The Blood Connection (Part 2/3)
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Eight: Daddy Dearest
A dead silence had just settled over the hospital wing that fine summer afternoon. The tableau was frozen.
Hermione clutched Ron’s arm tightly, both barely inside the room, neither game enough to move and break the tension. Their eyes were wide and they shifted between the two primary players of the drama unfolding before them.
From his seat at the bedside, Remus could smell the tension in the air. The werewolf fiercely resisted the urge to sneeze as the scents of strong emotions tickled his nose. There was anger, shock, hurt and confusion permeating the air about him. And the strongest scents were emanating from the man in the bed next to him and the boy at its foot.
Severus was tense, to put it mildly. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready for this confrontation. If it ever had to come, he would have preferred it to have been on his own terms. Not like this. Not with him confined to a sick bed and Harry having cobbled facts together, then leapt to a conclusion.
Severus allowed his eyes to slide closed. Not like this. Never like this. Some many times over the years he had watched his son as he grew and wanted to take him in his arms and tell the child who he was. But he never had. He never risked it. To do so would be putting the boy in danger.
And now……… now it was too late. Harry knew too much to ever believe any story Severus might want to spin. No matter how much Severus didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be doing this, he no longer had a choice. He owed his son the truth.
His eyes slid open again.
Harry’s hands were beginning to hurt from the intense hold he had on the end of the bed, but he was only distantly aware of the pain. Everything in him was focused on the man in the bed before him. He had been lied to his entire life. He had been told his parents had died in a car crash. He had been told there was no such thing as magic. He had found out his parents had been murdered by an evil wizard.
He had never been told *why* the evil bastard had been after his family. He was never told everything about himself. It had taken him years to find out who his parents were, and years more to come to terms with who that made him. And now the carpet had been ripped out from beneath his feet again.
Now he had found out that his father wasn’t his father at all. Harry was losing hold of his already shaky identity. He had no idea what to feel. He was hurt, deeply: Snape had always known Harry was his son but didn’t take him in. He was confused: what possible reason could they all have for keeping the truth from him? He was happy: he finally had someone to call his own; Snape was his father and no one else’s. He was angry: they had denied him his heritage.
Harry settled on the anger as the easiest emotion to accept and understand. He feed it and allowed it to sustain and control him. His hands unclenched from the end of the bed and clenched again into fists, the nails scoring his palms. He was aware of tears gathering in the corners of his eyes and this only served to fuel his anger.
Harry’s jaw ached as his released the pressure on his gritted teeth to spit out his next words, aimed to wound.
‘You knew all along and you never told me. Was it because you were ashamed? Was it because you *raped* my mother……..?’
The tears spilled from his eyes and started to roll down his cheeks. Harry clenched his teeth again and dug his nails deeper into his palms, straining desperately for control.
Severus blanched. He had been expecting angry and bitter comments from the boy, but that had hurt, however much he wanted to pretend it hadn’t. Beside him, Remus stirred angrily. His friend was furious with Harry for making such a wild accusation without first asking for the truth.
The werewolf moved to berate the boy. Snape laid a warning hand on his arm, holding him still. Remus glanced at his friend; Severus was pale, gazing only at the boy, but his shook his head at Remus. Remus reluctantly sat back, allowing Severus to deal with the situation.
His voice was held strictly level as he addressed Harry.
‘Harry, you’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion……..’
Harry never gave him a chance to finish, riding over his words.
‘So, what? Now you’re going to deny that you’re my father?’ He pivoted sharply and yanked his shirt from his shoulder, clearly displaying the wizard-mark, ‘How do you explain this then……?’
Remus was shocked at how calmly Severus was taking the whole thing; he simply nodded softly at Harry’s accusation.
‘And our hands? And our blood-magic type?’ The flatness of Snape’s tone and the sheer weight of sadness and regret he could sense behind it jolted Harry from his irrational rage. He released his shirt, allowing it to slide up and cover the wizard-mark. He turned slowly and solemnly nodded.
‘Harry, I’m not going to deny that I am your father. But you are wrong,’ Harry opened his mouth to interrupt, but Severus raised a hand, silencing him, ‘Let me finish. I *am* your father, and so was James.’
Behind him, Harry heard Ron and Hermione suck in shocked breaths, but he didn’t react at all. He didn’t think he could. Physical movement seemed to be beyond him. He didn’t understand. What Snape was saying simply didn’t make sense. It was impossible. A child could have only one father…….. couldn’t it?
Harry realised movement had returned to him, and he was shaking his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. His eyes were wide, confused, and he had no voice.
Severus sat forward, in some vain hope that being closer to the boy would make him understand and believe him as he explained.
‘James was my husband, Harry,’ by the door, Harry’s best friends gasped again, but no one paid them any mind. Severus’s eyes were locked to Harry’s; ‘I carried you inside me for nine months, Harry, in a magically sustained womb.’
Harry’s head shaking had become more pronounced. Severus bowed his head. His son was not going to be so easily convinced. He leant back and retrieved something from his nightstand. He handed it to Harry. Reacting automatically, Harry took the object and looked down at it. It was the same photograph that had captured his attention the day Severus had woken up.
The young Severus Snape still held the black-haired, green-eyed baby protectively in his arms, but now the other man was standing upright as well. Harry knew him. It was James Potter. He stood beside Snape; one arm wrapped possessively about his waist, the opposite hand resting on the bundle of blankets the child was wrapped in.
Harry couldn’t tear his eyes from the picture. The two men in it shifted; turned their faces to one another and smiled softly. As they looked down at the baby in Severus’s arms again, Harry noticed they wore matching silver chains about their necks.
Harry was aware of Severus’s voice speaking again, the only thing able to penetrate the haze about Harry’s mind. He dragged his eyes from the picture to look at the man. He noticed it then: the silver chain about the Potions Master’s neck. Then the words the voice spoke sunk in.
‘You are *my* son. Mine and James’s.’
Harry’s head began to shake again, harder than before, and his hands started to tremble.
‘No,’ he whispered. He met the black eyes staring earnestly at him. For a moment he thought he detected hope swimming there. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? He shouted this time: ‘NO!’
The photograph floated towards the ground in Harry’s wake as he pushed by his best friends and fled out to door. Remus darted forwards and snatched the photo from the air before it could reach the floor. The room was enveloped in a dead silence again. Ron and Hermione made a very shell-shocked pair, standing in disarray by the door. Severus had a carefully blank expression on his face, but it didn’t quite reach the eyes. Remus could see some unfathomable emotion lurking there. He looked down at the photo in his hands and smiled when James waved up at him.
‘Well,’ he said brightly, ‘That went well didn’t it?’
He was rewarded with a black glare from Severus. He decided that perhaps it would be prudent for him to simply shut up.
The only thing that halted Harry’s frenetic retreat was falling. His unwary toe snagged on a hiccup of the lawn and he landed with bruising force on his knees. He had no idea how long he had run or where he had ended up. But that didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered but the miserable lies that greasy git had spewed at him. Because that was all they could be. Nothing else made sense. Certainly not Harry having two fathers, both of whom were purported to despise the other.
His face was stark. His eyes were dry. He was struggling. Struggling to process the truth of his parentage. Struggling to deal with the emotions evoked. Struggling to *understand*. Harry heaved a dry sob that spoke volumes about his abject confusion and utter desolation.
He was confused. So abjectly bewildered. It was another lie. One he had no handle on. His entire life, there had been one constant, one thing that had never changed, no matter what else: his father was James Potter and his mother was Lily Evans. In ten short minutes, a flicker in eternity, his very perception of himself had been tipped on its head, then shaken for good measure.
Suddenly, he wasn’t an orphan. Suddenly, he was in no way related to the muggles that had raised him. Suddenly, he had no mother. Suddenly, he had two fathers: one dead, the other hating him virulently.
Suddenly, he didn’t know who he was any more. The sense of self he had struggled *so* hard to build and maintain was crumbling about him and he was absolutely powerless to stop it. The situation was simply beyond him to comprehend.
Snape hated James. Everybody knew that. He hated him because everybody else had loved him. He hated him because he had saved his life. He hated him because James was *Gryffindor* and Snape was *Slytherin*. And amidst that hate, they were married and bore a child? No.
And *why*, why lie to Harry? What possible justification could there be for a father to turn his back on his child? There was no reason in the world for Harry to have been raised by muggles who despised him when he had a parent alive and well able to care for a child. Why had no one told him?
A sob wracked Harry’s frame and he gave himself over to another facet of the emotional morass that was the limits of his world. He began to mourn the loss of the mother he had never known but loved dearly. Lily Evans wasn’t…….. his. She wasn’t his mother and he had no claim on her memory. And they had all lied to him. Sirius, Lupin, Dumbledore, *Snape*. They had lied and called him her son. And he *wasn’t*. He wasn’t Harry, son of Lily. He never had been.
And the grief turned to anger, pure and fierce. Every figure of authority in his life, every person he was meant to model his own character after, had *lied* to him. Worse, they had forced him to *live* a lie. Every time he thought he finally knew who he was, someone came out and told him something new. They would never tell him the whole truth. No matter that it was *his* life and he deserved to know who he was.
They all toyed with his life as though it was a plaything, to be tossed any which way they desired. They denied him a home. They denied him a father. They denied him an identity, and saw no problem with what they did.
They had denied him his heritage; knowledge of who his ancestors were, the knowledge that his great-uncle Filbert had developed a new charm or that his three-times-great-grandmother had kept a pet dragon, or that…….. It didn’t matter what. It didn’t matter because Harry didn’t *know*. He didn’t know because no one had thought he had the right to know. Harry’s fists convulsed in the turf. He was furious.
But shining through the fury was a bright ray of pure happiness. No matter how it came to be, no matter he had been denied it so long: he had a family. Someone who was *his* to call father. For the first time in his life, Harry had somewhere he might conceivably belong. No longer would he have to live vicariously through his friends when they spoke of their families; he had one of his own, now. If he was wanted……..
Oh gods! Again, a dry sob heaved in Harry’s chest. Snape didn’t want him, he *hated* him. From the moment Harry had arrived at Hogwarts, Snape had gone out of his way to show Harry how utterly without redemption he found the boy. And it hadn’t even begun there. Fourteen years ago, when James was killed, Snape could have claimed his son, but instead he had allowed Harry to be sent into the unwelcoming hands of the muggle Dursleys. No man that felt the slightest iota of *any*thing for his son would have allowed him to be remain in the care of those abusive bigots.
Harry could only conclude that his *father* despised him. He had certainly seen ample proof of that fact in the four short years he had known the man. Not once had he shown the smallest hint of compassion or sympathy for or paternal interest in his son.
No one had ever actually cared about Harry enough to tell him the truth about his parentage. Harry began to believe that he simply wasn’t worthy of love. If his own *father* hated him, what other person could ever feel more than indifference for him? Harry wrapped his arms about his middle and pressed his forehead to the ground. His inner turmoil seemed to spill over into a physical manifestation of pain.
He was *hurting*! He was hurting……… He……. hurt.
Harry was still in the same attitude when a voice intruded unwelcomely into his vicious reverie.
‘He worries himself sick about you, you know.’
Harry’s head snapped up. For the first time, he took in his surroundings. In his wild flight, he had quit the castle entirely and was now collapsed on the lawn, half way about the lake.
Standing beside him, staring out over the lake, was Professor Dumbledore.
The anger surged to the fore in him again. Harry spat, not caring to whom he spoke, ‘What are *you* doing here?’
Dumbledore never turned from his perusal of the still waters. He ignored Harry’s comment completely, elaborating instead on his own.
‘Regular as clockwork, whenever you got yourself in trouble, I could rely on Severus to turn up in my office shortly after, pale and trembling, ranting at me to monitor your actions more closely.’
Harry glared at his headmaster, not wanting to here anyone speak anything but ill of the Potions Professor at the moment. His glare received no recognition and Dumbledore continued to speak.
‘The evening after your first Quidditch match, he came to my office. He wanted you off the team. He said it was against school policy to allow first years to compete. His hands were trembling, Harry. Have you ever seen Severus’s hands tremble?’
Harry looked away. Dumbledore nodded his head.
‘I have. The interesting thing is, I only ever see his hands tremble when you have managed to put yourself in the way of danger once again.’ There was a pause.
‘He threatened to resign when he found out I had given you James’s invisibility cloak. Made some excuse about banned items or some such nonsense. His hands were trembling again.’
Dumbledore lapsed into silence; never once looking at the boy still huddled on the ground beside him. Harry ground his teeth. He was still angry with the headmaster for having kept so much from him over the years. He wasn’t particularly willing to listen to the wise old wizard’s words now.
‘What’s your point?’ Harry’s tone was heavily laced with anger.
‘My point, Harry, is that you should give him a chance to explain,’ Dumbledore’s own tone was even, as though he was simply commenting on the weather.
‘What do you care?’ Harry wanted to know.
‘Of course I care,’ was the professor’s simple reply.
Harry’s fists clenched on his knees, ‘Never enough to tell me the truth.’
For the first time, Dumbledore looked at Harry. His expression was surprised, as though his reasons should have been obvious to the boy, ‘It was never *my* place to tell you, Harry. No one had that right, except your fathers.’
Harry laughed bitterly, ‘No wonder I didn’t know then. James is dead and Snape hates me.’
Dumbledore’s tone was infinitely gentle; ‘Severus doesn’t hate you Harry.’
Harry made no reply but deliberately turned his head away again. For a long time, no more words were exchanged.
At length, Dumbledore stirred again. He turned fully to face Harry and spoke purposefully.
‘Regardless of what has gone before Harry, he is your father and, as such, deserves a chance to explain.’
He watched the side of Harry’s face for a moment, but when the boy made no response, indeed appeared not to have heard a word he spoke, he sighed and turned away, returning to the castle. Harry would have to come to terms with this on his own.
Harry ignored the retreat of his headmaster, staring fixedly into the forest. Soon, he began to succumb to his emotions again, dragged back into the vicious cycle of utter confusion.
Chapter Nine: Upon the midnight hour
Severus glanced at the majestic old grandfather clock in the entrance hall as he hobbled past it, leaning heavily on a cane. The dial read half past the hour of eleven. Half an hour til his son’s fifteenth birthday.
Severus hadn’t seen Harry since the boy had run from the infirmary the day before. He hadn’t tried to. Even without the advice of Dumbledore and Remus, he knew that it would be best to give Harry time to come to terms with his new knowledge.
But it hadn’t been easy, to stay away. Not once in fourteen years had Severus found it easy to stay away from his son. But the temptation had never been so hard to resist as it had been in the last day and a half. Simply knowing that his son now knew who his father was made it a thousand times more difficult to prevent himself from taking the boy in his arms and mourning, finally, over the loss of James.
The night, fourteen years gone, he had arrived home to find his husband dead and his son gone, Severus had closed off a part of himself and refused to look at it since. Into that deep crevice of his mind he had relegated every emotion, thought and reminder of his family, refusing to deal with it.
At the time, he had told himself it was because he didn’t have the leisure to deal with it. He convinced himself that to show any hint of sorrow at the death of James Potter and Lily Evans would be a fatal mistake, one that he could never pardon. He swore blind to Dumbledore that his only regret was that it was such a pointless waste of life. He swore blind to Voldemort that his only regret was that Harry had not died as well. He swore blind to himself that he could handle his grief.
It was a lie.
Oh, he knew he was right to conceal all emotion from Voldemort and his Death Eaters; any fool would have known that. Severus had even known he was right to deny to the side of Light that he felt anything more than remorse. It *would* have endangered his son. But, at the same time, on some deep level, Severus knew that that was just the rationale.
