And here we go! This is the very last chapter of Comes Out of Darkness Morn. The next story, the fourth year, will be called Freedom and Not Peace, and will be posted in a few days—I'm unsure of the exact date, but definitely before the New Year. For everyone who's read so far, thank you for coming on the journey, and I hope to see you next story, too!
Happy holidays!Chapter Forty-Five: A Conversation With James
Harry stopped outside the hospital wing and tried to slow his beating heart. Apparently, James had come into the hospital wing first, under the impression that his sons were still there, and woken Madam Pomfrey, who had woken the Headmaster, who had woken the Slytherin and Gryffindor Prefects, who had woken Draco and Percy Weasley. Draco had explained this to Harry as he struggled into his Slytherin robes and tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes. Harry had reached the hospital wing first, and was trying to figure out what he would say to his father, as well as when Connor would get here.
Too late, Harry thought, and turned around to clasp Connor's hand. "Dad is here," he said, to answer the question he saw on his twin's face. "But I want you to remember that we don't have to go anywhere with him, not when he hasn't made an attempt to contact us for months."
Connor gnawed his lip. "The Ministry—"
"Can only use legal solutions," said Harry.
Connor blinked at him. "I always thought legal solutions were pretty powerful," he said quietly.
Harry leaned against his brother and let his magic rise from its bonds, swirling around him. "That's what the Headmaster thought, too," he said. "I know someone in the Ministry who managed to resist him. And you were there when I negotiated with Dumbledore, Connor. I meant what I said. I won't let him hurt us. I won't let anyone hurt us." He met Connor's eyes and waited.
Connor swallowed. "And that includes Dad."
Connor took a deep breath. "All right. If you think that he can't force us apart or do anything, then I'll go in with you and talk to him." He glanced at Harry with a faint smile. "It's awfully nice to know that I have someone like you at my back, instead of across the room from me."
Harry inclined his head, and didn't say what he'd been thinking. You've always had me at your back, brother, standing at your right shoulder. Even when you thought you didn't, or didn't know you did, I was here.
He reached out and opened the door of the hospital wing.
James ran a hand down his face and told himself that he wasn't afraid of his own sons, damn it, and that he was too awake enough to handle this confrontation.
The reality was that he'd finished the last confrontation with himself, learned the last truth he thought he needed to know to be a good father, and rushed to Hogwarts before sleep could dull the insights to mere baubles of glass from the clear diamonds they were now.
A spark popped in the grate, and he whirled. Madam Pomfrey, who was on her way back to bed, paused and eyed him sternly.
"I won't have you frightening those boys," she said.
James nodded, then realized how the motion would look—as if his head were some puppet on strings—and forced himself to repeat it more smoothly. His parents hadn't believed in most of the pureblood dances used by Dark wizards, but they had taught him a good deal about the importance of proper posture. He gave the nurse his Head Boy smile, the one that had got him out of more trouble in seventh year than anyone would ever know. "I promise, Madam Pomfrey. I just want a little time to speak to them, and convince them to give me a second chance if I can. If I can't, I'll go, I promise." He knew how fragile this chance was, how easily he could mess it up.
Madam Pomfrey snorted a bit, but her face softened. "I do like to see families reunited," she said. "I saw enough of them torn apart in the War. But be careful with them, Mr. Potter. I mean it."
James closed his eyes tightly and nodded. He would be. The confrontations with himself he'd fired in Lux Aeterna had shown him exactly how many chances he'd let slip through his fingers in the past, how much care he'd needed and failed to exercise.
He heard the matron move past him and to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Then he opened his eyes and looked at the door. Dumbledore had assured him that his sons had been told of his presence, and that his best course was to stay in the hospital wing until they could be summoned, one from the dungeons, one from Gryffindor Tower.
Remember that, James chided himself. One of them comes from the dungeons. Harry is Slytherin, and you're only going to hurt him and yourself if you forget that, or try to pretend that he can be Re-Sorted, or any of the other nonsense you've been up to.
The door to the hospital wing swung open.
James felt his eyes widen and a tide of nervous sweat break out on his brow, but he waited patiently.
His sons came through.
Harry was slightly in the lead, his head up and his eyes fixed on his father. He moved like an Auror, James thought, recalling that part of his training. One important aspect was to look straight into the suspect's eyes, and never reveal that one was nervous or upset or worried. Harry was better at it than he had ever been.
