Remember Now, Harry

by Warviben

Summary: All is not well on Privet Drive, and one Christmas Eve, Severus Snape is called upon to intervene.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, et al. I make no money from this endeavor.

Warning: This fic contains descriptions of child abuse and neglect.


Severus Snape sipped periodically from a tumbler as he worked his way through the quizzes he'd sprung on his third-year class on the last day before break. They'd all groaned when he'd announced it, and the results proved that their minds had been more on the upcoming holiday than on the palliative uses of mulberry bark. With the possible exception of Kessie Edwards, who showed surprising promise (surprising because she was a Hufflepuff and because Snape knew her older brother, who was dumber than a box of rocks). But she was the lone light in a room full of dim bulbs, and Severus sighed and placed his quill gently on his desk.

What am I doing here? he wondered, not for the first time. Teaching thick-skulled children who had no real desire to learn, some of whom were not much younger than he was himself.

But he knew what he was doing here – he was atoning. Atoning for his horrendous mistake in judgment, for causing the deaths of two young people, for nearly causing the death of an innocent child. That Dumbledore had taken him in and allowed him this penance was nothing short of a miracle, and he was grateful for it, sure that if he hadn't been given this positive channel for his grief and guilt, it would have consumed him to the point of his own death, at his own hand, inside of a year.

So if he sat here, grading abysmal student work on Christmas Eve, drinking in solitude, he had no right to complain. He was safe, he was warm, he was fed, he was alive. And it wasn't as though he had anyplace else to go or anyone to celebrate the holiday with. No, all things considered, Severus Snape had it pretty good.

Snape was pondering whether he might indulge in another piece of fruitcake when the floo in his sitting room flared. A woman's voice loudly asked, "Severus Snape? Are you there?"

Severus did not recognize the voice, so he got up and strode to the hearth, kneeling before it. The woman's head floating in the flickering flames was unfamiliar to him. Any fear he might have felt was tempered by the knowledge that this was Hogwart's, and none of his former associates could get to him through the warded floo system. Still, few people could get through to him, so he couldn't help but wonder who this woman was and what she wanted of him.

"Oh, there you are," she said. "It's Arabella Figg. So sorry to disturb your holiday."

Behind the woman, Snape could hear a high-pitched wail that made him wince even as his brain was searching for a connection to the name. "Arabella Figg," she repeated. "From Little Whinging."

Oh. Little Whinging. Where Albus had left the boy.

"Mrs. Figg," Snape acknowledged. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, yes. Nothing life threatening, you understand. Had it been that serious, I would have dealt with it here myself. But I was told by Dumbledore to contact him if I had any concerns. I tried to reach Albus, but he's not in. Somewhere on holiday, I expect. And I was to contact Minerva . . . McGonagall you know . . .in the event I couldn't reach Albus, only she's not in either. It's nice that she has someone to spend the holiday with, but it makes it a little difficult to track people down in case of emergency. So Albus told me that if I couldn't reach him or Minerva, I was to contact you, so here I am. It's lucky that I found you in. I'd thought . . ."

"Mrs. Figg!" Severus shouted. He'd tried several times to interrupt her, but she'd plowed obliviously ahead all the while, talking over the wailing sound emanating from behind her. Startled into silence by Severus' bellow, Mrs. Figg blinked at him.

"Is something wrong with the boy?" Snape asked.

"Oh. Yes. Nothing serious, as I said, but I think someone should look at him. He's miserable, poor thing."

Severus blinked back stupidly. What did he know about babies? Potter was still a baby, right? He'd be . . . he was born at the end of July last year, so . . . a year and almost five months. What did Severus know about seventeen-month old children?

"Is he ill?" he asked.

"No. Not ill. Just . . . could you come through and look at him?"

Severus thought briefly about getting Madam Pomfrey, but he quickly remembered that she was gone as well. Also, he had no idea if the Headmaster had taken the mediwitch into his confidence concerning where the boy had been placed after the death of his parents. The fact that this Figg woman had contacted him third spoke against that. Then he wondered why Figg didn't simply care for whatever was wrong herself, but then he remembered Dumbledore telling him Figg was a squib. He was out of options, and he sighed. "Very well. I'll be right there. Leave the connection open."

Severus got to his feet and retired to his private potions lab. He stood staring at his stock of ready-made potions. What would he need? Fever reducer, in case the child was ill? But how do you dose someone that young? Severus huffed and gave it up. He could always come back once he knew what the trouble was. He returned to the sitting room and stepped into the hearth.

He stepped out of the floo into what could only be the living quarters of an elderly single woman. Flowery wallpaper. Floral patterns on the rug and furniture. Overly warm. Lace doilies on every surface. Numerous knickknacks, spotless and placed just so. Severus caught sight of at least two cats streaking from the room at his sudden appearance. Though how they'd stood to be in the same room with the source of that noise amazed Severus.

Figg was holding the child – half-naked and squalling – in her arms. Severus was unfamiliar with the ways of very young children, but he supposed there must be some logical reason the baby was wearing only a long shirt and a pair of socks.

"Thank you for coming," Figg said, bouncing the child in her arms, though her efforts at soothing were having no effect. "He won't stop crying. I think it's the rash that's causing most of his distress. Here, take a look."

Figg lay the child on the sofa, and Severus stared down at him. This puling, scrawny demon child was the savior of the wizarding world? We are in serious shite, Severus thought. He sat beside the still-crying child on the sofa. Figg had said rash, so he supposed the logical place to look was the area normally covered by the nappy. Severus tried to look without touching, but the scraggy little brute was in constant motion, legs wriggling, so Severus reached over and grabbed one ankle to hold it still. He pulled up on the leg so that he could examine the area in question and actually gasped at what he saw.

The child's entire perianal region was a deep, dark red. There were spots on his buttocks that were inflamed to the point where they'd broken open and were oozing a thick, clear fluid. Severus lowered the leg and examined the boy's genitals. His tiny penis and scrotum were covered with the same angry sores. No wonder he was screaming!

Severus looked up at Mrs. Figg. "I'm no expert, but this has got to be a very severe case of nappy rash."

Mrs. Figg nodded, having come to the same obvious conclusion. "Do you have something that will help? Even if the druggist was open, nothing I could buy over the counter would touch this."

Severus mentally reviewed his inventory. He had a burn salve that he thought might be efficacious – it was formulated to heal skin reddened and blistered by burns. It was quick-acting, too, and contained a topical pain reliever. Still holding the child's ankle, Severus yanked the boy back when he would have twisted off the onto the floor, which caused his poor bum to rub across the sofa and set off a renewed bout of intense screaming.

"My apologies," he said to the boy. He turned to Figg. "I will return with a healing salve that will help. Can he stand?" Did children this age walk? Severus had no idea. He knew they did by age eleven, but he wasn't quite sure where on the developmental timeline that milestone occurred.

"He can walk," Figg reported proudly, as though she'd taught him herself. For all Severus knew, she had.

"Stand him up, then," Severus advised. "That should get pressure off of the affected area."

Waiting until Figg had a hand on the child before he let go, Severus jumped up and moved quickly to the floo. As he traveled back to his rooms to retrieve the healing cream, Severus' mind reeled with questions. Who was caring for this boy? There was no chance of a rash that serious occurring from one neglected nappy change. He'd obviously been left to sit in his own urine and feces for extended periods of time on a regular basis. Who did that to a child?

Hastily grabbing what he needed, Severus returned to Figg's sitting room, where the Potter boy was standing beside the sofa, whimpering forlornly, the too-big shirt covering him like a dress.

"What is he wearing?" Severus asked.

Figg shrugged. "All of his clothes are too big. I think they make him wear the other boy's castoffs."

"Other boy?" Snape asked.

"Harry's cousin. They're close in age, but Dudley's much, much bigger."

"Hmmm," was all Snape said. He approached the child warily, as though Harry might jump up at him at any moment. "Could you place him back on the sofa, please?"

Figg chuckled. "He won't bite you." She lifted the boy under his arms and lay him carefully back on the sofa, which distressed the boy immediately.

"Hush child," Severus said, sitting beside him again and holding onto the boy's leg to hold him in place. He uncapped the salve and squeezed a small amount onto a finger. Suddenly unsure, he looked up at Figg. "Maybe you should . . ."

"Nonsense. It's your ointment. You're doing fine."

Harry's increasing agitation and noise level convinced Severus to put aside his hesitation. He lifted the boy's legs and began to spread the salve over and between the boy's buttocks and perineum, making sure to work the salve in completely over the entire area. As he worked and the pain-numbing portion of the formulation began to take effect, Harry's wails turned once again to whimpers. Once the back side was covered, Severus turned his attention to Harry's genitals, coating them as well. By the time he was finished, Harry had stopped crying completely and was sucking on a fist and watching Severus carefully. Severus was surprised to note that he'd been talking to the child while he worked, murmuring reassurances.

By the time Severus finished with Harry's genitals, the boy's backside was completely healed. Gone were the sores and redness, replaced with healthy pink skin.

"Amazing," Figg breathed.

Yes, isn't it? Severus almost said. My own formulation. Instead, he said, "I have questions."

"I'm sure you do," Figg said, and she sat in the chair across from the sofa.

"Where are the boy's guardians?"

"Visiting Vernon's sister for the holiday."

"They took their own child and left this one with you?!" Severus asked, appalled.

"They haven't taken Harry anywhere with them in all the time they've had him. They always leave him here. Not that I mind." She looked fondly at the boy.

"And the explanation for the rash?"

Figg shrugged. "It's clear they don't take proper care of him. Though it's never been this bad."

Harry had been content to lay on his back. He'd pulled off his socks and was playing with his own toes while the healing salve did its work. Now that it had, he wiggled his bum pleasurably across the sofa, working himself into the crevice between the sofa back and the cushions. By wriggling himself, he managed to push the cushion over enough so that he could sit up on the springs and look proudly up at Severus.

"Imp," Snape told him.

"Imp," Harry retorted. He then climbed out of his moat and crawled into Severus' lap, where he sat facing Severus and looking up into his face.

Severus peered down his nose at the boy. "Something I can do for you, Mr. Potter?"

"Daddy?" Harry asked, his green eyes puzzled.

"Merlin, no!" Severus protested.

Harry reached up and patted Severus' nose with a pudgy hand. "Nose," he pronounced.

"Indeed," Severus agreed. As Harry bounced on his lap, Severus became aware again that the boy was naked from the waist down. "Mrs. Figg, perhaps a nappy?"

"Oh, of course." She dug into the bag the boy's so-called guardians had left with her and came out with a disposable nappy, which she handed to Severus, who eyed it suspiciously.

Harry took the nappy from Severus' hand and waved it at him. "Nappy!" the boy said.

"Yes. I don't suppose you can put it on yourself."

Harry pulled the nappy open and put it on his head, grinning up at Severus.

"Wrong end, silly boy." Severus dumped the boy back onto the sofa and instructed him to stay still. He then took the nappy, examined it from every angle before determining how it should be placed on the target. With one eye on Figg to make sure he was proceeding properly, Severus managed to place and secure the nappy on his first try.

"You're a natural," Mrs. Figg declared, pleased.

Severus presented both his index fingers to the boy. Harry grabbed them and allowed himself to be pulled back up. He resumed his spot on Severus' lap and began to play with the shiny black buttons on Snape's robe.

As his arms moved, the overly large shirt slid down off his shoulder, revealing a purpled bruise. "What is this?" he asked, and he pulled the shirt over the boy's head and dropped it to the floor.

Harry apparently liked this and patted his own stomach with his palm. Then Severus' buttons recaptured his attention as Severus looked the little boy over. Besides the purple bruise on the child's shoulder, a yellowed bruise ringed Harry's upper left arm, and there were two bruises on his back. Now that Severus was looking, he could see the boy appeared malnourished – his ribs were plainly visible, front and back, and his arms and legs seemed no bigger than sticks.

Severus was appalled at the boy's condition. "These people are doing worse than neglecting this boy! They're abusing him!"

"I think Dudley is responsible for most of that. He's very rough," Mrs. Figg explained.

"But they allow it! And the other child is not the one neglecting this one's basic needs! Why have you not informed Albus about this?"

"Oh, I have," Mrs. Figg assured him.

"Don't these people realize they're caring for Harry Potter?"

Harry looked up at this. "I Hawee," he said, patting his own belly.

"Yes, you're Harry," Severus said, strangely moved by this amazing creature in his lap. He brushed the boy's curly hair, soft as kitten fur and dark as ebony, back from his forehead, revealing the red, raised zigzag scar left behind by a mad man. And now the familiar guilt reared up in Severus' gut.

"Hawee," the boy said, patting his belly again. Then he placed his hand on Snape's belly. "Daddy."

"No," Snape gently corrected, speaking around the leaden lump in his throat. He placed Harry's palm back on the boy's flat belly. "Harry," he said. He then placed the boy's palm on the buttons that so fascinated him. "Severus."

"Wuss," was the closest Harry could come.

"That'll do," Severus assured him. He looked up at Mrs. Figg. "Albus must do something. He must get him out of here. There has to be a better place."

"I've had that discussion with the Headmaster, more than once. He's adamant that the best place for Harry is with the Dursleys."

Harry yawned. "Hawee," he said again.

"Hawee . . . Harry's tired, I think," Severus said, coloring slightly. "When are they returning for him?"

"The day after Boxing Day."

"They've left him with you over Christmas?!" Did these people have no compassion at all?

"I was happy to have him," Mrs. Figg assured him with another fond look at the boy.

Severus had no doubt about that. Who wouldn't be taken in by this green-eyed waif? Well, those so-called guardians of his, apparently.

"This situation is intolerable. I will speak with Albus when he returns. These people will either care for him properly, or we will find a new place for him. He is much too important to allow him to be mistreated this way."

"Shhhh," Mrs. Figg urged as Severus' voice began to rise in his agitation.

Severus looked down. The downy, messy head had come to rest on Severus' chest. Harry's eyes were closed, long black eyelashes brushing his fair skin, cheeks puffing out adorably as he breathed out in slumber. Severus' hand came up to cradle the boy's head. "Where does he sleep?" he asked quietly.

Mrs. Figg led him into her bedroom. Three cats lay in various spots of repose throughout the room. A child's portable cot had been set up here, and Severus lowered the boy gently into it. Harry whimpered at the loss of a warm, sheltering body, and Severus covered him with a bath towel he found in the cot. He stroked the boy's hair until Harry quieted, then straightened up.

Staring down at the sleeping child, Snape wondered, What have I done to you? What kind of life have I doomed you to? His jaw stiffened in resolve. I cannot change what I have done, but I promise you, Harry Potter, that I will do what I can to fix this.

Promising Mrs. Figg that he would return the following day, Severus took his leave, his emotions in turmoil but his decision made.

Snape had spent a good deal of the night in the library. He had no idea why Hogwarts' library contained such a large number of books on early childhood development, but he was rather glad now that it did. He'd gained much knowledge, in a short span of time, about a topic he'd never thought to need.

Growthwise, on average, a child Harry's age should weigh just shy of two stone. Harry was nowhere near that. Of course, having had no contact with the Potters after Harry's birth, Severus had no way of knowing whether the child had always been small or whether his current condition was due to the obvious neglect by his bastard relatives. Certainly the bruises and the severe rash could only be laid at the feet of the ignoramuses charged with raising the precious child. It wasn't unreasonable to assume that his "family" was neglecting proper nutrition for the boy as well.

After leaving the library, Severus retired to his private laboratory with a formula for a nutritional supplement aimed at developing children. Severus thought he could tweak it to give it certain time release properties as he didn't expect the boy's guardians to administer it, since they were the very reason he needed it to begin with. Nor could he count on Harry being left with the Figg woman on a regular enough basis for her to administer it as often as it would otherwise be required. He'd brew a supply of the potion and leave it with Figg to supply to Harry each time she did have him, at least until arrangements could be made to get the boy out of there. Albus would agree, certainly, when he heard what condition the child was in.

Severus was armed as well with a list of developmental milestones a child Harry's age should have reached. He'd reviewed it quickly and was reassured as to the boy's intelligence by what he'd already observed. The boy's vocabulary was already well beyond average. He planned to bring the list and a few objects with him when he returned later today to test Harry's abilities.

But first, he was going to sleep for a few hours.

After a shower and a very late breakfast, Severus floo called ahead to Mrs. Figg to announce his intention to join her.

"Happy Christmas, Professor Snape," she exclaimed when he stepped into her sitting room.

"And to you, Mrs. Figg," he returned. "And, please. Call me Severus."

"Then you must call me Arabella."

Pleasantries aside, Severus scanned the room. "Where is the boy?"

"He just chased Tibbles into the bedroom. Harry!" she called. "Come and see who's here!"

Harry toddled out of the bedroom. When he spotted Severus, a huge grin split his face, and he shouted, "Wuss!" before making a beeline for the man, motoring across the floor as quickly as his little legs could carry him.

"Good morning, Mr. Potter," Severus said, though it was difficult to be stoic in the face of Harry's enthusiastic greeting.

Harry came to a wobbly stop at Severus' feet and looked up the tall length of the man expectantly. When Severus made no move toward him, Harry raised his arms up, his hands opening and closing in supplication. "Hawee up!" he said, his large green eyes pleading.

Severus had never considered himself particularly soft in any way, but how could he resist that plea, those eyes? He reached down and lifted the boy into his arms. Harry snuggled joyfully against Severus' chest and then looked up at him and said, "Kitty rowr."

Severus chuckled. "Yes, I expect it would, with a nuisance such as yourself chasing after it."

"Hawee down," the boy said, wriggling impatiently.

Severus set the boy back down on his feet, where he stayed, clutching Severus' legs.

Severus reached into his pocket and withdrew the many miniaturized items he'd brought with him. After resizing them, he handed a pot containing a leafy green plant to Arabella. "This is catnip, a new version improved by Professor Sprout. I thought your cats might like it. Minerva speaks very highly of it." Severus had debated what to bring the woman, as it was only polite that he bring his hostess something. He'd calculated that something for the woman's pets would be most appreciated, and judging from the glowing look on her face, he'd judged correctly.

"Thank you, Severus! This is most thoughtful of you." She set the plant on the floor near the hearth.

"It is child safe, as well," Severus added.


"I've brought some things for the boy as well. May I?"

"Of course! He'll be thrilled. I've got to get back into the kitchen, so you two boys make yourself comfortable."

Severus sat himself down on the floor and pulled out the milestones parchment. He then handed a present to Harry. A wrapped present. Of course he'd wrapped it. Children liked unwrapping presents, didn't they?

Harry plunked his bottom down next to Severus, the box in his lap. He studied the box for a moment before looking up at Severus.

"Open it," he urged.

Harry had a little trouble getting started, so Severus tore a corner for him. After that, Harry tore the paper off in long, thin strips until the box was bared.

Severus banished the paper and opened the box to reveal two dozen brightly colored wooden blocks, just the right size for chubby toddler hands. Harry reached in and removed a red one. He got to his feet, his little nappy-clad bum sticking up in the air in the process, which made Severus smile, and put as much of the block into his mouth as he could. He chewed it heartily, and when it was good and covered with spit, he offered it to Severus. "Bock."

"No, thank you," Severus said, grimacing at the thought of touching it. "That's Harry's block."

Severus dumped the box of blocks onto the floor and chose another red block. "Red," he said. He placed the block away from the others and picked up another red one. "Red," he said again and set this block on top of the other red one.

Severus actually saw the comprehension in Harry's eyes when he realized what Severus was doing. With a bright smile, Harry placed his drippy block on top of the two Severus had stacked. "Wed," Harry said.

"Very good," Severus praised with a smile. "Are there any other red ones?" he asked, running his hand through the remaining blocks.

Harry chose another red block and placed it on the growing stack.

"Good boy. Is this one red?" Severus asked, showing Harry a blue block.

"No!" Harry shouted. "Boo!"

