PATCHWORK, Part 3
Summary: Harry Potter is being mistreated by the Dursleys. Everyone wrings their hands and bemoans the situation, but only one man has the fortitude to do something about it.
Warnings: I don't believe there's anything left to warn you about.
Note: And I just now realized that I did not include a disclaimer with Parts 1 and/or 2, so here it is: I own none of this.
Five months later . . .
Severus sat beside his son, pale and still in the hospital bed, the letter he'd received from Minerva fresh in his mind, as though he was seeing it for the first time.
I wish that this were a social missive, but it is not. Before I provide details, let me first tell you that Jamie is fine. Before you jump up and floo here, please read the remainder of this letter. You will lose nothing by taking the few minutes required for me to explain what has happened.
Your son and Miss Granger were caught out of bed at 1:00 in the morning recently and received a detention and a significant loss of house points. The reason that they were out is not important. I can hear you saying, "But why am I only hearing about this now?", and my only explanation is that your son has the most extraordinarily persuasive blue eyes. I did, however, extract from him a promise that he would tell you about his exploits when he arrives home for summer break.
Detention was to be served with Hagrid. Had I known he intended to take them into the forest, I would not have agreed with the Headmaster's request that students in detention be sent to the groundskeeper. But take them into the forest he did, in the middle of the night no less, to search for a wounded unicorn. I know – I don't understand what Albus was thinking either, endangering students in this way. While that is concerning, what happened in the forest is even more so. You-Know-Who was there, Rafe, in some sort of half-human form, feeding off the blood of the dead unicorn. Jamie encountered him while he and Mr. Malfoy had gotten separated from Hagrid. Thankfully, a centaur named Firenze came to Jamie's aid and spirited him away to safety.
I wanted to contact you at this point, Rafe, and let you know what was going on, but Dumbledore absolutely forbid anyone from revealing any news of this potential return of the Dark Lord. Since Jamie was safe, I allowed myself to be persuaded to his way of thinking, and I owe you an apology for that. Had I contacted you then, subsequent events might have transpired differently. I did resolve to keep a closer eye on your son and his friends, as they have a way of putting themselves in the middle of dangerous situations.
Exams proceeded, and all was quiet, so I was persuaded that the danger really had passed. And then the "terrible trio" came to me with concerns about the Sorcerer's Stone. Yes, Rafe, that's what the Headmaster's been hiding here at Hogwarts. He swore us to secrecy on that as well, but considering recent events, I have no qualms about breaking that vow. Jamie seemed to think that someone was out to steal the Stone, and he was demanding urgently to speak with the Headmaster. Unfortunately, Albus had been just been called away to the Ministry. I don't know how they found out about the Stone's presence here, but I tried to reassure the three of them that the Stone was perfectly safe and was adequately protected. I thought I had succeeded, but a short time later, I found Jamie and Mr. Weasley hovering around outside the entrance to the third floor corridor. I let them both have it and threatened them with dire consequences if they didn't leave well enough alone. I thought that was sufficient. You know your son – it wasn't.
The fool boy got it into his head that he had to protect the Stone himself, and he and his equally foolish friends went after it. I can't help but be a small amount of impressed, underneath all the anger and disappointment, that they managed to get by spells and enchantments created by much older, wiser, and experienced wizards than they, but they somehow did. Harry was the only one to make it all the way to the Stone – the Weasley boy was injured (though he is fine now) and Miss Granger stayed behind with him.
You-Know-Who was there, Rafe. Actually, he's been here all year, possessing Professor Quirrell, just biding his time while building up his strength. And Jamie confronted him and somehow ended up with the Stone. Quirrell is dead, snuffed to ash. I'm not sure I understand how that happened. And You-Know-Who is gone again, somehow vanquished by an eleven-year old boy.
Jamie is in the hospital wing, Rafe, unconscious. Madam Pomfrey says he is going to be fine, but the effort involved in his confrontation has left his magic severely depleted. I know you will want to come, Rafe, to be near Jamie at this time, and if you feel that it is wise, I will do all I can to assist you in keeping away from the Headmaster. If you can bear to, you should probably stay away. Jamie is in no danger, and he will be returning to you shortly, whole and with all magic restored.
I apologize, Rafe, for all I have kept from you. I did so in the mistaken belief that Albus would never knowingly put the lives of students at risk, but in looking back over the chain of events set in motion last summer, I have come to conclude that he has plots within plots and that he will stop at nothing to meet an objective. I know my apology is a poor penance, but it is all I have to offer now.
I suspect I will be seeing you soon.
Severus had clutched the letter tightly in his hand after he'd finished reading it and apparated directly before the Hogwarts gates. He'd practically run to the hospital wing and had interrogated the mediwitch regarding his son's condition. When he was satisfied that Harry would indeed recover, he sent his patronus to Minerva announcing his arrival. Not surprisingly, she arrived in the hospital wing a short time later, and they talked for over an hour beside the bed of his comatose son, Severus holding onto Harry's hand the entire time.
Severus had been here since. Minerva had assisted him by warning him when the headmaster was making a visit so that he could make himself scarce. He was sitting by his son's bed when Jamie finally awoke.
"Dad? What are you doing here?" Harry asked, clearly confused about where he was and what he was doing here.
Severus lay aside the journal he'd been reading and sat on the edge of the hospital bed. "Waiting for you to wake up, silly boy," he said with a profoundly relieved smile.
"Dad! The Stone! Quirrell! It wasn't Snape!" Severus flinched at the sound of his name coming from his son's mouth, but he merely said, "Don't worry, Jamie. The Stone is safe. The Headmaster has it. All is well."
Harry collapsed back onto the bed in relief. "What happened down there?"
"I don't know the whole story. The Headmaster has been by repeatedly. I'm sure once he learns you're awake, he'll come and see you and you can ask all the questions you want." Good luck getting answers, though.
"Dad! The quidditch match! I have to get up!"
"Jamie," Severus said gently. "You've been here for three days. The quidditch match has been concluded."
Harry gasped his surprise. "What happened?"
"I'm afraid that without you, Gryffindor stood no chance. They were soundly defeated by Ravenclaw."
"Oh, man! There goes the house cup!" Harry groaned.
"You nearly died, and you're worried about the house cup?!" Severus exclaimed.
"Don't exaggerate, Dad," Harry admonished. "I'm fine."
Severus wasn't exaggerating. Harry very nearly had died, but Severus knew that dwelling on that would do neither of them any good. Harry was fine now. Severus pulled Harry into a relieved hug. "You and I are going to have a serious talk this summer about your tendency to stick your curious nose into things that do NOT concern you. Do you hear me, young man?"
Harry allowed himself to be held for a moment, then pushed his father away. "Yeah, I hear you."
"And don't think I don't know about your detention. We'll be having a long discussion about what exactly you've been getting up to around here."
Harry sighed. Summer was just going to suck for a while, wasn't it?
"Now tell me how your exams went."
Severus suspected that the Headmaster would be here once he heard that Jamie was awake, and he intended to be long gone. Now that Jamie was out of danger, he felt safe leaving him for the limited time that was left before the feast. He was going to think long and hard over the summer about letting Harry come back here for his second year. The Headmaster's machinations frightened him to no end, and the very real danger that the Dark Lord was closer to returning than ever before frightened him even more. He'd thought Harry would be safe here, but the Headmaster had proven that he wasn't above putting innocent children in the line of fire if they were a means to an end. Albus Dumbledore would not use his son that way again.
Still, Harry had managed to get through his first year at Hogwarts with his false identity intact, so that was something. Severus sighed and refocused his attention on his son's justifications for the grade he was sure he'd be receiving on his History of Magic exam.
Harry's summer didn't start out quite as brilliantly as he'd anticipated. He thought he'd shown great restraint in not asking his father when they were going to get his dog until after they'd made it back to the house and had supper. The answer he received when he finally did ask was not one he wanted to hear.
"We have something else to discuss before we talk about that," was Severus' response.
"Oh?" Harry asked, trying to portray innocence. He, of course, knew that he was supposed to confess to his father the fact that he'd received detention in the final weeks of school. He'd promised Aunt Minerva that he would do so. But he didn't know that his father had no intention of waiting until Harry brought that up on his own.
"Yes," Severus said, staring down his nose at the boy. "You have something to tell me, I think."
Harry sighed. He should have known that Aunt Minerva would go running to Dad. "So you know about the detention."
"I would like to hear it from you."
"Hermione and I got caught out of the tower after hours. Aunt Minerva gave us detention. That's pretty much it."
"I hardly think that that is it," Severus contradicted. "Why were you out of the tower after curfew?"
Harry did not want to tell his father about the dragon and risk getting Hagrid into trouble. "We were just trying to help a friend, and things didn't go as smoothly as we would have liked."
Severus stared down at Harry, unrelenting. Harry tried to stare back, but gave up after about three seconds and looked down at the floor. He wanted to portray nonchalance, so he swung his feet and looked about the room with an innocent expression.
Severus wasn't fooled for a moment. "How long we sit here is directly determined by how forthcoming you are with me."
"We can sit here all night for all I'm concerned. But you will tell me."
Harry's shoulders slumped under the weight of the certainty that his father was right – he would end up confessing all. He might as well just get it over with. "We were helping Hagrid. He had a . . . problem that needed disposing of. So we were helping him."
"And this problem was?"
"He had a dragon, all right. A baby dragon. He'd gotten it as an egg. He wanted to keep it after it hatched, but it was getting too big and too dangerous." Not that Hagrid had shared that opinion. "Ron's brother works with dragons in Romania, so we contacted him, and he had some friends stop at Hogwarts to pick it up. They had taken it away, and we were heading back to the tower when Aunt Minerva caught us."
"Is there any particular reason why Hagrid made the dragon your problem?"
"He didn't, really. We kind of took it upon ourselves. See, Hagrid's this great big giant bloke, and he's kind of soft in the head when it comes to magical creatures, and he just didn't realize how dangerous Norbert was getting."
"Norbert?" Severus questioned.
"I know, right?" Harry agreed with a reassuring smile. See? he thought. We can all be reasonable about this. "He wanted to keep it and try to raise it, but how could he expect to hide a full-grown dragon, that's what I'd like to know. It's illegal to own a dragon," Harry pointed out helpfully.
"You don't say," Severus said drily.
"Yeah. So we convinced him it would be better for Norbert to go and live with his own kind. So Hermione and I dragged him up to the Astronomy Tower, and Charlie's friends took him away. It was when we were coming back down that Filch caught us and brought us to McGonagall."
Severus raised a disapproving eyebrow at the disrespect.
