A/N: So, here it is, in all its rewritten glory. It's still basically the same story, I've just... changed the way I phrase things, and maybe addled some small details. Some parts you might recognise, probably because I couldn't come up with anything better.
It's quite a bit longer than the original version, and I, at least, think it is quite a lot better. And the next chapter is on its way. That's a promise. I'll try to work on this one as much as I can.
The baby and his keeper
Severus Snape was spectacularly pissed off.
He prided himself on having a good reason for it, too. For starters, he was holding a baby. But while that hardly was what he would call dignifying, what really got him was the way everyone was staring at him. He was willing to admit that since it was the child of that good-for-nothing James Potter, some small amount of surprise was in order. But it was clearly lacking proportion, he decided. It was not like he liked holding that bundle of uselessness, it was just that orders was orders and someone had to do what they were told, even if they happened not to enjoy it.
Why could people never mind their own business?
"Professor Dumbledore?" he demanded, straining his voice to keep it calm.
"Yes, Severus?" The man wouldn't even look up from his bloody book! Severus clenched his right fist.
"I was right." There was a hint of smugness in his cold voice. "We should never have talked to those muggles before we dropped it off."
"The Dursleys had to have it all explained to them," Dumbledore said with a barely audible sigh, lifting his gaze to regard the man before him through his half-moon glasses.
"Well, they're gone."
"Gone?" This, at least, seemed to bring about some kind of reaction. Severus smiled. It was not a pleasant smile, not a smile that anyone in their right mind would invite for tea.
"They've fled the country. We have not been able to trace them, yet, but we think they were headed for Switzerland. Anyway, we cannot force them back here. They have the right to live wherever they choose. And we all agreed that the child should stay in England."
Dumbledore suddenly looked very tired. "Why did they do it?"
"They left a note. I do not think you will have to read it, though. It is made up mainly of insults. They get their point across very well, however. They do not want to have anything to do with our kind." He smirked derisively at the last words, and it was clear that he, at least, really felt about the same way about their kind.
Dumbledore sighed. "What shall we make of this, Alice?"
Alice Longbottom stood up abruptly and walked over to the window, flinging it open so hard that the windowpanes rattled in an attempt to vent out some of her frustration. There was an angry sparkle in her usually kind eyes and a rigid set to her back that very acutely communicated her displeasure.
"Well, someone from the Order will have to take him. There is nothing for it. We still have lots of unorganized Death Eaters running about like headless chickens, and I am not at all happy about that Malfoy being freed. If the boy can't have one of his own family to protect him, he must at least have someone that knows the dangers that threaten him."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Well, I really don't know. Remus, perhaps. He, after all, is the closest thing to family the boy has in this world, now that the Dursleys are out of the picture."
Severus cleared his throat politely. "With all respect, Alice," he said coldly, "I do not think that Lupin would be a wise choice. The man is depressed. He has lost all his closest friends this last week. You saw him after Pettigrew was murdered. We cannot trust a child to a man that we had to tie to his own bed just to keep him from attacking himself and others."
She whipped around in sudden anger, her eyes narrowing. "You are only saying that because you hate him!" she hissed, stepping closer. "You are only saying that because you know that James' son would be happy with him, and all you want is to..."
Dumbledore held up a hand to quiet her. "Severus is right," he said heavily. "Remus is, understandably, out of his mind with grief. We cannot demand of him to take care of the child. You know that, Alice."
"Fine. Then we'll take him," she snapped, tossing her hair. Her voice quivered with passion. "He will be fine with us, he's just about as old as Neville, and we know how to tend to a small child. He'll be happy."
Dumbledore smiled. "Much better. I am glad you want to do this, Alice."
"Well, of course. Can't have too many children, Albus." Her anger suddenly gone, she smiled warmly at the bundle that Severus gratefully shoved over into her waiting arms.
"With your permission," he said, bowing slightly to Dumbledore. The old man waved his hand.
"You are free to leave. Thank you for bringing him with you, Severus."
"My pleasure, I'm sure," he sneered sarcastically, and swept out in a flurry of black robes.
"Can't see how you can stand him," Alice muttered, throwing filthy looks after him. "Can't see how he stands himself, for that matter."
"Don't," Dumbledore chided her gently. "He's not as terrible as you would have him. He has given everything to help the order, has he not?"
"That is all very well, Dumbledore, but I saw him the day Si... Black was taken to Azkaban. He was smiling."
"And wouldn't Sirius have done the same, had the roles been reversed? No, Alice, do not judge him. You do not know him."
Dumbledore did not answer; he merely stared with an unfathomable expression at the door through which Severus had quitted. How, he tiredly asked himself, can you be expected to know a man, when he himself does not?
Remus leaned tiredly against the doorframe, his head lolling forward.
Sirius! How could you?
Those were the words that relentlessly kept repeating themselves in his mind, over and over, until he was certain that he was running mad. There was no escape, no rest, for even in his dreams he would hear his own shattered voice, asking the question to which no answer was to be found. And the forthcoming night would be the first full moon he faced without his friends, not because they were unavailable, but because they were gone.
"The boy will be taken care of by the Longbottoms," an indifferent voice at his left pointed out.
