Severus Snape sat in his cold dreary house, in front of his cold dreary hearth, for hour after cold dreary hour. As the room grew gradually lighter and then darker again, Severus was unable to move, unable to react, unable to think, until through his mental fog he heard a weak chirp.
Snapping out of his trance, Severus sprang up like a man possessed and rushed to where the egg laid abandoned on his desk. The tiny creature inside had done its best to hatch, despite the spells holding its shell fast. Yet after hours of struggling in vain, it had only managed to get the tip of the first purple wing out. Now its energy was almost totally depleted.
Severus quickly cast a 'Finite' to remove the binding spells, then gently pried back the broken pieces of shell around the wing and carefully lifted the creature out of the debris. Staring down at the fragile life in his palm, he realized that it symbolized everything precious that he had loved and lost in his life - happiness long thought dead and grieved over that had been miraculously reborn, and along with it, another chance. If only it wasn't already too late, if only he wasn't doomed to repeat the same mistake twice.
The ugly coloured little creature gasped slightly, shuddered, and then laid still and cold in his hand. NO! He refused to let it die! It absolutely would NOT!
Rushing with it to his small basement lab, Severus started rummaging frantically through all the bottles and jars until he found a small vial of blood red viscous liquid. Using a small dropper, he slowly forced a trickle of the thick potion down its tiny throat, and then carefully bathed it in tepid water infused with chamomile and lavender to warm it, and gently applied citrus oils laced with diluted bundimun to clean it.
As he worked, he thought about the Potters - Lily was so optimistically positive that they could all be 'one big happy family' if they just tried. And the infuriating Potter junior was so unquestioningly positive that he, Severus Snape, could somehow do the impossible and save the egg for him - which he was convinced would also 'save this one big happy family' from complete and utter destruction. While Potter senior was as idiotically positive as the other two, that they could likewise to the impossible, and somehow put the past behind them and… (gag)… be 'friends'.
The negativity in his soul repelled away from all this positivity, much as oppositely charged magnets would. In a flash of insight that shook him to the very core, though years late in coming, he realized that as much as he loved Lily, marriage to him would have never worked out.
His naturally dour and cynical attitude would have gradually smothered the very things about her that he loved so much, while James' nurtured her to grow and blossom. Marriage to him would have ended with Lily resenting him and becoming bitter, and he would have hated her for it. While he was being totally honest (since there was no one around to witness it), he would also admit that their irritating son wasn't solely the worst parts of James Potter, but a fusion of the best parts of both of them.
The fates were right to have made those three a family, he thought contemptuously. They all deserved each other - the stupid, stubborn, positively pigheaded Gryffindors that they are!
As he worked on the dying creature, a bizarre thought popped into his mind - that if he were to be successful, it would be the sign he needed to do something even more bizarre - tell James Potter that he was right. Correction, that he wasn't completely wrong.
There was no need to go overboard, it being best to stick with the policy of never telling a Potter that they are right about anything, even if only in his own mind. With the wager made with fate, he worked diligently throughout the night, rejecting the thought of giving up time after time, until exhaustion finally overpowered him into unwilling submission.
Slumped over his worktable he had fitful dreams of running through a forest after something he couldn't quite see. It was just an impression of white feathers, the faint rustle of wings, a child's giggle, and the echo of running feet, but the desire to know what it was, kept him following it farther and farther until shadows swallowed the path behind him. All around him, construction paper Easter lilies nodding on impossibly bright green pipe-cleaner stems lit up the forest floor. Only when he reached out to touch them, they burst into flames in his hand and he could hear the Dark Lord's laughter ring out mockingly behind him. Looking back, no one was there.
Following the illusive winged thing deeper and deeper into the forest, it finally lead him to a clearing, in the centre of which stood a cottage that looked startlingly like Lily's cottage from Godric's Hollow. From inside he could hear the music of her laughter and he longed to knock on the door. Then he heard other voices from inside – the voice of the Marauders. They were all there. James was wrong - Lily didn't need him.
As he turned to leave, the combination of a burst of furious feathers from above and a small body tackling him from below, knocked the wind out of him and drove him back until he stumbled and fell through the now open doorway. When he opened his eyes and looked up from his prone position, all around him were the faces of the mangy Marauders and one lovely Lily. It was like waking up in the middle of a bad low budget version of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, sans a few dwarfs. Unfortunately, the few that remained – Dopey, Smuggy, and Furry - were not the best of the lot in his opinion.
Steeling himself for a barrage of insults, he was mystified when instead they all started smiling, and not the 'I'm-about-to-hex-you-into-oblivion' smiles he expected, but ones of warm welcome he did not. Then James Potter himself reached out, and pulled him to his feet, saying he was glad that he had come. After the rest accosted him with one armed hugs and pats on the back, Potter junior, dressed as a little shepherd boy, grabbed hold of his hand, and looking up at him with those brilliant emerald eyes, he declared that now that the third wise man had finally arrived, the Christmas play could go on.
Potter junior then led him to a large family table where they all sat down for dinner, which though it had the aroma of a traditional Easter dinner of early spring lamb, looked suspiciously like it was made of chocolate, surrounded on every side by every kind of pie, pastry, and sweet imaginable. Even odder than the menu was the fact, that instead of his customary all black ensemble he was now dressed in a soft sky blue jumper with shooting stars racing across it, comfortable faded muggle jeans, and of all things bright pink fluffy bunny slippers. Although none of these oddities seemed to faze the others at all - of course, they were all dressed as Christmas elves while sporting large white furry rabbit ears instead of the normal pointed elf variety, so really… what could they say?
Severus started to wonder how Albus had managed to invade his dreams, as he couldn't think of anyone else who would affect this massive contradictory transfiguration of wardrobe, menu, and holidays. When Lily junior, who was sitting on his lap of all places, cooed prettily, wrapped her tiny fingers around his thumb, drew it coyly to her little pink mouth, and with a giggle chomped down on it with her very sharp little first baby tooth.
The sudden pain woke him to find that he was indeed bleeding, as the little creature with its large amber eyes and covering of soft down, was feasting voraciously on his thumb.
"Ouch! Stop that you little beast or I will regret saving you!" he snapped, trying unsuccessfully to shake it off until he had the brilliant idea of luring it away from his own flesh with a meal of a stray bowtruckle that had escaped from one of the upturned jars. The twiggy snack didn't satisfied it for long, and still hungry, the little ball of down with the two huge eyes, screeched plaintively at him before toppling over comically on its head trying to get his attention and more bowtruckles.
"You're an owl?"
Severus was dumbfounded. That was the last thing he had expected. He had believed for the past week, that the egg he was helping Potter hatch was most likely that of a chicken, and so didn't understand the child's overwhelming preoccupation with its 'suitability'. Of course, a pet chicken was not common in towns and cities, pets of that sort more often found in the countryside. Still, not completely unheard of. However, a 'hatch-it-yourself' kit for an Easter chick was a trifle more abnormal.
When the Marauders arrived, more concerned with Harry's proximity to the egg than to himself - a much more obvious threat in his mind, it hadn't taken too much of a leap for him to put two and two together, and come to the conclusion that the egg was one of the more unusual and dangerous varieties. Jumping off from that theory - it wasn't a stretch from there to conclude from the mottled colouring that it was most likely a dragon and not the fault of the Dursley demon as Potter had led him to believe. The initial peek that the others had seen of purple, green and pink wrinkled wing had seemed to confirm it in their minds as well.
Stroking its fine dry fuzz, Severus realized that the dye he had tried to banish, with his earlier attempt to clean its shell, had instead travelled though the porous outside casing to the little bird developing on the inside, permanently transferring the Easter egg colouring to its skin. While the little hatchling was still wet with the albumen fluid, its fine down was translucent, making the membranes of the wings look very leathery and dragonesque with their odd colouring.
Thankfully though, the bath of citrus oils and bundimun had cleaned it up quite nicely, and while the skin was permanently discoloured, its outer layer of down was all pure white, except for one lingering pink polka dot right on the top of its perturbed looking little head. Nevertheless, Severus had no doubt that when its feathers grew in, it would be a very fine looking snowy owl indeed.
A low sound, never before heard in the dilapidated house on Spinner End, rumbled through the lab, gradually growing louder until Severus broke out in uncontrollable laughter. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he chortled with glee as he remembered how shocked the Marauder's were when they first saw the wing, and how they had all rapidly jumped to the wrong conclusions. The big bad brave Gryffindors - terrified of a tiny little owl. Oh, to see such chagrin on their faces when they found out would be priceless!
It was far too good a joke to keep all to himself, but… with whom could he share it - when he had no friends?
When she heard the decisive single rap on the door, Lily called out to her husband from her place on the comfy couch, where she was lying amid drifts of used tissues and chocolate wrappers. "James! Sirius is at the door again. Will you please tell him to go away? He keeps trying to get back in after I locked his door from this side. For someone with no attention span he is being far too persistent! He just won't give up, and I'm still not ready to talk to him."
As soon as they got back from Spinner's End the day before, Lily had barricaded their flat from his friends, and had cried almost non-stop, that is when she wasn't eating the ears off from the stash of chocolate bunnies they had bought to hide for Harry to find. James was just grateful that by apparating, he had arrived back at the flat minutes before anyone else, and so was already inside when she banned the others, otherwise he would have had to sleep on Sirius' small settee instead of in his own comfortable bed.
Whenever James thought that Lily had cried herself out, Sirius or Remus (even though he was guiltless) would try apologizing again for their part in ruining her cherished relationship with Severus. Then she would start up again, and a few more earless bunnies would meet their demise.
James wasn't too worried. He knew that she wasn't really too upset at Sirius anymore, and that she had never been upset at Remus to start with. He realized that much of her emotional state right now was due to her erratic hormones, and that eventually she would let his friends back in. However, he was keeping her wand well away from her, just in case. If a few bunnies must be sacrificed for his friend's safety, so be it.
"Okay for now, but you're going to have to talk to him sometime - and soon. Easter dinner is about ready, and I invited both of them." James remarked as he went to open the door, drawing his wand, just in case Sirius decided to be obnoxious and to try and push his way in when he did so.
"What do you want? I already told you that…" the rest of his lecture died on his lips as he saw who was on the other side of the door, "…you aren't Sirius," James said stating the obvious as his hand instinctively raised his wand to protect his family.
"I want you to step aside and let me in." Severus Snape said dryly even though James' wand was mere millimetres from his throat. "And I assure you Potter, I am quite serious. That is of course, unless there was an unexpressed expiration date on your invitation?"
