The blue eyed wizard tapped his wand on the Iron Gate protecting what seemed to be the remains of an old house. It was his second visit. The first visit was a disappointment as he failed to collect information on Potter's whereabouts and thus lost an opportunity to get Voldemort's trust. He also would have experienced the dark lord's furry but fortunately, his elder brother had intervened just in time urging Voldemort to give his younger brother another opportunity to prove his usefulness. And now, a week later, he found himself eying the old house at the end of the cobbled pathway with distaste; with an insatiable desire to blast the damn thing into million pieces. But again he was doing it for his brother which was another mystery as he knew his brother won't dirty his hands unless there will be something beneficial for them. Keeping that in mind he once again tapped the gate. With a cracking noise the gate opened allowing him to walk on the path.
"Careful" the words of his elder brother echoed in his mind as he approached the house.
With trepidation he crossed the remaining distance and climbed the steps leading to a battered patio. To his surprise the door opened as soon as he climbed the last step.
With steadied thoughts he entered a dusty room with tattered curtains and old furniture. The floorboard creaked with age as he moved forward.
"Finally, you came." A sharp voice reverberated from far side.
Surprised, the young wizard looked around and found a tall figure clad in black standing next to a small window.
"I was started to think that you forgot about this meeting" said Voldemort not removing his eyes from the wizard.
"My apologies for keeping you waiting, my lord" said the wizard bowing remorsefully.
"Rise and convince me you didn't waste the opportunity I gave you."
The wizard rose slowly knowing this time he could not afford to repeat the mistake he made last time. "My lord, I have news."
"I'm all ears" replied Voldemort keeping his excitement in check.
"Your suspicion about the Prophecy was correct. It is in the Department of Mysteries. About five years ago Dumbledore himself deposited the Prophecy in there."
He watched with satisfaction as a smirk appeared on Voldemort's nonhuman face.
"Did you try to retrieve it?" Voldemort asked boring his reptile pupils into the blue ones of the young wizard.
For a brief moment the wizard facing Voldemort hesitated but then he realized he did his best and really had some useful information. "I used few of my connections in the ministry to enter the Hall of Prophecies. Unfortunately I searched the entire hall but didn't find the Prophecy in question. I even tried few charms to reveal it but to my utter disappointment they didn't worked. As a last resort I tortured one of the keepers and then realized why Dumbledore hid the Prophecy in there. The place has several layers of magical enchantments that prevent anyone from retrieving any prophecy. The extremely complicated nature of magic around this place only reveals a certain Prophecy when searched by a person or persons to whom it meant for. "
"Clever thinking" sneered Voldemort with bitterest contempt. He always hated Dumbledore for his untimely meddling. Every time he had a desire to thrive, he found Dumbledore as an obstacle, burning his plan to ashes. 'But, not this time' he vowed to himself. This time he would definitely outwit his old enemy by getting the Prophecy and extracting the secret he was hiding very dearly. With those determined thoughts in mind he glanced smugly at his servant and asked "Anything else?"
The wizard tried not to feel any aversion for the monstrous face staring down at him. He didn't dare to avert his eyes knowing well Voldemort would likely be scanning his mind for any deceit. "Pardon me my lord but that is everything I got for now."
It was an unsatisfactory answer, the wizard knew. Luckily Voldemort seemed distracted and impatient to get rid of him. A moment of silent passed and as he expected Voldemort dismissed him dryly already plotting a way to take the Prophecy out of the ministry.
"Thank you, My Lord" the wizard said bowing one more time before leaving with a mixture of fear and relief.
Drowned in his thoughts Voldemort ignored the wizard leaving his temporary abode. 'The Prophecy will reveal itself only to the person or persons it meant for' he repeated the words with scowl. 'It's another of his simple yet ingenious trap. The old fool wants me to get there and reveal myself.' Voldemort could almost see the twinkling smile Dumbledore always uses to conceal his dangerous intentions. Had he took the precaution of knowing the Prophecy before handed he wouldn't have failed to kill the baby Harry Potter on first time. 'And also for the next three times!' he thought angrily 'No, I need to break this chain failures'. 'Damn Dumbledore!' he cursed one more time and then suddenly a smirk crept across his mutilated face as he found a perfectly ironic solution. 'Harry Potter the boy who lived! The one who do not only shares the prophecy but mind with me'.
Clad in his muggle attire Severus apparated in a deserted ally, a block down from the restaurant he had chosen for the meeting. It was clear from the noises coming from the main street why he had chosen such a crowded muggle area, away from prying eyes of any friend or foe. Satisfied, he walked out of the dark ally and joined the bustling main street casually. As an old habit he scanned the surrounding crowd for anything or anyone looking suspicious. To his relief he found nothing expect for two women staring at him with a dreamy look on their faces making him uncomfortably aware of his smart choice of muggle clothing which he wouldn't have dared to buy otherwise if not for the woman at clothing shop. She used all her skills of persuasion and made him buy lot more than he was intended to buy. So the grey comfortable pants with an ice blue button down shirt and black sneakers he was wearing was one of her choices. Even the folding of shirt's sleeves and wearing black rectangle goggle was her idea only. The last and final change was his hairstyle. Not for any particular reason but he had charmed his hair to look short and brown. Which along with his overall outfit made him looks handsomely younger and carefree. But now watching those women giggle he regretted the entire decision. 'I should have used notice me not charm' he thought but it was too late as his destination a small restaurant with glass doors came into sight.
