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Harry would have loved to stay in Severus's arms for the remainder of the day or night or whatever it was, but he was unsure if Severus still had to maintain his cover, and so he drew away, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve. There was no one in the infirmary, however, they were alone, since Poppy had stepped out to get a bite to eat.

"Harry. Use a tissue next time," Severus reproved gently, handing him one. "Because the next time I grab your sleeve I don't want to get mucus and snot all over me."

"Sorry. I forgot." Harry apologized and then used the tissue to blow his nose.

"The way you seem to forget a great deal of other things I said," Severus rebuked, and his eyes flashed.

Harry gulped. He knew what that look meant. It meant he was in a great deal of trouble. "I know you told me to . . .uh . . . leave the Stone alone, but . . .I thought you didn't believe me about Quirrell, so I wanted to make sure he didn't steal it."

"Harry, I told you I was going to check on it myself, how could you then think I didn't believe you?" Severus asked, scowling. "That's a poor excuse to go haring off on a forbidden adventure if I've ever heard one. And what's more, you dragged Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley into your crazy scheme. You not only endangered yourself, but them as well."

Harry hung his head. "I told them to stay behind . . .they chose to come, sir."

"Of course they did, for that is what good friends do, they support each other. You ought to be very grateful you have them."

"I am, sir," Harry said, and he meant it. "Are they okay?"

"Yes. Mr. Weasley sustained a slight concussion but he is fine now. Though I think his older brother Percival wanted to make mincemeat out of him for doing such a foolish reckless thing. I can sympathize with him totally." Now Severus's glower was even more pronounced and Harry winced. "What have I told you about risking your life, young man?"

"Uh . . . that I shouldn't."

"Exactly. And yet you deliberately disobeyed me and went rushing off like some damn knight in shining armor. Do you have any idea how I felt when I saw you down in that chamber? Do you?" Severus cried, all of his pent-up fear and worry and anger emerging now that he knew Harry was safe and unharmed. He reached out and shook his disobedient son hard. "You . . .almost . . .DIED . . .and if . . .that . . .had happened . . .I would . . .have . . .gone totally . . .INSANE!" He yelled, punctuating his lecture with a series of brisk shakes. "How many times must we go through this, you impulsive reckless brat?"

"I'm sorry . . .!" Harry gasped, feeling tears come to his eyes. He hated it when Severus was angry with him, even though he knew he deserved it. "I was only trying to help you!"

"Help me? Help me into an early grave is more like it. I have never been so terrified in my entire life, Harry James Potter. There I was, in a duel to the death with that blasted traitor and his dark master and I look up and what do I see? You, wearing that bloody Invisibility Cloak, and watching it all! Good God, boy! What were you thinking, that this was some kind of entertainment? Quirrell vs. Snape Death Match at eleven, perhaps?"

"No. I just . . ." Harry began, then stopped, because he knew there really was no excuse for risking his life that way and putting them all in danger.

"You just went off to play hero, like your father, God help you," Severus growled, shaking him again. "But do you know what happens to heroes, young man? They die, dammit! Is that what you want? To die an early death?"

"No, sir. I'm sorry I scared you."

"Good. You bloody well ought to be." Snape said, his jaw clenching. Then he spun the boy about and delivered a very firm spank to Harry's rear end. "That's for disobeying me."

"Ow! But if I hadn't, you would have died from the Green Venom spell," Harry protested. "I saved your life."

"And who gave you permission to do that, huh? Saving lives is not your responsibility, it's mine! I'm the father, that's my job, not yours!" He gave Harry another swat, harder than the first. "That's for breaking your promise to me. Never ever do that again!"

"Oww! Okay, I won't. I'm really sorry, Dad." He fought to keep from sobbing, for Severus's disappointment stung worse than his hand. "Sorry for breaking my promise to you. But not for saving your life," he added truthfully, then waited for another swat for his insolence.

But it never came.

Instead Severus turned him around and drew him onto his lap. "Oh, child. What the blazes am I going to do with you? I ought to tan your hide good, do you know that?" he scolded, but he found himself unable to do anything more than what he had done already. The boy was remorseful and Severus couldn't bear to punish him further that way, his nerves were shot. "You're going to give me heart failure before I'm forty, do you know that?"

"I don't mean to," Harry sniffled. "Not really." Then he added in a hurt tone, "I thought you'd be proud of me for defeating Old Snake Face."

