Disclaimer: I am not the owner of Harry Potter, nor the characters in this fanfiction, all recognizable ideas are owned by J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter.

Author's note: I originally submitted this for Fandom4LLS but I'd like to think I've managed to improve it slightly. Thank you to everyone who is reading after having enjoyed So Close.


Harry stumbled aside, cursing under his breath. Snape was merciless, casting hexes at a speed he would never have believed possible if he hadn't been on the receiving end. Impressive as it was, it was bloody annoying that all he could do was dodge clumsily and after two failed attempts erect a halfway decent shield.

"It won't hold, you're on the defensive!"

Snape was proved right a moment later as a painful stinging hex blasted its way through his shimmering shield. He didn't waste his breath replying, if he even managed to cast anything it would probably miss. He skidded backwards awkwardly and threw himself behind a tree, hoping for a brief reprieve to catch his breath.

"Stop hiding and attack me!"

Grimacing, he clutched his wand tightly and stepped out once more to face Snape.

"Expelliarmus!" he shouted, letting out a growl of frustration when his wand-arm twitched just as he cast, sending his spell ricocheting uselessly off a rock, missing Snape by miles.

"Again! Move Harry! You cannot give up. You fought in that graveyard, you can damn well fight now."

"It's not exactly the same situation is it?" Harry huffed out, flattening himself out on the ground as a particularly vicious hex flew overhead, ruffling his hair. When he looked back up Snape was nowhere to be seen. This unexpected turn of events made Harry far more nervous than when the man had been standing with his wand-drawn at point blank range.

He might have been living with Snape for months and he might have given an enthusiastic 'yes' when he had asked to adopt him, but that didn't stop him being apprehensive. Snape wasn't going easy on him and if Harry had been worried that Snape would pity or coddle him after the torture he went through at the graveyard little more than a week ago, he was had no concerns now. Quite the opposite, Snape was positive that with his so-called 'injuries and his limitations', temporary as they might be, Harry needed to learn to defend himself with more urgency than ever.

"Sir?" he called, clambering to his feet and fighting hard to keep his grip secure on his wand as his limbs twitched and shook, if possible, more than usual. The after effects of multiple rounds of the cruciatus curse was one reminder of that awful night that he could definitely do without, and it would be just like Snape to reappear the moment his wand slipped from his fingers.

"Fight back," a sinister voice growled behind him. Harry spun around, wand out, ready to defend himself, but couldn't hold back a startled gasp or stop himself taking an involuntary step back. It was Snape, of course it was... It had to be, he'd heard his voice, hadn't he? It was hard to tell, all he could see were those heavy pitch-dark robes and that horrifying mask. Face to face with that mask he was back in the graveyard once more, surrounded, screaming... He heard the hissed crucio...

The pain didn't come. The masked face stared silently before launching a volley of hexes his way. One minute he was beside him, then across the clearing, then up ahead. Harry threw up a shield, uneasily glancing about as if he expected more of those masked faces to emerge from the trees.

"Sir?" Harry tried, his heart hammering hard in his chest. There was no reply. The figure apparated behind him but closer this time. He was relentless, throwing hex after hex, more of them landing as Harry struggled to get a shield up.

"Snape- Protego- Protego! Crap," he cursed as his grip loosened and his wand slipped from his fingers. His eyes widened as the masked figure stalked closer and closer and he struggled to scoop his wand from the ground. "Hold on- hold on, Snape. Snape! Take off the mask. Take it off- SNAPE!"

The figure stopped short and abruptly yanked off the mask, revealing Snape's slightly apologetic face. Harry let out a whoosh of breath that he hadn't realised he'd been holding.

"If you do not fight back, you will die," he said grimly, banishing the mask with a quick flick of his wand.

"I can't cast like this!" He threw his arms up in exasperation and kicked half-heartedly at a patch of tall grass. "It takes me three goes to cast a decent reparo at home and even when I manage to cast anything I miss by miles, and that's if I don't drop my wand."

"You do not get to use your nerve damage as an excuse. I saw you fighting back that night, you are not incapable. Expelliarmus." His wand flew easily out of his grip and Snape caught it with a smirk.

"Nor is it uncommon to lose your wand in battle. I've captured your wand, what are you going to do about it?"

"Hope really hard that I've got a hidden talent for wandless magic."

"You certainly don't have a talent for sarcasm," he retorted with a sneer. "Hit me! You don't win points for politeness; these people want to kill you."

"I'm not daft enough to try and hit you, not when you're expecting it at least."

"Then you'll have to do without your wand."

"You're twice my size!" Harry cried.

"So is every Death Eater, they'll not think twice about hitting you and they'll enjoy it."

Harry stared angrily up at Snape, who stared determinedly back at him. He shoved against him with all his strength and the man barely moved. He aimed a particularly vicious kick at his knee-

"Ohmygod! Ow! What the-" He hopped up and down clutching his ankle and biting his tongue because Snape might be a little more lenient these days but he wouldn't tolerate him swearing a blue streak right in front of him.

"If it's any consolation, you had the right idea..." Snape said, handing his wand over and completely failing at hiding an amused smirk.

"You're hilarious," he muttered, savagely pleased when Snape winced slightly as he flexed his leg.

Snape led the way back to their quarters, lending Harry his arm as he hopped alongside him and earning himself a thoroughly dirty look when he suggested that he levitate Harry through the corridors.

"Lupin is coming over at some point this afternoon, apparently it is utterly beyond him to be specific as to when..."

"Is Sirius coming too?" Harry asked, but there was no trace of hope in his tone, not after their last argument. It had all needed to be said, Sirius had known that he'd grown to like Snape and he'd sworn he'd try and get over his issues with the situation. His promises turned out to be completely meaningless and Harry wasn't ready to speak to him so soon, let alone forgive him.

"I sincerely hope not," Snape replied darkly before opening the entrance to his quarters and stepping aside for Harry to go through first.

