"Please! Please Professor! I can't...I just can't." Severus Snape looked on the crumpled form at his feet with pity. Harry Potter had survived the final battle with the Dark Lord...physically. His mental state, however, was very much in doubt; judging from the plea that had just left the young man, Severus knew that Harry was standing on an emotional precipice, ready to tumble off at any moment.
"Mr...Harry, I can't, in all honesty, give you that potion; I refuse to be responsible for your death."
"You wouldn't be responsible; I'm taking responsibility for this. It's my choice, my decision." Harry ran fingers through his hair and then tightened them into fists to grasp handfuls of said hair. "Everyone's gone...I have no one left."
Severus felt his heart clench at those words. Of everyone who had been involved in the battles with the Dark Lord, Harry had suffered the most. Both of his godfathers, his father figures, were gone; his best friends were gone; most of the Weasleys had been killed in the last battle; even Harry's owl was now gone. This sobbing wreck of a man was all that was left, and he couldn't even function on his own; Molly Weasley had to tell him when to eat, bathe and change his clothing.
Molly Weasley...there was one strong woman. She had lost her husband and four of her seven children; still she forged on, unrelenting in her goal of supporting the broken Boy Who Lived. She had help, in the form of her three remaining sons, George, Charles and William, but they could only do so much. Severus was very much afraid that there might be no way to completely heal the young man in front of him. He thought that there might be a way to at least start the healing process; whether it would work, though, was anyone's guess. Severus knew that one of the remaining Weasley brothers had been hiding feelings for Harry Potter for several years.
"Harry, please listen to me, alright?" He waited for the younger man to agree before continuing; at Harry's nod, Severus started to tell him of another option. "There is a potion that will de-age you to the age of four. You would lose all of your memories; you would be starting over again. You would need to be taught how to walk, how to talk, how to use the loo on your own...everything; this potion basically wipes out everything you've ever learned." Seeing that he had Harry's complete attention, Severus laid out several rules for the potion.
"You would need to set up your vaults, so that they can be used by whomever you select as your guardian, for your support. I refuse to give you this potion unless you have an in-depth discussion about this option with both Albus Dumbledore and Molly Weasley; we would have our own discussion in addition to those two. I will not have you blindly choose this option without knowing the risks and pitfalls of your choice."
Harry's blood-shot eyes were wide as he stared at the Potions Master. "You can do that? You can really make me forget like that?"
Severus slowly lowered himself to the ground next to Harry. "The potion wouldn't make you forget, per se; it de-ages you, causing you to lose all of the memories you have accumulated over the years. You would remember nothing."
"Not even Molly?" Harry glared at a spot on the stone floor; he looked like he wasn't sure he wanted to forget the only mother figure he'd ever had.
"No one, Harry; you wouldn't remember anyone. At that point, your mind would be a completely blank slate. We would have to teach you everything, from toileting to speaking and walking; you would have no knowledge of any of the things you take for granted now. You wouldn't remember Molly, myself, Albus, any of the remaining Weasleys...literally no one."
"Severus Snape! Why on the Goddess' green earth would you tell Harry about that kind of potion?"
Severus had been expecting this confrontation for days; Molly Weasley continued her determined stride down the hallway to his office. The flush on her face could either be from exertion or from anger; Severus was thinking that anger was the more likely of the two options.
"Please come inside, Molly; we have much to discuss." Severus turned and led the woman to a chair placed in front of his desk. Once she was seated, he walked behind the desk and took his own seat. Steepling his fingers under his chin, Severus looked at the older woman carefully before beginning to speak. "Harry is lost...completely lost. You know this, I know this, even Albus Dumbledore knows this. This potion could be the only way to allow Harry to retain his sanity."
"Sanity? The child has talked of nothing else for days! How could you make him an offer like that, knowing what he's been through?" Molly sat forward, gripping the arms of the chair. "George asked me to stall Harry's decision until he could get Bill and Charlie here. Do you know what this would do to him?"
"If you mean, do I know what this would do to Harry...yes, I do. That is why I offered him this option." Severus sighed deeply. "Molly, Harry believes that he has nothing left to live for; he thinks that everyone who cares about him has been taken from him." He held up a hand to forestall her argument. "I understand that you are there for him; Albus and I are also here to help him. Harry is not looking at the situation like that; all he sees is that his friends are gone and he feels that there is no one else left for him. Right now, I do not think that he realises that there are many more who support him. He feels alone." Severus watched and felt a pang of pity when Molly's face crumpled and she began to cry. He had never had much success with crying females; he had no idea how to comfort them. "I would like for him to see that we all do care about him and want him to be alive and well...at his current age."
"How are we going to be able to do that? He doesn't hear us when we say that we love him and care about him; he just stares off into space. No matter what George and I do, we can never seem to get through to him." The tears were still tracking down Molly's plump cheeks, making her look like a sad cherub.
