Forever Young, Part 2
Disclaimer: I do not own these awesome characters. I'm quite sure you know who does.
Summary: Harry Potter goes missing during the final battle. Snape finds him in a most undesirable place.
Warnings: Part 2 of this story will contain a detailed description of a sexual act between two men. If this disturbs you in any way, I would suggest that you read no further.
From Part 1:
Because he'd missed two days of pounding the books during Harry's illness, Snape took advantage of the boy's absence to seclude himself in the library of dark material they'd collected. He was thus engaged when a horse patronus burst through the door and Ginny Weasley's voice spoke to him. "Lucius Malfoy is here."
"Harry," Snape said, and before the echo of the second syllable had died away, Snape was gone from the room.
Snape approached the quidditch pitch at a run, but slowed when he took in what was happening there. Lucius Malfoy, imperious as ever, stood surrounded by a circle of ten or so upper-level Gryffindors, all with their wands pointed at him. Scores of other Gryffindors formed a crowd nearby. Each had their wand out and ready, though none of them was actively pointed at Malfoy. Lucius appeared to be trying to talk his way out of the situation he was in. Harry was nowhere to be seen.
Snape had himself collected by the time he arrived at the ever-growing group just outside the quidditch gates.
"Oh, Severus! Thank Merlin you are here!" Lucius breathed, a patently false smile on his regal face. "These . . ." he looked around distastefully, "students seem to think they have the authority to keep a school governor away from the quidditch pitch. If you would please ask them to lower their wands."
How Lucius Malfoy had retained his position on the school Board of Governors was somewhat of a mystery, though Snape was certainly familiar with the Malfoy family's ability to slither their way out of almost anything. Their ancestral home, most of the contents of their Gringott's vault, their fine collection of wizarding antiques and artwork (and, of course, their Dark Arts library) – all had been confiscated by the Ministry, an attempt at "punishment" for the family that had stood beside the Dark Lord for many a year and committed how many unknown atrocities in his name. But none of them had been sent to Azkaban for even a moment, and they had somehow maintained their reputation as one of the more respected pureblood families in the wizarding world.
Snape looked appraisingly at the circle of students. "You have done well," he told them. "Lower your wands, but keep them handy. Lucius, what are you doing here?"
"Well!" he spluttered indignantly. "I am still on this school's Board of Governors! As such, I have every right . . ."
"Yes, yes," Snape interrupted. "But what are you doing here? You heard Harry was going to be out here today, didn't you?"
Lucius smirked. "'Harry', Severus?"
Snape took a menacing step closer to Malfoy. "You will not harm him in any way."
Lucius closed the distance between them more. "My, my," he murmured. "Protective, are we? Found yourself a little plaything, have you, Severus?"
Before Snape could respond, a shrill voice called, "You will not hurt my sir!" and before anyone could react, a small, compact body burst through the circle and tackled Lucius Malfoy to the ground. It was a move that many a rugby player would have admired.
Snape knew that Lucius had his wand, and it was imperative that he get Harry off of Malfoy before the man had a chance to use it. Reaching into the flying arms and legs (Harry's), Snape placed one hand on the back of Harry's jumper and the other on the waistband of Harry's jeans and lifted the boy up and off. As he pulled him away, Snape was satisfied to note that Harry had connected with at least one punch. Blood was gushing from Malfoy's nose.
Still writhing and punching and kicking at the air, holding onto Harry was like trying to control a combative mountain lion. Trusting that the Gryffindors had his back, Snape carried Harry a few steps away and set him on his feet, but didn't let him go. "Harry!" he said sternly. "Harry! Calm down!"
Harry turned in Snape's arms and buried his face in Snape's robes. "He was gonna hurt you!" Harry sobbed.
Snape held Harry close and stroked his hair soothingly. "It's all right, my brave boy," he murmured. "He can't hurt anyone now. I'm fine."
No one offered Malfoy assistance off the ground, so he got himself up, dusted off his clothes, and gingerly felt his swollen nose. Still, several wands pointed in his general direction as he watched Snape and the boy embracing.
"What is going on here?" Minerva McGonagall huffed as she walked briskly toward them.
"This . . . this boy," Malfoy proclaimed, gesturing at Harry, "assaulted me. They're all witnesses," he said, pointing a wide circle at the gathered students.
"Severus?" Minerva asked, surveying the blood on Malfoy's face. "What's happened here?"
"Harry thought I was being threatened. He acted to protect me."
"Harry did this?"
Harry turned his face toward her but kept his tear-stained cheek pressed to Snape's chest. "He was gonna hurt my sir."
Minerva smiled fondly at Harry. "This appears to be a case of Harry defending Severus, Mr. Malfoy.
"I had no intention of harming Severus!" Malfoy protested. Not here, anyway. Not now, in front of all these witnesses.
"The boy clearly thought you were a threat. I concede he may have been mistaken. Morgan!" Minerva called to one of the older students in the group.
Said student stepped forward. "Yes, ma'am."
"Was there anything about Mr. Malfoy's behavior that someone in Harry's condition may have found menacing towards Professor Snape?"
Morgan scratched his chin, as though thinking over his recollection of events. "Mr. Malfoy took a step toward the Professor. I suppose that might have been seen as threatening."
"But he . . ." Malfoy protested.
Minerva spoke over him. "Is there anyone here who would dispute that Mr. Malfoy acted in what could be perceived from afar as a menacing manner toward Professor Snape?"
Predictably, no one spoke. Malfoy saw where this was headed and that he could not win. Not today. "Now, Headmistress, there's no need to blow things out of proportion. It was a simple misunderstanding." He reached a hand out toward Harry, as though to touch him in a conciliatory manner. Harry flinched, and Snape turned him away, putting more of himself between Malfoy and the boy. Malfoy glared at them both.
"I am glad to hear you say that, Mr. Malfoy," Minerva said. "Now let me escort you to the infirmary, and we'll have Madam Pomfrey take a look at you."
"I assure you, Minerva, I'm quite fine," Malfoy protested, but he let himself be led away.
"Come, my hero," Snape said into Harry's hair. "Let's go home." He looked at the still-assembled students, comprising, he thought, all of Gryffindor House, as had been promised. "Thank you," he told them. "You performed admirably. Were I an active member of the staff, I should award many points to Gryffindor House." He smirked at this. He knew and they knew he would no sooner award Gryffindor house points than he would kiss a hippogriff. And technically, he could award points, but his caring for Harry had already tattered his reputation, and he'd prefer for it not to be completely destroyed. He did, after all, have to resume teaching these impudent youngsters at some point. But they did deserve the points, and he would probably have awarded them were he not confident that Minerva would do so later. He turned Harry toward home and they began to walk.
To Snape's surprise, Harry's constant stream of chatter that day centered not on their confrontation with Lucius Malfoy but on his time spent on the quidditch pitch. He'd been taken up on a broom by several of the older, larger students, and he wanted to describe every moment to Snape, who soon had to tune him out or go mad.
Harry's excitement did, however, drive home for Snape just how much the boy enjoyed being outside and physically active. He'd known this about Harry, even before, when he couldn't stand the sight of the boy. But the dangers of being outside, and the increased difficulty of keeping Harry safe there, versus in the confines of indoors, had also been made abundantly clear. Snape had no idea what Malfoy's intentions had been towards Harry, but it could not have been a coincidence that he showed up here today, at the quidditch pitch, as though he knew Harry would be there, which of course, Snape believed he did. He couldn't possibly believe that he'd be able to hurt Harry in such a public place and get away with it. Perhaps he just wanted to see the boy for himself, judge his condition, determine just how weak and vulnerable he was. Instead, what he got was a cross between a hellcat and a house elf, and Snape smiled at the memory of the protective little spitfire Harry had turned into. His smiled faded though when his thoughts returned to Malfoy. The man loathed Harry Potter, blamed him for his Lord's downfall, and Lucius' subsequent descent into near-poverty, suspicion and mistrust by the very Ministry he'd hoped to control. Snape knew Malfoy would strike out at the boy if given the chance, and he knew that if old friend Lucius had his way, he'd gladly take Snape the traitor out with him.
Predictably, although Harry didn't dwell on it in his waking hours, the conflict with Malfoy came through in his dreams, and the boy slept poorly that night. At one point, Snape had to wake him to keep him from thrashing himself onto the floor.
"It's all right, Harry. You're only dreaming."
Snape could feel the boy's heart beating a tattoo in his chest. He lay on his back staring up at the ceiling, and he didn't speak for a moment.
"Who was that man?" he finally asked.
"His name is Lucius Malfoy."
"Is he bad?"
"Yes, I'm afraid he is."
"What did he want?"
"I don't know. I never got to find out. Someone tackled him."
Harry rolled onto his side to face Snape. "Sorry. I thought he was gonna hurt you."
"You don't need to be sorry. You were very brave. Thank you."
Harry scooted closer, until he lay his head on Snape's chest. "I love you," he said simply, as though that explained everything. Snape supposed it did. He brought his arm around the sweet child and pulled him close in a brief hug.
"I love you, too, Harry. Now how about we get some more sleep?"
Harry obligingly snuggled further into Snape's heat, closed his eyes, and was asleep within moments. Snape lay awake a while longer, running fingers absently through Harry's tousled hair, pondering the problem of keeping Harry more physically active yet keeping him safe until he, too, returned to sleep.
When Snape awoke the next morning, the solution was, figuratively speaking, staring him in the face. The Room of Requirement. Hagrid. He immediately sent an owl to the half giant asking him to meet them in the seventh floor corridor directly after lunch.
Snape had told Harry about Hagrid, but it hadn't quite prepared him for the sheer size of the man. Harry looked up and up and up until he arrived at Hagrid's bearded, smiling face. He grabbed Snape's hand in both of his and stepped behind Snape while he continued to peer in awe up at Hagrid.
"Harry," Snape said. "This is Hagrid. As I told you, he was your friend before."
"Hello, Harry," Hagrid said, beaming cheerfully down at the boy. "I've been wantin' ter see yeh since the Perfessor brung yeh home. How are yeh?"
"I . . . I'm fine," Harry said after Snape tugged on his hands to prompt him.
"Hagrid's going to spend some time with you today, Harry," Snape explained, "in a place I think you're going to really like. Wait here."
Snape pulled his hand out of Harry's grip. The boy pressed himself up against the wall, keeping a wary eye on the still-smiling giant as he watched his sir pace up and down the hall. Suddenly, a door appeared in the opposite wall, a door that Harry knew hadn't been there seconds ago.
"Ah," Snape said, pleased. "Shall we go in?"
Snape led the way. Harry looked at Hagrid, who gestured with one hand toward the door. "After yeh," he said.
Harry nearly skipped across the hall in his haste to get closer to Snape and further from Hagrid. As soon as he crossed into the room, though, he forgot about everyone in it. His mouth fell open as he looked around at what should have been walls, a floor, and a ceiling but was instead a large grassy meadow bisected by a shallow stream and ringed by trees that looked perfect for climbing.
"What do you think, Harry?" Snape asked.
"It's brilliant!" Harry breathed, eyes wide with wonder.
"Would you like to play here?"
"All right, then. I shall be right here," Snape said, indicating a park bench beside the door. He'd brought a book to read while Harry and Hagrid cavorted to their hearts' content.
"Can I go?" Harry asked, bouncing on his toes in his eagerness to be off.
"Go," Snape urged. "Oh, Harry. Your shoe is untied."
Harry went down on one knee, fiddled with the lace until he had two large loops that were in no way connected, and looked up at Snape. "How's that?"
"An admiral attempt," Snape assured him. "Perhaps I could just tighten it up a bit." He knelt next to Harry and, as surreptitiously as possible, tied the boy's laces. "There it is. Now go."
And Harry was off, racing across the meadow, heading straight for the stream.
"Thank yeh, Perfessor," Hargrid said, watching Harry run, his eyes glittering.
"Thank you, Hagrid. Harry needs this. He seems a little frightened of you, but he'll get over that quickly, I believe."
Hagrid smiled and ambled off after the boy.
