Author's Note: Hey everyone, time to wrap this baby up! Warning: Now, this fic does contain more mentions and themes of child abuse, so if you're sick of that and just want your happy ending, read the pure fluff version on my yahoo group! (link on my author's page…it's a bit weird, click the second link thing. Yeah) Also, this fic contains a LOT of H/G fluffiness, so if H/G makes you want to vomit, you could try to skip it or just turn away now. To those that are left and ready to plow on, I hope you enjoy!
"Ooh, who's the man next to Professor Snape?"
"He must be the new Defense Professor."
"Oh please, oh please let that be our new Defense professor, he's so hot. You know who he looks like? Harry Potter, that's who."
"You guys are so stupid. That is Harry Potter! He used to go here. He graduated only like five years ago. See, some of the seventh years know him."
"Wow, d'ya reckon it's really him? That would be so wicked! I've heard he's amazing at Defense type stuff."
"Well duh, he's the Boy Who Lived."
"Phwoar, doesn't look like he's much of a boy anymore. I love Dumbledore, did I mention that? If he continues hiring people that look like that, I'll worship him as a god."
"Okay, I'm making sure I look extra good the first day of his class."
"Okay, first: ew. He's like twenty-two and you're thirteen. That's just wrong. Second: check out the ring. He's taken."
"He's married? Ah damn."
"Didn't you read about it? It was pretty private but some pictures got to the magazines. Oh Merlin, he looked good, but his wife's really pretty and you could just tell by the way they looked at each other that they're completely in love."
"But what the hell is he doing talking to Snape? If he only graduated five years ago he must know who he is, right? If he's friends with Snape, we've got a problem. Snape doesn't have friends. It's just a given fact. He's too evil."
"Oh please don't tell me our one hot teacher is deranged."
"Oh look! The Sorting's starting."
Harry sat with a nervous grin between Snape and Hagrid trying not to notice the sea of students looking at him. Hagrid patted him on the back reassuringly, almost knocking him forward into the table.
"I'm so proud of yeh," he whispered, almost tearfully.
"Thanks Hagrid. I just can't believe this," Harry whispered back. "I still feel like I'm the student among a bunch of professors, just sitting at the wrong table. Oh look, the Sorting's starting!"
His eyes scanned the group walking in, immediately spotting the blonde hair he was looking for. Anna looked up at him with an excited grin and pulled a face. Harry grinned and gave her a surreptitious, one-fingered wave.
Snape sat beside him, looking very composed though his eyes were alive with excitement.
When Professor McGonagall called out, "Annabelle Snape," there was a collective gasp. Harry nearly laughed as he saw the students glancing in disbelief between Snape and Anna, trying to determine if there was any relation. With the reassuring nod the Potions master gave to his daughter, their suspicions were confirmed and whispering erupted throughout the hall.
The tattered hat was slipped over Anna's head. It took a long time with her but finally shouted out, "Hufflepuff."
There was a dead silence in the hall as students tried to absorb the fact that Snape's child was not only at Hogwarts, but in Hufflepuff. Harry and Dumbledore simultaneously started clapping, inciting everyone else to follow. The Hufflepuff house finally overcame the shock and began roaring with cheers, probably thinking Snape wouldn't be taking as many points from their house with a relative of his in it.
Anna looked up to her stepfather, nervously trying to gauge his reaction. Harry glanced over to see Snape break out into a proud smile and join in with the clapping. Harry laughed and gave Anna the thumbs-up before the cheery girl bounded over to the table whose inhabitants immediately started interrogating her and introducing themselves.
"Hufflepuff, then. Laura wins the bet," Harry whispered as the Sorting continued.
"There must be some cardinal rule that she always has to be right," Snape responded quietly.
"And how are you feeling about it?"
"Proud, of course. Hufflepuff is a very noble house for the loyal and hard working. Anna is very dedicated and her loyalty is unwavering. Of course she's going to be the smartest, slyest, bravest Hufflepuff in the house, but hopefully she won't give the others an inferiority complex. Anyway, Hufflepuff's are generally happy. I'm glad to know my daughter's happy."
The two stopped talking as the Sorting ended and Dumbledore stood.
"Now, before you all dive into your dinner, I am proud to introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, who I hope will be staying with us for a very long time, Professor Potter."
The seventh years in particular clapped and cheered, remembering Harry from their first year and knowing exactly who he was. Others quickly followed to join the older students.
Hagrid nudged Harry, nearly causing him to fall out of his chair.
"Stand up," he whispered.
"Oh!" Harry nervously stood and gave a quick nod before sitting back down. Snape gave him an amused look and shook his head.
"Oh shut it," Harry muttered with a laugh.
Harry nervously skimmed through his notes for the tenth time, as if they would suddenly disappear before his first class began. There was a knock on the door and his head shot up.
"Come in," he called.
The door opened to reveal Professor McGonagall, who entered looking very amused. Harry jumped up and offered her a chair but she politely refused.
"Well, Harry, if in your first year someone told me that the one out of your trio that was going to end up being a professor would be you instead of Hermione, I would have thought they had as much knowledge of the future as Sibyll Trelawney."
Harry laughed. "Yeah, especially being friends with Ron. We weren't the most diligent students, I guess."
"Well that changed, didn't it? By the end of your schooling here, I knew exactly where each of you would be headed. I don't know why you even bothered with those other occupations when you were so obviously meant to be a professor here. You know Albus wanted to take you onto the staff as soon as you graduated."
Harry laughed, blushing slightly. "Yeah, well, that's only because all the applicants for it were so horrible. I don't think I was quite ready at that time and you know how desperate the ministry was for people to train Aurors in combat right then with those groups spouting up all around trying to be the next Voldemort and company."
"But you didn't stay with them too long, did you?"
"Well, I think they expected more trouble than they actually had. And then, when the Chudley Cannons needed a replacement Seeker until Curtis Sanchez was healed, well, let's just say Ron would have had my head if I didn't take it."
"Yes, well I knew you had talent the first time I saw you fly. And you caught the snitch in every one of those professional games," she said proudly. "I made sure to follow that, since I was the one to first spot your talent."
Harry laughed. "Well, it was fun, but as much as I loved it, I don't think I could actually do that as a living."
"Is that because you don't like being in the spotlight or because Ms. Weasley, or should I say Mrs. Potter, wasn't too fond of all the women swarming around you?" she asked.
"Nah, Ginny was fine with it all, well, except for that one time with that woman with the...well, never mind," Harry said, clearing his throat awkwardly.
"It's alright, Harry, I don't think I really want to know," McGonagall said with a knowing look. "So what about the whole stint at the Three Broomsticks? I can tell you I was shocked to see you in there."
Harry chuckled, running his hand through his hair sheepishly. "Well, Ginny always had this thing about wanting to try bartending so she talked me into doing it with her. It does make entertaining guests a bit easier. Plus, I can now serve drinks complete with the twirling of bottles and all that. It was only for a few months, but it was fun."
"Well we're glad to have you back here where you belong," she said with a fond smile. "Are you nervous for your first class?"
Harry hesitated and then nodded.
"Oh dear, that's normal. I'm sure Severus has given you loads of wonderful advice…" She rolled her eyes knowingly at the type of teaching advice the head of the Slytherin house might give. "…but just remember that some children will not get things right away and some will not be interested, no matter how good a professor you are. Don't get disillusioned. Also, never lose control of them. You have patience and wonderful teaching skills but I'm worried about you not being able to discipline your students if they act up. Do you think you'll be able to handle that?"
"I think so. Just take house points or give detentions. Everyone's been talking to me about that since I got the job," Harry said, a bit embarrassed. He'd been getting many lectures about it from his friends who all seemed to be concerned that he had a problem with letting people walk all over him. He was better about it, but some habits formed from his childhood still stayed with him, always lingering under the surface.
The two began hearing the sounds of students crowding up outside the door.
"All right, Harry. You're going to do great. I'm very proud of you," she said before taking her leave, allowing students to begin filing in. Harry looked at his schedule. Third years. Gryffindor and Slytherin.
The students all looked up at him in interest, all crowding in toward the front. The girls, in particular, were whispering to each other and giggling.
"All right, good afternoon. You may put away your books as we're going to have a practical lesson today," he started with more confidence than he felt.
The class cast excited glances at each other. Apparently the professor that had been teaching the subject for the last few years had been a great disappointment, one of the main reasons Dumbledore had insisted Harry take the job at such a young age. Remus had left the position after Harry's sixth year. Sirius had been spectacularly bored at home all by himself, and having the Black fortune in his inheritance, it wasn't really necessary for either of them to work. Remus had told Harry he was staying at home to make sure Sirius didn't burn the house down out of mere restlessness, but Harry knew the man secretly needed this break after so many stressful years of being chased away from one job after another. He and Sirius needed time together to make up for all the years when the two had had everything and everyone they cared for ripped away from them.
Harry was about to start his lesson when he saw a hand in the air. "Ah, yes…."
"Brandon Fletcher, sir. Are you Harry Potter?" the Gryffindor asked.
Harry knew he'd be getting this type of questioning and figured he might as well get it over with.
"Yes, I am."
"And you used to be in Gryffindor?" he continued eagerly.
"Yes, I did. Professor McGonagall was my head of house as well."
The Gryffindors shot the Slytherins somewhat smug looks.
A Slytherin hand shot defiantly into the air.
"Scarlet Jenkins. Do you know Professor Snape?" she asked.
"Yes, he and I are quite good friends, actually." He nearly laughed at the looks of horror on the Gryffindors' faces in particular. Even the Slytherins looked a bit shocked that their head of house had friends. "He helped me out a lot when I was a student here and I'm very close with his family."
The Slytherins shot smug looks right back at the Gryffindors. Apparently the rivalries still existed strongly between the houses.
"When I went here, there was a lot of rivalry between the houses, especially between Gryffindor and Slytherin..." There was chuckling among the students at this, knowing that it was still true and quite an understatement. "…but I really hope you are all mature enough to look past something as stupid as that. One of my best friends was a Slytherin and I was nearly sorted into Slytherin myself. The lines between the houses are blurry and I hope you won't allow titles to drive you to prejudice of those with different colored scarves. Now…"
Another Gryffindor's hand shot up.
