I'll be there when the world stops turning
I'll be there when the storm is through
In the end I wanna be standing
At the beginning with you

- "At the Beginning" Anastasia

A/N This chapter is dedicated to all you wonderful reviewers. Without you, there'd be no story

Severus blinked, confused and looked desperately around his room. The station was no longer surrounding him. He was in a cold, stone dungeon, looking at a half-drunk bottle of fire-whiskey and a weary Dumbledore. He remembered. It was just a dream, a stupid dream, that was so fucking real. He looked at his watch. 2 AM. Only three hours had passed. He could barely breathe.

"Severus," Dumbledore said softly. There was a buzzing in his ears, and Severus couldn't even look at the old man. Everything was just gone. Lily and James were long dead, the children, with the exception of Harry, did not exist. He couldn't even think about Pauline and Michael without wanting to cry or vomit or both. He had lost an entire way of life. There was only a gapping loneliness where the love of eight people had once been.

"Why would you do that?" Severus spat out, his hands shaking. "Are you trying to drive me insane?"

"No, I didn't show you that to be cruel, Severus," said Dumbledore after Severus hurriedly wiped the moisture off of his face. "When are deepest desires are unobtainable, it useless to dwell on them, but when they are obtainable, we must be open to it. I wanted you to see that you can forgive, be forgiven, be happy and live a life of extraordinary depth and meaning, and be completely, unconditionally loved." Severus snorted. Any idea of that sort had long since been abandoned.

A hand settled on Severus shoulder. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly. He hadn't cried in years. Since the night that Lily had died in fact. He certainly was not going to do so in front of Dumbledore.

"You aren't alone," Dumbledore said softly, causing Severus' heart to contract painfully. He moved his hands up to press the heel of his hands to his eyes. Before Severus could resist, Dumbledore pulled Severus into a hug. Although Severus has been hugged an obscene amount in his fake life, by James Potter no less, he still was not used to it in reality and stiffened when Dumbledore pulled him close. Still, he didn't pull away.

Dumbledore reached up and squeezed the base of Severus' neck in a way that reminded him of his mother when he was a small boy. His eyes burned more frantically then spilled over with tears. He let out a few stifled, choked sobs and Dumbledore held him firmly. There was enough of the dream Severus swirling around his mind he was able to endure the contract for a few moments longer than necessary before he pulled away and looked down, embarrassed .

"And as much as you lost Severus, you and Harry still have each other," said Dumbledore pointedly. Severus looked sharply at the man.

"Headmaster - "

"You loved that little boy, and he loved you, didn't he?" asked Dumbledore serenely. With annoying accuracy, Severus was able to remember Harry looking up at him like he was a God, running to him when he was hurt or scared, full of trust. And as Severus had said to Harry seemingly years ago in Dreamland. He remembered the exact way his heart had flip-flopped when Harry had fallen asleep in his lap for the first time.

"I'm not that man," Severus said, surprised he felt more than a little bitter about the truth of that statement.

"Ghangzou venom does not change out capacity for love, Severus," said Dumbledore. "You have a very big heart Severus, even if it is largely unoccupied." Severus snorted at that.

"At the very least, I hope than when you look at Harry's face and see James, you are reminded of an old friend, not an old enemy," said Dumbledore getting to his feet. "Harry has so little love in his life, Severus. If you can remedy that, you should, for both your sakes."

"I do not love the boy, Dumbledore," Severus said, finally finding some secure footing. As he said it, he felt a swooping guilt towards the four-year-old whose nightmares he soothed and to the parents who had made him Harry's godparent. "All I said, it was under completely different circumstances."

Dumbledore shrugged and looked across at Severus.

"Fate changed only one thing, Severus. That you got the Potters out alive. Everything else that occurred, the love you felt, that came from your own heart." Severus wasn't listening to the wisdom anymore. He leaned forward and grabbed Dumbledore's arm.

"Dumbledore, it wasn't just me who got the Potter's out. It was Black. He wasn't their Secret-Keeper. Pettigrew was. Black - Black is innocent," said Severus hurriedly. The colour and joviality drained from Dumbledore's face.

"Are you quite certain?"

