It was odd, thought Harry Potter, how much at home he felt at Hogwarts, despite the fact that he'd been gone more than 20 years and that only a handful of people from his childhood days still remained here. The castle had changed very little, tidied up and repaired after the final battle, of course, but the 142 staircases still moved rather unpredictably, the portrait people were as nosy and gossipy as ever and the suits of armor—those restored and returned to their plinths after the last battle, anyway—still creaked as you walked by. Peeves and the ghosts still prowled, though Filch and Mrs. Norris had retired, and the addition of the ghost of little Colin Creevey, complete with camera, added a whole new dimension of "annoying" to the spectral world.
He found himself at the bottom of the moving spiral staircase, guarded by a stone gargoyle that had, according to his sons, become a bit dodgy in the past 20 years and apparently accepted not-quite-perfect passwords if it judged the visitor's intentions pure. Harry glanced again at the scrap of parchment in his left hand, still clutching the rolled-up contract in his right. A smile, rare this past year, graced his face as he said "wool socks" and the gargoyle groaned a bit as it scooted aside.
"Harry, come in, come in," greeted Professor McGonagall in welcome as her door swung open when he rapped on it.
"Headmistress," he greeted her, smiling as he eased himself into a chair in front of her desk. Behind her, the portrait of Albus Dumbledore grunted in its sleep.
Minerva McGonagall smiled, looking very much the same as she had almost 30 years before on the first day he'd seen her seemingly stern face in the Entrance Hall when she led Harry's group of first years into the Great Hall for the sorting. A few more lines in her face, perhaps, but they suited her in these days of more smiles than frowns. "It's good to meet with you as a colleague instead of as a parent for a change," she began. "You have the contract?"
He handed the document to her and she placed it to the side of her desk as she regarded him more closely. "We'll leave matters of your orientation and curriculum for later." Her eyes behind the square lenses were sparkling. "I have a new matter to discuss with you—I think you'll be as intrigued as I am."
Minerva picked up a letter from her desk and passed it to Harry. The letter was addressed to Anna Squires in familiar spidery green script. According to the address, Anna lived in Surrey. He raised an eyebrow.
"According to our prospective student role here at Hogwarts, Anna is the daughter of Julia Hansen and Steven Squires, Muggles both. Pamona did the initial home visit to introduce Hogwarts and our curriculum. At that visit, she discovered that Julia Hansen has been 'out of the picture' since Anna was a toddler. The father wasn't at the meeting—she met with the nanny and the child. Pamona got the idea that the father is ill. The father subsequently declined the Hogwarts offer and returned the letter…"
"Is that unusual?" interrupted Harry.
"No…well…yes." Minerva's mouth turned up in a grin. "Let's just say that Muggle families often object but the children usually get their way in the end." She paused and picked up another letter which had been beneath the first one. This one was in an envelope and had come through the Muggle post to the box Hogwarts maintained in London. "I received this letter yesterday. I'm hoping those deductive skills you developed as an Auror lead you to the same conclusions I reached." She scooted it across to him with a squared off nail. Harry opened it but looked at her inquiringly before reading it.
"It's from Anna Squires' nanny. After hearing about Hogwarts and the magical world during Pamona's visit, she now believes Mr. Squires—Anna's father—may himself be a wizard."
Harry's eyebrows creased as he removed the single sheet of paper and unfolded it. He read it quickly, his face set in a practiced neutral expression. When he finished, he held the letter a moment, apparently re-reading it, then carefully folded it and slid it back in the envelope. His eyes strayed to the small painting hanging next to Albus Dumbledore's still snoring portrait. The portrait of Minerva's predecessor, Headmaster Snape, didn't move. It had been commissioned by Headmistress McGonagall when no magical portrait appeared following Snape's supposed death and subsequent disappearance from the Shrieking Shack after the final battle.
"Do you think….?," he said carefully at last, his eyes meeting Minerva's. "It would make sense—she states he had some sort of accident twenty years ago and remembers nothing of his life before then. And that he has episodes of what she now believes to be accidental magic just like the girl." He looked again at the portrait of Severus Snape. "Do you want me to go?"
"Frankly, yes," she said. "I hate for you to get your hopes up, Harry, but the circumstances seem to indicate that not only may Severus have survived—but that there is a very good reason no one has heard from him for twenty years—that he doesn't remember anything about his magical life."