Severus sighed. Now he regretted losing his temper. "Look at me, please." He tilted his son's chin up and waited until the green eyes were focused on him before he said, "I am astonished that a mere apprentice such as yourself managed to defeat such a powerful dark wizard. It certainly is something rare and unusual and I am thankful that you saved my life, son. However, don't expect me to pat you on the back for risking your neck unnecessarily. That I cannot and will not condone. I was perfectly capable of protecting the Stone from Quirrell."

Harry nodded, for he knew that Severus had been winning before his scar had caused him to scream and knock off the hood of his cloak, distracting his guardian at a crucial moment. "I didn't mean to distract you, sir. But my scar . . .it hurt so bad . . .I couldn't help it . . ."

"It did that before, right?" Severus asked, running his finger lightly over the lightning bolt shaped mark, which was slightly swollen.

"Yeah." He flinched at the touch.

"Does it hurt now?"

Harry shook his head. "No, sir. It's just a bit tender. It hurt the worst when . . .when I touched . . .Voldemort."

"Hmm . . .perhaps . . ." Severus looked thoughtful. "You could be overly sensitive to dark magic auras, son. That one's in particular."

"I guess that makes sense. Uh, do you mind if I ask you something about . . .about what I saw when you were fighting Quirrell?"

"Ask."

"I saw you turn into a snow leopard, and there was a snow leopard that saved me in the Forbidden Forest too. That was you, wasn't it?"

Severus nodded. "I had wondered if you would remember."

"It's kind of hard to forget a whopping big cat that saved my arse," Harry admitted with a small smile.

"That is my Animagus form, Harry. In it I am known as Wraith, the Ghost Cat."

"Wow! Can you become any other kind of animal besides the leopard?"

"No. The usual rule is one animal per wizard, unless you possess the talent of a shapeshifter, and that is even rarer than the ability to become an Animagus." Severus explained.

"Oh. Is that what you call it, when you can change into an animal?"

"Yes. The word derives from ancient Egyptian, where it was commonplace for their wizards to become animals at will, they were very attuned to the natural world, and their gods were both animal and human. Ani-animal, and magus-wizard, or wise man, depending on your translation."

"Can anyone learn to do it? Could I?"

"No, not just any wizard can become an Animagus. It takes a good deal of study, unless you have a latent talent for it, like Professor McGonagall does. As for you becoming an Animagus, young man, I shudder to think of the mischief you'd cause were you able to roam around in another shape."

"Aww, c'mon! I wouldn't get into trouble, sir."

"Harry, you are trouble's shadow, don't bother to deny it. Look at how many school rules you broke by doing what you did three days ago. Any other student would have had their bags packed and been expelled, young man. The only reason you weren't is because Professor Dumbeldore has a soft spot for would-be heroes. More fool him!" Severus snorted.

"You would have expelled me then?"

"I would have had you on probation for the upcoming year if I was Headmaster, and the first detention you earned would be your last." Severus said sharply. "As it is, I still owe you a punishment for this latest escapade."

"But . . .but sir . . .! You already yelled at me and smacked me and shook me half to death."

"So? And you think that is sufficient for what you have done?" his guardian demanded. "That is what I would normally do if you get into ordinary mischief. No, I need to think up a suitable punishment for you, young man. By all rights, I should tan the hide off of you, but I think I can come up with something worse than a mere spanking."

Harry gulped. He didn't even want to think about what Severus was going to come up with that was worse than a spanking. "Like what, sir?"

The Potions Master smiled wolfishly. "That is for me to know and you to find out, sooner than you would wish, I'd wager." He ruffled his son's hair. "Now then, I suggest you get yourself back in bed and rest, Mr. Potter, before Poppy comes in and has a full-blown fit at seeing one of her patients out of bed without her express permission."

"Oh. But it was your idea, Dad. You pulled me right out of bed," Harry said slyly. "So you could just tell her that and-"

"Oh, no. I won't cover for you, you disobedient little brat. Back in bed, young man."

Harry obeyed, but he pouted. "Fine, but how do you expect me to rest when I've got some God-awful punishment hanging over my head? It's . . .it's impossible."

"Oh, well. Next time you should think twice before you go breaking every damn rule in school and disobeying me, now shouldn't you? Then you wouldn't need to worry about getting in trouble and keeping yourself awake wondering what horrible thing will be done to you, yes?"

"You're mean, sir!" Harry mumbled, his lower lip sticking out.

Severus snorted, though his mouth twitched and Harry could have sworn he was trying very hard not to laugh. "I know. Like every other father who has ever punished a disobedient child. But you know you deserve it. Lie down and close your eyes, child."

"Can't. Not after that."

