Summary: More than thirty years after falling in love with Severus, Harry tells his granddaughter about some important firsts in their lives.
Three Firsts and One Forever
Severus is a dark spot in the garden, his lean form nearly swallowed by the pole beans and sweet corn. There are tomatoes, the small grape-shaped variety for salads and plum tomatoes for sauces, and squash and gourds and cucumbers and melons. The pumpkins have their own bed, fertilized with dragon dung, and are already larger than Quaffles. Herbs grow in neat wedge-shaped plots spoking out from circular clumps of wild daisies and cone flowers.
Iris's auburn hair is just visible behind the rows of staked tomatoes. She's Lily's youngest, and this is the last June she'll spend in the gardens with Severus, for she'll be off to Hogwarts with her older brothers in September. It's the end of an era, and Harry wonders if Severus will go on next year as he always has, if he'll grow pumpkins large enough for the crup to sleep in, if he'll make pickles with the smallest cucumbers and the first crop of dill.
Thirty-five years ago, Harry was a thirty-one year-old single father of three when he'd rushed to Hogwarts to see Teddy after his godson had been injured playing Quidditch. He had all three children in tow, and they'd waited nervously for him on a bench in the corridor outside the infirmary, small feet swinging in the air, not yet touching the floor.
When Poppy ducked out to check on them, she found the headmaster lining the children up for a trip to the kitchens where, he was telling them, the house-elves were in need of small hands to assist with biscuit baking.
"And biscuit eating?" James asked hopefully.
Severus was not responsible for contributing to the children's DNA, but on that day, he began to shape and influence them. Harry could not imagine what they would be – where they would be – if they hadn't had Severus in their lives.
Harry watches Severus emerge from the garden dressed in low leather boots, the work trousers and the simple button-down shirt he favors for tending the plots. Iris walks slowly beside him, braids swinging below her shoulders, carrying a round basket so large her arms don't quite circle it completely. Harry stands from the porch swing and walks down the five wide stairs, smiling, as he always does this time of year at this time of day, at the tangle of morning glories and sweet peas vining over the low garden fences.
"We have more pickling cucumbers, Grampa!" Iris exclaims, breaking into a run as she sees Harry, an impish grin on her freckled face. She sets the basket on the stairs and plops down beside it. Harry holds out his hand and grasps Severus' as he approaches, squeezing it and grazing a kiss on the weathered cheek as Severus climbs the stairs.
"Hands, Iris," says Severus. "Come – wash up first. Then you may sit outside and entertain your grandfather while I take my morning nap."
"It's a pleasant enough day," says Harry, picking up the basket to follow Severus and Iris inside. "You can nap on the porch. Owww!"
Neither looks back at him. Iris giggles as she runs for the washroom. Severus snorts and heads for the kitchen. Harry sucks on his thumb, which has just been bitten by a garden gnome hiding under the cucumbers.
"You two," he mutters, but there is a fond look on his face as he shakes his head in exasperation.
He is smiling as he places the basket on the kitchen work table, and still smiling as he wraps a clean rag around this thumb.
"Tell me about the first time Papa kissed you."
Harry is on his knees in front of the tea roses, distributing mulch around the base of each plant.
"The first time Papa kissed me? What makes you think I didn't kiss him first?" Harry sits back and looks at his granddaughter. "And since when do you want to know anything at all about kissing?"
"Of course he kissed you first," says Iris, rolling her eyes. "He's your prince. The prince always kisses the princess first."
Harry laughs. "So I'm the princess, eh?"
Iris shrugs. "You're shorter," she says.
"Not in my high-heeled glass slippers," says Harry, reaching forward again with a handful of mulch.
"Grampa!" exclaims Iris. She tromps down the stairs and sits, cross-legged, on the grass beside him, looking at him with such a hopeful, earnest expression it makes Harry's lips twitch in response. "Just tell me!"
"It was a very long time ago," Harry says. He brushes a tangle of dark silver-streaked hair behind his ear, and looks over Iris's head to where Severus, his partner of more than thirty years, dozes on one of the wide-armed porch chairs.
"But you remember!" she insists, her voice soft and urgent. "You must remember!"
Harry reaches out and gently wipes a smear of dirt from her earnest face. His eyes crinkle at the corners as he looks over her shoulder at the clear blue horizon. "Oh, I remember," he says. "I remember."
