Epilogue / Bonus Chapter (AKA Dumbledore Is a Scheming Old Coot)
One month later
The corridors of Hogwarts were quiet for a Saturday afternoon. While the occasional cluster of students made their way to or from their dormitories or the library, most had retreated to their house common rooms after the cold and rain chased them from their outdoor pursuits. A stray broom lay forgotten next to an empty classroom, and Albus vanished it to the spare office in the Hospital Wing alongside the other lost and found items. He always found it remarkable how many items the student population of Hogwarts could lose in one school year.
He smiled as he passed a cluster of second year Slytherins on his way to the dungeons, greeting them by name. He made it a point to learn the names of every student entering Hogwarts, though he was not immune to the occasional memory lapse. The shy smiles and good afternoon, Headmaster's that he received made it well worth the effort. It was important, he knew, for every child to feel special, particularly children who lived at a boarding school in excess of nine months out of the year.
While hardly infallible, he was proud of his tenure as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He kept the peace between professors, some admittedly easier to manage than others, so that they in turn could shape young minds to take on the future of wizarding Britain. And if he must occasionally sacrifice that peace for the greater good—by employing professors with less than desirable traits in order to keep them close to his oversight or protection, for instance—then he managed to make the best of it. And in at least one case, things were looking up. Rumor had reached Albus's own ears that Professor Snape had not threatened to expel a single student in nearly three weeks.
It was quite the record.
He was pleased by Severus's progress of late, and yet he made a mental note to not mention the rumor to the professor, lest he get it in his head to protect his reputation at the expense of some one or other poor unsuspecting youth.
He stopped before his destination, knocking politely on the closed door of the Potions classroom. "Enter!" came Severus's voice, and Albus smiled as he entered the room and immediately met Harry Potter's curious eyes. The boy was situated at a desk in the front row of the classroom, not far from where Severus sat in his own desk, and he was stirring the steaming contents of a cauldron in a slow, methodical circle that began to pick up speed.
"Headmaster," acknowledged Severus. His sharp eyes darted to Harry. "Keep your focus. Remember, four full seconds each turn."
Harry quickly returned his attention to the cauldron, furrowing his brow in concentration as he slowed his movements.
Albus quietly made his way to the front of the classroom, cautious to not interrupt Harry's work. He had purposely arrived at the end of their lesson so as to observe how things were progressing, but the boy didn't need to know that. He made no attempt to hide the rolled-up parchment he carried in his hand. Severus eyed it but didn't ask. That was, in fact, one of the first of Severus Snape's many attributes that Dumbledore had learned to appreciate all those years ago: he did not beg for more information than was his due.
Oh, he was a deeply curious man, yes, and had his own ways of finding out information. One could hardly expect less from a skilled spy and an Occlumens. However, he knew Albus well enough to know that any information held in his head would be handed out as he saw fit. No more, no less, and no sooner than Albus decided to do so. And so, outside of his impatience when Albus failed to get directly to a point that he had already decided to make, the younger man rarely bothered to press for information. Once Severus learned the rules of the game, any game, he was quite adept at playing.
Severus rose from his seat. "We're about done."
"Of course. No rush, no rush at all," Albus assured.
"Professor?" said Harry quietly, as if hesitant to interrupt. "I think the potion is finished."
Albus stood far enough away to not hover, perfectly at ease as he observed Severus and Harry working together to check the consistency of the potion. An untrained eye would see nothing of note in the scene of a professor and student checking over the student's work, but Albus's eye was hardly untrained. The importance was in the details, in the give and take of their movements and the ease with which they maneuvered around each other. It was in the way that Harry reached to pick up a vial almost before Severus had set it down. It was in the way Severus murmured a brief word of praise and Harry grinned and subconsciously leaned into his professor's space; it was in the way Severus did not move away. The two seamlessly set down and picked up and cleaned and moved around each other, as practiced as any dance. There was a familiarity there that Albus had never imagined he might see between the two. It was nearly enough to cause an old man's eyes to mist.
Yes, he thought, his finger tapping lightly on the scroll of parchment. His plan would work out nicely indeed.
It really was quite simple, in the end.
Two lonely souls, lost, in need of family, and so intricately connected to each other and to a common enemy. He'd known that it would not be simple to overcome the human element, of course (human beings do tend to complicate otherwise simple things), but he had hoped. The moment he'd met eleven-year old Harry Potter, with his kind heart and a child's capacity for love, Albus had found his own plans to remain pleasantly detached from the boy firmly challenged. The boy was so…likable. And far more ready to love and to forgive than his childhood of neglect should have prepared him to be. Surely, he had thought at the time, Severus only needed time to get to know the child. In time, he would see what Albus saw when he looked at him, particularly as so much of Lily's character shone through him. And so he left them to warm up to each other in their own time. Certain prophecies cannot be thwarted, after all.
He had not accounted for the depth of Severus's bitterness.
Throwing them together for Occlumency lessons last year had been his last-ditch effort, an ill-fated experiment borne of desperation. Surely, he had thought, Severus only needed time alone with the boy. If he only were compelled to see into his mind and into his heart, he would find himself as unable to resist Harry's natural charms as the rest of the Hogwarts staff.
But the bitterness was rooted too deep.
And by then, so was Harry's pain.
If he had only known that locking them up in Harry's bedroom in Surrey for a few days would do the trick, he might have maneuvered them into just such a scenario years ago.
