The next week passed with the mingled speed and slowness associated with the end of the year. Severus was faced with his usual Potions classes, ensuring all the Slytherin end of the year business was taken care of, and taking on Umbridge's final Defence classes. Thankfully, Voldemort hadn't called him over the past week, he simply did not have time to deal with a psychopath. Still, Severus didn't know whether to be relieved or petrified. He rested his lips on steepled fingers, delaying the moment he had to start grading first year potions exams.
"Professor Snape?" The deep voice of Sebastian McCoy rudely blasted through his calm. Severus opened his eye to observe the tall, black boy standing at the doorway, looking very uncertain of his welcome.
"McCoy. What can I do for you?" asked Severus. McCoy looked over his shoulder and slouched in to the room, hunched over as always to minimize his large build. Too bad the seventh year was afraid of heights. He would have been an amazing addition to the Slytherin Quidditch team.
"I just wanted to say goodbye, sir. I've enjoyed being in your house. I'll miss it," McCoy said, looking around the dungeon a little wistfully. Pomona and Filius, even Minerva occasionally, all made a big deal about their seventh years graduating. There were always tears and nonsense that Severus just did not agree with, but sometimes he felt a little moroseness mingle with the joy of being student free.
"That's very kind, McCoy," Severus said, almost smiling at the boy. He was shy and liked to learn for the sake of learning. It was rare to get students like that. McCoy smiled and turned to exit the door.
"Sebastian," called Severus, causing the boy to turn around. "I hope you are doing something worthwhile with your education." The stern voice didn't worry the boy and he smiled broadly, dropping his reticence instantly.
"I got accepted to train to be a Healer, sir," he said, beaming. Severus felt a rush of pride that he had to work hard to keep off of his face.
"Very well," Severus grunted. When the boy turned his back to run off, Severus smiled at the desk and started his work.
Teaching first years really was a slow form of torture, and he felt relieved when, hours later, a hesitant knock drew Severus out of Jane Myers meandering, simplistic essay on Shrinking Solutions.
"What?" growled Severus, testily. The door pulled open, and Harry poked his head in, to unsure of his welcome to enter.
"Good afternoon, Professor," Harry said with a smile. Severus scowled back at the boy. He had grudgingly agreed to let Harry use the floo in his office to see Sirius. He had almost forgotten.
"Potter," Severus said with a little nod. Harry entered the classroom and quietly walked towards the fireplace. The hectic pace of the last weeks had prevented the Occlumency lessons from continuing. That hadn't stopped Potter from behaving…oddly. He had smiled at Severus as he left Defence the other day, and had stopped scowling all through Potions. Potions.
"Potter, wait." Severus riffled through his desk for a moment until he found the two month Potion OWL study sheet he had prepared. "This is for you."
Harry took it, his brow creased in confusion, then his expression tensed into awkwardness. He studied the paper for much longer than necessary.
"Your Potions OWL, Potter," Severus said after a long moment of silence, confused at this reaction.
For a moment, Severus was sure that the boy simply did not want to have to study through the summer. The sheer laziness and ungratefulness angered him, and he was about to say so, but something in the hesitant way Harry fiddled with the paper, eyes on the floor, stopped him.
"Thank you, sir," said Harry quietly, looking up and forcing a smile on his face. Severus' eyes narrowed as he observed the boy. It was odd that the boy didn't want to make up his OWL. Most jobs required at least an A, which was why Severus took the exams so seriously.
Harry's cheeks reddened under the scrutiny, and he avoided Severus' eyes by turning them back to the paper, scanning the study plan. After a moment, he folded the paper in to a neat little square and slid it into the breast pocket of his robes.
"Thank you, sir." Harry looked at Severus for a moment, hesitating over what to say. "You've been…You've done a lot for me, recently. I really appreciate it." Harry ducked his head, embarrassed. Severus felt a little taken aback. Sure, he had protected Harry, but he had always done that. He hadn't "done a lot" recently…unless he had.
There had been more contact perhaps. The horrible night when Voldemort had ripped in the boy's mind had required a modicum of kindness. Then with Dumbledore and McGonagall gone, Severus was forced to deal with the boy's fear and anger. There was no one else to, and he was worried the boy would have done something stupid left to his own devices.
When Severus had been injured, the boy had been kinder than he had to be. Severus had been reminded of Lily instead of James that night and the realization had almost panicked Severus. Still, he had purposefully told the boy off the next morning specifically to stop something from changing between them. Surely, he wasn't too late.
