Thanks to Badgerlady as always.
Feeling oddly bereft after Snape left the house, Harry made his way up to Ron's room, where he, Hermione and Ginny were all gathered. Ron and Ginny were playing a game of chess on the little table while Hermione sat on Ron's bed reading a thick tome called Magical Contracts: An Introduction to Reciprocal Magic.
The other three glanced at each other as he came in. Harry threw himself onto the bed he'd been sleeping in.
"So, what did Snape want?" asked Ron in a would-be casual tone. He kept his face turned towards the board and took one of Ginny's pawns. She wasn't paying much attention to the game; rather, she was biting her lip and looking worriedly at Harry.
"Dumbledore wants to talk to him about something. He wanted to let me know he was leaving, but he's taking me back to Hogwarts tonight. I guess school is reopening soon." Harry shifted the pillow around to prop himself against the wall. Idly, he thought he'd better pack. He'd only brought a few books and a couple of changes of clothes that Mrs. Weasley had laundered, so it wouldn't take much time.
"How come he's taking you with him?" asked Ron. "Why can't you stay here?" He looked up from the game, his brows pulled together, then he turned back to the board and sighed with exasperation. "Are you planning on making a move, or are you just going to stare at it?" he asked Ginny rudely.
She started, seeming to need to tear her gaze away from Harry. "Shut up, Ron." She looked at her pieces, which began yelling advice at her.
Harry wasn't about to tell them that it was his choice; they'd think him out of his mind. "I think he wants to make sure I don't get into any more trouble," he replied offhandedly.
Ron's worried expression gave way to a little half smile, as if he found that reassuring.
After another few seconds of dithering, Ginny moved one of her rooks. Ron immediately took it. Ginny scowled at the board and crossed her arms.
"Any more trouble?" Ron asked, sounding interested. "Have you been getting in trouble since school closed?"
Harry mentally kicked himself. "No, not really... not as such... Just, you know,,," He trailed off, not sure how to explain what he'd been going through. "Just the usual stuff."
Ron nodded sympathetically. "It must've been boring, all on your own."
Trying to think of something innocuous to say, Harry said, "Snape did think I was a house-elf the first couple days we were there." That was almost funny now.
"Why would he think that?" Ginny asked, tilting her head to one side.
Harry smiled a little. "You know how he keeps falling asleep? He never realized I was the one doing all the cooking and cleaning because he couldn't keep awake for more than ten minutes. He said that house-elves had followed him home before and he just thought one had done it again."
Ron gave Harry a funny look. "You clean as well as a house-elf?"
He shrugged. "I guess. Dumbledore thought so, too. Then Dumbledore accused me of using magic to clean," he finished resentfully. That still rankled—in fact, thinking about Dumbledore at all made Harry's stomach sour with anger.
"Fred and George do, if they think they can get away with it. That's why Bill keeps going out to check up on them," Ron replied reasonably.
"Well, I didn't." Harry sniffed, feeling insulted. He crossed his arms across his chest. "I don't need magic to do a little housework and put a kettle on."
Something must have been off in his tone. Ginny and Ron looked at each other uncomfortably. "You must have been doing a lot more than putting the kettle on for him to think it was a house-elf," Ron said slowly. Ginny scowled at him. "Well, he must've done," Ron told her defensively.
"Snape's been pretty out of it," said Harry, feeling a little desperate to change the subject again. It seemed like there were no safe subjects.
"Where did he think a house-elf came from?" Hermione looked up from her book, "I thought
only big estates had house-elves. Like the Malfoys." Harry realized he hadn't thought of that.
"Well, from school, of course," Ginny replied matter-of-factly, turning to her. "Who else do you think does all the cleaning?"
"There's house-elves at Hogwarts? I didn't know that. I've never seen one," Hermione said in surprise.
Ron shook his head. "You're not supposed to see them, are you? Not unless they need to do something for you. Mum would love one, but Auntie Muriel's got the Prewett manor, and the house-elf goes with it. Mum says Muriel needs the help."
Hermione nodded, looking unsatisfied about something.
