Summer of Enchantment
Summary: Harry is not dealing well with Sirius' death. Professor McGonagall is concerned enough about his mental health to approach the Headmaster. A surprising solution is proposed.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or the basic premise of this story. I am making no money from this endeavor.
Warnings: This story contains detailed heterosexual liaisons. If that disturbs you, please stop reading now.
Nineteen years and one day later . . .
"Mr. Potter, there's a woman here to see you. She doesn't have an appointment."
Harry looked up at his new assistant. She'd been with him less than a week, and she hadn't gotten over her hero worship yet. "Faye, I've told you . . . it's Harry."
She smiled. "Sorry . . . Harry," she gushed.
Harry worked to control his eyes, which wanted to roll up into the back of his head. "Did she give you her name?" he prompted.
"Oh, yes." She consulted the scrap of parchment she'd written the name on. "Sarah Wood."
"Sarah Wood?" Harry repeated. Something familiar about that name niggled the back of his brain, but he couldn't quite put his finger on who she was. "See if she can come back another time, would you? I've got rather a lot on my plate this afternoon."
"Certainly, Mr. P- . . . Harry," she corrected herself with another simpering smile. She left the room, and Harry gave his eyes free reign to roll. He wasn't sure how long this one was going to last. Overall, he had to admit, he preferred male assistants. All of the female assistants he'd gone through, no matter their ages, seemed to have a crush on him, which made him really uncomfortable and made them more than a little difficult to work with. At least with a male assistant, he didn't have that problem. Although that last male assistant he'd had, Dirk . . . well maybe being male wasn't quite the deterrent he thought it was.
Faye was back. "She says she realizes you might not have time for Sarah Wood, but she wondered if you could possibly make time in your busy schedule for Serafina Mallory." As she said this, her eyes were staring up at the ceiling, as though the message was written there, and Harry could tell she was trying to memorize exactly what his caller had said to her.
"Serafina Mallory! I certainly have time for Serafina Mallory!" he said, as he went by Faye, who seemed a little dizzy from her attempt at ceiling reading.
And there she was, standing in his outer office, looking much like he remembered from all those years ago. "Sera!" he exclaimed, delighted. "How are you?!"
They crossed toward each other and met in the middle of the room in a hug. Harry pushed her away and held her at arm's length. "You look wonderful! What are you doing here?!"
Faye had made her way back out of his office and plunked herself down behind her desk. She sat and stared at them, not even trying to hide her interest in the woman her boss had just hugged so joyfully.
"Come in!" Harry invited, mostly to get her out from under the curious eyes of his assistant. He escorted her back into his office and closed the door. "Sit down! Are you here on business?"
"Here in the building, yes," Sera said, unable to stop smiling. "Not here in your office, no. I had to deliver some things to the Department of International Magical Cooperation. I spotted your name on the door as I was passing by, and I just couldn't resist."
"I'm glad you didn't! Wow, you look really good. How long has it been?"
"Nineteen years. Since you kicked Voldemort's ass to the curb."
Harry's visit to her room immediately following Voldemort's defeat had been the last time he'd seen Sera. When he woke up hours and hours later on her bed, she hadn't been in her rooms, and he had not gone in search of her. There were others who needed his attention, namely the Weasleys, and Sera had slipped to the back of his mind.
In the days following Voldemort's defeat, Sera had been occupied with seeing that her uncle's body was retrieved from the Shrieking Shack, planning his funeral, and deciding what to do with his personal effects at school and at the home he kept in Spinner's End. Professor McGonagall had been extremely helpful to her during this time, and the two of them had spent much time together since the older woman had no one else to turn to in her time of grief and need. They had parted the greatest of friends.
Harry had not attended Snape's funeral, for which he had felt more than a little guilty. There were so many funerals in the days following the last great battle. Other than Dumbledore's, Harry hadn't been to a funeral prior to that time, and over the course of the next two weeks, he attended enough of them to last him three lifetimes. Unfortunately, Snape's funeral at Hogwarts had been scheduled for the same day as Fred Weasley's funeral in Ottery St. Catchpole, and there was no doubt in Harry's mind where he needed to be.
When her uncle's funeral was over and she'd finished cleaning out his home, Sera had gone to stay with Jamie and his family. Jamie had asked her to marry him a short time later, and they'd married on a beach in the Caribbean before moving to San Diego to begin their life together.
Harry smiled at her. "I've missed you. Hey, do you have plans? I was just about to get some lunch. Whaddya say? My treat."
"I do need to talk to you about something. But I don't want to take you away from anything important."
"I don't have anything here that can't wait a while," he assured her. And it was true. Although there would always be work for aurors as long as there were people bent on practicing dark magic, the work load was considerably less than it was in the time of Alastor Moody's day. And there wasn't anything that couldn't wait until tomorrow.
"You're sure?" When he nodded, she said, "All right. But how about I make lunch for you? I've got a babysitter at the house, and I really need to get back. It's not far from here, actually. Couple of blocks."
"Sure. That'd be great. I remember what a good cook you are!" Harry said, but Sera could tell that he felt the tiniest bit uncomfortable about accompanying her back to her place.
It was raining, and they debated briefly whether they should walk or ride. Sera's love of the rain won out, and they walked quickly to her two-story brownstone. Sera took Harry's coat and hung it with her own, then led him into the kitchen, where she immediately turned on the radio. Some things never changed.
"Very nice," he noted, looking around.
"It's just temporary. Have a seat. Can I get you a glass of wine?"
"Um, sure." He guessed one glass of wine with lunch wouldn't hurt.
"Hello, Aunt Sera," a young woman greeted them. She was carrying a toddler in her arms. The little girl said "Mumma!" and held her arms out to Sera, who took her daughter into her arms and gave her a hug and a kiss. "Hello, Pumpkin. Sheila, I'm all set now if you'd like to get going. Oh, Harry, this is Sheila. Harry is an old friend."
"It's nice to meet you," Sheila said as she slipped into her coat, not really looking at her aunt's visitor.
"Call me when you need me again," Sheila instructed on her way out. "Oh, she's had lunch."
"Okay. Bye, hon. Oliver's daughter," Sera said by way of explanation after Sheila had gone. She put the little girl down, and she toddled around the table after a tabby cat that had enough sense to keep just out of her reach. "Well, I don't have to ask what you've been up to," she said as she extracted a bottle from the wine refrigerator and poured him a glass. "Harry Potter still makes the news with alarming regularity. You've got what, three kids you and Ginny?"
"Yes," Harry confirmed, looking a tad uncomfortable, taking the glass she offered to him. "Just sent the two oldest off to Hogwart's yesterday. Are you going to make me drink alone?" he asked, holding up his glass.
"I have addiction issues in my past, remember? Both parents. I try not to touch the stuff. Now where were we? Both your older kids are boys, right?"
"Yes. Lily, she's the youngest, was a bit upset about being left behind." Something struck Harry and he looked up at her. "She's why you wouldn't let me name Sunny after my mother, isn't she?" His eyes found her daughter, and he drank her in. Dark hair, like her mother. Large dark eyes, like her mother. She was her mother, in miniature. Sunny might have looked just like this. She'd be – holy smokes, she'd be in her twenties were she alive today!
Sera smiled in acknowledgment. "I knew you'd have other kids some day. Of course at the time, I thought it would be with me, but that's . . . just the way it worked out, I guess."
"Thank you," he said sincerely.
"So anyway," Sera continued. "Three kids. Worked your way up to head of the auror department at the Ministry of Magic. Beautiful wife who played Quidditch professionally and now writes for the Prophet. Until the two of you divorced three years ago. The paper was low on details as to the cause of the break-up of your marriage. There were lots of rumors of infidelity." Sera knew this was none of her business, and she shouldn't be expecting details, but she couldn't help but be curious.
"Well, the press has been known to be wrong on occasion," he pointed out. "I'm sure you remember how they treated your uncle after his death, until those of us who knew the truth made sure that it was public knowledge."
"I remember," Sera said quietly.
"I did nothing to correct whatever they wanted to print about Ginny and me. It was a . . . difficult time for both of us." Harry took a large swallow of his wine. "Ginny figured out that she preferred women. She'd taken a lover. I . . . found them one day, and it was over then. We stayed together for a while longer, for the kids' sake, but she just wasn't happy. Which was making the rest of us unhappy. So she left, went to live with her partner, a really nice woman, by the way, named Joyce. Joyce is a travel writer, so Ginny's not around much. That's why the kids live with me. Well, it's just Lily now, with the two boys gone." Sera could tell how much he missed his sons already. She knew the feeling. "So that's my life for the past twenty years. Now tell me about you."
As she worked to prepare lunch, Sera told her story. "After Voldemort's defeat and the funeral, I went to stay with Jamie's family."
"I'm sorry I didn't make it to the funeral," Harry offered.
"It's all right," she assured him. "I know why you weren't there."
"I named my second son Albus Severus," Harry said quietly.
"I know," she told him. She'd seen the birth announcement in the paper. "Anyway, Jamie and I got married, and he joined the Department of International Magical Cooperation. You'll remember, that was when the Ministry decided to make a serious effort to reach out to other countries, to establish ties and bonds that could be drawn on in times of trouble. In case anyone like Voldemort ever tried to gain power again."
