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For the rest of November and into December, Harry met with Severus every other night or so to have a self-defense lesson. The magical lessons were usually accompanied by some kind of physical exercise, such as running laps or crunches or push-ups, and there was a strange exercise where Snape put several large sticks on the ground and had Harry hop over them in a set pattern. "For coordination and footwork," he explained at his ward's puzzled query. The sessions grew more demanding physically and magically as the month wore on, and Snape began pushing his charge. Harry often ended the lessons aching as if he'd been beaten with sticks and he went through a container of Snape's Muscle Soothing Salve by the end of November and had to ask for more.

Harry regarded that salve as a life saver, for the next morning after his first lesson, he had been very sore, and had ached all day. At night, when he met Severus for the second lesson, he complained a bit, though his dark angel had no sympathy for him. "I warned you, this wasn't a game. You're going to be sore until your muscles toughen up and adjust to the exercise, use the salve I gave you after a hot bath or shower later tonight. Now stretch for ten minutes and start running."

"But Severus, my legs feel like rubber, I don't think I can run," Harry complained.

"I beg to differ," the Potions Master said frostily. "You're not going to let a little thing like sore muscles prevent you from defending yourself, are you? Because if so, then you may as well quit wasting my time and go back to your room, I don't have the patience for whiny crybabies."

Harry flushed at the derogatory tone. "I'm not a crybaby . . .sir." He added, though his tone was just this side of disrespect.

Severus's eyes narrowed. "Mind your tone, boy. Or you can do laps and ten pushups for me as well, plus scrub a few cauldrons. Stretches, young man! Move!"

Harry groaned, but did as he was ordered. At first the exercise hurt, but as he warmed up, his muscles felt better, and by the time the ten minutes were up, he could run laps without feeling like his legs were going to come off.

Of course, the next morning he was almost too sore to get out of bed.

But gradually his body adjusted and Harry found his new physical fitness an asset when Severus altered their sessions after two weeks and began casting hexes and jinxes at him. Being quick enabled him to dodge and duck a hex, and he learned to be alert as well, and notice things about his opponent before Snape did them, and so he was not caught off-guard. Severus was teaching him standard Defense spells, the Shield Charm, the Mirror Charm, where you could reflect a low-level spell back upon the caster, the Notice Me Not Charm, which allowed you to trick a Muggle or unsuspecting wizard into thinking you weren't really there, the Leglocker Jinx, that one Harry knew from Hermione, and the Body Bind.

Snape was nothing if not a thorough teacher, making certain Harry had mastered one spell before moving on to the next. He also made Harry use those he had already learned in short spars against him, and it was then that Harry realized just how skilled Snape was at dueling. Harry almost never won against him, he ended up knocked on his bum most times, enduring Tickling Hexes, Stinging Hexes, and other mildly physical jinxes.

Occasionally, Harry would grow frustrated at his seeming lack of progress, and take the wrong tone and attitude with his teacher. Severus never let him get away with it either. He gave one warning, and if it was not heeded, Harry ended up running extra laps and doing push-ups. Once, and only once, did Harry ever protest running extra laps, saying Severus was being unfair and acting like a sulky brat.

That time, Snape had taken him by the ear and made him stand facing a tree for twenty minutes. "If you're going to act like a spoiled brat of a six-year-old then I will treat you like one, Mr. Potter, and give you a time out. Perhaps I was wrong and you aren't grown-up enough to learn self-defense. Maybe you need a nap and a bedtime story instead?"

"No, sir." Harry had muttered, feeling ashamed at his outburst. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Apology accepted, now quit fidgeting and stand still, or I'll add another minute and make you stand on one leg," growled the Potions Master.

Harry froze. Embarrassing as this punishment was, he didn't want to have anything added to it.

Severus released him after twenty minutes, and then made him run the extra laps as well, until he was certain Harry had learned his lesson about mouthing off to him. That night they barely had time to practice magic at all, due to the young apprentice's attitude. Harry sulked all the way back to the castle, until Severus took his chin in his hand and said sternly, "Do you want to continue these lessons, young man? Or shall I just wash my hands of you right now? This is for your own good, Harry James Potter, now why are you sulking like a three-year-old?"

"Because I barely learned any magic tonight," he'd answered, biting his lip.

"That was your own fault, boy. Lose the attitude and we won't have a problem. Keep it and you'll end up running and standing with your nose against an oak tree all night. It's your choice."