The truth was he didn’t *want* to deal with the welter of emotions, not then or ever. He saw no reason why he should have to be coming to terms with having lost his family. No man should have to do that. And especially not when said man should have been able to save them. Above all, Severus blamed himself for not being there that night; for not being able to save the only family that had ever mattered to him.
There had only been one person that had seen through him, and he only because he knew the truth of the situation. Remus had been a confidant of James and Severus from almost the very beginning, back in the last of their school days. And when the werewolf had gone to Severus after that awful night, offering comfort and someone to grieve with, Severus had turned on him. Had spit hateful words in his friend’s face and accused him of not saving Lily and James. Severus had slipped a frozen mask over his pain and he left Remus in a state of desolate confusion.
For years Severus had been successful in denying his unresolved grief. No one had noticed anything beyond the frozen mask that was his constant companion. Even as he had stood, year after year, on the footpath of Privet Drive, staring at No. 4 hoping for some glimpse of the child of his and James’s union, he had managed to fool even himself.
But then, he had always been a master of deception. After surviving years as a spy in the Death Eaters’ midst, he could be nothing less.
But his talent for self-deception had meant nothing on Harry’s first day at Hogwarts. Even though he had known it was coming and had steeled himself against the blow, the moment the doors of the Great Hall had swung open and revealed a miniature replica of James standing there, it had all come crashing back with painful intensity. Every moment with James, every brief moment they had spent together with the infant Harry as a fledgling family, every look, every touch, every word, every emotion was there with crystal clarity in his mind, threatening to spill over his mask. Threatening to endanger his secret and the life of his son.
So he had done the only thing he could. The only thing he would let himself do.
He had taken it out on Harry.
He had taken every desire to hold and cherish his son, every memory and every grief, and turned them back on themselves. Mutated them until they resembled contempt and dislike and hate and aimed them at his son, driving the boy from him. He had deliberately set out to make Harry hate and fear him so that, even if he one day had the courage to tell his son the truth, Harry would reject him out of hand and the secret would be safe, along with the life of the only thing Severus had to remind himself of his beloved husband.
But no matter how hard he had tried, Severus couldn’t make the semblance of hate become a reality in his own heart. Every time Harry had flinched at the sound of his voice, a dagger had ripped at his heart. He had pushed the pain into the recesses of his mind, using it to fuel the mask that wore thinner every time Harry brushed with death.
The mask had finally succumbed the afternoon before when Harry had confronted him for the truth. Severus had never felt so relieved. Even though he had never intended for the truth to come to light, once it had a great weight had lifted from Severus’s shoulders. In its wake were all the issues left over from the deaths of James and Lily and the loss of Harry fourteen years previously, welling up into his mind and refusing to be ignored any longer. But even they had been overshadowed by the all-consuming joy that came with the thought that finally, *finally* he would once again be able to embrace his son. That joy had dimmed dramatically when Harry had turned and fled the room.
Severus had cried that night. The first time in fourteen years. It had been a catharsis, the beginning of the grieving process that should have run its course years ago. He had raged at James for leaving him. He had raged at himself for failing his family. He had raged at Voldemort for taking his family from him. He had raged at the Fates for allowing it all to happen.
He allowed himself, at long last, to come to terms with the loss of his family.
The morning had found him feeling freer than he had in almost a decade and a half. The only thing left to him now was to facilitate reconciliation between himself and his son. He only hoped Harry could forgive him all he had put the child through. He had never had the chance to be a father and didn’t believe he would be a particularly good one. All he did know was that he *wanted* to be Harry’s.
All he could do was try his best and hope.
Severus hobbled to a halt in front of the statue guarding the entrance to his son’s room. Unusually for Hogwarts, it depicted a muggle saint, Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things and Severus had to admire the irony of it.
In the entrance hall, Severus heard the grandfather clock strike the quarter hour. He stiffened his resolve and whispered the password Harry’s friends had been convinced to divulge.
‘Prongs,’ a wistful smile tugged at Severus’s lips as he murmured his late husband’s pseudonym. He slipped behind the shifting statue and entered the room.
Harry lay lost in the middle of his bed, curled on his side, one hand twitching one his pillow beside his mouth. Dry tracks of tears marred his pale cheeks and his lips turned subtly down. His ebony hair lay in familiar disarray on the pillow and sleeping, the boy looked altogether too vulnerable. Severus was reminded – as he was every time he looked at his son – of James. In the repose of sleep, James’s face had always retained a child-like innocence and vulnerability as Harry’s did now.
Severus released his burden onto the foot of the bed, careful not disturb the sleeping boy. Leaning heavily on the cane, he moved to the head of the bed. He stood for the longest time, staring down at Harry. Not since Harry had been a babe in arms had Severus been able to indulge himself in simply looking his fill at his son.
Harry trembled and gasped in his sleep and a lock of hair drifted across his face. Automatically, Severus reached a hand to brush it back. His hand hovered a fraction of an inch from completing the action then drew back.
Severus turned to leave. He never made it further than the armchair in the corner. A relieved sigh slipped his lips as the weight was taken from his still healing legs, but Severus paid them no mind. He was watching his son sleep.
He intended to stay only a moment.
Harry was aware of three things the moment he awoke.
One. Severus Snape was his father: In the hours since discovering this, Harry had thought of nothing else. He still had no idea what to make of it. He wasn’t sure how to proceed with the man who had ignored him for fourteen years. Intellectually, he knew he owed Snape a chance to explain, but so often the intellect was overpowered by the heart and Harry’s heart was still undecided.
Two. It was his birthday: For the first time in his life, he would be able to celebrate this day with his friends. The closest he had ever come to sharing this day with someone he cared for was the birthday he had meet Hagrid, but this year there would Ron and Hermione and Remus and Dumbledore and…….. his father.
Three: There was an unfamiliar weight at the end of his bed.
Harry prodded it with his toe. It shifted. There was a sliding sound and something fell onto his foot. Harry’s eyes popped open and he stared at the culprit.
Piled haphazardly on the end of his bed was an odd assortment of packages and boxes, all brightly wrapped, all tagged. Harry sat up and pulled one to him, reading the tag. It said: “To my dearest Harry, on your fifth birthday. Your father, Severus.”
Harry dropped the oddly shaped parcel in his lap and reached for another. The tag on this one read: “Harry, On the occasion of your tenth birthday. Your Father.”
Harry quickly snatched up every present in the pile. They were all addressed similarly. There was one for every year of his life. Every birthday he had ever had, there was a present from Severus for.
The last present Harry picked up was the smallest. It was a box wrapped in green and gold paper, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. The tag on this one read differently: “To our son Harry. In celebration of your fifteenth year. Your fathers, James and Severus.”
Harry’s hand weren’t particularly steady as he pulled back the paper. The box within was a black velvet jeweller’s box. Harry snapped open the lid and gasped. Lying in the gold satin of the interior was a simple silver signet ring. The face was an exact replica of Harry’s wizard-mark.
Harry plucked the ring from the box and slid it onto his right ring finger. The metal warmed and contracted until it was a perfect fit. For long moment, Harry just looked at the ring on his finger.
Harry turned back to the fifteen years’ worth of birthday presents still waiting to be opened. He retrieved the first one he had picked up from his lap; the one for his fifth birthday. It was about as long as his arm and oddly shaped.
Harry began to unwind the paper. As he reached the last layer, a toy broom tumbled out into his lap. He picked it up again and caressed its handle. Tears sprung to his eyes.
It was at that moment that a voice spoke from the shadowed armchair in the corner.
‘James bought that when he first found out I was pregnant.’
Harry started harshly. He hadn’t realised until that moment that he wasn’t alone. His eyes sought out the figure in the chair and connected with Snape’s dark gaze as the man sat forward.
‘He refused to listen when Lily and I tried to tell him you wouldn’t be able to use it until you were at least four.’
Harry looked down at the broom again and ran his hand down the length of it. He didn’t know what to say. He was grateful when Snape didn’t say anything more, just sat there waiting for Harry to make the next move. Like some hopelessly complicated game of chess. Harry wanted to laugh; he had never been any good at chess.
There were so many questions that were waiting to be asked and explanations that needed to be made. Harry simply didn’t know where to start…….. Or did he? There was one question that had been burning in the back of Harry’s mind since he had found out the truth. Never looking up, he voiced it.
‘Who was Lily?’
Severus blinked. He had been expecting questions from his son, but he hadn’t thought he’d start with that one. He didn’t pretend to misunderstand what Harry was asking though.
‘She was my half-sister.’
Harry’s head jerked as though to look up, but then the movement stilled and he was staring intently at the toy broom’s bristles. Severus could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was listening.
‘Lily was my closest friend in our school years. When we found out we were siblings, she were delighted……. Her mother was a muggle. We had the same father,’ Severus smiled fondly at the memory of his own father, ‘He was so pleased that we got along.’
Something Remus had said in the Quidditch stands days ago came back to Harry, ‘I was named for him?’
Severus started, ‘How did you……?’ he thought the better of the question, ‘Yes. James and I decided to name you after him.’
Harry gestured towards his face, ‘My eyes?’
Severus realised then that Harry was only asking safe questions, none directly related to the relationship between his parents. He wasn’t ready to think about that yet. Severus was only to happy to answer any question his son felt like asking. At least the boy was talking to him.
‘When I was a child, I used to wish I had those eyes. You and Lily got them from your great-grandmother, an Irish witch.’
Harry nodded his head. Suddenly, he felt a little more like himself again. A piece of the puzzle that was his identity had snapped home. While Lily had not been his *mother*, she *was* his aunt. He still had some claim on her.
Harry darted a shy smile at the man in the armchair, never quite meeting the eyes. He selected another present from the pile before him. Severus stood, stretched and plucked the cane from were it lay against the wall. He stood looking down at his son for a moment.
‘I’ll let you finish opening your presents in private.’
Harry nodded but didn’t look up again. He was intent on the four-dimensional magic puzzle that had been a gift for his ninth birthday. Severus’s lips twitched minutely upward. James had never been so intent on anything. In this small way, Harry took after Severus himself.
He turned to leave. Just as he reached the door, he turned back. Harry was reaching for a flat box that Severus recalled held an heirloom wizarding chess-set for his fourteenth.
‘Happy birthday, Harry.’
Harry looked up. A bright smile, a carbon copy of James’s, flitted across his lips.
‘Thanks…….’ He whispered.
Severus smiled slightly at him and stepped through the door.
Clutching the half-unwrapped present in his hands, Harry watched Severus leave the room. Only when the door had swung fully shut behind him and several heartbeats had passed did Harry finish his sentence, ‘……..Dad.’
Chapter Ten: How to find the words to explain it all.
That afternoon, Harry had his first ever birthday party. It was only a small one, just Harry, Ron, Hermione, Remus, Dumbledore, Madam Pomfery, Dobby the house-elf and, lurking at the edges, Severus. But then, Harry had never had a party of any sort before, and wouldn’t have cared if only two other people were there. It would have been one more than he’d ever had to share his birthday with. He just regretted Hagrid couldn’t be here to share this one as well.
Under the zealous direction of Dobby, the house-elves had out-done themselves for the occasion. Harry had tried to invite them to join in, but, with the notable exception of Dobby himself, they had been too shy.
The only thing Harry could see that could possibly be better about this party was if it had come three days earlier. Dobby was oblivious to the underlying tension, grinning broadly at everybody and repeatedly wishing Harry ‘a very wonderful fifteenthith birthday from Dobby, sir!’
Remus and Dumbledore seemed to be in cahoots, both seemingly completely ignorant of any discomfort, both merrily wishing Harry the best of days. Madam Pomfery didn’t ignore the situation, but neither did she comment on it.
Ron and Hermione were the worst. They couldn’t seem to talk to Harry without darting a glance at Professor Snape every two seconds. More than once Ron had opened his mouth to say something, only to be elbowed in the side by Hermione. At first it had been rather amusing, but after about the seventh time, it became wearing. Harry almost wished they’d say something so it would be out of the way. He knew Hermione’s curiosity must be eating her alive. Even if she was the one most often urging caution, she was always the last to admit defeat when the three of them were looking for the answer to some new mystery.
The whole situation with Harry’s odd family would be right up her alley. Ron just wanted to know what was going on. Well, they’d just have to wait until Harry had a better idea of that himself. He wasn’t about to offer any information to them at the moment.
When the group sat down to Harry’s birthday lunch, Harry found himself sitting between Remus and Ron. Severus was sitting obliquely opposite him, across from Ron. Harry wasn’t particularly pleased with this arrangement. Ron was starting to annoy him with all the covert glances between himself and Snape and Harry still wanted to be mad at Remus for not telling him.
But it was hard to stay mad at the werewolf, and Dumbledore had had a point when he’d said that only James or Severus had had right to tell Harry of his parentage. Harry was even further distracted when the table filled with food.
The table groaned under the weight of dozens of dishes and desserts. All Harry’s favourites were there: steak and kidney pie, lamb shanks, saffron rice and chicken curry, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And the desserts: spotted dick, strawberry shortcake, bread-and-butter pudding, pavlova topped with whipped cream. And that was just to name a few of the delectable things on the table.
The crowning glory sat in the exact middle of the table, just in front of Harry. The house-elves had created a three-tier Black Forest cake and iced it in melted chocolate, then drizzled more cherry filling across the top and down the sides. On the platter about the base was an assortment of chocolate truffles. The whole concoction left Harry wishing he could skip straight to dessert.
As everybody helped themselves, Remus leaned over to Harry and whispered in his ear:
‘Ten to one the first thing Severus eats is one of the truffles.’
Harry twisted his head about and looked at his professor oddly, ‘Why?’
Remus winked, ‘Your father loves them. He has a particular sweet tooth for the things. Watch.’
Remus directed Harry’s attention back to his father in time to see the man superstitiously plucking several of the chocolate delicacies from the cake’s platter. Harry gaped at him and Remus snickered at his side.
A truffle was already on the way to his lips when Severus glanced up. Harry and Remus were staring directly at him and smirking. He glanced down at the chocolate in his hand and immediately knew what Remus had told Harry. He glared at the still smirking pair and deliberately put the truffle aside, reaching instead for the pork spare ribs.
Harry and Remus laughed outright then and Ron glanced inquiringly at them, while Severus glared at them over his mug of butterbeer.
When the last of the group had eaten their fill, the table cleared, leaving the cake sitting in the middle. It filled again moments later with presents. Harry, with a broad grin on his face, was reaching for one to open when Hermione grabbed his right hand. Harry started, then realised she was looking at his ring.
‘I’ve never seen this before, Harry. What’s on the face?’
Harry didn’t even try to reclaim his hand, ‘My wizard-mark.’
Hermione tilted his hand to get a better look at the ring, ‘Really? I want to see the mark later, okay?’ she released his hand, ‘But where’d you get the ring from, Harry?’
Harry was oblivious to the attention of the rest of the table as he answered, ‘It was a birthday present from my fathers.’
Harry selected a present from the pile and began to read the tag aloud.
‘It says “To Harry, Happy birthday. From Re-” ’ Harry looked up at that point and realised everyone was staring at him and he had no idea why.
They all blinked in unison. Beside Harry, Remus shook himself.
‘You’re opening my present? I hope you like it.’
It was “The Animagus Self” – a book on animagi and becoming one. Harry thanked Remus profusely, who smiled and winked. Settling the book safely in his lap, Harry moved onto the next gift.
