Unbetaed. Will replace when betaed.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the folks in the US.
At quarter after six, Harry was packed and waiting in the sitting room, near the fire. He tried not to be nervous as the seconds ticked by, but he couldn't help but anxiously look at the clock.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Bill were in the kitchen talking quietly. The twins had just come in and gone directly upstairs to change their clothes. Hermione had gone home at five and Ron was sitting with Harry reading his comics.
At twenty minutes past six, there was a small flurry among the adults as a post owl flew through the kitchen window.
"Another special edition." Bill said, sounding irritable, "So what is it this time? Rita Skeeter dragging another poor sod's miserable home life all over the front page? I swear the Prophet is getting lower every day."
"I notice you still read it. " Observed one of the twins as they came noisily downstairs."
There was the sound of the paper opening"Merlin's beard!" Mr Weasley gasped, "You won't believe this!"
For one awful second, Harry worried that it might be an article about him like the one that was in the Muggle newspaper. He turned to look through the doorway at the three in the kitchen.
Mr. Weasley was sitting at the table, holding the paper so that Harry couldn't see the headline. Bill and Mrs. Weasley were sitting with him. "Sirius Black was cleared of all charges!"
"You're joking!" exclaimed Mrs. Weasley. She stood to read the paper over Mr. Weasley's shoulder.
Harry might have gone in to see what all the excitement was about, if the Floo hadn't flamed green at the moment.
Professor Snape stepped out of the fire, looking tense. His eyes swept the room, taking in the little commotion in the kitchen. So involved with the news about Sirius Black were the Weasleys that they didn't actually notice the professor coming in.
He sighed and made a little hmph noise in his throat. "Well, I had hoped to get here before that did."
Something about Snape's face didn't look right. He didn't look angry 0r sneering, he looked curiously sad as he gazed at the Weasleys.
As if feeling his eyes on her, Mrs. Weasley whipped her head around. "Severus!" She smiled and bustled over. "Right on time, dear. Do you want a cup of tea before you leave?"
Snape smiled slightly, wiping away the melancholy of a moment ago. "No thank you, Molly." The expression was startling on his harsh face. "Thank you for your hospitality."
Mrs. Weasley made a little scoffing sound in her throat, "It was nothing, Severus. Nothing at all." Her voice was warm and pleased. She hesitated, then she leaned forward and hugged the professor as though he were one of her sons. Snape reached up to awkwardly pat her shoulder looking a lot like Harry always felt when she did this; pleased, but befuddled as to why anyone would be hugging him.
Snape cleared his throat when Mrs. Weasley released him, hurriedly indicating that Harry should precede him.
Mrs. Weasley gathered Harry into into a tight hug. "You take care of yourself, all right?" Her voice dropped, "And see if you can't get Professor Snape to look after himself too."
Harry smiled, "I'll do my best." When she let go, he picked up his gear and took a pinch of Floo powder, "Er...where are we going?" He asked not wanting to call for the wrong fireplace.
"My office." Snape supplied, "Lupin is there already." Was it Harry's imagination or did Snape suddenly look nervous?
He took a pinch of the Floo powder and tossed it into the fireplace. A second later he was tumbling onto the carpet of Snape's office.
"Harry!" Lupin exclaimed, smiling as he came forward to help Harry with his bag and hurry him out of the way as Snape emerged from the fire.
Snape stumbled as he left the fire. He would have fallen had not another man reached out from the shadows beside the fire to steady him.
"Unhand me," snarled the Potion's Master.
The man let go and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, "Sorry...I was just...trying to help." His voice was gravelly.
"Well, don't." Snape hissed in a tone he hadn't used since they'd left Hogwarts. "We're going to explain the situation to Harry and then the both of you can get out." He brushed off his robe, his face taking on that odd nervous tension again. Crossing the room, he sat down at the desk and indicated to Harry that he should also sit.
"Did you eat?" He asked Harry.
"Yes, sir." Harry said, uncomfortable under the stares of Lupin and this other man. "Mrs. Weasley made me have something."
