That evening, Harry apparated back to Snape's house. Once again, he felt the wards recognize him as he approached the house. This time Snape answered the door.
"Potter, I don't recall inviting you back for tea. There was no need to come back to release me from my Life Debt. I only let you through the wards again on the off-chance that you did not realize that. Unless you are here on auror business, you may leave now."
As he began to shut the door in Harry's face, Nuala and Stephen came into the room. Harry didn't know what to think when Stephen immediately turned around and departed the foyer. Simultaneously, Nuala took ahold of Snape's arm, preventing the further closure of the door and warmly smiled at their visitor. "Hello again, Harry. Severus, perhaps we could have a spot of tea with Harry? Stephen has talked about him quite a bit and I'd like a chance to get to know him better."
Snape reluctantly opened the door. Nuala walked with Harry to the small kitchen table. "I understand you were one of Severus' students." Snape gave Potter a warning glare that dared him to divulge anything.
Harry sat down. Looking warily at Snape, he nodded. "For six years." With unpleasant memories swirling in his mind, Harry stumbled, frantically searching for something nice to say. "Ah..., he certainly maintained order in the classroom," he added diplomatically.
"Good, now we've all become friends. I believe it's time for you to go, Potter," Snape interjected.
Nuala turned to Snape as she set the tea and cups on the table and was about to respond with her desire for Harry to stay when Stephen came bursting into the room proudly carrying a new Zephyr 500. "Look, Mr. Potter! Isn't she a beauty? I know she's not a Mercury, but Zephyrs are supposed to be faster in sharp turns. As a seeker, what do you think?"
Looking at Stephen in relief at the change in topic, Harry enthusiastically inspected the broomstick. "Wow. She certainly is a beauty and with her sleek lines she makes my Firebolt look old fashioned. I certainly would have had a much better chance at catching the snitch at the alumni game if I was flying one." He looked up at the boy. "To get the maximum speed out of her, you'll need to treat her right. Do you know how to take care of her?"
"Yes, sir! I didn't have quite enough money to buy the polishing and maintenance kit with the broom, but Dad's going to let me keep the profits of potions that I help him brew until I do, and in the meantime he leant me the money. I should be able to pay him back in six months."
Snape looked at his son in pride. "With interest," he added matter-of-factly.
"Of course, Dad!" Stephen rolled his eyes.
"You must be quite good in potions already," said Harry, searching desperately for a way to keep Nuala from asking further questions about his relationship with his old professor, knowing that if he said anything embarrassing Ginny would never have a body to bury, or at least he'd be so humiliated in turn that voluntarily disappearing would seem to be a viable alternative.
"I am! I was named after the famous alchemist Stephen of Egypt, you know."
"No, I didn't know, but I'm not surprised. Your Dad is one of the best Potion Masters in the world." Stephen smiled with pride for his father as Nuala beamed, affectionately looking at her husband.
Surprisingly, Snape seemed to warm up at that. "Thank you, Potter. Now, before my son talks your ear off about Quidditch, why did you come back?"
"Actually, Professor, I just wanted to get contact information for Carlson. I owe him the lives of my three children and wanted to thank him in person."
"I'm sure the two thousand galleon reward he received was more than enough thanks," Snape replied dryly.
Harry bit back a retort about being jealous. "Well, would you at least pass along my desire to thank him in person?"
"You assume he'd like to meet the famous Harry Potter?" Snape was back to being antagonistic.
"No, I assume he'd like to meet a parent of three children whom he saved."
Stephen looked at his father. "Dad, why don't you…"
Snape glared at his son, who abruptly ceased talking.
In the ensuing silence, Harry searched the room for something to look at. His eyes were suddenly attracted by the motions of Stephen, who had started to move his broom as if he were soaring in a Quidditch game fast on the tail of a snitch. Suddenly he remembered a conversation from his last visit.
"Stephen, didn't your dad promise you five percent of the reward? Carlson won the reward; did your dad pay you anyway?" he asked curiously.
Stephen looked at his father and then his mother. "I, uh, …"
Snape scowled at Harry. "Yes, Potter, I paid Stephen for his time."
