Title: Practicing Liars
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Summary: AU of HBP. Harry found out that he was Snape's son two years ago, and he's carefully concealed it. But now Snape is his Defense teacher, and Draco Malfoy is up to something, and Dumbledore is dying, and the final battle is coming up, and everything is getting very, very complicated.
Pairings: Background Ron/Hermione and Ron/Lavender. Harry and Draco have a 'complicated friendship' which will become a preslash relationship. For obvious reasons, Snape/Lily is mentioned.
Warnings: Violence (lots of violence), profanity, angst, character death (not Snape, Harry, or Draco), slash and het hints.
Author's Notes: While I'm hoping to make this plot at least somewhat original, I know that I'm treading on well-covered ground. I don't know yet how long the story will be, except that it will be novel-length. Practicing Liars is being written for my dear soft2smooth2000, who has helped me wonderfully with keeping track of and linking to my fics on LJ.
Chapter One—Awful News
Harry lay on his back with his arms folded behind his head and stared at the ceiling of Dudley's second bedroom. There was a crack in it. He had traced his eyes over every twist of that crack until he knew it better than he knew the way to Divination at Hogwarts.
That was awful.
He hadn't seen Sirius or his friends since the start of the summer, or heard from them. He had no idea how the war with Voldemort was going, or what might have happened since Voldemort took his blood in the graveyard and dueled with him. Was he growing stronger? Were people doing sensible things to fight him? Were they having exciting adventures without Harry, and did they miss him at all?
That was awful.
Since he had come back to Privet Drive, Harry didn't think there was a night when he didn't wake up straight out of a sound sleep, his skin soaked with sweat and his panting loud and harsh. Sometimes it was nightmares about Cedric, but it was almost worse when he found his mind filled with this heavy darkness and dreamed that he was dead or shut away from the world somewhere and the war and real life were happening in a place he couldn't reach.
That was awful.
But no matter how he listened, Harry couldn't discover anything about Voldemort's activities from the Muggle telly or the newspaper. He might have vanished off the face of the earth as far as the Dursleys and people like the Dursleys were concerned.
Harry had to hide in the house and do chores and go without food sometimes and pretend that it was yet another summer, that nothing was wrong, that he had just come back from a school year no more dangerous or exciting or frustrating than his first three.
That was the most awful thing of all.
If I'm mad by the time I go back to Hogwarts, Harry thought with a fierce frown as he turned over and buried his head in the pillow, then it's no one's fault but theirs.
Harry looked helplessly at the collection of papers, boxes, old books, and clothes that his aunt had just handed him. She had already gone to the front door, and he knew she would leave in a moment for the shops.
"But what am I supposed to do with this?" he asked, raising his voice so she couldn't pretend she hadn't heard him.
Aunt Petunia poked her head back through the door into the drawing room. She had on a hat that made her look like a horse without a mane. Harry bit his lip so hard he probably drew blood, but Aunt Petunia only frowned like usual and snapped, "Sort through them, of course. Anything valuable or relating to Dudders should go in one pile. Anything to throw out should go into another pile."
Harry opened his mouth again to ask how he was supposed to judge that, but Aunt Petunia's head vanished, and then Harry heard the door snick open and shut.
Harry stared at the pile and shook his head. His uncle was at work, and Dudley was off God knew where, probably bragging to his friends. At least he wouldn't have people around to make the task harder, Harry thought glumly as he started to sort through things. That was about all that could be said for it.
The things Aunt Petunia had given him were coated with dust, which made him sneeze at least three times as he opened every box or envelope. They were crumpled and bent, and most of them were written in tiny print, so that Harry had to squint at them to find out what they were. And then most of them turned out to be letters from people he'd never heard of, old birthday cards, boxes of broken toys, or collections of pipes and tiny metal clips that Harry didn't recognize.
He was flinging everything but the most obvious candidates—like a cluster of forgotten bank notes or a photograph of Vernon and Dudley when Dudley was a baby—into the "rubbish" pile when one letter got away from him and slipped to the floor like his fingers were made of rubber. Harry grumbled and bent over to pick it up.
For my son, Harry.
Harry had never seen the delicate, looped writing that covered the outside of the envelope in emerald-green ink, but he had no doubt anyway. This was a letter from his mother.
