"He has your eyes, my dear."
Lily smiled proudly. "I know. But the rest of him is all James."
Albus Dumbledore looked at her with kindly eyes. "So it would appear."
Lily blinked. Was there some hidden meaning behind that mild comment? It was so difficult to tell what was going on behind the powerful old wizard's eyes. "Er, James will be home soon. Do you want to wait for him?"
Dumbledore looked up from Harry's widely yawning face. "I'm afraid there's no time to wait, Lily," he said sadly. "You see, there's been a prophecy."
The blood seemed to freeze in Lily's veins and she clutched the tiny socks she was sorting, sinking down onto the soft old sofa. "A prophecy?" she repeated numbly.
"I'm afraid so." Dumbledore held out a long finger and smiled when Harry grasped it with one wavering fist and attempted to stuff it into his mouth. "And you just know, those never turn out well."
"It's about Harry isn't it?"
Dumbledore lifted his gaze again and met her eyes squarely. He nodded. "Which is why I know the truth about his paternity," he continued simply. "You see there were two children the prophecy could have concerned. Two newborns. But when I performed the Paternitus Charm and realized who Harry's father is..."
"Why would you perform such a charm?" Lily gasped.
"You must trust me, Lily," Albus said softly. "When I tell you I cannot reveal the details of the prophecy."
Lily nodded, wishing desperately that James were here. "But someone knows, don't they?"
Again Dumbledore nodded, eyes sad. Harry gurgled and they both turned to look at his dear pink little face. Lily reached out and the old wizard gently passed the baby into his mother's arms.
"And his paternity has something to do with it?" Lily hugged her tiny son , eyes closing as Dumbledore nodded once more. "Oh no," she breathed shakily. "It seemed so simple at the time, so clear. James could not give me a child, and I mentioned a Muggle way of conception in such circumstances." She opened her eyes and smiled mistily at her former Headmaster. "You know what he's like when an idea takes him. It wouldn't do until he had come up with an idea for a new spell. Surrogace, he named it."
"And why exactly was this new spell performed on Severus?"
Lily shook her head. "No, Professor," she confessed. "It was Severus who performed the spell, on James. Transferring his living seed into James' body." She pressed a loving kiss on Harry's oblivious head. "My husband gave me Harry, sir. With all his love."
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes, nimble mind grasping the words and turning them over behind his eyes. "Such a spell might need the weight of blood kin behind it," he speculated quietly. "And Severus and James are cousins, related as so many old and pure families are." He studied the picture Lily made, her baby dozing against her shoulder. "And now I see why he looks more like his surrogate father than his actual one."
Lily tilted her head curiously. This was something she had often wondered herself.
Dumbledore stroked his long white beard, eyes twinkling. "Love has its own power, my dear."
Five years later:
"A prophecy," Severus Snape repeated numbly. "So that was why the Dark Lord sought them."
"And why your timely warning sent me to Lily and James that day. To whisk them into hiding."
"For all the good it did," Severus said, keeping his voice dry. Old pains no longer had the power to harm him. Or so he thought, until Dumbledore's next words.
"I knew the moment you told me Voldemort sought the Potters that your son was in danger."
Snape's heart seemed to stop in his chest. "What?"
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and gazed at him kindly. "No pretence now, Severus. I had hoped you would come to me before now about this matter."
"There is no matter," Snape said, pushing himself out of the too-soft armchair. Around the room former headmasters and mistresses stared down at him, eyes curious. He had always hated Dumbledore's study for all those insolent eyes.
"I've given you five years," Dumbledore continued relentlessly. "Five years to heal and build a life for yourself. But events move at a pace and here you are, still rootless, still wrapped in your self imposed exile."
"How dare you," Snape breathed, wrapping his dignity around him like a cloak. "Our former relationship as master and spy does not give you the right to lecture me about my life!"
"How about my role as your son's keeper?"
"Don't call him my son!" Snape almost screamed, then caught himself, biting his lip to keep the rest of the angry vitriol contained. "Do not call him my son," he whispered harshly.
"Do you deny that he was born of your seed?"
Snape shook his head, not at the words but at the memory they invoked. Lily, eyes wide, hand outstretched. James, sunburned and laconic, leaning against the door jamb in his lanky way, eyes shaded. What it must have cost him, begging for his hated cousin's seed.
"I do not deny that I granted them that favour," Snape managed to force out between clenched teeth.
"Perhaps one day you will tell me why," Dumbledore said softly. "But for now I must call young Harry your son, because that is all he is. You are all he has left."
"Then he has nothing," Snape said starkly. "I told them as I tell you. I want no child, I need no child. Once the spell was performed my part was over. I cared never to see any of them again in my life."
"When James and Lily were killed I understood why you could not come to me and enquire after the boy's safety. But surely now the truth is out between us you can ask. You can ask me about Harry."
"I don't care about Harry," Snape said, pushing that honesty between them to vie with the truth the old wizard seemed to set such store by. He turned on his heel, wanting to shake the dust of this hated old castle off his feet. He had few good memories of this place.
"He's with Muggles," Dumbledore said baldly and against his will Snape froze in his tracks. "Lily had a sister, you see. Married a Muggle and settled down to Muggle life."
"Muggles," Snape repeated, trying to come to terms with that. Then he frowned and shrugged irritably. "Well, so what?" he threw back over his shoulder. "It's not my concern."
"If not your concern then whose?" Dumbledore said at his side and Snape spun, holding one hand to his pounding heart. He'd always hated the way the old wizard could do that.
"I don't take orders from you or anyone any more," Snape reminded him.
"Order?" Dumbledore said, white brows raised in comical surprise. "Dear me, no. As if I would order you! This is more a request. A favour, if you will."
"A favour?" Snape repeated suspiciously. As well he might.
"A small one," Dumbledore said swiftly. "Tiny. Miniscule in fact."
Snape snorted impatiently. "Do I owe you a favour?"
"You've always struck me as an honourable man, Severus. In your own way." Dumbledore wandered the room, slipping his hand in a pocket and pulling out something he fed to his absurdly coloured bird. "What do you think?"
Snape shifted his feet a little uncomfortably. Unfortunately he knew he owed Dumbledore very many favours. It just wasn't like the old crackpot to remind him so pointedly.
"What is this favour then?" Snape finally said grudgingly.
"The boy is in safe hiding, ancient magic protecting him while the place he calls home is with his mother's kin." A sharp gaze held Snape in place. "You know the power of that kind of blood."
Snape nodded curtly, hating that he felt like a sullen teenager again, called to answer for some foolish prank in this ridiculous office.
"I have no such protection, and I am watched fairly constantly. You however are free to roam, and, if you don't mind my saying so, no one really cares where you go."
"I have worked very hard to make it so," Snape bit back, then cursed at letting himself be baited.
Dumbledore was smiling genially, probably happy now he'd goaded yet another response out of him. Honestly, Snape thought, the old bastard was practically Slytherinish at times.
"Can you get to the point?" Snape ground out.
"I've had disturbing reports from those who watch him. The Muggles' treatment of him deteriorates as he ages. The last report was serious enough to worry me."
"Treatment?" Snape repeated, curious despite himself. "Did you not say he was being raised by this... family."
"I had hoped he would find a family there," Dumbledore said carefully, eyes averted. Snape frowned, finding this more worrying than any words. What had this old fool done, that he would not even look him in the eyes?
"But he has not?"
Dumbledore sighed and shrugged, gaze now on his long fingers, stroking over the ancient green leather top of his desk. "You understand why I need you to go, see these people, this home. Ensure the boy is well treated."
Instinctive denial rose up in him. See the boy? That was the last thing he wanted.
"Surely someone else can be trusted?" he began, but the headmaster was shaking his head.
"Only two others know his whereabouts, Hagrid and Professor McGonagall."
Snape pursed his thin lips. Hagrid he could understand, the huge oaf would attract too much attention. "Why not McGonagall then?"
"Professor McGonagall," Dumbledore corrected him pointedly, as if he were still an insolent first year. "I'm afraid Minerva is slightly... biased on the subject. She never wanted me to leave him with the Muggles in the first place."
"Perhaps you should have listened," Snape muttered.
"It has to be someone I trust implicitly with his safety," Dumbledore said carefully. "As you know all too well, former Death Eaters roam with impunity..."
Another hit, this one drawing blood. Another subtle reminder of what he owed, and to whom.
"And after all," Dumbledore continued, fiddling with his pen and ink stand now. "The boy means nothing to you, as you've said. What harm can there be in checking up on him?"
"Indeed," Snape agreed. He looked out a nearby window at the softly falling snow. "Right now?" he asked dryly. "On Christmas Eve?"
Ingenuous eyes widened. "I'm sorry. Did you have plans?"
"As well if I had," Snape muttered. He guessed the master manipulator's trick. Look in on a cosy little family, albeit a Muggle one. Become overwhelmed with longing for such domestic splendours and whisk the child away to build his own little nest some where.
Dumbledore was approaching, wand in hand. "I need to put the location in your head." He raised the wand and smiled. "And Severus? Merry Christmas."
Apparating to the location now firmly affixed in his head was the easy part. Dusk came early at this time of year and it was a simple task to study the house from the shadows, eyes narrowed against the sleet. Snape shook his head in dismay. He knew there were a lot of them, but really! Was it necessary for them to live this way? Houses laid out like gravestones, each identical to the one before. Tiny lawns groomed to within an inch of their lives, all life and spontaneity ruthlessly pruned away.
"Muggles," he whispered under his breath, pitying any magical child forced to live in such sterility. Magic needed disorder and chaos to survive, Snape reminded himself, ignoring the fact that this was one of the things he hated about his own world. It was what had driven him to potions after all, where exactness and precision could be valuable, even to a wizard.
A tug at his pocket pulled out the fine fabric of the invisibility cloak that Dumbledore had handed over.
"I've been holding it for a friend," the headmaster had said with a twinkle. "I don't think he'd mind you using it for a good cause."
With a swirl it was about his shoulders, and wand in hand, Snape unlocked the door and quietly entered the boxy house. It was the heat he felt first, artificial and coarse against his skin, uncomfortably making him aware of the heavy weight of his thick coat. He shrugged off the petty discomfort and took in the narrow hall and staircase. Pictures graced the wall and something deep within him clenched.
