Harry would have given almost anything to stay in the quiet quarters of Hermione's room, to sit there in peace and listen to her sleep, maybe even nod off himself in a chair.
But . . .
He made his way downstairs, ignoring the asides from the nosy portrait that wanted to know what the fuss was now.
Outside the dining room door, he stopped, listening to the raised voices inside.
"You always say that!" Narcissa insisted.
"I do not," Snape's voice was more tired than upset, but he went on, "I have said it only twice since you've been here."
"That's two times too many! You need to be decisive and firm about your choices."
"I have made decisions and stuck by them. Just because the choice isn't one you'd make doesn't mean I don't make them and that I'm not justified."
"What? How many negatives can you use in a sentence?"
Harry craned to look in the doorway. Narcissa stood in the middle of the room, gesturing, while Snape was rock-still with arms crossed.
"We are in this awful situation because you . . ." Narcissa tsked between her teeth, not wanting to finish.
"Go on," Snape urged, face hard and rigid. "Say it. Because I'm a coward. That's what you meant."
"I did not call you a coward."
"But I'm acting like one?"
"No, you're avoiding the situation. You're letting the world just happen to you, exactly like you did at that blasted school."
"You can swear in here, darling," Snape was dry, almost sarcastic. "They aren't going to take away your ice queen status if you use profanity."
"Don't you try to distract me. I won't be swayed by your spy powers or your deflections to get someone off-topic. And that is cowardly."
"So I am a coward? I'm sorry I'm not the relentless bully your husband was -"
"No," her voice was strained, hurt. "You don't get to do that. I chose you and I -"
Snape moved, holding up a hand to caution her. "Harry?" he said in a stern tone.
Harry stepped into the dining room. He wasn't sure what to say but the words fell from him before he knew he had opened his mouth,
"Please don't fight."
To his surprise, Narcissa seemed to relax, almost smile. "We're allowed to fight occasionally."
Harry looked at Snape, but Narcissa went on,
"You have friends you love, yes? Do you ever fight with them? People have disagreements and it's better to talk about them than let them fester. And that's from two adults who let their problems fester for years."
"Are you going to keep fighting once I'm going?" Harry asked, trying to ignore the frantic racing of his heart. He wasn't sure why, but suddenly walking in on a quarrel between Snape and Narcissa made him sick.
"That's none of your business," Snape said in a tone that brooked no reply.
The sickening feeling didn't stop.
Narcissa let out a huff. "Stop looking so severe. You and I are the closest thing this boy has to real parents, and it's the first time he's seen Mum and Dad fight. Let him feel traumatized and then maybe he'll help clean up this mess."
She gestured to the shambles of the room, broken and crooked throughout. Dust and glass lay all over the floor along with pieces of the shattered chairs.
"I'll fix it, I'll do it all, just don't fi-" Harry didn't dare look at Snape. "Just – um, think about something else."
Narcissa turned to Snape, her eyes wide and exasperated. "I do not understand how you let this boy run wild and careless through your life and your home when he is the easiest thing to manage. All he wants is someone to explain the world so it makes sense and to tell him what to do. He's playing that sad orphan bit again, but only because he doesn't know how to behave as a proper young man should. Men make messes of the simplest things."
She picked up several pieces of chair, ignoring Snape who swelled with indignation.
"Simple?! You weren't here last year to see him act out."
"Ha," she kept clearing, not bothering to look back at Snape who followed after her. "Excuses and avoidance from you. You will talk about anything but the actual problem. You took in one the most powerful wizards in the world and then pretended like he was a silly Squib. All these punishments and schedules, sending him to bed like a five-year-old, while you were planning to sacrifice yourself to save him."
Harry watched her, not even blinking for fear he would miss a moment.
"I had my reasons."
"More secrets. How much could all of this been avoided if you just spoke to him honestly? You enjoy playing the puppet master, a trait you took from Dumbledore by the way, and then you're shocked when we don't all dance to your tune. You and this boy love torturing each other, keeping schemes and hidden ideas going, afraid to face the truth, and the rest of us have had enough of this foolishness."
She finally straightened and turned back to face her fiancé.
"You are the most infuriating woman I've ever met," Snape seethed.
"You forgot selfish, manipulative, and controlling," she smirked. "See? I face my flaws. Harry?"
"Yes?" Harry responded immediately.
"Stop gawking at the grown-ups and get to work."
"We're not finished," Snape warned her.
"We will fight later," she assured him, "but for now we have to present a united front for children."
Snape's fingers twitched, and he seemed unsure whether to cross his arms, keep arguing, or give up. He caught Harry looking at him.
