Snape's mind raced. How had Harry recognized him? He had always been hooded whenever he had treated the boy over the years. He swiftly considered acting as if he didn't know what the boy was talking about, but discarded that idea. Harry was far too bright to fall for such a deliberate ploy. And he could not Obliviate the child either, Dumbledore had forbidden such a practice and there were wards about the school to prevent a spell such as that from being cast by any teacher upon a student.
Footsteps were heard in the corridor and Snape made a snap decision. "Potter, you will see me in my office at 7 o'clock. Do not be late. And speak not a word of this to anyone, understand? Now, take your seat."
Harry obeyed, sitting down in the desk closest to the board, for despite his glasses, his vision was blurry and he could not read fine print or see further away than a few feet. But he was used to that. His eyes had always been bad, and his aunt used to tell him often enough that he was lucky he'd not become blind, because then she would have put him in an institution for crippled orphans.
Now the other students were coming in, and Harry waved to Ron and Hermione, who came to sit in the seat to his left and right. "How come you're here so early, Harry?" asked Ron. "It's unheard of for a Gryffindor to be early for Potions, Snape has no liking for us, he's the Head of Slytherin House."
"Ron, don't be ridiculous. Professors don't play favorites, it's not good form," Hermione frowned at the redhead.
"Well, Snape does. Just ask my brothers." Ron said, then turned and pulled out his text with a sigh. "I just hope he doesn't take too many points from us this first lesson."
Harry glanced back to where Snape had been seated and found the man was no longer there. He wondered how on earth the man had managed to disappear when Harry had just seen him not a scant five minutes before. Then again, this was his dark angel, who always knew when Harry was hurt or ill, and would bring him to his magic place to be healed. The eleven-year-old fidgeted in his seat, wondering what the lesson would be like, marveling over the fact that his savior was teaching a class at Hogwarts. Harry wondered if he had sent the letters to Privet Drive. Perhaps he could ask the man about that and other things when he came to his office. He trembled suddenly.
What if the dark angel was mad at him for recognizing him? Harry had not meant to blurt out his thoughts like that, but his shock had been too great to contain and his mouth had run ahead of his brain. He prayed the angel--or should that be professor?-forgave him for his curiosity, for he couldn't bear it if the angel sent him away for learning his identity. But why was it a secret anyhow?
The door slammed open and Snape billowed in impressively. He fixed the students with his usual intimidating black-eyed stare, the one that he had heard made children think he could read minds. Really, that was ridiculous. He was no telepath, and even if he were, what teacher in his right mind would want to spend his days listening to the whining and angst of over five hundred teenagers? It would guarantee one a trip to St. Mungos, at the very least. His goal now was to establish his authority and ensure that his students caused as little mayhem in his class as possible, for potions was not a place to fool about in, the substances they worked with were far too volatile for larking about with infantile pranks, a slip could result in serious harm.
He began with his patented first-year introductory speech, which he had perfected over the years, down to his finely honed glower and sneer. "There will be no foolish wand waving in my class . . ."
Harry stared up at him, rapt, his emerald eyes glowing with something resembling hero worship, had he but known it. The timbre of Snape's voice, soft as silk, yet sharp with warning, made the boy tremble. He had never seen the dark angel thus, so commanding, and while it made him a tad nervous when the man eyed him sneeringly, he recalled that this was his protector, and he had never known hurt at the hands of this man ever.
Suddenly, Snape's dark eyes were gazing directly at him, and he blinked, startled. He was not used to the angel looking at him so sternly, and he fought back the urge to squirm like a naughty child. Have I done something wrong? Why is he looking at me that way?
"Ah, so we now have a . . .celebrity in our midst. Mr. Potter, can you tell me what another name for asphodel and monkshood is?" Severus barked, praying the boy would recall the lessons he used to give him in the correct names of herbs and plants used in potions. Come on, Harry, you remember this one, it's one of the easier ones. Show me how smart you are, boy.
Harry cleared his throat, then said quietly, "Those are both names for the same plant, sir. It's more commonly known as wolfsbane, sir."
"Correct. What are the uses of a bezoar stone? And where do you find one?" Snape continued to fire questions at Harry.
Harry did not disappoint him. "A bezoar stone is to neutralize poisons and it comes from the stomach of a goat."
Snape gave him a nod, grudgingly, and continued to ask questions. "What do you get if you mix porcupine quills, crushed snake fangs, dried nettles, and stewed horned slugs?"
"Umm . . ." Harry's mind went blank for a moment. He knew the answer to this, he did, they had discussed potion ingredients many times while he was in Snape's magic place, recovering from some injury or illness. But he cudgeled his brain frantically and couldn't come up with an answer. "Err . . ."
"Too difficult for you, Mr. Potter?" demanded Severus, still with a faint sneer on his face. Harry, you couldn't forget this one! It's an elementary potion, for Merlin's sake!
Next to him, Hermione was waving her hand frantically in the air.
Then Harry remembered. "Sir, I know the answer!"
"Then be so kind as to inform the rest of your classmates, won't you?" Severus said sourly.