Severus fixed him with an uncompromising glower. "Must I count to three, like I did when you were five?"

At that, Harry flung himself down on the bed and squinched his eyes shut. He would never be able to sleep, not after Severus's declaration, he would go crazy trying to imagine how the Potions Master was going to punish him, he didn't want to be punished, even though he deserved it. His stomach ached from a combination of guilt and apprehension and he wished Severus would just come up with something and get it over with so he didn't have to worry himself into a million little pieces. He would even take the threatened spanking over this awful waiting, or scrubbing seven hundred cauldrons, or gutting a whole barrel of glimmerscales by himself . . .he squirmed and huffed, he was never going to fall asleep, never, and he wasn't tired anyhow . . .

"Harry. Turn over and be still, for heaven's sake."

He obeyed, though a rebellious part of him longed to snap that it was Severus's fault he couldn't sleep, not that he needed to, he'd been asleep for three days, Merlin help him! He opened his eyes a crack and muttered, "Can you give me a hint?"

"No. Eyes closed, mister."

Harry shut his eyes. A moment later he felt a familiar hand rubbing his back, over and over. It felt so good, Severus had always done that when he was little or sick and unable to fall asleep, and Harry found himself relaxing in spite of himself. The hand continued its rhythmic patting and rubbing and before he knew it, Harry had drifted off to sleep.

Ha! Looks like I haven't lost my touch yet, Severus thought, inordinately pleased. He smiled down at the child, his child, and then he rose and went to inform Poppy that her last patient was well on the road to recovery. After that, he would eat something, for he was suddenly ravenous, and take a very long hot shower, and then he would have to come up with an appropriate punishment for his wayward scamp of a son. And after that perhaps he would sleep a bit.

Poppy was ecstatic when he told her the good news, Severus could have sworn she was about to dance a jig right there in the office. She practically flew into the infirmary to have a look at the boy and his miraculous recovery, and Severus smiled and departed for his quarters.

But after he had eaten a hot meal down to the last crumb and showered and shaved, he found his bed looked terribly inviting and so he went and laid down on it, only intending to rest his eyes for a moment or so. Instead he fell asleep and slept for nearly fourteen hours straight.

* * * * * *

 

Meanwhile, Dumbledore decided to pay a visit to Harry, who was still in the infirmary, under the watchful eye of Madam "The Dragon" Pomfrey, as the students called her, for her uncompromising attitude towards unnecessary visitors and leaving the Hospital Wing early. Harry had received loads of gifts and cards from all his Gryffindor Housemates and some from other Houses as well, they were all piled atop his nightstand, and he was currently reading a copy of the Prophet and munching on some gingersnaps when the Headmaster entered.

Harry glanced up, he had been hoping it was Snape, so he could quit fretting over his well-deserved punishment, but the Potions Master did not return to the infirmary. He's probably doing it just to torture me, I'll bet, the eleven-year-old thought grumpily. "Hello."

"Hello, Harry. I trust you are feeling better?" Dumbledore greeted, smiling genially.

"Uh, yeah. Much. Thanks. Uh, sir, do you know where Professor Snape is? He, uh, had something he needed to discuss with me," Harry improvised swiftly.

"I believe that Professor Snape is sleeping, he very much needs the rest, for he was awake for three days straight watching over you, Harry."

"Oh." Harry blushed, feeling like a selfish idiot. There he'd been, concerned over himself, when he knew good and well that Severus had been awake for three days and must be exhausted. "Right. Guess I'll talk to him when he wakes up."

"That would be for the best, Harry. He gets cranky when he doesn't get his rest." The old wizard said, seating himself on the chair Snape had occupied. "As you can see, all of your friends and admirers have sent you tokens of their appreciation. What happened between you and Quirrell down in the chamber below the school is a complete secret, so naturally the whole school knows. Your friends Fred and George sent you some firecrackers, but Madam Pomfrey absolutely refused to have anything flammable in her ward, and confiscated them, I'm afraid."

Harry smirked. "That sounds like them, sir. What happened to the Stone, sir? I woke up and was going to ask Sev-I mean Professor Snape-that, but I . . .sort of forgot, since he was yelling at me about risking my neck."

"Ah. I think you'll find, Harry, that Professor Snape only yells at those he cares about, and he only loses his temper over things that truly upset him. You nearly dying upset him very much."

"Yeah, I could tell." And he only cries over someone he loves, his conscience whispered. "But what about the Stone, sir?" Harry pressed, not wanting to discuss Severus right then, or the fact that he had almost died.

