THREE FOR ALL
Summary: Harry and Hermione grow closer after Ron leaves them during the hunt for horcruxes. Their lives become even more interesting when Severus Snape joins them after the final battle. Strong warnings for sexual content.
Warning: This fic is for grown-ups. It contains detailed descriptions of sexual activities between two characters (a male and a female) and three characters (a female and two males). If you are not old enough, or if this type of thing is not for you, please stop reading now.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or the basic premise for their existence. I guess I do own some of the characters that come later – you'll know who they are.
From Chapter 3:
"Harry? Are you all right?" Hermione asked, noticing his gobsmacked expression.
Without speaking, Harry rose from his chair, dropped to his knees beside Hermione's chair and lay his head in her lap. "Thank you, Hermione," he said fervently. "Thank you." Near tears that they were going to have a baby, Harry simply stayed there, breathing deeply, trying to calm his rampaging emotions. Hermione reached down and stroked his hair, tears forming in her eyes at his obvious happiness over this wondrous news.
Two days later, Harry presented Hermione with a present as she entered the kitchen upon returning from work. "What's this?" she asked.
"Just open it," he said. He'd been floating since she'd announced that she was pregnant, and he just had to do something for her, even if it was something so small.
Looking up at him with a look of sadness that he couldn't comprehend, Hermione removed the wrapping from a book and turned it over to read the title. What to Expect When You're Expecting.
"I sent a message to Minerva yesterday and asked her to find me a book about pregnancy, so I could know what you were going through, you know? And I looked through it after it arrived this morning, and it's full of really useful information. I'm sure you'll find it helpful, too. I know it isn't much, but I wanted to get you something to show how happy I am about this and how much I'm looking forward to this baby. I'm going to do everything I can to make this whole experience as easy on you as I possibly can, so if you need anything, anything at all, you just have to tell me, and I'll – "
"Harry," Hermione interrupted him. "Oh, Harry." She set the book on the table. "Thank you for the book. I'm sure it'll be perfectly wonderful, but I was wrong. I was only late. I'm not pregnant. I'm sorry." And she was sorry. She was sorry because she wanted this baby, too, but she was more sorry at the look of absolute dismay that was on Harry's face now.
"You're not?" he asked, his voice very small.
"No. I'm sorry I got your hopes up."
Tears in his eyes, Harry struggled to keep himself together for her. "It's not your fault."
"We'll keep trying. It's only been a couple of months," she reassured him. "It will happen. Don't worry, okay?" She had tears in her eyes now as well, more for his disappointment than her own.
Being strong for her, he said, "Of course it will happen." He pulled her into a hug. "It will happen soon," he repeated.
She pulled away from him. "I'm going to go freshen up a bit before supper."
"Of course. Go. We'll be here when you're ready."
As soon as she left the room, Harry looked at Severus and couldn't hold it in any longer. Flying at his lover, he barreled into his embrace and sobbed out his despair into Severus' chest. Severus held the distraught young man, stroking his back and his hair, amazed that this news had so upset Harry.
But two more months later, and Hermione presented them with the news, on Christmas day, that she really was pregnant. This time, she'd waited longer after missing her period, and she'd purchased a Muggle pregnancy test which confirmed what she'd thought. This time was different – she'd felt nauseous every morning for the last week and extremely tired at the end of every day. She'd somehow known that she was carrying a life within her, and she was so excited to share the news with them.
Harry had suspected something was up. He'd always known when it was Hermione's time of the month – they had sex almost every night, except for those four or five days when she was menstruating. He hated those days of the month, and he kept a calendar somewhere in the back of his brain so he'd know when those days were approaching. He'd known it had been five weeks, then six, then seven, since her last cycle, but he hadn't said anything. He had been so very disappointed after the last false alarm, and he didn't want to go through that again. So he waited for her to say something, and when she finally did, he burst into tears again, this time tears of happiness. This was the greatest Christmas present, by far, that he had ever been given.
"Merry Christmas, Mum!" Hermione declared. "Merry Christmas, Daddy! Oh, it's so good to see you!" she said, hugging both her parents. This visit had been planned even before Hermione knew she had important news to share. She hadn't seen her parents in months and had made arrangements with Minerva for her assistance in helping them floo from the Leaky Cauldron.
"How was your trip?" Hermione asked after she'd gotten them both brushed off and settled with a cup of tea in the sitting room.
"It was . . . interesting," Charlotte Granger answered. "Your entire world is interesting, Hermione. Traveling through fire, for goodness sake."
"Where is everyone?" Jonathan Granger asked, openly eyeing the interesting things lying around.
"Harry and Severus are down in the basement. Severus set up a potions lab down there."
"Are they brewing potions on Christmas day?" Charlotte asked.
"No. They're down there waiting for me to talk with you."
This got her parents' attention.
"Hermione, we already know that you're living here with two men. There are two bedrooms, and you just put us in one of them. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the three of you are sharing the other," her father said, straight-forward as usual.
Hermione had never exactly told her parents in the letters she'd written to them the exact situation she was in here. She wasn't trying to hide anything, but on the other hand, she hadn't felt the need to be graphic about all of it. That, of course, was not her news, but it helped considerably if they were already accepting of the basic structure of the relationship she shared with Harry and Severus.
"And you're all right with that?"
"It's . . . unusual," Jonathan allowed. "But you've always been unusual, Hermione. We encouraged that in you. It would be hypocritical of us now to disparage your lifestyle."
Hermione beamed at them, not for the first time happy that she had such progressive and accepting parents. "And you, Mum?"
"All I've ever wanted is for you to be happy, dear. In your work, in your life, in your relationships. I have never seen you looking happier, and if it takes those two men to make it so, then I have no argument with it."
Hermione reached over and hugged her mother. "Oh, I am happy. Very happy. Work is going great. And this relationship with Severus and Harry is so fulfilling. But there's more." She smiled at both of them. "I'm pregnant."
Okay, this was surprising. "Pregnant?" her father repeated. "Do you know which . . .?"
"Does it matter?" Charlotte asked.
"Not one little bit."
Charlotte hugged her daughter tightly. "Then I'm thrilled for you. Oh, honey! A grandchild! When are you due?"
"I haven't seen a doctor yet, but my best guess is May or June."
"And how have you been feeling?" Charlotte asked.
"Can we get the men up here now?" Jonathan interrupted. "Now that you've broken the news." He really had no interest in listening to the women discuss female things. If he had to be here, the fathers of his soon-to-be grandchild should be as well.
"Of course," Hermione agreed. "Let me call them up."
Once Harry and Severus had come up, Hermione began introductions. "You, of course, have already met Harry. Mum, Dad, this is Severus Snape, former Potions Master at Hogwarts. Severus, these are my parents, Charlotte and Jonathan Granger."
Handshakes between Severus and the 'rents, but only hugs would do for Harry. These people were family now. His in-laws, and the only grandparents his child would have.
Jonathan took in Harry and Severus with one glance. "Why don't we let the women talk. Is there some place we might have a moment alone?"
Harry and Severus exchanged a glance. What was this about? "Certainly," Severus said, ever the gallant host. "Perhaps you'd like to see the lab?"
"Lead the way," Jonathan instructed.
Severus gave Jonathan a brief tour of the lab, then turned to face this man, who was the same age as he, whose daughter he was sleeping with and whom he may have impregnated, and waited for him to have his say.
Jonathan cleared his throat and got right to it. "My daughter is pregnant. Do you have any idea which of you is the father?"
Harry and Severus looked at each other, then back at their father-in-law. Harry shrugged, and Severus said, "At this point, there's no way of knowing."
"She said it did not matter to her. I take it that it doesn't matter to either of you, either?"
Both men shook their heads.
"My daughter thinks that her mother and I are progressive and tolerant of all things. Perhaps her mother is. I, on the other hand, am a bit more of a traditionalist than I had thought. The idea of her living here with two men, that you share her, makes me more than a little uncomfortable. That one of you is old enough to be her father makes me more than a little uncomfortable. That you're all living here together without benefit of a marriage bothers me less, but still . . . I love my daughter. She says she's happy. She certainly appears to be so. However, if either one of you hurts her, you will have me to answer to. And don't think that because I cannot do magic that I am not a threat. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," Severus said, somewhat taken aback, but Harry only smiled. He understood, finally, this urge of a father to protect his young, no matter what the threat. He stepped forward and took Jonathan's hand between his own.
"I would never hurt Hermione," he said with sincerity. "And neither would Severus."
"I'm glad to hear it," Jonathan said. "Shall we rejoin the ladies?"
Harry enjoyed these moments, at the end of the day, when the three of them lay in the bed, satisfied and happy. He kept a hand on Hermione's belly so that he could feel every kick and movement from the life within. Since the baby had gotten big enough for him to feel it, Harry had been fascinated and was already deeply in love with the little person inside there. He worshiped Hermione, waiting on her as much as she would let him, and he simply couldn't wait until the baby was born.
"What are we going to name him?" Harry asked one such night. He stroked Hermione's belly, which nearly tickled, but she humored him because she so loved the look on his face when he did this. At their last prenatal visit, they'd finally given in and asked Madam Pomfrey to reveal the sex of the baby.
"Hadn't thought about it, really," Hermione murmured sleepily. "Did you have a suggestion?"
Harry had been thinking about it. He thought about everything baby-related, almost to the exclusion of anything else. "I think that Severus should name this child," he said, turning to his older lover.
Severus blinked in surprise. He'd assumed that every decision related to this child was going to be made by committee. "Me?"
"Yeah," Harry said softly. "You're the oldest. You should get first shot at continuing your family name."
"Oh," Hermione said. "The last name. I really hadn't thought about what his last name would be. I supposed he can't be Junior Snape-Granger-Potter. That would be a bit cumbersome."
"Would you want to name him after yourself, Severus?" Harry asked.
"Absolutely not." Severus was adamant. "And I will not be naming him for my father either." He was surprised that he was actually going to be given the honor of naming their first-born. He'd resigned himself several years ago to the fact that he was likely to be the last of the Snapes. "Are you sure you want to give this responsibility to me? What if I decide to name him . . ." he paused to think of a suitably horrific name, "Horatio Sixtimus Snape?"
"Then we'll come up with a cute nickname and never call the poor bastard by his real name," Harry offered. "But yes, I'm all right with you choosing the name. You, Hermione?"
Hermione smiled at both of them. "Fine. But I get the next one," she bartered.
"And she'll be a Granger. And I get the one after that," Harry said with a yawn. "And all the ones after that, we'll decide together."