Where had it come from? Harry sat down on the couch with the letter in his hands and stared at it. He couldn't imagine that his mum had sent the letter to Aunt Petunia while she was still alive, or that his aunt would have kept it if she had. Maybe it came with the Hogwarts letters? But no, most of this stuff was more than four years old.
There was another possibility, one that Harry hardly dared think about. Maybe this letter had come with him when he was left on the Dursleys' doorstep as a baby. Maybe it had been stuck in his blanket, or under it.
But Aunt Petunia still would have thrown it away, he thought.
And then he thought, Not if magic hid it.
He sat there for so long that he heard the front door open. Harry jumped and shoved the letter into the waistband of his jeans, then tugged his shirt over it. It felt thick, and he swallowed as he bent over and started sorting through the dusty things again, wondering if his mother had left him photographs or a diary.
He hoped so. He wanted to know more about her than what she looked like and the fact that she married his dad and died for him.
"There's dust all over the floor, Potter," said Dudley's whiny voice. "I'm going to tell Dad on you!"
"I'll vacuum it up later," Harry muttered, and then bowed his head so that there was no chance for Dudley to catch his eye. The last thing he wanted right now was to get into a fight with his cousin. Dudley would probably find the letter and take it away. He always did the thing Harry least wanted right when he least wanted it.
Dudley started to say something else, but Piers Polkiss spoke up then. "Come on, Big D, you said that you had something up in your room that you wanted to show me!"
Harry hid his laughter at his cousin's new nickname and waited until he heard Dudley running up the stairs with Piers. Then he touched the corner of the letter and stroked the envelope. It felt smother than ordinary paper, with a raised ripple in the middle.
I'll look at it later, he decided. When I'm in my room, and there's no chance that they can take it away.
Finally it was evening, and Harry was locked up in his bedroom again, with his letter. The Dursleys had decided that he would go to bed without dinner again tonight. Uncle Vernon had said something about why, but Harry couldn't care enough to listen. He was too grateful that they were going to leave him alone for the rest of the evening.
His fingers shook so hard that he nearly ripped the envelope instead of opening it. Harry forced himself to relax and take a deep breath before he tried again.
There was a set of folded sheets of paper inside, and another, sealed letter. Harry looked at that one, but there was no name on it, just two words. I'm sorry.
Mystified, he unfolded the papers that were addressed to him and leaned back on his pillow to read them. His stomach grumbled, and Harry rubbed it so it would be quiet.
My dear son:
I have something to tell you that I would have kept concealed forever if I could. But I'm uneasy. Everyone says that we're perfectly safe in Godric's Hollow. I don't think we are. I see shadows in my dreams, and a darkness that makes me think, sometimes, I won't live much longer.
Harry swallowed. Mum had dreams like me? It was a long time before he could make himself look away from that first paragraph and keep reading the letter.
If you survive and I don't—although I don't know how that would happen, but I think it might—you deserve to know who you really are and where you really came from. There are lots of reasons for that. You might have a disease or a gift that can only be explained by knowing your heritage. It's not fair to you to keep this secret. If I'm dead, then I'm sure that James or Sirius or Remus or one of them has talked about me like I'm a saint, and you don't really know me at all. There's more than one person than you who should know the secret. (That's the person the other letter is addressed to).
But maybe at the bottom, I want to confess. The secret has haunted me at night, and there's no way that I can tell James.
Harry clenched one hand down on his knee. What could she tell him and not his dad?
I slept with someone else, Harry. I did it shortly after my marriage, because I was suffering from the stress of the war and I wanted to do one last wild, free thing before the Aurors made James and me retire from the field for our own good. And then, even though I denied it for as long as I could, I realized that you were the son of the man I slept with, and not James's son.
Harry couldn't move. It was only after long moments that he realized he had stopped breathing, and started again with a cough.
He'd wanted to know more about his mum, he thought as he sat staring numbly at the paper. But not like this. He'd wanted to know what her favorite color was, and what her laugh sounded like, and if she broke any bones when she was a kid, and what spell she liked best when she was at Hogwarts. But not this.
For a minute, he was angry at her. How could she think he would ever want to know this? It wasn't the kind of thing that you told a kid!
