As he comforted her, he had the sudden notion that the whole outburst may have been nothing more than an elaborate manipulation designed to prevent her getting in trouble or being punished for her misconduct by turning the tables on him. Repulsed by himself for both his past behaviour perhaps even more so for even thinking such a thought, he desperately wanted nothing more than to shut himself away in his laboratory and lose himself in his work for a week or two avoiding all human contact until he could learn to live with himself again but he knew that he needed to be present for his children now more than ever. He also knew they would have to go and explain things to the Dursleys and yet he tried to justify reasons to himself for why it wasn't really necessary.
Summoning the boys back to the study he reassured them of his love for them too as they quizzically took in the destruction of the room before whisking them off to Privit Drive to clear things up with the Dursleys.
Vernon opened the door. "What do you want?" he grunted, before adding "and if it's about the boy, don't even think we are taking them him back, like you said he's your responsibility. You're his father, he is your problem now."
"May we come in?" Snape said calmly. "My children have something they wish to say."
"Why what's going on?" He asked confused not noticing Lily who was hiding behind Snape.
"Well can we come in or not?" Snape asked impatiently, making a show of turning around to see if any of the neighbours were watching, and grinning, called out an overly friendly greeting to Mr Browne of number eight as he walked passed with his dog.
Vernon turned scarlet and hurriedly beckoned them inside.
"It's Potter and that Snape fellow back again" he called to his wife who was in the kitchen washing up after dinner. She rushed out to meet them. "What's wrong now?" She said sharply, she was clearly still upset following her ghostly encounters.
"I'm here about the ghost" he said almost apologetically, gesturing for her to go into the sitting room.
"I knew it!" Vernon boomed, "Didn't I tell you this had something to do with their lot."
Petunia shot him a look, silencing him. "What about the ghost?" she demanded.
"It is with regret that I must inform you that my children have been playing nasty tricks on you, they have come to apologise."
She looked at him confused, the children were still standing in the doorway behind him out of sight, he moved aside beckoning them into the room.
"Your ghost I believe" he stated , taking Lily's trembling hand as a sign of reassurance as Harry apologised to his aunt on behalf of his brother and sister for their actions.
Vernon was outraged. "You owe me a new TV." he yelled.
"I will ensure you are suitably compensated" Severus informed him as Petunia continued to stare at Lily.
"She's not a ghost?"
"No." He confirmed.
"But ghosts are real."
"Yes but they look nothing like that." he said laughing.
"Who is she?"
"My daughter: Lily Sara Snape."
"Lily, She looks just like her.
"Yes" he said in mournful acknowledgement before introducing Evan.
She looked from one child to the next.
"They look nothing like you!"
"Yeah are you sure they are even yours?" Vernon remarked cruelly.
"I'm sure they are mine." He replied, glowering at him.
"Are they Lily's?" Petunia asked sheepishly
"They were not born until August of 82." He said sadly.
Twins? She asked surprised.
Just then Dudley returned home, thankfully without his gang in tow.
He stopped dead as he walked past the sitting room door and spotted his mother's so called ghost standing there beside Harry.
"It was you." He accused.
Harry smirked, earning a gentle cuff from his father.
Lily and Evan were introduced to Dudley and then Severus paid Vernon for the loss of his T.V. before they made their farewells and returned home, the children being kissed but then sent straight to bed without supper.
Alone in his study now, Severus paced up and down as he contemplated possible remedies to the children's behaviour as he fought to keep his disgust at himself out of the back of his mind. What they had done was reckless and irresponsible and despite his many failings they would have to be suitably punished for this, their disobedience, their deliberate and unethical torment of muggles and their irresponsible use of magic. But how could he punish them without risking alienating them further? He didn't know what to do, he thought he had done the right thing by his children, how could he have been so wrong, he needed help, but who could help him? He had so few friends he really trusted.
He sat down and buried his head in his hands for a moment before coming to a decision. He summoned the house elves to him and informing them that he would be going out for a while, bade them to keep a close eye on the children and to fetch him immediately if any of them came looking for him. Then donning his cloak he apparated to Hogsmeade. He gently pushed the heavy wrought iron gates that guarded entrance to the school grounds inwards causing them to creak slightly, stepping though as he sighed to himself with some trepidation.
To his intense annoyance he was greeted by Filch, the bitter old caretaker, who had come out to see who was there. Filch had always seemed to admire him for some unfathomable reason but while the man certainly had his uses, particularly when it came to enforcing discipline, he had little time for him on a personal level at the best of times and now his inane prattle about how pleasant the school was in the absence of the students was really starting to infuriate him. Still he really couldn't afford to upset him so he gritted his teeth and smiled and nodded politely until Argus made the mistake of mentioning Harry.
"Is Poppy here?" Severus interrupted, quickly changing the subject before he said something he might regret.