"You're going to let me heal myself aren't you?" Harry asked, hopping awkwardly inside. "Can I try and do my ankle?"

"No, you need bone firming balm and not to put your weight on it," he said quickly, throwing out an arm to catch Harry as he put his foot down to correct his balance. "Try not to make it worse. Funnily enough, it will not endear me to the adoption authorities if I appear to have beaten you."

"Fine, but I get to heal the rest."

Snape spun around on his way to his store cupboard so quickly he practically pirouetted on the spot.

"If I get even the slightest suspicion that you're intentionally giving yourself creative injuries to learn how to heal them, then I assure you, I know a variety of effective methods to make you regret the thought even crossed your mind," he threatened, unfairly using his height advantage to loom over Harry, who remained unfazed.

"I'm not doing it on purpose, I'm having a bit of trouble controlling my limbs at the moment or haven't you noticed?" Harry had not grown less bitter about his 'condition', which wasn't improving as quickly as he'd hoped at all. The trembling that he hadn't been able to stop since he was tortured that night showed no signs of abating. The only reprieve he had was for a couple of hours after he took his potion, and after that the shaking returned and he was as inept as ever. He was dreading

going back to school and Snape wasn't being half as sympathetic or helpful as he'd hoped.

"Dear Merlin," Snape murmured, "I'm giving you ideas..."

"Ahem. Er, surprise..."

Snape went utterly rigid from shock, then reacting automatically, shoved Harry behind him and thrust his wand out. Staring back at them was a crowd of equally shocked faces, fronted by a wide-eyed and apologetic Lupin, both hands raised in a calming gesture.

"Ow!" Harry complained, landing heavily on his already abused ankle. "Sir- stop human shielding me! Blimey, it's not your birthday is it?"

"Yes, Potter, there's a delegation of Gryffindors in my kitchen to celebrate my birthday," he sneered, treating him to a withering glance, not bothering to lower his wand.

"It's actually a 'congratulations on the adoption' party, now that you've gone public as it were..." Remus grimaced apologetically in the silence as Snape did little more than scowl at the assembled crowd.

"WOOHOO!" came a cry, followed by a two-man applause that was quickly hushed into silence.

"Hush up, Fred!"

"I've never had a surprise party," Harry commented happily, using Snape as a crutch to hop around and see who had turned out. He pointedly ignored the way a vein in Snape's temple was pulsing and the fact that he still hadn't put his wand down.

S.S.

"You," he pointed at Harry, who was busy chatting to the game-keeper and grinning stupidly at his friends, "and you, come with me." He made certain to give Lupin a look that promised certain retribution.

"You know, I think you might be in trouble," he heard Harry say as the pair followed him into his study.

He ordered Harry to sit still and use the bone firming balm while he rounded on the infuriating wolf. His quarters were filled with angry sodding Gryffindors barely a week after Harry's attack, as if the boy wasn't exhausted enough.

"What is the meaning of this- this-"

"Party," Harry supplied.

"Shut up," he hissed, glowering fiercely.

Lupin winced slightly, but wasn't looking nearly as sorry as Severus would have liked. "This might not have started out exactly how I intended... You do make quite an entrance, Severus."

"Speak quickly wolf, I do not have the patience for this."

"Your adoption application will go a lot more smoothly if you have the support of your friends and colleagues. It's not very you to throw a party or socialise with...anyone." He ignored Harry's appreciative snigger. "And you could do with convincing a few more people that this is a good idea.

The last thing you need is one of Harry's friends saying how much he'd always hated you, or one of your colleagues talking about how they were positive he was your most hated student. Let Harry show his friends and their parents how comfortable he is at home, let them see that you two are happy, and maybe if anyone asks they'll say how great it is that Harry has a father and how well you're both doing."

There was some sense to that garbled explanation; he certainly could do with more support and he had been worried about what the Ministry would make of any interviews with his colleagues or Harry's friends...

He turned his attention back to Harry's injuries while he considered whether or not he should continue berating Lupin. Taking Harry's chin firmly in his grip, he aimed his wand directly at his face, causing the child to rear back with a scowl.

"What happened to letting me heal myself?" he complained.

"I said you could heal yourself, not give yourself brain damage," he snapped.

"Alright, but I'm healing the ones on my arms. When is your birthday then?" Harry asked, his absurd brain latching on to the thought, despite more pressing concerns.

"Shut up, I cannot heal a split lip if you insist on moving it."

Harry did as he was told, but rolled his eyes for good measure. It was incredibly inconvenient that asking to adopt a child and telling them you loved them significantly reduced a man's ability to appear intimidating. His other methods of persuasion weren't quite as well honed.

"So?" Harry persisted when Severus relinquished his grip on his chin.

"I do not care to celebrate my birthday. I wouldn't worry about the matter."

"I'm not worried-"

"The Weasley twins?" he growled at Lupin, still not ready to concede that this ridiculous gathering was a good idea.

"They're Harry's friends. I also thought it might help with Ron's attitude if his brothers were here..."

"You had better hope there has been a Christmas miracle and those two idiots have been able to tap into previously undiscovered reserves of good behaviour. If they step out of line it is you I'm holding personally responsible."

He made an impatient noise, holding his hand out to inspect the damage to Harry's arm.

"They're not that bad," Harry interjected, looking up.

"Don't chat, concentrate."

With one hand, he held his arm steady, and with the other he held Harry's wand hand to prevent any shaking as the boy concentrated on the healing spell. Harry could heal superficial injuries when he put his mind to it; his ability to perform complex spells was only hindered by his slight physical limitations, not by any incompetence or lack of magical skill. Nevertheless, the idea that the Dark Lord and his followers might believe that Harry had become inept did have a certain appeal. Let them believe the boy had lost confidence and was falling behind and he would train him so that

even before he was recovered he had the skills required to defend himself.

"Ha!" Harry cheered when the scrapes began to bind shut, tugging his arm out of Severus' firm grasp. "Do you know when his birthday is?" Harry asked, turning to Lupin.

