'Harry, come back to Mummy'
A pretty woman with red hair was calling to him, her bright smile matched only by the energy in her green eyes. His eyes. 'Harry! Where's Harry?' He giggled from behind the chair, pleased by his own cleverness. Mummy would never find him here. 'Oh, Harry, where are you?' She peeked around the couch, the coffee table. He giggled again. Silly Mummy. She would never think to look behind Daddy's armchair. He peered at her from around the cushions, sticking out his tongue. 'Hmm...Where could Harry be?'
There was a knock at the door. Frowning, the woman turned away. 'Be back in a moment, Harry. Stay where you are, won't you?'
He watched her as she disappeared into the hallway. The door opened. He heard a familiar voice. Deep and deliberate. Slowly, he crawled out from behind the chair. Mummy's voice was coming closer. 'He's just in here—playing a bit of hide and seek—getting so big—ten months!' She was back, along with another person, a man. Glittering black eyes and greasy black hair, a hooked nose. 'There he is, Severus. Isn't he darling? He looks so much like James.' There was something in her voice. He crawled away, but Mummy caught him up in her arms. 'Say hello to Severus, Harry.' There was something in her eyes, something about the way Mummy looked at the man, and then at him. He didn't like it. He didn't like this Severus, or the way his Mummy looked at him.
'Adorable,' the man said dryly, and he could tell it was not the way Mummy or Daddy called him adorable. The man didn't mean it, and he didn't like him. He didn't think Harry was adorable at all.
He started to fuss, pulling on Mummy's hair. Why was she still talking to this man? Why couldn't the man go away now? 'M-maaa!'
She laughed and kissed his nose lightly. 'Alright, Harry. Off you go.' He was set on the floor, still crying, but Mummy turned back to the man, Severus. 'He's not so good with strangers yet.' She said 'strangers' funny, as though Severus shouldn't be a stranger at all. Something was odd here. He cried again, tugging at her skirt. 'What's wrong with you, Harry? Is your nappy wet? No? Are you hungry? We just fed you...Harry, darling. Harry, hush. Harry...'
He whimpered, then screamed. Mummy! What was happening to his mummy? Her face was changing. She looked so scared. 'Harry! Oh, Harry!' She was holding him up. He looked at the man. Severus was standing still. The window. There was someone in the window! No, it wasn't a window. It was a mirror. It was big mirror behind Severus. He looked at it, screaming desperately. Mummy was looking at Severus in the mirror, holding Harry. But it wasn't Harry. It was him, he could see his mouth open, screaming. His hands were moving, fighting them off. Trying to free himself, to run from the looking glass.
'What's wrong with the boy now?' Severus was looking at him in disgust. 'Why is he crying?'
He looked at himself. His hair, it was the same, but longer. Pale skin, green eyes, skinny body. He was growing! Why was he growing? Mummy wasn't holding him. She was standing behind him. Severus was next to her. He was eleven years old and staring into the mirror of Erised. 'Mum.' She smiled at him. 'Dad.' Severus looked away. Harry pounded the glass. 'No, no, no!' Where was James? Where was his dad?
His skin was pale. He was so skinny. Green eyes, lightning scar. Black hair, but it was tame now, a bit longer. His face was thinner. Higher cheek bones, a slightly crooked nose. It wasn't him. It wasn't Harry, it was Snape.
Second year. The mirror, Hermione. She was found with a mirror, and his pale face was staring at him from the mirror.
He was thirteen, and Sirius was staring at him with an expression akin to repulsion.
'You look just like him, you know. Just like your father, that bastard. Just like dear old Snivellus.'
He was fourteen. Ron and Neville and Seamus were laughing at him.
'Look at Potter! Look at him. Can't he swim?'
He couldn't swim. Oh Merlin, he was going to die. Why weren't his friends helping? Why were they laughing?
Hermione was on about something. 'Don't mind them, Harry. Don't mind them. They don't get it. You can't choose your family. Just ignore it, Harry.' But he couldn't ignore it. He couldn't ignore them, the faces, the laughing. Why were they laughing? Why did he look like Snape? Where was James Potter? Where was his dad? 'Harry, just ignore it! Harry! Harry!'
