Thank you again to everyone who has reviewed this story. It really makes me smile to hear from you. Say hello if you haven't already. I don't bite...hard.
Spent much of my weekend watching a Harry Potter movie marathon that was on TV and apparently Evan Rosier died in the first war. Let's pretend he survived and had a family, 'kay?
"I know that foolhardy delusions of saving the world are an unfortunate Gryffindor affliction that cannot be helped, but are the two of you out of your bloody minds?"
They were seated in the attic at Grimmauld Place in three chairs arranged in a circle. Hermione raised an eyebrow to Harry as if to say, "I told you so," but Harry continued to speak anyway.
"Probably, but even you have to admit it's not a bad idea. If you had the resources, the facilities, and the manpower, you could be doing even more. Just look at how much progress you've made with a staff of only four, one of whom is part time."
"They are not remotely healed," Severus snapped. "All of them still have a long, hard road ahead."
"But they've come so far—even you've said so!" Harry replied. "And you know that you want to help your graduates, so let's go to Kingsley and get some sponsorship, if you will, in order to help them."
"I will not let the Ministry within a hundred feet of any child in my care now or who was in my care in the past!" Severus said menacingly. "You saw what they did to them. I will not expose them to that again. It is bad enough I let it go on as long as I did."
"And as I said, they would not be running this—we would," Harry said authoritatively. "I'm talking about a foundation sponsored by the Ministry but run by us."
"If you think that the Ministry will sponsor something yet completely relinquish control of the management, you have much to learn, Harry," Severus said.
"They might if three of the most revered heroes from the war come to them with the proposal," Harry replied.
"Arrogance notwithstanding, not even the famous Boy Who Lived can get a literal or figurative carte blanche from the Ministry," Severus replied.
"Not by myself, but if I also bring along Hermione Granger and Severus Snape, with me to Kingsley Shacklebolt, I think I stand a decent chance," Harry retorted.
"If you think I am going anywhere near the Ministry and groveling to them for their sponsorship, you can think again, Potter!"
"If I may!" Hermione interjected, hoping to stop this before it raged out of control. "It wouldn't be groveling, Severus. Kingsley has said many times that he and the Ministry and the Wizarding World owe us a debt that can never be repaid—we can see if he'd be willing to do that. With all the corruption swirling about in that organization, even he would have to concede that the amount we're talking about is pocket change compared to what gets passed around on even a monthly basis. Kingsley respects you, Severus, he says so all the time. For all we know he may jump at the chance to help you, whatever it is you ask for."
"You seem to think my credit with the Minister is greater than it actually is," Severus said.
"You don't have to believe me, Severus, but it's a fact," Hermione said.
"You don't know the first thing about me!"
Hermione recoiled as if she had been slapped. When she spoke, her voice was small. "Don't I?"
Harry immediately jumped up out of his seat. "Right, this is a lot to think about, and Ginny's having a rough week pregnancy-wise so I'll just be off then."
"Right," Hermione said absently. "I'll walk you out."
"No need, I know the way." He left the room and slammed the door before anyone could respond.
Severus and Hermione remained in the office, sitting in chairs, staring at each other. Hermione's face was blank and Severus's set in a scowl, though not the deep kind that signified that he was angry. Rather, it was the kind that indicated he was confused about something.
Hermione thought it was curious that there were so many meanings to discover in a single expression, if one only took the time to look.
Neither wanted to be the first to speak. Hermione wasn't sure she wanted to speak with Severus at all right now. It seemed that things were as she had feared: she had opened her heart to another and learned that it was not reciprocated. She could have lived with that had they just kept things physical the way they had before—a rendezvous whenever they wanted, some pillow talk, and then back to normal.
Deciding that she didn't want to hear it spelled out, she got to her feet and went to the door.
"Hermione…" she heard him say. She turned around to see Severus no longer scowling, but rather looking at her rather, well, pleadingly.
Hermione attempted to swallow the lump in her throat before she responded. "Please don't say it out loud, Severus," she said, holding up a hand, not meeting his eyes. "I understand."
