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Harry awoke the next morning stiff and sore and aching like seven bloody dragons had trampled him. He bit back a moan of pain and half-rolled off the bed, he needed to use the bathroom urgently. His feet touched the floor and he shivered at the cool stone beneath his bare feet, or foot, since his left foot was encased in a splint and couldn't really feel the stone.

"And where, may I ask, are you going, young man?" a familiar silky voice inquired.

Harry glanced over his shoulder to see Professor Snape standing there with his arms folded, raising an eyebrow. Behind him, Harry could see steam rising from a small tea kettle. Severus was making tea, Phoenix-Dragon blend, if Harry's nose was smelling it correctly. He recalled that particular tea from countless other times spent here, it was what Severus made to soothe and calm both himself and Harry after healing him. Harry associated the orange spice black tea with comfort and home.

"Uh, bathroom." Harry replied, and started to limp towards the small bathroom near his bed. Severus had deliberately placed the bed close to the bathroom, so when Harry was a small child, he didn't have go far to use the toilet, and thus reduced the chance of accidents.

Severus nodded, then turned back to pour two cups of tea into two chipped black cups with wolves on them, they were an old pair from his childhood, back when he and Lily used to drink the same tea in his backyard. He also summoned a house elf to bring him a heavier than usual breakfast, so he could share it with Harry before sending the boy to Pomfrey.

By the time Harry had made his way out of the bathroom, the small table in the lab had two steaming cups of Phoenix-Dragon tea on it as well as eggs, bacon, biscuits, toast with boysenberry jam, oatmeal, and fruit. Harry's eyes nearly fell out of his head.

"Who's all the food for?"

"Us. The house elves overdid it," Severus sighed, then gestured for Harry to sit down opposite him and prop his injured foot up on a padded foot stool.

Harry slowly and painfully made his way over to the table, wincing. Severus noticed, of course, and made sure that Harry's chair had a Cushioning Charm upon it. Even so, the boy hissed and grimaced as he sat down. "I'll put on some more bruise balm before I send you to the Hospital Wing," he told the boy, who immediately helped himself to a bit of everything.

Harry reached for his tea, sipping it slowly, and after he had drank some of the spiced orange blend, Severus passed him another pain reliever. The boy made a face, for the Pain Reliever Elixir tasted gross, but he drank it down at a look from his guardian. "Ugh! Can't you make that stuff taste good?"

"No. If I add anything for taste it will dilute the potency. You know why the Pain Reliever tastes bitter, don't you?"

"Yes, sir. Because it has willow bark in it, which is where you get aspirin from, and it tastes bitter." Harry replied, familiar with Snape's little mini quizzes over breakfast. This was how they used to be, back before Harry started school.

"Correct. Eat, before it gets cold. And mind you take small bites, and-"

"-chew slowly and swallow," Harry finished the familiar litany. He picked up his fork and started eating his eggs, which had chives in them and were very tasty.

Severus turned back to his own breakfast, which was usually fruit, a small bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and cream, and thickly buttered toast with boysenberry jam. Severus had a passion for boysenberry jam. He had once made himself sick to his stomach as a child by eating an entire jar of boysenberry jam. As an adult, he rarely allowed himself to indulge in sweets, but he did permit himself to enjoy boysenberry jam on toast at breakfast every other morning.

The two ate companionably, and Harry allowed a wave of nostalgia to sweep through him. This was how it used to be, just the two of them, back when he was small, only then he hadn't been allowed to see Snape's face, his long hood had shadowed it. It felt good to finally gaze without obstruction upon the face of his guardian angel, who was taking great pleasure in eating his toast and jam.

It was kind of funny to think of Snape as enjoying food like a normal person, since many of his students probably thought he lived off his potions, or blood, or something utterly gross like that. Harry knew many Gryffindors called him a vampire behind his back as well as a bat and other unflattering names. Harry wished he could defend his mentor to those in his House, but he knew he had to keep his temper and hold his tongue, for Snape's sake if for nothing else. But oh, sometimes it was so hard!

He chewed on a bit of bacon, thinking sadly, Nobody else knows him like I do. Nobody knows the truth, what he's really like, except me. I don't think even the other teachers or Dumbledore really knows. He hides himself away from everyone except me.