Harry nodded. He remembered the many changes that had occurred after Voldemort's defeat. The little girl toddled over to him, finally curious about the visitor.
"This is Rayna," Sera introduced. "Rayna, this is Harry."
"'arry," Rayna repeated.
"That's right, hon."
Harry smiled down at her. "Up, 'arry," she requested.
Harry lifted her into his lap, and she sat proudly and looked at her mother. Sera passed a coloring book across the table to her along with a box of crayons, and Rayna set to work.
"Jamie requested a posting in America," Sera continued. "He was one of the first to go there, so we got San Diego. What a beautiful place. Sun shines almost constantly. It's warm and the ocean is blue."
"I take it you got re-established on paper, in order to go back?"
"Piece of cake," she assured him. "With both governments involved, after they knew the story of how I'd come to be here and not exist where I was born, it was fixed in a matter of days."
"And how was that? Going back home?"
"It was wonderful. I'd convinced myself that it didn't matter, but really, it did. I'm an American. I was born an American, and I'll die one. And that's important to me. I didn't realize just how important until I returned home and got it back. I was glad to be home for 9/11. Not that I could do anything."
"We all felt that frustration," Harry noted.
"But I got basketball back, too," Sera said, brightening the mood. "I started playing again, and San Diego has its own professional team. Jamie and I got season tickets, and we went to all of the games. That was good."
"Did you ever go back to the farmhouse?" Harry asked.
Sera nodded. "I did. You wouldn't recognize it. The house and the barn are gone. The place has been subdivided into tiny little parcels, and there are houses stacked on top of houses all around the lake. Made me want to cry, actually." Sera thought back to the changes that had been wrought there since her childhood and shook her head sadly. "Where was I? Oh, yeah. I went to college – thought I wanted to teach little kids. I did that for a while, and then our own kids started coming."
"Kids. How many other than this little doll?"
"Four. All girls. The oldest is Jennifer. She's eleven. I put her on the Hogwart's Express yesterday, too."
"I didn't see you there!"
"Yes, well, there were a few people milling about, weren't there?"
Harry nodded in agreement. "So she's . . . got the magic?"
Sera nodded. "Cece, she's nine, she's got it, too. More so than Jenny, I think. And I've seen signs that Sophia might have more than the other two put together. She's five."
"And how old is this little peanut?" Harry said, tousling the hair of the little girl in his lap. "About two, I'd say."
"Give that man a prize," Sera said with a smile at her youngest. The smile left her face rather quickly. "I don't think she's got it."
Harry looked at her, surprised. "She's only two, Sera. You know it doesn't show up this soon."
"I know. It's just a feeling I have. She's the only one that looks like me. The others are Jamie's, through and through. It doesn't matter anyway," she said briskly. "It'll just be . . . hard if she can't go to school with her sisters, if she can't . . . do what they can do."
"Her mother has a good head on her shoulders. If it comes to that, she'll be all right. So where is Jamie?"
Sera stared at him. "You don't know?"
Harry shook his head, aware that there was something he was missing, something important. He'd surreptitiously looked at her hand earlier and saw that she wore a gold wedding band and a sizeable diamond engagement ring still, so they weren't divorced.
"He was killed by Lord Balthazar in the last battle for DC," Sera told him quietly.
Lord Balthazar. The United States' version of Lord Voldemort. Balthazar (born Zahari al Trambold) had studied Voldemort, had copied his tendencies (down to rearranging the letters of his name to announce his alter-ego), had thought he could succeed where Voldemort had failed.
Balthazar had begun his campaign for world domination by targeting American Muggle governmental facilities, knowing that by engaging them first, he'd be forcing intervention by the United States Council of Magic. The death and destruction he'd wrought were blamed officially on "terrorists", an explanation Muggles were only too willing to believe. Balthazar had gone several steps down a path that would have allowed him to seize control of the White House, and from there, the world.
In the end, he'd been brought down by the combined might of the magical ministries from the US, Canada, and their new friends in Great Britain. The Ministry of Magic had been quick to offer their assistance, both in terms of intelligence and manpower. Once a strategy was devised based on Balthazar's own particular strengths and weaknesses, a strategy, though few knew it, formed in large part by Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape, he'd been defeated rather quickly, although not painlessly. Balthazar's last great stand, in the Senate office building, had caused the death of nearly a hundred of those attempting to rid the world of his evil. Most of those casualties had been American, but the Canadians and Brits had lost people, too, including Jamie Wood. That final battle had taken place five days before Christmas last, and it had taken two days of intense fighting before Balthazar and all of his followers were ousted. Balthazar had been killed early on the second day, and his disciples had fallen quickly after.
Casualty reports had crossed Harry's desk, but he hadn't read them. They brought back too many painful memories.
"I'm so sorry, Sera. I didn't know."
"It's . . ." She'd been about to say it was fine, but it wasn't. "Thank you. I don't know how I would have survived without Oliver and Wendy. They came over right away and stayed with us until we were able to function again. It's nice to have family, isn't it?"
"Yes, it certainly is," Harry agreed. When he'd married Ginny, he'd gotten the entire Weasley clan in the bargain. It wasn't as though he didn't already feel like a part of their family, but it was nice to have that tie, for his children to have those ties, especially now.
"It was always the plan to move back here when Jenny was old enough to attend Hogwart's, so we stayed in San Diego until a couple of months ago, then packed up and moved out here. We stayed with Oliver for a couple of weeks, but six kids and three adults and two dogs and two cats – it was pretty crazy. We're renting here until we can find something more permanent."
Harry realized that Rayna had been still for a while, and he looked down at her. She was sleeping, slumped against his chest, her beautiful long dark lashes closed against her pink cheeks. She looked like a cherub. "She's sleeping," he whispered.
"You don't have to whisper," Sera told him. "She could sleep in a train station. On the tracks. Here, I'll take her and put her down."
Harry lifted her into his arms. "Just show me where. I'll do it."
Sera led him to her own room, which she shared with her youngest daughter. Harry laid her in her cot and covered her with a blanket. "She's very beautiful. Just like her mother."
"You're a good liar," Sera said with a mischievous smile, and she led the way back to the table. "Lunch is ready," she said, and they didn't speak while food was brought to the table.
"How are the kids adjusting to all of this?" Harry asked. "Losing their dad, moving? It's a lot of change in a short period of time."
"They're southern Californians," Sera pointed out. "They're pretty laid back about everything. Which is not to say that it hasn't been hard, but they seem to be doing okay."
"And you?" Harry pressed. "Are you getting along okay?" Harry asked when she'd sat opposite him. "I know that raising four kids by yourself can't be easy. Kids are expensive."
"Oh, we're fine in that department. But that's kind of why I wanted to talk to you."
Harry looked surprised. Was she going to ask him for money?
But that was the farthest thing from Sera's mind. "When I was teaching school, I did some writing. It was just . . . something that was inside me, and I didn't find peace until I'd written it down. I didn't intend for anyone to ever see it, really. Unknown to me, Jamie found it and read it. He apparently thought it was pretty good because he sent it away to a publisher. He intended to present me with a contract for publication of the book as a birthday present. It ended up being a Christmas present because the first two places he sent it turned it down."
"So you've had a book published? That's wonderful, Sera!"
"Yes. And thank you. I was . . . reluctant to agree to it, but Jamie thought it was a good idea and the publisher was really excited about it, so I agreed. It's done really well in the States. My agent is talking about a movie even."
"Yeah. So I did a sequel, and that's done and will be released shortly. The third installment is probably half finished. And there's more where that came from. The first book did well enough that I'll never have to work again if I don't want to. With the movie, and the video game, and the merchandise . . . well, it's gotten a little crazy."
"Wow," Harry said again. "This is great. I'm so happy for you. So what can I do to help you?"
"Well, it isn't really help that I need. You see, the book . . . the idea came from . . . Well, maybe I should just show you."
She got up from the table, and Harry noticed that she'd barely touched her meal. He'd polished his off while she was talking. She hadn't lost her touch in the kitchen.
She came back with a hardcover book, about two inches thick. She held onto it nervously. "I hope you won't be angry."
"Why would I be angry?" he asked, holding out his hand for the book. When she didn't give it to him right away, he looked at her sternly, the look he reserved for his children when they weren't minding. She sighed and handed it over.
"Cyrus Dench and the Jewel of Eternity. By S.M. Wood," he read out loud. He turned the book over and read the brief explanation on the back cover to himself. "After eleven years of disregard and neglect at the hands of his cruel aunt, uncle and cousin, Cyrus Dench suddenly receives a visit from a giant, who informs Cyrus that he is a wizard, and that he is to attend a special School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Most surprising of all to Cyrus, he is a legend in the wizard world for having survived an attack by the evil sorcerer who killed his parents and left him with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Here is enchantment, suspense and danger galore as Cyrus and his new friends discover the secrets of the jewel that provides life everlasting and battle evil while they unravel the mystery behind Cy's mysterious scar."
Harry looked up at Sera, his mouth hanging open. "This is about me?"
Sera nodded. "I'm sorry. I just . . . you told me so much about what happened to you that first year. I still have my diaries from back then. I'd written down a lot of the details, and I made up some stuff, and then there was this book. I never meant for anyone else to see it. You have to believe me."
Harry lifted the book. It was quite hefty. "Me? In here? My story?"