"I see you're not to be distracted. Very well. Quirrell did not get the Stone, Harry. I came in time to pull his body off of you, though the Stone itself was destroyed in the process, I'm afraid.."

"You got Hermione's owl?"

"No. But I had just gotten to London when I had the strangest urge to return to the school. I could swear I heard your mother's voice in my ear, telling me that was where I was needed and I should hurry back. So I did, and I arrived just in time to prevent you from crossing over. I was very nearly too late. You had nearly drained yourself to nothing trying to prevent Quirrell from getting the Stone, you know."

"Actually, sir, it wasn't only Quirrell I was trying to prevent from getting the Stone. Quirrell was working for someone, his master was Voldemort, and he was using Quirrell's body to help him get the Stone so he could, uh, become immortal. But now that it's gone, I suppose he'll try and find another way, won't he?"

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Yes, I fear so, Harry. He is a most determined dark wizard, though once he was much as you are, a young boy with a prodigious intellect and curiosity." The Headmaster shook his head sadly. "He too was once a student of mine. But he was too ambitious and proud for his own good and in the end he walked the lefthand path into night and never looked back."

"Pride goeth before a fall," Harry quoted softly.

"Yes, indeed. And the greater the pride the greater the fall. Voldemort fell quickly and deeply and he has never bothered to return to the light. He believes he has found a way to cheat death and rule over all, but in the end all he will have are empty promises and illusions."

"Sir, when I was fighting him, he said something about my mother, that she died to save me, that he would have spared her except for that."

"Yes, he would have, though not out of any sort of compassion, Harry. He . . .liked beautiful magical witches, he enjoyed dominating them . . .he would have kept your mother alive to admire and to be his . . .trophy, if you understand what I mean."

Harry looked slightly sick. "Yeah. I get it, sir. But why was Quirrell unable to touch me? Why did my skin burn him?"

"Your skin did not burn him, Harry. Say rather the magic within your skin did that, and it burned not only Quirrell, but Voldemort as well. You see, your mother died to protect you, and she worked a great magic in doing so. The power of sacrificial love is one of the greatest forces of all, Harry. When done willingly, nothing on earth is as strong, and Voldemort cannot comprehend such a power. Love is foreign to him, because true love requires that you give of yourself, surrender a part of yourself, to another, and that Voldemort will never do. That love created a kind of resonance in your very flesh, Harry, it left no visible scar but nevertheless it marked you. That was what protected you from the Killing Curse as a baby and it was also why Quirrell, who had given himself up to darkness like Voldemort, could not bear your touch. It was agony for him touch one so pure, so innocent, and so good."

Dumbledore glanced away then, giving Harry time to wipe away his sudden tears and dry his eyes. Then Harry asked, "Do you know about the Invisibility Cloak, sir? It was my father's, but I never knew who sent it to me."

"Ah. Yes, James inherited that cloak from his grandfather. He left it in my possession before he and your mother went into hiding and I decided to give it to you as a Christmas present. I thought it would be good for you to have an heirloom, though I fear Severus scolded me for giving you it, saying it was an invitation for mischief, and has now confiscated it. He has said he will return it to you at a later date, when you have learned the proper respect for it."

"Which will probably be never," Harry sighed. He had really liked that cloak.

"Oh, no, he won't keep it forever. Professor Snape would not want to have anything of your father's in his possession for too long. They quite detested each other during school, though your mother was best friends with Severus and eventually she made the two of them tolerate each other."

"One more question, sir. How did I get the Stone from the mirror?"

"Ah, now that was the question I was waiting for," Dumbledore rubbed his hands together like a little boy with a carton full of sweets. "That was my idea. One of my better ones, I have to admit. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone-not use it-could get it. Only one who not motivated by greed or power could obtain the Stone. And so you did. Now, I suggest you start eating those sweets, they do look scrumptious. May I?"

He took a Bertie Botts. "Maybe I shall get lucky this time and get a grape one. When I was a boy, I was unlucky enough to get a vomit-flavored one, and since then I have lost my liking for them." He popped it into his mouth. "Alas! Earwax."

"Here, sir. Have some fudge. I think Mrs. Weasley made it."

"Thank you, my boy, but I must be going, before Poppy comes and strings me up by my toenails for disturbing her patient's rest and Severus flays me as well. They were both very insistent that I wait until you were stronger to visit you, but my schedule was so full, that this is the only time I could spare."

Then the Headmaster was gone, leaving Harry alone to ponder on all that he had told him.

* * * * * *

 

Harry managed to wheedle Poppy into allowing him to see Ron and Hermione for fifteen minutes later on that morning, since he had been a model patient and read quietly and drank all of her nasty elixirs without too much of a fuss.

