Harry woke the next morning feeling well after his adventure of last night. He was glad that Ghost and Shriek had been there to stop the Spirit Devourer from eating him and had helped him get back to his body. He hoped Severus was not angry with him, though he recalled that the wizard had not been so last night, merely concerned that Harry go to sleep. And really, it wasn't Harry's fault he sleepwalked!
Harry yawned and slipped from his bed to dress. He had to wear his uniform and robe, even though he wasn't in most of his classes. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table and saw it was seven in the morning, a little early, but Harry had always been one to get up with the dawn.
He padded out of his room with his tie in his hand and his top button of his shirt undone, he hated wearing his tie and usually left it to the last minute.
Skullduggery was perched on the back of Severus' chair, idly preening his master. "Good morning, bran-boy! Sleep well?"
"Morning, Skull," Harry murmured, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Severus looked up from the paper and raised an eyebrow. "Harry, come here," he ordered. "You look like you've just rolled out of bed and threw everything on."
"I did," his ward replied, half cheekily. He walked over to Severus.
Severus's hands straightened his shirt, tucking it into his waistband. Then he went to button the shirt and Harry squirmed away from him.
"No, please! It chokes me, I can't eat with it buttoned, or my tie on either. Can't it wait?"
Severus sighed. "I can make it fit so it doesn't choke you, but all right. Leave it for now and eat some breakfast." He gestured to the table, which had rolls, butter, jam, scrambled eggs, ham, and bacon on a platter, along with tea.
Harry sat and took some of everything. His appetite was good now that he was allowed to eat regular meals, though Severus did still give him the Nutrient potion. He drank the familiar vial down, then began eating. He ate half the plate before he asked softly, "Uncle Sev, are you mad at me for last night?"
Severus set down his paper and looked at his ward. "No. Why would I be? Ghost has told me your nocturnal wandering is caused by stress and anxiety. What has you so stressed, Harry? Don't be afraid to tell me. I know what stress does and would never mock you for it."
Harry hesitated. Ghost's advice came back to him, he should trust his guardian. "Ummm . . . well . . . I wasn't feeling so good about History of Magic. It's just so boring the way Binns lectures. I try and listen, but I always fall asleep when he talks."
"Yes, I'm aware of that," Severus conceded. "Have you tried reading the book?"
Harry nodded. "That makes me fall asleep too. Why does it have to be so boring?"
"It doesn't," Severus said then, recalling how his mother made it interesting by telling stories about the different historical people and places. "Perhaps I can help you, if you want."
Harry nodded frantically. "Please, sir! Otherwise I'll get a T or something and then you'll lock me in my room forever."
Skull snickered but remained uncharacteristically silent, letting Severus take control of the conversation.
Severus shook his head. "Why would you think that? Is that how I normally punish you?"
"No, but . . . it's a grade and teachers are always crazed over marks."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Just how many teachers do you know to make that statement?"
Harry thought about it. "Umm . . . well . . ."
"The fact is that I am not crazed over marks, I am crazed over a student living up to his potential. If you have a bad mark, I will not beat you over it, or use some other form of outlandish punishment. What I will do is ask why you received such a mark, and speak to both you and your teacher. If the mark is a result of misunderstanding or confusion, you shall not be punished, but helped along. By me or a tutor. If, however, the bad mark is a result of laziness or failure to hand in homework, you will be in trouble until you bring the mark up."
"What—what sort of trouble?"
"You will be made to study instead of socialize, and be forbidden several extra curricular activities, such as Quidditch, until you bring the mark back up. I think that is more than fair. What do you think?"
Harry grimaced. He hated the no Quidditch part. But it was fair, much as he hated to admit it. "It's all right," he admitted reluctantly.
Severus looked at him intently. "You do understand that you may come to me anytime you need help with a subject, be it potions or History of Magic, Harry. It is my duty as a professor as well as your guardian to make sure you succeed in school. Please do not hesitate to do so."
Harry stared back at his guardian, who had risked so much for him, and felt a warm cozy feeling inside. He had never had anyone tell him that before, he had always been left to fend for himself. "Thanks, Uncle Severus," he found himself saying. "Before, when I lived with the Dursleys, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, they . . ." he trailed off abruptly, unsure whether he wanted to reveal this particular trial.
"What did they do?" Severus queried in a low voice.
"Yes, tell us!" croaked Skull. "Don't keep us in suspense! I hate it!"
Harry began at last. "They . . . yelled at me and punished me with time in the cupboard if I got better marks than Dudley," he said quietly, his head down. "I'm smarter than he is, but it wasn't hard to get better marks—he never did anything, and practically failed his subjects. But his parents thought he was wonderful and the teachers 'misunderstood' him, so they always forgave him his terrible marks and they hated when I showed him up."
Severus was frowning sharply, and Skull looked ready to fly to Privet Drive.
"Those wretched people!" the raven cawed. "They deserve to be chased through he woods and have their eyes pecked out!"