"Yes, Sirius found out that Pettigrew was the spy. Potter's second son was named Sirius," said Snape, suddenly feeling desperately sad that the boy never existed in reality. He shook the thought off as soon as it came. Dumbledore looked down at his watch urgently.

"It's past-midnight. I'll write Azkaban first thing in the morning," said Dumbledore, getting out of his chair. "And you must rest Severus. I'll send a house-elf with your breakfast tomorrow. A lie-in will do you good."

The idea of resting didn't do Severus any good. Days later, he sat in his dark room with three fingers filled with whiskey. Ever since he had returned from the Ghangzou vision, sleeping was agony. Every time he closed his eyes, he dreamed he was back in the other world with his family. When he woke-up alone, in the bedroom that he expected to be painted lavender and gray, and saw the stone, bare walls, he felt as though someone was straining his heart through a sieve.

Whatever Severus was feeling, Harry clearly was feeling it to. The boy no longer took part in any of the holiday festivities, and as far as Severus could tell, he didn't even leave the Gryffindor common room except for meals. During those meals he would just sit alone at the end of the table, sullenly push his food around his plate for a few moments, take a few bites and leave.

Minerva and Dumbledore talked in worried tones about it all through dinner, quieting whenever he came, but tonight Severus was not watching the miserable little boy eat. He was watching another student. Jason Klien was sitting at the Slytherin table, his head buried in a Potions journal.

Severus tried to never think about the fantasy world or make comparisons, but he was completely incapable of not comparing this Jason with the bright, happy Head Boy he had dreamed about. Real Jason was kind and intelligent, but shy and and uncertain. He had few friends and no one would have seriously considered him as a candidate for Head Boy. In a way, he reminded Severus of himself as a child, which is why he was so fond of him in both worlds. He also likely had a father beating the crap out of him.

The Ghangzou had only changed one thing, Lily getting out of the house alive, and that had clearly snowballed to change many things, including the type of teacher Severus was. Teaching had always been a thing to do while Severus waited for Voldemort's return. He did it well enough, enjoyed the use of Hogwarts' resources to do his own research, and found it a tolerable profession. Far better than stacking beetle eyes at the apothecary anyways.

Still, he had never really considered it an impactful career choice. He never considered that he could shape the way a child felt about himself until he saw Jason scribbling notes into the side of his potions magazine. Somehow, he had been able to make Jason see something inside of himself that allowed him to be confident and outgoing, the fact that he hadn't done that now made Severus feel guilty and wonder how many other Slytherins had slipped through the cracks.

"Klien," called Severus when the boy stood up to leave. He almost jumped in shock and approached the staff table apprehensively. None of the other teachers were paying attention. Everyone called their students up from time-to-time to remind them of a detention or discuss a house matter.

"Sir?" the boy asked politely as he approached.

"You're a fair flyer if I remember correctly?" asked Severus. In the Ghangzou world, he was one of the stars of the Quidditch team. Jason nodded, his forehead wrinkling in confusion.

"I'm alright, sir," he replied.

"I want you to keep an eye on Harry Potter for me, maybe take him out to the Quidditch pitch, have some fun," Severus said with distaste.

"You want me to take Harry Potter flying?" Jason asked, not even attempting to hide his incredulity anymore. "Sir, he's a Gryffindor. And you don't even like -"

"I am helping out a colleague and am asking you as a personal favour," said Severus silkily. "Mr. Potter is a young student. As there are no older Gryffindors to do so, I would like you to keep an eye on him." His students knew there was no point in arguing with him, and Jason just gave a skeptical sort of shrug, and went off to follow Harry.

The next day, he was pulled out of preparing his syllabus but the sound of the common room door slamming shout and torrents of laughter.

"That was unbelievable," Jason said.

"I know, I thought you were going to break something for sure. Your eye doesn't look so bad though," commented Sandra, a third-year Slytherin. Severus frowned at that. If an eye didn't look so bad, something still happened to it.

He strode purposefully over to his door and swung it open.

Harry was sitting on the couch, laughing with Sandra and Jason. They were all wearing Quidditch robes, covered in mud, and Harry had a dark, black eye. When Severus came in, they all looked up and stared at him in fear.

