Title: 6 Lessons From A Dead Man
Word Count: 8,625
Rating: Umm…PG-13-ish to R
Warnings: A sad lack of smut, slight dub-con for what there is shown. Somewhat Epilogue compliant.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Harry Potter put himself in a vulnerable position on Severus' birthday. So, naturally, Severus took advantage.
Author's Note: I never disliked Ginny until she wound up with Harry. And I was having a bad day. Sorry, Ginny. This was fun to write, hard to trim to an appropriate length and actually end. Much love to Helen and Fae for the proof-reading! *blows kisses* Written for the Severus *sighs* Birthday Challenge, so, for now: Happy Birthday, Severus!
Edit 07-25-2010 ~ It was brought to my attention that my page breaks were removed, as well as some formatting issues that were missed while I was removing my HTML tags. Sad day. I apologize to anyone who has this story on alert – no additional chapters, just some cleaning up and reassuring my OCD need to have the layout organized. –xo-
Lesson 1: Those who wear their emotions upon their sleeve are easy fodder for vultures.
Vulnerability had a smell. A sweetly intoxicating aroma that Severus had never quite managed to resist. Therefore, when Harry Potter walked past his hiding spot holding the hand of a chattering four-year-old with a toddler on his hip, looking world-weary and distracted, reeking of vulnerability and broken hope, Severus was interested enough to follow.
Potter was lost in inner turmoil, paying no heed to those he passed, nor seeming to recognize the fact he was being followed. Severus didn't even bother attempting to disguise his magical energy as he glided around pedestrians on the busy sidewalk, even going so far as to smirk openly at the black-haired baby looking around the street with wide, curious green eyes. The little boy giggled in response, offering a bright, barely-toothed grin that caught Potter's attention and caused him to smile indulgently. The auburn-haired offspring walking by Potter's side let out a disgustingly high-pitched squeal of happiness. "Daddy! Look, there it is! There's the park! Do you see it, Daddy? Do you? It's the park! I found it!"
Potter laughed in response. "Good job, Jamie! I couldn't have found it without you."
The child, "Jamie," presumably, took this as ascent to drop his father's hand and run screaming towards the other dirty, hyperactive children running around the caged lot like torture victims that had lost their last shred of humanity. Severus paused, looking around in disdain, rethinking his decision to follow Potter. A quick glance, however, showed that Potter had placed offspring number two in a sand box, and was sitting on a bench looking distraught. Potter discomforted was too great an allure to resist, and so, sneering, Severus entered the park and circled it slowly.
He knew why Potter was distressed of course. Anyone who kept up with The Daily Prophet was aware that Ginny Weasley Potter was pregnant with her third child. And that Harry Potter had been cursed shortly before his second son's birth and was unable to father future children. The couple was currently going through a "trial separation," and begged the wizarding world to respect their privacy during this "trying time." Right. Just this morning, an image of Ginny Weasley holding hands and kissing an unknown wizard had graced the front page. And now Potter was sitting alone in a park with his children, and every Slytherin atom of Severus' body was yelling at him to capitalize on the moment.
He pondered the eldest, Jamie, but one glance at the child running full-tilt across the yard after a screaming little girl with long blonde pig-tails was enough to change his mind. So he focused on the baby, cautiously sending a ribbon of magic towards the sand the child was attempting to simultaneously eat and play with. The child stared as a clump of sand congealed together to form a snake, giggling outright as the snake slid across his lap. Harry looked over and smiled at the lilting sound of the giggle, before getting up to drag his eldest out of the tree he was currently swinging from branch to branch on. The moment Potter's back was turned, Severus started the snake slithering towards him. Not willing to lose his fascinating new toy, the child rose on chubby legs and toddled after it, stopping at Severus' feet.
"Good… Spawn," Snape praised.
He reached down and picked the child up, awkwardly settling it on his hip, before transfiguring the sand snake into a plushy and presenting it to the grubby baby. Clearly no stranger to being held by miscreants, the child stuffed the toy in his mouth and waited complacently.
"AL!" Snape looked over in mild interest as Potter discovered his youngest child missing and began frantically searching the surrounding area.
"What are you doing with Albie?"
Severus looked down at the four-year-old now leaning curiously against his leg, and sneered. Did Potter not teach his children basic safety? "Albie is an atrocious nickname that should never again be uttered." The child on the ground blinked at him. "Clearly, Jamie, no doubt named after the vile reprobate that assisted in the birth of your father, I am holding Spawn and waiting for Potter. Furthermore, I refuse to consciously call you a name I despise, so shall henceforth address you as… Monster."
Jamie blinked again, ignoring the majority of what was said and settling upon the fact that the strange man holding his brother was waiting for his dad and assigning him a nick-name. He smiled with all the innocent trust that only children are capable of. "'K."
"Jamie!" A frantic Potter reached for his son and grabbed onto his arm. "Have you seen Al…." Harry stopped, eyes widening at the sight of Severus Snape holding his youngest son. Albus giggled around the snake mashed in his mouth.
"He's right there, Daddy." Jamie used his free hand to helpfully point up at his brother perched upon Snape's hip. Harry still knelt by his son, seemingly frozen in shock.
"Yes." Amused, Snape reached out and took Monster's hand. "And now that we are all together -" He turned on the spot, the familiar crack of apparition making gossiping parents look around warily "- We can leave."