So. There he was.
Progress down the hall followed the course of this short life, a round baby swaddled in knitted dainties, a toddler with a fierce glare, pudgy face and soft fair hair. First day of school, satchel on his back, soft blonde hair ruthlessly slicked down, face rounder still, sullen and frowning.
Snape frowned at the assembly line of photographs, wishing that Muggles could at least get the damn things to move a little. It was hard to read faces when they were so waxy and still. No one else was pictured on these walls, and here, some sort of sitting room and more of the same. Round face, fair hair, pale blue eyes.
I expected Lily's eyes, Snape thought. Why did I expect Lily's eyes?
And then it hit him. The scar, famous throughout the wizarding world. Lightening bolt shaped, or some such nonsense. And the blonde pudding pictured so abundantly in the overheated clutter of this house had no such marking.
Not Harry then.
It was almost a relief when a door opened behind him and he turned to see everything he had been expecting peep out at him.
Lily's eyes. Pale red scar. And... Snape's stomach clenched again. Hair as black as his own laying in soft tousled waves.
The boy peered around the room and emerged from what Snape realised was a cupboard under the stairs. With a deep breath the child skipped across the room and stopped directly in front of Snape, staring upwards through over large wide glasses. Heart pounding hard the wizard wondered how on earth this boy could see him through the powerful magic of the cloak, and then he realised with a start that the child's attention was focused through him, not on him. He stepped aside and turned a little, realising it was the bright shiny lights of the Christmas tree that drew such rapt consideration.
Presents were piled underneath it, wrapped in shiny paper and bedecked with bows and ribbons. Harry reached out one hand and reverently touched a shiny red object, obviously some form of Muggle transportation with its black rubber wheels and pedals.
A thin hand stroked over the shining metal and then drew back swiftly as something rumbled down the staircase, and thudded down the hall.
"You better not be touchin' my bike, Harry," the blonde tornado yelled. It was the star of every picture in the house and his scowl was still firmly in place.
"I was just lookin'," Harry said defiantly, hands behind his back.
"You better be," the boy threatened. Then Snape jumped as he opened his mouth and yelled even louder than before, something the wizard would have deemed impossible if asked.
"Mum! Can I open one present now!"
"Oh, Dudders." A woman appeared from another room, wiping her hands on an apron she then stroked over her hips with bony hands. "You know Daddy likes to open them all Christmas morning."
"But just my bike, mum, please," the boy whined. Snape felt his hand itching with the desire to slap the child around his ear hole. The round child shot Harry a poisonous glance. "I'm afraid Harry will try to ride it in the night, and I don't want him spoiling it for me."
"I don't want to ride your poxy bike," Harry muttered and the dark haired woman frowned at him.
"You'd better not," she said sharply. "Oh, all right, sweetums. But only up and down the hall. Daddy will be home soon, and then we'll have a lovely Christmas Eve supper."
"Why doesn't Harry open one of his?" the boy said maliciously. Then he widened his piggy little eyes. "Oh, that's right! He doesn't have any presents. He doesn't have a mummy or daddy to buy him anything."
"Of course he has a present," the woman said irritably.
Harry looked up, surprise on his narrow face. The too large glasses slid down his nose and he pushed them back up. "I have a present?" he said breathlessly.
"In the bag," the woman said, pointing at a paper satchel behind the tree. "Oh! My potatoes!" She rushed from the room and Snape watched narrow eyed as Harry pulled out the sack with shaking hands. So, this was what Dumbledore meant then. These ridiculous Muggles favoured their own loathsome offspring over the orphan in their midst. Hardly surprising really.
Dudley was laughing and Harry's mouth trembled a little before he bit his lip.
"Old clothes," the bigger boy crowed. "My old clothes! She would have given them to you anyway."
"Shut up," Harry said lowly, narrow shoulders slumped.
Dudley pulled the bow off his bike and stroked the smooth leather seat. "If you're gonna be rude then you won't get to ride my bike," he said with a sneer.
"Who wants to ride your poxy bike!" Harry shouted. "I have a better present coming, you'll see! Tomorrow, at Christmas."
"Yeah yeah," Dudley sneered again, throwing one leg over the three wheeled contraption and sitting down with a pleased grunt. "That's what you said last year. Only then the big baby thought Santa was gonna show up. Which one, Harryhead? The one from the store in the High Street, or the one begging for coins on the corner?" With that he pumped the pedals with fat little legs and careened down the hall, ringing the shiny bell stridently.
Harry was looking up at the tree again, but no expression of wonder was on his face now. Snape forced himself to turn away from the sight and follow the brat down the hall. A quick look confirmed his suspicions, a narrow old mattress on the floor and a box of tattered garments indicated this was where the boy slept. He sighed and shook his head. And people wondered why he used to torture Muggles for sport? The hideous creatures didn't even have it in them to be decent to an orphaned child in their care.
Still, he told himself as he left the overheated house and breathed gratefully of the cold wet air outside. The boy wasn't being starved or beaten. He had a warm place and food on the table. All those ignorant Muggles needed was a bit of a reminder of who they had in their midst and that they had a certain duty to live up to.
After all, just because he personally didn't want the boy it didn't mean someone else had the right to mistreat him.
The toy shop in Diagon Alley was open late on Christmas Eve and doing a booming trade. Snape pushed past the simpering fairy dolls singing in annoyingly high voices (accessories sold separately) and the tiny gruesome figures who shrieked in agony as they transformed into werewolves, complete with drooling fangs.
"Brilliant," a breathless child said, nose pressed against the glass case leaving a greasy smear. Beside him a harried clerk was dealing with a customer.
"No, madam, we don't stock the self drumming kits any more. Because of the curses from the parents of children who received them, madam. Last year I spent most of January with a drumstick jammed in each ear."
"Excuse me," Snape said, as politely as he could manage over the singing and the screaming. "I need a toy."
The clerk gave him a stare a basilisk would be proud of and obviously bit back a rude retort. "Boy or girl?"
"A boy. But I don't want a magical one."
The clerk opened his mouth and closed it again. "What?" he finally said.
Snape looked around irritably. "Everything in here seems to do something. I want a toy that does nothing."
"A toy that does nothing," the middle aged clerk repeated. "That's a new one on me. May one ask sir why he wants a toy that does nothing?"
"One may ask," Snape allowed, then closed his mouth and stared at the man defiantly.
Another clerk leaned over the counter, she'd obviously been listening to this exchange with interest. "Is it for a Muggle born?" she said helpfully. Then she nudged the other clerk. "You know, Bingley, sometimes folk want toys for little'uns what live with Muggles."
"Then they should go buy them from Muggle shops," the man muttered. "Look, sir, I'm sorry. But toys that do nothing aren't what's popular these days." He gestured at the busy store, where toddlers pranced on stick ponies that tossed their heads and whinnied convincingly and building blocks whipped themselves into towering edifices and then tumbled back into their box, giggling madly. "If it doesn't fly or sing or transform then the kiddies just aren't interested."
Snape bit back an irritated curse, wishing he'd never had this insane idea to begin with. Then the sales clerk's face changed and he put a finger to his lips. "I wonder," he said thoughtfully. He pushed his way through the crowd to the back of the shop and Snape followed, telling himself there had to be an easier way to do this.
"This has been here as long as I have," the man said, pulling a faded old box from a top shelf. The surface had once been ornate but was now faded with time, the fancy scrollwork and designs obscured by dust. Blowing a cloud away the man lifted the lid and Snape reached in and pulled the toy out.
"A doll?" he said doubtfully, but his fingers were already stroking over the fine velvet and gold thread.
"A figurine!" the clerk corrected indignantly. "That's Merlin, that is."
Merlin it was, all swirling black cape and golden stars. He held a wand tipped with a clear crystal and his tall pointed hat was topped by a silver sickle moon.
"I'm not sure what it used to do," the clerk admitted. "The charms have long since faded. But he's beautifully made, look-"
"I'll take it," Snape decided. He had no idea whether a five and a half year old boy would value such a gift, but he was convinced he was going to do no better here. Besides, there was something about this doll, his white porcelain face calm and wise, his white hair and beard feather soft.
It would do.
The clerk was so happy to be rid of a troublesome customer and an old bit of stock that he sold Snape the toy for a song, which he luckily did not break out into, as the noise in the store was annoying enough already. He even threw in a thick white gift card and a bow.
Harry woke when Dudley thumped down the stairs but he stayed inside the closet for another half an hour after that, listening dully to the other boy's raptures over his loot. There were an equal amount of complaints too, over colours and sizes and what not, but Harry tuned them out too, well used to it. He had nothing and was expected to be happy with it, Dudley had everything and nobody seemed surprised that it was never enough. It had always been so, but at times like these Harry had to wonder why.
Until he'd attended school for the first time a few months ago he'd thought this was the way everybody lived. That there were good people who got what they wanted and bad people who didn't get anything at all. At school he just figured there were a lot more good people than bad, perhaps they all went to another school, he thought, where everyone had hand me down clothes that didn't fit, and walked into things because they didn't have glasses.
But then he started to realise that in this, like everything else, he was just doomed to be different. Everybody else had someone who loved them but Harry.
Breakfast smelled good and Harry finally got up and pulled on his clothes, knowing Aunt Petunia wouldn't save him any if he was late. As it was Dudley had probably scoffed all the bacon and fry bread.
The doorbell rang and his uncle's voice echoed down the hall. "Open the door, boy! Who could be ringing at this time of the morning on Christmas Day?"
Praying it wasn't Aunt Marge six hours early, Harry pushed his glasses up his nose and struggled with the locks on the big door. Finally he pulled it open, seeing only a box on the top step, an odd purple bow leaning drunkenly on its lid.
Harry lifted it with a sigh. Great, another present for Dudley.
"A present!" Dudley squealed as Harry put it on an empty chair, quite as if he hadn't just opened twenty presents a few minutes earlier. "Who could it be from? Ouch!"
He jumped back away from the box, sucking his fingers. "It bit me!" he accused, pointing at the box with fat tears leaking from his eyes.
"Pinched your fingers, Duddy?" Uncle Vernon chuckled, leaning over and pulling at the lid. "Bugger!"
