The Blood Connection (Part 3/3)
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Fifteen: If you go down the Alley today……..
It was, now, only four days before the students returned to Hogwarts for the new school year. This, in and of itself, presented Harry and Severus with problems. Such as: how was Dumbledore going to announce that Harry was Professor Snape’s son? And: what would the reaction be? Would the students turn on Harry? What of the children of the Death Eaters?
Of course, that was still four days in the future, and Harry was still living by the philosophy that only one day should be lived at a time. Unfortunately, this day presented Harry with a problem of a more immediate nature.
Hence the reason Harry was standing rather tentatively in the door of his father’s rooms, trying to gain his attention. The occupants of the two chairs before the hearth looked up from their already disjointed conversation.
Harry shifted his weight. For all that he had been getting to better know his father in the last month, he hadn’t really *asked* the man for anything yet. And that was presenting a problem right now. He decided to try an oblique approach.
‘School begins in four days…….’
Remus, it seemed, knew precisely what Harry was talking about, but he wasn’t about to clue his friend in.
‘I am quite aware of that fact,’ Severus leant back in his chair and lazily crossed one leg over the other.
Harry nodded and Severus sighed. It wasn’t like Harry to be so timid around him any more. Not, he had to admit, that Harry had ever been *timid* in his presence in the first place.
‘What I am not aware of is why you find it necessary to inform me of this?’
Remus’s eyes twinkled. He was enjoying this. It was quite apparent that Severus had no idea what Harry wanted, and equally clear that Harry wasn’t comfortable asking for it.
When Harry didn’t reply, only shifted his weight again, causing Severus to scowl, Remus decided to take pity on them both.
‘I think what Harry is trying to suggest, Severus, is that it might just be useful for him to obtain the materials he will be needing for his sixth year,’ Remus hinted broadly.
Severus blinked at the werewolf. He looked at his son, who nodded.
‘Oh for– ! Harry, why didn’t you just say so?’ Severus stood up, ‘I’ll take you to Diagon Alley today. You have your booklist I presume?’
He nodded sharply as Harry flourished the piece of parchment and headed for the door, Harry trailing after.
Remus hastily stood up as well, ‘*We* will take you to Diagon Alley.’
When Severus turned to look at him, he chided, ‘Remember the agreement you made with Dumbledore.’
Severus snorted, but gestured with rather ill grace for Remus to follow along if he so wished.
Harry was sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, waiting for his father and Remus to emerge from the mouth of Knockturn Alley across the way. Severus had refused to allow Harry to accompany them to the apothecary where the potions master obtained his more rare ingredients. Since Remus had heartily agreed to this sentiment, Harry was stuck – quite cheerfully – eating a sundae.
Florean Fortescue himself was hovering as inconspicuously as he could in the background. An old friend of Remus’s, he had agreed to keep an eye on Harry whilst the werewolf and professor were in the dark Alley.
Harry would have resented the hovering presence if he could have been bothered. What possible trouble could he get up to sitting waiting patiently for his father’s return? The Death Eaters weren’t about to attack in the middle of the crowded Diagon Alley. He believed he was quite old enough to take care of himself at times like this.
This all would have annoyed him to no end, if – as mentioned earlier – he could be bothered. Right now, though, he was simply too grateful to be sitting down, his purchases piled around him.
His books had been simple and straightforward to purchase. Harry would have much preferred everything else had gone the same way……..
When they had stepped from the Floo network into the Leaky Cauldron earlier that morning, Severus had taken over. He had swept through the crowds towards Gringotts Bank, leaving Remus and Harry to struggle after him through his wake.
When Harry had gone to present his key to the bank’s goblins, Severus had slapped his hand aside, growling at him. Harry had shot him a startled glance, which he had ignored. Remus had leant over Harry’s shoulder to whisper, ‘I think he wishes to pay for your things himself……..’
First stop after Gringotts had been Flourish and Blotts. The ease with which his books had been purchased had lulled Harry into a false sense of security. This had quickly been banished as they had stepped back out into the Alley. Harry had immediately moved to gaze in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, admiring the display with Remus. He quickly discovered that it wasn’t much fun to gossip about the latest brooms and who had won the last match when the surly professor who just so happens to be your father is glaring daggers into your back.
Severus had led his two companions to the apothecary next, possibly Harry’s least favourite store in the entire Alley. Hoping to be in and out of the awful stench as quickly as possible, Harry had rushed about, snatching the various ingredients from the shelves. Severus had taken all the bottles and packets from Harry’s arms and returned every one of them, leaving Harry and Remus gaping at him. Then he slowly made his way about the store, selecting only those items that passed his scrutiny.
By the time he was done, Harry had only the finest of every item on his list and a fair few that weren’t on it in the first place. His father maintained that it was essential to have a well-stocked supply of potions’ ingredients, and that no self-respecting potion maker would ever be caught without these items.
Remus had sucked exaggerated gulps of air to clear his lungs once they left the apothecary. Harry grinned, silently agreeing with his sentiments. Severus had glared at the werewolf and swept on his way to the next store. Harry had started to follow, only to be jerked sideways not five steps later. Remus had pulled him into a joke store and the pair quickly immersed themselves in scanning the shelves.
Harry had just picked up a trick hat that turned the wearer’s hair any one of a dozen colours when it was plucked from his hands and returned to its place. A dark voice at his shoulder had said, ‘I will not allow you to fritter away money on such idiotic amusements.’ With a glare at the grinning werewolf and a hand at Harry’s back, Severus had propelled him from the store.
The rest of the trip about Diagon Alley had gone in much the same fashion: Severus being fast and efficient, Remus taking the opportunity to indulge in his Marauder instincts, and Harry caught somewhere in between, weighed down by mounting purchases.
The most torturous moments, however, had come in Madam Malkin’s robe shop. It seemed Severus was intent on providing his son with an entire wardrobe of new robes. Never much of a clotheshorse in the first place, Harry quickly grew heartily sick of being measured and pricked, changing from one style to the next in a veritable rainbow of colours.
Remus had found the entire situation extremely amusing until Severus had rounded on him and demanded he select new robes as well.
Quite statisfied with the selections he had approved, Severus had purchased the lot and once more led a now drooping pair into the Alley.
By then, Harry had all he required and then some. He had only been too happy to remain, slurping on his sundae as Remus accompanied his father into the notorious Knockturn Alley.
Harry was just licking his spoon cleaning of the final mouthful of ice-cream and beginning to wonder what had become of Remus and his father when he was hailed from across the street.
He looked up to see Justin Finch-Fletchley, a Hufflepuff in his year, hurrying through the crowds towards him. He didn’t know whether to groan or grin. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the Hufflepuff. On the one hand, he was a nice enough boy; pleasant and well liked by his housemates. But then, he *was* a Hufflepuff – they all liked everyone. On the other hand, Justin had been certain that Harry was out to kill him in their second year, and he had been one of the first to shun Harry come fourth year and the Triwizard Tournament. Harry simply couldn’t make up his mind about this boy.
But Harry was starting to get bored and if Justin was feeling friendly towards him today, he wasn’t going to turn him away.
‘Hello Justin,’ Harry cleared his parcels off one of the chairs opposite him. Justin plonked himself down and grinned at Harry. Harry smiled back.
‘How’s your summer been?’
‘It was –’ Harry caught himself just in time. It would never do tell a member of the same house as Cedric Diggory that he had had the best – if somewhat shocking and confusing – summer ever. He finished lamely instead: ‘OK. Yours?’
‘Oh brilliant,’ gushed Justin, ‘I spent a week with my friend Ernie. It was the first time I’d ever been in a wizarding home!
‘But it’ll be good to get back to school and see everybody else.’
Harry declined to mention that he had already been back at Hogwarts for most of the summer, and quite frankly wouldn’t mind seeing the back of it for a while.
Justin glanced about, seeming to realize only then that Harry was quite unusually alone.
‘Ron and Hermione aren’t here?’
‘No,’ Harry only just managed to stop himself rolling his eyes. No wonder his father professed to like Hufflepuffs the least of all the houses. They seemed to have a special talent for stating the obvious.
Justin was looking just a little confused, ‘Don’t you usually spend the last week of holidays with Ron’s family?’
Harry smirked, ‘Not this summer.’
Now Justin seemed utterly baffled, ‘Then how did you get to Diagon Alley?’
Harry couldn’t resist. It had to be worth it just to see the look on Justin’s face.
‘Professor Snape brought me.’
Justin slanted him a sarcastic look as if to say, pull the other one.
‘I’m quite serious,’ Harry stated.
Justin blinked. His eyes grew rounder and rounder as he realized Harry was telling the truth. His mouth worked furiously, but no sound came out.
Just as it looked Justin had finally regained control of his vocal cords, another, far less welcome voice intruded.
‘Well, well. If it isn’t the infamous brat, Potter. And……..’ the voice paused and took on a sneering tone, ‘…….. Finch-Fletchley, is it? The mudblood?’
Harry turned to glare at the true bane of his existence – one Draco Malfoy – but not before he caught the hurt look in Justin’s eyes. To be called a mudblood was a serious insult and not a very subtle one.
‘Malfoy. You seem to have wandered into the wrong Alley. You’ll find the entrance to Knockturn Alley over there,’ Harry lifted an imperious finger and pointed across the way. He was rather surprised at himself. It seemed he was more like Severus than he had thought. Insults and sarcasm weren’t traits people usually inherited from their fathers, but it looked like Harry just might have. He let his finger drop and turned away from the blonde boy, ‘I’m sure it will be much more to your liking. The…….. individuals…….. that lurk there are exactly your type.’
As both Draco and Harry had been down that Alley, they *both* knew what type of slimy, low, and altogether vile characters frequented Diagon Alley’s dark neighbour. Harry saw Draco’s hands clench at his sides. He was disappointed when Draco gained control of himself and ignored Harry’s insult. Instead, he decided to jibe at Harry himself.
‘I see your fan club isn’t with you – you haven’t been ditched, have you?
Harry raised a brow at him; ‘I hardly see what concern it is of yours.’
Draco snickered, ‘The mudblood and the Weasel have finally seen through you, have they? Ah, what a pity you are not even worthy of the company of social outcasts.’
Harry’s brow lowered and it was all he could do to prevent himself from scowling at the insult to his friends. Justin had faded into the background, forgotten by the arch rivals. Draco snickered again.
‘Don’t tell me you can’t stick up for yourself Potter?’
Harry didn’t reply. Draco perched a hand at his hip, affecting a stance of casualness; ‘It makes me wonder what kind of man your father must have been to spawn such a spineless waste as you.’
Harry’s brow rose again. Draco had just unwittingly insulted his favourite teacher. It was priceless.
‘You’d be surprised what kind of man my father is.’
Draco was so put off by the smirk that accompanied Harry’s reply that he failed to notice the present tense. Harry didn’t give him the chance to recover his equilibrium.
‘If you *must* know Malfoy, I’m not here alone at all,’ Harry’s smirk turned positively gleeful, ‘I’m here with my f-’
Remus’s voice made itself heard across the hubbub of the crowd, riding over the rest of Harry’s sentence. His attention was diverted away from Draco and into the street. Remus was struggling towards them through the crowd. Behind him, Severus gilded along as though there were no obstructions. It was a curious thing, but people seemed to instinctively move clear of the dark man’s path.
Draco quit his seething long enough to turn too. He ignored the presence of Remus entirely, latching on to the sight of his favourite and – as far as his knowledge went – Harry’s most despised teacher fast approaching. He had time before Severus arrived at their position to throw a final smirk at Harry.
Harry saw the self-satisfied smirk Draco threw at him and was hard pressed not to smirk back. His father had told him just the last week that he had no great affection for the Malfoy scion. He despised the unfounded arrogance of the boy. If Harry wasn’t mistaken, now that Severus didn’t have to play a role any longer, Draco was in for a shock when he was suddenly treated no better and perhaps even worse than all the other students were.
Draco stepped forward to greet his head of house.
‘Professor Snape. I’ve been looking forward to a return to-’
Harry was hard put not to laugh at the expression on Draco’s face when Severus looked down his nose at the boy and cut him off with a barely civil, ‘Malfoy.’
From the corner of his eye, Harry could see Justin gaping at the scene before him. He caught the Hufflepuff’s eye and winked. Justin blinked at him and Harry smiled, rolling his eyes in Draco’s direction. Justin smiled back.
Draco looked rather miffed at being so casually dismissed by the head of Slytherin. Harry smirked now as his father turned to him.
‘If you are quite ready, Mister Potter,’ he didn’t quite snap.
Harry nodded and, with a hand from Remus, gathered up his many parcels.
‘See you when you get back to school, Justin.’
Justin waved him off and Harry threw one last smirk in Draco’s direction before following after the already retreating figures of Severus and Remus.
He quickly caught up to the pair and insinuated himself at his father’s side. Remus had lagged behind slightly, burdened as he was with the heaviest of the purchases. Harry noted that his father carried only a small, tightly wrapped package he presumed contained the rare ingredients he had ventured into Knockturn Alley after.
‘About that……..’ he said, shifting the parcels in his arms.
Severus didn’t look at him as he replied, ‘About *what*?’
‘You calling me Mr. Potter all the time……..’
Severus looked down at his son now, ‘Harry, I’m not about to start calling you by your first name in class……..’
Harry rolled his eyes and received a mild glare for it.
‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘Then what *did* you mean?’ Severus sighed long-sufferingly.
‘I meant I’m not sure I want to be just plain Harry *Potter* any more.’
Severus actually missed a stride as he looked down at Harry in surprise.
Harry blithely continued as though he hadn’t just shocked his father, ‘I mean, it’s not really a true reflection of who I am, is it?’
He received no reply, so he continued talking, ‘I was thinking I should change my name to Snape-Potter, or maybe Potter-Snape,’ he slanted a look up at his father, ‘Which do you think sounds better?’
Remus stepped up and into the conversation then, ‘I like Potter-Snape. Harry James Potter-Snape.’
Severus seemed to have recovered enough to say, ‘Harry James *Severus*.’
This comment diverted Harry’s attention briefly; ‘I have *two* middle names?’
He shook himself then, ‘But you still haven’t said which name sounds better……..’
They were still discussing which name Harry should take when they stepped through the Floo network into Dumbledore’s office. Severus was in fact saying:
‘…….. Snape-Potter. I refuse to acknowledge a son with the name Harry James Severus Potter-Snape. It’s too unwieldy……..’ His mouth snapped shut on the end of his comment as the three of them turned and caught sight of Dumbledore’s desk.
Dumbledore was sitting behind it, that trademark benign smile on his lips, his eyes twinkling over time. But that wasn’t what caused Severus’s abrupt halt or the sudden pallors on Harry and Remus’s faces.
The cause of the trio’s more than considerable apprehension was just now standing up from a chair on the nearer side of the desk, horrified realization and black rage dawning on his face.
That man, as Murphy’s Law would have it, was Sirius Black.
Chapter Sixteen: Words spoken out of order
Harry had the insane urge to step back into the Floo network and let it spit him wherever it would. Surely that place – even if it were Voldemort’s own living room – would be better than where he was right now. A glance back at Dumbledore’s fireplace vetoed that option: the flames had already subsided back to their normal red dance and there wasn’t a pot of Floo powder in sight.
With great dread, and no little wishing the floor would somehow open up and swallow him whole, Harry turned back to the scene before him.
Dumbledore was *still* smiling and his eyes were *still* twinkling, hands calmly folded on the desk. Harry didn’t understand how he could be so relaxed at a time like this. Surely he could see murder – or at least grievous bodily harm – was about to be committed.
Remus had a rather panicked expression on his face that would have been amusing under any circumstances but these. He was clutching his parcels to him as though considering whether or not to duck behind them and try to pretend he wasn’t there.
In front of Harry, Severus had retreated behind his mask again. He was standing stiff and erect, no expression on his face. The only sign Harry could see that he was at all fazed by the situation was the white of his knuckles wrapped about his small parcel.
Sirius had taken an aggressive stance in front Dumbledore’s desk and Harry knew it was only a matter of time before he did something he – or if not him, everybody else – would regret.
‘What are you talking about Snape?’ he snarled, managing to sound remarkably like Padfoot, ‘What the *hell* is going on here?’
In a manner Harry could tell was simply going to inflame his godfather, Severus ignored Sirius completely in favour of addressing Dumbledore in a falsely indifferent tone of voice, ‘Some warning would have been nice, Albus.’
‘As Harry’s godfather, Sirius doesn’t deserve to find out from some article in the “Daily Prophet” that is at best only half-truth,’ smiled Dumbledore.
Harry hadn’t seen his godfather this mad since he had first meet him and Sirius had had Wormtail in his sights. Sirius took a belligerent step towards Severus.
‘Find out *what* exactly?’
Severus turned disdainful eyes on Sirius.
‘And here I thought you had been listening before, Black. Or does it go in one floppy black ear and straight out the other?’ Severus smirked when Sirius growled, and Harry almost groaned. His father was having altogether too much fun baiting his godfather.
‘Just answer the question, Snape: Find out *what*?’
Remus was inching his way towards the centre of the room. Harry realised he was attempting to put himself in a position to intervene if the two antagonists suddenly went for each other’s throats. It didn’t look like that moment would be far off as Severus answered.
‘That Harry is my son, of course.’