Lupin pulled up another chair as did the stranger. A tea tray sat on the desk and without asking him, Lupin poured a cup of tea and set it in front of Harry.
"What's going on?" asked Harry suddenly twigging that something was very wrong even though the tea didn't smell of old socks.
Snape made an irritable noise in his throat. "Harry, I would like to introduce you to Sirius Black."
"Umm...isn't he the one who..?"
"The Ministry has been hunting all this time?" The shaggy haired man asked in his gravelly voice. "Yes. That's me." He smiled wryly. "But, as of six hours ago I was cleared of all charges."
"And more importantly, he has been protecting you all term. Unknown to all of us." Lupin smiled at the man fondly, "You see, he had information that one of Voldemort's minions had gotten close to you. Not a safe situation."
"Gotten close to me?" asked Harry, unsettled.
"Not to worry." Snape said, catching his eyes "That man has been taken away by the Aurors."
"Oh." Harry said, pretending to understand. He waited while the three men exchanged glances.
"You see," Lupin went on, "Your friend Ron's rat was actually a wizard in disguise. An unregistered Animagus."
"What?" He looked around at the three adults. If it had been anyone but Snape saying this, he might have suspected them of teasing him. "But...how? That rat's been in Ron's family for..."
"Twelve years." The scruffy man growled, "Rather a long time for a rat to live, don't you think? He was biding his time. Waiting for the right moment to act." He looked directly at Harry. His grey eyes were almost feverishly bright. "As soon as I found out I had to come. I knew I needed to protect you. I knew he was here. I escaped from Azkaban and came here. In disguise. I've been watching over you all term."
"What do you mean? What disguise?" Harry asked slowly.
In answer, the man stood up, then he seemed to melt, taking the shape of a giant black dog.
"No bloody way." Harry stood up so fast the chair tipped, his stomach clenched up into a tight hot knot and his heart pounding in his head.
He backed up, intending to flee the room. He wasn't sure where, but he needed out of this room right now.
Naturally the door was locked.
"Let me out." Harry said quietly, holding the doorknob with one shaking hand.
"Harry." Said the man who used to be Snuffles, "Listen, I'm.."
Harry whirled, "Don't you dare say you're sorry! I'm tired of people saying they're sorry! Nobody's sorry and nobody gives a toss about me. They never have! They only care about something they think I did when I was a baby!" he gasped for breath.
Snape cleared his throat."Harry." he said softly. "Stop."
It was the Storyteller voice. For some reason, it stopped Harry cold before he could really get into his rant.
Snape walked forward a pace, holding Harry's eyes with his own. He reached out, as though to put his hand on his shoulder, but seemed to think better of it.
"I can't change the past, but..." The stern man hesitated, looking supremely uncomfortable "But I assure you that many people do care for you. We've..." he paused to swallow and dart his eyes at the other men, "I've made terrible mistakes. I should have taken up my responsibilities much sooner. You are are quite right."
Harry swallowed hard, then sniffed, willing the lump in his throat away.
Sirius Black sat back in his chair, "I should tell you...I don't know if anyone's told you, but I'm your godfather." He glanced at Snape, "I don't want to cause you trouble, but I'd like the chance to get to know you."
"You already know me pretty well." Harry crossed his arms across his chest, resentfully, "I told you enough. When you were lying to me and pretending to be my familiar." He burned with shame at some of the things he'd admitted to the dog. Private things. How the Dursley's treated him. How he felt about Neville.
The man brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Well, yes. But I was a dog at the time and what I mostly heard were the feelings. Its hard to remember the words from when I was a dog."
"I..." That would make it slightly less humiliating, but Harry wasn't at all sure he was ready to believe that.
"So, what Black would like, " Snape jumped in, "Is to be allowed to spend time with you. It is completely up to you."
"Up to me?" asked Harry puzzled.
Black nodded, "Harry, for all I don't remember the specifics of the situation, I know its been difficult for you. You don't need to decide now. Think about it."
"Sirius has told the press that he doesn't want custody of you because he hasn't dealt with the stress of Azkaban." Lupin put, "He has told them that he is going to insist on your custody going to your closest Wizarding relative because he doesn't think you should be with Muggles."
