Author Notes: Happy Labour Day to everyone, who celebrates it today and a wonderful rest week to everyone else!=)

This OS is a sequel to my Christmas story "Filled Chocolates". If you haven`t read that OS yet, I ask you to do that first, otherwise the story won`t make much sense to you and you can`t fully enjoy it.

Appreciation: Special thanks to YenGirl for beta-reading this story!*hugs* She improved that OS significantly, although she didn`t have much free time herself. The story wouldn`t be the same without your input, dear!*big hug*

Caring for You

It was quiet.

The scratching of a quill and the rustling of parchment only highlighted the peaceful atmosphere. It was never like this in the Gryffindor common room.

Harry adjusted his glasses and gazed thoughtfully at his homework. He had just finished his essay for Transfiguration and done his research for History of Magic. The only thing left to do now was practice the new spell for Charms classes.

Harry gave a small smile. He loved Hogwarts and he loved being with his friends and watching his fellow Gryffindors in the common room, but… he had started to understand Hermione's complaints. Really, it was much easier finishing his homework when he wasn't distracted by the noises that always dominated the Gryffindor common room!

Again, the corners of Harry's lips turned up. Everyone else thought he was having detention with Professor Snape, but instead, he was given the chance to finish up most of his assignments. Severus – the Potions Master allowed Harry to call him by his given name as long as they were alone – had told Harry to do his homework in his quarters while he was busy brewing potions for the Infirmary.

Curious green eyes looked around the Severus' living room.

The first time Harry had come here was when he had gotten himself drunk consuming too many liqueur filled chocolates at Christmas. He still recalled his horror when he woke up and found himself completely at Severus' mercy and believed the man was going to kill him.

He now knew that was absolutely ridiculous; Severus had been his mother's best friend and since that Christmas, they spent at least one day out of every week together.

Harry threw a hopeful glance at the door of Severus' personal potion's lab, but it was still closed. He sighed. He liked being here, but he enjoyed his time here even more when Severus was with him. For the first time in his life, he felt like he could trust an adult without fearing that he would be struck down just because he said the wrong thing at the wrong time.

There was still so much he wanted to ask Severus... about his parents, especially his mother, and why Voldemort had decided to kill them. Harry suspected that there was more to the story than that what Hagrid had told him.

Besides, a conversation with Severus would also distract Harry from the pounding in his head. He grimaced as another wave of stabbing pain went through his forehead. He was used to not complaining of pain since Uncle Vernon would only lock him up in his cupboard if Harry told him he wasn't feeling well.

The young Gryffindor normally didn't make a fuss about minor things like a headache or feeling a little dizzy. Truth to be told, his head had started spinning since the last lesson of the day. He had been able to ignore it while he was doing homework, hoping that the headache would go away by the time he finished, but it hadn't.

Harry groaned; his head now felt like it was being crushed between two rocks. Vaguely, he recalled that the pain always started in the scar on his forehead before spreading, but he didn't know if that meant anything.

Everyone told him that the scar was created when Voldemort's curse hit him. So, maybe it was normal that it sometimes hurt. Or maybe, it was worse when there was a change in the weather pattern – he had heard his uncle complain that an area that suffered an injury in the past was always tender when a storm was approaching.

But Uncle Vernon had never said anything about feeling like his head had got in a rollercoaster for hours on end.

Harry took a deep breath and reached for the glass of water on the table, but nausea rose in him and he stopped. If he sat up now, he was sure that he would vomit.

In Severus' quarters and on his carpets…

Harry gulped as he fought down the bitter bile in his throat and his panic at the same time. Severus hadn't punished him the last time he vomited, but that was because he had been drunk and couldn't help it.

Reaching for a pillow, Harry lay down on the couch and curled himself around it while his gaze rested on the potions lab door. Severus told him that he could come to him if he needed anything, but Harry suspected that feeling a little unwell didn't count.

It wasn't as if he hadn't suffered this before...

The young Gryffindor concentrated on taking even breaths, while he waited for Severus to come out. Hopefully, the Potions Master wouldn't scold him for not practicing his spell for Charms.

OOO

He was finally finished!

Severus sighed in relief as he corked the last bottle of Fever Reducing potion. Why was it that the little dunderheads all seemed to catch a cold or the flu at the same time?

And why, he growled to himself, did Madame Pomfrey only order new potions when she had run out?

Dark orbs glanced thoughtfully at the filled vials. There should be enough to last until the Easter holidays, so he wouldn't have to brew anymore for some time.

A few months ago, the Potions Master would have entertained that idea because it gave him time for his own research, but now there was another reason why he wanted more free time and he gave a rare smile as he washed and dried his hands.

During the last two months, he had come to look forward to spending time with Harry. He even had to admit that Albus was right; Harry wasn't like his father. The boy didn't prank his classmates and didn't pick on others. In these two aspects, he was more like Lilly, defending others without thinking of his own safety first.

Severus shuddered when he recalled how Harry had nearly crashed into the wall of the castle trying to get some toy of Longbottom's back from Malfoy. Of course at that time, he had been furious that the Boy-Who-Lived was rewarded for breaking the rules and risking his own life by becoming the youngest seeker in the Gryffindor team.

If something like that happened now… well, Severus would certainly scold Harry until his ears rang. Luckily, the boy wouldn't be able to do anything dangerous in his quarters.

