Nineteen years later
Harry and Ginny Potter stood on King's Cross Station, platform nine and three-quarters, preparing their sons for departure on the famous Hogwarts Express. Harry marveled, as always, at some of the manner of dress witches and wizards sported, thinking how 'Muggle' they looked. A more motley crew could seldom be found, except of course, on this day, on this platform. For this was the day all underage witches and wizards boarded the train to take them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Yes, platform nine and three-quarters was a loud, cramped, thrilling place to be, and it always took Harry back to that first day so long ago when he closed his eyes, pushed his way into the platform and saw the big train for the first time. Was he really ever that young?
After their son James started school the previous year, Harry and Ginny realised they had enjoyed this family excursion so much they made a promise to be here every year to see off their children and the children of their extended family. It made Harry feel like a kid again, before the dark, dark days, when he was just Harry, the boy who lived under the stairs at his aunt and uncle's house on Privet Drive.
His brother-in-law, Ron Weasley, and wife, Lavender, along with children Hugo and Rose, had just spotted them and were making their way through the crowded platform to join Harry and Ginny. It was Rose Weasley's first year, just the same as Harry's middle son, Albus. Lily, Harry's youngest, would have to wait another two years before she could join her brothers at Hogwarts.
As he looked around, taking in all the sights and sounds around him, Harry saw Draco Malfoy, his lovely wife, and their son, Scorpius. He was the same age as Harry's own Albus. Hmm. Perhaps they would become friends. It would be nice to think so. Draco gave Harry a stiff nod of acknowledgment, then turned away. Harry sighed. Then again…
The platform, if possible, grew even more packed and noisy with students, owls, familiars and parents there to see them off. The huge train belched steam and smoke, as if impatient to start its yearly journey. Students meandered around, boarding the train: some slow and reluctant, some, like Harry had been, eager and excited about the mysterious journey.
Many were reuniting with friends to discuss the summer hols and compare notes. The boys chatted about the new Firebolt Ultra 7XXX, supposedly the fastest broom on earth, and the upcoming Quidditch World Cup. And girls, of course. The girls gossiped about makeup and The Black Daggers, a new goth Wizarding band, hailed to be the best new group since The Weird Sisters. And boys, of course.
In the midst of all this good-natured chaos, Harry looked down the long platform, and his heart actually stuttered in his chest. Through a thick cloud of steam vapour, he saw a tall man, with long black hair, striding down the platform away from him. Dressed completely in black, the apparition's floor-length robes billowed out behind him like the wings of a giant bat. There was no one on earth that moved with such menacing grace except...
"Hey!" Harry shouted, and Ron, Ginny, and his family looked up in surprise just as Harry took off down the platform at a trot. A billow of steam obscured the man for a moment, and Harry picked up the pace. He was running now, trying to catch up with the phantom that had haunted many a night's dreaming.
He was almost upon the figure and shouted, "Professor!" The figure continued walking, and Harry put forward a burst of speed and grabbed the man's arm. The figure spun around and faced Harry head on, a familiar scowl on the dark face.
"Oi, you—" His face froze in shock, then changed to stunned, delighted surprise. "S'truth! You're Harry Potter!" The man graced Harry with a fantastic smile full of straight, white teeth. Harry gasped and shook his head in disbelief.
The man standing before him was Severus Snape. Or rather, Severus Snape if he were eighteen years old and spoke with an Australian accent. Harry gaped at him. It was too much of a coincidence. He had the same long, lanky black hair and large nose of Severus Snape. Where Snape had the sallow, pale skin of a man who rarely saw daylight, this young man was tanned with the healthy glow of someone who enjoyed being out in the Australian sunshine.
The younger man thrust his hand out, and Harry took it like a sleepwalker. Beaming at Harry, shaking his hand enthusiastically, he said, "Jared Mulholland, sir, and it is an honour to meet you! I can't wait to tell my folks I'm shaking hands with you! Mum!" The Snape/Mulholland boy called out to a woman in front of them. It was obvious she had been the one Jared was striding toward when Harry intercepted him.
"Mum! Look who I've run into! It's only the Harry Potter!" The woman turned toward Harry slowly, and it took all of Harry's years of Auror training not to react. She was, as they all were, nineteen years older, but Harry would know Hermione Granger anywhere.
