`est-ce pas?" said Fleur. "Hee does not want tou really bee part of your life."

Harry's heart sank. Snape hadn't said anything about a real father and son relationship, but what if he wanted that, too?

"I don't think so," Mr. Weasley soothed. "Severus wants to be left alone, that's all. Anyway, you can't refuse, Harry. It would ruin your reputation, hero or not. A life debt is a debt of honour."

Harry sighed. "So I will be Harry Snape?"

Everybody present nodded. Ginny took Harry's hand in hers. "I will love you no matter what your name is."

George giggled. "You can still take Ginny's name when you..." He fell silent when the girl glared at him.

-x-

The act of adoption was very short since Harry was of age. Mr. Weasley recommended a lawyer and two days later, Mr. Featherly and Harry went to Hogwarts to have the papers signed.

First Snape, looking smug, signed the parchment. Then Harry signed twice, once with his old name and then with his new name, Harry James Snape. He had tried to keep Potter as a middle name, but Snape wouldn't have it.

The moment Harry had lifted the quill from the parchment, it disappeared to the Ministry in a shower of golden sparks.

"Congratulations," said the lawyer. "You are now father and son. I wish you joy." He bowed and left.

"So, what now, Dad?" Harry put as much venom as possible into the last word.

"Now we wait for the reporters," smiled Snape, unimpressed by Harry's attitude. "And don't try to be cheeky, Potter. It's unbecoming."

"Don't forget, it's Snape now," Harry smirked. "You have just deprived yourself of your favourite insult."

-x-

The Daily Prophet had a field day. They easily made the front page. "Wizarding hero adopted by his mentor" the headline informed the magical community. Below it a photograph of Harry sitting on the edge of Snape's sickbed allowing himself to be hugged took most of the rest of the page.

The next two pages were filled with an interview in which Harry once again informed the reader about Snape's heroic part in the war and Snape revealed how much he had suffered by being unable to adopt his best friend's orphaned son earlier. Mrs. Weasley was in tears when she read that part.

Several pages more were filled with interviews of various people who had witnessed the secret fatherly affection Snape had held for Harry ever since he had entered Hogwarts – Minerva McGonagall, Hagrid and Gilderoy Lockhart among them – and others who knew about the admiration Harry had held for the potions master ever since he had met him. One of the latter was Harry Potter's – no Snape's! – best friend, Ronald Weasley, whom Harry himself had asked for his view of the whole matter.

The public was perfectly fooled. Within a week everybody was convinced that the adoption had been Harry and Snape's secret heart's desire for years.

-x-

It was nearly the end of August, when a whole flock of owls winged its way to the Burrow. The Weasleys as well as their house guests, Harry and Hermione, awaited them full of anticipation. The owls delivered Hogwarts letters not only to Ginny, who had been awaiting hers anxiously, but also to Harry, Ron and Hermione and even to George!

The headmaster, Severus Snape, offered all students who had not taken their NEWTs due to the war to return to Hogwarts and graduate at the end of the year.

"That's good of him," said Mrs. Weasley. "I was so worried about Ronald's future, with him not having finished his education. And you, George, can finally take your finals! Isn't that wonderful?"

Ron made a face, but George glared at his mother angrily. "You don't expect me to give up the shop for NEWTs, do you? You can't be serious! I have a business, I'm my own boss, who cares about NEWTs!" he threw his arms up in the air in a gesture of anger.

"I think he's right, Molly," said Mr. Weasley. "It would be foolish to give up a thriving business."

"I see your point, George," admitted Mrs. Weasley. "But Ronald is not a business man. You will attend school, young man!"

Before Ron could utter a word of protest, Hermione had wrapped her arm around his. "Of course we will go to Hogwarts, Mrs. Weasley," she said cheerfully. "Oh, I hope they could save the library!"

"Most of it, dear," Mr. Weasley informed her. As most wizards had more pressing things on their mind than temper with muggle artefacts at the time being, his office was helping rebuild Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley was in charge of the Muggle Studies department as the teacher who had last occupied the rooms was dead.