Behind Harry came Connor, his hazel eyes shuttered in a way that James had never seen them, his steps shuffling. Of course, part of that could come from the lateness of the hour, James thought.
"Father," said Harry, his voice the very epitome of polite address to a stranger. "Thank you for coming. We were anxious to know what you would do." He paused and tilted his head to the side. James wondered if he was looking for wards, or spells, or perhaps simply the location of his father's wand.
James nodded jerkily. "I—I was thinking," he said.
"About what?" Harry's face was blank.
James took a long, deep breath. This was not going to be simple to explain, but his sons deserved no less, given how long he had spent away. "Sit down, please, boys," he said, and led them to two hospital beds. Connor scrambled readily into his. Harry watched James.
"Are you going to pace?" he asked.
James blinked at him. "I—yes, probably."
As if that were the answer he were waiting for, Harry nodded and scrambled into the bed James had indicated. James stifled any suspicion that wanted to rise. He understood almost nothing about Harry at all. At least he knew that, now.
James began pacing, completing two circuits in front of the beds before he nerved himself to speak. "Have you ever heard of Lux Aeterna?"
Connor blinked and shook his head. Harry said softly, "I know it was a Potter estate. But I thought it was sold when you and Mother went into hiding with us—that you wanted to have the money ready, and not risk having a property where Voldemort could attack us."
James shook his head. "That was only a ruse. In reality, the person who bought it was an—alternative of me. Lux Aeterna can't be sold. It's linked to the Potter bloodline. It's not the place our line was born or gained its name, but it's the place where we became linked to the Light, and made our major choices, and store most of our artifacts." He took a long breath. "It's a linchpin, boys."
Connor continued to look blank. On the other hand, Harry looked as if he didn't know whether to be impressed or frightened.
"I never knew that we had one," he whispered.
James nodded. It looked as though this wasn't going to be as bad as he had feared. Connor didn't know anything and could be eased into understanding, and Harry wasn't screaming his head off at the first mention of linchpins, which James wouldn't have been surprised about, considering the bindings Lily and Dumbledore had put on him. "We do. It's not a fact we advertise, given how easily our enemies could damage us if they knew about it, but there you are."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. Connor looked back and forth from his brother to his father, and finally burst out, "What is a linchpin?"
"An estate linked to a bloodline," Harry whispered. "More to the point, linked to a—a major site of that bloodline. It could be a place where they won a battle, or a place where they chose to be Light or Dark and committed their family to that allegiance, or a place where all their children were born. It can't be sold. It can't be given away. It anchors the family, insures they have a source of magical strength to draw on if all is lost, but it demands things from them, too. If the linchpin is ever attacked when the family isn't there, then it draws strength from the family to support itself. It might drain all of us in maintaining its wards." Harry looked up and met James's eyes. He had settled for looking terribly, gravely impressed. "I can see why you and Mother didn't want to hide there. Voldemort might have had enough strength to drain us even if we were behind the wards, or to shatter the linchpin itself."
James nodded, then hesitated. He had to continue the story, but there was something he needed to know first, and he was no Slytherin, to determine the emotions reliably from the boy's voice. Nor was he an Auror, or at least he was one long out of practice. "Harry," he said, "how do you feel about Lily right now?"
"I don't ever want to see her again," said Harry equitably. "She damaged me too much for me to be neutral towards her, and she encouraged Connor to get me back under control again." For a moment, temper flamed in his green eyes. James refrained from mentioning how much he looked like his mother when he did that. "Maybe, sometime in the future, I could be in the same house with her without wanting to destroy the house."
James nodded. It was about the answer he had expected, and it effectively nixed the plan he might have tried if Harry had felt able to see Lily again. Very well. I'll do the other.
"I went to Lux Aeterna because I knew it was the best place for thinking," said James. "And no one could come after me there. I'm the Potter heir, and if I want other people to stay out, they stay out." He let out a long breath.
"I thought, and I thought, and I thought. The only person I wrote to was Remus. I couldn't trust myself to be civil to Lily or Dumbledore, not after seeing what they'd done to you, Harry." He met his elder son's eyes for a moment, then looked away. "I didn't know what to do about Sirius, and I still feel so embarrassed about Peter that I don't know whether he would welcome a letter from me or not. And you boys were what I needed to make up my mind about. What had I done wrong, and how could I prevent it from ever happening again?