Something seemed to click in Harry's mind. He paused as he thought over previous conversations and then spoke slowly as he voiced his growing suspicion. "Susan Bones said you and Douglas Carlson collaborated on some potions, and that you also critiqued each other's work. But she mentioned you did so in articles and letters; she never said you were seen together. If I were establishing a new identity, I'd use polyjuice to be seen in the same place as my alter ego; seeming to work together or in competition would accomplish the same thing. She also said Carlson's record went back to the first Death Eater War, which is when you first began to spy. Spies often use false identities. Professor, … by chance … are you Douglas Carlson?"
Harry thought the silence that followed his deduction would never end. Snape stared at him, his expression unreadable. Please don't tell me I put my foot in my mouth again, Harry miserably thought. He fought hard to resist squirming like a rebuked student. Finally, the stillness was broken when Patrick started to cry in a room down the hall. The very pregnant Nuala gently squeezed her husband's hand and slowly arose to attend the baby. Snape watched his wife leave, then looked at his son and finally back to Harry. The poker-faced Professor seemed to come to a decision and let out a long sigh. He drummed his fingers on the table twice and began to speak.
"Potter, when I became a spy, I knew that my luck was finite. Albus helped me create a bolt hole should I need to escape. He doctored school records, creating the identity for a student named Carlson. We made him a Slytherin so that I wouldn't be tripped up with my lack of knowledge about other houses at the time and gave him NEWTS in potions so that I could stay in my field." Nuala came back into the room holding Patrick, who was rubbing his eyes, and sat down with him on her lap.
Continuing, Snape added, "I've since created a few additional alter egos of my own that no one knows about, but I always liked Douglas Carlson for a couple of reasons. I like being able to work as a potions expert and being able to keep a toe in the community with which I am most familiar. Also, I have to admit my ego likes the name. Douglas means 'dark' and Carlson comes from 'Charles' son' – any son of the then-Prince Charles would be a prince, though much of the purebred wizarding world would not understand that connection. Hence, the 'Dark Prince.' Juvenile, I know, but I created the persona when I was twenty or so. As I got older I learned to be more subtle; the names of my other alter egos were randomly selected."
"Professor," Harry hesitantly asked, "why does Douglas make the contributions to the Hogwarts scholarship fund? Why don't you do it under your own name?"
"Potter, you may like publicity," Snape ignored Harry's snort, "but I do not. All I care about are the results. When I was a student, I was tormented because I was poor. As a professor, I saw too many students still being harassed for the same reason." He looked at Nuala who was gently tickling a giggling Patrick with a puppet, and at Stephen, still admiring his broom. "It may not look like it to you, Potter, but we have everything we need as a family." Turning back to Harry, he continued. "I know most students hated my potions class and thought I was an uncaring teacher, but I dared not show a different face if I were to remain in the Dark Lord's favor."
To Harry's surprise, Snape leaned over and ruffled Stephen's hair. "By now helping underprivileged students blend in during their years at Hogwarts, I can make some amends. Nothing would be gained by attaching my own name to the contributions. No good would come from publicity in any case – most would simply say I was trying to buy my way back into a society I have no intention of rejoining. Nuala understands I have debts to repay, and fully supports me." Snape's wife nodded in agreement. "That's why I'll miss the anonymity of Douglas. I'll be sorry to say goodbye to him after today."
Harry shook his head. "There's no reason to do that, Professor. I promise I won't tell anyone what I found out today." He grinned. "I'll even casually mention that I ran into Douglas Carlson when I visited you today and passed on my gratitude and that of others. After all, that's the truth." He turned serious. "That's the least I can do for you."
Severus looked at him appraisingly and then at his wife. "Nuala, perhaps some biscuits with our tea would not be amiss."
Nuala smiled while rising. "Of course, love," she replied. "Even better, I'll get the cake I baked this afternoon." She handed Patrick to her husband. "Do you like chocolate, Harry?" When Harry nodded, she went to the cupboard.
Turning back to Harry, Snape leaned forward. "Potter, Since the Life Debt was paid with James' recovery, I'll consider your silence as payment for saving your second child as well."
Harry snorted. "That sounds like I still owe you for Lily."