"I mean, Aunt Minerva," Harry hastened to add.
"And did you tell your Head of House why you were out of bed in the middle of the night?" Severus questioned.
"No. It was bad enough that we were in trouble. We didn't want Hagrid to be in trouble, too. The whole point of the thing was to keep Hagrid from getting into trouble."
"Hagrid is an adult and should have been left to deal with his own trouble, trouble of his own making, I might add. And you should have sorted into Hufflepuff."
"I'm sorry," Harry said sincerely.
"Yes, but are your sorry for the act itself or for the fact that you got caught?"
"Both, I guess," Harry said with obvious honesty.
"All right. Now I'd like to hear about what happened in the forest."
Harry shuddered at the memory of what had transpired during their detention. "Hagrid took us into the forest. There was something killing unicorns."
"A moment," Severus said, interrupting. "The man who was responsible for your being in the situation in the first place was given the responsibility for seeing to your punishment? Am I the only one who sees the irony in that?"
"Well, probably, since no one knew why we were out," Harry pointed out with a "duh" tone to his voice.
"Of course. I suppose it would serve no useful purpose to point out that taking students into the forest is dangerous at the best of times. With something afoot that's capable of killing unicorns, the wisdom of sending untrained students into that situation escapes me."
"Right," Harry said, not entirely understanding the point his father was trying to make, but somehow sensing he wasn't being blamed for that particular transgression. "So anyway," he continued. "We split up . . ."
"He split you up?" Severus asked in disbelief.
"I'm never going to get to the end of this if you keep interrupting," Harry pointed out.
"My apologies," Severus said with an amused nod in his son's direction. "Please, continue."
"So he split us up. Neville and Hermione went with Hagrid, and me and Draco took Fang and . . ."
"Draco was with you?" At a glare from his son, Severus said, "Sorry."
"We found the dead unicorn," Harry said, going quiet and respectful at the memory of finding the poor beautiful creature lying there lifeless. "And there was . . . something came out of the trees and sort of crawled over to the unicorn and . . ." Harry gulped. "It drank it's blood!" Harry looked up at Severus, reassuring himself with his father's solid presence.
Severus looked down at his boy, not quite twelve years old and with so much on his unsuspecting shoulders. He wanted Harry to remain a boy, innocent and trusting, as long as possible. But how to warn his son about the danger that was out there waiting for him, without telling him too much and making him afraid of everything and everyone around him? He put a reassuring arm around Harry and pulled him into a side hug.
Bolstered, Harry went on, still in the shelter of his father's embrace. "Draco freaked out. He screamed like a girl and ran off. Then that . . . thing noticed I was there, and it started toward me." Severus could feel the slight form beneath his arm trembling with remembered fright. "But then a centaur came and saved me, and whatever that thing was ran away. The centaur took me back to Hagrid, and that was that."
"And did anyone tell you what the creature in the forest was?"
"The centaur said it was Voldemort."
Severus flinched, and because they were so close, he could not hide the movement from his son. "Does the name bother you, too? Everyone at school seems so afraid of it. Except the Headmaster. He said, 'Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself'."
"You sound as though you admire the Headmaster," Severus said carefully, pulling away from Harry so he could watch the boy's face.
Harry shrugged. "We talked, after . . ." Harry stopped here, not really wanting to get into the whole Sorcerer's Stone thing. "He's all right." Harry looked up at his father. "Don't you like him? Have you ever met him? Of course you have. You went to Hogwarts, and he's been there forever, right?"
Severus ignored all of that. "It's not a question of whether I like the Headmaster or not. It's a matter of his questionable judgment. Some of the decisions he has made make me wonder if he has the best interests of his students foremost in his mind. Take the Sorcerer's Stone, for instance."
Harry looked sheepish. "You know about that, huh?"
"Of course I know about that, Jamie! I was there when you awoke from an unconscious state due to the severe strain on your magic, remember? Whatever possessed you? You could have been killed! You very nearly were!"
"We thought that Voldemort wanted the Stone!" Harry defended himself. "We knew he was in the forest. We knew that if he got his hands on the Stone, he'd be able to come back. We thought that Snape was trying to steal it for him, but it turned out to be Quirrell."
"Aunt Minerva has told me all she knows about that whole episode, so we won't belabor those details too much. There is something that you need to understand, Jamie," he said, turning to his son, everything about him serious. "There are forces at work in our world that will harm you if you stray too far outside the bounds of safety that surround you. I need you to promise me that you will not put yourself in the middle of these dangerous situations any longer. The troll last Halloween, midnight wanderings, the forest, the stone. You will do better if you stay away from things that do not concern you. Please. I could not bear to lose you."
His dad looked so pathetic and sad that Harry couldn't help it – he launched himself into the man's arms and hugged him tightly, allowing himself to be held in return. "I'm sorry, Dad," he said into the man's shirt. "I'll try to be more careful."
"Please do. Not just for yourself – you've dragged your friends right along with you. How would you feel if Hermione or Mr. Weasley had been injured in one of your escapades?"
"Really awful," Harry admitted truthfully.
"Exactly. So let's not let it get to that."
"All right, Dad," Harry agreed.
Severus held onto the boy for a moment longer, then pushed him away. "There is now the matter of your punishment."
"Punishment?" Harry echoed, a faint touch of alarm in his voice. "Why punishment? I was punished already for being caught out after curfew. Dumbledore didn't see fit to punish me for going after the Stone, so why should you?"
"I am your father," Severus said simply. "It is my prerogative to punish you further when you misbehave at school."
Harry slumped in his seat. Was he going to be grounded, just as the summer was about to begin?
"I would like to impress upon you the seriousness of the potential consequences of any one of your adventures going awry. I know how badly you have wanted a dog – "
"No!" Harry exploded, dismayed, sure he knew where his father was going with this. "You can't! Dad, please! You said – "
Severus held up a hand to still the protest. Surprisingly enough, Harry obeyed its edict. "I have no intention of going back on my promise to get you a dog this summer," he explained. "I had intended to take you to look at some prospects tomorrow. A co-worker has an English springer spaniel which has recently had a litter of eight puppies. He has shown me photographs, and I think you will find them quite adorable." Hell, Severus had found them adorable – Harry's soft little heart would melt right into his feet.
Harry's own eyes were looking pathetically puppy-like now as he hung between the image of the puppy he'd wanted for so long and the denial of that wish. Deep down inside himself, Severus was quite sure that he wouldn't be able to deny this to Harry no matter what the boy had done. It wouldn't do to let the boy know that, though, would it?
"So instead of going to look at the puppies tomorrow, we are going to wait two weeks."
"Two weeks!" Harry repeated, slumping nearly boneless onto the sofa in his disappointment. He'd been less than twenty-four hours from having his very own dog, and now he had to wait TWO WHOLE WEEKS?!
"Two weeks," Severus repeated firmly. "For every protest you make about this, I will extend your punishment another week." Severus stopped, to give the boy an opportunity to further vent his displeasure, but Harry wanted this badly enough that he bit his tongue. Severus nodded in approval of his self-control. "Good. In two weeks, we will go and see the puppies. If you find one acceptable, we will bring it home. You must understand that David sells these puppies, and I will not ask him to hold one for us. If he has other buyers in the meantime, they may not be available for you."
"I wanted to look at a bunch of dogs before deciding anyway," Harry said, but Severus could tell it was the boy's bravado speaking, as Harry's large blue eyes pleaded with Severus to say it wasn't so. Severus sought to reassure the boy. "We will find a puppy for you, Jamie. I will keep my promise. Now, we've both had a long day, I think. Why don't you go get ready for bed."
Miserable and close to tears at what he had lost, Harry nodded, got up and traipsed off to his room.
The two weeks that Harry had to wait for his puppy were nearly intolerable. He thought about the puppy every waking hour, worrying that his father's friend would sell the last pup. He hadn't complained, though, sure that his father would make him wait even longer if he did. So he waited, and he worried, and he annoyed Hermione with his worrying, and he had a hard time eating and he wasn't sleeping. He spent a lot of time with Skittles, reassuring her that he would still love her even after he finally got his puppy.
But, oh, the wait was so worth it. The moment Harry spotted the puppy, the only one left in the litter, he knew it was what he'd been waiting for all his life. He'd wanted a boy puppy, but the one remaining dog was a girl. When Harry looked into the puppy's eyes, and she looked back at him, he was lost. She was so cute, her large brown eyes drawing Harry in and refusing to let go.
"What do you think, Jamie?" Severus asked.
"She's perfect," Jamie breathed. He approached the liver and white puppy and held his hand out for her to sniff. Wriggling all over, the puppy sniffed Harry's finger, then licked them, making Harry giggle. Harry dropped to sit on the floor, and the puppy climbed into his lap, reaching up to lick the boy's face.
Severus smiled when Harry laughed aloud, his joy spilling out.
"She likes you already," Constance observed, leaning on Severus' arm. Harry hadn't minded at all when his father had suggested that they invite Constance along. Nothing could ruin this day.
"Well, Jamie. We should be going. You did say you wanted to look at 'a bunch' of other dogs before making up your mind."
As Severus had known he would, Harry looked up at his father in protest. "I want her," he said emphatically.
"Are you quite sure? There are several more places we can go," Severus teased.
"No, Dad. Her."
Severus smiled. "All right, Jamie. She's all yours." Because despite what Severus had told Harry two weeks ago, he'd reserved and paid for this puppy as soon as his co-worker had told him his bitch was expecting.
"Yay!" Harry shouted, rolling onto the floor and wrestling with his new puppy.
Severus couldn't help the smile that seemed stuck on his face at his son's happiness. From the pocket of his trousers, he removed a collar and a leash. "Shall we take her home, Jamie?"
Harry spent the remainder of the summer getting to know the newest member of his family. He didn't settle on a name for her until several days had gone by and he discovered how curious she was. After that realization, Curious Georgia seemed perfect. Georgia and Skittles were a long time getting accustomed to each other. Georgia was more than willing to be the best of friends with the nearly-grown kitten, but Skittles was a little put off by the rambunctious playfulness of the energetic pup and made herself scarce when Georgia was at her most bouncy. When the pup was asleep, which was frequently, Skittles would creep out of hiding and approach the puppy slowly, ready to leap away at the slightest movement, and when she managed to get close enough would touch her nose gingerly to the puppy's fur. When Georgia was awake, it wasn't uncommon for the two of them to come face to face, Skittles hissing, her back arching, Georgia trembling with fear and enthusiasm at the same time. After Skittles struck her on the nose once, Georgia developed a healthy respect for the kitten's claws and kept her distance.
