Severus stared down at him as he slept, marvelling still at having him whole and in one piece. He would have looked peaceful were his body not still wracked by sporadic convulsions, even while he slept. He brushed Harry's fringe down so that it fully covered the lightening bolt scar. He would take care of that, but not now, now he had to take care of him.
"You got him to take his potion?" Lupin whispered tentatively, coming to stand beside him. Severus knew he was attempting to be somewhat supportive and to keep the peace, but he could not contain an angry sneer as the curtains surrounding Harry's bed were drawn slowly and quietly back, and Harry's mob of well-wishers stared at him distrustfully, some with open hostility.
He bared his teeth, glaring back. "Make a single noise to wake the boy up and I will personally, and with great pleasure, ensure that you regret it," he hissed.
A snort came from the back of the group and he was surprised to see Black in human form, already acquainted with everyone.
"It says something that there's a convict in the room but the person no one wants near Harry is you."
How tempting it was to smash his head into a wall again, how much better he would feel if he could take a little of the anger and weariness out on this imbecile's skull. Merlin knows what it was protecting; he wasn't blessed with a brain in there.
"I do not have to answer to a single one of you. Where is Poppy?" He couldn't decide who in the room he despised the least, so he settled on directing the question at Lupin. He needn't have bothered, upon hearing her name, the Matron came bustling out of her office and Black hastily retreated, resuming his canine form.
"Shall I assume I am allowed to see to my patient now?"
She set about giving the group at large a disapproving glare of her own, for entirely different reasons, but looking down at Harry, she let out a startled 'Oh' of surprise. "He should sleep through the night if he is left undisturbed," she said with a small smile of relief. "Headmaster, if I could see you for a moment to discuss Mr. Potter's condition-"
"No," Severus interrupted in a hard voice that brooked no argument. "I'm his guardian, you'll discuss it with me. In private."
"I'm his guardian and I believe it is my right to have this conversation in private," he repeated, his gaze resting on each person in turn, daring anyone to contradict him. If the occupants of the room had been confused and hostile before, it was nothing to the dark, and in many cases, horrified looks he was getting now.
"You're his-" Poppy began, at first utterly baffled but swiftly turning furious as realisation dawned. "Severus Snape, the amount of times I've nearly you thrown you out of this infirmary because of your fussing! I should have known!"
"I do not fuss," he replied indignantly. "My concern has always been in proportion to his injury."
"Into my office with you, then. I should have been notified immediately that you were his guardian," she continued to scold him. Severus tried not to be taken aback that she took the information in her stride, even as Minerva and the Weasleys gawped after them.
"He's had a warming draught, a strong pain reliever and the sleeping draught should take care of his exhaustion. Physically, it's his nerves and muscles that have taken the most damage. It seems to me that he's been subject to the cruciatus curse and from the extent of the damage, he's been cursed more than once."
"At least five times, for more than twenty seconds each time," Severus clarified, and Poppy's expression turned sombre.
"I will monitor him overnight and reassess him in the morning, but I would warn you now that in all likelihood there could be some long-term physical effects. Spells such as he was subject to can have a lasting effect."
He shut his eyes briefly, sighing deeply. "The convulsions aren't going to stop?"
"I'll have a better idea of what we're dealing with when I see how he's responded to what I've given him so far," Poppy answered calmly. "We can refer him to St Mungo's if it isn't within my capability to cure. There have been far worse after-effects of torture by cruciatus curse and I will be able to advise you how to cope should it come to that." She gave him a few moments to process the information before continuing. "He will have been affected more than just physically and he cannot take dreamless sleep more than twice a week-"
"I'm a potions master, I do not need to be told-"
"I tell all my patients and those responsible for their care. I do not know what trauma he has been subject to tonight, but from his injuries it's clear he's going to need emotional support. I thoroughly expect you'll be capable of meeting his needs."
Severus couldn't claim not to be surprised and a little confused at the vote of confidence. She paused suddenly, holding the door halfway open. She regarded him sternly. "You will need to take care of yourself too, if you're going to have a hope of taking care of that young man."
By the time Severus returned to Harry's bedside the group had noticeably thinned out.
"Ron's gone with his Mother to give his statement to the aurors. They'll want to speak with you soon," Lupin explained quietly.
"I'm not going anywhere with those fools," he snarled. Harry had moved in his sleep, his fringe no longer hiding the horcrux hidden in plain view. A wave of rage and grief threatened to engulf him once more and he could hear the Headmaster's words echoed back in his mind, quietly and calmly revealing his twisted version of his son's fate. Severus gripped Harry's fingers and he calmed slightly.
"They aren't looking to arrest you, Albus has explained about the impostor. The real Moody is on the other side of the wing; he's in a bad way." Severus let the expression on his face show how little he cared.
"Severus," Arthur Weasley began seriously, interrupting Severus' moment of calm, "what exactly is your relationship to Harry?"
"Are you deaf, Weasley?" Severus snapped, releasing Harry's fingers.
"Severus..." Lupin murmured, a warning in his tone.
"Albus explained that you're his guardian by proxy, you have some sort of document or contract from his relatives to act in their stead..."
"Which I should have been notified of as his Head of House," Minerva interjected severely.
"Molly and I have watched him return to his relatives each summer for his safety, we would have been quite happy to take him in. How is it that he's ended up with you? From what I've gathered up until now you've disliked Harry more than any other child you've taught."
"I don't believe I have to answer to either of you." He had by now already burned through reserves of patience that he hadn't even known he'd possessed. That Minerva, who so easily let herself be persuaded by the Headmaster that Harry was better off with his relatives, and Arthur Weasley, who had managed both times Harry was put in his care to see to it that he ended up in danger, could stand before him now with the utter nerve to question him was nothing short of enraging.
"If you're going to go up against the Ministry to keep him, you might want a few more people on your side," Lupin said softly. Severus didn't miss the worried look he darted at the large black dog standing guard at the foot of the bed.
"How long have you known about this?" Minerva asked, rounding on the wolf.
"All along. You really have to see them together for it to make any sense, and even then you have to squint."
"If that is your attempt to be helpful then I can do without it." He wasn't in the mood to deal with these people. He merely wanted to sit in complete silence beside Harry's bed until he had to deal with the damned aurors once and for all. He was prepared to argue his case with the Ministry, but these two utter imbeciles had no right whatsoever to question his guardianship of the boy.
"He's happy," Lupin said quietly, nodding towards Harry. "Severus has adapted faster than anyone would have expected."
"Happy?" Weasley replied incredulously.
