A/N: Thanks for the review on the prologue; I'm glad people are intrigued. This is my first Harry Potter fic, and I haven't re-read any of the books in sixth months, so be warned of errors. In any case, thanks for reading, and keep reviewing!
Spoilers: All of the books
Pairings: Harry/Snape—I know, I know, but I like that pairing! Any way, be warned of slash if you don't like that stuff, although it will take a while before I get to that part. Also mention of Hermione/Ron and Ginny/Draco.
Disclaimer: You know the drill; I don't own, so you can't sue.
Harry Potter and the Return of the Prodigal
Chapter One: Return to Hogwarts
Anyone who knew Albus Dumbledore knew that, when his eyes twinkled like that, it meant trouble for everyone involved. A brilliant wizard, a wise and powerful man he might be, but the Headmaster of Hogwarts was also a meddler, a troublemaker, and an irrepressible scoundrel with a greater love of pranks—and sweets—than most of his students.
Severus Snape might have given his loyalty and respect to the impossible old man, and he might have trusted his life and, some would say, his soul, to the wizard. He might have spent years spying for him on the late, unlamented Dark Lord, doing things that had stained his hands and soul—but he didn't trust the man a damn inch when he got that look on his face and in his eyes.
Minerva McGonagall—one of the only creatures in the world capable of making Severus feel as if he were an inch tall and eleven years old again, though he'd poison himself with his own potions before he'd admit it—knew the old man even better than he did. "What are you up to, Albus," she demanded sternly, glaring at him like one of her troublesome Gryffindor.
"Why, Minerva," Dumbledore protested innocently as he entered the staff room. "I don't know what you are talking about." And his eyes twinkled brighter.
"Balderdash," the Scotswoman said bluntly. "I've known you fifty years, Albus, and that look means you're up to something."
The diminutive Flitwick looked up form his tea. "Minerva, he's always up to something—it's merely a matter of degrees."
"True enough," Madame Pomfrey added. "Gets in more trouble than the first years, this one does."
"Poppy," Dumbledore looked wounded, "how can you say such things."
"Because they're true," the mediwitch smiled. "Don't you deny it; you've an eye for mischief and a taste for sweets, like any child I know."
"I will admit that I enjoy a good joke," the headmaster conceded as he sat beside his Deputy Headmistress and across from Poppy.
Madame Hooch, the Quidditch coach snorted. "You shortsheeted all of our beds last week, Albus. The last time that happened, it was a Weasley—thought I still don't know which one," she frowned.
"Nonsense, that was Peeves."
"Peeves spent the day blocking the pipes—he could have only done one or the other. Unless you'd like to confess to the plumbing issues," Minerva arched a brow at him.
"Well, perhaps the sheets were my doing," he chuckled.
"As if there was any doubt of that," Poppy murmured.
Severus was enjoying seeing the old meddler attacked on all fronts when he was dragged into it. "Severus, my boy, give me a hand here. I'm being unjustly accused of fouls deeds."
The potions master looked over from his seat by the fire. "There isn't a thing unjust about it, and you'd best give up whatever secret mischief you've brewed up, so we can brace ourselves for it."
"Ah, what has the world come to, to have a defenseless old man attacked by his colleagues and allies," he sighed miserably.
"Defenseless," Flitwick chuckled. "About as defenseless as an armed Slytherin." Severus would have taken offense at the besmirching of his house—but it was true enough.
"Let's have it, Albus," Minerva tapped his arm.
He sighed lustily—and his eyes twinkled harder. Severus braced himself. "I've found our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
There were discreet glances in his direction, which Severus found faintly amusing. He had given up seeking the post nearly ten years ago, and doing so had let his enjoy his own position more—as much as one could enjoy teaching adolescent brats with more interest in Quidditch and snogging each other than in the intricacies of potion making. But then, many things had changed since the death of the Dark Lord, and Severus was no exception.
"And I truly believe that this professor will break the seeming curse on the position, and last more than one year," Dumbledore went on.
Severus snorted. Somehow, not a single DADA professor had lasted more than a year in the last twenty school years. The handful that looked as if they might in the last decade had either died, moved out of the country, married, received a better offer, or a combination there of. Even he was beginning to suspect the rumors of a curse on the position.
"I hope it's not another fool like that ridiculous excuse for a teacher, Lockhart," Severus sneered.
Dumbledore chuckled—causing quite a few worried looks. "No, no, my boy, Lockhart was a singular mistake. No, this gentleman is a natural-born teacher, and eminently qualified for the post—and he is a former student, one which we are all familiar with."
"You didn't hire a Weasley, did you?" Poppy asked. "As much as we love them, the thought of teaching the next generation of them is worrisome enough. To have to work with one…" she trailed off as the professors imagined it. And shuddered.
"Hmm, Weasley, Weasley," Dumbledore mused, and then chuckled. Every eye was on him. "As interesting as that would be, I'm afraid not." There was a general sigh of relief—in which even Severus took part. "No, it's Harry."
