Win The War: Consanguinity by Luna Carmesi
Summary: Petunia finally has an excuse to get rid of Harry, who finds himself in another abusive home. But then there is Severus living nearby, who - at first reluctantly - will try to help the boy. Will they find common ground?
Categories: Big Brother Snape, Healer Snape, Snape Equal Status to Harry > Comrades Snape and Harry Main Characters: .Snape and Harry (required), Original Character, Other, Sirius, Theodore Nott, Tobias Snape
Snape Flavour: Canon Snape, Comforting Snape, Kind Snape, Overly-protective Snape
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Family, General, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Tags: Adoption, Injured!Harry, Snape-meets-Dursleys
Takes Place: 5th summer
Warnings: Abusive Dursleys, Alcohol Use, Bullying, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Violence
Challenges: Tobias' care
Challenges: Tobias' care
Series: None
Chapters: 21 Completed: No Word count: 120467 Read: 84288 Published: 09 Sep 2012 Updated: 30 Jun 2022
Story Notes:

There are warnings about abuse and spanking, however I would like to point out thet it is not between Severus and Harry. I believe CP is an abuse, and I want Harry trust Severus and I do believe that it would be impossible if Sev use CP on Harry.

 

I would like to thank all the people who worked with me on it

My Polish Betas: Jasmin Kain, who works hard with me to finally finish the story and justusia, who put a lot of her time into the story as well. 

 

Beta: JAWorley (Prologue, Ch1, part of Ch2 and 3) Luck (part of Ch2) and Black Princess part of Ch2, Ch3, Ch4) VAspera (1-12) Gingerljfl175 (8-12) Chantale-of-da-last-generation (13-16) And Vivid Murk (16)

 

1. Prologue: Morning at the Dursley's by Luna Carmesi

2. Chapter 1: Surprise by Luna Carmesi

3. Chapter 2: The Letters by Luna Carmesi

4. Chapter 3: Oasis, Roo and Pele by Luna Carmesi

5. Chapter 4: Training by Luna Carmesi

6. Chapter 5: The Encounter by Luna Carmesi

7. Chapter 6: Sirius by Luna Carmesi

8. Chapter 7: Porthcurno by Luna Carmesi

9. Chapter 8: Twenty-eight pounds by Luna Carmesi

10. Chapter 9: Ingredients by Luna Carmesi

11. Chapter 10: Theodore by Luna Carmesi

12. Chapter 11: Petunia by Luna Carmesi

13. Chapter 12: Vernon by Luna Carmesi

14. Chapter 13: Sine Nuntius by Luna Carmesi

15. Chapter 14: Plangentine by Luna Carmesi

16. Chapter 15: The Hearing by Luna Carmesi

17. Chapter 16: 12 Grimmauld Place by Luna Carmesi

18. Chapter 17: Department of Mysteries by Luna Carmesi

19. Chapter 18: The Final by Luna Carmesi

20. Chapter 19: Marks by Luna Carmesi

21. Chapter 20: Kiddnappings' plague by Luna Carmesi

Prologue: Morning at the Dursley's by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
Hello!
I'd like to thank JAWorley - who corrected it, VAspera for checking it again, and also justusia7850 and Jasmin Kain my Polish betas and ;)

Thursday, May 18th 1995

It was a regular morning at Privet Drive, a day like every other day.  There was no difference between mornings in this place. As per usual, Petunia Dursley woke up early to make breakfast for her family. She was a woman who was pleased with her life, and found fulfilment both as a mother and as a wife.

Her husband, Vernon, loved her dearly and took great care in making sure she would never run out of anything. He gave her support at the more difficult moments in her life. Petunia thought that her fifteen years old son Dudley was an exceptional boy. In the whole neighbourhood, there wasn't such a young man who could be compared to him. According to her, he had so much appeal and personal charm... he was incredibly handsome, friendly, and charming: a carbon copy of his father. People took to him like flies to honey, and he achieved only successes in his life. It made her smile just to think that Dudley had achieved a gold medal after barely one year of boxing. She was also proud that her boy had a flair for business. He has started some school project recently, which has already brought profits. Believing that young businessmen should be supported, they'd given Dudley the amount of money his school project had earned as a reward and incentive.

Everything would be perfect, the keyword being ‘would’. Her husband, her son, her life... it was all there. There was something, however, that was amiss in Petunia Dursley's life. A nasty little secret that weighed down on her every minute of every day: Potter. He was a freak, just like his mother and that devil man she had brought home. As far as Petunia was concerned, he was nothing more than vermin, and she wished he had the common decency to know when he wasn't wanted and not to come home for the holidays.

Preparation of breakfast for her men took only forty-five minutes. She set the table, and in the middle, she put a bouquet of flowers she had received from Vernon just yesterday.

"Diddy Duddydums! Wake up, my dearest darling!"

Dudley heard her walking back to the kitchen. He rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a pile of cream rolls and a large chocolate cake, and some children continually dumped more into his desert pile. Dudley knew these punks. After all, every day, he'd collected money from them so they could breathe without fear of beating them to a pulp (by others) in his school. After all... everybody knew that Dudley had won the boxing championship; it had only served him another advantage. Admittedly he had only won the match by default because his opponent had mysteriously fallen ill just before the competition, but he didn't care about details. The medal was hanging on his wall, wasn't it? That was enough for him.

After a moment, Petunia came back to his door.

"Duddy, are you up yet? Your breakfast is ready."

"Almost." Breakfast was the only thing that was able to pull him out of bed.

 HPHPHPHPHP

After breakfast, Vernon Dursley picked up his briefcase, pecked his wife on the cheek, and ruffled Dudley's hair on the way out the door. Petunia watched happily as she was packing lunch with extra vitamins for Dudley. After all, she had to make sure her Diddy Duddykins was healthy!

Few minutes past seven, finally home alone, Petunia cleaned the kitchen thoroughly and sat by the window. She had a perfect view of the street. While reading a newspaper, the woman contemplated what the celebrities must have been thinking; Niguel Pitt and his cohabitant (Petunia disapproved of such relationships) had adopted more children — triplets from Kongo. She almost pitied these people. Something had to be seriously wrong with every child they already had if they are looking for new ones all the time. Hers was perfect, and she would never look for another. Wondering about it, she looked out through the window and noticed that Gabi Milton was taking a walk. The girl was wearing an only miniskirt and a tight top. She had been going with Dudley in primary school, but the way she was dressing now...

'She's probably going to sleep around with that Macary from number 15.' Petunia thought indignantly. 'To think that her mother let her do such things, let alone dress that way!'

Yesterday, Petunia had heard from Betty Milovic that Martha Perren saw that Gabi had bought wine in town. And then Petunia could only assume that she'd gone to that boy after dark since his parents were away on business.

Petunia drank her cup of strong, black coffee and decided to do something. For the next couple of hours, nothing interesting should be happening, she thought. It had been a long time since the attic had been given a deep cleaning, so he decided to start her day there. She should consign old pieces of junk, she thought. Or, it would be better if she gives them away to the church for homeless people... the neighbours would notice, and they would admire her generosity. Content with this prospect, Petunia climbed the stairs.

After two hours, and after sorting through a lot of unnecessary books and old clothes, there was only one box remaining. Inside, she found an old journal, and curious, she opened it only to scoff. It was Lily's — that blasted sister of hers.

'Of course, the whole day would be spoiled by the very thought of her!'

She was about to close and burn it when out from the cover fell a piece of worn parchment. It was the... Birth Certificate of Harry James Potter! Her eyes went wide with astonishment.

'Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad day after all.

To be continued...
Chapter 1: Surprise by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
English beta: JAWorley and Vaspera,
Polish beta justusia 7850 and Jasmin Kain
Thank you :)
And of course thanks for reviews ;)

 

Friday, June 30th 1995

"Fred, come here a moment."

Fred tugged on George's sleeve and followed Harry back into an empty train compartment as the throng of students exiting around them.

"Bit suspicious," George said jokingly as he closed the door. "Do you think he intends on making us return to Hogwarts for the summer?"

Fred laughed at his brother's joke, but he turned serious when he saw Harry holding out what looked like a full money pouch.

"Here, take it," Harry said. "Don't say where it came from."

"That looks an awful lot like your winnings Harry," George said, staring at the pouch. "You might not want to tempt us, two jokesters, with that."

"It's yours, go on."

"We can't take that, Harry! You're the one that won the tournament."

"And you might have if you'd been allowed to enter. I'm telling you to take it. I don't want it. Go and start your business with it, and while I'm thinking of it, buy your brother some dress robes so he doesn't smell like mothballs next time he needs it."

"Harry, this is a lot of money."

"Yes, and I'm giving it to you. You can take it, or I'll toss it out the window into the crowd."

Fred reached out and took the money bag then, not daring to peer inside and believe his luck.

"You're sure about this?"

"Positive."

Then, as an afterthought, Harry withdrew a second, much lighter pouch and held it out to the twins. "Would you be able to exchange this for Muggle money and send it to me by owl?" he asked. Still looking a little shocked, George nodded, and Harry hastily left the compartment before they could say another word.

Beyond the barrier to the magical platform, Uncle Vernon waited with an irritated look on his face, perhaps because Mrs Weasley was hovering close by. When Harry got near, she hugged him tightly and pulled him close to whisper into his ear, "Dumbledore may let you stay with us later in the summer. Write and let us know how you're doing, dear."

Harry nodded but didn't say anything as Ron approached, saying, "See you, Harry," as he clapped him on the back.

"Bye, Harry!" Feeling overwhelmed suddenly, Harry turned to find Hermione and turned red as she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, something that hadn't happened before.

Taking a few steps back, Harry nearly bumped into George, who leaned in and said, "Harry… thanks, and we'll try to send it to you as soon as possible.

"What are you going to send?" asked Mrs Weasley curiously, who had stepped closer to hear what George had muttered.

"Goodies for Hedwig," Harry said quickly with a wink at the twins, and then he turned to Uncle Vernon and followed him silently from the station.

HPHPHPHPHP

With a lot of effort, the skinny teenager put his trunk in the car's boot outside King's Cross Station.

"Don't dawdle! Get in, boy! I don't have time for this rubbish!" shouted Uncle Vernon, sitting behind the wheel.

"'m sorry," Harry answered mindlessly.

When Harry finally got into the car, sweating from the effort, his uncle shoved a stiff piece of paper at him and snapped, "Here, read it!"

Harry's eyes began to scan down the page, but then Vernon growled, "Out loud boy," and Harry started again out loud.

"Report of Adoption:

Name: Harry James Potter.

Birthday: 31st July 1980

Birthplace: Cokeworth.

Mother's name: Eileen Snape, nee Prince.

Father's name: Tobias Jacob Snape.

On 31st July 1980, the infant was adopted by Lily Rose Potter, nee Evans and James Harold Potter.

From 1st November 1981 to 13th June 1995, the custody of Harry James Potter had Petunia Ivy Dursley, nee Evans and Vernon Marc Dursley.

At the request of Mr and Mrs Vernon Dursley since 13th June 1995, the custody of Harry James Potter was given to the child's birth father: Tobias Jacob Snape."

By the time he'd finished, Harry had gone pale, and his voice was little more than a whisper.

"It's some kind of joke… you're lying!"

"No," Vernon said gleefully. "Petunia was cleaning in the attic and found your birth certificate. She once lived near the Snapes. We went there, and it turns out that your real mother is dead, but at least your father agreed to take you. We took care of formalities, and we don't have to quarrel with you anymore," finished Vernon with a nasty smile. "And to think that we could have gotten rid of you so many years earlier! I just have to bring you to him."

Harry didn't show that he was a little hurt by the remark.

Uncle Vernon had never allowed Harry to speak unless told to, so the journey was silent. The silence didn't annoy Harry since the overflow of his emotions was causing him a headache. He was sure that it was some trick the Dursleys had devised to finally throw him out. After all, his resemblance to James and Lily was incontestable… everyone told him so.

As if the whole lie wasn't incredulous enough, it was harder still to believe that nobody knew about the supposed adoption. From what he could remember, a pregnancy lasted for almost a year, didn't it? Unfortunately, he wasn't sure because when it had been taught in primary school, he had often had to spend his time in his cupboard as punishment instead of doing homework; moreover, his science textbook had been used as material for paper aeroplanes and then thrown into the rubbish bin. Even onlookers would know his mum was pregnant from the vast stomach. It seemed impossible that his parents' friends, Sirius and Lupin, didn't notice that Lily, who hadn't been pregnant, would just one day show up with a baby. They would have told him if he was adopted, wouldn't they?

As they drove closer to his supposed true father's house, Harry was surprised suddenly by a sorrowful feeling emanating from his stomach. His own family really did hate him, didn't they? He had known they weren't affectionate towards him, but deep inside, he'd always wanted them to accept him. For most of his life, he'd dreamt of being taken from that house. Sometimes he had even thought that he would feel better off in the orphanage, but all of this didn't change the fact that he felt simply sorrowful.

At the moment, he couldn't do anything about it. When they got there, he would decide what to do next. For now, he could only pray that this Snape didn't have anything in common with the Potions Master that despised him so heartily.

HPHPHPHPHP

After driving for nearly two hours, they reached Cokeworth. According to the piece of paper he was holding in his hand, it was his birthplace. The surroundings were pretty. There were sprawling green parks beyond the windows of the car. Despite his poor eyesight, in the distance, he saw colourful playgrounds and sandbox for children. On his left, there were beautiful houses. Some of them were much nicer, and some more modern than what the Dursleys lived in. Each of them showcased the high standard of life their occupants lived. They drove on, however, and the surroundings grew dimmer. The houses grew uglier and less colourful, and even the park gave the impression that it was bleaker.

Uncle Vernon stopped the car by a grey, two-story building. The windows were old, and from behind the glass, there were dusty curtains.

"Well, boy! Get out of here and take your things with you!" Vernon ordered him with a smile of bliss on his face. Vernon hurried out of the car and went to the front door to ring the bell.

The door was opened by a tall, broad-shouldered man with scruffy grey hair, black eyes and a large nose. He was wearing a creased flannel shirt from under which, stuck out a yellowing undershirt. Harry groaned internally. There was no way he wasn't related to that Snape. 'It must be a nightmare,' he thought.

"I brought the boy. That's all from me. And I wish not to see either of you again!" laughed Vernon, not even glancing back at his nephew, who had struggled to pull his trunk out of the rear of the car and finally succeeded. Vernon got into the car and left, leaving Harry standing on the side of the road staring after him. And despite the fact the boy was well aware that his uncle had never liked him, the rejection hurt even more than when they were travelling. What had he really anticipated, though? Certainty, not a tearful and soggy goodbye.

"Hello, Harry. I'm Tobias." When the man spoke up with a low, hoarse voice, Harry could smell the alcohol curling off of him.

Not a good sign, thought Harry, but as Tobias looked calm and relaxed, it didn't bother him much. He was used to reading body language, and currently, he didn't feel threatened.

"Good afternoon," Harry said tentatively.

"Come along, I'll show you over, and then you're gonna unpack your things in your room."

The man turned around and went into the house, Harry following after him with Hedwig in her cage in one hand and dragging his trunk with the other. They found themselves in a rather cramped, dark hall, where Harry left his baggage. Directly opposite of him was a staircase leading to the second floor. On the left was a door probably leading to the basement.

"There's the loo," His hypothetical father said as he pointed the door at his right.

Between the staircase and loo was access to the kitchen, and it was necessary to walk through it to get to the living room. In the middle of the kitchen stood a table covered with a white and red checker tablecloth, and around it were four chairs. Three of them had thin pillows on the seat, but they looked as if they hadn't been laundered for a long time. The last chair was empty, but a piece of red tape knotted over the backrest, told Harry that it wasn't always like that.

To the right, under the windows, there were cupboards, a brown cooker, a fridge and a sink. Everything was equally battered and haven't been replaced or seen any repair at least for a dozen years. An annoying buzzing came from the low, yellow fridge, which had a lot of colourful beer magnets stuck to it.

When Harry glanced to his right, he cringed. There was a door to a cupboard under the stairs. Thankfully they didn't stop there. They continued on into the living room, which could be described as dirty and unkempt, just like the rest of the house. On the left side of the entrance, there was an old wooden Welsh dresser. On the right side, just under the window, there was a telly, possibly the only thing in the entire house that didn't look like it would remember World War Two. A fuscous couch and two armchairs were standing like a half-circle with a coffee table in between. There was a door on the wall across from the kitchen that leads to a small, bushy garden.

Afterwards, the man showed Harry upstairs, which consisted of a narrow hall, two bedrooms and a small bathroom. His room was the same size as at the Dursleys. There was a bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, a desk and a bookcase. Everything was old and shabby. The room was secondhand, just like he was used to growing up with the Dursleys.

"Are you hungry?" asked Tobias. "Of course, you are. You look like they were starving you in that school of yours. When you finish unpacking, come to the kitchen. I'll make supper in the meantime." Not waiting for a response, he went down the stairs.

Harry followed after him once again to get his trunk, which was still near the front door. He dragged it upstairs with a lot of effort and placed it between his bed and the desk. Then, the boy returned for the cage with Hedwig and put it on top of the chest of drawers. He pulled his clothes from his trunk, and untidily threw them into the wardrobe.

Throwing himself on the bed, Harry started to think. Feeling drained, Harry wished he didn't feel bad about the Dursleys kicking him out. With the way they had treated him over the years, he didn't even know why he felt sorry. After all, he really didn't want to live with them, and he was sure that anywhere would be better than at Privet Drive. He hoped that this man wouldn't keep him in the cupboard without food as a punishment, let alone aiming at his head with a frying pan, because in comparison to his aunt, Tobias was really very muscular. Provided he didn't miss, he could seriously injure Harry.

So far, though, Tobias had welcomed him more than the Dursleys ever had, and at this moment, was even making him supper. He didn't want to let his mind wander into darker thoughts of what life might be like here if Tobias were mean.

One more positive aspect of this situation was that he was going to start anew. Nobody knew him here. He didn't reckon that his assumed father would make everyone believe that he was going to St. Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. Besides, there wasn't Dudley, so Harry would able to make some friends. Maybe this summer won't be so lonely as the previous ones. And, of course, the twins had promised to send him money. Either way, he was going to buy himself some new clothing if he were allowed. If he had still been at the Dursleys, he would have told them that Sirius had given him the new clothes, but here perhaps, he wouldn't even have to lie about it.

For the time being, there was only one flaw besides the state of the house — Severus Snape. Harry didn't even want to think that he could potentially be somehow related to the dungeon bat. Notwithstanding, he got a chance to become a typical teenager, and he was going to use it.

HPHPHPHPHP

"Harry, supper's ready! You can finish unpacking later!" Harry's thoughts were broken by Tobias' voice. He got up and made his way to the kitchen.

"Sit down and eat, Harry." After Tobias gave him a plate with roast, they ate in awkward silence, neither feeling comfortable in the presence of the other yet. One would think they would have an endless number of topics to discuss, not really knowing anything about the other, but neither knew how to start. After the meal, Tobias got up and negligently did the dishes, then made the tea for Harry and sat in one of the chairs with a bottle of beer in hand.

"What should I call you?" asked Harry hesitantly.

"For the time being, Tobias, until we got to know each other better."

"What do you do?"

"I'm a builder, so most of the day, I won't be at home. You'll have to occupy yourself until five o'clock because then you'll have training. I enrolled you in a football team. You'll start on Monday." The man said in a tone that left no room for any discussion.

"Yeah? What's this team?" 'Pity that you didn't ask me, I think I have something to say about it, ' Harry thought, angrily that once again somebody decided for him.

"The Mayor organized a competition. The Cokeworth Cup for teenagers." Tobias answered. "You know, different companies collect members of teams — usually they're worker's kids — and they sponsor the matches. Thanks to that, they get promotions and some benefits, and kids have fun. You have to try to be the best. I don't want to be ashamed of you. Sons of my pals are playing there too. I'll be coming to your matches."

Despite his irritation that Tobias had decided for him (without ever having met him really), Harry had to smile. It was nice to have an adult who cared enough to think of him that he might have some fun, and Tobias, for now, gave that impression. How many times as a child had Harry dreamed that his aunt or uncle would give him this sort of attention? Vernon had always been at Dudley's every contest, but he had never thought of Harry's interests.

"But I haven't played football for a couple of years, and I don't know if I'm fit for it," hesitated Harry, who liked more and more the prospect of living here.

"I'm sure you'll manage. After all, you are my son. You look like your mother, so you must have something from me."

"My mother?" wondered Harry. Everyone had told him repeatedly that he was a carbon copy of James, so how was it possible that suddenly he looked like Eileen Snape? Something was very wrong here, and he had to find out what was going on.

"Yes, after all, you don't look like the postman, although with her, we may never know. Nose, mouth, chin, and cheekbones you have after Eileen. The shape of the eyes and eyelashes after me. Okay, let's call it a night. Go to bed; I am going to sleep also. I have a job in the morning. "

"Night."

"Goodnight, Harry."

HPHPHPHPHP

Harry entered his room and opened Hedwig's cage.

"Hey, girl. Do you want to fly a little?" he murmured, letting her out.

Harry went to bed and rolled back and forth because he couldn't fall asleep. Today he had been overwhelmed with too many emotions, and besides that, too many questions still went unanswered. Did he really look like Eileen Snape? Does Dumbledore know what is going on? Tobias seemed to be okay, Harry thought. So far, he'd behaved nicely… much better than the Dursleys. He'd acted just like a father should, hadn't he? And what about Snape? Were they related? Had he known all the time, and that's why he'd hated him so much? He had, in fact, continuously repeated to Harry that he was just like his father. Had he meant James or Tobias?

He should have told me, damn it! He thought.

To be continued...
Chapter 2: The Letters by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank Vaspera, Luck, Jaworley, and blackprincess92 for beta-reading it.

And my Polish Betas: justusia i Jasmin Kain.

 

 

 

Saturday, July 1st 1995

Harry was awakened up by severe pain in his left shoulder blade. With his eyes still shut tightly, he sat up and rubbed the sore spot. The culprit turned out to be an errant bedspring, which had been poking him in the back all night. The mattress felt thinner than usual. Harry opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. He wasn't in his dormitory at Hogwarts. Then without warning, the affairs from the day before suddenly came back to him with startling clarity.

"Why does it always have to be me?" groaned Harry.

The bitterness that had welled up inside him due to the Dursley's scheming had not evaporated in the least. It still hurt to believe the Dursleys loathed him to such a degree that they would scheme something like that, just to get rid of him. The man, Tobias, had also fallen victim to their plotting. Uncle Vernon had told him that Aunt Petunia had lived here during her childhood. Therefore, Harry was sure that she knew this man, and for some unfathomable reason, she despised him. Harry wondered how the working-class man had managed to get under her skin. The adoption papers he had been shown didn't totally convince him of what they had told him. Harry was very aware that his uncle had connections to people in high places, and it would not take much to forge adoption papers.

Harry also wondered if Tobias knew he was a wizard. The man didn't mention anything when he saw Hedwig, which was considered a somewhat atypical pet. Perhaps the Dursleys, despite their revulsion of the subject, had told him about magic. Still, if the hook-nosed man was somehow related to his Potion Master, then he likely already knew about wizards. From what Harry was able to observe, Tobias was definitely Muggle. There was nothing in the flat that he had seen in the Burrow. There were no books about magic, cauldrons, or spells in the house.

He decided to be careful and refrain from mentioning he wasn't exactly normal for the time being. He didn't want to risk that he would be treated here like he had been at the Dursley's house. Harry wasn't going to try to tell the man he wasn't his son. He knew that keeping this knowledge wasn't fair to Tobias. However, Harry preferred not to be homeless or land in an orphanage; the place—thanks to Aunt Petunia stories —really scares him. Harry knew Sirius wanted to take him in, but that was not possible as long as the man was a fugitive. It was too dangerous for him to live with the Weasleys. The Burrow would be a considered target without his presence because he was friends with Ron. Even Dumbledore warned them, as Mrs Weasley had told him in the train station.

Furthermore, Harry always wanted to know how it was like to have a father. At least he could pretend for a while and hope Tobias wouldn't discover the truth too fast. Harry wanted to be treated like somebody's real son. And if the man continued to believe that Harry is his biological child, then he was going to let his dreams come true. He also hoped that his real parents would understand and wouldn't mind his deception too much.

It was a really enticing perspective to live, at least for a little while, a life borrowed from someone else, someone who, in reality, didn't exist. To live as Tobias and Eileen Snape's son. He flinched a little because it sounded like he would pretend to be the Potions Master, but it was impossible. Snape was too old to be their son. Even if Harry wasn't sure of their ages, he was confident that it was unrealistic. The boy knew, of course, that pretending to be someone else was a bad idea; however, it was always his dream to be a normal teenager who had an attentive father. Of course, he also really longed for a mother, but one can't have everything.

After a couple of minutes, Harry went downstairs to the kitchen and noticed that Tobias was nowhere to be seen. Judging from the dirty plates dumped on the table, he'd already left for work. Harry washed the dishes and made tea, foregoing breakfast. When he felt especially nervous or stressed, he would become nauseated, unable to swallow the tiniest morsel. With a cup of tea in his hand, he went back to his room and decided to write a letter to his godfather. He wanted to be sure that Sirius didn't know anything about the alleged adoption.

After the third task, when Harry had been in the hospital wing, his godfather had promised him that they would see each other soon, but first, he had to alert the 'old crowd.' Harry didn't know exactly who those were, but he remembered one name – Arabella Figg. It was the same last name as his neighbour from Little Whinging. He didn't like her very much. In any case, he was sure she wasn't fond of him either. She always had him look at pictures of her cats. She had pretended to be nice only once, and she had given him a stale chocolate cake. Maybe she wanted to poison him because after, he had been up all night, racked with stomach pain.

Harry took out a piece of parchment and quill from his trunk and tried to figure out how to write exactly what he wanted to know.

Dear Padfoot,

I hope that everything is all right with you. There have been many changes here. The Dursleys kicked me out for good. They devised some tale that I'm not related to them. I know that if you and Professor Lupin had known something about this, you would have told me, right? Don't worry, I'm fine. In fact, I'm better than I was when I was there.

Yours,

H.

He almost tied this letter to Hedwig's leg when he changed his mind. He didn't want to worry about his godfather. He was sure that after such a message, Sirius would begin to wonder about his whereabouts

Knowing his impetuous nature, he would probably make a rash decision to emerge from hiding just to see if everything was okay with Harry. Although the teenager did miss him, he didn't want to endanger him. He couldn't be selfish, so he ripped up the letter and tried once more from the beginning.

Dear Padfoot,

I hope that everything is all right and you are safe.

I'd like to ask you if you saw my mother before my birth and if she looked like she was about to give birth. The Dursleys mentioned that I'm not really related to them, but probably it is anoth…

He was about to write: 'another way to bully me', but he didn't want to whine and make himself out to be a victim. He noticed a couple of times that Sirius had looked at him strangely when he was talking about the Dursleys. Not that Harry said anything significant, but once or twice, he said something without thinking. The boy saw in Sirius' body language that the man had been getting angry. Not wanting to annoy him more, the teenager swiftly changed the topic, and after a moment, the man relaxed, like he had forgotten entirely what Harry had been saying.

Harry erased the last sentence and wrote:

Of course, it could be just empty words.

Greet Moony,

Best wishes,

H.

He hoped that it sounded natural enough and not disturbing. He tied the letter to the owl's leg.

"Hedwig, could you carry this to Sirius?" asked Harry, and the owl lightly pecked him on the finger in answer.

Afterwards, he decided to take a shower and go for a walk to explore his new surroundings. The day before, Tobias had given him keys to the house. Harry felt this was a really nice surprise and a sign of trust. In this little gesture, the man had really made him feel welcome. Harry made a face, realizing that Privet Drive had never been his home.

There wasn't a bathtub in the bathroom, just a shower, toilet, an old cabinet and washbasin. The bathroom had dark yellow, cracked tiles. It wasn't attractive, but it was tolerably clean. Harry was surprised when he found on the shelf a woman's flowery smelling shower soap. Was it possible that Tobias hadn't thrown it out after his wife died? In fact, Harry didn't really know how long she had been dead. Actually, he knew utterly nothing about Tobias nor his family, other than the fact that he was somehow related to Harry's Potions Master. In any case, he hoped that their relationship wasn't good, and his teacher would never visit them or find out that Harry lived there.

After a quick shower, he put on his best clothes: almost undamaged trousers and a t-shirt, which had once belonged to Fred. The redhead had misplaced the clothes somewhere in the Burrow, and when they were found in Charlie's room, they were still in really good condition. They were too small for Ron, so Harry inherited them. Harry, of course, was thrilled because his clothes were increasingly unpresentable. The clothes he inherited from Dudley were from year to year bigger (his cousin grew twice as fast as he, both in widthways and height), so Harry was really grateful when Ron gave him clothes, which he outgrew. Despite that, they also were rather worn because the redhead wasn't their first owner; they had been in much better condition than things after Dudley.

Spinner's End was located between a river and a big, green park, which secluded the neighbourhood from the rest of town. It looked utterly like a slum. Houses were grey and unsightly. Children who were running around the street reminded him of himself from when he was little – dirty, unkempt, in worn t-shirts and sweats. Still, as opposed to him, they were laughing and playing with each other. Had never had any friends. On the playground located at the centre of the park, instantly he could tell apart little habitants of Spinner's End from the others – the children from good homes: fashionable, colourful and clean dressed. One could also differentiate them from their behaviour. Some were playing completely carelessly, not knowing hunger or fear. The others behaved like they would experience short moments of happiness, then came to the grim reality—the view of the seemingly happy children playing distressed Harry a bit.

He sat at the farthest from the playground swing set, located under the vast, rank weeping willow, and he looked around. Harry noticed a couple of teenagers around his age passing by. He observed their style of clothes. The boy felt a little stupid inspecting them like that, but he wanted to know what stuff he should buy after the twins sent him the money. Harry wanted to be able to blend in. Sitting alone, he was overcome by such emptiness as usually felt at Little Whinging.

After a while, he came back home and decided to cook dinner. Harry wanted to make Tobias glad that the man took him in. The teenager was going to show him that he was useful. Perhaps Tobias would even like him a little as just Harry, not only because he thinks that they are related. The teenager wanted to show his best side. Maybe then… Maybe even if Tobias discovered the truth, he would let him stay. Harry shook his head, not wanting to think about it.

He decided to prepare vegetable soup from things which he found in the fridge. Years of cooking at the Dursleys meant that he could prepare almost everything. After he'd eaten a little, he lay down on the couch and turned on the TV. At the Dursley's, such behaviour would be inconceivable. In that house, he was an unwanted freak whose company was undesired. When he was alone, he wasn't allowed to waste electricity just to watch TV by himself. Here, on the other hand, this didn't seem to be the case yet.

A few hours later, Tobias came home with two co-workers. Both of whom were well built. The first one was blond and of average height, and the second one was taller with ginger hair.

"Harry, meet Ralf and Sam, my good buddies," said Tobias. None of them were sober.

"Uh… Hi."

"Who's that? You didn't mention that you had a kid," said the taller one named Sam.

"That's 'coz Eileen gave him up, and now I've got to take care of him," burbled Tobias. "Harry, go upstairs and study something."

"It's the holidays," pointed out the teenager.

"So, go out, find some friends, or go to sleep and don't disturb us ‘coz we're gonna talk 'bout important stuff," Tobias responded.

"Yeah, like how our fucking boss is the cheapest bitch in town," interjected Ralf tipsily.

"I made dinner; maybe I can put some on the table for you guys?" asked Harry, wanting his efforts to be noticed by Tobias.

"No thanks, the boss provides us with dinner. You'd think that he dived into his own pocket! Not a chance. He's getting a tax break or somethin'," said Tobias

"Geez, Tobias, you've got him trained; maybe we'll exchange," laughed Ralf.

Harry turned red with embarrassment.

"Yeah, for now, he's good, and if he starts to be a lil' bitch I'll chasten him." Tobias turned to Harry and added: "And you were due to be runnin' along."

Harry nodded and went upstairs, deciding to go to sleep.

He was tired, not physically, but emotionally. He wasn't going to bother himself with the fact that his plan with dinner had fallen through or Tobias' comment about chastening him because Harry was going to behave perfectly, so the man wouldn't have any reason for that. Before he went to bed, he turned the mattress to the other side, hoping that it would be more comfortable that way.

HPHPHPHPHP

Sunday, July 2nd 1995

Harry was woken up by tapping on the window. He rose from the bed and noticed two owls sitting on the window sill. The first had a letter tied to its leg and the second a package. He opened the window to let the birds in, and then he untied the parcels and gave the owls some water and treats. He was almost about to open the letter when he heard Tobias calling him from downstairs.

"Harry, come here!"

"Five minutes!" he shouted back.

He was almost sure the letter was from Sirius and couldn't wait to read it.

"Now, damn it!"

Harry sighed heavily. Reminding himself that he'd promised to be obedient so that the man won't kick him out, the boy decided it was too early to make any kind of trouble.

"I'm coming!" he shouted, once more looking at the letters with a wishful glance before turning around and rushing downstairs, jumping down two steps at a time.

He spotted Tobias lying on the couch alongside empty vodka bottles and dirty dishes in the living room. The smell wasn't pleasant. Harry made a face but decided not to comment.

"Yes?"

"When I call you, you'd better in here in a sec," the man snapped. "Not five minutes, not a moment. Now! Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry," Harry answered, swearing inwardly at his stupidity. "Won't happen again."

"Better not," said Tobias, seeming a little appeased.

"Is there something you wanted?"

"Go to the store and buy three cans of beer for me. Make sure they're already chilled." As an afterthought, he added:

"And something to eat. If you want, you can buy yourself a chocolate bar. Money's in my jacket. Only hurry up... I've got a headache."

"Caused by alcohol?" asked Harry.

"You know the hair of the dog. Go!" snapped the man.

At the store, Harry was surprised that he didn't have problems buying alcohol. A new supermarket had been built nearby, and the smaller shops, wanting to survive, didn't really concern themselves with how they got business. Selling alcohols to minors was bringing in a tidy profit, especially in a neighbourhood like this one.

Harry came back, put away the shopping, made a cheese sandwich, and hurried to his room to finally read the letters that had arrived in the morning.

"Dear Mr Potter,

Regarding the latest events, which took place in June, I would like to offer you training. You can also count on any help you may require. If you are interested, I propose a meeting at St. Stephen's Tavern in London, at a date and hour of your convenience in the following week. As this area is near Buckingham Palace, it is the area one cannot appearate to, and portkeys do not work there either, so you don't have to be afraid.

I look forward to hearing from you

Best regards,

Ghost"

Harry's eyes went wide with astonishment, which made them look almost comically big as his face was much too skinny, to begin with. There was a possibility that the letter was a trap, but on the other hand, he really needed additional training. He hadn't ever had a good teacher in the defence, with the exception of Professor Lupin, who taught more about creatures and how to incapacitate them than about fighting Death Eaters. Dumbledore seemed as if he didn't care about the deplorable state of Defence education at Hogwarts. Most certainly, he could employ some Auror or one of his acquaintances who was at least competent in this field. Most fourth years were better than Lockhart had been. Dumbledore knew that the man had been stealing memories and selling them. He hadn't had any qualms about it. How could the headmaster let him work in the school? Lockhart didn't know anything about defence, and so he certainly couldn't teach it. And there was also the strong possibility that he was casting Oblivates on the students, which of course, nobody would remember. The next example of a worse than the horrible teacher was Quirrell, who had Voldemort on the back of his head. At least Barty Crouch Junior had taught them something. If not for the little detail that Harry almost having gotten killed because of him, he would have been one of the best teachers. And that was saying something.

Potter hoped that now, after Voldemort had come back (he flinched when he thought about the circumstances of how that happened), Dumbledore would come to his senses and hire a proper DADA's teacher. Maybe he would even organize some additional lessons. Harry glanced one more time at the piece of parchment in his hand. He knew that he shouldn't agree, even though practising magic during the summer was a very tempting proposition. The defence was his favourite subject, and he learned those spells very quickly and without much effort. He hadn't had to put even half of the work into it, unlike how he did in Transfiguration, for example. He was also very curious, but he decided not to take the risk, despite his instinct (which was rarely incorrect) prompting him to make the other decision. He took out clean parchment and wrote:

Mr Ghost

Thank you for your offer, but unfortunately, I have to decline. To be honest, I don't know you, and your precautions didn't really convince me. I don't know if that anti-appearating area really exists, and I am not able to inspect it.

Best regards,

Harry Potter

He was proud of himself. He knew that he often didn't make such sensible decisions. He noticed that his words sounded a little discourteous, but he ignored it and tied the letter to the owl's leg.

Next, he opened the package. It was from the twins. There were a letter, money and some other strange things.

Dear co-owner of our micro corporation,

We are sending you the money you requested. We are really grateful for your financial support. You saved us a couple of years of work in which we would have had to gather capital for a start. That's why it would be only fair if you have a thirty-three per cent share in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. We're going to send you the prototypes of our products, too.

Don't even think about refusing, because otherwise, we will disrupt your peaceful… eee… okay, maybe not so peaceful, life at Hogwarts into one with even less peace (with the help of our gadgets).

In the box, there are:

Extendable Ears – for eavesdropping.

Two Self Inking Quills – We hope that it will help people to be able to read your messy messages writing.

And our newest stuff. For now, it's only a prototype in the testing phase: Communicational Parchments. We've got one half, and you have the other. You write the message on the green one, and we'll see what you wrote on the blue one. And it works the same way when we write something to you. For now, after you've written on all of the parchment, you have to throw them out (or better – to burn them so somebody undesirable won't find them). We're in the process of trying to make them reusable. We also want them to be able to connect with more than one person.

Once again, thanks, Co-owner of our business. If you have an idea about some new product, then don't hesitate to write to us.

Take care!

Gred and Forge

Besides Ron and Hermione, the twins were Harry's most favourite people at Hogwarts. Sometimes he had the impression that they treated him more like a brother than they did to Ron. He was probably the only person around them that didn't fall prey to their pranks, and they had yet to humiliate him. The twins only sometimes teased him a little, but never in a mean way.

He took the parchment and decided to try it at once.

'Hello', he wrote 'Do you see this?'

For a couple of minutes, nothing happened, then suddenly the blue piece of parchment twinkled, and slowly words began to show.

'Yes, we do. Glad that you've got our package and that our super product is working well.'

'What's up? Everything's alright? Have you heard something new about Voldemort? What is he doing? Have you heard anything about his plans?'

'Aaaa! Harry, those are the scariest nine letters that we've read in our whole life. Don't write it ever again!'

'I told you to stop that; it's just a word', responded Harry rolling his eyes.

'Easy for you to say, but let's not waste the parchment on that. Dumbledore is at the Burrow now. He told us not to send you any owls because they could be intercepted.' Harry got annoyed reading that. 'Fortunately, we've got these communicators, so we don't have to worry about intercepting the state secrets, which are everything that the Boy-Who-Lived says. Nobody is able to fake your scrabbling'.

'Very funny. But straight to the point, what do you know?'

'Did you hear that Dumbledore was gathering the old crowd? They call themselves the Order of the Phoenix; they fight against Death Eaters. You-Know-Who lies low and gathers supporters. He's taking advantage of the fact that the Minister denies his return.

And how are YOU? We hope you aren't beating yourself up over what happened at the Third Task, too much? We've told Dumbledore that you are too emotional to leave alone, especially at the Dursley's, but he didn't agree to let you come to the Burrow. You know, technically, he is just the headmaster and shouldn't have any say in where you stay during the summer. If anything happens, write to us, we are seventeen now; we will help you no matter what.'

Harry really felt grateful, and for a moment, he deliberated over whether he should tell them about his current position. He was sure that they would never betray him.

'I'm fine. There were a lot of changes, but I will tell you when we will meet. There is not enough parchment at the moment.'

'You would say that you're fine if you were on the bed dying. We hope that those changes are for the better at least?' The message showed up after a moment.

'Yes, they are,' Harry wrote.

'We've got to go, mom's been calling us for 5 minutes, and you know how she is. Take care of yourself, Harry.'

'See you.'

Annoyed a little by the headmaster, who wanted Harry to be alone AND without any information, he went to take a shower.

He thought once more about Ghost's letter, but he knew that meeting him would be irresponsible. He put on his clothes and went downstairs.

Tobias has been up already with a beer in his hand. He was cleaning up after yesterday's guests.

"Harry, it's good that you are here already. I was just going to call you," said Tobias when he saw him standing on the doorstep to the living room. "Take your stuff to the basement."

"What?" asked a surprised Harry, flinching a little. So, it's going to be the same as the Dursleys after all, he thought.

"Take every one of your things that are strange to the basement." Tobias put an accent on the word 'strange'. "Your mother had a room there where she kept her preternatural things, just in case somebody came to visit us. Your ministry is trying to hide magic, right?"

"Oh… Okay," said Harry, although it seemed entirely pointless for him. He didn't know anyone here and didn't think that Tobias' friends would come into his room.

"You'll find there some of Eileen's old stuff. You can look through them. I chased away Severus before he could get the things out of there, but with some, he succeeded. I told him that I would inform your government about him if he touched anything else.

"Severus?" asked Harry, even though he already knew exactly who Tobias refers to.

"Yes. Don't you know? I have an older son." The man's face darkened. "He's such a wimp. It seemed that he had some problems with your ministry because as soon as I threatened him, he went white and didn't show up again.

"But why did you need those things for?" he asked, terrified that his teacher was Tobias' son. At least it was a low possibility that the Potions Master would ever show up here.

"Nothing, but I said that if he cleared off and didn't show any appreciation that we raised him up, he won't get anything. Go now. We'll talk later."

Astonished, Harry went upstairs for his things. He had another piece of proof that this adoption was one big, fat lie. Harry Potter being a brother of Snape was impossible. He flinched at that horrible thought.

Every magical item except the invisibility cloak, photo album, and his wand was thrown into the trunk. He carefully pulled a heavy chest down the stairs, careful not to let it slip down.

At first glance, one could see that the basement wasn't visited by anyone too often. In every corner, there were thick spider webs. The walls were bare and dirty. On the floor lay plenty of things that nobody was using anymore and old furniture thrown here without any order. On the opposite side of the room was the door. Guessing that it led to the room where his current guardian stored memorabilia of his late wife, he entered without hesitation. There weren't any windows, so he searched for a light switch, found one, and turned it on. The room was as dingy as the rest of the house, but unlike in the other spaces of the house, Harry could feel the magic in the air. He noticed that there were only a handful of books left on the shelf; Snape must have gotten away with most of them. Opening the cupboards, he saw that they were full of potions ingredients. Some were dry and seemed to be alright, but the others were covered in mildew and white fuzz. Seeing this, Harry made a disgusted face.

On the table lay two cauldrons, one pewter and the other was silver. A couch was located in front of the door, and in the corner was a black trunk with a silver snake engraved on the lid. He approached it and tried to get it opened, but it wouldn't budge for him. Not seeing anything else worth looking at, he went back upstairs.

He decided to help Tobias cook dinner and clean. There was a pleasant ambience while they worked. Tobias told him a little about the neighbourhood and some stories about his friends living nearby. There was just one thing that disturbed Harry a little—when they finally sat down to eat, Tobias had already finished his third beer.

"What happened to your wife?" asked Harry boldly.

"Your mother?" Harry barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes, astonished at how the man could be so naïve. "She died not long after your birth. And I had to pay for the funeral even though she left me.

"Oh." Harry considered how to direct the conversation to the subject of the Potions Master to find out something more about their relationship. "And from then on, you lived alone?"

He must have formulated the question incorrectly because he heard:

"No. I've had a couple of women who lived with me. Of course, not all at once," he added, clearly pleased with himself.

Harry winced; he preferred not to know that bit of information.

"And why..." Harry looked down at his hands. "Why did you give me away?" He asked hesitantly, suddenly feeling nervous. His stomach clenched. He was so sure Tobias wasn't his father, but anyway, he was still afraid to hear the answer. What if ... Was it possible?

"Eileen gave you up after she left me. And I? It's not like I could take care of an infant and work at the same time. It wouldn't work. I couldn't afford a baby-sitter."

Harry looked up at Tobias, but the man did meet his eyes. However, even then, Harry noticed the slight tension in his shoulders and something in the eyes. Regret? Or maybe shame? He was not sure.

"Eileen died soon after, and I… knew you'd be better off in a full family."

'So, was there really a possibility that he was adopted? Or was Tobias talking about some other child?' wondered Harry.

"And how is your relationship with Sna… uh, Severus?" the Gryffindor faltered a little.

"Why do you ask?"

"I'm curious. I'd like to know if I have to prepare myself for his visit in the future."

He had to be sure that the Head of Slytherin would never visit his father, and if he did, Harry had to make sure to be absent.

"I don't have any contact with him. Your brother is an ungrateful, arrogant bugger" Harry, with an effort, stopped himself from smiling, feeling a small satisfaction. Snape had called Harry those words on numerous occasions. "He moved out when he was eighteen. He lives nearby, though. Sometimes I meet him in the shop or when I'm out. I took care of him for years, paid for his school, and he pretends that he doesn't know me," complained Tobias. "Perhaps I made some mistakes with him, but that doesn't entitle him to completely ignoring me, don't you agree?" he continued. "I hope that when you grow up, you won't flake out on me."

"Yeah, of course, " he assured him, feeling horrible that he was so cynically cheating the man. He was still unsure of his relationship with the man. "I didn't know the school had to be paid for?" added after a moment.

"Of course, it does. D'ya really think food is free? What 'bout teachers' salaries? Teaching aids?" Tobias opened another can of beer, and his speech seemed sloppier.

"Oh…"

Harry was sure that the Dursleys didn't pay for him. The money had to come from his vault in the Gringotts.

Or from some special fund for the Children-Who-Lived, he thought bitterly.

Of course, he hoped that the former was true. He didn't want to be in debt to someone. Also, he didn't like to be treated like someone special.

Besides that, payment for the school had to be the reason for the Weasleys' poverty. It wouldn't be hard to save some money while the children were away at school because, for nine months, no one but Mr and Mrs Weasley lived at the Burrow.

"And speaking of which, how do you like your school?" asked Tobias.

"It's really great. I love Hogwarts. You know it's like the home I've never really had."

"But now you have" Tobias smiled at him, showing crooked yellow teeth.

"Yes," Harry smiled back stiffly. It would be nice to have a place which he could call home. But this one, unfortunately, did not belong to him. He really loved Hogwarts but always wanted to have somewhere where he could be back at Christmas or holidays, just like his friends.

"D'ya have any friends? Your brother wasn't well-liked at school. Even now, I don't think that he has many friends, at which I'm not surprised."

Harry would appreciate it if Tobias stops calling the Potions Master his brother. It was rather irritating. The greasy git as his brother? Brrr. He shuddered inwardly. He didn't even want to think about it.

"Of course, I have. Ron and Hermione are my best mates. They're great. We do almost everything together. With Ron, we usually play chess or Quidditch. He is a huge fanatic; he could talk all day about his favourite team," Harry smiled, thinking about the obsessive redhead. "Hermione, on the other hand, is the bookworm type. She is always nagging us to do our homework and study," he finished rolling his eyes.

"How does she 'nag' you?" the man asked, annoyed. "You aren't able to start studying by yourself and need some wench to force you to do your homework?"

Harry didn't know what to say. He didn't want to lie, but he also didn't want to make Tobias angry at him. He knew that he wasn't the best in class. He was rather mediocre, especially with History. If not Hermione, he would barely pass. Anyway, it wasn't Tobias' business.

"It's not like she's forcing us." It was partly true; if he really didn't want to, he wouldn't write his essays. It was not like she held them under Imperius. "She just doesn't stop talking about homework and books.

"While we're on the subject, how are your grades?

"Fine…."

Most of his grades were Acceptable. The fact that he has a Dreadful in Potions, and in History, he barely had a Poor, wasn't too important. Besides, it was commonly known that Snape wouldn't give him anything better, even for a million galleons. He did get two Exceeds Expectations in DADA and Care of Magical Creatures. Besides, it's not like he couldn't do the spells; he just didn't think that theory was really worth wasting time on. His grades were his business.

"Just fine? In that case, you should try harder. I'm not going to let you embarrass me. If you have to go to that school, I want top marks. Not like Severus. Some quarterly letters were so bad that he was scared to show himself at home. But I taught him a lesson a couple of times, and his grades improved.

"What quarterly letters? Was Snape a bad student?" asked Harry.

Maybe that was the reason he took it out on them in Potions.

Perhaps he gets his own back on them for his fiascos. In his head appeared an image of Goyle with greasy hair and hooked nose and an exploding cauldron. Harry sneered a little. Okay, maybe he is taking it too far. It pained him to admit it, but he had to grant that as ugly as he is, Snape wasn't obtuse; he was even the opposite. Maybe he was lazy? Harry was sure that Severus was very good at Defence, Potions, and Herbology. Considering that he was a Potions Master and wanted to teach DADA, Snape obviously wasn't bad at these subjects. He had to be poor at other ones.

"The letters containing the child's grades, progress reports, and behaviour are sent in December, March, and June. Yours should be here soon, probably at the same time as book lists. As to Severus' marks, they weren't the worst but certainly didn't suffice. He was always looking for excuses. You know, he was blaming others. Once somebody had stolen his homework before lessons, so that he couldn't turn it in, other time he had been cursed, so he wasn't able to go to classes. I'm sure he was lying just to get away scot-free." Tobias pondered for a moment. "I think the worst was History and Numerology. Eileen told me that Arithmancy is something like Mathematics. That dunce could do better. He was just lazy and ungrateful. After all the hard work we had to do to pay for his education, and he didn't give a shit about it. That was the last time he got such bad grades. After that, he tried a little harder. You see, with a boy like him, you have to use an iron hand. His mother always defended him and connived too much, so he got lazy. Yes, the fourth year was the last time he got such lousy grades.

Harry gulped. What if Harry's marks are worse? He really didn't want to be grounded for the rest of his life. He was sure that Snape had had to sit in his room for the entire holiday and study. At least it wasn't in a cupboard, and probably he got some food.

"The Dursley's didn't mention anything about any letters."

"From what I can see, you are a really polite boy. I'm sure that you got good grades, and you didn't make any trouble." Harry really doubted that. They probably just burnt them without even reading them. "But how else did you imagine the school communicated with parents? Parents have to know what's happening to their children throughout the year. Although it's still ridiculous that you are allowed to come home only three times a year. "

The rest of the day, Harry spent with Tobias. The man taught him how to play poker, and then they watched TV. It was a really good day. But somewhere in his mind, there was still little thought that it was all just a lie. He tried to banish the thought, but it was rather fruitless.

 


 

 

 

To be continued...
Chapter 3: Oasis, Roo and Pele by Luna Carmesi

 

Monday, July 3rd 1995

He was once again at the cemetery, bound tightly to the tomb of Tom Riddle Senior. Before him, the unmoving body of Cedric Diggory hovered in the air. The pale face was only a couple of inches from his own, and the dead, emotionless eyes stared at him numbly, petrifying him so badly that he couldn't avert his eyes.

Harry woke up in a silent scream, face beaded with sweat. He sat up quickly in bed, gasping for air.

It was just a dream, he was repeating inwardly, trying to calm himself despite knowing that it wasn't true. The sense of guilt was eating him alive. If only he hadn't been so stubborn that day and hadn't insisted on sharing the cup... he shook his head hard, trying to eradicate painful thoughts.

Harry went to the bathroom, took a shower, got dressed and decided to go to the department store, located in the town centre. That day, he would have his first football practice, which Tobias had signed him up for. Harry wanted to show up looking his best. He knew that in the clothes he actually owned, he probably looked like an incurably criminal boy, just as the Dursleys had always said. He knew that it was a little shallow because clothes do not make the man, but first impressions are essential.

Besides that, even though Harry felt it was a little foolish, he was scared of not being picked up by any team. He remembered how humiliated he was in primary school while being left out, standing in the middle of the field and staring at his shoes. He was aware that there was no Dudley here, so nobody would browbeat his peers into staying away from him, and nobody would measure him by a tower of lies spread by the Dursleys. However, he still hadn't had any guarantee that the teenagers here would accept him. Though he was sure that the more similar he was, the more accepted he would be.

He took the bus into town, and when he entered the department store, he felt intimidated by the number of small boutiques. Despite that the area was as big as Hogwarts, it didn't give him any sense of security. At school, dimness prevailed, meaning that he could easily blend with the crowd of students in black robes or hide in some shadowed corner in the hall. Here everything was bright and spacious, with glazed lifts and shop fronts, making him feel vulnerable, as though not sheltered with anything. From every side, he was on display. Besides, he'd never been to such an elegant and modern place, and he felt that he didn't fit in there. Barely in the entrance, a security guard fixed him with a glare, looking at him as contemptuously as though he would throw him out in a moment. Fortunately, the man didn't say anything, and Harry was grateful for that.

He entered the first shop where typical teenage clothes were hanging in the window display. However, when he got inside, he was overwhelmed by the enormous amount of choices. Harry wasn't sure where to start or even if there was a place to try clothes on, but luckily, a young saleslady offered to help. He told her that all of his things had burned in a house fire and asked her to pick everything out for him. Nearly everything she gave him to try on was loose fitting. He would have thought that after years of wearing Dudley's old enormous rags that he would have enough of it and would choose something tighter. These clothes weren't overly large like Dudley's though, it was just the style. At least it would give him a chance to hide his bony frame.

According to the saleswoman, if he wore something close-fitting, he wouldn't fit in as much. After he'd paid for the new wardrobe (which had killed his wallet), they gave him a cap because he'd purchased so much.

Afterwards, he went to find a shop with eyeglasses. He picked up the cool ones with rectangular frames, and it just so happened that he was able to see better in these than in his old ones without even seeing the eye doctor. He asked at the counter for contact lenses with the same prescription, thinking that these would help him play both Quidditch and football better.

Back at home, it took Harry nearly an hour to get the contact lenses in. He cursed the entire time, wondering what had possessed him to buy them and try to dig them into his eyes. When he finally got the lenses in, though, he didn't feel them at all. He quickly got dressed in his new clothes, took the new backpack, put on the baseball cap and looked in the mirror. He was pleased with the effects of the metamorphosis. Thanks to the cap and lack of glasses, he thought it would be hard to spot him as Harry Potter at all in a crowd. At least he wouldn't have to be afraid of being recognised in public. He smiled a little and went out for practice. It was only for o'clock, and the field wasn't that far away from where they were, as Tobias had said. He still wanted to be there a little early.

After a guard showed Harry to the changing room, he found two boys sitting inside on a bench. Both of them were big and well built. The tall blond boy was putting a t-shirt on, and the second boy, who was eating a hot dog, had a tattoo on his arm and a black eye. Harry's stomach grumbled at the sight of the hot dog. He'd forgotten to eat today because he'd been too absorbed in his thoughts and task of getting ready. Now he was starting to realise just how hungry he really was.

"Bon appétit!" he said politely, although the other boy didn't look like he knew what manners were. He definitely wasn't Hermione's type.

"And why the fuck do you care?" spat the bald one.

"Cut it out, Oasis. Can't you behave? Don't you see that the guy is new?" The blond boy gave him a dressing-down and then turned to Harry. "I'm Roo, and this is Oasis. Don't mind that idiot. I don't know who released him." He held out his hand to shake Harry's.

"Just you watch it, boy!" the bald one snapped at him, making Roo roll his eyes.

"I'm Harry," he took his hand.

"What d'ya want in here?" asked Oasis, eyeing him.

"I'm here for football practice," he responded.

"Aren't you too young? How old are you anyway?" he asked sceptically.

"Enough," chafed Harry. It seemed that it would be hard to find some pleasant company this summer. "Is there any age restriction?"

"Don't blow smoke up my ass; you've got to be at least fourteen to be on the team."

"Well, I'm almost fifteen, thank you very much," said the agitated young wizard.

"Yeah, right," replied Oasis shaking his head.

"So, you're on our team?" asked Roo.

"I guess. The guard showed me this changing room," answered Harry, and he turned and started getting changed.

"Aren't you beefy?" Oasis said sarcastically with a laugh, scrutinising him. "Don't they feed you at home?"

Harry blushed and quickly changed his t-shirt. It's not like he could do anything about his appearance.

"At least I'm not a tub of lard," he said, thinking about his cousin.

True, he was often hungry as a child, but he would rather be hungry than look like Dudley.

"Wow, so sarcastic," Oasis mocked.

"Who are you from," Roo changed the awkward topic, noticing the embarrassment of the new boy, who really looks malnourished.

"What do you mean, 'who am I from'?"

"How did you get here, who signed you up for this team, or easier: who in your family works at East Build?" said Roo, once again rolling his eyes.

"Father." This word really did sound strange in his mouth. Despite that, he had to pretend even here. "Tobias Snape."

"That... he's been fucking my aunt. That makes us almost cousins, doesn't it?" said an amused Oasis. "I didn't know that he had a second kid."

Harry widened his eyes at him, disgusted. He didn't see anything funny in that.

"I didn't know that he had the second son either," he repeated, deciding not to comment on the first part of the bald boy declaration.

"How could you not know it?" wondered Roo.

"It's complicated. Are you also children of workers?" he asked, trying to avoid any more conversation about his fake family ties.

"Yeah, but you know I'm just a common plebeian, and this is a fat cat. You know... The supervisor's son," said Oasis.

"Back off," said Roo.

Just then, some more boys entered the changing room. One of them approached Harry, Roo and Oasis. He was a slant-eyed, grinning boy. With a little irritation, Harry noticed that he was also taller than him by a head.

"Hiya, guys! What's up!" asked a hoarse voice.

"Hiya, we're good. This is Harry. He'll be on the team. "

"Hi." Harry held his hand.

"Wotcher! Call me Pele." He reached out and shook his hand. "Are you any good? What's your placing? What's your favourite team?" At once, Harry associated him with Ron, but instead of Quidditch, it was football.

"Whoa, slow down a little." laughed Roo.

"I haven't played for several years, and I don't have any favourite team. I'm cheering for the representation," Harry said evasively. He didn't want to acknowledge that he just knew a couple of team names and nothing about players.

"Of course, the patriot, But I'm telling you, Manchester is the best. Just in the last year, they beat Ipswich Town nine to null! And Andy Cole scored five goals alone! It was awesome!

Roo rolled his eyes; it seemed his habit, and firmly said: "Okay, guys. Let's go; we're starting soon." Then he added quietly, so only Harry could hear: "I had to stop him, coz he can talk like that for hours."

Fortunately, Harry's fear that he would be left alone in the field didn't come true because the coach was choosing teams. The captain of one group was Oasis, which had Roo, Pele and four other guys. The captain of the second—where Harry had landed—was Dredd, a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy.

"You, Dolly," Dredd pointed at him. "Have you ever played football?" he asked doubtfully.

"A couple times," mumbled Harry, displeased that he called him that way.

"What's your placing?"

"I don't know. We're just kicking a ball." To be honest, Harry didn't have any idea even what kinds of placing there were. He was also aware that he was looking more and more like an idiot.

"Okay, you'll be on left defence. Try not to fuck up too much," told him the irritated captain.

Fortunately, later Harry showed everyone what he could do. After the first half, Dredd decided that Harry should be on the left-wing because of his outstanding speed, helping at both attack and defence. Even though his technique wasn't good, the coach and the captain, who really wanted to beat Oasis, were pleased with Harry's skill.

"Well, despite that pretty face of yours, you don't play like a sissy," Dredd said as they walked down the field.

Harry didn't know if that was an insult or a compliment, so he just answered: "Thanks, I guess."

"Shortie, you're not bad," Oasis congratulated him as he, Roo and Pele approached Harry.

"Thanks," Harry turned to them.

"Don't tell me that you're mixed up with those dropouts from Spinner's End," jeered Dredd.

"Watch out what you are talking, or I'll curry that pretty face, you faggot," snapped Oasis,

"Don't you see? Such low class. He can't even talk properly," Dredd said condescendingly.

"I just met them today, and I think they're alright," Harry said hesitantly.

"Alright? Everybody knows that his old man got out of the can two years ago and now guzzles everything, and his mother had to become a whore, so she could buy him some second-hand clothes.

At Dredd's comment, Oasis, who despite his name wasn't an oasis of serenity, fell on Dredd with his fists.

"Stop that, whelps!" shouted the obese guard, who was making his rounds. He ran to the boys and started to pull them apart, and after a moment, the coach joined him.

"Have you already started?!" shouted the coach. "We haven't even begun the season yet, and you're already acting like you want to be kicked out? One more warning, and I'll call your fathers. And tomorrow, you'll start the practice with fifteen laps, and I'm going to count them. Run along!

When the guard and coach walked away, Dredd spoke up again.

"You aren't going to round with these paupers?" He asked Harry.

It seemed that life was never going to be easy for Harry. Why couldn't people just stop fighting with each other? Already, Harry was being forced to choose between the two boys despite the fact that he had only known these people for just two hours. This situation was already beginning to resemble his first trip on the Hogwarts Express.

"You know, I really don't care if somebody has or doesn't have money or who their parents are," responded Harry. It was true. Living with Dursleys, Harry never had a penny. He grew up believing that his mother was a whore, and his dad a drunk. Even though he wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of befriending Oasis because of the boy's attitude, Harry didn't want to be a hypocrite, that's why he added: "So no, I don't see any reason not to hang out with them."

'At least Pele and Roo are pleasant enough, ' Harry thought.

"Of course. Just don't get surprised when that numbskull will steal your flash shoes and flog them at some fair. Just like his father would." Dredd didn't wait for the response; he just turned around and went away.

"I hate that asshole," Pele made a face." Okay, so back to Manchester, did you hear that there's going to be an auction this Saturday? They will bid on the 1908 poster with the players on it. That's the year they won the championship for the first time. I wonder how much it'll be sold for."

Roo just shook his head while Oasis still stood with clenched fists and blood dripping from his chin.

"You know Shortie, all in all, you're alright," said Oasis as he turned towards Harry.

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After coming back home, Harry wasn't surprised to see Tobias lying on the couch and holding a can of beer in hand.

"Hi, I'm back," he said, announcing his presence.

"A teacher from your school was here and left a letter for ya'," slurred Tobias pointing at the opened parchment laying open the coffee table.

"Why did you read my post!" shouted Harry, suddenly extremely irritated. After the episode with the Hogwarts letters at the Dursleys before his eleventh birthday, and then with Dobby, Harry couldn't stand it when somebody even touched his mail.

"Watch who you're talking to like that! I'm your father, and you have to respect me. I have every right doing whatever I want with your letters." He threw the letter at Harry. "Don't rattle my cage. Scram upstairs!" snapped the angry man.

"You don't have the right to read it! Haven't you ever heard about the right to private correspondence?!" Harry, simmering with anger, picked up his letter from the floor.

"I said, go upstairs, whelp! Don't make me stand up and make you, or you'll be very sorry," Tobias threatened but didn't move from the couch.

Harry turned around angrily and stalked up to his room, slamming the door. He had no idea how lucky he was that Tobias was too tired to react.

How dare he!

Harry kicked his desk in anger but soon regretted it when his foot throbbed in pain.

Nobody has any right to touch my letters!

He threw himself on the bed, but after a moment, he calmed himself. He angered Tobias over a stupid letter. He hoped that after this, Tobias wouldn't want to get rid of him. Harry didn't know what had gotten into him. Why couldn't he have kept quiet? Harry wouldn't dare talk like that to his Uncle Vernon. Although Harry remembered, he did jump on Uncle Vernon's back on the spur of the moment when his Hogwart's letters had come. His uncle had been so busy trying to hide the letters that he hadn't even punished him for that.

The Snape temper is probably hereditary, Harry thought. Tomorrow he would try to apologise to the man somehow. Well, only if the man gets back in a good mood and is relatively sober, though. Then Harry remembered his letter he still held in his hand. He had been so angry that he forgot all about it for a moment. On the envelope, his name was written in narrow, cursive writing.

"Dumbledore," whispered Harry and quickly opened the envelope.

Dear Harry,

I'm a little disappointed that you didn't write to me about the latest events. It was irresponsible of you. You haven't been protected in your new place of residence. You could get hurt if certain people found out about it. Of course, I wasn't sure if this whole affair was real, but I performed a paternity charm, and it showed very close family ties. Later on, Remus confirmed the entire story.

I'm thrilled that you finally found a home. I know that you've always wanted to leave the Dursleys. I hope that you will be happier now. This is your dream come true. You have a father and a brother now. I also entertain the hope that this will help improve your relationship with Severus.

Don't worry about your safety. I enclosed your new home in a one-kilometre diameter anti-magical field. Every person or thing located in this area will be prevented from performing magic inside the barrier. I also took some measures to hide your residence's address and the identity of your biological parents.

Please refrain from contacting your godfather or your friends. The owls could be captured, and you wouldn't want to endanger anyone, would you?

Have a lovely summer,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., D. Wiz., X.J.(sorc.), S. of Mag.Q.,

With every word that Harry read, he became paler. He couldn't believe that this was true. Have Professor Lupin, and probably Sirius as well, known about everything? Why had they hidden it from him?! He was furious with Dumbledore like never before. Dumbledore had known that the Dursleys hated him, and he didn't help him. And now, he had forbidden him from contacting his friends. Why should Dumbledore have any say in it anyway?

Moreover, it was confirmed now that Tobias was his father. All of his life, Harry has been living in a lie. Suddenly, he felt breathless. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't bear it in here any longer. He had to get out of here quickly. The teen ran down the stairs, out of the house, and ran as fast as he could. He didn't stop. He passed the park, the streets and finally came to a forest. After a while, all his strength left him. He fell to his knees and started crying as he never had before. Or at least he didn't remember it.

"I hate them, I hate all of them!" he yelled, sat down on the grass, hugged his knees with his arms and started to rock himself.

"Mum..." he moaned, but when he became aware that he didn't know which woman he was referring to anymore, Harry started crying even harder.

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Meanwhile:

"Severus, I'm glad that you're already here. Are you feeling well?" asked Dumbledore. Snape was paler than usual as he came into the office and fell into a chair.

"Yes, I'm alright," answered the Potions Master in a hoarse voice.

Their greetings were always like this after Severus returned from a meeting with Voldemort. They both knew that he wasn't really alright, but the headmaster didn't linger on the topic.

" You never say anything else. Do you have any news, Severus?"

"The Dark Lord wants the prophecy, but he won't go to the Ministry himself to get it as long as he isn't at his full power. He is also quite content with the Ministry denying his return. Fudge does everything that Lucius asks him to do."

"That's not good," the headmaster responded. "He'll want to use Harry to retrieve it. Only the two of them can touch it."

"You should tell him. That arrogant whelp will find out sooner or later, Snape snarled. Better from us then the Dark Lord. You know that he will seek information himself and almost get himself killed while doing so."

"I can't. Let Harry have some more of his childhood."

"Headmaster, he is spoiled, just like his father. Enough is enough. He's barely able to hold up that big head of his.

"Stop that, Severus. You know that it's not true. Harry isn't like James."

"Of course, he is just like his father. Lily was sensible and never spoke out to the teachers."

"James isn't his father," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling.

"Pardon?" Severus narrowed his eyes. "I really don't desire jokes at the moment."

"But it's true."

"Of course, the whelp is Potter's son. They could be twins!" Snape took a deep breath. The headmaster was still smiling. "Lily wasn't the type of woman who would cheat on her husband. Dear Merlin! Next, you'll tell me some farfetched tale about how Potter is my kid, Lily was my wife, and for the safety of her and the baby, she hid that fact and married Potter. Then she cast a charm on the brat so he wouldn't look like me, which will last only to his fifteen birthday, and you know it because she sent it to you with time-charm."

Dumbledore's eyes sparkled.

"I see that you have a very vivid imagination, Severus. You could become a writer. But back to the topic at hand, Lily and James adopted Harry. His mother gave him up the day he was born. As you know, the magical adoption of an infant leads to changes in some of the child's features to reflect that of both the adoptive parents, so Harry has Lily's eyes and James' hair.

"Forgive me, headmaster, this story is really captivating, but I'm rather tired," Snape sarcastically said. "I'm going to my quarters."

Rolling his eyes at the old man's antics, Severus turned around and left the office.

 

To be continued...
Chapter 4: Training by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
Thank you blackprincess92 and VAspera for beta this chapter!

Thank you for the reviews!

 

Tuesday, July 4th 1995

Severus Snape woke up with a headache.

'I'm too old for this,' he thought.