It was the first time Severus and Harry had made eye contact since the Ghangzou, and the boy blushed a deep red and looked to the ground.

"What did you do to your eye?" asked Severus.

"Just a flying accident, sir," muttered Harry. It was weird that the last interaction he remembered with Harry was tearfully hugging him goodbye for school.

"Well - go to the hospital wing," grumbled Severus. Eager to leave, Harry hopped to his feet to run out the door. As he did so, the door opened from the opposite direction to reveal Dumbledore, with a rare look of genuine surprise on his face.

"Hello Harry," said Dumbledore.

"Good afternoon, sir," Harry said, still to embarrassed to stop. Dumbledore watched him run by, then turned a pleasant smile to Severus.

"May I talk to you for a moment," asked Dumbledore. Feeling embarrassed as well, Severus just nodded quickly and motioned to his office.

"Severus, I need to ask you a favour," said Dumbledore the moment Severus closed the door. He leaned against the door and crossed his arms. Long experience had taught him to be careful with agreeing to do favours for Dumbledore.

"I would like you to go to London," continued Dumbledore, ignoring the look on Severus' face.

"Why?" Severus asked suspiciously.

"I have convinced the Wizenmagot to rehear - or rather hear - the case against Sirius Black tomorrow. Although the have you Pensieved memories, the Wizenmagot may with to speak with you," said Dumbledore, pouring himself a healthy glass of pumpkin juice. Severus sighed and grunted in ascent.

"Fine."

"I also want you to take Harry," added Dumbledore, with a tone that suggested he wasn't asking any thing more of Severus than to take out the trash.

"No," Severus said, turning back to his food.

"Severus, the boy could use a trip out of the castle," said Dumbledore gently. "The Wizenmagot may want to hear from him as well." Severus crossed his arms and scowled at his mentor. Dumbledore returned the looking with a patient smile. At that look Severus knew there was no way he was going to get out of taking Potter to London.

"What am I supposed to do with him while we wait?" snapped Severus.

"Oh I'm sure you'll think of something," responded Dumbledore.

XX

Soon after the sun had risen, Severus collected Potter from the Great Hall and they trudged down the road to the gate, the silence punctuated only by Potter's heaving breaths. Severus figured the silence was best.

He was trying to pretend that Harry didn't exist, which was a lot harder when the boy was walking right beside him. Still he couldn't help but notice how different this Harry was. His glasses were over-sized, and although his school robes were new, the jeans and sweater he wore were patched and old, the coat he wore was not nearly warm enough for the weather, and his gloves and hat clashed. Neither James nor Lily would have allowed the boy to walk around like this. He would have been dressed well and warmly and would be wearing proper glasses, just like any child who was loved and well taken care of. Then again, Sirius Black would also be dead and they wouldn't be going to his trial, and Harry probably would be happy to have Severus' undivided attention instead of wary. God this was weird.

"Sir, where are we going?" asked Potter as they neared the gate, mercifully giving Severus a distraction from his own mind.

"London," replied Severus shortly.

"I know, but where is the Ministry of Magic in London? I mean, how can they hide it?" asked Potter again, running a few steps to come beside Severus. The boy looked up him with such a earnest expression, the same one that Severus' Muggle-born students gave him, that Severus couldn't summon an angry retort.

"It's underground. Grab my arm."

They landed hard outside of the London telephone box that marked the entrance to the Ministry of Magic. Severus held open the door to the telephone box and motioned the boy in. Potter gave him a long, skeptical look then obeyed. Severus squeezed himself in after Potter, who looked decidedly uncomfortable with the tightness of their quarters.

"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic, please state your name and business," a light, feminine voice said cooly.

"Severus Snape and Harry Potter, for Sirius Black's trial," Severus said into the receiver.

"Please take you badge and submit your wand for identification," said the voice. The lift lowered itself into the ground, and Potter pressed himself to the glass walls of the telephone booth.

"WOW!" said Potter as the lift hit the ground and opened to reveal the lobby of the Ministry. Severus looked at the high ceiling, large fountain and bustling groups of important looking people, trying to imagine what it looked like from Harry's perspective. The boy turned and gave him a wide, open grin, seemingly so overwhelmed with the Ministry's impressiveness that he forgot who he was grinning at. Severus fought the urge to smile back.

