Author's Note: Last chapter. Hope you enjoyed the story :)
Shrekody, a Snarry Tale
Part Three: Confronting the beast
The three of them appeared in Covent Garden, one of the few places Severus had been to enough near Drury Lane to be comfortable Apparating to. Ron dropped Severus' arm and immediately began looking around in wide-eyed delight. Harry tightened his hold on Severus' hand, smiling at the color and activity surrounding them. Severus lost himself for a moment, immersed in memories of his youth and spending time here with his mother, absently squeezing Harry's hand in understanding before moving from the shadowy corner.
Covent Garden was fairly throbbing with energy. Street performers were singing and dancing, costumed thespians passed out playbills for the Royal Opera House, and brightly lit signs coaxed the masses into their stores. Several young adults were sitting on the ground next to a spreading of homemade jewelry, the glass and pale stone of the Covent Garden Market and surrounding buildings giving an overall impression of light and calm, despite the crowds.
"I like it here," Harry remarked from his side. Severus blinked his reverie away, and looked down. Harry smiled up at him, eyes bright and curious. "It looks really familiar, too, though I don't remember ever being here before."
"You may have passed by here." Severus frowned at the husky timbre of his voice and shook his head slightly. "We are quite close to Charing Cross Road, after all."
"What's on Charing Cross Road?"
He had to look to make sure Harry wasn't mocking him. Harry smiled up at him. Severus grunted. "The Leaky Cauldron, you ignorant beast." Harry laughed, squeezing the hand still joined with his. Severus frowned. "It would not have been fortuitous had my father discovered the location to the magical world. Hence, my mother used to bring me here to while away the days. We would watch the street performers, sit and have an ice-cream under the young dancer statue in front of the theatre, and then head to Charing Cross Road and wander through the book shops."
Harry smiled softly. "That sounds like a lot of fun."
"Mmm." Severus looked around, seeing their surrounds as they used to be instead of how they were.. "My mother always took me to Foyles, first. It was shiny, bright, almost other-worldly. But my favorite?" He looked down at Harry, checking his level of interest. Harry looked back with a soft smile on his face. Encouraged, Severus finished. "The Quinto Bookshop. T'was an old and dusty store that sold second-hand books. The proprietor didn't care if I curled up on the floor and read for hours. Took me ages to realize the man was merely a Muggle and had not enchanted the shop."
"That sounds lovely."
"Yes, well." Severus cleared his throat, cursing himself for getting so lost in past recollections.
"Perhaps we can go to Qunito's together sometime." Severus gave him a sharp look. Harry shrugged and wisely changed the subject. "Maybe we can also go to Portobello Road when we have our outing? My teacher back in primary school used to play music when we were working on art or reading. One of the songs told about Portobello Road being 'a street where the riches of ages unfold.' I've always wanted to see it." Harry flushed and looked away.
"Hey, wait up!" They both started, turning as Ron hurried up to them. "Did you forget I was here or something?"
They walked to Drury Road in mostly silence, save the odd exclamation when something particularly exciting, like scandalous clothing or pretty architecture, caught their attention. And then, nestled in-between a book store and a clothing store, a brightly lit sign showing a baker's hat outlined in neon green caught their attention. Written in fancy italic hot pink script, The Muffin Man seemed to scream for attention from clear across the road. Severus glowered, Harry snickered, and for the second time Ron Weasley stole the words right out of Severus' mouth.
"That totally looks like something the twins would do."
They swept into the shop. A pretty girl with blonde hair was manning the register, a teenage boy with seven piercings in his ear was wiping down tables, and a young woman covered in flour with hot pink and purple striped hair was cheerfully screeching along to the radio as she expertly rolled out dough. Severus stared, feeling the muscle below his left eye begin to twitch.
Her head shot up in surprise at the title, her instinctive scowl morphing into a beaming smile when she saw who had entered her shop. "Harry!" She threw her arms wide, flinging bits of dough and the rolling pin as she hurried forward. Without pausing in her conversation, the girl behind the register ducked, unfazed and not so much as flinching at narrowly being hit in the head by flying utensils. Tonks tripped over the pierced boy's shoe, made a mad grab, collided with Ron, and tumbled the three of them to the floor in a flailing mass of limbs and cinnamon-scented mess. Harry and Severus traded a look, Harry taking a half-step to the left to hide behind Severus.
