Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the very last chapter of Practicing Liars, though I will be writing a few epilogue fics. (No ideas on when these will be completed or posted). I hope you've had half as much fun following the story as I have writing it.
Chapter Fifty—All Masks Gone
Of course there were whispers, stares, sniggers, and claims of disbelief.
Of course there were newspaper stories, so many of them that Harry stopped reading the Daily Prophet, because they always had something to say about him, and it was either something he already knew or something distorted and false.
Of course it turned out to be a good thing that Harry was so good at Defense, because hexes came his way. Some of them were from Gryffindors, he thought, though since they hit him in the corridors, he was never sure.
Snape was. He performed spells on Harry's robes and, once when he limped into Defense with a swollen ankle dragging behind him, on his leg. He never said anything aloud. Harry thought he had learned from the way Harry had worried about the hunt for Draco's poisoner that it was a good thing if he didn't tell Harry all the details.
But certain students got detentions, or they had to perform more complicated spells in Defense class, and Snape would stare at them or smirk or make a cutting remark when they failed. Harry heard the rumors even when he wasn't in those particular classes. Snape's remarks were carried from mouth to mouth so that people who hadn't been there could enjoy them in all their horrid glory.
Harry thought of protesting. But he also knew that Snape would say this was his own method of protecting his son, his blood, and he gave up the notion.
It was not a perfect life, but it was his.
Severus knew that Harry had told a few of his friends in Gryffindor House, and from there the tale would have spread around the school. He saw no reason to appear in the Great Hall and make an announcement as Harry and Draco had. That was their choice. Severus was more dignified.
But when he stepped into Harry's Defense class on Monday morning and everyone stared at him, he knew what it meant. He sneered and glided up the aisle between the tables, turning around at the front to stare back.
That is the mistake so many of my colleagues make, he thought with satisfaction as he watched the students begin to avoid his eyes. They find them intimidating, as if the students and not the professors held authority at this school. That allows the little brats to feel as if they are in charge, and then it is no surprise that we lose control of them so easily or that they laugh at us in their sleeves.
"We will begin with shields," he said, exactly as if this were a normal morning, no different from any of the others that had gone before it. "Now—"
"Is it true, sir?" asked someone from the middle of the classroom. Severus did not have to look very far to know it was Wells, a girl from Ravenclaw. She never had paid enough attention to her spells, Severus thought, but since she was always gossiping instead, that was not much of a surprise.
"That we are beginning with shields?" Severus focused on her and made her squirm in her seat within a few seconds. "Of course. I said so, and you may trust me." The stress he laid on the word made some of the students blanch and others just look more curious.
"I meant, is it true about you being Harry Potter's father, sir?" Wells asked, with more curiosity than good sense. Severus felt a faint surprise that the Sorting Hat had not placed her in Gryffindor. "It's just, it's so strange, and—"
She fell silent again as Severus looked at her, and he waited, this time, until the quietude in the classroom had become distinctly uncomfortable. Then he whispered, "Detention, Miss Wells, for interrupting a professor, and five points from Ravenclaw for assuming that I would permit such a rumor to spread and not contradict it if it were only a rumor."
Wells looked ready to faint. Severus did not think it was from the detention or the point loss. For some people, a confirmation of gossip from those involved in it was always more powerful than simply hearing it.
"But how?" someone asked.
"But why?" Longbottom was looking back and forth between Harry and Severus as if searching for some sign of the truth in their faces.
Severus turned and looked steadily at his son. He was not sure what Harry wished to do. The specifics were between them, still, and Harry's closest friends. He saw Draco leaning forwards from the table at the back of the room as if he didn't know what would happen next and was eager to do so.
Harry took a breath that sounded like the one Severus had sometimes drawn before plunging into water. Then he waved his wand and muttered something. Severus felt his muscles tensing; it was a reflex he had noticed lately, as if he had to be aware of all Harry's spells in case they went horribly wrong.
Harry's face shimmered, and then he looked like the boy Severus had seen only once before, in the corridor outside the heavily warded room where Dumbledore had died. Harry gave Severus a small smile and then turned around.
"Is this what you wanted to see?" he asked, with a passable imitation of a drawl. Draco must have been teaching him, Severus thought with approval. "Yeah, I'm his son. He's my father. My last name would have been Snape if they'd been married. What else do you want to know?"
Granger leaned over and laid a hand on his arm. Severus would have liked to do the same thing. Despite Harry's façade of confidence, his voice was rising towards the end of his words, in both volume and pitch.