Then his guardian had given him a look of vast disappointment and disapproval, making Harry feel guilty and regretful, before sending him off to Gryffindor Tower with a sharp swat.

That night Harry slept badly, wondering if Severus was so mad that he wouldn't want to continue teaching him. Early the next morning, he sent Hedwig off with a note, telling Snape he was sorry and he would try to behave better and he truly did want to continue the self-defense lessons.

After that, Harry learned to control his temper and his tongue and to accept his punishments with good grace, knowing that he deserved them.

Severus had told Harry to wear old clothes for the lessons, not his school uniform, because the boy often got dirty and sweaty, and when Harry had shown up in Dudley's old sweats and shirt, which were swimming on him, Severus had asked him why, and become furious when Harry told him all he ever got to wear was his cousin's cast-offs.

Goddamn skinflint Muggles! What have they been doing all these years with the stipend Dumbledore sent them? Spending it on that bloody spoiled brat of theirs? Snape had thought angrily, then cast a charm to make the clothes fit properly. He didn't discuss it further, but two days later, Harry received his first package from Uncle Toby, and inside were several pairs of trousers, shirts, socks, and underwear, plus a lightweight exercise outfit.

Harry had never had any new clothes before except his school things, and delighted in the feel of soft new fabric against his skin and clothes that actually fit him and weren't too long or too big and were free of holes and stains.

Ron had raised an eyebrow at the package. "Who's that from, Harry?"

"My Uncle Toby. The old friend of my mum's who sent me the Nimbus," Harry replied without blinking an eyelash. "Guess he figured I needed some new clothes or something."

Ron peered at the pile of clothes and whistled. "Merlin, Harry, those clothes aren't cheap. See the moon and star logo on the tag, and on the shirt here?" Ron pointed to a small silver crescent moon and star design on some of the shirts and embroidered into the tags on each item.

"Yeah, what's that mean?"

"It means those clothes were made by Mystic Designs. That's a real pricey clothing line in the wizarding world. Mystic's like what toffs like Malfoy wear sometimes, only it's casual wear, and made to be stain resistant and tear resistant. They've got charms woven into the fabric, see? My brother Charlie's got a Mystic pullover and he wears it every year on holidays. This uncle of yours must be rich as Midas. Does he have a Galleon tree in his backyard or something?"

"Uh, I dunno," Harry said, stroking the soft rich blue fabric of a long sleeved shirt again. "You mean, money really does grow on trees in the wizarding world?"

Ron grinned. "Only if you have an enchanted Galleon tree, and they're so rare that I think the only one left in Britain is the property of the Ministry of Magic. Where did you say your uncle was from again?"

Harry thought fast. "Uh . . .America. He's from . . .California. I wouldn't be surprised if he did have one of those trees there. I haven't seen him since I was a baby, and I can't really remember him all that well, but he used to go to school with my mum, and he always sends me stuff around Christmas and my birthday or whatever."

"Blimey! Wish I had an uncle like that. Think he'd adopt me?"

Harry had to turn away and cover his mouth to keep from laughing uncontrollably. Oh, Ron, what would you think if I told you that my "Uncle Toby" is none other than the greasy bat of the dungeons, Severus Snape? Just imagining the expression on his friend's face was hilarious. "Excuse me," he muttered, and left the hall quickly. Once outside the great double doors, he leaned against a statue and began to laugh hysterically.

He laughed until tears flowed down his face, picturing Ron fainting dead away if he ever learned he'd just requested Snape to adopt him, then he finally got himself under control and went back inside the hall.

The next morning there was another package, and this one contained a brand-new pair of white and red trainers, with crescent moon and star logo displayed prominently on the side of the sneaker. Harry tried them on and they fit perfectly. That day he wore one of his new outfits and the trainers under his robe when he went to class.

On the way to Herbology, Malfoy happened to glance at Harry and spotted his new trainers. "Potter, since when do you wear Mystic? I didn't think you even knew what real clothing was."

"Shows how much you know, Malfoy," Ron put in hotly. "Harry's uncle sent them to him and he's got more money than you and all your ancestors put together."

"Do tell. You going to hit him up for a loan then, Weasley? Before your family goes on the Needy Family list? Bet you're jealous, since that one trainer probably costs more than your entire wardrobe."

Ron clenched a fist. "Sod off, Malfoy."