"Why do you get to decide?" Harry asked confused.
"Because your father's will specified that you were to come to me, if something happened to them. I'm your godfather. Everyone knows it. This way, it won't look odd to anyone." Black said simply. "Since your closest Wizarding relative is, apart from me, none other than Severus Snape. Your mother's..." Black gave Harry a sly grin and cleared his throat, "...cousin."
Harry was having a hard time keeping track of all these new relationships he apparently had. "But he's really my..." He paused not sure if he should go on.
Black nodded, "Yes, I know. I've always known." He said quietly, "It's actually a fairly common issue with pure blood families, though most of them won't admit it."
"So, we're going with this cover story." Lupin said, gently. "This way, even if people do find out about the Dursley's, you won't have half the Wizarding World trying to get custody of you."
Harry nodded, hoping the conversation was over. He just felt like he couldn't take another thing. He slumped with his back against the door. For some reason he still felt like he wanted to sit down and cry.
Snape came to his rescue. "Gentlemen," he said, "I think we can finish this conversation later. I do believe that Harry and I are in need of some peace and quiet."
The two other men looked at each other and stood as one. Black looked at Snape, then said, "Let me know if you need any help."
Snape's lip curled, but all he said was "Of course." To Harry, he said, "Until the other students return, you'll be sleeping in my quarters. I've had the house elves furnish one of the spare rooms for you."
Harry pushed away from the door he'd been leaning on to get out of the two men's way, realizing that although it was barely seven o'clock, he was ready for bed.
Snape looked done in too. He didn't even see Lupin and Black to the office door. Instead he beckoned Harry to the inner door.
Snape's personal apartment was furnished in the same lavish grey and green as the Slytherin common room, with the window showing out onto the black lake bottom. It was tidier than Spinner's end, and the floor to ceiling bookshelves were polished and dust free. An enormous fire was burning in the fireplace.
Snape didn't give Harry any time to really look around, "Come along, Harry." the professor was already halfway down a little side passage. "This is your room." He opened the first door on the right and went in, seeming to trust that Harry would follow.
Inside was a four poster with red bed curtains that looked exactly like the one he slept in in Gryffindor tower. His trunk was at the end of the bed and his broomstick leaned up against the wall. There were tapestries depicting Quidditch hung on the stone walls and velvet curtains were drawn across a large window. Harry was glad the curtains were drawn. He thought he'd find looking out at the lake bottom at night kind of creepy.
Otherwise, the room was actually very pleasant. The fire burned brightly on the hearth lent the room a cheerful air and a merry looking, red haired young girl waved at him from a small framed picture on top of the mantel piece.
It was the only photo in the room. "Who is that?" asked Harry, stepping closer to take a better look at the photograph. The moment the words left his mouth, the penny dropped. "Wait...is that..?" But he knew who it must be.
"Your mother." Snape said stiffly, "It's the only photo I have of her." The man shifted nervously, "I thought you might...like to have it." He paused and averted his eyes, "If you don't want it, I understand...I..."
Something like a small explosion went off inside of Harry's chest. "I..." his throat was too tight to speak. He peered at the photo; the girl stood in bright sunlight and she laughed soundlessly as she waved at Harry.
Without realizing it, he'd taken the picture down from the mantle and was staring at it. "Professor?" he asked thickly.
"Yes, Harry?" Snape was standing right behind him.
"I..." To Harry's horror, he felt tears slide down his cheeks. He wanted to ask the professor why he'd given him his only picture of Lily. The frame was expensive looking and the picture looked as though it had been there a long time, so it wasn't an old photo the man had just dug up. Or at least it didn't seem that way. It was one of Snape's own treasured keepsakes, of his best friend. Of the girl he'd confided in and laughed with. The girl with whom he was inseparable.
There was no reason for Snape to give him this, not a single reason, except...Harry pushed the thought away before it formed.
Immediately, another thought took its place. One that was almost as unbelievable, but less uncomfortable; there was no reason to do it except to be kind. Strange as that seemed, he did want to make Harry's life better.