"Language, Vernon," Aunt petunia scolded automatically. She reached for the white square of card next to the lopsided bow. "What happened?"
"Bloody thing has a sharp edge I think," Vernon mumbled around the fingers he was sucking on. "Probably some Japanese rubbish, if people would only stop buying that foreign trash..."
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia's voice was hollow and her eyes seemed to swallow up her face. "Look at this."
Vernon squinted at her and then took the card gingerly. At once his red face went pale. "Throw it out!" he squeaked. "Throw out the whole ruddy thing!"
"What does it say?" Harry asked curiously, backing up a step as his Uncle rounded on him furiously.
"This is your fault, you unnatural little beggar. I-"
"Vernon!" Petunia clutched his clenched fist. "Remember what it says," she hissed. "We're being watched."
The two of them stared at one another, then looked goggle eyed around the room. Harry looked at Dudley, who shrugged and followed their gaze, eyes probing into every corner of the painfully clean kitchen.
"Ahem, well then," Vernon said, fingers twitching irritably as if he were resisting the urge to wrap them around Harry's neck. "I suppose, er, Petunia, you'd better let him have it then."
"Have what?" Harry said, then he blinked. "You mean the present? It's for me?"
"But, mum!" Dudley wailed. His mother shushed him.
"The card says..." Her voice trembled. "Er, I don't quite understand it. But it says it's from your father."
Harry's breath caught and he gazed down at the box in wonder. "You said my father's dead," he whispered.
"He is!" Vernon said loudly.
"I, I suppose he must have told someone to send it to you," Petunia said, a sickly smile on her face. "Before he died. Go on, um, open it."
"Hope it bites you," Dudley said sulkily, lower lip sticking out. He was not used to being shushed by his mother.
But Harry knew it wouldn't bite him, not a present from his father, his dad. He lifted the lid easily, revealing a mass of yellowing tissue paper. Pushing it aside he gasped in reverence at the smooth white face.
"A doll," Dudley was saying scornfully, but Harry barely heard him. Never in his life had he seen such a doll, dressed more richly than any real person he had ever seen, a smooth black cloak around its shoulders, a soft pointed hat on its head.
"It's a wizard," Harry breathed in delight, and Aunt Petunia squeaked in distress.
"Take it upstairs, boy," Vernon said hoarsely. "Right now. I never want to see the bloody thing again."
"Upstairs!" Harry repeated in dismay, clutching the soft cloth body of the doll to his chest. "But it's mine! I want to put it in my cupboard with me!"
"Cupboard?" Vernon said loudly, drowning out Harry's words. "What cupboard? You sleep in Dudley's second bedroom from now on."
"Mum!" Dudley wailed again, but Harry could feel a smile starting that not even the prospect of his larger cousin angry with him could dim. The present from his father was a wizard, and maybe even a magic one! He'd only just got it and already he didn't have to sleep in the cupboard with the spiders any more. Before his uncle could change his mind he hurried to the cupboard, pulling out his box of clothes and carrying it and his wizard up the stairs.
On the dusty bed in Dudley's second bedroom Harry hugged the wizard close and breathed in the scent of the old fabric. It even smelled magical.
"Thank you, daddy," he murmured.
"So you're satisfied he's well cared for then?" Dumbledore probed.
"Physically," Snape said, staring back out the window, It was afternoon now, sunlight glinted on the snow, the leaden sky promising more before nightfall.
"And these Muggles? Do they care for him?"
Snape humpfed a laugh. "Are Muggles capable of caring?" he said bitterly. "They love their own child, but have none to spare for m-. For someone else's."
"And yet you tell me he's fine there."
"He's alive," Snape said bleakly. "He'll survive. Adversity makes us strong."
"Do you really think so?" Dumbledore said curiously. "It makes us hard, perhaps. But strong?"
Snape frowned and slanted him a glance.
"In my experience a child who is not valued will seek approval even into his adult life. It's far too easy for such children to be lead astray, in their search for the love that was withheld from them when they so desperately needed it."
"You're the one who put him there," Snape pointed out evenly, determined not to give into the swirling anger that had filled his belly since his visits to that horrid little house.
Dumbledore sighed. "I hoped," he said quietly. "That their hearts could open to an orphaned child."
"And how long did it take you to figure out that they hadn't?" Snape asked ruthlessly. "You've let him grow up there, Professor, when there must have been a hundred wizarding families who would have been glad to take him in."
"I told you about the blood magic that protects him-"
"Bah," Snape spat. "There are other protections."
"So I thought too, once. When Frank and Alice Longbottom came to me, and asked to raise their friends child."
Snape froze at the names.
"After all, I reasoned as they asked me. These were two powerful Aurors, who'd faced Voldemort himself and survived. They had a boy Harry's age, they could grow up as brothers. Alice herself pointed this out to me, her eyes as tender when she spoke of her son as Lily's had been that day, that last day I saw her..."
Snape swallowed hard and turned back to the window, staring sightlessly now at the familiar view.
"How if I had listened to my heart rather than my head, Severus. How if I had given them Harry to raise..."
"So he stays with the Muggles," Snape said dully. "I expected as much."
"There are only two places on earth the boy will be safe," Dumbledore said softly. "With his aunt, or here at Hogwarts. And he cannot live here without a parent to take care of him."
Snape pulled the cloak from his pocket and tossed it on the windowsill, where it lay in a silken heap for a moment before slipping over the edge and swirling to the floor. "I hate this place," he whispered under his breath, then he stumbled blindly for the door and left.
"I can't thank you enough for this," the young father said, clutching the vial of silvery substance in his hands.
"Your gold is thanks enough," Snape said, deliberately rude. He had no choice but to deal with the customers who requested his most special potions, but he did not socialise with them. The last thing he wanted was the familiarity of wizards and witches who wanted to be friends.
The young wizard didn't hear him, he was holding the vial up to the light, admiring the swirl of the potion against the thick blown glass. "It's hard enough to watch her transform," he murmured. "But to see her as a snarling beast one night a month was so hard on her mother. This potion makes such a difference."
Snape counted the coins and dropped them irritably into his lock box. Why did these people think he wanted their life story?
"It's so hard to watch your child suffer," the man whispered. Then he shook himself and straightened. "Helping her's worth any price."
Snape felt something clutch within his own chest at the words, noticing for the first time the frayed cuffs of the young wizard's robe. The draught he'd invented for werewolves was his most expensive potion, it had never occurred to him before how difficult it must be for such a young couple to afford it.
On impulse he pulled out two more vials. "These will only keep for three more months," he said carelessly. "I don't generally hold onto stock that breaks down so quickly. I'll throw them in with this batch." He pushed them into the wizard's hands before he could change his mind.
The younger man gaped at him. "Th-thank you," he stuttered. "Thank you very much."
"No need to thank me," Snape said, his glare making that an order. He hurried the man from his rooms and slammed the door closed behind him, setting his usual wards with a vicious twist. He looked out of the window, it would be full moon tomorrow night.
It had been a full moon hanging over that tombstone of a house in Surrey.
A month then, since he had first laid eyes on the boy.
And here he was, mooning around, being kind for the love of Belenos! Cutting his profit to nothing!
It's so hard to watch your child suffer.
Oh yes. It's much easier when you can walk away and not actually watch. Snape sneered at his own sentimentality.
Every night since then he wondered. Was Harry still in that room, or had the Muggles dared move him back down to the cupboard under the stairs? Were the new charms on the doll holding? Did Harry's cousin get a shock every time he tried to touch it?
"This is not your concern," he told himself firmly. "It wasn't your concern five years ago and nothing has changed since."
How was Harry?
Snape wished he had kept that damned invisibility cloak for a little longer. Just to check up on the situation. He hated leaving any job half done, it was his nature, it was what made him a great potion maker.
There was a scratch at the window and an owl hooted irritably, tapping its beak against the glass. It carried a parcel and Snape tossed it a dead mouse from his workbench and unfastened the thing curiously. He received orders by mail, but never parcels. A moment later he was cursing under his breath as a fine substance spilled out over his hands and onto the desk.
"Thought you might want to pass this onto young Harry when the time comes," the note read in Dumbledore's spiky writing. "He's the one I was holding it for."
"Interfering old fool," Snape muttered under his breath.
But he stuffed the cloak into his pocket after all.
It was evening again, lights winking on up and down the street, fragrant smells of cooking wafting from the nearby houses as cars trundled up driveways and Muggles strolled up walks. The snow had never really fallen here as it had at Hogwarts, the streets shone with the cold winter rain, a crisp damp chill was in the air.
Snape walked right up the stairs this time, tread cat like and silent on the wooden risers, hearing childish voices raised as he reached the landing.
"My daddy says he's gonna burn it," Dudley was sneering, hands on his hips. Harry was standing in a doorway, his doll held tight to his chest.
"He would of already if he could've touched it," Harry shot back. "Merlin's magic, Dudley. No one can touch him but me. So there."
"I'm gonna tell my mum on you," Dudley said, his chest swelling with outrage. "She said she'll wash your mouth out with soap if you say magic again."
Harry's jaw quivered but he held his ground. "She will not," he said shakily. "Cos she knows my dad is watching her. He won't let her hurt me, and soon he's gonna come for me and take me away."
Snape bit back a curse on his lips. So here were the results of his meddling. He'd given the boy false hope, given him dreams about a father long dead.
Dudley was making a rude noise between pursed lips. "You were better off believin' in Santa," he said meanly. "Your dead father got himself killed in a car smash, my daddy said so. He's not comin' back. We're stuck with you. And I'm tellin!"
With that he ran down the stairs, shrieking for his mother in his annoying treble.
Harry sniffed and buried his nose in the soft hat of his doll. "It's all right, Merlin," he whispered. "She can't hurt you, my dad made sure of that. And soon he'll come and take us both from here, you'll see."
"Had to come back here didn't you, Severus," Snape muttered to himself as the small boy trudged into the stark room and climbed up onto a narrow bed, overlarge shirt hanging off one shoulder. "Couldn't just leave well enough alone. Now are you going to stand here and watch that bony Muggle bitch lay hands on a magical child? On any magical child?"