"Thank you, Severus," he answered tiredly, not even able to feel some anger at the man's obvious disinterest. Besides, it felt good to know that there was at least hope for Harry. He had never approved of Petunia and her lout of a husband.
The other man shrugged his shoulders, walking past him. Remus thought of how much he had hated him for his lack of emotion when James, Lily and Peter had died, over Sirius's betrayal. The display of open glee that Remus had expected wasn't there, just a faint little smile when Sirius' sentence was read out, and that was so much worse. It was... respectless. Like they had meant nothing.
But on the other hand, was there anything that meant something to Severus Snape, except Severus Snape himself?
He backed into his room without turning on the light, collapsing backwards upon his bed. It was unmade and the sheets smelled a bit rank from the sweat of tormented dreams broken by long periods of sleeplessness.
The pain was beyond enduring, beyond understanding. When he closed his eyes he could see Lily and James before them, the memory so fresh that it was hard to tell the difference between what was reality and what was not. And that just made it worse. How could they be gone, when they had been real, living persons just a week ago?
Where had it gone wrong? They had all been happy, hadn't they? And they had all loved Harry so much that if someone would've claimed a week ago that one of them was going to try to hurt him, he would've given them a black eye and told them to be happy that he hadn't done more.
He remembered James holding the newborn Harry in his arms, looking like he couldn't believe that this was actually his son. He remembered how Sirius had laughed, remembered the gently teasing warmth in his voice as he said, "Poor child, he threatens to look like his father." And James hadn't even scowled, it was possible he hadn't even heard, he just stared down at Harry and said, very softly, "I think he is looking at me." And there was such tenderness in Lily's eyes that it looked almost painful, as she lay tired and spent, but so happy that she seemed to light up the whole room from within.
He remembered how scared Peter had been of dropping the child, how he had refused to hold him. And even then he looked at the boy with what seemed to be anxiety and guilt, as if expecting to somehow hurt him anyway. And Remus remembered holding the boy himself, feeling happy and slightly guilty at the same time, for as he felt the small heart beating against his hands, his soul had whispered, "A part of your life is mine, Harry. I'll never have a child of my own, but at least I'll have a part of this…"
Yes, he remembered that feeling, that sudden certainty of having found his way home at last. He was a part of a family. It wasn't a very orthodox one, but it was big and warm and he was accepted as a part of it, and that was all that mattered. And even as they stood in the midst of a raging war, he had never been as happy as this last year. It had all been so perfect.
And then the world shattered. Without warning, without any explanation; it was so pointless, so unfair; it was irreversible and it felt like dying, over and over again with every second that passed without his friend by his side.
Sirius... How could he have forgotten how much they had all loved him? And when he had told Remus how much it meant to him that they all trusted him, had that even been for real? Hadn't he loved Harry? All those times when he had held the boy in his arms, making faces at him and playing with him, because he loved to hear him laugh… Had all that been a charade? Just a way to lull them into a false sense of security?
Had there ever been a Sirius that loved them and cared for them? Or was that just a very pretty lie that they had told themselves?
Once more, tears started streaming down his face, and sobs wrecked his body that were more painful even than his monthly transformations. He could still hear Sirius' mad laughter as the Aurors escorted him away; he could still see the big, smoking crater where Peter had been. Hopeless, helpless Peter, trying to help and screwing up as usual... And he could still feel the anger, like red-hot wires coiled around his soul. Every day he had to fight it, fight the urge to let go again and never come back. As long as Harry was still alive, he had to hang on to whatever was left of his sanity.
Harry... What kind of life would he have? He would have to live with the knowledge of parents he couldn't remember, live with the fame which he could derive no pleasure from, and with the shadow of Voldemort for ever present... And his only true links to his parents would be his father's arch-enemy and a creature that was more wolf than man.
He sighed, reaching out unconsciously for the untamed part of his soul, but then quickly recoiled again. It was gaining more and more control over him. It had taken him over completely when Peter had been killed. He couldn't remember much of it, but later he had been told that they had had to restrain him from tearing Sirius apart with his bare hands. It had been almost like a déjà vu, for once more that other part of him had taken over, and he had almost killed someone. It had been just the same after the incident in the Shrieking Shack. They told him afterwards that he had wrestled Sirius to the ground, clawing and biting and hitting him wherever he could reach. Sirius had never even tried to fight back; James and Peter had been so shocked that they didn't know how to react. Finally, one of them had gathered enough wits to Stun him, but not before he had knocked Sirius senseless.
Two times he had lost himself completely, both times over Sirius. Sirius was like that. He got under your skin. You couldn't help caring about him, and you couldn't help forgiving him, even when he had almost made sure that you unwittingly killed another student. Not this time, though. There was no forgiveness now.
Oh, Sirius… How could you?
Three days later, Severus was busy reading when the girl Nymphadora Tonks stumbled though his door. The nine-year-old looked fearfully up at him, knowing very well that Severus Snape did not look kindly upon those who interrupted his privacy.
"Mr. Snape, sir, mother said to get you immediately. She said it was really, really important!" She was rapidly changing hair-colour from sheer nervousness. It happened quite often. She did not really know how to control her abilities as a metamorphmagus yet, and her anxious disposition made it even harder.
