Summary: When Harry thinks a tragic accident has occurred, his mind finally says "enough".
Rated E for Everyone
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I suspect you already knew that.
"Come on, guys," Harry wheedled. "No one will know. We'll be in and out before anyone even knows we're gone."
"Harry," Hermione said with that superior look that drove Harry mad sometimes. "You know how much trouble we'll be in if we do get caught. We'll likely be expelled!"
"And I'm going to get another detention if I don't replace the wormwood root I lost!" Harry pointed out. "You haven't got any extra, and unless you want me to steal from Snape's private stores, I've got to go into Hogsmeade to buy more. If you don't want to go along, I'll go alone. I just thought it could be an adventure. Things have been kind of dull around here."
"Would you talk some sense into him?!" Hermione demanded of Ron. "Tell him this is madness!"
"Madness would failing to complete the task Snape set in the first detention," Ron pointed out.
"But he wouldn't be expelled for that – he'd only get another detention!"
"Yeah, another detention with Snape."
"I'm going," Harry said, standing up and hopefully ending the argument. "Who's with me?"
Ron stood up, too. "I'm game for anything." They both looked at Hermione, who sighed and rolled her eyes, both at their recklessness and her own foolishness in going along with it.
"Fine. But I'll not be able to hold off saying, 'I told you so' when we get caught."
"If we get caught," Harry said with an impish smile, "I think that'll be the least of our troubles."
Harry pushed his way into the Shrieking Shack. He'd decided against using the tunnel into Honeyduke's – he'd almost been caught there by the owner the last time he'd gone that way. The tunnel under the Whomping Willow ended further away from the center of Hogsmeade and was more discreet. They were simply three friends taking an innocent stroll across the grounds. The invisibility cloak was in his pocket – they wouldn't need it until they stepped outside of the Shrieking Shack. No one ever went in there. He crawled into the room, then turned to help Hermione up. Before Ron could do so much as stick his head through the tunnel opening, a voice spoke to them.
"Why if it isn't Harry Potter! Fancy meeting you here."
Harry instinctively whirled around, drawing his wand as he did so, shouting, "Stupefy!" His hex missed its target but caused his opponent, whoever he was, to yelp and duck out of sight.
"Mulciber!" the man yelled. "It's Harry Potter! I've got Harry Potter! Get down here!"
So there were two of them, at least. "Ron!" Harry yelled. "Go back for help!"
"I'm not leaving you!" Ron protested.
"GO!" Harry shouted. "You're the only one who can! Get Dumbledore!" Harry hoped that the mere mention of Dumbledore's name would frighten these people away.
Ron ducked out of sight, and Harry exchanged a look with Hermione before they both heard, "I've got you both covered. Don't make any sudden moves."
Harry itched to pull the cloak out of his pocket and throw it over both of them, but he knew he didn't have time. Instead, he shot another stupefy in the general direction the voice had come from and grabbed Hermione, pulling her toward the stairs.
"Cover our backs!" Harry ordered as he advanced up the stairs, his wand pointing the way.
Hermione shot every jinx she could think of down the stairs as they went slowly up. When they reached the landing, Harry's attempt to get to the door was thwarted by Mulciber, who appeared at the other end of the hall. Side by side, Harry and Hermione backed toward the door leading to the room where they had first encountered Sirius Black three years ago. They'd make their stand there and wait for help.
Harry pushed Hermione into the room and followed her in. Both of them panting and frightened, they backed up to the bed, willing to blast whatever next walked through the door.
It was Mulciber. He appeared suddenly, shouted something Harry had never heard before, and then was struck by the two hexes thrown at him. He blasted backward into the hallway and lay there, motionless.
"We got him!" Harry whispered. He turned to Hermione and was appalled to see her shirt covered with blood. Her eyes rolled up into her head, and she began to slowly slump to the floor.
"Hermione!" Harry cried, catching his friend before she hit the floor. He pulled her onto the bed and lay her down. There was blood everywhere – on her, on him, already soaking through the dirty bedding.
"Hermione!" Harry groaned. What had he done? He had to get help! But there was still the other man.
Harry had no time to waste. Smoothing back Hermione's hair and silently begging for her forgiveness, he left her. The second man was just reaching the top of the stairs when Harry entered the hallway. With a speed borne of desperation, Harry stupefied him, sending him toppling backward down the stairs.
Harry peeked over the railing. Whoever he was, he had to be dead, his neck canted at a gruesome angle as he lay three steps from the bottom. Harry returned to Hermione. The amount of blood seemingly had doubled in the few short moments he had been away. No one could lose that much blood and survive. Harry knew that. He'd killed his best friend. To avoid some stupid detention and out of a sense of boredom, he'd killed one of the very first and best friends he'd ever have.
Despondent, Harry sat on the edge of the bed. How could anyone expect him to be the savior of the entire wizarding world when he kept getting innocent people killed? He couldn't do it any more – he didn't deserve anyone's faith or loyalty. He was worse than ineffectual – he was downright dangerous.
With one last look at the blood-soaked bed, Harry left the room and seated himself in the hallway, back against the wall, waiting for those who would come to their aid. He hoped they arrested him and tossed him in prison for stupidity in the first degree. He was done, with everything: Voldemort, Hogwarts, his miserable cursed life. Something shifted inside him, and he sat and awaited whatever would happen next, understanding nothing about why he was here or even how he'd come to be in this place.
Severus Snape crept into the Shrieking Shack out of the tunnel, wondering at the quiet, wondering if Potter and the Granger girl were already dead or captured. He'd come across an agitated Ronald Weasley in the castle, and after hearing the boy's story, Snape had sent Weasley on to Dumbledore and he'd immediately come here, hoping he wasn't too late, wondering why the three troublemaking Gryffindors had been here in the first place.
At the bottom of the stairs, he found the body of Dexter Mansfield, a minor level Death Eater. Snape checked him carefully but knew from first glance that the man was dead. Out of an abundance of caution, Snape took his wand which lay just beside his outstretched hand. Creeping cautiously up the stairs, his own wand at the ready, Snape was surprised at what he saw on the landing. A second body lay sprawled there, and Harry Potter was sitting on the floor, covered with blood, his wand beside him on the floor, staring with open curiosity and a little bit of fear at Snape.
Snape slowly approached the body. Avery Mulciber. He'd only been stunned, and Snape quickly gagged him and tied him with an incarcerous. "Are there more?" he asked Potter.
The boy shook his head 'no'.
"Are you injured?" There was something strangely – not exactly vacant about the boy's eyes – but there was definitely something missing.
"No," Potter said, "but there's a lady in there," he pointed into the room," who seems hurt pretty bad."
A lady? Snape cautiously entered the room and quickly ascertained that its only occupant was Hermione Granger, lying on the blood-soaked bed. Snape examined her quickly. Her pulse was strong and her breathing shallow but steady. He recognized this spell – it was a Death Eater standard. It increased blood volume after the blood left the body, so that spilling a drop of blood looked more like a gobletful. It was commonly used in battle and duped anyone interested in aiding the injured into thinking there was no hope, at which point the victim, left alone and presumed beyond help, slowly bled to death. Death Eaters were a cruel and sadistic lot. Snape stopped the bleeding with a simple mending spell. With a little blood replenisher, Granger should be fine.
But why wasn't Potter in here with her? And why had he referred to his friend as "a lady"? Snape conjured a stretcher and levitated Granger onto it, then floated her out into the hall.
Harry was still sitting on the floor, although he'd now drawn his knees up and was hugging them. He wasn't sure exactly why, but he suspected he was in a lot of trouble.
"Potter, are you sure you are not injured?" Snape asked, crouching beside him and looking for any obvious sign of injury, although Merlin only knew what might be hiding under all that blood. The blood may be all Granger's, but something was wrong with the boy. With a flick of his wand, he vanished the mess on the boy's clothes and hands.
"No, sir." He was staring at the floating stretcher in fascination.
"You are not sure?"
"No. I'm okay. Is the lady . . . is she dead?"
"She should be fine. It looks a lot worse than it is." Snape looked into Harry's eyes. Something was wrong here. Had Potter been hit with some kind of memory charm? "What is your name?"
"Harry Potter,sir. What's yours?" the boy answered.
Oh, this was not good. Snape ignored the question. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't know, sir. I was just . . . here suddenly. And that lady was here. Something bad happened to her, didn't it?"
Snape ran a quick diagnostic spell and could find no evidence that Potter had been hit by any kind of curse. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Harry shrugged, hugged his knees tighter and rested his chin on his knees. "I woke up this morning at home. Then I was here. Are you going to help that lady?"
"Yes. We'll take her to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey will take good care of her. Do you remember Hogwarts?"
"Hogwarts?" Harry repeated. "That's a funny name. Does it have something to do with pigs? Pigs that have warts?" Harry covered his mouth to hide a giggle.
"No. It's the school you attend."
"Me? Uh uh," Harry contradicted. "I go to state school."
Something clicked into place in Snape's brain. "Potter, how old are you?"
Six?! Oh, this was so not good. "Potter, are you playing some kind of game to avoid responsibility for this little fiasco?" Snape snarled.
Eyes wide, Harry shook his head and began inching away from the suddenly very terrifying man.
Snape sighed and picked up Harry's wand, tucking it into his robe. "Well, get up. We will take you both to the hospital wing." He levitated the prisoner and the dead man alongside Hermione.
Harry stood up and followed along behind Snape. "Are those bad men?"
"Yes, they are."
"Did you tie them up?"
"I tied one of them up." There was no need to tie the other.
"You're brave," Harry said, looking up at him in awe.
"You took care of them before I got here," Snape pointed out.
Harry moved closer to Snape, close enough to touch his robe. If those men woke up, they'd probably be pretty mad at Harry for doing that – whatever that was – to them. Even if he had no idea how he'd done it. And although this tall bloke in the black robe was a little scary, he hadn't tried to hurt Harry, and he was going to help the pretty lady who'd bled so much. So he was sticking close, just in case.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Dumbledore came bursting out of the tunnel, scaring Harry so much he actually hid his face in Snape's robe.
"The threat has been neutralized, Headmaster," Snape assured him as Ron followed Dumbledore into the shack.
"Hermione!" Ron cried, rushing to the side of her stretcher.
"She looks worse than she is, Mr. Weasley," Snape said. "She should be fine."
"Let's get her to Madam Pomfrey," said Dumbledore. "Harry, are you all right?"
Harry, who had peeked out of Snape's robe, dove back in on being addressed directly.
When Dumbledore turned questioning eyes on him, Snape said, "We seem to have another problem. I'll explain as we walk."
Madam Pomfrey had made quick work of Hermione's injuries and assured them of a full recovery after a period of rest and blood replenishers. Dumbledore and Snape had wrested from Ron the story of what the trio had been doing in the Shrieking Shack. And all the while, Harry had clung as close to Snape as the annoyed man would allow. Madam Pomfrey had examined Harry and found nothing physically wrong with him and had no explanation for why he'd apparently mentally regressed ten years.
So Snape found himself in Dumbledore's office with a clingy teenager he couldn't stand who suddenly seemed afraid of everyone around him, including the Headmaster. Except Snape. Could this night get any worse? Why yes, yes it could.
"What are we to do, Headmaster?" Snape asked as Harry hid behind him, occasionally peeking out from behind the safety of the potion master's robes to study the strangely-dressed old man.
"Well, we must keep Harry safe until we figure out what is going on and how to correct it."
"Something has obviously unhinged the boy's mind. Worse than it normally is, I mean. Perhaps it was the trauma of seeing his friend 'murdered' before his eyes."
Harry's ears perked up at that. So it was true – the lady was dead. He'd thought she must be with all that blood. He'd wanted to believe she would be okay, but it seemed everyone was just trying to make him feel better when they said she would be fine. Had she been his friend? That couldn't be – he'd never seen her before. And besides, he didn't have any friends.
"Perhaps he just needs some time," Dumbledore guessed. "And until then . . . we wait."
"Headmaster, he thinks he is six years old!" Snape said, frustrated with Harry, who continued hiding behind Snape.
"Yes, Severus. I'm quite aware of that," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "I cannot force him to return to his right mind." He stopped to wink and wave at Harry, who ducked shyly behind Snape again. "We may have to just wait until he feels secure enough to return to us on his own."
"And what do we do in the meantime?" Snape demanded.
"In the meantime, we provide him with a stable, secure and nurturing environment, until his psyche heals and he feels able to return to his present."
"And where exactly will we find this 'stable, secure and nurturing environment'?"
"That, I think, is a problem I can solve," Dumbledore said with a satisfied twinkle. "There is a guest cottage on my family's estate. It is currently unoccupied. He should be safe enough there."
"And what of your duties here?" Snape questioned. "Can you simply pack up with the boy, now?" Harry was fiddling with some of the fascinating glass and crystal items on Dumbledore's shelves. "Potter!" Snape snapped. "Stop touching!" Harry immediately dropped his hands to his sides. Seconds later, he tugged on Snape's robe. Snape ignored him.
"Oh, I wasn't thinking about taking him there myself," Dumbledore said with a pointed look at Snape. More tugging on the robe.
Snape understood immediately. "Oh no! You cannot ask this of me, Headmaster. Not me! There have got to be many who are more qualified for this task than myself! Minerva," he suggested somewhat desperately. "The Weasley woman – I bet she would salivate at the chance to get her hands on him." Another tug. "What is it, Potter?" he snapped.
"I have to pee," Harry whispered, dancing from foot to foot, a hand cupped between his legs, behavior which looked exceedingly strange in someone Harry's size.
Snape sighed. How many gods had he angered to deserve this?
"The facilities are through there, Harry," Dumbledore said, pointing at a door behind his desk.
"Huh?" Harry said.
"The loo Potter," Snape huffed. "Go, before you . . ." Merlin himself couldn't make Snape finish that thought.
"You'll be here when I get back, right?" Harry asked Snape, large green eyes pleading.
"It appears I am doomed to be cursed with your company," Snape said in resignation.
"Yes, I'll be here! Now go!"
After Harry had gone and closed the door, Snape tried again. "Albus, please. There has to be someone else. I do not even like children. And I have no experience with a boy of six!"
"I believe you were a boy of six, once upon a time, Severus," Dumbledore pointed out. "And it's you the boy trusts."
"More fool him, then," Snape muttered.
"Severus, I know you have misgivings, but he needs you now. I have every confidence that you can give Harry exactly what he needs. In fact, you may be the only one."
"But what of his magic?" Snape asked. "He has the magic of a powerful sixteen year old and the judgment and the mental acuity of a six year old." Actually, Snape thought but did not say, that wasn't so very different from Potter on a normal day.
"That might be a problem," Dumbledore conceded. "I could perhaps perform a spell to dampen his magic, but I hesitate to do that, for obvious reasons." Tampering with someone's magic was always risky, both for the caster and the object of the spell.
"That would not solve the problem of sixteen year old hormones," Snape pointed out.
Dumbledore looked searchingly at Snape. "I have the feeling you have a suggestion."
