Chapter 52 – Convincing Ron

"Snape," the messy scrawl read as he spread the parchment open. "I played nice for Harry's sake, but don't take that to mean that I trust you. I'd like to believe that his judgement of you is accurate, but that's not really possible. You want my trust then you have to damn well earn it. For Lily's sake at least, be kind to him; don't hurt my godson." Signed, "Padfoot".

Severus re-rolled the parchment and tucked it inside his robes. He would lock the letter way in his room where Harry would be unable to find it; he didn't need to be worrying himself unnecessarily. As angry as he wanted to be, Snape couldn't. At the very least, there was no direct threat aimed specifically at him this time. And he knew if it were the other way round, Draco in Black's permanent care, then he would be just as wary of his rivals motives.

"I will earn your trust," he scribbled quickly on a spare sheaf of paper, hurriedly tying it to the bird's leg before the little bastard had a chance to nip him again. The black owl took off like a bat out of hell, hooting angrily as it disappeared from sight. Severus huffed in annoyance, resuming the book that lay forgotten in his lap at the unexpected interruption. Between reading and observing the two Gryffindors zooming around excitedly in the yard, Severus was satisfyingly occupied for the duration of the morning. An hour before lunch Draco appeared before him, content to chat idly between brief periods of reading in comfortable silence.

Downstairs, Harry had finally managed to pull Ron's attention away from the beautiful set of equipment long enough to get him on his broom. "Come on Ron; hurry up!"

"But Harry…" He spluttered, trying not to tear his eyes away. "This set is worth a fortune! Only the best teams in the business could even dream of owning one!" He remained staring in awe, even as his best friend dragged him away. "How did you even get your hands on one?"

Harry mounted his broom, giving the ginger a pointed look as he impatiently waited for him to do the same. "It was a birthday present," he said cryptically, leaving it at that. He sped off into the distance, creating a mini whirlwind around Ron for a split second as his broom shot off like a rocket. Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Ron too launched into action, chasing after his classmate.

"Harry!" He screamed, the wind rushing by muffling his calls as he hurtled forwards. The dark haired teen pulled up on the handle and swivelled, performing an unbelievably quick 180. "Who the bloody hell do you know, that was cool enough to buy this for you?! There's no way I know whoever it was…" He sounded and looked so extremely jealous; Harry smiled proudly. "Professor Snape," he beamed, enjoying the bewildered look that crossed his friend's face.

Ron choked on his surprise for a moment, clearly not believing a word of it. "Professor Snape?! As in the greasy dungeon bat that teaches us potions?"

"Yes. And I'd really appreciate you not calling him that in front of me anymore." He scolded, standing up to his friend for once."

A deep scarlet blush crawled up Ron's neck and spread across his cheeks. Harry was glad that he was at least embarrassed enough to apologise. "Sorry mate; habit." His apology actually seemed sincere this time; he nodded his acceptance. "But he actually bought this for you; why?"

"It's hard to explain…" Harry was going to leave it at that. He didn't need Ron making fun of the older wizard's reasoning.

"Come on mate; I know I've been awful to you, but I am trying to understand. It just doesn't make sense to me, you know? Him being nice is something I never thought possible."

"Fine," he conceded, deciding he might as well tell him. "It was sort of a double present. Both for my first birthday in his care, and to celebrate my adoption. It's hard to believe, but he was just as excited as I was when I agreed to it."

Ron shook his head, reaction saying it all. "Okay, yeah, that is hard to believe."

"Look…" He tried to reason. "I know you don't believe a thing that I've told you, but why would he buy it for me if he didn't care; if it was all an act?"

Ron didn't have an answer. He supposed that what Harry was trying to say made sense, but he still couldn't wrap his head around the fact that his best friend, his Gryffindor friend, that until quite recently couldn't stand their hated Slytherin Professor, now considered the man as family.

"Forget it," Harry said eventually, conceding defeat temporarily, though he was determined to prove Ron wrong. "I invited you over to hang out for a bit, not argue. Let's do a few laps around the grounds and we'll pull the quaffle out for a test run."

Argument forgotten, Ron threw Harry a challenging look. "Let's go then; I'll race you. First one back gets the quaffle. He cheated and gave himself a head start, leaving Harry in his wake. If he wanted to win on Charlie's old broom, then there was no playing fair. Especially not while Harry had his Firebolt; The Cleansweep paled in comparison to that monster.

Harry held back and threw the race, too amused by Ron's excitement to shut him down. The youngest Weasley boy tore the crate open with a victorious 'whoop', the first person to unlatch the fastenings that held the biggest of the balls; a red leather twelve inch beauty. He took off to the skies again before Harry even had the chance to complete his landing, looking completely in his element as he sped confidently ahead with the quaffle tucked safely under his right arm.

Much to Harry and Ron's amusement, the latter was more skilled at being a chaser; Harry only ever really played the team seeker, which had put him at a disadvantage. That was okay though, he was glad he had someone talented to practice with. And he was glad that it was his best friend. Besides, he'd rather improve his ability to detect and catch the snitch as quick and efficiently as possible, so he didn't need to use his time becoming a master at the other roles.

