Disclaimer: None of these lovely toys belong to me, for the simple reason that I am not J.K. Rowling and never will be.

A/N: Many thanks to my lovely and talented beta, enb2004! Enjoy!

It was 11:58 on July 30, and Harry Potter was excitedly watching the clock on his bedside table. In just a few short moments he would be seventeen and an adult in the wizarding world, capable of doing magic and no longer requiring guardians. The only damper on his excitement was that Professor Dumbledore had asked him not to leave the Dursleys just yet. After his narrow escape from Voldemort at the end of the last school year, Harry was willing to comply with the headmaster's request.

The Dark Lord, he knew, despite his considerable occlumency skills, was furious with him and Harry was willing enough to accept whatever protection the blood he shared with his aunt could afford him. Obscurely, Harry was almost comforted by his nemesis's rage. As long as the other wizard was that angry, he had not yet settled down to thinking up his next plot to kill the Boy-Who-Lived.

At last the glowing red numbers on the alarm clock blinked to 12:00 and it was nearly all Harry could do not to let out a whoop of joy. Owls began fluttering through the window and Harry was soon caught up in receiving letters and presents from all his many friends and much of the Order.

Harry finally collected all of his parcels, including his school letters, and had just sent all the owls off preparatory to opening his gifts when he noticed a letter floating just over his pillow. Curiously he approached the envelope, but did not touch it. He could practically feel the magic coming off the letter, though it did not feel dark, Harry still couldn't imagine what it was. He prodded it with his wand and shrugged when there was no response.

Taking a deep breath, Harry reached out and plucked the letter from the air, other than a slight, and almost friendly, tingle nothing seemed to happen. Harry exhaled gustily and began examining the envelope. The handwriting was unfamiliar and Harry decided that he would have to open it to know what it was. Deftly Harry broke the seal and unfolded the parchment within.

He did a double-take when he read the salutation, My dear son. Who would write that? It wasn't remotely funny. The closing was signed Lily Evans Potter. Harry decided it was a joke and not a very good one and set the letter aside. He would read it later, he decided. For now, he just wanted to open his presents. By the time he had finished with them and shoved them into his trunk, which was starting to seem a bit small with seven years worth of things in it, Harry collapsed into bed, leaving the prank letter sitting on his bedside table.

The next morning Harry was awakened by a pounding on his bedroom door accompanied by his aunt's shrill voice. Hermione had called to wish him a happy birthday, so Harry hurried down to the telephone and chatted with his friend for a few moments while trying to ignore his uncle's glares. After a bit, he hung up and made his way back upstairs to get dressed.

Harry was completely shocked to see his Aunt Petunia holding the disturbing letter he had received the last night with trembling hands. "What are you doing going through my things?" Harry asked coldly.

"Not as perfect as you thought, was she?" Petunia asked with a nasty smile.

"What are you on about?" Harry asked agitatedly as he snatched the parchment from his aunt's hands. "That's just a prank someone sent."

"Oh no it's not, boy. I'd know your mother's handwriting anywhere. Haven't read it yet, have you?" she asked, her smirk growing. "Do," she said exultantly as she shoved past him.

Harry was staring after her in shock. Could it really be that his mother had somehow managed to send a letter to him from beyond the grave? And if so, why hadn't she sent him letters before this? Shaking ever-so-slightly, Harry settled down on his bed and began to read.

My dear son, the letter began,

I hope with all my heart that you never receive this letter, for if you do it means that I am dead. If that is the case, I hope you know how much I love you, and how much James loves you. You may have noticed that I said James and not your father. As you are now seventeen and an adult in our world, I feel it is time for you to know, Harry suddenly stopped reading, he had a sinking feeling that he knew where this was going and he wasn't sure that he wanted to know the rest.