Snape kept an eye on them over the top of his book. Hagrid approached the boy slowly. Harry had taken a quick look at the stream and then headed for the trees. When Hagrid offered to lift Harry up into the branches, the two were friends for life. Harry scampered around in the trees for a while, with Hagrid protectively hovering below him. Snape finally felt secure enough to actually read his book, contenting himself with a glance up every now and then to be sure Hagrid wasn't being reckless with the boy.
At one point, Harry came racing over. "Sir! Can I take my shoes off and go in the water?!"
Snape smiled at his enthusiasm. "Of course you can, imp."
"Yay!" Harry hooted, and he was off again.
Hagrid and Harry splashed happily in the stream, chasing each other. Snape startled at Harry's shriek of laughter when Hagrid slipped and fell into the stream, splashing Harry with a monsoon-sized wave that soaked the boy from his head to this already-wet toes.
"Sir!" Harry shouted around his laughter. "Hagrid fell in!"
"Yes, I believe I felt the splash all the way over here!" Snape exaggerated.
Now that they were both wet, there was no holding them back. Hagrid, on all fours and growling like a demoniacal bear, chased Harry up and down the stream, the boy shrieking with delighted, demented laughter. When they tired of that, they crawled out of the stream and lay panting on the grass, catching their breath.
After a few minutes, Hagrid got to his hands and knees and shook like a great dog, scattering drops of water in a huge arc around him. Harry sat up and laughed at the giant man, then launched himself up onto the giant's back. Hagrid began to prance around the meadow, slowly at first, Harry sitting up proudly and "riding" his "steed" about the meadow. Then Hagrid picked up speed and began trying to "buck" his rider off. Harry squealed and grabbed great handfuls of Hagrid's bushy hair, which didn't seem to bother the big man at all, in an attempt to stay seated. When Hagrid finally managed to topple Harry, Snape noted with approval that the man always made sure to cushion Harry's fall. Time after time, Hagrid dislodged his rider, only to have Harry climb back on and demand to go again. Tirelessly, Hagrid acceded every time.
Snape set his book aside and watched the two of them for a moment. It was time to be the bad guy.
He approached them just as Hagrid tossed Harry off again.
"Again again!" Harry called, scrambling to his feet.
"I'm sorry, Harry, but it's time to go. It's nearly dinnertime."
"Oh, sir! Can't we stay a little while longer?! Please?!" Harry begged.
"I'm afraid not."
"But . . . but . . . I don't wanna go!" Harry said, his large green eyes filling with tears.
"Ah, Harry, lad," Hagrid said, flopping onto his back and throwing his arms wide. "I'm afraid yeh've worn me out. I don' think I can move."
Harry pounced on the giant's stomach, forcing an "oomph!" from the man, his tears forgotten. He lay across Hagrid and stared up at Snape. "Can we come back again?"
"Of course we can," Snape promised. "Whenever Hagrid can find the time."
"Tomorrow?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I'm afraid not," Hagrid said. "Classes tomorrow. But how about you and I make a reg'lar date on Sunday afternoon? Right here. Every Sunday."
"Sunday?" Harry complained. "That's like a million years from now!"
"Harry," Snape warned.
"All right," Harry conceded with bad grace. "Sunday." Suddenly, he smiled and threw his arms around Hagrid (or as far around the man's bulk as he could get) and rested his cheek on the man's chest. "Thank you, Hagrid."
Hagrid patted the boy gently on the back. "Yer welcome, Harry. Yer welcome."
Snape could see that Harry was exhausted, and he thought a bath before dinner would avert problems after dinner.
"Did you have fun today, Harry?" Snape asked as he assisted the boy out of the tub.
"Yes. Hagrid was kind of scary at first, because he's so big, but he's really fun. He's a great horsie!"
Snape smiled sadly as he towel-dried Harry's back, more than a little jealous of the easy attachment Harry had formed with someone who had been a stranger this morning. He was forced suddenly out of his self-pity when Harry threw his arms around Snape's neck and embraced him tightly. Instinctively, Snape returned the hug, then self-consciously realized he was holding a very naked nineteen-year old man. That thought flew out of his head when Harry said, "I love you, sir."
The words were getting easier every time he said them. "I love you, too, Harry. Now let's get you dressed."
Four days later, Halloween arrived and with it came Harry's headache and the loss of another year of his life. Harry was now five.
November brought snow to the grounds of Hogwarts and also to Harry's outdoor haven in the Room of Requirement. Every Sunday, directly after lunch, Snape dropped Harry off, and the boy and Hagrid spent three hours throwing snowballs, building forts and snowmen, and rolling about in the snow. Some Sundays, Ron joined them as well. Harry returned each Sunday almost too exhausted to eat dinner.
Though Harry retained his nineteen-year old body, the energy to operate it seemed to be coming from the five-year old mind inside. Snape noted that Harry's coordination was deteriorating, and he began to require afternoon naps to make it through the day without tantrums. Snape also noticed that Harry's vocabulary was diminishing, and when he tested him, discovered the boy could read only the simplest of words. Regardless of what Harry's body told the eyes, the person living inside was five years old and getting younger by the day. In moments when he was especially tired, Snape began to despair of ever finding a solution to the problem.
Halfway through November, Snape noticed that Harry sang almost all the time. When he was playing or looking at books, he almost always had a song on his lips. Clearly, some time between Harry's fourth and fifth birthdays, he'd gone from a happy melodic child to one who was much more silent. He had talked all the time at age five, but the singing had stopped.
Snape discovered why one evening when he was reading a potions journal and Harry, bathed and dressed in his pajamas, was sitting on the floor rolling a ball for George to chase.
"'London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down'," he sang under his breath. "'London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.' Oh, here's Gracie," he said when the other cat came streaking from under the sofa and pounced on top of George. "'London Bridge is falling down'," he continued. Then, in a strange voice, as though he was mocking someone, he said, "Potter, stop that caterwauling." Then, in his own voice, softly and with heartbreaking sadness, "Yes, Uncle Vernon."
Snape sat listening, stunned. He'd wondered more than once what Harry remembered. He'd never forgotten Snape or the other people he'd re-met after he'd lost another year of his mental life, so clearly the events he'd experienced since his curse remained with him. Which, Snape thought sadly, meant that somewhere inside him, Harry remembered the time he'd spent in prostitution.
Snape had presumed that Harry had no memory of his life prior to Hogwarts, of his time with his nasty Muggle relatives. The boy had never spoken of his mother's family, so Snape assumed the memory of them had been erased by the curse. Apparently not. Somewhere deep inside that tangled mess that was Harry's brain was the memory of an uncle who tried to squash the spirit of a little boy who loved to sing. And if that was in there, what else might be boy be repressing?
Snape set his journal aside. "Harry," he said softly.
Harry looked up at him, all big green eyes and smiles.
Harry willingly got up and climbed into Snape's lap in the rocking chair. He snuggled into Snape's lap, and Snape held him firmly against his chest and looked down at the boy. "I love to hear you sing, Harry. Would you sing for me?"
Harry smiled. "What do you want me to sing?"
"What other songs do you know?"
"Hmmm," Harry said, thinking. "I know Mary Had a Little Lamb."
"I love lamb," Snape said. "Sing that one."
Harry did. When he'd finished, he looked up at Snape. "Do you know this one? 'Hogwarts Hogwarts, hoggie warty Hogwarts. Teach us something please'. Um, that's all I know, actually."
Snape nearly dropped Harry in his shock. There was no way a five-year old Harry should know the Hogwarts school song. Nonchalantly, he asked, "Where did you learn that song?"
"I dunno," Harry said.
"Did Hermione teach it to you? Or maybe Hagrid?" Snape pursued.
"I don't think so. It was just in my head." Harry snuggled more firmly down into Snape's lap. Months ago, such contact would have driven Snape slightly mental, but as Harry had de-aged, he'd become less of a sexual being in Snape's mind and more of a little boy. He couldn't remember the last time Harry had woken with an erection, and he didn't think the boy had masturbated for months. Every now and then he'd catch the boy with a hand down his pants, but he said, "Get your finger out of your nose" far more often than he said, "Take your hand out of your pants." Human beings had been built to find stimulation in certain areas pleasurable for a reason. Survival of the species and all that. Surely even a small child felt that on a basic biological level. But Harry's juvenile brain had finally gotten control of his much older body. Snape was no pedophile, and even he could separate the nineteen-year old Harry once was from the helpless, trusting child squirming now in his lap.
"Did you like it?" Harry asked, seemingly worried that he'd displeased Snape in some way.
"I liked it very much," Snape assured. "Do you know another?"
"You sing to me," Harry requested, resting his head on Snape's shoulder and closing his eyes.
"I'm afraid I'm not a very good singer."
"S'all right," Harry said, then yawned. "I'll love it because I love you."
Snape squeezed Harry a little tighter. He really was a very sweet boy. "All right. I'm not sure I know any songs."
"Didn't your mum used to sing to you?" Harry asked. "Mine did."
Snape wished this boy would stop making him feel as though he was reeling. He couldn't possibly remember Lily singing to him, could he?
"Sir?" Harry prompted. "You could sing 'London Bridge' if you don't know any songs. I could teach you."
"Maybe you could teach me tomorrow," Snape said. "I think I remember a song my mum used to sing. Ready?"
"Mm hmm," Harry said, his voice thick with sleep.
"Oh, hush thee, my baby,
Thy sire was a knight,
Thy mother a lady,
Both lovely and bright;
The woods and the glens,
From the towers which we see,
They all are belonging,
Dear baby, to thee.
Oh, hush thee, my baby,
Thy sire was a knight,
Oh, hush thee, my baby,
So bonnie, so bright.
Oh, fear not the bugle,
Tho' loudly it blows,
It calls but the warders
That guard thy repose;
Their bows would be bended,
Their blades would be red,
Ere the step of a foeman
Draws near to thy bed.
Oh, hush thee, my baby,
Thy sire was a knight"
Harry was asleep before Snape got to the second chorus, but he finished the song anyway.
The following day, Snape sent owls to Minerva McGonagall, Poppy Pomfrey and Hagrid. All denied having taught Harry the school song. When Molly arrived to watch Harry for the day, she denied it as well. Finally, Snape asked Hermione.
"No, sir. It wasn't me. Why?"
"Harry sang it last night."
Hermione seemed just as stunned by this as Snape had been. "Maybe it was the Headmistress, or . . .?"
"She said no. As did Poppy and Hagrid. The only person with regular contact with Harry that I haven't asked is Mr. Weasley."
"I doubt it was Ron," Hermione said. "He always hated that song. I'll ask him, though, just to be sure. What do you think it means?"
"I'm not entirely sure, and I am loathe to get anyone's hopes up. But he mentioned his uncle as well, and he told me that his mother used to sing to him."
"So it's not just the school song!" Hermione exclaimed. "He has memories of his life before!" Hermione's voice betrayed her growing excitement. "Professor, this has to be a good thing, don't you think?"
"I am not your professor," Snape pointed out. "I think it would not do to get overly optimistic about anything at this point."
"But . . ."
"But I will concede that the fact that he has these memories bodes well for being able to recover them and perhaps many more, should we be able to stop the progression of the curse. Because obviously, Miss Granger, if we cannot do that, whatever memories he has will be irrelevant."
"Then I guess we'd better stop talking and get reading," Hermione said, her optimism renewed.
Every hour they'd spent in research hadn't been enough. Yesterday, December 1, Harry had turned four. The amount of time they had left felt like it was measured now in weeks instead of months.
"Tea, Severus?" Hermione asked, interrupting Snape's frustrated thoughts.
"What? Oh, yes, please."
Hermione poured. "We're doing all we can," she said quietly.
"And yet it's not enough!" Snape growled. "We've been at this for months! Four of us, pouring almost constantly through book after book, for mention of some spell that is apparently so obscure no one ever wrote it down!"
Hermione shared his frustration, but it boiled down to the fact that there was nothing else they could do to help Harry, and until it was one minute too late, she wouldn't stop looking. Neither would Snape, she knew, despite his current pique. The man was usually in such tight control of his emotions. It was good to vent sometimes.
"I find it helpful to punch something when it gets to be too much," she offered.
The edges of Snape's lips twitched up. "Not Mr. Weasley, I hope."
Hermione laughed. "Not yet."