"Er… no. No! Come in, please do!" James said grinning stupidly, and moving aside. Yesterday as the clocked ticked closer and closer to six thirty, he had hoped against hope that the doorbell would ring, and then with each tock of the clock after, the hope died more and more. After that, he really didn't ever expect him to show up.
"Before I do, I just want to make it very clear that I am not a 'Wise Man', nor I do wear fluffy pink bunny slippers, or dress like an elf… ever."
"Um… never thought you were… er… or that you did." James replied trying not to snicker at the implied confession to stupidity the dour man had just unwittingly made. Only when Sirius and Remus, who had come down the outside stairs to the landing to see who had come, and arrived just in time to hear it as well and broke up laughing, he failed miserably at his attempt to remain sober.
"I fail to see the humour. Perhaps I was wrong to come after all," Severus bristled, but as he turned on his heels to leave, he found his way blocked by the other two marauders.
"Not so fast Snape," Sirius said pushing him backwards towards the door. "You're my ticket back in to Lily's good graces! Now that you're here, there is no way I am letting you leave."
"Nor I," Remus said backing him up and stepping up to help block Severus' way out.
"Get out of my way Black, before I sic the Dementors on you," he sneered.
When both Remus and Sirius put a hand out to stop him, at the same time that Severus stiffly tried to move between them, he found himself off balance in a very déjà vu moment. Suddenly he was looking up from the floor, flat on his back, with all the mangy Marauders grinning eerily over him, and one red-eyed puffy-faced (but still very lovely) Lily kneeling beside him.
"Oh Sev! I knew you didn't really mean it! I just knew it!"
Lily joyfully threw her arms around his neck as he tried to rise. Nevertheless, looking at her red swollen eyes still wet with tears, Severus doubted her statement and he felt a rush of shame for being the cause of her unhappiness once again.
Although his plans had only called for returning the owl, laughing at all of them, rubbing it in their faces, and then leaving again promptly (with as much ado and pomp as he could manage), Severus found himself unable to resist Lily's happy onslaught. The thought that he was the one to both cause her tears, and then to stop them, was disconcerting, but it gave him the courage to ask the one question that had been foremost on his mind for the past twenty-four hours.
"I am only here to return something that belongs to your son. Besides…I thought you said it was too late… didn't you?" he asked softly into her deep auburn hair, as she continued to hug him.
At that question, Lily let go and sat up wiping away her remaining tears with no less than three handkerchiefs presented to her from all sides. Severus resigned himself to the inevitable rejection. However, once again, his idea of the natural order events was thrown out of kilter when, instead of Lily answering his question, it was Sirius who spoke up first.
"If there is one thing I learned from my lengthy holiday in the North Sea is that it is never too late. Not until your soul has been sucked out through your eyeballs, and even then there was this wild theory going around the cells that if you … Ooof! Moony! What the heck was that for?" A well-placed elbow diverted Sirius off his new tangent, "…I was just saying..." the rest of his thought was then lost in the look on Lily's face. When he saw her smiling gratefully up at him, a wave a relief wash over him as if he had just had a good belly rub and ear scratch, and he fell happily silent with his tongue lolling out of one corner of his mouth.
"Sirius is right Sev… until your soul has been sucked out through your eyeballs it will never be too late. And even then I'd probably still give you one more chance." Lily said seriously, with a small smile playing on her lips.
"Why?" Severus finally croaked out, his throat dry from emotion.
"Because Sev, whether you like it or not. You are a part of a family. My family. This family," she said waving her hand at the others in the room. "…and I love you Sev, and I want you to stay. We all do. Don't we boys?" this she asked almost challengingly, but their heads were all nodding in agreement with a chorus of 'yeses' raining down on Severus' ears before she had even finished.
Holding Severus' face in her hands and looking deep into his eyes Lily finally answered his question. "You asked me to make a choice, and I told you I couldn't. But I never told you why. I couldn't choose then, because I had already made my choice. Yes, I chose James for my husband, but I choose you Severus Snape as my best friend. Sev - I choose you."
"Oh," for the second time in his life Severus was for a loss of words.
"What? That's it? Just an 'Oh.' After all this trial and tribulation, and there's no critical comeback? No razor-sharp riposte? No witty wisecrack? I must say I am a little disappointed," Sirius needled just because he simply couldn't help himself.
"Sirius!" Lily threatened, her bright eyes darkening, "Remember! You are still in the dog house."
"Yes Ma'am! Grovelling at your feet now commencing!" Sirius fell to his knees and bowed to the ground. "Milady, your most humble servant is at your command."
"Now that is a neat spell Lily." Severus said impressed, gaining his back his dry sense of humour immediately. "Was it a wandless 'Imperio'? May I try one on him too?"
"I think not," she laughed in return, finally getting up and indicating to Sirius he could stop now. "It would be very irresponsible of me to let others play with my toys."
At a shocked quirked eyebrow from Severus at this remark, the rest just broke up laughing again.
"It's a long story, for family only. So remind me to tell you some day... brother." James grinned, holding out his hand to pull Severus up.
"You are not going to… hug me." Severus said more as a statement of fact rather than as a question.
"If he tries, I'll put him in a full body bind," Lily laughed at the look of horror on his face.
After a slight hesitation, Severus fought off his deep-seated revulsion and took the offered hand.
As soon as he did the déjà vu feeling from his dream returned. It came complete with one-sided hugs. Them hugging him anyway. For his part he remained stiff and unresponsive, and glaring full force at Lily for not living up to her end of the deal. Her excuse was that she was laughing too hard to wield her wand properly. Then hearty congratulatory pats on the back were added to the assault, as if he had just been awarded a prize such as the First Order of Merlin.
Glancing about at the cosy room, friendly faces, with the aroma of Easter dinner wafting in from the kitchen, he finally comprehended that he could be a part of it if he chose to be, and he realized that he had indeed won a prize.
When they led him to the scrubbed wood table and invited him to sit down and eat, he felt as if he were back in his dream. Lily had even plopped the giggling red headed Holly down on his lap the minute he sat down so she could go into the kitchen to help with the food. All that were missing were the elf costumes, rabbit ears, and the little shepherd boy. Come to think of it… where was the little shepherd boy?
"Where is Potter?" he blurted out.
"I'm right here." James said as he swung out of the kitchen with a platter of roasted spring lamb balanced in one hand and a plate of jacket potatoes in the other.
James was amused to see that Holly had already entwined her little velcro fingers into Severus' long lanky hair, and was chewing on his robes. In response, he was absentmindedly bouncing her on his knee. Perhaps he should have warned him that Lily had just fed her… nah! He would find out soon enough.
"No! The other Potter. The short one."
"Harry? You know you can call him that if you'd care to. He'd like it, and it would be less confusing than calling us both 'Potter'. Of course, you could call me James, and I wouldn't bite your head off either – but it's up to you. As long as Lily is happy, I am happy," he said putting down the platters. "Hey… where is Harry? He was here right a moment ago helping me cook dinner. He really is good at cookery. In fact, he cooked ninety percent of it, well okay a hundred percent, but I watched," he added proudly.
"A lofty accomplishment for you, I am sure." Severus remarked dryly testing the waters.
James just shrugged good-naturedly and grinned back unfazed.
"My wife, son, and obviously now my daughter, all think you're wonderful. Be as condescending as you want, I guess I can put up with you too. Besides, I can't complain - I set myself up for that one."
Friendly banter putting him completely out of his element, Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and without realizing what he was doing he put Holly to his shoulder and started patting her back, oblivious to the long stream of baby spit up now running down the back of his robes. He was still unsure of what was going on, and had to keep pinching himself to verify some unending surreal nightmare didn't have him in its grip.
'What happened to all the arrogant Gryffindors I so love to jibe? This little nest of Hufflepuffs is just too surreal. Hm… nest… that reminds me…'
"Where did you say Potter was? I have something to return to him."
"He's probably in his room. He tends to still shy away when he hears people come to the door. I'll let him know dinner's on the table." Remus said getting up and waving the others back down as he headed for the children's bedroom.
Remus smiled to himself at how well the day had turned out after all. He really preferred it when everyone just got along and liked each other. In his opinion, you never could have enough friends, no matter what shape, size, or attitude they came with. He was glad that after so many years of tension and fighting, James, Sirius, and Severus seemed to be trying to put it behind them. He had always wanted to get to know Severus better, and not just because he was a master at potions, and could help him out with wolfsbane, but because Lily was his friend, and he knew that he must be worth knowing if Lily thought he was. The inclusion of Severus into their family was truly a celebration worthy of the season.
Opening the children's door the smile fell off his face, and all the tension that had been slowing seeping from his shoulders, jumped painfully back into his muscles when he saw Harry busily trying to shove his pillow into his book bag. There was only one reason he could think of that Harry would be doing that. He started forward to let Harry know he was there, and to try to find out what was wrong, when he saw Harry take his stuff stag out of his bag, give it a hug, and stuff it into Holly's crib with a sob. Godfathers were great, but there were times when a little boy just needed his daddy.
He quietly reclosed the door and rested his forehead on the jamb. He suddenly felt a hundred years old instead of just thirty. Here they all were celebrating their family, and from what he had just seen, Harry felt as alone as ever. Remus took a deep breath to gather his wits before turning back around to face James. When he did, his face was pale and his breathing uneven.
"Are you alright Remus?" James asked with concern. The full moon had just past and the bad batch of wolfsbane this last cycle, on top of the half doses he had been taking for several cycles before, had all conspired to take their toll, as a result Remus' health was not at its best.
"I'm okay Prongs…" Remus said faintly grabbing the arm of the couch and sitting down heavily. "It's not me, it's your Prongslet. You better go talk with him, he's running away."
"Oh no he's not Moony." James flatly denied, stabbing a piece of carved meat from the platter. He was absolutely certain of it this time. After losing his son three times since getting him back from the Dursleys, he had given up on the idea of putting a monitoring spell on his door key, and put it on Harry himself. Now there was no way Harry could run away, or anyone could take him, without him knowing. The spell would have alerted him immediately if he had left the flat, or even got more than twenty meters away (he wasn't taking any more chances).
"He is right where he should be, under my roof, except that he should be at the table with us, having some of this delicious food that he cooked. 'HARRY! GET OUT HERE! DINNER! WE HAVE COMPANY!"
"James, it's not polite to yell at the table." Lily admonished him walking in from the kitchen with platter of hot cross buns to add to the meal. "What will Sev think of us?"
"That you are the typical uncouth Gryffindors." Sev replied wryly.
Remus could see them heading off the subject, so before they got too far, he decided to reel them back into focus. "Let me rephrase James… Harry is preparing to run away."
