"Why are we here?" Harry whispered nearly soundlessly, anxiously looking at the house before him. The last time he was here seemed to have been years ago, but in fact it was just a few weeks. He stepped closer to Severus, who placed an arm around the boy's shoulder.
"We need your aunt to sign the adoption papers. She is alone and I'm with you. You don't need to worry," he tried to reassure the boy, but Harry still looked troubled.
"I still don't want to be here. It's the way she looks at me, like I'm an ugly creature," Harry whispered again.
Severus squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Hopefully it will be the last time you have to see her."
The two stopped at the front door and Harry huddled closer towards his guardian and tried to hide his face behind Severus' arm.
"Ready?" Severus asked and Harry nodded, but his body shuddered as they knocked and waited for the door to open.
Petunia had been informed of their visit by Albus, and as she opened the door she greeted them with a forced smile. She let them in and led them into the living room. Not wasting more time than necessary, Severus placed the adoption papers on the table for Petunia to sign. Petunia on the other hand took her time to read the document carefully through.
When she was ready she fixed Harry with a nearly caring look and asked, "This is really your wish?"
Harry was taken aback. "Erm… yes."
"Well. It's a big decision for you and your life and I just want to make sure you have thought things through," Petunia explained.
Still not understanding what had gotten into his aunt, he asked, "Isn't that what you've always wished? Getting rid of me?"
"Oh, Harry. I'm so sorry. I know we were horrible to you and there is nothing I can do to repay you, except making sure you are happy. If you want to live with Severus then that's fine with me," Petunia said with a warm smile, but at a closer look the smile did not reach her eyes, which held a calculating look.
Harry was too confused to see that. He wondered if maybe Severus had bewitched her, but as he glanced to his side he saw that Severus also was frowning.
Finally Petunia signed the papers and as she gave them back she looked at Harry again and said, "Well, I know we were unfair to you and… erm… we didn't use the money… your money… like we should have, but… erm… I hope you can refrain from pressing charges. You know that now, with Vernon gone, I don't have much money. I have to work now to pay for Dudley's school. If you press charges I would have to sell the house and we would have to relocate and Dudley would lose his friends, and-"
"Will you STOP!" Severus suddenly yelled enraged. "It's Harry's right to claim every single Penny you STOLE from him. Consider yourself lucky that you are still able to look after your son. In my eyes, you should rot in prison and your whale of a son should be sent to a reformatory!"
Harry flinched at Severus' outburst, but as he listened to Severus' rant he realized what Petunia was playing at. He felt a painful stab in his heart. Gone was all hope that maybe after everything that had happened Petunia would worry at least a little about him, but in reality all she worried about was money.
Hurt and angry, Harry jumped up and yelled, "Keep the stupid money! I hope you choke on it!" and then he ran from the house, tears streaming down his face uncontrollably. As Severus caught up with him, he was choking on his sobs. Carefully the man pulled the child into a hug and then, after checking the area, he apparated them away.
Back in Severus' quarters in Hogwarts Harry sat in front of the unlit fireplace staring into space. He hadn't said a single word since they returned. Severus sat in an arm chair looking at the boy, but his eyes were also unfocused.
In his mind Severus was going through all different kinds of curses for this heartless woman. Pity he could not actually do anything. It would be too risky. Maybe he could come up with something after the hearing. He didn't want to risk losing the boy. He didn't even want to think about losing the boy. Harry would be devastated and he, Severus, would be devastated too. The boy had stolen his heart, like his mother had years before, but in a completely different way.
Suddenly a small voice cut through the silence. "Do you like me?"
Severus focused back on the boy. "Of course I do. I love you like a son. Why else would I go through all this trouble? I fight for you, because I don't want to live without you anymore. I love you!"
Fresh tears started to fall. "But why?" Harry asked, looking completely lost.
"You are a unique and incredibly genial child. You didn't deserve what happened to you. Your mother adored you and she would be appalled if she knew how her own sister has treated you. I cannot change what happened, but I want to show you that you, like every other child in this world, have a right to be loved and cared for, a right that you have had since you were born and that doesn't need to be earned."