Summoning a few house elves to take the potion vials to the Infirmary, Severus finally left his personal lab. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was reserved for Harry.

When he entered the living-room, Severus didn't see the young Gryffindor on the couch at first and frowned.

His eyes wandered over Harry's school supplies, which were still lying on the table, before his gaze fell on the small boy, who was lying on the couch, bent around one of the pillows. Was the homework for first years so exhausting that Harry had needed to take a nap afterwards?

"Harry?" Severus called out and was alarmed when the only response was a groan from the couch.

"Harry?!"

He rushed to the couch only to find Harry curled into a ball and looking utterly pale.

Severus swallowed against the panic that rose within him; Harry had probably caught a nasty flu, nothing he couldn't deal with. He touched Harry's forehead and flinched. The boy was practically radiating with heat!

"Harry? Can you hear me?"

Severus stroke Harry's hair until green eyes slowly blinked open and focused on him.

OOO

Severus was finally here.

Harry's headache had increased and was practically unbearable. He felt like vomiting, if he so much as turned his head a bit. His head was spinning and this time, it felt as if he had not eaten one, but two or three boxes of filled chocolates.

Despite all this, the commanding presence of the Potions Master still made him smile.

"Severus," he managed to utter past dry lips.

Dark orbs fixed him with a look that Harry hadn't seen directed at him before. It wasn't anger, disgust or annoyance, but… concern.

Harry blinked. He was probably mistaken. Why should anyone be concerned for him when he had only something insignificant like the flu?

His Aunt Petunia had only been worried that she would have to do the household chores herself whenever Harry was ill… and of course, that her precious Duddy might catch the disease as well. Her solution was to lock Harry in his cupboard and bring him water and the remains of their meals three times a day. It was more than what Harry normally got - perhaps she tried to prevent him from dying since that would only raise questions...

Harry groaned as his head started pounding angrily again. But Madame Pomfrey looked after the children at Hogwarts, so there wasn't any reason for Severus to be concerned.

A cool glass touched his lips and Harry focused again on the Potions Master.

"Drink this, Harry. It will help you."

Without any complaints, Harry drank the contents of the glass and felt the pounding in his head decrease a little.

"I gave you a potion against the pain and also to reduce your fever."

Harry nodded and felt nausea rise within him at once. He gulped and tasted bile in his throat while his stomach protested against the sudden movement of his head.

"Harry, how long have you felt like this?"

Harry opened his mouth. He tried to answer Severus' question at once since he knew how impatient the Potions Master could be during classes if he didn't get an answer fast enough.

A second later, Harry realized that it wasn't a good idea trying to say anything at all. Not only the bile, but the contents of whatever he had eaten and drunk that day, including the potion he had just taken, rose up to his throat.

Before he could utter a single sound, he was already vomiting on his clothes and on the carpet.

Severus' carpet.

Tears pricked at the corners of Harry's eyes, even as he felt a strong hand on his chest holding him upright so that he wouldn't choke on his own vomit.

OOO

He should have seen it coming.

Severus slapped himself inwardly. Harry was as pale as a freshly washed sheet and it was obvious that he was in pain and running a fever. Why had he even summoned a potion for the boy when he hadn't taken into consideration that he might throw up?

Merlin, Severus had seen enough sick children to know what was very likely to happen if the child was in such a state.

He was curious; he justified his own actions to himself, while holding the now sobbing boy in his arms. Compared to how he looked when he arrived here a few hours ago and now, Severus assumed that Harry hadn't felt well for some time now.

Judging from the neatly stacked papers and books on the coffee table, Harry had managed to finish his homework, but then…

Yes, but then what?

Why didn't the boy come to him if he wasn't feeling well? Why hadn't he knocked on the door of his lab?

Severus had told Harry that he could come to him if something happened. He had assumed that a serious headache or a high fever was enough to make the boy look for someone to help him.

Severus froze.

Even as he pulled Harry slowly to his feet, Vanished the mess with a flick of his wand and helped the boy to the bathroom, his mind felt as if it had just crashed into a wall.

Every other child would have called for an adult. Malfoy would have certainly come to him and most of the other children in the castle would have asked for help from their Heads of House as well… but that was because they were all used to getting help whenever they asked for it.

Severus had to use all his willpower to control his anger that was radiating from him in waves now.

Petunia.

It was all Petunia's doing. If Harry didn't ask for help, it could only mean that the old cow hadn't taken care of Harry as she should have.

Dark orbs focused on the small boy kneeling on the bathroom floor and ridding his stomach of every last bit of food that was in there. The scene reminded Severus of last Christmas… and of Harry's nightmares of his uncle.

Severus clenched one fist even as he knelt down behind Harry and rubbed the boy's back in soothing circles with his other hand.

If Harry was afraid of his uncle, Severus could very well imagine how the boy's relatives had treated him when he was sick. That would explain why he didn't trust adults in general… but why didn't he at least trust him?

Severus had thought that Harry liked his company and trusted him, but obviously… he had been wrong. He swallowed past a suddenly tight throat.

Maybe Harry endured his company because he was the only friend of his late mother's that he knew. The thought made something in Severus' chest burn. It was the same feeling he always got after a serious argument with Lily... each time he thought he might lose her forever.

"Sir?"

The shy but hoarse voice broke Severus's reverie and reminded him of what he should be doing now.

"It's all right, Harry," he tried to calm the boy as he helped him up. "You have probably caught the flu, but with a few potions and enough rest, you'll be all right very soon."