Severus resisted the urge to curse him with every fibre of his being, angrily stalking as far as he could from Harry's bed before he exploded with rage. How dare they? He whipped around, certain that he had been followed.
"You," he rounded on Minerva, gesticulating viciously, "took the first excuse the Headmaster offered to rid yourself of responsibility of the boy. You did not care one whit about Harry having fit guardians when you sent him back to live with his relatives. And you," he turned to face Arthur Weasley, "tell your wife, your son and the rest of your offspring that if I hear one word said to him against this arrangement-"
"What in Merlin's name do you want with him?" Weasley interrupted, shaking his head.
"HE'S MY SON!" he roared.
"No one is questioning the legitimacy of this- this document you've procured, but we need to have a rational discussion about Mr. Potter's wellbeing," Minerva cut in. "Forgive me, but you are the last person I would want that child with, especially after such a traumatic ordeal, and I find it quite disturbing that it is only now that you seem to want to lay some sort of claim on him. Not to mention that Mr. Potter was behaving quite out of character earlier..."
"Torture tends to have that effect, you fool."
The doors to the hospital wing swung open and the Headmaster surveyed the scene with raised eyebrows, no doubt taking in Severus' teeth gritted in anger, as well as Minerva's flushed features.
"Severus, the aurors are ready for your statement. If you'd like to come with me..."
He departed in a furious whirl of robes, treating the Headmaster to a far more disgusted glare than he had even the other two.
No one noticed as he blinked himself awake the following morning. Remus was sat massaging his temples, staring blankly at the floor and Snape was glaring hard across the room, and from the looks of it, it was being deeply offensive. He struggled to sit up, wincing unpleasantly as he manoeuvred on stiff joints and aching muscles. Inching up, he discovered that the odd weight resting on his feet was the curled up form of a huge black dog.
"Painful?" Snape murmured, reaching behind Harry to adjust his pillows.
"A bit, yeah. You stayed. You're here."
"Of course I'm here. Drink." He held out a potion, keeping the vial steady for him, just as he had done the night before. "Occlude, Harry," he instructed seriously. "Do not stop occluding."
"Morning, Harry," Remus said gently. "How are you feeling?"
"M'alright," he shrugged numbly, not really sure what he felt at all. Who cares how he was feeling when Voldemort was out there. He was cold all over just imagining what Voldemort had begun to do, what it was his responsibility to stop. "What's happened while I've been asleep?" he asked desperately, looking between the two men.
"Not a great deal." Snape replied, leaning back in his seat. "The real Alastor Moody was found before you arrived in the hospital wing, we've all given our statements to the Ministry and they'll do what they can to catch Crouch-"
"It wasn't him," Harry said quickly, irritated that no one seemed to consider this as urgent as he did. Snape was just sitting there for heaven's sake and Sirius was still asleep. "It said Crouch on my map but when the polyjuice wore off it was someone else completely, someone younger."
"It wasn't the Barty Crouch you know. He had a son," Lupin interjected.
"Who should have died in Azkaban," Snape continued in a hard voice. "Moody gave the memory of his kidnap during the night," he explained. Then he took a breath, glancing quickly at Remus before speaking once more. "I should warn you before you give your statement that the Minister is rather unwilling to believe that the Dark Lord has returned."
"What?" Harry exclaimed loudly.
"No one is questioning that you were kidnapped," Snape tried in a late conciliatory attempt, "but as for the events in the graveyard-"
"They can see my memories if they don't believe me!" Harry burst out. What was wrong with everyone? Why wasn't everyone trying to sort this out? Why weren't they doing anything?
"They do not want to believe you; they will not look at your memories."
Harry leaned forward furiously. How could Snape be so calm about the fact that the Ministry were being so blind? "We can't just let them pretend Voldemort's not back! We need to stop him-"
Snape leaned forward himself, put a calming hand on his shoulder and speaking in a low and even voice, reassured him, "the Ministry does not believe us, but there are people who matter, people who are organised, who do. The Headmaster will sit in while you speak to the aurors, as will I. If they are not willing to hear what happened to you at that graveyard, we most certainly are."
"I thought you heard everything," Harry muttered, his voice becoming small against his will.
"Almost everything," Snape admitted, squeezing Harry's shoulder, an oddly affectionate gesture that set Harry off-balance. "We need to understand exactly what happened, as well as what you saw."
"Sirius and I will be off then, Harry. We'll stop in on you once you're settled." The dog lifted its head up at that, issuing a bark of disapproval. "There are aurors coming to speak to Harry, you can't be here." Sirius just growled, not moving from his position curled at Harry's feet. "I'm not going to stand here arguing with you, Sirius-"
"I'll be fine; you don't have to hang around on my account, either of you." Remus clapped a hand on his shoulder and attempted to give him a smile that turned out more like a grimace while Sirius bounded off Harry's bed with a loud bark.
"We'll see you soon. Very soon if Sirius has anything to say about it."
"I'm fine," Harry insisted weakly. Once Remus had finally shooed Sirius out of the hospital wing and departed with a final wave, Harry turned around, noticing Snape staring appraisingly down at him.
"What?" Snape shook his head as if to say nothing and Harry heaved a reluctant sigh.
"Can I have something for this before I speak to them?" He pulled his hands out from behind his back, nodding down at his limbs as they twitched and shook. The potion that Snape had given him had taken care of most of the pain but nothing else; he couldn't hold his hands still, not even if he tried. "I don't want them to see me like this."
Snape pulled back, his expression becoming carefully blank. "Madam Pomfrey won't be able to see you beforehand. Are you ready? If it is too soon, if you cannot speak to them now, I will tell them to wait."
"I have to talk now, they have to know he's back so they can stop him!"
"Did you hear what I said earlier?"
"Yeah, I heard! I'm going to tell them, I'm going to make them believe me. They have to," Harry replied obstinately. Why couldn't Snape see how important this was? Why was everyone acting like this wasn't a huge deal?
"I'm more than tempted to tell them to wait if this is your current frame of mind."
"No," Harry shouted furiously. "I'm talking to them now, I'll tell them I'm ready myself!" He swung his legs off the bed. Screw Snape and the sodding Ministry-
"Stop." Snape physically blocked him from moving off the bed. "I will tell them, you haven't been cleared to be on your feet."
He felt like screaming. Who cared about whether he used his damn legs?! Voldemort was back!
"Hold on," Harry said suddenly, grabbing hold of Snape's arm as he indicated to the aurors that Harry was ready. "What do I say about why I was so desperate to come to the castle? Or why I went through your quarters? What did Ron say?"
