Sorry for the wait, RL and all that. Thanks to my beta's Crescent and Badgerlady for their help, I couldn't do it without them.

As always, it's JKR's world, I just play in her sandbox.

Chapter 23

Severus stood between the two hospital beds, watching the boys sleep. His boys, he realised with a sense of satisfaction, quickly followed by worry, doubt and fear. All the what if's from his own terrible childhood shouted for attention in his head and it took a moment to push them back into the past, where they belonged. Those things would be dealt with later, for now he needed to focus on Harry and Draco and helping them to survive to their twelfth birthday.

To his left, Draco lay on his stomach, arms and legs splayed over the bed. The sheet was pulled up to his hips and held in place with a mild sticking charm. His bare back and shoulders were red and raw, but the long, gaping tears from Lucius' cane had stopped bleeding and the edges of the wounds were beginning to show the work of the healing salve and potions. By tomorrow afternoon, his back would be free of the worst of the physical damage and the rest of the bruising would fade shortly thereafter. The fractured ribs and shattered elbow were going to take a few days and quite a bit of Skele-Gro to repair. Severus knew that the mental damage would be harder to mend.

Severus checked the warming bubble surrounding Draco's bed to reassure himself that it was holding at the right temperature. Satisfied with the results, he turned to look at small boy in the bed to his right. Unlike Draco, Harry was curled up into as tight a ball as he could get. His knees were pulled up to his stomach with the covers tucked tightly under his chin and one hand clutching the edge of the blanket. Despite the dose of Dreamless Sleep that Poppy had given him, every few minutes a tremor would pass over his frame and his breath would hitch. Remus sat on the other side of Harry's bed, his brow creased with anxious worry.

"How could this have happened?" Remus asked in a low harsh voice. "Hogwarts is supposed to be the safest place in the Wizarding world and Lucius Malfoy just waltzes in and takes a child he no longer has guardianship of, injuring another child on the way and Albus says that there's nothing he can do." The voice deepened until it was a growl, deep in the back of his throat. It caused Severus to take a step back before he caught himself.

Slowly, Severus walked around Harry's bed, Summoning a chair as he went. He placed the chair within easy conversation distance from Lupin, but far enough away to avoid being grabbed. He lowered himself into the chair, feeling the echoes of his earlier rage swirling in the back of his mind.

Discreetly he pulled his wand and a silencing spell formed around the two of them. "Do you have any suggestions?" Severus asked roughly. "Because I can only think of one or two and neither of them are legal."

Remus smiled, a tight, angry upturn of his lips. "As much as I would love to see Lucius Malfoy dead, these two boys need you to not be imprisoned next door to a bunch of Death Eaters in Azkaban. As for Albus…" His voice trailed off and his shoulder hunched. "I don't know how you're going to protect them from him, beyond what you're doing. He seems determined to play out whatever scheme he's concocted and nothing is distracting him from it."

Severus nodded. "I've thought about one way to take all control from the headmaster."

Remus put a hand on Harry's arm as another tremor racked his body. "Pulling them from Hogwarts would only do so much. You may have them out of the headmaster's hands for a while, but Albus could convince the Ministry that you have become a danger to the boys and have them rescind the guardianships. Then we would be nothing more than fugitives, always looking over our shoulders."

Mulling the word we around in his head, Severus looked carefully around the room, mouthing the spell to alert him to anyone under a Disillusionment or Notice-me-not Charm.

"What is it, Severus?" Lupin asked in a near whisper.

"Put up another silencing spell," Severus said. "One that overlaps mine."

Remus cocked an eyebrow at him, but complied with his request without comment. When he had lowered his wand, nodding that it was done, Severus turned his chair to look at him more directly.

"Blood adoption," he said.

Remus let his breath out all in a rush and paled. "Severus," he started.

Severus held up a hand to stop what he was going to say. "I know. It's dangerous, it's illegal, and it's morally and ethically questionable." He stopped and looked squarely in Lupin's eyes. "Can you think of something better? Something that will protect these boys beyond anything else, even if I'm in prison? I will be happy to have an alternate suggestion."

Lupin lowered his head to his hands. "No," he said in a shaky voice. "No, there's nothing I can think of. But God, Severus!" His head snapped back up. "If this gets out…"

"It won't," Severus said. "We will tell no one, not even the boys until after it's finished. Then we will leave Hogwarts and possibly Britain altogether."

"You have to give the boys a choice," Lupin said. "You can't just…"

Severus slashed his hand through the air. "I will protect Harry and Draco to the best of my ability. With my life, if necessary."

Lupin closed his eyes, the look on his face a mixture of hope and despair. "I'm with you," he sighed. "Whatever you need me to do."

They both looked up as the headmaster walked into the infirmary, followed by Poppy. Loitering outside the door were all of Harry and Draco's friends, with Lizzy keeping them from rushing in.

