Confident in his knowledge, Harry was pleased as he completed the test questions. His new prescription glasses made him realize how poorly his eyes were. After powering through the written portion, he felt his stomach twisting and churning as he entered the room for the practical portion of his Newts. His hands were clammy; he wiped them on his robes before shaking hands with the head examiner.
The students lined up at multiple tables covered in cauldrons filled with potions at varying stages of completion. After instructing them, Master DeVerros sat quietly in the corner.
Scrambling to read the pared-down recipes and check each cauldron, Harry tried to prioritize.
The Skele-Gro seems to need two ingredients, Chinese Chomping Cabbage and Scarab Beetles. He hated taking Skele-Gro and he hated making it.
Harry almost giggled when he saw the contents of the pewter cauldron. The Polyjuice is in the middle of its month-long process but only needs boomslang skin and finely crushed bicorn horn added over high heat for twenty seconds before being left over low heat for 24 hours.
Hiccoughing Solution required constant stirring to be completed. Sounds easy enough, he thought.
Blood-Replenishing Potion needed to be started, as only honey-water was in the silver cauldron. Reviewing the ingredients on the table, Harry saw an opportunity to create an Emergency Blood-Replenishing Potion, whose immediate effects are lifesaving but required the longer-acting Blood-Replenishing Potion to be applied within the hour. Perhaps this will impress the examiners, giving him an edge if he messes up one of the other potions. Merlin knows his attempts at Skele-Gro solutions tend to smoke more than they should.
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Ignoring his impulse to jump into the most demanding potion, he decided to start with the Polyjuice Potion. He dropped the boomslang skin into the cauldron and grabbed a mortar and pestle. Grinding the bicorn horn, Harry wandlessly cast a spell over a wooden spoon, to stir the Hiccoughing Solution slowly but then he needed his wand to perform a complicated timing charm to ensure the spoon would stir for 45 minutes.
Within a minute he had finished the current phase of Polyjuice Solution and Hiccoughing Solution, Harry couldn't help but smile. Two down and two to go.
Biting his lip, Harry grabbed his stone knife and began preparing the Chinese Chomping Cabbage as he debated if he should take the risk of creating the Emergency Blood-Replenishing Potion. He knew that Draco would be impressed but Professor Snape would rather he completed his assignment as instructed. How would these examiners feel about risk taking?
Four hours later, Harry's hair was plastered to his skull as a sheen of moisture covered his face and arms, he didn't dare guess the ratio of sweat to steam. His shoulders ached, neck sore and he was dead on his feet. Wiping away the steam on his glasses for what seemed to be the hundredth time, Harry watched as each student was judged.
Swaying slightly, he forced himself to stand tall and square his shoulders as five Ministry officials approached his table. As they looked over the five cauldrons, he saw one mans' eyes narrow as he looked at the two different Blood-Replenishing Potions.
Casting a quiet bubble around them, one of the officials nodded at him, "Mr. Potter, please explain your process in approaching each of these potions. And perhaps you can explain why you have five potions rather than four?"
Embracing life was tedious, he spent his day tending to his garden, brewing potions, and experimenting with new techniques. He pretended not to scan the sky for an owl with a letter from Draco. Well, from Potter, if he wanted to get technical. His evenings were spent cooking and reading journals from around the world. He continued his late night walks along the beach and weekly shopping trips in town.
It was along his long walk into town that he made a friend. An unlikely situation as he hadn't made a friend in decades.
Severus thought embracing life did have some merit as his new friendship with an elderly botanist grew. Their conversations were slow as Severus struggled with the local language. They traded cuttings and exchanged seeds for rare fauna while meeting at her home or the seaside cafe in town.
Breaking bread with friends was not something Severus had truly done in his past life. His childhood friendships, well, one friend really, was short lived once they entered Hogwarts. His Slytherin classmates, dining with them was an obligation.
Death Eaters weren't friends; plus he could never stomach anything around them.
His colleagues were just that, colleagues. Dumbledore and McGonagall may have thought themselves to be his friends but he knew better. Dumbledore used him, maybe worse than the Death Eaters and the fucking Dark Lord. McGonagall, well, he wasn't going to dwell as the memory of her shocked and betrayed face was never far from his mind.