The quaffle was passed back and forth between the friends as the morning wore on, Harry teaching Ron how to better duck and weave while attempting to pass and catch the incoming ball. In an actual game there were so many factors that impacted on the player's performance, so it was important to learn how to swiftly dodge players and avoid incoming bludgers.

They were completely worn out by the time lunch had arrived, neither paying enough attention to really know how late it even was. Severus, deciding the boys would probably be more comfortable eating outside then being forced to sit in the dining room with himself and Draco, loaded up a stack of assorted sandwiches onto a silver platter, delivering it to the table perched in the shade out the back. Harry noticed the moment his guardian came into view, and wordlessly signalled to Ron that it was time they had a break.

Ron hesitated at first, seeing Snape waiting by the table, but in the end he realised he had no real choice but to follow Harry down. They efficiently de-geared and packed away the armour and quaffle, carrying their brooms over to lean against the wall of the house. "Mr Weasley," Snape acknowledged pleasantly, offering a hand towards the boy. There was no sign of wickedness in the wizard's demeanour, but Ron was still wary as he reached his own out, completing the uncomfortable handshake. "Professor."

Ron looked slightly sick, as though he were going to faint. He swallowed hard as if waiting for a death sentence. Severus didn't make a joke at Ron's expense, for which everyone was grateful for. Not that Harry believed he would. He did, however, detect a hint of amusement in the man's eyes as he turned to face him. "You've been at it for hours; stop and have water and food before one of you passes out mid-air," he joked good-naturedly, no hint of malice in the statement. Ron apparently missed it though; he turned an even paler grey at the thought. "I'll be in the library if you need me." And with that, he was off.

Harry laughed teasingly at the sickened look on his best friend's face. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ron disagreed.

"I bet he'd love it if I was to pass out…" He sneered in disgust.

Harry punched him gently in the arm, a small, friendly gesture that they shared sometimes, that was gentle and was never intended to be harmful. "Oh come on, Ron, it was a joke!" He explained with a warm smile. "It was his way of saying that he wouldn't stop worrying about me until I ate. He actually doesn't want us to get hurt."

"Sure didn't sound that way to me," Ron challenged comically with an air of disbelief, looking like an overly animated drama queen. He did look quite amusing though.

Harry rolled his eyes in annoyance. "He cares…he's just embarrassed to show it in front of you. He has feelings too; he doesn't want you to judge him."

Ron bit back the 'Yeah right!' he'd been prepared to blurt out, barely managing to restrain himself. Harry was probably right, but he guessed he just didn't believe it. Of course Snape had feelings; he was human after all. Even though he didn't always act like it… And he didn't want to hurt Harry's feelings again; he'd done that enough in the past week.

So silence lapsed again, the soft bird calls somewhere off in the distance filling the air as they made their way through the massive pile of sandwiches sitting between them. Too full to move after Raven arrived to collect the tray, they slouched back into their seats, chatting excitedly about some top secret Ministry project that Arthur Weasley had mentioned casually, before he quickly shut his mouth, refusing to say another word. Neither of them knew about the Triwizard Tournament yet, and it was bugging them that they couldn't, in Merlin's name, work out what Mr Weasley had been talking about.

After an engaging match of wizard's chess, which Harry lost spectacularly at, Ron announced that it was time to leave, so Harry helped collect his things and walked him back into the study. Severus looked up from where he was comfortably planted in the armchair by the fire, putting the open book down and swiftly rising to his feet. Once again he initiated a pleasant handshake, this time Ron not hesitating before accepting. "Thank you for coming Mr Weasley. You are welcome to visit Harry here whenever you wish."

'Wow,' Ron thought, truly surprised by the uncharacteristic offer. "Thanks, Professor. See you later Harry; thanks for letting me use your quidditch things," he waved as he was departing.

"Anytime Ron," he smiled as his friend disappeared. He was glad that he'd had the opportunity to spend some time with Ron. Though he was stubborn at first, he seemed to have better accepted the fact that one Severus Snape was now a permanent fixture in his life. He didn't doubt though that it would take a lot more to convince his friend than that. But Harry would continue to try and open his best friend's eyes a little more as time went on. And Severus… He was glad that he'd shown himself briefly over the course of the day. It definitely helped that he'd been welcoming and courteous towards Ron; something that the redheaded boy needed to see and experience for himself.

"Thanks sir," Harry offered gratefully when it was just the two of them again. He didn't elaborate and he didn't need to; Severus was aware just how grateful Harry really was.

"So everything went well then..?" He pressed gently, curious.

Harry nodded happily. "Yeah, mostly. He seems to understand a little more now, even if he hasn't fully accepted it. But he didn't say anything horrible and we had a great day, so I can't really complain."

A strong hand affectionately ruffled his dirty, sweat-soaked hair, its owner grumbling in displeasure at the feeling. "I think it's about time someone had a shower." Harry giggled cheekily in response; he was only teasing, after all.