"No!" Lily gasped, dropping the platter with a clatter.
"No he's not Lily. I won't let him run away again." James assured her, motioning her to sit down as he spelled the buns off the floor to dust them off to pronounce them good as new, taking a bite of one. Lily looked at him sideways and took them back off the table.
"Again?" Severus asked narrowing his eyes speculatively at James, the thoughts of possible abuse once again fraying the edges of his concern. It wouldn't be the first time that it was the last person you would suspect of such an atrocity. In his experience, children did not just run away from home for no reason at all. Even if he had not taken an oath to protect the boy-who-lived, as an adult he would still have a responsibility to protect any child that crossed his path from harm.
"As your child's teacher I have a duty to ask this, and I must demand a truthful answer - why would your son repeatedly flee the familial bonds?"
"Er… the first time it was just a big misunderstanding…" James said sheepishly, and Lily and Remus both nodded their heads in agreement.
"Well, Lily and I just found him last Christmas Eve and rescued him from the in-laws…"
"Rescued?" Severus ironically thought about the Dursley's interview in the Daily Prophet that claimed a 'horde of wizards' had stolen the child from their loving arms. Potter did have a big head, but he and Lily - an entire 'horde'? He had underestimated the Dursleys. He didn't think they had that much imagination between the lot of them.
"Another long story, the short version is that after we got him back, Harry got this idea into his head that we didn't want him because he was in the way, and thought we didn't have room for him or some such thing, so he ran away to the play park. But Remus found him, brought him back, and we talked it all out. So it's all good now."
"Is it?" Severus asked doubtfully.
"Then why did he do it again?"
"Oh that? Well that was just another misunderstanding…"
"Another long story I presume?"
"Er… yeah. The short version is that Harry got this idea into his head that we didn't want him because we couldn't afford to keep him, so he ran away to Gringotts."
"Gringotts? Odd choice."
"Actually, it was quite brilliant of him and it stands to reason, since that's where all the money is." He said noting out of the corner of his eye that Sirius was looking terribly smug. "Anyway Sirius brought him back, we talked it all out, and it's good now."
"Is it?" Severus asked still doubtful, as there seemed to be a reoccurring theme arising.
"Quite," James replied firmly.
"Then why did he do it Saturday and why does the werewolf think he is doing it again now, just one day later?"
"Er… I don't know." James admitted. "Moony is right, maybe I better go and find out."
"Before you do, how about the rest of you? Do any of you know why Potter is upset this time?" Severus polled the group only to have a lot of worried looks exchanged and several shrugs returned.
Thought not, he snorted, but at least all his clueless Gryffindors seemed to be back from their short trip through the rosy world of Hufflepuff-land. Regretfully, on their trek back, they had made a wide detour around Ravenclaw-city. They could have benefited from a jaunt through that local.
After working closely with Harry for the past week, Severus felt he had a very good idea of what it was going on in his miniscule nine-year-old mind. Now that he knew who 'the parents' actually were, and hearing some of the story from the other side, it put an entirely different perspective on things. Nevertheless, exacting man he was, he needed to verify his theory. Standing up, he deposited the burpy baby unceremoniously in the nearest lap.
"You will not be necessary Potter, I will talk with the boy myself," he announced.
"And just what are you going to say to him, that I haven't already?" James snapped.
"It's not so much what I am going to say, as what I am going to ask."
"So what are you going to ask?"
"Why it is that he is upset. I am sure none of you dimwits thought to come right out and ask him directly."
"Ouch!" Sirius commented laughingly as James' red face confirmed the fact.
"Ah… I think maybe James should be the one." Remus started to suggest from the couch, only to have Lily contradict him.
"Let's let Sev try Remus," Lily encouraged, "We haven't been doing too great a job lately in that department, and Sev does have his ways of getting information. Maybe he can really find out why Harry is upset."
"Quite true, I do." Severus agreed feeling superior. "I have something to return to the boy, which may very well resolve the issue without further muddling the waters. I will be back. In the meantime you may occupy yourself with this." Taking several items out of his pocket, he tossed a rolled up parchment on the table in front of Sirius.
"What is it?"
"My terms. That is your copy, I kept the original." Turning with an impressive billow of robes, he stalked towards Harry's door, flicking his wand surreptitiously as he went, so that from behind it looked as though even the door was fearful of being in his way and opened before him so he wouldn't have to break his stride.
After the door completed its job, by closing silently but swiftly behind him as soon as he passed through, Sirius gave out a low admiring whistle as he picked up the parchment and tossed it over to Remus. "Wicked! I gotta learn how to do that thing with the robes!"
On his short trip to Harry's room, Severus had considered (and promptly discarded) several strategies. The child obviously was not a brilliant learner like his mother, if in the face of overwhelming evidence he failed thrice to grasp the concept that his parents wanted him, to the point of his running away. Therefore, the Ravenclaw analytical method would be useless. In addition, the child clearly had not had enough experience with caring adults to realize that his furry godfathers would do anything for him, including rolling over and giving up their lives if need be. Therefore, the Hufflepuff touchy-feely method (which he was not good at anyway) would fall short. Without even asking, he had no doubt that they had already bungled things enough with their Gryffindor 'why-bother-to-think' tactics. That left Slytherin cunning as the only viable approach, and secretly Severus was proud of it. Perhaps some of his lessons had sunk in after all.
After taking the precaution of putting locking spells on all the entrances, and a Muffliato spell on the room to prevent eavesdropping, Severus stood silently for several minutes while the boy-who-lived-to-continually-make-him-regret-his-actions went about his packing and deliberately ignored him. Severus did not appreciate being ignored, especially when he had swallowed his pride, and had even endured invasion of his personal space, all for the sole benefit of the wretched child who was now ignoring him. He carefully put one of the two items he still held in his hand, back in his pocket for now, and then folded his arms in front of him holding the other.
"Mister… 'Potter', please stop what you are doing." When Harry merely glanced sideways at him out of the corner of his eye, he added in a low calm voice, "Yes, I know that your name is not 'Krueger'. Now please sit. I desire to converse with you."
"Don't haft to. This is my room, at least for a little while. So go away… I'm busy." Harry sniffed and turned his back to him. He pulled his maths book out of his book bag, tossed it on his bed, and tried shoving in his favourite jumper.
"Very well I will go. However, I found a photo on the school playground that I believe might belong to you. I thought you may want it back, but if you have no time…"
Harry whirled around shocked. He thought he would never see his picture again, and he had been too afraid of letting anyone know he had lost it, to ask Uncle Remmy's help to take another. Yet there it was, in his teacher's hand. He wondered if his teacher had gone to the trouble to look for it, just for him, after he found him scouring the trash bins behind the cafeteria. It made him even sadder he'd turned down his offer of a home.
Severus smirked when Harry gave him his full attention. He thought that might work.
"You found my picture? Oh! You did! Thank you very much, I do appreciate it." He took it reverently from his teacher's outstretched hand, then he turned his back once again, he slipped it carefully into his book bag and continued packing.
Severus was miffed. This was not the way the scene was supposed to play out, the contrary child should be wreathed in smiles and hugging him around the waist for returning his precious photo. Whereupon, he would then present the second lost item with a flourish, and all would be well with Lily's boy once again. Problem solved in less than a minute. Under no scenarios should Potter be continuing his infernal packing.
"Please sit," he asked once again.
"Sorry, still busy."
"You will do as I say." If a reasonable request didn't work, he would take a firmer stand.
"No Sir," Harry returned quietly, only without the defiant snippy tone that Severus was expecting. Instead, he just sounded resigned as he pulled out his geography book and discarded it in the same manner as his maths book.
Severus sat down on the bed, picked up the geography book, and thumbed idly through it while watching Harry try to pack the jumper again.
"You realize don't you, that will never fit into your book bag? You will also need your books. I should not be telling you this, as it constitutes an unfair advantage over your classmates, however, there is a pop quiz first thing tomorrow morning on South Africa."
"There isn't any test tomorrow - you quit. Remember Sir? Besides, it doesn't matter, nothing matters anymore." Harry shrugged and tossed his reader aside as well, to try and make more room. Then taking off his new trainers he gently placed them under the bed, thinking when the new baby's feet got big enough he could wear them.
"So I did. Nevertheless, I still beg to differ with you - education is important."
"Not for me." He replied as shoved his tatty old trainers on his feet after tying the broken laces together. He'd fished them out the trash bin the day before when they had returned to the flat, thinking he would probably need them. Never did the reality dawn on him that neither of the Kruegers had made any motion towards taking him to Privet Drive, instead he had just kept waiting for the inevitable to happen.
"And why is that Mister Potter?" Severus asked leaning down and picking up the trainers from where Harry put them, thinking that he should have brought the box with the black leather shoes in it. They were much more sensible.
"I told you already. You just didn't listen, and I'm just like you – I don't like to repeat myself." He turned back to packing his book bag. Maybe if he took all the books out…
If it hadn't been for the matter-of-fact dead tone to his voice, Severus would have thought he was purposefully being a cheeky little blighter. "Humour me, and tell me again. I am listening this time," he replied instead of rightfully pointing out that he could have done a better job of listening the first time - if Harry had been totally forthcoming.
"Because…" Harry started replying quietly, but he reached the end of his rope when he tried one last time to shove the jumper in to find it just wouldn't fit no matter what he did. He ended up shouting, "…because I can't do anything better than Dudley, that's why!"
"You are wasting my time Potter. We have discussed that topic in length on prior occasions, and each time we proved that statement erroneous. In fact, you have done quite well on your quizzes lately."
"BUT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND! I CAN'T DO THAT ANYMORE!"
"Then quit shouting and make me understand. Volume does not add to the explanation." Severus said coolly.
"If I do anything better than Dudley, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia will get upset. So it doesn't matter if I study or not, because I have to fail the quiz. Can't you see?" Harry blurted without thinking.
"And why should you care about the emotional upheaval of the Dursley clan?"
"Because when they get upset they…"
"They what Potter?"
"They lock me in my cupboard." Harry said softly sitting down next to Severus with a small sob. Severus' eyes narrowed dangerously thinking of the memory he'd salvaged from Harry's cousin. He might have to pay a call on the Dursleys in the near future.
"As the Dursley's are no longer your guardians, and the likelihood of the same outcome under the current regime is highly doubtful, I again pose the query – why do you care?"
"Because they-they're going to give me back to them."
"They? By 'they' are you referring to your parents? Two of the four overly anxious people in the next room? Lily and James Potter - or whatever alias they are choosing to call themselves today?" Severus asked to clarify.
