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Through the Quiet Emerald Fortress (Prisoner of Azkaban)

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    “Severus, it has been over a week now,” Minerva sighed and shoved back a wisp of hair that had somehow fallen loose from her impeccable bun (maybe Harry’s messy hair was contagious).  “You cannot skip two more weeks of classes just because Harry has a curable illness.”

    The potions master looked up from where he was sitting by Harry’s bedside as the preteen was receiving his second anti-venom treatment and thrashing a bit in his sleep.  “Watch me,” he said impassively, before turning his fathomless back eyes back to the child, wiping a curl of sweaty hair off his clammy forehead.

    “Your OWL and NEWT students have exams in a week,” Minerva reminded him, trying not to lose her patience with the man- they were all worried about Harry, after all, but they couldn’t just take all that time off of work every time he was sick, or the sad truth is they’d never get anything done.

    “And if they haven’t learned it by now, they’re useless and they’ll fail; I don’t see the problem,” Severus shrugged, turning back to dabbing Harry’s cheeks with a cool cloth.

    “Severus, they need to review,” the tabby animagus said, more insistently this time.

    “The potions lab doesn’t just disappear when I’m not in there, and I’ve got bigger problems at the moment than than making sure they don’t destroy it- nothing’s stopping them.”  With a learned efficiency, when Harry shot up, he quickly brought the bucket up, and not a drop of vomit spilled on the sheets as Severus held the bucket with one hand and ran the other through Harry’s hair.  

    “Shhh, there there- get it all out,” he said, even though Harry couldn’t see his lips- it was mostly to reassure himself at this point, but he had to say something.   Luckily, the episodes of projectile vomiting had been slowly decreasing, but the weight loss was of course concerning, since Harry couldn’t keep anything down at the moment.   Just when they’d been starting to make some progress…

    Severus sighed and made sure the IV still had plenty of fluid, since it was Harry’s only source of nutrients at the moment.  Poppy had finally managed to drag Sirius and Remus away from the bedside to take a shower (unlike normally, when it was for pleasure, now they were taking a shower together for the sheer efficiency of it, just so they could get back to their godson sooner), so he was the only one there to fend of Minerva’s badgering.  He knew, of course, that once the mutts came back, the nurse was going to force him to eat and shower as well. He at least consoled himself with the knowledge that that was as far as he would let it get- she couldn’t make them sleep anywhere else but Harry’s bedside, no matter how stern she might be: it was three against one (and no, the irony was not lost on him that he was teaming up with the two remaining Marauders, but frankly, he didn’t give a shit).

    “Come on- if you get fired, you won’t be able to be around to watch Harry during the school year,” Minerva threatened, and Severus scoffed at her.

    “It took our combined onslaught to get Albus to fire Filch for hitting a child- he’s not going to fire me for missing work,” he sneered.

    “Are you sure, dear?  I mean, your dark mark is gone- you’re no longer useful as a spy anymore.”

    “He doesn’t know my dark mark is gone.”

    “That’s what we assume- but he knew when Harry saved the unicorn- his reach clearly extends farther than he lets on,” Minerva reminded him.

    “I’m not going back to work until he’s better, Minerva, and that’s final,” the potions master asserted.  “What if he wakes up and I’m not here?”

    “Why don’t we take turns?” Remus came out of the bathroom, holding hands with Sirius, whose shoulder-length hair was in a towel.  “I’m not too bad with potions, and that way the students could still get their review in and you can spend more time at Harry’s bedside.”

    “But why would I spend more time when I can spend all the time?” Severus pointed out, and Poppy came out of the storeroom with a syringe full of medication for Harry, rolling her eyes at him.

    “It’s not healthy for you to spend all your time locked up in here- you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating- hell, you’ve lost almost as much weight as Harry,” she scolded, and everyone knew it was serious when Poppy swore (or everyone knew it was Sirius- both manifestations of the word were perfectly capable of driving her crazy).

    “I can afford to lose the weight,” Severus argued, and Poppy put her hands on her hips and looked down her nose at him.

    “Can you, though?” She clucked, poking one bony hip as he started to the side, irritated.

    “Fuck off,” he told her, eloquent as ever.

    “Don’t use that kind of language in my hospital wing, young man- only I’m allowed to do that,” she chastised him.  “Now, you are going to teach at least three classes these week, and Remus can take some others, but you are going to get up and move around- if Harry wakes up to see you looking like you’ve half-wasted away, it’ll only worry him, and we can’t have that.”

    “Fine,” he groaned, seeing he was beaten.  “I’ll go teach a bunch of useless degenerates doomed to failure anyway instead of sitting next to my child like a proper parent just so you’ll stop filling the room with tension- which is unhealthy for Harry, mind you- but this is on you.”

    “I’ll accept that,” the healer agreed, smug.  “Now, you’re going to eat a good lunch, young man, and then you’re going to get in the shower as well.”  She gave him a scrutinizing look. “You might want a potion to cover the greys, as well- I can see at least five.”

    “Ha- almost as many as Moony,” Sirius broke in, trying to lighten the mood, but it only got him a tickling hex from both his boyfriend and their co-parent.

_____

    “Hey buddy,” Ron said, signing along, which was kind of pointless since Harry’s eyes were closed anyway, but it was a comfort thing.  “How was your day- are you feeling any better? Madame Pomfrey said you’ve been throwing up less, which is good. Colin’s doing a lot better too, by the way, although he’s telling anyone who will hold still long enough that you heroically saved his life.  Anyway, they took down Tom Riddle’s award for special services to the school- and hey, get this- it turns out the reason Hagrid was expelled was because they thought he was responsible for the chamber.  How dumb is the ministry, right? Well anyway, now he’s getting a new wand and doing independent study for his OWLs, so he can keep being the caretaker as well.  And he’s got something else going on, but he won’t tell us what it is- says it’s a surprise, or something. So yeah, that’s the happenings. Anyway, I know we couldn’t transfigure your inhaler because the magic might mess with the technology that lets it dispense the medicine and stuff, but Hermione and I saved up and got you a new one as a get-well gift- it’s got Spiderman on it, and now Winnie the Pooh can just be a backup.  Hermione’s coming, by the way- she’s just waiting for McGonagall because she has a meeting about all her electives next year- she’s trying to take them all, can you believe that?  Well, you probably can- that’s our Mia, after all.  Draco will be here in a little bit too- he just had to take a break because he’s a little overstimulated, with all the stress of worrying about you and the castle all excited and loud over everything that’s happened this year.”

    Ron continued to talk excitedly to Harry- he hadn’t seen him for a whole day, since yesterday Pansy, Theo, and Daphne had commandeered the visiting hours.  He told him all about classes and homework (“don’t worry though,” he added, “you’re excused, so you don’t have to get all stressed out about makeup work or anything, since there’s no exams anyway.”)  Eventually, he took out a chess set and put it on the bedside table, and the three adult men moved aside to make room for him.

    “I know you’re not awake, but I can just play your side- don’t worry, I’ll be as rubbish at it as you normally are, so it’s realistic.”  He forced a laugh as he set up the pieces, and for a while it was him just playing both sides, ignoring the protests of the white side (of course he always let Harry be white, so he had a little more of a chance by going first) as he made them go to their own doom.

    Harry made a soft, not-quite-groaning noise in his sleep, and ended up moving the hand attached to the IV, which brushed against his rook, shoving it forward a couple spaces.

    “Mother of Merlin,” Ron gasped.  “You’ve got me in checkmate- you’re a better player sleeping than you are awake!”

    Sirius and Remus traded soft smiles, and Sirius lifted Remus’ rough knuckles up to his lip, brushing a soft kiss against them.  “He’s got good friends,” he whispered to his boyfriend, who nodded.

    “He’s got the best friends,” the werewolf agreed as Hermione suddenly burst in, setting her heavy bag by the bedside and startling awake her head of house, who had just started to drift into an uneasy sleep in one of the bedside chairs.

    “Sorry,” she told him quickly, before turning to Ron.

    “I got all my electives!” She told him excitedly, and he looked at her strangely.

    “How?” He asked, gobsmacked.

    “Let’s just say we worked something out,” she waved aside his astonishment, pulling out a book for herself and a cauldron cake for Ron.

    “What?” He said around a mouthful of the pastry.  “You gonna study ahead this summer, kidnap a fourth year, shapeshift into them, and take half the electives above your grade level during our free periods?”

    “Good idea, but no,” she told him, not taking it as a joke at all.  “Just don’t worry about it.”

    “You scare me sometimes,” Ron just shook his head in disbelief.

    “Good,” Mia responded, a satisfied expression on her face.  “Sometimes I worry you’ve grown complacent.”

    “You’ve never gotta worry about that,” he assured her, blanching a little.

    “In return for your respect, I will be a kind overlord,” she promised.

    “You know,” Ron sighed, “sometimes I worry the hat doomed us all by putting you in Slytherin.”

    “What?” Hermione shrugged, unconcerned.  “I’ll be a better dictator than the minster.”

    “Fair enough- but I still think having you and Pansy Parkinson in the same dorm room is a bad idea.”

    “Your concerns are valid,” Hermione responded, blase, as she readjusted Harry’s blankets.  Ron’s favourite job taken, he carefully fluffed the pillows behind his best friend’s head.

    “They’re adorable,” Poppy gushed, as the adults watched from a few feet away.

    “They’re scary, is what they are,” Sirius corrected.  “Once they’re all trained up, they’ll have more talent in their little toes than the rest of us combined.”

    “Hermione is going to be the first muggleborn Minister of Magic, and we’re very proud,” Remus reminded him.  “A little mortal terror is well worth the groundbreaking strides she’ll be making in wizarding history.”

____

    The anti-venom was a rough process, and Harry came out of it looking far worse for wear but more than ready to be out of bed.

    “May I please go see the basilisk?” He asked his guardians, as Remus and Severus each ran a thumb nervously along one hollow cheek.

    “Absolutely not!” Severus yelped, scandalized.  “It bit you!”

    “Yeah, but that was only because of Tom,” Harry reasoned.  “And she felt really bad about it, and she really liked me.  And besides,” his face lit up as a very Slytherin idea came to him.  “Rumor has it that Salazar Slytherin had personal quarters down there- don’t you wanna explore?”

    “You can’t tempt me into taking you into a dangerous situation with historical relics,” Severus said stubbornly, and Remus reached out to put a hand on his shoulder.

    “He does have a point,” he took up for Harry.  “I mean, his animagus form is a basilisk, for one thing, so I’m sure she could teach him how to manage it quite well.  And we’d all be there with him.  The basilisk was under control of a dark artefact when she did all those things- if Harry says she’s perfectly harmless otherwise, I think he’s proven himself trustworthy enough that we can believe him.”

    “Well…” Severus still seemed unsure, and Harry looked up at him pleadingly.

    “Pleeease!” He begged, flashing his big, irresistible green eyes.  “I promise I’ll be careful!”

    “Oh, fine,” Severus sighed, giving up.   “But you have to have all three of us with you-” he motioned to himself, Sirius and Remus, “and if anything looks to be dangerous, we’re taking you right out.”

    “Alright,” Harry agreed easily, taking Severus and Sirius, the two closest, by the hands and leading them towards the chamber.

    “And you have to eat lunch first,” Severus ordered.

    “Oh, fine,” Harry sighed, impatient, but reluctantly changed directions.

____

    At lunch, everyone wanted to talk to him now that he was back with the greater school population, and Harry was fielding questions and congratulations and out-and-out hero-worship the whole time.  It was funny, how fast opinions of him had changed.

    “Hey,” a hand landed on his shoulder, and Harry jumped, but, on turning around, was pleasantly surprised to see the smiling face of Cedric Diggory.

    “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better,” the Hufflepuff said, and Harry gave him a brilliant smile that made Draco’s insides squirm, for some reason.

    “Thanks,” Harry replied pleasantly, making room for him to sit down at their table.  “It’s good to see you again.”

    “I wanted to come visit you in the hospital wing, but I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome,” Cedric admitted, his cheeks heating a little.

    You wouldn’t have been, Draco thought savagely, crossing his arms.

    “Oh, you’re our friend- you’re always welcome,” Harry said cheerfully, and Draco’s pout deepened as Pansy gave him a scrutinizing look.

    “Thanks,” the fifth-year responded, reaching for a pastry.  “Boy, you look like you’ve been through the ringer.”

    “Eh,” Harry shrugged.  “I’ve seen worse.” And Ron and Hermione hated- hated more than anything- that it was true.  “So, how you been?”

    “Studying for OWLs,” Cedric sighed.  “But they’re almost over now- just my History of Magic written exam, after lunch.”

    “Do you think you did okay on potions?” Harry asked as he bit into one of Dr. Norton’s special protein bars.  “I feel like I should apologise for keeping Sev so busy…”

    “Oh, don’t worry about it- I think I managed alright.  Plus, Professor Lupin was an awesome teacher as well, and it was nice to experience different teaching styles from Snape’s.”

    “Professor Lupin…” Harry looked confused for a moment.   “Oh, you mean Moony,” he laughed.  “It’s weird to see people calling him that.”

    “Right, because he’s one of your guardians,” Cedric remembered, and Harry smiled again.

    “Yeah- it’s great, you know, the three of them- they take really good care of me.”

    “I’m glad,” Cedric reached out and ruffled his hair, and Harry, laughing, pulled away.

    “Well, I should probably get back to my table…” he sighed, a bit reluctantly.  “Gotta do some last-minute cramming for that last OWL.”

    “Well, bye then,” Draco butt in before Harry could say anything, and the Hufflepuff winked at them all before turning away.

    “He’s nice,” Harry remarked.

    “Yeah, whatever,” Draco huffed, and Harry looked at him strangely for a moment.

    “You overstimulated?” He signed, and Draco shook his head.

    “Just don’t see why he’s gotta come over here all the time, is all,” the blonde signed back jerkily.

    “I think it’s kind of nice- inter-house unity and all,” and Draco shrugged before turning back to his plate.

    “Hey,” Harry tapped him on the shoulder.  “Love you,” he signed.

    The other boy brightened a bit.  “Love you too.” Harry gave him a one armed hug before turning back to his plate, wondering how he was ever going to finish it all.

_____

    “Hello hatchling,” Seren hissed brightly, before she got a good look at him.   “Oh my- what happened to you?!”

    “ I was a little sick, or I would have visited sooner,” Harry responded, purposely leaving out the reason he’d been ill, but she picked up on it anyway.

    “Oh dear- it was me, wasn’t it?” She groaned.   “I’m so sorry hatchling!”

    “Hey,” Harry stepped forward, putting one small brown hand on her snout, and Remus kept Sirius and Severus from both stepping forward anxiously.   “It wasn’t your fault- it was Tom’s, and I’m all better now.”

    “You don’t look all better,” his basilisk mama nudged him.   “Here, change into your form and I’ll bring you a big juicy crow.”

    “Er, I’m alright…” Harry pulled at his collar, trying not to offend her.

    “No, I promise- you’ll love it in your animagus form.  Just transform, and I’ll be right back.” While the rest of the students eagerly explored the chamber (and Severus, despite all the priceless relics around him, kept his eyes only on Harry), the preteen transformed, and soon a little baby basilisk, about 2 feet long, was draped across the ground.

    “Aww, how cute- I wanna try!” Hermione exclaimed, and before Remus or Severus could open their mouths to explain that magical animagus forms were rare and becoming a magical animal by shapeshifting completely impossible, there was another, slightly longer young basilisk on the ground.

    “Holy…” Sirius began.

    “Motherfucking Merlin’s…” Severus continued.

    “Psychedelic magic mushrooms,” Remus finished, as they all gaped at Hermione, who turned her gaze upon them (without the lethal feature, obviously), as if to say well, what are you on about?

    “That should be impossible…” Severus gaped, and Hermione just flicked her forked tongue out at them, clearly meaning something amongst the lines of well, I’m here, aren’t I?  So start readjusting your beliefs.

    “I think you broke them,” Harry hissed to Hermione, who was obviously able to understand and speak parseltongue in this form.

    “For grown men, they’re awfully breakable,” Hermione shook her serpentine head, thinking of all the times she’d already rendered them speechless.

    “Oh look, Seren’s back.” They both turned to see Mama Basilisk, who looked overjoyed to have another hatchling to feed.

    “This is Hermione; she’s a shapeshifter,” Harry explained, and Seren nudged her fondly.

    “Oh!” She exclaimed.   “Another child- here, I’ll go fetch another crow.  You two just stay right there.”

    “It’s okay,” Harry stopped her, looking at the bird.   “It’s awful big- I think we’ll just split it.”   Seren clearly didn’t look happy with that answer but let the matter drop.

    “If I’ve already shifted into a crow, does this make me a cannibal?”  Hermione asked as they started on the bird.   “Not that I care- just curious.”

    “Dunno,” Harry replied, spitting out a feather.   “Did you know you’d taste this good when you tried that form?  I think it was rather dangerous of you to transform into such a tasty bird.”

    “I can shift back really quickly now,” Hermione bobbed her scaly head in a rough impression at a shrug, “so whatever tried to eat me would have been unpleasantly surprised.”

    “Merlin, I love you,” Harry hissed a snort, picking the meat off a wing bone in a way that would have disgusted his human form.

    “My name is Hermione, but I love you too.”

    Everyone else was very confused as they watched two little basilisks literally writhing in what turned out to be laughter.

Chapter Text

“Harry, you left your inhaler downstairs again!” Sirius called out, and Severus just looked at him with an exasperated expression on his face.

    “You’re such a fucking dumbass,” he groaned, hiding his head in his hands, and Sirius looked dreadfully offended for a moment before it dawned on him.

    “There, he’s got it…” Moony laughed.

    “In my defense, he is really good at functioning- like, better than all of us who have our hearing.”

    “I’m going to go take this upstairs for him,” Remus pecked his ridiculous boyfriend on the lips and grabbed the Spiderman inhaler before running up the steps.

    Harry was dusting his bookshelves with his back turned when Remus came in, but Fluffy, lying on the floor, gave him a nudge with his left head, and the preteen turned around.  Moony didn’t bother telling him he didn’t have to dust- Harry knew, he just liked cleaning when nobody was forcing him to do it just so he could be thrown a few table scraps to keep from starving to death.

    Moony shook his head to clear it of the maudlin thoughts.  “Hey cub,” he signed. “If you’re going to be dusting, you should really keep this,” he held the inhaler out, shaking it significantly, “on you- you remember what Aunt Poppy said about the venom weakening your lungs even more.”

    “It’s just so easy to forget, you know,” Harry quipped sarcastically, rolling his eyes.  “I mean, it’s not like I have three people reminding me constantly.”

    “Then you think you’d remember to take your inhaler with you, silly thing,” Remus sighed fondly, reaching out to tickle Harry’s sensitive sides as he dodged, filling the hallway with giggles he couldn’t hear.

    “Wait!” Remus signed.  “If you’re going to run away from me, at least take this with you!” He tossed the inhaler, and Harry caught it with the reflexes of a professional seeker.

    Making his way down the stairs, he saw Severus putting on his raincoat over his muggle jumper and jeans.

    “Where ya goin?” Harry asked as he nudged Sirius’ feet off the table, knowing how much Kreacher hated the smudges his combat boots made on the wood.

    “I just have an errand to run- I’ll be back by dinner,” he signed, leaning down to place a kiss on top of Harry’s head.

    “You need any help?” The preteen asked him, and Severus smiled but shook his head.

    “Nope- it’s fairly simple.  Just have to consult someone about something, and I think you’d get bored sitting around.  Maybe you can get Padfoot and Moony to play scrabble with you.”

    Sirius shot the man a dirty look- Moony and Harry loved Scrabble, but he thought it was dreadfully boring.

    “Why don’t we go play quidditch in the wizard park nearby?” Padfoot suggested instead, and Severus put a hand dramatically over his heart.

    “You would take Harry out in the rain like this?” He gasped, immediately questioning his decision to leave him alone with those two.

    “Oh,” Sirius smiled sheepishly and looked towards the window.  “It’s raining…”

    “No, mutt,” Severus rolled his eyes.  “I’m just wearing my raincoat and carrying an umbrella because I thought it looked nice.”

    “Scrabble it is, then,” Remus said gleefully, going to grab the super-secret box he kept in a secret spot in the laundry room, where he knew Sirius would never go.  Padfoot had tried to sabotage the regular set by eating the tiles, which of course Moony was more than ready for. He’d been practically married to the man since they were sixteen, after all- he knew all his tricks.

    “Fine, but no funny words from that Bobbett book this time,” Sirius crossed his arms huffily.

    Remus and Harry both gasped, looking wounded.  “It’s Sindarin and Quenya, and they’re the languages of the elves from Lord of the Rings- and it’s The Hobbit,” Harry corrected, while Moony looked like he was reconsidering his entire relationship.

    “You are your mother’s child,” Padfoot shook his head and ruffled his godson’s hair.  “She had the same ‘Padfoot, you idiot’ look.”

    Harry rolled his eyes, and his hands started moving rapidly.

    “What are you doing?” Sirius asked.  “Oh Merlin- I thought I learned BSL well enough to follow you- what are you saying?”

    “Oh, you sneaky child,” Remus laughed, catching on.  “You’re taunting your poor godfather in Iglishmêk.”

“Igloo-what now?” Sirius asked, as Harry broke down in a fit of raucous laughter that ended with him having to take a puff out of his inhaler.

“Iglishmêk,” Remus enunciated, casting Harry a worried look out of the corner of his eye.  “It’s the sign language of the dwarves.”

“There’s a sign language for a fictional universe?” Grey eyes widened.

“Any fictional universe worth its salt has at least one language of its own,” Moony explained patiently to his pretty but fandom-illiterate boyfriend.  “Star Trek has Klingon, for example, and Star Wars has Huttese and Bocce- really, we have to catch you up.  Wrongly convicted for murder can only excuse so much when you’re this behind on all the important things.”

“I never got to see Star Wars or Star Trek,” Harry piped up.  “I wasn’t allowed to watch movies- I only got to read Lord of the Rings because Dudley threw away all the books his parents bought.”

“Well,” Remus’ jaw clenched, glad that Harry felt comfortable being a bit more open about his past but upset that it was so awful, “we’ll just have to catch you and Padfoot up, then.  Oh- and Severus as well.”

“You want me to read, then, too, don’t you?”  Sirius sighed, put-upon.

“You can start with the Hobbit- it’s a great beach read.”

“Why would anyone read on the beach?” Sirius made a face.  “The beach is for sandcastles- right, pup?”

“Dunno,” Harry shrugged.  “Never been.”

“Oh,” Sirius face fell as he figured he probably should have guessed that, and Harry picked up on his guilt and put a small hand over Padfoot’s larger one.

“Well, we’ll just have to fix that, then,” Remus said decisively.  “The sunshine would be good for you, anyway.” Harry still seemed a bit sickly after his brush with Tom and subsequent illness from the basilisk venom, and all three men were eager to rectify it.

“We can rent a little cottage in Cardiff, bring Ron and Hermione, maybe see if Draco and Narcissa want to come,” Sirius added, latching onto the idea.  “It will be lovely. Wait,” he suddenly realised something. “Can you swim, Harry?”

“More or less,” Harry shrugged.  “Dudley and his gang used to throw me in the pond, so I eventually got the hang of keeping my head above water.”  He said this as if it were a perfectly normal way to learn to swim, and his godfathers were uncomfortably reminded that he still had trouble locating the line between what was acceptable treatment towards him and what wasn’t.

“Right then,” Remus cleared his throat.  “I’ll make some calls, see about booking a house and renting a car.”

______

Severus came back as Remus won the fourth game of Scrabble, making it two wins for him and two for Harry.  He said nothing about where he’d been, but went to the backyard for a few minutes and returned with sweat beaded on his forehead and dirt under his nails.  Harry shrugged, figuring he’d been taking care of some of his potions ingredients- he would have asked to come help, but he knew there was no chance of them man letting him work outside while it was still raining.

Kreacher made Shirazi salad and Khoresh bademjan from some old recipes of James’ mother that he’d found when he was searching in the old Potter manor for something of Harry’s grandparents to give him.  The elves were keeping the place nice and neat for when Harry came of age, should he decide to live there or in any of the other Potter properties when he was all grown up. For now, though, they were happy in Grimmauld Place, now that it had been redone and they were making their own memories.

“More barbari?” Kreacher signed to Harry, who shook his head- he was full.  Kreacher frowned but said nothing, merely gathering the dishes. It didn’t occur to him that anyone else might still be eating, and Sirius pulled his bowl back possessively.  

“Split the last piece of barbari with me?” He asked Remus, breaking the flatbread with his hands as they both used it to soak up the last of the tomato sauce from the stew.

“I’m gonna go take a bath,” Harry yawned, eyes heavy and stomach full of home cooking.

“I’ll go put your potions by your bed,” Severus signed to him, and Harry nodded and mumbled a “thank you” as he trudged up the stairs, Fluffy on his heels- Harry had a tendency to fall asleep in the bath, and the dog took it upon himself to make sure he didn’t drown, which was good for the peace of mind of the three men who would have otherwise been busting the door down.

________

A week later, Sirius paused in packing for their beach trip the next day to go out in the garden for some fresh air, where he found Severus on his knees harvesting a plant he recognized quite well.

“Uh, Sev- why are you growing pot in my garden?  I mean, I’m cool with it obviously, but I didn’t think you were the type…”

“Don’t touch it,” the other man ordered, slapping his hand away.  “It’s for Harry.”

“Er, what now?”

Severus sighed, realizing he’d have to explain in detail.  “Last week, when I was out for the afternoon- I went to a muggle nutritionist to consult with them about Harry and his poor appetite.  They gave me a number of ideas, but the most natural- if controversial- was medical marijuana. I’m growing it myself, obviously, so I am certain it’s safe.  I can mix it in with some chocolate frogs for him, since he obviously can’t smoke it.”

“Well, it seems to work for Professor Sprout just fine- I’ve never seen that woman looking anything but plump and healthy,” Sirius shrugged.  “Never considered that aspect of it, honestly- when we used it, it was always more recreational.”