"It is rather impressive isn't it, Harry?" Both Harry and Severus looked up at the sound of Dumbledore's voice. The older wizard was dressed in resplendent plum robes and was regarding both Harry and Severus with a kind smile.

"Come alone, both of you," Dumbledore said, leading them past the wand inspection with a nod to the security guard. They walked down a long spiral staircase with a plush red carpet that seemed to move like grass in the wind. At the bottom, a large group of reporters and officials milled around the entrance to the largest courtroom.

"Well, Severus, Harry, I have to go on in now. You may be needed in about four or five hours," said Dumbledore cheerily.

"Four or Five hours?!" sputtered Severus indignantly. "You told me to leave at the break of dawn."

"Well, better early than late, right Severus?" Dumbledore said with a twinkle of his eye. "I'm sure you can find something to do. There is a lovely cafe on the second floor that I believe you'll enjoy immensely." With that, Dumbledore sashayed into the courtroom leaving Harry staring up at Severus.

After making Potter sit silently in a chair outside the courtroom for a two hours, Severus reluctantly realized he needed to feed the boy.

"Come on, Potter," he said following the signs for the Ministry of Magic Deli. As always, Potter followed without a word of complaint.

The little delicatessen near the Ministry of Magic was cozy, filled with mis-matched fabric chairs and small, round wooden tables. Potter looked at him uncertainly as they entered. A large display of pies and cakes stood at the front window, and Severus saw Potter eye them appreciatively as they walked in and made their way to a table at the back.

"Sir?" Potter asked in confusion as Severus started to make their way through the restaurant.

"You need food," Severus said, sitting down at a table. A waitress placed two menus in front them with a cheery smile.

"Shepard's Pie," said Severus shortly.

"Bangers and mash, please," added Harry quickly, looking at Severus as though he was worried he might anger the man. The waitress' smile faded slightly, but she nodded and skipped away with the menus. The silence between them was more awkward and acute now that they were sitting at a table across from one another, and Severus felt himself considering engaging the boy in casual conversation.

Instead, a discarded copy of the Daily Prophet sitting on the table beside them caught his eye, and he picked it up and started to read. Potter didn't say anything and Severus almost forgot the boy was there until the waitress arrived 20 minutes later with their food. When they were left alone again, Potter looked at him for a moment, then slowly started to eat.

"Professor, may I ask you something?" Potter asked hesitantly after a few silent bites. Snape felt his stomach churn uncomfortably, and the look on his face made Potter pale and look back down to his lunch.

"You may. Whether or not I answer is another matter," Severus replied after a moment, sincerely hoping that he would not regret his answer.

"Yes, sir. Of course," said Potter with that annoyingly endearing earnestness. "It's just - Professor why - why did my parent's being alive change your life so much. Were you friends - before they…" Severus stared hard at the boy, wondering how he could possibly think that was a question that would be answered. Potter blushed and looked back down to his plate of food.

"I'm sorry, sir. It's not my place," muttered Harry. Hardly able to breathe, Severus continued to stare Harry who was studiously avoided looking up. Dumbledore was right. When Severus dared to look at Harry, he didn't see an arrogant, pampered teenager. He saw a small, boy who was so distraught at realizing his parents were not real that he had cried in a hated Professor's arms, but who still had the strength to follow through on stabbing himself.

Even though he knew his memories weren't real, Severus grudgingly knew that the side of James he had seen was real, and he felt as though he had lost a friend. Now when he looked at Harry's face he saw as much warmth and kindness in James' smile as he did in Lily's eyes.

"We knew each other," Severus said simply, pulling himself back to reality. Potter's eyes flashed up from his plate and he stared at Severus urging him to go on. "Your mother and I were friends. Your father and I were on the same side in the first war." Severus continued, feeling that it would be a betrayal to the Ghangzou James to disparage the real one in front of Harry.

"And it was my fault they died," whispered Potter softly. "That's why you hate me so much." He looked as though he had just solved an extremely difficult puzzle and stared back at Severus with no malice or hatred, just understanding and a little sadness. Then he swallowed hard and looked back down to his plate.