The clearing of a throat eased him from his thoughts. "Good afternoon, headmaster," said Harry politely. He was poised to leave, his Potions textbook and a small bag of supplies clutched to his chest.
Albus smiled. "And a good afternoon to you as well, Harry. I trust lessons are going well?"
Harry grinned and nodded. "Yeah. Yes. I'm learning a lot." He sneaked a peek at Severus's retreating back as the professor made his way to the potions stores in his office. Albus could detect no trace of bitterness or upset on the boy's face that his access to the professor's own potions stores had been suspended indefinitely. Severus had told him that Harry had accepted the decision gracefully, albeit with chagrin, but it was good to confirm with his own eyes.
"Excellent. I have heard good things of your progress from Professor Snape."
Harry flushed with pleasure at the words. "Well, I mean, I've been working hard. And Professor Snape's been great, really great, explaining some things I didn't really understand before."
"Without scolding?" Albus feigned shock, pleased when it elicited a chuckle from the boy.
"Without too much scolding," said Harry with a grin.
Albus gave an answering smile, and then Severus was back, ushering Harry out the door to "no doubt squander the rest of your weekend in a haze of teenaged idleness and frivolity."
"I have your blessing, then?" Harry replied cheekily. His laughter at Snape's stern look echoed down the hallway as he left the classroom. To Harry's credit, Severus had hardly put any effort into his glare. Albus had seen sterner looks on Hagrid's face when he was grousing about his beloved magical creatures.
"You wish to speak with me?" Severus stalked purposefully toward his office door, robes billowing around him, in a clear invitation to follow. He needn't have bothered with the theatrics, not here, not with Albus. But such displays made him feel larger than his past, more in control of the present, Albus knew, and so he did not mind.
"I trust your classes are going well?" he asked pleasantly as Severus closed the door to his office and they sat in matching chairs in front of the desk. He withdrew a half dozen or so wrapped caramels from his pocket and placed them on the small table between their chairs. He had learned long ago that the younger professor had an aversion to most sweets—a byproduct of some unhappy event in his childhood, Albus theorized but did not press—but everyone has a weakness. And Albus had always been good at discovering a witch or wizard's weakness, sweets or otherwise.
"Yes," Severus answered shortly, unwilling as he ever was to play unnecessary games of trivial social conventions, a trait that Albus could not help but view with respect and amusement in turn. The man did, however, snatch a caramel from the small pile and conjure two cups of tea, nudging one toward Albus. "What is it? I doubt you have deigned to visit the dungeons on my day off in order to discuss my teaching strategies."
Albus placed the scroll of parchment temptingly on the small table between them and smiled when Severus avoided so much as glancing at it. His raised eyebrow told Albus that the ploy to poke at his curiosity was not working, but of course, they both knew that it was. Severus was too intelligent to not be curious, even if he was too stubborn to show it.
"It was generous indeed of you to give of your own day off in order to assist young Harry."
"He has agreed to not waste my time," answered Severus simply. "Thus far, he has not."
"He is performing well, then?"
Severus inclined his head. "Better than I'd expected, though not as well as I'd hoped. We are barely a week into essential sixth year concepts. We took several detours in order to cover lessons he should have learned years ago. The boy did not even know the different emulsifying effects achieved by placing borage or fluxweed into a Stabilizing Potion! As if I had not covered that very topic no less than three times in his fourth year alone," he groused.
"You regret offering him additional lessons, then?"
Severus shifted. "I did not say that…"
Albus unwrapped a caramel and popped it in his mouth to hide an emerging grin. He enjoyed the sweet smoothness of the candy. Severus really did have excellent taste.
The younger man's mouth opened as if uncertain what to say. He finally admitted, "The boy is…competent. He will never be a Potions master, but if he continues at this rate, he will have no difficulty achieving a NEWT. He is intelligent and inquisitive. Capable of achieving a functional understanding of most anything he puts his mind to."
Albus lifted an eyebrow. "High praise coming from you."
"Yes. Well," Severus sidestepped before he could be accused of giving glowing praise to any student, "he is regrettably quite selective about what he puts his mind to. It is fortunate that he has finally decided that both Occlumency and Potions are worth learning."
"Indeed. Any more brushes with extraordinary powers?"
"Not as such." Severus drummed his fingers on the table and frowned in thought. "I can sense it within him at times. A power…some sort of charge or awareness…something. I have no doubt his magical core has been strengthened, but I have witnessed no more incidents or loss of control, and nor has he confided in me of any."
No, Harry had not experienced a loss of control in weeks. Albus would know; he had been keeping a closer eye on the boy than anyone could have guessed. Not that his watchfulness during the school year was anything new. Even before he knew that Harry Potter was likable, the Boy Who Lived had been important. Albus would not see him lost, either to Voldemort or to his own mind.
"He may be ready for more hands-on lessons by the end of term," Severus added. "He is still learning to control his mind, but he is picking it up fairly quickly. Perhaps in the spring, his Occlumency skills will reach a sufficient level of stability to support magical experimentation. The sooner he learns to draw upon his increased magical stores and control that power, the better."
Albus nodded in agreement. "Yes. The sooner the better. Nightmares and powerful magic are not a particularly desirable combination."