"Tell them the truth." Snape replied in a voice as calm as Harry's was panicked. "Obviously do not mention the key ingredient of your potion, that would hardly endear me to the authorities, and try to avoid mentioning your map, Moody's own testimony will be enough to identify your kidnapper."
"Tell them the truth," he repeated evenly. "I have already done so."
He did WHAT?
Harry stared up at him, utterly appalled, as the aurors and the Headmaster settled around his bed.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Potter," the ever-irritating Auror Hoffley began in a clipped, business-like tone. "We understand you've had a difficult night, but if you're able we'd like you to explain the events leading up to your abduction."
Harry remained silent, looking between Severus and the aurors, unconsciously biting his lip. Severus nodded encouragingly when it seemed as though he might refuse to speak and all he got in response was a thoroughly confused and hurt look.
"Mr. Potter?" Hoffley repeated and Harry relented.
"I was at the Burrow and my scar started to hurt."
"When was that exactly?"
"I don't know," Harry replied, as if he, too, thought Auror Hoffley possessed the very minimum level of intellect required for holding a quill. "During the night."
"And does this happen often, this pain in your scar?"
"He's had a difficult night," Severus growled, echoing the auror's own words. "This would be a good deal easier if you let him speak," he said, dragging out the last three words.
"Professor Snape has been trying to make me a potion strong enough to help, so I flooed to his quarters in the castle..."
Harry edited the events just as Severus had asked with surprising ease, but even so, his description of events had the painful ring of truth. It was not easy to hear from Harry's own mouth that his desperation to see him, to get his potion, had led to his abduction. The aurors gave vaguely sympathetic nods, and every now and then hastily jotted down a note. Had Severus not been rather invested in maintaining a new and positive relationship with the Ministry and their agents, he'd have had a good deal more to say about their new policy on selective ignorance.
"Are you certain those were his exact words? Crouch said he was working for You-Know-Who specifically?"
Even Severus was tempted to hex that superior look off the auror's face, let alone Harry, who was becoming steadily more frustrated. It was a good thing that Harry's wand was safely tucked into Severus' inner pocket or, despite the severe after-effects of the cruciatus curse, he may well have managed to unleash a colourful hex or two.
"He didn't say those words but it was obvious who he was referring to, it was even more obvious when I got there and he tried to kill me."
"You have had a terrible and traumatic experience; it is not uncommon for children's imaginations to become overactive..."
"Sir!" Harry cried loudly, appealing to Severus in his desperation to be believed. "Tell them! You saw him, you were there!" Severus stood quickly, placing a hand on his shoulder, both to calm him and as a warning. Harry paid no attention, raising his voice at the aurors. "He's back, I'm telling you. Severus!"
"They will not listen, they do not want to hear it," he murmured quietly, taking him by the shoulders and pulling him round to face him.
"I didn't want to be there," Harry choked, refusing to calm himself, "I didn't want-"
"I know," he murmured roughly. "I know."
"You-Know-Who is gone, Mr. Potter," Auror Hoffley replied, pushing his glasses up his nose and vanishing his notes with a vague wave of his wand. "This Master that Crouch spoke of could easily have been Sirius Black, who rest assured we are still seeking to capture. I think we've heard enough." He gestured for his mute colleague to stand. "Get well soon."
"Sir!" Harry cried, his tone laced with betrayal. "You know he's back, you saw him! Why didn't you say anything?"
"The Ministry has no intention of admitting that the Dark Lord has returned and will not change their minds on your word or mine. It is not that they do not believe us, it is that they do not want to. I gave them my opinion of the matter in detail last night. They will not budge."
"We can't just give up," Harry cried, shoving Severus away as he swiped at his eyes in frustration.
"We have no intention of giving up," said the Headmaster, speaking for the first time. "The Ministry is not the only organisation to have fought against Voldemort. If you could continue Harry, we need as much information as possible."
More than once Severus was on the verge of asking them to stop, of saying that they had heard enough through the stone, that it wasn't worth the pain it was causing Harry to relive the night before. His own hands began to tremble when he spoke of the figures that had emerged from the Dark Lord's wand, and he gripped Harry's hand strongly when the Headmaster tried to persuade him that they were merely echoes, not even ghosts of his parents.
"But they knew things, they were real," Harry insisted. "They knew you were coming and that Severus was going to come get me."
"You did not hope for that to be true in your own mind?"
"It is not possible to know for certain, either way," Severus interrupted, squeezing Harry's hand tightly. If Harry wanted hope, if he wanted to believe in something good after what he had been through, what right did the Headmaster have to take that away?
"You know the rest, you were there," Harry finished, shaking his head.
"Well done," Severus murmured.
"Well done indeed, my boy," the Headmaster echoed, and Severus gave him a look filled with utter contempt.
His boy? His boy? 'His boy', who he would have led to his death and who he would have manipulated into sacrificing himself. His boy, from whom he would have stolen his childhood and who he would have stolen from Severus.
"He's not," he growled. What he would have done to Harry would have made him no better than a murderer in his eyes. He didn't register any reply from the Headmaster when he showed himself out, as Harry took that as his cue to explode.
"You told them? You told them?"
"The Dark Lord and all his closest supporters know you are in my care. How long do you think it would have taken before the Ministry's agents came knocking on my door? I will handle it. Trust me to handle it."
He backed away, composing his features as Poppy bustled over once more. "Are you ready, Mr. Potter? One final check up and I'll have a quick chat with Severus, and then you'll be free to go..."
"Madam Pomfrey is going to give me something, isn't she?" Harry asked when Snape returned. His face was paler than ever and Harry really noticed for the first time how terrible the man looked. "There's a potion or a spell, isn't there?"
Snape cleared his throat and settled back into his seat, adjusting his robes unnecessarily. He paused for so long that Harry was considering repeating the question.
"The Dark Lord was not exaggerating when he suggested that you could lose your mind as a result of torture. In the past that particular spell has had horrific consequences; there are people in St. Mungo's who have never recovered from the effects of the cruciatus curse. Magic is not a cure-all; there are some things that cannot be fixed with a wave of a wand or a swig of potion..." Harry's eyes widened as panic threatened to overwhelm him. What was Snape saying? Perhaps sensing that Harry's mind was going to alarming places, Snape cut to the chase. "Poppy has given you something and it is having some effect, but it is by no means immediate."
"So, I'm looking at being like this for... for weeks...?"
"Months most likely. You will have some... temporary limitations to work around."