Severus felt absolutely paralyzed. He never wanted to make the boy feel responsible for his parents' deaths, not when he hated the the boy and certainly not now when his emotions were continually pulled towards actually liking the child. Still, he had no idea what to say.

"Potter…no…" Severus started awkwardly. Harry refused to look up from his plate. There was a deep discomfort in Severus' gut as he searched for the words to say. It was laughable to him that there was a world where he might have the capacity to deal with this sort of situation. He thought back to the Ghangzou and how important it had been to him to comfort Harry that night, how easy it was to find the right words to say to the boy.

"Potter, it is not you fault that your parents died. You were an infant," Severus said, trying to inject a thread of reasonableness into the conversation. Unfortunately, Potter was only 11, and was already having a miserable Christmas, reasonable words weren't enough. Severus heard a small sniffle and felt utterly horrible.

"Look at me, Potter," Severus said with a much gentleness as he could muster. The boy quickly wiped at his cheeks and raised his head. His eyes were slightly rimmed with red and his jaw quivered slightly, but there was a defiant set to his face that Severus couldn't help but admire.

"I saw your parents when I looked at you, and I suppose I found that very hard," Severus said in that same gentle voice that sounded so weird to his ears. "But I never thought anything that happened was your fault. You are not to blame." Harry stared hard at Severus for a long moment, as though searching for deception. Another tear slid down the boy's face, and he brushed it away irritably with his hand.

"Do you want a piece of cake?" asked Severus, sweets often worked on the Slytherins when they cried. It was pretty much the only form of comfort he was capable of providing. Potter blinked those big green eyes up at him in confusion then laughed a little bit.

"I'm sorry sir, it's just I've never imagined you'd offer me a piece of cake," He said with a brave attempt at a laugh. Then his face fell again, and he looked back down to his plate.

"I'm sorry I brought us back," Harry whispered, barely loud enough for Severus to hear. Again, Severus' stomach clenched uncomfortably with pity. Losing that fake life had almost broken Severus' heart. Getting up the last few mornings had been nearly a Herculean feat given how lethargic and depressed he felt. This vengeful solitary existence he led now felt futile and wrong, and he had never hated himself more. He felt all this, and he was a grown man. Potter was just a child who just had everything he had ever wanted ripped from him unceremoniously after being left alone over Christmas.

"Oh Potter," Severus sighed, sliding his chair towards the child who was trying valiantly not to cry. "It wasn't real." Feeling a tinge awkward, Severus scanned the crowd at the diner. A few of the other patrons had started to notice the upset boy.

Feeling suddenly protective, Severus reached out and pulled the boy towards him as though to hide him from any potential on-lookers. Unlike most children his age, Harry cried completely silently, and Severus could only tell the boy was breaking down because of the way his shoulders shook.

Severus didn't really know what to do, so he tapped the boy's back awkwardly and sat in silence, hoping his discomfort wouldn't radiate to Potter. With no small amount of frustration, he remembered that, at one point, he did know what to do with the small weight on his chest. He was a favourite Uncle, a Father that was way better than his had ever been, a good friend who had looked his two best friends in the eye and promised to take care of their child if anything happened to them. He had somehow managed to become a worthy person and he would figure out how to do it again, even without James and Lily.

"It's going to be ok, Harry," whispered Severus. It wasn't a platitude. It was a promise. A responsibility. Harry pulled away and smiled weakly up at Severus. It wasn't the glowing trust and admiration of the Ghangzou Harry, but it was a start.

"What do you say to a fresh start?" Snape whispered, reaching forward and pushing a tear off of Harry's face. With the simple innocence of a child, Harry's entire face brightened, and he nodded. Even though he hated himself for it, Severus was secretly grateful for whatever it was that made Harry desperate enough for affection that he was willing to disregard four months worth of degradation.

All the sudden, Harry's expression changed. He was looking past Severus with a gaping mouth. With a frown, Severus turned around slowly. Pauline stood behind the counter, cutting a large chocolate cake into slices, looking almost as exactly as she did in Severus' dreams. He blinked a few times incredulously.