Malfoy grinned nastily. "Maybe if you ask him nicely, Harry's uncle will let you rent out a room, since a bedroom in his house is probably bigger than the shack you grew up in. Then your family will be living in luxury like you've always dreamed of."

Ron lunged at Malfoy, snarling something about rearranging all the Slytherin's teeth, just as Professor McGonagall came out of the greenhouse.

"Mr. Weasley! Stop this at once!" she yelled, storming up to them.

Harry had Ron by the collar of his robe, else Ron would have tackled the smirking Malfoy to the ground.

"You know better than to start a fight, young man."

"But Professor, he started it!" Ron protested. "He said-"

"No excuses, fighting is against school rules and now you've just gotten five points from Gryffindor," she informed him sternly. "Learn to control that temper, young man." Malfoy smirked, until Minerva whirled on him and said, "I cannot take points from you, Mr. Malfoy, since I did not hear the remark that started this, but best you wipe that smirk off your face, boy, else I shall take points for your saucy attitude. Am I clear?"

Malfoy immediately lost his smug attitude. "Yes, ma'am."

Then he hurried off to the greenhouse, followed by Harry and Ron, who felt somewhat vindicated by his professor's scolding of Malfoy, though he grumbled about her taking points. "Bloody hell, but she's almost as bad as Snape."

Harry said nothing, for Ron's continued vendetta against Snape was really starting to wear on him, especially given the man's current generosity.

That afternoon in potions, Harry lingered after class to ask a question about their homework assignment, but in reality he wanted to thank the professor for buying him the clothes and shoes.

"Yes, Potter, what is it?" Snape demanded irritably, unsure if any students were still in earshot.

"Uh, I just had a question about the homework, sir," Harry began, playing along.

"Well, let's have it then, I haven't got all afternoon to waste, unlike you," growled the Potions Master, then he motioned for Harry to shut the door and he put up the wards. "Yes, what is it, Harry?" he asked in a much more normal tone of voice. "Do you honestly have a question about the assignment or was there something else you needed to talk about?"

"No, I get the assignment, Professor. I just wanted to thank you, is all, for the uh . . .clothes and the new trainers. You really didn't have to go through all that trouble . . ." he began awkwardly, scraping the side of his sneaker against the floor. "Ron told me that Mystic clothes and shoes are expensive . . .I could've done without anything so, uh, fancy."

"You don't like them? I can exchange them if you'd like," Severus began. "I wasn't sure about certain styles, perhaps it would be better if you came with me?"

"No, oh no, sir, I don't mean I didn't like them!" he hastened to explain. "They're the best clothes I've ever had in my life. But it wasn't necessary for you to spend so much . . ."

"Yes, it was," Severus put in firmly. "Child, you have been denied basic necessities all your life, and I'm sorry I couldn't act on my instincts all those years ago and give you clothes and shoes and decent food and all the things your relatives neglected to provide for you. But I had to be careful, your relatives would have noticed you wearing new clothes and such. But here, I can give you what someone should have long ago, and don't even mention the price again, Mr. Potter. How I spend my money is my business and you do deserve to wear decent clothes and Mystic is great for wear and tear, it was designed for boys and girls who play sports mostly."

Severus didn't bother to tell his ward that for years he had lived a very Spartan existence, and so had plenty of money and for once it was pleasant to spend it on something other than rare potions texts or ingredients. He had enjoyed picking the clothes out for Harry and been wondering how he had liked them. Judging from the Gryffindor's expression, he liked them very much.

"Oh. Well, anyway, thanks and I'll see you later."

That night Harry wore his new exercise outfit to the self-defense lesson, and it was one of the best sessions yet. He managed to catch his wily guardian unaware, something that probably happened once in a blue moon, and ricocheted Snape's Stinging Hex right back on to him, causing the professor to wince and fumble his wand.

Then Harry followed up with a Body Bind, just the way Severus had taught him, and knocked his teacher flat on the ground.

For a few minutes, Harry just stared at the still form in disbelief, unable to comprehend that he had actually won a spar. Then it hit him, and he grinned like an imbecile. "I did it! Got you, Severus!"

The next instant, Snape muttered a countercurse, and stood up gingerly, but he was wearing a look of satisfaction and pride on his face. "That was well done, my boy. Very well done indeed. Remember it, for it could save your life one day. You're actually becoming dangerous, Harry. To your enemies, that is," chuckled the Slytherin, and he ruffled the boy's hair.