"Wonderful," Hermione enthused. "Maybe I can help with the rest. And Harry and Ron will help, too, won't you?"

"Whatever would Harry return to Hogwarts for?" asked Ron. "He's the Wizard Who Killed Voldemort. Nobody is going to ask about his NEWTs ever."

"He will go because he wants to set a good example for the kids." Mrs. Weasley clasped her arms to her breast. She glared at Harry challengingly.

"Of course I will. It's not like I have other plans yet," Harry said modestly.

"Besides being a celebrity?" Ron laughed.

"And that way we can see each other every day," Ginny pointed out merrily. Harry blushed.

-x-

The first sight of the student crowd in the Great Hall made it clear that this was going the most difficult year at Hogwarts ever. There were seven regular years of students. In addition there were Harry and his classmates, who had missed all or most of their seventh year, and dozens of muggle-born students who had missed a school year or hadn't even set foot into the castle although they were already twelve.

The seating arrangements had been slightly changed. The Slytherin house table was much smaller than in the past because that house had lost most students, some during the battle, others because their parents thought they'd be singled out at Hogwarts and had sent them to other schools. The space that had been freed by minimizing the Slytherin table was now filled with the eighth year's table.

When Harry, Ron and Hermione sat down, many students from the other tables craned their necks to see them better.

"I just hope they will stop doing that," muttered Harry.

"Not very likely," drawled a well-known voice from the other side of the table. "Don't forget you are a hero and the headmaster's son." Draco Malfoy smiled. "You'll have to learn to ignore those who are beneath you. I can help you there."

"By doing what? Volunteering as a guinea pig?" Ron sneered at the blond boy.

"I was not talking to you, Weasley," the Slytherin hissed through gritted teeth.

Harry put a calming hand on Ron's arm. "Stop it. I won't ignore anybody. Good to see you back, Malfoy." He extended a hand and the blond shook it.

"Listen!" Hermione hissed and pointed to the front of the room, where the headmaster had gotten to his feet to speak to his students.

"Welcome back," Snape said in his still hoarse voice. "I'm happy to see so many of you well and eager to resume their studies. And I mourn for those who aren't." He paused for a minute. "You will find that this school year is different from past ones due to the bigger number of different courses we need to hold. Eighth years, you will not be under the tutulage of your former heads of houses but I will take care of your schedules personally. You will also not share your old dormitories, but have your own living area. Please wait for further instructions after the feast." At the end of the speech, Snape touched his plate with his wand and the food appeared on the house tables.

"Did you know about that?" Malfoy asked while he ladled soup into his bowl.

Harry shook his head. "I had no idea."

"Dad not sharing his plans?" Malfoy teased and Harry didn't grace the blond with an answer.

"A pity we won't be living at Gryffindor Tower," said Ron in between two bites of roast beef. "Ginny won't like it."

"I guess we still can visit," Harry pointed out.

Ron swallowed the bite he was chewing on. "Still, it's not the same."

"It won't hurt to have a place to study with no noisy first years around," Hermione pointed out.

Snape came to their table after the younger students had been sent off to their dormitories. "We don't have room for an extra year in the houses," he explained without preamble. "Therefore we prepared quarters at the East Tower for you."

"A tower, Sir?" asked Gregory Goyle. "Can't we have rooms in the dungeons?"

"The East Tower is the only area we could prepare at short notice," Snape explained. "Each of you will have a room for their own. There are common areas where you can meet. Therefore no guests are allowed in the bedrooms." He shot stern glares at the couples among the eighth years. "I also have to inform you that with enormous number of students each of you can only attend three NEWT courses. I know it's the minimum of NEWTs required to graduate but we simply don't have enough teachers to cover more lessons."

"But Sir," protested Malfoy, "three NEWTs? Nobody will employ us with only three. It's as good as having failed!"

Hermione agreed. "I have been preparing for at least seven!" she protested. "Can we at least sit the exams if we manage to prepare in self studies?"

"You are free to sit as many exams as you want," confirmed Snape.

"What about we take over some first year lessons?" Harry offered. "That way the teachers would have more time for our courses."