The words didn't do anything to make the depressed expression on Harry's face disappear. Instead, the green eyes filled with tears.

OOO

He had ruined everything!

Harry stared at Severus through a film of tears. Although the words were gentle and reassuring, he still felt awful.

The flu wasn't a reason to throw up. Aunt Petunia had told him so and taught him well. If he couldn't hold his food down, then he didn't deserve to eat anything.

An easy and simple rule to remember.

While Harry knew that no one would withhold food from him at Hogwarts, he was still very sure that Severus was angry at him. Who wouldn't be after someone had vomited on their carpet?

"I'm sorry," Harry mumbled, but didn't dare lock eyes with Severus. He was sure the Potions Master was furious with him now.

"What are you apologizing for, Harry?"

Severus' voice was gentle as his hands continued stripping Harry of his ruined school uniform.

"For not fetching me sooner?"

The edge to Severus' voice made Harry dare to peep up at him. The man didn't look that angry, but instead, a little… hopeless.

Harry frowned to himself. He would have shaken his head if he hadn't known it wasn't a good idea. He must be wrong.

Why should Severus look hopeless?

That didn't make any sense... unless his carpet really was ruined?

"You knew where I was and I told you to come to me if something was wrong."

Harry gulped. Severus didn't sound angry and he wasn't rough while cleaning him up with a wet washcloth, but the words still made Harry nervous.

Was the man angry, because Harry didn't warn him that he might throw up and ruin his carpet?

Aunt Petunia certainly would have hit him with the pan or bathed him in boiling water if Harry did something that nasty. He started trembling.

Of course Severus wouldn't punish him like that since he was a teacher at Hogwarts, but that didn't mean Harry would go unpunished. Harry was sure that the Potions Master wouldn't let go of the fact that his carpet was now ruined.

Or maybe… Severus wouldn't even bother punishing him, but just banish Harry from his quarters?

New tears formed in the corners of Harry's eyes. Now he wished that he could stay here like this forever, while Severus wrapped him in a towel and dried him.

But of course, that wasn't possible. The Potions Master was going to throw him out in a matter of seconds.

OOO

Harry didn't answer his question.

Severus sighed inwardly. Was the boy so terrified of him that he didn't know what to say?

If Harry had been up to some sort of mischief and hadn't called for Severus just so that he wouldn't find out, Severus would have understood his reluctance to answer his questions. But the only thing Harry did was his homework. That wasn't something Severus would ever punish him or anyone for.

Shaking his head, he forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand. Harry was clean now, but his school uniform was ruined. Of course, Severus could bring him to Madam Pomfrey or summon Minerva. Harry was a Gryffindor and he was ill - that made one or both of the women responsible for him.

But one look at the young, trembling boy who looked so fragile standing before him, wrapped in a much too large towel, made Severus decide against summoning anyone.

"Accio new pajama!"

A black pajama top and bottoms flew into Severus' arms.

"I'm going to help you put on these pajamas and then I'll shrink them to your size, all right?"

Harry only stared at Severus, his green eyes wide and feverish. It was only after Severus had helped him into the clothes did he react.

"Why?"

Severus stared at the boy. Why was it that Gryffindors never made sense?

Everyone else spoke in whole sentences, but Gryffindors obviously expected their dialog partner to read their minds. Not that Severus couldn't do that, he just wasn't so keen on invading the mind of an eleven year old boy, and a sick boy at that.

"Why what, Harry?"

Meanwhile, he shrank the pajamas to a size that fitted Harry perfectly.

"I have pajamas, why… are you giving me yours?"

Severus blinked at him. For a Gryffindor with a high fever, Harry was remarkably eloquent now.

Still, Severus doubted that this was the only question bothering Harry now otherwise the boy wouldn't be chewing his lips right now.

"I'm well aware that you have your favorite sleeping clothes, Harry, but I don't intend to wander through the whole castle to get them since you are staying here tonight."

Severus used the moment of shock to lead Harry to his bedroom. He had almost gotten the boy under the covers when Harry finally shook his head violently.

"No!"

OOO

What game was he playing at?

Harry didn't understand why Severus was still behaving like he had when Harry was drunk last Christmas or during all the other times when he spent time with him.

Severus was still being nice, gentle and kind. He hadn't yelled at Harry or slapped him. He even cleaned him up and gave him his own pajamas to wear – new ones too! Aunt Petunia would have had Harry running around naked if he ruined one of his own, or rather, Dudley's hand-me-down clothes.

Why did Severus bother shrinking his own pajamas when Harry had enough of them in his trunk?

His pounding head and dizziness wasn't helping Harry to think this through and Severus' next words made everything even more confusing.

"I'm well aware that you have appreciated sleeping clothes, Harry, but I don't intend to wander through the whole castle to get them when you are staying here tonight."

Harry didn't understand the meaning behind those words. They just didn't make any sense to his sluggish brain, at least, not until Severus had brought him to his bedroom and tried to get him under the tempting looking covers.

"No!"

Harry shook his head violently which didn't help his headache one bit.

"I… I can go to the Tower… or the Infirmary and I… you don't!"

The young Gryffindor sniffed as new tears welled up in his eyes. Merlin, he was such a crybaby today! But he was feeling so sick and worn out and raw inside that he didn't know how to interpret Severus' behavior.