Harry nodded sadly.
"And why do you believe that to be true?" Severus knew there was no possible way Lily would ever send her child away, so this had to be another one of Potter senior's famous 'misunderstandings'. Potter junior didn't realize it, but he would be lucky if his mother and father let him out of their sight long enough to attend Hogwarts when he turned eleven. Indeed, the whole insidious pack, which even now he knew was crowded on the other side of the door trying to listen in, would probably attempt to go with him. Knowing how Dumbledore pampered that gang – the old fool would probably let them.
"…'cause today is Easter and I didn't do what I was supposed to do. So now, I got to go back to the Dursleys, and I can't blame anyone for it but me. That was the deal – no blaming the parents."
"There was a 'deal' in the offering?"
Harry nodded again, his eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Elaborate on the terms of this 'deal'."
"I-I…" Harry was too upset for any more words to come, and just pulled his legs up and hugged them for all he was worth. By the time they had gotten back yesterday, his mum had started crying and still hadn't stopped. Mr. Krueger was so mad at him for making Mrs. Kruger cry, that he had hardly said anything to him, other than some things in Latin that he didn't understand while he waved his wand at him – and then he took away his door key! Mr. Krueger didn't trust him anymore. He knew at that moment that he had ruined his last chance at staying. He was only grateful they had allowed him to stay for one last night to complete the full two weeks, but really - what did it matter?
He had been hoping, even though Mr. Nathraichean said he was a lost cause, that if he could at least successfully hatch the egg for his godfathers he would redeem himself in their eyes enough to make them change their minds. But he hadn't even been able to do that. He swallowed over a big lump in his throat. It turned out that his uncles hadn't even really trusted him to do it in the first place, this whole time they had a backup egg they were hatching themselves. When they got back from his teachers house they showed him a newly hatched chick, and looked so proud of themselves.
Harry just felt sick to his stomach when he saw it.
They knew he was going to fail all along, what else could it have meant? Besides, they were right, the egg had died, and his last fragment of hope died along with it. Now, for his family fall apart at the last minute was just unbearable. Mrs. Krueger was crying, Mr. Krueger was mad, and his godfathers banished - all because he had killed the egg.
"I asked you to elaborate Mister Potter. How to you expect help if you do not explain?"
Harry shook his head. He just couldn't talk anymore, especially not with this gigantic lump in his throat.
"Very well." Severus got up and started pacing with his hands clasped behind his back.
"First let us analyze the situation to see if we can arrive at a reasonable course of action. Fact one - you will not talk. Fact two - I would like to put this matter to rest before your pack decides that I am torturing you and they burst down the door with wands drawn. Fact three – I have a way of looking into your mind to see the answers for myself."
Harry looked up startled. He just knew his teacher was a mind reader! How else could he know as much as he did?
"No it is not 'mind reading', per se, if that is what you are thinking. Mind reading is a muggle parlour trick done with acute observations and deductive reasoning, whereas what I am proposing to do is a magical discipline called Legilimency. If you agree, I will be able to see all of your memories through your eyes, as if they were my own, even the memories you hide from yourself. It's a powerful tool, and one that should not be used lightly. To use it without permission is a violation of the Wizards' Code of Ethics. It takes a great deal of trust to consciously allow someone to enter your mind, so permission should not be granted without due consideration. Do you have such trust in me?"
Harry thought hard about that. Mr. Nathraichean had never lied to him - except maybe about his name, he still wasn't clear on that one, but then everyone in his family seemed to have a muggle name and also a secret wizard name, so he guessed that didn't count. His teacher had also tried to help him when no one else did, and had kept his promises.
"…will it hurt?" he choked out.
"I will not lie to you Mister Potter, it will depend on the memories we view, as memories are linked to emotions, and emotions can be painful. Only you can know for sure what the potential for that will be."
Harry gave it some more thought. It was scary to think about someone looking in his mind – seeing everything that he had ever done... Oh no! What if Mr. Nathraichean Snape saw him charging his adventure to Gringotts to his tab!
He kind of liked his teacher and secretly thought that under that gruff exterior the teacher liked him a little bit as well. But after his teacher saw what a total loser freak he was, and how much he deserved all the punishments that the Dursleys ever gave him, would he still feel the same?
"I assure you I will hold no judgment against you for anything I might see. Consider this a one-time 'free pass' on any transgression to which you might be liable. And if you concentrate on recent events those memories will come to the forefront and we may not have to delve any deeper."
Harry took a deep breath and bravely nodded okay.
"Look at me then and concentrate." Harry turned and locked on to Severus' eyes. Within a blink, he was falling deep into the obsidian pools.
The events of the past few days, weeks, and months started running through Harry's mind as if on Dudley's movie camera, only in high-speed reverse. The film slowed every once in a while, as Severus paused the action to replay a scene more slowly. Each time he did, all of Harry's anxieties, fears, and hopes bubbled to the surface. It seemed as though a lifetime past before Severus broke eye contact with him. When he did, he felt drained and sagged against the man's shoulder, crying silently, his breath coming rapid and shallow.
"Breath Mister Potter. You did fine, it is all over." Severus said rubbing circles on the boy's back to calm him. What he saw had drained Severus as well, and if it weren't for the boy slumped against him, he would have felt like curling up into a small ball and crying as well.
He had been secretly congratulating himself on 'turning' the boy toward Slytherin. Only that wasn't the reason he had responded so well to his training. Potter craved a warm loving family as much as he himself did, but where he at least had a loving mother to soften the hard life he had growing up with an abusive father, this boy had had no one. Both of his caretakers had been neglectful and dismissive, taking every opportunity to demean him to ensure his low performing cousin shone in contrast.
Potter had gravitated towards Snape, not because he preferred him over James, but in spite of it. Although he was afraid of his teacher's brusque rigid non-caring manner, it was at the same time familiar to him, and with familiarity comes a measure of comfort. To understand Potter's deep seeded fears, he had gone deep enough to view the Dursleys in action, and had seen the parallels Potter had made in his own mind between his teacher and his relatives, and Snape was ashamed of the comparison.
When he knocked on Lily's door earlier, he had still been toying with the idea that she would eventually see reason and leave James for him. He told himself that if he were around her enough and patient, that she would see how he would make a much better father to her children than James ever could. Witnessing the child's memories of Lily and James together, it confirmed his earlier epiphany that Lily had made the right decision in choosing James over him.
Trying to imagine himself in the same scenes, he could see how his obsessive love would have suffocated both her and her children, whereas James' love was honourable. He could see that James' claim that he would give up his family, if that would make them happy and keep them safe, was absolutely true. James loved them that much, where he would have never been able to make that self same sacrifice.
The only solace he had left was that Potter had also been able to draw a few positive parallels between his teacher and his two beloved furry godfathers. Moreover, despite all the belittling, the boy genuinely 'liked' him.
When Harry's breathing finally became slow and steady, Severus awkwardly put his arm around the boys shoulder, telling himself that he wasn't really 'hugging' him – he was merely steadying himself for what he had to say now.
"Thank you Potter, I know that was difficult."
"…so… (hiccup)… do you hate me now?" Harry asked sniffling.
"Of course not you obnoxiously drippy child!" he said handing him a handkerchief to blow his nose. "Myself perhaps, but not you."
"But what about all the money I owe?"
"Yeah… I charged a lot to you. Are you mad?"
"Consider the debt paid. We are even - I hadn't remunerated you for the errands yet."
"But I didn't earn nearly that much! Don't I owe you more?"
"Not to fret. The rest will be more than amply taken care of. I'm sure by the time his seven years of schooling is completed, young Weasley will have done something to deserve what I have planned. So in a way it is justifiable as well as preventative."
"Who?" that was the last thing Harry expected to hear and it was confusing – who could 'young Weasley' be and why would he willingly pay off Harry's debt? And why would it take seven years?
"It doesn't matter," his teacher assured him, and then threw out another unexpected observation. "We are the pair, aren't we?"
"You and I, neither one of us are able to recognize real love, even when it's waived right under our noses. Of course, you have a good excuse – your abominable relatives never bothered showed you what it looked like. Therefore, how could anyone possibly expect you to recognize it now? I on the other hand, am just a fool."
"But I don't understand… April Fools Day was two weeks ago Sir."
"True. However for some, it is a never ending holiday that keeps on giving, somewhat like a communicable disease," he replied dryly with just a hint of a smile tickling the corner of his mouth.
"Are you ill?" Harry was concerned since his teacher really was not acting himself.
"Only a bit of indigestion as I think about the crow I'll be having for dinner."
"But I made roast lamb!"
Severus just gave him a patronizing almost-smile. Potter just kept proving time after time that sarcasm and irony were a waste on the young. A pity since they were such a rich source of it themselves. Slipping his hand into his pocket to pull out the owl, he had to refrain from swearing when it hungrily nipped at his finger. "If you still desire my aid, I am almost positive that I can guarantee you do not have to lose your 'deal'."
"How?" Harry asked morosely. "I killed the egg and I…" his jaw dropped in shock when Severus opened his hand to reveal the baby bird with the large amber eyes, snow white down, and one rather surprising bright pink dot on the top of its head.
"Not quite, the silly thing is surprisingly resilient."
"Hedwig!" Harry breathed and carefully scooped it up the fuzz ball and nuzzled it to his cheek, while the owl nipped at his earlobe, making him giggle slightly.
"Yes, Hedwig." Harry said with a slightly lopsided smile. "It was in that book you threw at me yesterday – The History of Magic, I think it was. When I ducked, it landed on the floor and fell open to the picture of this beautiful lady all in white and that was her name - Lady Hedwig. Holly really liked the picture so I thought that if the egg lived, I would name her that. It's a brilliant name isn't it?"
"It will do fine. I'm sure the owl will live up to her namesake. Now it seems to me that since the issue is satisfactorily resolved, as the egg successfully hatched, it is time for you to cease this nonsensical packing and have your dinner. Your owl needs fed."
Severus stood up and expected Harry to follow suit. However, he remained sitting on the bed, one fat tear rolling down his cheek.
"It's too late. I didn't hatch the egg, you did. Besides Hedwig isn't mine – she belongs to my godfathers. I was trying to hatch her for them." Harry said sadly putting the little bird reluctantly back into Severus' hand as it screeched in protest.
Hedwig knew the voice of her boy, and now that she had reunited with him, she wanted to stay that way. He was her human! He had always taken care of her and made sure she was safe, and this other human was very stingy when it came to bowtruckles!
