Chapter 17- Snape

Severus awoke early Christmas morning. In general, he was not what could normally be considered a "morning person." He much preferred the evening and late night hours. Unfortunately, his position as a professor meant that he often had to get up much earlier than he would ordinarily like. This morning was different, though.

He was like a giddy little child. His eyes cracked open even before light began to filter through his artificial window (his chambers were too deep underground to have a ireal/i window). He flicked his wand at the ceiling and the time glittered there. 5:03 a.m. Severus put his wand back under his pillow and tried to return to sleep. After tossing and turning for what he was sure was hours, but turned out to only be about ten minutes, he finally gave it up as a lost cause and just got out of bed and prepared for the day.

Since the start of the holidays, he had eschewed the use of his cloak. While the billowing garment was a staple of his professorial wardrobe, in his attempts to appear more casual, he had opted to wear only his trousers, black shirt, and waistcoat, without the outer garment. His attire was still more formal than his contemporaries, but he did not actually own anything less structured than what he currently wore, having long ago discarded anything that might make him stand out among his Death Eater counterparts. He also didn't own anything less black, though he did choose a waistcoat today that had a bit of green embroidery on the cuffs of the sleeves. That was about as festive as he was going to be able to get.

Christmas for the last few years had been rather a lonely affair. Typically, he would spend the majority of his day alone in his quarters or tending some potions, as he did most other days. At some point during the day, Dumbledore would summon him for a cup of tea and a chat, which would be followed by a gift exchange between the two, but that was the extent of his festivities. This year was decidedly different already. For the last few days, he'd sat at a table with the Weasleys and Lupin and listened to them chat, occasionally participating in the conversation himself. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he was not as inept as he'd previously thought when it came to small talk, and often found he actually enjoyed the time he spent with the other adults, particularly when they were sharing stories about Harry or the other children.

He had also watched as Harry truly demonstrated his remarkable ability to let loose and behave in a carefree way, despite the fact that he was anything ibut/i free of care. There was much teasing, horseplay, and laughter amongst Harry and his friends. He had been particularly amused by Harry's antics with the youngest Weasley on their first night. He had spent a fair amount of time observing the two in secret since Harry's true parentage was revealed, and he was beyond pleased that the girl Harry certainly harbored affections for did not appear to reject him. Quite the opposite, in fact, if rumors were to be believed. He'd heard several Gryffindors discussing an unfortunate incident involving Dean Thomas on the same day he'd observed young Miss Weasley begin treating him with cold indifference. He would be lying if he said what he saw did not please him, at least a little. Based on what he'd heard about how the Thomas boy was treating Harry, he deserved it, and more.

Snape piddled around his quarters and lab until he simply couldn't come up with anything else to do with his time. It was late enough by now that his presence should not be too much of a disturbance to the Weasleys, and Harry had said they'd likely be there early. So, he finally set out.

The sun was still not yet up, though at this time of year, it wasn't unexpected. Still, the horizon was lightening and the snow that had fallen overnight was beginning to sparkle attractively. Severus stopped once to admire it on his way up to the seventh floor. After a long, but increasingly familiar trek, he arrived outside the nondescript door. He took a deep breath and gave it a knock.

It was opened moments later by Molly Weasley, who was wearing a flower-printed apron. She greeted him with a smile.

"Happy Christmas! Welcome in. The kids aren't here yet, but I expect they'll be along shortly. I was just working on some breakfast. Come on, come on." She ushered him in the door and steered him toward the table. Lupin was seated there, nursing a cup of tea and looking bleary.

"How was your night?" Snape inquired.

"Wonderfully uneventful, if a bit cold. It snowed last night."

"Yes, I noticed," Severus replied.

Lupin took another drag from his teacup. "Thanks again for the Wolfsbane. It really makes the whole process so much more bearable."

"Think nothing of it," Severus replied again, taking a sip of the tea Molly had just deposited in front of him. Lupin only raised his own tea in reply. Severus set his cup back down and reached into his pocket, pulling out a phial, which he deposited in front of Lupin. Lupin looked at it inquisitively.