"Gabriella Chavez. Can you tell us how you defeated that Lord Voldemort guy?" she asked eagerly. "I heard it happened at the school, in the Great Hall, but none of the teachers or seventh years will talk about it. Snape nearly bit off someone's head for asking. "
"That's Professor Snape and it's a sore subject with a lot of people who were here to witness it. You'll probably be learning it one day in your History of Magic course, so I won't bore you with the details. If you really want to know, you can ask me outside of class, but for now, I do have a lesson to teach, as much as I'm sure you all would love to get out of it." Everyone chuckled. "Oh come on, it'll be fun." He was met with several skeptical looks and laughed. "Alright, who in here has dueled before?" There was silence. "Okay, who has disarmed someone before or has been disarmed?" Once again there was silence. A girl raised her hand.
"Marci Motley. Sir, we've never had a practical lesson before."
"Hmm, well then this year should be fun for you. Raise your hands if you think reading about Defense is boring."
Everyone gave each other nervous looks until Harry raised his hand himself. The students chuckled and hesitantly raised their own hands.
"Who in here would actually like to know how to defend themselves?"
They kept their hands raised with a little more enthusiasm this time.
"Okay, let's see here," he ran his finger down the role list and his finger fell across a student he heard was very similar to Neville was back in his early years at Hogwarts, nervous and somewhat of a disaster when it came to performing magic. "Dominic Hugens, will you please come up here for a small demonstration?"
All the Gryffindors looked like they were ready to groan that this had been the boy chosen. They were all eager to prove themselves to their new professor and knew they'd now get off to a bad start. The Slytherins smirked at each other knowingly. Dominic paled and looked very nervous.
"Me?" he asked as if praying he'd heard wrong.
"Yes. You'll be perfect. Come on up now," Harry said with a reassuring smile. He knew exactly how to handle this kid as he'd tutored Neville back when he was still very insecure.
Dominic reluctantly got up in front of the class, wringing his hands nervously. "Um, professor, I'm not really good at magic and all so I might not be the best person to pick for a demonstration."
"Hey, don't worry so much. I picked you for a reason. Besides, if you don't get it the first time, that's perfectly fine. Most people don't," Harry said encouragingly.
The boy nodded still looking nervous.
"Okay, have you heard of a reflective shield?" he asked.
Dominic paled a bit. "I think we learned about them but I c-can't remember, I-I…"
"Don't worry. I've never been one for memorizing things out of books either. The way you get to know them is to do them. All right, I want you to imagine a big mirror standing in front of you, facing out. Imagine that anyone looking at you would only see their own reflection. Now I want you to flick your wand like this and say Protego Reflechay. Go ahead and try it and take your time," Harry instructed.
Dominic followed the instructions, biting his lip nervously.
"Now, repeat after me while keeping that image in your mind. Protego Reflechay."
Dominic repeated the words. Harry took out his wand and felt for a magical shield. "Okay, you've got one starting. Good job. Think of this mirror on the face of a huge steel shield completely blocking you, completely unbreakable."
He tapped his wand at the boy's invisible shield again and smiled. "You got it. Okay, now you just have to recreate it, which will be fairly easy. Just imagine what I told you and you'll be able to do it."
He turned to the anxiously awaiting class.
"Ask any Auror and they will tell you that the most important aspect to dueling or fighting with magic is defensive magic. I know it's not as cool as blowing up walls, but it does no good to hurl curses at your opponent if they can bring you down with one simple spell. Defensive magic is difficult which is why even the most trained wizards still get injured in fights. Also, you cannot use offensive magic while using defensive. Dominic here is going to show you an example of a reflective shield. Alright, Dominic, I'm going to throw a spell at you and I want you to block it. You can do it. Just do what I told you to."
Dominic nodded nervously and shakily raised his wand.
Harry nodded and threw a tickling charm at the boy. Dominic threw up his shield in a panic, reflecting the curse back to Harry, who threw up an absorption shield that swallowed up the spell. The class erupted into applause.
"Excellent, Dominic! That was fantastic. Ten points to Gryffindor."
Harry continued describing how to put up shields before pairing everyone up and allowing them to practice while their partners tried to charm them. He walked around giving people tips until the class was over. He quickly assigned them homework and watched them all file out of the class, talking eagerly about the lesson.
He sat down at his desk to see what year of students were coming in next when he sensed someone in front of him. Looking up, he found Dominic standing shyly in front of his desk, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
"Hi Dominic, do you have a question?" he asked kindly.
"How did you know I'd be able to do it? I usually can't do that kind of stuff," he said quietly, looking at the desk.
"Do you have a class right now?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Care of Magical Creatures. I'm sorry; I'll just go. I didn't mean…"
"Please, sit down. I just wanted to make sure it was someone who wouldn't mind you being tardy. I'll write a note to Hagrid, er…Professor Hagrid, to excuse you if you're late."
The boy blinked at him in surprise before taking a seat.
"I don't know if you know this, but everyone has a magical energy. Some are more powerful than others. Muggles have none and Squibs have little to none as well."
"I bet mine's tiny," Dominic said miserably.
"Some people," Harry continued, "can sense the sizes of people's magical auras just by being around them. Ever since I had a certain separation with mine one time, I've gradually gained that ability."
"Oh no, is mine too small to stay here?" Dominic asked in fright.
Harry chuckled and shook his head. "No, no. In fact, yours is average size. At your age, most have pretty much the same sized aura and I promise you that yours fits right in there with everyone else's."
"But then why am I so bad at it all?" he asked helplessly.
"Because you don't believe in yourself. Confidence is half of what makes a person able to perform spells. That's what you really need," Harry informed him.
"Wish I could get a bottle of that," the boy said miserably. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
"Tell you what. Why don't you come in sometime before the next class and I'll work with you on the spell we'll be doing. That way you'll have a little practice before you have to do it with the rest of your class there?" Harry offered.
"Really?" Dominic asked hopefully. "Wouldn't that be unfair to the rest of the class?"
"My job is to teach. Whether you learn it before or after the class I present it in doesn't matter. Besides, I'm always open to anyone for tutoring. You just happen to be the first one to come to me that seemed to have an interest. So what do you say?"
"That would be really great, professor. Thank you," Dominic said enthusiastically.
"How about tomorrow at seven?"
"Okay. I'll be here," Dominic vowed excitedly.
Harry wrote him a note for Hagrid not only excusing him from class but quickly telling Hagrid that his first class went well and promising to come down later for tea as they'd discussed.
Dominic rushed out of the room with the note as the next class filed in.
At lunchtime, the door opened to reveal a blonde first year with a yellow and black scarf, smirking at Harry.
"Anna! Come in!" Harry exclaimed excitedly, jumping up to greet his surrogate little sister.
Anna shut the door behind her and bounded up to him, hugging him tightly.
"I can't believe my big brother's a professor," she teased, playfully pretending to through punches at his stomach.
"Yeah, and I can't believe a runt like you passed off as a first year," Harry laughed, getting her in a mock-headlock, ruffling her hair. "You want some of the biscuits Mrs. Weasley sent me? They're…well Mrs. Weasley cooked them so I guess that's all I really have to say."
"Yeah! Yeah! Mrs. Weasley biscuits!" she squealed happily. "I call your professor's chair!" The two tried scrambling for the comfortable chair, but Harry let Anna win the battle and sat in the chair opposite, pulling out the tin of cookies.
"So, Hufflepuff, eh? How are you liking it?" Harry asked.
"I love it! I don't know why everyone's always putting it down. There are a lot of smart people, like me," she said with a wink, "and everyone's so nice and friendly. Obviously I've only been in it since yesterday, but I really think we're going to have a lot of fun," she said excitedly, munching on a chocolate biscuit. "Oh and thank you so much for the Marauder's Map!"
"You're welcome, but remember…"
"I know, if Dad finds it, it wasn't from you. You know he won't believe that for one second," Anna said matter-of-factly.
"I know, but hey, it's worth a shot. You'll just have to be extra careful that he doesn't find it. And if you use it to do anything stupid, I'm taking it back," Harry warned.
"I know, I know. So, when I have your class tomorrow are you going to award me a billion points?" she asked cheekily.
"If you earn them. You'll have to do some pretty incredible things for that, though."
"Just don't make it super obvious that you know me well, okay?," she requested, changing her tune. "People are already going to give me a hard time about Dad's class because I already know it all so I'll probably be top of my class, and of course, everyone will think it's unfair or that Dad's changing my grades or something. They don't realize he'll be grading my stuff extra hard. I mean, what do they expect when both your parents are obsessed with potions? I can't help it if I'll be better at it than those who've never done it before," she said exasperatedly, leaning back in the chair.
"It's the hard-knock life, isn't it, kid?" Harry teased.
"Oh shut it, Harry," Anna scolded. "Luckily I don't know any Defense yet since I've never practiced any wand magic, but you'll tutor me and my friends, right?"
"I am open for tutoring for anyone who wants it, and that includes you and your friends."
"Harry, you know what you should do? You should start a dueling club like you and Dray were talking about from your second year! That would be so cool! I bet so many people would come. Oh please oh please oh please!"
Harry laughed. "Okay! Okay. I'll talk to Dumbledore about it."
"Wicked!" she exclaimed with a happy grin.
"Shroud, are you completely incompetent? What does the board say?" Snape barked at the timid first year.
"U-um, to stir three times?" the boy said nervously.
"In which direction?" Snape said in a dangerous tone.
The boy's face paled as he gulped. "C-clockwise, sir," he barely managed.
"And may I then ask why you were so frighteningly hopeless that…"
"Terrorizing students again, Professor Snape?" came an amused voice from the door.
"Disrupting my class, Professor Potter?" Snape asked, turning around. The students were shocked to actually see the faintest hint of a smile on the normally scowling face. They hoped this wasn't some secret Potions masters sign of feral aggression or preparation to attack. The first years all snuck relieved glances at each other. They all loved Professor Potter and felt safer with his presence in the dungeons, even if they were a bit worried his life was now in danger for interrupting a potions lesson.
"What potion?" Harry asked as he walked into the classroom. "Ah, this one's difficult to do the first time."
"That's only because you were incompetent in Potions until you actually started to pay attention."
"Or until you started tutoring me outside of class. So if any of you want Professor Snape to give you extra lessons, just ask him."
The class began snickering at the notion until Snape whirled around to quiet them with a glare.
Harry walked over to the boy Snape had been intimidating and peered in his cauldron. "Hey, this isn't that bad of a screw up. I've made far worse. Like that time in seventh year when my potion exploded and turned everything pink. I think you nearly gave up teaching then."
