Chapter Thirty Two

As with all of Regulus Black's formulations when it came to the projects within the Foundation, the Orion Initiative was created with the intention of helping those who had been adversely affected during the war.

Its intention was to help those wishing to finally deal with what they had experienced finally be able to do so, by giving them the chance to reclaim any memories and incidents that they may have blocked out in an attempt to cope with what had happened.

It was created with the intention of allowing them to finally let go of what they were holding on to; if they had been unable to do so before due to not knowing what it was they were blocking.

The final step.

Over the past few days Severus had been both witnessing and carrying out the final stages of the testing process on volunteers; now finding himself in St Mungos for the final day, after Eugene and Regulus agreed to pander to the wishes of clients who hoped that the treatment may lead to a revival of loved ones who had lost their memories due to magical causes during the war. Loved ones who were lost to them.

That wasn't the intention of the project; it wasn't possible to revive such cases. That was what Dorado was attempting to do.

And, after a day of facing the disappointment and newly-lost hope of those who were being faced with exactly that news; information he would have been able to tell them without wasting time experimenting on these people; he found the satisfaction of a project well done was significantly lacking.

That, coupled with the fact that Dumbledore intended to use the findings of the project for his own questionable motives, made Severus almost wish that the project hadn't been a success.

Nevertheless, people rarely got what they wished for. And, now that the final day of the trials was complete, there was only paperwork to be written out and the proposals and presentation of the findings, the latter of which Eugene had agreed to complete.

So, now, he would return to Dorado; and, if he were lucky, he may soon find out more about Dumbledore's intentions once the old man had gotten his way with the Longbottom boy.

Not something Severus anticipated all that soon, he mused; apparently he had been having some trouble convincing Augusta Longbottom of the importance of the arrangement and had been told in no uncertain terms to stay away from her grandson.

Severus was glad. While the one at home was tolerable enough, he had no wish to associate with and deal with the tantrums of a little boy.

But then, as if fate was laughing at him and his musings, as he finished gathering his notes from the table in front of the final trail patient's table and turned to exit the room, he found himself facing the four foot tall, spitting image of James Potter; familiar green eyes regarding him curiously.

XXX

As much as Harry loved his Uncle Sirius; as much as he had wished for and wanted him to come back; he couldn't help but find the sitting around, waiting in his hospital room until he woke up, to be the most boring thing his mother had ever asked him to do.

It was the same thing he had been doing all week; every day after school since the first time he had visited. And his uncle only did the same as he had done back then; squeeze his hand when he spoke to him. His mother had said he opened his eyes one time; Harry had been sleeping at the time and he wasn't sure if he believed her.

Maybe she only said that so that he would keep believing his Uncle Sirius would wake up.

And, not for the first time, he wondered if his uncle was really in the first stages of what had happened to his dad; that soon the hand squeezing would stop. His eyes maybe would open; but then they wouldn't see anything.

Such thoughts made him anxious and uneasy and that, along with his boredom, made him increasingly restless and agitated.

So, when he had noticed that his mum had drifted off to sleep in the chair next to his Uncle Sirius' bed, he had slipped down from his place next to him and crept quietly from the room; keen to put space between himself and his uncle, hoping the thoughts he was beginning to have would be left behind in the room.

It was late; not very late, as many people were still bustling around the corridors; looking busy, looking anxious. But it was late enough that it was dark outside, so he stayed clear of the exits, knowing that his mum wouldn't be happy if she woke and found out he was outside.

So he veered in the other direction; the direction he knew his father would be in. He didn't particularly want to visit him or see him; he just didn't know where else to go. So he made his way across the wings of the hospital; he knew his dad was on the same floor, not too far away. He had recognised it, the other corridor before, and he had notice his mum looking in that direction often when they made their way to visit his Uncle Sirius.

His mum hadn't made him go to see him again. And he hadn't asked. They hadn't spoken about his dad in a while; not since she had promised to stop being sad about him. He wasn't sure if that meant that she was happy now or if she just realised she had to hide it better from him now.

