Notes: I apologise for the lateness of the update; my summer classes are almost over, so I think I'll be able to get the next one out sooner. Hope you enjoy! There's a lot of exposition in this one, but I tried not to make it too boring.

Chapter title idea goes to Staring Contest With the Abyss. Thanks!

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Chapter 3 -- Lily, Severus

10 May 1990
LILY

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'm a horrid mother for leaving my son to fend for himself throughout this whole process. But you must realise it isn't like that. Not really.

One thing you have to know about Harry is that he was raised...well, he was raised by one James Potter. My husband is -- was -- a magnificent man, brilliant and passionate and supportive and kind, but we had two very contrasting schools of thought when it came to child-rearing...especially when that child was male. From the word go, James was always the hard, macho "tough guy" in school. He always took great pride in how much he could pile on -- injuries from Quidditch, detentions with Filch...the works. So naturally when it came round to raising Harry, James wanted our son to follow in his footsteps. James wanted Harry to be tough as nails, the way he had been.

Oh, he didn't say it, of course. He never scolded Harry for emoting, or told him to "man up." Nothing like that. James was a good man, and he loved Harry just the way he was. It was more that...well, every once in a while he'd make a comment-- seemingly harmless, but I could see how eagerly Harry lapped it all up -- and I just knew things were going to get complicated quickly. Sometimes James would say, "Just shrug it off, kiddo, it's not worth it," or "There's my tough little man, why don't we stop that crying, eh?" Never meant in detriment, but perhaps it worked so anyway. Before we knew it, Harry had stopped crying by the age of two. Scraped knee? No problem. Nightmare? Sorted. Harry was as rough-and-tumble as they come, all because James taught him how to keep it together at the tender age of three.

I attempted to point out to James that sometimes men did cry...did apologise, did beg for forgiveness... (did beg for other things as well, if we're to be perfectly candid here). And yet, James seemed to just gloss right over all of that.

I didn't agree with any of this, really -- I had my method, and it was the motherly approach. Yes, I try to be very fierce and practical and professional as well -- I have my career as an Auror to think of, after all, and it would be ridiculous to coddle and protect the trainees and applicants who come in looking to join the Force. I mean, how will they ever learn if I don't drive them hard? But when it came to Harry...of course he's another matter entirely. I would try to let him know, from time to time, that it was okay to feel what he was feeling and talk about it, but he just looked at me like I was mental. After a while I suppose I just...stopped trying.

So, you see, Harry isn't used to affection, isn't used to wanting it or needing it...or even admitting to himself when it's okay to want or need it. Or to need anything else, really. That's not to say James never hugged him, or that I never sang him back to sleep when he woke suddenly in the night. It's just that ten years of implications regarding what men allegedly did and didn't do quite obviously left their mark, because...well, how could they not?

It's a wide-spread Western societal thing, I'd wager.

When James died, I think I went off my head a bit. I turned to work; I drowned myself in it. (Perhaps I still do, to be perfectly frank.) I became cold and distant -- as much as possible anyway -- and dismissed poor Harry, while simultaneously preaching all this business about coping with our loss, and remembering the good times, and trying to get to the heart of the matter...I don't know, honestly, how much of it I believe. Really, truly, at the end of the day I would give anything to just pretend it never happened. To just shut everything out and feel nothing for a few hours...or days...or weeks. A sort of wake me when it's over mentality, you know? I think I wanted to pretend it didn't hurt so much and then, perhaps, it wouldn't.

That accident...that stupid bloody accident...James wasn't even meant to be working the field that night; we were an Auror short and he offered to take up the slack. When the curses started flying, I turned my focus onto my own fight, of course, because I figured James could handle himself. And why shouldn't he? He's -- excuse me; he was -- such an adept Auror that the idea he might lose never occurred to me.

But I expect that's always the case, isn't it? Something is always true until the one time it's not. Someone is the best until the time they're bested. Someone's alive until they're dead. It sounds rather obvious, trite, and sneer-worthy, but sod it all if it isn't true as well. It just takes a second -- a second's hesitation, a second's indecision, a falter, a stumble -- and you're down. You can't drop the ball, and you must always be your best. That's the nature of the game. It's what I love about it...and what I detest as well.

It's exhausting, putting on a brave, fierce, impartial face at work and then coming home and shutting myself away in my room so no one sees how wrecked I am about it. Trying to be normal for all the people I'm in charge of -- never showing weakness, never letting on -- only to find I have nothing left to give the person I love most: my son.