Then he remembered that he didn't know when she'd planned to give him the letter. Maybe she would have waited until he was twenty, or thirty. Or maybe she would have told him herself and not in a letter if she'd survived.
Besides, he wasn't really a kid anymore, was he? And he would have hated it if he had found out on his own.
Harry spent a moment tracing a finger up and down his right arm. He could feel the scar of the knife where Wormtail had taken the blood out of him. He shivered and reluctantly forced himself to return to the letter.
But the next paragraph was worse than summer at the Dursleys'.
Your father is a man James and I knew at school, named Severus Snape.
"No," Harry said, but not loudly, because he couldn't get any breath behind the word.
I'm sure he doesn't know. That's why I left a letter for him, too, because I know that he needs to hear the truth from me in my own words. I don't want you to be left with the burden of explaining it to him.
I wish I had some better story to offer you, Harry. But the truth is that I left the house after an argument with James—we were always arguing then, because he thought I wasn't good enough at Defense to work as a field Auror and I thought he was too reckless—and went to a small establishment that only the Order of the Phoenix knew about. It was a place we could get drunk and not worry about danger. I only meant to get drunk, Harry, I swear. Not do—anything else.
But Severus was there. He was hidden under a glamour, but I recognized him. I've always been good at Charms. And I sat there staring at him, because I thought he must have killed Chambers—the Order member he was impersonating—and entered the safehouse to spy on us. The last thing I knew of him, he'd become a Death Eater and followed Voldemort as faithfully as anyone else.
Common sense rescued me, of course. Dumbledore would have known in an instant if Chambers was dead, and made sure to warn us and change the wards so that someone with Chambers's appearance couldn't enter. So something else must be going on. I went over to Severus, taking my courage in both hands. We'd parted under rather bad circumstances.
He hardly welcomed me, but he confirmed my guess. Yes, something else was going on. Yes, he knew things he couldn't tell me. Yes, he regretted the way we had parted.
It was the last which seemed the most important to me at the time, though later I figured out that Severus probably hadn't chosen a side yet and was wavering back and forth, playing both sides against the middle. He'd done it well enough to convince Dumbledore, though, so I felt safe to get drunk in his presence.
I won't tell you everything we said. It was the kind of conversation that only we would understand. But it ended with us sleeping together.
I woke up in the morning, horrified. This wasn't what I wanted to do with my life: deal with arguments with my husband by cheating on him. I used a Memory Charm on Severus, went back home, and made up with James. When I realized I was pregnant, I thought there was every chance that you were James's child.
But I knew the truth when I cast Paternity Charms as soon as you were born.
Harry closed his eyes. He wanted to ask all sorts of questions. How could she do that? How could she talk about it so—so openly, just trusting that he would understand and forgive her? What was the Order of the Phoenix? What had Snape really been doing there?
How could she do that?
Maybe there was an explanation in the rest of the letter. Harry steeled himself to read on.
I want you to know, Harry, that I never loved you any less. I regretted that I cheated on my husband, not that you came into existence. And the regret for that is lessened, because you're the child I know and love, not an imaginary child who would have been born instead if I had never slept with Severus.
I'm wrapping this letter in multiple charms and enchantments so that it will survive anything that might happen to me, and always stay close by you, migrating across the distance between you if necessary. You're the only one who can find and read it. The same isn't true of the letter I've included for Severus. I'll trust you to give it to him, Harry, because he needs to know the truth. I know you'll probably laugh at that, but I believe it nonetheless. I stole his memories from him, so he has no idea. At the least, he deserves those back.
I know that he may choose never to acknowledge you. I don't know in what capacity you know him, if at all. Maybe I should hope that you're strangers to each other, because think what a fracas it will cause between him and James when he finds out!
Harry shuddered. "Dad died, too," he whispered to the letter. He felt odd a moment later, but he refused to care. James was still his dad, damn it. He was the one who had loved Harry and had died for him.
Harry bent his head and wrapped his arms around it, rocking slightly back and forth. It was the way he used to comfort himself in his cupboard when Uncle Vernon had yelled at him or after the time that Aunt Petunia cut all his hair off.
Snape would hold this over his head. Or he would sneer and laugh. Or he would reveal it to all the Slytherins, standing in front of them and glaring implacably at Harry while they stared and snickered and called his mother names. And then he would torment him harder than ever all through school because that would give him another reason to hate Harry.