Potter's Auror instincts kicked in the moment they arrived at the unknown location. He hesitated to attack, however, for fear of catching his children in the crossfire, which gave Severus enough time to drop Monster's hand and disarm him. Harry looked blankly from his empty hand, to his eldest son walking across the room to explore the bookshelves, to Snape crossing the room wiping his hand repeatedly against his robes to rid it of invisible bacteria, to Albus still nestled contentedly on a bony hip.
"What is your Patronus?"
Snape glanced over from securing the wand to where Harry was still standing stationary in the middle of his living room. "Shouldn't you have asked that before you allowed the kidnapping of yourself and your brood?" Potter glanced around the room helplessly. "Clearly, you've been spending too much time with the Weasley's." He glared at where Jamie was settling on the floor with some of his books. "Don't… breathe on those." The Monster gave him an unimpressed look and went back to flipping through the pictures. Snape turned back to Potter and sighed, feeling a niggling of arousal at the sheer helplessness expressed on his face. "A doe, Potter. My Patronus is a doe."
Harry stood there, looking overwhelmed and emotional. "But you're dead. You're supposed to be dead."
Snape ignored him, striding across the room and pointing through an open doorway. "Bedroom there, bathroom here, kitchen over there, my bedroom up those stairs. Curious individuals that find their way into my basement will leave without their fingers and toes." Spawn giggled again. Severus glanced down at the child in mild surprise, having quite forgotten he was holding him. "Right. Make yourselves comfortable."
"Are we having a visit?" Jamie asked curiously, now lying comfortably on his stomach in front of the fireplace with his pile of books.
Snape frowned down at Monster, still trying to process whatever madness had possessed him to bring Potter into his sanctuary, let alone multiple Potter's. "No. You live here now."
"What?" Harry exploded, striding across the room to glare at Snape. "What do you mean we live here now?"
"But where am I going to sleep?"
"Potter, your schooling has not been concluded long enough for you to have forgotten the meaning of basic words. Monster, you will share that room with your brother."
"'K." Content again, Jamie turned his attention back to the books.
"I am certain you have questions, Potter, but now is not the time." He thrust Spawn at Potter, who promptly dropped his aggressive pose and reached for his baby. "Get yourselves sorted, cleaned up, and settled. We will discuss future arrangements at dinner."
Spawn removed the stuffed snake from his mouth and gave a beaming smile, raising one chubby hand to wave. "Bye bye!"
"You can't just keep us here!" Potter looked lost, standing in the living room with a child on one hip and another on the floor. "People will look for us. You'll be in trouble."
Snape turned in the doorway and gave Potter a small, cold smile. "You said it yourself, Potter: I'm dead. Very few people waste their time looking for the dead."
Lesson 2: Carpe Diem is not simply an expression for embittered people who feel life has passed them by. Or so they say.
Out of concession to the children joining him for his evening meal, Severus wryly decided to forgo roasted duck and settled on something a bit more… plebian.
"Tuna patties and macaroni and cheese?" Harry blinked down at his plate in surprise. Jamie and Albus had already started eating, speaking together in a language known only to them. He warily picked up a fork and took a bite. "Somehow I expected something different from you."
Severus ignored Potter in favor of glaring at Spawn as the baby smashed a handful of food into his mouth, unused spoon clutched firmly in his other fist. At least Monster had the decency to use his silverware. He briefly considered handing Spawn a napkin, but dismissed the notion as a lost cause. He'd simply have to stick the baby in the sink later and hose him down.
"Look, sir." Potter lay his fork down and stared at his plate, a familiar expression crossing his face.
Severus sighed and rolled his eyes. Potter was preparing to be a martyr. Again. Didn't he ever grow tired of routine?
"My life… well, it's never been exactly happy. I don't care what you do to me. You helped me out during… well, you know. I feel if you need to punish me, then you're allowed. Only…" Harry looked at Severus with glistening eyes. "Only my kids are innocent. Please let them go. After that, I don't care what you do to me."
Severus took a lazy drink of wine. "Interesting, Potter. Clearly, excessive exposure to the Weasley's has dulled your brain more than one would presume." Harry frowned. Severus glared across the table. "Utensils, Monster, were provided with the expectation of use." Jamie looked up and grinned sheepishly, wiping his cheese-covered hand against his shirt before obediently picking up his spoon again. Snape sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Why is that interesting?" Potter looked belligerent now. "Is it too much to ask you to spare my children?"
"Have I hurt them thus far?" He gave a glare that belied his words across the table, to where Spawn was happily wiping his cheesy hands through his hair before sucking the last bit of noodles from them.
Potter looked confused again, that alluring vulnerability creeping across his face as he looked at his giggling children. "Why did you bring us here?"
"I have no idea."
Harry obediently took a bite, and then glared and defiantly put down his fork. "How are you here?" Snape raised a single eyebrow at the poorly phrased question. Harry flushed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "You know what I mean! I watched you die." He leaned forward, green eyes pleading. "I saw you!"
Snape shifted uncomfortably, reaching for his wine glass to buy time. Even now, years later, he hated dwelling on things best left forgotten. "No, Potter, you saw the brief moment when the anti-venom in my system kicked in and paralyzed my bodily functions before restarting mere seconds later."
"It took a team of specialists a week to assist Mr. Weasley when he was bitten by Nagini. A week, Mr. Potter, without a sample of Nagini's venom to assist them. It took me nearly six months to collect enough samples to create an appropriate inoculation."
