Chapter 1: First Contact (A Bastard is Still a Bastard Even When He's a Martyr)
It was an unbearably bright Sunday morning, the sun was shining, unashamed at itself, and the birds were singing several shrill, obnoxious melodies. The day after Seamus bloody Finnigan's birthday party. Harry sat at the kitchen table, staring blearily at his untouched breakfast. He was nursing his steaming cup of tea and an unbearable hangover, when Mintybird, the family owl, dropped the life-altering Daily Prophet in his porridge. It made a comical splat sound. Unfortunately, Harry was not in the mood for any sort of sound, comical or not.
"Shi-- Minty, could you jus'not?" he growled at the owl. She blinked at him innocently.
Ginny groaned from where she slouched with her forehead resting on the tabletop and her hair spread all around her, including in her scrambled eggs.
"Not s'loud." she moaned roughly, "Head feels like s'eating itself."
Harry grunted in agreement and took a long glug of his tea. It helped, a little. He glanced at the Prophet, but since he wasn't wearing his glasses, couldn't read the massive glaring headline (and accompanying glaring photo) that would have been of the utmost interest to him, even considering the state he was in.
Mintybird crooned and ruffled her feathers irritably, jostling the porridge deliberately. The bowl rocked against the table, making yet more noise, causing Harry and Ginny to moan at the mutual throbbing of their heads.
Ginny blindly chucked a rasher at her, but even that wasn't enough to make the owl shut up, determined as she was to let them know of the significance of the newspaper in front of them. She was rather a clever owl, after all, though she didn't understand what hangovers were and how they affected the moods of the people afflicted by them.
She waddled in her owlish way over to Harry and nipped at his nose. He pushed her away, so she waddled over to Ginny and nuzzled her hair.
"Piss off, Minty. Fuss later." Ginny mumbled.
Mintybird clacked her beak and flew out of the window in a flurry of angry feathers.
"You've offended her now." Harry grumbled.
Ginny snorted, "Don't have the energy to care... Why'd we do this?" she asked, lifting her head.
"Because Seamus asked us to. And we are weak."
"Free bar too."
"Oh, Merlin, don't talk about the bar."
All of a sudden, there came a familiar whoosh from the sitting room.
"Harry! Gin! Have you seen this?!"
With a simultaneous groan, Harry and Ginny raised their voices as much as they could possibly bear (which wasn't that much).
"We're in here." Harry called, as Ginny slurred, "Bugger off, Ron."
Ron bounded into the kitchen, brandishing a rolled-up copy of the Prophet.
"You two look awful." he commented upon seeing them so pitiful.
Harry repeated Ginny's previous sentiment.
"How are you so... alive?" Ginny asked her brother.
Ron grinned, "I have a genius for a wife."
Harry rolled his eyes. Well, he tried to, but it hurt, so he just ended up whimpering.
Ron took pity and extracted the hangover remedies Hermione had supplied him with.
After two minutes of excruciating pain and intense nausea, Harry felt normal again.
"She is a genius.” Harry agreed emphatically.
Without any further ado, Ron slapped the clean copy of the Prophet down in the middle of the table.
Harry, still unable to see, waved his hand in the general direction of the bedroom to summon his glasses, shoved them unceremoniously on his face and looked at the newspaper.
Holy Merlin's balls.
On the front page was a huge, recent picture of scowling Severus sodding Snape.
A HERO RETURNS proclaimed the headline.
Twenty-two years ago, venerated war hero Severus Snape paid the ultimate price to ensure victory at Hogwarts over Lord Voldemort....
Or so we were lead to believe.
Severus Snape's death has always been shrouded in mystery. The Shrieking Shack, where Harry Potter and Hermione Granger reported to witness Snape's demise, was set ablaze during the Battle of Hogwarts, and his body never recovered. Nonetheless, The Boy Who Lived insisted that the Potion's Master's survival was impossible. Equally mysterious is the portrait of Headmaster Snape in Headmistress Minerva McGonagall's office at Hogwarts; many students and teachers can attest to its presence, though none have ever heard it speak. "Aye, well, he always was a grumpy b******. Never the talkative type." Headmistress McGonagall told us, the sheen of unshed tears in her eyes.
For more on the Return of Severus Snape, turn to page 5, and for an exclusive interview with Gerulda Krampp, the witch who claims she fell in love with his ghost, turn to page 7.
Harry stared, gobsmacked, at the article.
With little reservation, and a slight bending of the rules, Harry traced Snape's new address. He was living in North-East England, on the outskirts of the greyish, industrial town of Scunthorpe. When Harry arrived outside his house the wind was blisteringly cold and the sky dark with clouds. Snape's small, semi-detached house was a run-down mess, the front garden a meagre, barren yard of stone mottled with weeds stretching back to the bare brick walls. The view through front window was obscured by a thick mesh curtain, but Harry could see the tell-tale light from within, belying a presence inside.
After standing in the street, staring at the battered red door for a long few minutes, Harry decided that it was probably best to knock... Instead of hoping Snape would just realise Harry was standing on his doorstep and invite him in for tea. Fat chance of that happening.
He took a deep breath to calm himself. He was prepared for this. It was just Snape. He was almost forty. A grown-up. With a job. A wife. Kids. He was not a child. He was not a student. Snape could not take Points. Maybe being dead for twenty-odd years had made him a nicer?
Harry sighed and chided himself harshly. He was a bloody Gryffindor. Pushing his way through the creaking metal gate, Harry trod careful over any weeds he encountered on the way up the footpath - just in the unlikely case that they were important - until he stood square to the offending door. He knocked three times and it swung open almost immediately to reveal the tall, imperious figure of Severus Snape.
"What do you want?" Snape snarled, rude and imposing as ever, towering over him.
Harry gaped up the man. It was actually him. It was actually him. Harry bit back the inane 'You're alive!' that burned on the tip of his tongue and said, "Look, I just wanted to say I'm sorry--"
"Apology accepted. Now piss off." Snape moved to slam the door.
"No wait!" Harry flailed and stuck his foot in the way because he was desperate, and also stupid.
"OW, FUCK! You bastard!"
"Get your bloody foot out of my doorway or I'll cut it of!"
"I think it's broken!" Harry cried, pulling his wounded limb back, hopping and clutching at it dramatically.
"It is not broken. Piss off!" Snape grabbed the door and motioned to slam it once again.
"No please!" Harry protested, forgetting his throbbing foot momentarily. He placed a firm hand against the door to keep it open and gazed imploring up at the unreasonably tall bastard, "I need to talk to you. Don't you even want to know what I'm sorry for?"
At that Snape stopped trying to shove him out, leaned against the door jamb and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyebrow raised dangerously.
"I can but guess." He hissed, "Are you sorry because you left me for dead? Or that atrocious eulogy you gave? That monstrous monument built in my honour? The Second Class Order of Merlin I was awarded? Do you perhaps regret that repulsive unauthorised biography?! Or cursing your son with my name?! Or for turning MY HOME INTO A MAUSOLEUM?!" With every word, his voice rose, and more spittle flew into Harry's face.
Harry wiped the droplets of moisture from his forehead and sighed. Snape was impossible. He firmly reminded himself that Snape was a hero, and that he deserved respect, even if he was a nasty git. He told himself, even more firmly, that the Snape standing before him was still the Snape he visited in his memories -- Sev, the frightened little boy, Lily Evans' best friend, the heartbroken misfit teenager who loved Harry's mum more than life itself.
"Yes, all of that." he said, "And a couple of other things. Let me in, please, so I can at least explain?"
Snape narrowed his eyes, and glared at Harry for what felt like hours. His instinct for recognition must have won in the battle against his love of punishing Potters, because he turned abruptly and stalked into the house. It was about as close to permission as Harry would get, so he followed, limping a little, and closed the door softly behind him.
The house was dingy and felt weirdly Muggle. The short entrance hall took him into a small and meticulously tidy dining room that somehow still managed to be dank, despite the big window and pristine furniture. Snape sat stiffly with his arms and legs crossed, in the only chair at the table.
"Don't just dawdle there. Let's get this over with." he barked.
Harry jumped, but only a little, really. "Yeah, ok. Do you mind if I conjure myself a chair?"
"You've not bothered to ask my permission in the past, why start now?"
Harry huffed and made a quick wandless clone of Snape's. He sat down, trying to ignore the fiery waves of rage rolling off the man opposite him, and wrung his hands over the table, glancing around at the room.
"Nice place, this. Cosy--"
He stopped at the impatient growl.
"Okay, first of all, I didn't leave you for dead. Not on purpose anyway. We thought you were dead. Your bloody lights went out! You gave me those memories, then you told me to--"
"--Potter!" Snape snapped, "I know very well what happened. You might recall that I was there. Get on with--"
"--My point is," Harry cut in sharply, "That I thought you were dead. You acted like a dying man, and you looked very very dead. And, as you might recall, I had a pretty important thing to do."
Snape rolled his eyes dramatically, "Yes, yes, you saved the world. A heart-felt round of applause for you. Do you want me to award points?"
"Secondly," Harry bit out, gritting his teeth against the long-estranged, but familiar anger that Snape evoked in him, "that 'atrocious eulogy' was just honest. You did a lot. You were really brave." he added reluctantly.
"Sentimental twaddle." Snape muttered darkly.
"I didn't say anything in that eulogy that I wouldn't have said to you, if I'd had the chance!" Harry shouted, ordering himself to calm down. He scrubbed a hand over his face, "Right, what next? Oh, right, the monument. That wasn't actually my idea, by the way, if you want to blame anyone for that, blame McGonagall, she petitioned to have it built... I think she felt guilty for misunderstanding you."
Snape's lip curled distastefully, "She was meant to misunderstand me, that was the whole point." he sneered, tightening his fingers on his biceps. He grimaced sourly, "That doesn't explain why it is so... grotesque."
Harry snorted. The monument in the Hogwarts grounds really was awful. It was tall, black and bulbous; made by an artist who wore a beret and used phrases like 'evocative impressionist minimalism' and 'slow-moving architectural denseness'.
Harry thought it looked like a giant black dildo. He said as much to Hermione, who punched him hard on the arm and called him a philistine.
"If it makes you feel better, Dumbledore's is worse."
He thought he saw Snape's mouth give an amused twitch ever so slightly, before being contorted into a deeper scowl, "It does not."
Exasperated, Harry continued, "As for the Second Class Order of Merlin, that's not really my fault either. We tried really hard to convince the Ministry to give you a First, but they kept giving the excuse about public opinion and blahblahblah you let some Death Eaters torture students..."
Snape frowned, but before he could retort, Harry put his hand up, "I know you didn't have a choice. And I know you stopped the Carrows whenever you could. Everyone knows that now." He took a breath, "Which brings me onto the biography. Obviously, we didn't know you were still alive enough to be pissed off about it at the time, but I am sorry about that. We did it so that we might be able to change the Order of Merlin. It worked quite well actually -- though the Ministry never did change its mind about the whole mess -- public opinion of you went way up! People love you because of that 'repulsive biography'."
"I never wanted people to love me." Snape spat.
Feeling an uncomfortable wave of sadness and sympathy, Harry softened. "I know." he said quietly, "But look, this really helps you now. I mean, people were all over you when they thought you were dead, think of what they'll be like now! You have admirers, groupies!" Snape looked like he was gagging. Harry grinned, "You'll be able to have, y'know, friends."
Snape's face remained carefully blank. For what felt like a long time, Harry just looked at him.
Snape was well into his fifties, but he didn't look all that much different from when Harry last saw him-- apart from, well, the gaping neck wound - now merely the slight shine of a jagged scar under his chin. He was still pale and too thin and intimidatingly tall, his eyes were still dark and piercing. His hair fell in a dark curtain over his face, though a little longer, still blacker than it had any right to be. Maybe grease stopped hair from going grey?
"And what of cursing your son with my name?"
Harry blinked at the sudden soft rumble coming from Snape. He felt his cheeks flush slightly.
"Oh, yeah. Um, well I'm not really sure how to explain this one. And I'm not particularly sorry about it." he smiled sardonically at Snape, who was staring blankly at the table top. "Well, Ginny and I both agreed on Albus, and I sort of suggested Severus--"
Snape gave a slight jolt at the sound of his own name. It must have been a very long time since he'd heard someone speak it.
"--Ginny didn't like it I don't think," he continued, "but I kind of insisted. You were so brave, and..." Harry coughed around the sudden lump in his throat, "and your death was so needless. Your life was, well, horrible. And I... I don't know, I suppose I wanted to give you another chance-- god that sounds so stupid, but it made sense to me-- another chance to have a, a happy childhood, to have friends, to be loved, unconditio--"
"Stop." Snape snapped, "Stop it."
Harry bit his lip, "Sorry."
Snape closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
"And the mausoleum?"
How had Snape managed to find out about that? With a guilty twinge in his stomach, Harry let out a frustrated groan, "Look, does it really matter? The whole point of this is that I'm really sorry. I, we, all of us did you a massive disservice when you were alive and an even massiver one when you were dead... But now you're alive again! So we, I, can make it up to you." He finished with his widest, most charming smile -- the one he used at press conferences -- and hoped desperately Snape was convinced.
"Massiver isn't a word." Snape said after a moment of looking thoughtful.
Harry let out a strangled laugh. They sat in a dense silence for a few moments.
Snape sighed suddenly, uncrossed his arms and stood up, "You have more to say, don't you?" he asked.
Harry gave him a lopsided, sheepish smile, "Yeah, quite a bit actually... There's, well, there's a lot of," he gesticulated between them, "stuff. Stuff here. That I want to resolve, I suppose... Um, if you want to, that is."
Arching a thin eyebrow Snape remarked, "Articulate as you ever were." and stood up. "If you insist we continue this discussion I would prefer it to be at my behest."
Harry jumped enthusiastically out of his seat, "Brilliant! Where's that?" He asked cheerily.
Snape gave him a searching, disdainful look that said very clearly 'Surely not even you are this stupid'. Harry grinned at him widely.
"You may return here Friday next, at six in the evening."
"Brilliant!" Harry repeated earnestly, "That's great. Brilliant."
Snape scowled and jerked his head in the direction of the door, signalling for Harry to leave. Harry smiled as he was led out. He turned to face Snape as he was ushered out the front door.
"Thank yo--" BANG! Snape slammed the door in his face. Rude bastard, Harry thought, and Apparated home with a warm fluttery feeling in his stomach.
Chapter 2: Choose Your Words Wisely (When in Doubt, Offer Cake, That Usually Helps)
With the kids off at Hogwarts, and Ginny giving him the silent treatment for some reason Harry wasn't privy to, the days passed at a snails pace.
Usually to fend away his boredom, Harry would spend hours at Spinner's End, where he kept all of the memories that weren't really his. He'd sit in Snape's old living room, reading books, revisiting the Pensieve and re-reading letters he'd found between Snape and his mum, between his mum and dad, between his dad and Sirius and Sirius and Remus. The family he could have had were in those pages and Harry found it difficult to tear himself away, even after so long, even after building his own beautiful family with Ginny and the kids.