Snape kicked the door jamb and cursed a vase of flowers, turning them all into stinkweeds with barely a thought. Who was he fooling here? No matter how tenuous the connection felt between him and this boy he wasn't going to just stand around while a Muggle punished a young wizard merely for saying the word magic.
Studying the drooping shoulders a plan began to formulate in his head and his darker mood began to fade. Dumbledore had said it, there were two safe places in this world for the hero, Harry Potter. If he couldn't stay here any more then there was only one place for him.
Dumbledore would have to do what he should have done five years ago, and take the child in himself.
"Pawning him off on Muggles," Severus whispered in disgust as he stepped into the room and waved the door closed behind him. The lock clicked and Harry glanced over his shoulder, frowning in the dim light at the closed door.
Releasing his hold on the slippery fabric Snape let it slide off his head, hearing the soft slither as it pooled around his feet.
Harry did not scream, although his eyes widened and his mouth opened on a gasp.
"Merlin?" he whispered.
"Not even close," Snape said, illuminating the tip of his wand and lighting the room a little more. Harry reared back and peered at him in the white light.
"You're a wizard," Harry breathed.
"Yes," Snape said shortly, wanting to get this over with. "And so are you."
He wondered if the boy even heard him, his eyes behind his glasses were wide, his mouth was turning up. "Are you my father?" he breathed, and Snape opened his mouth to correct him. Of course he wasn't his father, not where it counted. Donating seed, casting a spell and then walking away didn't make anyone a father. James Potter, for all his sins, had been this child's father and he was dead.
"I knew you'd come," Harry whispered, and his face began to glow in the wand's light, green eyes sparkling, too pale skin taking on a luster of joy. "I knew you'd come and get me!"
And in the end it just seemed easier to agree. To save explanations, to get the boy out of this Muggle rat nest, to hand him to Dumbledore and just walk away again, get on with his life.
"Yes," he said, admitting it for the first time aloud. "I am your father."
"Have you..." Harry broke off, hope in his eyes. "Did you come to take me away from here?"
"Do you want to leave here?" Snape asked carefully. After all the Muggles had raised the boy, they were the only parents he knew-
"Yes," Harry said, before Snape had even formed the question mark. He jumped off of the bed and stepped forward, tilting his head way back. "Yes, please," he said hastily.
Snape inclined his head, more sure than ever that this was a mistake, but aware things had gone too far to stop it now. Besides, he wanted to see Dumbledore's face when he walked in and dropped the child on his desk. Harry still stood expectantly in front of him and Snape sighed. Doubtless the boy would expect affection now, hand holding and hugs etcetera. Best disillusion him straight away on that score.
"Listen," he began, gesturing with one hand.
Harry flinched away and Snape frowned. It was one thing to keep his distance, it was another for the child to flinch from him. Deliberately he left his hand out, then raised the other one.
"Harry," he said quietly, indicating quite clearly the boy should step closer.
Harry surveyed him for a moment, his doll firmly clenched in his left hand. Then, seeming to make up his mind he stepped closer and raised his arms obediently.
Snape lifted him, surprised by the light weight and somewhat confused when it came down to it as to how this was done. Abruptly he realised he'd never actually held a child before, and had no idea how to do it. Harry seemed equally at sea for long moments, hanging like a limp puppet from his father's hands.
Then thin arms reached for his neck and instinct bought the boy to his side, where legs wrapped around his hips and weight settled.
It was the most curious feeling.
It was like... magic.
The way sensation rushed from every point their bodies touched. The way something in the small fragile weight sitting on his hip was reaching into his chest, clutching at his heart, squeezing it.
It seemed Harry felt it too, for with a sigh, almost as if the puppet had had his strings cut, he lay his head on his father's shoulder.
"Daddy," he murmured, white hot heat of damp breath against the skin of Snape's neck.
Arms tightened, that mysterious magic spell shifting through him like blood through veins, like a living thing. Severus breathed in the child's scent and a word pulsed in his brain.
Snape didn't bother to ask Harry if there was anything he wanted from this place. Nothing here could be of any value to the boy save the toy he clutched to his chest, a gift from his father.
My gift, Snape thought.
All he wanted was to get out of here and to never see this loathsome little hovel again. To think Dumbledore had sentenced the child here! It was an outrage. To think that something of his, his seed, had been thrown onto this pile of filth to grow.
This was James Potter's fault, he thought abruptly. I entrusted my seed to you, insane as I must have been at the time. And look what care you've taken of it.
There was a banging at the door but Snape didn't even have to wave his wand to silence it. Wandless magic was rare for him, and it usually only manifested during the times he laboured over his potions, pouring his very essence into the brews, wild natural magic oozing off him, arcing into the air around him.
But tonight it seemed he was connected to some deeper source of power as the door opened before him and he walked past the Muggles, frozen in place, horror on their dull, stupid faces. He spared them barely a glance and was glad Harry's head was still buried in his shoulder.
He wondered if the aunt and uncle would even care, once their immobility wore off. Or whether they would simply be glad to see the end of the burden they had carried for so long.
Snape tightened his arms around his burden, breathing again the child's sweet scent.
Mine, he thought once more, and then they were outside the stuffy little house and he was looking around as if waking from a dream.
It was beginning to occur to him that he could not apparate carrying Harry. He had no idea where the nearest floo was, and he had never mastered the art of creating a port key.
They were stranded.
He remembered the invisibility cloak as he pulled out his wand to call the most undignified form of transport known to man, and summoned it swiftly to his side. And then the Knight Bus was there, honking gently like some ungainly beast, snuffling to a stop right before them. Harry lifted his head and peered at it curiously.
"Good evening, and welcome to the Knight bus," a dull voice intoned. Gum snapped and pink bunches of hair gathered in thick clumps at the side of her head bounced as the conductor consulted her crumpled card. "Emergency transport for... the... stranded..." The conductor trailed off as Snape fixed her with his best Death Eater glare.
"Um," she stuttered. "Where to, sir?"
"Hogsmeade," Snape said shortly, handing her a galleon. "I'll collect my change on the way out," he said over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs. On the top level he secured a bedstead to the wall with a muttered spell and sat down, turning Harry easily so he sat on one knee.
"I've never seen a purple bus before," Harry confided.
"Hopefully you never will again." Snape felt a shiver run over the boy's narrow frame and wrapped the edge of his cloak more tightly around him. The bus set off with a pop and a jerk and Harry cuddled against his chest gratefully.
"Left all my jumpers back there," he mumbled sleepily.
"You won't need them," Snape assured him. If he could he would have left everything there, even the rags the boy stood up in. He wanted nothing of those Muggles near his son, not ever again.
"Where are we going?" Harry yawned and Snape was silent, wondering himself. To Hogwarts of course, ultimately. Where Harry could be safe. But then what? Leave him with Dumbledore? Now that everything had changed?
What other choice did he have?
"How come Aunt Petunia said my mummy and daddy were dead?" Harry said into his shirt.
"She meant your adopted father." It was amazing how easily that came out.
A small finger traced the long line of buttons down his chest. "So my mummy's still dead then?"
This was harder. "Yes."
"Oh." Silence for a moment as the bus juddered to a halt and another passenger got on. "I wish she wasn't," Harry said in a small voice.
Soft black hair was close and Severus gave in to the urge to lay his cheek on it and rub comfortingly. "You have me now," he whispered, meaning it with all that was left alive within him. The boy deserved better, but for a change something Dumbledore had said was true.
Snape was all Harry had.
Funny it had taken until now to occur to him that Harry was all he had.
Harry was asleep by the time the bus shuddered to a stop outside the Three Broomsticks, and Snape blessed a potion maker's strong constitution as he carefully made his way down the spiral stairs and back out into the fresh air.
He paid for a room with his change from the bus and ordered a simple supper. Harry didn't awaken as he laid him on the wide bed and Snape sat next to him, studying the thin form with wonder.
How had he ever thought to walk away from this?
What was he going to do now?
"I can't believe you'd even ask this of me," Severus said in disbelief, shooting glances between the husband and wife.
"You weren't my first choice either," Potter mumbled and Severus snorted.
"I'll bet. I mean, have you thought this through? Your wife, carrying my baby? Why would either of you want such a thing? What on earth makes you think I would want such a thing?"
"It's because you don't want it that you're our first choice," Lily said quietly and Severus frowned at her.
"Making as much sense as ever, Evans," he sneered.
"We need James' blood kin to perform Surrogace," Lily continued undaunted.
"And now, after ten years of enmity you remember I'm your cousin?" Severus said sourly. "Typical selfish arrogance. What about one of the others, we have enough of them."
"The others want children of their own some day," Lily returned. "The others wouldn't be willing to give up their own child for us to raise."
"And the child would be ours," James broke his long silence. "He or she would never know you, or know of you. We would never again see each other, any of us."
"Sounds like a win win situation for me," Severus drawled. "But remind me again why on earth I should want to put myself through this? It wouldn't be for gold, I earn as much from my potions as you do from your wonderful new spells. Nor would it be for love, I'm closer to the ghoul who lived in my mother's attic than I am either of you." He ran a contemptuous glance over Lily's composed form in the armchair opposite. "And it wouldn't be for lust either, since you tell me I don't get to actually involve myself in the act of procreation."
"Unless you count wanking," James drawled sarcastically. "Although I'm sure you've had plenty of practice at that."
Severus pursed his lips and assumed a thoughtful expression. "Let's see," he mused aloud. "My own hand or the touch of a filthy mudblood? Hmm, tough choice."
James pushed himself away from the wall with a curse. "I told you this was a bad idea," he said roughly. "Let's go."
"Wait outside for me, James," Lily said, her eyes never leaving Snape's.
"Yes, James," Severus said mockingly. "Wait outside like a good boy."
"Are you sure?"
Lily nodded and they waited until Potter's footsteps faded down the hall.
"Well?" Snape said, crossing his arms and leaning back. "What magic are you going to cast to get me to agree to this ludicrous request?"
"None," Lily said, standing and drifting to the narrow window overlooking the street. "Wouldn't work anyway. This is one of those things that has to be willingly given." She crinkled green eyes at him. "You know the type."
"I know your type," Severus said smugly. "This all smells like Dark Magic to me, with a new name and a happy attitude. Another man's seed inside you? No pure born witch would think of such a thing!"