"I know a spell . . . which can reverse aging. I can shrink Potter's body back to the way it was when he was six."
Dumbledore eyed him warily. "Do I want to know how you come to know this spell?"
"I have never cast it myself," Snape hastened to admit. "But I have seen it cast . . . at meetings. Some of the Dark Lord's followers have a . . . taste . . . for young children. They use the spell on each other, indulge their perverted fantasies, and then return to their original age."
Dumbledore's eyes were sad as they regarded Snape. "The things you have seen," he said, his voice low with regret. "You'll never know how I regret having to send you to him."
"That is irrelevant now," Snape said.
"Yes," Dumbledore sighed. "And I have your word that you have never used this spell yourself?"
Snape nodded. "I am not subject to this particular perversion. I have never cast this spell."
Something in the way he spoke caused Dumbledore to be uneasy. "Have you had the spell cast upon you, Severus?" he asked softly.
Snape was saved from answering by the return of Harry from the loo. He skipped to Snape's side, standing much too close for the man's liking, and tugged on Snape's robe.
Snape looked at him and Harry said, "There's a funny water fountain in there." And they all knew he'd played in it – it explained why he'd taken so long in there.
Dumbledore chuckled. "That's called a bidet, Harry. It's for . . ."
"Perhaps we should get back to the problem at hand," Snape interrupted. "The spell, Headmaster?"
"Will it hurt him?"
"It is painless," Snape said, affirming for Dumbledore that Snape had, indeed, been subjected to the spell.
"And you can reverse it?"
"Are you certain that it reverts the magic as well?"
"Not entirely," Snape admitted. "But it'll be easy enough to check. If it does not, I can reverse the spell immediately, and we can discuss other options."
"All right, Severus. Harry, would you sit, please?"
Harry sat in the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk and looked up at them. Snape withdrew his wand and pointed it at Harry.
"What's that?" Harry asked, his eyes widening with intense curiosity as he leaned closer to get a better look.
"It's a wand," Snape said.
"A magic wand?" Harry asked.
Harry sat back in his chair. "There's no such thing as magic," he said dismissively. "That's what my uncle says. Am I going back there soon? Uncle Vernon won't be happy that I've been gone this long if he doesn't know where I am."
"We'll take care of your uncle, Harry," Dumbledore assured him. "We'll make sure your family isn't worried about you."
"Oh, they won't be worried," Harry said, matter-of-factly. "They'll just be mad I went off without telling them."
Snape looked questioningly at Dumbledore, but the older man was looking at the boy.
"Can I try your wand?" Harry asked. "Can you make a rabbit come out of your hat? I like rabbits. We have a rabbit in our class at school. His name is Mr. Bunny. I call him Mr. Funny Bunny because his nose is so funny. It's always twitching. He belongs to Mrs. Landingham, but she keeps him at school and we all get to take care of him. But you don't have a hat. Maybe we could borrow his," he said, gesturing at Dumbledore.
"Maybe you could stop chattering like a magpie for just a moment," Snape suggested.
Harry clamped his lips shut and sat still, grinning just a little.
"Reverto aevus sex," Snape intoned.
Before their eyes, Harry began to shrink, until a very small boy, legs so short they stuck out straight over the edge of the chair, was sitting before them in clothes that were much too large. Dumbledore had to stand from his chair behind his desk as he lost sight of the dwindling Harry.
"Severus, are you sure you stopped at six?" Dumbledore asked, looking down at the small boy.
"Yes, I'm sure. Why?"
"He's so . . . small."
"Well, even at sixteen he is not as large as his peers," Snape noted. He had no experience with small children and had no basis for an opinion on Harry's relative size.
"Harry, how do you feel?" Dumbledore asked.
"Okay. Did you do magic? Why are my clothes so big?" The voice was now that of a six-year old, still years away from puberty, completing the transformation.
"I can fix that." With a wave of his wand, Dumbledore shrank Harry's clothing to fit.
"Cool," Harry said appreciatively. "Can I try that?"
"Do you have his wand, Severus?"
Snape withdrew Harry's wand from his robe. "Come here, Potter."
Harry jumped down from the chair and stood before Snape. Merlin, but he was little. His head barely came to Snape's waist. Harry tilted his head back and looked up at Snape.
"You're very tall," he noted. "How'd you get so tall?" Moments ago, he hadn't been this tall, had he?
"On the contrary – I am not tall – you are very short."
Harry actually giggled at this.
Snape handed Harry his wand. As soon as the boy took it into his hand, he felt the tingle up his arm. The two men watching recognized the telltale sign of a wand connecting (or, in this case, reconnecting) with its intended.
"That tickled!" Harry said. "Can I do a spell?"
"We shall see," said Snape. "Say 'lumos'."
"Lumos," Harry dutifully repeated. The very tip of Harry's wand glowed dully, very briefly, then flickered out. Harry's green eyes widened impossibly, and he looked up at Snape. "I did it! Did you see?! I made magic! All by myself!"
Snape stared down at him. It was inconceivable that this impossibly cute, disingenuous little creature was the same Harry Potter who just a few short days ago had earned a detention by snarling at his DADA professor. "Yes, I saw. Well done," Snape said. He turned to the Headmaster. "It appears his magic is somewhat dimmed."
"No pun intended, eh, Severus?" Dumbledore chuckled.
Snape rolled his eyes.
"Now that that matter has been resolved, we should get you two away from here. I will just pop to the manor and alert the house elf to ready the guest cottage. Toby will be so pleased to have company. Severus, you will need to pack."
Snape couldn't remember having agreed to this little plan of Dumbledore's, but as usual, the old man had just assumed that his minions would toe the line merrily. "What about the boy?" he growled. "He'll need clothing."
"I will floo you what you need tomorrow."
Harry was pointing his wand this way and that, saying "Lumos" every few seconds to reignite it as soon as it went out.
"Come, Potter," Snape said. "It is time for us to go."
Harry's shoulders slumped. He'd hoped to be able to play with the wand some more. He dejectedly held the wand out toward Snape. Actually, he more thrust the wand in Snape's direction while it was pointed at him.
Snape, reacting instinctively, jumped out of immediate danger and reached out and batted the end of Harry's wand away. "Don't point that at people!" he snapped. "That's your wand. You may keep it. Unless you'd like me to hold it for you for now."
"It's mine?" the boy repeated. "I can keep it? You mean, like a present?"
Well, not really, since Potter already owned the wand, but it was easier to just agree. Snape shrugged. "I suppose so."
"I've never had a present before," Harry breathed in awe.
Snape thought that a very strange comment. The boy was six (well, he thought he was six), which meant he'd had five birthdays and five Christmases with his Muggle family. It was impossible that he'd never had a gift.
"I shall have another waiting for you when you get to your destination," Dumbledore promised. "Look for it by the fireplace."
Two presents in one day was apparently too much to process, because Harry didn't respond.
"I will join you in your chamber as soon as I've made arrangements with Toby," Dumbledore promised. "And might I suggest a disillusionment charm for your trip to the dungeon?"
Snape took hold of Harry's hand and tapped his wand on top of the tousled head.
"Hey!" Harry said, feeling his hair with his free hand. "That feels funny! Did you break an egg on my head?"
"No, silly creature," Snape said. "Now do not let go of my hand." All he needed to make this night complete was to have to search for a nearly invisible, very diminutive Harry Potter.
Snape led Harry down the stone steps, past the gargoyle, and out into the courtyard. It was a cold evening, and thankfully there were no students out and about, because a disillusionment charm did no good when the person under its spell couldn't stop talking. Every few seconds, Snape heard "Lumos" from somewhere down around his kneecap.
"Hush, boy," Snape finally muttered. "We're supposed to be sneaking down to the dungeon."
"Sneaking? You mean like a secret agent?" Harry asked.
"Exactly like that," Snape agreed, even though he had no idea what a secret agent was.
The boy was now walking with mincing little steps Snape could feel but not really see. "What are you doing now?"
"I'm walking on my tippy toes," Harry whispered. "I'm sneaking."
Snape rolled his eyes and counted to ten. This boy was going to try the patience right out of him!
Harry's feet began to drag halfway to the dungeon. "This is a very long sneak," he noted.
"Yes, well, sometimes secret agents have to walk very far to do their . . . secret things."
A minute later, Harry began to huff and puff rather dramatically with each step.
"Child, what is the matter now?" Snape asked, exasperated.
"I'm tired," Harry complained.
Snape sighed and bent down to find the boy and lift him into his arms. "Better?" he asked as he settled the barely-there weight onto one hip.
"Yes," Harry said. "Now I feel like a secret agent riding on a giraffe."
"Do secret agents ride on giraffes then?" Snape couldn't help but ask.
"Mm hmm," Harry confirmed. "When they're in Africa they do. Giraffes live in Africa. Did you know that?"
"You are a font of information."
"What's a font?"
"Never mind. It just means you're very smart."
"Oh." Harry smiled, pleased. No one had ever told him he was smart before. "Giraffes are my favoritest of all the animals. I like rabbits, too, though, and cats. Do you like giraffes?"
"I never thought much about them to be honest. I like that they're very quiet," he said pointedly, forgetting that subtlety was lost even on a sixteen year old Harry Potter.
"I like them because they're very tall. They can eat the leaves on the tippy tops of the trees in Africa. Have you ever been to Africa?"
"No. Have you?"
Harry snorted his amusement at that idea. "Nope. I'd like to. It's a very cool place. They have lions and elephants and gazelles and warthogs. And giraffes. I like tall things. Do you?"
"I like some tall things, I suppose. But not all tall things." Trolls were tall. Giants were tall. Snape didn't like either of them.
"You're tall," Harry said.
"Does that mean you like me then?" Snape queried.
Harry was silent for a moment, considering. "Yes. I do like you. But not just because you're tall. Because you gave me a present. Lumos. And because you saved me from those bad men. And because you helped that lady. And because you were nice to me. Are you nice to everyone?"
Snape snorted. What had he gotten himself into this time? "No."
Harry smiled, though Snape couldn't see it, and snuggled a little closer to this man's warmth, secretly pleased that this man was nice only to him.
Snape entered his quarters, removed the disillusionment charm from Harry, and sat him on the sofa. "Sit," he commanded. He pointed a finger at him sternly. "Stay." He stood for a moment, making a mental list of what he'd need to bring with him, not knowing how long he'd need to be gone.
Harry sank back into the sofa cushions. "Where are we going?" He looked around the room with lively curiosity.
"We're going to Professor Dumbledore's house."
"Doesn't he live here? In this castle? Is this a castle? It looks like a castle."
"Yes, this is a castle, and Dumbledore stays here during the school year, but he also has a house that he lives in."
"Dumbledore," Harry repeated quietly, liking the way it tripped off his tongue. "Dumbledore. Dumbledore. That's a silly name."
"Yes, I suppose it is, to a six year old," Snape said from his bed chamber.
"What's your name?"
"Severus Snape," Harry repeated. "That's a funny name, too. Does everyone in this castle have a funny name?"
"You're in this castle. Do you have a funny name?"
"My name is Harry Potter. I don't think that's a funny name. Do you?"
"No. Harry Potter is decidedly not a funny name."
"Severus Snape," Harry whispered, then louder, "Did you know Snape rhymes with ape?"
Harry heard only a loud sigh from the bedroom in response.
"Are we leaving soon?"
Snape came out of the bedroom, his trunk packed and shrunk to fit in his pocket. "As soon as Dumbledore gets here. Did you know Dumbledore rhymes with Bumblebore?'
Harry snorted through his nose in amusement.
"Mr. Potter, do try not to blow bogies all over my furniture," Snape requested.
That sent Harry into a paroxysm of laughter. Snape stood looking down at the giggling boy on his sofa and couldn't help a small smile. It was hard to connect this small annoying child with the Potter he'd known this morning. Well, maybe the annoying part was the same. But this little boy was obviously bright and inquisitive and was more than a little cute. There was none of the arrogance Snape had always attributed to Potter. And some of the comments the boy had made had him wondering what other of his assumptions about Potter might be incorrect.
Snape dropped onto the couch beside the boy. When Harry had himself under control, Snape asked, "Do you remember what happened this morning?"
A strange defensive look flashed in Harry's eyes for a moment. "I didn't mean to take it," he said. "I'll give it back."
"Give what back? What are you talking about?"
"Dudley's car. I took it. He left it in the kitchen. But I'll give it back, I swear. I know it was bad to take it. I only wanted to play with it."
"Harry, I'm not talking about the car. I was asking if you remembered what happened in Hogsmeade this afternoon."
Harry looked up, his eyes wide with fear. "You mean that place with the hurt lady?"
Harry shook his head quickly. "No. I was in my cupboard, and then suddenly I was there. I don't know how. It was like magic." He lumosed his wand again at the reminder. "But I didn't have my wand then, so I couldn't have done magic."
Wait a minute. He was in his cupboard? What did that mean? Before Snape could ask, Dumbledore was knocking, and it was time to go.
They flooed into Dumbledore's guest cottage, Harry clutched tightly in Snape's arms. The boy had been most reluctant to walk into the flames with Snape, until finally, Snape had picked him up and covered Harry with his cloak so that he could not see what was happening and strode quickly into the hearth. It was either that or hex the irritating little twit.
As soon as Snape put Harry down, the boy spotted the box of presents near the hearth.
"Are those for me?" Harry whispered.
"Of course, my boy," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling.
Harry slowly approached the box and peeked inside. He counted five separately wrapped packages inside. Counting his wand, that made six presents in one day. Six presents! All for Harry! In a single day!
"Are you going to open them?" Dumbledore asked gently.
"May I?" Harry asked, as though he believed this was some kind of cruel joke, that someone would reveal at any moment that they weren't intended for him. "May I really?"
"Of course you may," Dumbledore assured him.
Reverently, Harry removed each of the presents from the box, studying them as he did so, weighing them in his hands, shaking them just a little, guessing what might be in each. As he removed them, he lined them up on the floor, smallest to largest. Once the box was empty, he studied the row of presents, trying to decide which to open first. Dudley had always gone right for the biggest, assuming it must be the best, leaving the smaller presents for last. Harry decided to start with the smallest for two reasons: if Dudley started with the largest, then he, Harry, would do exactly the opposite. Also, leaving the largest for last would heighten the anticipation, making this unexpected and wondrous experience that much better.
Unaware just how momentous an occasion this was for the youngster, the adults talked while Harry slowly and carefully, almost reverently, opened each gift. The first present was a box containing coloring crayons. Although they looked just like the ones Dudley had at home, Harry would be surprised (and delightedly amazed) to learn that the crayons were magic and animated whatever they had colored. The second package contained two coloring books and one blank pad of paper for Harry to draw whatever took his fancy.
