The Best Birthday Present
~ by Healer Pomfrey ~
All recognizable characters belong to J. K. Rowling, and I am not earning anything by writing this story. I am not a native speaker of English. Please excuse my mistakes.
For JWOHPfan – Happy Birthday!!
Severus Snape slowly brought his forefingers to his face and gently massaged his temples against the dull ache that was building up, threatening to become a splitting headache, as the staff meeting dragged on for a seemingly infinite time. The Headmaster insisted on discussing every student, who had replied to their Hogwarts letter, in detail, and Severus slowly began to tune his colleagues' voices out, drifting off to his own thoughts. He began to meticulously arrange the potions, which he had to brew before the beginning of the new school year, in his head in groups according to the amount of time it would take them to brew, until the Headmaster's voice finally managed to attract his attention.
"There is still no reply from Harry Potter. Apparently, he still hasn't received his Hogwarts letter yet."
"But Albus," Professor McGonagall spoke up in disbelief, "apparently, five hundred and thirty-six letters were sent out to him. I already told you years ago that the Dursleys are the worst Muggles I've ever met. Maybe they just don't allow Harry to get his letter."
"That's true," Severus heard himself throw in, before he realised what happened. "Petunia always hated magic, even at the age of seven, when I first noticed that Lily was a witch. I knew both of them well when we were small."
The Headmaster slowly unwrapped a lemon drop. "Very well then," he said finally, "I'll send Hagrid to speak with the boy and take him to Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies."
Professor McGonagall groaned. "Albus, can you please for once listen to me?" she demanded, sounding slightly annoyed. "Since Severus knows Petunia Dursley, it would be much better to ask Severus to help Harry, especially since he is his best friend's child."
Severus nearly chocked in shock. "Potter?" he queried in disbelief. "Why would I check on a Potter?"
"Severus, you know as well as we all do that Harry is Lily's child, even if James was the father. He is not alive anymore, and it's time to bury the grudges you're still holding against him in favour of Lily's son, the child of your best friend," the Scottish lioness said in a firm voice that made Severus feel very small and had often made him shudder when he was a student.
Severus glanced at the Headmaster, who finally popped his lemon drop into his mouth. "Severus, may I ask you to go and help little Harry?" Dumbledore enquired gently. "If Minerva is right and the Dursleys didn't tell him about Hogwarts, Harry will appreciate getting to know his mother's best friend."
'Manipulative old git,' Severus thought, when he felt Poppy Pomfrey's hand on his right arm. "Severus, now is the time to make up for the mistake you made so many years ago. See it as a chance," she whispered into his ear, apparently knowing that she was the only one who knew everything about the end of his relationship with Lily, who knew how desperate he had been when he had to spend a week in the hospital wing only a short time later, unable to wipe the words he had said from her mind.
"Very well then," Severus grudgingly agreed and rose from his chair. "When do you want me to go, Albus?"
The Headmaster glanced at his wrist watch. "Thank you, Severus. Tomorrow is the thirty-first of July, Harry's eleventh birthday. I suggest that you go early in the morning, so that you have enough time to take him to Diagon Alley and finish all of his shopping, before you have to take him back."
A small island ~
At seven o'clock in the morning, Severus appeared to a tiny island. He looked at the small hut in front of him that was shaking in the storm in disbelief. 'What are the Dursleys doing here?' he thought, and his lips stretched to a disdainful sneer as he knocked at the door and opened it without even waiting for an answer that he wouldn't been able to hear in the storm anyway. Severus looked in disgust at the scene in front of him. A fat boy was sleeping on a sofa, covered by a warm blanket, while a smaller, skinny boy was lying on the floor, only dressed in a T-shirt and obviously shivering in the cold. No one seemed to have noticed his presence so far, except for the small boy, who glanced up at him and jumped up in fright.
"Potter?" Severus asked in a small voice.
"Yes sir," Harry whispered back. "Excuse me sir, but who are you?"
"I am Professor Severus Snape, the Potions professor and Head of Slytherin House at Hogwarts," Severus shortly introduced himself. "I assume that you know Hogwarts?" He quirked an eyebrow.
"No sir," Harry replied in apparent confusion.
"Hogwarts is a boarding school for wizards and witches from the age of eleven. Your mother was my best friend while we studied at Hogwarts, and our Headmaster sent me to give you your Hogwarts letter. Did you not receive it before?"
"No sir." Harry explained about the letters that arrived only to be thrown into the fireplace by his uncle.
"I see," Severus said dryly. "Your aunt hated your mother and me from the instant she learnt that we were magical. Where are your aunt and uncle by the way?"