As he walked by an open door, the swish of ebony robes caught his eye and he glanced into the room, quickly recognising the man who was there, scribbling down words onto parchment; and Harry was reminded that his mum had seemed happy, very happy, only a little while ago when she had been having lunch with this man.

Professor Snape.

Or Severus, as Malachi always called him.

Harry regarded him curiously; this man that could make his mum smile bigger than he had ever seen. It was a different smile; one he had never seen before.

But this man wasn't a smiling person; it was something he noticed immediately when he had first seen him. He noticed his smiles were small, tiny; so little you couldn't really notice them. And he wondered how he could stop himself from smiling, when someone else was smiling so happy and big at you like his mum had done that day.

And he definitely wasn't smiling right now. He didn't look happy at all. But he supposed he might have just been having a bad day; that's what his Uncle Remus often told him, when people were unfriendly. They were just having a bad day; give them three strikes before you decide if they're just unhappy that day or just plain miserable always.

And then, before he could really fathom that the man probably was in a bad mood, judging by his expression and heavy handed movements; before he could rationalise that and realise he should leave lest he get caught staring and offend him, the man had turned and was now facing him.

Harry hesitated, looking at him, gathering what information he could from the opportunity he was receiving to fully look over his mum's friend who he had never met.

The man appeared to be doing the same; could only stare at him. But Harry noticed that he seemed to recognise him; he was looking at him like he knew him. And not like he particularly liked him very much.

Harry offered a smile in greeting; "Hi."

Professor Snape regarded him silently for a further moment before he inclined his head; "Mr Potter."

Harry's eyes brightened and his smile widened further; "You know who I am."

"I remember you from my chambers," Professor Snape remarked, rolling up the parchments he was holding and breaking eye contact; "I believe you remember the occasion?"

Harry hesitated, taking a moment to figure out what the man had said; he spoke more formally than anyone he had met before. Words he had never really heard in normal conversation; "Uh. Yeah," he nodded; "You're Malachi's godfather."

"That is correct," Professor Snape glanced at him again, as he tucked the rolled parchments into his cloak; "Is there something I can help you with?"

Harry paused, then shook his head; "No...uh...yeah...I dunno."

"Eloquently put," the man raised an eyebrow.

Harry frowned, not sure if he liked the man before him. He was beginning to feel self-conscious; getting the impression that the man was making fun of him. He remembered what his Uncle Remus had said; remembered that the man had looked grumpy before he had even noticed him.

So he tried a different approach, reaching for the other thing they had in common; "You're friends with my mum."

The other man's expression softened slightly at the mention of her. He nodded; "Also correct."

"You talk funny."

"Manners, Potter."

Harry started somewhat; the man speaking his name with an edge that made him uneasy. He swallowed, glancing down, guiltily and apprehensively; "Sorry."

And then he remembered what Malachi had told him a little while ago, when he had asked him about the man. He had told him that Professor Snape was scary sometimes; that he didn't like stupid people. Harry glanced at him; wondered if the man thought that he was stupid. Because he could certainly believe what Malachi had said about him being scary; hoped that this was what he had meant, because he was finding him rather startling right now and didn't want to imagine that it could be any worse.

"Where is your mother?"

Harry glanced up quickly, surprised at the new, softer tone the professor now addressed him with. Seeing the softening reflected somewhat in his expression. Harry glanced back in the direction he had come; "She's with my Uncle Sirius. He's sick."

"So I've heard."

"You know him?"

The man didn't respond. Instead he stepped towards him and Harry quickly backed out of the way.

"I assume your mother is unaware of your whereabouts?"

"Uh..." Harry paused, looking up at him, frowningly.

Professor Snape rolled his eyes, slightly; "Does she know where you are?"

Harry shook his head; "No. She's sleeping."

"Come."

The man made off in the direction of his Uncle Sirius' room and Harry found himself following, hurriedly; the tone the man had spoken to him with demanding obedience.