"Mr. Potter, this is my Mum, Catherine Mulholland," said the young man, and Harry and Hermione faced each other for the first time in almost twenty years. They were frozen, staring at each other in shock.
For a moment, Hermione looked at Harry with an almost fearful look in her amber eyes. She shook her head as if remembering herself, then favoured him with a brilliant smile and held out her hand. "Harry Potter! Well, this is an honour. I can't tell you how grateful we are for what you did for our world."
She was playing her part perfectly, and Harry fought the impulse to scream at her, "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" Instead, he took her hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Mulholland." He stared at her. Say something, Hermione, he thought. Say bloody something.
Hermione smiled. She looked around the platform. "This is a little overwhelming. We haven't been back here for years, not since our oldest son came to Hogwarts. We don't normally come to England to see Jared off, but since it's his last year we wanted to make it special." Her pride was genuine even if her life wasn't. "Ravenclaw. Head Boy, top in class, Quidditch scholarship. We're very proud of him.
"Although," she added, giving her son a pointed look, "he was supposed to have his hair cut before term started. He's been staying in France this summer with our oldest son, and he supposedly forgot. His father was not amused." She said it disapprovingly, but there was no real fire to it. Jared returned her look, albeit sheepishly. He looked at Harry and winked, smiling ruefully.
I'll bet your father wasn't amused, thought Harry. With long hair, Jared was the spitting image of his father. The Snape Harry had seen in the Pensieve. The Snape who had loved Lily Evans. There were still many in the Wizarding world who would see the resemblance and wonder...
In the midst of these thoughts a light bulb went off in Harry's head. "Wait a minute. Mulholland–" He turned back to Hermione. "Your oldest son is Skyler Mulholland, the Quidditch star?"
Hermione blushed and nodded, but it was Jared who answered. "Righto, Mr. Potter. He plays in France with the Lyon Lions. Seeker." He was obviously proud of his famous brother. "I spent the summer training with the Lions."
Harry was stunned. For the past few years he'd watched Skyler Mulholland's career with interest. Seemingly coming out of nowhere in the back of beyond in Australia, the nineteen year old had been nicknamed "The Hawk" in Quidditch circles. He'd earned the moniker because of his ability to swoop out of the sky in a death-defying drop to snatch the Golden Snitch literally out of the grasp of his opponents.
None-so-charitable teams said his nickname was based on his rather large beak-like nose and his sharp features. They called him the Ultimate Quidditch Bad Boy. He was one of the few players as popular with witches as with wizards. He was fearless, ruthless, charismatic and snarky. Who did that sound like?
Harry's mind reeled with the implications. Hermione and Snape had run away together. They had escaped Death Eaters, the Ministry Aurors and death, and moved to Australia. They had changed their names, their lives and had children.
And that fucking Phineas Nigellus Black had covered for them, pouring it on so thick that Harry had been sick with remorse for years. Where were you, Mister Potter, when the Death Eaters killed your friend, Hermione Granger? He'd looked Harry in the eye and lied his head off and not once in the subsequent nineteen years had he so much as changed a jot or tittle of his story. Fucking Slytherins. Thick as thieves.
Harry did the math and realized that, during that mind-bending last year on the run, Hermione had been pregnant with Skyler. She had faced danger, dragons and survived Bellatrix Lestrange's Cruciatus Curse while carrying Snape's child. And Snape's child had survived as well.
To be honest, that didn't surprise Harry so much. Snape had always seemed so indestructible when they were younger; his death had been the hardest to accept. No wonder Skyler Mulholland was such a tough player. He'd tackled worse opponents than Victor Krum at the height of his powers. Harry didn't know whether to laugh or cry, to congratulate Hermione, or have them arrested.
Hermione was now smiling up at her handsome son. "Jared's just received a scholarship from the Lions. Chaser."
With no other choice than to recover, Harry floundered for a moment for something to say. Finally, he smiled at Jared. "My son James was telling me all about you last year. He's a huge fan of yours. It just didn't click for a moment. You pronounce your last name a little differently than he does."
Harry turned to Hermione. "You must be very proud, Mrs. Mulholland." Jared was rewarded with a beaming smile from his mother. Apparently Snape's children were very aware of their parents' feelings towards them.