He set these two items aside and moved onto the third box. His heart caught in his throat and he gasped when he saw a large set of Matchbox cars. His very own cars to play with! There were, like, a million! Just like Dudley had, only these were better because they were brand new and hadn't been scratched or dented by a careless boy who cared nothing for his toys. Harry, who knew what it was to have nothing, planned to take very good care of these cars. At least until he had to go back home, at which time he was sure Dudley would take them from him. And his aunt and uncle would make him give them up. That thought was enough to make Harry's little shoulders slump in discouragement, but only for a moment. Dudley wasn't here now, and he still had two presents to open.
The fourth gift contained a stuffed teddy bear. Harry stared at it. He'd never had his own stuffed toy before. It was so soft!
The adults had finished talking and were now watching Harry.
"May I?" Snape asked, holding his hand out for the bear.
Harry didn't want to give him up, but when adults asked you to do something, you did it, or suffered the consequences. Harry slowly handed the bear over.
With a wave of his wand, Snape transfigured the bear into a giraffe and handed it back to Harry. Harry's eyes widened and teared, both at the fact of the magic and because he now had his very own giraffe!
"I can change it back to a bear if you prefer," Snape offered, misreading the reason for the watery eyes.
"No!" Harry said quickly, hugging the toy to his chest protectively. "I like this better. His name is Steve."
Harry set Steve down close beside him (all of his new things were within easy reach) and turned to the last box. He almost couldn't bring himself to open it. Once he did, this glorious moment would be over. But he couldn't sit here all night staring at it, could he?
The box contained two ceramic dragons, their stained glass backs shining red, gold, blue and green. They were beautiful, and Harry could hardly take his eyes off them.
"Those are magic night lights, Harry," Dumbledore explained. "One will stay with you and the other will be with Professor Snape. If you need him during the night, your dragon will let his dragon know, and he will come to you."
Harry couldn't speak, his gratitude for these wondrous gifts too great for a six-year old's capacity to express. He felt as though his chest might burst and come leaking out of his eyes, and he didn't know what to do, so, clutching his new giraffe under his arm, he ran to the one thing that had been a constant to him since coming to this strange place.
When Harry buried his face in the potion master's robes, Snape himself was almost surprised beyond the ability to speak. He put a clumsy hand on Harry's shoulder and said gruffly, "Say thank you to Professor Dumbledore, Harry."
Harry turned his face so that he was looking at Dumbledore, but did not raise his head from Snape's robe. " Thank you, sir."
"You are most welcome, Harry. You two should feel free to explore the house and the grounds as you will." Dumbledore had already explained to Snape how the grounds were warded. They were perfectly safe here. "And if you need anything, be sure to let Toby know. I must be off now. Will you boys be all right here?"
"We'll be fine," Snape said, sounding more sure than he felt. He patted Harry's shoulder awkwardly, then lifted the boy off of him so that he could see Dumbledore to the floo.
Sniffing just a little, Harry began to explore the room while the adults made their parting. Steve tucked under his arm, Harry opened a door in the corner and found a broom cupboard.
Snape came up behind him and said, "Time to get ready for bed, Harry. It's been a long day."
"Is this to be mine?" Harry asked.
"Is what to be yours?"
"This cupboard. I'll need to move the brooms aside. But it's okay. Bigger than mine at home anyway."
The cupboard again. Snape crouched beside Harry and turned the child so that he was facing those green eyes. "Harry, when you are at home with your . . . family, where do you sleep?"
"In the cupboard under the stairs, of course. That's where all freaks have to stay," Harry told him as though this were a perfectly normal thing to say, as though he'd heard it said so many times that it had become a fact.
Snape nearly fell backward onto the floor. "They made you . . . sleep in a cupboard?"
"Mm hmm," Harry confirmed. "Can I have Steve in here with me if I promise to be good and not make any noise?"
This time, Snape really was speechless. Potter had been forced to live in a cupboard under his family's stairs? And they'd apparently called him a freak enough times that the boy had come to believe it. Snape could just hear a young Petunia Evans calling him the same thing so many years ago, and he closed his eyes, appalled and angry at the boy's so-called family, but also at Dumbledore for letting him live in such a place. And also, if he was honest with himself, there was a little bit of anger directed at himself for the preconceptions he'd formed about this boy and the way in which he'd treated him because of them.
Harry had long ago developed self-defense mechanisms for dealing with adults, one of which was a good sense of when someone was angry. Since it was almost always directed at him, he assumed he'd done something to anger Snape.
"I'm sorry," he said immediately, dropping his eyes to the floor and holding Steve out to Snape. "I . . . I don't want to keep him with me. You take him."
Snape took the toy and shoved it rather roughly back into Harry's arms. He was angry, and he had an unfamiliar burning ache in the left side of his chest, but he fought to control it so that he could somehow say the right thing to this obviously traumatized child.
"Harry," he began. "Your family should not have made you sleep in a cupboard. That was very wrong of them, and I'm angry with them for it. But I'm not angry at you. You will not be sleeping in a cupboard. You'll have a bedroom and a proper bed, all to yourself, for as long as we are here. All right?"
Harry shrugged. He didn't understand what the big deal was. The cupboard wasn't that bad to sleep in. It was kind of boring when he was confined there for long periods of time for punishment, but sleeping in it had never bothered him. He'd been doing it for as long as he could remember. As long as this man wasn't angry with him. That would be hard to take.
They located the bedrooms Dumbledore had set up for both of them. Snape spelled one of his own nightshirts down to a size that would fit Harry and watched him climb into the double bed. Steve was tucked under the covers with Harry, his dragon night light glowing on the table by the bed beside his other new things and his wand.
"You know where I'll be sleeping," Snape said, sitting on the edge of Harry's bed.
Harry nodded, his eyes a little wide with anxiety at the thought of being left alone in this strange place. He gulped down his fear. Protesting had never done him any good and usually, in fact, made things worse.
"If you need me for anything, anything at all, you may come to me," Snape told him.
Harry nodded again.
"Is there something that you usually do at bedtime? Read a book maybe?" Snape remembered his mother reading him stories at bedtime many, many years ago.
Green eyes sleepy, Harry shook his head no. Aunt Petunia told him to get to bed, and he did. That was his bedtime routine.
"Would you like me to tell you a story?" Snape offered.
Harry yawned. "Yes, please."
"You scoot down in there where you belong." Snape held the covers up while Harry arranged himself and Steve beneath them.
"Ready? All right. Once upon a time there was a boy named Harry. When Harry was fourteen years old, he entered into a competition called the Tri Wizard Tournament. It was Harry's job to get a golden egg away from a dragon."
"A dragon?" Harry asked. "Like that one?" He pointed to the dragon nightlight, then yawned again.
"Not as colorful," Snape said. "This dragon was brown, and it was huge, and it was very, very mean. It did not want Harry to take the egg away, and as soon as Harry got near, the dragon breathed fire at him. Now Harry was a little afraid of the dragon, as any smart person would be, but he was also very brave, and he was not going to give up until he put his hands on that egg. Harry knew that all of the other contestants had already gotten their eggs away from their dragons, and he knew that if he didn't get his egg, he would lose.
"So Harry came up with a plan. You see, Harry was very talented at flying on a broomstick." When he didn't get a reaction to flying on a broomstick, Snape looked over at Harry. The boy had fallen asleep clutching his stuffed giraffe tightly.
Snape watched him for a moment. He thought he'd known Harry Potter, thought he'd had him all figured out from the moment he'd laid eyes on him. Maybe even before. The unfairness of his assumptions and the way he'd formed them struck him now. It was difficult to feel anger or hatred toward someone so small and . . . damaged, Snape thought was the right word. Potter had been damaged by his relationship with his family. How had no one seen it?
Snape stood up, removed Harry's glasses and put them beside the dragon. How would he feel about Potter when Harry returned to his "normal" self, he wondered.
Snape awoke with a start, wondering what had woken him. Then the dragon by his bed growled again, glowing softly in the darkness of the room.
Harry. Something was wrong with Harry. Snape jumped out of bed and hurried into his robe and slippers. Had the boy had a nightmare, he wondered as he made his way down the hall. That wouldn't be surprising, considering today's events.
Snape pushed Harry's bedroom door open and entered quietly. A quick lumos of his wand revealed an empty bed, and a small seed of panic implanted itself in Snape's gut. Until he turned around and spotted Harry's dragon glowing in the kneehole under the desk. Snape approached, walking softly, knelt down before the desk, and shined his wand's light underneath it.
Harry was asleep, curled up against the wall, in a nest he'd made with the blanket he'd taken off the bed, thumb in his mouth, Steve's head tucked beneath his chin. The other presents he'd received tonight and his wand were beside him on top of the blanket. He looked incredibly small and completely vulnerable, and something in Snape's chest shifted sideways at the sight.
Deciding with very little thought to leave Harry where he was, guessing the boy felt safer in the confined space to which he was accustomed, Snape made sure Harry was covered and then returned to his own bed.
Snape was sitting at the table, reading the Prophet, which had been delivered by owl this morning, when Harry came out of his bedroom, Steve in what was now his customary spot under his arm. He spotted Snape and stopped, suddenly shy.
"Good morning, Harry," Snape said.
"Good morning, sir," Harry murmured.
"You're just in time for breakfast." And as soon as he'd completed that statement, gleaming silver trays appeared in the middle of the table.
Harry's eyes widened at the display of magic. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, his eyes darting around the room, as if making up his mind about something. Finally, he decided, and he moved into one corner of the room, put his back to the wall, and stood watching Snape.
What on earth was this? Trying to keep his voice calm, Snape asked, "What are you doing?"
"Waiting for my turn, sir," Harry said.
Snape closed his eyes and drew in a sharp breath. This just kept getting worse and worse. Those damned people hadn't even let him sit at the table to eat meals with them? Just how cruel were they? "Harry," he said softly, "please come and sit at the table."
Looking as though he'd been given yet another present, Harry very willingly complied. Snape began removing covers from the trays, revealing fluffy scrambled eggs, piles of crispy bacon, slices of toasted bread. Harry took it all in, green eyes wide, tummy rumbling. But he made no move to help himself to any of it.
"See anything you like?" Snape asked.
"Everything," the boy breathed.
"Would you like me to serve you?"
Harry nodded again.
Snape filled Harry's plate, and still the boy made no move to eat.
"Aren't you hungry?"
Again, Harry nodded. What had happened to the garrulous child of yesterday?
"You do not need my permission, or anyone else's for that matter, to eat, Harry. Families sit together at the table to eat meals. Do you understand?"
"Are we a family?" Harry asked.
"For as long as we remain here, yes, we are a family. And we will eat together. And you do not need to wait for my permission." He gestured to Harry's plate.
Finally, Harry seemed to understand, and he tentatively stuck his fork into his eggs and took a bite. When the roof didn't collapse and Snape didn't yell at him, Harry picked up a piece of bacon and ate it. After that, there was no stopping him, and he ate until he could hold no more. Snape watched him for a time until he, too, began to eat.
Snape was reading an issue of European Potionmakers he'd brought along with him when he heard Harry gasp. Snape looked up. "Something wrong?"
"Look at this!" the boy said in an awed whisper.
Harry had been coloring in the book Dumbledore had given him with the crayons he'd received as well. He approached Snape with the book in his hands. He'd colored a puppy, purple and yellow, and as soon as he'd finished, the puppy came to life, bouncing happily around the border of the page, stopping to chase its tail in a circle, then making a mad dash from one corner of the page to the other. Exhausted, the purple puppy curled up in a corner and went to sleep.
Harry looked up at Snape, jade eyes wide with wonder. "It's like magic."
Snape reached over to ruffle Harry's already unruly hair. "Silly boy. It is magic."
And Albus would pick precisely that moment to come bursting out of the floo. He stood there, ash clinging to his beard, beaming at the two of them. Snape removed his hand quickly from Harry's head.
"Good morning, Headmaster," Snape said coolly.
"And good morning to you, Severus!" the old man almost sang. "And good morning, young Harry. Did you sleep well?"
Harry shyly looked at his feet. "Yes, sir," he said as he took a step sideways, which put him further behind Snape. This astounded Snape once again. Harry Potter was hiding from Dumbledore. Behind Snape! The world had gone mad.
"Have you news, Albus?" Snape asked, trying not to enjoy the look of hurt in Dumbledore's eyes at the boy's fear.
"Yes, I have wonderful news. Harry, I have something to tell you."
When Harry showed no sign of emerging, Snape took him gently by the arm and pulled him forward until he stood by Snape's side. Harry rested a small hand on Snape's knee, drawing strength from the contact.
Dumbledore sat on the edge of the sofa and looked directly into Harry's eyes. "Hermione is fine, Harry. She's going to make a complete recovery."
The two men waited for Harry's reaction. Would the sixteen year old Harry reassert himself at the news that he hadn't, after all, killed his friend? Would Snape be able to get back to his life after only a day away? Would Dumbledore get his puppet back? Would Harry go back to hating Snape?
"Who's Hermione?" Harry asked. It came out more like "Huh–mine–ee". "That's a funny name."
Dumbledore's shoulders slumped. "She's your friend, Harry. Don't you remember?"
Harry shook his head in the negative. "I don't have any friends," he said quietly.
Snape and Dumbledore exchanged a glance, both wondering the same thing. Was Harry pretending, for some reason they couldn't fathom? Snape knew that Dumbledore wouldn't, so he said, "Harry, look at me." Really, they should have done this yesterday.
When those trusting green eyes looked up at him, Snape dove into the boy's mind. The pathways were shallow, as they could be only in the mind of a young child, filled with thoughts of toy cars, paper puppies, and magic wands. And just below those surface thoughts, another layer of darker thoughts of cupboards and hunger, of blows and longings. Of Hogwarts, of an attack in Hogsmeade, of Hermione Granger, there was nothing.
Snape pulled back, and Harry continued to look up at him, seemingly unaware of what had just been done to him. "Why don't you color a picture for the Headmaster to take with him when he returns?" Snape suggested.
"Okay," Harry agreed, and he took his book and crayons to the table.
"The boy has no memory of yesterday's events. In his mind, he really is six years old."
Dumbledore sat back on the sofa. "I had hoped that the news of Miss Granger's recovery would bring him back to us."
"You spoke the truth of Miss Granger? That was not an attempt to force Potter to return to his teenaged self?" Snape wouldn't put it past the manipulative old bastard.
"Oh no," Dumbledore assured him. "Miss Granger really will make a full recovery. In fact, she was up on her feet this morning."
"Well, there is some good news today, then."
"Indeed," Albus agreed. "What are we do to with Harry?"
"Do you no longer believe a full recovery is possible for him as well?"
"I have consulted with experts. I didn't tell them, of course, who I was referring to, only that a student had had a traumatic event and mentally regressed. They have both told me that the condition should not be permanent. But neither could predict with certainty how long it might last or just what kind of precipitating event might be required to reverse it."
"So he stays the way he is until that occurs, then."
Dumbledore sighed. "Yes, I guess he'll have to. But what are we to do with him? We cannot have a six year old Harry Potter in the castle. He's too vulnerable."
Before Snape could think too much about what he was about to say, he said it. "I would be willing to remain here with the boy."