"All the ones, Harry?" Hermione asked with a skeptical raise of an eyebrow.
Harry grinned. "Thought I could slip that by you while you were sleepy."
"Go to sleep, dreamer," she said with a kiss to his forehead.
Harry scooted down and kissed her belly. "Good night, Horatio," he whispered.
Time had never passed so slowly, in Harry's estimation. But finally, finally, their son arrived. Hermione had flooed to Hogwarts when her water broke, and after many torturous hours of intense labor, their baby had entered the world in a messy rush of yucky fluid, straight into Harry's arms under the watchful eyes of Madam Pomfrey.
"Severus, would you like to cut the cord?" the mediwitch offered.
"What? No, no. Please," he said, gesturing for her to continue.
"All right. Harry, you've got him?"
"I do," he assured her. He didn't think he'd ever let this child go. He was scrawny and naked and covered in gore, but Harry had never seen anything quite so beautiful.
Poppy finished her work with the new mother, then took the now squalling baby from Harry's arms and tended to him. Once cleaned and wrapped in a warm blue blanket, Harry took the baby to Hermione in the bed.
"Look, mum," he said, "he's perfect." He handed the baby to Hermione and sat on the edge of the bed beside her. "Isn't he gorgeous?"
Hermione looked down at the red-faced baby in her arms and felt her heart being sucked out of her body. The baby had quieted down but now began renewed crying.
"He's likely hungry, dear," Madam Pomfrey suggested. "Will you be breast feeding?"
Hermione looked at Harry. This had been somewhat a bone of contention between them. Hermione wanted to breast feed the baby, at least for a little while. Harry had argued that since he would be caring for the baby, they should bottle feed him right from the start. When Hermione balked at this, Harry had suggested that she could pump breast milk, but Hermione didn't feel comfortable with that idea. Finally, she had relented, but it felt – wrong somehow.
"No. There are bottles of formula in the bag," Hermione said. "Severus, would you get one for me, please?"
Severus rooted around in the large go-bag Hermione had packed until he found a magically-cooled bottle. He cast a warming spell on it, handed it to Hermione, then sat on the bed beside his lover and his son. He looked down at the now suckling infant, and his breath caught in his throat.
"I think he has your nose, Severus," Harry noted, looking back and forth between the two.
Severus reached down and stroked the downy skull. "I am sorry," he said sincerely.
Harry laughed, then said, "Well, don't keep us in suspense. What's his name?"
Since being given this responsibility, Severus had spent many hours thinking of an appropriate name, one that the boy could be proud of, that would mean something. "I should like to name him Albus," Severus finally said. That name had presented itself to him early, and it had stuck. Albus Dumbledore had been his mentor and friend, and he could think of no better way to honor his memory than naming his firstborn son after the man.
"That's a wonderful name," Hermione said with a smile.
Severus looked up at Harry. "Albus James Snape."
Harry actually gasped. Severus wanted their son to have his father's name? This was a definite surprise. "Thank you," he said, tears forming in his eyes. He was already feeling really emotional after today's events, and this announcement was enough to push him over the edge. He reached over Hermione and kissed Severus soundly. "Thank you."
Not bothering to quell the tears that were now dripping down his face, Harry turned to Hermione and said, "And thank you, for this precious gift." He kissed her on the forehead, then pulled her head into a hug, careful not to disturb the feeding infant.
"You were magnificent," Severus agreed, kissing her as well.
When the baby had had his fill, he was inexpertly burped by his new mother. Harry's hands were almost itching to reach out and take the baby from her, so strong was his desire to care for this child. But Hermione had worked hard producing the little wrinkled bundle, and she deserved to have first shot at this. Harry could wait.
As soon as she was finished, she looked up at Severus. "Would you like to hold him?"
"Of course," Severus said, and awkwardly they transferred the now-sleeping child between them. Severus held him and looked down at him critically. "He is quite small," he observed, feeling as though he was holding a very insubstantial bundle.
"He's of average weight," Hermione assured him. "And he's quite big enough, thank you. Any larger, and I think I might have ripped in two!"
"Are you sore, Hermione?" Harry asked solicitously, though not taking his eyes off the baby. He wanted so badly to hold him again! Was Severus ever going to be done with his turn?
"Madam Pomfrey has seen to that," Hermione assured him, "but I could use some sleep, I think. Will you two be all right with him if I take a nap?"
"Oh, yes," Harry assured her, hungrily watching Severus and Albus.
Severus finally noticed how eager the boy was, and he said, his voice tinged with amusement, "Harry, would you like to hold him now?"
Harry nearly leapt over the bed in his eagerness. He took the baby from Severus' arms, and it felt as though he'd been doing this all of his life. Al felt so natural in his arms, like his arms had been built for holding this child. Harry looked down at the perfection they had created. He felt like he could look at the baby forever and never tire of what he was seeing. Wandlessly, and without really even thinking about it, he transfigured the straight-backed chair next to Hermione's bed into a comfortable rocking chair, and he settled both of them into it.
Severus shook his head. That a wizard with this much power, that took so little effort to command, wanted to spend his life rearing children still confounded him.
While Harry talked softly to the baby, Hermione asked Severus, "Could you floo my parents and let them know Albus has arrived? Tell them I'll be out of here likely tomorrow and they can come to visit at the cottage then."
"I can do that. Do your parents have a fireplace, Hermione?"
"Should we perhaps get them connected to the floo system? That way, they can visit whenever they like. Do you think they'd feel comfortable flooing by themselves?"
"That's a wonderful idea, Severus! I'm sure after I take them through a couple of times, they'll get used to it enough to travel alone."
"I shall speak with Minerva about it while you sleep." He'd let the Headmistress deal with the Ministry. The less he had to deal with that auspicious body, the better.
"Thank you," Hermione said, settling back into her pillow in preparation for a nice nap. She checked on her son first, but decided immediately that he was in capable hands, and she drifted off to sleep to the sounds of Harry singing a lullaby.
Harry loved taking care of baby Al. Finally, he felt like he was doing what he was intended to do with his life. He and the baby formed a deep and instant bond, and Harry couldn't spend enough time with him. He volunteered for the nightly feedings and happily took each and every diaper change. He loved to sit with the boy in the rocking chair, feeding him, singing to him, reading to him, or just talking to him. He took Al outside very day so he could get a dose of fresh air and sunshine. Two or three times a week, Harry took Al to visit with Hermione's parents, and on the days that he wasn't there, Charlotte would pop in around lunch time to visit. She and Harry became very close as a result of all this time spent together.
After three weeks of maternity leave, Hermione returned to work. It was obvious that Harry was comfortable taking complete care of the baby, and she was not needed here. She knew she'd miss her son, but she was ready to return to the challenge that was her job. Coming home at the end of the day to see Harry and Al interacting was a joy in itself. Hermione was glad Harry was willing to do this. She didn't think she was capable of caring for an infant twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And the thought of leaving her precious baby boy in childcare with a total stranger was not appealing. So their situation was ideal, and she was thankful for it.
Severus was happy to let Harry and Hermione handle the day-to-day details of caring for the baby. Several times a week, Harry forced him to hold the boy, wanting to share with him the wonder and the pride, and if it weren't for that forced interaction, he likely would go weeks without touching the child. He was glad to know that the child was receiving such loving attention, and he was happy to parent from afar. He loved his son, but he had to admit that infants made him nervous. And the boy was clearly Severus Snape's son – they shared the same eyes, the nose, and ears. Just to be sure, Severus had cast a paternity spell on the boy on the sly, and had confirmed that the boy was indeed the product of his sperm. Secretly he was pleased about this. He'd said that he wouldn't care if the boy were his or Harry's, but he found now that a small, petty part of him did.
Months passed in this way. Albus seemed to grow daily. He learned to crawl and then, just after his first birthday, to walk. He was a lively, inquisitive boy, into and onto everything, and Harry was exhausted chasing him around all day. He loved that boy more that life itself, and he'd thought that his life couldn't get any better – until Hermione announced that she was pregnant again. After Albus' first birthday, Hermione had determined on her own that it was time to start working on the next one, and without telling either of her lovers, she'd stopped using the contraception charm. When Albus was fifteen months old, she shared with Harry and Severus that she was pregnant again. Harry was ecstatic. Severus was pleased but basically indifferent – another child would hardly affect his life.
Patrick Jonathan Granger, named for his grandfather, arrived the appropriate number of months later. Hermione was worried that Harry might be overwhelmed taking care of two small children, but he added the new responsibilities to the old with nary a blink. This was his raison d'etre, and he was good at it. The boys became his life. He lived and breathed for them, and he was happy to do so. He hardly ever left the house unless he was encumbered with a diaper bag filled with baby things and accompanied by two small people who thought the world revolved around their daddy.
As he grew, it became obvious that PJ was also the biological child of Severus Snape. The resemblance to his older brother was remarkable. When looking at baby pictures of PJ now and Al at the same age, only Harry could discern the minute differences between the two. Harry didn't care – he could not love the children more if they'd been of his flesh. Despite that, he was beginning to wonder – was it a fluke that Severus had fathered both of their children, or was something wrong with him? So he left the children with Charlotte one afternoon and went to an anonymous Muggle clinic. His face glowing red, he was given a magazine and a plastic cup, and he produced a sample for testing. Five days later, he returned for the results.
"Mr. Evans, there were very few sperm cells present in your semen sample, and those that were present showed a marked reduction in motility," he was told.
"What does that mean?" Harry asked, trying to be adult and not get embarrassed by the subject matter. Still, he felt his face coloring.
"We should test another sample to be sure, and we can do blood work as well, but the sample you provided indicates that the chances of you impregnating anyone are markedly low."
Harry knew that testing another sample wouldn't provide a different result. "I had chicken pox a couple of years ago. Could that be why?"
"There are many possible causes for infertility. Excessive drug or alcohol use, certain types of medication, genetic conditions, and testicular trauma are just a few. Are you on any medication? Have you ever been struck in the testicles?"
Harry shook his head no. He'd never been struck in the bits, but he'd had some interesting experiences with broomsticks over the years.
The doctor went on. "An excessively high fever can cause a reduction in sperm production, but that's usually temporary. In order to pinpoint the cause, you'll need a complete workup including a physical, an extensive history, and the blood work I mentioned. Once we have some idea as to the cause of the problem, we could discuss what treatment options, if any, are available. We are not equipped to do this work here, but I would be happy to refer you to someone who specializes in infertility."