At that moment, Hermione sensed what Harry was thinking and quickly changed the subject. "We're also here because it's our youngest son's first year at Hogwarts. We had to make sure he was settled in properly. He's a little skittish. Not like Skyler or Jared. They couldn't wait to get to Hogwarts." Hermione lowered her eyes. "Jasper's our shy one."
"Speaking of, where are Dad and Jazza, Mum?" Jared said, looking around. His eyebrows flew up. "Ah. There they are. I want Dad to meet Mr. Potter. "
Hermione looked a little panicked for a moment. "Oh, that's alright, son. No need to detain Mr. Potter any more than necessary. Your father's just seeing to Jasper—"
"Dad!" Jared was already calling, and Hermione dropped all pretense and gave Harry a look that said, Harry, please don't give us away.
The crowd parted as Jared walked over to a tall wizard whose back was to Harry. Jared placed a gentle hand on his father's shoulder and said, "Dad, bring Jasper over. There's someone I want you to meet."
When Snape turned around, Harry half expected his dark brows to furrow and a sneer to come to his lips. He was sorely mistaken. Snape approached Harry with a pleasant expression on his face.
"Merlin's wand. Harry Potter." There was no mistaking the deep, melodious voice of Severus Snape even overlaid as it was with the thinnest veneer of an Australian accent. He held out his hand. "Dane Mulholland. What a pleasure to meet you, sir." Snape released Harry's hand and gently drew his youngest son forward. "I see Jared's already introduced you to my wife. This is my youngest son, Jasper Mulholland." He looked down at the boy protectively and smiled. "Jasper, this is Harry Potter. You remember his name, don't you?"
The younger boy was the spitting image of Hermione, bushy hair and all. It was like looking at a male version of the precocious young witch Harry had met the very first day on the train. He couldn't help but smile down at the lad, who was looking up at Harry with unabashed hero worship. "Hello, sir!" he piped, his voice high and excited. "I've read all about you in—"
"Hogwarts: A History." The entire Mulholland family joined in with Jasper, and they all had a chuckle at it. Harry was shocked into laughing with them. He leaned forward, took the young boy's hand and shook it gravely.
Harry said, "It's nice to meet you, Jasper. Don't let this lot give you grief." He looked up at Hermione. "I used to have a friend who knew that book from cover to cover. She got us out of a few scrapes because of it."
Jared explained, "Jaz is the swot of the family. Already got all your textbooks memorized, don't you, Sprog?" he ruffled his younger brother's wild hair affectionately.
Hermione instinctively drew closer to her husband. Harry had to admit that they looked relaxed and happy, for all the present tension in Snape's eyes. Harry realised the four of them looked good together. Snape looked so different it was hard to believe he was the same person. His hair was longer than Harry remembered and worn in the old fashioned wizarding style, gathered at the back and fastened with a silver clasp. It no longer looked lank and greasy, but there were a few streaks of iron grey shot through the once raven's wing black.
He had grown a goatee beard that was also iron grey. Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought Snape might have had some work done on his teeth and nose as well. Though he never thought he would entertain such a thought, Harry realized Snape was actually a handsome man. Perhaps happiness, or love, or living free had changed him. He certainly bore little resemblance to the drawn, bitter, unhappy man Harry remembered from the war. Nor did he look like the self-conscious, sullen, abused youth that had known his mother.
Wordlessly, Harry cast a silent detection spell often used by Aurors. Sure enough, there was the shimmer at Snape's throat; he was using a glamour to obscure any scars no doubt left by Nagini's bite. Perhaps his children knew about it, perhaps they didn't. It wasn't Harry's place to judge.
"Yes, my friend was very smart," he continued, looking pointedly at Hermione. "Her parents, I believe, moved to Australia many years ago. I sort of lost track of them over time." That part was also true. After the war, Harry had gone in search of Hermione's missing parents. Hermione had told him she modified her parents' memories and convinced them to move to Australia as Wendell and Monica Wilkins, but Harry never found them.
He was afraid to ask about the Wilkinses. For all he knew, the boys knew their grandparents by that name, and it might raise more questions than Hermione and Snape might be ready to answer. Harry looked at them closely and made a decision. He smiled at the two boys.
"You know, Jasper, I have a son who's starting Hogwarts this year, too. Perhaps you two can become friends. He's a little nervous. His name is Albus." He straightened up and looked Snape in the eye.