The First First
There was mistletoe, of course, and ice-skating house-elves, and a very good cup of eggnog.
Harry and Severus weren't seeing each other – not exactly. Since Teddy's accident in late September, he had taken the children to Hogwarts for a Quidditch match and the Halloween Ball, and once to tea. The tea invitation had come from the headmaster directly, and had gone very well, all in all, even though Al did complain about the rhubarb biscuits.
A month after tea, a second invitation arrived, and this one was extended not just to Harry, but to Rose and Hugo Weasley as well. Ron and Hermione had taken a cottage in Hogsmeade when Ron and George opened a second store there, and their children were frequent visitors to the castle.
Tea was in the Headmaster's office, with all the former Headmasters and Headmistresses in attendance and, oddly, wide awake and very talkative. Lily and Hugo, the youngest of the lot, held mushy, crumbling biscuits as they listened, eyes wide and mouths open, to the cacophony of voices inquiring about the temperature of the tea, the freshness of the biscuits, the state of the Ministry, and the house points competition. It was a formal affair, despite the rude portraits, with proper cups and saucers and every request followed by a "Please" or a "Thank you" and proceeded by a "May I?"
As it was only two weeks before Christmas, the castle was outfitted for the holidays. After tea, Harry wiped off hands and faces, then suggested that they take a look at the decorated Great Hall, and Severus, a proper host, escorted the group down the marble stairs to the castle's Entrance Hall.
But instead of going through the ornate double doors, Severus led them to the smaller door leading down to the kitchens.
"Can I tickle the pear?" James asked as they hurried along behind the headmaster. "I'm the oldest!"
"You are, and you may," answered Severus.
"Why are we going to the kitchens?" Al complained, clearly put out that James got to tickle the pear. "I thought we were going to see the decorations."
"You are," answered Severus, but didn't offer further explanation.
Harry looked puzzled at first, but then his face relaxed into a smile.
"I've never seen the kitchens at Christmastime," he said, glancing at Severus, a mischievous look about him. "Do the house-elves decorate?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Do the house-elves decorate?" he repeated. James already had hold of the doorknob that grew out of the painting when he tickled the pear. He nodded at James and James turned the knob. "Prepare yourselves – and mind your feet. Stay together, and stay close to the door."
Harry had been a part of the magical world for more than twenty years, yet nothing could have prepared him for the Hogwarts kitchens at Christmastime. He felt Hugo and Lily clinging to his leg as they all stepped forward.
There were trees. And fairy lights. And pine boughs. Green and red and silver and gold ribbons. Glass baubles and colored pinecones. And snow. Real snow? And elves on ice skates, zooming and zipping around the kitchen carrying trays and bowls and pots and pans.
"Blimey!" exclaimed James.
Harry felt a tug on his left side, where Al, too, was now huddled against him.
The house-elves, in the presence of the revered Headmaster, surged toward the door, some of them executing expert slide stops on their skates, showering the children with ice crystals.
"Cool!" James hopped from one foot to the other and brushed ice off his ears.
The crowd of elves parted elegantly and a very old elf – Harry thought it was the oldest he'd ever encountered – moved to the front to stand before them. His bulbous brown eyes lit up in pleasure, focusing first on Severus, then sliding over to Harry. He smiled and bowed slowly from the waist, and when he straightened again, his eyes once again moved from Severus to Harry.
"Winston, please arrange a tour for the children, and perhaps an eggnog for Mr. Potter and myself."
Severus spoke authoritatively, but there was a kindness in his voice that was new to Harry, yet not at all out of place.
As the little elf bowed again, then turned and issued orders in a voice even lower and more gravelly than Kreacher's, Harry nudged Severus.
"Winston?" he whispered.
"Do be kind," murmured Severus. "He is extremely sensitive about his name."
And suddenly, before them, a miniature sleigh appeared, pulled by four ice-skating elves. The younger children looked at it suspiciously, but James clambered aboard, the others followed his lead, and the elves took off.
"Well, that was certainly unexpected," said Harry as the little red sleigh disappeared down one of the aisles formed by the replica house tables. The children's squeals and laughter floated back with the lightly falling snow.
