This is a response to Severitus' Challenge. I've had a couple of ideas bouncing around in my head for a couple of weeks now, and I finally figured out how to tie them all together, and this lovely little work is the result. It's going to progress relatively slowly, not quickly, but, hey, I've gotten three chapters done & a couple more partially done.
Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me, not a one. Nothing Harry Potter, in fact, belongs to me. Nor do I completely own the plot, since this is in response to a challenge. Hmm. Well, so this isn't mine at all. :-)
Harry Potter was awake. It wasn't surprising, really, because it was nearly midnight, and at midnight, he would be fifteen years old. It was a ritual that had started on his eleventh birthday, four years in the past now, and he was awake each year to welcome in the new year of his life. Just after midnight, owls would arrive, bearing birthday gifts from his friends. Harry was certain that this year would be no exception. He studied the old digital clock. It now read 11:55. Sighing, Harry sat up and pushed his glasses back into position. He went to the window and peered out, looking into the dark, moonless sky for some sign of any owls. He stood silently for a few moments, lost in the night, before he looked back to the clock. It was 11:59, and now Harry could see the approaching shadowy shapes that were owls.
Hedwig swooped in, followed by Pig, Ron's owl, as well as five unfamiliar owls. One by one, Harry removed the letters and packages from them, sending them each off to Hedwig's cage for water and an owl treat or two. Harry smiled as he petted Hedwig, welcoming her back home. She had been gone for several days, and he had missed her, the only friend he had when he was at the Dursleys'. Each owl relieved of its burden, Harry began to open each letter and package.
The first was from Ron. Harry smiled as he read the familiar handwriting and let Ron's cheerful attitude wash over him through his written words.
I hope the Muggles are treating you alright. Happy Fifteenth Birthday! There are two gifts for you; the first is a PortKey which will be activated at noon today (your birthday). Dumbledore finally gave the all-clear to have you come visit. Consequently, the rest of your present will wait until you arrive here. I know that you had a bad experience with PortKeys last time, but Dad programmed this one himself just now, as I'm writing this letter.
See you soon!
Harry grinned happily as he pulled out a Muggle credit card. He laughed quietly – leave it to Mr. Weasley to choose something purely Muggle! He probably had no idea what it was, either, Harry decided. Still smiling, he reached for the package that Hedwig had brought back from Hermione, who still had no owl of her own.
Happy Birthday! I do hope this reaches you on your birthday; I know that Hedwig has a long way to go. I'm having a fascinating time here in Bulgaria. There is so much history to learn and Viktor has an outstanding library in his town. As for Viktor himself, well, we're not getting along so well. He's a nice enough guy, I suppose, but he's much more full of himself here than he was at Hogwarts, and he keeps trying to kiss me. I'm just not interested in him in quite that way, and he is a good deal older.
I should be back in England in a week or so, and then hopefully I can come to the Burrow for the last week or two of break. I'll see you in Diagon Alley!
Harry picked up the heavy package, and was not surprised when it was revealed to be two books. The books, however, were considerably more interesting than he had anticipated. The first was a guide to becoming an animagus (a small piece of parchment indicated that the laws were much more lax about animagi in Bulgaria, hence Hermione's ability to purchase said book), while the second was a large, comprehensive tome on Defence Against the Dark Arts. Hermione's note with that book indicated that it was written by respected Aurors and that it would undoubtedly help to know some counter-curses, between Voldemort and Malfoy. Harry agreed, and resolved to find time to study it at the Burrow, despite the teasing he knew it would engender from Ron.
He reached for one of the unfamiliar packages next, and laughed when he discovered quite a selection of Wheezes from Fred and George. They also informed Harry that he was listed as an anonymous shareholder in their business venture, and, as such, was entitled to a percentage of any and all profits. The money would be sent to a Gringotts vault to which they had enclosed the key. Harry carefully hid the key in his trunk, along with the letter.
Four strange owls to go, mused Harry. He assumed that one was his school letter and another was from Sirius, but he couldn't figure out whom the others were from.