Snape looked at his adopted son, deep in thought. "What are you ready to teach," he then asked.

"Defence," Harry said with more confidence than he felt. "Up to fifth year, if need be."

The headmaster shook his head. "No, you can't prepare students for their OWLs, you're not a fully qualified teacher. Who else is ready to teach?"

"I can teach Potions," suggested Malfoy. "If it buys me more classes."

Snape nodded. Hermione volunteered for 'whatever was needed'. Parvati and Lavender were ready to give Divination lessons, Neville claimed Herbology and Gregory Goyle surprised everybody by volunteering for Charms. "What! That was my only O in an OWL," he cried when everybody gasped.

"I can't promise anything," Snape said at last, "but I will look into it." Then he showed the group of eighth years to their new home.

The entrance to the East Tower was on the fourth floor. The entrance was hidden behind a heavy brocade tapestry which could only be moved aside after uttering the password ('Common House'). The room into which they stepped was circular like all tower rooms at Hogwarts. The floor was covered in a thick red carpet, the sofas were green, the curtains blue and the candles floating in midair were yellow.

Harry thought it was a bit gaudy, but appreciated the union of all the house colours.

"The boys' rooms are upstairs, the girls' downstairs," Snape pointed at two staircases leading off the common room. "Weasley, kindly demonstrate what happens when you try to use the wrong stairs."

Ron swallowed hard, but stepped obediently onto the steps leading down to the girls' rooms. He yelped when he was hit by a stinging hex and jumped back.

Snape smirked. "Rest assured, Ladies, that it works the same the other way round."

Harry's new room was the last up the staircase. First he wanted to complain for having to climb so many steps, but then he noticed the view was breathtaking. The furniture was rather simple, but the room had everything Harry needed. A bed, a small cupboard, a desk and much to Harry's surprise, a small bathroom hidden behind a painting of the Hogwarts grounds.

With some flicks of his wand the boy unpacked his school trunk. There wasn't much he had brought. Just the items of clothing required for the school year, his broomstick and books. With a jolt of sadness, Harry realised that this was the first time he didn't unpack any owl treats when he came to Hogwarts. It was kind of sad to be here without his faithful familiar, Hedwig, nearby.

-x-

The next morning the headmaster called a meeting for those eighth years who had volunteered to teach in order to get more lessons. He presented a schedule, which basically required the students to teach the lower years two or three mornings each and granted them lessons in the afternoon in exchange.

"If you work together and exchange notes, I'm confident every one of you will be able to sit as many NEWTs as you like," Snape finished his little speech. "All you need is be well organised." He looked at the students challengingly before he turned on his heel and left, his robes billowing behind him as ever.

"Would it have been so hard to point out whose schedules complement one another?" growled Ron.

"Oh, give those here," sighed Hermione. She collected Harry and Ron's timetables and looked at them. "Oh no, you will be able to attend the exactly same classes," she moaned a little later. "That's bad!"

"I like being in class with Harry," Ron pointed out and Harry agreed.

"But you won't be able to help each other with additional subjects," Hermione explained patiently.

"Why don't you count me in, Granger?" Draco Malfoy held out his own schedule.

Hermione glared at the blond suspiciously, but accepted the parchment at last. "Oh!" she cried, excited. "You can give us your Defence notes. And we can give you Transfiguration in exchange."

"Transfiguration?" cried Neville. "I need Transfiguration!"

"What will you give in exchange?" drawled Malfoy.

"Herbology. And I have Divination."

"Wonderful!" cried Hermione. Within an hour she had organised the eighth years in seven study groups (Parvati was enthusiastic about the use of the most magical of numbers), which enabled everybody to get the notes for all the subjects they wanted to take. Her own group consisted of herself, Harry, Ron, Malfoy, Neville, Goyle and Justin Finch-Fletchley. Together they covered Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures, Potions, Defence and Divination. Hermione, Malfoy and Justin each added one of Runes, Arithmancy and Muggle Studies to the pool of subjects.

Once everything was organised, Harry set out for his first lesson as a teacher, Defence against the Dark Arts with the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw first years. On his way to the classroom, he tried to remember how his teachers had started their first lessons when he had been a first year.