Infertility. What a horrible word. "No," Harry said, stunned by this news, though he'd known somewhere deep inside that something was wrong with him. He knew it wasn't his fault, that he'd done nothing wrong, but he couldn't help but feel like a little less of a man. The doctor was waiting for a response, though, so he gathered himself together and said, "I need some time to think this over. Thank you for your time."
"If you change your mind, just give me a call. I'm happy to make that referral."
Harry got up and left without further word.
Harry was distracted for days after his visit to the clinic. He tried to tell himself it didn't matter. He had two children who couldn't be more his own if he'd given birth to them himself. It simply didn't matter that they didn't share DNA. But one small part of him was distraught that the Potter line would end with him. Potters had been around for centuries, and he had not done his part to ensure that they would continue. He wasn't upset for himself, but he did feel as though he had disappointed his parents.
For the most part, though, he was too busy taking care of two young boys to give it much thought. He was happy, really happy, every day, watching his children grow and learn.
The issue of education came up when Al turned five. As much as Harry didn't want to be parted from the boy for any part of the day, he was in favor of sending Al to school somewhere, whether it be Muggle or Wizard, to learn social skills. The only time he interacted with other children now was when he spent time with his grandparents and they took him to a local park to play. There were things that could only be learned through interaction with other children the same age, and Al wasn't learning them tucked away here in the cottage.
Severus would prefer that the children be home schooled, though he did not have the time to do this himself and didn't really think Harry equipped for the task. He offered his opinion, but when presented with the problems inherent in this plan, he had no solutions.
Hermione really had no preference as long as Al was receiving a consistent, structured education which would prepare him for Hogwarts and for life. Finally, a compromise was worked out with Minerva's assistance. She knew of several other families who were in the same predicament, and she put them in touch with each other. After much discussion, seven families, containing twelve children (including Teddy Lupin) between the ages of five and ten, got together to form their own school, with three of the parents, including Harry, taking up teaching posts. They devised a curriculum and lesson plans and got together for three hours a day, Monday through Friday, in the large dining room of the manor house of one of the school members. Harry brought PJ with him, and he found he enjoyed teaching history, both Muggle and wizarding, to the children.
Harry wanted a third child, as they had decided that they'd each get one child to carry on their name. Harry knew that the child, if and when they had another, would not biologically be his, but he didn't care. He loved children, and he would have gladly had several if Hermione had been willing. When PJ turned two, Hermione stopped using birth control, but it was some time later before child number three was conceived. Harry had resigned himself to three, and he waited anxiously for the third to arrive.
She finally arrived almost five years to the day after her brother PJ. Harry had just about given up hope of having another child, and he was thrilled to have an infant in the house again. He'd named her hundreds of times during Hermione's pregnancy, but hadn't really decided on a name until she was born, when she became Rosemary Eileen Potter. It was Severus' turn to weep with sentimentality.
Harry had known he was going to embarrass himself, but he was trying very hard to keep himself together so as not to embarrass his son. They were on Platform 9 3/4, looking for Albus in the train windows. PJ stood on his toes, trying to see everything and everyone, and Rosemary clung tightly to Harry's hand in the milling crowd. Snape stood beside them, stern and silent.
Hermione jumped down off of the train. "He's settled."
"How is he?" Harry asked, very close to tears at the thought of losing his oldest.
"He's all right," Hermione said with an understanding smile. Albus and Harry were very close – it was hard to predict who would miss the other more.
"He understood why I couldn't go on the train with him, right?" Harry asked worriedly. He'd told Albus that he thought he should wave goodbye safely from the platform, afraid he would break down sobbing on his son's shoulder. Or pull him off the train and tell him he had to stay home for another year. Or Two. Or Seven.
"Yes, he understood," Hermione assured him. "It's nearly eleven. He said he'd get to a window and wave goodbye."
They searched up and down the train, looking for the familiar black hair in one of the windows. Suddenly, a figure came hurtling off the train and threw itself into Harry's arms. "I'm sorry, Dad," Al muttered into Harry's chest. "I just had to see you one more time."
Harry let go of Rosemary's hand so he could embrace his son and hold onto him tightly. Tears he couldn't stop leaked from his eyes as he clung to his boy one last time before sending him off on his own to the large, scary, wonderful world of Hogwarts. He knew Minerva was there and had promised to watch over their son, but he also knew from experience how much mischief a child could get up to directly under the noses of responsible adults.
"You write to me as soon as you get there," Harry instructed into Al's ear. They'd gotten Al an owl so that they could communicate regularly with the boy while he was at school. "And don't forget to write to your grandparents."
"I will," Al promised.
The station clock chimed eleven, and the Express whistle sounded.
"Al, you have to get on the train," Hermione said, laying a hand on her son's shoulder.
Al pulled away from Harry, and letting him go was the hardest thing Harry had ever done. Al turned and gave his mother a quick hug. "Love you, Mum," he said. He leaned low enough to give Rosemary a kiss on the head, then turned self-consciously to his other father. "Goodbye, Father," he said stiffly, extending his hand toward the man.
Severus shook his hand solemnly. "Good luck, Albus. Behave and study hard."
"Yes, sir." With a firm punch on the arm to his little brother, Albus jumped onto the already moving train without another look back.
Harry grabbed up the hands of his other two children and began to pull them toward the exit. He couldn't stay and watch the train leave – he'd break down completely. He needed to get home, where he could have his meltdown in private.
As soon as they could, the family apparated home, and Harry retreated immediately to the bedroom. Exchanging an understanding look, Hermione and Severus let him go and left him to his grief-letting for a bit.
Albus had written the very night he arrived at Hogwarts, full of the news that he had been sorted into Ravenclaw. He described the friends he made on the train, went on at length about seeing the castle for the first time from the boats, and raved about the feast they'd enjoyed. Harry cherished this missive, as well as the others the boy sent faithfully and regularly during his first month away from home.
One such letter, just a few weeks into the term, had Albus excited about something else. Quidditch tryouts had been announced, and Albus wanted to try out for the team. Ravenclaw had lost five of its starting players from last year's squad, and the field was open for anyone who showed any talent on a broom whatsoever.
So I think I have a pretty good chance to make the team, Albus wrote. I've been flying since I was practically a baby, right? I'd most like to be the seeker, but if I got the chance to play, I'd be willing to do anything.
So what do you think? Should I try out? Do I stand a chance? I know that first years don't usually make their house teams, but Dad did, right? I'm not saying I'm as good as Dad was, but I think I can hold my own. I'll wait to decide what to do until I hear from you.
Your loving son,
Harry felt excitement course through him when he read Al's letter. He missed Quidditch so! To have his son playing the game would be almost as exciting as being able to do so himself. He could just imagine it. They'd travel as a family to Hogwart's for Al's games and watch him proudly from the stands. Al was an excellent flyer, and Harry felt certain he'd earn a place on the team. He eagerly began to form a response to Al in his head, full of training suggestions and questions about when the first game was and . . .
"Absolutely not," Severus said as he read Al's letter at the dinner table.
"What?" Harry asked. "What do you mean?"
"He's not playing quidditch," Severus clarified.
"There are several reasons, but foremost is that he is a first-year, and his mind should be on his studies at this point," Severus stated.
"I played my first year," Harry countered. "And my studies didn't suffer."
"No," Severus admitted. "Your studies didn't suffer from playing Quidditch. Your studies suffered because you couldn't keep that cute little button nose of yours out of things that were clearly none of your business."
Harry scrunched up his nose. "You thought my nose was cute when I was eleven?"
"In retrospect," Severus said with a sniff. "Albus will have plenty of time for Quidditch when he's older and has a better educational foundation beneath him."
"Hermione?" Harry said, turning to her. "What do you think?"
"Hmmm? About what?" Hermione had been reading the Prophet and had not been paying attention to their discussion.
"Al wants to play Quidditch. I think he should go ahead and try out. Severus thinks he shouldn't, that he should concentrate on his school work. What do you think?"
Hermione thought for a moment. No matter how she answered the question, she was sure to irritate one of them. However, Harry had asked for her opinion, and she gave it to him. "I think Severus is right. I've seen what happens to boys when they become Quidditch-obsessed. Everything else takes a back seat, including school work. I think he should wait, maybe try out next year or the year after, depending on how he does academically this year."
Severus nodded at her in appreciation of her views.
"You never liked Quidditch!" Harry accused, looking at both of them. "Neither of you! Just because you weren't good at something while you were at school doesn't mean it has no value!"
Two pairs of eyes glared back at him.
"It has nothing to do with not being good at it," Hermione defended her position.
"But it does have everything to do with an eleven year old boy not being able to prioritize properly," Severus continued. "He is on his own for the first time. He will not have you there, holding his hand, telling him when to study and when to eat and when to bathe. He will have to make those decisions for himself now, and the fewer distractions he has this year, the better foundation he will build for himself which will only help him in years to come. If he performs well in the next year or two, perhaps we could reconsider, and he could play then, when he is older and more responsible. Hermione?"
"I agree with Severus," Hermione said gently, sensing the disappointment Harry would feel before he even showed it on his face.
"Two against one," Severus noted with a bit of a gleeful sneer.
"So this is a democracy now?" Harry demanded. "We're going to vote on things? Perhaps you'd like a say in what I feed the children for lunch tomorrow? Or maybe we should form a committee to discuss which book Rosemary and I read next. Since when have you even cared enough about what the children are up to to want to interfere?"
Severus, affronted by this accusation (mostly because it was based largely in fact), stiffened his posture and rose to his full height in his chair. Glaring at the younger man, Severus bit out, "Are you going to inform the boy of our decision, or am I?"
"I will," Harry muttered angrily. He could only imagine how Severus might word such a letter. Albus was going to be extremely disappointed, and Harry wanted to soften the blow as much as he could. He wondered if he could get up to Hogwarts to tell the boy personally. That probably wasn't practical, but he thought he should probably get a letter off right away so Al wouldn't keep planning excitedly for something that wasn't going to happen. Severus could be such a git!
Said git rose from his chair and peered down his nose at Harry. "See that you do it soon. Or I shall." Obviously angry, Severus whirled from the room and stomped down into his lab.
"Is Father angry?" PJ asked over his dinner.
"Maybe a little," Hermione said. "Finish your dinner. You all right, Harry?"
"Me? I'm fine. It's Al's heart that's going to be broken."
"He's eleven, Harry. He'll get over it. He's got time to play Quidditch."
Harry didn't answer. She didn't understand. Neither of them understood. Composing an entirely new letter in his head now, Harry drank his coffee and watched her leave the room. Sensing her Daddy was upset, Rosemary got down from her own chair and climbed into Harry's lap.