But he was well aware that it didn't matter what age one was; the Dark Lord's Crucio was unbearably painful. Voldemort really hadn't appreciated that the Potions Master hadn't come to the graveyard when he called, and the Dark Lord expressed his displeasure… painfully.

As a Potion's Master, he knew he shouldn't mix a potion for cell regeneration with a pain potion and Firewhiskey. Still, the day before was incredibly trying, and Severus really wanted to zone out as soon as he could. On top of all that, Albus had come up with some babble about Potter.

Lily. She was the sole reason he had sworn to protect the boy no matter what, and now the headmaster was trying to make him believe that the boy-who-lived wasn't her son. He had no idea why Dumbledore would lie about something like that, but it had to be a lie. Magical adoption didn't change character traits, and the whelp had definitely inherited James Potter's genes. He acted as arrogant and audacious as him. Potter strutted around Hogwart as though he owned the school. Maybe he wasn't as cruel as James, but he also had his sidekicks who were there to meet his every whim.

Severus pondered the possibility that Harry Potter wasn't a Potter at all. He shook his head, realizing the absurdity of his thoughts. Surely, somebody would have known about it. Black had to know if the boy was Potters'. It was blatantly obvious that Black loved the child and would do anything for him. Hell, he even broke out of the Azkaban for the boy. Severus didn't believe that Black would care about the child and be so dedicated to him if he knew he wasn't James' son.

'Unless…' continued Severus. 'Unless he's really Black's offspring and, until now, he hadn't informed anyoneBut that's absurd. Or maybe he's Regulus' child? The second Black brother's body was never found, and there wasn't really proof that he died.'

Severus decided to stop wasting his time wandering about Potter, Black and speculating about the true parentage of Harry Potter. His thoughts on the subject were becoming more and more outlandish.

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As usual, Severus spent the first days after the end of the school year completing student reports and documents. Today, he had to just pack up, and he finally could go home.

Not many people knew that Severus was a sentimental person. He didn't have too many positive memories, so the few he did have, he cherished. The man liked to surround himself with things that evoked pleasant memories. That's why when he'd found out that the old Evans' house was for sale after their death, he had to buy it. He'd done everything he could to take out a loan with Gringott's, and the week after, the house was his.

Of course, Severus didn't know whether or not he would survive the war, so it was possible that he wouldn't pay off the entire mortgage. In that case, the ownership would transfer to the Goblins, but that didn't bother him as much because he didn't have anyone who would inherit it anyway.

And today, after many long months, he was going back there.

Many people would also be astonished if they heard that summer with all its sun and cheerfulness was his favourite season. However, the reason was not surprising at all. Of course, it had nothing to do with the sun or the nice weather. It was a more prosaic one: for two full months, he wouldn't have to deal with a bunch of bratty dunderheads and try to teach them anything. The men sighed; there was this one teenager whose company Severus will have to bear, but at least the boy was quite reasonable. Anyway, Severus could now brew potions all day in the seclusion of his own laboratory, read books, and just relax. He hoped that the Death Eaters' and Order's meetings would be rare as well.

'The Dark Lord took a vacation that lasted several years, so he will probably not go on another soon,' he thought bitterly.

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Curled in a small ball, Harry trembled from the cold. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was lying near a tree line from the forest, and the sun was beginning to rise. He sat up and rubbed his arms to warm himself a little. Then Harry remembered the incident from the day before with dread. He began to tremble harder. He hoped that Tobias didn't notice his disappearance because otherwise, Harry was sure that the man would punish him somehow. From what Tobias had been saying, Harry could fathom that he was rather strict with Snape, so he didn't reckon that it would be any different with him. Last evening, Tobias had been under the influence of alcohol. Harry could only hope for the one positive result from this; that he had slept all night and didn't notice Harry's absence.

It was still hard to accept that Tobias indeed was his father and, worse, his hated Potions Professor was his brother. All of it was so surreal. Harry knew he should be happy that he had another family alive who weren't the Dursleys. Still, he couldn't help but feel a little ambivalent about the whole thing. At least now, he didn't have to pretend anything, and Tobias won't throw him out because of lies. That was a relief for sure.

By the time Harry found his way back home, the sun had risen completely. At the door, he hesitated for a moment, afraid of Tobias' reaction. Eventually, he plucked up his Gryffindor courage and pushed open the door. It was unlocked from his distressed escape from the house the previous night. It didn't really matter one way or another as there was nothing in the house worth stealing anyway. He went into the kitchen and looked through the living room door. Tobias was still sleeping on the couch; on the coffee table beside him were a bunch of empty alcohol bottles. There were no changes from the day before. Judging from the fact that the man hadn't gotten up from the couch, Tobias had not noticed Harry's absence. Harry sighed with relief and went upstairs to his bed to sleep a little more.

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When he woke up later that day, it was afternoon. His stomach grumbled, and Harry realized that he hadn't eaten since Sunday evening. If Hermione was here, she would have bitten his head off. She was always nagging him about not missing too many meals at Hogwarts. But it wasn't his fault that he was rarely hungry and was full soon.

Harry went downstairs and made spaghetti. When he was finishing doing all the dishes along with those left by Tobias on the coffee table, the man came back home. Sober. Judging from the shopping bags, he had gone to the market after work.

"Hello, Harry! How are you?" asked, walking into the kitchen.

Tobias started putting food in cupboards. He took out a chocolate bar from the bag and gave it to Harry.

"Here you are. I bought it for you, 'coz you're too skinny. You can't say I've never bought anything for you," he laughed.

Harry was pleased. Not because of chocolate, but because his father remembered him and bought him something out of the blue. The boy smiled when he realized that Tobias was probably starting to care about him. If he didn't give a damn about Harry, then he wouldn't have thought about him during his shopping. The Dursleys had never spent a penny more than was necessary on him. He had never gotten anything from them unless you counted Uncle Vernon old socks, hangers, and old clothes from Dudley.

Of course, Tobias has his flaws. He drinks too much, he's short-tempered, and maybe he isn't as perfect of a father as Arthur Weasley, but Harry was grateful anyway for the opportunity he got. Harry knew that this arrangement was decisively better than the one he was in last summer. He was glad that his aunt found those adoption papers. Harry had now a place to call home, and he belonged to someone.

"Thanks, dad," he said, using the word for the first time. Tobias smiled a little, showing yellowish teeth.

"Have you eaten dinner yet?" the man asked.

"Yes, there are leftovers on the stove. I can heat it up for you if you want. I have some time before I have to go to training," Harry asked.

"No, thanks. I told you that we have dinners at work," said Tobias. "Tell me how the practice went yesterday. I hope that you aren't a substitute?"

"I don't know. The coach hasn't chosen the first line-up yet," said Harry, but when he noticed a slight frown on his father's face, he quickly added: "He told me that I'm fast and I scored a goal, so I think it wasn't bad."

"Good. I'm sure that Severus wouldn't even have been able to make the team. He's inept."

The boy couldn't agree with the sentiment. Harry could tell a lot about Snape, but he was sure that Snape was not clumsy. At Hogwarts, the Potions Master could be found by students unlucky to be caught by him, stalking the halls noiselessly at night. Snape seemed to move against all the laws of physics as he walked without sound.

Harry didn't express his opinion aloud, however. It was Snape, and Harry hated him more than the Dursleys. Indeed, his relatives had humiliated him, but usually, it wasn't in public. The professor seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from taunting Harry in front of all his classmates. Even Malfoy was bearable in comparison. Harry only hated one other more, and that was Voldemort. He had never been degraded like he was in Potions class. If it wasn't for his composure, Harry would have started crying in the class. In front of everyone! Sometimes, before the lesson, he had felt sick from the thought of the humiliation Snape would put him through. So right now, he wasn't going to defend his brother. It was an unwritten agreement between him and Ron to not defend Snape. On the other note, Harry did find it a little strange and in some ways disturbing that Tobias talked so negatively about his eldest son, but Harry didn't dwell on why.

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Training started with the coach lecturing them about their fight from yesterday. He talked about how violence is not the answer and that they should find other ways to solve their problems. The man also claimed that their training sessions weren't tiring enough because the boys still had enough energy to start fights, and he would arrange it so that they would be so tired to barely have the strength to walk home. After that, he told them to warm up - ten laps around the field, Dredd and Oasis had to do fifteen. Harry finished second. At first, he had a significant advantage ahead of everyone, but at the end, he was breathless and had to slow down. Pele, who ran all the time with the same pace, outran him without effort. When the wizard arrived at the finish line, he felt as if his lungs were going to burst! He really felt bad for those who had more laps.

The additional exertion turned out to be an effective method because Oasis and Dredd were only able to throw each other angry glares for the next two hours.

This time Harry was on Oasis' team, and just like the day before, he played well. He had two assists and scored one goal.

The only unpleasant incident was when Dredd tried to intercept a ball from Harry. The bigger teenager pushed Harry with his elbow while simultaneously managing to trip over his own legs and landing on Harry. Dredd's body covered the smaller teen's entire body, crushing him to the ground with his face only a few inches above Harry's, smirking nastily.

"Get off," snapped Harry trying to slide out from under the heavy body mass, knowing that he wasn't able to throw him off.

"Oy, Dolly! Don't get stroppy, I didn't deliberately bump into you," whispered the other teen, but his voice told Harry that it was the opposite. "By the way, you made a mistake yesterday, choosing that twerp."

Harry sighed with resignation, knowing already the day before that interceding with Oasis will have consequences. After a moment, when the rest of the team ran to them, and the coach whistled free-kick, Dredd let Harry get away.

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"Hey Shortie, are you coming with us to the sandbox?" asked Oasis, pointing at Roo, Pele, and two others boys who Harry hadn't spoken to yet: Duncan and Crochet.

"Where?" wondered Harry.

"To the sandbox. It's near the playground in the park. Right now, the kids are at homes, and the area is ours," explained the older boy.

Harry pondered for a moment. Tobias didn't tell him what time he expected him home, and Harry really wanted to be accepted by these teenagers.

"Yeah, I'll go," he decided.

Walking alongside the boys, who talked and laughed very loud, Harry observed them carefully. They were casual and relaxed with each other. They were careless like they hadn't any problems and didn't think about their future. As opposed to them, he was quiet and calm, but he hoped that in time, he too could relax a bit also. Here, he could be himself, and if they liked him, they did so because they liked his personality and not just because he was Harry Potter.

"Okay, guys, whip around," directed Oasis when they got there. The rest of them sat on the edge of a huge sandbox and on the bench located in front of it. Every one of them pulled out some change and gave it to him. Fortunately, Harry also had some pounds from the change left from shopping.

"Shortie, come with me; I'll introduce you to Mrs Maggie."

Harry nodded, agreeing.

Oasis began to call him Shortie since their first training session, and the others picked it up quickly as well. It wasn't that he hated the name, it was somewhat endearing, but it reminded him about his less than imposing height. He tried not to think about it much. Besides, giving nicknames was probably some custom here. Unlike in Hogwarts, where the only handles were insults like Mudblood or Ferret, nobody called others by their given names.

It turned out that the shop was only a couple of houses away from his home. He went much further for his last shopping trip.

"Afternoon, Mrs Neighbour," Oasis called out cheerfully to a saleswoman. It was a grey-haired, plump woman in her late fifties.

"More like a good evening, Noah," the woman answered, smiling. "What can I get you?"

"Six Strongbows and three big packets of crisps."

When Harry heard that, his eyes went wide. He was surprised that they will drink and make it worse—in a public place where everyone could see them. The last few days had shown him that alcohol had really negative effects on people's behaviour. He rather didn't want to try it.

"Maybe, you could show me some ID?" the woman spoke up with a disapproving tone of voice, fully knowing that he didn't have one.

"Mine?" asked the boy, with a mockingly hoarse voice, leaning on the counter. "Or my son?" He finished pointing at Harry.

The elderly woman just shook her head, putting the shopping on the counter and asked:

"Who is this young man?"

"It's Harry. Snape's son."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am," spoke up Harry for the first time.

"Likewise, sweetheart," she smiled at him, sizing him up. "Tell me, why are you consorting with this urchin?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer when Oasis spoke up:

"Okay, so as always, it was nice to talk to you, but we've got to go. The guys are waiting for us."

Then he paid, took shopping, and drew Harry by his sleeve to the exit.

"Goodbye," said the young wizard before he was pulled through the door.

HPHPHPHPHP

Harry was back at home before midnight. Despite their crude behaviour and a complete lack of manners, Harry had to admit that he liked the guys. They were quite funny when they talked or joked, sometimes about some absurd situations. Even when they were sparring, nobody huffed, and nobody took anything personally. He also changed his mind about Oasis, who was outwardly boorish and offensive but was really a decent guy and your opinion of him went up considerably once you knew him better. He was as tactful as Ron, but he was definitively more rude and vulgar. After they split up at the sandpit, Roo, Crochet, and Duncan went towards Reddish Road. Pele, Oasis, and Harry took the opposite direction—Spinner's End. At the beginning of the street was Pele's house. They stopped for a couple of minutes next to his door, so the slant-eyed boy could finish his story about Irwin's latest save.

"You know Shortie," Oasis started hesitantly when they were alone. "I'm nothing like my old man." It was the first time since the young wizard met him that his facial expression didn't express absolute self-confidence.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and said:

"Well, I didn't lie when I told you that I don't judge people because of how much money they have or who their parents are." He certainly didn't like it when people did that to him, which happened relatively often. He looked at Oasis, whose posture relaxed a little.

"Okay, but be careful around Dredd, he will try to get revenge 'coz you hurt his pride.

"Well, he is not first and not the least for sure. I'll be fine," returned Harry. Dredd was nothing compared to Voldemort. He'd be merely annoying, like Malfoy. He could deal with the snobbish blond, and he could deal with another here as well.

The bigger teenager raised his brows doubtfully but didn't say anything.

They split up next to Oasis' run-down bungalow, which was located alongside Mrs Maggie's shop.

Back at home, Harry went into the kitchen to make some tea for himself and was horrified when he saw what it looked like. The entire worktop was messy with something orange. In the sink was a pile of dishes, on the stove, dirty pans and pots. On the table were empty bottles, pegs, glasses, and flatware. The floor was covered with shoe prints. It seemed that Tobias invited some of his friends over when Harry was out. Disgusted, trying not to touch anything, he took a clean glass from the cupboard and made the tea. When he was walking to his room, he didn't notice oil spilt over the linoleum, and he slipped on it. The noise he made falling down back and breaking glass was really loud. He crouched and started gathering up the debris, but then Tobias stumbled to the kitchen and yelled madly:

"What the hell are you doin'?!"

Harry looked up and saw Tobias, who was wearing only loose trousers. His bare chest was well built and muscular. The man was approaching him angrily. Harry involuntarily drew back, but his father, after just two steps, was beside him, and with one hand, pulled him up by his hoodie to a standing position. Harry noticed with increased concern that it didn't take the man much effort. Then he slapped Harry's cheek. The shred of glass that the boy held fell out of his hand, hit the floor, and broke into smaller pieces.

"I'm sorry, I slipped!" Harry tried to explain as he became more and more fearful and confused. He tried to break loose from his father's grip, which apparently angered Tobias even more because he hit the boy the second time, but this time with his fist.

Harry tasted the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.

"I'm sorry! I really didn't mean it! Leave me alone!" asked Harry, frantically trying to get away from his outraged father.

"What the fuck! Can't you respect that I have to wake up early and go to work tomorrow morning?! I need the fuckin' money to keep you!" Tobias pushed him, and Harry went slamming into the wall. You have it too good in here, and you're doin' whatever you want! If you don't let others sleep, you won't sleep either! When I come downstairs tomorrow, everything better be clean. The whole house! Or else I'll belt your ass so heavy that you won't sit for the rest of summer!" Tobias finished threateningly. Then he added: "Do you understand? Everything better, be shinin'!" After seeing the boy nodding quickly, he let him go. And with that, the drunken man went back upstairs.

"Fuck," mumbled Harry when the man couldn't hear him anymore. He wiped the blood from his chin with his sleeve, and snuffling started cleaning.

 


 

To be continued...
End Notes:
And here are pictures of characters:
http://win-the-war-lunacarmesi.tumblr.com/tagged/What-do-the-characters-in-Win-the-War%3A-Consanguinity-look-like%3B)
Chapter 5: The Encounter by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
Thank you blackprincess92 and Vaspera for beta reading this chapter!
Also my Polish betas: justusia7850 and Jasmin Kain.

 

 

Thursday, July 6th 1995

Harry woke up just before midday. Once again, he had dreamt about the graveyard in Little Hangleton, but his dream had changed this time. He was walking down some hall, at the end of which was a closed door. When he approached the end, he immediately woke up with a prickling ache in his scar. Additionally, the whole left side of his face was strangely stiff. Then he remembered last night's incident. He was angry at Tobias that he hit him, but well, he shouldn't be so careless either. It is no wonder that the man was mad. If he woke up the Dursleys in the middle of the night and broke dishes, he would be locked in his cupboard or room for a week without food. Harry hoped that Tobias would forget it soon. The teenager knew that the man shouldn't lay a hand on him, especially that it wasn't his fault that the floor was slippery from the oil. Still, it didn't change the fact that he felt that the previous night's events could have been avoided. He decided he would be more cautious in the future. He didn't really feel like making Tobias mad at him. Until yesterday everything was really good. Harry would rather that they forget about last night or just pretend that they didn't happen at all.

He went to the bathroom to take a shower and, with great anxiety, looked in the mirror. His left cheek was purple-green, and his upper lip cracked and puffy. He felt embarrassed. He had to figure something out before the next football practise because he didn't want the guys to see him like this. Unfortunately, he also knew it would take at least a week for the bruises to disappear. He went downstairs, pulled out some ice from the freezer, wrapped it in foil, and put it on his hurt cheek. Then he went back to his room and lay on his bed. Maybe he would be able to brew ointment for bruises, but he didn't want to risk brewing potions in the house. He could picture how furious Tobias would be if he blows up the whole building. He snorted at that thought. Maybe he exaggerated a little. Blowing up cauldrons was Neville's speciality, and Harry rarely did that. Still, knowing his luck, it didn't mean that it wouldn't happen this time, though.

Maybe he should just look in the recipe book and see how unstable it would be to brew such an ointment? There was also the issue of Dumbledore's anti-magic barrier around his house. He didn't know exactly how it works. He wondered if it's inhibiting the effects of potions or their ingredients. Dumbledore's idea with his protection frustrated him a bit, but on the other hand, the barrier gave him some kind of comfort. It wasn't just Harry, who was unable to cast spells here, but in case of Death Eaters' attack, they couldn't do the magic as well, so he felt relatively safe. Besides, at least there was no chance for him to be kicked out of school for using magic as a minor.

HPHPHPHPHP

Harry rubbed his eyes and heard the increasingly familiar creak, which he was starting to associate with the opening of the front door. It seemed he took a nap because, when he looked out the window, the sun had already travelled to the other side of the house, and the ice Harry had placed on his cheek had long since turned to water.

A moment later, Tobias knocked on the door of his room. Harry took it as a good sign. He rather expected the man would barge in without any consideration for Harry's privacy. He hoped Tobias wasn't angry anymore.

"Come in," said Harry with a tense voice.

"Hi," the man greeted him and entered the small and poorly furnished bedroom.

"Hi," Harry returned.

"Harry, listen... Maybe I overreacted a little yesterday," the man muttered apologetically.

"Oh," replied the young wizard, looking at Tobias, who seemed a little remorseful.

"You know that I work hard, and I was tired. You woke me up in the middle of the night, and you know that I have to get up early in the morning, right?"

"Yeah," muttered Harry.

It was the first time an adult apologized to him for anything. It had never happened before, neither at the Dursleys nor at school, where the headmaster employed incompetent teachers because of whom Harry repeatedly came close to losing his life or, in case of Lockhart, memory. Snape had not even once apologized for humiliating him in class. No adult ever admitted a mistake.

"What do you say about going to the pizzeria? You know a father-son outing?" asked Tobias.

Harry agreed without a thought. He had never eaten pizza.

HPHPHPHPHP

Even though Severus Snape had moved from Hogwarts to Cokeworth two days ago, he didn't have time to unpack until now. The day before, he was making the house liveable after his half-year absence. However, that afternoon his presence was required at Grimmauld Place for the Order meeting. Of course, they didn't plan any action—so nothing new there. Albus decided that they should wait and observe. Just as Snape was heading back home, he got a call from the Dark Lord. Of course, after that, the Potions Master had to once again go to Hogwarts, where he could fill the headmaster in on Voldemort's latest activities. He hadn't gotten to bed until the wee hours of the morning.

After putting every one of his things in its place, he decided to go shopping at Mrs Maggie's shop. She worked there for almost thirty years. When he was a little boy, she had given him the occasional lollipop or candy. And even after many years, whenever he visited the shop, she's always filling him in on what was going on in the neighbourhood. He didn't like to gossip, but he felt more secure when he had information about his surroundings.

Leaving the house, he noticed one of the people who he really had no desire to meet. Unfortunately, the proximity guaranteed that he had seen his father more often than he would like to. Sometimes, Severus met Tobias when the latter was going to or from work. However, more often, his father was standing next to the shop with a beer in hand. Right now, some child was walking beside him.

'Probably brat of Tobias' another lover', he thought. He was irritated at the moronic woman that she would leave her child with such a human being as his father. He was too aggressive, especially when something angered him. When something wasn't going his way, his father didn't hesitate to use violence.

However, when he looked closer at the boy, he found him strangely familiar. His baseball cap was pulled almost over his eyes; he was dressed in popular Muggle hooligans clothes, wide trousers, and a hooded sweatshirt. All this made him look rebellious. Even though the child's clothes looked new, and even he, who occasionally visited Muggle malls, noticed that they were branded and therefore expensive, he didn't think they looked respectable.

The wardrobe speaks a lot of its owner and how children looked, reflected on their parents. In Severus' book, clothes, like the child was wearing, gave the impression of disdain for other people. Suddenly, he felt appreciation that his Slytherins respected his wishes regarding their appearance. Without unnecessary complaints, he was able to enforce their neat and trim look. It was also probably a consequence of most of them being pure blood, brought up to care about appearance, and the rest tried to imitate them.

When Severus heard the voice of the child from afar, he was struck dumb. It was none other than the Gryffindor's Golden Boy. He didn't recognize the boy at once, which was probably due to his lack of those hideous glasses, which usually covered his irritating face. On top of that, Potter was hiding his messy hair, not to mention his companion. There is no way that these two people who aroused such negative emotions in him could appear together before him.

Suddenly, Severus recollected the conversation he had with Dumbledore two days ago.

What a sick joke! 'What does he want to accomplish by this!' he thought, starting to shake with fury at the powerful wizard and his blasted machinations, at Tobias that he agreed to take Potter in, and at Potter that he had to find himself, as always, in the centre of havoc.

'Bloody kid!'

They were nearing Severus. Potter's annoying voice was more unmistakable with each passing second, and his father made an impression that he was listening to what the whelp was saying. No, Severus wasn't jealous about Tobias's attention to the stranger child, the attention he had never given to Severus or at least any positive attention. Now, the Potions Master felt only a grudge and repulsion for the man. The drunk was damaging his own and the lives of everyone around him.

Nevertheless, Severus wondered what the headmaster offered or how much he paid Tobias for babysitting Potter, and first and foremost, why?

When they were in front of him, Tobias diverted his eyes from the child, and their gazes met. Surprised to see him, the older man held his hand out and stopped the small teenager.

"Harry, meet your brother, Severus," said Tobias.

Equally surprised, Harry looked up.

When Severus saw the boy's bruised face, he was even more furious. One of his most hated things was the physical abuse of children, even of those he couldn't stand. He himself maybe wasn't excessively nice to them, but he would never hit any of them.

"I know him; he teaches me potions," responded the boy, trying to sound indifferent, but Severus could hear some tension in his voice. Tobias narrowed his eyes at the young wizard.

"He's not my brother. I don't know why the headmaster told you such a tale, but there is no way that the boy is related to you," snapped Severus. "And you, Potter, will come with me," he added in a voice that brooked no argument.

"You don't have any right to take him anywhere," Tobias said, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. Severus could see that the boy flinched a little from the sudden touch. Tobias again turned to his older son.

"And what right do you have?! Potter come here and don't argue!" snarled Snape, even more irritated.

"But I didn't say anything yet," muttered Harry under his breath but didn't move.

He wasn't going anywhere with his teacher.

"He's my son, and you can't take him away from me! I did get guardianship over him. Go away, or else I promise you that he won't be back at your school!" Snarled Tobias.

Hearing that, Harry stirred nervously.

"Potter, do you want to find out what he is really like? But I see that he gave you a foretaste of what is to come," said Severus in a mocking smile, though he was inwardly steamed with anger at his father who dared hit the boy.

"You don't have any right to talk like that," the older man hissed through clenched teeth.

"I don't have a right? Me!?" yelled Severus.

"Severus, your mother and I did all we could to bring you up for a good, hardworking man, and believe me, it wasn't easy. We even paid for that blasted school of yours. But you've never been able to appreciate anything. You were just a recalcitrant whelp. As for Harry, his uncle wanted to kick him out if I didn't take him. I couldn't let my son live in an orphanage or worse on the streets. Maybe I'm not able to give him everything he wants, and I'm not going to pamper him, but I'm also not going to hurt him."

"Right, judging by the bruises on his face, you are doing an excellent job here. How-

"It wasn't him," lied Harry, stopping the Potions Master mid-sentence. "I was fighting with some guy. Listen, my father," he used that word despite it still felt strange in his mouth, to emphasize their relation, "cares about me and up to now, he's treated me a million times better than you ever have. So why would I go with someone who hates me? The feeling is mutual, anyway," hissed Harry, looking at his professor.

Severus involuntarily took a step back, surprised by the venom in the child's voice, which reminded him of the Dark Lord's hissing. For just one second, he felt a thrill of fear at the sight of fierce and hate-filled green eyes, which reminded him of two killing curses. The Potions Master was well aware that he didn't arouse any positive emotions in the boy. Anger, open dislike—yes, of course—but he really didn't expect so much hate, aggression, and hostility.

After a second, he came to his senses and snapped furiously at the outright lie and pitiful attempt to defend Tobias.

"Don't you dare lie, Potter! I don't believe you."

"And how's that my problem?" Harry shrugged his shoulders, trying to look calm.

"Watch your mouth, you little, dumb, arrogant-"

"Severus," Tobias stopped him. "Don't insult him," he hissed angrily. Don't even try to threaten him. Just leave us alone. Don't butt in. It's not your business," Tobias added, and then he turned to Potter: "Let's go, Harry. What do you say to some ice cream after pizza? Hmm?" The man asked, probably trying to prove that he really is a good father

"Sure," smiled Harry.

Tobias passed his older son, not saying anything else, and Harry followed him, leaving the furious Potions Master behind.

HPHPHPHPHP

Still furious, Severus did not wait for permission and marched into Dumbledore's office.

"Albus, what are you playing at!?" yelled the Potion's Master, hitting the desktop with his palms.

Sitting behind the desk, the headmaster looked at him from behind his glasses.

"I'm sorry, Severus, but I don't know what you are talking about. Tell me, what's the matter?" The older man said calmly.

"Like hell, you don't know! It's about Potter!" snapped Snape, even more, enraged by Dumbledore's composure.

"What about him? Really, Severus, you should leave him be. It's summer. How could he get under your skin now? You didn't even see him," he smiled, and his blue eyes sparkled happily.

"Don't pretend to be innocent! Why did you send him to my father? What did you think?! Do you have any idea how he is?!" With every question, Severus' voice became stronger.

"It wasn't my decision. I didn't get any say in this matter," responded Dumbledore.

The calmness in his voice infuriated Snape.

"Oh, cut it out! What he is doing at Spinner's End then?" questioned Severus.

"I told you that recently discovered information revealed that Lily and James adopted Harry. Tobias is his biological father." The headmaster explained to him as if Severus were a small child.

"You've got to be kidding me! It's not possible, Dumbledore," contradicted Severus.

"But it's true. I performed the paternity charm myself."

"And would you care to enlighten me of why you didn't inform me about this earlier?" bridled the younger man.

"I don't know why I should. You don't have a good relationship with neither Harry nor with your father. And you didn't ask who was his father at our last meeting." Dumbledore explained, reproving, but Severus was sure that he noticed some glint of amusement in his blue eyes.

"And maybe you were afraid that I would put the lid on my father's guardianship over him?

"As I told you before, you nor I would be able to do anything in this matter. Tobias is his father and legal guardian. By signing the muggle papers, the magical ones were automatically signed under the condition that nobody forced the Dursleys to abdicate their rights over Harry. We can't do anything, and even if we could, we won't.

"Albus, Tobias will kill him," warned Snape, trying to calm himself.

"Don't exaggerate. Give him a chance. He changed," responded the older wizard.

"And how could you know that!? That bastard will never change. Do you really want to make the child's life hell? My father doesn't tolerate any mistake!" shouted Severus.

Dumbledore smiled, "I talked to him. Anyway, wasn't it you who said that Harry is a spoiled, arrogant prince? And it would do him some good to have some discipline?"

'Again, that bloody smile,' thought Snape furiously.

"Can't you understand? He will abuse him? You have to do something," Snape pleaded with the headmaster.

"I'm sorry, Severus, but I really have tied hands. Harry has to stay there until he becomes a legal adult. Do you know what would happen if Harry Potter was in the minister's custody and care, or worse, some Death Eater? Can you imagine what Lucius Malfoy would do with him if Harry entered his house? No, Severus. Now, we cannot even draw people attention to Harry's guardianship. There isn't any other choice. He must stay there," he said in a voice that could stand no argument. "Anyway, I didn't know that you cared so much about him," Dumbledore added, the amusement came back to his eyes.

"The fact that the boy is Potter has nothing to do with it. I, in contrast to you, am not going to be calm and do nothing when my students are maltreated in their own homes!" yelled the furious man, not understanding how Dumbledore could sit in his office, eat his lemon drops, and not even try to do anything to help.

The headmaster leaned his hands on the desktop. The air in the room suddenly became chilly. Few people knew that this old man, pretending to be a good-natured grandfather, could have such a cold look.

"I thought that you of all people wouldn't resent the fact that I'm willing to give second chances," hissed headmaster.

Severus only looked at him with a furious expression, turned around and left the office, slamming the door on his way out.

HPHPHPHPHP

After returning home from his outing with Tobias, Harry went into his bedroom and threw himself on his bed, his face shining with a rare wide smile. He was happy. He was so grateful that Aunt Petunia found those papers. There was probably nothing better that could ever happen to him. He felt some kind of affiliation, and it was the best feeling in the world. First, his father stopped Snape's rant of insults. It was so rare that an adult stood up for him. Just that would be enough to make Harry painfully appreciative. Next, Tobias had taken him to the pizzeria. The restaurant wasn't high quality, but the pizza that they had ordered was tremendous. Now he knew why Dudley had to have it at least twice a week. He was so full that he didn't feel like eating ice-cream, so Tobias took him to the pub nearby where, it turned out, he had gone pretty often. He talked for a couple of minutes with the bartender and ordered a beer for himself and a coke for Harry. There were billiard tables in the farthest corner of the room, so the man decided to teach Harry how to play. The young wizard had to admit that his father was really good at it. For the next two hours, they played seven games, which Harry won only one, but nevertheless, Tobias told him that he had inherited his talent from him.


 

To be continued...
Chapter 6: Sirius by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank VAspera for beta reading this chapter and Jasmin Kain for working with me on the plot.

 

Friday, July 7th 1995

Severus Snape seldom took the easy way. On the contrary, if he was about to make a choice, it was the bumpiest way. Now it would be easiest to leave everything as it was. He did his duty and went to the headmaster with his doubts. The situation was delicate—he couldn't deny that. By meddling, he could lose a lot—his position as a teacher, the headmaster's trust (if Potter would end up in the Ministry's care), and even his role as a spy—his input in the war that could save many lives. Besides, the kid has already refused his help.

As usual, Dumbledore probably had everything under control. If there was anything wrong, he would undoubtedly react. And even though Severus has some doubts about it, he tried to dismiss them. Albus Dumbledore was the light side leader; he wouldn't let somebody hurt his beloved Golden Boy, would he?

So why couldn't he sleep that night? Potter's situation was clearly bothering him. He couldn't stop thinking about it. Of course, this had nothing to do with the indication that Potter might indeed have been his younger brother. His feelings towards him hadn't changed—Severus still hated this self-righteous, arrogant whelp. And even if their consanguinity turned out to be true, which he doubted, there was no chance that their relationship would have ever changed. As the Muggles say, only on photographs would your kin look nice.

He was entirely indifferent to Potter's living arrangements. But when he thought about the bruise on his face, he wanted to strangle Tobias.

Severus was deeply averse to violence against children. Partly because he had been hit more than once in his childhood—often undeservedly. He remembered the pain of endless blows perfectly well. The mere mention of them got him goosebumps. That time, he had no one to turn to for help. The only person he could complain about the situation was Lily, but she, too, was just a child who couldn't do much. Besides, in the fifth year, because of his own fault— the inability to control his emotions—he lost her as well.

In the case of Potter, he was sure that soon the Tobias' belt won't be used only to keep the trousers in their place. Unless it has already happened. The boy always managed to get into something. Unlike Severus, a quiet swot with his face permanently in a book, Potter was impulsive and mouthy. He was like a magnet for the troubles. Even for a moment, he could not sit still in one place. There was no way Tobias would not lose his patience and self-control with him. Maybe Severus was a bit of a hypocrite because he wanted to skin the kid himself more than once. Especially after his actions with the Philosopher's Stone, a flying car or the Chamber of Secrets. But he knew he would never do that.

The second reason the Potions Master resented the harm to children was the Death Eater attacks during the First War. Now the Dark Lord tried to keep his head down until he fully recuperates from getting back his body. However, Severus was sure the terror would start anew soon. Due to his status, he usually did not have to actively participate in it. Too frequent missions might have exposed him. But sometimes, he had to take part in their games—attacks on the houses of both Muggles and blood traitors—that were usually played only to spread fear. Fortunately, he was never forced to torture children; he didn't even know if he would be able to bring himself to do so. But he had witnessed his companions doing it. The worst part was that it was impossible to save these kids.

And consequently, it kept him feeling guilty. To atone, if only partly, he did everything in his power to improve at least a little the fate of some of the teenagers he met. More than once, he has managed to do something for the outcasts at Spinner's End, but since joining Hogwarts, he hasn't had too many opportunities to do so. However, as the Slytherin's Head of House, there were many occasions to help. As soon as the Sorting Hat yelled out, "Slytherin!" Severus was given another ward for whom he would be responsible for the next seven years and help if necessary.

Of course, no one would accuse him of coddling his snakes. He tried to choose the most caring and loving Slytherins as prefects. It was their job to take care of the youngest ones who were crying over homesickness or other trivial reasons. On the other hand, Severus tried to counterbalance the unfair treatment of the Slytherins by his colleagues and the other houses' students. Therefore, he ensured that the Slytherins knew they could always count on him, both for school problems and private matters.

He sighed, and his thoughts drifted back to the Potter business.

If he was indeed Severus's brother, Dumbledore would do anything to give Tobias a second chance and then probably a third and a tenth. The leader of the light side would try to convert Voldemort himself if possible. Yes, the old man had a great heart, but he was often ignorant of what might go on within the family. He thought consanguinity was everything. Dumbledore didn't even allow himself to believe that blood ties didn't automatically mean decent treatment, let alone love.

Perhaps it was also a mere plot that the director came up with. Maybe he wanted a spoiled whelp to finally get a little firmer treatment. Perhaps he was hoping it would somehow increase Potter's loyalty to the good-natured old man. Simultaneously, he would change Tobias and improve the relationship between Severus and the kid by lying about their relations. He had been nagging Severus to bond with Potter since the boy came to Hogwarts. Dumbledore loves manipulations, and it doesn't matter how good his intentions are.

Therefore, even though he had a doubtful desire to visit Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Severus decided to talk to Black first of all. He had to make sure all of this wasn't a lie and at the same time get the mutt to push Dumbledore hard enough to let him take in the boy. Even though the man hasn't been the sanest since he escaped from prison, Severus was sure the boy would be much better off with Black than with Tobias. And he would have one problem less.

HPHPHPHP

Severus entered the house quietly, taking care not to wake the Walburga's painting. He found Black in the attic. The man held a half-empty bottle of whiskey and was talking to a hippogriff. Apparently, the kid was not really lucky with adults as they liked alcohol a little too much.

He decided to take advantage of Black's numbness and, trying not to offend any of the Potters or the mongrel himself, found out as much as possible.

"Black," said Severus entering the room.

"Well, well, well, Isn't it Snivellus himself?" Sirius asked, drawing the vowels in a way that immediately reminded Severus of young Malfoy.

However, the Potions Master wasn't going to let these infantile insults anger him. Looking contemptuously at the man, he replied: "It's about Potter. He knows..."

"Leave Harry alone. Isn't it enough that you bully him at school?" Black interrupted him impatiently.

"Did he come to you, crying like a little baby, complaining that his nasty Potions teacher doesn't kiss the floor he walks on?" How dare Black to accuse him of abusing the teenager. Especially since his visit was to prevent just that. Just because he was the only teacher at Hogwarts who tried to balance spoiling the boy, it didn't mean that he bullied him. He was just trying to correct the pedagogical mistakes of his colleagues. Pampering could be just as harmful as mistreatment. Severus believed that even though he did not like the brat, he treated him quite professionally.

"No, Ron Weasley told me how you treat them.

"Weasley is drama queen," Snape snorted.

"Just lay off them," growled Sirius. "Say what you were going to say and get out. You're not welcome here".

Snape just smirked. True, he hated Black, but he had no intention of getting into verbal skirmishes with him now. He really did not enjoy being in this place, so he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.

"Did you know he is my brother?" Severus decided to ask directly, hoping that Black, being intoxicated, would be too surprised to try to lie.

"What? How do you know that?" asked Black looking completely dumbfounded.

Hearing that, Snape winced, displeased. Black didn't even deny it. He was too stupid. Or too drunk. It doesn't matter anyway. "Why you've never told anybody?"

Black looked as if he was wondering whether to answer the question. Seconds later, the Potions Master heard something that he definitely did not like. "Actually, I even wanted to tell you, maybe you'd treat him better, but Lily had made us take the Unbreakable Vow so no one would find out. And you in particular." A twist of pain crossed Snape's face, but he tried not to interrupt the drunk man's monologue. He knew that you could learn a lot of relevant information this way. And such an opportunity may not repeat itself. "She had a strange… obsession with you." Or maybe something more like paranoia. I had an impression that she was convinced that if you found out he was your brother, he would automatically become a Death Eater. She met your mother while she was pregnant, and somehow, Lily managed to persuade her to give up the baby. I have no idea why she'd agreed. Your mother, I mean.

"And Potter didn't mind?" Severus asked, surprised, struggling to keep himself from commenting on mutt's speech disarray.

"Are you kidding me?" Sirius laughed bitterly. "He got so mad. They argued quite a lot about it. But you knew Lily when she made up her mind about something, it was impossible to dissuade her from that idea. And James would do anything for her. So, she gave him an ultimatum that he would either consider Harry as his son and make amends ... or something like that ...for his bad deeds, or she was going to divorce him. Lily told him that she didn't know if she could live with a man who has such a tainted conscience—as she called it."

"Since she forced you to be a godfather..." Snape guessed that Black must have to redeem himself in her eyes as well. 'Merlin, what a… no. Lily must have known what she was doing.' "...Why do you care so much about him?" He finished, slightly bewildered.

"She didn't force me to do anything I didn't want," growled Sirius. Nobody can choose their own family. Just look at mine. So I don't care that he has a slimy bat, like you, for a brother. Besides, James didn't want to take me as a godfather. He wanted Peter. He said I would be the godfather of his baby, not this one. Honestly, James wasn't even approaching too close to him for the first few months.

When Lily left for work, I took care of him. It took a while for James to stop ignoring the baby and start playing with him. And I pretended he was mine," Sirius smiled to himself. "I'd get him out of there if he has been hurt. Luckily, later on, James really started to care for him. I cannot imagine Harry being brought up in a family where his father hates him and where his mother treats him as the object of his partner's redemption. I'd just take him and run away. But, fortunately, they were good parents." Black really had to be pretty drunk or very lonely to spill it all. And on top of that, it was Severus, his enemy, that Black was talking to. The Potions Master never thought that he could have such a civilized conversation with Black.

"Listen, Black, why won't he live with you?" The Potion Master cut the mutt off as Black started telling him how he would take the boy to every Quidditch match.

"You think I didn't ask Albus for it about a million times? He says it's too dangerous to bring him to the Headquarters. And legally, I can't do anything, I'm a fugitive; if not for that, I would have hired the best lawyers," he said bitterly. "But at least because of my nagging, he moved Harry away from the Dursleys. Somewhere safe, where he's happy."

"He wasn't happy with the Dursleys?" Severus raised his brews.

"No, " At this point, he looked at Snape a little more soberly. "But if I had known, I wouldn't have told you anyway because you're a Death Eater," Sirius said; however, his voice was neither accusing nor suspicious.

Severus ignored the last comment. "He lives with my father. Convince Albus to spend the rest of his vacation here. As far as I can tell, the Weasleys will be living in the headquarters for a while, too," Snape said, but Black wasn't listening anymore.

"Do you think he hates me? " Sirius asked, concerned.

" Who?" Snape was surprised.

"Harry," he whispered. "You know that I didn't tell him about it."

Severus clenched his jaw in irritation; he wasn't going to comfort drunk Black.

"If you invite him, you'll find out," Snape said, turning on his heel and leaving.

Going down the stairs, he heard a loud thud and soon after, Mrs Black began her tirade. He hurried downstairs and saw Tonks lying on the ground.

"Nymphadora, I could have expected this." He rolled his eyes. He walked over to the painting and, with a great effort, pulled back the thick curtains. "Careful when you walk, klutz," he sneered, turning to face the exit.

"Why don't you at least pretend to be a gentleman and help me up?" Tonks gasped, rolling over on her back.

"I don't see any woman for whom I would have to pretend, Nymphadora," he accentuated the last word and, without turning, left.

"Don't. Call. Me. Nymphadora," ground out.

Severus just smirked.

HPHPHPHPHP

Looking in the mirror, Harry tried to figure out a way to hide a nasty green and purple bruise on his cheek. Unfortunately, despite staring at it angrily, it remained on his face.

The bruises never went away right away.

He hated when people have seen him like this. When he came to school a little battered before Hogwarts, some of his peers openly stared at him. Some of them were whispering and sniggering. He still remembered the feeling of humiliation. A couple of times, Harry's aunt or uncle were called to the school, but they explained that he was clumsy or had fought with other hooligans from the streets.

He had no friends because all the kids preferred to avoid him. He knew it was because Dudley had threatened them, but… sometimes he wondered if it wasn't because he was such a weakling who let his uncle push him around a bit. Maybe it was his fault. Perhaps he just wasn't likeable? After all, it wasn't often that the closest family hated someone that much?

Harry closed his eyes

He hoped that when his new friends see him like this and realize it's Tobias' fault, they won't ignore him, or worse, despise him because he was such a wimp. He had no idea what he was doing wrong, but apparently, he should have fought harder for the man's acceptance. He couldn't let Tobias treat him the way the Dursleys did. Of course, he knew it wouldn't be easy. When Harry was a child, he tried his best to please Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, but he never succeeded. And yet, he still had no idea where he was making mistakes.

The day before, when they had met the Potions Master, Harry really had been scared that the man would take him back to the Dursleys. Fortunately, Tobias wouldn't let him do that. Harry decided that his foot would never cross the Privet Drive 4 threshold again.

Never.

And it wasn't because the Dursleys were abusing him. Because it wasn't true. They didn't hit him particularly hard… or too often. And while he had to admit that he had too many chores and sometimes too little food, it wasn't about that either. Or that they closed him too often. Without food. Or even about the cupboard under the stairs, which he has never mentioned to anyone, because he was simply ashamed of it.

That wasn't the point.

The point was, they just didn't want him. They didn't like him. And when they didn't tell him to do something or yell at him for what he did wrong, they just ignored him completely. That was probably what hurt the most about the Dursleys.

And it's not like he hasn't questioned the whole adoption situation, even though even Tobias has confirmed the version. He would find out exactly what it was all about, but as they say, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. And although Tobias was far from perfect, at least—though perhaps it was selfish—Tobias showed some interest in him. He was trying to get to know Harry and get closer to him in some way. Sometimes the man played cards with him, watched TV or cooked. He showed interest in his school, friends, whether he ate anything and how he slept. It felt… nice. Harry had no illusions that it would be like in the Burrow. But he hoped that he might establish a relationship with Tobias at least a little bit similar to what Ron had with his father. He loved the Weasleys but knew that they would always put their children first. And, of course, it should be like that. But he liked the prospect of having an adult just for himself, who would always stand up for him.

HPHPHPHPHP

To Harry's surprise, during training, no one laughed at his bruises. He did notice a few surreptitious peeps, but even Dredd had left him alone that day.

Only on the way home, when Harry and Oasis left, the latter one asked:

"Who smashed your face like that?"

"What? Nobody," said Harry.

Oasis raised his eyebrows and looked at him with eyes that said he had to try harder if he wanted to pull his leg. "If it was Dredd, he is already dead meat."

"No, it's not him. I… I just tripped and fell on the table." It wasn't until he said it aloud, he realized how stupid it sounded.

"Uhu. This table must have had quite big fists."

Harry just shrugged.

"That's your old man, wasn't it?" Oasis asked after a pause but didn't even wait for an answer. "Fucker. The fella is almost six feet high, he's fuckin' workin' on the construction site, lifting breeze-block every day, and then he goes home and throw fists at the wispy kid. If he'd hit you a little harder, he'd break you. This is fuckin' a little lousy." He finished his tirade angrily.

"Back off. You don't know what you are talking about." He replied, irritated, turning red and looking away.

"Cut loose. It's not like you're the only one in the world getting fucked up by his folks."

"So you too..."

Oasis burst out in hoarse laughter. "Oh, come on! I am bigger than my old man." He looked at Harry and added after a moment: "He used to. Before he went to jail. Well, but that's not the point. Just you know if you ever need something, you can come over. I can put you up."

"You don't have to."

"Cut it out. It's not like I've never run away. I know how it is. It's good to have some options. There's a barrel behind my house. You can jump on it, then on the annexe and from there, you will get to the window of my room. I am not suggesting a door coz my old man can blow the gaff to yours."

"Look, thanks, but I don't want you to get into trouble for me."

"Are you kidding? Look at me. Your old man won't fuck with me. "

Suddenly Oasis stopped Harry with his hand. Harry looked at him. "Hold on. Have you ever tried to spit a game to a chick?

"What?" Harry asked, completely confused, having no idea what it was about.

"You know, have you ever hit on girls?"

Harry was surprised at a sudden change of the topic, but recalling Cho replied: "Yes. I mean, kind of, but I'm quite hopeless at it."

"No worries, this can be learned. You hit on them one by one. Just not the ugly ones. You've got to keep the high level; otherwise, all the babes will not want someone who has been with a moose before."

"Well... it does make some sense, despite being somehow twisted," snorted Harry. "But don't you think it's a little… nasty?"

"Don't look at me like this. I don't make the rules. Well, and then when the right one appears, you already know what to do and how it works. Oasis pointed towards the park bench where the two girls were sitting. Can you see those two?" When Harry nodded, he continued: "The one on the left is called Mary. I met yesterday. She's a babe, isn't she?"

Harry snorted in amusement. "Yeah, quite pretty," he confirmed. The girl was shapely, with a pretty face and long dark hair.

"I made a fucking master plan yesterday to get her," Oasis said, proudly sticking his chest forward."

"What kind of plan?" He asked, smiling, completely forgetting about the previous topic.

"You will see. I just need your football. Come on, let's get it."

"You have one as well, and you live closer. Let's take yours!" Harry shouted, running after him.

Oasis looked at him as if he had asked the most ridiculous question ever. "But mine is old and shabby," he said indignantly. "I can't hit her with an old, shabby ball. It's fucking unromantic, and ladies are only into the romantic stuff."

"Then why do you want to hit her at all? It's not exactly romantic either," Harry asked, now completely lost.

"Eh, Shortie, you really need to learn a lot." My fantastic plan is that we'll play football a bit near the girls while they sit on the bench. I'll kick football a little stronger, and it hit that chick in the leg. But you know… not too hard. But hard enough that I can take her for a coffee or something as an apology." Oasis looked at Harry, waiting for admiration.

Harry looked back and grinned. Yes, it really made sense. Maybe the next time he knows such tricks, asking the girl out will go more smoothly than with Cho?

Oasis tugged his sleeve, and they ran.

When they entered Harry's house, Tobias had already come back from work. He was standing at the kitchen counter, slicing the bread. There was a beer next to him, which has recently been his inseparable attribute. Harry's stomach tightened at the thought that the man might say, or worse, do something in front of Oasis, but he just greeted them.

"Hi, Harry." He looked at Oasis. "Noah."

"Hello."

"Are you gonna eat dinner?"

"No, I'm not hungry. We still have something to do with Oasis." Said Harry, and after a moment, added: "Hope that's okay?".

"Yeah, sure. Just try not to be back very late."

Harry ran to the room for the ball and ran downstairs as quickly as possible, then they went to where the girls were sitting.

Oasis, in his brilliant plan, however, did not foresee that the girls would go home.

HPHPHPHPHP

Saturday, July 8th 1995

As soon as he opened his eyes, he felt a pain in the back of his neck. He shouldn't be surprised as he slept all night on the wooden floor. He tried to sit up, but he moved too fast, and it made him dizzy.

He groaned.

'It is my fault. It was all my fault. Harry… Regulus…'

He went downstairs to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of cold water, and drank it in one gulp. After a while, the door opened, and he saw his friend.

"What happened to make you wake up so early?" asked Remus.

"Harry hasn't written back yet?" Sirius asked, ignoring his friend's sarcasm.

"You know, Dumbledore asked us to give him some space. He's been through a lot lately, and he has to sort it all out. Mourning takes time."

"And you think loneliness will help him do that? I am sure he is sitting alone, feeling sorry for himself. We could somehow distract him from unpleasant thoughts. Remus," he looked at his friend. "I have to help him. He's all I have left," he finished quietly.

Remus looked at him searchingly.

"I think if Harry really wanted to, he would stay in touch." You know he's as stubborn as a mule, and so are you. If he wanted to, he would write you back.

"I just need to make sure he's not getting hurt. And he is not depressed."

"Just like you?" asked Remus, but when Sirius again ignored his comment, he continued: "Albus said Harry was fine."

"Yes. But it was also Dumbledore who left him with the Dursleys who treated him despicably!" Sirius blurted frantically.

"You're talking nonsense. The headmaster wouldn't leave him in a family that abused him."

"Do you think if that house was fine, he would want to move in with me because as soon as I turned out not to be a murderer?"

"And did you take into account that maybe Harry didn't want to live there because they're just Muggles? I don't know; maybe he thought that they were a little too strict with him. Arabella Figg had an eye on him all the time. If something were wrong, she would have notified Albus right away." Remus took a deep breath and continued: "Besides, if you had taken Harry in, he'd have everything even before he would dream about it. You would spoil him. You wouldn't give him any responsibilities, and he wouldn't have to do anything at all. He sensed it. Which child would not like to be treated like a prince? You spent twelve years in Azkaban. You escaped from there, which is something that has not been done by anyone yet. You impressed him, so it was obvious he wanted to live with you. Harry is still a child. Every child would like it."

"You are wrong. Harry didn't even know me. If he hadn't been hurt by the Dursleys, he wouldn't have agreed. At least not right away." Sirius didn't know why his friend wouldn't understand it.

"Kreacher! Bring me a pen and parchment! "

"Sirius, you can do whatever you want. You can write to him and delude yourself that he cares about you as much as you care about him. Just to let you know, both of us, Albus and I think Harry needs time. And so do you. Azkaban did its job. You need potions and time to recover. It will take a while before you can think logically. For now, you're blinded by your emotions."

"It's been two years now," Black chuckled bitterly. "I'm better."

"Stop kidding yourself. The mood swings would only make it harder for you to come to normal," Lupin sighed in frustration. "And dealing with an emotional, capricious teenager is not easy." Lupin looked at him sadly. "Please, you need to understand, Sirius, teenagers, do not behave rationally. They are going through a hormonal storm. One day they love you; the next, they will scream that they hate you. In your state, you can't afford that. You know the war is coming. You need to recover as quickly as possible. And the stress of being responsible for a kid who gets in trouble all the time won't make it any easier for you."

"Stop it. You're wrong about Harry... He's not like that. Anyway, I'm his godfather, and that's my damn duty. I swore I would do anything so he would have a long and happy life. Kind of life that neither you, nor I, nor his parents had." Sirius looked at Lupin, whose face was impassive. "Besides, he is… Besides, he is the heir of the Black family, and I, as the last of the Blacks, have to teach him the traditions, rights and duties of the heir of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black."

"Sirius, but you don't care about traditions or laws, let alone your responsibilities to your family."

Sirius shrugged. "But that's another argument. Quite strong, I may add."

Lupin just shook his head. He walked over to him and handed him a few bottles of potions.  "I'm just asking you not to do anything stupid. I cannot lose you again."

After Remus left, Sirius drank his potions for the effects of prolonged exposure to the dementors.

He felt relieved immediately. A wave of warmth spread over his body, and a mist of respite clouded his mind. It occurred to him that he really was worried about nothing. Remus was probably right as usual. Harry was certainly happy, well-cared-for, and had a good time somewhere in the quiet suburbs. The Death Eaters had no chance of finding him there. He blended in the crowd and had his freedom. And Sirius was stupid that he tried to lock him up at Grimmauld Place. Even though he wanted to keep an eye on him to make sure the boy is safe, he couldn't be so selfish.

He felt calm, at least for the next few hours.

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Severus impatiently paced the living room. A glance at his watch made him realize there were still fifteen minutes left. He had doubted he could convince Nott Sr. to let Theodore study his potion-making skills under Severus' watchful eye if he would be aware that Severus lived in a Muggle neighbourhood. If all goes according to plan, the boy will be able to stay with him until the end of the summer vacation. Not that the prospect of babysitting a teenage boy was something he really looked forward to.

On the contrary, he would definitely prefer to brew potions alone, without the kid's constant presence. And although the Slytherin was one of the more tolerable and calm teenagers, with his nose constantly hidden in the book and, above all, with a potions' talent, he was still just that—a teenager. However, despite not being exactly pleased with the whole situation, Severus decided to sacrifice his summer peace. Theodore was one of the few purebloods in the Slytherin House who could actually use his help.

Nott Sr. was one of the more zealous Death Eaters. Those who placed the Dark Lord much higher than the family. His father put a lot of pressure on Theo about Voldemort, and Severus knew the boy didn't feel any inclination to join him. This was the reason for the latest tensions between Theodore and his father. Fortunately, the Dark Lord made sure Nott Sr. was kept busy this summer, giving him some task to do abroad. Thanks to this, after a lengthy discussion, Severus managed to persuade him to let his son stay with the teacher and learn potions over the summer.

He was about to arrive any minute.

Potter, who lived in the neighbourhood, complicated the situation. It would be best if the boys hadn't met, but he knew it wasn't possible, especially since he was going to keep an eye on the other one too. Even though he did not like the boy, he knew what Tobias was like when he fell into a drinking binge. And no child deserved it—even Potter. Therefore, Severus just needed to make sure what happens at Cokeworth stays in Cokeworth. He couldn't let the news of his newfound relationship with Potter spread through Hogwarts.

His thoughts were interrupted by a green flash in the fireplace, and a moment later, Theodore Nott was standing in his living room.

"Good morning, professor. You kept your word. Thank you," said the Slytherin, smiling gratefully.

Even though Snape wouldn't admit it to anyone, this kind of smile always gave him satisfaction.

"You're welcome, Mr Nott," Severus replied, the corners of his mouth curving slightly upward as well.

 

To be continued...
Chapter 7: Porthcurno by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like the thank VAspera for beta-reading the chapter:)

And Jasmin Kain – my Polish beta.



Oh, and I am sorry that there is not Severus in the chapter, however, the chapter is necessary for the story. And thanks for reviews!

Sunday, July 9th 1995

"How are your friends? I've noticed you started hangin' out with local hooligans," said Tobias during Sunday lunch. When Harry woke up around noon and went downstairs to the kitchen, the food had been already prepared and waiting for him on the kitchen table.

"They’re all right."

"Uhm. It's good you have friends. Severus was a kind of recluse... Either he was playin' alone, or he was chasin' that wench."

"What wench?"

"Snooty, redhead smart-arse from the neighbourhood."

Harry snorted in amusement. It wasn't easy to imagine a love-struck Potions Master who was bossed around by some girl.

After another moment of awkward silence, Tobias, once again, started the conversation: "Have you started your holiday assignments yet? I won't have you leave it for the last moment."

Harry looked at Tobias. There was still so much time to write the essays. It was just the beginning of summer. And yet, he didn't think arguing about it was the best idea. A few days earlier, he had almost started to write them, but as he went downstairs for the books, he decided it would be better to clean the basement a little. He also wanted to open Eileen's trunk, but it was to no avail. He couldn't cast Alohomora because first—he was still a minor, and second—Dumbledore put an anti-magical barrier in the area. He managed, however, to unhook the metal cap with the image of a snake. Harry looked at the bottom of it. There was another engraved serpent surrounding a sword against the background of the flames. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Eileen was a Slytherin.

Beneath the cap was a kite-shaped recess with a keyhole. Harry decided that he absolutely had to find the key to open the trunk. He hoped it was somewhere in the house. And if not, maybe he could somehow get a crowbar. The teenager was sure that there were a lot of answers to his questions in the trunk. Perhaps, he could find some evidence to shed light on the fucked-up situation he was in.

"Harry! Are you listenin' to me?" Tobias snapped his fingers in front of the boy's face.

"Yes, 'm sorry. Sure, I've already started".

"Good boy." Tobias' mouth twitched into a smile. "What about the letter from the school with your marks? Hasn't it come yet?

"I do not know. The book lists usually arrive at the end of July." Harry shrugged, and Tobias didn't pursue the subject any further. After eating, Harry collected the plates and washed them up. Then he went into the hall and put on his shoes. "I'm going out!" He informed the man, grabbing the doorknob.

"What time are you going to be back?"

"I don’t know. In the evening."

"Don't forget to take your keys, 'coz probably I'll be out."

"Okay," Harry nodded, said goodbye and left.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

"Well, what a pleasant surprise! Isn't that our new team star?" Harry groaned inwardly, hearing the voice. It belonged to one of the few people he didn't want to meet. He winced as the tall boy stepped forward, prominently towering above him. "I'm having a party on Saturday."

"You don't think I want to be there, do you?" Harry replied, trying to mock him.

A grimace appeared on the larger teenager's face.

"You don't think I want to invite you, do you?" He retorted. "I need somebody to serve drinks." Dredd eyed Harry up and down. "My mother taught me to help underprivileged people. That's why I'm offering you a job". Dredd smiled maliciously.

Of course, those kinds of comments weren't pleasant, but Harry had heard so many of them in his life that they didn't hurt him much anymore.

"Fuck off," he replied, looking straight in the other teen's eyes.

"What, you are no longer so mouthy without your pals?" He said with a sardonic tone and took a step closer towards Harry. Dredd stood so close now that Harry could smell the minty scent of chewing gum from his mouth. The boy was much taller and more robust, and his looks often creeped Harry out. Still, compared to Voldemort or Snape, he was like a snarling puppy who wanted to bite but didn't have any teeth yet. Harry couldn't stop himself and laughed in his face.

He narrowed his eyes and grabbed Harry by his collar, lifting him up so that only his toes touched the ground.

"You little..."

Harry didn't find out what the other boy wanted to say because suddenly a huge black dog jumped on Dredd, knocking him over.

"Padfoot!" Harry exclaimed, surprised and delighted at the same time, staggering and trying to get his balance as Dredd released him.

The dog stood on top of the teenager, snarling at him.

Harry got up quickly and, with all his strength, tried to pull the animal away.

"It's okay, you can leave him. Come here."

Padfoot finally obeyed, stepping off the boy with one last, menacing bark and pulled Harry towards the woods by the river, where he turned into a human.

"Sirius, I'm so glad to see you! How did you find me here?"

"Snape showed his ugly face at mine and told me where you live now."

Sirius hugged the boy tightly. After a moment, he pulled him away at arm's length and studied him.

"I had to make sure you were okay." With one hand, he gently stroked Harry's cheek, where the bruise was still visible. Surprised, the boy flinched at a sudden touch. "What happened?"

Harry sighed.

"I was fighting. Er ... I play soccer, it's a Muggle sport. You know how matches are, sometimes emotions, um… they reach high, and there are arguments ".

"Should I go and talk to someone? "

The boy looked at him in panic.

"No, no, of course not! Anyway, it's fine already. You better tell me how you get here. And why didn't you answer my letter?"

"I didn't get anything from you. When did you send it?" Sirius looked irritated.

"About a week ago."

"Are you sure you gave it to Hedwig?"

Harry winced as Sirius' hands tightened on his shoulders.
 

"Hey, maybe I'm not the brightest one, but in these four years, I've learned how to send letters," he grunted.

"Of course. Forgive me, It's just... Not here anyway. Do you have your wand with you?"

"Er ... No."

"Look, Harry, I would really feel better if you always carry it with you. Okay?" When the boy nodded, he added, "I'd like to show you something. Can you disappear for a few hours?"

"Sure," Harry smiled. Even though he was going to meet with his new friends, he was happy to accept his godfather's invitation. Besides that, the boy was curious about what was going on in the Wizarding World, from which he was utterly cut off. He could meet with the guys any other day.

"Let's go and get your wand first," decided Sirius and then turned back into a dog.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

"Have you ever apparated?" asked Sirius. They were back in the woods, where Dumbledore's protective magic was no longer working. When Harry shook his head, Sirius came to him, wrapping his arms around the boy. "It will ease the unpleasant feeling. Hold tight and close your eyes. Ready?"

Harry nodded and suddenly felt like something was trying to squeeze him through a small tube. It lasted a fraction of a second, literally. And when he felt Sirius' shoulders drop, he opened his eyes to see a beautiful beach with an enormous two-story mansion on it.

"Everything's all right?" Sirius asked with concern.

"Yeah. Where are we?"

"In Porthcurno, one of the Blacks' summer residences."

"One of ...?"

Sirius laughed.

"Yes, I also have a house in the South of France and one in the Caribbean where I spent last summer. The Blacks are, or perhaps were, one of the oldest noble families in Great Britain. With lordship titles and those other crap. Besides, my family has always had a head for business. And I took you here," he looked at Harry searchingly, "because I have a huge request for you. I would like to put a Fidelius Charm on this house, and I want you to become the Secret Keeper."

"Why me? What about Dumbledore? Or Lupin?"

Sirius looked a little perplexed as he answered that question. "I want this place to be just ours so that my godson has a place where he can go in case of danger. Or if he needed some privacy." He smirked and winked at Harry, then got serious again and added: "I gave my family house for the use of the Order, so there are a lot of people there all the time... Although it's probably the only useful thing, I did." Harry noticed there was bitterness in Sirius' voice. "Come on, I'll show you around."

As they wandered around the house, the man showed him a huge living room, dining room, ballroom, duel room, and many other rooms. He also allowed him to choose one of the bedrooms that would belong only to him.

And although Harry was delighted with the house, he was more interested in answering the questions he wanted to ask. However, not wanting to be rude, he followed Sirius and plastered a smile on his face.

"If something happened to me, all of this will be yours."

"Don't even dare to say that. We'll catch Pettigrew, and you'll be finally free," said Harry, but there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

The man laughed bitterly.

"We live in dangerous times, Harry..." he broke off, and after a moment, he added: "I've managed to cheat death more than once, I'm great at it." Sirius puffed up a little. "But just in case, I'd like you to be prepared. I want you to have it. I want you to always have a safe place to hide. The property is really well protected by ancient spells."

Harry felt a little embarrassed.

"Sirius, you really don't have to..."

"Come on, we can't let the Malfoys get all this."

"Hmm? Why them?"

"Narcissa—Draco's mother", Harry winced theatrically at the sound of that name "she's one of my closest cousins, and the Minister is in Lucius's pocket." As long as I live, it won't be theirs, but if I didn't have an heir, everything would go to young Malfoy when I died. We cannot let it happen. Come on, let's get something to eat. And we'll talk later."

"Lord Black is back!" As they went into the kitchen, they were greeted by two elderly house-elves. It was their merit that the abandoned house was so well-kept.

"Lord Black", Harry mouthed and raised an eyebrow questioningly at Sirius.

"Yeah." The man sighed. "What do you know about the Wizarding House of Lords?"

"They are the people sitting in parliament that have no say in anything?" asked Harry uncertainly.

The older wizard laughed, ruffling the teen's hair. "No, these are people who, unlike their Muggle counterpart, did not hand the legislative power over to the House of Commons. They compose most of the Wizengamot and have too much to say." Sirius rubbed his temples. "It's a pity the headmaster won't get rid of this useless ghost and hire someone competent to explain everything to muggle raised students. Pinky," The man turned to one of the House Elves," get us something to eat and bring it upstairs."

"Yes, Pinky is already making the best dish for Lord Black and his guest."

"This is Harry. From now on, you are to listen to him like he is Black."

Harry smiled and waved his hand in the direction of the magical beings.

"Yes, Lord Black, Pinky, and Rutka listen to Lord Harry as if Lord Harry is belonging to the Black family."

Then, Sirius led Harry to the terrace with a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. They sat opposite each other on comfortable armchairs at a white, round table. The setting was so different from the poor grey Spinner's End that it was hard to believe that it belonged to the same world.

Harry lowered his head and began to play with his hands. He sighed, not knowing how to start the topic of the adoption or whether he should do it at all. Tobias confirmed the words of Dumbledore and Uncle Vernon. According to them, the adoption was real. And yes, Harry tried hard to get Tobias' approval, but some part of him still didn't believe in the whole consanguinity. He had no idea if Sirius knew about anything. What if his godfather finds out only now and will start to hate him as much as Snape does? Harry didn't want to lose his godfather. On the other hand, if the man confirmed it, Harry knew there really wouldn't be turning back.

"Are you all right?" Sirius began, settling comfortably in the armchair. "Tell me, does old Snape treat you well?"

The question surprised Harry, who looked up at his godfather. "You know?"

"Yes." Sirius noticed the boy straightening up in his chair.

"And... and you don't mind?" Harry asked uncertainly.

"Of course not, kid." Sirius smiled at him. "It really doesn't matter to me who your parents are."

Harry relaxed.

"Then why didn't you tell me about it?"

"Lily made us swear; I'm sorry, but I wasn't able to tell you anything."

"Do you know why she did it?"

"No. I'm sure she had her reasons."

"So are you sure I'm a brother of..." He swallowed. "Snape's brother?"

"Yeah." The man, seeing the frown on Harry's face, added: "I'm sorry. Really. But don't worry. It truly doesn't matter. Having a relationship with that bloody asshole doesn't change anything. You owe him nothing. You don't even have to like him." He smiled reassuringly. "So, better tell me how old Snape treats you."

"Good... Even very good."

"Really? 'Cause you know, I can always visit him and scare him like the Dursleys."

Harry grinned as he remembered his aunt and uncle's horror at the information that the wanted criminal turned out to be his godfather.

"Yeah, really. Tobias treats me far better than the Dursleys ever did. It's just…"

"Hmmm?"

"No, nothing. Forget it. It's stupid."

"It doesn't matter how stupid it is. Tell me, please."

Harry looked at his hands and started talking: "But don't laugh... Because... Well, the point is... that I still feel like a Potter, and... I don't know… I thought I would feel a stronger sense of belonging." Harry shrugged his shoulders and added: "It's awkward somehow. Because I always wanted to meet my parents. And now I do. But I thought it would be different. Like at Ron's or something" Harry hesitated for a moment. "And I don't know what to talk to him about, and it all feels so… fake. And it still feels like Lily and James are my parents. Besides, I don't know anything about Eileen; a month ago, I didn't know she existed at all. It's kind of strange. I just thought it would be different." At the end of his chaotic speech, he looked up to see that Sirius was watching him carefully.