"I suspected they might find the décor down here more entertaining than the more formal decorations in the Great Hall." Severus took a cup of eggnog from a tray proffered by two house-elves, each trying to get control of it from the other. He handed the cup to Harry and took another for himself.
"You understand them," said Harry, rather thoughtfully, as he sipped his eggnog and watched the small sleigh start another run down a long aisle.
"I was a child once myself," said Severus, eyes forward, watching the sleigh. His fingers were curled around his mug of eggnog.
And if each of them thought then that their own childhoods had not included sleigh rides of any kind, much less through the enchanted Hogwarts kitchens, and that they might be indulging these particular children just a bit, they didn't say a word.
Harry could have sworn a frog was croaking at his feet as something pulled on his robes.
But the voice came from Winston, the ancient house elf, and he had a satisfied look in his bright old eyes as he pointed upward, where a sprig of mistletoe was dancing in the air over Harry's tousled hair.
The sleigh sailed by them, slid around a corner, and headed up toward the replica head table. Rose, Al and James all had their hands in the air.
Harry chanced a glance at Severus, watched as his eyes slid from the enchanted mistletoe, down to the little house elf, then back up to Harry.
Harry quirked an eyebrow.
"Very well, then," said Severus. He gave an exaggerated sigh, glanced at the house elf as if to communicate that he was clearly indulging him as well, then bent to graze a kiss over Harry's cheek.
Harry, however, who hadn't been kissed in quite some time, and whose heart quickened as Severus' lips touched his cool cheek, wrapped an arm around Severus' neck and turned his head just enough so that his lips touched Severus.'
It was an invitation.
And Severus accepted.
His lips moved over Harry's, pressing against them with gentle insistence as one arm worked its way around Harry's waist, pulling him in just a bit closer. Harry remembered that first press of lips, the first time he curled his fingers into Severus' hair, the first lingering taste of tea on Severus' lips and tongue. He remembered the snowflakes melting on his face, the jingling of the bells on the house-elves' pointy green hats, and the laughter of the children as they tumbled out of the sleigh.
"Mistletoe!" exclaimed Lily, sliding over to Harry. "Kiss me too!"
Harry remembered little Rose regarding him with a very Hermione-like scrutinizing look on her small face, and recalled knowing with undeniable certainty that Rose would not forget that kiss when her mother asked about her day.
And to this day, he remembered the feel of Severus' fingertips against the small of his back when he escorted his guests back upstairs, and the look on his face as he watching silently as they Flooed out through the fireplace in the Great Hall.
Iris sighs as Harry finishes the story.
"That's all?" she asks. "You didn't take a sleigh ride yourself? You didn't wrap a furry blanket around your shoulders and sit side by side in the sleigh and huddle together for warmth?"
Harry laughs. He wonders what Muggle movie she's seen of late to give her such ideas.
"The sleigh was a house elf-sized sleigh," he reminds her. "It was almost too small for the children, and your mum and Hugo were only three years old."
She looks at him suspiciously. "Were there really house-elves on ice skates?" she asks.
Harry smiles. Three years ago, maybe even two, she would have believed him without question. She gives him a stern gaze. "It sounds like something Uncle Ron or Uncle George would make up."
He grins. It does sound like one of Ron's stories. "Ask Papa when he wakes up," he says.
They both look up at Severus on the porch. He is still sleeping, looking as relaxed and comfortable as an eighty-five-year old wizard can look when he's fallen asleep on a wide, low porch chair on a fair summer morning. His legs are stretched forward, and he's wearing the supple leather house shoes with the lambskin lining instead of his garden boots, which are lined up on the top stair beside Iris's old trainers. His hands are clasped together on his stomach, fingers more knotted and gnarly than they were the first time they grazed Harry's cheek. His mane of mostly grey hair is distinctive, but today it is tamed into a tail, tied at the nape of his neck and twice more as it falls ropelike down his back. While he wears his hair in Dumbledore's style, long and loosely tied, he still painstakingly shaves his face daily, and his eyeglasses are framed in black instead of gold. They rest low on his nose now, and the newspaper he was reading when he fell asleep is draped across his lap.
"Papa's getting old," says Iris. She's looking fondly at her other grandfather and Harry reaches for her, squeezes her hand in solidarity.
