"Sit down," said Zelda Snape, looking with concern at the young woman who'd entered her house so precipitately.
Ginny Weasley sat calmly down in an armchair as if she hadn't just charged in and begun pacing back and forth.
"You look well, Zelda," she said politely.
"Ginny, you're upset. Just tell me what's wrong."
The young witch thought distractedly how marriage to Professor Snape agreed with Zelda. The Muggle woman who'd seemed so foreign when they'd met several years earlier had adapted to living in Scotland, surrounded by magical folk. Ginny wondered if Zelda ever wore her blue jeans any more, because her look was definitely magical now.
"That's a wicked outfit," she said sincerely. "Where'd you get it?"
"Diagon Alley," said Zelda, amused that Ginny was reluctant to get to the point. "Tonks was with me and it looked like someone emptied the ancestral closet. She checked for Dark spells, but they're just lovely clothes."
She wore a linen overdress of rich blue, with a silky chemise that showed far more cleavage than a medieval woman would have dared. It emphasized the blue of her mischievous eyes. Her hair was longer now and it fell down to her shoulders in shining golden waves. She looked romantic and dead sexy for her age, thought Ginny.
Zelda flushed slightly and said, "Severus is coming home early. He thought he'd teach Potions for only one year, and three years on it's taking a toll on him. He needs cheering up."
"You shouldn't use Legilimency in ordinary circumstances," scolded Ginny half-heartedly, since they'd had this talk before.
"I try to behave, you know. But thanks for the compliment. I don't want to look an aging bimbo, but sexy's what I hoped for. Severus likes it."
The young witch had heard stories from several people and smirked, wondering how these two could keep it up. But pondering that relationship reminded her of her own woes and her face fell.
"Do you have time to talk?"
"I'm waiting. What's wrong?"
Ginny hesitated, but then blurted out, "Have you heard from Harry?"
"He writes every week," replied Zelda. "He's really busy, but he'll be finished next week and he's looking forward to meeting everyone at the cabin in July. Why?"
She studied the young woman closely. Ginny had acquired the poise and mature manner of a grown woman, and her strong-willed, stubborn nature was now channeled into her training as a Healer. There was worry in the brown eyes and a flash of sorrow.
"It's Draco," said Ginny slowly. "He's my best friend at St. Mungo's, you know, and we… I like him so much, Zelda. We meet for lunch and then laugh so hard we can hardly eat. But yesterday he suggested that…"
"You could be more than friends?" asked Zelda softly. "Gin, I've been surprised and pleased that none of you rushed into marriage right after school. You all needed to grow up. But is there another reason?"
"I can't speak for Hermione and Ron, but I took for granted marriage is good because of my mum and dad. They married so young and they're so good together. But not everyone's happy…"
Zelda smiled gently and said, "Your parents are great together, but you're the youngest. They spent a lot of years working through rough patches before you came along. There are always rough patches, But what about Draco?"
An ironic gleam lit the brown eyes as she murmured, "He's bloody sexy, something I won't admit to him. He has all the makings of an arrogant git, yet he chose a challenging career his family would despise. He's clever and he's quick and…"
"You two shared something special that day in the Forbidden Forest," finished Zelda, tiring of the die-away sentences.
"What about Harry?" asked Zelda relentlessly.
"I don't know how he feels about me. I see what a disaster it would've been to push him into getting married right after I finished at Hogwarts, but he's so distant. We don't even write to each other these days."
"So you need to deal with that old relationship," said Zelda flatly. "But how?"
"When he returns from Albania, he'll come to see you and Professor Snape before anyone else," said Ginny. "May I drop in unexpectedly?"
Laughing, Zelda said, "You understand him, don't you? He never mentions you, but he doesn't mention any other relationship either, and if there's anything serious, he would. By all means, drop in. I'll owl you when he's coming here."
"Thanks," said Ginny gratefully. "By the way, where are the kids?"
"They're sleeping after lunch. Alaric said he's too old for a nap, but he agreed to pretend so Emmie would sleep. You picked a perfect time to visit. Normally I can't give any single thing my full attention."
They walked to the door and Zelda hugged her warmly.
"Say hi to your folks for me, and Draco too," she said. "And don't worry. We'll see what happens when Harry gets back."
A brisk knock on the door that Saturday morning brought Zelda hastily to her feet. She trotted eagerly to open it and gazed upon Harry Potter for the first time in months.
"You're so grown up," she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. "It's wonderful to see you, Harry."