"Blue. That's right. Let's put the blue one here." Severus positioned the block in its own pile. "Find me another blue one, Harry."

When Harry tried to hand a blue block to Severus, the man said, "Put it where it belongs."

And Harry stacked it on top of the other blue block, then looked up at Severus for the man's approval. After he got it, a mischievous glint leapt into his eyes. Still looking at Severus, he shot a hand out and scattered the stack of red blocks.

"You little scamp!" Severus growled playfully. He reached out to tickle the boy in punishment, and Harry rolled over, giggling like a loon. The sound of his laughter, so sweet and pure, struck a chord somewhere in Severus' chest, and for a moment he struggled to breathe. He dropped his hands away from the boy, and Harry flung his arms out wide on the carpet, lying on his back, his eyes closed, smiling up at the ceiling.

Suddenly, Harry sat up. "Wuss tickoo me," he said, and he gave another deep belly laugh at the memory.

Severus' easy breath returned to him, and he smiled, unable to help himself. Then he remembered he was supposed to be testing the boy. He crossed "Stacking blocks" and "Sort by size or color" off his list.

Severus next handed Harry a brown paper bag. Harry rattled it curiously, cocking his head to one side, obviously enjoying the sound it made.

"Look inside," Severus instructed.

Harry did, and his eyes widened. He reached inside and withdrew a teddy bear, which he proceeded to hug tightly. "Wuss," he said, clutching the bear to his chest.

Severus crossed out "Becomes attached to soft toy."

Scooting away from the boy, Severus picked up a ball and rolled it to Harry, who watched it until it stopped at his feet. Harry kicked at it, missing the ball completely and nearly upsetting his balance enough to land on his bum. He repositioned his feet and tried again, this time kicking the ball several feet away. Wandlessly, Severus retrieved the ball and rolled it back to Harry. But Harry ignored it, too busy trying to pull the eyes off his bear.

Severus had one last present, and he picked up the board book. "Look, Harry. Come and see the book."

Harry toddled over and plunked himself in Severus' lap. Severus opened the book, and over the top of the boy's head, he began to read. "Spot is a pink cat."

"Kitty!" Harry said with delight, pointing at the cat. "Pot."

Severus turned the page. "Rex is a red dog."

"Weck wed dog," Harry agreed. "Woof woof." He looked up at Severus, his green eyes solemn. "Dog go woof woof."

Something lurched in Severus' chest again, but he was getting used to the feeling and breathed through it. He had to clear his throat before he could say, "That's right, Harry. A dog does say woof woof." He turned the page. "Slippery is a green snake."

"Pee nake. Gween," Harry said, studying the picture and nodding his head sagely. He then reached out and turned the page himself this time.

"Tiny is a grey mouse," Severus read.

Harry had nothing to say about this, so Severus turned to the last page. "Hoot is a white owl."

"Hoot! Hoot!" Harry yelled suddenly, startling Severus. "Hoot! Hoot! Ow go hoot!"

"Should've skipped that page," Severus mused. He closed the book. "All done."

"Awww!" Harry complained. He took the book from Severus' hand and turned it over. "Again," he said, thrusting the book back at Severus.

Severus pushed the book gently back at Harry. "You do it."

Harry set the book in his lap and opened to the first page. "Pot," he said, pointing to the cat. "Rowr."

Severus said, "Mm hmm" in agreement.

Harry turned the page, not noticing when his little fingers turned two at once. Harry stared down at the picture of the snake. He looked up at Severus, clearly distressed. "Doggie go bye bye!"

"No, Harry. The doggie is right here." Severus turned back the page to show him.

"Doggie," Harry said with a little sigh of what Severus thought was relief. "Weck wed doggie." He turned back to the snake. "Gween. Thhhhhhhh." This was Harry's attempt at a hiss. He turned one more page. "Mouse?" Harry asked Severus, pressing a small finger to the picture on the page.

"Yes. Mouse."

"Wittle," Harry remembered.

"Yes. Tiny, in fact."

Harry nodded again, as though absorbing one of life's greatest secrets. He turned to the last page, but this time, Severus was prepared when Harry shouted, "Hoot hoot! Ow!" The exclamation was accompanied by little jumping motions.

When Harry turned the book over and said, "Again again!" Severus lifted the boy up off his lap and set him on the floor. Severus got to his feet and stretched.

"Severus," Mrs. Figg said, smiling up at him. "You'll join us for lunch, of course."

Severus hesitated. He really didn't want to eat with her, but he was reluctant to leave the boy. Solely because he hadn't finished testing him yet, of course. "It would be my pleasure," he found himself saying.

While Arabella finished lunch preparation, Severus sat on the sofa and interacted (i.e., played) with Harry. He was able to cross off his list "will 'read' board books", "able to speak in two-word phrases", "throws a ball over hand", "kicks ball forward", and "uses at least six words". These were all age-appropriate activities, and Harry had no trouble with any of them. In fact, his vocabulary was even more remarkable than Severus had noted previously, with Harry commonly stringing together sentences with three or more words in them. He really was quite intelligent, on top of being incredibly cute and endearingly engaging.

Against all possible odds, Severus Snape had quickly fallen quite in love with the pint-sized child.

"Lunch will be ready in just a few minutes if you boys would like to wash up. The loo is upstairs, second door on the left."

"Come, Harry." Severus stood and extended a hand to Harry. He pulled the boy to his feet, and Harry raced to the stairs and began climbing them. Severus increased his pace, so that he was directly behind the boy in case he slipped. Harry didn't, though, climbing like a monkey all the way up the stairs.

In the bathroom, Harry inserted a hand inside his nappy. "Pee," he said, looking up at Severus.

Briefly, Severus panicked and thought about yelling for Figg. But he quickly got hold of himself. How hard could this be? "All right," he said, speaking to steady himself. "Let's get the nappy off."

Severus undressed the boy from the waist down and stood him before the toilet. Unfortunately, Harry was so short, he couldn't reach the toilet with the most necessary part of his anatomy. Sighing, Severus held the boy up over the toilet, but after a few moments, his arms began shaking. Harry didn't weigh much, but it was still difficult to hold him suspended in air like this. "Harry, do you have to go?" he asked, trying to be patient and encouraging.

"Uh huh," the boy said.

Severus tried – he really did, because he knew how helpful it would be for Harry not to have to rely on someone to change a nappy for him. But when he couldn't hold the boy any longer, Severus set him down.

"Wait, just a moment," he requested. Quickly withdrawing his wand, he transfigured the water glass on the sink into a step stool just high enough for Harry to reach. He stood the boy on the stool, and they waited. And waited. And waited some more. Seeking inspiration, Severus reached over and turned the tap on.

As if my magic(!), Harry began to pee. Unfortunately, no one had ever taught him to steer.

"Argh! Harry! You must use your hand . . . like this . . . to aim." Severus took Harry's hand and guided it to where it needed to go, and directed the stream down toward the toilet bowl. Just in time for the last few drops to dribble out. "Exactly like that," Severus said.

"I peed!" Harry exclaimed, jumping excitedly and nearly falling off the stool.

Severus reached out a hand to steady the boy. "You did! Just like a big boy! Well done, Harry!" Severus couldn't stop himself – he picked the boy up and hugged him.

After he'd set Harry back down, Severus cast a cleaning spell on the toilet and the floor and, just to be safe, on Harry and himself. "Now we wash our hands." Severus repositioned the step stool in front of the sink, and Harry climbed up and washed his hands.

Severus carried the still half-naked Harry back downstairs, where he re-dressed the boy. "Harry just . . . peed on the potty," Severus announced, feeling absurdly proud. Obviously, this boy was a genius.

Arabella gave Harry all of the praise that he deserved as they sat down to eat.

After the meal, Arabella insisted they sit while she cleaned up. Severus sat in the rocking chair, the book, the bear and the boy in his lap, along with a blanket he'd brought along (to replace the towel in the boy's cot), and they sat there until Harry fell asleep.

After he'd put the boy down, Severus turned to Arabella. "I must be going. Thank you for lunch. I will return tomorrow with a salve which will protect him from developing a rash again and a nutrition supplement which I will leave with you. I will speak with Albus when he returns, and hopefully we can find a better situation for the boy. He deserves so much more."

"Albus will be back this evening," Severus said from his spot on the floor beside Harry. He'd been playing blocks with Harry, a game which consisted of Harry picking up a block and handing it to Severus, picking up another block and handing it to Severus, and on and on. They'd been doing this for close to ten minutes, and Harry showed no signs of tiring of it. Mrs. Figg sat in the sitting room with them, busily knitting what looked liked a tiny jumper with three sleeves. Perhaps it was a frock of some sort for one of her cats. "I shall speak with him at the earliest possible opportunity about removing the boy."

"I wish you more success than I've had," Mrs. Figg said. "He's always turned a blind ear to my complaints."

Severus discounted the strangely-worded statement. Surely she hadn't adequately conveyed Potter's state to the Headmaster. Had he known the boy was being treated thus, he would have found a more proper home for the Boy Who Lived than with the people who obviously cared nothing for the precious burden they'd been entrusted with.

Harry finally tired of the block game and instead crawled into Severus' lap, where he sat playing with Severus' shiny buttons that so fascinated him. When that became boring, he scooted off Severus' lap and burrowed himself into Severus' robe, wrapping himself in the dark fabric completely. He crawled around Severus' back and appeared under his opposite arm.

"Boo," Snape said when the smiling face peered out.

This was apparently the funniest thing Harry had ever heard, and he rolled over onto his back, giggling. He rolled about on the floor for a while before laying himself flat on his back, arms spread out to his sides, smiling up at the ceiling. Suddenly, his smile disappeared. "Uh oh," he said. "Hawee peed."

Severus concealed a sigh. The books had all agreed that toilet training was a process, one fraught with mistakes, and that a child as young as Harry could not be expected to retain much control over his bodily functions. Still, Severus had been asking Harry every few minutes if he needed to go, and Harry had replied in the negative each time. Oh well.

"We'd better change that nappy then."

Harry obligingly got up, retrieved a nappy from the bag, and brought it to Severus.

"Thank you, Harry."

Harry lay himself back down beside Severus and patiently waited while Severus removed the wet nappy and banished it. He then retrieved the special salve he'd concocted. Before applying it, Severus turned to Arabella.

"This cream will prevent nappy rash for an extended period of time. I will apply it today, and it should remain effective for two weeks. When you next have the boy, you should apply it as well. If we are diligent, we should be able to keep the rash from returning while he is with his 'family'," he sneered the word with disgust.

"I have also brewed a nutritional supplement. Harry seems rather small for his age. I suspect they are not feeding him properly. The supplement will help him to obtain the vitamins he needs to grow. It will not replace proper nutrition, but it will help until we can get him out of here."

Severus turned back to complete his job and found that Harry had taken advantage of his distraction to sneak away. The boy stood in the doorway to the kitchen, his bits on display, looking at Severus with a "You Can't Catch Me" gleam in his eyes.

Severus dropped to all fours and growled playfully. Harry screeched and turned and ran into the kitchen, where he promptly smacked his head on the corner of the table. Harry dropped to his bare bottom on the floor, wailing his distress, tears streaming from his eyes.

"Oh, Harry!" Arabella exclaimed. She made to get up, but Snape waved her back into her chair and got up himself.

"Foolish boy," he crooned affectionately. "Let me see what you've done to yourself."

He lifted the sobbing child into his arms and studied the robin's egg sized knot on the boy's forehead. "Shhh!" he urged, fumbling for his wand. He muttered a healing spell, and the lump immediately dissolved, along, Snape assumed, with the pain in the clumsy boy's head. Just for good measure, Snape applied a kiss to the spot as well. "Just to seal in the magic," he whispered to the now sniffling toddler.

"Now shall we get you dressed, you silly imp?" Snape suggested.

Subdued, Harry allowed Severus to plaster his nether regions with salve, dress him, and wrap him in his new blue blanket. The two sat together until Harry dropped off to sleep. Severus sat with him for a time, marveling at how he'd taken to this boy and at how caring for him seemed so natural. He looked down at the child, so angelic in sleep, and wondered how hard-hearted someone had to be not to fall completely in love with this amazing little person, and, worse, to deliberately hurt him in any way.

An idea forming in his head, Severus vowed silently once again to make this right.

Severus had been waiting outside the entrance to the Headmaster's office for nearly an hour. Not sure when the old man intended to return, he didn't want to risk missing him. Finally, his patience was rewarded – Albus Dumbledore approached, smiling when he caught sight of Severus hovering there.

"Headmaster. I must speak with you. It is a matter of great importance," Snape said before Dumbledore could get started with any yuletide nonsense.

Not to be cheated, Dumbledore said cheerfully, "Severus, my boy! How was your holiday?"

"It was . . . interesting. Headmaster, it is the holiday of which I wish to speak with you. On . . ."

"Let us go up to my office, Severus. Orange cream," he said to the gargoyle guarding the entrance to his office. The door slid open, and the revolving staircase within began to turn its way up.

Severus followed the Headmaster into his office. "Tea, Severus?"

"No, thank you, sir. Headmaster, I received a floo call on the twenty-fourth from Arabella Figg."

"Sit," Dumbledore interrupted, gesturing at the chair before his desk. "And how was dear Arabella?"

Severus sat. "She was, and is, fine. She had the Potter boy. He was crying heartily. Screaming, actually. She wanted someone to come and check on him."

"You went, I presume?" Dumbledore asked, seeming perfectly composed in the face of the news that the infant savior had been distressed enough to scream. "I trust Harry's difficulty was minor in nature?"

"The cause of the problem was easily detected and just as easily cured. I do not have a lot of experience with young children, but that boy had a most severe case of nappy rash. Places on his skin were open and raw and very nearly infected. He was in a sizeable amount of pain, as you might imagine."

Dumbledore winced in sympathy. "Oh dear," he murmured. "I assume you set him to rights?"

"It was an easy enough fix," Severus confirmed. "But Headmaster . . ."

"You really must call me Albus, dear boy."

Snape nearly growled at the Headmaster's continual interruptions. "I am convinced the rash is indicative of a greater problem. The boy is thin nearly to the point of emaciation. His little body is covered with bruises. They are, at best, neglecting the child's care and, at worst, abusing him physically. The situation is untenable," Severus concluded his passionate plea.

"What do you suggest I do?"

"You must get him out of there! There must be dozens of families that would be willing to foster this child. A family of baboons would likely provide better care than he is currently receiving from his relations!"

"Severus, you know that he is not safe in our world. Voldemort may have been temporarily thwarted, but you know as well as I that he is not gone forever."

"Then give him to a guardian who understands the risks and can protect him."

"There are few who would both comprehend the danger Harry poses to Voldemort and are strong enough to defend him from your former master," Dumbledore pointed out.

No going back now, Snape thought, and he said, "I can, and I am. Give the boy to me, Headmaster! I can take him away from here, somewhere far away. We'll go into hiding until he is old enough to understand and strong enough to defend himself. I can even take him into the Muggle world and hide him there if that is what you prefer."

"Harry is safest where he is. There are wards in place that can only be provided by a blood relative. Harry has only the Dursleys left," Albus argued.

"But they are abusing him!" Did he not understand?! "Let me take him! Please!" Severus was horrified to hear the pleading in his voice. "It is my fault that he is there instead of with his parents! I have cursed him to lead this life with people who do not love him! He is such an incredible child, Albus, and I owe him a debt! Let me repay it in this way!"

Dumbledore studied his potions master over the top of his half-moon spectacles. His gaze was filled with compassion, but Severus' pride allowed him to see only pity.

"I acknowledge the debt you owe to young Harry, Severus," the old man said. "But there are more productive ways for you to atone for your errors."

"By teaching potions to uninspired and uninterested children? Surely the mental and physical well-being of the boy is more important! I don't think you fully comprehend just how dire the situation is. Children who do not grow up with affection become closed off and unable to form bonds with others when they are grown. Children who grow up without the touch of nurturing caregivers are much more likely to fall prey to the darker elements of society. Children who grow up without adults they can rely upon to meet their needs are often unable to form relationships of trust with older and authoritative figures. Surely you must see that, if the boy is in as much danger as you believe him to be at some undetermined point in the future, it will be important, vital even, for him to be able to place his faith in those of us who are charged with protecting him. Surely you must see this!"

"Someone has been doing research," Dumbledore noted with an amused smirk, which Snape wanted so very badly to wipe physically off his face. It fell off of its own accord when the Headmaster continued. "I have considered all of the sides to this situation, Severus. I realize that Harry's well-being may suffer some in the interim, but he will be safe at the Dursleys, and that is of paramount importance."

"So you're willing to consign him to the life of the unwanted, red-headed stepchild, just to keep him alive?" Severus asked, incredulous. Surely, there had to be a better way.

"Yes," Dumbledore said simply.

Severus sat back in his seat, fuming.

Dumbledore studied the angry young man before him for a moment, making up his mind. Yes, he thought, it was time Severus Snape understood exactly what the price for his absolution would be. "The boy is where he must be, Severus. As are you. It is not your potions teaching abilities that make you valuable to the side of the Light."

"It must be my sparkling personality then," Snape offered.

Dumbledore chuckled. "No, my boy. You can serve us best by biding your time here until Voldemort finds a way to return. We both know that it is only a matter of time before that happens. And when he does, we shall have a tool ready to use against him."

"A tool?" Severus repeated. Surely he couldn't mean the boy. Surely he didn't think of that precious child in such cold terms.

"Yes, Severus. A tool. A former servant, loyal still, who has been watching, in the very lair of the enemy, and waiting to return to the fold at the first sign of his master's return."

The meaning of Dumbledore's words sent a wave of cold spilling though Severus' body. He absently rubbed at his now quiet Dark Mark. "You mean to send me back?" he asked, hoping he was able to keep from the old man just how much that possibility frightened him.

"What better way to take down an enemy than from within? What better way to pay your debt to the Potters than by helping to deal the death blow to the threat to their only child?"

So Severus was the tool, a tool which was going to be allowed to wait quietly here at Hogwarts, teaching potions to imbecilic children (and wasn't that punishment enough?) until Voldemort found a way to return to this world, at which point, Severus would be tossed back to his former master's feet, begging for the opportunity to return and kiss the Dark Lord's hem and be subjected to the humiliation and pain that was so much a routine part of being the evil man's minion? This was to be his future? Severus found himself unable to speak and desperately in need of a drink. And a bath.

Dumbledore left him this way for a moment, until he was sure Severus understood the situation clearly, and then he said, "And now, if you will excuse me, Severus, I am quite knackered and need to turn in."

Unable to conjure even a polite "good night," Severus rose and left his new master.

Severus wasted no time when he arrived in Arabella Figg's floo the following day.

"The old man absolutely refuses to listen to reason! He is intractable that Harry must remain with those people. He is dooming him to a miserable life, and he doesn't even care!"

Mrs. Figg tsked in commiseration. "I've tried as well. Albus has explained to me his reasons for wanting to keep Harry here, and while it makes sense on one level, I have to wonder if he's doing the boy more harm than good."

Severus looked around the room. "Where is he?"

"Petunia came by for him about an hour ago."

"Oh?" Severus asked, trying to keep his face impassive as acute disappointment coursed through him. He'd hoped to see Harry again today – had brought him a few more books, actually. And some toy cars. And some clothes that fit.

"Yes. Surprising, really. She normally leaves him until the last possible moment."

"Oh. Were you able to get some of the nutritional supplement into him?"

"Yes. I put it in his applesauce. Gobbled it right down, he did," Mrs. Figg said with a pleased smile.

"Well . . . well, that is good, at least. That will help him to grow properly despite their mistreatment." Severus felt very awkward staying here now, but he didn't really want to leave and give up this link to the boy.