Sirius took another menacing step toward Severus and Remus edged a little closer to the pair, ‘Lying bastard. James is Harry’s father.’
Harry cast a pleading glance at Dumbledore, hoping the headmaster would intervene before his godfather could kill his father, or vice versa. Dumbledore saw him looking and cast him a wink. It didn’t look like the old wizard had any intention of stepping in. Harry supposed he shouldn’t be surprised: The headmaster knew they had intended to return via his grate and had probably engineered the entire encounter.
Still clutching his parcel in one hand, Severus crossed his arms, ‘Indeed.’
Sirius took several quick paces toward Severus, ending up not a foot from him, snarling into his face, ‘What’s that meant to mean, you slimy git?’
A black brow rose, ‘I was merely agreeing with you.’
This threw Sirius off balance, and Severus used his confused silence to step around him and approach Dumbledore’s desk. He set his parcel carefully down and leant forward over the surface.
‘I don’t appreciate your interference in my private life at the best of times Albus, but this time-’
He never finished his sentence. Sirius had recovered more quickly than expected and had stormed up behind Severus. Before Harry or Remus could do anything he caught Severus’s shoulder, whipped him around and sucker punched him in the jaw.
Remus and Harry dropped their burdens – it was only fortune that nothing broke – raced several paces forward, then stopped, unsure of what to do. Dumbledore had stood up abruptly as Severus fell back over his desk.
Severus rubbed at the trickle of blood sliding down his chin from his split lip. It wasn’t often that someone managed to take him by surprise. He stood up from his sprawl slowly and somewhat warily.
Sirius was flexing his bruised knuckles, ‘I don’t know exactly what you did to James and Lily, Snape, but you sure as hell deserved that.’
Severus laughed, shortly and bitterly, ‘For perhaps the first time in your miserable life, I think you might be right, Black.’
Harry, Remus and Sirius gaped at him, but for different reasons. Severus worked his jaw a moment, insuring that nothing was broken. Once certain it would be fine after the application of a healing salve he had, he crossed his arms again and scowled at Sirius, ‘But not, I would imagine, for the reasons you feel I deserve it.’
Sirius made to slam his fist into Severus’s face again, but Remus latched onto his wrist, preventing the blow. Sirius shook him off and glared at him. Remus took a step backwards at the menace in that look. Sirius turned to confront Severus again, but kept his fists at his sides. His voice, however, spat venom.
‘You don’t think you deserve worse than that for raping Lily, you low-down, evil son-of-a-bitch?’
Dumbledore very casually pulled his chair out of the line of fire and sat back down, his expression clouded and unreadable. Remus flinched at Sirius’s accusation. Harry gasped and stepped forward. He laid a hand on Sirius’s arm and spoke for the first time since this whole episode had begun. Sirius’s harsh expression softened a little as he canted his gaze to his godson.
‘Sirius, it wasn’t like that. If you’d-’
‘Harry, leave it,’ Severus interrupted and Sirius returned to glaring at him.
Harry’s grip tightened on Sirius’s arm, and he too turned to Severus, ‘But Pater, he-’
Sirius exploded again, rounding on Harry and causing the boy to stumble as the arm he was clutching was forcefully ripped from his grasp. Harry shrank away from his livid godfather, shocked at the rage directed at him.
‘*Pater*?’ Sirius spat, ‘You don’t actually *accept* him, do you Harry? Tell me you don’t *believe* his lies! For godsakes, Harry, the bastard’s a Death-!’
From behind Sirius, whispering through his tirade, came the incantation ‘Stupefy’. Sirius froze mid-rant and swayed on his unresponsive feet. Harry caught him before he fell and lowered him into the chair Dumbledore obligingly conjured.
When Sirius was safely down and Harry could look up, Severus still had his wand trained on the animagus. Severus moved to the foot of the chair and gently pushed Harry out of the way. Harry stepped backward until he was standing beside Remus. When Harry looked at him, the werewolf was pale and looking rather ill. Harry turned away again.
Severus was leaning over the frozen Sirius, glaring him directly in the still moving eyes, ‘If you *ever* treat my son like that again, you’d better hope I never find out about it. If I do, you’ll be cursing the day your useless father ever met your mother.’
Dire threat delivered, Severus straightened. He stood over the prone animagus, arms crossed and wand still at the ready.
‘I hope your hearing has miraculously improved, Black, because I’m only going to explain once.
‘I did not rape Lily,’ Severus bent at the waist, bringing his face closer to Sirius’s, ‘And do you know *why* I did not rape her?’ the voice took on a distinct hissing aspect, ‘Because that would be incest.’
Severus waited until Sirius’s eyes widened before straightening again. A thread of satisfaction entered his voice as he continued, ‘Yes, that’s right, Black, Lily was my sister.’
From the position he stood, Harry couldn’t read the expressions in his godfather’s eyes. Looking at Remus and Dumbledore, he realised neither of them could either: They were both watching Severus’s face for clues.
The wand began to tap in Severus’s hand, ‘Now you’re wondering how it is that I could be Harry’s father if I never laid a hand on Lily. If you’d ever thought to use that minuscule excuse for a brain the gods cursed you with, you’d realise that Lily was only ever Harry’s *aunt*, not his *mother*.’
Harry wanted to interfere, wanted to stop his father acting like this. Remus read his intentions however and stayed him with a hand on his arm. When Harry looked up at him, he just shook his head and turned back to Severus and Sirius.
Sirius was obviously struggling against the spell restraining him. He actually managed to break it enough to spit ‘You unholy bastard. What did you do James’s family?’
Severus brought his wand around and down, renewing his spell. For most outward appearances, he was totally unaffected by Sirius’s attacks on him, but Harry noticed the white of his knuckles and the faint tremor in the hand.
Severus’s voice remained steady long enough to say, ‘You’re stronger than I gave you credit for, Black.’
He stopped and took several calming breaths before continuing. But even then, his control had slipped enough that he leant forward, right into Sirius’s face and seethed, ‘I *was* James’s family, you mangy excuse for an asshole.’
As he had leant forward, his wedding band had slipped from within his robes and now hung dangling in Sirius’s face. Severus saw the other man looking at it. He turned it so Sirius could see the inscription on the inside, but felt no satisfaction when Sirius’s eyes widened in shock this time. He felt only weary. He stood up again, tucking the ring away.
‘That’s right, Black. James was my husband. Harry is our son. Lily was only ever covering for us because she was my sister,’ he turned away from Sirius then and addressed Dumbledore, ‘If that will be all, Albus……..’
He didn’t wait for a reply, just plucked up his parcel from the desk and swept by Harry and Remus and out of the room.
Remus and Dumbledore stared after him, features set in rather startled expressions. Harry divided his attention between the empty doorway and his godfather. Sirius was still stiff upon the chair and Harry realised after a moment that it was because he was still under the effects of Severus’s spell.
Harry turned back to the empty doorway again, still trying to figure out what exactly had just happened. He began to check the points off against mental fingers:
They had returned from Diagon Alley, discussing changing Harry’s name. His father had inadvertently announced to his godfather his true parentage. Severus had ignored Sirius, inflaming him yet further. Severus had quite frankly told Sirius the truth. Sirius had all but decked Severus. Severus – for some yet to be fathomed reason – had felt he had deserved it. Sirius had made the same accusation that Harry had originally made. Harry tried to correct him and Sirius had rounded on him. Severus had intervened, casting a Stupefy on the animagus for daring to yell at *his* son. Severus told his literally captive audience that Lily was his sister and only Harry’s aunt. Sirius regained enough control of his mouth to accuse Severus of interfering with James’s family, then……..
Harry realised he had run out of fingers and was still no closer to figuring out what had happened, other than that the truth had been broken to Sirius in a rather brutal manner. There had been no sugar coating in sight. Severus had dished up the bare bones of the situation to spell-held Sirius and then swept out……..
Leaving his son, his friend and his headmaster to deal with Sirius’s reaction.
Harry dragged his eyes from the empty door and turned to look at his bound godfather again. The only part of him that moved was his eyes. They darted and flexed, glaring and staring alternatively. Harry lifted his own and looked at the headmaster.
Dumbledore met his gaze and read the half-accusation, half-question there. He answered it.
‘It had to be done.’
Instead of responding Harry looked back down at Sirius. He felt Remus turn from the door at his shoulder and look down at his old friend too. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Dumbledore raise his wand and utter the words, ‘Finite Incantatem.’
Sirius’s body immediately relaxed from its previous stiff pose, but other than that Sirius himself didn’t move for a long moment. When he did, he sat up and looked only at Dumbledore.
‘That’s what you summoned me for, Albus?’
Dumbledore nodded, ‘Yes, I felt you –’
‘I wish you hadn’t.’
Harry flinched, and at his side, he felt Remus do the same.
Sirius stood up, ‘I’ll leave now if you don’t require me for anything.’
Dumbledore nodded rather sadly, ‘If that is what you wish,’ Sirius nodded once, shortly, ‘Then I only ask that you return in a week’s time. I believe I will have something to discuss with you.’
Sirius nodded again and turned to Harry, ‘Harry you’re still my godson and I still love you.’
Harry shuddered a little. He had been so worried that Sirius would reject him because of who his father was.
‘Thankyou,’ he whispered.
Sirius pulled Harry roughly into his arms and embraced him gruffly. Then he set his godson away from him, ‘I’ll owl you, okay.’
Harry nodded. Sirius nodded once more to Dumbledore and started for the door.
Remus pivoted on his heel, following his friend with his eyes. When Sirius started through the door, still without acknowledging him, Remus spoke.
Sirius stiffened in the doorway, but didn’t turn. Harry seriously thought he was going to walk on without replying. Remus obviously thought so too, because his face began to collapse.
But then Sirius turned his head a little and said only, ‘I’m not ready to talk to you yet, Remus.’
That said, he walked through the door and down the stairs.
Remus’s face, which had stayed its collapse when Sirius had begun to speak, fell completely.
Chapter Seventeen: Ancient gods from distant lands
As he pounded down the halls, Severus was well aware that he had left the animagus still stupefied. For all he cared the mutt could stay that way indefinitely.
Severus was breathing heavily, all out of proportion with the energy he had expended. The last time he had been this angry had been the night James and Lily had died, that Halloween almost fourteen years ago.
Severus had promised himself that he would try to deal with Sirius for Harry’s sake.
He had failed miserably.
He simply could not move beyond his own dislike and mistrust of the man. Ever since their first day at school, Sirius had pitted himself against Severus, seeming to believe that as a Gryffindor, he required an enemy in Slytherin. In every prank that Sirius and his friends had pulled on Severus, his intent had seemed especially malicious.
If it had never gone beyond that, Severus could readily have survived. But then had come the incident with the Whomping Willow. Severus had nearly died as a result of that ‘prank’ instigated by Black. If James hadn’t saved him, Severus would not have survived that night and his blood would have been on the hands of Remus. Black hadn’t even stopped to consider the possible consequences of his actions: he could have landed one of his best friends in Azkaban before they ever graduated.
In the years after, Severus had learnt to tolerate the mention of his name, if only for the sakes of James and Lily. Remus, he had come to like over time, but he had never even attempted to like Black, even though he had been James’s best friend. James had always loved Sirius like a brother but had never found the words to tell him that he was gay.
James had once gathered the courage to tell Sirius of his sexual preference, but had backed off when Sirius had made some poorly thought-out derogatory remark about homosexuals. After that, James had drawn away from Sirius, but Black had never noticed. He had been oblivious to the distance that now stood between James and himself.
Severus could see how lying to his best friend was hurting James, and he blamed only Sirius for it. And this only served to anger Severus more. But he had always tolerated Black’s existence because James still loved him regardless.
Then had come the blow that Severus could never forgive.
James and Lily had chosen Sirius to be their Secret Keeper and Severus had conceded, deciding to trust in his husband’s judgement of his best friend.
There was nothing he regretted more. When he had arrived at Godric’s Hollow that Halloween night to find nothing left, he had vowed to kill Black if he ever layed hands on him again. He had desperately wanted to feel the man’s windpipe collapse under his bare hands.
Sick of storming through the halls, Severus stopped in a window aperture. He braced his hands against the cold stone, hoping in vain that it would cool his hot rage.
Even years later when Sirius was proven to be innocent of dealing James and Lily death, Severus could not bring himself to forgive him. It didn’t matter to Severus that Black hadn’t directly betrayed them: he had been the one to convince them to make Pettigrew their Secret Keeper in his place, and in Severus’s eyes, that made Black as guilty as if he had cast the killing curse himself. How anyone could ask Severus to forgive Black when he couldn’t even forgive himself was beyond his comprehension.
Intellectually, Severus knew he was being unjust, but he simply didn’t care. James and Lily and Harry had meant the world to him, and in one fell swoop, Fate and Sirius Black had conspired to take them away from him.
And simply to add insult to already grievous injury, when Harry had found out that Sirius hadn’t been James and Lily’s Secret Keeper, the man had taken the place in Harry’s life that was rightfully Severus’s: He became the only father figure Harry knew. Severus had hated the fact that throughout Harry’s fourth year, the boy had been communicating with Black, turning to him for advice. And then to see his son taking comfort from the great mangy mutt lying on his hospital bed after the Tournament, and knowing that that mutt was really Black……..
One hand balled into a fist on the cold stone of the windowsill. Severus had thought he would take great delight in rubbing Black’s face in the fact that Harry was *his* son when he finally found out. All it had done was stir up feelings of anger and regret he would have rathered leave alone.
Beyond the warm glass, bounding down the lawn, Severus saw a great black dog retreating from the castle. He smiled, rather grimly. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with Sirius again any time soon, if ever again. Now that Black had been told, Severus intended to keep himself as far away from the animagus as possible.
If he could, he would even have considered denying Harry the right to see him. But he knew he couldn’t: as much as he hated it, Black was Harry’s godfather and that was the way James had wanted it. He could only be satisfied with keeping his own distance.
In a deep pocket of his robes, nestled against his ribs, the tightly wrapped parcel shifted and Severus placed a soothing hand on it. It seemed the spell had worn off. And damn Black for that as well. Now he had to search out his son instead of having the boy with him in the first place.
‘Harry, what do you think you are doing up there?’
Harry looked up to see his father cautiously approaching the low wall that bounded the top of the tower on which Severus had finally found him. Harry was sitting in one of the large crenellations, tucked up with his feet braced against the stone work of one side and his back braced against the other.
‘Thinking,’ Harry shrugged.
‘What is so particular about *there* that you would chose it to think from?’ Severus inquired from the exact centre of the tower top where he had retreated.
Harry stared at him, then laughed in realisation, ‘You don’t like heights.’
Severus drew his already erect self stiffly up right, ‘I have nothing at all against heights,’ his shoulders sagged ever so slightly, ‘Provided I am at the bottom of them. Now get down from that ridiculously precarious position and come over here. I have something to show you.’
Severus gestured at a small, elaborately carved casket that floated on the air behind him. Harry hadn’t noticed it previously. He slipped from the wall and padded over to his father.
‘What is it?’
‘Something I was fortunate enough to pick up in Knockturn Alley,’ Severus levitated the casket to chest height in front of him and flipped open the lid, obscuring Harry’s view of the contents, ‘I hope you have not been neglecting your language skills.’
Harry thought it odd for his father to make such a comment. It had even sounded…….. strange……..
It was only when Harry saw what Severus lifted from the casket that he realised his father hadn’t been speaking English……..
‘You’re a Parselmouth too!’ he exclaimed.
Severus was holding in either arm two snakes that were far too big to have emerged from a casket no bigger than Harry’s two fists. At least, Harry thought they were snakes. They were certainly the most unusual specimens Harry had ever seen. They were as long as Severus’s hand and forearm. Their heads and first third of their lengths were covered in bright plumage, one in shades of blue and purple, the other in shades on red and gold. Most unusually of all, from the midst of the plumage sprouted wings.
Banishing the casket with a thought, Severus turned and slanted Harry a sarcastic look, ‘Where did you think you had gotten it from?’
‘Well…….. Dumbledore said that it was because Voldemort transferred some his own powers to me,’ Harry went almost crossed eyed in a vain attempt to see his mouth. The words had come out in a series of sibilants hisses and Harry realised he had unconsciously spoken in Parseltongue.
Severus was completely unfazed by the language. He snorted, ‘And you swallowed that pap?’
Harry bristled in his own defence, ‘Well it’s not exactly like I knew who my father was.’
Severus paused for a moment before responding, ‘Touche.’
The purple and blue plumage snake reared its head from Severus’s arm. It’s tongue flickered and it spoke in a distinctly feminine tone, ‘Asss entertaining asss thisss isss, Ssseverusss……..’
Harry hastily stifled a snicker. A snake had just told his father off.
Severus glared down at the snake wrapped about his left forearm, ‘I was *about* to introduce you, you impatient little reptile.’
The tongue flickered again, and if snakes could smile, Harry would have sworn this one was smirking. Severus glowered blackly at her and turned back to Harry.
‘Harry, may I introduce you to Sasu,’ he raised his left arm with the purple and blue snake. She regally inclined her head in Harry’s direction, ‘and Sakuna,’ the right arm rose, ‘Sakuna is to be your…….. familiar if you will.’
