Severus should have been happy. Honestly—he should have been. Harry was alive and well, convalescing in their private chambers. And with the exception of his third year Ravenclaw/Hufflepuffs, Severus' classes were only behind by one lesson.
On the contrary, Severus was as surly as he had ever been. Worry and inconvenience had done nothing for his disposition, and unfortunately for the inhabitants of Hogwarts, it meant for an even grumpier Potions Master than was usual. Severus was more than living up to his infamous reputation as Hogwarts' the Evil Bat, Git of the Dungeons.
Although a thorough search of the castle thus far had found no further threats to Harry, or any other student for that matter, Severus was still inconvenienced by having his labs moved from the dungeons, and during the long trek he found himself bumping into as many Aurors as he did first-year Hufflepuffs. But that wasn't all. Dumbledore had temporarily moved Severus' lab into the same corridor as Transfiguration—not only the same corridor but just across from Minerva's very classroom! He could almost feel Minerva's cat-like gaze penetrate the walls, watching him the way she did when he was her student and not her colleague. It made him feel small and untrusted, and Severus did not like either.
Severus had already started spreading out detentions like Dragon Pox. Students and staff, both, were convinced that it was only a matter of time before actual curses would begin to fly. Already a third-year Hufflepuff had lost thirty points for almost running into Severus as she rushed to avoid being late for DADA. A sixth year Slytherin couple earned detention with Filch for lack of decorum. They were holding hands in the corridor.
However, castle searches and imagined babysitters were not what had Severus' wand in a knot today. No—it was a very real babysitter, and Severus was ready to send Remus Lupin and Albus Dumbledore straight to the Seventh Circle of Hell where they belonged.
Green was a colour that suited Severus well, and though he was easily prone to jealousy, a Cruciatus would never force that confession out of him. But whatever complications plagued Harry's relationship with his dogfather over the summer seemed to be all but forgotten.
Just the other night he came home to his chambers to find Sirius Black drinking his wine and Harry teaching him to play Nine Men's Morris. Now, Severus did not begrudge Black one glass of wine, especially from the dregs of an old bottle, but Nine Men's Morris—Severus had taught Harry that game! Sirius Black's job was to watch Harry, to help Harry with his therapy and watch for relapses—not assume the role of father in Severus' absence. This arrangement just wasn't working out at all. The fact that Harry became irritable when the subject of Cedric Diggory's death came up during the course of one of their now-nightly Occlumency lessons did not help matters.
Severus swept into the classroom. The slamming of the heavy oak doors announced his arrival to the fourth year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. When he reached the blackboard, Severus waved his wand so quickly one could imagine it snap like a whip. The directions for the day's lessons angrily scrawled themselves out. More than once, the entire class squirmed in their seats as the chalk screeched across the blackboard.
"The potion you see before you is an anti-parasitic. It is especially effective against biting and stinging vermin, such as doxies, billywigs, and fleas," Severus said as he folded his arms across his chest and looked out to stare down his class.
"It's also very good for getting rid of nargles and Wrackspurts."
The Hufflepuffs broke out in giggles as the Ravenclaws glared at their housemate with unfeigned annoyance.
Severus made a point to quickly mask his own befuddlement. "Quiet…," he said in warning and the class quieted as if someone had hexed them. "Ten points from Ravenclaw, Ms Lovegood, for speaking out of turn and spouting nonsensicality. Do so again, and I shall test the potion to see if it's equally effective on annoying teenaged girls."
If Severus weren't in such a foul mood, he would have found it comical how half the faces in the class were turning red in efforts to keep from exploding in laughter. Ms Lovegood, however, simply shrugged and returned to serenely copying her notes from the board.
As Severus strolled through the aisles to ensure the little miscreants were doing their work, he wondered if he should have taken fifty points from the flighty raven. What the hell were nargles and Wrackspurts?
"Come on kiddo, you can do it…only three more and you can stop."
Harry was sitting up in his bed and had his arms clutched around what he figured was the world's hardest pillow. He was pressing it against his chest, trying to force himself to cough.
"Sirius…Tell me why *cough* I have to do this again?" Harry felt his face contort from the pain in his chest. His father's Pain Draught was begining to wear off and it was too early to take any more.
Sirius sat in a chair next to Harry's bed, trying to encourage Harry through his exercises. "Because Madam Pomfrey said so; now give me two more and have done with it."