The Potions Master probably thought that he had to take care of Harry since he was in his own quarters right now, but Harry didn't want the man to feel obliged to help him. Severus would no doubt feel even angrier at him in the morning after having to look after him the entire night.

Harry suppressed a tremble as his body reacted to the cold of the dungeon's air.

He would have rather died on the couch then be a burden to Severus.

OOO

Harry was afraid of him. No, he was more than afraid, he was terrified!

Severus stared at him in shock, seeing the tears running down the pale face. Harry was trembling as if cold, but he still didn't get under the covers. Then a thought came to Severus and he swallowed hard. His heart stuttered in his chest and for a moment, he felt like throwing up too.

Merlin, did Harry think that he was going to…

All right, it wasn't usual for a teacher to take a student to his bedroom and tell him to sleep in his bed, but surely, Harry couldn't have misunderstood him like that. But obviously he had, if the tears and the terrified look in those huge green eyes were anything to go by.

Severus clenched his fists and relaxed them again.

There were many things one could call him, but he had never laid a hand on a child before. Never.

"Harry," Severus managed to speak around the lump in his throat. "I won't do you any harm. I won't even sleep in my bed tonight, but stay on the couch. I only want you to sleep here so that I can help you if your condition worsens."

If possible, Harry shook his head even more violently and then retched, but luckily there was nothing left in his stomach to throw up.

"No… you don't have to… I mean, Madam Pomfrey is used caring for children…I don't want to be… a burden for you. I already… threw up and ruined… your carpet. I know that you only feel… obliged to help me… because I'm here and…"

The relief that coursed through Severus made him feel quite weak. He stopped Harry's babbling by putting a hand on the boy's shoulder and looking him in the eye. Those words weren't what he had expected, but at least Harry hadn't thought that he intended to molest him.

"Obviously, you have misunderstood something, Harry."

Green eyes bright with tears and fever stared disbelievingly at him.

"I know that Madam Pomfrey can take care of you, but I want you to stay here tonight. No, let me finish," Severus added, when Harry opened his mouth to protest. "First of all, I am not angry at you. You are sick and it's only natural that you would throw up. It's nothing to be ashamed of and the carpet is already clean. Magic," Severus reminded Harry with a small smirk when the boy's eyes widened.

"But even if I weren't able to clean it, I wouldn't be angry. I won't waste my time with worrying about that when you are sick, Harry."

"But… but…"

Severus raised an eyebrow at the boy's stuttering. Really, he should get Harry a dictionary, so that the boy would learn more words.

"No buts! It's into bed with you!"

This time, Harry didn't protest as Severus helped him into bed and arranged the covers over him. After putting a glass of water on the nightstand and summoning a few potion vials for Harry, Severus sat down at the edge of the bed.

"Harry, how did you come to the conclusion that I would only care for you because I feel obliged to?"

OOO

Harry blinked sleepily.

Now that he was lying in a comfortable bed and surrounded by warmth, it seemed almost impossible to stay awake or keep his eyes open. His mind still tried to work at understanding what Severus had said - that he cared for Harry, because he wanted to and that Harry was more important than a carpet.

Those words took most of his fears away and calmed him down. He forced himself to answer Severus' question.

"Aunt Petunia would have… punished me. She loves keeping her house clean and everything in it is more important than I am."

Harry gulped. He had known these facts all along, but he had never spoken them out loud. Now that he had, the knowledge hurt even more.

"They... my aunt and uncle always told me… that I'm a burden and that they can't stand me. I … I just don't want you to feel the same."

Harry sniffled.

"Stupid child!"

The boy heard a sigh and felt a cool hand on his forehead as if checking his temperature. It then went on to stroke his hair.

"You are not a burden, Harry." The deep voice of the Potions Master was even gentler than Harry had ever heard it. "I don't care what your stupid relatives say, you are important to me."

Harry could only lie still as a strong hand lifted his head to help him swallow the bitter contents of two potion vials, but his dizzy mind was jumping up and down from sheer happiness.

I am important to Severus!

That meant that Severus endured his presence, not only because he was the son of the woman Severus had loved, but also because he was… Harry. The young Gryffindor was so busy recalling Severus' words over and over again that he almost missed the next question.

"So you didn't come to me because you thought I would be angry?"

Harry nodded.

"Yes, I thought… you didn't want to be bothered and I… I thought my headache would pass."

"To make it very clear to you, Harry, I won't ever be angry at you for coming to me when you aren't feeling well. And why would you think that the symptoms would pass? Flu won't just pass like that!"

Growing more tired every minute, Harry managed to answer Severus' question with difficulty.

"I thought it was… a side-effect. See, we practiced in DADA and… 'fessor Quirrell was my partner… maybe he had used some… strong hexes… headache started right after… in my scar…"

Harry imagined seeing a dark flicker in Severus' eyes, but he didn't have the time to think about it as sleep finally claimed him.

OOO

Quirrell! That little rat!

Severus' body shook with barely controlled rage.

Albus had been right and that man was a danger to Harry. He was probably after the Philosopher's Stone too.

But why?

Severus squashed his first impulse to go to Quirrell's quarters and curse him until he begged for mercy. A Gryffindor might do such a stupid thing, but he was a Slytherin.

Taking a few deep breaths to control his anger, Severus stood up and remembered to take off the boy's glasses before he left. Harry looked so... small and fragile in his sleep.