The Malfoys, Severus scoffed, neither of them were his friends.
But this woman, Maia, didn't seem to have an agenda other than enjoying his company. Inviting him for tea, she chatted with him, guided him, and listened to him. She accepted his advice on her fledging cardoons and advised him on his toadstools that molded too quickly in this humid environment.
Usually, he visited her during the day but it was early evening when he found his eggplants were ready to be harvested. He didn't hesitate to pick a few of the glossy heavy plants and apparate near her cottage. His quiet knock at her door was answered by a young boy.
Severus was ushered in and surrounded by Maia's large family. Children underfoot, men and women crowding the small room, chatting. Maia greeted him from her rocking chair, "Sebastian, look at those beautiful melitzánas."
Before he could stop them, Severus was placed on the couch closest to Maia. A young woman handed him a small plate of food while a man his age placed a cup of tea in front of him. Maia asked her family to speak slower so Severus could understand them.
They included him in their rapid fire conversations, their voices booming in the small home. Dinner was a raucous affair, the kitchen counters and small table covered in platters, as each person piled their plates high, talking and laughing.
Severus hadn't felt like this before. Welcomed, accepted. Was this what family feels like, he wondered. It reminded him of the Order of the Phoenix dinners at the Black ancestral home. How the Weasleys included Remus, Sirius, and Kingsley into their family. How he had felt, yet again, like he didn't belong. Alone and unloved.
Despite schooling his face into a neutral expression, Maia must have noticed his emotional state. Offering to show him her night blooms, Maia asked him to join her in the garden.
Two of the children followed them out of the house, running ahead.
A simple stroll with no pressure from the older women allowed him to speak his mind, "I have never felt included before. Your family is lovely."
Maia nodded, taking his hand into her smaller one, "you are always welcome with us, Sebastian. I'm sure you have someone you love, that loves you"
Severus looked to the north in the night sky, his voice husky with emotion, "My godson, I've disappointed him."
A serene smile graced her face, she reached up and cupped his face, "you'll repair your relationship."
"I hope so. I've sent him a letter trying to explain myself," Severus wondered if Draco had written back or was too angry to respond.
Before he could get lost in his thoughts, Maia tugged at his hand, "Come along, I want to show you my moon flowers."
The children were hopping around bright white flowers, yelling, "γιαγιά! Look! The flowers are glowing."
Unable to stop himself, Severus smiled as he followed his friend and her grandchildren into the garden.
After a long hot shower, Harry pulled on his softest joggers and a threadbare t-shirt before falling into bed. Sleep took him quickly and he woke three hours later with drool on his pillow and serious bedhead. Stumbling downstairs, he allowed Kreacher and Gussy to mother-hen him. In the sitting room, Harry ate the hearty dinner Kreacher had made while fire-calling Andi to check on Teddy.
Andi assured him that Teddy was an angel but had fallen asleep about an hour ago, "I am very proud of you, Harry. You worked really hard and I'm sure you will receive an 'Outstanding' on your NEWTS."
Feeling his face flush at the compliment, Harry nodded jerkily at Andi, "I hope so. I think I did well enough to pass with an 'Acceptable.' Honestly, Andi, Teddy behaved at the zoo?"
A smirk tugged at her mouth, "well, he really liked the tigers but there were so many children with face paintings, and with his hat, his stripes didn't really stand out."
"Oh my God, Andi!" Harry hollered into the fireplace.
She couldn't help but laugh, "honestly, Harry. It's fine. He had a great time and no one was the wiser."
Harry groaned and dropped his head into his hands, "Andi."
"Get some rest, Harry. I'll see you in the morning," she ended the call with a jaunty little wave.
Kreacher appeared with a tea tray and wisely said nothing.
Deciding to call Hermione and Ron in the morning, Harry accoied his mobile as he laid down on the couch. He held his arm up, catching the phone as it arrived. He thumbed through his few contacts and pressed the call button.
"Hey, Simon! Can you come over tomorrow afternoon? I'd like you to meet my son."
Thanks for being patient with this story. Severus was not in the mood to be written.
In this chapter, Severus is using his new alias of Sebastian.
A few Greek words:
- γιαγιά! - YiaYia or grandmother
- Melitzánas - Eggplant
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