"Pepper-up?" he asked.

Severus scoffed. "Nothing so mundane as that. This is my own unique restorative brew. It should give you the energy to keep up with what will undoubtedly be a boisterous morning, without the unfortunate side effect of having smoke streaming from your ears like an overzealous teakettle for the duration."

"Thank you," Lupin said, genuinely. "I appreciate this."

"I thought Harry might appreciate if you were a little more than barely conscious today. I should also caution you that though it is highly effective, it is not particularly long lasting, and you will feel even more drowsy than you do now when it wears off."

"How long does it last?"

"Several hours. You will likely find yourself badly in need of an afternoon nap, but should be fine until then."

"Well, an afternoon nap on Christmas is hardly the worst thing I can think of. Why haven't you marketed this?"

"I have not yet remedied the shelf-life problem. That phial was brewed only last night, and the potion will be rendered inert in another 36 hours. There is more research and testing to be done."

"You made this last night? You spent your Christmas Eve brewing a potion for me, a person you don't even like, to give me energy because you knew it was a full moon last night? This is iafter/i you brewed my Wolfsbane so I would have an easier and safer transformation?" Lupin scoffed with a wry grin. "Fatherhood is making you soft. We should have poured a whole vat of revealing potion on Harry's head ages ago."

Snape hid his smirk behind his tea as he took another sip. His eyes, which remained on Lupin's, revealed nothing. They sat in easy silence for a few more minutes, Lupin slowly recovering from his difficult night with the help of Severus's potion. Before long, the other Weasleys emerged from their hideaways and joined them at the table. It was just as Molly was setting down the platters of breakfast foods that the four Hogwarts students arrived.

Ron Weasley ran immediately to the table and took the empty seat nearest the food.

"I knew I smelled bacon!" he exclaimed as he surveyed the table. Granger sat sedately next to him.

"You can't possibly have smelled anything from the tower." she retorted.

"Can, too! I can smell Mum's bacon from ianywhere/i."

"Well, now you're just being ridiculous."

"All right, stop it, you two," Molly chastised gently. "It's Christmas. Let's eat!"

The family began piling their plates with food. Severus had learned over the last few days that it was better to sit back and watch. There would still be plenty left after the frenzy died down. It was as he was watching that he noticed something odd about his son.

Harry and the young Miss Weasley had taken the only two remaining unoccupied seats at the table, which were next to each other, opposite their two friends. Their playful banter of the previous days was gone, and in its place was something else, a tentativeness. As each of them filled their plates, they kept bumping hands or elbows, then looking at each other and blushing or smiling. Something had transpired between them. Severus would have to ask Harry about it later.

He also noticed something unusual about two other Weasleys. Fred and George were not participating in the mad frenzy of plate-filling. Instead, they were whispering to each other, casting confused glances towards Ron and Hermione. He made a note to investigate that matter later, too.

Now, though, it was time to eat. The vast majority of his meals were eaten at Hogwarts and prepared by the house elves, who did an excellent job. Their cooking was nothing, however, to the homely food before him. It was simply delicious. The house elves were tasked with feeding the Hogwarts staff and students with a certain eye on the healthiness and nutrition of certain foods. That concern was abandoned in favor of flavor for this meal, and, though Severus often prided himself on maintaining a healthy body, he could not deny that the food was spectacular. He would not have wanted to eat in such a manner every day, but for a special occasion such as this, it was exactly what was needed.

They continued their meal with boisterous talk and friendly conversation in the custom of the Weasley family. He was beginning to get used to it. Finally, after all had eaten their fill (he noticed that the youngest Mister Weasley seemed to be a bottomless pit), they moved over to the tree and arranged themselves on the couches, chairs, and carpet. Arthur stoked the fire into a roaring blaze.

Severus again noticed something strange about Harry and the young Weasley girl. All four Hogwarts students had again seated themselves on the floor, but over the last few days they had come to a sort of unspoken configuration. Harry on one end, with Ron, then Hermione, then Ginny, or else the older three together with Ginny slightly apart. This time, though, they were arranged differently. Harry still sat next to Ron, who sat beside Hermione, but Ginny had scooted in right next to Harry. They smiled shyly at each other again.