"I have told him that he must have an in-depth conversation about this option with three people...you, Albus and myself. I will not have him chose this potion, and its effects, blindly. I am assuming that he has not spoken to you about what will happen; he just told you about the potion and what it will do, correct?"
"Yes, that's exactly what he's done; he told George and myself two days ago and has spoken of very little else for those two days. Do you know if he's spoken to Albus yet?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"But...but, Professor Dumbledore! You don't understand...I can't go on like this; it's like I'm living only a small portion of a life. There's nothing left for me; Ron and Hermione are dead, Fred's gone, Remus and Tonks are gone..."
"What of your godson, Teddy? What about him? Are you willing to leave him in the same situation you yourself were placed in?"
"He has Andromeda, his grandmother...I only had the Dursleys. Andromeda loves Teddy...the Dursleys hated me. You can't compare the situations; besides, I won't be leaving, just becoming younger."
"With no memories. You will not remember that Teddy is your godson; you won't remember anything, Harry."
Harry sat back in the armchair, slumped in defeat; Albus was not going to see things how Harry did. He knew that he'd have no memories, but he didn't think it would effect Teddy as badly as it would the others. The others...Molly, Professors Dumbledore and Snape, George, Bill and...and...Charlie. Harry sighed deeply; if only Charlie cared about Harry the way that Harry cared about Charlie. If he did, Harry wouldn't even consider taking that potion...but he didn't.
"Snape has offered him WHAT?"
"A de-aging potion. It would erase all of his memories; he wouldn't remember anything about his life now. Harry said that it would make him about four years old; he would have to be retaught everything. Walking, talking, using the loo...he would have to be taught all of that all over again."
"He wouldn't remember anything? Not even...us?"
George shook his head. "No one."
Charlie sat on the kitchen chair heavily, as if the weight of the world had just been transferred to his shoulders. He had just spent the last month tying up loose ends at the dragon reserve in Romania; he wouldn't be going back to work there any more. He had taken a job with the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures...just so that he could be closer to Harry; now it appeared that he wouldn't get that, at least not in the way he wanted.
Bill gently placed a hand on his brother's shoulder, trying to comfort him. He knew what Charlie had been doing and why; this had to come as a huge blow to him. "We can see if we can talk him out of this. You should tell him how you feel, Charlie; he needs to know that there is someone here who needs him." Bill had a feeling that he knew what Snape was trying to do; being a curse-breaker, he had a good idea of what potions were out there...to his knowledge, there was no such thing as a de-aging potion.
"I've already talked with Molly and Professor Dumbledore...now I want to talk to you." Harry curled up in the large armchair sitting in front of Severus' desk; this was the last step before he could take that potion. Harry still wasn't sure he wanted to forget everyone, but it had to be better than these constant feelings of loss and pain.
"Mr...Harry, I'm going to ask that you do not take the potion I offered you. When I made the offer, I did not realise just how many would be adversely affected by your de-aging. I want you to consider the Weasleys...Molly considers you to be one of her sons; never mind the fact that you are old enough to make this choice on your own, if you choose to do this, Molly will be devastated. She has already lost her husband and four of her children; losing you, as you are now, will be another blow to her. Then there are George, William and Charles." Severus made sure to mention Charlie's name last, so that his would be the name that stuck in Harry's mind. "How do you think they would react to your de-aging?"
"I-I don't think that it would bother any of them...hell, Bill could raise me as his son; he's about 26 or 27 now."
"Is that what you would want? Someone who was your friend to raise you as his son? We could ask him, if you wish, but be prepared for him to decline; I think they all care too much for you, the way you are now, to accept your de-aging with a mere shrug of the shoulders. They would be missing an important part of their lives. Is there no one that you are romantically inclined towards? If there is, wouldn't you stay as you currently are for them?"
A tear slid out of the side of Harry's eye as he shook his head. Charlie would never return his feelings; Harry didn't know if he even liked other men.
"There is, isn't there." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yeah, but he won't feel the same way about me."
"Why wouldn't he?" The door behind Harry opened silently, admitting the three Weasley brothers, Molly and Albus.
"Who would want me? I'm ugly, scrawny, have nothing good to recommend me...why the hell would Charlie Weasley want me? He could do so much better."
"No, he couldn't" Charlie's voice came from behind him, making Harry jump in his seat; he spun around to face the door and the small group gathered there. "How could I do better than you?" Charlie walked over to the chair and knelt down next to it. Taking Harry's hand, he caught the green gaze of the man he had fallen in love with. "I love you, Harry Potter. I'm prepared to beg and plead with you not to take that potion; I need you to stay just as you are." Charlie ignored the gasp from his mother and continued to speak to Harry. "You are not ugly; you are not scrawny; you have so much to recommend you...you just don't see it. You have the biggest heart I have ever seen; you have the capacity to love literally everyone, even those who have harmed you in the past. You care so much about everyone else, but you care so little for yourself. I fell in love with that man."
