Title: After The Bell
1Title: After The Bell
Author: Azure K Mello
Verse: The second of two stories in the 90 days 'verse.
Spoilers/Timeline: Set directly after The Boxer. It begins March 1998.
Summery/Warnings: Harry and Snape find their niche. Contains a lot of original characters.
"Do you want a drink?" asked Severus running his fingers through Harry's hair. The boy had his head in his lover's lap. Both of them were reading and it was late, most of the school was asleep.
"Pumpkin juice, please." He didn't look away from his book so he missed Severus smirk.
"You're legal, in you lover's quarters, and you want pumpkin juice?"
"Yeah, please." He sat up a little so that Severus could stand.
"Odd duck," Severus muttered but he was smiling and as he poured a whiskey a glass of juice he asked, "What are you reading now?"
The floor was littered with dozens of texts that Harry had been speeding through like Hermione on a sugar high the day after a paper'd been set. There were texts on psychology, children, the laws on cohabitating with Muggles, tax laws for charities and organizations running at a loss.
"Adoption in orphanages. Did you know that most kids don't mind the orphanage as much as they mind the possibility of being adopted? It's the anxiety of change and the fact that it's a possibility but it's not a given. It's hope without an end."
"Granger isn't in trouble, is she?"
Harry snorted, "They're waiting for marriage, 's'why Neville always slept with me."
"That's a solid plan, waiting. I don't think people do that any more."
Harry sat up to accept his drink. He folded over the page of the book to keep his place. Severus winced at the action but said nothing. "What are we waiting for?" asked Harry softly.
Severus replied, "To be ready."
"I am ready," protested Harry as Severus sat down next to him.
Severus nodded and said, "I know, but I'm not." He smiled a self-deprecating smile and started to look away.
Harry touched his face and guided him into a slow kiss, "We're not in any hurry," he assured. He leaned back into the kiss but ended up yawning into Severus' mouth.
The older man laughed, "We'll take these drinks to bed, come on."
Harry nodded and said, "I like that Friday's have become 'books in front of the fire' night, it's homey."
"Yes," agreed Severus in a dry tone. "We're the very picture of domesticity."
Laughing, Harry walked towards the bedroom, kicking off his slippers as he went, "We should get a pet, or a plant, or something."
Severus laughed, extinguishing the torches and following after Harry. They settled into bed with slow kisses, and fleeting touches, and were asleep within a half hour.
"Even the students are talking about it. Something has happened to Severus Snape. The cloud over his head has gone from black to grey. Even you must admit that it's odd, Albus." She said moving her queen three space to the left, "Check."
"Perhaps it's just the war ending, Minerva. It's a huge stress off our shoulders, his especially. And, of course, you must have noticed that Harry seems much better now too. He's even put on weight. These are good times. I advise you not to look a gift horse in the mouth. And I think it's actually checkmate."
"Why are you smiling?" she asked looking at him and not the board.
"Because all is right in our little world."
Harry was reading in bed while Severus was puttering about in the living room. Sometimes he wondered if Severus would explode if he didn't get a certain amount of pacing into the day. He heard the whistle of the kettle and hurried to finish the paragraph he was on. But just as he was about to get up Severus appeared in the doorway with two mugs.
"I thought I'd try your lying in thing and see how it works out," he said.
Harry looked at his watch and said, "It's only nine. That's not a lie in on Saturday." Severus rolled his eyes but brought the tea to bed. "Anyway, the real trick is not to get up in the first place." He sipped the tea he'd been handed and said, "Nice and sweet." Then he curled back into Severus' side under the cover and said, "Having not been out of bed, I'm now going to doze back into sleep."
Severus ran his hand through Harry's hair a little later and picked up the book that was still sitting on the bed, "What are you reading, Potter?" He asked softly as he looked at the title. It was a muggle book on adoption.
Clearly, he thought Harry was asleep because he jumped a little when Harry said, "I'll tell you my plan once I know it will work. I'll feel silly if it turns out I can't do it."
"You're not silly, Potter." Severus kissed Harry's forehead and slipped into sleep. He'd never slept in before.
Severus stared at him, blinking, for several moments after Harry had finished. Finally Harry asked, "Mad or foolish?"
"No, I'm just amazed that your exams aren't for another two months and you already have your life planned." Severus smiled and then shook his head to dispel the shock.
"I'm not going to university," Harry pointed out. He thought that if he pointed out the flaws it would save Severus time.
