A/N: Hello everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas/holiday season! As we finally wind down the crazy year that was 2020, I have another chapter for you! I hope you enjoy it. :)

Happy New Year!

Harry awoke to the sound of muffled voices. He blinked a few times, his eyes slowly adjusting to the light in the unfamiliar room. Where was he? What had happened? He shook his head in an attempt to get his brain to start functioning more quickly so that he could remember.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he slowly sat up and moved to push away the blanket that had been covering him, a warm patchwork quilt. And all at once, it suddenly began rushing back to him. Snape had thrown this blanket over him. Snape had brought him here. To his own personal quarters. After finding out about the Dursleys. After finding out about everything.

The boy jumped to his feet then, his heart suddenly pounding. No. He needed to fix this. Snape thought it was way worse than it actually was. Squinting with his blurry vision, he frantically looked around the room until he located his glasses resting on the coffee table and hurriedly snatched them up to place on his face. As the room finally came into focus then, the boy quietly headed in the direction of the hushed voices, intending to listen in without being seen.

An opening in the wall at the end of a short hallway appeared to lead into a tiny kitchen area. Keeping to the shadows, the young Gryffindor crept closer, his body nearly flat against the wall.

"You contacted the muggle authorities? That was your grand, creative plan?" the potions master spat angrily.

But no sooner had Harry paused to listen for a response than the room grew completely quiet.

"I do not appreciate eavesdropping, Mr. Potter. Particularly in my own quarters," Snape's voice suddenly rang out, causing Harry to jump nearly a foot in the air.

A moment later then, before Harry was even able to move from his spot, the potions master appeared in the doorway, a critical eye taking in the appearance of the slightly trembling boy before him.

"How are you feeling this morning?" the man asked, reaching out to grip the boy's chin as he examined the healing bruises on the child's face and neck.

Harry swallowed nervously as he was forced to meet the professor's gaze. "Um…I'm fine, sir."

"Hmm…the bruises are fading nicely," Snape said thoughtfully. "I'd say just a couple more applications of bruise balm ought to do the trick."

Suddenly feeling embarrassed once again at the situation he found himself in, Harry quickly ducked his head when Snape released him and nervously crossed his arms. "Uh, sir? About yesterday…"

"Yes, Mr. Potter?" Snape prompted, also crossing his arms.

"Well, I really don't want you to get the wrong idea," Harry spoke to the floor. "It's not…well, it's really not as bad as it may seem. My aunt and uncle – they…they're not that horrible to me."

"Hmm…just a little horrible then?" Snape asked darkly.

Harry quickly shook his head. "No! That's not what I meant! I – I'm fine, professor. I've spent almost my entire life with my relatives. And I don't think you can just jump to conclusions based on this one incident with my uncle, you know?"

"No, I don't know," Snape snapped sharply. "And regardless of how you may feel about the situation, Potter, you will not be returning to that home."

"But –I don't have anywhere else to go," the boy argued, his voice suddenly filling with anxiety.

"Do you imagine you'll be turned out into the street to fend for yourself?" Snape asked, with the faintest trace of a sneer. But before Harry could respond, he continued. "Your living situation is precisely the reason Professor Dumbledore has stopped by this morning."

The man moved aside then so that Harry now had a view of the small kitchen table where the old headmaster sat quietly, a sad smile on his face.

Harry felt his face heat up in embarrassment at the sight of the old wizard. In his haste to try to make Snape understand that everything was actually fine with the Dursleys, he had nearly forgotten that there had been another muffled voice coming from the kitchen. Snape obviously hadn't been talking to himself.

"Good morning, Harry," Dumbledore said softly. "Won't you sit down?"

Without thinking, Harry quickly glanced over to the potions professor. The man met his gaze and nodded towards the table. "Sit, Potter."

Nervously, Harry crossed the small room and pulled out the chair across from the headmaster.

"How are you this morning, Harry?" Dumbledore asked, as the boy lowered himself onto the very edge of the seat. A moment later, Snape took the chair to Harry's left.