Harry took in Severus' words in complete silence, staring blankly at the wall. He could feel Snape watching him. He pushed his palms flat down onto his legs, stared fixedly at his fingers, his lips pressed in a determined line. He sucked in a breath as he concentrated harder, barely breathing. If he could just- just hold them still- just control it for a second, he could prove Snape wrong. He concentrated harder, biting down on his lip, hard. How could he fulfil the prophecy like this? How could he do anything like this? Snape leaned forward, tugging on his wrists as Harry blinked just a little too quickly and his face began to flush.
"What limitations? What can't I do?" he asked, his voice rougher than usual.
Snape ran a hand distractedly through his hair. "Your magic is going to be somewhat compromised; certain spells require very precise wand movements that you might find difficult to perform now. The other is that you absolutely cannot fly. You won't be permitted to use a broomstick until you're cleared by Madam Pomfrey."
He pressed his lips together and shut his eyes, that way he could shut everything out, hold it all back, because it was too much.
"It's selfish to be this upset, isn't it?" he asked, ashamed of how hard he was taking this when Dobby had died, and Voldemort was back, and he'd gone and ruined Snape's whole life.
"No. This has all been far too much at once," he said firmly before releasing a harsh breath of his own. "This will solve nothing-" he began abortively, holding out his arms in an awkward invitation for comfort that Harry wasn't too old or too proud to take.
"All my stuff's here," Harry mumbled as he stared around Severus's quarters in confusion. Lupin had done just as he had asked, packing up all of their belongings from the new house and replacing them, somewhat haphazardly, in his quarters. Harry didn't seem like he appreciated this new surprise, casting a wary eye over his scattered belongings. Harry reached forward slowly, plucking a photo frame on the coffee table, raising his eyebrows in surprise when he saw that it was a picture of him, Weasley jumper hastily thrown over his pyjamas, sat on the living room floor, surrounded by pieces of wrapping paper and his presents. Severus had developed it the wizarding way and the photographic Harry was failing dismally at shying out of the picture. It had only been days since it was taken and yet it felt like an age had passed.
"Why can't we go home?"
"It is better for the time-being that we remain here," he replied vaguely, pulling the photograph out of Harry's grasp and settling it carefully back in place.
"As in you told the Ministry that I live with you and they don't like it?"
"Generally speaking teachers don't have permission to take children home with them, however good their intentions," Severus replied sardonically. "This conversation can wait, you can take a day at the very least to try and begin to heal."
Harry clasped his hands tightly behind his back and returned Severus' gaze defiantly. "I'm fine, you don't need to fuss over me. It's not the first time I've nearly been killed, I think we both know it isn't going to be the last either."
"You were hurt, badly, and you have just relived it and experienced another shock no less than an hour ago. Trust me when I tell you that it can all wait."
"It can't all wait!" Harry exclaimed loudly. "If they're making plans to send me back to the Dursleys then I'll tell them I'm not going!"
"No one's sending you to the Dursleys, calm yourself. Things will need to be discussed and decided, but not now and not today. You have had enough. You will take a day, at the very least."
"For what? While he's out there doing what he did to me to other people? We can't just waste time, we need to sort everything out! What's going to happen? What are we going to do?"
"You're going to have a panic attack, at this rate. You have had enough and I have had enough. We know nothing of the Dark Lord's plans, he has not shown himself. Right now there is nothing that you or I can do." Snape held up a hand to forestall any response and black eyes met his in a stern and unwavering stare. "If you want to fulfil the prophecy and be the one who comes out alive, then you will face him only when you are ready. You cannot begin to train until you have begun to heal. If you want to be ready, if you are serious about defeating him, then sit down, calm down and let me look after you. Everyone has their limits, Harry."
Harry dropped silently onto the sofa, defeated by Snape's logic.
The problem, the one great problem that Severus foresaw was that Harry had already been through too much and he had reached his limit, he may well have surpassed his limit and yet there was still more. Of course there would be more; having been tortured, having been used to bring back the Dark Lord, having to relive it moments after waking and having learned that he would have... limitations was not enough. Learning that his home with Severus was in jeopardy would be a harsh blow too many... He would have to ask him despite the wholly inappropriate circumstances, he had no choice.
Watching Harry suffer, watching Harry struggle with his guilt and the burden of responsibility that he was too young and too inexperienced to shoulder made him doubt his decision to tell him the prophecy and stiffened his resolve not to speak of the horcrux. Not now, not yet. When he could fix it and when he had a plan in place, he would tell him. But to do so sooner, to tell him there was a piece of the Dark Lord tying him to this world, preventing that monster from dying, lodged in his scar, would be too cruel.
The crackle of a wizarding wireless filtered intermittently into the kitchen, occasionally buzzing or chattering inanely over what passed for music these days. This was occasionally interrupted by the sizzle of oil hitting the hot pan, or the faint bubbling of boiling water. He fell easily into his usual rhythm as he chopped and diced. After so many years his hands knew where to position themselves so as not to slice off the tip of a finger or the side of his thumb and his brain could be elsewhere; watching his potion simmer, the onions browning, minding a class full of rowdy students, recalling Harry's screams as he was mercilessly tortured, remembering the constricting bindings over his wrists as he struggled, consumed by his desperation to save his son but powerless to help him...
The sound of sock-clad feet padding across the room and the clanking of crockery jerked Severus abruptly from his disturbing recollections. Very quietly, Harry mumbled, "I've never been to a funeral before."
Severus dropped his knife with a clatter. It struck him hard, a painful shock, like a shard of ice had lodged in his chest, how sure he had been - worse yet - how easily it could have been Harry's funeral they were arranging. He might not have come back, his and the Dark Lord's wands might not have connected, he might have died believing that Severus would not have come for him, and Severus would be mourning him instead of welcoming him back home.
"Sir?" Severus didn't reply but threw out an arm, yanking an astonished Harry to his chest, wrapping an arm tight around his back. He was alive and as well as Severus had any right to hope for. "You alright, Sir?" Harry asked, his voice muffled and bemused. Severus grappled with the suspicion that the stress of the evening before had caused him to lose his mind. He had suddenly become overwhelmingly sentimental. He released him just as suddenly as he had held him, gruffly ordering him to set the table, leaving Harry standing, nonplussed, in the middle of the room.
"You don't do this all the time, do you?" Harry asked, not lifting his head from his pillow when Severus nudged his bedroom door open.
"What, check up on you at night? No, not all the time." He walked further into the room, pulling Harry's desk chair beside his bed. "Trouble sleeping?"
"I slept last night, you look like you haven't slept in a week."
"We aren't talking about me."