"Well, obviously the characters all have different names. And it takes place in the United States. But yes, it's your story. I'm sorry," she offered again. "Are you angry?"
"I don't know quite how to feel," he confessed. He opened the book to a point near the middle and began to read about his and his friends' first encounter with Fluffy, the three-headed dog. While it was strange reading about his own adventures, and some of the details were incorrect, he had to admit that the writing style was entertaining. She'd done a good job with it.
"The reason that I'm coming to you with this now," she said, interrupting him, getting to the crucial part of her confession, "is that when my publisher found out that I was moving here, he decided that now was the ideal time to release the book over here. He thinks there will be almost as large of an audience for it here as there was back home. And I knew that if that were true, you'd become aware of it eventually, and I didn't want you to learn about it from someone other than me." She paused, looking anxiously at him. "I wish you'd say something!"
"I don't know what to say, Sera," Harry said. "Can I read this?"
"And there's another one on its way out?"
"Yes. It's the story of your search for the Chamber of Secrets. Cyrus Dench and the Secret Chamber. And the third one is the story of your reunion with your godfather."
"Can I read those as well?"
"Yes. Anything you want. I've got an advance copy of the second book here somewhere, and I'll give you everything I have so far on the third. But Harry, you have to understand . . . if you say the word, I won't let them do it. As I said, we can live comfortably off what I've made on the first book for the remainder of my life. I don't need to write any more or release anything here. If you feel uncomfortable with this, just let me know, and it's done. You have my word."
"And just how many of these things did you plan to write?"
"Well, I have outlined four more in addition to the three we've already talked about. One for each year of your schooling, plus the one year of the quest. And the battle. I've used as much detail as I could remember you giving me. The story is such an amazing one, that I don't need to embellish much, only to fill in the gaps where I'm missing information. I've tried to stay true to it as much as I could. Although," she said with a shy chuckle, "I don't imagine Cyrus will be knocking up any teenagers when he's sixteen."
"That's probably for the best," Harry agreed. "Although I think I was fifteen," he pointed out.
"Harry, I . . ."
She was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and the arrival of two brown-haired, hazel-eyed children. They were talking between themselves when they entered, but at the sight of the stranger in their kitchen, they fell silent.
"Hi, girls. How was school?" Sera asked.
They both dropped backpacks to the floor. "Fine," answered the older, staring curiously at Harry. "Good," said the other, and then, "Can I have a cookie?"
"Yes, honey. Harry, this is Cecelia," Sera introduced her older daughter, "and Sophia. Girls, this is Harry Potter. He's an old friend."
"Hello, Mr. Potter," Cece said. Sophia, painfully shy with strangers, stood behind her sister and didn't speak.
"Hello, girls. It's very nice to meet you."
"Cec, can you fix a snack for both of you while I talk with Mr. Potter, please?"
Harry looked at his watch. "Wow, it's later than I thought. I really have to get going." He stood up, the book in his hand.
"Let me get you the other book and my draft of the third," Sera offered, and she left the room. Harry watched her two children, the older helping the younger, until she returned. When she did, she handed over a second volume and a hefty pile of paper, clipped together.
"I'm really sorry about all of this," Sera said again.
"You don't need to be sorry, Sera. I just can't figure out how I feel about this. Can I get back in touch with you in a couple of days?"
"Of course. Bring Lily and come for dinner. Just let me know when."
"All right. It really is good to see you after all this time," he said sincerely.
"You, too," Sera said softly. She walked him to the door. The worry she was feeling must have shown on her face, because he reached over and took her hand.
"Don't worry. I'm not angry with you. I'm just not sure how I feel about the whole story being out there, you know?"
Sera looked down at their joined hands. The spark was still there, only a shell of its former self, but there nonetheless, and she wondered if she was the only one that could feel it. She smiled up at him and squeezed his hand, then withdrew her hand from his.
"Don't forget dinner," she reminded him. "No matter what you decide about the books, the invitation still stands."
"I won't forget. I'll let you know. Goodbye, Sera."
She opened the door for him, and he left her again.
"You'll never guess who I ran into today," Harry said to Hermione later that evening. He'd invited her and Ron here for dinner, needing her especially as a sounding board. Ron was running late at the store, so Hermione had come with Hugo, who was up in Lily's room with her.
"So tell me then," she said good-naturedly.
"Remember Serafina Mallory?"
Hermione stared at him. "Of course I do. Do you think I'm likely to forget your first lover?"
Harry felt his cheeks flush, but he plowed on. "She's actually Sera Wood now. Married Jamie Wood, Oliver's younger brother."
Hermione nodded. She knew that they'd married right after school. "I knew that."
"He was killed. In the States. Did you know that, too?"
"Yes." She'd seen the reports, and she'd actually read them. She'd assumed that Harry had known as well and just hadn't said anything to her about it at the time.
"I didn't know," Harry confessed. "They had four kids. The youngest is only two."
"That's really sad," Hermione said. "So where did you see her?"
"She came into the office today. She had something to drop off at IMagCo. She said she saw my name on the door and just decided to stop in. Although she said she needed to talk to me about something."
"Yes. We went to lunch. At her apartment." Harry figured he'd better get that right out there. Although he was a single man – he owed no one an explanation for his behavior. Hermione had always made him feel like a misbehaving twelve-year old who ought to know better.
"Oh?" she said again, this time raising an eyebrow.
"She cooked for me. I wanted to go somewhere for lunch, but her babysitter had to leave." Why was he so nervous? He hadn't done anything wrong in having lunch with an old friend. Even if it had been at her place and they'd been unchaperoned by other adults.
Hermione let all that pass. She knew her friend well enough to know that he hadn't done anything he might regret with his former girlfriend. She also knew him well enough to know that he would be worried about how others might feel about the appearance the situation had created, if only so that his children would be spared gossip. "So what did she want to talk to you about?"
"This," Harry said, extracting Volume 1 of the de facto Harry Potter chronicles from his brief case and handing it to her.
She took the book and looked at the front then the back cover. "She wrote this?"
Harry nodded. "It's basically about me – about us. The names have been changed to protect the innocent," he joked.
"Or the not so innocent," Hermione noted.
"It's been released in the United States, and she said it's doing really well there. There's a second one, too," he said, handing her that volume as well. "That one will be coming out soon. And she's writing more."
Hermione flipped through the pages. "Have you read this?"
"Most of the first one." Harry had gone back to his office after meeting with Sera, shut the door, and read for the remainder of the afternoon. "It's really quite good. Entertaining. A lot of it is factually incorrect, but I didn't tell her everything that happened, so she filled in the gaps. She did rather an extraordinary job, actually."
"And why is she telling you about this now?"
"She's moved back here. Her oldest has started at Hogwart's. Her publisher wants her to release the books over here. She told me that if I was uncomfortable or if I objected that she wouldn't do it."
"And how do you feel?" Hermione asked, placing the books on the table.
"I'm not sure. It's a work of fiction, technically, right? Aimed at the Muggles. It's a little weird, but I don't think I object."
Hermione was quiet for a moment. "Maybe it's time," she suggested.
"Time? For what?"
"To tell the story. The whole story. So that everyone knows. So that your children and my children know. It's their history."
Harry had been thinking this himself, but he was glad to hear her say it, too. He'd like it if his children knew his story and the story of his brave friends who were now their mother and aunt and uncle and all of the other brave people who had contributed so much so that they could enjoy the lives they now led. Certainly there had been plenty of historical accounts written about the battle at Hogwart's and the time leading up to it, but Harry had lent none of them his name and story, though he'd been asked many times, so none of them was complete and few were factually accurate. "I was sort of thinking that very thing. I could never write it. You probably could, though. Would you rather. . .?"
"No," Hermione said immediately. "She started it. She should finish it."
"It might mean spending time with Sera, to fill in the gaps, if we want this done right. There's so much she doesn't know about the last two years. Is that . . . does that bother you?"
"Why would it bother me?"
"No reason, I guess. I'll tell her to go ahead, then."
"So where is she living?" Hermione asked.
"She's got a two-story flat not far from the Ministry. But she's looking for something more permanent."
"Did you tell her about the house next to ours?" The house next to Ron and Hermione's had been on the market for months, since the elderly wizard that lived there had died. The house shared a large backyard with the Weasley's own, and they'd confunded the real estate agent so that no Muggle family could buy the place. It was a large house and in need of some cosmetic repair, but it might be perfect for a family of five who understood about magic.
"I didn't think of it," Harry said. "But it would be a good solution to the problem. I'll tell her about it."
"No, I'll tell her about it. I'll go to see her tomorrow."
On Harry's questioning look, she said, "I think she'll be more likely to accept that it's a good idea if it comes from me."
"Because if you tell her, she might think that you're telling her as a former boyfriend. Whereas if I tell her, it'll be coming from the friend and sister-in-law of a former boyfriend."
"And that'll make a difference?" he asked, bemused.
"All the difference in the world," she assured him.
"Women," Harry muttered. "She invited us for dinner when I was there. Lily and me. It would make sense if you and Ron were there, too. She's going to need your input just as much as mine."
Right. Like anyone ever preferred to hear the Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger version of events when they could have the Harry Potter tale. Hermione smiled indulgently at her friend. Some things hadn't changed, even after all this time. "Great. I'll talk with her about that when I see her."