"Hey, I guess it's normal that you feel this way," the man smiled. "Lily and James will always be your parents. They cast the adoption spell. Knowing about it doesn't really change anything. You're still the same Harry Potter. For me, for your friends and teachers." Hearing that, Harry smiled slightly. "As for your biological father—take it easy. Give it some time. You need to get to know each other better and maybe you'll then establish a nice relationship. Ugh… oh dear Merlin. I started to speak so sensibly. I need a drink. I hope the house-elves hurry up a little."

Harry laughed, feeling that all his tension was gone.

"Tell me what exactly is this Order of the Phoenixr03;r03;..."

"It's a secret organisation founded by Dumbledore."

"Well ... I know that but who are the members?"

"Essentially those who fought against You-Know-Who in the first war. We are still trying to recruit new ones. Those who would like to fight and are trustworthy."

"And who are they exactly?"

"Even I, being a member, don't know everybody."

"And what about Voldemort? What is he up to? Where is he? What are we doing to stop him? What is the Ministry doing?"

"Hey, slow down a little. One question at a time." Sirius smiled.

"What is Voldemort doing?" Harry repeated. "I watch Muggle news sometimes, but it says nothing about any mysterious murders."

"Because nothing has happened yet," said Sirius. "At least we don't know anything about it. And we know quite a lot."

"Has he stopped killing? It doesn't sound like him", Harry wondered.

"He doesn't want to draw attention at the moment," replied Sirius. "He's still too weak, and that would be too dangerous for him. His plan to return didn't go quite his way. It didn't work out the way he wanted."

"Why not?"

"Because you messed up his plans, Harry." Sirius smiled proudly. "He was sure you wouldn't survive the events at the cemetery. He was sure that only Death Eaters would know about his return. "And you have survived yet again, and you told Dumbledore about everything. And it was only thanks to you the headmaster was able to convene the Order."

"I was lucky." Sirius raised an eyebrow doubtfully, at which Harry just shrugged.

 "So what is this Order actually doing?"

"We are doing everything we can to prevent Voldemort from implementing his plans."

"But how do you know his plans?"

"Dumbledore is guessing. And when he guesses, it usually turns out he's right." Sirius' tone implied that he didn't quite agree with that.

"Meaning?" The boy kept digging.

"First of all, he wants to rebuild his army," replied Sirius at last. "He used to have quite a sizable one. There were many witches and wizards under his command, whom he forced through threats or deluded with spells. There were also his faithful Death Eaters and all kinds of dark creatures. You have heard him talk about giants, and it's not just them he wants in his ranks. He certainly won't try to take control of the Ministry of Magic with a handful of Death Eaters."

Suddenly, sliced r03;r03;baguettes, two portions of stew, wine and two glasses appeared on the table. Harry raised an eyebrow at Sirius when the man poured him wine.

"House Elves are used to prepare French dishes. My mother has always been crazy about the cuisine. Boeuf Bourguignon and Château Pétrus Grand Vin Pomerol. A wonderful mix."

Harry tried the stew, which was really delicious.

"So, you're trying to prevent him from gaining new allies, right?" asked Harry nibbling a baguette. When Sirius nodded, the boy asked: "How?"

"We're trying to convince people that You-Know-Who is back. And it turned out that it is not simple at all."

"Why? They might... I don't know... Write about it in the Prophet."

Sirius looked at him sympathetically.

"You don't read the Prophet, do you?"

"No. I'm not getting any owls."

Sirius put down his cutlery and sighed. Harry noticed the man's behaviour, and seeing that something was wrong, he immediately lost interest in his food."

"Fudge is afraid of Dumbledore," Sirius began slowly.

"Well, even Voldemort is afraid of him." Harry shrugged his shoulders.

"Yes, but not in that way. Fudge is afraid that Dumbledore is after the Minister of Magic position."

"But I don't think the headmaster wants ..."

"Of course not, but Fudge wants to discredit him, and unfortunately, you as well."

"Are they writing crap articles about me again?"

"I would say that they only mention you. That all you want is to get some attention." He looked at Harry even with more compassion. "I'm so sorry, Harry. The Ministry hopes that ordinary wizards will consider you as a stupid teenager who tells everyone all sorts of funny stories about himself because he loves his fame."

"But I didn't ask ... I didn't want ... Voldemort killed my parents!" Harry burst out. "I became famous because he murdered my family and he couldn't kill me! Who would want to be famous for such a reason? Wouldn't it occur to them that I'd rather never..."

"I know, Harry," Sirius interrupted. "The point is, if our community believed in Voldemort's return, it would mean that the Ministry would have to face problems it has not had to deal with for nearly fourteen years," he said bitterly. "Fudge is just afraid he might not be able to deal with it. It is much more convenient for him to believe that Dumbledore invented it to deprive him of power. That's why it is challenging to convince people of Voldemort's return, especially since they themselves prefer not to believe it. Moreover, the Ministry is putting a lot of pressure on the Daily Prophet to keep quiet about what the Ministry calls "harmful rumours" that come from Dumbledore. That's why most wizards have no idea what's really going on. This makes them easy targets for Death Eaters when they use the Imperius spell.

"But the Order tells people what's going on, right? Are you informing them that Voldemort has really returned?"

Sirius smiled crookedly.

"Just think about it, Harry. Since everyone considers me a mass murderer whose head has been awarded a prize of ten thousand galleons, I can't just walk the streets and hand out leaflets. Others would lose their jobs if they began to convince people out loud, and we need spies in the Ministry because Voldemort no doubt already has his own there. And still, despite everything, we managed to convince a few people."

"But if none of you is spreading information about Voldemort's return..." Harry began.

"And who said none of us does that?" Sirius asked. "Why do you think Dumbledore has problems with the Ministry?"

"What do you mean?"

"The Prophet wrote that the headmaster had lost Supreme Mugwump's position of the International Confederation of Wizards because he is getting old and losing control. But we know what the truth is. Wizards from our Ministry voted against him after he had announced the return of Voldemort. They stripped him of the rank of Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and are already saying that he must be stripped of the Order of Merlin as well".

"But if Voldemort tries to recruit more Death Eaters, it'll soon spread that he's back, right?" asked Harry hopefully.

"Voldemort draws people in by deception and treachery. He charms them, blackmails them, and he is a master of stealth. Besides, recruiting supporters is not his only objection at the moment. He also has other plans that he wants to implement quietly, and that is what he is focusing on at present."

"Again, what do you mean? What other plans?" asked Harry.

"He wants to steal something he didn't get the last time", And when Harry still looked like somebody who didn't know what was going on, Sirius added: "Kind of a weapon."

"What weapon? Anything worse than the Unforgivables?"

"Unfortunately, I am not able to tell you that."

"Don't you know?" He asked doubtfully.

"I'm under oath. If you didn't notice, I haven't given you any names of the Order members. I'm just literally not able to. Which is good. These are basic precautions that apply for every member of the Order."

Harry nodded.

"I want to become a member of the Order."

"Sorry, it's not possible. The admission is only for trained, adult wizards." Sirius smiled sadly at him.

The answer didn't go well with Harry.

"But I can fight him. I want to fight him!

"It's Dumbledore's decision," Sirius replied calmly.

"Yeah? I wonder if any of these trained, adult wizards had fought him as many times as I have! I wonder how many of them are still alive to tell about it! I saw him possess Quirrell, and I got rid of the basilisk. I was the one who destroyed Ginny's journal. And it was me who saw him reborn!" Harry didn't even notice when he got up.

"Harry, calm down! I know you would like to join in and fight. And in my opinion, it's safer for you to have more information rather than less. But that's Dumbledore's decision. And he's even more stubborn than you."

Harry snorted contemptuously and folded his arms over his chest.

"I'm slowly getting enough of the fact  that Dumbledore tells ms and everyone else what to do.. Who made him the king of the world? He is not my father! He cannot tell me what to do!"

"Hey! Take it easy!" Sirius raised his hands in a reassuring gesture. "I know you don't like the way it all looks. I would be lying if I said that I do not, at least partially, feel the same. But it is what it is." He sighed deeply. "We cannot afford to be even more divided. Not when so few of us believe in his return." Said Sirius, then looked at Harry's barely touched meal. "Don't you like it?"

"Somehow, it lost my appetite," Harry replied, irritated.

"Then come with me, let's take a break from gloomy topics. Let's cast Fidelius now, and then we can maybe arrange a little sparring? I will show you some spells that extremely irritate Slytherins. Of course, when you cast them at the Snakes." Sirius smirked.

"Sure." Harry agreed. Eager to do magic and learn new spells, he even tried to smile back. "But what about... you know. I'm not seventeen yet, and I can't use magic outside of school. I've already gotten one warning. I can't be kicked out of Hogwarts.

"You're kidding, right?" Sirius looked at him, surprised. "Of course, they won't throw you out. Only Muggle-borns can't cast spells at home. There is so much magic in wizarding mansions that there is no chance the Ministry will discover who is using it. They are not able to control it."

"And the Weasleys? Mrs Weasley..."

"Well, Molly is kind of a basket case. I assure you, the noble houses would not allow the Ministry to interfere with the use of magic by their descendants."

"Then you better not mention all of this to Hermione. She won't be delighted to learn that pureblood wizards have the opportunity to learn spells on holidays, while she is not."

"Ah, Hermione, I know what you mean. I've met her. Anyway, please, don't mention to anybody that I took you here, or even that we saw each other. I promised Remus that I won't leave Grimmauld Place. Ever since I escaped Azkaban, his wolf instinct is paranoid when it comes to me."

"Then why…"

"I had to make sure you were fine. Besides, I didn't escape from one prison just to end up in another one," the man laughed.

They went to a vast, gloomy library. As soon as they entered inside, Harry felt goosebumps. He was sure there were books of nasty magic that could get anyone Azkaban's life sentence.

Sirius seemed to know what he was looking for. Without hesitating even for a moment, he walked over to the third row of shelves. The man took out a thin volume of Hide—Advanced Security. He wanted to make sure that he remembered the spell perfectly.

Harry's part was minor. Every time Sirius was going to finish his rather long chant that started with the word Fidelis, he was going to cast Corium. Then they headed outside again. They were to cast their spells while walking around the property with the correct wand movements. The whole process would be much simpler were it not because the spell was to cover such a vast area. As it turned out, the property also had a large Quidditch pitch, a part of a forest, an orchard, a garden, stables with a paddock (which, of course, had no animals, because they had died long ago), and even a piece of beach with a cave below the cliff where the house stood.

After walking around the grounds, they finally gained the place where they started, and Harry uttered his spell one last time. Then he saw the magic pouring out from inside of him, enveloping the property like a soap bubble, then coming back and penetrating his chest.

He had to admit it looked pretty impressive.

HPHPHPHPHP

For the rest of the day, Harry had a really great time. And it was thanks to Sirius, who acted like a child, which cheered Harry up. Maybe he didn't forget about the problems, but he pushed them away for a while. The spells Sirius had decided to teach him were… totally useless. But at least funny. Turning hair into feathers, enchanting clothes to sparkle with dozens of different colours, or casting a spell on the laces to make them dance and sing to the rhythm of disco music.

Late evening, Sirius apparated him back to the Spinner's End.

"Thanks for today. I'm really glad you came to see me", Harry said, looking at him gratefully.

"Oh, Harry," Sirius put his hands on his shoulders and looked into his eyes. "It's a long time since I had so much fun as today. In a week, or two at the most, I'll take you to Porthcurno again."

"Really? Promise?" He hesitated for a moment. "And it's not too dangerous? You know, with the Ministry and all..."

"We cast Fidelius, and you are the Secret Keeper, not to mention those old defensive spells cast by successive generations of Blacks. At the moment, it's probably the safest place in the world for us. Really, nothing will go wrong. I promise you, Harry, I'll be back in two weeks. I will not leave you alone." He hugged the boy as he said it. "Just please take care of yourself".

"You too". Said Harry, then the older wizard stepped away from him and disappeared.

 

Monday, July 10th 1995

"My aunt is gonna visit next week" Oasis' voice snapped Harry out of his thoughts. They walked through the park, kicking a football in front of them. They were supposed to meet Pele and Roo at the playground and go to a friendly match with the other district team.

"Hmm?"

"You know, from London."

"Yhm. Cool?" said Harry in a questioning voice, not knowing what really the other teen mean by that.

Oasis laughed out loud.

"I mean, you know she and your old man are a thing," he smirked.

"What thing?" Harry felt more and more confused.

"Where the hell did you come from? She and your old man fuck like rabbits, so she'll probably be staying at yours." Oasis shook his head in disbelief that someone could be so oblivious.

Harry made a face in disgust at the thought of Tobias in bed with some woman. He definitely didn't want to know the details. He remembered that Oasis had mentioned something about it the first time Harry met him, but he let it go then.

He looked to his right, toward the sandbox, and noticed Dredd, surrounded by his buddies. When he looked closer, he saw that they started a contention with some guy. Dredd grabbed the book from the guy's hand, and when the guy tried to take it back, one of Dredd's friends held him down.

"Natty dresser is about to burst into tears?" Harry heard the mocking voice of a boy he really started to dislike.

"That jerk got his hands on some swell. And it is our patch. Fuck, won't he ever get that he shouldn't show up here? Let's tell him to fuck off to his lame neighbourhood!" Oasis got indignant, but Harry didn't hear him anymore. He ran towards the starting brawl.

"Leave him alone!" Harry said sharply.

"What's it..." Dredd broke off as he looked at Harry. "Oy, Dolly! Nice to see you." He smiled insincerely. "You came here to save your friend?"

"Leave him alone! Really, three against one? It's even below your level." Harry hissed, narrowing his eyes. The boy must have seen something in them because involuntarily, he took a step back.

Harry, on the other hand, looked at the figure behind Dredd and blinked. He couldn't believe his eyes. In front of him, dressed in a shirt buttoned up to the neck, tucked into neatly ironed trousers and made of a material that even Malfoy would not be ashamed of, stood Theodore Nott.

"Nott," he whispered in complete surprise. He was so shocked that he didn't notice the fist of one of Dredd's friends moving towards him. It was only thanks to Oasis' quick reflex, the fist didn't smash Harry's nose.

At the same time, Roo and Pele also appeared.

"Come on, let's go," said Dredd to his friends, tossing the book to the ground and walking away.

"Really, Shortie?" Oasis asked and then began to speak in a squeaky childish voice: "Oh, there is this Dredd who hates me, and he's bigger and stronger and would gladly squash me like a bug. I'll sprint to see if he can smash my nose. I just have to hurry so my buddies won't help me by accident. There will be so much fun." When he finished, everyone snorted except for Harry, who just rolled his eyes." But seriously, why didn't you wait for me? For the guys? You know, these blokes would crush you."

"Oh, shut up," snapped Harry, unable to find a good comeback. He looked again at the Slytherin, who was bending down to get his book, never taking his eyes off Harry.

"What are you doing here, Nott?" Harry drawled.

"I might ask you the same," he replied, looking just as surprised as Griffon.

After staring at each other for a few seconds, Harry relented, shrugged and replied: "I live here."

"Shortie, this ironed bloke is your chuck?"

Harry noticed that the Slytherin gripped the book tighter and took a step back. Indeed, Harry with his friends could look quite scary. There were several of them, headed by the muscular, tattooed and over six feet tall Oasis. Harry thought he didn't mind Nott's fear. The only thing that interested him now was the reason for the boy's presence in the Muggle neighbourhood. It was pretty suspicious. Besides, Malfoy and his gorillas had tried to intimidate him more than once. This situation could be considered as a bit of retaliation.

The Little Hangleton events made Harry try to be more attentive and suspicious, though perhaps the others hadn't noticed it yet. Nott was one of the Death Eaters who appeared at Voldemort's summons. There was a good chance he might have been the father of the boy who stood right in front of him. The presence of the boy in a Muggle neighbourhood made him uneasy. He knew there was the anti-magic area that Dumbledore had set up here. However, it only included the park and the Spinner's End. The Slytherin couldn't use magic here, so he had no way to attack him now, and Harry could feel relatively safe. But, as soon as the teen informs his father of Harry's whereabouts, next time, many Death Eaters could be waiting for him at the edge of the park.

"He goes to my school."

"Okay, then listen up, mate. If Dredd has any problem with you again, you can come to me. He can torment people at his neighbourhood", said Oasis, completely oblivious to the tension between the two wizards.

"You still haven't said what you're doing here".

"None of your business, Potter," replied Nott. Harry narrowed his eyes. He felt like anger overwhelmed him. Of course, it was his business. After all, now it was not only his life that was at stake but also those Muggle boys, who had no idea about the wizarding world at all. From what he had heard in the First War stories, the Death Eaters wouldn't have hesitated for a second before killing a Muggle.

He took a step towards Nott, who shuddered slightly and backed away.

"What the fuck" said Oasis. "Shortie's just risked his delicate face for you. A little gratitude would be sensible."

"Nobody asked him for it. Potter is known for his recklessness." He looked again at Harry, who was clenching his fists. "But if you're so interested in it, I'll tell you. Snape offered me tutoring. I live with him."

"Guys, we have a game to play," Pele reminded them." Come on."

"Don't come here, again," Harry snarled, turning on his heel. He knew the Potions Master indulged the Slytherins, but why the hell was he inviting them over on holidays? Couldn't Harry really have even a little peace of mind? Someone up there must have really hated him. Not only could he run into Snape at any moment, but now a bunch of mean Slytherins were about to wander around.

"Shortie, seriously, are you often that crazy? You know Dredd's got a problem with you, and he'd gladly pummel you."

"Well, I couldn't let him do anything to a random kid."

"He's not an idiot. He would probably hassle him for a moment and leave. He wouldn't do anything terrible to a random kid; at most, he would poke a little. On the other hand, he wouldn't mind smashing your nose. Do you want a nose like your old man?" Harry grimaced. Fortunately, there was always magic to prevent this from happening. He shrugged.

"I don't know, mate, how to tell you this because I'm afraid you'll be in such a shock that you won't pull yourself together before the match, but you won't stand a chance against him in a fistfight. He is at least twice your size. If you wanna brawl, it's cool, tell us, we'll destroy them, but only as a group."

"Okay, I got it. We have a match to win. Let's focus on that," Harry grunted, still unhappy, thinking about Nott's presence on Spinner's End.

To be continued...
Chapter 8: Twenty-eight pounds by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
Thank you VAspera, Gingerljf175 and Jasmin Kain:) for beta reading.
I really appreciate your help.

It's been over a week, and although Harry was hanging out on his favourite swing or sandbox with friends every day, he didn't meet Nott again.

It's been a weird week. Tobias was…well, Harry himself couldn't easily describe the man's behaviour. At times, the teenager felt that Tobias cared about him, but he was also quick to upset. The anxiety didn't leave Harry even for a moment because he could never guess what mood the man would be in.

It was different with Uncle Vernon. His uncle didn't like him, and neither did Aunt Petunia. So it was just better to stay away from them. The Dursleys’ behaviour rarely surprised him. Of course, it was for the best when he acted as if he didn't exist, but Harry also knew when and what he could get away with. Dudley was stupid, and Harry could run fast. So, the interactions with his cousin were simple too. Snape hated him, so again—it was just better to pretend he didn't exist (even though, in this case, it seldom worked). As for the other professors—they had no problem with him, and well, most of the time, they were simply nice. When he did something wrong, they took house points, but it didn't really change their behaviour towards him. However, Tobias sometimes acted like he cared about Harry, and other times as if the boy's mere presence made him angry.

Last Tuesday, the construction materials had been seized at the border. The East Build—the company Tobias worked for—ordered them from Eastern European countries to reduce the costs. For this reason, construction was halted, and employees were sent home until the materials went through customs inspections. Tobias didn't seem angry about it at all—he told Harry that they would refurbish his room and even took him shopping. They bought the cheapest white paint and a silver-grey bedspread. Tobias offered to buy a rug as well, and Harry readily agreed. In the price range the man agreed to, there were only three colours: neon pink, rotten green, and emerald green. Before Harry started Hogwarts, green was his favourite colour. Still, as it turned out to be the colour of the Slytherins, he wasn't so keen on it anymore. However, having not much choice, he opted for emerald green. They also managed to find cheap matching curtains.

By the evening, they finished the refurbishment. Harry washed the window, and Tobias repaired and oiled the wardrobe door and chair. The boy was impressed with the effect. The room looked completely different. Perhaps a bit too Slytherin, but he was delighted anyway. Until three years ago, his biggest dream was, cluttered with broken toys, Dudley's second bedroom. Now, he had his own room that was made specifically for him. He was overjoyed. He thanked Tobias over and over because he felt that this would be the place where he belonged.

But as the week went by and construction still didn't resume, Tobias drank more and more, becoming more and more exasperated. In fact, Harry hasn't seen him sober for four days.

Shortly after breakfast, Harry started washing up, and Tobias went to lie down on the sofa with his favourite beer because he was not feeling well.

As Harry was doing the dishes, he wondered if he should inform someone of Nott's presence in Cokeworth. He wanted to write to Ron and Hermione, but he was a little angry with them that they hadn't spoken to him since the beginning of the summer just because Dumbledore had told them not to. They were his friends, not the Headmaster's. He wouldn't leave them all alone. Sirius said that the Weasleys were supposed to stay at his place because it was supposed to be safer there than at the Burrow. Probably everyone had a great time there. Of course, Harry was fine, but he felt a little left out. Nobody told him about anything. If it weren't for Sirius, he wouldn't have had the basic information. He wondered if the Prophet continued to slander him.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by an unexpected blow to the back of the head. The force of which was big enough that his forehead hit the cupboard above the sink. Surprised, he looked at Tobias, who grabbed his arm and began shaking him.

"D'ya think I'm rolling in money? You turned on the tap, and you're standing like a fool with your head stuck up your arse, and the water is running!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to!"

"Don't apologize, just next time, think about what the fuck you’re doing! And stop daydreaming! Just get out of my sight!" He pulled Harry towards the kitchen door and returned to the sofa.

Harry clenched his fists, but he bit his tongue to keep himself from talking back. Since Tobias was in such a foul mood, he decided to stay away. Both his head and his arm throbbed painfully, so the boy rubbed them. He didn't go to his room but strode out of the house, slamming the door loudly to vent his anger at least a little.

He headed towards Oasis' house; unfortunately, he missed him. His father had informed Harry that Oasis would be going to London to pick up his aunt. Harry remembered that the boy had mentioned her and Tobias several times. Yuck.

Having nothing better to do, he decided to go to the park.

Suddenly, he saw the silhouette of Nott heading towards him. So, Harry decided to follow Slytherin. Despite the boy's explanations that Snape was teaching him Potions, it seemed very suspicious that he was in the area where Harry lived.

Harry went after him down a parallel path, hidden by bushes growing along the edge of it. It allowed him to keep an eye on Nott, with only a slight chance of being noticed. Harry saw that the Slytherin looked around suspiciously every now and then as if he was looking for someone. Perhaps he was given a mission to spy on Harry or something like that? Harry smirked. The roles were reversed, and Nott had no idea about it.

The Slytherin entered Mrs. Maggie's shop, so Harry quickly ran to the window and looked inside. Nott was buying something, but Harry couldn't find anything suspicious about the vegetables and yoghurts Mrs. Maggie was handing him. He wondered if the nice old lady thought the boy was slightly defective when he poured money onto the counter, trying to deduct the right amount, which took him a long time. Harry snorted softly, amused. Yes, his sense of humour definitely sharpens.

After a while, the Slytherin packed his purchases and began heading to the exit, and Harry hid behind the corner. On the way out, Nott looked around anxiously and only then started on his way back.

Harry decided to keep following him, but he had to wait until the distance between them was long enough. They were headed toward Reddish Road. When Harry finally made the turn around the corner of the street, the Slytherin was gone.

The Gryffindor regretted that he didn't take the Invisibility Cloak with him. He would have kept a shorter distance, and maybe then he would have noticed where Nott had gone.

Suddenly he heard, "Hey, Shortie!" Standing on the stairs leading to one of the houses was Roo. "What are you doing here?" his friend asked curiously.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm just knocking around."

"Do you want to come in and play with me on the console?”

"Sure." As a child, he’d dreamed of playing on Dudley's computer games so often that he was happy to accept the invitation now. "And your parents? Won't I disturb them?"

"My folks are visiting Grandma. Anyway, it's not like they mind that I invite my friends over."

Harry entered a spotless, well-kept house. He immediately took off his shoes so he would not make a mess on the floor. Roo took him upstairs. The boy's room was large, spacious, and even nicer than Dudley's.

"I've got a new Sega Saturn for my birthday. Wanna play Mortal Kombat?"

Harry shrugged. He didn't know much about games, so he didn't care what they were going to play.

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Harry had a great time at Roo's. They played Mortal Kombat and FIFA, then ate the dinner that Roo's mother left for him, and after that they played again, this time in Warcraft. He didn't even notice when it got dark outside. He lingered before going home but finally decided that it was really late and he should have to get going.

He hesitated for a moment outside of his house. He felt the anxiety again and started to wish he hadn't slammed the door so furiously when he was going out. He hoped Tobias wouldn't be angry with him. And that the man would be sober, although Harry seriously doubted it because the man started his day with a beer. On the other hand, Tobias could be so drunk he wouldn't even notice that Harry entered the house so the boy would be able to slip into his room unnoticed.

Harry could feel his palms starting to sweat. He closed his eyes and pressed the handle. As soon as he opened the door, the smell of baking cake hit him from the very threshold. It was weird. The boy was sure Tobias wouldn't bother with baking. If he could bake at all.

The man appeared at the kitchen door. "Where the hell have you been all day?" he snapped.

Harry lifted his chin and looked boldly at Tobias. "I was at my friend's house. What, suddenly I am not allowed to go out?"

Tobias snorted disapprovingly. "Come with me. I want to introduce you to someone." The man, not too gently, grasped the teen by the back of his neck and ushered him into the living room.

Harry scowled at the manhandling, but he didn't protest.

There, in the smoky living room, was a woman sitting on the couch. As soon as she saw the teen, she got up to greet him. She was a few inches taller than him and it was difficult to judge her age. She had a lot of wrinkles, but she was petite, with her hair cut short. She was wearing intense makeup: black, pencil-painted eyebrows contrasted with her pale skin and fiercely red lips.

"This is Sheryl," Tobias said, releasing him. "She will stay with us for a few days."

"And you must be Harry? Tobias told me about you." She held out her hand to him.

Harry squeezed it, rubbing his sore neck with his left hand. "Nice to meet you," he said, glancing uncertainly at Tobias, who went to sit on the couch.

"Harry, get yourself some food and go to sleep. It's late." As Tobias pulled the woman onto his lap, Harry turned around and left. He didn't mind giving them some privacy.

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Wednesday, July 20th, 1995

The following day, Harry was awakened by raised voices coming from the hallway. He got up quickly and put his ear to the door.

"…Then quit it and come with me."

"Fuck, why the hell won't you understand that I can't. I'm lumbered with the kid now!"

Harry froze.

"Then give him back. His previous caregivers somehow had no problem throwing the responsibility for the kid at you."

"You must be insane if you think I'm gonna give him up. I've waited fifteen years to meet him. He is mine."

"Just look at yourself. You can't even take care of yourself, let alone a kid. What can you give him?"

"You won't be telling me what I can and can't do! And the kid has everything he needs. He is fine."

"Then, leave him with someone just for two weeks. There is a vacancy at my workplace. And you have no job at the moment, and you definitely need money."

'So he had financial problems,' Harry thought as he stepped out into the hallway and through the ajar door entered Tobias' room. "You can leave me here alone," he said. Harry couldn't have imagined that he would live with one of Tobias' acquaintances or—horror of horrors—with his other son. "Really. I'll take care of the house."

"See?" Sheryl smirked wryly. "You can leave him. He's old enough."

"Are you crazy!? For two weeks?!" Then he turned to Harry. "And nobody taught you not to eavesdrop?"

"Well, you're screaming so loud it's hard not to hear it," Harry said, which he immediately regretted when he saw Tobias walking towards him. Flinching, he raised his hand defensively, but the man didn't hit him, just gripped his arm tightly and shook him.

"Don't talk back, you little shit! And don't get in the way when the adults are talkin'. We'll talk about it later." With that, he easily threw Harry out the door and slammed it behind him.

The anger that emerged from the rough treatment quickly turned into an uneasy feeling. Tobias' words, 'we'll talk later,' didn't bode well.

After a while, the voices in the next room faded. And after another few minutes, Harry heard the characteristic creak of the front door. He looked out the window and saw that both Sheryl and Tobias had left.

Taking the opportunity, he went for a quick shower. He decided not to show himself too much to Tobias when the man returned later, whenever that would be. After the shower, he lay down on the bed with an unpleasantly clenched stomach. An hour passed and the anxiety engulfing him began to be replaced by irrational anger. He slammed his fist on the bed. Rather than be content that Tobias had left him alone, Harry was angry that the man hadn't even bothered to tell him where he was going and when he would be back. That's why Harry wasn't going to sit at home either.

As he headed for the playground, he angrily kicked stones. Tobias was ungrateful. Harry just wanted to suggest a solution that would make the man's life easier. The boy sat down on his favourite swing. Sheryl wanted Tobias to get rid of him, but the man firmly opposed, so at least for now, Harry could be sure he wouldn't end up homeless.

Suddenly, in the distance, Nott's silhouette appeared. The Slytherin's presence in Cokeworth had bothered Harry all week. Nott passed the bench he had been sitting on the last time Dredd and his friends had accosted him and chose the one that stands a little further away and was partially hidden between the trees. He looked around, sat up, looked at his watch, and began reading the book. He was sitting irritatingly upright.

Cokeworth was pretty big. Why did Nott have to come here?

Like Harry didn't have enough problems, the Slytherin had to show up at Spinner's End. Harry was feeling more and more irritated. In the end, he couldn't stand it, so he got up and decided to go over to the other wizard.

Hearing the sound of footsteps heading towards him, Nott quickly lifted his head, tightening his fingers on the book.

"Potter," he greeted Harry with contempt in his voice.

"Nott," the Gryffindor replied in an equally contemptuous tone. "I told you not to come here. It's a Muggle neighbourhood." Harry clenched his fists in anger. He didn't know why the sight of a neatly dressed Slytherin sitting in the park and reading a Muggle book made him so angry.

"If I'm not mistaken, it's a public park, and everyone has a right to be here." The Slytherin rose, towering over Harry. He was several inches taller. "What? Asking for trouble again?" Nott looked meaningfully at his bruised forehead.

Harry got hot under the collar.

"It's a Muggle park, and I'm just surprised that Voldemort's pureblood minion hangs out in a place like this. What’s going to happen if your master found out about it?"

Nott turned pale.

"Shut up, Potter. You don't know anything."

"Yes, actually, I do. I saw your father in the graveyard. He was on his knees kissing Voldemort's robes." Harry realized what he was saying was terrible, but he was so angry that he didn't really care. He just wanted to feel released.

"I won't let you provoke me," Nott said through his teeth, although it was evident that he was barely in control.

"Why? Are you afraid of Snape?"

The Slytherin just shrugged. "You know that he has no problem with making someone's life difficult. And I don't need it."

"Even a Slytherin's life?"

Nott raised his eyebrows up. "Of course. Do you think that an irritated Snape can be pleasant to anyone?"

Harry calmed down a little.

"Just stay away from me," he said as he walked away.

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Upon returning home, he found Tobias in the kitchen cooking dinner.

"Where the hell have you been?"

Harry's stomach tightened again. "Sorry for the morning," he said quickly, seeing that Tobias was still angry with him.

"That doesn't answer my fuckin' question."

"In the park. Just for a bit."

"You're grounded until the end of the week. You are to wash the windows, clean and tidy up the yard behind the house."

"Okay." ‘A four-day grounding? Seriously? That's what he was supposed to be afraid of?’ "What about football practice?"

"You'll go there. I didn't sign you up there to make a fool of myself now," Tobias said, putting spaghetti on Harry's plate.

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Sunday, July 23rd, 1995

Harry was awakened by the warm rays of the sun falling through the open window straight onto his face. Recently, things have started to fall into place again. It was the last day of his grounding, and all the work that Tobias had assigned him had been done some time ago. Sheryl left on Friday. That day, Tobias also returned to work and actually became more liveable and absent more often. The day before, Harry's team had won one of the crucial matches. At Spinner's End, even the grounding was better than his daily routine when living at Privet Drive.

Harry got up, dressed quickly, and went downstairs. The man was apparently still asleep because his shoes were thrown around on the hall floor. He put them nicely, then went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Unfortunately, apart from a can of Coke, he found nothing there. Tobias had not done any shopping for a few days now, and any food supplies were practically used up. However, he did not dare to wake up the man and start complaining just because he was hungry. Harry knew Tobias wasn't like the Dursleys, and he wasn't starving him on purpose. Anyway, he could ignore his crying out for food. He drank a Coke to satisfy his hunger at least a little. It made him feel better.

He wished he had not spent all the money the twins had sent him. He could have forgone some clothes and now would have some pounds for a rainy day.

He went to take a shower, and when he came downstairs, Tobias was already sitting at the table with tea in his hand.

"Harry, go to Mrs Maggie's store and buy some food on tick."

"What do you mean ‘on tick’?" he asked, confused.

"Normally. Say that I will give the money back when I get my salary."

"You're kidding me..." He broke off; he was definitely not going to ask for food from the store unpaid.

"No. I am not joking.”

"But…”

"Don't argue," Tobias growled. "I should have received the money two days ago, but the boss is lingering with the payment." Harry could hear a hint of weariness in his voice. "Maggie is a good woman. She knows that life is not easy and this kind of situation happens. Tell her I will receive my money by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest."

Harry swallowed. He couldn't go there. It was too…demeaning.

"No, I'm not going to...er...ponce." Living with the Dursleys taught him very well to never ask anyone for food.

"We gotta eat something." The man's tone grew harsh, and his irritation was more and more visible.

"Don't worry, we will make it," Harry said, trying to smile reassuringly. "I saw some pasta in the cupboard. I will cook it, season it, and it will be fine, and you said it yourself that you have meals at work," he added quickly.

"Don't be an idiot. You will not go hungry. You already look like a scarecrow anyway. Go to Maggie's, get some bread, cheese, something for dinner, two beers, and ciggies."

"Well…no," Harry objected, lifting his chin higher.

"Harry…" Tobias narrowed his eyes.

"I won't go. You just care that I get you alcohol and cigarettes," Harry drawled, increasingly angry.

"I'm warning you, Harry. Do I have to get up?"

Despite the apparent threat and Tobias' sinister tone, the boy continued. "If you hadn't been drinking so much, you might not have run out of money." Even when furious Tobias got up and headed towards Harry, the teen continued, "and I wouldn't have to go to the fucking shop and beg for food and your⎯" he broke off as Tobias swung his hand to strike him.

Harry flinched, but his reflexes were good enough, so he raised his hand above his head. It slightly changed the direction of the blow, so Tobias' fingers hit Harry's mouth. The boy took a step back, so he was touching the wall now.

"Don't make me angry, boy," threatened the man, and his fingers went to the metal buckle on a thick leather belt. "I will whale the tar out of you so you won't even think about sitting down for the next week. And you will just start bawling. And in the end, you're gonna go to that goddamn shop anyway. It's your last chance. Though I should have your hide for your cheek anyway. I'm counting to three. One…"

Despite his fear, Harry gave him a rebellious look. "Fuck you."

"Listen up, you little bastard. You are to do what I say." Tobias grabbed his arm tightly, opened the door, and, pulling him with all his strength, threw him onto the sidewalk. "You have half an hour," he finished, then disappeared inside the house, slamming the door.

Harry slowly got to his feet and brushed down his knees. Noticing the tear on his trousers, he cursed under his breath.

As he walked towards the park, still a little shaky, he unconsciously wiped the line of blood that slowly clotted on his chin. The strike wasn't hard, but his teeth cut the delicate skin of his lips. He sighed. Even in the morning, it seemed to him that he was much better here than at the Dursleys'. Now, he had no idea what to do next. Sirius promised to visit him within two weeks and take him again to Porthcurno. Today was exactly the fourteenth day, and he hadn't heard from his godfather anything for the whole two weeks. He hoped the wizard would keep his word, show up, and take him away.

At that moment, he was afraid to go back home, and he started to regret his words. Besides, he knew that he will regret it if he goes home without going to that fucking shop first. He was scared that Tobias might eventually fulfill his threats. On the other hand, maybe Harry was worried for nothing again, and all of it will just blow over. Maybe Tobias was just all talk.

Harry looked at his watch, realized it was Sunday and Mrs. Maggie would close her shop soon. He ran his fingers through his hair and groaned. If the teen had been sure that Sirius would come for him as had promised, Harry would have forgone the visit in the shop and avoided the embarrassment. He would ask his godfather to let him stay in the massive house by the sea until the end of Summer. However, he had doubts that the man would keep his word.

He cursed under his breath. He knew he had to finally pull himself together, stop feeling sorry for himself all the time, and stop relying on others—as he had started to do recently. He was an idiot to let himself hope that he would have an adult he could count on. He didn't need one anyway. Hell, he was almost fifteen. He was practically an adult himself. He should just be grateful that he had a place to sleep and some food—Harry snorted when he realized his current situation—usually at least.

He had already had to sleep outside on several occasions at the Dursleys. He wasn't keen to repeat the experience. Each time it happened, his uncle did not let him into the house for the night due to some stupid reasons. Sleeping in the garden on the grass, without any blanket or a pillow, was one of the worst experiences, especially when it was raining. He wasn't going to do it again, so he couldn't just run away without any plan. And although the stay with Tobias put him in a permanent state of anxiety because the man, particularly when drunk, was like a time bomb, Harry had already been in worse situations. He decided to suck it up and survive the humiliation in front of Mrs. Maggie. Then he will go home, eat a humble pie, and perhaps by evening, he will be able to forget about the whole incident.

Harry sighed. He needs to swallow his pride this one last time, go to that stupid shop, and at the earliest opportunity, get the gold out of his Gringotts' Vault, convert it to pounds and prevent this kind of situation from repeating again.

The gloomy thoughts accompanied him until he made it to the store. At that exact moment, it hit him what he was about to do. He felt embarrassment and growing panic. He didn't want to go inside so much. Harry passed the building, only glancing inside through the glass in the door. Unfortunately, inside, some old man was standing by the counter buying something. Harry didn't want any witnesses of his humiliation, so he waited outside.

He looked at his hands and saw that they were shaking slightly. He leaned against the wall and took a deep breath to calm down. Finally, the man left the store. Harry pushed back from the wall and was about to head to the entrance when he noticed some couple quickly approaching the shop. When they went in, Harry decided to wait a bit longer.

The teen thought that it would be easier to steal what he needed. Maybe not from a nice old lady, but from the supermarket. He wasn't a thief, of course, and he would have given the money back as soon as he had got it. However, if they caught him and the police brought him home, he was sure Tobias would kill him. Literally. Harry shivered at the mere thought.

Fortunately, the couple has just left the store. Harry looked around, and when he saw no one, he stepped inside.

"Good morning, Harry," Mrs. Maggie greeted him. "Why were you lurking outside?" She smiled good-naturedly at him.

"I…" he began hesitantly. "Because you see, the point is that..." It seemed a little easier when he was thinking about it than actually doing it.

"Yes, darling?" said the woman encouragingly.

"I would like..." He swallowed loudly. "Can I ask you for a favour?" he stammered out finally.

"What kind of favour? Did something happen?"

"No, nothing... I mean, could I buy something and pay on Wednesday?"

Mrs. Maggie frowned.

"Your father spent all of his money again?" she asked. "What an old sot," she added under her breath.

A crimson blush spread across Harry's cheeks. "No, it's not what you think. His boss was supposed to pay them this week, but something happened. I promise to give it all back on Wednesday. I promise."

"Of course," she nodded. "So, what can I get you?"

Harry listed a few things he needed, including alcohol and cigarettes. The woman did not comment on that.

"That will be twenty-eight pounds in total." She picked up a pen and wrote down the sum in the notebook she kept on the counter. "So, you're saying Wednesday, right?"

"It will not be necessary."

Hearing that voice, Harry froze. All the colour drained from his face. He wanted the ground to swallow him up. He would gladly disappear. Even one little Avada Kedavra would be better than his current situation. He would recognize that malicious, mocking voice anywhere. Harry didn't dare to turn around. He wished so badly that it was just a bad dream and he will wake up in a moment. However, nothing like that happened. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a pale hand pass the notes to the old woman.

"No, ma'am!" He interrupted hastily, "I'll give the money back to you on Wednesday. Really!" He wanted the woman to listen to him. He preferred to owe money to the nice old woman than to him.

"Shut up, you little idiot, this isn't a food bank," Snape growled. "And this, please," he added, handing the woman some vegetables that have been kept in crates against the wall in front of the counter.

Mrs. Maggie looked at Snape, took the cash, and turned to Harry.

"Then it's not me, who you will give the money back to," she said, handing him one bag and the other one to Snape.

"Goodbye." Harry said in a tense voice and left. Snape followed him.

Why has he always had the worst luck? If he'd only come five minutes earlier, he wouldn't have met Snape.

"I didn't ask for a loan," the Gryffindor said as he turned angrily to Snape. "I'll give it back to you as soon as possible," he added, his face burning with shame.

"It's ‘professor’ or ‘sir’ to you, Potter. And take your time, I don't need the money right now. When Tobias gives you some money, you will save it for next month. Be aware that this is not a one-time thing." Severus doubted he will be able to get the idiot boy out of his father's care by then, if it is possible at all. Not when Dumbledore disagreed with him on this matter. He could not count on the Ministry either. Even though he was a teacher at Hogwarts, everyone knew about his connection to Voldemort, and too much interest in the legal guardianship of The-Boy-Who-Lived would, at the very least, raise suspicions.

Besides, Dumbledore was right about one thing. The news of Potter's current guardian, much less the fact that he might be treated less than perfect, could not spread. He was sure Fudge wanted the boy under his control. There was also a chance that Malfoy would have applied for adoption of The-Boy-Who-Lived. He had money, and Narcissa was closely related to Black, who should have been the boy's guardian after the elder Potter's death. Of course, that was just an option, but it could have had dire consequences, beginning with the kid's quick death. Unfortunately, in the present situation, Severus' hands were tied. All he could do was keep an eye on Potter and reluctantly ease his plight.

Harry looked at his teacher, whose face was strangely neutral. The lack of the mocking smile he hated so much caught him off guard. It made him feel even more uneasy than usual. Not knowing how to behave in this situation, he reacted with anger.

"I don't want to be indebted to you. Tomorrow, I will go to Gringotts, exchange some Galleons and give it back to you."

"Potter, tell me, did you do a brain-swap with Longbottom?" Severus asked rhetorically. "Apart from the fact that, at the moment, you don't even have the financial capacity to get there, have you forgotten what happened in June? Who is back? Whose head the Dark Lord would want on a silver plate? I swear to you that if I find out that you set foot outside of Cokeworth unsupervised, I will give you detention every time Gryffindors will have Quidditch practice."

"You can't tell me what to do." The boy crossed his arms over his chest, and a grimace appeared on his face. "We're not at Hogwarts, and even if we were, you can't put me in detention if I don't do anything wrong. Anyway, McGonagall wouldn't⎯"

Snape smirked and interrupted the boy's tirade.

"Do you really think I need any reason to put you in detention?" Harry clenched his fists in frustration. "It doesn't matter, Potter. Your arse is to stay in Cokeworth if you know what is good for you," Snape said in a calmer tone, watching the boy. The truth was, the Potions Master must have a reason to put him in detention, which he later enters in his file. However, Potter did not know this. The boy believed that teachers could punish him whenever they felt like it. And, Severus had no intention of correcting his assumptions by informing him about the possibility of formally appealing to his head of the house or the Headmaster when the punishment was unfair or too severe. The kid did whatever he wanted at Hogwarts anyway. Severus saw no point in encouraging him any further.

The Potions Master looked a little closer at the short boy. He noticed his bony wrists, which looked as if they could be broken with bare hands without any effort. The already fading bruises in the shape of the large palm were imprinted on his left arm, his lip was split, and there was a visible smudge of dried blood on his chin. The sight of the boy was pathetic. After a moment, Snape cleared his throat, and Harry looked at him.

"If you want, you can work it off. You probably aren't aware, but every summer, I prepare potions for the hospital wing. Since you showed up at Hogwarts, along with that clumsy oaf Longbottom, I've got much more work to do because you're using up most of our supplies. So, you can help prepare ingredients for these potions. You will arrive at 37 Flukey Road tomorrow and the day after. Nine o'clock. I'll pay you five pounds per hour."

Harry squinted at the teacher, looking for a trick. He had no desire to visit Snape, much less work for him. The teenager was kicking himself for mentioning Gringotts. If he had kept his mouth shut, Snape wouldn't have threatened him with detentions during practices. He couldn't risk playing Quidditch just to give Snape his money back three days early and save his stupid pride. There was also a chance, of course, that Snape wouldn't find out Harry went there. Even though he did not have the money to pay for a ticket to London, he could always try to hitchhike. After visiting Gringotts, Harry would already have money to pay for the return ticket. But he knew that with his luck, at the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, he would run into Snape or someone who might tattle to Snape on him. And then—no Quidditch for him this year.

Harry debated with himself for a moment. Then, he lifted his chin higher and with all the dignity he had left, he nodded. He turned on his heel and marched off as fast as he could.

On the way back, he was cursing under his breath. He knew Nott was staying with Snape. Harry was sure that Snape will tell the Slytherin about everything that happened today, and they will laugh at poor, hungry Harry Potter, who begs for food in the store. Nott will probably repeat everything to Malfoy. Harry sighed. He already knew that September won't be easy for him. Neither Snape nor Malfoy will lay back and leave him alone. He could already imagine the malicious comments, taunts, and laughs.

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I’ve been through worse things before,’ he thought, trying to console himself.

As he entered the house, he again felt nervous at the memory of the last confrontation with his father. He put the groceries on the kitchen table and, through the open door, saw that Tobias was sitting on the couch, switching TV channels. When the man saw Harry, he narrowed his eyes, then stood up and headed towards him.

"It took you a long time."

Harry swallowed. "There was a queue."

"Fucking hell, stop lying!" Tobias took two quick steps forward. He gripped Harry's arm tightly, pushing him onto the table so the boy's chest was pressing against the tabletop and the edge of the table dug into his stomach. "There are no queues on Sundays! There are never fucking queues there! You were gone for an hour and a half!"

"Hey, what the hell, stop it! What are you doing! Leave me alone!" Harry tried to pull away, but a firm hand pressed his torso hard against the tabletop really hard.

"Shut the fuck up! I'll teach you how to behave! You will stop lying, and you will think again before giving me lip!"

"Seriously, leave me alone! You must be mental if you think I will let you beat me!" Harry shouted, panicking. He figured out what Tobias was about to do. He struggled harder and harder and tried to twist away, but it was in vain. Years of work on the construction site meant that Tobias had no problem holding a skinny teen down with one hand so the boy had no chance of breaking free.

Harry cursed loudly as he heard the click of an unfastened metal buckle.


 

To be continued...
End Notes:
Thank you guys for the reviews!!! They do give motivation!
Chapter 9: Ingredients by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank Jasmin Kain, VAspera and Gingerljf175

Monday, July 24th, 1995

Harry woke up early. He rolled onto his back and groaned in pain as his buttocks touched the mattress. He blushed with embarrassment, remembering the previous day's events. He was beaten like some stupid kid.

"Fuck," he cursed, wincing as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

A month earlier, Voldemort's Crucio hadn't made him cry, and yesterday a mere Muggle and his belt made him wail like a child. He kept apologizing to Tobias and promising an improvement.

'Yeah, a real hero of the wizarding world.'

Harry went to the bathroom to take a shower. He refrained himself from seeing in the mirror the damage Tobias had caused. After that, he returned to the room and checked his watch. Cursing himself for his sluggishness, the teen put on yesterday's clothes, which were sprawled on the floor, and ran out of the house to get through to Snape's as soon as possible. Harry didn't want to give the man even more weapons to use against him, even though he knew that yesterday's situation was more than enough. At least Harry hadn't had time to stress out.

'Two days. Two days of Snape's tortures, and then it'll be relatively over. I will just avoid Tobias, Nott and the oversized bat. I just need to endure two days,' Harry repeated over and over in his mind as he ran through the park, gritting his teeth at the pain caused by Tobias' beating. Breathless, he finally found the right house and rang the doorbell. The Potions Master, dressed in black as usual, opened the door.

"You're late." Snape let him come in and shut the door behind him. Harry looked at the clock that hung up in front of the entrance. It was precisely three minutes past nine.

Severus gestured for the boy to follow him. They entered a modest but clean kitchen. Snape sat down at the table, and Nott was already there. The latter nodded towards Harry, watching him, as he did the same.

"Sit down, Potter. As you can see, we're still in the middle of breakfast."

With hesitation, grimacing, Harry walked over to the table. He sat down in the vacant chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Snape glared at him, and he looked up defiantly, waiting for a malicious comment.

The older wizard sighed dramatically.

"Have you eaten breakfast yet?"

Harry hesitated before shaking his head. The nerves that he felt during the Potions lessons were back in full force. He regretted accepting Snape's offer. It's because of his damned pride and impulsiveness. Now, sitting across from the Slytherins, he saw nothing wrong with waiting until Wednesday to give back the money and then never coming here again. The whole thing wouldn't take more than a few minutes.

"Then help yourself," Snape smirked, pointing his hand at the table, quite copiously set as just the two of them.

"I came here to work off the money I borrowed, not to eat."

"As you can see, Potter, we're having breakfast right now. In the kitchen. And perhaps you've been hit in the head with a bludger too many times if you think I'll let you go to my laboratory just by yourself. So, if you're going to sit here for the next twenty minutes anyway, and you haven't had anything in your mouth yet today, you'll at least make yourself a bloody toast and eat it. I don't need the additional problem of a fainting Boy-Who-Lived.” The irritation in Snape's voice grew clearer with each word.

"I don't…"

"Potter, at least once, do something without unnecessary discussion," the teacher interrupted him.

Harry carefully took a slice of bread and smeared it with jam, conscious of Nott's and Snape's gazes on him. After a few seconds, however, the teacher turned his attention to the Slytherin and began to question him about some potions.

As Harry nibbled on his toast, he prayed silently that time would speed up and this awkward moment would be finally over.

He felt Snape's gaze on him again. The man narrowed his eyes but didn't shoot any cutting remarks.

 

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Half an hour later, they were in the basement. Harry had always wondered why the Potions laboratories were underground. After all, if such a high-powered cauldron exploded in the basement, it could destroy the building's foundations and, as a result, the whole house could collapse. However, if it exploded in the attic, it would destroy just the roof. He wasn't going to ask Snape about it, though.

All the walls in the room were covered with shelves, on which stood potions, ingredients, cauldrons, and some other brewing equipment. There were several tables in the centre, each with a cauldron or two. Harry felt a bit like he was in Potion's classroom at Hogwarts. He had an awful feeling about the next few hours in this place.

Snape headed him to a table by the wall on which lay various potion ingredients.

"Sit down," he said, pointing to a chair. As Harry reluctantly obeyed, the teacher handed him a long parchment.

"Here's a list of the ingredients you need, with a description of how to prepare them and the amount. All ingredients are on the table, and they are labelled. You should be familiar with them by now, but your marks indicate otherwise. There are clean jars." Snape pointed at them with his hand. "Put the prepared ingredients in those. Get to work." Without waiting for an answer, he walked over to Nott, with whom he began talking. Harry was sure the topic of their discussion was potions, so he didn't even bother to listen. He just wanted to do what he was supposed to do, get up from that hard chair and get out of here as soon as possible. Therefore, he picked up the parchment and began to read.

27 crushed frog brains

Seeing the first item, Harry grimaced. This was one of the reasons he hated Potions.

210 ml of leech juice

120g of crushed snake fang

80g of powdered snake tusk

75g of powdered bicorn horn

58 aconite flower leaves

32 cubes (0,4in x 0,4in x 0,4in) of mandrake root

175 g of grated mandrake

The list went on. Reading it, Harry groaned inwardly. He quickly started to work, however, so as not to expose himself to insulting comments.

 

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"Potter!" Harry jumped in his chair, hearing his name. "How the hell do you think you will powder those snake fangs when you are using the chopping board you just crushed frogs' brains on!? Are you blind?! Can't you see it's all granulating? Not only that, but the surface is wet, it can also cause the properties of the component to be skewed or completely changed by contamination!"

Harry looked at his work. Indeed, he didn't quite manage to powder those fangs. Instead of powder, some lumps would not fall apart.

"'m sorry," he said meekly. He was angry with himself that this oily haired asshole was causing him such irrational fear. He was much more afraid of him than Vernon. His uncle was rather hot-tempered, petty and despised Harry, but over the years, the teen had learned how to deal with him in order to somehow endure. And this overgrown bat was ruthless. And what was worse, Harry grudgingly had to admit, he was intelligent. The man knew how to attack where it hurt the most. But, Dumbledore trusted him. So, that's why even though Harry's very existence made Snape angry, his brother hadn't done anything really bad to him yet. He just sometimes threatened him with poison or Veritaserum in the classroom. However, the teen was convinced that if he had only stepped a little too hard on the teacher's toes, there would not even be dust left of him. And, of course, the Potions Master would have had an indisputable alibi anyway. Harry was also aware that he wouldn't have had the slightest chance if their wands crossed on a battlefield.

"Potter, are you listening to me?" Snape angrily banged his fist on the table. "Merlin, focus, Potter! You have the attention span of a preschooler!"

Harry heard a snort coming from the other side of the room. He gritted his teeth to keep from saying that Snape's hair-washing habit was definitely worse than a preschooler's.

'Two days, I can do it,' he repeated in his mind.

"Throw it away. And start over," the Potions Master drawled. "After each ingredient you prepare, wash the utensils you used thoroughly. There's a sink over there if you haven't noticed yet. There," he pointed at the wall to Harry's left, "is everything you need on the shelf. Clean and dry." Snape stressed the last two words.

Then, he turned and walked over to his bubbling cauldrons. Harry glanced at Nott. The Slytherin was watching this exchange, but oddly enough, he wasn't smiling maliciously.

 

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"Potter!" Once again, Harry flinched as he heard his name barked by the Potions Master. "Bloody hell, do you even know what a cube is?" Harry looked at the pieces of mandrake he was cutting. "A cube is a geometric solid that has six faces, and each face is a square. In this case, the edge is to be 0,4 inch long. What you have on your cutting board are some octahedrons or dodecahedrons," Snape pointed at the boy's work. "Damn, Potter, try a little!" The man looked at Harry's bony hands, which were now trembling slightly.

"'m sorry, I'm doing what I can." Harry looked down, gritting his teeth. If only Ron were here, he would have made some malicious comments about Snape, which would cheer Harry up and make him relax a little. Harry didn't know how he would have survived those four years of Potions without Ron by his side.

Snape turned on his heel to take care of his cauldrons again. Harry saw Nott add something to one of them, mix it, then walk over to the other and throw in something again. Both Slytherins had nine bubbling cauldrons altogether.

 

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After some time, Snape extinguished the flame under most of the cauldrons and headed for the exit from the laboratory. He just shook his head as he passed the Gryffindor but held back any nasty comments.

"Nott." Harry tried to get Slytherin's attention. "What are you actually doing here? Why are you staying with Snape?" he noticed the Slytherin hesitated a moment, then shrugged.

"I'd like to be a Potions Master. Snape offered to help me, and I just couldn't refuse. Not everyone has a chance to attend private classes with a Master in this field. Snape is one of the best in Europe.”

"And how long are you going to stay here?" asked Harry. He couldn't believe that anybody would like to stay with Snape of his own free will.

"I don't know, probably until the end of holidays," he replied, stirring the Potion.

"What about your family? Do they mind that you spend the entire school year at Hogwarts and then your holidays here?" He was always curious about his peers' family relationships. Aunt Petunia was counting down the days Dudley would be home for holidays, even though he was home every other weekend. Last summer, the woman barely agreed to a week-long camp because she wanted her son with her. Then, according to Ron, each year, the redheads' parents held a little welcome party for their children when they returned from Hogwarts. Mrs. Weasley spent the next week indulging them, cooking their favourite foods and baking cakes.

"Potter, stop talking. I'm brewing two potions at the same time, and Snape won't be happy if I screw them up," Nott said grimly.

"Why are you acting like Snape is Merlin incarnate himself?" he asked after a moment.

"Shut up, Potter. I just don't want him to make my life difficult."

Harry snorted.

"Yeah, right. You Slytherins lick the boots of those in power, and it doesn't matter that they treat you like dirt, and you look down on  the others.

"Of course, Potter. But at least I'm not some idiotic Gryffindor who starts a war even if he is doomed to fail. For your information, it's called the self-preservation instinct. Besides, Professor Snape treats me very well."

After a while, the Potions Master returned to the laboratory. He cleared his throat, staring at Harry. The boy barely noticeable straightened his shoulder blades and looked up.

"Potter, usually we have a lunch break at this time. I will not leave you here alone because I know very well how it will end," the man said, looking at him pointedly.

"Seriously, I'm not three years old. I won't touch anything," the boy growled, irritated, and rolled his eyes. Snape had no reason not to trust him so much as to not be able to leave him for half an hour in the potions lab unattended.

Snape ignored his comment.

"You will join us. In the kitchen."

Harry froze. Although he was slowly getting hungry, the thought of having to sit with Nott and Snape at the same table again made him sick.

"Theodore, are you finished?" After the Slytherin confirmed and put out the fire under the cauldrons, Snape ordered them to wash their hands and come upstairs, where he headed himself.

Upon entering the kitchen, Harry looked horrified at the three plates on the table, filled to the brim with food. There was no way he would eat that much without getting sick later. His stomach tightened again, and he felt nauseous. Harry closed his eyes. He knew that if he miraculously swallowed it all, he would get sick, and if he left something, Snape would yell at him for being an ungrateful spoiled brat and wasting food. He will probably still refer to yesterday's situation. And all of this in front of Nott, who will pass everything to Malfoy. Harry found himself at a dead end. He knew, either way, it wouldn't end well for him. He couldn't help but moan.

This caught Nott's attention, who looked at him questioningly, and Harry threw him a dirty look.

Nott took his seat. Snape put a cup of coffee by his plate and motioned for Harry to join. The boy reluctantly sat down in the same place as in the morning. The food looked really inviting. There was roasted chicken, blanched vegetables, and mashed potatoes. If only he had such food at home, he would undoubtedly have eaten most of it. But not here when he was a nervous wreck. He looked at Snape. The man poured the water into the glasses containing the tea leaves, then put his hand in his robe pocket.

Harry frowned.

The teacher put a hot drink next to Harry's and Nott's plates.

"You put something in my tea," Harry snapped accusingly.

"No, you idiot. I'm not going to poison you." The man pointed his head at Nott. "At least not in front of a witness," he added, smiling ominously.

"Veritaserum... It's colourless and odourless, and you've already threatened me with it..."

"Bravo Potter, you've finally learned something about Potions," he said dismissively.

Harry was sure Snape had put something into his tea. Maybe nothing lethal, but something that will humiliate him or be painful. The man had threatened him more than once. Harry decided not to drink it. He looked down at his plate piled with food and hesitated. If Snape thought Harry was an arrogant, spoiled bastard anyway, there was nothing to lose. Maybe he could even get his teacher to kick him out of the house now, and he won't have to come here tomorrow.

Harry closed his eyes for a second. Then, he opened them and, looking straight at Snape, said:

"I'm not gonna eat it. It looks disgusting. And… I don't like it." His words sounded so inappropriate that he himself winced at them. Yesterday he would have given a lot to eat such a nice dinner. For half of his life with the Dursleys, he’d dreamed of such food.

The teen waited tensely for Snape's reaction. He wondered if it had upset his teacher enough that he would try to strike him or if he would just start yelling and kick him out.

However, Snape did neither of those. He just took a deep breath, trying to keep his composure, and got up from the table. He took a clean glass from the cupboard, poured some of the boy's tea into it and, without taking his eyes off his student, drank it in one gulp.

Harry looked away.

"Now, Potter. You will be a good boy and drink it without a fuss, and if at least two-thirds of this plate doesn't disappear in twenty minutes, I'll cast a sticking spell on you and won't take it back until you've eaten it all. And I don't care if it takes you half a day or half a month."

"You can't…"

"Yes, Potter, I can. And I think now you should end this childish tantrum because time flies." He nodded toward the clock on the wall. It was 12:30. Another hour and a half and Harry could get out of this horrid house.

Reluctantly, he picked up his fork and took his first bite. He had to admit, it was delicious. Snape could cook well. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising at all. After all, he was a Potions Master. On the other hand, it was not a determinant because Harry was also a great cook. Still, he was hopeless on the hated subject.

He looked at Snape, who was now talking to Nott. Finally, he left Harry alone.

The teen looked at the clock. Ten minutes had passed, he wasn't even halfway through, and he was already feeling full. What if Snape fulfils his threat, and Harry will be trapped here until the evening? He won't be able to go to football practice. Tobias will find out and definitely won't be happy about it. Harry was sure he couldn't bear another beating so soon. Panic slowly started overwhelming him, and the boy felt sick. He couldn't get up from the table; Snape probably won't let him go. Harry decided to have some tea after all. He tasted it. It was herbal and bitter. He drank almost all of it. He hoped it would ease his stomach at least a little.

Fortunately, it helped. Nausea completely stopped.

He had seven minutes left. The Slytherins ignored him. They were finishing eating themselves. Harry took the fork in his hand again. Fortunately, thanks to the fact that he no longer felt like he wanted to throw up, the food tasted even better. When twenty minutes had passed, the boy was not able to swallow any more, not even a single bite. He felt so heavy that he would gladly go to sleep. His stomach was so full that Harry thought it might explode. He looked uncertainly at Snape, who was starting to pick up the plates. The man just nodded and didn't pull out his wand. Harry slowly put his fork down, never taking his eyes off the teacher, and pushed the plate away. Tensely, he waited for a comment. Snape took the dish, threw away the leftovers and put it into the sink. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

They went back to the laboratory. Harry sat down in his seat and began chopping the valerian root. Fortunately, his companions began to ignore him again. He looked at the list. The boy knew he didn't have the slightest chance to finish it. On the other hand, Snape said he would pay him per hour. Harry wondered if he would amend it depending on how much Harry will fail to do? At the Dursleys, failure to complete the entire list of chores meant a huge row. Harry gulped. Admittedly, he never broke the record of the boa constrictor incident—three weeks spent in his cupboard, living only on scraps which he didn't even get every day. In fact, even a week there was quite hard. Snape's company always reminded him of the Dursleys. No matter what he did, it was always wrong, and when he did make an actual mistake, he remembered the lesson for a long time. Though Snape had never really punished him this much. In fact, he rarely gave him a detention, but he loved to humiliate him in public.

On the other hand, at lunch, the man had eased up on him a little. He didn't proceed with his threat, even though Harry didn't quite meet his expectations. He looked at the list and hastened his work.

"Potter, clean up after yourself, and you can go." Snape's voice snapped Gryffindor out of his thoughts. He was so immersed in work that he lost track of time.

He started cleaning up, then, when he summoned up his courage, added:

"I haven't finished the whole list."

"You'll finish tomorrow. Nine o'clock, you are going to be here." He looked at the Gryffindor. "Understood?"

"Yes."

 

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"What did you put in his tea, professor?" asked Theodore after Snape escorted Potter to the door.

"Why are you so sure I added something?"

"Potter said he saw."

"He did not see anything." Theodore raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "You don't believe me? So, let's try it. There is Potter's tea glass upstairs. Check if I have added anything to his tea. If you think I did, then you have to say what exactly I added. If you succeed, Slytherin will get fifty points at the beginning of the year, but if you don't, you'll get detention with Filch. You have time until the end of August. So, what do you say?" Snape smirked at the young Slytherin.

"Okay, deal," the teen grinned at the teacher.

Theodore headed towards the kitchen to get the glass when Snape's voice stopped him.

"But before you start, go over the ingredients Potter had prepared, please. Save whatever you can and throw the rest away."

 

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Tuesday, July 25th, 1995

 

Working for Snape was as enjoyable as the day before—more or less like pulling out your toenails with tweezers. The earned money was by no means worth it. And Harry would prefer to go out for tea with Voldemort than go back to 37 Flukey Road. He promised himself that his feet would never cross Snape's doorstep ever again.

When it struck two, the Potions Master allowed him to finish, and Harry was finally able to rise from the stone-hard chair that was not kind at all to his bruised buttocks. He cleared his workstation as quickly as he could, and the teacher escorted him to the door. Harry was about to grab the doorknob to open the door when Snape stopped him.

"Potter," Snape said, handing him the money.

The boy looked at him suspiciously. He noticed that the man was holding two notes—a twenty-pound and five-pound—but he didn't reach out to get them.

He was sure it was some kind of trap. There was more money than it should have been after paying for the purchases at Mrs. Maggie's. It also seemed that the Potions Master had not docked anything, neither for breaks nor for breakfasts or lunches. And Harry had learned long ago that when it comes to people like Snape, nothing was for free. He remembered very well the gift he had received from his aunt and uncle for his fourth birthday.

 

One day, while helping his aunt to carry the shopping bags, Harry saw a lovely white teddy bear with silver-grey eyelets and a green bow around his neck at a toy store window. He paused to look at it. The bear seemed so sad that Harry thought that he would like to be his friend. The stuffed animal could sleep with him in the cupboard under the stairs. Even then, the Dursleys used to lock him there as a punishment. Maybe not for long, but these several, sometimes over a dozen, hours in a cramped room was really boring for him, so at least he would have company there. Recently, he started to understand the concept of birthdays. Dudley had celebrated it a few days earlier. He had gotten loads of toys—from his parents, from his friends who had come to his birthday party, from Aunt Marge, and even from Aunt Petunia's friend Ivone. So, Harry knew you got presents for your birthday. He had no friends, and he was sure Aunt Marge hated him because she thought his mom was a bitch, and his dad was a lazy, unemployed drunk (but he was confident his mom was human, not a dog, so Aunt Marge was ill-informed). But...maybe Mrs. Figg would give him something, or that friend of Aunt Petunia's—Ivone, who couldn't dislike Harry yet because she didn't know him (Aunt Petunia always made Harry sit in his cupboard when she came to visit them). However, he quietly dreamed that although his aunt and uncle didn't like him very much, maybe they would give him something. Dudley got twenty-three presents from them, so perhaps they'll buy at least one for him. So, he asked his aunt if he could get this teddy bear for his birthday. When she heard his request, she just pursed her lips and said they had no money for rubbish. Then she grabbed his arm and yanked him away from the window.

Still, on the morning of July 31st, Harry, hoping he might get a gift from someone, entered the kitchen. Uncle Vernon was already sitting at the table reading the newspaper while Aunt Petunia set breakfast on the plates. When the boy saw the teddy bear he had dreamed of for several days, lying on the table, he was struck dumb. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like it was about to pop out of his chest. Harry was afraid to ask if the teddy was for him. He wouldn't bear the refusal. He looked hopefully at Uncle Vernon, but the man ignored him completely, so he looked at his aunt.

"Happy birthday, Harry," his aunt said, smiling. The smile, however, did not reach her eyes.

"Yes, boy, happy birthday," growled his uncle over the newspaper.

"Harry, you're already a big boy, aren't you?"

"Yes," he nodded, staring greedily at the teddy bear.

"You are almost an adult. Here you go, this is your gift," she said, handing him the toy.

Harry couldn't believe his luck. He stroked the teddy bear's fluffy head with his fingertips as if afraid he might destroy it. Its fur was so incredibly soft.

"Thank you," he said in a trembling, emotional voice.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever owned. He never wanted to let go of it again.

At this point, Dudley appeared in the kitchen. Rushing to the table, he pushed Harry, standing in his way, sat down, and began eating breakfast. Harry lost his balance and crashed against the kitchen table.

"Boy, put your teddy bear on the worktop and have breakfast."

The boy did not want to let go of the toy, but not wanting to dirty it either, he obeyed his aunt. As fast as he could, he ate what was on his plate to get back to his plushie. When finished, he got up from the table and headed for the toy, but Aunt Petunia stopped him.

"Harry. You said you were almost grown upright?" Harry, not knowing where she was heading, nodded. "So, tell me, where do we get the food?"

"From the shop."

"And do we take it for free?"

"No."

"That's right. We pay for it. And tell me, what are we paying with?"

"Money." Even though he felt more and more impatient, Harry decided to politely answer his aunt's questions so as not to anger her.

"And where do we get money from?"