The red-and-gold plumaged snake, whose name was evidently Sakuna, unwounded itself from Severus’s arm and lifted into the air. The wings barely stirred as it drifted over to Harry. Harry stared into its silver eyes. For a moment, the world spun about him. When it settled again, it seemed there was something *else* there. Whatever it was, Harry couldn’t lay his finger on it at the moment. In somewhat of an awed daze, his raised his arm and allowed the snake to settle about his wrist.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ he murmured.
The snake raised its head until its eyes were level with Harry’s face. Its tongue flickered out and ghosted over Harry’s features. Having tasted him, the snake drew back a ways.
‘The pleasssure’sss all mine,’ it hissed, and Harry realised Sakuna was male.
Harry allowed Sakuna to wind his way up until he was draped about his neck. He turned back to his father.
Severus was watching Harry interact with the snake. When he saw that he had Harry’s attention again, he spoke.
‘Sasu and Sakuna are quetzalcoatl-’
Harry interrupted, ‘Wasn’t Quetzalcoatl an Aztec god?’
Severus nodded in approval, ‘The Winged Serpent. The quetzalcoatl snakes originate in central America. They have many fascinating magical qualities, which I will expect you to learn as you come to know Sakuna better.’
Harry almost groaned. Was there ever a time that Severus stopped trying to teach Harry something? Severus smirked slightly and continued.
‘The thing that sets Sasu and Sakuna above most other quetzalcoatl, however, is that they are twins – born from the same egg.’
Harry looked singularly blank at this little snippet, and Severus fought a sigh, ‘When two quetzalcoatl are born from the same egg, they share a telepathic link. This pair can communicate mind-to-mind, instantly and over any distance. There is yet to be a spell found that could block it.
‘This phenomenon is incredibly rare, but not considered very valuable……..’ Severus trailed off and ran a finger down Sasu’s plumage. The snake leant into the caress and slitted her eyes in pleasure.
Harry shifted impatiently. He was about to ask why it wasn’t considered very valuable when the answer occurred to him. It was blindingly obvious really………
‘Because there are so few Parselmouths?’ Harry confirmed his theory.
Severus ceased caressing Sasu, ‘Yes. Even if the trait were more common, it doesn’t usually occur in the type of person that is inclined to want to keep in close contact with another,’ he snorted, ‘Just look at Voldemort for example.’
Harry eyed his father cannily, ‘But we can take advantage of Sakuna and Sasu’s link.’
Severus smirked, ‘Precisely. From now on, whenever you leave the grounds, Sakuna will go with you. That way, if anything were to happen to you, Sakuna would be able to contact Sasu, who would in turn inform me.’
Both snakes had raised their heads and were nodding their agreement.
Harry found it odd that the snakes were so adamant about protecting Harry when they had only met a short time previously. He thought for a moment, remembering his momentary dizziness when Sakuna had looked him in the eyes.
‘Pater,’ he mused, ‘You mentioned earlier that quetzalcoatl had many interesting magical qualities.’
Severus nodded and Harry continued, ‘Is one of those qualities the ability to bond with their owner?’
Severus smiled, ‘Indeed. I’m sure you felt it when Sakuna bonded with you. It is a most intriguing sensation.’
Harry contemplated this for a moment, then nodded decisively, ‘I’ll agree to take Sakuna with me wherever I go on one condition.’
Severus looked up in indignation, ‘What? No conditions, Harry. You’ll-’
Harry interrupted his father before he could be given an ultimatum, ‘I’ll take Sakuna with me wherever I go, provided Sasu goes with you every where *you* go.’
Severus was about to reply when Sasu beat him to it. She lifted her head and stretched towards Harry.
‘Assssuredly,’ she hissed.
Severus glared at his familiar. Harry laughed and about his neck, Sakuna hissed in delight.
Chapter Eighteen: I know something you don’t know
After the long summer of near-stillness, the Entrance Hall was alive again. Harry stood halfway up the staircase, staring out over a sea of black robes topped with the myriad hair colours of Hogwarts’ returning students.
He was looking for two heads in particular: one of flaming red and one of bushy brown. Neither was in evidence. It seemed that by now every other fifth year student had passed beneath the lintel of the main entrance, once more standing in the Entrance Hall of their school. He had seen Dean and Seamus bounce in, trailed by Neville. Justin and his best friend Ernie Macmillan had trotted by, followed closely by Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott. Two of the only Ravenclaws Harry knew, Terry Boot and Mandy Brocklehurst were just now removing their cloaks.
Harry had even seen Malfoy strut in flanked by his two thugs, Crabbe and Goyle. But there still wasn’t any sign of either Ron or Hermione. For what had to be the hundredth time, Harry shifted his weight.
About his neck, Sakuna lifted his head and tickled Harry’s ear with his tongue.
‘What isss it you wait for?’
Harry sighed and shifted his weight yet again, ‘Ron and Hermione haven’t come in yet.’
At just that moment the head of red hair Harry had been searching for emerged above the crowd and began waving energetically, ‘Hey *Harry*!’
Harry went up on his toes, then bounded down the stairs. Dislodged from his perch on Harry’s shoulder, Sakuna hissed irritably and floated down the air after him. Harry indiscriminately elbowed his way through the throng to his friends’ side.
‘Ron! Hermione! How was the train?’
Ron grinned, ‘Malfoy couldn’t work out where you were. It was classic!’
Hermione elbowed Ron in the ribs and turned a concerned expression on Harry, ‘How about you Harry? How’s…….. er, *everything* goi-’
Hermione squeaked and jumped back, both hands pressed to her mouth. Ron glanced questioningly at her, then followed her gaze. He went parchment white and stood stock-still. Harry stared at them.
‘What? What’s wrong?’
Ron raised a silent finger and pointed over Harry’s shoulder. Harry turned his head.
Hovering just behind Harry’s shoulder, wings spread wide, feathered ruff mantled, mouth wide and fangs dropped, was Sakuna. He was hissing at Harry, but his silver gaze was fixed on Harry’s friends.
Eyes still fixed on Hermione and Ron, Sakuna’s hisses resolved themselves into words understandable to Harry alone.
‘You knocked me off,’ he accused.
Harry flushed slightly. He was still getting used to having a constant companion in the snake.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered in Parseltongue.
Sakuna’s silver gaze flickered briefly to Harry and back to Hermione and Ron. He drifted closer and settled about Harry’s neck once more. His tongue extended to its greatest length, Sakuna tasted the air, ‘Who are they?’
Harry turned back to his friends. Hermione had calmed down considerably when Harry had started talking to the snake, and while Ron was still pale, he no longer looked to be on the verge of trembling. Harry rolled his eyes.
‘You can’t seriously be scared of Sakuna?’ he scoffed at his friends.
Hermione huffed, ‘Well when the last snake I saw petrified me, I think I’m quite within my rights to be wary of them.’
‘Yeah. Besides, its not every day you see a flying snake Harry,’ Ron chipped in.
Harry reached up and scratched Sakuna’s wing joints, ‘Sakuna’s a quetzalcoatl.’
Hermione perked up, ‘Really? I’ve never seen one before. Where’d it come from?’
‘*He* was given to me,’ Harry glanced covertly around, ‘Pater purchased him and Sasu from Knockturn Alley.’
The cacophony in the Entrance Hall was such that Harry’s words went blessedly unnoticed.
‘Sasu?’ asked Ron.
‘Pater?’ Hermione had picked up on the term. Harry chose to ignore it momentarily in favour of answering Ron.
‘Sasu is Sakuna’s twin sister. Sakuna’s my familiar and Sasu’s Pater’s.’
‘Pater?’ said Hermione more insistently and now even Ron was eyeing him somewhat shrewdly. Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes. They both knew whom he had to be talking about. Despite the chaos about them, Harry lowered his voice even further.
‘My *father*,’ Harry smirked, ‘He’s a Parselmouth too.’
Hermione nodded sagely, as though that was nothing more than she had expected. She stepped in closer to Harry and lowered her voice as well.
‘How’s that going Harry?’
Harry, who had been doing his best not to think about his rather convoluted family situation ever since Sirius had found out, frowned.
‘It was going great right up until four days ago.’
Ron, who had bent his head down to closer to Harry and Hermione’s level asked, ‘what happened four days ago?’
Harry gave both his friends a significant look, ‘Snuffles found out, and not in the nicest of ways.’
‘Oh,’ said Ron. Hermione was looking rather worried as well.
‘Oh, indeed,’ replied Harry.
Ron shifted his weight, ‘But…….. well…….. what *happened*?’
‘Pater kind of fell out of the fireplace announcing I was his son.’
Hermione and Ron threw him thoroughly confused looks. Harry sighed and, holding Sakuna close to his chest, began to relate the tale of how Sirius had found out. Ron snorted when he got to the part about Sirius almost decking Severus, but stopped grinning when Hermione glared at him.
Harry had just finished his tale when he jumped. Sakuna had grown tired of being ignored and sunk his teeth into Harry’s arm just enough to gain his attention.
‘Harry! Its biting you!’ exclaimed Hermione.
Ron made an abortive movement to dislodge the quetzalcoatl from Harry’s arm. Sakuna released him. Wrapping himself about Harry’s upper arm, the snake placed his head on a level with Harry’s shoulder. His head twisted about to stare at Ron and Hermione again then swivelled back to meet Harry’s eye.
‘Thisss *isss* your Ron and Hermione, little lord?’ he asked.
Harry grimaced at the name Sakuna and Sasu had chosen for him. His father had laughed the first time he had heard it. Knowing by now that it was futile to try to get Sakuna to call him Harry, he ignored the name and answered the question instead.
‘Yes, this is Ron and Hermione.’
Hermione and Ron were watching him curiously.
‘What did you just say?’ Ron wanted to know.
‘Sakuna asked if you were Ron and Hermione and I answered him.’
‘Is *that* what you said?’ exclaimed Ron, echoing his question from third year.
‘You said our names in Parseltongue?’ Hermione asked.
Hermione, ever curious, then asked, ‘What’s my name in Parseltongue?’
Harry let loose a series of hissed syllables that obviously made no sense whatsoever to his two friends. Hermione said rather vaguely, ‘Oh.’
Harry was about to say something further when Sakuna abruptly snaked his head over Harry’s shoulder, staring at some point behind them.
‘The dark one wissshesss usss to move,’ he hissed.
If Harry was “little lord”, Severus was the “dark one”. Harry couldn’t figure out whether or not his father actually liked the name the twin quetzalcoatl had chosen for him. He suspected that he did, however.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. It was only then that he realised that the Entrance Hall was all but empty; the last of the students were even now filtering into the Grand Hall for the Sorting Feast.
Standing at the foot of the stairs Harry had first descended, Sasu more than half-hidden beneath the fall of dark hair, was Professor Snape. He was staring fixedly at Harry and his friends.
‘What’s wrong with your snake?’ Ron’s voice brought Harry’s attention back to his friends.
‘Sasu told him that Pater wants us in the Hall now.’
Hermione and Ron blinked. Harry headed after the last of the students straggling into the Hall, anticipating the next question and answering it before it could be voiced, ‘Sakuna and Sasu are telepathically linked because they’re twins. They can communicate over any kind of distance. I’m guessing Professor Snape,’ Harry was making a conscious effort to revert to calling his father that, at least during the school hours, ‘asked Sasu to tell Sakuna to tell me to get a move on.’
Hermione nodded in complete understanding and Ron nodded to make it look like he understood, when he had patently only comprehended half of what Harry had just said. Harry didn’t blame him; it had had taken him a while to get his mind around the fact.
Harry very deliberately seated himself on the side of the Gryffindor table facing away from the rest of the Hall, looking instead at the wall. He simply wasn’t in the mood for engaging in glaring contests across the Hall with Draco Malfoy. Hermione and Ron settled on either side of him, and Sakuna curled up discreetly in his lap.
Dean and Seamus were sitting side by side beyond Ron and it was their comments that brought his attention to the dark man pacing slowly up the Hall between the wall and the Gryffindor table.
‘Another year with that greasy git in Potions,’ Harry scowled at Dean’s comment. Everybody naturally thought that he was simply scowling at the prospect.
‘I was hoping he would have poisoned himself over the summer with one of his insane potions,’ mourned Seamus. Harry scowled harder. His eyes followed his father as the man drew level with his position. Severus never glanced him, or at the table as a whole. An elegant hand drifted up and brushed back a lock of hair hanging by his face and Harry caught a glimpse of Sasu’s tail trailing down his shoulder.
But that wasn’t what caught his attention.
On the far side of Hermione, Pavati gasped and Harry knew it was too much to hope that no one else had noticed what he had.
‘He’s wearing a wedding band!’ Pavati stage whispered, proving Harry right. Fortunately, Severus didn’t hear.
Opposite Harry, Fred Weasley glanced up, ‘’Who is?’
‘Professor Snape,’ replied Lavender Brown and the entire section of the table within hearing swivelled about to get a look for themselves. Sure enough, as the Potions Master’s hand fell back to his side, the silver ring glittered in the light of the candles floating overhead.
Hermione and Ron slanted Harry looks from the corner of their eyes. He shrugged at them. He had no idea why his father was wearing his wedding band after all this time.
Then the storm of speculation began.
‘You mean someone actually married that greasy git?’ exploded George.
‘They’d have to be a raving lunatic-’ squawked Seamus.
‘Or bloody desperate,’ said Dean.
Ever the romantic, Ginny said, ‘I didn’t know he had a girlfriend.’
Ron snorted at that and Harry elbowed him in the side. Further down the table came the flash of Colin Creevey’s camera and Harry groaned.
Fred chipped in now, ‘It was probably an arranged marriage and the poor witch had no choice.’
The comments continued on in such a vein. Harry was torn between laughing at the ridiculous theories and hexing people for the insults being paid to *both* his fathers.
Hermione was scowling, but no one found that odd: She always disapproved of anyone badmouthing a professor. On Harry’s other side, Ron was uncharacteristically silent. Harry was grateful for this sign of tacit support from his best friends.
Fortunately, the speculation was brought to end when the great doors of the Hall swung open to admit the timid new first years and the Sorting began. By the time the stool and Sorting Hat were carried out the Hall, the Gryffindors about Harry had moved onto other topics and he didn’t have to sit there as derogatory comments about his father flew.
Severus sat back in his desk chair and steepled his fingers. After the Sorting Feast, he had hoped for one last quite night before classes resumed. No such luck.
‘Minerva,’ he addressed his…….. guest, for lack of a better term, ‘we are both fully cognisant of the fact that this is not a social visit. If you would be so kind as to get to the point?’ he not-so-subtly hinted.
Professor McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, had declined a seat. Not that Severus had strictly *offered* her one……..
‘Never the one for tact, were you Severus?’ she snapped.
Severus simply regarded her over his fingers. In a basket on the edge of his desk, Sasu stirred. Minerva, never having been fond of snakes, eyed her warily. Casually, she paced to the opposite end of the desk. Severus hid his smirk behind his hands.
‘You and I both know the rivalry between our two houses is getting out of hand, Severus.’
‘Indeed,’ intoned the head of Slytherin House, ‘And you bring this up…….. why?’
Minerva pinched her lips and scowled at the Potions Professor, ‘It is high time we remedy the situation.’
Severus sat for a moment, then lifted his mouth clear of his hands and said, ‘Ah.’
Minerva resisted the urge to plant her hands on her hips, knowing it would make her look hopelessly petulant, ‘You certainly don’t help matters with the way you treat my students.’
Severus dropped his hands to the surface of his desk and braced them there. Sasu raised her head at the sudden thump.
‘And what of the way the rest of the school treats *my* students,’ he hissed menacingly.
Not at all daunted by Severus’s tone, Minerva rallied her argument, ‘You can’t deny that you unfairly persecute the Gryffindor students in your classes. This year’s fifth years, especially. And Mr Potter, in particular.’
‘Ah,’ proclaimed Severus again and sat back in his chair. He fought down a smirk. Sasu laid her head back down.
‘Minerva, this year, I think you will find that I treat your precious Gryffindors – Mr…….. Potter, in particular – no better or worse than I treat my own Slytherins.’
Minerva had no immediate response to this seemingly easy capitulation on Severus’s part. She had come down here expecting an argument – or at least a cold and calculated debate – and received nothing of the sort.
Just as she was gathering herself, a sharp rap at the office door broke her train of thought. Severus transferred his dark gaze from her to it and her own eyes followed.
‘Enter,’ Severus raised his voice just enough for it to penetrate to the corridor beyond.
The door swung inwards to reveal Harry standing there, Sakuna wrapped about his forearm. He looked rather nonplussed to find that his father was not alone, as he had supposed. Severus smiled slightly.
‘Don’t just stand there blocking the doorway,’ he said mildly, ‘Come in.’
Harry stepped in and allowed the door to swing to behind him. He looked from his head of house and his father and back again but didn’t say anything. Neither did Severus. It was Professor MaGonagall that first broke the silence.
‘Yes, Mr Potter. What is it?’
Harry looked confused, ‘Sorry, Professor?’
She sighed exasperatedly, ‘You were looking for me, were you not?’
Harry widened his eyes, ‘Umm….. No, Professor. I actually came to see –’ he paused at glanced at his father. Severus nodded, giving him permission to go on, ‘– I came to see my father,’ Harry finished in a rush.
McGonagall’s eyes widened.
‘Your father, Mr Potter?’ she asked as composedly as she could after a long moment.
Severus smirked, ‘Yes, Minerva. His father,’ McGongall slowly tore her eyes from Harry’s face and turned to look at her colleague. His smirk widened as he carefully enunciated the next word, ‘Me.’