"Wotcher!" Looking completely unperturbed to be laying on the ground, Tonks beamed up at Harry. "It's great to see you! Remmy and I have been so worried! You're staying for dinner, right?" She seized the pierced boy's proffered wrist and let herself be pulled to her feet. Without missing a beat she grabbed Harry and pulled him into a fierce hug. "You can meet Teddy!" She continued to enthuse as Severus pulled Harry from her arms and back behind him. Ron was grabbed next, his hug turning into a head lock as Tonks slipped on her own mess and nearly crashed again. The pieced boy simply sighed and ambled off to grab a broom.
"You, uh, you own a bakery, Tonks?"
"Yep!" She beamed around the store. "Decided I was tired of being an Auror after all the shit I went through the last couple of years. And once Remmy became Minister, well, spouses really shouldn't work together. Need some time apart, you know?"
"But why is your store call The Muffin Man?" Ron's voice was muffled, hampered by the hand covering his lightly bleeding nose.
"Oh, that's for my Da." Tonks' smile drooped slightly. "When Rem and I bought the place Mum went on about how he used to whistle the tune to me as a little girl." She shrugged, smile returning to full bloom. "The locals think it's a hoot, and all the tourists like to have their picture taken in front of my sign."
"Really was a brilliant business move," Harry agreed.
"And is Remmy here?" Snape interrupted, sneering the nickname.
"He's upstairs with Teddy." Tonks laughed, sticking her hands on her hips, pulling them off a second later to brush more dough and flour off of her and on to the floor. The blonde, now finished with her guest, paused to pass the pierced boy a coffee before moving on to the next customer. The boy sat at the counter, drinking his coffee, and watched the mess multiply with a glum expression. Tonks appeared oblivious to the entire exchange and continued beaming at Harry. "Remmy said he's teaching Teddy the finer points of hostage negotiation, or some such rot."
Severus gave a reluctantly impressed nod at this. Perhaps the wolf wasn't completely useless after all. "You've resigned yourself, then, to the inevitability of your son being sorted into Slytherin?"
Tonks shook her head. "He'll be in Ravenclaw," she corrected. "That way people will expect him to be bright, but not instinctively associate him with the last Dark Lord, or with his father, the current Lord."
"Wish I'd thought of that before refusing to be sorted into Slytherin." Harry looked disgruntled.
"Erm." Harry flushed, eyes sliding away from both Ron and Severus. "Nothing." Desperately, he turned to Tonks and pinned a bright smile on his face. "So, what's with all this Farquaad nonsense anyway?"
"Oh, that." Tonks shook her head, dislodging a lump of bread dough that had valiantly clung to her earlobe. "Well, it's more Remus' story to tell, really. You'll stay for tea, right?" She pointed to a bright yellow door at the back of the room. "Just go on through, I'll be up soon as I dispatch the Health Inspector."
Ron blinked. "Who?"
The pierced boy snorted as he came to start sweeping up the drying mess. "The guy who always starts twitching as soon as he walks through the door, spends twenty minutes in the freezer making out with the mop, and leaves smiling and muttering something about shiny blue lights."
Tonks flushed. "Muggles." She shrugged. "They have so many stupid sanitation rules and you can only Obliviate them so many times, you know? Oh, come along, Ron, and we'll patch your nose up while we're at it."
Harry and Severus exchanged another, slightly grim, look and headed for the door. The yellow door gave way to turquoise walls and purple stairs. Harry closed his eyes and latched on to Snape's arm again. "I feel sea sick."
Severus snorted, marching up the stairs and pulling an increasingly reluctant Harry along behind him. The door at the top of the stairs, a bright lime green, seemed to snicker at them as it obligingly swung open. Harry sighed in relief as boring white walls stared back at them, interrupted at random intervals with splashy portraits and a mish-mash of pictures. A dark blue velvet couch took up most of one wall, a bundle of snoring blankets was curled up in a forest green chair, and perched Indian-style on a braided purple rug, surrounded by papers and ledgers, sat Remus Lupin.