"Uncle's work."

"Yes, your uncle is a responsible man and earns money. And since you are big yourself, you also need to start making a living."

"But Dudley's older than me, and he doesn't make a living." He pointed to Dudley, who was already stuffing himself with a third serving of bacon.

"You are right; however, Dudley is our son, and it is our duty to provide him with everything. You don't have a mom or dad, so you have to earn your own money," her lips curved with a malicious smile while she was calmly explaining it to him. Harry froze. His aunt's face was telling him that something very unpleasant was about to happen. "We took you in. And yes, you should be grateful to us. But now you are old enough that you should start earning your keep. We cannot afford to feed all foundlings for free. At least you have a place to sleep. So, as you ate breakfast, now you have to pay us for it."

"But I don't have any money." He still couldn't understand his aunt's words, but he knew it was something terrible and tears appeared in his eyes.

"No?" Harry shook his head. "I'm sorry, but in this case I have to give back the toy. We need to return it to the store so that you can pay for breakfast.

"No. Please, don't do that." Harry looked at her pleadingly.

"I'm sorry. There's no such thing as a free lunch. You've eaten so, bring me the teddy bear."

"Please, this is my friend. I promise I'll do anything."

"Give me the toy, now!"

"No, I won't give it back!" Harry started crying in earnest but still didn't pass the toy.

"Stop bawling immediately and bring the toy, you horrible child!"

Harry started crying even louder.

"It's unfair! I want my mom and dad! I won't give you my teddy bear! Dudley has plenty of toys, and I only have my teddy!" Harry screamed louder and louder and began to stamp his feet. This was the first time he had gotten so angry. He felt so hurt and so sorry, but he didn't know what to do to prevent them from taking his toy away.

"Petunia, stop him from screaming so loud, I'm reading here!" grunted Vernon from behind his newspaper.

“Spank him, Mum, spank him!” Dudley shouted, his mouth full of food.

"Shut up! You damned brat!" Petunia shouted.

"Listen to your Aunt," growled Uncle Vernon, but his words were drowned out by the sound of a bursting chandelier.

Everyone was shocked for a moment. Harry calmed down, looking up.

Petunia quickly recovered. She walked over to Harry, grabbed his arm and gave him a few smacks on the bottom, making the boy sob again.

"Say goodbye to the bear because this is the last time you see it. Now, go outside and weed the beds if you want to earn dinner!" Pulling him hard by his arm, she led him to the back yard. "And stop wailing, or I'll really give you a reason to!"

Leaving Harry crying on the grass, she returned to the kitchen to her family.

A few hours later, a sunburnt Harry saw Dudley and his friend Dennis kick his teddy bear's head.

 

"Potter… Potter, can you hear me?"

Harry snapped himself out of his thoughts and looked at Snape.

The boy had no idea what to do. He didn't want to be indebted to Snape because he knew the man would take something Harry cared about later when he least expected it.

Snape was even worse than the Dursleys. If Harry wasn't careful enough, he was sure the Potion Master would destroy him.

"I don't want it, but thanks." As he said that, he looked at the man defiantly. He felt more and more nervous. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

"Take it, Potter. You've earned it," said Snape, gritting his teeth. He took one ominous step towards the boy so that they were less than half a meter away from each other.

Harry's eyes widened. He turned on his heel, trying to open the door. But he was too slow because Severus waved his wand and the bolt slid.

"Potter, turn to me and tell me what's going around in your stupid mind."

Harry only started tugging harder and harder on the door handle.

"Let me out, Snape."

"It's Professor Snape to you. Look at me."

"No, let me out."

"No."

After a few moments, seeing that it was useless, Harry lost his hold on the handle and turned slowly towards Snape. The man looked impassive and folded his arms across his chest.

"Have you stopped being hysterical? Good," he said when Harry nodded. "I won't let you go until you take the money you've earned."

"But there's more in here."

"Potter, I rounded the amount. That's what you sometimes do."

"What about the breaks, lunches, and breakfasts? I didn't need..."

"You did. And whether you wanted to is a completely different matter. Just shut up, take it and get lost." Snape rubbed his temple, trying to get rid of the impending headache.

Without meeting Snape's eyes, he took the money. The man waved his wand without saying a word. As soon as Harry heard the soft sound of the door unlocking, he turned quickly, pressed the handle and ran out into the street.

 

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Harry threw himself onto the bed. He knew he had made a laughing stock of himself even bigger than usual. He was sure the Slytherins would never let it go. The stories from his holidays will be the number one news in their common room. He could imagine their laughter already. Malfoy won't let it rest at least until Christmas.

"I hope that once they start laughing, they won't be able to stop until they literally burst", he muttered grimly.

Harry banged his head on the pillow a few times. He was the biggest fool in the world. He had to pull himself together, stop acting like a moron, and begin to control himself.

At least those two hellish days were practically over. And Harry was going to bring his plan for a relatively quiet rest of summer into force. One month in Cokeworth left, and the teen decided it would be a month without any mishaps. He's gonna do his bloody homework, try to open that bloody trunk, get out of bloody Tobias' way, and avoid the bloody Slytherins.

His thought was disturbed by the sound of the front door opening. He looked at his watch. It was already after five o'clock. He had lain on his bed for several hours again. After a moment, he heard Tobias' voice calling him downstairs. He groaned. Apart from one comment that he deserved "ass whooping", the man acted as if the Sunday incident had not happened. As if he hadn't knocked him about so severely that Harry was still bruised. Harry would like to stay in bed forever and never get out. Never. However, as ignoring Tobias wasn't a very smart idea, he reluctantly got out of bed and headed towards the kitchen.

On the table, he saw several shopping bags with the logo of a nearby marker.

"Catch it, Harry." Tobias tossed him a candy bar. Of course, Harry's reflexes did not disappoint him.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Have you eaten dinner yet?" As Harry nodded, Tobias continued: "Then go to Maggie and give her the money back." Tobias tossed thirty pounds on the table. "And take the keys; I'm leaving."

"Okay," Harry replied, then started putting on his shoes. He had no intention of telling Tobias about his older son's involvement in recent purchases at a local store. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling the man wouldn't be pleased.

"Put the hoodie on because it got chilly!"

"Okay." He said, rolling his eyes. Somehow Tobias didn't mind that he was the reason that Harry could barely play football at practice on Monday, and now he kind of cares if the teen gets a little cold. 'Where was the logic in that?'

As he walked towards his swing, he noticed Nott sitting on a bench in the distance. As usual, there was a book in his hand. Fortunately, the bench stood at such an angle that the boy's chances of noticing Harry were very slim.

If he could somehow get both Snape and Nott forced to keep their mouths shut about what was going on in Cokeworth... Swaying slightly, he watched the boy. The Slytherin hasn't turned a page in the book for several minutes. He didn't even look at it. Harry followed Nott's gaze. Mary and Chloe were sitting on the opposite bench, talking. And Nott was smiling at them. Suddenly Harry saw the solution to his problem. At least when it came to Nott. He just hoped the boy smiled like that at the sight of Chloe because the day before, on the way back home from the football practice, Oasis was telling Harry about his date with Mary.

Completely ignoring his decision to avoid the Slytherin, Harry approached him from behind.

"Do you like her?" Harry's voice surprised the other teen so much that he jumped. "You like Chloe. You keep staring at her."

Nott turned red.

"Don't be stupid, Potter. She's a Muggle."

Harry grinned. And sat down next to him on the bench.

"Then you like a Muggle."

"Shut up. Don't talk rubbish," said Nott angrily.

"Hmm... You turned beet red when I asked you ... I wonder how your father and his master will react to the information about who infatuated you." Harry knew it was a blow below the belt, but he had to somehow silence Nott, even if it was just empty threats. This was the only weak point of the Slytherin he knew.

"Potter. It. Is. Not. Your. Business." The boy ground out. "Anyway, I doubt that such a heroic Gryffindor like you would risk not only mine but also the innocent girl's life."

"You know if I don't have a choice..." Harry shrugged. "Unless we make a deal so that neither of us will spill out at Hogwarts that we even saw each other this summer." Harry sneered a little.

"So, that's the ticket!"

"Mhmm. But you have more to lose."

"I doubt it."

"I will at most be laughed at, and..."

"Potter, when you're trying to use the Slytherin ruse," Nott interrupted him. "Then at least don't talk more than you should and don't show what you're afraid of."

"This is not a Slytherin ruse. This is a fair deal. I won't say anything, and you won't, as well. So, do we have a deal?"

"As you wish, Potter. If it makes you happy." The truth was, Snape told him not to mention that he had any contact with Gryffindor at all. "Potter, you're still here," he added after a moment.

"Nothing gets past you, Nott." The Slytherin snorted. "Er...what are you reading?" Harry asked, after a moment of silence.

Theodore raised his eyebrows, surprised by the question.

"Martin Eden."

"It's a Muggle book."

"Nothing gets past you, Potter," he shrugged.

This time Harry couldn't help and laughed. He noticed that Chloe, the girl Nott was watching, was staring in their direction while saying something to her friend.

"Nott, look at them." When he did, Chloe smiled at him. The Slytherin blushed, then he looked at his watch ostentatiously.

"I have to go. Bye, Potter." He left without waiting for an answer.

 

To be continued...
End Notes:
And what do you think?
Reviews are very welcome XD
Chapter 10: Theodore by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank Jasmin Kain, VAspera and Gingerljf175 for beta-reading the chapter!

And of course, I enjoy your comments, thank you!

I think this chapter is a little lighter, Harry does some stupid, impulsive teenage things, but well, which teenager doesn't?

 

Friday, July 28th, 1995

Harry, lying on his bed, was bouncing the football over and over. He had two hours before the practice, but he didn't feel like getting up. The day before, Tobias had called him downstairs. He announced that he had decided to visit his girlfriend, Sheryl, after all. Harry didn't really understand what the man saw in her, much less what she saw in him, but the teen was okay with it. He prefers the man went to her place, not the other way around. He was glad to stay home alone. At least for the week, the boy wouldn't have to put up with his father's mood swings.

As Harry's birthday was during the man's planned absence,  Tobias not only surprised him by taking him out for pizza and billiards but also gave him thirty pounds as a gift. The man also said that if Harry promises that the house won't be destroyed and there won't be any drugs or alcohol, he might invite some friends to not spend the day alone.

Harry couldn't believe his luck. He has never had his own birthday party. The teen knew it was impossible to invite Ron, Hermione, the twins, Sirius, and Remus, but asking his friends from Cokeworth seemed an equally exciting prospect.

Harry smiled. He finally decided to get out of bed, before the practice, to go get Oasis and tell him about his birthday plans.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

As they walked through the park, Harry told his friend about Tobias' departure and his offer. Oasis picked up the idea at once, but his enthusiasm dimmed a little when he heard the conditions.

"Plus, I have to report to your father every two days."

"Too bad. But the important thing is that you have the place to yourself. We can just order a pizza. Roo will bring the console, and we will chill. Look!" Oasis pointed at the park. "Your polished mate. Come on, let's ask what's up. We'll see if Dredd managed to get him again or something.”

"No, better to leave him alone," Harry said, trying to keep his promise to avoid the Slytherins.

"Come on, we should talk to him. Oh, I know! We will invite him to your birthday."

"Are you crazy? Maybe you haven't noticed yet, but we don't really get along."

"Oh, be nice. After all, the guy lives with your brother. He's probably going crazy with no other company. Not that I have anything against your brother," Oasis looked at him searchingly. "What's the harm in asking him? Let's do something good for the lonely guy."

"Since when do you care about the well-being of strangers?" Harry asked doubtfully. "And why the sudden urge to do some good deed, anyway?"

"Nah, I'm not interested in their well-being."

"But?"

"Mary called me a hooligan without conscience, and I have to show her my good side. I must sacrifice myself for love."

"I think you rather want to sacrifice me for your love," Harry muttered.

"Same thing. Come on, Shortie, say yes."

Harry sighed with resignation, 'Whatever, he can let Oasis invite him. Nott will just say no.'

"Okay, if you really care, then you have my permission."

They approached the teenager sitting on the bench.

"Hi, mate. "

Nott looked suspiciously at the tattooed boy.

"What's up? Last time I didn't have time to introduce myself. I'm Oasis."

At that moment, Mary approached them.

 "Hi, Fester. Boys," she nodded at Harry and Nott.

"Hello, Beautiful." Oasis smiled at her. "Are you seeing this?' She is really into me," he whispered conspiratorially to Harry and Nott. "We just talked about our dear Harry's birthday party. You should come. And take your friend too," he finished in a normal voice.

"Well, that works out perfectly," she smiled. "Do you know the new guy?" She pointed at Nott.

Oasis nodded.

"Then if he comes, we'll come too." She raised her eyebrow. "Chloe would like to meet you, but she is too shy to approach you," she said, this time addressing Nott, who blushed.

Harry looked at the girl sitting on the bench nearby, immensely interested in her nails.

"Of course, our dear friend..." Oasis looked at Nott. "What's your name?"

Harry laughed and replied for the Slytherin:

"Nott."

"…Nott would not miss such an amazing event. He's a born partygoer. King of the dance floor and so on, and so on."

"I'm sorry. I think I have to say no", said Nott, not looking sorry at all.

"Well, then, I'm sorry, Fester," said Mary, crossing her arms over her chest. "We won't be there either." Harry didn't understand why Oasis was so crazy about her. The girl behaves quite rudely.

"Hey, wait! Babes, come on. The new guy will show up. I will have it covered."

Harry rolled his eyes as he heard the boy grovel in front of her.

"We will think about it." After a moment's thought she added, "Or we'll come, but if the new guy isn't there, we'll just leave," saying this, he went back to her friend.

"Hey, you, mate. Nott. You have to come. My future depends on it. Don't be a skunk."

"Sorry, I can't."

"Have you seen that, Chloe? She's pretty cool."

"Maybe for you. She is not really my type." The Slytherin shrugged, but Harry knew he was lying. He saw a few times that Slytherin watched the girl with fascination.

"Come on, man, listen, it works like this. You hang out in our park. You help us; we help you. Monday at eight. 76 Spinner's End."

Nott shrugged.

"I will think about it, but I promise nothing." He looked at his watch. "I have to go. See you."

"I don't know what's wrong with these people," said Oasis. "No folks, party, alcohol, and chicks...what more could you want?"

"Shall I remind you that this was not supposed to be a party? We were just supposed to order a pizza."

"If you want pizza, we can order it today," he grinned at Harry. "You don't want to miss this kind of opportunity, do you?"

"Tobias will kill me if he finds out."

"Tobias left, and you said yourself that you need to report to my old man. And since he's an irresponsible moron, I'm going to take care of you instead of him, and I find you too stressed. You can't live like this. Entertainment is needed for your mental health. And I will take care of it. We're gonna throw the party of the year."

"Merlin, shut up." Oasis looked at him in surprise, and Harry cursed himself for using the wizard's name. "There is no logic whatsoever in what you're saying. And you know it," he said, although he felt more and more excited about the party. He wondered. Actually, why would he disagree? He was fifteen. It was the summer holidays and everyone his age was having a good time. Why would he deny himself the same? Anyway, with Voldemort wanting him dead, Harry didn't know how long he would live.

"I'm serious. We just have to tell the guys, rustle up some beer, crisps and music."

"And what if neighbours tell on me? Harry asked, even though he was already convinced.

"It's a ruin to the right of your house; nobody lives there. And old Brown is deaf as a box of rocks."

"Dumb as a box of rocks."

"Doesn't matter. The thing is, the man hardly hears anything."

"Okay, let's have fun, Harry grinned. "But if anything happens, I'll blame it all on you. That you had made me do it."

"At your service. I'll take the blame. Come on, let's hurry up, 'coz we're gonna be late, and the coach will give us extra laps.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

In the locker room, Harry watched the boys as he changed his clothes. Most of them were nicely built. At first glance, he could see that they exercised a lot. Harry paid particular attention to tattoos. It's not just Oasis who had them. Harry had to admit he liked the way they contrasted with the skin. Maybe he should consider getting himself one.

Putting on his shirt, he turned to Oasis.

"How do you get a tattoo?"

"You go to a guy who makes them, and he uses needles to stick the ink under your skin to shape graphics."

 "Needles?" he wondered.

"Yeah, it hurts a little, but it's not that bad," Oasis shrugged.

"Ooh, Dolly wants to become more masculine," laughed Dredd, who was standing right next to them.

"Fuck off," Harry growled, not in the mood to argue now. He shouldn't have started this conversation in front of everyone.

"Are you chickening because of a few stings?"

"I'm not scared, but I wasn't saying I wanted a tattoo. I was just wondering about it."

"Yeah, sure. I saw you looking at the guys with envy."

"Leave him alone, Dredd," Oasis said.

"You're nothing but a coward."

Harry clenched his hands. How did that pampered boy who had no problems, hadn't fought a dragon or a basilisk, or Voldemort had the nerve to call him that?

"I'm not. I'm not afraid of stupid needles. You don't even know how wrong you are. Besides, I really don't care what you think of me."

"Sure," he laughed. "You are all mouth. Nothing more."

"I'm not."

 "So, prove it," the teen laughed again

"How, the hell do you want me to prove it?" He asked, aware that he was getting in this unnecessary exchange like the last idiot.

"Tattoo."

"Why would I do something I don't want to."

"Because everyone here thinks of you as some missy who is afraid of everything." A few of the guys laughed. "Be a man." Seeing Harry's furious expression, he continued with a mocking smile on his lips. "I bet you're too scared to get a tattoo."

"Don't let him provoke you," Pele said to Harry, who looked around at the other players. Some of them had a mocking expression on their faces, and some looked at him with pity.

Harry hesitated for a moment.

"And what will I get out of it?"

"Tattoo," when Harry raised one eyebrow challenging, Dredd added: "If you get a tattoo within two weeks, I'll take back what I said. But if you don't do it, you will admit publicly that you broke down and started crying at the sight of the needle because you are just so lame."

"It's a deal," Harry said after a moment's thought.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

"You really let him egg you on. I thought you were one of those goody-two-shoes and sensible ones," Oasis snorted as they walked home after the practice.

"Yeah, I know," Harry said, wincing at the memory of a duel with Malfoy in the first year that hadn't even happened. "Tobias gave me some money as a birthday present to buy something for myself. So, at least I have money for the tattoo. Do you know where I could do it?"

"What?"

"Tattoo."

"I know, I got it. But, you know it's a fucking big decision. Do you really want to ink yourself?"

"Now, I have no choice. Do you know where the place I can do that is?

"Sure, I know. But seriously, you should think about it for at least six months, whether you really want to. Take the advice of a more experienced friend. Look at me. Overall, my tattoos are fucking awesome. But look here. He pointed to a small tattoo on his calf. "Can you see this moggie here?" When Harry nodded, he continued: "I had a babe once. And it was all in all cool. Well, and she loved bloody cats. And we had a lot of fun, so I thought, shit, I'll tattoo a fucking cat on my calf to show her that I'm a romantic."

"And?"

"And? She cheated on me a month later, and I'll stay with the fuckin' furry moggie for the rest of my life.”

"I feel for you," said Harry, trying to sound solemn. "But seriously, I have to do this. Will you help me?"

"No tattoo parlour will ink you without the consent of the guardian."

"Did you have permission?" Really, Harry was slowly getting irritated by his friend.

"I have a buddy who is a tattoo artist."

"How much does he take?"

"Depends on how big the tattoo is to be. But around forty."

"Will you get me in contact with him?"

"But you just know, he doesn't want any trouble. And when your old man finds out that you get yourself tattooed, and you tell who did it, then it could be quite a mess."

"First, it's not his freaking business if I have a tattoo or not. Secondly, I'm not going to show it to him. And finally, I'm not some rat, and I would never tell on my buddy," Harry drawled, gritting his teeth.

"Okay, mate.  Take it easy." Oasis held up his hands defensively. "Just think about it a little longer. If you think about it, I'll set you up with him."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Sunday, July 29th, 1995.

"Shortie, What are you doing here so early? It's eight in the morning. I should just roll over," Oasis said, rubbing his sleepy eyes." He was wearing only shorts, no shirt.

The previous evening, Tobias had informed Harry that he would not be back until the following Sunday and travelled to London. Harry liked the idea of a tattoo more and more. Excited both by the fact that Tobias was absent and about having a real birthday party, he woke up at dawn, looking forward to an hour that would be appropriate enough to get someone out of bed. Unable to sit still, he paced the room back and forth.

He had been thinking about the tattoo all evening. He even tried to draw some pictures of it on parchments, but not only did he have no art skills, but his hand trembled from time to time as if it was catching a cramp. He was definitely not for something as precise as drawing. The effect was tragic. He slowly began to doubt that he would be able to come up with something quickly because he had neither a design nor even the idea for one. He considered both the lion and the gryphon too clichéd. He knew the old wizarding families had their coats of arms. He could have tattooed something like that, but he didn't understand what Potter's coat of arms was, and at the moment, he didn't even feel like one of them much. Not to mention anything related to the name of Snape. He shivered at that horrible thought. At one point, even a snake came to mind. He could communicate with these reptiles, and if they weren't inherently associated with Slytherins, he would even like them.

He banged his head on the desk and groaned. Why was it so hard for him to think of something? His eyes fell on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, his handbook for Care of Magical Creatures. He opened it, and Acromantula appeared first. He shuddered at the thought of Aragog. That definitely won't be his new tattoo, and Ron probably would never come near him again. He started flipping through the pages, but nothing felt right. Harry stopped for a moment on the phoenix. The animal was majestic. It represented rebirth. Its quill was the core of Harry's wand, but… well… Even though he liked Fawkes, it made him remember the headmaster too much. And Harry was really angry with the man at the moment. And with that secret society that the teen shouldn't even be officially aware of. He flipped through another few pages. He smiled. He was also not very interested in putting an image of Flobberworm on his body. Suddenly, he saw what he had been looking for all evening. A dragon. And it was the one he fought against. A Hungarian Horn-tail. Perfect.

"I decided to get a tattoo. Will you give me this friend's address?"

"Man, you're more hot-tempered than I am. But seriously, why don't you wait a few more days?

"No. I have already decided." He smiled. "Tell me. After all, I'm risking Tobias getting furious at me if he finds out about the party just so you can seduce a girl." Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Shortie, when you sometimes say something, it's so funny! Seduce?" Oasis began to laugh. I can understand to pull a babe, blag, pick a chick up, or even fall in love. Don't tell me you will start to talk Shakespeare now or other shit like that, like woo the woman of your dreams or make advances to a petticoat's heart.”

"And how do you know such sayings?" Harry snorted.

My Ma watches Brazilian soap operas all day long.

"Nice," Harry grinned. "So can you tell me where I can find him or not?"

"Okay, okay, get in. I'll dress myself and go there with you."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Monday, July 31st, 1995

Harry woke up in the morning in a great mood. He was always excited on his birthday, even though there was some disaster almost every year. Starting with the unfortunate incident with the white bear, through Dobby's visit, to the arrival of Aunt Marge. His eleventh birthday, despite a later row with his uncle, was the best of his life. But he really hoped nothing wrong would happen this time.

Looking out the window, he noticed three owls with packages tied to their legs. He guessed they were birthday presents. He jumped out of bed as if it was burning and lunged towards the boxes. He missed his friends so much. The boy hadn't heard from them in a month. He also hoped that one of the owls belonged to Sirius. Harry couldn't hide his disappointment. Although Sirius had promised him he would visit him again soon, in three weeks, the man hadn't even sent him a short letter. Besides, Harry was really starting to worry about his godfather. He hoped that he was okay. It was only the fact that the news did not mention anything about the man, the teen wasn't too worried. Harry was sure that it would be on Muggle TV if they caught him or something worse happened. After all, his godfather was considered a serial killer.

Harry stopped himself from scratching the place where his tattoo was, even though it was very itchy. He should change the dressing right away, which was not accessible due to the tattoo location. Anyway, he thought the effect was worth all the inconvenience.

He hastily unburdened the owls from the packages and opened the first letter to which a rather large box was attached.

 

Hey partner!

Happy birthday! What’s up? Everything alright? We're locked in a place that we cannot leave or even mention. But at least we have a relatively large room at our disposal, and we are constantly working on new products. Quite a lot of people hang out here, so we have many objects to test our products. Some people appreciate them more (read Snuffles), and some have no taste or sense of humour (read Overgrown Bat). In the box, there is a Skiving Snackbox (with instructions) and fake wands. Check it out, haha. As for the communication parchments, something went wrong with those we sent you. Every time we want to write to you, our parchment first flashes red and then spits ink at us (which is hard to clean). Maybe you should try to write something on yours? In any case, we still have to work on it because we don't know what went wrong.

Write what's going on with you, buddy.

Happy birthday again!

Gred and Forge

 

Harry smiled as he unwrapped the sweets but wasn't stupid enough to try them. He opened another letter.

 

Dear Harry!

Happy 15th birthday!

How are you? Ron and I are anxious about you. How are you holding up with these Muggles? We've asked Dumbledore to let you join us (I arrived here last week to spend the rest of my holidays with the Weasleys). Unfortunately, Dumbledore forbid us from contacting you for security reasons or even telling you where we are. We begged him to let you visit at least, but he is adamant. Sirius is furious about it and has argued with the headmaster several times. Even so, most of the time, he stays in the attic and talks with Buckbeak.

There is a vast library in this place! So much information that I did not have access to at home! This allows me to complete my essays. I wrote an extra 24 inches on the unicorn constellation for Astronomy. I really don't know how Professor Sinistra expects that two rolls of parchment are enough for us. And you, Harry? I would like to remind you that half of the holidays are over—yes, I know you enough to guess that you haven't even started yet—but please do not leave everything until the last minute, so that you will not stress unnecessarily later...

At this point, the handwriting changed. It wasn't so neat anymore.

I yanked the parchment out of her hand. Really, what's wrong with her? How can she nag you about homework on your birthday? Happy birthday, mate! I wish you were here; I can barely stand her just by myself, and this is…ugh, she hit me on the head with a book. Wish me luck to somehow stay alive by the end of the summer. Okay, she made me write that I am kidding (not kidding at all). Okay, now I'm really joking. We'll continue to ask Dumbledore to let you come; maybe he'll agree for just a few days.

All in all, it's not so great in here. It's rather boring, and the adults force us to clean every room and then do our homework—in short, I really think they're abusing us! I'd rather sit in the Burrow; at least I could fly on a broomstick there. Write what's up with you.

See you as soon as possible,

Ron and Hermione

 

In the package, he found a guide: Not Only the Wronski Feint: The Boldest Quidditch Tricks – Only for the Brave Ones and Everyday Spells – Don't Waste Your Time on Mundane Activities.

Harry's hands started to tremble when he was opening the last letter.

 

Dear Harry,

Have a great birthday! This is your fifteenth birthday today, and unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to celebrate one of them with you. I apologize for that. I'm a useless godfather, and I am so sorry. I should do my duty better. I hope that everything is alright with you. I'm sorry I didn't write, but somehow I didn't have much opportunity. I miss you, kid.

Dumbledore doesn't give in. He doesn't want you to come here.

I'm sending you a book, it's not new, but the explanations of the spells are really nicely done. I have marked for you the spells and curses that you should pay attention to in the first place. But it's just a substitute gift. I don't know if you are aware, but I'm a fan of motorbikes. As soon as I succeed, I will buy you a motorcycle – the fastest on the market. One for me as well. I've had one before. I promise that next vacation I'll take you on a few days Muggle trip, you know... motorbikes, tents, campfires. We'll go crazy.

All the best again,

Snuffles

 

The spirit in which the letter was held was quite different than he expected. The last time he had seen Sirius, the man seemed so… happy. He also didn't write anything about the time they would meet or the reason why he didn't show up at Spinner's End again as he had promised. Harry sighed. He felt a little disappointed. And suddenly, the teen felt guilty. He was so selfish. He should be glad that at least Sirius was safe.

He went to the bathroom, took the fastest shower he could, then took off the old dressing. He screwed himself a little to see his tattoo in the mirror. He was delighted with the effect. On his shoulder blade was the graphic of a Hungarian Horn-tail. Unfortunately, the skin around it was still swollen and red. While tattooing, he felt pretty intense pain. Jared, the tattoo artist, said it was because he was so bony. He smeared the tattoo with the ointment the man had given him and, flexing his arms in a way he didn't even know he could, tried to put the bandage back on.

Then he decided to write thank you notes for the letters and gifts. Harry had to somehow reassure Sirius that he didn't hold anything against him, that he was glad that everything was fine with the man and that he was looking forward to the promised trip. The idea of the motorbike trip sounded very exciting.

As for the problem with connection parchments from the twins, he knew right away that it had something to do with the protection spells Dumbledore had placed on the area around the house. Of course, he wasn't going to mention what kind of spell Dumbledore put. In case the letter was intercepted. He should also reassure Hermione that although he hasn't started writing those stupid essays yet (who even came up with a homework assignment for the summer holidays?), he is going to get on with it as soon as possible.

After writing his replies, he sat down on the bed and pulled the covers over himself because he suddenly felt cold and tired. He decided to read one of the books from Ron. It contained tons of tricks that he would love to test at once. Unfortunately, it will have to wait until the school year begins.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Severus was sitting in his favourite armchair by the fireplace, holding the latest issue of the monthly Potions for the Masters. Still, he couldn't really concentrate on it. His thoughts were on the bloody Boy-Who-Lived. At the moment, he was a mystery that the Potions Master couldn't figure out. The kid was full of contradictions. None of his recent actions made sense. As if the boy had a split personality.

He knew the whelp had been spoilt by his family. Everyone, adults as well as children, admired him. Everyone wanted to be friends with him. Most of them were even excited to get a ‘hello’ the Golden Boy graciously tossed their way. The boy was the most privileged student at school. Both the teachers and the headmaster indulged him, connived his antics, and sometimes even rewarded the boy for them. The boy strutted and pranced as if the whole school was his property.

And yet, without the slightest protest, he agreed to live with Tobias in, there's no denying about it, horrible conditions. Twenty years ago, it was dingily there. He honestly doubted that Tobias had done any renovation since then, and Potter had, without any whining, agreed to live there—a place that was completely opposite to the luxury the boy was used to.

Perhaps he had an argument with his uncle and made the stupid, impulsive, teenage decision to move out. But…the brat should start to regret his decision by now. Was he really so damn proud and stupid that, despite the literal dire consequences, he couldn't admit his mistake and apologize to his family?

Severus was no idiot; he was sure Potter was getting it from Tobias. The bruises on his face or the huge fingers imprinted on the neck and hands were proof. He saw the boy shifting restlessly on the hard stool the last time he was at his place. However, the kid continued to stubbornly defend Tobias and refused to admit anything. Until that changed, there was nothing Severus could do. Although he didn't even know if he would have any room to manoeuvre if the whelp did admit it. After all, physical violence and abuse, called nicely corporal punishment, are legal. And authorities usually give connivance to them, until it was already too late.

Besides, the boy didn't look healthy. Severus feared that the man was spending almost everything he had on alcohol, and Potter was really short of food. Which was confirmed by the incident in the store. The kid looked like a starved rat. And Severus was trying to force himself into believing that it was only because of a goddamn prophecy that he would try to endure the kid's company more often and start feeding him. Somehow. Yes, it would be inconvenient for both him and Theodore. He was sure his Slytherin hated the Golden Boy too. It was understandable, of course, after all the years of pranks, jibes, and maliciousness the Gryffindor directed at his Slytherins. Unfortunately, fate meant that Potter was destined to defeat the Dark Lord, and he surely would not be able to do it if he starved to death in the meantime.

But he saw no chance of Potter coming here of his own free will. The kid hated him too much. He realized that it was partly his fault because he was the one who antagonized the boy; however, someone had to teach him humility. Because everyone else spoiled him, the teen didn't feel the slightest remorse for his bad behaviour. 'At least, spoiled until now.' It irritated Severus because the boy was less afraid of Tobias, the man who was beating him, than the Potion Master, who had never raised a hand on him. And even more, a few times, he’d saved the boy's life. Not that Potter knew about it.

The Potions Master heard about what happened in the cemetery when the boy came face to face with Voldemort. The Death Eaters indirectly made it clear that the kid stood up to Voldemort without any fear. And he felt kind of guilty that the boy was behaving like he was scared of him more than of Voldemort or Tobias. Snape had seen the teen go to great lengths to hide the fear from his teacher, but Severus had caught him sometimes shaking like an aspen leaf in front of him. Just like Longbottom. Severus would have been lying if he had said that he had never found any sort of satisfaction. Still, now it was not only starting to annoy him but also becoming inconvenient.

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps caught his attention. He looked in that direction and saw Theodore appearing in the doorway of the living room.

"Aren't you dressed yet?"

"Professor, I wanted to ask for something."

"We have a deal."

"Yes, I know, but..."

"We've been through this a few times already, Mr. Nott," Severus interrupted, “I won't have you stay inside this house for two months. Two hours a day of fresh air is not that much."

"That's two hours too much," he muttered.

"Theo, that's not up for discussion."

"Yes, I know, I'm sorry, but that's not the point anyway".

"So, what do you want to talk to me about?"

The boy hesitated for a moment.

"No, nothing, it's stupid, sorry," the boy turned to leave.

"This talk we've done already as well. If you have any problem, please let me know. No matter how irrelevant you think it is."

"Yes, but...it's not that kind of problem," he hesitated for a moment. "The point is, Potter's birthday is today."

"Yes?" Snape raised an eyebrow. "Please do continue."

"He invited me. And I wanted to ask if…I could go."

Snape drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair.

"Why?" he asked, surprised.

The boy shrugged.

"I don't know. I wanted to see...not for long.

"Will there be any adults?" Snape asked, even though he was sure, that Tobias wouldn't let Potter throw a party if he was present

"Honestly, I don't know. I don't think so."

Severus had not expected this. Not only had Potter reached out to the Slytherin (although the Potions Master didn't know how much he should believe in the sincerity of the Gryffindor's intentions), but also Theodore was somewhat antisocial and extremely rarely showed any kind of willingness to have extra interaction with others. Yes, the boy did get along with the rest of the Slytherins, especially Miss Bulstrode, but he was definitely withdrawn. And right now, he came to his teacher asking for permission to attend Harry Potter's birthday party. Under other circumstances, he would have forbidden him and probably would have immediately forbidden any other Slytherin. Still, Severus knew it would do Nott good to be around his peers. He hoped the boy would open up somehow and stop being so damn conciliatory and docile. Of course, he hated ill-behaved, demanding, absorbing brats, but he was pretty sure that Theodore's behaviour was the opposite to the extreme. And that wasn't healthy.

The fact that it was Potter's party, celebrating his birthday with a bunch of Muggle whelps, did not comfort him at all. Not only the boy was prone to getting into trouble, but also the unsupervised teen party didn't bode well. On the other hand, he knew Albus had used the best security he could to keep Potter from getting hurt by Voldemort. The man trusted the headmaster in this regard, at least. Snape had also promised himself that he would have an eye on that stupid kid. If Severus agrees to let Theodore go, he will find out at least from him if Potter was alright and that the party hadn't gotten out of hand. Theodore was really responsible.

Plus, while he has a hard time admitting it, Potter had a significant impact on the school. If by some miracle the Golden Boy accepts Nott, maybe slowly, he will also accept the other Slytherins. It was possible then that the rest of the school would follow him, which could have been beneficial on some of his house's inhabitants, at least those whose loyalty did not belong to the Dark Lord yet. At least they would have a choice.

"Okay, go. I just don't want you going back through the park alone at night. I'll come to get you at midnight."

"You will?" The teen looked aghast. "But… I'm fifteen. I can handle it." He hesitated. "There really is no need for you to bother," he added hesitantly.

Severus looked at the boy, whose cheeks were flushed. He knew that the guardian picking up the ward from the teenagers' party could seem like a source of embarrassment. It was evident that the kid definitely didn't want Severus to come for him, but he didn't feel confident enough to say it outright. Theodore was like Potter. Not in politeness, of course, but in showing every emotion on his face.

 However, the Gryffindor had the advantage that on his swarthy, tanned skin, the red blush of embarrassment was not as visible as on Nott's pale skin.

Severus sighed. He knew that his appearance at the party would not give Nott confidence in dealing with his peers. Besides, the Potions Master himself had a doubtful desire to visit the hated house.

"It's the condition."

"Yeah, alright," The teen agreed, sighing dramatically. "But couldn't we meet halfway? He added, summing up his courage.

"All right, Mr. Nott. I'll be waiting for you at midnight at the edge of the park. Do we have a deal?"

"Great. Thank you." Nott gave Snape a hesitant smile and then asked if he could go uptown to buy Potter something, as it was not polite to go to a birthday party without a present.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

After football practice, which completely wiped him out, Harry had only a moment to shower before the first guests arrived. Most of the guys on the team came along with their friends, Chloe and Mary among them. They did not leave as they said before but stayed, helping themselves to drinks. Most of the arrivals had brought him something.

In fact, Oasis organized everything—he took care of alcohol, both high and low proof, and he invited people (Harry didn't think there would be that many). The party was fun. At the table, a group played cards, another one played a bottle on the floor, and somewhere in the corner, a couple was kissing.

"Hey, what's up? You've been drinking the beer for an hour now." Oasis' voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

"Somehow, I don't feel like drinking."

"Are you kidding me? Chill out. This is your party. Are you afraid they'll tear your house down? Well, then don't. It's quiet now. Nobody's even boozed it up yet."

"No, of course not. Anyway, there's nothing to destroy in here," Harry sniggered. "It looks like this house has been through worse."

"Ooh, you don't want to know it," Oasis laughed. "It's fine now anyway, but for a long time after Severus moved out and your mother died, it was one big den. I saw it myself. Unfortunately." He grimaced and looked at Harry. "Is everything alright?"

"Hmm? Err…yeah, sure. I'm just a little cold; I'll get my sweatshirt in a moment. Do you know Snape? I mean Severus?"

"Kind of. Let's say he healed me a couple of times. He's done some medical course or something. Well, I guess you know that, since he's your brother," Oasis hesitated. "Anyway, do you have any contact with him? Because he doesn't seem to be talking to your old man."

"It's complicated, but, to put it mildly, we don't like each other. So, you say Snape healed you?"

"I don't remember exactly; I was a kid. I fell ill. Badly. We only have one doctor here at Spinner's End, but he's useless. My mother took me to him, he gave me some medication, and it only got worse. The old man was in jail, so my mother went to your father for help. And old Snape went to your brother, who took care of it. In two days, I was as good as new."

"So, they talked to each other then?"

"It was the one time I saw them together. The next time I was sick, my mother went straight to Severus. She was afraid of that doctor. You know, they assigned the worst idiot to the poorest neighbourhood."

Harry could only nod. It was bizarre. Snape helping some sick kid—and on top of that, a Muggle. He would never suspect the teacher of doing this kind of thing and expecting nothing in return.

Then the doorbell rang, and Harry rushed to open it. To his surprise, Nott was standing on the doorstep.

"Nott? Er…" he hesitated, “I didn't think you'd show up."

Harry could see that the other teen looked uncertain but shrugged, obviously trying to appear nonchalant.

"Me neither. I won't stay long. This is for you." He handed him a wrapped gift. Picking it up, Harry suddenly got momentary flashback to the Triwizard Tournament cup. It crossed his mind that he wasn't even carrying his wand. However, nothing happened. He opened the gift and inside he found a book titled Oliver Twist. "I think you'll like it," Nott added.

"Thanks," Harry looked at him, slightly surprised. "Come on in." He let him pass and closed the door.

As soon as Oasis saw the new arrival, he dragged Nott to the table with alcohol and began to talk to him. Then Oasis handed the Slytherin a drink and, after only a moment's hesitation, emptied it at once. After that, they poured themselves more and headed towards Mary and Chloe.

Harry shook his head, amused. 'A Slytherin at Harry Potter's birthday party talking to Muggles.' He went upstairs to get a sweatshirt and joined the card game. Maybe he wasn't the best at it, but Tobias taught him a few tricks. Sometime later, a few people seemed to be well drunk, and some boy, whose name Harry didn't even know, fell asleep on the ground against the wall.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nott, barely standing upright, finishing off another Oasis' mixture. To his surprise, the boy put his arm around Chloe, who was obviously helping him keep his balance, and was laughing out loud at something. It was an unusual sight. Thinking about it, Harry couldn't remember seeing the Slytherin smiling, let alone laughing out loud. Besides, the boy was hugging a Muggle girl and didn't look disgusted at all. Although Harry knew that it was the alcohol that partly influenced Nott's behaviour, the Slytherin definitely gained in his eyes.

Harry hoped, however, that he was in control enough not to betray anything about magic. He decided to approach them.

"Shortie!" Oasis exclaimed in an even better mood than usual.

"Harry Potter!" Nott exclaimed. "Can you believe that!?" He turned to the Muggle crowd. "I'm at a Harry Potter's birthday party. The famous Harry Potter invited me to his birthday!"

"I see, Shortie, you're one of the popular ones at your school?"

"Yeah. Something like that," Harry said, trying to hide his grimace.

"If the other Slytherins found out..." The boy laughed, swaying.

"But they won't find out, Nott, remember? We have an agreement."

"I remember, but can you imagine," he hiccupped, "the look on Malfoy's face? He would go crazy with..." At this point, the boy swayed even more and only thanks to the fact that he was leaning against Chloe, he managed to stand on his feet.

"Nott, you're going back to Snape, aren't you?" The boy's face instantly fell, and he looked at Harry.

"Seve'us… Snapey, Snape will… will snap at me and kill me if he sees me like this."

Harry thought that the man would rather kill him, blaming him for Nott's state. Maybe if Nott took a nap, he'd be a little better off.

"Nott, why don't you want to get some sleep in my room, er, before you go back to Snape?"

"Come on, Teddy, I'll take you there," Chloe said and looked at Harry.

"Upstairs, first door on the right."

"Nice dude, but one of those goody-goody ones," commented Oasis. "Why don't you two get along? You are kind of similar in this matter."

Harry looked at him. Why wasn't he getting along with Nott? In fact, it was hard to call it not getting along because, in four years of living in the same castle, Harry didn't seem to have exchanged a single sentence with him. He had to admit that it was Malfoy who was absorbing most of Harry's attention. In fact, he didn't know much about the boy, except that his father was a Death Eater.

"Dude?"

"We have kind of different beliefs about some things." He remembered the boy's behaviour today. "I think."

"You think?"

"I mean, I know that people he sticks with and his father have different views."

"Yeah, I get it. Well, it is a kind of reason. But all in all, the guy seems to be alright."

"Yeah, he does."

At that moment, the bell rang.

Before Harry could get to the door, it swung open, and the teen saw the Potions Master standing at the door.

 

To be continued...
End Notes:
Your thoughts, predictions, and reviews are very welcome!
Chapter 11: Petunia by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank Jasmin Kain, VAspera and Gingerljf175.

Thank you for the reviews, they mean a lot to me!

Severus checked his watch again; the kid was fifteen minutes late. The man sighed in annoyance. Until now, he believed that Theodore was mature for his age. Apparently, Potions Master's expectations were too high. The expression "responsible teenager" is simply an oxymoron.

Even so many years after moving out, the sight of the ruined house still made him feel gloomy. Well, he didn't have a happy childhood, but he wasn't the only one, so there was no point in feeling sorry for himself.

He knocked on the door, but doubting that anyone could hear him (so much noise was coming from the inside), he pressed the handle. At the entrance, he saw Potter, who stopped dead when he looked at the Potions Master.

"Potter, you are not a very enthusiastic host. Where are your manners?" Severus looked around the house. "What. Is. The. Meaning. Of. This." He drawled, and at the sight of the numerous bottles lying on the table, cigarette smoke and drunk teenagers, he started to seethe.

"I've invited some friends over," the boy replied belligerently, lifting his chin.

Oh, how Severus hated this gesture.

"Bloody hell, how much did you drink, Potter?"

Harry shrugged.

"Just one beer." The man looked at him doubtfully. The boy had flushed cheeks, and his eyes were shining unnaturally. "And I'm not going to drink any more. I'm keeping an eye on everything; it's not irresponsible." Harry folded his arms.

"No, Potter, it's illegal. Where's Theodore?"

"Upstairs." Snape saw the kid swallow hard, and his bravado was slowly evaporating.

The man smirked.

"Good, and now, ask everyone to leave."

Potter made a face. Apparently not liking that somebody dared to interrupt this idiotic party.

"Not a chance. These are my guests. They came here for my birthday. And, I already told you that you can't boss me around," drawled the boy angrily. But, because his voice was trembling slightly, it sounded pretty pathetic. The Potions Master looked at Potter's skinny hands that were shaking slightly.

Not having the time or the desire to argue with this little moron, he growled:

"Everyone, get out!"

The few teenagers standing the closest looked at the teacher but ignored him completely.

"Hey, you can't do that!" Potter tried to stop him.

"Not a word from you, idiotic boy." The man gave Harry an annoyed look. "Get the hell out of here, or I'll call the police!" This time the man shouted to attract the attention of teenagers who, seeing his furious face, finally decided to leave the house. Or maybe the magic word "the police" was more convincing. Some of them were barely able to stand upright. Some of them still chose to say goodbye to Potter before leaving.

After the place was almost empty, Severus looked at Noah. He recognized the teen at once. He saved the boy several times with the help of his potions. As a child, the teen had both dragon pox and mumblemumps*. It was common knowledge that Muggle drugs are highly detrimental to wizard disease. They almost killed the boy, then. The Potions Master had been sure Noah would show up at Hogwarts, but to his surprise, he hadn't, and at that moment, the man didn't feel any magic coming from him. He had no idea how he could have been so wrong. Maybe the boy was a squib of some kind? It was highly unusual for the magic to disappear just like that.

"What are you still doing here?" He growled at Noah.

"I'll help Harry to clean up."

Severus nodded reluctantly.

"Potter, until you're seventeen, I don't want to see you with any alcohol in your hand. Understood?" Without waiting for an answer, he asked: "Where's Tobias?"

"Not here," the boy muttered under his breath

"I can see that. What time is he going to be back?" Harry shrugged. It was another Potter's gesture that immensely irritated him. "Answer verbally when I ask you something."

"Soon. Just leave me alone. You came here for Nott, so take him and go away." Potter was getting more and more insolent.

"I'm warning you, boy, one..."

Hearing these words, the boy flinched slightly and interrupted him.

"Nott is in my room."

How could people accuse Severus of unfounded bias against Potter? He gave the boy his most sinister look, and, seeing that the teen took a step back, Severus smiled to himself. The look still worked as it should. Snape passed the boy and went up the stairs. The boy followed him.

The door to the room was locked, so the man pushed it open. Both the Potions Master and Potter were surprised to see Nott making out with a Muggle. Judging by the red lips, they had kissed moments earlier. When they realized that they had company, they jumped away from each other, and the Slytherin, seeing his teacher, made a terrified face.

Severus crossed his arms over his chest and raised one eyebrow.

"I...er..."

"Mr. Nott, I can see that you have managed to feel at ease among your peers after all. Say goodbye, now, because we must go."

Nott blushed the scarlet and turned to Chloe.

"Thanks for today."

"See you?" The girl hesitated.

Nott nodded. Snape gripped the boy's arm firmly and led him downstairs. He was furious, and the boy's wobbly step irritated him even more.

"As for you, Potter...I'll see you at my house at nine in the morning tomorrow."

Harry looked at him in disbelief.

"You must be kidding me."

"Again, it's sir or professor to you. And tomorrow we will discuss your behaviour. It is unacceptable."

"What I do outside of Hogwarts is my business, professor," Potter drawled the last word contemptuously.

"You'll come to mine in the morning, or Tobias will find out about what happened here today," the man threatened.

Potter shrugged again.

"He already knows. Anyway, he allowed me to invite some friends. It's my birthday today."

“So, you want me to believe that he knows how many drunk teenagers have been here? And about the amount of alcohol drunk and cigarettes smoked?"

"You won't tell him. You don't even talk to each other," the boy snapped rebelliously, though he clearly paled.

"I think there is a quite large chance that he will listen to me after all." Severus raised an eyebrow. "Do you know what the consequences will be when he finds out? Do you really choose him?"

The boy hesitated.

"Yes..." He looked him straight in the eye. "I'd rather expose myself to Tobias' ire."

"Potter, you are an idiot." Severus narrowed his eyes, taking a step forward.

"I know," the boy whispered, shrugging and involuntarily taking two steps back.

Snape looked at him searchingly. Why was it still surprising the boy always chose the dumbest way? He considered what he should do. He would like to take the moron with him, give him a rocket, and make sure he goes safely to bed. But Severus couldn't force it on the boy, especially since there were two Muggles in the house. Fortunately, the situation seemed to be under control. The rest of the halfwits went home, and Potter and Noah weren't in bad shape. Severus wondered why he cared at all; he had already been lumbered with one idiot.

At this point, said idiot lost his balance and staggered, hitting the mirror hanging on the wall. Seeing Potter's terrified expression at the sight of the newly formed fracture, Severus discreetly pulled out his wand.

"Reparo," he whispered, taking the opportunity that the Muggles were not in the room. To his amazement, however, nothing happened. "What's going on?" he muttered to himself.

"It's a spell," Potter groaned, still staring at the damaged mirror. "Dumbledore cast it to keep magic out of here."

Severus cursed the Headmaster silently. He had left the boy with no way to defend himself against Tobias.

"Potter, if you bring me a mirror tomorrow, I'll fix it." At this point, Oasis entered the room. "Don't do anything stupid today. I'm serious." The two teenagers nodded. Then, Severus turned on his heel, grabbed Nott's arm, and left the house.

"Professor, I wanted to…" Nott began as soon as they were outside.

"Not now, Mr. Nott," Snape growled, cursing his own stupidity. He should have chosen a quiet summer alone, away from moronic teenagers.

"I lost track of time. I am really sorry," Theodore apologized.

“Not a word, boy."

After a moment of silence, Nott added, "but you won't send me back, will you, sir?" Nott looked at him pleadingly. "I really...It won't happen again."

Severus sighed in annoyance. Apparently, the mixture of alcohol and fear robbed the kid of all typically Slytherin moves. He would like to leave the boy in suspense. Maybe it would teach him something. Severus considered him. The man could see the horror on his face at the prospect of returning home, which the boy usually managed to hide.

"No, Nott, I won't send you back. We'll talk at home."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

As soon as the door closed behind them, Harry sat down in the chair and put his head in his hands.

"Hey, Shortie, are you okay? You're shaking. You didn't do drugs with Duncan, did you?"

Harry looked at him.

"No, of course not. I'm just a little cold somehow. Would you like to sleep here, on the couch? I'll bring you a blanket.

"Sure Thanks, mate."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Tuesday, August 1st, 1995

Harry was awakened by the bitter cold. Everything hurt him, and he felt sick. He barely made it to the toilet, where he began to vomit the hideous yellow liquid.

The sounds apparently woke Oasis up because he appeared upstairs just moments later.

"Oh, Geez, Shortie. You look terrible."

Harry looked at him, wiping his mouth with toilet paper.

"Thanks for the info," he said, his voice slightly trembling.

"Are you gonna puke again?" Harry shook his head. "Come on, let me help you." Oasis pulled him to a standing position by his arm. “You must have a really sensitive stomach to have such a hangover after one stupid beer.”

"I know," Harry said miserably.

"Maybe it's because you're so skinny, you feel so bad after a tiny little bit of alcohol? I don't know, maybe eat more or something so you won't get so fucked up next time."

"Merlin’s pants, shut up. There won't be another time."

As they returned to the room, Harry threw himself on the bed and wrapped himself in the quilt.

"Want some tea?"

"No, thanks. I just wanna sleep" Harry closed his eyes.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Hours later, when he awoke again, Oasis was standing over him.

"How are you? Better? You were thrashing a little in your sleep. Come to mine. You were supposed to show up to my old man. And my mother has made soup, maybe it will help you when you eat something."

Harry groaned.

"Ugh, I don't want to go anywhere, I'm cold, and I'm not hungry." But as soon as he said it, he felt sick again. He got up quickly and ran to the bathroom. "I don't want to go anywhere," he repeated, sitting on the cold tiles. Harry knew he was acting like some spoiled whelp when he complained so much, but at the moment, he really didn't care.

"Come on, just show up, and I'll walk you back." Oasis frowned at him.

Harry nodded, remembering his decision about pulling himself together. The teen put on two sweatshirts and followed Oasis.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

As they walked through the park, they noticed Nott sitting on a bench as usual with a book in his hand.

 "Look, Shortie, your homie. Judging from Severus' look yesterday, I thought he would never let him leave the house again."

"Nah," Harry shrugged his shoulders and added, “Snape was just furious with me. He probably thinks it's my fault that I made him drink or something."

"He really doesn't like you that much?"

"He is their Head of House. I mean Nott's and his housemates'. In Snape's eyes, they can do no wrong, but the man is horrible to everyone else. So, he probably thinks I was the one who pulled Nott by force and poured drinks down his throat.”

"What force?" Oasis snorted.

Harry just shot him an annoyed look.

"Anyway, I'll be fine until Sunday, but seriously, I bet Snape will get his revenge later and tell Tobias some nonsense."

"In that case, why didn't you go to his house as he suggested? Maybe then he wouldn't tell on you to your old man."

"Are you kidding me? He'd make hell for me, and then, knowing life, he'd tell Tobias everything anyway. I only saved myself a half-day of humiliation.” Though he was sure, he was only delaying the inevitable. September was approaching fast, and with it, the hated Potions lessons.

Harry and Oasis walked over to Nott.

"Hiya, how are you?" Oasis greeted the boy.

Nott looked up from his book.

"Fine, thanks."

"Well, you look pretty good, better than the Shortie, anyway."

Nott looked at Harry.

"Snape gave me an el…medicine that made me better."

"You see," said Harry. "As I said, not only that Snape didn't do anything to him, but also helped him recover quicker." Harry felt a slight pang of jealousy but told himself it was because he was feeling really unwell. Despite his warm clothes, he was still shaking, his temples were throbbing, and the air felt a little denser than usual. It was harder for him to breathe.

"Well, something like that," agreed Nott. "Anyway, thanks, Potter," he cleared his throat slightly, "for the invitation."

"Oh," said Harry, surprised. "Thanks for coming."

"Are you all right? You really don't look well."

"Yes, sure. Sorry, we have to go now," Harry said goodbye, wanting to get back to bed as soon as possible. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this bad.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

They missed Oasis' father in the house, but his mother greeted them. Just like Mrs. Weasley, she tried to force soup into Harry, but after a few spoons, he felt sick again and ran to the bathroom.

"You don't look too well. Are you okay?" Oasis' mother asked him when he returned.

"I'm not very well." He replied, falling into the chair running on empty.

"You might have a fever." He flinched as she placed her cold hand on his forehead. "You're burning. You should go to see the doctor."

"No. I don't like the doctors very much. And they don't like me either." He wasn't lying. He was pretty lucky because he almost never fell ill. Still, the three times he visited the clinic were rather traumatic. The first time his aunt took him for the compulsory vaccination, he became so ill that he was feverish, delirious, and vomiting for a week. His aunt was so afraid that he’d infect Dudley that she forbade him from leaving his cupboard until he recovered. At least she was nice enough to give him an extra blanket that he could keep from then on, and she made sure he got fresh water every day.

"Aren't you exaggerating a little? How can a doctor who doesn't know you dislike you? This can turn into pneumonia or other nasty stuff.”

"No, I...I think I'm allergic to drugs." He had his own theory, which he believed in, even though he never tested it. It was the Muggle drugs that perhaps hurt him because he was a wizard. Even though he passionately hated being in the hospital wing, he never had any additional problems after consuming the potions given by Madame Pomfrey.

Oasis' mother frowned. 

"Do you really have a problem with medications?" She looked questioningly at Oasis, who shrugged in response.

Harry nodded.

"Were you born like my Noah?"

"What do you mean?" Was she just suggesting to him that his friend, whom he had been seeing almost every day for the last month, was a wizard? Harry's eyes widened. He felt terrible. He was sick, shivering, his head was killing him, and the conversation he was just participating in took some bizarre tracks. "I don't know what you mean," he said finally.

"I'm asking if you inherited the magic gene from your mother, just like your brother did."

Harry opened his mouth in surprise, but then he reflected.

"Are you a wizard too?" He looked questioningly at Oasis.

"Well, not really. I was supposed to be. But because of my old man, and well, mother—” he said, looking at the woman with plain anger, “—I am not."

"How can you not be now?" Harry had so many questions if he only felt better... He had to concentrate.

"You know, those strange people came to offer me a place at the school, Hangard..."

"Hogwarts," corrected him, Harry.

"Never mind. The old man said the fuck he would pay them, and besides, well, he wouldn't even have that much money. Where does your old man get it?"

"It's complicated. It's not him that pays, anyway. What happened next?" Harry leaned his hands on the table. He didn't even have the strength to sit upright.

"Nothing." Oasis shrugged his shoulders and added, "Bam, bam, bam, they waved their magic wands, made me drink some nasty stuff and left. They said I would forget everything, but both my mother and I remember it. The only thing is, I haven't done any weird stuff anymore.”

"Man, why didn't you tell me sooner about being a wizard?"

"You didn't say anything either. Besides, I'm not a wizard, am I? I can't do magic after all." Oasis shrugged and added, "so this smart dude who lives with your brother, Nott, is one of you too?"

Harry just nodded but didn't have time to answer because Oasis's mother spoke up.

“Child, go to your brother. Let him make you a draught. Regular drugs never worked on Noah either. Your father advised me to go to your brother for help. I thought he was some kind of a quack doctor, and my Noah only responds to alternative medicine. It was only later that I found out the truth,” she said, picking up the plates from the table and turning to the sink. "Go to him. You really look bad," she added.

"No...there is no need. Really, it'll be over by tomorrow. It always passes. Anyway…I think I'd rather die than ask him for help."

"Gee, you're a drama queen," Oasis rolled his eyes, and Harry glared at him.

"Don't say that; it can be an evil hour." The woman shook her head disapprovingly. "Your brother is a good man; he will help you."

"Yes, and later he will take double the pay for that, I won't be able to afford it." And Harry wasn't really speaking about money. "I'd rather not."

"Child, you are actually exaggerating a little. I'm telling you, go to your brother. I would have kept you here myself to help you in case you got worse, but…" She hesitated for a moment. “I don't know how my husband would take it.”

"Nothing new there," Oasis snorted contemptuously. His mother grimaced hearing that. "Come on, Shortie, I will walk you home. I can even stay at yours and make sure that you won't die.

"Really, you don't have to.  I will manage."

"Go to Severus and have him look at you." The woman chimed in again.

"Okay, I promise, if I don't get better, I'll go to him," he agreed, then muttered, “...if he kills me, then at least the death will be faster and less painful.”

Oasis laughed.

"As I said, drama queen."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Wednesday, August 2nd, 1994

As the evening was approaching, Severus was making dinner for himself and Theodore. Usually, he didn't use magic while preparing meals unless he was in a rush. He liked to cook because, like potions, it relaxed him. Nott sat at the table, assiduously rewriting sentences on parchment. One thousand very long sentences. Severus grimaced. Perhaps he was a bit too harsh on the boy, but he was really furious, both with Theodore and Potter. And since Nott began to apologize as soon as he’d entered the house, not letting Severus cool down, he might have carried it a little too far. Well, it was too late anyway to mitigate the punishment. But, next time, the boy will surely think twice before doing something stupid.

Suddenly he heard a violent pounding on the door. Theodore jumped up in his chair. It was not a typical situation, as no one visited him here. Severus had no friends, and the neighbours tended to avoid him. His house was well protected, even though none of the wizards he knew—except Dumbledore—knew his address. Within a fraction of a second, the burners were off, and Snape, wand ready, headed for the front door. The pounding became even louder.

Severus pressed the handle, and in front of him stood Noah. He looked panicked.

"Quick, you have to help him. He's in the car."

"Who?"

He looked at the wrecking old car parked in front of his house. He saw Potter sitting motionless in the front seat.

"Your brother, hurry up!" He didn't have time to say anything else because Severus was already halfway to the car.

"What's wrong with him?" Snape asked, opening the car door. He looked at Potter. His lips were almost blue, his cheeks flushed, and he was shivering. The man took his pulse. The boy's heart rate was fast. If it weren't for the fact that they were standing in the middle of a Muggle street, he would have levitated him home already.

"I don't know, I don't fucking know! Since Sunday, he looked like he had been high." When Snape shot him a sharp look, he added, "but he swore he hadn't!" Meanwhile, Snape pulled the Gryffindor out of the vehicle. He did that quite effortlessly. Potter was skinny, Severus knew that, but he didn't have any idea how light he actually was. "And then the whole next day Harry was shaking and puking, but I thought he had a hangover, although he hardly had drunk anything, but I don't know, maybe he ate something bad," the teen continued, even more panicked.

Theodore stood in the doorway, watching everything. As soon as Snape approached the door, he let the teacher pass. Both Oasis and Nott followed the Potions Master to the living room. Snape turned to Noah.

"Your presence is inexpedient here. Leave."

"Hey, no fucking way, I wanna help."

"Language." He put Potter on the couch. "I need to focus. And, you're just going to distract me," he added, seeing that the boy wasn't going to let go easily. "You can come in the morning and check on him. And now, I will ask you kindly, for the last time, to leave. "

"Okay, just help him. He's really cool."

"If he's cool, then I'll save him," the man mocked the boy. "Go now," he added impatiently.

When the boy slammed the door behind him, Severus waved his wand to lock it.

"Bring me a box of healing potions quickly," he said to Theo, who nodded and hurried to the laboratory while he cast a scanning spell.

Potter had a very high temperature. It didn't look good.

As soon as Theodore had brought him the box, Severus gave Potter a potion to lower the temperature. He didn't know if Noah was telling the truth. The Potion Master had to test the boy's blood. Maybe Potter was stupid enough to take Muggle drugs, or perhaps someone put something into his drink, and he got poisoned. Either way, he had to find out in order to help him. Severus was not a Healer, but he had mastered the basics of healing because of his profession. If his skills prove insufficient, he will take Potter to St. Mungo’s. However, he would prefer to avoid that.

He poured some Quidmali Estsanguis potion on a platinum saucer, took Potter's hand and cast a light Diffindo to cut the skin of the boy's finger. He added three drops of the boy's blood to the potion and then healed the wound quickly. The potion showed only general information about whether the blood was healthy or contaminated with some Muggle chemicals, bacteria, animal bite or magic. The potion turned dark green which meant bacteria. Potter also had enlarged lymph nodes. Severus paled. He hoped Tobias hadn't hurt the boy that much because the first thing that crossed his mind was a bacterial infection of the open wound.

"Cutis Perturbationes," he said, making a complicated wand motion. The spell showed the condition of the skin. Colourless aura indicated the absence of any blemish, light pink for natural birthmarks, dark green for scars, purple for bruises, and black for open wounds. The boy was surrounded by a colourful aura. He sighed. Too colourful for a fifteen-year-old. However, only after turning him over on his stomach, he noticed a very brown colour in the shoulder blade area.

Severus spoke another incantation, and both the aura and the boy's shirt disappeared. The man saw a crooked dressing plastered on Potter's back, and around it, the skin was swollen and red. When Severus took it off, he cursed loudly.

Tattoo. The idiotic boy got himself a tattoo.

Another day, maybe even a few hours and the Dark Lord wouldn't have to worry about Potter anymore. He looked at the boy. His skin was practically stretched over his bones, showing fading but still visible traces of violence. The man sighed deeply. A sleepless night awaited him. He pulled out his wand and carefully transferred Potter to the guest bedroom.

 

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The hottest day of the year gave Petunia a real gyp. She was sitting on a swing on her beautiful porch sipping iced tea, her only respite from the heat was an electric fan her husband had bought at a supermarket a few days earlier. Even though the device was turned on at full speed, it didn't help much. The whole summer was extremely hot and calm. A month earlier, thanks to the attic clean-up, she had managed to get rid of Potter for good. She didn't say it was a wrong decision, but she was the only one of the three Dursleys to lack the boy. As for Dudley, he had finally regained his peace, and Vernon was calmer too, not having to get angry by the antics of the whelp.

However, she...

She loved her garden, but for years, ever since she'd taught her nephew to weed—which she had to put a lot of effort into, too, because it wasn't easy at all to teach a three-year-old, especially one so stupid like Potter, to distinguish weeds from seedlings—Potter did that. She didn't have to expose herself to the scorching sun or some kind of heatstroke, especially on those days where there was virtually nothing to breathe with. Petunia was, after all, a fragile woman. This summer, she had the choice of either doing it herself or losing first place in the Little Whinging Garden Competition. Yes, they could afford a gardener, but what would people say if the beautiful greenery around the house was the merit of a professional, not her own hard work and talent. Besides, even though she liked to cook, at least during the summer holidays, the boy did the job, not to mention cleaning. It took a lot of effort to keep the house so clean, so she definitely deserved a two-month break from these responsibilities. She would have to talk to Vernon about hiring someone.

 A housekeeper, as the servants are called nowadays, will definitely raise their social status.

Petunia checked her watch. It already was past four, and by six, she was going to meet with Ivone at a nearby restaurant, so she should be getting ready.

Anyway, she wondered what problem Ivone had this time. Maybe it was about her loser husband? Of course, Petunia hadn't pointed out to Ivone that she’d married an ordinary plumber. Not everyone can have a director at home, but personally, she would be ashamed if she’d married a labourer.

 

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Wearing a beautiful new rose dress and a Borsalino hat that Ivone praised so much, she was on her way back home. The meeting lasted longer than she had planned. It was getting dark already. She was a little worried about Dudley, who would heat up his dinner for the first time by himself. She hoped her poor thing wouldn't get burned. Were it not for the fact that her friend desperately needed advice, she would have stayed and helped Dudley, who still had his whole life to do chores and should not waste his childhood on them. She also hoped that his future wife would be able to take care of the house properly. Petunia turned down the little alley that led to Wisteria Walk. Suddenly it grew very chilly, and she wished she had taken a cardigan sweater. Still, there was nothing on TV about a sudden drop in temperature. She wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered as the sky turned completely black so that neither the stars nor the moon could be seen.

At one point, she heard something, a hoarse, wheezing sound, and felt an icy touch on her neck. Suddenly she heard a high-pitched scream in the distance. A flickering lantern illuminated a large figure falling to the ground.

 

 

"Rose, darling! Long time no see! Oh gosh, what a beauty. Those lovely curls! What huge, beautiful, sparkling eyes! You took your beauty after your mom, right?"

"Yes," the girl smiled.

"And what's your name, sweety?”

"Lily."

"And this is Petunia, my older daughter."

"Hello, Petunia. Rose, have you ever thought about sending Lily to some Little Miss contest? They're so popular lately. I'm sure your little one would win it. Or for casting for a tv series!”

"Why are you dressing up, Petunia?"

"I'm not dressing up."

"Her boyfriend Mark is coming!"

"Stop it, Lily, he's not my boyfriend. We're just going to do our homework together."

"Mark, focus, please; I've written everything by myself so far."

"Stop nagging. It's you who wanted me to be a project partner with me. Who is that girl downstairs?"

"My sister, she came home from boarding school."

"Sister? Not similar at all. So pretty. Will you introduce me to her?"

"Lily, how could you cut your sister's hair! I told you not to use magic on her! You're grounded from watching TV!"

"We were just joking a little with Severus!"

"She looks like a boy now; she's crying and ashamed to even leave the room!”

"She doesn't look worse than usual."

"Lily!"

"Lily, get dressed."

"I am sunbathing."

"Petunia's new boyfriend is coming soon. Put something on yourself."

"What for? Everyone knows he comes here just to slobber over me."

 "Darling, what are you saying?"

"Oh, please. I heard him saying that Petunia has a face like a horse.”

"Child, shh! Or the poor thing will hear you. What a scoundrel!"

"Well, at least she'll know the truth.”

"Lily, it's not nice to say things like that! It's terrible!”

"It's terrible to lie to yourself. You've always taught us honesty."

"...your daughter, she is not an ordinary girl."

"Oh, yes, we know she has that gift. The boy next door told us everything. Our Lily is really amazing. Lily, show the lady what you can do.”

"Mum! Dad! I won the contest! Our garden got first place!”

"Yes, that's great, Pet. But you won't believe it, your sister turned out to be a real witch. Isn't that wonderful?”

"What?"

"She can do magic! Lily, show her how you make this flower bloom...It's so lovely, Lily. We are so proud of you, darling!"

