Chapter Twenty-Nine - Failure To Thrive - The New Normal

Things quickly shifted into a new rhythm over the weeks that followed the event at the Burrow. Harry found himself swept into several ongoing projects. He began to show up at Spinners End twice a week to help Lucius and Severus with the renovations. Other days, while Severus worked with George and Ron to fill the series of custom orders that were coming in for the cubic pensieves, from both The Ministry of Magic and from Hogwarts, Harry helped Lucius and Draco design the warding symposium. They were also offering the symposium via the cubic pensieve, when customers were less inclined to come to Malfoy Manor for their lessons. Neville had been their first official customer, and he'd enjoyed the process enough to want to get involved. The current plan was for Draco and Neville to take the cube to the customer's home and give the demonstration, as well as assistance in warding as needed. If Harry wasn't at Spinner's End, he would accompany them. So far, they'd had two occasions for home visits, and it had been both fun and enlightening to see how other wizards lived. And because of all of the sudden activity, Draco and Neville hadn't tried particularly hard to find opportunities to play their music in public. Dean was only interested in playing drums on a limited basis, so their band continued to be a hobby at this point, not a career option.

Narcissa wasn't as involved as originally intended because her sister, Andromeda, had sought her out to ask for help. It seemed Andromeda had manifested a terminal wizarding ailment that was already in its final stages, and she needed assistance with Teddy. Things moved rather quickly, as Andromeda's health was rapidly decelerating. Narcissa was struggling with heartbreak over losing the sister she'd already lost once, but having the little boy around the manor had balanced her sadness and she was coping well. She and Lucius had already spoken openly to Harry and Draco on their most recent Sunday dinner about the likelihood of them formally adopting little Teddy. Harry was once again exceedingly grateful to have the Malfoys' help. This responsibility could easily have fallen upon him, and he would have taken it without hesitation, but he was not ready to become a father to his godson. He still felt extremely inept around Teddy, and that was probably the last of the significant unresolved hurts that kept getting activated for him. He had no conscious memory of how his aunt and uncle treated him at that age, but it couldn't have been good. Besides, adoption by Lucius and Narcissa would further bind them all together as a family.

In spite of this harrowing development, Harry was noticing regular developmental changes in his body, mostly in the realm of adding weight and muscle. He had sprouted a few chest and facial hairs as well. After a month, he was feeling decidedly less spindly, and that cheered him up significantly. He was also less and less inclined to burst into tears when old issues came up for him. His stomach would clench, but he could already see the benefit of facing the memory or conflict, right then and there, and getting through it, and past it.

The day after the party, Harry and Luna had gone into Diagon Alley and purchased owls. Harry was finally ready to have a new familiar, and since he'd been fond of a small gray owl he'd borrowed repeatedly at Hogwarts, he deliberately looked for a smaller breed. Nibbles found Harry shortly after they walked in the door of Eyelopps Owl Emporium. The small, dark brown owl with pretty white markings on his chest and the tips of his wings flew from his cage to land on Harry's shoulder and nip gently at his ear. Repeatedly. Nibbles had a sister, who had soft, light gray feathers with tan markings. Luna named the sister Eileen, which Harry found hysterical, and they took their owls back to Grimmauld Place.

Harry had sent a letter to Dudley via Nibbles that evening, deciding to follow Dudley's suggestion and just talk about what his life was like now. Dudley replied immediately, and they exchanged daily notes for another two weeks, before Harry finally invited Dudley to his home. The first visit was consumed with Dudley witnessing magic and reacting with both fear and awe. It filled the time easily, and even the sight of Kreacher, who was keeping his anti-muggle sentiments under wraps, became an exciting novelty. Harry had invited Dudley to come for dinner the following week, and now with two consecutive Wednesday evenings of Dudley coming to Grimmauld Place for dinner, another family night for Harry was becoming established.

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"Your birthday is just a month away, son," Lucius commented to Harry as they sat in the sun on the back grounds of Malfoy Manor, near the pond, with their shoes and shirts off, enjoying a rare chance to get some color on their pale skin.

Harry had been attempting to be surreptitious as he compared his own musculature to that of his pseudo guardian. It was fascinating to Harry that his use of magic was making him so much more physically fit. While he was still small overall, his muscles were becoming more defined. I guess that's why Severus is in such good shape as well, he thought. It's not like any of us are pressing weights at a muggle gym.

"A sickle for your thoughts, Harry," Lucius said with an amused tone. He had his head tilted back so that his face was catching the sunlight.

Harry smiled self consciously. Severus always found his frank answers amusing, so he decided to indulge Lucius, "I was thinking about muscles," he said, and was not disappointed at the loud guffaw he received in response.

"Do tell, my lad," Lucius encouraged.

"I'm just thinking it's a bit miraculous that wizards stay in shape from using magic. Before I left for the hunt, I took up running to try to get in better shape. That worked too, but I rather hated it. It's much more pleasurable to burn off energy through magic."

"It's important to have the physical stamina as well, Harry," Lucius pointed out.

Harry looked at him again. Lucius still had his eyes closed, so Harry gave him another visual once-over. The man had a well defined abdomen, shoulders and biceps, and the muscles of his legs were visible through his jeans. "What do you do, to have that sort of stamina, sir?"

"Hmmm, well, I'm not fond of running either, but I do come out in the early mornings three times a week for a thirty minute jog. That's about all it takes." He smiled at a thought he didn't quite elaborate on, but Harry got the gist of it. "Narcissa appreciates my efforts."