The first thing he did upon entering the classroom was read out the names of the students and introduce himself. Some girls giggled. A muggleborn boy asked why they didn't get a real teacher and everybody roared with laughter. The boy glared at Harry defiantly, but teary eyed until finally a kind soul explained to him that the Man Who Killed Voldemort certainly was a great choice as a defence teacher.

Then Harry told the children what he was going to teach them in their first year, namely how to recognize and avoid Dark Magic.

"We won't cover the big things like the Unforgivable Curse or poison this year; just minor jinxes, dangerous plants and the most common creatures. It will be more of an overall picture, the details will come later. Who can tell me a spell, plant or creature they know?"

They spent the rest of the lesson with lively tales of what students had experienced during the war, attacks with spells including the Unforgivables contrary to what Harry had said earlier, encounters with werewolves, vampires and banshees. Tales of child-eating plants and one girl told about a cursed hat stand which throttled those who came too close.

The rest of the morning Harry had Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall. The witch put the class through their paces. She claimed she wanted to know where they stood after a year of absence and set them tasks of increasing difficulty all lesson. When finally the bell rang, she seemed quite content and assigned them an essay about the theory of conjuring liquids out of thin air.

"A word, Harry," Snape growled from behind the boy as soon as Harry had started to eat his lunch. "Now."

Harry looked at his friends, puzzled. What had he done now?

He followed Snape out of the Great Hall and into the small chamber were the first years usually waited for their sorting.

"May I know the reason why you introduced yourself as Harry Potter in your class?" Snape asked as soon as the boy had closed the door.

Harry blushed. "Sorry, it's just the force of habit."

"Sorry? Do you want to find the tale how you didn't really want to be a Snape in the papers?"

"Of course not!" protested Harry.

"Then act accordingly!"

"I will," Harry promised and turned to leave, but Snape held him back.

"What did you tell your first years?" he asked, even more angry than before.

"What? Nothing! We kind of summed up what the subject was about."

"Did you, or did you not tell the first years about werewolf attacks and furniture that attacks people? I had three muggleborns who want to leave the wizarding world at my office after your lesson!"

"What?" piped Harry. He hadn't intended to scare the kids.

"Think!" spat Snape. "How would you have reacted if Quirrell had told you about the Cruciatus curse in your first lesson?"

Harry paled. He must have scared those children to death! "Oh no! What can I do?"

"I talked to Filius. He's ready to let you come to his class in the afternoon to tell the students that you were only trying to show off and that the horrors you told them about are extremely rare." Snape growled angrily.

"Show off?" Harry protested but shut up when Snape shot him one of his trademark glares.

"You will do as I told you and you will act like my son in the future." That said, Snape left the chamber, banging the door behind him.

-x-

"And he wants me to act like his son," Harry finished his tale to Ron, Hermione and Ginny after dinner. The four were sitting in a hidden spot under a tree near the lake. "You have no idea how much I hate him!"

"Harry," Hermione admonished, "what's become of being grateful to the man? He sacrificed half of his life to the cause!"

"I gave interviews on his behalf," Harry huffed, "I told the public what a hero he is! But was that enough? No! He made me take his name! And if that wasn't enough, now he wants me to act like his son! He made me tell the first years that I was a show off, for Merlin's sake!"

"Well, telling them about werewolves in their first lesson wasn't very wise," Hermione pointed out, but fell silent when the others glared at her. The group sat in silence for a while, each of them brooding.

Finally, Harry got up. "Let's take a walk, Ginny," he held out his hand to help her up. With a resigned wave to Ron and Hermione they set out for a little stroll around the lake.

No sooner had they reached a spot hidden from Ron and Hermione that Harry pulled his girlfriend close for a passionate kiss. Ginny reciprocated with gusto, and when they finally parted she giggled and hid her face at Harry's neck. The wizarding hero joined her giggles when her breath tickled him.

"Mmh," he purred. "I missed that."

"We've been here for only a day!" Ginny chuckled.