Remus looked up with a distracted smile when the door opened, only to promptly drop his papers in shock as Severus and Harry entered the room and shut the door behind them. Remus grinned, laughing out loud as he tried to stand, only for his muscles to lock and send him crashing back to the floor. He smiled wryly, shifting his body back into a sitting position. "Greetings, cosmic children of the universe. Welcome to my serenity circle. Please leave all bad vibes outside the healing vortex."
There were so many things Harry wanted to say to Remus… sorry you almost died in the final battle, wow, you're a father, and I have missed you. It all muddled together in his head, only Severus standing by his side keeping him calm. In the end, though, Harry was a Gryffindor and, therefore, blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. "Lord Farquaad?"
"Ah, yes." Remus flushed, running a hand through his hair and smiling sheepishly. "That." He climbed to his feet, wincing and shaking his right leg to wake it up. "Heard about that, did you?"
"Squatters appeared in my home." Severus kept his voice calm and cold, gratified when Remus blanched all the same. Harry squeezed his arm gently.
"What are you doing, Remus?" Harry bit his lip. "Why would you want to make yourself a lord of anything when people are still recovering from the last Dark Lord?"
Remus sighed. "I'd best make some tea."
Severus watched Remus retreat into the kitchen and looked around his surroundings with deep suspicion. There were certain mind-altering potions that worked like airborne pathogens, invisible to the naked eye and using the bacteria already in the air to spread and infect. Merely by standing in the landing of the Lupin household he felt dirty. He gave the snoring blankets a look of revulsion as Harry gripped his arm and led him to the couch. After working as an educator for sixteen years, he knew well how germy children were, and how much they enjoyed spreading disease and pestilence.
"It's cozy here," Harry remarked uselessly by his side, fidgeting slightly. "Never figured Remus would live above a bakery and take over the world and all, but this is surprisingly homey."
"His lodgings seem appropriate given his love of chocolate confections."
Harry laughed. "Well, yeah, there is that."
The door burst open with a cheerful bang, causing the snoring blankets to twitch and release an unhappy wail of protest. Tonks winced at the sound, sending a sheepish smile down the hall before hurrying forward to scoop the mass into her arms. Ron shut the door and gratefully hurried over to Harry, nose no longer bleeding, as a turquoise head popped out of the blankets. Teddy gave the room a singularly uninterested look, his sleepy brown eyes and pouted lips conveying his displeasure at being awoken in such a fashion. Severus sympathized, sending the baby a look that promised to teach him spells to properly discipline his parents as soon as he was able to speak coherently. Teddy seemed to understand the look and smiled back at Severus before dropping his head on his mom's shoulder.
"Dora, Love, you know he likes to nap on the chair." Remus walked back into the room carrying a heavily laden tray with cups, sweets, and a steaming teapot. He paused to kiss his wife on the cheek before setting the tray on the coffee table shoved against the corner wall.
"I know." Tonks cuddled her baby closer in apology, letting the toddler look around the room with bright, curious eyes. "I was just so excited to see Harry again that I didn't think about it!"
"How surprising." Tonks flinched at the icy tone of voice. Harry gave Severus a reproachful look. Severus ignored them both and pinned Remus under the full force of his glare. "You sent people from their homes due to situations they could not control, took over the Ministry of Magic, and are holding half the wizarding world in suspension until someone could produce Harry." Remus smiled weakly, shifting uncomfortably. "All that I can respect." Remus gave a startled jolt and looked at Severus incredulously. "But, Lupin, really?" He sneered. "Singing gates at Hogwarts?"
"Really!" Ron gave a disgusted snort. "They're awful! What did those poor gates ever do to you?"
"Uh." Remus rubbed the back of his neck and shared a look with Tonks. "You deserve an explanation, and I'll give you one, but first I have to ask you to think about Sirius."
Severus desperately wanted to ask what the mutt had anything to do with present day activities, but that would give away his interest in the situation. It would never do to tip an opponent off so soon into the game. Instead, he merely raised an eyebrow and stared the Lupins down, gratified with Tonks flinched instinctively and clutched her baby closer. Harry, however, asked the question for him. "What does Sirius have to do with anything? He's… dead."
"Yes, Harry, he is." Lupin spoke gently, reaching over to gently clasp Harry's knee. "But once he left Azkaban and was told you couldn't come live with him, he started… playing a game."
Harry eyed Remus and Tonks warily before scooting a little closer to the reassuring solidarity of Snape's body. "What kind of game?"