But since learning of Snape's return, Harry had felt too... weird, to go back there. He felt guilty about it, ashamed of his obsession - and he knew all too well that it was an obsession. Ginny had told him so countless times, at first in jest, then, as the years flew by she began to say it pleadingly, then angrily, until finally she stopped mentioning it altogether.
So, unable to see his children, reluctant to make amends with his angry wife and too guilty to feed his addiction, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione. They met at Harry's local pub, The Sneaky Toad in Godric's Hollow. The food was good and the drinks were cheap. It was a nice place to have a pint, even if it was a bit grimy.
"He actually talked to you? No cursing or throwing things?" Ron looked as bewildered as Harry felt.
"Yeah. It was really surreal. We sat in his dining room and drank tea. Well, he drank tea, I sort of just... twiddled my thumbs."
Hermione was rapt, "What was he like? Was he awful? Is he still a venomous, egotistical git?" Harry raised his eyebrows at her, it was rare for Hermione to be quite so cutting. She shrugged.
"I don't know, actually." he admitted, "I got pissed off with him a couple of times, but I think that's bound to happen... we're both pretty stubborn."
"And irritable." Ron added.
"And pig-headed." Hermione interjected.
Ron laughed at Harry's betrayed cry, "Sorry, mate, but it's true."
Harry sulked, "It's not." he protested, "Anyway, Snape's more stubborn, irritable and pig-headed than I am."
They nattered on about Snape for a while longer, exchanging less-than-pleasant memories of him from school and ideas on where he'd been since he died.
"I reckon he was in disguise this whole time, y'know. Greasing his way around Diagon Alley. Oh! I bet he was that mean old cow who used to come into the shop and demand we stop making noise." Ron speculated.
Hermione rolled her eyes and offered a more rational approach, "He probably left the country, lived in solitude. I can imagine him going to live in a little village in the middle of nowhere, glaring at people through the window."
"I bet he went to live in a vampire commune!"
"Don't be ridiculous. If he went to live with any dark creatures, it'd be centaurs. Vampires are too sensitive. Centaurs are sarcastic and vicious just like him."
"To be honest, I can't imagine anyone putting up with him for this long, dark or not. What if he actually was dead this whole time?!"
"That makes no sense."
"Ah! What if he's an unregistered animagus?! Maybe he's been living in animal form this whole time!"
"Oh, yes! A bat!"
"Actually, I reckon he'd be something really unexpected. Like a rabbit."
"Or something wonderfully ironic, like a mole!"
As their laughter died down, Harry began to frown. It was all well and good tossing around ideas about where Snape had been and what he'd been doing but...
"None of these ideas explain why he's suddenly come back." Hermione hummed thoughtfully.
Ron shrugged, "Maybe he wanted some time in the limelight."
"Maybe..." Harry wasn't convinced. Snape was far too private and anti-social for that.
Their conversation eventually turned away from Snape, and turned to more normal, real-life things. Ron gushed excitedly about Rose being made Keeper for the Gryffindor team, and Hermione beamed with pride as she explained how Hugo had begun a petition to change the Care of Magical Creatures curriculum to include discussions about the ethical treatment of all Magical Creatures.
Harry recounted gleefully the tale Albus had told him about the prank he and Scorpius pulled wherein they used a complex mix of Potions ingredients and enchantments to dye the water red for every Gryffindor who used any of the taps or showers in the school. He expressed how relieved he was that little Lily had managed to make so many friends so quickly and how proud he was that she was taking such an interest in Defense Against the Dark Arts.
He admitted sorrowfully that he didn't know much about how James was, since his eldest had suddenly become the epitome of Moody Teenager and was refusing to talk to either of his parents. Since he had inherited his mother's temper, Harry decided it best not to press the issue.
"Speaking of which, do you two happen to know why Ginny's suddenly pissed off with me?" he asked suddenly.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a Look, of capital 'L' significance.
"It's not really our place to tell you, Harry." Hermione said, giving Ron a stern look when he opened his mouth.
Harry groaned, burying his head in his hands and gazing pleadingly at Hermione through his fingers, “Please, Hermione. If you don't tell me, I'll never figure it out!"
Hermione huffed, "It's the same every time with you, isn't it? You're too lazy and oblivious to think so I have to give you all the answers."
Harry put his hands over hers, looking pleadingly into her eyes and pouting pathetically, "Pretty please?"
Hermione's lips twitched sympathetically for a split second before she schooled her expression expertly. "No." she said resolutely, "You'll never learn if you keep cheating off me."
Harry gave a despairing moan and peered at Ron through his fingers. "I don't suppose you could sweet-talk your wife for me?"
Ron barked a hearty laugh, "You should know by now that never works." he said, turning to Hermione with a long look of profound adoration and awe. He tucked an errant brown curl behind her ear, "She's too brilliant to fall for it." he murmured.
Hermione blushed, pinching her lips together and swatting Ron's hand away bashfully.
No matter that he was irritated by their lack of information, Harry couldn't help but smile at his two best friends; still deeply in love after all this time. He genuinely couldn't remember the last time he and Ginny had looked at each other like that. He wondered if they ever really had.
When he arrived home that evening, still miffed and slightly drunk, Harry took one look at Ginny, sleeping soundly in their bed with her back to him and decided to sleep in Albus' room.
Friday, mercifully, arrived eventually. Harry spent the whole day sat in his office trying to concentrate on his dull paperwork, willing the clock to tick faster and tearing his hair out, figuratively... for the most part.
Under the desk, his leg kept brushing against the box containing the gift he'd made in a fit of desperation, and every time it did, he felt a wave of panic. It was such a stupid idea. But what if Snape wouldn't let him in without a bribe? What if he just laughed in Harry's face? What if he'd changed his mind and didn't want to see Harry at all?! He could use his gift as a bargaining chip... But what if Snape didn't like it? What if he was allergic?! What if...
Harry took a deep breath to calm himself. Despite the intermittent flares of panic, he was looking forward to seeing Snape again. Even though the man was a right mean bastard who seemed determined to fling bile, and disparage Harry at any opportunity, Snape was a link to his past, a link to his parents, and he was a good man, one that Harry was indebted to, and who left a wound in his heart when he died. The moment the clock chimed to signal work was finished, Harry launched himself out of his office at breakneck speed. He Apparated directly to Snape's street, and once again found himself standing outside that old red door waiting to be let in.
Precisely as the second arm on Harry's wristwatch struck six, the door swung open to reveal Snape in all his tall, glaring glory. Harry's stomach flipped, and his worries, mostly, faded into the background.
"You came then." Snape said disdainfully.
Despite this, Harry smiled sweetly and held up his meagre peace-offering. "I brought cake."
Snape narrowed his eyes and took a step back, allowing Harry to pass through. He pointed at a door near the end of the hallway.
"The sitting room is through there, if I'm going to be forced to listen to your drivel I'd prefer to do it in my armchair."
Harry jumped up the front step and went through to the dark sitting room, muttering the words grumpy git under his breath.
The room was small, and lined with shelves positively groaning under the weight of all the books. Harry wondered if Snape had read all of them. He probably had, Snape was the bookworm-y type, and more than that, he was the anti-social type. Anti-social people tended to read a lot.
There was a battered and surprisingly gaudy paisley armchair in front of the fireplace with a book splayed out over one of the arms. It looked like something Dumbledore might have conjured up. Harry's heart constricted slightly at the thought, but he ignored the feeling easily enough. In front of it was a large brown suitcase that Snape seemed to be using as a table, on top of which were yet more books and a half-empty mug. Opposite was a much less cosy-looking chair; square and black, looking as though it had never felt the warm press of an arse, and stretching the distance between the two was a long dark sofa that seemed to be mostly used as a surface for yet more books.
"Are you going to stand around staring at my furnishings all evening?"
Harry startled and turned. Snape stood in the doorway with his arms tightly crossed over his chest.
"Sorry. It's just weird seeing all of your..." he gestured around him, "stuff."
Snape rolled his eyes expressively and sat down in the Dumbledore chair. He regarded Harry impatiently.
"Sit down, would you?" he snapped after a moment or two.
Harry hastily obeyed, plonking the cake down on top of one of the stacks of books on the suitcase between them. The square chair was surprisingly comfortable, if a little firm.
"Erm..." Harry began awkwardly, staring at the cake. Why had he bothered to bring it anyway? Snape probably didn't even eat cake. "It's lemon drizzle." he said, looking at Snape uncertainly.
"Well, it's just that really. I didn't want to bring anything too, um, frilly."
Snape wiped a tired hand over his face. "This is going to be an excruciating process if you're going to insist on misunderstanding me, Potter." he said wearily, "I assume you didn't bring cake just so you could talk about it."
"Oh!" Harry exclaimed, feeling an idiot, "Yeah. You're right. Um, I'll just..." he produced two plates and forks effortlessly from thin air with a lazy wave of his hand and laid a slice of cake on each.
He handed one over to the scowling Snape self-consciously. Snape peered at him then the cake suspiciously, and took a long sniff of it.
"It's not poisoned, you know." Harry said, mildly offended "And I'm actually quite good at baking, so it should taste nice."
Snape raised a thin eyebrow to him, "You made this?"
Harry flushed slightly, "Yes." he replied defensively, and took a large, indignant bite out of his own slice, giving himself a pat on the back because it was every bit as delicious as it needed to be.
"See?" he said around his mouthful, "No poison."
Snape sneered at him and picked up his fork delicately, tearing away the smallest piece of cake he could with it - barely a crumb, really - and placed it slowly in his mouth. He seemed to mull it around for a while. That was probably what Potions Masters did; taste every ingredient individually before allowing themselves to enjoy the flavour.
He didn't spit it out. And he took another bite, which Harry took to mean that Snape found his cake acceptable.
They ate in heavy silence. Snape staring intently into the fireplace, and Harry staring at Snape. It was all just too surreal. Harry had to break the spell. He tried to find something to say.
"You h--" he began, and promptly choked on an errant crumb. He thumped himself hard on the chest to dislodge it, glaring at the treacherous lemon drizzle. Snape lifted his eyebrow in a judgemental fashion. Harry felt himself grow red and flustered. He tried again.
"You, um... have a lot of books." he said, then immediately closed his eyes and cursed himself for the overwhelming lameness of it all. He took a deep breath and tried again, again. "I mean-- How did you get so many? You've only been back a month or so and all the ones you left at Spinners End are still there."
Snape frowned at him, and spoke as if to a particularly stupid child, "You do realise I wasn't actually dead, don't you, Potter?"
Harry blinked. "Oh. Yeah." he huffed nervously, dragging a hand through his hair. Twenty years did seem like a decent enough amount of time to collect so very many books. "Were you here the whole time then?"
Sighing, Snape shifted so his legs crossed in the other direction. "No." he rumbled, adding reluctantly, "I spent many years travelling."
Harry's ears perked up with interest, he perched eagerly on the edge of the chair, "Where d'you go?"
Snape waved a long-fingered hand in the air lazily, "Innumerable places. I remember Burma most clearly. Though equally Russia left her imprint. I returned to India several times."
He spoke dismissively, as though none of it mattered. But Harry felt there was something more beneath the surface.
"Why did you come back?"
Snape gave him a hard, assessing look, then ignored the question entirely, "Why are you here?" he asked instead.
Harry swallowed his annoyance. "I wanted to apologise--"
"You managed that quite effectively last time. Why have you returned?"
"I wanted to make amends." he said tersely.
Snape skeptically raised both his eyebrows, "I don't believe you." he said bluntly.
"Why not?! It's true!" Harry cried indignantly, trying to regain his calm. "Look, I... I want to be civil with you, if nothing else. But..." Harry chewed his lip.
"But?" Snape prompted.
Harry took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
It didn't work. Not even slightly.
He'd thought about this. A lot. Over the past week, he'd thought about this more than he'd thought about his children... which was disturbing.
"I think it would be-- I mean, we should-- You and--"
"Potter, for the love of Merlin, get to the point before I expire from old age."
"I think we should be friends." Harry blurted.
Snape eyed him suspiciously for a painfully long moment.
"Why?" he asked accusingly.
Harry blinked, expecting either blunt rejection or a reluctant agreement. It hadn't occurred to him that Snape would require reasons.
"Err... because we're... similar?"
Snape rolled his eyes expressively.
"Okay, maybe not, but... Ah!"
In a sudden flash, Harry remembered a long and kind of weird conversation he'd had with Hermione a few years ago while they were both quite pissed, in which they talked about Snape and his ways. The word 'bastard' was used a shocking number of times. Then Hermione had gone on a strangely intense tangent about the similarities between he and Snape, which involved frequent use of the word 'git' and the phrase 'stuck up his arse'.
"We are!" he exclaimed, "We are similar! Stop rolling your eyes at me. Listen; firstly, we're both half-blood-- which usually wouldn't matter, but with us it was kind of a defining factor. And, okay, so secondly, we both had really shitty childhoods. We both got marked by Voldemort." Snape shifted uncomfortably. Harry continued on, heedless, "We both met an arrogant twat on the Hogwarts Express who made our lives miserable!"
"And we're both stubborn, irritable and pig-headed!" He finished, with a wide grin that may have been slightly misinterpreted.
Snape looked thunderous. He stood up and stormed out of the room, "Get out of my house, Potter!" he shouted from the hallway.
Harry jumped up and followed him, "What? No! Why?!"
He skidded into the hallway to see Snape with his arms folded, emanating his own special brand of Snape-rage.
He poked Harry in the chest, "I invite you into my home, twice, and not only do you disrupt my life, you take liberties with my personal space, recklessly use wandless magic and then you have the gall to make jibes at my expense! I was always right about you, you know," He poked Harry again, looming over him in a towering pillar of black fury. Not for the first time in his life, Harry wondered if Snape was going to kill him, "You are exactly like your father; arrogant and selfish, thoughtless and malicious! Now, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" he roared.
Harry shook with a pretty balanced mix of fear and rage. He didn't quite understand what had just happened.
"What the hell are you talking about?!" he demanded, "I offered you friendship! You asked me for reasons and I gave them to you! Jesus Christ and Merlin BUGGERY FUCK!" he exploded, throwing his hands up in the air, "You are so fucking impossible! I don't know why I bothered!"
He turned to remove himself from the premises, but decided to give the greasy bastard one more piece of his mind. He rounded back on Snape and stormed up to him. The air around them shook with involuntary magic, "And you know what, you foul, nasty, vicious bastard-!"
He stopped dead at the look on Snape's face. He was pale (well, paler) and he looked distraught, and terrified, clutching at his heaving chest with a white-knuckled fist. Harry's magic seemed to fall out of the air. The silence it left was deafening.
"Snape...?" he called gently, his voice rough from shouting.
He was horrified at himself. He'd reduced Severus Snape to a frightened child and he wasn't even sure how.
"Are you... are you alright?"
Snape backed away from Harry's out-stretched hand, "Get away from me." he rasped.