Harry ate slowly, but not only because of his delicate stomach, but because he wanted to prolong his stay in the dungeons as long as possible. He knew it was necessary for Snape to send him away, but that didn't mean he had to like it. So he dawdled deliberately, a slight rebellion, and wished the deceptive game they played were not necessary.

"Have you recalled anything else about last night, Harry?" Severus broke into his thoughts abruptly.

Harry shook his head slightly, for his temples throbbed even with the pain reliever, as did his legs and backside. He felt like he'd been stomped on by a dozen Irish step dancers, all of them wearing steel-toed shoes. "No, sir. I still can't remember," he sighed. He couldn't understand why his mind was drawing a blank, though a strange feeling was nagging him that maybe his memory loss was a blessing in disguise.

Severus looked slightly annoyed, but then his face smoothed out and he said, "Finish your breakfast and your tea, Harry. It's getting late and I still need to put on some more salve and send you to Madam Pomfrey."

Harry merely nodded, and finished his toast, another piece of bacon, and some oatmeal before pushing his plate away. Then he finished his tea, not realizing that Severus had slipped a Sleeping Draft in there.

Harry found himself yawning before he knew quite what he was about, then Severus told him to remove his pajama bottoms and lie on the bed so he could reapply the salve.

The boy did as ordered, though his fingers were strangely reluctant to obey him, and he felt himself yawn again. God, why was he so tired? He had only just woken up. He laid on the bed, wincing as his leg protested the sudden movement.

Drowsing, Harry barely protested when the Potions Master removed his boxers as well, the better to apply salve to his bruised backside as well as his right hip. Severus swore under his breath at the multi-colored bruises that decorated the child like a patchwork quilt, as the professor had foreseen. "Lie still, child. I know you're quite sore, so I will try and make this as quick and painless as possible."

Gentle as the Potions Master was, it still hurt when he rubbed the salve on, and Harry whimpered and clenched his teeth. But in a minute, the bruise balm was numbing the area, healing the battered boy inch by inch. Severus was thorough, knowing Harry would rather die than admit he needed salve to the medi-witch, and the process took longer than he had intended. But at last the salve had been applied all over, and Severus replaced the boy's clothing and stood up.

By then Harry was fast asleep, as Snape had intended. It was a calculated gesture, for Severus knew Harry needed to sleep in order to heal, and also so he couldn't protest his leaving the dungeons again. He stood looking down at the sleeping child for several long minutes, and his lips whispered a silent heartfelt prayer that he had been able to save Harry once more from the jaws of implacable death. Please, let me continue to do so, for he is all I have left of the woman I once loved, though she never knew the depth of my feelings for her, because I was too much of a coward to tell her until it was too late, and she had married Potter. That has always been my greatest regret, that I loved too late and I could not save her as well as her son.

But he had arrived too late to prevent Voldemort from destroying the Potter residence, for they were betrayed from within, by their Secret Keeper, and even the premiere spy had not known of it until Voldemort had left to mete out his wicked justice to those who had dared to defy him. Severus had tried to make the evil wizard wait, but Voldemort refused to be swayed by the spy's honeyed words, and had Crucio-ed him for his impudence before Apparating away. It had been a full twenty minutes before Severus could move and shake off the awful pain and by then James and Lily were dead and so was Voldemort.

Snape had arrived to find baby Harry screaming his head off, his howls echoing in the empty house like the wailing of a banshee.

He had found James dead at the entrance to the house, and had paused to close the empty eyes and drape a summoned sheet over the Auror's limp body. "You died with honor, my rival, as you wished," Severus had said softly, giving the corpse a brief bow of respect, for even Potter deserved that much, though Snape had never liked the man.

But the sight of Lily's lifeless form lying in front of Harry's room had completely undid him, and he had sank to his knees and cradled her in his arms, tears running freely down his face, his composure utterly shattered. "Lily, my love . . .don't leave me . . .!" he howled, and for a moment Harry's wails had been drowned out by the sound of the Potions Master sobbing desolately, as he held his beloved to his chest and cursed Voldemort to the depths of hell. You have taken everything from me, you devil spawn! My love, my life, but no more. Somehow, someway I shall find a way to defeat you and send you to hell, Riddle, this I swear by all I am and all the angels in heaven. Grant me vengeance, Lord, by whatever means necessary.
Hagrid had found him there, weeping like a lost child over Lily's body, and it was he who finally persuaded the professor to let her go and pick up Harry. "She'd of wanted yeh t'take care of her baby, Professor. He's all we've got left of ‘em. It's a miracle he's still alive."

