"Curses!" Severus Snape kicked the sturdy wooden door, "wait until I get my hands on the idiot responsible for this…"
He had received a note from Filch who had been cleaning up the castle now that the students were home and ran into trouble. When he arrived at the unused classroom, the door had slammed shut behind him and wouldn't open again.
"Don't bother," the voice made him spin around, "it won't open again."
He stared into the faces of Harry Potter and Remus Lupin.
Lupin sighed. "The Headmaster apparently had the brilliant idea that if he locked us in together, we would somehow 'make peace' as he put it. Since I retrieved Harry from the Dursleys, he included the boy in his scheme."
Harry, half hidden behind Lupin, frowned. "Professor? We had no idea what was going to happen either."
All Snape did was stare at them in terror as he watched the sun set from the window.
"I don't think he's hearing us, Moony," Harry whispered suddenly.
"I believe you are right," Lupin bit his lip, "Severus? Severus, please, look at me."
He took a step in Snape's direction, which only resulted in Snape curling up on the floor and whimpering, trying to protect his head.
"What's wrong with him?" Harry asked.
"It appears to be some sort of flashback," Lupin stood back, "Probably when he faced my wolf form in the Shrieking Shack. Let's back off and give him some time, Harry, maybe he'll snap out of it."
But Snape did not snap out of it. In fact, over the next half hour he withdrew so completely that Lupin could no longer even move without setting off a flashback, and Harry hovered between the two.
"Albus!" Lupin finally shouted, "You had better get down here and see what you've done, or I swear I'll break your nose, old man or no!"
A few minutes later, the door opened and an agitated Dumbledore entered. Taking one look at the distraught man, he crouched near Snape and reached out to stroke his hair. The Potions Master curled in on himself, shaking so badly that Dumbledore finally put a sleeping spell on him.
"You IDIOT!" Lupin snarled, "didn't it ever occur to you that Severus has a REASON to dislike me? That maybe he fears me? Do you know what facing a werewolf does to a person?"
Harry looked up in surprise. Lupin rolled his eyes. "To get bitten by a werewolf you obviously have to face one, Harry. I was in therapy until I started Hogwarts. Did you send Severus to a mind healer, Albus?"
"No," Dumbledore admitted painfully, levitating the limp body, "but please, Remus – let's continue this discussion in my office after I've put Severus to bed."
Harry and Remus sat in the comfy chairs before the desk when Dumbledore entered again, having tucked the Potions Master into bed. The twinkle was completely gone from his eyes.
"I owe you two an apology as well," he started, "I thought it would be a good idea. I never thought Severus would react this strongly…"
"That's just it, isn't it?" Lupin was obviously still angry, "you never think. You never considered his feelings, or ours. You simply got a crazy idea and went ahead with it, consequences be damned. Now what are we going to do? Shall I leave the castle?"
Dumbledore bowed his head. "It wouldn't do much good if you did, Remus. Severus has retreated so far behind his Occlumency shields that there is no retrieving him in his present state."
"What?" Harry gaped, "but…there is something you can do, isn't there?"
The Headmaster eyed the boy kindly. "There is only one known cure for this, Harry. It is rather extreme – but at the same time it might also accomplish what I intended in the first place…"
Lupin paled. "Are you talking about de-aging, Albus?"
"Yes," the old wizard confirmed, "for a short period of time, say, the holidays. If shown enough care during this period, it may have healed the brain by the time he is re-aged. It also may teach him to trust us – he will be de-aged to about two years old, a time when he had not encountered any of us yet."
The werewolf frowned. "I am still angry with you for making this necessary to begin with, Albus, but it does not seem we have much choice. I do have one suggestion, though."
"What, my boy?"
"De-age me too," Remus requested, shocking Harry, "so I can build an equal relationship with him."
"That….that may actually be a very good idea," Dumbledore mused.
"Make me about four years old. Perhaps if he gets to know me as a big brother, he will have an easier time accepting me when we are re-aged. My only concern is the wolf."
"How old were you when you were bitten?" Dumbledore asked.
"Six," the werewolf slumped a little in his chair.
"Then you should not be experiencing transformations when you are four. If you would remain a child long enough to grow up to six again, you would turn back into a werewolf, but at this age you would not, not yet. That means you could also use the time as a child to heal physically," Dumbledore was nearly beaming now, "this is a glorious idea!"
"It wouldn't be necessary if it hadn't been for your stupidity," Remus snarled, "lets not forget that. The end doesn't justify the means."
