I'm so sorry for how long this installment has taken to get started. Real life got in the way and then I had writers block (Chamber of Secrets has never been my favourite book). It was only when I started reading it to my son that inspiration struck. Hope you enjoy it, I'd really appreciate any reviews.
Disclaimer - All the characters belong to the amazing JK Rowling apart from Bella Snape, she's all mine.
Return to Prince Manor
Finally they were back at Prince Manor. It seemed like a life time ago that they had sat in the Great Hall eating the final breakfast of the school year and now, looking back on their first year together at Hogwarts Snape marvelled that they had all survived it to return from there to here. The long journey had taken its toll on all of them, both physically and emotionally in Potter..., no he mentally corrected himself, Harry's case. He'd witnessed the abject fear drench his Godson as he had read McGonagalls note that morning and even from his great distance away he could see the betrayal in the boys eyes. Just as he wished he could do more than send the warming charm to reassure the child his other responsibility had leaned in and seemingly made things better. The truth was he felt an unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling sense of pride over how his young charges had handled themselves today. He knew it had taken all of Pott... Harry's courage to face the images of his abusers, just as it had taken all of his own, his wife's and Minevra's inner strength to wear their despicable faces if only for a scant few minutes. The timing had, had to be perfect. Bella had to take the polyjuice potion early enough to allow the transformation to settle but late enough that it faded only moments after walking out of the station with Harry so she could change her clothes and perfect her aging glamours to collect Hermione. Later they rendezvoused at an abandoned shop unit now owned by Jefferson Prince half an hours walk from the station from where they apparated back to Prince Manor. However, with the Weasleys involvement this little charade may not need to be repeated in future years.
Casting a hover charm Snape sent their Hogwarts trunks straight to the childrens bedrooms with the intention of instructing them to put away their belongings but as always, in his own house, any attempt at logical structure was carelessly brushed aside by Bella. Within seconds she had them in her embrace before crouching down to check them over at arms length and then pulling them close again.
"Let me look at you. You've both grown so much, we'll need new uniforms before you go back but let's not think about that now. I've missed you so much."
Not that Snape could blame her, the last time she'd seen them was while they were holding a constant vigil at their bedsides in the infirmary. Of course he knew he would have to talk to them about the events that had led to them being there and sooner rather than later, not a 'conversation' he was looking forward to having especially as everyone had given them the impression they were heros! Once again he felt the oppressive burden of his responsibility creep up on him but at least now with Quirrell gone the feeling was no longer cloaked in all consuming bitterness. The change he recognised in himself was undeniable and now that the Headmaster had explained the cause he could easily understand his angry reactions especially towards P ... Harry, his sorting and his resemblance to his father.
But he was startled out of his self reflection when his wifes arms snaked around his waist, her familiar scent pulling him back home.
Raising on her tip toes Bella grazed a gentle kiss across his lips. "I've missed you too." She whispered against his skin.
But his eyes weren't on her they were drawn to the nervous children across the room. They seemed to have moved unconsciously closer to each other and he could sense their wariness despite the distance. And he wasn't sure if he could blame them, bridges would have to be built again this summer. Alien instincts made him want to reach across the void to them but his innate stoicism reluctantly held him back.
And then the moment was gone. Midnight sidled in from the kitchen distracting Hermione as she gathered the purring cat in her arms, reminding Harry that he had his own pet to deal with.
"Can I go let Hedwig out?" He asked nervously, not sure what to expect now that they were finally back. While he was looking at both adults he found it so much easier to talk to Aunty Bella. Right now he had no idea what to expect from his Godfather. The last time he had seen Snape, apart from a brief glimpse at breakfast that morning, had been at the leaving feast where his face had been twisted and sour at loosing the House Cup. And the last time he'd seen Uncle Sev had been in the infirmary after Quirrell ... disappeared, something he really didn't want to think about, when he'd been weirdly quiet and looked oddly worried.
"Cause you can sweetheart, there's some new owl treats in your room for her to try."