"No, I can't say I've ever thought much on it."

"It has been and gone," Severus growled.

"What's the big deal with your birthday?" Harry grumbled, equally put out.

"Mm, indeed."

"Fine," Harry said, dropping the issue with bad grace. "Can I have my potion before I go out there then?"

"No, you take it at one o'clock every day, not when it suits you."

He didn't appreciate the look Harry gave him as he left the room. If the Dark Lord did believe that his symptoms had knocked his confidence, then as it stands, he may well be right.

H.P.

Harry strode up to his friends, a huge grin plastered on his face. They were here! Ron, Hermione, Neville, he even spotted the twins and both of them looked fiendishly delighted at being inside Snape's quarters. He couldn't believe they'd all come to celebrate his adoption. He'd known that Ron and Hermione would come around eventually and give this whole thing a chance, it had just been a shock before, that was all.

"It's great to see all of you guys before term starts," he said, accepting a hug from Hermione and a thump on the back from Ron. "I can't believe you're here, Neville!"

Neville gave a high-pitched chuckle at that, keeping a terrified eye trained on Snape as if expecting him to pounce.

"Me neither."

"I'll show you guys my room," he said, beckoning to the three of them to follow. He flicked a glance around Snape's quarters wondering whether he should be nervous at the grins on the twins' faces as they sidled up alongside the teachers. He lowered his voice slightly. "I should say sorry, Neville... I felt really bad that I had to lie to you, especially after... You know, what you told me and how you stuck up for me when the Slytherins were giving me grief about the Dursleys. I did want to tell you-"

"It's fine, don't worry about it. Professor Lupin explained things when he invited me over."

"How are you, really?" Hermione interjected, staring at him hard, as if she might be able to tell just by looking.

"Well enough," Harry replied, clasping his arms tightly behind him, a new habit that Snape couldn't stand. "Well, anyway, like I said, thanks for coming. I'm glad you changed your minds about this, I know it was a bit of a shock the other day. I could have explained things better..."

"We wouldn't miss a chance to see you, we're your friends..." Hermione began. Ron nodded his agreement but his eyes were scanning the room, narrowed with suspicion, and Harry's heart sank a little.

"You have changed your minds, haven't you? You're at my surprise adoption party because you're giving it a chance, at least."

"I reckon we've seen enough already," Ron muttered, not able to hold his tongue.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You couldn't even walk in, you're supposed to be recovering and you had blood all over your face-"

"I was training, you idiot. Why don't you ask what happened instead of making stupid assumptions? How pathetic do you think I am?"

"I'm not saying your pathetic, mate. I'm saying you've been confunded," Ron replied, crossing his arms. "You wouldn't be able to stand being in the same room as that greasy git if you weren't. You hate him, everyone hates him, he's given you how many detentions?"

"I don't care!" Harry returned. "Alright? I don't care that he gives out a million detentions every day, or that he tries to take all of Gryffindor's points, or that he's head of Slytherin-"

"That's just it mate, you've got to confunded or something because the Harry Potter I know would care that Snape's basically the closest thing to evil at Hogwarts."

"Maybe you've not been confunded and nobody thinks you're pathetic," Hermione interrupted, her tone conciliatory. "But what happened to you was very traumatic and Professor Snape is taking advantage-"

"No! I know exactly what he's like and I don't care. I get to be selfish, alright? I don't like the way he treats Gryffindor or the way he speaks to students, and I really want to think that he'll change now that he knows he won't have to spy, but if he doesn't then I still want to be adopted. I like him Ron. I like having a family and I'm not giving it up just because you don't like who it is."

"Listen to yourself, mate."

"Do you not see what you're saying?" Hermione asked desperately. "You've only just been through a traumatic ordeal, you're not thinking clearly. Do you not think that at the moment you might be a little needy-"

"Maybe both of you are being selfish," Neville interrupted. "We're supposed to be here celebrating Harry getting adopted and you're not even giving it a chance."

"You hate Snape, he's almost worse to you than he is to Harry." Ron's face contorted oddly with confusion, more than likely he was trying to work out how Snape had gotten to Neville too.

"But I don't hate Harry," he said simply. "I'm not going to try to ruin Harry's adoption party just because it's Snape who's adopting him. He's not adopting me."

"We're just worried that Harry's not thought this through properly. An adoption is a serious commitment, and of all the people to adopt you..." she finished, turning back to Harry. "Won't you admit that it is a bit suspicious?"

"No. You've not even tried to see this from my point of view. Ron decided from the off that I'd been confunded and you've done the same-"

"I'm not saying you've been confunded as such..."

"No, just that I'm too traumatised or damaged to know what I'm talking about. Hagrid's my friend and he's giving this a chance."

"Yeah, well, we all know he has a weakness for monsters," Ron snorted. He hit a nerve and Harry's fingers curled automatically into tight fists.

"You take that back!" he said, giving Ron a hard shove that sent him stumbling back into his desk. He might not be able to aim a decent curse first time, but he could still throw a half decent punch.

"Don't-" Hermione cried, trying to stand between them.

"Why should I?"

The sound of a throat being cleared interrupted their argument and Hagrid's large form cast a shadow from the doorway.

"Yeh'll be wantin' ter break this up lads, before this gets outta hand."

"He's the one-" Harry began, outraged.

"These squabbles are beneath all o' yeh. You-Know-Who is back and we need ter come together." Harry sighed as they all shuffled their feet guiltily. Ron straightened his robes, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly in the silence.

"Is he really back?" Neville asked quietly.

"Yeah, he's back, but the Ministry won't listen, they don't believe us," Harry said.

"Professor Dumbledore made an announcement, it was in the paper, but-"

"Yeah, I know, he's a barmy old man and I'm traumatised and don't know what I'm talking about. That's a bit of a common theme lately, isn't it?"

"They'll know soon enough," Hermione said quietly, ignoring the pointed look.