"You have to go talk to her!" Potter said, adopting a gravity that suggested this was a matter of national security.

"Potter, don't be ridiculous," snapped Snape as he turned his back on the image of Pauline. His heart hammered loudly against his eardrums. The shock of seeing Pauline was so much that he barely registered that yelling at Potter to not be ridiculous was probably not the fresh start the boy was hoping for.

"You said I could have cake," Potter said crossing his arms and smiling impishly. "I want a slice of the cake she's cutting…please, sir." The boy was truly like his father. Any resistance was futile. He thew another look over his shoulder at Pauline, who had bent over to inspect the size of the cake slices she cut, giving Severus a very appealing view of her chest. He whipped back around and scowled at Harry.

"I'm not going to go ask a woman on a date while I'm out with a student. That is completely inappropriate," Severus hissed at Harry leaning forward. The boy put his elbows on the table and leaned forward as well.

"I never said anything about a date, sir. I just want some cake." He gave Severus a smile that was way too self-satisfied to bode well. "Go on, she's leaving." Despite his posturing, and his honest belief that it was not appropriate to pick up women while babysitting students, the thought of not speaking to her when she was right there in front of him was unbearable. He rose from the table and walked over to the counter without a further conscious thought.

In an instant, she was a mere foot from him, separated only by the thin glass of the display case. There was no magic for Pauline though, who had yet to look up from the perfect cake she was slicing. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat.

"Hello," his voice came out somewhat squeakier than he would have hoped.

"You have to place your order at the front," said Pauline without actually looking up. Without thinking, Severus threw a desperate glance back at Potter, before realizing that the child's wingman abilities were likely not honed at age 11. The boy flashed him an encouraging smile and nodded back to the counter.

"See, the thing is I need a slice of that cake right there," said Severus, not quite able to exude the effortless confidence required for such an approach. This you dumb bastard, is why Lily wound up with James. At this, she looked up from the cake, her golden eyes narrowed. He found that his thoughts weren't quite as coherent as they were moments ago.

"It's a bit of a desperate situation, really," Severus said, not feeling the least bit guilty he was channeling as much of James as he possibly could. "See that little boy over there really wants a piece of that cake, and I'm afraid if I wait in line, everyone will see how good it looks at it will all be gone." Pauline's eyes flicked to the line where only three people waited.

"There are only three people in line," she commented dryly.

"I'm a very cautious man," replied Severus. The barest quirk of her lip encouraged him to continue. "I'm afraid he's had a bad day, and I can't risk making it worse. Personally, I prefer Peppermint Cheesecake to uh - Orange Chocolate."

"Peppermint, really?" she said cocking her head at him. He nodded and she looked him over, considering.

"I suppose I can see it," she said after a moment. She pursed her lips and spooned a piece of cake on to the plate. Their hands grazed as she passed it over.

"Thank you -" Severus said trailing off to allow her to give him her name.

"Pauline," she added after a moment's hesitation. A grin spread across his face without any warning, and he quickly rained it back in.

"Severus," he replied. With nothing left to say, he turned back to Potter.

"We have Peppermint Cheesecake the day after Christmas," said Pauline, causing Severus to turn around. She was half-smiling at him, the way she did when she knew she was being cute. With great effort, Severus sat on the urge to grin and merely inclined his head.

"I guess I'll see you then."

Harry was grinning with insufferable self-satisfaction when Severus made his way back to the table and Severus dumped the cake in front of the boy, trying to look put-upon.

"Did you ask her on a date?"

"That's none of your business. Eat your cake." grunted Severus. Potter's enthusiasm was barely dampened.

"She's really pretty," whispered Harry conspiratorially. Severus was about to rebuke the boy again for be impudent, but the boy's good mood was infectious. The stern look that was supposed to end up on Severus' face ended up as a kind of smirk. Harry giggled and took a large bite of his cake.

"And she makes good cake!" added Harry as though that should deal with any possible reservation Severus might have had. The boy had been picking at his food the last few days and it was good to see him whole-heartedly digging into the cake, even if it was pure sugar. Severus grabbed a fork, reached over and took a bite of the cake. It was dense, moist and fantastically zesty. Harry read the verdict on his Professor's face and pushed the cake into the centre of the table with a smile that Severus gladly returned.