“I’ve researched the dosages carefully- he won’t get enough to get high, but it might have the added effect of relaxing him a bit.  Mostly, though, we’re going for what is colloquially known as ‘the munchies.’”

“How do you make doing drugs sound boring?” Sirius sighed.  “I mean, ‘colloquially’? No need to show off- we all know words.”

“Do you, though?” Severus raised an eyebrow at him skeptically.

Their argument didn’t get any further than that, as Harry’s voice was heard calling out “incoming!”  He came skittering into the garden, chasing after a little fluttering gold ball- his ground snitch, which must have escaped its case.

“This is a tempermental little thing, isn’t it?” The potions master frowned as he reached a hand out for the ball, which was flying high above Harry’s eye level, where it was supposed to stay.  “I’ll drop by the store before we leave, see if they can recalibrate it to behave properly.”

“It’s okay Sev- you have enough to do already, I don’t wanna be a bother,” Harry insisted, and Severus knelt down to look him in the eye.

“Hey- what’s that thing we tell you all the time- the one we put on the sticky note taped to your mirror?”

“I’m not a bother,” Harry repeated dutifully, and Severus ruffled his hair.

“Good- and I have to go into town anyway, to pick up the prescription goggles I got you,” he said.  “You’d be liable to bump into every fish in the sea if you wore normal ones, with your eyesight.”

“You’re so dramatic,” Harry rolled his eyes.

“Am I?” Severus plucked the glasses off his face.  “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Ha, ha,” Harry gave him an unimpressed, if unfocused, look as he put his hands on his hips triumphantly.  “None- that’s your fist.”

“Harry, that’s a daisy,” Sirius snorted.  “He’s holding a big daisy.”

“No fair!” Harry reached blindly out, trying to get his glasses back, and the other Slytherin put them back on his face for him, not trusting Harry not to accidentally poke himself in the eye due to his awful depth perception (and vision in general).

“Was my dad this blind?” He asked, blinking as he readjusted to being able to see properly.

“Not quite so bad, Prongslet, but rest assured- we definitely had some fun hiding his glasses,” Sirius laughed.  He knew that Harry’s natural vision deficiency had no doubt been accelerated by the abuse, but he carefully shoved that to the little corner of his mind where he kept all the unpleasant things, like regrets about his relationship with his brother.

“Draco likes to do that, sometimes, but Ron always finds them for me,” Harry informed them, smiling.  “Which is good, because I can’t…”

“He used to do that with Narcissa’s reading glasses,” Severus chuckled.  “He loved watching her run around like a chicken with her head cut off, although far more graceful about it, obviously.”

“Theo wore his glasses instead of his contacts one day, and they’re still missing- Dray forgot where he hid them,” Harry giggled.  “I was gonna tell Theo to use a point me spell, but then he accidentally turned our whole dorm room red with that one experiment, and I figured maybe keeping him busy trying to find his specs was a good thing…”

“That’s my little Slytherin,” Severus said proudly, and Sirius made fake gagging noises.

It was all very touching, until Harry broke away, yelling “No Fimi- not the fresh tomatoes!”

Chapter Text

“You’re wearing that,” Sirius looked at Severus and his full-length black robes in disbelief, “to the beach?”

“Your point?” The man merely raised an eyebrow.

“It’s the beach,” the dog animagus stuttered in disbelief.  “You’re supposed to wear swim trunks.”

“I’m not going to swim.”

“But the muggles…”

“Will think I am just a priest- it’s a little beachfront town in Wales, anyway, so I doubt anyone will be out and about looking for signs of the supernatural.”

“Haven’t you read Dracula?- that’s exactly what happens in small towns,” Harry came out to the car with his duffel bag and Fluffy just in time to lipread the conversation, and Severus rolled his eyes but ruffled Harry’s hair and took the duffel bag off his shoulder.

“Do you have your inhaler?” He asked as Sirius, who had lately taken an interest in sleight-of-hand, pulled a sickle out from behind his godson’s ear.

“So it dispenses change but doesn’t register sound?” Harry grumbled.  “That’s dumb.”

“Harry,” Snape prodded him again.  “Inhaler?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry patted his pockets, eventually finding it hiding under half a box of Bertie Botts and a stack of chocolate frog cards held together with a rubber band.  “Here it is,” he presented it cheerfully.

“Excellent,” Severus praised.  “But next time, do try to keep it somewhere you can find it before you pass out from oxygen deprivation.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Harry huffed a laugh but put it back on top of his other various bits and bobs.

“Come, silly child, before you give me a heart attack,” the potions master picked him up, ignoring Harry’s grunt of indignation as he opened the door to the rented lorry, at which point the nearly-thirteen-year-old developed a full-on scowl.

“No,” he shook his head petulantly as he took in the sight of the booster seat.  “Not happening.”

“Sorry,” Severus stood firm as he set Harry in the seat and buckled him in.  “National recommendations say that to ride on their own, a child has to be four foot five and weigh at least sixty pounds, which may I remind you you do not.”

“But…”

“But nothing,” the man silenced any further protest.  “You’re precious cargo.” As always happened whenever someone was so blatantly affectionate with him, Harry lost all ability for further argument, and merely reddened and ducked his head.

“I don’t think we’d be able to raise our little Slytherin without another one helping out,” Remus whispered to Sirius with a laugh, making sure Harry wasn’t looking at them while they talked.  “He’s got Gryffindor stubbornness but Slytherin cunning, and we have only one of those things.”

“Too true, Moony my love, too true, although you’re quite the dashing intellectual for all your straightforwardness.”

Straight forwardness is the wrong word to describe either of us,” the werewolf smirked, and Sirius smiled back- the puns were spreading.  As of now, it was only Severus and Kreacher who didn’t use any, but they would prevail, in the end.  Theirs would be a house of cheesy humor.

“So it’s a three hour drive, and the Weasleys will meet us there once we’ve temporarily set the cottage to the floo network so they can come through,” the head of Slytherin looked at the neat notes written in his planner.  “The Grangers will arrive by 3, and Narcissa and Draco will be there tomorrow morning because they’re seeing a play at the Globe tonight, and they’re taking the train since Draco hates apparating. It’s currently,” he checked his watch, “10:12 a.m., and we can have a late lunch at a cafe in the village once we’ve gotten there and unpacked.  Harry, we can add a second morning snack to compensate for the later lunch, so instead of the normal 11:30, we’ll have a 10:45 and a noon,” he finished, scribbling something else in his leather bound journal.

“Severus Snape, drill sergeant of vacations,” Sirius quipped, signing along so Harry could follow along without Padfoot having to rotate in his own seat.  Severus was sitting next to Harry while Remus drove and Sirius sat in the passenger seat.

“Ha, ha, ha- for your information, you’d all be lost without me- I packed the sunblock you left on the table, by the way, and I grabbed some entertainment that Harry can enjoy, since you two boneheads probably would have turned on the radio and forgotten that he can’t hear it.”

“We get more credit than that, don’t we?” Sirius sighed dramatically, draping his arm dramatically across his forehead.

“Harry, little one, what’s the tally up to now?” Severus turned to their child, who pouted at the nickname but answered anyway.

“Well, Padfoot’s in the lead- he’s tried to call out to me, ask my opinion on his singing, and ask if the toaster sounded broken a total of five times since school let out, Remy has called for me twice but it was while reading the paper, and Sev, you panicked when I tripped on the stairs, cast a diagnostic charm, forgot I was already deaf, and were halfway to the phone to call emergency services hyperventilating about brain damage before I managed to convince you I was fine, so honestly I think that might take the cake.”

“It was a perfectly normal reaction,” the man grumbled.  “Oh, and speaking of cake, here’s your snack,” he added, looking at his watch and handing Harry a container of raspberries and another of almonds.

“There were four steps, Sev- I was almost at the bottom,” Harry just shook his head in exasperation.

“I’ve brought trivia cards,” Severus changed the subject, cheeks heating as Sirius mouthed ‘mama bat’ and made exaggerated flapping motions.  He shot a low-powered stinging hex in retaliation as Harry rifled through his brain for the year the Magna Carta was signed.

_____

 

After a nice tuck-in of fish and chips enjoyed while the sea breeze ruffled their hair, they opened the floo for the Weasleys to come tumbling through- all nine of them, and Harry giggled as he was swept up in an affectionate tide of red hair.

“Harry,” George picked him up and spun him around.

“Chap,” Fred added as he took Harry into his own arms and gave him a hug.  “How-”

“Are you doing?” George finished their question as he once again claimed their honorary little brother.

“Dizzy,” Harry replied, trying to readjust his equilibrium after being passed from twin to twin like a favourite pet.  Somewhere along the line he’d ended up in Charlie’s embrace as the second-oldest brother held him out so he could ask about Norbert.

“He’s doing well,” Harry replied.  “He and Seren get on surprisingly nicely- I mean, they were a little competitive at first, but we had a discussion about it.”  His dragon familiar and his self-appointed nest mother had to be sat down and told that Harry didn’t pick favorites, but after that they’d actually found they had a lot in common- a taste for wild boar, to start with.

“Speaking of which, let’s see that animagus form.”  Charlie’s eyes were gleaming as he set him down, and Harry laughed at his enthusiasm as he scrunched his brow in concentration, glad that the ministry could only track magic from student’s wands.  He’d gotten quite efficient with the transformation, to the point that he was almost as fast as Padfoot at shifting in and out of it.

“Awww, look at the little guy!” Ginny may have been a Ravenclaw, but she had just as much Gryffindor courage as anyone else in the family, so she picked up Harry fearlessly, despite the fact that all it took for him to kill someone in this form was calling the power to his eyes.  “Look at your precious little snout,” she cooed, rubbing her nose against his in a butterfly kiss.

Harry hissed something incomprehensible to her, which translated to “I am a fatal predator, Gin- I am not precious!”

“Aww, itty-bitty hissykins,” she fawned over him some more, ignoring his insulted stream of parseltongue.  “What a cutie!”

Harry slithered off of her arms and down to the ground, where he transformed back and glared at her.

“You’re one to be calling people adorable,” he grumbled, and she just laughed.  

“I own being cute,” she said, leaning in conspiratorially as she mouthed “it helps me get what I want.”

The door opened then as Hermione came through with her parents and Ron was finally able to fight through the clump of his siblings to reach his best friend, throwing his arms around him and cradling Harry’s head protectively to his chest.  Ron was warm and comfortable and smelled like smoke and Molly Weasley’s fudge and felt like safety, and Harry exhaled happily as Hermione came over to join them.

“Hey guys,” she greeted, joining the hug.  She’d used her shapeshifting abilities to relax her hair just a bit so it wouldn’t tangle as easily in the blustering afternoon winds, and her full curls were laced with green and silver.  She’d been experimenting with the metamorphamagus side of her abilities, and she’d shrunk her front teeth just a little and added a few freckles to her nose. “You remember my parents.”

“So good to see you all,” Dan and Jean said politely, shaking hands.  “We know we haven’t really spent too much time together yet, but we’re excited to change that.”  They’d rented the house next door with Narcissa and Draco, as even with two or three Weasleys to a room, the fairly large vacation home they were in had no more space to accommodate additional guests.

“This is Bill and Charlie,” Hermione introduced her parents to the two Weasleys that hadn’t been in the alley last summer, and they muggles studied Bill’s fang earring and the burn scars on Charlie’s arms with barely-concealed curiosity.

“I’m a curse breaker and my brother works with dragons,” Bill explained with a smile as he picked up on their interest.  “I’ve actually got an assignment in Egypt coming up this fall, so it’ll be nice to spend some time with my family before I’m off the continent.”

“I pretty much stay in Romania,” Charlie shrugged.  “But it’s a big reserve- we don’t want the dragons to feel claustrophobic, but we also can’t have them wandering out where any muggle can spot them, because that’s a whole mess of paperwork.”

“Oh,” Jean murmured, which was a common reaction as of late- she and her husband had been rather surprised, to put it mildly, when their daughter came home not only knowing how to charm toadstools into teacups and all the other things she’d learned last year but also with the apparently-rare ability to turn into basically anything or anyone she wanted.  

They were rather baffled, honestly- their daughter told them with a bit of a perplexed frown that this sort of talent had never been seen in a muggleborn before, but there was no doubt that she was their biological daughter.  Jane still had the scar from the C-section, and (in her natural form, at least) their Hermione clearly had Jean’s hair and Dan’s dynamic brown eyes and a grit and determination that combined the best of both of them. It was strange to knock on the door to her room and watch her experimenting with hair down to her knees in some crazy colour or a larger nose or smaller breasts or thicker thighs, and to walk around the house and realise that the chinchilla curled up in the window or the cat perched regally on the armchair was actually their daughter.

“So, shall we go to the beach?” Hermione filled the silence- she’d researched all week for the least populated stretches in the area, and she’d been practicing turning into a mermaid in the bathtub.  It had taken a lot of research into the various species and the anatomy of the creature to find out what she wanted, but now she was more than ready to satisfy her old childhood dream of pulling a reverse-Ariel.  

“Aw, look at Harry’s little sunshirt,” Ginny didn’t seem to care that she was younger than him when talking about how adorable he was, but Ron tensed uncomfortably- he knew that his best friend was only wearing it to hide the scars on his back and chest, and from the lines around Hermione’s eyes and the tightness in her jaw, he could tell she was thinking the same thing- she may have been lucky enough never to have seen his scars like Ron had, but she was smart enough to put the pieces together.

Luckily, Harry was rather oblivious when he was around people he trusted and felt safe letting his guard down, so he didn’t notice their silent exchange (which to him sounded like any other exchange- or rather, didn’t), but he had his new water shoes on and the strap of his new goggles upsetting the chaotic structure of his hair even more than normal- he was ready to go.

It was through sheer force of will that he kept himself from taking off eagerly towards the shoreline but instead kept walking at a more leisurely pace that kept him with everybody else (and didn’t cause his guardians to worry about him over exerting himself).  As soon as he caught sight of the surf, Severus had to gently grab his arm so he didn’t go rushing in headlong just yet.

“Here,” he signed.  “Give me your inhaler first, so it doesn’t get ruined by the water or swept away.”  He discreetly cast a monitoring charm to let him know if Harry’s breathing started to become too labored so he could get to him in time to keep him from having a full on asthma attack, but judging by the boy’s raised eyebrow, he knew exactly what Severus was doing.

“Don’t look at me like that, you cheeky thing- just go play,” Severus rolled his eyes fondly and gently nudged Harry towards the water, setting up his own chair close enough that he would be able to help if something happened.  This early in the season, they were the only ones on the beach, and Hermione jumped on the opportunity immediately as sat on the edge of the shore and focused, her legs elongating into a tail while gills appeared on her neck and webbing between her fingers.  The bronze shade she’d chosen for her scales matched the shade of her eyes that day as she inched into the water.

“Stay within shouting distance,” Dan ordered her, even as he took shot after shot of his amazing daughter with his camera.  “I don’t care if you can’t drown like this, I need to know where you are.”

“You got it, dad,” she replied, splashing his lower body with her tail for good measure as he headed a up towards his towel.  He squeezed the water out of the hem of his shirt and stuck his tongue out at her playfully.

“Ack,” Harry spat as a wave hit him in the face, splashing salt water into his mouth.  “This didn’t happen in the pond.”

“Believe it or not, Harrykins, the ocean is different from a pond- it has these things called waves ,” Fred teased as he grabbed one of the boogie boards their dad had charmed from fallen roof shingles.

“You’re such a prat,” Ron told Fred, jumping to Harry’s defense. “Poor Harry can’t even make a simple observation without someone being sarcastic.”

“It’s okay,” Harry waved it off, but his hands, visible only from Ron’s position at the moment, started signing rapidly, and his best friend grinned mischievously and nodded.

“Hey, look out!” He ordered his brother, tossing a small fireball that Fred had to dodge to avoid.  Now that he was off balance, Harry jumped in.

The ocean, by its very nature, was full of magic- it sang through every last drop of water in a way Harry didn’t need to hear to appreciate, and all he had to do to move the water was nudge that magic a bit.  He didn’t even have to redirect it- it was child’s play, really, and one half of the infamous Weasley duo was soon smacked in the face with a wave and falling on his arse in the water that to him was only knee-deep.  Coughing and sputtering, and with his hair plastered to his forehead, he couldn’t even muster the ire to be upset with the two- it was a genius prank, to have come up with on the spot like that.

“Damn you magical powerhouses for having magic to use in the summer,” he grumbled at them, pulling a clump of seaweed off of his ear.   “Especially since you won’t use it for the betterment of wizard-kind.”

“For the last time, Fred,” Ron’s exasperation clearly indicated a recurring argument.  “I am not going to help you make mini-fire tornados to sell in jars.”

“But it would be so cool,” Fred groaned.  “And you didn’t even consider helping us make everlasting sparklers!”

“Funnily enough, but as a walking fire hazard, I get the feeling that might be a little dangerous,” the Slytherin Weasley quipped, and Harry laughed.  It was all a very touching scene, and all of the adults were smiling as an owl, sensing it was safe, swooped down to drop Severus’ copy of The Evening Prophet onto his lap.

Because Sirius and Remus were nosy little fuckers, they too had leaned over to see what sensationalist garbage was on the front page that day, and so all three blanched at the exact same time when they saw the headline.

Peter Pettigrew Escapes from Azkaban- Revenge on Harry Potter?

Everybody out of the water, NOW! ” It was Remus who regained his voice first, and the urgency was so intense that all kids with hearing reacted immediately, and Ron instinctively grabbed Harry to him, one arm protectively wrapped around Harry’s chest and the other outstretched in front of him, a controlled globe of flame in his palm that was ready to burst into a supernova at any moment as he rushed them both to the shore.  Hermione didn’t even bother getting rid of the webbing on her fingers or the gills on her neck (she still had lungs as well, since mermaids could breath in air as well as water, at least for short periods of time), only transforming back enough that she could run.

“We’ll explain in a moment- everyone back to the house, and stay together,” Remus ordered, and Sirius called Fluffy over to join Harry as he himself pulled his wand out of his waistband, ready for a fight, should it come.  He cast a few quick notice-me-not charms on the group while Severus took Harry from Ron, holding the preteen against him so tightly that Harry could breathe just fine but not move at all, and he forced himself to relax into the grip as he felt the man’s heart thundering in his chest- Sev knew Harry hated being restrained, so he wouldn’t be clutching him like this unless he was afraid someone was literally going to try to rip him out of his arms.

Hermione rid herself of the gills and the webbing receded back into her skin, and instead she did a partial transfiguration of her hands so that the nails curled into sharp, avian claws.  She’d left her wand at the house since she couldn’t use it anyway, but now she sincerely wished she hadn’t as she scanned the horizon for any sign of impending danger. Fluffy’s hackles were raised, feeling the tension and sniffing around for whatever might have caused it.

The intensity of the ward Sirius threw up as soon as they’d all piled into the larger house and shut the door took Harry’s breath away- he hadn’t even been feeling around for magic, it had just knocked into him, it was so sudden and so visceral.  Poking around gently, he was staggered to realise that his godfather had thrown a good ten percent of his core into it, an obscene amount of magic for a single spell- ten percent was an average 48 hours of magical exertion, by his calculations. Sirius wobbled a bit and had to sit down, and Harry went over and put his hand on Padfoot’s chest, willing the magic in the blustering cliff sides and the sandy soil to help him recharge faster and feeling his core slowly stabilize and start to refill what it had lost.

Despite the fact that Sirius had already cast something that would take even Bill Weasley a good day and a half to break through, Harry still saw Severus and Remus raising their own wands, and he cleared his throat.

“None of you do what Sirius did,” he ordered sternly, his sweet tenor voice carrying an air of authority that held far more gravitas than it should have been able to, coming from such a small, sweet little tween.  “He did the magical equivalent of tying yourself to a Rolls Royce and then having someone slam down on the gas, and there’s no need for you all to pump the place with enough magic to create a nuclear explosion.   Normal wards, please,” he reiterated for good measure, and all the adults gave acknowledging nods and took turns applying strong but reasonably-balanced wards.

“Good,” he praised, and it occurred to his guardians, not for the first time, that he might be raising them more than they were raising him.   “Now, what’s going on- just out with it, please.”

“Peter Pettigrew has escaped Azkaban,” Remus snarled, tamping down on the wolf so as not to scare the children.  “And we think he’s after you.”

Chapter Text

Severus was concerned- Harry didn’t really seem to be all too worried that there was a madman after him.  He did want to go outside, of course, and he and the mutts often caught him looking longingly out the window at the beach he’d gotten just a taste of, but he was certainly doing his best to stay positive and no more upset than he usually was when he was cooped up.

For the time being, adults took turns going grocery shopping, heavily glamoured of course, but all the children were made to stay inside.  They’d decided to wait it out a week, and, if Peter hadn’t been recaptured after a week, they would all go to the protective custody of Hogwarts since with the exception of Grimmauld place, none of their homes had strong enough wards that they could be certain would keep Pettigrew away (although they couldn’t really be 100% sure that anywhere was secure after the last couple of years), and they didn’t want to risk him targeting any of Harry’s friends to get to him.  Narcissa and Draco had been sent off directly to Hogwarts when they heard the news of what happened, but the fact remained that the house was two people over a comfortable capacity and it was very loud and very crowded.  

Harry didn’t mind the noise (obviously) or being among so many people that he loved, although he certainly wished it wasn’t in quite so small a space- he just didn’t like feeling trapped anywhere after the childhood he had, even if it was somewhere nice.  Severus, on the other hand, felt like someone was scrubbing with a wire brush against every nerve he had and then some he didn’t even realise existed.   On top of the constant worry for Harry, being crammed into a six-bedroom house with fourteen people, a Cerberus, and a snake was stressful, as Severus was a person who very much valued his alone time and having a private place and there was none to speak of at the moment.  He’d also given up his original bedroom to the Grangers (which shocked anyone who had known him before Harry- it was a completely unprompted and selfless gesture, something that he usually only made for his child or occasionally for Poppy out of gratitude for taking care of his child) and was sleeping on the couch, which wasn’t the most comfortable even when transfigured into a mattress.  

Although to be honest, he doubted he could have slept even if he were in the most comfortable bed in the world.  His already-jacked levels of anxiety increased tenfold whenever Harry wasn’t in his line of sight, and he was terrified to let him out of his sight.  He spend his nights straining his ears for every sound, and he was afraid to close his eyes lest he miss some flitting movement in the dark. Last night, he had given up and dragged his blankets to lie down in the hallway outside of Harry’s door, only to find Remus already there, a great black dog in his arms.  All three of them had pronounced dark circles under their eyes, and the fact that the wards were, according to Bill, “fit to hold off an invasion of dragons” did little to ease the behemoth cavern of fear carving out their insides.

“Harry,” Severus finally asked the question that the three of them had been wrestling with for the past forty-eight hours, worried that the boy was hiding his fear for their sake, “are you sure there’s nothing you want to talk about?  Are you worried or uncomfortable- is there anything we can do?” He put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, rubbing gently and trying to loosen a knot that he soon realised was actually another scar, and Sirius, as Padfoot, placed his head in Harry’s lap offering comfort as Remus went to get a tray of hot chocolate in case it was needed.  Ron and Hermione realised they wanted to have a private conversation with him and shuffled to the other side of the living room, gathering all the the painting supplies they’d been amusing themselves with.

“Guys, really, I’m fine,” Harry reassured, scrunching Padfoot’s ears and squeezing Severus’ knee as Remus came back with the beverages.  “I mean, in the interest of honesty I will say that I’m a little stir-crazy, but I trust you all to keep me safe- even one of you would be more than enough to handle Peter.  After the last couple of years, this is nothing.”

And after spending your entire childhood surrounded by monsters determined to break you, the three thought darkly, although Harry had been careful to avoid mention of the Dursleys for their sakes.

“I am worried about you all though,” he continued, and all three snapped their eyes up to him in surprise.  “I mean, I may miss a lot of little details, but I notice the important stuff.  You three look like you’ve been working a double shift on the till at the Nando’s in Brixton… on New Years Eve.”

“It’s not your job to worry about us, cub,” Remus reminded him.  “We’re fine.”

“And I know exactly what song is playing on the radio,” Harry gave them an unmoved glance over the frames of his glasses, raising an eyebrow at them wryly and looking very much like his Aunt Minerva in that moment.  “Can we cut it out with this nonsense, please?”

“Fine,” Severus sighed, knowing it would only further Harry’s argument to point out that the radio was off.  “We’re worried about you, little one- you’re the most important thing in our lives and quite literally the only reason I put up with these two fleabitten morons.”

“Yeesh, a little blunt there, but yeah,” Sirius agreed.  “We just want you to be safe, Prongslet, and there’s not really anything we can do except take all possible safety precautions and hope they catch him soon.  But don’t worry about us, kiddo- we’ll manage.”

“You should take your mind off of things for a while,” Harry said.  “There’s some old VHS tapes in the drawer under the Telly set. I’ll go look for a good one.”

“Merlin,” he muttered to himself as he dug through the stack of films.  “It’s a good thing Kreacher decided sunlight wasn’t his thing, because one more worrier in this house and it’d be a loony bin.”

It occurred to Severus that it was rather ironic that he had a full picnic basket full of pot he was preparing to use to make edibles for Harry and yet the house still looked like the ‘before’ shot in a Xanax advert, but he put that out of his mind- better to be too paranoid than too relaxed and watch Harry snatched out from under their noses.

Harry figured that they could all use some mindless comedy, so he pulled out a copy of The Princess Bride.   He’d read the book during some of the many periods he’d spent in the library hiding from Dudley’s gang during recess and lunch break (he often wasn’t given anything to eat or any money to get anything in the cafeteria anyway, so what was the point of going?), and when he’d seen the movie with Kreacher during the first week of summer, he was surprised to find that it was actually even better- that was the opposite of how it usually worked out.  He figured it would be the perfect thing to show his guardians to help them loosen up a bit.  Besides, he had some very interesting commentary to make on the film…

“That’s you,” he told Remus, pointing to Wesley as he came on screen.

“Does that make me that one, then?” Sirius asked, pointing to Buttercup.

“No,” Harry shook his head firmly.  “You’re too dramatic to be Buttercup.”

“But I’m in love with Remus!” He argued, and Severus put a finger to his lips.  