The opened gifts began to pile up in front of him: “The Definitive Album of Seekers: the greatest players of the last millennium” from Hermione. Mismatched woollen socks from Dobby. He laughed when he opened Sirius’s present: a set of three miniature figurines, a wolf, a dog and a stag, curled up together in the bottom of the box. The dog licked his fingers and the stag butted at his thumb.
The second-to-last box was heavy, so heavy Harry almost dropped it when he tried to pick it up. Instead, he opted for sliding across the table towards him. He pulled off the ribbon and lifted off the lid. He leant forward over the box to look in. Harry gasped.
Sitting in the box was a blue-gray stone basin, etched around the edges with runes. In the bottom swirled a bright whiteish silver fluid. It was a pensieve. There was a note tucked beside it in the box. Harry pulled it out and opened it.
“Harry (it read)
I’ve siphoned off several of my own memories of my times with James and Lily for you to view. Otherwise, this pensieve is for you to use any way you see fit.
His expression was neutral when he looked up. When he met Severus’s eyes, the Potions Master’s face was equally blank. After locking eyes for a long moment, Harry allowed a small smile to flit about the corners of his mouth. Severus nodded minutely in reply and Harry turned to the final parcel.
The Weasley twins had, predicably, sent him an assortment of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, including Canary Creams and Ton Tongue Toffee among other, newer developments.
Once the last of the presents had been opened and the birthday cake sliced and doled out, the group began to disperse. As Harry made to leave the table, a piece of cake in one hand, Ron leant in and said for his ears alone, ‘You called him your father, you know, before.’
Harry shot his best friend a startled glance, then his eyes unfocused as he remembered. That was why everybody had been staring at him oddly when he’d looked up from Remus’s present. He’d told Hermione the ring was a present from his *fathers*, plural. And he hadn’t even noticed…….. He shivered.
Hermione accosted Harry and Ron as they moved clear of the table. Latching onto Harry’s elbow she dragged him further from the adults, Ron only too willing to follow. Harry almost groaned. So they were finally going to ask him about it all. He didn’t know if he was relieved that he’d have someone to share it all with, or annoyed at them for being so nosy.
But then, he had screamed his accusations at Professor Snape right in front of them. He supposed that might give them *some* right to an explanation……..
They’d made it to the entrance hall before Hermione released Harry’s arm. Harry found himself faced with his two best friends standing shoulder to shoulder determined expressions in their eyes. Suddenly, he was feeling at little nervous. It was kind of scary when these two ganged up on him.
‘So…….’ Harry tried.
Ron crossed his arms and Hermione was standing arms akimbo.
‘I guess you wanted to talk to me about something,’ Harry picked at the slice of Black Forest cake he was still holding.
‘Is Snape really your father, Harry?’ Ron was the first to broach the subject.
Harry gave a dry laugh, ‘You have to ask? You where there. You heard what he said.’
‘Yes, but nothing. He’s my father and so was James, if you can believe that.’ Harry was still having trouble accepting that fact himself, no matter his slip of the tongue earlier.
‘How did you figure it out Harry?’ That was Hermione, always wanting to know the whys and wherefores of any situation.
Harry sighed and seated himself on the bench against the wall. Hermione sat beside him and Ron slid down the wall to sit on the floor at his other side.
‘It was a combination of things really,’ Harry held out his hand in front of him, ‘Remus said I “had hands like my father’s”,’ the hand dropped again, ‘And you know that photo Snape handed me?’
Hermione and Ron nodded. They’d seen Snape give Harry the photo, but they didn’t know what was in it.
‘It was a photo of Snape holding me as a baby. I saw that photo days ago when Snape first woke up, but I only realised on Thursday that that baby had my eyes.
‘Then there was that whole blood-magic thing. It certainly explains why I could give him blood if I’m his son.’
A hand drifted to his shoulder and he rubbed at the mark he knew was the beneath the shirt.
‘But the thing that made it all come together was the wizard-mark. I’ve seen Sna- my f-,’ Harry couldn’t decide how to refer to the man. He gestured vaguely instead and continued, ‘It’s on the inside of his right wrist. It’s got the same quill as mine. Then, on Thursday afternoon……. You know that book of yours I was reading, ‘Mione? Just before I took off?’
‘It was talking about the wizard-marks being hereditary. Then there was this list of the marks common to each bloodline. There was nothing beside Potter, but……. Next to Snape was the quill-mark.
‘It all kind of just clicked. Then, of course, there was what the –’ Harry stopped. He had been about to tell his friends of the Sorting Hat considering him for Slytherin House that first day. Fortunately, neither of them noticed his slip. They were too busy thinking about his story.
Ron pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them.
‘But what about your Mum,’ he flushed, ‘I – I mean Lily.’
Harry shifted uncomfortably. Now they were getting to things Harry himself didn’t know yet. He knew that Lily was his half-aunt, but he didn’t know why she’d been covering for his parents.
‘Umm. She was my aunt……..’
Hermione and Ron goggled at him. Harry could feel his cheeks start to burn for some reason.
‘Umm, yeah, she was –’
A dark voice above the three interrupted Harry’s words.
‘Harry,’ they all looked up. Ron scrambled to his feet and dusted off his robes while Hermione and Harry straightened on the bench.
As silently as always, Professor Snape had swept up to them at some point in their conversation. He was holding Harry’s new pensieve and staring impassively down at the Gyrffindors. Harry cleared his voice and stood.
‘You and I have some unfinished business,’ Severus winced inwardly. He hadn’t meant that to sound so……. dire. He was almost ridculously relieved when Harry didn’t blanch, just nodded and stepped after him as he turned toward the dungeons, and his rooms.
Harry handed Hermione his mutilated slice of birthday cake and headed down the corridor after the disappearing professor. When he glanced back just before turning the corner, his two friends were staring apprehensively after him. He darted them a small smile of reassurance, then hurried after Severus.
He had just caught up with the man when he halted before a landscape painting not far from the Potions classroom. Harry eyed the painting curiously. It depicted a dismal mountain-scape and Harry could see no visible subject to receive the password. That was until he realised that the tree in the foreground of the painting had a face.
Severus shifted the weight of the pensieve in his arms and smirked at Harry as he uttered the password.
Harry started and stated up at the man that was his father.
Severus answered the unvoiced question he read in Harry’s face, ‘That has been my password at least once a year since you arrived at Hogwarts. It is purely coincidence that you should choose it at the same time,’ a thoughtful expression flitted across Severus’s face, ‘Or…….. perhaps not.’
He pushed the painting clear as it clicked open and ushered Harry into his rooms. He had to sidestep to avoid colliding with the boy when he followed him in. Harry had stopped dead just across the threshold and was staring around him in surprise.
‘It’s not green!’ he exclaimed.
‘Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a great fan of the colour green.’
Harry flushed but didn’t turn his eyes from his perusal of the room he found himself in. The walls weren’t bare stone like the dungeon classroom; they were plastered in a deep-blue gray, echoing the slate of the floor. Several wall-tapestries in warm autumn colours offset the coldness of the effect.
Toward the back of the room stood a stately old mahogany wood desk, littered with various scrolls and tomes. Bookcases standing between the tapestries were cluttered with a wide variety of objects besides the vast collection of books. Strange looking potions bottles stood shoulder to shoulder with statuettes of ancient Egyptian and Greek gods, whilst a golden snitch canted to one side where it lay against a perfectly persevered skeleton of a bat.
On the wall perpendicular to the desk was a large hearth. Here was the only sign that the occupant of these rooms was actually a Slytherin: incredibly life-like twin snakes wound their way up the mantle posts. Before the hearth lay a plush rug the colour of burnt amber. Two wingback chairs upholstered in deep blue brocade faced the hearth over the rug: one showing signs of frequent use, the other only lightly scuffed.
The wall above the hearth was blank, which was something rarely seen. The mantle piece was nearly empty as well. At one end sat a silver tray holding several tumblers and a crystal decanter of some amber liquid. By the tray was the mantle piece’s only other ornament: a small framed photograph.
Harry drew closer to it.
James was holding Harry this time. Harry guessed he must have been around nine months old when this picture was taken. His father had him in a firm grasp and was holding him above his head. They were both laughing. Another person stepped into view and reached to take Harry. It was Lily. Harry held out his tiny arms to her and James handed him over, wrapping an arm around Lily’s shoulders instead. The three of them turned to face the photographer. James threw the person a kiss and Harry realised Severus must have taken the picture.
Harry reached out a tentative hand to pick up the photo. He jumped when something hissed at him. The snake wound around the nearer mantle post had pulled its head from the stone work and was flickering its tongue in Harry’s direction.
Harry stepped back hastily and turned away from the hearth. Severus had deposited the pensieve on a small table between the wingback chairs and was watching Harry from beneath hooded eyes. He made no comment on the photograph or the snake, just gestured Harry to the less worn chair.
Harry took the pro-offered seat and Severus sat as well. The silence stretched uncomfortably between them. Neither of them knew what to say or where to start. They still hadn’t worked out how to interact with one another as father and son.
‘I thought you hated Dad,’ Harry suddenly blurted.
Severus stirred. He didn’t know whether to be relieved Harry had given him somewhere to start, or to be perturbed that he had started with that particular comment.
‘I did,’ Severus decided to be as frank as possible with his son, not wishing for any falsehoods to stand between them any longer, ‘At first. And especially after he saved my life from Black’s childish prank.’
Severus’s lip curled in a snarl. Harry realised reluctantly that, while his father’s act towards Lupin seemed to be just that, an act, Severus appeared to genuinely hate Sirius.
Severus shook off his dislike for his son’s godfather. Now was not the time to dwell on such a thing.
‘Lily convinced me to give him a second chance,’ Severus smirked at some distant memory, ‘she actually locked us in a room once, until we would agree to talk civilly to each other. She’d spelled the door closed and since she was by the far the best of us at Charms, neither James nor I could get the door open.
‘Of course, we weren’t going to give in and chat amicably until she decided to release us. James was too stubborn for that, and I was just too proud to let my little sister get the better of me,’ Severus snorted self-deprecatingly.
‘James and I were forced into being reluctant allies. We used sheer power to overcome Lily’s spell. In the process the door was reduced to kindling. Lily was mad at us both for thwarting her plan and James and I went straight back to being adversaries. But we were never so malicious to one another after that.’
Harry realised he was sitting forward in his chair, hanging on the visions conjured as Severus recalled the beginning of his relationship with James. Severus was staring beyond the room, beyond the here and now, down the long halls of memory: ‘That was at the end of our fifth year.
‘Lily had always kept in contact with me over the summer holidays. We’d owl one another. That summer, she began telling me the news she had had of James, keeping me up to date on all his activities. James told me later that she had done the same with him, passing on everything I told her, whether he was interested or not.
‘Lily should have been in Slytherin; she manipulated us both so masterfully. By the time sixth year began, the enmity James and I went no deeper than the surface. I was……. Indifferent to him.
‘But Lily couldn’t be satisfied with that. She told me once that she wouldn’t be happy until “her two favourite men loved each other as much as she loved us”.
‘She had her work cut out for her,’ Severus’s eyes focused briefly on Harry, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a man as stubborn as you father. I didn’t exactly make it easy for her, either. I wasn’t about to admit that there was a possibility that I had been wrong in my first assessment of James Potter, the Gryffindor Heir.’
Harry wasn’t sure what to make of this tale. The professor, always so jealous about guarding his private life, didn’t seem to be keeping much, if anything, back. The black eyes trained on Harry were open, when before they had only ever been masked, barring those few slips Harry had witnessed.
‘Lily would drag one or the other of us off to met the other every chance she got. In the end, James and I gave in. We became reluctant allies again, just to prevent Lily forcing us together at every turn. Over time, the relationship developed further. We became…….. Friends.’
The obsidian eyes unfocused again, seeing some long lost moment.
‘The summer after sixth year, we communicated sporadically. Nothing like the number of owls Lily sent me, but enough. I was actually looking forward to seeing him again when seventh year began, along with Lily, whom I always missed.
‘Seventh year began, with Lily, James and I keeping secret rendezvous with one another. Few people even knew Lily and I were friends. *None* but the three of us saw through the masks James and I wore where anyone else could see us.
‘Then, a month after school had begun, James and I were waiting for Lily to arrive. We were sitting next to one another, talking about some inane thing. With no warning, James just turned and kissed me.’
Severus stood up, Harry watching his every movement. He moved to the tray on the mantle piece and poured himself a glass of the vintage scotch in the crystal decanter. As much as he would have liked to knock back the entire glass, he constrained himself to just enough to soothe his throat before continuing.
‘When James drew back, all I could do was stare at him for a time. I’m sorry to say that when I moved again, it was to leave, hastily. Lily was just arriving as I quit the room. I could hear her calling out, asking me what was wrong. Then James called out, trying to get me to wait.
‘I avoided him for the next month. And Lily as much as she would let me, which wasn’t much. I was confused. Not about my sexual preference; I had known I was gay for several years by that point. I’d even allowed myself to acknowledge the fact that I found James attractive.
‘I didn’t know what James wanted from me. You must understand; I never received affection at home except in return for something. My mother was a cold woman. Every gesture she made was calculated and the consequences weighed with no regard for personal feelings. If she offered any affection, it was sure sign she was after something. She manipulated me from the time I could walk.
‘Even my father used me, for all that he was a mild man. My mother dominated him, used him in the same way she used me, and everybody else. He, in his turn, came to me for the affection he never received from his wife. He used me as a buffer between them. I had been so manipulated with affection that I didn’t recognise it when it was freely given.’
The tumbler made its way to his lips again, and Severus realised he’d already drunk half the scotch in the glass. Harry was watching him avidly. The story of Severus’s parents began to explain the man’s cold demeanour.
‘It took Lily lecturing me on how to treat her friends, and James cornering me, to convince me James wanted nothing from me that I wasn’t prepared to give.’
Severus sipped at his scotch again, then turned to top it up before continuing.
‘It was me who initiated the kiss that time.’
Harry shifted uncomfortably. As much as he wanted to hear the story of his parents, he kind of wished Severus would leave out the parts of them being…….. intimate. Severus caught the movement and smirked.
‘After that, James and I became…….. a couple. And still no one knew except Lily. That is, until Lupin decided to follow your father to our rendezvous one day. He entered the room just as I was…….. greeting James,’ Severus smirked again as Harry fidgeted, ‘needless to say, he was shocked to see the two of us together in the first place, let alone in such a manner. I was still wary of him and was all for using a Memory Charm on him, but James and Lily wouldn’t agree to it. It seemed his word was good enough for them.
‘I must concede, he was as good as his word. He never even told Black – who, by the way, still doesn’t know the truth about your parentage.’
Harry wasn’t surprised. He was sure Sirius would likely have either disowned him, or tried to kill Snape by now if he knew the truth.
Severus’s smirk turned truly evil, ‘We must do something about that.’
In that moment, Harry despaired of ever seeing Severus and Sirius stand in the same room without trying to tear one another's throats out.
The tumbler rose to Severus’s lips again and Harry wished he could have a drink as well. Just something to distract him slightly, a nervous reaction, a way of relieving the tension. Instead, he knitted his fingers together and each thumb began to battle against the other.
‘We graduated. At the time, I believed the next two months to be the worst I would ever experience,’ a mirthless laugh, ‘Unfortunately, I was wrong.’
Again the tumbler made the trip to Severus’s mouth and he took a hefty swallow.
‘I didn’t see James or Lily once in those two months. I even began to miss Remus. But the loneliness wasn’t the worst of it. I only wish it were.
‘By that time, my Mother was a loyal follower of Voldemort and nothing would do except for her son to follow in her footsteps. I wanted nothing to do with the hypocritical, self-proclaimed Dark Lord. I refused. Or at least, I tried to.