"There's no real reason to assume it's him," said Harry. "Not when you look at the facts alone, though they certainly seem to indicate that Squires is a wizard. All the classics—locked doors that open for him, falls slowed down, lights turning on and off. Add that to the fact that his daughter is a witch…"
"Are there other candidates, then?" asked Minerva. "Anyone still missing and unaccounted for since the Battle?"
Harry looked back at the Headmistress—he'd been studying Snape's portrait again. He sighed.
"No, all located—dead or alive. Everyone but Snape."
"I thought you would be thrilled to find him alive," commented Minerva.
"I would," answered Harry. "It's just…well, I never considered amnesia. I thought he was staying away on purpose. Starting a new life without all the painful reminders of his past. It was easier to just let him go when I thought he wanted to stay away.'
"If he wasn't dead, that is," said Minerva.
Harry glanced at the portrait yet again. "You know why I never really believed he was dead," he said.
"Yes, but there were theories to explain the lack of an official portrait," said Minerva. "That he essentially resigned as Headmaster when he abandoned the castle the night of the battle and went to his master."
"Not his true master," corrected Harry distractedly. He'd been correcting so many people on that point for so many years that he did it without even thinking anymore.
"Point taken," said Minerva.
"Just call him Voldemort," suggested Harry. "It's been twenty years."
"Old habits," replied Minerva, smiling.
Harry stood and picked up the nanny's letter, glancing again at the return address.
"Have you told anyone else?" he asked as he pocketed it.
"Well, aside from calling the Ministry and alerting The Daily Prophet, no." She shook her head. "Of course not, Harry. We really don't know anything yet…though I must admit to having a certain feeling about this."
Harry nodded. "I know what you mean. I'm just trying to convince myself to not be terribly disappointed if Stephen Squires is a blonde midget from Portugal."
Minerva chuckled, then added. "Harry, with Lily starting this year, it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring her along with you. That might help to reassure Anna and her father."
"And the boys?" he asked with barely concealed mirth. "Should I bring them along too? Introduce the Professor to his namesake?"
A look something between horror and humor passed over the headmistress's lined face. "You are joking, aren't you?"
Harry smiled. "I'm sure Hermione and Ron will take them on for the day," he said. He stared out the window next to Dumbledore's portrait for a moment then turned to Minerva with a faint smile. "I didn't tell you yet—I bought a cottage in Hogsmeade. All the Weasleys encouraged me and Molly helped pick it out. There's room for all of us, and it's set up well enough for Ginny if…" he trailed off then shook his head. "I guess we all thought it was time for a change, and it will give us a home close to Hogwarts for the summer."
"That's wonderful, Harry," said Minerva. She looked fondly at her old student. It had been more than a year now since Harry had retired from the Auror Corps to care for his wife. Ginny's Quidditch career had abruptly ended during a fan riot after her team, the Holyhead Harpies, took the national title in an upset over Puddlemere United. Two members of her team had been killed during the riot as fans from both teams pressed onto the field and stampeded the victory celebration. Ginny had suffered a severe head injury that had left her with long and short-term memory loss, personality changes and balance and coordination problems. After nearly a year of Harry caring for Ginny through intensive therapy, an experimental potions regimen and a month with a memory specialist from Sweden, Harry had worn himself to a thread. After a cold he couldn't seem to shake turned into pneumonia and Molly spent two weeks caring for Ginny while he recovered at St. Mungo's, Molly realized that Harry could not go on as he had been and the Weasleys staged an intervention. Arthur had heard of the vacancy at Hogwarts and called Minerva on Harry's behalf. Minerva offered the job to Harry on the spot and Arthur and Molly wore him down until he accepted it. It had been a long summer as Harry coped with the guilt of moving on but the Weasleys, the only real family he had ever had, rallied behind him, encouraging him. Minerva was happy to see how far Harry had come since she first met with him in June. Ginny had already been moved to the Burrow, where she seemed quite happy as she was more often than not mentally living life as a ten-year-old.
Harry looked around the office once more, letting his gaze fall on the portrait of Snape again. "Do you have a picture of Snape I can take with me? I'll try to arrange a meeting with the nanny outside of the home so I know what I'm dealing with before I get there."