“Shut up, mutt,” he growled, eyes tracking the screen.  He hadn’t been allowed to watch television as a child either, and it was still somewhat of a secret guilty pleasure for him.  

“That’s Lockhart,” Harry interrupted their impending argument by motioning to Prince Humperdinkle as he came on the screen.

“I definitely see it,” Hermione agreed with a giggle as she and Ron came over to sit on the floor in front of the couch.  She’d already seen the movie, of course, but watching Ron watch it for the first time would be just as entertaining as the original viewing had been for her.

“I’m so glad you got rid of the git,” Ron told her, admiration still filling his eyes as he thought back to it- it had been during his exam, when he was collecting their works.  Hermione had done some research about all the things he said he’d done, and had found some inconsistencies about the description of the town of Bandon that pointed to him not having an intimate knowledge of the area, and then she’d subscribed to a local newspaper, where a great number of the segments of the gossip columns concerned a doddering, sweet old lady with a harelip that could never quite remember what she was doing yesterday but was the go-to for silencing the whatever wailing creature in the forest was killing their farm animals.  Making the connection that she, like Harry, must be deaf if she could take care of the problem without being slaughtered by the malignant spirit’s cry, she asked Lockhart what the thing had sounded like- after all, if he had used a laughing potion to counteract the effects, he still should have heard the cry, at least.  Just as he opened his mouth to spout off some lie, she’d held up her exam paper, with the name Ilene McDornab printed along the top- the real defeated of the banshee.  

Lockhart had been so surprised that his face had drained of all colour, and Hermione had used this rare moment where he wasn’t flapping his lips to get up and present to the class her theories.  In a panic, the man had tried to obliviate them all to prevent his secret from getting out, but Hermione was prepared for that, and the spell bounced off her shield charm and rebounded on him.   He was now merely a blabbering pretty boy in the St. Mungo’s psyche ward.

They had to pause the movie for a moment to fully appreciate the memory, but they started playing it again when Sirius kept repeatedly demanded to know who he was.

“You’re coming up, give it a minute,” Harry shushed him, and Sirius was a bit less excited when Harry pointed to Iñigo Montoya.

“That’s you,” he said.

“What, no fair!” Padfoot exclaimed.  “Remus gets to be a dashing hero and I’m a blundering idiot?”

“At least you’re good with a sword,” Ron offered, and Sirius smirked, switching gears so quickly that he was clearly about to make an uncouth remark.

“Don’t,” Severus ordered.

“What?” Padfoot grumbled.  “Harry’s not looking at me right now, and Ron and Hermione won’t mind a dirty joke, right?”

“Mate, please don’t,” Ron made a face.  He rather liked being able to look Pads and Moony in the eye and didn’t want that to change anytime soon.”

Harry, absorbed in the movie, hadn’t even realised they were having this discussion as he lay curled against Remus’ chest with his eyes on the screen and the subtitles playing under it.

“That guy’s Sev,” he said, referring to Vizzini.  “Except Sev’s a lot smarter.”

“That’s good to know,” the man signed with a wry expression, and Sirius went over to sit in Harry’s line of sight.

“Am I smarter than my character too?” He asked, and a cheeky smile came over Harry’s face.

“No,” he shook his head, green eyes laughing, and Sirius yelped and swooned dramatically, pretending to be terribly wounded.

The movie did help the three men wind down a little bit, at least, with Harry right there, safe on Moony’s lap and making witty comments about the film.  When the last scene rolled, Sirius reached over to cover Harry’s eyes.

“Honestly Pads, it’s just kissing, and I’m almost thirteen.   I think Sev is more bothered by romantic scenes than I am.”

Remus exchanged a crooked grin with the potions master- their little man picked up on far more than he even realised.

“Well, in that case,” Sirius smiled deviously.  “I think we ought to watch Pretty Woman next.”

Chapter Text

Peter had not been caught by the end of the week, so it was on to Hogwarts they went, and Harry gave one last, longing look at the choppy blue waves and slightly rocky sand of the beach out the window as they all lined up for the floo.

“Hey,” Severus put a hand on his shoulder to catch his attention and started signing.  “We’ll come back as soon as Peter’s been caught, even if we have to take a few days off from classes.”

“Really?”  Harry brightened up a bit.  “Thanks Sev.”

“Of course,” the older Slytherin squeezed his shoulder fondly.  “Come on then, through the floo.” Harry sighed as he shuffled alongside- at this rate, he didn’t think his protective guardians would ever let Harry go through the floo by himself.  Even Sirius, who very much tried to emulate the aesthetic of the ‘cool parent,’ seemed to have a recurring fear that Harry would disappear if he didn’t check on at least once an hour (and this was before Peter’s escape- afterwards, well, he could forget about being alone for more than five minutes.   The three men meant well, so Harry didn’t say anything, but it was somewhat difficult to relax in the shower or the bath when he knew for a fact that all of them were hovering nervously outside the door.  At least he couldn’t hear the frequent snipes at at each other to ‘move your bony elbow, mutt!’ or ‘let me listen too, you greasy tosser.  If Peter sneaks in in rat form, I know what it sounds like better than you.’)

“Harry darling,” Minerva smiled at him as he came through into her personal quarters (Severus’ idea- it would be safer to sneak through the floo into Gryffindor tower, since nobody would expect Harry to be there), “it’s good to see you.”  The preteen knew that she was trying to play at being relaxed, but there was a tightness to her smile and her eyes were nervously roving him over, as if to make sure Peter hadn’t come in unnoticed and, for some inexplicable reason, somehow sneaked off with an arm or a leg but left the rest of him.  Adults were funny things, Harry mused.

“Hey Aunt Mins,” he greeted as he wrapped his arms around her in a hug.  He barely made it to her chest- she was five foot seven and he was four-four, and Severus cursed his sentimental mind for almost smiling at how adorable it was.  

“Would you like to stay for tea?” The cat animagus asked them, and Harry agreed readily.

“Will you keep an eye on him for a couple hours then?” Severus asked her.  “I have a few things to do.”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “You’re going to put up rat traps all around the common room, aren’t you?  Honestly, Fimi would eat him if he got anywhere near me, so there’s no need for us all to be risking our fingers and toes now, is there?”  From his shoulder, Fimi hissed her agreement- she was a smart snake, capable of picking up on a few English words, and rat and eat happened to be her favourites.

“I’ll charm them not to snap on human children, and there won’t be an inconvenient amount.”

“Right then,” Harry shook his head wryly.  “When you do my room, please avoid placing any near the cauldron on the desk- the experiment I’m working on could be interfered with by outside magic.”

“What makes you think I was going to put any in your room?”  Severus squirmed, avoiding Harry’s eyes and wondering when he’d become so predictable that a twelve year old could easily guess his plans down to the letter.

“Must you insult my intelligence?” Harry quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Oh Merlin, he’s picking up on your mannerisms.”  Minerva mimed clutching a hand to her chest as if in mortal terror, and Severus waited until after she had turned away to indulge the childish impulse to stick his tongue out at her.

“Saw that,” Harry signed.  Severus pretended not to see it.

“Right then,” he said instead.  “Love you, and I’ll be back in a bit.  Don’t go anywhere without Minerva in the meantime.”

“I won’t.”  Harry rolled his eyes but accepted the kiss on the forehead from the man happily.  Said man threw a dirty look at Minerva for smiling widely at the tender scene.

“You’ve changed him a lot, you know,” she said once Sev had left.  “Before you, he was an absolute nightmare, and seeing him show affection to anyone, let alone in front of other people, would have had us all thinking that he’d been kidnapped, and frankly what would have been a very poor imposter would have been rather an upgrade.”

“He has his quirks, but we get on well,” Harry shrugged.  “And he’s trying his best. Padfoot is still alive, so that’s something.”

“Yes, thanks to you,” McGonagall reiterated, and Harry shrugged modestly, changing the subject.

______

“Oh, our letters!” Draco said the next day, glued to Harry’s side.  Ron and the blonde had a tussle over the seat to Harry’s left (Hermione was on his right), and Draco had won when he shoved a bony elbow into the redhead’s shoulder plexus, causing Ron to let out an oof! accompanied by a small puff of smoke.

“How’re we gonna go get our books if we can’t leave the castle?” Harry asked.

“Flourish and Blotts does owl orders,” Hermione informed them, playing with a lock of hair, which was today a soft grayish lavender.  “I sometimes get new releases delivered if the library doesn’t have them yet.”

“Oh,” Harry sighed, having been hoping for an excuse to go out for the day.  Sirius smirked a little- Harry may be better-behaved than he and James were as children, but he still most definitely had bits of both of them.  Although to be honest, he was more like Lily and Remus, personality-wise.

“Maybe we can go flying on the quidditch pitch today,” he said, trying to cheer Harry up a little.

“We did not discuss this, mutt,” Severus responded tightly, giving the other man a dirty look.  “Besides, if he were to go flying, we’d need at least three of us to supervise, and Remus isn’t feeling well.”  It was the night of the full moon, after all, although only Harry knew of Uncle Moony’s ‘furry little problem,’ one of the few things he hadn’t shared with Ron and Hermione, since it wasn’t his secret to tell.  “I’m sorry Harry,” he turned to their child again. “Maybe once Remus is better, and after I’ve set up some more wards.”

“That’s fine,” Harry shrugged, not wanting to make anything more difficult for anyone.  “Besides, it’s kind of wet out anyway.”

“Yes,” Severus agreed.  “Probably aggravating Remus’ allergies, all these wet flowers,” he remarked as he handed the man his wolfsbane.

Remus had to admit he appreciated the attempt to come up with a credible reason for his feeling poorly when once he would have been happy to let slip his secret all around the school, but ‘wet flowers’ wasn’t the greatest excuse he’d ever heard.  It seemed the man had lost some of his ability to lie when he started growing a heart.

“Yes, well… whatever the reason, I’m grateful to you for making a potion to help,” the werewolf responded, a smile tugging at his lips.  When they’d decided to raise Harry as a group, Severus had come to him, unprompted, to offer wolfsbane.  He said it was just because he didn’t want there to be any danger to Harry from the wolf, but Moony thought that perhaps maybe there was a hint of altruism underneath- after all, Harry spent the full moons with Minerva just to be safe.  Even if Severus wouldn’t admit it, Remus knew that he had come to respect and even like him just a little bit, and even he and Sirius had their moments where they seemed to do more than strictly tolerate the other’s company.  He could fight it all he wanted, but Severus Snape was well on his way to becoming a good man.

_______

That night, Moony woke up cuddled beside Padfoot with a keening ache in his chest.  He was missing a member of his pack- he was missing his cub. He wanted to go check on him, snuffle his face and listen to his breathing, but he knew, technically, that he was supposed to stay in his office like a good little wolf.

Well, his canine mind reasoned, a good little wolf would go check on his cub, now wouldn’t he?

Good point, he agreed with himself, disentangling carefully from a heavily sleeping Padfoot, who whimpered a little at the loss of the warm body beside him but soon began snoring again- Poppy had insisted he take a light sleeping aid as soon as she saw the dark circles under his eyes.  Severus had been forced to do the same, and the only reason Remus hadn’t was because it would react badly with the wolfsbane. Moony, of course, remembered none of this. Moony just wanted to find cub.

The door had been locked and warded, but a good wolf-dad wouldn’t let that stop him, and Moony was a good wolf dad.  He put his snout to the ground, sniffing around for the trail that would lead him to Harry.  Perhaps some of his basic marauder instincts stayed with him in this form, because he found a trap door in the wall of his quarters, one that was on the map but that the Marauders had barely ever used and thus Sirius, in his potion-induced haze and Remus, in his state of malfeasance before the change, had forgotten to ward.  He shoved through it and soon was loping along towards the dungeons.

Severus, unfortunately for Moony, had put a lot of wards outside Harry’s room.  He whined to be let in, but his cub couldn’t hear.  Luckily, there was another canine in there. But oh… he was growling from behind the door.

Harry woke up to the tingling feeling of a familiar magic outside the bedroom door, and it took him a moment to realise what it was, but when he did, he gasped.

“Moony,” he whispered to himself.  He had been told, of course, that the wolf was very hostile, but this one felt like a very large, very friendly dog.  It must be the wolfsbane, then. But if the wolfsbane could do this, then maybe…

He sat on the other side of the door, knowing that all three of his guardians would throw a fit if he opened it, but he didn’t need to, not for what he had planned.

The wolf had bound itself tightly to Remus’ magical core, and Harry didn’t think it would be a good idea to pull it out- normally, he couldn’t even feel the lycanthropy, but because the wolf had taken over tonight, it was rather obvious.  He focused on it curiously.

He pondered for a moment.  Maybe he couldn’t get rid of the wolf, but perhaps he could tweak it a bit.  The magic could be… redirected.   It wasn’t quite like an animagus form, as it was too closely bound with Remus’ magic, unlike an animagus form, which is, however personal it may be to a wizard, just another spell.  But it did kind of feel like Hermione’s shapeshifting or Ron’s elemental abilities, although it was contracted and not inherited and definitely not what one would call a gift.  But the principle was similar.

He couldn’t do anything about the fact that Remus would have to change on the full moon, but he could make it less hostile.  He found the dark part of the lycanthropy, the part that forced Remus to tear his own skin apart and that came barreling out with no patience, breaking bones along the way.  As shown with the wolfsbane, the werewolf could clearly be a harmless, playful creature, and if he could get rid of this darkness, then there would be no need of wolfsbane to make it so.

It would need a great push, and a lot of power to displace it.  Luckily, the Slytherin dungeons were full of ambient magic.  He pulled from the stones around him, from the ancient, soporific magic that rustled and slithered lazily through the air.  It was the perfect type for overcoming the darkness in the wolf, full of the vestigial traces of centuries of ambitious witches and wizards putting everything they had into overpowering their own obstacles as they reached for their goals.

Moony was rather amiable at the moment, so he didn’t really object to having Harry messing about in his magical core.  In fact, it was rather a pleasant sensation, like getting a splinter out of his paw. He panted pleasantly, his tongue lolling out.

Harry examined his work as the dark magic faded away.  The uncontrollable, feral part of the wolf was gone, and without Remus’ magic trying to suppress it, he should have closer harmony with it- it would now function more like an animagus form, with a mandatory full moon transformation.  As long as Remus phased in voluntarily, the transformation wouldn’t be painful, and he could also access it at other times as well, same as Padfoot or Aunt Minnie with her tabby cat.

Moony was still worried about his cub, though, and as much-improved as he felt with the ‘splinter’ gone, he was determined that he should see Harry with his own doggy eyes before he went back to Padfoot.  He nudged the door plaintively with his snout, hard enough that Harry could feel the gentle vibrations.

“Oh, alright,” Harry capitulated, unable to resist his other dogfather.  “See Moons- I’m fine.” He gave him a scritch on the ears and a pat on the head.  “Now go back to Padfoot.”

Cub fully checked on and found to be alive (and not objecting to face licks), Moony gave Harry one last friendly nudge with his snout before he trotted on his merry way, and Harry smiled after him.

“Remus is gonna be happy tomorrow- it’s a good thing Moony broke the rules,” he chuckled, shutting the door behind him and padding back into bed, Fluffy jumping up to join him.

“Ugh, Fluffs,” Harry groaned as he tugged at the duvet.  “Quit hogging all the blankets!”

Fluffy did not quit hogging all the blankets, but he did snuggle in close enough that Harry was warm enough anyway.  Harry’s life was full of good dogs.

Chapter Text

When Remus woke up the next day, fully human and cuddled next to Padfoot, he immediately felt the difference in his relationship with the Wolf- it was there, but not in a threatening, aggressive way where it was trying to take as much of him as it possibly could, but more of just another part of him: one that he had full control of and access to.

Another, more obvious way he knew that something had changed was that he remembered, in full detail, what had happened the night before- something the change normally didn’t allow him.  So he recalled going to Harry, and realise that Oh Merlin, he could have hurt his cub!

He immediately woke Sirius up, nearly incoherent with the enormity of the events and the guilt over what could have happened, and his partner looked at him with wide eyes.

“Moony, that’s wonderful!” He claimed, his face splitting into a wide grin.

“No, don’t you get it?  I could have hurt Harry- I could have killed him!”

“Not with the wolfsbane, you couldn’t,” Padfoot reminded him, taking Remus’ scarred hands into his own.  “You just wanted to check on a member of your pack, luv, and the wards would have kept Harry safe if you were dangerous.  He was smart and only opened the door when he was absolutely sure it was safe.”

“But what if it hadn’t-”

“Remy, hush,” Sirius laid his forehead against Remus’, facing each other with their hands connected in the early dawn light.  “Nothing bad happened, and now you’re free from this terrible thing that has haunted you your entire life- only good can come out of this.  Don’t go looking for another thing to blame yourself for- you’ve spent your whole life doing that- it’s enough.   You’re enough.”  Soft lips moved from whispering in Remus’ ear to softly kissing his cheek, and then down to the corners of his mouth, mint-flavoured chapstick taking away the pain.

When they went back to breakfast, the only indication that anything significant had happened last night involving Harry and Moony was the giant hug and the soft, grateful smile the DADA professor gave his cub, but it was enough- Harry knew, smiling back and squeezing his hand before they all returned to their breakfast.

“You know,” he said as they all looked at their letters again, preparing to owl away for their books.  “I’ve always wondered how the magic for the self-addressing quills for these things worked.”

“What do you mean, little one?” Severus turned to him, black eyes softening as they took in Harry’s face.  “We don’t use self-addressing quills- they’re charmed to find the recipient wherever they are at that moment, which is a great risk for muggleborns especially- can’t have the letter landing in the middle of a muggle area.”

“Oh,” Harry said, Cupid’s-bow lips forming a perplexed frown.  “So how do you do it?”

“Locator spells,” McGonagall took up the thread of explanation.  “We use a spell for each student individually- at night, when they’re most likely to be in their own beds, and double check to make sure that it is indeed their home and that they aren’t spending the night with a muggle friend or something.  Then the letter is sure to go to the right place with the least fuss possible.”

“May I ask a question?” Harry shifted somewhat anxiously, and Minerva ignored the clenching of her own gut to smile at him, trying to put him at ease.

“Of course, darling.”

“Who addressed my letter?” He chewed a thumbnail as he fidgeted, and Minerva’s stomach went all the way to her feet.

“Dumbledore,” she answered, her voice tight- she hadn’t thought much of it, when Albus took the second half of the alphabet instead of the first half like he usually did- she herself normally did P to Z- but now it seemed highly nefarious.  “Might I ask why?”

“Oh…” Harry turned visibly pink and hid his face so he wouldn’t have to read whatever reaction was about to spring from everyone’s lips.  “It’s just that, well… my letter went to my cupboard, and I thought nobody knew about it, or I know you all would have done something.” His voice had dropped very low, and Minerva and the adults felt their hearts break for little Harry.

Ron and Hermione hadn’t yet known that specific detail of Harry’s upbringing, and Hermione’s hair went fire-engine red in her anger, while Ron spontaneously combusted, burning the cushion of his seat and very nearly catching the tablecloth on fire before he managed to extinguish himself.  Draco, who had an general idea that Harry hadn’t been treated well by his former caretakers but knew very few actual details about it, simply sat there blinking in disbelief.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled, still not looking up but feeling the tension in the room like pins and needles against his skin.  “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Harry,” Severus lifted the boy’s chin so he could see him signing.  “You did nothing wrong- we’re not upset with you, and none of this is your fault.  It’s really a good thing we know, as now we can go see the headmaster,” the professor spat the word with disdain, “and have him explain himself.”   The energy coming off of all the adults was dark and dangerous, and even though Harry knew they would never hurt him, he couldn’t help shaking.

The potions master noticed and forced himself to relax his body language.  “But I suppose that can wait until later,” he sighed, putting a comforting hand on Harry’s arm.  “For now, I think we could all use a calming draught and a nice cup of tea.”

“I’ve a few in my quarters,” Professor McGonagall offered, and Snape nodded gratefully at her as he leaned down to pick Harry up, ignoring his protests that he could walk.

“Shush,” Severus told him gently.  “You deserve to be held once in a while.  I don’t trust Black- too clumsy- and Remus is still not feeling fully well.”

“Oh yeah,” Harry mumbled, leaning his face into the professor’s dark robes, “about that…”

_____

While Harry was being fussed over by the adults as Severus alternated between refilling his teacup, telling him how proud they were of him for curing Remus, and repeatedly casting diagnostic charms to ensure it hadn’t taken too much out of him, a nine-toed rat once again scurried out of a warehouse in Northern Scotland- they were setting the rat traps again, and he cursed his luck.  It was chilly here, even in the summer, and he squeaked in indignation- all he wanted was a quiet place to hide out and recover his strength, amongst other rats who could keep him in the safety of anonymity. But the muggles insisted on setting rat traps, and he was continually driven out of his warm, dry place amongst the dried goods to shiver against the hard, cold grass, wet from the frequent rains.  This felt far too much like Azkaban- the place that he had just escaped from.  He simply wanted to hide out here for a little while, until he had the energy and the resources to escape to somewhere that his old friends would never find him, somewhere that he could start a new life.

He had no desire to seek his revenge on Harry like the papers claimed- that was far too risky, and Wormtail was a coward.  He wasn’t about to sneak into Hogwarts, a very dangerous place for him at the moment, just to attack the boy- if the opportunity came up to use him to his advantage, like when he’d tried to take him hostage the day he was arrested- well, that he would have no problems with.  Perhaps when he got to Portugal or Argentina or wherever he planned on escaping to where they couldn’t extradite him, he might make a decent sum by selling some old Marauder Secrets- Harry was famous throughout the entire wizarding world even if he wasn’t worshipped and idolized to the extent he was in Britain, and thus tidbits about the people close to him might make for objects of interest.  

He could always sell out some of the death eaters who had managed to lie low, as well- he knew for a fact that some had gone into hiding abroad, and reporting them anonymously to local authorities would eliminate any threats to him as well as earn a hefty sum.  Yes, there were possibilities… if only they would stop setting out the damn rat poison so he could rest and recover from his ordeal.

“Oh, hello my old servant.”  A chilling voice suddenly came from behind him, and all of Pettigrew’s hairs stood on end- he knew that voice, one that he very well intended never to have to hear again, and he turned his beady little eyes around to see a wraithlike impression of his old master floating in the crisp night air.

Peter squeaked and tried to run, but found himself frozen as if nailed down- his old master had always had that effect on him, which was part of the load of dragon dung he used to rationalize away selling out his oldest friends and leaving them to their respective horrible fates.  He looked up at Voldemort, whose foggy tendrils seemed to curl in a sort of glee as he looked down at the wizard-turned-rodent.

“We have much to do, Wormtail,” what was left of Tom Riddle declared, knowing he had the weak-willed wizard right where he wanted him.

The rat merely nodded, fully submitting- it never took long, not with Peter Pettigrew.  In his petrified squeaking and anxious body language were found clear as day the words that Voldemort wanted to hear- Peter might as well be saying “whatever you say, master” as clearly as if he were human.

“Very well,” the wraith’s voice slid and crackled against the forest floor like the decaying skin of a snake who has long since shed it.  “First things first- you are going to learn sign language, and then you are going to teach it to me. I will not be cheated out of my victorious monologuing once I regain my body just because the brat has the impudence of being deaf.”

Somewhere in Peter’s tiny rodent mind, he registered that this was going to be a long year.

Chapter Text

Kreacher had managed to set up a television set to work in the Slytherin common room, and Harry was snuggled into the couch, surrounded by blankets and with both Moony and Padfoot in their canine forms with their heads on his lap while Ron got the fire started in the fireplace and Hermione set up the movie.

“Aren’t you gonna stay and watch Star Trek with us, Sev?” Harry asked, turning his face towards the man as he caught him walking towards his office.

“I’ll be back soon; I’ve just got to get something from my office,” he told the children and the dog and wolf curled up with them.  “But go ahead and start the movie- I’ve already seen them.” Padfoot lifted his doggy head in absolute glee at the admission- haha, Severus was a nerd.

“Not a word from you, mutt,” the potions master ordered, picking up on Sirius’ thoughts.  “I’ll be right in.” He’d finally gotten the ratios for Harry’s medical marijuana edibles right, and he just had to finish assembling them.

Twenty minutes later, he came back in with a single chocolate frog for Harry, who looked up at him curiously.

“No thank you,” he declined the sweet politely.  “I’m still full from breakfast.”

“I know,” Severus sighed, “and that’s the problem.  Please just eat this for me; it’ll help with your appetite.”

Harry scrutinized Severus with his emerald eyes but did as he was told as he unwrapped the candy and munched on it slowly, wrinkling his nose a bit at the slightly changed taste but saying nothing- Sev clearly had a plan and he trusted him enough to go along with it.  He was looking at the card (Morgana) while Moony snuffled his ear affectionately and Kirk and Spock went off on another gay adventure when his stomach rumbled, and he looked down at it in total surprise- he’d long-since learned to repress his body’s natural hunger signals to survive at the Dursleys, and up until now he hadn’t been able to un-learn it.

“Good, it’s working,” Severus hummed in satisfaction as he handed Harry a ham sandwich, which he began to munch dazedly.  “Are you feeling alright, other than being hungry?” He signed to Harry, who shrugged around a mouthful of food.

“Fine,” he said once he’d swallowed, but his eyes were already drooping, the relaxing effect of the drug kicking in.  He cuddled further into Moony’s side, ravenously finishing the sandwich and yawning as Severus handed him a pumpkin pasty.

“Thanks,” he told the man, who smiled, not caring who was watching the show of emotion as he watched Harry sleepily work his way through that as well.

“Of course,” he responded simply, thumbs brushing Harry’s hollow cheeks as he mused triumphantly that they would surely fill in soon.  Ron draped a blanket over his best friend and Hermione paused the movie as the Iranian boy drifted off for a nap.

______

The days seemed to blur together, confined mostly to the castle as they were (besides a couple of quidditch games, but Harry saw how nervous all the adults were and decided that it really wasn’t worth nearly killing them with anxiety just to go outside for a bit and started politely declining offers to do so), so he was rather surprised when he woke up one day to Severus, Remus, and Sirius standing above his bed with party hats on their heads, a large cake, and painted smiles, determined that Harry should have a wonderful birthday despite their worries about Pettigrew.

