"Harry, my boy…"
"No, Headmaster." The young man's voice was firm.
Albus Dumbledore sighed. "Harry, you need…"
"Don't you dare, don't you dare tell me what I need," Harry suddenly hissed, his voice soft but dangerous.
"I defeated Voldemort for you. That was my destiny since before I was born, and that is what I gave up everything for – my parents, my childhood, my future. You allowed me only tidbits of information about my parents, and now you tell me it wasn't even true? That the man you made me nearly worship wasn't my father? That HE is?"
Severus Snape sat hunched in his chair, uncharactaristically defeated. Harry turned to him.
"Did you know?" he demanded.
Snape covered his face with his hands. "Yes," he whispered, "but not until after your third year."
"Harry, I know you prefer not to go back to the Dursleys so I thought you should have a choice now! You can either stay with your relatives, or with your father."
The young Chosen One snorted. "In case you failed to notice, Voldemort is gone and I passed all my NEWTS. I have been an adult for nearly a year now. There is no reason for me to return to the Dursleys or to do as you tell me. I do indeed have a choice – to do what I want for a change! And that does not include letting an old man lock me up with someone who hates me against my will, again."
With that, Harry stalked out of the office, looking, ironically, more like his newly discovered father than ever.
Ron and Hermione stared at him in horror. "Snape is your father?"
"Apparently," Harry said, staring out of the window, "Dumbledore said my mother was pregnant when she married my fa- James. James recognized me as his son and I was given his name. I don't know when Snape learned about this. Probably at some point in time when Dumbledore thought he could manipulate him with that knowledge."
Hermione shook her head. "But Harry, the Prophesy! Born to those who thrice defied him!"
"It could have been anyone," the young man said absentmindedly, "it didn't have to be me."
The ex-Potter turned to her.
"Hermione, prophesies are fickle things at best. In this case, yes, I was marked indeed. But not by Voldemort. Dumbledore marked me when he proclaimed that the prophesy was about me. What I did…I may be strong, but there have been many others, ARE many others, with just as much power. He could have trained anyone. I didn't receive any special training and I have no special gifts apart from being a Parselmouth. And a fat lot of good that was. It only meant that Voldemort could taunt me in more than one language. No, Dumbledore took me and marked me as the 'savior', that is why I fulfilled the prophesy. He could've taken Neville, or you, or Ron, anyone."
Ron turned red. "But Snape, Harry! What about him? What are you going to do?"
Harry returned to his windowgazing. "Who says I have to do anything about him?"
The month left before the school officially closed for the summer passed quickly. The NEWT students had very little to do except relax and arrange for future careers. Harry arranged nothing.
"But Harry, you can't spend your life hanging on the couch," Hermione exclaimed.
"I'm not going to," her friend responded, "but if I wanted to I could. My parents left me quite a fortune. For now, I'm going to take it easy, unwind, and think about what I really want to do with my life. Me, and not the older people around me who made my decisions for me all my life. You do realize that all I learned at Hogwarts was aimed at defeating Voldemort, don't you, 'Mione? No one ever planned for the future, my future. It's like they didn't expect me to survive. Well, except Snape who kept ridiculing me for taking Divination instead of something useful like Arithmancy or Runes. As if I knew Trelawny was going to be such a fraud."
Ron made to comment, but a swift kick from Hermione made him shut his mouth.
The ceremony went without a hitch. After teary speeches from teachers and Ministry workers, after Harry had nearly strangled Rita Skeeter, after a magnificent feast, there was little left to do for the graduates than to pack their trunks for the last time, and hoist them on the train the next morning.
After saying goodbye to Hagrid, they settled down in their usual compartment. The signal sounded and the train pulled from the station.
"I'm going to miss it," Harry said softly, staring at the castle, "despite all the things that happened there, it still was my first home."
"It can't have been, Harry," Hermione said softly, "the wards around Privet Drive only worked if you considered that place your home."
"But I haven't," Harry gazed longingly at the rapidly disappearing castle, "Privet Drive was never home."
Hermione narrowed her eyes, but refrained from further questioning.
House-hunting for your own place was nice, but tiring, Harry decided a week later. He lived in a Muggle hotel for the moment, enjoying the peace and quiet.