"Do you think you can right the mistake?" Snape asked as if making a silent dare.
"Is that a challenge, Professor Snape?" Harry asked in amusement.
The students tried to silently communicate with him to stop now and before Snape murdered him for his impertinence.
"If you think you're up to it," Snape said with a raised eyebrow.
"Alright," Harry said, rubbing his hands together, "I'm going to need something acidic, probably some snake venom. How about some powdered hornblende, some chopped shrivelfig and a cup of tea. That last one's for me, of course, not the potion. Katie, do you think you can do that again?"
As students began eagerly running to get and prepare Harry the ingredients to see if he could meet Snape's challenge, Katie concentrated and conjured up a cup of tea. Harry sipped some and grinned.
"Brilliant. That's amazing, Katie, thank you. Isn't that cool, Professor?"
"Stunning," Snape responded sarcastically.
Harry set his cup aside and began grinding some hornblende and measuring it out.
"Okay, Ben, stir counterclockwise as I pour this in…"
"You may want to pick someone else," Snape butted in. "Shroud does not seem to be able to get his stirring directions correct."
"Well let me check then. Yup, yup. That's definitely the opposite of a clock," Harry said, triggering much snickering from the students.
"You were always a smart arse," Snape pronounced.
"Coming from someone to whom sarcasm is a way of life, I'll take that as a compliment," Harry retorted before turning back to Ben Shroud. "Okay Ben, what we've just done has basically undone the last three steps. This can't be done with most potions, but can with some of the more basic ones. Now all you have to do is redo your last few steps. Good….good…and there you go." He turned back to Snape. "So, what's the verdict?" he asked, allowing Snape to examine it.
"Well done," he said simply and the class applauded.
"Learned from the best," Harry said with a grin. He turned to the students. "I know this class is impossibly hard, but you guys are really lucky to have Professor Snape as a Potions master. He's brilliant and invents all these miraculous potions and knows them inside and out and…"
"Alright, time for you to go, Professor," Snape said sternly, pulling Harry away from the students. When near the door, he lowered his voice. "Laura put you up to that, didn't she?"
"She wants your students to appreciate you a bit more," Harry said quietly in return. "I quite agree."
"Lunch in my rooms, today?" Snape said in a practically inaudible voice.
"Great. See you there," Harry whispered, not betraying Snape's lonely, snarky bastard façade to his students.
A few months later found Harry working with a group in his dueling club, while the rest practiced with their partners. It still surprised him how popular it was. Lockhart's had quickly died off after the first meeting. Of course, there had been no incidents of giant snakes or revealed Parselmouths yet either, so nobody had been scared away.
Suddenly, the room was no longer filled with laughter and shouted spells, but with urgent whispering.
Harry looked up curiously to see everyone looking toward the man who had just entered the room. Harry grinned.
"Ah, Professor Snape. What brings you to our humble dueling club meeting?" Harry greeted the man who was scowling menacingly at the students. He had never lost that quality as a professor, wanting his students to know exactly who was in charge. He claimed it was the surest way to keep control. He was also convinced it built character in the students and taught them how to deal with people they didn't like but had to work with anyway. He insisted he was toughening them up. Harry reckoned the man probably liked the power trip, but never said that out loud, at least not to him.
"I was just observing," he said simply. "I wanted to see if you'd do any dueling yourself, but I see that's not quite possible with such a pitiful choice of opponents," Snape said superciliously. "Unless you would like to see how you can handle someone a bit more advanced in dueling."
Harry raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Is that a challenge, Professor?"
"I believe it is," Snape responded with a raised eyebrow.
Harry turned to the class. "What do you all say? Would anyone be interested in seeing a duel between myself and Professor Snape?" he asked knowingly.
The whole club cheered and the two professors climbed up on the raised stage so everyone could see.
"Go easy on me, Sev. I'm no Gilderoy Lockhart, after all," Harry joked. Snape nearly cracked a smile in front of the crowd but caught himself in time.
"I would never go easy on you, Professor Potter."
"Good to know."
The two bowed and began dueling. Even though Harry no longer had his wandless magic, he had quickly discovered that his training hadn't been for nothing. He was still able to put some of the skills to use. Plus, after having trained so much with Snape at that period of time, he was familiar with all the man's tricks.
The crowd 'ooh'ed and 'ah'ed as the two dueled intensely, though never using any pain-causing curses.
At one point, Harry managed to turn Snape's hair red and gold and was laughing too hard to defend himself against retaliation. The students seemed genuinely concerned that Snape was going to kill him and laughed in relief when Harry merely began sneezing with colored jets of light shooting from his nose with each sneeze. Next, little, pink, heart-shaped clouds began to follow Snape around and Harry found himself decked out in Slytherin paraphernalia, including a "Go Slytherin" flag that had appeared in his hand. The students were roaring with laughter. Snape's robes began flashing neon colors and Harry doubled over with laughter at a tickling charm.
Eventually, when Harry agreed to remove the tail he'd given Snape if he removed the cat ears on Harry's head in return, the two concluded their duel as a truce. The students cheered fervently until Snape silenced them with a sharp look.
After that, the participation in the Dueling club rose to include the entire student body.
Saturday morning, Harry entered his house in Hogsmeade quietly, putting down his things before tiptoeing into the bedroom.
Ginny was fast asleep in a pair of Harry's boxers and a t-shirt, red hair sprawled out over the pillow, cuddling up to their massive dog who was sleeping in Harry's normal spot.
Harry quietly walked over and began planting butterfly kisses all over Ginny's face. She groggily opened her eyes and suddenly jerked awake.
"Harry!" she screamed in delight grabbing him and pulling him down in a huge hug. Their dog finally woke up and barked happily. Harry looked up at the huge animal with a grin before turning back to his wife.
"I'm gone one week and you replace me with Bob? I should have known. I must admit, though, he is rather dishy."
Ginny laughed before nodding. "Yes, well the two of you smell about the same…ah Harry no! Stop it!" she squealed, howling with laughter as Harry tickled her mercilessly. "I give up! I surrender! You smell way better than Bob!"
Harry looked up at Bob who cocked his head to the side. "Hey Bob, you are some guard dog, you know. Sleeping until everyone else is awake and I'm all the way in here and ah!"
Ginny rolled them over so she was lying on top of him.
"I missed you," she said seriously, letting her fingers play with his unruly black locks.
"I missed you too."
Ginny lowered her head and kissed him deeply as he slipped his arms around her and rubbed her back. She began lifting up the hem of his shirt when she felt a tug at her side.
"Bob, not now," she hissed, vainly trying to shove the dog off the bed with her bare foot. Bob didn't even notice, merely whining and tugging again at Ginny's shirt with his teeth.
"Merlin, he really has turned into me! He wants you, Gin," Harry joked.
"Bob, it's grownup time. Little puppies…"
"…should not witness the things about to happen in this room," she said with a mischievous smile at Harry.
Bob responded with a sonorous fart.
Harry and Ginny burst out laughing hysterically.
"Oh mother of Merlin!" Ginny exclaimed in disgust, slapping a hand over her nose and mouth as the smell permeated the air.
"Oh God!" Harry coughed, doing the same. "That is not right! What do we feed that dog?" he asked as the two scrambled off the bed and raced into the hall for fresh air, laughing the whole way.
"Well that was certainly a mood killer," Ginny chuckled with a playful glare at Bob, who simply cocked his head to the side innocently.
"Alright, how about you let Bob out and I'll start cook breakfast," Harry suggested.
"I'm so glad you're home," Ginny said with a loving smile, hugging him tightly before whistling for Bob and leading him to the door, scolding him about interfering with her love life.
Harry quickly threw together breakfast as Ginny interrogated him about work and updating him on news with everyone else. She sat on the counter, swinging her legs.
The two ate playfully, showing off their bartending moves with bottles of syrup and stealing food from each other's plates for no good reason at all.
Eventually they dumped the dirty dishes into the sink. Ginny hooked her fingers through Harry's belt loops as he slung his arms around her neck. She shuffled backwards, pulling him along as they both chuckled.
"His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad," she giggled, kissing him firmly.
"Mmm, I like this poem," Harry teased.
"His hair is as dark as a blackboard."
"You have such a magical way with words, Ginny. I think you should write a book," he joked as the two kissed again, still shuffling back.
"I wish he was mine, he's really divine—oof!"
The two had collided with the arm of the couch and toppled over onto it, Harry landing on top of his wife.
"Ooh, Mr. Potter, I dare say this is quite a compromising position," Ginny teased.
"Well, what can I say? It's the poem. They should market it as an alternative to aphrodisiac potions."
He leaned down to kiss her when there was a knock at the door. Harry hung his head and Ginny growled in frustration.
"Come on, let's see who has so rudely interrupted us," Harry said, crawling off the couch and letting Ginny jump on his back. He carried her piggyback style to the door and flung it open, freezing when he saw who was on the other side.
"A-A-Aunt Petunia?" Harry stuttered in shock. He hadn't seen her since that day in the supermarket right before his uncle had nearly killed him at the Stensons.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Ginny spat.
"I need to speak with my nephew," she said airily.
"Harry, love, put me down," Ginny whispered.
Harry numbly obliged. Ginny stood beside him firmly, gripping Harry's hand to comfort him.
"What about?" Harry asked breathlessly. He noticed her looking at Ginny expectantly. "I don't keep secrets from my wife so you might as well tell us both."
"You're married," she said in mild surprise.
"Yes, he is," Ginny said proudly.
Petunia nodded with a strange expression. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
"You watched Uncle Vernon nearly kill me on several occasions without even caring so forgive me if I'm not so sure I want you in my home," Harry said coldly.
She sighed. "I need money," she admitted finally.
Harry's stilled in surprise at the woman's nerve and Ginny stiffened dangerously.
"All the money we had in the bank when your people took Vernon away is gone and if you don't help me I'll have to sell the house," she continued without showing much emotion one way or the other.
"What about Dudley?"
"He isn't currently employed. He has some financial problems himself, with unpaid debts…I gave him everything. I'm working, but I need a bit of help," she admitted reluctantly.
Harry shut his eyes momentarily to make it all go away, even if for only a few seconds.
"Come in," he said with a sigh.
"What?!" Ginny exclaimed. "Harry, you can't actually be considering giving that hag money after all she's done to you!"