People stared at him with their mouths hanging open. Severus readied himself to cast a ward, a shield, or a curse if it was necessary. Perhaps Harry had revealed himself a bit more dramatically than Severus would have liked, but he would not put up with others treating his son poorly because of that.
"Harry?" Granger whispered. "Are you all right?"
Harry didn't have time to answer before the voices of the other children in the room were piling into the conversation.
"It's not enough that he dates a Slytherin, but his father is a Slytherin, too?"
"Well, he can't help that," Longbottom said, though now he was staring between Harry's revealed face and Severus's as though he hoped to find something in his search that would contradict the resemblance, or at least make it less marked. "I r-reckon." He sounded as though, if there was a spell that would allow one to go back into time and change one's birth parents, Harry should use it.
"He looks different," Wells said, and there was disgust in her stare. Severus's fingers crushed down on his wand.
"What other secrets is he keeping?" The Gryffindor, Finnigan, had shoved his chair back from the desk and was pointing an accusing finger at Harry. "Who knows? He could be keeping some secret that we don't even know about. Maybe he's You-Know-Who's grandson!"
"I don't want to be in the same class with him anymore," one of the Hufflepuff girls whimpered, and began to push her chair back.
Harry lowered his head and clenched one fist in front of him, and that was what eased Severus from half-amusement into anger.
"Sit down," he said, and he did not make his voice loud, because he did not have to. Years of learning under him had taught his students what would happen to them if they disobeyed an order such as that. "You will sit down and be silent."
There was silence in the next instant, save for the squeaky sound of bottoms settling into chairs. Severus prowled out from behind his desk and along the aisle between the tables, turning his head alertly from side to side, watching faces that blanched and eyes that fell away from his.
"One thing you ought to consider," he said, and managed to keep his voice smooth and sweet and bland with an effort, "is what will happen now that I have a son in school."
Some of the eyes darted up to take a look at him. Harry, the only one who hadn't glanced away, appeared perplexed.
"I will know if any of you do not treat him with respect," Severus said. He planned to hand out detentions and take points if any of them harmed Harry. He didn't think there would be any trouble in finding a justification, as often as the little morons broke school rules under the impression that they could get away with it. "When I despised him, when I did not know he was my son, I often encouraged my Slytherins to despise him as well. That time is over. Can you imagine what will happen now?"
There were some sucked-in breaths among the Slytherins in the class, except for Draco, who looked up with a shining face. Severus nodded. He thought he could depend on most of his House to leave Harry alone, and, by extension, Harry's boyfriend alone. It was enough to know that their Head of House had changed his mind. Most of them would not ask for reasons, and collective scorn would silence those who tried.
But for the rest of the Houses—and especially for the Gryffindors, who would think that Harry was a "traitor" to the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin—a stronger message was needed. Severus turned and prowled slowly up the aisle again. He knew he was smiling, and that the smile was vicious, and that McGonagall, who had taken over the post of Headmistress, would scold him violently when she heard about this. But she had never interfered in the relationships between a professor and more than one student, and even if she tried, Severus's power was too great.
"He is mine," Severus said. It was the strongest statement he could make, and it would, at the very least, make sense to the members of the other Houses who came from pure-blood families. "I will tolerate no interference with him."
Mulish looks answered him, and awed ones, and startled ones that would turn stubborn when they thought about it. Severus did not care. He knew there would be hexes, but few students outside Slytherin would try Dark Arts, and that was his major concern. He could deal with hexes. And eventually, they would learn. Harry would spend his last year and a half at Hogwarts in as much peace as Severus could muster for him.
After that, the news should be stale enough that Harry could go about his life in some peace. Severus would at least always make sure that he lived in a warded house, behind the very best defenses.
He turned back to Harry and met his eyes. Harry was blinking rapidly, as if he either wanted to deal with the information one piece at a time or still wasn't sure what happened.
He didn't protest. It was enough for Severus. He swept back to the front of the room and started the class.
Harry came up to him after it was over, and didn't try to hide that he was doing so, although some of the Gryffindors left with less than friendly mutters and stares. Severus studied his son's half-Transfigured features and was content.
"That wasn't fair," Harry said.
He didn't have to explain what he meant. So far, they understood each other. "No, it wasn't," Severus replied calmly. "But nothing is ever fair when a professor teaches his own child. Better to establish the footing that we will stand on and not allow them to establish it for us."
Harry hesitated for a long moment. Then he said, "Don't you think I'll get stared at and insulted more often now that they know you're standing up for me?"