Yes. Something was definitely going on there.

"I was going to say something about Potters and redheads, but I suppose I should say iSnapes/i and redheads instead, eh?" a rough voice whispered from his left. He turned to see Lupin hovering over his shoulder, looking decidedly less peaked than he had before the meal.

"Apparently. At least I am not the only one to have noticed," Severus replied in a hushed voice. The two shared a small smile before Lupin moved away to take a seat next to Bill Weasley.

Arther returned to the group and began handing out gifts to the assembled family and friends. In moments, the sounds of ripping paper and exclamations of joy and gratitude filled the room. Even Severus was not left out. To his surprise, he was handed a small stack of gifts bearing labels from Lupin, Molly and Arthur, Dumbledore, and Harry. This last one he tucked away until later.

Exclamations of delight soon followed, along with hearty thanks to the giver of each gift. Severus was pleased when Arthur thanked him for the muggle chemistry set Severus had gifted him. He had worried that the man might find it juvenile or patronizing, but Harry had assured him Arthur would love it, and it appeared that Harry had been right.

Sooner than he could have anticipated, the gift exchange was complete. Molly waved her wand and vanished the scraps of paper off the floor as everyone sat back to enjoy their new treasures. Snape thumbed through a defense book Lupin had gifted him and tuned out the chatter for a while.

Severus truly couldn't recall the last time he had felt so content amid so much chaos, but he truly did. Though he would have gotten significantly more reading done in the quiet of his quarters, he had remarkably little desire to go back there and be alone on a day such as this. For the first time in ages, he was quite happy to be interrupted. And he was interrupted. Constantly. Lupin talked with him for a while, then the Weasley parents. He even spoke to Bill at length about curse breaking and a special project he had recently begun working on, and they both lamented the fact that the average wizard seemed to care very little for the quality of their wards and protective charms. Severus did not share how he came to have experience with this topic, but he rather suspected the younger man knew anyway. In fact, Severus abruptly came to realize that there was actually very little age difference between himself and the oldest Weasley child. Though he had taught Bill during his time at Hogwarts, it had been right at the beginning of his career when he was still just barely out of school himself. Now that both were adults, the ten-year age gap seemed significantly less dramatic and Severus found Bill to be an excellent conversationalist and quite sharp witted. Aside from Lupin, with whom Severus had an immensely complicated history, Bill had probably become his preferred conversation partner.

The house elves provided a light lunch, after which people began excusing themselves to take a stroll around the grounds and enjoy the snow, or, in Lupin's case, a much-needed nap. Severus capitalized on this moment, and took Harry aside.

"Would you care to join me for a while?" Severus asked, "I do not wish to pull you away from your friends, but I have something I'd like to give you in private."

"Sure," Harry said. "It's no problem. Let me just go tell them where I'm going, okay?"

Severus nodded, and Harry trotted off. He returned shortly and the two set off together towards the deeper parts of the castle. After a while, they came to Severus's office door, which he opened for Harry. The young man headed for his usual seat in front of the desk, but Severus stopped him short.

"I thought we'd go somewhere a little less business-like, today. This way, please." Snape opened a previously unnoticed door and led Harry through into his living quarters.

Severus's quarters were rather austere. The door opened into a sitting room with a small kitchenette attached. There were two doors leading off this room, one to a bathroom, and the other to Snape's bedroom. The sitting room was well furnished in dark woods and rich emerald and silver upholstery. The snake motif was absent, but the Slytherin color scheme was carried through. The room was obviously occupied by a bachelor, as it was absent of scented candles, flowers, or other soft, feminine touches. The emphasis instead was placed on books and potions. Even here, in Severus's personal quarters, he had a cauldron simmering in the corner of the kitchen, which tended to be used primarily for the brewing of potions rather than the preparation of food. Despite being deep underground, the room was deceptively well-lit. Severus wouldn't say he'd characterize his space as "inviting," but he'd never really had anyone worth inviting, anyway. It was comfortable for him, and that was all that had mattered, until recently.

