Summary: The Death Eaters are on the move, Dumbledore is stymied, and the Black Alliance has geared up for a war on multiple fronts. What challenges will everyone face as Harry goes into his Second Year?
Disclaimer: Ain't mine and never will be, sadly. Don't sue.
Notes: This is a sequel to Families and Familiars. This story will make no sense whatever unless you read that first!
July 1, 1992 Potter Castle
Severus had been ... unsure ... about accepting the invitation to Potter Castle. Even knowing there were several floors of rooms and he could isolate himself from Black if it became necessary wasn't enough. Granted, the Castle had no ill memories for him, since he'd never been there, but ... it did have James and Lily's portrait. And even knowing from the letter that Lily had forgiven him, didn't hate him ... well, to say he was hesitant to be anywhere near a portrait of those two people was to vastly understate the case.
Unfortunately, the only place away from Hogwarts available to him was Spinner's End, as he had not anticipated the need for a better home, as he'd lived in Hogwarts since his defection. He had the money, now, to buy a home more to his liking, and would be looking into it so as to have a place before the Christmas holidays, just in case.
Despite all of that, there was a part of him, a part he'd never admit to in a million years, that was looking forward to seeing Lily again, no matter the circumstances, and that it wasn't really, truly Lily. It was close enough.
He arrived in the early morning, apparating to a spot just outside the Castle's wards with a half dozen trunks in tow. He'd decided to pack up all his personal belongings, just in case, including all the potions ingredients and equipment he'd bought with his salary, rather than purchased through Hogwarts' funds for the school's use. He didn't quite trust Dumbledore to not throw a tantrum at some point over the summer. Hogwarts would do what she could to protect his lab, but the truth of it was that a lot of the things in there were rather volatile, and Dumbledore knew more than enough about potions to do some serious damage if he got the mind to.
Moments after he appeared, a young-looking house elf popped into view a few feet ahead of him.
"Master Harry sir is on his way, Master Snape sir. Master Harry is asking Mallie to take Master Snape sir's trunks inside."
Severus nodded. "Very well. These four go into the potions lab. The other two ... " He hesitated for a moment. "I will let you know where they go later." As those two would go into his private room, and he had no idea where he'd be staying.
Mallie nodded and popped out, taking the trunks with her. A few moments later, the heavy portcullis rose, and Harry darted under it, heading straight for Severus.
"Hello Professor!" He called. "Hang on just a second ... " He headed over to the stone he'd used to open the wards when he, Sirius and Remus had first arrived here. He pricked his palm and clapped his hand to the stone, murmuring under his breath. "Ok ... that's got it. You can come in now." Harry clanged over at Severus. "I've added you to the wards so you can come and go at will, including Floo access, rather than having to wait for one of the three of us to let you in or out."
Severus nodded and then crossed the ward boundary. "Thank you, Harry."
He followed Harry onto the Castle's grounds, and blinked at the array of gardens. "Do you know if there is a potions garden among all this?"
"Yes, actually there is. It's around back, near the back gate of the inner wall, so it's easy to get to from the back entrance of the castle, which is the entrance closest to the potions lab." Harry said. "There's something like four greenhouses with plants in them that are used in potions but don't do well in the weather here." He smiled up at Severus. "Actually, the castle is remarkably close to self-sufficient. There are gardens and greenhouses in the inner yard for herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, as well as orchards. Plus a chicken coop and pigsty. We really only need to buy beef and a few other staples like flour, since there's no facility here ... at least not anymore, for grinding grain into flour. There's even a well with access to an underground spring that lets out into the Sound near here."
"It would seem that your ancestors planned for the worst when they built this castle." Severus admitted. Granted, a lot of things had gone by the wayside over the centuries, but it didn't take much imagination at all to figure out that the place would have been fully self-sustaining behind its high walls if it came under siege in the past.
Harry nodded and then pushed open the front door, as they'd finally reached it. "Yeah, they really did." He said. "And the wards are something else, too. I'm not even sure if Hogwarts' wards are as comprehensive as the ones we have here."