"In the end, I knew it wasn't working. I'd thought, and still I found myself getting stuck in corners. I'd hurt you by being there, but I was hurting you further by staying away. I'd made mistakes in the past, but I had no guarantee that I wouldn't make mistakes in the future."
"We don't expect you to be perfect, Dad." It was Connor who said that, offering him a fragile smile. "We wanted you to be there most of all."
James inclined his head, feeling as though someone had just breathed all the air in his lungs. "I don't deserve that level of confidence, son," he murmured. "Or, at least, I didn't. And I knew I didn't. I could so easily see what I'd been, a rabbit—"
Harry started at that word, for some reason. James eyed him and waited, but when Harry said nothing, James decided it was nothing his boy wanted to share right now and went on.
"But I could see that I'd fall right back into being that if Lily asked me sweetly enough. She convinced me to stay away from one of my sons when he was hurt from being possessed by Voldemort." James shook his head. "And Albus is worse. Albus has the compulsion gift."
"I thought maybe Mum did, too," said Connor then, and drew his knees up to his chin. "Where else did I get it?"
"One of my ancestors had it," said James gently, figuring he could give Connor at least this much. It was one thing he wanted to give his boys, after all: a taste of their heritage. "It comes from the Potter line, not your mother's."
"No," said James quietly, "all she had was her words, and the fact that I loved her." He blinked. Quite suddenly, the night he'd returned home to find his sons both bleeding from scars on their foreheads seemed vivid before him. He shook his head. He had been tempted to say it was the night that started this whole mess, but that wasn't true. He'd been what he was long before that night. "I still do," he added.
"So do I," said Harry.
James grunted, feeling as though a centaur had kicked him in the chest. Hearing that from Harry only reminded him of how very, very hard this all was. He wanted to sit down.
But he'd decided that he had to keep on his feet through the whole thing. He best expressed his nervous energy when he was pacing. And he'd be ready to leave, quickly, if Harry or Connor rejected the gift he was going to offer them.
He resumed his story. "I decided there was only one thing I could do, even though it meant staying away from you boys even longer. At least I knew, once it was done, that there was no turning back."
"How?" Harry asked. "Did you make an Unbreakable Vow?"
James shook his head.
"A ritual of some kind?" Connor added.
James shook his head again. "I went into one of the artifacts in Lux Aeterna," he said. "I knew that when I came out of it I'd be either a fit father, because I would have seen and confronted every one of my faults and resolved to overcome it, or I'd be dead."
Connor paled and stared at him. Harry frowned.
"And you thought we'd like having a dead father?" he asked.
James flinched. He had to admit, he hadn't thought of it quite that way. There were still ways in which he needed to work to understand Harry. Harry went straight for weaknesses in his armor that a Gryffindor would have ignored or considered excused by his courage.
"Not really, no," James admitted. "But I could literally think of nothing else, Harry. If I'd had someone with me, then perhaps I wouldn't have done it. But I'd spent a few months in isolation by then, outside of the one letter to Remus, and I think I went a bit crazy. I was sure that my dying would cause you pain, but so would my staying alive unchanged, and I couldn't think of a way to change. And at least, if I died, then Lily and Dumbledore couldn't use me as leverage against you. So I entered the Maze."
Harry sat up abruptly. "You must have sent one more letter, at least," he said. "Snape mentioned a maze."
James inclined his head, and stifled the irritation that squirmed inside him at the thought of Snape anywhere near his son. That was another thing he would have to get past, for Harry's sake, since he doubted his son would give up his guardian. "I did. The Maze is a long labyrinth, which showed me something of what's going on in the outside world—but only what would enhance my facing my mistakes, never anything that would detract from it. I knew when you shed your phoenix web, Harry, and what you boys faced in regards to Voldemort. That was near the end, so I was able to send a letter saying that I'd see you soon. I sent it to Remus. I think he must have shared it with Snape."
Harry nodded, but not as though he knew, rather as though he were too absorbed in the tale to doubt what James was telling him.
"The Maze was—not too bad," said James. That wasn't strictly true. It had been beautiful, and horrible, but the end result was "not too bad." What he had told his sons was the bare bones of the truth. The Maze had plopped him straight down in front of his mistakes, and refused to let him look away, either from the mistakes themselves or the consequences of them. He'd had to watch what happened when he loved his wife more than either of his sons, when he loved Connor more than Harry. He could tell them that, and would, but they would never understand unless they entered the Maze for themselves, and James hoped to Merlin they never would. "It did what I was hoping for. It showed me how I had to change."