Harry sniffed and tried to dry his eyes with his sleeve. "But the Dursleys… why didn't they…?"
Severus sighed and shook his head, "I don't know, Harry. I cannot fathom why someone would treat a child the way they treated you. I can just repeat that they were wrong. They lied to you. You are no different than any other child. You have the same rights every child has."
"They just hated me," Harry whispered.
"Yes." There was nothing more to say.
"But you love me."
"Yes," Severus confirmed.
Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened them again and asked, "And I'm normal."
"Yes, Harry. Like every other wizard child."
"And you love me."
Again Severus agreed. "Yes, I love you."
"I… I love you, too!" Harry finally said, and stood up. Unsure, he walked over to Severus, but the man held his arms open and Harry climbed on the man's lap and let himself being embraced. He leaned into Severus' chest and sighed.
"The Dursleys were wrong," Harry said and this time it sounded like he really believed it. "You love me, so the Dursleys were wrong."
"Indeed," Severus answered and tightened his hold on the boy.
"I thank you so much" Harry said and closed his eyes. He was emotionally exhausted and fell asleep. Nearly missing Severus' words, "No, my dear child. I thank you!"
Severus hadn't been prepared for that breakdown, but he had the feeling that Harry had just made a big step forward. He hoped with every single cell in his body that the hearing wouldn't destroy the little trust in life Harry had finally found.
"Hello Severus, Harry how are you?" Mr. Weasley asked, as soon as they arrived at the ministry.
Harry just nodded nervously and Severus answered, "As well as can be expected, under the circumstances. I presume you are here to escort us?"
"I am, but I am also here as your friend. No need to be so official."
Severus hummed at that but didn't say more. Mr. Weasley wasn't peeved though. He knew that the other man was nervous as well, no matter how hard he tried to hide his feelings.
"Madam Bones asked me to sit with Harry during the hearing," Mr. Weasley explained.
"What?" Harry asked shocked. "I'm not sitting with Da… erm… Severus?"
Mr. Weasley smiled at Harry's slip of tongue, but didn't comment on it. Instead he said, "No. This hearing is mostly about Severus. You will sit with me at the auditorium."
Panic was written all over Harry's face. "I don't want to leave your side." Harry said looking at Severus for help.
Severus sighed. He placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and said, "I know, Harry. I'm not happy about this, either. But if we want to succeed, we must stick to their rules. Be strong for me. Do you have the pendant with you?"
At that Harry nodded. His hand glided automatically to the emerald. Severus smiled, "Then we are close to each other even with the whole room between us."
Harry closed his eyes and then sighed. As he opened his eyes again he had a faint smile on his lips. Seeing the panic retreating, Severus looked at Mr. Weasley and asked. "Who is going to plead my case?"
"Kingsley Shacklebolt. Albus wanted to at first, but both Kingsley and Madam Bones advised against that. Minister Fudge and Albus are not on good terms, so Madam Bones recommended Kingsley. I think he is the best man for this. He knows what he is doing and he is backing you all the way."
Severus nodded in agreement. Shacklebolt was indeed a good choice. With him they might have a chance.
"Here we are," Arthur said stopping in front of a dark wooden door. "Harry, you are coming with me. Severus will be called in soon."
Harry looked at Severus with a concerned look. Severus opened his arms and soon the boy was wrapped tightly around his torso. After a quick hug Harry stepped back again and sighed. Arthur led Harry into the hearing room and the low whispering stopped immediately. All eyes turned towards Harry, who wished the earth would open up and swallow him. Arthur pushed Harry gently to their seats and slowly the whispering started again.
Harry tried his best to let the voices fade out and to concentrate on Arthur, who explained some of the people to him.
"That man over there to the left is Elphias Doge. He is a good friend of Albus Dumbledore and a jurist of the Ministry of Magic," Arthur started and then pointed to a few other people, explaining what they were doing and if they were friends or enemies. Harry followed Arthur with his look until he saw a woman completely dressed in pink.