"Ginny, let me just hear her out," Harry said, sounding very weary at the moment, making Ginny hate the woman even more. "She did take me in, after all."
"Yeah, to put you to work! She used you!" Ginny screamed.
"Please go into the kitchen," he said to his aunt, an unsaid order rather than a request.
Petunia immediately ducked into the house.
Harry turned to Ginny and put his hands on her shoulders.
"I need to do this, Gin. I need to at least listen to her even if it's just to end up screaming at her and throwing her out. I know it doesn't make sense, but she's the only family I've ever known and if I just turned her away without hearing her out, I'd feel so guilty. She's the only link to my mother, even if she's a horrible one. Please just…"
Ginny shushed him and hugged him fiercely.
"I don't understand it, but if you need to do it then we'll listen to her. But please just think about all she's done to you before helping her," she sighed and kissed his forehead. "Do you want me to leave you two alone?"
"No," he said quickly and Ginny understood.
The two entered the kitchen and sat across from the vile woman.
"How much do you want?" Harry asked.
Aunt Petunia pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it over to Harry, who took in confusion. As he read it, his chest clenched and he felt slightly nauseous.
"What is this?" Ginny asked furiously.
The paper was a list of things such as "diapers," "baby bottle," "formula" and more with amounts of money next to each item.
"Is this…a bill? For raising me?" Harry asked in a near whisper.
"The circled price at the bottom is the total and how much I'm asking for. They never gave us any money to raise you. It had to come out of our own pocket," Petunia explained calmly.
"This is disgusting!" Ginny shrieked in rage. "He's your nephew and you had plenty of money!"
"It wasn't supposed to be our burden to raise him!" Aunt Petunia sneered.
"Your burden?" Harry asked angrily, jumping to his feet. "What about all the work I did for you? What about all the cooking, cleaning, gardening, serving? Should I give you a bill for that? How can you bill me for raising me when you brought me up as your bloody slave! Not to mention letting that bastard do what he did to me whenever he bloody well felt like it! You didn't even care! I just…I can't believe…do you seriously think I owe you this?" he yelled, waving the paper around furiously.
"Hey, it was no picnic for me either!" Aunt Petunia snapped. Bob began to growl at her, but Harry put up a hand to make him stay. "You made us so miserable. You turned Vernon into a violent man! He wasn't like that to anyone but you because you drove him crazy! We were happy before you came into our lives but you destroyed our family! So yes, I think this is the minimum of what you owe me!"
Harry stood there, frozen, his chest constricting painfully.
"If that's the way you feel then fine," he said in a calm yet choked voice. "But I'm crossing clothes off the list because you never bought me any."
"Harry, no," Ginny cried. "She doesn't deserve that. You've already worked it off anyway!"
Harry gave her a meaningful look and she sighed, backing off. Harry turned back to his aunt.
"I have to get it converted into Muggle money and I'll transfer it to your bank account. But just know that this means I owe you nothing and I never want to see you again," he said coldly. He led her to the door before meeting her eyes. "I tried so hard to get you to care about me, you know. So hard."
A glimmer of guilt skittered across Petunia's face before she nodded and walked down the walkway.
"Stay here for a second, okay?" Ginny said, giving Harry's hand a quick squeeze before running after Harry's aunt. She caught up to the woman at her car.
"I just hope you realize how much you gave up by treating Harry like that. He is the most wonderful person in the entire world, even after all the abuse you put him through. You treated him like he was worthless but he's the hero of the wizarding world, I'll have you know. He saved everyone, even your pitiful life from someone who would be happy wiping Muggles like yourself off the face of the planet. He's famous and loved by everyone who knows him. He's kind and forgiving and selfless and he's the youngest professor in the history of Hogwarts! He's modest despite all his accomplishments and despite your husband's violence against him, he would never come close to getting violent with someone unless they threatened his friends. He's brave and loyal and you have no idea what you're missing by not being part of his life. I pity you because you have ruined any chance of that. He would have given you that money even without your stupid bill, and he might have even given you a second chance because that's how he is. I hope you grow to regret what you've done," Ginny said ferociously.
"I already do. Every day. Now excuse me," she said, her face devoid of expression as she pushed past Ginny, got in her car and pulled out.
Ginny hurried back inside where Harry was waiting at the door.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"I just told her how great you are," she said, closing the door behind her. "I think she's bitter because she already knows."
Harry smiled sadly, appreciating Ginny's effort but not believing her.
The two made their way to the bedroom and lay on top of the covers, facing each other. Bob jumped up and laid next to Harry, resting his head on Harry's side, letting it be pet absentmindedly by the raven-haired man.
Ginny massaged his hand as she launched into telling the very long story of her crush on Harry, not allowing him to stop her or tell her about his crush on her. She did this occasionally to help Harry with his self-confidence, which was always in jeopardy of taking nosedives. She made him blush and smile until he drifted off to sleep.
She kissed him and instructed Bob to keep him company, a simple task since the dog was nearing sleep as well, soon to be soaking Harry's shirt through with drool. She called the twins through the fire and told them what happened. The two were predictably outraged and promised to send some interesting presents to Harry's horrible aunt. She then called Hermione on the phone asking if they could get together that night to cheer Harry up. Hermione enthusiastically invited them over, claiming that she hadn't seen Harry for ages, even though that really meant a week.
Afterward, she burned the paper and crawled back into bed with Harry, praying that he would stop having to go through such painful reminders of his past.
Harry had been tutoring Dominic for a while now, and though he tutored other students occasionally as well, it was usually just the two of them. Dominic had been improving fantastically, and when Harry wasn't tutoring him in Defense, he helped him with his Potions homework as well.
"See, you've got it," Harry said proudly as Dominic finished the last of the questions on his Potions assignment. "All right, time for a break." He conjured up some tea and poured them both a cup. "So, are you excited for Christmas hols?" Harry asked lightly.
Dominic frowned. "Not really. I have to go home," he said before realizing he'd said it aloud.
"I used to feel that way about holidays as well. I think I was the only kid at Hogwarts who hated summer break," Harry admitted. "Do you not get along with your family?"
"Not really," the boy said glumly. "It's just me and my dad. I disappoint him."
Harry furrowed his eyebrows. "Why do you say that?"
"Because he likes to remind me. Maybe it'll be better this year since my grades are improving," he said with a sigh, sipping his tea.
"I used to have a bad relationship with my relatives as well so if you ever need to talk about it, I can relate," Harry confided.
"You used to? What happened? Do you have a better one now?" Dominic asked curiously.
"Actually no. Let's just say my bad relationship with them got extremely bad and my godfather decided I would never be going back there. Thankfully, he'd been proven innocent right around that time, so I could finally go and live with him."
Dominic nodded, looking away. "I wish I had a decent relative I could go live with," he said wistfully.
Harry couldn't decide if this was normal teenage angst or if there was something more behind it. He didn't want to take the chance and asked the awkward question.
"Does your father ever get violent with you?" Harry asked seriously.
Dominic blinked at him in surprise before looking back down at his hands. "No. He's never done anything like that. Why? Did…did yours?"
Harry sighed. "Yes. He did. Professor Snape figured it out and saved me from it, thankfully. I don't know what would have happened if he didn't as I didn't want to tell anyone. I trust you won't tell anyone about this," he added quickly.
"I won't. I swear," Dominic assured him. He sat thoughtfully for a moment before looking back up at Harry. "Do you ever wish you had stayed with your family?"
"No," Harry said firmly. "As much as I wished my family was normal, it wasn't. It was just getting worse every time and looking back, I think it would have just continued to get worse. I never knew how nice a family could be until I was in a normal one. Things got drastically better once I got away from that house."
Dominic nodded with a bit of a frown and put down his cup. "Well, I've got to go. Thanks for the tea and everything," he said quickly, swinging his rucksack onto his shoulder and moving toward the door.
"Dominic, as I said, if you ever need to talk…"
"Yeah, I will. Thanks, Professor," he said before darting out the door.
Harry made a mental note to keep an eye on Dominic. Something was off.
Snape was walking around critiquing his students' potions when he noticed them looking toward the door.
"Interrupting my class again, Professor Potter?" he asked, turning around with a raised eyebrow. In seeing Harry, however, he immediately grew worried. Harry was putting on a cheery front but it was impossible to miss the shivering and the sheen of sweat on his face. He was leaning against the door heavily looking as if it had taken an incredible amount of effort just to make it down to the classroom.
"It's my favorite pastime, what can I say?" Harry responded weakly. Even the students were casting worried looks at each other.
Snape reached Harry in a matter of steps and observed him with such deep concern that the students began to really worry that something was wrong.
"I had to cancel my class. I couldn't…I couldn't teach it today. Is that bad?" Harry whispered helplessly, swaying a bit. Snape grabbed his arm to steady him.
"Everyone clean up their cauldrons immediately. Class is dismissed and anyone who isn't out of here in two minutes will have detention for the rest of the school year!" Snape shouted. Everyone jumped into action, putting out their fires and carrying their cauldrons to the sink.
"Sev, you didn't have to do that," Harry said embarrassedly.
"When did you start feeling sick?" Snape asked, beginning to lead Harry to his office.
"Yester…yesterday. But I didn't think it was any…anything…"
Snape caught Harry just as he lost consciousness. The students gasped and began to panic.
"Everyone leave their cauldrons on the counter and get out!" Snape bellowed as he lowered Harry to the floor. "Motley! Go to the headmaster's office, password is 'gingersnaps,' and tell him what happened. And I mean run or I will take a hundred points from Slytherin. Make sure he calls Ron Weasley. Go now! Chavez, go get Madam Pomfrey and tell her to get down here. Bentor, get me a clean rag and wet it in the sink with cool water. Everyone else, out!"
The students watched in shock as the cold, seemingly heartless Potions master cradled Harry's head in his lap, calling his name frantically. Bentor brought the wet rag and Snape put it to Harry's overheated forehead.
As Harry's breathing became labored, Snape tore off the younger man's tie and unbuttoned his shirt. "Harry, Merlin Harry, breathe. Deep breaths, come on," he muttered urgently.
"What's wrong with him?" Bentor asked in a frightened voice.
"What does it look like? He's ill," he snapped back.
"Is he going to be okay?" another student asked worriedly.