"Very well. But do try to knock the next time." He stood up abruptly, and Nymphadora stumbled backwards out of his way.
"Sorry," she mumbled, staring at her feet, but he ignored her. Without another word he swept past and out into the hall, and the girl sagged with relief. Of all the grownups, he scared her more than anyone else.
He barely recognised her, only guessed it was her because she was standing in the doorway to her own room. Her eyes were red-rimmed from crying, her face a sickly pale yellow, and her usually proud posture was crouched, like that of a wounded animal. "Severus..." She turned her head away, pressing her lips together. He waited silently until she could speak again. "The Longbottoms... Oh, it is awful..."
"Tortured." Her face twisted in a bitter grimace. "My dear sister and some other rabble. They have been caught. But Alice and Frank... They are in some kind of... some kind of fit, we don't really know… And there's no telling if they will... ever... be the same..."
"Will be taken care of by his grandmother. But we do not know what to do with Harry. She's an old woman, and if Alice and Frank should not... come back... Well, we can hardly expect that she will take care of him as well."
Severus heaved an annoyed sigh. "So much trouble…" he muttered sourly.
Andromeda looked positively scandalized. "Trouble? Trouble? What kind of a heartless git would…?"
"This kind of heartless git, madam." He gave her a humourless smile. "Very well. I suppose someone else from the Order will have to take care of him."
"Dumbledore is considering it." Her tone was cold and biting; her eyes were turned away from him as if she was trying to restrain herself from smacking him.
"Is Alice ill?" a small voice asked. The both grownups jumped, facing Nymphandora. They had not heard her coming.
"Yes, dear. She is very ill."
The small, heart-shaped face expressed anxiousness and a trace of sorrow. "And she won't be well? You said she wouldn't!""I said that we don't know, love."
Her lower lip was trembling now. "Will she die, mother?"
"There might be a chance that she will not... be herself anymore." Andromeda looked anguished at the sight of her uncomprehending daughter.
"She will never get well?"
"We do not know, sweetie... Dora, come back!"
She hurried after her running child. Severus glanced after them, and then he shook his head. It was none of his business, he decided. Why should any of it be his business? He did his best to help the Order, but otherwise... Otherwise he minded himself. What did he care about what they thought of him?
"I heard running. Has something happened?" Lupin appeared in the doorway to his room, looking for all the world like he had not had a wink of sleep the last week. Well, he probably hadn't.
"The Longbottoms have been tortured. They appear to be in shock, or something similar. We do not know if they will recover. It seems permanent, if I was to understand Andromeda right."
Lupin closed his eyes in pain, his breath coming in rapid, shallow gasps. His face shone white and bloodless, and he was trembling all over.
"I'm... fine... Just fine..." Every word seemed to cause him unbearable agony. He turned around and slammed the door. The next moment, there was a loud crash, unmistakably a piece of furniture getting smashed.
Severus turned, and walked away.
"Well, Dumbledore?" Arthur Weasley demanded. "What's to be done with the boy? You know that my offer still stands."
"And I would gladly take it, Arthur, if I thought that your economical situation was that, that you would be able to take care of another child. As it is now, you barely have money to enough to go around, and I've noticed that Molly is pregnant again."
The red-headed man blushed, and said nothing. He stood silent, glaring defiantly at the old man, but his heart wasn't in it. Truth to be told – and he was ashamed to admit it – he was quite relieved. One more mouth to feed wasn't what they needed.
"Well, the keeper has to be a member of the Order," Albus mused, seemingly thinking aloud. "And it has to be someone who knows the ways of the Death Eaters, someone who knows what to expect. They'd have to know a thing or two about Dark magic. Preferably someone who wouldn't mind living isolated from the Wizarding World. Perhaps even someone that would be able to teach him privately, until he enrols at Hogwarts. And… someone who they would never expect." He gave Andromeda a significant look. The tall woman paled.
"Oh no! Oh, Albus! You can't do that! That man doesn't have a heart in his body! The poor child would grow up unloved and unwanted! And he hated James and Lily. Imagine what he would tell Harry about his parents..."
"I wouldn't let him. But he is the one most suited for the task."
"Why? He does not know a thing about children!"
"Maybe not. But I think he remembers what it is like being a child, and that is the best thing a parent can know."
"Listen, Andromeda, I know you cannot take him." He smiled gently at her as she lowered her head. "I do not blame you. Nymphandora is a very sensitive, singular child, and she needs your constant attention. In fact, no one except Severus is able. No one as suitable, that is. Besides, he is distantly related to Harry on James' side. And that is the kind of protection that the boy needs the most right now. The protection of his own blood. We will do as I say, and that is my final word."
Andromeda raged and stormed some more, but was eventually subdued. Remus, apathetically watching them from his place in a huge armchair, was stunned by how very much like Sirius she was. For one thing, she looked almost exactly like him, with the same handsome, aristocratic features; the same predatory bone-structure. And she moved and talked like him, and most certainly reminded of him in the aspect that she let everyone know it when she was displeased. And they both had that tendency to go overboard, emotionally.