There was one item in the room that definitely felt a little incongruous. In the corner, near the fire, stood a small Christmas tree, no taller than Severus himself, hung with thin silver garland and mercurial baubles that slowly shifted magically from simple spheres to more ornate teardrops or icicles or other shapes Severus didn't have a name for. He'd never set up a Christmas tree, before, but then again, he'd never had someone to share it with, before, either.

"Is this where you live?" Harry asked as Severus gestured for him to take a seat. Severus bustled into the kitchen and set a kettle on the stove.

"For most of the year. I maintain a residence outside the school for the summer months on a street called Spinner's End. I am unable to return there, though, now that our kinship has been exposed."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"I am not. It was my childhood home and I had few happy memories there. Any possessions of value have long since been moved here to Hogwarts where I could better safeguard them during the school year, and I only kept the house so that I could have a place to conduct Death Eater business, it being unsafe to meet such folk at Hogwarts."

"Oh. Well, all right, then. But, I don't think I've ever asked, actually, but what about your parents? If you live in the house you grew up in, where do they live?"

"My mother passed away many years ago, shortly after I graduated Hogwarts. My father moved away after that, and I did not hear from him for some time. Our relationship was problematic, as I have mentioned. A few years ago, I believe it was the year before you came to Hogwarts, he died."

"I'm sorry."

"Do not be. It is not your burden to bear. You did not know them. My mother had been ill for some time. Her death was a release from sickness both of body and of spirit. My father had been admitted to a psychiatric facility for treatment of severe manic depression and bipolar disorder, but broke out after only a few weeks and got so drunk that he wandered right into the path of an oncoming car. If he had accepted treatment it would never have happened, but his addiction was the defining characteristic of his life, at least as far as I knew. My mother swore he had redeeming qualities once, but I never saw them."

"So, I still have no living grandparents."

"No. I am sorry, you do not, though I would not introduce you to my parents even were they still alive. However, this maudlin conversation is not why I brought you here, and is inappropriate for the occasion. It is Christmas."

"Yeah, but Christmas is supposed to be about family, right? So, I'm just trying to figure mine out."

"I understand, Harry, but you are not entirely correct. Christmas is about fellowship. Most choose to share the time with their families, but it can be spent equally joyfully among friends. My family is not a topic that will increase our joy, so we should spend our time on more pleasant subjects." Severus set two cups of tea down on the low table in front of them. He took one for himself and leaned back in his chair. "Tell me, what has transpired between you and the young Miss Weasley?"

Severus hid his smirk behind his cup as he took a sip, chuckling internally as Harry nearly spilled the hot liquid in surprise at the question.

"Er, I don't know what you're talking about," Harry said, as he took a sip, eyes darting to the side, avoiding Severus's gaze.

"It is a wonder I ever thought you could be lying to me when you are clearly so unskilled at it," Snape mused, teasingly. "It was clear to me that there was an awkwardness between the two of you that was not there previously. Tell me about it."

"What if I don't want to?"

"Then do not. I am your father, not your minder. I am simply inquiring about the developments in your life."

Harry sighed and appeared to contemplate for a moment. He set down his tea.

"We haven't really had tons of time to talk about it, is the thing. But, well, last night, Fred and George walked back to the tower with Bill and us, and they were goofing around, like always, sticking their heads through the portrait hole and pretending to cry and all that. But we thought they were just being silly, and laughed it off and went inside. Ron and Hermione went up to their dorms, but I had to pick up some books I'd left on the table, so it was just me and Ginny in the common room, and suddenly she asked me to help her. She was stuck just inside the portrait hole. Fred and George, at least we iassume/i it was them, had stuck some trick mistletoe above the portrait hole, and she couldn't move until someone kissed her. So, I did. Sort of. I mean, she kissed me first, because I went to try and iFinite/i her out of it, then we were iboth/i stuck, so we didn't really have much choice, but also, I iwould/i have kissed her first except she didn't give me time to. And then we kissed again, and it was...brilliant, actually, and now, I guess we're together. But that's the bit we haven't really talked about. We've been with her family all day. It just didn't seem like the right time, so, I dunno. Maybe we're not? Maybe it was just a kiss? Or well, two kisses, but...I really don't know."