His eyes snapped open, launching him back into the world rather cruelly. Harry glanced around, only to find that the world was blurry. Someone had taken his glasses. 'Here,' it was the same voice as before. Something was set on his face. There, that was better. Hermione came swimming into view, worried and tired. Ron was sitting beside her. They looked worried.
'What happened?' he asked, frowning at them and sitting up.
Ron shook his head. 'Dunno, mate. You started screaming and tearing at your blankets. Nearly yanked Hermione's head off, you latched onto her hair so hard.' Hermione, as if to back up the story. Harry's head was swimming. The dream. His Mum and that man. That man.
'Snape!' he whispered. The others jumped.
'What's Snape got to do with it, Harry?'
Harry pushed his blankets off, attempting to stand. 'I've got to see Professor Dumbledore! Out of the way, this is important!'
Hermione started and blocked him. 'What happened, Harry? Was it him? Did you have a vision?' She looked pale, her eyes wide and anxious.
'No, no. I don't know! I've got to talk to Dumbledore.' He tried to push past them, but they wouldn't budge. Ron crossed his arms. 'Will you just get out of the way?'
'Not until you let us know what's going on, mate. Was it You-Know-Who?'
Harry glared at them, using every ounce of willpower he had in him to try and somehow brainwash them into letting him go. They didn't move. Good Lord, what was the use in being the bloody Boy-Who-Lived if he couldn't even brainwash people?
'Fine,' he said sourly, plopping back onto the bed. 'But it's a long story, and you've got to promise not to tell anyone!'
'As if we would,' Ron countered. Harry gave in.
'I was with my mum, and...'
O O O
'Good morning, Severus.'
Snape spun around, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the man in front of him. 'Lupin,' he said curtly, acknowledging the man with a jerk of his head. What in the devil was the werewolf doing wandering the halls at three in the morning?
'Couldn't sleep,' Lupin said amiably, nodding at the window. Outside a waxing gibbous could be seen, bright and clear in the dark sky. He shivered. 'I was just thinking. It's good to be back here. I missed it all—the students, the grounds. I'm glad I can keep a close eye on Harry. He needs it, the poor boy. After Sirius, well...What's your excuse, then? Sleeping troubles? But I'm sure you've got some concoction to cure that?' He smiled pleasantly. It was always a strain to maintain a somewhat pleasant atmosphere when Snape was present. The man was so dour and closed off.
'I need no excuse.' Snape cleared his throat. 'Your potion takes time and effort, Lupin.' There, just the reaction he was looking for. Lupin drew back, looking guilty. Snape allowed himself a small smirk.
'Ah, well, I am very grateful to you for making it for me, Severus. It helps so very much with the transformation.' He searched his mind for a change of subject. 'Harry's changing, isn't he? I'm sure it's only age, of course …. His face is thinner, paler. You have noticed, haven't you?'
Snape jerked back involuntarily, his eyes flashing dangerously. 'I haven't a clue what you are on about,' he snapped, crossing his arms.
'Haven't you, though? Come now, Severus, you must have noticed by now. It's only, what, three weeks from his birthday? You've seen him several times when delivering your news to the rest. You can't tell me you haven't noticed his face changing. Even Molly and Arthur have.'
How did he manage it? How did that bloody werewolf manage to make him look like an idiot every single time? 'I have noticed no change in the boy, Lupin.'
Lupin frowned, the memories of his old school friend resurfacing for a moment. 'Lily told me...There are striking similarities between the two of you, you know. I noticed in his third year. He wasn't as studious or serious, but you must admit he is every bit as stubborn. And now, his face, his body, they've been becoming...different. I know you've noticed, Severus. I caught you looking at him, several times, in fact.'
Snape snorted. He stopped, glancing out the window at the moon, frowning. 'The boy is a fool with little regard for his own life and the lives of everyone else. He cares only about the adventures he can have, the fun. Potter is written all over that. Besides, boys change as they age. I myself grew several inches.'
'I remember,' Lupin chuckled. 'James was so disappointed to find himself shorter than you. No more midget jokes.' He sighed. 'See things as you please, Severus, but he has been changing.'
'Go back to bed, Lupin.'