This was exactly the homecoming he'd wanted, he thought as he hugged her. She and Molly Weasley had both given him a mother's love. He thought of his own mum with gratitude, but the joy in Zelda's eyes when she saw him was special.
"Thanks for watching the house for me," he said, referring to the nearby cottage he'd acquired during his last year at Hogwarts. "Everything looks fine."
"Good," she replied, taking his hand and pulling him into the sitting room. "Severus has the kids down by the stream, so we have five minutes alone before we're invaded. Tell me what you can about your research, Unspeakable Potter."
"I can't tell you anything, as you very well know," he said, chuckling as they sat down on the couch together.
"Brat," she sighed, thinking what a lovely young man he was. At twenty-two, Harry had wasn't tall, like Ron Weasley. He was almost exactly Severus's height, and slender. His green eyes were clear and inquisitive, with mischief sparkling in them. His face was still thin, his black hair still untidy, but he was unmistakably a man.
He saw the admiration in her eyes and blushed, embarrassed.
"Zelda!" he protested.
"You must've had to beat those Albanian witches off with a stick," she said with a naughty smirk.
"I was working," he snapped, remembering a couple of awkward occasions. "Zelda, I just can't deal with women. It's too much for me."
He was more disturbed by her teasing than she'd expected, so she reached for his hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
"I'll be serious," she said. "Besides, since it's really all about me, I want to show you my brilliant children. I know you and Severus have lots to say to each other too."
He snorted cynically. "What sort of mood's he in?"
"Well, he's still teaching Potions, the students are essentially the same caliber as your year and final exams are next month. What do you think?"
Their eyes met and they laughed.
"He doesn't need more irritations, then," said Harry.
"He'll be happy to see you," said Zelda solemnly.
A rumbling from the direction of the kitchen heralded the arrival of the family. Rowena burst in first and ran straight to Harry, leaping into his lap and wiping muddy paws all over his clean jeans. Harry laughed and hugged the excited dog before he looked at the other newcomers.
Alaric Snape had just turned three. He stopped at the sight of the man sitting on the couch with his mother, his black eyes narrowing slightly. Harry realized in shock that the little boy was the living image of Professor Snape.
"Welcome back, Potter," murmured the wizard coldly, taking in the new maturity in the boy's eyes with interest. "Was the food my wife left in your own house inadequate, so you came sponging?"
"Thanks for the welcome, Professor," said Harry, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "The food's great, but I thought it was only good manners to come over and thank Zelda."
"Ah," replied Severus, turning his attention to his son. "Alaric, have you forgotten Potter?"
"Down, Rowena! Alaric, come say hi to Harry," said Zelda, laughing at the pair as she held her hand out to the child.
Harry glanced briefly at Professor Snape again, holding little Emelie in his arms. The toddler had her father's black eyes and a halo of silky black curls. She gazed at Harry with interest.
Alaric approached slowly, a solemn frown on his face.
"Hey, kid," said Harry. "I haven't seen you for a while, but I thought we were friends."
He held out a hand for a high five.
Suddenly Alaric recognized those green eyes and he smiled, slapping Harry's hand. He broke into giggles and turned to his mother, burying his face in her lap.
"Silly boys," said Zelda with a mocking glance at her husband. "You're staying for lunch, aren't you Harry?"
With a sidelong glance at Professor Snape, who remained carefully expressionless, Harry stifled a snicker and said, "Thanks, I'd love it."
Later that afternoon, Harry felt he'd come home. He played with the kids, getting to know them all over again. Alaric was much quicker and cleverer to play with now that he was three. When it was time for his nap, the boy insisted that Harry tuck him in. When Harry bent over to give him the required kiss, Alaric hugged his neck and looked up at him trustingly.
"May we play after I wake up?" he asked hopefully.
"Of course," said Harry, hugging him. "Get some rest now, buddy, and I'll see you soon."
He returned to the sitting room where Zelda sat next to Severus, her head on his shoulder.
"I wish you could wear them out every day," she said. "You're wonderful, Harry."
"They're great. Alaric's so smart and cool. He was fun before I left, but he's amazing now."
Harry noticed that the relationship between the couple was closer than ever. Professor Snape was visibly more relaxed now, sitting with his arm around Zelda. He felt a faint pang of loneliness, wishing he had someone who adored him like that.
"Sit down and tell us what you can about Albania," invited Zelda. "Did you check out Muggle society there?"
"Yeah. It's different than Britain and America," he said. "It's really old-fashioned and it's a poor country. In the countryside, it's closer to the old ways. Muggles tell stories of magical monsters and dark magic. There's a lot to learn there."
A knock on the door made them all look.