Hermione knocked at Sera's door the following day. When Sera opened it, the two women stared at each other for a moment, both thinking the same thing. "She looks great."
"Hermione," Sera said with a genuine smile. "How nice to see you. Come in, please."
"Thank you," Hermione said as she entered. "What a lovely home you have."
"Well, I'd say thank you, but it's rented, furnishings and all. Can I get you a cup of tea?"
"That would be great."
"Sit down," Sera invited as she moved about the kitchen gathering tea things.
"I'm sorry to come unannounced," Hermione said.
"Oh, don't be. I work from home. I'm almost always here." But Sera had to wonder why Hermione was here. Had Harry not wanted to see her again? Was he turning her down, and he didn't want to do it in person?
Hermione could hear the sounds of a child playing from the next room. "May I see your daughter?"
"Of course." Sera led the way into the large sunken living room. Rayna was sitting in the middle of the floor, all of her stuffed animals in a circle around her, each with a tea cup in front of it.
"Ooh, a tea party!" Hermione exclaimed. She'd missed tea parties since Rose had outgrown them years ago.
Rayna looked up and smiled happily. "This is Rayna," Sera introduced. "Rayna, this is Hermione."
"My-nee," Rayna repeated.
"Hello, Rayna," Hermione said, squatting down beside the little girl.
"Want tea?" Rayna asked.
"I'd love some."
Rayna handed her an empty cup, and Hermione pretended to drink. "Mmmm. Yummy."
Sera smiled and left to prepare the real tea. When she returned with everything on a tray, Hermione was sitting on the floor, a part of the stuffed animal tea circle.
"Rayna, can Mommy borrow Hermione now? We have some grown up talking to do."
Hermione rose and settled herself on the sofa. "I'd forgotten how much fun they are at this age. Rose is eleven. They grow up too fast, don't they?"
"They sure do," Sera agreed.
"So Harry told me about your meeting yesterday. And he showed me your books. I've spent the morning reading them."
"And what do you think?" Sera asked, holding her breath.
"They're wonderful," Hermione said simply. "Harry and I talked last night, and we both agreed that it's time that his story was told, by someone who knows, by someone who was there. He's refused to tell it himself, up until now, but he wants his children to know. It's a part of who they are."
Sera misunderstood what Hermione was telling her, and she was taken aback. She hadn't really thought that Harry would refuse to let her do this, even though she'd told him that she wouldn't if he objected, and she was finding it a little difficult to accept. "Okay. Well, I'll do whatever I can to help whoever you choose. I have notes and I can . . ."
"What are you talking about?" Hermione interrupted.
"You said you wanted someone who was there to tell the story."
"You were there," Hermione pointed out.
"Oh. I thought you meant . . . I wasn't there from the beginning, so I thought maybe . . . maybe you wanted to do it yourself. I know that you're more than capable."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to give you that impression. No, both Harry and I think you're absolutely the right person to do this. You have a gift, Sera. I've been reading since six this morning – I couldn't put them down. Harry said that some of the smaller stuff wasn't technically correct, because he hadn't told you every little detail and that you'd filled in some of the gaps, but I found I couldn't tell the difference between what really happened and what had come from your imagination. Because I don't know all of the details of this earlier stuff either. But it was wonderfully compelling, and if you didn't continue to tell the story, in some fashion or another, it would be a travesty. But Harry wants more than that. He wants it to be his story. Oh, the names will be different, of course, and the locations, as they already are, but it will be his adventures, and his triumphs, and his losses, and his children, and the entire world will finally know. He realizes that this means that you and he will have to work together, and if you're willing to do that, he's prepared to proceed."
Sera was getting more and more excited as Hermione spoke. They had liked her work! Not only did they not mind that she continued with the writing, Harry wanted to help her with it, to fill in the details she was missing, to make the picture complete!
"Are you kidding?! That would be fantastic! In fact, maybe before we release the first book here in the UK, he could go through it, and the second one, too, and make notes about what I need to change, so that when it is released, it'll be factually accurate here, at least. And here is where it's really more important, isn't it? The third one isn't far enough along so that those changes couldn't be made easily."
"You can certainly talk with him about it. Oh, I also wanted to mention to you that the house next to mine and Ron's is for sale. Harry said you were looking for a more permanent place. It's a huge, beautiful old house. We've been hoping for a magical family to move in. Just makes things a little easier, since the houses share a backyard. Why don't you come take a look?"
"Do you have time?"
"The girls will be home from school soon. If we could do it a little later, I'm sure they'd like to see it, too."
"Why don't we do this? Hugo will be home from school in half an hour. I've got to be there when he gets off the bus. I'll give you directions. As soon as your girls get home, come on out. I'll call the realtor in the meantime, have him meet us there. We can look it over together."
Sera smiled. "That sounds perfect."
And it was. The house was everything that Sera could have dreamed of. It was an old Victorian style house with a full attic, four large bedrooms on the second floor, a master bedroom suite on the first floor with its own access to the massive backyard, a large, surprisingly modern kitchen, a sun-filled room which could be converted to a study where she could write, and a huge family room. Sera fell in love with it the moment she walked through the door, and the two older girls, accompanied by Hugo, were thrilled with its size and ran from room to room, exclaiming over everything they saw. Jamie would have hated it – it was too large, it was too old, it was too remote – but Sera loved it, and she made an offer to the realtor before she left, an offer which Hermione told her was sure to be accepted.
To celebrate, Hermione invited the Woods to stay for dinner. She'd arranged to pick Lily up at school, and she'd owled Ron to collect Harry, and the two men came home to find the kitchen full of women, all of them seemingly talking and laughing at once, making a great deal of noise and waiting for the pizza they'd ordered since no one felt like cooking. Hugo had taken refuge in his bedroom.
Over a dinner of nearly-cold pizza, the older kids fed and shipped off to the living room and Rayna drowsy in Hugo's old high chair, the adults talked.
Harry noticed that Lily's and Cece's heads were touching as they bent over a book that Lily had brought home from school. "They seem to be getting along nicely." Indeed, the two girls had hit it off from their first hello, and they'd already asked if Cece could spend the night with Lily tonight.
"I got an owl from James today," Harry told them. "I'd sent one to him, asking him to introduce himself to Jenny. He wrote back and said that he had and that he and Al have taken her under their wing and are introducing her around. She's in Gryffindor, too," he told Hermione and Ron. "He said they'd watch out for her."
"That's sweet. Thank you," Sera said. She took a sip of her diet soda and beamed at them. It was nice being back here, among friends.
"You weren't totally honest with me," Harry accused Sera, pointing a finger at her, suddenly changing the good feeling in the room.
"What do you mean?" Sera asked, alarmed. She hadn't deliberately lied to him about anything, and she had no idea what he could be talking about.
"Your book. You said it had done 'well' in the States. I did some checking. It's done a whole lot more than well. Phenomenal is the word I think everyone is using. Sera, you're a huge hit! You've already broken pre-sale records with the second book, and it's not due out for another two weeks. I don't think you could have stopped your publisher from releasing it here if you'd wanted to, because the demand here is almost as large. The movie rights sold for a huge amount, and the merchandising line is going to do just as well, from all predictions. I hope you have someone helping you to manage all of this, because if it hasn't already, your life is about to explode!"
Sera stared at him. "Someone learned to use the internet finally, I see."
Harry raised his wine glass in a toast to her.
"I did tell you that I'd never have to work again," she pointed out.
"I'm not going to regret having you for a neighbor, am I?" Hermione asked. "We're not going to have crazy stalker people crashing around in the bushes?"
"I can't see it getting that bad," Sera said. "But if we do, you have my permission to stupefy them. There is something that I wanted to make clear right up front. If we do this, you're going to have to let me make some provision for dividing up the proceeds . . . financially, I mean."
Both Harry and Ron started to protest, but Sera cut them off. "Look, I've already made more money off this than I can spend in two lifetimes. And it's not even my story! If you won't take it directly, you've got to let me set something up for the kids. I won't continue to profit myself from this, not considering everything I've had to take and will continue to take from you to get it."
"We can work that out later," Harry said, ending the uncomfortable topic.
They sat a moment in silence, until Hermione suddenly said, "Harry! The portrait!"
"The portrait?" he repeated, and then he figured out what she was talking about. "Oh, the portrait!" He turned excitedly to Sera.
"I'm not sure if you're aware of this," Harry explained. "All of the headmasters of Hogwarts over the years have their portraits hanging in the Headmaster's office. If they have another painting hanging in a different location, they can travel between the paintings, visiting each one as they choose."
"Okay." Sera was puzzled about what this had to do with her.
"Well, you remember that wizarding portraits are alive – they can talk and move about."
"I have hanging in my study a portrait of Dumbledore," Harry continued. "We speak almost every day."
"That's wonderful, Harry. I know how much you looked up to him. It must be a real comfort to you."
Harry nodded. It had been that over the years. "I also have a portrait of Severus Snape."
Sera was speechless for a moment. When she finally found her voice, she asked, "Uncle Severus? I could talk to him?"
Harry nodded. "Right now, if you like."
Sera covered her mouth with a hand as tears sprang to her eyes. She'd never imagined she'd be able to speak with her long lost uncle again. "Do you speak with him often?" she asked, giving herself time to gather herself.