"Easy for you to say…*cough*…I feel like I have a cave troll sitting on my chest," Harry managed to grind out through the pain. He felt has though his ribs were ready to snap.
Harry tried to put down his pillow but Sirius just pushed it right back against his chest.
"Just one more, Harry," Sirius promised. "Madam Pomfrey says these exercises will strengthen your lungs and keep fluid and infection from settling in."
Harry glared at Sirius, but grudgingly obliged his godfather with one last cough just the same.
"Don't give me the hairy eye, Harry."
Harry rolled his eyes at the bad pun.
"Funny how much you look like Snape when you do that," Sirius said.
"Sorry," Harry said almost inaudibly as he put his pillow down. He still couldn't help but think that Sirius would never get over the fact that Harry was never James' son.
Sirius gently took Harry's chin in his hand and tilted it so he was forced to look into his godfather's grey eyes.
"You remember what I told you?"
Harry nodded with his chin still in Sirius' hand. "Yeah, you'd love me just as much, even if I was Voldemort's kid."
Sirius smiled as he let go of Harry's chin, then ran his fingers through Harry's hair. "And I meant it, Harry. Don't ever forget that."
Despite lingering doubt, Harry's heart felt a little lighter. "I won't," he said with a genuine smile. "I'm just glad that's over."
"Me, too," Sirius said with a huge grin. "Now I don't have to worry about Snape carrying out his threat."
"And what threat was that?" asked Harry, as he gestured for Sirius to move aside so he could get up and go to the loo.
"He said that if I did not get you to complete your exercises, he would order the house-elves to leave me nothing but kibble for my meals."
Harry laughed, but he wished he hadn't because his bladder was too full and his chest too sore. "I have a feeling if I ever skived of on these exercises, you wouldn't be the only one eating kibble—be out in a mo'," Harry said as he shut the door behind him.
After Harry was done, he put on some proper clothes and padded into the kitchen, still in his bare feet. Sirius was there, casting a warming spell on a couple of Cornish pasties the house-elves had set out.
"Hey—sit down," Sirius said. "Are you going to be up for company?"
"Of course I am," Harry insisted as he gingerly took a seat at the table. "Besides, if I don't get on my homework soon, I'm going to be too far behind before the term really begins."
Sirius nodded. "Hmm," he hummed as he placed a plate with pasty and tomatoes in front of Harry.
Harry tucked into his lunch and sighed contently at the warm, flaky crust.
"That good, huh?" Sirius asked as he slid out a chair and settled in for his own lunch.
Harry nodded and smiled before taking another bite.
Sirius took a bite of tomato, his gaze looking about the chamber. "You know, this place isn't anything like I expected."
Harry grinned. "Yeah—I was expecting bats hanging from the ceiling when I first came here, too."
Sirius raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "Hate to say it, but Grimmauld Place resembles a dungeon more than this place. It doesn't matter how much Molly cleans and dusts, I don't think the place will ever feel clean. Come to think about it, it never felt clean even when it was. It's almost as depressing as Azkaban even without the Dementors."
"I'm sorry you've been stuck in that house all this time, Sirius."
Sirius' smiled faded slightly. "Hopefully it won't be much longer. Remus said that Dumbledore would petition to clear my name as soon as he could. Just wish it would be sooner than later."
Sirius told Harry of his plans to sell Grimmauld Place once circumstances allowed. All Sirius hoped for was a nice flat in Soho where he could enjoy a vibrant Wizarding community and all of the theatre and art it had to offer. Sirius explained that even when he was younger, he never felt he belonged at his parents' house. The declaration made Harry sad, but he understood perfectly. He had never called Privet Drive home, even when he lived there.
"Do you have to wait on Dumbledore? Can't you hire your own barrister?" Harry asked.
"Who would believe me? I suppose I could hire my father's old one. For all I know, he's still on retainer for the family…or he could be dead. I think he was older than Dumbledore."
"Maybe Dad knows one," Harry suggested hopefully.
Sirius' expression soured. Perhaps Harry shouldn't have used the "D" word.
"No doubt Snape has a family lawyer, Harry," Sirius said. "Most of the affluent pure-blood families do. But he would be taking a huge risk just acknowledging that he knows where I am. And I'm sorry, but I don't want to be beholding to Sni…your…father…even if he was willing to help."