Then he gave Harry the rest of the night off, as a reward.

* * * * * *

By mid-December, winter had settled in about the grounds in all of its chilly glory. Frost coated all the gargoyles and the ramparts of the castle and students now wore extra sweaters and scarves while walking to and from Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. Harry had received some heavy shirts and pullovers from Uncle Toby, black and red and gold, all with the Mystic logo.

Hermione thought he looked sharp and remarked, "If your uncle keeps sending you clothes like this Harry, you'll be the best dressed student at Hogwarts soon."

"Yeah, and Malfoy will drown himself in despair," teased Ron, then winced as Harry socked him in the arm.

"Knock it off, you idiot," he ordered, but he was secretly more pleased than embarrassed, since being the best dressed was far better than being the charity case and made fun of for wearing old baggy clothes.

So far, nothing had turned up about Nicholas Flamel, much to Hermione's disappointment, though she wasn't giving up on her research.

And Ron still maintained that Snape was behind all the problems with Harry, making the dark-haired boy long to smack him upside the head for being so thick. True, Severus still picked on him in class, but no worse than he did any other Gryffindor.

With the holiday break approaching, the teachers were really piling on the homework, and even the first years felt the pressure. Harry spent at least an hour to two hours at night doing assignments, sometimes more if it were a paper. Ron teased him, saying he was turning into a brain like Hermione until Harry threw a parchment ball at him. That sparked off a brief parchment ball fight, until Percy scolded them and told them if they couldn't study quietly they should go to bed.

"You can't send me to bed, Percy," Ron snapped. "You're not Mum."

Percy eyed his younger brother and said softly, "Want to bet, Ronald? I can still toss you over my shoulder, baby brother, and I will if you don't mend your tone. People are trying to study, and if you can't respect that, you might as well go to sleep and quit creating a ruckus."

Ron flushed and glared, but sensed that Percy was serious, and so did not care to test him. "Okay, we'll be quiet. God, you act like you've never thrown a parchment ball in your life."

"I'm a prefect now, with standards." Percy said, sniffing. "Don't make me come back over here." Then he turned and walked away.

Ron made a face at him and muttered, "Thinks who the hell he is, all of a sudden. He forgets, I grew up with him, and he used to get in trouble all the time before he went to school, for trying experimental potions and spells and stuff. Got his arse walloped more than once, I'll tell you, for giving me and Ginny samples . . ."

Harry chuckled, though it was hard to imagine the proper Percy ever being a mischievous little kid and getting spanked. Still, Ron would know, if anyone would, and given the Weasley penchant for mischief . . .

"You're staying here for the break, right?" Harry asked, for he would not be leaving over Christmas, since staying at Hogwarts was much better than spending it with the Dursleys.

"Yeah, my parents are going to Romania to see my brother Charlie, and can't afford to take all of us. Percy will be going, though. But me and the twins will be here, so you won't be all by your lonesome on Christmas, Harry."

"Oh, that's good," Harry said, then recalled that he had wanted to spend part of his Christmas with Severus, so the professor wouldn't be alone either. Maybe he could find a way to snitch a few hours while Ron was sleeping or whatever. He didn't have any money to buy Severus a gift, so he decided to bake something instead.

He asked Hermione where the kitchens were, and once she had shown him, waited until the weekend to bake some of Petunia's gingerbread biscuits, using cutters shaped like cauldrons and candy canes and decorating them with tiny sugar sprinkles. Then he asked the house elves for a tin and wrapped it up with a large red bow and attached a small tag that was addressed to Uncle Toby, Happy Christmas, Your nephew, Harry. He would have Hedwig deliver it Christmas morning. He also made up a tin for Ron and Fred and George, Hagrid, and Hermione. He hoped they all liked gingerbread, although Petunia's recipe had won a prize once at the church social.

* * * * * *

The Great Hall was being decorated for the holidays as the break approached. Hagrid had dragged in several fir trees and Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Sprout had decorated them. Swags of Christmas greenery tied with large red velvet bows and tinkling silver bells hung over the mantle and about the House tables. There was also a twelve-foot high menorah and a blue fairy light sparkling Star of David for those who celebrated Hannukah instead of Christmas. The menorah candles were lit with rainbowed flames that never went out until the eighth and final night of Hannukah.