He imagined what Sirius would've said if he had been told that Severus was going to take care of James' child. Or rather: What the old Sirius would've said. The Sirius that wasn't a traitor, the one that had cared about nothing as much as his friends.
The Sirius he thought that he had known.
He had already resigned himself to the fact that he himself was in no condition to take care of a baby. He was barely able to take care of himself. It was past full moon, and yet he had trouble controlling his own body at times. It usually worked with breaking things or smashing his fists into the wall, but there were times he had to Stun himself to keep from running completely feral and probably attacking other people.
He saw Severus enter; called there by the silvery-white phoenix that was the headmaster's Patronus. He watched the other man's face very closely as he received his orders, looking for signs of the anger and frustration that surely must manifest. Remus was, against his will, impressed. Severus took it with remarkable grace, as was the case with most things. Neither the flutter of a lash, neither the tightening of the jaw, nor the clenching of a fist gave away what he was feeling. Nonetheless, however unseen, the anger was still there. The man reeked of fury, a scent so powerful that Remus almost choked on it. He was surprised that Severus did not simply refuse.
But he never did. Not when Dumbledore ordered him. Of course, in Severus' situation there weren't many who would show themselves too eager to disobey. His position as a member of the Order was still a very shaky arrangement. Very many believed that once you had sworn your soul to the Dark Lord, you didn't really change. Not in essentials. Whatever flag you were marching under, whatever uniform you choose to wear, the same evil heart would beat underneath.
Severus always wore long sleeves, as if he was trying to make a point. Trying to tell people that he had left all that behind him. Remus did not know why he had come back, nor did he care. He had seen Severus, masked, battle his former comrades, the Death Eaters, in the aftermath of the war. There was such a fury in him when he fought, that he could only remember it being matched by one. Sirius. Severus Snape was no traitor, no matter how unpleasant he personally would think him. Whatever made him stay on the right side, he was faithful to it.
And of course, he didn't see the contradiction in his own reasoning. In his heart, Sirius was still no traitor.
The tall, black-haired man whipped around after having received his orders, storming out of the room. No, Severus was not at all pleased with the situation. But he would accept in angry silence.
"He will not treat the child well," Andromeda sighed.
"If that is the case, he'll find me in his bedroom by the next full moon," Remus mumbled.
Andromeda laughed shakily, but stopped when she saw his look of grim determination.
"I mean it."
Remus was right. Severus Snape was all but happy with the situation. Well, to be frank, he was out of his mind with fury.
After having adopted Lupin's trick of breaking assorted furniture, he finally sat down at his bed – too big to break – arms shaking from exhaustion. They could not be serious!
He could not take care of Potter's child!
Come to think of it, how could they expect him to take care of any child? He didn't even like children!
He forced himself to remember the small, cloth-wrapped bundle he had carried there just some days ago, tried to force himself to feel some kind of affection. A small face, the thin lightning-bolt scar, a pair of big, closed eyes, and the same hopeless mop of hair as... He shuddered. It was a small, not very clean being with about the intelligence of a jellyfish. What was so endearing about that?
Besides, he'd be a horrible parent. Just look at his parents, just look at the people that had taught Severus what a child was to expect from his parents.
There was the weakness of the mother, that woman with a pale, thin face and a pale, thin voice that promised that this was the last time, father had promised, he really had, and he would never ever hit again. And there was the tyranny of the father who would promise and promise but he would always hit again, until one morning there was an empty sheet where mother used to sleep, an empty wardrobe where her clothes used to be, an empty hole in Severus' life where he hadn't realised he needed something until it was gone. And then the silence of the house as his father tried to drink his mother back and never managed, and the strange thing was that Severus, who had spent so many nights of shouts and tears from downstairs praying for silence, now hated that very same silence and wished it tearfully away.
That was what parenthood was, as far as Severus was concerned. Either there was too much of it or none at all. How was he supposed to manage something better than that, when he didn't even care for the child?
He looked down at his own hands, the only part of himself he was happy with. Thin, delicate, pale. These were hands for working magic, hands for carefully brewing potions. Not for changing napkins and feeding a baby.
He had a mind that was made for quiet solitude and absolute control, and it was not to be given up on in the care for a small, noisy creature that couldn't take care of itself.
"Works to break things, does it not?" Remus asked conversationally from the door. Anyone else except Severus Snape would've jumped at this sudden intrusion into the world of his thoughts. Severus merely glared.
"Go away, Lupin" he growled impatiently.
"No," Remus said simply, "I want to talk to you."
"Fine. Talk." He turned his head away, to hide the fact that facing the last of his childhood's tormentors was bloody difficult. Severus might tell himself firmly that he was a grown man now, that he needn't be afraid of a skinny, sorrow-ridden werewolf; there was still a part of him that shied like a bullied teenager expecting yet another day of pain and humiliation.
"You will storm and rant, but just like Andromeda, you mostly do it for show. And you will do as Dumbledore orders. Am I right?"So he wanted to gloat, did he? Severus nodded, his expression stony.