"Harry?" Snape's arm slipped around his shoulder. "Are you...?"
The boy clutched the photo to his chest and turned his face away, embarrassed.
"It's all right." The tall man said.
Harry shook his head and tried to step away, but Snape wouldn't let him. "Sit down." He steered them to sit on the bed. "I didn't mean to upset you."
Giving Snape a jerky shrug, Harry tried to get a grip on himself. Fortunately, the man didn't seem to expect an answer.
They sat there silently for a long time. When Harry felt like he could say something without bawling like a child, he said, "Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome." Snape's voice was soft, "All right, now?"
"Well, I should let you get ready for bed, then." He stood and then said hesitantly, "My room is right next door." He went over to one of the tapestries and pushed it aside to reveal another bedroom. "If you need me, you can ring this bell." He let the tapestry fall and flicked an embroidered bell. It gave a clear, two toned "ding-dong" that sounded like a doorbell, "I'm not..." he cleared his throat, "I don't think its a good idea to put a door here, right now. Eventually we'll want one. The bathroom is the same." he indicated the other tapestry, "For the moment, I don't feel good about you being able to lock me out." Turning back, he said, "I realize this might seem like punishment. I'm sorry, but I couldn't..." He caught Harry's eyes. "I wish I'd thought to be more careful sooner. I regret that I wasn't."
They stared at each other for a few heartbeats more, before Snape seemed to shake himself. "Well, good night, Harry." He said, walking through the opening in the wall and letting the tapestry fall closed behind him.
Harry shook his head. This evening was just one more weird stressful evening in a year of weird stressful evenings.
He unpacked the little rucksack that had his pajamas and books in it. He was was surprised at the size of his bathroom, but he didn't do more than brush his teeth. Tommorrow he would investigate his new room. He was asleep almost the minute his head hit the pillow.
It was some hours later when he woke up out of one of those horrible dreams he'd been having lately, his bed soaked in cold sweat. For a few minutes, he lay in the dark, trying to sort real from dream. Longingly he wished that Hedwig was here, but she was all the way up in the owlery. His mind turned to Snuffles then and that great black wave of grief threatened to cover him again. It didn't matter that Snuffles wasn't actually dead-he was just as beyond reach now.
He thought about the night he'd tried to hang himself. He wondered if there was any way to off himself that didn't hurt.
He thought about the promise he'd given Snape. He'd sworn he wouldn't hurt himself. If he were dead, did promises matter? They mattered now, though.
He heard sound from the other room.
"Yes, I know." Snape said, as if in answer to someone, "But, I'm sure the boy doesn't need to hear such sentiments from me, of all people."
It sounded like Snape was talking to someone, but Harry didn't hear a second voice. He crawled out of bed and one of the torches kindled itself, apparently spelled to do so when someone was moving about.
Being careful not to touch it, in case it made a noise, Harry got right up next to the tapestry that led to Snape's room.
A pause, and then, "Lily, I appreciate..." Snape stopped speaking, as if he'd been interrupted. Snape was talking in his sleep apparently. He spoke very clearly, for all that.
"No, I have no desire to speak to my father, thank you very much..." a long pause, then, "No. Absolutely not. You can just put that fucking idea right out of your bloody mind."
He couldn't help it, hearing that out of the mouth of his stern guardian, Harry snorted softly with laughter.
Snape was a light sleeper. "Harry?" he called, "Is that you?"
Seeing nothing for it, Harry called back, "Er, yes sir." He backed up, towards the bed.
Snape pushed aside the tapestry and came through, looking far too awake for someone who'd just been muttering in their sleep. "Are you all right?" he asked sharply.
Nodding, Harry hurriedly got back into bed. "Bad dream." he admitted, not wanting to talk about the thoughts he'd just been having.
The wizard came over to his bed side and pulled the chair from the desk to sit in. "I had one too." he said, gravely.
Harry nodded again. "I heard you talking in your sleep. To my mum, I think." Then, greatly daring, he asked, "What was it about?"