Snape sighed. "I apologize for my outburst of pessimism. I will endeavor not to succumb to the despair."
"It's all right," she assured him. "It seems an insurmountable task still."
"Yes," Snape said, grabbing up the next book in his stack. "How much simpler would it be if I could simply say, 'Accio book containing de-aging spell' and have this over with?"
A rumbling in a nearby stack of books drew their attention. The stack, nearly four feet high and containing books that had no titles, was vibrating. Hermione and Snape turned to look at one another, their eyes wide as saucers, then back at the tower of books.
The vibrating increased until the stack toppled over. A book which had been in the bottom third of the stack detached itself from the debris and sailed toward them. It nearly hit Snape in the head before he dropped the book he was already holding and reached up to catch it by the spine. He stared at Hermione for a moment, then set the book on the table in front of him.
It was bound in red leather, the page edges guilded with burnished gold. There was no title and no author, which is why it had been placed in a stack of like unidentified volumes for perusal later, after the more promising books had been exhausted.
Snape stared at the book, sure in the pit of his stomach that this was it. Hesitantly, not sure what he'd do if he was wrong, he opened the cover. The first few pages were blank, no title and no author identified anywhere. Snape continued flipping pages until he came finally to a page with writing on it.
A COMPENDIUM OF ORIGINAL SPELLS
Compiled by Lucius Malfoy
Illustrated by Bellatrix LeStrange
"Lucius and Bellatrix," Snape muttered, sure that that combination could only produce something nasty. He continued turning pages and found a Table of Contents.
I. Instantaneously Lethal Spells p. 5
A. Internal p. 6
B. External p. 19
II. Delayed Action Lethal Spells p. 33
A. Internal p. 34
B. External p. 63
III. NonLethal Spells p. 101
A. Internal p. 102
B. External p. 108
"Page thirty-four, you think?" Hermione asked from just above Snape's shoulder. He'd been so engrossed, he hadn't heard her get up and come around the table.
"A good place to start," Snape agreed, and he flipped through the pages, passing gruesome illustrations depicting the effects of the curses described in the pages along the way. He could clearly imagine Bella's glee as she penned these horrific images. Page Thirty-four was headed:
Delayed Action Lethal Spells
and was followed by this explanation:
These curses are ideal for circumstances when you wish to inflict pain over a long period of time or when you need time to get away in order to establish an alibi for the time of death.
"Nice," Hermione noted.
Snape silently agreed, then turned to the next page to begin searching the section of spells which would kill a person, slowly, from the inside out. He flipped through the pages as quickly as possible, skipping over spells which would slowly increase the temperature of a person's blood until it was boiling in their veins, or enlarge a person's brain until it no longer fit in the skull, or slowly shrink the internal organ of your choice until it was the size of a pea. The illustrations were horrifyingly gruesome. Hermione would have liked to close her eyes, but this too important.
Snape ignored the girl's little noises of distress and kept turning pages until he arrived at a page titled "De-Aging Spells". He quickly flipped to the end of the section and determined there were seven different spells.
So this was it. They were down to seven spells. They needed only to identify the spell, then they could begin the process of figuring out how to counter it.
Snape turned back to the first page of de-aging spells. Hermione pulled up a chair close to Snape's, so he pushed the book over towards her a little so she could see as well.
"This spell," Snape said, reading, "contains a physical component. The body de-ages as well as the mind. It's not this one." The next three spells also contained physical de-aging, and they skipped those as well. They were down to three.
Snape took a deep breath. What if it wasn't here? He was almost afraid to look.
"God! What if it's not here!" Hermione whispered, her voice betraying all the emotion Snape was feeling.
Snape didn't answer, but he did resume reading. The first spell de-aged its victim immediately. According to the description, the body took several weeks to shut down, and all the while, the victim was practically a vegetable. This was obviously not it.
And then – there it was. A spell which would slowly, periodically, steal the victim's mental age while leaving his body basically untouched. The duration of the spell depended on the victim's age at the time of casting and could take many years to come to fruition. The spell erased all memories up until the time of casting. The curse was marked by periodic terrible headaches during which the mental equivalent of one year of life was ripped from the victim's consciousness. Eventually, the victim's brain reverted to its pre-birth state, and all bodily functions shut down.
To be sure they had the right curse, Snape turned to the next page and read the last de-aging spell, but that curse contained a refreshing of the memory wiping component, so that once a month, the victim lost not only a year of life, but also the memories he or she had formed during the previous month. Obviously, Harry wasn't suffering from this curse, so Snape turned back to the previous page and read through the entry there again.
"There's an end note," Hermione said.
And so there was. The very last line of the description said, "See end note 8, p. 121."
Snape quickly turned to page 121. And there it was. The countercurse, spelled out just as plainly as the curse had been on page 56. Snape pushed the book away and folded his arms on the tabletop. He lowered his head to his arms, his hair billowing out to cover his face.
Hermione looked on, concerned when Snape's shoulders started shaking, and he started making little huffing noises. Was he laughing or crying? "Professor?" she asked, raising a hand to touch his shoulder, but stopping just short, not quite daring.
Snape raised his head. He was laughing, but tears were streaming down his face. So it was both.
"Are you all right?" Hermione asked.
"Tell me, Miss Granger, why I didn't try that before. We've been here for weeks and weeks, and all we needed was a simple accio. So tell me why I didn't try that before."
"Um . . . we didn't expect it to be that easy?"
Snape threw back his head and laughed. "Exactly!" he crowed. "It couldn't possibly be that easy! And yet, it was!"
Hermione thought Snape was getting a little hysterical, so she stood up. "Maybe a cup of tea . . ."
Snape jumped to his feet. "Forget the tea! We must celebrate!"
To Hermione's extreme surprise, Snape grabbed her up in his arms and began dancing her around the room, somehow missing the stacks of books everywhere.
"We did it!" he chanted. "We did it!"
Relief swept through Hermione. They had done it. They'd discovered the way to save Harry. Giving in to Snape's exuberance, Hermione began to laugh along with the older man as he continued to whirl her around.
Ron stepped into the room, and his mouth fell open. "What in the bloody hell . . ."
The dancing couple stopped and stared at him before Hermione disengaged herself from Snape's embrace. "Ron! We found it! We found the spell! And there's a countercurse!" She hurtled across the room and into Ron's arms. As he held her, he stared suspiciously at Snape over her head. Snape just looked back, his innocent expression belied by a sly smile.
Snape duplicated the spell and the end note, reluctant to take the book from the protected room. He then requested the presence of an elf, whom he instructed to ask the Headmistress and Poppy Pomfrey to report to his quarters immediately.
"Let's go share the good news."
Harry was excited to see them when they entered.
"Sir! Look at the picture I made!" Harry said, running at Snape with a piece of parchment.
Snape took the parchment and looked at it. A crude, child-like drawing of two stick people next to what was likely a – stalk of broccoli?
"That's you," Harry explained, pointing at the much taller stick figure. "And that's me."
"And that is . . ." Snape prompted.
"That's a Christmas tree!" Harry decreed, pointing at the green blob, a smile dominating his face. "It's you and me at Christmas!"
"It's wonderful, Harry," Snape said, ruffling the boy's hair. "Where shall we hang it?"
Instead of answering, Harry threw his arms around Snape's waist and hugged him. "You're home!"
Snape hugged him back. "I'm home. Say hello to Ron and Hermione."
Harry let go and bounded over to greet his friends.
"You're early for lunch," Molly noted.
"We have news." A knock sounded on the door. "Ah, that'll be Minerva and Poppy."
Once everyone was assembled and seated, Snape explained why they were there. He showed them the curse, and they discussed the countercurse. While they talked, Harry played with cars at their feet.
"Severus, this is wonderful news!" Minerva said, her eyes sparkling. "You should be commended!"
"It has been a team effort," Snape said modestly. "We have all contributed. Including Hagrid. Minerva, if you would be so kind as to let him know? I would have invited him down, but well . . ." The reason was obvious. Half giants and low-ceilinged dungeons didn't mix well.
"Certainly. So when are you going to do it?"
"I see no reason to wait. Tonight, I think."
"So the counter stops de-aging him," Ron said. "Then what?"
"Then we figure out how to rectify what has been done," Hermione said.
"So we're only halfway to a solution, then?" Ron noted, as though determined to put a damper on everyone's excitement.
"At least we discovered how to stop the curse now rather than weeks from now when we'd be changing Mr. Potter's nappies," Snape growled.
"Hey! I don't wear nappies!" Harry protested.
"No, you most certainly do not," Snape agreed with a pointed look at Ron.
"I didn't mean . . ." Ron sputtered. "Of course, I'm thrilled about this." And he was. "But he's . . . F-O-U-R, yeah? Maybe forever?"
"Let's all be grateful the research isn't in your hands, Mr. Weasley," Snape noted with a sneer.
"Is it lunch time?" Harry asked, breaking the tension. "'Cause I'm hungry."
"When are you not hungry, imp?" Snape asked. "Let me guess. You want spaghetti."
"Can we?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Go tell the elves," Snape requested.
Harry jumped up. "You're all staying! Yippee!" And he raced out to complete his chore, leaving the adults behind, smiling fondly at his wake.
"Harry, come here, please," Snape requested.
When Harry presented himself, Snape smoothed the boy's perpetually ruffled hair, still wet from his bath. "Sit down on the sofa," Snape instructed.
Harry did, and Snape sat beside him. "I'm going to cast a spell on you," he said.
"With your wand?" Harry interrupted.
"Yes, with my wand. I don't expect it to hurt. In fact, I'm not sure you'll feel anything at all. I just need you to sit still for a few moments. Can you do that?"
Harry ignored the question. "What's it gonna do to me?" he asked, seeming somewhat worried.
How to explain? "You know that some time ago, you lost your memories?" Snape asked.
Harry shrugged vaguely. He'd known, once, that something had happened to him, but the younger he got, the more difficult it was to understand just what. He was four, and he lived very much in the now.
"A bad man did that to you," Snape pressed on, even though it was clear that Harry really didn't understand. "When he did, he also stole away a part of you. A little bit at a time. But Hermione and I figured out a way to make it stop. By casting this spell, he can't take any more away from you."
"Is the spell going to change me?"
"No, I don't think so."
"'Cause I thought you liked me like I am," Harry said, somewhat sadly.
Snape drew the boy into a hug. "It's because I like you so much that I'm going to cast this spell. This way, you will stay exactly like you are right now."
Harry allowed himself to be held for a moment before pulling away. "It won't hurt?"
"I don't think so." He wasn't sure, and he wouldn't lie to the boy.
"All right," Harry said. "You can do it. Can Hermione hold my hand?"
"It's better if she doesn't," Snape said. "At least until I'm finished."
"But I'll be right here," Hermione promised. Snape had asked her to stay, just in case something went wrong.
"Ready?" Snape asked.
Looking frightened, Harry nevertheless nodded.
"That's my brave boy," Snape said. He stood up and pointed his wand at Harry, running the complicated spell through his mind. He'd been practicing it, out loud and in his head, all day, afraid of getting it wrong. He was very sure he had it memorized, but other doubts were starting to creep in.
"Professor?" Hermione questioned after many moments had passed.
Snape lowered his wand. "Are we doing the right thing?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what if we are not able to reverse the damage? What if he remains a preschooler inside the naturally-aging body of a man, for the rest of his life? He's a wizard. He could live another hundred years. Are we doing him any favors consigning him to live as a child for the remainder of the time he has on this earth? Perhaps it would be more merciful to let this curse progress to it's . . . unnatural conclusion."
"Professor! You don't mean that! You'd be consigning him to die! Regardless of whether we can reverse the damage, we have to do this. We have to save him! Even if it means we have to care for him for the rest of his life!" He couldn't seriously be considering any other alternative, could he?
Snape stared down at Harry, who was starting to fidget from having to sit still so long while adults carried on a conversation around him that he didn't understand. Harry looked up at Snape and somehow sensed the turmoil the man was experiencing, and he smiled reassuringly. Something changed in his sir's eyes, a sort of warming of the onyx there. Harry watched as the wand was raised to point at him again and his sir began to speak a long string of words that Harry didn't understand. A weird, tingly feeling washed over Harry once Sir stopped speaking, and he shivered.