‘Some how, my mother had gotten wind of my friendship with Lily. Only Lily, fortunately, and she didn’t realise that Lily was actually my half-sister. But she used Lily against me. Threatened to destroy the “filthy mud-blood” as she called Lily if I didn’t comply with her wishes and take the Dark Mark.
‘I took it. I believed James and Lily would want nothing further to do with me, but I would not let my mother harm Lily.’
Severus drained his tumbler and set it, empty, on the tray. He rested both his hands on the mantle piece and stared down into the empty fire-pit. Harry stared at his back. This man was his father. This man had been hurt much like him as a child.
‘I won’t bore you with the details of the Death Eater meetings I forced to attend. Suffice it to say it was not something I ever wanted to repeat. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter. I stopped owling Lily and James, didn’t read any of the messages that were piling up on my desk.
‘I successfully avoided them both until Father helped them “ambush” me. He waited until he knew my mother would be absent from the house for a considerable time, then flooed them directly into my room.’
Severus still had his back turned to Harry and his voice was sounding oddly strained as he continued.
‘They eventually got the story out of me; they wouldn’t leave me alone until I told them. James assured me that they still loved me – that was the first time that he said it. That he loved me.’
Harry could see Severus’s knuckles clenching white on the carved stone of the mantle piece. For a time, nothing more was said. Then Severus visibly forced himself to relax and, still without turning, continued.
‘James and Lily convinced me to go to Dumbledore for help. *He*,’ Severus almost spat this, ‘convinced me to turn spy. Young and foolish as I was, I agreed, thinking I could actually prevent the atrocities Voldemort was committing. We both know how wrong I was about that.’
Severus finally turned from the hearth. He didn’t look at Harry at all as he resumed his seat and his tale.
‘It was all so easy at first. I was too young to attend many of the meetings. For the most part, I was left to my own devices, by both Voldemort and Dumbledore. I spent as much time as I could without raising suspicions with James and Lily, and occasionally Remus. My father was the only one who knew anything of this, and even he didn’t know the extent.
‘Only the four of us knew James and I were a couple. And there was only the four of us present when James and I were married almost a year later. Remus officiated and Lily bore us witness. James and I had to wear our rings about our necks, layered under concealment charms Lily had set on them.’
Severus pulled at the silver chain about his neck and withdrew a silver ring from within his robes. He slipped the chain over his head and passed it to Harry. Harry took it carefully and stared down at the wide band of silver. Lying in the palm of his hand was the concrete proof that James and Severus had been married, that both men were his fathers. He rolled the ring between his fingers and an inscription on the inside caught his eye: “James and Severus - one heart”
Harry was still staring at it when the chain and ring were plucked out of his hand and he watched as his father slipped the chain about his neck again and carefully tucked the ring out of sight once more.
‘A month later we discovered I was pregnant.’
Harry sat up straight and interrupted for the first time, ‘About that……..’
‘How is it possible?’ Severus anticipated the question. He didn’t even wait for Harry’s affirmative nod to begin the explanation, ‘It’s easier than one would suppose. Both the wizards must be magically strong and,’ Severus’s mouth twisted faintly, ‘very much in love. There also must be the desire, whether conscious or unconscious, to have a child. Generally, the pregnancy forms in the stronger of the two wizards, but it also depends on several other factors such as physical strength, hormonal stability and – I maintain – to some degree, the blood-magic type.’
Severus’s hands flared in an imitation of a shrug, ‘I was the one who fell pregnant.’
Severus’s voice turned grim and an expression more familiar to Harry than any he’d seen this afternoon settled over the Potion Master’s face.
‘But as happy as James and I were, it posed so many problems and risks.’ Harry’s expression flickered; only briefly, but Severus saw it and picked up on the reason. He turned sober eyes on Harry, ‘Don’t think for a moment that we didn’t want you. When Lily tentatively suggested we terminate you, I threw her out of the house and James wouldn’t talk to her for a week.
‘He only forgave her because she was ultimately the one that suggested the solution.’ Severus stopped talking and looked expectantly at Harry. It took Harry a moment to understand that Severus was silently asking him if he could figure out what Lily had suggested.
If hadn’t been inappropriate under the circumstances, he would have considered snorting. Even in such a discussion, the Professor had found a way to test Harry’s intelligence. But Harry had already had all morning to thing about this one.
‘She suggested that for public appearance, she and James should appear to marry, and then when I was born, I would be passed off as her son?’ Harry ended his summary on a questioning note. He relaxed minutely when Severus nodded curtly.
‘Very few people knew Lily was my sister and even fewer knew James and I could even tolerate each other. It was, it seemed, the perfect plan. Lily would pose as James’s wife and when you were born, you would publicly be known as Lily’s child. I would visit covertly, never coming home when there was any chance of my being seen. Lily even found a charm that would transfer all the visible symptoms of my pregnancy onto her.
‘I “disappeared” for the nine months of my pregnancy. I had told my mother – who naturally passed it on to Voldemort – that I was travelling to the Continent to research potions. I lived in concealment with James and Lily in an apartment near Diagon Alley. They were publicly there; Remus was the only other that knew where I was.’
Harry noted that Severus’s face had gone tight, as though he was clenching his jaw.
‘Then you were born and for another month you, James and I, and Lily, were the perfect family. I only wished that I could have introduced you to my father. Everybody adored you.
‘But the time came that I had to leave again. I “returned” from the Continent with the research I had done in my spare time whilst carrying you. I was welcomed back into the fold, at a more senior level among the Death Eaters. My mother was so proud.
‘Then, for the first time, my position as a spy paid off and I wished to god it hadn’t. The first piece of useful intelligence I gleaned for Dumbledore was Voldemort’s intention to do away with James, Lily and you.’
Resting on the chair’s arms, Severus’s hands had curled into claws. Harry shivered. Severus’s voice was low and ominous when he spoke again.
‘I wanted to kill Voldemort with my bare hands.’
The fingers curled into fists, which trembled on the armrests.
‘All I could do was feign dispassion and report my findings to Dumbledore, hoping he would find a way to protect my family.
‘Lily and James left London and moved to Godric’s Hollow. For a few short months, that house there became our home. I could still only visit infrequently and you grew so much each time I was away.
‘Then Dumbledore suggested James and Lily use the Fidelus Charm to hide their location, suggested that he be their secret-keeper. I was away on a mission at the time. I only got the owl in time to see you all one more time before the charm was cast.
‘They chose Black to be their secret-keeper. I know he was James’s best friend, but I didn’t like him. By that stage, James and Lily knew someone close to them was working against them, feeding information to Voldemort.’
‘I returned to Godric’s Hollow and stayed with you all as long as I could. But the charm had to be cast and I had to leave on another mission.’
The silence hung heavy over the room and Harry’s hands were trembling now. Severus was staring resolutely away from Harry; his eyes fixed on some object on the shelves. Harry started when Severus spoke again, unexpectedly.
‘Black must have convinced them to change secret-keepers at the last moment, after I’d left already.’
The silence was heavier this time. Harry felt like jumping up and running from the room, fleeing from what he knew was coming next. He wrapped his arms tight about his middle.
‘Two weeks later, the Dark Mark flared painfully on my arm then faded away to almost nothing. I had an awful premonition. I returned to Godric’s Hollow as quickly as I could.’
Harry saw a solitary tear seep from the corner of his father’s fathomless eyes.
‘There was nothing there when I arrived. No sign of whom had lived in that house, or even that it had been a house that had stood there. All that remained was a pile of rapidly cooling rubble. James and Lily were gone, no remains left. At the time I thought you had been killed as well.’
No more tears fell from Severus’s eyes, but the pain he still felt was visible in every line of his body. Harry’s own tears were running down his cheeks as he recalled the cries the dementors had dragged from his memory; the final moments of his father and – he now knew – his aunt. He slipped a cold hand under the frame of his glasses and brushed the tears from his lashes.
‘I would have been sick with relief when I’d found out you’d survived if I had let myself feel anything at all. I closed off all emotion that day. When Remus came to see me, I gave him the cold shoulder. I blamed him for not saving James and Lily almost as much as I blamed myself.’
Severus lapsed into silence, staring blankly at the wall, trying to repress once more the memories he had deliberately stirred up for his son’s benefit.
Harry’s tears dried on his cheeks. The story explained a lot, but not enough. There was still another question Severus hadn’t answered. One that mattered to Harry almost more than any other.
‘Why did you leave me at the Dursleys?’
Severus actually winced at that question.
‘You were safer there in the immediate aftermath. There were still Death Eaters around that would have done anything to kill you.
‘I had been brought in for questioning over my Death Eater activities. It took all Dumbledore’s influence just to get me pardoned, Harry. They never would have let me take you anyway. What would it look like: Me, a highly suspect former Death Eater trying to claim the Boy Who Lived as my own son?’ Severus laughed harshly, ‘That would have landed me in Azkaban for sure.’
Harry shivered, ‘But what about after? When it had all died down a little?’
Severus turned to look at his son, appraising him. He had decided earlier to give the boy the truth. He didn’t suppose he could stop now.
‘I was afraid, Harry. Afraid of so many things. I was afraid I couldn’t be a good father to you without James, or even Lily, there to help me. I was afraid you would hate me. I was afraid that some misguided fool of a Death Eater might try to kill you.
‘But mostly I was afraid that they would take you away from me if I tried to claim you. I decided it would be easier never to have you, than to have you for a short time, then see you taken away.’
Severus turned away again, ‘It was extremely selfish and cowardly of me. But it is in the past and cannot be changed. All I can ask is that one day you will forgive me.’
Harry nodded, though Severus didn’t see. But still, one more issue stood between them. One that needed to be resolved before Harry could truly accept this man as his father.
‘Why did you treat me so badly when I finally arrived at Hogwarts?’ his voice trembled on the last words and Harry suddenly wished he could take the question back and remain forever ignorant of the answer.
It was too late. Severus was turning back to him, looking him in the eye.
‘Because it was easier.’
Harry blanched and Severus sighed and rubbed the side of one hand against the palm of the other.
‘Because I didn’t want to care about you. It didn’t work. I still cared about you. When Dumbledore gave you that *damn* cloak of James’s, I wanted to strangle him. It made keeping track of you so much harder.
‘Every time I yelled at you, I was twisting every good emotion and memory and using the pain to lash out at you. I couldn’t let you get close. There was always the possibility that I would slip and the truth would come out and you would be in even more danger than before.’
Severus stood to pace back to the mantle. He poured himself another finger of scotch and sipped at it.
‘In your third year, Remus began pressuring me to tell you the truth. I – reacted badly,’ Harry snorted, and Severus smirked into his tumbler, ‘An understatement, I know. But I believed revealing the truth would put you in the path of further danger and that was something I would not condone, not under any circumstances.’
Harry nodded, not knowing what else to do. Severus knocked back the last of his scotch and returned the tumbler to the tray. He moved back to his wingback chair and…….. slouched…….. into its welcoming arms. He didn’t know what to say now, either.
So they sat both in silence, both turning over and over the day’s conversation.
Harry was staring at Severus’s profile, trying to see himself in that face. Everybody was right. He *did* resemble James more than Severus. But Harry decided that he *would* like to be able to look at Severus Snape and say ‘See that man? He is my father. I take after him in these ways……..’
One day. But not yet. It was too soon, too new and raw. Harry couldn’t quite bring himself to forgive this man all the pain he had caused him just yet. But over time…….
It would be hard, and they would both have to work at it, but Harry believed – hoped really – that eventually they could interact as father and son.
Chapter Eleven: Visions of a time lost forever
The silence was deafening, the stillness paralysing.
Harry and Severus were sitting in the blue brocade wingback chairs before the hearth in the Potion Master’s room, staring in opposite directions.
The stillness of Severus was to be expected; he was naturally a self-contained man. He made no movement that didn’t have a pre-determined purpose. But where his muscles were usually in a semblance of relaxation, this evening they were taut, ready for sudden action, waiting for a blow to land from some unknown direction.
His black eyes were half lidded as they stared into the ether, fixed on some imaginary point in the air. He was laying old and painful memories to rest. Or at least trying to. But with the same perversity that led one to continuously test a sore tooth to insure it still hurt, he kept reviewing the images and moments in his mind, forcing himself to stare the pain in the eyes. He was waiting for that final straw that would break the back of his resolve and loose his turbulent emotions to the public’s eye.
Stillness in Harry, however, was unnatural. The Gryffindor Seeker usually exhibited some sign of movement, of awareness; a finger would twitch, the eyes flicker from one point to another, every now and then a leg would adjust to a more comfortable position. So to see the young man absolutely immobile was uncanny.
His normally bright green eyes were glazed over with a myriad of thoughts, memories and emotions as he stared fixedly at a wall-tapestry, completely without seeing the complex patterns woven in greens and yellows.
A clock chimed the fifth hour of the evening from its position on the bookshelf. Harry jumped and blinked owlishly. He recalled where he was and in whose company he sat. The green eyes sought out the other man. Harry stared at the professor from beneath his lashes. The man was impassive. It irked Harry that he seemed impervious to the sting of the emotions that lingered in the air.
Harry’s teeth clenched. However much he would like it to be otherwise, there was still a ways to go before Harry could forgive all the hurt that had been dealt him over the years. Harry’s eyes trailed down to the long-fingered hands Severus had steepled beneath his chin. Harry stared down at his own hands spread now over his thigh.
That was enough reason to try wasn’t it? No matter what Harry had believed Snape to be to him until two days ago, the fact that they were blood deserved a chance, right? Harry sighed. Even if he truly believed Snape didn’t deserve a chance, Harry owed it to himself. All he’d ever wanted was a family, someone that he could call his no matter what happened.
He would be a fool to turn his back on his father simply because he couldn’t forgive a façade. He would be denying himself the only thing he had ever truly wanted out of sheer spite. Harry liked to flatter himself he wasn’t such a fool to do that. But……..
…….. Not just yet. Harry needed more time first. Time to think. And he couldn’t do it sitting not two paces from the embodiment of his emotional dilemma.
Decisively, Harry stood. His sudden movement attracted the other’s glance and Harry found himself staring into Severus’s gaze. Harry knew their eyes were talking to each other, but he had no idea what was being said. The meaning seemed to distil directly into his sub-conscience, bypassing his waking mind altogether.
Severus nodded his head sober and Harry turned away. He understood what had been said, now.
Silently, Harry had communicated his desire to work at the relationship, but also the fact he required time before he could make any attempt at reconciliation. Severus had understood and, without saying a word, told Harry he would give him the time he needed and, when Harry was ready, he would be waiting. With one nod, he had conveyed to Harry that he would be welcome in the dungeon quarters should he wish to visit.
Although Harry didn’t look back, he could feel the dark weight of Severus’s gaze follow him across the room. It left him just before he slipped from behind the landscape and into the dungeon corridor. Harry risked a glance back as the painting swung closed behind him. His father was staring at the wall again, one hand now wrapped around the ring that had hung from his neck for over fifteen years.
Harry had been staring at canopy of his bed for almost seven hours now. He knew because he had just heard the distant chiming of a clock as it marked the midnight hour. It was amazing how many times you could go over the same thoughts in your head and still come to the same conclusions. But then, what was it that American muggle had once said? That stupidity was doing the exact same thing over again and expecting the same results?
Harry rolled onto his side. What he really needed was something new to add to the mix, some new perspective he hadn’t seen the whole situation from before. The obvious answer was to talk to someone. And the obvious someone was Hermione or Ron.