"They're asleep on the second floor, and I think they shouldn't see you here, sir," Harry whispered.
"Don't worry. If necessary, we'll be able to vanish from the spot," Severus reassured him and allowed Harry to read his letter.
"Magic?" Harry asked in confusion.
"Yes magic," Severus smirked. "You're a wizard like me."
"A wizard?" Harry asked incredulously. "That must be a mistake, sir. I'm only Harry, a burden to all the good people and a freak."
Severus' face took on an angry expression, just when Vernon Dursley's heavy footsteps could be heard on the stairs.
"You!" Petunia shouted as she appeared on the stairs and recognised Severus. "Vernon, he's one of THEM!"
Before Harry knew what happened, a shot could be heard, and he felt a sharp pain in his arm.
"Dursley, you dunderhead!" Severus said in a deadly cold voice and quickly waved his wand at the gun that was transformed into a snake, which wiggled around Vernon's arm. "How dare you shoot your nephew?"
"That was an accident. It was not my intention to hit the freak," Vernon shouted, while Petunia screamed at the sight of the snake.
"Pity." Severus turned to Harry, who stood next to him, gripping his right arm in pain. "Harry, hold on for a moment. I'm going to check on your arm."
"Kay," Harry mumbled, suddenly beginning to sway.
Severus quickly steadied the boy and made him sit on the floor, so that he could lean against the wall, before he pulled his wand and waved it at Harry, causing the bleeding to stop. "I'm sorry, Harry, but that's about the only Healing spell I'm capable of. I'll take you to Hogwarts immediately, and Madam Pomfrey, our Mediwitch, will heal you. Is that all right with you?"
"Yes sir, thank you sir," Harry whispered in a barely audible voice.
'I hope that Poppy has experience with injuries from Muggle guns and that she's still at Hogwarts. She was going to leave for her holidays today,' he thought, eyeing the child in concern.
"You will not take my nephew anywhere, Mister," Vernon Dursley threw in. "Leave us in peace."
"You will hear from us concerning your attempt to murder your nephew," Severus replied coldly. "Thank Merlin you're even too stupid to aim properly." With that he pulled a chain out from under his robes and pressed Harry's forefinger against the silver pendant of a dragon, before he uttered the password, "Lily."
~ Hogwarts hospital wing ~
Harry noticed in relief that his arm didn't bleed anymore. He looked up in confusion when the visitor, who was completely dressed in black, suddenly pried his finger against a pendant from a chain he was wearing, but before he knew what happened, the world in front of his eyes turned around faster and faster and finally became completely black. When his mind turned back to awareness, he found himself in the softest bed that he had ever experienced. He lazily opened his eyes and looked around in confusion. 'Where am I?' he wondered, realising that it looked a bit similar to the nurse's room in his school. The room was equipped with many white beds, and huge windows on both sides of the room allowed the blazing sunshine in, turning the room into a soft yellow light.
"Harry," a soft voice brought him out of his thoughts, and he quickly turned to the side, from where he had heard the professor, who had come to fetch him from his relatives earlier. "How are you feeling? Does your arm still hurt?"
"I'm fine." The reply came automatically, but Harry realised that the pain, which he had felt earlier, was completely gone. Instead, he noticed that his throat was sore, but he knew better than to complain.
"That's good. Madam Pomfrey healed your arm, just before she left for her holidays," the professor explained. "If you feel well enough, I suggest that you finally read your Hogwarts letter and reply to it, before we will have lunch in the Great Hall, where I will introduce you to my colleagues. We also need to discuss what to do with you as I suppose that you don't want to go back to your relatives, hmm?"
Harry's face lit in hopeful delight. "I don't have to go back to them?" he asked softly.
"No Harry. Not after what your uncle did to you," the professor reassured him and once more handed Harry his Hogwarts letter.
"Of course I'd love to attend the school," Harry said hesitantly, "but… I don't have any money."
"Your school fees are already paid, and your parents left you several vaults full of gold for you. You don't have to worry about money," Severus said and handed him an empty parchment along with a quill. "Please write your response, so that we can take it with us. Lunch is going to begin in ten minutes."
Harry eyed the quill in confusion but somehow managed to scribble a half-way readable response.
'Dear Professor Dumbledore,
thank you so much for the invitation. I'd love to attend Hogwarts, and I can't wait for the school year to begin.