"Another man's seed," Lily mused. "Your seed. James Potter's wife round and full of Severus Snape's child." Her words were soft and despite her promise of no magic there was a kind of thrill to them that ran along Snape's spine and made him quiver.
"Just imagine what it will be like for him," Lily continued, voice almost dreamy now. "Living with the knowledge all his life, that he couldn't even father his own child. That he had to ask you, of all men to do it for him."
Severus shook off the spell of her words and looked at her with something akin to admiration. "Are you sure the Sorting Hat put you in the right house? You'd have done well in Slytherin."
Lily chuckled, shaking her head.
"You don't really believe any of that, do you?"
She shrugged. "No," she admitted. "But it's what you believe that matters. How you'll feel about it."
"It might be sweet at that," Severus mused. "But you don't really think that little speech will convince me, do you?"
Lily just smiled again.
The supper arrived but Harry was sleeping so deeply Snape hadn't the heart to wake him. Besides, he wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say to the boy. Deciding to claim something of his that he'd long since given away was one thing, but that didn't automatically make him a father. And it didn't automatically mean love either.
He wasn't entirely sure he had it in him to love anyone.
But there was no doubt he was feeling something for the boy, even if it was just the possession of ownership.
Harry stirred and cuddled his Merlin closer. Snape sat by him again, unlacing the small scuffed shoes and tossing them aside. The socks were old too, worn through at the heel and Snape dropped them on the floor, wishing he could cast a fire spell and burn them to ashes with a word.
He drew warm covers up and surveyed the sleeping child for long minutes while his soup grew cold. Then he stripped a few of his own layers off before laying down by his son's side and giving into welcome sleep.
A small finger was tracing down his nose. He was one of those men who was instantly aware of his surroundings when he awoke, so there was no surprise when he opened his eyes to Harry's green ones.
"Do we look alike?" Harry said as if continuing a conversation without a break.
"We have the same coloured hair," Snape pointed out.
Harry tried to peer at his own hair and then reached out and touched a finger to his father's. "It's got something on it," he said, rubbing finger and thumb together.
"I put stuff on it," Snape admitted, yawning and stretching. "It sticks up otherwise."
"Like mine!" Harry said in delight. "Aunt Petunia hated it." His eyes grew round as a thought occurred to him. "That's when I did magic, daddy! I 'membered that!"
Snape ruthlessly suppressed the twinge in his heart at Harry's name for him. "What magic?"
"The night before I was going to big school," Harry said excitedly. "Aunt Petunia cut off all my hair because she said it was scruffy." His mouth turned down. "It looked awful and I would have cried and cried, if I hadn't been a big boy," he finished hastily.
Snape nodded to show he understood this rider.
"But when I woke up next day it was all growed back, daddy. Just like it was." Harry smiled smugly. "It was magic, wasn't it?"
"Natural magic," Snape agreed.
Harry rolled onto his back and looked around the room. "Is this where we live?"
"No, this is just a room for the night." Snape stood up and stretched again. He'd slept amazingly well considering his life was a shambles and he had a new responsibility slung around his neck. Said responsibility bounced on the bed then subsided.
"Um, I need to pee," Harry said, hands tucked between his legs.
"Behind the screen." Snape pointed to an ornate screen, then reached under the bed. "Harry?"
The boy was peering behind the screen in dismay. "There's no toilet here."
Snape held out the chipped old gazunder and Harry stared at it for a moment, pushing his glasses up his nose.
"You're not in the Muggle world now, Harry," Snape explained patiently, handing the boy the vessel and steering him behind the screen.
He busied himself spelling the creases out of his coat and pulling it on while the boy performed his ablutions.
"Now what?" Harry called.
"Now watch," Snape said patiently and a moment later Harry yelled and rushed out from behind the screen, running to his father's legs and grabbing them.
"It disappeared!" Harry exclaimed, eyes half excited and half fearful. "Without even flushing!"
"Magic isn't always about waving wands and making sparks appear, Harry. Mostly it's about the practical things in life. Now, wash your hands."
Harry had to kneel on the dressing chair to reach the porcelain washing bowl, and Snape was forced to lend a hand with a thin flannel and some soap.
"What's a Muggle?" the boy asked as his father rubbed behind his ears and over his neck.
"Non magical human," Snape explained, rinsing the cloth and wringing it dry. "You know you ought to be old enough to do this for yourself."
"I could if you had a sink and a tap," Harry protested, sputtering around the flannel. "I always wash myself."
"I can tell," Snape said sarcastically. "I could plant mandrakes behind these ears." He dropped the flannel in the bowl and shook his head. "Belenos help me, I'm channeling my mother."
Harry smiled, his skin damp and rosy. "You're funny."
"You're the only one who thinks so," his father said repressively. "Now, if you're so independent you can get your shoes and socks on while I perform my own ablutions." He raised a hand when Harry opened his mouth. "Just do as you're told with no questions."
Harry shrugged and dropped easily to his bottom, scooting along the floor and beginning to tug on the first sock he found. Snape shook his head. He could already see he wasn't cut out for this.
Before they left the room he studied the boy, resolving that he would buy him some more suitable garments as soon as possible. Not only were his clothes inappropriate for the season they were also much too big for his small frame. And his hair...
"Just a moment." Snape waved his wand and Harry's hair flattened a little, drooping down over his brow and obscuring his scar. He looked down into the boys wide eyes and with another quick spell he caused the too large glasses to shrink down. Oddly they changed shape too, the brown horn rims becoming black and round.
Just like James Potter's.
Harry blinked and then smiled again. "Can I have a stick like that too?"
"It's called a wand," Snape muttered distractedly. He considered altering the shape of the glasses again then shrugged. What difference did it make anyway? The boy did look a little like James, just as he did Lily and himself. And after all why shouldn't he? In a way all three of them had been his parents.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked trustingly as they walked down the worn wooden stairs.
"Breakfast first, then we'll take a walk up to the castle."
"A castle?" Harry said excitedly, climbing up on the seat and leaning over the table on his elbows. "A real castle?"
Snape nodded and ordered them breakfast over the bar before joining him at the table. "Elbows off the table," he ordered and Harry subsided back in his seat, a blissful grin on his face. "A real castle. Dudley will never believe it."
"He'll never have cause to," Snape said shortly.
Harry frowned in confusion. "What?"
"You say 'I beg your pardon', not 'what'."
"I beg your pardon," Harry repeated obediently.
"Much better. And I merely meant that your cousin won't hear about the castle from you. You will never see him or any of those Muggles again."
Harry absorbed this while Madam Rosmerta bought him a tankard and ruffled his hair. He wrapped two little hands around it and sniffed. Then he took a sip and smiled. "This tastes nice."
Snape sipped his own and inclined his head in agreement.
"So I don't need to see Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia again either?"
"What about my school? I'm s'posed to be back on Monday."
"We will find an alternate education for you." Or Dumbledore would. There would be no living with the insufferable old busybody now that he'd managed to manipulate the situation to his advantage yet again. Only the thought that soon the old git would be facing these interminable questions himself cheered Snape up.
"So I don't have to go back to the school either? Cool."
Snape raised a brow. "You didn't like school?" Here was something they had in common.
Harry wrinkled his brow, a pumpkin juice moustache over his upper lip. "I liked learnin' stuff," he confided. "Mrs Taylor said I was a good reader, especially once I got my glasses and I could see prop'ly. But I din't have any friends or anything."
Dark memories there, for both of them, Harry's eyes were shadowed and Snape resisted the urge to reach out and touch his hand in comfort. He was not a demonstrative man, and Harry would have to learn to accept that. He didn't think it would be too difficult, the boy certainly wasn't used to affection.
What had Dumbledore been thinking? Potter and Evans must be spinning in their graves right now at the thought of a man like him raising their beloved child and rightly so. He was a cold man. He had been a bad man. And now he was an empty shell of a man, struggling to get through every day.
He was also all Harry had.
Breakfast arrived and Harry tucked in, picking up whole sausages on his fork and devouring them from the end down. Snape didn't object to the appalling table manners, after all Harry had been raised by Muggles, what else could be expected?
"There are only two places on earth the boy will be safe. With his aunt, or here at Hogwarts."
Snape was forced to carry him again once outside, there was still snow on the ground and his thin footwear would have been soaked in seconds. He also still lacked a cloak so they stopped on the way at a Gladrags store and purchased one. Harry stood still and obedient as the seamstress measured him from top to bottom, still holding his doll firmly under one arm.
"Can I have stars and moons on mine?" he whispered to his father as the seamstress searched through racks of clothes. "Like Merlin?"
"Not today," Snape said firmly, counting the coins in his purse. He could see clothing a growing child would be an expensive proposition.
"Because I say so."
Harry thought about that for a moment. "Kay," he agreed amiably.
Snape filed that away for future reference.
Boots were next and they were easier to fit. A good shoemaker worked so closely with his leather that he could coax it to grow and shape around the foot he was fitting. Harry giggled and buried his face in his doll's soft hat as the soft leather shoes molded around his small feet.
"It tickles!" he protested and the grey haired shoemaker chuckled and patted the leather fondly.
"Aye, it will that," he agreed. "But your da here will be glad to know the shoes will grow with you over the next year or so. Good value that."
"They'd want to be," Snape said sourly, handing over the gold and counting the pitiful bronze coins he received in change.
"Do you want these?" the shoemaker asked disdainfully, holding Harry's scuffed old shoes at arms length, dangling from their frayed laces.
Snape studied the disgusting objects dispassionately. "Burn them," he ordered and the shoemaker nodded fervently.
"I'm practickly a wizard now," Harry said as he stepped out into the street. He twirled and his cloak swirled around him. "Can I have a pointy hat too?"
"Not right now," Snape said, glancing at the sun. "Time to get to the castle. There's someone there waiting to meet you."
"Oh." Harry trotted along by his side as they left the village and walked down the well used track to the castle. "Will I like them?"
"Him. And probably. People usually do."
They rounded a bend and there it was, Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Tall towers, eccentric bridges and walkways, banks of gleaming old glass, spires of gold and silver.