At the sight of restaurant his heart began to race erratically. 'I did nothing wrong by asking Megan to meet here,' he tried to convince himself. But he knew it was a dangerous choice and wasn't easy at all. At first the task of looking after Harry from a distance was just a byproduct of his guilty conscience. He was doing it for memory and promise he made to Lily. But now after the overwhelming Occlumency lesson with Harry he knew he needed to do it for Harry and for his own sanity.
'Lily I'm sorry. I failed..,' he accepted sadly crossing the last few steps towards the restaurant. When he entered the air conditioned restaurant lobby his hesitation and guilt got replaced by resolve to change things right for this time.
"Severus?" asked a gentle voice with uncertainty.
Severus turned around realizing he was standing there for a while. "Megan" he said without hiding his surprise. "I thought you might reconsider coming over."
"You said there is something important that you like to discuss" Megan replied first time observing the handsome man standing in front of her. She couldn't believe it was Severus without his awful black robes and greasy hairs. The short brown hairs made him less intimidating. He looked almost friendly in his new blue – grey combination. And that made her giggle like a teenager.
"Stop giggling woman" grumbled Severus removing his goggle. Without wasting any more time he lead her towards a seat next to a window showing a bright view of street.
"Severus I'm really sorry to say this but you really looks fabulous. I'm happy to see you finally thought of changing your hairstyle. You know this one suits you very well" she blurted out with a smile.
Severus offered her chair but not happily. "Sorry to disappoint you but I haven't change anything. It's just glamour, an advanced type of charm to change your appearance. "
Megan heard the explanation with a little dismay. She was going to say something appropriate but stopped as an eager waiter came with water and menu cards.
When they finished with their lunch order she asked. "Was that your owl that brought me the letter?"
"Yes he is Ares, a gift I received a year ago from Lord Jennings for curing him from a difficult ailment," he answered remembering the good nature lord of Greenwell.
"Nice name 'Ares' the god of war," Megan praised taking sip from her glass. "So what is it that you wanted to talk about?"
Severus felt grateful for broaching the subject. "It's about Harry," he began. "The reason I invited you here is to offer my help in raising Lily's child."
The offer struck her like a lightning but she restrained herself from showing any reaction.
Severus did not miss the agitation flashed on Megan's face but that did not detour him from saying what he came there for. He tried once again. "Megan, I'm not saying anything unexpected or unreasonable. You know this will happen."
"But, not now" she objected quietly. "Severus" she pleaded "you won't understand." She looked away as the next words caught in her throat. It was already difficult to take any decision concerning Harry without having a feeling of losing him. And unlike Dumbledore, Lily or Harry she had yet to understand Severus Snape fully. And that was the truth she didn't want to reveal to the face of man sitting opposite to her.
But he knew it already. Her face was saying everything like an open book. "Megan, look at me" he urged determined to gain her trust. "I'm sorry but I'm not trying to steal Harry away from you. I'm talking about sharing." On a thought he further added, "I know from the moment we met you did not trust me and that was entirely my fault. I still feel ashamed for my suspicion driven misconduct. But now, everything has been changing; we three share a special bond. And still if you think I'm not trustworthy enough then I urge you to use your empathic abilities."
Severus gave her a moment to ponder but apparently she had made her mind. "Severus, that won't be necessary but that doesn't mean I should lie and say I totally knows you."
"That's fine," Severus replied with a sigh, "but at the end our differences doesn't matters, what really matters is what Harry wants or needs. So, if he wants both of us in his life then we should respect his wish."
Now that was something unforeseen Megan was hearing. "Severus, what do you mean by both of us? I'm sure last time I talked with Harry you was still his evil Slytherin Potion Master. So what changed now?"
Severus didn't want to divulge something very personal about Harry or himself but in order to convince Megan it was necessary. So he did. "Megan, I myself find it incredulous but the Occlumency lesson turned out an eye opening experience for me. Last night I saw enough of his miserable childhood memories at Dursleys. They made it sure that Harry knew what is meant to be an orphan. They did not just starve him for food or other primary needs but for love also," Severus paused as the familiar tendrils of furry started to resurface his mind. But with a great amount of efforts he quenched the dark desire of hurting Petunia and continued. "It pains me to say this but it is an outcome of his abysmal upbringing that I find responsible for Harry's thrust of putting himself in constant peril. It was Dursleys' continuous negligence that made Harry to think that he is some kind of martyr and has an expendable life. Believe me but it has been infuriating to witness that Harry does not have any future plans beyond dying to save everyone from the Dark Lord…"
"Here is your order Sir... Madam" said the cheerful waiter not knowing he had just interrupted an important conversation.
Megan used the interlude to look away and dab her clouded eyes which off course Severus did not miss. He waited until the waiter served them food and drinks and then left with a polite smile.
"Megan, are you alright?"