"His sleep has improved, at least." Severus tapped out a brief rhythm on his glass before his fingers stilled unnaturally. The young spy didn't have very many tells, but Albus knew them all, including that one.
He heaved a pointed sigh. "Don't tell me you placed a sleep tracking spell in his bed, Severus."
"Don't tell me you didn't know about it the moment I did," the professor shot back.
Albus was tempted to smile, but he held on to his scolding expression. "I have promised you a considerable amount of latitude in your handling of Harry's academic and emotional wellbeing. This does not, however, mean that I will not chime in with suggestions—" he paused pointedly to emphasize that his suggestions were in fact gently worded orders, "from time to time. Harry has come to look up to you, but he is still entitled to a modicum of privacy."
Severus pinched his lips in annoyance but conceded. "Fine. I will remove the tracking spell."
"Thank you, Severus." They both had the tact not to mention that Albus had waited until after Harry's nightmares had lessened to bring up the matter. "I am pleased that he is doing well. He seems better rested lately. Happy, even."
A smile ghosted on Severus's lips. He chased it away with a sip of tea.
And oh, how that hint of a smile warmed Albus's heart. This last month had wrought a change in Severus Snape. A subtle change, but there nonetheless. There was a certain lightness in his bearing now that the Dark Mark had vanished. And there was the hint of tenderness behind his eyes when he looked at Harry. The average Hogwarts student may only notice that he did not yell quite as much, but Albus could see the details. He appreciated those details.
To be quite honest, Albus had never expected to care about Severus Snape. It had simply happened over the years, nearly without his own consent. Disgust had somehow turned to tolerance, which turned to a grudging respect, which turned to admiration, which turned to a form of paternal affection that Albus had felt for very few individuals in his long life. He had once seen Severus as little more than a pathetic, desperate Death Eater who would thoughtlessly trade a child's life away for his own happiness. And while he had been that, he was also…more. Slowly, and with time spent in the man's company, he had been forced to grudgingly add additional attributes to the list of qualities that made up the man. Intelligence. Cunning. Drive. Wit. Loyalty. He supposed that it sounded strange to count loyalty as a defining characteristic of a turncoat and a spy, and yet it was true. Severus was deeply loyal. Albus had no doubt that the man who had once tried to bargain away Harry's life would now lay down his own life to protect him.
Albus had always claimed to believe in redemption, but he wasn't certain he had truly understood the concept until he had met Severus. It saddened him at times to think of the hurting young boy he had once been, of Albus's own failure to help him, to see him, before he headed down a dark path. Could he perhaps have cut him off at the pass? Rescued him from his darkest tendencies, if only he had taken an interest in the boy while he was still at Hogwarts? Perhaps. Perhaps not. He would never know the answer to that question, and so he rarely gave himself over to thoughts of it.
Perhaps he should have, for he had very nearly made a similar mistake with Harry, leaving him to languish in the care of those who would gladly have destroyed his spirit if they had the power to do so.
But that was past. He had an opportunity to make it up to both young men now, to give the both of them a second chance at the life they should have had. The family they should have had. Assuming Severus took the bait…
"It is fortunate that Harry seems quite motivated of late to do well in his lessons," Albus said casually.
Severus harrumphed. "Fortunate indeed. Motivation is key with that one."
"True, true. And have you determined what best motivates young Harry?"
Snape answered quickly, as if the answer were obvious. "Having an attainable goal, I should say. Aside from the fact that he wants to stay alive, he wants to be an Auror."
"Yes, that is true," Albus agreed mildly at the oversimplification. Severus would need to be prodded, then. "Do you happen to know why his goal is to be an Auror?"
Severus opened his mouth and then closed it, a frown marring his forehead. "I…hadn't thought to ask."
"Perhaps you should. Or perhaps you know him well enough by now to guess the answer. Harry is not so much motivated by accolades or notoriety, is he?" he prompted. "Nor by wealth, nor even by knowledge for knowledge's sake."
Severus thought for a moment and gave a small huff of agreement. "No. No, I don't suppose he is. More's the pity. Those can be excellent motivators. So can discipline, but—" He broke off and cleared his throat.
"Ah, yes," said Albus gently. "One must be careful how one applies discipline to a child who has been subject to abuse."
"I have been more careful in my approach," he said as if defending himself from an unspoken accusation. As he very well may have been, for this was not the first time they had broached the subject this term. "I tried that approach you mentioned. The…" He waved his hand, searching for the words. Or perhaps unwilling to say them.
"Ridiculous notion in general." He curled his lip. "Children need boundaries and penalties. Give them too much praise and they think they can walk all over you."
"And is Harry taking advantage of your less stringent approach?" asked Albus, unconcerned.
"He…" Severus paused, then admitted, "No. If anything, he listens to me more. In a sense. Which. How can that boy be so contrary?" He threw up a hand. "In prior years, I could feel the disrespect pouring off him in waves, every time he did things that were supposed to be respectful, such as addressing me properly or doing my bidding. And now, even while he continues to forget proper address, and he feels perfectly at ease to argue or push against my instructions, he somehow manages to convey more respect, not less. I've no idea how he does it."
"He does have many talents," mused Albus.
Severus did not respond, and Albus took advantage of the opportunity to steer the conversation back around. And, sensing that Severus was not in the frame of mind for both introspection and too many guessing games, he spelled out for him, "Do you not, in fact, find Harry's care for people to be his primary motivator?"