Thanks for your letter. It's always so nice to hear from you. (Harry always said that, even if Al's letters came every day, because he believed it.) Rosemary sends you a hug and a kiss. She told me yesterday that she misses you. I think PJ does, too, because he seems a little lost without you. I know I do, but we've already establish that I'm an old softie, right?
Your Father, mother and I spoke about Quidditch. We (Harry had to grit his teeth here to get this down on the parchment) feel that you are too young, and that your school work should be your priority now. This is not a reflection on how I think you would do at a tryout. I've seen you fly (Harry had taught him to fly!) and I know that you would be an asset to your team. If you work hard and get the grades we know you are capable of this year, there is no reason why you can't try out for the team next year. I know you are disappointed by this decision, and for that I am truly sorry.
I love you, son. I'm here if you need to vent.
One week later, a letter arrived in the charmed box from Minerva McGonagall. Had Harry known what the result of that letter would be, he might very well have incinerated it rather than reading it. As it was, he had no idea that his world was about to be upended, and he looked forward to her letter with anticipation, certain she'd have some words to share regarding Albus' performance.
"It's from Minerva," Harry said with a smile as he sat back down at the table with Severus. Hermione had already left for work, and the children were in their rooms getting ready for their day and playing.
"Oh?" Severus asked without looking up from the Prophet. "What does Minerva have to say?"
Harry lay the letter on the table and began to read it while he munched on a piece of toast. Halfway through the one-page missive, he suddenly lost his appetite. In fact, he thought maybe what he'd already eaten was going to make a reappearance.
"Is something wrong with Albus?" Severus asked, noticing Harry's abnormal stillness.
Harry's first instinct was to protect his son, but he squashed it down because that would mean lying to Severus, and he couldn't do that. He sighed. "He's fine. He's . . ." Harry stopped. Severus was going to be so angry with the boy.
"Give me the letter," Severus demanded.
Knowing that it would be useless to procrastinate, Harry handed the letter across the table. Severus read:
I wanted to drop you a brief note to congratulate you on your son. All of his teachers have commented on what a fine young man he is, polite and studious and intelligent. His grades are exemplary, and his behavior since his arrival here has been above reproach. You should be very proud. And to be selected for the Quidditch team during his first year! I see he has inherited his father's skills on a broom - Harry's, not yours, Severus. Of course, he got his potions ability from you, Severus, so that must be some consolation to you. Congratulations on the wonderful job you have done with this young man. We all look forward to receiving your other children here in thefuture.
Severus set the letter down gently, belying the rage that was building inside him. "I thought we discussed this."
"We did," Harry said. "I – "
"You were supposed to tell him that he was forbidden from trying out for the team."
"I – "
"We sat at this table, and we had this discussion. We decided that he was too young and that his studies were more important," Severus barreled on.
"Well, technically, you decided that. But I – "
"And you disagreed, and rather than writing to him as you were instructed to do, you encouraged him to go against my decision."
"What? I would – "
"Because you, when you were his age, never listened to the adults around you. You always knew better. You thought the rules did not apply to you. And you're teaching Albus to be the same way."
"I never – "
"Do not try to justify your actions, Potter. There is no justification for this!"
"Would you let me speak?!" Harry had finally had enough.
"By all means," Severus said, gesturing dramatically to him. "Proceed."
Though he could tell that it would be pointless, that Severus had already made up his mind and nothing he said would make any difference, he tried. "I did not encourage Albus to try out for the team. I specifically told him that we had decided that he was not to try out for the team. My letter to him left no room for doubt."
"If that is so, then he defied you directly and egregiously. Which is more evidence of the fact that he is emulating your adolescent behavioral issues."
"You just don't understand," Harry tried to reason with the man, hoping to keep whatever punishment Severus might be devising to a minimum. "He must have been so disappointed. He's a terrific flyer, and I'm sure he earned his way onto the team with his skill. He knows he's good, and it must have just about killed him when he got my letter. I'm not saying that I agree with what he did, but I can certainly remember how important Quidditch can be. He's a smart kid, and he won't have any problem keeping up with his studies and playing Quidditch."
"You think he's going to be allowed to play on the team, after defying a decision handed down by his parents?"
"You're going to take it away from him? After he's earned a place?" Harry asked incredulously.
"I most certainly am."
"You can't do that, Severus," Harry pleaded. "You'll destroy him. You don't understand him like I do . . ."
Severus had heard enough. He was sensitive to the insinuation that he didn't love his children as much as Harry did. He knew he had reason to be insecure about his relationship with them – he had remained a stern figure in the background of his children's lives while Harry had been with them every day, elbow-deep in the trials and tribulations of growing up. Harry had a tight bond with each of the children, while Severus barely knew anything about them. Minerva had mentioned that the boy had inherited his potions skills from Severus – Severus had not known that the boy showed any proficiency in this area, though he vaguely remembered Harry beseeching him to let the boy spend time with him in the lab and Severus responding negatively to that suggestion. Children did not belong in a potions lab.
Severus did love his children – he just didn't know how to interact with them and show them the love and affection he felt for them. And to have Harry sit here and tell him that he understood the children better than Severus, while it was certainly true, fed into the very heart of Severus' insecurities.
He stood up and pointed a finger at Harry, barely able to get the words out he was so angry. "Those are my children, Potter. Mine! Not yours! You've been an acceptable nanny to them, but they are my children. I fathered them. And I and their mother will make decisions regarding their education and their lives. Is that clear?"
Harry sat in his chair, stunned at the older man's words. Nanny? Severus thought of him as a nanny for the children? His hand came up to cover his mouth, as he felt it might drop open at the shock of what he was hearing. He'd dedicated his entire life for the last eleven years to caring for the three children he considered partly his, and Severus was brushing that all aside because he had provided the sperm that conceived them? Tears leapt into his eyes at this betrayal of everything he held dear, and he might have cried, but PJ took this moment to enter the kitchen.
"I heard yelling. Is everything okay?" he asked worriedly, looking back and forth between them. Arguments in the public areas of the house between the three adults were rare and this one was obviously upsetting PJ. Harry got himself together for his son's – for the boy's benefit.
"Everything is fine," he said with as much certainty as he could muster, which turned out to be not much. "Are you ready for school?"
He looked distrustfully between his two fathers. It didn't feel like everything was fine. "I'm ready."
"Good," Harry said with a forced smile. "Would you make sure your sister is dressed and ready as well?"
"But it's still early," PJ pointed out.
"We'll be leaving a little early this morning. Go on, now."
"Okay, Dad," PJ agreed. He started to leave the room, but then looked back at Harry uncertainly, sensing his father's upset. "Love you, Dad."
"I love you, too, Peej," Harry said, feeling the tears gathering again.
And that little public verbal exchange of affection did nothing to calm Severus' fears, and he growled.
PJ cast a concerned glance at his father and made a beeline from the room.
Eyes red, barely holding it together, Harry looked accusingly at Severus, giving him an opportunity to take it all back. Severus simply glared at him, and Harry left the room, defeated.
Harry showed up unexpectedly at his in-laws' home with the two children in tow. "Harry!" Charlotte said, delighted to see them, as always. "Did I forget you were coming today?"
"No," Harry said, unable to look at her, certain she'd see the emotional state he was in. "I was wondering if you might be able to look after PJ and Rosie today."
Charlotte stepped closer so that she could speak to him without the children overhearing. "Is everything all right?"
"No," Harry said, his tortured voice barely above a whisper. "Severus and I . . . had a fight. I just need some time to myself. Would you mind?"
"No," Charlotte said immediately. She could see that the young man was in bad shape. "Is there anything I can do? Lend an ear? Brew a pot of tea?"
"Thank you, but no. I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Hermione had already left for work, so she doesn't know. Can you floo her some time this afternoon and tell her the kids are here and ask her to pick them up on her way home? I'd do it now, but it's not worth disrupting her workday for."
"I can do that," Charlotte assured him. They'd had their floo connected to Hermione's office as well as to the cottage. They'd quickly become used to the floo and mastered its use. "Are you sure there's nothing more that I can do, dear?"
"No, thank you, Mum. I'll be all right. PJ, help Gran with your sister, all right?"
"Where are you going, Dad? Why aren't we going to school?"
Harry put a hand on PJ's shoulder. "I have something that I need to do today. You be good for Gran and take care of your sister and I'll . . ." He was about to say he'd see him later, but he wasn't sure that he would, and he didn't want to lie. "Just help Gran, okay?"
PJ threw himself into Harry's arms, struggling not to cry. What was wrong with Dad? Where was he going? Had Father done something? Harry held the boy close for a moment, then pushed him away. He had to get out of here. He was going to break down completely, and he could not do that in front of a nine-year old boy. Harry picked up Rosie and hugged her and kissed her, then he left without looking back.
He stopped at school long enough to tell them that neither he nor the children would be in that day, and then he disappeared.
Hermione arrived back at the cottage mid-afternoon with the two children. She sent them off to their rooms to play and stomped down into Severus' lab.
"Hermione," he said, still bothered by his altercation with Harry earlier. "You're home early."
"I got a call from Mum. Harry left the kids with her this morning, saying he wasn't feeling well. I checked the bedroom – he's not there. Do you know where he went?"
"No," Severus said curtly, returning to his work. He was still angry with Potter and really couldn't care less where the whelp had gone to lick his wounds.
"Did you two fight?" Hermione pressed.
"We had words," Severus admitted.
"About a letter that arrived this morning. From Minerva. Your son has won a place on the Quidditch team."
"What? I thought we'd decided he wasn't going to try out?"
"We most certainly did," Severus confirmed.
"Didn't Harry tell him that?"
"I do not know what Potter said to him. Either he encouraged the boy in his actions, or the boy disregarded him. Either way, it's Potter's fault."
"How could it be Harry's fault if Albus disobeyed him?" Hermione asked, confused. And why was Harry all of a sudden Potter?
"Because he obviously has encouraged the boy to believe that disobeying the rules is acceptable. Just like Potter did when he was that age! Just like you – " Severus decided to stop there, before he alienated someone else today.
"Just like I did as well?" Hermione challenged. "Severus, what did you say to Harry to make him disappear like this?"
"I'm sure he hasn't disappeared. He's probably just gone off somewhere to sulk."
But Hermione didn't think so. PJ had been very upset about Harry's absence and obviously thought there was a reason to be concerned. "What did you say to him?" Hermione demanded.