"If they do," Severus said, "I will simply assign them more detentions and take more points. At some point, the cost will outweigh the satisfaction they get from insulting you. And if it does not, then I will increase the punishments."
Harry shook his head, looking stupefied. Severus leaned over his desk. "Speak," he said.
"I just—no one's ever looked out for me like that before." Harry stared into his eyes. "My aunt and uncle would get upset if something happened to my cousin at school, and they would go and yell at the teachers." He didn't appear to notice the shadow that Severus could feel moving into his eyes at the mere mention of Harry's Muggle relatives. "But no one's ever done that for me." He bit his lip, hastily gathered up his books, and left the classroom.
That is not the only thing that might surprise you about having me for a father, Severus thought as he watched his son depart.
Events fell out as he had foretold. Some of the other students attacked and insulted Harry, though none with the severe curses that Severus had frightened them out of using. And their Houses made them stop it as soon as the punishments became severe enough.
McGonagall called him in for a talk several times. But she did not put a stop to his activities, and considering that she had not put a stop to the attacks and insults either, Severus felt justified in pursuing his present course.
Draco lay beside the lake in a bubble of warmth, lazily watching the snow build up outside his enchantments. Harry was beside him, lying so that his thigh and shoulder rested against Draco's, and they were watching the reporters try to get onto Hogwarts grounds past the wards that McGonagall had put in place.
It was entertaining, Draco had to admit that. The wards were intricate and powerful, using five-minute Transfiguration into harmless animals as a punishment, and still the reporters kept trying.
A young man seemed to think he had got past successfully this time; he'd sneaked into Hogsmeade and then come strolling along the edge of the Forbidden Forest as if he were gathering Potions ingredients, down to the basket slung over his arm. Then he turned and walked towards the school, holding up his camera as he came. Draco had no idea what interest he thought he could stir with a picture of the school's towers, but the Daily Prophet in particular had a habit of illustrating their stories with something only mildly relevant if they couldn't get better than that.
One of the Headmistress's wards was trained to respond to the presence of cameras (which had caused that one annoying boy in Gryffindor, Colin something or other, a lot of anguish at first). It rose out of the grass like a snake, and struck the reporter's feet almost exactly like one. There was a flash of golden light.
The camera dropped into the snow. A rabbit hopped about where the reporter had been, staring in astonishment at its own paws.
Draco laughed. Harry laughed with him, a sound Draco hadn't heard enough of lately, and nuzzled his nose into the side of Draco's neck. Draco raised a hand to clasp the back of Harry's head. They didn't do more than that, not when they were in a place as public as this, in case someone did manage to snap a picture.
Members of both Gryffindor and Hufflepuff were playing in the snow around the Quidditch pitch, not giving them much more than their share of baffled and envious glances. Draco made sure to catch the eyes of a girl who had been watching Harry more and more often lately and move closer to him. She glared.
"Draco," Harry murmured, not opening his eyes, "stop using me to make people jealous."
"I can't help it if I'm dating the best-looking bloke in school," Draco said, and settled his arm around Harry more firmly in place. The girl turned and threw a snowball at someone else. The other students had already tried to get through the enchantments surrounding Harry and Draco's hiding place and learned that they would get hit in the face with their own stones, hexes, snow, or anything else they threw, given the defensive spells Harry had worked into the shield.
"Going out with your reflection, then?" Harry opened one eye. "You know I'm not that good-looking, Draco. It's the scar they stare at."
Draco sighed and decided not to argue with him right now. If Harry wanted to pretend that he wasn't wonderful, at least that would allow Draco to stay with him and keep him all to himself. Draco wasn't against that at all.
"Is this what you thought life would be like after the Dark Lord was dead?" Draco asked, when a few more minutes had passed and the rabbit had turned back into a reporter and run off. Draco wondered if he should have warned McGonagall about Rita Skeeter, but decided that he would take the lack of detailed stories in the Prophet so far as a statement about the effectiveness of the wards.
"Not really," Harry said. "At the time, I didn't know that I would have a father and a boyfriend." His hand found Draco's and squeezed, tight. Draco squeezed back and sneaked a glance across the field. Yes, the bint was watching. "And I didn't think about it in any detail, you know? Not at all. I would promise myself sometimes that I would do this or that when I was free, but I couldn't picture myself doing it. And then things would change again and I would want to do something else with my freedom, or I'd become convinced that I would never survive against Voldemort." He glanced at Draco when he felt the flinch Draco couldn't suppress. "Oh, come on. You know he's dead."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Maybe you could change a lifelong fear just like that, but I can't."