"Oh, well done. Few children this young have such control. You will be a really powerful witch.”

"See, Lily, I'm so proud of you!"

“Could I go to this school too?”

“No, I'm sorry, child, but you are just a Muggle. You don't have any extraordinary abilities.”

 

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Thursday, August 3rd, 1995

Harry woke up and looked around the room. Not recognizing the bedroom he was in, he tried to get up on his elbows. Sharp, radiating pain shot through his shoulder blade as the room whirled, and he fell back onto the pillows. He closed his eyes to contain his dizziness. 'Shit.'

"Hi, how do you feel?"

As soon as Harry heard the voice, he jumped, trying to get up again. This time the adrenaline must have worked because he managed to sit up.

"Nott.”

"Easy, Potter."

"What am I doing here? Where am I?” he asked hoarsely, feeling very uncomfortable with a Slytherin, the son of a Death Eater, and having no idea where he was or how he got there.

 He searched frantically for his wand.

"At Professor Snape's house. Do you want a drink of water?"

Harry shook his head and narrowed his eyes to study the boy. Even though he didn't have his glasses, he saw that Nott did not seem to be ill-intentioned. It reassured him a little. However, he decided, just in case, to refuse anything to drink or eat. Harry had to get out of there as soon as possible.

"How did I get here?"

"Your friend Oasis brought you. You were unconscious, and your temperature was very high. He was here today to ask about you."

Harry remembered that he felt really terrible and the conversation with Oasis' mother. He groaned.

"Where is he, anyway?" He asked. "I mean Snape."

"He had to leave urgently." Nott shrugged.

Hearing this, Harry breathed a sigh of relief, then with great difficulty, gritting his teeth, managed to sit down on the edge of the bed.

"Where do you think you are going? Professor Snape told me to tell you not to leave the bed."

"Okay, thanks for the message, but I'm out before he gets back. "

"Potter, I'm serious. Stay. He was already furious with you yesterday. For the tattoo."

"Well, that's why I have to get out of here. But…" Harry hesitated for a moment. “Thank him for me,” he added, but his face made it clear that it was not easy for him to say that.

"Where's your Gryffindor courage?" Nott raised his eyebrows.

"Hey, Gryffindors are courageous, but they are not really suicidal."

Nott snorted, clearly amused.

"Stay, don't irk him any more than he already is. He's been sitting by your side all night. He's really furious."

"Well, it's Snape, so nothing new there, but Tobias..." Harry didn't know how much Nott knew about his relationship with Snape and the adoption by Potters.

"Oasis said today that you are home alone until Sunday. Snape isn't thrilled about that either. "He paused a moment and looked Harry in the eye. "You know that if you go home, he'll drag you back? Anyway, look at you. You are not even able to get out of bed.”

Harry groaned and put his face in his hands.

"Snape's going to kill me, won't he?"

Theodore looked at him sympathetically.

"It won't be that bad...certainly, a long lecture awaits you. Very long. After all, your stupidity almost killed you, Potter, but I doubt Snape spent all night healing you, just to kill you now.”

"And I think there is a large chance for that. It's Snape. He probably wants to finish me off himself," said Harry, then fell back on his back, which caused another piercing wave of pain.

 

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Moments later, Nott left, saying that he needs to finish a potion. Harry was left alone. He looked around. The room was quite large and bright. There were no personal items, so it didn't look like the bedroom belonged to anybody. If it weren't for the fact that he literally couldn't get out of bed, he would have ignored Snape's orders and gone home. But he felt so bloody weak he couldn't take a step.

Nott visited him several times more, asking if he needed anything. He even brought him a book. However, Harry was so nervous that he couldn't focus at all, and, after reading a few sentences, his mind drifted off to what would happen when Snape returned. For the next few hours, he imagined different scenarios, all of which ended with Harry's body parts and organs landing in a cauldron as ingredients for dark potions.

Suddenly he heard a knock on the door, and before he could answer, the Potions Master entered the room. Harry, trying to calm himself down, took a deep breath, straightened up and prepared himself for the stream of insults and threats. The man approached him confidently, and Harry involuntarily moved away, even though he had promised himself not to show any more weakness in front of the teacher.

"How are you, Potter?"

"Fine," he replied, confused by the teacher's neutral tone. The man rolled his eyes at the answer.

"Let's try again. And this time, I expect you not to act like an idiot trying to pretend everything is alright, but tell the truth.”

"I feel fine." When Snape raised an eyebrow, he hesitantly added, "it's just a bit of smartness on my back."

"Yes? Go on."

"My head hurts a little, and I'm cold."

The man muttered something indistinct and placed several potion vials on the nightstand.

Snape's strange calmness irritated Harry more and more. He hadn't foreseen this kind of behaviour and wasn't sure what to expect next.

"Did Theo bring you something to eat?"

Harry shook his head and narrowed his eyes, looking at Snape. The man sighed.

"Stay in bed. I'll be right back; you can't take this on an empty stomach," Severus said, then got up and left the room, leaving Harry alone.

The boy breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for the next few minutes of peace. On the other hand, he would rather have had a conversation with Snape that he knew he could not avoid.

 

*wizarding disease. It probably causes the sick person to mumble, and their face and neck to swell like in people with mumps.

To be continued...
End Notes:
I apologise to the fans of Lily. But, well, Imho, there isn't any proof that she couldn't be a little mean and arrogant sometimes.

So your thoughts? :D
Chapter 12: Vernon by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
First, I would like to thank you for your comments, I really appreciate them. They keep me going.

Also, I would like to thank my wonderful betas – Jasmin Kain, VAspera and Gingerljf17.

Snape rubbed his temple, trying to get rid of the headache. Tired and sleepy, he would gladly go to bed. Unfortunately, he still had to have a talk with Potter. The man yawned, covering his mouth with his hand. Another hour and he'll be able to get some sleep. He'll just ask Theo to check on the irresponsible Gryffindor from time to time.

He hoped Potter would take the news relatively well. If this kind of news could be taken well at all.

Opening the door, Severus startled the boy so much that he jumped on the bed and looked at him as if the Potion Master were a Boogeyman who killed his parents, and in a moment, he was about to get him. The irony was, it was not far from the truth. At least as far as the parents were concerned. Fortunately, Potter was unaware of that fact.

Severus looked at the scrawny kid. He looked innocent, and at first glance, no one would have guessed that he was the worst terror in school. It was because of him that the man had not slept in more than thirty hours, trying to save the boy from his own stupidity. The Potions Master thought he should have strangled the kid for the idiotic tattoo. Still, since brewing potions all night would then be a waste of time, he dismissed the idea immediately.

"You jumped as if you had something on your conscience."

"What? I didn't touch anything! I didn't even get out of bed!" shouted the boy.

Severus sighed.

"Potter, it was just a joke. Calm down."

The boy looked at him doubtfully, as if not believing that the man knew the definition of the word "joke" at all. But, hey! Out of the two of them, it wasn't the Potions Master who was linguistically ignorant here. Despite Severus' inept attempt to start a conversation in a friendly manner, the boy still looked as if his every muscle was tense, and he would rather fly out of the room as soon as possible.

As Severus handed him the sandwich, he took it without a word and began to eat it slowly, never taking his eyes off the teacher. At least the teen didn't make a scene like the last time Severus wanted to feed him. After several minutes, the boy finally finished. When the Potions Master wanted to take the plate from him, Potter cringed abruptly.

"Potter, what's wrong with you? Relax a little."

"What's wrong with me?" He asked, confused. "With me?" He repeated louder. "Are you kidding me? What the hell is wrong with you, Snape?! Why haven't you started yelling at me and getting mad and calling me names yet? Why are you so... so..."

"So what?"

"So…kind of normal!?"

"Wait a moment. I want us to understand each other absolutely. You want me to shout at you and insult you?"

"Yes!" The boy snapped. "I mean, no! I don't know... That's not the point!

Severus rubbed his temples with his fingers again. Potter's behaviour was definitely not helping him to get rid of the headache. Still, at least he felt a little less sleepy.

"Potter, take three deep breaths and explain to me, what are you on about again?"

"I don't know. I heard you were brewing potions all night… And I'm kinda' imposing on you. I mean, not at my own request, of course, because I wanted to go home, but Nott advised me not to."

"He did the right thing. And I still don't see the point.”

"And you always yell at me for nothing, and now, when there's really a reason, you're not, and suddenly you're playing…nice?"

"Potter, first of all, I never yell at you without reason." The lie easily passed his throat. Of course, Severus more than once lash out unfairly at the kid, which of course, he reasoned to himself by the necessity of reduction of Potter's enormous ego. "Secondly, I promise you that I will not yell at you, as you put it, today, so calm down a bit," he added.

The news he was about to pass onto him was bad. Even very bad, and Severus knew that he was unlikely to avoid another scene, so there was no point in adding more drama to it. The man promised himself that he would grit his teeth and survive another boy's hysteria.

"And what are you going to do?" Potter asked, eyeing the potions distrustfully. "What are these?"

"Antibiotics, blood purifying and strengthening potions."

"I'm fine now," the boy said, glancing nervously at the door. "Actually, I really have to go," he added.

"I'm not going to poison you, stupid child. I assure you, if I wanted to kill you, I would have done it last night."

"Well, I don't know. You look like the one who likes the victims to be aware that you are the one who kills them," the boy muttered, looking him straight in the eyes.

"Merlin's beard, Potter..." Snape rolled his eyes. "Just drink it, I'll change your bandages, and we'll talk."

"About what?"

"There is something I need to tell you."

"Something happened? Something happened to Sirius?" he asked anxiously.

"No, your mutt is fine."

"The Weasleys? Hermione?" The boy was becoming more and more alarmed.

"They're fine as well. Stop with the questions." Severus slowly grew impatient. "Take the potions and turn around."

"But what's going on?"

"The sooner we get it over with," he said, nodding his head to the vial, "the sooner I'll tell you everything."

After a moment's hesitation, Potter drank all the potions one by one, wincing ostentatiously at their taste, then slowly turned around. Snape capably changed the dressing, and the kid didn't even groan. As soon as the Potions Master finished, the boy sat facing him again and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.

Severus looked at him searchingly. Even though he had done many bad deeds in his life, he still didn't find it easy to convey such information. No matter what others thought of him, he wasn't a heartless bastard.

"Yesterday evening, your aunt and cousin...they had an accident," Severus said, carefully examining the teenager's face, from which all the colours had drained.

"What happened?" the boy asked. "Are they all okay?"

"No, Potter, I'm sorry." To his surprise, the boy neither broke down in tears, nor his eyes were even a little wet. The only sign that he understood what the man told him was the fact that his face went a little green.

Severus leaned over to put his hand on the teen's shoulder to show him his support somehow. Potter or not, the kid had just lost the last surviving family members—if not counting Tobias and him. However, the boy could not rely on his father's support, and obviously, he did not share any common ground with Severus. Potter, however, jerked away abruptly, and Severus withdrew his hand. Evidently, the kid didn't trust him. Looking back, he couldn't tell that he felt especially surprised by that. He knew that he was one of the worst possible people to comfort the Golden Boy.

"But what happened?" Potter repeated, it might seem in a calm voice.

"Dementors have appeared near your aunt and uncle's house. Unfortunately, both your aunt and cousin ran into them yesterday evening, and they failed to escape.”

"Dementors sucked their souls out?" The boy paled even more, and his voice trembled.

"I'm really sorry, Potter." Severus felt really out of place. Instead of starting the conversation with the boy, he should go against Dumbledore's order and bring the kid to Grimmauld Place for Molly Weasley to inform him about the Dursley's deaths and then take care of the devastated teenager. The Potions Master was entirely unfit for this. He wasn't good at comforting people, let alone those who hated him. "I know you had an argument with your family lately, but I'm sure your aunt didn't resent you and still loved you." He finished awkwardly, staring at the boy intensely.

Potter closed his eyes, and then his mouth twitched into a mocking smile.

"Yeah… sure... Loved me." Suddenly the boy threw back the covers. "I'm better now. I'm going home. Thanks for the potions. They helped."

"Don't you even dare to move, Potter," Severus growled. "Nott did let you know you were staying here until Tobias returns, didn't he?"

"I'm not staying."

"Yes, you are, Potter. Get back under the covers."

"You have no right to trap me in here," he said, trying to get up.

"Potter!" the man growled out. "I'm warning you. I understand what you are going through right now, but I'm slowly losing my patience.”

"That's the thing, you understand nothing! You think that what? That you put me up and gave me some potions, and suddenly you know everything about me?"

"No, Potter, I think you are a spoiled, little whelp with no gratitude for the woman who took you in and spent years raising you. Even though the results are rather poor."

"You can think whatever you want, Snape," the boy sneered. "I don't care at all."

"Potter, your insolence is beyond all limits!" The boy just shrugged and looked away. "You won't leave this room until you rethink your behaviour. And tomorrow, whether you like it or not, we'll go to the hospital where your aunt and cousin are. You will say goodbye to them and express your condolences to your uncle."

Saying this, Snape left the room, slamming the door.

Potter raised his pressure more than a double espresso. There was even no point in trying to go to bed now. He knew the conversation wasn't going to be enjoyable, but he was surprised at the direction it took. He decided to go to Spinner's End and get some of Potter's things. Luckily, Noah left Severus the key this morning. The kid couldn't spend the next few days wearing one set of clothes. Also, he will get the chance to explore the anti-magic field that Dumbledore had thrown up around the area near the house. He was sure he had heard of something like this before, but he couldn't remember in what circumstances.

 

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Friday, August 4th, 1995

The anti-magic field turned out to be extremely advanced magic. Only a very powerful wizard could cast in one. None of the spells Severus cast worked, and they only caused a slight tingling sensation in his fingers. The field was located only to the edge of the park. No wonder Potter got an infection. He was sure Tobias knew nothing about the tattoo, so he doubted the kid would get it in a professional salon without the guardian's approval. There was a good chance the kid had gone to some sleazy place where the hygiene standards didn't exist. Severus sighed. He still had to have a conversation with Potter about it. Anyway, the kid's body should be able to fight the bacteria on its own. Severus hadn't heard of wizards who actually had symptoms like the Gryffindor. Muggles did, but even though they didn't have any magic in them, usually even they could handle it. The only reason Potter's skin refused to heal or did it exceptionally slowly and infection got into his blood system could be because of Dumbledore's barrier. He didn't know why, but he was convinced about it. Unfortunately, information on anti-magical fields was not easy to find. Very few wizards have heard of them, and even fewer have conjured it up. He himself had no literature on this subject in his library. He would have to investigate the problem at Hogwarts.

"Good morning, professor. Do you need help?" Nott's voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

"Good morning, Theo. No. Just sit down at the table." With that, he waved his wand, and a bowl of hot oatmeal with fruit and honey flew towards the boy. He poured some orange juice into a glass for Theodore and a cup of coffee for himself. Then he sat down in front of the boy.

"I need to take care of something with Potter. We will be away for a few hours, and I hope you will find something to do during this time.”

"I wanted to make a peace potion," the boy said after he swallowed a piece of orange.

"That potion is quite unstable, and while I'm sure you'll do it right, I'd prefer you to wait until I'm around. However, if you want, you can brew an ointment for burns." When the boy nodded, Severus added, "and how are your lines going?"

"I have almost five hundred." Theodore made a suffering face.

"It's only twice as much. See? You’ve got something to do." Severus smiled, teasing him a little. "You've only yourself to blame," he added, seeing the boy roll his eyes.

"Yes, I know. And how is Potter?"

"Better than expected."

 

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Severus knocked on the door, mentally preparing himself for another day of "being nice to Potter." Hearing no answer, he stepped inside. The boy was sitting on the bed, his hands hugging his knees, his bangs all damp, probably with sweat, and tears running down his cheeks. As soon as he saw Severus, he began to wipe them off hastily.

"What's going on, Potter?"

"Nothing. I'm fine." The boy sat up straight and gave the man a furious glare in case he dared to doubt his words.

Snape raised his eyebrows, disbelieving every word that came out of the kid's mouth but decided against saying anything. The man tossed on the bed a new toothbrush, towel, the boy's wand and clothes that he had brought from Spinner's End the day before. This time, when he entered Potter's room at Tobias' house, he noticed that the room was well-kept and repainted. There was a new rug on the floor and a cover on the bed. All this, although of dubious quality, was new. It meant that Tobias did try at least a little.

Among Potter's things, it was challenging to find anything suitable for a hospital visit. The kid didn't have a single shirt. So, Severus took the sweater that would make the boy look the least rebellious. He also found a wand and an invisibility cloak which he chose not to take. He didn't need to tempt this idiot to start wandering around the house invisible.

"Take a shower, get dressed, and come downstairs. You will eat breakfast, and then we'll go to the hospital."

"For what?"

"I told you. To say goodbye to your aunt and cousin."

"They're in the hospital? A Muggle one?"

"Yes, Potter. Tonight the St. Mungo's employees are coming in, and, well...they will make their bodies cease to function."

"They will kill them?" The boy asked, visibly paler.

"No. They are already dead. St. Mungo's staff will only kill their bodies.”

"I really don't want to go there," the boy muttered.

"Potter, don't be a child. I have no idea what your argument was about, but I know one thing. If you don't say goodbye to them now, you'll regret it for the rest of your life."

"Exactly, you don't know that. You don't know anything."

At that moment, Severus remembered Black's words about the Dursleys. He looked at the boy searchingly.

"Potter, was it really that bad there? Did they...abuse you?"

Harry's eyes widened involuntarily. He looked at his hands, then back at Snape.

"No, of course not. I…" The teen swallowed. "You are right. I should say goodbye."

Snape nodded. Were it not for Dumbledore's insinuation repeatedly that the boy was fine with the family, and Figg had been watching over him, he would have thought…but no, it was impossible. Potter never looked timid. On the contrary—the kid was confident, insolent and arrogant. Besides, it was impossible that Severus, an experienced teacher and spy who prided himself on his perceptiveness and intelligence, could be so wrong.

 

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They appeared at a dead end behind the hospital. The shade of green on Potter's face clearly indicated that the boy felt nauseated, as it usually happened with the first few Apparitions. And even so, the boy tried to pretend that he was okay again. Severus was slowly getting tired of guessing what was wrong. He handed him a vial.

"No discussion. A potion for nausea," Snape said before the boy could protest. Harry grimaced and reluctantly swallowed vial contents. There was a visible surprise on the kid's face. Not only did the potion taste quite nice, but also it started working right away. The next moment, Severus conjured up a bouquet of flowers in a vase and gave it to Harry. "For your aunt."

"What for? You said yourself that she is…you know…" The boy was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking like he was trying to twist a hole in the sidewalk with his foot.

"Yes, she's dead. Still, it's customary to bring flowers. Take it." Snape shook his head. "Does everything have to be so difficult with you? Stop questioning every single little thing."

The boy opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but changed his mind and closed it. He just mumbled a soft "thanks" and took the flowers. Harry looked up at his teacher, but the man had already turned around and started walking towards the main entrance. Whether he wanted to or not, Potter followed the man.

Snape headed for the reception desk, where he found out which room the Dursleys were in.

Right outside the door, the kid hesitated. He was pale and glanced uncertainly at his teacher again and again.

"Could I go in there alone?" he stammered out finally. "It's a private moment. I don't want any witnesses when I tear up or something."

"Yes, Potter, of course. Go."

The boy took a deep breath, knocked and pressed the door handle. He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as he peered into the room, then stepped inside.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

There were two beds in the brightly lit room on which Aunt Petunia and Dudley lay. They looked as if they were asleep, not dead. He stepped closer and set the vase on his aunt's bedside table by his aunt's bed. There were already a few bouquets of flowers and get-well cards.

The teen didn't know what he should feel. He realized that both his aunt and his cousin had always hated him. Harry, on the other hand, as a child, had sought the love of his aunt, who had not only never loved him but, what is worse, had treated him despicably. However, he never wished them dead.

"I'm so sorry," he mumbled.

He reached out to touch his aunt's cheek but quickly withdrew it. She hated when he touched her. She always scolded him when, as a small child, he had not learned that he should not try to hug her.

"You...you..." A voice interrupted his reverie. He turned to only see Uncle Vernon making his way toward him. The man looked like he hadn't slept in days. He was pale, his eyes were bloodshot, and now he was furiously heading towards him. Harry instinctively reached out to shield his face, but the angry man grabbed his throat. Two purple hands tightened around his neck. "It's...it's all your fault...how dare you show up here!" Uncle Vernon shouted, pure madness flashing across his face.

"Let go of me!" Harry gasped, slowly running out of air.

Harry struggled to pull at his uncle's sausage-like fingers with his right hand and reach out his wand with his left one.  The lack of oxygen caused the boy to see the dark spots before his eyes, but suddenly Uncle Vernon howled. The man was thrown back, and Harry felt a wave of invisible energy running through his body.

Harry collapsed to the floor, trying to catch his breath. At that moment, the door opened, and Snape entered the room with his wand out.

"What the hell is going on here?" He looked at Vernon and then at Harry who was rubbing his throat as he tried to get up.

"Nothing," the boy said.

"You damn freaks! It's all your fault! You fucking bastard! Taking you under our roof was a mistake. We didn't manage to stamp this stupid thing out of you and now look at what you've done! I should drown you in a river right away! Or lock you in your fucking cupboard once and for all and make you starve to death there!" Vernon got up from the floor, pushing at the boy once again. "You killed my wife and son, you cocksucker!"

Severus stood in front of Potter, shielding him completely and pointing his wand at Vernon.

"Touch him, Dursley, and you'll join them!" Severus heard enough from his uncle 's mouth to know that he was completely wrong about Potter. But to get rid of any doubts he knew would get him sooner or later, he whispered: "Legilimens."

What he saw in the man's memories chilled him. And not only because he had seen the scenes of cruelty towards Potter with his own eyes. Eventually, it hit him what he so stubbornly jibbed at. Potter was a child who was mentally and physically abused. The Dursleys starved him and kept him locked in a cupboard for days or even weeks. They were not shy to use physical violence and got rid of the boy at the earliest opportunity. No wonder the child liked the idea of moving out. And the worst part was that it was the moment when he also realized his own behaviour towards a kid who was treated worse than an animal in his own home. The Potions Master had never acted reasonably towards him. He often took the blame of the man who had adopted him out on Potter. And yes, it was not good, but if the boy was really spoiled as Severus thought him to be, it would have been of little consequence. It would only show to the kid that the whole world didn't revolve around him. However, in this case, Severus was just another adult who plainly abused him.

In fact, the boy never had the support of an adult. Apart from, of course, Black, who currently had runaway status and was highly irresponsible.

"Potter..."

"Don't...just don't."

A few things happened at the same time. Vernon regained consciousness, swung at the Potions Master, but the latter threw a Stupefy on him, and the man fell flat. Figg, the woman who was supposed to keep an eye on Potter for all these years, entered the room with flowers in her hands. And a long-eared owl flew in through the window and soared towards Harry, tossed a large parchment envelope at his feet, it made a neat twist and flew out.

"What's happening here? For God's sake! Vernon, dear! Is he okay?"

"That whale attacked Potter." Snape looked at the boy who was reading the letter. The kid was getting paler with each passing moment. "Potter, what happened?"

"They kicked me out of Hogwarts," he said with his voice trembling.

"Give me that," Severus took the parchment from the boy's hands.

 

Dear Mr Potter,

We have received intelligence that you performed magic at thirteen minutes past eleven this morning in the presence of a Muggle.

The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 a.m. on August 12th.

Hoping you are well,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

 

"Don't worry, Potter. Nobody will throw you out of school or destroy your wand," Severus said, hoping that Dumbledore, in the current political situation, still had sufficient influence. "Underage wizards have the right to use spells in an emergency; moreover, your uncle already knew about magic. Come on." Saying that he grabbed the teenager's arm. "We need to go."

That instant, another owl flew into the room, sat on Harry's shoulder, extended a leg to which was tied a roll of parchment. As soon as the boy untied the package, she shook herself and flew away. With trembling hands, Harry unfurled the second letter, which was written very hastily and blotchily in black ink.

 

Harry

Dumbledore's just arrived at the Ministry, and he's trying to sort it all out. DO NOT DO ANY MORE MAGIC. DO NOT SURRENDER YOUR WAND.

Arthur Weasley

 

"Come on, Potter," Snape said, dragging the teenager towards the door, then cast a spell on Vernon to revive him and turned to Mrs Figg. "Deal with him."

Harry and Snape hurriedly headed to the dead-end street from which they were to Apparate. When they were almost there, another owl flew in and handed Harry an official-looking envelope.

 

Dear Mr Potter,

Further to our letter of approximately twenty-two minutes ago, the Ministry of Magic has revised its decision to destroy your wand forthwith. You may retain your wand until your disciplinary hearing on August 12th, at which time an official decision will be taken.

Following discussions with the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Ministry has agreed that the question of your expulsion will also be decided at that time. You should therefore consider yourself suspended from school pending further enquiries.

With best wishes, yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

 

Severus looked questioningly at Harry.

"They changed their minds; they won't destroy my wand yet. I'm just officially suspended."

"That's good. Come on. Let's go home." With that, they apparated back to Flukey Road.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Severus led Harry into the living room. Despite the teenager's reluctance, he sat him down on the couch, conjured up a blanket and gave him the TV remote control. He needed to talk to him, of course, but frankly, he had no idea how to play it, so he tried to put it off with the pretext of cooking dinner. To his surprise, Potter stood up and offered to help. The Potions Master immediately refused.

"Are you back already?" Theodore asked from above the pile of parchments. "You weren't supposed to be back until after lunch."

"It's a long story. How is it going?" The man said, pointing his head at the parchments.

"Quite bad, "

"Well, you still have a lot of time," Snape said. The teenager made a face, clearly not happy. "Take a break and go and keep Potter company. Watch TV or play something."

"To keep him busy?" Theo asked, collecting the parchments.

"Sometimes, you're too perspicacious."

When Severus was left alone, he wondered what he should do with Potter. The kid didn't like or trust him. It was obvious and quite understandable. Dursley's memories completely changed Severus' paradigm. At this point, he couldn't bring up the old dislike of the boy he had been feeding himself for years, every time he interacted with the kid. An aversion that was not only unjustified but would definitely make it difficult for him to establish a good relationship with Potter to help him.

The man felt a great deal of guilt for mistreating an already abused kid he had sworn to protect. Not to mention that he felt like the greatest idiot, that despite years of practice as an educator and as a spy (which he prided himself on), he did not notice that the Potter's family was riding roughshod over him. And there were signs of it, but Severus was too blinded by his own arrogance to notice them.

The problem, however, was that while all the assumptions on which he had treated Potter poorly had shattered the moment he entered Dursley's mind, nothing had changed for the Gryffindor. For him, Severus was still the same nasty Potions teacher who treated him despicably.

Yes, Potter wasn't one of the well-behaved kids. However, all these escapades, for the Philosopher's Stone or to the Chamber of Secrets, may have been the result that the boy had no one to turn to for help. Probably never used to getting help from adults.

On top of that, the boy was his brother. Snape laughed dryly. The kid he hated for four years for the very fact of his mere existence, for being the son of James Potter, was actually related to Severus. The man suddenly felt resentment towards his mother. If the woman had only told him about the pregnancy. He would surely help her. He would even raise the kid himself after her death. Indeed, the child would be better off with him than with the Dursleys or Tobias. Perhaps Potter would even have avoided the fate of the Boy-Who-Lived.

The prophecy. By handing it over to the Dark Lord, he personally contributed to the death sentence on his own brother. At this point, the Potions Master swore again that he would do anything to save the boy from death at the hands of Voldemort. Potter just had to start trusting him a little.

This itself won't be an easy task; Severus had no doubts about it. First of all, he should try to keep to a minimum the malicious comments that Potter himself provoked with his irritating behaviour and stupidity. What's more, the teenager will have to start feeling safe in the Potions Master's company. For that to happen, the boy had to be convinced not only that Severus would not hurt him but that the Potions Master would also act in regard to Potter's welfare. The boy has to actually be aware that he can rely on his teacher.

Severus knew that all the effects of a tragic childhood could not be reversed, but there was a chance to minimize them. First, Potter himself had to want to admit to having experienced violence. The Potions Master wasn't sure if the boy was only tried to  hide from Severus that the Dursleys had been abusing him or if the boy denied it himself. Both options were very likely, and anyway, the man decided to try to get Potter to start talking about it.

After Severus had finished laying out his general plan for dealing with Potter, he called the two teens to the kitchen for lunch.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

At the table, Potter sat like it was his last meal. He nibbled on his chicken as if he still believed Severus had poisoned his food. After the man waved his wand to let the dishes wash themselves, he called the boy into the living room.

"Can I go home?"

"No, Potter, you can't. We need to talk," said the man, sitting down in his armchair and pointing to the couch to the teenager. Using a spell, he summoned the previously prepared cups and put them onto the coffee table. "Help yourself." The boy reluctantly pulled the cup closer to him. Severus took the other one and took a sip. Then he motioned for Potter to do the same.

"What the hell is going on again?" Harry asked after tasting the drink.

"It's hot chocolate."

"I know what it is," Harry snapped. "But why are you giving me hot chocolate? Got some more bad news? Do you want something from me? Do you want to bribe me or something?"

"If I wanted to bribe you, I'd add marshmallows and whipped cream," said the Potions Master with a straight face, and when Harry looked at him incredulously, he added: "It was a joke, Potter."

"What did you want to talk to me about...er... professor?" Harry asked, completely baffled. He folded his arms over his chest and looked expectantly at the man.

Severus cleared his throat.

"I'd like to apologize to you," he said, hesitating for a moment.

"Excuse me?" Harry's eyes widened so much that they looked almost comical on his too-thin face.

"I am saying I shouldn't have treated you like I did. I behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally towards you."

"Oh."

"Yes, oh. And I hope our relationship will improve."

The boy narrowed his eyes and looked at him for a moment.

"Fine."

"Fine...is that all you have to say?" This time it was Severus who was stumped. He was expecting some kind of tantrum typical for Potter, reproach, or just that the boy will send him to hell.

Harry shrugged.

"Yeah. Can I go now? Home?"

"Potter, I told you, you won't be staying there just by yourself for a week. End of discussion." Severus looked closely at the teenager, a bruise slowly starting to appear on his neck. "Accio bruise balm!" He exclaimed, and after a moment, the potion flew straight into his hand. "Here you are. Put it on your neck," the man said, handing him a little jar.

"Thanks?" The boy said. Taking the ointment on two fingers, he spread it over his skin.

"As for your uncle...he shouldn't behave like that. What he said...you know that's not true?"

The boy shrugged.

"Sure."

"But it wasn't an isolated incident."

The boy looked at him suspiciously. "As for that, two magical monsters had sucked the souls of his only son and wife the previous day, and tonight the wizards are going to come there and finish them off. You can't blame the man for being…well, slightly shocked?”

"No, I don't blame him for being shocked, just for the fact that he almost killed you." Severus chose to ignore the fact that Potter wasn't using either sir or professor. He hoped that when the boy finally got used to change in their relationship, calling each other by names would shorten the distance between them and at the same time help build that damn trust that he didn't have at all at the moment.

"Nah, he wouldn't kill me," Harry said dismissively.

"What if I told you I know for the fact the Dursleys have been abusing you?"

"Then I'd say you have no right to spread nasty rumours. And whoever told you that bullshit thing was simply lying."

"Potter, do Granger and Weasley know about it?" Severus chose to ignore the boy's words.

"They don't know anything because there is nothing to know," the boy said through clenched teeth. "And that's none of your bloody business either. So, kindly, stop spreading this nonsense because someone will believe it and report it to the Prophet."

"You know you should talk to someone about it."

"Merlin's pants, are you even listening to me?"

The boy had an unhealthy blush on his cheeks and seemed increasingly tired.

"Are you feeling well?"

"Yeah. Of course, I'm fine." Potter was so indignant as if Severus had asked the most ridiculous and tactless question.

The man rose from the armchair and extended his hand towards the boy. The kid immediately raised his hand to shield himself, probably thinking that Severus was going to strike him.

"I just wanted to see if you have a fever." Saying that he touched the boy's forehead. "Dear Salazar, Potter, you are burning hot. Accio the anti-thermic potion." Severus deftly grabbed the incoming vial. "Here, drink this." The boy reluctantly drank it, wincing at the same time. "It would make my life much easier if you let me know when you are not feeling well."

Potter looked at him incredulously.

"And it would make my life much easier if you just let me go home."

"I'm telling you once again, there is no such option."

"Merlin, why? I don't want to be here, and you don't want me here. We'll both be happier when I leave."

"Potter, you've been acting like a spoiled brat since the beginning of this conversation, and we've already established that you are not one."

"We haven't established anything," muttered Harry.

"And I told you that I would not let such an irresponsible fifteen-year-old live alone for a week without any supervision," Severus continued.

"I'm not irresponsible, and I really don't need anyone to babysit me. I'm doing great on my own."

"Not irresponsible? Hmm…let's think about it. Aren't you the one who got a tattoo in some dingy den? And then, didn't you throw a boozy party where half of the teenagers from the neighbourhood were present? Is it not you who landed at my house, barely alive, because the tattoo infected your blood and for three days you haven't asked anyone for help?"

"Yes, I know, but..."

"And I won't even ask if you have any money left to buy some food for the rest of the week, or you spent it all on that tattoo and the party."

The boy blushed and groaned.

"Okay, okay, maybe you’re right, but it's a one-off slip-up."

Severus snorted in disbelief. He got up, took a blanket from a chest of drawers against the wall and handed it to Potter.

"You are barely awake. Lie down and get some sleep."

"Will you tell Tobias?"

"About what?"

"About everything. That I'm here."

"I will think about it. Now sleep."

 

To be continued...
End Notes:
So, what do you think? Did you like it?
Chapter 13: Sine Nuntius by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
First I would like to thank Chantale-of-da-last-generation for beta-reading this chapter! I really appreciate

 

Harry woke up laying on the couch, he slowly opened his eyes and looked around, but when he noticed the Potions Master sitting in his armchair, he quickly closed them again, and started thinking about the living nightmare that was the last few days. First, that bloody tattoo supposedly almost killed him, then Uncle Vernon nearly choked him to death, and the Ministry suspended him from Hogwarts. Then to round things off, Snape began to poke his enormous nose into his private life. Nothing on earth would make him tell anyone, especially the Potions Master, how the Dursleys had treated him. He seriously didn't need snarky comments, people laughing behind his back, or pointing fingers at him, or merlin forbid people’s pity and sympathy! Not to mention what would happen if that nasty Skeeter woman heard the whole story and it made the Prophet. The Gryffindor had no intention of risking humiliation in front of all of Wizarding Britain.

"Potter, you can open your eyes; I already know you are awake." His thoughts were disturbed by the sound of the Potions Master's voice. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yes."

Not trusting the child's words, Severus pulled out his wand and cast a spell on Potter. The boy was suddenly surrounded by a green mist, which disappeared after a second.

"The fever is down, but tell me as soon as you feel worse. And I'm serious about it."

Harry nodded then looked at the clock standing on the mantelpiece. As soon as he saw the time, he jumped off the couch.

"Damn it! I'm going to be late for the practice. I've gotta go."

"Potter, what practice are you talking about?"

"Football. Er... I can go, right? I promise to come back.”

"Merlin, Potter sit down this instant. Just because your fever has dropped doesn't mean you're fit and healthy. You won't have the strength to run anyway."

"But..."

"You're going to give football practice a miss today," the man said in a tone that Harry knew it was pointless to argue about it.

At that exact moment, Theodore entered the room.

Severus looked at him, his mouth curving into a crooked smile.

"Has our Romeo met his Juliet today?"

Harry snorted, remembering a drunken Nott kissing a Muggle girl. However, he tried to cover it with a cough, surprised that he almost laughed at something his most hated teacher had said. 'Well, happens to the best.'

The Slytherin boy blushed.

"If you must know, professor, she's gone abroad on holiday."

Severus nodded.

"I'm going to make dinner. Would you care for something specific?" He asked, and to Harry's surprise, the man looked in his direction.

Harry just shook his head, completely baffled by the man's behaviour. Yes, the teacher did apologize to him yesterday, but Snape's politeness made Harry completely unable to fathom him now. The man was acting like a human being, not like… well, Snape.

"Theo?" The Potions Master turned to the other teenager.

"Spaghetti?" The boy grinned.

"Why did I even ask," Snape muttered. "Very well, but please, try to be a little more creative next time," he added and left the room.

"Do you play chess?" Nott asked.

"Yeah, I do, but I'm rather bad at it. Actually, only Hermione is worse than me."

"No way. Granger's bad at something?"

"Yeah, and she is even worse at flying. Not to mention Quidditch." Harry grinned.

"So, fancy a game of chess?"

When Harry agreed, Nott went to the chest of drawers and pulled out a well-worn set of wizarding chess. He set it down on the coffee table and sat down opposite Harry.

The Slytherin turned out to be a pretty good player, he was definitely winning. At one point, when Harry reached out to move one of his pawns, he heard a tut from the left side. The Gryffindor was so preoccupied with the game that he didn't notice when the Potions Master returned to the room, with three plates of hot pasta with sauce floating in front of him, and three sets of cutlery in his left hand, with his wand in his right.

"Potter, if you do that, you will expose the king." Surprised, Harry shot a glance at the man, then looked back at the chess. He reached out to the other chess piece. "Move it, and Theo's rook will beat your queen, and then in three moves, you lose. But look here, your knight can take his rook, which will open up the possibility of an attack on the queen.

"Ugh, I'm playing with Potter, not you. Where is the so-called Slytherin loyalty? I would like to win it," pouted Nott.

"Then you'll have to try a little harder. Put it down now, boys. Let's eat because dinner's getting cold."

Suddenly Snape winced. Harry had an impression that the Potions Master's left hand twitched several times, and his right hand moved towards it as if to grab it.

"Boys, eat dinner by yourselves, don't wait for me. I have to take care of something," the man said, putting down the cutlery and getting to his feet. "Don't leave the house. Don't open the door to anyone. It would be best if you stayed in this room. Nothing will happen, but in case anything happens, go straight to my private quarters at Hogwarts. Theo, show Potter how to do that.” He looked at them solemnly. "You will enter the fireplace together at the same time. And I'm serious, Potter, no idiotic or seemingly heroic antics." With that, the Potions Master hurriedly left the room. They heard footsteps on the stairs, and after about two minutes, the crack of Apparition.

Nott rose from his seat.

"I'm going to put this in the fridge." He said, taking both his and Snape's plates. After a moment, he returned. There was silence in the room. Harry watched the other teen. Nott stared at one place, biting his fingernails as he did so, then started pacing back and forth around the room.

"It was Voldemort who summoned Snape, wasn't it?" Harry asked. Nott looked at him and nodded. "You're worried about him." This time it was not a question but a statement.

"Of course, Potter, I'm worried. He has just gone to meet the world's most powerful, sadistic madman who wants absolute power. And on top of that, he currently has in his home, one of said madman’s greatest enemies. And if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that this enemy is his secret brother!”

"Er... yeah, I know. I didn't want it to turn out that way. Not that I have any say in who I am related to." Harry looked at his untouched spaghetti, for which he had completely lost his appetite. "You don't support him?"

Nott hesitated.

"Potter… damn it. I... maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but ... Can you swear it'll stay between us?" Harry nodded. "I'm talking about you taking an oath. Maybe not the Unbreakable Vow, but you won't be able to share what I want to tell you with anyone anyway."

Harry pondered for a moment, having no idea what the Unbreakable Vow was. He could also guess what Nott wanted to tell him, but he had to make sure.

"So which oath do you mean? And how does it work?"

"It's Sine Nuntius. You just have to swear that you will not tell anyone what I am going to say to you now, and I will seal it with Sine Nuntius. That's it. The oath will make you physically unable to tell anyone, speak about it, write it down, and so on. It will even protect this secret from Veritaserum, and memories viewed in the Pensieve will be blurred and muffled. You will immediately see that there is something wrong with them, but an outsider will not be able to do anything about it.”

Harry nodded. In the last two weeks, he had started to like the boy and even trust him a little. But not yet enough to take Slytherin's word for it.

"Okay, I'll take the oath. But only if you swear to tell the truth and only the truth for the next five minutes," Harry said, and Nott merely smiled and nodded.

The oath was very short indeed, and the boys performed it quickly. They didn't even need a wand for it.

"You probably figured it out by now, but I don't support the Dark Lord's agenda."

Harry nodded his head.

"And what does your father say about it?" he asked.

Nott grimaced. "That's why I asked you to take an oath. My father can't find out. About anything. What I think about the Dark Lord, about Severus living in a Muggle home, about you, about Chloe. He is a very dangerous man. He really is one of the worst fanatics."

"Do you think he would do something to you?

"I know he wouldn't hesitate to kill his own child." Nott looked down at his nails.

"And what about your mother?"

"She is dead. That is why Snape persuaded my father to let me spend my holiday here studying Potions.

"Oh ... Er ... That's pretty cool of Snape. And you don't have to worry, seriously, I won't tell anyone."

"I really don't want to kill. I don't want to torture. I don't want to join him. Shit, Potter, I'm sure you'll be one of the main figures in the upcoming war. I don't want to be your enemy if I'm to be on the same side as you."

"So, you're offering something like an alliance." Nott nodded. "You're a Slytherin. What will the others say about it?"

"I know who I am, Potter. But even though the entire school, and most of the wizarding population, believe so, being a Slytherin is not synonymous with being a Death Eater."

"Hey, it wasn't an accusation." Harry huffed, even though he meant precisely that.

"Sure," Nott said sarcastically. "Just admit that you have always considered us evil, compared to you and the rest of the saintly Gryffindors."

"No." When Nott raised one eyebrow up at him doubtfully, he added: "Okay... a little bit. But, well, when I returned to the wizarding world at 11, someone told me that not a single wizard or witch went bad who wasn't in Slytherin house and that Voldemort was in it. Then the first Slytherin I met was Malfoy, who only confirmed that theory."

"Well, imagine that. It's not as if a hat determines that a quarter of eleven-year-olds are downright evil."

Maybe it was a mistake that Harry never really thought about it, just took it as the obvious truth. However, he had the excuse that everyone around him, everyone he trusted—the Weasleys, Hagrid, even McGonagall—seemed to believe the same. The Head of Gryffindor didn't say it outright, but she sneered a little every time she was saying ‘Slytherin’. On the very first day, in the corridor off the Great Hall, just before the sorting ceremony, when she was talking about the sorting, she pronounced the name of the snake's house with open disdain. This behaviour was definitely something he remembered. Snape, Voldemort and Malfoy seemed to confirm that only a particular type of people landed in Slytherin—the ones who were malicious by nature. No other Slytherin stood out enough to raise any doubts in Harry's mind.

"Of course not, but you have to admit that Malfoy is not making your reputation any better. Besides, you always go everywhere in a group and attack students from other houses."

"We don't attack them. It's them who attack us. And we walk in groups because it is not safe for Slytherins to walk around the castle alone. There will always be a self-proclaimed hero who will want to avenge his family members or just out of principle because Slytherins are the easiest target. There is always an excuse because everybody thinks that we are the bad guys and they are the good ones. Everyone always assumes that it's us who starts fights."

"Yes, of course, you are so innocent," Harry said sarcastically. "Somehow, it's always Malfoy that starts."

"Merlin, Potter. Stop talking about Malfoy! Draco is an arrogant, spoiled kid who has yet to grow up. Anyway, just as you can't stop talking about him, he can't stop talking about you. For four years, I've only heard Potter this and Potter that. Give it a rest!"

"Hey, don't compare me to him!

"Then notice that there are about a hundred students in Slytherin, not a hundred Malfoys. Have you ever spoken to any of us?"

"Of course I have."

"And I'm not talking about Malfoy."

"I'm sure I have. Anyway, it doesn't matter now," said Harry. One point in Nott's speech got his attention. The Slytherin was speaking about his house as the suppressed one. According to the teen, every eleven-year-old who ended up there was doomed to prejudice from the other houses. "Listen, I had no idea Slytherins were afraid to walk around the school alone. I've never seen any of you getting attacked, and neither I, Ron or Hermione have ever started any argument first. And yes, I know, I'm mentioning Malfoy again, but you must have noticed that he is the one who always starts arguing."

"What about the Weasley twins?" Nott folded his arms.

"The twins? Well, they like to have a laugh. They don't even spare their own family."

"Sure, they like to have a laugh, but maybe their victims aren't laughing with them. And it is the Slytherins that they focus most of their attention on. A funny joke is when both sides laugh." Harry grimaced, knowing the boy was right in this particular case. Even though the twins never harassed him, their jokes were sometimes overdone, and the victims had the right to feel humiliated.

"If you want, I can talk to the twins," Harry said. "But if you didn't notice, Snape isn't helping your case either by bullying students."

Nott shrugged.

"True, Snape is no saint, but he is not the only biased teacher or Head of House. It's the same with McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick. They each favour their own houses, but they only discriminate against Slytherins, even if its unknowingly. Not to mention Professor Sinistra, who openly oppresses us. It's frustrating."

"Somehow, I haven't notice that." ‘Sinistra?’ Harry tried to remember any such occurrence in the Astronomy lessons that would confirm Nott's words, but nothing came to mind.

"No offence Potter, but you don't pay any attention in class. Either you daydream, or you are working out your next adventure to the Chamber of Secrets or to fight dragons."

Harry ignored the Slytherin's comment as it was not far from the truth. Astronomy was the second most boring subject, behind Binns' class, taught at Hogwarts. How much can anyone stare at the sky and watch stars, that all look practically the same, when they should be in bed sound asleep.

"You're not going to tell me they treat you as badly as Snape treats Neville or me."

This time, it was Theodore who felt a little uncomfortable.

"No, Snape is crossing the line a little bit in your case."

"A little bit?"

"Okay, a lot. I agree that he shouldn't behave that way, taking his anger out on you. But it's just him against you, and we have a hard time with almost everybody else. Even with the Headmaster himself. Do you remember the end of our first year? At the leaving feast, when we were going to win the House Cup and the hall was decorated in Slytherin banners?  At the very last minute Dumbledore took it from us, giving you and your friends exactly enough points to beat us. He had days to award those points in private, rather than wait for that painful, public announcement."

"I never thought of it that way." Indeed, he was only interested in Gryffindor's win back then because that meant the other Gryffindors stopped ostracising Neville, Hermione and him for losing points due to the Norbert incident. He had been really badly affected by the rejection of his housemates. He really believed McGonagall on the first day when she said that their house would be their family at  Hogwarts. Still, for over a month, everyone in Gryffindor but Ron, Hermione, Neville treated him like persona non grata. He felt a bit like he was back at the Dursleys, except no one locked him in the cupboard under the stairs.

"Of course, you didn't. But it's not your job to think about it. Just... Do you know how angry everyone in Slytherin was? And how wronged they felt? All because of the Headmaster, who is supposed to be the most impartial person in the school. We had been working hard all year, and he took the House Cup from us, at the last minute only to give it to you. And from what I've heard it was for breaking a thousand rules and risking your life. Snape would kill us for anything like that, not reward us with nearly two hundred points."

Harry shrugged.

"Okay, I agree. It wasn't fair to you. I mean the way he did it. But on the other hand, McGonagall took a hundred and fifty points from us a month earlier for being in a hallway in the middle of the night. And don't tell me, the amount was fair."

"Yeah, I remember. I must admit that made us all quite happy."

Nott looked at his watch and started pacing the room again. Seeing the other teen's nervousness, Harry decided to keep him talking to distract him a little.

"Look, only the good die young so Snape will be back soon," he said. Maybe it wasn't quite tactful, but he tried.

Nott snorted.

"That's the problem. Snape is one of the good guys." When Harry looked at him sceptically, he added: "We have already established that he is a bit unfair and malicious. And he can hold a grudge like no one else."

"And again—a bit?"

"Okay, okay, very much. But he's still a good man.”

Until a few weeks ago, Harry would argue fiercely with Nott. But now, he wasn't quite sure what to think about Snape, so he decided not to continue the discussion. It wasn't going to change anything anyway.

"Are you going to give Snape a chance?" Nott asked, pausing and looking at Harry.

"What do you mean?"

"I overheard your conversation last night," saying that, Nott blushed a little. "He apologised to you."

"Yeah."

"And?"

"And what was I supposed to do? I'd be an idiot if I told him to shove it. Maybe it will make him stop treating me like shit, at least for the moment."

"But ... you don't believe him?"

 "Sooner or later, he'll change his mind." Harry shrugged his shoulders.

"Why do you think so?"

"I don't know; that's just the way it always is. He found out that we are family, so probably he thinks that he has to behave that way now. But you know, sooner or later, he'll get over it."

"Maybe not? Maybe it's worth giving him a chance?" Nott looked unconvinced.

"No... The fact that I'm his brother doesn't change anything. Soon, he will get used to the thought, or I will botch something up, and he will hate me again and act like he always did."

"I don't know... he helped me. And it seems as if he wants to help you as well."

Harry laughed bitterly.

"Listen, you're living in Snape's house; that's different. Me? Well, I'm still Harry Potter, a stupid, insolent, arrogant, worthless Gryffindor. I bet, soon, I'll do something stupid again, and he will get mad at me, and him playing nice with me will be over. Actually, I'm a little surprised he’s kept me here. Anyway, I don't want... I don't need any help. Two more years, and I'll be of age. Until then, I'll be fine. I’ve managed up till now.”

"I know we're not friends, and maybe it's not my place, but you look like someone who could use some support."

"Look, Nott, I have Ron, Hermione, the twins and… whatever. We have been friends for years. We care for each other, and that's enough for me. I already found out that blood ties mean nothing," he said, and the bitterness was easily recognised in the tone of his voice. First, Eileen gave him up, the Dursleys treated him like a house-elf, and Tobias was getting furious with him all the time. "Snape wigged out a little, but I'm sure he'll get over it soon. And it will end like it always does. So, I'm not going to pretend this change is permanent or something.”

"Like always?" Nott raised his eyebrows up.

"Never mind," Harry said, annoyed that from all of his speech, Nott have picked up on exactly the part which he had accidentally said. He didn't want to share this with the Slytherin. "It's just fine as it is. Snape wants to play nice, that's fine with me. But let's not pretend that when we go back to Hogwarts, anything will change. And I don't care at all," he added as if Nott dared to think otherwise. "I don't want to talk about it. Maybe we can play something? Do you have another game or just chess?"

"As you wish, Potter. But I really think Snape has started to care about you."

"Cut it out." Harry clenched his fists. "Do you have a game or not?"

"Don't get angry, man."

"I'm not angry; I just want you to finish that stupid discussion, alright?"

Nott snorted.

"No. Don't get angry, man is the name of the board game."

"Oh, okay then," Harry smiled a little.

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Saturday, August 5th, 1995

Harry once again woke up in the comfortable bed in the room in Snape's house that he had been occupying for several days. He rubbed his damp forehead as he recalled his dream about the mysterious door again. The teen closed his eyes, trying to remember more, but all he remembered was the strong urge to open it and go inside. He sighed, knowing it wasn't normal, and it had something to do with Voldemort. Suddenly, Harry realised that the last thing he remembered was watching some stupid sitcom on Channel 4 with Nott and waiting for the Potions Master to return. He didn't remember going upstairs to lie down, Snape must have levitated him upstairs. He cursed under his breath and dragged himself out of bed and got ready for the day before going downstairs.

 

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Snape and Nott were already in the kitchen. There was breakfast waiting for Harry on the table. Apparently, the Slytherins had already finished eating because the man was reading the Prophet while sipping his coffee, and Nott was scratching something out on parchment.

"Good morning," Harry greeted and walked over to the table hesitantly. He still wasn't very comfortable around Snape. It wasn't as bad as two weeks ago, of course, but he still couldn't fully relax. As for Nott, Harry had already noticed that the boy was quite alright, and the previous evening had somehow brought them even closer.

"Good morning, Potter". Snape replied. "Sit down and eat. How did you sleep?"

"Okay, thanks." The man nodded, then went back to reading. Harry looked at Nott; the latter had just put down one piece of parchment, picked up another, and kept on scribbling.

"What are you writing?"

"Don't ask!" the Slytherin said in a miserable voice.

"Tell him, Theo," Snape droned in. "Share the obscure knowledge that both of you haven't manage to acquire and so, acted like teenage morons recently."

Harry looked at Snape in surprise, then picked up the parchment Nott held up to him and began to read:

I will not drink alcohol (or take any other psychoactive substances) at least until I am seventeen, and even then, I will be cautious. There is a reason why it is illegal to drink until one comes of age. Alcohol causes irreversible changes in the teenage body and may cause further issues with thinking, controlling one's feelings, coordination, short-term memory, and experiencing emotions. Besides, the amount of alcohol drunk is inversely proportional to rational thinking and control at any given moment.

Harry winced as he read it.

At that moment, the doorbell rang, and Snape got up and went to answer it.

"How many times?"

"One thousand."

"Ouch. I thought he let it go."

"Potter, this is Snape we are talking about," Theodore looked at Harry as if he were from another planet.

"Potter!"  They heard Snape calling from the hallway.

"Shortie, you're alive!" As Harry walked to the front door, he was greeted enthusiastically by Oasis.

"Obviously." Harry grinned. "What are you doing here?"

"Your friend does not want to believe me when I say that you are not chained in stocks and hidden somewhere in the basement."

"Ugh, as you can see, Oasis, I'm still alive. Barely, but I'm alive." Harry smiled broadly.

"You have two minutes Potter, and then you're going back to your breakfast. And to answer your question, No, you won't be going anywhere with your foolish friends because you had a high fever yesterday." When Harry opened his mouth, Severus added: "And no, you won't be going back home tonight. Tomorrow, when Tobias returns." Saying that, the Potion Master turned around and headed for the kitchen.

"Gee, despotic much? I feel sorry for ya," the taller boy said as soon as Snape was out of earshot.

"Yeah, he is." Harry rolled his eyes. "So, what's up?"

"I wanted to ask if you wanna go with us to our sandbox in the evening. The guys and I were a little worried. You have already missed two practices."

"Did you tell the coach I was sick? And what about your father? I was supposed to report to him, and I completely forgot."

"My mother and I told him that you showed up and I told the coach you were sick. But you will be back on Monday, right?"

"Sure"

"Potter!" They heard Snape calling him.

"It wasn’t even two minutes!” muttered Harry.

“Maybe you'll come out tomorrow, huh?" ask Oasis.

"Sure, I'll be there. See you."

When Harry returned to the kitchen, Nott was collecting his parchments, and Snape was standing up.

"How do you feel, Potter? And I want the truth. Do you feel like you have a fever?"

"I'm fine." The teenager gritted his teeth, unable to understand why Snape had insisted on asking him all the time about his well-being. Harry knew it wasn't because Snape was scared that he might accidentally infect Nott. Even when he had a fever, Snape had not locked him in isolation, much less sent him home. In any case, Harry didn't feel comfortable hearing the question, let alone answering it. It made him anxious when an adult knew he wasn't feeling well because usually, the outcome was even worse for him.

"I'm going to brew potions with Theo. Would you like to join us?" When Harry involuntarily made a face, Snape added: "Yes, of course, you have an allergy to cauldrons. In this case, go to your room or the living room and get yourself a book. Maybe you will find something that will interest you."

"Oh, thanks." It crossed Harry's mind that Snape hadn't even hesitated when he called a room in his own house 'Harry's room.' It was just a slip of the tongue for sure, but it made the boy feel strange.

"Have you already written your summer essays?"

"Almost." The teen hesitated. "Can I turn on the TV?"

"I would prefer if you picked up a book, but of course, you can."

"Er... thanks." Snape nodded and went into his lab, leaving Harry confused.

He had no idea what had happened to Snape and where the cruel Potions Master had disappeared to. It crossed his mind that maybe the man was plotting something utterly vile that he needed to lull Harry into a false sense of security. The Gryffindor couldn't think of any reason that would make the man change his behaviour completely. The kind, caring behaviour Snape was displaying disturbed the teenager. But for a moment, he thought that there might be a tiny kernel of truth in what Nott had said the day before. However, this was far less likely than a plan to dull Harry’s inane sense of constant vigilance.

The teen sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. While changing the channels, he came across The Mysterious Cities of Gold cartoon, several episodes of which he had already seen. It was about Esteban, the Child of the Sun, who, together with some others, set out in search of these Cities of Gold in South America. Travelling by boat to another continent seemed as impossible to Harry as magic had once been. Maybe one day, he could set off on such a journey into the unknown as well? He watched two episodes of this series, after which a teleshopping program began. As he was completely disinterested in that, he decided to see what Snape had on the shelves. To his surprise, he did not find just scientific books there, but also quite a lot of fictional novels. Harry picked up one of them. The Bourne Ultimatum, he read. The cover featured recommendations from some famous people and the New York Times. There was nothing to do anyway, so he might as well start reading it.

 

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Ever since Severus broke into Vernon Dursley's mind and saw the man's memories with his own eyes—the way the Dursleys treated Potter and how they felt about him—he couldn't stop feeling guilty. Long ago, the Potions Master swore to himself that he would help maltreated children, and it turned out that he himself had mentally abused one of them for four long years. It wasn't like Severus hadn't seen anything wrong with treating the Gryffindor the way he had. However, the Potions Master had always been able to find a justification for it. If he were, to be honest with himself, the way he dealt with the child was mainly caused by his desire to get back at his supposed father and lookalike, James Potter. Looking back, Severus saw his immaturity, hypocrisy and a complete lack of professionalism. His only excuse was that Potter—behaving the way he did—didn't even try to correct his assumptions. Of course, it did not diminish the Potions Master's fault. The man’s stubbornness and faith in his own infallibility deterred a child, who had been a victim of abuse and neglect from an early age, from trusting him. A child who also turned out to be his little brother and, if only the circumstances were different, could have been very close to him if his mother had only trusted him.

Now he wasn't sure how to deal with the kid. He had to do his best to fix both the damage done by the Dursleys and his mistakes towards him. The situation was all the more difficult because the boy did not trust Severus by a long shot and the man was not at all sure if there was any chance for it in the future. Aside from the fact that Potter had virtually no faith in adults, the only interactions between him and Severus were the ones were the Potions Master had publicly humiliated and insulted him or taught Potions, taking a jab at him at every available moment. The child had not seen or heard of any different side of him.

Severus also knew that his own hot-tempered personality would not make the task any easier, and Potter's behaviour still left much to be desired. Yes, the behaviour was caused by experiences no child should ever have, but still he was quite annoying. He will undoubtedly need endless patience and even more litres of calming draught to deal with the teenager. Besides, there was also the problem of Tobias. The man could destroy all the good changes Severus could potentially have worked out with the boy.

Despite all these obstacles, the Potions Master, not for one moment, thought of leaving Potter on his own.

When Severus re-entered the room with two mugs of hot chocolate in his hands, the teenager was standing by the bookshelf and was looking at one of them. Typically, he would have made some snide remark about the boy being illiterate. However, he stopped himself at the last moment. He had to work on controlling his impulses as well if he wanted his plan to work.

"If I were you, I'd start with the first book in the series." The teenager jumped in surprise, hearing his voice. "The Bourne Identity is right there."

The boy pulled out the indicated book, and Snape set the drinks on the coffee table and sat down in his armchair.

"Sit down and help yourself to a drink. I think we need to talk." The boy groaned at his words.

"About what?" Potter asked and reluctantly took the indicated place on the couch across from his professor. He picked up the mug and drank. Severus noticed with some satisfaction that the kid, for the first time, hadn’t shown any suspicion of the drink and did not accuse the man of poisoning it. 'Yes, small steps.'

"There are quite a few topics to talk about, don't you think?"

"Not really," Potter shrugged.

"Maybe we'll start with Thursday's situation."

"Hence the chocolate," the boy muttered.

"You didn't seem particularly hurt by the way your uncle treated you. And not even surprised."

"He was in shock. He didn't know what he was doing." The boy said dismissively, shrugging his shoulders again.

"Don't make excuses for him. He had no right to do that. If your accidental magic didn't save you, he could have permanently damaged you or even killed you," Severus growled, looking at the fading bruises in the shape of the large hands on the child's neck. "Tell me, Potter, has he treated you like this before? Did he blame you for everything ? Did he regularly use physical violence?" Of course, the man already knew the answers to these questions, but he wanted the teenager to get it out of his system. Severus knew very well from personal experience that talking about abuse helped. This was not the first time he had encountered an abused child in his teaching career, and it was not the first such talk he chose to have. However, for all his experience both personal and professional, the man still did not feel competent enough in this regard. He had no psychological education, let alone patience especially towards dunderheaded children. Unfortunately, wizards were utterly ignorant of this subject. In their world, there were no such professions as psychologists, therapists or mental health specialists.

"With all due respect, this is really none of your business." Severus massaged his temples. Of course, Potter wasn't making anything easier. "Besides, accusing the Dursleys of mistreatment sounds a little hypocritical, doesn't it?" On Potter's face appeared a sardonic smile.

Severus pursed his lips and after a moment said: "Yes, Potter, I shouldn't treat you the way I treated you for the last four years. For which I already apologised yesterday, I don't know if you remember. And I still adhere to that. However, please do not compare my behaviour to the Dursleys."

"Why not? They hated me because I existed, and so did you. They yelled at me when they felt like it, and so did you. They locked me up, and so did you."

"Tell me, Potter, when did I lock you up?" He asked, deliberately ignoring the other two most accurate examples.

"Hmm… let's think." Harry pretended to ponder. "Now? I can't go home; I can't see my friends ..."

Severus took a deep breath. Keeping his nerves in check wasn't easy with this kid.

"I've already told you why you won't go home until Tobias comes back," the man drawled, although he doubted his father's care was much better, than Harry being on his own. "As for the fact that I'm not letting you go outside, I'm only doing it because yesterday you had a fever of 102.2 degrees fahrenheit, and I want to keep an eye on you. What about your aunt? How did she act when you were sick?"

The boy's swarthy complexion turned slightly pink, and he turned his head and stared at the bookshelf.

"Normally." The teen shrugged. “She wouldn't let me go out either."

"Hmm... Out of where?"

Harry shook his head, and his eyes grew slightly moist. He wiped them angrily with his sleeve.

"Outta nowhere. What do you want from me? Do you feel some sick pleasure hearing how the Dursleys didn't like me very much!? I won't tell you anything! Nothing bad was going on there. Anyway, I practically never got sick."

'Potter's having a tantrum,' Severus couldn't say he was surprised.

"No Potter, I just want to help you."

Harry laughed bitterly. "I don't need help anymore. A little late for that, isn't it? I don't live with the Dursleys anymore and I am almost of age."

"You're still a long way from adulthood." Snape tapped his fingers on the back of the chair, then asked: "How about a deal? You tell me this one thing, and I'll do something for you."

"Not a chance."

"Yesterday, you asked me if I was going to tell Tobias about your stupidity."

Harry folded his arms over his chest. "That doesn't seem fair."

"You know very well that life is not fair."

There was a moment of silence. Severus didn't push it, letting the boy consider his options. The man wasn't sure if it was a good idea to force the boy to talk, whether it will backfire. He wouldn't say anything to Tobias anyway. He just wanted Potter to start talking about the Dursleys at last, to share at least a little of the burden from his messed-up childhood.

"Fine," the boy snapped and crossed his arms as if hugging himself. "But not a word to your Slytherins, or Malfoy, or anyone. And you will not use it at Hogwarts to publicly ridicule me."

"Of course, Potter. I promise not to share with anyone what comes out in our conversation."

"Sine Nuntius."

"Excuse me?"

"Take the Sine Nuntius oath."

Severus smiled crookedly. Apparently, the child wasn't the complete fool he thought him to be. He nodded and spoke the oath while the boy sealed it.

"So? I'm listening. How did your aunt treat you when you were sick?"

"Well, she ... the normal drugs were bad for me, so she didn’t give me any of them."

Severus nodded. But he said nothing as he saw Potter struggle with himself to bring out his following words.

"She didn't want Dudley to get infected as well."

"Potter, I told you not to make excuses for the Dursley's behaviour. Please, continue."

The boy closed his eyes for a moment and then reopened them, but they were filled with anger this time.

"She locked me in a cupboard under the stairs and waited for it to pass. Are you happy now?"

Severus tried to look neutral as if the information didn't affect him, although he was fuming with anger inside.

"For how long?"

"I dunno. Depends on when it passed. A few days, maybe a week."

"Petunia was a monster. I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Harry shrugged.

"It doesn't matter anymore."

"It does."

"I've finished!" Theodore practically ran into the room. "Professor, I made it! I've finished Heliuotion!" He looked around and saw the two mugs on the table and the expressions of Severus and Potter, his face fell. "Oh, chocolate. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"It's fine; we've almost finished. Just give us a moment, and we will come to the laboratory.” When Theodore left the room, Snape asked "What about Tobias? Tell me, how did you land at his door?"

"Well, it wasn't a big deal. My aunt found my birth certificate, and she could finally get rid of me. Look, I don't want to talk about this anymore, okay?" muttered Harry, suddenly feeling very tired. "The deal was about one thing. Tobias is fine. I'm much better with him than with the Dursleys." Then the boy looked at his professor as if he wanted to add something.

"Yes, Potter?"

"Never mind. Forget it"

"Potter. Tell me."

The boy looked at him as if he was struggling with his thoughts.

"Can I ask you something, er.. sir?

"Technically speaking, you just did. But go ahead, keep asking."

"Do you remember that party?

"The irresponsible party with loads of teenage, giddy, drunk, and stoned morons that you threw while Tobias was away?"

"Yes, that one. If I bring that broken mirror, would you fix it sir?" Potter waited tensely for an answer.

"I can see that if you want something, you can address me respectfully." The boy shrugged. "I've already taken care of it, Potter. The mirror is intact."

Severus watched with satisfaction as an expression of disbelief appeared on Potter's face, and then a weak smile replaced it. The first one, the boy, had ever given him.

"Oh. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Potter," Severus said. He considered the conversation with the child a success, and to his surprise, there were no screams, major tantrums or slamming doors. "Let's go to my lab now. Theo has something to show you." he said, rising from his chair.

To be continued...
End Notes:
I hope you like the chapter and I would love to read your thoughts about the chapter! :D
Chapter 14: Plangentine by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
Chantale-of-da-last-generation Thank you for beta reading!
Jasmin Kain - you too;)

Thank you for your support guys!

Sunday, August 6th, 1995

It was the last meal he was to spend in the company of the two Slytherins. A week earlier, he had been sure that there was nothing worse than a few days of being locked in the same house with the oversized bat. It seemed more terrible than sitting in the cupboard under the stairs, or bars on the window, rows of padlocks and a can of cold soup per day.

However, to Harry's surprise, it had turned out quite the opposite. He didn't know if it was from regular meals or potions, but he felt much better physically than the week before or when he was living with the Dursleys.

Besides, it seemed to him that he was slowly becoming friends with Nott. It turned out that despite being a Slytherin, the boy had quite a pleasant personality. He was rarely malicious or unpleasant. Perhaps if Harry had gotten to know him earlier, he would not have been so prejudiced against the inhabitants of the Slytherin's house. Nott was intelligent and had a broad knowledge of various topics. He could be described as a typical bookworm; however, he wasn't as pushy about sharing his expertise as Hermione was. Of course, Harry loved his friend dearly and would have given his life for her without the slightest hesitation, but sometimes her behaviour was simply irritating. Two like her would probably be too much for him.

As for Snape, the man was still acting nothing like himself. The day before, the Potions Master decided they would order a pizza for dinner, and then they played Monopoly all evening. To Harry's surprise, he found himself forgetting who he was spending time with, and he was even enjoying himself for a moment. Pizza, hot chocolate and Muggle games? If it weren't for the fact that Harry saw the man didn't drink anything for more than an hour, he would have thought someone had impersonated him with a Polyjuice Potion.

Maybe he was high on some cheering potion?

Either way, something was reassuring about being in the Potions Master's house.

It struck him how much their relationship had changed over the course of several days. Harry also noticed that, involuntarily, he was starting to trust Snape. At least enough not to be afraid of poisoning by him at the first opportunity. During these few days, since his return from the hospital, the man never yelled at him or called him names. And the only thing that bothered the Gryffindor was that being around Snape made him feel some illusionary sense of security. In the hospital, the gesture of the Potions Master stepping between him and Uncle Vernon, completely shielding him, hadn't escaped Harry's notice.

Regardless, Harry tried to tiptoe around him because the teen was sure that after his abstinence from malice towards him that lasted for so long, the man was like a ticking bomb – once it exploded, everything would crash down and then return to its normal state.