"I see. Do you regularly go around kissing people you do not intend to date?"

"What? No!"

"Does Miss Weasley?"

"No! Not as far as I know, anyway."

"Then why would you assume she would start now?"

"I...I dunno."

"Did she indicate in any way that she did not desire a relationship with you?"

"I don't think so."

"Then there you go. You should still talk to her, of course, but I do not think you need to worry about it overmuch." Severus nodded. "You may find this difficult to believe, but I often watch you and your friends when you are in the Great Hall. It has been clear to me for some time that the two of you harbor affection for each other."

"Really? Bugger. I thought I was doing a good job hiding it."

"Perhaps to the casual observer, but I am your father. For better or worse, there are things about my character that have manifested in you. One of them appears to be a weakness for strong-willed redheads."

"Sirius used to say it was a Potter thing. 'Potters and redheads,' he would say."

Severus scoffed at the familiar phrase. "Potter's mother was half-Vietnamese and certainly not a redhead."

"Really? I always wondered about that!"

"Indeed. Given that he lived with them, Sirius was well aware of this. I've no idea what that mongrel was talking about. My father, on the other hand, always insisted my mother keep her hair colored red. In fact, I did not know she was not a natural redhead until she grew too ill to maintain the color-changing charm. Though this thoroughly disgusted me, by then, I was already besotted with your mother, and there was no going back from that. So, as strange as it may seem, it truly is something about Snapes and redheads."

"Huh. Interesting." Harry took another drink of his tea and appeared to think for a moment. "You really think Ginny actually fancies me, though?"

"I do. Perhaps her actions may not seem as overt to you, but she behaves differently with you than with any of her other friends, and she has many other friends with which to compare. Do not lose confidence."

"Thanks. I… That…" he appeared to struggle for his words, "I actually feel better about that, now." Harry smiled tentatively.

Severus smiled in return.

"Good. Now, I have a gift for you."

"Really?"

"Of course. Did you think I had not gotten you anything?"

"I don't know. There wasn't anything for me from you under the tree at the Warren, but I didn't really know what that meant."

"Harry, I know much of this is still quite new, but I am your father and I have sixteen years of missed Christmases to make up for. I am not likely to miss another."

"I just thought maybe you weren't that into Christmas, or something."

"Ordinarily, I am not. But I find it to be quite an enjoyable holiday when spent in the right company. Here."

Severus waved his wand and a package came floating out from beneath the tree to land on the coffee table in front of Harry, skillfully avoiding the half-full teacup as it landed. It was a modestly sized box wrapped neatly in shiny green paper. Harry gave Severus a look as if to say, "may I?" and Severus nodded his head. Harry ripped open the side and slid his hand under the paper across the top of the box, effectively tearing it in half. He pulled the paper off the sides and pulled the lid off the box and peered inside.

"It's bigger on the inside!"

"Of course it is. Why should the size of the box offer any clue as to its contents?"

"But the boxes from the Weasleys are never bigger inside."

Severus tapped his finger against his temple. "Perhaps the only benefit of being a spy is that you do learn quite a few useful tricks."

Harry chuckled quietly and began lifting things out of the box. The first was an envelope, which he set on the table. The second was a set of robes, black, of course, and well made. These Harry inspected before folding neatly and setting aside. The third and final object in the box was a photo album. This, Harry opened immediately and began looking through it.

The album, Severus knew, was filled with pictures of himself and Lily as children and teens, up until the point Lily could no longer tolerate his presence. He had even managed to unearth the one roll of film from a day in the park together as adults. Lily had been reluctant to be photographed, but Severus had promised to keep the roll hidden away and undeveloped, so Lily had grudgingly consented. These were the only pictures of them together after Hogwarts, the only proof that they were more to each other than sworn enemies. After a while, Harry looked at Severus, tears shining in the corners of his eyes.