"Are you all right?" Hermione asked, moving to sit beside Harry.
Harry nodded. "Didn't hurt at all."
Hermione put an arm around him and pulled him close. "Oh, I brought something for you," she told him.
Harry perked up. "What is it?"
"Go and see," Hermione urged. "It's in my bag by the door."
Harry smiled at her and bounded across the room. He gave a little squeal of joy at the toy car he found in Hermione's bag and immediately started zooming it around the room.
"A little early for Christmas, isn't it?" Snape asked.
Hermione shrugged. "He's so easy to please. The smallest things bring him so much joy. I know what his life was like when he was really four, and I just want to make up for that with all the love and attention a little boy requires, and yes, a little gift every now and then, for absolutely no reason."
They both watched Harry, now laying on the floor and running the car over his stomach and chest, making appropriate engine noises. He noticed them looking and smiled up at them. Then he jumped to his feet. "Look, sir!" he said, holding the car out toward Snape. "The doors work and everything!"
Snape reached out with one finger and opened one of the doors. "Incredible," he said. "I don't believe I heard you thank Hermione, though."
"Thank you!" Harry said, throwing his arms around her. Hermione hugged him back.
"You're very welcome, Harry."'
"Harry, it's bedtime," Snape informed him. "Why don't you go use the loo one more time?"
After Harry left, Hermione said, "Do you think it worked?"
"I believe so, but we cannot know for sure until the end of the month arrives. If he has no headache . . ."
"And when do we begin trying to reverse the curse?"
"The sooner we get started, the better I would think. I will start with Poppy to determine what memory healing spells are available. The solution may be potions-based. We may discover that a combination of spells and potions is our best bet." Snape ran a hand over his face, tired at the mere thought of more research to come.
"Now that we've removed the immediacy of the problem, perhaps a small break wouldn't be remiss," Hermione said, reading the tiredness on Snape's face for what it was. "I have to believe we'll find the answer, Professor. But even if we don't, we've saved him. You've saved him."
"Sir!" Harry called from the bathroom. "I peed on the floor! Sorry!"
Snape rolled his eyes. "But who is going to save me?" he asked.
"And what is this letter?" Snape asked, holding up a block. He sat on the floor with Harry.
"B," Harry said, reaching out to take the block. He set it carefully on top of the tower he was building.
Harry studied the block. "U?" he said uncertainly.
"Close," Snape said warmly, as he handed the block over. "It's a V. How about this one?"
Harry knew this one. "M." He reached for the block, but Snape pulled it back. "Ah ah. What is it now?" He inverted the block and held it out for Harry to see.
"W!" Harry crowed.
"Excellent," Snape praised, giving Harry the block and ruffling the boy's hair.
Snape sorted through the blocks until he found H, A, R and Y. He lined them up. "Look. Your name."
"That's not my name, sillyhead," Harry argued with a mischievous grin. So, of course, Snape had to tickle him until Harry begged for mercy. When he was no longer giggling, Harry pointed to the row of blocks. "Needs 'nother R," he said.
Snape smiled proudly at him. "So it does. You are a very bright boy."
Harry smiled warmly at Snape. "We don't have 'nother R."
Snape picked up another block and tapped it with his wand. "Now we do." He placed the new R before the Y.
"Harry," said Harry.
"Harry," Snape agreed.
Snape's floo flared, and a familiar voice said, "May I come through?"
Snape got to his feet before answering. "Of course."
Hermione came through the fire and smiled broadly at both of them. "Hi, Harry. Hello, Severus."
"Hermione! Look! My name!" Harry said, pointing at the blocks.
"I see, love."
"Wanna play blocks with me and Sir?" Harry invited.
"I wish I could. I just came by to extend an invitation to you from Molly. She'd like you two to spend Christmas at the Burrow. She's sending you an owl, but I wanted to come in person, too."
Harry gasped excitedly. "Can we, sir? Can we go?"
"I'm afraid not, Harry. Hogwarts is a much safer place for you," Snape said. "Thank Molly for me," he told Hermione. "I do appreciate the invitation, but I feel that moving him out from the protections that Hogwarts offers is just too risky right now.
"I thought you'd feel that way," Hermione admitted. "Perhaps some of us can stop by on Christmas day?"
"We would both like that," Severus assured her.
Snape sighed deeply as he relaxed into the sofa cushions with a drink in his hand. He'd finally gotten Harry to sleep. The boy was so excited. Christmas was tomorrow, and Harry was anticipating it just like any normal four-year old would. He'd been filled with energy all day and had fought going to bed even more than usual. Only when Snape threatened him that Santa would not come until Harry went to sleep would the boy settle down.
Snape spelled the lights down and sat with only the sparkling Christmas tree lights. Harry had had so much fun decorating the tree and making Christmas pictures which had been hung all around the room. Snape had asked Hermione to pick up several presents for Harry, and he was looking forward to the boy opening them as much as Harry was. Snape had never looked forward to Christmas like he was this year. Having a child around gave an entirely new meaning to the season.
Snape sighed again and sank a little lower. He was so glad he was no longer Head of Slytherin. If he were, he'd have to leave the comfy confines of his quarters and venture out into the dungeons to check on the Slytherins who had stayed at Hogwarts for the holiday. The Headmistress had mentioned that an unusually large number of Slytherins had stayed this year. Thankfully, that was Sinistra's problem now.
Snape finished off his drink and heaved himself to his feet. He was tired himself, and he suspected Harry would be up early tomorrow. He quietly got ready for bed and slipped in beside a sleeping Harry. He was asleep almost immediately.
And he woke up just as quickly, his finely-honed senses telling him something was wrong. He immediately checked on Harry, but the boy was lying peacefully sleeping by his side. It took only a moment longer to realize that his ward alarms were going off. Someone was in his quarters! Snape crept soundlessly out of bed and out of the bedroom, his wand drawn, his every sense attuned for danger.
Snape stood just outside the door to this bedroom in the complete darkness, listening, feeling. There were four of them, moving around in his sitting room, getting closer. How could he neutralize all of them? How could he call for assistance? How could he protect Harry against these odds? Quietly, he swung the bedroom door closed.
He needed to get to the floo and call Minerva for reinforcements. But he couldn't leave the bedroom door, and direct access to Harry, unguarded. Damnation! Why hadn't they gone to the Burrow?!
Wordlessly, Snape warded the bedroom door with spells to repel curses and people and spells to keep Harry from hearing what was going on out here. Then he began to inch toward the floo. When he got to the mantle, he felt in the dark for the floo canister and soundlessly opened it. When he closed his hand around some powder, he took a deep breath, flung the powder into the hearth, and called, "Headmistress' quarters!" Then he immediately threw himself to the floor to avoid the hexes that he knew would be coming his way.
"Minerva!" he shouted from the floor. "We are under attack!" He cast a spell to keep the floo connection open so that Minerva would hear the sounds of battle.
Snape peeked up over the sofa back, pinpointed the location where one of the hexes had come from, and flung a Stupefy in that direction. When he heard a satisfying thump against the wall, he decided there was no point in fighting in the dark, and he flicked his wand up to ignite the torches.
Snape would have gaped if he'd had the time. There were four of them, all seventh-year Slytherins. Students. Students had infiltrated his quarters and were attempting to hex him. Perhaps this explained why so many had stayed for the hols.
So what to do now? He was outnumbered now three to one. The three students remaining on their feet all turned to face him when the lights came on, their wands pointed at him. Maybe he could talk them out of this madness.
"What are you doing?" he asked them.
Out of fear and respect for Severus' wands, none of them had tried to openly hex him.
Marcus Jennings, who seemed to be the leader of this little cabal, spoke. "Following orders."
"Whose orders?" Snape inquired.
"That's not important."
"Perhaps not to you," Snape countered. "And if you're going to kill me, what difference does it make if I know on whose orders you do so? You needn't answer in any event. I know Lucius Malfoy sent you." And probably provided them with the information they needed to dismantle Severus' wards. Lucius certainly knew Snape well enough.
Jennings shifted, and Snape knew that he was right. "What has he promised you? Money? Glory? A place in his 'new world order'?" He said this last with the contempt it deserved.
"None of that is important," Jennings said. "Where is Potter?"
"You may as well kill me now because you'll not get him. Not while I'm alive." Where was Minerva?
"Check the other rooms," Jennings ordered.
When one of the others, Olivia Dunleavy, made her way toward the closed bedroom door, Snape warned, "I wouldn't do that."
She ignored him, and as soon as she touched the door, she was blasted backward against the wall. She slumped to the floor, unconscious.
"I tried to warn you," Snape said helpfully.
"Unward the door," Jennings ordered.
"If I kill you, your wards will fall," Jennings countered.
"True," Snape agreed. "So do it." He was counting on the boy's vehemence for the cause being stronger than his stomach for killing. And his own speed and experience against this relatively untrained boy and his companion.
In the next several seconds, several things happened nearly simultaneously. The bedroom door opened. Snape wanted to yell, "No!" but didn't want to call any more attention than necessary to Harry. His restraint was pointless because the fourth intruder, Esa Hedgerow, spotted him as well and turned to point her wand at him. Harry stood in the doorway, rubbing at his eyes like a small child, then gaping at the boy who was pointing a wand at his sir. Minerva McGonagall's voice came out of the floo, saying, "I'm coming through!"
Harry scrunched his eyes closed and wailed, "Nooooooo!" A wave of magic, strong and pure, burst from the boy and flattened everyone in the room, including Snape. Harry turned and ran back into the bedroom.
Minerva burst out of the floo, followed closely by Simeon Wallace, the current Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. They both took in the prone forms of the five people there, then turned to look at each other. "Looks like we're too late," Minerva noted.
While the Headmistress went to Snape, Wallace checked on the others. "Restrain them," Minerva ordered when she learned all were breathing. "I don't know what happened here, but clearly these students do not belong in Severus' quarters at this time of night."
Wallace took care of the students while Minerva ennervated Severus and helped him to slowly sit up. "What happened here, Severus? How did you subdue four of them?"
Snape looked around, still dazed and confused. "Wasn't me," he finally said. "It was Harry." And then, as if remembering everything all at once, "Harry!" Snape yelped, struggling to his feet.
As quickly as he could, Snape made his way to the bedroom. "Harry?" he called out when he found the bed unoccupied. He dropped to his knees and looked under the bed. Empty. He checked the bathroom. Where was he? "Harry?" he called quietly. "It's all right now, Harry. It's all over."
Snape heard a sob from the cupboard, and he cautiously opened the door. Harry sat on the floor, way in the back, hugging his knees, his rabbit squished between his body and his legs, rocking back and forth and crying. Once again, Snape went to his knees.
"Harry. Come on out here. You're safe now."
Harry uncurled and crawled frantically to Snape, throwing himself into the man's arms. Snape pulled him close, cradling the boy's head under his chin, shushing Harry as he continued to sob, thanking every god he could think of that the boy was safe. Snape continued to murmur inanities into Harry's ear until the boy finally quieted to occasional sniffles.
"Is he all right?" Minerva asked from the door.
"He is unhurt. Just very frightened. Come, Harry. Let's get up." Snape stood, pulling Harry up with him. Harry stood, but continued to cling to Snape.
"Harry, I must go into the other room and deal with the situation there. You stay here. I will not be long."
"No!" Harry cried, tightening his grip on Snape. "Don't leave me!"
"Severus, let me get them out of your sitting room," Minerva suggested softly, reaching out to stroke Harry's hair soothingly. "Then we can talk out there."
Snape moved to the bed and sat, holding a trembling Harry until Minerva gave them the all-clear. Snape requested a glass of warm milk for Harry and settled the boy at his side with his rabbit. As Severus explained what had happened, Harry slowly slunk lower and lower until his head rested on Snape's thigh and he was snoring lightly. Snape carded a hand absently through the boy's hair.
"But how did they get in?" Minerva asked.
"You'll have to ask them, but I suspect Lucius provided them with enough information to at least partially dismantle the wards.
