The spell Potter had used was unfamiliar to Severus, as was the language of the incantation, but there was no doubt in his mind to its purpose; he had felt the thing cause the boy's soul to fluoresce. Felt the flares in his (their?) magic. He didn't understand why his own soul wasn't shown as well. Surely his own tainted and torn soul should show up in black relief against the boy's blue purity? Perhaps it had. It was quite possible that the Potters were waiting for this Phoebe to arrive to exorcise him. Given the child's age, it was unlikely they would just tell him he was possessed or haunted or whatever.

Curiously, the spell had acted upon the boy's parents—it had shown Severus the quality of Ginny's and Potter's souls. Probably because their souls were so firmly entwined with the boy's.

She was Gryffindor gold through and through. Her heart was all fire, quick and hot, with no subtlety or guile. Other colors shone through her flames- her family and friends, Severus guessed.

Potter's soul gave truth to the idea of opposites attracting. His soul gleamed the same moon silver as a Patronus: still as a forest pond. Whereas Ginny's spirit crackled and flared, Potter's gently rippled and shimmered. There were depths and shadows that the Potions master would never have credited the boy he knew being capable of. The traces Potter's loved ones left were deeply submerged, swimming and darting beneath the surface.

Severus wondered vaguely what Lily's soul would have been like.

It was obvious that, after so many years, Ginny and Potter had a strong, stable bond. Their souls yearned towards each other, their colors mixing like oil and water where they touched, but never blending. Instinctively, Severus read that as two people with healthy identities, neither strong personality overpowering the other.

Potter had studied the child's soul for a very long time before dropping the spell, giving Severus an equal amount of time to study his.

Afterwards, the boy's exhausted body demanded more sleep. Potter scooped the child up with practiced ease. Severus withdrew to the illusion of his dungeon quarters that he'd created in the back of the boy's mind to await the morning.

Both parents came in at different times in the night to check on the boy, as did the house-elf. In life, Severus had been a light sleeper (this had saved his life on at least one occasion) and it seemed Tim shared this trait. When Ginny came and sat in the rocking chair wrapped in a shawl, Tim's eyes opened to slits to watch her at her knitting, until he dozed off again.

Sometime later, Potter came in and tucked the child in more snugly. The child's sleeping mind acknowledged the man's presence by drifting more deeply asleep.

Severus marveled at the child's easy assurance that a problem, once handed off to his parents, would be taken care of.

"Well, yeah," Tim stood at the door of the imaginary dungeon again, startling Severus from his reverie. The child leaned against the doorframe, this time dressed in his Muggle clothes.

Severus felt his mouth twist into a sneer. "Never failed you, have they?" he snarled.

Somberly the small boy shook his head. "Never."

The man wanted to growl at the boy as he would have at one of his brainless students, as he had at bloody Longbottom after he'd blown up another cauldron, as he had so many times at Potter. This child stared at him as Potter used to, no fear in his eyes, merely wariness.

It used to irritate the hell out of Severus that Potter seldom evinced any fear of him. Not until their Occlumency lessons had the teacher discovered why—compared to the boy's uncle, a teacher who was not allowed to lay hands on him couldn't seem like much of a threat. Only when threatened with suspension or expulsion did Potter show any true fear. That made a great deal of sense after Severus witnessed Potter's memories.

The worst part of it was that there had been memories locked up in the back of the boy's mind that he had blocked out completely. If the Dark Lord had found them, Potter would have been a sniveling shell inside of thirty seconds. On reflection, Severus had wondered how much the Dumbledore knew about Potter's life. Occlumency would also teach Potter to close his mind against his own burden of trauma long enough to get the job done.

Potter had assumed that Severus was being an absolute sadist during those lessons, but that wasn't at all true. If Severus had truly been a sadist, he would have brought forward one of the memories of the truly depraved things Potter had witnessed. Things that his mind, in an act of self-protection, had buried so deeply that not even Dementors could bring them forth. Things that made his parents' deaths and that terrible scene in the graveyard pale. After all, the Killing Curse was over so quickly.

Clearly, Dumbledore had been right about Potter in one way, at least. Even in his forties, Potter's soul was still pure and unblemished. Only those tricks of his mind could keep him so, Severus thought. It was the only explanation that he could see for the man not becoming the new Dark Lord.

Severus would not have entertained this thought a year ago, but now he wondered if Dumbledore had known what Potter was going back to every summer. Perhaps, in his Victorian way, Dumbledore thought that the Boy Savior could do with the toughening. Certainly, the Old Man had given Potter unprecedented freedoms in school, but that was part of the plan to allow Potter to develop his strengths precociously.