She tried her best to sound happy and upbeat but Bella could still feel herself frowning, their cautiousness worried her, what if all they'd asked of them this year was a step too far, what if what they had was broken beyond repair. But no, she couldn't think that way, she tried to convince herself there was nothing to worry about, after all they'd been gone nine months and been through a lot, she tried to remind herself that even when it had just been Severus coming back each summer things had always been a little unsettled for a couple of days.
"Why don't you both go and unpack so we can put your trunks away, then I'll order pizza in and you can tell us all about school." She sensed them relaxing a bit at the mention of something familiar, Luigi's had always been their favourite takeout treat and she knew they'd never serve something so muggle as a pizza at Hogwarts. She gave a dazzling smile and wink. "I want to know all about school, especially your potions professor, I hear he's an evil vampire!"
She felt the evil vampire's twin stiffen behind her and it didn't take any real imagination to picture the glare that went with his rigid posture, but his displeasure could be dealt with later, the slightly mischievous smiles she got from her children more than made up for the possible unpleasantness.
"Go on, I'll send some drinks up." She encouraged but a firm, deep, throaty cough from above stopped them in their tracks.
Snape held out his hand, palm up. "Your wands please." He thought his tone broke no argument but after watching the pair swapping a questioning look he found himself clarifying his ...request. Folding his arms in an intimidating manner he asked, "Am I to believe my esteemed colleague failed to advise her house of the restriction of underage wizardry?"
Feeling defeated Harry shook his head "No Sir Professor McGonagall told us." Unenthusiastically he pulled his wand out of his sleeve and placed it in his Godfathers outstretched palm.
Snape gave a brief nod towards the boy before focusing his full attention on Miss Gr... Hermione. Unfortunately for both of them there seemed to be a spark of mutiny in her eyes, something akin to the defiance that surfaced during 'that' disastrous potions lesson.
"Your wand." His demand was cold and harsh, Snape never liked to repeat himself.
Hermione could feel Harry shuffling nervously next to her but she really didn't want to give up her wand, it felt part of her now and if she couldn't even hold it she had a horrible feeling she might forget it all.
"Now young lady." His eyes narrowed dangerously and his voice turned to a snarl. "Or do you wish to continue this 'discussion' in my study and sit uncomfortably for the rest of today."
The truth was he could have easily summoned her wand making all of this unnecessary, just as he would have done at school, but, even though it went against his every instinct, he knew that things had to be different here. In this house they were supposed to be some kind of unit, Bella called it family, and while this mix of adult and child could not be truly democratic, he had learned over their years together they could also not survive a dictatorship, choices had to be offered to foster an appropriate respect between child and adult, something he had learned to an extent with his Slytherins.
He felt Bella's fingers brush his sleeve with a feather light touch delivering a silent message of caution, but as he stepped around his wife to offer his options he saw the child pale and shrink behind P... Harry. He knew her thoughts had raced back to the same place as his own, the day he had truly lost her trust, and he vowed never to be the cause of the fear that shadowed her eyes again. He firmly believed a healthy fear of consequence from a parental figure should be encouraged but abject fear of the person themselves was unacceptable, his own childhood had taught him that. Disgusted with himself, even though he knew now his actions that day were fuelled with the dark lords bile, he made the first tentative steps towards the long road to rebuilding their trust.
Dropping his hand and trying his best to stand neutrally he approached the subject again.
"I require your wand ..." He hesitated as the name felt unfamiliar on his tongue. "... Hermione. Temptation can be a powerful force, especially for someone like yourself with a strong desire to learn but I cannot risk discovery of our living arrangements." He paused and looked her directly in the eye. "You know all magic leaves a signature."
He saw the defiance start to melt from her eyes as she seemed to unconsciously move out from Harry's shadow. But disappointment still dulled her face, something else Snape found he didn't want to be responsible for. The compromise bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him, somewhere he truly believed no longer existed. "However ... Should you behaviour prove acceptable during the holidays I may consent to allowing you to accompany me to Hogwarts where you could theoretically practice ...under supervision of course."