"Oh, I shall ask, believe me," Minerva said, obviously angry that students had dared do this. "Or, the Aurors will," she corrected herself. "They should be here momentarily, and I should be present when the students are questioned. Are you all right here, Severus?"
"We will be fine," he assured her. "I think I will move Harry to the Burrow, immediately or perhaps at first light. Having Christmas here may be just too traumatic."
"That's a splendid idea. If I need you, I'll contact you there."
As Minerva exited through the door, Hermione Granger came bursting out of the floo. "Severus! I heard what happened! Are you all right?!"
Snape covered Harry's exposed ear. "Please, lower your voice. The boy is sleeping. We are both fine, as you can see."
"What happened?" she asked, dropping into the chair Minerva had just vacated.
"Four seventh-year Slytherins broke in here. They were sent by Lucius Malfoy."
"What did they want?"
"I believe they intended to kill me. I'm not sure if the plan was to kill Harry or capture him."
Hermione's eyes dropped to a sleeping Harry. "You disarmed them?"
"One of them. My wards got another. Harry took out the other two with a wild burst of magic. Knocked all of us out, in fact."
"Wow. Powerful little bugger."
Snape smiled. "Indeed. And where is Mr. Weasley?" he asked, surprised that Harry's best friend wasn't here to stomp around and demand justice for his mate.
"Someone from the Ministry called and told him what was going on. He's gone to hover around the questioning. They won't let him be involved in the interrogation, of course, but he wanted to be there. And I came here to check on the two of you. Severus, you simply must come to the Burrow. You can't possibly spend Christmas here now."
Snape sighed in resignation. "Actually, I was going to floo Molly as early in the morning as decently possible and beg her to take us."
"You won't have to beg, and you won't be waiting until the morning. Molly is awake. She knows what's going on, and if I don't bring the two of you back with me now, she'll never forgive any of us." She looked down at Harry again. "When he wakes up, he'll be some place safe, surrounded by people who love him."
"Thank you, Hermione. If you don't mind sitting with him for a few minutes, I will go and pack a few things."
"Of course I don't mind."
Severus slid out from under Harry, replacing his leg with a pillow, and went to pack.
Snape made sure he was in the room when Harry woke. Molly had placed them together in one room when they'd arrived here in the wee hours of the morning, but she'd had only camp beds for them to sleep in. Thankfully, Harry had slept through the move and didn't protest not being able to sleep with Snape, but Snape had not wanted the boy to wake up in a strange place alone, not after last night.
He'd begun to hear the sounds of others rising before Harry's eyes blinked slowly open.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," he said with a reassuring smile.
"It's Christmas!" Harry said with a bright smile though he was still mostly asleep.
"It is indeed."
Harry sat up and yawned. Snape handed him his glasses, and when he put them on, he looked around and said, "Where are we?"
"We are at Aunt Molly's house."
A troubled look clouded Harry's features. "'Cause the bad people came."
Harry drew his knees up to hug them, and he looked frantically about for his rabbit, which had fallen to the floor in the night. Snape knew what he needed, and he picked the toy up and placed it in Harry's arms. Kneeling on the floor beside the flimsy bed, Snape put an arm around Harry and drew him close. "It's all right, Harry. You are safe here."
"We were safe at home!" Harry wailed his distress.
"I know," Snape soothed, "but here we are not alone. This house is filled with Weasleys, and none of them will let anything happen to you."
"Or you?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Or me," Snape had to concede.
"George and Gracie!" Harry said, suddenly concerned.
"They are fine," Snape assured him. The cats had hidden when the shooting started, but Snape had seen them both, hungry and uninjured, before they left. "I left them at home. The house elves will take good care of them while we are here. Would you like some breakfast? Or maybe we should check first to see if Santa came last night?"
That thought erased all worries from the boy's face, and his eyes lit up and widened until they seemed to fill his whole face. "Presents!"
"I suspect there might be one or two.
Harry's holiday had been everything Snape could have wanted for him. The Weasleys seemed to have perfected the art of Christmas. It wasn't about the galleons and what they could buy, because the Weasleys had very few of those to spare. What they did have was holiday spirit in abundance, love by the bucketful, and food, glorious food, all set to the background of Christmas – the tree, the lights, the homemade decorations. Harry especially loved the Weasley's wireless, on constantly and playing Christmas tunes. He would stand next to the set, wiggling his hips and bending his knees in time to the music, so adorably cute he melted the hearts of everyone in the room. Even Snape couldn't stop himself from smiling, a warm, pleasurable feeling filling his chest. So this is what Christmas was supposed to be like!
The entire Weasley clan was present, and every last one of them doted on the boy. He was the only "child" present, so he had everyone's attention. He'd received several presents and had been thrilled by them all. He'd played several games of Exploding Snap with Ron and Ginny, he'd been overfed by Molly, he'd been read to by Hermione, and all the while, he'd refused to let Snape out of his sight. The one time he'd tried to use the loo, Harry had pitched such a fit that he'd had to bring the boy into the room with him. Snape supposed it was a natural reaction to what had happened last night, so he let it pass without making an issue out of it. By the end of the day, they were both exhausted, and Harry's exhaustion was showing itself in a way typical of four-year olds.
Harry and Ron were sitting on the floor, about to play a Wizarding version of Chutes and Ladders which Molly had found in an old trunk. "Which color do you want to be, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry surveyed the pieces. In addition to the four pieces that had come with the game, the Weasleys had added three empty thread spools, each painted a different color. "Pink," he declared.
"Pink?" Ron snorted. "That's a girly color, innit?"
"Ronald Weasley!" Hermione scolded. Snape assumed she was upbraiding him about his stereotyping, but she went on. "You know how he is! Don't say that!"
What did that mean? Snape wondered.
Ron ignored her. "How about this nice blue one?"
"I want the pink one!" Harry declared, eyes filling with tears. "But I'm not a girl! I'm not!"
"Whoa, mate, settle down," Ron tried, but it was already too late. Harry's world just fell apart, and he threw his head back and began to wail.
"I'm sorry!" Ron said hastily. "Have the pink one! Please!"
"It's all right, Mr. Weasley," Snape assured him. "He's just overtired. Harry! Harry, stop this nonsense," Snape tried, though he recognized that Harry was beyond the point where he could be reasoned with. The younger Weasleys stood gaping at Harry, slightly horrified. If you'd never seen someone Harry's size throwing a monumental tantrum, it could be disconcerting, Snape supposed. Snape had gotten used to it.
"A bath usually calms him," Snape said to Molly. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," Molly said kindly, full of sympathy for both man and boy. She certainly remembered well her own children at this age.
Snape took Harry by the hand. "Come, Harry. How about a nice warm bath?"
"And if it's all right with Severus, perhaps you can come back down for milk and biscuits after," Molly suggested.
His cheeks streaked with tears, Harry nodded forlornly.
The bath had worked wonders, and after biscuits by the tree with Ginny and Ron and the twins, Harry was too tired to fight sleep any longer, and after Snape tucked him into his camp bed, Harry was asleep instantly. Intending to stay on his own bed only long enough to be sure Harry was asleep, and with every intention of going back downstairs and asking Hermione what she'd meant by "You know how he is", Snape fell asleep as well and didn't wake until morning. When he did, he found Harry had somehow wormed his way into the tiny bed with him.
Boxing Day came and went, and the following morning, Snape made ready for he and Harry to return to Hogwarts. He was worried that Harry would react negatively to being back in the dungeons, but the boy seemed bothered not at all. Children were so resilient. Or really good at tucking things away.
Four days later, Snape spent the day watching Harry closely for any signs of distress. History told him the headaches typically struck Harry in the afternoon or evening. Snape had had to restrain himself from positive thinking – until the day was over, he couldn't be sure Harry was out of danger.
Harry had been playing in his room. Snape was trying not to hover and had to make himself stay in the sitting room, though he kept one ear on the boy at all times. Even so, he didn't hear Harry enter the rom and didn't know he had until he heard, "I don't feel so good, sir."
Snape's stomach hit the floor. This couldn't be happening! "Come, Harry," Snape said, opening his arms. Distress written on his face, Harry crossed the room into Snape's embrace. Snape held him close, stroking his hair, near tears. How could it not have worked? What had gone wrong? And what did they do now, with only three months to find a solution?
"Tummy hurts," Harry groaned into Snape's neck.
Wait a minute. Tummy hurts? Snape pushed Harry away gently. "Your tummy hurts?"
"Mm hmm," Harry nodded, arm slinging around his belly protectively.
"Does your head hurt, Harry?" He laid a hand on Harry's head. "Do you hurt up here?"
"No. Just my tummy."
Relief washed over Snape, and he nearly giggled. "Come. We'll get you something to make you feel better. Did you eat all the chocolates you got for Christmas?"
"Not all of them," Harry protested weakly, but Snape could tell that he'd at least eaten most of them.
Snape couldn't help it. He laughed.
After the year turned, confident now that Pomfrey had confirmed that Harry was still operating mentally as a four-year old, Snape turned his attention back to research. He once again spent his days among stacks of books, although the stacks were quite a lot smaller now that the research was narrowed to memory spells and potions (mostly potions). With the urgency removed, Hermione returned to university. Now that he was no longer using books steeped in dark magic, Snape could safely do his research in the comfort of his quarters, which had the added bonus of allowing him to spend more time with Harry.
As he worked, he took copious notes. He was almost certain that he needed a potion, and he read through the many books in Hogwarts' library on the subject. When he'd finished them all, he had narrowed the potential potion ingredients to a few, and he began to experiment with them. After a month, he'd become convinced that part of the answer lie in the Muggle world.
"Are you certain that you don't mind?" Snape asked Hermione, fidgeting worriedly.
"Of course not," she assured him. They'd gone over this already. Several times. "He'll be fine."
"But his bath – perhaps I should wait until after his bath. It is possible that you will find that experience uncomfortable. He does require assistance with washing," Snape argued, both to himself and Hermione. "If left alone, he will come out neither clean nor dry."
"If I find it uncomfortable, I will have Ron help him. And if he can't manage, we'll have Molly over. It'll be fine."
"Yes, but perhaps I should wait until he's in bed, asleep, and then slip out. It might be less traumatic for the boy."
"Until he wakes up and you're gone without having said goodbye," Hermione pointed out. She held back a sigh. Severus should have left thirty minutes ago, but he kept recycling the same reasons why he should delay or not go at all. "Severus," she said sternly, stopping the pacing man in his tracks. "Harry will be fine. It's only two days, and he's excited about Ron and me sleeping over. You know he's talked of nothing else for the last week. We will take good care of him, and if anything happens, we will notify you right away. You know this trip is important."
Snape did know that. He was going to China to consult with a well-known expert on Asian herbs, both wizarding and Muggle. He planned to be gone for two days and had asked Ron and Hermione to stay with Harry. He was finding it difficult to leave.
"It's just that – we've been together constantly since Harry returned. He has grown accustomed to my presence."
Hermione smiled her understanding. "He'll be fine. He knows it's only two days. We'll keep him so busy he won't have time to miss you."
Snape hoped he was kept busy enough not to miss Harry. "I must confess something," he said. "I hope that you will not read into this anything beyond the completely innocent circumstances which brought it about."
Hermione stared at him, curious now.
"Since the very first night, when I found Harry in that hell-begotten place, he has slept with me. I put him to bed in the spare room at Spinner's End, but when I awoke some time in the night, he was in the bed with me. He was so lost and confused, and it seemed to comfort him to have someone nearby, so I let him stay. I give you my word as a wizard and a gentleman that nothing untoward ever –"
"Severus," Hermione interrupted. "I don't need your word. I know you'd never take advantage of Harry. I can see how much he loves you, and you have been nothing short of wonderful with him throughout this whole ordeal."
"Thank you. That means much to me." He cleared his throat. "I should go then."
"Yes, you should," Hermione agreed.
"Harry!" Snape called.
Harry emerged from his room, followed by Ron.
"I must go now," Snape told the boy. "I will be gone for two days. You behave for Ron and Hermione. Obey them when they speak to you. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes, sir," Harry nodded.
"Come and give me a hug then, and I'll be off."
Harry ran to him, threw his arms around Snape's waist, and hugged him tightly. He looked up after a moment, his green eyes clouded with worry. "You're coming back, right?"