"Uh-okay," Harry answered, instinctively crossing his arms in a protective manner. He suddenly wished he would have just stayed on Snape's couch for a while longer, hiding underneath the patchwork quilt.

"Hungry?" the headmaster asked, pushing a plate of toast and fruit across the table.

Harry shook his head and leaned back against his chair. "No, sir."

"You will have to eat something," Snape stated firmly. "You cannot take your potions on an empty stomach."

Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste. "What potions?"

"The potions Madam Pomfrey prescribed for your recovery," the man answered, pushing the plate closer to Harry. "Eat."

"Perhaps Harry will find it easier to eat if we conduct our business first," Dumbledore said, eying the child knowingly.

Harry nodded as the knot in his stomach only seemed to tighten. Until he knew what Dumbledore was going to say, there was no way he was going to be able to consume a single morsel.

Snape jerked his head quickly in understanding before turning to stare at the headmaster expectantly.

The older man let out a sigh and folded his hands on the surface of the table. "First and foremost, Harry, I owe you an apology. I am very sorry for what has transpired at your relatives' home over the years. Had I known what they were capable of, I never would have entrusted you to their care. I hope that one day you will be able to forgive me."

Harry frowned in confusion. "But you didn't do anything wrong, sir. And the Dursleys really aren't that b–"

"Potter," Snape growled in frustration, pinching the bridge of his nose.

But before the potions master could say any more, Dumbledore continued speaking. "I realize that so much has changed for you in a very short period of time, Harry. You are no doubt feeling confused and anxious. Perhaps frightened."

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat at those words.

"It will take time to sort through all of your thoughts and feelings," the headmaster said gently then. "And to understand and come to terms with all that has occurred. And in time, I expect you'll realize that my apology is very much warranted."

Harry bit his lip nervously, unsure of what to say. Nothing seemed to make any sense at the moment. But to keep the silence from going on too long, he nodded his head in acknowledgment of the headmaster's words.

The old wizard smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. And it was at that moment that Harry realized that the man's eyes weren't twinkling as they usually were. He had never seen the man so sad. It was strange. And unsettling.

Dumbledore reached into the folds of his robes then and withdrew what looked to be a small red notebook. He placed it on the table and slid it across the surface to the child. Harry reached out and touched the smooth blank cover.

"It's a journal," Dumbledore stated, before the young boy could ask. "To help you organize the thoughts swirling around in your mind."

Harry picked up the small notebook and carefully flipped through it. Each page had a line for the date in the upper right-hand corner but was otherwise blank. He had never really considered keeping a journal before. But there had been a section of text in his occlumency textbook that had recommended it for beginners. Apparently writing your thoughts down on paper from time to time could really help to "declutter the mind." Harry might just have to test that theory later. After he hopefully managed to smooth things over with the whole "Dursley" situation.

"Thank you, sir," he eventually said, closing the book and placing it back on the table. "I really appreciate it."

The headmaster's expression brightened ever so slightly before turning grave once more. "I am glad you like it, Harry. And now, as Severus stated earlier, we have much to discuss regarding your new living arrangements."

"New living arrangements?" Harry asked, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest. He hadn't even had a chance to smooth things over yet! No. He needed to say something to make them understand.

And in the next second, the words came tumbling out of his mouth. "But I don't need new living arrangements, sir. I'll be fine. It was really my fault things got so out of control over Christmas. I know it won't happen again. You really don't need to go to the trouble—"

"Harry," the potions master suddenly interrupted, his voice full of exasperation.

Harry immediately snapped his mouth closed and glanced towards the professor, though not quite meeting his eyes. It was still so strange to hear the man calling him by his first name. The child hadn't quite decided yet if he preferred it to "Potter." He expected he would eventually. But at the moment it was just making him uneasy.

Snape pivoted slightly in his seat then and leaned in closer towards the young boy. "Look at me," he said softly.

Harry automatically did so, noting how serious the professor looked in that moment.

Snape let out a short sigh. "It is abundantly clear to me that you do not currently grasp the seriousness of this situation. Your relatives have physically and mentally harmed you since you came into their care. Their home is not an acceptable environment for you to live in, and no amount of excuses for their behavior will change that fact."