"What do you expect me to do with this ridiculous feathered nuisance?" Severus asked dangling it at arm's length by two fingers and dropping it squawking back into Harry's lap. "I simply cannot allow you to foist your responsibilities off onto me Mister Potter."
"I'm sorry Mr. Nathraichean… I didn't mean to mess up again, but could you please give her to one of my Godfathers for me while I finish up here?" Harry said stubbornly putting the owl back in his hand one more time. "I would myself but it would be too hard to give her up, and I don't think that it would be a good idea to take her to Privet Drive, Aunt Petunia doesn't like pets."
"You have a singularly irritating one track mind Mister Potter. You need to get this through your thick skull – you are not going anywhere, and you need to feed your owl before it attacks another one of my digits. I wish to leave here with all ten intact. They are not owl snacks, as your bird seems to think."
"But I have to leave. I don't have a choice." Harry said despondently trying very hard to not sound whingey. He didn't want pity, he only had himself to blame, and that was that. "Mr. Krueger said that sometimes it's hard to do the right thing, and he's right. I lost the deal, so this is the right thing to do. Thanks for saving Hedwig. I am glad she is okay. But it wasn't because of me. And even if it was… you said Friday that I was a hopeless case. So that means I'd have to go back anyway. Thanks anyway Mr. Nathraichean, but I can't put it off any longer." He sighed resolutely and resumed his packing.
"I should not have said that. You are still a child. Therefore that diagnosis was probably somewhat premature." Severus just couldn't help but sneer lightly at the aggravating child before him, as he watched Harry for the umpteenth time try the same futile thing, as if the outcome would change when the variables did not. Will the boy never learn from his mistakes? Hm… where had he just heard that? "You must realize by now that jumper will never fit into your book bag."
"Why not? It did before!" Harry punched it down with frustration, only to have it spring back out again.
"If your mother is anything like my mother was, she probably put a 'wear me' spell on it."
"A 'wear me' spell? What's that?"
"It is a spell that insures that little boys wear their jumpers and stay warm, instead of just stuffing them in their book bags and catching a cold."
"Oh… thanks." Harry said numbly taking it out and putting it on instead.
"Do you mind if I make an observation?"
"I guess not…," maybe an extra pair of socks would fit instead. Maybe even his stuffie! Hopeful he went and got it back out of Holly's crib and crammed it in.
Since Harry stubbornly refused to see himself of any value, to the point that he actually believed that the outcome of an asinine bet with two dim-witted nitwits could forfeit his place in his family. Severus decided to appeal to his desire to do what was right. Surely, that was something he could still understand even in his current overwrought emotional state.
"You said that it is not always easy to do the right thing," he reminded Harry slyly. "Do you believe it is right to take that which is not yours?"
Harry looked up puzzled. "Of course I don't! That's why I can't take Hedwig, she doesn't belong to me."
"And you are packing these trifles to take with you to the Dursleys?"
Harry didn't know what one thing had to do with the other, and he certainly didn't consider his prized possessions to be 'trifles', but he nodded his head anyway.
"When I observed your memories, I heard your aunt and uncle repeatedly remind you that while living under their roof that you owned nothing, including the clothes they allowed you 'borrow' from your cousin. Is that true as well?"
Harry bit back a bitter sob and nodded once again.
"Then following that reasoning, I am led to conclude that the things you are now packing also do not belong to you, as you insist that your guardianship as of today reverted to your relatives, and they do not allow you to possess items of your own. Furthermore, I believe their rightful owners, your parents, will eventually notice these things missing," he said indicating the now crammed bag with a casual wave of his long slim hand. "Have you asked their permission to take any of these items with you?"
Harry hadn't thought of it that way, but Mr. Nathraichean was right. They really weren't his to take, and the fact that he was going to hide them once he got to Privet Drive, so the Dursley's wouldn't even know he had them, proved that he knew it was wrong. But he needed something of his family! Regretfully he fingered the velvety antlers that was poking out the top of the bag before he slid his special picture back out and sat down on the bed trembling from shock.
"I wasn't really going to taking that much … I know they'll forget me soon enough… they did before… but I don't want to ever forget them," he said softly tracing the faces of his family with his fingertip. "Maybe if I just kept the picture it will be alright? … since I took it and all … You won't tell them … will you?"
"Of course I will, you impertinent imp."
"But you can't! You just can't!" Harry pleaded, clutching it to his chest, as if his teacher was about to rip it out of his hands let loose the maniacal laugh of his nightmares.
"Mister Potter, I assure you that I most certainly can, and that I most certainly will. I made a vow to help you. Moreover, I intend to fulfil that vow, if only to save you from petty thievery. It is not my fault if you were rather short-sighted in making no stipulations on what format my help would take."
"You have no say in the matter."
Still clutching the picture to his heart, Harry sighed deeply, pulled up his legs, put his chin on his knees, effectively protecting the photo from outside forces. His whisper was barely loud enough for Severus' sharp ears to hear. "I never have a say. Nobody ever asks me what I want."
Observing the thoroughly depressed lump of child, he didn't doubt Harry's statement at all. Children are much too easy to just order around and quite often believed to be incapable of rational thought and wise decisions. As such is generally the case, seldom does an adult take the trouble to consider asking them for their opinion. Severus thoughtfully put the tiny owlet down on the bright green coverlet and then watched it tumble head over tail until it landed cosily next to Harry and chirped its thanks. At least one Potter was happy, be it the most diminutive feathered one.
"There is one other thing that I can assure you of Mister Potter - lower lip trembling will get you nowhere with me. Now quit slouching, sit up straight, and take care of that owl. Have you learned nothing from your tutoring sessions?" Harry just glared back at his teacher as he smirked to himself and left the room.
"Merlin! What a bunch of imbeciles you are. I'm surprised your children managed to survive this long without my expertise to guide you." Severus announced snootily coming back into the living room to scathingly address the Marauders, who had scattered the moment the door started to open. They were now all trying to strike nonchalant poses.
"See Sev? You are needed in this family." Lily said with a warm smile on her lips, but with worry still clouding her eyes.
"Hey Snape… what's with number six? 'No hexing of the party of the first part will be permitted by the party of the second part, regardless of how unendurable the party of the second part finds the party of the first part'? What do you mean by that?" Sirius interrupted looking up from the list of terms Severus had left behind with them.
"So sorry, my error," Severus stopped and sneered down his nose at him. "I forgot with whom I would be dealing. I should have refrained from using words over two syllables. Substitute the word 'snarky' for 'unendurable'. I believe that is within your limited vocabulary."
"Hey! I do so know what unendurable means! It means… it means… help me out here Remus..."
"Don't even bother trying Sirius, see?" Remus laughed. "He covered that in number eleven. 'The party of the second part, will at no times, enter into a verbal sparring match with the party of the first part while unarmed'."
"Boys! Never mind that list. It doesn't matter, because you are going to agree with everything on it. What I want to hear is what Sev found out about what is troubling Harry. Why didn't he come out with you? What's wrong Sev?"
Turning to Lily, Severus started out more gently, "Your son in there packing because he foolishly believes…"
"What do you mean he's still packing? Just where does he think he's going? After what we went through to get him back, if he thinks he's going anywhere without us, he's got another think coming." James interrupted angrily as he rushed for the door, only to have Severus push him back.
"Before you go in there, with your usual Gryffindor act-first-think-about-the-consequences later tactics, hadn't you better calm down? Lily asked me to find out what was going on in his pea-sized brain, and I did. Your son told me that no one ever asked him what it was he wanted. Now do you want to know what that is, or not?" Severus sat down priggishly in the big comfy chair and waited patiently for James to respond, his coal black eyes totally unreadable.
"Yes." James admitted grumpily.
"Then if you and Lily will sit down calmly, I will tell you." Severus replied, talking to James as if he were all of two years old. Then glancing appraisingly at the edgy werewolf and the excitable mutt who were hovering on the edges, he sighed, "If the family pets must be here, they may join you too," he invited reluctantly, as he was still uncomfortable with all this 'we're just one big loving family' business. Sirius and Remus bristled a bit at his comments, but their concern over their godson was greater.
He had to stifle a laugh after Lily and the Marauders neatly lined up in a row on the comfy couch facing him. They looked so much like a bunch of dunderhead first years that he was tempted to launch into his speech about bottling fame and brewing glory, but he fought against it, as he knew they would immediately hex him, and four to one were not odds in his favour.
"When I asked Potter… (ahem)... 'Harry' ... what the matter was, he said that now that it was Easter, and the Dursley's had returned, that you were sending him away."
"But we're not sending him anywhere!" Lily denied vehemently.
"I don't doubt that in the least. Nevertheless, he is quite convinced of it. Therefore, I asked him why he thought that would happen, he said it was because his father had declared all the 'freaky things' should go back to Privet Drive, and that all of you told him that he was 'the freaky thing'. Ergo, he believes that is where he should go and why."
"But we never said that! No one here ever called him a freak!" they all protested.
"Are you sure?" Severus sneered lightly. "I looked at his memories… from his point of view you said exactly that. Not only that, you also proclaimed that if he failed to meet the high requirements you set forth for him, to earn the right to be a member of your family by today, that you…" he paused and locked his eyes directly on James, "…did not want him as a son."
"I absolutely never said I that! And I never said he had to earn the right to be a member of this family! Where did he get a crazy idea like that?" James yelled.
"I must disagree, you did."
"No I didn't!" James jumped up protesting.
"Yes, you did."
"Boys! Shut it!" Lily yelled at both of them.
"Didn't." James muttered under his breath and sat back down.
"Did." Severus brushed imaginary lint off his sleeve.
"James I hate to say it, but Sniv… er… Sev here is right. You did say it… sort of. Don't you remember it?" Sirius said thoughtfully, "It was a couple of weeks ago, the Friday afternoon we moved the Dursleys out of here and you got the adoption papers signed. We were all celebrating and kidding around about how they were the ones that were the real freaks, when that was what they always called us. But we never meant for Harry to think we were talking about him."
"Exactly my point mutt. It was not what you meant to say, nor what you did say. It was how he heard it." At hearing his own words, Severus glanced hastily out the big picture window to see if another storm was gathering, and felt a small smile attack his mouth when all he saw through the glass was a bright blue Easter sky. He had always sworn that if he ever agreed with Sirius Black on anything that a lightning bolt would strike him dead. No thunderclouds in sight - still with his luck, it would behove him to remain cautious, as karma had a long memory, and lightning was sometimes known to strike out of clear blue skies.
"But like Sirius said, we were just kidding around! I just said that I was glad the Dursley were finally gone and out of our hair." James said, still not understanding what the problem was.