After considering several options – a house in a Muggle town, with parts of the house under Fidelius, an appartment in Diagon Alley – Harry decided on a cottage in a remote area, not too far from Ottery St. Catchpole, though with Floo and Apparating distance wasn't really a factor. It was more the thought of having the others nearby that mattered to him.
Molly helped him decorate. Harry strongly suspected she missed doting on him, and had invited her to come along when he shopped for furniture. Taking her shopping with him also gave him the excuse to take her into a Muggle clothes shop and buy a few outfits for her and Arthur, under the pretext that if he was living in a Muggle area, they should not have to buy clothes just to visit him.
Arthur was also delighted when Harry gave him a few books on Muggle science, particularly one that explained electricity.
"But Harry, dear, you didn't have to…" Molly protested when he gave her a new cookbook and a large box of ingredients, all with preservation charms.
"I know," Harry smiled, "but you and Arthur are the closest things to parents I ever had, and grown up children are allowed to spoil their parents a bit."
Hermione was nearly delirious with excitement when he called her and asked for help setting up a library in his new home. He took her to Flourish and Blotts, and to Muggle bookstores, gave her free reign and watched her go crazy.
When she had gotten him books on just about every topic under the sun, and the bill tallied up to over 20.000 galleons, she looked at him in shame.
"I'm sorry Harry, I went overboard, I'll put back some books…"
"No, no," Harry stopped her, "I agree with your choice of books. I'm keeping them all. And if you ever want to borrow one, my home as well as my library are always open to you."
"But Harry! Look at the bill!" She waved the bit of paper in front of him. It read 22,364 galleons, 7 sickles and 4 knuts.
"I got you books on subjects you never took! Advanced Potions, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes…"
"I don't mind," Harry interrupted, "I have all the time in the world now, 'Mione. I devoted my entire existence to defeating Voldemort before, but now I have time to read and see what other things really interest me. And if I truly hate those books, you can have them. In that case, I won't have to worry about your Christmas presents for years to come," he teased.
Hermione gave up. She watched as Harry transfered the money to each bookstore.
"There," he said in satisfaction, "the Muggle ones will be delivered to my house tomorrow, the others have already been transported to my library by portkey."
He picked up a booklet. "I got this, it's a guide to building your own magical library system."
The young witch squeeled in excitement. "Oh Harry, can I see it? Can I help? Please?"
"Only if you let me take you out to a nice Muggle restaurant first," Harry bargained, "we'll read the information during dinner."
They took a cab. Hermione was engrossed in the booklet and Harry figured he wouldn't very soon get a chance to read it. He smirked. Soon, he would truly have a home.
Harry sulked as he threw down the arithmancy book. In the past months, he spent his time a) having fun, b) training, out of habit, and c) reading up on every subject that appealled to him but that he had missed out on due to Voldemort-issues.
But Arithmancy had him stuck. It wouldn't have been so bad if he he could ask Hermione for help, but she was out of the country. The Wizard University of Sydney had offered her a two year-long apprenticeship, under one of the world's three all-round Masters. Which meant said Masters had obtained a Mastery in four or more area's of expertise. While it was not uncommon for an intelligent and ambitious wizard to gain a secondary Mastery, few were able to do three. The problem, Hermione had explained, was not so much gaining the Masteries as it was to maintain Mastery level in the first Mastery the wizard (or witch) had gained while working on another one.
This opportunity, however, offered her the possibility to gain four Masteries at once. She would be studying and working insane hours for those two years, and out of the group of five who had been invited for this apprenticeship, no more than one or two would pass the exams. According to Hermione, however, simply passing the Mastery exams with a score over 55, even if impressive, wasn't enough. She would only be allowed to call herself an all-round Master if she scored 85 or more on ALL exams. It had been nearly twenty years since an apprentice had managed that.
Ron declared she was crazy, but Harry knew that this was perfect for Hermione. Moreover, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The five students that were invited every other year came from all over the world, and while most of them didn't attain all-round status, they were still highly valued by nearly all employers.
Harry had taken her to Pitt Street, where the University was hidden from Muggle view, the entrance snugged between Woolworths and David Jones. Hermione would get a room in the building itself. She'd have precious little time off, but she did have a Floo in her room, just for communicating.