"Look, I'm sorry..." Harry said pleadingly, "I didn't mean for this to happen. I was trying to be friendly, and it didn't work. We just rub each other up the wrong way I think. I'm sorry." He reached out his hand as if to touch Snape, but quickly thought better of it, "Can we try again? Please? I'll try not to say anything offensive if you try not to scream at me... or tell me I'm like my dad."
He attempted a soft smile, but Snape still looked at him as though he were a demon.
Harry bit his lip, "What can I do to make this better?" he asked, begging for a second chance.
He decided this wouldn't be the best time to point out that Snape started it anyway, exploding at nothing, so it wasn't really his fault.
Snape shivered, crossing his arms and side-stepped around Harry cautiously, disappearing into the sitting room. Harry stood in shock for a moment, then shook himself and followed. Snape was crouched by the fireplace prodding logs and newspaper with matches.
"I can do that if you--"
"Don't you fucking dare." Snape snarled, his teeth chattering.
"Why are you suddenly so cold?" Harry asked, panic creeping into his voice.
Snape let out a triumphant sigh as the fire began to blaze in the grate. He grabbed a blanket from beside his chair, and climbed into it, wrapping the blanket tightly around himself.
Harry gulped nervously, "Should I make you some tea?"
Snape didn't look at him, but he grunted, which Harry took to mean yes.
Harry padded into the hallway and quickly found the kitchen. He pulled a chipped old tea pot from the cupboard along with two cups and a couple of tea bags. His hands shook as he filled the pot with water and heated it with a pulse of hot magic. Then he realised what had happened.
"It was my magic, wasn't it?" he said, as he re-entered the sitting room, setting Snape's tea down in front of him.
Snape jerked his head in a stiff nod.
"I'm sorry. I can't help it sometimes it just kind of... leaks, especially when I'm angry or..." he trailed off.
Snape took a shuddering breath, "It felt like--" He shook his head, "Yours never felt like that before."
Harry sat back down in the black chair with his tea and stared at the fire.
"When I died, the bit of me that was Voldemort died too, and it didn't come back with me. Ever since then, my magic felt different, it's... I dunno, a different feeling. There's not much information on the subject, obviously, but I reckon having a chunk of evil psychopath inside you probably alters your magical signature quite a bit. Then once that chunk was gone, I just got left with, well, me. And then when I hit twenty, I suddenly got loads more of it. Hermione said I reached my magical majority or something and that my, er, reservoirs... got bigger."
"You mean your reserves." Snape corrected quietly.
"Yeah, those." Harry continued, "Anyway, I spoke to a Healer when it started coming out unexpectedly and she said that the way my body processes magic must have got all messed up by what Voldemort did to me, and then even more so when he kicked the bucket. She said, basically, I take in more magic than my reserves can handle, so it spreads out through my body and comes out in these pulses. Weird, right?"
"Weird." Snape echoed with a faraway look. He gazed pensively into the fire. They sat in silence for a long time, watching it crackle and spit together. Harry felt himself grow drowsy.
"I'd forgotten how her magic felt." Snape whispered suddenly. He looked surprised at himself for saying it out loud.
Harry felt his breath hitch.
He worried his lip with his teeth, fidgeting with his hands, then looked up at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost ten.
"Shit." he muttered under his breath.
He'd barely noticed the time pass.
Snape looked over at him as he stood up.
"I have to go." Harry explained reluctantly, "Ginny's going to murder me for being so late."
He wished that were more of an exaggeration.
Snape nodded in understanding.
"I'll um, I'll leave the cake here for you."
"I meant what I said, by the way. You know, before this whole situation got really messy; I want us to... We don't have to be best friends, but I think it would be good to be, well, just friends. Civil at the very least, you know? And, look this might be awkward... but I want to know more about my mum."
Snape's dark eyes flashed, and Harry prepared himself for another fit. It didn't come.
"You may return next week." Snape murmured, "Same time."
Harry had hoped Ginny would be asleep by the time he returned to Godric's Hollow. He'd rather been looking forward to falling asleep without a blazing row.
Alas, things never really went the way Harry hoped.
He walked into the sitting room to find his wife perched on the arm of the sofa, her lips thin with anger. Harry imagined he could see smoke coming from her ears... Which wasn't too far-fetched an idea when it came to angry witches.
"Where in the seven hells have you been?!" Ginny demanded.
Harry's lips thinned, "Nice to see you, too."
Ginny stormed over to him furiously, cornering him quite effectively for someone so petite.
She jabbed her wand into his face, "Answer the question Harry, or I will hex you."
Harry stared warily down the business end of his wife's wand. There was no use in trying to avoid the question.
"I went to see Snape." he admitted.
"You went to see Snape." she said tersely, lowering her wand.
Harry nodded, "Sorry, I forgot to tell you. I went straight from work."
Ginny's face turned purple at the cheeks. A very dangerous sign.
Harry flinched. "I didn't mean to be there that long!"
Ginny gave a furious, incomprehensible roar and stomped back over to the sofa. She pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes. Harry stood dumb, unsure of what to do with himself.
"I'm sorry I'm late, I lost track of time." He said softly, walking over to gently lay a hand on her shoulder.
Ginny batted him away and moved so that she was no longer within arms reach. She stared moodily at the chess set on the coffee table. One of the black bishops made an obscene gesture at her.
"You always lose track of time." she mumbled, pulling her slippered feet onto the sofa and resting her chin on her knees. She looked very small.
Harry frowned, "I've only been there twice."
Ginny snorted, "That's not what I was talking about." she muttered bitterly, "I'm going to bed. Next time you spend the night with Snape let me know so I don't bother staying up."
As she stood, Harry grabbed her hand. He looked at her, with her head hung low and shoulders hunched. He hated seeing her so upset, and in such pain, but he knew that the only way he could change it was to make promises, promises he couldn't keep even if he wanted to.
So, he decided to be a coward, as always, and told her the same thing he always told her when she got angry with him.
"Gin," he whispered, "I love you."
"I know, Harry." she sniffed, and gave his hand a squeeze before releasing it and walking out of the room without another word.
Chapter 3: Friendship Comes at a Price (He May Be Sick, But Damn If He Isn't Dashing)
The weekend passed in a grey-ish blur. Ginny and Harry managed to come to an unspoken agreement that they wouldn't talk about Snape... or anything, really. In fact it wasn't until Sunday afternoon that Ginny reminded him that she'd be leaving for the Harpies' press tour in the morning, so she'd be gone for two weeks. Harry had forgotten, of course.
Guilt-ridden and irritated, Harry conjured a half-arsed bouquet of flowers, cooked them a disappointing meal, which they ate with minimal, stilted conversation. The evening concluded with some disappointing, obligatory farewell sex that left the both of them feeling more empty than anything else.
In the morning, Ginny was gone before Harry even woke up.
When Pletherin Snoad called a meeting of the Department Heads, Harry was instantly filled with dread. They were always unbearably boring. Tuesday's meeting was no exception. Harry could barely bring himself to pay attention. Snoad kept talking about budget cut-backs and rationing. It was all bollocks. Harry had no idea how the guy had managed to land himself the position of Deputy Minister. Even Kingsley didn't like him, and Kingsley liked everyone.
Harry hated meetings. He hated bureaucracy. He hated budgeting. He hated Pletherin bloody Snoad. It was all horribly, mind-numbingly boring. He wanted to be out in the sunshine, or with his kids, or--
"--What do you think, Potter?"
Harry looked up at the sound of his name, "Hm?"
Snoad stretched his shiny lips into a thin, smarmy smile that didn't reach his eyes, "Oh, I do apologise, Mr. Potter. Are my suggestions for the new departmental uniform regulations not stimulating enough for you?"
Harry masked his laugh with a light cough, "No, sir, sorry, they are. I apologise for my lack of focus."
Much of the meeting passed in much the same fashion. Dull things were discussed. Harry zoned in and out. Muggle Relations had confiscated an illegal shipment of hair-eating hats. Magical Creatures wanted new earmuffs to deal with a woman in Dorset who was breeding Fwoopers. Education were dreadfully concerned that magical children had started drinking more orange juice than pumpkin, though Merlin only knew why they thought that was a Ministry issue.
The whole affair dragged on for three bloody hours. Harry even considered making himself sick so he could leave. His only amusement came from sending out small shots of magic surreptitiously at his colleagues under the desk. Though it was dreadfully funny to watch Snoad try to resist the mild itching hex Harry sent at his crotch, he couldn't help but feel that this was a total waste of time. It was pretty much the opposite of what he'd wanted from this job.
In the beginning, his work had been exhilarating; hunting down the last of Voldemort's followers and putting them to trial for their crimes, then once they were all caught, vanquishing potential uprisings of new threats. He remembered with a thrill, the week in which he and Neville worked together tirelessly to take down a Hag collective who were sending poisoned Howlers to prominent Ministry officials. He still had a large scar on his shoulder from where one of them had snuck up on him and attacked with her sharpened claws.
There was a time when he was sent out into the field every day and some nights. These days he was lucky if he got one day a fortnight.
It wasn't that he wanted peril. He just wanted something more interesting than paperwork. Something more substantial than the accomplishment of finishing reports. Something more physical than sitting behind a desk and drinking tea.
Snoad concluded the meeting with a hearty, "Well done, everyone, nicely done. Same time next month, eh?" and set them free.
The prospect of seeing Snape again kept Harry sane that week. His house was empty and lifeless, and work grated on his every nerve. He desperately wanted to go to Spinners End, but firmly resisted that temptation. Once again, Ron and Hermione offered their listening ears to him, and he couldn't have been more grateful. Mercifully, they seemed almost as interested in Snape as he himself was.
"...In the end, it was only partly a complete disaster. I'm going back on Friday. But this time I'm going to try harder not to insult him... or throw magic at him. Even if it was by accident and he overreacted."
Ron chuckled into his pint, "I'm impressed you haven't killed each other yet."
"Yeah, we're trying to avoid that. He hasn't even tried cursing me!"
"Wait, so... he went traveling around the world?" Hermione asked, sounding slightly bewildered. "I'd never have guessed that."
"Yeah, he said he'd been to India and stuff." Harry clarified, sort of.
"It's so weird to think of Snape in the sun." Ron said, his brow furrowed.
"It's pretty weird to think of him outside, let alone somewhere hot and foreign." Harry said.
"Can you imagine him in a sarong?" Ron's eyes were round and slightly horrified.
Harry laughed, "Not even if I tried really hard." he said, trying very hard not to.
Hermione looked pensive during this exchange, "We may have an answer as to why he's back." she said.
Harry and Ron turned to her questioningly.
"Well, travelling is expensive, even for Wizards. Especially Wizards who want to stay incognito. And twenty years is a long time to travel. Maybe he's run out of money."
Harry thought about Snape's minimally furnished house and the emptiness of his kitchen.
"You might be right, Hermione." he said.
Harry spent Thursday evening baking. He'd only meant to make a carrot cake to take to Snape, but the relief of finally doing something productive with his hands compelled him to also make a batch of ginger biscuits, twelve cheese scones, three loaves of bread and a quiche. Once he'd finished, he surveyed the fruits of his labour with a critical eye, deciding that he'd probably gone a little bit wild in his endeavour.
In the end he decided to take half of the biscuits, four of the scones and the quiche to Snape, as well as one loaf and of course, the carrot cake. Snape had seemed to enjoy the lemon drizzle last week, and his cupboards had been woefully lacking when Harry had rummaged around for teabags the week before. And anyway, who in their right mind would refuse such lovingly made free food?
"Do I seem destitute to you?" He asked with a sneer when Harry presented his offerings.
"Oh for-- No! I wasn't-- Look, I got bored at home on my own and I thought you might appreciate--"
"I am perfectly capable of providing for myself."
"I know! I just-- They're gifts for goodness sake."
Snape scowled deeply at him. Harry sighed.
"Fine. If you don't want them that's fine. But I'm going to have some quiche because I'm hungry and I happen to know it's delicious." It was by some sheer force of will that Harry didn't punctuate the end of that sentence by sticking his tongue out.
He pulled the quiche out and helped himself to a slice, giving it short pulse of magic to make it hot.
"Potter!" barked Snape, "Need I remind you of the debacle with your magic last week?! Do not perform wandless, wordless magic in this house!"
Harry pouted petulantly at him, "But last week that was just my magic leaking,it was uncontrollable. This kind I actually have control over."
"Must I explain myself to you? This is my house, damn it, and I would prefer you use your wand and incantations."
"But why?" Harry whinged. Snape threw him a mighty glare though, so he grudgingly conceded, "Fine. I'll use my sodding wand." He grumbled, picking up his quiche and blowing on it, deliberately blowing the scent in Snape's direction. His nostrils twitched.
"Sure you don't want any, Snape?" Harry taunted playfully, "You look a bit hungry."
Snape shot him a withering look.
"Oh, come on. You might as well." Harry argued, "It's free and I know you've got bugger all in your kitchen."
Harry wasn't surprised at how quickly Snape could change from mildly irritated to thunderous. If it weren't so intimidating, Harry would have said it was actually quite impressive. Like Harry's magic, Snape's anger seemed to radiate from his very skin into the space around him, curling in dark tendrils off his body in a strangely intoxicating way.
"Do not presume that I am in any sort of financial distress, Potter." He spat, "Albus compensated me quite well for asking me to become a murderer." Harry gaped at him. That had escalated quickly... again.
"There's no shame in needing some extra help, you know. If you're a bit tapped out, I can--"
"Don't even say it!"
"You're impossible, I was just--"
"--You just want to play the hero." Snape interrupted. Harry wanted to protest, but he found that the words stuck in his throat. "And you seem to be labouring under the delusion that I need rescuing from poverty, which I do not."
"Look, Hermione said--"
"Oh, of course. Ms. Granger said it so it must be true."
"Don't be like that. Hermione's pretty good at working out stuff like this."
"Well in this situation she is wrong. Tell her to keep her nose out of my business!"
"So why the hell are you back?!" Harry demanded, "I know damn well your reappearance wasn't accidental. So why?!"
Snape paused. His dark eyes bore into Harry's intently.
"I am ill." He said plainly.
Harry felt his chest contract. It didn't sound like Snape meant he had a mild case of Dragon Pox. He opened his mouth to say... something, though he wasn't sure what. Snape interrupted him before he could.
"I can cure myself, so you needn't rejoice just yet," Harry began to protest that statement. Snape coolly continued, pinning him with a glare, "but I need full access to the Wizarding World and the potion ingredients therein."
"Well that's doable! More than doable. I can set you up a lab somewhere if you like!" Harry began forming plans in his head immediately, his ideas running away with him, as they often did, before his rational mind could catch up, "I can probably even get you a discount at Neville's shop! Um, as long as you promise not to terrorise him."
Snape seemed to hesitate. His cold eyes searching Harry’s face, for what, Harry could only imagine.
"I will require an assistant." His lip curled over that last word, as if requiring anything of the sort was a repulsive idea. Harry smiled widely.
"Easily done." He said. Snape's eyes narrowed at him, he looked calculating, and somewhat menacing.