"But don't you see James? Sev and Sirius are right." Lily said with shock, playing the scene back in her own mind from her son's perspective, "That's not what you said at all. You said was that 'the real freaks were going back to Privet Drive', he must have thought you meant him."
"He couldn't have taken it that way," Sirius scoffed doing a one eighty to defend James, who by this time was holding his head in his hands. "Nearly every wizard who ever came in contact with a muggle had been called that one time or another." Sirius argued, "Why should it upset him? People call me a freak all the time and it doesn't bother me. It just means I'm part of the family. I'm kind of proud of it!"
"You would be," Remus said, kindly patting him on the head. "But we aren't as all thick headed as you. When I was first bitten, I was slightly younger than Harry is now, and after it happened, the village children called me that a lot, and it hurt. You were what fifteen, sixteen before that label was ever flung at you?"
"Older - James and Lily's wedding. Petunia called me a freak and I called her a horse faced bigot, then we both ate cake and toasted the bride and groom." Sirius scratched his chin thoughtfully and then amended his statement with a shrug, "No that isn't quite right - I ate the cake. Petunia ate the head off from the little groom on the top."
Remus gave him a peculiar look and then turned back to James, "You told me once that the Dursley's always called Harry 'the freak'. Growing up and hearing that since he was eighteen months old, had to have left an imprint. If you hear something enough times, it's hard not to believe it."
"But that's not what I meant!" James denied. "I meant that the Dursley's were the real freaks, NOT my son! I would never call him a freak. I love him! What's more, he doesn't have to do a single bloody thing to earn it! He knows that! …doesn't he?" James asked this last question of Severus, only to get frustrated when Severus simply raised an eyebrow in response as if to say 'I told you so'.
"So what is all that business about me not wanting him to be my son anymore? Merlin! We even did a muggle adoption to get muggle legal custody back, even though he was our own flesh and blood. Just to be absolutely sure no one could ever take him away again, no matter what world we lived in, or what name we used. He definitely couldn't have misunderstood about that! He heard the whole thing, and I was quite clear about it. I announced right in front of him that we had finally legally adopted him, and that he was all ours now. I even showed him the papers. I would have thought he'd be happy! NOT packing! Oh Merlin!" James went from red faced to pale in an instant. "Do you think maybe he doesn't want us as parents?"
"We never actually told him we adopted him, did we?" Lily said digging their grave deeper with every word, "You only showed Sirius the papers, and then I-I told him that he wasn't going to be called Harry Krueger anymore. And he's not... he'll be Harry Potter again when we go back to the wizarding world. But I didn't add that part. I thought it, and assumed he knew what I meant, but I didn't say it… he thinks I said I didn't want him… no wonder he won't call me muuuummmmyyyyyy!" Lily started to wail.
"It wasn't all you two, I think I contributed myself," Remus admitted after he finished running through the memories too. "If I'm not mistaken I started the whole thing by vaguely referring to getting rid of unwanted things that were hanging around longer than they should. I never said what the unwanted things were."
"Well, I didn't say anything wrong." Sirius smirked and then frowned, his brow furrowing deeply. "Or did I? Oh… oops!"
"Oops? Oops?" Lily turned on Sirius, "we're talking about my son here! What do you mean by 'Oops'?"
"Er… well… if Harry thought we meant him when we called the Dursley's freaks, then he probably thought the same thing, when we were talking about the egg being the 'TFT', you know… 'the freaky thing'… heh-heh … rabbits laying eggs and all that?"
Lily's glare was making him very uncomfortable.
"…er… anyway…if he did think that, then he might have possibly thought I told him that you said that unless he developed some potential by Easter that we'd stick him back in a cupboard on Privet Drive and let Dursley deal with him. Of course, I meant the egg - if it hatched into something you two didn't think would make a good pet," he qualified. Sirius gulped at their stern stares - might as well get it over with and confess everything. "I might possibly have also have told him he was going to be locked up the rest of his life and raised by dungeon masters…" Sirius said sheepishly looking around the group in dismay. "But of course meant you two, and then only in the very nicest way. He couldn't have possibly thought I meant anyone else… could he?"
"Seeing as he is in there packing all his worldly belongings into his book bag, I would have to say the answer to that is yes," Severus replied dryly. "And regretfully, I must admit to my own culpability to his current state of mind."
"What do you mean Sev?" Lily asked, "You weren't even there that day."
"That is true, but culpable nonetheless. For despite my extraordinary teaching techniques, and even though it is exactly what he wants, I have failed to instil in him the concept of the final vocabulary word."
"Which word was that?" Sirius scoffed back, "Traitor?"
"No – 'Family'," he retorted.
"Okay, that does it." James fumed, jumping up.
"James! Stop! We have to handle this delicately." Lily cried out pulling on his arm to stop him, just to have James shake her off angrily.
"No Lily, you're not going to stop me this time. I've been letting all of you tell me how to relate to my own son for weeks now, and it's not working. Well he's mine too, that means he has half my genes. Did you ever stop to think that maybe he got something from me, besides my amazing hair?"
"Do you mean there's something more to you?" Sev jibed, starting to have a little fun when he finally saw the advantage of the 'we're-one-big-loving-family-and-we'll-love-you-no-matter-how-snarky-you-are' rule.
"A whole lot more! Like my pig-headedness, my stubbornness, and my need to be hit over the head with the facts before I wake up and notice them."
"Ah yes… all the most highly prized Gryffindor qualities, I should have guessed. I did try my best to instil Slytherin values in him, but alas, they just didn't seem to stick." Sev nodded wisely.
"Shut it Sev." James growled.
"Um… Prongs… you're not thinking of hitting Harry over the head, are you? Don't you think there's been enough brain damage around here already?" Sirius ventured with a hint of humour.
"Apparently not Padfoot, now stay out of my way," he ordered as he pulled open Harry's bedroom door and started in.
"James! What are you going to do?" Lily called out anxiously.
"What I should have done right from the beginning. If my son wants to go back to Privet Drive so badly, then that's where I'm bloody well taking him!" James vowed as he slammed the door closed behind him.
"No James!" They all cried out in unison, but by the time they rushed into the room after him, it was empty.
At first, Harry wasn't certain where he was, as he had shut his eyes tightly when things started happening fast. However, when the world stopped swirling around him, and the crushing pressure released so he could breathe again, he knew exactly where he was.
He had been in his room contemplating if he could manage to take his stuffed stag along with his special picture without anyone noticing, when Mr. Krueger pulled open his door and stormed in. He announced that it was time to take him back, and without another word, he pulled him into his arms and all the air was sucked out of his lungs. Harry felt all squished and dizzy for a few moments, and when he opened his eyes again, in front of him was his Aunt Petunia's house, exactly as he had remembered it - only the spring grass was badly in need of its first cutting.
Mr. Krueger let him down on his feet on the pavement, and he swallowed down the big lump of despair that had been growing there. He was grateful that at least he had kept a tight hold of the picture and he hadn't left it behind with everything else. At least he would have something to remember them by during all his lonely days ahead. He sadly looked up at the angry man by his side, but resigned to his fate he bravely squared his shoulders befitting a student of Salazar, and gave him a tentative apology.
"I-I'm sorry Sir."
"What for? Tell me Harry… just what in blazes do you have to be sorry for?" James demanded, sounding eerily like Uncle Vernon when he was in an extremely bad mood.
"Er… the grass needs cutting after all that rain?" Harry offered lamely in return, unsure of what else it could be that was upsetting him so much. Now that Mr. Krueger had accomplished his goal, of getting the last freaky thing out of his home and back to Privet Drive, he should have been happy. Right? "I'll get right on it Sir," he said starting towards the shed in the back garden where the mower was kept.
"The bloody hell you will!" James swore, and grabbing Harry's hand before he could get away, he pulled him relentlessly towards the front door. When he got there, he didn't even ring the bell, but barged in as if he owned the place, dragging Harry in behind him.
"WHAT ARE YOU FREAKS DOING BACK IN MY HOUSE! THAT WASN'T THE AGREEMENT!" Uncle Vernon, purple faced and looking as if he was about to have a stroke, started shouting at them the minute they crossed the threshold.
"SHUT IT VERNON, RIGHT NOW!" James threatened dangerously, "Or I'll shut it for you - permanently. And this time there is no one here to stop me." When he pointed his wand at Vernon's throat, Petunia gasped and shoved Dudley behind her, and Vernon for once actually shut up.
"Now my dear in-laws, my son and I need to have a little heart to heart chat, and you're in the way, so I need to you leave for a while. But before you do, I have just one more thing to say… Do you remember the hex? The one my friends put on the apple Dudley stole from Harry's lunch?"
The Dursleys stared at him as if he was a raving lunatic perpetrating a home invasion. Any moment they expected the attendants from the asylum to come looking for him.
"Oh come now, you must remember that little incident. From what I heard, Dudley sicked up worms at your dinner party that night to entertain your party guests. Couldn't forget something that abnormal, now could you? It's not as if it was a little boy you left locked and forgotten in a cupboard for days - a dinner party is much more important to you," he sneered sarcastically.
When Petunia and Vernon finally nodded, he continued. "That hex only lasted for ten minutes. Think about that the next time you call my son a freak or even think about blaming him for anything your son does."
The Dursley's gasped as the reality of the alternative explanation hit them.
"NOW LEAVE US ALONE!" he roared at them as they all turned tail and fled to the front garden for safety.
After they were out of the way, James started pulling Harry down the hall.
"No no no! Please! Please Sir! Stop!" Harry sobbed, struggled against the hold James had on him. "At least let me cut the grass first, before you…"
James came to an abrupt stop at the end of hallway and dropped down on his knees, taking the shaking Harry firmly by the shoulders.
"Before I what Son? Before I what? Talk to me… please. Tell me what you're thinking."
"…before you lock me back up in the cupboard." Harry said softly, his head hanging, trying his very best to hold back the tears.
Harry didn't look up but just pointed to where the dark dismal little hole awaited him.
"Look at me son," James demanded. When Harry refused to look up, he lifted his chin until he no longer had a choice but to meet his eyes. "Now tell me again… what cupboard?"
"That one, right over…" as Harry started to point under the stairs, the rest of his words evaporated into dead silence as his gaze followed his own hand. His jaw dropped open in shock.
There was no cupboard.
The wasted space under the stairs was now truly wasted space. It held no shelves, no cupboard, not even a single dust bunny. The slick hardwood floor of the hall that used to end at his cupboard door, now extended all the way to the back wall under the stair. That wall used to be unfinished, he had once taped up a sign on it that read 'Harry's room', but it was now finished to match the hallway wall opposite it. The rough planks of the underneath side of the stairs, that used to rain dust down on him whenever anybody used them, had been finished off and a smooth painted surface ran from the bottom stair to the top.