"Well? You heard her. Get to work."
Harry nearly tripped over debris as he moved. "Should I pick up stuff or magic it repaired?"
Narcissa considered it. "You don't have a wand. You're doing all your magic wandless these days, aren't you?"
"Most wandless magic is unpredictable, too unstable. But you've been using it for months now. Severus, is that something you and Hermione would like to study? The three of you could see the extent of Harry's power, and you," to Harry, "could understand more about your magic."
Harry stared at her. The frankness of the truth, spoken without fear, cutting straight to the truth. It felt like a drink of cold water after an afternoon on the hot Ghana beach.
"Don't worry," Narcissa went on. "I'm sure you're scared, thinking you have dark magic that you can't control and might be controlling you. Would you feel better if you could know more about it all?"
"Yes," the words burst from Harry in almost a sob. "Yes, please!"
Narcissa looked at Snape.
"Do not say it," he growled.
"What?" she blinked. "I was just saying what seemed obvious. But I'm sure you figured out that most of the boy's problems are coming from the fact that he's scared. Scared he will be hurt, scared he will hurt us. But I think he can put this room back together without hurting anyone, can't you?"
"Harry," Harry said.
"I don't like being called 'the boy'. Call me Harry."
"Fair enough. If we move back, can you heal the room? Can you put it all back together without hurting us?"
Harry nodded and Narcissa moved to stand by Snape.
"Tell him something," she said quietly.
"Tell him something encouraging, something kind and supportive."
"You want him to channel magic for good. He needs to feel the goodness, feel the power of us, his family, those who care about him."
"Not an hour ago," Snape frowned, "you were saying the worst things to him."
"And he tore our world apart. I've learned my lesson."
"He tore the world apart when he thought one of his friends was dying."
"Oh, fine," Snape came to stand near Harry. A roll of the eyes, frustrated sigh, and then a hand was on Harry's shoulder.
Harry tensed; it felt like earlier when they had all held him down in the chair to contain him from –
"Calm down. Focus on what you're doing." The reluctance was obvious in Snape's voice, but it died away as he continued, "Think of those moments you've had, those bright shining moments of pure joy. Forget the anger, forget the hurt, forget it all. Remember the good."
Harry felt the warmth wash over, calm and relaxing. He slowed his breathing as he listened.
"Remember the day you came here last summer? I was frustrated with you, and I didn't like you, but that all changed. You proved that I could change. You did that."
The world was humming white, and Harry lifted up a curious hand. Little strings of light were escaping his fingers. He waved his hand back and forth, and the light danced in lazy waves.
Snape's voice was low and soothing, "I used to live here in the summer and waste away the days doing nothing. When you came, I had a reason to get up and live each day. I wasn't alone anymore."
The room began to throb, a low vibration of joy that radiated out from Harry. He imagined the glass healing over the windows, and then he watched the pieces of glass rise up to solidify between the frames of the window.
"Christmas morning," Snape's voice came from the ether of bliss. "I was so excited to get you that broom. We found it in the woods a month ago, just as clean and sharp as when I gave it to you. I have never had such a good Christmas."
The walls straightened, the table re-formed, and the chairs began to shape themselves back together.
But it wasn't enough just to fix his mistakes. He had to make it better.
A chair railing formed out of the wall, and gold twined over it. The walls, usually a creamy white, deepened into a purplish crimson. The pictures appeared, and he left the original paintings inside but changed the frames: widening the wooden into intricate designs and choosing black embossed with gold.
"He's redesigning the room!" Snape complained from far away.
"He can change it later," Narcissa could barely be heard above the pleasant hum. "Let him keep going."
"You see the good in all of us," Snape said. "Your good, kind heart is your greatest power. You can make the world a better place for all of us here. I know I was angry at you, but I wouldn't trade a minute of the time I've spent with you. The greatest part of my life has been changing into the man that you wanted as a father."
The room blossomed into light, rivets of carved flowers cascaded across the ceiling, and ornate patterns appeared in the table in sketches of lilies and narcissuses.
Harry closed his eyes and let the peace wash over him. He thought it could have done more – goblets out of crystal with ruby inlays? – but he just wanted to rest.
He came awake briefly to find someone moving him to lie flat.
"Shh," Snape was pulling up the covers over him. "Time to sleep."
Narcissa stood behind him, but Snape pulled off Harry's glasses and the world blurred so he couldn't see her expression.
She might have said something but he was under before he could hear it.
Light was on the ceiling of his bedroom when he opened his eyes.