“Happy Birthday!” The three cried at once, as Hermione, standing ready with Harry’s glasses, placed them on his face so he could see to read their lips.

“You’re a teenager, mate!” Ron informed him jubilantly as he carefully lit the candles on the cake.

“Wha?”  Harry, for once, had been sleeping rather soundly, so he was still a bit groggy.

“It’s July thirty-first, pup!” Sirius exclaimed.  “You didn’t think we’d forget your birthday, did you?”

“I ‘spose I wouldn’t blame you, since I forgot my birthday,” he mumbled drowsily as he sat up in bed.

“What do you want to do today?” Remus asked his cub, trying to ignore all the reasons Harry didn’t eagerly countdown the seconds to his birthday like a kid raised in a healthy environment would have.

“Er, I dunno,” the now-teenager said as they sat the cake on his lap to start singing as Fluffy’s three heads eyed it hungrily.  Harry swiped some frosting off his finger and held it out for the Cerberus to lick, capitulating to the plaintive look in all six eyes. He repeated this twice more, so each head got a taste.

“Well, after cake and presents, we can go have breakfast and do whatever you like around the castle,” Severus informed them. Originally, the biggest present for Harry had been the new firebolt broom that they’d all chipped in on, despite the fact that the head of Slytherin was already nervous enough watching his child reach breakneck speeds on the nimbus, but in light of recent events they decided to hold onto that until Christmas.  Harry should be able to fully enjoy flying on his new broom, and they weren’t fools (no matter what Severus might say about Sirius)- they’d known that he kept denying offers to go outside because he knew it made them nervous, and they didn’t want his first time on his new broom to be him worrying about them worrying about him.

Harry, however, seemed overjoyed with the books and games and things they’d gotten him, as well as the new habitat for Fimi, which he informed them that she thought more befitting her status as a queen of the African continent.  Unlike his snake, it took very little to make Harry happy, and just having his family there to celebrate his birthday, making him feel like he was worth something, had him smiling pleasantly all the way to breakfast, hand in hand with Ron and Hermione, one on each side.

“Mornin’,” he greeted everyone else, including a pouting Draco, cranky that nobody had woken him up in time to join the wake-up crew.

“Happy birthday sweetheart,” Molly Weasley said cheerfully as she started piling eggs on his plate, ignoring the plethora of elves who were still very miffed that she’d insisted on cooking Harry’s birthday breakfast.  Well, joke was on her- they’d spent their ‘morning off’ planning the grandest, most delicious cake in the whole universe for little master’s birthday dinner.

“Thank you Mrs.- Molly,” he corrected himself quickly, knowing she preferred that he call her by her first name.

“Anything for one of my babies,” she told him fondly, pinching a cheek that was finally filling in thanks to Severus’ concentrated efforts, when suddenly a thump thump thump rattled the castle.  Even Harry was aware of it, as even though he couldn’t hear it, it was more than enough to feel.

“Happy Birthday tiny human!” Norbert came clomping into the Great Hall, Seren at his side as they ignored the baffled and astonished expressions of everyone nearby and headed for Harry.

“How… how did you get in here?” He asked the two, and Norbert cheerfully informed him that Seren had let him in through the chamber and they’d found their way up.  Harry was just glad Professor Dumbledore was out for the day, as he might have objected to the presence of two ‘dangerous’ creatures in the middle of the school.

“I’ve brought you a crow,” his nest-mother informed him, setting the bird down nearby as the professors blinked in astonishment and Charlie nearly had a conniption out of glee.

“Uh… thanks guys,” Harry said, petting one of Norbert’s wings.  Hermione, who had shifted into a grass snake so that she could follow the conversation, became human again and calmly poured some syrup on her waffles- the fact that those two dramatic reptiles had made a grand entrance for Harry’s birthday did not surprised her in the least.

It was actually Arthur who came up with the idea of what to do for the remainder of the day.  He’d been learning about this muggle roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons, and thought it might be fun to replicate with actual dungeons and actual dragons.

“You confront the dragon guarding the treasure and are burnt to a crisp,” Severus read off the card during Ron’s turn, and he shrugged and turned to Norbert.

“Might as well keep it as accurate as possible,” he shrugged.  “Hit me.” The others stepped back as the huge Norwegian Ridgeback shot a jet of flame in his direction, and when it stopped, Ron was as unburnt as ever.

“Your breath smells like treacle tarts,” he told the dragon, who shuffled from foot to foot guiltily- he hadn’t meant to frighten the elves out of their wits when he went looking for a snack.

From atop his neck, Harry patted his bonded dragon.   “It’s okay, buddy,” he told him in Parseltongue.   “Nobody was hurt, and you got your sweets in the end.”  The dragon preened under the loving attention, well aware that it was due to his bond with Harry that he was the most magnificent specimen his species had ever seen.

_______

Dumbledore came back from whatever business he’d been on around the middle of August, and he’d brought with him a bunch of dementors that were to guard the grounds and stay on the lookout for Pettigrew.  Sirius had nearly had a panic attack when the headmaster made the announcement out of the blue at dinner one night, whimpering nearly incoherently as Harry looked around in confusion, unable to read Dumbledore’s lips properly through his beard.  Ron, too stunned too even sign it for Harry, pulled his best friend to himself protectively, and Hermione blinked up at the man in disbelief, stunned that he would make such an unsafe decision even after the numerous other unsafe decisions he’d made.

“Remus, take Sirius to your quarters, and take the children as well,” Severus ordered his colleague, not realising that he felt enough pity for the Lord Black to call him by his first name without sneering.  Of course, his animosity for the man had decreased to nearly nothing by this point, but he made a special effort not to let that show in his daily life.  Now, however, they had bigger problems.

The not-quite-a-werewolf-anymore took his boyfriend, their child, and his friends to their quarters, although everyone but Harry could still hear Severus’ angry yelling drowning out that of the rest of the professors as they all berated the headmaster for such an absurd decision.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Severus growled more quietly (and yet more terrifyingly) once he had calmed down just enough to form coherent thoughts.   “This is a school ... full of children!

“Severus, I had no say in the matter,” Dumbledore said calmly, clearly not as scared of his former spy as he should be.  “The ministry demanded it.”

“The ministry eats out of the palm of your hand, Albus!” Minerva declared angrily, forcing herself not to yell or hex the man.

“They would not fold on this,” Dumbledore continued in his irritatingly monotone voice.  “And one must admit that they are an excellent deterrent for Pettigrew.”

“And what about Harry?!” Severus demanded.  “That is my child, you goddamn fool, and those… things could force him to relive his entire miserable childhood!  Not to mention what they do to the mutt!”

“I hadn’t realised you’d grown so fond of Harry and Sirius, my boy,” the headmaster folded one hand over the other and looked at the head of Slytherin with that damn twinkle in his eye, and Merlin, Severus wanted nothing more than to hex it out.

“I want them gone, Albus,” he forced through gritted teeth, but the headmaster just shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Severus- it cannot be done.”

“I’ll… I’ll take Harry and move to America- put him in Ilvermorny,” Severus threatened, and the accursed old man almost looked amused as he looked at the potions master again.

“My boy,” he said, ignoring the death glare he received for the nickname, “the ministry is in charge of the entry and exit of all wizards to and from Great Britain, and you’d need proof of your British citizenship to enroll the child at Ilvermorny- do you really think the ministry would be willing to let Harry Potter go to school anywhere but Hogwarts?”

As manipulative as the old man was being, Severus hated to admit that he was right, so he had to content himself with a glare that, if looks could kill, would have Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore six feet underground.

“Fine,” he spat, knowing he was beaten, “but just know this- if those monstrous creatures harm one. hair. on my child’s head, you will feel the effect times a thousand,” he warned, turning on his heel and stalking out of the great hall and towards Sirius’ and Remus’ quarters.

________

“How’s he doing?” Severus asked, eyes seeking out Harry as he walked into the room.

Remus knew he was talking about the teenager, as however much his feelings had improved towards Sirius, it couldn’t be denied that he was a distant second on the Slytherin’s list of priorities at the moment.  

“He took all the information pretty well,” he told the other man, and the like he takes all bad news was implied.  “He’s been comforting Padfoot for the past twenty minutes.”

The large black dog had his head down on his godson’s lap, his entire body shaking with fear as Harry rubbed his fur softly, singing what verses he could remember of Penny Lane by The Beatles.  Severus would have begrudged Sirius for letting his own fear eclipse concern for the child they were raising, but he knew that having someone to comfort and help was often a good thing for Harry, and besides that he knew he couldn’t blame the man for his trauma coming to the forefront.  If it came down to it, they all knew that each of the three of them would face down a dementor for Harry, even if it meant getting kissed.

“Shh, it’s okay Pads,” Harry whispered, feeling the keening whines in the throat of the great black dog.  “We won’t let anyone hurt you. Even Severus wants to keep you safe. It’s gonna be alright- I promise.” Padfoot listened to the deaf boy’s comforting words, his voice somehow knowing exactly what soothing tones to slip into even after years and years of silence, and years before that of knowing no comfort at all from the voices of the people who’d done this too him.  Harry was amazing, and Sirius resolved that he must try to be as brave as his godson, who had all the courage of the most prestigious of Gryffindors no matter what house the hat may have put him in. He licked Harry’s nose with his warm, wet tongue, earning a smile from the boy.

“You feeling better, buddy?” He asked in the voice he used with Padfoot- the voice any boy would use with his dog.  “You wanna play fetch?” He bent the magic around him, willing it to turn into a tennis ball in his hands, and Padfoot panted eagerly as Harry threw it, just far away enough that it wouldn’t cause him separation anxiety.

“Good boy!” He praised enthusiastically when Padfoot brought it back, and Sirius rolled over on his belly so Harry could scratch it.  Taking care of his dogfather was helping him shove his own worries, the ghosts of his traumatic memories, to the back of his mind as he buried his hands and his face in warm fur, his worries melting into distant, abstract ideas as he messed with Padfoot’s floppy ears.

Severus and Remus watched this, watched their boys as they helped each other out, and they looked each other in the eyes, the weight of the world between them.

It’ll be fine, they seemed to silently communicate to each other.   We’ll make it fine.  And they would- whatever it took.

Chapter Text

None of the children had been permitted to ride the Hogwarts express, as it was too risky with Peter on the loose and the dementors about, so all the children were waiting in the entrance hall for their friends on the evening of September the first, Sirius keeping watch over them, as Severus and Remus both had duties as professors.

Ron, who had his arm slung around Harry, noticed him shivering in the chill evening air, despite the warmth Ron was providing.

“Here,” he told him, getting up and leaning down to peck his brother on the cheek, “I’ll go get you another jumper.”

Draco, who was frowning over his hand while playing a game of exploding snap with Hermione, looked up as he watched Ron’s footsteps fade before turning back to his hand.  One had to be careful when playing exploding snap too close to Ron Weasley, as his excessive heat had a tendency to set the cards off prematurely.

Hermione, for her part, watched the blonde carefully- she could tell he was losing, and the shapeshifter wasn’t about to let him use the excuse that Ron was too close by to undermine her victory.

When the pop finally did come, it startled Padfoot, and his tennis ball went rolling down the hallway, leaving him with nothing to chew on.  He whimpered but stuck by Harry’s side, and the small teen petted his ears sympathetically.

“It’s okay Pads, go on after it,” he told his godfather, who looked from the ball to him and then back to the ball again.  When the big canine hesitated, he waved him on.

“Go on, we’re in Hogwarts,” he assured.  “Everything’s fine.” With one last look, the animagus eventually did trot after his runaway ball.  Harry now had no pets at all to cuddle, however (Fimi was off hunting and Fluffy was having a mid-afternoon snack with the elves), and to him it felt colder than it should have.

As he shivered, the lights flickered and the door creaked open, and all three of the remaining children took a deep breath in as the black-robed creature swept in, the cold rattling their bones.  Hermione, however, had had a far better childhood than her other two friends, and she managed to shift into a sleek, strong cheetah, grabbing Draco (who was closest) by his robes and dragging him down the hallway as fast as she could, ready to turn around and run back for Harry.

Harry, for his part, could never remember having been so cold, not even in the cupboard in the winter with the heat downstairs turned off because ‘freaks were a waste of energy.’  A soft whimper escaped him as he shivered, unable to step back from this empty, gaping black maw of wrongness, and he heard again in his memories as Lily screamed, begging Voldemort to spare her son’s life.  He felt his back ache and sting and burn again as Vernon beat him over and over and over, his empty stomach heaving from the pain.

“Please,” he begged it, begged this… thing.   “Please, no!”  He felt a hand, colder than anything he had ever felt, as it brushed against his shoulder, and he cried out as pain and an aching, burning cold swept through his entire body, old wounds on his back splitting open in a bloody mess as his some of his old scars reopened themselves with the effort of rejecting the dark magic this thing was trying to force into him as its face came closer and closer and…

A cheetah and a great black dog suddenly came barreling into the creature, and poor Sirius forced his frozen limbs to move as he growled at this awful creature trying to kiss his godson.  Hermione scratched at it with sharp claws, but they drew no blood nor caused no harm as the creature kept advancing towards her best friend.

“Harry!”   Ron’s voice cut through the hazy, icy fog of trauma and pain surrounding them as the redhead came charging forward, dropping Harry’s favourite oversized green jumper as fire sprang to his hands.  He ignored the voices trying to worm their way into his head, telling him he would never be good enough as his siblings or that he was just the leftover, that they’d only had Ginny because he wasn’t enough.  He ignored everything except the monster in front of him that would dare try to hurt his best friend, and Sirius and Hermione dove out of the way as he came forward in a trail of blazing vengeance.  The creatures robes caught fire as it retreated, burnt but still alive, back out the open door, and Ron slammed it shut and set a wall of fire in front of it, setting it to burn there until he told it otherwise so nothing else could come in.

“C’mon Harry,” he ordered, lifting his best friend’s limp, trembling body and ignoring the blood on his clothes.  “Come on mate, talk to me.”

Harry let out a sob and a pain-filled whimpering sound, his small sides heaving as he emptied his stomach all over Ron’s lap, too far gone to even realize it was happening.  Ron ignored the mess as he ramped up the heat, cradling Harry gently in his arms as he whispered soothing words.

Sirius had transformed back and run for help, and Severus came panting along at the head of a line of professors.

“What the fuck?!” The potions master swore as he took in the scene, black eyes landing anxiously on Harry as Madame Pomfrey burst forward and took him from Ron’s arms, which were reluctant to let him go even though his brain told him that he’d be safe with the healer.

“Dementor,” Sirius pushed through trembling, pale lips.  “We tried to stop it, but it… tried to kiss…” He cursed himself, so drawn back into his own trauma that he couldn’t even work up the gumption to cast a patronus (Hermione saw this in his tortured silver eyes, resolving to talk to him about it later- even if he couldn’t cast a patronus, he’d still rushed unarmed towards one of the things that had tortured him for a decade).

Severus paled further as his anxious, roving eyes took in the newly opened lashes in Harry’s back.  It wasn’t all of them just the top layer of many- but it was enough to cause some serious damage, and he cursed the universe for again forcing the child through pain that should be in the past- nay, shouldn’t be there at all.

“It touched him,” Hermione managed to force out.

“Through the robes, you mean?” Severus looked at Hermione, silently begging her to say yes- dementors were required to touch prisoners only through the robes or with gloves on, as their touch could be fatal.

“No,” Hermione shook her head again, feeling very scared.

“Merlin, it’s a miracle he survived,” Poppy groaned, running scans.  “It looked like he had to channel half the magic in the room to do it, too.”

“He’s going to be alright, won’t he?” Sirius demanded, tight, whimpering voice barely above a whisper as he shoved the words up and around the ginormous lump in his throat.

“I’ve healed him before and I’ll heal him again,” Poppy sighed tiredly.  “Besides the standard exhaustion from channeling so much magic, I don’t see any negative effects other than the wounds being reopened.  I’ll just have to seal them up and put some bandages on, and he’ll need to take it easy for a couple of weeks.”

Harry suddenly thrashed violently in his sleep, nearly smacking Poppy in the face.  More blood spilled onto his robes, but the unconscious child didn’t seem to notice as a sob wrenched its way from his body, smaller than ever in this vulnerable state.

“Mummy,” he whimpered.  “Mummy, get up!”

“Oh,” Minerva paled drastically as she looked at him.  “Oh no…”

“It’s not fair!” Draco suddenly spoke up for the first time since the incident, kicking the wall angrily.  “How can they do this to him- hasn’t he suffered enough?!”

“Shh, Draco, calm down, before you hurt yourself,” his mother came forward, pulling him aside.

“I don’t want to calm down!” Draco screamed, tears running down his face.  “They hurt Harry, and you,” he turned to Hermione angrily, “you saved me instead of him!”

Hermione backed up, holding her hands up placatingly for her friend.  “I wanted to save both of you, Draco, but you were right next to me and it seemed like the smartest choice at the moment-”

“No!” Draco yelled.  “None of this is smart- none of this is fair!  He’s a kid, for Merlin’s sake- we’re all just kids!”  He broke down at this, sobbing incoherently into his mother’s robes.  Narcissa patted his back soothingly, giving apologetic glances to the others.

“Shhh, it’ll be fine,” she told her son as she picked him up.  “I’m going to take him to bed,” she told the others. “He doesn’t really know how to handle such stressful emotional situations, and I think he just needs to rest and make sense of it all.”

“Hurts,” Harry whimpered in his sleep, reaching out for a hand to hold, which Severus gave him.  His little hand had a painfully tight grip, but it reassured the man, as it meant that he was alive and strong.

“Shhh,” he told the child, even though he couldn’t hear him.  “We’re going to make it hurt less, I promise.”

______

When Harry next woke, it was to a head full of nightmares and a torso wrapped in bandages, his three male guardians above his bedside having a conversation he couldn’t lipread without his glasses.

“He won’t move them any further back than the edges of the grounds,” Severus was saying as he tore his hands through his hair in frustration.

“Not even after Minnie punched him?” Sirius asked, and Severus shook his head.

“He won’t cancel Hogsmeade weekends either,” Remus sighed.  “I mean, I know we all agreed that ours wouldn’t be going with those heathens near the village, but nobody should be out as long as Dumbledore refuses to get rid of them.”

“He says it’s the fucking ministry, what a load of dragon shite,” Sirius snapped bitterly, before they noticed their boy was awake.

“Hey, how you feeling?” He asked.

“Can’t understand you- need my glasses,” Harry croaked, and Remus brought them to his face while Severus conjured a glass of water for him.

“Thanks,” Harry rasped as he drank eagerly, paced carefully by Severus.  “Were those…” he pushed the now-empty glass away. “Was that a Dementor?”

“Yes, Harry,” Remus sighed, squeezing Sirius’ hand in support.  “Those are the dementors. As I’m sure you found out, they feed on misery, making people relive all their worst memories.”

Harry hid his face, ashamed, and Sirius grabbed his hand.  “Hey,” he told his godson, lifting his chin, “you have nothing to feel embarrassed about- I’m a grown man, and they scare the fuck out of me.”  He ignored Severus sharp reprieve of “language, mutt!”

“One of those things touched you, and you survived,” he continued.  “That’s pretty damn tough.”

“I don’t feel tough,” Harry admitted in a whisper.  “I feel scared, and alone, and sad…”

“And it’s okay to feel those things,” Sirius told him, gently wiping away a tear dripping down Harry’s cheek.  “That doesn’t make you any less than- it makes you human, and we’re so proud of you for being honest with us.”

“You are?”  Harry sniffed, and Remus handed him a tissue.

“Of course we are,” the werewolf said, petting his hair.  “We’ll be proud of you no matter what. But the fact that you’ve survived more than anyone should have to, and still stayed so good and kind and strong- well, what’s not to be proud of?  How many people could go through what you did and not fall apart?”

“When will it stop hurting so much?” Harry asked, and the three men knew he didn’t mean the physical wounds he was in here for.  “When will I be able to look back at the memories and not feel so broken?”

“Oh Harry,” Severus sighed, knowing all too well how he felt.  “You’re not broken, you’re just recovering. It’s hard and it hurts and you’re handling it like a little hero, but that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect and strong all the time.  You’re allowed to cry.”

Harry, as a child, had been used to crying himself to sleep, but it was different this time- now he had people who held him and comforted him while he did it, and he reminded himself that through all this pain, that was something, at least.

Chapter Text

“Please Sev?” Harry begged, sitting up in bed the next morning.  “It’s really not that bad!”

“No,” the potions master shook his head.  “Your Aunt Poppy and I are a united front on this- you’re injured and you’re staying in bed until we say otherwise, classes be damned.”

“Some professor you are,” Harry muttered, crossing his arms.

Severus raised an eyebrow.  “I heard that.”

“I didn’t.”  Harry mirrored the expression.

“Ha ha,” Severus just looked at him, unimpressed.  “Humor or no humor, you’re staying in bed.”

That earned him nothing but a plaintive sigh and a shot of big green eyes, and Severus looked away, determined not to be swayed by their pleading.  Harry, emotionally doing much better this morning, whimpered a little, looking as downcast as he could, bound and determined to go with his friends to the first day of classes.

“One does not simply use Slytherin tactics against the head of Slytherin,” Poppy said as she swept into the room, seeing the man’s mental struggle between his desire to give Harry whatever made him happy and his burning need to keep him healthy and rescuing him with a breakfast tray with a full morning’s regime of potions, leading Harry’s expertly crafted puppy dog face to fall into a petulant moeu.

“So unfair,” he grumbled, making a face as he picked up the anti-infection potion that had been temporarily added to the usual set.

“I know, little one, I know,” Poppy sighed, petting his hair as she sat down at the side of his bed.  “But I’ve got to change your bandages now, so we can get an idea of how much longer you’ll need to be here.”

“Less than a week, less than a week, less than a week,” Harry chanted hopefully under his breath while Poppy clucked her tongue at the injuries.

“Some of them opened nearly to the muscle again.”  Poppy shook her head. “Ten days at least.”

“Fuck!” Harry swore, and the healer looked at him sharply.

“Young man, where on earth did you learn language like that?”  She asked disapprovingly, and Harry jabbed a thumb at Severus.  The healer turned upon him, hands on hips, but before she could get into a really good rant, the other thumb pointed at her.

“Oh,” she hummed, her expression changing rapidly.  “Well, I suppose everyone slips up occasionally.” And that was the end of the matter.

_____

“Knit one, slip one, pass slipped stitch over,” Harry murmured, his tongue between his teeth in concentration while keeping track of the pattern as the pile of hats, shawls, and socks by his bed grew.  Day three of bed rest, and he was already bored out of his mind.

Suddenly, he felt something pulling at the tail of his yarn, and he looked up to see Charcoal standing there looking at him with her standard ‘well? Scratch my ears!’ expression, and he smiled at her as he leaned over and brought her to him, ignoring the stinging in his chest.

“Charcoal!” He cried gleefully as he snuggled her.  “Where have you been, girl? It’s not like you to disappear for quite this long.”  Harry never really worried about her, as since she’d reached maturity she was more than capable of taking care of herself and often went off on long hunts in the forest whenever she had a craving for more than just mice, but she had still been gone far longer than usual this time.  Sev had gone through the floo to Grimmauld Place to see if she’d ended up there (she was a smart kitty- she could use the floo), but she wasn’t, so they figured whatever she’d been out looking for was harder to find than her normal prey.

“Meow,” she cocked her head to the side, a self-satisfied look on her face as a line of seven fluffy kittens came scrambling haphazardly onto the bed.

“You had kittens!” Harry exclaimed, face open and innocent in an expression of absolute joy as two white, three grey, a black, and one ginger kitten crawled onto his lap, snuggling in and poking curiously at the bandages on his chest.

“That’s an oddly familiar shade of orange,” he mused, looking at the ginger cat.  It was similar to Ron’s hair, but there was something else…

One final cat leapt heavily onto Harry’s bed, marching bow-legged and sure-footed into his lap like it belonged there.  Huge, fluffy, and orange, with the squishiest of faces, Harry’s face lit up- he watched the memories his parents left him all the time, and he would recognize this cranky old feline anywhere.

“Crookshanks!” he declared in astonishment.  “You had babies with my cat!” They’d checked every pet shop in London they could find, looking for the old grouch, but he had clearly set off his own way, as they’d not found him yet in their three years of looking- until now.

“You know,” he told his old pet fondly as the creature purred triumphantly.  “There were easier ways to find me. Like hanging out in a pet shop maybe? Or did they kick you out of all of those for being a royal pain?”  Crookshanks just shoved his head further into Harry’s hands as his special human gave him chin scritches- he’d tried a couple of pet shops, but then some kid ignored his grouchy behaviour in the one on Diagon Alley and tried to buy him, and there was only one person in the world who he would go home to, so he’d jumped on the poor boy’s head, knocked down the reptile exhibit, and run away.  He’d met Charcoal in the alley behind Florean Fortescue’s- the ice cream shop owner knew from previous visits that she was Harry Potter’s wandering cat and thus always gave her the best treats and thick cream, which kept her coming back.  Crookshanks did his waiting- twelve years of it- and he’d recognize the smell of his little human anywhere. It was all over the furry abomination.

He’d interrogated her as to his human’s whereabouts, but of course the little minx had been in heat and thinking only of babies.  Knowing it would be the only way to shut her up and get back to his Harry, he’d satisfied her need, and since he was a good cat, stayed around until she’d had the kittens and they were old enough to travel.  Now, twelve years, seven kittens and a lifetime of paternal sleep deficit later, and it had been worth every second.

_______

Severus rushed in from his last class to the hospital wing, ignoring some poor fourth year who’d had a question on the homework assignment and had tried to get his attention about it after the block ended, only to find Harry with not only the MIA Charcoal, but a lapful of kittens and Lily and James’ old grumpy cat, looking anything but grumpy as he lovingly brushed his ugly mug along Harry’s arms.

Looking at his child, who looked far happier than he did this morning, he allowed himself a small smile.

Harry finally caught the movement of his robes out of the corner of his eyes and looked up.