Snape had nodded, for Hagrid was right, and he had no idea how the child had survived the wrath of Voldemort. The only evidence of harm upon the little one's face was a peculiar lightning bolt shaped scar, red and angry-looking. Severus had rubbed a bit of salve on it, figuring that was part of the reason the little one was still sobbing.

Then Severus had cradled the hysterical child in his arms, hugging him hard, while Hagrid wept and gestured to the double-seated motorcycle. Severus had ridden shot gun, baby Harry cradled close, asleep on the Potion Master's shoulder. Hagrid brought them to Dumbledore, who then proceeded to tell Snape that Harry must be left with his Muggle relatives.

Senile old coot, I warned you no good would ever come from trusting them. They never loved him, he was just the unwanted orphan brat that was there as a reminder of all they hated about us. Minerva warned you also, but you insisted, and he suffered for it. If not for my vow, who knows what would have become of him?

He bent and kissed Harry gently on the forehead before placing him on the stretcher and Flooing to the infirmary. Pleasant dreams, child of mine. May God and His angels watch over you. You are more like your mother than you know.

* * * * * *

Sunlight streamed into the infirmary from the partially opened drape across from Harry's bed, crawled up the coverlet, and tickled Harry's eyelids. He stirred, loth to leave the pleasant dream he'd been having. In it he had been with his mother and he was small, she was holding him and laughing, and Severus was there too, smiling at him and saying, "He's got your eyes, Lily. Rare and precious and they say the eyes are the windows of the soul." Then he had reached out his arms and Severus had held him, nestled against the familiar soft spicy-smelling black velvet chest, and he had snuggled into the warmth and fell asleep, warm and safe at last.

Slowly, his eyelids fluttered and he opened them, one at a time. His stomach was also staging a rather loud rebellion, so he knew he had slept for quite awhile. The strong sunlight made his eyes water for a minute, until he turned away slightly and saw two familiar faces peering at him.

"Huh? Ron? Hermione?"

"Here, Harry. Your glasses," Hermione said, and slipped them on his face.

Immediately, everything quit being a blurred kaleidoscope and came back into focus.

Now he could see Ron and Hermione sitting in chairs beside his bed. Both looked quite worried and concerned. "Hi. How long have I been here?"

"Practically the whole day, we've only just got to see you now, Harry." Hermione said.

"What happened last night?" Ron hissed, looking around to see if they were unobserved. They were alone. "Pomfrey says you fell down some stairs and Snape-Snape-found you and brought you here."

"I really don't remember a lot about last night," Harry said truthfully. "Except that I didn't fall down the stairs like she thinks. I was pushed. That's the last thing I remember clearly. A good hard shove."

Hermione looked horrified. "Oh my God, Harry! But that means . . .oh, Harry!" She looked as though she might burst into tears.

"I'll bet it was Malfoy who pushed you," Ron put in hotly, hoping to distract Hermione. "He was afraid he'd lose the duel, so he cheated and ambushed you. Typical Slytherin. Maybe Snape helped him, like an accomplice."

"No," Harry said firmly, and at the same time Hermione snorted.

"Don't be ridiculous, Ron. What possible reason would Professor Snape have to harm Harry?"

"Who knows? Maybe for some creepy reason of his own, like being in league with You-Know-Who. He's always hated Harry for some reason."

"But Ron, he brought me here. Why would he do that if he wanted me dead?" Harry pointed out logically.

"He's right. Why bother bringing Harry to the Hospital Wing unless he was just doing his job as a teacher and helping an injured student?"

"Yeah, right, that'll be the day, Snape concerned over students."

Harry frowned and played with the covers. If only he could tell his friends the truth! But he couldn't, so he said, "Maybe Snape decided he would act like a normal human being."

"Or maybe he's in on it with Malfoy and decided to bring you here to make it look good," insisted Ron.

"Ron, why would Snape want to kill Harry?"

"Uh . . .because he's got a filthy mouth? No?" He grimaced and his brow crinkled. "So he couldn't play Quidditch and beat Slytherin this Saturday?"