"Hermione," he said again, his voice thick. "Please, come sit with me." She shook her head and faced the door, willing herself not to show emotion. You did this through a war, you can do it now.
She heard footsteps and a familiar warmth as Severus approached her and took her hands in his. "Please, Hermione." When she shook her head again, still averted her eyes, he wrapped his arms around her and brought his mouth to her ear. "I…misspoke earlier, out of anger and…fear." He kissed her temple and squeezed her. "You understand me better than anyone ever has, Hermione. Better than my mother, better than Lily Potter, better than Albus Dumbledore. You, Hermione."
She didn't respond but he could feel her body shake ever so slightly. "I meant it when I said I wanted a real relationship with you," he continued. "I realise that entails opening myself up emotionally. You must understand, though, that I am not used to this. I have spent my life pushing my emotions down until I couldn't feel them anymore, and I have been doing so for so long that it's hard for me to understand an emotion when I do feel it. I can't put a name on anything I feel. It's frightening to me that you not only cause me to feel these things, you articulate them. After decades of avoiding that, it's jarring."
He brought his lips to her forehead and planted a soft kiss, lingering there for some time. "I'm trying to let you in, Hermione. Be patient with me, please. I'm not shutting you out on purpose, and I do not intend to. I am not a man who breaks his promises."
"I know," she said faintly in a wobbly voice. "I just…I hate to see you running away from things. Harry told me once…he told me that you were the bravest man he'd ever met. I agreed with him wholeheartedly. But I see you running away from the world, from the gratitude and adulation that is owed to you." She pulled away a bit and looked into his eyes. "Leopold sent me an owl, saying that he got a chocolate frog card with you on it, and that you keep running out of the frame every time you catch him looking at you."
"I did not agree to be on that rubbish," Severus said flatly. "I was explicit about that."
"But you know what else he wrote to me? He asked why you were working with him and his siblings and everyone else here, rather than living the life of a war hero? He asked if you were running away from something."
"Gryffindor is ruining that boy's subtlety," Severus muttered.
"I think he has a point though. I don't doubt that you're in the right place, Severus, because these children do need you. But I agree with him that it seems like you're running. You tried to run from me and Harry when we approached you, you haven't been back to Hogwarts once since you woke up, you've shunned the media, you never spoke to Kingsley until you sought the legal guardianship…Severus, you are running away and hiding yourself."
"So are you," he said pointedly. He was not speaking defensively or with malice. He was seeking to open her up the same way she opened him up. "You bury your feelings too, Hermione. You run from things, too."
"What am I running from?" she asked mutely, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
"You want love yet fear it because you are still suffering the pain of war and loss, and even the softest touch is painful on an open wound. You throw yourself into helping others because you want to bury your pain. And…" he hesitated, "…and you refuse to reverse the charm on your parents because you fear their condemnation for your actions."
She pulled back from him abruptly. "You don't know what you're talking about," she said, her voice dripping with warning.
"I know that Harry Potter knows you better than you know yourself," Severus said, "and that he knows you well enough to know that you would not have permanently Obliviated your parents. He knows you well enough to know that you would have either used another charm or invented one yourself that would be lasting yet allow you to undo it at some point in the future. He knows you well enough to know that you spent most of your holidays either at Hogwarts or with him and Weasley because spending time at home was too difficult. Even I suspected it during your school days. I was a teacher for many years, Hermione, and students who repeatedly spend their holidays at Hogwarts or with other students are typically the ones who have problems at home."
Hermione said nothing but pressed her face into Severus's chest, shuddering. The sobs overcame her before she could stop them. Tears that she had denied for years began to fall. "They're happier where they are now," she whispered.
"How could they be, when they live unaware of their daughter, this magnificent, brilliant, insufferable woman I hold in my arms?"
She shook her head against his chest. "They—they were so supp-supportive of me being a witch, but they—they never could understand it," she sobbed. "T-too much distance. My new w-world and the one I gr-grew up in were too far apart. S-soon w-we had n-nothing to t-t-talk about. They c-can't m-miss what they d-don't know exists."