“Look Sev!” He said, pointing to the family of fur balls curled up in his lap.  “Crookshanks is back- and he had kittens with Charcoal!”

“I’ll buy more cat beds,” the man sighed fondly.

“Did you see Uncle Moony on your way down here?” Harry asked as he ran his hands along the back of the runt of the litter, a little black-furred thing with bright blue eyes.

“No- I suspect he’s still answering students’ questions.  The man actually stays in after class, for some reason.”

“He just wants to make sure everybody is getting the material- you know, you don’t have to rush down here everyday,” Harry told him.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” the potions master waved off his concerns as he sat down on the edge of the bed and he ginger kitten wobbled over and collapsed in his lap.  He looked at it strangely, as one might eye a strange bug or a sticky substance on the bottom of their shoe, but the kitten didn’t seem to mind as it attempted to climb up the chest of his robes.

“Well well, what have we here?” Remus asked as he finally made his way in, trailed by Sirius.  “Are we looking at Severus Snape’s boggart, perchance?” He joked as the kitten clambered its way onto the Slytherin’s shoulders and batted curiously at his hair.  The not-so werewolf tried to reach a hand to pet the mini-Crookshanks, but the kitten apparently had the old cat’s temperament as well, as it hissed at Moony warningly before going back to nosing Severus’ ear.

“Ha ha,” the man glared at his co-parents over his hooked nose.  “This kitten is not my boggart, and it’s merely curious.  See?” He tried to demonstrate as he picked it up.  “Go back to Harry.”

The kitten stayed in Harry’s lap for approximately two seconds before scrambling over his brothers and sisters and back to Severus, who buried his head in his hands and groaned.

“Make it go away,” he muttered.

Harry giggled, covering his mouth with his hand and sneezing as some loose cat hair tickled his nose.

“I don’t think Riddikulus will work for that,” he joked, sounding slightly congested as Padfoot handed him a tissue.

“Try not to breath the cat in directly,” he teased his godson, whose eyes were watering.  “Looks like we’ll have to give you the same potion we gave Lily- while Charcoal is a nice, short-haired kneazle who doesn’t aggravate anyone’s allergies, Shanky most certainly is not.”

“Mum was allergic to cats?” Harry asked, as he sneezed again.

“Not all cats,” Remus corrected, “just that cat.  You hadn’t had a problem with him as of your first year, but we were waiting- you did end up with most of Lily’s other allergies, after all.”

“Like what?” Harry cocked his head to the side as Severus went to rifle through the potions’ stores, mini-Crookshanks still clinging to his shoulder.

“Citrus fruits, for one,” Sirius informed them.

“Wait, they’re not supposed to make your mouth itchy?” Harry looked stunned.  “I thought that was part of the experience!”

“That was your mother’s excuse as well, whenever we caught her sneaking some lemon tart in the back garden,” Remus rolled his eyes.  “She’d share with you, too, and neither of you seemed to mind, so we’d usually just let it be after a few objections.”

“Wait a second…” Harry squinted at the three men suspiciously as Severus came back with a light purple potion.  “Is that why there’s never any orange juice at breakfast?”

“Guilty as charged,” Sirius sighed.  “We’d rather you didn’t tempt fate, with the general state of your health right now.”

“Joke’s on you,” Harry crossed his arms triumphantly.  “When Blaise stole all the lemon drops from Dumbledore’s office, I ate so many my tongue felt fuzzy for days!”

“Well done, Harry, you have truly played us all,” Severus drawled sardonically, rolling his eyes to hide his concern as he added ‘empty the castle of any and all citrus fruits or citrus-flavored things’ to his to-do list.

“So, you know the Riddikulus charm already,” Moony redirected.  “Impressive.”

“Well,” Harry said, “I figured I ought to learn it, since you wouldn’t let me go to classes.”

“Ah yes, so evil we are,” the potions master butt in again, and Harry just rolled his eyes.

“Everyone says Uncle Moony’s class is so cool!” He complained.  “I wanna go too!”

“Who’s ‘everyone’?” Remus raised an eyebrow, knowing that Harry’s friends had been downplaying the excitement so he wouldn’t feel left out.

“That second-year Ravenclaw who came in to regrow their eyebrows yesterday,” Harry admitted.  “But they seemed excited enough for a whole class!”

“Soon, Harry, soon,” Remus soothed him as he swept a curl out of his eyes.  “Trust me, by the end of the year you’ll be sick of having me as a teacher.”

“No I won’t,” Harry argued.  “I have Severus as a teacher, and I still love him.”

“I love that that implies your teaching skills make you less worthy of love,” Sirius snorted, and Harry looked at him anxiously.

“That’s not what I meant!” He cried, and Severus glared at the man while squeezing Harry’s hand.

“We know, cub,” he said, unconsciously picking up the nickname that the other two often used.  “The mutt is just being a prat.”

“Guilty as charged,” Sirius admitted with a dramatic flourish, trying to overcompensate for making Harry feel nervous.  He was rewarded with a laugh from his godson as a house elf appeared with dinner.

“Okay,” Poppy ordered as she came bustling in with more potions.  “You three need to get out, before Mr. Black makes my patient snort milk out of his nose again.  And oh, we have kittens now. Just fantastic,” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “Well, I suppose that as long as they don’t make you snort milk out of your nose- or drink it- they can stay.”

“Why can’t I stay?” Severus protested angrily as the nurse shoved them out the door.

She gave the man an unamused look.  “Because it was Sirius’ impression of you that made the child nearly choke to death on his own laughter.”

“You’re all the worst,” he said to the room at large, before turning to Harry.

“Except you,” he informed Harry, his face softening.  “You’re the only other sane one in the place.”

“Other?” Harry raised one eyebrow in an excellent impersonation of his head of house as they were ushered out.

“Betrayed by your own little clone,” Sirius laughed, playfully punching Severus in the arm as they left.

“Shut up, mutt.”

“As you wish.” The dog animagus tipped an imaginary hat.

“And quit it with the Princess Bride references!”

“As you wish.”

Sirius said no more, as he was hit with a silencing hex, which Remus very conspicuously didn’t reverse.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, Ron!” Blaise groaned as the elemental paced the dorm, casting anxious, woebegone eyes at Harry’s empty bed.  “It’s eleven o’clock at night, just go to bed!”

“Don’t you think I would if I could?!” The redhead hissed back, trying not to wake the others (except they were all still awake anyway, not that he knew).  “It’s not the same without him.” He looked at Harry’s bed again, running one hand over the wrinkle-free duvet. Much to the elve’s distress, Harry always made the bed himself as soon as he got up- with neatly-tucked hospital corners.

“He’ll be back soon, but I might strangle you before that if you don’t go pace somewhere else!” Blaise snapped, and Ron shot him a dirty look before sighing and slipping out the door and heading for the common room.

He got no relief from pacing there either, or from stoking the fire, and eventually he eyed the portrait warily.  Could he…?

Either way, he would, he decided as a determined expression came into the arch of his brow.  Carefully, on tiptoes, he inched towards the exit. Snape was in tonight (Madame Pomfrey had made him go sleep in a real bed after the first few days Harry was in hospital), and he was a very light sleeper, so it was with trepidation that he swung open the painting of Salazar Slytherin, wincing when it made a creaking noise on its hinges.

“Shhhh,” he told it, as the man blinked awake.  “I’m not looking for any trouble.” The founder just shrugged and went back to sleep- he was too tired from this young one’s constant pacing the past few nights to object to his leaving.

Ron lit a small fire in his palm that illuminated the dark circles under his eyes as he crept in the shadows of Hogwarts, all the way up from the dungeons to the third floor, avoiding the trick steps he knew by heart as he made his way to the hospital wing.  Listening carefully for the telltale sounds of the healer’s snoring, he very carefully propped the door open just enough to squeeze in, his eyes seeking out Harry’s bed.

His best friend lay curled up on his right side, like usual, and was covered in a family of cats, all except for the littlest ginger kitten, which refused to leave Severus’ side.  Squinting, the littlest Weasley boy noticed him trembling slightly, and he held his fire up to the air in front of the bed carefully, searching for the telltale glimmer that indicated the seam of a silencing charm.

“Oh Harry,” he sighed, shaking his head and slipping into the bed.  “You and your bloody silencing charms.

“Please, please no!” Harry whimpered.  “I didn’t mean to spill the water, honest!”  Ron clenched his fists, concentrating very hard on pushing the fire down where it belonged as he slowly curled his body around Harry, checking to see that his skin was warm but not too warm before carding his fingers gently along Harry’s scalp.  He pulled his wand out of his robe to fix the fuzzy sock that had fallen askew on Harry’s left foot before putting it back and wrapping the arm softly over Harry’s bandaged waist.

“S’alright mate,” he whispered, hoping the sentiment worked its way through somehow even though Harry couldn’t hear it.  “I’ll keep you safe.”

Harry’s breathing slowly evened out as he unconsciously snuggled further into Ron, letting out a yawn so wide it made the redhead’s jaw ache in sympathy.  The black kitten- the runt- slowly stumbled over and used its tiny but sharp little claws to scrabble up to the warm little hollow where Ron’s neck met his shoulder as he too, found himself giving way to sleep, only staying awake long enough to make sure Harry’s dreams continued to be quiet and peaceful.  He was slightly chilly, since he hadn’t wanted to make Harry uncomfortable by lifting the duvet, but he was afraid of stoking the fire any further lest his skin get too hot for his best friend.

He was so tired from so many sleepless nights of worry that he slumbered soundly anyway, and that was how Poppy found them the next morning: Ron with one hand in Harry’s hair and the other wrapped protectively around his torso, with Harry curled into him and his right hand gripping the one Ron had slung over his waist, their fingers laced together.  She didn’t bother waking them- Harry needed all the sleep he could get, and if he was naturally sleeping past dawn she didn’t want to upset that. She could also see by the bruise-colored smudging under the taller boy’s eyes that Ron hadn’t been sleeping well either, so she went to grab an extra blanket from he linen closet, draping it over the two and pleased that her little Harry had found one of very few thirteen-year-old boys who were unashamed of cuddling platonically to be his best friend.  Merlin knew he needed the affection.

________

Harry was rather surprised, upon getting out of the hospital wing, to see that that morning’s edition of The Daily Prophet had taken out a full page advert under the headline BSL teacher wanted for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“When did this happen?” He asked in surprise.

“Snape managed to finagle Dumbledore into making it a mandatory class somehow,” Ron informed him as he buttered Harry’s toast all the way to the edges.  “He wanted it to be a surprise for you.”

“Wha- how’d he do that?  And why? I mean, I’m grateful, but people shouldn’t have to take an extra class just to talk to me,” Harry mumbled.  “I wouldn’t wanna make trouble for them.”

“Relax poppet,” Pansy told him.  “People want to learn- students have been fighting over the copies of the BSL dictionaries in the common room; it’s a cool language, and I think they feel bad about the whole business last year.  Even kids from other houses have been coming up to ask if there was someone to teach them. Cedric Diggory, for one.”

“Really?” Harry blushed- Cedric Diggory, a sixth year Hufflepuff prefect and captain of the quidditch team, wanted to learn BSL, to talk to him!

“Yep,” Hermione jumped in, popping the p.   “So I’m guessing Snape blackmailed Dumbledore into putting out an ad, somehow- it wouldn’t be that hard, really.  I mean, even if the ministry is backing this whole dementor nonsense, I’m sure it’s not going over too well in the court of public opinion.”

“Interviews will be held all week during normal business hours,” Harry read from the paper.  “Applicants must be fluent in both BSL and spoken communication, willing to board at Hogwarts, and pass a strict background check.”

“Don’t want another Quirrelmort,” Theo put forth practically, ignoring the fact that their first-year defense professor hadn’t been too far removed from one of his more adventurous science experiments.

“Or another Lockhart,” Daphne’s perfect face scrunched into an expression of distaste.  “That’d be even worse.”

“You can’t be as stupid as Lockhart and learn another language, anyhow, so I doubt that will be a problem.  I’m sure whoever applies will have at least two brain cells to rub together,” Millie said as she reached for a peach out of the fruit bowl.

“I still think it’s a lot of effort to go through on my behalf,” Harry said uncertainty as Ron took the opportunity to sneak some more syrup onto his best friend’s pancakes (Harry had a habit of putting too little because he didn’t want to ‘take it from anybody else’ so it was quite regular to see either Ron or Hermione discreetly putting extra syrup on his waffles, butter on his toast, or sugar in his porridge).

“Well, you deserve all that effort,” Hermione said decisively, “and furthermore, you haven’t really choice in the matter either way, so it can’t reasonably be put on you even if people didn’t want to learn.  Besides,” she pulled herself up and used her shape shifting abilities to add a couple inches to her height so as to look more imposing, “learning an extra language should be something everybody does anyway.”

“But-” Harry opened his mouth and then shut it again.  It was hard to argue with Hermione. Nearly impossible really, when she was bound and determined to be right about something.  “Okay,” he finally gave in with a sigh.

“Good, that’s settled, then,” Ron picked up.  “Now,” he told Harry, unconsciously channeling his inner Mrs. Weasley, “take your potions and finish your tea.”

_____

Severus groaned and put his head in his hands to keep from banging it against the desk as Fur Weasley (alright, so he may have let Harry name the kitten that imprinted on him, and he may have even gotten it engraved onto a little collar for it- black, of course- sue him) licked himself clean on top of Severus’ shoulder.  He’d insisted, of course, on interviewing all the applicants for the BSL professorship himself, but he didn’t count on such a supreme amount of idiots showing up, many of whom had clearly just opened a book that morning and tried to trick their way into the position just for the chance to teach at a school with the famous Harry Potter.

It turns out that wizards really didn’t put ‘learn sign language’ high on their list of priorities- go figure.  It had been three days of interviews and not one applicant was remotely qualified.  But he would find someone- even if he had to bring in a muggle and… and… obliviate them daily or something (he wasn’t exactly clear on the details yet).  But he was going to do it- for Harry.

He looked at the next applicant: the last for the day.  He hadn’t put his name down, citing ‘safety reasons,’ so that was suspicious to begin with, but his resumé looked good, if he were being honest about it.  Born and raised in England, educated at Hogwarts, rendered deaf by an accident fourteen years ago and had been living in Spain since then. Fluent in both BSL and LSE (Lengua de signos Española).  Single man in his early thirties. Despite the way things had been going, Severus was cautiously optimistic. If the man was really what he said he was- and could give a good reason for leaving his name off the application- then he could be what they were looking for.

“We’re ready for you!” Severus called out, before remembering that this applicant was deaf, so even assuming he was on time, he’d have to go out and get him.  Well, it would be good for Harry to have someone else who shared his condition to talk to, so the potions master really hoped this interview went well. He opened the door, ready to greet the person.  At first, he saw no one, and grumbled internally- of fucking course the only decent applicant showed up late; he’d better have a good reason- but then he saw movement in the corner of the room, and out from under an invisibility cloak came a face he knew quite well, minus a new scar on his neck and a deep sense of world-weariness in his eyes.

“Regulus Black,” he croaked.  “Mother of Merlin, you’re alive.”

Chapter Text

It was a moment of complete shock for Severus before he remembered that the last he’d heard from this man, he was a defected death eater and potentially dangerous, so he raised his wand.  Regulus just sat there looking at him calmly, seeming to expect the reaction and even find it fair.

“Wha-” Severus had to take a moment to clear his throat.  “What are you doing here?”

“Applying for a position as the Hogwarts BSL teacher,” the younger Black brother intoned, expression not changing at all.  Severus took a moment to remind himself that this one, while often far more reasonable, was related to the mutt still, and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to stay calm.

“How, I mean.   How are you here?  Why did you die?  Why didn’t you contact anyone?  You owe us all a lot of answers, Regulus Arcturus Black!”

“And you’ll get them if you just let me answer them,” Regulus sighed, still with an even tone.  Unlike Severus, he’d had a chance to prepare for this interaction, and that went a long way towards helping him maintain his reposed demeanor.  He took a deep breath in and sat at the chair in front of the potion master’s desk. Severus, remembering that he was still technically the one running things, and that he had a thirteen-year-old boy to look after who was currently working on homework with his friends in the dorm room not three hundred metres from the door behind him, spelled it shut and warded the office tightly.

“You must understand- safety precautions,” he explained, just the hint of a threat lurking in his expression, and Regulus nodded.

“Of course- your little snakes are out there,” he agreed, folding his hands over in his lap.  “Now, I’m assuming you’d like to hear my story.”

“Very much, yes.”

“Right then- fourteen years ago, I joined the death eaters to find out that it was not at all what I had in mind, and that furthermore its aims were abhorrent and that I was a fool to let my mother push me away from my brother, to convince me that I should take their views of the world.  But I did, and I hold full responsibility for that. It was around the first few meetings that I started to regret the choice I made.  To make a very long story somewhat shorter, I started looking into the dark lord’s past, and I found out that he was actually a halfblood who before his transformation had gone by the name Tom Riddle.”  Severus nodded- Harry had already discovered this.

“He was determined to attain immortality, Severus- I’m sure you remember,” Regulus continued, looking pointedly at him.  “He was quite proud of this, of the fact that he was going, magically, where he insisted no man had gone before. And there was a good reason for this- I’m not sure exactly how many, but I do now that Tom Riddle made multiple horcruxes on this short-sighted quest of his.”

It was probably his imagination, but to Severus the room seemed to grow immediately colder as the word left the younger man’s lips, and his own skin, less sallow now that he spent so much time in the fresh air watching (i.e. worrying over) Harry play quidditch, paled rapidly.  “Hor… horcruxes.” He swallowed, his throat feeling suddenly like someone had stuffed a wad of cotton down it.

“I couldn’t quite catch that- your lips were shaking, but I’m going to assume you said horcruxes,” Regulus took up the thread of the tale again, “and the answer is yes.  He made them, more than one of them. The one I managed to get a hold of was a locket belonging to the founder Salazar Slytherin.  It was a shame to destroy it, but it had to be done. It was at the bottom of a goblet of poison, in an island cave surrounded by a lake of inferi.  I took Kreacher with me, to aparate me there, told him to destroy the locket if I failed, and to leave, even if it meant that I died. Once I’d gotten in, I was dragged into the lake by one of the inferi; that’s how I got this.”  He raised a finger, pointing to the jagged scar on his neck. “It clawed at me, pulling me under with the help of its fellows. I was dragged so deeply that my eardrums burst, and that’s the last thing I remember. I really should have died- in fact I did, for a short time- but Kreacher had always taken his orders liberally.  Once he felt my life force ebb, he left just long enough to fulfill the order before coming back and using his magic to pull me back to the surface. He nursed me back to health and I destroyed the locket. From there, I knew I needed to get out- I was the Riddle’s enemy, by this point, and I didn’t trust Dumbledore enough to formally defect to the light side.  So, once I was well enough, I ordered Kreacher to forget the entirety of what happened and fled to Spain, where I’ve stayed until now.”

“That’s…” Severus sat back in his chair and tried to garner some simulacrum of calm.  “That’s quite a story, but let me put forth another question- why choose now to come back?”

“I saw your advert,” Regulus said simply, but they both knew it was more than that.

“Siriu- your brother mourned for you,” Severus amended, but it didn’t change the fact that he was actually feeling some anger on behalf of Sirius Black .  “Fourteen years, ten of them in Azkaban- he had no answers.  None- thought you were dead. What on Earth could possibly justify that?”

Regulus began to lose his composure for the first time that day.  “I… I don’t have a justification,” he said quietly, voice wavering a bit.  “Only that I was scared. First I thought… when I heard about what happened, I thought that maybe our parents had gotten to him just as much, and then, once he was freed… well, I’d already done enough damage to our relationship before I believed the lies that were being told about him betraying the Potters.  And he didn’t know what happened- would he even have believed me? And I… well,  what reason did I have to come back? I was broken.”

“Hey!” Severus stood up suddenly, his hands shaking from anger and his desk shaking from his barely-restrained magic.  Fur Weasley yowled in indignation and jumped off of him. “My child - your brother’s child- is deaf as well!  You dare call him broken?!”

“The PTSD, Severus- and this isn’t about you, anyway.  This was long before Harry came to Hogwarts, before I knew anything about him.  You wanted an explanation, and I gave it to you.” Regulus stood up as well, keeping his own temper in check as he looked the older Slytherin in the face, fathomless black eyes meeting flinty grey.

Severus took a deep breath in, gradually unclenching, before he eventually lowered his gaze.  “So what changed?” He asked finally, exhaling slowly.

“Hogwarts needed a BSL teacher, and as I’m sure you’ve found out, those aren’t exactly in abundance in wizarding Britain.  Besides, the warnings are there, Severus- the possessed defense professor, the chamber opening- he’s growing strong again. I might be the only person besides Dumbledore who knows anything about the methods he uses or just how far he’s willing to go, and the headmaster isn’t about to let loose his secrets anytime soon.”

“Fair points- but you know that you can’t just march in there as Regulus Black,” Severus ran a hand through his hair.

“Well aware, thank you,” Reg hummed in agreement.  “I’m sure you’re aware that the Black line has a few metamorphmagi, yes?”  The potions master nodded. “Well, I may not be one, but it does make self-glamouring easier and less labor-intensive, if you’re able to find and utilize the magic in that general branch on the family tree.”  He concentrated as his features slowly changed, his nose becoming slightly longer, his hair going from shoulder-length black to chin-length brown, his eyes from a hard grey to a soft, watery blue.  He sported a slightly more prominent brow line, and his limbs were a bit longer. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was enough that no one would ever take him for Regulus Black.

“It’s still rather tiring, of course, but I’ve been doing it for fourteen years in Majorca, so one gets used to it eventually.”

“You have to tell your brother the truth,” Severus ordered, the ‘you’re hired’ in the statement implied.

“Of course,” Regulus agreed stoically.  “Send him your Patronus right now.”

Severus readily conjured his silver doe, speaking into it.

“Mutt, Remus, come to my office immediately please, and bring Harry.  There’s something I need to show you.” When Regulus looked at him, he merely leveled his gaze right back.

“Our child isn’t left out of any important information- he’s been lied to enough in his life.  Now take the glamours off.”

Regulus did as ordered, and it wasn’t long before Harry’s sweet tenor voice could be heard (although only by Severus) through the door, saying “Oy! Look at these wards!”

“Stay there just a second!” The potions master yelled to the two men, trusting them to relay the message to Harry (surely that couldn’t be too much to ask of them).  “I’m fixing them to let you through.”

“Wow, sometimes you really take drama to the next level,” Sirius was laughing as they walked through the door, until he saw his brother and his whole body froze, tears immediately coming up to pool in his eyes.

“I… wha… Reg?” He whispered, while Remus kept his boyfriend from falling while battling his own surprise and Harry’s eyes rapidly tracked the conversation.

“Siri,” Reg smiled bitterly.  “It’s been a while; I’ve missed you.”

Chapter Text

Harry stood silently, barely daring to breath as he looked back and forth from his godfather to the man who was apparently his god-uncle. The resemblance was obvious, of course, with their similar hair and similar eyes and lithe, almost feminine physiques, but he still couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, and it was obvious Sirius felt the same way times a thousand, his hands clenched tightly, his right fist shaking around his wand as his facial expression twitched like he was trying to decide whether or not to hex the other man.

“Why?” He asked tightly, eventually lowering his wand as the angry tension left his body, leaving him looking more defeated than anything.

“I wasn’t quite sure you’d want to see me,” Reg whispered back quietly, his voice shaking as his facade began to break down.  “I… it’s a long story, but I changed sides secretly, and then I nearly died, and by the time I could even start to think about reaching out, you were in prison and I actually th-thought… thought you’d done it, and then it was two more years before I worked up the confidence to come back.”

“I… I’m not sure whether I’m happy or furious to see you right now,” Sirius admitted with his head down, growing upset when Regulus said nothing.

“He’s deaf, Sirius,” Severus explained, his voice uncharacteristically soft in a way it normally only was for Harry.  “He lost his hearing destroying one of the dark lord’s horcruxes.”

Harry immediately went very pink- what in Merlin’s name was Voldemort doing with… why did Voldemort have a whore, and what had Regulus done to them?!

Remus, despite his horror that Tom Riddle had apparently made multiple horcruxes, noticed Harry’s expression and remembered that lip reading was an especially imprecise science with words one hasn’t heard before and put a hand gently on Harry’s shoulder.

“No cub- h-o-r-c-r-u-x,” he fingerspelled for the teenager, who immediately relaxed.  “It’s a form of very dark magic that involves splitting one’s soul to prevent themselves from dying, and it can only be done through murder.”  Harry looked horrified but less so than the first time- at least this was something that he would have expected from Voldemort.

Meanwhile, Sirius paled to nearly his mother’s old skin tone, which was quite an accomplishment seeing as she’d done multiple unhealthy spells to whiten it further in the name of ‘fashion’ (purebloods of course being a few centuries behind the times).  Voldemort had made… and his brother had… and his brother was… and his godson also was… and Merlin, it was all too much.

It was really the worst possible moment for Harry to have an asthma attack, and an even worse moment for him to realise the button on his inhaler was stuck.  But he didn’t want to be more trouble right at the moment, so he tried to wheeze quietly, and there was so much tension in the room that nobody really noticed that he was struggling for breath while his hands fumbled with the button on the inhaler in his pocket.  Regulus, however, who was also deaf and therefore had seen a sharpening of his other senses, noticed the subtle movement of Harry’s repressed coughs.  Carefully but as quickly as he could, he went over to the teen.

“What are you doing?!” Sirius was immediately ready to go into attack mode again as he saw his brother lunging for his godson for no apparent reason, nearly hexed Reg (whose back was turned and thus didn’t realise his brother was talking to him and expected a response), but Severus pulled him back just in time.

“Harry’s having trouble breathing,” he hissed, as Regulus reached into the boy’s pocket and pulled out the inhaler.

“There’s a Bertie Bott’s stuck in the mechanism,” he announced, giving it a good bang against the desk and pulling out the squished candy that had been gumming up the works.  He put the inhaler in Harry’s mouth, and small brown hands scrabbled for it gratefully as he puffed it twice, then three times, his heaving chest finally slowing down as his airways opened up again.