But Harry didn’t want to talk to his friends until he had a clearer idea of how he felt. He believed he would simply come away from any conversation with them feeling more muddled then he went it. Ron would, naturally, support him, but all comments would be coloured by his intense dislike for the Potions Master even if he tried to temper it for Harry’s sake. Hermione, Harry was convinced, would do one of two things. She would either strip all emotion from the situation and look at the bare facts, or she would ignore the facts and tell Harry to follow his heart. Which wouldn’t help in the least, because right now Harry’s heart was telling him to go in several different directions and he couldn’t follow them all.
Harry supposed he could talk to Professor Dumbledore. The headmaster was always willing to lend an ear. But all Harry would get out of him would be ambiguous snippets of advice that wouldn’t make any sense until long after they’d ceased to be of any use to him.
There was, he supposed, always Remus. But Harry quickly rejected that idea. He liked the professor well enough, loved him like another godfather even, and he was a good listener. But he was too closely involved in the whole situation for Harry’s comfort right now.
Harry briefly considered sending a letter to Sirius. But he could just see that going over well:
“Dear Sirius, I’ve just found out that your arch rival was married to Dad and is, in fact, my father. I was wondering what you think I should do?”
All that would gain Harry was a murdered father and, quite likely, no father either. It would probably take many long hours and strong restraints to break the news to the animagus.
What Harry really needed right now was to talk to Hagrid. Harry distracted himself briefly by imagining how the encounter would go: Harry’s first real friend would invite him down to the hut at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He would make tea and offer Harry something to eat, which Harry would politely refuse. After making small talk about Norbert and the latest addition to Hagrid’s menagerie, the half-giant would get to the heart of the matter. He would sit silently, occasionally nodding his great shaggy head as Harry poured out all his worries and fears. When Harry rambled to a close, Hagrid would offer him his take on the matter. That view would sure to be free of any prejudice against Snape and see right to the simplest heart of the situation. Then he would rumble a laugh and begin to recount to Harry some anecdote he remembered of Harry’s fathers from when they had attended Hogwarts……..
Harry’s eyes widened. The pensieve! He had forgotten all about the pensieve he had been given for his birthday! The note had said Severus had siphoned off some of his own memories into it. Surely that would be able to give him some new morsel that might add him in reaching a resolution.
Then he remembered where it was. He sagged back into his pillows. Harry had left it sitting on the table between the chairs in Severus’s quarters. He’d just have to wait until morning to retrieve it. He sighed and flopped over onto his back.
Then he jumped up and hurried to his trunk. Flipping the lid, up he pulled out his invisibility cloak. He decided he wasn’t in the mood to wait. All he would do was stare blankly into the night and let the same old thoughts roll about in his head all night. He slipped beneath the cloak and disappeared from sight. The trunk closed and a moment later the door opened and shut as the invisible presence departed.
The grim-looking tree in the front of the mountain-scape glared suspiciously into the empty hall as a voice whispered the password. The painting reluctantly swung outwards and the invisible Harry tiptoed into the room beyond.
A single torch burnt in a wall sconce above the desk. By it’s light Harry could see that the room was empty. He breathed a sigh of relief. He directed his gaze away from the closed bedroom door, toward the opposite side of the room, where the pensieve still sat.
A silvery light danced softly on the cold dungeon ceiling above the magical device, casting shadows like half-formed images of the memories within its bowl. Harry glided slowly over to it, careful to make no sound. He stared down at it for a moment, wondering what he would see if he were to make use of the pensieve here and now.
Harry shook himself. Here was not the place to find out. He bent down and picked up the stone basin. Carelessly.
Harry’s thumbs dipped into the silver-white memories swirling about in the bowl. The surface cleared, showing another room, seemingly empty. The invisibility cloak slid unnoticed from Harry’s shoulders.
Black eyes glittered through the crack of the barely open door of the bedroom and as Harry appeared in the middle of the room, the invisibility cloak pooled at his feet, the boy himself canting forward over the pensieve.
~ When Harry slipped from the dark whirlpool he remembered so well from the previous year, he found him self standing in an almost empty room. He was facing a closed door. The floor and walls were bare. In one corner stood a battered bench and even tattier desk that was missing one leg. The room had no windows, so Harry had no idea where this room was, but it had that distinctive feel he associated with Hogwarts.
~ He was alone in the room. But that wasn’t right. He *couldn’t* be alone inside someone else’s memory. He turned around.
~ Standing directly behind, staring through him at the door was a young boy. Harry decided he was no more than thirteen years old. Since he had black hair and midnight eyes – and there was no one else in the room – Harry quite rightly concluded that this was the young Severus Snape.
~ Harry stepped closer and bent down to examine the boy’s face. It was open. Well, not totally, but Harry suspected his father had never been particularly open, not even at this age. But it was more open then Harry had ever seen. Harry could read the eyes.
~ Severus was waiting. Rather irritably. His foot began to tap. Suddenly, the door slammed open behind Harry and Severus’s face lightened then settled into a habitual scowl. Before Harry could turn around to see who had entered to cause such a reaction, he had the singularly odd opportunity to witness someone appear *out* *of* him as the young girl rushed through the spot he stood and flung her arms about Severus’s waist.
~ Harry stepped back against the wall to avoid being stepped through again – he wasn’t sure he cared for the experience – and watched as his father’s memory unfolded.
~ Severus’s face and voice were stern when he addressed the girl wrapped about him.
~ ‘You’re late.’
~ ‘You’ll never guess what I just found out,’ babbled the girl into Severus’s robes.
~ Severus set his hands on her shoulders and forcibly broke her limpet-like hold him. Harry gasped when he saw her face. Harry’s own green eyes stared at Severus from beneath a mop of red-gold hair. This could only be the young Lily Evans, Severus’s only friend from his early years at Hogwarts.
~ Severus sighed and Harry could see him trying to feign disinterest in the cause of the younger student’s excitement.
~ ‘What did you discover? That Gryffindorks have a singular lack of anything remotely resembling intelligence?’
~ Lily gasped and pointed her nose in the air.
~ ‘If you’re going to be like that, I’m not going to tell you,’ she pouted.
~ ‘Ha!’ snorted Severus, ‘You won’t last. You never do.’
~ ‘I will this time! And it’s something that concerns you too, so…….’ Harry got the impression that his young aunt would have stuck out her tongue if she didn’t consider herself to do such a thing.
~ ‘Fine by me then,’ Severus crossed his arms.
~ ‘Fine!’ Lily snapped back.
~ ‘Fine,’ replied Severus, just to have the last word.
~ Silence fell, both young students trying to glare the other down. Harry covered his mouth to stifle his laughter, forgetting completely that neither of them could see nor hear him. The silence stretched and Harry was beginning to wonder if that was all there was to this memory. Then Severus broke, his curiosity getting the better of him.
~ ‘Oh, all right! What did you just find out?’ he snapped out in ill grace.
~ Lily’s face brightened immediately and she was again bouncing with the same excitement that had carried her into the room.
~ ‘Oh, it’s *wonderful* Severus! I was in the library reading a charms book –’ Severus rolled his eyes and Harry decided Lily must have been like Hermione, ‘– and I found this one called the Familius Charm!’
~ ‘Is that all? That’s just a useless old charm that tells you who your family is,’ Severus grouched.
~ ‘I know!’ exclaimed Lily enthusiastically, ‘I cast it, too!
~ ‘It spelled out the name of my sister,’ Lily’s nose crinkled and Harry had to agree, ‘and my mother’s name, but not my father’s!’
~ ‘What?’ Harry could see that Severus was reluctantly intrigued now.
~ ‘It surprised me too. But the best part was the name it spelled out next!’ Lily paused and grinned almost maniacally at the young Slytherin, ‘you’ll never guess who it was.’
~ Severus rolled his eyes, ‘Just tell me, Lily. You know how I detest guessing games.’
~ ‘It spelt out the name “Severus Snape”,’ Lily clearly enunciated.
~ Severus’s jaw dropped and he gaped at her. Harry grinned at the expression of pure shock on the face of the boy who would grow into his father.
~ Lily was nodding, ‘And then it spelt out *your* father’s name.’
~ Severus’s mouth snapped shut.
~ ‘You cast the charm correctly?’
~ Lily glared at him, ‘Of course I did. I even checked and recast it two more times, with the same results.’
~ Severus’s face slowly relaxed and spread into a wide grin, a never before seen sight to Harry’s eyes.
~ ‘You’re my little sister,’ he stated.
~ Lily nodded again and threw her arms around Severus’s neck once more. Harry saw the boy wrap his arms around the girl’s waist before the scene began to dissolve into swirling darkness.
~ A moment later, a new scene began to solidify about him. He found himself standing in a familiar grotto on the shore of the Hogwarts lake. It was late afternoon. Sitting on the grass before him were two raven-haired young men. Harry moved around them until he could see their faces.
~ It was his fathers, both James Potter and Severus Snape. Harry guessed they were seventeen, nearing the end of their last year at Hogwarts. They were both sitting with their knees bent up. James’s right arm was slung about Severus’s waist and Severus was grasping the hand at his hip in his left hand, their fingers intertwined. Both boys had their free arms draped over their knees.
~ They were silent. Harry stared at them, taking in the site of his parents in this quiet moment together. Harry wondered why Severus had given him this particular memory. Surely it must be one of his favourite, something to be savoured only by himself? It was so peaceful, so……. tender. Harry found himself momentarily wishing he had someone he could sit on the lakeshore like this with.
~ James moved. He took gentle hold of Severus’s right wrist and turned it towards him. He ran a thumb over what Harry knew must be the wizard-mark.
~ ‘Its so visible,’ he murmured. Harry strained to hear his voice more clearly. It was the first time he could remember hearing his Dad’s voice outside of the awful memories conjured by the dementors.
~ Severus stirred beside James and tugged at his wrist, but James wouldn’t let it go.
~ ‘It’s a wizard-mark. You didn’t expect it to be invisible, did you?’ he snapped.
~ James ignored his tone, ‘It’s just that mine isn’t in such an obvious place.’
~ ‘Oh?’ inquired Severus, trying to sound disinterested.
~ James grinned broadly and Harry smiled with him.
~ ‘Its on the inside of my thigh,’ he made a movement to bare his thigh, ‘Would you like to see it?’
~ Harry shook his head frantically, hoping his father wouldn’t have given him a memory like *that*. Apparently he hadn’t. The young Severus was shaking his head, ‘No I would not! At least, not here,’ he muttered the last part and Harry flushed. James smirked knowingly.
~ He fingered Severus’s mark again, ‘Mine’s the sun symbol above a wand.’
~ Harry started. But his mark had a dagger! James’s didn’t. Then where did he get the second half of his wizard-mark? Harry had an awful sinking feeling in the bottom of his stomach. Maybe James wasn’t his father after all……..
~ Severus didn’t reply for a moment. Then: ‘Which element is the Potter legacy?’
~ James shrugged, ‘The sun symbol I think.’
~ Severus twisted about and stared at him incredulously.
~ ‘You don’t *know*?’ he asked scathingly. Harry winced in sympathy for James. It didn’t look like Severus went easy even on people he loved.
~ James seemed immune to it all though. He shrugged again.
~ ‘The Potters are unique in that the wizard-mark seems to change from generation to generation.’
~ Severus snorted and muttered, ‘Either that, or they’re all impotent and the children are all changelings.’
~ James elbowed him in the side, but otherwise ignored the comment, ‘My father had an ankh. My grandfather had a trefoil. Then there was a dancing flame, an upturned dagger and…….. umm……. I don’t remember after that.’
~ James ran a nail lightly down the slope of the quill in Severus’s mark, ‘The elements get repeated every generation or so. I had a great uncle that had the sun symbol.’
~ Harry felt the knots in his stomach let go and he relaxed. The upturned dagger *was* an element of the Potter line. James Potter *was* his father.
~ As Harry mused, Severus had finally reclaimed his arm from James’s grip.
~ ‘Yes, well, I know for a *fact* were each of the elements of my wizard-mark comes from.’
~ James rolled his eyes at Severus, pecked him on the cheek and turned to gaze out over the lake again. Harry noticed then, that through out the entire conversation James hadn’t removed his arm from Severus’s waist and Severus hadn’t released the hand at his right hip.
~ Harry watched them for a long moment after they had lapsed back into silence. But when James turned to draw Severus into a kiss, Harry squinted his eyes shut hastily.
~ Thus it was that he missed that scene dissolving into blackness then into another memory.
~ When Harry cautiously slitted his eyes open once more, he found himself in another room. This one had a window and through it Harry could see a muggle street. He turned around. He was standing in a bedroom. And on the bed……..
~ On the bed lay Severus Snape and James Potter. Fortunately for Harry, they were fully clothed. Severus was propped up on several pillows, reading a heavy book. Harry wasn’t surprised to note that it was a book on Potions.
~ James was lying perpendicular to – Harry realised as he noticed the matching chains about the two men’s necks – his husband. He was talking. With a start, Harry realised James was talking to Severus’s stomach. Looking closer, Harry noticed the gentle rounding of Severus’s abdomen. Harry understood then. James and Severus were in an apartment in London, married now, and Severus was pregnant with Harry. It was odd to stand unseen by the window and think that that the swelling of his father’s stomach was actually him.
~ ‘I’ll take you flying everyday,’ James was saying, murmuring softly to the unborn Harry, ‘You’ll love it up there; its wonderful.’
~ Severus snorted, buried in his book, but James ignored him. Instead, he shifted and lay one hand over his developing child.
~ ‘And when you get your first wand, your aunt Lily can start teaching you all the charms you’ll never need,’ the second hand came up, cradling the mound.
~ ‘And your daddy, here……..’
~ Severus dropped his book to glare down at his husband, ‘*Father*. I refuse to be called “daddy”.’
~ James leered up at him, ‘Your *daddy* will teach you potions.’
~ Severus opened his mouth to retort, but stopped as a look of shock took over his face. Harry glanced at James to find him looking as equally shocked, staring at his hands. Then a huge grin spread over his face.
~ ‘It moved! Sev! Our baby moved! Did you feel it?’
~ ‘Of course I felt it! I’m the one carrying him, aren’t I?’
~ James drew glowing eyes from his unborn child and turned them on his husband instead, ‘Him? You think our baby is a boy?’
~ ‘I *know* he’s a boy,’ Severus’s voice was unbearably smug, and he moved a hand to lay next to James’s on his abdomen. James wrapped it in his own and pressed them both the unborn child. He was still staring at his husband.
~ ‘We’re having a boy?’ A look of wonder on his face he looked back down at his hands on Severus’s pregnant form, ‘Hello, my son,’ he whispered.
~ Harry felt tears spring to his eyes and blinked them back furiously even though no one was there to witness them if they fell. Here was proof that his fathers had wanted him. They were both lying content on the bed now, James still with both hands pressed to Severus’s abdomen.
~ Harry nearly jumped when he felt a hand settle on his shoulder. He glanced up to find his father standing beside him. Harry glanced between the Severus on the bed and the Severus as his shoulder.
~ The man at his shoulder was staring somewhat mournfully at the memory of himself and James on the bed. Without looking down at Harry he spoke.
~ ‘That was the first time you moved. James kept me on that bed for hours, his hands on my stomach, waiting for you to move again.’
~ He blinked hard. Harry stared into his face rather suspiciously. Severus turned then and looked down at his teenage son.
~ ‘You’re exhausted, Harry. You need to sleep. The rest of my memories will still be here in the morning.’