Severus thinks I don't notice Harry falling further and further beneath the cracks; he's wrong, I do. I know I have an obligation to Harry and I'm buggering this up royally. I need to fix this. I need to be there for him. There's no getting around the fact I've disappointed him...perhaps not irreparably, but we're certainly veering down that path.

At this point, though, I haven't the foggiest what to do. I'm ill-equipped. But when push comes to shove, I think Severus has what it takes -- even if he doesn't see it, yet.

---

11 May 1990
SEVERUS

She asked the unthinkable: she wanted me to babysit her son.

I have classes to teach. Hogwarts has not officially let out yet and I still have papers to mark, points to take, potions to brew, students to belittle -- I imagine you get the picture. What I mean to say (just in case you cannot grasp my meaning beneath all the dripping sarcasm in my tone) is that I have a life outside of Lily Evans-Potter, and I cannot be expected to run round her house at all hours of the day and night, playing child-minder to her indolent, arrogant Potter-spawn.

I love that woman; I am surprisingly unashamed to admit it. But she has some nerve, expecting me to clear up her messes where Harry Potter is concerned.

No, darling Lily, light of my life, I do not want to spend an evening watching reruns of Doctor Who with your wayward brat. First off, though I have not seen Doctor Who once in my life, it sounds terribly whimsical and Muggle in its ideation. Second off, even if I did approve of such a programme, I would most certainly prefer to watch it in more dignified company.

Merlin, do I despise children.

You might be wondering, at this juncture, why it is I decided to become an educator when so I detest shaping young minds. My reason is not so much a reason as it is a name. Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore and I have worked out some of the bad blood that remains between us, but I doubt we shall ever truly be on good terms. Something about my willingness to sacrifice an entire family just to save the love of my life did not quite sit well with him, I should think. But, honestly. As if he should be one to talk about sacrifices -- the man is a veritable walking game of chess.

But I appear to be getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain.

Back when my former Lord was convinced the Prophecy pertained to a certain Potter child over whom I've already expressed such ire, I appealed to one Albus Dumbledore in hopes he might keep Lily safe when the Dark Lord attacked. I agreed to do anything he asked of me. (In retrospect, not a very Slytherin move on my part, but c'est la vie; what is done is done.) The Headmaster came through on his end of the agreement -- perhaps a bit cruelly, using harsh words and a cutting tone quite inconsistent with the "grandfatherly old man" persona he typically adopts in public -- but nonetheless, he did come through. He provided them with the best protection possible, and for that I was grateful. Perhaps more grateful than I would ever admit to myself. Even in a whisper, in the dark, at wandpoint.

Of course, it was all for naught when it turned out Neville Longbottom was the one the Dark Lord wanted. I was, of course, relieved. Lily was safe; what more could I ask for? Dumbledore, however, was not of the same mind and saw fit to ask a great deal more of me. He asked that I continue to offer my services to him and his people by rejoining the Order and agreeing to protect the Boy-Who-Lived when Longbottom made it to school.

Hence, my position as Potions Master at Hogwarts. It is not such a terrible position, all things considered -- the pay is reasonable, all my needs are met, and I have access to both the Floo and a nearby Apparition point outside castle bounds, so I am not limited in mobility when it comes to fetching supplies and making unscheduled visits to old friends.

In essence, it could be far worse. I am satisfied: I have what I need, no more and no less. My only real complaint is (of course) the students, but what is a teaching position without students to teach? Much as I would like a school without those inarticulate dunderheads, I expect I would be out of a job. And I suppose every once in a while I meet a young individual who doesn't completely drive me round the bend...someone possessing of talent and ambition and potential, someone willing to try, someone who isn't an utter waste of cauldron space. Those are the moments I savour.

That said, I also savour my moments alone. Those brief respites from teaching, and from dealing with children in general. Which is why Lily's request struck such a nerve.

"No," I replied when she asked. I said it quickly, and with great conviction. I do not see how she could possibly find reason to ask again.

And yet she did.

"Look, Sev," she said, "I'm pulling a double shift tonight. I'm not even supposed to be here -- visiting you to ask if you can watch Harry tonight, I mean -- but I figure they wouldn't miss me if I popped over for a moment. I wouldn't impose, it's only that...well...there's no one else available on such short notice."

"And what makes you think I am available on such short notice?" I growled. "Just because it happens to be a Friday does not mean I am suddenly relieved of all teacherly duties. A whole academic world exists beyond the classroom, Lily, and I happen to take my place in it. What's more, I have a life outside of Hogwarts: supplies to buy, orders to fill, and missions to take part in. I have responsibilities, Lily -- and ones I've been shirking as of late, might I add."