~ The Great Hall ~
Harry observed in gratitude and amazement how the professor waved his wand at him and exchanged the hospital pyjamas with black trousers, a dark green jumper and green robes. "Thank you so much, sir," he said gratefully and eagerly followed Severus out of the room into the empty halls of the castle. From the window next to his bed in the hospital wing he had seen that the castle seemed to be huge. 'The paintings are moving,' he thought in absolute delight, 'just like in my drawings. Maybe the professor is right, and I'm really a wizard. It would be so cool to be together with other people who did strange things like I.'
Harry was even more amazed when they finally entered the Great Hall. The professor pulled him to a small table that was only occupied by three persons, whom Severus introduced as Professors Dumbledore, the Headmaster, McGonagall, the Gryffindor Head, and Sprout, the Head of Hufflepuff. He hesitantly took the offered seat between Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall, wondering if it was really all right for him to sit at the table together with the teachers.
"Welcome to Hogwarts, Harry," McGonagall said, and Harry noticed that she spoke in an accent, which he had never heard before.
'I wonder in which part of Britain we are,' he thought, unaware of the sharp look the teacher shot him.
"Harry, are you feeling all right? Is your arm completely well again?" the Head of Gryffindor asked again, causing Harry to nod.
"Yes Professor, I'm fine," he replied quickly.
"Harry, have the Dursleys ever hurt you before?" the teacher continued her interrogation, looking at him worriedly.
"Not with a gun," Harry replied in confusion at the obvious concern in the teacher's eyes. "He only bought it yesterday."
"Now I suggest that we allow Harry to eat his lunch. He'll be able to answer questions later on," Severus said in his soft, silky voice that Harry liked a lot.
He threw the professor, who had been so kind and rescued him from his relatives, a grateful look, although he didn't feel hungry in the least and his throat was so sore that he could hardly swallow. He quietly munched a few carrots, while the professor turned to the Headmaster.
"Albus, you can't send the boy back to his relatives. I suggest that we keep him here at Hogwarts. Maybe Minerva or Poppy could become his guardian."
"I'm afraid that you're right," Professor Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "However, I disagree in one point. In my opinion, Minerva and Poppy are both too old to raise an eleven-year-old. Severus, we need you to take the child in."
"I believe that would be for the best," Professor McGonagall threw in warmly. "We're all here for you, Severus, if you or Harry need help for some reason."
"Harry!" the Headmaster called out to him. "Do you want Professor Snape to replace your relatives as your guardian?"
Harry looked up in delight, and his eyes began to twinkle happily as he replied, "Yes sir, I'd like that very much if it's all right with Professor Snape. Thank you so much for giving me that choice."
Severus glanced at his wrist watch. "I believe that we need to give the Dursleys a bit of time, before they'll be back home. I'll go and get their signature on the guardianship parchments tonight. Harry, I suggest that we head to Diagon Alley to buy your school supplies tomorrow morning after going to the Ministry of Magic to clarify the guardianship matter. Is that all right with you?"
"I'd love that, sir," Harry agreed.
"Well, that gives us enough time to have a proper birthday party," the Headmaster said, and his eyes twinkled merrily as he clapped his hands three times.
Harry observed in amazement how hundreds of colourful balloons appeared out of nothing and spread all over the Great Hall at the same time as the lunch table was cleared and a huge birthday cake with eleven candles manifested right in front of him.
"Is that Hogwarts?" Harry asked, looking at the enormous cake, while he wondered, 'Whose birthday is it? Someone must have his birthday on the same day as I.'
"Yes Harry, that is Hogwarts. Happy birthday, my boy," the Headmaster was the first to reply.
Only now realisation set in. "Is that for me?" Harry asked in disbelief.
"Of course," McGonagall said warmly. "Didn't your aunt make a birthday cake for you?"
"No, I never received anything for my birthdays, only Dudley," Harry replied absentmindedly as he tried to figure out in which part of the castle the Great Hall was. Busily examining the cake he completely missed the furious looks that the three professors shot at the Headmaster at his unintentional, innocent revelation.
When Harry had the impression as if he couldn't squeeze anything more through his badly hurting throat, the cake vanished into thin air, and instead a small pile of presents appeared in front of him. Each of them was wrapped in colourful paper and had the inscription, 'Harry'.
"For me?" Harry whispered in disbelief and hesitantly obeyed when Severus motioned for him to open his presents. To his absolute delight, he received several books. Professor McGonagall gave him the book, 'Hogwarts: A History', from Professor Sprout he received a book about magical and non magical plants, and Madam Pomfrey's name was written on the present, which held a book about magical animals that could be kept as pets.