Arabella seemed to sense his hesitation and guessed at the reason behind it. "I have Harry regular of a Sunday morning," she said. "Petunia says he misbehaves in church, and she's embarrassed to take him, so she leaves him with me. She takes that great brute of a son of hers though, and I can only imagine what that hooligan gets up to. She leaves him for most of the morning, though I know that church is over after an hour. She's just glad to be rid of him is all."

"I believe the feeling must be mutual," Severus quipped.

"Anyway, in my roundabout fashion, I was trying to tell you that if you'd like to come and visit with Harry, just to see if your vitamin formula is working, of course," she said with a knowing twinkle in her eye, "why, Harry and I would be happy to see you. You could spend some time with the boy. Goodness knows he needs a positive male influence in his life. I could tell you stories about that Vernon Dursley that would curl your mustache."

Severus stared at her in disbelief. Because he, obviously, did not have a mustache. But he was not about to destroy her good will by pointing out just what an odd duck she was to her face. "That would be . . . beneficial. To my research. On the nutritional supplement, of course. I shall plan on seeing you Sunday next, then. Oh. I brought these things for the boy," he said, handing over the bag of things he'd brought. "May as well leave them here rather than bring them back next week."

Arabella took the bag and peeked inside. "Oh. Clothes that fit!"

"Yes, well, at least while he's here he need not look like a street urchin. Thank you, Mrs. Figg."

"Arabella," she corrected.

"Arabella," he said, with a nod of acknowledgment. "I shall return on Sunday. May I bring something?"

"You bring something for Harry. Whatever makes that boy happy does my heart a world of good, too. If Petunia should change her plans, I will floo you. Albus has at least made sure that I have plenty of floo powder. For emergencies, he said."

"I will bring you a larger supply," Severus promised. "So that we may communicate, should the need arise, regarding the boy. Good day, Mrs. – Arabella." Severus stepped into the flame and was gone.

Severus felt at loose ends as he sat in his armchair before the fire, his thumb absently thrumming the arm of the chair. He'd planned on seeing Harry today, and though he could think of at least seven things he could be doing with this unexpected free time, he couldn't make himself get up and do any of them. He wanted to see Harry, and he was displeased to have that opportunity taken from him.

That was when the idea that he could see Harry today began to form. He could go back to Surrey, back to Little Whinging, to Privet Drive, and see for himself where Harry lived and how he was treated. He convinced himself that he owed at least this much to the boy. It would be simple – one little disillusionment spell, and he'd be able to observe to his heart's content.

Severus stood up, resolved to put his plan into action immediately. Then he stopped, doubts creeping in. He knew himself – he knew he had a quick and brutal temper. If he went there and witnessed these people mistreating Harry – his Harry – would he be able to stop himself from striking them all down, grabbing up the boy, and flattening the place? Probably not. No, if he was going to do this, he'd best ensure that his emotions remained in check. He had a calming draught that should do the trick. Resolved again, Severus strode purposefully into his work room.

Severus stood outside the door of Number 4 Privet Drive, confident that he was fully invisible to the handful of Muggles who were out and about at the dinner hour on this frigid day. He'd be concerned if there were wizards about – magical folk, especially those with strong magic, could see, at least partially, through a disillusionment spell. But these Muggles – he had no worries.

What he was debating was how to get inside. He'd considered apparating in, but even the most clueless of Muggles couldn't miss the crack of apparition inside their own residence. The windows were, of course, all closed.

So he had to get someone to open the door. Severus approached the door and rapped smartly on it, twice, then stepped to the side, waiting. After several moments, just when he thought he was going to have to knock again, he heard the sound of a lock being turned.

The door opened and revealed a very large, very unpleasant looking man with a beefy red face, bushy eyebrows, and, in Severus' opinion, a completely unattractive mustache. Glittering eyes peered out of the porcine face at the empty door step.

"Yes?" he barked. "Who's there?"

When he saw no one, he slammed the door angrily before Severus could even think about trying to slip past the man's bulk and into the house. Severus counted to five, then rapped again. This time, the door was flung open almost immediately. "I've caught you, you damned . . ."

Dursley stopped when the miscreant he'd thought sure he'd caught was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled at how they'd gotten away so quickly, Dursley stepped out onto the cement step, which was all the opening Severus needed.

"You needn't knock again!" Dursley shouted out into the street, shaking his fist at nothing and no-one. "I won't be opening the door again!" And he lumbered back into the house and slammed the door again forcefully.

"Damned kids," Dursley muttered as he waddled away from the door. Severus followed him to the small dining area, set apart from the kitchen by a serving cupboard and open to a sitting area.

"Who was it, Vernon?" Petunia Dursley asked, and Severus almost gasped aloud when he saw her, because she hadn't changed one iota since the last time he'd seen her. It had been years, they'd both been children, but she had the same pinched, horsey face, the same sour, disapproving expression. She was everything her sister wasn't.

"Kids, I wager," Dursley said, throwing himself into the only empty chair at the table, causing Severus to fear for the chair's welfare. "If I lay my hands on those little pricks, I'll hang them up by their damned ears."

"Vernon!" Petunia rebuked, reaching over to cover the ears of a rotund . . . baby? . . . sitting in a raised chair at the table. "Language."

"Sorry, dear," Dursley said quickly. "I won't have little Dudders growing up like that riff raff out there," he said with a violent gesture with his fork toward the street.

Severus turned his attention to the child, Harry's cousin. He was easily twice as wide as Harry, and his mouth hung open as he breathed. He was currently engaged in squashing a large quantity of peas onto his tray, the only food remaining before him. His face was covered with sugary icing, left from the pudding he'd apparently been allowed to eat before finishing his meal.

"Does Diddykins want more?" Petunia asked in a frightening baby voice.

The oversized toddler grunted but made no other response.

Severus had just begun to wonder where Harry was when a motion under the table caught his attention. Green eyes peered up at the older boy from beneath his chair. Severus was confused. Did they allow the boy to play instead of sitting at the table with the family? How was a child to learn table manners if they never sat at the table? But Harry wasn't playing – he was sitting expectantly at his cousin's feet, waiting. For what?

Severus' question was answered in horrifying fashion when Petunia stood up, disconnected the tray from the other's boy's chair, and placed it on the floor. As though it were a normal way to eat, Harry scooted over to the tray and began to eat the other boy's leavings, consisting mostly of the mashed peas.

Severus' mouth dropped open. They fed the boy like a dog?! Did he have a water dish in the kitchen and a swinging trap in the door to go out into the backyard to take care of his business? This was appalling! It certainly explained why the boy was so thin. No one could survive on this amount of food, even after Petunia tossed two bread crusts from her own plate onto the tray, which Harry grabbed up and immediately chewed and swallowed.

Petunia unbuckled her monstrous child from his seat. Severus wondered why they bothered with the strap. There was no way that child was going to slip out of the seat. If he fell, he was taking the chair with him, penned in as he was by his rolls of fat. The child was set down on the floor, but apparently could not walk yet because his legs gave out immediately and he sank to the floor.

Harry finished his meager offering and stood up. He eyed the pudding left on the table and pointed at it. "Hawee," he said.

"Not bloody likely," Vernon blurted. "I'll not waste perfectly good food on the likes of you."

Harry reached forward, as if to touch, and Dursley reacted with a speed Severus would not have given him credit for. His much larger, meaty hand shot out and slapped the boy's hand away. The slap was loud and must have hurt, and tears filled Harry's green eyes, though he did not cry aloud.

"Nancy boy," Dursley said, his voice full of disgust. "Freak."

Severus was glad he'd taken the calming draught, as he might well end up in Azkaban if he'd had full use of his emotions.

Harry made no sound, but tears rolled down his face. Severus stepped toward him, fighting himself. He wanted badly to take the boy in his arms and comfort him. After which, he would hex this brutish man, his cruel wife, and his evil spawn, just for good measure.

"If you're going to whinge, you might as well go off to bed." Dursley pushed himself up off his chair and grabbed Harry roughly by the upper arm. Severus now knew exactly where the bruise ringing Harry's bicep had come from. Though the tiny child wasn't fighting back at all, Dursley dragged him forcibly from the room.

Just before he went through the door, Harry's wet green eyes connected with Severus'.

"Wuss!" the boy wailed, extending a beseeching hand toward Severus.

Severus extended his own arm toward the boy. His inadvertent cry of "Harry!" was lost in the sound of Dursley wrenching open the door under the stairs, throwing the small child bodily into the tiny cupboard, and slamming the door loudly. He threw the latch closed with an evil smile of satisfaction, locking the door into the small, dark space, presumably until morning. Harry had had no bath, no nappy change, no pajamas, and no supper to speak of, but he was done for the night, put conveniently away. Surprisingly, Severus could not hear Harry crying. Perhaps the boy had already learned it only made things worse.

Detection be damned. If Severus didn't get out of here this minute, something irreversible was going to happen, and even Albus Dumbledore wouldn't be able to save him from the consequences. His cheeks wet, Severus apparated out of there, leaving the Muggles to make what they would of the loud crack.

Severus stumbled after the swirl of apparition ended, catching his balance for only a moment before he pitched head first to the ground. He sucked in a huge breath to calm his whirling thoughts, not even realizing he was crying. He needed to get to the Headmaster, and by Merlin, if he didn't do something about this untenable situation, Severus fully intended to.

"Why, Severus, what is wrong?" Dumbledore asked, standing up quickly from his chair, shocked by his young potion master's condition. "What has happened?"

"Look!" Severus sobbed, dropping to his knees on the floor beside the throne upon which Dumbledore sat. "Please! Look at what I have seen! Look at the deplorable conditions you have left this boy to suffer! We must do something, Headmaster! We must do something today!"

Severus looked up into the eyes of the concerned older wizard, offering everything up for the taking. With a concerned frown and only a moment's hesitation, Dumbledore plunged into the young man's memories.

When he'd finished, Dumbledore dropped back into his chair and rubbed at his temples. "We must teach you how to put your memories into a pensieve, Severus, so that you don't have to suffer through legillimency when you have something to share with me," he said, apropos of nothing.

Through the haze of tears, Severus gaped up at Dumbledore. After what he'd just shown the man, he was worried about Severus being subjected to legillimency? Was the man unbalanced? Severus had had more than one occasion to wonder that very thing.

"Headmaster . . ." Severus began.

"Hush, my boy," Dumbledore cut him off. "Give me one moment to wrestle with this in the corners of my mind. I am angry now, and anything I say would be imprudent."

Good! He was angry! "So you agree that we must do something . . ."

"It is not only the Dursleys I am angry with Severus," Dumbledore said with a stern look at Severus which left him in no doubt as to whom he was referring.

"You are angry with me?" Severus asked in disbelief.

"Severus, I beg of you – be still for a moment. Get up off your knees and take a seat. I will be with you momentarily." Dumbledore sat back and closed his eyes, looking for all the world as though he were going to take a nap.

Severus climbed to his feet and petulantly flung himself into the chair before the Headmaster's desk, waiting impatiently for the old man to gather his thoughts. Finally, after what felt like forever to the young man, Dumbledore opened his eyes again. Severus waited for him to speak.

"Severus," he said, then paused, as though he still hadn't figured out how to approach this. After a shallow sigh, he continued, "You may have placed Harry in a great deal of danger by your actions this evening. If the Dursleys even suspect that something magical occurred in their home tonight, they may harm Harry or refuse to provide him with their protection any longer."

"So you admit they are the type of people who would harm a small child! Please, Albus, I am willing to get on my knees to you. I am begging you to let me take that child away from there. They will injure him, physically and emotionally, perhaps beyond redemption. They do not love him!"

"And you do?" Dumbledore challenged.

Severus remembered the imploring look Harry gave him just before he was taken away and shut up in the cupboard, and the feeling that his heart was being ripped out of his chest at the realization that he could not step in and help Harry that instant. He lowered his chin to his chest. "Yes, I do love him."

Dumbledore actually chuckled at this hard-fought declaration, which caused Severus to snap his head up angrily. "Look at you, Severus. Embarrassed to admit that you love. Do not be ashamed of loving, dear boy. It may well be your absolution yet. You forget I have seen the child as well. Who could fail to love those sparkling green eyes and that mischievous grin?"

"The Dursleys apparently. How is it possible that I would be a worse guardian for the boy than those people? I know that I have not much to recommend me, but surely even I, who have just admitted to you that I love the child, could do a better job of raising him!"

"Your fitness to parent young Harry is not the issue here, Severus. I have no doubt that you would shower him with love and affection and raise him up to be a fine young man. But if Harry is to survive what I believe is coming for him, he needs to be allowed to grow up in a place that is safe, the only place that currently can protect his very life. While I believe that you would die to protect Harry from Voldemort, I would prefer not to bring about the circumstance where that is necessary. Voldemort cannot touch Harry where he is. As long as the Dursleys allow Harry to consider their home his home, he will be safe. There is no other protection that I can provide him that is stronger. Believe me, Severus, I agonized over this decision. It was not an easy one. But if you do indeed love the boy, you will agree that his very life is of paramount importance."

Still Severus argued. "But he is going to grow up with a family that hates him and fears him. He will not know love or kindness. He will not know the pleasures of youth. He will be reviled and insulted and disrespected every day of his life. This is what you believe the Boy Who Lived deserves?"

Albus sighed heavily. "What he deserves is to be at home, with his parents, surrounded by all of these things which you so rightly believe any child is entitled to. But that is not possible now, so we must do the best we can."

Severus looked away, his guilt that he was in part the reason why Harry's life was being destroyed eating away at him again.

"I must ask you, Severus, not to go to the Dursleys again. No good can come of it." Dumbledore held up a hand to silence the protest he could see Severus was mounting. "I will handle the Dursleys. The behavior you witnessed tonight will not be repeated. They will treat Harry with a modicum of dignity, or they will suffer the consequences. Once I make that plain to them, they will, I am sure, change their behavior in certain regards."

Severus was not so sure, and he huffed his disagreement, the wheels spinning in his mind. Could he spirit the boy away without Dumbledore knowing until it was too late to stop him? But Dumbledore knew exactly what the young man was thinking, even without the benefit of legillimency. "Severus, I must have your promise that you will not compromise Harry's safety. If you do not give me your promise, right here, right now, I will change the wards surrounding the Dursleys to repel you should you go anywhere near the boy or the house."

Severus glared daggers at the old man, then said, "I will agree to promise you this if you give me one thing in return, Headmaster."

"Albus," Dumbledore insisted. "I am listening."

"I want you to allow me to have regular contact with the boy. He will need someone to provide him with all of those things he will be missing from his life with those people. You tell them that they are to allow Arabella Figg to have the boy every Sunday for a few hours. I will go there and spend time with him. Between us, we ought to be able to give the boy some of what he needs."

Dumbledore stared at Severus for a time, thinking over this offer. "I will accept this, with one condition of my own. No one must know about your involvement with Harry. If you are to remain effective when Voldemort returns, you cannot be seen to have close ties with the boy. Because you know the first thing Voldemort will do when he returns, should you be close to the boy, will be to demand that you bring Harry to him. And if you refuse, he will kill you. I will not be complicit in setting up the situation that brings that result about. If you can agree to be discrete, I can agree to allow you time every Sunday with Harry."

Severus ruminated on this. It was not what he wanted, which was to have Harry as far away from those awful people as possible. But it was better than nothing, which is what he sensed he would get if he pushed Dumbledore on this. "All right," he agreed. "I agree. I promise not to try to remove the boy from the Dursleys."

"And you promise not to harm the Dursleys in any way," Albus prodded.

"Yes, Albus, I promise not to harm a hair on any of their ugly heads," Snape groused.

"I really do regret that things must be this way, Severus," Dumbledore confessed. "Young Mr. Potter's welfare is constantly at the forefront of my mind. I do hope that you will keep me abreast of his condition and development."

"As you wish, Headmaster. If that is all, I will retire to my quarters and speak with Arabella – Mrs. Figg."

Dumbledore nodded. "Certainly. Have a good night, Severus."

Severus' routine changed at that point. On Saturday, he made a concerted effort to take care of all of his school work. He graded essays and planned lessons and drafted quizzes and tests. He changed office hours from Sunday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. He stayed up late preparing whatever potions Madam Pomfrey requested of him for the school stores. He did all of this to free up his Sundays.

Because on Sunday, just after breakfast, he flooed to Arabella Figg's house and spent the day there with Harry. After feeding Harry, as the boy was always hungry when he arrived, they dressed Harry in clothes that fit, and then they played, inside and in the yard after Severus erected a magical privacy screen around Figg's backyard. They read. They laughed. They ate together at table. They worked on potty training, which Harry mastered in March, at the age of twenty months. And before they sent Harry home just before dinner, they fed him again and bathed him, because Severus suspected that, like everything else, Harry's hygiene was being neglected, and he wanted to assure the boy was properly clean at least once a week. Redressed in the overly large clothes he'd arrived in, Severus sadly watched from the window as Arabella walked Harry back to his prison.

While they did all of these things (except the potty training and bathing, of course – well, there was that one time when Harry was in the tub with suds on his hair and face, making him look like a miniature Dumbledore), Severus took pictures of the boy, because he'd noticed, during his brief time in the Dursley home, that though the walls and shelves were filled with pictures of the unattractive Dursley spawn, there was not a single picture to be found of their unwanted burden. Harry was growing and changing so quickly, and the chance to document his growth and development evaporated quickly and could not be regained. Some day, Harry would have these pictures and know that there had been happy moments in his early childhood and someone who cared enough to memorialize them.

Severus developed these photographs and placed them in an album, which he dragged out periodically during the week, when he was missing Harry. He felt much like the man who had lived next to his house when he was a boy himself. Divorced, the man saw his children only on the weekend. It took very little imagination on Severus' part to see himself as Harry's father, separated from his son by some unnamed circumstance, able to see the boy only one day a week. He loved the boy enough – he wasn't sure he could love him any more if he had been Harry's biological father. Even that wasn't hard to picture, in Severus' head. At one time in his life, he had loved Lily Evans Potter, enough so that in his juvenile naivete, he thought he might someday ask her to marry him. If life had gone that way, Harry might very well be his son. That thought pleased Severus no end. He thought about Harry every day he wasn't with him, counting the hours until their next visit and dreading when Sunday afternoon drew to a close and Harry had to return to the Dursleys for their evening meal.

But while they were together, Severus and Arabella imagined themselves a little family, teaching the child what all children should begin to learn at Harry's age: how to sit at table and eat, how to use his manners to get what he wanted, how to be gentle with animals (though this was no problem because Harry was the most gentle of boys with Arabella's cats), how to expand his vocabulary, how to recognize letters and numbers, shapes and colors.

And as much as he enjoyed his visits with Harry each Sunday, Severus found himself wanting more when they ended. He wanted Harry with him all the time, not just for a few hours a week. He wanted to be able to take him out, perhaps to a play park to play with other children, or perhaps to a restaurant to learn to eat in public, perhaps just for a walk down the street. He wanted to be able to bring the boy to his home (though he knew that would require a veritable ton of babyproofing). He wanted most of all to get Harry away from his current guardians because he knew that no amount of coercion by Albus Dumbledore would make those awful people love the dear boy, and Harry deserved so much more.

One of his desires, at least, was destined to be fulfilled soon. At one visit in March, Arabella excitedly told Severus that Petunia had asked her to keep Harry for the weekend over Easter so that they could visit Dursley's sister. Arabella had, of course, agreed, and immediately the idea that Severus could have Harry stay with him, in the dungeon, sprang to mind. He mentioned it to Arabella, expecting her to tell him that it was a terrible idea, that Severus wasn't capable of caring for the boy alone for three days, that she herself would like to spend the time with him, but she surprised him by enthusiastically endorsing the idea. For two weeks prior to the planned visit, Severus could think of nothing but Harry and how much he would enjoy having the boy in his own home.