Harry let out a breath he hadn't realized that he had been holding, blinked hard, and looked again. There was still no cupboard, just a small open space under the stair.
"It's… it's not there."
"No it's not Son."
"But I thought…"
"What did you think? Tell me what's going on in that head of yours," James demanded as gently as he could.
"I thought you brought me back here, so Uncle Vernon could lock me up in it," Harry answered softly.
"Harry… Son…" James started roughly, the words catching in his throat until he took Harry's face in his hands and looked searchingly into his eyes. "Did you honestly think that I would rebuild your prison?"
"But… but you said by Easter that I would be back in my old room," Harry tried to explain so that Mr. Krueger would understand.
"Yes that's true, and it happened. I kept my promise. I know haven't been too great at that lately but that is one promise I didn't forget."
"But… but that was my old room."
Finally, a glimmer of understanding got through to James. "That wasn't what I meant Son. I just meant Dudley would go home, and you and Holly would have your room back to yourselves, not that you would be sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs again. Listen to me… that will never happen again."
"It's really gone?" Harry reached out to see if somehow, it was still there but the walls were just invisible. All that his fingers felt was air.
"Yes it's really gone."
"But… but what if after you leave, what if Uncle Vernon puts it back?"
"He can't Son. He doesn't own the house any more. He would have to get permission from the landlord to do that, and I doubt the landlord will give it."
"But… what if he does?"
"But how can you be sure?" Harry leaned in and whispered, just in case his uncle was eavesdropping from the flowerbed.
"Because I know who owns it." James whispered back, leaning in himself until they were forehead to forehead.
"Me?" Harry squeaked, his eyes growing big and round in astonishment.
"Thought you'd like that." James smirked and then called out to Vernon, who was indeed trying to eavesdrop from the front porch. "Hey Vernon, better get started on that grass! The landlord says it needs cut, and if you don't do it right now, he's raising your rent!"
With the sound of the push mower whirling to life and the smell of fresh cut grass wafting in, James turned back to Harry in all seriousness again. Harry looked as if he were going into a state of shock.
"How did that happen?" he finally asked.
"How did what happen - your uncle moving his fat arse and cutting the grass, or you coming to own his house?"
"He's cutting the grass because it needs done, and because it's part of his lease agreement to keep up the maintenance himself. You own the house because I thought you needed to have a little positive control over something that negatively affected so much of your life."
"But I don't understand - how could it be mine?"
"Do you remember when Dudley was telling us about the 'funny money' that your Aunt and Uncle used to buy him toys?"
Harry nodded his head 'yes'.
"I realized what the 'funny money' really was."
"It wasn't money?"
"Oh it was money all right. It was wizard gold. And it was yours."
"Yours. All yours."
Harry looked at him in total disbelief - it had to be a prank. He couldn't really mean it!
"You see… when your Mum and I found out we were going to have you, we went to Gringotts and set up a special vault just in case, Merlin forbid, anything were to ever happen to us - so that you would be taken care of. If it did, Gringotts was to send your guardian enough money every month to make sure you never wanted for anything."
"You did that for... me?" Harry asked looking down at his tatty trainers. "So... why...?"
"Why did your relatives dress you in Dudley's hand-me-downs? And why did you want for everything?"
Harry nodded again, the lump in his throat preventing any words.
"Don't tell your mum I told you this - but it was because your aunt and uncle are a great pair of arses."
That got a small smile from Harry.
"They were supposed to use that money to take care of you. When I found out they didn't, I was very angry and I wanted to hex them to kingdom come, but Remus came up with a better way of punishing them that would hurt them even more – hitting that greedy pair right in their pocketbook."
Harry smiled a little more at the picture that conjured in his mind.
"I sat down and calculated out just how much of your trust fund they had siphoned off, since the day you were left with them... well okay I didn't - Remus did it for me. But all said and done, with interest, it was enough to have paid for a nice sized home twice over, plus a vacation villa on the beach in Majorca and a château in the Swiss alps."
"That much? But that would be... lots! I wouldn't have needed nearly that much - I'm not that big!" Harry gasped in alarm that anyone would spend that much on him.
"Yes - that much. We thought that you would be going to your godfather Siri, and knowing he doesn't exactly have a head for finances, we wanted to make sure we took care of him too. Anyway, to make a long story short - when we realized what your aunt and uncle had done, your godfathers and I came up with this brilliant idea to 'create' some trust documents of our own. They said that your guardian was under the directive to invest any trust money not spent on your keep and education, into real estate until you turned seventeen or was adopted, and then it was to be turned over to you in whole."
"But how does it make Uncle Vernon's house mine? He wouldn't ever sell it to me! Aunt Petunia would kill him! She's very particular about her house!"
"No, but he did unknowingly sign an extra blank piece of paper when he signed the adoption papers giving us back custody of you. Convenient, huh?"
'Adoption papers? What adoption papers?' Harry gave his dad a questioning look.
"We just took the liberty of filling in the blank part above his signature saying that the piece of real estate that they invested the money in was Number Four Privet Drive plus the villa and château. That made it easy to explain where all the 'extra cash' came from to rebuild the house so quickly and to allow them to live above their means for the past nine years – we made it look like it wasn't extra at all, that instead it was Vernon's normal pay from the Grunnings Drill Firm. The papers satisfied the Internal Revenue that Dursley hadn't been hiding undeclared income to avoid paying taxes."
"So it's really mine?"
"Thanks to your Uncle Siri's forging ability, and your Uncle Remmy acting ability to pass himself off as their lawyer. He was able to persuade the court into to accept the documents as genuine. That's why we had to wait until after the full moon to carry out the plan. Even if it were in their best interests, your Aunt and Uncle would have never cooperated if I'd been in the courtroom, but everyone likes Remus. He told the court that he would have brought the papers forward sooner, only he had been suffering a grave illness and had just become aware of their plight. Ha-ha! He didn't even have to act the part there. So as far as the courts go, as long as your Aunt and Uncle don't say any differently it's your house and it will remain that way as long as you want."
"But why would they agree to that even for Uncle Remmy? Aunt Petunia doesn't even allow me to go into the living room!"
"Because it's what got them out of jail, and it's what's going to keep them out."
"So I really really really own their house?"
"Really really really - it was the only thing I could think of. I wanted to make it up to you for all those years you had to spend here, and so that you would never have to worry about it again. Your mum and I were going to save it as surprise for your birthday, maybe put a gigantic red bow on the roof." James smiled at the picture that painted in his mind. "I admit it - your mum wasn't for the bow. That was my idea knowing how attracting all of the neighbour's attention would tick off your Uncle. Oh well - no matter, giving it to you now is better timing anyway. So do you understand now Son? The cupboard is gone and it is never coming back. You will never be locked in it again."
"But… where will I sleep then?" Harry asked confused, refusing to understand the meaning of what he was hearing if it only meant that they were going to rip out his already tattered heart once again.
"In your bed. In your room. In your home. With your family."
"My… my family, Sir?" Harry repeated softly as he looked desperately into James' eyes for any hint of duplicity, any trace of this being a cruel pretence to get his hopes up once again, only to have his dream of a family snatched away.
"Yes son, your family."
"But I thought…"
"What did you think?" James asked much more gently this time.
"That- that you didn't want me. And that the reason you're giving me back to the Dursleys is because I'm not… special enough."
"Harry… Son… I'd sooner give away my arms. I wouldn't need them if I didn't have you to hug. Don't you understand? When you aren't with me…" James' voice caught in his throat and he had to stop completely when Harry reached out to touch a tear that was running down his cheek.
"When I don't know where you are… I can't breathe. When we found you again on Christmas Eve… that was the first deep breath I had taken in years. And I am rather fond of breathing." He smiled at Harry trying to get one in return. "Just as I am rather fond of you," he said touching the tip of his son's nose for emphasis, just in case Harry had the crazy idea he was talking about someone else.
"I just wish then…" Harry looked away from those kind eyes. He wanted to, but he just couldn't trust them - he'd fallen for that trick too many times before. 'Why is he making this so hard? Why doesn't he just leave me and go? Why keep drawing it out?'
"What do you wish?"
"I wish – I wish it was real. But it's not. And I wish – I wish you wouldn't have ever taken me away from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia if you're just going to give me back now." Harry said in a rush of words to get it all out before he lost his nerve.
James flashed on a scene from his teenage years, when he and Sirius had gotten neck deep into trouble during Christmas break from Hogwarts. When his dad had shown up at the muggle police station to bail them out, they had been expecting to be read the riot act. Instead, his dad had just looked him in the eye and told him that he just wished that one day he would have a son exactly like him, and that would be punishment enough.
Turning Harry back to face him again, he looked deep into the eyes of one of the most stubborn, pigheaded, one-track-minded person that he had ever met other than himself, and he knew that his father had gotten his wish.
"I've told you more than once that you are ours now - mine and your mum's. Besides your birth certificate, we also have official muggle adoption papers. So no matter what world we live in, or what name we go by, you are our real son in every way possible to be, and you're stuck with us, and nothing and no one can ever change that."
"You… you have adoption papers? You went to all that trouble?"
"Harry, I would have moved heaven and earth to get you back - even capitulate to your Uncle Vernon's blackmail. I have wanted to be your dad since the moment I knew you were even a possibility. You are what made me want to be a better person - so you would have someone that you would be proud of calling your 'daddy'. You are my first born, you being my son is what made me a dad. To me, that is very special. No one else can ever say that, ever. Not Holly, Not the new baby, and not any others who may come along in the future. No one else – just you."
James looked deep into Harry's eyes, but still saw doubt lingering there. It broke his heart that his little boy was so convinced that no one could ever want or love him.
"I know I forgot a few promises to you lately, and because of that you may have felt as if you weren't important to me. But Harry - know this for a fact - the most important job I will ever have is being your father. It's up to me to make sure that you know every day that you are loved, and there is nothing – absolutely nothing more important than that. I'll try not to ever forget another promise, but if I do, it's not because I don't love you. Tell me, since we got you back, has your mum and I ever done anything to make you feel unloved or unwanted?"
"No… not really…" Harry shook his head miserably.
He just didn't know how to explain. He wanted it so badly but he knew that no matter what anyone said, no one would ever really want freaky little him. Too many times in the past, the Dursley had teased him with offers acceptance, to ever really trust in that again. Because whenever he would start to believe it, they would just laugh in his face and call him a freak.
