Summary: Take one Severus Snape, one baby Potter, and one insane Headmaster; simmer gently and stir well. Don't forget to duck! AU Oneshot.
Warning: Mention of child abuse.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Written for the Potions & Snitches 2009 Prompt Fest. I can almost guarantee that this is not what the proposer intended with the prompt "Duck!" but I couldn't resist. Completely and utterly AU. Not particularly canon-compliant, especially not with later books. Just for fun. Although primarily humour, I managed to get some angst in here too.
Prompts: "Duck!", "Headmaster Potter", and "Guardian".
Severus clutched desperately at the squirming baby in his arms, trying to keep the wretched brat from throwing himself onto the floor. Trust a Potter to choose the moment Severus was closing the door to Albus's office as the perfect time to try wriggle free. He'd nearly dropped the boy, and not even the defeater of the Dark Lord would have much luck if he crashed headfirst onto the stone floor.
"Duck, duck, duck!" the toddler enthused, holding chubby hands out to Fawkes, whose head went back with alarm.
"It's a phoenix, you dunderhead," Severus said without heat. "It doesn't look anything like a duck."
"Duck!" Potter exclaimed happily. Fawkes watched him warily and shuffled as far away as the perch allowed. Not too many babies made it into the Headmaster's office.
Severus sighed and turned the baby in his arms so that Potter could see Fawkes without having to strain his neck and settled him in a position that meant he wasn't about to wriggle free. "Phoenix, brat. Phoe-nix."
"Nix?" Potter turned an intelligent eye in his direction.
Potter turned back to Fawkes, a considering look on his small face. Then he happily pounded his fists on Severus's arm and yelled "Duckduckduckduckduck!"
A choking noise made Severus turn to Albus's desk, where Albus had finally lost the battle with his emotions and was now laughing so hard that tears were dripping off the end of his long nose. "Oh yes, very funny," Severus said exasperatedly.
Albus made a garbled attempt to apologise but was laughing too hard to actually get any words out.
Potter eyed the man with interest. "Duck?" he asked Severus.
"Now that you mention it," Severus said dryly, "the Headmaster does indeed bear a certain resemblance to a duck."
"Oh?" Albus managed to ask, mopping his streaming eyes on his beard.
"Yes," he nodded, now so dry that in comparison the Sahara looked like a tropical rainforest. "You're completely quackers."
That set Albus off again and Potter crowed happily, pounding on Severus's arm again. Severus shifted the boy to one arm and caught his little fists in his free hand. That was quite a punch the boy had. Unfazed, Potter gripped his thumb in both hands, waving it up and down. "Duck, duck, duck!"
Severus tried to pull his thumb free with limited success and sighed again. "Fine, keep it. I wasn't using it anyway."
Fawkes, curiosity overcoming his wariness, sidled gingerly closer and craned his head to get a better look at Potter. "Nix!" Potter announced, waving Severus's thumb at the bird. "Nix duck!"
"His name is Fawkes, my boy," Albus said, his voice thick with laughter as he stood up and came around the desk to look at Potter.
"Fffffff?" The baby screwed up his nose and blew a raspberry.
"Fawkes," Albus repeated.
A contemplative look flitted across Potter's face. "Awk? Awk! Awk awk!"
"As if we didn't have enough birds in the conversation," Severus complained, "you choose to teach him to sound like a penguin."
Potter awk-awked some more, clearly loving the sound, before going off into peals of laughter.
Severus rolled his eyes and made sure his grip on the boy was secure. "At least someone's enjoying himself," he said sarcastically.
Albus smiled. "May I ask who is this charming young man? I don't remember there being a baby at Hogwarts – though I admit my memory isn't quite what it used to be—" Severus scoffed disbelievingly; Albus gave him an indulgent look. "And I'm certain you haven't mentioned—"
"He isn't mine!" Severus said instantly.
"Awk!" Potter contributed and elbowed Severus in the chest.
Severus freed his thumb with an effort and brushed the hair off the baby's forehead to reveal a scar so well known as to be legendary despite the fact that only three or four wizards had ever seen it in the six months it had existed. The laughter dropped from Albus's face as if he'd taken off a mask. "Severus," he began seriously.
"Don't start with me, Albus, I haven't been near his home. I don't even know where it is; I certainly didn't remove him from it. I have your 'he must remain hidden' speech memorised and I have no need to hear it once more. I was walking by the lake in search of maidenhair fern when there was a burst of magic and suddenly a small child appeared in front of me." Severus looked down at the baby in his arms. "It took me thirty minutes to stop him crying, Albus. Another thirty to convince him I wasn't going to hurt him."
Albus froze. "Hurt him?" he repeated in a whisper.
Gently Severus lifted up the boy's jumper (originally far too large for him but now sized just right after a touch of magic) to display a series of bruises (now quickly fading under the influence of magic) that no toddler, no matter how active, could inflict upon himself. "That so-called family of his will not be getting him back, Albus, if I have to blast this castle apart and take him to the Antipodes to keep him away from them."
Potter squirmed unhappily, his laughter evaporated, and buried his face in Severus's robes, his fingers twisting into the fabric. Severus quickly pulled the jumper back into place and gently patted the small shoulder. "You're all right, Potter. There's nothing to be afraid of here. I promised, if you recall."
"No hurt?" Potter checked, his voice muffled.
The boy's grip on Severus's robes loosened, though he didn't lift his face. "Duck?"
He sighed. "Yes, we will go back to the lake later and you can see the ducks again." He looked at Albus over the boy's head. "From what I can ascertain this is the first time his relatives have gotten physical with him, but he didn't even know his own name. I seriously doubt he had the slightest hint of affection from them."