Snape nodded. "In two days. I promise."
Harry hugged him again. "Love you, sir."
Snape kissed the top of Harry's head. "And I love you as well."
Snape disentangled Harry's arms and pushed him gently away. "Goodbye, Harry. I'll see you in two days." And he stepped to the floo without looking back, sure that if he saw tears in the boy's eyes, he wouldn't be able to go.
"Bye, sir," he heard before calling out his destination and stepping into the flames.
As promised, Snape stepped back into his sitting room two days later. He'd expected an enthusiastic greeting from his ward, but he was met with silence. "Is anyone here?" he called. There was no response.
Before Snape could get concerned about Harry's absence, he spotted a prominently-placed piece of parchment on the end table and picked it up.
We have gone for a walk on the quidditch pitch. Not sure what time you'll
be home, but we'll return in time for lunch.
Snape thought briefly of walking down to the pitch to meet them, then decided to stay and unpack instead. He was excited to get started on brewing the potion that would hopefully restore Harry to himself. He had put all of his things away and was sitting at his desk, making preparatory notes on parchment, when the door opened, admitting Harry, who raced into the room, bounced clumsily off a chair, regained his balance, then threw himself onto the sofa. Ron and Hermione followed at a more stately pace.
"Who let loose a bludger in here?" Snape asked.
"Severus!" Hermione exclaimed. "You're back!"
"Sir!" Harry shouted, his head popping up over the back of the sofa, a huge smile overtaking his face. He jumped up, raced to Snape, and threw himself into the man's lap, his arms encircling Snape in a tight hug. Snape hugged him back, burying his nose in the boy's hair, which smelled of fresh air and sunshine. He inhaled deeply. He'd missed the irritating twit even more than he'd thought he would.
"Have you been a good boy, then?" Snape asked.
"Uh huh," Harry assured him, pulling away and standing up straight. "Right, 'Mione? I was good?"
"You were an angel," she assured him.
"I missed you," Harry told him.
"And I missed you as well. It is very good to be home."
"I'm hungry," Harry announced.
So much for the emotional homecoming. "Go get washed up, and we'll have lunch. Unless you'd like to see what I brought back for you first."
Harry's eyes lit up. "You brung me a present?"
"Yes, I brought you a present. It's there on the table."
Harry snatched up the wooden panda sitting on the table. "It's a panda!"
"Yes," Snape agreed. "Bring it here."
Harry did, and Snape pulled the top off. "It's called a nesting doll. See? You open it up, and there's another inside. They keep getting smaller and smaller."
Fascinated, Harry began pulling the dolls apart until he came to the tiniest panda, no longer than his smallest fingernail. Each piece was exquisitely painted. Once he had them all apart, Harry began to put them back together. Lunch was forgotten.
"I trust he wasn't too much trouble," Snape said to Ron and Hermione.
"No, he was great," Ron said genuinely. He enjoyed spending time with Harry like this. He'd always wanted a younger brother. Harry, like this, filled that role for him nicely.
"We worked out the bath thing without too much difficulty," Hermione told him. She'd actually been the one to bathe him. She so thought of him as a four-year old that his fully-grown man parts had hardly registered. Harry hadn't been at all self-conscious before her, and she'd surprised herself by feeling the same way. "Oh, and we let him sleep with us. I hope that's okay. He seemed a little lost when I tried to put him to bed by himself."
Truth be told, Snape was a little put off by the thought of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger sleeping in his bed. The fact that Harry slept there with them seemed of little consequence. And he was hardly going to criticize them for allowing Harry the comfort of sleeping with someone. He wasn't that hypocritical. "That is fine," he assured her.
"He played with some of the first-year Gryffindors out on the pitch just now. They were great with him. He had a lot of fun."
Snape approached the floo, intent on ordering lunch from the kitchen. He was famished. "You'll join us for lunch?" he invited.
"I was hoping you'd ask," Hermione said. "I want to her all about what your trip and what you found."
Hermione stood a respectful distance from Snape as he lay out the ingredients for the potion he was going to brew. He'd extensively studied his notes, perfecting what he thought was the ideal mix of ingredients. He knew that Hermione was dying to know the details, so he started to talk.
"This," he said, fingering a moss-like substance, "is a Chinese moss called huperzia serrata. I believe this is the key. It has been proven to enhance learning and memory. It has also been proven effective in treating age-related memory loss. It has also proven efficacious for boosting short-term retention. I think, in combination with other ingredients, I can create a potion that will stimulate the memories that we suspect are hidden away somewhere deep inside Harry's brain."
"What are the other ingredients?" Hermione quizzed.
"Mainly extract of periwinkle and ginko biloba, which increase blood flow to the brain. In conjunction with the potion, I'll be giving Harry daily vitamin supplements, namely B6, B12 and B9, all of which improve memory."
"How will his memories come back?" Hermione asked. "Will they come flooding back in all at once? Will they come back gradually?"
"I've given that a lot of thought," Snape admitted. "He lost his memories all at once, and it left him dazed and confused. His age degeneration occurred much more gradually, at regular intervals. I believe that if the memories were to come back too quickly, it may create an overload of sorts. Imagine fifteen years' worth of memories suddenly slamming into your brain. I'd like to tailor the potion to return the memories to him a little at a time, perhaps at roughly the same rate he de-aged. If he, for example, were able to recall events that occurred when he was five, I believe the mental functioning would return to that level as well. He will regain some vocabulary and some motor skills, some ability to care for himself. If it works as I hope it will, we will continue to give him the potion at regular intervals, thereby slowly and steadily returning his memories and his mental functioning until his mental age catches up with his chronological age. I think."
"And the potion will do all that?" Hermione asked, amazed.
"The potion only enhances the memory," Snape explained. "The charm I cast on the potion will tailor it to Harry's situation. Magic is all about intent, Miss Granger. Never forget that."
Hermione nodded her understanding. "So once a month he gets the potion?"
"We'll start with that in mind and see how he reacts and how long it takes him to recover from the reinstatement of his memories. If he reacts well, there's no reason why we can't speed up the time table."
"So Harry could be back to us, whole, in just a few months?" she asked hopefully.
"If all goes well, yes." Snape knew that he shouldn't feel sad about that possibility, but he found that he did. His time with the boy he'd come to love would be on the clock as soon as Harry swallowed the first mouthful of potion.
"Well, here goes," Snape said, and he tipped the goblet to his mouth and drank down the contents.
Snape had insisted on testing the potion himself before giving it to Harry. Hermione had insisted on being present in case something went awry. If the foolish girl had only known how many potions, how many much darker potions, he'd tested on himself in the past.
Snape waited for the potion to work its way through his system. When it finally did, he felt an uncomfortable sensation in his brain, as though it were expanding and letting in light, the brightness of that light causing a low-level headache. Snape massaged his temples.
"Everything all right?" Hermione asked.
"A mild headache," he said. "A sensation in my brain of . . . enlarging and filling with light." And now, images – memories – were filtering in. The name of the book he'd been reading to Harry earlier in the month. The location of a present he'd hidden from Harry and then promptly forgotten about. Something Hermione had said at Christmas that had made no sense to him at the time. The ingredient he'd left off the shopping list he'd given Minerva this morning. Little things, really. No startling revelations or repressed memories from childhood. Just mundane, everyday occurrences.
Snape hastily grabbed his journal and scrawled everything down.
"Did it work?" Hermione asked, hovering over his shoulder and trying to read his messy handwriting.
Snape waited until he'd finished recording his impressions, then turned to Hermione. "I believe it did. We'll give it to Harry tomorrow." He twirled the quill around in his fingers. "You said something at Christmas, Miss Granger, that I meant to ask you about."
Hermione knew he was feeling uncomfortable – that was the only time he still called her 'Miss Granger.'
"When Harry and Mr. Weasley were playing the board game, and Harry wanted the pink token – you said 'You know how he is,' or words to that effect. What did you mean?"
"Oh. You don't know?" she asked, looking up at him, obviously surprised.
"Obviously," he said.
"Harry is gay. Some of the things he likes are decidedly contrary to what society considers proper for blokes. I just thought that comment was a bit insensitive, knowing what Ron does about Harry's preferences."
"Harry is . . . gay?" Snape asked, astounded. He'd never suspected.
"Mm hmm," Hermione confirmed. "He told us sixth year. It's why he broke up with Ginny. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you didn't know. You were hardly chums when he was in school, and no one saw him between the Final Battle and when you discovered him in that . . ." Hermione still couldn't say it, didn't even like to think about it. "And he never really advertised it anyway. But he knew, and he told those of us who were closest to him. I hope this doesn't change anything for you, sir."
"What?" Snape asked, preoccupied with this new knowledge. "No. No, of course not. His preferences make no difference to me at all." He cleared his throat. "Thank you for clearing that up. I will plan on giving the potion to Harry tomorrow morning. If you are available, I would like you to be present, in case of . . . unexpected complications."
"You know I'll be here," she promised.
The following day, though no one could see it from the dungeons, dawned dreary and cold. Snape watched Harry eat his breakfast, studying the boy, trying to commit to memory all his four-year old mannerisms, acutely aware of just how much he was going to miss Harry when he "grew up" and moved away. He knew he had weeks, months even, before Harry caught up to his nineteen-year old self, but as he looked at the goblet of potion sitting on the table, waiting to be administered, he couldn't help but feel the beginnings of the separation. If he was smart, he'd begin to distance himself from the boy now, but as he looked at Harry licking honey off his fingers, he knew he couldn't do it and that he'd cling to the whelp as long as Harry let him.
"Can we go outside?" Harry asked.
"Perhaps later. We're waiting for Hermione this morning."
"'Mione's coming?" Harry asked, perking up.
"She is." They heard the floo. "I bet that's her now."
It was. "Good morning!" she said brightly. She dropped a kiss on the top of Harry's head as she passed him on the way to the chair beside Snape.
"Have you eaten?" he asked.
"Yes, but tea would be nice."
As he poured her a cup, Hermione asked, "How are you, Harry?"
"Good. Where's Ron?"
"Ron had to work. You're stuck with me."
"Not stuck," Harry contradicted with a shy smile. "Love you."
Harry's sweetness often brought Hermione to tears. Like now. "I love you, too, pet."
Snape stood up. "Let's get you dressed."
Harry jumped out of his chair. "Race ya!" He ran from the room.
"Oh dear," Snape said, his voice dry as dust as he rose slowly from his chair. "You win. We'll be right back."
"Harry, sit," Snape instructed. He pulled Harry down onto the sofa beside him. "I need you to drink this."
Harry peered into the cup Snape was holding and wrinkled his nose. "What is it?"
"It will help you to remember things."
Harry stuck a finger into the potion and put it in his mouth, sucking the finger clean. "Tastes like strawberries!"
Snape had added a flavoring he knew Harry liked. It was important that the boy drink all of it. "Drink."
His trust in his Sir absolute, Harry took the cup in two hands and tipped it up to his mouth until he'd drained the contents.
"Good boy," Snape praised.
Harry smacked his lips. "Can I go play now?"
"I'd like you to sit here with me for a bit, if you don't mind," Snape requested.
Harry blew out an exasperated breath and slumped back into the sofa. They sat quietly for a time, until Harry said, "Can I go now?"
"How do you feel?"
Harry closed his eyes suddenly and didn't respond.
"Harry?" Snape prompted. "Are you all right?"
"I feel funny," the boy said.
"Funny how?" Snape pressed, reaching over to hold Harry's hand.
"Head feels funny," Harry said, scrubbing a hand against his forehead.
"Funny how?" Snape repeated.
Snape sighed, guessing that Harry was experiencing symptoms similar to those Snape himself had yesterday, but lacked the vocabulary to describe them. "All right, Harry. It's all right." He pulled the boy close, tucking Harry's head under his chin.
Harry allowed himself to be held for a few moments. "Can I go play now?"
"If you feel well enough," Snape said.
Harry disentangled himself from Snape's arms and stood up. He left the room slowly, his shoulders drooping.
Hermione stood up. "I'll stay with him for a bit. Keep an eye on him."
"Keep him as quiet as possible," Snape requested. "Let's not let him tax himself."