"How?" Harry asked.
James paced twice across the room before he answered again. He felt as though his heart were about to burst out of him, still alive, and hang in the air, for his sons to reach out and crush with a touch. This was the moment that all his plans for the last months hung on.
"It showed me that I needed to consider you boys and your welfare before my love for Lily, or my own peace of mind," he said. "Being a parent is supposed to be difficult and painful, and I'd been avoiding that. It showed me that I was being a coward, hiding from my own capacity for Dark behavior." Harry caught his eye then, and James nodded to him. To Harry and Harry alone, he'd revealed the tale of how he'd snapped and tortured Bellatrix Lestrange, probably making her insane before she ever went to Azkaban. "It showed me that I can't win Light by hiding while others do all the work, or glancing aside from things I don't want to see. I've lost my wife, at least for now, and my trust in my mentor, and two of my best friends from school, because I didn't want to see." He felt tears in his eyes, and wiped at them angrily. I promised myself I wouldn't cry while I did this, Merlin take me. "I'm not going to lose any more."
"And how specifically do we figure into it?" Harry was leaning forward.
James faced him. "You know a lot about the pureblood dances and the traditions that the Dark wizards use, Harry," he said. "But you don't know anything about the rituals and traditions that the Light wizards use, and I think you should. That's your heritage, too. The Potters have been declared Light wizards for two generations, and acted in accordance with the Light and followed Light Lords for a lot longer than that. You don't know anything about that. You should." He turned and held Connor's eyes. "And you, too. You're both Potters. I've forgotten that for too long."
Harry nodded, he could see from the corner of his eye. Connor caught his brother's eye and nodded, too.
James gnawed his lip. First Snitch caught. "And I know that you both need some place to heal," he said. "Sirius…" He didn't know how much he could say about Sirius without babbling like a fool, so he restricted himself to saying, "Sirius. And Voldemort, Merlin damn him, from both last year and this one. I want you to have some time to recover.
"Some time to play," he added, thinking about the house in Godric's Hollow, shut behind isolation wards. Harry and Connor had had only each other to play with, aside from Sirius and Remus and sometimes James, who almost never played with Harry. Harry was always reading, and James couldn't understand that (he'd almost thought the boy would end up in Ravenclaw, sometimes). Now, of course, he knew why Harry had been reading all the time, and he found himself sick at the thought of it. "Some time to stop living in fear, as though Voldemort were everywhere you looked, and to be normal children."
Connor nodded, his eyes shining. Harry looked as if he might object.
"I want to take you both to Lux Aeterna for the summer," said James. "You can learn about the Potters there, and your heritage. You can fly all you want, and you can have friends come over and visit safely, the way we couldn't at Godric's Hollow." Because of Lily's paranoia, he wanted to say, but it had been his paranoia, too. If he didn't have to face anything Dark, then he didn't have to consider that he might be Dark himself. "You can be together, and safe from the Death Eaters. Lux Aeterna's wards will see to that. And I'm going to ask Remus to come with us."
He met their eyes and steeled himself. This was the part he had to ask, that he'd promised himself he'd say, but he wanted to run from the room anyway.
"And you'll be with me," he said softly. "I can be a real father to you, for the first time in my life."
Connor's face was lit and blazing now. James allowed himself to bask in that for just a moment. In truth, he hadn't expected much argument from Connor, though the Maze had shown him so bluntly how much he misunderstood his sons that he'd wondered.
He turned and looked at Harry.
Harry's eyes were dark green, like Lily's when she worried, and he was frowning. His lightning bolt scar stood out on his brow as he moved his forehead so that his hair tossed aside. The Maze had told James what that scar had meant, too, and Dumbledore had confirmed it in the brief moment he'd spoken with him via firecall. James thought Albus had meant the mention of it to scare him. It'd only made him more determined, instead.
"Could Draco visit?" Harry asked, carefully.
James gave him the truth. "If the wards will accept him. Someone who's drenched in too much Dark magic may not be able to pass them."
Harry looked at him, neutral. "I'm drenched in Dark magic."
"But you're a Potter," said James. "Your blood will permit you through, unless you turn fully and irrevocably to the Dark and are cast out of the family. No Malfoy has that guarantee."
Harry nodded. "And Professor Snape?"
"I don't know," James admitted. "A linchpin can be temperamental, Harry, if its scion is. And I don't like Snape, so Lux Aeterna might forbid him entrance because of that."