Megan looked at Severus with eyes brimming with fresh moisture. "Severus, I don't know what to say about Petunia's unforgiving behavior. I don't understand her cruelty," she paused to take a hearty sip of her chilled wine. The mixture of warmth and cold helped her to settle her thoughts. "It's really beyond my imagination that my own sister has been incapable of loving her own nephew, her own blood. But you, his teacher, despite all differences wants to look after him. How ironic is this?"
Severus could see Megan's struggle to understand Petunia's behavior. But knowing its futility he decided to rescue her. "Well, Harry and I certainly have our differences but they are nothing when compared to the prejudice that Petunia harbors against Harry, Lily or against the entire magical community. The way I knew her, she never had a pleasant personality, not even when she was unaware of Lily's magical abilities. With passing time Petunia's jealously reached to a level that she wrote a secrete letter to Dumbledore regarding her Hogwarts admission. For a very long time Lily and I hopelessly waited for her acceptance but her hatred for us escalated even more after that event. As result she shunned us forever from her perfectly normal life. I'm not going to pretend but I felt happy when she finally stopped talking with us. Back then I felt a pity for Lily having such a horrible elder sister. But that's the past we are discussing not the future." Severus's frank opinion about Petunia eased Megan's anxiety. She felt little less ashamed for having such callous sister.
"Yes, you are right" Megan sighed as she considered what Severus was trying to imply. "There is no point in dwelling in the past, Harry is now our responsibility."
"Our", Severus asked skeptically, "Do you really mean that?"
"Does it really matter what I think?" Megan answered with question. She was curious.
"Certainly it matters but to clarify this further let me inform you this. Last night when Harry expressed his desire of having me as his guardian he added a clause which clearly says this arrangement only happens if you give your consent. If not then he will accept your decision, which in my opinion means he will bury the said desire like many others he buried in his childhood."
"What? He said that," Megan felt mortified for being selfish. "That's awful of me. I don't want to be an evil aunt."
Severus felt bad for unfolding everything so insensitively, but unfortunately it was the only solution he saw most fitting. And now he could see the fruit of his efforts.
With another swallow of her wine Megan stilled herself and decided to accept something that she never thought considering before. "Severus, if he really trusts you with his life then I'm not going to say no. In fact, I've decided to accept your offer of becoming Harry's guardian."
"That's an incredible decision" Severus replied with a sincere gratitude. "In return I assure you that you will regret it."
"I don't know about future" Megan said wishfully, "but who knows this might stop you from harassing him at school."
The impromptu argument made Severus smile. "Oh, you are assuming too much Megan. It would raise suspicions if I change my behavior suddenly. But if it satisfies you then I gradually will try my best to increase my tolerance for his reckless acts of unnecessary heroism."
"Oh common, cut him some slack. He is just a teenager. It's his age to have some fun or cause some chaos" Megan insisted taking the first bite of her beef sandwich.
Severus stared in disbelief. He wasn't expecting such brash reply from Megan. For moment he decided to argue but then he just discarded though and instead busied himself finishing his lunch.
"So do you told Harry about the letter you received from bank" Megan asked tentatively.
"Not yet. But I told him about the elixir induced circumstantial bond between us and he took it well. If you ask me I think it is a good start."
"For what, exactly" Megan looked doubtful.
"Megan, I know you do not believe the facts written in the letter but you need to understand that there would be certain legal intricacies regarding your and Harry's status. If we ignore it too much I fear the information will reach to Dark Lord. And once that happened he will reward me with a death specially designed for a traitor. And since I do not have any immediate desire of getting killed I'm thinking of fixing our situation as quickly as possible."
"I don't understand" Megan paled when she heard Severus.
"There will be certain changes such as adding your and Harry's name to my inheritance and to my accounts at Gringotts. We also have to look after our living arrangements and finally adding my family name to both of yours."
"Severus, you are joking, right?" Megan said annoyed by prospects.
"Do I look like joking" he answered straight faced. "It's essential. What we are dealing here with is an extremely unusual kind of blood magic. Unfortunately at this point we do not know much about it. The only thing I know right now is Harry deserve a happy life or at least a normal summer as a beginning. And we can start it by living under a common roof. "
"A common roof" Megan seemed skeptical.
"Megan, I know we both do not want this conversation to happen" Severus paused thinking the most appropriate way of saying it. "I do not blame you for not believing the letter but apparently the magical matrimonial law considers us as man and wife. It also considers Harry as my legitimate hair. But when I said we should share a common roof I do not mean any of this. For me it is just a convenient arrangement where we can look after Harry and make sure he stays alive to see a meaningful future."
Megan looked relieved to hear that. "In that case I've a perfect house and you are welcome to stay with us."
Severus looked thoughtful. It was a valid option especially when Voldemort knew his house at Spinner's End.
"Severus, I guess you don't approve?" Megan asked awkwardly.
"In contrary I like the suggestion. Living at yours house is much better than at mine or at Black's. Additionally, the blood wards around your house make it easy to add few more layers of other protective charms."
"So when should I expect you?" She asked thinking about Sirius's reaction about this new development.
"Let's say three to five days to tie up few lose ends. I suppose you still have a guestroom and the potion lab at your house."
Megan affirmed it with a smile. She felt relaxed and up for another round of wine.