She paused as we both heard what I was implying, and though she took my rant with her usual good grace and an answering raised eyebrow I could tell she was nearing her threshold of not very pleased with my sarcasm.

"Well, really, Severus," she said wryly, "I didn't know things had got so bad on your end. Maybe I ought to send you your own personal House elf? They're dead useful, I'm told. And really -- if visiting is posing such an imposition, let's just leave off for a while."

I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration. "Your mockery is less than appreciated, seeing as you know that is not what I meant," I said sharply. "I enjoy your company greatly and wish to continue our weekly meetings. Perhaps without the lump, the mutt, and the werewolf next time, but that stipulation aside..."

She laughed: a cynical, tired, yet musical sound. "Severus, I'm no fool; I realise you have a complicated, intricate life outside of afternoon teas and evening meals with me. I do. Which is why I promise I wouldn't be asking if there weren't anyone else, see?"

"Can't Black do it?" I asked, half-hoping, half-sneering. "He practically worships the ground the boy walks on."

The raised eyebrow again. "I'll graciously ignore that one and chalk it up to loss of inhibition on account of acute emotional distress. Sirius can't do it. He's working a double tonight as well."

"Lupin? Pettigrew?"

"Remus is still getting his bearings from the full moon two days ago, and Peter..." She broke off, frowning slightly. "Strange, but I don't know what Peter is doing tonight, actually; all I know is he said he was busy."

I snorted. No doubt rushing off to the nearest confectionary since he discovered this morning that, to his deepest regret and horror, all his cakes had disappeared. "Couldn't you send the boy to your darling sister's for a spell?" I said, thinking fondly of the bitter, bony, horse-faced girl of our childhood.

Lily grimaced. "Harry hates it there, and they're not all that fond of him either. Vernon goes rather purple, Petunia looks as though she's smelt something foul, and their charming son smirks in a most malevolent fashion. At any rate, Harry always comes back looking like he's had to go ten rounds with Dementor. I try to avoid shipping him off to the Dursleys' whenever possible." She paused, looking hopeful. "So...do you think...maybe you could...? You would have the whole rest of the weekend to yourself. And besides, he doesn't need much when you get down to it -- you can leave him to his own devices, go off and mark essays, and he'll fare just fine. I just want someone there in case he needs something. You understand."

I did, and that was the worst part. I believe understanding is, ultimately, what made it so difficult to refuse.

"How long?" I muttered finally, not even attempting to keep the waspishness out of my voice, Lily's beliefs about common courtesy be damned.

However, she did not seem to notice my ire: her face broke into a radiant smile. "You mean you'll do it?" she asked.

"I didn't say that," I snapped. "I asked how long you intended on utilising my child-minding services."

But of course that smile was not leaving her beautiful face. She just looked chuffed to bits. "Oh, a few hours. Nothing too long. I'll have you back to your comfortable chambers by midnight."

"Midnight?" I demanded. "No, that's far too late. Absolutely not. Find someone else to do it."

She sighed slightly, placing her hand on top of mine. "Please, Sev? We've been through this: there is no one else to do it, and this is a really important case tonight. We've been tracking them for months...keeping tabs, making preparations...and through it all, I've been at the forefront. I need to be there. More than that, I want to be there. But I want to know Harry is safe, too."

Oh, Lily. Oh, darling, lovely, and above all manipulative Lily. Why is it I cannot say no to you?

"What time do I need to be there?" I snarled finally.

As predicted, the answering smile she gave me made the whole damn bloody thing worth it.

---

I arrived at half-seven; Lily had somehow managed to get away from the Force for just enough time to kiss the boy goodbye and promise him she would not be back too terribly late, and anything he needed he could ask of me. I just narrowly restrained a snort at that one.

"And you," she said, turning to me and lowering her voice, "Be good, yeah? He's not James, no matter the resemblance. He's a fantastic, brilliant boy...just chat to him a while and I guarantee you'll see it."

I made a non-committal noise and muttered she ought to get back before the rest of her team began to wonder where she'd gone.

After she'd left, a chill seemed to descend upon the room. Potter was looking anywhere but at me, taking every excuse possible to focus on something else -- some other object, some other corner, some other anything, really. His hands jumped from surface to surface: teakettle, countertop, saltshaker, fraying hole in his jean trousers. I swore to Merlin, if he fiddled with the breadbasket one more time --

"Do you want anything to eat or drink?" the boy asked, sounding surprisingly calm for how discomfited he looked.

"I am fine," I replied stiffly, then added, "Do you require any assistance with your coursework?" hoping my tone conveyed my extreme distaste for the idea.