Harry continued to stare. "But, Hermione…"
"… Was kind enough to remain behind after you went tearing out of the Shrieking Shack. Upon realizing I was still alive, she reached into that interesting bag of hers and began to heal me as best she could. Once strong enough to stand, a simple Obliviate took care of her. Your young Mr. Weasley was guarding the entrance to the shack, and merely thought the murmur of voices at his back was Ms. Granger paying her respects to the dead."
Harry stared some more. "And all this time…"
"I have been alive and relatively well, fluctuating between the Muggle and Magical world. Though, until now, I have kept my involvement to a minimum."
"Are we staying here now since Mummy lives with Grandma?"
"Yes, Monster. It's like a game. A game called musical houses."
"'K." Jamie paused upon seeing Snape's frown and took the time to finish chewing his mouthful of food. Severus gave the boy an almost pleasant smile. The latest generation of Potter offspring, clearly, was capable of being taught. "Only, what about my stuff? 'Cause I have, like, awesome toys, and Albie…us, likes to sleep with his Spiderman." Spawn reached out a hand full of macaroni to Severus and babbled something in agreement.
"No, thank you, Spawn, I have my own meal to eat. Monster, your items will be collected later. Your father can send his rabid little house elf to accomplish that goal after he partially revives from his comatose state."
"You can't seriously intend to keep us here." Harry gripped his fork tightly and concentrated on keeping his voice even so as not to scare his children. "It won't take me long to figure out your wards. And then people will come, will know you're still alive."
"We shall see, Potter."
"Daddy's name is Harry," Jamie offered, popping another piece of his tuna patty into his mouth and chewing vigorously and noisily. "H-A-R-R-Y. You can call him that. Only you can't call him Daddy, 'cause he's not your Daddy."
Harry choked on his wine, cheeks turning a brilliant hue of red. Severus began to reevaluate his initial opinion of Monster. Smirking, he rose from the table, lifted Spawn under the armpits, and deposited the smelly, messy child in the sink. He pondered a moment, before squirted a healthy dose of dishwashing soap onto the baby's overalls and turning on the tap.
Monster nearly fell off his chair laughing as Harry leapt from the table and hurried to rescue his baby. "You don't wash Al in the sink!" Still giggling, he wandered over and leaned against Snape's legs as Harry hurriedly stripped Albus before he could suck on the soap. Severus sighed, watching dismally as his pristine slacks fell victim to cheese sauce. "You wash people in the bathtub, silly!"
"Indeed." Shoving the child off of his leg… gently, and adding a pat on the head for good measure, Severus took a single step backwards and took in the domesticated scene with an odd sensation in his stomach. He dismissed the feeling to the back of his mind for later study. "Then perhaps your father should take you to the bathroom and get you washed up." He made a dismissive shooing gesture. "The elves can see to your personal rooms in the meantime. I recommend ordering them not to reveal your whereabouts, as your friend's lack of ability to not follow you head-long into a perceived dangerous situation may cause unnecessary tension."
Harry glared, the look made far less intimidating than even normal by the naked toddler in his arms and the filthy child attempting to shimmy up his leg. Still, he gathered both of his children close and disappeared into the bathroom. Surprisingly, Severus found the shrieks of laughter and splashes of water less than annoying as he tidied up the kitchen, washed the dishes, and put on the kettle for tea. He only became aware of the passing of time when he turned and noticed Harry standing in the doorway, arms crossed protectively across his chest, uncertain frown upon his face.
"Why did you bring me here?"
Severus gave Harry a bland stare, indicating the waiting cups on the counter when the kettle began shrieking. Harry made no move to cross the kitchen, but when Severus didn't either he let out a growl of frustration and hurried to the kettle before the noise could rouse the children. Severus stepped up behind Harry, bracing a hand on either side of slim hips, and leaned in close. Harry tensed reflectively.
"How long has it been, Potter?" His voice was quiet, silky and deadly in the echoing silence of the kitchen.
"What?" Harry's voice was terse. "How long has it been for what?"
There. Just there. The tell-tale warble at the end of the sentence. Severus smiled against Harry's neck and pressed closer, delighting in the tremble below his hands. "How long has it been since you've been touched?" He ghosted his hands up and down Harry's side to demonstrate.
"What are you talking about?" Harry's hand fluttered nervously over the cups. But the water had already been poured in; they were merely waiting for the grounds to steep. Realizing it was wasted movement, Harry pressed his palms flat on the countertop and took a deep breath. "People touch me everyday. A hug, a handshake. What's your point?"
"Mmm." Snape angled his head slightly to the right, watching the way the pulse in Harry's neck jumped as Severus's breath drifted over the exposed skin. "I don't mean everyday, casual encounters, Potter. I am talking about…" Years of living on his own and then with his wife had not discouraged Harry from his habit of wearing baggy, slightly ill-fitted clothing. It took no time before Snape's skillful hands slid into Harry's pants and circled his prick. "… Being touched."
Harry's whole body jerked, his head whipping around to stare at Severus with wild-eyed shock. "What are you…" Severus brought his arm up, pressing his lower arm against Harry's throat until he gurgled and brought his hands up defensively.
Severus ignored Harry's distress, the tangy smell of vulnerability and fear pushing him to a level he hadn't succumbed to in years. "Do you miss it? Do you miss the sensation of being touched? The intimacy of sharing your space with another? You, who enjoy being connected with others so much, having to withhold your natural affection. How long has it been since you've been touched?"
Harry gurgled, his face bright red, breaths coming in constricted pants, and came hard all over Snape's hand. Severus sucked in a breath, holding Harry as the tremors shook his body, desperately scrabbling with his internal discipline as he waited for Harry to regain control of his body before stepping away. Harry sank to the floor, eyes downcast, breathing heavily. Severus watched him for a minute longer, then turned to leave.