“Thanks,” he gasped.  “Should probably start keeping my candy in the other pocket…”

“I’ve warned you about this, you silly child,” Severus scolded as he leant down to snatch Harry up in his arms and check him over, but his expression and his voice were more relieved than anything.

“S’rry Sev,” the teen mumbled, but the man just squeezed him a little tighter.

“It’s alright, little one.  Thank you,” he turned to Regulus.  “Merlin, I should have noticed…”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” the younger Black brother told the other ex-death eater in the room.  “It’s the sort of thing you only pick up when you can’t rely on hearing.”

“Merlin’s saggy man tits,” the entire scare seemed to really hit home for Sirius as he realised that his brother really was back, and that furthermore, he really was still the sensitive, caring brother he’d had before his parents wrenched them apart.  He rushed forward, nearly tackling his smaller, slightly thinner brother in a hug as Sirius’ tears rolled onto Regulus’ shoulder.

“I missed this,” Regulus sighed into Sirius’ chest, own eyes wet.  “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Sirius pulled back so he could sign to his brother.  “I didn’t realise- I was still so angry, and I still am, a little bit, but I’m just glad that you’re here, and that you didn’t…”

“Stay in the wizard nazis and support their abhorrent ideology?” Regulus raised a sarcastic eyebrow- he’d learned that from watching Severus- at his brother.

“Yeah, that,” Sirius chuckled, shaky front he rollercoaster of emotions as he ran his hand through his dark hair.

“UNCLE SEV!” Draco’s screaming voice could suddenly be heard through the door by most of the room’s occupants (everyone knows which two didn’t hear it by this point, but rest assured that Harry would later make a pun about it).  “THEO WAS WORKING WITH FLAMMABLE GASSES WITHOUT TELLING US AND THEN RON WENT TO FIX THE FIREPLACE AND NOW THE COMMON ROOM IS BURNING!”

“Welcome to the staff,” Severus smirked at Regulus as he quickly relayed the situation via BSL.  “I’ll evacuate the children and then you and the mutts can take care of the fire.”

_________

Harry was always nervous in the lead-up to a big quidditch match, but the upcoming one against Hufflepuff made him especially nervous.  It wasn’t because of the dementors- in fact, his friends and guardians were just now testing the anti-dementor wards they’d put up around the quidditch pitch, doing a trial for the game tomorrow that they were too worried to let him come to- oh, no: he absolutely trusted that the wards would work fine, with the combined brilliance of Sev and Hermione on them (and the others too, of course).  Rather, it was who they were playing, or rather, who he was playing in particular.  He wasn’t sure quite what it was about Cedric Diggory that tied his tummy up in knots, but he was such a good seeker, and Harry simultaneously wanted desperately to play against him and was afraid to play against him.  

The idea of beating him was both thrilling and anxiety-inducing somehow, and losing just wasn’t an option- Flint was bound and determined to win the house cup this year, as Harry’s injury from the basilisk kept him from playing the final mast last year (which they subsequently lost), and Wood was apparently being more insufferable than ever, as their captain had taken to telling them whenever he got the chance.  Furthermore, it was his last year, and after that much sexual repression for his rival captain, he was more than a little intolerable (at least, that was Pansy’s theory; she was probably right, too).

He was so focused on his thoughts about quidditch that he didn’t notice the trick step, and he cursed under his breath as he tripped and felt something bend in a way it most certainly wasn’t supposed to.  Thankfully, no one was around to see it, and Harry, used to this kind of thing, prodded the injury carefully to assess the damage.

Just a sprain, then, he deduced.  That was great- he could still play in the game tomorrow.  He’d just have to hide the injury. But that wouldn’t be a problem- it was nearly curfew already, so if he could just get back to his bed before his friends got back from warding the pitch, they wouldn’t see anything.  And well, he was great at hiding injuries after all that time at the Dursleys, so he could keep it hidden from tomorrow morning until the match at noon fairly easily. Then he’d just have to fake stumbling off his broom at the end, and hopefully Aunt Poppy wouldn’t keep him too long.  And yeah, he felt bad about lying to his friends and guardians, but this was for quidditch.

“You understand, right dad?” He asked the empty corridor.

From beyond the veil, James was shaking his head at his son.  “I really wish I could be critical of this decision, but I would have done the same thing as a kid.”

“I also blame you for this,” Lily agreed, hoping someone would find out what was going on with their son before the ‘this is a fucking terrible idea but let’s just ignore that’ bit of him he got from James could do any more damage.

Meanwhile, Harry was allowing himself to limp to take the pressure off the injury, since no-one was watching.  He’d have to walk on it tomorrow, and although the pain really didn’t bother him too much when he’d been through far worse, he knew that the more severe the injury was, the longer he’d be held hostage in the hospital wing after the match.  Guilt was already tearing through him at the idea of the lies he was about to tell, but he couldn’t just not play in the match, and besides, his friends and his guardians were overprotective anyway- this was a perfectly justified decision… right?

He was so busy arguing ethics with himself in his head that he didn’t realise the very Hufflepuff that had been occupying his thoughts all day had snuck up on him (well, he hadn’t been sneaky, exactly, but when one is deaf even someone carrying a tuba could be sneaky if they came up from behind) until there was a gentle hand going around his torso and under his shoulder to support him, and Harry would have fallen if it wasn’t for that same hand.

“What- Cedric?!” He exclaimed as he turned to see the sixth year helping take the weight off his ankle and surprising him.  “What are you doing here?”

“I was passing by when I noticed you limping and thought I’d help get you to the hospital wing,” he said, making sure to annunciate so his lips were easier to read.  “Which is that way, fyi.” His free hand pointed in the opposite direction.

“Oh, um… I wasn’t exactly going to the hospital wing,” Harry admitted sheepishly.

“Why not?” Cedric looked very concerned, and Harry had to remind himself to put quidditch first instead of giving in to that face immediately.

“Because the game is tomorrow!” Harry blurted, waving his arms about and nearly falling again, but the Hufflepuff thankfully caught him, and Harry blushed at the sensation of Cedric’s gentle hands against his side.

“You can’t possibly be planning on playing with a sprained ankle!” Cedric declared, looking scandalized.

“But I have to!” Harry argued, forcing himself to meet the other’s soft honey eyes.  “I mean, I know you want to win, but-”

“Harry,” Cedric stopped him firmly.  “This has nothing to do with my wanting to win- I care about you and your health, because you’re my friend.”  Harry blushed as he looked up at the prefect, but he wouldn’t- couldn’t let himself fall for it.

“I can see you’re doubtful,” Cedric sighed, the barest hint of amusement coming through.  “But I swear that I just want you to be healthy.”

“But it’s so minor,” Harry still wasn’t getting it.  “I mean, it’s just a sprained ankle.  Sure, Sev and Remy and Sirius and Ron and them would all freak out, but that’s just because they’re overprotective.  This can’t possibly be your only reason.”

“Look,” Cedric sighed.  “If I had them postpone the match, would that get you to the hospital wing?”

This floored Harry, and he stopped dead, leading Cedric to keep him upright for the third time that evening.  He literally cared- only cared- about him, Harry, and not about quidditch?

Sure, his family and his best friends did, but they were his best friends.   Even after three years of being loved by them, he still couldn’t contemplate the idea that someone would care about him for being just Harry unless they knew him, unless they knew about him.  But here was Cedric, who only shared a friendly acquaintance with Harry, and he was prioritizing Harry’s health over quidditch, even offering to postpone the match.  Sure, Harry would have done the same thing for anyone else, but in his mind that didn’t mean that he, Harry, was worth the same courtesy.

“So you really just care… about me?” Harry muttered, looking at the older student with wide eyes, and Cedric wondered, somewhere in the back of his mind, what could have made this so hard to believe for him.

“Of course,” the Hufflepuff confirmed.  “I’ll talk to Madame Hooch about postponing the game.”

“No, it’s- you don’t have to.  Draco will be a great alternate,” Harry said, still in a daze, and Cedric looked at him worriedly.

“Alright, if that’s what you want,” he replied eventually.  “But we should really get you to the hospital wing. Here-” he leaned down and picked Harry up, cradling him bridal-style.

“It’s okay, I can walk,” Harry argued, still blushing furiously.

“But there’s no reason for you to,” Cedric rebutted.  “You’re light as a feather.”

The younger teen stopped fighting him and laid his head against Cedric’s chest, wondering why he was so… flustered around the older Hufflepuff, to the point he forgot to be disappointed about quidditch.

“Oh Harry,” Madame Pomfrey shook her head when she saw him come in.  “What happened this time?” Harry wished that his track record allowed him to resent her knowing sigh as she took him from Cedric.

“I can stand, you know,” he said crossly.  “It’s just a sprained ankle- I tripped on the stairs, is all.”

“Poor bean,” Aunt Poppy clucked as she looked at the ankle, then ran some diagnostics.  “On the day before the quidditch match too. Oh dear,” she pursed her lips in concern. “This is a fracture we’re looking at.”

“What?” Harry shook his head adamantly.  “That can’t be right. The bone’s not sticking out or anything!”

“Harry, pet, you can have a fracture without the bone being displaced, dear,” Poppy clenched her fists in her robes as she thought of the Dursleys, how they’d been so brutal that Harry could always immediately tell when they’d broken a bone.  “It’s a fairly quick fix, though, and you’ll just have to rest the ankle for a couple of days once I’ve taken care of it.”

“Alright,” he sighed.  “Someone should probably let everyone know I’m in the hospital wing, before Sev loses his mind and Ron burns the place down looking for me.”

“I’ll go tell everyone,” Cedric offered, thinking over everything he had learned that night.  Harry was clearly more than met the eye, and he was very eager to discover what was under the surface.

Chapter Text

Poppy’s idea of Harry ‘resting his leg’ meant lying in bed with his ankle in the cast she’d put on it and propped up on a pile of pillows while he did something quiet like read or nap.  Harry’s idea of ‘resting his leg’ was just going about his normal routine but not like, running or anything. So they compromised- Harry sat in a wheelchair.   With his leg propped up.  On top of a really strong cushioning charm.  With his ankle in a cast. Harry didn’t quite see it as much of a compromise, but it got him to the quidditch game, so he wasn’t going to push his luck.  But Sev was going to push him, apparently.

“I can do it,” he argued, reaching for the knobs on the wheels to roll himself along.

“But you don’t have to,” Severus replied, gently pulling Harry’s hands off the knobs and putting them in his lap while he grabbed the handles of the chair and rolled him cautiously along.  Harry rolled his eyes and sighed.

Now that Severus was behind Harry, his child couldn’t pick up on anything he said anyway, so he didn’t bother reminding the teen that there was a reason he worried so much.  Not that Harry would believe it- he continued to think that he, Severus, was being overprotective because those monsters he grew up with had conditioned him to believe he had no worth and that protecting him was unnecessary.  Well, he’d show Harry if it was the last thing he did.

“Sev, you alright?” Harry called back.  “I can feel you radiating tension from here.”  The potions master just squeezed his shoulder reassuringly and exhaled, trying to relax a bit.

They continued making their way down towards the quidditch pitch, Severus carefully levitating the chair down stairs and even over bumpy ground, until they found the pitch and Harry’s friends, who were luckily sitting towards the bottom.

“Hey Har,” Ron said, clearly overjoyed to see Harry as their head of house got him settled in comfortably.  “I didn’t think you’d be able to make it.”

“I managed to convince the wardens to let me loose for the morning,” Harry laughed, affectionately nudging his head against Ron’s shoulder as Hermione came from the other side and squeezed his hand.  “I’m really glad I get to see Draco play- he’s gonna do great.”

From the pitch, where they were lining up to take to the air, Draco looked over at his friends and saw with some surprise that Harry had been allowed to join them.  For some reason, this made the nerves knotting in his tummy tighten more- he would have thought Harry would have helped to sooth them, like his presence usually did.  But now that he thought of it, lately Harry had always been making him feel odd little flip-flopping sensations, and he couldn’t quite fathom why- nothing had changed between them, and Harry was as nice as ever.  This was demonstrated when the teen, who could have reasonably been upset that it wasn’t him playing, instead gave Draco a dazzling smile and two thumbs up before signing “you’ll do great!”  This only made him pale further- what if he didn’t perform well enough, and Harry was disappointed?  Oh Merlin, he couldn’t feel his knees. Wait, they were still there, right?  What if someone hexed them off?!

He checked quickly- okay, his knees were still there.   Phew.   Oh, now the whistle was blowing- time to play.  He pushed off, his new Nimbus 2001 taking to the air.  He’d insisted that he didn’t need such a fancy broom to just be the reserve player, but his mum had told him not to worry about it, that she still got plenty of money from Lucius and that she had a job anyways.  Merlin, his mum was amazing. Okay, back to the game now. He glanced around the pitch, but instead of seeing the snitch, he saw Cedric Diggory, looking at Harry with a smile and giving him a wink.   What was his game, anyway?  Like, sure, Hufflepuffs could be friends with Slytherins- Draco had some casual Puff Pals himself, although he only saw them when he was feeling up to a lot of socialization.  But Cedric was a sixth year, and a prefect- why did he need third-year friends?

You have some older friends too, his brain reminded him.  He told his brain to shut up.  But yeah, okay, fair point- he liked talking quidditch with Oliver Wood, because it seemed like the Gryffindor Captain was the only one with any decent taste in teams sometimes, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was that Harry didn’t need Cedric Diggory’s advances at friendship- like, there was no reason for the older kid with his stupid hair and his stupid yellow robes to come prancing in being all charming, going out of his way to talk to them (well, mostly Harry).  He wasn’t doing that with anyone else- why was he doing it with Harry?  Was it because Harry was famous?

He really doesn’t seem like the type, his treacherous brain piped up.

Nobody asked you, Draco griped, pulling his attention back to the game since his mind clearly wasn’t about to offer him any useful reassurances anyway.  He caught Cedric over on the opposite side of the pitch, and he wondered if he should tail him more closely.  That thought was put on hold as Hufflepuff scored another goal (shit, they were catching up) and he had to dodge a bludger.  Luckily for him, it allowed him to spot the flutter of gold on the far end of the field, closer to him than to Diggory. Hah!  

He took off towards it, really appreciating the speed of the broom his mother had gotten him as Cedric spotted what was going on but was still fairly behind, his own Starlight 264 nowhere near as quick as Draco’s broom.  The snitch took a stark dive, and so did Draco, stretching his fingers out.  They’d barely managed to brush the snitch when it surged forward again, and Draco nearly screamed in frustration as he realised it was pull up soon or hit the ground at a high speed.  Despite his fear, he kept going.

Just a little further, he thought to himself, reaching for the wing of the little gold ball.  For a moment, he thought he had it, but then it slipped through his fingers again and shot up, and shit, it was pull up now or really feel the consequences.  As he did a sharp U-turn only a metre or so from the grass of the pitch, he mused glumly that Harry could have easily made that catch, and dived a little further to boot.

Meanwhile, Harry was watching Draco with baited breath, not caring about the snitch at this point but telling him to pull up!  Pull up, Dray!   He ignored the fact that he himself would have gone even further with the dive- Draco was not allowed to scare him like that.  His heart was pounding so wildly he nearly missed the way the snitch, upon its upturn, raced neatly towards Cedric, who reached out a hand and snatched it as Draco tried to find it again after having his equilibrium thrown off by his downward race.

Hufflepuff had won, then- Harry could feel the cheers reverberating in his defunct eardrums as three-quarters of the pitch went wild, and he himself gave a few sporting claps- Hufflepuffs were his friends too, after all (sweet boy that he was, he conveniently had already forgiven and forgotten how many of them had thought he was the heir last year, and that one of them had hexed him quite nastily with he cutting curse).  He was disappointed, of course, but losing was just part of the game sometimes. He was quite worried, however, how Draco would take the loss, and indeed, the forlorn blond figure on the pitch looked like he’d already descended into the mire of self-deprecation.

“Hey,” Cedric came by, his team-mates clapping him on the back in congratulations.  “You did great, Draco- it’s only your first game. Don’t beat yourself up.”

Harry won his first game, Draco’s ruthless brain reminded him.   And he was dealing with a bucking broom, not to mention a disability.  

But then Harry was rushing towards him, ignoring Uncle Sev’s senseless protests behind him as he hopped out of the chair and ran towards Draco, ignoring the twinges of pain in his ankle as his scrawny, too-thin arms wrapped his friend in a comforting hug.

“You did great,” he whispered into Draco’s ear, so only he could hear.  “But don’t scare me like that again, okay- that dive was terrifying.”

Draco, in a daze, patted Harry on the back, trying to adjust him subtly so as to take the weight off of his friend’s injury without the other Slytherin realising.  His stomach was doing that thing again, lurching around in the strangest way, and for a moment the blonde felt like he was about to lose his breakfast, just from being hugged by Harry.  What was wrong with him?

But then Ron, younger and faster than Severus, beat the other man to the pitch, picking Harry up and losing himself in Mrs. Weasley mode as he let loose a stream of anxious scolding that his best friend couldn’t hear while he carried him back to the chair.  Draco followed in a daze, holding back a sigh of relief at the hug’s end while simultaneously mourning the lack of contact. He stood by awkwardly while Sev ran diagnostic charms on his ankle.

“You’ve broken it again, silly boy,” he scolded mildly, his face first and foremost showing clear concern.  “You’re going to have to spend at least another week in the chair now.”

Harry, uncharacteristically, didn’t pout as he watched the words fall from his guardian’s lips.  Instead, he turned to Draco, still smiling.

Worth it, he mouthed, and Draco wondered if he should follow Harry to Pomfrey’s, since it was certainly not normal that his heart had just dropped all the way down to his knees.

Chapter Text

“So we really haven’t done any actual divination at all?” Harry asked as Ron wheeled him towards the tower where they were to attend Trelawney’s class.  It would be Harry’s first time there, between the dementors and then breaking his ankle and then re-breaking his ankle, but at nearly a month into the term it seemed they should have done something besides bookwork…

“Nope,” Ron confirmed, spelling the words into the air with his wand (he’d had Professor Snape teach him the spell) and carefully avoiding another loose stone on the floor.  “She said that ‘the stars weren’t aligned for it yet’ or some bloody nonsense like that. Seems a bit mong, if you ask me.”

“Yes, well, she’s a bit mong.” Hermione was suddenly beside them, and Ron jumped a little.

“Geez Mia, you scared me!” He exclaimed, hand over heart, and Harry couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as he craned his head back to look at Ron’s affronted expression.  He’d spooked a bit too, of course, but he hadn’t heard her talk like Ron had, so for him it had just been the minor shock of suddenly having her in his field of vision.

Today Hermione had made herself the tallest in their group (presumably because longer legs made it easier to get to class on time, but she also liked annoying Ron by being taller than him), and her hair was a deep purple, wavy and held up in a ponytail with a piece of green ribbon.  Her eyes were silver, the color clouded like a crystal ball- precisely because it made their teacher uncomfortable.  Her skin was a little lighter than usual, but not too much; she rarely ever changed her tone enough to pass as white, as she had an immense amount of pride in her heritage (just like Harry did, since he’d found his out).  She looked at Ron and sighed.

“For Merlin’s sake Ronald- I was only a little behind.”  It wasn’t technically a lie- she hadn’t said specifically that she was behind in physical distance, and going back in time an hour really did only count as ‘a little.’  She didn’t like keeping secrets from her friends, of course, but Professor McGonagall had told her that it had been incredibly difficult for her to gain permission from the ministry for Hermione to use one (what she didn’t say- but both of them knew- was that it would have been far easier had she been a Gryffindor).  Even though she knew her friends wouldn’t say anything, this was a restricted artifact, and she had to respect the rules that the deputy headmistress had set out.

“So what’s so weird about Trelawney?” Harry broke in before the two could start arguing, and Hermione turned to him, rolling her eyes as she started signing rapidly.

“What isn’t weird about Trelawney?” she began, her hand movements far sharper than they needed to be.  “She never comes down to the school, for one- says it clouds her inner eye, which is ridiculous: there is absolutely no research to support that assertion.”  Harry hoped no one walked by, as Hermione was working into quite a rant now and anyone who got too close might catch an accidental wallop from her eager hands- she always did have a tendency to sign in far more space than she actually needed when she was worked up about something.

“And then,” she continued, her face working up a strop to match her movements, “she says that this is a class that you can’t do well in just by studying, that you have to have this sort of cocamamey gift, or whatever!”

“Ahh,” Harry smiled.  “So that’s the real reason- someone’s telling you you might not be able to perform well in a class.”

“No,” Hermione contradicted, pinking.  “It’s just that she’s a teacher- it’s her job to teach us, not tell us that there’s nothing she can do if we don’t have some sort of prophecy gene or whatever the fuck.”

“I mean, I think it’s fair to say that some people might be naturally better at it than others,” Harry shrugged.  “Look at Ron, for example.”

“What about me?” Ron asked, the sparkling letters dancing from his wand as he straightened his posture in surprise.

“Well, you’re pretty good at predicting things, now aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Ron scratched his chin, bewildered, as they drew near to the classroom.  It would be impossible to get the wheelchair up the ladder, of course, so he picked Harry up carefully while Hermione shrunk the chair and put it in her pocket.

Harry, who was trying not to blush at the embarrassment of having to be carried into the classroom, turned his wide eyes onto his best friend’s face.  “First,” he said, “you were right about Lockhart being a fraud.”

Ron scoffed.   “Everyone knew he was a fraud- that was obvious.”

“Yeah,” Harry conceded, unable to keep himself from burying his face in the warmth of Ron’s Weasley jumper, and the way it smelled like the pancakes they had for breakfast and a little like smoke and felt like security and comfort and love, “but you knew before anyone else did.  And then last year, when all the chamber stuff was going on, you made that offhand remark about Colin Creevey, and it did turn out to be him, indirectly.”

“That’s just a coincidence,” Ron argued.  “I don’t even remember that.  Besides, I think I’d know if I was some great prophet or something.”

“You didn’t know you were a fire elemental until the end of first year,” Harry pointed out, and Ron just sighed.

“Come on mate, let’s get you all set up.”  Hermione un-shrunk the chair, and Ron put Harry carefully back in it and redid the cushioning charms where his injured leg rested.  “There. Oh, looks like we’re reading tea leaves today.”

“Hello, class,” Professor Trelawney entered from her little loft above, speaking in her strange, whispery voice.  “Today we will be learning the ancient art of tessomancy, or divining one’s future from the dreg’s of one’s teacup.”

Harry looked at Ron significantly, but the redhead just rolled his eyes.

“There are teapots on the table,” he signed while Hermione went to get them all cups and Neville broke his first one, as Trelawney had predicted he would.  Hermione sniffed derisively- he’d broken it because she told him he would break it, and the boy didn’t have nearly enough confidence in his own abilities.  She hardly thought manipulating children’s anxiety counted as divining.

Draco wasn’t taking this class, and neither was Theo, so Ron, Blaise, and Harry were the only Slytherin third-year boys taking it.  Pansy and Tracey were as well, but Daphne seemed to hold with Hermione’s skeptical perception of the subject even before Hermione did, as she and Millie had chosen muggle studies instead.  Since Lavender and Parvati had wrangled a poor, unwitting Neville into their gossip over which guys (and girls) in the upper years were the most attractive, their table was one seat short of a full tea service, so Pansy used the extra spot to hold snacks.

“Here,” she said, handing Harry a Jaffa cake, “can’t have tea without food.”

“It’s not really tea though, is it?” Tracey asked as she blew on her cup to cool it down.  “Just a means to an end, really.”

“Do you like me when I’m hungry?” Pansy grumbled, unwrapping a packet of biscuits.  “Because I’ve been told I’m simply unbearable. Therefore, we’re having tea.”

“What do you see children, what do you see?” Trelawney keened softly as she lurked through the aisles.  “What does the future have in store?”

“Apparently not the ability to finish a cup of tea in peace,” Hermione muttered under her breath as she quickly tossed back the rest of the liquid.

“I just see a soggy brown lump,” Harry murmured as he squinted and cocked his head.

“Same here,” Tracey added.  “That must be a popular fortune.”

“Maybe it just means that we’re all going to have the runs later,” Pansy quipped.  “I mean, who knows what this loony old bat puts in her tea?”

“Hmmm,” Trelawney had suddenly creeped up on them and was staring into the girl’s teacup.  “I predict that mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble one day, Ms. Parkinson.”

Pansy rolled her eyes as the professor walked away.  “Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.”

Ron looked at his.  “That looks like an Ace of Hearts, right?” He asked Harry, who shrugged.

“Your guess is better than mine,” he told his brother.  “Let’s look up what it means.”

“Love and happiness in the home,” Hermione recited, already ahead of them.  Harry looked at Ron pointedly.

“See?  You didn’t know what it meant, but you still saw the symbol for a loving family- you’re good at this.”

“A good guesser, then- I didn’t do anything; the leaves did.”

“You take this class to see the future, then don’t believe me when I tell you you can,” Harry shook his head in disbelief.  “Cynics, the lot of you.”

“I just don’t see how my leaf water can predict my future,” Hermione snarked.

Trelawney was circling them again, stopping to peer over Harry’s shoulder at his cup.  Without warning, she gasped, clutching her chest.

“My dear,” she cried, “you have the Grimm!”

“What now?” Harry asked, since she hadn’t been facing him and yet everyone seemed to be having some sort of reaction to something she must have said.  Hermione signed it for him.

“Oh yeah,” he agreed, puzzled.  “Padfoot is great.”

“No, Harry!” Lavender actually came over and kneeled in front of him as if she were a priest performing his last rites.  “The Grimm is a symbol of death!”

“Ron didn’t see the Grim.”  Harry raised an eyebrow at her.

“I didn’t look in your cup yet, and she’s the teacher,” Ron choked out, paling and squeezing Harry’s hand nearly too hard.

“Come on,” Harry argued a few moments later, when Trelawney, distraught, had let them out of class early.  Coming down the ladder, Ron had been shaking and pale and clutching Harry so tightly he might as well have been a part of the redhead’s own body for how much room he had.  “Just a little while ago, you were making fun of the woman, and now that she’s predicted something crazy just for the shock value, you’re all worried? Tell him he’s being silly, Hermione.”