"I'm set, thanks, sir," Potter mumbled. Well, at least he was polite. Though, of course, how could one be raised by Lily Evans-Potter and not pick up a few of her ideals regarding proper forms of address? We stared at each other (and then, of course, everywhere but) for a good thirty seconds more in painfully awkward silence before he muttered, "Right, I should -- "

"You do that," I replied witheringly, and stalked off to Lily's study to perhaps get a bit of work in before exhaustion set in.

I was just in the middle of marking yet another dismal essay when I heard some banging and clanging coming from the vicinity of the kitchen. Annoyed, I set down my parchment and quill and went to investigate. Potter looked up as I came in, interrupted from his task of retrieving a medium-sized pot in one hand and clutching a tin of soup in the other.

"And just what do you think you're doing?" I inquired, because although it was quite obvious what the boy thought he was doing, I have found in my vast experience with children that the bridge between what a child thinks he is doing (heating up a tin of soup) and what he is actually doing (putting everyone within a mile radius in danger of incineration) is dilapidated and built from rotting wood. Besides, I was in a foul mood and there was never anything wrong with a bit of extra intimidation, as far as I was concerned.

Potter, however, looked strangely un-intimidated. Uncomfortable, certainly, but not intimidated. "Making supper, sir," he replied awkwardly. "I was hungry and I just thought..."

"You just thought you fancied burning the whole house down, is that it?" I finished for him, striding purposefully over to where he stood and snatching the pot from his small hands. "You're barely tall enough to see over the top of the stove; imagine the risk you are placing us at should your sleeves accidentally catch fire as you struggle to reach the pot and remove it from the heat!"

Potter, stung both at the slight to his stature and the notion I thought he could not perform a task so simple as cooking soup, crossed his arms defensively across his thin chest and stared up at me with a peculiar expression in his eyes.

"I've made soup before, sir," he said, his voice an almost perfect imitation of Lily's when she was extremely displeased but endeavouring not to show it. "I think I'll manage."

I ignored that, turning instead to the tin of soup. "And what's this? Alphabetti Sphagetti?"

"Yeah?" Potter asked. "What of it?"

"Well, for starters, it has next to no nutritional value; 'tomato-based' does not indicate real tomatoes," I said snidely.

"Well, okay, but --"

"Secondly," I overrode him, "The tin is dented. I wasn't aware you had a death wish?" He blinked at me and I shook my head in disgust. "That is how you get Botchulism, Potter."

Dawning comprehension lit the boy's face. "No, don't worry, that's a myth," he said. "It's not every dented can, really -- you can only get Botchulism if the can has a hole in it. I checked this one thoroughly. It has a dent, but no hole."

I snorted. "Forgive me if I distrust the observation skills of an impetuous, reckless child who appears to have eyesight as bad as his fa-- "

I stopped. We looked at each other, then looked away.

"I suppose my eyesight is pretty bad," the boy conceded finally, looking strangely numb.

Another awkward, awful silence fell as he stared off into space, face still set in that cruel emotionless mask. That alone made me nervous. Had I pushed him over the edge? Good Lord, Lily would murder me in cold blood. I was vastly out of my depth, here.

I cleared my throat.

"Yes, well," I said at length. "Eyesight aside, the pasta letters are idiotic. I believe you are beyond the point of spelling things out by now?"

The expression cleared from his face immediately. "Well, I should h-o-p-e so," the boy said cheekily.

I wanted to walk out of the room and Disapparate from that house immediately. However, reluctantly I stayed, and reluctantly I made the suggestion I knew Lily would thank me for later. "How about we cook something together?" I supplied, gritting my teeth. "Something healthy -- that is, a bit less Botchulism and perhaps some real vegetables. Something, perchance, from which one cannot spell out one's name."

"Oh yeah?" Potter said curiously. "What did you have in mind? I could check the chillbox, see what Mum's got lying around."

"Mmm," I said non-committally, and he walked over to the refrigerator. I noticed him brush his hair out of his face -- a fluid, unconscious gesture that so reminded me of James Potter that I had to count to ten.

Lily, I thought to myself fiercely, I love you tremendously and imagine I always will. But you have some nerve, foisting your son on me.

---

"Chop carefully, and cut away from yourself, Potter," I admonished, plucking the knife out of his small hand and demonstrating the proper way. "Keep your elbows in and your hold firm but loose, and always, always, always cut from the inside out, away from yourself. Many a skilled Potioneer has lost a finger by forgetting that simple but critical rule."

"Ah. Right, got it." He repositioned the knife and took to slicing the carrots once more. "Did you always want to be a Potions Master, sir?" he asked. "Like, even back when you were still a student?"