He stopped at the door and spoke without turning around. "It's been even longer for me, I assure you. That, Potter, in part, is behind the compulsion to bring you to my home today."
"Part of the reason?"
Severus turned. Harry was still sitting on the floor, head bowed, completely stationary. He considered letting the question linger, but he had, after all, taken the man against his will. "It's my birthday," he admitted finally. Harry looked up in surprise. "My fiftieth, to be precise. Consider yourself my birthday present."
He left the kitchen without another word, climbed the stairs mechanically, shed his clothing as he crossed to his personal bathroom, and wanked furiously in the shower. It wasn't until he lay sleepless in bed that night that he wondered how long it would take Potter to realize he had nothing but basic wards around his property… and whether or not he would still be there in the morning.
Lesson 3: Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It does, however, breed frustration, and occasionally makes one wish to stab another in the eye with a rusty needle.
They had pancakes for breakfast. Harry made them, and ate in absolute silence. Severus ate them too, and glared at Monster when he used his fingers to trace letters and patterns in the syrup on his plate. He didn't dare look at the mess formerly known as Spawn for fear of bursting a hitherto unknown aneurism in his brain. After finishing their meal, Harry collected James and Albus, and vanished within the house, presumably to scour his children with Brill-O pads.
Lunch continued in the same vein, as did dinner. And the next day, when Severus awoke, Harry was still there. Not speaking, which was refreshing, but still there nonetheless. The third day Severus found the old house elf, Kreacher, sleeping under his kitchen sink. From then on, keeping the children looking like humans was a bit easier.
They didn't discuss the newspaper headlines that cheerfully detailed the reaction Potter's absence had wrought. The pictures of Ginny with tears streaming down her face, Hermione tight-lipped and pale arguing with her husband, letters posted in the paper from Mrs. Weasley begging Harry to bring back her grandchildren. Specialists talking about Harry's unpredictable behavior, how his past with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had finally caught up with him. Harry read the papers, his gaze flickering between his innocently happy children to Snape's stern face, and maintained his silence.
It was two weeks later that Harry finally exploded. The children were down for their afternoon naps, Severus was reading at the kitchen table, and Harry was pacing, occasionally stopping to run his fingers through his hair or kick the table leg.
"I can't just stay!"
The sound of his voice when the children weren't present, after weeks of self-imposed silence, was so startling that Severus nearly dropped his book. He gathered his wits quickly, frowning. "Why ever not? It is peaceful here, your children are happy and beginning to grow into slightly less reprehensible beings. Just the other day Spawn successfully ate corn using his utensils and produced three distinct words, and Monster made it until supper before he dirtied his clothing."
"It's wrong! What you did by bringing us here was wrong!"
"Are you not one of the most acclaimed Aurors of your decade?"
Harry winced at the scathing tone of voice before bravely continuing on. "I know what you're trying to say. I can feel the wards. I know it won't take much to break them."
"And yet you stay." A tense nod was Severus' only response. Snape tilted his head to the side and studied Harry. They hadn't discussed what had occurred between them in the kitchen the first night. Hell, aside from the initial questions from dinner, they hadn't discussed anything. As awkward and disjoined as this conversation currently was, it was an improvement, a start.
"They're Ginny's kids, too." Harry muttered eventually. "It's selfish to keep them to myself. She's probably going out of her mind with worry. And Ron 'n Hermione will be worried. It's going to be difficult enough trying to explain where I've been for two weeks. And then you, we…" Harry trailed off and looked at the floor.
"Is that what scares you?" Slowly, smoothly, Severus rose from the table and crossed to Harry's side. "How easy it would be to stay? How satisfying it is to know that though Miss Weasley betrayed you first, you were vindicated and came out the winner?" Harry shuddered when Snape reached out and trailed a finger down his cheek.
"I've watched you wrestle with yourself, Harry. I know you love staying home with your boys all day, not having to worry about work, not having to struggle with your emotions alone. I know you, Harry. I know you crave stability and a sense of family."
Harry shut his eyes, looking fragile and conflicted and so achingly vulnerable that Severus leaned in and kissed him before he'd thought about it. Gently, mouths closed, little brushes of lips meeting together while the lips were still unbruised and sensitive. "I know you like to be touched, Harry," Severus whispered, sliding closer and wrapping one arm firmly around Harry's waist. "I know you're tired of living your life through the eyes of the public." Very gently, Severus traced the tip of his tongue along Harry's bottom lip. "I know you're lonely."
That did it. Harry moaned, shuddering helplessly, and leaned forward, opening his mouth and sliding a firm hand behind Severus' neck. Snape let him take control, knowing Harry needed to establish a sense of familiarity. And judging by how easily Harry's tongue wrestled his, trapping it on the roof of his mouth before sliding around, kissing was something Harry liked to do.
They parted slowly, both breathing heavily. Harry looked at Snape in desperation. "I want to hurt her," he admitted shamefully. "I want to punish Ginny for betraying my trust like that. But I shouldn't want that! I should be able to forgive her, wish her happiness and health. I shouldn't want to keep my boys to myself, or hide from my friends, or stay here with a man legally declared dead!"
Pulling away, Harry paced the kitchen, swearing lightly under his breath. "You make it sound so easy! You grab me and my kids from a park, bring us to the place you've been living all these years, and suddenly you're touching me and my head is swimming, and you're offering me an out from everything negative in life.