He already hates me for what Dad did, Harry thought bitterly, wiping at his forehead, why not both parents?
Whatever happened, it would be horrible. The one good thing about Snape was that at least he had no reason to seek Harry out all the time and try to torture him the way the Dursleys did. Harry knew the Dursleys hated him so much because they were forced to acknowledge that he was there, their cousin or their nephew, and they couldn't escape the blood tie. Snape would make Uncle Vernon look kind and reasonable if he had to think about Harry being related to him. Harry didn't want starvation and curses and neglect from a second "family," thank you very much. His family was the people who loved him, like Ron and Hermione and Sirius and the Weasleys, not the people who hated him.
Or if someone else, probably Dumbledore, forced Snape to say that Harry was his son and not torture him, then he would go out of his way to do worse things. Harry had seen the way that he would subtly unnerve Neville long before Neville melted a cauldron or ruined a potion. He would do the same thing to Harry. Then he could look innocent when Harry snapped and say that it wasn't his fault, that Harry had brooded on this too much and driven himself mad.
There was no way that this didn't end in a disaster.
Harry finished reading the rest of the letter, an itching behind his eyes and in his hands.
I love you, Harry. I wanted you to know what I was like at my worst as well as at my best. I hope that there'll never be a need for this letter, and that you'll grow up under my protection, and I can tell you the truth someday when I've prepared you carefully for it.
But I think that would be foolish, given my dreams.
I hope you can forgive me.
Your loving mother,
Harry turned to the other letter that lay on the bed. The I'm sorry letter for Severus Snape. The longer he stared at it, the worse the itching in his hands became.
Then he grabbed the letter and ripped it to shreds.
It tore reluctantly. It was even thicker than the letter to Harry, and the paper was the same kind as the envelope that had enclosed his letter, so it was more resistant, and Harry hated the thought of destroying anything his mother had left behind. But he managed, and then he tore up the shreds, and then he folded the pieces that were left in half and crumbled them between his palms until they were fine, floating dust.
He smoothed the letter his mother left him with trembling hands and tucked it away in the space under the floor where he kept the food Mrs. Weasley sent. He was going to keep that one. It was even more precious than the photographs Hagrid had given him, in a way. This was directly from his mum. She'd wanted him to have it.
But he wasn't ever going to think about what the letter had said again, if he could help it.
He knew what Hermione would say to that. She would ask him if he was crazy. She would scold him. She would say that Snape had a right to know, and that Harry didn't know he would be like the Dursleys, not for certain, and what if he was missing out on something wonderful by giving this up?
But Hermione had lived with loving parents all her life. She had no idea what real life at Privet Drive was like. She also still thought Snape was a good teacher, somehow, just because she got high marks in his classes. She didn't stop to think that they would have been even higher if Snape didn't unfairly favor the Slytherins and gave Hermione the marks she had actually earned.
Besides, it wasn't like Snape suspected and would grieve for his lost son. He didn't have any memories of it. He would hate to know. It was better to let him live out the remainder of his life in peace.
Especially because that's the only way I'll get any peace.
For once, Harry thought, he should get to make a decision that benefited him before other people, and since the secret could only matter to him, he wouldn't hurt anyone by doing so.
Slowly, his breathing calmed and his heartbeat slowed as he lay there. He made a number of promises to himself.
To think about this as little as possible.
To always think of James as his real dad, because that was what he had been.
To not hate his mother. She had left him the letter, and Harry had nothing else, and he would rather have the letter, awful news and all, than go on having nothing.
To practice his lies carefully so that he would be prepared if someone else thought he was acting strange or looking strange, or if someone ever suggested that James wasn't his father.
And to never let Snape know about this, whether or not something led him to suspect. Harry wasn't his son. He was just—just there, someone for Snape to hate and despise because he looked like his dad.
Something Harry couldn't control. And the Dursleys hated and despised him because of his magic, something he couldn't control, either.
Harry shut his eyes with a faint smile. It was his first sincere smile all summer, however bitter and twisted it was.
It's not going to distress me that Snape's my father and hates me, because if anyone knows what it's like to have your relatives hate you, I do.