With a horrid flash of realization, Severus saw what Potter saw: a lack of hatred, affection even. Severus could admit that the hatred had been scaled back. Harry was just a fifteen-year-old boy, not some demon spawn. Severus knew that. Still, he didn't believe that this lack of hatred meant affection had developed in its place. He'd be aware if it had.
"Sirius is waiting for you." Severus said, inclining his head towards his fire. Potter didn't object to Severus ignoring his words of thanks. He just nodded and turned towards the fire.
"Thank you, sir." The boy was insufferably hard to despise. Severus nodded, and returned to Jane's essay, glad to be rid of the boy.
"Headquarters!" Harry said firmly. A sound like a minor explosion echoed for a moment then was gone. Severus looked up from the essay and stared at the wall.
For a moment, Harry didn't believe it was Grimmauld place at all. The kitchen that he had flown into seemed to have had years taken off of it. The stone floor had been scrubbed within an inch of its life and the large wooden table was covered with candles emitting a warm, cozy glow. Copper pots hung atop the stove, a large bowl of fruit sat on the counter. These indicators that someone actually used the kitchen seemed to rid it of its previous gloom and make it seem almost homey. Sirius, who had clearly been waiting impatiently in the kitchen, stepped forward and hugged Harry, who was still taking in the clean, bright kitchen.
"Wow, Sirius it looks great," Harry said. Sirius brushed off the compliment impatiently and pulled Harry along by his arm, reminding Harry very much of a child wanting to show their parent a favorite toy. He had to hurry to keep up as Sirius pulled him from the kitchen towards the entrance.
It was not just the kitchen that had changed. The Black family tapestry had been unceremoniously covered with floor to ceiling bookcases filled with books, flowering houseplants, and some of the prettier, more benign Black family artifacts. Cheerful candlelight made the space seem roomier than Harry had thought it was.
"Snape recons reading is a better use of my time than talking to Buckbeak." Sirius said grudgingly. "I told him to order me 'a couple books'. This is what he comes up with. At least now, I'll look smart." The books were almost all thick and serious with titles like Profound Potions Profundity an Me, You and Mystodiastalicsyphining. Still, there were a few novels and Quidditch books thrown in and, despite Sirius' tone, Harry could tell that he was pleased.
Sirius pulled Harry up the staircase. Gone were the elves heads and peeling wallpaper. They had been replaced with cheerful blue paint and bright wall sconces, and the worn carpet had been pulled up to reveal the houses' handsome original wood floors.
Sirius' speed was causing Harry to run out of breath and he was wheezing by the time they finally reached the top of the newly handsome staircases. They stopped at the third floor, where Harry had not been before. Like the rest of the house, it looked warm and cheerful. The wood floor was covered with a soft, taupe rug and glittering gas lamps remedied the lack of windows.
Harry followed Sirius to the first wooden door to the right. He stopped dead right behind Sirius, seeing the nameplate on the door: Harry James Potter. Harry felt his stomach drop. He turned to Sirius with his mouth open. The excited expression on Sirius' face had been replaced with an uncharacteristically nervous one. He gave Harry a fleeting smile and opened the door.
Harry guessed that the room was at least fifty-percent bigger than Dudley's. The walls were a light grey and, like in the rest of the house, the oppressive velvet curtains on the large window had been replaced by fluttering white muslin, allowing the sun to light up the room. A large bed with a handsomely carved headboard and a Gryffindor scarlet duvet dominated the room. A glittering chandelier and ornate fireplace added a touch of the house's former grandeur. Cautiously, Harry approached the wooden dresser that matched the bed. Its surface was covered with framed, moving photos.
Some were pictures Harry had seen before, but there were some he hadn't: Lily sat on a swing with a giggling baby Harry as James pushed them; a 15-year old Sirius smiled nervously beside James, who was wearing a lopsided Santa hat, Harry's grandparents stood behind them, laughing; a smiling Sirius ran around with a squealing Harry on his shoulders as Remus followed nervously, hands ready to catch Harry; Harry stood with his arms around Hermione and Ron.
A suspicious ball seemed to rise up Harry's throat as he picked up the picture. He hadn't really believed Sirius had done this for him until he saw the picture of his friends. He turned around to look at Sirius, who was fidgeting fussily with the duvet.
"You really did this all for me?" whispered Harry, gazing around the cavernous room. Sirius nodded with a little shrug.