But the hope that ignited and started to burn in her eyes was a bitter pill for him to swallow because ultimately their connection could only be mended for a short time before Professor Snapes actions during the next school year damaged them again. And realistically he knew there would eventually come a time when, whatever 'it' was that they had, would become irreparable. But those thoughts were for another time.
Holding out his hand once more, he tried to wait patiently while the pre teen waged an internal war. He could feel his eyes battling to narrow at her indecision but before he could give into the urge she reluctantly relinquished her wand to his care.
He bit down on his natural reaction to make a caustic comment of 'Finally' and instead settled for a more neutral but cryptic "Good." But when no-one made an attempt to move he gave his best glare and asked "Well, what are you waiting for? This may be a magic house but your trunks won't unpack themselves!"
He watched with a smirk as they both scurried off, almost as one being, towards the staircase. "And don't run on the stairs." He added sternly to their retreating backs. If previous years were anything to go by, he knew that in a few days time the same barked order would go unheeded until someone slipped on the polished oak steps again, but he was gratified for now that they at least slowed down, even if it was to that typical weird teenage forced power march.
He palmed both surrendered wands and viewed them critically. Not surprisingly Hermione's vine wood was highly polished and in immaculate condition where as Harry's holly, like the boy himself, already had scars. Snape ran his thumb over a small nick close to the handle and found he wasn't ashamed to say he felt a slight wariness of his Godsons wand. While he had no doubts about the caster, the wands connection to his old 'master' did concern him, especially now after the recent events with the philosophers stone.
He could feel Bella staring at what he expected looked like strange behaviour but partly out of a habit bourne of spying mixed with a need not to unnecessarily burden his wife, he kept these thoughts to himself. "I believe a wand care kit may be a suitable birthday present for a certain young man." He commented sardonically to deflect away from his true thoughts over a childs wand. "I shall put these in a safe place and then unpack my own things."
Bella smiled encouragingly at him. "I'll bring you some coffee down. Its nice to have you all back again, hopefully we can all have a nice relaxing summer."
Snape tried to force his features into why he hoped was a reassuring look but he feared that based on past examples she was in for disappointment.
Snape walked slowly down the stairs and sank gratefully into his familiar reading chair to enjoy the brief moment of absolute silence and try to ignore how comfortable it felt to be back. He resisted the compulsion to pick up his latest book that he'd carefully placed on the small table when he had unpacked because he knew Bella would be joining him shortly, probably with a desperate need to dissect how the day had gone. He considered pouring himself a fire whiskey but curbed that urge too, he had been reaching for the bottle far too much recently for his liking and he knew that slippery slope led down a path he had no intention of walking. Instead he allowed his thoughts to wander in preparation for where he knew Bella would want to go.
Even with his self imposed limited social skills Snape recognised that the rest of the day had passed by in an awkward and stilted atmosphere. There seemed to be brief moments when they forgot themselves and conversation almost seemed natural but then it was as if they remembered that they were really Potter, Granger and the Head of Slytherin House and there were secrets that they couldn't, shouldn't or wouldn't talk about. Most things about Hogwarts seemed to lead them to dangerous territory and only Bella's tip bits of news seemed genuine. In the end they all seemed happier to let her talk as she filled them in on local gossip, the changes at Mrs Walkers tea rooms and the big news about 'Magic Moments Party Planning and Catering Company.' finally moving out of the Prince Manor study and into a muggle office in town.
In fact, weirdly, the only thing that felt normal and familiar about the whole day was bedtime. Somehow, seemingly without conscious thought, they'd slipped into their usual routine. Harry had found a new series of adventure books in his room and just assumed his Godfather would read to him and Snape had found himself so surprised that he forgot to use the chance to slide into the boys mind to test the wards. And then it seemed that Hermione had heard him reading and taken this as her cue to quiz him on next years reading list. As he sat there thinking about it he found himself astounded by their capacity for forgiveness.
Bella emerged from the laundry room to find Severus sitting pensively. She knew they all had a lot to adjust to but children were so much more adaptable where her husband was the pure definition of rigid. She gently massaged his shoulders as she passed and tried not to feel hurt as he stiffened at her touch.