Hermione rushed up and hugged him, much to his embarrassment and cried, "Oh, Harry, we were so worried, everyone thought you might die . . .even Professor Snape was concerned, he watched you for three days, and I'm so glad you're okay!"

She looked like she was either going to burst into tears or kiss him again, and Harry quickly patted her on the back and said, "Hey, I'm fine. A little tired, but I'm fine."

"Good." She sniffed.

"Girls!" Ron rolled his eyes. "Crying all over you all the time."

Hermione glared at him. "I didn't hear you complaining when I was crying over you, Ronald Weasley! Of course it was only a few tears, since you weren't half-dead like Harry, but you said you didn't mind!"

Ron went scarlet. "Uh . . .err . . .It was kind of nice. Sorry. It was loads better than Percy." He winced.

"Why? What did he do?" Harry asked.

"He . . .practically went ballistic. He was threatening to borrow one of Snape's cauldrons and boil me in it first, he kept shouting that I was his little brother and his responsibility and I was a bloody crazy ass to risk my neck on some crazy superstition, and he'd never forgive himself if anything happened to me. Then he . . .uh . . .he smacked my arse with a damn ruler for scaring him out of half his life. He borrowed it from Snape."

Harry stared. "The ruler?"

"Yeah. He'd dragged me down there by my ear," Ron rubbed it. "To get the cauldron or whatever and saw the ruler on Snape's desk and said "May I borrow this for a minute, sir?" and Snape gave it to him and just looked at us and all he said was, "I want it back when you're through, Percival. I might need it soon." And Percy thanked him, the git, and then he dragged me back up to the tower to his room, he's got his own since he's prefect, and then . . ." Ron trailed off, looking embarrassed and ashamed at the same time. "You ought to be glad, Harry, that you don't have an older brother."

I've got something worse than that. A Potions Master, Harry thought, and said, "Ow. Bet that stung. I'm sorry I got you in trouble, Ron."

His friend shrugged. "Don't be. I wanted to come. Hell, it isn't the first time I've gotten my bum tanned, though usually it's Mum or Dad who do that, not Percy. Now, tell me what happened after I got knocked out. Hermione told me about the potions challenge, but what happened after you walked through the fire?"

So Harry told them everything else that had happened, up until the time he had passed out. He didn't mention anything about seeing his parents on the stairway to heaven though, for that was too private and the only other person he might have shared it with was still asleep.

Or so he thought, until a soft voice said abruptly, "Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, good afternoon. I believe visiting hours are over for the day, are they not?"

All three of them started like hares caught unaware by a clever fox.

"Professor Snape!" exclaimed Hermione.

"We didn't . . .see you . . ." Ron stammered.

"Obviously." The professor arched an eyebrow. He looked much better than when Harry had last seen him, his hair was tied back and he was alert and rested and clearly not minded to wait while Harry and his friends finished their discussion.

Harry threw a furtive glance at Snape's hands, but saw nothing like a ruler in them. Not that he thought for an instant that Severus would ever use one on him, but still . . .he had to check.

"If you will conclude your little chat fest, Mr. Potter and I have something that needs to be discussed," Severus said, and Harry winced at the frosty tone.

"Uh, sure, sir," Ron said quickly, and got to his feet so quickly he nearly knocked his chair over. "See you later, mate."

"Bye, Harry." Hermione said, then reached over to take a chocolate frog from the table and whispered in his ear. "Good luck, Harry. I think you'll survive. He really cares about you, you know."

Then they departed and Harry looked up at Severus.

"Come with me, please. Poppy has signed your release form," was all the Potions Master said.

Harry rose and only then realized he was still wearing pajamas. "Uh . . ."

Severus waved a hand and the pajamas were transfigured into his school uniform. "Come. My office."

Harry followed, trying not to drag his feet. He was relieved and apprehensive at the same time, though he was grateful Severus had decided to put him out of his misery. They did not speak until they were inside Severus's office, and Severus had gestured him to a seat in front of him. Harry sat, then gazed at the desk and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that no ruler was there.

 

Severus stood over him, his hands on his hips, wearing an expression of vast disappointment that made Harry cringe and long to crawl under the desk. "So. You know why you are here, don't you?"

"Yes, sir. So you can punish me for . . .for risking my life and disobeying you."