It also meant she wouldn't be back for the Order reunion. Harry had groaned when he got the invitation – it was such a Dumbledore idea. A year after the defeat of Voldemort, the Order of the Phoenix was invited to Hogwarts Great Hall for a reunion. Catching up with old friends and comrades-in-arms, remember those who had fallen, and celebrate a year of freedom.
The only reason he decided he could go was that Dumbledore had explicitly stated in his invitation that it would be an intimite affair – just the Order, no press or outsiders whatsoever.
That Snape might be there he quickly suppressed from his thoughts. The Potions Master wouldn't like such a gathering, and most of the Order didn't like or trust him anyway.
The reunion was good, albeit sad sometimes. The two minutes of silence and toast to their fallen comrades brought tears to the eyes of many. Harry did notice that most people were more relaxed than he'd ever known them. Even Moody was letting his guard down – a little.
He avoided Dumbledore. He could see the old man trying to catch his eye, but he steadily ignored him.
Towards the end of the evening, when he went to get a drink from an overexcited House Elf, he slipped into a quiet corner to just watch the assembled witches and wizards. Soon he discovered he was not alone. The Potions Master had, as usual, hidden in the shadows.
"P-Potter." The stutter was very slight, and Harry was sure few people would've picked up on it.
"Snape," he said, his face purposely tooled into a neutral expression.
The lack of outright hostility seemed to calm the older man. Of course, that was only noticeable in the few lines that disappeared around his eyes and mouth.
"I always supposed you would come to me at some point, to scream at me or possibly inflict physical damage," the Potions Master's voice was low enough not to be overheard by anyone else.
"I never considered coming to you," Harry admitted, "because it is Dumbledore that I am most angry with. Anything else I didn't want to act upon. If you are offering explanations, however, I'd be willing to at least listen, and to promise not to punch you until I heard your story."
He missed the slight flicker of amusement and perhaps even relief in the other's eyes before the dark man nodded.
Harry thought for a moment, considering what to do and where to meet. Finally, he settled on somewhere neutral. "In three days. Noon. Muggle London. In front of the British Museum. I want to break up this conversation now, or Dumbledore will think he's getting his way if he sees us talk."
He cast a quick glance at the Headmaster, who was fortunately talking to Mad-Eye, his back to them.
"Agreed," Snape said, before he melted back into the shadows, and left the room.
"Strange that he was here," Harry mused, "I didn't think he'd bother with this party. Was he even here earlier, or did he just come in? Then why did he leave already?"
Harry stood in front of the museum three days later, very nervous. He berated himself for even considering talking to Snape – hadn't he told Ron he didn't want anything to do with the man?
Just as he heard the clock strike twelve, a familiar figure approached him. Harry smirked a bit when the man tried to stalk and make his robes billow. It didn't look very impressive when he was wearing black slacks and a black button up shirt. Longsleeved.
"I thought the Mark disappeared with Voldemort?" Harry inquired casually, looking at his own bare and tanned arms.
"It did. Habit."
Both fell silent. Finally Harry sighed. "Let's go somewhere we can sit down and get a bite to eat."
Settling down in a quiet corner of a pub, a waitress came to take their order.
"Grilled salmon and salad," Harry said, "Dr. Pepper."
Snape waved the waitress off. "Not hungry," he muttered.
"Make that twice," Harry ordered.
Glaring, the older man folded his arms.
"We both have this habit of not eating when something's bothering us," Harry pointed out, "it's unhealthy. Besides, you'll like Dr. Pepper. It has a very unique flavor."
"True," Snape admitted defeat and sat back a little.
Harry raised an eyebrow.
"My father was a Muggle," Snape took the first step and volunteered bit of information on himself.
"Really? I thought.." Harry stopped himself, not wanting to remind Snape of the one time he did manage to end up in Snape's mind.
"That a witch and an underaged wizard could have stopped him? There's more to it than power…but you know that."
Silence reigned until their food was brought. After a few bites, Harry, twirling a bit of fish around with his fork, decided to ask the question that had been bothering him for a very long time now.
"Did you…was it…r-r-r…"
"Rape?" Snape sneered, temper flaring, "do you think I would have tainted Lily so? By raping her?"