Dumbledore was obviously surprised by the offer. "That is most generous, Severus. Are you certain?"
"I find the young Harry Potter to be much more tolerable than his teenaged counterpart. He has been . . ." he brought back the word he'd found last night, "damaged by his mother's family, Albus. I'm not sure you understand the extent of what has been done to him. Perhaps, somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, he would like another opportunity to be six years old and is clinging to this . . . unexpected gift, as he clings to that giraffe."
"You may be right, Severus. But this cannot go on indefinitely. We will have to reassess where we stand, perhaps if there is no change by the new year?"
Snape nodded. Five weeks. That sounded reasonable. If Harry wasn't better by then, it was possible he'd be doomed (or perhaps blessed?) to repeat his entire childhood.
"Thank you, Severus," Dumbledore said, rising to his feet. "I expect you'll be wanting your potions things if you're to be here a while. Toby will find you some space to set up in. And please don't hesitate to let me know if you need anything else. Oh, the clothing." Dumbledore extracted a package from his robe, resized it, and handed it to Severus. "I was rather hoping you wouldn't be needing this."
Harry got down from the table and approached Dumbledore shyly, a picture held out in front of him. He'd colored a picture of Noah's Ark, and the animated animals walked two-by-two up the gang plank, through the cabin of the ship, and down the opposite gangplank in an endless loop.
Dumbledore didn't have to manufacture delight for the gift. "Harry! This is the most excellent thing anyone has ever given me!"
"Will you put it on your refrigerator?" Harry asked hopefully. That's what Aunt Petunia did with the pictures Dudley made for her.
"I shall obtain a refrigerator just for that purpose," Dumbledore assured him. "And now I must say good day, gentlemen." And with one last fond look at Harry, he flooed away.
"Wow," Harry said, his mouth hanging open. He'd never get used to this business of traveling through the flames.
The remainder of the day was spent quietly inside, but Harry was able to make two new friends. He first met Toby, Dumbledore's house elf. Snape had deliberately kept Harry from seeing Toby yesterday. Who knew how the boy would react to seeing something so non-human on the day he first learned that magic was real? Snape thought the boy had had enough shocks for one day. But he knew he couldn't avoid it forever, as the two were bound to run into one another sooner or later, so he took Harry into the kitchen and introduced him to the elf.
"Harry, this is Toby. He is a house elf. He takes care of Professor Dumbledore's home. And he'll be taking care of us while we're here."
The elf bowed low, pointy ears dragging on the floor. "Toby is honored to serve young Master Harry Potter. Toby will try to make your stay here most pleasant."
"Hello," Harry said, staring with frank curiosity at the creature before him. He felt no fear – it was difficult to fear something as abjectly pathetic and subservient as a house elf.
"Up, Toby," Snape ordered, and the elf climbed to his feet.
"Professor Dumbledore has told Toby how much the young master enjoys treacle tart, so Toby has prepared one for you, young master," Toby gushed.
"Um . . . thank you," Harry said. His attention was diverted by a large gray tom cat striding into the room as though it owned everything beneath and around it. "Do you have a cat?"
"That is Professor Dumbledore's cat, young master. Toby should warn you that cat is ill-tempered and should not be trifled with."
The cat drank its fill from a saucer of milk and then sat cleaning its paws. It was a large, muscular cat with a torn left ear and a scratch above its right eye. When Snape began to discuss menus with Toby, Harry sidled over to the cat, who watched his approach with no concern.
Harry sat on the floor in front of the cat. "Hello," he whispered. The cat stopped licking and stared at the boy. "I'm Harry." He extended his hand slowly toward the cat. Just as slowly, the cat stretched its nose forward and smelled Harry's fingers. Sensing no threat, the cat rubbed its jaw against Harry's hand. Harry reached further and scratched the cat's ears. The gray beast leaned into the contact and began to purr.
"Harry!" came Snape's concerned voice.
Harry looked up. "It's okay. He's nice."
Snape approached them and got hissed at for his trouble. "Come away from the horrid beast," Snape ordered. Obediently, Harry stood up, then gave the cat one last pat on the head.
After supper and the very tasty treacle tart, Snape announced, "I believe a bath is in order."
Snape filled the bathtub with warm water and red and gold bubbles. "Can you wash by yourself?" he asked.
"'Course I can," the boy snorted derisively. "Been doing that for years." Snape was tempted to laugh at that statement, but given what he'd learned of the Dursleys, it was very likely that Harry had been taking care of his basic needs for some time.
"Good. See that you get clean. I will leave the door open to make sure all is well."
While Harry played happily with boats Snape had transfigured from tea cups, Snape set to work in Harry's bedroom.
Finally, Snape returned and told Harry it was time to wash. He supervised while Harry got clean, helped him rinse his hair after Harry washed it himself, then assisted the boy out of the deep tub and wrapped him in a large fluffy towel.
"I have a surprise for you," Snape told Harry as he toweled dry Harry's crazy hair.
"Yes. Get your pajamas on. When I was a young boy about your age, I visited my grandfather. In the house next to my grandfather's lived a boy a year or so older than I was. Ralph was his name. In Ralph's backyard stood a very large tree, and in the branches of that tree, Ralph's father had built him the most magnificent tree house."
Harry was struggling to find the hole for his head in his nightshirt, so Snape paused to assist him. As soon as Harry's head poked through, he said, "A tree house?" He took his glasses from Snape and put them on.
"A tree house. Shall I show you the surprise?"
Harry nodded eagerly.
"It's in your bedroom."
Harry tore out of the bathroom as though his pants were on fire. When Snape caught up with him, Harry was standing staring open-mouthed at his bed, which now sported four walls in as close an approximation to the tree house he'd visited years ago as Snape could manage.
"Wow!" Harry squeaked out.
"Do you like it? Climb on up."
Harry climbed the short ladder up to the mattress and somersaulted into the tree house. "This is cool!" he proclaimed.
"There's a light over here," Snape showed him. "And a shelf up here for your dragon and your wand and your glasses."
Harry looked around, trying to see everything at once.
"Do you like it?" Snape asked again.
"I love it!" Harry breathed.
"Good." With any luck, Harry would actually sleep in his bed now and not feel the need to crawl into the cramped confines under the desk.
"How about a cup of cocoa?" Snape suggested.
"Can I drink it in here?" Harry asked, reluctant to leave his new fort.
"I think the table would be best."
"All right." Harry climbed down and stood at Snape's feet. "Thank you," he said, and he threw his little arms around Snape's legs.
Snape rested a hand on top of Harry's head. "You're quite welcome. Now let's go get that cocoa."
After the cocoa, Harry climbed back onto his bed and Snape told him the story of Hero Harry's battle with a troll one Halloween night.
Harry's dragon never woke Snape's dragon that night. Something woke Snape just the same, and when he went to check on Harry, he found the boy sound asleep in his tree house bed.
"Will Master Snape be wanting breakfast now?"
Snape folded up the Prophet and looked at the time. "Looks like Harry is having a bit of a lie-in this morning."
"Oh no, Master Snape," Toby corrected. "Young Master Harry has been up for some time."
"Where is he?"
"Young Master Harry is in the washroom."
"And what is young Master Harry doing in the washroom?"
"Toby saw young Master Harry cleaning. Toby was telling Master Harry that he should not be doing Toby's job."
Cleaning? In the loo?
Snape pushed the washroom door open. Harry was bent over the side of the tub, his feet no longer touching the floor, scrubbing the bottom.
"Mr. Potter, what are you doing?"
Startled by the voice, Harry fell head first into the tub. Snape reached him in two steps and helped him up and out of the tub.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes," Harry said, rubbing his head. Actually, that had hurt more than a little, and though eyes watered a little, Harry didn't cry about a little bump on his head.
"What are you doing?"
"It's Saturday," Harry said.
"That it is," Snape agreed.
"Saturday is chore day."
"Did you routinely clean the bathroom at your former home?"
Harry nodded. "Uh huh. Every Saturday. Upstairs and down."
"I eat after I finish my chores," Harry said.
"And what other chores do you do?"
Harry could sense once again that Snape was getting angry, and he started to get nervous. What had he done wrong? He'd only been trying to please this man by getting up and starting on his chores, before being told to do so. Nothing felt right here. This man had been very nice to him, and that alone was somewhat disconcerting because no one was ever nice to Harry. Everything that pleased the Dursleys, as much as Harry could please the Dursleys, seemed to displease his new guardian, and he felt as though he was walking on constantly shifting ground. Harry was left feeling miserable, and his eyes filled with more tears. He wouldn't cry over a silly bump on the head, but the thought that this man was unhappy with him brought the tears easily enough.
"Um," he said. "I clean b-both bathrooms. I clean Dudley's room. I s-sweep the kitchen." Harry blinked, dangerously close to sobbing, but only a lone tear tracked its way down his cheek.
"All before breakfast?" Snape asked gently.
Harry nodded. There were other things, too, but he didn't think he'd make Snape any happier by listing them. Another tear escaped, though he was trying his best to control them.
Snape went down on one knee in front of Harry. Just when he thought he'd heard the worst the Dursleys had to offer, Harry proved him wrong. He took Harry's face between his hands and brushed the tears away with his thumbs. "You are six years old, a little boy. Cleaning house should not be the responsibility of a child. Do you know what child abuse is, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "It's when a parent hits their kid."
"Child abuse is when any adult who is responsible for the well-being of a child takes advantage of that child or mistreats them in any way. Expecting a six-year old to do household chores such as you have described is child abuse. Did they ever hit you, Harry?"
Harry couldn't look at Snape any longer, and he twisted to try to get away from him. Snape's hands dropped to the boy's bony shoulders and held him firmly. Tears were coming fast and furious now. "Did they ever hit you?" Snape repeated.
"Sometimes," Harry choked out.
"No one will hit you while you are here," Snape promised fiercely. "And you are not expected to do any of the chores you did for those people. Do you understand?"
"Shall we eat breakfast then?"
With an encouraging squeeze to Harry's shoulders, Snape led Harry to the table.
Harry sniffled his way through breakfast but still ate heartily.
"May I have more milk, Mr. Snape?" As soon as he'd completed the request, Harry's glass refilled itself.
Harry's eyes sparked with delight. "Cool!"
"We must figure out something else for you to call me," Snape said. "'Mr. Snape' makes me look round for my father."
"What shall I call you, then?" Harry asked.
"You could call me Severus."
"I'm not supposed to call grown-ups by their first names."
That was one rule Snape actually approved of. He was about to suggest "Uncle Severus" but that was just too similar to "Uncle Vernon" for his liking. "We'll have to give it some thought."
Harry was quiet for a bit as he chewed on his toast. "There was a boy named Rudy in my primary class. He had a step dad. 'Cause his mum wasn't married to his real dad any more. Rudy's dad took him to the zoo once and he almost felled in the hippotomotamus cage."
Snape hid his smile at the mispronunciation and wondered if Harry had a point that he planned to get to eventually.
"Don't you think it's strange that some boys get two dads, while other boys don't have any?" Harry asked in a nonchalant manner, as though his six-year old self had wondered that on more than one occasion. He didn't seem troubled by it, just . . . curious. And though his question had made Severus' heart ache just a little, Harry continued as though nothing unusual had been said. "Did you know that hippotomotamuses can walk on the bottom of the water?"
Snape cleared his throat. "Do tell."
"Yup. The water's right over their heads. And they don't even drownd!"
"I'm a font, right?"
Snape couldn't hide his smile this time. "Yes, you're a font. You were telling me about Rudy."
"Oh, yeah. Rudy didn't want to call his step dad 'dad' 'cause it would hurt his dad's feelings. His real dad, I mean. So he called his step dad 'papa'." From Harry, the word sounded like 'puppy' with an 'a' at the end. "I could call you Papa."
Snape cleared his throat to try to ease the painful swelling that suddenly filled his chest. "That would be acceptable," he said finally.
"Okay . . . Papa," Harry said with a shy smile.
"What are you going to do today, Harry?"
"I'm going to go see if kitty's in the kitchen."
"Be careful with that cat," Snape warned. "It seems wild."
"I will, Papa," Harry tried the word out again and seemed to like it. "May I go now?"
"If you're through."
Harry jumped up, bumping the under side of the table hard. His nearly full glass of milk tipped over, its contents flowing across the table directly into Snape's lap.
Harry's hand covered his mouth, his green eyes wide with fear. If he'd spilled milk on Uncle Vernon, he would have been cuffed in the head, given a lecture on the waste of money he was, boxed on the ear, made to clean up the mess, slapped on the bum, then sent to his cupboard. Tears had never worked for Harry with the Dursleys, but they seemed to work with Snape . . . Papa . . . earlier, so Harry tried them again, attempting to look like the world's sorriest and most pathetic person.
Snape showed no reaction when the cold milk splashed into his lap. He studied Harry – the fear, then the calculated tears – and calmly picked up his wand, vanishing the mess in an instant.
"I'm sorry, Papa," Harry said.
"It is no matter, Harry. It was only milk. There is no use crying over it," he said, smiling at his pun.
As the ground solidified more under Harry's feet, he gave Snape a brilliant smile in return and skipped off to the kitchen.
The floo flared to life a short time later, and Dumbledore stepped into the living room. He was followed very shortly by Hermione Granger.
"Good morning, Headmaster," Snape said. "Miss Granger, you are looking well."
"Thank you, sir. I feel well."
"I thought perhaps seeing Miss Granger in person might jar Harry enough to bring him back to his present," Dumbledore explained.
"It's worth a try," Snape agreed.
"And where is young Harry this morning?"
"In the kitchen. He has taken a liking to that heathen beast masquerading as a cat."
"Ah, he's met Lucifer!" Dumbledore said, delighted. "It may not surprise you to learn that he is of the same litter as our very own Mrs. Norris."
No, that didn't surprise Snape in the least.
"Lucifer is rather anti-social, but he's an excellent mouser. Shall I get Harry then?"
"It is your house, Headmaster," Snape pointed out.
"So it is," Dumbledore said, as though he'd forgotten, and he left the room in search of his quarry.
"How is Harry, sir?" Hermione asked before the silence could get too awkward.
"He is six, Miss Granger," Snape said, as though that explained it all. "I assume the Headmaster warned you that Mr. Potter is six in size as well as mentality?"
"He did. That's a rather disturbing spell, Professor."
"Indeed it is," Snape agreed.
"Harry has tamed the beast!" Dumbledore said proudly as he escorted Harry back into the room. Harry had actually been holding the cat in his lap under the watchful eye of Toby, when Dumbledore found him. As far as he knew, Lucifer never let anyone touch him, let alone hold and pet him.
Hermione gasped at her first sight of Harry. Two days ago, her friend had been a little taller than she was, an average (or as average as anyone with a curse scar can be) teenager. Now he was a tiny and very cute little boy, all big green eyes and glasses and unruly hair.
"Harry, this is Hermione Granger," Dumbledore introduced.
Hermione approached the boy and knelt before him, bringing her down to eye level with him. "Hello, Harry."