Severus wiped his eyes and cursed to himself. Damn, he must have spent too many hours in his lab today. There was no other explanation why his eyes had suddenly started watering.

With one last glance at the sleeping boy, he left his bedroom, but kept the door ajar. He wanted to know if Harry grew restless although the potions he had given the boy should guarantee a deep healing sleep and reduce the fever.

Severus glanced at his couch. He would have to prepare it for the night, but that could wait for a while. He clapped in his hands and a little house elf appeared.

"What can Tapsy do for Potions Master Sir?"

"Tell the headmaster to please come here. I wish to speak him on an important matter."

The house elf nodded and vanished.

Severus only had time to summon a bottle of Fire Whiskey and two glasses before the flames in the fireplace flashed green and Albus stepped into his quarters.

OOO

"Young Harry looks more like his mother than his father when he is sleeping. I still remember James Potter…"

"Please, Albus! No stories about the late Potter tonight! Besides, I don't care who the boy resembles in his sleep. He is Harry, and not James or Lily."

Severus regretted his impulsive words - so much for being a Slytherin - when the twinkling blue eyes pinned him with a knowing look, a small smile playing around the corner of Albus' lips.

Luckily, the headmaster didn't comment on that implied confession, but left his place at the door of the bedroom and joined Severus in his living room.

"What is the important matter that you wanted to speak with me about? Young Harry doesn't seem to be well."

That last part was more a statement than a question, but Severus answered it nonetheless.

"Harry threw up earlier. He also has a fever and a headache. I let him sleep in my bed and gave him some potions to help his body fight the disease."

Severus was only glad that he didn't have to explain why Harry was in his quarters in the first place. The headmaster already knew that Harry had spent some afternoons with him ever since Christmas and he had teased Severus about it often enough when no one else was listening.

Albus nodded and stroked his long beard at the same time as the twinkling eyes sharpened their gaze.

"That's the reason why neither you nor Harry came down for dinner this evening, but not the reason why you wanted to speak with me."

Not for the first time, Severus wondered how Albus was able to read people so correctly. Of course, the old wizard could have been using Legilimency, but Severus always shielded his mind. So how did Albus seem to guess what was going on in his mind?

"It's written plainly in your eyes, my dear boy. Something worries you. So much that you wanted to talk with me and I admit that this makes even me a little nervous."

Albus had read his mind again! That's why he... wait - what? 'Plainly written on his face'?!

The old man must be joking!

Severus almost started arguing with the headmaster, but stopped himself at the last moment. Now was not the time for little fights, but rather for co-operation. He leaned towards Albus and spoke in a low voice.

"Harry told me that his discomfort started after a practice DADA session with Quirrell as his partner. You know that the man had already tried to kill Harry once, when he hexed his broom during the Quidditch match and you also suspect he is after the Philosopher's Stone."

Albus nodded. They had discussed these themes a few times.

"I think Quirrell suspects that Harry knows what he is after, but that doesn't explain why he hadn't tried to kill Miss Granger and Mister Weasley as well."

When Albus looked thoughtful, Severus knew he had a good chance of winning this discussion if he played his cards right.

"Harry's scar started hurting after his practice with Quirrell."

The calm expression in the blue eyes wavered.

"The scar…" Albus said softly. "Quirrell… that could be the explanation…"

Severus waited for more, but Albus just shook his head.

"Later, my boy, I promise to explain everything to you later, but for now, I have to check my theory."

Severus glared at him. He hated it when Albus behaved in this secretive manner! Why couldn't he tell him what was going through his brilliant mind from time to time?

Swallowing down his disappointment, Severus forced himself to ask the one question that was at the forefront of his mind.

"Has your theory something to do with why Harry's scar hurts when he is near Quirrell and therefore connected with… the Dark Lord?"

To his utter astonishment, Albus answered his questions without using any excuses.

"Yes and I promise you, Severus, if my theory is correct, I'll take care of Quirrell myself. I will go now, but will let you know everything later."

Severus reluctantly nodded. He was tired after a day of lessons and brewing and he needed sleep, but he was more eager to learn what Albus was planning.

"Good, I'll see you in a few hours, my boy."

That damned twinkle had returned to the blue eyes. A few seconds later, Albus disappeared through the fireplace.

Alone for the moment, Severus sank down onto the couch. A long night was ahead of him.

OOO

"Are you sure?"

Whispered words and a burning thirst woke Harry up. At first, he didn't know where he was nor why he felt so weak. His mouth and throat were dry so he reached for his nightstand where he put a glass of water every night.

Only when the cool liquid touched his lips did Harry recall Severus bringing him to bed and putting the glass on the nightstand. Embarrassment crept into his cheeks as he also remembered what happened before that - vomiting in Severus' living room and fearing he would be thrown out even while the man was cleaning him up. Harry didn't know if he should be more embarrassed at his lack of control or that he hadn't trusted the Potions Master enough and thought he would want to get rid of him.

The young Gryffindor put the glass back. His head still ached and he felt a little feverish as well, but it was nothing in comparison to the suffering he had endured before Severus gave him the potions.

Whenever Dudley caught the flu, it always took him three weeks to recover, although during the last week, Harry was sure he only pretended to be sick, so that he could continue to stay at home and eat even more sweets than usual.

Nonetheless, Harry didn't think that people would recover from a disease after some potions and a few hours' sleep. Maybe his body was tougher, because he was a wizard.