"Possibly not." Severus said. "Hogwarts was conceived, after all, as the home of multitudes, so people would constantly be going in and out of the wards, and with new muggleborns coming in every year, the wards that are keyed to blood would have been impossible to implement, among other problems." Severus didn't even want to think about the logistics that would be required to key new people into the wards every year if Hogwarts had blood wards of any kind.
Much to Severus' relief, neither Black nor Lupin were in evidence as Harry led him across the wide, empty space that was the main floor. "Quick tour." Harry said. "Kitchen and pantry are there." He pointed to the right. "As is one of the bathrooms. Family dining room, which is the one we use, is there." He pointed immediately to the left. "Another bathroom there." Also to the left. "And the Entry Parlor, which has the only fireplace on the Floo network in the castle, is there." He pointed to a room just to the left of the staircase directly across from the entrance. "The rest of it's company and party spaces, really. We don't hang out down here much. We usually just have the elves bring meals to the third floor and eat up there."
Severus followed Harry to the stairs, and up them. "Second floor's got more general stuff. The center room's got the bulk of the library, but there are bookshelves practically everywhere in the castle." Harry told him. "So if you're looking for something in particular, either ask Toker, the head elf, or there's the library ledger on that podium. Write what you're after, and it can tell you where it's at." Harry grinned up at Severus. "There's a dueling room and armory here you might be interested in, as well as a music and craft room, and a couple rooms for records and extra portraits there isn't room for on the walls."
Harry led him up to the third floor. "And this is where we've set ourselves up. Our rooms are there." He pointed immediately to the right of the stairs to the three doors that led to his, Sirius and Remus' rooms. "There's five more rooms on this floor if you decide you want to set up here, which frankly, I recommend ... the decor of the other floors leaves much to be desired, unless gold, filigree and horrendous color combinations are your cuppa."
"Where are Black and Lupin?" Severus asked.
"They're out on the Quidditch pitch. Remus dragged Sirius out there a little bit ago, to let give you a chance to get settled without Sirius in your hair, since the two of you aren't each other's biggest fans. And the twins are coming shortly, as well ... so with some luck, you won't have to deal with each other until dinner." Harry said. "Though I think Sirius and Remus are going to want a meeting, so we can figure out what we're doing and when. The Wizengamot session doesn't start until the sixth, so we've got a few days to do other things in." Harry wrinkled his nose.
Severus caught that reaction. "I thought you would not be attending, as you are too young?"
"Yeah, I'm too young to actually vote, for now, but Sirius wants me to attend anyway, so I start getting a feel for how things work before I have to jump in and start doing it myself."
"That is unusually perceptive of him." Severus grudgingly admitted.
Harry laughed. "Don't sound so surprised, Professor. I dunno what the heck happened between you guys when you were in school, but things ... and people ... have changed a lot since then."
Severus glowered at Harry, but didn't say anything further, reluctantly admitting that Harry had a point. It was just difficult for him to see Black as anything but a vicious bully. After a bit of thought, Severus finally took the room furthest from the 'Potter' corner of the third floor. And studiously did not look for Lily in any of the myriad of portraits on the walls. He would deal with that later. Much, much later if he had any say in the matter. Which, he admitted, he probably didn't. Lily would very likely seek him out.
He still wasn't sure how he felt about that.
His chosen room, much to his relief, were not decorated in Gryffindor colors, but instead in rich browns and creams much like his quarters at Hogwarts had been. There were a number of portraits on three walls, while the fourth was taken up entirely by well-stocked bookshelves, much to Severus' delight. There was also a large desk and chair, aside from the bed, nightstands, and wardrobe. He'd gotten about halfway unpacked when he heard the unmistakable racket of the twins as they clambered up the stairs, remarking loudly about everything they passed. Severus shook his head and left his room to keep an eye on them.
Fred and George eventually decided that, despite the fact there were rooms to spare, they were going to stay in the same room. As such, the bed was changed around with a bit of help from the house elves, so that it was two somewhat smaller beds, rather than one enormous one. Severus insisted on them taking the room right next to his own so that he at least had a chance of keeping an eye on them, compared to if they were halfway across the castle from him.