"Hello, Huh–mine–ee," Harry said carefully.
"I'm your friend," she said. "Do you remember me?"
Harry's eyes were sad as he shook his head. He wanted to remember her. She was pretty, and she looked very nice.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, and she pulled him into her arms, hugging him fiercely.
Harry was startled. No one hugged him. Ever. And while being hugged by this lady was nice (she was soft and squishy in some very comfortable places), the newness of the feeling was unsettling, and he felt the tears return to his eyes again. By the time she let him go, Harry was crying freely, and he turned and ran to Snape, burying his face in the comfortable black robe.
Snape automatically put a comforting hand on Harry's back, patting the youngster soothingly as he exchanged surprised glances with the others.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said haltingly, distraught that she'd upset Harry so, as she got back to her feet. "I didn't realize . . ."
"I don't believe it's you, Miss Granger," Snape said, waving away her concern. "He's been . . . emotional today."
Snape leaned over the still crying boy and spoke in his ear. "Harry, it's all right. Miss Granger is your friend, and she's come to visit you. Would you like to show her your tree house?"
That brightened Harry instantly, and he lifted his tear-stained face and nodded. "Okay, Papa," he whispered. Snape conjured a paper handkerchief, wiped Harry's tears away and held it while Harry blew his nose. With a look of disgust, Snape banished the used tissue, then gently pushed Harry in Hermione's direction.
"Huh–mine–ee, would you like to see my bedroom?"
Looking close to tears herself, Hermione nodded. "I'd love to."
Harry put his small hand into hers and led her from the room.
"Papa?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes twinkling madly. Snape wanted to throw something at him.
"It's a very, very long story, involving a boy named Rudy and a creature known as the hippotomotamus," Snape told him.
"He is having trouble coping?" Dumbledore asked, serious now.
"I'm not sure what it is. That's the third time today I've seen tears. And it's not even lunch time!"
"Have you caused any of these tears, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes narrowed at Snape.
"Of course not. I've been the soul of patience and understanding! I think he's just realizing he's no longer with those cursed relatives of his. How could you, Albus? How could you leave him with those people? Do you know what they've done to him? How badly they've treated him? He's nothing more than a house elf in that place!"
Dumbledore looked sad. "I did what I had to do for the boy's protection. I knew it was not ideal . . ."
"Ideal? He sleeps in a cupboard! He's not allowed to eat with them! He does chores no child that age should be made to do! They've called him a freak for so long that he's come to believe it! But I think you know all this, and still you leave him there!"
Dumbledore sighed. "Difficult times call for difficult decisions. Don't assume I haven't lost sleep over the situation, Severus."
"There had to be another way!"
"That is water under the bridge now, as they say. I must be getting back. Are you two still all right here?"
Dumbledore thought they were more than fine, based on what he'd seen, but he was wise enough not to voice that thought. "Shall I take Miss Granger with me?"
"She may stay as long as she likes. I'm sure Harry would enjoy the company of someone other than myself."
"Have her floo back to my office whenever she's ready," Dumbledore instructed. "Thank you, Severus. You're doing a remarkable job with Harry."
Before Snape could respond, Dumbledore was gone.
Snape got up and went into Harry's bedroom. Harry and Hermione were in the tree house, sitting cross-legged on the bed, while Harry showed his new friend each one of his cars.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering if Miss Granger would like to join us for lunch," Snape said. "The Headmaster had to return to Hogwarts."
Hermione smiled. "I'd love to stay. If it's all right with Harry."
Harry's returning smile was genuine. "I'd like that."
"Harry, would you go and tell Toby that we'll be three for lunch, please," Snape requested.
"Sure," Harry said, and he scrambled off the bed and ran from the room.
"Professor, this," Hermione said, gesturing at the tree house, "is magnificent. It must have helped him tremendously to have a small space like his cupboard to sleep in. But its actually a bed, like a real person sleeps in. This is a stroke of inspiration."
Snape felt himself absurdly pleased by her praise. "You know about the cupboard?"
"Harry's told me a lot of things about his life with the Dursleys. None of it was good. It must seem like a miracle to him that he's getting a chance to be a little boy again."
Snape was surprised by her perceptiveness.
"At least this time around he's got a chance to experience a happy childhood," Hermione continued quietly.
Snape cleared his throat. It was getting far too sappy in here. "Yes, well, I wanted to ask you, Miss Granger, if you might be able to stay for a while after lunch. I've a potion I need to brew that will require constant monitoring for an hour. Of course, if you have school work or –"
"No, I'd be happy to stay," Hermione said, and she looked like she was actually looking forward to babysitting six-year old Harry Potter.
The topic of their discussion ran back into the room. "I told Toby! Come see Lucifer, Hermione!"
"He's a cat. Did you know cats can see really good in the dark, but not when it's like pitch dark? And their whiskers can feel things!"
"Really? You're a very smart young man. Did you know that?"
"Papa says I'm a font," Harry told her as, once again, he took her hand and led her from the room.
"Papa?" Hermione questioned.
"Him," Harry said with a gesture of their joined hands at Snape.
Hermione beamed brightly at Snape, a look of such sentimental happiness in her eyes that Snape thought he might vomit.
Harry kept up a constant stream of chatter throughout lunch and the hour and a half Hermione spent with him afterward. Finally, Snape emerged from his makeshift lab.
"Thank you, Miss Granger. It was most helpful of you to stay."
"It was my pleasure," she said sincerely. "Any time you need me, just send word. I'm happy to come back. He's so great like this!"
"You speak as though you wish him to stay this age. Have you thought about what we'll do if that happens?'
"We'll take care of him," Hermione said simply. "You, me, Professor Dumbledore, the Weasleys. He'll be the best cared for and most loved six year old on the planet."
Harry appeared at her side and handed her a drawing he'd made with his magic crayons. Hermione looked at it and saw two crudely drawn people, obviously her and Harry, standing side by side until they turned toward each other and hugged. Hermione dropped to her knees and hugged Harry again. And this time, he didn't cry.
"Can we go outside, Papa?" Harry asked the following day. He loved his new things, but they were losing their fascination.
Snape considered the request. Dumbledore had told him that the grounds were warded similarly to the house, so it should be safe enough. Harry was a young boy, and he'd been growing increasingly restless. Maybe some time spent outdoors was just what he needed. "I think that would be fine."
"Yay!" Harry said, jumping up.
"Get your cloak on," Snape instructed. "And your hat and gloves. It's chilly outside."
Harry ran into his room and was back moments later dressed and ready to go. Snape dressed as well, and they set off to explore.
Dumbledore's property contained a section of forest, and Harry immediately found a path that wandered through it. They walked, Snape sedately, Harry scurrying from one interesting thing to another, returning to Snape whenever he found something worth sharing, chattering non-stop all the while. They spent an hour traipsing through the woods, after which time Harry had a large collection of leaves, rocks and other things he insisted he had to bring back to the house with him. His little legs were getting tired, so Snape swung him up to his shoulders, and they returned to the house.
As they approached the front door, they startled several small birds which had been feeding on the ground, and they suddenly took flight almost from under their feet. One of the birds flew straight at the house, crashed into it, and dropped like a stone to the ground.
"Oh no!" Harry said from above Snape's head. "The poor birdie!"
"Foolish birdie," Snape offered. As he made to go into the house, Harry protested.
"You have to help him, Papa!"
"Harry, it's just a finch. There are hundreds of them around here."
"Please, Papa! He's hurt!" Harry begged.
Snape sighed. "Oh, all right. Come down here." Snape lowered Harry to the ground, then conjured a handkerchief. He found the bird in the shrubbery and picked it up carefully. It was immediately obvious that the bird, a European greenfinch if Snape guessed correctly, had broken its neck on impact with the house.
"Is he all right, Papa?" Harry asked worriedly. "Can you fix him?"
Snape wrapped the finch in the cloth and turned to face Harry. "I'm afraid not, Harry. He's dead."
Tears pooled in Harry's eyes. "He's not dead! He's probably just sleeping. Please, Papa, make him better!"
"Harry, he's broken his neck. There's nothing I can do." Snape unwrapped the bird and held it out to Harry. "See? It's dead."
"Oh," Harry said, his heart aching for the poor broken creature in Papa's hand. He reached a finger out and gently stroked the bird's head, tears streaming down his face.
Snape couldn't understand the boy's grief. It was just a bird! As gently as he could, he pointed that out. "Harry, it's just a bird."
"But he's dead, Papa!" Harry wailed.
Holding the dead bird out away from him, Snape gathered the sobbing boy to his side with his free arm and held him quietly while Harry cried himself out. "Can we have a funeral for him?" Harry asked, sniffing loudly.
What Snape really wanted was to go in for lunch. But he looked down at Harry's tear-streaked face, and he couldn't deny the distraught boy. "Yes, Harry, we can have a quick funeral for him."
Harry selected a spot under a tree he thought the bird would have liked. Using his wand, Snape dug a hole in the cold earth, unwrapped the bird, and held it out to Harry. "Say goodbye."
"Can I kiss him?" Harry asked.
Harry settled for kissing his finger and placing it gently on the bird's head. "Goodbye, Tweetie."
"Tweetie?" Snape repeated.
"Mm hmm," Harry said with a nod.
Snape wrapped the bird tightly, placed the body into the hole, and magicked the dirt back into the hole. "Rest in peace, Tweetie," he said solemnly.
"We should say a prayer," Harry said.
"I'm afraid I don't know any," Snape admitted.
"I do." Harry bowed his head and pressed his hands together in front of his chest. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Is that good?"
"That is perfect," Snape said. "Tweetie would have liked it very much. Let's go inside."
Harry slipped his small hand into Snape's as they walked back to the house. "Do you think he was a good bird?"
"I suspect he was an excellent bird. I'm sure all of the other birds will miss him greatly."
Harry seemed satisfied. Once they got inside, Snape said, "Go get ready for lunch. Make sure you wash your hands!"
Their routine became fairly established after that. After breakfast, Harry played in the house for a bit while Snape had coffee and read. They went for a walk in the forest and returned in time for lunch. After lunch, Harry rested in his room for a while (sometimes he even slept). Many days, Hermione came in the afternoon to spend time with Harry, leaving Snape free to brew or simply have some time to himself.
Never one to waste an educational opportunity, Snape spent the hour or so before supper working with Harry on his letters and numbers, practicing reading, and doing simple math problems. After supper, Harry bathed, which was followed by cocoa, a story, and bed.
By the end of the day, Snape was exhausted and very much looked forward to getting his little charge tucked into bed. Harry was not a difficult child, but he was six, which meant he'd developed a healthy amount of defiance once he got more comfortable with Snape and understood that simply stating his opinion (i.e., arguing a point) was not going to lead to being struck or banished to a cupboard, and he'd never once crossed the line into being disrespectful, so Snape let him have his say. And the simple fact was that Harry talked almost all the time, and Snape, who was so used to peace and quiet, felt as though he had none while the boy was awake.
Snape had developed a healthy respect for parents, especially those with more than one child. He couldn't imagine how people like the Weasleys coped with all those children without dropping dead from fatigue or simply going mad.
And the weeks passed in this manner, with Harry showing no sign of returning to his sixteen year old self. Strangely, the longer he stayed six, the less Snape wanted him to change, though he couldn't admit that, even to himself. He'd become very attached to the child, and he couldn't imagine what his life would be like without little Harry Potter in it.
And now Christmas was only two days away, and Snape had only a little over a week left before Dumbledore's self-imposed deadline. What would he do if the new year rolled around and Harry was still a child, Snape wondered. What would happen to Harry? Would long-term provisions have to be made for caring for the boy, who may never return to what should be his reality? Would anyone consider Snape a suitable guardian for The Boy Who Was Living It All Over Again? Did Snape want that? He very much feared that he did, and that desire frightened him on many levels. He couldn't continue to spy on the Dark Lord while caring for the young Harry Potter, and that revelation of his betrayal would heighten the danger for both him and the boy dramatically. Could he continue teaching and living at Hogwarts while caring for a six-year old? Would Harry even want to live with him, were it to come to that?
These were all questions that may have to be answered very soon, but for now, Christmas was only two days away and was a much more pressing concern.
"How would you like to go flying tomorrow night?" Snape asked Harry.
"Flying?" Harry asked excitedly. "Really? On a broom?"
"Yes, on a broom, silly boy. I thought we might go out and look at Christmas lights."
"Tomorrow's Christmas Eve," Harry said.
"It certainly is."
"Probably Santa won't be able to find me here either, huh?"
"What do you mean?"
"Santa never brought me anything while I was at the Dursleys. Dudley said it was 'cause I was bad, but I think it was 'cause Santa didn't know where I was 'cause I wasn't with my mum and dad."
"Say 'because', Harry," Snape corrected automatically, his mind kicking into overdrive. "And I think you were right about Santa because I know you're not a bad boy. We must owl him a letter to let him know you're here."
"Can't we go flying tonight?"
"No, because tonight we're decorating the Christmas tree." Snape hadn't thought much about Christmas. Frankly, he'd never thought they'd be here this long. But now he could kick himself. Harry deserved a real Christmas, which he apparently had never had with his so-called family, and he intended to give the boy one. But with such a late start, he'd need to get his act together quickly. "You go write your letter, and then we'll go out and find a tree."
Harry sat at the table, tongue poking out as he scratched out his letter to Santa Claus. "Papa, where are we?" he asked.
"Just tell him we're at Dumbledore's. He'll know where that is."
"How do you spell Dumbledore?"
Snape sat beside Harry and helped him to finish his letter, even taking over when Harry got tired of writing. Harry asked Santa for a dump truck and a skateboard for himself. He also requested that Santa bring catnip for Lucifer and socks for Toby.
When Harry asked, "What do you want Santa to bring for you, Papa?", his Papa looked at him really strangely for a moment before telling Harry that he had everything he could ever need already.
When this letter was completed, Snape drafted his own, this one to Hermione Granger, asking her what on earth a dump truck and a skateboard were and where he might be able to obtain these items in the next day or two. He gave both of the letters to his owl, Aristotle, and gave him instructions to deliver the Granger letter first and then the Santa letter to Dumbledore with a note Snape had written on the outside.
Then he and Harry donned their warm clothing and headed for the forest. Snape thought he remembered seeing an evergreen that would serve their purpose on one of their sojourns, and he found it again with little trouble. After receiving Harry's approval, Snape spelled the tree down and levitated it back to the house. After a quick lunch (Harry was too excited to sit and eat), they set the tree up and began to decorate it with the ornaments Toby had provided for them.
They were half done when Aristotle returned.
"Oh no!"Harry said. "I forgot to ask Santa to bring something for Aristotle!"
"Santa always has extra owl treats on his sleigh," Snape improvised. "I'm sure he'll leave some for Aristotle."
Snape left Harry to the decorating and poured himself another cup of tea while he read the two letters Aristotle had delivered. The first was from Dumbledore.