Harry was scheduled to spend the last few days of the summer with Ron at the Burrow. The morning he left, he was ecstatic to discover that both Skittles and Georgia had slept on the bed with him. He was this close to canceling his plans to go to Ron's, so thrilled was he with his pets, but Severus talked him into going. He took several photographs of both animals with him, knowing he would miss them tremendously. Leaving his father was harder, though. Severus accompanied Harry through the floo to the Burrow, and Harry had all he could to maintain his twelve-year old dignity when the man left.
Severus had been readjusting himself to an empty house. Well, it wasn't exactly empty now, was it, not with a growing puppy constantly in motion and a cat seemingly hell-bent on never letting said puppy sleep. Skittles had taken to pouncing on Georgia the moment the puppy had curled up to sleep, until Severus had felt sorry for the pup and shut Skittles in Harry's bedroom. Now Georgia was peacefully asleep at Severus' feet as Severus sat finishing a second cup of coffee and reading the paper in the quiet house.
He gave a thought to calling Constance and inviting her over for lunch. He looked forward to spending more time with her now that Harry had gone back to school. He thought the relationship between his son and the woman he loved was progressing nicely. Once Harry had accepted someone else in his father's life, he'd made an honest effort to get to know Constance, and he thought the boy really liked her. Perhaps when Harry came home for Christmas, he'd broach the topic of Constance moving in. It would then be a year since their last ill-fated attempt.
Severus' musings were interrupted by the flaring of the floo.
"Mr. Carnaby? Are you there?" he heard the voice of Molly Weasley speak to him. She sounded slightly frazzled, and Severus wondered if the boys had acted up on the platform. He rechecked the time: the Express should have left for Hogwarts thirty minutes ago.
"Yes, I'm here. Would you like to come through?"
His answer was a large whoosh of flames and Molly Weasley stepping into his sitting room. He could tell instantly from the look on her face that something was seriously wrong, and Severus jumped to his feet, followed immediately by a furiously-wagging Georgia.
"They're gone," she said. "The boys are gone."
Severus felt as though he'd been punched in the solar plexus. "What do you mean? How could they be gone?"
Molly looked as though she was about to collapse, and Severus escorted her to a chair and forced her to sit.
"We were outside the platform. We all crossed over. Ron and Jamie were the last to come through. But they never came through! We waited, and when it became clear they weren't coming through, Arthur went back out to find them while I waited with the other children. He searched from one end of the station to the other and couldn't find them. The train was leaving, so I put the others on and went out to find Arthur. He was just coming back from the car – or where we had last left the car. It was gone. Arthur thinks they took it."
Severus was stunned. "Two twelve-year old boys are driving a car?!"
Molly looked even more sick. "Not driving, no. The car is enchanted to fly. Ron's never flown it, but his brothers have. Oh, Mr. Carnaby, I am so sorry! I don't know what came over them, to take the car like they did! I cannot imagine why they didn't just follow us onto the platform."
Severus bit his tongue on the accusations of neglect he wanted to spit at her. Placing blame wouldn't help Harry now. "Does anyone have any idea where they are?"
"No," Molly said, wiping at her nose with a handkerchief she'd pulled from her purse. "We assume they are heading toward Hogwarts. Arthur apparated there to speak with the Headmaster."
"We should head there as well. Perhaps he will have an idea how to find them," Severus suggested. He strode to the floor and threw some powder in. "Minerva!" he barked.
"Oh, Rafe!" she responded instantly. "I was just going to call you. You've heard?"
"Yes, Molly Weasley is here with me. Can we come through?"
Severus motioned for Mrs. Weasley to proceed him through the floo, then followed her into Minerva's private quarters.
"Has there been any word?" Severus asked.
"There have been reports from all over Britain of Muggles seeing a flying car. It seems clear they are on their way here. Albus is sending out Order members on brooms to intercept their path, although it is likely to be dark before they arrive here. They will not attempt to intervene, assuming that any such attempt would be dangerous to both the boys and the Order member. Hopefully they will be able to land the car safely, and then their behavior will be dealt with. Most severely," Minerva added, her mouth set in a thin, angry line.
Severus did not like waiting, not when the health and safety of his son were so up in the air (literally). But he could see no other course of action that made any more sense. With any luck, Albus' escort would find the miscreants soon and accompany them back here. But Severus could not remain here for the several hours it would take for them to arrive.
"Minerva, I will wait at home. You will contact me directly with any word?"
"Of course," Minerva assured him. "Come, Molly, I'll take you up to the Headmaster's office. That's where Arthur is waiting."
"Mr. Carnaby – Rafe," Molly said, turning to Severus. "Please accept my apologies. You left your son in my care, and I didn't – "
"Please, Molly," Severus said, hoping the use of her first name would set her at ease. "You did nothing wrong. Let's just hope for the boys' safe return. We can then ascertain exactly what happened."
Molly smiled weakly and allowed herself to be escorted out by Minerva. Snape returned to his own sitting room and promptly called Constance for moral support.
"Rafe, the boys are in my office," Minerva reported to him several nervous hours later.
"Would you like me to come with you?" Constance asked. Severus had floo called her the moment he'd arrived back home, needing the comfort of her presence while he awaited word of the fate of his boneheaded son.
Severus kissed her, then said, "No. I think I'd better go and do this myself."
"Don't be too hard on him, Rafe. He's just a boy."
"He's a boy with incredibly faulty judgment," Severus growled. "Will you be here when I get back?"
"Yes. I'll want to hear that he's okay."
"Constance, I have no intention of injuring the boy."
"That's not what I meant," she said soothingly. "Go. And then come back."
Without further word, Severus stepped into the floo.
He arrived in Minerva's office to find Harry and Ron sitting before her desk, their eyes glued to the floor, Harry's hands twisting nervously in his lap.
"Jameson Michael Carnaby," Severus said.
Clearly reluctantly, Harry looked up at his father.
Harry stood up, his shoulders slumped, gave a little sigh, and went to stand before his father. Severus stared down at him for a moment before dropping to his knees and pulling the boy into his arms in a tight hug. Surprised, Harry just stood there for a moment before letting his arms go around his father. He lowered his cheek to his dad's solid shoulder and felt tears squeeze out of his closed eyes.
After a long moment, Severus pulled away. "Are you all right?" He pushed Harry's fringe aside and studied a large lump on the boy's forehead.
Harry sniffed. "Yes, I'm alright. I hit my head. It's okay."
"And you, Mr. Weasley?" he asked, looking over at Ron.
"I'm okay," Ron said, his voice low and worried. His mother was on her way.
"Sit," Severus instructed.
Harry returned to his chair. "Can I go check on Hedwig? She was thrown out of the car, and she flew away, but I want to make sure that she wasn't hurt."
"We will check on your owl later," Severus assured him. He inhaled a large, calming breath. "Whatever possessed you?"
"The gateway between platforms nine and ten wouldn't open!" said Harry at the same time Ron said, "We had to get to school!"
Severus held a hand up for silence, and both boys fell to immediately. "What do you mean, the barrier wouldn't open?"
"After Ron's Mum went through, Ron and I tried to go through together, but the wall was solid. We were stuck in the station. We waited a couple minutes to see if they'd come back for us, but then we worried that they couldn't, that the gateway was closed from both sides. We didn't know what to do."
"And you thought taking a flying car was the best solution?" Severus challenged.
"Well," said Ron, "the car was there. I was pretty sure I knew how to fly it."
"You were pretty sure . . ." Severus repeated.
"I believe you are in possession of an owl, Mr. Carnaby?" Minerva spoke for the first time.
"Oh," Harry said, his voice barely above a whisper, "I could have sent Hedwig here with a letter. Or home, to Dad."
"Or you could have picked up a telephone and called me," Severus stated. "Either of those alternatives would have been light years better than the course you took. Do you even comprehend the danger you put yourselves in? What if you'd gotten lost? What if the car had malfunctioned in mid-air? What if you'd been seen? What am I talking about? You WERE seen! What you have done was not only dangerous, it was incredibly irresponsible!"
"Yes, sir," Harry said miserably. "We've already heard it from Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall."
"What's Snape got to do with it?" Severus asked, his curiosity aroused despite the irrelevance of his involvement.
"He caught us when we were sneaking back into Hogwarts," Harry explained. "He wanted to expel us."
Severus found himself for the first time agreeing with this "other" Severus Snape. "You will be lucky if the Headmaster doesn't take that course of action. If he does not, it is entirely possible that I will bring you home so fast your head will spin!"
"Dad! You can't!" Harry protested.
"Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, young man. I am seriously displeased with you and inclined to keep you close so that I can monitor and curtail this tendency you have for putting yourself into danger. We have discussed this before, but it seems the message has not sunk in. What will it take, Jamie? Tell me."
Harry hung his head, unable to come up with an answer that would adequately placate his irate father.
An anxious knocking on the door interrupted them. "Enter," Minerva bade.
Molly Weasley entered the room, and Ron immediately went rigid. "Ronald Bilius Weasley!" she bellowed. "Come with me now!"
Knowing that resistence was futile, Ron got to his feet and went to stand beside his mother, flinching when she raised a hand, sure that she was going to strike him. She only put a hand on his shoulder though, squeezing to reassure herself that he was safe and sound. Before they left, she turned to Severus.
"Please, Mr. Carnaby, accept my apologies once again. Be assured that we will punish Ronald most severely."
Ron looked even more defeated now.
"Your apologies are unwarranted, Molly," Severus assured her. "Both boys used incredibly poor judgment, and you and your husband are in no way to blame."
"Thank you," she said. The hand on her son's shoulder tightened, and she used the grip to escort Ron from the room.
"What is the headmaster's idea of an appropriate punishment?" Severus asked Minerva.
"He has left their punishment up to me. Since the only school rule they have violated is damaging the Whomping Willow, I feel nothing more than a detention is warranted. You, however, are obviously permitted to punish him in whatever way you feel appropriate at home. I am concerned that he and Mr. Weasley will be perceived as heroes for their feat. I would prefer that he not return to the Common Room now, as I feel sure the other Gryffindors are waiting there to celebrate this heroic adventure," she said, her lip curled in disgust.
"I will bring him home with me," Severus decided. "And I will return him here just in time for him to start his first period class." Severus was tempted to keep Harry home for a week as punishment, but he couldn't interfere with the boy's schooling in that way.
"I haven't a class first thing tomorrow. I will be happy to escort him to Herbology," Minerva said with a stern glance at Harry. "Your class schedule, Mr. Carnaby," she said, handing him the parchment upon which his second year schedule was printed.
"Let's go," Severus ordered.
Just as reluctantly as Ron, Harry accompanied his father to the floo.