"Wow," Harry said, stopping in his tracks. "A really and truly castle." He gazed at it for long moments. "It's very big," he said, his voice small.
"Come, Harry," Snape said impatiently.
The boy stared at him with wide eyes and took a step to his side. "It's kinda spooky looking," he said, small hand reaching for the edge of Snape's cape. Fingers clutched and Harry stared up at him, eyes fearful. "Isn't it, daddy?"
Snape looked at the towering edifice and agreed. "A little." For the first time he crouched and looked his son square in the eye. "But there's nothing for you to be afraid of, Harry. You're a wizard and this castle is the home of wizards. It will welcome you, and keep you safe."
Small fingers still clutched at his cloak. "And you'll be there too, right, daddy?"
He was nodding before he'd even thought about it. When he stood again he extended one hand and Harry seized it gratefully, squeezing it tight.
"What's this castle called?"
"Hogwarts," his father told him.
"That's a funny name."
Dumbledore was waiting for them at the foot of his revolving staircase. He beamed at the boy. "Hello, Harry," he said cheerfully. "I'm Professor Dumbledore."
"Perfessor," Harry tried.
"Close enough." Dumbledore winked at him and Harry tugged his father's hand until Snape understood he had to bend over.
"Is he Merlin?" Harry whispered loudly.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Oh. no, Harry! I'm much better looking than Merlin was!" He leaned over and whispered confidingly. "And taller too."
Harry smiled and giggled into his doll's hat.
"I must say I like your Merlin, Harry." The old wizard nodded at the doll still clutched under Harry's arm. "A Christmas present?" Then he winked at a stone faced Severus when the boy nodded enthusiastically. "Now, tell me lad, what's your favourite sweet? What tastes best in all the world?"
Harry wrinkled his brow. "I had fairy floss once," he revealed. "At the school fete. My teacher bought it for me."
"Was it pink?" Dumbledore asked in delight.
Dumbledore pointed over his shoulder at the scowling gargoyle that guarded his rooms. "Tell my stone friend there what your favourite sweet is, will you, Harry?"
Harry glanced up at Snape for confirmation and his father inclined his head.
"Fairy floss!" Harry said bravely, and with a creak the statue moved aside and revealed the staircase behind it.
"Well done, Harry!" Dumbledore cried. He took Harry's free hand and gestured to the staircase. "Hop on then, it's a ride I never tire of!"
Harry chuckled and stepped onto the stone stairs, clutching at both their hands as they revolved and moved upwards.
"This is magic too," he said breathlessly.
"Hello, young fella!" A witch from a painting called, and a chorus of voices greeted them as they stepped into the round room.
"Hello," Harry said. "Daddy, the pictures are talking to me!"
"Be polite to them then," Snape told him.
"Look here, Harry," Dumbledore said. "I bet you've never seen blocks like these before." On a low table a mound of brightly coloured blocks lay still and quiet in the shaft of morning sunlight.
"We had blocks at my kindy," Harry revealed, letting go of his father's hand and stepping closer. With a pop one of the blocks jumped on another one and the two of them joined a third. Suddenly the blocks sprouted a funnel and wheels and became a train chugging around the table. "They didn't do that at my kindy!" Harry exclaimed.
Dumbledore subsided behind his desk and smiled at the boy who was touching the various coloured bricks reverently. "He's a bold one," the headmaster observed, and the portraits behind him nodded agreement. Dumbledore looked over at Snape. "You changed your mind about leaving him there then?"
"Aren't you happy?" Snape accused. "Isn't this what you wanted?"
"Really, Severus, I will never understand why you constantly make me out to be some kind of Machiavelli! Especially as there is no doubt that physically at least Harry was better off with his mother's kin. You taking him away from them presents me with very many problems, as it happens."
"You knew I'd take him though, didn't you?"
"You mean despite your firm avowal that the child meant nothing to you?" Dumbledore's eyes twinkled annoyingly. "Yes, I admit I rather hoped you would."
Suddenly tired, Severus sank down on one of the soft armchairs. "Why?" he asked weakly.
"Because it was time. It gave me no pleasure to leave the boy with such uncaring folk, Severus." Dumbledore sighed, his eyes losing their shine as he glanced at Harry happily playing with the wooden shapes.
"Toadstools and twains and hoppy frogs," he was saying under his breath.
"Then why did you?" the boy's father demanded. "I know you're a busy man, and an important one, but couldn't you have taken him yourself? Any life you gave him here would have been better than the one he had there."
Dumbledore sighed again, long thin fingers steepled before him on the desktop. "Did it never occur to you, Severus, to wonder why it was that I had control over the boy in those first hours after his parents death?"
Severus frowned. It never had occurred to him actually. "Well, his godfather was under suspicion, Death Eaters were still around... Who else?"
Dumbledore barked a short laugh. "Many many people as it happens. Even just as James' cousin you, Severus, had more rights to the boy than I. And while you ponder that, think on some of James' other cousins."
Snape grimaced, acknowledging the drawback to large sprawling wizard families.
"Yet it was I that took him, in those first terrible confused hours. I cast the most complicated and difficult spell of my life based on a mother's love and ancient blood magic. And I hid the boy from all sight for five years."
The old wizard met the young one's gaze squarely. "Did it also never occur to you that it was not just Death Eaters I was hiding him from?"
"You mean me?" Severus said numbly. "You still suspected me?"
Dumbledore waved a hand in easy dismissal. "Not once, my boy, since you first came to me. Not once."
A tightness in his chest eased and Snape drew a relieved breath. It seemed the old man's opinion of him mattered after all. "Then who...?" he began, then he shook his head. "Of course. You mean the Ministry."
The headmaster inclined his head. "It took them days to realise what had happened and then I was positively barraged with owls demanding that I hand the boy over to them."
"But why would they have wanted him?"
"The worst of reasons," Dumbledore said solemnly. "Politics. You remember those days, Severus. Chaos and terror for years and then suddenly release! The Ministry needed to do much rebuilding, even as they cleaned their own house, even as the arrests and the trials began. They needed a symbol, a figurehead. A hero."
Snape shuddered to think of a small child in the care of those unfeeling bureaucrats. Then there was the fact that many of them at the time had turned their coats to the Dark Lord's side and were hurrying to turn them back. How safe could Harry have been?
"They'd have got him killed in weeks," Dumbledore said heavily.
"So you've kept him from them all this time. The pressure must have been enormous." Snape frowned. "But what's changed? What's to stop them trying to take him now?"
"Nothing, if he were in my care. But now he has you and the simplest Paternitus charm will reveal your claim to him."
Snape leaned back in his chair, taking it all in. "I think you're like a spider," he said thoughtfully. "Sitting in the web you alone know the pattern of, watching us lesser mortals struggle in its strands."
Dumbledore smiled happily. "I rather like spiders," he confided. "Now, to your future."
"Have that all planned too, do you?" Snape asked sourly, feeling the sticky web around him.
"I do have some suggestions. Madam Bright, you remember her?"
"Vividly. I developed my love of potions rather in spite of her than because."
"Odd to hear you admit to loving anything, Severus."
"Anyway, she's been on at me about letting her retire for the last few years but I've talked her into waiting."
Suspicion rose its ugly head. "Waiting for what?"
"A better candidate."
Snape shook his head in disbelief. "You want me to be Potions Master at Hogwarts."
"Are you joking? I hated this school! The seven years I spent here were the, well, I won't say the most miserable, I've had some pretty miserable years. But they weren't the happiest I've had either!"
"You were a child then, my boy. Think how different it will be coming back as a professor."
"But I know nothing about teaching," Snape protested. "I don't even like children." He flung out a hand at the five year old who now lay on his belly on the rug, zooming a honking block car around its spiral pattern. "I don't even like my own child!"
Dumbledore laughed as if Snape had said something terribly witty and the young wizard sat back in his chair in a huff.
"You have the rest of this school year to observe Madam Bright's teaching methods, Severus. I'm sure she'll be glad to pass her lesson plans and syllabus down to you as well, until you find your feet a little."
"But my own work," Severus continued doggedly. "My potions are much in demand and keep me immensely busy."
"I've heard about your sterling work with werewolf sleeping draughts," Dumbledore said approvingly. Snape ruthlessly resisted any pleasure in the old man's pride. His achievements were his own, no one else had the right to take credit for them.
"I stumbled on it by accident," Snape mumbled.
"All the same, you're right, it's important work. Certainly you should continue it and your research. Just think," the old wizard said slyly. "Hogwarts has some of the finest facilities in the world. Access to equipment and materials..."
Snape pondered this when Dumbledore broke off, looking innocently up at his own ceiling through his absurd little glasses.
"I'm sure arrangements could be made for your use of the labs," the headmaster said softly and for the first time Snape felt the nip of temptation. He remembered Hogwarts facilities fondly, indeed his happiest memories of the school were the hours in higher school when he was given time in his own lab to work on more advanced potions. He'd received the highest potions NEWT a Hogwarts student had been honoured with in 300 years.
Dumbledore pressed his advantage. "I have a fine suite of rooms in mind for the two of you, Severus. House elves to perform menial chores, an easy teaching schedule, especially for the next six months and the freedom of the dungeons."
"And Harry?" Severus asked, already knowing he was convinced but willing to allow the headmaster to coax him a little more. "He needs to attend school himself, and I hardly think he'd be safe in some hedge witch's cottage school until he's old enough to be taught here."
"One thing at a time, Severus, one thing at a time."
Harry came over to lean on his knee and Severus automatically straightened the worn shirt about his narrow hips.
Dumbledore rubbed his hands together gleefully. "This is all coming together splendidly!"
The rooms were indeed fine. Directly above the dungeons soared a tower that Snape had never been in before. Dumbledore confided that a previous Potions Master had once used the entire tower to raise a family of eleven whilst teaching at the school, but that Madam Bright had preferred living in the dungeons closer to her lab.
Halfway up the tower were a suite of rooms with gentle round walls and warm woolen tapestries. There were three bedrooms as well as a kitchen and a fine bathing suite and lavatory. The view out over the Forbidden Forest was rather dark, but the large narrow windows all the way around were safely barred and let in plentiful light.
Harry poked around while Snape pondered the fate that had led them there and Dumbledore rocked back and forward on his heels, hands behind his back and whistling softly.