Harry wanted to protest, but the look on Snape's face prevented him from doing so. He ducked his head instead, suddenly finding the smooth surface of the table to be fascinating.

"You will no longer live with your aunt and uncle," the man stated firmly then. "Is that understood?"

Harry took a deep breath but didn't respond right away. It was silent for a moment, and then the child finally spoke quietly. "Are you going to send me to an orphanage?"

"No, Harry. Of course not," Dumbledore immediately answered.

"What in Merlin's name gave you that idea?" Snape asked.

"Dudley always said if it weren't for Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon agreeing to let me stay, I'd be shipped off to an orphanage. It's not like anyone else would take me in." Harry stated matter-of-factly.

Snape and Dumbledore exchanged glances, and Harry realized that they must be doing that thing where they communicated with each other without speaking, for the room remained silent for several long moments.

"You will not be placed in an orphanage, Harry," the headmaster finally stated, breaking eye contact with Snape. "In fact, we have already located a potential placement for you."

"You have?" Harry asked nervously, his heart racing more and more with each passing second. His aunt and uncle had always made sure he was aware of the fact that he was nothing more than a burden to their family. So who could possibly want to take him in? And if things didn't work out, would he just end up back at the Dursleys anyway? Or worse, the orphanage?

"Yes, we have," Dumbledore continued. "In fact, Molly and Arthur Weasley are quite eager to finally meet you properly."

Harry looked from Snape to Dumbledore in surprise. "Ron's parents?"

Snape inclined his head in confirmation as the headmaster leaned forward.

"Yes, that's right," the old wizard answered. "I had the opportunity to discuss your situation with the Weasleys yesterday evening. And they have indicated to me that they want to help any way they can.

Harry made a valiant effort not to cringe at the old wizard's words. He didn't want anybody to know about his "situation." In fact, as far as he was concerned, there was no "situation." Snape and Dumbledore were just blowing this whole thing out of proportion.

"So I'm going to live with the Weasleys now?" Harry asked, as a million thoughts and feelings raced around in his head.

"Perhaps," Dumbledore answered. "But before anything is finalized, we thought it might be best to allow you to first spend some time with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley at their home. To have an opportunity for you all to get to know each other."

Harry suddenly felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "But when? I have school. I—"

"You have been excused from your classes today," the headmaster interrupted. "Then you may spend today and the entire weekend with the Weasleys."

"And I can come back on Monday?" Harry asked, his gaze moving towards Snape.

The potions master raised an eyebrow. "I have made it clear to the headmaster that you should not be away from your studies for too long. However, we will assess the situation as we go along. Is that agreeable?"

Harry nodded. The last thing he needed was for rumors to start spreading around the school if he suddenly disappeared from classes for any significant length of time.

And besides, Harry doubted very much that the Weasleys would want to keep him past Monday anyway.

"Good. It's settled then," Dumbledore said, his face brightening ever so slightly. "Arthur and Molly will be here shortly. I'll have one of the house elves gather your belongings and bring them here for transport to the Burrow."

"Would it be alright if I went to pack my things myself?" Harry asked quickly. "I should probably let Ron and Hermione know I'll be gone for a few days."

"You have yet to take a single bite of food or any of your potions," Snape stated, his voice suddenly stern. "Furthermore, a house elf could fetch your belongings in minutes. On the other hand, walking all the way to Gryffindor Tower and back will take significantly more time, and far more exertion on your part."

"But I'm fine!" Harry responded defensively.

"You are healing," Snape emphasized. "You need to allow your body time to rest."

"I can walk," Harry insisted. Then, as though suddenly realizing who he was talking to, he quickly ducked his head and added, "Sir."

"I see no harm in allowing Harry to go, Severus," the headmaster put in, before the potions master could say more.

"You wouldn't," Snape sneered. "The boy requires constant monitoring at the moment, Albus."

"Then perhaps a compromise?" Dumbledore offered. "One of the house elves can accompany Harry to Gryffindor Tower and help transport his things back to the dungeons."