"Of course, my boy," Dumbledore did his best to appear contrite, but failed spectacularly since he was still beaming too much. "Harry will help me take care of the pair of you, won't you Harry?"
"Me?" Harry said shyly, "I don't know anything about small children."
"Don't worry, my boy, you'll learn," Dumbledore assured him.
"Fine," the pair agreed, "this may be the best way out of the mess you have created."
Harry turned to Remus. "I was looking forward to a summer with you," he said ruefully, "but not in this way."
The werewolf hugged the boy tightly. "I'm sorry, Harry. I know you needed a friend and a mentor. I wish this had never happened, but now that it did…"
"We have to make the best of it," Harry finished, hugging back, "I know. And we are still going to have fun, Remus," he teased.
"Good boy," Lupin grinned.
Dumbledore finally managed to look regretful as he realized what his plans had cost Harry. The boy did need a father-figure and his decisions had robbed him of that chance once again. Determined to make up for it, he took two potions from his cupboard and measured out about half a glass.
"This will make Severus into a child that just turned two. Once I've got him settled, you take the potion – probably this evening when he is in bed. Perhaps you should…"
"Yes," Remus stood up, "it's best if he does not see me right away. Come Harry – we'll have dinner together and erm…pick up some outfits for me and Severus to wear…" he blushed.
"Good, good," Dumbledore took the glass, "I will see you this evening, then."
In the end, he didn't feed the potion to Severus right away. First he expanded his guest room and turned it into a nursery for two children. A cot for Severus and a child's bed for Remus. Toys would have to be bought, but he did transfigure some wooden blocks for the fireplace into a wooden train.
Then he gently sat down on the bed and carefully lifted Severus in one arm. He slowly fed him the potion, pleased that Severus did drink on his own.
After the glass was drained, he pulled the man close.
"I am sorry, Severus," he whispered, "I will make it up to you, I promise. You'll be a very happy little boy."
A light surrounded the boy in his arms and soon he held a small child, barely a toddler, either approaching his second birthday or no more than a few weeks past it. The child looked up, distraught at the unfamiliar surroundings. The bottom lip trembled.
"Shhhh, my little one, it's alright," Dumbledore soothed, rocking the child, "oh dear, this is all very confusing, isn't it?"
The baby cried and whimpered in his arms, struggling to escape. Finally, Dumbledore set him on the floor.
"I'm Albus, little one. What is your name?"
"Abuh?" the little boy asked warily.
"Yes, Albus, child. Very well done! What is your name?"
"Sevvuh," the boy obviously had some trouble speaking. It also appeared he wasn't used to being asked questions and told he did well.
"Come to the livingroom with me, sweetheart, and we will get you something to eat," the child was quite thin and the mention of food brought an interested gleam to the dark eyes.
Taking Dumbledore's hand, the baby walked with him to the table, where Dumbledore transfigured one of the chairs into a high chair and strapped him in. Lunch appeared – soft chicken noodles and fresh fruits. Severus turned out to be particularly fond of pears, and Dumbledore ended up cutting almost an entire pear into small pieces for him.
"It is just the two of us for now, little one," he told the child, "tonight, your big brother and Harry will be here, too. You can meet them in the morning. Won't that be nice?"
The child listened to him, but showed little interest in names he was not familiar with. After the late lunch, Dumbledore took out a small children's book.
"Would you like me to read to you, Severus?"
The boy's face brightened. "Book," he said.
"Yes, a book. First lets get you cleaned up and changed, shall we?"
Moments later, fitted with a diaper and some shrunken robes, the child was sitting in Dumbledore's lap. It wasn't so much reading the story as it was pointing at the pictures and naming objects. Severus was delighted whenever he heard a new word and kept up this nice new game for a long time.
"Broom," Dumbledore said, "House Elf. Wand. Snitch."
"Yes, Snitch," Dumbledore praised, "well done. Do you know this one?"
The child eyed the picture, his head cocked.
"That is a garden gnome, dear. Let's move on to the animals, shall we?"
By the end of the afternoon, Dumbledore had read a small pile of children's books and Severus was convinced that this strange man with the long soft hair was someone he definitely could learn to like.
After a quick dinner, he was washed up and tucked in bed in new pyjamas that Harry and Remus had apparently bought and sent up.
"Goodnight, sweet boy. When you woke up in the morning, your brother and Harry will be here," Dumbledore promised, kissing the child, who turned onto his stomach and tucked his thumb into his mouth.
Softly closing the door, Dumbledore went back into his living room to await the arrival of Remus and the second de-aging of that day.