In that moment, Severus truly felt that he could do it. Free Potter of that horrible home, raise him, love him as dearly as his own. It didn't matter that the promise he had made to James and Lily had been in a weird Dreamworld under different circumstances, he still found that he felt responsible. Worse, he found that the responsibility he felt made him feel more whole and satisfied than anything had in a long time.

"Cleared of all charges, rather quickly too," Severus jumped guiltily at the sound of Dumbledore's voice, as though the man had heard his thoughts. Dumbledore stood at the entrance, his eyes twinkling happily, but Severus' eyes were drawn to the man beside him. Sirius Black, looking much leaner, older and more haunted than Severus remembered. His chocolate coloured robes and green sweater were new and his face and shoulder length hair were clean, but somehow he still looked unkempt and ragged from his years in Azkaban. Despite this, his eyes were hungrily focused on Harry, like the boy was a famous painting he would never be able to see again.

"Harry, this is your Godfather, Sirius Black," said Dumbledore gently. The anxiety was clear on Harry's face and Severus couldn't help but wonder if the boy was anxious to give a good impression or simply anxious at the less than savoury look of Black.

"Hello uhm -Godfather," said Harry quietly. He got wiped his hand on his robes and held a hand out formally to Sirius. Sirius' eyes crinkled with amusement, and his face broke out into a more relaxed smile as he shook Potter's hand. The effect instantly made the man look more approachable.

"Just Sirius is fine," Sirius said gently, his eyes still roaming over Harry's face.

"I'm sorry. I've never had a Godfather before," Potter explained, abashed.

"You did, when you were very little," replied Sirius, a little sadly, the ghost of a smile on his lips. "You couldn't quite figure out what to call me then either, you had a bit of trouble with your r's." The memory made Sirius swallow down something that looked suspiciously like tears.

"Look at you. My God, you've grown so," whispered Sirius, reaching out a hand to touch Harry's cheek, as if to see whether or not he was real, then retracting it before it made contact. He clearly was concerned about spooking Harry, but he needn't have been. Harry was looking at Sirius just as hungrily, as though every single one of his dreams had just come true. Abruptly, Severus realized that it likely had.

"With the Ghangzou, my parents - they named my little brother Sirius, that was after you, wasn't it?" Harry asked urgently, as though hardly daring to believe it was true. A deep foolish feeling came over Severus. Even in the Ghangzou world, James and Lily would have chosen Sirius as their son's guardian if they had the option. With him alive, Severus was just superfluous. An appendix on Potter's family. He hated how depressed that made him.

"I suppose it was," Sirius whispered, tears filling eyes at the thought. "It's good to know I did right by them in at least one life." Harry didn't know what to say to that, but he didn't need to say anything. Sirius took a deep breath, apparently steadying himself.

"I'm sorry I wasn't around when you were little," said Sirius, crouching to be at Harry's eyeline. "But I'd really like to be around now, if you'd let me." This simple speech made Severus' stupid starting fresh thing seem horrifically lame and it had completely stunned Harry into silence.

"Do you mean live with you?" whispered Harry, not daring to believe what was happening to him. It sounded disbelieving in an incredulous way and Sirius quickly raised his hands, as though he was being accused of something.

"I expect you'd want to stay with your Aunt and Uncle, and I completely - "

"No, I don't. Really, I don't." cut in Potter, sounding as anxious as Sirius had been. Sirius' eyes flickered momentarily to Dumbledore, knowing, as did Severus, that that was not a typical reaction. Sirius hesitated a moment, like he was worried that touching Potter would somehow soil the boy, then took the boy's hands in his.

"We're family. You'll always have a home with me, Harry," said Sirius, easily summoning the words that Severus was unable to say. Severus did not get a chance to observe the boy's face because he immediately threw himself into his Godfather's arms. The hug startled Sirius, who probably hadn't been hugged since before Azkaban. For a moment. Sirius allowed his arms to hang at his side then, remembering what to do he wrapped them cautiously around Potter, blinking back tears. Harry was gripping Sirius tightly and after a moment Sirius too gripped Harry back hard, tears running down his face. After a few moments, they pulled apart.