Snape huffed and then grumbled something about the whole thing being a "ridiculous waste of time," but finally relented at the pleading look on the boy's face.

"Fine. After you eat and take your potions, you may go pack up your things in the tower and inform your friends that you will be absent for a few days. And then you will come straight back here without getting yourself into any mischief along the way."

Harry quickly shook his head. "I won't. Thank you, sir."

But the potions master only frowned at those words. He already looked like he was regretting his decision.

"So, Tillie, how long have you worked at Hogwarts?" Harry asked, in an attempt to keep himself from thinking too much about his current situation.

Tillie squeaked in surprise at the random question as the two of them made their way up the grand staircase. She was definitely the most nervous house elf Harry had ever met. Not that he had met that many house elves in the first place.

"Why is young master wanting to know?" Tillie responded.

"No reason," Harry answered with a shrug. "It's just that it's a bit of a walk up to Gryffindor Tower. I thought we could talk a bit instead of staying silent."

"Staying silent allows one time to think, young master," Tillie pointed out.

"Exactly," Harry agreed. "So the more talking, the better."

"But why doesn't young master want to think?" the little elf inquired, tilting her head in curiosity.

Harry sighed. "There's just…too much to think about."

"Good things to think about or bad things?"

"Bad," Harry answered immediately before letting out a sigh. "Maybe some good. I don't know yet."

"Oh," Tillie answered simply.

Harry gave a quick nod in agreement.

"Tillie has been working at Hogwarts almost her whole life, young master."

"Why do you call me young master?" Harry asked curiously. "I'm not a master."

"Tillie serves everyone at Hogwarts, young master. If ever you be needing anything, you can just call one of us house elves for help."

Harry didn't know why, but he felt a sudden burst of warmth in his chest at that statement. But before he could think of anything to say in response, there was a loud shout of anger coming from the corridor ahead.

Harry quickly ducked around a corner with Tillie at his heels just as the old caretaker came into view, storming down the hallway in a rage. "I've had enough!" he roared. "I'm going straight to Dumbledore this time! This ends today!"

Harry shrank back into the shadows as Filch passed his hiding place. Despite the fact that Snape had reassured him that the old caretaker would never make good on his threat to dole out any corporal punishment, his heart still skipped a beat every time he saw the man. He held his breath until the angry shouts echoing through the halls finally faded away. Then he sighed in relief and moved back into the corridor. What had that been about? He quickly decided to investigate.

"Where is young master going?" Tillie squeaked nervously, following Harry down the corridor in the direction that Filch had just come from. "Master Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore is expecting Tillie to bring young master straight to Gryffindor Tower!"

"Uh, yeah, I know," Harry answered guiltily. "I know a shortcut."

The little elf made a noise of distress and yanked anxiously at her ears as they reached the end of the corridor. And then it suddenly became clear why Filch was so upset.

As the pair rounded the next corner, they were suddenly standing just feet away from where Harry had discovered Mrs. Norris' petrified body. The blood red letters of the chilling message on the wall had continued to fade, but even still no one had been able to successfully remove them altogether. Harry's gaze lingered on the wall for just a moment, before being drawn to the floor, which was flooded with water.

"It must be coming from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom," Harry stated, taking a step forward. "Come on, Tillie. I want to make sure she's okay."

Tillie squeaked. "But young master—"

"Harry?" a new voice suddenly called out.

"Ron?" Harry turned to see his friend hurrying towards him from the direction he had just come. And his eyebrows immediately shot up when he saw what the other boy was wearing.

"Why are you running around the castle in your pajamas?" Harry asked, confused. "Shouldn't you be getting ready to go down to breakfast?"

Ron let out a groan as he suddenly began shaking out his arm. "I was out of bed after curfew last night and Filch caught me. He made me clean the trophy room all night! But he never came back to tell me I could leave, so I finally just decided to go."

Harry had to suppress a shiver at the thought of getting caught out of bed by Filch. "What were you doing out of bed anyway?"