Harry muttered absently to himself, continuing to pace. "A while."
Harry turned around, green eyes blazing. "We'll stay for a while. No promises, no concrete length. We'll stay here… until we don't anymore."
"All right." Sensing more, Severus kept his agreement cautious.
"In return…" Harry hesitated. "In return I want you to talk to me."
"Are we not talking now?"
"Not like… No, no we're not. I have so many questions. So much I am dying to ask you, to know, and I need you to talk to me."
Severus frowned, knowing full well these conversations would somehow involve Lily, Headmaster Dumbledore, and his life for the last several years. "One question a day." Harry turned and gave a disbelieving look. "For everyday you stay, you may ask me one question, and I vow to answer it honestly."
Harry choked out a laugh. "You're such a bastard."
And Harry stayed. Monster was enrolled in a local pre-school under the name James Snape, the holidays came and went. Harry moved into Severus' room, Spawn turned two, potty-training began in earnest. Severus began teaching Monster magical theory and Potions, the holidays came and went again. Spawn learned to speak and feed himself correctly, James turned five.
Some nights Harry and Snape would talk in the kitchen, both wary and defensive, conversation stilted and uncomfortable. Some nights they would move their conversations to the basement and scream at each other until the wee hours of the morning. On those nights… nothing much was accomplished. Other nights they would lay side-by-side in the darkness, speaking in low tones, Severus idly stroking Harry's arm to comfort them both.
It wasn't until Albus, at the age of seven, tumbled down a hill and broke his arm that things cemented into place. Albus ran crying to Severus, who set his arm, scolded him, and kissed the sore area better while berating his Gryffindor heritage. Albus cuddled close, wiping his tears on the proffered handkerchief, and whispered, "Thanks, Dad."
That was the night Harry stopped implying they could leave any day.
Lesson 4: Revenge is a dish best served cold…Revenge is like wine, it gets better with age… Fuck it. If revenge weren't satisfying, the world would be a nicer place.
Severus gave the boy before him an appraising look, nodded once to himself, and meticulously folded the X-Men Origins: The Phoenix t-shirt he was holding before placing it precisely in the left corner of the open trunk. "If you are not sorted into Slytherin, strive for Ravenclaw."
James nodded, swinging his legs off the side of his bed forlornly. "Dad will be disappointed if I don't make Gryffindor."
"Your Dad will be no such thing, or he and I will have words."
"I bet you're going to be happy not having me underfoot all the time, aren't you?"
"Not having someone stealing expensive Potions ingredients to fling at neighborhood children, you mean?"
"They were beetle's eyes!" James protested immediately. "The girls screamed super loud when they landed in their hair."
"Don't forget when he stole Daddy's broom and used it to fly to town after you expressly forbid him to!" Albus piped up from the doorway.
"Shut up, Spawn!" James hissed furiously.
"Whatever, Monster." Albus looked sullenly down at his shoes. "You're the one who's leaving."
Severus's eyes flickered to where James was self-consciously tugging at his hair and glaring at his brother. Growing up the only red-head in a family comprised of black-haired individuals had garnered some unique moments. One of which being when James liberated Harry's broom, flew into the neighboring town, stole a package of hair dye, and dyed his hair electric blue instead of the black he had intended.
"Bet you'll be happy that the house is quieter when I'm gone." Deflated already, James went back to swinging his feet and staring morosely at his mattress. Albus sat on the bed next to his brother and put a supportive hand on his arm. "Maybe Mum will take me out of Hogwarts and you'll never have to deal with me ever, ever again."
"I'll miss you, Jamie Jay."
"Monster." Snape kept his voice brisk and firm as he meticulously folded clothing into the trunk and double-checked the book and supply list. "You are as much a part of this family as I am. Your absence will leave an irreparable hole."
"Really?" Big brown eyes welled with tears and blinked them away furiously. "Even if I have to go to school for forever? 'Cause we're talking seven years here."
Exasperated, Severus threw his hands in the air and briefly mourned the fact he'd never been allowed to spank the mopey brat. Oh how effectively the threat of pain would stop the lamenting he was being forced to sort out. "Monster! You are a Slytherin! If anything…. Think of all the rules your father broke when he was in school, and strive to best him."
Intrigued, James stopped pouting and looked up in surprise. "Dad broke a lot of rules in school?"
"Depending upon the house you enter, I shall provide you a detailed list."
"But won't I get in trouble? You said you don't endorse mischief making."
"Slytherins do not get caught."
"O-oh," Spawn nodded in agreement and turned to whisper to his brother. "So, if you go to Ravenclaw he'll only give you, maybe, half the list or something."
James looked interested and made no protest when Severus took a brush to his hair and muttered comments about genetics under his breath. "And I'll keep a list of things I do, Alb, so you know what to do when you get to Hogwarts."
Harry leaned against the doorframe and watched the scene with suspiciously pink eyes and an indulgent smile. "What are you guys doing up here still? I thought for sure Jamie would be running around trying to remember everything he'd forgotten to pack."
Albus gave his father a withering look. "That's what lists are for, Daddy. To check, and double check, so you needn't behave in such a boorish manner." He looked to Severus for validation, sitting up straighter with a grin when the older man gave him a pleased smile.
Severus closed the trunk with a snap, looking around with a satisfied smile. "Everything is accounted for and in order. I believe we are ready."
Harry sighed, reaching out to ruffle James' hair. "I can't believe you're off to Hogwarts already."
James looked down at the floor. "What if Mum takes me away now that she knows where I am?"