Severus engaged himself in finishing last of his sandwich. It gave him an excuse to ignore the way Megan was looking at him. He knew it was unnecessary gratitude a sure result of the strong wine she had been drinking for a while.
"To Harry" Megan said suddenly lifting her glass for a toast.
"To Harry" Severus joined in mesmerized by the happy look on her face. He liked the way her olive green eyes sparkled when her smile reached them. He didn't notice it earlier but now he could smell the perfume she was wearing. It has an unusual intoxicating aroma, something with a subtle hint of rose and sandal. He took a sip of wine to clear his head. But it did not worked as his eyes settled on the delicate curve of her neck. He felt dazed, made an effort to look away but his own eyes betrayed him as they travelled back to her chin and then to the alluring pair of lips. And then deep down he felt it, a sudden urge to kiss her, to taste her.
But he couldn't as something happened. He gasped as the sweet desire was vanished and replaced by a searing pain coming through his mark. In an instance he erected his Occlumency shield to quench the intensity of pain. When he looked up he found Megan kneeling beside him asking something with panic etched on her beautiful face.
"What's happening?" She repeated in urgency.
"I must go. Dark Lord is Summoning. Go back to Black's and ask someone to fetch Dumbledore. I'll be there as soon as it over."
"Dark Lord..?" she tried to ask but before she could finish Severus stood and rushed towards the washroom.
The sudden turn of events left her stunned. 'Dark Lord' the word brought a dreadful fear to her mind. Until that moment she had never seen Severus in such pain. The fear that flashed across his features chilled her to the core. And then like a flash the thought of Severus's life in danger penetrated her. She wanted to run but she couldn't. She could feel her legs quivering. She grabbed table's edge for support. She could see two waiters rushing for help but that didn't stop her from opening her purse, removing fistful bills of pounds and putting them beside their half-eaten lunch.
Later she didn't remember how she left the restaurant or got the taxi. But when she looked up she realized she had given the correct address to driver. It took only fifteen minutes to reach the destination but she felt like sitting there for hours. In frenzy she heard herself saying 'keep the change.' In hurry she crossed the block and turned right. A few more paces and she was facing the crack between number thirteen and fourteen. 'I need to learn that apparition thing as soon as possible' she mumbled just before whispering the magical address Sirius had given her.
She ran the moment the old door appeared out of nowhere. Without thinking she started to knock loudly. Few seconds passed, her breathing quickened. And then she heard the footsteps followed by the clicking noise and finally a familiar face peeking through. It was Sirius.
"Megan" he stared with a smile but it faltered as soon as he saw her frightened appearance.
"Sirius, please call Dumbledore. It's Severus. "
"Snape" he spat with usual dislike. "What did he do? Are you alright?" He asked scanning Megan for any visible injuries.
Megan shook her head dismissively. "I'm fine but I think he is in danger. He was in pain when he explained to me that he has been called by Voldemort and will need Dumbledore here when he returns. "
Though grudgingly, Sirius acted immediately. He flicked his wand in a complicated manner and summoned his Patronus, a mangy hound. The silvery form disappeared after making a brief eye contact with his conjurer.
"Don't worry" Sirius tried to console trying to understand how on the earth Megan knew about Snape's whereabouts "Albus will be here soon."
"Where is everybody" asked Megan noticing the rare calm at the house.
"Harry and Ron are here but Molly took rest of them to burrow. I can call them if you want me to. "
"No, not now" said Megan thinking about her shaken state.
But she wasn't that lucky as a minute later an irritated Harry followed by a cheerful Ron entered the hall.
"Megan" Harry greeted her with smile but then he saw the fear she was masking under her strained smile and he knew something was wrong. "What is it? Tell me" he insisted.
But she couldn't muster the strength to tell the terrible news.
Harry waited patiently, not removing his eyes from Megan. She looked disheveled, too much tense to give any coherent answer. And then he remembered the letter she had showed him in the morning. She was going to meet Snape to discuss something important. He deduced the rest. "Something happened to him, isn't it?" He asked with a pounding heart.
Megan nodded affirmatively. "Voldemort summoned him" She whispered.
"Harry, what's going on? Who is she talking about" Ron asked unable to hide his panic anymore.
But Harry couldn't answer. He felt numb with terror. A simple mistake and Voldemort would finish him, just like Cedric or his mother and father.
"No, we need to find him out" Harry announced with a resolve.
"To whom" Ron asked still confused.
"It's Snape Ron. We need to save him" he pleaded.
"Harry, calm down" said Sirius firmly. First Megan and now Harry's panic made it clear that they knew something that he didn't. "Nothing bad will be happening to Snape. He is too cunning and important to get killed. I don't think Voldemort would like to lose his only death eater spy around Dumbledore this soon."
"But what if Voldemort knew it already" Harry tried to reason as an awful feeling began to grip his heart.
"Harry, you are overreacting. Snape knew the risks when he became the spy" Sirius tried his best not to sound skeptical. "And we don't know his whereabouts. So what we can do is wait here for him as well as Albus."
But that didn't change anything so Ron decided to help by ignoring he still hated his Potion Master.
"Harry Sirius has a point. I bet Snape is smart enough to use his dark arts skills to defend himself." Ron tried to convince "Don't worry, he will return mate."