"When Sirius…" Remus trailed off, looking pained. "When Sirius first left us the summer before your fourth year, he went to the Bahamas. There, he met a man named John Gage." Here Remus paused, giving Harry a slightly expectant look. Harry gazed back blankly. "Well, no, I supposed you haven't heard of him. John likes to gamble, and he is one of those odd Muggles that can't be Obliviated for whatever reason."
"Okay," Harry said slowly. "And Sirius gambled with this John guy?"
"Yeah he did," Tonks interrupted cheerfully, supremely unconcerned as Teddy messily ate a biscuit and wiped his chocolaty hands on her arm. "He gambled loads and won buckets of money off John."
"And then last year," Remus continue patiently, "shortly before the battle at Hogwarts, I received a letter. Seems Sirius had given John my address since he didn't have a Muggle one of his own." Remus sighed. "John was frustrated. He'd recently paid a guy a million dollars to sleep with his wife, started a relationship with said woman, and then was dumped when she went back to her husband."
"Fascinating," Severus drawled. "Now get to the point."
"Sirius became rather… friendly, when drinking," Remus continued carefully. "Apparently he told John all about his famously secretive background, and John decided that in order to get over his whole experience with the couple, he would start a game with Sirius."
"But Sirius is dead," Harry said softly.
"I know." Remus answered, just as softly. "But, Harry, he'd already laid the ground work for the game and needed someone to play with him."
"He bought the properties, didn't he?" Harry glanced at Severus in surprise, having not come to that conclusion on his own. Severus merely arched an eyebrow and smirked.
"Yes, he did." Remus sighed again. "He bought every vacant property or unclaimed parcel of land around the areas Sirius had described, and would only auction them off to me one at a time and under a specific set of circumstances."
"What?" Ron looked between Remus and Severus in bewilderment. "Some Muggle bought land and that's why you became Lord Farquaad?"
"He bought the Burrow, Ron." Tonks winced as Teddy elbowed her in an attempt to crawl out of her lap. Setting the two-year-old down, she rubbed her ribcage and gave the redhead a commiserating look. "And the Bones' land, the Ministry of Magic, and…"
"… Hogwarts," Severus finished flatly, remembering the conversation he'd walked in on in the Headmaster's office.
"Exactly." Remus sighed deeply and refilled his tea cup. "I had to get them back. So, I overthrew the current government, hired people to hide in forests and implement Guerilla-style warfare on unsuspecting travelers, people to behave in sexually deviant manners in public, people to seize properties, sully about in taverns, start popular bands: you name it, I did it." He sighed, looking weary. "But I don't want that much power. Part of our agreement is that I can't sell anything, only gift it to others in a public ceremony. And since I was worried about where you had disappeared to…" Remus offered Harry a weak smile.
"Me? " Harry looked horrified. "You want to give everything to me? And in public?"
"Well, not everything." Tonks gave a fond smile to where Teddy was reenacting The Boston Tea Party, complete with figurines that tossed barrels off a toy ship and screamed, "No taxation without representation!"
"We're keeping the shop," Remus agreed. "Kingsley gets the Ministry of Magic, everyone gets their homes back, Luna gets the magical section of Sherwood Forest, Ginny wants exclusive book rights to documents her time as a temptress, Dean wants a record deal for his band, and so on."
"And Harry will receive Hogwarts," Severus finished.
Harry looked furious. "Why does everyone insist on running my life for me still? Go there, do this, die for the world, spend months locked up in a castle, take possession of your old school." Remus frowned and opened his mouth to speak. Harry cut him off. "Don't bother." He stood abruptly, setting his untouched tea on the coffee table rather harder than necessary. "Come on, Severus, we should find a hotel, it's getting dark."
Severus would have refused out of sheer principle, but the upset look on Remus' face was worth his silent compliance. He smirked, inclined his head in the barest parody of a polite nod, and stood. "Lupin, Nymphadora. As always, visiting you has been rather more appealing than engaging a pack of Dementors in a duel. Delightful home… and child, you have."
"No, not right now." Harry squared his jaw and glared at the wall. Severus glanced out the window and realized he needed to get Harry to a warded location as soon as possible. "I'm tired, and mad, and just tired." He forced a smile; Lupin really did look upset.
