Disclaimer: All characters and recognizable story elements are gleefully borrowed from J. K. Rowling. They should really be used to it by now. Although Harry Potter may feel more than usually abused by who his parents turn out to be this time ...
Harry Potter was dreaming. In his dream, he had been wandering around the ominously silent house, the silence only broken by his own shuffling steps and soft breathing, and the occasional faint creak of old wood settling. It was so quiet that he imagined he could hear the spiders shuttling about. Slowly making his way through empty rooms he had finally come to the library, where the books whispered the night away, softly talking amongst themselves with their dry, fluttery pages.
A pool of light had drawn his attention to the Black family tapestry hanging on the wall between the two bow windows, the candles around it dancing and pooling in melted wax and alternatively casting light and shadows over the golden edged embroideries. A curious impulse had pulled him over. The old thing was full of unpleasant names, and one that reminded him of his own guilt and loss. Sirius Black. Died on the 18th of June, 1996. Died because of Harry Potter's inability to keep Voldemort out of his head.
Helpless tears ran down his face as he stared at the name, guilty feelings twisting his inside into knots. Harry felt like his heart was breaking in anguish. He heard a clock strike a measured twelve strokes. They fell like the strokes of doom. Midnight. It was his birthday now. He should go and find a window to let Hedwig in. But even as he started to turn away, his eyes were arrested by movement. A spot on the tapestry was rewriting itself before his tear-filled eyes, stitches appearing by magic. He felt transfixed as he watched with an increasing feeling of horror.
There was a new name there now. Corvus Black. Born on the 31st of July, 1980. Still alive. Harry's breath caught. His eyes traced the line of descent upwards. Bellatrix Lestrange, née Black. Bellatrix had a son. A son who had been born on the same day as himself, and who was still alive, according to the tapestry. His hands raised involuntarily, and touched his hair. His hair, which had suddenly grown longer and felt all curly. He lifted a strand. Curly and even darker than it used to be. His eyes met his own in a mirror that had appeared out of nowhere. Black eyes met terrified black eyes gazing back at him.
Harry Potter came awake with the start of a scream on the couch in the sitting room, where he had fallen asleep reading a book. There was an insistent pecking noise coming from the window, and a flutter of wings as several owls tried to get his attention. He went and let them in, still trying to calm his racing heart. Only it wouldn't calm. Something still felt off. The sense of wrongness and foreboding left behind by his nightmare refused to leave him.
He relieved the owls of their burdens, thanking them quietly, stroking feathers and offering them treats before sending them away, their duty done. Hedwig remained a moment longer, stroking her head against his cheek. He finally sent her off to hunt for mice. But he could not bring himself to open his presents. He felt horribly unsettled, and the nightmare, though fading, still refused to leave him alone. He had an almost desperate need to reassure himself that everything was as it should be. So he went to find a mirror. He needed to look at his own reflection, to see the green eyes stare back defiantly, to know he was himself.
Remus Lupin came awake instantly as a scream tore the silence of the old house. Heart pounding, he sat up, trying to orient himself. After a moment, he quickly slipped out of the bed and grabbed the robe he had earlier tossed onto a chair, before making for the door. He wrenched it open. But all was silent again. Wait no, there was the faint sound of … desperate sobbing? He tore down the stairs barefooted, still shrugging on the robe, as he followed the trail of sound towards its source.
Urgent calls from the fireplace in his study woke him from an uneasy slumber. Severus Snape blearily opened his eyes. Grumbling, he slowly got up and stumbled into the next room, throwing on his dressing gown. The clock on the mantlepiece informed him that it was no-bloody-time to be awakened by a frantic werewolf. He had really been looking forward to a full night of sleep for once, which was a rare occurrence given the many demands on his time.
"Severus!" There was relief in the voice of Remus Lupin when the potions master finally answered his floo.
"You know what hour it is, Remus?"
"Yes, but we need you at Grimmauld Place. Right now!" The wolf sounded truly anxious.
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, all right. Let me get dressed at least. I'll be with you in a few minutes," he sighed in resignation, knowing it was going to be another short night. And he went to find his clothing, trying to come awake again, after too little sleep to do any good for his fraying temper.
A short while later Severus Snape stepped gracefully out of the floo, dusting himself off from the sooty fireplace. He was looking around the dark, cheerless room with an automatic sneer on his face, when the door creaked open to admit a clearly disturbed werewolf.