"That doesn't matter. This is Britain's premier wizarding school and nine are going from your year. You're cleverer, have more initiative, and are brighter than many university graduates. You'll be great at this."
"It's everything I've ever… Are you alright with this?"
Severus nodded. "Yes, I shall have to resign as head of house. But that's easily done."
"I wouldn't ask you to do that. This is your life."
"I think, if you're starting an orphanage-"
"House," interrupted Harry.
"-house; you'll need more help at night than Albus."
"Are you sure you're alright with this? This isn't going to be a job it's going to be my life."
Harry interrupted again, "You don't like kids."
"That's true. But you want this, and I want to see you happy. I want this to be our life."
School was soon over and everyone was going home. Home, a concept that was almost foreign to Harry. On the last day of school, he, Hermione, and Neville stood outside the gate holding hands in a tight circle. They shut their eyes tightly and when they opened again Harry said, "What do you think?"
"This is your house?" asked Hermione.
"It's huge," said Neville looking at the ancient manor.
"It can sleep up to forty, more if you count couches. It should be enough."
"So it's war orphans?" asked Neville.
Harry nodded, "And anyone who needs a place. I went through the ministry records. There are forty-three war orphans under the age of seventeen in Britain. Of those, most are with family and friends who seem to genuinely care. But I'm going to look into all of them."
"And you're all set up?" asked Hermione.
"We have all the papers in order. Grants and licenses from the muggle and wizard governments. We can start next week. And hey, in two years time, we'll have our very own medi-herbalist and advocate lawyer."
"Well," Neville said, "you'll have the lawyer at least."
"You'll be fine," Harry and Hermione said at once.
"I think a tour is in order," said Harry and the three went into the house.
Hermione was shocked in the kitchen. "A gas stove?"
"Connected to the gas oven, yes. We also have a refrigerator, microwave, and city water. We don't have any electric lights, but we have radios, flashlights. We're probably going to end up with a few Muggles over the years: we need to be able to accommodate them, make them feel comfortable; this will be their home too. We have a phone and a telly for the news and such. Plus, I'm still not sure about cooking with magic, and open fires worry me."
Later that night he cooked, in what was essentially a Muggle kitchen, for the first time in close to a year. Severus had offered to cook. He knew that Harry's family had forced him to do it for so long. But Harry had said no, he wanted to do this. He made shepherd's pie and cauliflower.
They sat up to eat promptly at eight. Severus watched Harry for a long time before picking up his fork, "Worried at all about tomorrow?"
"Why would I be? I don't have to go to an orphanage and find some boy."
"Severus, Remus is moving in tomorrow."
The man hid his grin by looking down, "I think that will be just fine."
Harry choked on a piece of meat. "What, just all of a sudden it's fine? Do you remember last time you two had to share a building?"
"It's the past. He was an idiot to forget his potion. But I shall make sure he never forgets again. And before that… he was used as a weapon by one of his close friends. I'm sure he was as frightened by the event as I, and probably more shocked."
"And this all changed-"
"Potter, last time we were 'sharing a building' as you put it you hadn't just founded an orph- house. You'll need help."
"Yes, but I can't ask you to live with someone you loath. I know you can justify it and pretend it's all fine but-"
"You didn't ask. I suggested it. And I don't 'pretend' anything."
"Where's Snape and what have you done with him?"
"I knocked him unconscious and locked him in our closet. He will probably make an appearance around the time Lupin eats the last custard tart and needs to have his wolf hide skinned off for the offense."
"Fair enough," Harry agreed. "There's no pudding tonight."
"I won't skin you for it." Severus finally started to eat, "This is good."
"So you'll be alright tomorrow?"
"I'll be fine." They ate and talked "shop" as they ate.
Severus cleaned all the dishes with a few swipes of his wand. Once he was done he placed the plates back in the cupboard and turned to look at Harry. "Make love to me tonight?" He asked softly. It had been over four months since the night in the cemetery and he had been careful to be slow. Wanting to not rush anything had made sense, especially after everything that had happened, but he couldn't see any reason to wait any longer. Seeing the strong young man standing in the kitchen of a house he had just bought, Severus knew that the only thing standing in the way was his own worries.
Harry blinked a couple of times before saying, "Really?"
"No, it was just a well timed joke."
"You're sure about this?" Severus nodded in response and Harry smiled. "And you're sure that you want me… to um…" He blushed redder than a stop light.
