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All in Good Time

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***

All In Good Time

***

“He’s gone, Harry.” Hermione’s voice was soft but firm. “I know you hoped...” She paused when he looked over at her, blinking back tears at the bleak look in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” she continued gently, “but he’s really gone. We saw him go!”

“What do you mean? You think he’s dead, don’t you?”

“I don’t kn--” She closed her eyes. “Yes.”

“Then where’s his body?” Harry shrugged off her hand and continued poking about the Shack, and although the room was hardly large enough to successfully hide a body, and it was suffering the effects of fire damage, Harry seemed determined to look everywhere.

“I bet the Aurors took it.”

“We saw them leave,” Harry muttered. “And he wasn’t with them.”

“They could have Portkeyed him to the Ministry or something.” Hermione crossed her arms. “Harry, please...”

“What? Give up?”

She nodded. “It’s too late, I’m sorry. He’s gone for good, and while I know you wanted to rescue him, maybe this is how it was meant to be. Some people aren’t meant to be saved.”

“I should have been able to save him, though,” Harry said. “This was my second chance, I should have been able to...” Harry froze, staring at something out the window and Hermione spun around, seeing the edge of a glowing shape.

“I knew it,” Harry breathed. Pushing past her, he ran to the door and was gone before she could say anything. “Severus!”

Hermione sighed. She would miss Severus, too, but clearly Harry had formed a closer relationship with him than she had. For not the first time, she wished the past eight weeks had never happened.

***

Eight weeks before...

***

Harry sighed and pulled another clump of grass up by the roots. Slowly and methodically he ripped it to shreds, his mouth set. All around him lay bare patches of ground where he’d been decimating the lawn.

“What did the grass ever do to you?” an amused voice asked, and Harry shook his head.

“It’s better that I rip out the grass than rip into her,” he muttered.

Hermione sighed and sat down crossed-legged beside him, tucking her skirt around her legs circumspectly. “She’ll understand some day,” she said, plucking her own blade of grass to play with. “Eventually she’ll realize that it was better that this happen now rather than later.”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe. So where’s Ron?”

“With Ginny,” Hermione said. “He took her to the Burrow and Molly is looking after her.”

“Think any of them will ever speak to me again?”

Hermione patted his arm. “Ron took me aside and told me to tell you that he understands. As for the rest of the Weasleys... Well, I can’t speak for them, of course, but I suspect they’ll always consider you to be one of their sons no matter what.”

Harry shook his head. “The son who jilted their daughter?”

“At least it wasn’t at the altar.”

Harry nodded ruefully. “True. I suppose it could have been worse.”

Hermione bit her lip. “What made you realize that Ginny wasn’t the one?” she asked.

Harry stared into the distance and was silent for so long she wasn’t sure he was ever going to reply. Finally, he spoke. “I was just filled with this sense of dread whenever she talked about the wedding, you know? I said I wanted to wait but she kept pushing and pushing...”

“Did you love her?”

Harry shrugged. “In a way. I still do, actually. It’s weird how protective I get around her, but then when she would want to kiss me or want to go further...” He blushed as he stammered to a stop.

“Harry, it’s okay. You’re... you were engaged, you’re allowed to be, um, close when you’re going to be married.”

“Yeah, well, we never were,” he muttered.

Hermione turned to look at him. “Never?”

He buried his face in his hands and mumbled something indistinct.

“Harry?”

“She’s not my type, all right? Every time we... Well, let’s just say it never worked out on that front, and she just kept saying that it was okay and she didn’t mind--”

“But you did.”

Harry looked miserable. “Our entire relationship was a lie,” he said. “I think she wanted the boy who killed Voldemort, the famous Harry Potter, and I’m just me. You know?”

“Hm.” Hermione looked as if she was concentrating hard. “So who is your type, then?”

“I knew you’d pick up on that,” Harry said.

“Harry...”

“Sorry. My type is, well, not female, actually.” Harry cringed as he spoke, waiting for the outburst. When Hermione remained silent, he looked up to catch her smiling.

“Finally,” she breathed.

Harry’s mouth fell open. “You... You knew?”

Hermione nodded. “Of course. Took you long enough to tell me, though,” she teased gently.

“But how--?”

“It’s the way you look at Bill, actually.” Hermione grinned wickedly. “I’ve seen you react when he walks into a room. It’s the same way I react, the same way every woman reacts.”

“You notice Bill? But what about Ron?”

Hermione blushed. “Just because I love Ron doesn’t mean I’m blind, Harry. Bill is a handsome wizard, scars or no scars.”

Harry chuckled. “Yeah, he is,” he admitted. “But he’s straight, and very taken.”

“True, but not every man is, and now that you know what sort of mate you’re looking for, this should get easier.”

“Easier?” Harry laughed harshly. “Nothing about this is going to get easier!”

“Not immediately, no.” Hermione put her arm about him and laid her head down on his shoulder. “But this, too, shall pass, Harry, and one day we’ll look back on it and laugh.”

Harry sighed. “I know you’re right, but I wish I could skip all the stuff between now and then.”

Hermione smiled and kissed his cheek. “I know.” Standing up, she pulled her robes tight about her body. “Well, I’d best get back and see how Ron’s handling things. Plus, they are running some experiments at the Ministry that I should probably be there for.”

Harry smiled. “It’s tough being an Unspeakable, hm?”

She shook her head tiredly. “You have no idea. I’ll Floo tonight, all right?”

Rubbing at his eyes tiredly, Harry nodded, and as she walked away, her Disapparation crack sounding moments later, he remained seated for a few minutes watching the sun set before getting up to go back to his cottage.

On his way home, he heard a rustling in the bushes that lined the path back to the house and he slowed. “Is someone there?” he asked, easing his wand from his sleeve as a precaution. “Come on out.”

He almost thought he’d imagined it until a small shape stepped out into the receding daylight. A dark-eyed, sharp-faced boy, clad in worn clothes, looked up at him.

Harry blinked and lowered his wand. “Oh, hullo. It’s a bit late for you to be wandering about by yourself, isn’t it? Are you lost?”

“I suppose.” The lad was eyeing him up and down, his gaze lingering on Harry’s wand for a moment before flying back up to his face. “Are you a wizard?”

The Memory Spell Harry’d had sitting on the tip of his tongue went unspoken. “Yes, I am,” he said. “And I guess that means you’re one, too.”

The child nodded. “I’m going to be one. I’m going to Hogwarts next year.”

“That’s great.” Harry smiled and stepped closer. “So what’s your name? And I think we need to get you back to your parents, don’t you? They’re probably worried.”

The boy looked about, and to Harry’s eye he seemed nervous. “I... I think I’m a far way from home,” he finally admitted.

Harry smiled. “That’s all right. I’m sure I can find a way to get you home. What’s you’re name?”

“Severus Snape.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open as the boy, Snape, scuffed his shoes in the dirt.

“You... What? But that’s not possible.”

The boy looked up at that, and Harry could see the adult he would become reflected in those dark eyes. “I... I’m not lying,” Severus said a tad defensively. He stepped back as if to run.

Harry nodded slowly, in what he hoped was a reassuring way. “Yes, I can see that,” he said. “Um, well, tell you what. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll see if I can figure out what’s going on, all right?”

Snape shook his head and stepped back again. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he said doubtfully.

Squatting so that he was eye level with Snape, Harry nodded. “That’s a good policy,” he agreed, “but in this case I think it’s best if you find someplace safe to stay, yeah? And I actually know your family. Your mother is Eileen and your father is Tobias, right?”

Snape seemed to relax. “Yes,” he said, still appearing cautious.

“Well, then I’m not really a stranger as I know your family. My name’s Harry. Harry Pot... just call me Harry? So why don’t you come with me so I can figure out how to get you home?”

Snape appeared to consider this for a long moment before nodding. Standing up, Harry breathed a sigh of relief and, in what turned out to be an instinctual move, held his hand out to take Snape’s. To Harry’s shock, the boy flinched, raising his arm defensively as if expecting a blow. Harry’s heart broke a bit at that and he had to swallow hard to get the next sentence out.