He wouldn't tell him that he could not sleep, that he knew what he would hear when he shut his eyes and knew what he would dream when sleep took him.
"I am used to sleepless nights, but it is not a habit I wish you to get into."
"I can't- Why didn't you try?" Harry burst out, sitting up. "Why didn't you tell them again what you saw? Why did you let them tell me I was making it up?"
"I did try, I tried all night. I spoke to the Minister for magic himself, I showed him this," he lifted his sleeve to show Harry the ugly black tattoo on his wrist. "That is why I warned you, I knew they would not listen and I did not want you overly distressed."
"You wouldn't tell them about Voldemort but you told them about me living here."
"I told you earlier, it would be perhaps a day, no more than that, and they would have come for you. This way I have been upfront, I can control the situation."
"Then why won't you tell me what's going on?"
"That is not one of the reasons for you to have a sleepless night, child. Today and tonight are not the right time for this discussion, a week from now is too soon, a month from now even, but we will talk tomorrow. Try and sleep Harry, I will wake you, should you need it."
"I can't. I keep thinking about Dobby and-" he shook his head, making a strangled noise in the back of his throat.
"You must occlude, Harry. You must."
"I can give you a potion to help you sleep but it won't stop you dreaming." Harry shook his head, burying his face in his hands. He always managed to look incredibly young in his pyjamas, he was young, fourteen only seemed old when you hadn't lived more than two decades.
"I'll read to you," Severus threatened without bite. "I can't bring that infernal television in here."
Severus ignored the comment, summoning over one of the books he'd given to Harry and flicking to the front page. "Move over so I can put my feet up," he ordered. He cleared his throat and began to read aloud.
"Severus, I'm not five, you don't have to-"
"You need to clear your mind so that you can occlude. So lie down, shut your eyes and listen."
Reading aloud was an oddly relaxing experience and he'd gotten two chapters in before he realised that Harry had managed to fall fast asleep.
Harry sat at the table the following day, palms flat against the surface, willing them to remain still. He wanted to talk seriously, not like a child and certainly not like a victim. He suspected he knew what Snape was going to say, it didn't take a genius, why else would he have put it off? Take a day. Snape thought he wouldn't be able to cope hearing the truth, that he was too distraught to face anything more, that he needed to recover. Well, he was wrong because he could face hearing whatever he had to, but that certainly didn't mean he was going to like it. The Ministry knew everything now and they didn't approve, well, they'd have to learn to because he wasn't going anywhere. He didn't care what else Snape organised or who else it was with.
"One day's up. What's going on, then? Why do we have to stay here?"
Snape raised his eyebrows slightly at Harry's tone, but took a seat, saying nothing to chastise him. He drilled his fingers agitatedly on his forearm as he considered Harry across the table.
"The document that I had your relatives sign is not... legal as such," he began slowly, choosing his words carefully. "Now that the Ministry has been made aware of our situation-"
"No," Harry interrupted firmly, knowing exactly where Snape was going with this little talk and punctuating his assertion with a stubborn shake of his head. "I'm staying with you, I don't care what the Ministry thinks and I don't care if they don't like it."
"I do care," he snapped back. "I care enormously because if they don't like it, Mr. Potter, then you will not be allowed to stay here. I intend to do everything in my power to convince them that what they think is that staying with me is what is best for you."
Harry frowned. "So, what, you're just going to ask if I can stay here? What happens if they say no?"
"I do not want to ask to have you here, I do not want permission to have you in my quarters. I want the right to tell the Ministry and the Headmaster where to go the next time they insist you take part in some preposterous death tournament that some murderous lunatic entered you into. I do not want to worry that you will be taken from me because I do not have the rights of a legal guardian."
"Adoption." Snape announced, arms folded, his usual scowl set firmly in place.
"Adoption?" Harry repeated weakly. "As in you adopting me?"
"Yes, as in me adopting you, you imbecile."
That wasn't remotely where he thought this conversation was going to go. "You said no," he replied faintly, trying to make sense of the suggestion. "You said you couldn't adopt me, not even if you didn't have to spy."
"I said I would not adopt you if there was a possibility I could protect you by keeping your whereabouts a secret. The Dark Lord knows exactly where you are now, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. I said I could protect you with the wards at home and I still intend to do that."
"So, for the wards and the training-"
"No," he interrupted firmly. "There will be no misunderstandings. I intend to make this absolutely clear." He leaned forward, speaking slowly as if Harry was particularly stupid. "I want to adopt you because I am far more capable of protecting you than anyone else. I want you where I can train you so that you will one day be ready to face the Dark Lord. I want the final say with decisions regarding your care. But most of all Mr. Potter, I want you to be legally recognised as my son because that is what I consider you to be. I want the rights of a father and I will endeavour to fulfil that role for you."
Harry stared back at him in complete silence until Snape sat back in his seat, his expression becoming a good deal less certain and Harry realised that his forbidding potions professor was nervous of all things.
"You mean like a real adoption, you want to really adopt me?" Harry clarified after an exceptionally drawn out pause, wanting, needing to be certain, absolutely certain what Snape was asking.
"As in you'd be my...?"
"Adoptive Father." Snape gave him a look that showed he was beginning to wonder if Harry was slow after all.
"But I'd call you...?" he persisted.
"Call me what you wish, Merlin knows you do already. You do not have to agree and certainly not straight away. I will not have you feel pressured into making a decision if you are uncertain."
"I'm not," Harry contradicted him hurriedly, stumbling over his words in his haste to get them out. "I'm agreeing. I mean, yes, I want to be adopted. It was my idea first."
Snape shook his head, a gesture that left him baffled. "I want you to consider it. This is serious, Harry. It is not just a measure for your protection or a means to keep you under my care, it is a significant and permanent commitment."
"I know. I want you to be my Dad, I want to stay with you."
"I want you to think about it, really consider it for a few days at least before we discuss it. I shouldn't be asking you now, the timing is completely inappropriate."
"Asking you a mere day after you were tortured by the Dark Lord will be seen as taking advantage by some and they may well be right. If we were not pushed for time I would not have asked you-"
"I would have said yes before."
"I do not want you to answer me now. It is not an offer that is going to expire, it is not even an all or nothing. It isn't your only option; I can petition the Ministry to give you permission to stay at Hogwarts each summer. The Headmaster would be something akin to an official wizarding guardian but he could place you in my quarters for the summer, provided the Ministry have no problems with this arrangement." Snape hesitated for a moment, looking horribly reluctant to continue. "Harry, I would certainly not love you any less if you were to refuse."