"No," Harry said. "We've spoken . . ." He thought about it. "Three times since I've had the painting. The first time was right after the portrait was finished. I wanted to thank him for all that he'd done for me, for loving my mother so well and so long. He didn't want my gratitude, of course. He hadn't done it for me, he said, but I needed to say it anyway. The second time was after his potions textbook was published. Dumbledore had started the new book on its way prior to his death, but it didn't come out until quite a while after Voldemort's defeat. I wanted your uncle to see it. They're still using it at Hogwart's. The third time was just a year ago. He and Dumbledore and I conferenced on a plan for defeating Balthazar. That was the last time. He and I still don't . . . like each other much."
Harry had been instrumental in having a portrait of Snape placed in the Headmaster's office at Hogwart's. There were those, who didn't know the whole story, who had been against the idea of the man who ruled Hogwart's during Voldemort's reign there having a portrait hanging beside those who had served the school so nobly. But Harry had known the whole story, and in the aftermath of his defeat of Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic would have given him the moon, so he'd pushed for Snape's portrait until he, himself, had hung it on the wall in Dumbledore's old office. It had taken two years, but he'd finally done it.
He hadn't been entirely sure what to do with the second portrait. No one else seemed to want it, unlike Dumbledore's second portrait, which had been highly coveted. Dumbledore himself had chosen to reside in Harry's home, and neither man had ever regretted it. So Harry had hung Snape beside Dumbledore in his study, and while Dumbledore flitted in and out almost daily, Snape's portrait remained empty and forlorn, Snape preferring to spend his time in the Headmaster's office.
"Would you like to talk to him? I can go get the painting," Harry asked.
Sera nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
"Wait here. It may take a few moments."
Harry apparated into his own study. But instead of calling for Snape, he asked for an audience with Dumbledore. When his mentor arrived, Harry was smiling widely. "I have good news that I need to share with Professor Snape. Would you mind asking him to come?" He suspected Snape would not respond to a summons from the former bane of his existence.
Dumbledore's interest was piqued. "Can I ask what it is?"
"This is something I really need to tell Professor Snape first. I'm sure he'll tell you about it later."
"Can't I stay while you tell him?" Dumbledore wheedled.
"Sorry, Professor. I'm taking him away."
Dumbledore actually pouted at not being let into the secret in advance, but he agreed to go and get Severus right away. While he waited, Harry removed Snape's frame from the wall and set it on the floor.
When Snape arrived in his portrait, he glared up at Harry. "Potter, why have you taken me off the wall?" He'd never looked up to Harry Potter in life, and he was damned if he'd do so now that he was dead.
"Hello, Professor. How are you today?"
"I'm feeling a little two dimensional, but other than that, fine." It was a standard joke among the portrait people, one they thought the living found quite amusing. Perhaps the first time. "And you? The family is fine?"
"I'm fine, thanks. And the family is great. Have you seen James and Albus yet?"
"No, but it's only the second day of school," Snape noted.
Harry was pleased that both his sons had made it through two whole days without being sent to the Headmaster's office. For James, that was some sort of personal record.
"Was there something you needed me for?"
"Yes. There's something I need to show you. You'll have to come with me. Are you willing?"
"What is it?" Snape asked in his usual suspicious tone, but Harry could tell his interest was whetted.
"It's a surprise."
"I don't like surprises. I find I like them even less now that I'm dead."
"I think you'll like this one," Harry assured him.
Snape looked up at him, his dark eyes glaring. "And you won't tell me what it is?"
"No. Just trust me."
Snape snorted. "Trust you, Potter? That's never gotten me anywhere I wanted to be."
"That's because you've never done it," Harry pointed out.
"Oh, very well," Snape relented. "Let's get this over with." Though he sounded annoyed, he couldn't help but look forward to this variance in his routine (though he'd never admit it).
"We'll have to apparate," Harry warned him.
"Do not splinch me, Potter, or I shall leave this frame and haunt your every waking moment."
It was Harry's turn to snort, and he picked up the large frame in both arms.
"Perhaps you could turn me around," came Snape's muffled voice from somewhere in the vicinity of Harry's belly button. "So that I'm not suffocating in your robe."
"You're dead, Professor. You can't suffocate. Just hang on – we'll be there in a moment."
Harry apparated them into Ron's study. He transformed a bookcase into an easel and propped Snape's portrait onto it. "Still in one piece?" he asked the grumpy man.
"Yes, amazingly. Where are we?"
"We're at the Weasleys – Ron and Hermione's," Harry said by way of further explanation, since there were so many Weasleys. "Hang on just one more second." Harry left the room and returned moments later, still alone. Snape peered around for whatever it was he was supposed to be seeing.
"There's someone here who wanted to see you," Harry explained. "Sera, come on in."
When Sera entered the room, Snape's eyes went wide with amazement. "Sera?" he whispered. She was older, obviously, than when he'd last seen her, but he would have recognized her anywhere.
"Hello, Uncle," she said as she came to stand in front of his portrait, tears running down her cheeks. She reached out a hand to the painting, wanting to touch him so badly.
"Child, you look . . . you are still so beautiful."
"I'll just let the two of you talk," Harry said. He left the study, closing the door behind him.
"I can't believe I'm actually talking to you again," Sera said, unable to stem the tears that flowed from her eyes.
"I, also, never allowed myself to hope for such a meeting," said Snape. "When I learned that you had returned to the States . . . I was so very sorry to hear about Jamie. He was a fine boy."
"Yes, he was. Turned into a pretty good man, too," Sera noted.
"So tell me – what have you been doing since I saw you last?"
She told him everything – about the return home, college, teaching school, the children, the book, the move back here, the house next door. He listened raptly and had only one question when she finished. "Are the children here with you?"
"Jenny's with you – at Hogwart's, I mean. I'm sure you can think of a reason to get her up to the Headmaster's office to get a look at her and introduce yourself. Better yet – I'll borrow an owl and tell her to go to you. The other three are here. Would you like to meet them?"
Wordlessly, Snape nodded.
Sera got up and went out into the living room, where everyone was gathered around the television watching a movie. She looked at her watch and was amazed to see that an hour had passed while she'd chatted with her uncle. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't realize how late it was. We're almost finished."
"Take your time," Harry said. Rayna was asleep on his lap. He'd missed watching his children fall asleep in his arms and had been more than happy to sit here with the toddler while she did so.
The older children were lying on the floor, nearly asleep, watching the movie through hooded eyes. "Cece, Sophie, would you come here a minute, please? There's someone I'd like you to meet."
The girls got to their feet and followed their mother back into the study. She led them to the painting and put a hand on each child's shoulder. "Uncle Severus, this is Cecelia and Sophia. Girls, I want you to meet your uncle."
"Hello," Cece said. Sophia took a step sideways so that she was standing behind her mother's leg. Both girls had seen moving pictures – talking portraits weren't much of a step up.
Snape looked from the girls to Sera and back again. "Hello, girls. It is so very nice to meet you. They look very much like their father."
Sera nodded. "As does Jenny. Only Rayna . . . ah, here she is."
Harry brought the still sleeping child into the room.
"Girls, you can go on back to your movie now," Sera told them. "We'll be leaving shortly."
After the two girls left the room, Harry approached Snape's portrait. "I've been thinking – once Sera and the girls have moved into the house next door, you belong with them there, Professor. If you'd like, that is."
Snape did like, and he nodded. Harry handed Rayna to her mother, then turned to leave. After he'd left the room, Snape said, almost grudgingly, "He, also, has turned into a fine man."
"I heard that!" Harry said from the other room.
Snape's eye roll landed on the dark-haired child in Sera's arms, and he seemed unable to look away. Here was his sister from so many years ago, and here was what his niece must have looked like as a small child.
"This is Rayna," Sera told him.
"She is your mother all over again. She is you. She is so beautiful."
"Thank you, Uncle Severus. If you hadn't rescued me all those years ago, none of this would have been possible. None of them would exist."
"Whatever I gave to you was repaid to me a hundred times," he assured her. "Your children are tired. Take them home, Sera."
"I hate to leave you. Finding you, after all this time . . ."
"I know," he said. "But we'll talk again. And we'll be together soon. You'll tire of me, I fear."
Tears shining in her eyes, Sera said, "That will never happen. Good night, Uncle Severus."
"Good night, child. Take care of yourself and your beautiful children until I see you again." Knowing it would be difficult for her to leave him, Snape got up and with one last loving look at her, exited his painting.
Sera sat staring at the place he'd been, filled with a sense of peace she hadn't known since Jamie's death. But Uncle was right – the children were tired, and she needed to get them home. Reluctantly, she left the room where she'd unexpectedly re-established a connection to her past.
All of the children were now soundly sleeping.
"Girls," Sera called softly, trying not to wake Hugo and Lily. "We have to go."
"Why don't you leave them here?" Hermione suggested. "There's no point in waking them up. I'll toss some blankets on them and they can camp out on the floor. I'll run them home in the morning."
"Are you sure?" Sera asked.
"I can make pancakes tomorrow!" Ron said happily.
"I'm sure," Hermione assured her. "They're welcome here any time. You're welcome here any time. Besides, when I drop them off, we can discuss packing. I'm happy to help in any way I can."