“Severus? Take my hand, I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.” He kept his hand steady as he spoke.

Snape looked up into Harry’s face as if considering the veracity of that statement. After a long moment he bit his lip and, inching forward, finally grasped Harry’s hand firmly.

Something inside Harry that he hadn’t been aware was tight loosened, and he cleared his throat. “Right, let’s go. Hold on, the path can be treacherous.”

The boy nodded and Harry led the way, having to cast an Illumination Spell on the way due to the rapidly advancing darkness. By the time they got to the brightly lit cottage, Harry’s hand was a bit sore from where Snape had been clutching it tightly.

Opening the door, Harry led Snape in. “Let’s get you something to eat, shall we?” he said. “I’m hungry, and I imagine you are, too.”

Snape nodded, following Harry to the kitchen and watching silently as he made a stack of sandwiches. After instructing the boy to seat himself, Harry placed the dish down in front of his guest. “Go on, help yourself.”

Reaching for a half a sandwich, Snape took it and bit into it, chewing and swallowing silently. He hadn’t said a word since they arrived and Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that. The Snape he knew would have made caustic remarks about everything he’d seen or that Harry had done, but the boy Snape was watchful and silent, and it unnerved Harry.

“Eat as much as you like,” he said. “I’m going to see if I can find out what’s going on.”

Turning away, Harry walked over to the Floo and tossed in some powder. “Hermione Granger’s home!” he called out, sticking his head inside to look for her.

Unfortunately, it took several tries for him to find her, and he finally located her in her office at the Ministry. “Hermione?”

She looked up from her desk, appearing frazzled. “Oh, hullo, Harry. Look, it’s not a good time right now, can I Floo you tomorrow? We’ve got a bit of an emergency on our hands--”

“I hate to bother you, but I have my own emergency here,” Harry interrupted. “I think something weird is happening, something that an Unspeakable needs to know about, yeah?”

Hermione sighed, looking down at the mess of parchments on her desk. “All right. Give me a few minutes, all right? You’re at the cottage?”

He nodded and she rubbed her eyes tiredly. “I’ll be there soon.”

“Thanks, Hermione.” He ended the call and when he returned to the table, the boy was looking a bit guilty. “Are you all right?” he asked.

Snape nodded. “I... I was hungry and you said to eat as much as I like--”

Harry looked at the dish, smiling to see one lone crust of bread was left. “Wow, I guess you were hungry. That’s all right, would you like another? Or maybe something to drink?”

“You’re not... angry?” Snape seemed poised for a blow, and Harry narrowed his eyes. The boy went pale at that, and Harry sighed.

“No, I’m not angry,” he said slowly. “I made the sandwiches so that you could eat them. Why would I be angry?”

Snape dropped his eyes and Harry sighed, running a hand through his hair agitatedly. “Would you like something to drink?” he repeated more gently.

“Sometimes my Da gets angry if I eat too much.” The confession was muttered, almost seeming to be dragged from Severus.

Harry looked Snape over, for the first time consciously noticing how thin, almost bony, he was. The way he looked reminded Harry of his own traumatic childhood with the Dursleys, and he blinked back tears of pity, turning away to hide his face. The Snape he knew would never tolerate any suggestion of pity.

“I won’t get angry no matter how much you eat,” he managed. “Are you still hungry?”

Just then Harry heard the Floo activate, and a harried Hermione stepped through, brushing soot off of her robes. “I have a few minutes to spare,” she said. “Now what’s the emergen--?”

Harry stepped forward as she trailed off and stared at Snape. The boy had cringed when she arrived, and even now appeared to be trying to disappear in his chair. “Thanks for coming,” Harry said.

Turning towards Severus, he said softly, “This is my friend, Hermione Granger, who also works at the Ministry of Magic. She can help us figure out what happened, and how to get you home.” When the boy looked away, Harry looked at Hermione. “Hermione, this is Severus Snape. As you can see, he appears to be about ten years old, and I found him on my way home tonight. He was lost.”

“Oh dear,” Hermione said faintly.

Harry nodded. His sentiments exactly. “Are you hungry?” he asked gently. “I was about to make dinner.”

Hermione grabbed blindly for a chair. “Yes, all right,” she said, voice weak. “I haven’t had dinner yet.”

***

“Severus, may I call you Severus?” Severus nodded and Hermione smiled. “Right, well, then. Severus, what’s the last thing you remember before you arrived here?”

They were sitting in Harry’s parlour after a simple meal consisting of beef stew, during which Hermione had tried to engage Severus, but the boy had avoided every question by the simple method of always having his mouth full.

Eventually Hermione had given up trying to talk during dinner, but now that they were in the parlour with its fire and comfortable sofa, she began the questioning in earnest.

Severus sat at the very end of the sofa, perched on the edge of his seat as if he would flee at any moment, and Hermione, seeing his body language, tried to be as reassuring as possible.

Harry was still buzzing about the kitchen, although he could see everything that was going on, and Hermione noted that while the boy seemed wary of both of them, he allowed Harry to get close enough to touch him. He was never within reach of Hermione.

It appeared he’d been carefully considering her question, however, because a full minute after she asked the question, Severus finally looked up her and said, “I was outside. Da was yel... talking to Mum, and I went to the end of the garden and then--” Severus wrinkled his nose. “There was swirling, like when Mum had to take me to see Gran that one time, and then I was in a field and I hid.”

Just then, Harry came in and sat on the other end of the sofa, and Hermione noted with interest the way the boy edged towards him.

“Did anything seem odd before you came here?” she asked.

Severus shook his head silently, looking away.

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. “Right. Well, I am going to do everything within my power to get you home as soon as possible, then. Harry, may I see you alone for a minute?”

Harry nodded and they both rose, walking out into the hallway. Hermione saw Severus crane his neck to check where they were before he sat back into the sofa and began kicking his heels against the upholstery.

“Well, what do you think?” Harry looked tired, worried, and Hermione patted his shoulder.

“I think his appearance is connected to a problem we’ve been having all over the country,” she said. Sighing, she leaned close to whisper. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I think, given the circumstances, it’s important that you know.”

“What?” Harry asked, looking slightly alarmed.

“There have been some experiments going on in the Department of Mysteries,” Hermione said. “Secret experiments. All I can tell you about them is that after the Time-Turners were destroyed, there has been a lot of experimentation with the leftover bits.”

Harry nodded.

“Suffice to say, this has all been very hush-hush. Anyway, yesterday one of the other Unspeakables apparently had a bit of a breakthrough.”

“What sort of breakthrough?”

“He made an enormous Time-Turner out of the remnants of the broken ones, and he tried to go back in time, only a few minutes, but it was enough.”

“Enough to do what?”

“Enough to mess up the fabric of time, we think.” Hermione closed her eyes. “It disappeared and he disappeared, we don’t know where or when he is, and now, all over the country, there have been reports of other people disappearing and still other people appearing unexpectedly. There’s even...” she swallowed hard, watching Harry carefully for his reaction. “...even someone who claims to be Tom Riddle who materialized in the middle of the Ministry. He appears to be about eight or nine.”

“What!?”

Hermione clutched Harry’s shoulder firmly as he made an abortive movement towards the Floo. “Relax, he’s under lock and key. It appears he’s really is the same Tom Riddle who was in an orphanage and slated to attend Hogwarts over fifty years ago, though, and now the question is what do we do with him?”

Harry scratched his head. “Bloody hell, Hermione! We know what he’s going to do...”

“Do we? He’s a nice, normal young man as far as we can tell. We gave him Veritaserum, used Legilimency on him... He’s clean. Are we now in the job of judging people before they commit crimes?” She nodded when she saw Harry reach the same conclusion she had. “Right. I think we have to just try and put everyone back where they came from and hope for the best. So, you have Severus Snape, and I think we just have to keep him until we can put him back in his proper time.”

“And when will that be?” Harry asked. “And how?”