Then he sighed. "I suppose I can understand why you think that. But no. It wasn't…we didn't want it. Neither of us. She was married to your father, and she would never have willingly cheated on him. But…well. I was still a Death Eater, of course, a very young one at that. Voldemort…he did plan for me to rape her. That's why he kidnapped her, along with several other muggleborns. I couldn't. He…he put a spell on me. Forced me to…said it would make me strong…"
He took a sip of his drink, his hand trembling. It was a horrid memory and having to retell the tale to Lily's…to his son was one of the most difficult things he ever did.
"I don't remember actually…Lily said it appeared to be some form of Imperius."
Harry swallowed away the lump in his throat. "How did she escape?"
"She didn't," Snape admitted, "they were kept in a house somewhere south. The Order came and got them out."
"And then she got pregnant."
"I never knew I had impregnated her. I thought…there are spells witches can perform or have performed. I thought you were James's, especially when you looked like him so much. But Lily was an expert in Charms – she must have altered your appearance."
"Then why am I so dysmal at Potions?" Harry muttered.
Snape couldn't help the little chuckle that escaped. "You're not," he informed Harry, "you would've done well if you'd had a decent teacher. You were very interested in Potions before that first lesson."
Harry reluctantly took a bite of salmon. "Who knows."
Picking up his fork too, Snape hesitated. "What…how have you been…since….you know."
"Fine. Reading a lot to catch up on all the things that interest me but that I had to give up. Arithmancy is hard to do though, without Hermione around to help me."
"Miss Granger is in Sydney, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is. She's extremely busy, but doing well."
"I am sure she has both the intelligence and the determination to pass the Masters tests, and pass them well," Snape remarked.
"I know. She's brilliant. Unlike me, who can't even understand fourth year Arithmancy."
"You never had a teacher," Snape said, "this is one topic that is difficult to study on one's own. I…I could answer any questions you have by owl. I know you probably don't want to…"
Harry narrowed his eyes. Snape offering to help him? Did he even want that? Then again, it probably couldn't hurt. The whole father business was too weird, but why would he purposely continue to hate the man? He was as much a victim of Dumbledore's machinations as he was.
"When did Dumbledore tell you?" he suddenly asked, "end of my third year, you said."
Snape had gone pale and quiet when Harry didn't respond to his offer, assuming the boy didn't want anything to do with him after this meeting.
"I was very angry after the Shrieking Shack incident," he said in a pained voice, "and then Dumbledore came in, angry that I tried to get you expelled, and then he told me you are my son. I didn't believe it, so we secretly did a paternity test when you were in the hospital wing."
"Did you know, when he called me into his office last year, that he was going to tell me?"
The sudden exclamation made some nearby visitors jump.
"No," Snape repeated, softer now, "I wanted…I never planned on telling you, but if it had to be told, it should have been me. I owe Albus my life, and he's been a father to me for many years, but this is not something I can easily forgive. Keeping it from me for so long; keeping YOU from me for so long."
Harry blinked and chose to ignore that statement for the time being.
"I'd like to owl you, if you don't mind. I've been reading some Potions books as well…"
Snape drew a scrap of parchment from his pocket and scribbled on it.
"Here," he handed it to Harry, "this is where your owl can reach me."
Hesitating a moment, he left some money on the table, and with a quiet 'thank you' he was gone. Confused, Harry looked at the bit of parchment.
"'Spinner's End'" he read.
Arithmancy became a lot clearer in the next few months.
Harry got clear explanations whenever he sent an owl to Snape, and soon he was up to NEWT level.
He went to the Ministry and actually took the NEWT, and passed with 95. On impulse, he firecalled Hermione – forgetting it was midnight in Sydney – but when she heard his news she forgave him for disturbing her much needed rest.
"Oh Harry, that is wonderful!" she gushed.
Harry grinned. "I'm pretty proud myself. The Ministry is very cooperative. I think I'll study Ancient Runes now, and Warding."
Hermione frowned. "Harry, there's something I meant to ask you," she bit her lip, "you should check the wards on Privet Drive. Harry, if it is true that place was never home to you, then the bloodwards should have failed. Dumbledore should have noticed. Something is off there, I'm sure of it."
"I'll go check as soon as I've read up on how Wards work," Harry promised, "it wouldn't make sense to me now, and I'm no longer in danger, so there's no rush."