Sera hated packing, and she could see the benefit to having someone with magical abilities helping her. "Thank you. Thank you all for . . ." Sera found herself unable to continue. It was too much, all the good things that were happening for her and her family, and she looked down to conceal the tears that had sprung to her eyes.
"Thank you," she said finally, raising her eyes to them again. "Thank you for your wonderful story and for letting me be a part of it."
A month later, Sera had entirely moved her family into their beautiful new home, with much help from her magical friends, and she and Harry had set to work correcting Books 1 and 2. Her publisher had nearly laughed at her when she'd requested that the first two books be modified before they were released in Europe, and when she couldn't give a convincing reason why (which, of course, she couldn't), flatly refused her request. However, in the interest of historical accuracy, if for the children of the participants and nobody else, she and Harry had decided to make those revisions anyway and publish a limited set of those versions with their own money.
She had finally gotten Harry, and Ron and Hermione, to grasp just how much money they were talking about here, and before they'd set to work, lawyers had hammered out an agreement whereby any money earned from any source related to Cyrus Dench from here forward would be split equally three ways. The agreement also included a large cash settlement on both Harry's family and Ron and Hermione's family for reimbursement of past income earned, which Sera felt was only right and absolutely refused to budge on. Harry had immediately donated all of that money to Hogwarts with the stipulation that a fund be established, in the name of all who had died in the fight to end evil, to purchase school books, robes and supplies for all students, so that no-one would ever again go without or feel ashamed of secondhand books and clothes. He'd always felt, after seeing the Weasleys struggle to put seven children through school, that if the school required these items, the school should supply them, and now it would. When he received his next sizeable bit of money, he intended to establish another endowment at Hogwarts to bring teachers pay up to the level it should be. These people were teaching the next generation, and the pay they earned for their daily toil and sometimes hazardous duty was abysmal. That fund, though he would hate even the thought of it, would be established in the name of Severus Snape.
And of course, Hermione was extensively researching the many ways that the Weasley share of the Dench fortune could be put to similar philanthropic use. So from all of the struggle and hardship and loss, something good (other than ridding the world of an evil, of course) was rising from the ashes of Voldemort's last stand.
Out of necessity, Harry and Sera were spending a lot of time together. Nearly every evening after he'd completed a full day (and sometimes more) at the Ministry, Harry could be found at the Wood house for meals and work on the manuscripts once the children were tucked in bed. Sera had installed a second bed in Cece's room for Lily, and she spent more nights in that bed than she did the bed in her own room. Although offered Sera's guest room nearly every night, Harry always declined and returned to his own bed, no matter how late the hour they finished up. In the morning, Sera would wake Lily, as she did the rest of her children, and nag her to get ready for school and make sure she had breakfast and a bag lunch packed, as she did the rest of her children, and it helped to ease the ache of missing Jenny just a little to have her there. It didn't hurt that Lily's father often popped in in the morning as well, to assist in wrangling all of the children.
Though neither of them could see it, Harry and Sera were slowly falling back in love. Though maybe, at least for one of them, they'd never been completely out of it.
But those around them saw, including one Severus Snape from his perch in the beyond, though all held their counsel on the subject. Uncle Severus had become even more firmly ensconced in the Wood household than Harry. His portrait hung in the kitchen, but Sera painted another with a comfy chair which Harry charmed and she hung in the living room so that he could join the family there as well without her having to move the awkwardly large painting. The other occupants of the portrait gallery in the Headmaster's office at Hogwarts began to see much less of the sarcastic former Potions master, and although not many would confess to missing the caustic old bastard, he was actually quite a lot less caustic these days. Having small children around, especially little girls whom you did not wish to terrify, could do that to you.
Sophie was especially afraid of her great uncle, usually making sure the kitchen table was between her and the painting at all times. She was naturally shy, and the dark and harsh-speaking man moving around in the portraits in her house could have been quite nightmare-inducing if Sera hadn't worked so hard to make her daughter feel at ease around Snape. Finally, one day, the ice was broken.
"Mommy, how do you spell 'get well soon'?" little Sophie asked as she sat at the kitchen table, absorbed in a homemade card she was crafting with paper and crayons for her baby sister Rayna, currently nursing a runny nose and a fever. Without Sophie realizing it, her mother had left the room, and her uncle had entered it. He'd been watching her silently, afraid to startle her, as she worked raptly on her project.
When she received no answer, she lifted her head and looked around the room. She didn't see her mother, but she did see her uncle staring at her, and she froze in her chair. Severus tried out his best reassuring smile, but he wasn't sure how successful it was because the little girl's demeanor didn't change.
"Mommy?" Sophie asked, her voice raised and just on the edge of panic.
"I'll be right there, honey," Sera called from somewhere close by.
Sophie seemed unable to move and sat staring at Snape.
"'G'," Snape said softly. "'Get' starts with a 'g'."
Sophie stared at him for a moment longer, then lowered her head to her paper. For a second, Severus thought she was going to cry, but then her hand raised, holding the crayon, and she drew a large "G" on the paper. "G," she said softly.
"E," Snape said, just as quietly.
And Sophie wrote.
"Be sure and leave a space, because we're starting a new word," Snape instructed. "'Well' starts with 'w'."
By the time they got to "soon", Sera had returned to the kitchen, and she stood watching them: her shy, cautious daughter and her irritable, often irritating uncle, working together quietly, and she had to swallow hard to get past the lump that appeared in her throat. When Snape looked up and saw her there, he smiled tentatively at her. And when Sophie looked up and saw her there, she jumped to the floor, grabbed her card and waved it proudly at her mother.
"Mommy! Look at the card me and Uncle Sev'rus made for Rayna!"
And Sera looked up at the ceiling to quell the tears that sprang to her eyes.
The next time Severus appeared in the kitchen, he found a drawing of a lion (of all things) taped to his frame. Had picture people been capable of tears, he may have had to hide some that day. By the time Sophie returned and removed the picture so that she could show it to him properly, he'd had time to master his two-dimensional emotions enough to thank her sincerely for the picture and request that she re-hang it on his frame, which she did. It was followed by many others, and they created a colorful new frame around his old, drab wooden one.
And Severus became the only one Sophie would go to when she couldn't spell a word.
The Christmas holiday was approaching, and Sera was torn between looking forward to seeing her oldest daughter again and dreading the first anniversary of her husband's death. She knew she'd need some time alone on that day, and despite how much she'd missed Jenny and how much she wanted to see her again, she'd arranged to delay their reunion by a few more days. Oliver and Wendy were picking up the three younger children and then meeting Jenny at the train station, and they'd be keeping all four girls until the day before Christmas. Sera would join them for Christmas Eve dinner before they all returned to their new home for their first Christmas there.
Ginny had informed Harry that she would be at the Burrow for Christmas this year, with her partner. Harry thought it was important that their children spend some time with their mother and had agreed to allow them to spend Christmas break at their grandparents. Normally, Harry spent Christmas at the Burrow, but with Ginny there, it would be just too awkward. As soon as Sera learned that Harry was to be alone on Christmas, she'd invited him to join her family, and wouldn't take no for an answer when Harry feebly tried to protest. As soon as Oliver and Wendy had driven away with Cece, Sophie and Rayna, Sera had called Harry and told him they were taking a Christmas "vacation" and wouldn't be working together again until after the holiday. She told him she'd see him Christmas day and hung up, leaving him more than a little concerned.
So Sera had four days for the breakdown she sensed was coming. She'd been working long hours, often until well into the morning hours, taking care of three and sometimes four children, keeping this large house clean and running smoothly, fending off her publisher asking for updates on the status of the third book (which was being largely ignored in favor of the revisions to the first two), and dealing with all of the other daily necessities which cropped up in life. And she was tired. And she missed Jamie so much she was heartsick. And she felt guilty because of the feelings she had for Harry. And it was all going to come crashing down.
Harry sat at the desk in his study, ostensibly reading departmental budget reports, but actually seeing blurred sets of numbers dancing the cancan on the page before him. He looked at the glass of Scotch on the desk beside his hand – it was his first and couldn't possibly be responsible for the gyrating figures. Boredom was the more likely culprit. When had his job become more about wrestling with numbers than about grappling with wrong-doers? Was this the normal progression of things as one got older – more sitting and thinking and less moving and doing? Was this actually progress? And was he supposed to be happy about it? He'd been liking his job less and less lately. He didn't really need the income any longer, and he'd been thinking more and more about quitting the Ministry and finding something to do with his time that was more – meaningful.
His fortune was growing exponentially it seemed, and some time and care would be required to manage it. Maybe he could devote himself to finding worthy causes that needed money – there must be literally thousands of them. He could start a foundation – he'd call it the James and Lily Fund. What better way to spend one's time than by identifying areas of society that needed improvement and then helping to fund them?
Harry realized he was daydreaming, and he sighed and tried to turn his attention back to the report in front of him. He sipped from his glass and thought about requesting that the numbers perform a waltz. At least they'd be moving slower – maybe he'd actually be able to read them.
"Ah, Harry! Thank goodness you're here!" Dumbledore said behind him.
Glad for the distraction, Harry turned to face his former Headmaster with a smile. "Professor! How are you today, sir?"