"Oh, please! That's got to be the stupidest motive I've ever heard of. All Snape would have to do to stop Harry from playing is to give him detention. Not murder him."

"What about Malfoy?

"Malfoy might . . .but I dunno. Why were we having a duel anyhow?"

Ron just gaped at him. "Why were you . . .don't you remember, mate?"

Harry shook his head. "I . . .hurt my head when I fell and I can only remember bits and pieces about what happened after lunch. . ."

"You don't remember getting trapped on the moving staircase?" Hermione reminded.

Harry frowned. "A little. There was a dog with three heads or something."

"Shhh! Not so loud, else we'll be in for it!" the girl hissed.

They quickly filled Harry in on the specifics of their adventure on the third floor and Malfoy's challenge.

"He was trying to get us expelled, the big git, so that's why he pushed you down the stairs. Because if you couldn't fight, then he could go running to Dumbledore and tell lies," said Ron.

"Well, he hasn't told him yet, since we've not gotten called to the office," Hermione said, sounding very relieved. "I don't think he will, either, because he was breaking rules too and could be accused of attacking Harry. After all, he doesn't know you've got memory loss, Harry."

Harry winced at the term. It made him sound like a doddering toothless old man. He cleared his throat. "Look, maybe the best thing would be for us to just stick together, don't go anywhere alone till we find out who was in on it, if we can."

"That makes sense," Hermione approved. "No criminal will strike with witnesses about."

"Don't worry, Harry. We'll watch your back."

Harry shifted slightly, his hip and backside were aching from lying down, and he carefully flipped onto his stomach.

"Are you in a lot of pain?" Hermione asked, concerned. "Madam Pomfrey said you'd broken your ankle and were very badly bruised."

"Yeah, but I'll be better by tomorrow, so I won't miss the Quidditch match on Saturday."

"Thank Merlin for that. We don't have a replacement Seeker," Ron said. "McGonagall would've had a hippogriff."

"Are you sure you should play, Harry? What if whoever it is tries to . . .hurt you again?"

"Hermione, I have to play. And I don't think whoever it was would hurt me during the match," he stated with more confidence than he really felt. Besides, Snape would be watching, and he knew with his guardian angel standing by, no harm would come to him. When Severus made a promise, he kept it.

Speaking of promises, he'd promised Snape his class schedule. He drew his wand and spoke a quick Summoning Charm, he'd been practicing them with Severus during the flying lessons. "Accio Harry's bookbag."

The bag soared into his grasp from Gryffindor Tower.

Ron and Hermione looked like they'd been slammed with a club, their jaws nearly touched the floor.

"Hey! How'd you do that?"

"I didn't know you could do Summoning Charms, Harry," Hermione gasped, sounding a bit put out. "When did you learn that?"

"Uh . . ." Harry floundered, not knowing how to explain it and then he said, "I . . .can't remember that either. But . . .who cares?" He reached into his bag, found his potions homework, and tucked a copy of his schedule inside the two foot essay on common uses of belladonna and dragonbane. "Hermione? Could you, uh, do me a favor? This is my potions homework, I need you to hand it in for me this afternoon, otherwise he might give me a zero."

"Sure, Harry. Would you like me to give the other teachers your homework too?"

He ended up giving her all of his homework to hand in.

"It's too bad you can't remember where you learned the Summoning Charm," she said wistfully.

You'd never believe me if I told you, he thought. Then he said," Well, maybe later I could, uh, teach you. It's not hard. You just need to focus. Magic is nine tenths will to one tenth power."

"Thanks, Harry! Hope you feel better." She tucked Harry's assignments into her bag. "Ron, we'd better move, before we're late for History of Magic."

"Like that'd be such a loss," Ron muttered, but he rose and followed his year-mate out the door.

Harry watched them go, pondering on what he had learned about the duel and he thanked his lucky stars that he truly hadn't remembered what had happened when Snape asked him, otherwise he would have been in trouble again. Now though, he would pray that Severus didn't ask him anything about that night, because he didn't want to get Snape mad again.

He tugged his potions text from his bag and started reading up on standard cures for everyday ailments, like the Pepper Up potion for colds. He recognized most of them since Severus had dosed him with them over the years. He read quietly for about two hours before growing tired again. Then he set the book aside, drank the cup of water Pomfrey had set out and drifted into a half-doze, where he dreamed of the item Hagrid had removed from the vault, it was rare and precious and the three-headed dog guarded it diligently.