Severus and Harry exchanged a look, both men simultaneously turning to sit on the bed next to James. Albus looked between their serious faces and climbed into Harry's lap. "This…. situation," Harry started carefully, "was never supposed to go on as long as it has. I never… Well, I never meant to take you away from your mum for so many years."
"You wanted to keep us," Albus interjected helpfully. "Because we're your only Spawn and Monster, and Mum had a baby with another person."
"I want to meet her," James said softly, looking almost afraid to admit it. "I remember her, a little. But I don't want her to hurt you, or make me and Alb go live with her."
"That won't happen," Severus stated firmly.
"Trust us, James." Harry spoke softly, rubbing his son's back encouragingly. "I think Ginny will be there, at the station, but she can't stop you from going to school, and she can't just pull you out without the school notifying me. You… can visit her, if you want.
"You wouldn't be mad?"
Harry felt something sharp pierce his heart. Instinctively, he leaned closer to Severus even as he smiled reassuringly at his eldest. "I wouldn't be mad."
Looking slightly reassured, James allowed himself to be dressed in his robe and ushered to the apparition point just outside the wards of their house. Severus gripped Albus firmly by the shoulder. "Stay close, Spawn." Albus nodded obediently, slipping his hand securely into Severus's.
Kings Cross Station was bustling with activity. Someone's trunk had spilled in the middle of the walkway, lacy knickers, a sobbing girl, and yelling parents causing a kerfluffle. Harry, Severus, and the children easily sidestepped the confusion and found an empty compartment on the train.
"This is kind of cool," Albus said happily, bouncing on the soft leather seat.
"I'll have fun at school." The statement was said so firmly, it sounded more like a vow than a statement.
"We'll see you at Christmas." Harry knelt down and wrapped Jamie in a fierce hug.
They stood outside the train and waved vigorously through the window as the train began to pull away from the tracks. Jamie smiled, waving, already surrounded by equally terrified-looking first years. It was then their luck ended.
"… Thought for sure I'd see them! How can he not send James off to school at the very least?"
Ginny walked briskly alongside the train, peering anxiously into every window, clutching the hand of a red-haired little girl while a toddler blinked sleepily on her hip.
"What's my brother supposed to look like, Mum?" The little girl had focused on Albus, standing in-between Harry and Severus and looking right back at her.
"James has red hair, just like you, Princess." Ginny spoke absently, tugging her daughter along as she continued to search the train. "And Albie has dark hair, and looks just like that picture of Harry I showed...Oh." She trailed off, releasing her daughter's hand to cover her mouth with her hand. "That's him. James! JAMES! Who's he waving…" Her long hair went flying as she whipped her head in the direction her son was waving. "Harry."
Her eyes dropped, focusing on the little boy at his side and welling with tears. "Albie. Oh dear Merlin, Albie!"
"My name is Albus," he corrected uncertainly.
"Hi!" The red-haired girl waved at him. "I'm Wilhelmina. But you can call me Winnie, everyone does."
Harry forced a smile, bending over so he could shake the child's hand. "Hello, Winnie. My name is Harry."
"I know." Wilhelmina shook his hand and gave him an uncertain smile. "Aunt Hermione's told me lots about you."
"Harry, how could you!" Ginny ignored the conversation and stepped forward. "You took my babies away! I looked everywhere. I wrote letters, they were returned. I tried… I don't even know what all I tried! I know you were mad, but, Harry! You took my children! How can you live with yourself?"
"Quite easy, actually." Snape stepped forward and smiled coldly, watching with thinly-veiled amusement as Ginny automatically took a step back. "He lives with me."
"Me." He reached down without looking away from where Ginny stood frozen and her daughters looked confused. Albus silently slid one hand into Severus' and grabbed his dad's hand with the other. "And I find it quite easy to live with myself. After all: I'm dead."
They Apparrated away without another word.
Lesson 5: When life gives you lemons… mix the juice with baking soda and use it to remove stains.
For a change, the Purebloods loved Harry Potter. The fact that he had absconded with his children in the face of his wife's betrayal made many a wandering spouse reevaluate their priorities and show up for family dinner. Coupled with the fact pictures were taken of Harry standing next to a dead man… no one was quite willing to speculate if he had dabbled in the Dark Arts, or if Snape had been alive all along. Either way, when Ginny took her case to court, it was no surprise that Harry was granted full custody of James and Albus with Ginny receiving visitation rights.
Still, the summer after James' first year at Hogwarts was awkward for all. Three weeks into summer vacation, the boys were packing for their first weekend with their mother in seven years.
"What are you doing?" Albus looked curiously at where Severus was vigorously rubbing a slice of lemon over one of the family pictures Ginny had sent earlier that week.
"There was a spot of dirt on this photograph."
Albus leaned over Severus' arm and gazed down at the picture. In it, a baby Albus smiled grumpily at the camera while two-year-old James tried to wriggle out of his father's lap. Harry and Ginny used to be sitting side-by-side, but now Harry was sitting alone, looking amused, while a pink-cheeked Ginny shouted up at Severus and shook her fist before stomping out of the side of the picture.
"There." Satisfied, Severus used a spell to crop the picture until it was a close-up of Harry with the boys, baby Albus looking up at Severus with a gurgling laugh, and magicked the photo into a frame. "What?" he demanded, frowning down at Albus' incredulous expression.
"Nothing." Albus shook his head, impulsively reaching up his arms to be held, an action he had not initiated since he was six.