Severus looked away, not exactly proud of what he'd done, though he felt no remorse.
"Severus?" Hermione prodded.
"I told him the children were mine and that I would make decisions regarding their education and welfare."
"You didn't!" Hermione said, shocked and appalled at her lover's insensitivity.
"Severus, how could you? Those children are more his than they are either of ours. He loves them with all of his heart, and they love him. I knew when I went back to work that I was giving up a closeness with them that could only be achieved through constant interaction with them. But I accepted that because I wanted the fulfillment that I thought I could only get through my work. Harry found his fulfillment with them, and he's been a wonderful parent to them. The fact that he may not have fathered them in the biological sense doesn't take away from everything he has done for them over the years. I cannot believe you!"
Hermione turned and began to stomp away from him. "Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm going to find Harry. Once I do, you're going to fix this."
"Me? It is not my fault the boy disobeyed."
"No, it's not. And we'll deal with Albus appropriately. But it is your fault that you've hurt Harry and driven him away. You're going to apologize and find a way to bring him home. I will not let you drive this family apart because you're insecure about your relationship with the children. PJ and Rosemary had tea with Mum just before I picked them up, so they're good for a while. If I'm not back in a couple of hours, they'll need dinner. I will tell PJ to keep his eye on Rosie but to holler down here if he needs you."
"Hermione . . ." Severus started to say.
"Don't. Not now, Severus. I'm too angry. I will be back as soon as I find Harry."
Hermione flooed into Grimmauld Place and immediately knew that Harry was here – she could feel him in the air. She checked the kitchen and found it empty, so she trudged up the stairs. She found him asleep on the bed she had shared with him when they lived here. His face was blotchy red, his breathing thick, and she knew he'd been crying. She sat on the bed beside him and stroked his head, relieved that she'd found him already. She'd really had no idea where to look next if he hadn't been here.
"Harry," she said quietly. "Harry, wake up."
Harry's eyes blinked open, and he smiled sleepily up at her, until he remembered where he was and why he was here. He turned his face away from her, but not before she caught the wave of pure misery that washed over his features.
"Are you all right, love?" Hermione asked.
"No." Harry felt as though he might cry again, then he thought maybe he'd cried every last tear he was capable of producing when he'd cried himself to sleep earlier.
"Come home, Harry. We'll work this out."
"I can't, Hermione," Harry said miserably. He sat up next to her, then got off the bed, needing to pace out some agitation.
"What Severus said was unconscionable," Hermione said. "But he didn't mean it. Come home and give him a chance to explain."
"But he did mean it, Hermione!" Harry cried. "He meant it! You weren't there. He was so angry, and he blamed me, and he wouldn't give me a chance to explain, and when he did, he didn't believe a word I said! It felt just like back when I was a child and he'd caught me doing something that he just knew was wrong, no matter what the truth was. But I didn't encourage Al to try out for the team. I wanted to, but I respected Severus' wishes, and your wishes, and I told him he couldn't. I'm sorry he disobeyed, but he's not a bad boy! He just wanted to play Quidditch. I can understand that. But it wasn't me! I didn't do anything! And Severus just . . ."
Harry was getting worked up, and Hermione stepped in front of him to stop his agitated movement. She took both his hands into hers. "Hush, Harry. I know you didn't do anything wrong. And I know Albus is a good boy. He's my son, too, remember?"
"Yeah. Your son. Your's and Severus'. Not mine," Harry said bitterly.
Hermione didn't bother disputing the truth of that statement. It was obvious who had sired Al. "I never thought that mattered to you."
"It doesn't!" Harry declared fiercely. "I love him more than life itself. The others, too. But it obviously matters to Severus, and he obviously feels like the biological claim he has on them supersedes any claim I might have on them based on the fact that I've spent every day of my life for the last eleven years taking care of them. And what's he done? Nothing, that's what he's done. He doesn't even know his own children. And they're growing up so fast, and soon they'll be gone and he'll have lost the chance to be a father to them."
"Come home, Harry," Hermione said urgently. "We need you. The children need you."
"I can't, Hermione," Harry whispered. "He's made it plain that he considers me nothing more than a nanny to them. He said that."
Hermione's anger at Severus climbed a notch higher at that pronouncement.
"If I can't parent them, like I've always done, I can't . . I can't just babysit. I won't. What if at some point he decides to exercise his parental rights and take them away from me? I won't be able to stop him, will I, because I have no legal right to them. It'll be better for me and for them if I just sever ties now. It might just kill me, but what difference does it make, because I have nothing left to live for anyway if I don't have them."
"Harry, please don't talk like that," Hermione begged. "We can work this out. Everyone's angry right now, and words have been said, hurtful words, but they can be taken back. You need to come home so we can work this out."
"I'm sorry, Hermione, but I love them too much to put them in the middle of a battle with Severus. They're his. He holds all the cards. I can't fight him on this, not when I know that he can get a solicitor and take them away from me legally. I can't stop him, if that's what he tries to do."
"But I can," Hermione stated firmly. "I won't let him."
"But if he tries . . . what happens to the kids? They get put in the middle, and they get torn away from me by the authorities. How is that good for any of us?"
"It won't come to that," Hermione said assuredly. "Severus loves you, Harry, and he knows what a wonderful dad you are. You know what his childhood was like – he finds it very difficult to show affection towards the children, and he's insecure about his place in their lives. But you have to believe he didn't mean what he said."
"You don't know that. You didn't see him, Hermione. You didn't see how angry he was. He blames me for everything, just like he used to do. I guess he'll always assume the worst of me. If what we've shared over the last few years isn't enough to make him trust me enough to at least listen to my side before forming judgments, then I don't know what else I can do. Frankly it's surprising that this hasn't happened sooner, when I think about it. I'm just glad Al wasn't around to bear the brunt of it as well. Please tell me you won't let Severus be too harsh with him. He's just a boy. A good boy."
"Of course I won't, Harry. Won't you please come home?"
"No, I'm sorry. I can't. It's better for all of us if I just . . . cut all ties now." And despite his earlier belief, Harry found that he did have more tears, and they came spilling out now. "Tell Severus that he can – if he wants, he can change Rosemary's last name. She's his – she should have his last name."
"Harry!" Hermione protested.
"Go home, Hermione. Tell them . . . tell the kids I love them, but I had to go away. They'll get used to not having me around after a while."
Hermione didn't want to go, but she knew that Severus was home alone with the two children. She realized that he'd likely never been alone with any of them, and she worried about the mood he was in. She knew he wouldn't hurt the children, but the atmosphere at home was probably not the greatest. Maybe if she gave them a day or so, let their tempers cool and their hurt feelings mend, then they could sit down and talk.
"All right, Harry. I'll go. But I'm not leaving you here forever. You come home when you're ready, but if I don't see you soon, I'm coming back. Please, Harry – we can work this out."
And as much as it killed her, she left him there, feeling like her world was coming apart at the seams.
Hermione hadn't returned by four o'clock, and Severus climbed out of the haven that was his lab to think about dinner. It had been a long time since he'd put a meal together – Harry always took care of that. The few times he hadn't over the years, Hermione had cooked or they'd gotten takeaway. Still he wasn't an expert brewer for nothing, and he figured he could throw something appropriate together. He searched through the larder and the icebox and started to gather ingredients to make a stew.
Once he had it simmering, he remembered he wasn't alone in the house and went in search of his children. He found them, in the boys' room. PJ was on his bed, reading, and Rosemary was sitting at the desk, coloring in a book.
When PJ noticed Severus in the door, he got quickly to his feet and moved to put himself between his father and his sister. Severus' eyebrows shot up at this. The boy was afraid of him, but he was brave enough to protect his sister. Something in Severus' chest hitched at this.
"Dinner will be ready shortly," he announced, making sure his voice was soft and non-threatening.
"Yes, sir," PJ said. "I'll make sure Rosie washes up."
Severus stared at his son for a moment, as though seeing him for the first time. PJ stared back for a moment, but then dropped his gaze, and Severus left them.
"How did you occupy yourself today?" Severus asked as the three of them sat together around the table.
"Reading mostly, sir," PJ said, spooning stew into his mouth.
"Were you reading anything in particular?" Severus pursued.
PJ shrugged. "Not really, sir. Just some books that Al recommended."
Severus noticed that his daughter was spooning the stew around in her bowl but not eating it. "Why are you not eating, child?"
"She doesn't like carrots," PJ explained.
"Oh," Severus said. What did he do now? Insist the child eat her dinner anyway? He doubted that's what Harry would do. No, Harry would have known she didn't like carrots.
PJ came to his rescue. "There's probably some stew without carrots, right, Father?" he said, his tone implying that he was delivering a message without actually saying the words. "And with smaller pieces just for a little girl."
Severus was nobody's fool. "Yes, I believe there is." He stood up, took the bowl from Rosemary's place, and approached the cooker. Keeping his body between the kettle and the child, Severus removed all of the carrot bits and dropped them back into the stew pot. Using his wand, he cut the remaining meat and potatoes into pre-schooler-sized pieces. He returned with the bowl and placed it back beneath the little girl's nose. She immediately began to eat.
PJ smiled at him proudly, and Severus nodded at the boy. "Thank you," he said.
"No problem, sir," PJ assured him, and he returned to his own dinner.
Severus wracked his brain for a topic of conversation he could broach with his son. "Have you read The Hobbit?" he finally decided on. He remembered that book from his own childhood.
"I tried, sir, when I was younger," PJ answered. "But it was too hard for me."
"Perhaps we could read it together," Severus suggested tentatively, afraid that his offer would be spurned. This boy was obviously more than a little afraid of him, though he'd marshaled his courage to "protect" his sister when he thought she'd needed it. He admired that trait, but a shudder ran through him when he realized his second son was likely destined for Gryffindor.
"Dad and I are reading Treasure Island right now," PJ mused.
"Oh," Severus said, surprised to find that it hurt for the boy to turn him down. "Well, that's all right then."
"I don't mind reading two books at once, though," PJ continued, sensing he'd hurt his father's feelings. "Sure, Father. I'd like to read The Hobbit with you."
Severus felt himself smiling. "Fine, then. We can begin tonight."
They ate for a moment in silence before PJ spoke again. "Father? Is Dad coming home tonight?" He was a sensitive boy, and even if he hadn't heard part of their argument this morning, he would have sensed that something was different in this house.
Severus stared at the boy before answering. How much should he tell the child? Harry was stubborn, and if he was trying to make some kind of point with his absence, it could be a day or so before he got over his little snit. "He may return with your mother, but I am not sure," he finally said.