"Yes, he will be fine. He'll be okay," he said, more to himself than to the student. He looked up to see the class still there. "Are you all brain-dead? I said GET OUT!" he bellowed before turning back to Harry's whose face contorted in pain. "Harry? Harry? Help's on the way, okay? Ron's coming," he muttered, brushing Harry's hair away from his face and casting a cooling charm on the rag.
Finally Madam Pomfrey burst through the door.
"Oh thank Merlin, Popply, get these kids out of here!" he said urgently, but the medi-witch had already run over to Harry. "Weasley's on his way," Snape informed her. "Stay with him for a minute."
He rose and turned to his students menacingly. "What did I say?" he asked ferociously.
"But Professor, we want to make sure he's okay," one brave soul voiced.
"You will be informed of his condition later. Now, GET OUT!"
When they hesitated, he flicked his wand at someone's cauldron and it exploded into a thousand pieces. Everyone raced out the door.
"Merlin, Severus, I don't want to do anything that might go against what Weasley's been doing. He's much more familiar with Harry's treatment than we are," Madam Pomfrey admitted helplessly.
Suddenly, Ron burst into the door, complete in his healer garb. He had apparently been at work when Dumbledore got in touch with him. He carried a large bag with him as he dropped to his knees next to his best friend, looking very worried.
"Okay, what happened?" he asked, checking Harry over.
"He said he hadn't been feeling well yesterday, but that it got drastically worse today. And he just collapsed when he got down here. As you can see, he has a fever, his heartbeat is racing, and his breathing is shallow," Snape said quickly. "Do you know what's wrong?"
Ron pulled out several vials and a few needles, filling a syringe with some blue liquid. "Well, the thing about a school is that there are many children bringing in many different things that may not affect them too much individually, but, as we all know, Harry catches these things like crazy." He tapped the needle and fluidly gave Harry the shot before filling another needle with a red substance. "It's winter, I'm sure many of the students are bringing in colds and other bugs, and it was too much for Harry's system. He doesn't necessarily have one illness in particular, but his immune system has been exhausted from fighting all of them off and has basically just quit out of exhaustion."
"So what are you giving him?" Snape asked.
"A few things I've been experimenting with," Ron said, filling another vile. He was in what Harry liked to call his "healer mode" where he shoved aside all his personal worries for his friend and focused only on the medicine to make sure he could do everything properly. "Don't worry, it's perfectly safe or I wouldn't get it near him. Unfortunately, all the stuff they have out now for this sort of thing has basically the same effect as injecting Butterbeer into him would have. I've used some of these basic ones before and the others are new, and they should…oh thank Merlin, his breathing's getting back to normal and…" he held Harry's wrist in one hand and looked at his watch, nodding, "…yes, his pulse is normalizing. The red and pinkish colored ones are taking the place of his immune system to fight off anything he might have and the blue ones are repairing it. That one you're holding is to make his body relax, since once his immune system starts crashing, everything else seems to freak out as well. That calms all that down."
Harry moaned and wrenched his eyes open. And Ron was finally able to get out of his healer trance and show his simultaneous relief and concern.
"Hey mate," Ron said, moving into Harry's line of sight. "Keep lying there for a few minutes while all those potions do their work. You scared the shit out of me, you know. When you get back on your feet, I'm kicking your bloody arse for not calling me yesterday when you started feeling sick."
"You won't have to. Once Ginny and Hermione find out about this, they'll kill me before you get the chance," Harry said, wincing.
"What's the wince for?" Ron asked seriously, pulling out a notepad.
"Head…ouch," Harry muttered. Ron tapped his finger to his lips thoughtfully.
"Hmm, okay, I'll look into that. Unless it gets really bad, it would be best if you could just deal with it for a while until these potions settle. I don't want your system to get overloaded. But if it gets bad, tell me, okay? I'm serious Harry," Ron warned.
"I will," Harry vowed, massaging his temples as he lay on the floor. "Has your mum told you what we should bring for Christmas dinner?" he asked.
"Yeah. She wanted to know if you could make that thing you made last year that all the kids really liked."
"Sure," Harry agreed.
"And Professor, if you don't mind, mum wanted to know if you and Laura could bring that dish we had at Draco's last birthday."
"Of course," Snape nodded.
Ron checked his watch. "Alright, mate, let's try sitting you up," he said, nodding at Snape who helped Harry into a sitting position. "I think you need a night's stay in the Hospital Wing and I want you to stay there under Madam Pomfrey's care until tomorrow when I come back with some fun vaccinations for you."
"Oh goodie," Harry said sarcastically, earning a glare from the medi-witch.
"We can use the fire in my office. It links to the Hospital Wing. I believe there's a crowd of students outside the door," Snape said, as he and Ron helped Harry to his feet, throwing Harry's arms around their shoulders as his legs threatened to give out.
They soon got Harry into his usual bed and Ron sat down in the chair next to him, pulling back the edge of the pillow to reveal the initials still carved in there. The two chuckled.
"Yes, your graffiti still remains, Harry," Madam Pomfrey said with a stern look as she handed him a glass of water and ordered him to drink it down. "I do appreciate it that you decided to defile school property to mark your territory."
"Just wanted to make sure I always had this bed on reserve. It's the softest, you know," Harry said as he relaxed against the pillows.
"So you claim. I personally see no difference between them, but seeing as you have stayed in them more than anyone else I can remember, I'll take your word for it," she said with a fond smile.
"Poppy, I was wondering if I could go over a few things with my research with you and see what you thought," Ron said. He had spent much of his seventh year apprenticing with the medi-witch and always came to her for advice on his work. Somewhere along the line, they had shifted to a first-name basis.
"Of course dear, let's go into my office," she said, leaving a pitcher of water near Harry's bed. "Harry, it looks as if you're about to fall asleep, but if you end up needing some sleeping potions later, just call, alright. I'll come and check up on you in a bit," she said with a fond squeeze of his hand.
"Alright, mate, I'll see you tomorrow. I'm going to tell Ginny about this when I'm done here. I'll try to defend you a bit so she doesn't murder you," Ron said. "But if you do this again, I'm unleashing her, Hermione and Mum on you, so please, I know you don't like telling people when you're feeling sick, but I am your healer and your best friend and I need you to tell me, even if you think you're overreacting, even if it's just a bit of a cough or a headache or anything. Let me decide whether it's something to worry about or not, okay?" Ron said seriously.
"Okay. I'm sorry, and thank you for coming. You weren't in the middle of anything, were you?" Harry asked worriedly.
"Nothing important. Just work," he joked, pulling a face. "Get some rest, mate."
Madam Pomfrey pulled the curtains around his bed and Harry heard the footsteps retreating toward her office.
He turned to Snape.
"Sorry about all that. I made kind of a mess of your class," Harry apologized.
"Harry, I don't care about the class, you idiot child," Snape said, shaking his head.
"Hey, I'm twenty-three, thank you very much. No longer a child," Harry responded with a tired grin.
"Living with Black can only revert your intellectual growth," Snape retorted.
Harry sighed. "This is going to be bad, isn't it? The students are probably going to be afraid I'm going to die on them or something, like Binns."
"Harry," Snape scolded, "don't talk like that. You're going to live for a very long time as long as you keep Weasley informed with what he needs to know. At the very least, tell me when you're feeling ill. I do try to keep up with what Weasley's doing in regards to his research. I taught him what he knows about Potions and can make anything you need. I've made sure Weasley always sends me samples and recipes for his latest works and it's just a quick call to check whether I can give you something."
"Thanks Sev. I will when I'm here. It would be a lot easier than tracking down Ron each time I sneeze when you're right here."
"Exactly," Snape said smugly, as if he was superior or more loyal for working with Harry. Harry couldn't help but smile. "And as for the students, don't worry. They'll be in detention for the rest of their lives so you won't have to deal with them."
"Ah, Sev, lighten up on them," Harry chided lightly.
"I warned them what would happen if they didn't leave but the idiots wouldn't budge until I blew up a cauldron. That scared them off," Snape said with a hint of pride.
"Sev, you didn't," Harry laughed before turning serious. "How much did they see?"
"Enough to see me freak out," Snape groaned.
"I'm really sorry, Sev," Harry said sincerely.
"I don't care about that, I just do not like to be scared like that," he said sternly. "It just makes me regret that I didn't think about this whole immune system thing when I made that potion. I might have been able to prevent it or…"
"Sev. Don't do this to yourself," Harry interrupted before Snape could drive himself into a depression. "You know as well as I it wasn't the potion but the cancer in the first place so this is all my fault, not yours. Besides, if you hadn't made that potion I wouldn't even be here. I owe you everything."
"You don't owe me anything. Now you get some rest before you have to stay up listening to Poppy fighting back students trying to get in to see you. As soon as you get out of here, come see me to let me know."
Harry nodded and watched the man leave, soon drifting off to sleep.
"Oh Merlin, we're going to get in so much trouble."
"Don't you want to know if he's okay?"
"McGonagall said he was okay."
"Don't you want to see for yourself? She might have just been trying to spare us or something. Besides, we need to leave this stuff so he knows we want him get better."
"Yeah, you want him to get better so you can continue studying him in Defense class."
"Mmm, I just have such wonderful memories from that time last week when Steve accidentally cast that spell and soaked him. Shirt clinging to his chest. Phwoar. We owe Steve so much."
"Ugh, you girls are disgusting. Talk about this during pure girl time or something."
"Well, I'm sorry, Dominic, but it's true. You think Sarina's leading this expedition because she's dying to get back to learning about defense?"
"Well that's one of the reasons I want him back."
"Oh shut it all of you. I'm concerned for his health, thank you very much. I talked to someone in the class when it happened. She said it was really scary and he looked like he was dying or something. Don't you want to know what's wrong with him? What if he is dying?"
"Well, I guess I want to know, but Madam Pomfrey's a bit scary."
"Well then be quiet so she can't hear us!"
The small group of students entered the Hospital Wing. It was the middle of the night so Madam Pomfrey was asleep, a perfect time for a reconnaissance mission to find out what had happened to their favorite professor.
They dropped off the cards and small presents they'd brought and laid them out on the table before silently pulling back the curtains.
"Oh my God that is the sweetest thing I've ever seen," one of the girls, Katie, gasped in delight. The three girls all grinned and sighed.
Ginny had arrived earlier and had decided to stay the night. Harry was lying on his back with Ginny curled up against his side, head resting under his chin, her hand loosely resting in his.
"Oh gods, he's even more gorgeous while he's sleeping."