In truth, Dumbledore was more to blame for Potter's ridiculous antics than Potter himself had been. The fiasco with Quirrel had been aided and abetted by the headmaster. After the Order was reactivated, they all heard (because Black delighted in telling the story) how Granger and Potter had enabled Black to escape the Ministry. In both instances, the headmaster had given children powerful magical objects to play with.

Then there was the following year; Potter could have been told that the rules allowed him to forfeit each task at the beginning. But the Ministry was too enamored of the Boy Who Lived and events of the Tri-Wizard Tournament had been allowed to play out to capture the spy that Dumbledore was convinced was at Hogwarts.

It occurred to Severus then that the reason the Dark Lord should have feared Dumbledore was not the man's power, but his ruthlessness. Dumbledore had loved Potter. The old wizard had loved many people, in a way that Riddle never could, but that made it all the more terrible when he sacrificed those he loved for the greater good.

Severus couldn't sit still any longer under the child's gaze. He stood and walked back and forth across the room. Tim sat down on the settee and watched him pace.

"I wish you'd tell me what the matter is," Tim finally said quietly. "You're scaring me." The boy still did not look frightened, though. Rather, he looked blank, impassive.

"I apologize," Severus replied, surprising himself. There was something about Tim that made the caustic man not just hold his tongue, but gentle it. "That was not my intent."

"I know." Tim folded his legs onto the couch so he could prop his elbows on his knees. "But you're still not going to tell me what's upset you?"

"No." Severus turned his back on the boy to stare into the flames of his imaginary hearth. "It's not for you to concern yourself with and I don't believe this is a subject I really wish to discuss with someone of your age."

"You always say things like that." Tim's voice was petulant. "You mightn't want to talk about it, but given that you're in my head, and I'm not little anymore, I reckon it does concern me.

Severus turned around. "How long have I been here?" he asked curiously.

The child shrugged. "Always. I mean, you've been gone for the last few years. You said I didn't need you so much since Mum and Dad found me. You disappeared not long after Dad killed That Bastard."

"Mr. Potter killed your father?" Severus asked astonished, knowing exactly who Tim referred to.

The child's blue eyes became flat, his face dropping into blankness again. "You should know. You were there." His voice had a cold, wooden sound.

Like Severus, it seemed that Tim lapsed into emotionlessness when he was close to being overwhelmed.

"I'm afraid I don't remember," the man admitted.

"That is so strange." Tim's voice was tinged with worry. He tilted his head, staring at Severus with narrowed eyes. "I don't understand how you could forget."

"I'm not sure what to say to that. I do not remember what you're referring to and as far as I'm concerned, we have never met." Severus didn't quite sneer.

"Then why are you in my head?" the boy challenged.

"I don't know." the Potions master sat down on his chair with a sigh.

Tim and Severus stared at each other for a long time.

It was late the next morning when Tim woke up. He had an uneasy recollection of the conversation he and the Dark Man had had in his dream.

Severus was a little entertained by the way Tim referred to him.

The boy dressed and headed down to the kitchen, where he heard the voice of his mother and a man Severus didn't know.

It's James, Tim thought, excitedly.

"It was only that you brought up the War," Ginny was saying as Tim came in.

James was seated at the table with his mother, eating breakfast that Kreacher was putting on the table. He had Ginny's eyes and the Weasley height, but Potter's black hair. He turned when he heard Tim come down the stairs.

"Hello, kiddo!" called the young man.

Tim threw himself at his brother. "Where have you been?" he demanded after giving him a hug. "You haven't been here since I got home."

James shifted uncomfortably as Ginny gave him a pointed look. "I was here, but you were sleeping. I've been really busy at work, too," he said.

The younger boy looked hard into his brother's face. "You're not upset with me, are you?" he asked softly, searching the young man's eyes. Severus could feel the ache in Tim's heart, the fear that this James, whom the child clearly worshipped, would reject him.

"For…?" Clearly this James was as obtuse as his grandfather.

Tim crossed his arms against his chest and stepped back. "That I was sorted into Slytherin," he mumbled. "A few people said you'd be sort of p…"

iLanguage!/i warned Severus sternly, as he would have one of his students.

Tim hesitated, glancing at Ginny. He changed what he was going to say. "They said you wouldn't like it."

James reached out and took both of the boy's hands in his own, looking stricken. "Oh, no, Tim. Not at all. I'm sorry. Look, it doesn't matter to me, all right?"

A thick lump formed in the boy's throat. "But, I haven't seen you all break. You promised." He stopped, swallowed hard, not wanting his older brother to see the threatened tears.

Ginny gave her eldest son an "I told you so" sort of look.

The young man's cheeks colored. "I'm sorry. Work has been really busy."

"Except for being suspended last week," put in his mother disapprovingly.