“It is unlikely that Harry’s going to die because of a few tea leaves,” Hermione agreed as she once again unshrunk Harry’s chair from her pocket.  Ron refused to put him into it, instead keeping the other teenager held close against his chest.

“Do you have your inhaler?” He asked his best friend anxiously, trying to figure out how to check in his own pockets to make extra sure he had the extra without having to put Harry down.

“Yes,” Harry looked up at the redhead’s anxious face, his freckles stark against his paleness.  He’d normally poke fun at him, but he seemed genuinely troubled about this. “And there’s no jelly beans it it, either,” he added, correctly anticipating the next question.  “Now can you put me down please?”

________

Remus had a good talk with Ron about the impreciseness of divination (and the woman who taught it), which calmed the redhead down enough to start acting normal again, but when someone offhandedly mentioned the whole affair to Severus, he went off-the-rails nutters.

“She what?!” He tried to shout, but only a harsh whisper made it past his tight throat.

“Relax, Sev,” Harry rolled his eyes.  “Professor McGonagall said that Trelawney’s been predicting the death of one student a year since she started here, and they’re all still alive and well.”

“None of them have asthma, or have been bitten by a basilisk, or have to take a strict round of potions three times a day just to stay healthy,” the potions master asserted.  Harry just sighed.

“I knew you’d freak out about this; that’s why I didn’t tell you,” he said.  “C’mon- even Moony and Padfoot thought it was kind of funny, and they worry just as much as you do.”

“Don’t trust the mutts- Sirius probably loved being in your teacup- would have got a kick out of it,” he snapped.

“Were you like this as a teenager?” Harry asked, teasingly.  “Did poor Uncle Reg have to deal with this all the time, being in the same house as you?”

“This isn’t a joke Harry,” Severus said, as gently as he could.  “You could die.”

“We could all die- anytime, anywhere,” Harry responded, shrugging.  “We’re human.”

“You don’t-” Severus began, tugging at his hair.   You don’t know the prophecy.   But no, he couldn’t tell Harry about the prophecy- not yet, hopefully not ever.   It would only put him under unnecessary stress, make him feel like he had a responsibility to defeat the dark lord, which he absolutely did not.   No good could come of telling his child about what Sybil had predicted, all those years ago. But no good could come of underestimating her either…

“I’ll be fine, I promise,” Harry cut him off, squeezing his hand.  “I’m gonna go take a bath now.” He wheeled his chair towards his personal bedroom, lookin forward to his large tub with the warm water and all the soft, green-apple smelling bubbles, and Severus’ eyes followed him nervously.

“Don’t slip!” He yelled, before cursing himself as he realised that Harry had already turned his face away to go forward.  “Make sure he doesn’t slip,” he ordered Fluffy, who was trotting alongside his master.

The dog merely gave him an insulted look with all three heads, as if to say “what kind of incompetent fool do you take me for?”  Severus just wrung his hands.

“Come on,” Ron said, tapping the professor’s elbow, knowing how he felt right about now, as he still had some lingering anxiety himself.  “It’s been a long day, and we can talk about this over a cup of hot chocolate.”  He did not want to look at any tea leaves for a long time...

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, and Theo sat up, rubbed his eyes and reached for his water bottle, only to realise it wasn’t there.  He’d left it out in the common room…

“AHHHH!” He suddenly came to full awareness as he tripped over something in the hallway- something warm, and breathing…

Harry woke up to Fluffy shifting the bed as he sat up suddenly, growing to what Harry had come to think of as his “defence size.”  Harry sat up too, groping blindly for his glasses on the night table. Eventually he gave up and summoned them wandlessly, looking for his wand and for the cane Severus insisted he used whenever getting from his bed or the shower to his wheelchair.

“Everyone okay?!” he called, not entirely sure how they’d get the answer to him if they weren’t but hoping they’d come open the curtains to let him know if they were.  “What’s going on?”

Meanwhile, Severus was not having the best night.  The tea hadn’t helped, and he’d tossed and turned in his bedroom as thoughts of Harry being dragged away by a grimm, or a rat, or a rat in cahoots with a grimm tormented him.  Eventually he’d given up, and, like he’d done in the summer, taken a pillow and a blanket to the hallway outside of Harry’s dorm room. He was finally drifting into an uneasy slumber when someone stepped on his face.

“Professor?!” Theodore Nott asked in confusion, looking at his head of house as if not quite sure if he was real or an illusion brought on by a botched experiment.  “Wh- are you really here?”

“Unfortunately,” Severus drawled distractedly, already looking for Harry, who was hopping down off the bed and leaning his weight on his cane, wand out.  When he saw Severus, he visibly sighed, shaking his head in exasperation.

“Are we still on this?” he asked with a groan.  “Look- I’m fine. Alive, well, and with no grimm- only a cerberus.”

“Well, forgive me for being a bit worried about someone prophesying your death,” Severus declared with his arms crossed, and Harry just sighed again, determined not to hit his head against the wall in exasperation.

“Sev, there is a bit worried, and then there’s… that,” he said, motioning vaguely to the footprint-shaped bruise blooming on his guardian’s cheek.  Unlike when he’d accidentally stepped on Vernon’s face and the man had been too afraid that wizards were spying on him to beat Harry mercilessly afterwards like he normally would have, this instance was not funny (although that one hadn’t been either, not until after Vernon had sent Harry away without reaching for the belt.  But he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t giggled in his room a bit, once the danger had passed). “You’ve gone off the deep end.”

“We’re just saying this now?” Blaise asked, and Ron glared at him.

“Not helping,” he told the black boy, who held both hands up in a gesture of half-hearted apology.

Harry got himself seated comfortably on the floor and tried again, not even commenting on Ron’s inner Mrs. Weasley as his best friend propped his ankle up under a cushion.  “I mean, Trelawney doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And let’s be honest (he’d almost said ‘serious’ but changed his wording at the last minute, for obvious reasons)- I do have a grimm.  My godfather’s a grimm.  Things can have more than one meaning.”

“But-”

“No buts,” Harry ordered, giving the potions master a stern look.  “You know better than anyone that I have survived dark lords and basilisks and everything in between, so I think it’s going to take more than a couple of tea leaves to do me in.  Now march yourself back to your own bed and sleep, and maybe in the morning you’ll be a little more reasonable.”

Severus could see that he wasn’t going to win this battle, and Harry did have a point.  He couldn’t just sleep outside of Harry’s bedroom every night for the rest of his life.  Even if he tried, Harry wouldn’t let him.

“Hey, maybe there isn’t even a grimm at all,” Harry continued.  “It was just a shape in some tea leaves that could easily be misinterpreted, not a literal picture or anything.  Now go to bed.”

“Alright, alright- I’m going.  Goodnight little one, I love you.”

“I’m not little,” Harry protested, but he took the hug the man leaned down to offer and then signed back “I love you too.”

“Our head of house is so weird,” Theo said as he watched the man leave.

“Says the guy who tried to recreate Frankenstein with a squirrel plushy, some frog livers, and a homemade spell that did not make electricity so much as get rid of your eyebrows.”

“Hey!” Theo protested.  “They grew back!”

__________

In a remote mountain cabin, the fire crackled madly, rising and falling in a random and wild pattern, illuminating the Daily Prophet cuttings on the walls.  The old couch was scratched to bits, but there was no cat living there, only a young woman with hair down to the middle of her back, dark and rough and tangled, a hairbrush on the vanity full of knotted locks but seeming to have done little good.  A pale hand came up to jerk through in frustration, giving some clue as to why the brush was so useless as the woman gripped a fistfull of it, growling in frustration as the lamps in the room flickered, almost burning out before they leapt up again, one causing the curtains to catch fire.  There was a wand lying on a side table, also scratched and poorly looked after, but the woman ignored it as she ran some water from the tap into a bucket and then tossed it over the flames with a fluidity of movement that suggested she’d done this before.

She turned back to her newspaper cuttings, picking up a quill, dipping it in red ink, and scratching it over the face of Sirius Black in one of the newest articles, titled Lord Black caught spending a day in Muggle London with his godson.   Then she ran her fingers tenderly over Harry’s image in the photo.

“Don’t worry child, I won’t let that imposter hurt you,” she whispered.  “Black may have fooled the rest of the wizarding world, but he won’t fool me.  I’ll save you.” Her emotions rose as she lost control of her magic again, and the small cabin filled with growls as sharp claws tore away at the notice board, distressed yowling shaking the building down to its foundations.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe everyone gets to go to Hogsmeade except for us,” Pansy grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest as she scuffed the toe of her (non-uniform regulation) high tops against the stone floor of the Great Hall during breakfast on the morning of Halloween.

“To be fair, Severus recommended to all the parents of third years that they shouldn’t give permission with the dementors around the castle, ours are just the only ones that listened,” Harry pointed out to her as Ron snuck more sugar onto his best friend’s oatmeal while he wasn’t looking.

“Still though, I was so looking forward to it…” Theo sighed.

“Oh please- you cause enough chaos without adding Zonko’s to it,” Draco grumbled, still mad that his favourite pair of slippers had been caught in the crossfire of Theo’s last “experiment.”

“I really did wanna go see the village, though…” the blonde added eventually.  “But I think Uncle Sev actually has a point this time, however ridiculous he might be sometimes.”

“Hey, he’s normal with most of you guys,” Harry grumbled.  “I’m the one he gets insanely overprotective with.”

“Is it any wonder, though?” Daphne asked, tweaking his nose.  “You’re like a little puppy- your whole demeanour says ‘protect me.’”

“How do I get it to say something else?” he looked up at her.

“You can’t,” Pansy replied, cooing as she grabbed his face in her hands and kissed his nose.  “Your eyes are just too big and precious, and you’ve got this sweet wittle face!”

“I am a teenager, Pansy Parkinson!” Harry protested, to no avail.

“Don’t worry Harry,” Draco whispered, somewhat shyly, his cheeks flaming self-consciously.   “I know you can handle yourself.”

“Thanks Dray,” Harry replied, leaning against his friend’s shoulder and giving him a smile that made his tummy do those odd little flip-flopping sensations again.

Severus finished his own breakfast and came down to the table where his grouchy third years resided.

“I’m sorry children- if I had my way, there would be no dementors and you could all go to Hogsmeade,” he sighed, running one hand through his hair, fresh from his shower that morning and not yet weighed down by potions grease.  “Unfortunately, no one listens to me…”

“It’s okay Sev,” Harry reassured him.  “We don’t blame you- the situation just kinda stinks, is all.”

“Thank you for understanding, Harry,” their head of house said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder fondly.  “I’ll get you some Flaming Fire-O’s, when I go down to the village to get those billywig stingers I need from the apothecary.”

“Thanks Sev!” Harry smiled widely- Flaming Fire-O’s were an O-shaped candy, kind of like a life-saver mint in shape, although the flavour was more like the magical version of a Hot Tamale, and there were these harmless little flames that licked at your hand when you unwrapped the package.

“Literally only you and Sirius like those- I’ll never understand it,” Blaise sniffed, shaking his head.  “They’re disgusting.”

“No they’re not- they’re just spicy,” Harry argued.  “Padfoot says they remind him of my grandmother’s cooking, and I think they’re really good too.”

“Not even Ron likes them- what does that tell you?” his dorm-mate rebutted.

“Hey, I don’t have a problem with the spice,” Ron shrugged.  “It’s just that the fire is too different from mine- it’s all fake and stuff.  I don’t like it- feels weird.”

“I think your fire is just jealous,” Hermione giggled.  “You’re not allowed to touch any other fire.”

“Ha-ha.” Ron rolled his eyes at her.  “I think you’re the one who’s jealous of my fire,” he teased.

“Nope,” Hermione replied.  “Not when I can turn into anything or anyone I want.”  Just to demonstrate, she shifted, taking on Ron’s exact image.

“Ew, stop that!” the real Ron cried.  “Fine, your abilities are just as awesome as mine- just, for the love of Merlin’s hairy crotch, stop being me!   It’s creepy.”

“If you insist,” Hermione sighed in Ron’s voice, but then she was Hermione again, blessedly, although her hair was different, done up in tighter curls than before, and she’d put a big pink section towards the front.

“Merlin, that was strange,” Theo shuddered, and everyone else kind of just looked at him in disbelief- he had no place to be commenting on what was strange.

“It’s actually quite useful, when you want to get the full idea of what an outfit will look like on you,” Millie commented.  “She can just shift and try it on, and then you’re not trying to twist and turn in front of the mirror like a loon.”

“Still creepy,” Ron shuddered again.  “Nope nope nope nope nope.”

____

“Did you see that?” Severus heard one fourth year saying to the other.  “It almost looked like a Panther- that was so cool!”

“Kids and their Halloween pranks,” the man grumbled, rolling his eyes as he headed into Honeydukes.

“A pound of Flaming Fire-O’s, please,” he told the perky graduate witch working behind the counter, who smiled at him far too brightly.

“You’ve got it, professor,” she said cheerfully.  “Would you like a bit of chocolate too? Wards off the effects of the dementors quite nicely- I’ve been nibbling on some all day.”

“No thank you,” he answered shortly.  He didn’t much feel like being happy on a day like today, the anniversary of the day when Lily had died, on the day when his boy had lost everything, because of him…

He realised after a moment that the witch (he’d taught her a couple years ago- he thought her name was Thomasson, or Thompson, or something…) was still trying to talk to him.

“What now?” he had to keep himself from snapping- he got a bit grumpy when drawn out of his self-deprecation.

“Oh, I was just saying that we don’t too get too many orders of these,” she laughed.  “Even less popular than cockroach clusters, although that might be because Professor Dumbledore orders so many of those.  He quite likes them.”

“Yes, well… the headmaster likes quite a number of distasteful things,” Severus sneered, curling his lip.

“Oh… right then,” she shook her head quickly to break the tension and handed him his candy.  “Um, a number of your colleagues were headed to The Three Broomsticks, if you were looking for company…”

“Hmph,” Severus grumbled under his breath as he turned on his heel and stalked out.  “Company…” But he was hungry, and he did want to get Harry some butterbeer, since he hadn’t tried any yet, so he sighed and opened the door to the pub, the cheerful ringing of the bell drawing Madame Rosmerta forward.

“Well isn’t that something?” she purred.  “Severus Snape, in my bar- haven’t seen you in here since you were a student, dear.”

“I’m not one for company,” he drawled.  “Just here for a case of butterbeer.”

“Coming right up, luv- why don’t you just sit down and wait by the counter while I go get the case?”

“I’d rather pick the case myself, if you don’t mind,” he told her, wanting to get the best one for Harry.

“I have a feeling it wouldn’t matter if I did,” Rosmerta laughed, but waved him back.  He set his candy on the counter and headed back.

Meanwhile, a dark-haired woman in an unstable, but temporarily working, disillusionment charm slunk up to the bag of candies and slipped something invisible and odourless into it before slinking out again, her magic crackling around her, barely controlled.

Severus soon came back out with a frosty case of butterbeer and noticed with a groan that Sirius, Remus, and Minerva were sitting in the stools nearest to his.  While he could (generally) cope with them, today was not really the day for it…

“Oh, those are your Flaming Fire-O’s,” Sirius cheered gleefully.  “Sweet- now I can steal them without feeling bad!”

“Don’t you touch those,” Severus ordered, slapping the dog animagus’ hand away.  “They’re for Harry.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, but if you insist…” Padfoot grumbled, turning to Madame Rosmerta and ordering two firewhiskeys, one for him and one for Remy, while Minerva ordered a stiff scotch.

“I do insist,” the potions master declared, putting the candy in the expanded pocket of his robes (but not the one where he had the billywig stingers- he would not allow for potential cross-contamination on anything that went near Harry’s mouth).

“Cool, cool cool cool cool cool,” Sirius sighed, drumming his fingers against the table as Minerva knocked back her scotch.

“Well,” Severus exclaimed suddenly, getting up without ordering anything, “this has been… something, but I think I’m going to head back to the school now.  I will see you all tonight at the…” he curled his lip again, “feast.”   He said the word like someone else might say “eight hour standardized test prep class.”

Severus was having a terrible day, and since he firmly believed he deserved it, he felt terribly guilty when Harry’s brilliant smile upon receiving the candy and butterbeer made him smile a bit as well.

“Thanks Sev,” he said, immediately distributing the drinks among his friends as they all sat cuddled in front of the fire in the common room.  “Anyone want some of the candy, too?” he asked, to a chorus of “eww,” “gross!” and “no!”

“Alright, more for me then,” he shrugged, popping a handful of the spicy candies into his mouth.

They were heading into the feast that evening when they ran into Cedric.

“Oh, hey Ced,” Harry stammered, wondering why he was blushing and if it was visible in his skin tone.  He was feeling rather faint, but he attributed it to his usual reaction to the Hufflepuff’s presence.

“Hey Harry,” the older teen said, giving him an easy smile.  Harry felt his heart speed up and his palms start to sweat. “How was your day?”

“Uh…” Harry stammered out, before Draco nudged him in the shoulder.

“We should go to the table now,” he said, when Harry turned to him.

“You guys go,” he told his friend.  “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Draco tried not to let his disappointment show, making his best attempt to shove down the anger he didn’t quite understand- after all, Harry wasn’t doing anything wrong by having other friends, and he wasn’t neglecting him either.  It didn’t bother him when Pansy made other friends… what was wrong with him lately?
“So you couldn’t go to the village, huh?” Cedric asked sympathetically.  “It really does suck that the dementors are out there.”

“Yeah, but it’s okay; Sev brought me some candy and butterbeer.”

“Oh, what candy?”

“Flaming Fire-O’s,” Harry replied, still blushing.  Then he noticed that Cedric was making an odd face.

“Is it really that strange that I like them?” he asked, feeling even more self-conscious.

“No, it’s not that… uh, your nose,” Cedric pointed, and Harry realised that it was dripping.  Wiping his sleeve across it, it came away bloody. Did the Hufflepuff really have that much of an effect on him, that it was causing him a nosebleed?

“Uh, Professors?” Cedric called out, oblivious to Harry’s internal monologue.  “There’s something wrong with Harry…”

Harry couldn’t even protest as he watched a panicked Sev make his way over, matched stride for stride by Padfoot and Moony and followed closely by his Aunt Minnie.  He realised he was feeling quite a bit funkier than usual when Cedric was around. His head was spinning, and he felt rather dizzy.

The last thing he was aware of was his absolute mortification as he retched violently all over Cedric’s shoes, trying to stop but unable to control his own body as strong arms that smelled of cedar caught him before he hit the floor, the world fading to black.

Chapter Text

The next few moments were absolute chaos as Severus scooped Harry up and rushed him to Pomfrey.  He was panting heavily from nerves and the exercise, so he handed Harry off to Sirius halfway through as Harry’s godfather rushed him even faster to Pomfrey’s.  He was super pale (for Harry), and his breathing was shallow. Cedric was following, nervously wringing his hands. Draco was too nervous to even give him dirty looks as all the third year Slytherins and Neville Longbottom followed along as well.

“I need all the children out and the adults standing to the side where they won’t be in my way,” Poppy boomed immediately when they got there, her authoritative voice filling all the corners of the room.  “Cedric should stay, though- I need you to tell me exactly what you saw before he fainted.”

“Um, we were talking, and then he looked sort of pale and his nose started bleeding, and then he sort of looked unfocused and his eyes were all hazy.  Then he was throwing up, like scarily violently, and he just… dropped.”

“Thank you,” Poppy nodded briskly towards him as she ran her wand over his head.  “This gives me a place to start.” There were a few minutes of tense silence as she hustled about running various diagnostics and carefully poking and prodding certain body parts, and then she looked up, a grim realization in the set of her mouth.

“He’s been poisoned,” she whispered hoarsely, but everyone heard her.

“Wha- how?” Sirius rasped.

“It had to have been the candies,” Sirius yelped, the answer hitting him like a punch in the gut.  “He and I are the only ones who liked them, and he shared all the butterbeer with his friends and they’re fine.  It’s the only thing he ate that nobody else did.”

“Oh Merlin…” Remus had to sit Severus down in a chair before he keeled over, and all the man could think, the deep, dark part of his mind coming forward as he thought that if only he’d let Sirius have a piece, this might not have happened to Harry.  He felt a bit guilty about this thought, and that alone showed how much he’d changed.  But that didn’t alter the fact that, remorseful though he may be, he still wished it had been Sirius.

Sirius was thinking the same thing- if only he’d been stubborn like he usually was and insisted on stealing a piece, then Harry might never have been poisoned.  He was an adult, he could have handled it better. Oh Merlin, Harry wasn’t going to… he couldn’t…

“He’ll be alright,” Poppy soothed their worries.  “The perpetrator seems to have made a mistake- it’s a homemade potion, and they haven’t managed a lethal dose, thank Merlin and Morgana.”  She was hooking a nasal drip up to Harry’s nose and an IV line to the vein in his hand.

“I’m going to go check on the children quickly,” Minerva said, stepping out.  When she reached the hallway, she noticed a distinct lack of Hermione or any unrecognized person that might be Hermione, and there was only one of everyone else.
“Where is-”

“She went to the bathroom,” Pansy offered, knowing what she was about to ask.  Fearing that the girl was about to do something unwise, Minerva nodded a quick thank you to Pansy and rushed down the hallway, where she found Hermione not in the bathroom but a hidden alcove, pulling her time-turner out from under her robes.

“Ms. Granger, no,” she ordered sternly, and Hermione looked up not with the guilty face of someone caught in the act but with steel in her eyes, her abilities causing them to flash a stormy grey with her determination.

“I don’t care about the rules,” she declared firmly.  “I need to save Harry.”

“He’s going to be fine,” Professor McGonagall said, stepping forward and grabbing the time-turner to keep the young Slytherin from going back.  “You cannot break the rules for every little thing that goes wrong, or bad things could happen. For example, what if you go back three hours now, and Harry isn’t poisoned, but then the next time the person manages a lethal dose, and nobody is looking out for the warning signs?”

“I didn’t think about it like that,” Mia sighed, reluctantly letting the chain drop back down to her chest.  “I… I suppose you’re right…”

“I had better not catch you doing something like this again, Ms. Granger, or I’m afraid I may have to take your time-turner from you,” the professor cautioned, and Hermione nodded seriously.

“Alright.  You have my word.”  Minerva glanced at her, knowing that any Slytherin worth the name would break their word if something more important than keeping it came along, so she resolved that they would just have to keep her from being placed in that position.  

“Good- I need to go back in and check on things, but I’m glad I caught you before something worse happened.”

_____

“Who?” Severus growled, pacing back and forth in front of Harry’s hospital bed, nearly feral with rage and fear.  “Who could have done this?”

“Let’s just take minute and try to calm down a bit…” Remus began, but Severus suddenly jerked up, nearly violently.

“That girl!” he snarled, his eyes a dangerous void.  “At the candy store- it must have been her!”

“Now Severus…” Minerva began, but he was already rushing out the door and towards Hogsmeade.  They ran after him.

“I think…” Sirius panted to his boyfriend as they ran towards the gate, “I think… that he missed his calling as a track star.”  They were all grateful when they reached the gate shortly after the potions master did and were able to apparate to Honeydukes.

Erica Thomassen was performing her closing shift duties when her old potions professor rushed in.

“Oh, hi professor,” she greeted pleasantly.  “Decided to come back for some chocolate after all?”

Anything else she might have said was cut off as the man stalked towards her, the intensity on his face frightening as she backed up towards the wall, his angry footsteps pushing her further and further until her back was against it.

“What did you do?” he thundered, as she stared at him, her eyes wide and frightened like a doe’s.  He didn’t even consider the parallel as he held his wand at her throat. “What did you do to my child?!”

“I… I don’t…”

“Severus!” Minerva yelled, her stern voice cutting through the air like a blade.  “Calm yourself!”

“She poisoned him, Minerva!”

“I… I didn’t…”

“Shut up and stop lying!” he snapped, his eyes wild, his emotions swirling around him in a nearly tangible storm, the air heavy with barely restrained magic.

“We don’t know that it was her,” Remus tried to pacify him, his hands held out in front of him as he stepped carefully forward.

“Who else could it have been?” he turned on the other man, his wand still pressed against the shop girl.  Her old professor wasn’t hurting her, but she was terrified. Even at his worst, before Harry came along, she’d never seen him like this, so clearly beyond any control of his emotions.

“Severus,” Sirius’ voice was nearly a whisper as he stepped forward carefully.  “You haven’t done anything stupid yet, but I can see that you’re about to. Take it from someone who did something really stupid twelve years ago, you don’t want to do this.  Take your wand off of her and step back. You’ll stay here while we ask you a few questions, won’t you?” he asked Erica.

Still too afraid to speak, she shook her head wordlessly, swallowing thickly.

“Okay- she’s going to stay, so why don’t we just take a nice, slow step backwards?” Sirius continued talking Severus down, and the fight seemed to go out of him as he slumped in despair but stepped away from the shop girl.

“Great- that’s great Severus.  Now,” he turned to Erica. “Would you mind if I performed legilimency on you?  Our child was poisoned earlier, and the only thing he ate that his friends didn’t was some candy that Severus bought here.  We just need to rule you out as a suspect, alright?”

“Okay,” she agreed, taking a shaky breath.  Sirius, who had been forced to learn all the pureblood arts by his horrid mother, was quite an accomplished legilimens and occlumens.  Maybe not as good as Severus, but enough for the job.  He entered her mind carefully, rifling through just the day preceding the current moment.  She’d gotten into work, whistling to ward off both the chill of the weather and of the horrible monsters surrounding the village, she’d eaten a bar of chocolate, and then she’d gotten to work, serving customers with the same positive attitude with which she did everything.  He watched the bag of Flaming Fire-O’s carefully as she filled it, but nowhere in the process did she poison it or add anything at all.

“It wasn’t her,” he announced, as she breathed out in relief, glad the entire affair was over.

“Feel free to take some chocolate for the road, but I need to finish up here,” she told them, still shaking a bit.

“Thank you,” Remus told her, taking her up on the offer.  “And we’re sorry about everything, aren’t we, Severus?”