"Well, that's all fine by me, since I know that I would probably eat the poor child if I were to take care of him." There was bitter laughter in his voice. "But I am telling you this, Severus: If you in any way treat Harry ill, I am personally going to make whatever Sirius and James did to you during our years in school seem like a cakewalk in comparison. I will find out ways of torturing you so artful and studied, that the deceased and unlamented Dark Lord himself would have absolutely nothing on it. Do you hear me?"
Severus had never heard Lupin raise his voice before, and was for a moment shocked into silence. Apparently, Lupin wasn't going to hang around to wait for his answer. His gaunt face split into a wry smile.
"I am glad you see things my way. Now... well, I guess I should say, 'good luck'." He nodded friendlily, and was gone.
Severus sat on his bed, staring at the now closed door. Suddenly, something was very different. For while it was true that he didn't care for the child, and if he had a chance he would gladly be rid of it, there was still that small voice inside him that said, 'Don't prove them right!'. Severus detested the way they all thought they knew him so well; that they had figured him out and knew what he went for. They didn't know. They couldn't know. He had reasons to be loyal. And no matter how much he hated them, he would still follow the orders that were given to him, and he would follow them well. There was no point in doing anything if you didn't at least try to be good at it.
Yes. He always followed orders. Because that was what you did. If you were truly loyal. Black had only followed orders when it suited him, and only look at what he had done.
And still Severus was treated with equal disdain.
It wasn't fair.
Remus hoped that it had worked. It ought to. Severus Snape never backed down from a challenge. That was yet another thing that made him so much alike Sirius. And if everyone thought that he would make a lousy parent, Snape would go out of his way to be as good as he could be.
Whatever that meant.
At least, for Harry, it would be better than nothing.
Severus sat down beside the cradle containing his arch-enemies son. The boy was awake now, the green, almond-shaped eyes darting alertly around the room. Lily's eyes. They wouldn't stop pointing it out, in a foolish attempt to believe that she was still there in some way. But he knew she was gone; he had seen that body lain out for the funeral. There had been no life left, no spirit to watch over the ones that were left behind. Just empty, stupid flesh.
Nonetheless, he had stayed the night, watching…
"Gloob," the child told him very seriously.
Severus snapped out of his reverie, fixing his gaze on the child. "Must be the wisest thing anyone has said to me today," he mumbled viciously, watching the child flail aimlessly with his hand. "You know, they keep telling me that you are very much like your father..."
The child made a noise as if blowing a raspberry.
"Exactly my point."
The flailing hand in some way found its way back to its owner, slapping him over the nose. The child, of course, immediately started to cry.
Soon, someone would hear the baby and come running, he knew they would. And they would find him there there, and as they lifted the child from the cradle their eyes would look at him with the kind of resentment that appeared to be the lot of everyone who couldn't see the charm in a child drooling all over the front of your robes. He could hear them already, their whiny little voices picking up as soon as they left the room, '…just sitting there, letting the poor baby cry, I'm going to complain to Dumbledore, I swear I am…'.
No. Oh no. He would not give them the satisfaction.
Gingerly, he picked up the small bundle, trying to hold him as he had seen Alice holding him. Head up, feet down. Fine. And a hand around the neck, right? To support it, or something. Blasted useless thing, it kept moving about… There! And now what?
Completely helpless as he was faced with thin baby wails and big wet tears, he tried bobbing the child up and down awkwardly, mumbling something as stupid as, "There, there..."
The really stupid part about it was that it worked.
Instantly calmed by the presence of an adult, the boy reached out his hand towards the face of this new acquaintance, and since he had a very grabable nose, he… grabbed. With a vice-grip.
At loss of ideas what to do now, or, more importantly, how to get loose – Maybe he could try to prise loose the boy's fingers? But what if they broke? – Severus stared down at the small face. The baby gurgled with an infant's contagious laughter. In spite of himself, his soon-to-be adoptive father found himself smiling. He quickly sent a searching look around the room to make sure no one had seen. He couldn't detect any spectators to the humiliation, thank goodness, but he nonetheless checked his features, turning the smile into a scowl.
"Just as annoying as your father, aren't you?" he mumbled, but he could not quite manage the intended venomous tone.
"But with a much more impressive vocabulary, I have to admit."
"'Nitch!" Harry squeezed even harder, making Severus grimace in pain.
"Snitch, you say? I hear that that was your first word ever. Poor, indoctrinated child, I'm sure."
"Whatever you say." Finally the brat would let go! "Why," Severus mused with a pained grimace, "does everyone feel compelled to harass my nose?"
The child of course didn't answer. He only laughed, gurgling happily and instead grabbing some of the lank wisps of black hair falling around this Funny Man's face.
"Well, I see that we are going to get on like a house on fire," Severus mumbled bitterly, yanking his hair free. "Which is a very stupid expression, anyway. But what I'm heading at is that you won't get rid of me. That's Dumbledore's orders, you see, and mortals like you and I have no choice but to accept it. Life is – ah, how did Black put it again? – a bitch. Very elegant, sophisticated man, your godfather."