"Well, I thought it was better if I cleared off for a bit," admitted James quietly. "But, I'm not upset with you or anything," he said to his adopted brother. "And I did stop by on Wednesday. You didn't wake up all afternoon."

"You've been arguing with Dad, again," Tim said flatly.

James shrugged. "Yeah, well…" He looked at his mother, as if for support. "You know Dad… He got all hacked off over nothing."

Ginny tutted, "Not nothing, James. He was worried. And what I was saying before, it's not a good idea to bring up the War with him."

"What was he so upset about?" James asked petulantly. "I was just pointing out that I didn't do anything that different to what he did. From what I hear, he spent a lot of time 'violating procedure'. "

Looking dead serious, she leaned forward over her teacup. "You've been spending too much time with your Uncle Ron," she said in a soft voice. "You might want to ask your Aunt Hermione about the year they spent on the run. She'll give you a different story." Ginny glanced at Tim. "Your father… he doesn't like to talk about it. You know that. If you want to know more about the War, you can read the manuscript Minerva and I are working on. I don't even know if I can explain it," she said. "We were at war. It was a strange time."

James looked like he was going to say something else, when the front door opened. Severus heard Potter's voice speaking and a woman's voice replying.

"Right, I'm off." James abruptly stood. He gave Tim a hug, "I'll be back Christmas Eve, but I'll be late, all right?"

"So, you're going to keep avoiding your father?" asked Ginny impatiently. She stood too, to give her eldest a hug before he left.

"Just 'till he cools off," replied James, already throwing Floo powder into the fireplace. "Anyway, I have to go into work."

"I swear, next time I will stick him to his chair," Ginny growled at no one in particular as James disappeared into the green flames.

"Gin? Phoebe's here," Potter called down the stairs. "I've got to go into work for a few hours. Roz just owled." Apparently Potter hadn't realized that James had been here.

Ginny smirked, in an oddly satisfied way. Severus wondered what she found amusing. "All right," she called up as the woman came down the stairs. "Hello, Phoebe." Ginny smiled broadly at the woman.

Phoebe was a short, plump witch with a round face and very dark skin. At first, Severus thought her hair was braided in many tiny braids that were pulled back into a thick pony tail. On second look he realized that they weren't braids but small, neat round ropes of hair that had the texture of felted wool. Her robes were an almost Slytherin green paired with gold trim—a mixture that few had had the audacity to wear since the First War, even if they hadn't gone to Hogwarts.

"Hey, Ginny," the woman said, in a soft, high pitched voice. "Hey, Tim. How you feeling?" her accent was American, although Severus had never heard one quite like it. It wasn't quite as harsh and fast as the ones he'd heard before. Not that he'd ever known many Americans, and he'd never visited.

Tim was weak with relief that the healer was here at last. "I'm all right," he replied softly, sitting down.

"Thank you so much for coming, Phoebe. I hope we didn't interrupt any plans?" Ginny said, pouring the woman some coffee from the pot on the sideboard and pushing the milk and sugar towards her.

"Oh no," she smiled as she sat. "Roz is headed into work. They got a case that sounds kinda urgent."

"They're all urgent." Ginny rolled her eyes; she handed the coffee to the other woman.

"Should we talk in here, Ginny? Or should we go up to Tim's room?" Phoebe asked, sugaring her coffee. She added milk and sipped at it.

Kreacher put some sausage and eggs in front of Tim, who started to pick his way through his meal.

You should eat more, Severus thought at the child.

Tim rolled his eyes, echoing Ginny's gesture.

"Actually," Ginny said, "we…ah…thought it might be best if you used Harry's study."

"Oh, yeah?" Phoebe's eyebrows went up. She glanced at Tim. "You been having trouble with your magic again?" she asked kindly.

Tim shook his head. "No, not exactly."

Severus saw the woman's quick brown eyes glance at the child's plate, clearly noting how the child was playing with his food rather than eating it.

"It's complicated," sighed Ginny. "He… well…"

"The Dark Man came back," Tim said, interrupting. "And he's worried and angry. He doesn't want to be here."

"What's he worried about, honey?" the healer asked.

"I don't know." The child gave up on his attempt to eat and contented himself with drinking his tea. "But he really thinks he doesn't belong here."

The woman nodded. "All right," she said patiently.

"Harry did a kè revele spell," Ginny supplied, frowning. "But it didn't show anything foreign."

Phoebe stared into her coffee cup. "Do you think he missed something?"

Severus growled to himself. Of course Potter bloody missed something. Severus was making no effort to hide his presence.

"The Dark Man thinks he did," Tim put in timidly.

"He does? What else does he say?" the healer asked, interested. She glanced at Ginny. "Let's go on up to your dad's study and talk about it, okay?