Harry sighed. He knew Sirius was probably right. Just because Harry and Severus had come such a long way, didn't mean that his father was going to go out of the way to help Sirius.
"It must be nice having the Weasleys there," Harry said, awkwardly changing the subject. "Mrs Weasley is a great cook and bet she likes to fuss over you.'
"Yeah—it's nice to be mothered," Sirius said, as if being coddled by Mrs Weasley was anything but nice. He put down his fork as if he lost his appetite. So much for a happy change of subject.
After about the longest twenty seconds Harry ever thought he experienced, Sirius finally broke the silence. "So…is Snape still teaching you Occlumency?"
Harry swallowed hard, then nodded. "He's been helping me Occlude every night since I got out of the hospital," he explained. "Dad says I have the natural gift like he did. That's why I could throw off the Imperius Curse last year..." Harry had almost said, 'in the graveyard'. Harry snapped his mouth closed. Cedric's death was still a difficult subject for him.
"What's the matter, Harry?"
Harry shook his head, more upset with himself than his father or Sirius because his feelings were so obvious. His father would insist upon working on that tonight and it would hash up memories of the graveyard all over again. "Nothing," he lied.
"Something's wrong," Sirius said. "Is Snape treating you too harshly during your lessons? You can tell me if he is, Harry. I'll make cert…"
"No, of course not," Harry interrupted before Sirius made any accusations.
Harry tried to ignore his godfather's unease. "He says that my shields will strengthen with time and practice. At least once a day I find D…him… trying to penetrate them, but I'm getting good at pushing him out. The nightmares have even stopped."
Sirius' plate grated against the wooden table as he pushed aside his uneaten lunch. Harry's godfather seemed just as uncomfortable with the word 'dad' as the rest of the Wizarding world was with the name 'Voldemort'. "Why do you have to call him that? You don't have to call him that if you don't want to."
"I know that. But he's my father. What do you expect me to call him?" Harry was trying hard to hide his irritation with his godfather. He was honestly in no mood to fight.
Sirius looked as though he could think of quite a few names he would rather hear Harry call his father; thankfully, Sirius kept them to himself or Harry was certain he would not be able to hold his tongue.
Sirius leaned in from across the table, his grey eyes looking pointedly at Harry. "He's not too hard on you, is he?"
Harry shook his head. "No—not at all," he said quickly. "In fact he's been better than I could hope."
"So, no more nightmares, then?" Sirius asked Harry to reiterate.
"Not since that one about Cra…"Harry swallowed hard, "Not since this summer."
Sirius gave a short nod and indicated to Harry's plate. "You finished?"
"Yeah, I've had enough."
With a wave of his wand, Sirius vanished the lunch dishes to the sink. They began to wash and put themselves away. Harry looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Sirius would have found it comical if it didn't remind him so much of that damned Snape.
"What?" Sirius asked with mocked surprise. "We had a bachelor flat after we left Hogwarts. Someone had to do the dishes."
Harry smiled at him with amusement and Sirius was glad he didn't have to explain who 'we' were. He didn't want to refer to James by his given name in front of Harry and he certainly didn't want to acknowledge Peter's existence.
"How about another round of Nine Men's Morris?" Sirius suggested.
"Sure," Harry said enthusiastically. "I need the practice so next time I play D…the professor, I won't get trounced."
Sirius felt ashamed. Had his discomfort been so obvious that it became contagious? "Harry? I'm sorry. If you want to call Snape 'Dad', it's not my place to tell you otherwise."
There was a tinge of sadness in Harry's eyes that tore at Sirius' heart. "I don't want to hurt you," the boy said a bit pathetically.
Sirius sighed. It did hurt every time Harry called Snape 'Dad'. He couldn't help but think this was all a betrayal of James. He found it very difficult to believe that James had a willing hand in this deception, but seemingly, the evidence supported Snape and Dumbledore's story. "Harry, you don't have anything to apologise about. It's just going to take some getting used to."
Harry's smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "So, how about a game or two?"
Now Harry's smile was genuine and he allowed Sirius to guide him over to the small antique gaming table set up in front of the fireplace.
The game started out quietly as they placed their pieces on the board for the first phase. Already, Sirius was blocking Harry from forming mills.
"I thought you never played this game before," Harry said in exasperation as Sirius took the boy's first piece.
"I said I never played the game," Sirius said with a grin as he blocked Harry again. "I never said I didn't know how to play."