McGonagall’s eyes widened even further and snapped back to stare at Harry, then back to Severus again. Back and forth they went several times, until she finally cleared her throat.
‘What?’ she croaked quite coherently.
‘Hasn’t Albus briefed you yet? I thought you would have been the first he told that Harry was my son.’
Minerva decided to take that seat she had earlier scorned, ‘But…….. what about James?’
By the door, Harry shifted uncomfortably. Sakuna hissed at him, then lifted off his arm to drift over to the desk. He settled in the basket with Sasu.
When Severus steepled his fingers again, his wedding band was plainly visible. He saw Minerva’s eyes snag on it as he spoke, ‘What about James?’
‘He’s not Harry’s father,’ she made it a statement.
‘Did *I* say that?’ enquired Severus. He tilted his hand just enough for his ring to catch the light and glint in his colleague’s face, ‘James was as much Harry’s father as I am.’
Both Severus and Harry could see the implications of his last words sinking into McGonagall’s mind.
‘Oh,’ she said.
She sat in rather stunned silence. Severus was contemplating her and Harry shuffled sideways further into the room.
‘Oh,’ McGonagall said again. She stirred from her chair and stood up, ‘I think I shall go have a word with Albus. If you’ll excuse me Severus, Mr……..um……..’
She didn’t finish her sentence, just edged out the door.
Harry stared worriedly after her. She had certainly been……… well, Harry couldn’t find quite the right word to describe it. He turned back to his father.
‘Oh, don’t worry about her, Harry,’ Severus smirked, ‘She just wasn’t expecting it. I assure you, she’ll be over it by morning.’
Harry nodded and approached the desk. Without waiting to be asked, he sat himself down in the chair nearest the basket containing Sasu and Sakuna. He reached out an idle hand and petted them both.
Severus withdrew a quill and inkbottle from a desk drawer and began jotting something down on parchment. He addressed his son without looking up, ‘What is it you wanted, Harry?’
Harry left of petting his familiar and his sister.
‘I wanted to ask you what was to happen with Sakuna tomorrow.’
Severus stopped writing and instead grasped the quill in both hands, resting his wrist on the edge of his desk, ‘Ah, of course.’
Severus eyed the two quetzalcoatl lying twined in the basket and deliberately switched to Parseltongue.
‘I have spoken to Dumbledore about him, and he has agreed to allow Sakuna to accompany you to your classes if you so wish. Otherwise, he is welcome to spend the days in my office with Sasu.’
Both snakes had lifted their heads and rested on the rim of the basket, listening intently to Severus’s words.
Also speaking in Parseltongue, Harry said, ‘But what should I tell the other students? Most of them were scared of me when they first found out that I was a Parselmouth.’
Sakuna mantled his wings.
‘Tell them it isss none of their busssinesss, little lord,’ he hissed.
‘Tell them we will bite them,’ Sasu deigned to add.
Harry snorted at them both, ‘But you don’t bite…….. much,’ he amended, remembering Sakuna’s antics earlier.
In the approximation of a snake’s laugh, Sakuna said, ‘Do they know that?’
Severus gave a bark of laughter, ‘They’re right, though Harry. Tell the students what you will. They can only complain. And if they complain too loudly, either Albus or myself are sure to overhear them.
‘Now,’ Severus dipped his quill, ‘It is nearing curfew. You should return to your dormitory,’ the quill scratched across the parchment once more.
Harry stood and, beating his wings once or twice, Sakuna returned to his arm. They both hissed a farewell to Sasu, who lazily blinked her eyes at them. When Harry looked back at the door, his father was intent on his work.
He wasn’t sure at first whether or not he had been heard, but as he softly closed the door behind him he heard, ‘Good night, Harry.’
Chapter Nineteen: Potion Brewing 101
Harry woke the next morning to find Sakuna and Hedwig eyeing each other from opposite sides of his pillow.
He was becoming used to it: this was the third morning in a row he had woken up to the same spectacle. Hedwig had somehow found out about Sakuna and decided to stake her claim on Harry. Unfortunately, Sakuna was doing the same thing.
Harry had tried to reassure Hedwig that she wasn’t about to be replaced, but she didn’t seem to trust him. Or at least, she didn’t trust Sakuna. Which wasn’t particularly surprising, considering the quetzalcoatl’s attitude.
Sakuna seemed to feel that he had some superior claim to Harry’s affections. Harry had tried telling him to lay off the attitude, but Sakuna wouldn’t take him seriously. In the end Harry decided to leave it alone, proving to them both that he wasn’t about to ditch Hedwig in favour of Sakuna by example.
But this little morning ritual of theirs was really starting to get on his nerves……..
Blinking blearily up at them both, he hissed, ‘Can’t you leave this for an hour a little else early?’
Sakuna broke the staring contest with Hedwig, who ruffled her feathers in self-satisfaction. Sakuna flickered his tongue at her and received an irritable hoot in response. The snake turned his silver eyes on Harry.
‘It isss not early, little lord, it isss late.’
Harry sat bolt upright and fumbled for his glasses. Sure enough, when he snatched up his watch, the dial told him that he had only twenty minutes to get ready and get to his first class. Fortunately, Professor Dumbledore had given him his timetable several days ago and he wouldn’t have to dash down to the Great Hall to get one. Although it did mean he would miss breakfast.
That couldn’t be helped now. Especially considering his first class was Double Potions. Harry didn’t think his father would take too well to him turning up late for the first class of the year.
Harry leapt out of bed, knocking both Hedwig and Sakuna into the air. He ignored their indignant protests as he grabbed up fresh new school robes from his trunk and hurried to the bathroom.
Five minutes later, he remerged, freshly – if hastily – washed. He immediately dove back into his trunk, rummaging about for his potions books and writing utensils. He gathered them all up and dumped them in his book bag. He shoved his feet into his shoes and stood up.
‘Come on Sakuna, we gotta go,’ Harry hurried out of the room, calling back over his shoulder, ‘See you later Hedwig.’
He made it to the dungeon classroom with barely three minutes to spare. All of the other students were there already and they turned to see who was running through the door this late.
Harry had never liked being the centre of attention and wished he’d thought to bring his invisibility cloak. Especially when his classmates noticed Sakuna. The snake had caught up to him and now had his tail wrapped about Harry’s neck and his wings mantled behind his right ear. Everybody was staring at Sakuna and he knew it; he was showing off.
Nobody spoke; Harry edged over to the seat Ron and Hermione had saved him. He hoped Professor Snape would come in before anyone got up the courage to comment on Sakuna’s presence. He should have known better.
‘New pet, Potter?’
Harry groaned. Of course it would be Malfoy that spoke first. But better him than someone else, Harry supposed. At least he knew how to deal with Draco’s malice.
‘Not a pet, Malfoy. A familiar. But I wouldn’t expect *you* to know the difference.’
The Gryffindors laughed and the Slytherins glared at Harry along with Draco, who sniped back, ‘Whatever. It won’t last long once Professor Snape arrives.’
Harry was about to retort when the door swung open and the potions master strode in. He looked neither left nor right as he made his way down the classroom to his desk. He deposited his books and turned to address the class. But before he could even open his mouth, there was already a hand in the air.
‘You have something you think I wish to hear, Mr Malfoy?’
Draco lowered his arm, a little thrown at the tone in which his head of house had addressed him. But in his arrogance, he didn’t dwell on it. Instead he said smugly, ‘Professor, I thought you should be know that Potter brought a snake to class.’
The Gryffindors glared at him; all except Harry, who was pretty confident of the professor’s response. He wasn’t disappointed.
Severus almost casually brushed his hair behind his ear, revealing Sasu wrapped about his neck. There was collective gasp.
‘Not a snake, Mr Malfoy,’ he murmured, unconsciously echoing his son’s earlier phrasing, ‘A quetzalcoatl. I am aware that Mr Potter has him.’
Harry smirked at the stunned expression on Draco’s face, but quickly stopped when his father looked at him.
‘B-but…….’ stammered Draco, thoroughly thrown now.
Severus blatantly dismissed the Slytherin boy’s protests, turning his back on him and picking up the potions text, ‘Mr Potter has Headmaster Dumbledore’s permission, as well as that of myself as his…….. Professor.’
The text cradled in one hand, Severus turned back to his class, not bothering to look the gobsmacked Draco, ‘Now, as we did not come here to discuss snakes, I suggest you have your summer assignments ready by the time I reach your desk.’
He immediately started forward to collect the scrolls of homework, sending the students at the front desks scrambling for their work.
On the pretence of leaning over to extract his scroll from his bag, Ron leant in to Harry and whispered, ‘Are you *sure* you’re related to him, Harry mate?’
Harry turned his head and stared at his friend, ‘What are you talking about, Ron?’
Ron pretended to fumble about in his bag, ‘Its just that you’re so nice and good and loyal, and Snape’s…….. well, *not*.’
Harry snorted, but before he could answer, Hermione, who was sitting on Harry’s other side, listening to their conversation said, ‘You can’t expect him to change over night, Ron. I’m sure over time he’ll get better.’
Harry rolled his eyes, ‘Actually, you’re both wrong.’
They both turned to stare at him, Hermione because she was rarely told she was wrong by her friends, and Ron just because he was Ron.
Harry shrugged, ‘He’s always like this. Always has been. You know that pensieve he gave me for my birthday,’ – Ron and Hermione both nodded; Harry had told them of it the day before they had left during the holidays – ‘He was the same in all those memories. I don’t think he’s about to change just because I know who he is now……..’
Harry, Ron and Hermione became aware of the silence of the rest of the room and looked up. Professor Snape had reached their desk and was standing scowling down at them. The rest of the class was watching in silence, apprehensive on the part of the Gryffindor and gleeful on the part of the Slytherins.
About Severus’s neck, Sasu lifted her head. She turned her eyes on Harry and said by way of greeting, ‘Little lord.’
Harry grinned. He couldn’t help it. Sasu took such a superior attitude to the world and could only ever said to be deigning to speak to someone. Unless that someone happened to be Severus, who she seemed to consider her equal.
‘Good morning, Sasu,’ he hissed.
His father shifted his black gaze exclusively to him and Harry almost shied away from it, ‘In English, if you please Mr Potter. Not everyone is so fortunate as to have your gift of tongues.’
Harry nodded, chastised. Severus turned his attention back to the trio as a whole, ‘If you three feel you have something to say that cannot wait until you leave my classroom, have the courtesy to share it with the whole class.’
He was met with a sullen silence. Harry couldn’t believe his father was treating him like this. It was almost worse than it had been in previous years, when Harry *hadn’t* known that his teacher was also his father. He had thought that perhaps now that his father had acknowledged him, he wouldn’t be so harsh on him in class, despite his words to Ron and Hermione earlier. Then again, he might overreacting just a little, simply *because* Severus was his father.
Hermione and Ron were simply silent because experience had taught them that talking back to the potions master was a sure-fire to lose their house points, regardless of whose father they now knew he was.
‘Nothing more to add?’ Severus murmured silkily, ‘Then kindly keep any further comments you may have until after my class.’
He held out his hand and the three Gryffindors handed over their assignment scrolls. With a wave of his wand, Severus sent them wafting to the front of the classroom to join the pile already there. He folded his arms inside his sleeves and turned back to Harry.
‘Mr Potter, to the front of the class. You shall demonstrate what the reaction between Peruvian urchlid shells and boomslang skin should look like, as I know you have managed to scrabble together some competence in this particular experiment.’
Severus turned and swept back up the aisle, only to pause half to his desk when he realised Harry wasn’t behind him. He looked back, ‘Mr Potter?’
Harry was still sitting at his desk. He didn’t care that the rest of the class didn’t yet know that the professor was his father. It was really starting to annoy him that he was getting treated in such a manner. And he kept on calling him……..
‘Mr Potter!’ a sharp note of impatience threaded through Severus’s voice.
Harry reluctantly pushed away from the desk and started up the aisle. Under his breath, he muttered, ‘I wish you’d stop calling me that.’
Or at least he’d thought it was under his breath. Someone on the other side of the room gasped and Harry looked up. Everyone was staring at him, his father glaring.
‘I beg your pardon?’ he menaced.
Defiant, Harry straightened his shoulders and looked his father in the eye, ‘I said I wish you’d stop calling me ‘Potter’ all the time.’
There was another gasp. Even the Slytherins were staring at him as if he’d gone crazy; even they hadn’t the guts to talk to their professor like that.
Severus turned to face Harry square on, looming over him, ‘Would you rather I called you by your *mother’s* name?’
Harry was sure the gasp came from Hermione this time, and that indignant grunt was surely Ron. Harry glared up at his father, matching him look for look. Loudly enough for the entire class to hear, he retorted, ‘No. I’d rather you called me by my *father’s* names.’
Now the other students were looking at Harry as though he were daft. He had spoken back to the meanest teacher in the school just to tell him to call him by his father’s name when that was what he had protested in the first place? Of course, it was only Ron and Hermione that noticed the plural Harry had placed on ‘names’.
Severus turned away, ‘Thirty-five points from Gryffindor for talking back to a teacher.’
Harry gasped, as did all the Gryffindor students. He wasn’t surprised his father had taken points, but *thirty-five*! He blurted before he could stop himself, ‘But Pa–!’
So quickly it was almost scary, Severus had rounded on Harry. He hissed, ‘Nobody gets preferential treatment in my classroom. *Especially* not you.’
Harry flinched. About him he could hear the indignant murmurs of his housemates and the spiteful titters of the Slytherins. Without waiting for a reply, Severus turned and swept up to his desk, leaving Harry standing in the middle of the aisle.
Behind him, Harry heard the malicious voice of Draco; ‘Well at least there’s one teacher in this school that knows how to treat Pretty-boy Potter.’
Crabbe and Goyle snickered. Harry’s back stiffened and Sakuna hissed into his hair.
His voice pitched low, Ron spat, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, Malfoy.’
Without turning, Harry could hear the sneer in Draco’s voice, ‘Of course I do, Weasel. Snape won’t treat little Potter any different just because he’s the Boy Who Lived.’
Draco managed to make the title sound like an epithet.
A smirk was rich in Ron’s voice when he shot back, ‘That’s not Snape meant. It’s because Harry’s-’
Harry spun on his heel, wanting somehow to prevent Ron’s next words. Hermione beat him to it. She landed a very forceful elbow in Ron’s ribs. Harry grinned gratefully at her.
‘Oof,’ Ron rubbed at his ribs, ‘What was that for?’ he whined.
Hermione glared at him and looked significantly toward the front of the classroom. Harry turned too.
Severus was standing before his desk, glaring menacingly at them all, but Ron in particular. When he was sure they were all cowed to his satisfaction, he turned once again to Harry.
‘Potter is the name on the school register. Until such a time as I find that it has changed, I shall *continue* to call you such. Is that understood?’
Until this summer, Harry had never appreciated what effect a dressing down from one’s father could have. This time last year, had Severus spoken to him like that he would have been angry and resentful. Now he was still resentful, but that was because he didn’t like feeling so thoroughly chastened by so few words.
Besides, it wouldn’t be too much longer before Dumbledore revealed their relationship and then Harry could get his name changed on the school roll.
Severus gestured at the cauldron he had set up on the front desk, ‘Then kindly get on with the demonstration.’
Sakuna lifted from his shoulders and settled on the desktop, clear of the potion making paraphernalia. Sasu soon joined him as Severus stood at Harry’s shoulder, watching as he powered the urchlid shells and shredded the boomslang skin.
Harry brought the clear, water to a point just below boiling in the cauldron and added the boomslang skin. He stirred it in a strictly clockwise figure of eight until it had stewed. When the contents of the cauldron had turned a murky and opaque grey, he added the carefully proportioned amount of powdered urchild shell. He stirred round the edge of the cauldron seven times clockwise, then abruptly changed direction and swept the spoon about in an anticlockwise direction once only.
The potion swirled and the urchild shell dissolved. When the last of the blue powder disappeared from the surface of the mixture, a small mushroom cloud of vivid green billowed forth.
When the smoke had dissipated, the rest of the class shuffled forward to peer into the cauldron. The potion had gone so transparent that it appeared to not be there at all. The only sign that it was still in the cauldron was the pungent scent of rotten roses that the concoction exuded.
Severus reached over Harry’s shoulder and ladled some of it up, allowing it to splash back into the cauldron again. As the stream of liquid fell, it ran through a rainbow of colours. These same colours swirled about the surface of the potion until the ripples had all subsided.
Severus said quietly, ‘It seems you may have inherited something from the long line of potion makers that is your heritage after all, Mr Potter.’
Harry smiled but Severus ignored him. He turned to address the rest of the class, still gathered about the front desk.
‘Mr Malfoy, tell me what special properties this quasi-potion has,’ he snapped out.
Draco drew himself up importantly, ‘It adds an empathic dimension to any potion it is used in.’
The corner of his father’s lip quirked in what Harry was sure was *almost* a smile.
‘Not up to your usual standard, Mr Malfoy,’ he sneered, ‘Ten points from Slytherin for failing to properly research the topic.’
A dead silence gripped the room. Snape had taken points from his own house? It was even odds who were more shocked: the Gryffindors or the Slytherins. Although, Harry had to say Draco had the most priceless expression. His eyes were round and his jaw had dropped in a most unbecoming manner. When the blonde boy realised this, his mouth snapped shut and he glared virulently about.