"I know," said Harry. "I'm not asking you to guarantee that you'll change your heart. I'm asking you if you'd agree to let him visit, and Draco too, if he can."
James wanted to close his eyes. Harry was an adult in everything but age and height. What have we done to him?
But he knew that in intimate detail, after walking the Maze, so he didn't have to spend long on the question. The important thing was getting to know his son now, and he would hardly be able to do that if he simply refused entrance to Lux Aeterna to Harry's best friend and guardian.
Snape would never have been his guardian if I hadn't ignored Lily's insanity for so long, James reminded himself, and opened his eyes. "I'll do what I can to convince the house to let him in," he said.
Harry was quiet for a moment, thinking. James looked back at him. He was aware of Connor's wide, pleading eyes, and wondered how much of a factor his brother's gaze was in making Harry finally nod.
"I'll come," he said softly, and then winced, as though someone had yelled at him. "But there's a certain unpleasantness to be got through first."
James wanted to close his eyes and dance. He had a second chance, which he had to admit, in some respects, that he hardly deserved.
"I'll come along with you," he said. "They can blame me, if they want." He turned and looked at Connor. "Is there anyone who will object to your going to Lux Aeterna for the summer, Connor?"
His younger son shook his head. "So long as Ron can visit, and maybe others if they want to, then I don't think so," he said.
James blinked, nonplused. He hadn't realized that Connor was so bereft of friends. Of course, if his son's character was anything like James's mistakes had formed it to be, then he would have had little to recommend him lately.
"Of course," he said. "The Weasleys are sworn to Light, too. There's no problem with that."
Connor cocked his head. "Since Lux Aeterna is a pureblood place, will it welcome Muggleborns?"
James smiled. "Yes. It's mostly Dark magic that it rejects."
Connor nodded. "Then I think I'll ask Hermione if she wants to visit," she said. "I—don't know if she will. I've apologized to her, but things aren't exactly the same between us as they were."
He sounded uncertain, but also as if his voice were growing strength with every word. James was relieved. Connor had some resilience, then, and was not going to crack the moment he faced his first true challenge. Perhaps James could, after all, have a relationship with him that wasn't based on innocence and ignorance.
James turned around. Harry stood near the door of the hospital wing, patiently awaiting his company.
"Thank you," Harry said, and smiled.
It's all been worth it, James thought, to see him smile like that.
Draco was not able to understand, really, how all his neat plans for the summer had gone so horribly wrong.
First Harry had put him off when he wanted to come to the hospital wing, insisting that he needed to meet with his father and brother alone. Draco had tried to argue, but Harry had pointed out that the promises he made covered solitude as long as he explained it. Draco had grudgingly agreed to let him go, certain that Harry would be back soon. What could his blood traitor, cowardly father possibly have to say that was at all interesting, or a reasonable explanation for where he had been?
And now Harry had come back, with his father in tow—awkwardly ducking to get his head around the door—and told Draco that he was going "home" with his father and brother for the summer.
It was unfair. Draco had been sure that the universe was on his side for once, as soon as he got past Snape's stubbornness and managed to make him see that Malfoy Manor was the best place for Harry. Instead, it seemed that the universe was going to take Harry away again, the way it had taken him away for every holiday except Christmas their first year and the first month of last summer. And, Draco supposed, Christmas of their second year, but Harry had been unconscious in the hospital wing then, so it didn't count.
"You can't do this," Draco tried.
Harry gave him a patient glance. "Of course I can. You and Snape will know just where I am, and you can come visit."
"Maybe," Draco grumbled. He'd heard stories about linchpins, and a Light wizard's linchpin was unlikely to let someone who bore the Malfoy name within a mile of it, no matter if he'd done any Dark magic or not, because Light wizards were bigots. "But, Harry, why?"
Harry gave him a curious glance as he shuffled through his trunk, apparently looking to make sure that all his possessions were packed up. "Can you ask? I have to train my brother, and this way, I'll be able to do that. I want a chance to reconcile with my father, and this way, I'll be able to do that." He shot James a smile that James returned, and which made Draco seethe. It hadn't been too long since he'd been the only one able to make Harry smile that way. Why do all the obnoxious parts of healing have to come along with the good parts? Draco thought. "And we need someplace safe for the summer, so the Death Eaters can't get us. Hogwarts would be safe, but the Death Eaters do know where we are. Lux Aeterna is safer, more sheltered, and will protect anyone of Potter blood more fiercely than Hogwarts would."