"Harry, will you get it?" asked Zelda. "I'm ridiculously comfortable here and I don't want to stand up."
He chuckled and headed for the door. When he opened it, he stared in surprise.
"Harry!" said Ginny Weasley, surprised that he was answering the door, but holding out a hand to him. "Why haven't you told anyone you're back?"
She was all grown up and a beautiful woman, Harry realized. She was wearing Muggle clothes and her shining red hair hung loose down her back. There was an air of calm maturity about her that made him hesitate, but aside from their aborted relationship at school, they'd known each other forever. Ignoring her hand, he put his arms around her impulsively and hugged her.
"Don't treat me like a stranger, Gin," he said. "I'd hate it if everything's different back home again. I just got back this morning."
His voice was deeper and more mature, she thought. Furthermore, he looked wonderful and this hug felt like it should go on and on. He felt right, she thought as she hugged him back, attraction buzzing through her veins.
"You look different," she said. "So important and grown up. You're a man, Harry."
Her voice was slightly husky and a little lower than he remembered. Bloody sexy, he thought, reluctantly letting go of her.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, feeling dazed and stupid.
"I'm here to see Zelda, of course," she replied. "So, you're back, how was it?"
"Hard work," he replied. "I'm glad to be home."
They walked slowly into the sitting room, aware of each other but oddly shy.
"Hey, Ginny," said Zelda. "Isn't it wonderful that Harry's come home? The kids are thrilled and of course Severus and I are thrilled too."
Severus snorted, making his wife giggle. He wondered if Potter was thick enough to believe in this 'unexpected' visit. He knew his Zelda too well to think it a coincidence. He eyed them all with sardonic amusement.
"Thrilled," he drawled lazily. "Since you've both appeared at our door in such good time, are either of you willing to baby-sit this evening?"
Zelda burst out laughing and gasped, "How rude! You can't suggest that we abandon them, they just got here!"
Harry was filled with conflicting emotions, but he glanced at Ginny, whose brown eyes were twinkling.
"I'll do it if you will," he offered.
Ginny looked at Zelda, smiled innocently and said, "Go ahead. My parents never had the sheer gall to ask anyone to watch all of us, but I know Mum would've loved it."
"Where will you go?" asked Harry curiously.
"My deserving wife recently mentioned a wish to see Rent, in London," said Severus, rewarded by his wife's glowing smile.
Zelda beamed at them all and said, "Ginny, come help me find something to wear. How soon should I be ready to go?"
"I'll Apparate to town to get tickets and we'll leave in an hour," replied Severus.
Harry and Ginny saw the Snapes off on their date. Ginny had styled Zelda's hair, putting it up in a graceful style that made her squeal with pleasure as it was magicked into place.
"I actually look good! Thanks, Ginny," Zelda exclaimed, reaching for her sapphire earrings.
"You look gorgeous," corrected Ginny, grinning.
Once she was ready, they all waited in the sitting room for Severus. When he appeared, the young people gaped and Zelda sighed happily.
"I'll never be able to thank Kingsley and Michael enough for introducing you to Armani," she declared. "Keep your wand handy to hex all the women who come on to you."
"Ridiculous," he hissed, glaring at her.
But Ginny realized Zelda was right. Professor Snape was shockingly impressive in that gorgeously tailored suit. It seemed they desired obscurity in the wizarding world, but now, escaping for a few hours, they were transformed.
"You both look great," she assured them boldly. "Have a fantastic time. We'll take good care of Alaric and Emelie."
Professor Snape offered his arm to Zelda, who was almost his equal in height now, due to her pretty heels. Zelda murmured something to her husband, turned to wave once more and then they Disapparated with a pop.
Ginny looked up at Harry, realizing that he'd grown a little taller since school, while she was essentially the same height as in sixth year.
"They surprise me," she said. "I never expected grownups, people my parents' age, would be so… I guess romantic. Not that I ever considered Professor Snape romantic. Imagine if his students could see him like that."
Harry grinned and said reminiscently, "I don't think he knew he had it in him, but Zelda had no idea what he was like here, when she found him. Bellatrix Lestrange tortured him and left him half-dead so he had no protective barrier with her. By the time he woke up, she was there, just… Zelda, and she made him happy. They're amazing together."
"They're lucky," mused Ginny.
"Yeah, but they haven't always been," he replied, looking serious. "I think nothing wonderful can come too easily."
Remembering the short time they'd been together as a couple before fate intervened, it seemed true. But Emelie called out from her little bed and with only a cautious glance at each other they went upstairs.