"True. I'm going back to bed, Harry. Thanks for the great news, I'm so proud of you!"
The conversation didn't sit well with Harry. Hermione had a point – the wards, if they functioned as Dumbledore had explained, should have fallen before he was even five years old, and they could certainly not have survived once he found a home in Hogwarts.
So, after a week of almost non-stop reading, Harry, armed with his new knowledge, headed for Privet Drive in the middle of the night to check on the wards.
"Hmm…standard wards…notice me not…why no Fidelius anyway?"
He checked his books. "There ARE bloodwards in place, though. Fancy that, Hermione being wrong…"
Waving his wand, he identified them. "Bloodward, type X, restricted. Subject: Harry James Potter, okay, that fits. Status: Dissipated. Originally cast by Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, November 1st, 1981. Authorized: Yes.
Bloodward, type X, restricted. Subject: Harry James Potter. Status: Active. Originally cast by Severus Tobias Snape, August 22th, 1994. Authorized: No…"
Harry's head spun, and he sat down in the middle of the street, clutching his book.
"I should know by now Hermione is never wrong," he chuckled wryly after a while.
"So, that explains why there were no alarm bells going off in Dumbledore's office – the ward crumbled slowly instead of coming down at once. The less I thought of this place as home, the weaker they became. And then Snape cast a new set, a month or two after learning I was his son. How come I didn't notice? Such an amount of magic, bloodwards no less."
He rubbed his forehead tiredly. "1994. The summer before fourth year. Oh! I wasn't HERE on August 22th of that year, I was at the World Cup."
After briefly wondering if he should take the wards down now, since they weren't needed anymore, he decided he couldn't just destroy his fa…erm, Snape's work, and he might need the evidence. Recording his findings, he left for home and his bed.
Severus Snape was quietly reading in his bed, when a knock came on the door. Surprised, and cautious, he held his wand tight and went to open the door. No one ever visited here, except Hedwig, and she always came through an upstairs window.
He opened the door to see Harry standing in front of him, holding a book and a sheet of parchment.
Snape was speechless. Harry looked at him. "Can I come in?"
Mutely, Snape opened the door further and allowed the young man entrance to his house.
"I need to talk to you," Harry began, a bit loudly perhaps than needed.
Snape suppressed a flinch, and nodded.
"Would you like some tea?" he offered.
"No. Yes. I mean, what I want is an explanation." He handed the older man the parchment. "I went to Privet Drive, because Hermione and I both felt something had to have been wrong with the wards. That place was never home to me."
Snape turned to stare out of the window. "I know. That's why I went there, to see if the wards were strong. You see, once I worked through my anger that summer, and disbelief that you really were my son, I began to see signs that you were less than happy there. I checked the wards and found them failing. Albus would never have let me take you, so the only thing I could do was create a new set. I'd have preferred to take you out of there, but the best I could do was keep you safe. Those wards will hold indefinitely, as they are not based on emotion but merely on blood and magical power."
He turned back. "I'm sorry."
Knowing how hard it was for the proud man to say those words, Harry simply nodded.
"Thank you. Not just for those wards, but for all the times you saved my hide."
Snape smiled a bit before getting up to make tea. Harry walked around a bit. Only now did he notice how shabby the place looked. It wasn't dirty, but it looked like some place Remus would've lived when life was at it's lowest. Snape was apparently using the back room as his bedroom. The blankets were in disarray, a book lay on the bed, upside down, to keep the pages from turning. Inspecting the bookcases, Harry noticed that there were several gaps, as if books had been taken out and never returned.
He glanced at the kitchen. Snape had heated water with his wand, and opened a cupboard. He took out a little tea, barely enough for a cup. The cupboard was completely empty.
There was no fire in the room, and Harry began to feel a little chilly, even in his thick robes. Snape seemed to have been curled up in bed, covered in the clean but threadbare blankets.
"Here you are," Snape said when he returned a moment later. Harry was sitting on his previous spot on the couch, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any sweets to go with it."
"That's fine." He took a sip. The tea was tolerable at best and he preferred it with sugar, but Harry decided not to mention it.
"Why are you living here?"
"This is where I grew up. When I left Hogwarts, I had nowhere else to go."