Draco put a hand on Harry's arm and forced him to face him. "All of those are fine advantages for other people or for the war, Harry," he said. "But what about you? What do you want?"
Harry went still, staring at him with wide eyes. Draco waited, his heart pounding unexpectedly hard in his throat. Harry really might change his mind and come with him, he thought in those few moments.
And then Harry smiled at him, and Draco compared that smile to the one Harry gave his father, and found that this one outshone it.
"Thank you," said Harry. "Thank you for asking that, Draco." His voice turned gentle. "I do want all the things I described to you. And, more than that, I know that you and Snape won't forget me, or turn against me, or anything else—that I matter to you more than that, and I don't need to remain with you every moment to repair or strengthen my relationships with you."
Bloody prat, Draco thought dully, feeling a pain slam to life in his chest. He can't tell the truth to try and get out of this. It's not fair. "Then how about remaining with us just because you like being with us?" he asked.
"I would, if that was the only factor," Harry said. "But you know what I am, Draco—all of what I am, probably better than anyone else except Snape. I want to help my brother, too. And he's traumatized from the loss of Sirius, and he has to learn." He looked at James, and made sure the man could hear him. "I don't trust anyone else to train him rigorously enough, yet."
James flinched, but inclined his head. Draco found himself revising his initial impression of the man a bit. He was a pureblood, after all, even if he had sworn himself to Light and stank of that.
"I want to go to Lux Aeterna," said Harry. "I need to do this right now. I can't just say that I want to repair my relationships with my family, and then do nothing to prove it." He let out a little breath. "But sooner or later, they'll be as healed as I can get them, and who knows, in the future?" He smiled at Draco.
Draco nodded slowly. He supposed, seen in that context, that it wasn't so bad. He could visit Harry, and this was only one summer. There were going to be others, and Christmases, and Easter holidays, and then all their lives after school, when they wouldn't be responsible to parents and annoying clingy brothers anymore.
Draco intended to see that he and Harry spent the majority of that time, if not all of it, with him. He could surrender a present battle for the sake of increasing his advantage in the future.
"All right," he said, "but I want to know that you'll invite me over as soon as possible."
Harry smiled. "Of course." He turned back to rooting in his trunk. Draco glanced around, wondering what he was looking for. It really hadn't taken Harry long to pack. He never spread his belongings out, as though he expected any moment to have to pull up stakes and run before enemies.
Then Harry turned around with a folded piece of parchment in his hands, and said, "Happy birthday, Draco."
Draco blinked. It was true that it was his fourteenth birthday tomorrow, the fifth of June, but he hadn't expected Harry to actually remember, given the state he was in. He had almost forgotten himself.
He reached out and accepted the parchment from Harry's hands, unfolding it slowly. Their experience with the Dark Lord writing Harry from the Shrieking Shack had made Draco less than enthusiastic about letters when he didn't know what they said.
This one wasn't a letter, though, unless one counted the salutation of Dear Draco at the top. Below that was a list. Draco began to read it, frowning.
When you made me welcome to our House at the Sorting Feast.
When you made me see that being Sorted into Slytherin wasn't so bad, and I might even make friends there.
When you wanted me to stop cheating in Potions so that Connor would stay out of trouble—I know now that you just wanted to see me get some credit, even though I didn't know that at the time.
Below that the list continued, all times that Draco had demonstrated some gesture of friendship to Harry. He reached the end of the enormous list, his mouth dry, and read,
For friendship, even when I was too blind to see it. For gestures of affection that I thought came from jealousy of my brother. For being a Slytherin in all the ways that matter, and still the best friend I could ever have.
Happy birthday, Draco. I notice it now, and I know what it means, which I didn't then. I'm never going to forget again, and if I fail to notice, feel free to hit me.
Draco looked up, furious that a piece of parchment could make him sniffle. He held Harry's eyes instead, and saw Harry incline his head, a small smile playing around his mouth.
"It's not as though we'll be out of touch," Harry said softly. "Even if we didn't owl each other and didn't see each other until September first, we never would be."
Draco nodded, slowly, and slid the piece of parchment into his pocket. "Are you really going to leave now?" he whispered.
Harry glanced over to check with his father. "Yes," he said, when James nodded. "Right after we talk to Professor Snape." He grimaced, as though to say that he wasn't looking forward to that.
"You came to talk to me first, then?" Draco asked.