"I'd heard you named your daughter after your mother." He looked as if he were about to ask a question, but after glancing at Nuala, who was now placing the cake and plates on the table, he stopped.
"She's a beautiful girl with a big heart," said Harry softly, responding to the unasked question. Changing topics, he asked, "But if you gave the full two thousand galleons to Hogwarts, how did you pay Stephen?"
He knew he had asked a wrong question when he once again received a death glare. "I do earn a living, Potter, and can certainly afford to raise my children."
Harry held up his hands. "You're right – none of my business." Again, searching for a way to change the topic, he hesitantly asked, "So, what would you ask in payment for Lily's life?"
When Patrick reached out for some cake, Snape broke off a corner with his fork and tenderly fed it to his son. He looked over to Stephen and then at Nuala before looking back at Harry. "You asked for something simple from me. I'll do the same. Potter, I would like you to wear a Slytherin scarf to the next Quidditch game at Hogwarts. I want you to stand and cheer for the Slytherin team like you really mean it."
Harry's fork stopped in mid-air. Of all the things Harry had expected Snape to ask, this had not been a possibility. Dumbfounded, he blinked. "Come again?"
Snape sighed. "Potter, I don't know if you're aware of it, but it's been twenty-four years since the Second Death Eater War, and yet Slytherins are still treated with suspicion." Harry nodded. "This is true even though Death Eaters came from every house, and that not all Slytherins supported the Dark Lord." He frowned. "I was very bitter at first that Minerva did not allow any Slytherins to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, though after a long night of fire whiskey and arguments I now understand she thought she had no choice since she did not know whom she could trust as none had trained with you." He glared at Harry. "I still resent the fact that YOU did not allow any Slytherins in Dumbledore's Army. Just like many people today, you assumed no Slytherins could be trusted. People followed your lead."
Harry leaned back. Even after learning that Slytherin families were emigrating, he had never thought that it could in part be traced, even if only in a small way, back to something he had done as a teen over twenty-five years ago. "But at the time, I didn't know…"
Snape interrupted Harry's attempt to explain. "Perhaps not, and Albus certainly didn't help by not reaching out to the neutral Slytherins when I certainly couldn't do so without revealing my sympathies. Regardless, this prejudice led to what we have today, a country that is losing wizards and witches with ambitious, driven personalities, those who are best able to set long term goals, map out steps to reach those objectives, and then do what is necessary to achieve them."
Snape fed the eager Patrick another piece of cake. "I learned a long time ago that while it can be helpful to know how we got to a position we're in now, what is more important is to fix what we can. Again, it is the result that matters. If you, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Boy-Who-Saved-Wizarding-Britain," Harry shuddered at the sobriquets, "cheer on the Slytherin team, it will be seen as public acceptance of the house."
Harry put a finger to his lips and thought for a few moments. Nuala wiped Patrick's chocolate-covered face while Stephen took advantage of his distracted mother to help himself to another slice. Snape eyed his older son but did not say anything. Nuala took Patrick from her husband's lap, who was waiting patiently for Harry's response.
Making a decision, Harry looked intently at Snape. "I'll do it, but on two conditions."
Snape smirked. "How Slytherin of you. What are your conditions?"
"First, I will not cheer Slytherin if it is playing Gryffindor. If I cheer under those conditions, people will think I've been imperious'd."
Snape nodded. "A valid point. Fortunately, the next game is a Slytherin-Ravenclaw match."
Looking startled, Harry asked, "You keep up with the Hogwarts schedule?"
With a fond look at his son, Snape replied, "Stephen makes sure I do. And your second condition?"
Harry steeled himself. "I want you to sit next to me."
"Absolutely not, Potter!" Snape responded in a firm voice.
"Why not? I know you may never want to live fully in the wizarding world, but you shouldn't have to avoid it. Sitting next to me in front of a large crowd will show everyone that we are friends," Snape snorted, but Harry ignored him, "and that you, the ultimate Slytherin," at this Snape smirked, "are proud of what you did."
Snape sat back to think. An excited Stephen took advantage of the pause in conversation to ask, "Dad, can I go with you? I've never been to Hogwarts or even seen a real Quidditch game. Please? Oh, please say yes!"