"Oh, you better look through that book before heading to Diagon Alley. It might help you decide on a familiar," Dumbledore advised Harry, smiling, before he handed him his own present, which was a copy of 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard'.
From his new guardian, Harry received a wooden box, which was entitled 'My First Potions Kit'. "This contains everything that you'll need for the first school year, and you can even try it out during the next weeks if you're interested," Severus informed him, smirking.
"Of course, I'd love to try it out," Harry replied eagerly, although he had to admit to himself that he wasn't feeling well enough to learn anything difficult at the moment, especially as his head had begun to hurt as well and he began to look forward to the evening, when he would finally be able to go to bed.
Seeing that Harry had opened all of his presents, Severus called Cicero, his personal house-elf, and introduced him to Harry, who looked with amazement at the elf. He was tall for a house-elf but still small in Harry's opinion, who had never seen an elf before. Severus instructed Cicero to make a chamber for Harry in his quarters and take the presents into the new room.
"Of course, Master Severus," Cicero replied immediately and slightly bowed, before he popped away as fast as he had appeared.
The library ~
'Wow, that was cool,' Harry thought and nodded half-heartedly when Severus suggested showing him the castle before heading to their quarters. He wearily dragged himself behind the professor, looking around in amazement when they entered the library. 'I loved the Great Hall, but this will probably be my favourite place here in the castle,' he mused as he tried to follow Severus' explanations.
Suddenly, the Potions Master gave him a sharp look. "Harry, are you feeling all right? Does your arm still hurt?"
"No sir, it's fine," Harry lied, knowing that no one wanted to know about what was ailing a freak.
Severus stepped in front of Harry and reached out with his forefinger to gently pull the boy's chin upwards until their eyes met. "Harry, please don't lie to me. I can only help you if you tell me when you feel unwell."
"Yes sir. I'm sorry sir," Harry replied in a hardly audible voice, suddenly shivering violently when he felt the professor's cold hand on his forehead.
"You seem to be running a fever. Maybe your wound isn't healed yet and became infected," Severus said thoughtfully. "Let's go home, so that I can look at your arm and try to figure out what is wrong."
Harry noticed gratefully that the professor slowed down his speed greatly, so that he could keep up with the man's pace as they walked down to the dungeons. 'I like the upper parts of the castle more,' Harry thought. 'This place here is dark and wet.' However, he was positively surprised when they entered his new home, the Potions Master's private quarters. The living room was a huge round room that was built around a large fireplace and completely surrounded by white bookshelves and windows. 'How can he have windows here in the dungeons?' he thought, glancing around with interest.
Professor Snape's quarters ~
"These are magical windows," Severus, who had followed the boy's gaze, informed him and led him through a small corridor into a bedroom. "Sit or better lie down on the bed. I'll be back in a minute. I'll just fetch some things."
Feeling too miserable to even look around, Harry let himself sink onto the bed, sighing in relief as he leaned his achy head against the head of the bed. This didn't go unnoticed by the professor, who just returned with a dark green bag in his hand.
"Harry, lie down," he said gently, taking in the boy's flushed cheeks and glassy eyes. He carefully helped Harry into a lying position, before he pulled an old mercury thermometer out of his bag. "I'm sorry, but I can only check on you with Muggle means," he explained, sticking the glassy device into Harry's mouth.
Harry nearly gagged and shivered violently at the cold and uncomfortable touch in his mouth, throwing the professor a frightened look. "Whaga…?"
"No Harry, don't try to speak please," Severus reprimanded him slightly, making sure that the cold stick was still in its right position. "Did your aunt never take your temperature?"
Harry slightly shook his head. "I see," Severus said dryly, glancing at his wrist watch. "It'll take a few minutes until the reading is finished. Madam Pomfrey can do it with magic, but I am not capable of the spell. In the meantime, I'll check your wound." He carefully pulled Harry's arm out of his robe and jumper, frowning at the boy's hot skin, and unwrapped the gauze from his arm. "No, everything looks all right. We can even take the gauze off now," he stated, wondering if he had to call Poppy to properly check on Harry. 'How can it be that he doesn't know what a thermometer is? Surely he must have been sick sometimes during the last ten years.'
"I was sick quite often, but it always went away by itself," Harry replied quietly when he repeated his question aloud as he pulled the thermometer out.
"Thirty-nine point two," Severus read, alarmed. "Harry, do you have any idea what might be wrong with you? Does anything hurt?"
"My throat and head are a bit sore," Harry admitted in a barely audible voice, "but it's not so bad, sir. Maybe I caught a cold, when I was sleeping on the floor last night. It was a bit cold."