“We’re working on it. But in the meantime, I think he needs to come into the Minist--”

“No.” Harry was shaking his head emphatically. “No, please, Hermione. Let him stay here. Please? They won’t... You know the Ministry is no place for a boy. I was terrified the few times I was there as a child. I’ll keep him here, all right?”

“Why would you want to?” Hermione asked. She narrowed her eyes when Harry flushed. “What are you planning?”

“Nothing.” He looked at her, radiating sincerity. “Seriously, it’s not as if he’ll go anywhere. I’ll take care of him so that when you find a way to send him back, it’ll be far less traumatic.”

“Why does this feel like a bad idea?” Hermione shook her head. “All right. He stays here for now. Things are a bit mad at the Ministry at the moment, and I think he’d get lost there anyway.” She sighed as Harry grinned and hugged her. This was going to come back to haunt her, she just knew it.

***

After seeing Hermione off, Harry walked back into the parlour. Severus had been quiet since dinner, although, really, he was a remarkably quiet boy. He unnerved Harry, actually. He was used to a vociferous, acerbic Severus Snape, but this boy was tugging at his heartstrings with his obvious hunger for both food and safety.

“Severus?”

Harry paused when he saw that Severus was curled up in a ball, asleep on the sofa. A smile curving his lips, he walked closer, and, stooping down, he brushed back a stray lock of hair from Severus’ face. The boy turned towards Harry’s hand as if seeking the warmth, and Harry’s eyes widened. Who could have predicted that he would develop a soft spot for Severus?

Drawing his hand away, he sat back on his haunches. Severus’ face in repose was innocent, and Harry sighed, realizing that in only a few years, this man would save him repeatedly until the day Harry would watch him die.

He shook his head. It wasn’t fair! Here was someone else he should have been able to save, like Sirius, like Cedric, like Remus... Harry wiped his face angrily. If only there was some way he could have saved even one of them, he would have done anything.

When the idea came to him it made him gasp, and as Severus shifted in his sleep, Harry stood up and backed away quickly, afraid of where his thoughts were taking him. Surely he couldn’t actually do this, could he?

But why not? that tiny voice inside his head asked. No one will know. All you have to do is find a way to warn him before they send him back. You don’t have to tell him everything, just enough so he’s prepared for Nagini’s attack.

“It can’t possibly work,” he muttered under his breath. “Hermione would kill me.” But how would she know? If he did it carefully enough he could warn Severus so that he would at least have a fighting chance when the time came. Could he be discreet enough, though?

Glancing back into the parlour, Harry watched Severus sleep and he tightened his lips with resolve. He would find a way to save him yet.

***

Severus went from asleep to awake in an instant. He remained exactly where he was however, having learned from an early age that it was always better to take stock of a situation before betraying consciousness. That had saved him many a blow in the past, especially when his father had been on one of his binges.

It took only a moment for the events of the previous day to come flooding back, and he cracked one eye open, trying to look around without appearing to look around.

He didn’t recognize the room, and once he determined that he was alone he opened his eyes fully and sat up to inspect his location properly.

To all appearances, he was in a bedroom with the door discreetly closed. Someone had partially undressed him, and after a panicked look around, he located his shirt and trousers hanging over the back of a chair.

He flushed. He hoped that the woman, Hermione, hadn’t done it. For some reason he rather wished Harry had put him to bed, although he wasn’t sure about him, either. Something about Harry made Severus think he wouldn’t make fun of his old, grey pants, however.

A sound in the hallway made Severus’ head pop up. He scrambled for the blankets and when the knock came on the door, he was ready.

“Severus?” Harry’s head popped around the door and Severus shifted uncomfortably under those green eyes. Funny how this man reminded Severus of his best friend back home. “Good. You’re awake. Sleep all right?”

Severus nodded cautiously.

“I made breakfast, so when you’re done in the bathroom, come to the kitchen. The loo is across the hall, all right?” With that, Harry withdrew his head and Severus exhaled, allowing the blankets to fall away. Diving for the chair, he dressed quickly and, after a visit to the bathroom, made his way down the hallway towards the delicious smell.

There were two plates set out, both with eggs, tomatoes, sausage, beans and toast piled high. Severus’ mouth watered at the feast, but he held himself back from attacking the food immediately upon sitting down.

“Eat up,” Harry said, placing a glass of juice and a mug of milky tea in front of him. “I thought we could go and look around outside for clues today on how you got here.”

Severus’ hand, clutching toast, froze half-way to his mouth. Was there a possibility that he could go home today? His heart sank.

“Don’t you want to go home, Severus?” Harry asked, his eyes shrewd. “Don’t you miss your parents?”

Severus looked away. He knew better than to answer that question.

“I grew up with my aunt and uncle,” Harry continued after a long moment. He was carefully not looking at Severus as he spoke. “Living with them wasn’t exactly... pleasant, so I understand not being eager to return to a place that’s not--”

“’S not that bad,” Severus mumbled.

Harry nodded. “That’s good, then,” he said. “You’re a fortunate boy.”

Severus shrugged. While his Da was strict, and he did oftentimes strike Severus, he’d never hit his mother that Severus had seen. That was better than several of the other children on his street had it, so he couldn’t complain.

In fact, Severus sometimes wondered if his father was afraid to attack his mother. The one time he could remember Tobias yelling angrily at Eileen, things had begun flying about the room and Tobias had backed off immediately. Severus had never decided which of the two of them had been responsible for that, but that didn’t matter. His mother had told him later that it was her magic reacting to danger, and after that day, Tobias had been very careful to only hit Severus when they were alone.

There was no way he was telling Harry any of that, however. Harry was a stranger, and one didn’t tell such things to outsiders. Even outsiders who were special, magical, like him and his mother were.

They didn’t talk about it at home, either, though. They were different his mother said, and while Severus loved knowing that, Tobias didn’t like that. Not one bit.

“More sausage?”

Startled out of his thoughts, Severus looked up to see Harry holding the pan towards him. He shook his head, dropping his eyes to concentrate on cleaning his plate efficiently. Finishing food quickly was another hard-won lesson, one he wasn’t about to forget.

“You don’t talk much, do you?” Harry asked.

Knowing it was a rhetorical question, Severus didn’t deign to answer, instead, he devoured breakfast, and after a minute, Harry sat down beside him and began to eat his own meal.

When they were done, Harry set the dishes to washing themselves and they left via the front door.

Severus discovered he needn’t have worried about being sent home immediately. The trip out to the field where he’d appeared less than a day previously was uneventful, and even though Harry poked about with his wand, diligently looking for clues as to how Severus had ended up there, he found nothing.

In spite of his dislike of the unfamiliar, Severus was beginning to appreciate being away from home, and not just because it took him away from his father.

There were no teasing children, no Prince cousins to mock and hex him when the adults weren’t looking. And, for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t hungry. Of course, that was offset by Harry’s constant talking, although there was something reassuring about that rich tenor voice droning on about how exciting it was to study something called Potions, how smart Potions masters had to be, and about how a great career could be made in that field.

After several minutes of that, Severus surmised that Harry was a Potions master, whatever that was, and that he was recruiting. Severus didn’t say much in response and Harry seemed to get the hint, dropping the topic after a bit.

They ate a picnic lunch in a field that was close to Harry’s cottage, and Harry regaled him with stories about Hogwarts, telling Severus about how excited he’d been when he’d first seen it, and about all the magical things that routinely happened there.

He listened closely, not saying much but hearing a lot of the things that Harry wasn’t saying. Apparently you had to be careful at Hogwarts as well, which made sense. Severus was used to not being popular, and that was unlikely to change even when he went to a magical school.

There was one thing that Harry didn’t mention, and that Severus didn’t ask about, however, and as they made their way back, Severus decided he was never going to ask. 

When they were approaching the cottage, Harry said to Severus, “So I hope the room you slept in last night was all right?”

Severus nodded. It was the nicest room he’d ever slept in. “Is it yours?” he asked.

Harry laughed. “Oh no. Mine is a lot messier I’m afraid. I don’t really let other people see it. No, you got the clean room.”

At that moment, Severus resolved to keep his assigned room spotless so he’d never give Harry a reason to take it away from him.