"Thank you for coming, Severus."
"So what is it, Remus, that could absolutely not wait until the morning and made you get me at such an unholy hour?"
Lupin merely looked at him for a long moment, his features going carefully blank and unreadable, and then beckoned him to follow. "There is something you need to look at in the library."
Severus shot him a suspicious glare, but followed the other wizard across the hallway into the darkness shrouded room which as always smelled of musty old books and mildew. A few candles lit up the end where the Black family tapestry hung on the wall. Lupin went over to it and stopped in front of the old fabric, partly hiding it from view.
"All right, now will you finally tell me what you dragged me here for?" Severus asked tiredly. "It is the middle of the night for Merlin's sake!"
"Well ..." Lupin seemed at a loss for words. "Harry woke me up earlier," he said abruptly, giving Severus an apologetic look.
He snorted. Of course it was due to the Boy-who-lived-to-give-him-sleepless-nights that he was here.
"It's his birthday today," Remus explained hurriedly. "And it seems the boy always stays up to wait for the day to start ... and he .. discovered," now the werewolf ran his hands through his hair in agitation and swallowed heavily.
"Something ... upsetting. Very upsetting," Remus stated, looking straight at Severus. "And rather inexplicable. And there are damn few people who could possibly shed some light on this. Most of them are dead. Of the living ... maybe you. Maybe Albus. But more likely you."
"What is it then, that you think I might know?" Severus was tired, and knew that his remaining patience was running out fast.
"Here ..." the wolf grabbed his sleeve and tugged him forward. "You need to look at the tapestry," Remus said and stepped sideways to allow him to finally view the old thing.
Severus' eyes followed the pointing finger. His eyes widened involuntarily.
"What the fuck?"
"Exactly my reaction."
He felt like the air was being constricted out of him.
"This is impossible!"
And that's when his eyes followed Remus' gaze to the other occupant of the room, who had been sitting overlooked in the shadows, with his head cradled in his hands. And Severus felt as if the foundations of the house itself were being torn out from underneath him. He steadied himself against a chair and collapsed onto it. He stared at the slight figure in front of him. The boy looked absolutely shell-shocked when he finally looked up at his teacher. As well as he might. He looked just like his mother. From the dark eyes to the dark curly hair and the chiselled features.
"This is ...this cannot be ... no ... please tell me this is some joke ... this cannot be true ..." Without doubt hundreds of students would have given a lot to hear their strict potions master reduced to this stammering mess.
"Worth dragging you here for then?" Remus' voice was dripping with unusual sarcasm.
"But ..." he struggled for air. "How? And why only now?"
"Apparently someone ... I would guess Lily ... put a lot of really strong charms on him as a baby. She was a genius at charms work, after all. But permanent appearance charms like that need consent. Which can be given for an infant or a child, but once he reached the age of consent …. well they have collapsed, as you can see. And that also caused the information to appear on the tapestry, it seems."
Their eyes returned to the large piece of fabric on the wall.
"This is a very old piece of magic," Remus continued, as he trailed his fingers over it again. "But it looks like it can be blocked from displaying information. You may note that it still does not say who the boy's father is ... only it cannot have been Lestrange himself or he would not be a Black by name."
"Which means the boy is likely bastard born," Severus pointed out, his mind already whirling with possibilities. He heard a chocked sound behind him.
"Regardless of that, thanks to his mother being the eldest sister, he still has seniority on the distaff side of the Black family. And the tapestry says that he is the heir of the House." The fingers stroked softly over the House seal curled around the name.
They all stared at the embroidery on the tapestry. The shadows around them coiled deeply, with the flickering candles only dispelling enough of the gloom to make the gold threads glitter. Corvus Black. Son of Bellatrix Lestrange, née Black. Formerly known as Harry James Potter.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. "I cannot help hoping that this is some nightmare I am about to wake up from soon."
Surely the world could not turn upside down in a few minutes.
"Nightmare is right," he heard the boy mutter behind them. "And I can't seem to wake up either."
"However," the werewolf spoke up again, softly, after the silence had started to stretch uncomfortably. "Back to the reason I called you here, Severus. You see … there are only two people I can think of, who might conceivably have taken him from Bellatrix and brought him to the Potters. One ... Sirius. She might have turned to her cousin for help ... "
"Unlikely but possible, yes," Snape agreed, shifting restlessly.