Severus nodded at the headmaster. "We'll continue this conversation in my quarters, after the boys are released," he said just before he dropped the Silencing Charm. Remus released his an instant later.

~HPSSHPSS~

Draco woke to find that he was in his own bed. His back ached and his elbow was crying out in pain, but he opened his eyes and turned his head to look over at Harry's bed. Harry was awake, his face turned towards Draco. Draco wondered if the Draco-shape in Harry's mind could tell that he was awake.

"Harry," Draco whispered and Harry jumped. Apparently not, Draco thought.

"Draco," Harry said, climbing out of his bed and crawling into Draco's bed to lie next to him. "Are you all right? You didn't wake up and I was worried."

"I don't know," Draco said. "I don't feel as bad as I did after Father took me, but I'm not completely fine yet. Have you seen Uncle Sev?"

"No. I can't hear them either, so I think they have a Silencing Charm up."

Draco looked up as the door to their bedroom opened and Uncle Sev walked in, followed by Mr. Lupin.

Uncle Sev came around the bed and sat next to Draco. "How are you feeling?" he asked as his wand did the complicated movements for an advanced diagnostic spell.

"Sore," Draco said. "Tired. My elbow hurts the most. What happened to it?"

Uncle Sev snarled, which made Draco lean away from him. Instantly the look was gone from Uncle Sev's face. "Forgive me, Draco, I am angry at Lucius, not you. Lucius hit you with his cane. Do you remember any of it?"

Draco looked down at the covers on the bed. "Some of it," he said and to his horror, tears started welling up in his eyes. "I don't remember how I got to Malfoy Manor, or even how Fa-Lucius got into Hogwarts."

Uncle Sev nodded. "You took a blow to the head at some point. I also suspect that Lucius Obliviated you so that in the event you got away from him, you couldn't tell what happened."

Tears streaked down Draco's face in spite of his best efforts to stop them. Uncle Sev handed him a small vial of pain potion, which he downed without comment. He tried not to make a face as the nasty taste hit the back of his throat, but failed.

"Do you remember going out into the snow to play?" Harry asked tentatively.

Draco nodded as he took a sip of water from the glass by the bed. "Yes, you rode on my back out to the side of the Quidditch pitch. Then we built a snow wall. We were going to go in for lunch, but…" His voice faltered. "I don't remember anything else until Fa-Lucius was beating me."

Severus laid a hand on Draco's arm. "Chances are that you never will remember," he said in a sympathetic tone. Then he turned his attention to the other boy. "Do you remember what happened, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "Some. We were going back in for lunch, but Draco yanked me under the Quidditch stands. There are drapes covering the stands, right?"

"Yes," Mr. Lupin said. "The bases of the stands are hidden."

"Right," Harry said. "We were trying to walk, but there were lots of umm…" He hesitated and Draco watched a confused look pass over his face. "I don't know what was all over the ground, but I kept tripping over things. I heard voices, but I couldn't tell who they were. Draco picked me up and he ran, but we went around a corner and he tripped and I fell on my hip. I heard Draco talking to someone. He called him 'Father'. Then the other man, I think it was Quirrell said something about…" his face scrunched up as he tried to remember. "My head hurt really badly and I thought I heard Quirrell say something about killing me, but that had to have been wrong, cause I'm still alive."

"Then what happened, Harry?" Uncle Sev asked.

"Ummm…The other man said something, but I don't remember what, and then they were gone." Harry's face crumpled. "Draco was gone."

~HPSSHPSS~

After a quiet dinner sitting at Harry and Draco's bedside, and the boys were asleep, with the alerts activated if one of them woke, Severus settled into his chair, his usual cup of tea at his side. Remus sat across from him in what Severus reluctantly acknowledged had become his chair, picking at the edge of his robe as he contemplated the fire blazing in the fireplace.

"I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Poppy wants to fix Harry's hip and leg as soon as possible," Remus said, deftly avoiding the conversation that they needed to have.

"He's damaged it again," Severus said, going along with Lupin's lead for the moment. "There's no point in waiting any longer."

Remus sighed and nodded his head, his eyes not leaving the flames. "I just worry about one thing after another piled up on him. How much can one little boy take?"

"As much as he has to," Severus answered. "We will take as much of the burden off of him as possible, and help him through the rest."

Remus didn't answer.

"Out with it," Severus said gruffly. "What is bothering you?"

"I suspect you know," Remus replied. "James."

Severus nodded in acknowledgement. "I thought as much."

"The blood adoption will push aside James' blood and heritage and replace it with yours." Remus' voice was low and angry.

"Not entirely," Severus replied, trying to keep from sneering at the man who was worried about Harry remaining entirely James' son. "But, yes for the most part, I will be Harry's biological father." Severus forced himself to continue. "I don't want to eliminate James or the Potter legacy from Harry," this was said through his teeth, "but I need to protect him and Draco. If I leave any room for Lucius to claim that Draco is still his son, he will do so."

Remus growled under his breath, but said nothing.