The evening meal was interrupted by a visit from Hermione, who brought some clothes for Severus, and who had more questions for him. He answered them as best he could, although he did consider his answers very carefully before speaking. When she finally left, Harry gave Severus a book to look through and as Severus, tired, began drifting off, Harry sent him to bed.

Trailing down the hallway, Severus found ‘his’ room and, after removing his clothes carefully, he got into bed. He lay there thinking about his secret and wondering if he should say anything to Harry about it.

He sighed. He replayed the conversation he’d overheard the day before when he’d arrived, when he’d heard Harry tell Hermione that he liked men. Severus was pretty sure he was like that, too, but he’d not said anything to his mother about it, and it definitely wasn’t something he was about to say to his father...

Rolling over, Severus closed his eyes. He’d do the only thing he could, which was take each day as it came. And if he ended up never going home, then so be it. He’d miss his mother, but Harry was already proving to be a better father than he could ever have dreamed of. For the first time in years, Severus fell asleep with a smile on his face.

***

Harry smiled as Severus frowned at something in the book he was reading. He was a voracious reader, absorbing things rapidly and accurately. No wonder he’d been such a brilliant man. Would be such a brilliant man. Harry sighed; this was all really confusing sometimes.

They had spent the majority of their days in the cottage, Harry reporting to Hermione daily at her insistence. He was on leave from the Auror corps in order to study for his advanced tracking certificate, so it was convenient as far as being around to watch Severus.

Ron had Flooed several times to reassure Harry that his parents weren’t too angry. He made it a point to tell Harry that Ginny was calmer, and Harry simply nodded politely.

Harry never let on that anyone was staying with him, and it was clear that Hermione hadn’t said anything to him either, since, knowing Ron, he could hardly have restrained himself from rushing over to see a vulnerable Snape.

Six weeks had passed with Hermione unable to come up with a way to send Severus back to his proper time. Even though Harry scoured the newspapers daily for hints about what information was public, the Prophet didn’t carry any stories about mysterious goings on at the Ministry. He had spotted a tiny article in The Quibbler about time rifts, but Harry knew it was unlikely to be taken seriously, buried as it was between articles about Blibbering Humdingers and Nargles, so he’d relaxed.

“What’s a Pensieve?” Severus asked suddenly.

Harry found that the one thing Severus wasn’t hesitant about was asking questions, as reluctant as he was to volunteer any information about his family or his life. From what little Harry could piece together, however, it appeared Severus had a fairly bleak home life. He had definitely gained some weight and looked healthier than when he arrived.

“It’s a way to save memories so that you can look at them later, or even share them with others,” Harry said. Severus’ eyes brightened with interest as he explained, and when he was finished, Severus appeared to think about it, finally nodding.

“Seems useful. Maybe I’ll have one someday,” he said, turning his attention back to the book he’d been reading.

“Yes,” Harry agreed. “I suspect you will. Are you hungry?”

At Severus’ eager nod he got up and began to prepare their lunch, marvelling at how comfortable he felt living with Severus. A part of his problem with Ginny, he’d recently realized, was that she desperately wanted to start a family immediately, and, while he wanted children, too, he’d wanted to wait a bit. His experiences with Severus were showing him he was capable of being a decent father, however. Even though Ginny’s out of the picture, at least I know this is something I can do myself.

After lunch they went for a walk, and since lately Harry had been letting Severus pick the direction, he did so this time was well.

They stumbled across a clearing where they sat to rest, and Harry, deciding it was time to teach Severus something, tried to explain about the Unforgivable Curses.

“I can see why it’s bad to kill,” Severus said, “and why pain is bad. But what’s wrong with getting someone to do something you want them to do?”

Harry smiled. Looking about, he saw a doe peeking out from behind some foliage. “Watch,” he whispered. Aiming his wand at the deer, he said, Imperius!

Severus’ eyes grew wide as the doe pushed through the bushes to come to them. She dipped her head and began eating from Harry’s hand and did not hesitate when Severus moved to pet her.

“You see? Her own natural will has been completely replaced,” Harry said. “I could do anything to her and she wouldn’t know to run. Her instincts are completely gone. Do you see how wrong that is?”

Severus nodded.

“Finite Incantatem!” and the doe was gone in a flash of brown. Harry could hear her crashing through the bushes in an attempt to escape them. “Never forget your power as a wizard,” Harry said.

Severus nodded gravely. “I won’t.”

They wandered the rest of the day and unfortunately, they got a bit lost late in the afternoon, so that by the time they returned to the cottage it was dark, and both of them were hungry.

“What about some chicken?” Harry was asking as he unlocked the cottage’s front door. “You seemed to like that when I made it last week...” He froze, staring at the intruder who was waiting.

“Hello, Harry.”

Ginny was wearing what he knew she thought of as her seduction outfit. Light blue robes that set her hair and skin off to perfection were unbuttoned low enough that he could see a glimpse of her throat. The robes were cut to show off her boyish figure, and she was even wearing the earrings Hermione had helped him pick out for her last birthday. She had clearly pulled out all the stops.

Her eyes wandered over him, stopping at Severus, who had huddled to his side as soon as he’d realized a stranger was there.

“Oh! Who’s this?” she asked, her voice falsely sweet and high pitched in the way people affected when speaking to animals and small children.

Harry could feel Severus shrink closer. “This is my guest. He’s staying with me for a while,” Harry said, hoping to avoid revealing Severus’ identity. “What are you doing here?”

Her bottom lip trembling artfully, Ginny looked up at Harry through her lashes. “I just had to see you, Harry. I hate how we left things the last time. Can’t you put your, um, guest to bed so we can talk?”

“He needs dinner,” Harry said firmly. “We weren’t expecting you, so if you could wait in the parlour until I get Se-- him settled, then maybe we can talk for a little while.”

Ginny’s gaze sharpened and darted back down to Severus. “Of course,” she said. “Although I would be happy to help you--”

“No.” Harry was mentally berating himself for not having changed the wards. “No, he’s pretty... shy. You go on into the other room and I’ll be in soon.”

With a nod, Ginny turned and sashayed away. Severus watched her go, and when she was out of earshot, he said, “She doesn’t like me.”

Harry opened his mouth to disagree, then he stopped. Severus had good instincts, and he would need them. Now was not the time to make him doubt himself, and, really, he was right. Ginny didn’t like him, and she would like him even less if she discovered his identity. Harry nodded. “She’s not going to like me much either in a minute. Come on, let’s get you some food.”

When Severus was settled at the table, eating soup and bread, Harry went to find Ginny. She had settled in the parlour, and for a long moment Harry stood at the door quietly watching her. She really had turned into an attractive woman, it was just a shame that she wasn’t his type.

She glanced over and stood up when she saw him, a welcoming smile on her face. “Oh, Harry,” she breathed. “It’s been so long since we talked! I really missed you.”

Harry allowed the hug, disengaging her arms after only a moment and stepping back. “So why are you here, Gin?” he asked. “Are your parents all right? Ron?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she said, waving a hand impatiently. “I really wanted to talk about us.”

“What ‘us’?” Harry sighed impatiently. “There is no us. We broke up, remember?”

“I still don’t understand why.”

“Ginny...”

She held up a hand. “I remember what you said, about how I wanted things that you couldn’t give, and I admit, I was angry, and I said some bad things, but I’ve had a chance to think about it, and I know we can work through this, Harry. I can be who you want me to be.”

Shaking his head, Harry crossed his arms. “It won’t work. I’m gay, Gin. I like men. There is no fixing that. It just is.”

“But you kissed me.” She was pleading now, her eyes wide, tears pooling in the corners. “It was the best day of my life the first time we kissed. I remember it as if it were yesterday.”

“It’s not enough.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I won’t be satisfied with you, and you shouldn’t settle for someone who’s not totally in love with you.”

“If it’s the... equipment, I can wear a device.” Ginny’s cheeks were stained bright red with embarrassment but she continued doggedly. “I’ll do whatever it takes so that we can be together. I can be like a man.”