The wizarding community, like their Muggle counterparts, followed all religions, and Dumbledore was careful to represent them around their holidays so no one's feelings got hurt. Some of Harry's dorm mates, like the Patil twins, were of the Hindu faith, others, like Josh and Miriam Goldbaum, were Jewish, and there were a few Muslims, Buddhists, and Wiccans as well. During the course of the year, as different holidays came and went, Dumbledore would change the decorations in the hall to reflect whatever major holiday of a religion that was being celebrated.

That had not always been so. Centuries before, when religious tolerance was unheard of, and the Church held sway, Hogwarts had been strictly a Christian-based school, but in modern times, religious equality and tolerance was now the norm. There was a small plaque that hung just above the staff table that read: All faiths are welcome and equal here.

Finally, it was the night before Christmas, and the last student had left who was going home for the holidays. Ron and Harry had the common room of the tower to themselves. Hermione had promised to try and find out about Nicholas Flamel during the vacation if she could, which was nearly two weeks long.

"I really think he's the key to discovering what Fluffy's guarding and why Snape wants to get his hands on it."

Harry had told them of the mysterious package in vault 713 and recently there had been a headline in the Prophet about an attempted break-in at Gringotts, but the thieves had gone away empty-handed, since the vault 713 had been emptied already.

"Good thing Dumbledore moved whatever it is here," Ron said. "Sometimes he's not as dotty as he looks."

Hermione had suggested they try researching some more in the library over break, maybe even slip into the Restricted Section and have a peek at the books there. Ron just shook his head and said to Harry after she had gone that he wasn't going to spend his holiday doing anything other than eating, sleeping, and playing Wizard Chess and Quidditch.

The last weeks before the break had been a killer with exams and homework and both boys were looking forward to catching up on some sleep and relaxing. Most of the teachers had gone home during the break as well, save for Pomfrey, Snape, Pince, and Dumbledore. They usually stayed for at least one of the breaks, since they out of the staff were without families, or were no longer on speaking terms with them.

Christmas morning brought a spate of snow from the Highlands that coated everything in a pristine frosty white blanket, making the castle seem shrouded in mystery, which in fact it was.

Harry awoke to find several packages beneath the tree in the common room, several with his name on them, much to his shock. He hadn't been expecting anything this year, since the Dursleys never gave him presents. This year, he received a crumpled up tissue, inside of a small plastic box, along with the phrase Waste not, want not. He promptly threw it in the fireplace, right after showing it to Ron, who scowled and said that his aunt and uncle were cruel and needed to be checked into an institution. "Too bad you got stuck living with them instead of that friend of your mum's, huh?" Ron said sympathetically.

"Yeah, too bad."

"Anyway, open up the rest of your gifts." Ron urged, and tore into his own pile of presents with gusto.

He discovered several from the Weasleys. Ron had given him a Quidditch book called Flying With the Cannons, it was a biography about his favorite Quidditch team. "Thought you'd like to read about something b'sides school books."

"I would, thanks." Harry said, then set the book aside and opened the rest of his presents.

Mrs. Weasley had sent him two homemade mince pies, fudge, and a red sweater with a big gold H on it. "She always gives us those. Likes to knit, Mum does," Ron told him, laughing. Also included was a matching scarf and a hat and gloves.

From the twins he received a box of chocolate frogs and Zonkos firecrackers. "We can have some fun with those with Filch and Mrs. Norris," said the card.

Hermione had given him a leak-proof quill and a leather journal, which Harry planned to use to record all the self-defense spells and techniques that Snape had been teaching him.

Hagrid had sent him a box of rock-cakes, which Harry knew better than to eat, last time he had eaten one it had made him have a terrible stomachache and Severus had to give him a potion to help him digest it.

Then there was an odd flat package, inside of which was a shimmery gray cloak of some lightweight material that was not like anything Harry had ever seen before. When he tried it on, he became invisible. "Hey, Ron, check this out!"

Ron whistled. "Merlin, Harry! That's an Invisibility Cloak! They're really rare. Your Uncle Toby send you that?"

"No. The card's not signed." Harry examined it again. "All it says is that it used to belong to my dad and to use it well, whatever that means." He too had thought it was from Snape, until he had read the card. Severus would never send him something that had belonged to James.

"Must be one of your dad's old friends then. Wish some of my parents' friends would send me cool stuff like that," Ron sighed a bit enviously. "All they usually bring me are chocolate and hugs and kisses." He made a disgusted face. "Oh, by the way, thanks for the gingerbread, Harry. It's excellent." He popped another biscuit in his mouth.