Snape sat down on the threadbare couch. "I didn't want to teach anymore, and I needed to distance myself from Albus for a while or I would never be able to forgive him."
"I can understand that. You never gave the impression that you liked teaching anyway."
Harry's eyes scanned the room, the holes and tears in the curtains, the repaired but obviously ancient furniture and then it struck him.
"That means you have no job? No income?"
"Who would hire a Death Eater?" Snape said resignedly.
Before he knew it, Harry had taken a few steps, took Snape's chin and looked in concern at the pale cheeks, the way he could see the bones even clearer now. He was beginning to feel cold. Snape, who wore thin clothes, was shivering slightly.
"When was the last time you had a decent meal?"
Snape stared into those emerald eyes, Lily's eyes, and found their demand to tell the truth more compelling than Veritaserum.
"A few weeks. My savings ran out two months ago."
Growling, Harry shook his head.
"Why didn't you at least tell Dumbledore, he would've helped you."
"We had a fight," Snape whispered, as he leaned back on the couch. He was just so tired and everything seemed so hopeless.
"So you just starved yourself."
No reply came, but the shamed look he got was enough.
"That's it. You're coming with me," Harry growled.
Snape's body jerked a bit in shock. WHAT was Harry saying?
His son Summoned Snape's trunk, cast a Packing spell that Tonks taught him, shrunk the whole lot and took hold of the older man's arm.
They Apparated to Harry's cottage, where Harry immediately sat the man down and gave him soup and toast to eat. Then he ordered him up to bed, surprised the Potions Master didn't protest and let himself be sent.
Snape slept deeply, waking enough to eat some more that evening, but immediately drifted off again until the next morning. It took him some time to recognize where he was, and who he was with. He felt rested like he hadn't felt in a long time.
He was afraid to go downstairs. What would Harry say? Deeply ashamed, he got up and decided he might as well get it over with.
His son was sitting at the breakfast table, reading the Times. Another place was set for him.
"Thank you," Snape managed to say, "I won't bother you any longer…"
"You don't bother me," Harry folded the paper, "Look, I don't know if we can ever get the hang of this father/son thing, but we CAN do 'friends', can't we? You're staying here. Now, you can sit and eat breakfast, or I WILL call Molly and tell her what happened."
"That's cruel and unusual punishment," Snape grumbled, but he sat down, "I see you have inherited a bit of Slytherin from me at the very least."
"Oh, yes," Harry agreed amiably, "the Hat did want to put me in Slytherin. I should have let it, it would've been much easier on us if I had. But, what's done is done."
Taking a small bite of fluffy omlet, Snape fought with his pride.
"I won't live here, mooching off you," he said angrily, "I don't want charity."
Harry shook his head. "I don't expect you to," he replied calmly, "If you wish, Fred and George have a research lab, apart from their jokeshop. They need someone to brew for them. It's freelance work, but it is work. And you could help me with my NEWTS projects to pay for living costs. I plan to get a few more."
He considered offering to make their biological bond public. As Harry Potter's father Snape would probably be flooded with job offers – he WAS a very talented Potions Master after all. But he knew the older man would take great offense if he were to suggest that, and he respected Snape for not wanting to take advantage of the situation.
Snape continued to struggle. "I don't…I mean…adults are supposed to look after the kids, not the other way around."
Smiling sadly, Harry's thoughts wandered to when he'd last been looked after.
"I haven't been a child in a very long time, Professor. Not since I was left with the Dursleys."
Raising an eyebrow, Snape's face started to revert back to it's normal sneer. "A little hard work and an occasional slap doesn't lose someone his childhood."
"It was worse than that and I've been trying to tell you for years!" Harry snapped, "you just wouldn't hear anything that would contradict your set beliefs. Come on, then, let's have it. Just look into my head and see how pampered and spoiled I was. What a little hard work and a slap REALLY mean in the Dursley's book."
Taken aback, the older wizard recoiled. "I didn't mean…"
"Yes you did," Harry roared, "Look at me. Get inside my head. If you have the guts to accuse me, have the guts to check the facts as well. LOOK. AT. ME!"
Very reluctantly Snape tried to enter a bit. Finding no shields up, he slowly progressed into Harry's mind.