One question was answered when he opened another package with slightly familiar writing. The enclosed book was from Professor Lupin, with a note that he would be returning to Hogwarts as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor that fall, and he wanted to offer Harry the chance to have additional, private lessons in the evenings, and he felt the enclosed book would help to that end. Smiling, Harry placed the large book next to Hermione's, noticing that Professor Lupin's was not strictly about Defence, but was rather directly about the Dark Arts. Hmm. Well, if Professor Lupin thought it was fine, then it probably was.
The next package was indeed from his godfather, and it enclosed a refill for his broom servicing kit, as well new Quidditch pads, which Harry desparately needed. Harry was also pleased to recover the Marauders' Map. Curiously, he activiated it, and saw that Mr. Filch, Mrs. Norris, and the Headmaster were the only occupants of Hogwarts currently in residence. Curiousity satisified, he cleared the map and returned it to his trunk.
There were now two owls left, and it looked as if both were from Hogwarts. Odd, thought Harry, and he reached first for the one that seemed to contain the usual greetings and supply list. Indeed, it did, and he smiled to see that Hermione's gift turned out to be their Defence Against the Dark Arts text. If both Hermione and Professor Lupin had picked it out, it was probably a very good book on the subject indeed. He scanned the rest of the supply list and noticed with some displeasure that they were once against expected to have dress robes, and their required potions stores had been expanded considerably, which interested Harry even as it made him groan inwardly. Surely that only meant more opportunities for Gryffindor to lose points, especially since Neville managed to mess up even the most simple of potions, and Professor Snape merely had it in for Harry no matter what Harry tried.
Now, it was nearly 12:45, and Harry still had one more bulky letter to open. He pulled out the parchment and read the words with shock.
Dear Mr. Potter,
As Head of Gryffindor House, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as one of the prefects for the 1995-1996 school year, along with Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Enclosed please find your badge as well as a list of responsibilities and the first password of the year. You will be expected to make an appearance in the prefects' cars during your ride on the Hogwarts Express for the first prefects' meeting of the year.
Additionally, you have been selected as the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain. Your teammates all took pains to write me over the summer, threatening not to accept the position if I were to offer it, as they all felt you should have it. I do hope you will accept the honor; otherwise I will be forced to retain the captaincy myself as Head of Gryffindor House, and I simply do not have the time that would be necessary.
Head, Gryffindor House
Harry reached back into the envelope and pulled out two pins – the larger prefect's badge and the smaller Captain's pin. Harry noted with pleasure that the Captain's pin had the Snitch featured prominently, to show that he played Seeker. Even though he knew that the new positions would bring even more unwanted attention, he felt honored and proud, knowing that his parents would have been proud as well. Smiling, he took just a moment before going to sleep to write back to Sirius.
Glad to hear that everything is going well on your work for Dumbledore. Remember to keep out of sight!
I thought you'd be pleased to know that I've been named Captain of the Quidditch Team for next year. Not only that, but Ron, Hermione, and I are all prefects! We're going to have such fun. I... well, I was thinking, right after I read the letter, that my parents would have been proud. I'm right, aren't I?
He yawned as he sent the owl off through the window, back to wherever Sirius was staying. He sent all the other owls back as well, except Hedwig, who would fly towards the Burrow in the morning. Finally, he laid down and let sleep claim him, absentmindly brushing a long strand of hair out of his face without realising his hair hadn't been that long previously.
By the time that Harry woke up the next morning, he noticed that his hair was a good two inches longer than he remembered it being. Not only that, but it was acutally lying flat. Frowning, Harry pushed it back from his face and tucked as much as possible behind his ears before heading downstairs to breakfast.
Good morning, Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, he said in a pleasant tone. My friends have agreed to let me come stay with them for the rest of the summer, so you won't have to worry about me being here when you have your cocktail party next week, Aunt Petunia.
Petunia Dursley beamed. She didn't care if it meant her dratted nephew would be happy, she wouldn't have to worry about him being around her house and her son. Oh, Vernon, did you hear that? Those dreadful people are going to take the boy off our hands. Eleven months without him! Her tone changed abruptly as she turned her attention back to Harry. Very well. Now, fix that bacon for Dudders!'