A sound came from the hallway and Harry jumped. Glad of the interruption, he said, “I better check on Se-- on my guest. Ginny, this will not work. I think you should go.”

Lips trembling, Ginny dropped her arms which had been held out towards Harry in entreaty. “He’s old enough to manage on his own! We have to finish this conversation.”

“It is finished.” Harry, at the end of his patience, turned away. “It was finished after our last conversation, when you told me that there were other men out there who would treat you better and pay more attention to you. You’re right, there are. For both of us.”

“I was hurt. I just said that because I thought it would hurt your feelings.”

Harry shrugged. “It did for a little while, but honestly, it was for the best. We’ll both be happier this way. Now, I have got to go--”

“Who is he?” Ginny asked, following Harry towards the door.

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

“That boy.” Ginny smiled triumphantly when Harry spun to stare at her. “He looks familiar, as if I’ve met him before, but I can’t think when or where that could have been. Who is he?”

“He’s not your business. I think you need to go now,” Harry said firmly. “He was entrusted to me, and he’s my priority.”

“He’s awfully young,” she said snidely. “He can’t be who you want to be with, can he? Is that what’s happened? You’ve found someone else? Is that boy related to him somehow?”

Harry stumbled, his eyes widening as the implications of what she was insinuating hit him. Eyes narrowed, he grit his teeth and snarled, “Get out! NOW!”

Ginny stepped back, surprised. Then, she tilted her head, a speculative look settling on her face. “I wonder what the Ministry will think if I tell them you have an underage child here? Especially when I mention that you’re a homosexual?”

A wave of rage that was positively blinding swept through Harry, and he took a step towards her. Ginny blanched and, apparently recognizing the danger she was in, backed away. “Just think about what I’ve said, Harry,” she said hurriedly. “It doesn’t have to be like this.” With a pop she was gone.

Another sound made him turn only to see Severus standing at the door, blinking. “Severus?”

A troubled look in his eyes, Severus said, “You like boys?”

Harry almost groaned aloud. Of all the things for him to have overheard... “I... I like most people,” he said evenly, trying to direct the conversation back to proper channels. “Are you finished with dinner?”

Severus nodded. “Yes.” He glanced behind Harry to where Ginny had been standing. “She said you like boys.”

Realizing that the topic wasn’t going away, Harry sighed and nodded. “You’re right. She did say that.”

“Is it true?”

A brief pause, then: “I do like men, yes.” Harry met Severus’ eyes squarely. “Does that make you uncomfortable?”

Severus shuffled into the room. “No,” he lied.

Harry almost smiled. Severus as a boy was a terrible liar. “Hm. Well, if you’d like we can talk about it,” he offered.

Severus looked nervous and Harry’s heart sunk, hoping that things wouldn’t be strained between them now. “I thought you were going to read me the next chapter,” Severus finally said.

A glance towards the chair by the fire confirmed that the book he’d been reading to Severus every night was still there. “I am. Do you want to do that now?”

Severus nodded and they both moved toward the chair. Harry enlarged it, as he generally did, but he sat down prepared for Severus not to sit with him. He wasn’t sure if Severus would want to resume their nightly ritual given the recent revelations, but once Harry was seated, Severus crawled into the chair and settled, seemingly comfortably, onto his lap like always.

Relieved, Harry said, “I think we were on chapter twenty, no? Dumbledore fights Grindelwald for the first time?”

Severus nodded, and after a moment to collect himself, Harry began to read. The sound of his own voice and the flickering candle and firelight soothed his frazzled nerves, and when Severus’ head leaned back onto his chest, Harry relaxed even more.

He had read the story many times, and so, as he recited it, a part of his mind was trying to decide what to do about Ginny. It was clear she was planning something, and he would need to let Hermione know that her future sister-in-law would be snooping about looking for information. And perhaps it was time to tell Ron that he had a house-guest as well.

Harry continued to read aloud, and when soft snores were issuing from Severus, he closed the book and quietly lifted him up, carrying Severus to his room. Severus shifted in his arms, turning his face towards Harry’s chest, and Harry felt a tide of protectiveness flood him. Ginny’s words had stung mostly because of her suggestion that what he felt for Severus was somehow wrong or perverted.

Although he had developed tender feelings for Severus, they were platonic. Harry wanted to protect him. And save him. Which was the point of reading stories about Grindelwald, the Dark lord who had befriended everyone, then betrayed them in the end. Perhaps this would open Severus’ eyes to the possibility of not believing everything someone told him.

He laid Severus down on his bed, removing his shoes, socks and trousers. Then, tucking him in, Harry sat down on the side of the bed and watched him sleep for a minute. He looked so young and innocent.

Brushing back a lock of hair, Harry gasped when Severus’ eyes opened and met his. “I like boys, too,” he said. Then, as Harry gaped, he closed his eyes and a moment later was fast asleep.

***

“This is not good, Harry.” Hermione was frowning the way she did when a particularly vexing problem had been given her. “Ginny could make a lot of trouble for you.”

Harry nodded. He wasn’t surprised. “I know. It’s been a week, though, so until she does something I guess we have to wait. Unless there’s been some progress on finding a way to send him back to his own time.”

“I’ve been working on it, along with just about every other Unspeakable in the Department. Nothing so far.” She looked exhausted, and Harry sighed.

Then, voicing his greatest fear, he asked, “What if we can’t send him back, Hermione?”

She shook her head. “We just have to! He’s a pivotal figure in the struggle against Voldemort. Without him, you’ll be dead before the end of our first year at Hogwarts and the world will be lost.”

“Since he’s been here a while, shouldn’t things have already changed for us? I mean, we still have the same history. At least, I think we do. Although, really, how would we know?” Harry’s eyes widened as he continued considering all the implications. “I mean, if I’m dead then do I just disappear one day and no one knows I was ever alive, or--?”

“Stop.” Hermione was rubbing at her temples. “It’s too much to wrap our minds around. I think we had to have sent him back because we’re still here, we remember him being our professor in school and Voldemort is still dead. It just means that we somehow succeeded. I just wish I knew how.”

“It’s a shame future Hermione couldn’t have left you a message about how to do it,” Harry joked. “Wouldn’t that be grea... Hermione? Where are you go--?”

But she was already gone, having stood up and, with a gobsmacked look on her face, Disapparated.

Harry sighed. Apparently all his questions had upset her.

“You’re going to die?”

Harry started, turning around to see Severus standing there. He was supposed to have been outside gathering apples from the trees out back, but apparently he had returned and Harry hadn’t heard him. It was clear that Severus’ stealthy habits hadn’t only been as a result of his spying in later life.

“I hope not,” Harry joked, but Severus didn’t smile.

“You said that you'd die if you can’t send me back. Does that mean that I do something to save you?”

Harry smiled, patting the sofa next to himself. Severus walked over and sat down.

“Yes,” Harry said. “You save my life several times, Severus. You’re a very important person. In fact, if you don’t go back, a very bad man becomes the ruler of our world and a lot of people will die.”

“So I do have to go back.” Severus hung his head and Harry could see from the slump of his shoulders that the idea was not appealing. “What if I don’t do the right things? What if you die anyway?”

“You will and I won’t,” Harry murmured, wrapping an arm about Severus’ skinny shoulders. “Trust me.”

“Do I die?”

Harry’s lips compressed at the soft, hesitantly whispered question. “Not if I can help it.”

Severus still looked troubled, and Harry, realizing that the time had come to have a frank discussion, chose his next words carefully. “You’re very smart, Severus. In fact, I’d say you’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. You know all the things that I’ve been telling you over the past few weeks? Well, they’re important; I’m trying to make it a little easier for you. But in the end, you’re going to do the right thing, I know you are.”

“What if I forget what you tell me?”

Harry smiled. “Now that you know about Pensieves, as soon as you can get your hands on one, I suggest you save the memories and look at them every once in a while so you remember what I told you. It’s very important.”

“Before they send me back, won’t they make me forget with that spell you told me about?”