Severus ignored the flabbergasted silence of his class, continuing on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
‘Is it too much to hope that at least *one* of you knows the correct answer. Miss Granger, perhaps?’
Jaws just about dropped all over again. Professor Snape had called on *Hermione* with no sarcasm or derision?
‘Um…….. the…….. um……..’ Hermione stuttered before she got her equilibrium back, ‘The urchlid shell/boomslang skin combination *enhances* the already present empathic qualities of a potion, as well as extending the potion’s duration and shelf life. It is most commonly used as an addition to truth serums and love philtres.’
Severus didn’t go so far as to compliment Hermione on her full and correct answer, simply nodded curtly and sent the students back to their respective desks to test their won theories on the replication of the effects.
The rest of the lesson passed in an uncommon silence.
The Slytherins were all too stunned at having lost points in Potions, the class were they had only ever *earned* points. And their ringleader had been treated in a manner that could, at best, only be termed curt by their own head of house, renowned for being biased towards them. They simply didn’t know what to make of their apparently changed status.
The Gryffindors, on the other hand, simply didn’t wish to jeopardise this odd new status quo. They had lost thirty-five points, but Snape hadn’t put Hermione down for giving the correct answer and he wasn’t looming over them, waiting for the slightest excuse to deduct points.
He hadn’t even taken points from Neville when he managed to completely botch his potion; just told the terrified student that he would have do it over in detention.
But the biggest upset of the lesson had to be when Professor Snape had taken an additional ten points from Slytherin and given Draco a detention to be served with Filch for attempting to sabotage Seamus’s potion.
Chapter Twenty: The little talk nobody EVER wants to have
A week is a long time to keep a secret at Hogwarts: it is an almost impossible thing to do. Hogwarts was almost famed for its highly effective grapevine. As Dumbledore himself had once said: it ‘is a complete secret so, naturally, the whole school knows.’
But the thing this year was, *no* one knew. Possibly the most damning, damaging, dangerous, *controversial* secret in all the school’s history and no one knew that had not been specifically told.
But then, Harry supposed, the secret *had* been kept for quite literally longer than he had even lived. Of course, for much of that time, only two living souls knew the truth.
And yet, and yet……..
Now so many more people knew. A select number of the faculty…….. Harry’s godfather and his best friends…….. And Ron wasn’t the most discreet person in the world. Harry or Hermione was constantly hitting him about the head and arms to shut him up; Sakuna had even sunk his teeth into Ron’s ankle once to prevent him letting the secret slip.
Still, the grapevine did still seem to be working to some extent. Harry was sure Draco Malfoy *knew* there was a secret waiting to be discovered, even if he didn’t know what that secret *was*.
The Slytherin boy had been *watching* Harry. Just…….. watching; nothing else. And that was what made it so disconcerting. In Potions class on Thursday afternoon, Harry had felt the pale gray gaze drilling into his shoulder blades all lesson. When he had sneaked a peek at the Slytherin, Draco had – very deliberately – looked from Harry to Severus and back again. He raised an eyebrow and Harry glared and told him to sod off.
Both Gryffindor and Slytherin had lost five points.
The Gryffindors had noticed something too, although they had no idea what it was in relation to. But when a certain redheaded fifth year takes to yelling out, seemingly randomly, ‘OW! What the hell was that for?’, even the most unobservant of people will eventually notice.
But Draco worried Harry. He always seemed to be *there*. And he always seemed to be *watching*. But he was *looking* without ever *seeing*. Particularly when Harry passed him in the dungeon halls beneath his invisibility cloak. He had slipped past the pacing Slytherin and waited only until his back had turned to whisper the password to his father’s rooms (which had rather whimsically been changed to ‘prodigal father’) and slipping in before the movement was spotted. And when he had emerged two hours later, it was to find the same young Slytherin slouched in the corner of the corridor.
But still and all, in this particular instance, Hogwarts’ notorious grapevine had broken down, and Dumbledore had made no gesture to fix it.
Harry was tired of waiting, tired of being perpetually tense; always anticipating the moment when the news broke. Harry *hated* waiting. Of all the things to hate in the world, waiting came second only to Voldemort. He just wasn’t any *good* at it. And watching his father so calmly pace the halls of Hogwarts, he decided he must get his impatience from his Dad, James.
Then, on Saturday morning, came a sight that somehow assured him that the waiting was almost over. He didn’t know why he was so sure this was so; just some intuition told him that *this* was what Dumbledore had been waiting for.
Harry was standing with Ron and Hermione at the bottom of the stairs up to the castle’s grand entrance. Hermione was trying to convince the two boys that they should be doing their homework, Ron was arguing that it was their first weekend back and Harry was trying to ignore the dark, imposing presence of the man who stood six steps above him, listening to Remus chat.
Harry was also aware of Draco Malfoy *lurking* again, but he easily dismissed him as not worthy of his attention. Harry smirked. And there was the old-money, pureblood self-assurance and superiority shining through that could only have come from the Snape side of Harry’s heritage.
But as Harry was so handily ignoring Draco, and almost ignoring his father, he was gazing off towards the Forbidden Forest. So fixedly that he didn’t even notice the swift-moving black object until it was no more than twenty paces from him.
‘Snuffles!’ he cried.
Ron and Hermione whipped about, and Harry felt, with the hypersensitivity he hoped would vanish when the truth came out, his father stiffen behind him as he registered the same black shape.
Harry hadn’t quite counted on what happened next. But then, Sirius had never been noted for his tact. The sight hit Harry, quite literally.
In very few bounds, Sirius, in his animagus form, had reached Harry’s group at the bottom of the stairs. But he didn’t slow down. Instead, he *leapt* at Harry, knocking him down. Ron and Hermione jumped back, gaping at Sirius, and Harry fell to the ground, flat on his back.
Sirius then planted himself firmly on Harry’s chest and growled, long and low, teeth bared to their greatest extent. He wasn’t growling at Harry; rather at the dark figure that had materialised at Harry’s head. Harry hadn’t known his father could move that fast; Remus was still running down the steps to get to them.
About the spectacle, a crowd was gathering, none game to come closer than five feet. Which was fortunate, because had they come any closer, they surely would have seen the wand Severus clutched covertly in his hand, pointing directly at Sirius’s heart. And they certainly would have heard his words.
As it was, only Ron, Hermione, Remus, Harry and, of course, Sirius heard them.
‘Get off my son, you godforsaken mongrel.’
It was actually quite amazing how menacing Severus could make a whisper. Harry shivered. Unfortunately, like the good Gryffindor he was, Sirius had more courage than good sense. He laid back his ears, impossibly curled his black lip further and growled louder.
From his prone position, caught in the middle of the confrontation, Harry saw his father’s fingers tighten about his wand. Luckily for him, Remus had more good sense than either of the archrivals. He discreetly elbowed Severus in the ribs, and, using his greater-than-human strength, not so discreetly knocked Sirius from Harry’s chest. Harry gulped air into his freed lungs and glanced gratefully up at the werewolf. He scrambled to his feet, unsure what to do now. His father and godfather were still eyeing each other dangerously.
‘Um,’ he said pathetically.
He glanced at the wide-eyed crowd, glanced at the apprehensive Ron and Hermione, glanced at Remus discreetly, impotently trying to break the tension and glanced at the black-ice frozen tableau. He didn’t see anyway to break it without *saying* something and anything he said would be overheard.
*Overheard*, certainly, but not necessarily *understood*.
‘Pater,’ he hissed, careful to use Parseltongue, ‘Pater, maybe we should go see Professor Dumbledore?’
Severus’s eyes flickered imperceptibly. With no sign, without a word, he pocketed his wand, turned and swept into the castle, leaving a seriously disgruntled, large black dog behind. Not to mention a still gaping crowd of students, one of whom just so happened to be Draco *bloody* Malfoy, who was still *watching*.
Harry stepped closer to Remus and trusted the man’s super-human hearing to pick up his barely audible mutter, ‘Pater’s going to Dumbledore’s office and I think Sirius and I should go too, but……..’ he let his eyes indicate the other students.
Remus nodded his complete understanding, ‘I’m sure Ron and Hermione will help me sort it out. You and Sirius go.’
Harry clapped a hand on his godfather’s ruff and none-too-gently dragged him up the steps and into the dim Entrance Hall. Once assured the dog would follow him, Harry let go and strode down the halls, muttering at him out of the side of his mouth.
‘I hate to say this, Snuffles, but you’re an *idiot*. You do realise he could have killed you, don’t you?’
The dog at his heels half-whined, half-growled and Harry huffed. He didn’t say anything else, just hurried up the steps.
Severus was waiting for them outside the gargoyle. His arms were crossed and his foot seemed to be on the verge of tapping. When he felt Harry arrive at his side, he hissed at the gargoyle, not bothering with the password, ‘Open.’
The gargoyle, as intimidated by his tone as Harry was, jumped immediately out of the way. Severus strode up the moving stairs, not content to allow them to carry him to his destination. Harry scurried and Sirius bounded after. When they reached the top and Severus raised a fist and pounded on the door, Harry glanced over his shoulder to find Sirius the man and not Sirius the dog standing there.
He tried a tentative smile. Sirius never saw it, because he was glaring daggers into Severus’s back. Severus felt them, too; his back stiffened yet further. Harry was sure the wands were about to come out when the office door swung inwards to reveal the headmaster on the other side.
‘Ah Severus!’ he exclaimed as though nothing could have delighted him more – ‘And Sirius. You’ve kept our appointment, I see.’ – with the possible exception of having two bitter rivals to tea, ‘Come in, come in.’
Severus glared and swept into the room, moving to stand against the far wall. Harry shuffled meekly and despondently into the office after him. He couldn’t see this meeting going well, by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike Dumbledore.
‘And Harry too. I didn’t see you there, tucked away behind your father.’
It seemed to Harry that the bleaker the outlook became, the more cheerful Dumbledore got. He slumped into the most inconspicuous chair he could find, wishing he had stayed to help sort out the students outside.
Sirius stalked into the room in his wake and squared of across from Severus. Dumbledore bustled back to his desk and poured tea into four cups and cracked open the ubiquitous tin of lemon drops.
‘Tea anyone? Lemon drop? No?’ He settled him almost incongruously on the corner of his desk, like he didn’t intend to stay there long, ‘Then what can I do for you gentlemen?’
Harry blinked. Dumbledore was acting decidedly odd, even for him.
‘We have come here, Albus,’ Severus direfully intoned, ‘To settle this situation once and for all.’
‘I see,’ said Dumbledore, popping a lemon drop into his mouth, ‘I see. And you wish me to arbitrate?’
Sirius growled, ‘The only thing that needs arbitration is the duel I intend to challenge that slimy git to.’
‘Such creative insults, Black,’ sneered Severus.
Harry decided to make himself conspicuous again before his father and godfather ended up killing one another, ‘Professor Dumbledore, surely there’s something you can do!’ he gestured at the two bristling men on opposite sides of the room.
Dumbledore followed the gesture consideringly. He sipped at his tea.
‘Oh, I’m afraid there’s nothing *I* can do to help, dear boy,’ he said in a sickeningly cheerful voice, ‘This is all between the three of you.’
He set his teacup aside and rose from the corner of his desk, ‘Now, there’s tea and lemon drops, and you are free to the use of my office as long as you require.’
He smiled benignly at all three and moved swiftly out the door and down the moving stairs.
Leaving Harry stuck in a room with two men he was sure were bent on killing each other.
Needing something to distract him, Harry raided Dumbledore’s desk of a cup of tea and loaded the saucer with lemon drops. He slunk back to his nicely inconspicuous chair and tried to gear himself up to enjoy the fireworks.
Because there was sure to fireworks.
Harry was not long disappointed. It was like watching two ticking bombs, wondering which would go off first. Only, one had a much shorter fuse……..
Harry decided it would probably be best if he kept as well out of what was to come as he could.
‘I just want to know what you did to James, you low-down Slytherin *snake*,’ Sirius spat. Harry could see the animagus’s hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
Severus replied almost lazily, ‘Your insults aren’t improving, Black. And I didn’t *do* anything to James,’ he smirked and added, Harry was sure, to simply irk his rival; ‘It was more a matter of James doing it to *me*.’
Harry almost groaned. All his father was doing was riling Sirius up, and Severus knew it. Harry wished Dumbledore hadn’t left.
‘Why, you *bastard*! How *dare* you defame James’s name like that! He would never have forced–’
‘*Forced*?’ hissed Severus, ‘Whoever said anything about *force*?’ Now Harry could his father’s hands working on his forearms where they were crossed, ‘I merely meant that it was always *James* that took *me* to the next level of our relationship.
‘Not that I believe you deserve to know *any* of this, but it was *James* who first kissed me. *James* who asked me to be his partner. *James* who first said ‘I love you’. *James* who asked me to marry him. *James* who impregnated *me*. How dare *you* suggest I would defame my *husband’s* name.’
Sirius looked as though every sentence from Severus’s mouth had slapped him harshly across the face; even though the vitriol in that tirade hadn’t been directed at him, Harry had flinched with each utterance as well. He crunched down hard on a lemon drop.
‘I don’t believe it,’ Sirius stated stubbornly, his complexion pale, ‘James would have told me. He was my best friend; he wouldn’t have kept something like this from me.’
His hands clenched firmly about his biceps, Severus menaced now, ‘I hate to break it to you, *Black*, but you were the entire reason James never told you. You and your homo-phobic tendencies made him terrified of losing your friendship, but it still hurt him to lie to you,’ the obsidian eyes narrowed, ‘I hated you for that. I *hate* you still for causing him that pain.’
Severus had the upper hand and was using it unmercifully. Sirius was floundering now, grasping at the fragile fragments of the truth, as he knew it.
‘James *hated* you,’ he faltered, patently unsure of himself and Harry wanted to make them stop this ugly conversation.
Severus smirked, the single nastiest expression Harry had seen on his father’s face in a long while, ‘Yes, he did. And I hated him. You have Lily to thank for the change.’
‘Lily,’ spat Sirius with renewed venom, ‘And what did you do to *her*, you despicable arsehole? Tear her heart out and hand it to her on a silver platter?’
Severus straightened to his full height and loomed forward, ‘Check your facts before you make accusations, imbecile. Lily was my *sister*. I distinctly recall saying as much last time we…….. met.’
‘So that excuses you treating her like trash?’ Sirius’s hands were fisted in earnest at his sides now.
‘What the hell are you going on about, mutt?’
Sirius sneered at the epithet, ‘Surely you weren’t so *blind* that you couldn’t see that Lily was in *love* with James. Or did you enjoy making her hurt? I’m sure that would be right up your alley.’
Harry drew his legs up onto his chair to make himself smaller and popped another lemon drop into his mouth, sucking it furiously.
Severus gave a bark of harsh and utterly mirthless laughter, ‘I’ll let you in on a little secret, Black. The only one of the infamous Marauders my little sister ever had a crush on was *you*, much to my ever-lasting disgust.’
Sirius stopped. Severus was systematically destroying his ammunition. Every time he came up with a point, the other man neatly shot it down. It was frustrating and lope-sided. Any rational objection to Snape’s relationship with James, or even his relationship with Lily, that he had reasoned out over the past week had been shot to pieces. And it was simply *wrong*. This foul, despicable creature, this Slytherin, this…….. *Snape* couldn’t have been closer to James and Lily than he had, surely?
It wasn’t right, and he’d be damned if he were going to let it happen again.
‘I’ll fight this, Snape,’ he said.
Severus looked a little taken aback and in his inconspicuous corner, Harry drew his knees tighter to his chest and slipped another comforting lemon drop into his dry mouth.
‘Fight *what*? There’s nothing to fight, Black, and if you had one whit of intelligence in that oversized head of yours, you’d know that.’
Sirius gestured forcefully at Harry and the boy realised he wasn’t as inconspicuous as he had hoped, ‘I’ll fight for custody of Harry.’
Harry blanched and Severus finally exploded. The potions master seemed to swell to twice his actual size, ‘WHAT?!
Conversely, Sirius was the calmest he has been in a week, ‘Whatever else you may be – James’s Prince Charming,’ he spat, ‘Lily’s perfect older brother – there’s one thing you’re not, Snape. One thing you’ll never have a chance in hell of being.’
Sirius took a deliberate step forward and settled in a challenging stance. His voice took on layers of venom, contempt and vitriol, ‘You’re not a fit father. You’re a filthy Death Eater, and that’s all you’ll ever be.’
Harry winced. Severus, however, relaxed back to his normal size and slipped behind his mask of perpetual control, ‘Oh, and you’re a fit *god*father?’ he sneered, ‘A penniless pauper on the run from the law?’
Sirius never stood well against insults, ‘I’m not penniless, you arsehole.’
‘And I,’ Severus hissed, ‘Am not a Death Eater. Harry is *my* son.’
‘You don’t deserve him, Snape,’ Sirius said, contempt heavy on his tone.
‘Deserve him or not,’ spat Severus, ‘There’s nothing you can do to change the boy’s parentage.’
‘I never mentioned changing *that*, although I’m sure it would do Harry only good. I just want custody.’
Harry snapped. He decided remaining inconspicuous wasn’t worth *this*. He leapt from the chair, teacup and saucer clattering to the ground, lemon drops scattering everywhere.