"You're welcome. I made it myself," Harry declared, blushing. He hoped Hermione, Severus, the twins, and Hagrid were enjoying theirs as well.

Hedwig had not yet returned from delivering the Potion Master's gift, and Harry wondered what was keeping her.

As if his thoughts had summoned her, the snowy owl glided in through the open window of the common room, a green envelope clutched in her talons.

She delivered the envelope directly to her master, then retreated to the back of the sofa to eat a square of buttered toast.

Harry eagerly tore it open, the return address read T. Knight, which was Snape's alias.

Inside was the following note, written in Severus's elegant script:

Dear Harry,
First I would like to thank you for the wonderful gingerbread. I have already sampled one, even though I rarely allow myself to indulge in sweets, for they are my weakness. But I make an exception around the holidays and these are the best gingerbread biscuits I have ever eaten. I will try and make them last more than three days.

I thought long and hard about a gift for you, and in the end I decided to give you something unconventional, but I hope you will appreciate it. I have arranged an appointment with an eye specialist, Healer Hawkins, at St. Mungos, who will do a preliminary exam to determine if you're eligible for the eye surgery you mentioned to me. If so, you can have the surgery done over break, it's a relatively simply procedure, and start the new term without glasses. I shall pay all the fees as my gift to you.

Meet me tomorrow afternoon, one o'clock, in the infirmary, and don't be alarmed if I look different than you expected. I'll need to sign a few forms for Poppy before we visit the hospital.

Happy Christmas, Harry.


Uncle Toby

Harry was utterly overwhelmed. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected such a gift. He sat down with a thud on the floor, unable to speak, or to do anything save stare at the letter in his hand.

He must have had a strange expression on his face, for Ron peered at him worriedly and said, "Hey, you all right, Harry? Is it something bad?"

"Huh? No, it's just . . .a shock. My uncle, the one who sends me all those packages, is coming here tomorrow and he's taking me to see an eye specialist so maybe I can get that eye surgery and not need to wear glasses ever again. I mentioned it to him once . . .but I never thought he'd offer to pay for it . . ." Harry said dazedly. "I'm not even blood related to him, and the surgery's expensive. Only he says it's my . . .my Christmas present."

"Wow! That's great, Harry. That's a super Christmas present. Hope everything works out for you, mate." Ron said. "I'm gonna go wake up Fred and George, so they can open up their gifts and all." He raced upstairs, leaving Harry alone, holding the letter on his lap.

To be able to see . . .really see . . .not just with glasses alone, but like everyone else . . .it would be the best thing ever. I used to dream about that, when I was small and kids used to tease me for wearing ugly specs and Dudley broke them on me all the time. But I never thought it could happen . . .never ever. He felt a sudden lump grow in his throat and found himself choking up and tears filling his eyes. For once, he could be almost normal, like everyone else. Instead of the four-eyed freak his aunt and uncle had always told him he was. Two tears slid down his face and he hastily wiped them away. He didn't know what was the matter with him.

Here he was, about to get what he had always wanted, and all he could do was cry over it like a little baby.

How can I ever thank him for this? I don't know what to say. Except thank you God for sending him to watch over me.
Blotting his eyes once more with a corner of his sleeve, he tucked the precious letter inside his pocket and fed the wrapping paper to the flames, just before the twins stampeded down the stairs yelling Christmas wishes and tearing into their gifts under the tree.

* * * * * *

The next afternoon, Harry arrived in the infirmary at precisely one o'clock, to find a tall blond-haired blue-eyed stranger in casual denims and a blue collared shirt awaiting him, along with Madam Pomfrey. Harry blinked, unsure of how he should greet this disguised Snape, then Severus held out his arms and said, "Hello, Harry. You've grown some since last time I saw you, kid. You fit in my arms then."

His uncle was smiling, and the smile was genuine, Harry could see it reflected in his eyes. That was all he needed. "Hi, Uncle Toby," he said, then he ran over and hugged the older man hard, burying his face in Severus's chest. Despite the Glamour Charm, he could smell the familiar scent of spices that always clung to the Potions Master, and the feel of Severus's arms about him was still the same. Sudden tears welled up in his eyes and he muttered into the soft fabric of Severus's Mystic shirt, "I . . .can't believe you would . . .thanks so much . . .thank you's not enough . . ."