"It's driving me mental not knowing what he's doing. Why is he hiding? What's he waiting for?"

"Yeh gotta trust Pr'fessor Dumbledore, he knows how ter handle this," Hagrid replied.

The trouble was, Harry no longer had the same faith in Dumbledore that Hagrid had and his assurances felt like nothing more than empty words. Snape hadn't admitted it but Dumbledore had done something to hurt him. He didn't need to be Hermione to figure out that it must have been to do with that night and the deep bloody welts that had circled his arms. It put Snape in a foul mood to even hear his name and the look on his face when he had to speak to him made Harry's stomach turn.

Dumbledore wasn't there at the party because Snape couldn't stand the sight of him and that spoke volumes.

S.S.

"Severus, we can't believe how you kept us all in the dark. I had no idea you were even contemplating fatherhood," Pomona exclaimed.

"Everyone is intrigued to know how you've been getting on," Filius added.

"I know I certainly am." Minerva's tone was decidedly less pleasant than the other Heads of Houses and Severus replied with a dark look of his own.

"Well enough," he snapped when he realised they were expecting a verbal response, feeling wrong-footed and ill prepared for the third degree.

Lupin sent him an eloquently exasperated glare before interjecting. "How has Harry been getting on?"

"He's strong," he said, glancing over to where Harry was talking to Hagrid, looking very disgruntled indeed. Longbottom hovered awkwardly nearby, and there was no sign of Harry's usual sidekicks. "He's coping as well as I could have hoped."

"It's just terrible, absolutely terrible what he's been through."

"And his- training was it?" Minerva asked, suspicion lacing the question. "How is he getting on with that?"

"It is obviously an adjustment."

Severus didn't begrudge her the thinly veiled comments or her suspicions because they were fuelled by shame. Oh, there was a desire to protect the boy, a disbelief that Severus' motivations were honest, but mostly it came from shame. Shame that she had turned Harry away when he had not, shame that Gryffindors could not look after their own. If Severus had ulterior motives and was not looking after the boy's best interests then perhaps she could console herself that she had been doing the right thing in agreeing to send him back to his relatives.

"I tell you Severus, I had an inkling you were fond of the lad over the summer-" Filius continued.

"Did you? Really?" Minerva's eyebrows shot up into her hairline.

"Of course, you weren't there at Mr. Potter's birthday meal..."

"Tell us how this all happened, you have such a way with words, Professor," one of the Weasley twins asked, appearing suddenly next to Minerva and sighing dreamily. He could wring his neck.

It worked exactly as the miscreant planned. His colleagues brightened immediately, instantly taken by the idea. "That's a story I'd love to hear - Do tell us, Severus," Minerva said and the other Heads of Houses excitedly murmured their agreement.

"Sir?" came a welcome interruption beside him just as he raised his glare level to murderous. "Severus? I mean Dad- It's one, can I have my potion?" Harry stuttered awkwardly, just as aware as Severus of all eyes coming to rest on him.

"Excuse me," he muttered, carting Harry off to the kitchen before relinquishing his potion and rounding on him, his tone low and sinister. "Out of deference to you I will allow those Weasleys the opportunity to choose the manner of their demise, but if they do not desist, and swiftly, I will see to it that it is long, drawn out and painful. Are we clear?"

"They aren't being that bad-" Harry replied, knocking the potion back with relief. "You know exactly what they're doing and I do not appreciate it."

"I'd rather have them doing that then telling me I'm pathetic or confunded. Can't you do something, isn't there some spell that can show everyone I'm not confunded or imperiused or whatever?"

"I will have to submit to every test they have at their disposal to prove to the ministry that there has been no foul play. I will not do the same to appease a selfish child who has fashioned a more preferable reality in order not to accept your decision. I care nothing for Weasley's delusions and I have no intention of justifying myself to that fool in my own home at a party intended to be a celebration of your impending adoption."

Harry sighed in reluctant acceptance, folding his arms across his chest and sinking into a sullen silence. Severus, for his part, wondered how long he could linger in the kitchen before their absence was noticed. The thought of going back out there, of making small talk with those people, made him shudder.

"I'll talk to the twins if you tell me when your birthday is."

"Are you attempting to Slytherin information out of me?" Severus asked, his lips curving in a mocking smile. Why Harry had latched onto that topic, he couldn't for the life of him fathom. He had a more than irritating habit of finding subjects that Severus had no intention of discussing and refusing to let the matter lie.

"Yeah, though I don't see why I should have to, a son would know when his father's birthday is. I don't get why you won't tell me."

"Because I do not care for you to know. You'll tell those Weasleys to stop either way."

Harry let out an irritating teenage growl of frustration.

"Then the least you can do is be nice to Neville. He stuck up for me, and if you act, you know, like you, he might change his mind and there won't be a Gryffindor in the tower who doesn't think I'm mental."

He didn't hide how appalled the thought made him. "Nice? I'm not a nice man, Harry."

"Not right now, you aren't," Harry replied, stomping past him and out of the kitchen.

H.P.

"George- Fred-"

"Hey, it's the heir of Slytherin!" one of the twins exclaimed loudly, "It's about time you got around to us, we've been mingling," he said, his eyes alight with a fiendish fire.

"Yeah, I know, I see that." He lowered his voice, catching Snape's eye, "Seriously, tone it down, he's going to kill you."

"What? Your new Dad? He's not the type... he's a gentle soul, really, our Professor Snape."

"Ah, look!" George plucked a frame from the mantel, his face lighting with a wicked grin. "It's a picture of dear old Severus and Harry."

"Go show it to McGonagall while he's talking to her," Fred said, a matching grin appearing on his face.

"Give me that!" Harry yanked the photograph out of George's grip and clutched it protectively to his chest, photo side in, obviously, he didn't want anyone to see it after all. "I don't know what you're doing, but stop, alright? I want people to realise this adoption is a good idea and no-one'll believe me if he murders you two, even if he does let you choose how you want to go."