Harry took his hand off his game piece and stared dumfounded at Sirius. "How did you learn how to play a Muggle game?"
Sirius looked up at Harry from where he was studying the board. "Your d…James, Remus and I used to pub crawl some Friday nights in the Muggle district," Sirius admitted somewhat sheepishly. He purposely 'forgot' to mention Peter.
Harry chuckled. "Really?"
Sirius nodded. "Some of those pub games used to get quite intense. We lost a lot of money to the Muggle punters."
"Dad learned from his father." Harry looked at Sirius through his fringe, obviously wondering what his godfather's reaction would be.
Sirius took a deep breath. He was determined not to let react like a prat every time Harry called Snape 'Dad'.
"Considering who his mother was, I keep forgetting Snape was raised in the Muggle world," Sirius said, rather proud of the way he managed to sound magnanimous.
"You know about my dad's family?" Harry asked excitingly. "He never talks much about the Princes: only that he was raised by his magical grandparents after his mum died."
Sirius sighed, not really sure if it was his place to tell Harry some of the more lurid details about his ancestry. He fought with his conscience for only a moment before he decided that Harry would find out one way or another. Better Harry hear the story from Sirius rather than a vicious school mate.
"It just so happens I know a fair bit of the story behind your grandparents' marriage—possibly even more than Snape, himself."
Sirius could almost see the question mark form on Harry's forehead. "How could you possibly know more about my dad's family than he does?"
"Because before your grandmother met your grandfather, she was betrothed to my Uncle Alphard."
"You're yanking my wand!" Harry exclaimed. His face was frozen somewhere between shocked and amused.
Sirius nodded. "According to my mother, it was a great scandal at the time. The Prince bloodline was coveted."
"What do you mean by coveted?"
Sirius called for a pot of tea and it popped into existence along with a tea table, right next to Sirius' elbow.
Harry eyed the tea suspiciously. "Is the story going to take that long?"
"It might," Sirius said as he poured out. He offered Harry the teacup and his godson took it.
"So tell me."
Sirius added some milk to his own tea. "Well, I take it you've seen that relief of Phillip Prince in Snape's library?
"Yeah—the family resemblance is a bit striking, don't you think?"
"Definitely," Sirius agreed. "The way I heard it, nearly two centuries ago one of Snape's ancestors became obsessed with Phillip Prince's legend. Not wanting the family fortunes to be squabbled over and squandered between multiple children, he cursed his own wife so she would only bear one child…a son."
Sirius could see Harry's Adam's apple bob. "He…he cursed his own wife?"
Sirius nodded. "So goes the story. It is rumoured that later generations of Princes did the same. For generations the family only had a single male child…until your grandmother came along."
Harry looked relieved and awed. "Julius Prince didn't curse his wife, then."
"Who knows," Sirius shrugged. "It's all just speculation, anyway. Needless to say, despite the fact she was no raving beauty, Eileen Prince's hand in marriage became the most sought after in the Wizarding world at the time. She was the sole heiress of a family fortune that dwarfed the combined wealth of the Malfoys and Blacks, and the family name would die with her. By default their money and power would be passed to the family she married in to."
Harry seemed glued to Sirius' every word. "Did my grandmother and your uncle fall in love?"
"I don't know," Sirius confessed. "At least that detail didn't matter to my mother, and my uncle refused to speak of it."
"What happened? Why didn't they get married?"
"Tobias Snape," Sirius said, trying to hide his bitterness over his favourite uncle's heartbreak. "Mother raged that Eileen Prince had turned Blood Traitor and eloped with a Muggle. Your grandmother was disowned and lost to the magical world until Snape showed up at Hogwarts."
"I'm sorry about your uncle, but I sort of don't blame her—wanting to get away from all of the intrigue." There was a strange sadness set in Harry's eyes and Sirius knew Harry wanted to escape his own fame.
"I suppose you're right," Sirius said heavily. "I was born into our family and I wanted out any way I could," he admitted. "But it is a bit of a shame. Uncle Alphard was one of the decent ones. He would have been good to her. "
The crease on Harry's forehead grew deeper. Once again, the crease between his godson's eyes reminded Sirius of Snape. "I don't understand. If my grandmother was disowned, how did my…Severus inherit the Prince fortune?"