"I think I should worry when you're so happy," Snape said waspishly and Dumbledore chuckled again.
"Why shouldn't I be happy? I've secured the finest brewer in England as my Potions Master for at least the next..." He counted on his fingers. "Six years. Harry has a home he's sure to enjoy. And all sorts of other niggling little problems I've been working on will be solved soon too. Of course I'm happy!"
"What other problems?" Snape asked, suddenly alarmed, but just then Harry came rushing in.
"Daddy! There's a painting with horsies and the horsies are galloping and one of horsies smiled at me!"
"Ah, I thought you'd like that one!" Dumbledore exclaimed, delighted as a child. "Did you look at the furniture? No?" He held out his hand. "Come and look then, come and look! It's just fine, covered with carvings of owls and hedgehogs and all sorts of happy creatures. I very nearly decided to have it for my own bed, save that my feet would hang right over the edge."
"You are very tall," Harry observed as they trotted hand in hand into the bedroom.
Snape covered his face with the palm of his hand and groaned. "Maybe it's not too late to run."
Snape spent dinner making plans while Harry waxed enthusiastic about his bed and the horsies and his new toys.
"Two presents," he sighed happily, spooning up the last mouthful of rhubarb and custard from the bowl. He scraped the spoon around the rim hopefully, finally licking it clean and emerging with more custard around his mouth than in it. "Better presents than some poxy old three wheeler too."
Resolving once again to teach the boy some proper table etiquette Snape handed him a napkin and went back to his list.
"I need to close my old lodgings and fetch my things here tomorrow," he told Harry, eschewing his own desert in favour of a hot cup of tea. "Professor Dumbledore says he will take you on a tour of the castle while I'm gone."
Harry's sticky mouth turned down. "Can't I come with you? I can help you pack."
"If it were just a matter of packing I'd bring you along," Snape said as sincerely as he could manage. "Indeed I'd send a house elf to do it. But I must pack away my potions equipment and that's highly delicate work."
Harry frowned as he attempted to work it all out. "I could wait in the car?" he suggested.
Snape massaged the bridge of his nose. It was becoming more and more obvious that he and Harry barely spoke the same language. The child was too young to yet absorb how very different were the Muggle world and the wizard one.
"You'll enjoy yourself, Harry, I promise. Professor Dumbledore will show you a secret tunnel and introduce you to the ghosts-"
"Ghosts!" Harry exclaimed.
Biting his tongue Snape nodded. "Friendly ghosts," he hastened to explain, hoping the Bloody Baron would be otherwise engaged tomorrow.
"Okay," Harry said doubtfully. "He looked around the room. "Can I watch TV?"
Snape paused with his tea cup halfway to his mouth. "T what?"
They settled on a bath instead and Snape breathed a sigh of relief when Harry's dismay at finding himself suddenly deprived of some obviously vital piece of Muggle entertainment was allayed by his delight in the huge sunken tub. He clapped his hands together as the largest tap poured out mountains of pale purple foam along with the deliciously warm water.
Harry couldn't get out of his clothes fast enough and Snape had to hastily grab his hand to stop him from flinging himself in.
"Quiet and careful, Harry," he warned as he led the boy to the sunken steps and saw him safely settled in the shallow water. "Or out you come."
Harry nodded blissfully, picking up a palm full of bubbles and blowing them.
Snape tossed him a flannel and indicated the bars of soap. "And wash yourself!"
Aligning an armchair so he could keep a weather eye on the bathroom Snape sat back and breathed a sigh of pure pleasure. It felt as if every minute of the day he had had one eye on his business and one eye on Harry. The boy was well enough behaved despite his atrocious up-bringing and appalling table manners, but he still had to be watched every moment in this new and strange environment.
Sipping his tea he reflected on the changes barely twenty four hours could make on a man's life. And yet for all the difficulties and expense and new responsibilities he couldn't find it within himself to regret his hasty act. At least not yet. Taking the young wizard away from the Muggles had been right, no matter whose kin he was. Snape knew himself as no friend of the late lamented Potters but he fancied he had known them well enough to know they would not have been happy at the environment their boy was being raised in. So even if Harry had been no kin of his Snape still felt he would have snatched him away.
But of course there was this blood tie between them.
Cast a spell, use a part of yourself in it. How common was that for a wizard, especially one like himself whose life revolved around the brewing of potions and elixirs.
But to cast a spell and give a part of yourself away... That was much more rare and for good reason. Parts of yourself gave others power over you, that was ancient magic. How had he forgotten that six years ago when Lily and James came calling? It served him right now that his foolishness had come back to bite him on the arse.
Harry had no night gown and was forced to wear his t-shirt and underpants to bed.
"I'll send a house elf to buy you some essentials tomorrow," Snape promised but Harry wasn't listening. His eyes were darting into the shadowy corners of the room.
"It's a very big room, isn't it?" he said nervously.
Snape looked around. He supposed it must seem dauntingly large to someone who had slept in a cupboard most of his life.
"I'll leave the door open," he offered. "My room's right next door."
Harry nodded but looked unconvinced. He clutched his doll closer and snuggled down under the blankets. "You... You won't go anywhere while I'm asleep, will you?"
Snape smoothed the covers, wishing that he knew the right things to do or say to reassure the child. So far he'd acted as if Harry was a small adult sharing this space with him, helping him only with tasks made difficult by his size. But now, with his glasses on the bed side table and his jet black hair still flat after its washing Harry looked much younger and more vulnerable.
For the first time Snape felt a pang for all the nights Harry must have been alone and afraid with no one to comfort him. Not that he was very good at this whole comfort business. He couldn't even bring himself to offer a hug.
There was an old glass paperweight on the bedside table and Snape pulled out his wand and transfigured it into a hollow globe, like a small crystal ball. Then he cast a minor light spell and it lit up from within with a soft white light that bathed the area around the bed.
"If you want it to go out just blow on it like a candle," Snape told him, allowing himself a touch to one soft cheek before rising and bidding the boy good night.
Hours later he was startled awake by a whinny from Harry's room and he tossed his covers aside and hurried next door, wondering if the boy was awake and encouraging the painted ponies to do tricks for him again. Instead to his shock he saw the bed empty, the soft glowing orb he'd created gone.
The pony at the forefront of the painting tossed its head meaningfully and Snape followed its brown gaze, eyes now detecting the fine seam of light around the wardrobe door. Heart sinking he hurried to it and carefully pulled it open, biting back a curse at the sight.
Nestled on his pillow and wrapped in his new cloak Harry lay curled in the bottom of the wardrobe, his wizard under one arm and the globe clutched in his fist. He was fast asleep.
"Oh, child," Snape whispered, gathering the small bundle easily into his arms and sitting on the end of the bed. "What am I to do with you?"
The hug came easily now, with Harry soft and sleep warm in his arms, thin limbs lax, head heavy on his shoulder.
Snape sat for a very long time, just holding his boy close.
Next morning Harry seemed to have no recollection of his night time jaunt, he rushed past Snape who was already enjoying a cup of tea and the early edition of the Daily Prophet.
Glad they at least had facilities that the boy recognised Snape heard the telltale flush of the old cistern and the gurgle of the pipes as Harry hastily washed his hands.
"My bed is dry," Harry announced proudly from the bathroom door and Snape nodded, assuming this was a good thing.
"Get dressed before you come to the table," he ordered as Harry drifted over and gazed at the toast and marmalade. "I promise I'll make sure you have clean clothes to change into by tonight," he continued guiltily as Harry emerged from the bedroom, dragging up his over large trousers.
The boy just shrugged and climbed onto his seat. "Juice?"
"May I have some juice please, father?" Snape said pointedly and Harry nodded and repeated the phrase, giggling when he said 'father'. "Your table manners need some work, boy."
Harry shrugged and slathered marmalade onto his toast from the pot, spilling droplets on the table cloth and down his front. "Oops." He lifted his shirt and licked the drops, causing his father to roll his eyes. "Aunt Petunia didn't like me sitting at the table," he explained. "She said it was a waste of time teaching me manners cos I was never going to eat with decent folk anyway." Harry fixed him a curious gaze. "Are you decent folk?"
"According to your aunt? Certainly not," Snape said proudly. "And I want you to remember from now on, Harry, that everything those people told you was an arrant pack of nonsense. Lies," he clarified when Harry looked puzzled.
"Oh." Harry absorbed this while he munched on his toast and sipped his milk. "So, you weren't in jail then?"
His own tea went down the wrong way and Snape sputtered on it for a moment, covering his mouth with his napkin. "I beg your pardon?" he managed.
Harry watched this performance with interested eyes. "Uncle Vernon said that if my father hadn't died in that car crash then he'd of been in jail. Weren't you in jail then?"
"No I was not," Snape said with outrage. "And neither was your, er, James Potter. Your adopted father."
"Oh." Harry chewed for a while again and Snape subsided, his loathing of the disgusting Muggles simmering just under the surface. Oh to be a Death Eater again, for just five minutes...
"Where were you then?"
Harry fixed slanted green eyes on him. "Where were you while I was living with them then?"
Caught by complete surprise and wondering why he hadn't seen this question coming, Snape struggled for words. "It's, er, it's hard to explain," he said weakly.
Harry ran his finger through a blob of marmalade. "Din't you want me then?" he said, eyes downcast.
Since he actually hadn't wanted him Snape was again lost for words. How do you explain to a five year old that his father was only his father by blood and nothing else? No love, nor even desire had played a role in Snape's part of his conception, the only two people who had ever loved him were dead and gone, and that was hardly their fault.
So perhaps that was the place to start.
"Your mother and father," Snape began slowly, feeling his way. "Your mother and your adopted father..." He paused, the words coming more easily now. "They didn't die in a car crash, Harry."
Harry's eyes widened. "They didn't?"
"No. I told you your aunt and uncle were liars, didn't I?"
"Well they lied about the car crash. Your parents were killed by... a very bad man, Harry. An evil wizard."
Harry shifted his doll higher in his arms, pressing his chin to the soft velvet hat.
"And even though he's dead now, you were still in danger when you were a baby."
"He's dead?" Harry said.