Memories floated by. A young child laying shivering in a cupboard. A five year old Harry burning his hands on the hot stove cooking breakfast for his relatives, getting half a scrambled egg in reward. Eight year old Harry stuck on the roof all night after cleaning the gutters because his cousin stole the ladder and then being thrown into the cupboard for not making breakfast the next morning. A small, scrawny, starved Harry entering Hogwarts and experiencing what a full stomach felt like for the first time in his life at the Welcoming Feast. Being locked up behind bars. Taunted by Marge.
What struck Snape more than the overload of bad memories, memories no child should have, was the lack of happy ones. No birthday parties. No Christmas presents. Not being read to, or cuddled, or tucked in bed. No friends until Hogwarts, and even then few loyal ones. Any fun to be had at the castle always undermined by the constant threat of Voldemort.
But what truly undid him was the memory of the tiny eleven year old, sitting in a very familiar classroom, prepared to do his very best, eager to learn. He watched himself brutally beat any pleasure the boy might have had in Potions out of him. He saw himself act the exact same way the Dursleys had done, and realized that for Harry, the choice between living with him or with the Dursleys would not have been a choice at all.
Yet Harry gave him another chance. Had taken him into his home.
He shuddered as he withdrew, collapsing bonelessly into his chair. Bright green eyes bore holes into him, daring him, begging him.
Harry sighed. "Don't bother. You don't have to apologise for anything. Just- just stop saying that I'm spoiled and pampered. I know I got away with things at Hogwarts that I shouldn't have, but the weight that was put on my shoulders the moment I entered more than compensated for that. I think my mother would have a thing or two to say to the Headmaster concerning my upbringing."
"He'd be bombarded with Howlers first, before she finished him off in person," Snape agreed, "and then she'd get to work on me."
"I don't think so," Harry's soft voice interrupted his guiltridden thoughts, "because of all the people at Hogwarts, despite your faults, you were the one that protected me. Not the Headmaster, not Professor McGonagall – you did. What good was Dumbledore's vague advice and grandfatherly behavior if he did nothing to protect me? Kindness and Housepoints and priviliges did not make one ounce of difference in my survival, but you infuriated me into training, and saved my life when I couldn't save myself yet."
"I know," Harry assured him, "We get along fine – in fact, I'm expecting her any minute now for a cup of tea – but my point is that while you acted horribly, you still saved me. That means more to me than the many people who acted all nice to me, yet did nothing to educate or protect me. Because of the way you acted, it took me a very long time to see that."
Snape paled when Harry mentioned the Deputy Headmistress was coming over, and uncharactaristically slumped into his chair just as Minerva McGonagall flooed in. He wished the ground would just open up and swallow him – he felt deeply ashamed.
In surprise, she looked between Harry and Snape. Harry read in her face that she desperately wanted to ask him why his most hated professor was sitting at the breakfast table with him.
"Hello Profes…Minerva. Professor Snape arrived here yesterday and will be staying for a while."
The witch nodded, but a frown appeared on her face when she took in her young former colleagues features.
"I missed our bickering since you left, Severus," she said carefully, "you don't look very well, if you don't mind me saying so."
When she got no clear response, she moved over and placed the back of her hand on his forehead.
"Lad, you have a fever!" she exclaimed.
Harry's eyes narrowed and he got up to double check, mimicking her movements. "Yes, you do have a fever," he said, "why didn't you say so? Come on, I'll help you back to bed. Minerva, could you do me a favor? I've run out of fever potions, maybe Madame Pomfrey has one or two to spare?"
Ten minutes later, Snape was back in his bed, not even protesting at the fuss the two witches were making over him, and plied with fever potions. The nurse ran a diagnostic charm.
"Malnutrition, exhaustion, dehydration – you have a mild flu, Severus, but because of the state you're in it affects you more than it would have had you been healthy to begin with! What on earth happened?"
Snape didn't reply, having drifted off into a restless sleep. Harry, who had been watching the proceedings from the corner of the room, arms folded over his chest, sighed.
"I went to visit him yesterday, and found him in a cold, empty house. When I noticed how bad he looked, he admitted he hadn't been able to find a job, and ran out of money weeks ago. I took him here. We both are at odds with the Headmaster so I didn't know he left Hogwarts, and he wouldn't call the Headmaster for help. I'm sorry, Madame Pomfrey, I should have called you immediately but he didn't appear to be ill yesterday."