"Good. Then we have an understanding. That is the first reason you are here. But there is also another reason I have called you here, which I will tell you afterwards. First things first. I would have you know that I thought long and hard about what you deserved and how best to go about punishing you without being cruel or unnecessarily harsh, son. This is not something I enjoy doing, but you need to be taught a sharp lesson. The first part of your punishment is this, I have confiscated your cloak and your broom. You will not be getting them back until you prove to me that you can act responsibly, meaning that you will think before you act and not going rushing off to save the damn world or whatever. I shall probably have them for a few weeks."

"But, sir . . .how can you do that . . .?" Harry began, for the loss of both his broom and cloak was a great blow. "I'm going home in a few days . . ."

"Hush. Don't interrupt. Second, you will be making ink from the sacs of fifty squids, which is not as easy as it sounds, and also making an antibacterial soap for me, Madam Pomfrey is running low on it."

"Yes, sir," Harry said respectfully. That didn't sound too bad, making soap and ink. Except he knew better.  Severus's punishments were no joke.

"And last, you will be scrubbing every inch of my lab with a toothbrush. By the time you are done with those tasks, I hope you will have learned the meaning of obedience and realized what kind of pain you put me through, young man, by nearly dying for the fourth time! Oh yes, and you will also promise me that you will never do anything so reckless again. Understood?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"But what? You're fortunate I did not follow through with my first impulse and tan your backside."

"Yes, sir, I know. But I don't think I can promise you not to risk my life ever again." Harry began.

"Why the bloody hell not?" snarled Severus. "Do you plan on making a career out of being a damn hero then? Because I'll tell you right now, I won't-"

"DAD!" Harry yelled, and Snape halted in mid-sentence. "Please, just listen, okay, before you start yelling. Please?"

Severus reined in his temper and said shortly. "I'm listening. Start talking, brat."

Harry told him about the stairway and James and Lily and the choice he had made, to return and live as a normal boy, with Snape as a father, and then he told him of the price required.

Severus went still for several minutes. Then he whirled about and snarled several very potent and terrible swear words for ten minutes. Harry was amazed the office didn't burst into flames, for Snape was very creative and inventive in his swearing, and the words fairly sizzled off his tongue.

At last he turned back to Harry, leaned down and took his son by the shoulders and said, very softly, "Do you have any idea what you have done, Harry James Potter?"

Harry gazed at him. "Yes. I chose to come back for you, Severus. Because I wanted a real father and I knew you were the only one who could give that to me. And if killing damn Voldemort is the only way I can have you, I'll do it and to hell with everything else. They can have their damn champion, but all I really want is to be your son. If. . .if you want me, that is?"

"If I want you?" Severus repeated hoarsely. "Incorrigible brat, I would never want anyone else! I love you, Harry. And I always will, no matter how many times I long to beat you senseless."

Then he drew Harry into a hug. Harry buried his face in the familiar black robe and asked, "Then you forgive me?"

"Yes."

"And will you help me fight Voldemort?"

"It would be my pleasure, son. I owe that slimy bastard much for all the pain and suffering he has caused me and everyone else." Severus told him sincerely, rubbing his back. "And I promise you, Harry, that we shall both be alive at the end of it."

Harry drew in a shaky breath. "That sounds good to me, Dad."

Severus nodded, then stepped away from him. "Which brings me to the other reason I called you here. You can start on your punishment tonight, after we go and see Professor Dumbledore. I have been thinking seriously of adopting you legally, Harry. After what has occurred this year, and what I know of your relatives, I think it best if I gained legal custody of you. In the wizarding world, that is done by documents, witnesses, and a Blood Adoption Charm. Then I would be your father in truth, child, and not just in name only. Would you like that, Harry?"

Harry grinned. "I can't believe you asked me that, sir. Of course I'd like it. It's what I've always wanted. When can we do it?"

"Now. Let us go to Dumbledore's office. I shall ask him to call Professor McGonagall and Hagrid to witness it, and he must perform the spell." Severus took a handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the fireplace in his office. "Come along, son. This is another way we wizards get from place to place, by Floo powder."

Harry goggled, but did as Snape instructed and spoke the words, "Headmaster's office," before jumping into the green flames.

There was a whirling sensation and Harry found himself stumbling out of a fireplace in front of a comfy couch, followed a moment later by Snape.

Albus was seated upon it, crosslegged, and Harry could see his ankles, tucked into his purple boots. Hermione was right, his socks don't match. The Headmaster had on one striped red and gold sock and one blue and green one, and not only did they not match each other, they clashed with his purple robe. He wondered suddenly if Dumbledore would have been able to solve Snape's logic puzzle unaided.