"You're a fast learner." He put Harry back in the cradle, glaring at him as he squiggled and tried to sit up. "Go to sleep, won't you? You are really quite a tiring experience. I need some peace and quiet."However, Harry didn't seem to be of that mind at all. Severus was sure that he did it simply to spite him. Half an hour of utter debasement seemed to be required before the child would be content with lying down and keeping quiet, distracted by a teddy bear that Severus had thrown him in mere desperation. By that time, the young man was so exhausted himself that he fell asleep on the couch.
Remus, watching from the doorway, grinned.
"Andromeda," he whispered urgently. "Come and have a look at this."
She gave him a doubtful look, padding closer. Remus didn't know it, but Andromeda had been one of the Order members that had suspected him strongly of being the spy, and even though she felt bad about it now, she wasn't sure she trusted him. He was, after all, a werewolf. How could you trust someone like that?
However, that was soon forgotten as she leaned over Remus' shoulder and beheld a most peculiar scene.
"What's he doing in there?"
"I've been watching them these last ten minutes or so. He's been trying to make Harry sleep." Remus laughed softly. "Although it seems like Harry managed to bring about the opposite, or what do you say?"
"But he hates children, Remus."
Remus shrugged. "Perhaps. At least he's trying."
Andromeda snorted angrily. "I hate Dumbledore when he is right," she growled, adopting one of Sirius' favourite expressions. As Remus closed his eyes in pain, she relented. "I am sorry Remus," she mumbled softly, and after some hesitation she even touched his arm, briefly. He seemed to accept the apology, for he forced a smile and shook his head, as if trying to dislodge the painful memories by force.
"Well, this settles it, I guess," she said, sounding a bit too cheerful in her attempt to cover up the embarrassing silence. But she couldn't help but to add in a dark undertone, "Still… I really wonder what kind of upbringing the poor kid will have."
"Ghoo!" said Harry from the other room.
The matter was settled rather smoothly, mainly because there wasn't anyone at the Ministry that had the nerve to argue with Albus Dumbledore. What Severus thought, he kept to himself; what Remus thought was expressed only in very low tones to those he knew would not pass it on. Andromeda, of course, was an entirely different matter, and there was some grumbling from Rubeus Hagrid as well. All in all, however, the process was really quite painless.
What Harry thought was – understandably – hard to tell. But he seemed in general to be content with the whole situation as long as he was free to pull the nose of his adoptive father, have regular meals, wake everyone up when they least expected it at night, and at daily basis attempt a runaway, crawling as far in the corridors as it was possible before someone noticed and brought him back. He was an open-minded child, and enjoyed both the company of the Funny Man, the Very Tall Woman, the Even Taller Man, the one with White Hair All Over His Face, and the Yellow-Eyed-And-Skinny Man.
He remembered vaguely that there used to be others. There used to be one that meant food and warmth, with a soft voice that had brought comfort. And one that had held him in the evenings when he was going to sleep, one that used to lift him up on his shoulders, who used to sit by his bed and talk to him. And one that had tickled him, made funny faces, and used to throw him up in the air and catch him again. And one more who's presence he had not quite liked, because it felt like this one was sad, and in some strange way, it had felt like it was Harry's fault.
Then there was a day when he was lifted up from the Sleeping Place by the Funny Man, and carried outside. It was a bit cold, but he laughed, because there was so much light. He heard people speak, even though not all words were familiar. It was Yellow-Eye, he saw, and someone else that was not quite so familiar, with really strange eyes.
And then they were inside a something and there was a lot of noise and it was warmer as well. It didn't seem like it would stop, so Harry fell asleep.
Remus leaned back against his seat, eyes scanning the cold flames of the autumn landscape outside. His body screamed for sleep, but his mind did not want to cooperate, flitting restlessly from one thought to another, never quite processing the information before changing course once more. He felt shattered and bound at the same time. He felt like he wanted to curl up under his bed and die, and at the same time he wanted to stretch his muscles and run as fast as he could, until he dropped to the ground from sheer exhaustion.
He was not unused to this feeling. Especially before the full moons he was more or less in an open war with himself. Or rather, the He that was Remus Lupin was in open war with the He that was the wolf.
The wolf was a fairly straightforward creature that didn't like being betrayed, and was of the mind that someone, somewhere ought to be suffering badly for it.
Remus Lupin was of the mind that the wolf could do him a favour and kindly sod off and let him die in peace.
Of course it didn't. There was nowhere for the Wolf to go, even if it had wanted to. Which it didn't. It seemed to be of the opinion that Remus ought to be the subservient one, dealing out the punishment on the world that it saw fit. Remus, who naturally didn't share that view, nonetheless hated himself for that small part of him that agreed with the wolf, that small human part that still wanted to taste Sirius' blood on his lips.
He tried to shift position, and flinched when a sudden burst of pain set in. He would've been largely healed by now, normally, but the last full moon had been a nightmare. The wolf saw it as its right to expressively tell Remus exactly what it was feeling at the moment, which happened to be white-hot fury. Well, trying to tear off its limbs and skin – their limbs and skin – was, he had to admit, very expressive.