Dismissing his own fears on this subject Snape nodded. "But we needed to keep you safe and you wouldn't have been safe with me." Now Snape looked down at the table top, biting his lip. "I was fighting the bad man you see."
Harry nodded slowly.
"So, we sent you to live with your aunt and uncle, thinking you would be safe there. And you were safe, at least from the bad people."
Harry appeared to turn it all over in his mind and Snape watched him, wondering if he had told him too much. Those narrow little shoulders had borne enough burdens already.
"And so you killt the bad man and came and got me?" Harry said inquisitively.
Snape shook his head but Harry was nodding his own tousled head, crossing thin little arms and frowning thoughtfully. "I knew it had to be something like that," the little boy said, before lifting a serving lid and exposing a laden platter. "Bacon!" he exclaimed happily, helping himself.
Calling himself a coward all over again Snape subsided back behind the paper, letting the lie stand for now. He promised himself that when Harry was older he would hear the whole truth, for now just parts of it would do.
The fact that those parts made him out to be a hero instead of a villain in his son's eyes was purely coincidental, he told himself.
Securing his personal possessions was the easy part, packing up his lab took the better part of the day and it was late afternoon before Snape descended into Diagon Alley to arrange transport for his fragile goods and chattels. After securing a reliable carrier he lingered for a few moments at the shop windows, studying the dusty clothes in the display, trying to picture Harry in the black velvet suit with the white ruffled lace collar. Snape almost found himself smiling at the thought of Harry's face if he should be presented with such an outfit.
"Shopping for the family, Severus?"
Wiping all expression from his face Snape turned to the owner of the smooth voice.
"Lucius," he said cordially. "It's been awhile."
"It has," Lucius Malfoy drawled agreement. "One might almost think you were avoiding the old circles, my dear chap."
Snape shrugged. "You know me, Lucius. How many times did you accuse me of being antisocial?"
Malfoy pressed his mouth to the smooth ivory top of his cane. "Very many times." His eyes darted past Snape to the shop window and he raised a perfect winged brow. "You didn't answer my question, Severus. Shopping for the newest member of the Snape family?"
Snape schooled his face to remain expressionless, it was a talent he'd perfected long before the sly battlegrounds of Hogwarts. He considered denying it but discarded the thought immediately. The truth would be known soon enough, some things could not be hidden. "You always did have excellent sources of information, Lucius."
Self satisfaction oozed from Malfoy's fine pale skin. "So it is true! Severus, dear chap, you continue to amaze me. Harry Potter? Or should I say Harry Snape?" He chuckled maliciously, lovingly stroking the smooth ivory over his cheeks as they creased with mirth. "Really, Severus, I thought you had better taste. A Muggle born!"
Snape crossed his arms and leaned casually back against the window. "You know what they say, Lucius. All cats are grey in the dark."
"And the sky's the same colour where ever you go," Malfoy added with a smirk. "But really, dear fellow. I suppose you couldn't resist the urge to cuckold that Muggle loving fool James Potter. You used to be annoyingly tedious about all the slights he'd delivered you."
"I have a long memory," Snape said silkily.
"And depths I'd never guessed," Malfoy murmured back. "Imagine keeping a secret like that all these years! Even when you knew the Dark Lord was seeking the Potters to kill them."
Snape managed a sneer. It was surprisingly easy. "Potter's wife didn't tell me she was carrying my sprog," he lied carelessly. "Dear old Dumbledore only saw fit to let me know recently."
That brow rose again. "And you raced to fetch him from... where was he hiding all this time?"
Snape shrugged easily. "The old fool never said. But of course I agreed to take him in." Now his languid pose was disposed of and he straightened, looking Malfoy directly in the eye. "Half blood or not, he's my blood. And that means something to me."
"It will mean something to all our friends too, Severus," Malfoy murmured. "Just a friendly warning, you understand. But Harry Potter, the Dark Lord's downfall at large in the world! Well, the interest will be enormous, in certain circles."
"And how is your son, Lucius?" Snape asked, seemingly at random. "Your only child. It will be interesting to meet him in person."
Lucius snorted. "What makes you think you'll ever meet my son in person, Severus?"
Snape smiled, eyes as cold as winter. "Fair's fair, Lucius," he whispered. "If you take the time and trouble to seek my son out..." he paused, watching understanding dawn in those pale eyes. "Well, I'd just have to make time to visit yours. With my best regards of course."
Lucius set his jaw, an ugly expression flickering across his pale pointed face. Then he smiled again, insincere as ever. "So, Severus." His voice was soft but sharp like a razor. "I do believe we understand one another."
Snape inclined his head, never shifting his eyes from the white haired serpent before him. "Good day, Lucius."
Fine black cape swirling Malfoy spun on his heel and stalked away.
The nearest floo was the Leaky Cauldron and Snape paid a pretty penny for the handful of dust that sent him spinning back to his room at Hogwarts. He heard it locking magically behind him as heart pounding hard he listened to the empty silence of the room. In the corridor he grabbed a passing Slytherin by the robe and shook him. "Have you seen the headmaster, boy?"
"In the main courtyard, sir, a little while ago," the startled fifth year informed him.
Snape dropped him and hurried down the hall, his memory of the layout of the place coming back to him easily. He slid a little on a tread that was polished by age and realised he still had muddy snow from Diagon Alley on his boots. The memory of those moments with Malfoy, the concentrated malice in his pale eyes, the clear threat in his voice had sent him running, and now the panic at not finding Harry straight away was making him irritable too.
It was with something considerably more powerful than relief that he spotted Harry and Dumbledore hand in hand making their way down the slope to the ground keeper's hut.
"Harry!" he called, relief making him wilt against the standing stone that marked the beginning of the path. Harry turned and saw him, pulling away from Dumbledore's hand and racing back up the path.
Snape crouched as Harry jumped and in a moment he had the boy crushed to his chest, heartbeat finally slowing, breath easing in his tight chest.
"I missed you," Harry was exclaiming but his father barely heard him, busy cataloging the thin limbs, the tousled black hair, the green eyes slanted and lit with pleasure. The child was safe.
"Severus?" Dumbledore was saying by his side, his intelligent eyes concerned.
"I met Malfoy in London," Snape managed, grateful when the older wizard merely nodded his understanding.
"I could do with a cup of tea," Dumbledore announced. "Harry, you must be thirsty after all our explorations?"
Harry nodded, pulling back and studying his father's face. "Are you thirsty too, daddy?"
"I don't want anyone to know, headmaster," Snape said quietly as Harry enjoyed his glass of iced pumpkin juice. He was still on his father's lap, to his embarrassment Snape was disinclined at the moment to let him go.
Dumbledore glanced at him inquisitively over the translucent rim of his tea cup.
"About the Surrogace charm. I know Li- I know she was Muggle born and knew no better, but it's the child who would have to live with the stigma of it."
"Better the stigma of James being made cuckold by you?" Dumbledore asked delicately.
Snape shrugged. "I believe so. They are dead, sir, and beyond being hurt by rumours."
Harry looked up, licking at his pumpkin juice moustache, eyes curious and wide. He knew he was the subject of the discussion, no matter how carefully it was phrased.
Of course he does, Snape thought. He's my son after all.
Harry was playing happily in the bathtub when a house elf appeared by Snape's side with a pop. It bowed deeply.
"I am Pickle, sir," it said in its high voice. "I have the honour of overseeing the cleaning of your rooms and the preparation of your meals."
Snape nodded, taking in the spotless tea towel and the grizzled tufts of greying hair behind the batwing ears. It appeared they had an old and experienced elf taking care of them.
The elf bowed again, and cleared his throat apologetically. "If sir has a moment," he said delicately. "Pickle has run into a slight problem..."
Snape flicked a gaze into the bathroom where Harry was floating his block boat around accompanied by various hooting and whistling sounds. He nodded curtly.
"Right this way, sir," the elf said, leaping to Harry's door and bowing his way inside. "In the little master's bottom drawer, sir." He slid the drawer open and lifted out a handful of small sausages and a boiled egg.
"What the-?" Snape bit off. "Why is there food in there?"
"This was from last nights supper, sir," Pickle said, indicating the sausages. He held up the egg. "And this from breakfast."
Snape nodded and dismissed the elf with a promise to take care of it. The elf bowed and disappeared again and Snape sat on the edge of Harry's bed, gazing down at the pitiful little store in dismay. This was getting serious. It wasn't hard to figure out why the boy might prefer a smaller space after years of living in a cupboard, but this was harder to understand.
Surely Harry knew he was never going to be locked away without food again?
"Daddy! I need my towel!" Harry called and Snape hastily dropped the food back into the drawer and slid it closed. He needed to think about this before deciding what to say to the child.
Harry was waiting patiently in the water, having been forbidden to climb out of the slippery over-large bath on his own. Snape warmed a towel with a quick spell and helped the boy out of the sunken tub, engulfing him in the toasty folds and gently pushing him towards his bedroom with a tap on his behind.
Harry scurried across the sitting room, leaving tiny wet footprints on the pale green rug. Eyes on the small marks Snape sank back down into his chair. Not for the first time he was doubting his own ability to raise a child. This child. Harry had been raised by Muggles and was in danger from Death Eaters. Add to that the damage his childhood had caused and he was more than a handful, he was a bloody vocation.
"Can you comb my hair?"
His life's work appeared at his right arm, and Snape spread his legs and let the child stand between them, leaning trustingly against his thigh.
He summoned a comb from his own dressing table. "The night shirt fits then?" he said inconsequentially. It was fairly obvious it did, along with the dark green plaid dressing gown belted around his waist and the soft little slippers on his feet. The house elves had excelled themselves.
Harry nodded. "But I haven't got a brush or a comb." He closed his eyes blissfully as his father ran the old tortoise shell comb through his damp locks. "Can I grow my hair long like yours?"
Don't aspire to be like me, child, Snape thought achingly. Don't wish to emulate your bad father, or your foolish adopted father, or your blind Muggle mother. Be your own self, Harry. Grow up to be a good man.
"When you're as old as me," Snape managed, his throat tight.
Harry opened trusting green eyes and smiled easily. "I'm glad you're my dad," he confided.
Mountains of problems diminished before his eyes like snow in the sunshine.
"So am I," Snape said, honest in his own way as always.