"We all get old," he says, "if we're lucky enough." He thinks of his parents, and Sirius. Of Cedric Diggory. Of Fred and Remus and Tonks. Of Hermione and Ron's tiny baby boy who had arrived three months too soon, and who'd left this world the same day he'd entered it.
"Papa isn't really old." Iris crouches down beside Harry now and helps spread the mulch around the base of a carnation-pink tea rose. She lowers her voice. "Not like Aunt Minnie."
Harry brushes his hand against hers in the soil but doesn't comment. Minerva has been failing of late, her mind still sharp in a fading body.
"Papa wasn't here when Mum and Uncle Al and Uncle Jamie were babies. He told me that. He said he inherited them when they were little ruffians."
Harry raises an eyebrow. "That sounds like your papa," he says, shaking his head fondly. "And yes, your mum was three years old when h came into our lives."
"Did Papa hold me when I was a baby?"
"Of course he did. He held your brothers, and your cousins too. He was very good with babies."
Iris grins. "Papa doesn't like babies. They're too messy."
Harry stands and dusts his hands off against his trouser legs. He stretches, frowning against the pull in his back. He settles on the porch stairs and leans against the railing, beckoning to Iris to come sit with him. "He does. Would you like to hear about the first time he held a newborn baby?"
"He didn't drop it, did he?" she asks as she slides in beside him.
"Him," corrects Harry. "It was your cousin Oliver. And no, of course he didn't drop him."
Iris arches an eyebrow in a perfect imitation of Severus. "Are you sure? Being dropped on his head might explain a few things about Oliver."
"You've been spending too much time with your papa," says Harry, nudging her chin affectionately with his knuckles. "Oliver has ideas that don't exactly sit well with your papa. But they love each other very much."
"Oliver risks his life unnecessarily," Iris lectures. "Dragons are wild creatures. They are not meant to be ridden, or raced."
"You have been spending too much time with Severus." Harry stretches out his legs and drapes an arm around the girl. "Now, if you'll stop lecturing me about your cousin, I'll tell you about the first time your papa held a baby."
centerThe Second First/center
"Stop twitching," said Severus irritably. "If we hadn't come up here so early, you wouldn't be so tense." His hand came down on top of Harry's and he laced their fingers together.
"It's been hours," said Harry.
"As I understand, it takes hours," said Severus.
Harry squeezed Severus' hand. "Of course I remember. It wasn't that long ago."
"Lily is twenty-four," Severus reminded him.
"Twenty-four." Harry dropped his head back. It hit the wall with a dull thud. "How did that happen?"
Severus picked up the stack of applications he was reviewing. "This candidate claims to have five years' experience on the Romanian Dragon preserve, yet he doesn't list Charlie Weasley as a reference."
"Charlie isn't the only warden there," Harry said. He looked at the clock and frowned. "You did owl Lily, didn't you? I wonder why she isn't here yet."
"I owled both Lily and Al, as you requested," Severus answered. He pulled out another application. "This one has bred pygmy puffs the size of quaffles." He frowned, crumpled the parchment, and dropped it on the floor.
"And what exactly did you tell them when you owled?" asked Harry.
"That Charlotte was in labor and that you were dragging me to the hospital immediately even though the baby was unlikely to be born before sunrise."
"Git," muttered Harry. "She's been in labor since noon. I hope for her sake the baby's born before sunrise."
"This one had a job at a Muggle zoo in the States," said Severus. He scanned the application, then sighed. "He was a conductor on the zoo train."
"Over-qualified," Harry said.
"Is Miss Weasley planning to make an appearance?" asked Severus, not looking up.
"Ginny?" Harry laughed. "This time of year? The Harpies made the play-offs again. She's got her hands full."
"I doubt she'd be here even if it were off-season," said Severus. "She isn't exactly invested in her children's lives."
"I'm glad James and Charlotte are doing this the old-fashioned way," said Harry. "And you shouldn't judge Ginny, Severus. She did me a huge favor – without her I'd never have been a father."
"Not without her eggs, and a great deal of money for the surrogates who carried them," said Severus.
"You aren't complaining, are you?"
Severus put his papers aside and once again laced his fingers through Harry's. "No. Not at all. I am immensely grateful the hard part was done before I entered the picture."
Harry snorted. "The hard part? You think that was the hard part?"
Both their heads swiveled toward the door, where James, looking exhausted yet exhilarated, stood, smiling at them.