Resigned Harry took a seat beside Megan. He could feel Ron and Sirius eying both of them strangely. He knew they were curious but he didn't like the timing to explain everything. When he looked at Megan he felt terrible for her. It was unbearable to sit there and watch her in distress. To add to his misery he had a bad intuition about Megan's future. He knew for sure that if she going to share her life with him and Snape then this won't be the last time she was facing such dreadful condition.
"Does this happen too frequently?" Megan aimed her question at Sirius.
"As per my knowledge this was the second time after resurrection Voldemort has summoned Snape" Sirius answered dryly. "This also means Voldemort is planning something and needed Snape to do his bidding."
"What kind of bidding?" Megan wanted to know.
Sirius gave Harry a knowing look. He didn't want to divulge something redundant.
"Please, I can handle it" Megan insisted.
"I suppose knowing Snape's potion skills Voldemort wanted him to brew something foul" he omitted the part about the use of those potions in torturing or murdering someone. "Megan, if you don't mind then may ask you something?"
"Sure" she said.
So he asked tentatively. "Were you with him when he was summoned?" On a better thought he added with bravado, "Is something going on between you and Snape?"
It was direct question with a complicated answer. She herself wasn't sure about her own feelings towards Severus. Everything seemed so confused. So she chose the simplest explanation "I've gone to submit my article. On my way back I stopped for lunch and accidently bump into him. It was just a coincident nothing else."
Harry knew it was a half lie but he kept his mouth shut and waited to see his Godfather's reaction. He even shrugged when Ron eyed him for confirmation.
"Don't take me wrong Megan but I just want you and Harry to be safe." Megan did not miss the relief Sirius was radiating.
"I know you meant well Sirius but I'll never take any decision that will jeopardize Harry's safety."
A muffled sound of hearth flaring from the kitchen distracted them all. Megan hoped to see Severus but it was Dumbledore only.
"Professor" Harry was the first to greet.
"It is good to see you Harry." The elderly wizard returned the greetings. "I must say I'm glad to see you all to be here to show how much you care for Severus."
"Sorry Albus but I'm not here for Snape," Sirius immediately denied. The thought of showing any care for Snape was beyond his imagination.
"And I can see that" Dumbledore replied with a smile.
"So what we do now?" asked Megan hopefully.
Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "Other than waiting I would suggest a round of tea and a game of chess if Mr. Wesley is up for it."
Ron reddened by the prospect of playing chess with his headmaster. "Let me bring my chess board" he said awkwardly.
"No, need Mr. Weasley" said Dumbledore summoning the chess board with a swish of his wand.
Megan gave the old wizard an exasperated look. She wasn't expecting such a casual reaction at least from him.
"He cares, you know" Harry whispered.
"I guess he does" Megan replied feeling little frustrated.
For next hour she watched Ron and Dumbledore playing the brutal game of wizard chess. She cringed when Ron's horse destroyed Dumbledore's paws into pieces. Though grudgingly at some point she accepted it was an interesting game and the ancient wizard had chosen his opponent wisely. For his age Ron was giving his headmaster a hard time. Even Harry and Sirius looked intrigued by the game. Later after few strategic moves on both sides Ron's queen cornered Dumbledore's king and threatened him with check. The old wizard looked thoughtful. "Ha, delightful move Mr. Weasley, Minerva would have given you a hundred points for cornering my king like this."
"I don't think so Sir," Ron said observing the board skeptically, "because she wouldn't have missed your purposeful attempts of sparing my queen at least for two times".
"I appreciate you giving me such credit but while doing so you forgot I'm old and entitled to do some mistakes" Dumbledore replied playfully.
Megan wasn't a chess champion but she could tell Dumbledore wasn't playing for a win. He was doing it just to distract them all which were working well until that moment. For second time in an hour they heard kitchen's hearth flaring. This time everyone knew who it was.
"I suppose you all understand the need of me talking with Severus in private," Dumbledore said getting out of his seat.
"Yes, we understand" Megan replied standing behind a relieved looking Harry.
"Then please excuse me" he said hurrying towards the kitchen.
"That's unfair," Ron whined.
"Ron it's order's business" Sirius warned thinking about Mrs. Weasley's reaction on her son's interest in something dangerous.
"Fine" Ron retreated not happily.
"Harry you alright?" Megan couldn't stop herself from asking.
Harry just nodded quenching a strong desire of running after Dumbledore. He just wanted to make sure Snape wasn't harmed in any way.
Dumbledore did not show how worried he was until he descended the last step of kitchen. The fear of losing Severus made him so anxious that he almost burst with a relief when he saw Severus standing near the dining table.
"Severus" he prompted searching the tall wizard clad in his usual black robes for any injuries.
Severus knew the gentle caring look. It always made him uncomfortably aware of the fact that Dumbledore was much more than his employer or mentor.
"I'm fine Albus," he said when nothing came from Dumbledore. "It was a very brief meeting," he further added.
Once satisfied with his inspection Dumbledore asked, "What he wants?"
"Potter's whereabouts, the obvious demand" Severus answered remembering the sick feeling he had when Voldemort asked him about Harry.
"And what did you tell him?" Dumbledore queried with interest.