Severus just held her tight. One of the tricks of being a successful spy was knowing when to speak but, more importantly, when not to speak, and every instinct in his body screamed at him to remain silent now. He listened to it; it had never failed him before.
"A-and ev-even if I w-wanted to bring them back, I c-couldn't," she wailed. "I was afraid that if they w-were ever f-found someone m-might detect a m-memory charm s-so I made it untraceable. Not even I c-could find it to undo it."
Severus let her cry a little longer before speaking. "I could find it," he whispered. "With the Dark Lord and Albus…gone…I am the most powerful Legillimens left in Britain." He sighed and squeezed her tighter. "Occlumency was my speciality, and as a result I am rather skilled at detecting the shields and charms in the minds of others, even those that are meant to remain hidden. If you wished it…"
Hermione shook her head vigorously against his chest. "No, not after all this time. They have a life now, down there. I can't take that away from them."
Severus nodded and kissed her head. "Regardless, Hermione, should you ever wish it…all you need to do is ask."
"Let me," she said, pulling her head up from his chest to meet his eye. "You offer to help me yet you will not accept my offer to help you."
"Your situation is rather more amenable to help than mine," he said bleakly.
"No it isn't. Helping me would destroy two lives. Helping you would improve the lives of many homeless, helpless children."
Severus snorted derisively. "You certainly have a way of spinning it."
"It's the truth," she said. "I can live with my decision. But can you live with yours?"
Silence gripped them tightly.
"I will…go to the Ministry with you and Harry," he whispered, "if you will agree to at least consider letting me reverse the charms on your parents." She opened her mouth as if to speak but he continued before she had the chance.
"I know what it is to have a difficult relationship with one's parents, Hermione. I hated my father; I feel no loss for him. With regard to my mother…the pain is still there. She was a weak-willed woman and my father was an abusive bastard. There was no great love in our home. I was neither wanted nor cared for.
"But having said all of that, the thought of them never knowing of me would be…more difficult. Having a difficult relationship with one's parents is, I think, worse than none at all." He rubbed her back with his left hand. "I no longer have the option of speaking with them ever again. You do. Please tell me you will consider it."
She sniffed. "And you'll come to the Ministry with us if I do?" Severus nodded. "Alright, I'll…I'll consider it."
That earned her a squeeze. "My Hermione," he whispered. "Please don't ever doubt my feelings for you. I know I can be, as you so succinctly put it, an acerbic bastard. I can also be very defensive—it's probably my standard reaction whenever someone pushes me beyond my comfort zone, and you are an insightful enough person to understand that. A few months with you is not enough to undo that completely. I promise," he emphasised the word, "that I will attempt to not be defensive with you. But should I slip, I hope you will call me out on it, insult me, yell at me, or otherwise do whatever you feel I deserve for being so unkind toward you. But promise me that you will never, ever doubt my feelings for you or my commitment to you again."
Severus nodded. "I am committed to you, Hermione. I do not enter relationships often or lightly. When I do so, I do so completely. I have committed to you as long as you will have me."
She squeezed him tightly and tilted her head up to kiss him on the lips. He could taste her tears.
"Promise me?" he whispered against her lips.
Harry sat by the fire with his son in his arms. Ginny was already asleep upstairs; pregnancy gave her fatigue like she had never known. The baby was alert, his brown eyes searching his father's green eyes. His hair was black as Harry's, but his eyes were all Ginny's.
"You have your mother's eyes…" Harry said softly, echoing the words another man had once said to him.
"Your mother is an extraordinary lady, James," Harry said. "Your grandmother was, too, but sadly you'll never meet her, and I don't remember her. She looks like your mother, though. Probably something a therapist could sort out for me, don't you think?"
James said nothing but continued to stare at his father.
"Have I ever told you how I proposed your mum? I won't bother telling you how we met or how we fell in love; your history books will no doubt cover that. But how I asked her to marry me? That's a secret, and one I'm going to let you in on, you lucky little boy."