"He has not eaten, Rafe," Minerva offered just before they flooed away. "And I will check on Hedwig."
"You will go into your room now," Severus ordered when they arrived back in the sitting room. "I will bring you something for dinner, and then you will go to bed." It wasn't even eight yet, and Harry wasn't tired, but he knew better than to protest. "In the morning, after you have had breakfast, I will return you to school. I do not wish to discuss this matter any further. But know that you will not be allowed to visit with Mr. Weasley during Christmas break this year, nor will he be allowed here."
"All right, Dad. Come on, Georgia," Harry called to his pup, who had begun wagging excitedly when Harry entered the room.
"No," Severus stopped. "She will sleep with me. You will not have any 'creature' comforts while you are here. You do not deserve them."
"Yes, sir. Hello, Connie," Harry said to the woman watching from the sofa. "Good night, Connie."
"Good night, Harry. I'm glad you're home safe."
Harry offered her a weak smile before retiring to his room.
"Should I go home?" she asked after he'd gone.
"No, stay. I'll get him some of the stew we had for dinner, then we'll talk. You'll not believe the thought processes of twelve-year old boys."
After an exciting beginning, Harry's year settled into the mundane routine of schoolwork and Quidditch practice, Quidditch practice and schoolwork. Until a month into the school year, when a notice was posted announcing the formation of a dueling club. Harry and his friends excitedly signed up and eagerly awaited the first meeting.
Their enthusiasm was somewhat dimmed when they learned that Lockhart and Snape would be instructing them at dueling, but they laughed along with everyone else when Snape set Lockhart on his arse. After separating the assembled students into pairs and allowing them to practice throwing jinxes at each other, Lockhart and Snape patrolled the pairs, offering effusive praise (Lockhart) and sneering criticism (Snape). When Snape only raised his nose and turned away from Harry's blocking of Hermione's jellylegs jinx, Harry considered that the highest compliment.
It quickly became apparent that Harry had some innate ability as a dueler. He was fast on his feet, quick-witted in the heat of battle, and seemed able to anticipate what his opponent was thinking. When Lockhart established a dueling tournament, Harry quickly worked his way up through the second-year competition, defeating everyone put in his path, until only he and Draco Malfoy remained. Their match was scheduled on the Saturday before term ended for the year. A full day of dueling was planned, one match for each year, and parents were invited to attend the festivities. Severus wanted badly to come, but didn't want to risk his true identity being revealed. Before making a final decision, however, he talked for a long while with Minerva, and she convinced him that if he flooed directly into and out of her office and stayed away from Dumbledore, he should be safe.
The day of the competition finally arrived. Lunch had been served in the Great Hall, decked out in its Christmas finest, to the students and their visiting families. The first-year tournament had been won by a girl from Ravenclaw, who had hit her opponent with the required three jinxes in just under thirty minutes. Anticipation was running high amongst the Gryffindors and Slytherins for the upcoming duel between its houses.
Severus had had a brief moment after lunch to give Harry his best wishes for the match. Harry seemed nervous but confident, and Severus was looking forward to his son wiping the floor with the Malfoy heir.
The contestants stood at either end of the raised dais. That pompous idiot Lockhart stood in the middle, his voice amplified by sonorous, and addressed the gathered throng.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for coming to dear old Hogwarts on this fine afternoon for the second of our seven dueling finals. You will join me in welcoming our second-year competitors: from the House of Slytherin, Draco Malfoy!"
Malfoy strutted to the center of the platform and turned his sneer on the crowd. Hoots and cheers from the Slytherin contingent caused him to smirk a little smile.
"And from Gryffindor," Lockhart continued with a huge showy smile, "Jameson Carnaby!"
Harry joined his professor and his year-mate at the center of the dais. When his Gryffindor friends cheered and yelled his name, he beamed a genuine smile at them and waved. His eyes sought out his father, and when he found him, Severus gave him a double thumbs up. Harry nodded in acknowledgment.
"I will remind you, gentleman, that we are using only jinxes and first-class hexes. Nothing permanently injurious or disfiguring, eh, boys?" Lockhart chuckled at his own words. "Face your partners!"
Harry and Malfoy moved until they were facing one another, approximately three meters apart. By this time, they both knew the etiquette, and both bowed low, though not low enough so that they took their eyes off one another.
"Scared, Carnaby?" Draco asked.
"You wish," Harry muttered back.
"Wands at the ready!" Lockhart called.
Both Harry's and Malfoy's arms came up in the classic dueling position. Lockhart took three large steps backward and nearly fell off the dais. At the crowd's laughter, he blushed sheepishly, then flashed his award-winning smile.
"When I count to three," he said, "you may begin. One . . . two . . ."
Harry knew Malfoy well by now, and he knew that the Slytherin would not be able to follow the rules. Sure enough, Lockhart had no sooner got the word "two" out of his mouth when Malfoy was sending his first hex at Harry. Since he'd been prepared for that very eventuality, Harry blocked it easily. Malfoy was now at his mercy.
Harry looked down his wand at his opponent, considering. He'd planned out the sequence of jinxes he wanted to use, knowing Draco's strengths and weaknesses, but now he was rethinking his strategy. Every other duel he'd participated in he'd used mild jinxes to start, gradually increasing the strength until he'd worn his opponent down. But Draco knew that, too, and Harry decided to shake him up a little to start. Using every scrap of power he possessed, he threw an expelliarmus at Malfoy. Not expecting the hex or the power behind it, Malfoy's hastily-thrown up shield was no match, and he was thrown backward onto his arse.
"Point to Carnaby!" Lockhart called.
Harry returned to the ready position as Malfoy climbed to his feet. When he met Harry's gaze this time, Harry could tell the Slytherin was off his game. Knowing Malfoy, he'd compensate for that in a way that would bend the rules to the point of fracturing them.
Sure enough, the next word out of Malfoy's mouth was "Confringo!"
Harry's shield was instant and strong. Had it not been, he likely would have been blasted across the Great Hall and possibly completely out of it. Harry directed the spell power down toward his feet.
"Warning, Mr. Malfoy," Lockhart announced. "One more infraction, and you shall be disqualified from competition."
Malfoy was angry now, and Harry knew he could use that against him. A cheering charm should be just the thing. Anticipating something much stronger, the shield that Draco tried to throw up was cumbersome and slow in forming, and Harry's jinx snuck in just before he got it up completely. A large, happy smile broke out over Malfoy's face, and he beamed at the crowd.
"Marvelous!" Lockhart crooned. "A cheering charm. Oh, good show, Mr. Carnaby!" Lockhart enjoyed the happy Draco a moment before he ended the charm. "Another point to Mr. Carnaby!"
Draco glanced desperately out at the audience. His father was seated there, his arms folded across his chest, looking very disapproving. His son was losing to this . . . nobody? There would be hell to pay if Draco did not pull this out. Malfoys did not lose duels in front of large crowds.
Draco raised his wand at Harry and bellowed, "Serpensortia!"
The end of his wand exploded. Harry watched, aghast, as a long black snake shot out of it, fell heavily onto the floor between them, and raised itself, ready to strike. There were screams as the crowd backed swiftly away, clearing the floor.
Severus saw what was happening and tried to get to his son, but the back-pedaling crowd hindered his forward progress, and he snarled in frustration.
"Allow me!" shouted Lockhart. He brandished his wand at the snake and there was a loud bang; the snake, instead of vanishing, flew ten feet into the air and fell back to the floor with a loud smack. Enraged, hissing furiously, it slithered straight toward Malfoy and raised itself again, fangs exposed, poised to strike.
Despite having conjured the snake, Draco apparently had no idea what to do about it now, and seemed frozen in fear, his eyes wide as he stared at the approaching creature.
Harry took three steps toward the snake before he had any conscious idea what he was doing. He wasn't sure what made him do it. He wasn't even aware of deciding to do it. All he knew was that his legs were carrying him forward as though he was on casters.
"Please," he shouted to the snake. "Don't hurt him. He didn't mean to bring you here." Well, this was a lie, but despite his dislike of the other boy, Harry really didn't want him to be bitten by the deadly viper.
Amazingly, the snake turned to face Harry and began to slither its way across the space dividing them. "You speak to me?" it said as it approached.
"I do," Harry confirmed. "I'm sorry for what happened to you. But please, don't bite anyone. If you do, I'm afraid that they may kill you," he said, gesturing to the witches and wizards all around them that had their wands drawn.
"I will not bite. I have eaten recently and would only bite to protect myself. Can you guarantee my safety?"
"I can," Harry promised. "Where did you come from?"
"I do not know. I was in a forest, and suddenly I was here."
"We can sort this out," Harry assured the snake. He looked up at Lockhart. "It's all right. He won't bite anyone."
Harry only now became aware that complete silence had fallen in the Great Hall and everyone was staring at him as though he was from outer space. He looked over at Draco, expecting the other boy to look angry at being bested or embarrassed not to have been able to deal with the results of his own spell, or maybe even a little grateful. He didn't expect to see the sheer horror in the boy's face as he looked back at Harry. He then noticed identical expressions of the faces of almost everyone around him: Professor Snape, every student he could see, Professor Lockhart, even Aunt Minerva.
It was his Head of House that finally stepped up and waved her wand, causing the snake to disappear in a puff of black smoke.
"Hey!" Harry protested. "I promised him we wouldn't hurt him!"
The crowd began muttering now, a low, ominous noise. "Mr. Carnaby, I think you'd better come with me," Professor McGonagall requested. She put a firm hand on his shoulder and steered him off the dais.
She escorted him out the side door of the hall into an infrequently-used antechamber. They were met there by Severus. They were alone, and Minerva cast a spell to make sure it stayed that way.
"What is wrong with everyone?" Harry asked.
"Jamie, do you realize what you've just done?" his father asked.
"I convinced the snake not to attack Malfoy. Though why I did that, I really don't know. He could at least have looked grateful, the prat. Hey, did I win the duel since he used spells that weren't allowed?"
"Winning the duel is the least of your worries, Jamie," Minerva said gently.
"I don't understand what the big deal is," Harry said, lost.
Severus put his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Jamie, you're a parselmouth. Did you know?"
"I'm a what?"
"A parselmouth," Severus explained. "Someone who can talk to snakes."
"Oh," Harry said, sounding relieved. "I've only done that one other time. There was a little snake in the yard, and I asked it where it was going. It said, 'nowhere in particular' and kept going. I bet loads of people here can do it."
"It is not a very common gift, Jamie," Severus explained.
"Is it bad?" Harry asked, finally getting worried by everyone's reaction. He himself didn't think it was a big deal, but everyone else apparently did. "If I hadn't told it not to attack, I think it would have bitten Malfoy."