Severus blinked but seemed to welcome the change in direction. "He does have an unusual attachment to his friends."
"Most teenagers are rather attached to their friends. I would hardly call that unusual," answered Albus wryly.
"He certainly wouldn't," Severus harrumphed. "I can hear his lecture now on how to make friends and develop a social life. Did you know that he attempted to set up a 'play date' for me with Flitwick?"
"I am not joking, Albus! He has this idea in his head that I need to make more friends, that I need a confounded best friend or something of the like, as if I were the teenager. Despite my refusal to play along, he is taking it upon himself to dig one up for me. It is maddening!"
He did not point out that Severus had yet to tell the boy to stop in any clear, definitive manner. For all his bluster, there was a glimmer in the man's eye that betrayed, though he would never, ever admit to it, that he rather enjoyed having someone take an interest in his personal wellbeing. And while Severus would continue to grouse and complain, Albus knew that Harry was observant enough to pick up on his underlying permissiveness. For a spy, Snape could be somewhat transparent when it came to matters of the heart, and for a boy from a neglectful background, Harry could be quite perceptive. It all worked out quite well from Albus's point of view.
"It might do you good," Albus said simply. "Though I would perhaps suggest a tête-à-tête with Minerva first. Not that Filius is not an excellent choice of confidante, but Minerva stands a better chance of keeping up with your stubbornness over the long run."
Severus glared. "I am not twelve, Albus. I am not in the market for a best friend."
"There are worse things to be in the market for." And because he knew when it was best to let a topic rest, he moved on. "But you are correct: Harry is fortunate to have a natural affinity to forming attachments, even as his relatives failed in showing him how to do so. As it happens, he has proven himself able to form a variety of beneficial attachments of late. Do you not agree?"
"Hmm." The professor's lips thinned and he studied Albus through narrowed eyes. "Headmaster," he all but growled. "What are you scheming?"
"Scheming?" asked Albus innocently.
"You are scheming, without a doubt. You have something on your mind, and I do wish that you would spit it out." Severus gave him his signature get on with it, old man look, and Albus smiled because that look was always laced with the slightest hint of affection.
"Very well. I shall get to the point." His smile grew at Severus's long-suffering stare, though he managed to sober long enough to declare, "The Department of Wizard Family Services is about to make an inquiry into Harry's guardianship status."
That got the professor's attention. "What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
"Only that the process of severing the Dursleys' rights is nearly complete. I merely need send the matter through the DWFS as a legal formality, but as Harry Potter is quite a high-profile minor, it will naturally set off an official inquiry."
"You must have a way to avoid such a thing. We hardly want them to think that Harry Potter's guardianship is up for grabs. Or for his life to become fodder for the papers."
"Naturally," Albus confirmed. "I have the necessary signatures from Harry's aunt and uncle relinquishing their rights. The severance of guardianship is ironclad and should be enough to keep any inquiries away from the Dursleys' doorstep. As for the transfer of guardianship, it will be swift. I intend to give Family Services no more than a perfunctory say and very little time to protest. Make it official before they quite know what hit them."
"So the boy will be under your purview," Severus guessed.
"Oh, I hardly think that a good idea," Albus tsked. "I am an old man, not to mention quite occupied by numerous things in need of my oversight. It would be wholly unfair to Harry to take him on only to subject him to a different form of neglect."
He took a casual sip of his tea, enjoying Severus's impatience more than he probably should. The younger man lasted an entire half minute before caving. "Albus," he growled. "If you had any idea of my raising no objections to whatever arrangements you've made for the boy, you would spit it out. None of this beating around the bush. So. Whom have you decided to foist the boy upon? The Weasleys?" His grimace showed his own aversion to that idea, though Albus could not deny that the Weasleys had crossed his mind.
"You have an objection to Arthur and Molly?" he asked, raising his eyebrows for good measure. "They have sixfold experience raising boys, after all. Nor are they strangers to danger. We could certainly trust them with his protection."
"His protection? How can they be expected to protect the most hunted teenager in Britain with seven other children underfoot?"
"That is hardly the case, now, Severus. They only have four children still residing at home, I believe, and two of them are grown. Even with the blood wards no longer in effect, Harry himself will reach the age of majority within the year."
"Their attention will nonetheless be divided," Severus said stubbornly. "And he may well be nearly grown in the eyes of the law, but that means little in the real world. He will need guidance and protection well beyond that."
"You have no other objections to the Weasleys?"
"Of course I have other objections," he argued, sitting up straight. Albus hid a smile at the fire in the man's eyes. "He would spend every day in their care worrying for their safety! He already feels responsible for the near-death of his best friend. It will drive him mad to be putting them in harm's way every single day. He himself would object at being placed with the Weasleys, as much as he might enjoy the idea in theory." His eyes showed his utter certainty of that conviction, and Albus silently agreed.
"Hmm. It is true that you have developed a keen insight into Harry's preferences of late. What do you think he would suggest?"
"I…" Severus seemed at a loss for words. He frowned, clearly drawing a blank.
"No," he spat, almost before Albus had finished saying the name. "Not Lupin. Under any circumstances."
"Is that your preference or do you believe it to be his?"
"Both," he said, though with slightly less certainty with which he had waved away the Weasleys. "Which is not the point, as I am fairly certain that even you have something better in mind than placing him in the custody of a werewolf!"