"Who is that?" Harry whispered.
"That's Dolores Jane Umbridge. She is Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and has a place amongst the Wizengamot."
"What's the Wizengamot?" Harry wondered, his look still transfixed on the pink woman.
"It's wizarding Britain's high court of law," Arthur explained placing a hand at Harry's shoulder, which caused Harry to finally break his stare and turn towards him.
"She is a beast," Arthur whispered in a very low voice. "Be warned. In her opinion Severus needs to be locked away in Azkaban. She will not go easy on him."
Harry nodded, biting his lip nervously.
"Harry?" Arthur suddenly asked concerned, "Do you know about Severus' past?"
"Yes, Severus told me that he was a… a… what was the word?"
"A Death Eater."
Harry made a face. Really how could they call them Death Eaters? What is that supposed to mean? "Erm. Yes, that was it."
"Last time, Severus was cleared because at the time of his hearing he worked as a spy for Albus, but there are still some who see him as a Death Eater. I'm sure this subject will be reopened."
And Arthur was right. As soon as Severus was called into the room Umbridge fired accusation after accusation at him, but Shacklebolt was prepared for this. He could refute every reproach of that dreadful woman and finally Umbridge sat down with gritted teeth.
After that, the hearing turned towards the subject of whether Severus would be a suitable guardian for Harry Potter or not. Harry noticed that many didn't understand why Severus allowed Harry to go back to the Dursleys, when it was clear that the muggles were abusive. This subject was really difficult because on paper Severus was Harry's Godfather for a year by now, which wasn't really correct, but they could hardly say that.
For some time it looked very bad for Severus, but then Madam Bones asked, "Is it correct, Professor Snape, that you yourself were adopted lately, and by no less than a man called José Garcia Lopez, who is a direct descendant of the old and noble house of Oritell?"
At the name Oritell it grew completely silent.
"Oritell?" Minister Fudge asked unbelievingly.
"Indeed, Minister", Madam Bones answered.
"But… I thought that house was extinct?" Minster Fudge stuttered.
Madam Bones smirked inwardly. "Then you are obviously ill informed. They still live amongst us all over the country, but we are getting sidetracked, Minister. Well, Professor Snape?" With these words Madam Bones turned towards Severus again.
"That is correct," Severus finally answered.
"Why would you get adopted by a descendant of the Oritells?" Minister Fudge asked, still not believing how a Nobody like Severus Snape could be befriended by someone of a house which is held in such high esteem within the wizarding community.
"I've known him for a very long time now. He is very important to me. And it seems I'm also important to him," Severus explained.
Minister Fudge gritted his teeth. Severus Snape under the wing of Oritell? It would not do the British wizarding community any good to go against that house without any real reason.
Severus felt baffled, too. How can a name change the whole situation? Was José aware that his name alone could help Severus? Was that the reason he adopted Severus?
"Well, thank you, Professor Snape. Before we make our decision, I wish to talk to Harry Potter and hear his point of view," Madam Bones said and Harry jerked in his seat.
Nervously Harry got to his feet and moved forwards until he stood next to Severus.
"Mr. Potter, I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind."
"O… okay," Harry said trying to hide how afraid he was.
Before Madam Bones could utter one more word, Dolores Umbridge leaned forward and started with her own questioning. "Is it correct that you had problems receiving your first Hogwarts letter?"
Surprised at that question Harry answered, "Erm… yes."
"Tell us, what was the problem?" Umbridge wanted to know.
"My uncle didn't let me have my letter, because he didn't want me to go to a wizarding school," Harry explained.
"Really? And I thought your aunt appointed Severus Snape as your magical godfather, so that she wouldn't have to concern herself with wizarding business. Why was your godfather not taking care of that?"
Harry gulped and hoped nobody noticed his trembling hands. Luckily Severus, Albus and Madam Bones had worked out some possible questions with him. So he knew what to say, but that didn't mean that he wasn't nervous. And this woman was really very intimidating.