"The usual answer that you are hiding Potter at a secure location which I do not know about," he informed. "There is something else," he added after a pause. "He wants my expertise to brew an anonymous potion of his own invention which alone says I should not be brewing it." He removed a parchment from his rob pocket, unfolded it and gave it to Dumbledore, who read the contents carefully. It was a list of ingredients with brewing instructions.
"I never doubted Tom's brilliance" Dumbledore said when he finished the reading.
The sudden praise startled Severus. "Which is why, I think he has given me an incomplete list of ingredients, a recipe for some potion base which I guess he will modify on his own to get the desired effect."
"Or maybe he is just testing your loyalty" Dumbledore said on a second thought.
"I don't think he possess that kind of patience Albus. He is too arrogant to think servants like me hold any knowledge to ruin his plans. If he thinks I'm disloyal or have no use anymore he will be happy to kill me in a blink."
Dumbledore knew there was no point in denying the truth. As much as it pained him to think of losing Severus, Dumbledore did not have any other choice.
"From these ingredients," Severus said changing the subject, "the only possible answer came to my mind was a concoction vaguely resembling to a mixture of Draught of Living Death, a Love potion and a Veritaserum."
"All these are very potent potions Severus and I fear modifying any of them will be equally terrible," said the old wizard scanning the parchment for second time. "Severus we need to find an antidote as soon as possible."
Severus was already thinking about a possible antidote. "The potion will need at least two months to mature which will give us little time to examine its properties."
"In that case I must suggest you take someone's assistance to share your duties at Hogwarts. I might have few suggestions if you like."
"We will discuss about that later" Severus dismissed the notion of having someone to intrude on his work. "Albus, there is something else I would like to share."
"Go ahead," Dumbledore seemed curious by Severus's heightened impatience.
"It's about Pettigrew," Severus informed, "tonight I'll fulfill my promise to Potter when that rat will beseech for his freedom from the trap I have planted for him"
"That's quite unforeseen!" Dumbledore said not hiding his surprise. "If you don't mind then I would like know the details."
"Sure" Severus seemed eager to share the details, "I have set the trap in room number nine at Tom's inn. However, it would be great if instead of me you will be there to face him. Just try to be there after seven."
Dumbledore gave his potion master a gratitude filled stare as he asked, "May I know how you have achieved such an unexpected fit?"
"I must say I wasn't thinking about it until I saw Pettigrew lurking around the Dark Lord apparently being there to hand me the necessary ingredients for this potion and there I got an opportunity to take a glimpse of his mind. Fortunately, what I discovered was a priceless opportunity. He had ordered to visit Borgin and Burkes this evening by Dark Lord. Once, he enters the store he will receive a particular letter, a hidden Portkey. So if everything goes well, today will be the last dementor free day of his pathetic life."
"It sounds a clever plan. But be careful with the illegal port key."
"Since ministry is too busy in watching either you or Potter I don't think they will have time to track my actions. So do not worry, just try to be present there on time. Tom will give you the key."
"Yes he will. Anyway, it had been a long time that I have tasted Tom's famous peach pie."
Ignored his mentor's evergreen love for sweets Severus focused on another significant matter. "Albus, I need your help to put some wards on my house before I move to Megan's. They will alert me in case someone try to contact me or simply intrudes."
For moment, Dumbledore could not understand Severus's request. However, when he did realize the meaning his dwindling hopes once again blossomed. In his opinion the change was certainly delightful and worthy of celebrating but knowing Severus he restrained himself from showing too much of happiness. "I must say you have chosen a perfect timing Severus. And if I'm not wrong then your first Occlumency lesson with Harry must been the catalyst."
"Yes, it was," Severus accepted the unfortunate fact. "That boy is in a dire need of support and discipline Albus. If he does not get it now I am afraid, it will be too late." On a lighter note he added, "Apart from that I found he is capable of using a memory modulation to occlude his mind."
"An interesting start then," Dumbledore commented looking impressed. "Just to curb my curiosity tell me which memory he used to trap you in?"
Severus gave his mentor an exasperating look. "The one, where he flew on a Hippogriff."
"An appropriate choice knowing his love for flying" Dumbledore said with a smile.
"Yes, I agreed, but he needed to work on his emotional involvement. He does not know how to detach himself from the memory he picked to use," Severus said trying not to show any traces of worry.
"I understand it is something unusual but I'm sure Harry will improve in no time. And off course you will be there to guide him whenever he wants."
Severus knew Dumbledore wasn't just talking about Occlumency.
"Albus, he wants me to be his guardian but what if I turned to be a disappointment like Dursleys? What if I lose myself to darkness and do something regretful?" Severus asked the questions he was dreading most.
"Severus, I don't know why you doubt yourself especially when you have a conscience to ask such questions. Truth to be told Harry has a better chance of having a meaningful future with you than anyone else. "
Though Dumbledore showed a full confidence in Severus, he did not look convinced.
"I assume Megan did not show any resistance when you informed her about your decision."
"She was skeptical at first but agreed when I told her that Potter wanted it to happen" Severus informed flatly.
"Which proves she really cares about Harry" praised Dumbledore thinking about Lily's twin sister. "But Severus it does not resolve the other aspect of your changed relationship."