The three boys then joined Remus and Sirius outside for a fly. Severus took the opportunity to finish unpacking his room, then headed to the basement and the potions lab, to begin unpacking everything there.
The potions lab was to the right of the stairs as he got off them, and he did a double take when he opened the door. The room was brightly lit and looked freshly polished, which was hardly surprising with industrious house elves in residence, but it was something like five times the size of his private lab at Hogwarts. One wall was nothing but racks, some of them for cauldrons, in a wide range of sizes and materials. Other racks held a variety of implements, stirring rods in every material, shape and size, scales of different materials and able to weigh different amounts, ranging from parts of an ounce to many pounds, a huge array of phials in all shapes and sizes, as well as other things needed for advanced potion making. Best of all, there was a podium, heavily laden with protection spells, designed to hold a book open to a particular page, allowing for hands-free referencing of a recipe or a convenient, protected place to put a notebook in which to record experiments. The tables were, in his experience, unique. There were a half a dozen of them, each one quite long, with multiple sections, each section having different surfaces at different heights to accommodate the varying sizes of cauldrons and flame heat required for various potions. There were also sections scattered along the length of each table meant to be used for ingredient preparation. The whole thing gave the tables a very odd look, but Severus could see that it would be a lot more convenient than the usual setup.
A door in the back of the room proved to lead to the supply closet. If you could call an enormous room stocked with more ingredients than Severus had seen in his life a closet. All four walls were packed, and there were long, well-stocked cabinets in rows in the middle of the room. Best of all, everything was neatly labeled and wrapped in preservation and stasis spells, allowing them to remain at the peak of their usefulness more or less indefinitely. And due to the age of the castle, there were ingredients stocked that had become very rare or had died out completely over time.
Severus was hard put to keep from becoming giddy. Well, if Black became difficult, he would have no difficulty at all staying down here until summer's end, that was for certain. His mind was already racing with ideas for experimentation. He finally got himself back in hand and unpacked his private supplies, which now looked rather pathetic and paltry in comparison to the treasure trove before him. Eventually, it was dinnertime, and Severus called for Mallie.
"Is dinner taking place in the dining room, or elsewhere?" He asked once she'd popped in.
"It bes taking place in the dining room, Master Snape sir. Master Remus is saying it bes better with so many here now."
Severus gave a nod of agreement and headed out of the potions lab and up the stairs. He followed the racket the twins were making to the family dining room. The others were already in residence, though they apparently hadn't been in the room long, as they were all standing, talking animatedly about whatever they'd been up to outside. The twins broke off and all but bounced over to Severus.
"This place is wicked, Professor." Fred said.
"Ronniekins will be green with jealousy." George said. "I mean, we have our own quidditch pitch. With hoops and everything."
"Neville's going to go bonkers over the plants." Fred said, grinning. "There's enough here to keep him busy the rest of his life."
Severus gave an amused snort, as Fred was entirely correct. "Harry mentioned there were four greenhouses of plants with uses in potions. I will want a full list from the two of you in a week's time. Use the reference books in my library ... or I imagine there are some in the castle library ... to identify any plants you don't already know." He would be doing his own inventory, of course, but he wanted the twins to begin the admittedly long, tedious process of learning the appearance and name of as many ingredients, both plant and animal, as possible.
"Speaking of assignments, we need to figure out what all we're going to be doing, aside from the obvious." Remus said.
Severus nodded in agreement as he took a seat at the table, putting one twin on either side of himself to make it a touch more difficult for them to plot and pull something off. "That would be wise, especially since there is so much to be done."
"First on the list is a long stop at Gringotts." Sirius said, looking at Remus as if he was only addressing him, so as to keep from antagonizing Severus. "Harry said something a while back about a vault that Hogwarts has, that books and the like get pulled into if someone tries to remove them for a reason other than them being in irreparable condition. Between that, the library here and the Black library, we're bound to find something on how Voldemort kept himself alive."
"And something on how to get rid of the Marks." Harry said. "Hopefully quickly and easily." He did not at all like the fact that Severus was in real danger of torture and death if Voldemort managed to get a body back before they got rid of the Mark.