"Thank you," the boy said.

"You are quite welcome."

Harry sniffed and wiped a sleeve across his eyes, blinking hard to keep the tears from flowing. He shook himself.

"Did you open yours?" he asked Severus.

"Well you haven't finished with yours, yet," he replied.

"What?" Harry looked curiously down into the box, reaching his hand in and feeling all the corners. Severus gestured to the envelope on the table, and Harry grabbed it. "Right. Forgot about this." He opened it quickly, careful not to tear whatever was inside, which turned out to be a small slip of paper. He examined it closely.

"What is this?" he asked, finally.

"What does it say it is?"

"A voucher for Madam Malkins. But it doesn't say for how much."

"For however much is required."

"I don't understand. You already bought me robes," Harry gestured to the set folded neatly on the table.

"Those fit within Hogwarts dress code and are suitable for such use. However, it has not escaped my notice that you are also in need of clothes for other occasions. Madam Malkins has a wide selection of robes from which you can select other clothes to wear when you are not in class. I believe you will be able to find items you will like. I am also aware that you are in need of muggle clothing, but I do not, at this time, have access to such things, as Dumbledore has still not permitted me to leave the castle. Rest assured that I will also provide those items for you as soon as I am able. For now, we will complete a mail order from Madam Malkins, and the rest we will acquire at a later date."

Harry fiddled with the voucher for a moment.

"I have money, you know. You don't have to do this."

"Indeed, I am aware of your financial situation. However, as I have reminded you now on several occasions, I am your father. It is the role of the father to provide for his children. You are my son. This is as it should be."

"I don't want this to be like some sort of checklist. 'Oh, I bought Harry clothes, check!'"

Severus leaned forward.

"Harry, this is not a checklist. I am not simply following a recipe. Yes, it is what is meant to be done, but it is also what I iwant/i to do. I know the sort of clothes you have been given by the Dursleys and that they are unfit to be worn, much less in a public setting. For reasons I cannot understand, you have also chosen to purchase only the minimum requirement of clothing for each school year. You have nothing to wear except school robes and the occasional jumper, which I assume was provided for you by Mrs. Weasley."

"So you're embarrassed about my clothes, is that it?"

"No. That is not at all what I said."

"It's what it sounded like."

"You are becoming defensive. Stop."

"Why should I?"

"Because you have entirely missed the point!" Severus threw his hands in the air. "I am not ashamed of the clothes you wear! I do not care if you choose to wear your Hogwarts uniform day in and day out. I simply wish you to have the ichoice/i! Your stubborn pride makes you think you do not need more than the bare minimum, but life cannot always be about needs alone. Life must also be about what you iwant/i. Choose some clothing, or do not, the choice is yours. I will hear no further argument about it."

Severus sat back in his seat with a huff and turned his face from Harry's. He could feel the flush in his cheeks. Despite their improved relationship, there were times they still got under each other's skin. He understood Harry's reluctance. He'd been conditioned his entire life to survive on his own, to live with and thrive on whatever he could scrounge up, to make the best of whatever he had, because he was unlikely to get anything else. It would take much work on Severus's part to change those mindsets, if even he could. There was value in grit and independence, yes, but there was also value in trust and interdependence. They existed best when balanced, and Harry did not have a balance.

Of course, if Severus was being truly honest, he didn't really have a balance, either. He knew from years of working with children that an inability to rely on others was a common symptom of an upbringing within a broken home. He was not so bullheaded that he could not see the connection to his own life. He felt it was rather too late for him, though. He'd had nearly thirty-seven years of fending for himself. He was a fully grown adult. Harry was young. There was still hope for Harry, but Severus feared his life would forever be weighted on the side of self-sufficiency.

He was broken from his reflections by a resigned sigh.

"Send the catalog up to my dorm. I'll look through it later."