Severus scooped him up, walking towards the crater that had formerly been the children's room. He pondered rearranging the room to include a handy shovel attached to the wall, but dismissed the notion almost immediately. Knowing Monster and Spawn, they would simply use it as a toy, and one would inevitably end up braining the other with it.
Harry was sitting on Albus' bed folding and refolding clothes into an open Spongebob Squarepants duffel, while discussing whether or not James should pack his Batman or his Incredible Hulk t-shirt. James had wandered over to the bookshelf, and was talking to his father while flipping through books and deciding which ones to take with him. Severus stopped in the doorway, feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Here he stood, with Spawn on his hip, Monster flipping through books, and Harry across the room looking vulnerable and uncomfortable. Were it not for the heavy weight on his hip putting pressure on his aching knees, Severus would be prepared to swear time had simply melted away. Then James laughed at something Harry said and called his dad a dork, Harry looked to the doorway and smiled warmly, and Severus felt the moment snap itself back into perspective.
"I'm ready!" James announced, flinging one last book, his Star Wars action figures, and, inexplicably, a slightly-bent fork, into his Superman duffel and zipping it up.
Harry looked at the bag and shook his head before turning to his youngest son. "I packed some clothes for you, Al. Are there any special toys you want to take to your mum's for the weekend?"
"My snake," the little boy whispered, dropping his head onto Severus' shoulder and wrapping his arms securely around his neck.
"I'll get it." Wiggling under the bed and behind the headboard, James appeared seconds later clutching a well-loved and care-worn stuffed snake. Severus felt his arms clamp tightly around Spawn. The snake was missing an eye, its tail beginning to look suspiciously like sand, but James held it gently and carefully placed it into the Spongebob duffel. "He can't sleep without it," James explained to Harry.
"Right." The humidity in the room was overwhelming, Snape decided, clearing the gruffness from his throat before attempting to speak again. "I believe your grandparents are expecting you at noon. You had best be going if you expect to arrive in a timely manner."
"Are you sure you don't want to come with us." Albus made no move to detach himself as Harry grabbed the duffel bags and James clomped down the stairs.
"Dead men are exempt from social gatherings. Monster, do not roll your eyes at me."
"I wasn't!" he protested immediately. Severus arched an eyebrow and stared him down. James caved. "It's just that sooner or later you're going to realize that you're not dead."
"That is one opinion." Severus marched to the apparition point, ignoring the feeling of dread curling in his belly at the thought of having to share the children after all these years of living in anonymity. Soon there would be Gryffindors appearing at the dinner table, messing up his living room, and bringing their uncouth and untrained children into his domain. Still, he supposed that was his cross to bear for keeping the Potter family all these years.
Irritated and not quite knowing why, he glanced over at Harry. Mistake. Potter looked vulnerable, his smile stretching a bit too thin, his eyes anxious and unhappy. Severus wanted to lock the door, increase the wards, and forget anything outside this moment existed. But reality rarely correlated with wants. Instead, he forced himself to place Spawn on the ground, give Monster one last lecture on proper etiquette versus Weasley etiquette, pat them both firmly on the head… and step back. The boys waved, holding tightly to their father's hand. Harry gave one last wan smile, and vanished.
The house was quiet, still. Years ago, watching Harry with his children had given him an odd sensation in his stomach he'd never quite understood. He didn't understand it now. All he knew was that the house seemed incomplete somehow without the noise and chaos and destruction he'd grown immune to over the years. For the first time since he'd made the decision to bring Harry to his home, he began to appreciate how badly he had hurt Ginny Weasley by taking the boys away from her. Sighing, he went to prepare a cup of tea while he waited to see whether or not Harry would return.
It was hours later, long after dark, when a single crack of apparition sounded outside the house. Severus looked up from the book he was pretending to read, waiting as footsteps grew nearer, the front door opened and closed, clothing rustled, and sock-covered feet padded into the living room. Harry entered, looking tired and sad, the sweetly addicting tangs of vulnerability hovering over him like a blanket. He dropped onto the couch, reaching over to grab Severus's arm and pull it into his lap before wrapping his arms around it.
Severus blinked. "Are you going to sit there and hug my arm all evening, or are you going to divulge how the initial visit went?"
"Everyone was there," Harry whispered, clutching the arm in his lap a bit tighter. "Hermione, Ron, all the Weasley's, Neville, Luna, Ginny and her family… they were all waiting when we arrived. It was a bit overwhelming."
"You were gone for several hours."
"The boys were a bit overwhelmed. You know how shy Al gets sometimes? He held my hand and refused to go near Ginny at first. Hermione cried. Ron… said he didn't understand why I left, but made me promise not to simply disappear again. I adjusted the wards tonight. If they write the kids or me letters, we should be able to receive them now."
Harry sighed. Absently stroking the arm he still clung to. "Nope. Not one."
Severus waited, but Harry seemed to be done talking. Nodding to himself, he picked his book back up. "Ginny and Winnie." He snorted disparagingly. "What did she name her other one? Minnie?"
Harry's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "Kimberly," he managed to squeak out. "They call her Kimmy."
Lesson 6: If one cannot conceive of a way to commit a felony and dispose of the body and/or appropriate evidence, alter the environment to suit ones need and tell everyone else to piss off.
The party was in full swing. Gryffindors loitered on the lawn like lemmings waiting to be led to the cliffs, wine was flowing at an unsurprisingly swift speed, and the birthday boy, Albus, was dancing around like a drugged hyena and possessively clutching his acceptance letter to Hogwarts. From the upstairs window, Severus surveyed the scene with a rising sense of dismay and downed another finger of fire whiskey.