"Do you want me to come with you, Harry?" Ron looked torn between wanting to go with Harry and wanting to stay with Remus to find out when his family would be getting its home back.
"No." Harry was starting to shake as he trampled down on his frustration. "No, I just want to go. I'll talk to you tomorrow, Ron." He turned, giving Severus a look of desperation. Severus looked into lightly red-tinted eyes and reached out, grabbing Harry's arm firmly before Apparating away.
They arrived in Severus' bedroom at Grimmauld Place. Harry didn't even look at their surroundings before twisting around and throwing himself at Severus. "I hate Lord Farquaad!"
Severus let Harry burrow and mutter nonsense into his chest as he looked around his room, reassuring himself that the idiot intruders had not managed to break past his wards. He could hear music throbbing against his wards, hear the muted sounds of glasses clinking and alcohol-induced laughter, hear someone faintly cry out, "wild party, Freddie!" He rolled his eyes and fervently hoped the house struck back and trapped the whole lot of them in the cellar with the dead rats.
Finally turning his attention to the distraught boy clinging to his robes and uttering dire proclamations for all of wizard kind, Severus looked down at a complete loss. Clearly comfort of some kind was needed, but what to do? "There there, Potter." He patted the shaking shoulders awkwardly. "Once you own Hogwarts, you can adjust the wards to keep out whomever you see fit. Furthermore, I would not find it the least morally troubling to poison the wolf for you."
Harry laughed, turning his head far enough to breathe but maintaining his death grip on Severus' robes. "How can I possibly run a school when I'm such a freak?" He let go of the robes and started pacing. "I can't be around kids when I have red eyes and reek of Dark magic."
"You will not be indisposed by this issue forever, Harry. Do stop moping; there is only so much melodrama I can handle in one day. Having tea with the wolf and his pack quite filled up my level of tolerance for the year."
"You didn't drink any tea." Harry grinned nonetheless, wiping his hand across his damp cheeks. Severus rolled his eyes and offered a handkerchief. Harry took it and scrubbed his face, still smiling. "You sneered at the tea like it was the vilest poison imaginable and spelled it onto Teddy's toy boat." Harry's smile faded. "Seriously, though, what am I going to do?"
"Let me run any test on you I wish, no matter how invasive?"
Harry blinked. "Well, yeah, of course. I mean I figured you would. But after that. What am I going to do about this whole Lord Farquaad gifting me Hogwarts situation? Did he even think that maybe I don't want to own the blasted place, either?"
Severus frowned, hating the fact that Gryffindors felt the need to express their problems so verbally. Why they could not simply ponder the matter, dissect a few carcasses to relieve tension, and then make a decision after considering pros and cons was entirely beyond his realm of understanding. Still. "Albus once saw fit to babble, 'If there's something you want to do, or someone you really want to be, then the only one standing in your way... is you.'" He frowned at the accompanying ache in his chest the memory brought.
It seemed to work, though. Harry looked thoughtful rather than distraught, his red eyes focused on internal musings and keeping him quiet, thankfully. Severus left him to his thoughts, moving around the room and straightening his already straight room just to reassure himself of its recognizable order. The next time he looked up, Harry had kicked off his shoes, tossed his robe onto a chair, and crawled into his bed.
"Can I stay here tonight? It sounds like they're having quite the party out there, and, erm, I kinda hate people right now."
That sentiment he understood perfectly. "Fine," he answered shortly, removing his own traveling robe and placing it neatly on a chair. He sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes, lining them up precisely next to his night stand before lying down and arranging himself under the blanket. The bedroom was silent save for their breathing and the odd reverberation of the party.
Harry turned on his side and studied Severus' profile. "I feel safe with you."
"An unwise emotion, I assure you."
He could hear Harry's smile in his voice. "Going to lock me in your lab and perform a slew of vile tests on me?"
"At the first available opportunity."
Harry laughed, shifting around on his side of the bed until his head was resting right next to Severus' shoulder. "I was really happy when I found out you didn't die that night," he whispered. "I felt weird enough having the Dark Lord's soul removed from me. It would have… I would have been devastated if you'd been taken away from me as well."
"Nonsense." Severus stared at his ceiling, nerves prickling over the intimacy of sharing a bed and whispering in the dark with another. "You would have grown up, married, and cursed my memory by naming one of your offspring after me." He ignored the sleepy chuckle and steadily increasing weight on his shoulder.