Then the dream changed and Dumbledore was standing in front of him, saying he was unfit to play Quidditch and then Snape replaced him, scolding him severely for dueling with Malfoy and making him swallow more of that horrid "mouthwash".

He woke sweating and shivering, the memory of Snape's disapproving frown hovering over him like a black cloud. He squirmed guiltily. It was evening now and he felt much better physically than he had before, Snape's potions had mended much of the damage.

"Let's see how you're doing, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey appeared beside him and ran a quick diagnostic. "Very good, your ankle and head are nearly mended and so are most of the bruises and lacerations. "Professor Snape just may have saved your life, you know. It was lucky he found you when he did."

"Yes, ma'am. Does that mean I can go back to Gryffindor Tower tonight?"

"Well, I think tomorrow is soon enough. You can get a better night's sleep down here." She gave him a tray with some turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, a roll, buttered beans, and some more pumpkin juice. "Eat your supper, please, and then you can have dessert."

Harry started eating, for he was starving, and Pomfrey bustled away to check on some supplies.

Just then a large Great-Horned owl flew into the infirmary, carrying a long parcel wrapped in layers of brown paper in its large talons.

"A package for me?" Harry exclaimed as the owl flew down. He gave it some turkey and it hooted once and was gone.

Harry was puzzled. Who would be sending him mail? Certainly not the Dursleys, who were probably celebrating his absence. There was a small card attached to the end of the package, and Harry read it.

DO NOT OPEN THIS PACKAGE IN FRONT OF ANYONE were the note's first instructions. The next lines read:

Fly safe and fly well and God help you if you get injured again, you incorrigible brat. I'll be watching.

It was unsigned, but Harry didn't need a signature to know who had wrote it. Only one person ever scolded and cautioned him all in the same breath.

Smiling, Harry unwrapped the parcel, and for a full minute just stared at what was revealed there.

It was, as he had expected, a new broom.

But not just any broom, a top of the line racing broom called a Nimbus 2000. Harry had read about the new model in a borrowed Quidditch magazine called Quaffles and Snitches and seen it advertised in Which Broomstick? And the price . . .

His hands gently caressed the sleek golden handle, made of a rare lightweight wood with the inscription Nimbus 2000 in gold on the end of the handle. Also included was a broomstick care and repair kit. The twigs on the Nimbus were uniformly trimmed and glistened with polish, it looked like lightning standing still and Harry couldn't wait to try it out.

Perhaps tomorrow night Severus would take him flying, so he could get used to it. He ran his hand down the silky grain again and this time noticed his initials, HP, engraved on the opposite side of the handle.

Holy Merlin! This is like . . .the most amazing broom ever. Thank you, Severus. I really don't deserve this.

He had never expected anything like this, even though Severus had been muttering the last few lessons that Harry needed a decent broom for the match. One with speed and safety charms, he'd said.

But this. . . !

Overwhelmed, Harry gently placed the Nimbus on the bed and carefully fed both note and paper to the fireplace, before sitting back down and putting the broom on his knees, marveling at how perfect it was. It was a magnificent gift. He was still gazing at it in stunned surprise when Ron walked in and caught sight of it.

"Bloody hell! A Nimbus 2000! Where'd you get it, Harry?"

Harry looked up. "It came today. From an old friend of my mother's."

"Anyone I know? You think maybe he's got another one lying around?" Ron asked hopefully. He reached out to stroke the handle reverently.

"Uh, I'd doubt it," Harry chuckled.

"Too bad. Whoever he is, he must like you an awful lot to give you a Nimbus!"

Harry hid a grin. He wished he could tell Ron who had sent it to him, the expression on the Weasley's face would have been priceless.

"Just wait till Malfoy sees," Ron was saying. "He thinks he's so hot cause he's got a Comet 260 at home. Ha! The Nimbus blows his away."

Harry smiled. As long as it let him outfly the opposition, he didn't care what Malfoy had. And he owed Severus more than he could ever repay. 

How did you like this one?

Coming next: The infamous troll incident!

I changed the rating to be safe, as there is a scene of non-graphic abuse eventually in the story, plus a few battles.

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