"But they are his family!"
Severus sighed again. "Albus, this wonderful idealistic view you have of the world is very... touching but not particularly realistic. How you have managed to maintain it through two wars and several decades of teaching is beyond me."
"You are certain it was his family who—"
"Quite certain," Severus said flatly.
Albus frowned. "Accidental magic could never have brought him from Surrey to Scotland."
"And no one can survive the Killing Curse," Severus riposted. "No one has suggested the boy is normal. But he is not going back there. It is a miracle he is such a happy, well-balanced child but if he should remain there—" He cut himself off. "He won't. You will find a proper family, one that will not only care for him but is capable of protecting him. I have nothing against Muggles, but in the event of the Dark Lord's return a magical family would be far more use to him." He looked down at the little black head. "He has no need of more people dying for him."
Potter looked back up at him and nodded solemnly. "Duck," he assured Severus.
"If you even think of presenting me with such a nickname, Potter, you will be in detention until you pass your NEWTs."
The boy smiled. "Ssssnake."
"Better," he acknowledged. "That will get you detention only until your OWLs."
Showing a marked lack of intelligence, Potter only smiled, relaxing happily into Severus's arms and patting him on the chin. "Good snake."
Severus rolled his eyes. And then, to his horror, saw that Albus was watching them speculatively. "No! I don't know what is it you're thinking but the answer is no! I know that look, Albus."
Unruffled, Albus said, "I was only thinking that you might take him in."
For an incredulous moment Severus just stared at him. He'd been a spy, he was used to never reacting to anything because a reaction would get him killed, but now he just stood there, frozen, like an idiot. Potter laughed and pushed at his chin; only then did Severus realise his mouth was hanging open. He tried to pull himself together. "You must be insane."
"Oh, certainly," Albus agreed amiably. "Although it has no bearing on the suggestion. You would be an excellent guardian and I can think of no one better to protect him." While Severus tried futilely to find answers to these ludicrous statements, Albus added, "May I hold him?"
Severus looked down. "Potter?"
The boy considered Albus very carefully; Albus stood up to it well, but Severus had already been subjected to that uncanny look and knew it was a hard one to meet. And hated what it meant for the boy's life this past half year. Then he looked up at Severus. "Duck man okay," he announced. Then he made loud quacking noises.
Albus didn't know whether to look delighted or horrified and looked a bizarre mixture of both. Severus knew exactly how to look and looked it: smug. It was about time someone started pushing Albus's buttons for a change.
Potter let himself be shifted into Albus's arms and took advantage of the opportunity to snatch at Albus's hat. "No, no, Harry. Leave it, please."
Thwarted, Potter tugged on his beard instead. "Bad duck," he remonstrated sternly.
Severus wondered if it would completely ruin his reputation if he rolled around the floor laughing and regretfully decided it would. But the look on Albus's face was a memory he would treasure for the rest of his life. Only a two-year-old Potter would dare tell off the unofficial leader of the wizarding world. Severus decided he was actually starting to like the brat.
But not enough to take him in.
"You can't possibly think this is a good idea," he said.
"Why not? Clearly he is comfortable with you—"
"He'd be comfortable with anyone who showed him a duck!"
"Duck!" Potter agreed.
"And his magic, when he searched for a safe harbour, took him to you. That must mean something, Severus."
"I know nothing of children! He's the saviour of the wizarding world and I'm an ex-Death Eater! He's—"
For the second time in as many minutes Severus's mouth was hanging open.
"Those were difficult times; people went to lengths to ensure the security of their families... Lily named you as his second godfather."
"Don't you have to ask someone's permission for that!" he asked in horror. Him, a godfather? That was ludicrous!
Albus looked at him.
Severus closed his eyes. "Obliviate. I see. A logical precaution. What I cannot remember I cannot tell. Let me see it, then."
He was not at all surprised that Albus had a copy of the papers; it was in fact precisely what he'd expected. He read through the agreement, noted his own, unforged signature on the bottom, and sighed. He wondered if Lily had had to employ many arguments or if she'd just looked at him with that clear, unwavering gaze and he'd given in without a fight as had happened so many times before. And tried to suppress the familiar stab of pain at the memory that she would never be able to look at him like that again.
But her son was still here. Her son still needed him...
He wondered what ritual they'd used for the godchild bond – and if that explained why the boy's magic had brought him all the way to Severus when he was scared and hurting. He tried to think of a family he would trust to take in his godson and knew he was avoiding the real issue. With this legal acknowledgement of Severus's position, with Black in Azkaban and unable to take guardianship of Potter, there was nothing to stop Severus taking custody of the boy. Nothing but the fact that he didn't want to. Certainly not.
He looked up at Potter's giggle to see that Albus had given in and the boy was now wearing the Headmaster's hat, which was far too big for him and hung off his shoulders, shrouding him in blindness. Potter waved his hands around happily and tried to hit himself in the head.
"Headmaster Potter," Severus sighed. "That's all we need." Although it had to be admitted that there were times when a toddler in charge wouldn't seem much different to having Albus in charge.
Albus lifted the hat off the boy's head and Potter gurgled delightedly as the world came back into view. "Duck! Duck duck!" He smiled at Severus and held his arms out beseechingly. "Snake?"
Severus took him and settled him against his shoulder. Potter yawned widely and rested his head against Severus's neck. "Good snake," he mumbled happily.
Severus rested a hand on the back of the boy's head, feeling the fine, silky hair under his fingers, vividly aware of the small body pressed trustingly against his. He glowered at Albus. "Fine," he said grudgingly. "I'll take him."
Albus smiled. "Good snake," he agreed.
On second thoughts, moving to the Antipodes actually sounded like a good idea.