"Would have been really upset," Harry muttered sleepily, before snuggling closer and falling asleep.
Severus lay there for quite awhile staring at the ceiling, thoughts whirling through his mind too fast for comfort.
Dislodging himself from Harry's grasp and emerging from the safety of his warded bedroom nearly took more courage than Severus was capable of. Still, he managed. The thought of cursing hung-over cretins providing the necessary burst of motivation needed. The upstairs was completely untouched, thankfully, the house's reputation preventing even the most gung-ho from venturing too far. The first sign of habitation came on the bottom stairwell, where a lacy pink bra hung negligently off one of the dead house elf's ears.
Walburga Black, looking pale and defeated in her frame, gave him a listless smile. "I thought we understood each other, Severus," she whimpered pitifully. "Please don't leave me alone with those delinquents again." He patted her frame consolingly before peering into the living room.
A jukebox had been magically charmed and shoved in the doorway of the living room, one shiny black vinyl still spinning though no sound could be heard. One of the twins was lying face down on the floor, a bottle of amber-colored liquid clutched in one fist, a sock in the other. Unknown twin number two was propped against the jukebox wearing sunglasses, a Hawaiian print shirt, and a floppy straw hat. Various former students were scattered around the room, flopped on any available surface, all, blessedly, unconscious. Percy was wrapped around the rock crystal in the corner, sucking his thumb and occasionally twitching in his sleep. Too tired to deal with them all, Severus left them to it and retreated to the kitchen.
Charlie was kneeling in the fireplace talking animatedly with his mother. Severus could only hope the woman had been in touch with Lupin and was directing the fruit of her womb back to her cloying embrace. Judging by the happy chirping noises Charlie was making, Severus deduced it was safe to take the pot of tea into his lab and lock the door behind him. He was much happier dealing with Harry's blood and hair samples than he ever would be conversing with Weasley's.
Five hours later he emerged to a quiet kitchen smelling faintly of tea and toast, his grumbling stomach reminding him that he had yet to eat. Well used to ignoring bodily discomfort, he strode through the silent house in search of Harry. He found him in the living room, curled up on the couch with a book, a pot of tea steaming gently nearby. "Have fun in your lab?"
Severus glowered, ignoring the question in favor of stalking to Harry, pulling his head back, and peering intently into red-rimmed green eyes. "It is as I thought," he declared with satisfaction, spinning on his heel and striding back the way he had come.
"What the hell?" Harry blinked at Severus' retreating back before throwing his book aside and scrambling after. He hovered in the doorway of the lab, eyeing the steaming cauldrons and magically suspended philters of burnt hair warily.
"You are responsible for your red eyes and dangerous aura, Potter." Severus spoke without turning around, carefully pouring a smoking gray potion into a goblet. He turned and carried the goblet across the room. "Even now the red is creeping into your eyes, Harry, and it is not yet the middle of the day."
Harry accepted the goblet automatically, staring down at it in confusion. "I don't understand."
"Do you remember the conversation we had in that miserable tent?" Harry nodded uncertainly. "As I stated then, your potential has been hampered by your desire for normalcy. You have suppressed your, dare I say it, talent, to the point where your magic is rebelling against you."
"But." Harry frowned at his goblet. "But if I've been doing that for years, why did it choose now to 'rebel' against me?"
"Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin said it best."
"Oh for… never mind. Suffice it to say that people who were unafraid to think came up with a term to describe how only the fittest organisms will prevail. It is my belief that your magic was intuitively aware of the foreign presence in your body and was content to remain mostly dormant to avoid unwanted attention or intrusion."
"Oh." Harry stared down at the goblet clenched in his hand. "I'm not afraid to think." Severus sighed. Harry glanced at him before drinking the potion down, making a face at the bitter after taste. "What'll this potion do anyway?"
"Make you pee blue for three days."
They both turned at the voice to see Ron standing in the doorway beaming at them. "Moony's having the party at Hogwarts tonight. He sent me round to collect you."
"Party," Harry repeated blankly. "Right." He took a deep breath before setting the goblet down on the counter and looking at Severus. "Are you coming to the party with me?" Severus stared, a single eyebrow raised in disdain at the mere thought of socializing. Harry's shoulders drooped. "Right," he repeated. "I'll just… go get ready then."