"Severus! Harry! To what do I owe this unexpected visit?" he greeted them, as if it were perfectly normal to have people popping in unannounced out of the fireplace.

"We wish to discuss a very important matter, Headmaster," began Severus, looking stern and serious. "Concerning myself and this incorrigible scamp here, who really ought to be expelled for breaking school rules . . ."

"Now, Severus-"

"However, I will suspend that request, Albus, in favor of a more fitting punishment." Snape continued, obviously enjoying himself.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And that is?"

"I want to adopt him. That way I can keep an eye on him and rein him in when he gets too unmanageable. I think I can manage to keep him in line, despite his penchant for trouble."

Dumbledore didn't say anything for several moments.

"While I would normally rejoice for you, Severus, in this case I must ask, are you sure it is wise? You know my reasons for not placing him in a wizarding household eleven years ago."

Severus's jaw tightened. "I do. And you know that I never agreed with it."

"You or Minerva. But I did what I felt was best, then and now. I know you have become fond of Harry and I am very happy that is so, but I do not think adopting him is the right way to go. The blood wards have proved sufficient until now, I see no reason to change that-"

"Well, I do!" Harry cried, unable to keep still any longer, furious at the old wizard. "Sir," he added quickly at Snape's thunderous look. Before Severus could interrupt, Harry continued. "You don't know what went on there, with my relatives. They never wanted me, they treated me like a servant for years, starved me and locked me in a broom cupboard. Is that the kind of people you want me living with? They lied to me about everything, I never knew about magic or wizards until Hagrid came and got me off that rock, and whenever I was sick or hurt they never cared. They told me to shut up and stop plaguing them and they sent me to my cupboard. I would have died if it weren't for Severus. He took care of me whenever I was sick or hurt, he saved my life a dozen times over, and he's been more like a father to me than my so-called relatives. He wants this, my parents want this, and I want this! After all we've done, protecting the Stone, I think you owe it to us, sir!"

"Harry James Potter!" Severus growled. "You do not shout at the Headmaster that way."

Harry jumped as he felt Snape's hand swat his bottom in reproof. He winced, then said, "Sorry. Guess I got a bit carried away. But that's what I saw in the mirror, you know," he continued in a more respectful tone. "Myself and Severus, as a family. A real family, not the fake one I've got now. That was what the mirror promised me, my dream come true. Why shouldn't I have it, sir?"

Dumbledore gazed at the slender boy before him and the tall Potions Professor and realized he had been outmaneuvered neatly. Severus alone he might have convinced to rethink his decision, but he saw immediately that Harry would not be swayed, he had the conviction and stubbornness of both his fathers. "Harry, understand that I thought your relatives, Muggles though they were, would care for you and protect you the best. I thought to keep you safe there, where Voldemort and his followers never would think to look. I set special protections over the house when I brought you there. I never thought they would . . .treat you so terribly, your mother was your aunt's sister, after all."

"Well, they did, sir. They treated me like a freak and they never liked me. I think they were afraid of magic and wizards and I was both. The point is, I don't have a real home there. The only home I've ever had has been with Severus."

"I understand that, my boy, truly I do," the Headmaster began, the twinkle in his eyes dimmed. "But Severus has other obligations, duties he has agreed to-"

"If you mean my duties as a spy for the Order, Albus, I think you can consider them over with. I fought Quirrell and Voldemort as well. My position is compromised now." Severus cut in, laying a hand upon Harry's shoulder to keep the boy from interrupting yet again.

"Perhaps. Voldemort has been banished back to the spirit realm, to dwell there for who knows how long. And Quirrell is dead. I think you could resume your old role without too much awkwardness if you tried. You are the best agent we have."

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Albus," said the master spy sharply. "Others can do what I have done. But I shall make a bargain with you. I will remain your eyes and ears for as long as I can, until I am compromised, if you agree to perform the adoption ceremony for us. That is all I want from you. Give me Harry for my son and I shall remain your secret agent. I have never asked for anything in all the years I became your spy, Albus Dumbledore, mostly because I felt I didn't deserve to have anything more. But now . . .I want this as much as he does, and that is my price."

"It would seem I am caught between a rock and a hard place. Very well, Severus. You shall have your adoption. On one condition. No one here can know of it, save myself and those you choose as witnesses. You cannot be seen to have any connection with Harry Potter as a supposed follower of Voldemort. You may do as you please outside of school, once the adoption goes through with the Ministry, I shall see that it is done secretly, the blood wards will be transferred to you, and Harry may live with you then. Is that agreeable to you?"

"Harry?" Severus turned to his son.