"My aunt asked Professor Snape to be my godfather after the visit from Hagrid. She was afraid of him and didn't want him coming near her again, and she knew Professor Snape from the past."
This answer was very logical. Umbridge herself didn't want to be near such a half human creature. Therefore she could understand Petunia Dursley's attitude.
"And you knew that Professor Snape was your Godfather?"
"Erm… no. Not at first. I was told during my first detention at Hogwarts," Harry admitted feeling the heat in his face rising.
"Detention? How did you earn this detention?" Umbridge asked with gleaming eyes.
"Objection, your honor!" shouted Kingsley Shacklebolt, "Harry's misbehavior in school is not relevant to this hearing."
"Objection sustained" Madam Bones answered immediately and looked at Umbridge questioningly.
"I withdraw the question," the pink clad woman said and asked instead, "How did you feel when you learned that Professor Snape was your godfather? Word has it that you and Professor Snape didn't get along very well."
Harry drew in a shaking breath. "Well, Professor Snape is a very stern teacher and the subject of potions can be very dangerous. One wrong ingredient and the cauldron can explode. So I guess he has to be stern during lessons. I had some difficulties with potions and got on his bad side sometimes, but after lessons I could always come to him to talk. He even taught me my first spell," Harry said and smiled at that memory.
"And what spell was that?" asked Madam Bones curious, too.
"Lumos. I don't like dark places and Professor Snape taught me the spell, so I could always have a light with me."
At that some "oh's" and "aw's" were heard from all over the room, but it grew silent again very quickly because nobody wanted to miss a single word from Harry Potter.
Umbridge of course wasn't awed in any way and continued, "So Professor Snape treated you correctly?"
"Yes. He did."
"Could you come to him with your problems?"
"And did he help you?"
"Did you talk to him about your abuse at home?"
"Not at first, but he found out."
"So he knew about your abuse but still decided to let you go back to your relatives. How did you feel about that?"
"It wasn't his decision!" Harry said immediately.
"But it was, my dear," Umbridge said with faked sympathy. "As your godfather he is responsible for your welfare. It would have been his duty to protect you and we all know that he had an alternative placement for you. You two disappeared for several weeks without a trace."
"Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape made arrangements with the Dursleys in hopes of strengthening the blood protection which protects me from Death Eater attacks. As soon as Professor Snape noticed that the Dursleys didn't stick to the bargain, he took me away."
"How noble. Still I wonder, what Death Eaters? You-know-who is dead and his followers are in prison. Who would attack you?" Umbridge's eyes gleamed again.
"Voldemort is not dead!" Harry said angrily, not caring about the gasps around him. "He still exists, trying to gain a body to rise again."
Umbridge smiles sadly, "My dear boy. Who told you such nonsense? Of course he is dead."
Harry couldn't believe his ears. How can someone of the ministry be that naïve? "That's not nonsense! I saw him! He used Professor Quirrell's body to get the philosopher's stone which would have helped him to come back again."
The people in the room started to murmur, wondering if they could believe what they were hearing.
Umbridge was standing now bending forward to look at Harry more closely, "So you want to tell us that you really saw You-know-who?"
Unconsciously Harry took a step back, but fixed the woman with an angry stare and answered, "I saw his face, sticking out of the back of Professor Quirrell's head. He wore a turban during the school year so nobody would see, but he took it off right in front of me and then Voldemort talked to me."
"Oh, really? What did he say?" the woman asked, sitting down again.
"He wanted me to hand over the Philosopher's stone to him."
"Really? What gave him the impression that you of all people would have it?"
"Because of the Mirror of Erised," Harry explained.
"And what would that be?"
"A mirror which allows you to see your heart's deepest desire. It was the last trap which protected the stone. Voldemort couldn't get it on his own, though. He thought if I would look at the mirror that I could get the stone for him."
"And?" Umbridge asked with a bitter sweet voice, "Did you get the stone?"
"So you had the stone You-know-who wanted. What did he do next?"