O O O
Why did Snape have to make his lessons so bloody difficult? Harry stirred his Throat-Constricting potion furiously, fighting the urge to toss his steaming ladle at Snape's greasy, hooked-nose face.
'A little less force, Potter. At this rate, your victim's entire body will have been reduced to the size of a matchbox. Useless.'
Harry grunted and slammed his potions book shut, images of a matchbox-sized Snape floating across his mind.
'Unfortunately, Potter, I do not believe such a miniaturized look would be becoming for me. Twenty points from Gryffindor for a severe lack of creativity, and a detention as well if you don't set that knife down this instant.'
Reluctantly, Harry set down his silver knife, packing the rest of his potions materials into his cauldron with a flick of his wand. How the hell could Snape have known? Once again, he was left with the feeling that Snape could read minds. He lowered his head, muttering softly, 'I'd forgotten, professor. Why use a knife? Your nose would be just as effective...' Behind him, Seamus snorted.
'Lay off him, Harry,' Hermione muttered. Seamus and Dean were watching closely, anticipating Snape's answer. Hermione bit her lip, casting a pointed glare at Harry. Boys.
'Detention, Mr. Potter, for the rest of the week, and keep your mouth in check. I am not the headmaster, and will not accept such blatant lack of disrespect in my classroom. Is that understood?' Snape bent low, his large nose merely inches from Harry's own, black eyes glittering with such loathing. 'I ask again, is that understood?' A fleck of spit flew from the man's mouth, hitting Harry squarely on his glasses. He restrained from wiping it off, but did manage a somewhat intelligible, 'yes, professor.' Snape stood, his eyes remaining on Harry, boring into his face with more intensity than he would have thought possible. Then again, this was Snape. 'Twenty points from Gryffindor, Ms Granger,' he snarled, and with a look at Hermione's face, added, 'and the next time it will be fifty.'
Hermione made a small noise in the back of her throat not unlike a dying cat, glaring daggers at Snape's back as the man leant over Neville's simmering cauldron. How in the world Neville had managed to make his Throat-Constricting potion so hot, Harry would never know. They were supposed to be below freezing. Shaking his head, he returned to creating bloody deaths for Snape in his mind, taking pleasure by the images of boiling cauldrons and angry Voldemorts.
Out of the corner of his eye, Snape watched the boy. He looked furious. It ought to be Snape who was furious. Potter had no respect for the art of potions. His vile concoctions were poorly made, and, at times, somewhat dangerous. He ought to be on bended knee, thanking his professor for not allowing him to cause an accident that could endanger him and the rest of his little friends. There was already one Neville Longbottom in the class, though how he managed to get into Advanced Potions was beyond Snape. Dumbledore, most likely. The headmaster had an annoying habit of 'helping' his favourite students into classes and passing marks. Snape could only hope to avoid any life-threatening accidents with Longbottom in his class, handling volatile potion ingredients. Sweet Merlon, he needed an extra pair of arms - and eyes, for that matter.
Across the room, Harry frowned into his ladle, turning it from side to side so he could see his reflection. He just didn't understand it. Ever since his birthday, he'd looked ... different. Everyone was noticing. His body was scrawnier than usual, his face thin. Even his hair was growing tame. It was like that dream he'd had, the one at Grimmauld Place. But that was just a dream, right? Harry shook his head. The Daily Prophet was right, he was going mad.
'P-professor Snape!' Colin Creevey ducked into the room, his face shining with excitement. He waved to Harry, beaming when the boy offered a small nod in return.
'What is it?' Snape asked tartly.
Colin took a deep breath, and, gulping, said nervously, 'Professor Dumbledore, professor. He wanted me to give you this.' He handed Snape a bit of rolled parchment, waved to Harry, and raced out of the door.
'Potter,' Snape hissed, giving the boy his best death glare. 'The headmaster would like to speak to you after this class.' Actually, the headmaster wanted to speak to Harry and Snape, but he left that part out. Potter could discover it later.
'Yes, professor.' Harry shook his head, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Why did Dumbledore want to see him? Surely nothing was wrong? Was he starting Occlumency lessons again? He certainly hoped not.
Well, he would find out soon enough, wouldn't he? Sooner than that, actually, for the bell had just rung. There was the usual flurry as students scrambled to gather their things and get out of the dungeons and on to lunch. Harry remained behind, trying to ignore Hermione's concerned glances as Snape ushered her out the door.