And, having dropped his bombshell, he sat back to watch the sparks fly.
"Harry? Harry Potter?" Minerva demanded, going pale with frail hope.
"Surely not," Poppy whispered.
"You can't mean Potter?" Hooch murmured. "You must mean another Harry."
"That dear boy?" Flitwick asked "You mean he's coming back?"
As the wash of voices filled the room with its eclectic mix of House colors and dozens of wizard portraits, Severus ignored them, Dumbledore's words still echoing in his brain. 'It's Harry.' Of course he meant Potter; nothing else would make him so pleased with himself.
"Potter has been missing since the day after he graduated," Severus's smooth voice rose over all the others.
Every eye returned to the Headmaster.
Some of the twinkle died from his faded blue eyes. "Yes, Harry has been missing these many years. He was—badly affected by the war and its end, and wished to remove himself from the public eye. Even I have had no correspondence with him, except through a few contacts. I might have been able to find him, but I felt I had to respect his wishes. The only people he's had any regular contact with is the Weasleys, and his employers."
There was an uneasy silence as they remembered the war, and that final battle—and the look in Potter's eyes when he turned away from the body of the Dark Lord. He had moved with the fragility of the aged, and his eyes, which were dull with shock and a terrible knowledge, took in the blood and waste around him.
It had been three days before graduation, the day after the end of exams. He hadn't spoken a single word between then and the boarding of the train.
Even Severus had been affected by the fractured soul of the boy he hated for being his father's son.
"What has he been doing with himself all these years," Minerva finally asked.
"He became an Auror," Dumbledore replied as proudly as if the boy was his own son. "He entered training after graduation, and is in the highest class of Auror now."
Once again, Severus asked the question that stopped everyone in their tracks. "He's been an Auror for thirteen years?"
The average lifespan of an Auror was far less than half that—granted, that was during Voldemort's time. Still, most burned out, were disabled, or were killed long before they had spent ten years in the field.
"Minus the two years of training, yes," Albus confirmed. "In fact, he will still be active while he resided here—if trouble pops up in Scotland or Northern England and Harry is already here, it will free up other Aurors to work elsewhere."
Once again the professors fell silent. The Boy Who Lived was coming back.
"When will he arrive," Minerva wanted to know. It was barely three weeks to the start of term.
"He'll arrive in a fortnight. He can't make it any sooner, as he's in Romania right now, and then he must collect his things before coming to Hogwarts. In the meantime," Albus stood up, his eyes once more cheerful, "we've things to do—preparing for our students and classes, and making sure Harry will be comfortable when he arrives."
As Dumbledore swept out, Minerva on his heels, Severus sneered. Once again, Harry Potter, The Boy Who Wouldn't Bloody Die was being treated like a miracle, like something special.
And if, in his mind, he remembered that the boy had killed the Dark Lord, not through luck and arrogance, but painful training, sweat, blood, and perseverance, he ignored the thought.
Along with the voice that whispered for him to remember that shattered, broken look in emerald eyes.
With the Sorting completed, every student sat at their House table, and Dumbledore stood. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts. Before we begin, I would like to remind all students that the Forbidden Forest is absolutely off limits. Also, Mr. Filch has added another thirty-six items to the list of forbidden items—coincidently, the exact same number of new inventory available at Weasley's Wizardly Wheezes. We also have a new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts who, unfortunately has been delayed. He should, however, be here for the beginning of classes, at which time you will meet him. With that being said," the aged Headmaster raised his hands and clapped once, twice, calling in the feast, "tuck in."
There were numerous glances at the empty chair at the staff table. The students all knew the rumors of the cursed position, and wondered who this years teacher would be. Would he be a good teacher? Or one of the unfortunate ones, who taught nearly nothing and let them fall behind in time for their OWLs and NEWTs? Would he break the curse? Or would he not even last the year, like Professor Archie Newert of two years past whom Peeves had taken a particular disliking to, and driven from the castle by Christmas break.
The professors occasionally glanced at the empty seat as well, remembering the breakfast a week previous which had brought an owl to Dumbledore. The message had been brief: I'm sorry about this, Headmaster, but I've been sent to the Orkney Islands. There seems to be a group of vampires terrorizing several of the villages there, and I'm the only one close enough to do much good. I should make it back in time for the students to arrive. HP. Severus had sneered slightly, but refrained from making comments, after all, Potter was doing his job—although, once again, it seemed as if no one else could do without the Boy Who Lived.
He ignored the noise of the crowds of children, casting a few glares, though they held none of the venom of fifteen years ago. With the Dark Lord gone, Severus was no longer forced to play the role he'd held for so many years as a faithful Death Eater. He no longer favored any House over another, even his own. He didn't torment students like Longbottom or seek out ways to strip points from anyone. Of course, he was still a sneering, sarcastic, cynical bastard, but the cruelty which had been part of his personality was gone, now that there were no Death Eater brats to report his actions to their parents and the Dark Lord. Of course, he could still terrify first years into babbling jelly, or paralyze them with a glare. But he rather enjoyed that part.