~ Harry nodded, reluctantly. He glanced back at the bed one last time before he felt himself rising into the air and the scene was melting around him. ~
Harry staggered slightly as he regained his footing in the Potions Master’s chambers. He looked up from the shifting fluid in the pensieve. Severus was standing beside him, wearing a brocade lounging robe, one hand still on Harry’s shoulder. He squeezed it gently before letting go and stooping to receive something from the floor at Harry’s feet.
He handed it to Harry and Harry realised it was his invisibility cloak.
‘You need not use that to enter my chambers, Harry. I *have* given you permission to come when you will.’
Harry flushed at the slightly censoring look in his father’s eyes, ‘I know. It’s just…….. I wanted the pensieve and I didn’t want to wake you……’
Severus made a non-committal sound in the back of his throat. He lifted the pensieve from the table and placed it squarely in Harry’s arms.
‘Take it with you this time.’
Then, before he had time to censor the gesture, Severus reached out and caressed his son’s cheek. He knew he looked just as startled as Harry as he pulled back. He hadn’t meant to do that. Harry was staring wide-eyed at him.
Severus cleared his throat.
‘Well, as much I enjoy midnight chats, Mr Potter, we both need our sleep.’
Harry nodded dumbly and turned for the door. He paused at the threshold and looked back.
Harry grinned at the nonplussed expression on his father’s face and darted down the hall before Severus could recover enough to snarl at him for calling him that.
Chapter Twelve: Open Sesame
Severus scowled blackly at the closed door. Harry’s last words still ghosted about the room, taunting him. He didn’t know whether to laugh at the boy’s impertinence or curse the use of that hated epithet.
In the end he did neither.
Instead he went to a discreet sideboard to one side of the room. Withdrawing his wand from his robe, he spelled open the cupboard beneath. He removed a cloth-wrapped something from within and carried it with him to his armchair.
Settling into the welcoming wings of the chair, he rested the object in his lap. His wand still clutched in one hand, Severus loosed the ties and allowed the chamois cloth to slip down and pool on his thighs. Severus stared down at the object revealed for a long moment.
He lifted a hand and caressed the cool stone of a pensieve. The silver fluid of memories swirled very near the brim of this one. Severus had had it since *he* was fifteen, when his own father had given it to him. It hadn’t seen the light of day in almost a decade.
Taking his wand, Severus nudged at the memories eddying about the bowl. The surface cleared and Severus watched as one memory played into another, searching for a particular one.
Then there it was, floating to the surface of the pensieve. Severus dipped one hand into the substance and allowed the pensieve to somersault him into the dark whirlpool.
~ The scene steadied into a familiar room.
~ Although it had been fourteen years since Severus had last stood in this room, it had never faded in his memory, even without the aid of the pensieve. Every detail of this study was still fresh in his memory:
~ The single armchair, overflowing with stuffing, sitting side-on to the empty hearth. The gracious french-doors open to the late summer evening. Through the open door into the hall, the wizard clock with its four golden hands all pointing to “home”. The desk that never bore looking at: no matter how hard Severus tried to keep it tidy, it always ended up with open charm and transfiguration books, items from broom care kits and assorted children’s toys scattered across its surface.
~ Even the smells drifting past his nose now, Severus had never forgotten. The fresh sweet scent of the wild flowers sitting in a vase on the mantle piece. The warm tang of summer rain just passed. The delicious aroma of something baking. The fragrance of dried herbs and other sweet-smelling potion ingredients stored in a glass-fronted cupboard by the door.
~ Severus took a long moment to simply drink in the essence of the room that had been his sanctum sanctorum in this house, regardless of the fact it was constantly invaded by the other inhabitants.
~ He didn’t believe it would ever fade from his memory.
~ Nor this moment captured by the pensieve……..
~ Severus hadn’t thought of this night in years, blocking it out with every other memory of his time with his family. It wasn’t particularly painful, or even significant. It was even debateable if it was one of his favourites……..
~ But Harry’s words this evening had stirred the memory, and so, for the first time in a decade, Severus had gone to his pensieve.
~ Severus moved across the room to the open french doors. He knew standing here would give him the best vantage. He turned his back on the wild gardens, facing into the room. Standing here, he could clearly see the occupant of the armchair.
~ Severus stared at his younger self. He sat with a book resting on his crossed knee, a glass of wine in one hand. Occasionally the free hand would lift and a page would be turned.
~ By the doors, the older Severus folded his hands in his sleeves and silently watched his memory of that night so long ago begin to unfolded.
~ In the armchair, the younger Severus was just lifting the wineglass to his lips when tiny hands grasped his book and pulled it down. Severus’s grip had been so lax that the volume slipped from his lap and onto the floor, the small hands still clutching it.
~ Severus stared in surprise at the small figure just now releasing the book. The figure looked up and Severus was gazing into vivid green eyes that sparkled at him from beneath an unruly mop of black hair. The young man glanced from the child to the door.
~ The older Severus looked too, already knowing who would be standing there.
~ James lounged casually against the doorjamb looking as carefree and handsome as he ever had, and something lurched in Severus’s throat. There was very little he wouldn’t give to go back to this moment for real.
~ James was smiling at the Severus in the armchair.
~ ‘It’s almost Harry’s bedtime. He wanted to say goodnight.’
~ The young Severus was distracted from replying to his husband when pudgy hands settled on his knees. Harry was trying to pull himself into his father’s lap.
~ In a childish voice, with words advanced for his age of barely one year, Harry was pleading, ‘U’ Pata’!’
~ This, both James and Severus knew, translated as “Up Pater!”. Severus set his wineglass aside and, slipping his hands beneath Harry’s arms, lifted his infant son into his embrace. Harry promptly wrapped his arms about his father’s neck and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek before slipping down to nestle against his chest. Severus smiled and kissed the boy’s hair.
~ James crossed the room and settled himself on the arm of the chair next to his husband and son. He draped an arm about Severus’s shoulders and Severus allowed his head to incline slightly toward James’s shoulder. One of Harry’s small hands drifted up to clutch the front of James’s robes and James reciprocated the gesture by laying his own hand on the child’s back. The three were content to sit there for minutes on end, not moving, and the Severus by the windows was just as content to watch his younger self in this moment with his family again.
~ But such moments never last and this one was broken by Lily appearing in the hall doorway. She wasn’t an unwelcome intrusion, just one that broke the moment of its undisturbed peace. She lounged in the doorway much like James had for a long moment, watching her brother and his family.
~ On the other side of the room, the older Severus gazed fondly at his little sister. He was never quite sure what he had done to deserve a family like this.
~ Finally, wiping her hands on the apron she wore, Lily spoke.
~ ‘I thought you were putting Harry to bed, James.’
~ James glanced up and smiled at his sister-in-law, ‘I was, but Sev waylaid us.’
~ Beneath his arm, the young Severus snorted. In his lap, Harry stirred and yawned tiredly. The green eyes blinked sleepily up at his fathers and both James and Severus smiled. James ruffled the boy’s hair and Severus dropped a soft kiss on his – scar-free – forehead.
~ In the doorway, Lily shook her head amusedly, ‘Well, just see that he gets there sometime tonight.’
~ James slipped from the chair’s arm, ‘I’m taking him now. Sheesh. You’re his aunt. Aren’t you meant to be spoiling him?’
~ Lily smirked in a way very reminiscent of Severus, ‘He’s got his fathers for that,’ She turned from the doorway, ‘Dinner’s almost ready, by the way.’
~ Severus laid a hand on James’s sleeve. He pulled his husband down to him and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. He let him go and James straightened, smiling. Severus turned his attention to the child falling asleep in his lap.
~ Gently, Severus nudged Harry awake.
~ ‘Harry. You can’t sleep here. Wake up a little so your father can take you up to bed.’
~ Harry curled tighter, then stretched himself out on Severus’s lap. He pulled himself up on Severus’s robes and threw his arms about his father’s neck, pressing his cheek to Severus’s. Severus rubbed his back, then stood and passed him into James’s out-held arms.
~ James left a lingering kiss on Severus’s mouth as he turned to carry his precious burden up to bed. Harry was draped over James’s neck, his head flopping tiredly on one shoulder, eyes slipping shut. As James reached the door, they widened long enough to focus on Severus for a moment. Harry gave him a sleepy smile.
~ ‘G’nigh’ Daddy,’ he murmured.
~ James chuckled at the name, and Severus smiled ironically, ‘Goodnight Harry.’
~ The pair disappeared down the hall, and the young Severus turned back to the room. His eyes drifted to the open french doors and his face twisted momentarily into an almost unidentifiable expression.
~ By the doors, the older Severus stiffened. He had forgotten this particular of the memory, and for a moment it was as though his memory self was staring out of the past at him, unbearable sorrow lingering unrecognised in the depths of his eyes.
~ Then the memory stepped forward to close the doors and Severus felt himself lifting out of the moment, into the dark whirlpool that was transition in the pensieve.
Severus carefully wrapped his pensieve in the chamois cloths. He replaced it and secured the cupboard.
Straightening, he moved to the silver tray on the mantle piece and poured himself a hefty shot of scotch. He held the tumbler up to the light, admiring the colour of the drink. He couldn’t remember the last time he had drunk so much in one night.
He threw the entire glass back in one swallow.
Monday morning found Harry breakfasting with his friends and contemplating what to do that day.
‘I still have to complete my experimentation for the Potions assignment,’ he observed idly. He had his head propped on one hand, watching the cereal fall from his tilted spoon back into his bowl.
Ron’s face scrunched at the mention of any homework, never mind homework from his least favourite class. He made no comment, instead shovelling more scrambled eggs and bacon into his mouth and chewing stolidly.
Hermione’s eyes narrowed and she heaved a sigh that sound suspiciously exasperated. Harry immediately focused his eyes on her.
‘Don’t say it Hermione!’
Ron looked up, grinning, and Hermione gaped at Harry.
‘What? I was just going to say……..’
‘That you’d finished all your homework in your first week home,’ chorused Ron and Harry. Ron laughed and Harry smirked before adding:
‘Hermione, there’s still four weeks of summer left. Its not like I’ve left it until the last moment,’ Harry dropped his spoon into his half-eaten bowl of cereal and pushed them both away, ‘Besides, it shouldn’t be too hard.’
Ron spluttered into his pumpkin juice, ‘Harry, are you crazy? Trying to work what Persian oyster shells do to boomslang skin and then replicating it with our own supplies? That’s…….. that’s……..’ Ron didn’t seem to be able to find a word to suit his sentiments.
‘*Peruvian* *urchlid* shells,’ corrected Hermione. Ron grimaced at her, but she was looking at Harry.
‘But Ron’s right Harry.’
‘I am?’ exclaimed Ron, looking exceedingly surprised and not a little confused. Hermione ignored his interruption.
‘I think you might be underestimating the complexity of the assignment.’
Harry waved a hand airily, ‘I’ve already completed the first part with books from the library. It wasn’t that hard. Besides,’ Harry raised his goblet to his lips, ‘Professor Snape said I could use some of his personal store of Peruvian urchlid shell and boomslang skin to observe the reaction first hand.’
Harry smirked into his goblet at his friends’ reactions. Ron’s eyes goggled and Hermione went positively green with envy.
‘*Snape* let you use his *personal* store?’
‘I haven’t done it yet,’ he glanced slyly at Hermione, ‘I was thinking I would do it today, after breakfast. You’re welcome to join me if you’re finished.’
Hermione nodded her head furiously, took a few more bites of her toast, sculled her pumpkin juice and jumped up from the table, knocking her chair over in the process.
‘Just let me get my books! I’ll meet you in the classroom,’ she shouted over her shoulder as she raced from the room.
Ron and Harry fell about laughing at their friend’s antics.
When he had managed to regain his breath, Harry drained the last of his juice and stood.
‘Are you coming too?’ he asked Ron.
‘I may as well. I mean, if both you and ‘Mione are going to be in there all day, there’s not much else for me to do,’ he shrugged and began to follow Harry from the hall, ‘Who knows. I might even learn something useful.’
The two friends shared a grin and Harry slapped Ron on the back, ‘You just might. But I promise I’ll still be your friend any way.’
After a brief detour to Harry’s room to pick up his books, the two boys headed down to meet Hermione in the potions classroom.
The Gryffindor girl already had her books arranged across the desk when they arrived. She tapped her foot in an excess of impatient as Harry, with Ron’s assistance, took his time setting out his ingredients.
‘’Mione, if you’re so impatient to start, why don’t you go and get the Peruvian urchlid shell and boomslang skin,’ Harry forestalled Hermione from saying something to the effect of ‘For Merlin’s sake, hurry up!’
Hermione nodded her head sharply and disappeared into Professor Snape’s office.
A moment later, her head reappeared around the door.
‘Harry, the cupboard’s locked. The Professor didn’t give you a key did he?’
Harry shook his head, but didn’t look up from his potions text, ‘He said to touch the panel in the cupboard door and it would open.’
Hermione’s head disappeared back into the office again, only to re-emerge followed by the rest of her a moment later. She moved over the desk they had set up on and leant against it.
Ron glanced up, ‘Where’s the ingredients?’
Hermione shook her head and addressed Harry, ‘Harry what did Professor Snape say exactly?’
‘Huh? Why?’ Harry stopped thumbing through one of the books Hermione had brought with her and looked up.
Hermione shrugged, ‘Just what did he say?’
Harry frowned, trying to recall, ‘He said…….. um…….. “Just touch the panel. It should open for you”,’ Harry rolled his shoulders, ‘Or something pretty close to that.’
‘Well that’s it then,’ Hermione grabbed Harry’s wrist and dragged him behind her to the professor’s office. Ron hurried to follow after.
‘What’s ‘it’?’ he wanted to know.
‘Why I couldn’t open the cupboard,’ Hermione answered cryptically.
She drew Harry up beside her in front of the secured ingredients’ cupboard. To prove her point, she pressed her palm to the panel in the face of the cupboard, then tried to open the door. It was still firmly locked.
She took Harry’s hand and pressed it to the wood. The panel glowed briefly under Harry’s palm, and door popped open.
‘Only Harry’s hand can open it.’
Ron shrugged as Hermione passed him a small box of Peruvian urchlid shells, ‘So? Snape probably spelled it so Harry could get in.’
Hermione rolled her eyes as she pushed the package of boomslang skin into Harry’s hands and turned to close the cupboard, ‘He was still in the infirmary until three days ago and he’s still not allowed to do any magic. When do you suppose he would have changed the spells? Certainly not before he was wounded.’
‘Hermione,’ said Harry warily as he deposited the boomslang skin beside the small cauldron he had set up, ‘What are you trying to say?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Ron and Harry just looked at her. She sighed and sat down on one of the stools.
‘Even though Professor Snape hadn’t told Harry who he was, he knew Harry would be able to open his potions cupboard,’ she looked expectantly at Harry and Ron, who looked blankly back.
‘What’s Snape being my father got to do with it?’
‘The ward spells on the professor’s personal store are keyed to him. He must have known that Harry’s presence would like enough to his own for the spells to yield to him when Harry tried to open the cupboard.’
Comprehension dawned in Harry’s eyes, ‘You mean the spells recognised me because I’m his son? Or because I have the same blood-magic type as him?’
Hermione shrugged, ‘I think it’s a combination of both.’
The three jumped when a voice spoke behind them.
‘Very good, Miss Granger.’
Severus was standing in the doorway, leaning rather heavily on a cane.
‘The ward spells were keyed to my presence *and* my blood-magic type. As Harry is my son and has the same blood-magic type as myself, my wards recognised him as being me,’ the black eyes narrowed on the trio, ‘Of course, I shall be recasting the wards to make them more sensitive, ensuring that from now on only I can open the cupboard.’