Severus opened the book that he had pulled from his hidden bookshelves earlier in the evening, when he was trying to prepare for this conversation. Finding the appropriate page, he read the passage directly.

Blood adoption can only be accomplished by a male wizard, in order to establish a new paternity in the subject. While it does not eliminate the entire blood heritage of the existing father, the blood of the new father will be dominant. Physical changes to the subject do not happen immediately, but will occur over time. The mother of the subject cannot be replaced and her blood and heritage will remain unchanged.

"Is there no way to regulate how much change there will be?" Remus asked harshly.

"No," Severus said, his voice clipped as he scanned the page again.

"So James' blood will be overwhelmed, leaving only a tiny amount." Remus looked like he might be ill.

"Yes." Severus ground his teeth together. "Do you have another option? I asked you this before and you couldn't come up with anything. If there is anything else that I can do that will protect those boys from the Ministry and that crazy, meddlesome headmaster, I would love to hear it."

Remus leapt from his chair and strode over to the fireplace. "No," he snarled. "You know there's nothing. I just…"

"Don't want Harry to lose James Potter as his father? Don't want me to be Harry's father?" Severus felt rage building up in the back of his throat and battled it back down.

"No, I don't want James to lose his son," Remus snapped. "It has nothing to do with you taking his place or with you personally. James was the only one of us to have a child and now…" He clenched his fist and struck the wall next to the fireplace.

"Harry will still be James' son, Lupin." Severus said stiffly. "But he needs a living father. Someone to look after him now. Do you honestly believe that James would not want that?"

"I don't know," Remus said miserably. "And that's the problem, isn't it? We'll never know."

The room was silent for long moments, only the snapping of the fire breaking the edgy feeling in the room.

Finally, Severus asked, "Can you accept this?"

Remus leaned his head against the mantelpiece and nodded.

"Will you help me willingly? Many of these ingredients are restricted and I could use your assistance obtaining them. Albus will not watch you as closely and a trip to visit your relatives in France will not set off any alarms."

"Yes," Remus said finally, returning to his seat. "God help me, but I'll do it. How long will the potion take once we have all the ingredients?"

"The soonest we could have it finished would be the end of June. July would be a more realistic timeframe, because of the rituals involved." Severus consulted the book again. "We'll need a private room so that we can create a ritual floor. That alone will take months as there are additional potions to create for the floor, along with the sheer number of runes needed."

"We'll never be able to create a ritual room here at Hogwarts without the headmaster finding out, and we don't dare leave Hogwarts to do it. Nowhere other than Gringotts would have wards strong enough to contain the magic."

Severus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "We have two weeks of Christmas holidays coming up. We'll spend the time before Christmas trying to find a place in the castle that can be secured from certain prying eyes. The week after, you'll go to France and start trying to find the ingredients we need."

"And somewhere in all of that planning, we'll have a real Christmas for the boys," Remus said. "I don't think either one of them have ever had a true Christmas."

Severus groaned. "Right. There will be plenty of time for all of that."

~HPSSHPSS~

Harry sat on the side of the hospital bed, plucking nervously at his pyjama bottoms. "Is it going to hurt?" he asked.

Uncle Sev sat on the bed next to him and gently removed Harry's hand before he damaged the fabric of the pyjamas. "It won't hurt while Madam Pomfrey is doing the procedure, because you'll be asleep. Afterwards, you'll have some pain for few days, but it won't be any worse than what you feel now."

Harry nodded. "And my limp will be gone?"

"Maybe not at first, but once your leg has healed properly, and after some physical therapy, it should be gone."

"Good," Harry whispered, but he was still anxious about the whole thing and his hand trembled as Uncle Sev held it. He tried to stop the shaking, but Uncle Sev tightened his grip.

"You can be nervous, Evan," he said. "It's perfectly normal."

Harry found that statement quite funny and laughed a little. "It's probably the only thing normal about me then," he said with a smile.

His head saw Madam Pomfrey approach. "Here's the first of the potions, Severus," she said, handing it to Harry.

"What is it?" Harry asked, sniffing the bottle, then grimacing at the horrible smell.

"This will put you to sleep," Uncle Sev said.

"It doesn't smell like the stuff you gave me the other day," Harry replied, clenching his fist around the bottle.

"Very good, Evan," Uncle Sev said with a voice that told Harry he had done well. Harry's chest swelled a bit and he wondered if that feeling was because of someone being proud of him. "It's a potion to put you into a healing coma," Uncle Sev continued. "You won't wake up no matter what happens for the next twelve hours."

"Oh," Harry said, not knowing how to feel about that. "What if I don't ever wake up?" He hated that his voice shook.

"That will not happen," Uncle Sev said firmly.

"Okay," Harry said and tipped the bottle into his mouth. He wasn't sure he completely believed Uncle Sev, but the tone of voice helped calm him. He felt the world slip sideways a bit and then he knew nothing more.