He wondered how long it would take Potter to destroy the new pattern he'd forged his life into.
Of course, he'd promised Dumbledore that he wouldn't restart hostilities with the boy, and it was reasonable enough, though he had no doubt the boy would give him ample reason. Hooch and Pomfrey had already laid bets on how long it would take for open warfare between them. Minerva had given them a month.
They'd managed a truce of sorts in Potter's seventh year, when every teacher in the school had drilled him, relentless in extra lessons and dueling practice. He half-believed it had been possible for them to get along simply because the boy was too damn exhausted to rise to Severus' bait. Nonetheless, they'd remained civil, and had parted, if not on friendly, then at least on neutral terms.
Severus wondered how much of his youthful arrogance he'd regained now that the Dark Lord had been gone for years.
He took a long drink of pumpkin juice as the prefects led their Houses to the dorms. Minerva's estimate was probably too optimistic.
With all the students in their Houses for the night, the staff retreated to the staff rooms to discuss the new first years, and of course, to speculate on Harry Potter.
"It's a shame he missed the Sorting—I know he always enjoyed it," Minerva said as they passed through the portal into the staff room.
"Indeed. I wonder when he will arrive, though."
"I'm sorry I'm late, Headmaster."
Everyone turned towards the low tenor voice, and Severus had his wand out before the sentence was finished. In the low light of the room, a figure of shadow stood by the window overlooking the lake and the full moon that rose over it.
"Harry, my boy? Is that you?"
Albus waved a hand and lit the rest of the candles in the room, but the boy remained in shadow. Severus noticed he'd placed himself well; even in the brighter light, he was hidden in the shadows of one of the tall columns that resided on either side of the windows. All that was visible was a long robe.
"We were worried you wouldn't make it, lad. When did you arrive?"
"Near the end of the feast. I didn't want to interrupt." His voice was soft, but still held a depth that the boy's never had. It was slightly hoarse, as if he had worn it out recently.
"Nonsense, lad, you should have come in! Never mind—how did you get in? I hadn't realized I gave you the staff room passwords."
"You didn't; Salazar let me in." He referred to the portrait the hung over the entrance of the school founders.
"Did he really?"
"When I spoke in parseltongue, yes."
"Are you going to hide in the corner all night, Potter? You certainly did enough skulking in shadows when you were her before." Severus interrupted.
Potter chuckled. "True enough. You could say I've made a career out it now, Professor Snape." There was no sneer in his tone, the way there once might have been.
"Oh, don't you two start," Poppy sighed. "Honestly, two grown men. Come, now Harry, lets have some tea and let us look at you, lad."
"Yes, ma'am. But I'm not a boy any longer."
And when he turned and stepped into the light, Severus and every other teacher there was certainly forced to agree, for it was no boy who stood before them.
The scrawny, gawky youth had filled out with maturity and the strict training of an Auror. He topped out at just under six feet tall, and even underneath his clothing lean whipcord muscle moved visibly. He was broad of shoulder and long of leg, and even in the bright light seemed to be draped in shadow. He wore all black but unlike Severus' heavy velvets, Harry's clothes were matted colors that did not reflect the light and held no shiny buttons or clasps. His robe was open in the front and hung gracefully, allowing arms a free range of movements. Under it, he wore more black, from dragonhide boots to trousers and shirt, matched by a wide black belt holding numerous pouches and several nasty looking weapons. He wore a dull black collar which appeared to be some kind of armor protecting his neck, and dragonhide gauntlets with flexible metal in the shape of scales over the back of the hands.
The unruly locks of his youth were longer, falling past his shoulders in a horsetail which taming them slightly and hiding the famed scar on his forehead. The curse mark was no longer what drew the eye in any case, even had it been visible. It was the new scars that were truly startling; a longmark that went from his left temple to chin, another that lined his right jaw, the remnants of a broken nose, and the right eyebrow marred by another scar, one that barely missed his eye.
Those eyes were now a darker green and shone clearly without the aid of glasses, thanks to the correction charms that Severus and Poppy had cast in his seventh year, when they all realized that his glasses were a vulnerability. They no longer held the shattered soul of a boy, or the pained bitterness that had come into them in seventh year, but were still shadowed by life and faintly haunted.
All his lingering bitterness evaporated as Severus looked upon what had become of The Boy Who Lived. He didn't look at this man and see James Potter, or even Lily Evans. Even had James survived long enough to see the age his son was now, he would never have looked like this. His face would have never contained so many cares, the marks of time and battle scars. He had never born the muscles of a warrior, or had his face carved so leanly with weariness. James Potter had never had grey in his hair, two heavy silver streaks at each temple that extended all the way to the ends of his long hair.
This man was not James Potter. He was not The Boy Who Lived. Severus could feel no anger, not bitterness, when all that he saw left him wincing with sympathy, and wondering what the hell had happened to the righteous, determinedly stubborn and arrogant Gryffindor he'd once taken pleasure in stripping points from.