"Eleven fourteen p.m. Eight pounds, fourteen ounces. Nearly bald, but what hair there is is dark. We're calling him Oliver Severus."
Severus sighed. "I do wish you all would stop doing that."
"He's beautiful, James. He looks just like you."
"That's what Charlotte says," said James, voice low so as not to wake his exhausted wife. "I rather hoped he'd look like her."
"He has her mouth," offered Severus. "Pity he doesn't open it so we can see his teeth."
"Babies aren't born with teeth…." Harry caught Severus' satisfied smile, and he smiled too. "Stop it. We all know you've not been around a lot of babies, Severus."
"He hasn't opened his eyes, either. Do you imagine those have grown in yet?"
James rolled his eyes.
"Yes, he has two perfectly good ones. Blue now, but they could go hazel or green." He reached down and gently stroked the baby's cheek. Little Oliver Severus' face scrunched up a bit but he kept sleeping.
"Why don't you hold him now?" said Harry. He looked down at his grandson, marveling at the perfect warm bundle as he always did when he held a newborn. He started to hand the child off to Severus, but Severus took a step backward.
"We should be going. I'm certain James and Charlotte would appreciate some privacy."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "Sit down, Severus."
And before Severus could protest again, Harry was passing him an armful of carefully swaddled newborn baby boy. And despite his initial reluctance to hold the child, the baby fitted into the crook of his arm, snug against his chest, as naturally and perfectly as Lily had when the frantic three-year-old threw herself into his arms on that day, long ago, before they were a family, when Harry had been hurt and Al had come for him through the Floo.
And Harry could tell – he could see it on Severus' face – that suddenly this child was very real to Severus.
Severus didn't think he had missed anything with James and Albus and Lily. Harry knew Severus couldn't love them any more than he did now, even if they had shared his DNA. He wasn't effusive. He didn't envelop them in hugs often, but the ones he did bestow, and the ones he did accept from them, were the critical ones, when they were most needed and most appreciated. He had never involved himself in their lives to the point of saturation, letting them have the independence he knew they needed. And in their Hogwarts years had managed to be both Headmaster and father, separating the roles nearly flawlessly. He was a firm parent, a good complement to Harry's tendency to spoil the children, and a quiet one, who led by example.
"He can't weigh nearly nine pounds," Severus said at last. He shifted slightly, and the baby's eyes suddenly blinked open. Harry's face broke into a smile, and he exchanged a pleased look with James. James reached out his hand to Harry, and Harry grasped it and squeezed, a moment of solidarity as they watched Severus fall in love.
It has already happened to Harry with this baby, just as it had with the three he had created himself, and in a different way with Teddy, sitting on Andromeda's worn sofa two weeks after Remus and Tonks died. And he knew – watching Severus' stern face soften as Oliver blinked up at him – that the child had just claimed a piece of Severus' heart.
Severus might have said, in a rare moment of sentimentality, lying spooned together in bed with moonlight spilling in over them, that Harry possessed all of his heart, that like a thief in the night he had stolen it when Severus' eyes were closed, while it lay open and unguarded, beating out its steady rhythm against Harry's back. And if Harry countered that Severus loved the children too, Severus might have said that they were a part of Harry, an extension of him, that they shared the heart Harry had stolen.
But here, in this drawn-out, utterly quiet moment, Harry understood perfectly what was happening inside Severus' heart. He imagined it to be like Wizarding Space, like a bedroom at the Burrow, squeezed in because more room was needed. Without changing the outward appearance at all, his heart was suddenly bigger and one more person had taken up residence inside.
Long fingers, fingers Harry had loved from the first moment they had worked themselves into his hair and caressed his head as Severus kissed him, brushed the fine down of dark hair on Oliver's head, outlined the tiny shell of ear, grazed down the petal-soft cheek.
"He's a fine boy."
James had dropped to his knees in front of Severus. He accepted the baby and cradled him against him, then pressed a kiss, a surprising and spontaneous act, against Severus' cheek.
"We gave him your name for a reason, you know," he said. "I only hope he turns out to be half the man you are."
Severus nodded, and stood, and they said their goodbyes, and Harry reached for his hand, and found it trembling.
They didn't speak as they walked to the visitor's Floo, but when they fell into bed not long after, and Severus spooned up against Harry's back, he spoke softly into Harry's ear.