"Is that what you said to it?" Minerva asked.
"What do you mean? You were there. Didn't you hear me?" Harry asked, confused.
"I heard you speaking parseltongue, Jamie. Snake language. Sounded like a collection of hisses to me."
Harry gaped at her. "I spoke a different language?" He turned to his father, his eyes wide with fear. "How can I speak a language without knowing I can speak it? Why does all this matter anyway? Why is everyone acting like I've got the plague suddenly?"
Severus and Minerva exchanged a glance. Severus was Harry's father, and it was his burden to share the unpleasant truth with the boy. "Salazar Slytherin was famous for being able to speak with snakes, Jamie. That's why the symbol of Slytherin House is a snake."
The repercussions of that slowly sunk into Harry's skull. "Oh no," he groaned. "The whole school is going to think I'm his great-great-great-great-grandson or something. But I couldn't be!"
"He lived about a thousand years ago, Jamie," Minerva pointed out. "For all we know, you could be."
"But you're not a parseltongue," Harry pointed out somewhat desperately to his father. "If it were hereditary, wouldn't you also be able to speak to snakes?"
Minerva and Severus exchanged another glance because, of course, this was a truth they could not get into.
"I cannot answer that question for you, Jamie. But know this: the ability to speak with snakes is a rare talent. The fact that others fear it does not diminish this amazing power you have. Do not be ashamed of your gifts, son."
Easy for him to say, Harry thought. No one was going to think he was the heir of Slytherin.
"I am very proud of you for how you handled yourself today," Severus continued. "You kept your head when your opponent cheated, and you helped a fellow student in danger, even though you may not have thought he deserved it. That was well done."
Harry glowed with pride at his father's words and allowed himself to be hugged.
"I probably should be getting back to the common room," Harry said, though he dreaded the thought of the looks he would receive, the whispers that would follow him wherever he went. He sighed. Why did these weird things keep happening to him?
"All right," Severus agreed, pressing a kiss to Harry's forehead. "I will see you very soon. Keep your head up, son. Everything will be fine."
That evening, Harry was summonsed to the Headmaster's office. He was escorted there by Aunt Minerva, and as soon as she spoke the password and left him at the bottom of the spiral staircase, she returned to her office and floo called Severus.
"Ah, Mr. Carnaby, come in, come in," Dumbledore said when Harry appeared in his office doorway. "Please, sit," he said, gesturing at a chair in front of his desk. When Harry sat, rather nervously, on the edge of the chair, the Headmaster sat himself behind his desk and beamed down at the boy. "Well done today, Mr. Carnaby. I was most impressed with your dueling ability."
"Thank you, sir. Is that why you wanted to see me?" Perhaps the Headmaster had invited all seven champions up here to congratulate them.
"No, my boy, I wanted to speak with you about your newly-revealed skill."
Harry's shoulders slumped. "The parseltongue thing, you mean?"
"Exactly," Dumbledore said with a warm smile. "Did you know you had this ability before today?"
"Yes, sir. I talked to a snake once before. I didn't realize it was anything unusual. I thought probably lots of wizards could do it, too."
"But you now realize just how rare a skill it is?"
"Yeah. Professor McGonagall and my dad told me. And the other kids are acting like I'm from Mars or something."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, I expect they would. Speaking of your father . . . I believe I caught a glimpse of him at the duel today?"
"Yes, sir. He was there."
"I regret that we have yet had the opportunity to meet. Is he a parselmouth as well, Jamie? The skill is hereditary."
"No. I must have got it from my mom, or maybe it's one of those things that skips a generation."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore seemed to agree with a sage nod. "Forgive my asking, but have you been without your mother for long?"
"For as long as I can remember," Harry said.
"And what do you know of her?"
"Not much. Dad doesn't like to talk about her. I guess it's painful for him. He has told me that she had a drug problem and that she died when I was about a year old. That's all I really know."
"And what do you know of your father's past?"
"Sir?" Harry asked, confused.
"Did he attend Hogwarts?"
"Really? I do not remember him. The face or the name. And he has some familial connection with your Head of House I understand?"
"They're cousins somehow, although I've always called her Aunt Minerva."
"So you've known her a long time, then?"
"As long as I can remember. Why all the questions, Headmaster?"
"Forgive an old man's curiosity, Jamie." He sat for a time studying the boy before him. "I would like to try something. Do you mind?"
Harry was getting more than a little nervous about the Headmaster's weird behavior. He was pretty sure the old man wouldn't hurt him, but his request was more than a little disconcerting. Slowly, uncertainly, he nodded.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, as though deep in thought. After several moments of this, he opened his eyes, sat forward, and waved his wand at Harry.
With the waving of the wand, Harry's vision suddenly went wonky. "Hey!" Harry exclaimed, rubbing frantically at his eyes. When he opened them again, he could see clearly no further than the end of his nose.
He could see the blurred outline of the Headmaster as he sat still behind his desk. "Sweet Merlin," Dumbledore breathed. "There you are." Harry couldn't see his face, but he thought the Headmaster sounded . . . amazed? "You've been right here all this time."
"What?" Harry asked, suddenly very worried. "What's wrong? Why can't I see?"
Before the Headmaster could answer, the door to Dumbledore's office opened behind them, and someone came hurtling into the room.
Severus stopped, appalled at what he was seeing. Harry Potter . . . Harry Potter was sitting in the chair before Dumbledore's desk. The Headmaster was also sitting, staring at Severus with a sort of gleeful expression.
"What have you done?" Severus asked.
"Ah. We meet at last, Mr. Carnaby," Albus said.
"Dad?" Harry asked, turning around to see his father. Well, not see exactly. "Dad, I can't see."
Severus could hear the note of panic in his son's voice. "It's all right, Jamie. We'll get this sorted." Then, to Dumbledore, "I'm going to set him right."
"Of course, of course," the old man agreed.
Severus recast Harry's glamour, and Harry smiled in relief. "Thanks, Dad. That was weird! What are you doing back here?"
Severus looked at the Headmaster, almost daring him to tell the boy anything or everything.
"Your father and I have some things to discuss, Jamie. Why don't you retire back to my study? I'll have the house elves bring you up a small snack."
"Dad?" Harry asked, looking at his father for guidance.
Not taking his eyes off Dumbledore, Severus said, "It's all right, son. Go ahead. We won't be long."
Once Harry had left the room, Dumbledore cast a thorough silencing charm. Severus thought about casting his own as well but didn't. He would regret this later.
"Welcome home, Severus," he said. He was not smiling, and his eyes were not twinkling. "Would you like to remove that rather thorough and very effective glamour?"
"Not while someone with my image runs around this castle. Who is he?"
"No one you know. An acquaintance of mine from years past."
"Tell me he's at least competent at potions."
"He has a better than average knowledge of the subject matter. But I don't believe that potions is the subject we need to discuss now." Dumbledore stared down his nose at Severus. "You are fortunate that I have not yet called the Aurors."
"You will lose him if you do," Severus predicted. He had no idea how Harry would react to finding out who he was and how he'd been deceived all these years, but he thought they were attached enough that Harry would resent the man who sent him to Azkaban.
"I suspect that is true. Where have you been all these years, Severus?"
"We have been living a small life among Muggles, a normal life. Jamie is a normal boy in every way. He has grown up knowing a stable home and a loving father, one who does not hurt him or belittle him or force him to work at chores well beyond his size and years. They would have killed him, Albus, as sure as I am standing here. That you could not see that left me with no option but to take him away."
"Minerva knows?" It sounded like a question, but Severus knew that it was not.
"She also saw the danger and was there when I made the decision to take him away." They were quiet for a moment before Severus asked the question he knew he needed an answer to. "What do you intend to do now?"
"He must be told. I cannot let you keep his heritage from him."
"His heritage?" Snape spat. "You want your savior back. I will not let you use him, Albus. He is still just a boy, with no knowledge of any prophecy or that he is the subject of a madman's obsession."
"All the more reason for him to be told. He needs to know so that he can protect himself."
Suddenly Albus Dumbledore was an advocate for revealing all? Severus nearly snorted in disgust. "I cannot sway you from this?"
"You cannot," Dumbledore stated. "It must be done."
"When he is older, perhaps, and more able to understand the situation as a whole," Severus suggested, though he knew that Dumbledore would never agree. Now that the old man had them both back in his clutches, there was no way he'd let the status quo continue.
"No, Severus," Dumbledore said firmly. "You will do it now. Or I will. And if you try to spirit him away again, I will have the Aurors after you so fast you won't even see them coming."
Severus knew that he was beat. "May I take him home to tell him?"
"No. You will do it here. I am sorry, Severus, but I do not trust you. You will stay within the confines of Hogwarts. I will, however, allow Harry one last night of rest. You may return in the morning and tell him then."
There was no way Severus was allowing Dumbledore unfettered access to his son for the next several hours. He had a sneaking suspicion that he would never see Harry again if he allowed that. "No. I will tell him tonight. But I want Minerva brought up here now. He will need someone after . . . after I tell him."
"All right. I will get her. Would you like to speak with him in my study?"
"No. After I speak with Minerva, I will take him to her office." Not that he really believed that the setting was going to soften the blow, but Severus needed to get out of Dumbledore's immediate domain.
"Despite the circumstances, Severus," Dumbledore said, "I am glad that you are home. I have missed you."
Severus had no desire to say the same, and he did not. "Let's get Minerva up here," he said.
Severus and Dumbledore waited in uncomfortable silence for Minerva. When she arrived, she knew immediately that something was wrong.
"He knows, Minerva."
Minerva's eyes flitted to the Headmaster before landing back on Severus. She'd been afraid of exactly this when she'd called Severus urgently this evening. She worried for one moment about the repercussions of her duplicity, then decided, what the hell? So Albus fired her. So Albus was angry with her or turned his back on her. He'd been wrong all those years ago. She and Severus had done the only thing possible given the circumstances. If she had to go back and do it all again, she wouldn't hesitate to make the same decision.
"We did what had to be done, Albus," she said, her chin high and her voice firm. "The boy's life was at risk."
"That is all water under the bridge, Minerva," Dumbledore said. He certainly didn't sound angry, Minerva thought. Perhaps he was so happy to have Harry and Severus back under his control that all had been forgiven.
"Where is Jamie?" she asked Severus.
"He is the next room. The Headmaster is insisting that he be told the truth. I plan to do it now. I wanted you to be aware, as he will likely be . . .upset and likely unwilling to stay in my company."