‘STOP IT!’ he yelled.
Both Severus and Sirius turned to stare at him, particularly stunned expressions on their faces. Harry didn’t care.
‘I’m not some sort of prize to be bickered over callously!’
Harry stormed to the door. On the threshold he turned back, ‘Right now, if I had to choose, I’d pick *neither* of you. I’d rather be an *orphan*.’
Unfortunately, the doors in Hogwarts’ castle never slammed satisfactorily, so Harry had to settle for pounding down the stairs.
If a complete absence of sound can be said to be deafening, this silence certainly was. Even the silver gismos about the office had curiously stopped their whirring and clicking. All the portraits were holding their breaths, watching the two men watch the door.
The door that wasn’t opening again.
No black-haired, green-eyed boy was coming back to tell them that he hadn’t actually meant what he had just said. And Severus and Sirius were just beginning to realise what they stood to lose if they kept on with this pointless, empty feud.
Severus wearily rubbed at his eyes, ‘I don’t like you, Black,’ he said.
Sirius retorted, ‘The sentiment’s mutual, Snape.’
‘Will you shut up and *listen* for once in your miserable life?’ Severus snapped, ‘I don’t like you, but I loved James and I love our son, Harry, and for their sakes’ alone, I’m going to try my best to tolerate you. If you care for them even half as much as I do, you’ll try and do the same.’
Severus paced across the room, brushed past the man who had been his rival for decades and made his way down the stairs, without waiting for a response. *He* didn’t need to hear it; Harry did. And Harry needed to hear it from him as well.
Chapter Twenty-One: There comes a time
As the stone left Harry’s hand, it glowed briefly blue. When it pelted into the grass thirty paces away, it left definite scorch marks. Harry threw another pebble after it, adding to the already wide pattern of burnt grass, before searching for another to send the same way.
For a long time Severus stood staring, oblivious to the swirl of students about the grounds. He could only see the figure of his son slumped beneath the great oak. The potions master didn’t know how to proceed; he knew what he had come down here to say, he just didn’t know how to say it.
Finally, he moved, gesturing with his hand and wand.
Harry felt the wards go up about him and raised his head. He didn’t look back over his shoulder, knowing already who would be standing there. He snatched up another stone and hurled it away from him. It hit the shield with a ripple of blue light and passed through. Harry never saw it fall. He threw another pebble and carefully tracked its arc. It disappeared the moment it passed through the shield.
Behind him, his father spoke and Harry stiffened, ‘It’s a type of mirror ward. Anybody out there sees only what they would normally expect to see under this tree: nothing. Anything passing from the inside out, before the ward is dropped, is rendered temporarily invisible.
‘I also cast a geas to turn anyone’s attention from here, and a soundproofing charm so they can’t accidentally overhear us.’
Harry didn’t want to answer – he was still angry with his father for squabbling over him like he was nothing more than a possession – but he did anyway, ‘Isn’t that a little paranoid?’
‘You don’t last as long as I have as a spy without being at least a little paranoid,’ Severus replied, ‘Although I prefer to term it cautious.’
Harry snorted and muttered under his breath, ‘…….. paranoid……..’
‘I did hear that, you realise,’ Severus was feeling surer of himself now, but he still hadn’t broached the subject that had brought him here. And Harry still hadn’t turned around. As much as he deplored talking to someone’s back – particularly when said someone was his son – he felt Harry might just have earned the right to treat him thus this time.
‘Harry, I –’ Severus had never been particularly good at making apologies, often managing to convince someone that he *had*, when all he’d really done was skilfully change the subject. Not this time; ‘I came down here to apologise.’
Harry made no move to acknowledge his father’s words and Severus continued, ‘Black and I should never have treated you like that. We should never have made you a pawn in our personal disagreement. You don’t deserve it; not from Black and certainly not from me.’
Finally, Harry moved. He turned his head slightly, not quite looking at Severus, but no longer looking away either, ‘Why do you hate him so much?’
Severus sighed and moved to stand beside Harry, staring off across the grounds, ‘He never gave me chance to like him,’ Severus snorted softly to himself, ‘Although, if I must be fair, I never gave him a chance to try.’
Harry flung another pebble through the ward and watched the dance of the blue ripples, ‘That doesn’t even really explian why you don’t *like* Sirius, let alone *hate* him, so why do you?’
Severus blinked. It seemed Harry was too Slytherin to let Severus get away with only a half-answer, ‘Apart from the fact that he tried to get me killed……?’
Harry cocked his head up at his father, his expression sober, ‘You forgave Dad and Remus, so why not Sirius?’
Severus eyed the boy sidelong; ‘You’re determined to know, aren’t you?’
Harry nodded seriously.
‘I never wanted to forgive Black. I wanted to forgive James for Lily’s sake and, later on, I wanted to forgive Remus for James’s sake. But I *never* wanted to forgive Black. The most I ever conceded to was tolerating the mention of his name.
‘And, if you’re determined to know *everything*, I was almost jealous of him.’
Harry blinked, ‘Why would you be jealous of him?’
Severus’s gaze turned distant, ‘Because James and Lily could publicly acknowledge him. I hated him for that. And for the fact that it hurt James to lie to him.’
Harry nodded. He didn’t really understand why his father hated his godfather with such a passion, but he supposed he would have to live with it. Unless he wanted to break off ties with one, or both, of the men, and he knew that wasn’t really an option he would let himself take.
‘Harry,’ Severus said now, his tone even more serious than it had been, ‘I do understand that Black is your godfather – I was, after all, there when he was chosen – and as such, you feel a great affection for him –’
Harry snorted, ‘You could say that.’
Severus hid a wince as he continued, ‘– And I won’t try to stop you seeing him. It’s your decision who you wish to let be part of your life. I’d never take away your right to choose –’
‘Ha!’ snorted Harry bitterly and Severus’s lips twisted wryly.
‘Well, never again anyway……..’
Having said what he had come to say, in however a bumbling manner, Severus lapsed into silence.
Harry watched a pair of Hufflepuff first years veer away from the great oak as they came within range of the geas. It was easier to pretend that he was interested in the young girls’ movements than it was to allow his father to follow his thoughts. It was easier to pretend than to try to follow his thoughts himself.
His thoughts were many and varied and self-contradictory. He supposed the up-shot of them all, though, was that he was glad. Glad his father felt highly enough of him to allow him to make his own decision and, within reason, respect those decisions. Glad that his father respected him enough to apologise in the first place.
Harry stood up and dusted off his robes, ‘Thank you.’
Severus nodded, not bothering to ask what Harry was thanking him for. He turned from his distant contemplation and faced his son. He ran his eyes over the boy’s form, seeing both himself and James in the slope of the shoulders, the curve of the cheek, the stretch of an arm and the bow of a leg. He saw a young man, competent and sure of himself and he was proud; of him, and to call him a son.
Abruptly coming to a decision, Severus fished from an inner pocket an object he had been carrying with him for weeks now. He caught Harry’s hand in his own and wrapped it about the object, ‘Here, I want you to have this, Harry.’
Harry automatically took the object, but before he could ask after, or even look, at it, Severus dropped the wards and walked away, uncaring now if any students saw him.
Harry watched the retreating form of his father all the way up the lawn before looking back down at the thing he had thrust into his hand.
At first, Harry thought it was a piece of scrap metal and he wondered why his father had given it to him. But when he rolled it in his hand, a scrawl caught his eye. Realising it was writing, he bent closer. He gasped. He knew what this old, cold piece of metal was.
The words read: “Severus and James – one heart”, and this was his *Dad’s* wedding ring, twisted almost beyond recognition by the killing curse, Harry supposed, and the ensuing fire. His father had been carrying it with him for who knew how long. And now he had given it to Harry.
Harry pocketed it, fully intending to later hang it on a chain about his neck, just as his fathers had done through out their marriage.
Harry hadn’t made it half way up the lawn when he was accosted by a great black dog. The dog latched onto his wrist and gently dragged him behind a convenient row of bushes.
Sirius reverted to his human form and hastily cast much the same spells as Severus had earlier. Where and when Sirius had procured a wand, Harry had no idea. And no particular interest.
He was feeling at little more lenient after his talk with Severus and instead of glaring at Sirius or ignoring him altogether, Harry settled for crossing his arms and waiting for his godfather to speak.
‘Harry, I’m sorry,’ being the fine Gryffindor he was, Sirius wasn’t nearly so leery of apologies as Severus was, ‘I was a git to treat you like that.’
Harry might have been feeling more lenient, but he wasn’t about to let Sirius off without a little grovelling. He didn’t speak.
‘Its just that I can’t believe that…….. that…….. I can’t believe that *Snape* is your father. I only want what’s best for you, Harry,’ Sirius implored Harry’s understanding.
Harry relented enough to say, ‘What makes you think that Pater being around isn’t what’s best for me, Sirius?’
Stubborn as always, Sirius said, ‘You can’t honestly tell me you thing he’d make a very good father?’
Harry bristled slightly, ‘He’s doing his best, Sirius. And besides, even if he doesn’t know how to be a father, its not like I know how to be a son. We’re both equally out of our depths in this.’
Sirius backed off, ‘Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,’ he sighed, ‘I can’t pretend I’ll ever like Snape, but I love you and because of that, I’ll do my best not to let him get to me.’
Sirius’s expression turned hesitant, ‘That is…….. if you still want me?’
Harry quickly relented then, ‘Of course I still want you, Sirius! Just because I have a father now doesn’t mean I’m going to need my *god*father any less.’
A grin broke across Sirius’s face and he pulled Harry into a rough embrace, ‘Thanks Harry, I needed to hear that.’
Harry snorted and returned the hug, ‘Just promise me one thing?’
‘Promise me you won’t kill him?’
Sirius laughed, ‘I won’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best.’
When he finally caught up with his best friends just before dinner that night, Harry never asked what Ron, Hermione and Remus had done to dispel the crowd after he had left. He really had no desire to know. Harry borrowed from Hermione a silver chain and hung his father’s wedding band on it about his neck.
By the time Harry had finished berating Sakuna for taunting Hedwig, he and his two friends were the only ons left in the common room. Everybody else had adjourned to the Great Hall for dinner. Ron, Hermione and Harry had to run to avoid being late.
As it was, plates were just filling as the trio burst through the doors. Their abrupt entrance earned them scowls from Professors McGonagall and Snape and jeers from the Slytherin table. Harry ignored the Slytherins, but reached up to subconsciously finger the ring about his neck when he briefly met his father’s eyes. The three slunk to their seats amongst their year mates.
Harry didn’t even realise that the ring had fallen outside his robes and was being twirled between two fingers until Dean spoke up.
‘What’s that you’ve got there, Harry?’ he asked, drawing the eyes of the others to Harry.
Harry started. He glanced down at the ring entangled on its chain about his fingers. When he looked up, everybody was watching, waiting for him to answer Dean’s question.
Deciding it would do no harm to answer with the truth, Harry met Ron and Hermione’s eyes significantly, ‘It’s my dad’s weeding ring.’
The eyes of his best friends flickered briefly to the high table and knowing expressions fell across their faces. Before either of them could say anything, Lavender perked up, ‘Really?’
Parvati leant around her best friend, ‘May I see it?’
Harry hastily stuffed the ring back inside his shirt, ‘No, I’d rather you didn’t.’
The two Gryffindor girls’ faces took on moues of disappointment. Hermione rolled her eyes at them, but they weren’t deterred.
‘Will you at least tell us what’s written on it?’ Lavender pleaded.
Harry hesitated. In all likelihood, if he didn’t tell them something now, they would continue to pester him until he did. He gave, answering cautiously, ‘On the inside is engraved my parents’ names and then “one heart”.’
Ginny, Lavender and Parvati sighed romantically, Dean, Seamus, Neville and Colin rolled their eyes at the antics of the girls, and Ron and Hermione smirked knowingly at Harry for the omitted names. He smirked back and dug heartily into his chicken schnitzel.
Unfortunately, Harry’s ostensible preoccupation with his meal did nothing more to deter the girls from their topic then Hermione’s glare had earlier.
Ginny spoke up for the first time, asking, ‘What happened to your mother’s ring?’
Harry stopped chewing his mouthful of chicken and eyed his best friend’s little sister consideringly. He glanced sidelong at the head table, where, sitting beside the headmaster, his father was just raising his goblet to his lips, the wedding band flashing in the candlelight. Harry turned back to Ginny and suddenly grinned around his mouthful. He could have some fun with this……..
He swallowed, chased the chicken with some pumpkin juice and smiled brightly at Ginny, ‘Last I knew, ‘she’ was still wearing it.’
Hermione choked on her pumpkin juice.
‘Oh,’ said Ginny quite seriously.
‘I suppose you wouldn’t remember much of your mum and dad, would you?’ Lavender commiserated solemnly.
‘Lavender!’ gasped Hermione and even Parvati looked a little shocked that her friend would baldly say such a thing. The Gryffindor boys were avidly pretending not to be listening; Ron was watching Harry with dancing eyes, and Hermione kept darting frantic glances up at the head table as though afraid they would be overheard from that distance.
Harry, however, was grinning, ‘No, it’s alright, Ginny. Actually, I can remember a fair bit more about my ‘mother’ than I can about my dad.’
Now Hermione had turned her whole attention on Harry and Ron was studiously addressing himself to his dinner.
‘Really?’ chorused Parvati and Lavender, ‘What was she like?’
Harry pretended to think for a moment, ‘I guess you would say she wasn’t the typical mother type. She didn’t know any lullabies, that was for sure. Dad had to teach her them all.’
Hermione’s mouth was working now as she fought down a smile and Ron was biting his cheeks and stabbing quite industriously at his schnitzel. Colin and the other fifth year boys were staring at them weirdly. Parvati, Lavender and Ginny, however, were oblivious, enthralled as they were by Harry’s words.
Harry stopped and feigned thought for a moment.
‘I can’t imagine she ever breastfed me, either,’ he mused.
Ron choked on his pumpkin juice and turned red in the face, and Hermione abruptly ducked beneath the table. Harry had to work hard not to laugh himself.
‘I bet you didn’t know this:’ Harry addressed himself to his avidly listening audience of three, ‘When my ‘mother’ was in school, she was a Slytherin.’
The three girls gasped in unison, ‘No!’
‘Uh-huh,’ Harry nodded in mock earnest.
‘But,’ Ginny’s brow crinkled, ‘If they were in opposing houses, how did your parents get together?’
‘Oh, that’s stuff right out of romance novels,’ Harry embellished, ‘A mutual friend of theirs locked them in a room together until they agreed to talk. Neither of them could look at each other the same way again. Dad wooed her from there.’
Parvati and Lavender sighed romantically.
Ron’s face was positively glowing now and his eyes were watering as he tried not to laugh. Hermione had reappeared from beneath the table and was attempting to ignore Harry altogether with not much luck.
Ginny, looking thoughtful, suddenly piped up again, ‘Was she as pretty as all the pictures?’
That question was enough to break the back of the trios’ resistance. Catching each other’s eyes, Harry, Ron and Hermione dissolved into laughter. Snape? Pretty? Harry could just imagine how his father would react to hearing that. Tears streamed down the trio’s faces and the rest of the table began to crane their heads, trying to see what causing such uproar.
‘What?’ cried Ginny, ‘What’s so funny?’
Through fits of laughter, Ron wheezed, ‘Didn’t your ‘mum’ have a green dress and a red handbag, Harry?’
Hermione, who had managed to gain some semblance of control, lost it again. She collapsed across the table in a fit of helpless giggles. Harry was having trouble drawing breath, he was laughing so hard, and Ron had dissolved back into helpless laughter as well.
By this time, the three of them had begun to attract the attention of the other houses as well, but they just couldn’t stop. Harry was sure he heard one of the Ravenclaws shout ‘Finite Incantatem’ which didn’t help in the least, considering it wasn’t a spell. Although, their hysteria did resemble an out-of-control cheering charm.
It was Ginny’s startled ‘Professor Snape!’ that brought the trio out of their laughter. They swallowed their laughter and pivoted slowly about in their seats. Sure enough, standing directly behind Harry, was the Potions Professor. His arms were crossed, the wedding band on prominent – if inadvertent - display.
‘I hope you are finished disturbing the meals of others?’ he asked in that pleasant tone that always that, if you weren’t quite in trouble yet, you weren’t far off.
Harry nodded mutely along with Ron and Hermione, praying that his father wouldn’t ask what had set them off.
‘Would you care to tell us all what you found so amusing you saw fit to make a spectacle of yourselves?’ Severus’s eyes moved over Hermione’s, then Ron’s face, coming to settle on his son. He raised an eyebrow.
Harry darted a look at Ron and Hermione. They were dividing their attention between him and his father. It didn’t take too great an intelligence to know that Severus would be in the least pleased to know that they had been laughing…….. well, not *at* him, but certainly *about* him.
‘Mr Potter? I’m waiting.’
Harry still didn’t answer in some vain hope that his father would give up on receiving an answer. Unfortunately, Ginny piped up at that moment.
‘Harry was just telling us about his mother, sir, and what she was like,’ the youngest Weasley staunchly defended.
Harry blanched. The arched brow lowered and Severus turned a black glare on his son. All the Gryffindors drew back from it, though only three of them knew the cause.
‘And what,’ menaced Severus, ‘did Mr Potter say?