Harry complied, carefully frying the bacon and poaching several eggs for the Dursley family, then washing all the dishes at the conclusion of the meal. Uncle Vernon had already left for work, and Aunt Petunia informed Harry that she and Dudley were going shopping that morning. I want you to vacuum the entire downstairs, she lectured, and wash the floor in here and in the mud room. We'll be back after two; we have to go into the city. Harry smirked to himself as the door closed behind her. He decided to give the floors a cursory vacuuming, and wiped up the obvious spots on the tiled floor before he headed upstairs to pack his things. He emptied out the hiding place under the cupboard, and placed his completed homework, candy stash, and birthday presents into his school trunk, leaving only his wand and the PortKey out. Harry wasn't about to use a PortKey without his wand, whatever MInistry regulations about under-age magic might say.
Twelve hours after he had last examined the clock which such scrutiny, Harry watched the hour approach noon. When the clock switched to reading 12:00, Harry sat on top his trunk, clutching his wand and Hedwig's cage in one hand, and reached out for the PortKey with the other. He felt the now-familiar tug at his navel and soon found himself deposited unceremoniously in the garden at the Burrow. It was suspiciously silent, and Harry rose to his feet quietly, leaving his trunk and the cage where they had dropped. Wand at the ready, Harry approached the back door with no little trepidation.
He cautiously opened the back door and slid inside, wand held high as he scanned the room. Nothing seemed amiss. Taking a chance, he raised his voice. Hello? Ron? Mrs. Weasley? His words echoed in the large house, and no answer was forthcoming, leaving Harry uncertain as to what he should do. On the one hand, there could be something seriously wrong, and the quicker he searched the house, the faster he could inform someone that the Weasleys seemed to have disappeared. On the other hand, the Burrow was large, with many rooms, not to mention that Harry was uncomfortable with searching the bedrooms of most of the Weasleys. Finally, he remembered the clock in their living room, and went to the adjoining door, so he could see what the clock had to say about where the Weasleys might be.
The door had just begun to swing open, Harry's wand still held high, when he heard a rustling noise just before he heard a chorus of Weasleys yelling Happy Birthday! Harry was sufficiently shocked that this first reaction was to throw out in the direction of the noise, even as the yelling started.
Harry said sheepishly, as he noticed with some chagrin that he had just stunned one of the Weasleys twins. I, er, I think I'm just a bit jumpy about surprises.
Ron's face was mortified. Oh, gods, Harry, I'm sorry. I didn't even think...
Don't worry about it, Harry cut him off. It's my fault.
No, it's not, the now-revived twin said. We shouldn't have done this. Mum tried to warn us, but we didn't take her seriously.
What's going on, exactly? Charlie asked.
I'm sorry! Harry exclaimed, mortified now. I just had an, er, bad experience with a PortKey the last time I used one, and then when no one was around, well, I assumed the worst.
Good reflexes, Bill said with a smile. Assuming the worst keeps you alive in uncertain times. Nothing to be sorry about.
Well, now that we're done with serious topics – I hope – tell me what happened to your hair, Harry, Ron said with a mock-glare. It's flat.
I know! I just woke up this morning and it was longer and flatter. I don't know why, to be honest.
Ron shrugged. C'mon, then, we've got presents! And Mum's out right now, but tonight there'll be cake and ice cream. Harry grinned, cheered by his friend's steady presence, and allowed himself to be led to a nearby armchair where he was firmly sat down as the Weasleys brought him gifts.
Harry opened the proferred package from Ginny first, and found a generous supply of chocolate and other treats from Honeydukes, for which he thanked her profusely, noting with some displeasure that her cheeks still tended to tinge pink whenever he addressed her. Not that Harry didn't care for Ginny, but he held her in the same regard as Hermione, though he was not as close to Ginny: the regard and caring that one would have for a sister. He even felt some of the same overprotectiveness that Ron did for Ginny, but Harry knew better than to even try to be protective of Hermione.
The next gift was from Fred and George, and was more of their products. Harry assumed that the gift was a cover for the one they had sent the previous night. Feeling extraordinarily loved, Harry's curiousity was piqued when Percy, Bill, and Charlie all presented him with one gift between the three of them. He slowly unwrapped it and gasped when he realised what it was – a Pensieve.