"Someone with considerable magic and skill."
"Well that's definitely doable. I'll do it!"
Snape still looked suspicious.
"Don't look at me like that, I'm actually quite good at potions these days, you know."
"Will wonders never cease." Snape said dryly.
Harry laughed. He was well aware that his optimism was, in all likelihood, severely misplaced, but he couldn't stop himself from thinking positively. All the years of taking help from Snape without giving any back weighed heavily on his conscience, like a lump of lead in his stomach. But he could help now.
"You don't look particularly ill, though." Harry observed, taking in Snape's appearance; tall, thin and wiry, long shimmering black hair, blazing coal-black eyes, pale skin... All normal, for Snape anyway. "Actually, you look, err..." Kind of dashing? Weirdly good for someone who's supposed to have been dead until recently? "Fine." he finished lamely, uncomfortable with the direction his thoughts were taking.
Snape sighed softly, looking resigned.
"I suppose I should just get this over with and tell you. I have Sappron's Leech, otherwise known as Magidebilitus. It's a degenerative disease. It saps one's magic to the point that a wizard can no longer sustain himself. I look 'fine', because the disease doesn't manifest itself physically until the final stage. For now it seems content to weaken my strength and magic without visual evidence."
Harry felt like a gaping hole had opened up in his chest.
"Oh, god... that sounds awful. Snape, I'm--"
"I do not require, nor desire, your sympathy, Potter. Simply your aid, and quite a bit of your blood."
Harry's eyes widened, "Err, just how much?"
Snape smirked, "It's rather late to back out of volunteering now."
Harry smiled and clapped his knees, “Alright then, we should figure out a schedule, because I don’t want Ginny to go ape-shit at me again for coming home late.”
An apprehensive look came over Snape’s face, “Ah. I would... appreciate it, Potter, if you kept the nature of our work private.”
Harry pinched his lips, memories of Snape’s penseive floating through his head, of his own private obsession with Snape’s old record collection, of the finer details of Snape’s death-bed memory gift.
“Of course.” he said, “I’d never-- I never told anyone about... You.”
He ended the sentence with significance, and hoped Snape would understand, opening his eyes wide and locking them to Snape’s as if to give permission for the man to use Legilimency on him.
Snape seemed to understand the sincerity Harry felt, and nodded, although he still looked troubled.
“I will owl you our schedule. Let me know if it suits you.”
Chapter 4: Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble (Snappy Snapey Goes Off On One)
They arranged to meet twice a week at Snape's house to work on the cure. More out of duty than desire, Harry Floo'd Ginny to tell her that he was to be working with Snape regularly - though omitted the reason as to why. She was, understandably, unhappy about the situation, but put up very little argument. Harry thought she just looked resigned, and wished he could muster up more guilt about it. He knew his marriage was crumbling before his very eyes, and had been for years, but he couldn't bring himself to care too much, not when Snape was alive and needed his help. At least he wouldn't have to deal with her ire in the flesh for a couple weeks while the Harpies were on tour.
The cure required a course of twelve different potions, each containing a measure of Harry's magic-infused blood. Snape had managed to gather a significant number of the other ingredients required, but informed Harry that they needed to collect a few of the rarer items together.
"Couldn't you just pop into St. Mungo's?" Harry asked, "I mean, they must have a cure for this thing, right?"
"If it were that simple, Mr. Potter, do you not think I would have already pursued this course of action?"
"Err, I suppose so. I just didn't know if it was you refusing help from professionals out of pride or something."
"I may be a proud and private man, but I have yet to show any signs of idiocy." Snape said, rolling his eyes, "The truth of the matter is that there currently exists no known cure for Sappron's Leech."
Harry balked, his heart plummeting through the floor, "What?! Why didn't you tell me that?"
"It did not seem relevant."
"This is just an experiment?!” Harry cried, “You're toying with your life!"
"Potter! Calm down this instant!" Snape snapped, "I am a Potions Master, you may recall. I have researched this extensively. Bar a few... minor variables, this cure is guaranteed to work."
Seeing the steel in Snape's eyes, Harry pushed down his trepidation he felt and donned his determination.
He nodded stiffly, "Tell me what I need I need to do."
Snape turned abruptly, his faded black jumper not creating quite the effect of billowing that his teaching robes once did. He beckoned Harry to follow him. He led them out into the hall and over to a locked door with a huge number of different locks running up and down it. Snape pulled a key ring from his belt, heavy with the weight of all the keys, and began unlocking the door with practised speed. Harry pressed his lips together to keep from smiling. Snape would never change. The smile faltered somewhat upon remembering exactly why the man was the fastidiously paranoid person he was. Nevertheless, it was comforting, and mildly amusing, to know that Snape's behavioural quirks could be a secure constant.
Once all the bolts and latches had been with dealt with, Snape lead them down a dark and narrow set of steps, opening into a dank cellar that managed to be eerily reminiscent of the dungeons at Hogwarts. The jars lining the walls glistened in the light of the single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Around the walls were lined wooden work surfaces and in the middle of the room a long table with a cauldron standing in the centre of it.
"I trust the surroundings won't bring back any memories that may affect your ability."
Harry chuckled, "Only if you get all robed up and shouty."
Snape turned his face to Harry, quirking an eyebrow, his lips twitched briefly upwards.
"You are a master of eloquence, Mr. Potter."
Harry grinned at him, "Sarcastically insulting me works too. Such fond memories."
Snape rolled his eyes, but Harry could still see the amusement playing around them. He turned into the room and started listing ingredients.
"They are arranged on the shelves alphabetically, save for the more volatile ingredients which are stored in that--" he pointed, "--cupboard. I will begin setting up a work-station."
Harry pulled his wand out and began hastily Accio-ing the various jars needed.
"Potter, I would appreciate it tremendously if you wouldn't use magic in this room."
Harry shoved his wand back in its holster, "Understood. But can I ask why?"
"You can, and you may." Snape answered, "We will be working in close quarters and your magic, even controlled as it is coming from your wand, seems to have an adverse effect on me."
Harry frowned, "Really? That's weird."
"It is a symptom of the disease. My own magic reaches for any other source to replenish itself. Thus, when it senses another's magic it attempts to draw it in. Unfortunately, in doing this, mine is unable to re-enter my core. The result is that my magic is leeched from my skin. Which, in addition to causing me to become weaker, is quite an... unpleasant sensation."
Harry nodded, his insides squirming at the very thought, "Fair enough, no magic."
"You may still use it upstairs if you must, but since we will be working in close quarters down here, I would ask that you refrain."
Harry acquiesced and carried on collecting jars using only his hands and a firm knowledge of the alphabet. Once the work area was all set, they got to work. Snape relegated Harry to weighing and measuring, believing it to hold much less risk than letting him handle knives.
They managed to work for a full twenty minutes before Snape slapped his hands away from the doxy wings Harry had managed to mangle by weighing them too enthusiastically.
"Oh for-- Potter! That is not how you handle doxy wings!" Snape snapped, pushing Harry away from them, "Just slice these flubberworms, and for Merlin's sake don't cut your fingers off."
"Yeah, yeah, give me the knife."
Much of the afternoon passed in industrious quiet, punctuated only occasionally by Snape's dark voice making a cutting remark and Harry's attempts at witty retorts. Harry decided to break the silence with a risky topic. But knowing that Snape would be more likely to contain his rage around delicate potions it seemed as good a time as any. He cleared his throat.
"So, um." he began, suddenly at a loss at how to sensitively broach this subject. He needed to know. Nearly forty years of mystery was far too much, and he longed for more information. There were only so many times he could revisit the same sad memories of this man to get to know his mother. There had to be more to her than that. Admittedly, he was also unbearably curious about Snape himself. He knew the despair and sadness of his past, but he longed to see the happy moments. To know that the man's life hadn't always been as heartbreaking as those memories would suggest.
"What is it, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked quietly, focused as ever on his task.
"Well, actually, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about my mum."
Snape's hands paused in their movements. He stood up straight to look Harry in the eye. He quirked an eyebrow.
"Are you certain you wish to discuss this now?"
Harry cocked his head to the side, "I've spent my whole life not knowing about her."
"Surely others must have told you tales. Lily was an exceptionally popular person."
Harry snorted, "Not really. Everyone always talked about my dad. Going on about how noble and kind and talented he was."
Snape's lip curled in disgust and he turned back to work.
"Yeah, I know." Harry cut in before he could say something nasty, "My point is, barely anyone said a word about mum. But you were her friend. You knew her. You loved her."
"Love. I still love her."
Harry blinked and looked up from the vanilla pods he was scraping clean, "Really?"
Snape made a face at him, "Are you really this stupid? You've seen my memories. Does the word ‘always’ mean something else where you're from?"
"Well, no, but... Oh." Harry pondered on that; to be so in love with someone that you don't stop even forty years after her death. Silently, and guiltily, he couldn't imagine feeling like that about Ginny. A thought occurred to him. "So, wait, you... Never...?"
"Your words, Potter. Use them."
"So you haven’t-- You never... um, got... Intimate? Ever?"
A range of emotion flitted across Snape's face; confusion, followed by anger, followed by embarrassment, and then an infuriating mixture of irritation and pity.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, you never shagged my mum--"
Snape's clenched hands twitched where they rested on the edge of the table, and turned white at the knuckles.
Harry felt safer once he'd shuffled a little further away, "And you've been in love with her this whole time, so..."
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose tightly, "Nearly forty and you retain the mindset of a prepubescent child." He took a deep breath and glared. "Firstly, Mr. Potter, loving someone, and being in love with them are two entirely different circumstances. Secondly, --do not interrupt. I will use your pancreas in this potion-- you certainly don't have to love a person in order to fuck them."
Harry rolled his eyes, ignoring the confusing jolt he felt when Snape swore like that.
"Well, obviously. I know that... I just assumed--"
"--Well there you see your error, don't you? You assumed." Snape spat the word out as though it were a curse... It probably was.
He took a long breath and pushed himself away from the table, turning towards Harry to loom over him darkly. Harry suppressed a shiver.
"I'm going to explain this to you once, Potter," His voice oozed out of him like honey. "And don't you dare interrupt because so help me-- You saw my memories. You know what my childhood home was like. Your mother helped me forget. She was a shining distraction from my dank reality. Beauty against the ugliness."
Snape leaned in close. Close enough that Harry could inhale him. He could smell the bitter coffee on his breath and the musk of sweat from working over a hot cauldron for hours on end, the odd infusion of all the slimy things they'd chopped, sliced and diced throughout the day, and something warm and earthy that Harry recognised as a scent that was uniquely Snape's. It was intoxicating.
"Hogwarts was supposed to be my release. My freedom from pain and abuse. But no one wanted to play with greasy little Severus. Students from the other Houses simply ignored me at first, then, as my torment became a sport for Black and Potter, and I grew angrier and more bitter still, my tongue sharpened and my skin thickened, they noticed. They began to hate me too, and made it very clear to all the school."
Snape took a step forward. Harry began to feel a little dizzy from his proximity, he inhaled shakily and tried to compose himself. Snape continued.
"My fellow Slytherins, at first, welcomed me with open arms. A misanthropic misfit child with bile and intellect; a perfect addition to their House... but for my Muggle parentage. The minute I was found out, I was safe nowhere. I redeemed myself to them only after the Dark Lord recognised my talents.
"Your mother was the only refuge I had. The only source of happiness in my miserable existence. She; the beautiful light who swept in and forced away all of my darkness... whom I maligned, insulted, but above all, treasured. She was precious to me in the way that water is precious to a dying man in a desert. Air to those who drown. She saved me.
"And you," Snape poked him hard in the chest. His black eyes pierced through, pinning Harry completely, as if he'd cast a full body binding curse. "thought she was something so simple, so facile, so CRUDE, as my love interest!"
In an instant, Snape had moved away. He stalked back over to his end of the table. Harry's breathing was ragged. He was suddenly very cold.
"I'm sorry." he breathed. "I didn't understand."
"That's rather an understatement." Snape muttered, his usual blazing gave fixed flat to the cold floor. Harry fidgeted nervously, searching for something to say. Snape sighed, leaning heavily on the work top in front of him, he closed his eyes like he was praying.
"And I pushed her away. Damning myself completely and irrevocably to a life of servitude and despair."
Harry felt like crying. He reached his hand out, as if he could sooth Snape's pain. Pull him tightly into a cuddle the way he did when his children cried. He couldn't fix Snape, he knew that, and he knew that any effort to do so would be met with disdain and probably a well-aimed hex. But he wanted to.
"That's enough work for today." Snape said wearily.
"Good day, Potter."
Through the thick mask of indifference that Snape wore, he looked pained as he met Harry's eyes. He didn't say "please" but he also didn't immediately scream and throw curses, so it was almost as good... from Snape anyway. Harry got up to leave, hovering briefly beside him. He considered putting his hand on Snape’s shoulder; to anyone else, a completely normal show of support... But irritable bastard would probably cut it off, so he decided against it.
"I'll see you in a couple days time." Harry said quietly. Snape bowed his head.
"Thank you." Harry said. Though he wasn't quite sure what he was grateful for.
The following day, Harry was restless. He'd been filling in requisition forms for what felt like forever, repeating Snape's explosive declaration over and over in his head until the words began to blur together. Snape had never been in love with his mother. That was a shock, but it was a mild one when compared to the earthquake that was Snape, that most private of men, soliliquising his shattered past. It was eye-opening to hear about Snape's life so directly, and to hear him speak with such emotion. Snape had snapped and snarled all through his devastating monologue, but not once did Harry feel the rattle of his anger.
Instead, he'd felt more drawn to Snape than he'd ever felt, as if his body and his magic were reaching towards him. Snape's honest emotions were magnetic. They cascaded over Harry like tidal waves, the rip of them pulling him back out to sea, and under, to drown in them. Harry felt his heart speed up just thinking about it. It was exciting, being so consumed by Snape... by his heat and proximity, his raw power. Even weakened as he was by his disease, Snape was a force of nature. Harry sighed.
"Harry?" came Ron's bewildered voice, startling Harry from his thoughts, "You alright, mate? You look all..."
Shaking himself, Harry said, "Sorry, I was lost in thought."
"Were you thinking about trifle? Because you looked like a lovesick teenager... Hermione says I look like that when I think about trifle."
Harry laughed and rubbed the back of his neck, "No. Not trifle." Something much more confusing. "How can I help?"
Ron grinned and shrugged, "I knocked off early. Shop's dead and I've got bugger all to do. Fancy a pint?"
That sounded like absolute heaven and Harry said so. He grabbed his coat.
They decided to opt for their regular Muggle pub instead of the Sneaky Toad. The Queen’s Arms was much quieter than the Toad, and going there increased their chances of having a quiet drink uninterrupted. It was warm and cosy, and always had a cheerful song playing over the radio to lift the mood. Harry and Ron headed to the bar and gestured to the barman for two pints of bitter. The barman brought their drinks over to them and Harry noticed that he seemed unfamiliar. He was young-ish, in his mid twenties by Harry's guess, tall and lean with a tousled mop of chocolate brown hair and narrow dark eyes that suggested a certain alluring intelligence. His eyebrows flicked briefly up when he looked at Harry and a smile graced his lips.