Severus merely nodded. He figured that was as close to an apology and acceptance as he was likely to get. He truly hadn't expected such an adverse reaction from the boy, but he was quickly learning that Harry defied his expectations at every turn, often in good ways, but sometimes in bad ones.

"Did you like the gift I got you?" Harry asked, stacking his gifts back inside their box and replacing the lid. Severus could not help thinking the boy sounded a bit nervous.

"I confess I have not yet opened it," Severus replied as he pulled the shrunken parcel from his pocket. "I had wanted to wait until we were together."

Harry perked up at the sight of the unopened gift.

"Well, go on then. Open it."

Severus regarded the untidy scarlet package as he set it heavily upon the table. It landed with a heavy thud. It was not overly large, despite its weight, and Severus wondered what object could possibly be inside. He removed the outer layer to reveal a dark wooden box perhaps thirty centimeters on each side and half as deep. He swung open the hinged lid and stared.

Inside the box were six objects. Five of those objects were phials laid into small indentations in the box and held in place with leather ties. Each phial was empty and had a cork stopper at the top. These he glanced at only momentarily, immediately recognizing them from his own potions work. Their purpose was made clear by the presence of the second item. It was a shallow metal basin with runes inscribed around the inner edge. It was not particularly large-Severus would have been able to hold in in his hand, but he knew it would be deceptively heavy, despite its delicate appearance. After all, he had used one before.

Harry had gotten him a pensieve.

"Where did you get this?" Severus asked in awe, looking at the boy.

"I asked Dumbledore where I could get one, since I haven't exactly seen them sold in stores, and he suggested there might be one in my vault, since the Potter line is actually quite old, apparently. So, I sent a letter to Bill Weasley, who gave it to some goblin accounts manager there, who wrote me back and said there was one and did I want to withdraw it. I said I did, and Bill picked it up and brought it to me when he arrived for the holidays. I was a bit worried they wouldn't let me have it, since I'm not iactually/i a Potter, but Bill said that since my mum was married to James, and he itechnically/i died before she did and left no will stating otherwise, all his possessions automatically passed to her. And then when she died without a will, they automatically went to her descendant, which is still me, so the vault is still mine. I hope it's okay that the pensieve is a Potter family heirloom, or whatever, because I know how you didn't really like the Potter family, but I didn't know where else to get a pensieve and I really thought you'd like it. Is it okay?"

"It's magnificent, thank you. In truth, I had no quarrel with the Potter ifamily/ijust one Potter in particular. I actually had a chance encounter with James's parents once in Diagon Alley and found them to be perfectly pleasant people, excepting that they doted on James overmuch, which was part of his problem. Truly, this is a breathtaking gift and far beyond what I could ever have imagined receiving. Though, I must ask: are you sure you would not rather keep it for yourself? This is not the sort of object that is given away lightly."

'I know that. But, well, listen: I had no clue what to get you, but I knew I really enjoyed when you would tell stories about my mum and you when you were younger. So, I thought it might be fun if we could actually see those memories sometime. Together, you know? And it's not like I'm giving it to just anyone. I'm giving it to my father."

Severus blinked owlishly. Though he had called himself Harry's father many times, the boy had not done so. To hear him speak it so plainly caused Severus's heart to constrict in a way that made him feel curiously warm. He could not help the smile that spread across his face.

"Then I thank you, son. I will cherish this gift and we will do exactly as you have suggested and share some memories of your mother when she was younger. Would you like to do one now, in fact?"

"Really?"

"Why not?"

"Yeah, that'd be brilliant."

Severus selected a strand of memory and deposited it into the pensieve. They spent a few pleasant hours watching memories and enjoying each other's company. And when Severus suggested parting ways so Harry could meet up with his friends for dinner, Severus noticed, for the first time, a slight reluctance in the boy. Harry seemed to hesitate.

"Is something the matter, Harry?" Severus asked.

"No. Not really. It's just...I've had a really good time today."

"As have I."

"And I keep noticing, well…" Harry shuffled from foot to foot and rubbed the back of his head. He sighed and tipped his head back. Then he seemed to gather his resolve as he looked at Severus more squarely, but still a bit unsure. "I don't know what to call you," he said.