"I was looking for you," Ron said simply. "I was worried when you didn't make it back to the tower last night. I thought you might be in the hospital wing. Were you?"

"Uh no. I was … somewhere else," Harry answered, as he nervously rubbed at the back of his neck. He didn't really feel like explaining to Ron that he had spent the evening in Snape's private quarters of all places. He could only hope that his friend wouldn't ask him to elaborate on his vague reply.

Ron opened his mouth to speak then, before his eyes suddenly widened and he blurted out, "What happened to you, Harry?"

Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You have bruises on your face," Ron clarified.

Harry's hand instinctively went to his face. He knew the bruises were mostly faded by now. But apparently, they were still noticeable.

"Oh, it's nothing," Harry said quickly. "They're almost gone now."

But before the redhead had the chance to even form a follow up question, a long and drawn-out wail reached their ears from down the hall.

"Myrtle," Harry stated, happy for the opportunity to change the subject. "Do you suppose she's responsible for the water?" he indicated the flooded corridor. "We should probably go check on her."

"But young master is supposed to be going to Gryffindor Tower!" Tillie finally spoke up, wringing her hands anxiously.

"Who's that?" Ron asked, having only just noticed the small elf standing behind Harry.

"This is Tillie," Harry introduced quickly. "She's escorting me to Gryffindor Tower. Don't worry, Tillie. We'll go in a minute."

And before Ron could ask for any more clarification, Harry began splashing his way down the corridor towards Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

"But it's not like it hurts you when people throw things at you, right?" Ron asked the distraught ghost. "It would go right through you, wouldn't it? Was it really worth flooding the bathroom over?"

Myrtle let out another sob as she turned to glide back to her favorite stall. "Yes, let's just throw things at Myrtle because she can't feel it!" she shrieked as she moved away. "Fifty points if it goes through her head!"

"You always know exactly what to say to people, don't you Ronald?"

Both Harry and Ron turned around at the new voice.

"Hermione, what are you doing here?" Harry asked over the wails of Myrtle.

"Looking for you two," the girl replied. "I saw the water on the floor and decided to investigate." Then she glanced at Ron's pajamas and let out a sigh. "I'm not even going to ask."

Ron grumbled something unintelligible as Hermione walked over to where Harry was standing, suddenly looking very uncomfortable.

"Is everything alright, Harry?" the girl seemed to be checking him over carefully.

Harry bit his lip before giving a quick nod. "Yeah," he answered simply.

Hermione nodded her understanding. "Good. What do you have there?"

Harry let out a quick sigh of relief. Hermione truly was a great friend. She seemed to sense that he was in no mood to talk about where he had been last night, or where the fading bruises on his face had come from. Or even, perhaps, why there was a house elf sticking to his side, though her eyebrows did raise slightly when she caught sight of Tillie. And so, feeling a bit lighter, he held up the small black journal they had just located in the bathroom.

"Someone threw this at Myrtle. It's a completely blank book," Harry explained, as the three of them began examining it closely, passing it around. For a moment, it was almost like everything was normal again.

"Hmm…" Hermione frowned. "T. M. Riddle. Never heard of him. Or her."

"It sounds vaguely familiar," Harry said, trying to remember where he may have seen that name before.

"Well, after the night I had, I'd recognize that name anywhere," Ron practically growled.

Both Harry and Hermione turned to Ron curiously.

"T. M. Riddle is the name engraved on one of the biggest plaques in that whole trophy room. It took me forever to polish it last night!"

"Oh, right!" Harry agreed. "I remember seeing it that night I had detention with Filch!"

"How did you manage to get detention last night?" Hermione suddenly demanded of Ron.

"I thought you weren't going to ask," Ron countered.

"What was the plaque for?" Harry asked, as Hermione rolled her eyes. "I don't remember."

"Something about 'Special Services to the School,' I think," Ron replied. "But it was an old award. It was given to Riddle fifty years ago."

"Was he or she a student here?" Hermione wondered, flipping through the pages.

Both Harry and Ron shrugged as Hermione suddenly took out her wand and began murmuring incantations under her breath.