Harry smiled back at him, "Hi." he greeted.
The young barman flushed lightly at his cheeks, "Hi." he said in return, his voice pleasantly low, placing Harry's pint in front of him. He licked his lips. "I'm Joey."
"Harry." Harry responded, leaning forward on the bar to offer his hand to shake, "You new?"
Joey grinned, as he took Harry’s hand in a warm grip, "Yeah, I started last week."
"Regulars treating you well?" Harry asked amicably.
Joey chuckled lowly, "For the most part. Though a couple of them have tried to cop a feel."
Harry laughed, and retracted his now embarrassingly clammy hand, "Yeah, they tend to do that."
Joey quirked a salacious eyebrow, "I don't mind it too much from the hot ones."
Harry felt his face warm and his stomach flip.
"Harry?" Ron asked with an amused smirk, "You wanna grab a table?"
Harry gave a flustered nod and put up a hand in farewell to Joey.
"Nice to meet you." he said.
"You too, Harry." Joey replied, his voice going devilishly breathy around his name.
Ron lead Harry over to a table towards the back of the pub.
"Blimey, he was a bit forward, wasn't he?" he remarked as he sat down.
Harry chuckled breathlessly, and took the seat facing the bar, Joey had moved on to serve Shipwreck Sean, an elderly Irishman with a huge unkempt beard and scarlet cheeks.
"Just a bit." Harry said, watching Joey’s bicep, peeking out from the sleeve of his t-shirt, flex as he pulled Sean's pint. "Seems nice though."
Ron snorted, "You could at least try to be subtle, mate. You're married to my sister."
Harry's head snapped back to look at Ron, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ron laughed and put his hands up, "Hey, I'm not judging, you can eye up as many fit young lads as you like."
Harry gaped at him, "I wasn't-- I'm not--"
"Just don't cheat on Ginny because she will hex you."
Harry stammered, "I'm not gay!"
Ron made a dismissive gesture with his hand, "Bisexual then, or... um, pansexual? Is that the word? I don't know." He shrugged, "What are labels anyway, right?"
Harry stared at his friend with an open jaw.
Ron grinned at him, "I've known you thirty years. Did you think I hadn't noticed?"
Harry could do nothing but gawp dumbly at Ron. His insides were squirming uncomfortably, his heart hammering wildly. Fear like a molten stream down his throat burned. This was a deep truth, one that he'd yet to acknowledge himself. No-- No. Not a truth. A lie. Ron had noticed wrong. Ron was wrong. Harry wasn't gay, he didn't look at men. He'd never looked, or gazed or anything. Of course, he'd thought about men, occasionally, but everyone did that. It was just a natural human thing to think about people. Ron was wrong. If he'd imagined stubble against his cheek once in a while it was just normal, perfectly normal. That's what Harry was, nice and perfectly normal. He wasn't gay.
The table began to vibrate, and Harry's magic began to fill the air around them.
Ron's grin faltered and his eyes widened, "Whoa, whoa. Harry, calm down." He whispered hurriedly, "The Muggles are going to notice your magic."
Harry's eyes darted about the room, the bottles behind the bar began to jingle as they shook.
Joey looked around himself, frowning.
"Deep breaths, mate."
Harry nodded and began inhaling and exhaling deeply.
"Come on, lets go out into the beer garden." Ron jerked his head to the door. He stood up and grabbed both their pints, nudging Harry with his elbow.
The beer garden was thankfully empty when they got outside. It was lit by soft twilight and the air was cool. Ron put up a quick notice-me-not charm, just in case any Muggles came out. Harry leaned against one of the wooden benches and put his hands on his knees, breathing slowly and steadily.
Ron pulled a cigarette packet from his back pocket and held it out in front of Harry's face. Harry looked up, shocked and indignant at his friend. Ron rolled his eyes.
"I have about one every month. Don't tell Hermione. Please?"
Letting out a somewhat hysterical laugh, Harry dragged a hand over his face and stood up straight. He reached shakily for his pint. Once some colour had returned to Harry's cheeks, Ron leaned forward to put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry.” he said, “I thought you’d, y’know, come to terms with it.”
Harry shook his head, rattling the swirling thoughts within, “Ron, I’m not--”
Ron cut him off by giving his shoulder a light squeeze, “Gay or not, you know there’s nothing wrong with fancying blokes, right?”
Harry nodded tightly. Being attracted to men was something for which he had grown out of judging others, but he was determined to believe that he himself would never be one of them. Unrepentant faggots, Uncle Vernon used to say, It’s just not ruddy natural.
Harry let out a long, aching sigh. He had hoped, after more than twenty years of being out from under the tyrannical rule of his uncle that he would have managed to overcome all of his many prejudices. But clearly, some still lingered. This was a part of himself he had stubbornly ignored for decades, pushing thoughts guiltily aside in favour of following the path so clearly laid out in front of him; to marry Ginny, the perfect woman to love, and in doing so, solidify his connection to the Weasleys, the only family he had ever known and who had ever loved him the way he so craved.
Harry shook his head to clear it of this train of thought. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t face up to that part of his mentality. Not just yet. But, despite his terror at the thought of it, he could at least have the courage to confront the simpler part. The gay part. He looked up at Ron apologetically, an ironic twist in his lips.
“How did you manage to suss me out then?” he asked.
Ron snorted, taking a long swig from his pint, “Hermione.” he said simply.
Harry chuckled in understanding. Of course Hermione had figured it out.
“Does Ginny know?”
Ron shrugged casually, “Probably. I mean, she’s not an idiot.”
Harry huffed in protest, “I’m not that obvious.” he said resolutely, hesitantly adding, “Am I?”
“Ha! You wish!” Ron barked, “You’re not a subtle man, Harry. You’re always eyeing up Bill at Christmas.”
“I am not!” Harry spluttered. Bill was a magnetic person, he drew all eyes to him when he entered the room. It was easy to misinterpret a gaze at such a person as longing or attraction. Right? True, Bill was incredibly attractive, with his long flame-red hair, now streaked with silver, and his gruff voice that gave a hint of the beast he could be under the surface...
Harry sighed, cursing softly under his breath. He had been a complete idiot. He could just imagine the look on Snape’s face if he found out.
“Well,” he said, “I think that may have just shattered me, Ron. Thanks for that.”
Ron smirked sardonically, and gave Harry a comforting clap on the back, “You’re welcome.” he said, and drained his pint.
Harry followed suit.
“Come on, then. Let’s go home.” Ron announced. And home they went. Ron bid him farewell and gave him a comforting squeeze on the shoulder, then he Apparated home. Harry followed suit, and landed in the living room. He collapsed onto the sofa with shaking legs.
Chapter 5: The Devastating Truth (Don’t Fuck With McGonagall, She Will Mess Your Shit Up)
Over the course of the following few days, Harry mulled over his (completely obvious really) revelation. Having just assumed heterosexuality by default, Harry had never thought of questioning his sexuality.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. His internalised homophobia had reared it’s ugly head several times during the course of his life, and he had simply managed to effectively squash down any guilt-laded and shaming thoughts that he’d ever had about warm, coarse hands, or stubble against his neck.
Harry sighed deeply into his morning cup of tea, remembering every paltry thought that had haunted him.
Unrepentant faggots! Uncle Vernon’s voice echoed through his mind.
Loathing himself for allowing that vile man to still hold any sway over his life, Harry brought his fist down on the table, sending an involuntary shock of magic into the air and shattering his mug. Tea spilled over the table and into Harry’s lap.
Harry yelped and jumped up, cursing viciously at the tea on his trousers. He banished it with a snap of his wrist and repaired the mug with the same gesture. He pressed his hands to the tabletop and bowed his head. He wouldn’t allow Vernon to influence him any longer. Not after he had worked so hard to overcome the trauma of living with the Dursleys, not with Vernon dead and buried long ago.
His thoughts went to Snape, and he gave a wry chuckle. Snape would definitely call him an idiot for this. At least Snape knew his demons were there, no matter how hard he tried to smother them with fire.
Pushing himself away from the table, Harry summoned his strength and turned to fetch his coat. It was than that his eyes clapped onto the picture of his family pinned to the pantry door.
They had taken it one grey afternoon at the beach, Harry and Ginny sat together on the sand, their jacket collars pulled up to shield against the blustering wind. Lily had jumped playfully up onto Harry’s back, her arms hanging loosely around his neck, a blinding grin adorning her pudgy cheeks. Albus sat curled up to Ginny’s side, shooting shy smiles at the camera from under his shock of jet black hair. James, meanwhile, dominated the frame by sitting slap-bang in the centre, in front of Harry and Ginny, leaning back heavily on them both, his head tipped back in somewhat maniacal laughter.
The Harry and Ginny in the picture shared an affectionate look, before looking up at the real Harry and waving. Real-Harry felt a tidal wave of guilt wash over him. His family were his world. James was brash and loud, with a merciless trouble-making streak which rivaled that of Fred and George in their Hogwarts days. He had inherited his mother’s fiery temper, and, since Lily had been bestowed the same gift, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that the quick-to-anger Weasley temperament was passed down through the same gene that gave them their carrot-red hair.
Though he did have a tendency to follow the crowd, and play up when he thought his friends were looking, James was a sweet boy, doting on his siblings only if they promised not to tell his mates. Harry adored his bright sense of humour, and the way that he only showed his softer side to those who had earned his trust.
Lily was bold and clever, head-strong and not just a little insufferable when it came to voicing her iron-clad opinions - thankfully for all those in her wake, those opinions revolved mostly around which flavour of ice-cream was the best, and what to name the family owl. Harry waited in gleeful anticipation the day when she grew up and inevitably became a politician, because she would be a tour-de-force. With her charisma and compassion, he could well imagine her becoming Minister of Magic one day.
Albus was shy, quiet and intense. He never spoke without reason, and held a constant, calculating twinkle in his eyes. Despite his mild-manner and reclusive nature, it was clear to anyone who looked closely that Albus was an exceptionally intuitive boy. He knew just how to manipulate his brother and sister to do whatever he wanted them to, without them even realising it. Harry often suspected that Al’s timid demeanour was a clever disguise for his ambition. A Slytherin to the core, that boy was, and Harry couldn’t have been prouder of him.
He couldn’t have been prouder of any of his children. They were precious pieces of his soul that had taken form in the three most beautiful creatures imaginable. When he thought of his children, Harry’s heart ached with an incommunicable love. It was a feeling like none he had ever known; something fierce and all-consuming, constant as the universe and just as frighteningly huge. He reached out to touch the photograph with the tip of his finger.
Suddenly, an almighty SQWARK wrenched him from his reverie. Harry turned sharply to the kitchen window to see Mintybird dancing on the frame, flapping her wings wildly, sending feathers flying all about her. “Whoa, whoa! Minty, for goodness’ sake, calm down!” Harry cried as he rushed over to her, reaching for the letter she had deposited inelegantly in the sink. He stroked her feathers and shushed her as he tore open the envelope to see Ginny’s messy scrawl.
Hogwarts ASAP. James got into a fight.
Harry’s brow creased with concern. He balled the note up in his fist and vanished with a thunderous CRACK!
Harry Apparated directly in front of the Hogwarts gates and rushed inside, launching himself up stairs and down corridors to reach the Headmistress’ office.
He stopped in front of the gargoyle, which greeted him with a mock-salute and let him pass up the stairs without even asking for the password. He entered the office to the see Ginny standing sternly over his eldest son, who sat across from Headmistress McGonagall with his arms crossed tightly, and a dark bruise forming over his eye. In the other chair sat a sulking, stubborn-looking boy Harry recognised as a Hufflepuff in James’ year, flanked on either side by his parents, without so much as a scratch on him, the little snot-nosed bugger.
“Ah! Harry, come in.” Minerva greeted from her chair.
Harry nodded to her in greeting and strode over to his son, kneeling down to take a closer look at his black eye. James pouted and looked away, his eyes turning glassy.
Harry swallowed his anger at whoever had hurt his son, in favour of lifting his hand to press it gently to James’ bruise. He sent a pulse of cool, healing magic on to it, and the bruise began to slowly fade. James’ lip twitched gratefully. Harry patted him on the cheek and stood to take his place next to Ginny. He touched her arm.
She turned and gave him a sardonic look and an eye-roll. McGonagall flicked her wand and transfigured four chairs from the pot-plants scattered about the office.
“Will you take a seat, please.” she commanded, her soft Scottish tone firm with authority.
The parents sat obediently.
“I’ve called you all here because of an incident of which your sons were the perpetrators.” McGonagall began.
She gave the boys each stern looks, “Now, Mr. Barrett, will you please tell us all your version of events.”
Barrett shot James an ugly sneer, “James hit me, and I hit him back.”
“He started it!” James shouted, leaning forward in his chair imploringly, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
Ginny put a comforting hand on his shoulder, as Harry softly shushed him to lower his voice, “Why don’t you tell them what you did!”
Barrett blanched, glancing nervously at the austere McGonagall and Harry in turn.
McGonagall raised an eyebrow in question at him, “Well?”
Bowing his head, Barrett mumbled something under his breath.
“We can’t hear you, Mr. Barrett.”
“I kicked some mud in his face...” Barrett confessed reluctantly.
McGonagall’s eyebrow lifted to an impressive height.
“Tell them what you called me!” James demanded.
Barrett flushed and glared down at his knotted hands, clenched in his lap. “I didn’t call him anything.” he muttered in protest.
“Andrew.” his father commanded sternly, parental steel in his voice that left no room for disobedience.
Hesitating, Barrett looked up and around at the rooms occupants, settling his furious glare at James. “He deserved it!” he shouted suddenly, jabbing a finger in James’ direction, “Everyone’s talking about him!”
James’ fingers turned white where they gripped the arms of his chair. “He’s a bloody poufter!” Barrett yelled.
James launched himself out of his chair to attack Barrett, screaming obscenities, his arms flailing as he clawed and punched the air in front of him. Fortunately, Harry had reflexively put out his arms to catch him before he could assault the boy.
In a mirrored way, Andrew Barrett had been similarly restrained by his own father as he screeched vile slurs. Barrett’s mother stood off to the side, alternating between shushing her flailing son and shooting disgusted looks at the Potters.
“Control your son, Potter!” Barrett Senior shouted.
“Why don’t you control yours!” Ginny argued.
“ENOUGH!” McGonagall suddenly bellowed, standing up and slamming the desk in front of her.
The room silenced.
Harry pushed James gently back into his seat where he slumped down, looking wounded. Harry squeezed his shoulder and turned back to McGonagall.
“Mr. Barrett,” she intoned, her voice a knife through the silence, “I will not tolerate homophobia in this school.”
She looked to James, “As for you Mr. Potter, I do not know whether you are indeed gay or not, nor do I care to know. Regardless, violence is never the correct way to deal with name-calling.”