“I suppose,” he sighed, “that my actions were… unwarranted.  Certainly unwarranted. I was worried for Harry, but that is no excuse.  I hope that you will find it in you to forgive me, or at least not ban me from your store.  Harry really likes the sweets here.”

“It’s fine,” Erica said, still visibly rattled.  “I don’t have children yet, but I’m sure that I’d feel similarly, if I did…”

“Thank you,” Severus cast his eyes down as he swallowed around the lump in his throat.  “Well, I should be getting back to him…”

“Of course,” Erica agreed.  “I suppose I’ll see you all around then.”

“Oh, you will,” Sirius smiled at her.  “Moony loves the chocolate here.” He threw an arm around his boyfriend fondly as they turned to walk out the door.

____

Harry woke up with a cannula in his nose and an IV in his arm as the events of the night slowly came back to him.  It hit him fully as he cast his eyes around and saw Cedric, half asleep in one of the chairs by his bedside, and the memories came rushing in on a wave of abject mortification.  

Oh my God, I threw up on Cedric, he thought in despair, ignoring that fact that he felt like Vernon had backed into him with his new company car again.   I can’t believe I did that…

“Harry, you’re awake!” The Hufflepuff came to full awareness as a snore broke off in the middle.  “We were so worried- it’s been two days.”

“I threw up on you,” Harry moaned, hiding his face behind his blankets.

Cedric gently reached out and pulled the blanket down so Harry could see to read his lips.  “Harry, you were poisoned- you couldn’t control it. I totally understand. No need to be embarrassed, alright?”  Then Harry was having trouble thinking, because Cedric was holding his hand, and even with the IV blocking some of the contact, it was sending shivers down his spine, and he was pretty sure these had nothing to do with the fact that he’d been… wait, poisoned?

“I was poisoned?” he asked, his sluggish, tired brain finally catching up to his pounding heart.

“Yes,” Cedric told him, his beautiful, honey-coloured eyes full of concern.  “Professor Snape and Sirius and Professor Lupin and Professor Regulus (Regulus preferred to be called by his first name, not wanting to think about his family ties, other than his brother of course; there was also the fact that he was trying to stay undercover, and no one would expect Regulus black to run around going by his first name) are trying to figure out who did it.  Professor Regulus is working with Snape to try to identify exactly what kind of poison the user was trying to make, since they definitely did it wrong, thank Merlin…”  Regulus had felt terrible that he hadn’t been at the Halloween feast when it happened, in case he could have been some help, but he was fighting off a cold that night.  He’d made up for it since, though, working tirelessly with the rest of them to try to trace the culprit.

Severus came in just at that moment, ready to test the newest batch of candies that had been sent to Harry by well-wishers to make sure that it was safe, when he saw that Harry was awake.

“Oh, thank Merlin and Morganna!” he cried, running up to the teen and interrupting the story that Cedric had been telling him about the Halloween prank in Hogsmeade (“someone was running around dressed like a panther or something and slinking around in the shadows, Harry, it was crazy!”)  “I was so terrified we’d lost you.”

“I’m hard to kill Sev, remember?” Harry prompted gently.

“And thank goodness for that.  I’m still scanning everything you eat until we’ve caught the culprit though, and I’ll give you a potion to check for poison for when I’m not around.  Every time you go to put something in your mouth, even if you’d tested it earlier and saved the rest for later, you need to make sure it’s safe first, alright?”

“OK, I promise,” Harry agreed without protest, seeing how tortured the man was over the whole incident.  “Where’s Pads and Moony- are they alright?”

“They’re fine cub,” he said, accidentally using Remus’ nickname (don’t tell anyone).  “They’re just working on the case with Regulus.”

“Oh, okay,” Harry hummed.

“Are you hungry at all?” Severus asked nervously- he’d lost more weight again…

“Not yet, sorry…” the teen replied, still feeling rather nauseous.

“That’s alright, we’ll just take a stomach soother and try in a bit,” the potions master soothed, gently pushing Harry’s hair back off his forehead.

“Can I read the cards from my friends please?” Harry asked.

“Of course,” Severus agreed, reaching for them.  As he gathered the pile from the other Slytherins and from Harry’s friends from other houses (Luna and Ginny had made a joint card, covered with glitter and fanciful drawings, the two Ravenclaws clearly having worked quite hard on it), a slip of paper fell out.  Worn and frayed around the edges, it said only I’m sorry.

Severus grabbed for it immediately, waving his wand over it.  “It’s the same magical signature as the one clinging to the potion…”

“Wow, real Jekyll and Hyde situation here…” Harry tried to lighten the mood, but neither of the other two in the room found it funny.

“Oh Harry,” Severus sighed dolefully as Poppy came in with a tray of medications for her favourite patient.  “My sweet child, why can’t things ever be easy for you?”

Chapter Text

“Seeeeev,” Harry whinged, “I wanna leave- it’s been a week now!”
“You’re still having trouble keeping food down, Harry,” Severus signed, looking at him sternly. “You need to stay here until we’re certain that the poison is out of your system.”
“Killjoy,” Harry muttered, sighing. Severus just raised an eyebrow at him.
“I just want to keep you alive, cranky child,” he told him, ruffling his hair fondly. “It’s quite hard to do, apparently.”
“No it’s not, because I’m still here, aren’t I?” Harry pointed out as his head of house tucked the blankets more tightly around him.
“Thank Merlin for that, although it was despite the best efforts of numerous people trying to kill you,” Severus sighed, sinking back into anxiety. The poison attempt- could it have been Peter? If it was, why would there be an apology note? But the mutts had used this special map, and Peter hadn’t been anywhere on it…
“Sev?” Harry’s voice cut through. “You’re spiralling again.”
“What?” Severus startled. “No I’m not- I’m just thinking about that stupid map; it’s insulted my nose again.”
“Uh-huh, sure…”
“Isn’t it time for your nap, cheeky thing?”
“No,” Harry answered, but he was yawning widely.
“Don’t fight it, or I’ll have Black come to do his ‘visual performance art’ of a lullaby again.” Sirius, unable to sing to his godson as he used to when he was a baby, had started acting out nursery rhymes- very badly.
“No, please!” Harry begged, “I’m going to sleep- don’t make me suffer through ‘Baa-baa Black sheep’ again!”
“There’s a good lad,” Severus praised, rubbing the hair back off of Harry’s forehead, only to watch it bounce back like it always did. As Harry’s eyes fluttered closed, he plucked the glasses off his face and put them on the night table, kissing his scar softly as he left reluctantly for his next class, the lunch break over.
_______
“Oh, she’s a jolly good feller, Oh she’s a jolly good feller…” Hagrid sang as he baked another batch of rock cakes, ready for the next time anyone dropped in for tea, “Oh, she’s a jolly good fell-er-” his song was suddenly interrupted by the soft sounds of crying; a first year, by the sounds of it (Hagrid, a very sensitive soul, was just good at recognizing these things).
“Hmm, prolly a little homesick bean,” he rumbled in his deep but gentle voice, pouring a mug of tea and putting one of the cakes on a plate. “Oughter go see if I can do summat.”
“Hullo, lil’ un,” he told the girl, whose long dark braids bobbed as she sobbed. “Want ter talk about it?”
“I miss my cat,” she sniffed between hiccoughs. “I wanted to bring her, but we just got her and couldn’t get her fixed yet. My parents didn’t know what things were like at Hogwarts, so they didn’t want me to bring her yet in case she got pregnant later.”
“Oh, well that’s a bit rough, but I’m sure yeh can bring ‘er back after Christmas, yeah?”
The girl wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robes. “Yeah,” she sighed, “but it just feels so far away. I really miss her- her name is Muffin and she likes to lick my nose, and she has these tiny little paws…”
“The Yuletide’ll be here before yeh know it,” Hagrid soothed, gently patting her on the back with one giant hand. “And in the meantime, we got lots o’ cats here- in fact, I even saw a panther right here in these woods when I was choppin’ wood this mornin’.”
The girl’s shoulders slowly stopped shaking. “Really?” she asked, wiping her eyes. “But panthers don’t live in Scotland.”
“And giant squid don’t normally either, but this is Hogwarts, lil’ lady,” Hagrid said kindly. “Why dontcha come in outta the cold for a cuppa and we can talk about it, hmm?”
“That sounds nice,” the girl agreed. “I’m Megan, by the way.”
“Hagrid,” Hagrid grunted, shaking her hand, which barely covered one of his fingers, as gently as he could. “And if yeh like dogs too, I can intru-duce yeh to Fang.”
_______
“Hey Harry,” Cedric came in as Harry was knitting on a shawl, and the Hufflepuff’s hesitant, somewhat unsure signing caused the picnic basket on his arm to tremble a bit. “How’re you feeling?”
“Bored,” Harry answered out loud as he finished twisting a cable stitch, blushing a bit in pleasure as he realised that Cedric had come to see him again. “But I’m glad you’re here.”
“I brought a picnic, too,” the sixth-year announced, pulling out containers of chicken soup and ginger tea and wrapped packages of dry toast. “Everything’s easy on the tummy.”
“Awww, thanks,” Harry mumbled, blushing harder. He was quite bored of those foods, to be honest, since they’d been all he’d been able to have without tossing back up for the last week and a half, but the fact that Cedric had brought them for him made them seem more appealing. “You didn’t have to do that…”
“I know, but I wanted to,” Cedric said simply, setting the basket down at the end of Harry’s bed and conjuring a little side table with a green and silver cloth (yes, he was showing off a bit). “I like spending time with you.”
“I like spending time with you, too,” Harry admitted, glowing ever pinker. “I thought I was gonna be alone today- there’s a big Transfiguration test tomorrow that I’m excused from, and Hermione’s making them all study super hard and not leave the common room.” It was bad enough that he was excused from the test just because he was sick (and yes, that was a somewhat strange way to feel, but Harry hated standing out or getting special treatment), but he was also all alone, even if it was just for the day. Ron would gladly fail a test for him, of course, but there was no way Hermione would ever let that happen, even if it meant locking him in the dorm and standing guard at the door as a big scary rhinoceros.
“So you’ve got a… Hermion-oceros, huh?” Ced asked, mouthing the joke carefully and miming drumming noises as he poured Harry some soup.
“Wow, that was quite the Huffle-pun,” Harry quipped back, feeling his heart melt into goo and drip down towards his stomach when Cedric laughed heartily.
As they chatted and laughed, neither of the boys noticed the blonde that skipped cheerfully towards the door, eager to see Harry now that he’d proven to Hermione that he knew the material for the exam well enough. He stopped in the doorway, however, his face forming a strange expression as he peeked around the corner to see Harry having a good time with none other than his nemesis (yes, Draco is dramatic- this is not news). He couldn’t blame Harry, of course, as Cedric was his secret nemesis, but the picnic the older boy had brought made his own offer of comic books and watered-down pumpkin juice (so Harry could stomach it) seem rather paltry. He backed quietly away, cursing the tears pooling in his eyes and not entirely sure why.

Chapter Text

Harry had finally been released after two whole weeks in the hospital wing, and Severus was there, hovering nervously as Madame Pomfrey did one final check-through.

“Can I go now?” he asked impatiently as the nurse did what felt like the ten-thousandth diagnostic charm.

“Give her a minute, child, so she can make sure everything is alright,” Severus signed chidingly, and Harry just looked at him with an exasperated little moue.  

“I’ve given her a lot of minutes already,” he complained.  “Like, two whole weeks of minutes!”  

The healer snorted and rolled her eyes as she put down her wand, but she patted him on the shoulder fondly.  “Well,” she said decisively. “I shan’t ask you for any more, because it looks like we have most definitively got it out of your system.  Now, go have fun, but don’t forget that one of the adults that you trust has to test absolutely everything you eat before it touches your mouth, and you have to use the potion Severus gave you if you put a bag of something aside to finish later, even if he already tested it with the spell earlier, okay?”

“Yes yes, I’ve got it,” Harry responded hurriedly.  “He’s already told me this like, five thousand times.”

“Alright then,” Poppy sighed, raising an eyebrow.  “Off you get, and, as much I like seeing you, I’m still going to ask that you try to stay away for a little longer this time,”

“I always try,” he told her crankily.  “It just doesn’t always work…”

“We’re aware,” Severus drawled, but inwardly he sighed- poor boy, just couldn’t catch a break.  “Now,” he said, picking him up and causing Harry to let out a little oomf! of protestation, “I believe your friends and dogfathers are entertaining the masses in the Gryffindor common room, so I will accompany you there despite how tasteless I find the area.”

“Put me down!” Harry complained.  “I’m thirteen- that’s too big to be carried!”  He would like to imagine he was at least a little too heavy for the man at his age…

“You’ve lost far too much weight these past couple weeks,” Severus sighed, feeling his child’s even-smaller-than-usual-mass with dissatisfaction and ignoring Harry’s pleas to be released.  “I swear on Circe’s blackest arts, when I get my hands on whoever did this to you…”

“Yeah yeah,” Harry muttered, having heard this speech millions of times before.  “They’ll regret ever being born, death and destruction, yada yada yada- can you please put me down now?”

“Oh, fine,” the potions master capitulated before having to lurch into motion to keep up with Harry, who took off running as soon as his feet hit the floor.  The child knew very well that he shouldn’t be exerting himself like this so soon after being released from the hospital wing, but he was also a little Slytherin who knew very well that Severus couldn’t tell him so as long as he was behind him and couldn’t sign or speak to tell him to stop.

He was eventually thwarted anyway, as his head of house was unfortunately fast for a man in his thirties, and Harry was a little out of shape after not even being able to get out of bed for two weeks.  He felt himself lifted under the armpits as Severus stopped his headlong rush towards Gryffindor tower, setting him on his hip and looking at him with a very unamused expression.

“Walk,” he ordered, and Harry sighed huffily but eventually agreed as Severus reluctantly put him down again, one hand on his shoulder so he couldn’t try to take off.

“I missed running,” he grumbled.

“Well, as it’s also been two weeks since you’ve been allowed to do any walking, I’m sure you’ve missed that just as much,” the older Slytherin reasoned, and Harry’s eyebrows scrunched together as he tried to come up with an argument that could effectively dispute his point.

“I… you’re no fun,” he eventually huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest.  “You worry too much.”

“I worry just the right amount,” Severus corrected.  “You’ve been through a lot, and whether you like to acknowledge it or not, it has affected your health.  I’m entitled to a bit of parental concern.”

“A bit?”   Harry raised one eyebrow sarcastically in the trademark move he had learned from the man.

Severus rolled his eyes.  “Nobody worried about you for ten long years- I’ve got a lot of making up to do.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works, but if you say so…” Harry sighed, leaning his head against the man’s side affectionately as they walked.

“Some days you’re so like your mother it’s scary,” Severus chuckled fondly, ruffling his hair.  “She was far too stubborn for her own good as well.”

“So did you learn that from her or did she learn it from you?” Harry asked cheekily, a crooked smile on his face.

“You little reprobate,” Severus responded playfully, but didn’t offer an answer.  He wasn’t entirely sure, anyway- he supposed they’d both been like that long before they met the other.

They reached the portrait at the entrance to the common room before too much longer, anyway, and the fat lady looked down at Harry fondly before swinging open.

“Your friends are in there, luv- the password this week is ‘lion heart,’ by the way, in case you want to get back in.”

“How quintessentially Gryffindor…” Severus snorted derisively, and the woman in the portrait gave him a stern look.

“I can close on you, you know,” she reminded him, but he just rolled his eyes as he followed Harry through.

“Circe’s tits,” he muttered under his breath, looking at the aggressive amount of red hanging everywhere, even more than usual due to Quidditch season being in full swing, “are they trying to make him go blind as well as deaf?”

Harry, who had one eye cast in Severus’ direction, snorted softly.  It was a little over-the-top…

“So,” Remus was saying as he entertained a small group of students from all houses as they gathered in the centre, where all the comfortable furniture was arranged, “the verdimillious charm in its weakest form is essentially the magical version of one of those little hand-buzzer pranks.”

“I used one of those on you once,” Sirius reminded his boyfriend.  “You hexed me so that I was sneezing blueberries for a week.”  

“What hex was that?” an eager Hufflepuff demanded towards the back.  Harry, who obviously hadn’t heard her and was not in a position to read her lips, asked the same question a second later.

“Why is everyone laughing?” he signed to Ron, embarrassed, as he sat down next to his friend.

Ron explained.  “They’re not laughing at you, I don’t think, but I can still make them stop, if you want…”

“It’s alright,” Harry said quickly, putting a hand on his arm.  He didn’t need his overprotective best friend to go threatening everyone on his behalf.  Besides, he thought it was rather funny, now that he knew why they were laughing.

“Oh no,” Remus was scolding his students in amusement.  “I’m not teaching you that one- the castle will be covered in blueberry stains for weeks if I do, what with all of you going around doing it to each other.  Don’t think I don’t know all your tricks; I was young once too.”

“Yeah, a really long time ago,” Sirius jibed, causing his boyfriend to look at him in exasperation.

“Sirius, we’re the same age,” he reminded him.

“Yeah, but I wear it better,” Padfoot quipped with an easy smile.

“And yet I wasn’t the one begging last nig-”

“That’s enough,” Severus interrupted them quickly, as much for his own sake as that of the students’.  “Besides, you’re both ugly mutts, in my opinion.”

“Says the dungeon bat,” Sirius jested, but there was no malice behind the insult.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Blaise began, a mischievous grin tugging at the corners of his mouth, “you’re all old and ugly to us.”

“I’d give you detention, Zabini, but then I’d have to deal with you for the duration,” Severus groaned.

“And now you know my secret,” the student smirked back at him.

“I’d say that there were some days I think I’ve chosen the wrong profession, except that it’s every day…” Severus muttered to himself, and it was worth ignoring the fact that he hadn’t really had a choice to become a teacher when he saw Harry (who had been reading his lips) snort in amusement.

______

“Hey,” Harry said to Draco that night, noticing he had seemed rather down the past couple of times he’d visited him in the hospital wing.  “Do you mind if I sleep with you tonight? I missed you,” he admitted, clutching his pillow to his chest.

The blonde’s whole face lit up brilliantly.  “Of course!” he exclaimed, pulling back the duvet to clear a space on the mattress for Harry and another on the end for Fluffy.

“Thanks,” Harry mumbled sleepily, already halfway to the sandman as he rested his head against Draco’s chest, and the taller boy wrapped his arms softly around his friend and feeling perfectly content for the first time in a week.

They were woken by a frantic Fluffy nudging against them, and Draco heard the cries of their head of house as he ran up and down the halls, yelling at everyone to get up and follow him to the Great Hall.  Then he came back into the third-year boys dorm, going immediately towards Harry.

“Wasgoinon?” he asked, yawning widely.  

“Someone has broken into the Gryffindor common room,” Severus responded gravely.  “We don’t know who it was, but they’re currently loose in the castle and we need everyone safe in the Great Hall while the teachers search.”  Every nerve he had was on edge, crackling with anxiety- could it have been Peter? Could Azkaban have scrambled his brains, made him think that Harry was a Gryffindor like his father?

The Great Hall was full of confused, half-awake students rubbing their eyes and mumbling half-formed questions under the cloudy facade of the ceiling, and Severus instantly sought out Minerva, dragging Harry by the hand along with him because he was unwilling to let him out of his sight.

“What happened?” he asked her, figuring she’d know more than any of the rest of them.

“Neville Longbottom woke up screaming,” she told him.  “He said that there was a tall, dark-haired figure standing above him wielding a knife.  At first I thought he might be having a nightmare…” she certainly wouldn’t blame him, of course- he’d been through rather a lot in his own right… “But then I got word that the portrait had been slashed; it looked like claw marks, Severus, like some wild beast was trying to rip their way in…”

Severus immediately sought out Neville, who was standing in a nearby corner and still shaking as Dean and Seamus patted his back comfortingly.  He knelt down so that he was at eye-level with the boy, taking a deep breath in and hoping to come across as gently as possible.

“I know this is frightening,” he told the young Gryffindor, “but I need you to tell me everything that you can about the figure.”

Thankfully for him, Neville wasn’t scared of Severus (like he surely would have been if Harry hadn’t come into his life and softened his demeanor before he had his first class with the boy).  The man was still a fairly strict teacher, and Neville did get a bit nervous in potions (due to his skill with herbology, his knowledge of the ingredients and the theory was excellent, but he did sometimes have trouble with the brewing part of the class), but Severus’ efforts to be as patient and understanding as possible when Neville messed up paid off in this instance.

“I… they had long dark hair, and it was kind of messy, like really crazy, and I couldn’t see super well in the dark, but I think it was a woman… I… at first I thought tha… that Bellatrix had come back to get me, like she did with my parents…”

Harry stepped forward before Severus could overcome his awkwardness to think about how to comfort Neville.

“Oh Nev…” he told his friend.  “I’m so sorry…”

“Th-thanks,” he told Harry, who wrapped him in a hug that helped calm his wildly palpitating heart just a little.  “Bu- but I don’t think it could have been her… she’s still in A-Azkaban, and I don’t think… I mean, if it had been Bellatrix, she wouldn’t have run off just because I woke up; I- I think I’d be just blood on the sheets by now…”

Severus paled a bit- Neville had an excellent understanding of Bellatrix’s personality, perhaps too excellent… could he… was there any chance he remembered what happened that night?  He’d have to make a mental note to look into it.  But for now…

“Hermione, come here please!” he called, and luckily the girl was nearby (he had correctly figured that neither she nor Ron would be found very far from Harry).  The girl came forward as requested, looking at him curiously.

“Can you show me on Hermione how tall the figure was?” he asked Neville, who nodded.

“Er, taller,” he told her, and she shot up about a foot and a half from her natural height.

“Way too tall,” Neville declared, giggling a bit at how comically tall she’d made herself (Hermione was five feet without using any of her shapeshifting abilities), as had been the girl’s goal.  “She was only a few inches taller than you, I think…”

“So like right here?” Mia asked, going back down to five-four or so.

“Maybe just a bit taller?” Neville muttered, thinking as hard as he could about the glimpse of the figure he had caught.

“Tell me when to stop,” Hermione instructed, inching upward (pun intended) slowly.

“Right there, I think?” Nev said after a moment.  “I mean, I can’t be sure, but that looks about right…”

“So around five-seven, five eight…” Severus muttered, thinking- the entire situation was baffling.  Who could she be?  

“Do you remember anything else about her?” Hermione asked.

“I think that she was kind of pale, because there was like one second where the moonlight caught just a bit of the side of her face… and then her hair was dark, and really rough.”

“Was it textured, like mine?” Hermione asked, pulling at one of her tight curls.

“No, that’s the thing- it wasn’t even curly, just like really… rough, I guess?  Like she didn’t take good care of it.”

“So like Crookshanks on a person, then?” Hermione asked.

“Hey!”  Harry couldn’t help interjecting, feeling insulted on behalf of his cat.  “His fur isn’t that bad.”

“Oi, I love you mate, but that cat’s a hot mess,” Ron signed, before clapping Harry gently on the shoulder.

“Oh, he’s cute, just messy,” Hermione argued, “but that’s not the point.  Anyway…” she made her hair rough and wiry.

“It was longer- like almost to her waist,” Neville said.

“Got it,” Hermione agreed, making her hair longer before her skin tone paled dramatically.  Harry and Ron did a double take- even with her shapeshifting abilities, their friend never went that pale, so it was an adjustment to view her like that.

“That looks about right, I think…” Neville murmured, walking around to view her at different angles.  “She might have been a bit thinner, I think, but I really didn’t get such a good look at her…”

“We should ask the fat lady too,” Harry piped up, and Severus looked down at him in surprise- he hadn’t thought of that.

“Smart boy,” he praised, calling Minerva to take Hermione to find the painted woman, who was staying with her friend Violet for the time being.  He would have done it himself, but he wasn’t about to leave Harry.

“So?” they all turned to the two women when they came back.

“She said that I looked pretty close, but she hadn’t gotten the best look either- she said that the woman kept like… fading in and out, almost?  Like she was blurry around the edges and seemed to be like, almost shifting forms into an animagus of some sort? But she didn’t shift enough for her to get any idea what her form was, except that it has these long, sharp claws that she used to tear up the portrait when she wouldn’t let her in.”

“Did she say why she was trying to get in?” Ron asked, an arm protectively around Harry, who leaned into his warmth.

“The fat lady said that the she just kept mumbling ‘have to stop him so I can protect him…’” Minerva informed them.  “But it doesn’t make much sense- is she talking about the same ‘him’ or two different men? I can’t make heads or tail of it.”

“The whole situation is strange,” Severus agreed, trying to manage the panic clawing at his chest.  “Is there any chance this could be related to Pettigrew’s escape?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” Minerva groaned, hands clenched in frustration.  “It’s just so… I don’t…” For once, the normally-collected deputy headmistress was at a loss for words.

Professor Sprout and Flitwick had finished securing the perimeter of the Great Hall and came up to join them.  “Perhaps we ought to go search the castle, see if we can find the figure and get some answers. Or at the very least make sure there’s no further threat to the students…”

“I’m going to stay here and help guard the Great Hall with the prefects,” Severus announced immediately, and nobody dared argue with him, knowing he was going to insist on keeping an eye on Harry.  

“We’ll leave Sirius, Regulus, Aurora as well,” Pomona declared- Dumbledore was staying to guard the students as well, but after the last few years, she didn’t trust him as far as she could throw him when it came to student safety (or being honest about his intentions…).

“I’ll tell Remus to bring the map before he goes,” Severus added, although he was pretty sure the man had already thought of it.  Of course, they didn’t know who they were looking for, or even if they were still on the grounds, so that significantly complicated matters.

“Don’t worry Sev; everything’s gonna be fine,” Harry assured him, putting one little brown hand comfortingly on his arm.

“I certainly hope so…” he trailed off, uncertain.

“You just gotta have faith,” Harry said confidently.  “Things have always worked out up ‘til now, and we’ve faced worse.”

As Severus watched his child and his friends arrange their sleeping bags, Harry scooting up next to Neville to offer comfort from someone who knew what it was like to miss one’s parents and constantly be reminded of what had happened to them, he could only wish he had the young teenager’s conviction.