"Not a good idea, eh? What about this isn't good?" George asked, radiating honest confusion.

"Ask Ron and Hermione. They think I've got to be confunded to want to be adopted. Well, adopted by Snape."

"I think the real question here is whether or not dear Professor Snape has been confunded," George replied, dropping an arm around Harry's shoulder.

"Or perhaps his sensitive emotions have been manipulated by our Harry here-"

"After all, he's getting on a bit, no hope of a wife, you know, what with his face..."

"The hair-"

"The teeth."

Neville chuckled nervously and even Harry had to crack a smile. "Shut up or he'll hear you."

"Do you want to admit anything, young man?" Fred asked, looking down at him with mock sternness.

"Sod off. Seriously though, he'll find a way to get you back, you know he will."

"It's a bit of good-natured revenge and we won't get in trouble, we're counting on you, Harry," Fred grinned, snatching the picture from his grasp and holding it out excitedly as he darted across the room. "Professor McGonagall, have you seen this photograph?"

"Doesn't Professor Snape look very fatherly?" George said loudly, joining his brother.

"You could describe this picture as adorable, even." Snape's face swiftly contorted with rage at that declaration, and Harry thought he could see a vein pulsing in his forehead.

Harry gulped. "Oh my God, Neville, he just called Snape adorable to his face..."

"I can't believe they're still standing there."

"What did Fred just say?" Ron asked, coming to stand beside him, their fight forgotten, fascinated as they all were with Snape's rage.

"He called Snape adorable."

"Merlin."

It was like standing at the base of an active volcano seconds before it erupted. He had to distract him, and fast.

"Professor. Hi, Professor!" he interrupted breathlessly after a mad dash across the room, careening awkwardly into the group of teachers.

"Mr. Potter. I believe congratulations are in order," McGonagall greeted him, and even she had trouble sounding sincere.

"Yeah, thanks," Harry returned flatly.

"And you're recovering well after your ordeal?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I am fine," he insisted when Snape gave him one off his looks.

"Excuse me," Snape muttered once more, taking the interruption as an opportunity to make a thunderous beeline for the twins.

"I must say, I cannot imagine how you two can get along; the Head of Slytherin with a son who is so, so... Gryffindor," McGonagall said, making no effort to hide her disbelief, watching as Snape snarled venomously at the twins, most likely promising anything from a years worth of detention or a slow death by torture.

"I always imagined that if Severus had children there would be no question of them being sorted into Slytherin," Flitwick added, bouncing cheerily on the balls of his feet, even as Harry scowled with irritation.

What did they know about anything? He wasn't Slytherin enough to be Snape's son? That was it, was it?

"Ravenclaw would come a close second, of course," Professor Sprout commented.

"See, no one can believe it," Ron muttered audibly from behind him. "Who does Snape hate? All Gryffindors. Who's the biggest Gryffindor at school? Harry."

Fists clenched tightly by his sides, Harry bit out through clenched teeth, "The only reason I'm in Gryffindor is because I asked. The hat wanted to put me in Slytherin."

He didn't expect the shocked silence or the jaws dropping. In fact, he hadn't intended so many people to hear. A moment later Harry reddened, already regretting giving in to his temper, until a deep, sinister laughing filled the room. It took him a few seconds to realise where it was coming from, and then another to realise that he'd never ever heard Snape really laugh before and definitely never so loudly. Remus darted him a look, trying and failing to smother a grin of his own.

"You're joking," Ron replied, horrified.

"As hilarious as that apparently was, no, I'm not joking."

Snape raised his hand to cover his face, shaking with mirth, all traces of anger completely erased from his expression. Fred and George backed away, taken aback by this new extreme of emotion, not able to believe their luck.


S.S.

"I knew there was a reason I could bear to be around you," Severus commented, struggling to keep the glee from his tone, having spent a decent half hour rubbing this latest piece of information in Minerva's face.

His son was a Slytherin. He might sleep in the tower, he might fly for her team and he'd sit amongst the lions in his classes but he was a Slytherin where it counted.

"I'm still a Gryffindor; I said no to being a Slytherin, that still stands."

Severus' smug expression faltered slightly.

"There's hope for you yet, now that I know there's more to you than foolish bravery and rash behaviour."

"It's kept me alive so far, hasn't it?" Harry retorted, his features twisted in an angry snarl. "I'd probably be dead if I'd been sorted into Slytherin, or worse, some slimy, evil little twerp like Malfoy," he snapped back with completely disproportionate venom in his tone.

Snape abruptly yanked him close, voice low so that their 'guests' couldn't hear. "What is wrong with you?"

Harry looked away. "I'm tired."

"I know-"

"No, I'm tired, Severus. I'm tired of trying to convince people to give this a chance. I'm tired of worrying that the adoption won't go through. I can't stop thinking about what Voldemort's going to do now that he's back, I can barely occlude, I haven't slept and I'm just tired. This whole thing was pointless. I can't convince people this is a good idea, I can't even convince you to tell me when your birthday is."

"Speech, speech, speech, speech-" those despicable twins began to chant. He released Harry as eyes began to turn towards them.

"Go on Severus," Filius encouraged and Pomona smiled, nodding along. Merlin, how he loathed the lot of them; if he never had to make small talk with them again it would be far too soon.

"Don't get mad," Harry whispered.

"Get mad, Potter? You have no idea." He stood to his full height and looked around at the room at large; at the boy's friends, some of whom were more supportive than others, and at his own colleagues, a meddling bunch of fools who had no business setting foot in his home as far as he was concerned. He didn't move from where he stood with Harry, leaning against the mantel. He took a breath.

"Ladies and gentlemen and Gryffindors... Despite the announcement of our good news, this has been a difficult time and with the Dark Lord's return it will undoubtedly continue to be. The support of friends and colleagues will prove to be indispensable." He let his gaze linger darkly over the boy's two best friends. He took in a fortifying breath.

"For those of you here who still have... misgivings about this arrangement, I can assure you I am more than aware of how fortunate I am."