"Excellent idea, Harry." Minerva stood and moved over to a large oak cabinet against the wall, the very one that had once contained Dumbledore's Pensieve. She pulled out a fat file, carried it back to her desk and began to riffle through it.
"Old staff photos," she said, pulling out several rather severe looking photos of Snape. Two were taken in this very office, obviously during the year Snape had spent as Headmaster. Harry chose one that showed him in profile, standing near the window.
"Thanks," he said as he turned to leave. "Wish me luck."
"If it is Severus," said Minerva to his back as he left her office, "Don't try to explain everything at once…it would be…well…overwhelming to say the least."
Harry turned and smiled at her.
Two days later, Harry Potter, his daughter Lily at his side, walked into a neighborhood park in Surrey and sat down on a bench while Lily ran for the swings. This last year had been a hard one for the entire family, and Lily had suffered more than the boys who were away at Hogwarts and not in the home experiencing the day to day trials of living with a mother who most days didn't know who they were. Now, hearing Lily laugh as she pumped herself higher and higher, Harry was reminded of the child she had been before the accident. Strange how Ginny's accident seemed to divide how they measured time, lumping everything into two buckets—before the accident, and after.
As he watched his daughter at play, his mind wove back to the memories Snape had gifted him all those years ago, of his mother swinging while Snape watched, swinging then sailing off the swing, landing lightly on the ground. His thoughts were interrupted by a woman and a girl walking into the park, hand in hand. He waved to them as they looked around the playground. The girl saw him wave and started pulling the nanny by the hand as she made her way toward him.
Harry stood and extended his hand to the pleasant-looking young woman, obviously Elizabeth Thompson, the nanny who had written to Minerva.
"Miss Thompson, thanks for agreeing to meet me," he said. He then turned and extended his hand to the child. Anna gazed up at him with dark, bright eyes.
"Are you really a wizard?" she asked in a rather loud whisper as she took his hand. She was dressed rather formally for the park, Harry noted.
"I am," he answered with a smile. "And just like you, I didn't know it until I got my Hogwarts letter. I'm one of the professors at Hogwarts. I hear you'd like to go there this term. "
"Very much," she answered, still holding tight to her nanny with her other hand. "But Papa's not agreed to it yet. He says Scotland is quite far away, but we've been there loads of time, haven't we, on our castle tours? Papa's really taken with castles and has become quite an expert. He also says the Hogwarts curriculum doesn't fully meet his expectations. I'm quite good at the harp, you know, and we didn't see music anywhere in the brochure Professor Sprout left. He's also quite keen on me continuing with maths, and world history. Oh, and he would like me to become fluent in at least one foreign language."
Probably not Gobbledygook, thought Harry. If he had had any doubt that Anna was Severus Snape's daughter, he didn't any longer.
"She can be rather precocious," interjected Elizabeth Thompson, rolling her eyes.
Harry smiled in reply and knelt down on one knee in front of the girl. Her hair, like her eyes, was dark like Snape's but she had a rounder, less angular face. "I've brought my daughter Lily with me to meet you," he said. "She'll be starting at Hogwarts this term as well. Would you like to meet her then play together while I speak with your nanny and then go meet your father?"
Anna nodded politely, looking curiously toward Lily as Harry walked over to stand in front of his daughter then deftly caught her as she hurled herself off the swing toward him.
Five minutes later, after quick introductions, the girls were both swinging and chatting amiably while Harry and Elizabeth sat on the bench. He could hear random pieces of the girls' conversation as the swings moved to and fro.
"…half-giant. He's practically as tall as a house!"
"Are there really ghosts?"
"A giant squid! It supposedly eats first-years…"
"…time for music lessons?"
"There's Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff…"
"Where do I buy a wand?"
"Oh, everyone knows my dad…"
Harry tried to tune out the girls as he spoke with Elizabeth.
"As I told you on the phone, we think we may know who Mr. Squires really is," he began. "I've brought a photo with me—it's twenty years old but if it is him, I think you'll know."
He held out a plain envelope and she took it from him and extracted the single photo.
"Definitely him," she said as she studied the photo. A knot, that hadn't been there before, tightened in Harry's stomach. Elizabeth looked up at him after a moment and handed it back. "This is all so unbelievable," she said. "Magic to begin with…and that Mr. Squires might actually get his past back again. How did you know him, anyhow?'