Hermione nodded and followed Harry.
Snape was very glad this day was coming to an end. Harry had been his absolute worst today – obstinate, petulant, rebellious. Every request from Snape had turned into an argument and a tantrum. Harry had broken a vase that had belonged to Severus' great-great-grandmother Prince. Reparos on pottery that old never really held, and Snape knew it was only a matter of time before he'd be forced to bin it.
At supper, Harry had balked at eating peas, a food which he usually loved, and had only relented when Snape threatened to withhold pudding. The peas had disappeared quickly after that. Snape discovered where they had gone when he undressed Harry for his bath. The boy's trousers felt abnormally heavy, so Snape checked his pockets. His hand came out of one covered with mushed peas. Snape growled and counted to ten under his breath.
"We do not put our peas in our pockets!" he scolded. "Into the tub!"
"Don't wanna take a bath!" Harry said petulantly.
"At this point, I don't particularly care what you want. It is bath time. Get into the tub."
Harry dropped into a crouch on the floor, his knees bent up around his ears. Naked, he presented a very . . . interesting . . . picture. "I'm a frog," he said. "Ribbit. Ribbit."
"I shall turn you into one permanently if you do not GET INTO THE BATH!"
Harry hopped his way out of the bathroom.
"Harry James Potter, get your arse back here this instant!" Snape shouted. Harry continued ignoring him, so Snape went after him.
A very annoying (and probably amusing, to a totally independent and objective third party) chase ensued. Harry abandoned his frog hopping in favor of the much faster running away from Snape, who chased him round the sofa, through the bedroom and back around the sofa. Finally, Snape stopped, eying Harry angrily, the dining table separating them. Snape was grateful no one had come through his floo – what an absurd picture they would have made.
"Harry," he began reasonably. "Why don't we forget the bath." Snape recognized when he was beaten. Though it was mortifying to be bested by a four-year old, he was unwilling to use magic on the irritating pup and therefore, short of a wrestling match, he was not getting Harry into the tub. "Let's just get you into your pajamas, and we'll read a book."
"No," Harry pouted. "Wanna take a bath."
Snape felt steam coming out of his ears, and this time he had to count to twenty. And then to fifty. "No," he said finally. "No bath."
"Yes!" Harry argued, and he turned and ran for the bathroom, as Snape had known he would. Seconds later, he heard a large splash as Harry apparently jumped into the tub, no doubt getting water everywhere.
Feeling somewhat smug (maybe he hadn't been bested by a four-year old after all), Snape followed slowly. He knew this uncharacteristic behavior wasn't Harry's fault. Uncomfortable things were happening inside the boy's head that he didn't understand, and he was reacting the only way he could. Snape hoped subsequent transformations, when the boy was "older", would be easier on both of them. He didn't want to spend another day like today.
He sighed when he saw the state of the bathroom – more than half the water had exited the tub when Harry had entered it. But Harry was sitting in the remaining water peacefully playing with cups, so Snape gritted his teeth and set about cleaning it up.
When Poppy visited the following day, she relieved everyone's concerns. Harry was five again!
The transformation three weeks later was marginally easier. Harry seemed less troubled, less confused, more capable of dealing with the myriad emotions invoked by the memories which flooded back into his consciousness. He still couldn't articulate what he was feeling, but he did ask Snape where his aunt and uncle and cousin were. Wary of feeding Harry more information than his now six-year old brain was ready to process, Snape told him simply that they were at their home in Surrey. Some time later, after he'd processed that information, he asked Snape why he was not with his relatives, and Snape told him only that he lived here in the dungeons now. Harry simply nodded and said, "Good."
Three weeks and another dose of potion later, Harry's maturation into a seven-year old was nearly uneventful. Harry spoke of his memories of school and home and being tortured there by Dudley and his friends and seemed very reassured when Snape told him that he'd never have to see Dudley ever again.
When Harry turned eight, Snape began to notice that Harry was becoming more independent. He could tie his own shoes again, and he required no assistance in the bath (other than cleaning up the floor after he'd finished), though Snape still had to check on him to make sure he touched soap to skin. Snape attempted to shunt Harry into the bed in the second bedroom, but Harry balked, unable to articulate why, but adamant in his refusal.
Nine weeks later, Harry turned eleven. Snape threw him a birthday party and gave him back his wand.
And when Harry turned twelve, the questions started. The memories of his first year at Hogwarts had been restored to him, and he constantly talked them through with Snape. Snape tried to keep his answers simple, not wanting to provide anything but what Harry had experienced during that tumultuous first year. Spread out over the next several days, Harry wanted to know:
why Snape had been so mean to him in his very first potions class (Snape told him he'd been having a really bad day.)
how the troll had gotten into the school on Halloween night (Snape explained that Quirrell had let it in, and he told Harry how proud he was of him for dispatching the troll and protecting Hermione.)
if Snape hated him (Snape had to swallow twice before assuring Harry that he had never hated him.)
what happened to the Sorcerer's Stone (Snape told him he didn't know, which was the truth.)
why Snape had refereed the quidditch match. (Snape explained he had done so because Dumbledore had asked him to.)
whether Snape hated his father. (Snape confessed that he and James had never gotten along well and left it at that.)
where Fluffy was now (Snape didn't know, nor did he want to know.)
how James had saved Snape's life (Snape told Harry he would not discuss this – too much information would have to be revealed that Harry didn't have in his first year.)
and finally, where was Voldemort now? (And Snape didn't hesitate to tell Harry that the Dark Lord was dead.)
Snape suspected the questions and answers would get more disturbing as time went by and Harry regained his memories. There were a lot of thing he wasn't looking forward to explaining.
Three weeks later, it was more of the same.
Was being a parselmouth a bad thing? (No. It was an amazing and unique gift that Harry should cherish.)
Had Gilderoy Lockhart ever regained his memories? (No.)
Would Snape's potion help Lockhart? (Maybe. It had already occurred to Snape that his potion may have other, perhaps lucrative, applications.)
Was he sure Voldemort was dead? (Very.)
As the years returned to Harry's consciousness, the questions continued. Especially difficult was talking about Sirius Black. Harry, of course, didn't remember yet that Sirius was dead and wanted to know where his godfather was and why he hadn't come forward to take care of Harry. Snape told him it was complicated and that Sirius was somewhere he couldn't come to Harry, but that if it was at all possible, he would have been here. Snape was more than a little disturbed by the suspicious way Harry looked at him after that less-than-satisfactory explanation.
Still Harry refused to sleep in his own bed, which was becoming uncomfortable for Snape again with the return of Harry's sexual appetite. Especially now that he knew in which direction Harry leaned. Snape reiterated his "not in my bed" speech when he caught Harry furtively stroking himself one morning and resigned himself to a difficult few weeks.
"I got Cedric killed," Harry said, his eyes moist.
"No, Harry. Voldemort and Peter Pettigrew were responsible for Diggory's death. Not you. He had the unfortunate luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Still my fault," Harry whispered. "If I hadn't . . ."
"Stop. I will not let you do this to yourself. You did nothing wrong!"
Harry leaned into Snape, who put an arm around the distraught boy. They sat that way for a time until Harry pulled away from Snape.
"You owe Hermione an apology!"
"You were mean to her! When she got hit with that spell that made her teeth grow, you said you couldn't see any difference! That was incredibly mean! You made her cry!"
Snape actually blushed at this memory. "That was not one of my finer moments," he admitted.
"You'll say you're sorry the next time you see her," Harry demanded.
And Harry didn't let it go until Snape actually had apologized to the girl. Stubborn, irritating twit.
Snape very reluctantly gave Harry the latest dose of the memory restoration potion. He knew what was coming – after Harry's sixth year memories had filtered back in, Harry would remember that Dumbledore was dead, that Snape had killed him. And Snape couldn't explain why, so Harry was sure to hate him.
He sat in the armchair across from Harry's seat on the sofa and watched the boy, his eyes closed as he lay back, a slight grimace on his face the only sign of the deluge of memories into his brain. He'd certainly become acclimated to this feeling and was able to handle it now with stoicism. The duration of the process seemed to be lessening with each dose, and Snape waited, knowing that the moment of truth was almost upon them. He wondered briefly if he should have taken Harry's wand, but then Harry's eyes snapped open, and the boy sat up, staring at him, and it was too late.
"You . . ." he said, his breathing harsh and uneven.
"Yes," Snape said simply.
They'd gone over this before. "We've gone over this before," Snape reminded him. "I cannot tell you anything that goes beyond your current memories." Snape was sorely tempted to break that self-set rule. The way Harry was looking at him quite disturbed him. But he wasn't willing to risk the boy's long-term mental health for his own peace of mind. "In three weeks time, when you take the final dose of potion, all of your memories will be returned, and you will see why."
"Did you want to?" Harry asked.
"Do you regret it?"
"The horcruxes . . ."
"Harry," Snape warned. "You know I can't."
Harry collapsed back onto the sofa with an exasperated huff. "He's really gone? It wasn't a trick or a ploy to convince Voldemort or some other devious Dumbledore plan? He's really gone?"
"He's really gone," Snape said softly.
"And you really killed him?"
Yes was too simple, and yet too complicated, but he said it anyway.
"Can I go out flying?" Harry asked.
"You don't need my permission. You're an adult now in all ways, and a fully capable wizard. You may come and go as you please."
Without looking at Snape, Harry rose to his feet and made his way out of Snape's quarters. When he reached the door, Snape stopped him.
Harry didn't look back. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry." He might have been apologizing for the fact that he couldn't tell Harry the entire story, or for killing Harry's mentor, or for any number of other things that Snape had to feel repentant about.
"Me, too," Harry whispered before he left.
Harry returned to Snape's quarters many hours later, his hair wind-tousled, his cheeks reddened. He refused to meet Snape's eye.
"Are you hungry?" Snape asked.
"No. Look, I did some thinking while I was up there, and I realize that there must be something – something big and important to explain why you – why you would do that. Hermione would not have let me stay with you when I was too young to defend myself if you were the ogre we thought you were. She likes you and she trusts you. Ron, too. And Molly and Arthur. So there must be something, and I realize I have to wait for it, but in the meantime, I can't – I just can't . . ."
"It's all right, Harry," Snape assured him. "I understand."
"I think I'm going to turn in early tonight."
"Can I have the house elves bring you something? You should eat."
"No, thank you. I'm not hungry."
As Harry left the room, Snape said, "Good night, Harry," but if the boy responded, Snape did not hear it. He heard Harry moving about in the bathroom, heard the shower running. And when Snape retired himself at his normal bed time, he found his bed empty. Harry had, for the first time in their re-acquaintance with each other, chosen to sleep in the spare bed. Saddened, Snape got into bed and lay for a long time in the large, empty bed, staring at the ceiling.
After three days, Harry returned to Snape's bed. Snape had already retired and was on the cusp of sleep when he heard the door open. He sensed rather than saw Harry's presence and felt the bed dip when the boy slipped in beside him.
Harry was quiet for a moment before he whispered, "Are you asleep?"
"Yes," Snape whispered back.
Snape felt Harry's smile in the darkness. After a long moment of silence, Harry said, "I want to take the last dose tomorrow."
"It's too soon," Snape argued. He sat up in the darkness and illuminated a single candle by the bed.
"How do you know?" Harry pushed. Snape could see his green eyes glittering in the beggarly light. "There's hardly precedent. I hate this . . . distance between us. I want to know everything. And I don't want to wait another two and a half weeks. Please, Sir."
"You don't have to call me 'sir' any more, Harry. Considering what we've been through, 'Severus' is more than appropriate."
"I like that you're my Sir. Can I take the potion tomorrow? Please?"
Snape sighed. He'd rather not tempt chance, but Harry was right. There was no proscribed length of time between doses. Snape had invented the potion and the regimen – certainly he could change it. Harry was clearly over the effects of the last dose and was ready and willing to weather the memory surge again. But was Snape ready for Harry to no longer need him at all? Would Harry move on once he was restored to himself? If Snape gave Harry the potion tomorrow, would Harry be gone by tomorrow night? There was no doubt in Snape's mind that he loved the boy and would miss him terribly when he was gone. Loving someone apparently really did mean letting them go.