Harry's eyebrows shot up at that pronouncement and Lupin looked far too pleased for his liking, the bloody fool.

"What was that all about?" Harry asked when it became clear that he'd said all that he had to say.

"You doubt my sincerity?"

"You're a Slytherin; you didn't say all that because you wanted to share your feelings."

"Use your brain, you announced to the room earlier that you had one-"

"Gryffindors have brains, look at Hermione!"

"Indeed, I am," he replied snidely. "They are here for you; they are here because the vast majority of them doubt my ability and motivation to be your father. This farce was organised to convince them to support this adoption and that has to come from me, not you. I knew when I asked you to be my son that my pride and reputation would be forfeit."

"So what, when we go back to school, you're going to be fairer to the Gryffindors?" Harry asked hopefully.

"Guess," Severus replied with a sneer, moving away as Lupin summoned him over.

H.P.

Harry scowled at his retreating back. Snape's attitude didn't come as a surprise though, after all he'd told Ron he'd still want to be adopted even if he never changed how he acted at school. The worst that Snape was capable of wasn't handing out unfair detentions and it wasn't verbally cutting you to ribbons with the whole class watching.

Flashback

Harry should have been suspicious that Snape had been almost beside himself with glee at the thought of going back to the Dursleys'. He tempered that glee with some concern for Harry's sake but he soon put a stop to that. He wasn't traumatised and he wasn't going to put off anything that was going to get him adopted quicker just because Snape had some mad idea that he wouldn't be able to cope. He was hardly dreading the meeting, Snape was going to be there and that was going to be entertainment in itself, let alone trying to watch the Ministry workers have a rational conversation with the Dursleys.

Though, that bit he actually didn't like so much and it was integral to Snape's plan to speed up his emancipation process. He didn't really want a couple of Ministry workers hearing how much the Dursleys didn't want him and never had. Snape figured it was a key part of the plan, after all, the Ministry workers would give up on all attempts at mediation much faster the more unreasonable and hateful the Dursleys seem, which would speed up the adoption application process in general. It seemed that there were all sorts of legal rules and procedures that meant Snape adopting Harry wasn't actually as simple as signing a form.

Those kinds of thoughts were dangerous territory, thinking about how much effort it all was made it difficult for Harry to wrap his head around why Snape would want to do it, why he thought it was worth it. He tried not to think about it because the more he did, the more it didn't make sense. Then it would start to feel like he couldn't breathe properly and his hands would go oddly tingly and it was like his head was made of cotton wool. He stuck to not thinking about it.

Snape would have made an excellent spy, he knew now why Sirius thought Snape was capable of manipulating him or deceiving him. As soon as he caught sight of the pair sent in by the adoption authorities he adopted a cool, responsible demeanour, affecting the utmost concern for the Dursleys and their fear of all things magical. The Ministry representatives seemed taken in, nodding along appreciatively.

Thankfully, Snape had organised for the meeting to be scheduled just after Harry was due for his potion. Apparently he deemed the meeting stressful enough without adding what he called 'unnecessary difficulties'. For his part, he was glad that he didn't have to deal with pitying looks, it was bad enough they were going to see- they were going to see things.

The witch and wizard sent by the adoption services were stern-faced and solemn as they filed into the kitchen, using their wands as conductors to reposition the chairs. The Dursleys looked horrified at the abuse of their furniture and looked doubtfully at the chairs as they moved to sit, as if afraid of being contaminated by magic.

From what Snape had told him the day before, the Dursleys had been dead set against any interaction with the wizarding world until it had clicked that there was a good

chance he would be permanently and irrevocably taken off their hands. Harry was just as thrilled at the thought but was under strict instructions not to show it. He was to be a good cooperative Gryffindor and let the Dursleys show themselves for what they were.

Snape declined the offer of a seat, feigning consideration- he was solely there a reassuring presence for Harry- of course too many wizards around the table might be unsettling- this was indeed a family matter- Appearing nonchalant, he carefully selected the wall directly opposite where his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia sat, slightly out of the Ministry witch and wizard's eye line. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Snape flash the Dursleys a sinister smile and he shivered at the black look in his eyes.

The Ministry representatives must have been well trained, or maybe they were moved to pity because of the genuine fear on the Dursleys' faces. They spoke reassuringly, explaining the situation to the muggles more than to Harry, not that they appreciated the courtesy. He could see the furious set of his uncle's jaw battling for dominance over the obvious fear in his eyes. Aunt Petunia was terrified enough to be trembling in her seat and even he was beginning to find it hard to feel anything other than pity, that was until she treated him to a look of deepest disgust. He quelled the temptation to say that there was no point to all of this; the Dursleys weren't going to be up for any discussion about Harry, especially not with a bunch of wizards.

With a reassuring smile, the older of the two, who introduced himself slightly patronisingly as Ernest Averwith and his colleague as Celia Boldern, cleared his throat and began. "We've come to understand there have been some difficulties between yourselves and your nephew. There's been a petition for adoption made in recent weeks by Professor Snape and Harry has put forward a formal request to be taken out of your care."

The Dursleys flicked a terrified glance at Snape over Harry's head. "However, the Ministry will not take steps to remove Mr. Potter if there's a possibility for reconciliation. Suddenly uprooting Mr. Potter from his family home may not be in his best interests and we often find the best scenario is one where we can resolve any misunderstandings."

"There's no misunderstanding," his uncle Vernon immediately growled, his anger overcoming his fear. "We don't want him. You can take the boy and give him to this- this Snape."

"That's Professor Snape, Mr. Dursley," Snape corrected him from behind Harry.

"This isn't anything so formal as that, Mr. Dursley," Ernest said, his kind smile faltering. "We're here to discuss the matter, to try and resolve any differences-"

"We don't want him, we never wanted him, we've already said he could have him," Aunt Petunia insisted, her voice trembling too.

"Please," Celia interrupted, "we all understand this is an emotional subject, but can we speak rationally?"