"Much too long to go without you. Let's find a better spot." They walked further along the lake until they reached a small rock hidden behind some bushes. Without a word, both made their way through the underbrush. The rock had been their favourite hiding spot in Harry's sixth year, during those wonderful weeks before Dumbledore died.

"You know," Ginny sighed happily after a long snog, "I think Snape has no idea what it means to be a father. Just think of what Mum suffered with Fred and George." She fell silent after the mention of Fred.

Harry squeezed her hand in understanding. "You think I should give him some trouble?" he asked after giving her time to think about her brother. "That would be quite unfair."

"I know," the girl admitted. "But for a moment it was a funny thought. Snape, trying to sort out a rebellious teenager."

"He'd die of a heart attack within the week!" Harry chuckled. "It would be childish."

-x-

The next morning Harry was dumbfounded to be greeted with giggles when he entered the Great Hall for breakfast. Malfoy – who had been quite sociable the evening before when the study group had exchanged notes – handed him a Prophet with a smirk.

Harry swallowed hard.

'Hero in Love' the front page informed the readers and there was a photograph in which he and Ginny were snogging rather enthusiastically. When had she slipped her hand under his shirt?

The article on page two raised the question whether the Man Who Killed Voldemort really was in love or whether this was just a case of hero worship and the hero taking advantage of an adoring fan girl. Harry sighed. Ginny was going to be livid about being called an adoring fan girl, and being a woman she was going to blame him for it.

"Dad's not happy," Malfoy pointed out when Harry lowered the newspaper with a sigh. The blond pointed towards the head table. Harry looked up there. Snape was fuming and indicating the first year chamber with a jerk of his head. Harry nodded he had understood and walked there. Somehow these meetings in the small chamber were becoming a morning ritual.

"What have you been thinking?" raged Snape without bidding a good morning first. "Have you been thinking at all? – No, don't answer that." He brandished his own copy of the Prophet. "You were supposed to help my reputation, not sully my name!"

"We did nothing wrong! I'm a teenager and I kissed my girlfriend! So what!" Harry spat angrily. "That's perfectly normal!"

"When have you," Snape poked Harry in the chest with his index finger, "last been normal? How stupid can you be, Potter?"

"Ah, are we back to Potter now?" Harry raged. "You didn't think you were adopting the perfect little boy, were you?"

"I didn't think I was adopting a little boy at all! For Merlin's sake, you're of age! Behave accordingly!"

"For Merlin's sake," Harry imitated Snape's tone, "I'm a teenager! I'm behaving accordingly!"

"Merlin help me! I'm going to throttle him!" Snape hissed more to himself than anybody else. He threw his arms up in the air. "This is not the right time for your stubborn age!"

"I'm not being stubborn! I don't even know why you allowed reporters on the school grounds!"

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "The Ministry granted them permission," he then sighed. "They claimed they wanted to take pictures of the battle ground."

"They had all summer for that," Harry pointed out.

Snape conjured a chair and sat. "I had a bad row with Kingsley about it. I told him I don't want them here with the students in residence, but he wouldn't listen."

Harry leaned back against the door frame. "They wouldn't have dared that with Dumbledore."

"You ungrateful brat!" screamed Snape. He shot up from his seat and started to pace. "How dare you!" He paced the chamber thrice before he rushed out of the room, banging the door behind him again.

Harry grinned. "A good day to you, too, Dad."

-x-

Later that day, Harry found out that he had been right about Ginny blaming him. She accosted him after his third year practical Defence lesson with the Gryffindors.

"How could you?" she growled at the wizarding hero.

"But Ginny," Harry muttered in a feeble attempt to defend himself, "what could I have done? I had no idea, just like yourself!"

"You are older," Ginny raged, "you should have known that those people were lurking the grounds. You should have put up a privacy charm. But maybe you were waiting for us to be caught! Wanted to show off what a womanizer you are, eh?"

Harry was taken aback. Show off? When had he been known to show off? "Ginny, I've had enough publicity in my life; I really don't need photos of me kissing you to push my ego."