Snape smiled at him. "An impressive name, Mr. Potter." His trademark eyebrow rose delicately. "A lot to live up to, or down to, if I may say so."
Harry shrugged. "I wanted him to know that he was named after the two bravest men I knew. I wanted him to remember it's alright to be afraid, but you can still be brave."
Jasper, unaware of the hidden messages, tilted his head and bit on his lower lip. It was so Hermione-like Harry almost laughed. "Jared says getting sorted into the right House is important. Does Albus know what House he would like to be sorted into, Mr. Potter?"
Jared winked at Harry. In an eerie imitation of his father's vocal inflections and timbre, Jared interjected, "Oh, I dunno, Jaz. Mum was a Gryff, Dad and Sky were Slyths, I'm a Raven. You might get sorted into Hufflepuff and we'll have the entire set!" Jasper's horrified look made even Snape chuckle darkly.
"Don't bait your brother, Jared," Snape chastised mildly.
Harry saw the uncertainty in the boy's face. It was so like his own son's concerns. It was, Harry realised, the same concerns he'd had sitting on the stool, waiting for the Sorting Hat to decide his fate.
He gave the boy and encouraging nod. "I wouldn't worry, Jasper. I told Albus it really doesn't matter which House. After all," he winked at Hermione, "the Sorting Hat won't put you in a House you really don't want to be in."
"Exactly true," Snape agreed. He looked down at his youngest. "I've already told you, Jasper. Your mother and I are proud of you, full stop. You will be an enhancement to any House, son. Don't worry about it. We don't care." He said the last three words slowly and precisely, and Harry was again reminded of the Potions master of his school days.
It suddenly occurred to him that Minerva McGonagall, as Headmistress of Hogwarts, must also know the truth. Well, enough of it to fabricate Dane and Catherine Mulholland's school records as a Slytherin and a Gryffindor. Harry thought back and remembered how upset Professor McGonagall had been about Snape's death. She must have known the truth about Snape all along. And he thought Slytherins were schemers. Loyalty, Harry realised, was no respecter of House, any more so than love.
The Hogwarts Express whistle blew and everyone straightened up. Jared said, "C'mon, Jaz, you can walk with me while I do my rounds." He hugged Hermione and kissed her, then gave his father a hug as well. Harry was surprised how openly affectionate Snape was to his own children. It was patently obvious they loved their father very much.
"Now, son, first Hogsmeade weekend, that hair is going," Snape warned. Now there was the scowl Harry remembered of old. Not completely changed, then. "If not, you'll be doing yourself no favours on the Quidditch pitch. It's hard to block a Quaffle through a curtain of hair."
Jared rolled his eyes, smiling, "Yes, Dad. I promise. My first stop will be Twiddle's Tonsorial Parlour for a snip. Word of honour." He turned to Harry. "I keep telling him the sheilas love it but he won't have it."
They shared a reluctant laugh, then Jared held out his hand again. "I suppose it's time for us to start boarding, so I'll take my leave. Goodbye, sir. It's been the highlight of the year meeting you, Mr. Potter."
"And you, Mr. Mulholland. I look forward to seeing you in action next year with the Lions." He turned to Jasper. "I'll tell Albus to look you up on the train, Jasper. My niece, Rose, is starting this year as well. I hope you'll all become good friends." He looked up at Hermione. "Who knows?" Harry said with a wry smile. "Maybe this will be the beginnings of a new Golden Trio."
"Merlin forbid. From what I've heard, Hogwarts barely survived the last one," Snape drawled lazily. Harry looked into Snape's face, and it was as if the years had melted away, and he was a first year again. Snape was smirking at him, eyebrow on the rise, drawing himself up to full height. Then Harry saw it: a swift, bright gleam in the dark eyes.
Blimey, Harry thought, all these years and I never realized he was funny. Harry felt a wistful sadness for a moment for the friendship forever denied by time and circumstances. Snape, he realized, had been a person worth getting to know, and only Hermione had realised it.
Jasper, his small hand already clasped in his older brother's larger one, smiled and waved. Apparently he was used to his father's dry humour. "I hope so, Mr. Potter." He turned to his parents, his expression suddenly anxious. Wordlessly, Snape held out his arms. Jasper threw himself into his father's embrace, bravely trying to fight tears. His large amber eyes searched his father's face. "You'll write and send me books? You promise?"