Blinking, Harry considered that. Would they insist in Obliviating Severus before returning him? He sighed. Of course they would. “You really are smart,” he said, nodding. “I bet they will. Which means we should have a plan.”

Severus looked up at him, eyes glittering. “Like what?” he asked, and Harry smiled, pleased to see a matching smile bloom on Severus’ face. Clearly, it was time to engage both their Slytherin natures.

***

“Harry?” Hermione was yelling as she came down the hall, and Harry’s head snapped up from the book he’d been reading. As far as he could tell from his research, there was no way to defeat a properly executed Memory Charm, and if he knew Hermione, she would insist on doing it herself to ensure it was done.

He had even tried to get Severus’ latent Occlumens ability to work, but Harry himself wasn’t that good at Occluding, so it was virtually impossible for him to teach it.

“In here!” he called. Severus was already asleep, and he was up burning the midnight oil, attempting to find a way to allow Severus to keep the crucial information he had imparted to him.

“I found it!” Hermione crowed as she walked into his study.

“Found what?”

“The way to send Severus back!”

The sinking feeling that assailed Harry was shocking in its intensity. He schooled his features. “That’s great!”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “You’re not fooling me in the least,” she said. “You’re really going to miss him, aren’t you?”

Looking away, Harry fiddled with some papers on his desk until the suspicious dampness that had sprung up in his eyes receded. “I suppose,” he finally said.

She smiled and walked around the desk to stand next to him. “It’s okay to admit that you’ve become attached to him, Harry,” she murmured, patting him on the back. “I have, too. He’s actually a sweet boy, as much as I can’t believe I’m saying that about Snape.”

Chuckling, Harry nodded. “I know what you mean. If you’d told me three months ago that I would be sad to see the last of Severus Snape, I would have called you mad.” Bracing himself, he asked, “So, what did you find?”

“Just some instructions on how to build a temporary Time-Turner,” she said, triumphantly holding up a slip of parchment.

“Where and how did you find it?” Harry asked.

Hermione flushed. “It was that comment you made about me leaving myself a message. I thought that made sense, you know? It’s something I would do, so I went and looked in all the logical places.”

“And?”

“And I found it here!” She pulled out a well-worn copy of Hogwarts, A History. “I hardly ever use it anymore, having memorized it, but I always have it handy just in case. It’s just about the most unchanging thing I own.”

“And the most likely thing you’ll always have on you,” Harry concluded.

“Exactly!” She opened it and showed him a page. “It was right here, under the ‘Suspected Attributes of the School’ section.”

“I wonder when it was placed there, though?” Harry said. “I mean, it had to have been before you got the book, so did your future self travel back in time to put it there?”

“Or my past self. I did have access to a proper Time-Turner in our third year.”

“But you’d remember that if you’d done it, right?” Harry shook his head. “This whole thing is...”

She patted his shoulder. “I know it’s confusing. Try not to think about it. However it ended up here, it somehow did, and now I know how to send him back.”

Harry nodded. It was the moment of truth, then. “When?”

“As soon as possible, I think.” A concerned look crossed her face. “Ginny’s been getting more strident, wanting to know about the child you’re ‘fostering’. Like who he is and why he’s with you. She seems to be blaming him for your lack of attention towards her.”

“But that makes no sense! Severus didn’t arrive until after we broke up.” Harry rolled his eyes exasperatedly.

“I know, but she’s not being logical. In her mind it’s all connected. Anyway, better we take care of this as soon as possible.”

“Have they managed to send anyone else safely back yet?” Harry asked. “Maybe it needs to be tested.”

“Er, it has been,” Hermione said, looking away. “That’s where I’ve been the last day or so.”

Harry paused. “What’s wrong?” he asked, taking in her troubled expression.

“Well, I told you about Riddle, yes?” At Harry’s nod she continued. “Well, we decided to send him back first before using it on anyone else.”

“But that’s dangerous! What if something had happened? It would have messed up the past...”

Hermione held up a hand. “I’m aware and believe me I told them all my misgivings, but they went ahead with it anyway. Even though it was my idea they used, I wasn’t allowed to participate, only watch. Anyway, it didn’t go as smoothly as they hoped.” She licked her lips. “There was a glitch and as near as we can tell he was stuck, or something, in between times.”

“Wow. Um, so what happened?”

“So we brought him back again but he was... different. Before he seemed like a nice young man. I told you how we were all having difficulty because he seemed so normal? Well, when he came back from being... Stuck, he was anything but normal.”

“Merlin. What did they do?”

Hermione looked sick. “Since the decision had already been made to send him back, we tried again, even though he was so clearly wrong.”

“And the second time it worked.”

She nodded, miserable. “Gods, Harry, I think we’re the ones who made Voldemort insane!”

“Shite.”

Wiping her face tiredly, Hermione continued, “Yes, exactly. So, anyway, we did the best we could. We performed a Memory Charm on him so he wouldn’t remember anything about the future to be able to use in the past, and we sent him back.”

“Are you sure it’s safe to use on Severus?”

“I...” Hermione seemed to be bracing herself for an argument. “I don’t know that it’s safe, I want to test it some more first.”

“On what?”

“Objects. I think I can fix the glitch.”

Harry nodded. If anyone could it was her. “Then what? Do we take him in to the Ministry?”

“That won’t be necessary.” She held up a tiny glowing orb. “I took one of the units while they were distracted.” She blushed as Harry stared.

“Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?”

She winked. “We definitely can’t take Severus in there,” she insisted. “If we did, they would insist on Obliviating him, and you don’t want that, do you?” She looked at him pointedly.

His mouth falling open, Harry shook his head. “How...?

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Oh please,” she said. “You’ve been dying to try to save him from the moment he showed up. But it’s okay, because I want to save him, too. He deserves it. It’s worth a shot.”

Harry pulled her into a tight hug. “Gods, thank you, Hermione! I wasn’t sure what we could do to prevent a Memory Charm from working and I figured they would try to do that.”

“Ow! Too tight,” she gasped. When he let her go so she could breathe a bit, she said, “The only problem will be that he’ll have to act as if nothing happened when he goes back.”

“He can do it.” Harry told her about all the instructions he had been giving Severus and about his training in saving memories in Pensieves. “Once he gets one, he’ll be set. He can re-examine the relevant memories at his leisure.”

“That’s smart, Harry. I think this may actually work!”

“It better work,” he said grimly. “I am determined to save one person I care about.”

“I understand. Now we just have to buy ourselves some time.”

“While you test the orb?”

“That, and the fact that I took it without authorization.”

“Hermione...”

“It’s okay. I Obliviated them as I left, but someone will figure it out eventually, so we really should go.”

“But... this is your job we’re talking about! You love this job.”

She nodded grimly. “It is and I do, and I could lose more than my job if they find out about this, but, Harry, this is the fate of the world in my hands. If I have to not be an Unspeakable anymore or even if they Obliviate me or worse, then that’s worth it.”

“And they called me the hero?” he murmured, shaking his head.

She blushed. “You didn’t see the Riddle we returned, Harry.” As she continue to speak, Hermione’s face paled. “I’m going to have nightmares about that. We have got to send Severus back armed to fight him as best he can, and with the knowledge to survive. It’s the least we can do.”

“Harry?”

They both turned towards the doorway where a sleepy Severus was rubbing at his eyes. Stooping down to the floor, Harry held out his arms and Severus walked straight into them, twining his arms around Harry’s neck. “Severus? We have to go now. Do you think you can wake up enough to get ready in a few minutes?”

Severus nodded and tightened his hold on Harry, and it was all Harry could do not to kiss his cheek. Lifting him up, Harry carried him back to his room. “I’ll help you get ready,” he murmured.

Hermione sighed as she watched them go.

***

“And I thought I was done with camping forever,” Hermione muttered.

Harry grinned. “But you’re so good at it,” he teased. They had been ‘camping’ for two days, and as far as he could tell no one had noticed that he and Hermione were gone. Hermione’d had the foresight to tell Ron she would be away, and had officially taken time off from the Ministry, and Harry was still off studying.