"Potter, how are you feeling?" the Potions Master asked the teen, spreading jam on his toast.

"Okay," the boy replied, trying not to roll his eyes when Snape, once again, asked, according to Harry, an utterly unnecessary question.

"No dizziness? Shivers? Nausea? Are you feeling any itchiness from that damn tattoo of yours?"

Harry shook his head.

"That's good. Remember, if you feel anything disturbing, and I repeat anything, come to me straight away. Understood?"

"Okay."

"Your hearing is on Saturday morning. Dress appropriately. And no hoodies. Take your dress robe with you and be here at seven o'clock. And don't you dare be late. I have no idea what possessed them to set the hearing on Saturday, but they decided to do so. I'll take you to the Ministry. And if you would like to, ask Tobias' permission to let you spend the weekend with the mongrel. "

"Really?" That got Harry's attention, and his face lit up at the thought of meeting Sirius, the Weasleys, and Hermione. "Of course, I want to see him."

The Potions Master nodded.

"Then I'll pick you up at eight o'clock on Sunday evening. You are to be ready because I am not going to spend there a moment longer than necessary. Understood?"

"Yeah," answered Harry, and after a while added: "Thank you."

"And behave yourself. Listen to Tobias and don't on any account talk back to him." When Harry nodded again, the man continued: "And by Salazar, don't hang out at nights with those Muggle hooligans. If you have any problems, come here immediately. If you argue with Tobias, do the same. If you have nothing to eat because Tobias will spend everything on alcohol, I will see you here." The man waited for the boy to nod his head once more. "And if you get into any trouble, which I advise not to, of course, come see me immediately." Harry rolled his eyes. "Under no circumstances wander out of the neighbourhood because I will skin you alive myself." The last remark made Harry glance at him. The man seemed to be slowly coming back to himself because he finally started to talk like the old Snape.

 

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As soon as Harry returned from Flukey Road, where he was forced two more times to listen to the tirade about what he should and should not do, he started to clean the house. It wasn't like there was a big mess. Oasis cleaned everything up after the birthday party. But some little things were lying around; the teenager wanted to put them back in place before Tobias returned. That way, the man would have no reason to get angry at him the moment he is back. When he finished, Harry sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. More episodes of The Mysterious Golden Cities were on, but it was hard for Harry to concentrate on the cartoon. His thoughts were drifting away. He hoped Tobias would come back in a good mood and not be in one of his drinking binges.

Hearing the sound of the lock being twisted, he felt his pulse quicken.

He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down and went into the kitchen to say hi to his father.

"Harry! Good to see you, lad," he greeted him, placing his travel bag on the table.

"Hi," Harry answered, smiling hesitantly. He smelt the distinct smell of alcohol and cigarettes from the man. "How's your trip?"

"Ah, great, great. I'm workin' so fuckin' hard on the construction site that I deserved some rest.  Wait... I have something for you." The man started to search the bag.

"For me?" Harry smiled again, pleasantly surprised when Tobias handed him a poster of some soccer team and a bag of crisps. "Er... thanks."

"So, what's up? I hope you weren't up to any mischief when I was gone?"

"No. Of course not," said Harry, trying to look innocent. He guessed that if Tobias heard that in only one week he had managed to get a tattoo which caused blood contamination, throw an alcoholic party for forty people, spend a few days at the Potions Master's with whom the man fell out, and on top of that he was thrown out of school for using magic and got summoned to an official Ministry interrogation, the man wouldn't be thrilled. So, the teen added briefly: "Nothing happened".

"Really? "

"Really. It was really boring," said Harry, deciding to emphasize how much ‘nothing happened’ during the man's absence.

Luckily for Harry, Tobias was looking in the fridge, not at him, because the teenager's expression clearly indicated that he was hiding something.

"You didn't even do the shopping? What? Have you already spent every penny I left you?" Tobias sighed and reached into his pants for his wallet. "Go over to Maggie, get me a Vodcat and buy something to eat," he said, handing Harry the money.

 

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Tuesday, August 8th 1995

From the very morning, Harry had been trying to clean the house so that Tobias wouldn't have anything to complain about that day. He spent over an hour in the kitchen preparing the man's favourite dish for dinner, caring too much about the weekend with Sirius to let anything go wrong. He had delayed the conversation with the man for two days now. The teen wanted Tobias to be reasonably sober because only that would allow him to talk to the man rationally. Unfortunately, on Sunday, as soon as Harry returned from the store, his father practically drank a whole bottle of alcohol at once. The next afternoon Harry went to football practice, and when he returned, Tobias got himself drunk again. This time the teenager was hoping to catch him as soon as the man came home from work. So, he waited for him in the living room, pacing back and forth. He hoped his father would not stop at the store on his way. Though the teen was slowly starting to lose hope because the man was already two hours late.

As soon as he heard the front door open, he hurried into the kitchen. Tobias smelled of alcohol, but he acted reasonably sober. Knowing that this was practically the last moment Harry could ask for permission to stay at Sirius', he decided to go for it.

"Hi," Harry greeted him. "How's your day? I made Shepherd's pie. Would you like some?" On the other hand, he didn't even know why he tried so hard. Tobias had no reason to refuse him.

"Yeah, I can have some." Harry placed the food on a plate, set it in front of the man, then handed him the cutlery and sat down opposite him.

"Er... I wanna ask you something," he began. "My friend, the one I told you about, Ron, invited me home for the weekend. Can I go?"

"Where?" Tobias grunted.

"To the Burrow. I mean Ottery St. Catchpole."

"Why the fuck do you want to go there?"

Harry grimaced; it was not the reaction he expected.

"Well, to meet up and play Quidditch a little."

"You can play football here and leave flying on broomsticks for the school year," Tobias replied as he was eating the Shepherd's pie. "That's pretty good. If you get bored with all this damned witchcrafting, I'll get you a job at Waldek's bar. Such a scrawny stick like you won't make it on the construction. Though maybe you'd man up a bit and get a little tougher carryin' buckets of cement." Harry felt his face flush at the comment.

"You don't have to worry; I won't get bored," the boy grunted, gritting his teeth. Still, not wanting to deviate from the topic of the weekend at Sirius', he cleared his throat and, trying to soften his tone, continued: "I can go, right? It's been a long time since I saw him and his family... and all." Of course, he couldn't say that he wanted to visit his godfather, believed to be an escaped murderer, so Harry told it was Ron that he wanted to see.

"No, you can't."

"Why not?" Harry asked, clenching his fists.

"Because I said so. You're not going to sleep at some strangers'."

"They're not strangers, and it's only one night. I go there every year."

"This year, you will give it a miss. I have no money to give you, and you won't go empty-handed. Anyway, you'll see your moronic friend in less than three weeks." Tobias' tone of voice was very dismissive, which irritated Harry to no end. Nevertheless, the boy tried not to show his anger.

"But I really have to go." Harry was becoming more and more desperate.

"No, and I'm done talking about it. I don't want to hear any of your whinings today. I don't know his parents. I have no idea who are these people. You're not going, and that's it."

"Merlin, what do you care? On the weekend, I don't have any match or training or anything."

"Well, yeah exactly, what on earth are you doing all day?! Lying on the couch watching TV?"

"I've cleaned up the whole house today if you haven't noticed," huffed Harry.

"Ooooh, you've done sooo much, then," the man mocked. "I'll bring you a paint tomorrow, and you'll repaint all the rooms. At least that much use will be of you."

"Fine." Harry clenched his fists even tighter in anger but took a deep breath, trying not to explode. "But listen." Harry couldn't let go, not this time, so he added a word that so seldom was used by him: "Dad... It's really important to me. You went to London for a week. I would also like to get away from here for at least two days." Seeing Tobias furious expression, he thought he might not have chosen the right words.

"Do you really need to have your arse whipped first to understand what's being said to you? When I say, bloody no, then you fucking don't argue."

"But..."

"Stop whining, brat," Tobias interrupted him. "Can you, just for once, obey without talking back?"

"And can't you just for once, let it go? What do you care? It's only two days," Harry growled and stood up, putting his hands on the tabletop. "I don't know, maybe some things didn't work out for you at work, but that doesn't mean you can…." Harry jumped as Tobias hit the table with all his strength.

"One. More. Fucking. Word. Get up to your room, and you're grounded until Sunday."

"Fine. We'll see about that," Harry huffed, expressing his displeasure. He made his way to his room, walking around Tobias as far from him as he could so that the man wasn't able to reach him with his long arms.

 

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Wednesday, August 9th, 1995

Harry hurriedly walked down Flukey Road. He needed to talk to Snape about Saturday's hearing and visiting Sirius. Despite his best efforts and resolve to act maturely and not letting his emotions take him over, he screwed up the conversation with Tobias.

It did start well. Harry cleaned up the house and made dinner. All of this just to put the man in a good mood so that he would let him go to Sirius. The plan had failed. Harry had no idea how things could go so wrong. Perhaps that day, something really happened to Tobias at work because he was pretty irritated initially. For all the arguments Harry had tried to give, Tobias was adamant. Eventually, Harry got angry, despite keeping himself in check for most of the conversation. If he didn't show up at the Ministry on Saturday, he would have to say goodbye to Hogwarts forever. The conversation ended with grounding that could, in theory, destroy his whole life. Of course, Harry wasn't going to quit trying. At worst, he'll just run away to get into that damn Ministry. However, the risk that Dumbledore, who for some reason was interfering in his private life, would send him back here was considerable. And the teen was sure that Tobias would not end the conversation with only threats.

But Harry had one more option left. Ask Snape for help. And since their relationship had improved over the past week and couldn't even be called hostile anymore, he decided to take the chance. 

And so, he, Harry Potter, on his own free will, was going to the Potions Master's house. Tobias was at work anyway, so he had no control over whether the teenager obeyed him and stayed home.

After a moment of wondering if it was really the right decision, Harry rang the bell. While he waited, he looked around. From the outside, the house looked really nice. The teen would never have guessed that the teacher could live in such a pleasant surrounding. If Harry didn't know the truth, he would rather bet on some gloomy castle with dungeons and flying bats or a manor right next to the cemetery, surrounded by lots of dried trees without leaves.

Suddenly the door opened, and Nott greeted him.

"Oh, Potter, hi." The pale teenager smiled shyly. "What are you doing here?"

"Hiya, I need to talk with Snape."

"He's not here. He left somewhere but should be back soon. Do you want to come in? You can wait for him inside."

Harry nodded his head. He hoped to get this done quickly and get away from the house as soon as possible. Theodore took him to the lab.

"What are you brewing?" Harry asked, seeing a bubbling cauldron.

"A Bronchodilator Potion, I have to concentrate because, well, you know how even a little mistake will end. There are books Professor Snape is reading." Nott pointed to several volumes lying on one of the tables. "I think that they concern interrogation of minors by the Ministry. If you want, you can check them out."

Harry nodded and flipped through the book on the top. It contained cases related to the violation of the wizarding law by minors. Apparently, Snape was another person who preferred to learn everything from books before doing anything. Harry thought that he might as well learn something about Saturday's hearing. He sat down on the tabletop and, swinging his legs, began to read.

Suddenly he heard the sound of glass breaking and a loud curse. He looked at Nott and saw that the teen was kneeling on the floor.

"What happened?" Harry quickly jumped off the counter.

"Shit, Snape is going to kill me..." Nott quickly put on the dragon skin gloves, picked up a new vial and began picking up some plant covered in white fluff. "Skin me alive... I'm dead ... I'm so dead." Theo looked up and, noticing Harry's panicked expression, added: "Gosh, Potter, I mean it figuratively. Snape will not hurt me, except that he will probably forbid me from entering the lab without his supervision for a while."

"I know that," said Harry, but he let out a breath without even noticing that he was holding it. He came closer to the Slytherin. "Blah, it's disgusting. What is it anyway?"

"Plangentine," Theo said as if stating the obvious.

"Yeah, well, how could I not recognize the Plagnentine."

Nott gave him an odd look.

"Plangentine, you know, a plant that can only be harvested once a year, in the first quarter of the new moon. Worth around thirty galleons. The largest part of our potions' summer assignment?"

"Er... Yeah. Sure, I know that."

"Don't tell me you haven't started writing yet." The Slytherin looked at him in disbelief.

"Of course, I have. How can you accuse me of resting during my holidays instead of swotting up?" Harry's voice dripped with sarcasm.

Nott rolled his eyes.

"Anyway, back to the actual problem. Snape won't be delighted when he finds out, ergo he will be rather in a bad mood. I don't know what you want from him, but if you have any bad news, I will come tomorrow if I were you."

Harry totally shared Nott's opinion. Even though the man had been behaving quite okay with him lately, the boy had no intention of being at hand when the man will find out about the broken vial and the damaged, apparently important ingredient. Even his Gryffindor bravado had limits.

"Then I'll come by tomorrow," Harry said with an apologetic smile. Still, he looked closely at the substance on the floor and remembered that he had seen something similar before. "You know what? I'm not sure, but I think I have something like that in the basement in my house."

"Are you serious, Potter? How did you get that? Are you some hidden fan of Potions?"

"Yes, and I'm hiding, so Snape doesn't get jealous of my talent and then hate me even more," Harry snorted. "But seriously, if you want, we can go and see if it's this thingy and if so, I can give it to you."

"Really?" Nott asked. "And what do you suggest in return?"

"Nothing. Have you forgotten? I am a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin. I take from the rich and give to those in need or something."

"It was Robin Hood, not Godric Gryffindor. If it turns out to be Plangentine, I will pay you for it."

"You don't have to. I don't need it anyway."

"Give me a second. I'm just going to put out the flame under the cauldron."

 

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As he was about to open the door to the house, Harry wondered for a second what would happen if Tobias had already returned home. Sure, it was only noon, but Harry wouldn't be surprised if the man wanted a drink so badly that he would leave work early, or he would just get so drunk there and got fired. Fortunately, the house was empty. Harry invited Theo in. The basement door was to the left of the stairs. Gryffindor opened it and looked for a light switch on the wall. He went downstairs, but when he turned around, his companion wasn't behind him.

"Nott. Nott, come on!" When he heard nothing, Harry walked back upstairs to the hall. "What's going on? Why are you standing here? We must hurry."

"Potter, it looked like you walked through the wall like a ghost."

"Er... But the door's open."

"I can't see any entrance, just a solid wall." Nott held out his hand but suddenly pulled it back. "It's solid. There is no way to go through it."

"Come on, maybe it's just an illusion."

"No, Potter. There is nothing here. Let's go back." The boy's voice was urgent and full of anxiety.

"See for yourself. There's nothing there, just the opened door."

"No, it doesn't make sense, come on, we have to go back before Snape returns." Nott was about to turn around when Harry grabbed his hand and dragged him towards the basement. They felt no resistance. As soon as they passed the passage, Harry let go of Theo's hand, and the Slytherin shuddered. "It's like the Bloody Baron walked through me," he said as they descended the stairs. "It's rather complex magic. You didn't warn me your basement is so loaded with spells."

"How was I supposed to know?" Harry asked, surprised. "I didn't feel anything."

"No?" Theo frowned.

"No. Nothing strange."

"Weird. It might be a little more complicated then." Nott paused, looking around.

"What do you mean?"

"The fact that you did not feel this barrier at all, and I did, and it is not as simple as it sounds."

"I just wonder why someone would cast it?" Harry wondered.

"I don't know, maybe Dumbledore? I heard he was here."

"Maybe... but I doubt it. I think it was Eileen. I mean, my real mother." He looked uncertainly at Theodore.

"Perhaps she didn't want Muggles to come in here and see magical items. You know, she threw something like Hogwarts wards. Those that are supposed to repel Muggles only here repel everyone except the inhabitants. It felt like even touching that wall was pointless, and I should go back to Snape's."

"I don't think so... At my birthday party, one guy mistook the door for the bathroom and had no problem opening it."

"Weird. If that doesn't work for Muggles, why bother to cast this spell at all?" he looked pensive.

"I dunno. I guess it looks like ... your mother wanted to scare wizards? Except for me and Snape. Tobias said he was here as well before he kicked him out."

"So, she had to play a little with dark magic. All of it indicates that she used blood magic. What is in here that she was so anxious about not letting any wizard get in?"

"The thing is, the basement's just full of rubbish. Except for some rotten, slimy remnants of potion ingredients."

"Yeah, the potion's ingredient expert just said." Nott snorted.

Harry shrugged. After all, the Slytherin was right, so Harry ignored the comment and said:

"A few books and cauldrons, but these are things that are supposed to be hidden from muggles, not wizards. So, it was either something Snape had already taken or an old trunk that I can't open."

They immediately walked over to the chest in question, and Harry unhooked the latch and showed it to Nott, who looked at it closely and raised his eyebrows.

"What's the matter?" Harry urged him, stepping closer and also examining the latch.

"I think it might be the Potter's coat of arms."

"Potter's? Why the hell she had Potter's trunk?" After a moment, he added: "Do you think my mother traded me for some old trunk?"

"I doubt it," snorted Nott. "From what I can remember from genealogy lessons, one of Potter's daughters married Prince, which was your mother's maiden name."

"So, it's kinda family heirloom. She could just inherit it."

Nott shrugged.

"Probably."

"Anyway, I can't open it; I don't have the key."

The Slytherin looked at the lock more closely.

"I've heard of trunks like this. Without the key, it's almost impossible to open them. Unless you are very advanced in runes and spells. But I don't know if even Professor Babbling and Flitwick working together could disarm it."

"I'll talk to Hermione about it."

"Potter, I admit Granger can learn everything by heart, but it will take a little more than that."

"She just so happens to be able to solve various puzzles and is quite good at it."

"I'm telling you, Potter, no matter how good she is, she doesn't stand a chance."

"Then, we'll see," Harry replied, sure of his friend's skills. "And, anyway, genealogy lessons?" He raised an eyebrow, smiling a little mockingly. It sounded so snobbish.

"Yeah. I had classes with Draco, Pansy, Vincent, Greg, and the Patil twins as a kid. Every pureblood wizard should know, at least more or less, where he comes from and who is related to whom."

"Whatever for?"

"Really, Potter? You are so ignorant." Saying this, Nott rolled his eyes. "It's about magic, connections and politics. Show that Plangentine, because Snape will be back home soon."

Harry opened a cupboard filled with various substances. He pulled out one of them—an ingredient that resembled the one Nott had destroyed.

"Whoa, Potter. It really is Plangentine! Thanks a lot, I owe you one," He exclaimed happily. And relief appeared on Nott's face. He looked away from the vial in his hand for a moment, peeked into the cupboard and opened his mouth in amazement. "Merlin's beard! Potter, don't say you have basilisk skin! Man, do you even know what it's worth and what can be done with it?!"

"No, but let's go back. We need to hurry up."

"Arsenic! Unicorn blood! Merlin, Potter, it's not even quite legal! Moonstone, Saarko Stone and… oh well, those are mouldy earthworms."

"Hello? Do you remember? Snape was going to kill you, already forget that?" Harry urged him, and seeing that the Slytherin wasn't paying much attention to him, he pulled his sleeve.

"I'm going, I'm going. But let me tell you, your mother certainly didn't brew boil-healing droughts in here."

 

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As they had been running all the way back, they arrived breathlessly just before Snape returned.

"Potter? What are you doing here?" the man asked.

"Can I talk to you, please?" Harry began as politely as he could. After all, he was going to convey somewhat problematic information.

Snape nodded and invited him into the living room.

"What happened?" He asked, sitting down as usual in his favourite armchair and pointing Harry to the couch.

"Tobias is a jerk."

"Yes, that's nothing new. And I'd prefer if you refrain from saying it straight to his face. But what happened that you deigned to visit me?"

"He did not agree to let me go on Saturday and er... I kinda got a little angry."

When Harry told him about yesterday's conversation, Severus rubbed his temples with his fingers.

"Shit," he muttered under his breath. "Can't you at least try a little to control yourself? I will deal with it. Be here Friday evening. Now go home. And by Merlin, don't get yourself into any more trouble and, under no circumstances, speak back to your father."

 

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Thursday, August 10th 1995

Bored, Harry was lying on the couch and flipping channels. He wondered what he should do with Eileen's trunk. The teen searched the entire house and couldn't find a key anywhere. He wanted to show the trunk to Hermione so she could help him find a way to open it.

However, the transport of two heavy trunks to the platform was rather problematic. In theory, Harry could ask Snape to shrink it for him. He was surprised that he had even thought about it because it usually seemed ridiculous to ask for help from someone who was not Ron, Hermione, or the twins. And yet the man had been really good to him lately. Most importantly, he had not yet begun to hate him again, so there was a chance the Potions Master would agree to do something as minor for him as casting a shrinking spell.

On the other hand, however, he didn't really want to share the knowledge of the trunk with Snape. At least not yet. He was sure there was something related to their mother. It could be the only way to help him get to know the woman who gave birth to him and whom he really knew as much as nothing. Maybe he was driven by a bit of selfishness, but he wanted to open this trunk in solitude, and Snape would certainly not let him do that.

Suddenly, he was disturbed by the slam of the door.

"Harry, get in here right now."

"Shit," he muttered under his breath because Tobias' tone of voice didn't bode well. He tried to remember if he had done something wrong. Maybe someone saw him on his way to Snape and told Tobias about him? His stomach tightened. He got up quickly and headed towards the kitchen. On the threshold, he met Tobias, who swung to punch him in the face and, unfortunately, Harry did not have time to shield himself.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" The man roared, grabbing the teen's arm and shaking him vigorously.

"What's that for? I didn’t do anything! Let go off me!"

"How dare you, you fucking snot. You called your buddy's father on me!" The man's face was pure rage.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Tobias gripped his arm so tightly that Harry felt as if he were about to crush his bone. But his helplessness frightened him even more, because no matter how hard he tried to pull it free, the grip didn't loosen for a second. "Which buddy?"

"Sure, you don't know, you fucking little bastard. So fucking innocent! Some Weasley accosted me so you can visit him. Have you snivelled already to him? That I treat you badly because I don't let you go there?"

"No. Get off me! It hurts! I swear it! I haven't contacted Ron. I didn't know his father was coming here."

Tobias pushed Harry so hard he stumbled and hit the wall.

"He'll come for you tomorrow after the game and take you there. Only, I warn you. If I hear one complaint about you, you will regret you were even born." Harry just nodded, not trusting his voice. "Now go to the store and get me ciggies and a bottle before you get it again," he said, tossing a note on the table. "That's all you are good for, anyway," he added, walking towards the couch.

 

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Friday, August 11th, 1995

Fucking Dredd, he thought as he finally managed to hobble over to the Potions Master's house. During the match, when the opportunity to score a second goal within fifteen minutes arose, Dredd, trying to take the ball away from him, jumped on his leg in such a way that he almost crushed his ankle. The teenager could barely walk, let alone play. The worst part was that they were both on the same team. The coach suspended the teen for the next two games, which did not improve Harry's mood in any way.

He spent an hour in the shower in the locker room, pouring cold water over his foot. While with the team, he pretended he was fine. Still, he was sure that if Hermione didn't come up with something to heal his leg the next day, he wouldn't be able to play football until the end of the summer vacation. And the final match, which was said to be a great event here, was approaching fast. The players invited their families, and the official presentation of cups took place. Even Tobias said he wouldn't miss it and after the match, he would take Harry out for burgers and to the cinema. And Harry always wanted to watch a movie in a real cinema. And sure, the man was in a bad mood lately, but he had taken him somewhere a few times, and the boy really had fun on those evenings spent with Tobias. Besides, Harry knew he would do his best, and he was thrilled that he would not stand all on his own after the game, but just like his teammates, he would have someone who would cheer for him and be proud of him. The teen smiled to himself.

Harry rang the bell, and after a moment, Snape appeared in the doorway. The man sized him up, frowning. He stepped aside, letting the boy in, and then led him into the living room, where he gestured to the couch.

"Hi, Potter."

In one of the armchairs, in the corner of the room between the fireplace and the window, sat Nott with his legs tucked in and a book in his hand.

"Merlin's beard, tell me, Potter, what happened to you again," the man growled.

'Uh-huh,' Harry thought. Snape's gone off his cheering-calming potions.

"I was playing football, and one guy clogged me. I think I might have twisted my ankle," said Harry.

"What about your face?"

"Er, I was elbowed." When Severus sent him an irritated look, Harry added: "Really. But... At least we won?" The boy tried to smile, but it looked rather unconvincing.

Severus sighed.

"Damn, Potter, are you going to be a little more careful or should I prepare more supplies for Pomfrey?"

"But I'm not doing this on purpose," Harry scowled.

"If you were at least a bit as devoted to learning potions as to sport, then maybe you could get something better than a Poor.

"My final grade is Poor?"

"Naturally, Potter. Don't tell me you expected something better," Snape sneered.

"Actually, I thought it was going to be Dreadful, so it's not too bad."

Snape raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

"Ambitious much, aren't we?" said Snape snidely, and then muttered under his breath: "I can't believe you really are my brother". Snape shook his head. Harry looked at him more closely. It was the first time Snape had said it aloud. "You know that although this grade allows you to pass the year, you must have at least Acceptable in your O.W.L exam to pass? Take off your shoe and sock. I'll have a look at your foot."

This time it was Harry who raised his eyebrows, slightly surprised.

"Really?" he asked, and when the teacher shot him a basilisk glare, he compiled hastily. The teen gritted his teeth to keep from groaning as he pulled off his sneakers. The foot had doubled in size and was slowly turning blue. As Snape gently touched his ankle, Harry sucked in a breath.

"What, like a distrustful little idiot, you thought I'd leave you with a sprained ankle?" The man pulled out his wand and muttered a spell under his breath. "Do you still think I'm like that bastard Dursley and enjoy your pain?" It wasn't a question but a statement.

"Not true," Harry said quickly. "I just didn't think."

Hearing that, Snape snorted.

"Wait here, I'll go get the potions," he said, rising from his knees.

When he left, Harry spoke to Nott.

"Gee, is Snape slowly coming back to being himself? It wasn't Panti… Plantak… wasn't it the ingredient, or what?"

"Plangentine, and it was." Nott glanced at the door. "But, not now. Snape will be back soon," he added, then returned to his reading.

Harry nodded. On the coffee table, he noticed the book he had begun reading two days earlier while Nott was making the potion. So, the teen picked it up. It wouldn't hurt if he finished it.

"An excellent book, it explains how case law works and, in addition, contains cases similar to yours. If you want, you can take it and read it. If I can advise you, don't stress about tomorrow, Potter. It's standard procedure," he said, but Harry felt a certain tension in his voice.

"I was rather more stressed that I wouldn't be able to show up there at all… you spoke to Mr Weasley, didn't you? That he would convince Tobias to let me go." Snape smirked and shook his head. "It was him who thought to come? You didn't ask him for it?"

"No, Potter, you'll see tomorrow." The man crouched down and started smearing his ankle with some potion. "The important thing is that it had worked, and you will be able to show up in the Ministry tomorrow."

"Yes, it worked perfectly," Harry said slightly tartly, but then he reflected. He couldn't blame Snape, much less Mr Weasley, for Tobias' behaviour. Snape was right. The important thing was that he would go for questioning.

"What now, Potter?" Snape looked at him closely.

"Nothing, everything is fine."

"You got hit by Tobias for that," Snape said slowly, looking at him intensively.

Harry sat so close to the man that he could see the man flexing his jaw muscles, gritting his teeth, and the pulsating vein that slowly appeared on his forehead. When the teenager shook his head, Snape gave him another poisonous look.

"Watch out now, Potter. It'll hurt a little. Ready?" When Harry nodded, closed his eyes and clenched his hands on his trousers, Severus whispered: "Talus Redintegro." The boy grimaced but made no sound. He didn't want to make an even bigger victim of himself. "Put this on your bruise under your eye because you look like a hooligan, and it certainly won't help you tomorrow," said the man, handing him some potion. Snape got up from his knees and sat down in the armchair in front of the couch.

"Hey, it's not my fault."

"I know, Potter, but the impression that you are going to give is crucial." He sighed and then added: "Accio plates!" After a moment, a plate filled with previously prepared sandwiches and two empty ones flew in and fell on the coffee table, making no sound. "Theo, leave the book for now, and come eat." Harry looked at the other teenager, completely forgetting that he was also in the room. "You too, Potter, and after that, go to bed so you can get some sleep before tomorrow. I left you a clean towel in your room."

"Thanks, you didn't have to..."

"What the hell didn't I have to do, Potter?" Harry jumped as Snape slammed his fist hard on the armrest. "Provide food, a bed or access to a shower for the teen I am in charge of?"

"Honestly, none of those things”. Harry shrugged his shoulders and added: “It's not that you wanted to have me over. It's just that circumstances forced you to."

"Potter, aside from the fact that it is mere decency, I promised Tobias that I would take care of you, and I swear to you that I keep my promises. Always." Taking a deep breath, Snape got up from his chair and, after a moment, added: "I'm going out, you both need to eat and go to bed. I trust that the house will still be standing when I get back."

 

To be continued...
Chapter 15: The Hearing by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to give a big thanks to Chantale-of-da-last-generation for beta reading this chapter!
And of course Jasmin Kain!
And, of course, anybody who is leaving me a review. It is great motivation!

Chapter 15
The Hearing

As soon as the door slammed behind Snape, Harry looked at Nott, who picked up a sandwich and began to eat it.

“What is his problem this time? Where did he go?” Harry asked, slightly surprised by the man's behaviour. On the other hand, he shouldn't be surprised at all. He knew that sooner or later, Snape would start to regain hypersensitivity to Harry's presence in his immediate surroundings.

“I think he is just taking a walk,” replied Nott, after he calmly swallowed down his food. Not looking like he was concerned with the Potions Master’s behaviour at all.

“Taking a walk?” Harry was even more surprised. Snape didn´t just take walks. Sure, the man could stalk with a quick, angry pace, for a specific purpose, such as tearing someone apart. But he certainly didn't take walks like a normal human being. ”Whatever for?”

“To cool down. He…  he does that sometimes to deal with anger or stress. Therefore, the worst that can happen to students wandering around Hogwarts at night is to encounter Snape taking a walk.” Theo smiled a little.

”I find it hard to believe that Snape confides in you about his emotional problems,” Harry said in a slightly mocking voice.

“Of course not. But he has been my Head of House for four years, and now I live with him. Besides, I'm pretty good at observing people”. With that, Nott leaned over to grab another sandwich and motioned for Harry to help himself as well.

“So what going on with him this time? Something happened?”

“Honestly? I think it's about you, your father, and generally about the Ministry hearing,” the Slytherin replied slowly as if wondering if he should be saying that to Harry at all.

“About me?” Harry groaned. “I didn’t even do anything!” He was so angry with himself that he felt a slight twinge of sadness, realising the time for Snape to slowly start treating him like he used to had come. Harry needed to nip this feeling in the bud as quickly as possible. He wasn't going to be a fool who makes the same mistake over and over again by getting emotionally involved in somebody. Anyway, it was Snape—a nasty Potions Master—the worst candidate for someone who might care about him, Harry couldn’t choose.

“No, Potter. I mean, sure, it irritated him that you came here battered again.” Nott put down his plate and, sitting more comfortably in the armchair, added: “But to be clear. He prefers you to come to him with it so he can patch you up rather than you to hide it. Anyway, I guess he felt a little guilty for playing a part in you getting hit this time. I'm also sure it also annoys him a lot that you don't even want to admit it.”

“He's crazy. I really did play football.”

“Ankle—yes, but what about the eye? You know, such bruises don't form in an hour. He's not an idiot. And by the way, neither am I.” Theo looked at him suggestively. “And Snape was the one who talked to your father, and he seems to blame himself a bit for that.”

He was talking with Tobias? How was that?”

“You will see.”

Harry shrugged and said:

“It's not like he can help it. Lately, Tobias is furious all the time.”

Nott hesitated for a moment.

“Snape doesn’t want you to live with your father, and it irritates him that there's nothing he can do about it.”

“Snape should stay out of it. We'd both be better off that way. Or at least me. Tobias doesn't like him.” Harry groaned. It was just what he needed—Snape starting to interfere with his relationship with his father. Harry could barely deal with the man's mood swings without any other complications. If the Potions Master starts persecuting Tobias, Harry knew, he will be at hand, and the man's fury will focus on him.

The Gryffindor looked at Nott and saw something similar to pity in his eyes. He felt the heat to rise to his cheeks and felt a sudden urge to make excuses for the man, so he added quickly:

“Tobias is alright, really. He's just been drinking a bit too much lately.” Harry nodded at the vitrine full of alcohol. “Anyway, it doesn't look like Snape is abstinent either.”

“He probably isn't, but he hasn't even touched it once since I've been here. And I’m starting to realise why.” When Harry raised his eyebrows, Theo explained: “I think Professor Snape is afraid that if he drinks, he might lose his temper.”

“Well, he often snaps while sober, so his fears are not unfounded. Besides, the most important thing is that tomorrow I will manage to get to the hearing. Anyway, what about the Ministry? Why does it make him angry?”

“Ah, right. The Ministry—another reason why, until tomorrow at least, you should try not to upset Snape.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” wondered Harry, but noticing that the tone of his voice might have sounded a little contradictive, he reflected and added: “I mean, I'm not doing anything on purpose just to make him angry. He gets wound up all by himself.”

“Yes, of course, Potter. You are the most obedient and docile teenager Snape has met in his entire career.”

“Well, am I not?” Harry grinned at him, and Nott snorted. “So, what about the Ministry?”

“All I know is that he hates Aurors. I think it has something to do when he used to be a Death Eater.”

“As far as I know,” added Harry, remembering his visit to the Headmaster's Pensieve, “it's only because of Dumbledore that Snape didn’t land in Azkaban.”

Nott raised his eyebrows.

“In that case, he might have been held there or in the Ministry’s cells before his questioning. I doubt that all the Aurors, whom the Dark Lord murdered their families, treated his Death Eaters ethically.”

“They wanted revenge.” Harry agreed, nodding. And although, after a particularly nasty Potions class, he and Ron had repeatedly been playing games like one hundred ways to get rid of Snape, the thought that something like this could really happen made him shiver down his spine.

“Let's eat, Potter, and go to sleep,” Nott said after a moment of silence. “We'd better stay out of Snape's way tonight.”

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Saturday, August 12th, 1994


“Potter! Hurry up!”

“I'm coming!”

Snape had woken Harry up around six in the morning to minimise any chance that the Gryffindor would be late for the hearing. Contrary to the theories Nott had put to Harry, the man seemed very composed.

Harry barely had any sleep that night. After he had been rolling from side to side for an hour and sleep didn’t come, he decided to distract his unpleasant thoughts about the hearing and the fact that this could really be the end of his adventure with magic. He pulled a double-sided parchment out of his backpack and began writing to the twins. In Snape's house, this magic item worked flawlessly. It reassured him that it was only Dumbledore's spell that was blocking its magic.

After writing goodbye to the twins, he began reading a book on selected cases of breaking the Statute of Secrecy by minors—the one he had found on the coffee table in Snape's living room the day before. He was so caught up in some cases that when he put the book aside and decided to try to sleep, the sun was already rising.

When Harry entered the kitchen, Snape motioned him to a chair.

“Sit down”.

The boy obediently took his seat at the table, putting his packed backpack next to him. The Potion Master reached for it, reduced it, put it in his pocket, and then looked at the boy again.

“You'll get it back when we're in the Headquarters. How's your foot?”

“Fine, it no longer hurts.”

“Are you sure?” Snape asked, raising one eyebrow up.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Harry tried not to roll his eyes.

“Take off your sock. I want to have a look at it.”

“I said it doesn't hurt anymore,” Harry replied. Still, when Snape shot him an annoyed look, he sighed dramatically and obeyed the man who knelt beside him, taking his foot in his hands.

Harry couldn't believe how stubborn Snape could be. The day before, Harry seriously could hardly walk, and it would have been definitely an arduousness while visiting the Ministry. He'd gotten used to the idea that Snape wasn't a bastard, and it was even quite nice of him to heal his foot. But why the hell did the man bother to nit-pick now, wasting time when Harry made it clear that he was okay?

“Still a little swollen,” the man muttered, taking a vial of thick goo from his pocket and smearing it on the boy's ankle.  “For a month or two, you'll have to be careful. No jumping.  And I would prefer, if you...”

“You're not gonna make me quit football.”  Harry interrupted him, folding his arms over his chest. He guessed where Snape was going with it.

“How could I even suggest you to give up running around on the grass like a nutcase with a bunch of other dimwits.” The man narrowed his eyes as he watched him closely, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I'm not going to quit,” Harry repeated stubbornly.

“And I'm not forcing you to.”

“Oh... That's okay then... Because I wouldn't do it anyway.”

“Dear Merlin, save me from idiotic teenagers,” Snape muttered, shaking his head as he got to his feet and sat down in his chair. “Start eating, Potter.  And for Salazar’s sake, comb your hair before we go.”

“There's nothing you can do with my hair. Aunt Petunia…,” Harry swallowed. “My aunt tried to tame it so many times, and nothing worked. Once, she even shaved it off completely. But the next day, it had grown back.” The boy tried to smile as he said it, but with little success.

“I assume she was not happy with that.” When Harry confirmed, Snape shook his head. “What would you like to eat?”

“Just toast is fine.” Harry was so upset by the interrogation that the mere sight of the food made him feel sick. Only now, he realised that he really could actually be kicked out of school. He wished it was already over. His future depended on it. Both, the closest one—Tobias probably will kill him if he is thrown out of the school—and the farther one. No, He couldn't even imagine a life without Hogwarts and magic.

Severus looked at the tense teen, lost in his own thoughts, and rolled his eyes.

“Potter, look, there's no need for you to be so nervous. You did nothing wrong. You've read what it looks like. You will enter the office of Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and she will ask you some questions. There is really nothing to be afraid of. She is a typical Hufflepuff—painfully fair. Are you listening to me, Potter?”

“Yes,” Harry nodded, chewing on toast that tasted like Styrofoam.

“Susan Bones, that Hufflepuff from our year, is her niece. And she lives with her.” Theodore chimed in for the first time. “I would advise you not to insult Hufflepuffs, much less Susan herself, in front of this woman.”

“Well, it's not me that keeps mocking them. Unlike someone.” He looked pointedly at Snape and Nott.

“And you should, Potter. Did you hear that just before the Easter break, the entire third year had eaten a box of Weasley twins' candies, and they all turned into canaries? It ended with Pomfrey visiting the common room, which was all pecked and filled with yellow feathers. Even a week later, there were feathers still lying here and there.”

“Leave the twins out of it,” said Harry, even though he was convinced they were involved. He just hoped Nott wasn't getting them in trouble now. Harry looked searchingly at Snape, who smirked.

“Don't look at me like that, Potter. If someone is moronic enough to try and eat whatever the Weasley twins gave them, then they fully deserved what happened to them.”

“Anyway, you can play on her emotions. Make your eyes big, cry a little, a Hufflepuff will buy it,” added Nott.

“Potter. First of all, behave yourself. Be nice and polite, answer the questions truthfully, and that will be enough. What Theo says won’t hurt, of course.” As he spoke, the corners of his mouth curled upward. “The head of the Improper Use of Magic Office, Mafalda Hopkirk, may also be in the office.”

“The one who sent me the letter?'' Harry asked, remembering the name.

“Oh, I heard about her. Apparently, she is a horrible bi...”

“Finish that sentence, and you will be scrubbing cauldrons until midnight,” said Snape, but he didn't look angry at all.

“I was going to say that she is a horrible, big-headed woman.”

Harry snorted, and even the corners of the Potions Master's mouth lifted up a bit.

“Just stick to the real story and you'll be fine. And hurry up with this food because we have to leave in a moment.”

“I really can't have anymore. I… er… I think it's hard for me to eat when I'm nervous.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that. At least drink orange juice. But after the interrogation, I'll unleash Molly on you. Be warned.” Hearing that, Harry winced slightly but nodded. “Then we'll be leaving in two minutes. It’s better to be there early. Wait here a moment for me.” Saying that Snape left the room.

“Good luck, Potter,” said Nott. “Don't let them win.”

“Thanks.” Harry smiled and looked at the boy. He had never expected any Slytherin to be friendly, warm-hearted and funny, let alone that Harry could befriend one, and Nott was slowly proving him completely wrong.

“Potter, are you ready?” A familiar voice interrupted his reverie. Turning around, Harry was surprised to see Arthur Weasley standing in front of him.

“What...?” And then it dawned on him. “The Polyjuice Potion.” It made sense. Snape also drank it when he was going to persuade Tobias to let Harry spend the weekend at Grimmauld Place.

“Well, well, well, Potter, you keep amazing me. It is the second potion you recognize. First the Veritaserum, now this one.” The Potions Master made no attempt to hide his ironic tone. He took out a vial from his robe pocket and handed it to Harry without a word.

“What's that?” Harry asked, reaching for the potion.

“Tsk, tsk,” The man said disapprovingly. “It’s Calming Draught. It will help you keep your composure.”

After a moment's hesitation, Harry nodded and tilted the bottle.

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They apparated into an empty alley, right next to an overly full rubbish bin, between a shabby office building and a pub. There was a red telephone booth nearby, and Harry and Snape headed towards it. They went inside, and Snape dialled a number on the phone.


Harry was given some badge and was required to submit to a search and present his wand for registration at the security desk, which was located at the far end of the Atrium. He was going to pass a personal inspection there and show his wand to the registration. Suddenly they started to move down. It turned out that the phone booth was a hidden elevator with an entrance to the Ministry.

They stopped in a vast hall. Harry promised himself that if he weren’t kicked out of Hogwarts, he would throw ten Galleons into the fountain, stood in the middle of the hall. He had taken some money with him, asking the twins to convert it into pounds in case Tobias ran out of money again. Even though Snape had asked him to go to him for help in such a situation, but Harry knew that it would be hard for him to ask for it, so he preferred to take care of the problem by himself.

The priority was to continue attending Hogwarts. And if the Ministry won't break his wand, he would make a large donation to St. Mungo because that's where the money pulled from the fountain was going to.

Checking his wand did not take more than a minute. Interestingly, Snape, pretending to be Mr Weasley, did not have to complete this procedure because he was an employee of the Ministry.

The Potions Master led Harry to one of the lifts. On the way, they encountered an acquaintance of Mr Weasley, who stopped them to talk about a fire-breathing chicken, but Snape quickly brushed him off.

Harry checked the time.

“It's only 7.40. We're almost an hour and a half early.”

The man nodded.

“Yes, Potter, in such circumstances, it is better to arrive early just in case something stopped us along the way.”

Harry jumped when the man put a hand on his neck, leading him towards Madam Bones' office. This gesture, however, was very different from the grip Tobias sometimes treated him with. First of all, it wasn't painful. Snape wasn't squeezing him, yanking him, pushing him, and no doubt he won't leave a bruise. On the contrary, to his surprise, Harry felt somewhat of a comfort. The hand that was guiding him gave him a strange sense of the other person's presence. As if he no longer had to face what was about to happen on his own. And even if he let go of the control let someone else take it, it felt like he could still feel safe. His stomach tightened at the thought that this strange feeling had been caused by Snape—his hated Potions Master.

Or maybe not so hated anymore?

He glanced out of the corner of his eye at the man who was walking with authoritative steps beside him. Noticing that the boy was staring at him, he nodded his way, which Harry assumed meant that everything was going to be okay.

As soon as they turned into the Wizarding Law Enforcement Department corridor, a pulp witch with a broad, angular jaw and short-cropped grey hair was just leaving the room.

“Director Bones, good morning,” Snape said in Mr Weasley's voice.

“Good morning, Arthur. I have asked you so many times to call me by name.”

“Yes, of course, Amelia.” Snape smiled apologetically. Gryffindor was impressed with Snape's acting skills. “This is Harry Potter.” The woman stared at the younger wizard. “Harry, this is Amelia Bones, Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Good morning,” the boy greeted. The woman nodded at him.

“We've arrived a little early. We would like to get it over with as soon as possible.”

The woman frowned.

“What do you mean by early? Mr Potter's interrogation will start in fifteen minutes in courtroom number ten.”

Harry paled hearing that. He felt Snape's hand stiffen slightly, and his grip became firmer, although still not painful.

“Harry has not been informed about the change of the time and place.” The boy looked at the man. Of course, Snape acted like Mr Weasley so perfectly that he didn't even stutter while saying Harry’s name.

“I'm sure the notification has been sent.”

“No, it hasn't,” the man replied, and finally, the irritation in his voice could be heard. “And I do not understand, since when is a criminal trial carried out for the typical case of the use of magic by underage wizards? The hearings are never held in courtrooms. Since the inception of the Wizengamot, this has only happened once in the case of sixteen-year-old Menintiah Menarenides in 1859, who killed his parents and seven of his siblings.”

“Well.” The woman looked slightly perplexed. “The Minister insisted.”

“Amelia.” Harry looked at the man, who used an almost pleading tone. Perhaps it was Mr Weasley's voice that made it possible for him because he couldn't imagine Snape speaking that way. “Please do not let the child become a victim of the system and the sick politics of the Minister. Not only the trial should not take place at all, but the boy was also not informed about it. He did not even have a way of taking a lawyer or summoning witnesses.”

Mrs Bones pursed her lips and frowned so that Harry had the impression that the monocle in her eye socket was about to fall out of it.

“Of course, Arthur, you are right.”

“Please, at least make sure it’s going to be a fair trial. Use the Pensieve if you have to. It was not only accidental magic but also self-defence. Besides, the Muggle, because of whom and in whose presence the whole situation took place, was all too aware of the existence of magic.”

“Of course, the trial will be fair,” she said. Harry didn't know if she was more outraged by Snape's accusation or embarrassed that he actually might be right. She looked a little more favourably towards the teenager. “Excuse me, I have something else to attend to before the hearing starts.”

The woman headed towards one of the doors, and Snape and Harry turned back to the elevators.

“Why did they change the time?” Harry asked, noticing how Snape was pressing his lips tightly together.

“Probably to prevent you from defending yourself. Potter, I remind you once again, try to control your temper and do not get caught up in any discussions with the Minister. Ideally, you should address Amelia Bones directly.” Snape looked at the Gryffindor seriously, and the latter nodded.

The elevator went down. The man took a sip of his potion, then led Harry down a corridor. This one looked completely different from the ones upstairs: bare walls, no windows, and no doors except for a black one at the far end. Harry thought they would pass through it, but Snape grabbed his arm and pulled him to the left, to the entrance, where he could see the stairs running down. The man knew exactly where he was going.

Finally, they reached a gloomy, dark door with a great iron lock on them. In front of the door stood one of the Aurors, apparently guarding them.

“Weasley,” the huge Ministry employee growled in a booming voice. “You can't come in.” Then he pointed his thick finger at Harry. “You can.”

The teen swallowed and looked at Snape. He didn’t know why but, he suddenly wished the man would come with him into the courtroom. He shook his head. He had no idea what was happening to him. Probably, he was recently starting to rely too much on others, including Snape, who in less than a month will again start treating him like a crawling cockroach. And although he knew that such behaviour would make him even more vulnerable, he asked:

“Then you... won't you come in with me?”

“The kid is underage. I will not let him go without a guardian.” Snape said to the man.

“Then he’s going to lose the trial straight away. The accused never go in there with any company.” A bulky man crossed his arms.

“But fifteen-year-old children are never the accused.“ Harry had never seen the father of the redheads have such a terrifying facial expression. At this point, Snape's angry expression did not quite match Mr Weasley's friendly face.


“Mr Weasley,” Harry said aloud, putting the emphasis on the name. In the courtroom, Snape wouldn’t be able to help him anyway, and Harry himself didn’t want to get used to the fact that Snape’s presence gives him any sense of security. It wouldn’t be good for him. Besides, he couldn't let angry Snape bring trouble to his best friend’s father. “It’s fine; I can go there just by myself. I don't need anybody to hold my hand. It's stupid and for kids.” However, as he said that, he failed to hide a bit of longing in his voice. When Snape contemplated him, Harry added: “Really, it's okay.”

Harry spun on his heel but jumped slightly as he felt a hand gently as if comfortingly squeezing his shoulder. He looked over at Snape, who nodded at him.

Harry's heart beat faster; he swallowed hard and entered the courtroom. He recognised it straight away. He had seen it in Dumbledore's Pensieve. This was where Karkarov and the Lestranges were tried. He shuddered slightly as he was told to sit down on a chair in the middle of the hall, from which there was chains hanging. Fortunately, his hands didn’t get tied down.

Harry looked around. Sitting on the long benches, there were the members of the Wizengamot, and among them was Minister Fudge. He felt nauseous. These were probably all of these Lords who ruled the Wizarding World, which Sirius had mentioned in Porthcurno. Suddenly the door opened again, and a few more witches and wizards stepped in, including Madam Bones and, to his surprise, Snape. Their eyes met. The man nodded at him again, which made Harry feel slightly better. The Potions Master entered a hidden alcove in the shadow to the right of the door.

Eventually, the interrogation began. Fudge introduced Harry, the paragraph from which he was tried, and the accusers, including Madam Bones, a witch named Umbridge, and the Minister himself. To Harry's surprise, the clerk was none other than Percy Weasley.

“The charges against the accused are as follows: he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actions, having received a previous written warning from the Ministry of Magic on a similar charge, used magic in a Muggle-inhabited area, in the presence of a Muggle, on August the second at thirteen minutes past eleven, which constitutes an offence under paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards’ Statute of Secrecy. Are you Harry James Potter?”

“Yes,” Harry said.

“You received an official warning from the Ministry for using illegal magic three years ago, did you not?”

“Yes, I know, but...”

“And yet, you illegally use magic on August 3rd this year?”

“Yes, but...”

“Knowing that you are not permitted to use magic outside the school while you are under the age of seventeen?”  Harry narrowed his eyes. Snape had warned him not to get caught up in discussions with Fudge, but Fudge chose a completely different tactic. He wouldn't even let him say a word so he could defend himself. Sirius told Harry about the articles in the Daily Prophet. By informing about the return of Voldemort, he became inconvenient for the Minister, and the Minister decided to do everything possible to expel him from Hogwarts. It didn't matter if he was guilty or not. At this point, his only hope was Madam Bones. So, Harry tried to ignore Fudge's question and, as per Snape’s suggestion, he started to speak to the woman. He repeated to himself in his mind that he didn’t do anything wrong and he couldn't give up. He could not fail because his whole future depended on this trial.

“Director Bones,” Harry began, turning to the woman and hoping he wouldn't confuse the paragraph he'd read about the day before. “Section G of this decree says that under extraordinary circumstances, a minor wizard may use magic in the presence of Muggles. And one of the extraordinary circumstances is a life-threatening situation.”

“That's right, Mr Potter.”

“Boy, answer the questions asked and stay on the subject,” Fudge boomed.

“Director Bones, then I'd like to present the evidence ...” The teenager said, ignoring the Minister.

“Potter, I asked you a question.” The Minister interrupted him, clearly annoyed.

Harry clenched his fists and continued.

“I can show you my memory. We can see everything that happened in the pensieve. Not only I was defending myself, but it was also accidental magic. I didn't even pull out my wand. And those are classed as special circumstances, aren't they, Director Bones?” Harry could already see in his mind how Snape was rolling his eyes at the boy’s choice of words. He will probably have to suffer from the man's malicious comments about him being retarded and that he cannot express himself as well as all those people in the courtroom who were described in the book. Harry sighed. Well, he had bigger problems right now.

“Minister, I decided to admit evidence in the form of memories of Mr Potter.”

“No. It’s not possible. Memories can be fabricated!” The man couldn't hide the panic in his voice.

Harry took a deep breath.

“Are you saying, Minister, that I can cast spells well enough not only to change the memories but also to deceive the experienced representatives of the Department of Law Enforcement?”

Fudge gritted his teeth. And the Gryffindor smiled inwardly. Now Fudge had two options—either admit that Harry was powerful and skilled enough to do this, which would conflict with the Prophet's narrative the Minister was making himself, or let Harry’s memories be viewed. They were degrading, of course, but he would have said his uncle's behaviour was caused by temporary insanity. Besides, Harry would have done anything to avoid being kicked out of Hogwarts.

However, Fudge was saved from answering his question by Dumbledore, who suddenly entered the courtroom.

From then on, everything happened really fast. The Headmaster brought Mrs Figg with him, who turned out to be a squib. Harry felt a little betrayed by that. Even though the woman had so many opportunities to tell him they belonged to the same world, she did. Perhaps if he had known about magic and Hogwarts, those worst days, full of hopelessness and helplessness, that he had spent in the cupboard under the stairs, would not have seemed so terrible to him, if only he had something to wait for and to dream about, knowing that this ordeal would end one day.

Encouraged by Dumbledore, the woman stated a man attacked Harry just in front of her while they came to see his aunt and cousin for the last time. However, she told it as if a random man did that, not his uncle. Fudge and the woman next to him—Umbridge, as Harry recalled— tried to discredit Mrs Figg's testimony. But then Dumbledore began asking apparently uncomfortable for the Ministry questions about the Dementors who had turned up in Little Whinging.

In the end, Harry was acquitted, Amelia Bones promised to take a closer look at Aunt Petunia and Dudley's case, and Fudge and Umbridge were furious.

There was something terrifying about this interrogation. To the fanciful allegations, the answer was a fanciful testimony of a witness who was not even present at the time. It was all just a great farce that could destroy his life. He shuddered as he thought how easy it was to destroy someone when one only had the right power base. Besides, Harry didn't have to look far for an example. Sirius was still a fugitive. Only in his defence, apparently, there was no one to stand.

Still, Harry felt as a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders. In addition, now he could finally visit his godfather and the Weasleys.

As soon as Dumbledore heard the acquittal, he left the courtroom. He hasn’t even looked at Harry, who wanted to speak to him as quickly as possible.

Snape, still looking like Mr Weasley, was waiting for Harry outside the courtroom.

“Well done, Potter.”

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. The boy expected Snape to mock him, that he could not express himself as flawlessly as his pureblood Slytherins.

“But I didn't do anything. It's Dumbledore ...”

“Yes, but I’m sure you would have won even without the Headmaster’s help.”

“Really?” Harry felt his face flush. “Thank you.”

“Come on, I'll take you to that mongrel of yours.”

HPHPHPHPHP

Half an hour later, Harry and Snape arrived at Grimmauld Place 12, the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters. They would have been there even earlier if it wasn’t for Lucius Malfoy, who was standing at the far end of one of the corridors and was talking to Fudge. Seeing the man, Harry stiffened, remembering the circumstances of his last meeting with him. Snape apparently didn't want to talk to the blonde man either, as he gently grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him towards a side alcove, where they waited for the men to finish their conversation. Perhaps Malfoy knew Snape well enough that the Potions Master was afraid that despite the Polyjuice Potion, Malfoy would recognize him by his gestures and facial expressions.

Fortunately, a few minutes later, the way was clear. Harry hadn't forgotten to throw ten Galleons into the fountain either, to which Snape only twisted his lips in obvious displeasure and shook his head but made no comment.

The Fidelius spell has been cast at the Headquarters. Snape handed Harry a note with the address. The boy recognized the handwriting at once. Apparently, it was the Headmaster who was the Secret Keeper. Between numbers eleven and thirteen, as soon as the teenager read the inscription, a house of several stories was appearing. At the same time, Snape burned the piece of paper.

Harry and Severus went inside and found themselves in a dark hall. Snape led him towards the voices that they heard in the distance.

As soon as they entered the enormous kitchen, Hermione noticed them and ran towards them.

“Harry!” She threw herself at him, hugging his neck tightly.

“Granger, you'll suffocate him in a minute, and you then will only have Mr Weasley left to show off your Know-It-All ways,” said Snape snidely. Hearing this, Hermione moved away from Harry, who shot the teacher an annoyed look. Snape only replied with a wry smile, then walked over to Mrs Weasley and began talking to her. A group of redheads surrounded Harry and started to talk over each other.

“So, Harry? Did they let you off?”

“Sure,” he grinned. Everyone started congratulating him, and Fred, George, and Ginny started to do a kind of war dance to a chant that went “He got off, he got off, he got off —”

“That’s enough, settle down! Harry, love,” The woman squeezed through the group of teenagers and hugged Harry. “It’s really good to see you. You look really peaky, my poor boy. Your father should try harder to make sure you put some flesh on those bones.” She shook her head. “Men.” She sighed, giving Snape an icy look as if Harry’s thinness was his fault.

“But Mrs Weasley, I really ...”

“Nonsense,” she interrupted, dragging him to the table. “Sit down, dear. I'll get some food for you.” Saying that she turned on her heel and headed for the stove.

“What's all that noise? Harry!”

Harry turned to see Sirius reaching out to him. The teenager quickly jumped off the chair and found himself in the man's arms.

“Sirius, I missed you so much!” he said. Although he wanted to ask why the man hadn't come back to Cokeworth, he held back. He had to wait until they were alone.

“I know, kiddo. I missed you too.”

“Hello, Professor Lupin,” Harry greeted, seeing the other man.

“Harry, call him Remus. You’ll make me feel old.” interrupted Sirius.


“Hello, Harry.” Lupin only said, then walked over to Mrs Weasley and whispered something into her ear.

The woman quickly finished reheating breakfast and placed it on a plate. She shoved a pile of toast and scrambled eggs into Harry's hands and ordered the teens out of the kitchen, which was not without Fred and George protesting.

 

To be continued...
End Notes:
So what do you think, guys? Any thoughts? Ideas? Wishes?
Chapter 16: 12 Grimmauld Place by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank Chantale and Vivid Murk for beta-reading this chapter, and also Jasmin Kain - my Polish beta.

 

Harry followed the Weasley teens and Hermione into a gloomy room furnished with a desk, a wardrobe and two single beds. Hermione quickly pulled him over to sit on one of them. He put his breakfast plate on the nightstand.

"Oh, Harry, how are you? Have you been furious with us? I bet you have. I know our letters were useless. And we couldn't write more often. We couldn't tell you anything. Dumbledore made us swear we wouldn't, oh, we've got so much to tell you, and you've got to tell us about your Ministry hearing! I've looked it all up! They couldn't expel you. They just couldn't; there's a provision in the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Sorcery for the use of magic in life-threatening situations. But it's still outrageous that they treated you the same way they do criminals. And your uncle! How do you feel about it? Why didn't you tell us anything?" Hermione spat the words out at the speed of a machine gun. "And what about moving out from..."

"Hermione! Slow down a little. Let him answer at least one question!" Ron interrupted the girl, sitting down on the bed across from his two best friends. The twins and Ginny sat next to their brother, looking expectantly at Harry.

"Oh, sorry."

"No, go ahead, Hermione. Don't bother with Harry's answers," said Fred. The girl threw him a dirty look, then focused on her best friend.

Harry wasn't sure if he was allowed to tell them that Tobias was his father. In June, Dumbledore wrote to him in a letter that he had taken certain measures to prevent the names of his biological parents from being revealed. However, it was one of the significant changes in Harry's life, right next to the one when he turned out to be a wizard. He felt that the Headmaster had no right to forbid him to share the information with those closest to him.

Even though he felt a slight fear of being rejected when he told them who his biological father was, and therefore his brother, he decided not to hide it. If they were his true friends—and he knew they were—sooner or later, they would accept the truth. As for security reasons, he would ask them for the Sine Nuntis Oath just in case. Not because he didn't trust them, Merlin forbid. It's just that no one will force them to reveal it this way.

So he told them the whole story, apart from some details, of course, such as the Dursleys' joy when they got rid of him and the fact that he had been staying at the Potions Master's house for several days. He didn't even mention Theo at all because he couldn't take such a huge responsibility.

"But how can you play a game with only one ball for twenty-two players? You've gone crazy like Seamus." Harry grinned broadly at his best friend, and Hermione slapped the redhead on the head. "What?" He turned to the girl. "What was I supposed to say? That I'm glad, Harry is finally free from the Dursleys? Or that I am horrified that he really is Snape's little brother? No, no, no... I can't deal with that."

" That's exactly what you should say. And it's not about you. It's about Harry." She turned to the boy again.

"Wait, have you already known about that?" Harry looked at Ron, slightly surprised.

"Extendable Ears. Thanks to them, we know at least a little what's going on. But why didn't you tell us?" George asked.

"Well, at first, I was not entirely sure myself if it was true. And then... Well… I guess I preferred to tell you in person."

"And now you've got that oversized bat breathing down your neck even more, focused on you." Ron looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sure he's about to begin really tormenting you."

"Harry, don't listen to him. It won't be that bad. Maybe he'll even treat you a little better." He could always count on Hermione to try and cheer him up. Even though she said it in a slightly doubtful tone of voice, the truth was that he had already been proven that she was partly right. Harry smiled at the girl.

"We saw Snape arguing with the Order because he wanted to take you to the Ministry himself. He insisted, even though him taking Polyjuice Potion was riskier than if Dad had gone there with you," George interjected.

"Really?" That got Harry's attention.

"He said he'd better keep you in check. Dad looked at him with pity and made a face like, 'Hello, you're talking to the father of seven children, including the notorious Weasley twins'." George grinned, mimicking his father's voice.

"And then our mom interrupted as usual and threw us out of the kitchen," Ron continued. "She didn't even let me finish my dinner."

"Third serving of dinner," Hermione corrected, shaking her head.

"Well, I'm a growing boy! Anyway, eating is the only pleasure we have in here." He shot the girl an annoyed look. "And it ended up with Snape going with you, right?"

"Yeah."

"Merlin, I feel really sorry for you." Ron patted him on the back.

"No, it wasn't that bad," Harry shrugged. He was grateful for such friends and their support, and his anger at them for not writing to him was gone.

"I'm more interested in your tattoo, Harry," Ginny smiled.

Harry blushed.

"Well, it's nothing special."

"I think it was very stupid of you," Hermione interjected, crossing her arms over her chest. "You are unaware of the conse."

"Er... I am well aware of them, believe me, Hermione," he muttered, remembering the infection he had chosen to omit in his story as well. And that it was Snape who saved him.

"Come on, don't keep us waiting."

"Yeah, come on, man. Maybe I will get a tattoo, too?" Ron paused for a moment. "I've always wanted one since Bill came home with the Eye of Horus on his shoulder."

The twins started chanting Harry's name again, and soon Ron and Ginny joined them. Only Hermione pursed her lips, displeased.

"Come on, buddy!" Fred shouted.

"Don't be shy!" George added.

As Harry slowly began to take off his shirt, the Weasleys chanted 'strip' repeatedly, and a blush bloomed on Ginny's cheeks.

"Cool," said Ron, delighted. "Maybe somehow, I’ll be able to save money for a tattoo this year. Do you think I will find a tattoo salon in Diagon Alley?"

"No, but there is one in Knockturn Alley."

"Ronald, you won't be wandering around the Knockturn Alley!"

"aww, you hear that Ronnie? Mommy mione's forbidden it," Fred snorted.

This time it was Hermione's cheeks that turned crimson.

"Walking around the Knockturn Alley is extremely unwise in the current situation, and don’t call me Mione" she said, slightly offended.

"Therefore, Ronnie, you will have to run around..."

At that moment, they heard a knock, and the door opened.

"What the hell is going on in here? What is this bawling about?" The Potions Master appeared in the doorway. "Potter, what are you doing? Where's your t-shirt?" Harry picked it up from the bed and quickly pulled it on. "You forgot your bag.” Saying that Snape pulled a small box out of his pocket, waved his wand, and after a second, Harry's bag appeared in his hand. The teenager approached the man. There was silence in the room. Hermione and all the Weasleys were staring at the wizards without a single word.

"Thanks," Harry looked at the man.

"Tomorrow night at eight o'clock, I'll come to take you back. You are to be ready because I'm not going to wait for you, understood?" Snape's tone made no room for any discussion.

"Okay."

"And behave yourself." When Harry nodded again, Snape added: "Just in caseyou will find a fireplace connected to the Floo Network in the living room. Do you remember my address?" He paused again, waiting for the boy to nod. "Say it loud and clear and add Snape's Corner." Harry nodded again, and Severus turned to everyone. "Molly wants you to come downstairs. She needs free labour again." He smirked, turned and left the room.

"What happened to him?! It didn't look at all like he was trying to bite your head off."

"Ron is right, he wasn't as nasty as always. What is he up to?"

Harry shrugged.

"The thing is, I really have no idea," he said thoughtfully.

"But the bat is right about one thing. And I don't believe I agree with Snape on anything." Ron groaned, looking martyred. "We've been working in this house like slaves for two weeks, without a day off. Forcing us to work during the summer holidays should be punishable by law."

 

Sunday, August 13th, 1994

For the remainder of the previous day, they'd been cleaning bedrooms just in case any members of the Order of the Phoenix were to move temporarily to Grimmauld Place. Harry was used to working; the Dursleys had already taken care of that. But the rest of the teens had never worked physically before. The work wasn't hard but after just fifteen minutes,  Ron started whining and complaining. They didn’t even have someone threatening them with consequences if they did something wrong or too slowly. And it was exactly like that because they were moving as slow as molasses in January. Harry had the impression that the adults just wanted to keep them busy so that they wouldn't wander around the house and complain about boredom.

That day, right after lunch, they were also forced to clean. As soon as they entered one of the rooms, Ron threw himself on the bed. Cloud dust burst from it, and the teen let out a painful exclamation.

"I can't stand this any longer! It’s our holiday! I bet even old Snape doesn't use you like some kind of cleaning slave!”

"Ron, you slept until noon; I doubt slaves have that much freedom," Harry said, taking the decorations off the shelves to wash the furniture.

"But I was planning to eat, go flying, and then lie on the blanket by our pond and do nothing at all! Or no, not in that order, fly on a broom first, eat later... Or not... eat first ..."

"You could eat while flying," Harry said helpfully.

"Yep." Ron smiled, then darkened again. "But yeah, I wasn't planning to work from dawn to dusk in this musty hole. It's child abuse, and we should call the Ministry’s Office for the Rights of the Child!"

"Aren't you exaggerating a little?"

"Am I exaggerating? It's bullying, taking advantage of us... and... I swear I would have called on them if it weren't for You-Know-Who..."

It occurred to Harry that it was a good thing Ron hadn't lived with the Dursleys because he wouldn't have lasted a few days there, but Harry hadn't expressed his opinion out loud.

"Really, Ronald, there are more important things than your holidays. Get up. We need to dust the mattress and change the sheets," Hermione said irritably.

At that moment, the twins entered the room and immediately closed the door behind them.

"Dumbledore is here."

"Are they having a meeting?" Ron asked, and, rising a little, he leaned on his elbows.

"No, we don't think so, because there are only Lupin, Sirius and him in the kitchen."

"I need to talk with him." Harry tossed a cloth he was wiping dust with onto the ground, wiped his hands on his pants and ran out of the room. The rest of them looked knowingly at each other.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

As soon as the teenager reached the bottom floor, he heard raised voices. He walked closer to the kitchen door and listened.

"If I want my godson to visit me in my own house, I have every right to invite him!"

"Sirius, we've already talked about this. You know it's not safe for him to be here." The twins didn't lie. Dumbledore was indeed at Headquarters. And what was even more interesting, it was Harry that he was talking to Sirius about.

"Bullshit! He's here now, and everything's fine. Nothing happened. So I don't understand why he can't visit more often. You have no problem with the rest of the kids living here!"

'Thanks, Sirius,' thought Harry when he heard his godfather standing up for him.

"Give him at least a little break from the war. He's still just a teenager." This time it was Remus who spoke.

"A teenager with Voldemort hunting him down and no one has even bothered to give him a proper defence lesson. No offence, Remus, but your classes in defence against Red Riding Hoods and Trolls won't help him to fight wizards."

"He's underage, and he shouldn't engage in the wars of adult's." Remus' voice was weary as if it wasn't the first time he had used that argument. "When he graduates from Hogwarts, we can think about him joining the Order. For now, let him stay with old Snape and enjoy the holidays. At least he's safe there."

At this point, Harry decided to go inside.

"I need to speak with you, Professor," said Harry to Dumbledore.

"I'm sorry, Harry, another time, I truly have to go, now." Harry noticed the Headmaster avoiding his eyes.

"But it's really important! You left the courtroom so fast that I didn't even have a chance to talk with you!"

"Harry, Professor Dumbledore has a lot on his mind right now. He doesn't have time to deal with your teenage problems," Remus scolded him while the Headmaster turned and headed towards the fireplace.

"Look at me!" Harry shouted. He didn't know why, but suddenly he felt a rage that was disproportionate to the situation seizing him. Yes, he was irritated by the man's behaviour, but not enough to start yelling at the Headmaster.