"Uh..." Harry began, hurrying after him, finding his confidence had grown somewhat not that they were moving, almost side by side, rather than staring at one another; "My mum likes you."

The other man's steps faltered somewhat, slowing, as he seemed to think over what he had said. The professor glanced at him out the corner of his eye; "As you have already stated; we are friends."

"Good friends?" Harry enquired, hopefully, wondering if this man would be more open that his mother had been regarding their relationship.

The man eyed him and Harry avoided looking directly back at him.

"I suppose."

"You make her smile."

The statement was met with silence. Harry risked a glance; noticed the slight smile that tugged at the man's lips. Then he smiled; "Does she make you smile too?"

He received a sharp look; reminding him that he couldn't speak to him like that. With the same playfulness that he spoke with everyone else. This man was a stranger.

And, suddenly, the mantra he had drilled into him in his first year of primary school was echoing in his head; stranger, danger; stranger, danger.

"Harry!"

But he guessed, from the tone of his mother's voice, that the danger in this circumstance wasn't going to come from the stranger he had now made acquaintance with, as he looked up and found her advancing towards them.

XXX

She had been young when she had become pregnant and, subsequently, given birth to her son. No one had warned, even mentioned, to her the full-time worry that would settle upon your shoulders the second the infant would be placed in your arms.

Lily remembered the first night she and James had taken Harry home. She had barely slept; had crept creeping over to his basket as he slept, just the check that he was still breathing.

As time went by, her concern for his wellbeing only increased as he began crawling, walking; as he began constantly putting himself in danger due to the numerous freak accidents she could imagine.

But now, at age six, she was certain he son's foolishness, his consistent ability to send her into a state of frantic panic due to his actions were going to be the death of her.

"Where have you been?" she snapped at him, when she was finally close enough to grab him by the arm.

Harry glanced in the direction he had come from, looking uncertain; "Uh...I...I was going to see my dad."

Lily paused, almost stunned speechless by the statement; "Wha...you..." And then she met Severus' eyes and suddenly felt uncomfortable, as she always did when the subject of her husband came up when she was in his presence.

She cleared her throat, looking down at him; "Go and say goodnight to your Uncle Sirius. We'll talk about this at home."

Harry hurried past her, eagerly accepting the temporary reprieve, and she watched until she saw him go back into the room she had just vacated, before she turned her attention back to Severus.

She gave him a smile; "Where did you find him?"

"Where he implied; the neurological damage section," Severus stated, glancing in the direction he spoke of; "Though he was not...with his father at the time," he met her eyes and then shrugged; "Obviously."

Lily nodded slightly; yes, obviously not. James Potter's bedside was hardly someplace her son would run into Severus Snape; "Thanks for bringing him back."

"It was no trouble," Severus waved a dismissive hand; "I was leaving and, after what happened last month I assumed you would appreciate having him returned."

She rolled her eyes, "He's always wandering off; too curious for his own good. He disobeys every rule given to him."

"Ah," Severus nodded; "Doesn't quite take after his mother then."

Lily met his eyes at the statement; at the implication of who her son was like. She wondered at the comparison; though that he was like James was hardly something anyone could deny, it was hardly a warm statement or a compliment coming from Severus' lips.

Severus shrugged, looking apologetic and slightly sheepish and she felt herself warm at the gesture, not the first time she had responded as such to him the past couple of weeks, more affected than was normal at how he seemed to regret upsetting her, and she found herself cursing Julia for what she had said some weeks before.

Because ever since Julia had confronted her with the notion that Severus had feelings that went beyond simple friendship towards her, she found herself flustered and self-conscious whenever she was in his presence. The first few encounters afterwards regarding him closely, watching for anything unusual in the way he behaved around her; seeing nothing, but, after several more meetings, realised that her own behaviour was beginning to change and that Severus was noticing it.

She would blush more easily and frequently; would find herself tongue-tied during conversation; and, to her own discomfort, found herself thinking about him frequently, almost constantly. She had even dreamt about him one night, definitely not an appropriate dream to have of a friend and co-worker, and so she had avoided him in the two days that followed it.