"Are they asleep?"
Snape rolled his eyes. "They are in bed, while I know potions that can induce sleep I didn't think you would let me administer them!"
Bella slapped his shoulder lightly before settling on his knee. "It won't be long they've had a hard day." She twisted to look at him. "How do you think today went?"
"Better than tomorrow will." He answered cryptically.
Bella leaned back and frowned, the only thing she had planned was signing the lease for her new office. "What's happening tomorrow?"
"We will need to address their dangerous actions this year, which I fear will not be popular since Dumbledore has publically declared them hero's."
Bella extracted herself from his lap and curled on the sofa instead.
"Do you mean going after the stone?"
Snape shifted to face her. "I mean the whole year! Fighting a troll, defying teachers, missing lessons, getting involved with illegal dragons, being out after curfew, entering an out of bounds area."
"And this has nothing to do with the Slytherin losing the House Cup?" She asked skeptically, not sure how much of Severus versus Snape she was talking to.
His eyes narrowed dangerously and he refused to dignify the question with an answer. "They. Are. Children. They need to go to lessons, do their homework and keep out of things that should not and do not concern them. They need to learn to go to an adult if they have issues and if they have to learn the hard way then so be it."
Bella thought about it for a few moments, she understood where her husband was coming from but she didn't want to alienate the kids as soon as they'd come home. She tried to tap into her Slytherin side.
"Its not their fault you work there and find out about things the rest of the parents wouldn't ever know about. You are supposed to be Professor Snape there not Uncle Severus." She could see an argument forming in his mind so before it could get to his lips she held up her hand. "Let me finish."
When the mouth pursed but nothing was said she carried on. "So you can't tell them off for things unless school has specifically brought them to our attention. And should we really be punishing them when there have already been consequences in school?"
Snape had already conceded defeat over the first part but her last question made him smirk. He tapped his lips as if thinking for a moment.
"Now who was it that grounded Harry for two weeks after he and his friends decided it would be a great idea to vandalise the boys toilets by throwing wet toilet paper all around the room and sticking it to the ceiling even after the school had made them clean it up and then spend every lunch time for a week picking up litter." This time it was Snapes turn to raise his hand to stop a comment. " And who pulled Hermione out of a big ice skating competition after she made a student teacher cry by constantly correcting her in class even though the Headteacher made her apologise and wouldn't let her go on the trip to the museum."
Snape sat back satisfied he'd made his point.
"Fine." Huffed Bella. "But..." She added in all seriousness. "...those consequences were as a direct result of something they did that day. I don't want them to think we're making a list of their mistakes to throw at them as soon as they get home. They should want to come back here, not dread it."
Snape acknowledged Bella's insight, he knew that without her none of this would work. Without her he could not be a suitable guardian for two children. "I will treat them ...fairly." He assured her even though after nine months at Hogwarts the word stuck in his throat slightly. "I'll talk to them tomorrow while you are signing your paperwork."
This Snape she trusted. "Ok. My appointment's at 10.30. I'll drop my baking off with Mrs Walker after breakfast then head straight there. You can talk to them then."
Satisfied that another hurdle had been overcome without Bella trying to hex him Snape tried to relax but the contented way his wife was looking at him put him on edge. He was used to being surrounded by people who viewed him with disdain, distrust or distaste. Actually being like and appreciated took a little getting used to again, maybe it was more than the children who needed some time to adjust.
He rose from the chair abruptly. "I need to go and carry out an inventory of supplies. Madame Pomfrey has asked for a fresh supply of Skele-Gro, her last batch is out of date, not that I can think of any instance when she would need to administer it but I brew what is requested of me." He saw the flash of disappointment on her face but she quickly hid it with an understanding smile.
"It's ok." She forced a yawn. "It's been a long day, I think I'll go for a soak in the bath and then head to bed." She lightly touched his arm and kissed his cheek. "Night."
He watched her go feeling confused that he felt a little disconcerted that she hadn't made more of an effort to dissuade him. Shaking the irrational thoughts from his brain he concentrated on remembering the recipe for the little used Skele-Gro potion.