"I've told people to call in on us, so don't you try anything," Uncle Vernon said, shaking a belligerent finger, his piggy little eyes darting between the witch and three wizards. Harry whipped around at the particularly fearful look his uncle darted at Snape and the almost transfixed gaze of his aunt. Snape leaned against the doorjamb, taking in the scene, twirling his wand delicately between his fingers. He looked evenly back at Harry, his expression blank, the closest to innocent Snape could manage.

"I assure you there's no cause for alarm, we're only here for mediation."

"We don't need mediation from you people." His uncle Vernon was turning beet red in frustration, but was worried enough not to begin shouting, not at fully trained witches and wizards.

"Boy, do you want to be here?"

"God, no," Harry replied with feeling.

"We don't want him. We've raised that ungrateful miscreant, clothed him and fed him. We never wanted him, you're to take him away and he can live with your lot and not darken our door again, d'you hear me?" Vernon Dursley said, rounding on Harry. "Don't you step foot in this house again, boy!"

"As if I'd want to," Harry couldn't help but sneer back.

"Mr Dursley-"

"He wants him, he can have him," his Aunt Petunia interrupted, her voice quaking slightly. "We've said he can have him."

"He can go to an orphanage for all we care, he can live on the streets-" his uncle continued, intent on making his feelings absolutely clear.

"I believe it was made very clear before this mediation that Mr Potter had recently had a highly traumatic experience."

Harry grimaced at that. He never talked to the Dursleys about what went on at Hogwarts and he didn't need random ministry witches and wizards going around telling people he was traumatised.

"You can take him to an asylum then, but you take him with you when you leave."

"That's enough," Snape declared quietly behind Harry.

"Really!" Ernest exclaimed, exchanging a shocked glance with his partner. "I think we've heard enough. Rest assured, Mr. Dursley, Mr. Potter will be taken off your hands. I can see that it is far too late for mediation."

Petunia clutched at the table cloth, her bony fingers beginning to turn white in stress or possibly anger. She was a woman capable of love, you only had to watch her with Dudley to see that she was overflowing with it. Her eyes hadn't flickered towards Harry as she tried to give him away and she didn't appear even slightly ashamed of her husband's words.

"Not only will we be removing Mr Potter from your care, your attitude has given us cause to begin an investigation into your treatment of the child up until this point-"

"No," Harry erupted suddenly. The last thing he wanted was for people to investigate. They only had to go upstairs to see the locks on the outside of his bedroom door, then the bars on his window. He didn't need people jumping to conclusions, judging him. "There won't be an investigation."

"As there is nothing to be gained from remaining here I believe Harry has already been in their presence for far too long," Snape added, resting a hand on Harry's shoulder ready to guide him out the house.

"...Entirely irrational..." he could hear Snape murmuring to both of the Ministry representatives as they filed out of the house to find a convenient alley to disapparate from.

"I'm surprised you didn't do anything," Harry commented after both the adoption workers disappeared with a crack and they were alone on the streets of Little Whinging. "I thought you were going to- Hold on, where are you going?"

"I'm going to ask you to set foot in this house one more time, it's not safe for me to leave you out here alone," Snape replied, striding furiously back to number four Privet Drive, not bothering to check if Harry was following. A powerful alohomora had the door unlocked and rebounding with a loud slam off the internal wall.

"DURSLEY!"

"Get out of my house!" Vernon Dursley roared, his face rapidly colouring to a familiar shade of scarlet. "I'll call the police-"

"You've got the boy, what more do you want?" his Aunt's said shrilly, staring at the wand that Snape was making no attempt to hide. Harry held back, hovering by the front door, taking in the wand held rock-steady in Snape's hand, the look of sheer loathing on his face and the way his Aunt had her back pressed into the wall in an effort to put as much distance between herself and Snape as possible.

"The Dark Lord has returned and there will be another war," Snape announced and surprisingly enough for a woman who acted as if she knew nothing of the world he came from, his Aunt actually did look more frightened, and not just because Snape was openly threatening them, but as if she really understood what Voldemort's return might mean. If Snape registered her fear he didn't show it. "You'll probably be safe from him and for a time you'll be safe from me," he continued. "I will do nothing to vent my displeasure until this adoption is complete, but the moment he is my son, the very instant it becomes official, if I were you I would be very worried indeed."

Harry recognised the hatred and anger in Snape's eyes, and from the twist of his sneering smile he could see how much he was enjoying the Dursley's fear. He looked between his cowering Aunt and Uncle and the man who was to be his adoptive father, and realised that there was nothing about this he liked.

"Sir, this isn't worth it. Can we just go?"

Snape ignored him, stepping forward and baring his teeth. "Listen to him. Despite all you've done he doesn't want me to hurt you. When I'm done here, I'm going to take my son home and he's going to have everything he should have had growing up in this house. Do you imagine that when he's had time to really think about what you've done to him that he'll stand between us the next time I raise my wand?"

He stretched his wand hand so that the dark mark was visible on his wrist. Harry doubted that either his Aunt or Uncle knew what it meant but he did, and he began to feel a stab of fear that Snape meant what he was saying and would go too far. "There will be deaths on both sides; good people, bad people, wizards, muggles. Who will notice the misfortunes of a couple of wizard-hating muggles? Better yet, who will care about the fate of two people who, instead of doting on our saviour, neglected and abused him?"

"Severus, you don't need to do this, I honestly don't care-"

"They have laws, you people have prisons too-" his Aunt Petunia interrupted shakily.

"They have laws to protect children like Harry from people like you!" Snape hissed, taking a step forward so that his Aunt had to arch her long neck back to avoid contact with the end of his wand.

"We never beat him, no one laid a finger on him and if he's told you different then he's a nasty little liar," his Uncle chimed in, treating Harry to an ugly look, his fingers twitching as if he'd dearly love to clamp them around someone's neck. "We took him in! We clothed him-"

"In rags! And you put food on his plate but you made damn sure there wasn't as much as on everyone else's. And you put a roof over his head but you made sure he knew that it was against your will. You put him in a cupboard when you had a room to spare! You put him there so he would know you didn't want him and that he wasn't welcome."

