SEVEN: Because First Impressions are Made Only Once
Harry took a deep breath and looked up at Remus once more, his eyes pleading. Remus gave him an encouraging smile and leaned down to kiss him gently.
"You'll be fine."
"I… Remus, what if they hate me?" Harry voiced finally. Despite his best attempts to the contrary, Harry felt a fine shudder pass through his body and he leaned against Remus for support.
"Of course they won't hate you. They're your friends and family, Harry. They love you, and they've been extremely worried about you."
"I know… I just…" I'm worried.
"It will be fine. You can't stay up stairs for the rest of eternity," Remus reasoned.
"It wouldn't have to be eternity… just another hundred years or so," Harry returned, the slight lift in his voice making it a joke, but his eyes lending it seriousness.
"Everything will be fine, you'll see."
Harry nodded reluctantly, took another deep breath and pushed the door open. Where the hallway had been silent and deserted, the kitchen was clamorous and filled to bursting. It was also filled with sunlight. Harry winced and shied away immediately. Hermione was the first to act. With an almost frantic slash of her wand, the window was covered.
"Harry!" she all but shrieked. "You can't just walk into rooms in the middle of the day without making sure the windows are closed!"
"Sorry, 'Mione," Harry offered. "I'm fine, it's just a little bright," Harry assured her when it looked like she was going to launch into a tirade.
"Harry, you're… you're a… you can't be in the sunlight!" Ron finally snapped. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Vampire and not at the moment, no," Harry retorted. Ron blanched. There was an uncomfortable silence following his announcement and Harry shifted nervously. Remus finally set a hand on his shoulder and gently steered him to a chair. This seemed to be the cue for everyone to continue eating and Harry gave Remus a grateful smile.
"So, Harry dear, how are you feeling?" Molly asked finally. Harry gave her a slight smile, careful not to flash too much teeth.
"I'm okay as okay can be," he answered.
She smiled hesitantly. "Well, that's good." She turned her attention to her food, spearing a piece of sausage with a little more force than necessary. She gave her husband a forced smile and tried to make small talk. Conversation slowly picked up and Hermione set a small bowl of oatmeal in front of him.
"This should be mild enough for your stomach," she told him, handing him a spoon.
"Thanks, 'Mione," Harry said, smiling. The only solid food he'd had since everyone had discovered his secret was a sandwich at Snape's the night of the full moon.
"Oh, Harry dear, should you be eating?" Molly asked, looking at him nervously.
Harry nodded, taking a small bite to prove his point. "As long as I'm not malnourished," he amended.
"Oh, well, that's good. You don't need to…?" she looked at Remus curiously.
"Uh… no. I don't think you would all like to see that, anyways," Harry muttered to his oatmeal.
"No, we really must get used to it. Go right ahead, dear."
"Mrs. Weasley, that's really not-"
"Now, Harry," Mr. Weasley interrupted. "This is going to be a big part of your life from now on, and it's not something we're just going to ignore."
"Mr. Weasley, really-"
"I insist, Harry."
"I'm not hungry," Harry said quickly. "Really… I uh…fed this morning… earlier." Harry coughed, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. To his embarrassment- and slight annoyance- Remus started laughing.
Harry glared at him, his cheeks flushed red. "Traitor," he muttered.
Remus squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I told ya so," he sing-songed. He offered his wrist questioningly. Harry glared at him witheringly and Remus shrugged, withdrawing the offered appendage with a chuckle. Harry took a moment more to glare, but then turned a smile on the assembled Weasleys. He was glad that Remus was right –he didn't quite know what he would have done if the Weasleys had treated him any differently.
"Well, if you're sure."
Harry nodded, took another bite of oatmeal and asked Ron what had happened in the world of Quidditch while he was gone. Normalcy ensued.
Harry tossed a pinch of floo powder into the fire and called for Snape's rooms.
"Ah, Potter. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked caustically.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Stop being such a prick. Are you available?"
"Would I be talking to you if I weren't?" he inquired mildly.
Harry couldn't help but smile; throughout the war words like "prick" and "brat" had almost become endearments, and had definitely lost any edge. Indeed they were almost friendly greetings these days.
"I've thought about those proposals, and talked them over with Remus."
"Oh?" Harry noticed that Snape's voice was carefully neutral and filed the tone away for later reference.
"I think I would like to meet the House leaders… do you think that could be arranged?"
"Come through, Potter."
Harry rolled his eyes, but jerked his head out of the fireplace and pulled out a bigger handful of powder.
"I'm going out!" he called over his shoulder. He waited just long enough for a "be careful!" from Mrs. Weasley and then tossed the handful in and called for Snape's quarters.