"Aye, she was away there for a fortnight or so but she be back a day or two since, did you have need of her? Filch asked curiously eyeing him for signs of illness or injury."
"Yes, If you would excuse me I have an urgent matter to discuss with her." he replied curtly.
"Aye, of course Severus, She be up in her tower last I saw her."
"Thank you and enjoy the rest of the summer if I don't see you again before I return home."
"Aye, you too"
Grateful to finally be rid of him, Severus hurried into the castle and swept up the stairs.
"Severus, my boy, whatever is the matter?" She asked full of concern at the sight of him. "Are the children okay?"
"Physically yes" he replied, "but I am fear I've ruined them forever!"
She looked at him confused.
"I don't know what to do Poppy, I need your help."
The mediwitch smiled at him reassuringly "You know I'd do anything to help you Severus." Come on, I'll pop on the kettle.
So she led him out of the sanatorium and into her own personal study, where he sat down and confessed all of his failings to her.
"You're too hard on yourself Severus." She consoled when he had finally finished. "True you have been rather hard on the children, I've always told you that, but you're only trying to do what's best for them. That's all any parent can do and Severus you really are the most wonderful father to them. Don't ever think they would be better off without you."
Severus smiled weakly. "But you heard what she said to me, and worse how I reacted."
"No Severus how you reacted was perfect. You were kind, compassionate, loving and you listened. You gave her the reassurance she needed. It's natural to have considered the possibility she was manipulating you. She may well have been. She is your daughter after all" Poppy winked at him and laughed before continuing. "And you have to remember that the Slytherin dungeon is home to some of the most conniving people ever born. You wouldn't have lasted a month as their head of house if you weren't inherently suspicious of people's motives."
"Yes but Poppy, Not even I could have pretended to be that distraught."
"And that is why you dismissed the thought, but the fact you considered it doesn't make you a bad father, quite the opposite in fact. Look Lily was upset, I know she said some hurtful things and I'm not going to say that she didn't mean them but I seriously doubt she meant for it to come out the way it did. She was upset, she must have got quite a scare at the Dursleys and she is after all just a little girl, but she is also coming to an age where children, girls in particular, can become particularly insecure. Just be there for her, it's all you can do."
They continued talking for a while until finally Severus regained confidence in his parenting ability. He then asked her if she could come and stay for a few days to help mediate but she refused. This was something he needed to do himself. So thanking her profusely he said his goodbyes and returned home feeling much better in himself. Taking a deep breath he headed upstairs to the nursery, where first he called on Harry.
He pushed open the door softly before gently knocking on the doorframe when he saw that the boy was still up.
"May I come in?"
Harry nodded before putting aside the book he was reading. "I'm sorry I took the twins out without asking you."
"It didn't sound to me like you could have done anything to stop them."
"I could have told you."
"Why didn't you?"
Harry turned to look out the window, he had spent much of the evening dwelling on the answer to that question and he didn't think his father would be very pleased to hear of any the reasons he had come up with.
"You feel you owe them more loyalty than you owe me." Snape predicted sadly, sitting down on the window seat in front of Harry.
Harry remained silent but the look that flashed across his face spoke volumes. He smiled reassuringly at him, "It's okay, I haven't done much to inspire your loyalty, to be fair."
"You're my father."
"You're their brother."
"Their brother" he repeated, "and I would be disappointed in you if you didn't stand up for them but there are varying levels of loyalty and the degree of kinship isn't necessarily equivalent to the strength of your allegiance. For example if Dudley Dursley were to fight with Draco Malfoy, I would imagine that in most circumstances, you would side with your cousin. However if that cousin should instead elect to go up against Ronald Weasley, I could be pretty certain that Weasley's friendship would trump Dursley's family ties. Correct?"
"You are all growing up and unfortunately I can sure that there will be plenty more incidents such as this. Sometimes you will side with the twins, sometimes you will side with me, one day you might side with Lily, the next Evan. That's normal, it's nothing to feel guilty about. I however should feel guilty in that you still cannot fully trust me. Be honest with me! When I caught you in Little Whinging earlier, did the possibility that I might send you away cross you mind?
Horror flashed across the boy's face before once again giving a silent nod in response.
"Harry, you are my son and I will never ever cast you aside, no matter what, I will love you until my dying day but I used the threat of sending you away as leverage against the twins, and that was wrong of me. If you are to trust me, it is detestable that I should say such things, even without meaning them and for that I sincerely apologise."
Harry smiled weakly, and so starting to feel awkward Severus changed the subject.
"Did you get that book downstairs?" he asked.
Harry glanced down at the book guiltily, "Yes, you don't mind do you."
"Of course not, what do you think of it?, it was one of my favourites." And the tension in the room dissipated, just like that, as father and son began an animated analysis of the three musketeers.