"Harry!" Remus reprimanded him. Sirius just smiled, clearly amused, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Dumbledore glanced at him quickly, but his eyes almost immediately fell to the wall.

"I want to join the Order," Harry said, ignoring Lupin.

“I'm sorry, it’s impossible. You are too young. We'll talk about it when you graduate."

"Somehow, Voldemort," nobody flinched at the name, "doesn't care how old I am. I want to be able to fight him. Since he's attacking me anyway, I want at least a minimal chance of escaping him!"

"Then focus on studying defence classes, Harry."

"I wonder how, since everyone you have employed so far, professor, wanted to kill me or destroy my memories!"

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Harry, but we can talk about you joining the Order when you turn seventeen." The older man looked tired and much older than the year before, but he still didn't meet Harry's eyes, which irritated the boy even more.

"I probably won't live long enough to see it because Voldemort or your choice of defence professors will get me before that," he said harshly.

"You are safe living with your father and at school. Enjoy your holidays while you can, dear boy."

"You're safe at school..." Harry laughed bitterly. "So you put a Philosopher's Stone in a third-floor room in a school full of kids as part of an innocent Hunt the Thimble game? And Voldemort popped in as the guest of honour? How could I ever think that he posed any threat to me and everyone else."

"Harry! I know, that…" Dumbledore began.

"Oh no. Let me finish," Harry growled, raising his hand. His whole posture radiated with confidence he rarely showed. "I suppose you didn't have to do anything with the basilisk and the diary. But what about my fourth year? How could you not have figured out that your friend was not who he says he is? My card jumped into the goblet of fire by itself?”

"Harry, behave yourself! After all, it's your Headmaster! Sirius, say something!"

"It's Harry's fight, and he's been doing great so far." The man grinned, clearly enjoying himself, glad that his godson had finally stood up to the old man.

"In your first and second year, Harry, it was rather your curiosity mixed with youthful ambition that led to these events. You know very well that even if I knew, I wouldn't be able to stop you."

"What about the anti-magic barrier in the area where I live? I have no chance of defending myself against a Muggle attack."

"But what could possibly happen there, Harry?  Besides, you only left the area for a moment and you almost immediately ended up suspended as a student, waiting for the Ministry trial." Harry clenched his fists, hearing the sadness and disappointment in Dumbledore's voice. "It truly pains me, my boy, that you think that way, but we'll talk about the Order when you're seventeen. Now I have to go. I'm already late." The Headmaster nodded at Harry and the other two wizards, scooped up a pinch of floo powder in his hand, and disappeared into the fireplace.

The teenager sat down in the chair, folded his arms across his chest, and made a vague sound of frustration.

"I'm slowly starting to really hate him."

"Harry! After this performance, we should send you to your room like a child to rethink your behaviour. You can't speak to the Headmaster like a bratty, demanding child."

"Well, with all due respect, professor, you have no right to tell me how to behave. You’re my former teacher and nothing else." Harry grimaced at his own words, but he decided they were true enough after a reconsideration.

"I didn't expect this from you, Harry."

"How can you expect anything from me if you don't even know me very much? You taught me for a year, and that's it. After the third year, I didn't even get a letter from you. Nothing. So where did you get the idea that you are closer to me than, for example, Trelawney, who taught me for the whole two years?" Harry smiled bitterly.

"I was a friend of your parents. I care about you." Remus sighed. "Your parents would be very disappointed in your behaviour."

"As for my parents, James and Lily, well, I didn't get to know them. And after their deaths, you didn't want to have anything to do with me, you didn't check if I was fine, so I don't know who they would be more disappointed with."

 Harry knew he was exaggerating. He was angry with Dumbledore and took it out on Remus, but he didn't care.

"Harry, don't say that. I cared about you, but Dumbledore..."

"Pathetic. Dumbledore is not the king of the world and has no right to dictate whether someone can contact someone or not! You made that decision! Maybe if you just once checked to see if I was okay, maybe..." Maybe if the man visited him and noticed what was going on, he would have taken him away from the Dursleys, and his hell on earth would have ended sooner. "Maybe everything would be different!"

"The Headmaster is our leader, and has never given me cause not to trust him. We have a chance to win against Voldemort as long as we stay united. The Headmaster has too much on his mind right now anyway, so please,  at least, don't bother him with your childish pretensions. And that's also the reason why you are still too young to be in the Order. It's because you cannot understand that you are not the centre of the world." Remus raised his voice. Harry also felt more and more agitated.

"Exactly, I'm not in the Order, so I shouldn’t really care what is decided within an organization that I don't even have access to. I'm here privately, visiting my godfather who invited me. And yes, I partly blame Dumbledore, but you didn't do anything to help me either!"

"You should be grateful we let you come here at all. But you know what? I give up. Sirius, you're his godfather. Set him straight.” Remus turned to the man, completely ignoring what Harry had just said. "Seeing as I, as he puts it, am like a stranger to him," he finished in a slightly mocking voice.

"Well, I'm on Harry's side. He is right. And it's time for him finally to say it out loud." Sirius shrugged.

"Really? Your godson has no respect for anyone. How can you let him speak like that to an elderly person who is not only the Headmaster of his school but also the leader of the light side."

"He referred to him as a 'professor' and those other titles, so I think you're exaggerating, Remus."

"You know what Molly would do if her children spoke to the elders like that?"

"I'm not Molly. I'm wholeheartedly for Harry saying everything out loud. If he feels hurt, he should speak up, not bottle everything up, and pretend he's okay. And I don't care who that person is, the Headmaster of the school, an old family friend or his uncle."

"But not this way. Tell him that; maybe he will listen to you."

"Hey, "he" is here!" Harry interrupted.

"Harry, your arguments are excellent, but you can't shout like that because some people who can't beat your arguments won't be able to look past your tone of voice and young age."

"Sure, Sirius, thanks for the advice," Harry smiled. Sirius, once again, proved to him that he could count on him.

"You're as stubborn as this bratty teen."

At this moment, Molly came into the kitchen with the groceries.

"What is going on here? I heard raised voices." As she spoke, she set shopping bags on the table and began to unpack them. Nobody offered to help her.

"Nothing, Molly, just a loud exchange of opinions," Remus said as he sat down in the chair.

"I'm going to help the rest with the cleaning," said Harry.

Sirius nodded.

"Go. And don't worry."

Harry started upstairs. He didn't know how this conversation had escalated into such a row. Yes, he had said some nasty things to Remus, and he had never really thought of a man that way before. He had no idea where the sudden anger at him came from. He knew that Remus was probably commenting on his behaviour in front of Mrs Weasley in the kitchen right now. Harry sighed. He didn't want the woman to think badly of him.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

After a few hours of cleaning—during which they had to listen to Ron's complaints, even though the boy was hardly doing anything—Molly called them down to dinner.

Mr and Mrs Weasley were in the kitchen, with Lupin who was glaring at Harry, clearly still resentful.

'Great!' Harry's appetite disappeared completely.

Where's Sirius? He asked, angrily stuffing pasta on his fork.

"Probably sitting and pouting in the attic," Remus scowled.

'And who's acting like a child here?' thought Harry, and he definitely didn't mean Sirius.

"I'm going to say goodbye since I don't know the next time I'll have a chance to see my godfather," the teen said, standing up. He made no attempt to suppress his scathing tone of voice.

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances.

"Eat first, love," said Mrs Weasley.

"I'll eat with him," said Harry, placing Sirius's portion on his plate.

"If you are going upstairs, take him these potions," said Remus.

Harry nodded, put the vials in his pocket, picked up two plates, and headed upstairs.

The teen opened the door with his elbow. Sirius was leaning against the wall and stroking Buckbeak's head, which the animal had placed in his lap.

"Hi."

"Harry" The man tried to smile, but without much success. He looked very glum. The joyful man from the morning had completely disappeared, leaving a despondent man, tired of life. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you downstairs with everyone else?"

"Don't know." Harry gave him a slight shrug. "I wanted to hang out with you a little."

Sirius laughed bitterly.

"This is my home, and it's got to the point where we're both in the attic hiding from the others."

Harry walked over, sat down next to him, leaning against the wall, and placed the plates on the floor.

"I brought you dinner."

"Thanks, kiddo."

"Lupin told me to give you these." Harry pulled two vials out of his pocket. "What do you need them for?"

"They are for the after effects from the Dementors. They make me feel better."

"Oh, that's good." The man nodded. "And, how do you feel, because we didn't even have time to talk alone," the teen asked.

Sirius shrugged.

"Don't know. How am I supposed to feel? I'm trapped here, and I'm quite useless. All I could do was to share my house with the Order. But, because of that, it doesn't feel like my house anymore. It has gotten to the point that I can't even invite my godson for a few days."

"And what about Porthcurno?"

"I'll take you there, again, I promise. Now it's just hard for me to get out of here. You know, the worst part is that everyone keeps telling me that if I get caught, the whole Order will suffer."

"I'm so sorry, Sirius. Really. But… soon, we'll catch Pettigrew. And you will be free."

"I don't know," Sirius looked at Harry. "The rat will always find a way to get away."

"Not a chance. I swear I'll do anything. We'll find him."

Sirius unscrewed the vials and drank the potions.

"Harry, I don't want you to risk your life. Look, I know this will sound sappy, but the thing that I care about the most in the world is you. I don't give a shit about Dumbledore. I listen to him. I do what the Order wants me to because I know that we only have a chance to defeat Voldemort because of them. And I'm frustrated that I can't help and that I can't spend more time with you. But really, the only thing I want is for you to be happy. If you're fine with old Snape, then it's fine; I'll play nice and sit at Grimmauld Place. But if anything happens, Harry, just say the word, and I'll take you to Porthcurno, and I don't care what they all have to say about it."

Harry looked at Sirius and felt so sorry for the man who had spent his best years in prison, but he also felt warmth in his heart. Sirius was the first person who cared for him entirely selflessly.

At that moment, a smile slowly appeared on the man's face, and his eyes became a little hazy.

"I swear, Sirius, I'll do anything to get you free," Harry promised, and he silently swore it would happen, even if it would be the last thing he would do in his life. It wasn't fair; this man spent twelve years being mentally tortured for a crime he did not commit. And he still worried more about Harry than himself. "If I have to, I will catch the rat myself and bring him to trial."

"Really?" Sirius asked with a blissful smile on his face, and Harry nodded confidently.

"I promise you everything will be fine." He had no idea how to do it, he had no plan, but he had to do it. Pettigrew was almost as responsible for destroying their lives as Voldemort. It was he who led Voldemort to the Potters; it was he, who made Harry stuck with the Dursleys for years, and caused Sirius to end up in Azkaban. And finally, it was he who resurrected Voldemort.

"So, how are you? How is your life away from the Dursleys?"

"Fine. Much better." Hearing that, Sirius' face lit up. It was the ultimate proof that his godfather truly cared about his happiness. But it also meant that if he wanted Sirius to have at least one less worry, and Harry noticed that the man was rather not in the best mental condition, he should be careful with his words. Harry returned the smile. "I ... play football, enjoy a break from school and meet with my new friends." He decided to skip the situations in which the Potions Master participated.

"I'm glad you are happy there. It is the most important thing for me," Sirius repeated. "And remember, there's always Porthcurno."

Harry grimaced as he remembered the incident where he had really wanted Sirius to take him away from Tobias. The consequences of that, however, could be dire. Besides, he couldn't worry his godfather any further.

"Things are really good there." Harry looked at the wall. "Really."

"I'm happy. What about your father? Does he treat you well? I hope he's nothing like Snivellus." Harry grimaced at the nickname.

"Tobias is, er... fine. He doesn't even get angry too often. Sometimes, if I do or say something stupid, but all in all, I don't really do anything stupid, so uhm... He doesn't even raise his voice at me."

"How is he?" The man asked in a lazy, lethargic voice.

"He's… he works a lot. He's nice to me when I'm sick, and… he likes to spend time with me."

"What do you do together? Tell me a little. Has he taken you anywhere? Once I'm free, I'll take you wherever you want."

"He... we renovated my room. Sometimes er... we order a pizza and play Monopoly, which is a Muggle game.” Harry said, remembering the time he played it and sighed. Tobias was not with him at the time. He shook his head and continued: "He taught me to play cards. And he often takes me to billiards and football games." Sirius hugged Harry, closing his eyes. The boy put his head on his shoulder and continued: "He... when he had his day off, he ... took me to the lake for the whole day. Until the evening. And he taught me to swim."

"I thought you could swim. You did great on the second assignment," the man murmured.

"I know, but it was probably the Gillyweed working more than my skills. Tobias showed me how to swim, like on the water."

"It's nice."

"Yes," nodded Harry.

"Go on. What else?" Sirius asked.

"Er... later... because we took fishing rods with us, we were fishing. It was warm. And we talked. And I managed to catch a huge fish. A big… tuna."

"Do tuna live in lakes? Isn’t it a saltwater fish?" asked Sirius. His head rested against the wall, and his eyelids were still closed.

"Yeah. They were in this lake. Tobias said this is the first time he has seen such a large tuna, and it's great for the first time. And then we gutted it and made a bonfire."

"Seems like you had a really good time. Lake, bonfire, beach and beer."

Harry shook his head.

"No, there wasn't any alcohol. We just drank Coke... and orange juice”.

"In general, I think beer is a very crude drink, but mmm...  The cold one, during holidays, on the beach, is pure pleasure."

"No, I told you already, there wasn't any. Tobias… he doesn't drink much at all."

"Mm," said Sirius. "What happened next?"

"Later, er... we played volleyball, a muggle game. And I bounced the ball crookedly, so I needed to go into the water to get it. And Tobias didn't even yell at me for not being able to bounce the ball, and when I got it, he gave me a towel to warm me up and said he didn't want me to get sick. And then the mosquitoes started biting, and we went back home."

"Your father sounds like a really nice guy, and I'm glad he cares about you. Even if his last name is Snape."

Harry hesitated. His eyes drifted down to his nails.

"Yes, it's really good, Sirius. I'm much better off with him than with the Dursleys."

Suddenly the door opened, and the Potions Master stepped in. He folded his arms over his chest, and Harry jumped to his feet.

"Potter, you were supposed to wait for me downstairs at eight," he said. There was something else in his voice besides irritation, but Harry had no idea what it might be. "Say goodbye to your mongrel, and let's go."

Sirius got up and hugged him once more.

"Thanks, kiddo, you're the best."

"Take care, Sirius, bye."

"Come on, Potter, because father… will be worried." Snape accentuated the last words.

Harry nodded.

They went to the room he shared with Ron to get his things, then went downstairs to the kitchen, where he said goodbye to everyone. Remus nodded to him and looked the other way, and Mrs Weasley hugged him. She said they would see each other on September 1st at the platform. They had already agreed that he won't visit Sirius again, at least until Christmas. Dumbledore decided to keep him away from any information. Well, if the Order didn't want his collaboration, he would take care of things himself. He would not humbly wait for Voldemort to come for him and kill him. Sirius was right. He should finally stand up for himself. Because it was his life that was in the greatest danger, and no one should take away his right to defence.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Snape apparated them into a dark alley, right on the forest's edge.

"Thanks," Harry said. "Er, for taking me to the hearing and Sirius' house."

"You're welcome. Let's go, Potter. I'll walk you home."

"You don't have to," Harry replied immediately.

"I know I don't have to, but I'll do it anyway."

"But ... you won't come in, will you?"

"No, Potter, I won't." Harry breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't seen Tobias since their argument, and he was concerned that the man was still angry with him for Snape, in the disguise of Mr Weasley, persuading him to let Harry go to Grimmauld Place. The teen didn't really need Tobias to see him in the company of the Potions Master. He was sure it would make him mad, and he had no strength left for another row. "By the way, I heard you gave a nice show in front of the headmaster and Lupin." Harry looked at him sideways and unconsciously moved away from the man so that he could not reach him. Severus sighed. "Potter, I'm not going to hit you."

"I know."

"Really?"

Harry shrugged.

"Aren't you mad at me about this?"

"Potter, if you were behaving like that to me, you would certainly join Theo, and you could write sentences synchronously at the same table."

"It's holidays, and there's nothing you can do to me," he said in a slightly defiant tone, without even knowing why. He didn't want to argue with the man now. He looked at Snape, waiting for his reaction.

"I could inform Father about your behaviour, which I will not do. But you know, the school year is approaching fast. You wouldn't want to start it with a series of detentions?" Harry shook his head. "Anyway," the man continued. "I still think you should try to contain your tantrums. Tell me, what have you achieved with this defiant behaviour?"

"Don't know. I said what was really bothering me." Harry gave him a slight shrug.

"Yes, and were they willing to listen to what you had to say when you screamed like that or did they concentrate on the shouting itself, completely ignoring what you had to say?"

Harry clenched his fists.

"But I'm so furious with Dumbledore."

"Why? Trouble in Paradise?"

"What paradise? I'm starting to think that ..."

"What?"

"I don't know. It feels like he knows he'll need me, but not yet, so he is ignoring me for now."

"You're talking nonsense, Potter. Dumbledore cares about you, and he always has favoured you," Snape replied, but his voice was uncertain.

"It seems more and more that he wasn't doing it at all for my own good and really cares only for my scar." Harry looked at the man. It felt strange talking with Snape, let alone complaining to him about the Headmaster. "And I know you don't believe me, but I don't want it. I'd be much happier if the scar didn't exist."

"I believe you, Potter."

There was a moment of silence as they both lost themselves in their thoughts.

After a moment, Snape stopped Harry with his hand. They were a few yards from Tobias' house.

"Potter, remember, if you need anything, get into any trouble, or just feel like it, you can come to see me."

"Thanks," Harry said, putting his hands in his pockets. He felt a little uncomfortable, even though it wasn't the first time Snape had offered him this.

"Go now. Go home."

Harry nodded. Little did he know that the Potions Master waited a few more minutes in the shadows, just in case there were raised voices coming from the building.

To be continued...
End Notes:
Comments? Thoughts? Wishes?
Which side are you on? Dumbledore & Lupin or Harry & Sirius?
Chapter 17: Department of Mysteries by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I’d like to thank Jasmin Kain – my Polish Beta, that she still works with me on thin, and lovely Vivid Murk who beta read the English version

With his heart pounding, Harry entered the house. Another confrontation awaited him. It was only now that he seriously began to fear that Tobias might still be angry with the whole "Mr Weasley" incident.

"Hi," Harry greeted tightly. Tobias was lying on the couch in front of the TV, watching a football match.

"Oh, the prodigal son has finally deigned to show up at home," the man said, taking a long gulp of beer from the bottle. Without looking away from the T.V., he added: "Get upstairs and don't disturb me. You can see that I am busy."

Harry swallowed loudly and felt a pang of regret as he remembered what he had been telling Sirius not even an hour earlier.

"Sorry about the other day," he said, even though he felt absolutely no guilt. However, he did not want the man to keep holding their recent fight against him. "Can you not be angry with me anymore?"

Tobias looked at him as if considering the question.

"Alright, alright. But, go now. I brought you some paint; you will start painting the house tomorrow. And tomorrow, well ... you can tell me how it was at that ginger friend of yours. Now, there is an important game on T.V."

"Okay, sure." Harry sighed and slowly walked up to his room.

He was tired. Both his confrontation with Dumbledore and Lupin and his time with his godfather cost him a lot. In the context of the conversation with Sirius, Tobias' behaviour hurt even more. Still, at least the man was no longer angry with him.

Despite the exhaustion, he kept rolling from side to side, unable to sleep. He had to find some way to catch Pettigrew. Of course he could not count on help from the Order...or Dumbledore. Harry was frustrated by the Headmaster's behaviour. He wondered why the man was trying to hide information at all costs from him. For the first eleven years of his life, the boy had no idea that magic even existed. And from what he found out, it was the Headmaster and Hagrid who had left him on the Dursleys' doorstep.

Just like a newspaper or a bottle of milk, he thought bitterly.

What would happen if he woke up in the middle of the night and went somewhere? After all, one-and-a-half-year-old children can walk or at least move on all fours. Not to mention the legality of dumping an unwanted, magical kid on the Dursleys.

Dumbledore was definitely interfering in his life too much. Still, only now had Harry realised that the man didn’t necessarily have his best interest at heart. Harry felt somewhat betrayed.

Or maybe, as Lupin had said, maybe Harry was too demanding? After all, Dumbledore was just the Headmaster of the school Harry attended, so he shouldn't expect any special treatment, such as extra defence classes.

Over the past week, Harry had flipped through the book Sirius had given him for his birthday. He had practised all the spells' movements without actually doing any magic. Still, it wasn't even a little as good as casting actual spells. He would be lying if he said he was not afraid of Voldemort. The teen was aware that he had survived only thanks to his luck so far, and he knew that one day it would leave him as well.

The boy sighed. He got up from the bed and started pacing the room.

Suddenly he felt pretty lonely. The most powerful psychopath in the world, someone/who he had no chance of winning against, wanted to kill him, and he could only count on himself. Yes, Sirius would do anything for him, but today the teenager saw with his own eyes how bad the man's mental state was. Harry had no right to cause him any more worries—what's more, he should be the one who supported his godfather and did anything to help him. The teen wondered what was in those potions the man was drinking. When he and Sirius had been sitting in the attic, he had been struck with an impulse to place the empty vials in his pocket. Maybe he will ask Nott about them. The Slytherin owed him a favour for the Plangentine anyway, and this was an opportunity for him to pay back.

As for Ron and Hermione and the twins, well… he knew they would go through fire and water for him. But they were currently locked up at Grimmauld Place. Besides, the Headmaster heavily influenced them, and they did what he asked them to do.

There was also Tobias. Harry laughed bitterly. Going to Tobias with a problem like this seemed just ridiculous. The man was a Muggle, and he certainly wouldn’t understand the complexity of the situation  the wizarding world was in now. Not to mention that it could make his father mad and could easily end up with a few extra bruises for Harry.

Harry also thought of the Potions Master. The teen closed his eyes. The last two weeks had changed a lot in their relationship. It wasn't easy to admit, but he really liked being at Snape's house. He felt strangely safe when the man was around. However, Snape wasn't Sirius, and Harry couldn't afford to start relying on the man. One stupid mistake, some idiotic thing he would do sooner or later, and everything would be back to normal. He knew that the more he became emotionally invested and began to trust Snape, the more the rejection would hurt. But would the Potions Master go against the Headmaster's orders and agree to give him defence lessons? Certainly not if Harry told him that about his plans to hunt Wormtail down.

Suddenly it dawned on Harry. He remembered the letter from Ghost that he had received at the very beginning of the summer.

It seemed more and more justifiable to accept the proposition of defence lessons. It was something Harry really needed in order to survive, and no one else could or would give it to him. And the more Harry thought about it, the more he was inclined to agree to the Ghost's suggestion. He knew that he could only count on himself when it came to it. Dumbledore was blatantly ignoring him, but just as Harry had no right to expect any special treatment from the man, it worked the same the other way. He owed nothing to the man who was only his school's headmaster. The teenager did not belong to his secret organisation and swore loyalty to no one. So, he had no intention of worrying about what the older man had to say about his plans.

However, it occurred to Harry that it would be good if Snape didn't find out what he was planning. Nevertheless, the boy hoped that the ceasefire between them would last as long as possible.

The teen sat down at his desk, pulled out a sheet of parchment, and began writing a letter. He didn't have the money to travel to London, and he wasn't going to hitchhike, so at least Snape wouldn't be angry about that if he found out. Ironically, Dumbledore's anti-magic barrier made him feel safe enough to meet with the mysterious Ghost here at the edge of the Spinner's End park. Due to where Snape lived, he chose a place closer to the river than the city.

He hesitated for a moment, but finally, he tied the letter to Hedwig's leg. After he petted his owl, she flew away. His eyes fell on the book he received from Nott for his birthday, and he lay down on the bed and began to read it.

 

Monday, August 14th, 1995.

Nott was right about Dickens. The book was so gripping that, fascinated by the main character's adventures, he just couldn't put it down. He read it all and fell asleep only in the morning.

Half-past eleven, yawning every now and then, he hid his wand in his sleeve, put on his Invisibility Cloak, and left the house. He decided to arrive early and wait in hiding so that he could see who would appear. As the meeting itself might not seem entirely wise of him, he tried to take all the precautions he could.

Upon arriving, he paused at the end of the last house on Spinner's End. The asphalt road ended there, and the path leading to the forest and the river began. He placed himself in such a way to keep an eye on everyone who might show up.

After a few minutes, he noticed an elegant dark haired man, about fifty years old, dressed in a grey suit, with a wooden cane in his hand and a top hat on his head. The man looked around carefully, then walked to the nearest bench and sat down on it. Sitting practically motionless, he checked his watch every now and then. He didn't look too threatening.

After eleven o’clock, when no one else was around, Harry decided to approach the man. The teen took off his Invisibility Cloak, hastened it into his pocket, and then headed towards the man.

"Good morning. Er, Mr. Ghost?" he asked unsurely.

"Good morning, Mr. Potter. It's a pleasure to meet you." The man stood up and held out his hand, and Harry squeezed it. "Please, sit down," he said, sitting down himself as well.

"Why do you want to help me?" Harry started right away, without any preamble. Small talks have never been his forte.

"There are several reasons, but most of all, of course, because of Voldemort."

"What exactly do you mean?" Harry didn't miss the fact that the man didn't even stutter while saying that name.

"The events of June. Voldemort poses a direct threat to our world. As you are probably well aware, the Ministry is reluctant to accept and announce this fact." When Harry nodded, he continued: "I also work in the Ministry, but our Department is in a sense independent. Have you ever heard of the Department of Mysteries?"

"No," Harry replied shortly.

"First of all, we research various fields of magic. Recently, however, there have been slight changes in our structures. Let's call it reorganisation. And it just so happens that I became the head of the Department.” The wizard paused for a moment as if wondering how he should continue. “One of the many changes I'm planning is creating a special force that could start actively working against Voldemort."

"And you would like me to work for you?" Harry smiled broadly. This was just what he needed; he would finally feel that he was doing something.

"Mr Potter," a little smile appeared on the man's face. "I see that you are a man of action, and of course, I would be pleased to accept you on the team. However...how old are you?”

“Fifteen.”

"Exactly. Our door will be open to you in two years, although I would advise you to pass your OWLs first.”

Harry groaned internally. Why did everyone care so much about his age when he had more experience than many adult wizards?

"Why would you want to see me then," he said, a little sharper than he intended, unable to hide his irritation.

“Even though I cannot hire you, I would like to establish cooperation with you somehow. I think we could help each other.”

“What do you mean by this cooperation then?” Harry crossed his arms, still feeling offended. However, he did not want to show that he had taken offence like a child and thus keep the man convinced that he was really too young.

"You see, Mr Potter, there is a prophecy about Voldemort and you.”

“A prophecy?” That got his attention. “And he knows it?” Was that the reason why he wanted to kill him?

"Yes. So, it is very likely that you will be at the centre of the events in the upcoming war. If you agree, Mr Potter, I would like to show it to you and offer you training.”

“What if I don't agree?” he asked though he didn't even consider refusing.

"Nothing. If you don't agree, I will just ask you to just take an oath of discretion, and our paths will part.”

Harry nodded and bit his lip.

“And what will you get out of it?”

"We also want to defeat Voldemort, so by helping you, we're helping ourselves.”

Harry nodded. It made sense. He looked at the man who was watching him closely.

“Okay, I agree.”

“Wonderful, Mr Potter. I have a portkey ready for you to lead you straight to the Ministry of Magic.”

Hearing that, Harry paled slightly, and an unpleasant shiver ran down his body. After June’s events, the boy was a little uneasy about portkeys, and at this point, he was no longer so sure about his decision. Harry knew, of course, he had to get into the Ministry somehow, and it was the easiest way. He swallowed.

"And...and could you please swear that the Portkey will take me straight to the Department of Mysteries and...and that I will be able to return to Spinner's End without any problem whenever I wish?"

Ghost laughed softly.

"Of course. We just have to go a little further because this is where the anti-magic field won't let me do that. It's not easy to break such security; Albus Dumbledore is a truly powerful wizard. By the way, it took us a long time to find a hole in the protection to be able to send you a letter.”

“Does it mean that the headmaster is the reason why most of the letters do not reach me?”

"Of course. Otherwise, I'm sure you would be inundated with correspondence, both with fan gifts and threatening letters.”

Harry froze. So, it was the Headmaster who prevented Sirius's letters from being delivered to him. He shouldn't have done so without first informing him, whatever his intentions were.

“Please follow me; the barrier ends here at the edge of the forest.”

Ghost stood just beyond its border. Just in case it all turned out to be one big trap, Harry decided to stay within the barrier. The man turned to face him and raised his wand upwards, saying the words:

"I solemnly swear by my magic that I have no evil or harmful intentions towards Harry Potter, and I want to offer him defence training. The reusable Portkey I'll give him leads to the Department of Mysteries, and it will bring him back to where he came from. I also swear that Harry Potter will be able to leave the Department of Mysteries whenever he wishes.”

A silver mist emerged from the end of his wand and surrounded the man, then vanished after a moment.

"Thank you," said Harry.

“Here, your portkey.” The man pulled a pendant from his pocket. “When you squeeze it in your hand and say the password: Mí Casa Segura, it'll take you to the Department of Mysteries. When you want to come back, just say Vuelta. You do need to be careful with Muggles, though; as I said, it'll take you exactly where you came from, so choose that spot wisely.” Harry studied the pendant on the chain. It was shaped like a silver sun. “It has one more function. When you say the word Obscuritus, it will change your facial features so that no one will recognise you. In our Department, we take great care to maintain anonymity. So always use the Obscuritus before you come. To get back to your appearance, just say Aperio.”

“Thank you.” Harry hesitated a moment, then added: "Could you tell me more about this prophecy?"

“I think we can leave it till tomorrow. It's a long story, and it's worth knowing the context. So, be in the Department tomorrow at nine. Unfortunately, I must be going now. It was nice to meet you, Mr Potter.”

“You too, sir.” Harry smiled slightly.

The older wizard nodded and disapparated.

Talking to Ghost put Harry in a good mood. He was excited and felt that things might eventually start to fall into place. He headed toward his house, and he wanted to eat something and nap for a few hours. In the evening, he had his last football game before Friday's final, so he wanted to be fully rested in order to give his best.

But as he entered the kitchen, he groaned. There were two buckets of white paint standing against the wall, foil, and a paintbrush. It completely slipped his mind that Tobias had asked him to paint the house. Therefore, he could forget about any rest, and he only had three hours to start anything. Having no choice, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

 

Tuesday, August 15th 1995

Harry set his alarm to four o’clock, deciding to get up earlier and start painting the walls. He didn't know how long the visit to the Department of Mysteries would take, so there was a good chance he wouldn't have time for it during the day. Fortunately, thanks to the Dursleys, Harry was used to a huge amount of hard work and little rest. He was able to use a painting brush efficiently. It didn't matter if the heat was pouring from the sky or if it was so cold that his fingers were getting numb, whether he was painting outdoors, high up, or indoors. The job was to be done neatly and quickly. And Merlin forbid he leave any paint stains or if he splashed anything. Although he was sure that Tobias would not have such requirements or standards as the Dursleys had, he had to do anything.

He knew an exhausting last two weeks of vacation awaited him. But he would have to grit his teeth and somehow survive it. He would get to sleep at Hogwarts. After all, it was his decision to accept the training at the Ministry.

The closer it was to the hour to leave, the more worried Harry became. What if, after all, it turned out to be a trap? What if the Portkey took him straight to Voldemort? Harry shuddered. It was unlikely that Ghost would have risked becoming a Squib. Or maybe he already was, and that's why he swore on his magic? But Harry had seen the spell had worked. What if Voldemort forced him somehow? Maybe he was threatening Ghost’s family?

His instinct told Harry he should go. And usually, he could rely on it. In case of emergency, he would quickly grab the Portkey, which would take him back. Just like he did in the cemetery.

Cedric.

No, Harry wasn’t going to think about the Hufflepuff now. He looked at his watch, and it was only before six, so he had two more hours.

“What are you doing here so early?” his father's voice broke him out of his thoughts.

“I couldn’t sleep. And I decided to paint a little. Maybe I'll get tired and fall asleep later on?” Harry had absolutely no intention of informing Tobias that he was going to the Ministry to learn to do more magic.

“You're a strange kid, but do whatever you want as long as you finish painting by the end of the summer.”

“I will.”

“I'm going to have breakfast. Do you want something?”

“A sandwich?”

Tobias nodded and returned to the kitchen.

HPHPHPHPHP

Harry had half an hour to get to the edge of the woods to use the Portkey. Suddenly something occurred to him. Since Nott couldn’t see the basement at first, it meant that it was magical, and Dumbledore's spell might not work there.

He ran downstairs as quickly as possible to test his theory. He decided to try the Obscuritus spell first. He held the pendant and closed his eyes as he chanted an incantation. He felt a wave of chill seep through his face. He ran to the hall as quickly as possible to see himself in the mirror. The spell was working as it should. His hair turned blonde, but not Malfoy's platinum; it was two inches long and no longer sticking in every direction and contrasted with the dark chocolate eyes. His eyebrows were a shade darker than the hair, and the eyelashes remained as long and thick as before. His lower jaw grew a little tighter. His face was still thin but not so skinny anymore. The mouth was narrower, and the nose elongated, but Harry was pleased that it still didn’t look like Snape's or Tobias' nose.

Most importantly, the scar was gone entirely.

He smiled to himself and looked at his watch. There were still twenty minutes left. Harry went back to the basement. If the camouflage spell worked, maybe so will the Portkey?

He was right.

HPHPHPHPHP

He apparated into a small, square room. A moment later, the door opened, and Ghost came in; however, he no longer resembled an elegant, friendly elderly man. The unbuttoned robes over a tight-fitting shirt, black pants and high boots gave him a much more formidable appearance.

“Hello!”

"Good morning," Harry replied, looking around.

There was a wardrobe, a coat rack, and a mirror to the right of the door. The rest was completely empty and so white it looked completely sterile, like a hospital wing.

“I can see Obscuritus is working. How do you like it?”

"It looks good." Harry shrugged his shoulders.

“Now, we just need to give you a name.” The boy raised his eyebrows. “Security reasons. Any ideas about what you would like to be called?”

Harry pondered for a moment. He remembered the book he had read the previous night.

“Maybe Oliver Twist?”

The man smiled hearing this.

“Do you read Dickens?”

“Not really. I only read this.”

“Well, it’s a start. So, okay, let it be Oliver Twist.” The man cleared his throat and continued. “You will always arrive in this room, and you can change here. Remember to never leave this place without an Obscuritus charm on. The door”, the man pointed at it, “can be opened only by you and me. These are also basic precautions. Come on, I'll show you around."

Harry nodded. He was curious about what this place looked like, so he followed the man.

They walked down a long, semi-circular corridor. There were similar doors on either side, some of them with nameplates. There was a huge lounge at the end.

“This is a team room.”

“It looks like the common room at Hogwarts.”

It was indeed the size of their Common Room in Gryffindor Tower. There were couches, a table and chairs, and even a fireplace.

The man smiled.

“I must admit that this was where I drew my inspiration from. There is a passage to the part of the Department of Mysteries where we conduct our research on the left side. That should probably not be of any interest to you.” Hearing his tone, Harry raised his eyebrows. Ghost had no idea that just such words made a teenager's curiosity grow. “There are bathrooms next to it, training rooms on the right, a library in front of it, my and Diana's offices and one of the exits to the Ministry. Let’s go to my office. I will tell you more about our organisation.” The man opened the door in the right corner of the lounge. “Please, sit down.” He pointed to the chair in front of the desk and sat opposite. “Would you like something to drink? Maybe juice?”

“Yes, please.”

The older wizard waved his wand, and coffee, juice, and cookies appeared on the desk.

"Help yourself," the man encouraged Harry, then continued: “At the moment, we are on the ninth level in the building of the Ministry of Magic, in the Department of Mysteries.”

“Why is it called the Department of Mysteries?”

“Because virtually no one except our crew knows what we do or even who works here. Until recently, we were only doing scientific research into different kinds of magic and ancient artefacts. As I told you, I took the position of department director recently and decided to make some changes. The latest events—and you know very well what I am talking about—prompted me to expand our activities, and I decided to create a new unit that would actively fight Voldemort.

“So, you don't have to obey the Minister? The entire Ministry denies that he has returned.”

"Unfortunately, Fudge doesn't even want to admit that, not to mention plan any kind of defence. He prefers to live in blissful ignorance. Of course, I do not rule out corruption as it is very convenient for Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Purists have an enormous financial and political background.

“Purists?” wondered Harry.

“A lot of Voldemort's followers among them. Those who don't want to let the blood of Muggle or Muggle-born wizards mix with pure blood.”

Harry nodded.

“What will the training consist of?”

“You will get a teacher who will try to teach you what he can. Honestly, we don't have much time. You start school in two weeks. I think it’s good to start with perfecting basic spells used in duels and maybe a few tricks.”

"What about the prophecy?"

“We'll get to that in a moment. First, I'd like you to read something.”

Ghost got up and told Harry to follow him once again. They went to the library. The man chose one of the books, handed it to Harry, and gestured to an armchair. Harry groaned internally. He had to read? He hoped for more practical lessons.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Two hours later, a rather irritated Harry sat in an armchair finishing a Muggle book. He really didn't have time to read such boring stories written in complicated language. Besides, he didn't see the point. There was nothing about strategy or spells of any kind in it. Complete waste of time.

At this point, a very pretty blonde woman of about forty entered the library. Her hair was pulled up in a loose bun, and a smile was on her narrow lips.

“Hello, Oliver, right? My name is Diana.”

"Good morning.”

“Have you finished reading?” She asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Yes, but to be honest, I don't know what for.”

“Let's say you are in a similar situation to the main character.”

“Am I supposed to kill my own father?” wondered Harry. Sure, he had a hard time getting along with the man lately, but he couldn't imagine that he could kill him, or for that matter, anybody else.

"No. But there is also a prophecy about you, and I wanted you to read “Oedipus the King” to introduce you to this topic. Come with me. I'll show you something.”

They walked across the living room to the part of the Department where they worked, as Diana put it, the researchers. They walked along a long corridor until they found themselves in a massive room with several dozen rows of shelves on which stood thousands of small crystal spheres.

"What are these?” He walked over to one of them and read the plaque: Herpo the Foul and Mopsus.

“These are prophecies. All ever foretold. Currently, there are forty-six thousand two hundred and seventy-one of them, of which twenty-four thousand three hundred and fifty-five have not come true, nine thousand two hundred and fifty-six have come true, and twelve thousand six hundred and sixty still have a chance to come true.”

Diana led him to alley ninety-seven and pointed to one of the spheres.

On the sign below, there was a caption: S.P.T to A.P.W.B.D. The Dark Lord and (?) Harry Potter

“Take it, and let's go to my office. I'll explain everything to you there.” Harry nodded, took the prophecy and followed the woman. Diana motioned the boy to an armchair when they got there while she sat down on the other one. Between them was a coffee table with a plate of cookies and two teas. “Help yourself.” Harry sat back comfortably, the white sphere still in his hand, filled with the glowing mist. “We’ve been researching prophecies for over a hundred years and have concluded that it is impossible to clearly and precisely define the future. Imagine a road network. You are at some point on one of these roads. Behind you, there is your past, and ahead of you, there is your future. The road splits into a huge but finite number of paths. These are your choices and decisions, so you must choose one of them to go forward. Of course, the way of life branches off all the time, and you have to make choices every now and then.

On top of that, there are paths of other people's choices that are tied to yours. It so happens that many roads lead to one place. Statistically, if you have more than a twenty percent chance of getting to that place, then the prophecy is made.

“How can I find out what my prophecy is about?’ Harry asked, trying to shake the ball.

“You have to break it. But wait a bit longer. Do you know what a self-fulfilling prophecy is?”

"A prophecy ..." he thought for a moment, having no idea. “Which somehow fulfils itself?” He finished rather awkwardly.

Diana smiled understandingly.

"Suppose someone makes a prophecy that the branch of Gringotts Bank on Diagon Alley will collapse any time soon. Do you know what the chances are right now?”

Harry shook his head.

“Two years ago, it was half a percent. Now, with Voldemort's return, the risk has increased to three percent. There is a possibility that, despite all security measures, he will destroy the building, take control of the bank, or some other random event will occur. And tell me, what will people do when they hear the prophecy that the bank will collapse?”

“They start withdrawing money?”

"Yes. And suppose some customers will start to transfer their money to the banks abroad or just withdraw it to keep it in their houses. In that case, others will start following the crowd, and the bank will have no money for trading.

"And then it will fall, and the prophecy will come true," finished Harry.

"Yes, Harry. The same is the case with Oedipus. If Laius hadn’t heard the prophecy that he was to die at the hand of his son, who would later marry his own mother, he would not have had him killed and perhaps would have lived longer himself.”

"But maybe he would have slipped on a banana peel accidentally thrown by Oedipus, fell down the stairs, smashed his head and couldn’t be saved," Harry pointed out.

“Yes, but it would be unlikely that Oedipus would fall in love and marry his own mother, knowing of their kinship, living with her all his life. Usually, horoscopes and predictions are very vague and only become obvious after the fact.”

“Well, but what about my prophecy?”

“Go ahead, smash it.”

Harry threw the ball on the ground, and it shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. The mist that was inside formed into the shape of a woman, which, to his surprise, Harry immediately recognised. It was the divination teacher Professor Trelawney. She spoke in a voice similar to what Harry had heard the year before, the day Wormtail escaped.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies.

Hearing these words, Harry paled.

"What... What does that mean?" He asked very softly.

"It means a boy born in July of that year is likely to get heavily involved in the fight against the Dark Lord."

"Then I must kill or die," he muttered to himself.

"Harry!” Diana exclaimed to get his attention. “Absolutely not! Haven't I spent the last fifteen minutes explaining the nature of the prophecy to you? Nothing is for sure. Before Voldemort heard the prophecy, there was a twenty percent chance it might happen. You weren't the only child, it might have concerned. Voldemort made a choice. Let's say he did what Laius did. He might not have attacked your home if he hadn't heard the prophecy. The woman looked at the teenager, whose face turned the colour of the wall. "Harry, listen to me. You will be one of the most powerful wizards when you grow up. You were born with tremendous magical potential. Perhaps, when your power reaches maturity, it will be equal to Dumbledore or Voldemort's. Suppose neither you nor Voldemort knows the prophecy. He is trying to take over Britain, killing everyone, your friends, and your family. Would you run away from the country? Or instead, you would be trying to fight him?

"Of course, I would fight him," he growled.

“So, you see, the prophecy doesn't change anything, and it shows just one of the many possibilities. But it doesn't have to turn out to be true.”

“But it might.”

“It might”, Diana repeated after him. “I heard you aren’t very good at Potions. Let's say you accidentally made poison, which a house-elf will accidentally add to Voldemort's food which will kill Voldemort instantly. Will the prophecy come true?”

“On the one hand ... but it was the elf who gave him the poison ...”

"Yes, but the prophecy came true because it was thanks to your poison that Voldemort was defeated."

"So, it would be as if I accidentally threw a banana peel to make Voldemort slip and smash his head and die," Harry smiled slightly.

“You watch a little too many cartoons, but in theory, you are right.” Diana smiled back. “Just remember. The prophecy changes nothing at all. We are all fighting Voldemort. According to our statistics, you have a ten percent chance of killing him, and at the same time, he also has a ten percent chance of killing you. But there's the remaining eighty percent that shows that something else is more likely to happen. And as I said, in my opinion, you have more chances of defeating him than the average wizard. And at the same time, you have no better chance than any average Muggle-born wizard to die

"Yeah, sure," Harry said, though he wasn't convinced. “So, Voldemort knows the prophecy ...”

“As far as we know, only the first part of it. And, unfortunately, the Dark Lord wants to know the rest of it, so we are in the process of increasing security in the Ministry.”

Harry nodded.

“But since I broke it, he won't get it?”

“Unfortunately not. After twenty-four hours, the prophecy returns to its place. However, only you and Lord Voldemort can reach for it. So, it is more than certain that he will try to get in here or somehow make you bring it to him. Please keep this in mind and be careful.”

“Then who knows it, except us? Because someone must have been foretold, right?”

“Sibyl Trelawney predict it in front of Albus Dumbledore during her interview for the Divination teacher.”

"Does Dumbledore know about it?" Harry felt hot. "Of course, he knows ..." he muttered. This is where his particular interest in him resulted from. Dumbledore thought Harry was able to defeat Voldemort. But why wouldn’t he help him prepare better for it? The Headmaster certainly knew that additional training would not hurt.

At that moment, the door opened, and Ghost and a tall, dark-haired, handsome man entered the room. He reminded Harry of someone, but he had no idea who.

"Oliver, I'd like to introduce you to someone who will teach you. This is Riki, this is Riki, this is Oliver."

"Er ... hi," Harry said, holding out his hand, but the man didn't grasp it. Instead, his face twitched into anger, and he turned in an indignant voice to the Ghost:

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Forget it. I'm not signing up for this!”

Harry noticed Diana and Ghost exchanging glances as if they weren't surprised by the man's reaction.

“Riki, please.” Diana began.

“No, no, no... No more kids in the Department.”

“Hey, I'm not a kid.”

“How old is he?” The man nodded angrily at Harry, directing the question to Diana and Ghost, treating him as if he wasn't there.

“Fifteen,” the boy answered

“Really, you’re bringing a fifteen-year-old boy here?” Are you completely mad? After everything that happened? You should be ashamed of yourself.” The man's face was furious.

“Riki, you gave your word. He has to learn.” The woman raised her hand, trying to calm down the increasingly agitated man.

“But no one said anything about a kid. I don't want anything to do with it. Not again. Tommy and ...”

“Stop it.” Ghost's voice grew sharper. “It's a completely different situation, and you know it.”

“I don't give a shit that you think it's different. I'm not going to put a match into it. And you,” The man finally turned to Harry, “shouldn't get into that shit, no…” he didn’t finish because Ghost interrupted him.

“Yes, you will.” He hissed to him, his voice was thunderous. “You will help him learn to defend himself.”

"Fuck you. You can't make me. No matter who you think you are now!" The man snapped, turned on his heel and left the room, slamming the door behind him with all his might.

"Er ... what's going on? Who is Tommy?" Harry asked, very confused and a little offended by the man’s behaviour Harry.

“Nobody important. Unexplained conflicts from many years ago. Unfortunately, our friend hides a grudge like no one and is unable to work out his own problems.” Harry's expression made it clear that the Ghost's explanation didn't explain much to him. “In any case, these are old disputes, and it is not worth going back to it. I am so sorry for his behaviour. But… well, at the moment, he is the only one who can take the time and teach you something.”

"It's okay," said Harry, still deeply surprised by the situation.

“I think we can finish for today. I'll see you tomorrow at nine.”

“Yes, sure.”

HPHPHPHPHP

After Ghost and Diana were left alone, the man turned to his wife.

“Will you talk to him?”

“Yes, of course.” She nodded, looking sadly at her husband.

"How did the kid take the prophecy?"

“Relatively good, and he shouldn't bother himself with it too much. He seems to be tough enough. He has some shortcomings and a definite problem with concentration, but he's not a stupid boy.”

The man nodded and thought.

"His biggest problem is that Dumbledore and Voldemort believe the prophecy is literal and unambiguous."

"Poor kid," Diana sighed.

 TBC

To be continued...
Chapter 18: The Final by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank you guys so much for the reviews! They really make my day!
Also, I'd like to thank so much amazing Vivid Murk who beta read this chapter and reviewed it so soon after previous one!
And of course, Jasmin Kain - for persistently fighting with me to finish this story!

Wednesday, August 16th, 1995

As agreed, Harry showed up punctually at nine in the Department of Mysteries. He was curious if Riki, the man who was supposed to train him, would continue to protest or if Diana and Ghost had managed to convince him. Harry had been really excited about training, but after seeing the wizard's tantrum, his enthusiasm had decreased. Harry was fed up with adults who took their frustrations out on him. But he needed training, both for himself and for Sirius. He promised at last that he would do anything to catch Pettigrew.

He had had a gruelling football game the day before. Luckily, they won, which gave his team a chance to play in the final this coming Friday. After the match, he went home right away, giving up sitting in the park with the guys as usual. He had decided it was more important to finish painting the house. So far, everything had been going according to plan. The day before, Harry managed to finish putting the first coat of white paint in the living room and kitchen. Tobias didn't come home until after midnight. The man mumbled something Harry didn't completely understand and went to bed. The teen decided that he had done enough that day, and it was time for him to go to bed as well.

Despite his exhaustion, he did not fall asleep until morning. The prophecy he heard the previous day niggled him. He was aware that Diana was right—theoretically, it didn't change anything. He already knew he was Voldemort's target. But Harry was still terrified of the responsibiliy. He was no match for Britain's most powerful dark wizard. If that Riki guy—who didn't even want to train him—couldn't make him a super wizard in two weeks, or teach Harry some trick that would enable him to defeat Voldemort, his luck would surely run out. The Griffindor wouldn't live long after that. And Harry really didn't want to die.

Even worse was that if he failed to defeat the Dark Wizard, he would be responsible for the terror of the entire wizarding world. The prophecy was clear - one had to die at the hand of the other.

On the other hand, Diana said that many prophecies did not come true. Maybe this one wouldn't work either, and Britain wouldn’t be destroyed by him. There was also Dumbledore. There was a reason Voldemort was afraid of him. Ghost mentioned that the Department of Mysteries also planned to take active steps to fight against him.

The teen doubted, however, that they could defeat Voldemort quickly enough.

Harry entered the training room, where Riki was already waiting for him. The man was nonchalantly leaning against the wall, crossing his arms. He was wearing a tight tank top that accentuated his muscular body, and his entire left arm was covered with tattoos. Harry had to admit, the man looked pretty impressive.

"Hi," he said uncertainly.

"I see you did come after all."

"It never crossed my mind to back out. Besides, I have no choice." Harry gave him a slight shrug. "I have to learn to fight."

"I know. So, tell me where you want to start. We have less than two weeks, and I do not promise miracles."

"Where do I want to start?" Harry came here, thinking that the man would already have a plan. After a moment of consideration, he added: "I want to be able to defend myself against Death Eaters, so I want to learn the most effective defence spells and… I also want to fight them as well."

Riki nodded. Harry was a little surprised by his behaviour. Given yesterday's argument, he was convinced that the man would be abrupt and rude towards him, treating him as mean as Snape did in Potions. For now, however, his attitude seemed relatively neutral.

"So I understand that you are completely not interested in controlled duels based on fair play?"

"Er ... No. I mean, yes, a bit, of course, but you yourself said that we don't have time for that."

"No, we don't. I heard you go back to school, and you won't be able to come here often."

"You mean it's possible for me to show up here sometimes during the term?"

Riki shrugged.

"Only if you can find a way for no one to notice you're gone. You go to Hogwarts, right?" When Harry nodded, he continued: "The Portkey will work as soon as you leave the school grounds. Technically speaking, you could also activate it in the Hogwarts area, but if you use it within the protective barriers, you will breach them, and the person responsible for them, i.e., at least the Headmaster, will immediately find out about it. So, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Harry was surprised at the news. Learning to defend himself during the school year immediately cheered him up. Mostly because he had no idea what kind of defence teacher the Headmaster would come up with this time. Anyway, even if Dumbledore would hire someone competent this year by chance, additional training still wouldn't be a waste of time. But of course, he wasn't counting on much for a new DADA teacher.

"So, let's start with checking your shortcomings and your speed. I have a funny physical fitness test for you. Of course, funny to me." The man laughed. "And we'll see how powerful your spells are." Harry nodded again. "Before we begin, however, I have a few conditions."

"Conditions? What do you want?" Harry asked sharply. He thought everything was already settled.

"First of all, you are not allowed to wander in the Ministry alone, and I don't want to see you in the Department of Secrets research section. Secondly, you will avoid any interactions with The Unspeakables." Riki stood upright. "You don't approach them. If they want to start a conversation, you put them off and walk away. Except for me, Diana, and Ghost, of course."

"What?" Harry asked. "Why?"

Riki smiled nonchalantly.

"It's just my whim."

"What if I don't agree?" He wasn't thrilled about it, and not talking to anyone seemed stupid and unfounded to him. Plus, Harry actually felt very tempted to wander around the Department and find out its secrets.

"Then you will have to look for a new teacher. Good luck with that."

Harry sighed. He didn't have a choice.

"Okay," he said, slightly sulky. "But only because I really need to learn to fight."

Riki smirked.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

After a few hours, Harry was exhausted. Riki didn't go easy on him. He checked what he knew for the first hour, which was the simplest part. Then they went on to practice casting spells. Every now and then, mannequins appeared in various places in the room, and he was supposed to hit them with a spell as quickly as possible. However, the problem was that along with the mannequins he was supposed to aim at, “civilians” appeared every now and then that he should never cast spells at, and if he hesitated too long, the aggressors attacked him or the civilians.

After the exercise was over, his statistics didn't look promising. Within two hours, he killed nearly one hundred and fifty civilians, two hundred Death Eaters, and himself thirty-eight times.

The next skill Riki wanted to practice with him—it was that funny test—was dodging. The man was casting spells at him, and he had to avoid them without even having a wand. Fortunately, the spells didn't cause him any pain. When Harry was hit, a bell hanging on the wall rang.

At one point during the exercise, Ghost entered the room. When Riki noticed him, he immediately stopped the practice.

"How is it going?"

"Better than I thought it would," Riki said without enthusiasm.

Ghost nodded.

"Okay, you can finish for today."

Riki nodded, tossed Harry the wand he had taken from him before the last exercise, said goodbye to him and hurried out of the room, ignoring the older man. Harry raised his eyebrows at the behaviour. Apparently, Riki was still angry with Ghost for this training, but at least his anger didn't extend to Harry.

"Please, follow me, Oliver. I would like to talk with you, and I think you will be interested." Ghost smiled mysteriously.

Harry followed him into the office. They sat down on either side of the desk, and like the day before, Ghost offered him tea and biscuits.

"How is it working with Riki?"

"Fine. After yesterday's argument, I thought it would be worse, but it's really okay."

"I'm glad. If you have any problems with him, please don't hesitate to contact me right away." Harry nodded and took a sip of his tea. Ghost looked at him and tapped his fingers on the desk. "You know, you remind me of your mother."

"Yes, I know. I have Lily's eyes. Everyone always tells me that."

"Lily?" Ghost looked mystified. "Oh, no, you misunderstood me. I meant Eileen."

"Eileen?" Harry thought of Lily instinctively. Only now did he notice it. "Did you know my biological mother?

"Yes, she has been working with us for a while..." He paused for a moment. "I think it was around the time when she was pregnant with you. A truly wonderful, brave woman, very intelligent—also a genius in the field of potions."

Harry smiled slightly. Even though he didn't know her, he felt really pleased to hear someone talking well about her. Until now, all he had heard about her were Tobias' rude comments.

"It was after her, Snape must have inherited his potions' talent. My brother that is. What did she do?"

"Your mom was doing research. Unfortunately, she died before giving us the results of her work, and we couldn't get her notes back." It was then that Harry realized he didn't even know the cause of her death, and he decided to ask Tobias about it later. "By the way, maybe you know where the documentation from her research can be found? We talked to your father and brother, but they don't know anything about it." Ghost smiled kindly at him.

"No, I'm sorry. It wasn't until a month ago that I found out that I was adopted."

"I see…" The man tapped his fingers on the desk again.

"How did you know the Potters weren't my biological parents? Dumbledore told me that this information was secret and the documents about it are very secure." Even though Harry was angry with the Headmaster, he did not suspect that the man might have made a mistake with such an important matter. He felt a cold shudder at the thought of what would have happened if his true parentage had indeed been leaked to the public.

"As I said, I knew about your mother's pregnancy, and she also told me about her plans to give the baby to Lily Potter. Of course, she had entrusted this to me in secret." Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "We really knew each other well and got along. But don't you worry. I doubt anyone else knows about this. Now back on topic… Haven't you seen anything in your father's house that she left behind that looked like documents or could hide them?"

Harry shrugged.

"Like what?"

"I don't know, think." Harry heard a slight irritation in his voice. But maybe it was just his imagination because his tone was as polite as ever a moment later. "Maybe some book, or a notebook with notes? Maybe something is hidden in a cupboard, a chest or a safe hidden in the wall?"

"No, there’s nothing like that in my house, and we don't have any books at home. Anyway, as far as I know, my mother moved out from my father’s before I was born. And they probably weren't on good terms when they split up, so if she left something, he probably got rid of it."

"Where was your mother before she died?"

"Dunno." He shrugged again. "She rather avoided contact with my father and her second son."

Harry wasn't entirely comfortable. The conversation was more like an interrogation than a friendly chat about the memories of his mother.

"Yes, they told us the same..." Ghost muttered under his breath. "So you know nothing at all?"

"No, I told you, I didn't know I was adopted at all. In fact, I don't even know what my mother looked like." Harry took a deep breath. "What was she working on? Something important?"

"No, nothing important, but you know... It would be a pity if any of the Department's work was wasted. Well, apparently, there's nothing we can do about it. But if you find anything, anything that could belong to her, let me know. I'm not tiring you anymore today. You can go home and rest. I'll see you tomorrow at the same time."

Harry nodded and left the office. He had a strange feeling about this conversation. And it was only as he neared his apparition point that he remembered the basement and Eileen's trunk. How could he have completely forgotten about it? He turned and looked again at Ghost's office, but the corridor was empty. He shook his head. Should he mention it to the man? There was something wrong. At first, Nott did not see the basement door, so they concluded that his mother had cast a spell to hide it. Ghost said he had questioned Tobias, and Tobias hadn't told him anything about the basement either. Maybe there was some kind of discretion spell or something on it. It seemed that Ghost also had no idea about the trunk. It appeared that Eileen had made a great effort not to let anyone else find out about it. And her spells worked so well they fooled even the Unspeakables from the Department of Mysteries.

Harry was determined to uncover the secret of his mother's trunk.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

"Harry! Harry!" He heard Tobias calling him as soon as the man returned from work. "Are you here? At home, that is, because you're not here in the kitchen." The man chuckled at his own joke.

 Harry checked the time. It was already after eleven o'clock.

"I'm coming!" He got off the chair he was standing on to carefully paint the top of the wall, put down the brush, and headed toward the kitchen.

Tobias began to unpack the shopping bag.

"I brought ya' dinner," said the smug man, setting the paper-wrapped fish and chips in front of him. Harry tried a little, and it tasted as if the food had been bought a few hours ago. The breadcrumbs on the fish seemed slightly soggy, and the fries were cold and had gotten chewy. However, everything was still delicious. He thought it was very nice of Tobias to buy him takeaway food.

"Thank you very much." Harry smiled sincerely. Tobias ruffled his hair, retrieved a glass from the cupboard, and sat across from the boy. The man took a juice and a bottle from a grocery bag and poured the juice into a glass. Then, he opened a vodka bottle, took a healthy sip and drank the juice. Personally, Harry thought Tobias had more than enough alcohol for today, but he did not voice his opinion. Moreover, he thought it best to get out of here as soon as possible before Tobias got angry about anything.

"You know, I'll go clean up after painting and lie down because I'm getting sleepy," he said, standing up.

"Where are you going? Sit down and talk for a bit with your father. You'll finish painting tomorrow anyway. No point in cleaning up now."

Harry nodded and reluctantly sat back down.

"D'ya wanna try?" the man asked, raising the vodka bottle. Harry refused, surprised. "Good, you're too young for that. I was just joking, and I wouldn't give it to you anyway."

"I can see that you are in a good mood today. Has something happened?"

"I'm always in a good mood unless someone fucks it up. But that's right, we finished the building today, and the boss gave us a bonus. I'll have money for your school supplies."

"Oh, for me?" Harry said, blushing. "Thanks, you don't have to."

Tobias gave him an odd look.

"What d'ya mean I don't have to? Where else are ya gonna get it from?"

"Er... I dunno." He wasn't going to tell Tobias about his vault in Gringotts. All in all, he needed some security in the future. Of course, if the man had some serious financial problems, he would help him. But on his own terms.

"Then start using your brain more often because you won’t end well otherwise. Well, anyway, Noah will drive you to London in the morning on August 31st. You'll check into some cheap hostel close to the train station. I'll give you money for books and accommodation. D'ya have clothes, school uniform?" Harry nodded. "If you don't have something, find a second-hand store. You should find something there. And the next day in the morning you're gonna go to the train. Just don't be late. You're old enough not to fuck it up, right?

"Yeah, sure."

"Anyway, how are your football games going? Sam said he heard from his kid that you're one of the best on the field. Way to go, kid."

"Yeah, I'm actually doing quite good. Yesterday we had a last match before the final, and we won, so on Friday we're gonna play for the championship."

Tobias took another sip of alcohol.

"I'll come to see you play. You're gonna show everyone who's the best, no?" Harry agreed, nodding. "The manager, a rich bastard, is still talking about his son and how talented and intelligent he is. You'll show you're better than that kid, won't ya?"

"I'll try."

"So, if you win, we'll go to the pub for those burgers and the cinema, right?"

"Yeah," Harry smiled broadly. When his father was in a good mood, he was really okay. If only he had one more often ...

"You know what's on now? Mother dearest… I haven't been to the cinema for years." The man put his hand on his head.

"Er ... I don't know, but I can go and check it out tomorrow."

"Yeah, do that." The man got up to get money from his jeans pocket. He swayed but kept his balance. "Have a tenner and buy tickets for something. Just something normal, not some cheap romance for bints," the man said, his words getting more and more slurred. "Here," said, giving Harry money.

"Thanks. I'm glad we'll spend the evening together."

"Yeah, you're going back to school soon ... It's gonna be sad here without you." Hearing that, Harry felt happy, as his father obviously enjoyed spending time with him. Harry smiled, looking forward to Friday night.

They talked for a moment longer, then Harry wrapped up the leftover food, put it in the fridge and went upstairs to lie down. He was really excited about the evening he was going to spend with his father. Sure, Tobias was not a saint, he certainly wasn't the father of the year, but Harry's standard of living had gone up a lot compared to when he lived with the Dursleys. He had been here for less than two months and already played pool, ate pizza, and now he was even going to the cinema for the first time. The teen had his own room, renovated especially for him and a key to the house that he could enter whenever he wanted. Harry could also lie down on the couch and watch TV, as well as open the fridge, take whatever he wanted from it and eat it at any time of the day or night. Besides, he had friends, and no one in the neighbourhood avoided his eyes or shook his head as he passed. And most importantly, he did not stay locked in his cupboard, feeling that hunger would tear his insides apart.

Harry had no trouble falling asleep that night. However, a few hours later, he was awakened by a thud. Moments later, he heard Tobias vomit in the bathroom.

The teenager got up and went to the hall. He walked slowly to the bathroom door, which was open and saw the man half lying, half sitting on the tiles.

"Do you need help?" he asked.

"Why don't ya sleep? Get to bed," the man muttered.

"I woke up. Is everything alright?"

"Yes, I got a stomach bug or some other shit. Get to your room, so you don't sleep again until noon."

"Okay," nodded Harry. He returned to his bed, but he couldn't fall asleep anymore. He didn't know how long it was before the man stopped throwing up and went back to his bedroom.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Friday, August 18th, 1995

Friday finally arrived, Harry's long-awaited day. The teenager entered the training room of the Department of Mysteries. Riki was not there yet, so Harry decided to use spells on a dummy to warm up. Despite his exhaustion from painting the apartment late for another day in a row, the boy was in a great mood. He finally managed to finish the whole ground floor. Tobias was surprised at how great he was doing the job and even praised him.

Suddenly, someone grabbed Harry from behind, covered his mouth with a hand and pressed the wand to his neck. Harry tried to pull away, but his attacker held him so that he couldn't move even an inch. Harry froze.

"Who are you, and what have you done with the always sad, grumpy kid with an aura of angst around him?" The man took his hand away so he could respond.

"Hey, I'm not always sad or grumpy, let alone give any aura."

"Mm." Riki released him so Harry could turn around and face him. "What happened? Why are you so pleased today that you are even humming under your breath?

"I'm not humming," Harry blushed.

"Yes, it may not quite resemble any melody." The man winked at him.

"Not funny."

"For me very much. So, what happened?"

"Nothing special. I'm just in a good mood."

"Come on, tell me what makes teenagers happy. You have a date with a girl?" he said, teasing him. "Or did she give you a kiss?" Riki laughed out loud.

"Keep poking fun," Harry said but smiled slightly. Riki raised an eyebrow up. "Seriously, nothing happened. I just have football season finals tonight, and my father will take me to the cinema and burgers after that." He tried to hide the happiness in his voice and sound like he didn't care but failed.

"Seriously? You're a strange kid. Since when do teenagers want to spend Friday night with their parents?"

Harry shrugged.

"Anyway ... I've never been to the cinema, and today is the release of Die Hard: With a Vengeance."

"I have no idea what a cinema is or a Die Hard, but it must be something fascinating if you are so excited about it?"

"Er ... '' Actually, Harry didn't know what pleased him more: the fact that it was the first time he was going to the cinema (Dudley loved going there and never forgot to remind Harry that he had to sit in his cupboard while he gorged himself on popcorn and had a great time watching Disney cartoons or superhero movies) or that he was going there with Tobias, who obviously wanted to spend some time with him because otherwise, he wouldn't take him anywhere at all. Besides, the man even thought about giving him money for books and thought up a whole plan for Harry to get to London.

 "Oliver?"

"Hmm?" Harry looked at the man. "Oh right, sorry. The cinema is a Muggle building where you can watch films, such… stories shown in pictures with sound. And Die Hard is the film's title, that is, of this story."

"Doesn't sound very exciting." Riki dismissed his explanation. "And before we go to training, I have to tell you that it wasn't your finest moment today."

Harry frowned.

"When? What do you mean?"

"You were so absent that I approached you without any problems. You didn't even notice when I entered the room. You need to work on that a bit."

"Oh, okay."

"I'm serious. You are here because something is threatening you, and when you have your head in the clouds, you completely stop noticing what is going on around you." When Harry nodded again, the man continued: "Okay, let's start. I think we can work on power control today. You know Diffindo, the cutting spell, right?" Harry nodded once more. Riki waved his wand, and a robed mannequin appeared against the wall. They walked up to it, and the man added: "This mannequin is enchanted in such a way that its structure resembles that of a human. Depending on how strong the Diffindo you cast is, it will cut it that much. I mean, if you cast the spell lightly, it will only cut the clothes, a little harder the skin, and if you try really hard and use full power, maybe even muscles and internal tissues.”

"Can I cut a man in half with it?"

"Not a chance. For that, you would have to use a stronger spell, like Absissus. Perhaps Voldemort or Dumbledore would be able to do this with Diffindo.” Riki gave him a slight shrug. “In your case, if you were under the influence of great emotions, such as fear or anger, all you could do was maybe cut off a finger. As you know, emotions make it easier for us to access the layers of magic, and in some way, they can increase our power. In any case, Diffindo is one of the better spells for practising awareness of how much power we use while casting a spell, as it is quite simple and does not work on a binary basis, such as Alohomora, which will either open something or not. Are you following?"

"Yeah."

"So, let's begin."

HPHPHPHPHP

Harry was very pleased with his day with Riki at the Department of Mysteries. The man had a lot of knowledge and excellently explained everything, especially more complex issues. Besides, he was nicely muscled. Maybe if Harry started exercising systematically, he could also look like him?

It had become easier and easier for Harry to control the power of Diffindo. They had also begun to learn the shield spell, and of course, they trained in agility and speed as they had every day this week. Riki said that wizards often forget to work on their own bodies, which might give Harry an advantage.

After returning from the Department, Harry took a quick shower, rested a bit, thenwent to get Oasis. Tobias hasn't come back from work yet, but the game didn't start until an hour and a half later. However, the players had to warm up earlier, so he would meet his father there.

As they walked through the park, they noticed Nott walking toward them.

"Hi, Nott," Harry greeted, grinning widely.

"Potter, Oasis." Theo nodded.

"What a greeting," Oasis laughed. "Are you from the royal family, or what? What's up?"

"Alright, thanks. And no, I'm not of the royal family," the Slytherin replied, not looking offended by the comment at all. He turned to Harry: "Potter, Severus is inviting you for dinner and Monopoly tonight. Just pretend you think it's my idea."