With that thought, Harry nestled back under the covers. He had almost fallen asleep again, when he heard more whispered words. He was too sleepy to listen closely and the conversation was too quiet to hear much, but he was still able to catch a few words.

"… confronted him… quite a surprise…"

"What… now?"

That last question was asked by Severus. Even half asleep, Harry recognized that deep, soft voice.

"… send back… will destroy… too dangerous… at Hogwarts."

Harry frowned. That sounded like the headmaster. So Professor Dumbledore and Severus were talking.

But what were they talking about?

Harry tried to concentrate a little more, but his mind felt heavier with each passing minute.

"… but he will die," the voice of the Potions Master said.

"Yes… don't trouble yourself… He is prepared for it."

Somehow, the last words filled Harry with unease, although he couldn't say why as he glided back to sleep.

This time, it was a restless one.

OOO

Early morning found Harry Potter wide awake in Severus' bed, green eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling and heart pounding madly against his ribs.

His lips were dry again, but he didn't reach for the glass of water this time. He didn't move a single muscle. He just lay under the covers as if he was dead. And that wasn't so far from the truth, was it?

Harry took a shaky breath while he tried to prevent himself from crying. Tears wouldn't help him if Professor Dumbledore wanted to send him back to his aunt and uncle.

His lips trembled. In his nightmare, he had watched himself being led away from Hogwarts to Number Four Privet Drive. His uncle had been so mad that Harry had shown up sooner than expected that he had taken off his belt and…

Harry had woken up at that point, soaked in sweat and nearly hyperventilating. It was then that the words of the whispered conversation he had overheard started to make sense.

Severus must have told the headmaster that Harry was sick. Professor Dumbledore must have decided that Harry could no longer stay at Hogwarts.

But why?

It wasn't unheard of for students to fall sick, but no one had been sent home.

Maybe Harry had some rare disease and the headmaster didn't want anyone else to catch it?

That would make sense, but… Harry exhaled a shaky breath that came out as a sob. Severus said that he would die and Harry was sure the Potions Master was right.

The Dursleys wouldn't take care of him… but obviously Professor Dumbledore didn't think that this would be a grand loss.

Hot tears started running down Harry's cheeks. He was used to people not caring about him, but he had hoped that Severus would care, at least a little... enough to convince the headmaster to let him stay on at Hogwarts.

Even if Harry had to die, he would rather do so with Severus by his side than alone in his cold cupboard.

By now, Harry was sobbing so hard that he only noticed Severus, when he sat down next to him and put a calming hand on his shoulder.

OOO

Severus had stayed up until after Albus returned to tell him about his investigations regarding Quirrel. It was way past midnight by then and he didn't even care that he only had a simple woolen blanket to cover himself.

He was much too tired… and too satisfied with the turn of events to care about such minor details. He could have sworn he had just closed his eyes when he was woken up by the sound of miserable sobbing coming from his bedroom.

Throwing off his blanket, Severus jumped up only to realise it was now a thick comforter and that someone had transfigured his plain black robes into bright green pajamas printed with little yellow… flowers.

Flowers?!

Severus' face changed from pale to crimson.

The nerve of that old and… childish wizard!

Growling, Severus snatched up his wand and turned the waving flowers into little snakes before running into his bedroom. It took less effort than transfiguring the whole thing back.

Harry lay in his bed, turned onto his side and sobbing while taking great gulps of air.

Nightmare, Severus decided. He sat beside the boy and squeezed his shoulder.

"Calm down, Harry. Everything is fine. You're safe here and…"

The boy had the nerve to shake his head, but at least his breathing became even again.

"P-please, don't send m-me back to… them. D-don't."

Severus frowned and pressed his other hand to Harry's forehead. He was still a little warm to the touch, but the fever had decreased a lot compared to yesterday.

So Harry couldn't have hallucinations because of the fever, but maybe…

Severus almost swore aloud, when an image of Petunia Dursley appeared in front of his mind's eye. Had Harry dreamed of his relatives and was now afraid to be sent back to them?

That was understandable, if Severus thought of how they treated their nephew. "No one wants to send you back."

Severus' words were meant to be soothing, but Harry only shook his head again.

"Not true. I heard… Professor Dumbledore and you… last night. H-he said that he wanted to send… me back and that I… would die."

Severus almost laughed out loud, but only almost. The heartbroken expression in those green eyes and the trace of tears on the boy's face had managed to warm a heart that was as cold as his.

Gently, the Potions Master stroked the black, sweaty hair.

"You have misunderstood something, Harry."

The look of hope, mixed with trust and fear, made Severus' heart clench in his chest.

Damn, he thought he was too young for a heart attack, but he should probably get himself checked if this strange ache kept happening on a regular basis.

"The headmaster and I weren't talking about you."

Those open green eyes would be Severus' doom, he was sure of it. At first sight, they looked exactly like Lily's, but upon closer inspection, he realised they were of a much deeper green.

Severus sighed.

It should be Lily sitting beside her son and comforting him after such a misunderstanding… or Albus since the old wizard hadn't thought of performing a Muffliato before telling Severus what had happened.

The Potions Master recalled the late night conversation with Albus for Harry's sake.

OOO

The flames in the fireplace flashed green.

Severus put down the book he had been nodding over and greeted Albus with a brief nod of his head.

"I apologize for being so late, Severus, but some things need their time."