"What did James weigh when he was born?"
"Six pounds, twelve ounces," answered Harry. "He was the smallest of the three."
There was a long moment of silence, of Severus' steady breathing, then his arms tightened around him.
"I would have loved you if it had only been you," Severus said.
And Harry understood what he was saying, and he pressed Severus' hand against his heart, and they fell into a peaceful sleep.
"How much did I weigh when I was born?"
Iris has listened raptly to the story of Severus meeting Oliver. Now, of course, she wants to hear about her grampa and papa meeting iher/i for the first time.
"You were a wee thing," Harry tells her. "Just a hair over four pounds – less than half the size of Oliver." He held his hands apart to show her how big. "Not much bigger than a garden gnome. You came along more than a month early – gave us all a scare at first but when we heard what a good pair of lungs you had, we knew you'd be all right."
"But he held me," she insists. "Did he fall in love with me at the hospital?"
Harry nods. "Of course Papa held you, sweetie. Of course he fell in love with you there."
He doesn't add that Severus had been terrified to touch her at first, afraid the tiny body was too frail for his awkward hands.
As if Severus Snape's hands could be anything but deft and sure.
They both look up when a crack sounds on the gravel drive. Lily has just Apparated in and is smoothing down her work robes as she walks toward them.
"Quiet – Papa's sleeping," admonishes Lily, settling on the stair beside her daughter. She leans over Iris' head and kisses Harry on the cheek. "Morning, Dad. Thought I'd pop over and pick up Iris."
"I don't want to go home yet," pouts Iris. "Papa's going to make pickling potion and he said I could help."
"Go home and get some sleep, Lils. Iris can stay with us today. Severus is planning to make pickles – they picked a basket of cucumbers this morning."
"And we tricked Grampa again!" Iris exclaims.
Lily shakes her head and holds out her hand. Harry holds up his bandaged thumb.
"You're oblivious, Dad, really," she says as she removes the bandage and casts a cleaning and disinfecting charm, then quickly heals the bite.
"Just doing my part to keep you employed," Harry says with a laugh, examining his thumb.
"We have plenty of business at St. Mungo's," she answers.
"Grampa's been telling me stories," volunteers Iris. "About the first time Papa kissed him, and about when Oliver was born."
"Oh?" Lily makes herself comfortable. "Those kind of stories." She looks at Harry with her warm brown eyes. "Why don't you tell Iris about the time you broke your leg?"
She holds her father's eyes for a long moment. They are clearing sharing a poignant memory.
"You mean the first time you…?" He trails off, and Lily nods, smiling.
"I haven't thought about that in years," he says, his voice catching.
"You were the best dad in the world," Lily says. "You were everything to us." Harry sees a tear glisten in the corner of her eye. "But we weren't complete until we had Papa."
The Third First
When Albus was not quite two, and Lily was well on the way, Harry bought a cottage in the country outside of Godric's Hollow, and was settled there by the time Lily made her appearance. He'd left the Aurors when James was born, determined to spend as much time as possible with his son. He had plenty of space, and a certain skill with plants, so Neville helped him set up a series of greenhouses, and over time, Harry established himself as an ingredients supplier to the apothecaries in Godric's Hollow and Hogsmeade.
After the Christmas kiss at Hogwarts, Harry and Severus saw each other more frequently. But Severus was the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and Harry had three young children, and it wasn't an easy thing to fit their lives together. Severus could steal away for several hours on a Sunday, and Harry could occasionally leave his brood with Ron and Hermione or Molly, but spending an entire weekend together was nearly out of the question.
And while the relationship progressed slowly, it did progress.
Harry and the children would come to Hogwarts once a month, trooping in together through the gates after Flooing to the Three Broomsticks, Al complaining about the walk and why didn't they just Floo right into Severus' office while Harry repeated the standard mantra – the exercise is good for you. Sometimes, Neville would take the children to help out in the greenhouses or on flower hunts on the edge of the Forbidden Forest so Harry and Severus could have an hour alone.
Perhaps it was a good thing that they tried out their relationship at Hogwarts first. No one seemed too terribly surprised – or upset – that Headmaster Snape was spending so much time with Harry Potter. Nearly everyone was in favor of anything that made the Headmaster very distractedly add marmalade to his tea, hum pleasantly in the corridor and walk directly through the Bloody Baron and bid him a very fine day.
