Harry yawned and rubbed his eyes. The words of his book were beginning to blur.
"All right there, Harry?" Severus asked from across the room.
"Just tired, I think," Harry said.
"Did you get back to sleep last night?" Severus asked, concerned.
Harry shook his head. "Do you really think he is back?"
Severus hesitated. "I do not believe he is a threat at the present time."
"That doesn't answer my question," Harry pointed out. Harry hoped that he would tell him what he really thought. That was one of the things he valued about Severus; he did not soften the truth for Harry.
Severus looked thoughtful. "Yes, I believe he is on his way back. It was inevitable."
"But you don't think he's a threat?"
"Not yet," Severus said. He looked at Harry closely. "You ought to try and get some sleep now."
Harry nodded. "I won't argue with that."
Setting his book down, Harry curled up on the couch, head resting on a throw pillow. He was asleep minutes later.
Severus set aside the stack of paperwork he was working on and glanced over at Harry. He seemed to be fast asleep but was shivering in violent waves. Severus wondered if he should wake him. The fact Harry was in such need of sleep today held him back. He had been nodding off all morning. Though it was pleasantly warm inside the house, Severus got Harry a fuzzy blanket and threw it over him. He folded back the top edge so that it did not brush his face. He brushed his hair back, paused for a moment, then returned to his work.
"Morning, Severus," Harry said, coming into the kitchen Thursday morning.
"Good morning," he replied. He lowered his paper and fixed Harry with a narrow look. "Any nightmares?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "No. It was just that one," he insisted. "That was a few days ago, you can probably stop asking."
Severus pursed his lips. "I still have a hard time believing that you are sleeping okay."
In fact, Severus knew he wasn't. He had gotten in the habit of checking on Harry at random intervals through the night. Each time he did, Harry had a frown upon his face, covers thrown off and a cold sweat covering his body. Severus would replace his blankets, put more wood on the fire, then return to bed, at a loss for what else he could do.
Harry frowned. "They're just bad dreams. Pretty much replays of the nightmare," he assured him. "They're actually going away."
Severus gave him a skeptical look. "While that may be, I feel the need to remind you that you can wake me up at any time, even just to talk."
"I appreciate that, Sev," Harry said, taking a muffin. "But I think I'm okay."
Severus grunted and returned to his paper. It was not long before the Floo flared and Sirius stepped out.
"Hey there," he said, meandering into the kitchen.
"I suppose it is too much to ask you to come to the door and knock?" Severus muttered.
Sirius ignored him. "What time is the meeting?"
"In a half hour," Severus said without looking up. "Though we should arrive a bit early, I must speak with Dumbledore."
"Alright," Sirius agreed easily. "So what's been up with you, Harry? It's been like, two whole days since I last saw you."
Harry grinned. "Nothing much," he said. "Made some plans for the World Cup."
Sirius's eyes widened. "You're going to the World Cup?" he asked, both shocked and excited. He looked at Severus whose expression was long suffering.
"Yeah!" Harry told him happily. "Ron's dad got us tickets."
"Don't suppose you have an extra..." Sirius said jokingly.
"Nah, it's alright," Sirius said earnestly. "Have fun though! Tell me who wins."
"To be honest, I don't even know who's playing," Harry admitted.
"Bulgaria and Ireland," Severus spoke up.
Harry and Sirius looked at him. "Are you a closet Quidditch fan?" Sirius asked, incredulous.
Severus folded back his paper and pointed at one of the headlines. "I honestly do not know how you missed it."
"Anyway, you want to borrow my tent? You're camping right?" Sirius asked.
"You have a tent?" Harry asked.
"My place has got one of everything," Sirius said in exasperation. "It's taken me the better part of the past few days just to go through everything in the spare room."
"Can I come over yet?" Harry asked.
"Before the end of summer," Sirius promised. "We ought to be going soon, right?"
"Indeed," Severus said, putting down his coffee.
They walked over to the Floo.
"You'll be fine on your own for an hour or two, correct?" Severus asked Harry.