Snape steepled his fingers together. He glanced briefly at Stephen. "I agree the potential benefits of me being there outweigh the risks. But Stephen…"
"Let Stephen come too," Harry interrupted. "He'll be at Hogwarts next year anyway, right?" Snape, Stephen, and Nuala all nodded. "Let people see him now so it's not a big surprise when his name is called by the sorting hat next year. I know what it was like to be put in the public eye for the first time on the first day at school. Let the rumors swirl around and then die as old news before next September."
Snape looked at Nuala who gave a small nod. He then looked at Stephen, who was giving him a pleading look. "Potter, I'll probably regret this … Fine, agreed."
Stephen let out a whoop. "Thanks, Dad! Mr. Potter, can you show me some of your Quidditch moves before you go? I want to be a seeker just like you."
Snape rolled his eyes, but Harry transfigured some silverware into miniature Quidditch figures and began to explain his favorite tricks.
When Harry returned home and told Ginny that he had agreed to cheer for Slytherin at the next match, she was speechless. That gave him the opportunity to explain why. She was still dumbfounded, but the next day she told Harry she would not allow him to be the only one in the family wearing green, that she would wear a Slytherin scarf too. When they told Ron and Hermione what they were doing and why, Hermione immediately said she'd purchase a green and silver scarf. After much prodding, Ron said he'd wear one too, but only if he did not have to stand to cheer if the Slytherin seeker caught the snitch. Harry owled Professor McGonagall to inform her that they would be attending the match and she in return invited them for breakfast in the Great Hall prior to the game.
The morning of the Slytherin-Ravenclaw match was crisp and cool with thin, gray clouds covering the sky. Ron and Hermione apparated to the Potter residence so they could go to Hogwarts together. After a bracing cup of coffee, Ginny and Hermione nervously put on their green and silver scarves, feeling as if they were preparing for battle. Ron muttered to himself about the wisdom of supporting Snakes but was ignored by the others as he reluctantly adjusted his Slytherin scarf.
Harry asked them to wait while he apparated to Snape's home. Though the wards let him through, Severus gave Harry an annoyed look when he opened the door. Behind him, his son was practically bouncing in excitement. "Why are you here, Potter, and why so early? We don't need an escort. I still remember the apparation site," he growled.
In contrast, Stephen happily greeted Harry with broad grin. "I like your scarf, Mr. Potter," he stated.
Harry smiled in return and turned back to face Snape. "I know, Professor, but we've been invited to breakfast and I thought we'd make a bigger statement if we walked into the Great Hall together. Since you've never been to our house, I thought I could side-along apparate you there."
Snape looked at him suspiciously. "Breakfast at Hogwarts was never part of our deal, Potter."
"Professor, students will be able to see us better in the Great Hall than in the stands. Don't you want everyone there to know I am supporting Slytherin? If we're going to do this, let's do it in a big way. After all, you're the one who said it is the results that matter."
Stephen looked up. "Dad, let's do it! I've read all about the Great Hall. It will be so exciting to have breakfast there on a game day. I want to go!" Snape stared thoughtfully at his pleading son for a moment. In answer, he grabbed their scarves. Outside, he took Harry's arm with one hand while holding Stephen tightly against his side with his other.
Snape was not at all surprised to see that Ron and Hermione would be joining the group as they and Potter were always like peas in a pod, scheming together. He nodded in approval when he saw that the two of them and Ginny were also wearing Slytherin scarves. The Professor and his former students greeted each other stiffly. However, the introductions with Stephen were far more cordial as they could not help but like the enthusiastic ten year old with a gigantic smile. When Harry gave the word that it was time, they apparated to just outside the Hogwarts gates.
On the walk up to the front entrance of the school, Stephen was uncharacteristically silent as he stared, eyes wide with awe, at the majestic castle. Noticing Stephen's reaction, Harry smiled, clearly remembering his first view of Hogwarts over thirty years ago.
As they entered the Great Hall, silence began to fall as the students saw the well-known Gryffindors wearing Slytherin colors. Seeing them clad in green, the Slytherin students sat up straighter, giving each other questioning looks. Suddenly, one of the seventh-year students let out an audible gasp as he recognized the fabled Professor Snape from a large portrait in their common room. Buzzing began to grow as excitement quickly spread throughout the four student tables. All eyes were on the group by the time the six reached the head table to pay their respects to the Headmistress. Stephen, who had turned his wonderment to the enchanted ceiling, did not notice the looks directed at them.