He glared indiscriminately at the three of them and they all flushed. He snorted as though it was no less than he had expected, then hobbled forward to their table, inspecting the ingredients Harry and Ron had laid out to experiment with. He nodded curtly.
‘You might try monkshood with the shrivelfigs,’ he said off-handedly. Ron and Hermione gaped at him. He ignored their reactions, instead turning to Harry, ‘But that will have to wait until later. You are to accompany me to the headmaster’s office, Harry.’
With that, Severus turned and, as best one could when hampered by a cane, swept from the room. Hermione and Ron were still gaping after him.
Ron snapped his mouth shut, ‘Okay, who was that, and what did he do with the Snape we all know and love to hate?’
Hermione sucked her breath in on a gasp, ‘Ron!’
‘Its true! He complimented you,’ Ron began to tick points off on his fingers, ‘He didn’t get mad at us for discussing him behind his back,’ another finger, ‘He called Harry, Harry. And he gave us *advice*!’
Hermione opened and shut her mouth several times, having no response to Ron’s points. She looked beseechingly at Harry.
Harry shrugged, ‘He told me it was all a façade. I’d better go.’
He hurried out the door after the Potions Master, aware that he had probably left his friends gaping *again*.
Chapter Thirteen: Diplomacy: the art of letting someone have your way
Severus was standing a ways down the corridor, in front of the painting guarding the entrance to his rooms. Harry wondered briefly if it were possible to access the potions classroom from within the apartment.
When Severus saw Harry had followed him into the hall, he turned and started toward the upper levels of the castle. Harry caught up to him and walked just behind and to the right of the man. He was looking at the cane his father was leaning heavily upon.
‘You didn’t have that two days ago,’ he commented.
Severus glowered at nothing in particular, not bothering to glance down at the infernal cane.
‘I believed I could manage without it. Evidently I was incorrect. Now I am paying the price for it.’
Severus could feel Harry’s gaze on the side of his face. He glanced into the questioning eyes. He sighed.
‘I could barely walk at all yesterday. Poppy confined me to bed and threatened to keep me there for an additional two weeks if I did not use the cane,’ Severus shook the walking assistant in irritated emphasis.
Harry smirked and Severus glowered. Harry stopped smirking.
Harry settled uneasily in his chair, unsure of what exactly would be discussed in this meeting. Beside him, Severus gratefully cast aside the cane in favour of a chair, and, from behind his desk, Dumbledore benignly smiled at them both.
‘Well, you called us here Albus. What is it you wished to discuss?’
Dumbledore bent a look on the professor that clearly said ‘As if you don’t know’ but he answered the question for Harry’s benefit.
‘It needs to be decided how we continue from here.’
A simple statement, but so many connotations.
Severus looked as though the answer should be obvious, ‘As before. Nothing should change.’
Harry felt as though he’d been slapped in the face.
Severus had just spent several days trying to convince Harry that he was wanted, and now he turned around and said that he wouldn’t acknowledge him. Harry realised his nails were digging into his palms and that he had likely paled.
Dumbledore had been watching him when Severus had answered and noticed the immediate pallor that had cast itself over Harry’s features. Behind his half-moon glasses, his bright eyes dimmed slightly.
Severus noticed this and followed the headmaster’s gaze to Harry. He realised then what his words must have sounded like to his son.
‘Harry!’ he snapped somewhat harshly, drawing hurt green eyes to his face, ‘It has nothing to do with my not wanting to claim you as my son. I would like nothing better. But you have to understand: I can do a lot more good as a spy, than as a simple Potions Master. If Voldemort found out you were my son, my cover would be blown. Not to mention you would be in even greater danger than you are now. Do you understand?’
Harry nodded, reluctantly. He did understand. Severus had saved countless lives as a double agent; even bought more time for his family, even if that had been ultimately futile. And if Harry had gone all these years without even knowing he had a father alive, surely he could go a few more without publicly acknowledging his sole living parent?
Severus nodded as well and turned back Dumbledore.
‘As soon as I have healed adequately, I shall return to my responsibilities in the field.’
Dumbledore just regarded his friend solemnly.
‘What happened the night you were beaten, Severus?’ were his only words.
Severus paled and Harry was sure he didn’t want to hear a recounting of the events that had left the potions master in the appalling state Harry had first seen him in.
‘Severus? What caused them to punish you so severely? The Death Eaters don’t usually resort to the physical, do they?’
With great reluctance, Severus shook his head, unwilling, or unable, to answer verbally.
Severus darted a glance at Harry then looked significantly at the headmaster. Dumbledore refused to acknowledge it. He wanted Harry to hear Severus’s answer.
Severus sighed in defeat. He had never been able to out-stubborn this wily old wizard.
‘I……. slipped,’ he refused to look at Harry, sure he would read contempt, or at least disappointment in his son’s eyes. He stared instead over Dumbledore’s shoulder, ‘They were boasting on what they would do to Harry if they ever got their hands on him.’
Severus pressed his lips shut and refused to elaborate further. His son didn’t need to know that they had planned to rape him and then skin him alive, bleeding him dry of his blood, and with it, his magic.
‘And you believe the Death Eaters won’t suspect you on your return,’ Albus, with his omniscient air, gave Severus the impression he knew more about the incident – if such a mild term could be used to label so heinous an act – then Severus had revealed.
Severus glared blackly. He’d be damned if he was going let the same man that had talked him *into* being a spy, talk him *out* of it. He had failed his family the first time; he refused to fail his son a second time. He would rather suffer for all eternity the same torture that had landed him at death’s door than let the Death Eaters do what they had boasted of to *his* son.
‘Voldemort may be rather maniacal, Severus, but I don’t suppose for a moment that he is stupid,’ Dumbledore’s voice was uncharacteristically stern, ‘And, despite your recent pretensions to the contrary, nor are you. You know as well as I do – as well as *Harry* here does – that your cover is blown.’
Harry was still pale, but for an entirely different reason now. Regardless of whether or not Severus decided to acknowledge Harry as his son publicly, Harry hadn’t truly believed he would consider returning to Voldemort’s side as a spy. He knew he hadn’t really thought the situation through clearly, but no thought was necessary for him to realise he didn’t want his father in such a vulnerable position. Harry thought he would be quite willing to get down on his knees and beg Severus not to return to spying if Dumbledore failed to convince him.
Dumbledore had a certain knack for making Severus feel completely impotent. The potions master hated it.
‘Albus, this is Harry’s *life* we’re talking about,’ he ground out.
Dumbledore’s expression didn’t give in the slightest, ‘I disagree. It is *your* life that would be on the line. You are not our only informant.’
‘I’m your best!’
‘Our best, yes, but not our only.’
Harry could see Severus readying another argument and he suddenly couldn’t take it any more.
‘Please don’t go back!’
Severus and Dumbledore turned stunned faces to him. Dumbledore smiled and Harry hurried on before he could be interrupted.
‘Please don’t. You’re the only family I have left. I don’t want to lose you too,’ Harry turned a stark white face down to his lap, ‘Please don’t,’ he beseeched again in a whisper.
Severus clenched and unclenched his hands fitfully at his sides. His gaze shifted from his son, to Dumbledore and back again.
‘I must warn you, Severus: I will be forced to withdraw my support of you and let you go from your position if you return,’ Dumbledore said.
Just *said*, no inflection to his tone at all.
But Severus knew he was beaten. He knew Dumbledore would not hesitate to carry through on his threat if he returned to the Death Eaters. Severus had been boxed in, with no viable option but to comply with the canny old wizard’s wishes.
If he returned against Dumbledore’s will, any information he managed to collect would go to waste, simply because he no longer had the headmaster’s ear. He would be in no position to use his hard won knowledge to protect Harry – the only reason he would have returned in the first place. What was that term the muggles used? The entire situation was the proverbial catch-22.
He nodded; gritted his teeth, but nodded. He reached across the distance separating them and laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder, causing the boy to look up. He nodded again.
‘I won’t go back,’ he glared once more at Dumbledore
Harry’s response, Severus decided, was almost worth it. Almost.
The green eyes measured his sincerity carefully. When Harry decided Severus was telling the truth, his face began to blossom. First a small, rather watery smile appeared, but it quickly expanded through a grin until it took over his face and he was beaming like he had just been given the most wonderful gift in the world.
Dumbledore beamed at them both, ‘Good. Now all we have to deal with is your relationship. I will owl a reliable contact I have at the “Daily Prophet”. I think a discreet and tastefully done article should –’
Dumbledore looked startled at the interruption, ‘No?’
Severus stated again, quite unequivocally, ‘No.’
Harry stared at him and Dumbledore raised an eyebrow.
Severus’s face settled into stubborn lines, ‘It would put Harry in too much danger and *that* I will *not* condone.’
Dumbledore chuckled at this and both Harry and Severus turned incredulous stares on him.
‘My dear Severus, Harry couldn’t possibly be in any more danger than he is now. Voldemort already wants him dead and every Death Eater out there is doing his best to capture him. A little thing like his true parentage isn’t going to noticeably increase Harry’s danger.
‘I believe it would be the best course of action to announce your relation to Harry publicly. That way we will *know* that Voldemort knows. If we left it to get out on its own – and it *would* leak out – we would have no control over it.’
Dumbledore leant back in his chair, regarding the two men in front of him. Now that his suspicions of Harry’s parentage had been conclusively proven, he could draw parallels between the pair: The lustre of Harry’s hair seemed to match Severus’s more closely than James’s and he had always thought Harry had hands much like the potions master’s; Harry had that gangliness that suggested he had Severus’s height to grow into……..
And, right now, they both wore identical expressions, caught somewhere between a scowl and eyebrows rising into the hairline with astonishment.
‘Of course, Severus, once we make the announcement, it would be unadvisable for you to leave Hogwarts grounds. Or Harry for that matter.’
Severus regained control of his tongue, ‘That’s ludicrous! I refuse to be confined to these grounds like some recalcitrant child. I am quite able to take care of myself. I will not cower behind the school’s wards as though I live in fear of those pathetic Death Eaters,’ he calmed down enough to continue in a more reasonable tone, ‘However, for Harry’s safety, he *will* remain within the school’s perimeter. But it shall not be announced that I am his father until much later, if ever. I will not risk Voldemort finding some way to use the information against us.’
Harry had be alternatively nodding and shaking his head through the first part of Severus’s tirade. But his jaw dropped at Severus’s final words.
Dumbledore had been looking rather taken aback at Severus’s rant, and he looked even more surprised when Harry put his own two cents worth in:
‘That’s not fair! I’ve been to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley plenty of times without being attacked. And I’m not even that safe at Hogwarts! Look what happened last year: Voldemort found a way to remove me from the school grounds anyway. If you’re allowed out of the wards, then so am I –’
Things seemed to be tumbling beyond Dumbledore’s control. Severus’s face quickly became suffused with blood and he turned to shout Harry down.
‘I AM YOUR FATHER, YOUNG MAN, AND YOU WILL DO WHAT I SAY!!’
Harry paled dramatically and looked down at his tense hands. Severus had yelled at him before, but not since it was revealed that he was Harry’s father. Harry just had no idea how to handle it.
Severus had paled too, and was clutching his abdomen. Shouting had strained his still healing ribs and gashed stomach. More than that, he felt sick with himself for losing control and yelling at Harry. He savagely fought the urge to drop his head into his hands. He had been right: he was an abysmal father.
Dumbledore allowed the pair to stew in their black feelings of guilt and shock for a long moment. He certainly hadn’t expected this turn of events. He used the tense silence to gather his thoughts. Perhaps it would be best to deviate from his original plans just slightly.
Tactfully avoiding mention of the recent words, he said, ‘I think, perhaps, a comprise would suit all our wants admirably.’
Both Harry and Severus turned their eyes on him as a welcome diversion.
‘I still believe Harry’s parentage should be publicly known. However, I am willing to delay the announcement until the school year begins in a month’s time. After that, I will break the news as seems best.’
Harry perked up at this. He slid a look at his father from the corner of his eye. Severus didn’t seem too pleased with Dumbledore’s decision, but he wasn’t arguing it for know.
Still in control of the conversation, Dumbledore went on:
‘On the matter of the safety of you both whilst away from the school bounds, I believe we may come to some arrangement there as well,’ Dumbledore mused for a moment, one hand drifting up to stroke his beard.
‘Yes…….. yes, I think that might be acceptable,’ his eyes focused back on the pair opposite him. Harry was looking vaguely sullen and Severus was glaring blackly again.
‘Severus, I know you are well able to see to your own well being, but that was while your cover was unbroken. I would feel much better if you would agree to inform me of your intended destination any time you left the grounds and if you would consent to taking another, trusted, and fully trained witch or wizard with you,’ Dumbledore fixed piercing eyes on Severus.
Severus mulled briefly over the headmaster’s suggestion but they both knew it was inevitable that he would agree to the conditions. Severus got the distinct impression that Dumbledore had predetermined a course of action before he had ever initiated this conversation, and he had already deviated from it as far as he was prepared to go.
Severus nodded, but in such away to ensure Dumbledore knew he was agreeing only under duress.
Dumbledore nodded too, grateful Severus had conceded so easily. He then turned to Harry.
‘Harry, you must be aware that as your father, Severus *does* have the final word in this matter,’ Harry nodded sullenly and Severus managed not to look too vindicated at Dumbledore’s backing of his paternal authority.
‘However,’ continued Dumbledore, turning his attention back to Severus, ‘Harry was correct earlier. It would be rather hypocritical of you to deny him the right to leave the school grounds, Severus. My suggestion is that Harry may leave only when accompanied by myself, you, or another powerful witch or wizard we both approve of and trust.’
Severus didn’t really want to allow Harry to leave the relative safety of the school. But Dumbledore was right. It *would* be hypocritical of him to confine his son. Once again, Dumbledore had left him little choice but to agree.
One arm still wrapped about his aching ribs, Severus reluctantly nodded, ‘On the condition that I have the final say on any of Harry’s outings.’
‘Of course,’ Dumbledore was beaming benignly again, ‘Harry?’
Harry nodded. It wasn’t the total freedom he would have liked, but compared to none at all, it was generous. He offered his father a tentative smile. Severus’s scowl softened a little, but otherwise he didn’t acknowledge Harry’s gesture. He leveled a look at Dumbledore.
‘I once heard diplomacy summed up as the art of letting someone else have your way. You, Albus, are the definitive diplomat,’ Severus pushed himself upright and reached for the despised cane, ‘If there is nothing more you wish to discuss……?’
Dumbledore flapped at hand at him, ‘No, no, of course not. Thank you for giving me your time.’
With a curt nod, Severus turned and swept from the room. Dumbledore smiled and popped a lemon drop into his mouth. He offered the box to Harry.
‘Quite the temper Severus has,’ he commented
Harry had no reply to that. He refused the lemon drops politely. Dumbledore returned the box to his drawer. He folded his hands on the surface of his desk.
‘So tell me, young Harry, how are you getting on with your father?’
Harry had been dreading just such a question, especially coming on the heels of that…….. whatever it had been, when Severus had yelled at him.
‘I…….. don’t know, sir.’
Dumbledore nodded as though he understood completely. Which, Harry thought, would be quite a feat, considering he himself wasn’t sure he knew what he meant.
‘Ah, well. You are both learning. All I can suggest is that you give it time.’
But how much time? Harry wanted to ask. When would enough time have passed for them to settle into a normal father-son relationship? Would it ever be possible? Harry fought the urge to sigh despondently. He nodded instead.