"Did you hear what your mum and I told Severus? That no matter what he said or did in the past, that he's a part of our family. And that no matter what he says or does in the future, we will still love him, whether he likes it or not? Do you believe we meant it?"
Harry nodded - he had been listening from behind his door.
"And do you remember what we told Sirius? That even if you are mad at someone and dislike what he did, that it doesn't mean you kick him out of the family, and stop loving him? Do you believe that too?"
Harry nodded again.
"And do you remember what we told Remus? That he was a part of our family too, and it didn't matter to us that he was a werewolf? And that we aren't afraid of it being a part of him, because we know he would do anything in the world to not hurt us, and that we not only trust him to keep us safe, but we that love him too?"
Harry nodded yet again.
"So you understand that family is more than just a word? It is how we feel about the people we take into our lives? That they can be ill, stupid, or downright snarky, but that doesn't make them any less a part of our family? That it doesn't make them any less deserving of our love?"
A small nod came from Harry, but he still looked uncertain.
"Then why son? Why don't you believe us when we say we love you? Why don't you think you are deserving of it, just like everybody else?"
"Because my godfathers said… they said that…" Harry started but then choked on the words. He didn't want to remind Mr. Krueger that he hadn't managed to gain any potential. What if he changed his mind again?
"Son, I love your godfathers as brothers, but I am the first to admit that at times they are both total idiots, it um… kind of runs in the family, because I am too. Now, I think what we have here is the colossal mother-of-all-misunderstandings, and before you get any idea in that little head of yours that it is in anyway your fault, or that you did anything wrong, let me make it very clear that it is entirely my fault. It happened because I have been afraid of saying to you what I have wanted to say for months."
"What-what's that?" Harry was almost too scared to ask.
"That I want to be your dad."
"But… why Sir?"
"Why would you want me as a son?"
"Why wouldn't I?" James turned the question back on him, trying hard not to show his exasperation to the little boy in front of him.
"Be-because I don't have any po-potential. I tried to get some, really I did! I-I tried…"
"But son - you have potential. You have so much potential, that you couldn't possibly fit any more of it inside you without bursting in two and becoming twins. However, even if you didn't have even the smallest glimmer of potential, I wouldn't care, and I wouldn't love you any less. You would still be my son, and I would still be your father. That is, if you will have me. It's your choice…" James paused as through the open front door, he saw the rest of their family finally arriving. Lily, her face pale with worry, led the way up the walk with Holly held tightly in her arms.
Stopping on the threshold, Lily drew in a sharp breath seeing her husband holding their son's distraught tear streaked face in his hands. James had been furious when he left the flat with Harry, but as she looked into her husband's loving eyes now, she knew that somehow everything was finally going to be all right. Still holding Holly in one arm, Lily came in, and with a nod from James, knelt down beside him and put her other arm around his waist in a show of support, giving him all her trust, with Holly reaching out and glomming onto a handful of Harry's hair and trying to stuff it in her mouth. Remus and Sirius joined their circle, only after another gesture from James, coming up behind Harry and putting their hands comfortingly on his shoulders.
Despite James signalling him that he was welcome in their family circle too, Severus hung back in the shadows observing from afar. He wanted no part of the nauseating scene, as he wasn't really into that whole touchy-feely 'family' thing.
"Okay, now that we're all here, I need to ask you a question that is long overdue."
"What Sir?" Harry asked quietly holding his breath again. Having this much attention on him, had never boded well for him in the past.
"Harry… will you consent to be my son?"
"…you…you really want… me?" Harry asked dazed, still unsure if what was happening was real or if he even understood what his father was saying. However, his godfather's warm hands on his shoulders, assured him without words that it was indeed real.
"Yes, I want you, and nobody but you. Haven't I been saying that for the past half hour?"
"But… but I thought…"
"You might as well give that up right now. Thinking has never been the Potter males' strong suit..." James put a finger to his lips to shush him, ignoring the derisive snort from Sev in the corner and the answering snicker from Sirius, "… it always gets us into trouble. It's best not to do it at all if you can help it."
"…but what about… M-mummy?" Harry asked shyly glancing her way and taking a leap of faith. Lily's heart leapt with joy when she heard him finally call her that by that precious name.
"Oh Harry, I want you too!"
"But…" Harry started to deny what he was hearing again, and then stopped when he saw her eyes filling with tears.
"But what Son? What is it? What's wrong?" Lily asked him.
"But… what about the new baby?"
"New baby? Lily's pregnant?" Sirius and Remus looked at each other in shock. This was the first they had heard about a new baby! They simultaneously looked at James for confirmation, but he ignored them and totally focused on his son and wife.
"I thought that… that you were making a new son, a better one, one that you could… one that you could raise the whole time, one that you could … that you could love instead of me," Harry finished in a rush of emotion.
"Oh Harry! I love you. More than words can ever say. You are my baby, my son, and you will always be my first born, no matter how many children your father and I have. No one else will ever be able to make that claim. Each of you is very special to us, each in your own right. Besides, if it weren't for you, this baby might not even be coming. It was only because we were so happy to have you back in our lives again, that we even created this baby. You are the reason it happened, so you are a part of it too."
"And when he comes, he's is going to need its big brother, every bit as much as Holly does. Somebody has to show them the ropes, and teach them to how to drive their godfathers all mental," James added.
Holly cooed her agreement to this and about toppled out of Lily's arms to give her big brother a wet slobbery baby kiss.
"But I heard you… when you were singing my song, you said I'm not as good as the Holly because Aunt Petunia raised me, so I'm-I'm not really yours."
"Oh sweetie, you misunderstood me," Lily said remembering the whispered conversation between her and James when they thought Harry was sleeping. "I was only sad that I had missed so much of your life up until now, and that I will never have that time back. I won't pretend that I don't regret that, because I do and always will, but that wasn't your fault any more than it was mine, or your fathers. It just happened. I wish that I had every minute of those years back so I could watch you grow into the wonderful boy you are today, but I can't, so I'll just have to make the best of every minute of today and tomorrow and the rest of your life."
"So you don't want to give me back either?"
"Never! Don't you understand? You will always be mine. You always have been, even when we weren't together."
"How could that be?"
"Harry I want you to listen to me very carefully - there is a very special poem by a woman named Fleur Conkling Heylinger, and it's tilted 'The Answer to an Adopted Child'. The child is questioning if the adoptive mother could really love her or him as much as she would her own natural child, and the poem is the answer. How even though the child didn't grow under the mother's heart, they grew in it. Harry - don't you see? You did both."
Lily could see the traces of doubt still in his eyes so she reached out and lifted Harry's hand, and placed it over her own heart so he could feel it beating in her chest. "You grew under my heart for nine precious months like this baby will, but you have been growing in my heart for nine years. You, your Daddy, your sister, the new baby, Remus, Sirius, Sev, and as strange as it may sound – even Dudley and your Aunt Petunia - all of you are my heart. You all possess a piece of it that can never belong to anyone else. And I need all of the parts, every one of them, to keep it beating. You are my family all of you."
Hearing the word 'family' produced a small smile from Harry, but he looked as if he still had questions, and James had one of his own.
"Speaking of families… Severus gave us some wise advice. He said if we wanted to know what was bothering you we should just come right out and ask you, and to quit trying to figure it out for ourselves. So... I want to ask you something and I want a direct answer. Will you give me one?"
Harry nodded shyly.
"Son... why in the world won't you call us 'Dad' and 'Mum' anymore?"
Harry tilted his head, puzzled that he didn't already know the reason since he was the one that told him not too to begin with. "Because Sir… you said I shouldn't get too attached… so I thought that if I didn't call you Daddy and Mummy…that I wouldn't love you so much," he answered truthfully.
"Did it work?"
"No…" Harry admitted in a very small whisper.
That was all James needed to hear.
"So Harry… Son..." James began again after he was finally able to clear the lump out of his throat, "…I'm not as good at words as your mum, and I don't know any poetry lines to quote, but this time we are both asking. If you don't answer 'yes' this time, we'll be force to just keep asking you over and over and over again until we wear you down, and you do. So… (ahem)… here goes… Harry James Potter, will you do us the great honour of being our son? …. Please?"
Harry looked deep into his parents' eyes again, and this time he found what he had been searching for, and realized that it had been there all the time. It had been there every time they had tucked him in at night and wished him sweet dreams. Every time they scolded him for doing something he shouldn't have done, and every time they looked disappointed when he didn't do something he should have. Every time they made him sit at the table until he ate at least two bites of his liver and broccoli, and even when his mum had grounded him and his dad swatted him. With every hug, look, thought, and action, it had been there every time – just for him, unconditional and unending love. It wasn't that they were acting like maniacs… they were just acting like loving parents.
"YES!" Harry shouted and threw his arms around his parents' necks in happiness.
"See? I was right." James smirked a little proudly over his son's shoulder at his friends. "He is just too much like me than what's good for him. You just got to knock him over the head with facts until he caves in."
Exchanging looks, Sirius elbowed Remus and nodded toward Severus Snape.
Severus was standing alone in the hallway just inside the door, aloofly studying his fingernails, and trying not to be jealous of the heartfelt scene. They could hear him muttering disparaging remarks under his breath to the potted fern, about how they were all dripping with so much sickening sweet sentimentality that not even the whole dorm of Hufflepuffs would have been able to put up with them without going into a diabetic coma.
Sirius grinned and leaned over to whisper in his friend's ear, "Looks like Harry isn't the only one who didn't fully grasp the concept of the last vocabulary word. Do you think we should we show him what it means?"
Remus glanced at Severus and whispered back, "Anything in the terms against it?"
Sirius pulled out Severus' list and gave it the once over and shrugged. "Not that I can see, but then I do have a 'limited vocabulary'. He said so himself, so who knows what half of these really mean."
"I suppose we could always plead ignorance." Remus suggested.
"I don't see anything against that either," Sirius grinned wickedly.
Remus replied with a wicked grin of his own and a 'why not?' shrug, as the two men reached back and pulled the unsuspecting Severus into the family hug with a big whumpf and shouts of 'its tradition!' as their excuse for forgiveness.
For the first time in a very, very, long time…
Severus hugged back (even though he categorically denied it later - calling it involuntary muscle spasms).
But whether he did (according to everyone else) or did not (according to him), it really didn't matter (although it did provide a rich source of debate for years to come), because Severus received a gift that Easter that his heart had ceased wishing for years before - a family who accepted him for who he was…snarky disposition and all.
Everything was perfect.
Their little family was complete.
Severus finally had a home.
Best of all…
He had it in writing!