"Do you reckon that's his wife then?"
"Don't be an idiot. Of course it's his wife. They're so cute together."
Suddenly Harry's eyes blinked open and the students froze.
"Er, hey guys, what are you doing here?" Harry asked tiredly, shifting up in bed awkwardly. Ginny murmured and Harry adjusted her so she lay comfortably against him as he sat up.
"Is that your wife?" Sarina asked.
"Yeah. She's a bit of a worry-wart so…ow!"
Harry glared down at Ginny who had woken up and given him a nice kick in the shin for his comment.
"Somebody has to take care of your sorry arse," she said with a grin. She sat up and shook the hands of the students there, introducing herself properly.
"Professor, you weren't in class today and Snape wouldn't tell us what happened."
"And by the way, you had Snape substitute? Yeah thanks a lot for that."
"It's Professor Snape and it was only for today. I'll be back tomorrow," Harry assured them.
"We, um, we heard what happened in the Potions class. Are you okay? What happened?" Dominic asked worriedly.
"Yes, I'm fine. Don't worry, I'll explain everything tomorrow," he promised.
"Well, since we snuck all the way up here, do you think you could tell us now?" Katie pleaded.
"Yeah we're worried," admitted Sarina.
"And all these rumors are going around that you're dying or something," Marci added.
"I'm not dying, I just have a weak immune system and it had a bit of a crash," Harry explained. "It happens once in a while when I'm not good about letting my healer know when I'm not feeling well."
"Why do you have a weak immune system? Didn't you say before that Snape used to make healing potions for you? Maybe he poisoned you! That's what everyone's been saying. I mean, are you really sure you can trust him?" Sarina asked suspiciously.
"Hey, hey. Severus Snape is practically like a father to me, so show some respect, okay?" Harry scolded.
"I know he's a bastard sometimes, I mean um, a not nice guy sometimes," Ginny quickly corrected herself, "but he has saved Harry's life more than once. He even revealed his position as a spy to try to save Harry, and it's a miracle he wasn't killed on the spot for that. If it wasn't for Severus, Harry wouldn't even be here." Ginny shuddered and subconsciously grasped onto the side of Harry's shirt.
The four students looked at each other in confusion.
"Why, what happened? Does this have to do with when you defeated that Voldemort guy?" Katie asked eagerly.
"You said you'd tell us what happened if we asked you outside of class," Sarina reminded him.
"It's a long story," Harry said warily.
"That's okay. We have Divination tomorrow morning, so we can just sleep in that," Dominic assured him.
"Alright. Ginny, do you want me to tell it later so you don't have to hear it?" Harry asked.
"No. I have to stay to make sure you tell it all right. Besides, if you start from the beginning, it includes how we ended up getting together, and I personally love that part of the story," she said firmly.
"Alright then. Where to begin? I guess it all started with a spell called Recnac Transfaerso."
Harry and Ginny stood at the door to the Burrow, a bundle of presents and the dish Mrs. Weasley had requested in hand. The door swung open to reveal a four-year-old redhead boy with a fake pirate's sword in his hand.
"What's the password?" he asked, crossing his arms stubbornly.
"Hmm…what could it be?" Harry muttered in mock thoughtfulness. "Maybe, Chudley Cannons?"
"Aw, Uncle Harry, you always guess," James whined, letting them in.
"That's because you're so much like your dad," Harry said with a grin, putting down the sack of gifts and picking the child up, balancing the food in his other hand.
They walked through the living room where a bunch of redheads were playing pirates with the twins leading the two different ships.
"Hey there, Harry!" Fred called.
"Gin Gin!" George exclaimed.
A blonde head popped up from behind the couch and the seven-year-old boy raced over, hugging Harry around the middle.
"Hey, Aden, how ya doing?" Harry asked, pulling his glasses back from James who had put them on his own face and begun squirming around, acting dramatically woozy.
"I'm good. Anna's making me a pirate bandana," he said excitedly. "She and Draco are in the kitchen," he said before running off as Fred called for his help as their "ship" was being invaded.
The two finally made it into the kitchen where they found Hermione, Ron, Draco, Anna, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
"Harry! Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, rushing to greet them, giving them both heartfelt hugs and kisses on the cheeks. "You two haven't come 'round for a visit in ages!" she exclaimed.
"Mum, we came over two weeks ago," Ginny reminded her, but her mother was no longer listening, taking the food Harry had brought and putting it with the mountain on the counter.
"Uncle Harry! Aunt Ginny! Look at me!" James exclaimed. He made a very strange face, using his fingers to push up his nose and pull at the corners of his eyes at the same time.
"He really is his father's son," Hermione laughed as Ron plucked the boy from Harry's arms and set him on the floor to let him go run charging back into the game of pirates.
The four greeted each other warmly.
"Here, Harry, feel," Hermione instructed, placing Harry's hand on her rounded stomach as Ginny and Ron went to sit down at the table, where Draco greeted Ginny with a kiss on the cheek. Harry grinned when he felt the new baby kicking.
"That's amazing, 'Mione. I can't wait."
"Yeah, another little maniac of my own," she joked.
"I heard you won your last case, as usual. Congratulations."
"Thanks, it was a bit difficult but we got 'em in the end. You can't deny the facts when there's proof to back it up. They kept bringing up precedents to the case, but we just had to make the judge realize that the precedents were okay for their time, but, obviously, we're in a new age and…well, anyways, we won. It'll be my last case for awhile so I'm glad we ended on a good note."
Hermione had become one of the most well known civil rights lawyers, who could afford to be picky with her clients and never lost a case.
Draco came over and slung his arm around Harry's shoulders. "So, Professor, I hear you're going easy on the kids. Don't you get it? They're not supposed to actually like the class. Hasn't Sev taught you anything?"
"I know, I know. I've completely failed the cause," Harry said in fake distressed. "So how's work at the ministry?"
Draco had gone to work for the ministry to train Aurors by showing them how the dark side fought as well as being a criminal psychologist for the Ministry. It seemed after having such a nutcase for a father and being around so many involved in criminal activities, he had a knack for figuring out the psychology of the bad guys, able to profile them and often predict their next moves. He enjoyed it because he didn't have to listen to anybody talk about themselves like normal psychiatrists did.
"Great. I get to make everyone else feel like morons for not realizing this stuff before me. And that frighteningly brilliant woman over in forensics, the hot brunette one who knows ten ways to incapacitate a wizard with nothing but a tube of lipstick, has agreed to go out with me again."
"Fantastic, just make sure not to come on to strongly, I guess. Though it would be hilarious if you had to go to Ron to get a tube of lipstick removed from your arse," Harry laughed.
Kota and Angelina entered the kitchen, Angelina carrying her one-year-old girl in her arms.
"Man, Harry, people around this place are popping out kids like there's no tomorrow. It's a bit scary. I think Mrs. Weasley's intimidating everyone into it. She wants grandkids and she wants them now, apparently," Draco said quietly.
"About to be another one," Harry said slyly.
"You mean Hermione's?" Draco asked, looking at Harry suspiciously. Harry shrugged and walked over to greet the two. "Harry, you mean Hermione's, right?" he called, but Harry just ignored him and greeted the two women.
That night, at dinner, Mrs. Weasley casually turned to Harry and Ginny.
"Sirius said he saw your car outside when he and Remus arrived. Did you two drive here?" she asked.
"Yeah," Harry said, casting a look at Ginny who grinned slyly.
"Why wouldn't you just floo over?" she asked.
"Well, you know, bad for the baby," Ginny said casually.
"Oh, right," Mrs. Weasley said distractedly. Ginny and Harry exchanged a glance and chuckled softly as those around them gradually quieted down, as what Ginny had said began to register. Suddenly, Mrs. Weasley turned back to them in awe. "Wait, you? Ginny? Harry?"
"Yup. We found out a few days ago. We're having a kid," Ginny said with a huge grin, meeting Harry's eyes as he grinned with equal fervor.
The whole table was silent as everyone stared at the couple in surprise before they all jumped out of their chairs and began smothering the two. Mrs. Weasley ran around the table and hugged the two fiercely, crying happily. The Weasley boys all congratulated Harry, Ron and the twins being the most enthusiastic. Everyone was pushed away, however, as Sirius made his way over, grabbing Harry into a vice-like hug.
"You found out days ago and didn't tell me? I can't believe this! Prongs Junior's having a junior Prongs Junior!" he exclaimed before scooping Ginny into his other arm, squeezing the couple to him in a big bear hug. "This is going to be so great!"
Later that night, everyone was curled up in the living room, the fire crackling as Hermione told the story of the Christmas Carol. The kids were all crowded on the floor in blankets and pajamas, listening almost as intently as Mr. Weasley, whose obsession for Muggle things had never diminished.
Most of the women were sitting on the laps of their husbands to make room for everyone, except for George who was sitting on Kota's lap to tease her.
James had crawled up between Ron and Harry and had fallen asleep curled up against his father, but grasping Harry's fingers in his small hand. He and Ginny caught each other's eye and chuckled softly as they heard Remus, Sirius and Draco talking in the kitchen about how they needed to get girls.
Harry rested his free hand on Ginny's stomach and rubbed it lovingly. She leaned back and rested her head on his shoulder, whispering into his ear, "Happy Christmas, Harry."
"Happy Christmas," he whispered back. And it really was.
The welcome back feast was wonderful as usual. Snape lost no time in spreading the word among the staff that Harry was going to be a father, so there were many congratulations going around.
When he went to his office to get his class ready for the next day, it was with good spirits. He hummed a Christmas tune as he opened his door, having unlocked it earlier when he threw his things inside. He was startled to see someone was already there.
Dominic stood as Harry entered, looking down and hugging himself.
"Dominic?" Harry asked worriedly, closing the door behind him. "What's wrong?"
The boy looked up at him. Tears were spilling down his face and his eyes were bloodshot, but what stood out the most was a dark bruise on his cheek.
"I know I told you my dad didn't get violent ever but I lied," he admitted through his small sobs. "It wasn't that bad though, he just knocked me around once in awhile, but when I went home for Christmas, he saw my grades and he thought I was cheating. I tried to explain but he said I was lying to him and he lost it! And he just kept losing it the whole time! I don't want to go back there, but I don't know what to do! I don't have anywhere else to go!"
He was crying hysterically at this point, probably in part from the knowledge that his secret was now out in the open.