"I would have thought you would have preferred to find me reading a more educational book." Harry confessed.
"Every book you read teaches you something, just because it might not help with your schoolwork doesn't mean it won't serve to make you a better informed individual. You have discovered things reading this that you didn't know before yes?"
"Therefore it has been educational."
"But what's the point in knowing something no one else cares about?"
Severus laughed, "Typical Gryffindor! Nothing is important to you unless you can brag about it!"
"So you would prefer I thought more like a Slytherin?"
His father nodded, a sly grin breaking out across his face. "Try me."
Harry sat in silent contemplation for a moment before finally replying." All knowledge is power, particularly that which is yours alone as it gives you an advantage over others."
"Yes but I still don't see how anything in this book could be used to my advantage."
"You told me once that the sorting hat considered you for Slytherin."
"Yes" Harry replied grimacing.
"Well think on it and get back to me, the most well rounded students often go on to be the most successful in later life, and besides," he added winking, "It's always beneficial to know how your enemy thinks."
Harry looked at his father in surprise for a moment, then suddenly the idea that maybe if they had acted more Slytherin in their visits to Little Whinging they may not have been caught popped into his head and he started to laugh."
"What's so funny?" his father enquired.
Harry froze, he knew that despite Snapes surprising visit, they were still in a lot of trouble over their little adventure and he certainly didn't wish to aggravate the situation further. "Err nothing," he stammered, "Just what you said about knowing my enemy."
"Hmmm" his father murmured, before enquiring after how Harry was finding life at the manor. Asking whether or not he felt at home there or if he was feeling obliged to act the good guest all of the time and he seemed particularly interested in how Harry saw his relationship with the twins. Where they inclusive or did they leave him feeling like an outsider, had they had many disagreements?
Harry didn't know what to say, was his father only asking to ensure his general well-being or were his answers going to play into the twins punishment somehow. "I'm a little confused Sir." Harry began.
"About how you feel regarding your place here and as part of the family?"
"Oh no, I love it here," he assured him, "I meant about why you were asking, Is this about earlier?, because if it is please don't blame Lily or Evan any more than you blame me, you said yourself: I have a penchant for mischief, and I was fairly easily persuaded to let them accompany me back to Surrey, they have been more than welcoming to me since coming here, I knew it was foolish but I wouldn't deny them their request to accompany me."
Severus smiled, he would be happier when Harry felt secure enough in his role as big brother to refuse their foolish whims but it was nice to hear how well he was settling in, he knew it couldn't be easy, particularly with Lily and Evan being twins.
"Don't worry I wasn't looking for additional reasons to blame the twins, I know that each of you had a part to play and we will discuss your collective punishment in the morning, but for now I needed to make sure you felt like you belonged, I couldn't chastise you fearing that you were already feeling like an outsider, lost or alone, especially after the truly unacceptable comments I made about sending you away earlier. I love you, you know how hard I have fought to get you here, never forget that, no matter what."
"I know and thanks again for bringing me home."
"There's no need to thank me, you belong here" Snape clarified once more. "I have to go now" he said, bidding his son goodnight as he crossed over to where he sat on the bed and planted a gentle kiss on the top of his head, whispering, "no matter how Slytherin you were today, I would have caught you, never forget that" before he slipped out of the room leaving a dumbfounded Harry staring at his back. How had he known?
He went next to check on Evan, where he was surprised to find the boy not only alone but fast asleep despite it still being relatively early. Though he felt guilty admitting it, it was rare for Severus to come up to check on the children after they had quarrelled or even to ever to enter the nursery at all but whenever he had he had always found the twins together. It had so often infuriated him at the time, he would have sent them to their rooms to reflect on poor behaviour and by refusing to part they were defying him just as though they were quite literally united against him but now he found himself worried by the change. Was it just that they were getting older or had Harrys introduction irrevocably altered their dynamic?
He hovered in the doorway for a moment unsure of how to proceed, unless they were in fact not speaking to one another following the incident with the Dursleys, the children were bound to talk about him coming up to visit them and the poor boy was insecure at the best of times without being left to think he was forgotten. He called his name softly, hoping to rouse him while contemplating the idea that he may only have been feigning sleep to avoid having to talk to him. Either way he got no response, he leaned back against the door frame sighing before finally deciding to just let the boy sleep however luck seemed to be on his side that night and when he went to tuck the boy in, he stirred.
"What's wrong?" he asked groggily, confused at finding his father in the bedroom.
"Shhh, nothing, I just wanted to make sure you were okay, go back to sleep."
"mmkay" his son muttered, seemingly eager to return to his slumber.
"Sleep well my Prince." Severus bid, as he kissed him goodnight, before dowsing the lights and leaving him in peace, hoping he would remember his visit in the morning.