Hermione picked this moment to enter through the floo. Severus and PJ both waited expectantly after she'd dusted herself off, but the floo didn't flare again. Severus raised his eyebrows to her in question, but she shook her head once, briefly, in the negative. Though he wasn't supposed to, PJ caught this exchange as well and knew that his other father would not be coming home tonight.
Hermione ate with Rosemary while the little girl finished her supper. Later, while the girl was in the tub, Severus and PJ settled in the sitting room with The Hobbit, Severus on the sofa and PJ in the wingbacked chair. PJ was mesmerized by the sound of his father's voice as he read. Dad read with more expression and tried to create different voices for each of the characters, but there was something dramatic about Father's timbre that lent itself very well to reading aloud. PJ was disappointed when Father closed the book after reading only two chapters.
By this time, Rosie was finished in the bath and came out to give goodnight kisses. Dressed in pajamas with attached feet, Rosemary climbed into her father's lap and laid a wet kiss on his cheek.
"That was Daddy's," she explained to him. "But he's not here, so I give it to you, Fadder." Her pronunciation of "Father" when she was beginning to speak had been difficult for her. She had much better mastery of the "th" sound now, but she'd persisted in calling Severus "Fadder" despite that.
"Thank you," Severus said solemnly. "I shall hold it for him."
Rosemary then put her arms around him as far as they would stretch and hugged him hard.
"Was that for Daddy, too?" he asked.
"No, that was for you. You look sad. Hugs make people happy. Daddy says so. Are you happy now?"
"I am much happier than I was a few minutes ago," he said. He didn't look any happier, but Rosemary nodded in agreement anyway.
"Daddy says you smile in your heart," she said, poking him with a small finger just where she believed his heart to be. "I smile with my mouth." She smiled hugely at him, showing her small pearly white teeth off for his admiration. "See?"
"Yes, I see," Severus said, and he nearly smiled with his own mouth, despite the fact that he felt an emotional lump form in his throat. Harry had explained his sour countenance by telling the children he smiled in his heart? That was . . . sweet. And how had he not noticed before how captivating his youngest child was? He had a lot of making up to do he was beginning to realize.
"Ready, Rosie?" Hermione asked, coming into the room. She'd chased PJ into the bathtub and had returned to put her youngest to bed. She took the child from Severus' lap and carried her off to her room. Fifteen minutes later, after a trip to the loo, a drink of water, and a story, she returned, having successfully gotten Rosie off to dreamland.
As they were now alone, at least for a few minutes, Severus asked, "What did he say?"
Hermione inhaled deeply before answering. "He's not coming home. He said you called him a nanny. How could you, Severus?"
Severus hung his head, not sure how he could respond to that. He certainly couldn't deny it – he'd said those very words.
"Is that what you think of him?" Hermione pressed when he didn't answer.
"Of course not," Severus said. "I was angry. He denied it, but I know that he encouraged Albus to follow his own desires and ignore the very clear directive he was given."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's exactly the thing he would have done when he was that age! Do you dispute that?"
"No, I don't. But Severus, he never had anyone at home who cared enough for him to provide him with consistent guidance or discipline. He knows what he grew up without. He knows that children need parents who set limits for them and respond appropriately when those limits are violated. He's seen the product of parents who do not expect anything from their children and who give them everything they want. He's told me many times he doesn't want his children to end up like his cousin. So I ask you again, how do you know what he told Al?"
"I don't know, of course," Severus blustered. "But he implied that I don't know my own children, and that angered me."
"Because you don't believe that, or because it's the truth?"
Severus glared at Hermione but did not answer her.
"Severus, now is not the time to fool yourself. Why did what Harry said anger you so?"
Severus sat back in his chair, furiously examining himself and his relationship with his children. He knew in his heart that what Harry had said was true. He did not know his children. He had spent precious little time with them from the moment they'd been born. He'd preferred to lock himself away in his lab and tend his potions rather than facing his fears: the fear that he couldn't love his children, the fear that they couldn't love him, the fear that he could not be the father they needed, the fear that he would reincarnate his father, that he would strike his children and belittle them and humiliate them for his own amusement. Severus had kept himself away from his children because he was afraid.
"Because he's right," Severus admitted with a tortured whisper. "I don't know my children. I wanted it that way. I was . . . afraid that if I got too close to them that I would hurt them, or they would hurt me. I was afraid that I would be as large a failure at being a father as my own father was."
"Severus, do you love your children?"
Severus again looked inside himself. Did he love his children? He certainly did not know them, but did he love them on a biological level, like a parent was supposed to love its child? "I would die for them," he began.
"Because survival of the species tells us that the young must be protected at all costs, or because you love them?"
"I don't know," Severus confessed, and it nearly ripped his heart out to say so. "I don't know."
Hermione went to him now, because she could see the anguish he was suffering. She took him into her arms and said, "Do you want to love them, Severus?"
"Yes," he whispered in her ear. "Yes, I want to love them. Please help me."
Near tears, Severus clung tightly to Hermione. He felt as though he'd been ripped open and his heart was exposed to the harsh elements. It beat painfully, each thump telling him that he had failed his children in many ways. Harry, too. As though sensing the torture his body was subjecting him to, Hermione said into his ear, "It's not too late. You can start today."
"Is everything all right?" a small voice said from the door.
Hermione gave Severus one last squeeze before letting him go. Severus turned away from his son so that he would not see the emotion that riddled him now.
"Yes, love. Everything's fine," Hermione said, her voice firm and bright. "Bath all finished?"
"Yes. And I brushed my teeth. I'm going to go to my room and read until bedtime, all right?"
"Of course it's all right," Hermione said with a smile. "Lights out at nine, right?"
"Yes, Mum." PJ crossed the room and hugged his mother. She pulled him close and kissed the top of his head.
"Good night, PJ," Hermione said into his hair.
"Good night, Mum," he said, pulling away. "Father?"
Severus cleared his throat and turned around. "Yes, Patrick?"
"Thank you for reading to me today. Can we do more tomorrow?"
"Yes," Severus said, clearing his throat again. That annoying lump seemed to be caught there. "Yes, I'd like that."
"Good night, Father."
"Good night . . . son."
PJ favored him with a wide grin before leaving the room.
"Will you go to Harry?" Hermione asked. "I don't think he's going to come home until you apologize and convince him that you didn't mean what you said."
"He is stubborn. You know this. We are both stubborn. I . . . said some horrible things. I think he needs some time . And I need some time. He loves them too much to stay away. I think that if we wait a couple of days, he will come home on his own."
"I'm not so sure, Severus. He told me – he told me that you could change Rosemary's name to Snape if you wanted."
"He what? He seriously thinks that I would want to do that to him?"
"You hurt him," Hermione said. "He feels as though your opinion of him has not changed since he was a student at Hogwarts, as though you cast accusations without knowing the truth or bothering to ask questions."
Severus was stunned to learn just how much he had hurt his young lover. Change Rosemary's name?! Never! Did Harry really think this rift was that serious? Impossible. It was a simple disagreement.
"Once I have apologized, we can get back to where we were," Severus said with certainty he wasn't sure he felt any longer. "No, we'll be better than we were before, because I'll be better than I was before."
"I went to see my parents today. I asked if they could take the kids tomorrow. I had to tell them what was going on, though I didn't go into detail. They couldn't take them. Mum stayed home with PJ and Rosie today and really can't afford to take another day, and Dad's in London at a seminar."
"I can do it," Severus offered immediately.
"That's all right. I can take the day off."
"No, you can't,"Severus argued. " Your presentation, the project you've been working on for months, is the day after tomorrow. You cannot afford to take the time. I can. We will be fine."
"Mum said she could take them the day after," Hermione said hopefully. She really didn't want to miss tomorrow, but she would have, if her children had needed her. And she really hoped that Harry would be home by then. "Are you sure?"
Severus had seen the spark of hope, and he said, "Yes, I'm sure."
"And you're sure you can't go to Harry tonight?"
"I think it's best if I wait. I know I hurt him, and I know I need to apologize, but it'll be better if we both have clear heads. Time will help in that regard."
Hermione moved into his arms again. "I miss him," she said.
"I know. I miss him as well."
Their embrace was once again interrupted by a voice, this time the voice of Minerva McGonagall coming from their floo.
"Severus? Hermione? Harry? Are you there?"
Immediately fearing that something was wrong with Albus, Hermione dropped to her knees before the floo. "We're here. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. May I come through?"
"Of course." Hermione got to her feet and backed away from the floo. Moments later, Minerva stepped out, escorting an anxious-looking Albus with her.
"Al?" Hermione asked, immediately putting her hand on her son's shoulder and looking down at him. "Are you all right?"
"I'm all right, Mum," he assured her. "I asked the Headmistress to bring me home. I needed to speak with you."
"I hope it's all right," Minerva added. "I did not want to pry, but I could see the boy was upset."
"There's something I need to say," Al said, his chin up.
"Minerva, we will keep him home this evening and return him in the morning," Severus said, eying his son, not forgetting that the boy had a reckoning of his own coming. "Thank you for bringing him home."
"It was no trouble," she said, looking from one to the other and wondering where Harry was. "If there is anything I can do to assist you, please don't hesitate to call on me."
After Minerva had gone, Hermione put an arm around Al's shoulder and escorted him to the sofa. "What are you doing here?"
"I got a letter from PJ. He was at Gran's earlier today when the letter I sent to them arrived. He wrote me a note and sent it back with Liandra. He said that something strange was going on, and that Dad had left him and Rosie at Gran's. He was worried. As soon as I got the letter, I went to Aunt Minerva, I mean, the Headmistress, and asked her to bring me home. What's going on? Where's Dad?"
"Dad's not here, Al," Hermione told him.
"Why? Do you know where he is?"
"I do," Hermione said. "I talked with him just a little while ago."
"Is he coming home tonight? I'd like to talk to him, too."
"No, he won't be home tonight."
"Can I go where he is?"
"No, love, you can't."
Albus turned to his other father. "What did you do? You did something to him, I know it."
Severus raised an eyebrow at this. "Just what are you accusing me of?"
The boy looked frightened to be addressing his father this way, but he continued. "I don't know. But I know Dad wouldn't have just left us. Which means that you did something. And I know that it's my fault, because I tried out for quidditch after you told me not to."
Severus looked at his son. "You knew that we forbade it?"