She turned back to Barrett, “It is apparent to me, Mr. Barrett, that you are holding on to some very old-fashioned prejudices. For your actions, and your words, I’m going to take fifty points from Hufflepuff.” Barrett’s jaw fell open and he began to vocalise his protest, only to be silenced by McGonagall’s firm continuance. “Furthermore, you will, from now, report to detention every evening with Madam Pince in the Library until you have researched and completed a six foot essay on the achievements of of great homosexual witches and wizards throughout history.”
The elder Barrett complained, “Now, see here, McGonagall--!”
“I would suggest,” McGonagall interrupted him icily, giving him a stone cold stare, “that you begin with the greatest in recent history, our very own Albus Dumbledore.”
Barrett senior sat back down, his mouth snapping shut to purse his lips, a distinct look of surprise in his eyes.
Harry looked up at the wall above McGonagall to see the portrait of Dumbledore himself - roused from his sleep at the mention of his name. He caught Harry’s eye and gave a wide smile. McGonagall followed Harry’s gaze, turning in her chair to look up at the portrait above her head.She smirked lightly as she saw Dumbledore awake.
“Ah! Albus,” she addressed him, “Can you think of any other famous gay wizards or witches of which Mr. Barrett should be aware for his essay?”
Dumbledore turned slowly towards her, sending Harry a sly wink on his way. Harry felt his palms begin to sweat. “None that I can think of off the top of my head, Minerva, my dear,” he said, giving his painted beard a long, thoughtful stroke, “Though my memory isn’t what it used to be, you know.” He added with a chuckle, and looked down at the Barrett boy. “Madam Pince will surely have all the information you need, my boy.”
“Yes, Sir,” Barrett mumbled sheepishly.
“I shall look forward to hearing it once it is done,” Dumbledore said absently, fiddling with his glasses, “Alas, there is so little worth reading in these old portraits.”
McGonagall chuckled fondly as Albus settled back down in his portrait and began to snore softly. She gave the Barrett parents a pinched smile, thanked them for their time and dismissed them.
As they left, Harry looked at Ginny, who was regarding him with calm concern. He cleared his throat and looked away.
“Now,” McGonagall announced as she turned her attention back to the Potters, “Young Mr. Potter, should there be any more incidents of this nature, you are to inform me of it immediately.”
James nodded, twisting his hands in his lap.
“Homophobia may be a blight upon this world, but to resort to fisticuffs solves nothing, and is completely unacceptable.”
James bowed his head in acquiescence, looking resigned.
McGonagall’s eyes softened at the edges. “You will serve four nights detention with Professor Longbottom in the greenhouses.”
James looked up hopefully, the begins of a smile showing on his face, “Thank you, Headmistress.”
McGonagall tutted, remaining stern, “And I will be taking ten points from Gryffindor.” She peered at him over her glasses, “This is still a punishment, young man, and I would advise you behave as such.”
James nodded enthusiastically as Ginny thanked Minerva for her generosity. McGonagall waved her gratitude away and calmly advised James to go to his next lesson. James stood, gathering his bag and cloak. Ginny hugged him close and whispered in his ear something that made him smile tearfully.
Harry put his arm around his son, ruffled his hair and said, “We’ll talk about this later, okay?”
James nodded, bid a silent farewell to them all and rushed out of the office and down the stairs.
Harry turned to Ginny and gave her a peck on the cheek, “Hey", he said warmly. She rolled her eyes and shuffled them both back to their chairs.
McGonagall sighed from her chair, “Tea?” she asked.
“Only if you haven’t got any whiskey.” Ginny quipped.
McGonagall laughed, “What kind of Scot would I be if I didn’t?” She flicked her wand and conjured a tea tray. “However, I promised myself I would stop drinking before the sun goes down. This old liver isn’t what it used to be.”
They shared a chuckle and sat back with steaming mugs once tea and milk was shared between them.
“Is this an isolated incident then?” Ginny asked seriously, taking a long sip from her cup.
Minerva sighed sadly, “Unfortunately not. It seems that someone started a rumour about young James, and he has been taking it very personally. Fortunately, this has been the only violent outburst I know of so far.”
“How long has this been going on?” Harry asked.
Minerva stared out of the office window thoughtfully, “I can’t be sure... At least a few weeks by my guess. However...” She trailed off, and faced Harry and Ginny again, “Have either of you noticed a difference in James recently?”
Harry and Ginny nodded in unison, and Ginny spoke, “He’s not been talking to us. Over the summer he was so distant.”
“He holed himself up in his room, only coming down for meals. And even then he wouldn’t speak, and he’d fly off the handle over the smallest thing.” Harry added.
He and Ginny had reached their wits end over the summer; they had tried to talk to James, but it only ever resulted in temper tantrums.
McGonagall nodded in understanding. She reached into her desk and pulled out a selection of leaflets.
“As I told your son, I do not know anything about his orientation. But it does seem as though it is a major issue that he is currently facing. I’d like you to read these, and if you feel it may be necessary, talk to your son.”
Harry looked at the leaflets, the topmost in the pile screaming in bright, bold lettering, PREFER WANDS? A Young Wizard’s Guide to Homosexuality and Self-Acceptance. He balked at it.
To have it written there, so... Unrepentant. It sent a shock of something akin to terror through his system. His palms began to sweat anew. Ginny turned apprehensively to him.
“What do you think, Harry?” she asked tentatively, placing her hand gently over his. Harry nodded tightly, unable to loosen his throat where it had frozen in panic - shame, fear, choking sadness - at the unintelligible, frantic thoughts that swirled through his head. He could hear Vernon shouting through his mind.
McGonagall regarded him strangely, “Are you quite alright, Harry?”
Harry finally managed to shake himself free from his mental shackles. “Yeah, sorry. I, er-- sorry, I’m not feeling very well.”
McGonagall frowned, but before she could say anything, Harry interrupted, “We’ll to talk to James about all-- um, about this. You have my word.” he stuttered, still fighting back his emotion.
“Anyway, we, er, we better go, right, Gin?” Harry said hurriedly, sweeping the leaflets up into his arms. Ginny watched him bustle about, a look of worry etched across her face. “Thanks, Minerva. We really appreciate it.” Harry said, leaning forward to give his old Professor a kiss on the cheek, “See you at Christmas, right?”
Minerva nodded once more, and shared a glance with Ginny. Ginny leaned in to peck her on the cheek as well, and mumbled something Harry couldn’t hear as he pulled the office door open and began stomping down the stairs, counting them to the ebb and flow of his breath.
He reached the bottom of the stairs and looked down at the leaflets he held. All of them emblazoned with bright writing about acceptance and coming to terms and prophylactic charms. It was all just a bit more than Harry could take. With his so-very-recent epiphany and panic about the fact that he might be a little bit gay, he felt like a cracked window that kept getting rocks pelted at it. Those words on the leaflets, so unashamed and supportive. The fierce look in Minerva’s eyes when she spoke passionately against prejudice. That sly wink Dumbledore gave. They all spoke to loudly to Harry’s mind that it was deafening.
At the same time as the glass in the window shattered irreparably, Harry realised, for the first time, that despite his own deeply ingrained self-loathing over his true self, the world was giving him permission to not feel broken.
Ron was right, Ginny was no fool. It was clear from the look of undisturbed concern and love, that she knew all to well what may be happening within him, and more than that, accepted it. She didn’t think he was broken. Ron himself, so open and cheerful in announcing Harry’s unacknowledged urges, gave with his smile and laughter, a pure and unconditional accepted. He didn’t think Harry was broken. McGonagall wouldn’t think so either, from the way she stood up and defended the rights of people... People like Harry-- Gay people. Harry stuffed the leaflets into his pockets, tearing his eyes away. He was still in public and couldn’t afford to be seen having a nervous breakdown.
“Harry?” Ginny’s voice came softly from behind him. “Let’s go for a walk, sweetheart.” Harry turned to her.
She smiled at him and touched his cheek. It was only then that he noticed that it was damp.
“Maybe we can stop by the kitchens on the way. Get you some chocolate.” she said as she looped her arm through his.
With bars of chocolate in hand (and pocket), Harry and Ginny strode leisurely through the grounds, following a small path by the lake, to end up sitting on a familiar log in a small clearing with a beautiful view of the lake as the sun began to set.
“This is where you proposed to me,” Ginny said after some long minutes of comfortable silence.
Harry smiled, casting his memory back to the day, “I think you’ve got your facts wrong there. I clearly remember you proposing to me.”
Ginny shrugged and pulled Harry close for a squeeze, “Well, you needed some help.” she said playfully.
The mood turned melancholy, and Ginny sighed. Her tongue clicked against her teeth as she mulled over her next words.
“Do you ever regret it?” she asked eventually.
There was no judgment in her question, no accusing finger. A simple, almost rhetorical question. It were as if she were asking herself at the same time. With her tone, she implied that there was no obligation to answer truthfully, nor any obligation to answer at all. It was merely an invitation to speak, should he choose.
At that moment, Harry had never loved her more.
“I don’t regret our family.” he answered cryptically.
Ginny’s mouth twitched at the corner. “We haven’t been a happy family for a while though.” she said.
Harry looked away from her, and gazed instead across the shimmering lake. A huge tentacle rose up from the water in the distance and then brought itself crashing back down, sending frothing waves tumbling away from the impact. The waves, smaller as they traveled, lapped delicately at the shore before them.
“No.” he agreed. “We haven’t.” He kept his tone soft, as if he were telling a secret.
Ginny huddled closer to him as a cool evening breeze swept across the lake. “I sometimes feel like we only got married was because everyone expected us to.” she said, hushed and sad.
Harry swallowed around the lump that formed in this throat. He pulled a bar of chocolate out of his pocket, broke it two and handed the larger half to Ginny as he bit into his own. The stillness that followed felt like it stretched across the entire galaxy and transcended time. Harry could hear his heart thumping through the air around them. The affection that Ginny poured, from the way that she held him close, gave no pause for pain. Only a quiet resignation, an acknowledgment that was both comforting and deeply tragic.
Ginny sighed and held up her last morsel of chocolate up, “To us.” she toasted.
Harry snorted softly to himself and lifted his own chocolate up to meet hers.
“To us.” he murmured.
That night, Ginny returned home with Harry. Canceling her attendance for the rest of the Harpies’ tour, she decided to stay home for the remaining month or so of the year.
When they returned home, Harry reheated some leftover soup for supper, and they ate while sitting quietly on the sofa, watching some nonsense Muggle television programme.
Once they’d eaten, they retired to bed together, exchanging only a solemn “Goodnight” before turning over to sleep.
In the middle of the night, Harry awoke to the sound of Ginny sobbing in the living room downstairs. Feeling another crack begin to form on his heart, he turned over and slid his hand under her still-warm pillow and fell guiltily back to sleep.
Chapter 6: Pletherin 'Bloody' Snoad is a Wanker of Huge Proportions
In the run up to Christmas, despite the fragile calm that had fallen over the Potter household after their visit to Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny soon found themselves fighting again, almost constantly. They argued about every minor thing under the sun, each row begun by something so minute that it was cast aside and forgotten then moment that screams and fury of pent-up emotion began to blaze.
Harry found refuge only with Snape. Their work was exhausting; standing for hours over hot cauldrons, reading innumerable volumes of books on relevant subjects, handling all sorts of vile slimy things that needed chopping up -- but it provided Harry more than ample distraction from his own personal drama.
They had worked and researched tirelessly, and finally there seemed to be an end in sight. With each passing day, Snape’s magic further failed him. He was growing gaunt and strained by his weakness, but they had almost completed the full set of potions needed to cure him. Once they had finished those, there little left to do, Snape said, but wait for the potions to do their work as he took them in sequence.
Harry soon realised that Snape came alive as he brewed, consumed by his tasks of weighing, stirring, creating. His posture loosened as he lost himself in the familiar rhythm of his passion.
Even more interesting to Harry, was that he noticed more and more that Snape was letting down his natural guard. He often showed the glimmer of a positive emotion through the iron mask of his expression. He snorted at Harry’s lame attempts at jokes. He even engaged in Harry’s mild banter. He had become the Snape that Harry had always imagined him - before he was totally jaded, before his mistrust and misanthropy had built those impenetrable walls of defence, before pain had caused him to shut down any trace of vulnerability. Harry could see hints and suggestions of the Severus Snape that was, back when Sev and Lily used to play together in the Summer fields, trading quips and holding hands in the shade.
Harry began to see that behind his incorrigible insults and snobby sarcasm, there shone a dark, dry homour within Snape. Callous and cutting as any bile he had flung at Hogwarts, but softened at the edges with a spark of well-meaning mirth. Though Harry still felt sometimes wounded by reflex when Snape would send a snapping jibe in his direction, it was clear, once he turned to retort and caught the laughing gleam in Snape’s eyes, that his seemingly-malicious remark was actually dealt with a deep and sincere fondness, one that Harry was not sure Snape had noticed himself.
With his new-found understanding of Snape’s wit, Harry discovered that he was genuinely funny, and that Harry actually appreciated the waspish observations Snape would make, especially when they weren’t directed at Harry.
In the rare times that Snape would allow them a respite from the work, they would take tea together in the living room. Harry had gotten into the habit of supplying baked goods for each of his visits, and eventually, Snape stopped complaining. They would sip and eat, at first in dense silence, but as the days ticked by, they started to made idle conversation. Staying impersonal, they imposed a strict unspoken rule to keep to neutral subjects; nothing of the past, and Harry greatly enjoyed their discussions.
He loved watching Snape gesticulate in an increasingly wild fashion as he spoke passionately about why Pletherin Snoad was a complete, useless twit. He adored the flint in Snape’s eyes as they discussed the finer points of politics. He even began to crave Snape’s derisive snorts that came whenever Harry said something misinformed about potion-making as an art form.
Harry did his best to keep his home situation a private matter, and not drag Snape into it. Not that Snape would give a damn about Harry’s various dilemmas, but Harry still couldn’t bring himself to mention it, even in passing, no matter how he wanted to scream it, “My marriage is dying!”, “I think I’m a massive queer!”. It felt wrong, somehow, to taint his time with Snape by talking about his drama. And wasn’t that an odd thought?
Nevertheless, Snape seemed to have guessed something was up. He never asked, nor even looked sympathetic, but there was an energy of understanding there, an air about him that told Harry that he knew.
Or perhaps Harry was just imagining things...
At the Ministry, life continued as ever, Harry did paperwork, trained the odd new recruit, and hated his job more and more with each dull hour that ticked by.
Mid-December, word reached Harry that Pletherin bloody Snoad was planning to bring Snape in for questioning. Quashing his fury at the the very idea, Harry stormed Snoad’s office to give the slimy prat a firm reminder of whom it was he was planning to fuck about.
“Something you want to tell me, Deputy Snoad?” Harry demanded as he entered Plethy’s office.
Snoad jumped into the air where he was standing, watering a small spiderplant on his windowsill.