"I keep forgetting," Harry muttered, and he did sound genuinely apologetic, even before he added, "I'm sorry."
"Forgiven," Draco said, and turned to kiss Harry, which made some of the students giggle, and some look away, and the jealous bint look as if she was about to have a stroke. Draco considered prolonging the kiss in the hopes of giving her one, but Harry would probably figure out what he was doing and refuse to participate. Draco liked the kisses where Harry was participating best.
So many things to get used to, Draco thought, as he drew his head back and looked into Harry's "new" face—which wasn't really changed that much from the "old" one, but which was much handsomer. Harry's face. My standing as boyfriend of the Savior of the Wizarding World. What my mother is going to say about our relationship being revealed like this.
He had written to his mother, but hadn't received any reply yet. For a moment, Draco let himself worry about that.
Then Harry touched his shoulder, and Draco smiled. He had been able to picture what his life would be like when the Dark Lord was dead. It was much simpler, and there were reasons to be happy.
His wish was fulfilled.
Harry hesitated, then told himself he was being stupid and pulled the bathroom door open.
It was the middle of the day, and no one else was in the whole of Gryffindor Tower, it seemed. Harry was here because he had decided that finally facing what he'd been putting off was more important than sitting through yet another interminable Charms lecture.
Snape—or Father, maybe; Harry still wasn't used to that yet—would be angry when he found out, but Harry would deal with that later.
He strode across the bathroom, pretending to a confidence he didn't feel, and, for the first time since he'd removed the glamour in Defense, looked into a mirror.
He caught his breath. Then he felt silly for that, and checked over his shoulder to make sure that no one had come in, and then looked closer again.
Yes, his face was like Snape's. But it was like his mum's, too, or at least like the photographs he'd seen of her. Her eyes under a forehead and above a nose that was kind of like Snape's, but not bigger, thank Merlin, and there were a pair of cheeks that could have come from anywhere, and his hair had stayed tangled dark and wild.
I could say there's a little bit of James in me if I wanted, Harry thought, and snickered as he thought about the way Snape would explode if he said that.
He hadn't changed as much as he had thought he had, which was one of the reasons, maybe, that people hadn't spent as much time staring at his face and nudging each other as he thought they would. They had got a photograph of him into the Prophet before McGonagall banned cameras, but that was fine; that was just the way things were. And no one seemed to think he was exceptionally ugly. They just did the same thing Harry was doing, scanning his face eagerly for resemblances to his parents'.
But there was that hair, and those cheekbones that might have come from anywhere.
And the lights and shadows in his eyes was all his own, Harry thought. His mum had grown up in a family that loved her. He was becoming increasingly convinced that his—his dad hadn't, but he had known about magic before he came to Hogwarts; that much, he had confirmed to Harry. And neither of them had fought a Dark Lord directly, even though they had lived under his shadow and his mum was responsible for saving Harry's life.
He was more than just the sum of his family. He was his own, Harry, no matter what his last name was.
He stepped slowly back, watching the stranger in the mirror whose face he was certain would become more and more familiar. It wasn't as though he had spent a lot of time looking at himself when he had the other face, either, except when he was memorizing his old features so he could cast the glamour. And he had years and years to live with this face.
And his family, and his friends, and his boyfriend. Any way he wanted, in any freedom he wanted. He wasn't going to let the Death Eaters still at large—the Aurors had already captured several of them—or the ridiculous reporters stop him.
He had adults on his side now. McGonagall had crushed the rumors that Harry might have killed Dumbledore the instant they started, and Snape had actually gone to the Ministry and sworn under Veritaserum that Dumbledore had planned to die. And there were the wards McGonagall had created and the promises Snape had made.
Harry felt a stupid stinging in his eyes. He lifted a hand and rubbed fiercely at them, and the stranger in the mirror did the same thing.
Everything was going to be different now.
He had lain in his cupboard at the Dursleys' when he was a kid, hoping and wishing and dreaming of that. But now, it really was. He had so much of what he'd wanted, and a bunch of things he hadn't known he was missing.
For a moment, his heart was tight in his chest, and it felt as if he was trying to breathe more air than existed in the world.
It took Harry far too much time to recognize the emotion.
He was happy.
It was hard, but he reminded himself that Snape was going to be angry enough already, and Harry should probably go and prepare himself for that detention.
With one final glance in the mirror, Harry turned away and went to live his life.