'Follow me, Potter.'
Harry started and looked around. Follow Snape? Why in the world was he following Snape? It was Dumbledore that he needed to see, and he could find Dumbledore's office on his own, thank you very much. Why was Snape looking at him like that? Why was he standing there, waiting expectantly for Harry to follow?
'I believe, Potter, that I just told you to follow me,' Snape hissed. Harry jumped up, grabbing his bag as he was led into the hall and off in the direction of the headmaster's office.
Snape proved to be rather uninteresting company. He sniffed at each wrong turn, insulted Harry for the amount of noise his shoes made, and stared at the boy when he thought he wasn't paying attention. Harry had noticed, and it unnerved him. The man's face, his expression, was so alike to the Snape in the dream that Harry found he had to turn away. 'Poppycock,' the man growled, yanking Harry onto the moving staircase.
They entered the office, Snape in front wearing a displeased expression, Harry being pulled along, equally displeased. Dumbledore smiled at the both of them, giving his usual greeting of an offering of sherbet lemons, which both refused.
'Harry, please sit down. I am sure you are both wondering what I have called you in for. Severus, if you would be so kind.' He motioned to the door. Snape, taking a hint, strode out curtly. 'He is waiting outside,' Dumbledore explained at Harry's questioning gaze. 'I wanted to speak with you first, Harry. It's true you had a dream this summer? Concerning professor Snape and a rather unsettling change in your appearance?' Harry, unsure of how to answer such a question, simply gave an uncertain nod. 'You were worried, and you had every right to be. You are changing, Harry—your face, your body. It is little wonder you've become, ah, how did Molly put it? — a tad short-tempered as of late, no?'
Harry was starting to shake. 'No, professor, you've got it wrong. That–that was just a dream. My face, I mean, everyone changes, don't they? I'm getting older, right? Of course I'm changing a bit, I'm just getting older...'
Dumbledore chuckled. 'I thought this was how you would react, Harry, and I must say I am relieved. But I you have to listen to me—no, don't argue—listen. What I am about to share with you is both important and dangerous. It has to be taken seriously. Do you understand?' Harry nodded again.
'I am not entirely certain how all of this came to be, but it is very important that you pay attention and just listen to me.' He cleared his throat. 'When your mother had you, Harry, she was worried. She called for me one night. You were but a week old. Positively adorable, if I might add.'
Where was Dumbledore going with this?
'She was afraid that...You see, Harry...We did a paternity test. The results, they were disturbing to say the least. You must remember that she loved your father very much, Harry. She...What I am trying to tell you is...this isn't going to be an easy thing to hear, but you must listen to me. No—just listen.'
Harry was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable. He didn't like the direction this conversation was taking at all.
'For the five years you have been attending this school, you and professor Snape have shared a rather interesting relationship.'
He didn't like where this was heading at all.
'I believe it would be a good opportunity for you to get to know professor Snape.'
'Get to know Snape?' Harry repeated dubiously, not liking the sound of it. Snape would rather swallow Throat-Constricting potion than spend time with Harry that much was for sure.
'I've arranged,' Dumbledore said loudly, 'for you to spend the Christmas holidays with professor Snape at his home, as (dare he say it?)...father and son.'
Harry, who had been mid-way between swallowing a sherbet lemon, coughed and choked it back up. No way. No bleeding way this was happening. He paused, waiting for Dumbledore to say something like, 'My dear boy, I was only joking with you!' It never came. 'You're kidding, right?'
Dumbledore, it appeared, was not 'kidding'. 'My dear boy, I tell you this sincerely! I know this is difficult for you after all these years, Harry, but your mother wished for you to have a happy childhood without all of this hanging over your head. She wanted your view if your parents to be untainted.'
'Happy? With the Dursleys? Well, it's a bit late for that, then, isn't it?' He stood, knocking over his chair in the process. 'This has got to be a joke. Tell me this is a BLOODY JOKE,' he screamed. Sweet Merlin, not another repeat of last year. Dumbledore frowned, extending his hand.