He stood up and fetched his photo album from his trunk. After a few moments paging through it and basking in all the smiles shining up at him he decided that James was his father, no matter what. Harry gave a satisfied nod and folded the letter up, halfway through putting it away, however, he paused. He didn't know as much as he would like about his mother, and the letter was rather long. Besides, if James wasn't his father Harry couldn't help wondering who was. With a small sigh Harry unfolded the letter and settled back onto his bed.

Where was he…ah—I feel it is time fore you to know that James is not your father. It is fairly likely that you knew this already, you have only a little of me in you, perhaps my nose and eyes, so most likely you will look very like your father.

James and I were happily married, as you've no doubt been told. The times were dark, however, and the worries that everyone had were compounded by our membership in the Order. If you don't know what that is, do ask Albus Dumbledore, you may know him as the headmaster of Hogwarts. At any rate, know that we were committed to fighting Voldemort and it was very dangerous. There was a time when James had gone on a mission without me and he did not come back on time. I was frantic with worry. And then word came that he had died. It was believable, since he was several days overdue. I became very depressed and was not completely myself.

After an Order meeting an old school mate, Severus Snape, helped me home, since I wasn't sure I could apparate alone. He came inside to make certain that I was alright and I talked him into staying for dinner. I will not lie to you, my son, we drank several bottles of wine and I invited Severus to share my bed that night. It was entirely my idea. I wanted, I think, to feel that James was with my one last time. Please understand that although you were not planned, I do not regret you, and I have not for even an instant since I first found I would have you.

Severus was gone before I woke the next morning. You mustn't blame him, Harry. You may already know him, and you probably already knew or suspected that you were related.

Know that I love you with all my heart and have never made any attempt to disguise you because I am not ashamed of you, my son.

James has declared you his heir, as well, so you needn't worry about using the money in the Potter family vault.

Forgive me, Harry, and know that I love you.

Forgive me, too, for not sending you more letters on other birthdays, but I don't want to tempt fate by preparing so obviously for death, and I fear this may be too much already.

Good bye, my son, my love, my Harry.

Lily Evans Potter

When he got to the end Harry sat gasping for breath. He had a wild urge to drop the letter and simply run, as he had in the days before Hogwarts, but the rational part of his brain told him that even were he to run all the way to Australia nothing would change what he had just read.

Harry couldn't understand how this could happen. He looked nothing like Snape, and everyone had always said that he was the mirror image of James. Even he had to acknowledge the similarities, hadn't he seen his father that time in the Pensieve?

Merlin, to be related to Snape, of all people. Harry reckoned the only thing worse would be to find out that he was somehow a Malfoy. Then Harry thought about wizarding genealogy and groaned as he realized that he might very well be related to the Malfoys.

A large part of Harry wanted to insist that it was all a sick, twisted joke, but as he recalled the look on his aunt's face he knew that it could not possibly be a prank. Which left him with the problem of what to do about it.

Harry stared toward the window, not actually looking out it but subconsciously seeking the comfort of sunlight caressing his skin. Idly he half-recalled a time when he was very young and he thought the sun must be his mother, before he had realized that it was an impossible notion.

To think, all those years in Potions class he had actually been learning from his own father. Harry laughed mirthlessly at the idea that the dour professor had been hardest on his own son. And no one had known it, no one had even guessed. But why should they have, Harry thought, there was never any reason to, after all. Harry smiled a small, cold smile, and there was no reason to now, either.

He still looked the same as he always had, and he was still the same person; nothing had changed, and nothing would change. Harry would tell no one and pretend that he didn't know himself. That only left the problem of what to do with the letter. Harry couldn't even consider burning it, it was all he had of his mother, and it was little enough compared with what he had from Ja— from his father.

Harry glanced at his trunk and remembered a small rip in the lining at the very bottom. Seized with inspiration, Harry got up and began emptying his trunk. He widened the hole the tiniest bit and slid the letter in. He flattened it and carefully piled his things back in his trunk. When he was done he smiled and moved off to try to enjoy what was left of his birthday and to hope that the Order came for him soon.