"Hermione sent your dress robes," Ron offered helpfully. "I stuck them on your bed." Harry nodded and quietly slipped from the room.
They both watched him go before Ron turned to where Severus stood and gave him a shrewd look. "He was a bit obsessed with you after the battle, you know."
"Harry," Ron clarified unnecessarily. "He talked about you a lot, broke up with Ginny, and moved all your stuff here before he left. Hermione said he was talking about having you moved here to finish recovering if the Ministry didn't hurry up with your pardon." Ron frowned and scratched the back of his neck. "I just thought he was obsessed, but Hermione said Harry was a lot like you. A walking metaphor, like an onion – you have layers, or some such rot."
"Layers?" Severus repeated dryly.
"Yeah, see, there's the crusty outer layer, 'cause Harry doesn't really like to be around too many people." He paused, clearly seeing the wisdom in not pointing out Severus' own anti-social mannerisms. "Once you get past that though, there's sweetness and bitterness and a layer that makes you cry."
"Irritates the tear ducts," Severus corrected absently.
"Whatever." Ron brushed the correction away, turning to look behind him to make sure Harry wasn't around. "But if someone cuts the center of the onion just right, the whole damn thing will fall apart."
Harry called out from the kitchen. Ron waved cheerfully and ducked out the door, letting it close gently behind him. Severus stood in his quiet lab, surrounded by all his comfortingly consistent ingredients and shiny vials, and wondered why he felt like he'd just been sucking on a lemon drop.
Part Four: And they all lived happily ever after…. Right?
It was bittersweet being back on Hogwarts grounds. The children were back for the party, sadly, which meant it would only be a matter of time before broken quill stubs and parchment littered the freshly painted halls and newly re-landscaped grounds. Severus sighed, wishing the thought filled him with less relief than he actually felt. Hogwarts was not meant to be quiet, entombed. It was meant to be celebrated and enjoyed by ungrateful brats who would not truly appreciate their youth until they had moved on to demeaning jobs and irritating familial obligations. The singing atrocity had been removed from the gates at least. Severus ran his hand down the silky steel frame of the gate as he passed through.
Dean Thomas had dyed his hair electric blue and teased it into an afro. Combined with his leather pants, sunglasses, and electric guitar, the idiot probably fancied himself the next Jimmie Hendrix. Severus rolled his eyes as he passed the makeshift stage, the crowd parting for him instinctively.
Seamus Finnigan stood behind a microphone wearing ripped jeans and a tie-dyed shirt. "Oi, you lot! This next song goes out to all the lovers out there!"
"I thought love was only true in fairy tales. Meant for someone else but not for me. Love was out to get me, that's the way it seemed. Disappointment haunted all my dreams."
Severus winced at the jarring musical chords, ignoring the noises around him as he walked unerringly towards the front doors. If he had been to one officious ceremony, he had been to them all. The real action would be taking place behind the scenes, most likely in the Headmaster's office.
"What's the use in trying? All you get is pain. When I wanted sunshine, I got rain!"
Once again, the gargoyle jumped aside at his approach. Severus gave it a grim look as he passed. "Why do I feel like I am yet again preparing for war?" The gargoyle seemed to sigh.
Hiding in the back of the room, Severus stared in disbelief at all the people crammed into the room, magically expanded place or not. Harry looked trapped, the potion he'd ingested earlier already working to realign his magical waves and not, as he'd said, turn his urine blue. He could guess by the dilation of Potter's eyes that he was feeling woozy and dizzy. Naturally, no one appeared to notice the distress of their savior and continued on with their farce of the party.
Lupin looked tired standing next to Potter. His kind face wrinkled, smile looking more than a little forced. "… And last, but certainly not least, I present to Mr. Harry Potter, the castle of Hogwarts to run and staff as he sees fit."
Harry smiled gamely and accepted the deed to the school, acknowledging the cheers and polite clapping of former Headmasters and Headmistresses with a nod of his head. Hermione, standing to his side, exchanged worried looks with Ron and reached out to gather Harry in a gentle hug.
"Have you given any thought to your staff, Mr. Potter?" From the back of the room Severus could see Harry stiffen at the question.