For a minute, Harry thought Snape wasn't going to answer, then, quietly he said, "I did dream of your mother. She was saying I should make peace with my father. A lost cause, even in dreams, I'm afraid." He sighed, "Frankly, I have always been glad the old bastard's dead."
"How can you be glad of something like that?" asked Harry, appalled that Snape would speak of his father so.
Smiling thinly, Snape said, "Because my father treated me much the same as your uncle treated you. Of course, with my mother to protect me, he never dared to lock me in the cellar for more than punishment. If he had had his way, he would've locked me in the cellar day and night. I was always a great disappointment to him." The man gave Harry a long measuring look, then, "When he was dying, I looked after him. I was always relieved that it was not a long illness."
"Why did you look after him, if you hated him?" asked Harry honestly.
It seemed as if that question had never occurred to the man before. His eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened into an expression that Hermione wore when she was trying to puzzle out a complex arithmancy formula.
"Duty, I suppose." He said at length. "I looked after him because it was my duty as his son."
"Did you love him?" Harry asked. His face grew hot as he realized how embarrassingly sentimental he sounded.
It didn't seem to bother the professor though.
"I suppose I did. I suppose..." He trailed off, then restarted, "I suppose it was less for him than for me. I didn't want to see myself as the kind of person who abandons my responsibilities." He sounded very thoughtful. Then his mouth pinched up, like he had swallowed something bitter. "Although that is apparently precisely what I am." In the dim torchlight, the man's black eyes gleamed mournfully.
"It's okay." Harry muttered, not sure what to say.
"When I first saw you at school," Snape said softly, "You seemed so sure of yourself for such a young boy. I assumed that Tuney had spoiled you the same way she spoiled her own son. I just assumed that you..."
"Sir, don't worry about it." Harry interrupted, desperate to make Snape just stop talking. There was something horrible about all this honesty. Somehow, it made his whole experience at the Dursley's ten times worse
Something softened in the professor's face. "I'm sorry. I'm maundering. You had a bad dream, too."
"Don't want to talk about it." Harry muttered, bringing his knees up to his chest.
"That's fine." After a moment, Snape started to stand.
The same sense of desperation he'd felt a moment ago when Snape was talking made Harry's stomach clench, "Don't leave yet. Please?" He was lonely, and the way his thoughts had been going a few minutes ago was actually kind of scary.
"All right." Snape said, seeming at a loss. He sat down again, though. For about a minute they both looked at each other. Harry felt like he wanted to say something, but if he did he knew he'd come off like a pathetic little infant.
"Would you like me to read to you, Harry?" Snape finally asked, tentatively. He picked up one of the Sherlock Holmes books Harry had stacked on his night table before he fell asleep.
"Sir?" Harry wasn't quite sure he'd heard right.
The professor dropped the book, "Never mind." He said irritably, clearly he regretted speaking, "I know you're too old for that sort of thing."
"Erm...actually, sir?" Harry didn't think Snape would laugh at him, considering that he'd given Harry the book, but really he was far too old for it. He knew that, but he also knew that he wanted-no, he needed the Storyteller that Snape had become that night.
Slowly, he drew the picture book from where he hid it under his pillow. "Would you read this to me?" He asked in a rush, not looking at Snape, fearing to see an expression turned to mocking derision.
"Of course I will." Snape said softly, taking the book.
Harry looked up and smiled happily, before snuggling down into his pillows. Snape smiled too and pulled the covers over Harry's shoulders.
It was like a scene out of the fantasies that he had had in those miserable nights in the cupboard. Snape sat in the chair reading for a long time, until Harry's eyes slid shut and the Storyteller's words merged with his dreams.
"Good night." The Storyteller whispered as he stood, at last. "Sleep well, son."
"Love you, Dad." Harry whispered back, surfacing from sleep for a moment. In his dreaming mind, he thought he'd always known that the Storyteller was his father. And, at long last, his father had brought him home.
There was a pause before the Storyteller replied. "I love you too, Harry."
I may post an epilogue at some point, or even a sequel, but not today.