Severus waited until Harry was asleep before flooing with him from Arabella's to his own rooms in the dungeons, both because he didn't want to frighten the boy by bringing him through the flames and because he didn't want to give the curious toddler the idea that walking into a fire was acceptable. He cradled Harry carefully against his chest as he stepped out onto his own hearth, then looked down at the sleeping boy. At last. Harry was here at last. Severus had no idea why it was so important to him to have Harry here, but he admitted that it was, and he intended to enjoy every moment they had together before he had to return Harry on Monday.

He'd made several trips through the floo already this morning to bring Harry's things here: his portable crib, his toys, his clothes, his books, everything they would need to get through the weekend together. He lay Harry gently down to finish his nap before making one more circuit around his rooms to ensure himself that he'd protected Harry from all of the potential dangers found here. The ever-helpful books on child rearing (some of which he'd taken from the library and never returned) had provided him with bumper spells to use specifically with toddlers to keep them from getting too near dangerous items. If the child attempted to touch, he would meet an invisible force field which would gently rebuff his attempt. For those children who became frustrated by being able to see something that they could not touch, the spell could be altered to contain a disillusionment component: what you cannot see you will not want to touch.

Severus suspected that anyone who had seen him this morning would have laughed at him: he'd crawled around his rooms trying to identify risks and hazards from a Harry's-eye view so that he could protect the boy from them. Severus made one last circuit around the room, and when he was satisfied that all was as safe as he could make it, he retired with a sigh to the sofa in his sitting room and waited for the boy to awaken.

He was only a little surprised by the knock on his door shortly after he'd settled himself. Of course, he'd told Dumbledore that he was bringing Harry here, and of course the meddlesome old man couldn't keep his busybody nose away. Sighing, Severus got to his feet and opened the door to the beaming Headmaster.

"Severus! Is he here?!"

"Yes, Headmaster. He's here. He is asleep, though. Perhaps if you'd like to come back later . . ."

"Oh, no, Severus. If you don't mind, I should like to wait until he awakens. I am most anxious to see him."

Severus had known it wouldn't be that easy to get rid of him. "Of course, Headmaster. Please come in and sit down. May I offer you something? Tea, perhaps?"

"Tea would be lovely," Albus nodded, his eyes scanning Severus' apartment, no doubt ensuring himself that the important little creature would be safe here.

Dumbledore beamed at Severus when handed a cup of tea. "I noticed your detentions were nearly non-existent this week, Severus. Could it be something has put you into a good mood?" he teased.

Severus covered his snort of disagreement with a sip of tea. "Perhaps the little monsters are simply finally learning how to behave."

"Perhaps," Dumbledore agreed good-naturedly, though his eyes twinkled merrily with obvious disagreement.

"I will check on the boy," Severus said, standing up. "He does not cry when he awakes. I suspect because he knows his family will not react at all well to it." Severus was not above getting in his digs when he could. "I use a monitoring spell, of course, but he sometimes plays quietly for a time before making enough noise for it to register that he's awake. Excuse me, sir."

"Of course, Severus. Of course."

Through the monitor, Albus heard, "Mr. Potter. You are awake."

"Wuss! Wuss!" said a small, obviously excited child. Dumbledore smiled at the obvious joy in Harry's voice at seeing the older man.

"Yes, Mr. Potter. You've woken up somewhere other than where you went to sleep, haven't you? You are in my room."

"'dis Wuss house?"

"Yes, this is my house. Are you still dry? Let's have a look. Oh, good boy. Do you need to use the potty?"


"How about we try anyway?" Severus suggested. "Then I will show you around."


Albus heard rustling sounds: the boy being picked up and carried to the loo, distant voices, punctuated by Harry's "What 'dat?" and Severus' murmured replies to the child's inquiries. Then, finally, Severus' voice, clear again. "Excellent, Mr. Potter. We have a visitor. Come, and I'll introduce you."

Severus returned to the sitting room leading Harry by the hand. Dumbledore's hungry eyes feasted on the boy, which apparently made Harry a bit nervous, because he tugged on Severus' hand and demanded, "Up, Wuss."

Severus bent and pulled the boy into his arms, then approached the Headmaster with his precious burden. "Mr. Potter, this is Albus Dumbledore. He knew you when you were a tiny baby."

"H'lo," Harry said, peering curiously at the strange old man with the long white beard, feeling bold now that he was in his Wuss' arms.

"Hello, Master Harry," Dumbledore said with a happy smile. "And how are you today, my dear boy?"

Harry smiled shyly and ducked his head against Severus' shoulder.

"Oh, Severus," Dumbledore breathed. "He is precious!"

Holding Harry tightly, Severus couldn't help but agree, his chest swelling ridiculously with pride at the man's approval. The more petty side of him couldn't help but be pleased that the old man was seeing Harry clinging to him like this. See? he thought. I'm good at this. The boy loves me. I would have been good for him. Much better than those people you've forced him to endure. But he said none of this, of course.

Severus felt his mouth turning up at the corners at Dumbledore's praise. "Harry, would you like to show the Headmaster your book?" Though Harry had several books now, his first had remained his favorite, and he could "read" it front cover to back cover now.

Wriggling to get down was Harry's agreement with this proposal.

"Your things are in the basket," Severus told him, directing him to the basket beside the sofa.

Harry rooted around until he found the book, then brought it shyly to the man on the sofa watching him intently. He held the book out toward Dumbledore, who took the book and asked, "Would you like to sit with me?"

Harry nodded, and Albus pulled him into his lap. He ducked his head to the boy's perpetually messy locks and inhaled his boy aroma, closing his eyes. Severus actually thought he saw tears in the old man's eyes when he opened them again and felt minutely bad about wanting to rub the man's face in the situation earlier. But only minutely.

Harry took the book from Albus' hand and opened it to the first page. Peeking up to make sure his audience was listening, Harry said, "Pot is a pink cat."

Delighted, Albus beamed down at the boy in his lap. "He can read!"

Severus nearly snorted aloud. "No, of course he can't read. We've read it so many times, he's merely memorized it."

"Please continue, Harry," Dumbledore encouraged.

"Weck is a wed dog."

"And so he is! He reminds me of a dog I had once as a boy. His name was Rufus."

"Wufus?" Harry repeated, quickly falling under the sway of the old man's charm, his initial hesitation all but forgotten.

"Wufus!" Dumbledore repeated, chuckling madly. "Yes, Wufus."

"Wufus?" Harry asked, pointing at the dog in the picture book.

"No. That one's name is Rex. Although he does look a lot like a Rufus. Or a Wufus, rather." Dumbledore chuckled again. Severus rolled his eyes, unnoticed by both old man and boy.

"Pee is a gween nake," Harry continued, which made Dumbledore laugh uproariously. His good humor contagious, Harry began to giggle as well, until both of them were laughing nearly uncontrollably.

Severus had to contain the urge to throw something at the two of them. He was surprised by another knock on his door. "Who could that be? I certainly wasn't expecting anyone." Other than you, Severus added mentally to his unwanted guest.

With a great effort, Dumbledore got himself under control, then made Severus nervous by looking sheepish. "That may be Minerva. I may have . . . slipped and told her that young Mr. Potter was in the castle."

Severus gaped at him, his anger rising quickly. "What happened to discretion, Headmaster? What happened to 'no one must know' that I have a relationship with the boy?"

"Surely you don't doubt Minerva's ability to keep a secret?" Albus asked. "She has expressed the same concerns about Harry's family that you have. I thought it might do her some good to see that the boy has someone else actively involved in his care. You have done an excellent job with him, Severus. That is clear even to these old eyes. And you have given me tremendous peace of mind, letting me see him today. Let Minerva have the same."

Knowing he had little choice, Severus contained his true feelings on the subject and rose to open his door. "Minerva," he said, with a cordial nod.

"Severus," she rejoined. "I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but the Headmaster said . . ."

Severus opened the door wider and stood aside. "He's here. Do come in."

They rejoined the pair in the sitting room just in time for Harry to reach the page with the owl and shout his customary greeting. Albus laughed like a loon and hugged the boy to his chest.

"Well done, Harry! I enjoyed that tremendously! Thank you ever so much. This is Minerva, Harry. Minerva, may I present Master Harry Potter."

Minerva's hands came up to cover her cheeks. "Oh, he is a cute little lad, isn't he? Look at those eyes! His mother's eyes, those are. Looks just like his father except for those eyes. Hello, Harry. It's very nice to see you again."

Uncomfortable again at the presence of a stranger, Harry's eyes sought out Severus. "Wuss," he said, obviously nervous.

"It's all right, Harry," Severus said soothingly. "Can you say hello to Professor McGonagall?"

Harry squirmed down from Albus' lap and crossed the room to hug the back of Severus' legs, never taking his eyes off the newcomer. He pressed his face between Severus' knees, peered out at Minerva, and said, "Lo."

Minerva smiled at the boy, and Severus said, "He's a little shy around strangers. Give him a few minutes, and he'll be your best friend." Not that he wanted either one of them to stay long enough to witness Harry's transformation.

He was acutely disappointed when Minerva sat and Albus poured tea for her. Clearly they intended to stay for a while.

And stay they did. Within minutes, Harry had warmed to Minerva, and he wound her around his little finger just as he'd done with Albus and Severus before him. His visitors refused to leave until Severus agreed to bring Harry and join them for dinner in Albus' quarters that evening.

Severus and Harry walked stealthily up to the Headmaster's office – it wouldn't do for anyone to see the austere potions master traversing the school with a toddler. Once inside, Severus let Harry loose, and the boy ran about the room, enthralled by the many captivating objects Dumbledore kept here. Finally Severus had to corral the boy and take him in to dinner, where Harry himself captivated the adults with his charming non-stop conversation. Severus nearly burst with pride.

Arabella was strangely excited when Severus flooed in for his weekly visit one Sunday late in May. After receiving his customary neck-squashing hug from his favorite toddler, they sat at table to partake of their usual late breakfast.

"What has got you so giddy?" Severus finally asked when he could stand Arabella's twittering no longer.

"Petunia told me this morning they're going on vacation for two weeks at the end of July," Figg said with a grin.

"Are they taking our boy?" Severus asked, hoping against hope that they were not.

"No," Arabella confirmed.

"So we get to have him for two weeks?" Severus asked, beginning to feel excited himself.

"Yes. She said she asked Vernon's sister to take him, but we both know that Marge would never take him. I think she only asked so that she could hear our boy disparaged. That woman!" Arabella stopped herself from saying more – there were small ears present. They always referred to Harry as "our boy" when they spoke of him in context with his abominable relatives. "I made out as though it was a hardship, of course. Wouldn't do to have her thinking that anyone enjoyed his company now, would it?" she asked bitterly. "She'd probably stop allowing him to visit."

"She can't," Severus said with certainty. "Dumbledore promised that they would continue. I don't know how he's assured that, but they haven't missed a single Sunday."

"And we both know why that is, don't we?" Arabella asked with a meaningful look at Severus. It was still a mystery to them both how anyone could despise the green-eyed wonder and want to be shed of him at every opportunity. But as they were both the richer for it, they'd stopped questioning it aloud.

"Two weeks!" Severus said with wonder. "What shall we do with him?" An idea was already forming in his mind, and he answered his own question before Arabella could speak. "I've got it! My mother's family had a cottage by the sea in Sussex. It's been empty for years, but it wouldn't take long to make it habitable. It's secluded and right on the beach. Harry would love it."

Harry looked up at the mention of his name and smiled at Severus. Severus smiled back and reached over to tousle the boy's hair. "What do you think, Harry? Would you like to go to the beach?"

Since Harry didn't know what a beach was, he wasn't sure whether he'd like to go or not. "Wuss go?"

"Yes, I'll be there. Arabella, too, if she'd like to accompany us."

"Of course I'll go. It'll be great fun!"

"School ends in two weeks. Once I have some free time, I'll pop over there and start getting the place cleaned up. I'll have to tell Albus, I suppose," Severus said with a sigh. Damned old man would probably insist on accompanying them. "And we'll have him over his birthday! We can do something special. It's not every day your young man turns two."

Severus was really looking forward to this, and he began mentally counting the days.

Severus looked around him in satisfaction. It had taken him several trips to his ancestral cottage, oddly named Otter's Run, and the borrowing of a house elf from Hogwarts, but he finally had the seaside cottage shipshape and ready for habitation. He'd laid in enough clothing for himself and food for all of them for two weeks; he'd bought some extra clothing for Harry, including a couple of pairs of the cutest swim trunks; and he'd transported Harry's toys, the portable cot and the baby chair used for taking meals at the table to the cottage earlier in the week. All was ready for Harry's visit, which was to begin tomorrow. Severus was nearly gleeful (or as near to gleeful as he ever got) with anticipation.

Neither Arabella nor Harry had enjoyed side-along apparition. Arabella had stumbled immediately to a chair and plunked herself into it, staying there for several minutes before she deemed herself fit to move again. Harry had looked positively green until he vomited all down the front of Severus' robes. For an hour or so afterward, he was fussy and whiny, until Severus dressed him in his swim trunks and walked him down to the beach. Then Harry forgot about everything but the sand and the sea.

The boy was enraptured by the sea rolling onto the beach, and he obviously wanted very desperately to wade out into the surf. However, waves kept driving him back and causing him to shriek with a combination of two parts fear and one part delight.

"I tared," he told Severus, who'd tried talking him out of his hesitation, only to rediscover that logic didn't work on a toddler.

Finally, Severus held him by the arms and lifted him up whenever a wave approached so that only his toes trailed through the water. Harry loved this and squealed his pleasure loudly. When he tired of that, Severus retrieved the new sand toys he'd purchased, and he and Harry spent a happy morning building castles out of sand, only to see them washed away by the surf. Harry was wriggling his feet out from under the sand, where Severus had buried them, when Arabella called them for lunch.

After they ate, Severus and Harry stretched out in the hammock under the trees in the front yard and napped the afternoon away. He could get used to this life, Severus thought as he swayed with the afternoon breeze, Harry's little body tucked up against his chest, just before nodding off.

Two days later, Harry had lost most of his fear of the water. Severus had conjured him a flotation device, a plastic buoyant ring which he could sit and float about in, his legs dangling in the water. Harry liked to ride the waves this way. Severus would take him out into the water until it was chest deep, then he'd let Harry go to float back toward shore, making sure he was never more than an arm's length away from the boy. Harry would watch the seagulls wheeling overhead or look down into the water at his toes until he'd made his way back to the beach. Time permitting, they'd do it again. Severus resolved to teach the boy to swim, and he began taking him out of the floating ring for short intervals and holding him up in the water.

By the end of the first week, Harry was completely fearless. He still preferred to float, but he began to get more daring, tipping his body to put his face into the water, nearly falling out of his floating ring. When Severus took him out of the ring, he willingly let go of Severus and splashed around cheerfully. Severus thought that if they had enough time, he could make a fine swimmer out of the boy.

Driving wind and a hard rain in the morning had kept everyone inside. Severus was starting to get a little irritated with Harry, who asked every five minutes, "'Wimmin', Wuss?" He had to give the little tyke points for being persistent, but the boy was driving him spare as he tried to read a highly technical article in a potions journal. Finally, he snapped. "Why don't you get lost for a while, you irksome creature. I think I hear Arabella calling you. Go see what she wants."

Appropriately shooed, Harry headed toward the front of the house, but not before trying one more time. "'Wimmin', Wuss?"

"Go!" Severus ordered.

The boy left, and Severus heaved a sigh of relief. He'd never spent this much time with a small child, and as much as he loved Harry, he was finding that even this winsome little creature could be tiring. He settled in contentedly to read and was able to do so undisturbed for forty-five minutes.

Finally reaching the end of the periodical, Severus rose and stretched. A look out the window revealed the rain had let up only a little. It didn't look like they'd be able to get a swim in at all today. He wandered back to the kitchen in search of Harry.

But Harry wasn't here. Arabella was, though, and as she removed a chocolate cake from the oven, Severus said, "That smells incredible. Where's Harry?"

Arabella looked up at him, slightly startled. "I thought he was with you."

A feeling not unlike panic made itself known in the pit of Severus' stomach, but he fought to keep it down. "No. I sent him back here to you nearly an hour ago. Did he not come?"

"I haven't seen him since breakfast. I've been here baking all morning." The Headmaster and Professor McGonagall had invited themselves to celebrate Harry's birthday on the morrow, and their quiet little celebration of the boy's turning two had been increased.

"I shall look outside," Severus said, and though he was trying not to overreact like a nervous parent, his feet moved a little faster than normal. As soon as he opened the seaside door, Severus saw it, and his heart dropped into his stomach. The familiar red and white stripes of Harry's flotation device, no longer on the porch where it was always kept when not in use, but now floating just on the edge of the rough surf, bobbing gently as it tried to beach itself. "No!" Severus croaked.

Running now, Severus pelted toward the water. "Harry!" he yelled in anguish. "Harry!" He reached the sea and splashed into it until the water was at his knees, searching frantically for any sign of the boy, hoping against all the evidence that he was wrong and that Harry had not come outside alone for his morning "'wimmin'" after Severus had kept putting him off.

"Harry!" he wailed. Tears started and began streaming down his face unnoticed. What was he going to do? If Harry was – Albus would murder him where he stood, he knew. Not that he intended to give the Headmaster the opportunity. If he was responsible for Harry's – he'd do himself in before Albus even heard the news. This was his fault – he was supposed to have been looking after the boy. He was only two, and Severus had told him to get lost. Get lost! How those words haunted him now, and how they would continue to haunt him until he put an end to his miserable existence. He'd proven he was good for nothing, in the end. Even the small and precious child whom he loved dearly was not safe from him. And he'd thought to beg Albus to let him have the boy full-time! He was pathetic. He'd always been pathetic, and he would always be pathetic. It was time to end it.

Severus began walking forward, fully intending to keep going until the water covered his head and he simply ceased breathing. His life in return for the Boy Who Lived's was a poor trade, but it was all he had left to offer.

The water was to his waist when he heard Arabella calling. He could not make out her words over the wind and rain, and he stopped on his mission only briefly. Moments later, though, her words floated to him, carried by the whirling wind. "I've got him, Severus! He's here in the house!"

Severus stopped then, his chin dropping to his chest. Relief so profound washed through him that he nearly lost his footing and was pulled under, which would likely have fulfilled his suicidal wish of moments before whether he'd changed his mind or not.

His entire body numb, Severus turned and trudged back to the cottage.

"He's asleep upstairs," Arabella told him from the top of the steps. "Oh, Severus," she said, and he could tell by her face that she understood completely what he'd thought had happened and what he'd intended to do in consequence. Surprising him, she pulled him into her embrace. Surprising him even more, he allowed it. Two steps from the top, he was able to rest his head on her shoulder, and he stayed there for a moment, gathering his scattered wits, glad that the weather would veil the tears that he knew were on his cheeks.

When he finally pulled away, he said, "I need to see him."

"Of course. He's on your bed."

Severus was aware that he was shaking as he climbed the narrow stairs. He wasn't aware that he'd stopped breathing until he saw Harry, safe, curled up on the bed, clutching his blanket and his bear, his favorite book beside him, and drew a painful breath into his protesting lungs. Harry had come up here to read, then, and had fallen asleep to the rhythm of the rain.

Torn between the need to touch the boy and the desire not to wake him, Severus cast a drying spell on himself and sat gently on the edge of the bed. Slowly he reached out, laying his large hand over the boy's chest, feeling the up and down of Harry's sleep-steady breath, certain he could also feel the heart beating beneath his hand. Harry was alive! A sob wrenched itself out of Severus' chest at the solid realization of that fact, sleeping unconcernedly under his hand.

Harry's green eyes blinked open, and when he saw Severus there, he smiled muzzily up at him. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Severus pulled the boy into his arms and hugged him tightly until Harry squirmed to get away. For the remainder of the day, Severus never let the boy out of his sight. And once Harry had gone to bed that night, Severus, mentally kicking himself for not having thought of this sooner, set about creating a barrier between the cottage and the ocean that would prevent anyone under the age of ten from passing through it and alert Severus if an attempt was made. Before he fell asleep that night, Severus did something that he hadn't done for many, many years. He sent a prayer of thanks to God.