"He was a professor at Hogwarts," answered Harry, struggling to keep his voice even. He didn't know if he wanted to shout or to cry. It's him. It's really him. "He taught Potions there. What does he do now?"
"Research scientist," she answered. "He works mainly on pharmaceutical projects and specializes in brain chemicals. He's made quite a few advances in Alzheimer's treatment."
Harry filed that fact away. Why had he never considered consulting a Muggle specialist for Ginny? And how ironic that the man with no memories had become a specialist in brain chemicals and the treatment of memory loss?
"Why don't you go on to the house and meet him?" she suggested. "I'll stay here with the girls and come around in an hour or so. Lily, isn't it?" she asked, looking toward the two who were still swinging side by side, chatting and laughing loudly as small girls do. "He should have had another, really," she said. "Of course, it's not my place to say so…but he's so very good with her…"
Harry stood and wiped his palms against his trousers. He was terribly nervous. For so many years, he'd lived without closure on Snape's part in the war, in his life and in his defeat of Voldemort. Now he was about to see the man. "I'm an only child myself," he said, not offering an explanation of exactly why he had no brothers and sisters. What could he say—My parents were killed when I was 15 months old..I'm sure they would have had more children had they not been murdered… "But I have three myself—Lily's older brothers are already at Hogwarts."
Elizabeth smiled. "I hope at least one of them has your eyes." She was half-flirting, but Harry didn't mind.
"One does," he said. "He gets tired of being compared to me, though." But I never really got tired of people telling me I have my mother's eyes… "Do you think he'll let me in?" he asked. "When I get to the house?"
"He's been looking for answers for twenty years," she answered. "Show him the photo."
As he started to walk away, she called after him. "And you'd best convince him to let Anna attend that school. I'm moving to France with my boyfriend and am giving my notice next week!"
Five minutes later, Harry stood on the walk facing a brick cottage on the outskirts of Surrey, fortunately nowhere close to the Muggle neighborhood where he had spent 10 years of his own childhood. The home was small but well-kept and the yard was filled with gardens, plants of every sort overgrowing their confining beds. There were beds of flowers in riotous colors, herbs of every description, bushes and shrubs and vines. Oddly, Britain hadn't experienced a summer drought since the demise of Voldemort. Taking a deep breath, he began to walk up the path.
Moments later, the front door swung open to his knock. Harry had braced himself and carefully schooled his features, knowing that momentarily he would be looking at Severus Snape. He was not prepared, however, for the very Muggle-looking man that opened the door. He was wearing black trousers and a grey turtle-neck, his hair was cut short and he was clean-shaven. He looked better than Harry had ever seen him. Age had strengthened his appearance rather than weakened it. He must be 60 now, Harry mused as he held out his hand to the man. He was relieved to see that it wasn't shaking. He took a few deep breaths to keep from hyperventilating.
"Mr. Squires—I'm Harry Potter, from Hogwarts," he said, forcing a smile.
"The school for magic in Scotland," said Snape neutrally as he shook Harry's hand. "In that castle." His voice had the same timbre Harry remembered but it was softer and a little bit raspy. He was staring at Harry, looking for a moment like a lost boy, trying to dredge up some hidden, elusive memory. His voice cracked slightly as he dropped Harry's hand and took a step backward into the house. "I don't believe I'm going to change my decision but I'm willing to listen. Come in, please."
Harry followed him into the house, stopping in the entry hall as Snape himself had paused there. Snape was looking at Harry's clothing curiously. "You aren't dressed like the wizards in the brochure."
"I could hardly walk through your neighborhood in wizarding robes and a pointy hat," answered Harry. "Besides, I grew up as a Muggle—in Surrey, not too far from here actually."
"You lived in Surrey?" Snape rolled his eyes. "Small world, then." Harry silently agreed. Probably shouldn't tell Snape now that he had been best friends with Harry's mother.
"Your nanny contacted the school a few days ago," he said instead. "After hearing about Hogwarts and the magical world, she seems to think that you may be a wizard too."
Snape stared at Harry, his eyes sharp.
"Did she now?" he said. He sounded cautious.
"She said you lost your memory 20 years ago, and not so coincidentally it seems, we lost our Headmaster at the same time."