Severus only nodded again and waited with bated breath for what Albus would tell him.

"I assume that young Harry is still sleeping?"

Severus ground his teeth. Sometimes, he wondered if Albus was really so relaxed and calm or if he just wanted to drive everyone else crazy.

"Yes, he is sleeping. I would also welcome a few hours of rest before I have to take care of him again."

His hint only made that damned twinkle in those blue eyes grow more pronounced.

"You know, my boy, you could have called Poppy or Minerva. Either one of them would have taken good care of Harry."

Severus sneered.

"Those two women would only fuss unnecessarily over him. Harry needs someone who can tend to his medical needs and…"

The Potions Master growled at himself. Damn his loose mouth! He should have taken a potion to increase his alertness or at least slept for a few hours, instead of worrying over the old wizard.

Albus always came back alive and Severus always ended up making an emotional fool of himself. Luckily, the headmaster didn't comment on his unfinished sentence, but sat down opposite him instead.

"Quirrell is dead."

Severus blinked in shock.

All right, he had never liked that incompetent DADA teacher and would probably have killed the man himself if Quirrel ever came near Harry again, but Albus wasn't known for killing unless it was absolutely necessary.

"I didn't kill him, Severus. It was Voldemort."

A shudder ran down Severus' spine.

"He... but how is that possible?"

Albus shook his head and suddenly looked all of his one hundred and fifty something years.

"Obviously, Voldemort," Severus shuddered at that name again, "had chosen Quirrell as his host. He hid under Quirrell's turban. I won't describe it to you in detail, my boy, it was a terrible sight."

Albus sighed and fixed Severus with a tired gaze.

"Voldemort fed from Quirrell's energy and used him to go after the Philosopher's Stone. He had already reached the Mirror of Erised when I finally confronted him."

Severus paled.

"So he got past all our hindrances…"

Albus nodded and even had the nerve to pat Severus' hand.

"Don't worry, my boy, your task was fantastic. I guess Quirrell wouldn't have found the correct vial, if Voldemort hadn't controlled him."

When the headmaster stroked his beard thoughtfully for a moment, Severus had to control his curiosity. Couldn't the old man, at least in the middle of the night, be a little less mysterious?

"I met Quirrell... or rather Voldemort, in that last chamber. Needless to say, I was able to cast Voldemort out, but that was also Quirrell's end, since Tom took all of his host's energy before fleeing."

Severus couldn't say if he was more impressed when Albus called Voldemort by his self title or by his Muggle name.

"So, he... isn't dead."

Albus shook his head without saying anything.

Severus knew that he would have normally commented on Severus' refusal to call Voldemort by his name, but maybe even Albus was too tired to tease him tonight.

"No, he isn't and I guess it's best if we tell Harry about it as soon as possible."

Severus crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Of course. Albus was no doubt hoping that the Potions Master would explain everything to the boy, so that he wouldn't have to taint his own hands.

"You want to tell Harry about the danger he is in? Are you sure? He is only a boy, Albus!"

The headmaster only twinkled at him.

"Harry has to understand what's going on in order to be prepared for what might come his way."

Severus sighed. He hated to admit it, but Albus was right. If Harry didn't know, he would probably be stumbling from one danger to the next.

"And what's going to happen with the Stone?"

"I sent it back to Nicolas. He agreed that it's too dangerous to keep at Hogwarts and that it's best to destroy it."

Severus exhaled a shocked breath.

"But he will die, if he destroys the Stone!"

Albus nodded.

"Yes, but Nicolas is prepared for it and he doesn't fear death. You'll understand that when you're as old as I am, Severus."

The Potions Master somehow doubted Albus' words, but he didn't respond. He had enough to think about, without discussing death with Albus.

"I'll leave you alone then. Good night, my boy!"

And with that the headmaster stepped into the fireplace and vanished before Severus could wish him a good night's sleep.

Severus` tiredness and the upsetting news were obviously the reason why the Potions Master forgot to put some spells on his fireplace, so that he would know if someone tried to enter his quarters.

An oversight, which led to Severus` interesting looking pajamas and the warmer blanket, since Albus obviously took the chance to come back and played a trick on his Potions Master… which even would have lived up to the standards of the Weasley twins.

OOO

Harry didn't look surprised.

Severus frowned. Not even once did Harry ask what the Philosopher's Stone was or what did Nicolas Flamel have to do with it.

"You knew about it, didn't you?"

Green eyes looked innocently at Severus.

"Hermione, Ron and I did some research on Nicolas Flamel after Hagrid mentioned his name. Then we found out about the Philosopher's Stone… and about Fluffy."

Fluffy?

Severus needed a few moments to relate that name to the three headed beast that had almost bitten off his whole leg.

"Hagrid told you about him as well?"

That half giant could never keep his damned mouth shut.

"Well, yes… but only after we stumbled over… Fluffy."

"Stumbled over…?"

Severus stared at Harry in disbelief. There he was, trying his best to protect Harry from harm and the boy had nothing else better to do than to go looking for dangerous beasts?!

Only ten deep breaths later was Severus able to control himself. If Harry wasn't so ill, he would certainly punish him for endangering his own life… but that probably wasn't a good idea after the fear the young boy just experienced.

"So, Voldemort is still alive?"

Severus flinched violently at the mention of that dreaded name.

"Yes, although he doesn't possess a body at the moment."