They had Apparated to Hogsmeade in the middle of the night and had walked the short distance to the Shrieking Shack. For some reason Hermione was convinced that they should stay in the vicinity of Hogwarts, and the Shack seemed a logical place to stay. Harry hadn’t had any objections as they were both very familiar with the environs.

It had taken only a little bit of magic to make the place habitable, and the occasional person who saw them in Hogsmeade during the day didn’t seem surprised or particularly curious. They kept to themselves most of the time while Hermione tried to figure out the safest way to return Severus to his own time.

Luckily, Hermione had prepared for the journey, bringing along her bottomless bag filled with books and food and various and sundry supplies, and she spent most days poring over notes and casting very careful spells at the orb, altogether ignoring Harry and Severus.

After the first day Harry and Severus began taking trips outside of the Shack, initially sticking to the village until Severus asked to see Hogwarts, then they spent a lot of time looking at the school.

As it was the winter holidays, no one was there, allowing Harry to take Severus inside the wards and into the grounds. The very first time Severus saw the castle he was entranced, and they spent every subsequent lunch there, eating, sitting and talking, Harry remembering more and more things to tell Severus for his journey back to the past.

“You didn’t like me as a teacher,” Severus said, his sharp, observant eyes taking in Harry’s flush.

“You didn’t want me to like you as a teacher,” he finally replied. “It was a part of how you saved me. If the bad wizard had known that you were on my side he would have ki-- hurt you.”

“So I was acting?”

Harry smiled. “Yes, I think you were. And you’re a very good actor.”

Severus nodded. His confidence, which had been quite low when he’d first arrived from the past, appeared to have soared recently, due mostly to Harry’s insistence that he was good at so many things.

“So I have to pretend that I don’t like you,” Severus said. “I hope I remember.”

“I know you will,” Harry reassured him, slinging an arm about his shoulders and pulling him close. “Once you make your mind up to do something, it’s done.”

By then they had been there four days, and while Harry knew their time was short, he wasn’t prepared for it when, upon their return to the Shack that night, Hermione greeted them with the words, “I’ve got it!”

“Got what?” Harry asked, ushering Severus inside and out of the cold. “We’ve got dinner. We walked by the Hogs Head and the stew smelt divine--”

“The way to send Severus back. I know why it was unsuccessful back at the Ministry.”

Harry could feel Severus shrink close to him. “Why didn’t it work before?” he asked, placing a steadying hand on Severus’ shoulder.

“It’s so obvious I’m amazed no one caught it,” Hermione babbled, and as she launched into a complex explanation of the manipulation of the space/time continuum as it was impacted by magic, Harry led Severus over to a chair so he could sit down. He could feel the boy trembling, and without thought, he himself sat, pulling Severus onto his lap where Severus finally settled with a sigh.

“...and all this means nothing to you does it?” Hermione said, winding down.

Harry shrugged. “Severus probably understood some of it,” he said. “But me? Not so much.”

She smiled. “Fortunately, you don’t have to understand it for it to work. All I have to do is set the spells and then Severus will be transferred back to his proper time. He should reappear at the exact time he left so no one will be the wiser.”

“Except me,” Severus said softly.

“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “Except you. But you can’t tell anyone. You know that, yes?”

He nodded.

“It will be difficult, but we know you can do it.” Harry hugged Severus reassuringly. “I say we eat dinner first.”

Hermione agreed, and as they set the table she asked about what they had been doing while she’d been occupied. “Are you sure no one recognized you, Harry?” she asked. “We’re supposed to be doing this discreetly. Just because we’re not technically on the run doesn’t mean no one’s looking for us.”

“You mean Ginny?”

She nodded as she swallowed a piece of bread. “Mm. She had been getting pretty insistent before we left. I told Ron to let her know I would be away until just before Christmas, but I don’t put it past her to be searching for me in the hope she’ll locate you.”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t think she’ll find us here. Why would it occur to anyone that we’d be in Scotland, especially in December when most people are preparing for holidays?”

“All I’m saying is that she’s obsessed, Harry. I wouldn’t put anything past her at this point.”

Sighing, Harry silently acknowledged her concern. He would eventually have to deal with the Ginny problem. Hermione was right.

***

When their dinner was done, Hermione turned to face Severus. “Do you think you’re ready to go now?” she asked. “We can wait a few minutes if you’d rather--”

Severus looked resolute, the determined expression endearing on his young face. “Can I say something to Harry first?”

She nodded and stepped away to give them some privacy, staring out the window as they murmured behind her. Reflected in the glass she could see them behind her, and she watched as Severus whispered something to Harry that made his face crumple.

Harry pulled Severus close, hugging him tightly as he rocked the boy back and forth, and Severus clung, eyes closed, a single tear balanced on his eyelash.

She swallowed hard and blinking furiously, looked away and out into the darkening woods in an attempt to regain her composure. Clearing her throat after a few minutes, she turned around and said, “All set?”

Severus was still clutching Harry’s hand, but he nodded and, releasing Harry’s hand reluctantly, he stepped forward accepting the orb she held out to him. Taking it, he looked into its glowing centre, then looked back up at her.

“Just hold it and I’ll say the spell,” she instructed, backing up slightly as she pulled out her wand.

“Aurors! Open up!” came a booming voice from just outside the door and Hermione jumped.

“Bloody hell,” Harry cursed, running to the window to look. “Shite!”

Hermione came up behind him to look over his shoulder. “Merlin, they’re certainly out in force,” she said. “Let me send Severus back and then we can deal with them. Once he’s gone--”

“Cease and desist all magic at once!” the voice interrupted, and Hermione groaned. “They may have a dampening field up,” she said. “Between the two of us we can probably overcome it, though.”

Harry nodded. “We have to. We can’t let them stop us. I just wonder how they found us?”

“Harry!” a high pitched voice called out and Harry groaned.

“Ginny?”

“Oh for--” Hermione compressed her lips. “Quick, Severus, stand there and we’ll send you home, then we can deal with Ginny.”

Obediently, Severus held up the orb and Hermione pointed her wand at him. Estitue omnis res in tempora atque locos de originem,* she intoned, and then the whole place erupted.

The door burst down and three crimson-robed Aurors screamed Stupefy!

Severus, who had been enveloped in the bright light of the orb, was fading from sight even as the first Auror tried to reverse the spell by casting Finite Incantatem.

“Stop him!” Ginny cried, running in front of them and pointing at Severus.

“Miss Weasley, we told you to stay behind while we checked things out,” a tall Auror said, trying to push her behind him. “This is no place for you, especially if, as you told us, Harry Potter is being held against his will by these people.”

“Wait, this is Potter here,” someone said, leaning over and peering at his face. “Finite Incantatem.”

“What is this all about?” Harry roared, sitting up. “Cavendish? Watson? What are you doing here?”

Ginny was glaring at him. “Well you disappeared with him,” she said, pointing towards Severus.

“And this is Unspeakable Granger,” someone said, freeing Hermione from her Stunning Spell.

“Smythe! Good to see you. It’s apparent that Miss Weasley led you on a wild goose chase,” Hermione said coolly, pointing at Ginny. “No one here is being held against their will.”

“Will someone please stop him?” Ginny screamed, pointing again at Severus.

“This is a Ministry sanctioned activity,” Hermione said, her best game face on. She glared at Ginny. “Miss Weasley is interfering in the conducting of the affairs of the Department of Mysteries.”

“Miss Weasley, if you’ll come with us,” Smythe, said.

“No!” And with that, Ginny pulled out her wand and screamed, “Sectumsempra!”

Everyone watched in horror as Severus flinched, and blood spattered the floor. Ginny was down when five wands pointed at her simultaneously, their owners all yelling, “Stupefy!

“Severus!” Harry cried, reaching for him, but just then the light surrounding Severus flared and they all had to shield their eyes. Cavendish pushed them all out of the Shack, and Smythe grabbed Ginny’s body, following close behind.

“No, I have to save--”

Harry’s words were cut off by an explosion that rocked the walls of the Shack as well as the ground under their feet. They all hit the dirt of the forest, and the next time anyone could look at the Shack it was burning, the flames rising high into the sky.