The visit by the Headmaster and Minerva had actually been almost pleasant. They'd brought the boy presents and made over him. Normally starved for even notice by his family, Harry shown under the increased attention. Severus was anxious lest Arabella mention yesterday's missing-boy fiasco, though he knew he deserved Albus' condemnation for it, but she didn't mention it. Severus certainly wasn't going to give the Headmaster any reason for ordering him to stop seeing Harry.

The visit lasted through lunch, and after their guests left, Severus took Harry into the nearby Muggle town, which he knew from a previous visit for supplies was hosting a small country fair. Harry wanted to ride the carousel over and over, and Severus was nearly dizzy by the time he insisted that it was time to go home.

Harry fell asleep with his head on Severus' shoulder during the walk back.

Three more days. They only had three more days left here, and Severus wished that time would slow down.

"I've a friend in Littlehampton I'd like to visit if you think you and Harry will be all right alone for the last two days," Arabella mentioned at breakfast.

"Of course we'll be all right," Severus assured her. "I can cook, after all. You go on and enjoy yourself. Will you return here so that we can apparate together?"

Arabella grimaced at the memory. "Hettie has promised to get me home. I'll be home by three on the fourth, long before Petunia comes for Harry. I'll meet you both there."

"And how will you get there?"

"Hettie is picking me up in the village at ten. I'm all packed. It's just one suitcase, so I'll just walk down later."

Severus and Harry thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of their time at the seaside. Severus apparated the boy home on the appointed day, then made several trips back for all of Harry's things and nearly cried when he had to leave the boy later that day.

Severus' life continued on in this way for some time. His weekly visits with Harry were far and away the high point of his week. Although Harry didn't grow fast physically, he developed behaviorally in leaps and bounds. Though he didn't receive any encouragement at "home", he picked things up quickly, and his vocabulary expanded incredibly. Severus taught the boy his letters and numbers, and by the time Harry started school, he was already well on his way to reading independently.

Their trip to the seaside was repeated the summer Harry turned three and became an annual event thereafter. Harry became a very adequate swimmer and could make his way through the water with some skill now. They all enjoyed their lazy days spent lounging about at Otter's Run and bemoaned the day they ended.

Harry's home life continued to be abysmal as far as Severus could tell. He still sported bruises frequently, although they all seemed to come now from the brute cousin and not from the adults in the household, at least according to Harry (and Severus was almost sure he believed the boy's reports). Although Harry didn't like to talk about his home life (he had that same sense of shame that he somehow deserved this treatment that many abused children did), Severus knew from the little he did say that Harry still slept in the cupboard and that withholding of meals was still a popular form of punishment. Severus knew that going to Dumbledore would accomplish nothing, so he fumed in silence.

Arabella kept an eye out for Harry during the week. He was often allowed outside to play, unsupervised, and had the run of the neighborhood. Severus suspected that Petunia hoped that the boy would run away or be abducted and never return. His older cousin, however, was kept under his mother's overprotective thumb and was only allowed out into the yard when she could accompany him. Harry seemed happy enough to get away from the abusive older boy and would often turn up at Arabella's. There he would spend an afternoon eating biscuits, watching television, and playing with her cats. Though he asked often after "Russ" during these unscheduled visits and seemed to miss his presence, Harry enjoyed spending time with the affectionate woman he'd come to view almost as a grandmother.

But as was par for the course for Severus Snape, the good things in his life never lasted forever.

"Severus, we have a problem," Arabella told him through the floo one Monday afternoon, two weeks after Harry had begun primary school.

"Is Harry all right?" was Severus' immediate concern.

"Yes, he's all right. Petunia was just here. Harry told her where he got his glasses."

Based on Harry's complaints that he could not see things in the classroom, Severus had tested the boy's vision and found it to be appallingly inadequate. Because he knew Harry's family would do nothing about it, and because he didn't want Harry to fall behind for the lack of seeing properly, Severus had procured for him a pair of eyeglasses.

"What, exactly, did he say?"

"He told her he'd gotten them from a man named Russ, a man he visited when he was at my house."

Well, that sounded more than a little sinister, didn't it? "I'm surprised she was worried enough about this strange man to come and speak with you," said Severus, and he was. Perhaps there was some hope for that woman after all if she'd gone out of her way to confront Arabella with the boy's story of a mysterious man whom he visited regularly.

"I'm not sure worried is the proper word. I'd say she was more curious. She is a notorious gossip, don't forget. She's never seen a man over here, and she probably just wondered what I was getting up to."

Severus nearly laughed aloud at the picture in his mind of Arabella Figg entertaining a string of young men in her quaint little house. "And what did you tell her?"

"I told her that I had given Harry the glasses. I told her that Harry had a very active imagination and that he often played with his imaginary friend Russ while he was here."

"And she believed this?"

"Yes. She seemed most disappointed."

"Arabella, I believe you may have sorted into Slytherin had Hogwarts the privilege of educating you. Do you think she means to take the glasses away from him?"

"I think she'll let him keep them. I 'confided' in her that I thought they made him look a bit poncy, and she seemed to agree with that. Of course, I actually thought they made him that much cuter, the little sprite. And did you see his face when he put them on? It was like the whole world had opened up to him."

"Please let me know immediately if you see him without the glasses. I will get Albus to intervene somehow."

"I will," Arabella promised. "I'm sorry to have bothered you, Severus."

"No. I'm glad you did. I should probably speak with the Headmaster, although I hesitate to do so. If he tries to discontinue our visits, I'll . . ." Severus wasn't sure what he'd do, and didn't even really want to contemplate that outcome. But he knew Harry's safety was at risk, and he couldn't keep that to himself. Harry was too important. "I'll let you know what he says," he promised in closing.

"Headmaster, may I speak with you?" Severus asked after being admitted to the inner sanctum .

"Of course, Severus. Sit down, sit down. May I offer you tea?"

"No, thank you, sir. I've just finished a pot. It's about Harry."

Albus leaned forward in concern. "Is something wrong with the boy?"

"No. He is fine. He has just begun school, you know."

"I was aware of that. Is he enjoying it?"

"He seems to. His cousin is bullying him on the playground, but that is nothing new certainly. I determined a few days ago that his vision was quite deficient, and I provided him with a pair of glasses."

"How thoughtful of you, Severus. Have they helped?"

"I only gave them to him yesterday, and I have not had the opportunity to see him to question him. He told his aunt that he'd gotten the glasses from me. Petunia went to Arabella today and questioned her about me."

"Oh dear. And what did Arabella tell her?"

"She told her that Harry has an imaginary friend. Petunia seemed to buy that explanation, according to Arabella. She always was rather dim. But I am concerned about the fact that he has begun to talk about me. It's probably surprising that he hasn't done so before now. I've never told him that our visits are secret. I know that the fastest way to get a child to share is a secret is to tell him that it is a secret." Severus looked at Albus, the appeal clear in his eyes. "Albus, I do not want to stop the visits, but I am afraid that the Dursleys may grow more curious if Harry continues to tell them about me."

Albus sighed. "A very real concern. But do not despair, dear boy. I do not want your visits with young Harry to stop either. You have been very good for the boy. You have provided him with the stability he requires and the affection he craves. I know that you believe I am not concerned about Harry's emotional development, but that is far from the truth. I've simply had to weigh greater concerns. The problem we are faced with is how do we prevent Harry from talking to the Dursleys, or perhaps even others, about you."

"I could do some sort of suggestion charm, I suppose," Severus mused. "Compel him to forget what he was about to say should he think of mentioning me."

"That's a little too close to an imperius for my liking," Dumbledore noted. "What about obliviate?"

"You'd have him forget everything?"

"No, no, Severus," Dumbledore said, his wheels turning rapidly. "What if we devise a spell that will erase Harry's memories at the end of his visits with you? He will remember that he was at Arabella's and that he had an incredibly boring time there. He will, however, retain somewhere in the recesses of his mind the fact that you were there, that you love him, that you played with him and taught him things. I think that might work."

"But what about the next time I visit? He won't remember me. Unless we build some sort of memory trigger into the spell . . ."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Albus smiled with approval.

"A word or a phrase that would allow Harry to open that portion of his mind that contains all of the memories of our time together."


"That could work. Do you know such a spell?"

"I know the rudiments of such a spell, and I could tailor it to our needs. I would need to know what you'd like him remember doing while at Arabella's."

Severus thought for a moment. "He likes playing with her cats. Can he remember that as being something somewhat unpleasant, as though it were the only thing to do while he is there?"

"I think we can do that." Albus' eyes twinkled mischievously. "He might also be forced to look through Arabella's scrapbooks containing photos of all of the previous cats she's owned and listen to her speak about them in loving terms."

Severus snorted. "I think she only puts up with the cats because her daughter gave them to her. The daughter that lives in the States and hasn't visited once in my association with Arabella. The cats are apparently to stand in for her neglectful child."

"Perhaps you yourself have filled that role, eh, Severus? You and young Harry?"

Severus nodded once to acknowledge that this was likely the case.

"So he'll have less than fond memories of cats and Arabella Figg," Albus said, making notes on a parchment before him. "Now, a trigger phrase. We'll want to tie it to a specific voice or voices, so that not just anyone can trigger the memory recall. Yours, obviously. Arabella's, too?" he asked, cocking an eye at Severus.

"That would be beneficial, should I have to miss a visit for some reason." He hadn't missed one yet and couldn't imagine a circumstance where he would do so, but it paid to be prepared.

"I think I'll include myself on that list as well, if you don't mind. There may come a day when I may need to unlock Harry's memories of you."

The thought of that occurrence chilled Severus, but it didn't take much imagination to come up with a scenario where that would be necessary. "Of course, Albus."

"We'll need a phrase that's easy to remember, but one which none of us will likely use in normal conversation with him when he begins to attend Hogwarts. Something like, 'Remember now, Harry', do you think? Can you avoid that in the normal discourse you'd have with a student?"

"I can," Severus said, sure that he could.

"I will work the spell up this week. There will be the master spell, of course, then the subspells required to block the memories and then to unlock them. We should probably cast the master on him at your next visit."

"Yes, that is probably wise," Severus conceded.

"I should like to cast the master spell myself, if you do not mind. Just to be sure there are no untoward effects."

"As you wish, Headmaster," Severus said, defeat in his posture. Harry was going to forget him six days a week. His surrogate son wouldn't even remember his existence except on Sundays.

Dumbledore seemed to sense what he was feeling. "I'm sorry it's come to this, Severus. But your presence in his life is critical at this stage. At least you'll have Sundays."

Yes. At least they'd have Sundays.

From the journal of Severus Snape:

September 15, 1985


This journal is for you. I am writing it so that you will know that you had someone in your life when you were young who really loved you and cared for you and had only your best interests at heart. This journal is necessary because today I did the unthinkable – I obliviated you. The reasons why this was necessary may be clear to you as you are reading this, but in the event they are not, I would like to explain.

You are likely aware of my connection to the Dark Lord, and of the mistakes in my past. My desire to atone for those mistakes by caring for you myself was dismissed by the Headmaster in favor of leaving you with people who could not love you but could provide you with the ultimate protection against the Dark Lord. Dumbledore allowed me to visit with you weekly, though, for which I am very grateful because I fell in love with you on December 24, 1981, the very first time I met you. You were little more than a year old and no larger than a sack of flour, but you captured my heart and have not let it go since.

My presence in your life remained a secret to all except the Headmaster, Minerva McGonagall, and Arabella Figg, at whose home we met. Unless your memories are returned to you before you read this, you likely remember your visits to Mrs. Figg as something less than exciting, something to be endured. But the truth is that during your Sunday visits to Arabella's house, you and I spent a good part of the day together. In addition to this, the three of us have spent two weeks at my family's seaside cottage every summer.

Two weeks after you began school, you mentioned my presence to your aunt, who inquired of Arabella of this strange man who apparently visited her at the same time you did. Arabella passed me off as an imaginary friend, but both Dumbledore and I worried that my presence in your life could compromise your safety. I had a choice - I could either stop the visits entirely, or we could remove your memory of me every time I left you. Both options were painful, but I found that when I contemplated the emptiness of my life without you in it, I could not make that choice. Dumbledore assured me that the obliviation would not hurt you, and we tailored the spell so that you would retain all of the positive things you gained from our visits – the practice at reading, the playtime, the affection, the love. I feel as though we are stealing something from you, but I am too selfish to give you up completely. I know that the day will arrive when I must do that, for your own protection, but I am not ready for it now. Perhaps I never will be.

Time passed in this fashion. Severus continued to floo to Little Whinging every Sunday, and at the end of each visit, he obliviated Harry, feeling guilty as he did so. That it was the only way quickly lost its appeal as a justification. Still, Severus could not bear to give Harry up, so he did what must be done. He continued to maintain his scrapbook of photos and his journal, hoping that some day they would actually find their way to Harry.

"Severus? Are you there?" Arabella's voice came to him through the floo.

"I'm here," Severus responded. He'd been just about to go down to the Great Hall for the Halloween feast. "Is something wrong?"

"Harry's on his way over. Petunia just called. She's taking Dudley trick or treating. She was supposed to take Harry with her, but she says he's done something awful and is being punished. I don't know what it is he's done, but he's only six years old! He must be so terribly disappointed."

"He's probably done nothing. You know she blows things out of all proportion or makes them up entirely where he's concerned. I'll take him out myself. I just need a few moments to let Albus know where I'll be. Open the floo back up once Petunia is gone, and I'll come through."

Many minutes later, Severus was ready to floo to Arabella's, but had to wait for her to open the connection back up. When she finally did, he stepped out into her living room. Harry's eyes widened at the sight of him stepping out of the flames.

"Hello, Harry."

"H-h-hello," Harry answered, his eyes filled with fear.

"What's wrong?" Severus asked, confused about the boy's reaction to him.

"You just – the flames – how did you . . ."

"Oh, dammit," Severus muttered. He'd forgotten the trigger. "Remember now, Harry."

Harry's eyes glazed over, then refocused, and his face transformed into pure happiness. "Russ!" He rushed at the man and threw his arms around his waist, hugging him tightly.

"Hello," Severus said, patting Harry's back affectionately. "It's good to see you today, even if it is unexpected."

Harry stepped back, and his face fell. "I was supposed to go trick or treating. Aunt Petunia said I broke her vase. But it wasn't me! It was Dudley, but she wouldn't believe me. She never believes me!"

"Hush, Harry, it's all right," Severus soothed. "I've come to take you. Do you have a costume?"

"No," Harry said miserably. All he'd had to wear was an eye patch that he'd been given at school. With this alone, he was going out as a pirate. He knew it wasn't a very good costume, not like the Star Wars costume that Aunt Petunia had spent a lot of money on for Dudley, but it was all he had, and it was better than nothing. When Harry had been told of his punishment, Dudley had gleefully seized the eye patch and put it on, which was just stupid because Luke Skywalker never wore an eye patch. Duh. Even Harry, who hadn't seen any of the movies, knew that.

"Well, let's see what we can come up with," Severus said, thinking fast. "Arabella, have you a plain white sheet you might be willing to sacrifice?"

Arabella would have sacrificed the only sheet she had to reverse the look of misery that had been on Harry's face when he arrived here. "I do."

When she produced the sheet, Severus magically cut it down and draped it over Harry's head. He made magical eye circles which did not require a hole being made in the sheet and positioned them over Harry's eyes. "Can you see?"

"I can!"

Severus made large dark circles where the eyes were supposed to be and handed Harry a paper bag that Arabella had supplied. "There. You are a ghost. Look at yourself."

Harry wandered to the mirror and took a look. "Awesome!" he said. This was much better than a dumb old eye patch. Harry thought it was even cooler than Dudley's store-bought costume.

"Excellent. Let us go then."

"Where will you take him?" Arabella asked.

"He is completely covered. I think it safe enough to take him around in this neighborhood. We should be back within an hour."

Trick or treating was fully as horrifying as Severus had thought it would be. Scads of costumed children pelting here and there, all jacked up on sugar rushes from the candy they weren't waiting to consume. But Harry was having a wonderful time, judging by his non-stop chatter and the huge grin that Severus just knew was on his face. Luckily, they did not run into Harry's aunt and cousin – Severus might have broken his promise to Albus.

When they returned to Arabella's, Severus gave the large bag of candy Harry had accumulated to her, asking her to dole it out over Harry's visits. He knew that if he sent the candy home with Harry, his brutish cousin would take it all away.

"Happy Halloween, Little Ghost. Obliviate."

It was just a short time later that Severus had to go to Albus again. "I must ask your permission to break my promise not to visit the Dursley house."

Albus eyes Severus over his half-moon glasses. "And I, of course, must ask why."

"Harry has lost his first tooth finally. You know as well as I do that if he puts it under his pillow, there will be no visit from the tooth fairy. I simply want to go to him tonight, after he is asleep, and slip a pound note under his pillow."

Albus smiled fondly up at the younger man. "Severus, that is sweet. However, I think it is not a good idea for you to go there."

When Severus started to protest, Albus raised a hand to stop him. "I will do it myself. I will, while I am there, charm his pillow to convert any teeth placed beneath it into small toys, since we all know that currency cannot be conjured or transfigured. The charm will cause him to forget that he's put a tooth under his pillow or that a toy has appeared, but the toy will be real enough, and he will at least have that."

"This boy is causing you to come up with some pretty creative spellcasting," Severus noted with approval.

Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "Yes, but he is well worth it."

Severus could not have agreed more.

June 8, 1991

I cannot recall being this disappointed about anything for a very long time. Your annual summer visit to Otter's Run will not happen – your family is not taking a holiday this year, for reasons I do not know nor care about. This was to be our last time together before you started at Hogwarts, a time when I know things must necessarily change, and I was so looking forward to it. Albus had agreed to let me be the one to inform you that you are a wizard, and I will likely lose that privilege now. We have decided that it is best that I stop our weekly visits now as well, and I will not see you again until you arrive at Hogwarts. You will not know me. I am stealing myself for the moment you look at me with no recognition. I fear it will be my undoing.

July 30, 1991

I begged Albus to let me be the one to retrieve you, since those odious relatives of yours are keeping you from your acceptance letter. I think he is afraid of what may happen to the Dursleys if I go. I will see you in just over a month.

September 1, 1991

You are here. Though I tried not to look for you, my eyes sought you out the moment the first years entered the Great Hall. There you were, looking so impossibly small and lost. You seem to have attached yourself to someone already. I knew he was a Weasley before he was called to the Sorting Hat. The Weasleys are good people, and you could do worse for a friend. Our eyes met once, and you started. I feared for a moment that you had recognized me, despite our best efforts. I forced myself from that point on to look only at Dumbledore. I know he is right about our ending our association – for the first time in a very long time, my Dark Mark twinged tonight. I fear what this means.

I checked my timetable when I arrived back in my quarters. First year Gryffindors have potions on Friday. I must begin then to make you believe that I hate you. If I can pull that off, I feel I may be worthy of some sort of acting award.

September 6, 1991

I feel like an ogre. You are the smallest child in the room, yet it is you I have zeroed in upon. You have become my target. I am sorry, Harry, more sorry than I think I could ever express. Perhaps when you read this, you will have some understanding of the reasons why this protection is necessary, and perhaps you will be able to find it in your generous heart to forgive me. I believe I have convinced you that my dislike for you is extreme. You likely have no idea why I would feel this way without knowing you. You may some day learn of the relationship that I had with your father, and you might deduce that my dislike of you stems from my dealings with James. While it is true that James and I did not like each other and went out of our way to torment each other, there is another, your father's friend, that calls up in me a hatred like I have never held for another human being.