“Ah, Potter!” he cried with forced enthusiasm, and turned to face Harry, “Yes, just the man I was hoping to see. Yes! Just the man. Have a seat, Potter! Don’t dally in the doorway, now!”
Snoad slithered into the fine, wing-back chair behind his desk and waved Harry into one of the small wooden chairs in front. Harry swallowed his sneer and took his seat, scowling heavily at the sleaze-bag before him.
“Looking forward to Christmas, eh, Potter?” Snoad said as he cast his eyes about the room, avoiding Harry’s gaze. “Few weeks off, eh? Plans with the fam?”
Harry stared blankly at him until Snoad coughed neatly into his hand.
“Yes, good woman, that one. Your wife, that is. Yes.” he continued to rambled.
“Sir.” Harry interrupted him, his patience reaching it’s peak.
Snoad coughed once more.
“Yes, yes. Just the man.” he rambled, pulling documents out from the drawers of his desk. “Glad you came, Potter. Been meaning to talk to you.”
“About Severus Snape, I presume.” Harry stated calmly, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands casually across his abdomen. It would be a very bad idea to lose his temper with the deputy minister.
“Ah! Yes, just the thing. Terrible business, isn’t it? Just staying vigilant though, of course, yes.”
“I heard you’ve arranged a task-force to abduct him.” Harry said icily.
Snoad paled, and tutted, “No, no, certainly no. Merely bringing him in for questioning. Simple procedure, really. Compliance is all we ask.”
“Bringing him in by force, you mean?”
“Potter, Potter,” Plethy placated with calculated reassurance in his beady eyes, “Force is only ever necessary when one disregards the request of a Ministry official. I have no doubt that Snape will see reason. We’ll simply get him here, ask him a few questions and bish, biash, bosh, he’s back home in a few hours. Practically a round trip! Assuming, of course, that he can adequately attest to his innocence.”
Harry’s scowl deepened. His eyes flashed dangerously behind his glasses.
“Severus Snape was cleared of all charges twenty years ago, Snoad.”
“Upon his death, Potter. Now, as you well know,” Snoad said with significance, “Snape is not dead.”
Harry narrowed his eyes at the git, “I gave evidence for Snape’s post-humous emancipation. The same evidence can clear him a second time.”
Snoad sighed in an overly dramatic way, “Come now, Potter. Such hostility. This is merely a precautionary measure.”
Harry stood up and slammed his hands down on the desk, sending a violent pulse of magic through it. The desk cracked down the middle. Plethy jumped out of his chair.
“I am going to say this once, Snoad. So listen carefully.” Harry snarled, “Severus Snape is a bloody hero. You would do well to remember that whenever you try to grease your way into power by using him.”
Pletherin, where he had backed himself against the shelves behind him, attempted once again to stand tall. He opened his mouth to speak but Harry quickly interrupted him.
“Furthermore, sir.” he said, leaning forward menacingly, “You should keep in mind, that while there may be many swayed by your tactics, the majority of them will bow when faced with mine.”
Leaving Plethy quaking, Harry pushed himself upright once more and marched from the office in a flurry. He soon stood outiside his own, glaring at the plaque on the door emblazoned with his name.
He sneered at it. Deciding in that moment that work could go bugger itself, Harry turned and walked away.
With the rest of the day to kill, Harry found himself absently wandering through the familiar streets of Cokeworth, where he had wiled away days at a time, sifting through forgotten memories.
The door of the house on Spinner’s End swung open at Harry’s touch, the wards melting beneath his fingers as they remembered him. He hadn’t visited his old haunt since a week before Snape’s return.
The house was exactly as he had left it, messy with sprawling piles of Snape’s old belongings, dingy with dust and damp. It was a thoroughly unpleasant house by anyone’s standards, but Harry couldn’t help but adore it. For so long it had been the only place to which he could escape when his head spoke to loudly, or he was overcome with stress. Ginny used to call it Harry’s “man-cave” back when she could still smile as he disappeared to lose himself in the past.
He would come here in his darkest days, when the world felt like it was collapsing. Despite the cloying feeling of guilt Harry felt in his stomach, it was a breath of fresh air to tread those floorboards once more.
He stepped carefully over a small box of photographs and wound his path through the clutter to reach the kitchen. He brewed himself a pot of tea and sat down at the small table by the window. The feeling of relief he felt was akin to that he felt around Snape... presumably, because he was literally surrounded by Snape in this place.
He looked out the window, wiping away some of the muck with his sleeve to get a better view of the small stone garden, and imagined, as he often had, young Severus in the grass, playing pretend with the dirty old toys Harry had found stashed away in the attic.
It was difficult to imagine that tall, looming Snape had ever been such a care-free child, but Harry had seen the photos.
Snape would probably want them back.
Harry looked around himself at the old house, with its battered walls and peeling paint. He looked at the strewn boxes of Snape’s possessions, scattered between mounted piles of junk that he had saved from 12 Grimmauld Place before he had the blasted house demolished. Each item he had carelessly plonked on the floor was precious to him in a way that he found unspeakable, and it cut like a knife through his skin that he would have to give them back.
But they weren’t his. Those weren’t his photos, this wasn’t his life. These weren’t his memories. They belonged to Snape, Harry had merely been guarding them without knowing it.
Harry spent the rest of the day in the quiet comfort of Spinner’s End. He idled away an hour pulling weeds from the between the stones in the garden, then decided to go on a rampant cleaning spree around the house. He would hate to hand it back over to Snape only to get insulted for leaving it in such a state.
He sorted through the various boxes of jumbled trickets, pausing to re-read some of his favourite letters to commit them to memory, pushing away the sneaking feeling of guilt he felt at violating not-dead Snape’s privacy one last time. He pulled out the items that he could identify as Snape’s - most of which Harry had pinched from Snape’s old chambers at Hogwarts. He hadn’t dared to move any of the things that Spinner’s End already contained, certain that the ghost of Snape would have been one hell of a Poltergeist, and more than happy to viciously haunt the hell out of him for disrupting Snape’s home feng shui.
He banished the bits and pieces he had salvaged from Grimmauld Place to his attic at home, sheepish that Snape might know that Harry had tainted his childhood home with any trace of Sirius, chuckling at how his godfather would have reacted if he knew Harry was quickly becoming friends with Snape... Then balked at the thought of Sirius finding out about the slowly warming emotions Harry felt--
Harry shook his head violently. Thinking about Sirius’ hypothetical thoughts on this shitty situation probably wasn’t a good idea.
In the a drawer in the kitchen where Snape had kept a roll of decades-old clingfilm, Harry had stored an assortment of important but rather boring documents. Within, he found the deed to the house. He pulled it out and stared at it, fighting against the childish urge to clutch it to his chest, squeeze his eyes shut and shout “Mine!”
He definitely had to give it back, but the house had been such a haven over the years that understandably parting with it would be painful. He shrunk the document down and put it in his pocket to take to Snape.
As twilight began to cast it’s dusty shadow, Harry spared the house one last longing look, and pulled the front door closed behind him.
That evening Harry arrived for work with Snape early, feeling compelled to go straight from Cokeworth to Scunthorpe without stopping at home.
Snape opened the door too him with a perplexed look.
“You’re early.” he said plainly.
Harry rubbed at the back of his neck, “Yeah, sorry. I hope you don’t mind.”
Snape narrowed his eyes, but allowed Harry in anyway. He gestured Harry into the sitting room.
“There’s tea.” said Snape, who picked up his book where it rested open on the arm of his chair, and resumed reading.
Harry scratched absently at his elbow and sat down in the firm black chair that he was beginning to think of as his. Snape was silent, but Harry could feel his agitation growing with each second that ticked by.
“I hate my job.” Harry blurted suddenly.
Snape closed his eyes briefly, and looked up at Harry with judgmental eyes.
“Oh, shut up. I do.”
Snape sighed, returning to his book. Harry continued.
“It’s boring and I hate it.” he groaned petulantly. Thumping the arm of the chair lightly.
“You sound like a child.” Snape said, fingering the corner of a page.
Harry scowled at him, “Do you want to know what happened today?”
“No, but I have no doubt that you’re going to tell me anyway.” Snape quipped.
“Snoad is out for blood. Yours, actually.”
“Colour me astounded.”
“This is serious, you git. He wants to bring you in for questioning.” he spat. “I... er, asked him not to. But whether he listens to me is another thing.”
Snape, though tense in his shoulders, rolled his eyes casually, “That fool will do what he will. I have nothing more to hide.”
“That’s not the point!” Harry burst, “He has no right. Your innocence was proven years ago!”
“Potter, much as I appreciate the sentiment, you needn’t indulge your heroic compulsions by defending me. I am perfectly capable of doing that myself.”
Harry hung his head.
“Potter.” Snape said, Harry looked up. Snape appeared uncomfortable. “If it will prevent you inflicting your Gryffindor sensibilities on me, then I can assure you that should Pletherin Snoad successfully drag me to the Ministry, I will enlighten you. If you can reassure me that you won’t make a twit of yourself by charging in guns blazing.”
Harry chuckled, “Okay. Thanks.”
Snape rolled his eyes again and sipped from his mug. A stillness fell over them as Harry mulled over his thoughts.
“Snoad isn’t the only reason I hate it.” he said, pulling Snape from his book once more.
“No,” Snape agreed, “I distinctly recall you whining that it is also boring.”
“It is!” Harry complained, “It’s hours and hours of bloody paperwork, all day, every day. So dull! It used to be exciting being an Auror; chasing down bad guys, keeping the streets clean. It felt good. But now it’s all form-filling and endless bloody meetings about whether or not we should change our uniform robes from red to maroon. It’s a joke!”
Finally, Snape shut his book and pinned Harry with a stare.
“Why did you become an Auror, Potter?” He asked, “It’s a choice I’ve always questioned as I viewed your life from a-far. Irealise that as The Chosen One, you had certain expectations to uphold, in the years following the War. But surely you could have traversed to a more suitable career once your duties were done.”
Harry thought about it. Expectation was, truthfully, an insidious motive behind his joining the Ministry. But it wasn’t everything. Harry thought back to the day he, Ron and Hermione tracked down the last of the known Death Eaters. It was the first time they ever went to The Sneaky Toad for a pint, and it was in celebration. Despite the raucous laughter and merry-making, Harry remembered feeling a lost. Ron had made plans to join George at Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes, and Hermione had accepted a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Harry had put off planning anything at all. He’d received innumerable job offers, including one from an elderly Wizard in Windsor asking for him to be a career husband to his granddaughter, which was just plain weird. But nothing felt right, and it was only when he realised that his lack of employment was a financial drain on the Weasleys and Ginny that he accepted full-time work as an Auror.
"It just seemed to make sense.” Harry explained with a shrug. “I was pretty much doing it already as a volunteer, and fighting Dark Wizards was the only thing I was ever really good at.”
Snape snorted derisively, a definitely spark of amusement in his eyes. Harry glared at him.
Snape smirked, "You weren't really, though, were you?"
Harry gaped indignantly, "I bloody well was!"
Snape laughed. A deep, resonating sound that made Harry's insides burn.
"No, Potter," Snape said, "You were exceptionally lucky. Every time.”
Harry opened his mouth in protest, but Snape interrupted him cooly.
“Don't misunderstand me, you were always a moderately skilled wizard, especially when it came to the Dark Arts and the Defence thereof, but you would never have managed to dismantle the Dark Lord without an astonishing number of extremely fortunate coincidences."
"You are such a tosser.” Harry said, shaking his head in disbelief, “I died to kill that psychopath!"
"Yes, yes, and your sacrifice is most commendable.” Snape said, waving his hand dismissively, “Ten points to Gryffindor. However, as Albus pointed out a nauseating number of times, it was always your capacity for love,” Snape’s lip curled over the word, “which allowed you to make that sacrifice. And your unnerving ability to have things turn out exactly as planned which put you in the position to do so in the first place.”
He paused in his frank diatribe to take a sip of tea, “I'm not saying that you're untalented, nor that being an Auror doesn't suit you. I was merely under the impression that once you had rid the world of the Dark Lord's scourge, you'd marry the Weasley chit, churn out a small army of carrot-topped offspring and return to Hogwarts to teach." Snape tapped his chin thoughtfully, "Well, you've fulfilled two of my predictions."
Harry gaped at the bastard.
“Three kids is hardly an army.” He said defensively.
Snape’s lip twitched, “Three typical children perhaps, but a Potter-Weasley spawn should certainly count as at least five.”
Harry laughed, “They can be a handful.” he agreed fondly, and helped himself to a cup of still-warm tea.
“What do you think I should do?” Harry asked quietly, staring intently at the suitcase that served as Snape’s coffee table. It was an old, battered looking thing. Why Snape didn’t just get himself a decent coffee table Harry wasn’t sure. Money issues? Perhaps, but Snape had made himself quite clear that Dumbledore had left him rather well off. The house was fairly large on the inside, and it was in a seemingly quite pleasant neighbourhood, despite it being in Scunthorpe.
Perhaps it was a sentimental thing. Who could know?
“I think that you should look elsewhere for advice, Potter.” Snape murmured in response. “Having been transient for the past twenty years, I am certainly unqualified to give career advice.”
Harry snorted, “I don’t want career advice. I just want your opinion.”
Snape lifted his shoulder, “As you wish.” he said, “I think you should quit your ridiculous job and spent the rest of your life doing something about which you feel passionately.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. Snape was right, of course.
“But you didn’t need me to tell you that.” Snape observed.
Harry smiled at him, a soft, warm look in his eyes. “No. I suppose not. But appreciate it all the same.”
Snape looked away from him uncomfortably.
“Enough sitting around, Potter.” he said eventually. “We have work to do.” He pushed himself out of his chair, and it was only then that Harry noticed the strain in his face. It had only been a week since Harry had last seen him, and he was beginning to visibly weaken.
Harry followed Snape down to the cellar, where Snape immediately began listing ingredients and setting up the cauldron. Harry obediently fetched all they needed.
The potion du jour was a raw potion, so there would be no fire required for it. But still, despite the lack of simmering heat from a Bunsen burner, and the brisk wind outside, Harry felt strangely warm. He and Snape stood side by side at the table, diligently dicing up a variety of odd-smelling herbs and some rather vile fat orange slugs.
Though he tried to keep his attention to the task before him, Harry’s mind kept wandering to the heat of the man next to him. He could feel the warmth of Snape’s body next to him, fluctuating with every movement the man made as he worked. He could feel that warmth radiating from Snape, permeating Harry’s thin shirt. It was driving him to distraction.
As he pressed his knife into the next bright orange slug, Snape shifted his weight to his other foot, his elbow brushing Harry’s lightly. The knife slipped and cut into his finger.
“Fuck!” he yelped.
“Potter!” Snape barked, throwing down his pestle and mortar to grab Harry’s bleeding hand. He brought it up to his face to inspect it, inadvertently pulling Harry closer to him.
Harry felt his breath hitch as Snape’s breath ghosted over his finger tip.