"I'm fine, Harry, just fine. I've just been speaking with Severus. He's requesting your presence at Miss Mallory – I mean, Mrs. Wood's house immediately."
Harry sat forward in his chair. "Is something wrong?" he asked, worried instantly.
"I think there may be. He requested that you hurry!"
Harry jumped to his feet. "I'll go right now."
"Harry," another voice said from the fireplace. Goodness – one moment ago, Harry had been alone with his dancing numbers – now this place was as busy as Heathrow. It was Hermione, and her head was in his fireplace.
"Hello, Hermione. I haven't got much time. Something's up with Sera."
"I'm coming through," Hermione announced, and a moment later she was brushing floo powder from her Weasley jumper. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure. Severus asked Dumbledore to fetch me. Asked me to hurry."
"Go, then," Hermione urged. "Lily forgot Maggie." Maggie was the bear she still slept with. "I'll find her in Lily's room. You go to Sera. I'm going to wait here for a bit – let me know what's wrong and if there's anything I can do."
With a confirmatory nod, Harry disapparated.
Not knowing what he'd find, he appeared outside the door leading into Sera's kitchen. He cautiously opened the door and went inside. He immediately looked for Snape's painting, thinking to find out what was wrong, but the painting was gone. "Professor Snape?" he called softly.
"In here," he heard the familiar curmudgeonly voice call.
"Are you in the pantry?" Harry asked.
"Yes. Come and get me out of here!"
Harry opened the door of the pantry, and sure enough, there was Severus' portrait on the floor, facing the wall of canned goods. Harry spun the painting around. "Who put you in here? Where's Sera?"
"Serafina is the one who put me here!" Snape muttered, miffed by this maltreatment.
"Because she . . . she hid me."
"She went out. Alone. She came back. Not alone. And very drunk. There's a strange man here. I think she plans . . . I think she intends to bed him."
Whoa. This bit of news sent Harry reeling. "What? Where are they now?"
"Well, it's rather hard to hear from in here with the door closed," Severus pointed out, "and she removed the living room painting as well. I think that one's in the basement." It was clear that Snape was not very happy about that, either. "But I believe he's in the living room. I believe she told him she was going to change into something more comfortable."
Oh God. "What should I do?"
"Oh, I don't know," Snape offered sarcastically. "We could sit here and sing seasonal music together. I've always been partial to Silent Night. Do you know the words?" Snape looked at Harry as though he'd like to shake some hurry-up into the younger man. "Get in there and throw that degenerate interloper out of here before he lays a finger on my niece!"
"Right," Harry agreed with a tight nod. "Muggle or Wizard, do you think?"
"Hard to say. I'd guess Muggle, else why would she have gone to the trouble of hiding my picture?"
"Maybe because she knew you'd disapprove either way and that you wouldn't keep your thoughts to yourself?" Harry suggested.
"There is that," Snape conceded. Then he added, "Today is the anniversary. Of her husband's death. It has been one year."
"Oh," Harry breathed, and suddenly the reason for Sera's behavior became much clearer. She hadn't said anything, and he should have connected the pieces but didn't. So now he had to save her from herself. "Okay, so we don't know if he's a wizard or not. Well, I'll think of something. You wait here."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Where else would I go? The basement is scary."
Harry straightened up and left the pantry, closing the door behind him. He couldn't help a small smile when he heard Snape's muffled, "Hey!"
He entered the living room as though he'd done so every day, as indeed he almost had. The man sitting on the sofa looked at him with the same level of surprise that Harry feigned at seeing him there.
"Oh, hello," Harry said. "I'm Harry. Are you here to see my wife?"
"Your . . . wife?" the man asked, getting dazedly to his feet.
"Yes. Sera. Is she here?"
"She's in there," he said, pointing toward the bedroom door and edging toward the front door. "I think there's been a mistake here. I didn't know . . . I think I'll just be . . ." And he turned and bolted through the door.
"Shall I tell her you said good-bye?" Harry asked, amused. Harry waited a moment, to see if Sera would come out. When she did not, he returned to the pantry.
"Well, the guy's gone," he informed Snape.
"Yes, I heard. Very clever."
"Okay. Well, I'll just put you back on the wall, and then I'll be going."
"What? You can't leave!"
"Why not? I chased the guy away. Sera will sleep it off. She didn't tell me about this, so she obviously wanted to handle it her own way, by herself."
"You've gotten no more sensible as you've aged, I see. How is it the Ministry entrusts you with an entire department when you cannot see what's before you?"
"What are you blathering about?"
"Sera needs someone. She thought she needed that . . . man she brought home, but only because she didn't think the one she really wanted was available."
"Are you saying . . . are you saying that Sera wants . . . me?"
"For some unintelligible, unfathomable, incomprehensible, unimaginable –"
‟All right, Mr. Roget, I get your point."
"For some reason I cannot explain, she wants you. She has always wanted you, even all those years ago, when events intervened to take you away from her. She never stopped . . ." Snape stopped, wondering if he'd said too much.
"What were you going to say?" Harry demanded. When Snape pressed his lips together and looked away, Harry said, "Tell me, or I'm leaving now."
Snape sighed. "She loved you so much when you were younger."
"I loved her, too," Harry pointed out.
"Yes, but then you stopped. Just like that, you stopped."
"But we decided, together, that it was for the best. It was for her own protection." Wasn't it?
"Is that how you remember it? As you sit here right now, do you actually remember having a conversation with Sera where you talked about ending your relationship?"
"Well, of course . . ." But Harry stopped, because, when he forced himself to think about it, he really couldn't remember having had that conversation, despite being told by Sera herself that they had. "No. No, I don't."
"That's because Dumbledore took that memory from you when he performed the memory charm."
"What?" Harry asked, appalled. "He did what to me?"
"Oh, he did it with your approval. In fact, you asked him for it. He took that memory as well."
"But why? And what other memories did he take?" Harry was bewildered by this.
"You were right. It was in Sera's best interest that the two of you not be involved at that time in your lives. And you attempted to break off that relationship in the normal way, but you found it impossible to stay away. So you discussed a memory charm with Sera. The plan was that you would both receive the charm, and that you would remain friends, but that your memories of your love would simply disappear. Dumbledore did the charm on you. But when I went to perform the charm on Sera, she refused to let me do it. So on the day you stopped loving her, she decided to continue loving you. I don't think she ever stopped, despite her marriage to young Jamie Wood."
Harry sat abruptly on the floor in front of Snape's painting. This was too much to believe. He remembered how much he'd loved Sera when they were teenagers. He had deliberately decided to end that love? "But I remember about the baby. How is it I remember the baby?"
"Dumbledore left you that memory at your request. I understand that all of this is rather unsettling, but my more immediate concern is Sera. She needs you. Go to her."
"You realize what you're asking me to do?" Harry said, staring into Snape's dark eyes. "You're asking me to get involved with your niece, again. Because if I go in there, while she's at her most vulnerable, and she wants me, I'm not sure I'll be able to walk away again, ever. Are you prepared for that?"
Snape shrugged. "She could do worse."
Harry snorted at his less than enthusiastic endorsement, but he got to his feet and made to leave the pantry.
"Potter," Snape said.
"Harry," he conceded. "Could you get me out of this infernal closet?"
After hanging the Professor's portrait back on the wall in the kitchen (the portrait in the living room could wait until after his discussion with Sera), Harry cautiously approached Sera's bedroom door. He tapped softly on it, and called, "Sera? Can I come in?"
He waited, but received no reply. Taking a deep breath, he grasped the handle, turned and pushed the door open slowly.
The only light in the room came from a small lamp beside the bed, which shed enough light to illuminate Sera, dressed in a very brief nightie, asleep on the bed, a bottle of champagne overturned beside her. Harry had been in this room before (Rayna still slept in her mother's room), but never when Sera was in such a state of undress, and he was suddenly nervous. He crept toward the bed and picked up the bottle – an inch or so of liquid remained in the bottom. Had she drunk the rest of it herself, or had her "friend" helped her? Harry set the bottle next to the lamp and sat beside Sera on the bed, only to discover that a good potion of the contents of the bottle had found its way onto the bed. He performed a quick, silent cleaning and drying spell.
"Sera," he said, grasping her shoulder gently. She moaned but didn't open her eyes.
"Sera!" he tried again, louder this time, shaking her a little more firmly.
She rolled toward him and opened her eyes. She smiled at him, but then the realization of where she was, and who was with her, and how she was dressed seemed to hit her all at once, and the smile left her face, replaced with a look of pure horror.
"Sera, it's . . ."
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice no more than a whisper.
"Your uncle . . ."
"Where is . . ." she searched her memory but couldn't come up with the name of the guy she'd met in the singles bar. He'd hit on her. She'd already had a couple of drinks, and she had a few more with him, until inviting him here had seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do. She'd come in here to get ready, which she apparently had done, and then – Nothing. She could remember nothing after that. Apparently, she'd passed out on the bed.
"He's gone. I . . ."
"Oh my God!" she interrupted again. "What have I done?"
"You haven't done . . ."
"Where are the girls?"
"You sent them to . . ."