My dear Severus,
I received Harry's missive. I'm sure Santa Claus will be most generous to our young lad. My own offerings for you both will be delivered tomorrow (by owl, I'm afraid – I haven't got access to reindeer like the big man).
I regret that I will be unable to join you and Harry for the holiday, but I sincerely appreciate your kind invitation. Know that I will be thinking of you.
I wish for you both the happiest of holidays.
The second letter was from Hermione.
I was pleased to receive your letter. I would consider it my privilege to obtain the items Harry has asked Santa to bring. I have an eight-year old cousin who should be able to assist me in choosing just the right things.
If this meets with your approval, I will plan to pick these items up this evening. If I may, I'd like to bring them by in the morning. That way, I'll be able to personally wish you both a Happy Christmas. I can stay for a while if you need to get away to do some shopping of your own.
If I do not hear from you by this evening, I will proceed as outlined above. If you would prefer another course of action, please don't hesitate to let me know.
I know you don't want to hear this, so I'll say it in writing to avoid the awkwardness that would surely accompany my voicing these thoughts to your face. Thank you for what you have been doing for Harry. I'm certain he was never this happy the first time he was six, and you are the sole reason for that.
Enough of that. Hopefully I will see you tomorrow. Tell Harry I say 'hi'.
"Hermione says 'hello'," he told Harry, carefully folding her letter and tucking it away in his robe.
Harry looked up and smiled. "I miss her."
"She'll be by tomorrow. How's the tree coming along?"
Harry stepped back. "How does it look?"
Snape stood up and approached the tree. Nearly all of the ornaments Harry had placed on the tree were on one branch, that branch so weighted down the ornaments were nearly touching the floor. Snape told himself he could fix it later, after Harry went to bed. Or maybe he'd leave it just like it was. "It's beautiful, Harry. The nicest tree I've ever seen. Would you like some lights on it?"
"Yes," Harry said, and he rummaged through the ornament box looking for the string of lights.
"Come, Harry," Snape said. "I'll show you."
Snape knelt on one knee behind Harry. "Put your hand on my wand," he instructed. Once Harry had done so, Snape began to wave his wand around the tree, and they decorated it together with candles of every color. They flickered merrily among the branches, magical candles with different colored flames which were always lit and which would never ignite the branches around them.
When they were finished, Snape spelled off the lights, and they remained where they were, looking at their handiwork, the boy's green eyes wide with wonder, reflecting the glimmering candles, the man leaning into the solid wonder that was this little boy, watching Harry watch the tree.
"Do you like it?" Snape finally asked when Harry didn't speak.
"It's so pretty it makes me want to cry," Harry admitted, his little voice breaking.
"I know that feeling," Snape said softly, strangely close to tears himself.
"Can we eat supper here by the tree? With just the candles on?"
Without even realizing he was doing it, Snape dropped a kiss on top of Harry's head. "Of course we can. Let's go tell Toby."
Snape woke the following morning with a headache pounding behind his eyeballs. He stumbled from his bed to his potions cabinet and growled when he discovered he had no headache elixir on hand. Great – he'd either have to brew some or floo to Hogwarts.
Even the thought of brewing in this condition seemed to overwhelm him. Besides, he'd begun brewing a very volatile potion last night which needed to sit undisturbed until precisely 3:00 p.m. today, or it would be ruined, wasting several expensive ingredients in the process, not to mention the two hours he'd spent on it last night after Harry had gone to bed. Even opening the door to the potions lab could prove disastrous. No – he'd have to go to Hogwarts, and he couldn't do that until Miss Granger showed up. He hoped she'd be here soon.
Meanwhile, he had to endure Harry's excited chatter and fidgeting. Had he not woken with the mother of all headaches, he would likely be enjoying this day just as much as Harry. As it was, it took every ounce of strength he possessed not to snap at the boy.
Finally, the floo flared, and Hermione stepped out of the hearth.
"Hermione's here!" Harry shouted, causing Snape to wince. Harry hurtled to Hermione and threw himself into her arms. She caught him up in a warm hug.
"Tomorrow's Christmas," he told her.
"Really?" she teased. "I wasn't aware."
Harry squirmed to be put down, and Hermione obliged. "Good morning, Professor Snape," she said brightly as Harry began running around the room, arms outstretched, making airplane noises.
Snape could only grunt in response as he pulled on his gloves.
"Are you all right, sir? You look pale."
Snape raised an eyebrow at this statement, though the action hurt. He had been pale since birth.
"I mean paler than usual," Hermione clarified.
"I woke this morning with a headache and seem to have nothing on hand for it. But that is no matter. Were you able to obtain . . ."
"Yes," Hermione patted the pocket of her robe. "What would you like me to do with them? I have other things as well."
"Can you stay for lunch?"
"I'm afraid I have to get back."
"Harry," Snape said, but Harry was making too much noise to hear him. "Harry!" he said, louder. Harry stopped; Snape winced.
"Stop that infernal racket. Please go into the kitchen and tell Toby that I'm leaving but that I'll be back for lunch."
"Can I go with you, Papa?"
"Now how could I buy Christmas presents for you if you were there?" Snape pointed out. "You'll stay here with Miss Granger."
"Why do you call her 'Miss Granger', Papa?" Harry asked. "Isn't she your friend? You should call her Hermione."
"Go. Tell. Toby," Snape said through gritted teeth.
"Okay," Harry agreed, and his airplane flew him out of the room. As soon as he left, Hermione began taking shrunken presents out of her pockets. There were many, and they took up not a little space when they were resized.
"What is all this?" Snape asked, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose.
"When people heard I was coming, they asked me to deliver their presents. There's one here from Ron, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ginny. And me, of course. These two are from Santa. Where would you like them? Your lab?"
"No. I have an extremely touchy potion brewing, and it must not be disturbed for any reason. Why don't we shrink them down again and put them in this chest?" Snape lifted the lid of the chest and discovered it held blankets. "There's plenty of room."
Hermione reduced the presents back down to an easy-to-hide size and put them in the chest. Snape closed the lid just as Harry returned. "I told him!" he announced.
"Thank you. I must go now so that I can return before lunch. Harry, behave for Miss . . . for Hermione."
"Okay, Papa," Harry promised, and he hugged Snape's legs. Snape patted him on the head.
"Thank you, Miss Granger. I shall be back as soon as humanly possible."
"Take your time, sir. And good luck."
Not sure why he'd need luck on a simple shopping expedition, Snape took his leave.
Harry was so excited it was impossible to keep him in the house, so Hermione took him for a walk outside. As he showed her his favorite places in the wood, he rattled on excitedly about the broom ride he and Papa were taking tonight, and the letter he'd written to Santa, and how great Christmas was going to be this year. Hermione couldn't help but catch his enthusiasm. She was so happy that her best friend was finally getting to celebrate Christmas like a normal child.
They returned to the house, Harry red-cheeked but no less exuberant. "Go take care of your things," Hermione suggested, "and I'll talk to Toby about some cocoa."
"Okay!" Harry agreed. He went into his room to put his cloak and winter things away while Hermione made her way to the kitchen.
As soon as Harry was alone, he got an idea. He'd been waiting for this opportunity, and now he had to seize his chance. He'd made something for Papa, and he wanted to leave it someplace he'd be sure to find it later today. It wasn't a Christmas present – it was more like a pre-broom-flight present.
Harry peeked out of his bedroom, saw he was alone, and crossed to the lab. He pushed the door open, went inside for only a couple of seconds, not touching anything as he'd been repeatedly warned, and left again. Maybe if he'd remembered to shut the door all the way, things would have turned out differently. Glowing with happiness, Harry joined Hermione and Toby in a cup of cocoa in the kitchen.
Snape stepped out of the floo nearly in as bad a mood as he'd stepped in. Gone was the headache, courtesy of Poppy Pomfrey, but it had been replaced by an entirely new type of pain.
Snape had never been holiday shopping the day before Christmas before. He had very few people he shopped for, and most of what he did was done by owl order. Diagon Alley had been filled with more people that it should have been safe for it to hold, all of them as impatient and bad-tempered as . . .well, as Severus Snape. He'd seen adults – grown wizards mind you – fighting over the last of some stupidly popular toy. He'd seen people standing on queue, looking murderous if they even suspected someone might usurp their place. He'd seen shop clerks losing the last of their patience and almost hexing obnoxiously difficult customers. It had to be, Snape thought, one of the outer circles of hell. Even knowing exactly what he wanted, it had taken him more time than was reasonable. And when he realized he'd forgotten the catnip Harry wanted Santa to bring for that Satan's spawn, Lucifer, he'd nearly had to imperius himself to get himself back into the shop. When he was finally finished, he'd stopped for a much-needed drink in the Leaky Cauldron, which had also been over-crowded, hoping to erase even a little of the memory of this morning. Adding to the stress had been the necessity to maintain the glamour he'd erected to keep himself from being spotted.
Hermione jumped to her feet as soon as he appeared and rushed into her cloak. "How was shopping?"
Harry came over rather quickly, but when he saw no evidence of presents, he returned to his cars.
"I wish you wouldn't ask. Frankly, I am quite surprised to have made it back here alive."
Hermione smiled in sympathy.
"Has the Headmaster's owl arrived?" Snape asked.
"No. No owls."
That was good. He could send Dumbledore's present back with the bird when it did come.
"Oh, Miss Granger, this is for you." He reached into his cloak and withdrew an envelope which he handed to her. She peeked inside and exclaimed with awe, "A twenty galleon gift card to Flourish & Botts. Thank you, sir! This is most generous!"
"Consider it in part a sign of my gratitude for all of your assistance with Harry these past few weeks."
"You're welcome, Professor. It has been my pleasure, I assure you. And now I really have to go. Harry, come here and give me a hug."
Harry complied willingly, leaping into her arms. Hermione hugged him tightly, and he returned the favor, his little arms circled around her neck. After the hug, Hermione said, "Give us a kiss," and Harry gave her a smacking kiss on the lips, which made both of them giggle.
"You both have a wonderful Christmas," she said, setting Harry on his feet.
"The same to you and your family, Miss Granger," Snape said.
With one last smile, she left them.
"And here's the post," Snape said. For the next few minutes, he busied himself with unburdening the owl of the three – Merlin! Three more presents for the boy! Was it possible to spoil a child over the course of one Christmas? Snape thought not – not this child in any event. The presents for Harry were from Dumbledore, Minerva and Hagrid. And there were two more packages, both for Snape, one from Dumbledore, the other from Minerva. He gave the owl a treat and affixed his present for Dumbledore (a box of impossibly sweet-looking treats which would probably kill anyone else with their sugar content but which he knew Albus would love) and his gift for Minerva (a gold lion broach) to the bird's leg and sent it on its way.
"Harry, go wash up for lunch."
As soon as Harry had left the room, Snape put these presents and those he had bought for Harry into the chest with the others. The boy would be thrilled when he saw that pile.
And then Snape turned around and saw it, and all thoughts of Christmas fled in an instant. The door to the lab. Ajar. Suspecting the worst, anger building with every step, Snape crossed the room and pushed the door open slowly, carefully, in case there was still a chance of saving his potion.
But it was too late. The potion was black. Any color but turquoise at this stage meant the potion had been ruined. Next to the cauldron, a set of glass vials lay broken. Snape growled, and a streak of gray fur came flying out from beneath the table and out the door.
And Snape saw red. He returned to the living room. "Harry James Potter!" he called. "Come. Here. Now!"
Harry knew that tone. He'd heard it enough during his time with the Dursleys. What had he done? He finished drying his hands and noticed they were shaking a little. He needn't be afraid of Papa, though, right? He wasn't like his aunt and uncle. He'd been nothing but nice to Harry. And for the life of him, Harry couldn't figure out what he could have done to anger his guardian. He must be wrong about what he thought he'd heard in Papa's voice. Maybe Papa was playing a prank on him, trying to trick Harry into thinking he was angry with him and then giving him an early Christmas present. Yeah, that was probably it.
Harry left the bathroom and went to see what Papa wanted, a smile upon his face.
"Did you go into the lab?" Snape asked, his voice low and menacing.
Harry knew instantly that this was no prank, and the smile slipped away from his face. "I only . . ."
"Did you or did you not go into the lab?" Snape interrupted.
"Yes, Papa, but I just . . ."
"And how many times have you been told you are not to go into the lab without me?"
"I don't know, Papa," Harry said, hanging his head.
"How many times, Harry? More than once?"
"And yet you went in anyway?
"I just wanted to . . ."
"Do you think it matters what you wanted? Do you have any idea what you've cost me? You ruined the potion! The ingredients cost more than I earn in one week of teaching!" Snape's bad day and every time he'd held his tongue and reined in his temper with this boy all caught up with him now. "Are you an idiot?"
Harry's large green eyes looked up at him, full of tears and betrayal. Papa had told him that he was not like the Dursleys, but he was – he was just like them. They never let him explain. They were forever throwing in his face how much he was costing them. They called him hurtful names. He supposed it was only a matter of time before Papa hit him and sent him to his cupboard without any food.
"Get out of my sight!" Snape hissed, afraid that he would hit the boy if he remained before him. "Go to your room and stay there until I tell you to come out!"
And there it was – the banishment to the cupboard and the denial of food – it was lunch time and Harry was hungry. Harry turned and ran to his room before Papa came to blows. He threw himself onto his bed, into the fort he had loved so well but which now had become a replica of his cupboard under the stairs, and buried his face in his pillow, crying as though his little heart was breaking, which it most likely was. He'd thought it was different here – he'd thought Papa was different.
Still seething, Snape stalked back into the lab to clean up. He got rid of the contents of the cauldron with an angry swish of his wand and turned to take care of the broken glass. And then he spotted the piece of parchment on the desk which had very definitely not been there earlier.
Snape picked it up and froze. It was a drawing, done by Harry with his magical crayons, of the two of them on a broom, swooping through the night sky. Below them, Christmas lights twinkled. In one corner, Harry had written, "Merry Cristmas" and in the other, "I love you Papa."
Something tightened in Snape's chest, constricting his heart and forcing a lump into his throat. Harry had snuck in here to leave him this drawing and a declaration of his love, and Snape had . . . Dear God in Heaven, he'd belittled the boy, terrorized him, made him cry, and sent him to his room. What kind of a monster was he?! A water droplet fell onto the parchment, and Snape realized with a start that he was crying. How could he have done this to Harry? He'd treated him as abominably as those damned Dursleys had done. Could Harry ever forgive him? He'd seen with his own eyes the boy's remarkable capacity for love and empathy, but was this betrayal too great? Had he lost Harry? He had to make this right.
Snape entered Harry's room quietly. Harry was in his tree house, sobbing still, and the sound tore at Snape's heart. With a flick of his wand, Snape vanished the walls of the tree house. Harry would not mistake this place that had become a haven for the place he'd been sent to for punishment. Snape sat on the edge of the bed. Harry's dragon nightlight was flickering fiercely, and Snape had no doubt that its counterpart in his own bedroom was growling ferociously.