They still hadn't moved from the entry hall. Snape was staring unabashedly at Harry's scar. Harry tried not to look at Snape's turtleneck. The silence stretched on. Harry's palms were sweating. He'd had a lot of difficult conversations as an Auror but this trumped them all.
"Headmaster?" said Snape after a long pause.
"You recognize me?"
Harry nodded again. "Yeah, I do. I didn't think I'd ever see you again after you d…disappeared."
"I could hardly have been old enough twenty years ago to be a Headmaster," countered Snape.
"You were," said Harry. He hadn't anticipated that one. "Wizards age more slowly than Muggles, and can live nearly twice as long. You were the same age as my parents."
Snape looked incredulous. "Just how old are you?" he asked.
"I'm thirty-eight," answered Harry softly.
"Which makes me at least 60," answered Snape. His face took on a curious, ashen look.
Harry kept his eyes on Snape's, watching the man grapple with the realization that he was at least ten years older than he had thought he was.
"You haven't told me my name yet."
"Severus," answered Harry. "Severus Snape."
"Severus Snape? What kind of name is that?"
"A wizard name," answered Harry, half-truthfully. He'd never actually heard of another Severus, at least not until he'd named his second son Albus Severus. "Look, this is very complicated and it's going to take me a long time to explain it all. Can we sit? Maybe have something to drink?"
Snape stared at him a moment longer then nodded curtly, moving off to one of the rear rooms of the house with Harry following. Harry noticed in an ethereal sort of way that Snape still moved like the professor he remembered, seemingly gliding on the air even though he didn't have the benefit of robes. They entered a comfortable study with a sidebar and Snape poured each of them a measure of scotch, handed Harry his glass, and took a seat in one of the leather chairs.
"I need to know first if I have family," he stated abruptly, looking up quickly at Harry as he spoke.
Harry didn't know what answer Snape wanted but decided that the Snape he knew all those years ago would want the truth without sugar coating. He shook his head. "You weren't married. You had no children that I know of. Your parents died before you disappeared and you had no siblings. But I was only 17 when you disappeared—still a student. There are others that would know more about your extended family." He watched Snape's face. He seemed more relieved than disappointed. He began fiddling with the collar of his turtle-neck shirt as he cleared his throat. As Harry watched, he pulled the collar down to reveal the scar Harry already knew was there.
"Can you tell me how I got this scar?"
Be honest, Harry told himself as he looked for the first time on the horrible scar that marred Snape's neck. The puncture wounds had faded but the torn skin had apparently been healed in the Muggle way, with Muggle stitches, and the scarring was extensive. Snape let go of his collar and the turtleneck moved up to cover his neck again.
"Yes," answered Harry. "But…it's complicated." He already felt like he needed reinforcements—Hermione, or Arthur Weasley—better yet, why not all the Weasleys? Maybe someone from the medical profession should be here—he didn't know how much he should reveal to Snape—perhaps it could hurt Snape's chances of getting all his memories back.
"Go on, then."
In answer, Harry reached into his pocket and placed a miniature basket on the coffee table. He then slid his wand out of his wrist holster and enlarged the basket while Snape's sharp eyes followed his every move. He didn't jump or start when the basket expanded, keeping his eyes on Harry's wand instead of on the basket.
"That is your wand, then?" he asked as Harry rummaged through the Hogwarts "welcome" basket and pulled out a package of Chocolate Frogs. Harry nodded.
"All wands are different—made of different types of wood with different core materials."
"What is yours made of then?" asked Snape, still looking, with apparent fascination, at Harry's wand.
"Holly, with a phoenix feather core."
"Holly I know, but the phoenix is a mythical creature…ah…of course." He stopped speaking after seeing Harry's face. "I assume I had a wand? When I was a wizard?"
"You're still a wizard," answered Harry as he opened several packages of chocolate frogs, ignoring the chocolate frogs that hopped away off the table and onto the floor. "And yes, of course you had a wand."
"Now I know I'm hallucinating," said Snape as a frog leapt from the table onto the couch then disappeared over the top.
"They taste good, too," Harry said, grinning. He gathered a dozen cards into a pile and went through them, pulling one out and setting it aside. "Chocolate frogs come with wizarding trading cards—each one featuring a famous wizard. Here you are." He slid the Snape card across the table toward Severus, who reached for it tentatively. He paled as he read it, staring at the photo for a long time.