"Of course," said Harry. "Why wouldn't I? My trunk was in the room, and I had to give you your birthday present, before you wrote me in hysterics and accused me of forgetting it."
His smile kept Draco from hitting him. He reached out instead, and hugged Harry goodbye. "I expect to see you in a few days at most," he whispered. "And good luck with Professor Snape."
He felt Harry wince. "Thanks. I'm going to need it."
Snape blinked his eyes open slowly; he'd fallen asleep in his office again, over the last of the exams for the term. Someone was knocking on his door. There was only one person it could possibly be, at this time of night.
The moment he thought that, he was on his feet, wand out, and striding to open the door. If Harry was in trouble…
Harry was not in trouble. Harry was standing in the hallway, looking mildly startled that Snape had opened the door so fast. Behind him floated his trunk, which looked full. And behind that was James Potter, his arms folded and his slouched posture as annoying as it had ever been.
Snape understood the situation at a glance. He had to. He had known James was coming to see his son, and he knew that Harry would not have agreed to simply go to Malfoy Manor without telling him.
He felt something deep and ugly twist in his chest, something not so different from what he had felt when he first realized that Sirius Black was a danger to Harry. No. I will not permit this.
"No," he snarled.
Harry sighed. "Can I speak with you, Professor Snape? Please?"
"Yes," said Snape, and then stabbed James with a glance when he tried to move forward. "Not you."
James subsided, having the audacity to replicate his son's mildly startled look over Snape's behavior. Snape tugged Harry into the office and shut the door behind him.
"Dad's doing much better," Harry told his back earnestly. "And he's willing to take both me and Connor. I know that you weren't willing to do that. I think I should go with him."
"Has Draco heard about this ridiculous charade?" Snape drawled, turning around. Harry blinked at him.
"Of course," he said. "He was the one who came to get me when Dad arrived. And he can visit me in the summer, so he said yes." He hesitated for the first time. "Dad said that you might not be able to visit, since Lux Aeterna is a linchpin. But he promised that he'd try to get over his dislike of you and let you through the wards."
And if he doesn't want me to see Harry, Snape thought, it would be the simplest thing in the world to say that the wards forbade me entrance.
He found it hard to breathe. His situation was different from Draco's, even though Harry might not think it was. James had no particular reason to hate Draco Malfoy. He did hate Snape, and Snape hated him.
The mere thought of being denied access to Harry just because his father was back and had determined that Snape should no longer see him…
It made Snape actively consider, for one moment, kidnapping Harry and Flooing to Spinner's End, despite the danger being at Spinner's End would put them in from the Death Eaters.
"I said that I wanted you to remain my guardian."
Snape blinked, and came back to himself. Harry was watching him with solemn green eyes that understood far too much.
"Dad knows," Harry went on. "He said that you could. He's not going to try to take you away from me, sir, or the other way around. And I know that it must be hard for you to hear me calling him Dad," he added, more quietly, "but I think I should. I think I should reconcile with him if at all possible."
James is still the boy's blood father.
There was a time when Snape would have been unable to forgive that. That time was a year in the past.
Not for the first time, he cursed Harry's tendency to be unselfish, to forgive.
He kept his voice patient. "I think you should have a normal summer, Harry. A summer without any responsibility for once, a summer where you can simply—play, and do all the things that children do who don't have Dark Lords after them. You could have that, here. You know that I wouldn't let you overwork yourself, and you wouldn't have to protect your brother if you were without him. And you could heal from your own wounds," he added. "I know better than to think that you have healed entirely from the loss of your godfather, or from what you saw and did that night, even though you let others think you have."
Harry's eyes slid away from him.
"How many nightmares, now?" Snape asked, and continued pressing when Harry backed a step away from him. "How many?"
"One or two each night," said Harry reluctantly. "They're not visions from Voldemort, though, just nightmares," he hastened to add.
"I don't care," said Snape pleasantly. And he didn't, he found. Next to what might happen if Harry went home for the summer with people who didn't understand him, who would demand things of him, who wouldn't notice the signs when Harry was driving himself furiously into exhaustion, he didn't care at all. "You still need to overcome them. And having all the weight of the world on your mind won't let you do that."
Harry stopped backing, and took a deep breath, and looked up at him. "But the weight of the world doesn't go away just because of where I am, sir," he said. "I know you want to protect me, but you can't. Not from everything.