"What would you like to call me?"

"I don't know. 'Professor' and 'Sir' are fine when we're in class, I guess, but I...I don't feel right about that when we're outside class. And 'Snape' is how I referred to you when I hated you, so it feels weird, too. It used to not bother me, but lately it does, sort of. But calling you 'father' reminds me of Malfoy, and I just...ugh." He shivered. "No."

"Harry, you may call me whatever you like. 'Father' is acceptable, though I can understand why it may not be your preference. 'Dad' is commonly used, as well, though I understand if you are not comfortable with this. You may refer to me by my given name, Severus, if you prefer. Though I would ask you to continue to refer to me as 'Professor' or 'Sir' when we are in the classroom."

"Would you be disappointed if I didn't call you 'Dad?'"

"I have not been a dad to you for sixteen years of your life. Worse, for several of those years we viewed each other as enemies. I would never expect you to call me 'Dad' after such an occurrence. If, one day, you choose to do so, I would welcome it. But, for now, 'Severus' will do just fine."

"And you won't be offended?"

"No. In truth, I do not yet consider myself worthy of being called 'Dad' by you. I have done very little to earn such a title, and I do not feel you are ready to bestow it upon me. That is all right. We are kin, though, and I agree that it feels too impersonal for you to continue to address me in only a professional way. I have called you 'Harry' for some time now. I allow my close friends to call me 'Severus,' so you may do so as well. Though, now I must ask: does it bother you when I call you 'son?'"

"No. It's what I am. I am your son. And I'm not saying I want to hide that, it's just...I know James Potter wasn't my dad. And I don't think of him that way anymore. But I just don't think I'm ready to call iyou /i'Dad' yet. Not directly. Maybe someday, but not today."

"That is fine. As we have done from the beginning, we will take it one day at a time. For today, I think 'Severus' is a good middle ground. Is this acceptable?"

"Yeah, thanks...Severus." Harry's face did a weird twitch as he said it. "It's weird, but I'll get used to it. I should go now, though, or I won't be able to drop these in my dorm before dinner." He gestured to the package under his arm.

"Go on. I will see you in the Great Hall, soon. And Harry?"

"Yeah?" he said as he turned around in the doorway.

"Good luck with Miss Weasley."

Harry blushed and lowered his head, but Severus could see a smile on his face.

"Thanks," he muttered, and fairly scampered through Severus's door. Or he would have, except he stopped short with a confused look on his face as he turned his head back and forth in the doorway.

"This isn't your office. Did I use the wrong door?"

"My quarters can be accessed from the corridor or my office, but they are both accessed through the same doorway and the door opens to both locations, based on where you need to go. It can be confusing at first. If you turn left out the door and then right at the end of the corridor, you will recognize your surroundings."

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

And with that, Harry left and the door swung shut behind him. Severus let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Being a father was not an easy task, especially to a highly independent, moody, sixteen year-old boy with a hero complex, but Severus found that he strangely enjoyed it. He surveyed the room. Scraps of wrapping paper still littered the coffee table, along with the empty tea cups. The room looked more lived-in than Severus had ever seen it, but it also felt, for perhaps the first time, like it could truly be a home.


A/N: Merry Christmas (in March?)!

I just finished writing Chapter 19, so I figured I'd post another chapter in celebration! By my calculations, this story will run about 22 chapters, so we're getting nearer to the end. I know it doesn't seem that way, but in true JKR fashion, we're coming up on a couple decent time skips, so hold on to your hats.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter! So warm and fuzzy. Is Harry acting a bit young for his age? Perhaps, but this is something often happens in foster situations, actually, which is not dissimilar from what's happening here, so I'm going with it.

I definitely can't promise another chapter as quickly as this one came, but I have a couple more days before I return to work and the writing bug is still biting at me, so we'll see what I accomplish. Plus, I'm nearing the end of the story, which makes it difficult to stop writing. But right now I REALLY need to make dinner for my family before they revolt and start thinking about eating ME. Bye-bye!