Sirius breathed a little easier. At least Harry asked an easy question to answer. It was another story he had heard at his mother's knee. "Snape's mother had died the year before we started Hogwarts and Julius Prince refused to let the last of his line to be raised by a Muggle, no matter his blood status." Sirius left out the part where his mother thought Julius Prince should have drowned his mongrel grandson. Better to let the bloodline die out pure.
Harry nodded solemnly. There was an uncomfortable silence for a few minutes and Sirius could feel his heart pound in his throat, because he knew what Harry was thinking now.
"What started all of this hatred between you and my dad?"
He was right.
Sirius swallowed hard, trying to gain control of his racing heart. "It's hard to explain, Harry. We were all so young. It had had started with some taunting on board the train for the first time. A lot like you and Malfoy, I would think."
Harry shook his head. "I've seen his memories, Sirius. I've never hexed Malfoy 'because he existed'," he said with a bitter edge.
Sirius hated to admit it to himself, but Harry was right.
Sirius tried to rationalize his behaviour to himself as much as Harry. "As much as I tried to distance myself from my family, some things just can't help but take hold. My mother hated the Princes and made the family out as darker than our own. The fact that my favourite uncle had his heart broken by Snape's mum didn't help."
"So you blamed my dad for something his mum did before he was born?"
"You have a point," Sirius agreed reluctantly, "But I do suppose he was a bit too friendly with a certain little redheaded witch my best mate had taken a fancy to."
"You mean to tell me that you guys fought all of those years in school because James was jealous of Dad's friendship with Mum?"
"I suppose, looking back, it does seem a bit obsessive," Sirius admitted. "But by the time we realized that Snape and Lily were the real deal, too much bad blood had come between us for any reconciliation."
The disappointed look in Harry's eyes was almost too much for Sirius to bear. "What about now?" Harry asked hopefully.
Sirius hung his head in shame and gave a little shake. "I'm sorry, but I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you, Harry. There might be a slight chance that Snape and Remus could become tentative friends. Remus wasn't involved in the worst of the fighting and he's never been known to hold a grudge. I'm afraid that the best you can hope for between me and Snape is a cool cease fire."
"I can accept that for now," Harry said with a bit of cheek. "But I can hope for anything."
Sirius gave a rueful smile. "I suppose you can, just don't hold your breath."
After another cup of tea and awkward conversation that purposely avoided the topic of Snape, Harry announced he was ready for a quick nap before his friends arrived to help him with homework.
Sirius went around the table and helped the boy up. It worried him that Harry was still prone to weakness, even if it had only been three days since he awoke from his attack.
"So—does your old man have anything to read around here besides potions manuals?"
Harry pointed to the built-in by the fireplace as they passed it. "In there. You're sure to find something."
After seeing that Harry was settled in, Sirius returned to the sitting room and explored the bookshelves that Harry had pointed to. Harry was right. There were a lot of interesting titles. One author had particularly sparked his interest. Lily had introduced Sirius to Ernest Hemingway many years ago. Sirius scanned through the books, most of which he had already read, until he came across a title he was unfamiliar with. Sirius chose Fiesta, then went to the wine cabinet.
He had to admit, Sirius had been somewhat surprised when Snape hadn't said anything about his wine. Sirius' nerves had been raw for months now, only to be exacerbated by recent events. A single glass of wine would not impair Sirius should Harry need him, but it went far to calm his nerves. He had been thoughtful enough to only pour from an already open bottle, and now what little had been in the bottle two nights ago was gone.
Sirius debated about opening a new bottle. There was an open bottle of Ogden's Finest, but unlike wine, even one shot of firewhiskey always went straight to his head. There were several fine elf-made wines, but Sirius knew better than to open those. He had almost given up on having a glass of wine with his new book when he spotted a couple of unfamiliar labels.
One was labelled La Tậche 1966 and the other Richebourg 1942. Between his father and Mr Potter, Sirius had learned a thing or two about elf-made wines and he had never heard of those two vintages. Obviously they were Muggle-made. It had been a long time since Sirius had tasted a pinot noir and he figured Snape wouldn't miss a glass of the Muggle wine. Sirius opted for the La Tậche since it was the youngest and, if Snape did have a problem, he would simply pay for the bottle. How much could a bottle of Muggle wine cost, anyway?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~To Be Continued~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Yay! Told you I was still writing! And a special 'thank you' to my beta, Badgerlady. Even on her holiday, she took time out to beta.