"How is Black?"

Lily founded herself drawn from her thoughts at the surprising enquiry. She frowned; "Um...he's okay. No change, really."

Severus inclined his head; "I see."

"He's responding to treatment," Lily went on, more hopefully; "He woke up a couple of nights ago. He couldn't speak; but I could tell that he recognised me."

"Good progress, then."

She nodded; "Yes."

Lily didn't know what it was that made Julia think Severus was possibly interested. He demonstrated no particular regard for her at all, except his usual friendliness with her that he had always had, right back when they were at Hogwarts. He certainly wasn't behaving as foolishly as she had been previously; hadn't appeared even the slightest bit self-conscious.

Instead, Julia had planted the seeds of the idea in her mind; and she was plagued with thoughts of dinner over candlelight, walks in the park, dancing at Foundation functions; he had danced very well at the Christmas Gala. And a repeat of that wasn't something she would object to.

But, sometimes, when she was around him she would begin having further, more inappropriate thoughts; thoughts such as how his hands would feel in her hair, or on her waist; thoughts such as the feel of his lips on hers. They would be soft, she knew that from the glances she had made at them; how it would feel to have them part beneath hers; his hands moving from her hair downwards, over her shoulders. Or from her waist, upwards, gathering fabric with his fingers...

She met his eyes and suddenly found herself blushing, flustered and mortified at the direction of her thoughts. She quickly averted her eyes from his, remembering his talent for legilimency; the last thing she wanted was to broadcast such images into his mind!

"Are you alright?"

She jumped as his hand gripped her shoulder; the touch only making her feel even more hot and bothered than she already felt and he seemed to sense her discomfort and quickly withdrew his hand. She risked a brief glance in his direction, nodding; "Yes. Yes, I'm fine."

She avoided his eyes and thanked the heavens when behind her; "Mum?" sounded, alerting her to her son's presence and readiness to leave.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Severus," she said, still not meeting his eyes; "Thanks again, for Harry. I'll see you tomorrow," she almost cringed at the repetition as she hurried away.

She could feel Severus' eyes following her as she grabbed Harry's hand and drew him in the opposite direction; knew he would be confused and baffled at her actions but she couldn't find the courage to look back at him as she hurried down the corridor; both embarrassed and, not for the first time, confused at the direction of her thoughts.

XXX

"Don't blame me for your dirty mind, Lily," Julia's eyes gleamed as she regarded her over her coffee cup, the two sitting in the guest waiting area of St Mungo's.

Lily glared at her; "If it wasn't for your insinuations I wouldn't be having these thoughts."

"My insinuations?" Julia repeated in a laughing tone; "All I did was speed up the inevitable, honey. If you're having these thoughts now, it means they've always been there. They've just be waiting to be set free," she made a flying bird notion with her hands as if to illustrate.

"Severus doesn't even think about me that way."

"Oh please."

Lily shook her head, making to protest, but Julia went on; "Honestly, no one can be that blind, Lily. He wants you. He helps you with work, constantly, always giving you articles; he has lunch every day with you; he dances with you. These are things that Severus Snape never does with anybody."

"And how would you know that?" Lily raised an eyebrow.

"Hey, people talk," Julia grinned; "There were people taking bets on how long it'd take for the two of you to get it on at the Gala."

"Oh hush."

"Only half joking, Lil'," Julia winked; "Ever thought you might send Sirius back into a coma when he wakes up and finds out what's been going on while he's been away."

Lily paled at the reminder; "Not funny, Jules."

"You think he'd mind?"

Lily scoffed; "You saw how he reacted just to the idea of he and I working together."

Julia shrugged; "Ah well; deal with it when it comes to it, I suppose."

"There's nothing to deal with," Lily sighed, once again insisting her point.

Julia smirked, leaning forward on her elbows; "You've just sat there for twenty minutes telling me about all the illicit thoughts you've been having about Severus Snape and now you're trying to insist there's nothing going on?"