A smile quirked on his lips. He was home and he felt wonderful. No pain, no soreness, no smell of fish or sand – just the manor in the cool morning hours of summer.
"You're awake," Draco said.
Harry lifted his head to see Draco on the other twin bed. "What? Are you back in here with me? Are you stuck to the bed again?"
"No," Draco scowled, probably at the memory of his punishment last summer, "I have my own room. We woke up earlier and we all came to look at you."
"Why? I was asleep."
"We saw what you did."
"Fixing the dining room?"
Draco let out a laugh. "Come see."
He got off the bed and went to the window. Harry followed and peered out.
The landscape around the manor was bursting with flowers and greenery. Red roses crawled up the bars of iron fence as far as Harry could see it; the flower beds, usually filled with modest shrubs and occasional feathery spray, were crammed with blooms; ivy twirled around the tree trunks, and the grass was a vivid green.
"Look, a pond grew," Draco pointed. "And it's lined with narcissuses. Is that because of my mother? She's more than a flower, mate."
Harry pulled back from the window. He sprinted towards the door and raced out, disregarding Draco's,
"Oy, I don't want to chase you."
Harry raced down the stairs and dashed into the dining room. It looked like one of those pictures out of Versailles with gold-encrusted décor and carved wood everywhere. But the room was empty so he tried the next one, a morning room where they had breakfast sometimes.
Everyone was there except Draco – Snape and Narcissa at the main round table, Hermione in a chaise lounge with a quilt over her, and Miriam pouring her tea. Gringwad sat by himself at a small table, running his gnarled hands over the design of the table.
"Ah," Gringwad grinned. "It's the Chosen One."
"If you want to eat in pajamas, at least put a robe on," Snape said.
"I'm not hungry," Harry retorted.
It was a lie that he realized too late; he was starving, especially after having eaten only a few bites of dinner the night before. People were always doing normal things like having tea or eating breakfast when he needed answers.
"Outside – the gardens and all the flowers. How did – what happened?"
"I think you did that," Narcissa spread butter over toast. "Mostly while you were asleep. Pass the marmalade, dear."
Snape handed her the jar.
"I've never seen anything so sudden and powerful in nature," Hermione held her cup of steaming tea to her chest, breathing in the fumes.
"We really must find a way to help you manage your magic." Narcissa took a bite of toast, chewed thoughtfully, and added, "Or at least understand it."
Snape pulled out a chair beside him. "Sit down and eat some breakfast. We will have normal meals here if it's the last thing we do have."
"That was meant for me," Gringwad smirked.
"Did he touch any of this food?" Harry looked over the various dishes as he sat. Draco came into the room, scowling, but sat down beside his mother.
"We already had a discussion and he promised to never poison our food again," Snape said.
"Did that include enchanting or altering our food?"
"No one will bother the food," Snape raised his voice a touch. "And that goes for you, too," pointing at Harry. "Don't think I forgot you slipping a potion in the wine last January."
"Really?" Gringwad looked up, eyes lit with delight.
"I didn't go through with it," Harry insisted to Gringwad. "I stopped him before he drank it, I didn't have him sign the contract, and I stopped myself before I signed my full name. Stopping halfway means I didn't agree to be your apprentice."
"You agreed enough," Gringwad returned.
"You lied to me and tricked me and I am not your apprentice!"
The room trembled, and the table bucked violently. Narcissa reached out to grab the clattering china.
"Enough!" Snape reached over and slapped his hand down on Harry's in quick reprimand.
The shaking stopped.
The smack had barely stung, but Harry pulled his hand up, covering it with the fingers of his un-smacked hand.
Snape pointed a finger at him. "We will not have every meal ruined by taunts, hysterics, or poisonings. The next person that interrupts a meal will spend the next week confined to their room."
Harry longed to point his own finger at Gringwad and declare, "But he started it!"
Instead, he lowered his gaze and muttered, "Sorry."
Hermione pulled the quilt off herself and stood. She glanced at Miriam, and Miriam took up a cup of tea and stood as well.
"Excuse us," Hermione murmured.
As she left, Harry saw her shoot Gringwad a look. He also stood, and the three of them went out.
Harry half-rose, but Snape shook his head.
"But where are they going?"
"That is Hermione's business. She wanted to confront Gringwad on her own terms."
"Miriam is with them."
"He poisoned her and you are going to let her talk to him. He's dangerous and evil and ruthless and – and I don't any more words for how horrible he is. I won't let him hurt her."
The table started shaking again, and Narcissa grabbed the teapot to stop the rattling lid.