"Yes, Harry. You can take the potion tomorrow. But if your brain falls out of your ear, you will have only yourself to blame."
Harry rolled onto his side to face Snape. "I know you wouldn't let me do it if you seriously thought it was unsafe." Harry reached out to take Snape's hand, lacing their fingers together. "Thank you for everything."
And didn't that sound prefatory to good-bye. "You're entirely welcome, Harry. Now you should get some rest." Snape tried to pull his hand away, but Harry held on tightly, pulling Snape toward him until Snape was laying nearly on top of the boy. Snape's half-hearted attempts to pull away were overcome easily by Harry's grip.
"Harry . . ."
"Be quiet, Sir," Harry said, and he reached up and kissed Snape, once, briefly, on the mouth.
"Harry . . ." Snape said again, ready to firmly chastise the boy for his liberty.
But Harry wasn't having it and interrupted him again. "I know. You won't. You can't. I'm not right in the head yet. But tomorrow night, I will be. Tomorrow night, you'll have no more excuses. So until then, just hold that thought. Good night, Sir."
And Harry let him go, rolled over to face away from him, and went silent.
Snape extinguished the candle and lay back down on the bed. He was supposed to sleep now?
Harry was, finally, completely back to himself. He was twenty in both body and mind. He had a full set of all of the memories he should have. He knew everything. He knew. He looked over at Snape. "He made you. He was dying."
Snape nodded. "Yes."
Harry closed his eyes. "Thank God. I wanted it to be something like that, something to explain." Harry opened his eyes again and looked at Snape. "I'm sorry you had to do that."
"Thank you. The Headmaster – Albus – he could be very persuasive. If there had been any other way –"
"I know. It's all right. Thank you for giving that to me. I really needed it."
Snape stood awkwardly. "I am glad that everything worked out as it has, that you are back. Although I have to admit that I came to like the younger version of you quite a lot."
Harry stood up, too, much too close to Snape. "Thank you. You had no obligation to me. You could have taken advantage of my vulnerable state on countless occasions, but you were nothing but decent and kind." He stood on his tiptoes and kissed Snape again. "I would like to repay you."
"Potter – Harry, that is not necessary, and if you think that I did this so that I could –"
"I think nothing of the sort," Harry assured him. "But I know how much I want you. I know that you've been the subject of my wank fantasies for a while now. And I think you want me, too. I think it was very hard for you to push me away all those times I wanted more of you than you could give. But now there's no reason to hold back. I'm me, and you're you. We're both adults, we don't owe each other a thing, and I want you. If you want me, too, I don't know why we shouldn't act on our feelings." As he spoke, Harry had forced Snape backward and maneuvered him into the bedroom until Snape was backed up against his bed. With a small push to the chest, Snape sat abruptly.
Harry's mouth found Snape's, and he pushed the older man backward onto the bed, following him down, his knees on the bed straddling Snape's hips. Harry ground his arse down against the erection he could feel in Snape's trousers, pulling a gasp from those thin lips.
"Harry . . ." Snape tried again.
"No talking, Severus," Harry ordered softly and kissed him again. This kiss was longer, sweeter, messier. When it was over, Harry sat up and pulled his shirt over his head. Snape's eyes ran over Harry's sparsely-haired chest and down the trail of hair that led into the waistband of his jeans. Snape stared up into blazing green eyes as Harry began to unbutton Snape's shirt, slowly, methodically, baring Snape's pale chest to Harry's hungry gaze. Harry ran appreciative hands over the ivory skin, stopping the tweak the nipples, using just his fingertips to trace Snape's sides down to his hips, drawing a shudder from the prone figure.
Snape placed his hands on Harry's thighs. "Harry, stop. I don't know if I can do this. I look at you, and I see the little boy that you were not so long ago."
Harry ground down on Snape's erection again to prove a point – Snape's body wanted this whether or not his brain had come to terms with the fact that Harry was all grown up. "Does this feel like a little boy to you?" he asked, moving Snape's hand to cover his own erection. Harry closed his eyes at the contact, and Snape was lost at the look of bliss on his face.
Harry stood now and removed his jeans, and Snape couldn't help but sit up and stare. He'd seen Harry's cock before, of course. He'd helped the boy in the bath countless times over the last few months. He'd even seen Harry hard, on a couple of occasions. But none of those erections had been for him, for Snape. This one was, and Snape couldn't keep his eyes off it. He wanted so badly to touch, to fondle and to taste. He raised a hand up and started to reach for it when he caught himself.
"Go ahead," Harry urged, stepping closer and jutting his hips toward Snape, his erection proudly pointing at the older man.
And Snape couldn't help himself, and he did. He touched the head with his fingertips, then ran them along the entire length. He swept his hand under the sac, cupping the balls and rolling them with his thumb. He palmed the weight of Harry's stiff prick and closed his fingers around it in a gentle caress. Above him, Harry hissed his pleasure.
"I've wanted you to touch me for so long," Harry said breathily. "May I touch you, too?"
Snape was beyond any restraint now, and he nodded. Harry took both Snape's hands in his and pulled the man to his feet. Looking up at Severus, standing as close as he could to the heat emanating from the scrawny body and still let his hands do their work, Harry undid Snape's trousers and pushed them and his smalls down to the floor. Reverently, Harry took Snape's equally hard prick into his hand and squeezed it once lovingly. Taking his own cock into his other hand, Harry bumped their heads together. "Little Harry, meet Little Severus," he said.
Snape raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Little?" he repeated.
Harry lined them up and wrapped a hand around both their hardened lengths and thrust his hips back and forth, creating a delicious friction in the circle of his fingers. "Mmmm," he groaned.
Snape wrapped his longer fingers around Harry's and moved his own hips in rhythm. "How long do you want this to last?" he gasped out.
Harry threw an arm around Severus' neck and pulled their bodies close, stilling all movement. "How many times do you think you can come?"
Snape's blood quickened, and he could feel the pounding in the vein in his cock head under his thumb. "I probably cannot keep up with you, but I'm good for more than one, I think. It has been a while."
"Lubrication?" Harry ground out.
"Lubricus," Snape responded, and Harry immediately felt the slipperiness beneath the hands wrapped around their cocks.
"Nice," Harry noted, biting Snape's neck.
"Useful," Snape agreed, arching his neck to allow Harry to trail his lips higher.
"Now?" Harry asked.
"Now," Snape confirmed.
Harry tightened his grip and began to move both their hands back and forth with vigor. Both men leaned into the touch, straining toward each other, and it wasn't long before they erupted, Snape first and Harry only a fraction of a second behind. A sticky, slimy mess, they clung to each other until the last feeble twitches signaled the end of the mutual orgasm.
"Bed," Harry gasped, his knees weak.
"Is our relationship going to consist of one-word sentences from here on out?" Snape wondered aloud as he led Harry to the bed. They lay together, side by side, after Snape cast cleaning charms on both of them. Snape couldn't help but notice that Harry had not softened.
"You are still hard," he said, gripping Harry's member appreciatively.
"Want you," Harry moaned, thrusting up into the contact. "Do you . . ."
"I've been known to bottom on occasion."
"Can I . . ."
"Then you can do me," Harry offered. They both knew Harry was an experienced bottom. The memories of Harry's time as a prostitute had never left him, but they'd receded further into his consciousness with time and the care he'd received from Snape. As he'd regained his memories, those recollections had become sharper, more focused, and Harry had had to almost relive that horribly humiliating time of his life. And Snape knew, because he'd seen all of the mortifying details in Harry's mind.
"Harry, are you sure about this?" Snape asked. He was more than willing to let Harry bugger him senseless, and he would completely understand if Harry didn't want him to return the favor.
"Yes, Severus, I'm sure. I want it all with you. That lubrication spell was nice, but do you have actual lube?"
Snape rolled away long enough to retrieve the lubricant from the stand beside his bed. He presented it to Harry, then got onto his hands and knees in the middle of the bed.
Harry spent considerable time preparing Snape to take him, so much so that Severus was finally forced to growl, "Enough, Harry! Do it now!"
Happy to oblige, Harry slicked his own painfully erect cock and knelt behind Snape, reverently stroking his arse. He positioned himself at Snape's entrance and slowly, inexorably pushed his way into the tight tunnel.
"Oh God, Severus!" Harry moaned. "You're so tight!"
"Move, Harry," Snape commanded.
Harry did, withdrawing slowly, almost completely, then sliding back in with a bit more force. Having just come, Harry was in no rush to find completion again, and he kept to this leisurely pace for a maddeningly long time. At one point, he withdrew completely and re-anointed his turgid prick. Before reseating himself in Severus, Harry lapped at his sensitive, gaping arsehole, probing with his tongue and tracing around the highly responsive flesh. Snape groaned and pushed back. "Harry!" he begged.
Taking pity on him, Harry drove his cock back where Severus was begging for it to be. Harry set a faster, more punishing pace this time, and Snape began to moan and whine continuously. When he reached for his own erection, Harry growled, "No! If you do that, you won't be able to fuck me!"
"Then you'd better hurry up," Snape suggested.
Taking the warning to heart, Harry began to pound energetically into his lover, his pace increasing until he suddenly stilled, buried balls-deep inside of Severus, for untold moments. After the first spurt of semen deep inside of Severus, Harry began to move again, his movements jerky and erratic as he released himself again, whimpering constantly. Finally empty, he collapsed onto Severus' back, panting heavily.
"Harry!" Snape warned, certain he was going to come untouched if he didn't move soon.
Though he wanted nothing more than to stay where he was forever, Harry recognized the need in Snape's voice and extricated himself slowly. He flopped onto his back beside Snape, and said, "Take me."
Moving quickly, Snape positioned himself between Harry's widespread thighs. He took up the lube, speared his fingers into it, and prepared Harry quickly but thoroughly. Touching his own cock to lubricate it proved to be too much. Mortified, Snape felt himself start to ejaculate.
"Harry!" he said, fumbling to get himself inside Harry's arse while there was still time.
Harry lifted his hips to assist, and Snape acquired the target on the first try. Snape shoved himself in, aided by Harry's violently thrusting hips.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Snape chanted. "Too quick. I'm sorry."
"No. Don't be sorry," Harry said, pulling Snape down for a kiss, though Snape was too far gone to do more than mouth at Harry's lips.
Snape collapsed onto Harry as the last of his orgasm was wrenched from his pulsing cock. "You may be the death of me," he panted. When he felt the hardness beneath his belly, he breathed, "Dear Merlin! You're still hard!"
"Sorry," Harry said sheepishly.
"Do you want me to . . ."
"Nah. Just ignore it. It'll go away."
"You're insatiable," Snape accused, trying to decide if he was pleased by this discovery.
"You're just too sexy," Harry countered. He yawned, a jaw-cracking inhalation. "Can we sleep for a while now?"
Severus rolled off of Harry and cast cleaning spells again, slanting another look at Harry's groin. Yup, still hard. Amazing. He pulled the young man close, Harry's back to his chest, and they lay spooned together. And Snape couldn't seem to stop himself as his hand naturally sought out the magnet that Harry's cock had become and curled his fingers around it. Harry snuggled back into the contact with a contented sigh.
"Have a good nap, Harry," Severus whispered, just as he used to do when Harry was four.
Harry turned to look at him, a silly grin adorning his face. "I love you."
Severus reached over and kissed him tenderly. "And I love you. Go to sleep. We have much to discuss when we wake."
Harry settled in and closed his eyes. Just when Severus was beginning to think he'd finally gone to sleep, Harry rolled over toward Severus and opened his eyes. "Maggie!" he said with some urgency.
"Maggie. I want to go back and see Maggie, get her out of there."
"Harry, she's a Muggle. What are you going to be able to do for her?"
"Don't know. Don't care. She helped me, kept me whole while I was there. I can't just leave her there."
"She may not even be there any longer," Severus pointed out.
"I know. But I have to go back. I have to check."
Severus kissed Harry on the forehead. "All right. We'll go tomorrow. If she is there, we will figure out a way to help her. But now, sleep."
Harry kissed Severus' jaw. "Okay, sir," he said, and he snuggled up against Severus' chest and closed his eyes for real this time.