It is Sirius Black that I am convincing myself I see every time I look at you. Based on what occurred today in our first potions lesson, I suspect this ruse will work to convince you that I despise you. Sirius Black was the bane of my existence during my years at Hogwarts. He delighted in humiliating me for no other reason than that I existed. He came very close to ending my existence on one occasion. If it hadn't been for your father . . . Well, I'll tell you that story in person some day. Suffice it to say that I owe your father a life debt, perhaps two, and that the only way I can begin to repay that debt is to protect you, at the expense of my own mental health.

But Sirius Black, him I continue to hate with an unrivaled passion, and I will continue to use that emotion against you, my beloved Harry. Were that it did not have to be so.

October 31, 1991

I cannot believe you! What were you thinking engaging a mountain troll?! You and your friends are lucky you are all still alive! Your courage far outweighs your common sense, I fear. And don't think for one moment that I believed that story concocted by the Granger girl, young man. I know there was more to it than that. When I entered the bathroom and saw you there, with that huge foul-smelling creature lying at your feet, I was torn between the desire to snatch you up and hug you and to turn you over my knee for being so foolhardy. Perhaps I would have done both had I leave to act as I wished.

I have just two things to say to you: Well done, for protecting your friends and facing down danger. And, DON'T EVER DO IT AGAIN!

Late again, Harry, Ron and Hermione raced through the halls on their way to Charms, Harry in the lead. He rounded a corner and met something very solid and very black. Though he had momentum on his side, he'd apparently met the immovable object, and Harry bounced off of whatever it was and fell to the floor on his bum.

"Mr. Potter," the black object said, and Harry shivered when he realized it was Snape looming over him. Expecting to be hexed or to lose a million house points or at least to be castigated to within an inch of his life, Harry hurried with his apology.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't see you there."

"Perhaps if you were to walk, rather than running everywhere helter skelter like a released bludger as you are wont to do, you would have fewer accidents," Snape said, and then, weirdly, he smiled, as though he found this comment amusing. It wasn't one of his usual creepy smirky smiles either – it was a real smile, filled with delight. What Harry couldn't know of course, couldn't remember, was that Snape had said those very words to Harry's younger self countless times.

And then Snape did something even more astounding. He offered a hand to Harry on the ground. Looking at the hand suspiciously, but afraid not to take it lest he give more offense than he already had, Harry took it and allowed Snape to haul him to his feet. Ron and Hermione looked on, their mouths hanging open in shock.

"Good day to you, Mr. Potter," Snape said, then nodded once to Harry's friends before departing in a swirl of black.

They watched him go, all of them agape at what Snape had just done. "That is one weird bloke," Ron whispered.

November 9, 1991

It is official. Someone is attempting to harm you. My Dark Mark grows steadily stronger, and today, someone attempted to hex you off your broom. My terror was exceeded only by anger that someone could do this to you here, where you are supposed to be safe. My spell kept you on your broom, and in the end, you were unharmed, but this omen is particularly troubling because whoever is doing this is HERE, at Hogwarts. I am looking at everyone with suspicion now, students, professors, visitors – anyone present at the match could have been jinxing your broom, and the suspect pool is very large. I shall have to keep a closer eye on you than ever.

I know that you think I am up to something. You saw what that miserable dog did to my leg, you curious little imp. I don't know how much you have learned about what the dog is guarding, but I suspect you think I am attempting to get my hands on it. I think it will be beneficial to encourage you in this belief, if only so that your attention remains centered on me and not on uncovering who actually is attempting to steal the stone. At least if you are following me around, I can keep you safe.

And it has become very apparent that you need to be kept safe. I wish that I could tell you so. How can you protect yourself against a danger of which you are not aware? But Dumbledore is adamant that he is in control of everything and that you will come to no harm. I suppose I have no choice but to trust him, but if anything were to happen to you . . .

December 27, 1991

Dumbledore has given you your father's invisibility cloak. What was the man THINKING?

February 22, 1992

You really are amazing on a broom, Harry. Though your gravity-defying stunts leave me breathless and afraid, I cannot deny that you have great skill in flying. I must thank you for ending the match as quickly as you did. Though you may not believe this, I did not enjoy penalizing your team as I did. I begged Dumbledore to let me officiate the match so that I could be nearer to you in the event of trouble, but I certainly had to appear as though I was favoring your opponent. Your timely catching of the snitch saved us all a lot of grief. Brilliant job.

June 5, 1992

I fear you are doomed to rush in where better-reasoned souls would hesitate. You apparently felt I was making my move on the stone. How you ever found out as much as you did about the stone is anyone's guess, but you pieced it together and concluded that I would steal it last night. Rather than taking a teacher into your confidence, you decided to protect the stone yourself. I told Dumbledore this would happen when he left you with those people, that you would be unable to trust adults to assist you, but he insisted. Well, it's too late to hash that old argument up again, I suppose, but had you gone to someone in authority rather than taking this onto yourself, you might not now by lying in the hospital wing. Although I suppose you might logically have gone to Quirrell, as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and look where that got you.

Dumbledore allowed me to spend a couple of hours by your bed in the wee hours of the morning. You were sleeping soundly, and I felt safe holding your hand. When I thought about what might have happened to you down in that chamber, I wanted to pick you up and whisk you away to somewhere safe. Because I know this is only the beginning. The Dark Lord is growing stronger, and he will not stop until he has what he wants from you – your life. I will die myself before I allow that to happen.

September 1, 1992

You foolish, foolish boy. Do you have any idea how worried I was when you did not arrive on the train with the other children? A flying car, Harry? Really? That was your best choice? Did you not even consider sending an owl? Or perhaps waiting until Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came back through the barrier? You'd already missed the train – they could have arranged transportation to Hogwarts for you. Once again, your propensity to just jump into a situation without thinking it through has aged me faster than I can afford. Perhaps I must rethink my assessment of your friendship with the Weasley boy. Perhaps it is he who influences these rash decisions. Oh, who am I kidding? This is pure Harry Potter – ill-considered, spur-of-the-moment – and exhilarating.

You didn't really think the Headmaster would expel you, did you? Never fear – there's nothing you could do that would make the Headmaster send you away from here. And that scares me almost as much as you do.

October 31, 1992

What are you up to? Oh, I know you had nothing to do with petrifying Filch's cat. I know how you feel about cats – you'd never do anything to harm one (even that nasty old beast). But something is going on with you, I can feel it. Why won't you confide in someone who can help? Well, I guess I know the answer to that one, don't I? I wish I could shake some sense into you. I wish things were different – if we still had our close relationship of before, you'd never have hesitated to share whatever it is with me. I miss that all the time, but even more severely when you obviously need help and guidance.

And you do have the strangest friends – a deathday party? Not many living souls can say they've attended one. You seem to collect odd creatures and treasure them. Hmmm – I just realized – I am likely one of those odd creatures. (If only you could remember.)

November 7, 1992

I may kill Gilderoy Lockhart. He has completely removed all of the bones from your right arm. That man is a danger to everyone around him.

December 10, 1992

Why do I have the nagging suspicion that you were somehow behind the cauldron incident today? Your innocent look needs a lot of work.

December 17, 1992

Sweet Merlin, you're a parseltongue! How is this possible?! Albus says he has a theory, but he's unwilling to share it with me, since he has no proof. When has that ever stopped the old man?! The whispers that you are the Heir of Slytherin have increased exponentially. I can see how they are weighing on you. If I could set your mind at ease, I would – the last living descendant of Salazar Slytherin is currently confined to less than human condition. Yes, Harry. Tom Riddle is Slytherin's heir. Perhaps you know this by now. Your strange behavior and this new ability have me fearing that the Dark Lord's return is closer than even I fear.

How good it felt to blast Gilderoy Lockhart onto his arse! Everyone on the staff has been wanting to do so for months, and they were quite jealous that I got the opportunity. As insufferable as he is with students around, you should see him preening about in the staffroom. Makes us all want to vomit. Or hex him. Hee!

May 29, 1993

It's official - you are insane. And one of the luckiest people alive. A basilisk! A basilisk, living in the walls and bowels of Hogwarts. One you had apparently been hearing speak for some time, though you didn't mention it to anyone. I guess that explains your odd behaviors. Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be alive? If Fawkes hadn't been around, you would most certainly have died in that chamber. Putting oneself in danger for a friend is a noble concept, Harry, but you are TWELVE YEARS OLD. For Merlin's sake, find an adult you can trust! Again I am watching you sleep in the infirmary, thanking whatever deities that may exist that you continue to draw breath.

But I must also say: well done. I am so very proud of you. (Now that you have come through the experience alive, I feel safe praising you.) Now please, PLEASE try to have an uneventful summer. I shall be racking my brains in an attempt to figure out how to see you. I feel that any plan I come up with will be squashed by Albus and that I will not see you again until September, so know that I think of you, many times every day, and worry that you are getting enough to eat and if those odious people are treating you right.

How can I ever make this up to you?

August 7, 1993

Harry Potter's accidental magic has blown up his Aunt Marge. You'd probably expect me to chastise you for this, but I can only say: WELL DONE! If she's even half as awful as the rest of your family, I can find no blame for you.

The running away part – now that I wasn't so happy about. But of course you are not aware that a new danger awaits you – Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban. The man I hate so much it actually scares me sometimes. I will not detail for you the number of times that man has deliberately set out to hurt me – they are too numerous. That your father was his friend galls me, though James was never quite as bad as Black – just short on maturity and judgment and keen on having a good time, even if it was at the expense of others. But Sirius – he was a different sort. He enjoyed humiliating someone more vulnerable than himself, and he did so without fear of punishment. Even when he actually tried to kill me, he went unscathed. As much as I hate Black for that, I also harbor some lingering resentment toward the Headmaster for the way he handled that situation (or didn't handle perhaps I should say). It would be hypocritical, I suppose, to hate Black for the part he played in your parents' deaths, since I am equally as culpable, but I find that I do. They trusted him, and he betrayed them, to their ultimate sacrifice and almost yours. And they say he is coming here to finish you. I shall look forward to meeting him and disposing of that human rubbish before he has the chance to get anywhere near you.

When Albus informed me that you'd run away and he had no idea where you were, I was nearly frantic. He, of course, would not allow me go to Little Whinging to look for you. Thankfully, news that you'd hailed the Knight Bus came very quickly. Albus tells me that he plans to let you stay, unchaperoned and unprotected, at the Leaky Cauldron until term starts. He must realize that I cannot let this go. I'm sure I can dream up many reasons why I need to visit Diagon Alley over the next few weeks. Perhaps we'll run into each other there. Although I suspect you would run AWAY from me, yes?

September 1, 1993

Well, you are back, looking much the same as ever. Your little vacation in Diagon Alley seems to have agreed with you, although I would have suspected you'd have gained a stone, what with all the ice cream you ate (didn't know I was watching, did you?)

Sirius Black is still on the loose, but my more pressing concern is Lupin. Albus Dumbledore is officially and certifiably insane – hiring a werewolf to teach in a school full of children. That's right, Harry, Lupin is a WEREWOLF! The potion that I have been ordered to make for him will curb his more feral impulses at the full of the moon, but it is only effective if he actually drinks it. Were he to forget, even once – the results could be catastrophic. How the Headmaster can take that risk around all of these children – around YOU – astounds me. Now I shall have to fear for your safety from within these walls and without.

October 31, 1993

Black was here! Here in the castle! Somehow he snuck his way in through what Dumbledore thought was an impenetrable defense of the castle. What is it exactly that Black wants with you? And who has helped him to enter the castle? It appears obvious that someone had to have provided him with assistance. I warned the Headmaster about giving Lupin a job here. He didn't listen then, and he refuses to listen now. But who else could it be? No one else here has ties to Black. And if he got in once, what's to stop him from getting in again?

I've told Albus repeatedly that he should tell you what is going on. If you knew that Black was actively trying to kill you, and why, you might PERHAPS be a bit more cautious. Although you don't listen to reason any better than he does.

November 6, 1993

It's possible I may grow to hate quidditch. You and quidditch together are a bad combination. I know it is not your fault that you fell off your broom, but I hardly needed all of those extra gray hairs you've given me.

November 7, 1993

I watch you becoming close to Lupin. I have warned the Headmaster repeatedly that his presence here is not a good idea, especially not with Black on the loose. They were best of friends in school, and while I hold no ill will toward Lupin for the unsuspecting part he played in Black's prank upon me, I wonder where his true loyalties might lie now – to his dead friends and their young son, or to Black.

I am losing much sleep lately. I seem to worry constantly over you. I watch you, you know, when you're not looking. I want to help you, but the only assistance I can give you is behind the scenes, where Dumbledore listens to not a word I say. The old man has a plan and will not be dissuaded from it, even if it appears to me that he is putting you in the direct path of criminals and mad men.

December 26, 1993

Who could have given you a Firebolt? They're not cheap, and the list of possible suspects is limited. I made sure to tell Minerva that I agreed with her decision to take it away from you until it can be checked to assure it is harmless. After Flitwick and Lupin get done with it, I intend to run every test I can think of on it before you get it back. Quidditch is dangerous enough without a cursed broom.

February 5, 1994

Draco Malfoy is no brighter than his father. I was proud of you today, you little patronus-producing brat.

February 5, 1994

Black was here again! How does he keep getting into the castle?

February 12, 1994

I have never wanted more to turn you over my knee than I did today. I don't know how you snuck into Hogsmeade, after you'd been denied permission, but I suspect that damned cloak played a part. I should like to throttle the Headmaster once again for giving it to you. What good could come from a 13-year old boy with suspect judgment having the means to sneak about undetected?

And we have now established that you will look me in the eye and lie to me. I am very disappointed in you, Harry, though I suppose given the time and effort I have put into building up the animosity between us I should not be surprised. And what good does all of my anger at your behavior do when I know the Headmaster will not punish you for your digressions in any serious manner? His allowing you to prance about unpunished isn't doing you any good. You've only to look to your cousin for an example of what happens to a child when they are allowed unfettered access to what they want. Only the consequences here could kill you!

My love for you is unchanged, and only grows deeper when I see how you are threatened. But you are not making it easy for me to like you!

June 6, 1994

Black is gone, and I KNOW that you have helped him to escape. What rubbish he was spouting in the Shrieking Shack, yet he seemed to have you believing him. And you hexed me, you little prick! Some day, I shall pay you back for that. I don't believe I have ever been as angry as I was tonight when I learned that Dumbledore had allowed Black to escape. Make no mistake, I know, whatever the details were, that the Headmaster either had a direct hand in them or allowed them to happen. I refuse to believe that Black was innocent in your parents' deaths. I refuse to believe that he means no harm to you. And I refuse to believe any longer that Albus Dumbledore holds any good will towards myself. He seemed positively gleeful in the face of my anger, and I could not help but think back to the days when another took great pleasure in my helplessness. He may be a bit kinder and more grandfatherly about it, but Albus Dumbledore can be as much of a bully as anyone I've ever known.

And for the record: I could care less about any stupid Order of Merlin. I care about you, and you alone. I seem to be the only one. The Dark Lord is getting stronger, and each attempt on your life makes me more afraid that when he finally returns, we will not be positioned to resist him.

August 25, 1994

I argued with Albus about your being allowed to attend the Quidditch World Cup, and look what has happened! Trouble does seem to follow you around, does it not?

September 1, 1994

I am to be cursed with Alastor Moody's presence this year, it appears. Something about that man has always made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but even more so now due to my overheightened sense of protectiveness toward you. Everything seems a threat, and no one is above suspicion.

I hope that your summer was adequate. I know that you are not allowed access to your books during the summer and that I must call you on the carpet for that. Have you ever wondered why you never failed Potions? Perhaps you suspect that Dumbledore interferes on your behalf. The truth is that I cannot fail you, even if your grades would warrant such an action, because I know that you cannot prepare over the summer, and I know that your ability as a student is crushed by the weight of the scorn I must heap upon you in the classroom. While I do not believe that you have the makings of a potions master (much as I might love that personally), I do know that you are more capable than I allow you to demonstrate.

You are a very powerful and talented young wizard, Harry, and I hope that your other teachers are reinforcing that opinion, as I cannot. Despite the fiasco that ended last year (I am still angry about that, by the way), the fact that you produced a corporeal patronus, AT THE AGE OF THIRTEEN, is astounding. You continue to amaze me. Someday, I will tell you that to your face.

October 31, 1994

I know that I have said this before, but Albus Dumbledore is a fool. To allow you to participate in this tournament is just ludicrous. Minerva was right – when have Ministry rules and regulations, or even societal rules and regulations which the rest of us live by, ever hindered Dumbledore or his plans? If he did not have some ulterior motive for allowing you to participate, you can bet that he would have stopped it. In one moment, he is telling me how we must protect you at all costs, and in the next, he is allowing you to place your life in jeopardy. And make no mistake about it, Harry – whoever entered you into this contest means you no good. Dumbledore says he is stumped at how this could have happened, but Moody also was right – it WOULD have taken an exceptionally powerful wizard to confund the cup, so whoever has done this is someone to be reckoned with.

Can we never just have a quiet year with our usual level of animosity?

November 14, 1994

Your Weasley friend has deserted you. I see how much this hurts you. I gave you both detention, hoping that it would give you an opportunity for a little "anti-Snape" bonding, but I think the temperature in the dungeon dropped several degrees due to Weasley's attitude. I'm sorry, Harry. This is a difficult time for you, and having your best friend turn his back on you makes it that much more so. I am happy to see that Granger, at least, remains by your side. She can only assist you with the tasks which lie ahead for you.

I am impressed with the way you are handling yourself. With the Hufflepuffs taking every opportunity to belittle you and the Slytherins' usual degree of malice magnified, you'd have every right to appear defeated. And while I know you are tormented inside, you've held your shoulders and your head high and maintained your dignity. I know some adults who should follow your example when it comes to personal dignity.

December 25, 1994

It was a mighty struggle to maintain my decorum this evening. You looked so pathetic at the ball. I know, I know. I should not laugh at you. Merlin knows my own attempts at interaction with the opposite sex were anything but successful when I was your age (or since, if I were totally honest). You're going to hate this, but you looked so cute and awkward dancing with the Patil girl, the two of you looking so young amid the other older students. Had I not been sure that there would be cameras everywhere, I would have brought my own camera and somehow surreptitiously photographed you for posterity. I imagined us laughing at the image some day. I hope the day comes, Harry, when we can look back at this time in our lives and laugh at some of the things we were forced to do. For now, I cry.

Karkaroff confirms what I already suspect – the Dark Lord is getting stronger. He's felt it in his mark, too. I fear it is only a matter of time before I am forced to return to him, as I know this to be Dumbledore's plan. I dread that thought so. If I was allowed, I would shout my support of Dumbledore and the Light from the top of the Astronomy Tower. Then I could begin to repair my relationship with you. But that is not meant to be. We are both walking the roads chosen for us by others. I, at least, know that I am not in charge of my own life. You have yet to make that discovery. I hope I can be there for you when you do.

November 24, 1994

I am still breathless. Nicely done, dealing with the dragon. In spite of the dreadful circumstances, my heart swells with pride at your actions.

January 25, 1995

You naughty boy – what have you been up to? Was it you in my office? I know you were there, on the stairs. That was your map, and once I knew, I could sense you there, just out of reach. Is Moody protecting your midnight roaming, as Albus does? And why do you insist on putting yourself in as much danger as possible? Will you never understand the danger you are in?

February 24, 1995

Gryffindor. (And no, I do not mean that as a compliment.)

July 2, 1995

Hell has now officially broken loose. The Diggory boy is dead, and it very well might have been you. Is this what Dumbledore had in mind when he allowed you to participate in this tournament? Did he know this was a possible outcome? And how would he have felt if YOU had been killed in that graveyard?