"I will be here for him. You know that," Minerva assured him. She turned on the Headmaster. "Albus, be reasonable. This news will greatly disturb Jamie. Isn't it better to leave things as they are. At least now, the world thinks that Harry Potter has gone missing. That includes You-Know-Who. Why reveal his identity now?"
"The boy must be told who he is," Dumbledore insisted. "He has a history and a heritage that he is entitled to."
"And a prophecy hanging over his head that may be the death of him," Severus growled.
"I still believe that has the right to know," Albus said firmly.
"And do you intend to tell him that I am responsible for his parents' deaths as well?" Severus asked.
Dumbledore considered him for a moment. "I will leave that particular truth to your discretion."
"How magnanimous of you. May I take him to your office, Minerva?" Severus asked.
"Of course. Would you like me to be present?"
"No. I need to do this myself. But if you could be there for him . . . after."
Minerva nodded, her heart broken by the misery on Rafe Carnaby's face, knowing that it was only going to get worse.
Severus gathered his courage and went to the door to retrieve his son. When he opened the door, Harry was immediately upon him. "What is going on? What did he mean about my heritage and . . . and revealing my identity?" He searched his father's face. "And what did you mean about my parents' deaths? I don't understand what's going on, Dad!"
Severus whirled on Albus. The old man had tricked him – he hadn't cast a silencing charm at all, and Harry had heard every word they'd said. "You bastard!" he spit at the Headmaster.
"Dad, please! What is going on?" Harry was near tears.
Severus turned back to his son. "Come with me, Jamie. I will explain everything."
"What is going on, Dad?" Harry insisted as they settled in Minerva's office. He could tell something had upset his father. He'd studied the faces of the Headmaster and Aunt Minerva as he'd been led back through Dumbledore's office. He'd never seen Aunt Minerva looking so tense, but he couldn't really read the Headmaster's expression. It seemed to be part gleeful, part serious, part regretful, and it told him nothing. His father was practically humming with tension. And he'd called the Headmaster a bad name!
"Have I done something wrong? Is it the parseltongue thing? If it upsets people that much, I just won't ever do it again. I promise."
"No, Jamie, you haven't done anything wrong." Severus sat beside him on the sofa and took one of his hands between both of his own, much larger, hands. "There's something that I have to tell you, son. It's going to be very difficult for me to say, and it's going to be even more difficult for you to hear. I'd like, if you can manage it, for you to hear me out all the way through the end. I'll answer any questions you have. And before we begin, I want to say that I don't regret what I've done. Not one little bit. Everything I've done I did to keep you safe, and I would do it over again in a heartbeat. I love you, Jamie, more than anything. Do you know that?"
"Of course I do, Dad," Harry said earnestly. His eyes were wide, fear creeping into his gut. "You're scaring me, though. Whatever you've done, it couldn't possibly be that bad. Right?"
Severus let go of Harry's hand and pulled away from him. Where did he begin? How did he set about destroying the one he loved more than life itself? Severus drew in a deep breath and got the worst of it out there. "Jamie, I am not your father."
Harry waited for his dad to laugh at the admittedly not very funny joke, but laughter looked like the furthest emotion from what the man was feeling at the moment. "I . . . I don't understand. Of course you're my father. I've known you forever. We look just alike. Everyone says so."
"I will tell you the entire story. I knew your parents. I was very close to your mother when we were children. Your father and I didn't get along well at school, but I grew to respect him eventually. They were killed when you were very small. Your mother had a Muggle sister, and you were placed with her. She had a husband and a son about your age.
"They were not very pleased to have you with them, and I'm sorry to report that they treated you very unkindly. That is putting it very mildly, Jamie – they made you sleep in a cupboard, and worse, they hurt you. When you were four years old, they had a fire in their home. They evacuated the burning home and left you locked in the cupboard. They made no attempt to rescue you. None! Thankfully, firefighters found you and took you to safety.
"The authorities were called in. You were taken to a hospital and examined by Muggle doctors. They discovered that you had several broken bones that had never been treated. Some were fresh and some were years old. They'd obviously been seriously abusing you for some time.
"When I was told that you were going to be returned to their care, I . . . lost it, I guess you could say, and I grabbed you up and took you away. I established new identities for us and we have been living as Rafe and Jameson Carnaby ever since."
Harry's large blue eyes stared up at him. He looked as though he had been punched in the stomach.
"Breathe, Jamie," Severus urged, reaching out to place a hand on his son's shoulder. Harry flinched away, and Severus awkwardly dropped the hand back into his own lap.
"I don't . . . I can't . . . Why did you . . . Why didn't you tell me?"
"When? When could I have told you this and had you accept it? I would not be telling you now if the Headmaster hadn't found out and insisted that you know the truth."
"How did he find out?"
"This is where the story gets a little . . . complicated, Jamie."
"Wait – my name isn't Jamie, is it?"
"No, it's not. Nor is my name Rafe."
"So who am I, then?"
Severus sighed. "You are . . . your name is Harry Potter."
Harry's mouth literally fell open. He was HARRY POTTER? He'd learned about Harry Potter in History of Magic. Everyone knew the story of the little baby who'd survived You-Know-Who's killing curse, only to disappear completely from the face of the earth three years later. No. He couldn't be Harry Potter. That simply wasn't possible. Harry Potter was some mythical person who practically glowed with power. Jameson Carnaby was just . . . a boy, an average, not very powerful, not very smart boy who had lived all the life that he could remember with the same man, a man he loved, next door to his very best friend in the whole world. He had a dog and a cat, for crying out loud! Harry Potter probably had a . . . a . . . golden eagle and a dragon or something.
"That's not possible," he whispered. "I've heard of Harry Potter. He's famous. I'm . . . Jamie . . . just Jamie."
"I assure you, it is the truth. I wish it were not, but it is."
"But how is it that I look just like you? I've seen pictures of Harry Potter when he was a baby. I look nothing like him."
Harry was taking this remarkably well so far, Severus thought. He'd sat quietly through the news that Severus wasn't his father, and he was asking thoughtful, intelligent questions. "You are a wizard, Jamie. Can you think of a way in which you might look like someone you are not?"
"Well, it can't be polyjuice potion. You've never made me drink anything, and that only lasts an hour, right? A glamour?"
"Very good," Severus said with an approving nod. "Yes. I cast glamours on both of us when we first went away. They are permanent until I end them. Although apparently the Headmaster can as well. When he became suspicious – he cast his own spell that ended your glamour. He knows who you are."
"Would you end it now? I . . . I want to see what I really look like."
"Are you sure?"
Harry nodded. Severus reluctantly lifted his wand and ended the glamour. His son disappeared, and in his place sat Harry Potter. Severus conjured a mirror and handed it to the boy.
"I can't really see," Harry said, squinting at the mirror.
Severus conjured a pair of eyeglasses and handed those over as well. "Better?"
Harry put the glasses on and slowly raised the mirror. He stared at himself for a time, then raised a hand to his forehead, gently fingering the scar there. He studied his green eyes, so very different from the sky blue he was accustomed to seeing. He fingered his messy dark hair, such a contrast to the tamed blonde locks he combed every day. He looked up at his father, his eyes looking watery and oh, so lost.
"Jamie – "
"No," Harry interrupted. "Don't." He threw the mirror to the floor where it shattered into a hundred shards. "So who are you then?"
"My name is Severus Snape."
Another shock, as Harry certainly knew Severus Snape, the ugly, spiteful potions master who had made his life miserable for the last two years. "But . . . but he's my potions teacher."
"That is the Headmaster's doing. Another glamour, I assume. He was covering the fact that we disappeared at the same time, I think."
"Let's see you, then," Harry challenged.
"I'm not sure how that will help."
"Do it," Harry ordered, and Severus could see that the boy was getting angry now, an anger he'd been expecting all along and was surprised not to have seen yet.
"All right," Severus agreed, and he ended the glamour on himself. He nearly cried at the way Harry looked at him now – with extreme dislike and disgust.
"You look just like him!"
"But I am not him!" Severus insisted, and he reinstalled the glamour. "This is me! This is the man who raised you and loves you just as though you were born of my blood."
"No!" Harry said, tears falling freely now. "You are not my father! You said so! Why did you do this?"
"I told you, Jamie. They were hurting you. Dumbledore was going to send you back to them, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they succeeded in killing you. I could not let that happen, not when it was within my power to prevent it."
"So you kidnapped me, changed the way I looked, changed my name. Now I can no longer be Jameson Carnaby, and I don't want to be Harry Potter! I don't!"
"As far as I am concerned, you can continue to be Jameson Carnaby for as long as you want."
"You think we can just go back like nothing has changed?!"
"It doesn't have to be different if we don't want it to be," Severus insisted somewhat desperately.
"Right! How can I ever trust anything you say ever again?"
"I won't lie to you, Jamie."
"Stop calling me that! And you already said you wouldn't even be telling me now if you weren't being forced."
"Because you're safer as Jamie Carnaby than as Harry Potter! I love you, Jamie! And I would do anything to protect you!"
"Yeah, I can see what lengths you'd go to. Thank God the Headmaster wanted me to know the truth!"
"The Headmaster wants to use you! He has never had your best interests at heart!"
"And you have?!"
"Yes! Always! Voldemort is not dead, Jamie, and one day, he will return. When he does, you will have a target on your back. He will not stop until he rids himself of you. You are safer living in the world you have come from."
"The world I have come from – I have no idea what world I come from, do I?"
"I will answer any questions you have, Jamie."
"Then tell me what you meant when you said you were responsible for my parents being dead!"
Severus dropped his face into his hands. He really didn't want to confess this particular sin, but he knew he owed it to the boy. So he took a deep breath, gathered together all of his courage, and told the sad story of the young man who wanted to impress his new master so badly that he shared an overheard conversation which led to the death of a good friend and her husband and the orphaning of a young boy. "I have never regretted anything in my life more than I have that decision, Jamie," he finished.
"Stop calling me that!" Harry shouted, shaking with rage and grief. "That is not my name! And you are not my father!" Harry jumped up and began to frantically pace back and forth. "I need to get out of here!"
"No," Severus said quickly. "You stay. I . . . I will go. I will go home. I will see you in a few days, though I will return sooner if you need me."
"I don't know if I'll be coming . . . home."
"Don't say that, Ja– Don't say that. Georgia and Skittles miss you."
"Don't – don't manipulate me like that." Harry was beginning to sob hysterically now.
"All right," Severus said soothingly. "I will go. Please, just calm down. And please, remember that I love you."
"Just go!" Harry screamed.
So Severus did, tears in his own eyes now. Minerva was hovering in the hallway, and when she tried to comfort him, Severus sent her in to be with Harry, who needed a shoulder far more.