Again the three glanced at each other. Wordlessly. both Ginny and Ron nodded at Hermione.
"Harry?" Hermione said sounding tentative. "Can I ask you something?"
"What?" snapped Harry, bracing himself for a Hermione-style interrogation. She was probably going to ask if he was losing his mind or something. He'd been waiting for weeks for her to ask about his meltdown in the train station. The truth was, he was pretty sure he was crazy, no matter what Snape said about that.
"Erm... Ginny and I... Well, Bill gave her this book because it had a bit on the Tribuo Vita spell and I've been reading it and... well... we were wondering…" She started to turn red and she looked at Ginny and Ron as if for rescue. "We were wondering if…" she trailed off, biting her lip.
Ginny looked at Ron and nodded at him. He shook his head at her. "Don't look at me," he said stoutly, "I don't reckon its any of our business," although he looked back at Harry with an odd expression.
Ginny just ducked her head, looking away from everyone.
"What?" Harry demanded.
Hermione drew in a breath and on the exhale asked, "Did you know you're related to Snape?"
Harry went cold. "What?" he tried to stall a little. "Why would you ask that?"
"Well first, because only a blood relative can arrange a betrothal." Hermione's voice was still soft but it had that tone of surety she had when she was absolutely certain of her answer. "Second, because I looked it up. Only a blood relative can take over custody without a hearing." She stopped. There was more—Harry could see it in her eyes—but she faltered and bit her lip.
Ginny and Ron stared at him, as though trying to gauge how he was taking her words.
He knew they wouldn't ridicule him (probably), but their pitying looks would be much worse. Marge used to call him "that little bastard" sometimes, saying that an overdue wedding didn't change the facts. How she would laugh to discover that his mother's husband wasn't actually his father.
He sucked in his breath and said, "Yeah...he told me." His voice didn't sound like his.
"So...what'd he say?" asked Ron when Harry didn't go on, belying his earlier none-of-our-business attitude.
"I…" Harry's stomach turned over. Mortified, he realized that the damned potion was failing on him again.
"Harry? You all right? You don't look good."
He stood up quickly and fled to the bathroom before he spewed all over the bed.
He didn't throw up this time. He sat on the bathroom floor, calmed his breathing, and the nausea passed.
Ginny yelled for Mrs. Weasley.
The three of them were just outside the door by the sound of it. "He looked just like that at the train station when he thought we were taking him back to his aunt and uncle's," he heard Hermione say in a low voice. "My mum said it was an anxiety attack."
"All right, dear. I'll look after him," Mrs. Weasley replied. "Harry, dear?" she called, knocking on the door. "Are you decent?"
Harry just sat with his back up against the wall and his eyes closed. " 'M alright," he muttered.
After a moment she said, "I just want to check on you, all right?" A soft alohomora and the door opened and shut.
Mrs. Weasley's cool hand pressed up against his forehead.
"You're all clammy." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper. "I daresay you've had too much excitement these last few days." In a softer voice still, she said, "Does this have anything to do with what Professor Snape told you?"
His eyes snapped open. She was on one knee in front of him so she could look him in the face. Her expression was kind and concerned, but there was no pity in it.
"You know what he told me?" he asked in a strangled whisper, angry again.
Mrs. Weasley sighed and brushed Harry's damp hair back from his forehead. She summoned a flannel and poured water on it from her wand. Then she sat down on the floor next to him pressing it to his forehead.
"Professor Snape told me all about it," she said. "I'm sure it must be very hard for you to hear right now." Very gently she nudged him to lean against her.
"He said that he...He and my mum…" he trailed off, unable to say it out loud. "W-why would she do that?" Harry demanded, scooting away from her.
"Listen to me, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said slowly. "You have to understand, your mother loved James Potter. His parents had been killed by the other side just after the wedding and James was the last Potter." She hesitated. "He was also in a dangerous job. If he died, the Potter name would die out. He... wanted to have a child."
Harry didn't get what she was trying to say for a minute. Then, "Professor Snape said he couldn't have kids."
Mrs. Weasley nodded. "Yes. It's one of those diseases that runs in families. So your mother asked him to help her."