"If it's alright with Dumbledore, you could spend Christmas with me. My parent's have an old flat in Hogsmeade that should be relatively livable. It won't be as impressive as Hogwarts though." Harry grinned and looked back pleadingly at Dumbledore who smiled down at the boy.

"I could not have thought up a more fantastic idea myself," replied Dumbledore.

"Hello Professor Dumbledore. Your usual?" asked Pauline.

"Not today, Polly. Thank you," Dumbledore said. Severus' stomach dropped, and he turned to glare at Dumbledore who smiled back calmly.

The shock of the revelation that Dumbledore knew Pauline, and the jealously he felt when he looked at Black was enough to make Severus' head split. He quietly went to the counter to pay for the meal, making sure Pauline had returned to the back so he wouldn't have to talk to her.

"Thank you, for what you did," said Sirius' voice from behind him, breaking Severus' train of thought.

"Trust me, it wasn't personal," grumbled Severus as he collected his receipt and put it in his pocket. Sirius laughed and ran a hand through his hair.

"Ah well, I know how you feel about me. You could have kept your mouth shut and didn't. I appreciate that." Severus crossed his arms and looked sourly at Sirius.

"You could have spoken to Dumbledore at any point. One word from you and he would have found the truth and released you." Sirius' eyes widened and he checked over his shoulder to where Harry was putting on a winter cloak out of earshot.

"Dumbledore insisted Harry be given to Petunia, my friends were dead because of me. I had nothing to live for," Sirius admitted quietly, saying more than Severus expected.

"You abandoned him for vengeance," Severus snarled, surprised at how angry he was getting. Sirius blinked a few times at the ceiling.

"I had no right to love that boy after I got his parents killed," whispered Sirius. "I thought he'd be better off without me in his life." Severus felt an uncomfortable burst of empathy for the man standing across from him and looked away.

"If you don't follow through on every promise you just made that boy…" Severus trailed off moodily, barely registering the change in Sirius' expression.

"You can be part of this family too, Severus," Sirius said in a soft, hesitant voice. Severus looked at him sharply.

"And what makes you think I'd want to do that?" snapped Severus crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"Because of Harry," said Sirius "And because in a different world, we would have become very good friends. I think you know that's true." Severus narrowed his eyes, but conceded the point with a slight, involuntary twitch of his head.

"Maybe it's not too late for us in this world," Sirius offered with a faint smile. Before Severus could respond, Harry approached them. With an ease Severus could never manage, Sirius wrapped an arm around the boy.

"You're ready to go then?" He asked. Harry nodded eagerly, still looking up at his Godfather as though he was the second coming.

"Alright. Well Severus, you're more than welcome to join us for Christmas. Thank you again," Sirius said, holding his hand out. Severus regarded the scarred, tattooed hand skeptically for a moment then shook it firmly. A broad, satisfied smile spread over Sirius' face, as they dropped hands. Severus turned away from Harry and Sirius and started to walk away.

"Professor!" called Harry, almost desperately causing Severus to whip around. Before he could figure out what was happening, a small blur of black hair launched itself at his stomach. On pure instinct, Severus caught the boy, placing a hand on his hair.

"Merry Christmas, sir!"

"Happy Christmas, Potter." Severus replied, patting the black hair awkwardly. Sirius was watching the scene with an oddly gentle expression. When Sirius caught his eye, he gave him a knowing smile.

"We'll be having Christmas dinner at 7," he said. Harry pulled out of the hug and looked up at his Professor.

"Will you come?" asked Harry. From the wide, imploring expression on the child's face, Severus could tell that the boy actually wanted him to come. From as far back as Severus could remember, no one ever wanted to spend Christmas with him. The fact that Harry did made him feel embarrassingly warm and fuzzy. Sirius gave him an encouraging look.

"Fine. Yes, I'll come."

The End. If you haven't reviewed this story yet and enjoyed it (or hated it but still read it all), I would really appreciate hearing what you have to say.

(though I might be persuaded to do an Epilogue if enough people are interested. Give me your thoughts!)