"Objection, your honor." Kingsley suddenly found his voice again. He should have had stopped this line of question earlier, but he too was very curious about this story. "We all know that Harry didn't hand over the stone and, as interesting as this story may be, it doesn't help us decide whether Professor Snape is a suitable guardian or not."
"But it does," Umbridge defended herself, "It shows what state of mind this poor boy is in, telling us stories about dead people. It will be a hard piece of work to bring the boy out of all these fairytales."
Harry's eyes grew larger at this statement. So this pink woman tried to make him look as a lunatic?
"What Mr. Potter told us really happened at the end of last term at Hogwarts. He and his friends went to find the philosopher stone. I admit there is no witness to what happened between him and Professor Quirrell, but when he was found, the stone was with the boy. Professor Dumbledore explained the nature of the Mirror of Erised to me and told me how it was possible for Harry to get to the stone. So Mr. Potter's state of mind is nothing to worry about. None of us can be sure if You-know-who is dead or not. We never found a body. So it is up to us what we want to believe. There is no proof on either side.
"Objection sustained" Madam Bones said, before Umbridge could say anything else.
Umbridge glared at her, but remained silence for once.
"Well. I want to know if you think if Professor Snape will be a fit guardian for you," Madam Bones asked her question finally.
"Yes, I believe he would be brilliant. He has cared for me these last few weeks and I really want to stay with him. He is already like a father to me," Harry said with a smile.
"Then I would say it is time to retire for deliberations. We will meet again in an hour."
Harry and Severus went to the Ministry's cafeteria to wait, but Harry was far too worried to eat anything.
"What do you believe they will decide?" Harry asked.
"I have no idea, but no matter what, I will be here for you. I will not stop looking out for you just because someone believes I'm not good enough for this."
"But I wouldn't be able to spend my summer with you," Harry whined.
Severus smiled at this, and stroked his hand through Harry's hair until he pulled the boy closer and placed a kiss on the top of his head. "Let's hear their decision first, before we worry too much, okay? At least we have all school year to plot our next steps."
Harry sighed and then nodded with a faint smile.
"Harry!" a voice shouted, causing Harry to turn around in astonishment.
"Lin? What are you doing here?"
The girl grinned happily. "I'm here for your mental support, of course! Mum is here, too." At that, the girl turned around and pointed to the nearing woman.
"Hello Harry, hello Severus," Caroline greeted the two surprised men.
"Caro! Why are you here?" Severus asked perplex.
At that Caroline looked offended, "How about 'Hello Caro, nice to see you'? Aren't you happy to see us?"
"Of course I am. I'm sorry. I just don't understand."
"José asked us to keep an eye on you. We are to report to him immediately if something bad happens."
"So you were at the hearing?" Severus asked.
"Yes, dear. We sat in the back."
Harry grinned at Celine. "I can't believe you are here in England."
"We're staying in a hotel in London. It's really nice here. I'm eager to see everything. Maybe you and Severus can show us around?"
"Lin," Caro warned.
"How long are you going to stay?" Severus asked.
"About a week. We're staying at The Stafford London. The hotel is connected to the floo network, though the suites' is just for calls and you must use the lobby for visits."
"Harry? Severus? The hearing is continuing," Arthur came to the cafeteria. Severus nodded and then introduced Caroline and Celine. Arthur greeted them warmly and they all went back to the hearing room.
"We have arrived at the following decision," Madam Bones said and the room grew silent.
"The accusation that Professor Severus Tobias Snape is following Death Eater activities and is therefore a danger to Harry James Potter is dismissed. The custody of Harry James Potter goes herewith to the trusted hands of Professor Severus Tobias Snape. With that, Professor Snape has the right to adopt Mr. Potter if he wishes to do so. I wish you both all the best and good day to you all. Thank you!"
The room exploded with applause, shouting and cheering. Harry turned to Severus with a big smile on his face and whispered "We did it!" Then he hugged his now-official guardian and pressed his face into the black robes, hiding his tears of happiness.
"Yes, my son," Severus answered enclosing the boy in his arms and placed his cheek against Harry's black mop of hair. "We did it."