James' eyes widened as if in anticipation.
"It was the morning after Voldemort fell. I hadn't been able to see your mother properly that day; she was mourning the loss of your uncle Fred and sitting with her family, feeling at peace for the first time in years. I was with my own family, Aunt Hermione. Ron left us to see his family and she and I just held each other and cried and cried and cried.
"But the next morning, I got up from my room in Gryffindor tower, and I walked through the castle. It was almost completely destroyed; rubble everywhere; small fires burning; and the smell, James, the smell of it all…"
He took a moment to compose himself before continuing.
"I saw death and destruction all around me. The clean up had not yet begun, and it would take years to fully repair everything. Parts of the castle are still broken even today; parts of me are still broken. But as I walked around the grounds and through the castle, I wondered if there was ever such a thing as 'normal' after living through something like that. Would I ever be able to just sit in a café and have a coffee and read the paper like a normal human being? Would I forever be on alert for danger? The reality has proven to be somewhere in the middle, I suppose.
"Anyway, as I walked around the charred grounds, the pools of blood, the piles of rubble, I saw her, Ginny, your Mummy, standing there. In the midst of so much destruction there was this ginger angel, dressed in white, looking so clean and pure and alive. I knew that if something could be so beautiful after such a long time of ugliness, we could continue. We could, we would, rebuild this world of ours. And it would be beautiful.
"I walked up to her, put my arms around her, and just held her for the longest time. I took in her scent and felt her softness in my arms. She felt so soft! How could a creature be so battle-hardened and yet so soft to the touch? That's your mother for you: a woman full of contradictions that, taken together, inspire awe.
"After a long time of just holding each other, I pressed a very soft kiss to her temple just like this," he kissed James on his left temple, "and said, 'Marry me.'" It wasn't a question, it wasn't a demand, it was more like a fact. And you know what she did, James? She nodded her head as if to say, 'Harry Potter, of course I'm going to marry you.' And then she opened her mouth and said, 'I've waited seven years for you to ask me that.'"
"I'm a lucky man, James Sirius Potter. I have lost many people that I have loved; I would even go so far as to say that I have lost most of the people I have loved and who have loved me. It's not exactly a stable way to live. But when I saw your mother that day, I knew how much I loved her, and I wrapped my arms around her and I never, ever, let her go."
He dipped his head down to inhale his son's soft, powdery scent. "I will never let you go either, James. You are something beautiful that she and I created together. You won't grow up knowing what I know."
When did I become such a sap?
Probably the day I became a father.
Leopold did not care much for History of Magic, but at least he did not have to have it with Professor Binns. He had heard many rumours about how boring Binns' lectures were, and even Miss Granger had warned him of it in an owl. Professor Lasky, however, was engaging and informed. And, well, a little opinionated. But Leopold didn't mind that.
At least, not until today.
They were covering the early days of the second war, and Leopold had done his best to brace himself for what was to come. Mr. Snape (or was it Professor Snape—Leopold had had no idea that he had been a the Hogwarts potions master for nearly two decades) had warned him that he would likely hear things about his parents from others in unkind terms. He had been warned that it would likely come from other students.
He was not, however, prepared to hear it from a professor's lips.
"The Death Eaters," Professor Lasky said in his commanding tone, "were the most foul, evil wizards to walk this earth. Their devotion to the Dark Lord was complete and obsessive. It twisted them into inhuman monsters capable of any sort of brutality. They hunted Muggles for sport, they tortured the families of Muggle-borns for fun."
Leopold felt the blood drain from his head and he grasped the side of the desk for dear life, his knuckles turning white.
"They turned their victims into something less than human, made them as inhuman as they themselves were in their hearts."
Breathe, he told himself, just breathe. He doesn't know that Mummy used to cradle you and kiss you and tell you that she loved you. He doesn't know that Daddy answered every question you asked of him, that Daddy always had the answers. He doesn't know. He cannot know.
No one can know.