Lily shook her head; "Well it isn't. It's all one sided; and," she shrugged; "Well, it's been a while. Thoughts are bound to...develop; and Severus is the most likely person I'd end up thinking about. I'd hardly think the same about Sirius or Remus, after all."

"Or your husband?" Julia pointed out, with a sly smirk, then went on before Lily could retort; "Very rationally put, Lily. Severus' is the only male currently available to you right now; it's only natural you should start to fantasise."

"Okay, enough," Lily waved a hand, silencing her friend, and then lifted her coffee cup to her lips.

"You should ask him out."

Lily almost choked on the liquid she was drinking. Julia laughed, delighted at the response.

"I'm not going to ask him out, Julia; what if you're wrong? It would completely ruin the friendship we have; how awkward –"

"Ah ha!" Julia pointed at her, silencing Lily.

Lily frowned in bafflement at the look of satisfaction on her friend's face; "What 'ah ha'?"

"You're finally admitting your feelings! It's not 'I don't want to go out with him'. It's 'he doesn't want to go out with me; what if he says no; how will this affect our friendship-'"

"Julia –"

"You like him, don't you?" Julia grinned; "Like like."

"I'm sorry, are we twelve?" Lily glared at her, taking a long drink, feeling a headache coming on.

"Mum!" Harry burst into the room, almost making her drop her cup in fright as he did so.

She shot him a look, making to scold him; "Harry –"

"Uncle Sirius is awake!" he announced, eyes wide, before he turned and hurried away, back in the direction of Sirius' room.

The two of them quickly abandoned their coffee mugs and hurriedly made their way after the boy, stumbling into the room where Remus and Harry already were, tending to the man in the bed.

Sirius' eyes were open, a slight furrow on his brow as his eyes flicked around the room, attempting to take in what he was seeing. He made to speak, his voice coming out in a dry croak; and then Remus slid a hand beneath his shoulders and lifted him, holding a glass of water to his lips.

Sirius drank the liquid eagerly, before stopping abruptly in a choke and then coughing violently, sending water across the bed. Lily stepped towards him, as Remus rubbed his back; "Hey, take it easy."

Sirius regarded Remus with a confused frown, before glancing back at Lily. He swallowed and then spoke, a harsh, scratching sounding; "Wha...what happened?"

Lily took his hand, shook her head; "We're not sure," she looked at Remus quickly; "Did you tell the Medinurses?"

"I sent Harry," he looked in the direction of the boy, who was holding his uncle's other hand, watching Sirius anxiously.

"I'll go," Julia spoke up.

"Lil'," Sirius joked out, a sudden desperation in his voice.

She looked down at him, squeezing his hand; "It's okay. You'll be okay –"

He shook his head, his breathing become slightly laboured; "No –"

"Just calm down," she insisted, as Remus laid him back against the pillows he had been propping up against the headboard.

Sirius reached up, grabbed her arm, looking anxious and frightened as he pulled her closer; "Lil', I...I can't...I can't feel my legs."

She started, glanced down at them, where Harry was leaning on one of them; "Harry...Harry, on the floor, please."

"I...I can't move them," Sirius gasped out, releasing both her and Harry's hands, as Harry quickly jumped down on to the floor. Sirius reached down to grab at the blankets covering his legs. The cast that had been on his leg previously was gone, the leg having healed during the weeks he was unconscious.

He reached down, grabbing at then; "I can't feel them," he repeated, his voice slightly stronger in volume, while the desperate tone in his voice increased

Harry curled up against his other uncle, watching the display fearfully, while Lily shared an apprehensive glance with Remus, as Julia and the mediwizard hurried into the room.

XXX

Author's Note: Thanks very much to everyone who reviewed the previous chapter! Hope you enjoyed this one; a little progression on Lily's side on the romance now ;)

Alex: That would be a rather interesting development wouldn't it? I'm not sure if Sirius could ever recover from witness such a thing ha ha. Thanks very much for reviewing!

Jayc: You're very welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying the story :) Thanks very much for reviewing!