"Do you think it could have secret messages in invisible ink or something?" Ron asked excitedly.

"Maybe," Hermione responded, aiming another spell at one of the blank pages of Riddle's diary. "But if so, Riddle did a really good job of hiding them. None of my spells are working."

"Young Master must be going now," Tillie finally spoke up after another minute or so, startling the three second years who were poring over the small book.

"Oh, right," Harry suddenly moved back, snapping Riddle's diary closed. "I have to go."

"Where to? Is everything alright?" Hermione asked, once again glancing curiously at Tillie.

"Yeah," Harry suddenly felt anxious again. "It's just … I have to go away … for the weekend. I'll be back on Monday."

"Can you tell us where you're going?" Ron asked.

Harry hesitated, suddenly feeling a wave of embarrassment wash over him. For some reason, he didn't want to tell Ron just then that he was going to be spending the next couple days with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. So he finally just shook his head and dropped his gaze to the floor.

"Then we will see you on Monday," Hermione said firmly, elbowing Ron gently when the redhead began opening his mouth once again. "But everything is alright, isn't it, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Everything's fine."

Hermione smiled then and quickly moved forward to throw her arms around Harry. "I'm so glad."

Harry felt his heartrate begin to increase when he and Tillie finally arrived outside of Snape's quarters in the dungeons, his trunk hovering in the air just behind them. But whether it was out of fear that the potions master was about to berate him for taking too much time in getting back, or anxiety at meeting Ron's parents for the first time, he really couldn't say.

But no sooner had the stone wall slid to the side and the door swung open than Harry was being ushered inside by Professor Dumbledore, who wasted no time in guiding the young Gryffindor over to the couch where Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sat waiting for him. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Tillie disappear with a pop, her presence no longer needed. For once it didn't make him jump out of his skin.

"Oh, Harry dear," Mrs. Weasley greeted him warmly, immediately getting to her feet and enveloping the boy in her arms. "It is so good to finally meet you properly."

Harry felt himself stiffen for just a moment. He couldn't ever remember an adult hugging him like this before. It was strange, but comforting. And he found himself relaxing ever so slightly into Mrs. Weasley's embrace.

"Don't crush the boy, Molly," Mr. Weasley teased gently, smiling as he moved forward to rest a hand on Harry's shoulder. "We've heard so much about you, Harry. And we are very much looking forward to spending some time with you."

"Um, thank you, sir," Harry answered uncertainly as Mrs. Weasley finally released him.

"As much as I hate to interrupt these heartfelt introductions," Snape's voice suddenly cut in from where he had been standing in the corner of the room, "I require Mr. Potter's presence in the kitchen for a moment before departing to the Burrow." And with that, the man swept from the room and into his tiny kitchen.

"I get the feeling that Severus is trying to get rid of us, what do you think?" Arthur asked Harry with a wink.

Harry smiled and gave a nod. "Yes, I think so."

"Well, best not to keep him waiting," the headmaster put in with twinkling eyes, nodding towards the kitchen.

"Yes, sir," Harry responded, before following after the potions master.

"Am I in trouble, Professor?" Harry asked, once he was standing in the middle of the kitchen.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Should you be?" he responded, crossing his arms.

Harry thought quickly about his detour to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. It wasn't like anything bad had happened by not going straight to Gryffindor Tower. He had just reunited with his friends and found Riddle's diary. "Um…no?"

"The utter confidence with which you uttered that response is very reassuring," Snape stated sarcastically, rolling his eyes. Then he motioned towards one of the chairs at the small table. "Sit, Potter. You require another application of bruise balm before you leave."

Harry sighed softly as he sat down and began wringing his hands nervously in his lap.

"Look up, please," Snape stated.

Harry reluctantly obeyed.

The potions master frowned at the look on the child's face. And without a second thought, he placed the bruise balm down on the table and aimed a silencing spell at the entrance to the kitchen. "Out with it, Potter. What's wrong?"

Harry broke eye contact with the man and ran a trembling hand through his messy hair. "Nothing, sir."

"Do not lie to me, Potter. You are terrible at it."