"He would have helped her though, if only to protect a child of his family. But you are right, that she would not likely have involved the cousin she hated ... unless she was really desperate and had no other recourse. And we cannot ask him anymore," Remus concluded, looking pained.
"But the other possibility ... is you. You were a fellow Death Eater, and you were a friend of Lily's."
Severus Snape shook his head. "I cannot remember anything of that kind. But it is ... possible, I must admit. I do know that Bellatrix was gone for a few months around that time ... from spring to late summer, if I remember it right. The Dark Lord himself had sent her to the continent to recruit allies I think. And if she knew she was with child ... she might have tricked her master to get him to do it ... she was cunning enough and it was long before she was reduced to insanity."
"There was certainly no love lost between her and her husband. It was an arranged marriage and she was secure enough in her position with the Dark Lord that she could play around with impunity. Her master even encouraged it. She was ... very beautiful then. And utterly alluring. There were several of the Death Eaters who were seduced to the Dark Lord's side because of her, and she didn't care about their age either." Snape hunched his shoulders and looked uncomfortable.
"It could easily have happened during one of the Dark Lord's revels ... there was usually plenty of alcohol and … recreational potions involved ... enough that she might have forgotten about safety charms. She was wild and often indulged herself. Though why that whore would have chosen to bear a child that was not her husband's ..."
"Severus! Harry doesn't need to know all that of his ... his mother for ... " Remus finally could not contain his mortification anymore, but he was immediately interrupted again.
"And you think being coddled will help him?" Severus Snape spat, locking incensed.
"Best he knows fully what she is like, so that he does not get any false idea that there is anything to be salvaged about her. She was never a sweet child. She grew up in an unpleasant, dark family, and in her turn embraced the Darkness willingly. There are very good reasons she is the Dark Lord's favourite! She is a sadistic, depraved murderess, and probably utterly insane by now, and yes, she is a whore. She would even warm the Dark Lord's bed in a heartbeat if he wanted her to! Maybe she has in the past. And she is everything Lily was not!"
Snape's voice had gotten increasingly venomous during his tirade, but it broke at the last words. He sharply turned his face towards the darkness and visibly tried to calm himself.
Remus instead looked at the boy, who had gone pasty white and was shivering badly, clutching his hands together hard. "Oh Cub, I know this is terrible for you. I certainly would not want her for a mother either, knowing all she has done."
When this got no reaction at all, he went over and embraced the trembling teenager, enfolding him firmly in a hug. "But I will always be there for you, you know that? It does not matter to me who your parents were."
Harry refused to meet the werewolf's eyes when Remus tilted his chin up.
"Please believe me. You are still you. It doesn't matter if Lily and James were not your parents. That doesn't change who you are. I have gotten to know you as a wonderful young person, who is resourceful, and determined, and loyal and fierce and who will stand up for what he believes in. That has not changed in the slightest. Believe me. You are still you!" The werewolf took Harry by the shoulders and shook him lightly.
"It does not matter who your parents were. It. Does. Not. Matter!"
The boy sighed but finally looked back at Remus.
"Maybe. I have to try and believe it, I guess," Harry said softly, sounding hopeless.
"Is there any way to find out who my father was, though? It's bad enough to know about ... her," he continued after a moment, his voice breaking. "But I'd rather not be surprised by that discovery under even worse circumstances."
Remus looked back at the potions master, who left his chair and moved closer with a swish of dark robes. Snape's expression was unexpectedly unguarded, if quite unhappy, as he stared at them, and Harry felt grateful that for once his teacher refrained from making sarcastic comments.
"Think, Severus. Is there really nothing else you remember?"
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose again and closed his eyes for a moment in concentration.
"No. But there are some things about all of this, which now do not quite add up anymore. And that is suspicious. It almost screams of obliviated memories. You will never notice they are gone, until you go looking for something and find ... unsatisfactory blanks. Loose threads. Things that do not quite fit together. Like why Lily's baby was so important to me that I swore a wizard's oath for his sake. Why I would go to Dumbledore to change sides because of him," Snape admitted as he crouched down next to the other two. He was looking intently at Harry, as if searching for something in his features.
Remus looked thunderstruck. "That was because of Harry?"