"He might not have been," the nurse assured him, "don't blame yourself, Mr Potter. You did the right thing. I'm going to leave some potions I want Severus to take as soon as he wakes up, and I'll check back on him tonight and tomorrow morning. If he gets worse, don't wait but call me immediately. I could've cured that flu in a matter of hours, but his weakened condition complicates matters."
"Do you want me to stay, Harry, to help you take care of him?" Minerva asked.
"You have duties at the castle," Harry replied, "we'll be fine."
Albus Dumbledore was waiting for the nurse in the infirmary with a second-year who had managed to break his leg tripping over a suit of armor.
When his Deputy and the nurse returned, Poppy quickly took care of the youngster's bone, telling him to take it easy for a couple of days and not to run into any other decorations.
"I was surprised to find you two missing," the Headmaster smiled, "it is unlike you to sneak off to the Three Broomsticks for a drink on a schoolday."
"We weren't 'sneaking off'," Minerva snapped, "did you know how Severus has lived since he left here, Albus? He is very ill. He must've lost a stone since I last saw him."
The Headmaster paled. "What?"
The nurse nodded. "Malnutrition, dehydration. His body had no reserves left."
"Where…where is he?" Dumbledore asked, desperately, "I never meant…if I had known…where is he, Poppy? Why didn't you bring him here?"
"Harry found him yesterday at Spinner's End. He's staying at Harry's place now. They do not seem overly fond of you at the moment."
The Headmaster's eyes lost their twinkle, and the witches were astonished to see tears in his eyes.
Snape quickly felt better. The effects of the potions the nurse made him take helped him immensely, and the second morning he was sitting up in bed, reading a book. He still felt weak and a short trip to the bathroom still exhausted him, but the terrible cold that had been his constant companion for weeks had gone.
Outside the bedroom, he heard voices. Assuming it was Poppy coming to check on him, he continued reading.
"…you hurt him, you'll be out of my house so fast you'll think you Apparated." Harry's voice.
"I won't, I promise. I only wish to apologise and try to make amends. With you as well, Harry."
Now his head shot up. The Headmaster? He fleetingly felt betrayed; he had never thought Harry would let the old man in. Fear quickly drove every other thought from his mind as the door opened.
Dumbledore stared at his former spy. The thin face, pale and withdrawn. The emanciated hands on the book, and most of all the fear in the dark eyes.
He tentatively walked towards the bed and sat down next to the now trembling man.
"Severus," he breathed, "oh child, why didn't you let me know? I would have helped you."
"But…you are angry with me," Snape stuttered confused, "after what I said…"
Taking a thin hand in his own, Dumbledore shook his head. "I've had time to think now. You were right, my boy. I had no right whatsoever to withold information from you and Harry. I'm so sorry. I care about you, Severus. I have made so many mistakes, but I do care about you and Harry. I wished you would get along, and I…I used…"
"The information that he is my father to try and force us together," Harry finished for him.
"Yes," the Headmaster admitted, "I'm sorry, Harry."
"You made the boy suffer," Severus said softly, "when I could have raised him. You did nothing to prepare me for a copy of James Potter walking in. I felt guilt whenever I looked into his eyes, Lily's eyes, and I had to lash out. Why didn't you tell us immediately? Then we could have been a family. Now my…" he took a deep, shuddering breath to suppress a sob, "my son doesn't want me."
Harry's mouth fell open in surprise.
"Hello! Would I have kept in contact with you if I didn't want anything to do with you? I can't just jump into your arms and yell "Dad" but that doesn't mean I don't want to try and built up a relationship."
He plonked down on the bed.
"It's not alright," he said, giving Dumbledore a glare especially, "but I wouldn't have brought you here if I didn't want to try."
Snape raised an eyebrow in surprise when Harry offered him his hand, palm down.
"It's a Muggle custom," Harry said, "put your hand on mine, palm down too. That way we promise that we will both try our hardest to get over old hurts between us."
Breath hitching slightly, Snape put his hand on top of Harry's, and finally, a wrinkled old hand laid itself on top of theirs, shaking a bit.
It wasn't alright, and it wouldn't be easy. But they would try.