"You- what?" Harry gaped, his eyes so wide if he had a thought to spare he might have been worried they'd fall out of his head.
"I told you that I considered you my son," Snape said defensively.
"That doesn't mean- you never said-" He gestured vaguely between them, not even able to repeat Snape's words.
"If the thought of me loving you makes you so terribly uncomfortable then perhaps you are not as certain as you'd have me believe," he growled irritably.
"I'm not uncomfortable; I just didn't think you-"
"I'm asking to adopt you, Harry." Snape shook his head as if it was his fault he couldn't get his head around it, as if it were completely normal for Snape to go around declaring his love of Gryffindors and asking to adopt them. Then again he'd not made a secret of liking him recently; he had told him he considered him his son and he had obviously meant it like it sounded. Merlin, the man spent Christmas with him, he took care of him when he was sick, he read to him until he slept last night. He was asking to adopt him.
"If we were to consider adoption then it would not be easy," Snape continued. "I will have some difficulty persuading the Ministry's Child Welfare department that I am a suitable candidate. Until we can be sure that I will be considered you will have to wait to be officially emancipated from your Aunt and Uncle, which will almost certainly mean returning to Privet Drive for a meeting. It would also mean that for the interim period you would be a ward of the Ministry, which is not ideal."
He didn't care how difficult it would be, he didn't care that he would have to see the Dursleys, in fact, part of him wanted to, he wanted to show them that someone wanted him, and if that someone happened to someone they found completely terrifying, so much the better.
He was going to be adopted by someone who wanted him. He was going to stay with Snape and they'd be a family, if he could persuade Snape that was what he actually wanted, that is.
"Stop looking so... thrilled. I want you to think about this, promise me you'll really think."
"I'm going to think loads about it," Harry promised. "I'm still going to say yes, though."
"Keep occluding, do not let your grief distract you," he instructed as they made their way across the grounds.
"I know," Harry murmured, twisting his fingers tightly behind his back.
Severus stopped suddenly, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder to hold him back from the group.
"I do not want to see you so apprehensive or so self-conscious, it does not suit you." He gripped his shoulder more firmly, looking pointedly down at the awkward and almost certainly painful way he was holding his arms. Harry sighed, taking the hint and relaxing his arms by his sides.
For the majority of the day Harry was in a good deal of discomfort, but Severus had quickly come to realise that a large part of that discomfort was due to his self-consciousness. It was with relief that they discovered that Harry's daily potion was making a difference, almost vanishing Harry's symptoms instantaneously. Unfortunately, the effects lasted little over an hour and for the rest of the day Harry was as plagued as ever by the effects of the cruciatus curse. It was still morning and not yet time for Harry's potion and so Dobby's funeral would be the first time Harry had been out in public affected by his condition before he returned to school.
He allowed Harry his space as they stood on the border of the forbidden forest at the spot the Headmaster had chosen for the elf's burial. He was torn between wanting to support the child in his grief and not wanting to make an awkward situation worse. The day was for Harry to say goodbye to the elf, not to argue about his current living situation. He was already concerned about the presence of the boy's friends, who no doubt would confront him about what he had been through and what Weasley had seen a few days before.
"You had to bring your dog?" he muttered as Lupin came to stand beside him.
"He wouldn't miss an opportunity to see Harry, you know that. How is he?"
The Headmaster gave the usual words, sounding all the more empty and impersonal to his ears knowing the Headmaster as he did, knowing that he viewed them all as players in an elaborate game. This one, merely a piece that was no longer of use; put him in the ground, say a few kind words, keep your main players happy. How much worse off the world would be if he were on the other side.
Harry was glad that some wizards used coffins because he didn't think he could bear to see Dobby put in a hole in the ground. He didn't even know if that was what he would have wanted. Hermione sniffled wetly beside him as Dumbledore lowered the little box into the ground, careful directing it with his wand.
"Does anybody have anything they wish to say?" Dumbledore finished, looking kindly at each member of the assembled group.
"Uh, yeah, I do." He bit his lip nervously, feeling all eyes fall on him. He twisted his hands tightly behind his back. He hadn't actually prepared anything to say, he didn't really know what proper wizarding funerals were like, but Dobby deserved to have things said. He didn't deserve to be forgotten, buried in the ground with barely anyone here to remember him.
He cleared his throat somewhat unnecessarily. "This wasn't the first time that Dobby put himself in danger to try to save my life and he fought against Voldemort too, in his own way. He was always brave and one of the most loyal friends I've had, but I wish the day Malfoy gave him my sock was the last day I ever saw him and that he was still a free elf out in the wizarding world somewhere. And I'm sorry."
He looked expectantly over at Ron and Hermione.
"Um," Ron began, clearly at a loss. "Dobby... um... I've never seen someone so mental about keeping Harry alive. After what happened in second year I was more worried that Dobby would kill Harry trying to save his life than the nutter loose in the school." Ron scratched the back of his neck, losing his track. "Yeah, Harry's right, he was really loyal and brave. I think he probably wouldn't have been too unhappy if he knew this was how he was going to go, he probably would have been thrilled, knowing him."
Harry couldn't decide whether that was the worst or best thing Ron could have said.
"Ron!" Hermione hissed, picking the former camp.
The Headmaster took that as an indication that there were no more words left to be said, and there was a ripple along the grass about their feet, which had nothing to do with the bracing, chill wind. The ground seemed to shift, swallowing the grave, replacing it neatly so that you'd never even know he was under there. There was a great crunch from the forbidden forest as an enormous boulder was levitated over, still dripping with damp moss and dirt. Dumbledore rapidly murmured a powerful Latin incant that Harry couldn't catch the words of, moulding the stone slowly into shape. An exquisitely carved headstone fell gently from above their heads and settled into place marking where Dobby would finally lay.
"Here lies Dobby, a brave, loyal, free elf."
The instant the words were said they neatly etched themselves into the stone. The Headmaster nodded, stepping away from the grave, signalling the end of the service. Harry didn't move, even as the others began murmuring to each other.
It was a lovely service- he was very brave- What the hell did that elf do?
It hadn't even taken twenty minutes and there were so few people here. Poor Dobby was murdered and not even all the teachers had come out to see him buried. Hermione might have a point with this SPEW thing, house elves had a rotten lot in life.
"Harry?" Ron and Hermione came back to stand beside him. He couldn't bring himself to look away from the neat little headstone. Shouldn't it say something else? Shouldn't someone else be here to mourn him? Didn't house elves have family?