"Sit." Snape offered –commanded?- immediately. Harry did so, once again marveling at the clean feeling of Snape's quarters. "I wouldn't suggest it," Snape said finally, looking over the top of his reading glasses at Harry. It was still strange to think of Snape with reading glasses. Harry had once asked him why he didn't get his eyes fixed magically. Snape retorted with the same question and the issue had never been raised again.
"Houses are very much about loyalty. They will not take kindly to the idea that you are 'shopping' around."
"But I am shopping around," Harry pointed out.
"But you should not rub that in their faces, or you may find an offer rescinded. That offer may be the one you wanted." When Harry didn't seem to be getting the point, Severus sighed, put his book down on the coffee table and took his glasses off. "Let us say, for example, that you pay a visit to the House Chu. Let's say you decide to join the House Lee. These two Houses are at a state of constant war. The members of the House Lee use you to taunt members of House Chu; House Chu takes it as a personal affront that you went to their enemy. Now the war has not only been inflamed, but you become the center of it. Or, let us say that you visit House Brambach, but decide on House Alexi. These two houses are at a state of tenuous tolerance. Alexi stays out of Brambach's business and vice versa. Because of you, they become enemies, and you've just started a Trans-Atlantic Vampiric war. Congratulations."
"I haven't done anything yet," Harry snapped defensively.
"But you will if you treat these people like potential employers. A House is not a business organization, not a firm. They're family."
"Alright, so no shopping around."
"Good. That doesn't mean that you need to make this decision rashly or that you can't request more information in writing. This is relatively acceptable, but when you meet a House Head, make sure you are ninety-nine percent sure of your choice."
"Why only ninety-nine percent?"
"There is always the possibility that all the facts will tell you a House is perfect for you, but upon meeting the Head, you find the House disagreeable. I am not saying you should chose to stay in a place where you will be unhappy. I'm simply saying that you cannot toy with these people," Snape stressed.
Harry nodded and sighed. "I'm pretty much leaning towards House Letraetres, but I wanted to… you know…make sure that I hadn't overlooked something."
"I would be more than happy to discuss the other Houses more in-depth with you if you desire."
"I… no, that's alright. I think I've had about all the research I can stand."
"Listen, Snape; I'm not like you and Hermione. I can't research something to death or I just end up second-guessing myself and getting more confused. Call me foolhardy, but you study; I'll act."
"Potter, think very carefully about this. Letraetres is nothing if not vicious. This is a large House with a lot of members and a lot of responsibilities. You will be trained hard, and for a very long time not treated well. You will be asked to fight, you will be told to kill. And… you will have to spend a great deal of time and energy defending your mate."
"Come on, don't be dense. He's a werewolf; there will be animosity. You will have to be his protector; you will have to prove yourself time and again, and yes they will have to fear you, or you might find yourself with a dead or otherwise…broken mate."
"Would I have that same problem in other Houses?"
"In every House you will have that problem. But in a younger house, it will be easier for you to prove that you can keep him. So, it's a matter of what you're willing to do. Letraetres would be a good House for you. But you will have a hard time of it. Alexi would be easier to prove yourself to."
"But it's young."
"Yes. And being young may be taken over tomorrow, or may rise over the course of the next hundred years to topple older Houses."
"I think I need to talk to Remus…"
"Don't make the mistake of thinking that he cannot take care of himself, or that he doesn't know what he will face in a vampire House," Snape warned.
Harry nodded. "I realize that… but this is as much his decision as it is mine. Will you be available later tonight?"
"I have rounds tonight, but I should be back before midnight."
"Alright. I'll see you then?"
Snape nodded and Harry got up and left, chewing on his lower lip as he headed back to Grimmauld Place.
In the end it took another two days for Harry to come to a decision. And that decision having been made, Harry stiff felt uneasy.
"You're afraid, Potter," Snape growled, stopping them abruptly before they could mount the steps leading to a set of looming doors.
"Of course I am!" Harry snapped back, his eyes narrowed and fangs flashing reflexively.
"They'll smell it on you!"
"I know that!" He'd dealt with enough vampires during the war that he was well acquainted with the dangers of showing weakness, especially fear.
Harry took a deep breath, quelled the desire to punch Severus right in the nose and instead let his eyes close. In a matter of seconds his mental barriers were snapped into place and when he opened his eyes, he had locked all his fear and uncertainty behind a wall. Snape tested his barriers, cautiously at first, and then made one sudden, violent thrust. With all the years they had worked together if anyone had any hope of getting through Harry Potter's surprisingly apt barriers it was Severus Snape. He grunted slightly in satisfaction and withdrew his mental fingers. Behind them Remus released a sigh of relief and brought up his own barriers. While not as technically advanced as Harry's and Severus', Remus had spent much of his life subconsciously Occluding, and so felt reasonably safe walking into the massive gothic mansion. Well, as safe as any werewolf could feel waltzing into a den of vampires.