"Yes, I know that. Frankly speaking, neither Megan nor I are prepared to believe it. Our acceptance will complicates everything," Severus answered truthfully.
"Yes, that will happen but that does not mean it will go away. The magic you both are dealing with is certainly a strange kind. Which also means it might be dangerous if you ignored it." Dumbledore looked concerned.
"Or maybe it will fade away if we resist enough" suggested Severus thinking about the most appropriate solution that kept coming to his mind.
"This is a blood magic Severus. Do not forget it had restored Megan's magical core. So there would be dire consequences if you tried to break it," Dumbledore said with a warning.
"Of course I know," Severus replied with frustration.
"For Harry's sake, promise me, you won't try something rash." Dumbledore demanded pinning Severus with a scrutinizing gaze.
Severus stared in disbelief. "Albus there is nothing to worry."
"Be that way then" Dumbledore asserted not extending the matter further. "If that's all then I must get going Severus."
A minute later, with a folded parchment tucked away in his robe's pocket a solemn looking Severus emerged from kitchen only to come face to face with an annoyed looking Sirius.
"Snape" he said not hiding his dislike.
"Black," Severus mimicked the sentiments scanning the room for other occupants. Though it was only Ron, Harry and Megan, still Severus did not like the idea of them waiting for his safe return. The unusual act of sympathy annoyed him. "I wasn't expecting to see you all," he said brusquely.
"Are you alright?" Megan asked ignoring Severus annoyance. She not even cared for Sirius or Ron's reaction.
"Yes, I'm" he answer.
Megan looked happy to hear the shortest reply ever. It brought a smile to her exhausted looking face.
Severus couldn't deny but it felt good to see Megan's smile. "We need to talk," he managed to say which she understood well.
"Sirius," she pleaded, "I'm sorry to say this but Harry and I really want to discuss something with Severus."
Sirius didn't like the mysterious nature of request still he nodded giving his consent.
"Thank you Sirius," Megan said gratified. "To my room" she said looking at Harry.
Harry remained mum when Ron eyed at him quizzically. He simply followed Megan and Severus until they reached to her room on second floor.
The moment they came inside Severus shut the door. On a second thought he added an imperturbable charm on it.
"Why we are here Professor?" Harry asked impatiently.
"It's regarding your guardianship Potter," Severus informed as formerly as possible.
"What is it?" Harry asked with a pounding heart.
"Your aunt has accepted my preposition," Severus informed. "She has agreed to share your guardianship with me."
Harry couldn't imagine it was happening so fast. It was just yesterday when he had revealed his desire to Snape. And now somehow Snape had managed to convince Megan too. "So now you are my guardian?" He asked incredulously.
"Not yet, but few appropriate signatures on certain papers and it will be done," Severus answered staring at Harry. He could see a mixture of emotions flashing across Harry's face. For a moment his green eyes shone with joy but next they got clouded with disbelief and pain.
Legilimency or not Megan was sensing exactly same as was Severus. However, unlike him, she did not have to guard her feelings especially when her own nephew was clearly drowning in despair.
"Harry what is wrong?" She asked gently touching his shoulder. "Don't you trust us?"
"It's not about trust Megan. It just...," he paused not knowing how to express his feelings.
"Harry, please" Megan urged trying to understand.
For moment Harry looked away hiding his fear of striking down by yet another disappointment.
"Potter," the call was neither gentle nor harsh; nonetheless, it caught Harry's attention. "It's natural to have doubts about unknown but that doesn't necessarily means you have to share the burden alone."
Megan didn't know how to phrase it but Severus definitely had a way to make Harry listen.
"I'm sorry," whispered Harry. "Right now everything seems like a dream. I fear it will shatter once I woke up."
Megan couldn't bear it anymore. "Harry, this is real" she assured holding his hands in her own. "Can't you feel my hands" she whispered tightening her hold. "They are warm, aren't they?" She asked letting the feeling of warmth flew through her.
It took few seconds to register but finally it worked. Harry came out of his stupor as he felt the warmth. 'They are soft' he noticed with smile.
"Oh Harry," Megan said sealing the moment with hug that promised to absorb all of his worries and doubts.
Just from a foot away Severus watched the heartening scene. The nonchalant part of him felt out of space but the other part savor the happy moment. He even felt grateful for having Megan with Harry to heal the damages inflicted by Petunia and her idiot husband.
Megan didn't want to end the hug but Harry started to wriggle and finally escaped.
"So what now?" He asked little embarrassed.
"Severus has some plans," she suggested with a smile.
"Right," Harry replied not looking thrilled by the prospect.
"Potter, I'll be staying with you and Megan for the rest of the summer," Severus informed.
"What about Sirius? How we are going to convince him?" Harry asked remembering the way his godfather had been scrutinizing Megan just an hour ago for being with Shape.
"That has to wait until Black gets his freedom and family back."
Severus gave a succinct reply but Harry did not look convinced. He knew there had been something else that Severus was not telling him. "Did you catch Pettigrew?" Harry asked following his instinct.
"Not yet" Severus answered with sigh thinking about the rat that was fooling all of them for more than a decade, "but very soon he will be in Dumbledore's custody."
"And when that happened I want to see him," Megan said icily.