'NO! NO, STOP IT! YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME! YOU CAN'T JUST UP AND CHANGE EVERYTHING, LIKE IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER! LIKE I DON'T ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH ON MY PLATE WITH BLEEDING VOLDEMORT AND A STUPID PROPHECY AND THE MINISTRY! LIKE I WASN'T ALREADY ABNORMAL ENOUGH! NO!'
'Harry, if you would only let me explain—'
'NO! I'M SICK OF YOU EXPLAINING EVERYTHING! I'M DONE WITH ALL OF THIS!'
Harry had had it. He really had. They had to be joking, the whole lot of them. Who did they think they were kidding? He wouldn't, he refused, to believe such outlandish lies. James was his father, James! He was out the door, speeding past Snape, ignoring Dumbledore's futile protests.
'Harry! Harry, come back, please!'
'Harry, you don't understand!'
Oh, but he did understand. He understood very well, thank you very much. He just didn't like what he heard.
'That idiot boy,' Snape cursed. Who did he think he was storming out on the headmaster like that? 'Headmaster?'
Dumbledore was slumped in his desk, head in his hands. 'Ah, Severus. He'll be back, won't he? It was just a surprise, just an awful surprise. He'll be back...'
Snape raised an eyebrow, puzzled. 'I haven't any idea what you mean,' he said flatly.
Dumbledore motioned to the chair that hadn't been thrown to the ground. 'I have much to tell you, Severus. Very much indeed...'
O O O
An hour later, Snape was sitting in his chair, giving Dumbledore what had to be his most venomous glare to date. The room had been silent for at least five minutes when he at last chose to speak.
'You mean to tell me that that boy, that person out there is my...' He couldn't bring himself to taint his lips with such a vile word.
'Son,' Dumbledore stated matter-of-factly. 'He is, in all technicalities of the word, your son, Severus.'
'Why tell me now? Why wait? Why tell me at all, Headmaster?' Snape was up and pacing. He had more decorum than to run out of the room or start throwing things, although the thoughts were tempting. This was too much. Potter. The bloody Boy-Who-Lived-To-Give-Him-Gray-Hair. There was no way in hell that boy was his sodding son.
'It was Lily's idea, Severus. I am merely a messenger, instructed to act should she not be here herself when Harry began to change. Unfortunately, our worse-case scenario came true, and it is me sitting here, loading all of this on you and Harry instead of her. I offer you my deepest regrets, Severus, but I would have broken my word had I told you sooner, and my word is something I hold in very high esteem. Enough about history. We need to discuss yours and Harry's safety. I believe he should continue Occlumency lessons. Should your relationship ever be revealed—it could be fatal. I think it would be nice if you and Harry could spend some time together, do a bit of bonding. That's why I have arranged for the two of you to spend the Christmas holidays in your home, Severus. It would help you two to gain new understandings of one another.'
It made perfect sense. The disturbing conversation with Lupin, the change in the boy's appearance, certain distinct similarities that even Snape himself couldn't disassociate. Snape rubbed his temples furiously, all the while thinking, the greatest mind in the wizarding world is telling me to take Potter to my house so that we can bond. They might as well reserve a room in the mental ward at St. Mungo's...
O O O
For Harry Potter, one thing was certain: he most definitely was not going to live to his seventeenth birthday. What with the combination of Voldemort trying to kill him at every turn and his newly revealed...Snape...he doubted he'd even last a couple of months.
But...this was all starting to become clear for him. He'd been changing over the weeks since his sixteenth birthday, and not to his liking. James was slowly disappearing, and, just as in the dream, Snape's strong features were taking their place. Harry dared to wonder if, just as in his dream, his friends would begin to hate him. Surely they wouldn't stoop so low? He had known them for far too long for them to simply dismiss him for a genetic flaw that he most definitely could not help. Still, the memories of fourth year when Ron hated him for being in the tournament, and even fifth year after the Prophet's continued bashing turned his friends against him kept their hold on his brain. What would the Weasleys say, Remus? What would Sirius say?
Sirius indeed. Sirius would have still loved him, wouldn't he? He liked Harry for who he was, not who his father was. Hadn't he run away from home when he was sixteen? Because of his parents? Harry considered following his godfather's example. Running away would be so simple. He could disappear forever and forget about Voldemort, forget about Snape breathing down his neck for mixing the wrong potion ingredients. Merlin, what about potions? How could he sit in that class, knowing what he knew, trying to mix dangerous ingredients to produce something that would satisfy even Snape's high standards? He did poorly enough in there as it was. And now this was being added on as well. Harry groaned.