Harry had thrown himself onto the sofa and curled up tightly in a corner, his face pressed into his knees. Minerva sat beside him and placed a hand on his knee. "Jamie," she said softly.
"That's not my name," he said.
"Maybe not, but it's who you are. Your father loves you, Jamie. You have to know that."
Harry lifted his tear-stained face. "He's not my father, is he?"
"Maybe not biologically," Minerva conceded, "but in every other way that matters, he is. I have seen him with you, and I know that he genuinely loves you."
"You knew, didn't you?" Harry accused. "You knew all along that it was all a lie, and you never said anything!"
"It wasn't my place to say anything. And I never saw the need. I agreed with everything your father did. In fact, I encouraged him to take you away."
"Stop calling him that," Harry ordered. "He's not my father."
"But he is, Mr. Carnaby. You can deny it all you like, but that man has been a father to you in every way possible."
"I want Hermione," Harry muttered, face back in his knees. "Can you get Hermione for me?"
"Miss Granger is sleeping, child."
"I want Hermione!" Harry wailed, back to the tears.
"All right," Minerva agreed. "I will get her. Will you be all right for a moment?"
Harry nodded but didn't lift his face.
"Jamie! What's wrong?!" Hermione asked, dropping to her knees and putting her arms around her distraught friend. She looked up at Professor McGonagall, her eyes wide with concern.
"I am going to leave the two of you alone for a little bit. I will be in my quarters, right through that door, if you need me."
She left them, and the whole awful story came tumbling out of Harry's mouth. Hermione absorbed it all, listening and making sympathetic noises where appropriate. When he was finished, she sat on the floor beside the sofa, stunned.
"He's not your real father?"
"No," Harry said miserably.
"I can't believe this. And you're Harry Bloody Potter?"
Harry shook his head. "Apparently."
"Jiminy Cricket!" Hermione exclaimed. "I can't believe this! And Severus Snape is your father?!"
Harry sat up, interested. "The real one. The one we know is a fake. Do you think he's lying?"
"Why would he do that? What possible reason could he have for lying to you about something like this? How did he react when he told you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did he seem upset?"
"Yes," Harry confessed. "He was almost crying when I told him to leave."
"So I doubt he would lie about this and risk losing you. He loves you, Jamie – I mean, Harry. Drat! What do you want me to call you?"
"I don't know. I don't want to be Harry Potter. I just want everything to be like it was yesterday, when I didn't know any of this stuff!"
"Well, that's not possible," Hermione said practically. "But to get back to what I was saying – he loves you. I can see that. And I think so can you." She added gently.
"My whole life is a lie, Hermione! What do I do now?" And Harry was back to the anger and tears. Hermione reached over and rubbed his back, but Harry didn't calm. Making a decision that she needed reinforcements, Hermione got to her feet and knocked on her professor's door.
Hermione had returned to Harry's side and had unsuccessfully tried to calm him. It seemed like forever until the door to Minerva's office opened and her Head of House escorted her mother into the room.
Hermione jumped up. "Mum! Thank goodness you're here! I can't get him to calm down. Did Professor McGonagall tell you – "
"She filled me in," Annabelle said. She ran a comforting hand through her daughter's hair, then sat beside Harry. "Jamie, honey. Come here."
Without looking up, Harry turned into Annabelle's embrace and climbed into her lap. Annabelle gathered him into her arms and cradled him, stroking his hair and rocking him gently. "Shhhh," she crooned over and over.
"Hello, Ms. Pilkington," Hermione said, looking at the woman curiously. What was she doing here?
"Hello, Hermione," she said with a weak smile. "I wish you'd call me Connie." Seeing the girl's look of confusion, she continued, "Your mother and I were having a girls' night when Minerva contacted her. She said that Rafe – that Rafe –" She couldn't continue, and Hermione realized that the news of the Carnabys' real identities had come as a shock to this woman as well. The man she loved was not who she thought he was, and that had to be shattering news to her as well.
Hermione smiled encouragingly, then looked at Minerva for help. She felt way out of her depth here.
Minerva went to sit beside Harry and Annabelle on the sofa, and soon after, Harry got his emotions under control and lay with his head on Annabelle's chest, sniffing softly. He looked around the room through red-rimmed eyes and spotted Constance. "Connie!" he said, surprised to see her. "Did – did you know?"
"No, love. I didn't know. Are you all right?"
"Not really," Harry said miserably. "I feel like everything I ever knew about myself has been a lie."
"I understand completely," Constance assured him.
Harry slid off of Annabelle's lap and approached Connie. He threw his spindly arms around her waist and held her tight. "You were supposed to be my mum!" he said into her belly.
Connie's arms went around Harry, and she hugged him back. "I know," she said. "I was so looking forward to that."
Minerva had heard enough. "All right," she said, her tone brisk and commanding. "No one is going to make any life-altering decisions tonight. What you're both going to do," she said, indicating Harry and Connie, "is sit down and listen to me."
Connie and Harry exchanged a glance, then went to sit on the sofa, side by side, holding hands. Hermione settled beside Harry, holding his other hand, and Annabelle sat in the chair before the fire.
Minerva had a folder in her hand, and she handed it to Harry. "Look inside," she instructed.
Harry set the folder in his lap and wiped his nose with this sleeve. He scrubbed at the drying tears on his cheeks, then opened the folder and removed a sheaf of papers. He looked down at them but didn't really comprehend what he was seeing. The papers were stamped with the name of a hospital and contained his name – his real name. They were dated several years past. "What is this?"
"This," said Minerva, "is the record of a visit you made to a hospital when you were four years old. Your family's home sustained damage from a fire on that day. They escaped the house without injury. You they left locked inside a cupboard under the stairs. This cupboard is where you lived, Jamie."
"I know about the fire," Harry said. "Dad – he told me."
"The authorities brought you to the hospital because they were understandably concerned about a child who had been left by his family in such circumstances. You were thoroughly examined. If you look at the final page, you will see the list of injuries identified during the testing process."
Harry flipped to the last page of the physician's report and read aloud the list contained there. "Hairline skull fracture, fractured zygomatic bone, spiral fractures of both humerus, fractured radius, four fractured digits on the left hand, and fractured intermediate cuneiform; multiple bruises over the body; and several burns, mostly on the hands."
By the end of the list, Hermione and Constance had tears in their eyes. "Oh, Jamie," Connie said. "What did they do to you?"
"I – I don't know. I really don't remember them. I can remember that I lived with someone else before Dad – before he came and got me, but I really don't remember them or any specifics of what happened when I was with them. Sometimes I have nightmares where I'm a little kid and someone is trying to catch me and hurt me, but I thought they were just nightmares."
Hermione squeezed his hand, and when Harry met her eyes, he smiled encouragingly at her. She looked so sad!
"Knowing this," Minerva went on, "knowing how they had hurt you and left you to die in that cupboard, Albus was going to send you back to them. He intended to obliviate the rescue personnel who assisted you and the doctors and nurses who treated you at the hospital and return you to the Dursleys. Several of us made arguments against this plan. It seemed obvious that one day, they would hurt you seriously enough to actually kill you. Dumbledore would not be persuaded. He claimed that there were blood wards in place that would protect you and that there was no place safer for you. And we all disagreed with him, but we all went along with his plan. All except Severus Snape."
Minerva paused for a moment to let that sink in. "Not the Severus Snape you know as your potions master, Jamie. The real Severus Snape. He was the only one willing to do what had to be done to keep you safe. He left his life behind to take you away, out of Dumbledore's reach. He left his job and his home and everything that he knew, for you. He risked prison. If he was found, he would likely have been sent straight to Azkaban."
Harry looked up at her, his eyes filled with concern. "Could he still be sent to prison?"
"I don't know, Jamie," Minerva confessed. "I don't know what Dumbledore plans to do. But it is a possibility, yes."
"I don't want him to go to prison," Harry said softly.
"What I'm trying to make you understand, Jamie, is how much your father loves you. He sacrificed everything for you because he loves you. I know that you are upset and confused and angry. No one blames you for that. But your father . . . your father loves you, and he is sitting at home alone, despondent, because he thinks that you hate him."
"I don't h-hate him," Harry gulped, tearing starting again. "I was angry. I didn't understand. I still don't, not completely, and I still feel really angry. But I know that he loves me. He's my dad."
Minerva smiled. "I'm so glad to hear you say that."
"I need to see him," Harry said.
"Would you like to go home? I think, under the circumstances, that allowances can be made," Minerva offered.
"No. Can you ask him to come here? I think we need to confront the Headmaster, find out what he intends to do." He turned to Constance. "Will you stay with me? Can you forgive him?"
Constance pulled Harry into a side hug. "I understand why he did what he did. I can't blame him for trying to protect you. Do I wish that he'd taken me into his confidence? Of course I do. But I can't fault a man for sacrificing himself for a boy he loves. I can only admire that courage and commitment. Let's talk to your father, hear what he has to say for himself."
Harry looked around at these women, these amazing, strong women who meant so much to him: his best friend, his aunt, the only mother he'd ever known, and the woman he hoped would become his future mother. He was surrounded by women he loved, but he needed his dad. "Can you get him, Aunt Minerva?"
Severus had been brooding on the sofa since he'd returned home earlier in the evening, a glass of Scotch clutched loosely in his hand. It had been his intention to imbibe to the point of oblivion, but he'd found himself unable to even muster the energy to raise his hand to his mouth. He was going to lose Harry – his son, the boy he loved more than his own life, the boy he had cared for at sacrifice to his own life and ambitions. He'd managed to outfox Dumbledore for eight years, but the old man had finally caught up with him. Before the Headmaster was done with them, he'd be in Azkaban and Harry would likely despise him and want nothing further to do with him.
Severus was shocked out of his depression by Minerva's voice in his floo. "Severus? Are you there?"
Severus got quickly to his feet and dropped to his knees on the hearth. "Yes, of course, I'm here. Is Jamie all right?"
"He's fine. He wants to talk to you. Will you come through?"
In his eagerness, Severus forgot that he was holding a glass, and he took it through the floo with him. He looked around the room in disbelief: Annabelle Granger and her daughter, Minerva, Harry and Constance – Constance! – all stared back at him. Constance – what was he going to tell her? In his angst at his relationship with Harry falling to pieces, he'd forgotten about his girlfriend and how she was going to feel about his betrayal. But right now, his focus was on his son.
"You are all here," he said rather stupidly, giving Minerva the impression that the glass in his hand wasn't his first. She tactfully removed the glass from his unprotesting grip and set it aside.