Harry let out a sigh before finally voicing his thoughts. "Do I have to go?" he asked, practically whispering the question to his knees.

"Excuse me?" Snape asked, eying the child with surprise. "Is there something wrong with the Weasleys, Potter?"

"No, of course not!" Harry rushed to explain. "They seem really, really nice. I just … I don't want them to…"

"Don't want them to what, Potter?" Snape demanded impatiently. "Out with it."

Harry stared down at the table as he practically whispered his next words. "I don't want them to hate me."

"What are you prattling on about, Potter?" Snape questioned, suddenly taking the seat next to Harry and attempting to make eye contact with the boy. "Why on earth do you think they would hate you?"

Harry just shrugged in answer.

"Look at me, Potter," the potions master stated in exasperation. And when the boy finally complied, he repeated his question. "Why do you think they would hate you?"

Harry bit his lip. "Well, Aunt Petunia says—"

"Please, Potter," Snape interrupted, pinching the bridge of his nose, "for the love of Merlin, spare me a recitation of that deranged woman's brainwashing sentiments."

"I'm not brainwashed!" Harry exclaimed indignantly.

"Of course not," Snape replied sardonically. "You were saying, Mr. Potter?"

Harry hugged himself protectively and leaned back in his chair. "It's just that … if I spend time with them … in their home, I mean … they might start to think … or to realize that I'm…"

"Realize that you are what, Mr. Potter?" Snape prompted.

Harry hesitated and looked away before giving his soft reply, "A freak."

It was silent for a moment as Snape just stared at the boy before him. And then he spoke, his voice stern and demanding. "Look at me, Potter," he said once again.

Harry reluctantly complied, his stomach fluttering at the deadly tone in the professor's voice.

"If I ever hear you utter that word again," the man stated slowly and clearly then, "you will be scrubbing the entirety of the potions classroom – from top to bottom – with a toothbrush. Do I make myself clear?"

Stunned, Harry just hugged himself tighter and nodded his head slowly in understanding.

"I cannot hear you," Snape growled.

"Yes, sir," Harry whispered.

Snape jerked his head in approval before reaching for the bruise balm.

"But what if they don't like me?" Harry couldn't help but to blurt out his concern, as the potions master unscrewed the cap on the balm.

"Don't be ridiculous, Potter. Of course they'll like you. I already witnessed their fawning over you not five minutes ago."

Harry sighed, unconvinced. "But it's different when you live with people. After a while, they really get to know you."

"Your point being?" Snape asked, as he began to gently dab the balm into the area around Harry's eye.

"So what happens if they end up deciding they really don't like me? Will I have to go to an orphanage after all?"

"Potter," Snape let out a sigh of his own as he momentarily paused his actions and leaned back in his chair. "The Weasleys will like you—"


Snape held up a hand to silence the boy. "However, if these arrangements do not work out, then other arrangements will be made. I'd take you in myself before sending you off to an orphanage."

Harry's eyes widened in disbelief as a warmth and spark of hope suddenly spread through his entire chest. "Do you really mean that, sir?"

Severus rolled his eyes as he returned to the task at hand. "Don't worry, Potter. It'll never come to that."

Harry deflated just slightly. If his own relatives hadn't wanted him around, why would anybody else? The Weasleys would surely be sick of him in no time. "And I can come back on Monday?" he sought to clarify once again.

"Yes," the man answered slowly. "Though I wouldn't be so eager to get back if I were you. You have detentions to serve."

"Detention? For what?" Harry asked, surprised.

"For brewing a restricted potion in an unsupervised environment," the potions master answered simply. "Any more questions?"

Harry sighed. "No, sir."

"Then allow me to finish applying the bruise balm so that you may be on your way."

"Yes, sir," Harry responded, trying his best to suppress the growing sense of dread in the pit of his stomach.

And as the potions master set back to work, all Harry could think to himself was, Please don't let them hate me.

A/N: So what do you think? Will these new arrangements with the Weasleys work out? I love reading your theories and feedback!

Thanks for reading!


December 29, 2020