Harry gurgled in his sleep, and Remus stole a glance at him. He seemed happy enough. It was fortunate, at least, that he was not older. He assumed that small children wouldn't like things that were unfamiliar very much, but the boy had not been old enough to understand what had happened that day. And even though he had been crying when... when Sirius found him, he would hopefully not even remember that terrible evening. Oh, he would grow up knowing his parents had been killed, but he would not have to suffer the trauma of having seen it with the eyes of an older child, a child that understood what was happening.
Remus moved his gaze to Severus' face. The man holding the boy was staring out the window with a glazed-over expression. Remus remembered having seen it before, back at school; sometimes when James and Sirius were torturing him, and sometimes during breakfast, when the Owl Post arrived. Sometimes of late, too, when new deaths were reported in the Order. It was as if he shielded himself from the world, gave up whatever bonds were keeping him to it. Remus remembered having envied him that ability, and he still did. There was too much pain in this world. Too much anger and disappointment and fear and… betrayal.
Shaking his head to clear out the thoughts before he once more ended up in the quickly spiralling maelstrom of depression, he plunged his hand into his pocket to have something constructive to do. He fished out the thin chain with its pendant, nothing more than cheap silver bought from a muggle shop. He wished that he would've been able to buy something else than silver, but gold was too expensive, he couldn't afford it, and buying something cheaper was out of the question.
The metal glinted with false innocence as it seared his fingers. Soon enough bleeding wounds would open, and the poisonous metal would find its way into his blood, little by little. The wolf inside him howled in fury and pain – it hurt him too. Silver was one of the few things that did. He quickly fished a napkin out of another pocket, using it to hold the chain as he nimbly snapped the pendant open, trying to ignore the pain. It had been really hard to fit the pictures inside it, but he had wanted to do it by himself. Now Lily was smiling at him from the left half, James from the right.
The boy had the right to some kind of link to his parents, whatever his adoptive father might think of it. He would give this to Severus and tell him to give it to the boy when he was big enough to keep from sticking it inside his mouth or immediately losing it. Of course, Remus would visit once in a while, but he thought it better if it was the boy's guardian who gave it to him.
Flicking his wand at the pendant, he muttered a soft spell. It glowed blood-red for a moment, before once more turning silver. But now there was a slight pink cast to the metal. The spell would warn Remus if Harry was ever to find himself in great distress, or if immediate danger threatened him.
Just to be on the safe side of the Beater's bat, as James would've put it.
Severus entered his new house with the boy on his arm, not even deigning to look at the people that were still unloading his furniture and personal belongings. He stomped through the bare, inhospitable rooms, muttering curses to himself as he went. In his hand he clutched the pendant that Lupin had bestowed upon him, scarcely bothering to hide his relief as he let go of the trinket. His fingers, Severus had noticed, were bleeding.
With the fingers of one hand he flicked it open, staring down at the two faces smiling cheerfully up at him, obviously unaware that they were dead. His first, violent impulse was to throw it out the window and force himself to forget about it. But as much as he hated James Potter, he was not stupid.
Pissing off an already unhinged werewolf was very stupid.
Instead, he found the only furnished room in the house, the bedroom, and absently put Harry down on the unmade bed. On the wall, just as Albus had said, an old reproduction of an impressionistic paining hung, looking slightly out of place in contrast to the old, faded wallpaper.
Meliusfrangi quam flecti he mumbled, tapping it with his wand, and the portrait swung open.
'Melius frangi quam flecti.'Rather break than bend. Needless to say, Severus had chosen the password himself.
Behind the painting were his most prized possessions. Some rare – and probably illegal, he had not bothered to check – books, some old letters, some heirlooms, and – because he was of a suspicious nature – a large part of his savings. Amongst them, he now placed the silver amulet and some papers concerning his guardianship, before carefully closing it once more.
He then hurried back to the door, where his bags were now waiting, hoping feverently that the child would not attempt to explore his new environments – and probably fall off the bed and break his head – just yet.
This, of course, made rather evident his lack of experience when it came to taking care of children. When he came back, Harry was standing – albeit with a bit of wobbling – in his bed, supported by one of the bedposts, waving happily at him as he entered. Groaning in despair, he hurried over, securing the child once more in a horizontal position. Harry gurgled with laughter and kicked his legs, recognising this as a very funny game. He would have to try it again, later.
Severus shook his head and said, in what he hoped was an appropriately stern voice, "No, we shall not play right now. Lie still!"
It has to be agreed upon that this was a rather pathetic attempt, and it wasn't very surprising that Harry happily ignored it.
James was still upset, and was off somewhere sulking, so Lily had to watch over her child on her own. She rather happy with that, actually. James' rants about hook-nosed slimeballs were rather repetitive, and they had begun to wear her patience down. There are just so many ways you can insult a person before it stops being interesting.
To tell the truth, she wasn't sure that Severus was the best person to take care of her son either. But this wasn't because she thought – as did James – that he was the incarnation of all evil. She knew this wasn't the case. She was simply worried; worried that he would regard the task as a burden and come to resent her son for it; worried that he would bring Harry up to the kind of believes that had smashed their friendship, once. However – and of this she was certain – anything was better than Petunia and her lout of a husband, not to mention that horrible son of theirs. She shuddered, resting her head in her hands, an old habit left from the time when she still had an actual body.