"I want to tell Ron and Hermione," Harry insisted.

"That is not possible, my boy."

"Make it possible then, sir!" Harry flared. "I've been forced to lie all year to everyone, including them, and I hated it. I'll do it if I have to, but Ron and Hermione deserve to know the truth. Make them swear any oath you like, but if it weren't for them, I'd have never gotten the Stone."

Dumbledore conceded. "As you will. I shall require Wizard's Oath from them, but you may tell them the truth afterwards. Now then, are we all agreed?"

Severus and Harry nodded.

"Call your witnesses then, Severus."

"I will Floo Minerva and Hagrid immediately." Severus said, and did so.

Seven minutes later, both Minerva and Hagrid were in the room.

Hagrid caught Harry up in a huge hug. "Congratulations! I always said ya needed a dad, Harry, and Severus will be a good one."

"I quite agree," Minerva said, beaming at both of them. "You both are just what the other needs." Then she turned to Dumbledore. "Are you going to sulk or perform the ceremony, old man? I told you a long time ago you were making a mistake leaving him on those people's doorstep. Now's your chance to fix it."

Dumbledore rolled his eyes. "No need to lecture me like I was fifteen, Minnie."

"Really? Then why are you acting like a fifteen-year-old, sulking because your friends won't play by your rules, hmmm? Perform the ceremony, Albus. It only takes a minute or two and then we'll leave you be."

Dumbledore rose and shuffled through some sheaves of parchment upon his desk, at last locating the one he wanted. Then he drew his wand and a small silver knife and turned to Severus and Harry. "This document here will give you, Severus Tobias Snape, legal and binding custody over one Harry James Potter until he comes of age at seventeen. You will be required to provide him with all the basic necessities, including but not limited to food, clothing, shelter, and protection, as well as moral guidance and magical education. Do you agree to this?"

"I do." Severus said, moving to stand before the older wizard, his hands upturned. "I also further state that I shall give my son all of the love and compassion he has been denied these past eleven years, as well as reasonable discipline."

Dumbledore inclined his head. Then he turned to Harry. "Do you, Harry James Potter, agree to said terms, knowing willingly that Severus Snape shall have legal custody of you and all your assets until your seventeenth birthday?"

"I do." Harry said, then added, "And I'll give my dad all of my love and try and obey him as much as I can."

"Well said, Harry. Now, if you will sign here, and Severus, you sign here," he indicated the spaces upon the adoption certificate where they were to put their signatures. They did so, as did Hagrid and Minerva. "Finally, to make this adoption binding by magic as well as legal law, I shall now cast the Blood Adoption Charm. Severus, your hand, if you will."

Dumbledore took the sharp silver knife and pricked the base of Snape's thumb, hard enough to draw blood.

Then he did the same to Harry, and pressed their hands together, mingling their blood while waving his wand over them and chanting a strange phrase in Latin. A green light shot out of his wand and wrapped about their wrists for a moment, and Harry felt a strange shock run through him.

Then it was over and he drew his away, discovering that the cut Albus had made was healed.

"Now you are bound, by blood and magic, one to the other, for as long as you both shall live. Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, you are one." Albus intoned.

"Heard and witnessed," Minerva said.

"Heard and witnessed," Hagrid repeated, beaming.

"Congratulations, Severus, on your new son," Albus said then, and he clapped him on the shoulder. "And you also, Harry, on your new father. I wish you joy." He hugged the youngster briefly and then asked, "Lemon drop, anyone? Tea? Cakes?"

All of them had tea and cakes, but they did not linger, for Minerva had exams to grade and Hagrid had gardening to do.

"And this disobedient wretch has a few chores he must begin for me," Severus informed them. "Come along, Harry. The squids are waiting for you."

Harry made a face and shot a pleading glance at the Headmaster.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Do not make puppy dog eyes at me, Harry Snape. I cannot interfere with parental authority."

"Darn!" Harry groaned. "I thought it was worth a try."

The others just looked at each other and smirked knowingly.

"Now, Harry James Snape," growled his father. "Don't make me say it again, or else I shall drag you all the way to the dungeon by your ear, young man."

"Yes, sir. Coming, Dad," Harry replied, then followed his father out the door, grinning from ear to ear, despite the disgusting and tedious task he was sure awaited him. So what if Severus punished him? That was a father's job, after all, and he knew that while Snape might scold and smack him on occasion, he would also hug and forgive him afterwards, and love him no matter what.


 



Chapter End Notes:


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Next: The farewell feast at Hogwarts, with a few unexpected surprises. But that is NOT the end of the story!

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