Harry grinned and tilted his head back to catch the sunshine on his face too. "My cousin took up running and he's quite fit now. His flat isn't all that far from mine. I suppose I could meet with him a few mornings a week and have run. I think he'd like that."

"That's an excellent plan, son," Lucius said. He opened his eyes and turned his head toward Harry. "And, now the more important question, which I will ask while you're still small enough for a turn across my knee if I don't like your answer."

Harry shot him a look of alarm and found the blond wizard regarding him quite seriously, eyebrow raised expectantly. "You said we could discuss it, and that you'd accept my decision about returning to school, either way," he protested. But for some reason, in spite of the real promise of follow through that he never doubted from Lucius, Harry felt a rush of love. And warmth. And belonging. And he couldn't help but smile.

"What are your thoughts on returning to Hogwarts in September, Harry?" Lucius asked calmly.

"I'm really, really hoping I won't still look like a sixth year when I go back," he said.

"Good for you, son," Lucius said with open relief and approval. "I'm very proud of you. So very proud."

Harry smirked, but closed his eyes and returned to his sunbathing.

Now Lucius studied Harry. "I'm already missing that youthfulness in you, Harry. The side that needed comfort and reassurance. You've already grown through a lot of it."

"I'll still need you, Lucius. I always will," Harry said in a tight voice.

"And I will always need you," Lucius told him gruffly.

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"I'm relieved to hear that," Severus said when Harry announced over dinner that night that he would return to Hogwarts in the fall. Severus stared at Harry, eyes narrowing as he added tentatively, "Minerva has asked me to assist her during this first year."

"And whatever will you wear?" Harry asked with very feigned, very exaggerated concern.

That was not at all what Severus was getting at, and he frowned at the younger wizard. "I have not yet accepted, nor have we determined where I can be of most help. Minerva would like a Deputy Headmaster, but I am loathe to take that role. I am most definitely not interested in being head of Slytherin House. I'd prefer not to obligate myself to live in the castle. She needs assistance with guiding students, and staff alike, in their assimilation to the interim scheduling, which will temporarily accommodate the double sized classes in first and seventh years."

"I'll still get to see you every day, then." Harry said in a conciliatory tone.

The corner of Severus' mouth quirked as he regarded Harry. "You do bring up a significant question, in regards to my attire… but I digress." Harry smirked in amusement, but gave Severus his full attention. "I want you to be completely honest with me as to what would make you uncomfortable about my presence at the school."

"I don't think anything would, at this point, sir," Harry said. He looked down as a realization dawned on him. "Except for potions," he said honestly. "But I don't plan to take that class anyhow, so it's no matter."

"It is the most logical subject for me to teach, but it will be a challenge to reconvene," Severus admitted. "All of my darkest years were spent in the dungeons, and as much as I love Hogwarts, I am still strongly reminded of that darkness when I'm there."

"Maybe you'll desensitize yourself after a time?" Harry suggested.

They stared at each other for a long while.

"Do you have any thoughts as to what you'll do after you finish the year?" Severus asked.

"No," Harry said quietly. He stared at the table for a few minutes before looking back at Severus. "I'd be quite happy for things to continue on pretty much as they are now, where I'm doing some remodeling here, some warding there, developing my magic when I have time, and always having that sense that I could stumble onto something else that I'd really enjoy."

"You're hopeful," Severus said.

"Yeah," Harry said, smiling. "For the first time in my life. And it's a strong feeling." Harry swallowed the lump in his throat and managed a smile for the older wizard. "I guess if you can face Hogwarts again, after all that happened, all for the sake of the new student body, and the recovery of the school, then I can face your NEWT level potions class." When Severus' eyes began to redden around the edges, Harry quickly added, "And as my reward, you will take me on a trip for a graduation gift."

Severus' eyebrows shot up, but he smiled in spite of Harry's audacity. "You want to go to the States," Severus surmised.

Harry nodded with a grin. "Not just any state. I want to go to Hawaii," he said. "All of us. You, me, Luna, Hermione, Lucius, Narcissa, Teddy, Neville, Draco, Ron and George, and whichever witches they're dating at the time. The whole family."

"Alright," Severus agreed, "on one condition: You must get five NEWTS. Any five you choose. And as your reward, I will happily take you on the holiday of your lifetime."

Harry's eyes blurred slightly as he looked meaningfully at Severus. "I can feel this all coming to a close, and I'm kind of sad about it because I will miss you living here, but I'm also relieved because I'm tired of being so much younger than I really am," he said. "You saved me, Severus, and you did it in a very short time. You really came through for me. Without you, and Lucius and Narcissa, I'm not sure I'd even be alive today."

"I think of you as my son, Harry," Severus said. "My truly amazing and wonderful son." He pushed away from the table and stood, gesturing for Harry to follow suit. Harry really had changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Even hugging him felt different. It was no longer appropriate to treat him like a child. But Severus still squeezed him tightly and kissed his temple, hopefully not for the last time, as he said brokenly, "You saved me too, son."

~ The End! ~

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A/N: I hope you feel like it's a good time to close the story. It felt right to me, although I'll really, really miss this little cluster of "feel-good" moments. Thank you so much for reading, and for your comments.

I'm thinking about posting one other story, which I started years ago, before Book 6 came out… another Harry/Severus story that features Lucius. This one has Remus too…. keep your eye out for Emancipated Minor. I may do it - it could happen!