"Oh, thank God!" she said, and then it all came rushing back. The reason she'd sent the girls away, the reason she'd gone to that bar in the first place. She'd needed to obliterate the hole that losing Jamie had left in her life and, barring that, to try to fill it up with something else. A total stranger seemed a good idea – no strings, no regrets. At least, that had been her theory. But something had gone wrong. She'd thought that obliterating the hole wasn't working, so she'd moved on to filling it with something else. And then obliterating the hole had caught up with her while she was trying to fill it with something else. And then Harry was here. "What are you doing here?" she asked again.
Harry simply stared at her.
"Well?" she demanded. "Aren't you going to answer me?"
"Are you going to let me finish a sentence?" She nodded. "Good then. Your uncle sent for me, through Dumbledore. He was worried about you. You were acting strangely. You came back drunk, with a total stranger, and he was afraid you . . . He didn't want you to make a mistake you'd regret tomorrow."
"What a guy! Well, you've done your heroic duty once again. You can go now."
"I don't think I want to."
"You're hurting, Sera. I shouldn't have needed someone to tell me that this is the anniversary of Jamie's death. I'm sorry."
Sudden tears filled her eyes, and she looked away. "He was such a good man."
"Yes, he was," Harry agreed.
"You know what the worst part was?"
Harry didn't know, and he shook his head.
"He loved me so much. And he loved the girls. He was such a wonderful father. But somewhere deep down inside, I think he knew. No matter how hard I worked so he wouldn't see, I think he always knew. And he was such a great guy that it didn't matter. He still loved me. I didn't deserve him."
"What did he know, Sera?" Harry reached out and took her hand.
"I loved him, you know!" she said, sitting up suddenly, but not pulling her hand away. "I did love him, damn you!"
"What did he know, Sera?" Harry reached out and turned her face toward him with a finger to her chin.
"He knew that I never stopped loving you!" The tears spilled down her cheeks now, and she pulled away from him, unable to bear his touching her. "He knew that he was my second choice. He knew it and he still loved me! What kind of woman was I not to realize what I had in front of me?"
Harry sat silently, letting her work through some of this on her own. When she quieted down a little, he asked, "Were you happy?"
"I tried to be. If he wasn't, he never let it show. And I did love him, just not the way that I should have loved him, the way that I wanted to love you."
"I'm sorry about that, too," Harry said. "I've been talking with Severus, and he told me about the memory charm. I like to think that I had good reasons for making that decision, but looking back at it now, at where we've both ended up, I have to wonder . . ."
"No, Harry! Don't say that!" she said, turning to face him earnestly. "Your children, my children . . . they wouldn't exist if we'd not traveled the paths we did. Can you honestly say that you'd trade them for the life we might have had together?"
Harry couldn't, and he shook his head.
"Me either. As much as I might have . . . Never mind. It's in the past now."
"But we still have a future," Harry pointed out.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I love you, Serafina Mallory Wood. Somewhere underneath everything, I've loved you since I was fifteen. And now there's just no good reason to pretend that I don't. I want to spend every night that I have left lying in your arms. I want to raise our children together and write these books together and argue with your uncle together. But right now, if you think you're ready, I'd like to make love to you."
"Oh, Harry," Sera said, on the verge of tears again. "I went out tonight, looking for someone, because I've been so lonely. It's been a year since anyone's touched me, and I just miss having someone to be with, you know?"
"Oh, I know," Harry assured her. It had been three years for him – he certainly knew what she meant. "But I want to be sure you're ready emotionally," he said. "It's only been a year. If you need more time . . ."
"I needed more time to be with a stranger. That was a mistake. But for you . . . I never left you, Harry. How could I need more time?"
He leaned toward her, and she met him halfway. Their lips met and seemed to remember how much they liked each other, because they got reacquainted in a hurry. There was no need for a slow, getting-to-know-you kiss, not when they'd known each other so well once upon a time.
"You're wearing entirely too many clothes," she pointed out when they broke to breathe.
Harry smiled and stood up. He quickly undressed while Sera removed the ridiculous little outfit she was wearing and slid beneath the sheets. Harry joined her there, and they wrapped their arms around each other, luxuriating in the remembered way their bodies fit seamlessly together. Harry was already hard, and his cock pressed insistently against her leg.
"What, no foreplay?" Sera asked with mock irritation.
"Tomorrow," Harry promised. "All you want. But tonight . . . it's just been too long. I don't think I can wait."
"I understand. And I'll hold you to that." She tightened her hold on him and rolled onto her back, spreading her legs as she did and pulling him on top of her right where he needed to be.
"I've gotten really good at oral sex," he told her as he grasped his rigid member and guided himself inside her.
"Oh?" she asked, gasping as his hardness filled her in new and yet deliciously familiar ways.
"Yeah," he said as he made his first thrust into her heat. "Turns out Ginny liked it."
"Yeah," he said, thrusting again. "A lot."
"How much?" Sera gasped.
"Every night a lot," Harry said, wishing he didn't have to increase his pace already, but knowing it was inevitable after such a long abstention.
He thrust his tongue into her mouth and demonstrated his finely honed ability. And then he lost the ability to do anything but drive himself into her over and over again until the heat and the friction combined to drive him over the edge of insanity. "I'm coming!" he told her as he released the first shot of his essence into her. He had three years' worth stored up, and it took many, many forays into her heat to release it all. When he'd finally finished, Sera wasn't quite, and she urged him to keep going.
"Don't stop," she moaned. "Not yet."
He obliged, hoping he could stay hard long enough to finish her off. He changed the angle of his thrust until she said, "Yes! Right . . . there! Oh God! Don't . . . . stop! Harry!" she cried as she joined him on the brink of ecstacy and tumbled over its edge with one final well-placed plunge of his cock. He felt her vaginal muscles pulsating around him, and he nearly came again. When it appeared that she'd finally had enough, he said, "Can I stop?"
"Yes. Thank you," she said as he collapsed on top of her.
He kissed her forehead and her nose and her cheeks and her lips. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
His cock slowly softened and slipped out of her, and he rolled off of her, lying on his back and pulling her toward him so that she lay with her head on his shoulder, like she belonged there, like she had always belonged there. "I've missed you," he told her, kissing her forehead.
"Me, too. For many years. It's so good to have you back."
"Damn!" Harry cursed. "Hermione was at my place when I got the message from Severus. She said she was going to wait there, to make sure nothing was wrong. I'd better get up and at least call her."
"Come back soon, okay? I don't want to start missing you again."
"I promise." He kissed her lips, then pulled away from her and got out of bed. He debated the need for re-dressing. There were no kids here after all. He finally pulled on his boxers, thought about putting on more clothes, then decided quickly against it. He'd call Hermione on the telephone – he didn't need more clothes for that.
Harry padded into the still brightly-lit kitchen and was met by an outraged Severus Snape. "Good Lord, Potter! Show us all some mercy and put some clothes on!"
"Us all?" Harry repeated, squinting in the light after the relative darkness of the bedroom.
His eyes widened in surprise when he took in the fact that Ron and Hermione were sitting in the kitchen, cups of tea before them, looking at him with amused (Ron) and affectionate (Hermione) expressions. He felt himself blushing, but he waved and said, "Hi, guys." Good thing he hadn't come out here starkers.
"Hi, Harry. When you didn't contact me, I got really worried, so I flooed Ron to meet me here. Severus filled us in on what happened and invited us to tea."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Harry turned to Snape, who looked back at him innocently. He'd have to thank him for this later. He turned back to his friends. "Well, as you can probably tell, Sera and I are back together."
"Yeah, mate, we heard all about it," Ron said with an immature giggle.
Harry turned on Snape again. He was going to kill the man – oh, wait. "You know," he muttered under his breath. "It's a good thing you're already dead."
"Yes, or I might have expired solely from embarrassment here tonight. Really, Potter. You could be just a little quieter during your . . . trysts."
"Don't try and tell me you didn't get some kind of vicarious thrill out of that, you perverted old sod."
"Well, we're going to get back to the Burrow," Hermione said, standing up. "We're really happy for both of you, Harry. Tell Sera for us, will you? On second thought, maybe it's better that she doesn't know we were here tonight."
"Yeah, why should we both be embarrassed beyond all reason?" Harry asked.
Hermione laughed. "Oh, Harry! This is so wonderful! I'd hug you, but well, you know," she said, her gesture taking in his near nudity.
"Yeah, me, too, but well, you know," Ron echoed with a grin.
"I wouldn't hug you on any account, Potter, never fear," Snape offered.
Refusing to be humiliated, Harry saw his friends to the door. "It just occurred to me that being with Sera means I'll be living with that old git," he muttered to them. "What was I thinking?"
"Happy Christmas, Harry. We'll see you in a couple of days," Hermione said, and then she just couldn't help it – she threw her arms around Harry and hugged him.
As he hugged her back, as gently as he could, Ron joked, "Get your . . . hands off my wife."
"Get out of here, both of you," Harry said, pushing Hermione away. "I'll floo the kids in the morning. Merry Christmas."
"So, that's it," Harry said to Snape as he returned to the kitchen. "It's late, and I'm going to bed. I expect I'll see you in the morning?"
"I'm hoping to see a little less of you, actually," Snape noted.
"Good night, Severus, you old prude," Harry said firmly as he shut off the kitchen light and returned to the warmth of Sera's bed. "Merry Christmas."
After the door had closed, Snape said softly. "Good night, Harry Potter. And welcome home."
So that's it. Thanks to all who stuck around for the end.