But didn't Harry know it. He didn't exactly enjoy the feeling of the thin layer of grime that clung to his body. He gave his guardian a mock salute, racing from the room…

The remainder of the holidays passed by in a blur… Harry and Draco, though still studying in for a short while together in the evenings, largely kept to themselves as the end of their break drew to an end, each both nervous and excited at the prospect of returning to the magnificent castle for another year.

Draco was frequently in touch with his parents, who were glad to hear that he was progressing well in his private studies. Every so often his screech owl would deliver a parcel from his mother, Narcissa, who liked to ensure that everything he owned was the best of the best, from clothing to school supplies, and even the occasional expensive sweets.

Not two months ago Harry would have watched on in jealousy, not for the fact that he was always receiving new clothing and gifts, but because his parents cared enough to make sure he was well looked after. But thankfully, those days were gone. Now, he had someone close by that he trusted implicitly and could rely on; someone who not only reassured and gave him advice, and provided a listening ear when he needed it, but also sought out answers and comforted him when he tried to hide it, when he could see that Harry needed it. And that in itself was a more precious gift than any material item could ever be.

Whilst Draco was off doing his own thing, Harry took the time to create a checklist of everything he would need the following year, and ensured that his trunk was stocked ready to go on September 1st. When he was sure all necessary items were packed he allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief; why was packing such a stressful chore?

For the remainder of the holidays, he did some last minute reading on his new potions text, doing his best to familiarise himself with some of the new potions they'd be required to brew and learn the following year. Although his Professor's attitude had changed towards him, Harry still felt nervous about returning to his class. All it would take would be one major mistake, and Harry would be gone; he was sure of it. But Severus wouldn't do that, would he? Surely not. Well, Harry could only hope, anyway.

Eventually, his brain just stopped processing the words that he was reading, so he gave up on that for the time being, resuming his quidditch practise. He needed to clear and relax his mind before he burned himself out, and this was then best way to do it.

Severus, on the other hand, was feeling relatively stress-free, not at all worried about the upcoming school year. Unlike other years, he found he was better prepared, which didn't make much sense considering he'd taken two of his students under his wing since the end of last term, which had kept him adequately busy the entire holidays. Perhaps it was because having them nearby had altered his mood for the better, which had left him feeling more accomplished and confident than he had ever been before… Whatever it was that gave him the determination to up his game, he was not complaining about.

His spontaneous visit to the apothecary located in Diagon Alley had further improved his mood. He'd only wanted to restock what he'd used since his last visit, but was pleasantly surprised to find that unicorn tail hair and pufferfish eyes had been drastically lowered in price, so he purchased bulk quantities of both while he still had the chance.

The only thing that was bothering him at the thought of returning to Hogwarts was Harry.

He was well aware that his son would be anxious about returning to his class, despite the fact that there was nothing to be worried about. He'd be much the same as he usually was, just without the sneering and nastiness; he just hoped that the boy would not worry unnecessarily about his lessons. After all, he was a student and still learning, so mistakes were bound to happen.

Finally the holidays came to an end, much to the trio's excitement and sadness at having to leave Prince Manor. Severus informed them that they would be using the floo network the following morning as he was needed for a meeting with the other Heads of Houses, and therefore they would not be arriving by train this year. Draco didn't mind in the slightest, and would be using the unusual circumstances to have a sleep in; Harry on the other hand was disappointed, though he didn't verbalise his thoughts. He was upset that he would miss the ride with his friends, though his thoughts were short-lived. He consoled himself with the fact that he had the entire school year to hang out with them.

Severus and the two students stayed up late into the night, buzzing with excitement and nervousness at the thought of seeing Hogwarts again. It was pure exhaustion that finally pulled them into unconsciousness; Harry not even managing to move from his relaxing position by the fireplace, where he'd been curled up reading 'Beating the Bludgers – A Study of Defensive Strategies in Quidditch', the book that Hermione had given him for his birthday.

The manor was peaceful and serene as usual, the warm glow and crackling from the logs burning in the fireplace a comforting and familiar presence. Upstairs Draco slept soundly, snoring softly and dribbling unknowingly onto his pillow as he dreamt of seeing his friends again. Behind the doors on the left hand side of the room, Professor Severus Snape dozed steadily, waking only partially every now and again to either retrieve or discard the blankets. And then there was Harry. The Gryffindor was sprawled out down the length of the lounge, mouth hanging open and limbs draping delicately over the edge of the cushions. He wasn't exactly in the most comfortable of positions, but having found sleep in some pretty dismal places over the years, he didn't even mind.

The house was the same as it was basically every other night; Quiet, cosy, occupants sleeping soundly. It was the perfect night to end the holidays, until the very early hours of the morning, when even the house elves were sleeping soundly.

Out of nowhere, images began to flash through Harry's mind, disturbing him from his once peaceful slumber. It seemed to be pieces of a harmless dream to start with, until finally, everything darked and became twisted. As he writhed helplessly in his sleep, an agonising pain in Harry's scar burst into life, torturing him.