“Salve.” muttered Snape. He turned around and marched over to a cupboard to pull out a small jar. He crossed back over to Harry and thumped the jar down on the table. He pulled a tissue from his pocket, folded it up roughly and pressed it to the cut.
Snape met Harry’s eyes, dark and warm. Harry’s heart began to pound wildly.
“You are a walking disaster, Potter.” he said in a low voice, and Harry could have sworn that the reprimand was said with tenderness. But he was probably imagining things.
Once the bleeding had stopped, Snape wiped some of the salve onto it, sealing it shut. He lifted an eyebrow at Harry as he drew back, his softened demeanour slipping smoothly away to be replaced with disdain.
“Do try to be more careful.” he sneered, suddenly stern once more, “I’d rather not have my cure tainted by your blood.”
“I thought my blood was supposed to be a big part of this.” Harry responded
Snape curled his lip, “Not today, Potter. More’s the pity.”
Harry grimaced mirthfully, “Maybe you should handle the knife.” he suggested.
Snape rolled his eyes and took up the knife.
“Grind those seeds into a powder.” he said, pointing at the pestle and mortar.
Harry nodded and began, only to discover that the seeds he was supposed to be grinding felt more like tiny pebbles than anything remotely grindable.
Unable to replicate the smooth, swirling motion that Snape had used, Harry thumped at the seeds with the pestle.
“Potter.” growled Snape from beside him, his hand hovering delicately over the lotus leaf he had begun to shred.
“I’m trying!” Harry protested.
Snape huffed irritably, and reached for the pestle, his long fingers curling over Harry’s in an electrifying press.
Harry gasped lightly and lifted his eyes to look at Snape. Their gazes met and for a brief moment, Harry saw a burning fire within those impossibly dark eyes.
Snape pulled his hand back as if stung.
“Gentle motions, clockwise.” he muttered, returning to his own task, “You should barely need to apply pressure.” he instructed, his voice heavy.
Harry swallowed thickly and obeyed, marvelling at those rock-solid seeds bending beneath the pestle to fall apart into dust.
Chapter 7: Bless Ye Merry Hippogriffs and Also Gays
Christmas came with very little ceremony, but Harry was overjoyed to once again be surrounded by his family. The entire Weasley clan - honourary family included - congregated at the Burrow.
Harry and Ginny arrived shortly before Christmas breakfast with Lily bounding ahead of them up the drive to pound on the door bellowing “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”. Albus huddled in nervous excitement to his mother, tugging on her jumper to urge her faster forward.
James trundled behind, still in the midst of a sulk. Harry held back and put a guilty arm around his son. He and Ginny had been negligently putting off talking to him -- the time hadn’t seemed right. Harry, selfishly indulging in his own crisis, simply couldn’t bring himself to face up to the possibility that his son might be mired in the same issues.
The Burrow door swung open and Molly burst forth, arms spread to scoop Lily into a hug, beckoning the rest of them over with a flapping of her wrist. The Potters grinned collectively and succumbed to cuddles and cheek-pinching and kisses.
“Come on through! Come on through! We’re in the sitting room-- LILY! Take those muddy boots off this instant! -- Put your coats up on the pegs, that’s right. Buck’s Fizz?”
The words came in an almighty flurry. Molly’s cheeks were rosy from either Christmas cheer or the champagne before noon.
Harry kissed her on the cheek and handed her the large bag of gifts he carried. He followed the pounding of his childrens’ footsteps and raucous sound of merriment and, upon entering the magically swollen sitting room, was greeted by a cacophonous chorus of “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
George leapt forward from the crowd and pressed a drink into Harry’s hand, warning him with a grin that Percy was already five down and they had to catch up. Harry was then pulled into firm hugs by various strong-armed family members, until his cheeks ached from smiling and his sides were bruised.
The Burrow was alive with joy. Small clusters of grown-ups and parents quickly formed in furtive catch-up conversations fueled by mutual inebriation. Up and down stairs, children thundered with gleeful shrieks and giggles, only occasionally streaking past the adults in multicoloured blurs.
As the last of the presents were doled out, and the family were struggling into their personalised Weasley jumpers, there came a knock at the door.
Molly turned to the door in confusion, “We’re not expecting anyone else just yet, are we?”
Charlie leapt up from his seat immediately, “That’s for me!” He said hurriedly, “I’ll get it! You lot-- You stay here.”
The family watched as he skipped out of the door, then exchanged curious looks as they heard the muffled sound of conversation. Bill’s eyes grew wide.
“Has he invited someone?” he asked rhetorically.
“He never invites anyone.” Percy piped up, sounding suspicious.
Molly began to wring her hands, squeaking with anticipation. The room waited with baited breath as Charlie appeared once more in the doorway, giving them all stern looks as he introduced his guest. He beckoned for this mysterious person to emerge. A man shuffled into view. A few inches taller than Charlie, with short cropped hair and a wide, grinning mouth. His eyes crinkled at the corners as if smiling came naturally to his face. He gave a nervous wave.
“Hi, I’m David.” he said to the silent room. Charlie appeared to be holding his breath.
Molly burst forth with a squeal, and enveloped David in her arms, “Oh! David! How wonderful to meet you!”
Harry felt the Weasley’s around him shift suddenly to stand and begin greeting their new guest. He himself, sat very still, a tremour running through him.
“You should have told us, you silly boy,” Molly was chiding Charlie, “I could have made an extra jumper!”
Charlie grinned sheepishly and allowed his family to finish making introductions. Molly demanded to know everything about David and plied him with drop scones and cocktail sausages until the buttons of his casual button-down shirt began to protest.
Charlie walked away from the cluster that had formed around his guest and sat down next to Harry.
“That went better than expected.”
Harry gave a strangled laugh. Charlie frowned at him.
“You okay, Harry?”
“Oh-- No-- Yeah, I’m fine!”
The crease between Charlie’s eyebrows deepened.
“You don’t have a problem with this, do you?” He asked, the suspicion in his eyes belying his casual tone.
Harry shook his head furtively from side to side, feeling his throat close with reflexive fear.
“Charlie!” Bill bellowed from the buzzing fray. “Get over here!”
Charlie gave Harry a tight-lipped smile and returned to David’s side, only to be enthusiastically interrogated by the family about how they met.
Exiting the room silently, Harry snuck out to the peacefully garden. He took a long breath of cold winter air. Though it was just past noon, the shadow of evening was beginning to cast across the snowy lawn, giving the brilliant white canopy a soft peachy glow.
Around the corner from the garden door, Harry found a solitary bench that glittered with frost and flopped inelegantly onto it. He allowed his magic to seep onto the wood under his bottom and soon it was warm and dry enough to sit comfortably.
“Can you do that for me?”
Harry looked up startled into his eldest son’s face. He waved his hand at the space beside him to remove the remaining moisture and chill. James plonked himself down and began to chew at his knuckle. Harry automatically reached out to pull it away from his mouth, lightly chiding him for his bad habit.
The sound of muffled laughter from the party indoors spread over the quiet garden. Ron’s distinctive guffaw could be heard above the rest and Harry shared a fond smile with his son.
James looked pensive a moment, then hesitantly opened his mouth.
“Dad... Do you--” he huffed, changing his mind. He bit his lip and tried again, “What do you think of David?”
Harry shrugged in what he hoped was a non-committal way.
“I don’t know yet,” he answered, “I haven’t spoken to him.”
James chewed his cheek, “But you don’t think it’s weird... Right?”
His voice held a terrified quiver that lashed a scar upon Harry’s heart.
“No. It’s not weird.” he said softly.
“But you don’t like it.” James stated, as if it were a question.
Harry took a deep breath and spoke carefully, speaking slowly enough that he could reflect upon and measure each word individually before delivering it.
“When I was your age, I lived with Uncle Dudley’s mum and dad. Dudley’s dad, Vernon, was a-- well, he was disgusting. He was nasty and mean-spirited and he had horrible views on everyone that he didn’t consider normal.” Harry added air quotes for emphasis.
Speaking so thoughtfully was exhausting. Harry wondered how Snape could do it all the time.
“I knew the things that he said were wrong, but somehow they got stuck in my head anyway.” Harry paused and sighed, “I’m just having some trouble getting them out.”
James nodded sadly. Harry could practically see the cogs turning in his angst-ridden teenage mind. He pulled James to his side, ruffling his hair affectionately.
“It’s like with Mr. Malfoy,” Harry explained, “He grew up with bloody Voldemort as his role-model. And for ages he was a complete, ignorant twa-- err, twit.”
James rolled his eyes, “I’m fifteen, dad, you can say twat in front of me.”
Harry shushed him playfully, “The point is, Malfoy learned that what he was taught was wrong, and now he and Aunt Hermione are actually really good friends. He still slips up, because he was basically brainwashed as a kid, but he’s made an effort to change.” Harry gave James’ shoulders a squeeze, “And I am too.”
James still appeared sad.
“What is it?” Harry asked gently.
James began to shake, his body becoming wracked with dry sobs.
“W-would you h-hate me?” he asked in stuttering gasps, “Would you hate if I was-- If I was like Ch-Charlie?”
Harry’s fragile heart cracked and he wound his arms around his son, rubbing soothing circles onto his back.
“No, Jamie, of course I wouldn’t.” Harry reassured him emphatically, “I could never ever hate you.
Guilt, heavy as lead, settled in Harry’s stomach. He has caused this, with his selfish neglect and childish fear of confronting his own issues. He kissed the top of James’ head.
“I just want you to be happy.”
James sniffled into Harry’s jumper. Harry conjured a tissue from the air and handed it to him.
“Jamie, look at me.”
James looked up, his eyes glassy with tears, his cheeks blotchy and damp.
“There is nothing in the world I love more than you, Al and Lily. That will never change.”
He brushed James’ fringe away from his forehead with a tender sweep of his fingers, “There’s stuff I still need to learn about this whole, err...” he waved his hand about in the air, “thing.” He finished eloquently. Snape would be proud. “But I’m getting there. And you don’t ever need to worry about me hating you. Okay?”
James rubbed his nose and nodded his head.
“Thanks, dad.” he mumbled.
Harry sniffed the air, “Come on.” he declared, “I think I can smell a fresh batch of mince pies. Let’s go get some.”
James smiled and allowed Harry to guide him inside with an arm around his shoulders.
The party seemed to swirl past him after that; drinks were poured, food was scoffed and Christmas carols were sung with raucous delight.
Harry was quite happily nursing his ‘n’th mug of mulled wine while Minerva began performing her stirring (and slurring) rendition of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, Ginny decided that it was time to gather the children and go home.
Harry tipped back his last mouthful of warming wine and went in search of his children. He found Lily easily enough; curled up with Esther, Molly and Arthur’s aging Krupp in the dog bed. He gathered her into his arms and went looking for Albus. The first floor was deserted save for a loudly-snoring Percy splayed out on his childhood bed. Harry closed the door softly behind himself and took the next flight of stairs up to peer around Bill and Charlie’s old rooms.
“Al?” he called as he stepped onto the landing. There came a shuffling noise and muffled giggled from behind one of the doors and Harry softly pushed it open.
Immediately upon seeing the people in the room, Harry yelped and ran downstairs, jostling Lily from her sleep as he went.
“Wassat Unca Charlie?” she asked sleepily.
He arrived in the living room, his heart racing, Ginny was there already waiting for him with James and Albus in tow. She frowned at him as if to ask what was wrong, but Harry shook his head to indicate that it was nothing.
They Apparated home, and quietly put the children to bed. Afterwards, they sat in comfortable peace in the living room, nursing cups of very sensible tea and watching the fire crackle in the grate.
“I spoke to Jamie earlier.” Harry blurted quite suddenly.
Ginny raised her eyebrows and turned her head to him, “Oh?” her fingers tightened around her mug.
Harry licked his lips nervously, “He wanted to know if I would hate him if he were--” Harry cleared his throat, “You know, gay.” His voice came somewhat strangled, and emerged several octaves higher than usual.
Ginny pursed her lips and asked softly, “Would you?”
Harry looked at her aghast, his jaw dropped with his eyebrows, “No! How the hell can you think that I would? That I even could?!” he demanded.
Ginny gazed intently into her dregs of tea. “No, you’re right. I’m sorry... But there’s -- ugh! -- there’s something going on with you, Harry. And I’m pretty sure I know what, but I just-- I’m losing the patience to be supportive.”
The muscles in her jaw tightened, and Ginny’s eyes developed an unwelcome sheen.
“I wish you’d just talk to me.” she choked on a sob. Her head bowed so that her long mane of orange hair fell over her face, obscuring it from view.
“I love you, Harry. I always have. But you’re-- You’re making me wish I didn’t.”
“Gin,” Harry whispered, moving closer to her and raising his hand to touch her, “I love yo--”
Ginny slapped his hand away and stood up.
“Don’t.” she commanded, “You always do this. You always say that. As if it fixes everything!”
Harry chewed his lip. He didn’t know what else to say. For so long those three words had been his Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. He had been blinded be obliviousness, but, deep down, he had known long ago that his words had become meaningless.
“I’m sorry.” he pleaded, “I’m sorry, Ginny.”
Ginny glared at him, stern and unyielding, “I’ve tried to fix us. I’m at the end of my rope. It has to come from you.” she told him firmly, “You can talk to me about whatever-” she gesticulated as if she were swatting away flies, “-is going on in you, and we can work things out from there... Or,” her voice began to crack, “you can keep it to yourself, and destroy what we have.”
Harry felt as though he’d been punched in the heart. The fire in the grate snuffed out in a flicker, and the ornaments on the mantle-piece began to quiver and rattle.
Ginny closed her eyes with a patient heave of her breast, leaned forward and put her hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“Take a deep breath. And don’t destroy the house while you panic. Okay?”
Harry barked a hollow laugh. The restless shaking of the room became less than a tremour. He looked up into the grief-filled eyes of his wife. She gave a tragic smile and announced that she was going to bed. Harry watched her silhouette pause briefly in the doorway, before continuing out.
Alone in the shadow of the living room, Harry re-lit the fire with a flick of his wrist and summoned himself a bottle of Old Ogden’s Finest, pouring a liberal slog into his empty mug. He lifted it to his lips with a derisive snort at himself, and winced as the firewhiskey burned down his throat into his stomach.
“Fuck.” Harry declared to himself.
By the time the clock chimed to signal midnight, Harry had just finished his second serving. Ginny’s ultimatum swirling madly around his head. The sight of David’s golden chest indented with half-moon nail marks as stray red hairs caressed his stomach... Harry shook himself to banish the image that burned behind his eyes.
His legs began to itch. He stood and began to pace the room, his eyes darting this way and that. His heart cried up to him, half enraged and feral with guilt. His head chanted mercilessly, jeering at his failure.
He looked around the room for some unknown sign. An answer to a question he couldn’t voice. His eye caught the fire, where within the flames a balled up bit of newspaper rested against a smouldering log. An unmistakable black eye glared at him from between the ashy folds of paper. Snape’s front-page photo emerged with a slow burn.
Harry’s breath stilled, and without another thought, he Apparated to Scunthorpe.