It wasn't as if she hadn't been exasperated about Severus' dismal attempts at handling the child. He was so wretchedly awkward! But she wanted to believe that he was learning, even if he indeed was taking some time. More than anything, she wanted to believe that he wanted to learn. Remus, from what she had gathered by observing him, seemed to think so. And she had observed Remus very carefully indeed, partly because he was the most sensible man she knew, and partly because she had been worried about him. No one but the invisible watchers on the Other Side had seen Remus stand perfectly still in his room, his wand pointed at his own chest, his breath coming rapidly as he tried to gather the courage to either kill himself or continue to live, and apparently not knowing which was more difficult. In the end, he always flung the wand away in disgust, and the crumpled like a dropped dummy to cry himself to sleep right there on the floor.
And Lily had breathed a sigh of relief, even if she technically didn't have any lungs to breathe with
She had never thought it would be like this. Of course it was impossible to know, but that you were allowed to stay and watch over your loved ones before moving on, that seemed too good to be true.
She had to believe it, though. Her own mother had explained it to her.
"I've checked on the Longbottoms," James muttered sullenly at her side.
"And?""It's… frightening..." He shuddered, and she could feel his distress. "They're sort of... empty. Lost, somehow. Wherever they are, I don't think it's like this place. And. I don't think they can find their way back."
"You think they will when they... die?"
"Don't know. I hope so. For their son's sake..."
She nodded, feeling the detached ache of melancholy. She thought maybe feelings were somehow different now. And yet… and yet it felt the same. It was hard to explain, even to yourself.
"So... what has happened?" James asked reluctantly, settling himself by her side.
"Lots of trial and error," she commented dryly. "Mostly error. But he is learning," she added stubbornly.
"I still can not believe that Dumbledore-"
Severus had just carried Harry outside, setting him down at the lawn. Harry, happy to explore these new surroundings, crawled around, poking everything new and exiting with his small fingers.
"He will sting himself on a wasp or something," James muttered darkly. "And that twit is just sitting there, reading..."
"Don't make yourself more stupid than you are, love," Lily chided him gently. "He is not reading at all. He is just pretending to."
"Why? There's no one here."
"Well, I think he is pretending for himself. He wants to think that he is reading."
"Some people are like that."
Lily suddenly gasped, and Severus rushed out of his chair and lifted Harry up, backing away from a spot of grass that the child had been exploring. There was a vexed hiss, and they saw a snake slink away.
James looked stunned. "I didn't see that!"
"That's because you were more interested in criticising Severus than in watching," Lily told him crossly.
"Yes?" The memories of her eyes were just as green as the real ones had been, just as sharp and intelligent, and they still seemed to look right through him. James sighed, deciding that he was fighting a battle he had already lost.
"I think we will stay inside today," Severs muttered, trying to explain to himself how he had managed to see that snake while so focused on his reading.
Harry waved goodbye to his new friend in the grass, hissing a soft farewell.
Alice took some trying steps, but it wasn't easy. The world was just Presences and Feelings, and some steps seemed to take her miles, while others didn't seem to bring her anywhere. And it was even harder to focus her thoughts; they scattered like down in a hurricane.
She had heard that, she knew she had! So he had to be here, somewhere. A while before – it was hard to tell just how long ago, hard to know if there even was such a thing as time in this place - she had been sure that she had seen James, heard him call for her. But he had not been able to see her, hadn't heard when she tried to answer him. And then he was gone again, and she wondered if he had ever been there.
Suddenly, there was a blurred but hopefully human shape close to her.
"Alice? Is that you?"
She tried to hug him, but then the world around them stretched, and she got the feeling of going through him, and when she turned around he was gone again.
"FRANK!" she called, desperately.
"I'm here! I can't see you, but I can hear you, Alice. Where are you?"
"I'm right here! I can't see you either, but Frank... it sounds like you are right here, right in front of me… but I can't see!"
"I know. I know, love. I can't find my way out, Alice. I can't find my way out of this… whatever it is. I can't find my way back."
"I know. I've tried, too. I hear people talking sometime, but they don't notice me. They don't hear. And I saw James a while ago..."
"Me too. But he could not see me."
"You were there?""Yes."
"But... but I did not see you."
"This... place seems to be moving all the time, Alice. I don't know what to do... But I think I can see you now. Can you see me?"
"No... Yes!" Slowly, she was able to make out of his shape, blurred and wavering, almost obscured by what seemed to be some kind of perpetual mist, but still there. "You think it is because we are talking?"
"Maybe. Maybe it's because we are thinking of each other. I don't know."
"Then I won't stop thinking. It is so very lonely here, Frank."
Then they fell silent, watching and waiting. They could almost see each other clearly now, and it felt like an endless relief.
"Are you scared?"
"What shall we do?"
"I don't know."
"Nothing. I can feel nothing, and I've seen nothing. He's not here." Her voice trembled, and he could feel her pain even if he could not see it. He ached to hold her, but could not risk losing her again.
"We will find a way."
"We don't... we don't even know where we are."
"No. But we will find our way out anyway."
"And... if we won't?"
"Then I don't know. I really don't know."
"I love you."
"I love you too."