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled behind his spectacles, ‘I’m sure Mr Weasley and Miss Granger must be wondering where you have gotten to.’
Severus was pacing, without the aid of his cane. Every third pace or so, his stride would hitch and a faint spasm of pain would flit through the darker expression on his face.
‘You don’t seem to understand, Remus. He won’t let me protect my own family,’ Severus’s legs delivered a forceful protest at the abuse and he heeded them now, collapsing into a chair, ‘my *only* family.’
It seemed to Remus that they had been holding the same conversation for hours now, but the clock told a different story. Only a little over one hour had passed since Severus had stormed Remus in his rooms and began ranting about Dumbledore’s dictatorial actions. Remus had yet to force his friend to see reason.
‘I think it is more a matter of Dumbledore not letting you sacrifice your life needlessly,’ Remus’s patience was beginning to wear thin. The usually rational Potions Master had deserted reason altogether.
Severus opened his mouth to make some asinine retort but Remus didn’t allow him the opportunity to speak, ‘Harry needs you alive, Severus. He doesn’t need another dead father.’
Severus’s mouth snapped shut and Remus thought he might finally have gotten through to the man. But then his expression fell. Remus had the sinking feeling he had some how managed to make matters worse. Severus confirmed the sensation with his next comment.
‘It’s my fault James is dead in the first place.’
He pushed himself to his feet again, ignoring the twinges of protest from his legs, ‘I should have killed Voldemort when I had the chance. *I* should have been their Secret Keeper. I should have been there! I don’t deserve Harry,’ Severus spun on his heel as he reached the wall and came face to face with other man.
Remus slapped him.
Severus raised a shocked hand to his stinging cheek.
Remus glared at Severus, ‘It’s your turn to shut up and listen to me.
‘Fourteen years ago I let you get away with this. I let you get away with blaming yourself for the deaths of James and Lily. I even let you get away with blaming me. I’m not going to let you do it again.
‘You might be right. You may not deserve Harry – I’m not qualified to judge. But this isn’t about you. It’s about what *Harry* deserves, and *he* deserves *you*. You have no right to deprive him of the family he needs, again.
‘Do you think Harry would thank you if you went and got yourself killed in the name of saving his life? It’s more likely that he would hate you for it.
‘And what about James and Lily? They gave up their lives protecting your son and you want to throw that all away by running out and dying needlessly. *They* wouldn’t thank you.
‘Hell, Severus, *I* certainly won’t be thanking you if you die. You’re one of the few friends I have left.
‘You are *not* to blame for James and Lily’s deaths. There was nothing you could have done. If you had been there that night, you would have died *too* and Harry really *would* be an orphan today.’ Remus ran his hands through his hair and turned away from Severus, ‘Even if you had been the Secret Keeper, something would have happened sooner or later and James and Lily still would have died, and probably Harry along with them. As much as no one likes to admit it, it seems they were fated to die that night.’
Remus reclaimed his seat and stared resolutely away from Severus, ‘You have to stop blaming yourself for the past. If you insist on dwelling upon it, there is no way you will be able to develop a healthy relationship with your son.’
Remus’s eyes flickered briefly to the still staring potions master. His voice turned slightly bitter, ‘You don’t seem to be able to see how truly *lucky* you are.’
‘I am quite serious. You and James had a love to last a lifetime. You and Harry were his whole world. I don’t believe he regretted a moment he spent with you.
‘And Lily. She loved you as much as a sister could. I never had that. Never. I was the skeleton in my family’s closet, to be reviled at worst, tolerated at best.’
Remus turned impassioned eyes on Severus now, pinning him where he stood.
‘And *Harry*! You have the most wonderful child, Severus. He is good and kind and intelligent and courageous and every thing a father could ever want in a son. You have no idea how I *envy* you.’
Remus’s voice was bitter again, ‘But you are blind to all that. You choose to dwell on the negative in your life. What you have lost, instead of what you *have*. You have a chance here to reclaim some of the glorious happiness you had for such a sort time when James was still alive, and you are going to pass it over because Dumbledore denied you the right to get yourself killed.
‘My family never loved me like Lily loved you. I’ll probably never have a love like you and James had. I doubt I’ll *ever* have a child.’
Remus followed Severus’s movements as the other sat back down, a completely blank look on his face. The werewolf’s brown eyes pleaded with his friend’s black ones.
‘Please don’t throw this second chance away, Severus.’
The quiet was tense, and intense. Remus kept his eyes riveted to Severus’s face, trying to read the myriad of emotions that battled there. He couldn’t tell what the other man was thinking.
Finally, Severus sighed and his face relaxed into an expression of old pain, ‘It hurts, Remus.’
Remus nodded. It did hurt. Letting go of all the things that one’s shield had been comprised of for years. Forcing oneself to confront old pain untended for a decade and a half. Admitting that there was nothing that could have been done to save one’s loved ones. Giving up, finally, on changing what could never have been changed in the first place. It all hurt.
But then, so did lancing a wound.
‘It’s so hard to let go.’
Remus nodded again. Of course it was hard to let go of closely held memories of the people one had loved. Difficult to release the anger, because that would mean accepting they were dead and gone forever. Harder still to absolve oneself of the blame of not doing more to protect them. It was so very, very hard to lay their memories to rest.
‘Let them sleep, Sev.’
Severus drew in a deep breath and held it. When it finally left him on a long, slow sigh it took something with it. Something indefinable, something that had been weighing on his heart for a long time. In its wake, Severus’s body was more relaxed then it had been in years.
Chapter Fourteen: What’s in a name?
~ Below the darkened window, in a muggle street of London, an occasional car swished by, throwing up plumes of water that danced in the light of the street lamps. The odd pedestrian hurried on their way, collars turned high, umbrellas held low.
~ The window stood open to the fitful breeze that sporadically stirred the muggy air of the room. Somewhere in the distant, a bell tolled, marking the first hour of the new day. The breeze fitted again, stirring the curtains of the bed and rocking a white draped bassinette.
~ A weak cry rent the still air, quickly growing stronger.
~ The curtains about the bed wafted as a figure brushed past them, stumbling to the bassinette.
~ The raven-locked man leant into the crib and lifted out an equally dark haired child, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
~ ‘Ah, Harry,’ whispered the dark-velvet voice, ‘It’s one in the morning. You can’t possibly be hungry again.’
~ Gently hugging the weeks-old child to his chest, Severus moved to the bureau standing against the wall. Retrieving his wand, he muttered a quick spell to warm the bottle that held pride of place amongst the clutter lying there.
~ Harry still fretting in his arms, he scooped up the bottle and moved to stand in the paltry breeze by the window.
~ By the glow of the street lights below, he could see green eyes blinking up at him as his son latched greedily onto the bottle’s teat. One tiny hand worked its way free of the swaddling clothes and wrapped about Severus’s pinkie as he tilted the bottle up.
~ For a long time the only sound in the room was the gentle gurgling of the baby drinking.
~ When the last of the milk drained from the bottle, Severus set it down and raised the baby Harry to his shoulder to burp him. Rubbing the infant’s back, he moved to the bassinette to lay him down. But Harry began to fret again the moment his father’s hands left him.
~ Severus sighed, and lifted the child back into his arms. He held him close to his chest and rocked him.
~ ‘Shhhh shh shh shh,’ he murmured soothingly, ‘Shhh……..’
~ ‘You might try a lullaby,’ said a soft voice behind him.
~ Severus glanced up from his son and over his shoulder to see his husband slipping from their bed.
~ He looked back down at the fretting child in his arms, ‘I don’t know any.’
~ James stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms about Severus’s waist, under the bundle in his husband’s arms that was his son.
~ ‘That’s okay. I’ll teach you.’
~ James began to sway, taking his husband and son with him.
~ ‘Hush, little baby, don’t you cry,’ he began in a soft tenor, ‘Papa’s going to sing you a lullaby……..’
~ Soon enough, the bright green eyes drifted closed and Harry relaxed into a peaceful slumber.
~ ‘There, you see? He’s fast asleep now.’
~ Severus snorted softly, careful not to disturb his infant son and turned to lay him in the bassinette. James stopped him.
~ ‘Bring him back to bed with us. We’d just have to get up again anyway.’
~ As Severus and James returned to their bed, settling their newborn son between, someone stirred in a dark corner.
~ Harry felt himself lifting out of the memory as it ended, and he let the pensieve carry him to the surface, thrusting him into reality.
Harry blinked rapidly to adjust his eyesight to the brighter light of the summer afternoon. He set his pensieve aside and drew his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms about them. Idly, he began twisting his signet ring about his finger.
Ron and Hermione had left five days ago and Harry had spent the intervening days talking.
He talked to Albus Dumbledore who told him of his parents as students; about Severus’s thirst for learning and James’s fixation on Quidditch. The headmaster had told Harry about the adult Severus had become and the man James barely had a chance to be.
Harry spoke to Remus and the werewolf indulged him with stories of the friendship that had stood between the four of them: James, Severus, Lily and Remus, himself. He warily disclosed to Harry Severus’s reaction after the loss of his family and the depth of emotion and pain the man still harboured.
Harry had even talked a little to Madam Pomfery. The matron had regaled him with tales of the wounds both his fathers had managed to collect over the years……..
But mostly Harry talked to Severus.
The potions master had made himself scarce in the days immediately after the…….. discussion in the headmaster’s office. He had only reappeared as the carriage carrying Ron and Hermione had disappeared through the school gates, emerging from the darkened doorway to stand at Harry’s side as though nothing stood unresolved between them.
Standing there, on those sun-bathed steps, Severus had begun to talk. He didn’t look at Harry, and Harry never removed his eyes from the distant gates.
Severus spoke then of simple things, nothing too personal nor too raw. He told Harry of the first time he had flown a broom – and ended up stuck in the top of an old oak tree. He told him of the first potion he had ever made – a love philtre that had failed abysmally.
He told Harry to many things, none of which really mattered. Every word that left his mouth was safe – carefully planned. Harry had listened and offered a small smile when Severus was done.
The next day, in fashion almost too casual, Severus came upon Harry in the Astronomy Tower. They sat on opposite windowsills, staring at one another until Severus finally began to talk.
That day, he had ventured into more dangerous ground and told Harry of his childhood. About how the only male role model he had had, had been a hopeless, spineless romantic without the stomach to stand up to his wife and with the insight to understand his only child. About enduring a mother who only saw him as a prop, something to be exploited to her own ends.
Harry had retaliated in like form. He had told his father of the cupboard beneath the stairs that had been his home for so many years. He told him of the lies the Dursleys had fed him. He raged at his father for allowing him to be raised by people who hated everything he represented and resented the very air he breathed.
Severus had bowed his head and let Harry’s pain wash over him. When the rage had gone and only tears had remained, Severus had touched his son’s shoulder briefly and walked away.
When next they encountered one another, the following afternoon, Severus had told Harry of his first year at Hogwarts. Of the feeling of isolation when he had stood in the middle of the common room, surrounded by his housemates. He told Harry of the day he had wandered into a secluded corner of the library and finding a little muggle-born witch crying. He described the friendship that had developed between the pair and how elated he had been two years later to discover that that girl was actually his sister.
In his own turn, Harry told Severus of how the first friend he had ever had had been Hagrid at the age of eleven. He told the potions master of the wonder he had felt at entering the wizarding world, seeing things that until then had been beyond his wildest imaginings. Harry had even found the courage to tell his father what he had never told his best friends: that the Sorting Hat had considered him for Slytherin.
Severus had smirked at that, pleased to hear that Harry had inherited some of his Slytherin traits.
Just yesterday, Severus had begun to tell Harry of his dad and his aunt. He told Harry of some of the pranks James had pulled on him in their earlier schooling years and revenges he had taken. He told Harry of the more subtle practical jokes they had teamed up to pull on the other Marauders in their seventh year. He told Harry about Lily trying to mother them both and of her devotion to her family.
He had painted such vivid pictures of them both that Harry began to feel that he actually knew them. He had only listened, not talking at all that day.
But in all the hours they spent talking, they never once touched upon the subject of what was to come. That first morning they had come to some unspoken agreement that they would deal with the future only when it arrived on their doorstep. For now, they ignored it in favour of attempting to compensate for the common past they lacked.
They hadn’t spoken yet today. Instead, Harry had taken the pensieve he hadn’t touched since that first night and sat on the shores of the lake, sifting through the memories within.
Harry wrapped his arms tighter about his knees. He thought that perhaps now he was ready to accept that he had a father, alive and well and willing.
Without turning his head, Harry spoke.
‘What should I call you?’
Severus stepped away from the tree he had been propping up and moved forward to stand at Harry’s shoulder. He considered for a moment, then slanted a look down at the boy.
‘Anything but “Daddy”.’
Harry tilted his head meet the gaze turned down to him. He grinned slyly, ‘*Anything*?’
Severus realised the mistake he had made but the glare he bent on Harry was a pale imitation of what he was truly capable of, ‘Within reason.’
‘Ah!’ Harry grinned up at him, then turned to look out over the lake again, thinking, ‘Not “Father”, if you don’t mind. It’s too…….. stilted for my tastes.’
He dug a pebble from beneath his thigh and skipped across the placid waters.
‘And not “Dad” either,’ Harry looked down, fiddling with his ring, ‘No offence, but it deosn’t really suit you……’ Harry trailed off rather lamely, still twisting the ring.
Severus folded his arms across his chest and watched an eagle swoop above the forest. He murmured absently, ‘James was “Dad” to you.’
Harry looked up, startled, ‘Huh? I was talking?’
His eyes still following the dive of the distant eagle, Severus nodded, ‘Remarkably well for your age. Something,’ – he smirked – ‘I’m sure can be attributed to my blood.’
Harry smirked at his father’s small conceit. The expression faded as a thought occurred to him.
‘What did I call you?’
Severus drew his back to look down at Harry, opening his mouth to reply.
But before the answer ever left his tongue, Harry – with some flash of inexplicable insight – knew the answer already and pronounced the word with him:
Severus’s eyes widened, ‘You remember?’
Harry shook his head, then shrugged, looking just as startled as his father, ‘I don’t know. It’s just…….. That *is* what I called you isn’t it?’
Severus inclined his head slightly, ‘It is, but for you to remember……..’
He shook himself lightly and turned his attention back to the far shore in time to see the eagle soaring away with something dangling from its talons, ‘ “Pater” is latin for father. We could never figure out where you got it from.’
Harry nodded, although he had no idea what he was nodding at. They lapsed back into silence, each thinking their own thoughts as their shadows lengthened to the east. It is hard to say whether or not they would be surprised to know that their thoughts travelled along surprisingly similar lines.
The sun dancing of the water and directly into Harry’s eyes was what induced him back to movement. He released his knees and attempted to stand. Unfortunately, he had been sitting in one position too long and his legs had fallen asleep on him. He fell back on his butt.
Severus turned to look at him when the sudden movement and soft thump attracted his attention. He chuckled at the sight of his thoroughly annoyed son.
Harry glared up at him, his mouth twisting wryly, ‘Yeah yeah, very funny, Pater,’ he threw out a hand, ‘Now help me up.’
Severus froze in the middle of a breath. Harry had said it. He had called him “Pater”. Some tight anxiety deep inside him that he had refused to acknowledge let go. It was amazing how so small a gesture could mean so much.
He grasped his son’s hand and pulled him up. And to his side, enveloping him in a one armed embrace. Harry stiffened against his side, but before Severus could release him, he relaxed again and actually leant into the hug.
When they pulled apart, neither looked at the other. Severus set off immediately for the castle, and – pausing only briefly to scoop up his pensieve – Harry followed behind.