Sirius glanced over at Harry and nodded. Right about then the food appeared on the table, and everyone paused to load their plates.
"I will require time to teach the children occlumency. Harry especially." Severus said. Like Sirius, he addressed Remus like he was the only other adult in the room. It wasn't a good solution for the long term, but it was working in the short term to keep the two men from ripping into each other verbally. "Dumbledore and Voldemort both are Legilimens, and he will need to learn to guard his mind from them. Given that the others are much in his company and learn pretty much everything Harry knows, it would be best if they all learned it to protect both themselves and him."
"Good point." Remus admitted. "So we definitely have to put that on the schedule. Plus lessons with Minerva and Filius, and Harry's etiquette and protocol lessons with Madame Longbottom. And Charlie has made a case for us to come to the dragon preserve. Which I will admit, I sort of want to do. He's been over the moon for months over the progress they're making with the dragons, and I think it would be interesting to see it, and a fun vacation"
"And the Wizengamot sessions, which, thankfully, are only once a week, otherwise we'd have a problem on our hands." Sirius piped up. "Plus the kids need time to do their homework and just goof off. And the twins will be working with Snape. And we'll have meetings with our allies to plan our next moves. And the adults will be running interference with the Death Eaters."
"So ... busy summer." Fred said with a grin. "Best kind!"
Eventually, dinner was over and Severus headed for his room, not at all inclined to socialize with Sirius or Remus. Of course, that was when Lily showed up. He'd barely closed his door when her voice filled the room, making him flinch and fight the urge to hunch his shoulders. Despite the letter, some part of him still expected her to be pissed off and repudiate him. Again.
"Severus. It's good to see you." She said quietly. Then. "Oh, Severus. I'm not going to bite or yell. I promise. Come over by the bed, will you?"
It took Severus a minute to do as she asked, and he still refused to look at the portrait she was standing in.
"Severus ... " Lily said, sounding somewhere between amused and exasperated. "The letter wasn't a setup."
That finally brought his head up, because how could she know he'd been entertaining that notion, somewhere in the back of his mind? And there she was, leaning against an odd statue that was in the portrait with her, giving him a sad smile. Severus swallowed hard as he looked at a picture of Lily that had the same fire in the eyes Lily had had in life.
Wizarding photographs didn't have quite the same quality as portraits did. Actions taken in photographs were similar to what was being done when the picture was taken. A snowball fight would continue, with myriad variations, people would smile and wave in various ways, et cetera. However, the persons pictured could not speak and there was no personality transfer at all. So while Severus had wizarding pictures of Lily ... they hadn't truly 'been' her.
He had loved this woman. And always would, even if he'd go to his death before admitting as much. And it both hurt beyond the telling of it ... and felt incredibly good ... to have something that wasn't quite Lily but was damn close.
Lily, evidently, was well aware of at least some of his train of thought, because she smiled at him. "I know you, Severus. You always were suspicious verging on paranoid. There was a time when that annoyed me a little ... because I didn't understand." She admitted. "My world ... well, I grew up in a rather different world than you did. I never had reason to learn to watch my back." She sighed. "I wish I had ... or barring that, that I'd had you around, that last year or two. We Gryffindors are ill suited to spotting or comprehending Machiavellian schemes."
She pushed off the statue and came closer. "And Severus? For whatever it's worth ... I'm so, so sorry. I hurt you when you needed my support most, and I don't think I'll ever really forgive myself for that." She flapped a hand. "Of course you had to learn to say that, to talk the way they did. They would have torn you to shreds otherwise ... probably literally." She snorted. "Your mother died that summer." Leaving him with Tobias, she didn't say, but didn't have to. "And those idiot boys pulled that stupid stunt. And the other stupid stunt on top of that, which I didn't find out about until later." Lily sighed. "Small wonder you lost your cool and your mouth got ahead of your brain for a moment. But I was a silly little girl and decided to stomp off in a snit like an idiot and leave you alone." She shook her head. "It was very ill done of me."