"Aren't you going to come down?"
"Silence, Monster. The ability to interact with beings of lesser intelligence was a profession I mastered for far too many years. I have earned the right to maintain a wary distance."
James left the doorway and joined Severus in watching the scene outside the window. His Aunt Luna was anxiously checking the teeth of his Uncle Percy's kids, much to his consternation, presumably looking for decay. Uncle George was standing next to Uncle Bill, watching their children run around the yard. Auntie Hermione had cornered his dad, the pair of them whispering furiously together while a boy with turquoise hair looked between them and laughed. Grandma Weasley was talking to Uncle Charlie and Tante Fleur, while fussing around the table full of food. His Mum was arguing with Kimmy, as she threw a tantrum over not being allowed in the pool, while his Uncle Ron and Uncle Neville raced towards the tree Albus had convinced their kids to try climbing. Luckily, Ron arrived under the tree in time to catch Hugo. Everywhere he looked, someone was doing something. It was the most activity he had seen in his backyard… ever.
"Thanks for letting everyone come over." James looked uncertainly up at Severus, wondering if all the noise would make him snap and send everyone away.
Severus looked out the window a moment longer, watching as a mean-looking Eagle Owl landed on Albus' arm and presented him with a letter. The child looked confused, read the note, and went tearing towards the house whooping loud enough to wake the dead.
"You are welcome. Be advised, however, a gathering of this multitude will not occur again until you reach your majority. Are we clear on that?"
James grinned and relaxed. "Dad said the same thing."
Albus raced up the stairs, slammed head-first into the doorway, bounced off, and collected himself enough to stagger into the room, the owl fluttering indignantly from his perch atop Al's head. "Do you mean it?" He thrust the letter up as high as he could.
A glance down revealed the note Severus had penned just that morning. To Spawn, Happy Birthday. Be sure to feed it. If the owl dies, you will not receive another.
"Of course I meant it." He shoved the note out of his face and surveyed the bird he had fretted over before purchasing. "We may endorse morally-flexible ideals in this house, but animal cruelty is not one of them."
Albus gazed at Severus in speech-less wonder for a moment before flinging himself at him. "I really, really, really love you!" Passionate declaration concluded, he turned and raced out of the room and down the stairs, screaming at the top of his lungs about his newest present.
"I didn't get an owl until I wrote that I'd made it into Ravenclaw."
"Indeed. You also received a detailed list of when and where the teachers make their rounds at night, as well as your father's Invisibility Cloak."
"Point." James gave a sly grin. "Dad's going to be heart-broken when Al becomes a snake."
"Do I want to know why you two are up here smirking together when everyone else is down at the party?"
"No reason, Dad." James smiled innocently. He snickered when Harry attempted to arch an eyebrow, and laughed outright when Severus mimicked the gesture. "I'll just go… make sure none of the kids venture into the living room and breathe on the books. Or something."
Severus glanced out the window again as James bounded down the stairs. The yard looked aflame, the sun highlighting every strand of visible red hair and magnifying it ten-fold. He poured and drank another bracing swallow of whiskey, glaring at Harry when the glass was taken away.
Harry leaned against Severus' arm and smiled. "Did you ever envision us here?"
"No." Having successfully reclaimed his glass, Severus allowed himself a brief, mean smile. "More people were dead in my vision."
"Quiet, you." They stood in companionably silence, Harry dreamily watching his family and friends interact in their yard, Severus despairingly realizing there was no way to remove all these people from his wards without Harry taking offense. "Did you ever wonder why I stayed with you all these years."
The thought was sobering enough to encourage Severus to put down his alcohol, turn from the window, and focus on Harry. "The thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion."
"That night, in the kitchen, when you told me you were lonely and that it was your birthday?" Severus didn't quite remember phrasing it like that, but he nodded cautiously, wanting Harry to continue. "Well… you just looked so vulnerable, I couldn't get it out of my head."
"I mean, you had taken the kids and I, were treating us relatively well, but you were still being your usual snappish self. And then you admitted you were attracted to me, and that you didn't want to be alone on your birthday."
Severus stared more.
Harry gave him an indulgent smile. "I knew what it was like to celebrate your birthdays alone. You made yourself so… open, to me, and it messed up my head, intrigued me, and made me want to stay." Harry stood on tiptoes to brush a kiss over Severus' lips. "You're very attractive when you look lost. It helped me get to know you, appreciate you, and develop feelings for you. Now, hurry up with whatever you're doing up here. We'll wait for you before we cut the cake!"
He could see Harry through the window overlooking the backyard before he managed to find his voice. Harry had thought that he was vulnerable? It had been Harry's vulnerability that had prompted Severus to follow him in the first place. Still slightly unsettled by this revelation, he stood and stared out the window a minute longer.
Someone, presumably one of the wretched Weasley's, had found water balloons, and was pelting adults and children at random, much to their shrieking displeasure. A tall, willowy blonde was holding the corner of her shirt and yelling about dry-clean only to Fleur. He really could care less about them. What interested him, however, was watching Harry grab James, wrestling his arms over his head and causing one of the water balloons to roll harmlessly to the ground. Not to be ignored, Albus jumped onto Harry's back, causing them all to tumble, laughing, into the mud.
Regardless of how they had started, this was the end result. And as much as he may gripe…. Severus leaned back on his heals and surveyed the world they had helped to create. He was satisfied.