The moment Severus stepped out of the hearth, Harry's anger welled up inside him again. He loved this man, of that there was no doubt, but he was so angry with him for unsettling the happy little world in which he lived. He stalked across the room to where his father stood .
Severus could see the anger in his boy's eyes, and he girded himself for the rejection he thought he was about to face. He had no idea how all of these people had been dragged into this, and he could tell from a quick glance at Constance that he had a lot of explaining to do if he was going to save that relationship. He refocused his attention on the child in front of him.
"I am so angry with you," Harry said through gritted teeth.
"You had no right to keep this from me. No right at all. And you killed my parents!"
Severus could argue his justification until the cows came home blue in the face, but in the end, Harry was correct. "You're right."
"I don't know how to stop being angry," Harry said, and tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes.
Severus thought he knew what the boy needed, and he reached out and pulled Harry into his embrace. Harry wasn't quite ready for it, though, and he fought back, his small fists pummeling Severus' chest as he cried out, "Let me go! Let me go!" But Severus held on, gently cradling the boy against him and absorbing the blows that got weaker and weaker as Harry's will to punish his father diminished until, finally, he was just a sobbing mess in his father's arms.
Severus closed his eyes and held Harry tight, thankful that his boy had come back to him.
When Harry finally quieted in his arms, Severus pushed him away and looked down at the tear-stained face. "I am sorry, Jamie. I never wanted you to be hurt in any way. I love you."
Harry sighed deeply. " I know. And I love you, too. And I don't care what anyone says – you're my dad. And I'll hex anyone who says differently," he said fiercely. "Including the Headmaster."
Severus pulled Harry close again and looked over at Constance. He tried a tentative smile and was rewarded with an answering smile. He held an arm out to her, and she joined in the family hug. They stayed that way for a bit, then Severus pulled away. "I want to explain."
"Aunt Minerva told us everything," Harry said. "We can talk about it if you want, but I think I understand why you did it. It still hasn't sunk in yet, the fact that I'm Harry Potter, but I don't question why you took me away. You saved me." Harry shot a sideways glance at Constance. "Can I talk to you for a second?" he asked his father. "Privately?"
"Of course," Severus said, and he drew the boy away from the others. Harry looked very serious, and Severus went to one knee to put them on the same level. "What is it?"
Harry looked over at Constance again, to make sure they were far enough away not to be overheard. "She forgives you," he whispered.
Severus couldn't help it – he looked over at Constance.
"Don't look at her!" Harry whispered harshly. "She'll know we're talking about her."
"She forgives me?"
"Yes," Harry confirmed. "She's a little angry, but she understands, too."
"I am – heartened to hear that," Severus said, still wondering where this was going.
Harry's voice lowered even further. "I was wondering – um what your – er intentions were, regarding Connie."
"My intentions?" Severus asked with an eyebrow raised in amusement.
"Yeah. Your intentions," Harry restated with a bold look back at his father. "Do you want to marry her?"
"Well," Severus spluttered, "I think that's something I should discuss with her first, don't you?"
"No," Harry stated. "I would have thought you'd learned better than to make a major life decision before consulting me. Now, answer the question, please."
Severus stared at the bold little creature his son had turned into. "I had thought that . . . perhaps after the holidays . . . that she and I might have a discussion about . . . about our future. I was going to speak with you about it when you were home for Christmas."
"Good," Harry said with a pleased nod. "Do you have a ring?"
"As a matter of fact, I do have a ring," Severus confessed. He'd been Christmas shopping for Constance, and something had drawn him into a jewelry store, and when he'd seen one particular ring, he'd known – known that it was perfect for Constance, that she was perfect for him, that she would be so good for Harry.
"Go get it," Harry ordered.
Now the eyebrow was raised in anything but amusement. "What has gotten into you that you think you can order me around as though I were your house elf?"
Harry brought out the puppy-dog eyes. "Please," he said. "Please go get it."
Severus released a sigh that blew up the ends of his hair. "What are you planning, you pestilential child?"
Severus climbed slowly to his feet and without a word to anyone, vanished into the floo. Harry smiled awkwardly at everyone in the room while he waited, shuffling his feet nervously.
When Severus reappeared only a minute or so later, he again went to Harry. "I have it, my lord," he said with a sarcastic little bow.
Harry ignored his facetiousness. "Can I see it?"
Severus reached into his pocket and removed the ring, handing it to Harry in such a way that no one else knew what he held.
Harry looked down at the large sparkling diamond. "It's beautiful," he breathed.
"I'm so happy it meets with your approval. May I have it back?" he asked imperiously, holding out his hand. The ring had cost him approximately one-half year's salary, and he wanted it tucked safely back away as soon as possible.
Harry closed his hand around the ring. "Nope," he said, and he marched over to where Connie was sitting on the sofa. He went to one knee beside her. "Connie, will you marry us?" he asked, holding the ring out toward her.
Connie gasped and covered her mouth with a hand. Her wide eyes went to Severus, who smiled in rather a strained manner. This is not how he'd envisioned proposing to Constance. In his daydreams, they were alone, perhaps at a romantic restaurant, dressed formally as befitting such a momentous occasion, and alone. Severus was a private man, and he'd have preferred to take this step in private. But the deal was done now, thanks to his annoying son.
Struck by the fact that not only did Harry consider himself still to be Severus' son, but he wanted Constance to be part of their family, Severus swallowed down his irritation that this hadn't gone exactly the way he'd planned. He thought he probably ought to make himself part of this equation, and he went to kneel beside Harry. "Constance?" he asked.
Still unable to speak, Connie nodded behind her hand. Severus took the ring from Harry's hand and took Constance's left hand in his own. He slid the ring onto her finger, and she looked down at it with tears in her eyes.
Connie dropped to her knees, so that now they were all in the same position, and, crying earnestly, drew her two boys into a tight hug. Harry withstood this treatment for as long as he could, then disentangled himself, leaving the adults to finish up the affection. He stood looking down at both of them, immensely pleased with himself.
Finally becoming aware that they were the center of attention, Severus pulled away from Constance and got to his feet. He offered his girlfriend – his fiance! – his hand and pulled her up. Taking a deep breath for fortification, he turned to face the others, all of whom had tears on their cheeks and an affectionate look in their eyes. Women!
"Congratulations," Minerva said, coming to hug both of them. The Granger women followed suit, with even Hermione hugging Severus around the waist.
"Good," Harry said. "That's settled. Now, shall we go see the Headmaster?"
Harry and Severus approached Dumbledore's office nervously. The Headmaster had the power to send Severus away for a very long time. Harry knocked timidly at the door, and when they were bade to enter, they exchanged a look before venturing in.
"Ah, Harry and Severus," the Headmaster said, rising from his chair. "What brings the two of you up here so late in the evening?"
"We wondered what you intended to do, Headmaster," Harry said boldly.
"'Do'?" Dumbledore repeated. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"About my dad. Because he took me away."
Dumbledore peered at Harry over this half-moon spectacles. "What Severus has done is kidnapping under the law. He took you away from the guardians who had every right by law to have custody of you."
"They were hurting me!" Harry protested. "He took me away to save me!"
"You are young, Harry," the Headmaster said, his tone placating. "You cannot possibly understand all of the circumstances. There were considerations that had to be taken into account. Your safety was of the utmost importance."
"I understand that those people were hurting me, deliberately hurting me, and you were going to continue to let them. Dad saved me. He's given me a good life."
They were interrupted by the office door being flung open by Minerva. She marched into Dumbledore's lair, followed by the Grangers (all three of them), Constance, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Professors Sprout and Sinistra, Madams Hooch and Pomfrey, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Rubeus Hagrid. The three who were already in the office looked equally confused about why this merry band was here.
Minerva made short work of their confusion. "We are here to support Rafe Carnaby and his son and to make you aware that if you try to interfere with their relationship, we will all be most unhappy, and we will fight you in every manner at our disposal," she announced.
"Minerva," Dumbledore said, sound affronted. "What is the meaning of this?"
"You heard me," she stated. "I supported Severus Snape's decision to abscond with young Harry Potter, and I've supported Rafe Carnaby in his attempts to make a life with his son, Jamie, ever since. They are good together, they love and support each other, and Harry Potter is alive today because of what Severus Snape did eight years ago."
"Harry Potter is very important to the future of our world," Dumbledore countered. "You know this." He turned to take in the other people in this room. "You all know this."
"That may be true," Minerva agreed. "But he stands a much better chance of doing what needs to be done if he has the support of a loving family. Of this man," she said, indicating Severus, "and of this woman," here she pointed to Constance.
"Thank you, Aunt Minerva," Harry said. Minerva ran a hand affectionately through Harry's hair.
Harry turned to Dumbledore. "Headmaster, my parents were taken away from me a long time ago, and there's nothing I can do about that now. But I have a family now, one that I've put together. We're kind of like a . . ." Harry searched for an appropriate metaphor. ". . . like a patchwork quilt. There's a square for Dad, and one for Aunt Minerva. Each of the Grangers have one. And Hagrid. And all the Weasleys. I'm right in the middle. I'd like it if there was a square on there for you, too, Headmaster," Harry said shyly. "But if you take my dad away from me, I will not be able to trust you."
Dumbledore stared down at Harry for a moment before looking up at the others in the room. He could see that Harry was earnest in his belief, and he also believed that everyone in this room would throw their support behind Severus, and not Dumbledore, if he pushed the issue. So he cut his losses.
"I have no intention of taking your father away from you, Harry," Dumbledore said, and the mood in the room lightened considerably. "However, we cannot go back to the way things were before. Our world needs Harry Potter, and now that you have returned, I will not allow you to hide any longer. I will not call in the authorities, but you will agree to return to your real identities, both of you."
Harry and Severus looked at each other, and quickly made their decision. They nodded at the headmaster.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said, clapping his hands. "Now that the real Severus Snape has returned to us, you will surely want to resume your post as potions master."
"Albus, I have no intention . . ."
"Severus," Minerva interrupted. "You will want to be as close to the boy as you can, will you not?" she pointed out. "What better way than to be here in the castle with him?"
Severus saw the wisdom of this argument, and as much as he hated the thought of returning to teach here, under the thumb of the Headmaster, he nodded once at Dumbledore. And then he caught an armful of boy as Harry jumped up into his arms, squeezing his neck with his spindly arms and wrapping his legs around Severus' waist. "I love you, Dad," Harry whispered into his neck.
Severus folded his arms tightly around the boy. This, what he held in his arms right now, was worth whatever additional sacrifices he had to make, and he would make them with a smile upon his face. Well, maybe not with a smile, but he would make them, for love of this boy.
And this is . . . The End