McGonagall hid her shock and her delight at seeing the group showing their support for Slytherin. She realized immediately what they hoped to accomplish. "Good morning, everyone. I'm happy you were all able to come today. Welcome back, Severus. I'm glad you're here with us this morning. Perhaps you and your son would like to sit with me while the others join their children?"
Snape nodded. "We would be delighted, Headmistress." He and Stephen walked around the table. Stephen stared with fascination at the magicked ceiling as the sun poked out of the clouds, creating a beam of light that illumined the dais. The house elves quickly set two new places on McGonagall's right as the professors on that side made room. As the Snapes walked to their seats, the faculty stood and shook Severus' hand and then that of his son after they were introduced. Whispering to each other, the students avidly watched every move. Taking his seat, Snape said out of the corner of his mouth in a voice just loud enough for the Headmistress to hear, "I hope the owls are well rested." She repressed a snigger in response.
Meanwhile, five students were staring bemusedly at their parents. Hermione took charge of the explanations. "Headmistress McGonagall kindly invited us for breakfast before today's game. Yes, we're wearing green and yes, we will cheer for Slytherin. For too long Slytherin has been the scapegoat for the war when any serious student knows that heroes and villains came from all four houses. The hostility these families face are causing many of them to emigrate from Britain. Think about it. If the inventor of the Dragon Plague cure, who is a Slytherin, had left the country like so many of his house, you might not be here now. This is our protest against that bigotry."
Rose was the first one to understand what her mother meant. Without saying a word, she transfigured her scarf to green. Hugo, following his big sister's lead, did the same. James looked at them, gave Harry a devil-may-care smile that reminded him of Sirius, and changed his scarf too. Albus and Lily looked at each other, shrugged, and got out their wands.
As word spread why the famous Harry Potter was wearing Slytherin colors, additional green scarves began to appear along the Gryffindor table as the numerous Weasley cousins and a few friends of the Potters and Weasleys followed in support their example. Soon several splashes of green appeared at the Hufflepuff table as well. The switch to green was not universal at either table, but Snape was satisfied by what he saw. "I admit I am most pleasantly surprised at the change in attire," he whispered to the headmistress.
"You should visit more often," she whispered back.
"I know my reputation, Minerva," he responded. Glancing at the animated Slytherin students, he paused and considered today's events. "Though I hate to be in anyone's debt, this is far beyond what Potter had agreed to. Perhaps he was right in insisting that Stephen and I come today."
McGonagall smiled at him. "Severus, Carlson cured the Dragon Plague. Perhaps you have a role in curing a far deeper ill in our society. If so, our world will owe both of you our thanks."
Snape smirked before turning to Stephen. He became thoughtful. Conceivably, there was hope yet. Although James would be gone next year, the younger Potters and the Weasleys would still be here influencing their classmates. The Sorting Hat was sure to put Stephen in Slytherin, but perhaps his son wouldn't face the prejudice he had feared. The corners of Snape's lips turned slightly upward as he proudly looked at his son.
McGonagall, seeing Severus' expression and recognizing that it was as close to a smile as she ever saw him make in public, chuckled. "Today is just chock-full of surprises." She turned her attention to young Stephen. "I think today's game will be extra exciting as the Slytherin team looks raring to go." Continuing, she added, "I understand that you are already talented at potions. Are you looking forward to coming here next year?"
The boy, mesmerized by the sights and actions going on in the Great Hall, enthusiastically turned to McGonagall with a dazzling smile. "You bet I am. And I can't wait until I play for Slytherin on my new Zephyr 500. It'll be brilliant!"
The last gray clouds of the enchanted ceiling faded away as a bright blue sky emerged, bathing the four student tables of the Great Hall in a warm glow. At this positive omen, Harry and Snape exchanged satisfied glances across the room.
My thanks to my beloved spouse (who unlike me read the original books only once) for spending numerous hours patiently making this story better.
I hope you, the reader, enjoyed this tale. Please review!