"We never asked for him-"

"I didn't ask for him!" he shouted back, before his voice became a barely audible hiss. "You know what I'm capable of, imagine what I could do to your son that could match what you've done to mine."

His stomach turned and he stepped forward, determined to put an end to this horrible scene. "Severus, stop. Please let's just go."

"I told her you were a nasty, evil boy." Harry was thrown by the comment. He didn't doubt that she'd told almost everyone she met that he was no good, but he didn't have a clue why she was bringing it up now or who it was she'd told. She'd said it oddly though, still staring straight at Snape, while the both of them exchanged equally venomous glares.

"You couldn't have been more right." Sparks flew from the tip of Snape's wand and Harry wasn't sure whether it was a sign that he was finally losing control or just another ploy to intimidate the Dursleys but he didn't want to know. He walked quickly and steadily to the door, flinging it wide, knowing that Snape wouldn't let him out of his sight on the streets of Little Whinging when there could be a Death Eater lurking just around the corner.

It didn't take long before Harry heard a door slam shut behind him and the rapid crunch of gravel beneath Snape's shoes."I was unaware that you had a death wish," Snape hissed, his fingers circling Harry's upper arm in an iron grip as he marched him to the apparition point.

"I said I wanted to leave," Harry replied firmly, his voice not betraying the hammering of his heart against his ribs. If there had been Death Eaters here then he'd probably be dead and they wouldn't be having this conversation.

"I don't believe I was finished," Snape replied, fury still flashing in his eyes, but his real ire wasn't directed at Harry at all. He pulled him close, wrapping an arm around his back, a nasty sneer creeping over his face as he gave one last look at the house Harry grew up in.

"I never asked for that," Harry said as soon as he felt solid ground beneath his feet. He wasted no time detaching himself from Snape and refused to let the man steady him. "I didn't want to see you doing that. It was horrible." He stalked over the boundary of Hogwarts' grounds on shaking legs and cursed the frost that clung stubbornly to the grass almost causing him to slip.

Snape bared his teeth in an indignant scowl, striding easily alongside him as they made their way to the castle. "That meeting was horrible, the things they said were abhorrent."

"You threatened to kill them."

"I did not say that I would kill anyone," Snape denied, crossing his arms tightly. Harry threw him a dirty look; he hated it when he did that, he'd been right there, he couldn't outsmart his way out of what had been right in front of Harry's face.

"You implied it, you know you did, and you threatened to hurt Dudley-"

"No," Snape growled, stopping him with a firm hand on his shoulder so that he had no choice but to face him. "I asked them what I could do to their child that could match what they did to mine! I invited them to think! The only way that could be seen as a threat is if they admitted that they abused you."

Harry scrunched his face in distaste, half tempted to cover his ears."I wasn't abused, you heard my uncle, they never beat me-"

"No," Snape barked again, throwing out an arm to block his path when he made to carry on toward the castle. "He may not have hit you but he handled you roughly – Don't!"he snapped, when Harry opened his mouth to deny it. "I've seen more than one memory with his hands around your neck. They put you in a cupboard and when they finally deigned to give you a room they put bars on window and locks on the door. Then what did they do but lock you in and starve you! Don't tell me you weren't abused."

"For a few days!" Harry shouted angrily. He wouldn't have Snape stand there making him out to be some weak, helpless victim. It may as well be Malfoy and all the Slytherins standing there mocking him all over again. "It was once! They locked me up once."

"In that room it might have been once! How many times were you locked in that cupboard?"

"Shut up!" Harry shouted, his voice carrying loudly across the empty grounds.

"You can answer me or you can choose not to but you will not defend them, you will not downplay what they have done to you," Snape returned, his ire matching Harry's own.

"Don't say that," Harry replied. That was almost worse than the 'a' word. That made it sound like he was broken and couldn't be fixed. Did he think he was really that messed up? He swallowed, hard. "I don't like seeing you act like that, all right?"

Snape's lips thinned and he stiffened."They are alive and well, little do they deserve it. You forget Mr. Potter, that I am a Death Eater, I have merely changed which side I support."

Harry shook his head in a silent denial and he watched the Whomping Willow flex it's branches in the distance. It wasn't about that."I stopped Sirius and Remus from killing Wormtail too."

The anger that hadn't left Snape's features even after they had apparated far from little Whinging, finally began to ebb and he answered with an awful resignation that made Harry feel ill."I am passed redemption, you are aware by now that there are marks that don't come off."

"That's not true."

"Regardless, if Pettigrew crosses my path you will not be able to stop me. He plotted your kidnap, he used you to bring back the Dark Lord, he tied you up and took a knife to your skin. I'm going to watch the light leave his eyes and I'll enjoy it."

End of flashback

That day Harry resolved that he ought to come to terms with who Snape was... That, or get a long-term plan for dealing with his more evil, murderous side. Luckily, there was more to the man than that, or he really would be in trouble. Sometimes, despite the threats and intimidation, and if he really put his mind to it, he could actually be all right... He just wished everyone else would try and see that.

"January the first, you stubborn twit," Snape muttered, sparing him a glance when Harry came to stand alongside him as he nodded his goodbyes to his departing colleagues.

Harry blinked, not instantly understanding what he was talking about and Snape continued quietly, "I had asked you to be my son and I wanted you to really think about your answer. It would hardly have been appropriate to mention the date, had I been inclined."

Harry opened his mouth to argue back but stopped short when Snape nodded just as politely to a tremulous 'congratulations' from Neville as he had to everyone else. If Snape could look at Neville without sneering or taking points, if he could resist the urge to kill the Weasley twins, if he could survive this party thinking that he was the lucky one, then it would have to all work out. Ron and the others would all come around eventually; they would see he was all right really, for the most part...