"Uh . . .when you mix all those things you're making a Boil Cure Potion." Harry declared, his green eyes shining with triumph. He grinned in delight.
"Humph. Yes, that is correct."
Harry flinched at the stark coldness. He had given the right answer, why then was the professor angry? He was trying so hard to please the dark angel, why did everything he say seem to irritate the man instead? Harry hung his head, confusion and hurt sweeping through him.
Severus could not fail to note the hurt in the boy's gaze, and he inwardly cursed the need to berate the child so harshly, especially in front of his classmates, when he had answered questions most first-years would never have been able to. But if he showed kindness to Potter, he would arouse suspicion from those who were followers of Voldemort, some of whom had children in this very class. He darted a swift glance across the room, and caught the smirk of one Draco Malfoy, the son of one of the worst Death Eaters of all, Lucius Malfoy. The boy's smirk irritated the Potions Master, however, and he found himself saying something totally unexpected.
"For your correct answers, Potter, I shall award you ten House points." Gasps followed this statement. Severus quickly added, "Do not expect this largesse on a regular basis, however. Gryffindors are more likely to lose points in my class rather than gain them, so these might be the only points your House earns the whole semester."
The Slytherins lounging in the back row snickered at that pointed comment.
Severus ignored them, wishing he could do more to alleviate the hurt expression on Harry's face. He felt very much as if he had just kicked a hurt puppy, the boy looked so woebegone. But he had to keep up appearances, unfortunately. He would explain everything, or almost everything, to the boy later on in the evening. For now, however, he must play the role of snarky bat of the dungeons to the hilt.
"Now then. If you will all choose a partner, you may begin on the following potion, a Boil Cure. Turn to page 75 and follow the directions written there. All materials will be found in the third cabinet. Well, what are you waiting for, Potter? A personal invitation written in gold script? Move!"
"Y-yes, sir," Harry stuttered, getting to his feet so hastily he knocked over his chair. "S-sorry, sir," he muttered, feeling his face go bright pink. The other kids tittered and chuckled, and Harry wondered if he was doomed to be known as a klutz the way he had in primary school, only then it had not been his fault, but Dudley's, who was always shoving him and tripping him.
"C'mon, Harry." Ron said, whispering in his friend's ear. "Told you Snape was a mean git, didn't I? Picking on you the first day of class. You were brilliant, by the way. How did you know all those answers?"
"Uh . . .I . . .I read my potions text before I came here," Harry lied, knowing he couldn't tell Ron the truth. Then he made his way to the back of the room to get the required ingredients for the potion. He prayed the rest of the lesson would go smoothly. He wanted to get the potion right so his dark angel professor would be proud of him.
Somehow or other, Harry and Ron managed to brew an almost perfect potion, and Snape sneeringly bottled it as a sample to the other first-year classes he had to teach that day. "I'm sure Weasley must have learned about potions from his brothers, seeing as you were raised by Muggles and couldn't possibly know how to brew a potion correctly, Potter."
"But sir, I learned how from . . ." Harry trailed off, recalling just in time that no one was supposed to know about himself and his occasional lessons with Snape.
"From copying another's work, perhaps?"
"Cheating is not an acceptable practice here, young man."
"B-but I wasn't!"
"Detention, Mr. Potter. 7 o'clock sharp. Don't be late. You will find that cheaters never prosper in my class." Then, before Harry could protest further, he swept towards the other side of the room to berate some other students, who were talking instead of taking notes for homework.
Harry stared down at the hem of his robes, blinking furiously to hide the sudden tears in his eyes. How could Snape be so unfair? This was not at all the same man Harry remembered from before. What had happened to him? Where was the dark angel who had held and comforted him for all of his childhood? Had it all been a lie?
"C'mon, mate. We'll be late for Charms." Ron said, stuffing his books in his bag. Then he muttered, "Greasy git! Can't believe he gave you detention already!"
Harry jerked his head up, angry as well as very confused. "Shut up, Ron!" he ordered, unwilling to let the other boy defame his rescuer, no matter how unfair and mean he was being. "I don't want to talk about it. Let's just go."
He finished copying down his homework, then stuffed it in his bag and left. Tonight he would get some answers. He hoped.
* * * * * *
At precisely 7 o'clock, Harry entered Snape's office, having asked Percy where to find it beforehand. Percy had clucked at him disapprovingly before telling him where the Potion Master's office was, saying Harry was lucky Snape was feeling merciful and hadn't taken away points as well as giving Harry detention, which he never should have earned in the first place. Harry had just nodded, not up to debating with Percy, and had left for the dungeons as quickly as possible.
Now he paused a moment on the threshold of the office before knocking once on the door.
Harry shoved open the door and entered, finding the man's office crammed full of books and odd looking jars of potion ingredients, though everything was neat. And the smell of spices that Harry associated with his dark angel was present here as well, and the soothing scent of cinnamon, marjoram, basil and rue washed over him, calming the butterflies in his stomach. There was nothing to fear. Not from this man.
Severus looked up from the fifth year essay he was grading, setting aside his veridian quill and steepling his fingers together atop his walnut desk. He shut the door with a careless wave of a hand, then cast a Muffliato Charm over the room so no one could eavesdrop on this conversation.