The tone surprised Harry and Severus.
"Why?" Harry asked puzzled. The last time when he talked to her about Pettigrew she wasn't this volatile.
"I want to ask, what he gained by selling Lily and James' lives to that monster," she explained looking determined.
"No, you should not" Severus objected. "It's too perilous to declare your presence this early. And apart from that planning for any kind of revenge will jeopardize everything. It might cost Black his freedom." Severus couldn't believe he just dissuaded Megan for Sirius's sake.
"He is right" Harry conceded. "It's a bad idea Megan. Pettigrew is sneaky and dangerous. In graveyard he ..." the words froze as he remembered the green flash.
The sudden pause puzzled Megan but not Severus. He had pretty good idea about Harry's struggle. He knew exactly what transpired in graveyard on the night of Voldemort's resurrection. When his mark flared on that dreadful night, he knew Voldemort had returned. Then, within an hour, his fears confirmed when a bloodied Harry turned up clutching Cedric's lifeless body. The ghastly sight shook Severus to core. It brought a storm of terrible feelings and it didn't settle until Dumbledore took control of situation. The aftermath was blur of revelations and decisions. The events were so unsettling that in retrospect for the remaining school days he halted his hostility towards all students including Harry. For first time in four years he left harry unattended with hope that he would get over with the mourning. But now, watching Harry fumbled for wards made him realized it was a mistake. Harry was clearly grieving; he was still hurting and did not stop beating himself for Cedric's death.
"Potter," Severus called for second time, "it wasn't your fault that Diggory had died in graveyard." The spot on remark caught Harry off guard.
"It was dark lord's doing not yours." Severus said firmly but Harry objected. "No, that's not correct. Cedric would have been still alive if I did not have insisted that we touch the cup together. It was entirely my fault; first my parents and now Cedric. They all are dead because of me."
"Potter, be reasonable" Severus argued impatiently, "they all took circumstantial decisions on their own risk without knowing their fates. And for Merlin's sake we all know it wasn't you holding the wand to kill them. So stop wallowing in self-pity."
"Severus that's crude," Megan intervened, "but indeed it's the truth" she added turning to Harry. "I'm not saying its easy Harry, but don't you think it's futile to feel responsible for something that is out of your control."
For a moment, Harry felt conflicted. In last two months, neither he talked voluntarily nor did anyone else addressed the subject with such clarity. For first time in a very long time he felt composed enough to ask something that was nagging him relentlessly. "If I'm not to blame then why no one trusted me when I told them it was Voldemort who ordered Pettigrew to murder Cedric," he gave Megan a stubborn look before adding. "I know what those papers say about me. They think I'm some lunatic, who killed my fellow student for some rubbish trophy."
"Harry" Megan said helplessly. She didn't know what to say to her teenage nephew.
"Potter, don't dramatize the situation. It is mere the matter of patience. Soon the Dark Lord will lose his patience and will show up to flaunt his power. Moreover, when this will happen people will know who was lying to them. They will know the truth."
Though frustrating the suggestion had some merit. "But that's unfair. And I don't understand why we are waiting for. I mean you have seen him just few hours ago. Can't we just do something and drag him out from his hideout. "
"Ha… the Gryffindors!" Severus couldn't control the sarcastic remarks. "Do you think Dark Lord is that stupid Potter?"
Harry glared at Severus. "I think he is and you'll see when we catch him," Harry said annoyed .
The threat did it. In a fraction of seconds Harry found a livid Snape towering over him with a throbbing vain beating at his temple.
"Potter" Severus hissed "a simple whiff of you plotting something that involves Dark Lord and I'll make sure you'll be scrubbing every inch of Slytherin dungeons until you graduate from Hogwarts."
"That's…" Harry opened his mouth in protest but Severus cut him off by saying "Oh and I will not hesitate to declare that I'm your new guardian."
"No, you won't" Harry almost had a panic attack. The though was insane. "I was kidding, just checking whether you still want to be my guardian or not."
The cheeky comment did more harm than good as Harry earned a peevish look not only from Severus but from Megan too.
"Harry, being funny is not helping" Megan rebuked remembering the mind numbing stories of Harry's past adventures she had heard from Remus and Mrs. Weasley. And that was the main reason she didn't feel bothered by Severus's volatile reaction. For that moment, she made it her mission to instill some self-worth in her nephew. "Harry, what you need to understand is you're not alone anymore which means you can rely on us for anything without worrying for something that is not your responsibility. In other words I want you to live a very long and happy life."
Harry felt guilty for upsetting Megan but that also gave him an opportunity to achieve something. "Fine" he replied pretending to be annoyed, "I won't risk my life anymore only if you decide not to visit Pettigrew" he bargained as seriously as possible.
The sudden tone of negotiation took Severus by surprise. Had not he observed Harry keenly he would have missed Harry's ability of pulling something so Slytherinish. The slight piece of knowledge elated his interest.
Unaware of Severus scrutiny Megan reached to a quick decision. "Deal," she agreed without hesitation.
Satisfied with his achievement Harry gave her a delighted smile but it faded the moment his eyes strayed towards Severus.
"Damn, he knew it," Harry cursed watching a slow smirk appeared on his guardian's face.