Harry didn't look up at him and actually moved as far as possible to the side of the bed opposite where Snape sat. Harry couldn't help but wonder if Papa had come to spank him now. The Dursleys did that sometimes – sent him to his cupboard, then hauled him out again when they reconsidered the appropriateness of that punishment in favor of a more physical display of their displeasure. He tried to stop crying – tears always made the Dursleys hit harder, isolate longer, insult meaner.
"Harry, look at me."
Harry couldn't. He just couldn't. It hurt too much to look at this man who had come to mean so much to him, but who had turned out to be just like all the rest. This maybe hurt even a little more because Papa had been so nice before turning on him. The Dursleys had always hated him, and there was some small comfort in that constancy.
"Please, Harry," Snape requested, his voice breaking with emotion.
Harry heard the plea and realized that what he was hearing wasn't anger. Slowly, he rolled over.
Their eyes met, though Harry's vision was blurred by the fact that he'd taken his glasses off. Even without using occlumency, Snape could read the betrayal, the sadness and the fear Harry was feeling in his expressive green eyes. It was this last that hurt Snape the most – the boy was afraid of him.
"Please come over here," Snape said, patting the bed beside him.
Resignedly, Harry sat up and crawled across the bed and sat beside Snape.
"Harry," Snape said. He waited until Harry was looking up at him. "I'm so sorry I spoke to you the way I did. There is no excuse for the way I acted. The potion is unimportant. Can you forgive me?"
Harry's tears started again, and he turned his face into Snape's shoulder. "I only went in to leave you the picture I made! I didn't touch anything! I'm sorry!"
Snape put an arm around Harry and pulled him close. "You don't need to be sorry, Harry. It is I who am sorry. You've given me such a wonderful gift." Snape knew he was talking about more than just the picture, but it was easier to focus on that for now. "I've never seen a more wonderful picture."
Snape now found himself with a lapful of emotional six-year old as Harry twisted himself into Snape's lap, his small arms encircling Snape's neck, his face pressed into Snape's robe as he cried out his relief.
"I th-thought you were going to l-leave me or m-make me go back!" Harry sobbed. "I thought you h-h-hated me!"
Snape pushed Harry away enough to take the boy's face in his hands. "I could never hate you, Harry. I . . . I love you." And he pulled Harry to his chest again and held him tightly.
As he held the small, fragile body close to his, Harry's sobbing ceased and he stilled completely. Snape sensed a dramatic shift in the boy – something momentous had changed within him, and Snape was afraid he knew what it was.
"Harry?" he asked, loosening the hold he had on the child, though he didn't let him go completely.
After several seconds, Harry drew back and looked up at Snape. The green eyes looking up at him now were no longer those of a child. Gone was the innocence, replaced by a maturity and weariness that looked so out of place in the face of a six-year old child. "Hello, Professor," he said.
It should have been awkward, holding a sixteen-year old Harry Potter on his lap, but neither of them moved away from the embrace. They stared at each other for nearly a minute, aware that things would change now, though neither was sure just how. But before they moved forward, Snape had to know that their past was put to rest. "Do you forgive me? For what I said?"
"Which part?" Harry asked. "The 'idiot' part, or the 'I love you' part?"
"Please don't joke," Snape said. "I need to know that you forgive me. Though I guess I wouldn't blame you if you didn't."
"There's nothing to forgive," Harry said, his voice soft and sincere. "People say things when they're angry. It's all right."
"Thank you," Snape said gratefully, a great weight lifting from his heart. "I suppose we have some talking to do now."
Harry sighed and slid off of Snape's lap. "I suppose we do."
"It's lunch time. Shall we talk while we eat?"
"Do you wish for me to call the Headmaster here?" Snape asked after they'd been seated and their lunch had appeared before them. Given their long-standing animosity, and the way he'd acted this morning, Snape wasn't sure a physically and magically vulnerable Harry would feel secure in Snape's presence. The fear he'd seen earlier in Harry's eyes had nearly undone him, and he'd do what he had to to put the boy's mind at ease.
"No," Harry said immediately. Once Dumbledore was made aware that Harry had returned to his sixteen-year old senses, his time here would be at an end. He'd be expected to age ten years and return to his life and his friends and his destiny. And while he wanted all that (well, maybe not the destiny part), he didn't want it now.
Snape felt ill at ease, and Harry could sense it.
"Would you like me to perform the spell that will return you to your teen-aged self now?"
"No," Harry said, which earned him a look of surprise.
Harry slid out of his chair and went to stand beside Snape. "Merlin, I am small!" he said, making Snape smile weakly. "I want . . . I was thinking maybe we could . . . I'm sorry. I'm having a hard time with this."
"Take your time," Snape offered.
The contrast between this kind Snape and the one he'd known a few weeks ago gave Harry the courage to put his thoughts into words. "If you had the chance to go back and re-do your childhood differently – better – would you do it?"
"You gave me that chance," Harry continued, "and I'm grateful for the way you've been with me since I . . . since I lost my mind, I guess. But if it's not asking too much, I'd like to spend just one more day . . . Christmas is tomorrow and . . ."
"Are you saying you want to spend Christmas here? With me?" Snape guessed.
"I want this Harry," he said, waving a hand at himself, "to spend Christmas with you. I never had a proper Christmas, and I just thought that if you didn't have other plans, then maybe we could just stay here and spend the holiday together. You know, if you didn't have plans and if you wanted to." As Harry went on, he became more and more nervous. He couldn't read the look in Snape's dark eyes – had he perhaps misread the change in his Professor's feelings for him over the time they'd spent together? He hadn't thought so – it was Snape's declaration of love that had returned him to his right mind after all. But Snape wasn't speaking now – he was just looking down at Harry with those unfathomable eyes, and the longer he went without speaking, the more Harry became certain he was making a colossal fool of himself.
Snape was, in fact, shocked by the boy's suggestion. He'd assumed that once Potter realized just who he was, he'd want to get back to his life and away from his hated potions professor as soon as humanly possible. It had never occurred to him that Harry would regain his reality and still want to spend Christmas here with him. He'd been looking forward to spending Christmas with the six-year old, and when he'd realized that that probably wasn't going to happen, he'd felt keen disappointment. And while the six-year old was gone, Harry Potter was offering, requesting really, to be allowed to stay here another day just to spend Christmas with Snape.
He saw the uncertainty creep across Harry's features and knew he had to say something. "I would like to spend Christmas with you, Mr. Potter. And since I hadn't planned on you 'finding your mind' today, I certainly had no other plans."
A large smile spread across Harry's face, and Snape couldn't help but smile in return.
Harry returned to his chair and began to eat now that that was settled and his stomach had stopped churning.
"I don't understand why you don't want to be returned to your proper form," Snape said after many moments of silence.
Harry finished chewing. "I've liked being six," he said. "Besides, it's this me that you like."
"I've come to like the person inside," Snape corrected. "That is the same whether you are six or sixteen." Snape watched Harry wipe his mouth on his sleeve. "Even the table manners are the same."
Harry laughed and continued eating, swinging his legs joyfully. "Can we still go flying tonight?"
"If you wish."
"Oh, I wish," Harry assured him. "Can I steer?"
Snape snorted. "You will sit on the broom and try not to fall off."
"Come on. You've seen me on a broom. You know I can fly."
"What I know is that you weigh approximately the same as a wet cat. And I do not. If you think I'm going to trust myself a hundred feet in the air to the puny likes of you, I'd say you've lost your mind . . . again." The words were spoken with no malice and a teasing twinkle in the dark eyes.
Harry heaved a put-upon sigh. "All right, Papa." He peeked up at Snape through his long eyelashes to see how the older man felt about this form of address now that Harry was no longer six.
The ends of Snape's mouth curled up minutely, almost like a smile, but all he said was, "Eat your lunch, Harry."
And Harry did, his little heart near to bursting with happiness.
Harry made biscuits with Toby after lunch. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in companionable silence with Snape. While Snape read through old potions journals, deciding which to keep and which to discard, Harry lay on his stomach on the floor reading books he'd found in Dumbledore's library, books which this morning he'd been unable to read but which now he found fascinating.
Finally, dinner time came, and Harry could hardly eat, anticipation churning in his stomach. He hadn't been on a broom in what felt like forever.
"Ready?" he asked after Snape had eaten his last bite and his plate had disappeared.
"Yes. Go get dressed. Don't forget your hat and gloves." At Harry's amused look, Snape looked sheepish and said, "I'm sorry. I forgot you're no longer six."
"It's okay," Harry assured him. "It's nice to have someone looking out for me." Harry went into his room and dressed in his winter things.
After applying disillusionment charms to both of them, Snape retrieved his broom from the cupboard and led Harry into the yard. He then mounted the broom, settled Harry in front of him, and they took off.
It took half an hour to reach London. Whenever they passed over a populated area, Snape flew low enough so that Harry could see the Christmas lights strung on houses, the Muggle ornaments decorating yards, the evergreens lit up in town squares. London was absolutely stunning from the air, appearing so clean and quiet, and they spent thirty minutes criss-crossing the city, until Snape could feel Harry trembling from cold in front of him.
"Time to turn back," he said into the boy's ear. Using the arm he'd been steadying Harry with, Snape pulled the youngster closer and wrapped him with his cloak. Harry's weight settled against Snape's chest, and they headed toward home. Within minutes, Snape sensed that Harry had fallen asleep, and he peeked down at the boy. Sure enough, Harry's eyes were closed, his body bonelessly cradled in the circle of Snape's arms. Snape tightened his hold on Harry and spend up.
Snape hovered over the yard and dissolved the disillusionment charms. He landed gently, held onto Harry, and let the broom drop. He adjusted the sleeping boy more comfortably in his arms and went inside, floating the broom along behind them.
As soon as Harry hit the warmth and the light, his eyes fluttered open. "We're home?" he asked.
"Yes. Would you like me to put you right into bed?"
"No," Harry said, struggling to wake. "We still have to put out cookies for Santa." He stretched languidly in Snape's arms.
"All right," Snape said, setting the boy on his feet. "Why don't you have a bath to warm yourself up. Then we can have cocoa."
"And biscuits?" Harry asked hopefully.
"And biscuits," Snape agreed. "Go take care of your things. I'll get the bathtub ready."
Snape spelled the tub full of warm water and bubbles, then contemplated the boats Harry always played with when he took a bath. Would he still want them? Snape shrugged and tipped them into the water. If he didn't want them, he could throw them out.
Harry came into the bathroom, and Snape left him to undress in privacy.
Snape usually re-heated Harry's bath water after ten minutes, and he went in to do so tonight. He smiled when he saw Harry puttering the boats around in the water as he always did. "Do you want the water heated?"
"No. I'm warm enough. I'd like to get out actually."
"All right," Snape said. Then came an awkward moment when he wondered if he should stay and help Harry, as he usually did. With his six-year old size, he was still too small to climb safely out of the deep tub on his own. Snape had placed a step stool outside of the tub so that Harry could get in by himself, but Snape had always helped him out.
Harry understood what Snape was struggling with. What was the big deal? Snape had seen him naked nearly every day they'd been here. Harry wanted to be six, which meant letting a responsible adult help him when he needed it. He stood up in the water and extended his arms to Snape, as he always did.
Snape quickly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around Harry, lifting the boy out of the tub. Telling himself this was just like any other day, Snape dried Harry and helped him put his pajamas on.
They sat at the table and drank cocoa and ate gingerbread biscuits shaped like little men. Though the sixteen-year old Harry had long since given up his belief in Santa Claus, his six-year old counterpart put six biscuits on a tray with a mug of cocoa beside the Christmas tree, then asked Snape to spell the cocoa to stay warm.
Excited but very tired, Harry was tucked into bed.
"Do you want the tree house walls back?" Snape asked.
Harry thought about it, then shook his head. "No, thank you. They were brilliant, but I don't need them any more."
"Shall I take Steve?"
"No," Harry said quickly, pulling the giraffe closer. He wasn't ready to give everything up just yet. "I'll keep Steve."
Snape pulled the covers up to Harry's shoulders and smoothed them flat over the slight form beneath them. "Sleep tight, Harry."
"Thank you for taking me flying, Papa. That was great."
"It was my pleasure." Snape leaned over and placed a kiss on Harry's forehead. Harry's thin arms reached up and snaked their way around Snape's neck, pulling him close and holding on tight. Snape allowed himself to be held, enjoying the contact. When Harry let him go, he stood up.
"Good night, Harry."
"Good night, Papa."
Snape closed Harry's door and went into his own room. He'd shower, then, if Harry was asleep, he'd make things ready for tomorrow morning.
Harry was sleeping soundly when Snape re-emerged. He crumbled one of the biscuits to leave a few crumbs on the tray, then banished the rest of them and all but the dregs of the cocoa. He retrieved Harry's presents from the blanket chest, resized them, then arranged them around the tree. He laid out the socks for Toby, the treats for Aristotle, and the catnip for the beast (which was currently sleeping on Harry's bed).
Then, feeling very tired himself and suspecting that Harry would be up very early tomorrow morning, Snape took himself off to bed. He was asleep instantly.
Snape awakened the next morning to the awareness that there was someone standing in the dark beside his bed. His first reaction was alarm, but that only lasted an instant as he recognized the someone as Harry. Harry had never come into his room before – was something wrong? That worry passed in an instant, too, when Snape realized what day it was.
"Harry? What time is it?" he croaked, sitting up and peering blearily at the boy.
Dancing excitedly from foot to foot, Harry announced, "It's Christmas time!"
Snape collapsed back onto the bed and cast a time charm wordlessly. "It's five-thirty," he groaned. "Too early. Go back to bed, Harry."
Harry didn't answer, but he didn't leave either. Snape cocked one eye open and glanced over at Harry. Large, pleading verdant eyes looked back at him. Merlin's balls! He'd never been able to say no to those eyes, not when they looked at him from the face of a six-year old boy or that boy's mother. "Very well," he sighed. "Hand me my dressing gown."
Harry nearly skipped in his excitement. Snape sat up and swung his legs tiredly over the edge of the bed. Harry handed him his gown.
"Santa came," Harry told him. He'd already been out to check the tree.
"Did he now? Imagine that." Snape slipped his gown on but before he could get it tied, Harry grabbed his hand and pulled him from the room.
The tree sparkled merrily, the presents spread beneath it, and they stopped for a moment to admire it. Snape tied the sash on his gown and said, "Happy Christmas, Harry."
"Happy Christmas, Papa," Harry said, smiling up at him.
Snape laid a hand affectionately on Harry's head, then said, "Go."
Harry didn't need to be told twice, and he tore off to the tree. After Snape received a cup of coffee (a present in itself) from Toby, he sat on the sofa and watched Harry.