"A snake. A giant snake. This cannot be real." His hand went to his neck reflexively, fingering the scar—with its puncture wounds and tears. "I'm described as a Death Eater and a spy. I've no idea what a Death Eater is but it doesn't sound like a profession you'd choose for your child. Your world will not want me back."
Harry smiled and shook his head. "You're wrong about that. Our world considers you a hero."
Snape picked up the card again and considered it. He frowned as he reread the back.
"What is an Order of Merlin?" he asked.
"Rather like being knighted, I suppose," said Harry.
"It says that I am 'presumed dead.' That my body was never found. Imagine that."
"We did look," said Harry, feeling defensive. He could have added for years but didn't really want to show his hand yet.
Snape was eying the pile of Chocolate Frog cards Harry had discarded in his search for Severus' own card. He reached out and drew them to him and Harry couldn't help an intake of breath. He knew what else was in the pile and he hadn't yet told Severus that he had murdered the headmaster nor had he let on what role he himself had played in the great war.
"Look," said Harry as Severus straightened the pile and picked up the top card—fortunately Neville Longbottom. "There's a lot more to tell you and frankly, it would be best if you didn't get all your information from children's trading cards…"
"Why ever not?" asked Snape, a hint of his old snarkiness showing through. "They're colorful and succinct. Why, this one features a giant decapitated snake. I assume the same one that gave me the scar?" He looked up to see Harry's reluctant nod. "Why, I must thank Mr. Longbottom for avenging my supposed murder, then. And look—here's a redhead with spots—a Mr. Ronald Weasley. Says he's a great strategist, best friend of Harry Potter, the Chosen One, the Boy who…" His voice trailed off as he glanced up at Harry, quickly finished reading the card then picked up the next. Damn. Dumbledore.
"You may want to call in reinforcements, Mr. Potter," said Snape as he finished the last card. "I have a great many questions."
"I told you it was complicated," said Harry. "Look, I really don't want to sit here and tell you everything. There's a good chance you'll get your memories back…."
"Impossible," said Snape. "I have tried everything…"
"Except magic," interrupted Harry. "You haven't tried magic. There are reasons you may not be able to access your memories…magical reasons."
"Oh?" said Snape. Is left eyebrow raised in what Harry remembered as a very Snape-like gesture. "Given the content of those trading cards, I'm not sure I should still want them back."
The front door opened just then and a child's voice exclaimed "Papa! Papa! They have ghosts at the castle! And a poltergeist named Peeves. And a half-giant named Hagrid! And a giant squid in the lake! What's the squid's name, Lily?"
Harry grinned as Snape's face softened at the sound of his daughter's voice. "I brought my daughter to meet Anna. She's starting at Hogwarts this year."
"That's playing dirty," said Snape. He scowled but Harry thought he looked more amused than irritated. "Anna will never let this go now." He reached out to grab a chocolate frog that was hopping across the table, examined it then bit its head off. "I'm not prepared to send my only child off to Scotland."
"All the more reason for you to rejoin the magical world then—you could come back to Hogwarts and see her every day."
The two girls barreled into the room before Snape could reply. Anna threw her arms around her father as Lily plopped herself unceremoniously down on Harry's lap.
"They DO have music there, Papa! We've got to go see Hogwarts. How can you really know if it's bad or good if we haven't at least visited?"
Snape looked at his daughter a long moment then shot a grinning Harry a rather malevolent look before turning to address his daughter.
"Fine. We'll arrange a visit." He pulled some dried grass out of Anna's hair, looking at her curiously. Harry wondered then if Anna wasn't in the habit of getting dirty. "Next week, then?"
"How about today?" suggested Harry. "It's not much past noon. We've got plenty of time still."
"To get to Scotland?" protested Snape. "Are you daft or what?"
"Magic, Papa," said Anna, pulling on her father's hand. "You're forgetting about magic."
"Can we put them on the floo network, Dad?" asked Lily.
"Flu network?" repeated Snape.
"I think a portkey may be less traumatic, don't you?" answered Harry. "Time to call in those reinforcements. Will you stay here with Anna while I go fetch Aunt Hermione?"
"Sure Dad," she said, unconcerned as Harry stood, turned and with a crack disappeared.