I don't know if you know what that is– Bill began, but Harry cut him off with a nod.
Yes. A Pensieve. I... saw one, in Dumbledore's office this past year. Thank you very much, he added quietly, awed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this gift, even from the Weasleys that he knew the least well. Thank you, he repeated, carefully sitting his Pensieve to the side.
Finally, he looked at Ron with a raised eyebrow. Ron grinned mischieviously. I couldn't wrap your present. And don't worry, I've cleared it with Dumbledore so you can take it to Hogwarts, even though normally it wouldn't be allowed. This made Harry even more curious, and he wondered what Ron's gift could be, as Ron left the room. He looked at the others, a questioning look on his face. They merely shrugged, obviously just as confused as he.
Ron returned with a plain brown box with a lid set loosely on it. Go on, he urged. Look inside.
Harry lifted the lid and gasped. Inside was an absolutely gorgeous coral snake. he spat out, speaking Parseltongue and barely noticing the gasps that came from the two eldest Weasley children. What'sss your name?
I am Ananda, the snake replied. I am pleassed to meet the one whom I was purchassed for. It will be pleassant to have a masster with whom I can ssspeak.
Are you male or female? Harry asked, the name not cluing him in.
the snake replied. And poissonousss, but I understand I am not to attack unlesssss at your command.
Grinning, Harry looked up at Ron. Her name's Ananda, he reported happily. She's great, Ron. Thanks.
Bill and Charlie were staring at him, twin expressions of surprise on their faces. Harry sighed and turned to Ron. Ron, I take it that you've neglected to ever explain to your oldest brothers that I'm a Parselmouth?
Ron hung his head sheepishly, Uh, yes. Hey guys? By the way, Harry's a Parselmouth.
Thanks for enlightening us, Bill responded drily. We never would have figured that out otherwise.
The rest of the Weasleys laughed, and Harry joined in, as he felt Ananda slither her way out of the box to wrap herself around his arm. Harry was almost certain that she was sending out waves of contentment, and Harry smiled widely to have his new friend comfortable.
Dinner that night was a raucous affair. Mrs. Weasley kept trying to add more and more food to Harry's plate, and it was on her fifth trip back from the kitchen that she screamed.
Harry! Don't move! There's a large snake in your lap!
Harry looked up and bit his lip. Mrs. Weasley, it's just Ananda. She was a birthday present.
A birthday present?!? Who would be foolish enough to buy you a large poisonous snake?
Harry noticed with some amusement that Ron's ears were pink and he was studiously concentrating on his own plate.
He is a Parselmouth, Mum, George interceded on Harry's behalf. Harry says her name's Ananda and she's quite aware that she isn't to attack anyone unless Harry orders her to.
Mrs. Weasley was still flustered. Harry, if you don't mind, could Ananda stay with your things during meal times?
Of course, he replied quickly. She was just hungry today.
Just hungry... she replied faintly. Well. Time for cake!
Meanwhile, in another part of England, a werewolf named Remus Lupin sat in silent contemplation, rereading the letter in front of him for perhaps the one hundredth time since it had appeared in front of him that morning with his copy of the Daily Prophet. The letter had had a delayed delivery date placed on it, and the intended recipient hadn't necessarily been him. It was first to go to Sirius Black, if he was alive, then to Remus Lupin or Peter Pettigrew. As the wizarding world still believed Sirius to be guilty, and believed Peter to be dead, the letter had come to him, the handwriting like a ghost. Remus would've known that handwriting anywhere. Why had James written a letter that was supposed to be delayed in delivery until Harry's fifteenth birthday? Remus had thought. The answer had become frightfully clear as he read the letter.
Dear Marauder (for I can't be sure which of you will eventually recieve this),
There are tales that must be told, in the interest of truth and fairness. At this moment, I am the only person who knows the full truth of what has happened in the past months and, to some extent, the past years, and it's only fair that the suspicions and lies end now.
If you're reading this, then I am dead, and likely Lily is as well. I can only hope that the charm Lily found, in combination with Harry's own power, enabled him to survive. If he did not... well, then this letter is not needed.