"Of course," Harry said. "Have fun."
Severus sighed. "These meetings are anything but."
"He claims that he has seen no more 'visions' but he is still plagued by bad dreams," Snape told Dumbledore before the meeting. "I am concerned; I do not know what to do to ease them. He generally refuses potion."
"I expect they will fade," Albus said. "Provided that there is nothing immediate to reinforce the danger at hand."
"You do think it is really him then?" Severus asked. Though he knew what the answer would be, he could not stop himself from hoping that Dumbledore would say differently.
"Unfortunately, I do," Dumbledore said. "I am very concerned about Harry's safety. Voldemort's first task will be to hunt Harry down."
Severus cringed at the name of his former master. "I hope I can protect him until he gets to Hogwarts."
Severus pushed the thoughts of Harry sitting alone in an empty house out of his mind.
"I do not believe he will do anything so soon," Dumbledore reassured him. "Severus, you do realize that he will be after you as well?"
"Yes," he said dryly. "That is not the main concern here, however."
"Of course not," Dumbledore said, shaking his head. "Though you agree that in order to protect Harry, you must also protect yourself."
Severus waved a hand in dismissal. "I will be fine. Come, everyone is here. I would like to get started so that I can get back."
Dumbledore nodded. "Naturally."
Severus stepped out of the fireplace looking irritated. Sirius followed close behind.
"Oh, come on, it's not that bad," Sirius was saying. "It'll make life interesting."
"It will make more work for everyone. This is not what we need at the moment," Severus snapped, crossing the room and leaving Harry's line of sight. He saw Sirius follow. From his spot at the kitchen table, Harry strained to hear what they said.
"Relax, Severus," Sirius said.
"Relax?" Severus asked, tone that of surprise. "How do you expect me to relax when the Dark Lord could quite possibly be on the return and we are going to have a whole year without Dumbledore at the school? That is inviting trouble and opening the door graciously when it gets there."
"But I'll be there," Sirius said cockily. Harry could imagine the look Severus shot him.
The conversation seemed to have stopped. Harry decided he would learn no more by listening so he went to ask what was going on.
"Everything alright in here?" he asked, coming into the room.
"Just fine," Severus snapped.
Sirius rolled his eyes.
"What's going on?" Harry asked.
"You will find out soon enough," Severus said dryly.
Harry looked at Sirius expectantly. He gave him an apologetic look.
"Sorry, Harry. They specifically said not to tell you," Sirius said.
"Why?" Harry asked, brow furrowing.
Sirius shrugged. "Probably because you would tell all your little friends, then they'd tell all their little friends and well... you know how it goes."
Harry pouted lightly. "I wouldn't tell."
"You say that now," Severus said. "I will be in my study." With that, he stalked off in the other direction.
"I've had to put up with that all morning," Sirius said. Harry gave Sirius a commiserating look.
"I'll have to put up with it for the rest of the summer," Harry pointed out. "You can leave anytime."
"I'll kidnap you if he doesn't cheer up," Sirius promised with a wink.
Harry chuckled. Tap, tap, tap. Harry looked around and spotted a tawny owl at the window. He slid the window open and untied the note from its foot. It sat on the windowsill, apparently waiting for a reply.
Harry unfolded the letter.
My mother insists that I invite you and Professor Snape over for dinner. I'm sorry for subjecting you to what is sure to be a boring evening but I would like to see you, it's been all summer. If you can't come, that's alright, we'll meet up at the World Cup. You are going, right? Anyway, does Saturday at 6:00 work for you? Let me know.
"What is it?" Sirius asked, craning his neck to look at the letter.
"A dinner invitation," Harry said.
"From who?" Sirius asked. "Snape has friends?"
"From the Malfoys. And it's for both of us," Harry pointed out.
Sirius tilted his head. "Oh right, I forgot you were friends with the little blond one."
"Sirius, be fair," Harry admonished. "Draco's really nice."