"Anyone want to play exploding Snap?" asked Lily brightly, pulling a worn deck of cards from her pocket. She seemed oblivious to the fact that her new friend Anna and her father were still staring at the spot where her father had stood until a few seconds ago.
Twenty minutes later, when Harry Potter and Hermione Granger apparated directly into Snape's home, they found Snape, Anna and Lily sitting at the kitchen table playing Snap.
"I love magic," sighed Anna as the card she was holding over the pile exploded.
Snape was staring at Harry and Hermione, looking both startled and intrigued. Both of his eyebrows were obviously singed.
"Hermione Granger-Weasley," said Hermione, shaking Snape's hand.
"I've always hated traveling in cars," said Snape. "Now I think I know why. Magical travel seems much more efficient."
Hermione and Harry exchanged a significant look, both of them undoubtedly thinking of the way Snape had traveled magically in the year or so before the end.
"Oh, it is," answered Hermione. "And it's not limited to apparition. There's travel by floo and by broom and by port key too."
"And don't forget the Knight Bus!" exclaimed Lily, giggling as Anna tried to catch a rogue chocolate frog.
"A wizarding bus?" asked Anna. "Do you have a wizarding train too, or your own tube?"
"We use the Muggle underground sometimes," answered Lily. "But we do have our own train—it's called the Hogwarts Express and it leaves from King's Cross Station—Platform 9 ¾."
"I've been to King's Cross loads of times!" exclaimed Anna. "But I didn't know they had fractional platforms!"
Hermione set her lips, trying not to smile.
"What, no flying carpets?" asked Snape.
"Mostly outlawed in this country," answered Hermione, this time allowing herself to smile. "And strictly controlled by the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office at the Ministry. It's good to see you again, sir. Harry never gave up hope, you know. That we'd find you some day."
"Didn't he?" said Snape, looking hard at Harry. "He didn't say. In fact, I suspect there's a lot he isn't saying."
"That's probably for the best," answered Hermione. "We really should consult with a memory specialist…"
"I am a memory specialist," interrupted Snape.
"Yes, of course," said Hermione. Harry noted that she'd now adopted her professional demeanor. "I should have been more specific—we really should consult with a specialist on memory loss in wizards. A skilled Legilimens, perhaps…" She looked over at Harry significantly. He was the best of the best now, a talent developed during his years as an Auror.
"I'm going to have to learn an entirely new vocabulary," commented Snape dryly.
"You can learn with me, Papa," said Anna, quite sincerely.
"Of course I can," answered Snape, smoothing her hair out distractedly.
"How about I get out of your hair for the rest of the day?" asked a voice from the doorway.
"Yes, that will be fine, Miss Johnson," answered Snape.
The nanny ducked out of the room and Harry picked up one of the Chocolate Frog cards from the table—Ron's card, it turned out. He held his wand over it and muttered "Portus." The card glowed blue for a moment. He then set the destination and activation phrase.
"You've turned my husband into a port key?" asked Hermione, shaking her head.
"That's my Uncle Ron," commented Lily. "He's awfully funny. I hope you get to meet him soon, Anna. And Uncle George too. He only has one ear, you know." She looked significantly over at Snape and Harry shot her his "now is not the time" look.
"Everyone come on over here—you need to be standing up for this. Put a finger on the card—that's right, just one will do. Ready?"
Snape rolled his eyes. "Do you realize how ridiculous we look?"
Anna giggled. Her laughter was suddenly cut off as the group disappeared as the ground seemed to drop out beneath them.
When they arrived at Hogwarts, Harry was quite surprised to see that only the girls had to pick themselves off the ground. Snape was solidly on his feet, staring at the castle looming up before them.
"That was an interesting way to travel," commented Snape. "Quite efficient, if you can get over the feeling of having your guts extracted through your navel."
"Look familiar?" asked Harry as he joined Snape in staring at Hogwarts.
"Unfortunately, no," answered Snape. "But it's magnificent—one of the best I've seen." He reached out for his daughter's hand.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" he asked. "Let's get this show on the road."
He began striding purposefully across the lawn up toward the castle, looking for all the world like he owned the place and was claiming his rightful spot on the throne.
Harry sent his Patronus ahead to warn Minerva. His message was simple.
"The Prince has returned."