Not that these things happened regularly – or at all. Students were prone to exaggeration, after all, but everyone agreed that the Headmaster was just more pleasant to be around since Harry Potter had started coming by.
On the third weekend of July the year Lily turned four, Hermione and Ron turned up at the cottage on a Friday evening and took all three children for a weekend sleepover.
An hour later, the Headmaster Flooed in. The cottage door didn't open again until the children returned on Sunday afternoon.
By the following spring, Severus was Flooing to the cottage at least once a week for a late dinner – he had to make an appearance in the Great Hall first and at least pretend to eat there. On Tuesdays, the family came to tea at Hogwarts. They all sat in the faculty box during Quidditch games, where Harry unabashedly cheered for Teddy and Gryffindor and Severus remained properly neutral, as the headmaster should.
On a lovely Sunday afternoon in late June, when the students at Hogwarts were frantically studying for final exams, Harry took the children outside to burn off some energy. They were playing tag on the back lawn and Harry took off at a run, pursued by all three children. He turned his head back to see how close they were when his foot caught in a hole that certainly hadn't been there before. He went down hard, heard the horrible crack as he fell, felt the white hot flash of pain and Merlin sweet Merlin – his head hit the ground hard and his vision dimmed.
The rest of the story he'd heard from Severus.
James, not quite eight years old, without stopping to think too hard about it, sent Albus off at a run to Floo to Hogwarts. He convinced a sobbing Lily to run inside for towels because Harry's head was bleeding and he had to do something. Then he knelt down beside his dad and, taking very deep breaths, tried very hard not to cry. By the time Lily came with the towels, running as fast as her small legs could carry her, he had lost the battle.
Albus and Severus were back within five minutes – fate had smiled on them and had found Severus in his office when Albus tumbled directly in through the Headmaster's Floo – and once Severus had stopped the bleeding and sent his Patronus back to Poppy for assistance, he'd collapsed on the ground beside Harry, breathing heavily, and the children had launched themselves at him.
It was hard to comfort all three of them at once, but James was finished being brave, and Al was practically hyperventilating, and Lily was clinging to his neck fiercely, and when Poppy was there and had sent for a transport team from St. Mungo's, he was faced with the horrible reality that he couldn't leave the children alone and go with Harry, and he couldn't take them to hospital in the state they were in.
"I'll stay with them, Severus. Go with Harry," Poppy said after Harry and the transport team had disappeared on the medical Portkey.
He had shaken his head. "I'll be along as soon as I can, Poppy. Please go on and make sure he gets the best care."
He didn't really remember how they had all gotten back inside. He thought he carried both Lily and Al, while James had clung to his leg as he tried to walk. They'd collapsed on the sofa, and he found he didn't quite have enough lap for three children, but they clung to him anyway, and when he said he needed to go to their father, and would send for Aunt Hermione or Grandma Molly, Lily had clung to him more tightly and sobbed, "But we need you, Papa!"
Harry was sedated and already dosed with Skele-Gro by the time Severus made it to his bedside. He opened his eyes when Severus took his hand.
"You look like hell," Harry said, attempting, but not quite achieving, a smile.
"Nifflers," said Severus, squeezing Harry's hand and settling on the bedside chair. "They have been relocated."
"I hope by relocated you don't mean 'made into a stew,'" said Harry.
"The children wouldn't touch it. I had to dispose of it and make them toast soldiers instead."
"You stayed with them." Harry reached up with a shaky hand and wrapped it around Severus' neck, pulling him down into a languid kiss.
Severus broke the kiss and spoke low in Harry's ear. "They needed me. They clung to me like limpets – they would not easily forgive me leaving them. I thought my chances better with you."
Harry smiled. He reached for Severus' hand, brought it to his mouth, brushed a kiss on the knuckles.
"Your chances with me are excellent," he said.
Mindful of his head injury, Severus carefully brushed Harry's unruly hair back from his eyes.
"They have chosen a name for me," he said quietly.
Harry's eyes widened. "They have?"
"Papa," said Severus. He managed to not scowl, but barely.
"Pawpaw," repeated Harry. He grinned. "Not Papa?"