"I'm glad you guys came," he muttered eventually. He held his cloak tighter about him as a harsh wind whipped through the grounds.
"Of course we were going to come, we wouldn't miss Dobby's funeral. You mustn't think this was your fault, Harry," Hermione said, reading his thoughts, or perhaps just his expression.
"Really, mate, it wasn't. I was there, I'd know," Ron added.
"If I called for him when you said to then he wouldn't have died!" he admitted despairingly.
"It wasn't your fault, it was Crouch's, he killed him, not you."
He appreciated Ron and Hermione's attempts to make him feel better but it wasn't anything he hadn't heard before. It still did nothing to assuage the guilt and pain that lingered, becoming a dull ache, heavy in his chest, sometimes making it hard to breathe.
"I've heard this already, Snape says it all the time," he muttered, glancing at the man in question. Snape stood on the very edge of the group, with Harry and not. He found himself oddly curious what he could be saying to Remus that could possibly be making him smile, that wasn't normally the effect Snape had on people.
"I heard... Well, I heard that you're still living in the dungeons," Hermione said cautiously, casting her own dubious gaze on the potions professor.
"Yes. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I couldn't, you know that."
"Of course, yes," she agreed quickly, rubbing her hands together in an effort to keep warm. "Ron told me about what happened in the hospital wing and what you said."
"Ron," he huffed, caught between exasperation and embarrassment. "It's not how I wanted you guys to find out. I wanted to tell you myself but it was Snape's secret too." He looked between the two of them, sensing more than a little unease. He looked back at Ron. "Don't tell me you still think I've been confunded."
"Harry, can't you see why we're concerned? What you said to him, it's just not you."
"God, Hermione, come on. I was out of my mind when I said all that stuff! I'd just been tortured and I was panicking and I just- I wasn't thinking. I would never have said any of that if I was in my right mind. You don't have to bring it up, it's really embarrassing."
"Oh, well, thank goodness," Hermione exhaled with obvious relief. "We were both worried that you were still a little confused-"
"I wasn't confused."
Hermione blinked. "You said you weren't in your right mind, that you wouldn't have said any of that-"
"Of course I'd never have said it, but I meant it."
"See?" Ron said, throwing his arms up in despair.
"See what?" Harry bit out, scowling, arms folded tight across his chest.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione murmured in a pitying voice that did nothing for his temper.
"You had it right the first time, mate, you're not in your right mind."
Perhaps sensing danger as Harry's expression darkened further, Hermione tried to play peacemaker. "Maybe you could tell us a bit about living with Professor Snape, we should talk about this so we can understand."
"Don't patronise me." Harry shook his head. "You've made up your minds, whatever I say you're going to be convinced I've lost it."
"That's not true. It's just a shock and it's so, so sudden that a bit of explanation might really help it make sense to us, like it does to you. It's not really fair of you to expect us to understand right away."
"Fair!" Harry exclaimed, with an exhausted laugh. Who came here, to Dobby's funeral, to talk about fair? "Look, I know it's a shock and I know it doesn't make sense, but give him a chance, for me. I need you to trust that I know what I'm doing, I need you to trust me. Please."
"It's not that we don't trust you, it's just that it all seems very suspicious. What kind of friends would we be if we didn't make sure you were safe? If you had been cursed or given something you wouldn't know, would you? You might think you're happy even if everything isn't right."
The honest concern in Hermione's gaze did absolutely nothing to quell Harry's mounting frustration. He couldn't help it. Harry gave in to his temper and temptation. "Don't worry about me being forced or confounded, the Ministry checks for all that when you get adopted."
"Adopted? You're not-" Ron squeaked.
"I'm going to be, hopefully."
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, wringing her hands anxiously, the numbing cold all but forgotten. "After what you went through we'd completely understand if you were reaching out for some comfort, but I'm not sure Professor Snape is-"
"You don't know what I went through!" Harry snapped, fighting to hold his arms as tightly to his chest as possible, to keep them as still as he was able, and to keep his weariness from his features.
"But adoption? I can't begin to imagine how you feel, but Professor Snape shouldn't be taking advantage of what happened."
"He's not taking advantage of anything," Harry retorted, annoyed that Snape had been right about how the news would be perceived. "I'm not so pathetic that I've come back from that graveyard desperate for the first person who asks to be my Dad!"
"You've had a horribly traumatic experience, it wouldn't be that unusual to feel like you need someone. If this is about not going back to the Dursleys-"
"It has nothing to do with the Dursleys. I'm going to be adopted and if you were my friends you'd be happy for me." Harry snapped, struggling not to shout.
"That you're going to be adopted by Snape?" Ron cried incredulously, just a touch too loudly.
An immense bark behind him made Harry jump almost a foot off the ground. He spun on the spot and where a great black dog had been there stood a towering enraged wizard. "He's going to WHAT?"
"Sirius, change back! Someone might see-" came a despairing cry that was thoroughly ignored. Sirius seethed, his teeth bared in an animalistic snarl, his fists clenched tightly by his side.
"Snape's going to adopt me," Harry answered, staring unflinchingly back at his Godfather.
"Harry," Snape groaned, echoing Remus' despair.
"No!" Sirius shouted. He looked so wild and furious as he rounded on Snape that Harry took a step back. Snape was far less moved, merely arching a disdainful brow. "I know exactly what you're up to! I won't let you do this!"
"I would think for once, Black, before you say something you might regret."
"They won't let you, there's no way the Ministry will let you have him."
"On the contrary," Snape replied, radiating smugness. "I was just telling Lupin that my meeting with the Ministry's child welfare department went remarkably well and just yesterday they officially accepted my application to adopt Harry."
"What does that mean?" Harry gasped.
His eyes warmed slightly as he looked from Sirius to Harry. "It means I am under consideration. Arrangements are being made to set up a meeting with your Aunt and Uncle." Just the idea had Harry tempted to really smile for the first time in days.
Until Sirius' ranting ruined the moment, that is. He was just itching to hit Snape, Harry could tell. "I'm not going to let you-"
"Stop it!" Harry shouted. He'd had more than enough of this. This was a good thing, a really good thing and he needed it. He was tired, tired of everything going wrong and tired of the people he loved fighting and trying to convince him he didn't know what he was doing.
"It's up to me if I want to be adopted. I want a family and I want Snape- Severus, sorry, to be mine. You're not doing this for me, you're doing it for you, because you hate him. You're not worried that he won't protect me and you're not worried that I won't be happy; you're worried I will be because you hate the idea that I like living with Snape, just like you hate the idea of Snape being my Dad! Well, he is, all right? He's already my Dad, and if he can stomach having you around for my sake then you can do the same or you can leave."