The sun was barely up when Bella quietly descended the stairs to start her morning baking. She sang softly to herself and danced around the kitchen as she prepared the mixture for her dill and onion bread, her family had been home for less than a day and already the house felt happier. Leaving the mix to magically prove she poured a steaming cup of cranberry tea and started to gather the ingredients for the white chocolate cake but hesitant footsteps stopped her.
Turning she saw a bleary eyed Harry hovering at the bottom of the stairs, his messy hair sticking up at odd angles and his glasses slightly askew. Her heart swelled with a rush of love at the sight of him.
"Good morning sweetheart." She smiled. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Leaning her back against the work surface she lazily sipped her tea as he walked towards her shaking his head and scrubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm. For a brief minute he reminded her of the insecure little boy he used to be instead of the pre-teen they'd sent away to school.
"Too quiet?" She guessed. "You'll get used to sleeping by yourself again in a couple of days."
Harry gave a sleepy grin. "Neville snores, Ron talks in his sleep and his rat runs around the dorm all night."
He shuffled forward, moving in closer hoping Aunty Bella would put her arms around him like she used to.
Bella smiled a bitter sweet smile as she recognised the childish gesture borne out of his natural insecurity but automatically wrapped her arm his shoulder. That was when she noticed he had something clutched in his left hand. "What've you got there?"
Harry blushed slightly. "Oh ... Uhm ... Its a photo album, Hagrid gave it to me..." He clutched it protectively to his chest but twisted his neck round to look wistfully at her. " ...do you want to have a look?"
She hugged him tight, pleased that he wanted to share something with her. "Come on let's go outside and watch the sun come up." She waved her wand. "Accio Harry's slippers."
Before long they were sitting together on the porch swing, snuggled under a blanket, heads together as Harry proudly showed off his photos. He paused at a picture of himself as a baby surrounded by his Mum and Dad. At first his finger skimmed across his naked forehead, it seemed strange to know he existed before the scar, but then he traced the pretty contours of Lilys face.
"I never knew you looked like her before." He glanced quickly at Aunty Bella before returning to his Mums face.
Bella slipped her fingers under his chin and brushed aside his messy fringe. "Except her eyes, those she kept especially for you."
They both sat in an easy silence for a few minutes, thinking.
"Does it bother you that I look so like her?" Bella asked suddenly, a little scared of his answer, but also desperate to know.
Harry frowned. "No, I like that you do, its a bit like she's with me and that maybe it was meant to be."
His frown turned to worry as he changed his focus to James's face.
"Every one says I look like my Dad ..."
Bella gave him a moment to carry on but when he didn't say any more she prompted him with a simple "you do."
"Quirrell ..." He gave a little shiver that Bella knew had nothing to do with the cold. "...told me that Snape..." He paused but when Aunty Bella didn't scold him for the use of the name he knew she understood and carried on. "hated my Dad and the Headmaster said it was true."
Now she understood the boys dilemma and found she couldn't deny it especially as Severus had already admitted to the issue. She wasn't going to lie to him to save her husband, that would be a conversation they would have to have together when they were both ready but she could find a way of kindly giving him something else to think about.
"It was along time ago Harry and children can be cruel. But I think James and Severus are a lot more alike than you think. They both loved your Mum and she had a special relationship with both of them at different times in her life. But most importantly they would both die to protect you. They are connected through you and that connection is much stronger than some school boy feud."
She kissed his head and extracted herself from the warmth of the blanket. "I'll leave you to think, I've got a cake to make. Do you want a hot chocolate?"
Harry stretched and yawned, somewhere in the back of his mind he knew she hadn't really answered his question but he pushed the niggle away, there was other stuff he had to think about now, stuff about his Dad and Godfather that he never knew before. "No thanks, I think I'll go back to bed for a bit."
Bella watched him retreat back up the stairs praying she'd done the right thing. "Breakfasts at the usual time." She reminded. "Go quietly, don't wake Hermione or Merlin forbid, your Uncle!"
He turned and gave a quick grin before disappearing, maybe everything could be ok after all.