By the time she'd wound down, Severus had become inordinately interested in the weave of the quilt on his bed, unable to look at her. "Don't." He said, his voice raw. "I don't ... "
Lily snorted. "Severus ... I don't blame you for what happened to me." She said. "You didn't know it would bring him to my doorstep, and when you figured it out, you tried to protect me ... despite the fact we'd been estranged for years, at that point. And honestly, Severus ... given everything we've learned or suspected ... do you really still think those events were solely your actions?"
That snapped Severus' head up, because no, he hadn't really considered that, as he'd been entirely too busy grieving Lily's loss and castigating himself for being the one responsible for her death to stop and think. "Do not ... " He started.
"Severus, think. The interview was in a bar. Why? When he had Hogwarts at his disposal and there was a war on ... why did he choose to meet with Trelawney at the Hog's Head, of all places? A place that was, and I'm betting still is, known for playing host to a somewhat disreputable clientele."
"Dumbledore couldn't have known ... " Severus started.
"True, he had no way of knowing if Trelawney would spout off, or what she'd say if she did, but that doesn't excuse meeting her there, where there had to have been more than one unfriendly pair of eyes and ears ready to report anything of interest they heard or saw."
Damnit, Severus had always hated it when Lily had a valid point that he'd somehow missed. It hadn't happened often in their childhood days, but it had happened a few times, and had annoyed him greatly each time. This time, the annoyance was greater, and accompanied by a painful pang. "You have a point."
Lily laughed. "I see some things haven't changed ... you still get that constipated look on your face when I manage to outthink you." She said. "Don't feel bad about this one, Sev." Hearing his nickname again made Severus twitch. "I don't imagine you were at your best when everything was happening. And I had most of a year of peace and quiet to sit and think."
"On a somewhat similar subject, Harry told me about the Mark." Lily said, frowning a little. "We'll get that dealt with. We've got some pretty ... spectacular minds, among the portraits." And even as a portrait, Lily was looking forward to when Severus found out there was a portrait of the Founders here. "Not to mention a heck of a library. With any luck, that damn thing will be gone before school starts again. And then you can give Dumbledore a message from me."
Severus couldn't quite stop the bark of laughter at that, well aware that Lily was probably boiling mad at Dumbledore. "It's too bad you can't deliver the message yourself." He said. "It would be most entertaining."
"Agreed, but my portrait can't be brought into the school without risking it having to stay there permanently, and there's no way in hell Dumbledore will ever be permitted inside the Castle wards. So this will have to do." She smiled at Severus. "I have missed you, my friend. I'm very, very glad you're here."
Severus reached over and touched the frame of the painting she was in. "It's incredibly good to have you around again, in whatever form, Lily. I have missed you." Which was pretty much the understatement of the century, but there you go.
"And I've missed you." Lily agreed, then grinned. "Now, I've missed out on an incredible amount of gossip and news. I remember that you got your Master's parchments a little before ... well, before. What have you been up to since then?"
Out in the main room, Remus, Sirius, Harry, the twins, Hedwig and Hissesh had gathered in the spot Remus, Sirius, and Harry usually used as their hanging-out spot. The twins were chatting animatedly with James in his portrait, delighted to be able to talk to the third member of the Marauders. Meanwhile, Remus, Sirius, and Harry had pulled out the boxes of mail to work on a little bit. Hissesh was curled up under the nearest table, so as to be mostly out from underfoot while still being able to hang out, and Hedwig was perched on the back of the couch right behind Harry.
"Looks like we're making progress finally." Harry said, eyeing the boxes. They'd been working on this since early in the school year last year, but there was ten years of mail to be dealt with, which was a lot. Especially since Remus and Sirius had been reduced to sending packets of sorted mail to Harry on weekends for him to sign. Still, there were fewer boxes than they'd started with. Quite a few less.
"Yeah. We might have this lot sorted by the end of summer, if we're lucky. Depends on how frantic things get." Sirius said. "At worst, it'll be done by next summer." Then he glanced over at Harry. "We going to tell them about ... " He nodded his head towards the portraits.
It took Harry a minute to figure out what Sirius was on about, but then he got it. And considered. "Yeah ... I think we should. Snape at least. The others once he says they can guard their minds enough. I've been lucky that Dumbledore hasn't tried to corner me and pull something questionable."