"Hey, take it easy. I thought it would make you happy," his uncle soothed, and though he spoke with an American accent, the timbre of his voice was unmistakably Snape. He rubbed Harry's back soothingly for a moment, looking awkward.

"I think he's a little overwhelmed, poor dear," said Pomfrey softly. "His relatives, from what I've heard, were not the best sort of people . . ."

"Toby" snorted. "You can say that again. I knew Petunia Evans when we were kids, and she was no prize then and I doubt she's changed. Always resented Lily and me for our magic, and she married a man who's as bigoted as she is, least that's what Lily told me before she . . .was killed." The Potions Master sighed heavily, still rubbing circles on his "nephew"'s back. Harry was crying silently into his shirt, and Severus continued talking to Pomfrey about living next door to Lily as a child and then moving to America during his second year at Hogwarts.

"My father took a position as a Magical Relations Ambassador and ended up falling in love with the United States and that's where I grew up, though I always kept in touch with Lily, and she asked me to look out for Harry if I could, if something should happen to her. So that's why I'm here," Severus said, the half-truth rolling easily off his tongue. He glanced down at the dark-haired boy and asked, "You okay now, son?"

"Yes, sir," Harry sniffled, blushing. Now why did he have to fall apart like that? Severus probably thought he was the biggest wimp on the planet. He accepted the handkerchief Snape handed him and wiped his eyes. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Sometimes getting what you've always wanted is scary, huh?" Severus said sagely. "If that's the last of the forms, ma'am, I guess we'll be on our way to the hospital."

"It is, Mr. Knight. Good luck, Harry." Poppy waved at them, smiling.

The two left the infirmary, walking down to the gates of the school and past the wards a little ways. Then Snape's fingers tightened upon Harry's shoulder, and he Apparated them to St. Mungos, where Healer Hawkins awaited them.

* * * * * *

It only took ten minutes for Healer Hawkins to examine Harry's eyes and have him read an eyechart before determining that Harry was indeed a prime candidate for the magical eye surgery. "Based on my diagnosis, Harry's vision can be corrected to almost 20/20 in both eyes with my new surgery technique. There was no permanent damage to the retina or the optic nerve that I can determine. He wasn't born with bad vision, this happened as a result of that curse that rebounded on him when he was a baby."

Harry gaped at the doctor and so did Severus. That was something no one had ever known before.

"You mean, my nephew's vision problems are a direct result of . . .of the Killing Curse?"

"Essentially, yes. The curse hit him in the forehead, and the shock damaged the nerves and retina in his eyes, resulting in acute nearsightedness. It's really a miracle that not only did he survive, but that he's not blind. Blindness wouldn't be able to be corrected with my surgery. However, his vision could have been corrected easily had he been examined by an Occular Specialist as a child."

"And now?"

"Now it's a bit trickier, but nothing I can't handle," Hawkins replied. "I do surgery like this almost everyday, and Harry's vision problems are hardly unique. We can schedule the surgery for next Monday, or sooner if you'd prefer, Mr. . . .ah, Knight, is it?"

"We'd prefer sooner than later, if you can manage it," Severus said quickly.

"Very well." Hawkins flipped through a schedule, then said, "How does this Tuesday sound? Good enough?"

"Tuesday is fine."

"Great. You can come here at nine o'clock in the morning, and I'll do the procedure right here in my office. It should only take an hour at the most." Hawkins, a young man in his thirties with brown hair and hazel eyes, turned to Harry then and said, "Harry, you can't eat or drink anything except water after midnight, since the potion I have to give you to put you to sleep can sometimes make you a little queasy."

Harry nodded and Severus said, "That potion you're using, is it an Anesthetic Elixir?"

"It is. You know healing potions then?"

"I know a bit. It's a hobby of mine."

Hawkins smiled, then gave Severus and Harry several forms to sign. Once they were done he handed them a reminder card, said he would owl them if anything changed, then bid them good day and they Apparated back to Hogwarts.

* * * * * *

The morning of the surgery, Harry was so nervous that he nearly threw up several times, and was grateful he hadn't had anything to eat. He was excited and apprehensive all at the same time. He didn't say much to Severus on the walk up to Hawkins' office, though the Potions Master reassured him that he would be there the whole time.