"I guess I'll find out, huh?" Sirius asked lightly.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. He walked into the other room, letter in hand. At the study door, Harry knocked. "Severus?"
"Come in, Harry," he replied, still sounding like he was in a bad mood.
Harry opened the door and stepped just inside. He held up the letter in way of explanation.
"We've been invited to the Malfoys' for dinner Saturday at 6:00," Harry said. "Their owl is waiting for a reply."
Severus's face remained blank. "Do you want to go?"
"Do you?" Harry shot back.
Severus shrugged, rather out of character. "I will leave that up to you. If you want to go, I will come."
"Okay," Harry said. He turned for the door, then hesitated. "You okay, Severus?"
Severus looked up at Harry for a long moment. "Yes," he said simply.
"Okay," Harry replied. He shut the door quietly behind him and went to pen a quick reply to Draco. In his messy scrawl, Harry wrote:
We'd be happy to come over for dinner. Saturday works fine. I am going to the World Cup and I think we are meeting up with the Weasleys. You should join us! But we can talk more about that on Saturday. I'll be looking forward to it.
Harry rolled it up, tied it to the owl's foot and released it into the air. It flapped twice to gain altitude then disappeared into the sky. He turned around to find Sirius leaning against the doorframe.
"Still here?" he joked.
"Just can't get rid of me, can you?" Sirius returned.
"I've tried all the household pest banishing charms I know but..." Harry shrugged, apparently helpless.
Sirius laughed. "I really don't want to go back and finish cleaning up that house, want to play a game of chess?"
Harry inclined his head. "You play chess?"
"Of course," Sirius said easily. "Who doesn't?"
"I don't know," Harry said. He grinned slyly. "I'd like to see you play Severus."
"I'd kick his butt," Sirius said confidently.
Harry grinned wider. "Let's see if you can beat me first before moving on to the master."
An hour and two games of chess later, they were forced to call it a draw. Harry won the first, Sirius the second.
"Up for a tiebreaker?" Sirius asked.
"Sure," Harry replied. As they were resetting the pawns, Severus came wandering into the room. He looked at Sirius.
"I thought you left," he stated.
Sirius looked offended. "Why is that everybody's reaction?"Severus's lip curled into a sneer. At least taunting Sirius was brightening up his mood, albeit very slightly.
"You want to play?" Harry offered. "I'd like to see you go against Sirius."
Severus considered it for a moment. "Alright," he agreed. He set down the large book that he held on the end table and moved over to the chessboard.
Sirius rubbed his hands together. "You're going down."
Severus merely raised a brow and commanded a pawn to move forward two spaces. Sirius took this in then ordered a move of his own. Five swift turns later, Severus's queen had Sirius's king at her mercy. His sword clattered from his hands in a gesture of defeat. Severus sat back and examined his fingernails.
"You were saying?" Severus said smugly.
Sirius grumbled something unintelligible. Severus pushed his chair back and stood. "Thank you, Harry. Crushing Black was just what I needed."
Harry grinned. "Anytime."
Later on, Harry wandered up to his room. He organized a few things on his dresser and idly picked up the paper that sported the picture of Harry pinning the badge on Severus's cloak.
Severus Snape, Hogwarts Professor, Awarded Order of Merlin, First Class for Capture of Peter Pettigrew, Convicted Felon
Beneath the lengthy title, Harry saw himself fumble with the pin, share a soft look with Severus then step back as Severus shook hands with the Minister. He watched it several times, feeling a warm feeling spread through his chest as he did so. Harry used a cutting spell, even though he was technically not allowed to do magic, and cut the picture from the paper. He bent down and took the photo album that Severus had given him off of the bottom shelf of his bookshelf. Even though they could not hurt him, Harry was still wary of the spines on the Streeler shell that adorned the spine. He opened it to one of the last partially filled pages. He had only a few pictures with Severus there; Harry decided he should remedy that. He slid the black and white newspaper photo into an empty sleeve. Harry rubbed his thumb over the plastic thoughtfully, then closed the album with a faint smile on his face.