"Now, now, Severus," Albus scolded gently. "Remus has his illness in hand with your potions assistance, as you very well know. And many a werewolf has successfully married and raised a family."
"Not this werewolf. Not this child," he countered stubbornly.
Albus held up his hands in exaggerated defeat. "Harry has no family. No godparents. He would without a doubt have half of the wizarding world lining up to take him in if we put out the word, but how many of them would we trust to ensure his safety? How many would be looking out for him and not for their own desire to be close to his fame? We both know that he needs genuine care and protection, not the counterfeit affection that would come with those who know his fame and not him."
"It must be an Order member," said Severus with a determined nod. "And not someone like Margie Twingle. She couldn't swat a dragonfly. They must be able and willing to protect him at all costs."
"He is at a delicate age," Severus said sternly. "He is unspoiled, but that could change. You cannot allow him to be in the charge of someone who will feed into his fame."
"Yes, I do agree. His new guardian must make Harry's emotional wellbeing a priority. Someone who can keep him grounded, I think."
"And it would be best if he were to already know his new guardian. Harry has had too many upsets in his short life. He will adjust far better to a familiar face. Someone he is comfortable with."
Severus nodded in agreement.
"A professor, perhaps."
Snape frowned. "Surely you cannot be considering McGonagall."
Oh, Severus. Albus held in a smile at how obtuse the usually intelligent man could sometimes be. Instead, he gave a small, unconcerned shrug. "What objections could you have to Minerva? She is his Head of House, after all."
Severus looked positively scandalized. "She is nearly as old as you—"
"You flatter me. She is barely over seventy—"
"—and she hardly has oversight of her Gryffindors to begin with! The boy needs structure and discipline, not the license to do whatever he damn well pleases!"
"Oh, I hardly think she would allow him to do whatever he pleases."
"McGonagall is out of the question," insisted Severus with a stubborn set to his chin.
"You have rather strong opinions on this matter," Albus observed.
"Of course I do! I took a vow to keep him alive."
"Alive, yes. You did not take a vow to see him well-adjusted or happy."
"I…" Severus faltered, then lifted his chin. "And? There is nothing wrong with wanting a child to not be miserable or spoiled."
Albus nodded and stroked his chin, as if deep in thought. "Back to the drawing board, then. What have we decided so far? Ah, yes: someone young enough to keep up with him, yet old enough to take the responsibility seriously. Who will keep him grounded and unspoiled, see to his emotional and physical wellbeing, even after he turns seventeen. Someone who will give him boundaries and discipline, but who can relate to his past and adjust the type of discipline accordingly. Someone with whom he is familiar and feels comfortable and who desires his happiness in turn. Preferably a Hogwarts professor and an Order member. I might add that a personal connection to his own parents would be a nice bonus, if not a requirement. Hmm. It is a tall order. A tall order, indeed. Any ideas, Severus?"
Finally the light had gone on behind Severus's eyes, though alongside it was a burgeoning horror. "No."
The Potions professor vehemently shook his head. "You are mad for even thinking it."
"Perhaps," Albus countered happily. "Fortunately, my bouts of madness have led to some of my best ideas."
"The very idea is madness, Albus. Complete madness. I know nothing about raising a child."
"You teach children every day," Albus pointed out, "and Harry is hardly a toddler."
"I tolerate children every day. I wouldn't know what to do with one for any significant amount of time outside the classroom."
"You seem to be doing just fine with Harry thus far."
"I teach him lessons. Children need…other things. Affection. Advice. Clothing. They need clothing, Albus! I know nothing about buying clothing. I have purchased the same brand of trousers for years by owl order because I hate frequenting the shops! They do not even ask me questions anymore. I simply send a small sum of money and they send me the same as last time! I do not even own any other kind of trousers!"
Albus gave the younger man a sympathetic glance. "You do know that Harry is sixteen. I'm certain he has an idea what clothing he likes, should the eventuality arise that you need to take him shopping."
"Clothing is not the point!" Severus raved. "The point is that everything will be like clothing! I barely know how to take care of myself. What makes you think I would know what a teenager needs?"
"Because over the past three months, I have seen you grow into a mentor young Harry responds to. You already look out for his needs, Severus," he said gently, "More so than any other adult in his life at present."
"At Hogwarts! As his professor! Not in a personal capacity, or in my own home—" He cut himself off with a horrified grimace. "My home is barely livable. You must know that. It is old and sits empty most of the year. I cannot remember the last time I gave it a decent cleaning or checked it for needed repairs. I could not possibly bring someone there to live."
"You are welcome to borrow the services of the Hogwarts house-elves. I daresay little Dobby would jump at the chance to prepare Harry Potter's new home."
"Even clean, it is…not fit, Albus. It is small and—and decrepit. He would shudder to live in such meager surroundings."
"Severus," Albus said gently, "you said yourself that Harry is not spoiled. He spent much of his childhood sleeping in a cupboard and dressing in his cousin's castoffs. I imagine that, should you give him a room of his own and provide basic necessities, he will feel quite fortunate indeed. He is not one to care about appearance or affluence."
Severus blinked, then shook his head stubbornly. "No. I am serious, Albus. About more than a house. I may no longer be a marked Death Eater, but my soul will always carry a dark mark from my past choices. I am stubborn and resentful and unable to let go of a grudge. I cannot even let go of my grudge against the boy's own father, for Merlin's sake, even though I've tried! I am no good for what you ask!"