If asked later, Harry would have sworn up and down that the world slowed to an almost crawl as those forbidding doors grated slowly open. Squaring his shoulders, Harry took the lead, Remus following close behind him and Severus brought up the rear. The doors opened into a long entryway, twin staircases wrapping along the sides of the walls and a gigantic crystal chandelier overhead. The walls were lined with benches and chairs and couches were scattered throughout the wide entryway, almost as though it were some kind of living room. Even the stairs sported plushy chairs. Every chair, sofa, stool, and many laps were occupied. Vampires leaned against the banisters, sat on the floor, sprawled on the stairs. For one split second, Harry felt his heart stop; he'd never seen so many of the notoriously dark creatures in one place. Quickly schooling himself, Harry stopped a few feet from the door, mechanically taking in the placement of the nearest potential enemies.
While the hall had been dead silent when the doors opened, they broke out into a cacophony of sound as soon as they closed. Harry automatically spread his legs, sliding into a stance that would cover as much of his mate as his slight stature allowed and growled menacingly at the nearest of Letraetres' members.
"Be silent!" came a sharp snarl over the general din. As quickly as the noise had built, it ceased. Harry glanced up to find a tall man appearing to be about forty, but was probably closer to four thousand, at the top of the stairs. He had sharp eyes and the chiseled body of a Roman god. Surveying Harry critically, the man slowly descended the stairs, lesser vampires moving quickly and elegantly out of his way as he made his descent. They flowed back together behind him like water and Harry was impressed despite himself.
"You bring this mutt into my House?" the man asked almost casually, but Harry could practically feel the anger and disgust radiating off of him.
"You invited me," Harry reminded him, his voice lowered to a dangerous growl. He was stepping on extremely thin ice and had no doubt that if this man -who was undoubtedly Alexander Letraetres- decided to attack him, Harry wouldn't stand a chance.
"Indeed, we did extend to you the honor of an invitation," Letraetres agreed. "And you repay our kindness by bringing our very enemy into our midst!" His voice rose sharply with every syllable until it was a cold, icy bite and Harry had to forcibly restrain the impulse to wince. Instead he merely growled, his upper lip peeling back slightly to reveal one sharp, almost transparent, canine. "You are impertinent. Do you dare to challenge me?" he asked incredulously, honestly taken aback.
"I make no challenge," Harry declared, "but I will defend what is mine."
"What is yours, indeed. What is this mutt to you? A slave?"
"He is my mate!" Harry snapped, shoulders unconsciously tensing.
"Your mate?!" Again, the world came to a screeching halt as Harry and Letraetres faced off, fangs bared and eyes daring the other to back down. "Severus, Severus," Letraetres said finally, eyes never leaving Harry. "You've deceived me."
"I've done no such thing," Severus defended stiffly, well aware of his own precarious position.
"Why did you not see fit to inform me of this little... development?"
"You never asked."
The shock of Severus' defiance startled Letraetres out of his staring contest and his eyes shot to Severus. "I would not think that would be necessary! You are to act in the best interest of your House!"
Equally shocked, Harry whirled to face the potions master, who stared back at him calmly.
You've been hiding from me...
"Certainly you're not that surprised?" he asked silkily, one eyebrow lifted. Harry felt his jaw drop and a choking laugh slowly worked its way out of his throat and quickly rose to a level of near mania. When he turned back to face Letraetres, he found the man's eyes boring into him and he was much closer than he had been a moment before. Harry had to stop himself from backing up and merely returned the man's stare.
"Anything else you've been hiding, Severus?" Harry asked lightly, not turning to look at him. Severus didn't answer, but he could practically feel the man's amusement running down his spine; of course he was hiding something, he was Severus Snape.
"Now, Mr. Potter..." Harry tensed as Letraetres took another step closer. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you and your mate... and perhaps even our sneaky little friend here too."
"Because I'm Harry Potter, of course," Harry replied flippantly. He never liked relying on his name, but had learned during the War that his name could be a powerful weapon, and weapons were best employed when used. Letraetres stared at him incredulously for a few seconds before one hand shot out and wrapped around Harry's throat. Harry forced himself to remain calm and watched Letraetres impassively while the man made up his mind. Letraetres opened his mouth as though to speak, but whatever he was about to say was cut off by a bone-jarring shriek from behind Harry. Eyes wide and immediately working on instinct, Harry jerked out of Letraetres' grasp and whirled to face the fool who dared attack his mate, only to find Remus on his knees, staring at his hands in stunned shock. Harry's mouth dropped open and he rushed forward instantly.
Remus sat in the pale light of a crescent moon, looking around in confusion through the eyes of his hybrid wolf.