Snape gave Harry the Look. The Look that always made his stomach flipflop, a silent warning from those dark eyes that he was inches away from dreaded punishment.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Harry grabbed the edge of the vibrating table. "Don't send me to my room. I'll be good – I promise."
Draco put a spoon on his plate, watching the utensil gyrate on the china as the table shook.
"You have two seconds to stop this, or you and I are going into the family room for a chat," Snape's Look intensified.
Harry's stomach did another flipflop, but thankfully the table stopped moving.
"I'm sorry, really! I don't know how to control it."
"You couldn't control it at the Ghana beach?" Narcissa asked.
"I didn't feel anything there," Harry swallowed. "I mean at night it was a nightmare, but I had to survive. Just keep going."
"Did that include forcing your father into mind talks every third night? Torturing the man within an inch of his sanity?"
Harry glanced down at the table. Apparently, Narcissa was kind and sympathetic in times of stress, but still arrogant and dismissive in the calm stretches of life. If Snape weren't there, Harry would have made the room shake again just to annoy her. But he did not want Snape and Narcissa to fight again.
"You're right, Mother," Draco commented. "He does do the sad orphan bit."
His smirk, even with his wonky, diamond-shaped eye, irritated Harry, and he did the only thing reasonable at the moment: shove Draco's shoulder.
Draco was on him in a second, shoving and pushing, and Harry fought back, careful to use no magic and only a portion of his physical strength. They tossed about the room, scuffling and growling at each other as Narcissa exclaimed,
"Boys! Stop this moment."
They ignored her.
"Monstrous," she declared. "Absolutely beastly. This is your fault," accusingly to Snape. "Draco told me you let them fight whenever he was here."
"I know how to handle them," Snape snarled.
Harry let the tussle keep going, angling his struggling foe away from the table and the cabinet full of fine china. He landed his blows mostly on Draco's arms, latching down and grabbing to keep from having to strike too many times. It felt just like it had at Christmas when he had goaded Draco into a fight, but this time he stood more upright, squaring back his shoulders.
He was right in his guess when he felt Snape grab onto the back of his pajamas – gripping the back of his neck and his left ear – and pull him off Draco.
"Stop it!" Narcissa was beside Draco, whacking him with her rolled-up napkin. "You are not an animal. You do not brawl with this boy."
"It's Harry," Draco said. "And he started it."
"Come on, Malfoy," Harry taunted, trying to keep the grin from beaming out. "I'll paint the walls red with your blood."
Narcissa's mouth dropped open. "Impossible boy. We will lock you in your room."
"It's Harry," Draco and Harry said in unison.
She glared at both of them. "We are civilized people. You can't fight with each other. Severus?"
"I've got him," Snape yanked Harry towards the door into the hallway.
Harry went willingly. He would make it up to Draco later.
Snape gave him a shake. "What is wrong with you?"
"They were being rude. And I don't like her nagging at you."
"She wasn't nagging at me."
"She's awful sometimes!"
"And you're a brat, but I'm keeping all of you." Snape gave him another stern shake. "And you ruined the meal . . ."
"Draco started it," Harry looked down and then peered up, wistfully.
"You overuse that sad orphan bit," Snape growled, but the heat had vanished from his voice. "I should punish you for brawling at the table."
"Can I have breakfast first? Please?"
"Go get your clothes on," Snape turned him towards the stairs and gave him a soft smack to get him going. "You can eat in the lab with me. We might as well start testing some of your magic. It has grown since you were last here, and we might as well know why."
Harry nodded and Apparated to his room.
Even a floor above and several rooms away, he could hear Snape bellow,
"Where did you go?"
Harry immediately Apparated back downstairs. "Er, sorry. I was trying to be quick."
"Did you Apparate?" Snape grabbed his arm. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"
"No," Harry tried to back up a pace, "I learned how to Apparate when I escaped from . . . well, just earlier. I won't do it if you don't like it."
Snape was staring, white showing around his dark irises. "For the last five months, this house has been under magical control."
"You had wards before this," Harry shrugged.
"No, not my own. The Ministry put up new barriers. No one can Apparate on or off the property. That magic is forbidden. Hermione tried once. It put her in a coma for a day."
"We Apparated here, Gringwad and me."
"You used a portkey. And it dumped you outside the gate. No portkey can be linked to anywhere inside the property."
Harry tried to look away from Snape's penetrating stare. "Uh, well, I don't know. You know my magic. It comes and goes."
The intensity of the silence loomed between them.
"It's unpredictable?" Harry ventured.
No wavering in that dark gaze.
Harry tried the wistful, sad orphan look again. "Can I still have breakfast please? I'll be very, very good."