Harry approached the boy and cautiously put his hands on his shoulders. Dominic flinched and then let out a sob of frustration because of the action before collapsing into Harry, crying into his chest and gripping the back of his robes tightly. Harry immediately hugged him back, making sure the boy knew he could trust him.
"You're not going back there, I swear to you," Harry vowed, rubbing the boy's back softly. "It's all going to be okay."
"My dad…he won't let me get away. He'll fight it," Dominic said in distress. "And if he wins…"
"He won't," Harry interrupted abruptly. "I won't let it because I know what would happen if he won. I can fight much harder than him and if he knows what's good for him, he'll back off. You're just going to have to let me take you to Madam Pomfrey so she can document your injuries, okay? No one else will see them except for the courts, okay?"
"I don't want her to see," Dominic protested, sounding frightened.
"I know, but it's the only way. Madam Pomfrey is very discreet and she's seen this sort of thing before," Harry promised. He put his hands on Dominic's shoulders and pulled away enough to look in the boy's eyes. "Everything's going to be alright, but you have to trust me."
Dominic hesitated, but then nodded.
Harry took him to the Hospital Wing through the fire in his office. He sat Dominic down on one of the beds and quietly explained things to Madam Pomfrey.
"Do you want me to leave the room?" he asked Dominic, but the boy shook his head, looking almost panicked, so Harry stayed as Madam Pomfrey made him strip down to his boxers. He talked to Dominic and reassured him as the medi-witch documented his injuries as quickly as possible. There were bruises on his upper arms where he'd obviously been grabbed very harshly, and several on his front, but the worst were the welts on his back where Dominic admitted his dad had hit him with a belt. Luckily, none of the injuries were deep and Madam Pomfrey was able to heal them all before letting Dominic put on some Hospital Wing pajamas. Harry led the boy to the bed with his initials engraved into the frame.
"It's the softest one," he assured him.
Madam Pomfrey gave Dominic some Dreamless Sleep potion and Harry stayed by his side until he succumbed to its effects.
The night was long as Madam Pomfrey informed Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall about it. Harry, on the other hand, used his broom to fly home. He explained the situation to Ginny and she knew exactly what he was asking.
"You want to adopt him," she clarified.
Harry smiled sadly. "It's up to you. I know it will be hard with the baby coming and of course, he'll have a lot of emotional baggage, and hell, you've never even met him, but I just know that I would have been lost if I hadn't had someone to take me in and…"
"Harry," Ginny interrupted him, "of course he can come live with us. I spend every day thanking whoever's listening that you got out of that place and that Sirius was there for you to help you through that horrible time. Besides, I'm ready for kids," she said, patting her still-flat stomach with a grin. "This week I'll buy paint and this weekend, bring him home with you and we can all start doing his room together to make sure we get what he likes. We'll make him feel at home here."
Harry grinned and hugged his wife lovingly. "You're so fantastic. You're the best wife in the world."
"I know, I know. I've been told many times," she said in mock-arrogance.
"I'm going to need to get a few things settled then," Harry said, reluctantly standing.
"Get out of here then, you big lump," Ginny laughed, kicking at him playfully. "Bring him home as soon as you want. I'm home from the joke shop around five. It's boring around here without you!"
"Tell Fred and George I said hi," Harry said, kissing her goodbye. "I'll be back soon with papers and junk."
"Harry, you haven't even asked him yet!" Ginny reminded him with a laugh.
"Details, details," he joked. "I love you so much."
"I know. I love you too. Now get out of here before Bob gets jealous," she laughed.
Bob lazily looked up upon hearing his name and licked Ginny's ankle.
"See, look at his jealous rage," she laughed. Harry kissed her one more time on the lips and then kissed her stomach with a grin before saying goodbye and walking toward the door, Bob trailing next to him, whining as he did whenever Harry left the house.
"I'll be back soon, Bob," Harry promised, petting the giant dog's head and letting him lick his palm affectionately.
The rest of the night was hectic. Dumbledore had alerted the authorities. They had arrested Dominic's father, who, of course, denied everything. The lead magical law enforcement officer on the case wanted to question Dominic, but Dumbledore told them he'd have to ask Dominic about that when he woke. Harry and Madam Pomfrey talked with the officials, giving them all the evidence they had. Despite their proof, however, they were told that Dominic would probably have to appear in court since no one had actually seen his father hurt him. Dumbledore started using his connections to try to set the court date as soon as possible so they could get it over with and hopefully have guardianship transferred to Harry.
Dominic woke the next morning to find Harry lightly dozing in the chair next to his bed. As the boy shifted into a sitting position, his professor jerked awake and sat up straighter when he caught sight of him.
"Don't you have a class right now?" Dominic asked, looking at the time.
"Yeah, but Professor Snape took over for the day as I had more important things to attend to."
Dominic gave him an appreciative smile and looked down at his hands sadly.
"So what's going to happen now?" he asked softly.
"Well, now your father's going to go through a trial. This is the hardest part of it all because nobody saw what he did to you, and as much as we all know that it was him, it has to be proven," Harry said regretfully, feeling almost guilty that he was going to ask the boy to go through something he himself had avoided.
"How do they do that? They don't want me to testify or anything, right?" he asked, sounding afraid.
Harry sighed. "Unfortunately, it looks like that's going to have to be the case. But before you immediately say no, hear me out, okay? I've looked into what that would entail and if you are put on the stand you'll first be asked questions by the lawyer working to help you. One of my good friends has offered to take your case and she has never lost one yet. She'll go over the questions with you before hand so you know exactly what you'll be asked and what you'll answer. The only hard part will be when the lawyer for your father questions you, as you don't know what he'll ask. But Hermione will be there to make sure he doesn't ask anything too personal or out of line. If you can get through all of that, you'll never have to go back to your father and you can be placed with a new guardian," Harry explained slowly and calmly. Dominic looked up at him with a frightened and vulnerable look.
"I'm going to be sent to an orphanage, then?"
"Well, that's the second thing about what I wanted to talk to you about," Harry said, somewhat awkwardly. "Now, you don't have to feel obligated about it one way or the other, but I talked to my wife and, if you wanted, we'd love to have you come live with us. We want to adopt you, if that's something you'd want. And if it's not, that's perfectly fine as well. It's completely up to you."
"You'd want me to come live with you?" Dominic asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I really would. We do have a baby on the way, so it might mean dealing with some infant crying and smelling and such," Harry said with a grin, "but we can put silencing charms around your room at night to keep the noises out."
"My room…" Dominic muttered in awe.
"Yeah. We'd convert the guestroom into a bedroom for you. Ginny, my wife, is going out to buy paint this week so, if this is something you decide you want to do, we could start putting it together this weekend. You can help me paint it and we can go out so you can figure out how you want to decorate it and everything," Harry said, somewhat excitedly before remembering the boy hadn't even agreed yet. "Of course, once again, the decision is completely up to you and you don't have to feel pushed to choose to do it or not. Either way, I'm with you through this whole thing, okay?"
"I do!" Dominic jumped in quickly before settling back down. "I mean I do…want to come live with you. If you're sure."
"Of course I'm sure. But the only way we can get custody transferred to me is if you testify against your father," Harry said, reminding Dominic of the situation at hand. Dominic closed his eyes and thought about it.
"You'll be there?" he asked nervously.
"Yup, throughout the whole thing," Harry assured him.
Dominic sighed and looked over at him.
"Okay," he said reluctantly, "as long as you're there."
"I will be, I swear it," Harry vowed.
Saturday morning found Dominic sitting in the living room of Harry's chambers at Hogwarts, fiddling with his rucksack, which held his homework along with a change of clothes. Harry was finishing gathering the papers he needed to grade.
Finally, he turned to Dominic and pulled the strap of his bag onto his shoulder.
Dominic nodded and nervously stood. Harry lit a fire in the fireplace and held out the jar of floo powder for Dominic to take a pinch.
"You might want to let me go first," Harry said with a sheepish grin. "I'm a bit clumsy with floo travel."
Sure enough, when Dominic stepped into the modest living room, he found the redhead he knew to be Harry's wife laughing at him as she helped him up.
After everyone had been introduced properly, the three went to survey the now-empty bedroom that would be Dominic's. There were multiple buckets of paint as the room was decidedly a bit too pink for a boy's room. They played around with the paint, trying to determine what color was the best, and though Dominic insisted anything would be fine, Ginny convinced him to make a decision with the threat of leaving the room the current, feminine color. The rest of the day was spent playfully painting the room the Muggle way, as neither Harry or Ginny wanted to risk doing it by magic after what had happened when Ron tried to magically paint his study. There was still orange paint stuck in the carpet.
Harry set a quick dry spell on it so after dinner he could levitate the furniture back in as Ginny gave Dominic the in-depth tour of the house, making sure he knew where everything was, from silverware to extra towels.
That night, Harry was walking by Dominic's room and saw the light on underneath the door. He knocked softly and entered upon gaining permission. Dominic was sitting up in his bed, his school things piled on top of one of his nightstands.
"This must be weird, huh?" Harry asked kindly as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"A little," Dominic admitted.
"Any second thoughts?"
"No, I like it here," Dominic said embarrassedly as if it were admitting a weakness.
"Just remember that you're not a guest; this is your home. And I'm sure things are run a bit differently than they did with your father, so if you have any questions about anything, just tell me or Ginny. Is there anything you have a question about?"
Dominic looked up at him awkwardly. "Erm…I guess I was wondering a bit about…I mean if I do something bad or something…"
"Punishments?" Harry asked for clarification. Dominic nodded nervously. "Well, I was thinking maybe grounding or extra chores…I guess it really depends on the severity of the crime. Probably a lovely talk you won't enjoy too much. But never, ever will I hurt you, okay? That means no hitting, no insulting, no starving. Even if you do something bad, I never want you to feel afraid of me or Ginny, so if you ever do feel that way, just tell us and I promise you that we'll fix it. How does that sound?"
"Much better," Dominic said sounding both relieved and sad at the same time. "Definitely not like things were at home."
"How were things at your home?" Harry asked seriously.
Dominic looked at his lap. He hesitated, but then sighed and spoke. "My dad thinks I'm the reason my mum left and so he never really forgave me for that. Ever since then, everything seemed to be my fault. And then he started…he started to…" His voice had tightened with emotion and Harry could see the boy's eyes welling up with tears.
"He started to hit you?" Harry asked cautiously, even though he already knew the answer.