Harry slowly and reverently unwrapped each of his presents. He'd never expected there to be so many! Aside from the presents he'd asked for from Santa, he received a book about dragons with amazing moving illustrations from Hermione; a Chudley Cannons shirt with a seeker chasing a snitch round and round it from Ron; a jumper from the Weasleys with a picture of an owl on the front; a box of Honeyduke sweets from Ginny; a lifelike miniature hippogriff from Hagrid; a quill and some gold ink from Professor McGonagall; and a set of glass marbles from Dumbledore. Both Snape and Harry thought this last present must contain magic of some sort, but after Snape tried every spell he could think of to reveal any inherent magic unsuccessfully, they'd been forced to conclude that they were, in fact, regular glass marbles.
Harry had saved Snape's presents for last, and before he opened them, he gave Aristotle his treats and Toby his socks and Lucifer his catnip, which the cat immediately began to roll in. Then he handed Snape the two presents that were beneath the tree meant for him.
"I'm sorry I didn't get you anything, Papa."
"Don't be silly, Harry. It isn't as though you possessed the requisite funds or wherewithal to go out shopping now, is it? The Headmaster and Professor McGonagall always remember me at the holidays, and that is more than enough. Besides, you gave me your present yesterday, remember? I'm not sure how you could have topped that." Harry's picture had been framed and now hung in Snape's room.
Harry smiled shyly, pleased that Snape had liked his offering. "Open them, Papa," he urged.
Snape did, revealing his favorite brand of scotch (from Dumbledore) and a quality leather-bound journal, the kind Snape used daily in his potions work (from Minerva). He set them aside carefully. "You've two more, Harry."
"Yes, I was saving them for last."
Harry fingered the wrap on one of his two remaining gifts. He was reluctant to open them – once he did, this part of the day would be over.
"I hope you're not disappointed in your things, Harry. We all selected our gifts for you with a six-year old in mind."
"No, they're brilliant. All of them." And they were. There were exactly ten of them, as though there was one for each year he'd had to endure Christmas with the Dursleys with either no presents at all or presents meant to belittle and underscore Harry's diminished role in his "family".
With a small sigh, Harry began to unwrap the last two presents. The first box contained a cauldron just the right size for a six-year old filled with potion ingredients and a book with instructions for making very basic, very safe potions.
The second, much smaller, box contained two identical mirrors. Harry picked one up – it was a little bigger than his hand. He looked up at Snape for an explanation.
"The Headmaster and I worked out the spell your father and Sirius Black used on the mirrors they used as communication devices when they were students at Hogwarts. You, of course, had the one that belonged to your father. I've charmed these mirrors in a similar fashion. I had intended them to be a device with which you and I could communicate, were we not together, but as circumstances have now changed, should you wish, I could alter the spell so that you could communicate with Mr. Weasley or Miss Granger through the mirrors. Perhaps even the Headmaster if you so desire."
Snape felt increasingly awkward during this speech as it dawned on him how much he wanted Harry to want the ability to communicate with Snape whenever the mood struck. But, of course, the sixteen-year old Harry would rather keep in touch with someone he liked, someone he trusted. Anyone other than Snape. It bothered him how much this thought hurt, but he couldn't seem to help it. He worked himself into such a state of want versus denial of that want that he didn't notice Harry had come to stand beside him as he began to list the more appropriate partners for this spell.
A small hand on his knee stopped him. "They're perfect, just the way they are." And Harry affirmed that by jumping into Snape's arms and hugging him tightly. "Thank you," he whispered fiercely into Snape's ear.
"You're entirely welcome," Snape answered, though he was barely able to speak around the lump that had formed in his throat.
Christmas breakfast had been splendid. Harry had insisted that Toby sit at the table with them, and the elf had nervously done so. Toby seemed relieved to get away when the meal came to an end.
Snape sipped his coffee. "Shall we do it now?"
Harry fidgeted nervously, wondering how far he could push this.
Snape seemed to sense his hesitation. "Would you perhaps prefer later, to give you an opportunity to enjoy some of your new things?"
Harry looked up hopefully. "Would that be okay?"
Snape smiled. "That would be fine. Why don't you go get dressed, and then take all the time you want."
So Harry did. He put his new Weasley jumper on over his Chudley Cannons shirt. He rode his skateboard up and down the hall, an activity Snape never would have allowed but for these special circumstances. He drove his dump truck round and round the sitting room, pretending he was hauling dirt and making appropriate engine noises. He and Snape together made several of the potions in the kit, and both agreed that this level of potion-making was where Harry excelled. He made up games with the marbles, including one where he hid a marble and then Snape had to find it. After lunch, Harry settled on the couch, munching on his Honeyduke sweets while he read every word of the dragon book. Then he sat at the table opposite Snape and colored more animated pictures while his tiny hippogriff hopped around on the table.
At Snape's suggestion, Harry used his new quill and ink to write brief thank you notes for all of his wonderful presents. Snape charmed the parchment to automatically write "Thank you for the . . ." so that Harry only had to fill in the name of the person he was thanking and the gift he'd received. (Even so, "Professor McGonagall" and "Professor Dumbledore" nearly did him in.) Snape helped with spelling but refused to write the notes for him when he tired.
Dinner time was approaching, and Snape went to see to the arrangements. Knowing his time here was coming to a close, Harry disappeared into his bedroom with his quill and ink and another piece of parchment.
They ate quietly, neither of them looking forward to the resumption of "normal life". Harry inadvertently put that off just a little longer.
When Snape returned from a visit to the loo, he found Harry curled up with Steve on one end of the sofa, sound asleep. He smiled fondly at the sleeping boy, figured one more night couldn't hurt, and carried Harry and Steve to bed. "Happy Christmas, Harry," he whispered.
He had turned out the light and made it to the door before he heard a sleepy voice say, "Happy Christmas, Papa."
Harry and Snape stared at each other over the breakfast table. Finally, Snape said, "We can't put this off forever."
Harry sighed. "I know."
"There are clothes in your room, clothes that fit you . . . before. You'll probably want to put them on first."
Harry slid off his chair. "All right," he said, resigned. He came to stand beside Snape's chair. "Thank you for everything."
Snape looked into Harry's eyes and said sincerely, "You are most welcome."
"Can I . . . can I . . . just one more time . . .?"
Snape knew what Harry wanted and pulled him into a tight hug. Harry told himself not to cry. He was getting his life back, right? He should be thrilled, shouldn't he?
As Snape held the small body in his arms, he willed himself not to cry. He was getting his life back, right? He should be thrilled, shouldn't he?
Snape finally pushed Harry away. "Go."
While Harry dressed, Snape boxed up his Christmas presents and banished the tree. When Harry appeared, wearing clothes that were much too big for him, Snape sat him on the sofa. "Ready?"
Harry blinked up at him and nodded.
Snape pointed his wand at Harry. "Reverto aegum sedecim."
Before Snape's eyes, six-year old Harry, the boy he'd come to love, grew in the space of seconds into the sixteen-year old Snape had hated since before he'd even met him.
"All right, Harry?"
"I'm all right," Harry assured him.
"You should pack your things," Snape said gruffly.
Without a word, Harry stood up and went into the room which had been his for the past month. After he'd packed, they went into the kitchen to say goodbye and thank you to Toby. Harry took a fairly emotional parting from Lucifer as well.
In the sitting room again, Snape and Harry looked at each other. Why was this so hard? Why was the prospect of returning to what they had so displeasing? Snape cleared his throat. "You go first. The Headmaster will be thrilled to see you. I say we surprise him."
Harry nodded and took a pinch of floo powder. With one last look at Snape, Harry threw the powder into the flame and said, "Professor Dumbledore's office." He stepped over the hearth and was whisked away.
Harry stumbled out of the floo in the Headmaster's office, catching himself just before he fell to his knees. Dumbledore was seated at his desk and looked up at the intrusion. A smile spread across his face when he spotted his visitor. "Harry! Harry Potter, is it really you?!"
"Yes, sir. It's really me."
"And may I ask – how old are you, dear boy?"
Harry smiled. "Sixteen, sir. Back to normal."
"Excellent!" Dumbledore beamed. "And here's Severus!" he said as Snape made a dignified exit from the floo. "How are you, dear friend?" Dumbledore seemed beside himself with glee.
"I am fine, Headmaster. Did you enjoy your holiday?"
"I did, Severus. I most certainly did. And how did you boys enjoy the day?"
Snape waited for Harry to speak, and when he didn't, said, "It was very enjoyable."
Dumbledore's smile had not faded. "I am so glad to hear it. Now perhaps you will indulge an old man's curiosity and tell me how we come to have our old Harry back."
Harry was still strangely silent. "We . . . had a row," Snape explained. "Well, I had a row," he corrected. "Mr. Potter came back to himself when I apologized. I think it was the shock."
Dumbledore smiled indulgently. "You rowed on Christmas?"
Snape shifted uncomfortably. "Well, actually it was the day prior to Christmas."
Dumbledore now looked perplexed. "Harry returned to himself two days ago?"
Harry finally spoke up. "I asked Professor Snape if we could stay over Christmas. He very kindly agreed.
"Ah," Dumbledore said, understanding. "And did you enjoy your presents, Harry?'
"Yes, sir. Did you get my note, Headmaster?"
"Yes. Aristotle delivered it last evening." If he wondered why Harry had not revealed that he had returned to himself in that note, he did not ask.
"Thank you again, sir, for the marbles."
"Ah, the marbles. I was in a Muggle shop, and they caught my eye."
Harry had to smile picturing Dumbledore, with all that hair and undoubtedly flamboyant robes, in a Muggle shop, buying marbles. The joke there was just too obvious, and he exchanged a quick glance with Snape. They both had to turn away before they burst into inappropriate laughter.
"I assume, dear boy, that you are well and ready to resume your old life?"
Harry sobered immediately. "Yes, sir."
"Would you like to finish out the holiday at the Burrow?" Dumbledore invited.
Harry didn't take long to give his answer. "No, sir. I think I'd like to just stay here. I suspect I have some school work to get caught up on."
"Ah, a wise decision." Dumbledore beamed again.
"In fact, I probably ought to go get unpacked and get started. If you'll excuse me, sir?"
"Certainly, Harry, certainly. We shall speak again soon, I feel sure."
Harry nodded and turned to Snape. "Thank you, sir, for everything."
Snape nodded curtly to him in return. "You are welcome, Mr. Potter."
Nodding at Dumbledore again, Harry left the two men and made his lonely way up to Gryffindor Tower.
Snape had stayed with the Headmaster for a few minutes after the boy had left, then had made his lonely way down to the dungeon. He was unpacking his things when he found a parchment scroll that he didn't recognize. He unrolled it and immediately recognized six-year old Harry's scrawl. In gold ink, the boy had written:
I've just finished writing thank you letters and realized that I owe the biggest one to you. These words will be awkward to say when I've become sixteen again, so I'm going to write them down now.
Thank you for all that you've done for me over the last few weeks. I know that you went into this because you felt obligated, but I like to think that somewhere along the way it became more. I feel that I now have some understanding of what it means to have a father, and I am grateful for that. I've enjoyed Christmas for the first time ever, and for that I also thank you. Mostly, though, I thank you for just being there for me, for actually looking every time I said, "Watch me, Papa", for praising my pathetic attempts at art, for showing me that perhaps I never was the freak I've always assumed myself to be.
I'll stop now – I can sense I'm making you uncomfortable. Just know that I will never forget what you have done for me, and that I owe you far more than I can ever hope to repay. Thank you, Papa.
Snape read the letter through twice, then set it down. Dammit! He missed the little twit already. He shook himself, told himself he was being silly, to get over it, to get over Harry Potter. When he heard Potter's voice, he wondered if he could perhaps get Albus to tell him where he'd bought the marbles, because he was obviously losing his.
"Professor, are you there?" he heard again.
"Potter, are you haunting me now?" he asked aloud, seriously questioning his sanity.
"I'm in the mirror," Harry explained.
The mirror! Of course! Snape rummaged through his unpacked things until he found his mirror. And there, indeed, was Potter, looking back at him. "So, I guess they work. Good to know."
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry to bother you already, but I think you have some of my things. I couldn't find them when I unpacked, and I thought they might have gotten mixed in with yours."
Snape rummaged a little deeper. Yes, he certainly didn't own a skateboard or a dump truck or a giraffe named Steve. "Yes, they're right here," Snape told him. "Would you like to come down and get them?"
Harry's smile shown at him out of the mirror. "I'll be right there."
When Harry arrived minutes later, he was out of breath, as though he'd run all the way.
"Come in, Mr. Potter. Your things are there, on the table."
Harry passed by Snape with a shy smile and picked up his possessions. "Thank you. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"It was no bother, Mr. Potter."
"Harry," he corrected quietly, looking at his feet. "Out there, I can be 'Mr. Potter' or just 'Potter', or even 'dunderhead', but in here, when we're alone together – if we're ever alone together, I mean . . ." Harry stopped. He was doing a miserable job explaining what he'd come here to explain, and he was too afraid of rejection to ask what he really wanted to ask.
"All right," Snape agreed softly. "I read your letter, Harry. It was very nice. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Pap– Professor," he caught himself just in time.
"In here, Harry, it's 'Papa'. If you want," Snape offered, trying to sound as though it mattered not what Harry chose to call him when in actuality it mattered a great deal.
Harry gifted him with one of his smiles that lit up his eyes and made them sparkle. "I would like that. I don't want to go back to the way it was between us before. You mean . . . I mean, things are . . . I'd like . . ."
Snape stopped Harry's unsuccessful attempt to put his thoughts into words by running a hand through Harry's hair. "Has anyone ever told you you talk too much?"
Harry smiled again, leaning into Snape's touch. "You, actually."
Snape patted Harry's head once, then dropped his hand. "You are welcome here any time. You know this?"
Harry did now, and he nodded.
"But out there – you're right. For your own safety, we cannot reveal that things have changed between us. If the Dark Lord were to learn that we have a . . . connection, he would use it to destroy us both."
Harry nodded his understanding.
"You can communicate with me through the mirror, though, whenever you wish," Snape pointed out.
"Only when you're here, though, yeah? You won't be carrying the mirror around with you, right?"
"That is true. I'm never far away, Harry." The boy seemed to need reassurance on that score, and Snape was happy to give it to him.
"Right. I know that. I can use the mirror to say good night to you when I go to bed each night."
"And I can use the mirror to make sure you're in bed at a reasonable time and not getting up to mischief."
"Hmm," Harry said. He hadn't thought of that.
"Would you care for some tea?"
"No, thank you. I really should be getting back. There's a stack of books and assignments on my bed already."
"All right. I'll see you at mealtimes, then."
"Okay. See you later, Papa."
"Yes, Harry, you certainly will."
As soon as Harry closed the door behind him, Snape spotted the items Harry had come down for – he'd left them behind. Snape thought about going after him, but stopped and smiled. They would give the boy a reason to return. And if he knew Harry, and Snape thought he did, finally and truly, know Harry Potter, he certainly would return. Probably over and over, to the point that he annoyed Snape endlessly. That thought didn't bother Snape as it would have six weeks ago. To the contrary, it made him feel so warm inside he couldn't help but smile, and he hummed, actually hummed, to himself as he put away the rest of his things.