Feeling oppressed by the weight of his secret, such a heavy weight on the shoulders of such a little boy, Leopold Clairemont began to hyperventilate. Not here, not here, not here…
He heard a sob and tried to convince himself that it did not come from his mouth.
Suddenly a large hand was on his head and a voice that had sounded commanding just a moment before was now soothing. "There, there, son. I know this is a difficult subject for you, given what you've lost. I think you may be excused for the rest of the day. Miss Phillips, will you kindly see that Mr. Clairemont gets back to Gryffindor Tower?"
Leopold heard nothing, and his eyes were screwed shut, but he soon felt a small, soft hand in his leading him out of the room. They were in the corridor before he was aware of his surroundings. He looked into the bright blue eyes of Clara, who looked like she was about to cry herself.
"Here," she said, guiding him to a bench in the corridor. She let go of his hand and wrapped her arms around him. Leopold, his shame all but gone, tucked his head into her shoulder and began to cry. She said nothing, just held him as he cried. For the life of him Leopold could not remember anyone holding him as he cried, at least not since he lost his parents. No Slytherin would do this. Much as Gryffindor had its faults, Leopold felt, for the first time, that he had been placed exactly where he belonged.
"She's having a rough go of it, Severus," Lovegood said sadly. "She lost her parents when she was three so she has virtually no memory of them, she hasn't heard from her sister in over three years, and now her brother is gone too."
Severus rubbed his eyes. As much as Margaret Macnair's panic attacks had decreased, Ermengarde Rosier's had returned, and her nightmares too. He was loathe to put her back on the sleeping potion, but he was beginning to fear that he would have no choice if she was ever going to sleep through the night (or let him sleep through the night, for that matter—the girl's screams pierced all floors of the house). With him, Hermione, and Lovegood all living in the house, he had long since stopped casting his Patronus to alert him of danger, and so the screams of the children always woke him first.
"He owls her weekly," Severus sighed. "And Longbottom says the boy seems to be doing well."
"As far as he can tell, but really, Severus, how much of our goings on were you ever actually aware of at the time?"
Lovegood did have a point there. She always did. In many ways Lovegood was a worse know-it-all than Hermione. And that was saying something.
"What do you suggest, then, Lovegood?"
"Is there any chance at all that Minerva will let the boy out on weekends so he can visit her?"
Severus shook his head. "None. Security was tightened up significantly after the war; only fifth years and above are allowed on Hogsmeade weekends now, and there are only two per year. Mr. Clairemont is a first year and technically without a family; she'll never allow it."
Lovegood sighed. "What have you done in the past when this sort of thing occurs?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I don't believe that will be helpful to know." Lovegood seemed to understand that he had previously done nothing. He hadn't been able to do more. He had been too busy.
"Well, the Christmas hols will be in a few weeks, and he'll be coming back, correct?" Lovegood asked. Severus nodded. "Maybe if she can go back on the potion for a few more weeks, once she sees that her brother is back and in one piece she will handle it better."
"Lovegood, the potion…"
"Is what the girl needs," Lovegood said firmly. "She needs sleep, desperately. It's the cycle again: she gets very little sleep, then she is anxious during the day, which leads to less sleep.
Severus sighed. "Desperate times?" Lovegood nodded. "Very well."
"Any luck with a Healer?"
Severus shook his head. "You'd think I was asking them to come her and commit atrocities, which I suspect they consider tending to the needs of the children of Death Eaters to be."
"Hmm," Lovegood said absently.
Severus quirked an eyebrow. "What?"
"It's just curious to me…why should they have any idea who they are? Why should they know their parentage?"
"They need to access their medical histories, which unfortunately are tied to their real names," Severus said. "It's all magically indexed so I can't change it. Healers see the surname and refuse to come."
"That doesn't seem like it should be allowed, should it?" Lovegood said matter-of-factly. "Are you not going to see Kingsley soon? Perhaps it would be worth a mention."
"I can mention it until I'm blue in the face. I doubt it'll change anything."
"Perhaps not, but you have nothing to lose by trying," Lovegood said. "What about Madam Pomfrey?"