"No." Severus shook his head. "Your fever is too high for a simple cold, although you're probably right. Sleeping in the cold last night probably didn't help." He lit the tip of his wand and looked into the boy's throat, ears and eyes, before he slid his wand back into his robe pocket and sighed. "Your throat is badly infected. It could be the flu though. I'll give you something for the fever and for your throat, and we'll see if your fever comes down. Otherwise, I'll need to brew the potion for the Muggle flu," he said thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, horrified, causing the professor to look at him in shock.
"What do you have to be sorry for?" he queried in disbelief.
"I have to do my chores to earn my keep, but I'm so cold…" Harry interrupted himself to let out a series of harsh coughs.
Severus sighed in exasperation. 'I'm going to kill Petunia. She should be sent to Azkaban along with her horrible husband.' He sat on the edge of the bed and gently took Harry's hot hand in his own. "Harry, your sole task now is to rest in order to get back to health. You neither have to earn your keep nor to do any chores except for your school work when school begins in four weeks' time." Motioning for Harry to stay put, he fetched two phials from his private lab and gently helped Harry in a slightly sitting position, so that he could take his potions.
"That's much better," Harry said in surprise, throwing him a grateful look. "Thank you so much, professor."
"I'm glad that it helped, although you'll have to drink more potions in a few hours. You don't have to call me professor. During the holidays or when we're here at home, you may call me by my given name," Severus replied in a soft voice, wondering what Lily would say if she knew that he had become her son's guardian. 'Well, Potter would turn around in his grave; that's for sure,' he mused, smirking as he cast a cooling charm on a wet towel, which he carefully adjusted to Harry's forehead.
'I wonder if he at least received a cuddly toy from the Dursleys,' he thought, knowing that many of his Slytherin first years brought stuffed animals to Hogwarts. Normally, they eagerly hid them from their peers, but in times they were sick and needy, they often held them in their arms. Remembering the dragon that Lily had conjured for him when he had been sick during the summer after their third Hogwarts year, he waved his wand and conjured a soft green dragon, which he charmed to remain cool, before he gently laid it into the boy's arm.
Harry threw him a confused look from his half-open glassy eyes, and Severus quickly explained, "It's a toy dragon for you to cuddle and feel better."
Apparently feeling too miserable to question anything, Harry hesitantly began to cuddle the dragon, noticing soon that it felt cool and soothing to his hot cheeks.
Severus remained on the edge of the boy's bed for a while, observing how Harry succumbed to the potions and drifted off into a restless sleep. He carefully felt the boy's skin, noticing that his fever still seemed to be on the rise. 'I better ask Minerva to keep him company, while I'm in the lab. He probably needs the flu potion,' he thought, hearing that Harry seemed to be captured in a fevered nightmare and was begging his uncle not to hurt him.
While Minerva kept Harry company, Severus busied himself in his lab, brewing a self invented potion for the Muggle flu that was not as effective as that for the wizard's flu but at least worked for the Muggle illness, and the Headmaster made a trip to the Dursleys to make them sign the guardianship parchments.
During the next few days, Harry's condition improved very slowly, and while he was delirious with fevered nightmares about his uncle, Severus listened to his babbling in disbelief and disgust at the sister of his former best friend. Whenever Harry woke up, Severus or Minerva were at his side and remained with him, trying to make him feel better. They also read to him from the books, which he had received for his birthday, and Harry listened with interest, while he was busily cuddling his dragon, feeling very happy by the teachers' kindness.
After a week, Harry's fever finally came down and he felt more alert and much better. "I'm sorry for being such a burden," he said when Severus exchanged the thermometer in his hand with Harry's next dose of potions.
"Harry, you're not a burden," Severus said in a soft but firm voice. "I am sorry that you were so sick, especially that you fell ill on your first real birthday."
"Still it was my best birthday ever," Harry said quietly, noticing in relief that it didn't hurt to speak anymore, "and your present was the very best."
"My present?" Severus queried and raised an eyebrow at the child, wondering if he was still delirious. "You didn't even have the chance to try it out yet. Or are you speaking about the dragon?"
Harry smiled at his guardian. "Not the potions kit and not the dragon. I mean the other present. You gave me a new home, didn't you? That's the best present I can imagine, and I'm very happy. Um… May I get up, sir? I'd love to try out the potions kit."
"We'll see if you manage to eat some breakfast first," Severus replied, smirking as he fondly ruffled the boy's unruly hair. "Since you're living here now, we have all the time in the world to brew potions together."
"That's true," Harry agreed, feeling very happy for the first time he could remember.