The Potions Master waited. Waited for Harry to shake with fear or start crying again, but the young Gryffindor only nodded and finally sat up in Severus' bed.

"He will come after me, won't he?"

Severus sighed inwardly. Why couldn't Gryffindors at least fear the darkest wizard of the century?

"He might, but you don't have to be afraid."

Harry shook his head and reached for his glasses on the nightstand.

"I'm not. I know that nothing will happen to me as long as I'm with you."

Severus couldn't say anything to that. He was too busy forcing the traitorous moisture in his eyes to subside.

OOO

The story was great.

Harry smiled to himself as he recalled every aspect of it. Severus was fantastic at telling stories and Harry was sure that Hermione and Ron would be thrilled if he told it to them. But if he did, he would also have to tell them about Severus.

Harry glanced at the Potions Master. Perhaps he would ask him later if it was okay to tell his two best friends that Professor Snape wasn't as bad as he always wanted them to believe.

"How are you, Harry?"

There, see? Severus was worried about him although the man looked as if he hadn't slept the whole night.

Harry opened his mouth and then he frowned. He felt much better than last night. There was still a strange feeling in his stomach and he still felt a little dizzy, but his headache was gone!

"I don't know, better than yesterday?" Harry offered.

Severus nodded thoughtfully.

"I guess you are only suffering from a cold and your other symptoms were caused by the exposure to… You-Know-Who. There might be some connection between his magic and your scar, but I have to do some research to make sure of that."

Warmth spread through Harry's chest. Not only did Severus take good care of him when he was ill and lulled his fears when he panicked, but he even wanted to find out if there was anything wrong with Harry's scar.

Harry doubted that Professor McGonagall would do the same thing for him. But then, his Head of House hadn't been in love with his mother.

That thought made a remaining doubt come to the forefront of Harry's mind and he frowned again.

"Are you going to do that because you were my mother's best friend?"

Harry knew that he had asked a similar question when Severus tried to bring him to bed yesterday evening, but the memory of that conversation was a little blurry. Probably due to the headache and Harry's dizziness.

He vaguely remembered Severus telling him that he cared for him, but he still wasn't sure if that was because of his heritage or because of himself.

Nervously, Harry looked at Severus. He half expected the Potions Master to become angry because he had asked such a personal question, but instead of telling him off, Severus smiled.

It wasn't a very big smile. It was just an upturning of his lips, but at least, it wasn't the smirk the Potions Master usually directed at Gryffindors.

OOO

Severus couldn't stop the little smile that drew his lips upwards. Only a few hours ago, he had told Albus that he cared for Harry because of the boy's own charm and personality and now the young Gryffindor had asked him a similar question.

On any other day, Severus wouldn't have answered that question honestly. But now, after worrying about Harry the whole night, comforting the boy after his misunderstanding of the conversation he had overheard, and knowing that the Dark Lord was after him again, Severus couldn't dim the hope that shone from those emerald eyes.

"I liked Lily very much," Severus didn't want to tell her son that he had loved her. "But I couldn't stand your father."

"Because he took my mother away from you?"

The naïve question made Severus blink. All right, so maybe Harry had already guessed that Lily was more to him than just a dear friend.

Severus swallowed the nasty remarks he normally responded with when someone asked him about Lily. He decided to answer honestly this time.

"That came later, but… let's just say your father and I were like Draco Malfoy and yourself."

Harry nodded, but he looked a little confused at the same time. He obviously didn't understand what Severus was trying to say.

Severus sighed inwardly. It was so much easier explaining something to a Slytherin than to a Gryffindor.

"Your mother was my best friend and your father, my… school nemesis. If I transferred my feelings for both your parents to you… I wouldn't care for you at all, Harry."

Severus hurried to elaborate farther as he saw hurt flicker in those green eyes.

"But I do care for you, Harry. And not because of your heritage, but because of you. Do you understand?"

Harry nodded. The brilliant smile on his face showed that he truly understood Severus' words.

Good. Severus was relieved that he wouldn't have to use even smaller words to make Harry understand him, but not even this snarky thought could distract him from the warm feeling in his chest at seeing Harry's wide smile.

It seemed that it was okay... sometimes... to speak what was on his mind and in his heart, without thinking of his reputation. But only sometimes.

"Aunt Petunia would call me a liar if I told her that someone cared for me."

Severus blinked. He didn't know how Harry could think of his aunt at a moment like this, but he hated seeing the dark shadow that passed over the boy's face.

Without questioning his actions, he did something he had never down before. He reached out and pulled Harry into his arms. For one moment, he thought that Harry would push him away, but the boy just closed his arms around Severus and snuggled his face against the horrible pajama top that Severus hadn't had time to change.

"Petunia is a stupid cow," Severus murmured and was rewarded with suppressed chuckles.

The messy head of hair tickled Severus' nose as Harry looked up.

"I might tell her that before I return to Hogwarts after the summer holidays."

The sound of regret in Harry's voice made Severus tighten his embrace even more. He wouldn't promise Harry anything, since he didn't want to fail the boy, but he swore to himself that he would move heaven and earth to prevent Harry from having to go back to his terrible relatives.

Severus already arranged a few arguments in his mind for his next discussion with Albus about that matter. He was determined to work out a plan that would allow Harry to stay away from his relatives.

But not right now.

Now, Severus was much too content just holding Harry in his arms and enjoying his display of trust as the boy snuggled as close as possible to him.