And how is it the man had no idea that the person he hired to teach you was in fact not the man everyone thought him to be, but was actually an unreformed Death Eater, an Azkaban escapee? The man knows EVERYTHING that goes on in this castle, and this demented game of chess he seems to be playing with real people's lives continually places you in mortal danger. Did he deem Diggory to be an acceptable casualty of this war? Are we now sacrificing children to the cause? Dumbledore shares only enough of his "big picture" as he deems necessary, but it's never enough to allow an understanding of what it is he is trying to accomplish. Not that I can condone any situation which knowingly puts children in danger. I thought that was what distinguished us from the Dark.

But you are, once again, safe. You cannot know what Albus asked me to do that night. Asked, hell. My penance for putting your parents in danger is my own life, apparently. He has forced me to return to the Dark Lord. You were, of course, correct – He has returned. He is even more hideous than before, even more mad for power and eternal life. He was angry that I did not appear at his side immediately after his summons, but I was able to explain that by waiting, and being "ordered" by Dumbledore to go to Him, I was able to keep my "cover" as a spy for Him in Dumbledore's camp intact. As suspicious as He can be, He bought this particular lie easily. I think He likes thinking that He is fooling Dumbledore. Others in the inner circle were not so easily swayed. Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix LeStrange, especially, have always been suspicious of me. But their ill will is nothing compared to what the Dark Lord can do to me if He so chooses. If He were to ever find out that I have betrayed Him, my life would be forfeit in a heartbeat.

So I shook hands with Sirius Black and returned to the Dark Lord – not one of the better days of my life.

But this is to be my lot in life for the foreseeable future – spying on the Dark Lord for Dumbledore and spying on Dumbledore for the Dark Lord. And always, Harry, you are in the middle. If I get caught up in my role as double agent and ever forget who I am or why I do what I do, I need only look to you. You are, in reality, the one reason why I do not lock myself in my dungeon and swallow something immediately lethal. It is for you that I live. For you, I would die.

August 2, 1995

Thank Merlin you are all right. A dementor attack! Who on earth could have sent the dementors to Little Whinging after you? One has to assume Ministry involvement, but involvement by the Dark Lord cannot be ruled out. Albus continues to assure me that you are safe in Little Whinging, but the evidence proves him wrong. Let us hope he can work some of his most impressive magic to keep the Ministry from expelling you. I swear if they do, I will say to hell with this so-called life I am living, and I am going to take you away somewhere no one else knows about and keep you safe myself.

Albus fears that you have some type of connection with the Dark Lord, something He can use to access your mind. Albus intends to distance himself from you, just in case. He does not want the Dark Lord to have access to him through you. I have asked him to tell you everything, hard though it may be to hear, but he refuses. I have argued that you make far better decisions when you are in possession of more information, rather than less, but he will do as he pleases, as he always does. Assuming you are not expelled, I fear your fifth year will be a miserable one.

On the bright side, Arabella has been forced to reveal to you who and what she is. You, at least, now know that you have a friend in the neighborhood, someone you can go to if you need assistance while you are with your "family".

I cannot imagine how worried you must be right now. I wish that I could tell you that everything is going to be fine, but right now, I just don't know if that is so.

August 6, 1995

I am relieved to learn that you are safe now at Grimmauld Place. Order meetings will be held there. Perhaps I will catch sight of you when I am there. I will sneer at you on the outside, but know that in my heart, I long to pull you close and give you a hug of encouragement.

September 1, 1995

As I suspected, your year has gotten off to a less than pleasant start. If I can hear the whispering about you, I am sure that you can hear it as well. Even those you considered friends from your own house have turned their backs on you. You will need to rely on your closest friends even more than usual now, and I hope they are up to the task.

Matters will be complicated by the appointment of Dolores Umbridge as DADA instructor. Albus fought her appointment ferociously, but in the end, the Minister, trying to remain in the land of oblivion, has begun to distrust the Headmaster and his claims regarding the Dark Lord. He has never liked Dumbledore, never felt certain that Dumbledore wouldn't some day go after his job and win. Umbridge is his way of reminding the Headmaster who's in charge and gives him a way to keep a close eye on things here at Hogwarts. She is his stooge, pure and simple. Her qualifications to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts are non-existent, but once again, that doesn't seem to matter.

If there weren't other, much more pressing matters, I'd be concerned about the lack of education you children are receiving in this area. Especially since it is the one you may need the most.

September 23, 1995

Umbridge has obviously targeted you. You are in detention with her almost constantly. You apparently have been unable to keep your mouth in check with her and haven't helped your cause. She will torture you in her own way, just as surely as the Death Eaters would were they to get their hands on you.

Perhaps I'll have some competition for your least favorite teacher?'

October 7, 1995

Umbridge is now officially on my list. The list is quite long, but I believe she has moved quite speedily up near the top. I suspect you enjoyed her little inspection and her attempts to humiliate me. She is dangerous, Harry, even more so because of her Ministry stamp of approval. She can do almost anything she likes, and she'll get away with it because she operates with impunity.

November 2, 1995

Your anger and your inability to control it is going to get you into more trouble than you've yet experienced. You need someone to sit you down and explain the facts of life to you, but Albus still refuses to do so. Anyone can see that your mental health is deteriorating. Your actions today bear that out. And I do have to accept some of that responsibility, for the way I have been riding you in class. My heart aches for you as I watch you struggle with everything every day. I wish there was some way to alleviate your burden, but I'm afraid they're going to get worse before they get better.

In the silver lining department, I no longer need to worry about you being injured playing quidditch.

December 18, 1995

It appears Albus was right. The vision which you had tonight could only have come from, or perhaps through, the Dark Lord. On one hand, I am grateful that you witnessed what you did, because Arthur Weasley would not have survived had he stayed where he was another minute. On the other, this is only the beginning, I fear. Once the Dark Lord learns that this connection exists, he will seek to exploit it in any way he can. Albus' current plan is that you learn occlumency. And he insists that I be the one to teach it to you. That is a bad idea on so many levels. You already hate and mistrust me – this will only add to the already nearly-impossible task of learning this obscure and difficult branch of magic. You have memories and thoughts that you won't want me, especially, to see, and I have memories and thoughts that would be dangerous for you to see. Albus does not think he can be stern enough with you to teach you occlumency, and he still feels that he needs to keep himself away from you, until and unless you can learn to block access to your thoughts. Your feelings for me are only going to get in the way.

I argued with the Headmaster that if the Dark Lord learns that I am teaching you occlumency, he will either (1) kill me, or (2) demand that I use the lessons to destroy your mind. He was unswayed. Not only is he insisting that I teach you, he insists that I tell you about the lessons.

This is not going to end well.

January 13, 1996

Our first occlumency lesson. You did rather better than I expected for your first lesson. You came into it with less hostility than I expected, but that was back before you left. I believe you are capable of learning this discipline. You have the ability to throw off the imperius curse, which is unique in itself, and occlumency is much the same. There are ways that I could assist you, and while I realize the importance of your learning this skill, I cannot make it easy for you. You cannot grow to trust me. Your life, and mine, would be endangered.

So I fear we are doomed to butt heads twice a week for two hours, unless, of course, you actually practice and learn how to do this despite my intentionally ineffective teaching methods.

February 23, 1996

I do not know whether I should be impressed by your cunning or angry at your lack of judgment. Going to the Quibbler was certainly unexpected. I suppose if it opens a few eyes, it was worth it. That's assuming the fall-out with Umbridge doesn't outweigh whatever friends you might win back.

The path is never easy for you, is it?

April 3, 1996

We are now without the Headmaster. That Umbridge woman is in charge. Hogwarts has gone to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. I hope your playing around at being mercenaries has been worth it.

April 17, 1996

Oh, Harry. You've seen them now, the memories I wished to keep from you. Though they are embarrassing to me personally, I did not want you to see your father as he was when we were at Hogwarts. I know you have an opinion of him based on stories and boyhood fantasies of a missing father, and I did not want to be responsible for destroying your image of him, even if it was wrong. But you and your insatiable curiosity have done it again. I'm angry with you for violating my privacy as you did, but I'm more upset at what you saw. I know you – I know your past and how similar in some respects it is to my own – the bullying and the humiliation. A less sensitive boy might not be troubled by what you've seen, but you will be, I am sure of it. I cannot afford for your feelings toward me to be softened by anything like pity. In order to keep you safe, you must hate me. So our private lessons end.

June 30, 1996

I will not lie to you and claim to be sorry about Black's death. What I am sorry about is the way it has affected you. You are lost, and I can do nothing about it, nor would you let me if I could. I know that you blame me, at least in part, for his being at the Ministry. Truthfully, I am suffering a bit of guilt on that score, though I did tell Black to stay at Grimmauld Place. He never did take orders very well.

The only good to come of your latest near-death experience is that, FINALLY, the Ministry has had to acknowledge the fact that the Dark Lord has indeed returned. Dumbledore is back and Umbridge is gone, but things will never be back to the way they were. Too much sullied water has passed under the bridge.

July 31, 1996

Your birthday. You're 16. Happy birthday, Harry. This is going to be your most difficult year yet. The Headmaster has been cursed by a dark object he picked up on one of his excursions. I have contained the curse to his hand, but it will inevitably spread, and he will be dead by the end of the school year. I have advised him to tell you, but he insists that you have enough to worry about and he does not wish to add to your burdens. Draco Malfoy has been tasked by the Dark Lord to kill the Headmaster. My hand is shaking as I write these words. The Dark Lord is angry at the Malfoys for Lucius' failure to obtain the prophecy last year and allowing himself to be arrested, and this is how he shows his displeasure, by requiring a sixteen-year old to become a killer.

I do not believe that Draco will be able to do it. Despite what you think of him, he is not evil. He has been taught all his life that purebloods are better than all others, and his parents' wealth has taught him that anything he wants is his for the asking. He is spoiled and feels entitled, but he has something most Malfoys are born without – a conscious. I know you disagree, but you have seen only the Slytherin side of him that he feels safe projecting. I have known him as a small boy, afraid that he won't be able to live up to his father's expectations. He's now been given the Malfoy family honor to uphold, and I think, in the end, he will be too weak to do it.

When I reported to Dumbledore that the Dark Lord had given Draco this job, his wheels immediately began to spin. He wishes to prevent Draco's soul from being stained by murder if at all possible. He knows he is dying. And he knows that if I kill him, my position within the Dark Lord's circle will be strengthened and secured. He has made me promise that, when the time comes, I will be the one to do it. As much as I rail against the old man, as many times as I have been angry with him and thought him mad, I do not know if I will be able to cast that curse when the moment arrives. He expects too much of me.

To make matters even more interesting, I have made an unbreakable vow with Narcissa that I will kill Dumbledore when her son cannot. I have developed the Harry Potter talent for getting myself into trouble, it seems.

September 13, 1996

What is it that you and the Headmaster are doing together? He refuses to let me in on the secret, and he refuses to tell me why. Apparently, I am less trustworthy than a sixteen-year old boy. You may stop smirking now.

October 16, 1996

It is apparent that Draco has put some sort of foolish, ill-conceived plan to kill the Headmaster into action. The cursed necklace that Ms. Bell came into contact with was clearly intended for Albus. The boy is going to get someone innocent killed. And how is it that you know it's Draco? How have you puzzled that out? You seem to have a knack for taking no concrete information whatsoever, forming ill-conceived conclusions, and being absolutely right. You have good instincts, Harry. I hope you learn to trust them.

November 11, 1996

So, you're a potions master in the making now, are you? Slughorn sings your praises to all and sundry daily, claiming you are gifted, just like your mother. I knew your mother, and she was talented at potions. I also know you, and you are not. (I know, I know – part of that is my fault. But if you were so naturally talented, I would have recognized that fact, even if I could not nurture it.) So either Slughorn is the easiest man on the planet to please, or you are up to something. Why do I suspect the latter?

December 20, 1996

Draco Malfoy is behaving like an idiot. He will never get close enough to the Headmaster to do him any harm, yet he insists that he has matters well in hand. He has been so thoroughly brainwashed that he cannot see his nose in front of his face.

So you want to be an auror? Good choice for you, what with your noble and self-sacrificing nature. But I wonder if, after all is said and done, you won't have had enough of chasing evil.

March 1, 1997

Bravo, Harry. You have learned something in potions after all. A bezoar. Quick thinking. Rather pathetic, though, that a sixth year student thought to grab a bezoar while his potions professor stood by gaping. How Hogwarts continues to claim that it is a bastion of wizarding education escapes me. Some of the morons who have pranced through here in the last few years, masquerading as professors, have left me nearly speechless. Nearly, you note.

So Draco's second attempt went just as well as his first. I feel things will be coming to a head soon. If he would only confide in me, it would provide me with some sort of control over the situation, but he is stubborn, and determined to win the Dark Lord's praise and forgiveness for his father. Stubborn teenagers may well be the death of me.

March 8, 1997

I must say that I preferred life when you were banned from quidditch.

May 6, 1997

Sectumsempra. You have used a dark spell on another student. A spell of my own devise. And you stood there in that bathroom, covered with Draco's blood, and you lied to my face. Again. I am so disappointed in you, and angry. You could have killed Draco, Harry. Is that what you want – to be a killer? I never thought you had it in you. And perhaps the worst part of this entire experience is that, if left to his own devices, Dumbledore would likely not punish you for this. Draco could have died, and he would do nothing, which is eerily reminiscent of a time and place that I have tried very hard to forget or at least put behind me. So I will punish you, and if you think I have to pretend negative feelings for this, you are highly mistaken. You will value human life, or you will be unable to separate yourself from those whom you find yourself pitted against. Yes, you may call me a hypocrite, but I want better for you than I myself have had. Isn't that what all parents aspire to?

At least I now know why your potions performance has improved so dramatically. I thought that book lost forever. I am heartily sorry now that it turned up. So, to add to your list of transgressions, you've been cheating in potions. I don't know what you've done with the book, but I will be watching for it, and as soon as I see it, I intend to take it away from you. Perhaps you have learned your lesson about casting spells that you are unfamiliar with, but I will not take that chance.

I have never been as disappointed in you as I am right now.

May 10, 1997

Finally, my wish to spend more time with you is realized. You appear to be enjoying these detentions as much as I am. Giving up quidditch is a small price to pay for what you have done. I hope that you realize that some day. You're so busy hating me and being angry about being with me of a Saturday that you have not realized that I stare at you quite a lot. You are so angry, so confused, and you feel so isolated. I see all of these things in your face. Would that I could make it all go away.

June 5, 1997

I despise myself. I tell myself that he ordered me to do it, that it was the only way to save Draco's soul, that he was going to die anyway – all of the arguments that the old man used on me when he made me promise - but none of it helps. I want to put my wand in my mouth and end this miserable excuse for a life I have been leading, and will continue to lead until only Merlin knows when. But I cannot, because you will need my help to get through this, though you would likely rather kill me than receive any assistance from me. Believe me, I understand that emotion.

The Dark Lord was very pleased with me. He gave me my choice of women for the evening as a sort of thank you present. Perhaps I should not mention that to you, but that he would think that I would want to . . . after what I had done says so much about him. He is sick and wholly and completely evil. And any one of his followers who does not see that is an idiot or just as evil as he.

So you no longer have Dumbledore to protect you. I hope that whatever you have been doing in these meetings with the Headmaster (which he refused to tell me right up until the very end, though I have my suspicions), he has been preparing you for what lies ahead. I know, Harry, that he has been protecting you all along so that you can be sacrificed at the appropriate moment. I did not tell him so, but I will make it my life's work to make sure that it does not come to that. You have given enough. I will NOT let you surrender your life as payment for a debt you do not even owe.

I obviously cannot attend the funeral, but I will be there in my thoughts. I am so sorry, Harry. I know you looked at Albus as a mentor, and I have taken him from you. I hope that some day you can forgive me.

July 16, 1997

Charity Burbage was killed right before my eyes, and I did nothing to stop it. That I could have done nothing without endangering my own life is beginning to wear thin as an excuse. Perhaps I should start making a list now, of those I have wronged, so that when the day of salvation arrives, I can begin to make amends.

I have provided him with the date when you are to be moved from your family's home in Surrey. I pray the Order is up to protecting you on your journey. The plan that Dumbledore devised is complicated, which means there are many points at which it could go pear-shaped. I have asked the Dark Lord to be part of the party sent out to capture you – I want to be close by to do what I can for you, if I can.

July 27, 1997

I can breathe again. You have made it. I don't know precisely where you are, but you have managed once again to escape his clutches. The cost of your safe arrival was high - Moody's life and Mr. Weasley's ear. I would apologize to Mr. Weasley, but it was either his ear or Lupin's life. I made the right call.

Now I have to rely on the Order to keep you safe.

July 31, 1997

You are seventeen, and the Trace has been removed. Where are you now?

August 1, 1997

Well, I knew where you were, for a short time at least. Now, however, I have lost you again. That is acceptable, as you managed to escape from the fiasco that occurred at the Weasleys today. The Ministry has now been thoroughly and completely overtaken, and you have become Public Enemy Number 1. You are only seventeen - I fear you are woefully unprepared for the life that you must lead now. I suspect you will go to Grimmauld Place – I hope you will go to Grimmauld Place. It is safest for you there. I must confess that I snuck away today, after I heard you narrowly escaped from the festivities at the Weasleys, and went to Grimmauld myself to assure myself that the protections were adequate. Moody's little carnival tricks by the front door would likely scare off any five-year olds who might wander in, but I doubt they'd keep out a determined Death Eater, should one be able to enter. However, the fidelius still holds, and as long as you are careful, you should be able to stay there indefinitely. I am holding out hope that you do, because then I can monitor you through Phineas. He knows what is going on – Dumbledore took him into his confidence – and he is perfectly placed to pass information back and forth discretely, without you being the wiser concerning where the information comes from.

Take care of yourself, my boy.

August 4, 1997

Phineas has informed me that you are, indeed, at Grimmauld Place. Thank Merlin! The Dark Lord, at my suggestion, has stationed Death Eaters round-the-clock in the square outside, and I hope you are being careful. He also has reinstituted a jinx he used during his first rise, one which brings Death Eaters down upon anyone using his name. I know you take a certain kind of twisted pride in using his name, and I fear that you will be discovered because of it. I live in fear for your safety, and expect to hear every moment of every day that you have been captured. Every day that you evade him is one more day I live as well.

September 1, 1997

The Dark Lord has increased his patrols outside Grimmauld Place, thinking that you will leave it today to catch the Hogwarts Express. Although I know that you aren't reckless enough to put yourself into his hands this way, I have not dissuaded him. He is unreasonable when it comes to you, more unreasonable even than he is about everything else.

I do not know if you are aware yet, but he has given me the headmaster's job. I do not want it, although I have had to pretend that I have coveted it for years. Dumbledore had hoped that the position would be mine, so that I might be in a position to keep the havoc that is sure to be wreaked here by the Death Eaters as limited as possible. I know the Headmaster has put certain protections into place, but I still fear the worst. I will be working against the student body and my own teaching staff, all of whom hate me as much as you do. Except Minerva, of course, who knows of my true relationship with you. However, it is not safe for the two of us to discuss any of this, and we keep a necessary distance.

I wish this were all over.

September 2, 1997

Breaking into the Ministry? What did you hope to accomplish? I hope that whatever it is was worth nearly getting caught and losing the protection of Grimmauld Place. I had hoped that you were lying low and keeping yourself safe. I should have known better.

Thankfully, you have taken Phineas with you, and while I may not always know where you are, he will at least be able to tell me periodically that you are safe. I pray for you each evening, that you find the strength to do what you need to do, and that you keep at least one step ahead of him.

September 30, 1997

Phineas continues to report to me when he has contact with you. On my instructions, he has been attempting to find out where you are, but so far, you're being very careful around him. Normally I would applaud your caution, but in this one instance, where the information might serve to set my mind at rest, I wish you were your old reckless self. I do hope that the information he has been passing along to you about Miss Weasley and your friends bolsters you in some way, knowing that they are here and continuing to fight, sometimes at great peril to themselves. They are foolish, and though I've instituted rules which should keep them on a safer path, they are brave and insist on continuing to foment revolution and sow rebellion. I do what I can for them when they are caught, but I cannot always be there, and there is only so much I can do without giving away my cover.