Severus fought to keep his face expressionless. "What about her?"
"Well, couldn't she come here and see to them? They'll all be in her charge eventually."
"Poppy…owes me no favours."
"It was she who found you in the Boat House," Lovegood said. It was not a question.
"She may have cleaned some wounds, but I was already out of danger."
"You didn't want her to help you," Lovegood said, reading his face as if it were a book telling her exactly what happened that night. As far as Severus could tell, she was not practicing Legillimency. "You expected to die, but when you decided to live, you wanted no one's help. So you saved yourself by inducing the coma. But that's not all, is it? You remember all the times the Carrows sent us to the hospital wing."
Severus could barely meet her eyes. "It's alright, you know," she said brightly as if talking about her plans for the weekend. "It wasn't you who was meting out the punishment, was it? And you gave us lighter punishments whenever you could. And after it was all over, we understood."
"Did you?" How could they?
"Harry and I went to see Dumbledore's portrait once," she said. "And he told us how if you had been the one to kill Dumbledore, the Dark Lord would trust you above all others and probably give you run of Hogwarts. We speculated as to who the alternative would be. Bellatrix Lestrange, maybe? Or Yaxley? Selwyn? Macnair? Lucius Malfoy? Dolores Umbridge?" She rattled off the names without disgust; it pleased Severus to see that she was no longer associating the parents with the children. "Any of them would have killed me and Neville and Ginny for what we were doing; you basically turned a blind eye. Has no one ever thanked you for that?" Her voice was awfully light for such a heavy subject.
Severus did not respond.
"Well, they should have. May I thank you on behalf of Dumbledore's Army?" She extended her hand to him. Severus hesitated, and took it, shaking it ever so briefly. "Thank you for protecting us, even if you never wanted us to know."
Severus gave a brief nod in acknowledgement. "It was my duty, Miss Lovegood."
"I think Madam Pomfrey understands it, Severus; she's a clever witch, after all. Perhaps she wouldn't be so averse to coming here. She treated the Slytherins as well as the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. I don't think she'll harbour any prejudice against them."
If any member of Hogwarts staff, other than Longbottom, was going to be open-minded about the children, it was probably Poppy.
"I'll ask Neville to talk to her, shall I?" Severus nodded. He still wasn't used to the way conversations with Luna Lovegood spun out of his control and yet laid bare everything that needed to be discussed.
She got to her feet. "One more thing, Severus. I know you were involved in my being taken off the Hogwarts Express and kept in Malfoy Manor. I just want to say…well, thank you. I probably would have been killed otherwise, wouldn't I?"
Severus felt no need to enlighten Lovegood as to what would have happened to her had he not arranged for her capture. The Dark Lord had been very displeased with him; he had wanted the Lovegoods slaughtered for her father's pro-Potter propaganda. Severus had barely been able to pull his wretched body back up to the castle after his meeting with the Dark Lord, and Poppy had not offered to help him. He'd collapsed in the snow just outside the Entrance Hall and remained there all night.
"Hmm?" came the sleepy reply. "Not tonight, Severus."
He rolled his eyes. "No, not that." But maybe in the morning.
"Is Luna Lovegood a Legillimens?"
Hermione gave a very unladylike snort. "Call yourself the most powerful Legillimens in Britain, do you? Shouldn't you be able to tell?"
He made a sound of exasperation. "Is she or isn't she?" It was unlikely that Lovegood was a Legillimens, since neither the Dark Lord nor Dumbledore had been able to penetrate Severus's Occlumency shields, but still...it was unnerving the way she seemed to see through them anyway.
"No, I don't think so. Why, is she doing it again?"
"…In a way."
"Do you want to talk about it?
Severus shook his head. Hermione knew better than to push. He would talk to her if he wanted to. If he didn't, he wouldn't, and there was no use in pushing him.
Five points to anyone where can tell me where Professor Lasky is from.
Title comes from a quote by Laozi: "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."
Coming up: Our heroes take a field trip to the Ministry, where we get a crash course in post-war politics.