'Harry? What are you doing in here?'
He turned over, his heart bursting with relief at the sight of Hermione peeking around the door. She sidled in, sitting on the floor next to his cot.
'Why are you in the Room of Requirement? I thought you had to speak with Dumbledore.' She glanced around, puzzled by Harry's odd choice of decor. The room was much smaller, about the size of a cupboard. There were pillows everywhere, a small metal replica of an armed military man on horseback, and a camp bed. The shelves lining the walls were full of cleaning products, a small stack of clothes, a pair of socks, and book entitled 'Wheels!'. It was lit by a single naked bulb, the pale light revealing several spiders scuttling along the ceiling. Harry hardly seemed to mind. 'Why is it so small? It looks like a...' Hermione's face changed from puzzlement to understanding as it dawned on her just what Harry had created. He told her and Ron once about the Dursleys and the cupboard under the stairs in which he spent most of his life. Why would he be recreating it in here? What happened in that conversation with Dumbledore?
As if to answer her question, Harry choked out, 'I used to hate it in here, when they locked me in. I felt like one of those caged-up animals at the zoo. But I only really hated it because they did it. It was different when I could go there of my own accord, no orders, not locked in. I knew I could leave if I wanted to, and it wasn't so scary and dark anymore. It's kind of nice, the cupboard, once you get used to it.' He sighed, emitting a low, rattling breath. 'Being closed in, it kind of feels like this is it. This is the world. Nobody expects anything of me in here. I'm just the boy, really. The cleaning stuff doesn't expect me to kill a manic evil wizard. That soldier, he doesn't hate me because my father is someone who hated him. Was someone who hated him. I can talk to the spiders and count the vowels in the labels on the bottles. I can pick holes in Uncle Vernon's old socks until Dudley comes by and decides to have his fun. He only expects me to run, and I'm good at that. Good at cleaning, too,' he added as an afterthought. Hermione listened attentively, fighting the urge to slap Harry to his senses. 'I'm just Harry in here, and you know what, I kind of like. I don't care what that bastard says. Do I have his nose, Mi? Is it really so crooked? Uncle Vernon says I've got a big nose, but I think his is really bigger than mine. I think I'll measure it one day, just to prove him wrong. He won't believe me, though.'
Hermione was beyond confused by now. What in the world was wrong with Harry? Was he gone mad? 'Harry,' she whispered very softly, as though afraid of arousing some violent spirit within him. 'What happened with Dumbledore?'
Harry, however, wasn't paying her the slightest attention. Like a child in need of an afternoon nap, he had turned to focusing on every bad aspect of his life. 'And Aunt Petunia says my mum was a freak. Does that mean I'm a freak? Why is Dudley such a prat all the time? What d'you think Malfoy'd make of him? And why is Malfoy such a git? Why does Ron hate me, Mi? Is it my face? I can't help it if I look like him, you know.'
'Harry, wake up! Come back, Harry! You're not with your uncle, and Ron doesn't hate you. What's wrong, Harry? Tell me what happened!' She shook him frantically, relieved when he rolled over to face her.
'Why are you yelling at me, Hermione? Did something happen? Is Ron okay?' He glanced around wildly, looking almost surprised to see their surroundings. 'This has got to be a dream.'
'Room of Requirement,' Hermione explained briskly. 'I found you in here, rambling about, well; I don't know what you were rambling about, actually. You kept making references to a 'him'. Who is that? Wow, Harry, what happened to your nose?'
Harry's eyes filled with terror. 'My nose?' he repeated, reaching up with a trembling hand. Oh, no. His nose. His perfect little nose. Why the hell did it feel so funny? It was longer, and there was a slight bulge at the bridge. 'Sweet Merlin.' Without warning, Harry jumped off the camp bed, scrambling out of the cupboard.
'Harry? Where are you going? Harry, come back! What happened? Harry!'
Hermione called to him from down the corridor, but he ignored her. Severus Snape had a hell of a lot of explaining to do.