"Oh, that's nice of him, I mean of you, thanks," Harry said, surprised. "But there's a football final today, I think I mentioned it earlier. Afterwards, my father is taking me out for burgers and the cinema to see Die Hard." Harry grinned.

"Or not…" Oasis muttered.

"What d'ya mean?" Harry looked at his friend, frowning.

"About that...jeez, Shortie...I think you should tell Nott that maybe you pop in after all. Coz...you know..."

"No, actually, I don't."

"Seriously? You've been jumping for joy this whole week just because your old man told you he'd take you to the pub and the cinema after the game. But you know what? Truth is, the fuck he's gonna take you. He's been wandering drunk as a skunk for a week now."

"I talked with him. He promised he would come."

"I bet he doesn't even remember saying anything."

"Stop it," Harry growled. "You're just jealous, and that's why you're saying that."

Nott watched this exchange in silence.

"Don't be ridiculous. I didn't even intend to invite my old ones because why would I want them to embarrass me? I have a date on Friday. I'll take Mary to a restaurant, and we're gonna celebrate the victory, or she will console poor me when we lose. I win in both cases," said Oasis, proud of another of his grand plans.

"Listen, think what you want. I know I'm gonna have a great evening with my father. I even have cinema tickets. And tomorrow, you'll be begging me to tell you what the third part of Die Hard is about.”

"Face the truth, Shortie. You'll just get your hopes up. And he'll fuck it up - like everything else. And you will be crying about it for the next week."

"In an hour, you'll see that you're totally wrong. And please, don't spoil it for me." Then he turned to the Slytherin: "Sorry, Nott, we have to go, or we'll be late. But maybe we will meet tomorrow? We'll probably be sitting at the sandbox in the evening."

"Yeah, sure. And good luck. I'll keep my fingers crossed for winning," Theo said, walking away with a slightly concerned expression on his face.

 

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They won three to one. Harry scored two goals. Now he was standing at the entrance to the hall, looking around. The boy watched as friends and family approached the players, congratulating them. He hadn't seen Tobias anywhere, before, during, or after the game. Harry really was an idiot for believing the man would come and see him play. And he made an even bigger moron of himself in front of Oasis, arguing with him and showing how much he cared about the evening. He sighed.

"Hey, Shortie," Harry turned, hearing Oasis' voice. "Wanna come uptown with me and Mary? Come on, we'll celebrate the win together."

"No, thanks. It's your date, and I won't disturb you," the Gryffindor said.

"It's cool. I’ll take her somewhere romantic tomorrow. Come with us, mate. You're the MVP, and we'll drink to it."

Harry did not need the company so badly that he'd interrupt his friend’s one-on-one meeting with a girl. But he appreciated that Oasis hadn't thrown it in his face that he had been right. Besides, he didn't even have the money to go to any bar or restaurant.

"No, really, but thanks for asking. I'm actually quite tired because I got up really early. I think I'll go home to sleep."

Oasis looked at him, as if to make sure his decision was final.

"Okay, But take care, yeah? See you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, sure". Harry tried to smile and headed towards the exit. He tried to convince himself of how insignificant this evening was. Voldemort, Pettigrew, and the fact that Sirius was still wanted by the Ministry were the real problems, not that Tobias completely ignored him. Anyway, he might as well go to the cinema by himself. He had a ticket. Even two of them.

Suddenly he heard someone calling him.

 

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Severus was finishing a chapter of a book by Kenzaburō Ōe, last year's Nobel Prize winner in literature. When he heard the sound of the door opening, he got up and headed towards the kitchen to start preparing dinner - spaghetti he had on his table at least once a week. Theodore loved it, and Severus himself didn't really mind it, except that maybe they ate it too often. But at least it was quick, and he didn't have to bother to think of anything more creative. He sent Theodore to the shop because he was missing a few ingredients and also gave him the idea to invite Potter. The Slytherin was supposed to see if the kid was hanging around the park with his gang, and if not, then check out Spinner's End and offer Gryffindor an evening of board games.

After all the events that made Severus spend quite a lot of time with Potter, he couldn't say that the boy's company was particularly bothersome. In fact, he did not mind having the kid in his house, and not only for the feeling of fulfilled duty. On the contrary, the boy was tolerable and even pleasant to be around. The boy usually only became mouthy when he felt threatened or attacked. And not even always, because sometimes he was just panicking too much to talk back.

Moreover, had Tobias consented, for which there was little chance, he would have been willing to take him in permanently. He had a spare room in which Potter had already stayed a couple of nights. Providing his basic needs such as food, clothes, or school supplies would not have been a bigger problem. At least the boy would have stable conditions, which at his age was crucial.

Severus hoped that Potter would show up tonight because he wanted to make sure the kid was okay. The Potions Master closed his eyes, remembering the atrocities inflicted on the little child he had seen in Vernon's mind. He was grateful to the fates that the boy was functioning really well considering all the traumas he had endured.

"Would you like tea?" Severus asked Theo, putting on the kettle. Of course, he could wave his wand, and the drink would prepare itself, but the man believed that relying on magic for every little thing made wizards too lazy.

"Yes, please," Theodore replied, then began to unpack the shopping bag.

"Did you talk to Potter?

"Yes."

"And?" Sometimes it was so hard to communicate with teenagers. He looked closely at his Slytherin. Half an hour ago, when he was leaving for the store, he had been in a much better mood.

"Potter said he already had plans. He plays this Muggle sport, and today they had the final match. His father, that is, yours and his, promised him to come and watch him play. And then he was going to take Potter somewhere uptown."

Severus raised his eyebrows.

"Is that why your expression is so pained? Do you miss Potter's company?"

"No." The boy looked at Severus. "It doesn't matter."

"Tell me what's bothering you." The man himself didn't believe the words he said next: "Did he say something to you that ahh...offended you?" As he had already turned his back on Theodore, he could allow himself to roll his eyes.

"No. Just please don't mock me because what I'm going to say is very... Hufflepuffy."

"I promise," Severus replied with exaggerated seriousness. "I will not see it as a permanent blemish in the honour of your Slytheriny self."

Theodore sighed and leaned against the table.

"You said Potter only recently found out he had a father." Severus nodded. Immediately after Theodore arrived at Cokeworth, he had a conversation with him about his relationship with Potter. There was no point in hiding it because the Potions Master knew that sooner or later, it would come out anyway. Unless he locked Nott at home, which of course, he couldn't do. Severus had bound the boy, of course, to secrecy. "I think ..." Theo hesitated. "That Potter is looking at this man through rose-coloured glasses. And he really wants to please him and spend time with him. The problem is, I don't think he's worth it. No offence, of course." Severus nodded again. "The point is, Potter cares a lot more about this relationship than his father does." And I can actually understand it, but Potter is blind, and he doesn't quite see how toxic this man is and how it affects him."

"And what made you think about it today?" Severus obviously shared the boy's opinion, but he didn't feel he should inform him about it.

"The fact that I met Potter, who was ecstatic his father had promised to come to the match—which seems to be very important to Potter—and then take him somewhere. Only when I went to the store later, I met his… and your father." Theodore looked apologetically at the teacher. "He was in terrible shape. He tripped in front of the shop, and some other man helped him get up. After that, they headed towards Potter's house. So, I doubt he's going to do what he promised."

Severus sighed and sat down at the table, setting the tea in front of Theodore.

"And what am I supposed to do with it?"

"I don't know. I just feel a little sorry for Potter. And you care about gaining Potter's trust, don't you? I mean, you want him to know he can count on you?"

After these words, there was a silence that was broken by Severus.

"Alright, get up. We'll eat out uptown."

"And will we happen to see a Muggle game on the way to the restaurant?" Theo asked, focusing on the glass in his hand, smiling slightly.

"Perhaps. But I warn you, if you mention it to anyone, you will be cleaning the cauldrons for a month."

The teenager laughed.

"You know, these cauldron cleaning threats are slowly getting boring."

"Boring? Then I will sit you at the same desk with Longbottom instead, for the whole school year."

"Oh no! Not that! In this case, I prefer your good old cauldrons."

 

Please, review ;) 

To be continued...
Chapter 19: Marks by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I would like to thank amazing Vivid Murk and Jasmin Kain, who made this chapter readable!

"You played well," Nott said as he walked over to Harry.

"Thanks?" he replied slowly, surprised by the wizard’s appearance. "What are you doing here?"

"We were missing a third person for Monopoly, so figured we'd come over to see how you were doing in this Muggle sport instead. It was actually Professor Snape's idea." Nott smiled innocently at the man, who threw him a basilisk gaze.

"Well done, Potter. You're doing well on the field," said Severus, turning his attention back to Harry.

"Thanks." Harry smiled at the man.

"Come on, we're taking you to dinner."

"I don't have any money with me."

"Cut it up. I'm paying."

"But..."

"Don't even start. We're skipping the part of the conversation where you refuse because you're not used to taking anything. Let's just go."

Harry nodded uncertainly.

Snape took them for a pizza at an Italian restaurant in the city centre. He also let them order a Coke, and of course, did not go without commenting on how unhealthy and worthless the drink was. The man himself chose lemon-ginger tea.

"Help yourself," he nodded toward the food as the waitress laid a hot pizza on the table. He also put a piece on his plate himself. "How is it going with Tobias?" Severus asked.

Harry shrugged.

"Fine." When the man raised an eyebrow, encouraging him to continue, Harry added: "Well, we haven't argued lately. It's alright."

"Mmm, I'm glad that you had five whole days of relative peace. And what are your plans for the rest of the evening?"

"Well, I was going to go to the cinema, and I already have a ticket…." Potter hesitated. "Actually, I have two. One is free. I can give it away".

"How about the cinema, Theo? You've never been there, have you?"

"No, I haven’t, and I'd love to go." Severus knew very well that one of his favourite Slytherins was interested in Muggle culture and wouldn't pass on such an offer.

"Then it's decided, we'll buy one more ticket and go. What time does the film start?"

"At eight."

"Then, can we, on the way back, walk Potter home and go into the forest to pick up the bark of Wiggen's tree?" Theo asked. "It's a full moon in three days, and today is a perfect day."

"If you want to," Severus replied. He had no plans for the next day, so there was no reason not to sleep a little longer than usual. "I understand that you want to continue the experiment."

"What experiment?" Harry interjected, taking a long sip of his Coke. Severus winced as he imagined the acids in it eroding the kid's teeth enamel. However, he did not comment on it again. After all, they were supposed to celebrate the match Potter won.

"The one you were supposed to describe in your essay."

"Oh, yeah," the boy muttered, suddenly very interested in his slice of pizza. Severus narrowed his eyes.

"And, in your essay, did you agree with the thesis that plants harvested in the fourth quarter of the year are more potent in poisons; however, in healing potions, they are practically useless?"

Harry looked at Nott, who widened his eyes and began to shake his head, clearly gesturing for him.

"Er...No?" He replied hesitantly.

"Why not?"

"Because... Is it about another quarter?" As soon as the words fell out of Harry's mouth, Theo did a facepalm.

"No, because the essay is not about that. There isn't even such a theory. I just made it up." Severus said calmly, rolling his eyes. It was so like Potter, to leave Potions homework until the last minute.

"Oh ... So ... I think we have a problem ... Are you sure there's no theory like that?" Harry smiled apologetically.

Severus noticed that when the boy knew he deserved to be told off, he usually became passive-aggressive, at least towards him. He would raise his chin arrogantly and begin to talk back, grunt something under his breath, or less often, he would be visibly frightened, and cringe. The fact that the boy was making a joke at this point was decisive proof that there was a positive change in their relationship. However, Severus did not miss that the kid inadvertently glanced at the front door, clenching his hands on the edge of the table. Every muscle in the boy's body was tense. Evidently, even if unknowingly, he was prepared to flee. Potter just waited for his reaction.

Severus' expression softened.

"Yes, there is definitely no theory like that. So, what's your suggestion to resolve this problem, hmm?"

"I promise that I'll do nothing else but write essays this week?"

"It's almost the end of August, so I guess you won't have a choice. But I'd like you to try not to lie to me again," the Potions Master said, ensuring his voice didn't show any trace of irritation.

Potter relaxed a little. Contrary to what Severus had thought about Potter for the past four years, his tendency to lie was not at all the result of mythomania or wanting to brag. The boy didn't invent nonsenses out of pure spite or to get others in trouble. Potter just lied to the authorities because he was simply terrified of the consequences. "Come to Flukey Road tomorrow, and you will write them at mine."

"Thanks, but I can handle it myself." The boy rejected his offer without hesitation.

"Potter, I'll see you at my place tomorrow. You can't leave everything to the last moment. And knowing you, just like the previous two months, you won't do it tomorrow either, because you'll find something more interesting to do. And at least at mine, you will have peace, quiet and books that you can use to write the essay at some acceptable level.”

Harry shrugged.

"What difference does it make? I always get poor or dreadful anyway."

"If you leave everything for the last minute and then unreadably scrawl or confuse the basics, it's no wonder," Severus snapped.

"I don't always leave everything for the last moment. Sometimes I just can't write it earlier, and sometimes it's not even up to me.”

"If you mean your aunt and uncle who locked up your school supplies..." Severus saw in the Dursley's mind that he chained and padlocked Potter's trunk, books and wand so that the boy did not actually have access to them. “That would be an explanation, if you were spending your entire summers with them. But as far as I know, you hadn't been, so it's a really lame excuse. Come tomorrow, I will check the essay for you right away and, if necessary, tell you what you need to improve.”

"I'd rather not."

Merlin, why was this kid so stubborn? Why did he always have to put his patience to the test?

"I see. It's your choice," Severus decided to approach him from a different angle. "But if your level of work is below satisfactory, you'll earn a detention with Filch."

"Why on earth? Nobody gets detention for poor homework."

Nott snorted.

"Professor Snape has all Slytherins rewrite essays that he thinks are of an inappropriate level."

"But why?" Potter raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"I don't know if you are aware of it, but teachers ask students to write essays to get them to learn something, not because checking homework is their hobby. Believe me, we'd find more interesting things to do in our free time. Also, since I introduced this rule, the Slytherins have improved their Potions' final grades by twenty percent. Nobody wants to write the same thing twice."

"But I'm not a Slytherin, and to be honest, I don't see myself being treated as one of them," the boy said, clearly terrified at the prospect of more study.

"Then I advise you to extend your field of view, Mr. Potter. I'm going to make sure your grades improve, and if that means detention, I have no problem giving you one."

"I think I'm going to pass." Severus looked at him pityingly, and Potter sank back against the chair, finally realising that he would not win anyway. "Okay, but what do you care about my marks? They are my marks."

"Potter, I just care." The man didn't seem entirely comfortable saying it out loud. "I care about your marks as much as I care about marks of every Slytherin of mine. I don't know, maybe you hadn't realized it yet, but you go to school to learn, not to kill basilisks, free unjustly convicted murderers, or save philosopher’s stones. You need to pass NEWTs to get a good job and have any prospects for the future."

"What future?" Potter shrugged. "Let's face it. There is no future for me. Voldemort will see to it." As soon as he uttered the last sentence, he put his hand to his mouth, apparently surprised himself that he had shared his fear with his companions.

It stopped Severus a bit. Did the boy really think he would not survive the upcoming war? He himself knew only part of the prophecy, and Dumbledore assured him that Potter didn't even know it existed.

"What are you talking about, you idiotic child?"

"I'm just saying aloud what we both know. I have no chance against him, and he won't rest until he kills me, and it will happen sooner or later. So please don't tell me that I have any future."

Severus looked at Theodore. The Slytherin stared at Potter, uncertainty rising in his eyes.

"Potter, I promise you that I will do everything in my power to help you survive this war. And I also promise you that if you do any foolishness just because you think your life doesn't matter because the Dark Lord will kill you anyway, you will suffer. I will turn your life into hell, and compared to me, the Dark Lord will only seem like a nice old grandfather. Do you understand?" The teen looked at him intensely, as if trying to see if he was telling the truth or just saying empty words of consolation. "We'll beat him. He's not indestructible," Severus added confidently, though he doubted it himself. "And you, Potter, have a future, and I'll take care of it. Just work on it to make it as good as possible."

"Okay," he replied softly, looking down. Severus wasn't convinced Potter believed him.

"Now get on with your food because you're nibbling again."

 

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As planned, after dinner they went to the cinema (Harry was delighted - every detail of the movie was clearly visible on such a huge screen, and in addition, the sound was coming from all sides), and then went with Snape and Nott to the forest to look for the bark that Theo had mentioned.

As midnight approached, they escorted him home. Before opening the door, he turned and looked at the retreating silhouettes of the two Slytherins. As ridiculous as it might sound, he'd rather go back to Flukey Road with them.

Already from the entrance, he heard loud conversations and laughter. Apparently, Tobias had visitors. Harry headed for the kitchen, which was all covered in cigarette smoke. Tobias was sitting at the table with his friends, playing cards.

"Hello," the boy grunted, marking his presence.

"Harry!" The man exclaimed. "Look at the time! Where are you wandering around at night?!"

"I was at the final match. You said you'd come…" the teen said. Even though he had a nice time in the company of Theo and Snape, he still felt disappointed that Tobias had ignored him and apparently chose the company of colleagues and alcohol.

"Oh, that's today?"

"No. I've just got back from tomorrow's game." Harry couldn't help but make an ironic remark that Tobias didn’t even notice.

"It slipped my mind. But at least you won?"

"Yes, I scored two goals."

"My boy!" The man exclaimed and turned to the other men sitting at the table: "See, Sam, what kind of kid I have? He rocks next to that pompous asshole Brown's whelp."

Harry's father's friends laughed loudly.

"If he's so good, let him play with us. Can you play poker?" One of them asked.

"A bit, but I'd actually rather go to bed now," Harry said, completely reluctant to sit with them. Besides, he was exhausted, and he had promised Snape that he would come over to write these essays the next day and he would like to finally get some sleep. Maybe Snape was right, and Harry would actually write them faster there. Plus, the man said he had books he could use. Not to mention that Snape's house seemed so cosy compared to this house, where the smell of cigarettes and alcohol was always in the air. In addition, here, he had to deal with Tobias' changing moods, which made the teenager feel constant tension.

"Oh, shut it, kid. Sit down." One of the men pulled him so that Harry sat down in the chair, and then the man put his hand on the boy's shoulder. There was an unpleasant smell of alcohol and cigarettes on the breath. “Why are you so shy?"

Harry shrugged.

Fortunately, after a while, the man left him alone, took the cards and began to deal.

After two hours, he finally managed to get out of the game and go to his room. But he couldn't sleep. He still could hear a loud conversation coming from downstairs. Someone broke some dishes. After a while, the men started arguing.

Harry really wanted them to go away, and he was a little jealous of Theo for having peace and quiet every day. On the other hand, Harry consoled himself. He was still in a privileged position compared to Nott. At least Tobias wasn't a Death Eater.

His father's friends left in the morning, and Harry fell into a short, restless sleep.

 

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Saturday, August 19th, 1995

When Harry came downstairs in the morning, he found Tobias sleeping on the couch. The kitchen looked like a hurricane had passed through it, and the worst part was that there was a huge red stain on the wall right next to the door frame leading to the living room. It looked like a glass or a bottle of wine had been thrown at it. Harry clenched his fists. The whole week he had been burning candles at both ends just to finish painting, and obviously, Tobias didn't give a damn about it.

"Harry, are you up yet?" He heard a man's husky voice from the living room. "Get your father some water, huh?"

Harry obediently poured water into the glass and handed it to the man.

"How are you?”

"Ill. Ya'know I'm not young anymore." Harry nodded, seeing no point in trying to make him realise again that it wasn't due to old age that he barely moved. "Take the money from my jacket and go to the store. I don't know... Maybe the beer will help me."

"But I don't have time. I have to go." Harry checked the time. He had fifteen minutes to get to Snape's on time.

"You can go out later."

"I can't. I don't want to be late."

"And where are you going so early?

"To a friend's house..." Harry lied.

"Nothing important then." Tobias waved his hand dismissively. "Hurry up with the shopping then. And I've run out of ciggies too. Buy two packages." Harry made a vague sound of frustration that Tobias completely ignored and ran to the store, cursing the man under his breath.

 

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When Harry returned home twenty minutes later, Tobias was taking a shower. He went into the living room to take the keys he had left there the day before and froze when he saw the man's leather belt lying on a coffee table. Next to it was a parchment with the Hogwarts emblem and an envelope addressed to Tobias. The parchment looked as if Tobias had crushed it in anger and then straightened it. Harry felt sick. He did not believe that his marks could be so bad as to make the man mad.

With trembling hands, he picked up the parchment. It was the list of subjects and marks he received at the end of the year. Harry looked through them. Of course, he couldn't compare them to all Outstandings, which Hermione must have gotten. Still, there were mostly Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations on the parchment. Only Potions, Astronomy, and History were below. Harry grinned when he saw the last subject. He got two hundred and forty percent and an Outstanding mark in DADA. On the back of the parchment were notes about him written by all the teachers. Funny, or perhaps more pathetic, was the fact that the first one was written by fake Moody.

Interestingly, the man was very flattering about Harry's skills. Apparently, the teachers' opinions had been prepared before the final of the Triwizard Tournament. The following note belonged to Flitwick. He could see that the professor liked him. He wished the Dursleys had shown him these letters.

Suddenly he heard the characteristic sound of creaking stairs. After a moment, he heard Tobias making his way toward the living room. When he saw Harry, his eyes narrowed.

"What the hell is that?" The man hissed in a tone that made Harry tremble.

"My marks," he replied, swallowing. He didn't know why Tobias seemed so furious. After all, his grades were quite good. He doubted Ron's or Neville's marks were any better.

"You call those fucking marks?" Tobias shouted, and Harry flinched. "Are you really that stupid? Or just lazy? I will fucking teach you!"

"I'm not ..." Harry shook his head and took a step back as Tobias walked over to the coffee table and picked up his black belt. Seeing that, Harry really got scared.

"They're not bad.” When the man shot him a furious look, Harry added quickly: "Tobias, please calm down. I promise they will be better this year," he said pleadingly, and his breathing quickened.

"Of course, they will. Take off your pants and lie down on the couch." Harry took another step back. He couldn’t believe this was really happening. "You'll see. You'll fucking learn a lesson; you'll remember once and for all."

"Tobias, please. Really, I promise." Harry was aware of how much he was grovelling in front of the man, even though he saw little chance that Tobias would change his mind. The man was too furious, and Harry had already found out that no arguments appealed to him when the man was like that. Still, he kept trying. "Look, I have the Outstanding in Defence, two hundred and forty percent, best in class," Harry stepped back even further so that he was already standing against the wall. Unfortunately for him, Tobias was blocking both the kitchen and yard doors, and Harry had no way to escape.

"I said something," Tobias growled and swung the belt with all his might, hitting Harry in his thigh. The boy inhaled deeply. It stung terribly. He cringed, pressing even farther into the corner. At this point, all of Riki's lessons seemed to be useless. He couldn't defend himself against an ordinary Muggle. "I'm counting to three."

"Tobias," Harry tried to talk Tobias over once more. "Dad, I'm sorry. I promise. Listen, in the next letter, you will see all Exceeds Expectations and Outstandings. I will be studying all the time. Give me a chance."

"One," Tobias said, trying to hit him again, but Harry was pressed into the corner in such a way that the belt hit the wall, losing all of its strength.

 This made Tobias even angrier.

"Dad, please, I'll impr ..." Harry couldn't finish because the man pulled him by his sweatshirt and threw him effortlessly onto the couch, then began to swing the belt without any mercy. At first, Harry gritted his teeth as he silently tried to endure the torture, trying not to give the man any satisfaction. After a while, however, the pain became unbearable, and the boy started screaming, begging Tobias to stop, promising everything came to his mind. Finally, he did not even have the strength to do so and only cried softly. Tobias was adamant. Harry didn't know how long the man beat him, and he didn't know how long it would have been if they hadn't heard the doorbell. The man hit him one last time.

"You are lucky." He growled, tossing the belt to the floor. "Stop blabbering, or you'll get it again," he said, then went to open the door.

As much as he would have liked to curl up in a ball, Harry had to get up. He didn't want anyone to find him in such a compromising situation. Harry's lower back, thighs, and buttocks were burning hot. He wiped his face with his sleeve and slowly rose from the couch. He shuddered as he looked down at the floor, where Tobias had left his thick belt, and he gave it a wide berth. He was sure the man had cut his skin in several places.

"Harry," Tobias reappeared in the room. "Some whelp is asking for you. Say you won't go out because you're cleaning. And after that, you will study,” he growled.

Harry slowly made his way towards the front door. Every step hurt him.

"Nott?" He said, slightly perplexed, wiping his nose with his sleeve, "What are you doing here?”

"What's wrong, Potter?" Nott asked, seeing his flushed face and swollen, glazed eyes. Harry felt absolutely humiliated by the condition Slytherin had found him in. He hoped Nott couldn't hear anything when he stood outside the door.

"Nothing. What d'ya want?" He repeated, a little less polite this time.

"Snape asks why you didn't come today as you promised."

"I didn't feel like it," he lied easily. "Besides, I didn't promise anything. I will write essays home." Nott raised his eyebrows in disbelief, and Harry looked away.

"Potter..."

"No. I'm not going to go to Snape's. Anything else? Coz I'm busy."

Theo opened his mouth to say something but closed it, changing his mind. Instead, he said:

"Are you going to go to this party tomorrow at the end of the Muggle football season? Chloe invited me."

Harry felt terrible. His whole backside burned him, and he knew that every step would hurt him when he bruised tomorrow, let alone sit. He turned uncertainly to see if Tobias was standing behind him. The boy also doubted the man would let him get out of the house anyway.

"I don't feel like it," he said shortly.

"Come on, Potter ..." Theo said almost pleadingly. "Just for a bit."

Harry hesitated; Nott rather avoided such parties.

"Why do you care so much about it?"

"It's about Chloe. I think, paradoxically, Snape will be more willing to let me go if you are there too."

"Yes, it does sound a little absurd." He shifted from foot to foot and flinched as the rough material of his pants slid over his sensitive skin.

"If you go, I could say I'll keep an eye on you, so you don't do anything stupid," he said, ignoring Harry's "hey". "And Snape also realises that being in a group with you and your friends will be safer than if I went alone."

"Well… there is something to it." Harry smiled slightly at the strange logic of Nott.

"Get rid of him and go home this instant!" Gryffindor flinched once more, hearing Tobias' voice suddenly coming from the kitchen.

Nott looked at him more closely.

"Are you sure everything is okay?" He paused, then added: "If you need, I can go get Professor Snape."

"No!" Harry said instantly, sharper than he intended. "Don't you even dare mention anything to him. Everything's fine."

"But…"

"Promise me you won't tell him anything, please."

"Potter, um ... Harry, listen ..."

Harry shook his head.

"Promise me. Prove me that I can really trust you," the Gryffindor said softly. He had to make sure Theo didn't say anything to Snape, which would only worsen his situation. What could a Potions Master do? Come and talk to Tobias? It would only make the man more furious, and he would take revenge on him later. Besides, he was terribly ashamed of the situation. He hoped Nott wouldn't blow it any further, and preferably he would forget about it.

"Harry, that's not fair." The Slytherin looked at him seriously.

"Please." There was desperation in Harry's voice.

"Okay,” he sighed. “I promise," Nott agreed, but the look on his face showed that he wasn't convinced at all.

Harry jumped when he heard the sound of the chair being pulled back and the quick footsteps of Tobias making his way towards the front door.

"Go now, Nott; maybe I'll see you tomorrow. At the pub."

Suddenly Harry felt a blow to the back of his head. Tobias didn't slap him hard, and it didn't even hurt him that much. The problem was that Nott witnessed the man's behaviour as he was still standing in the doorway.

"Didn't you hear? Get out of here," Tobias growled at Theo and slammed the door in his face. "And you, go clean the kitchen. Now!" He turned to Harry, who obeyed him without hesitating, not wanting to get hit again.

 

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Sunday, August 13th, 1995

Harry had spent the whole previous evening lying on his bed trying to write the Potions essay. He's already finished the entire essay on Divination. After he briefly summarised the acacia leaf fortune telling theory, he moved on to describing the prophecies he had "foretold". In short, he did not spare Tobias (described anonymously as "a tall, black-haired Muggle with a huge crooked nose"). This way, he tried to release his anger by describing the unluckiest day that could happen to anyone. The man ended up drenched in yellow paint, glue, all feathers from a ripped pillow and a broken nose.

Not really wanting to show himself to the man, Harry only came downstairs when the man called him for dinner. He asked Tobias if he could eat upstairs. His father agreed, and Harry, deciding to keep up the momentum, asked if he could go to the end-of-season party where all the team members would be. The boy also suggested that his presence was almost mandatory. Again, the man did not mind. Or, to be precise, he said that he could "go wherever he fuck wants to", so Harry decided to take this opportunity.

 

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There was a whole team in the pub, players' friends, and even a coach with his company. Noticing Nott sitting alone at the bar, he walked over to him.

"Hi," he said.

"Potter," Nott sized him up. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, sure."

"Look, I wanted to talk to you about yesterday. Maybe you should talk to..."

"Yesterday, Tobias had a bad day." Harry interrupted him. "Nothing to worry about. Today it's already okay."

"I think…"

"No, we won't talk about it. You promised," Harry said firmly.

"I promised I wouldn't tell Snape anything, but I didn't mention that I wouldn't try to convince you to ask for his help yourself."

"Nott. I don't need any help. It's fine." He clenched his fists. Anyway, in less than two weeks the summer ends... And the case will be closed. We're not going to talk about it anymore."

"Okay, calm down." Theodore sighed. "Anyway, thanks for coming. I'm buying you a Coke."

Harry agreed. He himself had no money with him. Tobias was still furious, and Harry didn't even dare ask him.

"Where's your girlfriend?'' Harry asked, changing the subject.

“She went shopping with her parents in London. She will come a little later.”

After a while, Pele and Oasis joined them, and they all went to occupy the box between the window and the pool table. They decided to play a few games, so Roo rented pool balls and cues. Harry was with Nott during the first game, and Pele was with Oasis. Harry and Nott lost. Harry was on the team with Oasis, Roo with Pele, and Nott, seeing Chloe standing by the bar, joined her during the next game. Moments later, Harry and Oasis won because Pele shot the black ball into the pocket. The Gryffindor decided to wait out the next round, and Dunkan came in this time.

Harry watched his friends play for a moment, then looked around the room. The coach sat in the corner talking to people he sometimes saw at matches, utterly oblivious to the youth. Harry looked towards the bar.

"Shit," he cursed under his breath and hurried off in that direction.

Dredd and his friends were surrounding Nott. Even in the room's dim light, Harry could see that the Slytherin's face was turning red with anger or embarrassment. The boy clenched his fists and took a step back as Dredd approached him. Harry tried to speed up, but there were a lot of people in the pub, and it wasn't easy to get to the other end of the room. Dredd pushed Nott, knocking a Coke glass from his hand.

"Leave him alone," Harry growled, finally standing next to Theo. He was furious. The situation was similar to that of a few weeks ago when Dredd started harassing the boy for no reason whatsoever. But now Harry felt a lot angrier. A few weeks earlier, the young wizards had been talking about a truce and an alliance against Voldemort. Still, at this moment, Harry realized he had become attached to a Slytherin. He no longer treated him as a mere acquaintance or ally but more as a friend. And it seemed to him that he would not have felt angrier if it had been Neville, the twins or Ron or Hermione in the boy's place.

"Easy, Potter, it's all right," Theodore said, but his voice was subdued.

"Dolly, hello," Dredd laughed unpleasantly. "And fuck off. It's not your business."

"I already told you to leave Theo alone. What the hell did he ever do to you?" Harry snapped.

"He's a freak! He has a screw loose. This head case just called the cash register an electronic device. He counted the money for a Coke as if he was ten years delayed in development. That's enough."

"Take it back!"

Dredd laughed.

"And you? Who do you think you are to tell me what to do? You pretend you’re so cool, when in fact, all of you are just one big fucking pathology. Because of you, this country goes to the dogs. Your old man begs for another bottle of vodka in the store, your brother is a freak who looks like he was dropped off from a Halloween party, and he's taken in a boy who's so dumb it's a wonder he doesn't trip over his own legs." Dredd's friends laughed, and he, encouraged by their reaction, continued:  "By the way," Dredd looked Harry straight in the eye. "There’s a big age difference between him and this freak ..." He nodded at the embarrassed Nott. "Half his age. Doesn't your brother know it's illegal?" Harry's blood boiled. Nothing mattered to him anymore, and he threw his fists at the much taller boy. He didn't care that he didn't stand a chance against him. The Gryffindor just wanted Dredd to regret his words. How dare he say such things. The teen didn't even notice when Nott tried to stop him.

"Enough! Enough I said! What the hell is going on here!" Harry heard the coach's voice as Nott finally managed to pull him away. A dozen or so people were standing around them now, including the coach and his friends. Oasis and the rest of the boys started pushing their way through the crowd toward them as well. Harry wiped his chin as it dripped with blood. Dredd did not remain indebted to him, having also inflicted a few blows.

Harry shrugged.

One of the coach's friends approached Dredd, trying to take his chin in his hand to examine the injuries, but Dredd pushed his head away.

"Jeez, don't come down on me," he growled at the man who ignored his words as he turned to the coach.

"That little whelp," the man growled, pointing at Harry, “went at my son. Martin, I will not allow this kind of behaviour. He's out of the team."

"John," the coach replied, raising his hands reassuringly. "It's offseason already. There is no point."

"I am well aware that this season is over. I meant the next year. This boy is aggressive. There is no place for fist-fighting in our team."

"It's just boyish antics." The coach tried to reason with the man, then walked over to him and whispered something in his ear.

After a moment's thought, the man nodded and turned to Harry.

"Give me your father's phone number."

Harry paled at the words.

"I ... but we don't have a phone," he stammered. He was suddenly all too aware of the pain he still felt from yesterday's licking. He felt sick.

"Harry just stood up for me," said Nott. "That boy," he pointed at Dredd, "provoked him."

"I don't care. We are here because we’re celebrating a sporting event, and there is no place for violence in sports. This is not how arguments are resolved." The man turned to the coach again. "In this case, Coach, drive him home and talk to his father. After all, it is you who organized this motley crew, and you are responsible for these boys."

 

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"I really didn't mean to hit him. Please don't tell my father about it," Harry whispered as they sat alone in the coach's car, increasingly frightened at the prospect of meeting Tobias.

"You make stupid decisions. You suffer. Mark's father is one of the sponsors of the team. I can't be seen to do anything, or I'll lose my job. It’s only because I said it was thanks to you that we won the final that you’ll be able to play next year."

Even when Harry told the coach that he could quit the team as long as the man wouldn’t tell Tobias about the incident, the man refused to agree with his proposal. The coach told him to pull himself together because he needed him for the team next year, and the boy should be grateful to have a chance to play.

The trip to Spinner's End was too short. Harry thought he was going to throw up with fear. He would rather face the Hungarian Horntail once again than face his father. As they approached the door and the coach knocked, Harry prayed silently that Tobias wasn't home. Of course, the Gryffindor was not so lucky, and as the coach talked about the incident, sheer rage appeared on Tobias' face.

"Thanks for bringing him. I'll take care of it," said Tobias. He then said goodbye to the coach, grabbed Harry by the sweatshirt and closed the door. "What the fuck is wrong with you ?!" He started screaming, specks of saliva flying over Harry's face.

"Nothing, I'm sorry." Harry started shaking, unable to control himself.

"You're only about to be fucking sorry. Wasn't it enough yesterday? Did I go too fuckin' easy on you and teach you nothing? Or should I whip you on the off-chance every day so that you remember not to do anything stupid? This time, you'll get it so bad that you will fucking remember. You'll be dancing like a fucking peacock."

Harry was terrified. There was no way he would withstand another beating from Tobias. Not so soon after the last one, when he was still covered with fresh bruises. He panicked. He crouched down, simultaneously raising his hands and manoeuvring his head so that he got free of his sweatshirt and before Tobias realised he was running up the stairs to his room.

"Come back, you little bastard," came Tobias's voice. He heard the man rushing upstairs. Harry closed the door. The only way out was the window. He opened it, put his legs over the sill and, catching his hands on it, slowly lowered himself. He was still about a metre and a half to the ground. Still, hearing Tobias open the door, cursing loudly and threatening Harry, he jumped without hesitation. As he felt a piercing pain in his ankle, he remembered Snape's words about being careful with his foot. A little too late. But, he had to run before Tobias caught him. He limped as fast as he could towards the park. Harry was going to Flukey Road. Snape had offered him repeatedly to come over, and if Harry told him that he had argued with Tobias a bit, maybe he would let him stay overnight.

After a dozen or so metres, the pain in his ankle seemed unbearable. He had to rest for a while. He managed to reach Nott’s bench, hidden in the shade of the trees. The teen sat on it. As his bruised body demanded that he change position, he lay on his side, pulled his knees to his stomach, and wrapped his arms around himself. To make matters worse, it was starting to rain, and he was wearing only a thin T-shirt.

How much he dreamed right now about sitting on the couch in Snape's living room, covered with a warm blanket, and drinking hot tea with lemon and honey. He wiped his hand over his wet eyes and shivered with the cold.

 

Any thoughts? Please share with me in review ;)

To be continued...
Chapter 20: Kiddnappings' plague by Luna Carmesi
Author's Notes:
I am very grateful for all the help my betas Vivid Murk and Jasmin Kain put in this chapter!

Severus was hurrying across the park, looking around for Potter. He shouldn't have let the teenagers go out to the pub. Less than an hour ago, Theodore had breathlessly burst into the house and told him what had happened. The teen begged him to save the Gryffindor from his father, convinced that the man would undoubtedly hurt him. Severus didn't ask why the boy was panicking so much. He probably knew more than the Potions Master had realized.

Without hesitation, Severus went to Spinner's End, where he found only Tobias. Of course, his father was not pleased to see him. Between the insults directed at both the kid and himself, he learned that Potter had run away from the house by jumping out of the window. Tobias also threatened Severus that he should mind his own business, forbidding him to have any contact with the kid.

Severus was relieved that Potter had avoided the man's anger, at least for now. Still, despite telling the boy repeatedly that he should go straight to Flukey Road in such a situation, Potter hadn't. If the boy was going to, they would surely have met on the way.

Severus cursed under his breath. Of course. Potter was still that idiotic child who didn't listen to anyone and kept doing foolish things. Severus didn't know what went on in his mind and where he had decided to go. It was getting dark outside, and the rain was falling harder and harder. The man hoped Potter hadn't wandered too far. Although without the possibility of using spells in the area, it would not be easy to find him anyway. Dumbledore's spell blocked the simplest Lumos .

But when he looked to the right, not far from the playground, he noticed a small, curled-up figure lying on a bench. The Potions Master recognized that it was Potter straight away; he couldn't mistake it. Not after what he had seen in Dursley's memories—a little kid soaked in the rain, lying precisely in the same position on the porch of his uncle's house after Dursley refused to let him in for some stupid reason. It was one of the scenes he couldn't forget and which helped him keep his nerves in check when Potter's behaviour was extremely frustrating.

Severus headed towards the bench. The boy was wearing only a T-shirt and was shivering from the cold, looking like something the cat dragged in. He didn't even notice Severus approaching him. The man sighed, wondering why the boy always ended up in situations like this. Once again, the man decided to do everything to prevent Potter from returning to his father. Ten days left until the end of the holidays. He hoped Tobias wouldn't notify any institutions in the meantime. Even though Severus was a teacher with over ten years of experience and was acquitted of acting as a Death Eater because Dumbledore himself vouched for him, he still did not stir public confidence. Many still considered him a loyal servant of the Dark Lord, and because he was only a poor half-blood wizard, he had no way of garnering the favours of the wizarding world. His interest, much less kinship with the Boy Who Lived, could not be revealed. Not to mention the fact that if this information had reached Voldemort, he would probably be already dead, and it certainly wouldn't be possible to spy for the Order.

Looking at such a small, shivering teenager, he wondered if he could have sacrificed his status as a spy to keep the teen safe and secure.

Unfortunately, it was impossible if Tobias wasn't going to quietly hand over Potter's custody. Severus was aware that if he himself had tried to get custody from the Wizengamot, he would have absolutely no chance of obtaining it.

"Potter," Severus said. Although he was trying to sound soft, the boy jumped up, scared, trying to get up. When he saw who was standing over him, he calmed down a little.

"Snape."

"What are you doing here?" The man asked, even though he already knew the circumstances.

"Can't you see?" The boy raised his left eyebrow up, the expression that had often appeared on his own face. "I’m sunbathing; such beautiful weather is today, isn't it?"

Severus snorted. Two months ago, the same sarcasm would have angered him, but now only slightly amused him despite the gravity of the situation.

"Why didn't you come to me? I have told you many times where to go in a situation like this."

The boy shrugged again

"Potter..."

"Sorry," he said and rubbed his hands over his shoulders, apparently trying to warm up.

Severus took off his jacket and handed it to Potter.

"Put it on and come with me." The Potions Master couldn't let the boy get pneumonia. The boy was already cold enough. He would give him the pepper up potion as soon as they got home.

"You don't have to." Potter stood up, propping his weight on one leg. However, one glance from the Potions Master was enough, and he reluctantly got the knee-length jacket on. "Thanks," he muttered under his breath

"Let's go."

As Potter took a step forward, his left leg buckled, but he quickly regained his balance.

"Er… I might have accidentally sprained my ankle," he muttered under his breath.

"Merlin," Severus said irritably. The kid cringed, apparently not controlling his reaction. Severus cursed Dumbledore for casting that damn anti-magic area. There was no other way, just: "Okay, jump on my back." When Harry opened his mouth, Severus added, "Not a word. Do what I say, and if you ever tell anyone about it, I'll tear your head off.”

The Potions Master had no idea which of them was more embarrassed about the whole situation. The kid jumped awkwardly on his back. 

"Hold me by my neck.” Potter did it right away, having no real choice. Otherwise, he would have slipped off. Severus held his legs under his knees. "And start eating more, or one of these days the wind will blow you away," he added grumpily.

The boy didn't relax for a moment, and all his muscles were tense. Severus wondered if it was because he still didn't entirely trust him and was afraid he would drop him or if he was so unaccustomed to human contact.

They entered the house, and Severus carried him to the living room, helping him sit on the couch. Potter winced.

"What's wrong?"

"Er, nothing, my ankle," he replied, avoiding Severus' eyes.

"Are you okay?" asked Nott, who was waiting for them, clearly concerned. Potter looked at him and nodded. "What's wrong with your ankle?" The Slytherin continued.

"You strained the foot I told you to be careful with." That wasn't a question, and the answer was rather obvious.

"Not my fault," Harry said through his teeth. "I tried to be careful."

Severus honestly doubted it but let the unnecessary discussion go. The Potions Master helped Potter take off his jacket and summoned one of his sweaters, which he told the still slightly trembling kid to put on. He also took a pepper up potion from his pocket.

"Drink this and take off your shoe. I'll take care of your foot," he said, then went to his basement for more potions, feeling like he had damn deja vu.

 

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Monday, August 21st, 1995

 

Harry woke up to raised voices. He stiffened. A furious Snape did not bode well, and Snape shouting at Nott could only mean that the Potions Master must be in an extremely foul mood. He looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was before nine. Once the man told him that they had breakfast at nine. But a few times, Harry did come a couple of minutes later, and Snape hadn’t reacted to it.

The teen tried to decide what to do. Should he go downstairs and risk the furious Snape going down on him or stay here, and risk Snape getting angry with him for not coming to breakfast on time? Harry wondered which option was better. In both cases, Snape would yell at him. After a while, he decided the first option was safer. The best he could do was pick the tactics the Dursleys had taught him—pretend he didn’t exist. Getting out of bed, he groaned. His whole body was sore, and his ankle throbbed faintly.

Harry made his way downstairs slowly but hesitated before stepping into the kitchen. Snape and Nott were still arguing. Harry felt his breathing quicken. He was aware that his emotions was a little too strong, but he had no idea why he reacted that way. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down, and stepped into the room.

 

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Severus was incensed. Not only was he having a huge problem with Potter, but on that particular day, Theodore decided to remind him that the Slytherin was still just a teenager and started rebelling. The boy's ridiculous Muggle "girlfriend" was going to London next weekend to visit her cousin and invited Theo to join her, which Severus was absolutely not going to allow. Aside from what hormone-buzzing fifteen-year-olds can do without adult supervision, there was a chance, perhaps a small one, but still, that the teen would meet somebody who could tell his father what company Nott was around. London was a city where even pureblood wizards happened to be sometimes, and even some of them lived there. Even the Blacks’ house was located in the very centre of the city. Not to mention the fact that some wizards sometimes used the Muggle entrance to both the Ministry of Magic and St. Mungo hospital. But of course, at the moment, Nott's little crush completely cut his common sense out. The boy insisted that Severus' fears were unjustified.

"Theodore! You're not going. Stop arguing!"

"Good morning." They both looked towards the kitchen entrance when they heard the soft voice of the Gryffindor standing uncertainly in the doorway. 

"Potter," he growled, but when he noticed that the boy flinched slightly, apparently still shaky after yesterday's brawl with Tobias, he tried to soften his voice a little, which he didn't quite manage. "Why are you hovering there? Make yourself some tea and sit down for breakfast."

The teenager nodded and went to pour boiling water over the tea in the mug Severus had prepared.

"Professor, you have paranoia! Nothing will happen to me. I promise to avoid any place where I can meet wizards!"

"Enough of that!" Severus hit the tabletop with all his might. At that moment, they heard the sound of a broken mug. "Potter! You klut..." Severus began but paused, seeing the horror written on the face of the teenager who stared at the broken cup, then looked at his teacher and, falling to his knees on the hot tea-covered floor, began to hurriedly pick up the glass.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to! I will buy it back!" Potter muttered frantically, ignoring the fact that the shards of glass were sticking into his hands which were starting to bleed.

"Potter, leave it!"

"I really didn't mean to!”

"Potter, calm down," Severus said, coming up to him.

"Really, I swear on everything. I'll never drop anything again," the panicked boy swore. Seeing Snape coming closer, he tried to speed up his movements, but his hands shook too much.

"Potter. Harry, look at me," Snape said as gently as he could. The fact that he used his first name caught the boy's attention, and he looked at Severus more consciously. "It's alright. Nothing happened. It's just a mug, Harry. Release the glass from your hand and take a deep breath. Mmm. Very good, come on." Snape helped him up and led him to the chair where he sat him. "Theo," he turned to where the Slytherin usually sat, but the teen was no longer there. "Wait here, Potter."

Suddenly, Theo ran into the kitchen.

"I brought the diptam," he set the potion on the table.

"Thank you," Severus said, and Theo nodded. "Potter, give me your hands." The man said and knelt in front of Harry, who was still chalky pale. The boy moved slightly away from Snape. "I just want to clean the wounds, nothing else." The Potions Master took his hand and cast a spell that cleared the cut, ensuring no shard of glass was left, then poured copious amounts of potion on it and repeated the process with the other hand. Potter stared at the floor the whole time.

"Sorry, I really don't know what happened."

"You panicked. Did you really think I was going to hurt you?" The man asked, looking at him. The boy didn't meet his eyes, more interested in the look of his hands.

"Don't know. I don't think so."

"Haven't I proved yet that I won't hurt you? After all, even when I didn't like you, I never raised my hand at you."

"I'm sorry, I just remembered something, and somehow ... Sorry, really, I don't know how it happened."

"Stop apologizing for things that are beyond your control."

"I'm so..." Harry began but paused when Snape brought his index finger to the boy's mouth, effectively silencing him.

Suddenly the doorbell rang. 

"Stay here." His voice lost all the gentleness he had tried to keep.

He walked to the door, wand at the ready.

"Severus." His father was standing in the doorway.

The Potions Master clenched his fists.

"What do you want?"

"I'm looking for Harry. Did you find him?"

"If he ran away from you, he must have a reason." 

"I know he's with you." Tobias narrowed his eyes, looking at him angrily. Severus's hand tightened on his wand.

“He is not here, and now, kindly, leave my house. You're not welcome here".

"Fetch him. I'm taking him home," he growled. As always, the man's voice sounded unbearable, stern and unbending.

"You've done enough damage already."

"I don't know what you're talking about! Harry!"

Snape laughed dryly. But he knew his father wasn't an idiot.

"You really do not know? Anyway, listen." The Potions Master decided to try to talk to him rationally. "We both know the kid is a burden to you. Looking after him, feeding him, and now he will also need books for school and clothes. Let him stay here. I'll take care of everything."

"Are you kidding me, Severus? I can take care of my own child, and you are the last person I would entrust him to. I read what you wrote about him in the school report."

Severus grimaced. Indeed, he hammered Potter as if he was the worst, laziest and meanest hooligan with the lowest IQ to ever attend Hogwarts. That the boy didn't care about his studies, and he treated the school as a playground. That he was wasting all the teachers' time, and if it had been up to the Potions Master, he would have been kicked out immediately.

"I won't let you hurt him anymore."

"Hurt? Have you really lost your mind?"

"What you're doing is plain abuse. Leave him alone, or I'll report you to the police."

Tobias chuckled hoarsely.

"Do you even hear yourself? I am raising him as I see fit. The kid has a roof over his head and food. Do you really think the police will be interested that some cheeky teen got a well-deserved thrashing from his father? Don't be ridiculous.” Severus knew the man was right. Nobody cared about abuse until a tragedy occurred, and then it was usually too late, especially in neighbourhoods like this, where violence against children was a daily occurrence. Nobody was interested in a lot of these kids. "It's all legal. Every judge will say so. On the other hand, kidnapping is a different category, so I actually can report you."

"You know very well that it will take some time before anyone actually reacts and does something about it, and then we'll be long at Hogwarts." Of course, Severus was bluffing.

“D'ya fucking think I'm an idiot? I know what it looks like with a magic kid. When I go to the police, your Ministry will find out too, and by the evening, the whelp will end up home." Severus knew very well that the man was right, but he had no idea where he got the information from. Did Dumbledore inform him of this? "And you will be long out of excuses. And don't you think I don't know about the other whelp who lives with you. Do you want the Ministry to take a closer look at whether you also have custody of him? Anyway, it doesn't matter. What will happen to the boy if they lock you up for kidnapping? Will he land on the street? Maybe he has a family, mother or father?" Tobias wasn't stupid. When he was sober, he could use valid arguments, draw the right conclusions and touch a nerve. However, Severus had no intention of handing Potter over to Tobias. Yes, he would take a considerable risk. But he had already formed a plan. It was only ten days. Before Tobias reported it to the police, which would straight away inform the Ministry, he would pack his and the boys' luggage and take them abroad, and when the school year started, they would return.

Severus was about to answer the man when he heard a soft voice behind them.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I'm really sorry."

"Potter," The Potions Master growled, turning immediately. He saw the Gryffindor standing in the doorway with a determined expression. Of course, the nosy kid heard everything. "Don't interfere."

“It's fine. I understand. I have to go home."

"For once in your life, do what I ask you to do. Go back to the kitchen. I'll be there soon," Severus growled. 

He saw the uncertainty in Potter's eyes for a moment as if he were actually considering it.

"Hurry up, let's go," Tobias growled. "You'll see. You're really going to get it now! And because of you, I'm gonna be late to work." He said and swung his hand as Potter stepped closer. Potter flinched, but Severus was faster, and he grabbed the man's hand.

"Touch him, and I'll end you." Tobias yanked his hand out of Severus' grip and spat at his feet. 

"Let's go, Harry."

"Potter. Don't be an idiot."

"No. It’s okay." Potter turned to Severus. Though his hands were still trembling, his face was firm. "I know you mean well, but the risk is too big. School starts soon anyway." As he said this, the boy glanced at Tobias out of the corner of his eye. "We can't risk that Theo would go back home. And I can handle it." Potter, as usual, wanted to save others at his own expense. However, Severus knew he could find a way to keep both of them safe.

"Potter, stay. Your safety is equally important."

"Stop twisting things around," Tobias growled and turned to Potter. "And you, I forbid you to come here. And you're not to talk to him at all. Got it?" Harry nodded.

"Thank you for well... for everything," Harry said to Snape, and he left with Tobias.

Severus pulled out his wand and concentrated. He chanted a very long spell, casting it at Tobias.

"Did you overhear the whole conversation?" asked the Potions Master as he headed for the kitchen where Theo was waiting.

"Did you expect something different from Potter?" 

"No, but certainly, I expected more respect from you to your elders." He looked at him pointedly.

"Sorry." The boy said, but there was no hint of remorse in his voice. "Why can't you cast Oblivate at that Muggle and make him forget all about Potter and take him home for the rest of the summer?"

“Besides the fact it's illegal?”

"I don't think you care much about that." Theo shrugged.

"And then what? This does not solve the problem of the next summer."

Nott looked at him uncertainly.

"I thought you wouldn't mind him living here permanently anymore..."

Severus sighed.

"This is why you should have a competent history teacher. Although, in the current political climate, where pureblood wizards sit on the wizarding council, it is not spoken of loudly anyway." Snape entered the living room, sat down in his armchair and motioned to the other one for Theo to sit in. "The truth is, this whole pure blood theory is a lie. Wizards are a relatively small community and had it not been for fresh Muggle blood, we would have been extinct by now.”

"I don't understand. Don't pureblood wizards inherit their families' magic? Doesn't that make them more powerful than Muggleborns?"

"Yes and no. Of course, inherited family talents, depending on what they are, can be invaluable, for example, parseltongue, metamorphomagic, speed of learning spells, or predisposition to learn black magic. However, there is such a thing as genetics and, therefore, inbreeding. Do you know what that is?"

"More or less," Theo said uncertainly. It was a taboo subject in the wizarding world. It was rarely mentioned because this theory was in complete opposition to the entire pure blood ideology. So, it surprised Severus a little that the teenager knew even a little bit about the subject. On the other hand, this was Theo, who was extremely intelligent, hungry for knowledge, and also interested in Muggle culture and science. And if he was reading Muggle history books, there was a good chance that he had come across information about multiple marriages in the European monarchy within one nobility and what effect they had on the offspring.

"So, as you know, it's about closely related people marrying each other. Repeated inbreeding increases the risk of undesirable traits in the offspring, such as reduced fertility, higher infant and child mortality rate, an increased risk of genetic disorders, often including reduced intelligence, and even the loss of magic.”

"This is how squibs are born," whispered Nott.

"Some of them for sure."

"Crabbe and Goyle? Maybe Flint can be an example of inbreeding?"

"A marriage between close cousins four times in a row certainly does not contradict this. In any case, by the end of the eighteenth century, infant mortality, infertility and squib birthing had reached its apogee in magical Britain, which of course, was a great shame for the aristocratic families since the narrative of pureblood superiority had prevailed for centuries. It was an absolute misalliance to marry someone with even an modicum of Muggle blood. But, also, no self-respecting aristocrat could allow anyone to learn about the damaged genetic material of his descendants. These wizards did everything to ensure that their status and social image were not harmed even in the slightest, even at the expense of the ideology in which they believed. It was a direct reason why there was a plague of muggleborn kidnappings. In an act of desperation, purebloods stole children of Muggles who had manifested their magic power. There also have even been a few incidents of the disappearance of pureblood children, but no one has ever proven how or why it happened." Severus looked at Theo; the kid was listening intently. If only other students would listen to him with such interest. "The Wizengamot has always been divided. Purists and blood traitors practically never agreed with each other in any way. However, this time something unexpected happened. The government virtually unanimously passed a law to use a powerful spell cast on Muggle parents. Wizards who had liberal views hoped to fight the kidnappings for ethical reasons, while purists were outraged, or at least pretended to be outraged by it because some of them might have done it themselves or at least thought about it. So, they spoke out loud that they loathed mixing aristocratic and, as they put it, muddy blood. Of course, the law prohibiting the theft of children has passed. By the way, it's ridiculous that such a law had to be passed at all. But more importantly, complex and very powerful spells were created to prevent the kidnappings of Muggleborns. They're still in place. And it's indeed difficult to get around these spells."

"How exactly do these spells work?"

"Whenever a Muggle-born magic incident occurs, it's recorded in Rowena's book—"

"Rovena's book?" Theo interjected.

"Yes, a book created by Rowena Ravenclaw, which is located at Hogwarts and is filled up automatically as soon as a child displays magical powers in Great Britain or Ireland. It shows the address where the magical incident occurred and the child's details. Thanks to it, it's also possible to send the first Hogwarts letters. As far as I know, two copies of it are in the Ministry. One of them is a bit more elaborate. It also contains parents' data and information about their blood status. Strong spells are applied to each muggle parent appearing in the book. Any magical interference that in any way changes or removes the memories of the child until it reaches the age of majority is illegal and punishable with Azkaban. The spell also causes an automatic, thanks to the book, notification of the Juvenile Magic Division. If there is any mention of a Muggleborn at the Muggle Police station, our Juvenile Division is also notified. It works similar to the Trace. And it also automatically disappears on your seventeenth birthday."

"So, there's nothing we can do for Potter?" Theo leaned his hands on the table, staring at it.

 "I didn't say that," Severus smirked.

"What did you do then if you couldn't cast Obliviate ?"

"I added one brief memory," the Potions Master explained. "I hope this will satisfy Tobias' desire to punish Potter and not alarm the Ministry at the same time." Or at least it was what Severus was counting on. The Memory Add Theory was invented almost a century after the law prohibiting the theft of children was passed, and because the kidnapping crisis had been already over, it was implausible anyone would bother or even remember updating an elaborate spell cast on parents of Muggleborns more than a century earlier.

"You really can add a memory?" Theo's eyes widened.

"Yes. My knowledge is not limited to potions only." Indeed, the spell was not easy at all, and it wasn't so much power that was needed as sense and finesse to use it correctly, and he had mastered it to perfection.

"Yes, I know, just ... To make a memory look real - wow. You are amazing."

"Thank you." The corner of Severus' mouth rose slightly.

"But...it's going to work, right?"

"I've also cast a light compulsion spell, so it should."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Harry glanced at his father. The teen would be lying if he said he wasn't afraid, but he couldn't let Snape be locked up in Azkaban, and Theo returned to his father because of him. Harry wished he hadn't panicked so much the day before because maybe not at his own request, but he had dragged Snape and Nott into it all again. Harry was also aware that Tobias wouldn't forgive him when he just said he was sorry, and he would suffer. The boy's stomach tightened. He would like to get it over with already. Fortunately, there were only ten days left, and soon he will be able to return to Hogwarts. The boy couldn't wait. Until then, he had resolved that he would obey and do whatever Tobias told him to without any talking back.

At the nearest crossroads, the man suddenly turned right, in the opposite direction to their house, and Harry almost bumped into him.

"Watch where you are going." Tobias snapped, glaring at him.

"'m sorry," said Harry quickly. "Where are we going?"

"Are you really that stupid, or are you just pretending?" Tobias asked, but Harry had seen as if uncertainty flashed through the man's eyes.

"Er ..." Harry didn't know what to answer.

"Are you such an idiot that you cannot speak properly?”

"I'm not an idiot," murmured Harry.

"We're going to the supermarket to do the shopping, you take it home, and I'll go to work," Tobias said as if he was also informing himself about it.

The boy nodded meekly, trying to keep up with the man.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Harry paused and set the two heavy shopping bags on the ground for a moment. He rubbed his hands to let some blood flow because they went numb. His ankle hurt too. Snape's potions didn't work as fast as last time. Probably that's why the man had warned him to be careful with his foot for a while.

As soon as he split up with Tobias in front of the supermarket, he breathed a sigh of relief. His father was rude and chided him all the time, but at least Harry now had a few hours of peace before the man returned from work. Harry took a deep breath and was about to grab the bags again when something caught his attention. In a nearby shop window, he saw a familiar shape. He approached it to get a closer look at it. He was right. Attached to the tarnished chain was a deltoid pendant, with a green snake encircling a silver sword set against a backdrop of flames. Without thinking, Harry came inside.

It was an old, gloomy shop with a lot of different objects. Some looked new, and some looked like they belonged to someone before.

"Good morning," he greeted, noticing a short, bald man.

"Morning. Can I help you?"

"I would like to ask about this pendant from the display. Where did you get it from?"

"Pendant?" The man pondered.

"Yes, this one here," Harry pointed the finger at it.

The man approached the window in surprise.

"Oh, this old thing. It completely slipped my mind that it was still here. A few years ago, some drunk pawned it, and he's never come back. Nobody ever asks for it."

"I'd like to buy it," Harry blurted out immediately.

"Thirty smackers, and it's yours.”

"Thirty pounds?"

"Yes, thirty pounds."

"I don't have that much with me."

"How much do you have, then?" The man narrowed his eyes.

"Well, actually... I have nothing on me," he said, blushing slightly. It wasn't his brightest moment. "But I will get the money next week. Could you please not sell it to anyone until then?"

"Nobody's ever asked for the pedant before." The man waved his hand. "But if anyone wants to buy it, I'll sell it. I have no guarantee you will come back."

"Please. I promise to be back."

"Kid, business is business."

"But it belonged to my dead mom. I really wish I could have it," he pleaded, hoping the man was at least a little sentimental. He himself was more concerned with opening the trunk than having a remembrance of his mother, although that would also be nice.

The owner of the shop looked at him searchingly. 

"Very well." He sighed. "But I only keep it until the end of the month and not a day longer."

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

Harry couldn't believe his luck. He had probably found the key to the trunk, and soon, he would be able to finally discover Eileen's secret. Tobias promised him money for the books, so he would have it to buy the pendant. Harry left the store and saw his grocery bags still lying in the sidewalk's centre. He hit his forehead. When he saw the pendant, he forgot about them completely and left them in front of the shop entrance. Fortunately, no one stole them.

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

When Harry entered the room, Riki was dueling with the dummies. The teen had to admit that he was again impressed with how the man moved, how he dodged and cast spells.

"I thought you gave up," Riki said to him as his opponents went still after a few minutes.

"No, I didn't quit. I'm sorry for being late."

"Did something happen?"

"No ..." Harry replied uncertainly. "Not really."

"If nothing happened then, please, kindly respect my time, huh?"

Harry nodded; he wasn't going to admit that he totally forgot about his training.

"So, how was Friday night with your father?" Riki asked as he walked over to the drinks table by the window and picked up the water.

"Alright."

"Just alright?" Riki asked, peering at him out of the corner of his eye. "On Friday, you were jumping with joy at the thought of the evening."

"It was awesome," growled Harry. "Anyway, that's none of your business. Can we already begin? I'm not here to talk."

"Ouch, someone is not in the mood today." Riki's tone sounded slightly offended. However, Harry just shrugged. He didn't want to think about what had happened this weekend, and not to mention, he was still feeling very sore. Besides, he didn't feel up to running and dodging Riki's spells at all. But he knew he had no choice, and he had to do that not only for himself but also for Sirius and all the rest of his friends.

"Sorry, let's just get started."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

"What's up with you? You're hopeless today,” Riki asked as Harry was hit for the tenth time in less than twenty minutes.

"Nothing, it's just not my day," Harry said, struggling to get off the floor. He wanted to weep, his throbbing ankle slowed him down, and with each movement, he felt the consequences of how unhappy Tobias was with his marks. Riki walked over to him and held out his hand to help him up.

"I don't think it's going to work out today." After a moment of thought, Riki pulled out his wand and whispered a few words, and two comfortable armchairs appeared in the centre of the room. "Sit down. We'll try something different then," he said, pointing to one of them as he sat down on the other one. Harry obeyed. To his surprise, it was the softest and most comfortable armchair he had ever sat in. "Have you ever heard of Occlumency?"

 "Of what?"

"Occlumency. I'm not particularly surprised you don't know what it is; as far as I know, they still don't teach about it at Hogwarts. Which doesn't mean it's a rare skill. In short, it is about protecting your mind from others stealing your memories, thoughts or emotions."

"You mean wizards can read minds?" Harry asked, a little scared.

"Not really, and not all of them. The average Legilimens that is, the one who, um… let's say, can peer into your mind, will be able to see your random memories, but without knowing the context, he probably won't have a clue how to read them or what they mean. On the other hand, it is easier to read emotions. The bigger problem arises when well-trained and exceptionally gifted wizards want to poke around your mind. Usually, they are able to find the memories they want to see. They will find the context and will be able to definitely distinguish dreams from real memories. However, such a thing would surely be noticed." 

"And you will teach me how to defend myself against it?"

"I will try to introduce you to the topic. It is not easy at all, and not everyone has a predisposition for it. I hope you have at least a minimal one. In any case, for the time being, the pendant is protecting you." Harry unconsciously grabbed the chain. "Yes, this one. The spell placed on it protects you from an attack to a great extent. However, I believe that it is worth learning this art yourself. So, first of all, we're going to start by trying to relax. Clear your mind of thoughts."

Harry closed his eyes but then opened them again.

"How am I supposed to clear my mind and not think about anything? Whenever I try not to think about anything, I think about not thinking about anything."

Riki smiled.

"That's not exactly what I meant. Try to let your thoughts flow freely and be like an outside observer. So, try not to get attached to them. Thoughts will keep appearing, but try to control your reaction to them. When unwanted, unpleasant or stressful thoughts arise, focus on your breathing, feel your heart beating..."

 

HPHPHPHPHP

 

Harry couldn't say that Occlumency training had produced any results.

He actually felt like he hadn't learned anything. The boy completely couldn't concentrate. Riki made him realize that learning this field of magic was a long process. According to the man, meditation should train his mind in such a way that, on cue, it could bring him into a state of relaxation until he could slowly gain control over his thoughts. Riki also advised him to meditate for fifteen minutes every night before going to bed, and once he had mastered that, they would move on to learning more advanced defence of the mind. However, Harry couldn't concentrate enough to relax despite his best efforts. He knew every minute brought him closer to Tobias returning from work. And his father was still furious with him. Yes, the boy decided to bite the bullet, go home with him, and somehow survive the man's anger without saying a word. He knew it was less risky than the alternative, at least for Snape and Theo. However, as it neared five o'clock, Harry began to feel more and more afraid and wished he had trusted Snape after all. Maybe the man could really come up with some other solution?

After returning from the Ministry, Harry immediately started cleaning. The stress prevented him from sitting idle on the couch and waiting for his father to return. However, time dragged on mercilessly, and his stomach tightened more and more. He wanted it all over while hoping that maybe Tobias might not come home at all - it had happened several times before.

Harry jumped when suddenly he heard the door open. On trembling legs, he slowly made his way toward the kitchen. He knew that his confrontation with Tobias was inevitable.

"Hi," Harry said, standing in the doorway.

"Hi," his father replied, taking a beer from the refrigerator. "Don't stand there. Sit down." Harry obeyed him without a word. The man opened his drink and joined him at the table.

"Did you eat something?" 

"Yes," he lied. His nerves made him unable to swallow anything. Still, he knew that Tobias, unlike the Dursleys, expected him to take care of making himself something to eat.

Tobias nodded, taking a long gulp of his beer.

"What did you do today?" The man asked.

"I've been studying all day, and I'm about to start painting the first floor," he replied tightly. He had no idea why the man hadn't started yelling at him yet. Harry took a deep breath, trying to calm his quick breathing.

"So, what, was it so fucking hard to just study? Did I really have to hide you first to get you to study and listen to me?"

"No, I'm sorry." Harry had no idea why Tobias was so calm. He hoped it wasn't some sick game to make him feel a false sense of security and then strike at him unexpectedly. On the other hand, such a thing was not like the man. The man got angry and took it out on him, but his anger quickly passed. The man wasn't calculating enough to take weeks to punish him. 

"If you've already eaten, go upstairs and keep painting. You only have a week left." Harry nodded and got up quickly from his chair. He was about to leave, but he hesitated. Tobias did not start at all with the topic of yesterday's escape and the fact that the coach had brought him from the pub. He couldn't forget it so soon, and Harry knew he would be a nervous wreck by evening, waiting for the man to finally get the subject out.

"As for yesterday... I just wanted to apologize again," Harry began. "I don't want you to be angry with me about that."

"You've already got it for that, and I believe you’re not going to make the same mistake twice. There’s no need to go back to that." Tobias replied as he finished his beer, then stood up and reached for another. "So, get going."

Harry looked at him oddly. Something was wrong. But maybe Tobias was right, and he shouldn't pursue it. 

With that resolve, he headed upstairs.

 

To be continued...
End Notes:
Do you like it?

I'm currently finishing this part of story, but of course there will be another one when Harry will go back to Hogwarts.

What whould you like to see there? Any requests? Prompts? Little scenes that you will enjoy?


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