I snorted, tossing the diced potatoes into the pan and starting in on the onions. "Well, to be honest, I was rather hoping I would make chief fry cook at the Leaky Cauldron, but it just so happens spending every waking hour pouring over useless essays and brewing potions I shall never use was more to Fate's liking," I said, perhaps a bit more sarcastically than was absolutely necessary.

Potter studied me carefully for a moment; then, apparently satisfied with whatever he saw, he gave a graceful nod and returned to his chopping. "Suppose you could do anything," he said after a moment's silence. "Be anyone, live any life in the entire world. What would it be and why?"

"Favour the quixotic, do we?" I sneered.

Those bright green eyes narrowed for a split-second before he recovered. "Just because I like to imagine the what-if's doesn't make me quixotic. I'm very practical. You don't know me. Sir," he added, albeit reluctantly.

I was momentarily impressed. Not many children his age had even encountered the word before, let alone looked it up and committed the definition to memory. Of course, it was ruined by the defensive tone and (let us be honest here: downright cliche) language, which just made him come across as an angry prepubescent. A rebel without a cause.

Luckily, he seemed to realise it as well, for when he spoke again, it was in a calmer and slightly chagrined voice.

"So," Potter said, blushing a bit, "Are you gonna answer?"

"Going to, Potter," I snapped absent-mindedly. "Not gonna. 'Gonna' is not a word; you will not find it in the Oxford English Dictionary -- nor should you. Honestly, the way the English language is deteriorating these days... The proper verb phrase you are looking for would be the gerund going placed before the infinitive to answer. Phrased in the form of a question, you might turn to me and inquire politely, 'Professor, are you going to answer?' And in response to said question, I would shake my head and tell you I must most regretfully decline."

Potter looked at me wryly. "Okay. So, professor," he tried, "Are you going to answer?"

"No," I said shortly, and Potter fell silent once more.

By the time we'd finished making supper (a simple vegetable and chicken stir fry dish), Potter was actually smiling.

"This is really good," he said shyly, as he popped another bite of onion into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. He thankfully waited until he'd swallowed to continue. "I mean, Mum makes nice things sometimes, and I've helped her cook and prepare supper, but we very rarely have anything as good as this unless you're coming over."

I wrinkled my nose. He spoke as if I had presented him with gourmet cuisine, instead of the vegetable and chicken dish we'd whipped up with very little bother indeed. Then again, I suppose if one has been living off Alphabetti Spaghetti all his life, I daresay a simple veg and chicken done right (and not from take-away) would likely floor him.

"I wouldn't call this 'nice,' Potter. I would call it a mainstay. Meals such as this one -- tasty and healthy -- ought to be a staple in your diet. Every day, you ought to have protein, veg, grains, fruit, and milk; you may occasionally indulge in sweets. Didn't they teach you all this in that infernal Muggle school of yours?"

"They did," Potter confirmed.

I raised an eyebrow. "So?"

"So, it's complicated," Potter muttered.

He did not look like he wanted to talk about it, which was just as well -- I did not want to hear about it.

I was about to return to my marking when Potter said, "Want to watch Doctor Who? Mum told me you never saw it as a kid even though she kept trying to get you to watch it with her. That seems like a travesty to me. The series ended last year, but we've got everything on tape if you'd like to see it. It's about a Time-Lord from the planet -- "

"Yes, yes, your mother has already talked my ear off about it. And no, Potter," I said, voice dripping with sarcasm, "I would not like to watch a show about a time-travelling alien who periodically saves the world." Potter looked as though he wanted to object, perhaps to argue that this was not all Doctor Who was about, but I went on before he could get a word in edgewise. "You see, Potter, I, unlike you, have work that cannot be put off until whenever the mood strikes."

The boy shrugged. "Well, fair enough," he replied. "I still say you're missing out; I'll be in there if you change your mind." He paused in the doorway, giving me a look I'd never seen on James Potter's face before. Gratitude. "And sir," he added, "thanks again for supper. It was great."

I ignored this, and he left as soon as he realised he wouldn't be getting a response. I heard him start up the show and I returned to the study, shut the door to keep out the noise, retrieved my pile of unmarked essays, and crossed over to the sofa. Then I pinched the bridge of my nose against the burgeoning headache, resigning myself to a very long night.

---

A/N: From now on there will be more Severus and Harry interaction, though Harry likely still won't talk more about his Dad (with anyone who isn't a notebook) for a while. It may eventually be LE/SS, I haven't decided, but if that's the case it wouldn't be for a long time and it certainly won't be the focus of the piece. Thoughts? Feelings? Tell me what you think!