It was the wrong thing to say. Ginny's face turned different shades of red in quick succession. "So, I don't do anything for your reputation, is that what you're saying?" she screamed. Several students in the corridor turned to stare at them openly. "Little Ginevra Weasley is not worthy to be seen with mighty Harry Potter?"

"Snape," Harry corrected without thinking.

Again, it was not the right thing to say. For a moment Ginny looked like she was going to explode before she slapped Harry's left cheek. It stung badly, but the sight of Ginny rushing off was even more hurtful.

Things didn't improve in the afternoon. Harry had been looking forward to his first Defence lesson as a student even though Snape was the teacher but of course it took the man less than ten minutes to make Harry want to run from the classroom, screaming.

"Really, Potter," smirked the wizard, handing back Harry's wand, "I start asking myself how you were able to withstand the Dark Lord for ten seconds. I don't even want to think how you managed to kill him. Probably he forgot to breathe while he laughed at you."

Harry scrambled to his feet. Why wasn't he surprised to have been chosen as a guinea pig for Snape's first practical lesson? And why wasn't he surprised that the man had cast his first spell without a warning?

"It's Snape now," Harry muttered defiantly.

"Oh, excuse me. Snape! Tell me how you managed to kill the Dark Lord when you can't even keep your wand in hand against a school master!" It seemed Snape had no problem with spitting his own name like an insult.

"Well, Dad," Harry growled angrily, "I hit him with Expelliarmus, and that was enough!"

"I refuse to tolerate any familiarity during lessons. You will call me headmaster like your fellow students during lessons and as well while we discuss your teaching!"

Harry smirked angrily. "I thought the whole adoption business was about familiarity in public?"

He had gone too far. "Out!" screamed Snape. The potions master radiated anger. Harry fled the classroom. Just when he had reached the door, a stinging hex hit his behind. The boy yelped and covered the hurting spot with his hand protectively.

Luckily Ron was more than ready to share his notes in the evening. The study group sat in a quiet corner of the eighth years' common room. Harry was in a bad mood, because instead of doing proper homework he had to catch up with a lesson he had missed just because the teacher was a malevolent git.

His mood improved a little when he watched Malfoy trying to figure out what electricity was good for.

"Really, Draco," sighed Goyle, who was reading his potions textbook, "I think you should drop Muggle Studies. You haven't taken it before. Do you really think it is wise to try and study within a year what others learn in five?"

The blond muttered something under his breath.

"What?" asked Hermione, looking up from a stack of parchment.

"Nothing."

"Nothing? I clearly heard my name," the witch insisted.

Malfoy blushed. "I said," he admitted, "that I am very well capable of taking as many NEWTs as you."

Hermione chuckled good-naturedly. "I never doubted that," she smiled. "You've always been a good student. As far as I'm concerned, you have nothing to prove."

Malfoy blushed even more. "There's another reason," he then said. "Father thinks it would be good for the Malfoy name if I took Muggle Studies. You know, to show interest in muggle things."

"So you're not really interested?" Hermione asked distrustfully.

"Actually I think it's quite interesting," admitted the blond. "I started reading the textbooks during the summer. First I thought it was going to be boring, but then I got hooked." He rummaged in his bag. "You know, those muggles are no fools. In some areas they have found better solutions than we. Here!" He held up a ball pen triumphantly.

Harry giggled. A lot had changed since the last battle.

-x-

The wizarding hero was not surprised when headmaster Snape came over to the eighth years' table at breakfast the next day and requested – ordered! – another meeting in what Harry was starting to think about as Their Chamber.

Good, so Snape wanted a word with Harry every morning. Couldn't the man just once wait until Harry had finished is meal? Having never been into subtleties, Harry conjured a tray and loaded it with food and a cup of tea. A quick spell, and the tray followed him to the Chamber.

"What's the meaning of this?" Snape snarled angrily.

"'M hungry," Harry mumbled without stopping to eat.

"Has nobody ever taught you that it's disrespectful to eat while you're talked to by a superior?"

"As a matter of fact, no." Harrry bit into another muffin. "Despite my limited knowledge on etiquette, I'm quite sure though it's not considered polite to interrupt a person's breakfast on a daily basis either." He took a big gulp of tea.