Finally he went to Lily, he was still shocked by the depth of her earlier upset and knew it wouldn't be easy to make things up to her. "Lily," he called softly, getting no response. At first he thought the room to be empty, would she have run away? Had she been in with Evan after all? He began to panic, she had certainly been upset enough to consider running away but where would she go?
He was just about to summon the house elves to mount a search when he spotted her foot poking out from underneath the four poster bed.
"What are you doing down there?" he asked amused.
"Hiding" she retorted rather matter of factly.
"What are you hiding from?" he asked gently as he crouched down to see her.
"I don't know I guess I was embarrassed."
Severus beckoned her out from under the bed, assuring her that she had nothing to be embarrassed about and that she had been right.
"I meant over what happened at the Dursleys." She clarified as she picked herself up. Her once white dress was now filthy and he had an intense urge to clean her tear stained face.
"Yes well, we can talk about that in the morning." He said offering her a hug which he was glad to see she accepted. "Come on, why don't you get cleaned up and ready for bed and then I'll tell you a story."
So Lily went off to the bathroom, returning a few minutes later fresh faced, in a crisp linen nightgown but with her hair still in an unruly mess. He gestured for her to take a seat at the dressing table where he quietly picked the remaining twigs out of her fair before picking up the brush and beginning his tale as he gently combed it out for her.
"Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived an impoverished Weaver and his family. There was a time when the weaver was considered an important man in his village but times change and it wasn't long before his skill came to be considered redundant and this made him cruel and spiteful. It was true that he loved his wife and son but the guilt he felt at being unable to provide for them was so strong it hurt him to even look at them and he started spending more and more time away from home.
Sometimes the Weavers boy was glad of this, he wasn't particularly fond of his father but sometimes it made him angry. The harvest had been bad these last few years and many of the villagers went hungry from time to time, but none were as embittered by it as the Weaver.
Then again perhaps he had reason to be bitter for you see the family was hiding a secret. His wife was really a princess from the next kingdom, but the King had wanted her to marry a knight and had been so angry when instead she chose to marry the lowly weaver that he had exiled them both from his lands. They could have lived a life of privileged luxury and instead they were forced to rot in squalor. And so their son had a rather unhappy childhood, the other children in the village could tell there was something about him, and they looked down on him in his soiled, ragged clothes, calling him names and excluding him from their games until one day as he played in the woods he came across a little girl who was able to see past his grimy exterior to the prince within.
She was a beacon of light in an otherwise dull world and with her help the boy set off on a quest to prove himself to his grandfather the king. The king was impressed by his courage and cleverness and welcomed them with open arms and for a while it looked as though they would live happily ever after but unfortunately an evil sorcerer had set his sights on the kingdom and with the boy under his spell the young lovers began to drift apart until they found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict. The war raged on for many years with many a good soul lost needlessly but it wasn't until the evil wizard went after the girl that Weavers boy was finally able to see his error. He sought to make things right but it was too late, the evil wizard was eventually defeated but the girl too was killed, leaving the boy all alone in the world once more. He could hardly stand it, he almost went crazy in his grief but he was no longer a boy, he was a man grown so he picked himself up and he made a promise to himself that he would make amends somehow and he did. He would love and miss her always but he had inherited the kingdom and now with a family of his own he would indeed live happily ever after."
He watched her carefully in the mirror as he spoke. Studying her reactions, but it was not until he had completely finished that she swivelled round on the stool to face him. It was a tale he had told them many times when they were younger but it was the first time his daughter had recognised it as a thinly veiled autobiography of his life. "The boy in the story is you!" she remarked in surprise.
He nodded, leaning forward to lay the brush back down on the dressing table before taking a seat on the blanket box at the end of her bed.
"You never knew your fathers love as a child."
Severus shook his head feeling rather vulnerable, it wasn't in his nature to be so open with his feelings, nor was he sure he wanted to destroy his daughters innocence by revealing to her the secrets of his past but if he didn't tell her something, how was she to understand and then they would just continue to drift further and further apart until it became too late.
"That's why you're so distant sometimes" she deduced, breaking him out of his reverie.
"Perhaps" her father agreed, "But that's no excuse sweetheart. I'm truly sorry if you ever felt the same way. I've always tried my best to be a good father, but it's difficult when I don't really know what that is."
"You're the best Papa in the whole wide world!" she reassured him, as she flung herself into his arms."
"That's very kind of you to say Darling." He said kissing the top of her head.
She pulled back. "It's true!" she reiterated, confidently staring him in the face.
"If you say so" he smiled, still not really believing her, but appreciating the sentiment all the same.
She smiled back, before breaking into out into a yawn. He looked at the clock, it was past bed time.
"Time for sleep now little Miss." he instructed helping her up into the bed.
"Is the girl in the story our mother?" she asked curiously as he tucked her in.
"Yes" he replied bidding her goodnight.