"No, no 'buts'; I fell in love with who you are now. Everything that has happened to you has made you into a wonderfully caring man; you just don't see it because of the pain you're in. Let me take some of that pain; share it with me, let me help you."
By this time, Harry couldn't see anything other than a large blur; the tears that had been gathering in his eyes had spilled over and were running down his cheeks. He hadn't thought he had anything to live for, but Charlie was telling him that he did...Charlie's love. If he took the de-aging potion, that love would be gone; Charlie was unlikely to wait thirteen more years for him to be seventeen years old again. What should he do?
Severus stood and walked to stand next to Bill Weasley; the curse-breaker looked at him with an amused expression in his eyes. Severus raised an eyebrow, asking a silent question.
"I am a curse-breaker for a reason, Professor...one of the requirements of being a good curse-breaker is that I keep abreast of all of the potions currently available for use. To my knowledge there isn't a de-aging potion like the one you offered to Harry." Bill kept his voice pitched low, so that Severus was the only one who could hear him. "What would you have done had he decided to take the potion? You know he's not going to, right?"
Severus nodded, a slight smirk gracing his lips. "Yes, I know. I had hoped that Charles could make him see sense. The potion I would have given him would have done nothing more than put him to sleep for a full day; when he woke up, he would have found that it did nothing to him. I would have explained that he had to be certain for the potion to work; the fact that it did nothing would show him that he had been truly undecided about what he wanted to do." Severus looked at Bill and smirked again. "Alas...the potion can only be consumed once." Bill hid his smile behind his hand; he never wanted to hear anyone say that Severus Snape didn't care about Harry James Potter.
Severus cleared his throat, gaining everyone's attention. "Harry, as much as I hate to interrupt this, I need to know whether you still want the potion."
Harry watched as Charlie's head swung back around so that he could look into Harry's eyes. "Please don't. I don't think I can wait thirteen years for you to be of age again."
Harry took a deep breath, making up his mind in that instant. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused, Professor." Holding Charlie's blue gaze with his own green one, he finished his thought. "I don't think I want the potion any more."
"You don't think? I need for you to be certain about this, Harry."
"No...I don't want the potion."
Severus walked over to the sink, pulling a phial of bright purple potion out of his pocket. "I am going to pour this down the sink; this type of potion should not be easily accessible to anyone who enters these rooms. Know this, I will not make this potion again." Harry nodded, watching as Severus tipped the phial and the thick potion slid out and down the drain; Severus turned on the water and rinsed the phial out, making sure that none of the potion was still in the glass tube. Severus walked back over to where Harry sat and joined Charlie on the floor next to Harry's chair.
"I am glad that you chose to stay with us, at the age you are now."
Harry looked into the endless dark depths of Severus' eyes and nodded in agreement. "I am too, Professor...I am too."
Charlie helped Severus to stand and pulled Harry out of the chair and into his arms. Now that he had his Harry, he had no intention of letting him go. He sat down in Harry's chair and arranged Harry comfortably in his lap, wrapping his arms around him and burying his face in Harry's neck. He was going to cry and didn't want anyone but Harry to know it.
Albus herded everyone out of the room to give Harry and Charlie time to themselves. They congregated in the Potions classroom and looked at each other, relieved that Harry had made the right decision.
Harry felt Charlie's body shaking and realised that the dragon handler was crying. He wrapped his arms around Charlie's neck and held on to him, his own tears streaming down his cheeks again. For several minutes they sat like this, taking comfort in holding each other and in the knowledge that Harry was going to stay right where he was. Charlie eventually raised his head to press his lips to Harry's; once the chaste kiss was over, Charlie looked Harry in the eyes.
"I know you haven't made any kind of plans for your life from here on out, but I'm going to ask that you come back to the Burrow to live."
"What about Romania and the dragons?"
Charlie shook his head. "I left the reserve and took a job with the Ministry; I'll be working in the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. That's what I've spent the last month doing; getting everything wrapped up and taken care of so that my replacement isn't left with a mess to clean up. If it hadn't been for that, I would have been here about two weeks ago." He sighed heavily. "I wish now that I'd left the mess behind...if I had known what you were going through, I'd have come home much sooner."
Harry made a small noise of disagreement. "I think I probably had to go through this to make me realise exactly how much I'd be leaving behind if I had taken that potion. I know I am by no means better than I was, but now I have hope...I have you."
"And I will always be here for you; whenever you need me, I'll be there. I can't guarantee that things will be all moonlight and roses, but we can work through things together."
As Charlie's lips met his again, Harry thought to himself, Together...I like the sound of that...I've never been 'together' with anyone before...I'm really looking forward to finding out what that means!