Snape's admission sounded very reluctant. "Yes. That, and I was starting to come to my senses anyway and wanted out of that insanity. But the final straw … well … I always thought it was because of Lily herself but ... no. It was definitely because of the child. I am somehow quite sure of that. But now we know that he was not Lily's child at all. And why should Bellatrix's child be a reason for me to want to switch sides?"
Both of them stared at Harry. Remus' look turned thoughtful after a moment.
"Is there any chance that you are the father then?" Harry's eyes widened at that and went to Snape's face, who continued to inspect the teenager with a burning intensity.
"Given his looks and coloration? It dare say it's entirely possible. I also attended all those revels that possibly might have produced him, and yes, in those days I was not immune to Bellatrix's dubious charms, either," Snape admitted, grimacing in obvious self loathing. "And I seriously doubt I would have taken Bellatrix's son by anyone else to Lily of all people ... but mine? Yes, I can see myself doing that. Also if it was me," the usually so smooth voice trembled. "I could then have given the necessary consent for those damn charms."
"And would you have given up all knowledge of this to protect him?" Remus questioned gently.
"To protect him and spare myself the anguish of seeing him grow up away from me ... as James' son no less? Or else see him die at the Dark Lord's hands? Yes to that again." Snape's voice sounded tormented.
Severus Snape and Harry Potter continued to stare at each other, eyes full of that terrible surmise. Neither seemed able to speak further. Once again it was Remus who finally broke the uncomfortable cloying silence filling the room.
"I think you both need to know if it is the truth or not," he stated. Both pairs of troubled eyes were dragged to him, seeming oddly reluctant to break their contact.
"I think that given everything, you, Severus, are the one that would matter the most to Harry, no?" The boy flicked a sideways look at Snape before he nodded almost unwillingly.
"After all, it's not as if he knows any of the other Death Eaters personally, and you two certainly have had a ... deplorable history together," Remus continued, his voice suddenly hard. "Which you really should bury no matter the outcome of this."
Two dark gazes met again, and neither seemed willing to look away for long moments. It was Snape who finally tore his eyes away and stood up again.
"I dare say we should. Not even I am so obstinate and bull headed to keep seeing James Potter in him now and if I was wrong about that ... who knows what else I was wrong about," he admitted quietly. His mouth twisted into a bitter smile as he returned his gaze to the silent teenager who was staring up at him with disbelief written on his face.
"As to our other suspicion ... that, at least, we can easily either prove or lay to rest. But if his father was someone else, we may never learn. It's not as if we can blood test all the Dark Lord's followers ... provided that the one in question is even still amongst the living." Harry looked sick at that thought.
"But I am available, and the test is easy enough to do. I will go fetch what we need. And I best bring Albus back with me. Merlin knows what he will make of this," he added over his shoulder as he swept towards the fireplace in the other room.
Severus Snape's arrival in his private quarters was less than graceful for once. He almost stumbled when he emerged from the floo, catching himself against the nearest wall and staring at his shaking hands before closing his eyes. He still felt shocked to the core. This was a nightmare. This was his own sordid past coming to haunt him. Because he had been a guest in Bella's bed around the time the boy must have been conceived. Had received her amorous attentions more than once. Had quite willingly drowned his sorrow at the loss of Lily in the dark witches arms.
And he could not decide if he wanted it to be true or not. For the boy's sake it would actually be the best outcome if he was, indeed, the father. His face twisted into a bitter smile. Indeed far better him, than most of the possible alternatives. It would not be easy after those last years wasted on mistaken hatred, but they could still reconcile. Probably. They could reach some kind of understanding. He had never treated the boy well. But he had also always protected him. So maybe there was still a basis for trust. Eventually. Hopefully. He took a deep breath.
But for his own sake ... he felt terribly torn. He realised that part of him wanted nothing to do with this, desired simply to push it all away for someone else to deal with. But the other part, by far the larger it seemed, somehow badly wanted the boy to be his. Because without the hatred for James Potter, without those damned looks of the other man getting in the way, all the past vitriol and resentment he had felt towards the boy appeared utterly pointless. And so very stupid.
Because now that his eyes were no longer clouded by his own expectations, he found himself wanting to discover what was really there. To maybe even find himself in the boy. Who had suddenly turned into an entirely unknown quantity. And who was perhaps a strange, twisted gift out of nowhere. But who was most of all, right now, just a young man who needed to find out who his father was. Even if that father turned out to be one Severus Snape, bitter and twisted spy and former follower of the boy's worst enemy.