Severus didn't bully the words out of him. Oh, how things could change in such a short time. Instead of pushing he said, "I want you inside of me for our first real time together."
Real, it was the correct word and Harry said nothing for a moment. The other time didn't count: it hadn't been their choice. "Well, then I'm going to shower because I smell funny. Do you want to join me or meet me in bed?"
He knocked at the door of the miserable orphanage wearing his best suit. It was, in fact, his only suit; chosen a week ago by Hermione who'd talked to the tailor about cinching, and lapel width, and other unfathomable things. But she must have known something because the suit made his feel like an adult and as the door opened he said, "Hello, my name is Potter. I'd like to speak to Thomas Rider please."
"Why?" asked the woman in front of him. She had pinched features and looked tired.
"I'd like to talk to him about his family; we might be related."
"You won't get much from him. Had him two years never gotten the truth from him yet. Naught but a liar."
"May I take him for an ice cream?"
"You'll have to have him back by six if he's wanting tea."
"It's five fifty-five."
"He won't get anything after six."
"I'll take him to supper," Harry said feeling like he just wanted to get out of the place.
"He's not good company; all lies and quite."
Nodding Harry said, "Please call him down for me."
The woman bellowed up the stairs behind her. A small boy ran down looking frightened. He was thin and short for his seven years. "This man wants to talk to you," said the woman motioning towards Harry.
"Hello, sir," said the boy careful not to meet his eye.
"Hi," Harry said bending to be at eye level as he spoke, "I'm Harry Potter."
The woman inhaled and Harry looked up to her wide eyes and just smiled. The boy suddenly became animate and said, "My mummy and daddy told me stories about you."
"I knew you were the young man I was looking for." Harry beamed at him.
Thomas Rider looked suddenly wary, "How do I know you're the real Harry Potter?"
"Good question." Harry thought for a moment, "Ah," he finally said and pushed his fringe back off his face. The scar made both woman and child gasp. "How's that for proof?" He had been so self-conscious about the mar for so long. But, as Dumbledore had said so long ago, scars could be useful.
"I'm me," he agreed. "Mister Ridder, I'm very pleased to be able to tell you that the war is over. Would you like to come out to tea with me?"
The woman had gone red in the face as the pair had talked, "You don't mean to tell me that there are wizards! You can't be his imaginary superhero!" she said angrily.
"No, Madam, I don't mean to tell you anything at all."
"It's foolish to believe in magic. After all, unexplainable things never happen." Harry smiled again and held out a hand to the boy. Turning to the woman he said, "I shan't have him out too late. But I don't expect him to be staying with you much longer. I have some paperwork from our government and yours, we'll fill it out later. Good evening." They walked down the lane to a pub and Harry asked, "What should I call you, Mister Rider?"
"The ladies at the orphanage all call me Thomas."
"What do your friends call you?"
The boy shook his head, "Don't have none. I do weird stuff. Mummy and Daddy called me Tom."
"I didn't have friends when I was young either. I did weird stuff too. But we both know that it's not weird, Tom, it's magic."
"My mummy was a witch and Daddy was a wizard."
"I know. I'm a wizard too."
"I know," Tom nodded.
They picked a table in the beer garden and Harry said, "What would you like to eat, Tom?"
"I'm fine thank you. I just wanted to come out with you."
"No, I insist. It's not everyday I get to buy supper for a young wizard."
"May I have egg and chips?"
"Sure, that sounds delicious, I'll have the same. And a big salad to share I think. Drink?"
"Right, let me go order, sit tight." He came back moments later with a glass of squash each. They sipped their drinks in silence for a few moments before Harry asked, "So what weird stuff do you do?"
"I make stuff explode. People get mad and scared at me when it happens."
"There's a house where no one would get mad. I live there."
The food came and Tom said, "You're lucky."
"You could live there too. If you want. You could move in tonight."
"Yes, there aren't any other children there yet. But there will be."
Tom looked suddenly distrustful. "It's an orphanage."
"Well…" Harry paused. "I'm an orphan and my friends Severus and Remus who are running it with me are pretty much orphans but… I hope it'll be more like a big family. There aren't lots of rules or punishments. There won't be any more adoption fairs and things. It'll just be your home."
Harry was having problems locating the children. The ministry didn't have records of them after they'd been handed off to others. So far he had found Tom, Kelly, and two Jims. Even though he'd only been searching for two weeks he was anxious. Every night after the boys were in bed Severus, Remus, and he would sit down and go through lists of leads.