When we were in our fifth year, Dumbledore approached me after a prefects' meeting one day, asking me to assist him in a high-level bit of espionage involving Voldemort. I would be partnered with another operative, he informed me, and i was shocked to find out that my partner would be none other than Severus Snape.
We overcame much our dislike for one another, and I can say now, five years later, that I count Sev as one of my closest friends and one of the few people with whom I would trust my life. Circumstances dictate, of course, that we remain enemies in public, and I do not doubt that he has made it plain that he detests all of us in the years between the year in which this was written and the one in which you are reading it. I also know that he will, more than likely, be forced to act as though he despises Harry as well.
Sev and I were partnered together because our differences complemented each other, from our House characteristics to our strongest subjects. Eventually, however, it became necessary to act as though we were one operative, and we frequently used polyjuice potion and glamour spells to act as the other one of us. There were many times when I went to Death Eater meetings, as Severus, as I could easily transfigure objects to give us much needed information, without arousing any notice – something Sev would have had the utmost difficulty doing. On those occasions, Sev had to become James Potter, so that there would be no suspicions, and he had to act as if he were me, which went up to and included sleeping with Lily. I hated to trick Lily like that, but I trusted Sev with my life, and knew how reluctant he was to do that to both of us, but it had to be done.
When Lily informed me she was pregnant, and on what timetable, I knew immediately that I could not be the father. I was afraid for Sev if he found out that he had a son, so I knew it had to be kept from him. Sev is a far braver man than any of us gave him credit for, and he would possibly have betrayed his role as a spy at this news. I urged Lily not to say anymore about the pregnancy, even to me, until she was showing, so that Sev would not be able to estimate the date of conception as I had done. It worked.
Once the reality of Lily's pregnancy could no longer be hidden, I began to research ways to conceal the baby's true identity. Although Severus and I both have black hair, most of our resemblance ends there, and I feared that the true father of the baby would be all too apparent. After weeks of research, I hit on a combination of potions and charms that would do. I cast a simple illusion charm on Harry before he was even born, when Lily was asleep one night, so that his initial appearance would be similar to mine except for the green eyes. Then, a few weeks after he was born, I went into his room one night and removed the illusion . I was pleased to see that Harry did have Lily's green eyes, and that Sev and Lily had produced a remarkably attractive child. Sighing with the heavy weight of what I must do, I gave Harry the prepared potion, and cast the charm that would make Harry look like me, as if he were my son. I was pained to do that to my dear friend, but I knew that neither Sev nor Lily would be able to handle the news of Harry's parentage with alacrity.
The effects of the potion and charm last for approximately fifteen years, which means that they are beginning to break down, on this, Harry's 15th birthday. By Halloween, they should be about halfway gone, and complete by mid-winter. In this way, some of the changes, at least, may be explained to others as a result of puberty. Still, I sincerely doubt that Sev's mind has gone, and I do not doubt that he will still be pretending to hate teaching at Hogwarts, so he will see the changes in Harry – his son – and will no doubt put two and two together.
So, dear Marauder, Prongs is asking for one last favor from beyond the grave. Tell Sev about what I did, about his son, and encourage him to tell Harry. Harry deserves to know his father. I love Harry like my own, and consider him to be the son of my heart, even if he is not of my blood. Let Harry know that he is truly blessed to have two fathers, both of whom love him very much, for I know that Sev loves him even now, when he thinks that Harry is merely my son.
I hope that Harry and Sev can forgive me, but I did what I thought was necessary at the time. We are in the middle of a war, after all, and ultimately victory had to be put ahead of my desires for my friend and Harry.
Remus didn't know what to make of the letter. It was genuine Prongs, no doubt about that, and he could see his friend doing exactly as he stated in the letter. The direction was clear, no less, and Remus would have to tell Severus Snape that Harry Potter was his child. Despite James' reassurances in the letter that most of what the world saw was an act, Remus wasn't so sure, and he wondered at the Potions Master's response. Still, the next day was a pre-term staff meeting at Hogwarts, so Remus decided he would approach Snape afterwards for a private word.