Snape's voice was more gentle and kinder than Harry ever thought possible. "We'll owl every day. Promise. Now, mind your brother and listen to your teachers and work very hard." He gave him another hug. In the softest of whispers, he said, "Your mother and I love you very much." He pulled his young son's arms from his neck and stood quickly, rubbing his nose conspicuously.
Harry watched the young boy walk off, holding onto Jared's hand. Harry then turned back to Hermione and Snape. They both looked as if they wanted to cry themselves. Hermione made a little moue of apology.
"He's our youngest, and our home is going to seem very empty without him." As he boarded the train, Jasper turned around and waved at his parents, trying very hard to remain stoic. As they waved back Jared gave them a smile and a nod, and the brothers disappeared onto the train behind a roil of steam.
Harry smiled. From behind him, he heard Ginny calling him. Startled back to the present, Harry looked at his dear friend, at his old enemy. He took a deep breath. "Mr. and Mrs. Mulholland, it's been a pleasure to meet you and your boys. I wish you a safe trip back to Australia."
Hermione and Snape exchanged glances. Finally, she said, "Actually, we're in the process of moving to Great Britain to be near the kids. It's a little less expensive than Portkey-ing back and forth, you know."
"Oh, really? Whereabouts?" The moment the words left Harry's lips he felt like kicking himself. "I-I mean, I hope you find it to your liking. It'll be a bit different than Australia."
"So we've heard," Snape replied with a slight smile. "Still, it will be worth the change to be near our sons. I'm sure that will more than make up for the weather."
"Oh. Yes," Harry replied, feeling more like a horse's arse with each passing second. "Well, I'd better get back to my family." He swallowed. "Good luck."
Both of them looked relieved as they shook his hand. "Thank you, Mr. Potter," Hermione said rather primly. There was sadness in her eyes, tinged with regret, and for that Harry was grateful. It would have been much harder to know that Hermione wasn't glad to see him.
"Likewise, Mr. Potter," Snape echoed with a small, dignified nod. He put a protective arm around Hermione, and they turned to go.
"Wait!" Harry said impulsively. They turned to look at him, their eyes wary.
He felt a bit foolish, and took a deep breath to steady his resolve. He stammered, uncertain what to say, but feeling that something must be said. "I lost a brilliant, wonderful friend in the war. I saw a brave, misunderstood man die a senseless, horrific death. I've never gotten over losing them. Either of them."
For a second, they were all silent. Snape said quietly, "Unfortunately, those things happen in wars, Mr. Potter." Snape looked him directly in the eye. He placed his hands on Hermione's shoulders and caressed her gently. "Sometimes the only sane answer is to start over."
"Yes, I know that now," Harry said. He struggled to voice his thoughts. "It's just that... I wish I had the chance to tell them how much they meant to me." He looked at Hermione and Severus beseechingly, all pretense aside. "I want to tell them how grateful I am for what they did. Not just for me, but for all of us. For our children." He looked at Snape. Really looked at him. "For their children."
Hermione and Snape looked at one another, and Hermione looked away, visibly moved.
Snape looked Harry in the eye. Really looked at him. He, too, was moved. Finally, he said quietly, "They do know." Something like a smile played about his lips, and his hand unconsciously moved over Hermione's stomach. "And so do their children, Harry."
"Harry! C'mon! The kids have to leave! C'mon if you want to say goodbye!" The voices behind him were calling Harry back to his life, and he turned to look back at Ginny.
"I'll be right there!" Harry turned back to the Mulhollands. "Anyway, I just want you to know..."
Harry found himself facing an empty platform. He looked around for Hermione and Snape but they had given him all the time they were willing to give. Harry smiled sadly and turned back to his family. He hugged Albus tightly as he and the rest of his family caught up with him.
Ron, his mouth full of ice cream, said, "Who were you talking to? I couldn't see them clearly. Somebody we know?"
Harry looked back where Snape and Hermione had stood and shook his head. "No. I thought I recognized someone, but I was mistaken."
A/N: The title of this Chapter is a line from an old Queen song called "Save Me".
The quote is from a lovely song called "Wherever You May Be" on Bonnie Raitt's Silver Lining album.