One morning as everyone was eating breakfast a head popped into the kitchen fire. "Hello, Kingsley." Harry and Remus said almost at once.
"Hello, gentleman, boys."
"Hello, Minister." The boys said in chorus. It wasn't unusual for the newly appointed Minister for Magic to pop his head in at breakfast just to say hello and see how things were going.
His face looked strained as he said, "Harry, would you mind coming over here? Someone wants a word with us both."
"Surely," Harry stood, placed his dish in the sink, and Apparated directly into the Minister's office.
Kingsley Shackelbolt was deeply pleased that the only person capable of sliding, without even a thought, through the Ministry's shields was Harry Potter and that he was only interested in running a children's home. The woman who had desired the interview wore the uniform of an Unspeakable and exchanged nods with Harry as he sat.
"You don't report to me. So is there a reason why you've called Mr. Potter and me together?"
"This isn't to do with work, not really, Minister. There were two operatives, partners. They haven't checked into the office in five hundred and forty-eight days. It's not unusual for people to go deep undercover. But protocol meant that I checked their logged field notes this morning to see if they're alive or not. They can log their notes from anywhere. The last time they'd written in was a little over a year ago. That was the night before an attack near where they were stationed."
"Right," Kingsley nodded, "still not with you. I'm not privy to this sort of information. Why are you telling us this. Were they… do Harry and I know them, is this a courtesy?"
"If only, Minister, no. Because of the nature of our work, Unspeakables need to be unattached young people. Orphans, no family, they were perfect and they were a perfect team. Too perfect apparently. Realizing that they were both dead, I went to clean out their desks. In her desk I found a picture of him and a young boy. He was wearing a wedding ring. The back of the photo said 'Alun and Daddy'." She handed the photo to Kingsley. "I would say the picture is about two years old. The boy must be about six now, if he's still alive."
"Address?" asked Harry. The woman rattled off a location is South Wales. Turning to Kingsley he said, "Minister?"
"Floo me when you have a chance."
Harry Apparated out and Kingsley turned to the woman and thanked her for coming to him. She smiled, "I'm not sure if I've broken protocol. This has never happened before."
"Thank Merlin for that."
The moment he saw the house Harry felt relieved. Every rock and stick in the yard was floating several inches off the ground. The boy was alive. He walked carefully up the path and knocked at the door. He could feel the wards on the house and knew he could easily break them instead he waited for the letter slot to swing upwards.
"Hi, Alun, are you okay?"
"Who are you?" a little voice asked.
"I'm Harry Potter," the gasp he was expecting came quickly. All the war orphans had been fed stories about him the way other children were told Padington Bear stories.
"Why should I believe you?" asked the boy.
Harry sat cross legged in front of the door so that he could speak to the boy and look him in the eye. "You shouldn't. I could be a creep. But I bet your parents keep Veritaserum here." Alun nodded. "Why don't you go get it for me? I'll take some, you can ask me whatever questions you like."
Alun receded into the house and came back moments later with a vial of the clear liquid. He pushed it through the letter slot to Harry who took a swig from it without preamble.
"What's your real name?"
"I'm really Harry Potter."
"The Harry Potter or a Harry Potter?"
"The Harry Potter," Harry pushed up his fringe and pointed to the scar.
"If I let you in are you going to hurt me?"
"No, Alun. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Are you here because my parents aren't?"
"Do you know what happened to them?"
"Yes." The door opened.
"Did they leave me?"
"No. They died. I'm sorry."
Alun nodded, "I was afraid they were being tortured. Or that they just left me."
"No, no, they died in a fight. I'm really sorry."
"How's the war going?"
"It's over. I killed Voldemort."
"You just dosed me with truth serum. The war is over. I'm sorry it took so long for someone to come find you."
"Mummy told me that I might be alone for a long time 'cause no one knows about me."
"The Ministry only found out about you today."
"Do you work for the ministry?"
"No, I run a house for war orphans."
"I'm a war orphan now."
"Yeah, I came to take you with me, if that's okay."
"I've been lonely," said Alun as he stood up. "You better come in."
As Harry stood and entered the house he got a face full of stale disgusting air. The house was filthy and Harry winched at the sight. The boy he followed into the kitchen reeked. Harry's eyes watered as the smell of rot and decay hit him. There were empty jars of peanut butter and marmite everywhere. There was a microwave that had obviously been magically rewired and a freezer chest. There were half eaten TV dinners everywhere.