Harry didn't look at Snape's expression, nor Ron and Hermione's and not the Headmaster's either. An astonished silence fell over the group.
"That's not true, Harry. That's not true at all," Sirius breathed, utterly horrified.
"I think," Remus interjected apologetically, moving to Sirius' side, "you might want to consider that maybe it is. In the beginning you might have been worried that Harry wasn't safe, but lately?"
"Harry," Sirius murmured, heartbroken.
Even knowing he was right, that Sirius had broken his promise time and time again, he still felt all the more guilty for making him so unhappy, for putting that awful look on his face. "I'm going home, I'll see you guys later."
"So what-" Black grabbed for him as he made to follow the child, "you think you've won, do you?"
He stepped deftly aside and out of reach, twirling his wand absently between his fingers. "What kind of adoptive father would I make if I didn't?"
"I know, alright?" Harry snapped, calling out from his bedroom the moment Snape arrived back in his quarters. "I know I shouldn't have said anything and I know that they were never going to be thrilled about this."
He silently held out Harry's potion. The relief from the pain was visible in his features and Harry sagged bonelessly onto his bed, enjoying the respite from his symptoms. The emotional damage, the trauma, the sheer frustration and hurt, he could not heal so easily, but he would be damned if he didn't try.
"Would you believe me if I told you that I hadn't been entirely honest about giving your original Christmas present to Draco?" Severus asked lightly, leaning against the doorjamb.
"He sent it back, did he? Wasn't good enough for him?" Harry replied, reluctantly playing along.
"He probably didn't know what to do with it. Come." With a flick of his wand he sent Harry's winter cloak to hit him square in the face.
"Oi!" He caught it in time, clumsily throwing it on as he followed Severus back through his quarters. "Where are we going?"
"The quidditch pitch will do, no one is using it over the holidays. You know you cannot fly, not even after taking your potion," Severus reminded him quickly, concerned he would get his hopes up despite having explained the dangers at length. Harry's perception of risk was utterly Gryffindor, mixed with a total lack of self-preservation. It was a wonder he had survived this long.
"I know, you don't have to go on about it again."
Harry balled his hands into fists and bundled them under his arms, wrapping his cloak as tight about him as it would go, stomping his feet on the frosty grass. If he was going to routinely forget he was a wizard, the least he could do was try not to forget he owned gloves. It occurred to Severus as he cast a warming charm for the both of them that this activity wasn't exactly weather appropriate.
"What are we doing here, then?" Harry asked, not looking at all pleased to be out in the cold again.
Severus pulled the shrunken gift from inside his robe pocket, stepped back slightly and waved his wand to restore it to its original size. He folded his arms, feeling foolish once more. If this did not cheer the boy up...
Harry looked up at him, eyes wide behind his glasses, before breaking out in an absurd smile, the first genuine smile he'd seen since that terrible night. "You got this for me for Christmas?"
"One of your memories was particularly vivid."
"Yeah, Dudley had one and I wanted one so badly," he replied, heaving his gift from the ground and holding it upright.
"I'm well aware that it isn't your ideal gift now, the memory was old and one amongst many..." Severus explained, despising his own uncertainty.
"No, it's awesome," Harry breathed, barely able to keep his eyes off it. "Thank you. I would have loved it at Christmas."
Severus was almost tempted to smile himself. "For the next hour it should be safe enough for you to use it, until the effects of the potion wear off."
"Oh," Harry said, sounding a good deal less enthused. He scuffed his foot on the ground, intensely studying the toe of his shoe.
"It's not obligatory," Snape said, rolling his eyes. "You don't have to ride the thing."
"It's not that. What I mean is- I haven't ever- I don't exactly know how..."
"I assumed," Severus replied, rolling his eyes once more as he moved to hold the handlebars steady. He knew a good few spells that would help with the process but he left his wand where it was, holding the bike upright while Harry got on. "I do know the mechanics of riding a bike, they had been invented when I was your age."
"What, way back then?" Harry asked cheekily, all trace of embarrassment gone as he set to testing the brakes.
"No self-preservation whatsoever. You think it wise to taunt the man who's going to be keeping you from falling off this contraption, do you?"
"You mean my Dad? It'll be alright, he's not as bad as he makes out." He kicked the pedals round into the right position, balancing one foot tentatively on the pedal, the other on the ground. "I've heard it's easier to balance the faster you go."
"I'm beginning to regret this already. I haven't set any safety charms yet, watching you fall off isn't going to be nearly so amusing if I have to clean up fragments of your skull."
He didn't take to it quite as well as he had to a broom, but he still seemed to pick it up remarkably quickly, Severus considered, watching him push unsteadily forward.
He didn't know how this would all work out. The Dark Lord's return had never originally factored into his plan to have a family. In truth, having a family was not even close to how he saw his life playing out and a large part of that was because he had neither wanted it, nor believed he had the required skills, the required feeling. Severus winced at the slam of the bike colliding at speed with the spectator stands. Harry had managed to make a spectacular leap to the side to avoid Severus' prediction coming true, and for some unknown reason seemed to find the situation amusing.
"Well, now I know it doesn't brake like a broom."
"You felt the need to test that theory?"
"I was acting on instinct," Harry grinned.
"I think that's enough at any rate," he declared, seeing Harry a little less steady than usual. He shrunk the bike and handed it over for Harry to look after.
"Thanks for this." His face fell as he turned the little bike over in his hands, his mood becoming sombre and Severus thought he could actually see the burden settle onto his shoulders once more.
"Even during war there are moments of happiness to be had," he gently reminded him.
"I just- It's all messed up now, everything's wrong, Severus."
"This is only just the beginning."
"That's not very comforting, Sir."
"You don't have to worry, you won't last long," Severus replied, placing a hand on his shoulder to steer him out of the quidditch pitch and back across the school grounds. "I'm going to kill you. Obviously I'll adopt you first and I'll keep you around for a short while to use you for potions ingredients so that I can regain my place in the Dark Lord's inner circle, but then I'll murder you."
"That simplifies things, I guess," Harry shrugged.
"For you. It's quite an elaborate scheme on my part. Black saw through my plot immediately, I always knew it would be his incredible wit and perception that I would have to contend with above all else."
He certainly had the feelings required, that he loved the child was certain. With so much to be done, with a horcrux looming over him, a Dark Lord to defeat and a traumatised child to see into adulthood, only time would tell if that would be enough. Fatherhood, how long could it take to pick that up, really?