"That's what he said." He felt wrung out. He squeezed his eyes shut. Mrs. Weasley put her arm around him again. He gave in to the gentle pressure against his shoulder, gradually trusting his weight to her.
After a few moments, he felt less fragile.
"Better now?" she asked kindly.
He nodded, shamefaced.
She stood up, waved her wand and muttered, "Finite." Harry realized she'd had a silencing spell up. "You need to get packed now. Professor Snape said he'd be back by half past six."
"Mrs. Weasley," Harry said in a rush, looking up at her. "Did you really put in to adopt me?"
She turned to look at him, her face very gentle. "Yes. We did."
"I…" He had to take a breath around a lump in his throat. "Why?"
She sat back down on the floor. "Because we'd love to have you." She raised her hand to stop him when he opened his mouth. "You can come to us any time... but... you know, Professor Snape and I talked it over. He said he thought you and he should have some more time to get to know each other, if you're willing?"
Harry nodded, relieved that the professor had told Mrs. Weasley that it was his idea that Harry should go back to Hogwarts. He didn't like to think that she'd be hurt.
She beamed, looking pleased. "I'm so proud of you that you're willing to try." She glanced at the door, then said, "Perhaps getting to know your... your mother's cousin would be a good thing then?" She winked. "He's obviously not as close as your aunt, but he's still blood, now isn't he?"
Harry stared at her, confused.
She rolled her eyes (she looked exactly like Fred and George when she did that—like they did when they were trying to get you to go along with a prank but you weren't cottoning on fast enough), then patiently tried again. "You know, I realize it must be rather shocking to discover that your grandmother and Professor Snape's father were brother and sister?" she said. "The Ministry wouldn't have those records, and I understand there was a Muggle war when your grandparents were young. Many Muggle records were lost, you know."
The penny dropped.
"Oh...yeah." He looked at the door, too. "It...It's an awful shock. That makes him sort of my uncle, right?" He said it a bit more loudly than he intended.
A small noise of comprehension, so faint that Harry wasn't entirely sure he'd heard it came from the other side of the door.
Suddenly life seemed a lot easier. Snape had said something about saying they were related through Muggle relatives if the whole mess came out. This way his friends wouldn't have to lie for him.
"Yes, I think it does." Mrs. Weasley nodded, smiling. "I think your Uncle Severus wants some time to get to know you properly."
Something Harry had been wondering for days crossed his mind. He asked before he could lose his nerve, "Why is he so different now?"
"He always acted like he couldn't stand the sight of me before and now all of a sudden he's almost nice."
The witch sighed, her face becoming very serious. She said, "People are complicated. He and your mother were very close, from what I understand?"
"Yes, the lady next door said he and my mother were inseparable." Harry couldn't help but sneer the last word.
"Grief is...strange," Mrs. Weasley told him quietly. "Sometimes we get angry at people who survive because we're so angry at the people who didn't."
Harry nodded; this he could understand. "Yeah, my aunt always told me it should have been me that died."
Mrs. Weasley went white as a sheet. "Harry! Don't ever say that!" she said, sounding fierce.
Harry flinched at the sound of her voice. Reflexively he ducked his head and raised his hand as he always did when someone made a sharp movement too close to him.
There was a little silence. Slowly Harry looked up at Mrs. Weasley's face. "Oh, Harry." Her eyes were very bright. "I am sorry. I didn't mean…" She blew out her breath and shook her head. "Never mind, love." She brushed her hair back from her face and stood up again.
Harry scrambled to his feet.
Mrs. Weasley reached into the bathroom cabinet and pulled out a bottle of potion and a little measuring teaspoon. She poured some out and held it for Harry. "Professor Snape said you could have some of this, if your stomach got upset," she said.
Harry nodded and took it, grimacing a little at the taste.
She gave him a watery smile. "You know, I think that part of the reason Professor Snape has never really wanted to know you is that he reckoned that there was no chance he could have you with him. Sometimes, if we want something we can't have, we try to convince ourselves that we don't really want it."
He thought he understood that.