Heads swiveled to the back of the room as an imposing figure shrouded in black seemed to appear from the shadows. Harry felt a peculiar tickling sensation dance across his skin, the feeling of every bit of water inside his body flooding with pleasure and relief, crashing through him until he could barely remember that breathing was supposed to be an involuntary reflux and not something he should consciously control. Like now. Letting his breath out in a whoosh, he raised his voice as well. "I object, too."
People turned to look back at Harry in bewilderment. Severus smirked, feeling unaccountably relieved. Harry was still so utterly transparent. He clearly had no idea what he was objecting to, but was readily willing to align himself with Severus in order to… what? Offer the metaphorical olive branch?
Not to be outdone, Draco stood as well, Malfoy mask of aloofness and slight disdain firmly in place. "I would also like to register my objection."
Ginny popped up from her place on Draco's left and entwined her fingers with his. "Me too," she said firmly.
Luna Lovegood joined the host of people standing and looked around her with a serious expression. "I have never cared for stroganoff."
Neville stood up next to her, wrapping an arm around her waist. "That means we object as well."
"But –" Lupin looked around the room, his genial smile looking more than a little strained. "But what are you all objecting to?"
All heads swiveled to Harry, who ignored them all, smiling at Severus like they were the only two people in the room. Surprisingly, it was Minerva who spoke up. "I quite agree with Severus." Her voice was firm as she glared at Remus. "Harry is far too young to be saddled with the awesome responsibility of running a school. Present it to him, fine. Ask him to actually run it? Preposterous!"
"Absolutely!" Hermione spoke in a rush, hand still latched on Harry's arm. "Harry should be allowed to choose what he wants to do with his life, not be forced into a… a… a virtual marriage thanks to Lord Farquaad!"
"Well, what do you suggest then?" Lupin sounded more hopeful that a resolution would come about than upset that his glorious plans for turning over the school had been negatively received.
"Let Severus resume his duties as Headmaster," Flitwick suggested. "He's always been rather partial to this office. After all, even after the battle that destroyed whole segments of the school, his warded rooms all remained miraculously unscathed."
"True." Pomona Sprout tapped her finger against her lip thoughtfully. "And wasn't Sybill singing something about The Man In Black the other day?"
"She was probably referring to Johnny Cash." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Or aliens, which would be right up her alley."
Severus looked around the office in interest, still oddly possessive of the space even after a year away. And were he to remain at Hogwarts, he could ensure he kept a strict eye on Harry's magic.
Harry sidled over to Severus, ignoring the argument rising. "You're not going to abandon me now that you think I caused my own issue?"
"Of course not." Severus glared at the fighting people surrounding them. "You were raised by Muggles and Gryffindors, only to be isolated and surrounded by people genetically related to Dumbledore. You will need assistance and supervision learning to reconnect with the public."
Harry stared. "You're going to give me pointers on interacting with others?"
"I successfully dealt with a Dark Lord, a lemon drop addict, parents, and the Board of Directors. What have you done?"
"Point taken." Tentatively, Harry stretched up on tiptoe and brushed their lips together. "No matter what happens, I'm really glad you came today, Severus." He blushed, lowering himself back to the ground and dropping his forehead on Severus' shoulder. "You make me feel safe. And normal." Harry titled his head, offering a slightly shy smile. "I like that about you."
Severus exhaled a breath, dreadfully uncomfortable with the public display but unwilling to push Harry away. He wrestled with himself, finally lowering his head just enough to brush his cheek against the top of Harry's head. "After spending nearly a week solely in your presence, I find I like some of the feelings you stimulate as well."
"Yeah?" Harry pulled away slightly and grinned. "You like being annoyed, irritated, and exasperated?"
"Not hardly." Severus looked around the room, ensuring the fight had escalated to the point where he and Harry were mostly ignored. Still, he lowered his voice before looking back into curious green eyes. "I enjoy feeling like less of an ogre."
Through the window, faint strands of music drifted into the room, barely discernable over the din. Still, Severus heard each word clearly, and smiled.
"I'm in love, I'm a believer! Sing it with me now - I! Believe! I! Believe!"
And so life went on for our hapless heroes and rag-tag grouping of characters. Until, that is, Harry received a letter from the kingdom of Far Far Away requesting his attendance over a small matter of inheritance…. But that's another story.