"Of course I knew. I got Dad's letter. He said you'd talked. I brought the letter." Al reached into his pocket and removed the folded letter. He handed it to Hermione, who was closer, and after she'd read it, she handed it to Severus.
Severus perused the letter and his heart sunk a bit lower. Harry had conveyed to the boy exactly what they'd talked about, and although his wording could have been a bit firmer, there was no doubt as to the message. The decision to disobey that directive had been entirely Albus'. All of the accusations he'd thrown at Harry earlier today were wrong. He'd been wrong, dreadfully wrong. Harry had gone away and it was Severus' fault. He would not wait another hour. He would go to Harry tonight and make him see how sorry Severus was and how much they needed Harry here and wanted him back, as the full partner in this family that he rightfully deserved to be.
But first he needed to deal with his son. He sat in the armchair and looked at the boy. He would have liked to discuss this with Hermione and Harry before meting out punishment, but the boy was here now and they would not wait.
"Do you know that what you did was wrong?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," Albus said, meeting his father's eyes.
"Tell me why."
"Because I knew you didn't me want to try out, and I did anyway. I disobeyed you."
"Do you feel that you should be punished?"
Albus scuffled his feet against the carpet but still did not lower his gaze. "I suppose so."
"And what do you feel an appropriate punishment would be?"
Albus finally looked away. "I don't know. You could ground me, I suppose, over Christmas break."
"And would that punishment fit this particular crime, in your opinion?"
"Not really," Albus confessed.
"It seems to me that a reasonable consequence for someone who has gone against their parents' wishes and obtained something they should not have would be to give that wrongly-obtained item back," Snape observed.
Albus' shoulders slumped. He'd known what he'd have to suffer when he came here. "You want me to quit?"
Severus looked at Hermione before dropping the gavel, and when she nodded, he said, "Yes, we want you to quit."
"I knew you'd say that," Albus confessed. "So after I got PJ's letter and figured out that what I had done had caused problems here, I went to Professor Argyle and told him that I was quitting."
Both of his parents were shocked by the maturity being exhibited by this eleven-year old child. "That's very mature of you, Albus," Hermione said.
Al shrugged. "I knew it was inevitable. Thought it might buy me some good will here if I took the initiative."
It had. Severus was beyond impressed by this boy. He wished he could take credit for having raised this child. He had been on the verge of concocting an additional punishment for the child for disobeying his parents, but that idea flew right out of his head. He could tell that having to give back the position he'd won on the team had been a very serious punishment by itself.
"You were right," Severus said. "I am very impressed with your maturity and the responsibility you have taken for your actions. I am proud of you, son."
There, that hadn't hurt too much.
"Thank you, Father. Now what about Dad? I owe him an apology as well. I don't know what happened, but obviously what I did made him leave."
"He did not leave because of you. I am going to see him now," Severus said, drawing an appreciative smile from Hermione. "You are going to bed. You will be returned to school in the morning."
"All right," Albus said, rising and heading for his room. "Good night."
"Good night, Albus."
"Good night, love," Hermione said. "Don't stay up too late talking with your brother."
"Where is he?" Snape asked once they were alone.
"I'll be back," he promised, kissing her before stepping into the floo.
Minutes later, Snape's head was in the floo. "Hermione? He's not here."
"No. There is no sign that he has even been here, so it is hard to tell whether he is coming back. I am going to wait for a time, in the hope that he will return."
"All right. Bring him home, Severus."
But Severus didn't bring him home. He stayed at Grimmauld Place for an hour, sitting before the floo, anxiously waiting for Harry to come back, rehearsing what he would say to his young lover. Finally, he had to conclude that Harry may not return this evening, and he dejectedly flooed home.
Twenty minutes after he had done so, Harry arrived, laden with bags and boxes. He'd come here with no clothing and no food, and he'd been in Muggle London loading up on supplies. He could go home and get his things, but he couldn't face even the thought of seeing Severus now. Every time he thought about the altercation he'd had with Severus earlier today, he felt like crying. And the heartache from missing his children could bring him to his knees if he stopped moving.
Hermione flooed Albus back to Hogwarts the following morning and then went on to work. Severus sat at the breakfast table with his children, a little lost regarding what to do with them now that he was in charge of them. Feeling his way carefully, he asked, "What do you usually do all day?"
"Well," PJ said, "it's a school day, so at eight thirty, we leave for school. I entertain Rosie while Dad gets ready for his classes, and then we're in school from nine until noon."
"Your sister as well?"
"Yes. She sits at Dad's desk, and he has her doing stuff while we're having our lessons. She's pretty smart," PJ said proudly.
"I am not prepared to teach his lessons, but there is no reason why you cannot attend, if you desire. If you would prefer to stay home, for today only you understand, I would have no objection."
PJ sat and considered his options. He liked school, and he looked forward to it every day. Dad and his other teachers made lessons interesting, and those students who were a year or two away from starting Hogwarts actually were allowed to start using their magic, which thrilled PJ to no end. It was the only place he was allowed to even touch his wand, and he didn't want to go without that any day that could be helped. And he'd missed yesterday.
However, if he went to school, he'd be leaving Rosie here alone with Father. He was forced to admit that Father intimidated him quite a lot, and even though they were sitting here having a very civil conversation, PJ was on edge, sure that the older of his fathers was only a wrong word away from becoming angry. He could watch his step well enough, but he was worried for Rosie, who was little and who likely didn't know just how volatile her father was on a normal day, let alone when things were as stressful as they were right now.
Severus seemed to know what the young man was wrestling with. "I assure you, your sister will be fine with me."
PJ smiled self-consciously at the fact that Father knew why he was hesitating. "I'd like to go. We have a test in math, and we were going to work on levitation charms some more."
"What happens when one of your instructors is absent?"
"One of the others just doubles up. Dad's lesson plans will be there, so someone else will know what he was going to do today." PJ shrugged to demonstrate it was no big deal.
"Well, why don't you go and get ready, then? I will take you to school at your usual time."
"Yes, sir," PJ said, but he didn't immediately get up. "Are you going to bring Dad back today?"
"I will have to wait until this evening," Severus said. He had thought perhaps he'd try staking out Grimmauld Place again today, but he didn't want Rosemary to be witness to the discussion he needed to have with Harry. Plus, he wasn't above using the fact that Harry would be missing the children and wanting to see them to support his cause.
PJ nodded, pleased, then stood up. "What are you going to do with Rosie?"
"I think we will find some way to spend the day."
"She likes to color. And she likes to be read to. And she likes her dolls."
"Thank you, Patrick," Severus said solemnly.
PJ's smile beamed at him. He was beginning to discover that a little kindness and respect went a long way with children.
After PJ had left the room to get dressed, Severus turned his attention to his daughter. "Are you done your breakfast?"
"Done," she confirmed.
"Why don't you go and get dressed, and we will take your brother to school."
"'kay, Fadder." She slid down from her chair and ran from the room and Severus began clearing away the dishes from breakfast.
Severus discovered that you could not send a child Rosemary's age into her room with directions and expect her to actually follow them. He'd taken care of the dirty dishes and started laundry before discovering that they needed to take Al to school immediately or he'd be late. When he went to retrieve Rosemary from her room, he discovered her playing with her dolls, still in her pajamas. "I thought you were going to get dressed?"
"Baby needed me," she explained. "Dolly and Baby were fighting, and Dolly hitted Baby over the head with a stick."
"You have very vicious dolls," Severus noted.
"Dolly had to be in time out. She cried. But we don't hit," she scolded with a finger wagging at one of her dolls. "We use words, not hands."
"Good advice. Come. We have to get Patrick to school." He'd have to take the child in her pajamas.
"Can I bring Baby? Her head still hurts."
"Yes. Bring Baby. Let's go."
After dropping Patrick at school, Severus returned to the house with Rosemary. Now what?
"Do you wish to play in your room?"
"Will you play with me, Fadder?"
Severus sighed. He'd known that he wouldn't be able to brew while watching children, but he'd hoped to get down into the lab and review his inventory of supplies and ingredients and organize the outstanding orders. Bringing the child down into the lab was out of the question.
"What are we going to play?" he asked hesitantly.
"Come into my room," she said, taking his hand and dragging Severus away.
Severus was grateful when it was time to retrieve Patrick from school, and he hoped he'd managed to find all of the hair ties and barrettes his daughter had woven into his hair. He'd sat stoically on the floor while the girl worked happily around him, chattering all the while. She really was quite obviously intelligent and accustomed to adults who did not speak to her as though she was a baby. When Rosemary had asked him to let her fix his hair, he had at first refused. But the little trembling lip that came out to pout and the sadness in her eyes had him changing his mind in an instant.
As soon as they arrived home, Severus started lunch. He quietly asked Patrick if Rosemary napped in the afternoon and was somewhat relieved when told that although she did not sleep, Rosemary spent a hour or so in her room after lunch, on her bed, engaged in quiet activities.
The afternoon went quickly, though Severus had no idea why. He and Patrick read more of The Hobbit while Rosemary rested, and the three of them played a board game consisting of ladders and slides. A mid-afternoon snack and reading together with Rosemary seemed to while away the time. By the time Hermione returned home, he realized that he had accomplished next to nothing. In fact, the laundry he had started in the morning was still sitting in the washing machine. And Rosemary was still in her pajamas.
How did Harry do this, every day, all day? A new respect for what was involved in the day-to-day details of child care and taking care of a home had been driven home to him. With a renewed dedication to bring his partner home, Severus once again visited Grimmauld Place. And once again, Harry was not there, although Severus found the clothing he'd purchased and the groceries he'd laid in, reassuring him that Harry actually was staying here. He waited, this time for two hours, before finally giving up and returning home.
After dropping Rosemary with Charlotte and Patrick at school, Severus took himself to Hogwarts. He felt as though he'd forged the foundation for a new relationship with his two younger children, though they both still needed additional time and attention, and now it was time to do the same with his oldest.
He first visited the staff room and caught Minerva there starting her day. She was, to say the least, very surprised and delighted to see him there. He explained to her a little about what was going on, then asked her permission to speak with Albus' teachers. She, of course, agreed, and escorted him about the castle, knowing in her head which of the boy's professors had free periods at particular times. Albus caught sight of his father in the hallway between classes and immediately became concerned that he was in trouble.
After his last class of the day, he was summonsed to the Headmistress' office.
"Hello, Father," he said nervously.
"Good afternoon, Albus. The Headmistress has graciously allowed me to take you away from school for dinner. I thought we might walk into Hogsmeade and eat at the pub. If you are agreeable?"