“Oh God,” Harry moaned.

Hermione bit her lips and, leaning over, gathered Harry to her, holding him as sobs wracked his frame.

“We’ll take Miss Weasley back,” Watson offered hesitantly.

Harry stared at him. “I want to talk to her,” he said after a moment. Batting away Hermione’s hand, he stood up and walked over to where she was lying, still under the influence of the Stunning Spell.

When she was free, he simply asked, “Why?”

“He came between us,” Ginny said, reaching a hand up towards Harry pleadingly. “Don’t you see? Now we can be together.”

Harry shook his head, the pity plain on his face. “Take her away,” he said. He moved towards the Shack, but Cavendish stepped in front of him.

“You can’t go in there,” he said. “It’s still too dangerous. We’ll go in and check on things when it’s safe, all right?”

“I don’t think so--”

“Harry.” Hermione placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let them do their job. We’re not really objective right now.”

“But--” He swallowed convulsively. “All right. But we’re staying here with you.”

“Of course,” Cavendish said.

Which was how, once the Aurors had done the cleanup, Harry and Hermione had ended up searching the Shack for any signs of Severus.

“He’s gone, Harry,” Hermione’s said sympathetically. “I know you hoped...”

Harry ignored her, opting to continue his search.

“I’m sorry, but he’s really gone. We saw him go!”

“What do you mean? You think he’s dead, don’t you?” Harry faced her, an accusing look on his face.

“I don’t know... Yes.”

“Then where’s his body?” Harry asked, continuing his thorough search of the Shack.

“I bet the Aurors took it.”

“We saw them leave, and he wasn’t with them.”

“They could have Portkeyed him to the Ministry or something. Harry, please...”

“What? Give up?”

“It’s too late,” Hermione murmured. “I’m sorry. He’s gone for good, and while I know you wanted to rescue him, maybe this is how it was meant to be. Some people aren’t meant to be saved.”

“I should have been able to save him, though,” Harry said. “This was my second chance, I should have been able to...”

Suddenly, Harry blinked. What was that out the window? He leaned forward, gasping when he saw a familiar glowing shape. He was immediately transported back a few weeks to when he and Severus had talked about the Unforgivables. And now Severus’ Patronus form made sense. “I knew it,” he breathed. Pushing past Hermione, he ran out the door. “Severus!”

Chasing the moving glow proved to be easy, but catching it was a harder prospect Harry discovered. The doe seemed to be playing with him, at times allowing him to get close enough to almost touch her and at other times flitting daintily ahead, easily eluding him.

When she finally led him to a clearing, Harry was ready to rest, panting with exertion. He stumbled after her, skidding to a stop when he saw her simply standing there, gazing at him. “Well hello,” he murmured. “And who sent you, then?”

“You know who sent her, Harry,” a rich voice that he hadn’t believed he’d ever hear again said. He spun almost disbelievingly to see the tall figure standing there. “I’ve been watching you these past few weeks, knowing that the time was near for me to come to you as a child. I remembered that this was the night I returned, and so I sent her at the time I knew you’d be still at the Shack.”

“Severus!” Harry stepped forward, then paused, his more recent knowledge of Severus the boy warring with his more remote memories of the man.

Severus smiled, and Harry’s breath caught to see such a genuine expression on the face of man he’d believed hated him up until very recently. “Yes, Harry. As you can see, I survived Nagini’s murderous attack, in no small part because of your instructions and advice to a small boy.”

“So all this time you knew and kept it to yourself?” Harry asked.

Severus looked away and Harry recognized the expression as one Severus used to have as a boy. The comparison was a bit surreal.

“I didn’t know who you were immediately,” Severus admitted after a long moment. “I only knew you as Harry, you see. We never discussed your last name, but your eyes... Well, suffice to say I recognized you soon after your Sorting, accompanied as you were by Hermione Granger, whose full name I was in possession of, and I decided I had to be somewhat antagonistic. That was what you remembered, after all.”

“So you knew all I’d told you was true.”

A small smile curved Severus mouth. “I knew that when I was ten, Harry. Even without being a Legilimens, I was aware of your... sincerity.”

"Then why..." Harry took a deep breath and asked the question he'd wondered for years. "Why did you become a Death Eater in the first place? I'd hoped my warning would somehow save you that."

"Indeed. Well, the easy answer is that some thing are simply meant to be," Severus replied, eyes distant. "But that would be too easy. The truth? While it has only been a few hours since you last saw me, it has been decades since I first received your advice. It was good advice, but I was very young, and I retuned to what felt like a hopeless situation, to abuse and pain. Riddle offered power and respect, and when you're a teenager being routinely persecuted, the words of an adult from years before seem very far away. Plus, the Dark Arts truly do fascinate me."

"I'm sorry I couldn't fix everything," Harry said.

Severus shrugged. "At my darkest times I could still view the memories, and they did help me through some trying times, so they helped. And I knew enough to never let anyone else see them."

“I’m glad.” Harry was looking Severus over, searching for scars or wounds. “How did you--”

“Manage to stay hidden all this time?” At Harry’s nod, Severus began to pace. “I took Nagini’s anti-venom for months before the attack, gradually becoming acclimatized to it, and I was sure to carry a bezoar on me everywhere I went. Once you left me for dead, I slipped the bezoar in my mouth and activated the Portkey I had been saving for the occasion.”

Harry smiled. “Clever.”

“It took a few weeks, and I was ill for a time despite my preparations, but in the end I survived.”

“I’m glad,” Harry whispered.

Severus flicked a sharp glance his way. “Are things with Miss Weasley finally at an end?”

“I should think so. She just about tried to kill you in the end, you know. Apparently she was jealous of our relationship.” Harry shook his head.

“Perhaps rightly so,” was the unexpected response.

“What?” Harry’s head popped up and he stared at Severus. “What do you mean?”

“It, ah... it turns out her suspicions were correct,” Severus murmured, uncharacteristically hesitant. His eyes were glittering, however. “I had quite the crush, in fact.”

“You did? I never knew.” Harry blushed. “So at the end you said I was like the father you never had...?”

“Mm, I meant that, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find you attractive.”

“Oh.”

Severus turned away. “I do not expect anything from you, Harry. Just because we both like men is no reason to expect that we should form a relationship as adults--”

“Maybe not,” Harry said, stepping close and laying a hand on Severus’ arm. “But it doesn’t hurt.”

Harry could never have said later who initiated the kiss, he remembered it years later as both of them closing the distance and meeting in the middle, and Severus, when asked, swore it was all Harry, but both agreed it was memorable.

Severus’ lips were oddly soft, making Harry sigh, and then there was moisture and heat and Severus was groaning in the back of his throat, the low, growling sounds making Harry step closer to the source of sudden pleasure. Then, that luscious mouth, the mouth that Harry had dreamed about, only he hadn’t known it was Severus’ mouth he’d been seeing and feeling in his mind, covered his, and Harry succumbed completely to sensation.

When Severus pulled back Harry tried to follow.

“Harry.”

“Mm?”

“We are out in the open in the forest,” Severus reminded him. “And it’s dark and cold. Perhaps we should take this reunion elsewhere.”

“Always practical,” Harry said. “Where do you suggest?”

“I am somewhat familiar with a cottage within Apparating distance,” Severus murmured.

Harry smiled. “Could that be my place?” he asked, tucking Severus’ arm in his.

Severus' gaze heated. “Or mine,” he said, and the promise in that smile made Harry’s toes curl.

“Mm, I think it’s time you got the entire tour of my home, don’t you?” he said. “I don’t believe you ever did see my room.”

“I never had any reason to.”

Harry met Severus' eyes squarely. “You do now,” he whispered.

Severus nodded slowly. “Very well. Lead on.”

Once they were gone, and their Disapparition crack was a mere memory, the forest reverted to its previous silence, and the glow of the doe that had been watching and waiting all this time to deliver its precious message faded.

***

*Place all these things back in their proper time and place.