Harry jumped when the door shut behind him. "Sir? Am I in trouble?"
"Not today, Mr. Potter. Have a seat. There are matters I must discuss with you." He indicated a small padded chair in front of the desk.
Harry sank into it gratefully. Then he looked at Severus expectantly, waiting for the man to start explaining his odd behavior.
Severus fixed the boy with a penetrating gaze before saying quietly, "Firstly, I must insist that you keep silent on any matters I discuss with you here. There is a reason behind this request which I am not at liberty to tell you, but demand you cooperate nonetheless. Do I have your word?"
"Yes, sir. I won't ever tell. I never did before," Harry said, a bit indignantly. Did Snape think he was a baby that babbled everything to everyone?
"That was wise. Now then, as you have probably guessed, I am the one who has been caring for you all those years, ever since you were brought to the Dursleys and left with them." Here Severus's mouth twisted. "They were the worst sort of guardian for you, Harry."
"Then . . .if you knew that, why didn't you take me away from there?" Harry demanded. "I asked you loads of time to stay."
"And now as then, my answer to you must be no. I know it may seem cruel, sending you back with those people, but I cannot keep you with me, Harry. It is far too dangerous and I cannot protect you as I should."
"I have many enemies, child. And so do you. How much do you know about your parents?"
Harry told him. "But sir, the . . .the dark wizard that killed them is dead."
"Presumed dead, Harry. No body was ever found. And he was powerful. Powerful enough to try and cheat death."
Harry gaped at him. "Can he do that?"
"Maybe. But even if he is dead, there are scores of his followers who are not. And they will do whatever they have to in order to bring down the one who killed their Master." Severus said darkly. "You are safe here, while at Hogwarts, but the only place you are safe outside of school is the Dursley residence."
"There are layers of magical protections about it that make it so. That is why you must return there, and why I could not have you stay with me, no matter how much I wanted to." For the first time ever, Severus allowed a small smile to lift the corners of his mouth.
"You . . .you wanted me to stay then?" Harry asked, and his voice quivered with an unnamed longing. Had he at last found someone who wanted him around, that did not regard him as a freak or a burden?
"Yes, Harry. It was . . .very hard for me to send you back there. But I had no choice."
"Why? Will you tell me now?"
"I made a promise, and no one can know about it. That's all I'm going to say."
"Now, I have a question for you, child. How did you know it was I who helped you? I was careful to hide my face from you, or so I thought."
Harry hesitated. Did he dare reveal the fact that he had woken up after being sick with pneumonia and peeked at his guardian angel's face? Still, he had never lied to Severus before this. He wasn't about to begin now. "I . . .do you remember that time when I was sick just last year, after Dudley pushed me in the pool and tried to drown me?"
"Yes. You had a very bad case of pneumonia."
"Well, when I woke up after, you were, uh, asleep in the chair next to my bed and the hood you wore had come off. So I . . .got out of bed and I went to look at your face. I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't of, but I . . .couldn't help it." He gazed at Severus pleadingly. "Please, don't be mad. I just wanted to know what you looked like."
Severus sighed. "That is a normal reaction, Harry. I'm surprised that you remembered me after only seeing my face once though."
"Of course I would remember you! You were the only one who ever helped me. Nobody else ever cared."
"I know, child. The way those Muggles treated you was inexcusable. But you are safe here now. At least as safe as I can make you. I will continue to watch over you here as much as I can. But it must be secret and I cannot be seen as taking an interest in your welfare, do you understand? I must behave as I did today, and act indifferent and even cruel to you at times. But it is not real, it is an act. Anything I say to you during class or in the company of others is not the truth."
"Then today . . .you weren't really mad at me for getting all the answers right? And you didn't believe I'd cheated on my potion?"
"No, Harry. I was very proud that you knew all the answers to my questions. You did very well for your first potion, better even than some of the children who come from wizarding families, in fact. I couldn't say that, of course, so I awarded you points."
Harry smiled at his guardian angel. "I just remembered what you told me, sir. Wasn't much to do in the cupboard ‘cept recite the potion ingredients and the potions instructions you'd taught me."
"I suppose not." Severus glanced at his watch. "It's nearly time for you to go back to your dorm. Remember, tell no one that you were here. If anyone asks, you tell them that you were scrubbing fifteen cauldrons for me as detention."
"Okay, sir. I know the rules." He stood up, feeling the way he usually did when Severus sent him back to his cupboard.
"One other thing. If you ever need me, you may come to my office. I am usually here at this time, grading papers and so forth. Here, it can be as it was before, when you were in my lab at my home."
"Was that where I was?"
"Yes. Though occasionally I was here at school as well." Severus gave the boy another small smile. "Go on, Harry. Curfew is at nine-thirty for first years." He came around the desk then and hugged the small form briefly. Then he sent him out the door with a gentle pat on the behind.
He hoped all would go smoothly during the year. Yet he had a strange premonition that this year would be unlike any other he had known, now that the child he was sworn to protect had come to Hogwarts.
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