Albus stared up at him, then shot a nervous glance at the Headmistress. Albus squared his shoulders, hoping he was ready for whatever was in store, and said, "I'd like that very much, Father."
As soon as they'd cleared the castle gates, Severus took pity on the boy. "You are not in any trouble, Albus. I simply wanted to see you and talk to you."
This hardly put Albus at ease, since this particular father had never gone out of his way to see him or talk to him when they lived in the same house. There had to be a reason he was here, and from Albus' point of view, it couldn't be anything good. Maybe it had something to do with Dad. Maybe Father couldn't find him, or maybe he had and Dad said he was never coming home. Now Albus was even more worried, which clearly showed on his face.
"What has you so upset?" Severus asked.
"I'm just trying to figure out why you're here, sir," Albus admitted. "Does it have something to do with Dad? Is he . . . not ever coming home?"
"Let us wait until we are seated for this discussion," Severus suggested. "But do not fear. I have yet to speak with your father, so I have no dire news concerning him."
Albus waited nervously until they'd taken a table at the Three Broomsticks and had their dinner orders taken. Then he turned his brown eyes on his father, silently begging him to put him out of his misery.
"I have tried for the last two evenings to speak with your father," Severus began. "Though it is apparent he is staying at the house in Grimmauld Place, he has not been at home when I visited, though I did wait a considerable amount of time for him. I will try again this evening, and I plan to stay until he and I can speak. I came today to let you know that his leaving is not your fault. I am solely responsible for that. In the heat of the moment, I said some things to him that were hurtful and untrue, and I must atone for that. And I will. But I did not want you laboring under the misapprehension that it was your doing."
"But I disobeyed you. I started this ball rolling," Albus argued, tears shining in his eyes.
"While it is true that you disobeyed directions you had been given, it is the way I reacted to that situation that has led us to the one that we currently face. I and I alone bear the responsibility for it. We will work it out, I promise you."
"When you see Dad tonight, can you send me an owl to let me know how it all worked out? I'd sleep better knowing."
"Of course. Try not to worry."
Easier said than done Albus guessed, so he just said, "Yes, sir. Where are PJ and Rosie?"
"They are with your grandmother. I dropped Rosemary off there this morning, and your mother was picking your brother up from school and taking him there for the afternoon."
After a moment of silence, Albus asked, "Can I ask why you were in the castle today?"
"You may. I was speaking with your professors."
Albus' eyes widened at that. "Have I done something wrong?" His shoulders slumped. "Something else I mean."
"No, you have done nothing wrong." Indeed, all of Albus' teachers had nothing but positive things to say about him. He was a very good student who applied himself diligently to his studies. He was very bright, participated in class discussions and always turned in well-thought-out and neat homework. He'd arrived at Hogwarts with a good educational foundation which his professors were delighting in adding to. He was always polite in class, respectful of his teachers and fellow students and always willing to lend a hand. He was just an all-around good kid, and Severus was praised repeatedly throughout the day. He knew, however, that he deserved none of the credit for any of it. He wished he'd known his son better two weeks ago – there seemed no doubt that this boy was capable of handling his studies and Quidditch, too. There really was no reason to hand down an edict denying him the chance to play in the first place. "In fact, all of them have nothing but positive things to say to you."
"Oh. That's good."
Dinner arrived, and they sat quietly eating for a time. Finally, Severus said, "Tell me more about this Charms project Professor Flitwick has you working on." Because Albus had been allowed to use his magic in a structured educational setting for two years prior to coming to Hogwarts, he was considerably more advanced in this area than his year-mates. Flitwick had suggested an additional project to keep the boy interested, and Albus had agreed willingly. He discussed the project animatedly with his father, and by the time dinner had ended and they were walking back toward the castle, Albus was much more at ease with the man he had always called Father but who had never really felt like one.
Hagrid met them at the castle gates. "Good evening, Professor," he said with a nod at Severus.
"I'm no longer a professor here, Hagrid. Please, call me Severus."
Hagrid beamed at him. "All right, Pro – Severus. The Headmistress asked me to escort young Mr. Snape here up ter the castle, ter save you the trip."
"Thank you, Hagrid," Severus said. "That's very kind of you." He turned to his son. "Keep up the good work, son. Thank you for taking dinner with me. If you need any help with your project, please feel free to call on me." He extended his hand toward his son.
Albus stared at the hand for a moment before throwing himself on his father and hugging him tightly. Severus hugged him back until the boy pulled away and looked up the length of the much taller man and said, "You'll owl me tonight, right?"
Severus ran a hand over his son's hair, pushing it back away from his forehead and his small, worried face. He smoothed the worry lines between his son's eyes with a thumb. "I will owl you. We may have a long talk, so do not wait up."
"Yes, sir." Albus stepped away. "Good night. I'm glad you came tonight."
"As am I," Severus responded. "Good night."
Severus watched the half-giant and the little boy until they were out of sight, then he took himself home. He kissed his partner and his sleeping daughter, looked in on his middle child to say good night, then flooed directly to Grimmauld Place.
Once again, Harry was nowhere to be seen, though Severus searched the house from top to bottom, wondering for the first time if Harry had been here both times he'd tried before but hiding himself under the invisibility cloak to avoid seeing him. Once he was certain he was alone in the house, he settled himself on the sofa in the sitting room, facing the floo, and prepared to wait, for as long as it took, for Harry to come home.
Apparently Severus fell asleep at some point because he woke to find himself at the end of a wand. He quelled the instinctive moment of fear he felt when he realized who was holding the wand, stood up slowly, and stretched his aching back and neck.
"What are you doing here?" Harry demanded, breathing rapidly. It had given him quite a fright to step out of the floo and find a sleeping man slumped on his sofa. He'd drawn his wand and was ready to throw a hex before he realized just who it was. He put the hex away, but his wand stayed poised.
"I came to talk to you," Severus said.
"I think you said plenty the other day."
"Harry, please. I'm sorry." There – he'd got that out there straight away. "I want you to come home."
Harry lowered his wand, but didn't put it away. "I can't do that."
"Because you . . . you said . . . I can't . . ." Harry reigned in his agitation. "I think you should just go."
"Harry," Severus said softly, sincerely. "The children need you."
"Don't use them against me!" Harry said angrily. "Not again!"
"I'm not," Severus countered, though he kind of was. "I'm stating a truth. The children need you. Hermione needs you. I need you. We all want you to come home."
"Until you decide I'm expendable again, right? I can't keep doing this, Severus. I love those kids, and it's killing me from the inside out to lose them. But I can't put them in the middle of a battle between us. I can't tear them apart that way. If you feel the need to change Rosemary's last name, go ahead and do it."
"No," Severus said quickly. "I can't believe you'd – " He stopped there, then patted the sofa beside him. "Please, sit."
Harry sat, but in the chair, separated from Severus by a low table.
"Harry, I have been doing a lot of thinking this week. I've been forced to examine my own feelings and motives, and I've had my eyes opened to the way things are. Those children are your children. It is you they love, it is you they trust, and it is you they need."
Harry snorted. "Let's not kid ourselves. We all know the truth here. Those children are yours. You'd know it just by looking at them. And don't tell me you haven't cast the paternity charm on them. We've all done it, in secret. Because even though it didn't matter, we all wanted to know. They're yours, Severus. And you'd have every right to take them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop you. If that's going to happen, I'd rather just step aside now and make it easier on them."
"Harry, I would not do that. Those children are yours," Severus insisted.
"Don't, Severus, okay? I know! I went to see a doctor, and I know I can't – You hold all the cards when it comes to the children. I know that. And when you called your hand, I realized there was nothing I could do to stop you. I'd gone all in and I lost everything. I have nothing left to play with."
"Wait a moment. You saw a doctor? What kind of doctor? What for?"
"What difference does that make now? Suffice it to say that I know that I've failed even in that area of masculinity, while you – you're apparently some god of fertility or something," Harry said bitterly.
"Did you see a fertility specialist?"
"No. But I had some tests done, and they told me that my sperm were dead or defective or something and that I couldn't have kids. So even without the paternity charm, I'd know they weren't mine. They can't be."
"Harry, listen to me," Severus said, leaning earnestly toward the young man. "Those children are yours in every way that matters. You have raised them. You have cared for them. You have been there for them every night and every day since they were born. You are far more their father than I ever was."
"No, I'm just the nanny." That accusation still stung.
"Harry – I cannot tell you how sorry I am for saying that. You are not a nanny. Those children – Can I tell you how I have spent the last two days?"
When Harry made no answer, Severus continued. "I've been getting to know my children. Did you know they were amazing? My oldest son, Albus, is smart and respectful and responsible. He likes potions! My second son Patrick is bright and sensitive and magically powerful and loves to read and is fiercely protective of the people he loves. And my daughter – Harry, you should see her. She's beautiful. She's no bigger than a kneazle but she has the ability to coerce me into sitting still while she plays with my hair. That's an amazing power, that is."
Harry didn't look impressed by this, and Severus sighed. "What I'm trying to tell you is that I have three very impressive children, and I had nothing to do with the fact that they are what they are. That is all on you, Harry. You made them that way. I could not have done it. I still could not do it. And although I plan on becoming much more actively involved in their lives, they still need their father. They need you. Hermione needs you. I need you. Please come home."
Harry had tears in his eyes when he looked at Severus. "Severus, I . . . I want to come home. I've missed you all so much." In fact, he'd been on the verge of abandoning the moral high ground and going back home, in whatever capacity Severus would allow him to be there, because he missed those children so damn much he wasn't sure he'd make it through another day.
Severus opened his arms, and Harry wasted no time flinging himself into them. Severus held his young lover tight, rubbing soothing circles on his back. Harry raised his tear-stained face, and Severus kissed both of his wet cheeks and then his lips. Harry melted into the kiss, having missed this, too. "Can we go now?" he asked without taking his lips from Severus'.
"Are there things here you want to bring with you?"
"I can get them later. Let's just go home."
"Yes, home," Severus agreed. "Your children are waiting there. Hermione is waiting there. I am so sorry I hurt you, Harry."
Harry kissed him again. "I'm going to kiss Rosie and PJ, and then I'm going to take you and Hermione to bed."
Severus smiled in agreement. While Harry was reuniting with the two younger children, he would send a quick owl to Albus to let him know all was well. He thought maybe he'd ask if the boy wanted to come back for the weekend. Then the family would all be home together.
Family. Home. The two best words in the English language and Severus' new favorites. He pushed Harry to his feet, stood himself, and taking Harry's hand, they stepped into the floo together.