Snape overlooked the cheek. "Rumour has it that you don't give your students homework."

Harry blushed. Homework? He had never thought of that.

"How are your students supposed to learn when you don't force them to go over the lesson again?"

"I never decided consciously to forego homework," Harry admitted. "It," he shrugged, "just happened." Suddenly he remembered another thing. "Hang on! If I give them homework, I have to correct it!"

"Indeed!" Snape looked a lot younger when he was amused.

"I barely get enough sleep as it is!" the younger wizard protested. "How long does it take to correct a stack of essays?"

"There are some helpful spells," Snape pointed out.

"Spells which I don't know!"

"If you start dealing out homework today, you won't need them before tomorrow. I'll whip up instructions for you." Snape sighed. "Now that I think of it, it would be wise to give them to the other student teachers, too."

Harry nodded.

"Speaking of the student teachers," continued the headmaster. "How are things going in the East Tower?"

"Quite well, actually. Hermione organized study groups in which everybody gets all the notes they need for their NEWTs. Most of the eighth years are more than willing to cooperate with whomever it takes to finish their education. Houses are no problem. Hermione did a good job teaming up only those who would be ready to work together. So far, everything went smoothly."

"I hope it will stay like that," Snape smiled weakly. "With some students, I wasn't sure whether to invite them back, but it seemed unjust to withhold them their NEWTs just because they aren't nice enough."

"So far, we're doing well enough. And I think there are enough people willing to restore peace within the group if anything goes wrong."

Snape nodded contently and then left. Harry conjured a chair and a small table and finished his breakfast right on the spot.

-x-

The next morning, a tiny house elf informed Harry that the headmaster asked him to come to Their Chamber before breakfast. Harry obeyed grudgingly. He was hungry! Whatever the man wanted, couldn't it wait until he, Harry, had had a bite?

The Man Who Wanted Breakfast stopped short upon opening the door to the small chamber. There, in the middle of the small room, stood a round table full of food. Headmaster Snape was sitting on the other side of the table, sipping tea and chewing on a scone.

The wizard gestured at the empty chair opposite his own invitingly.

"I couldn't but notice that you were discontent with our little meetings interrupting your breakfast." Snape buttered another scone.

Although that had been his intention, Harry blushed.

Snape waved his wand and the teapot hovered over to the boy and poured tea for him. Another wave sent a roll of parchment to the young hero.

"The correction spells we were talking about," Snape explained.

Harry muttered some word of thanks between two bites. "Anything else?" Harry asked when he had finished his second scone. Although the food was delicious, he would have preferred to breakfast with his friends.

Snape hesitated. "Yes," he admitted after a short silence. "I need your help, Potter."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Snape," Snape corrected his mistake with a tired sigh.

Harry smirked.

"We are dealing badly with the number of students," the headmaster continued without acknowledging Harry's smirk. The lack of reaction worried the boy. It was against everything he knew about the older man. "We have more students, but no additional staff. About a third of the house elves have been killed in the final battle and I wasn't able to replace them yet. Every teacher has more classes than they can deal with. Hall duties and evening duties are costing us additional work time. I don't know how we are going to survive the school year without having the students' education suffer."

Harry swallowed hard. He had, of course, known that things weren't ideal. He wasn't stupid after all. But the extent of Snape's worries came as a surprise.

"I don't think the eighth years can handle more work," he admitted reluctantly.

"I wasn't suggesting that." Snape sent the teapot to refill Harry's cup. "But if we could drop certain duties in the eighth years' area, it would be helpful. Do you think we can leave the corridor up to the East Tower without a teacher in the evenings?"

"Why not?" Harry took a sip of tea. "We're too mature," – Snape snorted, which Harry found relieving in a way – ,"to go wandering about after curfew. Can you put up a spell to prevent lower years to enter that area? In that case you can leave the whole area unproctored."

Snape nodded. "That's an idea. I can draw an age line. Can you be my contact among the eighth years? If you agreed to pass on messages for me that would save me a lot of work."