‘Nothing! Really!’ Harry was quick to try and reassure his father. But luck was against him and Ginny piped up again.
‘Professor Snape, he was *only* telling us what he remembered about her and showing us his father’s wedding ring!’
As much as Harry really did like Ginny Weasley, in that moment he would have gladly fed her to Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback dragon. As he dropped his head to mutely stare at his hands, he quickly decided that he would feed himself to the dragon as well; the ring was hanging in plain view, having fallen from within his robes in his convulsions of laughter. It was, of course, too much to hope that his father wouldn’t notice.
And indeed, Harry could *feel* Severus’s eyes on him like a physical force. He made himself look up. Severus’s black eyes lingered darkly on his face for a moment before dipping to trace the fall of the chain to the silver weight at its bottom. His voice was a dark whisper that nevertheless carried clearly when he spoke.
‘What are you wearing that for?’
Of a sudden, Harry’s fear melted away as residual resentment of being treated like a possession by his father welled up. He drew himself up and tucked the offending article away, ‘What else should I do with it?’
Harry was peripherally aware that silence had settled over the hall and that all eyes were trained on them.
‘A wedding band like that is a private object; not intended for the public eye.’ To use displeased to describe Severus’s voice would be a gross under statement.
As irritated as he had become, his father’s patently hypocritical words got Harry’s back up further, and he injudiciously snapped back, ‘Then what are you wearing *that* for?’
He stabbed a finger at Severus’s own wedding band and felt the weight of all the gazes in the room follow the gesture. Severus must have felt them too, because he refolded his arms, hiding his left hand from view. But his voice had that deadly calm again when he spoke.
‘Do you have a particular reason I should not wear my wedding band?’ Severus’s tone was now a velvet threat.
One that Harry chose to ignore, ‘No. Just that if you can wear it, then I should be able to wear this,’ He gestured through his robes at the lump the ring made there.
Severus drew himself up to his full and menacing height, putting Harry at serious disadvantage as he sat. He hissed, ‘*You* are a student and should do as your professor dictates –’
‘*Professor*!’ Harry scoffed indignantly, interrupting, wanting to add ‘More like father.’ But not daring to go that far.
Severus ignored his interruption, ‘– I, on the other hand, *am* a professor and how and when I chose to display my marital status is strictly between my spouse and myself.’
Harry was aware now of the whispering that swept the hall like a breeze but he ignored it as he leapt to his feet, exploding in his father’s face, ‘It would be if he wasn’t *dead*! In leu of him, you’d think you’d talk to your *family* about it! And I wonder who *that* might be?’
Aware that he might very well have revealed to much, but not being able to bring himself to care, Harry pushed past his father and stormed down the hall. Silence had fallen again as all gazes watched march away. Into that silence fell the deadly hiss.
‘Harry James Severus Snape-Potter, do *not* turn your back on me.’
Harry checked his stride at the doors, but he didn’t turn. Over his shoulder he said, ‘I thought you weren’t going to call me that?’
When he received no immediate reply, Harry left the hall without looking back. He headed straight for the Gryffindor tower.
He had only just thrown himself face down on his bed when a thundering on the stairs heralded the arrival of his room-mates. He groaned and buried his head in his pillow trying to pretend he was asleep. Which was, of course, futile, considering he could have been in th room more than five minutes. The door burst open and the four boys piled in, one on top of the other.
‘Gosh, Harry,’ stammered Neville, ‘I was sure you were in for it tonight!’
Seamus bounced off the end of Harry’s bed, ‘I was sure Snape was going to hand you over Filch to be strung up by your thumbs!’
‘He didn’t even give you a detention,’ Dean said, sounding rather awed at Harry’s escape.
Harry groaned again. He flipped over and pushed himself upright, knowing that he friends wouldn’t leave him alone after that episode, ‘Well, it’s not like he really could, is it?’
Ron was sitting on the end of his own bed, not saying anything, but watching the others avidly. Dean, Seamus and Neville shot Harry confused looks.
‘What do you mean he couldn’t give you a detention?’ Seamus said, ‘The whole hall heard you talk back to him……... kinda.’
Harry collapsed wearily back on his pillows, ‘Well yeah, but he can’t really give me a detention for *that*. Ground me maybe, or take away my allowance if I had one, but he couldn’t give me a *detention*,’ Harry sighed, ‘There goes the Hogsmeade weekends for the rest of the year.’
The three boys looked aghast and Ron was eyeing Harry warily. Harry raised a brow at him, but he only shook his head.
‘He couldn’t do that!’ Neville protested, ‘Dumbledore wouldn’t let him!’
Harry stared at him, confused, ‘What’s Dumbledore got to do with it?’
‘Dumbledore’d never let a professor ban you from Hogsmeade just ‘cause you spoke back to him!’ exclaimed Seamus.
‘Professor? Snape’s my –’ Harry stopped. Behind the backs of the other boys, Ron was frantically shaking his head. He looked back at the others. Come to think of it, why were they going on about Harry’s escaped punishment when they should be asking about Snape being Harry’s father? ‘Weren’t you listening to a word Snape said just now? Didn’t you hear what he called me?’
Ron spoke for the first time now, ‘Harry, we couldn’t have understood what he said even if we wanted to.’
Harry stared at him.
‘Yeah! I didn’t know Snape was a Parselmouth too,’ said Dean.
Harry blinked, ‘Parselmouth? You mean we were talking Parseltongue that whole time?’
Neville nodded, then shook his head, ‘Well, not the *whole* time. You said that if he could wear his ring, then you should be able to wear yours. Then he hissed at you and you hissed back.’
Harry stared from face to face, ‘Really?’
They all nodded, ‘And you couldn’t understand a word we said?’
They all nodded again, but Dean added, ‘Except for when you said that you didn’t think he was going to call you ‘that’. Call you what?’
Harry shook his head and said, ‘He called me by my name,’
When he refused to elaborate, they soon gave up. When Neville, Dean and Seamus left for the bathroom to ready themselves for bed, Ron hung back.
Closing the door securely behind the other three, he turned to Harry, ‘What did he *really* say?’
Harry beckoned Ron closer, not wanting to risk being overheard when they had already come so close to being discovered, ‘He said I shouldn’t wear the ring – *which*, by the way, *he* gave me – and he said that him wearing his wedding band was between him and his spouse. That’s when I leapt up. I told him that dad was dead and shouldn’t he have thought to talk to me about it instead? And then I walked off.’ Harry shrugged, like it was no big deal that he had managed to get in another fight with his father so soon after patching the first.
Ron leant furtively closer, ‘What did he say when you were walking away?’
Harry shrugged again and looked away, ‘He called my name and told me not to turn my back on him.’
Ron looked surprised and confused, ‘He just called your name?’
‘He called my *full* name: Harry James Severus Snape-Potter.’
‘Oh,’ said Ron, ‘Oh.’
Then, ‘That’s your full name?’
‘It is now,’ Harry pulled his blankets over him, intending to go straight to sleep without even changing his clothes. He couldn’t bring himself to care.
‘What do you mean it is *now*?’ Ron persisted.
Harry yawned, ‘I’m pretty sure that my birth certificate reads only Harry James Severus Potter, but I wanted my last name changed.’
‘Oh,’ said Ron again before he too climbed into bed fully clothed.
Chapter Twenty-Two: The myth of the fairy-tale ending
Harry stayed in his dorm room all day on Sunday. It seemed the most effective method of avoiding his father. He didn’t go hungry, however; Ron and Dobby the house-elf saw to that.
He lay on his bed and dreaded his inevitable meeting with Severus come Monday morning’s Potions class. His one consolation was that his father could publicly only treat him like another student; he couldn’t ground Harry without everyone growing suspicious.
This consolation was, of course, dashed bright and earlier on Monday morning.
Harry was lying abed, hoping some miracle would occur and his morning classes would be cancelled when Colin Creevey appeared at the door.
‘Everyone’s to gather in the common-room,’ he cried with his usual over-exuberance, ‘Professor McGonagall wants to talk to us.’
Praying that his asked-for reprieve had been delivered, Harry hastily dragged on a fresh school uniform, forgoing a shower. He pounded down the stairs in the wake of the other fifth-year boys, his quetzalcoatl familiar wrapped tight about his neck and perched himself on the arm of the love seat Ron and Hermione were sharing.
As a few stragglers stumbled down the stairs, Professor McGonagall clapped her hands sharply for silence.
‘Quiet please, students,’ the professor glared as the whispering Weasley twins, ‘I have a few announcements to make before you all go down to breakfast.
‘First and most importantly, the West Tower and the second level dungeons are, as of today, off limits to all students without a pass.’
A wave of murmuring swept the room, and Harry shared a glance with Hermione and Ron. The last time a section of the castle had been placed off limits it had been because it housed the Philosopher’s Stone. What the reason was this time was anyone’s guess.
McGonagall’s voice cut through the whispers, ‘I want to be quite clear on this, students. No one,’ Harry could have sworn she glanced at him and his friends, ‘is to go there without the express permission of myself, or another professor.’
The Gryffindor head of house stared about the tower common-room until she began to receive nods of understanding. She nodded sharply herself, ‘Good.
‘Secondly, the first Hogsmeade weekend is set rather earlier than usual this year. If you wish to attend, you will have your permission slips in to me no later than Thursday evening.’
She turned to the fifth-years, ‘Neville, Harry, I already have yours.’
Harry paled a little at the covert allusion to his father, but when no one seemed to pick up on it, he relaxed again. At least it appeared Severus wasn’t going to ground him.
His reaction didn’t go as unnoticed as he had thought. About his neck, Sakuna stirred and raised his head to Harry’s ear.
‘You are ssstill not happy with the dark one?’ he hissed. Harry was beginning to think that the quetzalcoatl’s telepathic abilities applied not only to its twin, but also to Harry himself. He supposed it was a side-effect of the bond Sakuna had formed with him. Regardless of the reason, it now seemed the magical snake could read Harry’s emotions.
Harry turned his head until he could see Sakuna’s red and gold plumage from the corner of his eye, ‘No, it’s not that. I’m just afraid *he* won’t be happy with *me*.’
Sakuna butted his head against Harry’s check.
‘Why should he not be happy with you? You fought, but now the fight isss over,’ he said, and Harry marvelled again at how the quetzalcoatl could be so intelligent and articulate, yet still retain the uniquely simple view of emotions that all animals had and most humans lacked. Sakuna could not conceive of the idea that there might be some lingering resentment between Harry and his father as a result of that fight.
He was about to respond to the snake when Professor McGonagall captured his attention again, ‘The Quidditch season has also been brought forward this year, so I would suggest our remaining teams members get together and set out a training schedule. Remember you will be working with a new captain *and* a new keeper on top of not having played for over a year.’
Harry was torn between groaning at the prospect of the rigorous training schedule that was sure to result and cheering at the thought of being in the game once more. Glancing about the room, it seemed to Harry that the rest of the team felt much the same way.
McGonagall didn’t give them time to dwell on this thought, ‘And last but not least: I’m sure you’ve all been wondering why no fifth-year prefects have been appointed as yet this year.’
Far from wondering about it, Harry hadn’t even noticed. He quite rightly put it down to being distracted by his new familial status. It wasn’t a subject that interested him at the best of times anyway. Hermione, on the other hand, was sitting forward eagerly.
‘As I’m sure you are all aware, the new prefects are usually chosen before you all depart for the summer. Unfortunately, the end of last year was rather........ disrupted, what with the Triwizard Tournament and all,’ no few students glanced sidelong at Harry who grimaced, ‘As a result, the faculty never got the chance to make our selections. Professor Dumbledore suggested that we use the first week back to observe the candidates one last time before we professors made our choices.
‘That week is over now, and I am proud to announce Gryffindor’s two newest prefects.
‘Miss Granger, your intelligence and great ingenuity have earned you this badge,’ McGonagall wafted the small red and gold badge into Hermione’s hands, ‘I’m sure you’ll serve your house well.’
Lead by Ron and Harry, the students of Gryffindor enthusiastically cheered Hermione. She flushed pink, but quickly and proudly pinned her new badge to her lapel. Professor McGonagall indulged her students for a moment before gesturing them all to silence again.
‘And, having proven himself capable of managing many stresses and developing unique solutions on more than one occasion, I decided – and his father concurs – that our other new prefects should be Mr Snape-Potter.’
There was something suspiciously like a smirk lingering about the professor’s lips as she nodded to Harry and quit the room, leaving behind her a rather shocked group of students. As the portrait swung closed in her wake, the new prefect’s badge plopped into Harry’s lap.
Well, that certainly wasn’t the manner in which he had envisioned his fellow students finding out. He had imagined Dumbledore would announce it at supper one night, or he and his father would have a discreet interview with the *Daily Prophet* and the wizarding public would be informed that way. For his head of house to mention it so casually seemed somehow........ ignominious.
Harry knew his cheeks were flaming scarlet as surely as he could feel the weight of upwards of seventy pairs of eyes on him. Not game to look up and confront the hundreds of questions that would be pelted at him, he instead looked down at Ron and Hermione in the seat beside him. They were both staring up at him, their eyes wide. Obviously, they had expected something with more pomp and ceremony as well. Suddenly, Harry jumped up.
‘Well, I think I’ll go down to breakfast now,’ he announced to the room at large. To Ron and Hermione he said, ‘Are you two coming?’
Without waiting for their replies, Harry hurried to the portrait hole, ignoring Sakuna’s hisses of annoyance at the rough ride. He paused in the open entrance and turned back to see if his two friends were coming. That proved to be his downfall. He found himself caught in the combined regard of his entire house, hypnotised by their silent staring.
‘Harry?’ came the weak voice of Katie Bell at the back of the room.
Harry swallowed and tried to tear himself away. Unfortunately, he couldn’t, and the chaser’s voice had stared to break the tableau.
‘What was McGonagall talking about, about your father, Harry?’ asked Lee Gordon.
Nervously, Harry’s hand came up to worry at his dad’s wedding band concealed beneath his robes.
George Weasley stepped forward and asked loudly, ‘Why’d she call you *Snape*-Potter, Harry?’
They were all silent and staring again, but this time they were expectant, waiting for Harry to answer the last question. Harry closed his eyes and sagged tiredly against the wall. Now was not the time he wanted to go through this.
He felt a hand on his arm and opened his eyes. Hermione was standing next to him, glaring at the gathered students and Ron stood on her other side, similarly arrayed against the others.
‘Professor McGonagall called him that because that’s his name,’ Hermione stated clearly, as though it should have been obvious.
‘Harry James Severus Snape-Potter,’ Ron clarified and Harry felt like fading away into the wall. The eyes were back again.
‘He’s your *father*?!’ Ginny squeaked.
Harry closed his eyes again, ‘Yes.’
That was enough to cause the storm to break. Suddenly everybody was talking at once and they were all trying to be heard above the others.
‘That’s not possible!’
‘He’s a Slytherin –!’
‘He’s a *Death* *Eater*!’
‘– Lily and *that* slimy git–?’
‘But what about James–?’
‘– He probably used some potion on Harry’s mum to get her to sleep with him –’
‘– More like, he raped her –’
‘– Poor Harry –!’
Then, in a voice Harry didn’t recognise, ‘I bet he’s planning on handing Harry over to You-Know-Who!’
For some reason, Harry had never stopped to wonder how his housemates would react to the knowledge that he was Professor Severus Snape’s son. But he never thought they’d immediately start accusing his father of all sorts of horrible things. Nobody had the right to say such things, and especially not in front of the man’s son. Harry exploded.
His hand was fisted about the ring beneath his robes and the knuckles were white. On his shoulder, Sakuna had mantled, fanning his wings and dropping his fangs as he picked up on Harry’s agitation. Altogether, Harry made an intimidating figure as he employed the glare he had inherited from his father. Hermione and Ron edged away from him, even though his anger wasn’t directed at them.
‘How *dare* you talk about my father like that,’ he seethed, ‘How *dare* you accuse him of all those horrible things. None of you know anything about him.’
Surprisingly, Neville got up the courage to lean forward out of his chair, ‘But Harry –’
Harry rounded on him and Neville cowered back in the chair.
‘I told you to shut up!’ He turned back to the room at large, ‘I’m only going to say this once and after that, if anyone so much as *thinks* about it in my presence, I’ll hex you all six ways to a month of Sundays.
‘My father is *not* evil. He was never even really a Death Eater; Dumbledore asked him to spy for the Light side. He did not rape, dose or otherwise coerce Lily for the simple fact that he did not touch her in the first place. She was my father’s younger half-sister. My *Dad* James Potter, and my *father* Severus Snape were legally married with no coercion involved. I am not a bastard and I am *both* my fathers’ son.
‘Now you have more of the story than is any of your business. Don’t talk about my father, my dad or my aunt like that again. For that matter, don’t talk about them at all. At least not in my hearing for a good *long* time.’
Harry glared once more about the common-room at his thoroughly cowed housemates. Nodding curtly once in grim satisfaction that they wouldn’t be talking any time soon, he spun on his heel and swept out the portrait hole.
Two sets of hurrying footsteps alerted him to the presence of his best friends following after him.
‘Woah, Harry, you really scared them back there!’ Ron was grinning, ‘Hell, you scared me back there.’
‘Well they deserved it,’ Harry snapped and Sakuna hissed his agreement.
Harry heard his friends’ strides falter and he sighed, ‘I’m sorry, guys. I’m not angry at you; it’s just........’