"Do you like it?" he asked, with a brave attempt to control his nervousness. "I know the Gryffindor colors might be a little much, and there might be too much grey. We can change the –"
"It's perfect," said Harry, cutting Sirius off. He didn't want to change a single thing. No one had ever given him a room before. His room at the Dursley's had been 'Dudley's second bedroom' and as much as he loved his dorm at Hogwarts, it wasn't his alone.
"Thank you," Harry whispered, taking in the bright, inviting room again. When Harry was little, he had asked for the guest bedroom instead of the dark, cold cupboard. Petunia has told him that people only gave rooms to people who were wanted in the house. He had never been wanted before.
"When did you have time to do all this?" asked Harry. The entire house seemed to have taken on a new character. A feat that he and the Weasley's had not been able to pull off in all the weeks of last summer.
"I have had a lot of time recently," Sirius said with a smile that was wry, but no longer bitter. "And I realized that the best thing I can do for the Order, right now at least, is to learn all of this healing stuff and make headquarters livable. Household magic is a little funny. The house responds best to the actual owner. Dumbledore helped some too. Mom's still down in the hallway though. I was going to take out the wall but it's a load bearing beam." Sirius said with a touch of exasperation. Usually, when Sirius talked about the house and his family, he ranted and raved, this good humored acceptance was new. Harry found it oddly reassuring.
"I know I am no great parental figure, but I want know that you always have a home here, with someone who loves you, even if you can't use it all the time," said Sirius, looking at the fall instead of Harry. "I know you have to go back to your Aunt and uncle's, but if you want, you could spend a few weeks here."
Harry had no idea how to respond. Never in his recollection had anyone ever said that they loved him. Hermione, Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Sirius, and maybe even Remus and Dumbledore had all shown him in their own way that he was loved, something that meant more to Harry than he would ever admit, but he hadn't realized how comforting the actual words were. It was as though they had reached out and touched a place Harry hadn't known existed, providing a new sense of security Harry hadn't known he craved. An embarrassing heat started to prickle at his eyes.
"Of course I want to stay with you," said Harry, deepening his voice to a hoarse whisper to avoid any traitorous cracking. Sirius ducked his head and grinned widely at the floor.
"Oh well, that's awesome," Sirius replied, smiling up at Harry and nervously scratching at the back of his head. There was a moment of awkwardness that caused both of them to laugh. "Come here."
Sirius pulled Harry into a great, bone-crushing hug, almost yanking Harry off of his feet. Harry laughed and hugged Sirius back tightly. The laugh that rose up Harry's throat was trapped in his nose and changed to a shuddering sob. The happiness, relief and love Harry felt at the moment crashed painfully against years of loneliness and disregard. The mix of emotions was so overwhelming that he couldn't control the next humiliating chocked sob no matter how much he wanted to. Sirius softened his grip from the sports-guy bear hug to the gentler embrace a father might use to comfort a child.
"Hey…hey, it's ok," said Sirius, a little concerned. He rubbed a soothing hand over Harry's back. "I've got you."
Harry had never really been held before either. It felt safe and wonderful, and even though he was mortified, he couldn't help but lean in to the embrace. He sniffed in to Sirius' shoulder for as long as he dared, then got himself together and awkwardly pulled away. To Harry's surprise, Sirius' eyes were wet too. His Godfather dug through his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. He looked at it skeptically for a moment.
"My handkerchief is in dire need of the laundry I'm afraid," said Sirius as he reached over and wiped the tears away from Harry's cheeks with his thumbs. "That's better." Harry wanted to open his mouth to apologize, or to assert that crying spells weren't something he commonly indulged in, but Sirius cut him off.
"How about I make us some steak and kidney pies?" asked Sirius, raising his eyebrows invitingly. Harry looked at his grandfather skeptically.
"You can cook?" asked Harry innocently. Sirius gave his great bark-like laugh that seemed to come more and more frequently these days, and put an arm around him.
"I can take the frozen pies out of the box and put them in the oven," said Sirius, leading them out of the bedroom to the hallway. "Here I was, hoping to impress you." Harry looked back to the bright nameplate that declared 'the bedroom' Harry's room and looked back to Sirius.
"You have," said Harry, blushing as Sirius did. They walked down the stairs and turned to the kitchen, neither of them noticing the handle turning on the front door.
Back at Hogwarts, Severus' arm flared with a familiar pain.
Thank you for all the reviews. You all rock! I always look forward to hearing your thoughts. Remember, everytime you review Alan Rickman throws a smouldering smirk your way.