Dominic nodded before tears slid down his cheeks and he broke down into sobs.
Harry immediately wrapped his arms around the boy and was relieved to feel Dominic's arms shakily hug him back as he cried into Harry's shoulder.
"It's not your fault," Harry said quietly into the sobbing boy's ear. "None of it was your fault. Your mother leaving was her own problem and your father's behavior was a problem with him, not you. You're a great kid who just got stuck in a bad situation."
"If I would have tried harder…" Dominic choked between sobs.
"It wouldn't have made any difference because it wasn't about you, Dominic. It wasn't your fault," Harry insisted, for once in his life thankful that he'd gone through what he had at the Dursleys so he knew how to help.
"He hit me with his belt," he sobbed. "It hurt so bad."
"I know. He's messed up."
"He punched me in the face. How was I supposed to hide that?" he bawled.
"You don't need to hide what he did. You don't have to be ashamed because it wasn't your fault. We're going to get you out of his custody so you never have to deal with that again."
He rubbed Dominic's back as he cried himself out, letting out all that he'd probably held in for a very long time. Harry stayed with him until he fell asleep.
When he finally crawled back into bed, Ginny turned on her side to look at him.
"I'm proud of you," she said softly with a smile.
"For what?" Harry asked in confusion.
"For this whole Dominic thing. I don't know what he would have done without you."
"It's what anyone would do," Harry insisted.
"No, it's not. Not everyone would come through for him like you have to this extent. And today, you were just amazing and it makes me that much more excited for when we have this kid. It's obvious you're going to be a great father," Ginny said fondly.
"Really?" Harry asked. It was his biggest worry that he'd be a horrible father after he'd been raised with such dismal guardians. He hadn't grown up with adults who treated the children in their care normally, so it was hard to figure out what to do.
"Yeah. You're really going to save Dominic, you know. You're already half the way there."
Harry blushed. "Well, I hope so. You were great today too."
"Well thank you, sir. So, tomorrow are we going shopping for things for Dominic's room?" she asked.
"Mm hmm," Harry murmured tiredly. He leaned down and kissed Ginny's stomach and then kissed her, as he did every night they were together since they found out about the baby. He lay back against the pillows and Ginny rested her head on his shoulder, arm draped across his stomach.
"I love having you home," she said warmly. "You make a great pillow."
"Yes, and I love waking up with a big drool spot on my chest," Harry teased. "It's so romantic."
"You know you love it," Ginny laughed. "Besides, you're the cuddler. I might as well start the night here because I'm going to become your teddy bear sometime during the night."
Harry blushed. "I know, I'm sorry about that. I don't know why…"
Ginny recognized one of Harry's stumbles into self-consciousness and quickly interrupted. "I drool, you cuddle. I love it, but they're also habits which no one else should have knowledge of, namely the drooling bit."
Harry laughed. "No worries, Gin. It's just between us."
The two soon fell asleep.
The trial ended up being held a few weeks later and Harry took off his classes to go with Ginny and Dominic. At the courtroom, they met up with Hermione who assured them both that with Dominic's testimony along with the evidence they had, there was no way they could lose.
Dominic was practically shaking with fear before he had to go onto the stand, especially with his father sitting at the defense table, watching him. Harry and Ginny stood with him out in the hall before he had to testify, trying to give him a quick pep talk. Harry put his hands on Dominic's shoulders, looking directly into the boy's eyes.
"Dominic, I am so proud of you for doing this. I know it's really hard and I would be terrified if I was in your situation, but we need this. If you can just get through this and say what you need to say, we'll never have to deal with him again. Just don't look at him and don't let him intimidate you because even if somehow we lost, I would never allow you to go back to him, okay?" Harry assured him. Dominic looked at him, clearly scared. "It would just make things more complicated."
"But if we lose, they're going to make me go back and live with him again and he'll be so mad," he protested, not even bothering to conceal his terror.
"If that happens, which it won't because Hermione's never lost a case and we have it in the bag if you do this, but if it does, I'll hide you from him. I don't care what it takes. You're not going back. That's a promise," Harry vowed.
"I agree," Ginny stated firmly. "I don't care if we have to move to Guam to keep him away from you."
Dominic nodded with a bit more confidence. "Okay. Just, you're going to sit in the front still, right?" he asked, looking at Harry. He really liked Ginny, but it was Harry he looked to for support and guidance in this situation, especially in knowing he'd been through similar circumstances before.
"Yes, just look at us the whole time if you want to, okay? Don't look at your father at all. Don't let him intimidate you. He can't hurt you anymore," Harry assured him.
Hermione poked her head out the door. "Dominic, dear, are you ready?" she asked in a comforting tone.
Dominic shakily nodded.
"You're going to do great, okay? Just say what we went over when I question you and tell the truth on cross-examination and you'll be perfectly fine. Just remember that the cross-examiner may seem a bit mean and rude, but don't let him intimidate you. Just tell the truth, okay?" she said to remind him of how things would go. "And just so you know, it's definitely leaning our way. If you do this, there's no way we can lose."
Dominic nodded shakily. Ginny hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek.
"We're almost done with this. We're so proud of you," she said softly.
With one last nervous glance at Harry, Dominic followed Hermione into the courtroom, followed by Harry and Ginny. The couple went and sat in their appropriate seats while Dominic nervously took the stand.
"Please state your name for the court," Hermione said as necessary.
"D-Dominic Hugens," the boy stuttered nervously. Hermione gave him a comforting smile.
"Dominic, who do you live with?" she asked as planned.
"I live with Harry Potter, my professor at school, and his wife Ginny right now, but until school started after Christmas hols I lived with my father," he said as they'd gone over. He shot Harry a scared look and Harry gave him a reassuring nod.
"While you were living with your father, did he ever hurt you in any way?" Hermione continued.
Suddenly, somebody cleared their throat and Dominic's gaze shot over to the defense table as did Harry's. It was obvious it had been Dominic's father, who was giving him a meaningful look. Harry began to panic slightly as he saw the terror coming over Dominic's face, praying he wouldn't clam up.
"I, um, he…it wasn't bad…he wasn't bad…" he began rambling.
"Dominic, please think about the question and answer it truthfully, did your father ever physically hurt you?" Hermione said carefully.
"It was just punishment like every other kid," Dominic said in a rushed voice, still looking at his father. Harry could see by Hermione's face that this was not good.
"So would you rather live with him instead of Harry?" she asked pointedly.
Dominic's gaze suddenly snapped up to her, looking surprised. "What? No!" he said quickly. "I—I don't want to go back with my father, please!"
"Why is that, Dominic?" Hermione asked hopefully, moving to block Dominic's view of his father.
"Harry said he wouldn't hit me if I was bad! He said he would only ground me or something!" Dominic said, Hermione's suggestion of going back to live with his father putting him in a sort of panic. "Harry likes me and he treats me so nice and he acts proud of me! My dad hates me and he thinks everything's my fault and he hits me whenever I do anything wrong. Please, I can't go back there," he said desperately.
"Did your father inflict the injuries upon you that were documented by Madam Pomfrey when you returned to school on January first of this year?" Hermione asked quickly, trying to get the questions in before Dominic clammed up again.
"Did he ever hurt you before this previous winter holiday?"
"Yes," Dominic said quickly.
"Has his physical abuse on you become more severe and frequent over time?"
Dominic hung his head. "Yes," he said wearily.
"And do you think it would continue were you to go back and live with him?"
"Yes," Dominic said, glancing up at Harry with a sad tinge in his eyes. Harry gave him a proud nod.
"No more questions, your Honor," Hermione concluded, stepping down to let the defense cross-examine. This was the part they were all most worried about.
"Dominic, do you think it's possible that you did some bad things sometimes that might make your father angry and feel the need to punish you?" the man asked coldly.
Dominic's eyes widened. "Well, yeah, I guess I did. I got some bad marks in school and…"
"So you might say that you deserved to be punished?" the man said evilly.
Harry's eyes lighted with anger. Hermione stood sharply. "Your Honor!" she cried indignantly. The judge nodded at her and turned to the other lawyer.
"Pinkis, tone it down," he warned.
"Your honor, it's a valid question. It's important to see if this sort of behavior by my client might have been triggered by his son's behavior," the lawyer said smoothly.
The judge sighed. "Very well, go on. Dominic, please answer the question."
Dominic was shaking slightly and looking very small and scared as everyone waited for him to answer.
"I guess, maybe I deserved it. I don't know. None of my friends got punishments like that, though, from their parents when they did the same…"
"But was it possible that your behavior was worse than your friends?" the lawyer pushed.
"I—I don't know," Dominic said, sounding flustered.
The man kept asking similarly horrible questions until Dominic was nearing a complete breakdown. Finally, Hermione got the judge to agree that the other lawyer was "badgering the witness" and finally it was over.
Dominic was brought out into the hall to meet with Harry and Ginny. He looked a bit dazed as he walked out but when he saw Harry, he threw his arms around his mentor and broke down. It took a very long while to calm Dominic down.
Finally, Hermione came out and gave everyone the good news that they'd won, bringing everyone tremendous relief.
They were about to leave when Dominic's father exited the courtroom. He'd be having another trial for criminal accounts. As he passed Dominic, he sneered at his son. Dominic hid halfway behind Harry and grabbed a fistful of Harry's robes in fright. Harry put a comforting arm around the boy's shoulders.
"Don't think you can hide behind your teacher forever, boy, because someday, I'll get you back," he hissed.
Harry tightened his grip on Dominic protectively and glared hatefully at the man who, with that one key word, had reminded him so fiercely of his uncle.
"You will never get him. Dominic is with people who love him now, you sick son-of-a-bitch, and if you ever so much as get within a mile of him, I'll personally kick your arse. I pity you for ruining what you had with such a great kid. Now, Dominic, what do you say we get out of here?" Harry asked loftily.
Dominic nodded with a bit more confidence than he'd previously had around his father.
"Yeah, let's go home," he said firmly, speaking to Harry, but looking at his father challengingly.
He didn't know why, but it was at that moment that Harry felt like something in him had healed.
Harry nodded. "Home."
With that, the three left toward the home that Harry had always dreamed of being part of and finally was.
A/N: Well, hope you all enjoyed! A bit corny, I know, but what can I say? I'm a sucker for happy endings, apparently, even if the journey to it can be a bit tough. I hope you'll all drop me a review and tell me what you thought.