"That you have tried to overcome your grudge is a testament to how far you have come. Not so long ago, attempting to do so would not have even entered your mind."
Severus clenched his lips for a long moment, then let out a breath. "I am not the type, Albus, and he would not wish it. We have barely overcome our past in order to form a decent rapport. Anything more is too much, too soon. It is impossible."
"Very well," he sighed.
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Very well? Don't play games, old man. I know you haven't given in so easily."
Albus took a leisurely sip of his tea. "I am not playing games, Severus," he only half-lied. "I promised you once that I would not force you and Harry together in a capacity to which you objected. I intend to keep that promise. And I hardly think it ideal or fair to either of you to force such an important arrangement against your will."
"No. It would not be," Severus said slowly, suspicion clear on his face. Which was entirely fair, considering how well he knew the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
"I only ask for one small favor."
"Of course you do." Severus's lips fell into a grim line.
"Help me to determine an ideal placement."
"Surely you can come up with something."
"And yet you have already objected to my very best ideas," said Albus pointedly. They both knew that Severus couldn't argue with that, so he went on, "You are spending a considerable amount of one-on-one time with Harry this term. You have a unique insight as to what he needs in a guardian."
"And if an ideal placement cannot be found?" asked Severus stiffly.
Albus gave an exaggerated shrug. "I suppose you might then reconsider taking on the role yourself. All I ask, Severus," he cut off the beginnings of an objection, "is that you consider the matter."
"So that's your game. Force me to mull over the horrid selection of candidates until I am convinced that only I can do the job."
Albus smiled. "Should you find a reasonable candidate, I will certainly consider their merits. Should you not find one, I should think that you would not object to doing whatever it takes to keep young Harry safe." Severus glared until Albus, still smiling, gestured at the scroll of parchment between them. "For you. Until you've made up your mind."
He snatched the scroll as if only now noticing it, though Albus knew him well enough to surmise that he had been actively curious about it since the moment it had been placed before him. He unrolled it and his eyes scanned the pages. His face was carefully blank, though his hands betrayed a tremor.
"These are guardianship papers."
"Our names are already on it." He whipped it around and furiously jabbed a finger at first one name, then the other. "Harry Potter. Severus Snape!"
"I came prepared. But of course, another name can easily be substituted, should we come up with a suitable alternative placement," an eventuality that Albus was almost certain would never come to pass. He knew the value of a visual aid, and of leaving in Severus's hands such a strong reminder of what could be. It would only take a signature… "As I said, Severus, I will not force you. Keep the documents. Mull it over. Let me know what you come up with."
Severus rubbed his temples, visibly deflating. "I would ruin him. You know I would."
"You would be good for him."
"We would murder each other inside of a day."
"That may have been the case previously, but you have both recently and unpredictably developed the ability to communicate. That should head off any murderous tendencies shortly after they arise."
"Harry would not wish it," Severus repeated softly.
"And you? What do you wish?" The man had no answer, and after few moments, Albus added gently, "Think on it. And once you have, consider speaking with him about his own wishes. You might be surprised what you find out, on both counts."
Severus seemed to run out of arguments then, though he would no doubt come up with many more in the weeks to come. Not that Albus minded, though he would very much prefer the matter be concluded by the end of term. For now, the professor needed to convince himself that he was the right man to see to Harry's wellbeing far more than he needed to listen to Albus's arguments in favor of the arrangement.
He stood. "Well. I should leave you to your thoughts. And besides, I have another visit or two to make today."
"You have more orphans to foist onto unsuspecting bachelors?" Severus griped halfheartedly.
"Only the one," Albus said pleasantly. He lay a steady hand on the man's shoulder. "Harry is fortunate to have you in his life, Severus, in whatever capacity you choose your involvement to be." He squeezed the shoulder and let go.
"This won't work," said Severus as he rose to his feet, his voice not quite as strong as before. "This trick of yours, it won't work."
They both already knew that it stood a good chance of working, and so Albus simply smiled and headed for the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, watching over his shoulder as Severus opened a drawer in his desk, carefully placed the parchment within, and closed it. His eyes lingered on the drawer for several long seconds before he withdrew a key from his pocket and locked it. But the matter would not be locked away from his thoughts, Albus knew. Severus could be quite obsessive when he had a bone to chew on. He would doubtless give weeks over to convincing Albus that he was the wrong man for the job, all the while warming up to the idea—an idea made quite tangible by the ready-to-sign documents locked in his own desk. Harry would do the rest, albeit unknowingly, now that Severus was no longer immune to the boy's natural charms.
It really was quite simple in the end.
Two lonely souls, lost, in need of family, and desirous of belonging. It had not been simple to overcome the human element, of course, but his hope had not been in vain. Severus had only needed the opportunity to get to know the child. He now saw the boy Albus had seen from the beginning, and he was seen by Harry in return.
Certain prophecies cannot be thwarted after all. Not by the depth of Severus's bitterness, nor by the breadth of Harry's pain.
And already their newly formed relationship of camaraderie and mentorship had soothed some of those old wounds. Albus could only hope that a more formal arrangement could pave the way to true healing for both of his boys. He eased open the door, gave Severus a nod in parting, and felt true joy at the first, tiny spark of longing in the man's eyes. Yes, he knew then. This would most definitely work.