Alun saw where Harry's eyes were fixed and said, "Mummy and Daddy taught me to use that; just in case."
"That's good." Harry felt ill at the sight in front of him and spoke softly, in a disconnected voice. "Alun, why don't we go pack up stuff you'll need. This will still be your house but I think you should come live at my house. There's little boys to keep you company and everyone's nice. You shouldn't have to take care of yourself. You've done a very good job so far but it shouldn't be your job to care of yourself."
"I think I'd like that."
"I'm very sorry no one found you sooner, but I promise, you'll never be left alone like this again. This won't stop being your house. You can always come back here but you need adults around."
Alun nodded but he saw how distressed Harry was and asked, "Am I in trouble?"
"No," Harry shook his head, "not at all. I'm just shocked that you were able to live like this."
"You don't like my house?"
"It's not that, Alun, it's a nice house. I just wish someone had been here for you." Harry looked at the boy and took his hand giving it a soft squeeze. They went upstairs to pack quietly.
By the time they got to Harry's house the man was silently livid. He helped the child take a bath and scrubbed a year's worth of dirt and dead skin off the little body. Afterwards, he helped Alun unpack as Severus cooked them a late supper. "Liver and onions okay with you, Alun?" Severus asked the boy before he began cooking.
"My mummy used to make that."
"Alright," Severus nodded. Once they had finished settling Alun into his new room, the three of them settled down to a meal. Harry helped Alun into bed and showed him where their room was if he needed anything in the night.
"Sleep well. And tomorrow you'll meet Remus, you'll like him: he's cool." Remus had locked himself in his room an hour prior to sunset, it was the first night of the full moon.
"Thank you, Harry."
"It's my pleasure. Sweet dreams." Harry shut the door quietly and stood there for a moment.
"You alright?" asked a gentle voice from behind him. He shook his head. "Come to bed," Severus suggested in the same gentle tone.
"Yeah, I have to Floo Kingsley first." He walked determinedly into their bedroom and marched straight to the fireplace. In his haze he forgot to throw any Floo Powder into the flames, didn't state an address and shouted, "Kingsley."
Severus could hear only one side of the conversation but he placed a hand on Harry's shoulder in silent comfort. The discussion was over quickly and Harry said, "The paperwork will be dry before noon tomorrow." He noticed the way Severus was looking at him and asked, "What?"
"You didn't Floo him."
"You just saw me, I had a conversation. Don't tell me you're going senile."
"No, you did have a conversation, that much is correct. But you never opened the Floo system. You just put your head in a lit fire and screamed a name out."
Harry looked at the fireplace and finally said, "Ah, well, I'm in a bad mood. I guess the Floo system thought it best not to fight with me."
Severus watched him for a moment and said, "I'm so glad you don't want to rule the world."
"Don't make fun."
"I'm completely serious."
"I'm going to brush my teeth." Harry walked across the landing to the loo. He left the door open as he brushed his teeth and scrubbed his face.
Severus watched him from their bedroom doorway. As the younger man approached he leaned out the way for Harry to pass him. The door shut behind Harry without being touched.
"I," he started and striped off his shirt. "Can I just show you?"
Severus nodded, "Just let me in."
Harry dropped his shields and showed him everything from stepping into the Minister's office to Apparating back home. Then he looked away and said, "They wanted a kid so badly that they broke all the rules to have him. They cared enough to prepare him to live alone for a year, taught him to use a fucking microwave. But they didn't get out of the war. And they were voluntarily doing it. They weren't dragged in, like you, like me, they signed up."
"Potter, you know that your parents would have done anything to get out for you. By the time you came along they were too embroiled."
"I know that. This isn't about them. Alun's parents could have just run, or faked their deaths, or come clean to the Ministry. They weren't high up, they were operatives. They could have gotten out."
"They thought they were protecting his future."
"They screwed his immediate future. I think having parents around in the here and now would be more useful for him then knowing his parents helped the cause. I think not having been left alone for a year would have been more beneficial for that poor little kid."
"Yes," Severus agreed, "I'm not arguing, just saying what they thought."
"Well they should have had more forethought. They should have given up playing at espionage to take care of their boy. They didn't deserve a child."
Severus stood silent and thinking and finally he said, "You fall in love with them so quickly."
Harry stepped into the man's embrace and said, "Every one of them."