"They are the definition of idiocy," Severus remarked caustically. "People like that know not the value of a true teacher or their subjects, and deserve to be mediocre all their lives, ignorant as the day is long. You have no need to hold yourself to their standard, Harry, indeed you should do your best in all subjects, which is what I expect of you, since you are intelligent and absorb information well."
"I do?" Harry had supposed, after years of ill treatment, that he was only average.
"Of course you do!" Severus said, a tad bit irritably. "You have your mother's brains and drive to learn. Hell, even your scapegrace father was a decent scholar when he put his mind to it. You are just as smart and you can learn anything if you put your mind to it—look ay what you have done already!"
"Don't sell yourself short, bran-boy," said Skull.
"Skull is right. You have a good head on your shoulders, Mr. Potter. Do yourself a favor and use it." Severus encouraged. "Don't be mediocre, like your blockhead cousin. Am I understood?"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Ugh! I never want to be like Dudley."
"I am glad to hear it. For there is nothing worse than the waste of a good mind," Severus replied. "Now, once you have finished your breakfast, we shall go over the chapters in History of Magic. Stop making faces and groaning, before I assume you have a stomachache and dose you with a spoonful of castor oil." He smirked slightly as Harry blanched. "My way of learning history is quite different from Professor Binns, as you shall see."
Harry obeyed, eating his food and then getting his book out, he sure as Merlin didn't want a dose of castor oil, whatever that was! He suspected it was as nasty as a potion, if Snape was threatening him with it.
He soon discovered that Severus' way of teaching history was ten times better than anything Binns ever said. The Potions Master made the three chapters into a kind of story, using the historical figures as the principle characters, and encouraged Harry to listen and remember all the significant dates and things involved. By the time an hour had gone by, Harry felt like he actually had a handle on History of Magic and he didn't feel like running and hiding in the Forbidden Forest. Instead he felt almost good about his upcoming final.
Severus shut the book with a snap and said, "There! You have only two chapters left to study before your exam. We can study them later if you wish."
"Could we study them with Draco, Ron, Hermione, and Neville? They're probably as confused as I was," Harry said.
Severus grimaced. Tutoring Harry was one thing, tutoring a whole gang of kids quite another. "What am I, a public storyteller?" he groused.
"Yes!" hissed Skull impudently.
"No, you're the best History of Magic tutor I ever knew," Harry cried. "Please, sir?"
Faced with those imploring green eyes, reminding him far too much of Lily, Severus reluctantly agreed. "7 o'clock sharp in my quarters tomorrow, no tardiness accepted."
Harry whooped, grinning.
Severus scowled. "Quit yelling like a heathen, for Merlin's sake! The things I do for you. Unbelievable!"
"Because you love me, right?" Harry teased. "Or you are actually a nice guy underneath that scowl."
"Bite your tongue, Mr. Insolence!"
"Then I'd hurt myself," Harry replied, smirking.
"Come here, you little reprobate, and let me fix that tie," Severus growled, half-seriously.
"Aww, but Uncle Sev . . .!"
"Shall I count to three?"
"No!" Harry yelped. "I'm not a baby!"
"Now, young man!" Severus pointed to a spot in front of him.
Harry shuffled over with his tie. He hated ties, and he hated shirts that had buttons on the collar, and he knew he was going to be choked no matter what Severus did, it was always so . . . all of a sudden he was wearing his tie and neither it nor his shirt was choking him. They felt perfectly natural, so unlike the times when he put his own tie on.
"How do you feel, Harry?" Skull asked.
"I feel great, Skull! It doesn't choke me anymore. Thanks, Uncle Sev!"
He threw his arms about the startled professor and hugged him.
Severus found he didn't need prompting, but hugged the boy back on principal now. "It's only a tie," he said gruffly, patting Harry on the shoulder. "Best you get your things and go meet Ghost. It's not good to keep a mentor waiting."
Harry released his guardian and said suddenly, "Sometimes . . . I wish I could . . . be your real family."
Severus froze. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Uh . . . it's just . . . being your ward is great but . . . you need a family, Uncle Severus. Like a real nephew or . . . a son. Someone you can teach all your magic to and . . . that you can give your stuff to when you die. Not that I want you to die, but . . . well . . ."
"Harry, are you saying you want me to . . . adopt you?" Severus asked, hardly daring to hope.
Harry swallowed, unable to speak. Instead he nodded, his head bobbing up and down.
Severus remained silent for a few moments, remembering what Ghost had said the previous night. "Do you truly wish this? Knowing me the way you do?"
"Yes," Harry whispered.
"Then I shall make it so," Severus said, a slow smile spreading over his face.
"Welcome to the family, Harry!" Skull yelled, and flew onto Harry's shoulder, singing We Are Family.
After a few moments, Harry left to meet Ghost and learn more about Traveling, and on his face was a beautiful smile. For now he had a real family at last.
A/N: I'm finally posting again! I was in the hospital for 10 days or so due to high BP and a bleed on my cerebellum, so please be kind and let me know if you enjoyed the chapter! Did you like the ending?