"She pronounced it Paw-Paw. I am quite sure she meant Papa. We will be spelling it as such. Lily started it and by the time Molly arrived, all three of them were using it."
"Pawpaw is better than Mr. Snape," said Harry. "I like it."
"It is marginally better than Mr. Snape," said Severus.
Harry reached for Severus' hand again, lacing their fingers together. "Did I ever tell you the story about Dumbles?"
Severus shook his head. Dumbles was the family pet, a crup so ugly only its mother and the Potter children could love it.
"She was a stray," said Harry. His voice faded in and out as he spoke tiredly, struggling to stay awake. "She started hanging about the cottage one weekend a couple years ago. I didn't want to feed her. I hoped it would find a different family – I really didn't have the energy for a pet with the children so young. But she was skin and bones and I couldn't help it – I gave her leftovers every morning but didn't let her in the house. Al took such a liking to her and would sit on the porch stairs every morning, offering up one of his breakfast sausages. She was skittish, but she'd come closer every day. She made a bed behind the azalea bushes. Ron and Hermione were over one day and Ron asked about the crup – asked me what we were calling her. I said it was a stray and we hadn't named her. He laughed. He said that as soon as we named her, she'd be a permanent member of the family. He said names are important – it's impossible to hold on to something if you don't name it, and impossible to let it go once you do."
He closed his eyes, sleep overtaking him at last, and Severus sat beside the bed, lost in thought, for a very long time.
"He's left out the most important pieces."
Severus' voice, clear and strong, pipes in just as Harry finishes the story.
"What did he forget?" asks Lily, standing up and dropping a kiss on Severus' cheek. "The Happily Ever After bit?"
"Well, we're certainly evidence of that piece," says Severus. "It doesn't need repeating." He shakes his head at Lily. "Those robes are atrocious."
She ignores the statement – she's heard it too many times already. "So what did Dad forget?"
"Yeah – what did Grampa forget?" chimes in Iris. She has scampered up the stairs and has squished herself in beside Severus on the wide chair.
"The part where he professed his love to me," says Severus. He is staring past Lily, at Harry, who is still sitting on the porch, and who has turned his head to meet his husband's eyes.
"I don't seem to recall that," teases Harry. "It doesn't sound like me."
Severus rolls his eyes. He learned that gesture from Harry years ago, just as Harry long ago perfected Severus' arched eyebrow.
"Do you think I would forget the first time you told me you love me?" Severus states, rather quietly, eyes still on Harry.
"I love you, Papa." Iris's eyes are bright and earnest. She burrows into Severus' side.
"You kissed my hand. You looked me in the eye. You said 'I love you, you old git.'"
Lily laughs. Iris looks appalled.
"I didn't either," says Harry. He stands and walks to the foot of Severus' chair, then bends and whispers something in his ear. Severus smiles but doesn't say anything, and Harry disappears inside the cottage.
"You two," says Lily. She pulls the end of one of her daughter's braids. "I'll be back for you at dinner time. Be good and have fun with those pickles."
She walks back toward the lane, and Severus calls out to her.
"Pickled toads!" He chuckles. "That's what your robes look like – ask your Dad about pickled toads some time. He has a lovely rhyme he can share."
Lily turns and shakes her head. She waves. Severus is still chuckling, and Harry, standing in the doorway, is now the one rolling his eyes.
"You stayed with them." Harry reaches up with a shaky hand and wraps it around Severus' neck, pulling him down into a languid kiss.
Severus breaks the kiss and speaks low in Harry's ear. "They needed me. They clung to me like limpets – they would not easily forgive me leaving them. I thought my chances better with you."
Harry smiles. He reaches for Severus' hand, brings it to his mouth, brushes a kiss on the knuckles.
"Your chances with me are excellent," he says. He looks at Severus, holds his dark gaze. "I love you, you know."
His eyes close – he is fighting the sedative – and Severus carefully brushes his unruly hair off his forehead.
No. He hadn't known. Suspected, perhaps. Suspected that he loved Harry as well.
He tells Harry about the children calling him Papa, and Harry finds the energy to tell the story about the crup. Then he looks long at Severus, and it is in his eyes, and in his heart, and on his lips.
"I love you, Severus," he says. It is a susurration, a tired whisper, a quiet promise.
"And I you," says Severus. And he sits beside the bed, lost in thought, for a very long time.