‘It’s okay, Harry, we understand. And they shouldn’t have said all that stuff,’ said Hermione and Ron nodded.
Harry grinned at them, ‘Thanks.’
It was an uncommonly silent breakfast at the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron and Hermione had already been sitting there a good ten minutes before the first of the others began to appear. What followed was an odd, silent, twisted case of first in, best dressed. The earliest students took the seats furthermost from Harry, with each successive wave of students looking increasingly worried the closer their seats got to Harry. When they spoke, it was only in the softest undertone and never about anything remotely connected to Harry, his fathers or his aunt. But that didn’t stop their eyes talking. Every time he looked up, Harry could be assured of encountering at least half a dozen pairs of eyes that would dart to the head table and back before looking away.
For a while, Harry amused himself by scowling at anyone caught staring and watching them quickly turn away, their faces paling slightly, but by the time breakfast was over, he was heartily sick of it. He decided he couldn’t bear to return to his dorm room to retrieve his Potions books and instead summoned them to him, even though it was against the rules. For once, Hermione didn’t protest and she and Ron did the same.
Harry was firmly ensconced at his usual desk at the back of the room when the other students started to file in. To remind them that he had been serious, he glared at them all as they passed his desk. For good measure, he glared at the Slytherins too, but that was nothing new, so they didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
Sakuna curled up on the corner of the desk and, beside Harry, Ron and Hermione tried to pretend that this was just any other lesson. Which it wasn’t. The other Gryffindors were quieter than usual, all rigidly aware that Harry was sitting behind them, liable to hex them at any second. Conversely, Harry was beginning to enjoy the situation again. It had to be the Slytherin coming out in him.
The office door at the side of the room opened and Severus swept in, glaring indiscriminately about, as he always did. The effect was somewhat ruined by Sasu floating above his head in all her blue and purple glory.
With the exception of Harry, Ron and Hermione, the entire class gasped. All the Gryffindors went to turn and look at Sakuna lying stretched on Harry’s desk, but caught themselves, not quite willing to face Harry. The Slytherins had no such compunction; they all turned to stare openly between Sakuna and his twin.
Severus of course made no mention of the quetzalcoatl and nobody else was game to, although Harry could see the wheels turning in his housemates heads. Nor did the potions master in anyway acknowledge his son, not that Harry had been expecting him too; Severus simply wrote the day’s potion on the board and briefly lectured them on its properties before setting them to work making it. He sat at his desk marking papers while the students gathered the ingredients and began their preparations. Harry wondered briefly where his father managed to get so many papers so early in the year.
For the most part, the lesson passed in much the same fashion as every other potions class, despite the tension on the Gryffindor side of the room. Although there were a couple of incidents........
Harry had just added his crushed Christmas beetle carapace to his potions when there was a great hiss and a pale blue potion began to spread slowly across the floor. Severus glanced up, already denouncing the potion maker, ‘Mr Longbottom, how many times –’
He broke off, realising it wasn’t Neville that stood in the middle of the spreading pool of potion, but Lavender Brown. Neville stood two desks in front of her, staring as though he couldn’t understand why it wasn’t him that had melted the cauldron this time. Severus and the rest of the class looked equally surprised.
Severus stood and paced around his desk and down the aisle to Lavender’s desk, ‘Miss Brown. I see Longbottom isn’t the only hopeless student in this class. You have managed to turn a simple clarifying salve into an iron-corroding mess.
‘However, as this is the first time you have melted one of my cauldrons, I won’t take any points from you. You will instead report to Mr Filch for detention tonight at eight. Is that understood?’
Lavender nodded hastily and Severus waved his wand, cleaning up the spill.
‘Good. Now get a new cauldron and get back to work,’ Severus paced back to his desk and returned to his marking. Sasu flitted down the room and settled by Sakuna on Harry’s table. They started hissing quietly together and Harry tried to ignore them.
Half an hour later, Severus spoke suddenly, disturbing the silence of the classroom, ‘Do you have a problem, Miss Patil?’
At the desk in front of Harry, Parvati jumped guiltily. She had been staring avidly between Harry and Severus all lesson and it was starting to wear on Harry’s nerves. He smirked.
‘No Professor, it’s just........’ she darted a quick look at Harry and he gave her his best imitation of his father’s scowl. Parvati turned back to Professor Snape and muttered under her breath, ‘nothing, sir.’
‘Then kindly get on with your potion and stop that vacant staring!’ Severus snapped.
Parvati flushed and bent over her cauldron, stirring it industriously. On the other side of the room, several of the Slytherins snickered. They quickly fell silent when Severus glared at them.
The rest of the lesson passed peaceably enough until just towards the end. With not fifteen minutes left to go, and most students finished with their potions, Sasu and Sakuna took it into their heads to cavort about the classroom.
In a flurry of bright wings, they shot up off Harry’s desk and spiralled about his head before darting off across the dungeon. They swooped low over the Slytherins and Pansy Parkinson screamed. Startled, Sakuna mantled and spat in the face of Goyle who ducked under his desk convinced the quetzalcoatl was about to bite him. Sasu flew circles about Blaise Zabini, one of the quieter Slytherin girls. She shrieked and tried to hide behind Millicent Bulstrode who had no liking for snakes and had her back pressed against the wall. Draco Malfoy was trying his best to keep his composure, but that was difficult to do when his stool was repeatedly bumped as Crabbe tried to join Goyle under the table. The blonde Slytherin’s normally impeccable hair was mussed when Sakuna flicked his tail through it on his way back to Harry.
The Gryffindors were in hysterics. It wasn’t often they got to laugh at the Slytherins in Potions class, and they were making the most of it.
Sakuna never reached Harry’s side. Before he could, Severus slammed his chair back from his desk and shouted – as much as one could in Parseltongue – at the pair of quetzalcoatl, ‘Sasu! Sakuna! What do you think you are doing?!’
Sakuna hung in midair, his wings and head drooping. Sasu, on the other hand, flew once more around Blaise for good measure then turned her attention to Severus; ‘We were bored and decided we would have some fun.’
Harry and Sakuna flinched at her flippant reply and Severus’s face took on a red glow, ‘No one – not even my familiar – disrupts my class without a good reason, and *fun* is not any excuse at all.’
He strode over to his office door and threw it open, ‘If you two cannot behave, you have no place in my classroom.’
He gestured sharply into his office. Sakuna – with a mournful glance at Harry, who returned it with a stern glare – floated despondently through the door and out of sight. Sasu lifted her head proudly and, in a stately flight, made her away into the office as though it was an invitation not an order. Just before she disappeared from sight, she flipped her tail defiantly in Severus’s direction. Harry stifled a snort of laughter.
Severus glared at the still giggling Gryffindors and his rather bedraggled Slytherins.
‘Continue with your potions until I return,’ he snapped in English, then followed the snakes into his office and firmly closed the door.
Not willing to tempt their professor’s anger, the Gryffindors quickly returned to their potions. After a moment, the Slytherins did the same as well. But Draco couldn’t let the humiliation of his house go without some sort of retaliation. Predicably, Harry was his target.
‘I suppose you thought that was amusing, Potter,’ he sneered, smoothing back his rumpled hair.
Harry didn’t bother to correct the name as he replied, ‘Yes, I did, rather.’
Draco glared at him.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Did I not respond correctly?’ Harry affected innocence. He had really had enough of this Slytherin. The Gryffindors laughed.
‘Very amusing, Potter,’ spat Draco. He stood and moved over to Harry’s desk so he could snipe in the Gryffindor’s face.
‘I notice McGonagall made you a prefect. I can’t imagine anything other than pity motivated her: the poor, dumb orphan ought to get some breaks in life,’ his gaze slid past Harry to his friends, ‘I see Granger is a prefect too. The pity-plea again. Poor little mudblood. But I don’t understand why the Weasel wasn’t made one. I mean, surely he deserves the most pity of you all. The youngest son of a poor-as-dirt family? Who could be more deserving?’
Draco smirked as he saw Harry’s fists clench. Hermione had to hold Ron back from either going for his wand or simply slugging the arrogant Slytherin. Draco’s blue gaze returned to Harry.
‘But then, it isn’t like Hogwarts’ Golden Boy could be passed over for the likes of *that*’ he thrust his chin in Ron’s direction. Draco sighed dramatically, ‘I don’t know Potter. I can’t imagine your father would be too proud of the way you play off your fame. But then, who could ever know with the Potter clan? Then there was that........ *ugh*........ that he married........’ Draco trailed off gleefully.
Harry’s face went perfectly straight and all the Gryffindors froze. *They* knew that Draco had just crossed a line, but he couldn’t seem to see it. Even his fellow Slytherins realised something was wrong when Harry slowly got up off his stool; their expressions turned to worry.
Harry stood toe-to-toe with Draco and said, in a perfectly level tone, ‘Malfoy, I’ve told you before: you don’t know anything about my fathers. Learn your subject before you open you mouth. And in future, I’d suggest you watch where you speak about my family,’ Harry nodded over Draco’s shoulder.
Somewhat intimidated by Harry’s tone, the Slytherin turned to find his head of house standing directly behind him. Severus had his arms crossed and was staring down at the boy with a peculiar, dark expression on his face. Draco paled slightly, though he couldn’t imagine why.
‘Mr Malfoy,’ Severus’s voice was dark, and even those not addressed shivered, ‘get back to your cauldron. You have just lost Slytherin fifteen points. If you discuss a professor in such a manner again, you will lose twice that.’
Draco and his housemates gaped at their house head for a moment. Severus stared them down and Draco shuffled back to his desk and busied himself at his cauldron. Severus turned his attention back to Harry.
‘Mr Snape-Potter, you will remain behind after class. I wish to speak to you.’
There was a clunk and sharp hiss as Draco dropped his measuring beaker into his cauldron. Blaise thumped to the floor as she missed the stool she had been about to sit on. Crabbe and Goyle emerged from beneath the desk so fast that they crashed their heads together, and Pansy gasped so hard she choked.
Seamus blurted, ‘So it’s true then!’
Severus turned to the Irish student and asked calmly, as though he had no idea, ‘What is true, Mr Finnegan?’
Seamus flushed, ‘That........ Well, that........ That you’re Harry’s dad.’
There was a distinct choking sound from the Slytherin side of the room. Harry turned to smirk at them; they all had eyes as round as Sickles.
Severus made a vaguely disagreeing noise low in his throat, ‘Not exactly.’
The Gryffindors all gaped at him. Harry whipped his head around so fast that he kinked his neck, but he ignored it in favour of staring disbelievingly at his father. The truth was finally out and now he was going to deny it?
Severus turned to look at Harry and smirked, ‘James was Harry’s ‘dad’. I prefer father.’
Now the entire class – with the exception of Harry and his two friends – were staring round-eyed at their professor: the Gryffindors because they had never imagined that the man had a sense of humour and the Slytherins because they simply couldn’t believe that *their* head of house – the head of *Slytherin* – was the father of the Boy Who Lived.
Severus glanced at the clock and, before anyone got up the courage to ask anything, he said, ‘Bottle your potions. They have to sit for two days and I shall be inspecting them next lesson.’
The scramble to bottle the potions and clear away the remaining ingredients prevented anyone from asking questions and for that Harry was grateful. Not that the Gryffindors would have dared after his blow-up this morning, but still........
The bell rang and the rest of the class gathered up their books and filed out. Harry watched them go. Few met his eyes, the last student out being one of them. Harry found himself staring into a pair of pale gray eyes. The expression in them was peculiar: it seemed somehow accusatory and, deep down, curiously betrayed. Harry blinked, and it was only as the other turned away that he finally recognised whose eyes they had been.
Draco Malfoy ducked alone into the dungeon corridor and, despite all the nastiness that had passed between, Harry felt a compulsion to follow the blonde Slytherin. But his father was waiting to speak to him........
Harry turned back into the dungeon classroom. His father was standing by the office door.
‘Pater.......?’ Harry wasn’t sure if he was allowed to address the man as his father at this moment.
Severus nodded, ‘Come into my office, Harry.’
Harry followed his father in to find the potions master seated behind his desk. He felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. It couldn’t be good if Harry was allowed to call him Pater but Severus still felt the occasion was serious enough to warrant facing his son over his desk.
Sakuna and Sasu were curled in Sasu’s basket at the edge of the desk. Sasu was managing to look both sullen and chastised. She flickered her tongue at Severus as he sat, but when he glared at her, she ducked her head below the rim of the basket. Sakuna was still looking despondent, but he brightened when he saw Harry enter. He lifted himself from the basket and curled himself in Harry’s obliging arms, hiding his head in the crock of the boy’s elbow and seeking reassurance in the caress. Harry started slightly as he realised he had just read Sakuna’s emotions. Evidently, the bond worked both ways. He glanced up at his father who was watching him caress his familiar.
Severus nodded at Sakuna, ‘From now on, if Sakuna accompanies you to class, he is to remain in your book bag or on your lap. He cannot be interrupting every class as he did mine today.’
Harry nodded and ran a hand down his quetzalcoatl’s length, ‘Is that what you wished to see me about?’
Severus smirked and steepled his hands, ‘Not strictly. There is still the matter of your punishment for that........ incident in the Great Hall the other night.’
Harry gasped, ‘You can’t punish me for that!’
Severus straightened, ‘As your professor I can’t, but as your father I can.’
Harry slouched a little. So this was what warranted his father sitting behind the desk.
‘It had me in quite a quandary all Sunday. I’ve never had to punish you as my son before. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I did consider grounding you but Remus convinced me that was a little harsh,’ Severus smirked somewhat evilly, ‘So I settled on having you scrub the cauldrons in my personal workroom.’
Harry gasped again, ‘But that’s what I do in detention!’
Severus waved a hand somewhat airily, ‘I would call it chores on this occasion.’
Harry choked and his father smiled at him. Harry started to laugh and clutched Sakuna tighter to him. The snake protested and wriggled from Harry’s arms, twining himself about Harry’s neck instead. Harry laughed harder. Severus was chuckling now, too.
In reality, it wasn’t really that amusing, but Harry was just relieved that the truth was finally out in the open and that their fight in the Great Hall seemed to have done no lasting harm to their burgeoning relationship.
Severus moved from behind his desk to perch on the corner of it, still chuckling. Then he sobered and Harry did too. They gazed solemnly at each other for a long moment.
‘Why *are* you wearing your ring?’ Harry asked suddenly.
Severus shifted and looked done at the silver band about his finger. He twisted idly, ‘Because I can.’
Harry stared at him. Severus looked up and shrugged, ‘Because I never had the chance to while James was still alive. I was never able to acknowledge the fact that I was married. And while technically I’m not any more, it still feels right to do so.’
Severus looked away, mildly embarrassed at his sentimental reasoning. Harry stared at his father without speaking for a moment. When Severus looked back, the boy nodded once in recognition and understanding. Severus’s lips twisted in the slightest of smiles and they gazed at each other for another long moment.
‘Harry, I –’ Severus faltered and gestured helplessly, ‘you are my son and I – love you,’ he finished almost lamely.
Harry studied Severus’s face for a long moment and Severus began to regret his words. But then Harry smiled hesitantly. He stepped forward unsurely and eyed his father.
‘I guess – ’ suddenly finding some well of courage, Harry stepped forward again and flung his arms about his father’s waist, ‘I love you too, Pater.’
Severus stilled; momentarily stunned at the most obvious display of affection either of them had dare yet make. Then he unfroze and wrapped his arms about Harry and hugged his son to him. He’d wanted to do this for the longest time, ever since Harry had arrived at Hogwarts and even more after the boy had found out the truth, and now he could and was.
Moments later, both drew back from the embrace, somewhat embarrassed at their actions. Neither could quite meet the other’s eye. A vaguely uncomfortable silence stretched between them.
Eventually Harry stirred.
‘I have to drop my books in the Tower before lunch........’ he said, gesturing vaguely over his shoulder.
Severus stirred as well and nodded, ‘You’d better go then.’
Harry nodded in reply and turned to leave. Severus’s voice stopped him at the door and he glanced back.
‘Harry........ Tomorrow night, I was thinking of having dinner in my rooms. Remus will be there, and........ Black, I suppose. I was wondering if you’d care to join us?’
Harry cast him a blinding smile and Severus was reminded again of James, ‘That’d be great!’
Severus nodded curtly; ‘I’ll expect you promptly at seven, then.’
Harry grinned again and ducked out the door. He was still smiling as he stopped to retrieve his books. Reaching up with his free hand, he scratched Sakuna’s neck and the quetzalcoatl hissed in pleasure.
Draco was lingering in the dungeon halls as Harry left. His face was unreadable and he stared at Harry. But he didn’t say anything and Harry didn’t say anything either. They passed each other silently in the hall and it was as though an unspoken truce had been called.
Harry glanced back over his shoulder once he had passed the other boy, but Draco was already gone. It was an odd thing. There was so much turmoil in his life at the moment: He still hadn’t dealt fully with the events of the previous year. The threat of Voldemort was perhaps worse than it had ever been. He had a father to learn to relate to, and godfather who hated said father. There was that certain blonde Slytherin who did nothing so much as confuse Harry........
But despite all this, for the first time in months, Harry felt like just maybe there was a chance that things would turn out alright in the end. He felt that for once in his life he had a chance at the fairy-tale ending where everything turned out just right and everybody lived happily ever after.