/Not lucky so much as him knowing full good and well the sort of damage a pissed off familiar can and will do to anyone who hurts their wizard./ Hedwig pointed out.
Harry laughed. "You have a point, Hedwig. Especially as you've made it rather blatantly clear you kind of want to tear his eyes out of his head over the last year."
"Tell us what?" The twins said, in stereo.
"Can't say, for now. Not until you learn occlumency. Dumbledore may not want to risk Hedwig's wrath by messing with me, but you guys don't have the same protection." Harry told them.
"No. We just have mum." Fred said, grinning widely. "She's every bit as bad as Hedwig. She'd happily vivisect Dumbledore if he messed with any of us kids."
"Plus." George pointed out. "We're Snape's apprentices, and Dumbledore knows it."
"And Dumbledore is smart enough to not want to piss Snape off." Sirius said. "At least, not any worse than he already is. Pissing off any potions master is a rather ugly way to commit suicide. Pissing off Snape ... that's worse."
Harry cocked his head sideways. "You know, when you put it like that ... none of us are all that vulnerable really. Hermione has Crookshanks, and Neville has his gran, who's apparently on the warpath as bad as your mum." He glanced over at Sirius and Remus. "Maybe we can tell them."
"Tomorrow, cub." Remus said. "I don't think Severus is going to be coming out of his room anytime tonight. Lily went in to talk to him."
Harry nodded. "Right, so, tomorrow." Then he grinned. "Ought to be fun."
Fred and George shared a look. "You know, the last time he pulled a prank ... " Fred started.
"He got the entire wizarding world in general, Hogwarts and Dumbledore in particular." George finished.
The pair of them turned to look at Harry, anticipatory grins on their faces. "This is going to be good, isn't it?" They asked, again in stereo.
"Oh yeah. It's good." Harry said with a grin. "You're going to love it."
That made the twins grin hugely and bounce in place. "Right. Breakfast?" It was less a question and more a demand.
"Breakfast." Harry promised. "Provided you can drag Severus to it."
"Consider it done." Fred said, and then the twins went back to talking to James.
Harry reached up behind him to stroke Hedwig. /I'm looking forward to their faces./ He admitted.
/You're not the only one. Ought to be rather hilarious./ Hedwig told him. /Ohhhh, just there. That spot's been itching all day!/
Harry increased his scratching. /You should have told me about that, silly./ He scolded gently. As he scratched, his fingers found something. /Ahhh, I think I found the problem. Dead feather that got caught in the others instead of falling free./ He worked the feather free of the others and set it in his lap. /That better?/
/Much. Thank you./ Hedwig nibbled at Harry's hair, grooming it in thanks.
After allowing Hedwig to groom him for a few more moments, Harry sat forward again and went back to helping with the mail. A few minutes later, the twins joined them, and Hissesh slithered out from under the table to drape himself over Harry's feet. Harry reached down to pat him, grinning at the blatant attention-seeking.
[[You warm enough, Hissesh?]] He asked.
[[Yes. It is quite nice here.]] Hissesh said. [[Much quieter.]]
Harry cocked his head. [[School got a bit much for you?]] He asked. [[You could stay here come fall, if you want. I'm sure Remus and Sirius won't mind.]]
Hissesh gave a wordless hiss of negation, then [[No. I will stay with you, Harry. The school may be a bit hectic, but not that much.]]
[[As long as you're sure.]] Harry said, then shot a glance at Sirius and Remus. While both men knew he could talk to snakes, neither of them had all that much exposure to Harry doing it, and Harry was still a bit twitchy about them accepting him. A lifetime with the Dursleys did not incline him to trust in their continued acceptance of him. Some part of him fully expected them to denounce him as a freak at some point.
Of course, neither Remus nor Sirius was about to do that, and had, in point of fact, barely even acknowledged that Harry's been talking to Hissesh, as they'd both been busy with the mail.
/They are not cruel and fickle like the Durselys, Harry-chick/ Hedwig pointed out. /Neither of them cares that you can talk to Hissesh./
/I know./ Harry said with a purely mental sigh. /Doesn't stop me from worrying about it, though./