The door closed with a soft snick. His work here was done, for now. And a job well done it was, he decided as, with a smile and a low whistle, he picked up his pace through the halls of Hogwarts.
Thank you thank you thank you for going on this journey with me! It means the world to me that you stuck with me through 61 chapters with some angsty plot twists and turns, and that some of you even stuck with me through a decade-long hiatus. You're the best! And do you know, not including notes and review responses, this story is about 375,000 words long? That's a 1000+-page novel! That was NOT my intention when I started OME, but there you go. Sometimes the fanfiction writing takes over and you get wordy, and people keep reading, so you get drunk on the permission to keep churning out words, and you can't say goodbye to your characters anyway until you get them in a good enough spot, and before you know it your story is so long that you just go with it and hope people forgive you for the time they must take out of their lives to read it. And anyway, Snape and Harry had a LOT of angst to get through; they basically weren't going to get along in less than 1000 pages. So. Yep. Nonetheless, I do plan to make my future stories shorter and more succinct. ;)
Also thank you to everyone who visited OME on AO3! It's been fun to see the reviews and kudos there! :)
I have plans for a sequel, so if you would like to be alerted, please follow me as an author and/or this story. I'll probably add a chapter to the end as a "sequel is up!" alert. Just don't expect the sequel to come out soon. I plan to take a writing break, then work on some other projects first. For now, please enjoy a completed O Mine Enemy for an indefinite period of time. :)
Here's a mishmash of information about my plans for a sequel:
(First off, I have notes and a rough outline of the sequel, but my plans can and often do change, so don't take my current plans as gospel.) The focus will be on Snape and Harry growing from close teacher/student into a guardian/father/son-type relationship. The current plan is to follow them through the end of the war and Voldy's defeat, but it will not follow the same timeline or plot as canon. There are several subplots that I was not able to give appropriate depth or time to in this story that I'd like to address in the sequel. So if you're left wanting more resolution of Snape's past animosity with James Potter, you want to know what the Malfoys have been up to lately, you think there's more to tell about Brooks than his teaching style, or you want to see more interaction between Harry's friends and Snape, never fear! There are plans! :) Please do note that while I write what I want to write, I do sometimes take inspiration from readers, so feel free to drop me a review or message with things that you would love to see!
Guest/Unsigned Review Replies:
I won't be able to respond to your next review unless you have an account and allow PM's, so allow me to give all of you anonymous & guest reviewers a huge thank you in advance for reading this story to the end and reviewing the final chapter! I love you! Muaw!
Guest (2/8) - Oh I'm so glad! You're welcome, and thank you so much for reviewing! :)
Guest (2/8) - That's a really good point about his relationship with Dumbledore (and, I imagine with everybody else in his life). I see his relationship with Harry as bit by bit softening him to social interactions and relationships with people in general. He's not used to accepting or receiving love or affection, but he'll have to get used to it with this kid in his life. ;) Thanks for the review!
ANONYMOUS - Yay, thank you! I don't think you're deranged, but on the record, I wouldn't think less of you if you were, because we fanfic readers and writers all have a little side of crazy in us. ;) I'm giddy at your glowing praise, and I'm so happy that you enjoyed their changed relationship and Snape's evolution as a character! It was a fun thing to write as unfolding through Harry's eyes. Thank you thank you for your reviews, and I hope you enjoyed the final chapter!
mvkgreen - Snow! It makes the world so pretty and fresh and new. :) Thank you for the praise! There's nothing like getting to the end of this huge labor of love and hearing what people enjoyed about it and what I stumbled into doing right. ;) It's generally true that we write what it is that we most want to read, and while I love fluff and hugs, I really don't enjoy it when it hasn't been earned or when it makes the characters seem too OOC. So I tried to use such moments sparingly, and I'm glad that you liked that and other elements of the story. :) Thank you so much for the detailed review, and lots of love from a desert part of the world—no snow in sight! ;)
MysticZephyrs - Well, hey, maybe Snape and McGonagall could grow a friendship now that he's got Harry working on his social calendar, lol! I'm glad you liked the last chapter setting & chat, and also the development of their relationship. It warms this writer's heart to see them finally here. :) Your first POV guess was correct! :) I hope you don't consider this a cliffhanger ending… I suppose it could be considered that in a way, but I view it as a hopeful ending. We're closing the first chapter of their relationship and leaving the door open for them to evolve into even more. Snape's not quite ready yet, but we all know he eventually will be. ;) Thank you so much for the review! :)
Guest (2/9) - You're welcome, and thank you for the review! Wow, on the shelf with AYLNO—I'm so happy and flattered! I hope you have fun on your next re-read, now that it is officially complete! :)
Hobesan - Thank you! :)
Cerasifera - Haha I love how you characterized Harry there! Yes, this boy is not necessarily a rule-follower, but he also needs a few lessons in how to properly rebel, doesn't he? ;) I wonder if he might be more studious if he didn't have Hermione in his life to take on that role for him. Or I suppose without her to push, he might be worse in that respect…suppose we'll never know. Moving on… Canon or no, I like theories surrounding Lily's sacrifice and how it may have protected Harry. :) As for Snape's past, when I first started this story, I had a backstory of Snape actively participating in his own father's death (long story, he was young and stupid and coerced, not worth going into because it never happened), but then when I decided to finish OME a decade later, I replaced that subplot with his betrayal of Lily. I've left his Death Eater history open-ended to give myself some flexibility if I want to insert specifics in the sequel, but I'll give you my current headcanon, which is that I don't see him as having directly committed murder or equally heinous crimes. However, he feels the guilt as if he had. He participated in DE activities that led to deaths, and so in his mind that makes him as good as a murderer. (I'll also add that Snape wasn't an active DE for all that long. I'm not positive if he joined as a student in canon, but he graduated Hogwarts mid 1978 and turned to Dumbledore in 1980, when he was only 20. He has carried guilt for sixteen years, but he only had a couple years in there of active participation.) In short, he made bad choices, yes, but his guilt is the main thing standing in his way. As for James, I can't wait to explore that more in a sequel. They may both be willing to put it on the back burner right now, but the closer they get to each other, the more they're going to need to address it. Family counseling, anyone? Trauma is a clingy cactus, yep. P.S. Good guess on Dumbles POV! Thank you for your consistent reviews and constructive criticism throughout my writing of OME! I really appreciate it and hope you liked the ending! :)
Guest (2/11) - I'm not sure what you are trying to say, but thank you for leaving a review! I hope you enjoyed the story!