"I won't leave you alone, Harry. I'll be sitting right next to you, watching everything," Severus said, giving Harry's shoulder a comforting squeeze.

"Okay," he said, and gave his guardian a wobbly smile.

Healer Hawkins was all prepped and ready as soon as they walked in the door. "Hello, Harry! All set for your big debut? An hour or so from now, you'll be able to open your eyes and see like a hawk. And I'm not joking either. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"He's a little nervous, so I'll be staying here the entire time," Severus interjected firmly.

Hawkins smoothed his white robe and nodded. "Fine, family members can observe. But first, we need to cast some sterilizing spells on you both." The Healer waved his wand and intoned a short spell in Latin and Harry felt a tingling sensation run all over him.

"There. Now, if you would hop up here on my chair, Harry, and lean back a bit . . ." Hawkins assisted Harry into a high padded chair that tilted back, sort of like a dentist's chair. "We're going to dilate your pupils first with some drops," Hawkins said, and put a drop of some solution that stung a bit into each eye. "And then I'm going to give you the Anesthetic Elixir to drink, you'll go to sleep for a bit, and when you wake up, it'll be done."

He moved over to retrieve the vial of elixir from a bowl of ice.

Harry exchanged glances with Severus, feeling his stomach lurch. He reached out a hand and squeezed his guardian's fingers tightly. "Severus . . .I . . .I'm a little scared . . ." he whispered practically in Snape's ear. "I've never had surgery before."

"Relax, child. You'll be fine. I will be here, right here. I promise." The Potions Master smoothed the hair back from Harry's forehead and squeezed the boy's hand comfortingly. "You won't feel anything, you'll be asleep. I'll make sure nothing happens to you."

"Thanks," Harry murmured. "I wonder what it'll be like once it's done? I really want this, but I'm still a little afraid. What if it doesn't work?"

"It will. Hawkins is a known expert, I would never have brought you to him else." Severus seated himself in a chair next to Harry.

Hawkins returned with the vial and handed it to Harry. "It's a little chilly, but I want you to swallow it quickly. It will work in about five minutes, you'll feel a little hazy and tired, then just close your eyes and go to sleep. You should sleep without dreams and I'll wake you when I'm done. All right?"

Harry nodded, then uncorked the potion and drank it quickly. It was icy and tasted faintly of lavender and something else Harry didn't know. Almost instantly, he felt a soothing warmth sweep over him and he yawned.

"Go to sleep, Harry. I'm right here," reassured Severus, giving the boy's hand a gentle squeeze.

Harry smiled at his dark angel and then let the potion send him to sleep.

When he awoke again, Severus was beside him, as promised, still holding his hand.

Harry blinked, his eyes felt a bit gritty.

He lifted a hand to rub them, and felt it caught by a larger one. "No, don't rub. I'm going to wash out your eyes with a Soothing Solution," Hawkins said. Then he suited actions to words and put a clear potion into each of Harry's eyes.

The gritty feeling vanished and Harry blinked once, twice. Then he turned his head and stared directly at Severus.

The Potion Master's face was sharp and clear, not slightly blurry.

"Harry? How are you? Can you see me?" Severus asked softly, seeing the emerald eyes widen and brighten with amazement.

"Yes," the young wizard answered. "I can see . . .everything!"

"Can you read this?" Hawkins asked, and held up an eyechart from several feet away.

Harry read, easily and clearly, even the very bottom line, that he had never been able to read before even with his glasses. He grinned, the joy on his face radiating outward to everyone in the room. "I can read everything now! It's like a miracle."

Hawkins smiled. "Yes, a magical miracle, if you like, Harry."

"And the best Christmas present ever," said the Boy Who Lived, and then he sat up and gave the one who had made it possible a very long hug.

Severus felt his own eyes mist with tears. "Well, I had a lot of Christmases to make up for, son," he said, clasping the boy to him.

They left St Mungos a few moments later, Severus having paid the seven hundred and fifty Galleon fee without blinking an eye, Harry gazing about in wonder at the new world he could see through his almost perfect emerald eyes. The tall professor smiled down at his charge, and thought wistfully, Lily, I wish you were here to see this. ‘Tis the season of miracles indeed. And the greatest one of all perhaps, is right here beside me. 

Who's happy for Harry now? Believe me, I wish I had that magic eye surgery.

Next: The mystery deepens as the kids investigate Nicholas Flamel and Harry discovers a magic mirror.

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