"The wounds I took that night were mild in comparison to what's coming. I know," he added, when Snape tried to interrupt. "I've heard and read the histories of the First War since I was a child, remember. Voldemort's going to try to do all that again, and probably worse. I'll be in the front lines, fighting, because I have to, and I'm going to take on the brunt of some of it.
"This is the part where I'm your ward, and grateful for it, but also not a child." Harry spread his hands. His magic shimmered around him, a palpable force in the room, and Snape had to catch his breath at the strength of it, for all that he normally didn't notice anymore. "I'm a powerful wizard, and maybe the vates, and a warrior." A leader, Snape almost said, but from the look in Harry's eyes, this was not the time to have that argument. "I have to get Connor ready, and to help him heal. There's no one else who can." He looked at Snape searchingly. "And you're unwilling to have Connor here."
"Because I want you to think of yourself for once, and not that child!" Snape snapped.
Harry smiled. "I'm grateful, believe me," he said. "But war doesn't really care what we want. And this is the middle of a war, now, one that hasn't really ended since Voldemort came to Godric's Hollow. I haven't known what peace is."
"Then you should know it now," Snape urged him. Why can't the blasted boy see that?
"Not right now," said Harry. "When the war's done, maybe."
"Or next summer," Snape said, voice light as a threat.
Harry inclined his head to him. "Maybe then." He glanced at the door. "Does this mean that you're going to let me go to Lux Aeterna?"
Snape struggled with himself for a long moment. He knew that Harry would not hurt him if he refused, but Harry was also unlikely to stay, and forbidding the boy to go as his legal guardian would result in resentment from him. And then James might have more reason than ever to take Harry from him, and if James challenged Snape in open court, he would win.
At the same time…
Harry forgives too easily. James was part of what happened to him, no matter how sorry he is now.
"You will tell me in an instant if your father does anything to hurt you," Snape said. "You will Apparate here if he does it again. I know that you can get through the anti-Apparition wards."
Harry nodded. "I would come to you," he said. "If only because I'd be afraid of what I would do to him if he did that and I stayed in Lux Aeterna." His eyes held a fire that Snape liked, but thought should be deeper and hotter.
"You will write to me every day," said Snape. "Without fail. And you will tell me the truth about your nightmares."
Harry bowed his head meekly.
"And you will not drive yourself to exhaustion teaching your bloody brother," Snape finished.
Harry nodded. "Thank you, sir," he said, and stepped forward to hug him, briefly. "I know how hard this is for you. I promise, you'll see me again, one way or another, before next term."
Snape embraced him back, his eyes alighting on the pile of books across the room, the ones he'd acquired from the Department of Magical Family and Child Services.
There is that, of course. There is always that. It will take some time to prepare, but revenge is, in any case, a dish best served freezing.
Snape was able, with that reminder, to agree to let Harry go, to even open his door and give only a half-sneer at James, to watch Harry walk away with a wave of his hand and his trunk floating behind him. Then he shut his door and went back to marking the last exams, so that he could begin his research.
If Harry will not take the proper steps against his father, against Lily, against Dumbledore, I will take them for him.
Harry glanced once around the hospital wing, then nodded. Connor had his trunk beside him, and Godric in his cage on top of that. Harry had his trunk, Hedwig in her cage, and Fawkes perched on his shoulder. Fawkes had caught up with them as they were leaving the dungeons, and didn't seem inclined to be left in the school. Remus was standing just behind Connor, holding his own belongings, seeming a bit stunned at the change in his fortunes. Harry hadn't heard what James said to him, but apparently it was enough to get him to come along.
Then he turned and looked up at his father, and took a deep breath. The rest of what we need isn't anything you can see.
"Ready," he said.
James gave him a faint smile and cast the Floo powder into the fire. "Lux Aeterna!" he called, as the flames blazed green, and stepped into them and was gone.
Connor followed him, tugging along a startled Godric, who beat his wings against the bars of the cage, and then it was Remus's turn. Harry watched him go, and then jumped as Fawkes crooned encouragingly.
"I know, I know," he muttered, as he picked up the Floo powder and cast in another pinch. "I wasn't scared. I just wanted to be sure that everyone else got through all right, that's all."
Fawkes chirped again, shoved his head against Harry's cheek, and then took off in a ball of flames, flying fearlessly through the fire.
Harry drew a deep breath, and called out, "Lux Aeterna!"
Harry hoped, as he jumped through the fire and into his future, that the name was a good enough omen to make up for what had preceded it.
No big deal. It's just the rest of my life.