ak (ch 59) - So glad you liked those bits! Dreamscape is challenging but fun to write. Barely-awake scenes are even more fun to write. ;) Thanks for the review!
ak (ch 60) - Oh I know - I'm a sucker for adoption stories myself. Now that OME is done, I may just go on and get invested in one or two other stories out there… ;) Thank you again for reviewing, and I hope you like how the story ended!
AnonymousFan - I kinda like that I was able to in essence have two "last" chapters to this story, so I could savor the finishing of it for a little bit longer. I also felt that with such a long story, it needed that two-fold closure in order to not end too abruptly. :) I see Harry pulling up the memory of that "son" comment more now that they're closer. It was a shocking thing to hear at the time, but it's taken on a new meaning to him since then, the words representative of something he yearns for and is at the same time embarrassed to be yearning for. Yes, Harry's schedule is something, isn't it? ;) Of course, it's not soooo bad, considering that because he's not in Potions or really any elective courses like Divination or Magical Creatures, he has a scattering of free periods. And I expect Snape will get him up to speed by the spring so that the only thing he'll have outside of regular class hours by then will be Occlumency. Even teenagers can put up with a lot when there's an end in sight. :) Plus, it's not so bad when you enjoy something. Quidditch is fun for him, and even Occlumency isn't as much a chore as it used to be. As for Snape's nervousness, he knows that by offering tutoring to Harry (which he Does. Not. Do.), he's essentially offering more of himself to Harry. He's still not used to that, and he's certainly not used to students willingly spending time with him.
P.S. Ah! I get it now! Yes, that's something that would have been fun to explore, but I didn't think needed to be expounded upon too much in order to tell the story. You know, I've thought about penning a series of one-shot companion pieces from other characters' POV. That scene would be an interesting one to write from Kneader's POV. Not saying I'm doing it, but I did just put it on my ideas list. ;) Thank you for even more additions to the list! :)
Effie - *Considering whether it's polite to decline purse pizza… Oh, what the heck. Does it have pineapple, by chance?*
Snape is going to have to start investing in short sleeves, if he can get a handle on that clothes shopping business. Even something so simple could remind him that he has a new lease on life. You're right that he acts battle-worn…hopefully Harry can bring some youth back into his life. :) And yeah…Snape is definitely a planner, lol. It's a natural part of his personality, yes, but it's amplified because there was so much in his early life that he could not control. So making lists and schedules and plans is his way of controlling his environment now. As for Lily and James, he's made good progress but still has stuff to work out. I have confidence that with time he'll get there. It is true that he never really had someone to show him how to love. In my own headcanon, his mother did love him, and he dearly loved her, but she was also a weak figure in that she could not stand up to her husband, and she did not model for him what healthy love looks like. He learned a few things about healthy mentor relationships from Kneader and Dumbledore over the years, but he's mainly learning as he goes with Harry. Looking at it from that perspective, he's doing really, really well at this stage in the game! ;) (Of course, it helps that Harry himself isn't used to perfection.) That's an interesting theory about Severus and mirrors. I can definitely see that! He has a lot of self-loathing. I can see that also translating to why he doesn't keep up his appearance. He just doesn't care. In my OME-verse, I'm operating under the assumption that with all the positives from Harry's influence in his life, he's going to be washing his hair and brushing his teeth more than he did in canon, lol. Good points about Sirius and Snape! Of course, Snape has a lot in his past that he wouldn't want Harry to emulate either, but in the present, he has more of a leg to stand on in the "do as I do" department. Sirius was definitely more "fun uncle" material. Snape (that is, OME Snape) needs to improve in the emotions department, but he's got the fatherly boundary-making down pat, and he models those boundaries and structures in his own life. As such, I think Harry can respect it a lot more coming from him, even if it chafes at times. And ooh now I need to get them to play some wizard's chess - good idea! If Snape takes Dumbledore up on his latest suggestion, I can see them having more downtime together, so there's a good chance it will happen. ;) Thank you so so much for all the lengthy reviews while I was writing this story - I read and savored and appreciated every word! :) :) Lots of love and I hope you liked the conclusion to the story!