Phineas often leaves you in a huff when you cast aspersions on my character. I cannot blame you – I've played my part well, and you hate me, with good reason. You are not alone. There is not one single person I would trust at my back at this moment. Sleep is difficult, and eating seems pointless when my gut is already filled with worry and fear and despair.

Be safe, Harry.

December 24, 1997

What were you doing in Godric's Hollow, I wonder. The Dark Lord thought you might go there. Why did you not realize that he would consider this possibility and plan for it? He was irate when you escaped his clutches at the last moment. I don't know how you managed it this time – he certainly didn't go into details about how you'd gotten away from him again. But it was clear to me that he was very close this time.

Did you visit your parents' graves when you were there? Did you visit your family home? Just hearing Godric's Hollow makes the hole in the pit of my stomach open wider. After all these years, I feel the regret about my role in those terrible events. When this is all done, and you know everything, will you ever be able to forgive me? Will either of us be alive for it to matter?

I've begun to pray, Harry, every night, for your safety. I've never really believed in the existence of an all-knowing benevolent God, but I have nothing left. So I pray that He is watching over you while I cannot, that He can somehow keep you safe, and that some time soon this nightmare ends.

December 26, 1997

I have seen you, with my own two eyes! I do not know why you are in the Forest of Dean, but it provided the perfect opportunity for me to leave you the sword. Would that I could have just given it to you. But no, the Sword of Gryffindor, like all living Gryffindors, thrives on noble sacrifice and displays of ridiculous bravery. I was seconds from jumping into the water to pull your sorry arse out of there when Mr. Weasley came and took care of it. What happened to you in the water? I know you can swim – I taught you. It should have been a matter of moments for you to retrieve the sword and exit the water. But you had to make it exciting, didn't you? I waited until it appeared you were not dead. I did not want to go and lose this link to you, but I could not linger. It was enough, though, to see you in living color.

December 28, 1997

You are nearly getting caught with alarming regularity. What in Merlin's name were you doing at that kook Lovegood's house? Were you hoping to somehow assist him with freeing his daughter from Malfoy's clutches? It seems you are becoming less careful as time goes by. I picture you getting desperate to do SOMETHING, which will surely lead to your being careless and getting caught for good this time.

March 15, 1998

I am beginning to believe you are part cat. Surely you have used up seven, perhaps eight, of your lives already. The Dark Lord is livid about your escape from Malfoy Manor. That you managed to get not only you and your friends away, but also to rescue the others being held there, is quite frankly miraculous. I've heard rumors of house elf involvement, and knowing you, I find that only too easy to believe.

Every mistake Lucius makes raises my value in the Dark Lord's eyes. There was a time when that would have been everything to me. Now I can do nothing but cringe inwardly whenever he pays me a compliment. I do not want his approbation or what passes for his respect. I only want him gone.

Snape's hands scrabbled weakly at his own robes as he lay on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, the pool of his blood growing ever wider. If he could only get to his pocket, to the vial that he had carried with him constantly for two years, he might have a chance. But he was losing blood at an alarming rate, and his strength was failing him quickly.

He became convinced he was hallucinating when Harry dropped to his knees at his side. Harry was here! Perhaps he hadn't failed in his last mission from Dumbledore after all. If he had died here on the floor, alone, he never would have been able to deliver the precious memories to Harry. He supposed he could just give them to Harry, and then let go. But he did not want to die, and because he really did not want to die with the young man hating him, he gathered the last reserve of his strength and choked out, "Remember now, Harry."

Snape watched as the familiar look of confusion blurred Harry's eyes for a moment as the memories flooded back into his consciousness. "Oh my God! You – " Harry croaked, and his hands went to Snape's throat, attempting futilely to stop the bleeding. "Hermione! Help me!"

"Too late," Snape groaned, but he tried once again to work his hand into his robe to get at the life-saving potion. Harry pushed his hand away and searched himself, frantic with fear and the certainty that he could not lose his Russ, not now that he'd found him again after all these years.

Harry's hand closed around the vial and he removed it from Snape's pocket. "What do I do, Russ?"

"Ap – apply externally," Snape whispered, his eyes falling closed because it was too much to keep them open.

"Harry, what's going on?" Hermione asked. He'd called Snape "Russ", and he seemed really distraught at Snape's condition. Harry had told her countless times how much he wanted to see Snape die. What had changed?

"Help me!" was Harry's only response.

Hermione dropped to her knees without further questions, took the vial from Harry's hand and uncapped it. Using a spell, she cleaned what blood she could from Snape's neck. It was immediately replaced with more. As she poured the potion over the gaping wound, she said, "See if he's got blood replenisher in there as well. He's going to need it desperately."

Hermione kept her eyes on the wound. She remembered Arthur Weasley's snake bite wound and how difficult it had been for the doctors to close it. She was amazed, therefore, when the potion set to work knitting the edges of Snape's skin back together. Despite the circumstances, Hermione took a moment to marvel at Snape's skill – he'd obviously begun working on a potion to treat Nagini's especially dangerous bite after Arthur had been attacked. He'd kept it on his person in the event he needed it, knowing as he must his master's capriciousness. She doubted, however, that all of that forethought was going to do him any good. She was kneeling in his blood pool – even if the wound had closed over, he was going to exsanguinate at their feet.

Harry was frantically searching Snape's robes, muttering under his breath as he did so, and cried out when he found several more vials. "Here!" he said, thrusting them at Hermione. They were not labeled, and Harry had no idea if they contained blood replenisher. He grasped Snape's hand and sat beside the still man on the floor, crooning, "Please don't die, please don't die," over and over again.

Hermione spared a moment to wonder about the tears on Harry's cheeks before she popped the top of one vial and brought it to her nose. She thought it was blood replenisher, but she wouldn't like to swear to it. She figured she had little to lose, though – he was probably going to die no matter what she gave him. She tipped the vial into Snape's mouth and was surprised when she saw his throat work as he swallowed it.

"Another," he gasped out.

Hermione opened a second bottle and poured it into Snape's mouth. Then did the same with the other two. Snape's color improved only marginally after the fourth application, but he apparently had regained enough strength to squeeze Harry's hand ever so slightly.

"Russ!" he cried, dropping his head onto Snape's shoulder.

Hermione exchanged a shocked glance with Ron, who shrugged helplessly.

Snape's eyes fluttered open, and he said weakly, "Harry."

Harry's head came up quickly and he looked down at Snape. "You are not going to die on me! You hear me?"

Snape smiled a watery smile. "My Harry," he whispered, causing Ron and Hermione to look at each other in astonishment again. A bloody hand came up to stroke the back of Harry's head. "So brave."

"You are not going to die. I won't let you," Harry promised. "I'm going to get help."

Before Harry could get to his feet, everyone's attention was drawn to the door of the Shrieking Shack, which rattled as someone tried to force it open. Harry jumped up, placing himself between the door and Snape, and pointed his wand, waiting for whoever was coming through, ready to jinx first and ask questions later. He lowered his wand when Aberforth poked his head around the door.

"It's me!" he shouted when he saw three wands pointing in his direction. He looked down at Snape on the floor. "What's happened?"

"Snake bite," Harry said tersely. "The bleeding has stopped and we've given him blood replenishers, but we need to get him to St. Mungo's right away. He's lost a lot of blood."

Before Aberforth could ask any questions, a cold reedy voice spoke to them from the air.

"You have fought," it said, "valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery."

Snape moved agitatedly on the floor at the sound of his master's voice.

"You have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately. You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured. I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour." (Note: Voldemort's little speech here comes directly from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

"I have to go," Harry said firmly.

"You're not going anywhere until I get some answers, Harry Potter," Hermione said, her tone brooking no argument.

"We've got to get Russ to St. Mungo's. Mr. Dumbledore," Harry said, looking up at Aberforth, "will you take him?"

"I will," Aberforth agreed.

"You'll have to stay with him, protect him. You can't let anyone hurt him until I can get back there to explain. Can you do that?"

Aberforth nodded solemnly.

"Go now," Harry instructed.

Aberforth conjured a stretcher and levitated Snape onto it. Before he took him out the door, Harry grabbed Snape's hand and leaned over to kiss him on the forehead.

"Don't go," Snape ordered. "He's expecting you to go."

"Don't worry, Russ. I'm going to end this now. I'll see you at St. Mungo's in a bit."

"Harry, there are memories in the pensieve in my office." Speaking was obviously difficult for Snape, but he simply had to get this out. "You must see them before you go. The password is – Arabella's favorite cat."

"All right, Russ. I'll go now," Harry said reassuringly. Then, to Dumbledore, "Take him. Take him now."

"Good luck, lad," Aberforth said, and he ushered Snape out the door.

"Harry," Hermione said after they'd left.

Harry turned to face his friends. "He was there for me when I was a little kid. He used to visit me at Arabella Figg's house and take me to the seaside in the summer. He loved me when no one else did."

Ron looked appalled. Hermione just looked disbelieving. "How could you not know this?"

"He obliviated me just before I started at Hogwarts."


"I suspect that's what we'll find in the pensieve. Let's go. We should have time."

Together, Harry and his friends watched as Snape met Harry for the first time, begged Dumbledore to let him take Harry away from the Dursleys, and spent time with a growing Harry. They witnessed the decision being made to obliviate Harry after each visit. And then they saw Snape's childhood friendship with Lily Evans, then watched it fall apart as they went in separate directions. They witnessed Snape's very real sorrow and dismay and desire for penance when the Potters were threatened and killed. They watched as Snape tended to Dumbledore's cursed hand and Dumbledore requested the impossible from Snape. And then they learned that Harry was to be sacrificed, that Dumbledore had known all along that that would be necessary, that he'd been keeping Harry alive all these years so that he could die when Voldemort was at his weakest. They learned that Dumbledore had asked Snape to stay at Hogwarts and do what he could to protect the students and how Snape had saved Lupin from sure death the night Harry had been moved from Privet Drive, at the price of George's ear.

When it was over, Harry collapsed to the floor of the Headmaster's office and lay with this face pressed against the rug. How could he process all of this? It would take a lifetime, and he had only a few minutes. He felt betrayed by the man he'd trusted so unfailingly for so long. He felt extreme guilt at the way he'd treated Severus over the years, even if it had been justified at the time. And most of all, he was afraid – afraid of what he had to do, that he wouldn't be strong enough to go through with it, that it wouldn't be enough.

Finally, he sat up and looked at his dearest friends. "I have to go," he said, getting slowly to his feet, feeling suddenly like an old man.

"Harry – " Hermione said, and Harry could tell that she was working up an argument to keep him there.

"Hermione, I have to do this. Dumbledore thought that I could, and I have to try."

"How can you still be so loyal to him?" Ron demanded.

"What other choice do I have, Ron?" Harry asked. "If I don't kill him, he's going to come after you two first, and then your families. And when he finds out Severus is alive, he's going to kill him, too. I have to go. I have to try."

Hermione hugged Harry fiercely. "I believe in you," she whispered into his neck. "Come back to us."

Harry hugged her briefly, then stepped back. He had little time. "If I don't make it back, would you tell Severus that I'm sorry? About everything? Tell him that I'll love him always. And you have to make sure that everyone knows what he's done. They're going to want to send him to Azkaban. They have to know the truth."

"You can do all of those things yourself, mate, when you get back," Ron said, stoically optimistic in the face of these impossible odds.

"Promise me," Harry demanded. "Please."

"Of course we will, Harry," Hermione vowed.

Harry smiled weakly at them, threw his invisibility cloak over his head, and left them there.

Harry was tired, but he knew it was almost over. He kept his wand trained on Voldemort as the other man gave his misinterpreted and just plain wrong version of how he came to master the Elder Wand. Harry almost yawned – in all the years they'd been facing each other, Voldemort had never learned the value of just finishing your opponent. Unless he was trying to talk Harry to death.

"Dumbledore was trying to keep the Elder Wand from me! He intended that Snape should be the true master of the wand! But I got there ahead of you, little boy – I reached the wand before you could get your hands on it. I understood the truth before you caught up. I killed Severus Snape three hours ago, and the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny is truly mine! Dumbledore's last plan went wrong, Harry Potter!" the vile creature crowed. (Note: The dialogue in this paragraph is taken directly from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

Harry wanted to laugh at him. "Severus Snape lives, Tom. He was so much smarter than you, and he planned for every contingency. He lives, but you, Tom, are going to die. You've got one more chance to show a little remorse before you go."

Predictably, Voldemort snorted at this idea. Harry stomped on his snort by explaining just who really was the master of the Elder Wand. So suddenly, in Voldemort's distorted view of the world, the Elder Wand was not so important.

As the sun rose over Hogwarts, both cast their last-ditch curses, and when the smoke cleared, it was Harry who was standing over Voldemort, because neither could live while the other survived.

Severus Snape woke slowly, painfully, disoriented. He stared up the ceiling and recognized almost immediately that he was at St. Mungo's. He lay for a moment, feeling a small thrill at the knowledge that he was still alive. But what of Harry, and Voldemort? Harry! Snape struggled to sit up, fighting the pain in his neck that the movement caused, desperate for news of Harry. He hadn't long to wait, as he immediately spotted the boy curled up sleeping in the chair beside his bed. Relief stealing away what little strength he had, he collapsed back into the bed, groaning with the pain as he did so.

One question answered, then. Harry had survived. But what of Voldemort? Snape raised his left arm and stared at the ugly tattoo. He wasn't sure what would happen to it if Voldemort were dead, so the fact that it was still there provided him with no information or relief.

"He's dead," a voice said quietly.

Snape struggled to sit up again, but suddenly Harry was there beside his bed. "Don't try to get up," the young man advised. "I'm right here."

Snape relaxed back again. "He's dead?" Snape's voice was raspy and unpleasant. He knew his voice was his only really striking feature, and he wondered with some sadness if he would ever get it back.

"He is," Harry assured him as he sat on the edge of Snape's bed.

"I suppose it was you."

"It was."

"You cast the killing curse?" Snape asked, so sad that it had been necessary for the young man to do that.




"You're joking."

Harry smiled and shook his head. "Long story."

"I'd like to hear it."

"You will. When you're feeling better."

"There is nothing wrong with my ears," Snape pointed out.

Harry smiled in acknowledgment. "No, but you lost a tremendous amount of blood, and you're still very weak, and we're not going to tax you."

Snape huffed his disagreement with that statement. "I'd like to go home."

"Yeah. Not gonna happen for a day or so."

"You have an army at your disposal to keep me here, do you?"

"Actually," Harry smiled again. "I do. But I won't need it. You're going to let me take care of you, to make up for all that you did for me. When I was little. Thank you for that, and for giving me back the memories, by the way."

"It was my pleasure. I suppose I can behave for a couple of days."

"Thank you."

"Harry, in my private quarters, behind the Headmaster's office, you will find a journal and a photo album on the lowest shelf of the bookcase."

"Do you want me to get them for you?"

"No. They are for you. I kept them for you."

"I'll get them as soon as I leave here, then. Listen, I had an idea."

"Uh oh."

"Quiet, you. When they let you out of here, you're going to need someone to stay with you. I was wondering if you'd like to go to Otter's Run. With me."

"I don't need a minder, Potter."

"Maybe not, but I do."

"That is true," Snape conceded. "I suppose spending time with you at Otter's Run would be . . . enjoyable. Almost like old times."

"Just like old times," Harry corrected.

"No, then you were young and cute," Snape teased.

"And now I'm just cute?"

Snape chuckled. "Yes, Potter. Now you're just cute." He was unable to suppress a yawn, and his eyes seemed to drop closed of their own volition.

"You're tired. I'll let you get some rest. I'll be back in a while. Is there anything you'd like me to bring you?"

"The only thing I need I have right here," Snape said, reaching up for Harry's hand. "I am so proud of you, Harry. And so, so thankful that you have survived."

"I can say the same to you." Harry leaned over and placed his head on Snape's shoulder. Snape's arms went around the boy, and he stroked his hair lovingly.

"I love you," Harry said, his breath warm on Snape's neck.

"And I love you. Now get out of here. You must have sycophants to appease."

Harry blew a raspberry against Snape's neck and stood up. "Later. Behave while I'm gone. No chasing the nurses around."

Snape laughed at the absurdity of that warning.

Harry waved and left him, and Snape felt as though all the warmth had left the room with him.

Harry walked along the sea shore, fully content for the first time in a long time. He looked up toward the cottage, his memories of this place coming back to him in fits and starts. He'd been happy here, surrounded by his pieced-together family, as a boy, and it felt really good to be back. He was expecting Ron and Hermione any moment. Severus hadn't been exactly thrilled when he learned Harry had invited them, but he knew how important they were to Harry, and he kept his objections to himself. Well, most of them.

A huge smile lit Harry's face when he saw his friends, walking hand in hand, coming toward him. He bounded across the sand at them and hugged them both simultaneously. After a long reunion hug, Harry pulled back.

"It's so good to see you!" Harry said.

"You, too," Hermione said. "How is Professor Snape?"

"He's doing well. He's sleeping now. He's still very weak, and he tires easily. But he feels a little stronger every day, and he's started eating again."

"It's beautiful here," Hermione noted, looking around. "Professor Snape owns it?"

"Yes, it's been in his family forever. He used to bring me here for two weeks every summer."

"You remember all that now?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded. "I do. Well, not when I was really little, of course, but from about five years old, I guess, I can remember being here. This is where he taught me to swim. I wondered how I knew, when I had to go into the lake during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The Dursleys certainly had never given me lessons. They would have liked to see me drown, I'd wager."

Hermione reached out and squeezed Harry's hand. "I'm so glad you got this back, Harry."

"Me, too. We've been talking a lot over the last week. He has questions about the last year and the horcrux hunt, and I have questions about everything, really. He kept a journal from the time he started obliviating me. I'd like you to read it, if he doesn't mind. And I definitely want you to see the photo album. He took pictures of me, Hermione!" Harry said, his eyes shining. "When I was little, right up until the summer I turned eleven."

"Harry, that's wonderful."

"I never thought I'd have that, you know? That's so . . . normal. Normal people have pictures of themselves growing up. Now I have that, too."

Hermione smiled at him, close to tears and unable to speak.

"Well, we should get up to the house. Russ should be awake soon."

"'Russ'," Ron repeated with an amazed shake of his head. "It's kind of hard to get used to the fact that I can't hate the git – I mean, Snape anymore."

"I know, Ron," Harry assured him. "I understand that you don't have the memories that I have in my head and that it may be more difficult for you to accept that he isn't the man we thought we knew all those years. Just give him a chance, that's all I ask."

"I can do that," Ron assured him. "I can see what he means to you."

Harry smiled, so happy to have his friends here with him.

July 31, 1998

You are eighteen today. That you would live to see this ripe old age has always been in some doubt. But you are alive, and He is dead, and the world is a better place. My world, certainly is much improved. I have you back.

You have, inexplicably, forgiven me for a list of sins a mile long, and you have rarely left my side since the day that you saved me. You have championed my cause to the Minister of Magic, and your worth is such at the moment that that may just be enough to keep me out of Azkaban. I know you wish that the wizarding world at large would vaunt me as a hero, but I do not feel like one, and I would be happy to be left alone and free. As long as I have you, and your good opinion, I need nothing else.

Your friends are here as I write this in my room. I can hear you laughing and talking with them as they celebrate the day of your birth. I have watched you with Ginny Weasley, and I see something developing between the two of you. I think you are too young to become so seriously involved, but then I remember that you were never really young. If you make a commitment to her, I will know that you are ready for all that entails.

This will be my last entry in this journal. I no longer must communicate with you this way. Any time I want to see your foolish face or hear your devilish voice, I need only look across the room or floo call, and there you are. I thought never to have this again, and I will cherish it for what days remain to me.

My Harry – you are home.