"I thought we agreed not to see each other again, Lily."
"I know, but I'm pregnant, Severus."
"… is it mine?"
"I don't know."
* * *
"My potion's clear, his is red. What does that mean?"
"It means I need to enact a disownment spell and you need to prepare an adoption ritual, Potter."
* * *
"He's MY son, Sirius."
"A part of him is Snape's son too, James, and I'm sorry but I can't be his godfather."
* * *
"You son of a bitch, how could you?!"
"Sirius, please, let me exp-"
"You sold them out! You killed them! Lily and James are DEAD because of you, and you kill Peter too?"
"What? Peter's dead? I didn't—"
"LIAR! Don't pretend you don't know. After everything we did for you and YOU BETRAYED US ALL!"
* * *
"Junior Auror Black, your attack against the Death Eater Spy Remus Lupin, resulting in his comatose state, was a display of excessive force. However, we understand there were extreme mitigating circumstance and your suspension will be lifted pending a review by the department psychologist."
* * *
"Mr Black, this is most irregular!"
"I don't care. The law clearly states that a prisoner has to be found fit for execution, and there's no exception to that for werewolves. None of us know what'll happen come the next full moon, so for the safety of the public he has to be kept confined until such a time as he is judged fit for execution. I am providing the funding to build a secure facility for precisely that. If and when he wakes up, you can have him Kissed."
"We do not subject werewolves to the Dementor's Kiss, Mr Black. They are far more dangerous without their soul than with."
"Then make an exception. Behead him with silver immediately afterwards for all I care, but I want to see that son of a bitch Kissed first. His soul doesn't deserve the reprieve of a clean death."
* * *
"Why are you here, Black? My trial is over, the Auror department has no—"
"I'm not here as an Auror, Snape. I'm here as James' best friend."
"As if that is any better. After what Lupin did—"
"Don't talk to me about him, Snape. I'm here about you, and Harry. I know you're his father."
"No, I'm not."
"You're the closest he has to it, which is depressing, but—"
"What do you want, Black?"
"Take him. Claim Harry as your son. Even disownment can be undone if the adopted parents die."
"You're mad. I'm the furthest thing from suitable parent material. Dumbledore placed him somewhere safe, he assured me of that. Why would you ever suggest I should take him?"
"Safe? Snape, do you actually know who Dumbledore put him with?"
* * *
"You're not welcome here! Leave! Now!"
"Why? So you can treat the boy like you treated Lily? Either let me in, or I will make you, Petunia."
"Don't threaten me, Severus. I know you're not allowed to use that against normal people."
"Do you really think that will stop me?"
* * *
"Are you going take him away?"
"No. Just make sure you don't mistreat him."
"Why do you care, Severus? I know you and Lily fell out years ago. Why this interest in her son?"
"You didn't care much for her either, Petunia. Why did you take him in?"
"She was my sister."
"And she was my friend."
Anita Darzi was a witch. At least, Harry Potter—six years and eleven months old—was pretty sure she was a witch. Strange things had been happening at Little Whinging's Primary School, things Harry was pretty sure he wasn't responsible for. He had a few incidents of accidental magic—turning his teacher's wig blue, ending up on top of a roof—but he didn't think he was the one who'd turned the skipping ropes into snakes, made footballs explode into swarms of flies, or caused Peggy Elliot to suddenly start speaking in tongues.
He wasn't totally sure it was Anita until a week before the end of the summer term, when two wizards came to the school. Harry first noticed them at lunch break, when he looked up from boredly ripping up handfuls of grass to see them walking across the playground with the headmistress. They didn't look like wizards, dressed in neat suits instead of robes. They were both quite tall—although Harry, on the shorter side of average, found many adults quite tall—and one had very dark skin, a bald head, and a gold ring in one ear, whilst the other was white and lightly tanned with dark hair and a face that Mrs Stafford, the Year Six teacher, called devilishly handsome.
Harry knew him. He's seen pictures of that man as a teenager and young man, grinning alongside Harry's father. Sirius Black. He was an Auror now, Harry knew; Severus Snape had told him when Harry asked about all the people in the photos with his parents. Snape didn't like Sirius, who'd bullied him when they were at Hogwarts, so Harry didn't like him either. Harry was picked on by his cousin so he had no patience for bullies, even grown up ones.
At the end of lunch, he returned to his classroom with everyone else to find Sirius and the other Auror sitting at the back of the classroom, the child-sized chairs looking exceptionally small under their large figures.
"Children," said Mr Gibbon, the teacher, when they were all seated on the carpet, "these two gentlemen are from Ofsted. They're going to be watching over our lessons for the afternoon, but I want you to just ignore them and carry on like normal."
There was a moment of silence as the children all did exactly the opposite and stared at the two men. Sirius smiled and waggled his fingers in a wave; the other one simply stared.
"They don't look like they're from Ofsted," pronounced Tony Hopper sceptically.
Sirius leant forwards slightly. "What d'you think people from Ofsted should look like?"
"Tony!" Mr Gibbon scolded, but Sirius laughed, though his companion didn't.
Tony scowled at Mr Gibbon. "People at Ofsted are old," he insisted. "My grampa works for them and he said all the people at Ofsted are old fogies and he's the oldest fogie of all!"
Mr Gibbon was stumped by this, unsure of how to respond, but Sirius said to Tony, "We're old fogies in training. It's a hard job, being an old fogie, and you have to start practising young. You sound like an expert though; how am I doing?"
"Not very well," Tony told him in an unapologetic tone. "Old fogies aren't so friendly, 'cept to their favouritist grandkid." He paused, glanced at the black man, and added, "He's doing better."
"Hear that, Kingsley," Sirius said. "You'll be a proper old fogie before you know it."
Kingsley's expression didn't change. "I'm storing my friendliness for my favourite grandkid."
This made Sirius laugh. Mr Gibbon cleared his throat and Sirius sat back with an apology, miming zipping his mouth shut but still smiling as he gestured for Mr Gibbon to carry on.
Being almost the end of term, they didn't even have proper lessons and they spent the afternoon doing art. Harry was glad for that. It meant he could sit at a table as far from the two men as possible, discreetly watching them. Some of the other kids were a bit more obvious about it, whispering to their friends in between glances, quietly coming to agree with Tony. They had to when Sirius and Kingsley looked over the classroom with stern gazes more suited to experienced police detectives than school inspectors, when Kingsley never took one hand from his pocket, and when Sirius put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses.
Harry watched it all with his head down, peering over the rims of his own normal glasses. He didn't really need his glasses for art work, only for things like reading, but it was easier to keep them on all the time at school to avoid losing them. His hair, which for a while after bathing would sit like a wild bird's nest atop his head, was moving into the greasy stage that followed and so his fringe hung heavily over his eyes, further hiding his gaze from view.
He watched Sirius look around the classroom, settle his gaze on Anita, who sat at the same table as Harry, and stare for several moments before nudging Kingsley and handing the glasses over. Kingsley put them on and peered at Anita before handing them back and exchanging a few words with Sirius. Sirius got up then and began nonchalantly moving around the classroom, pausing to remark on the occasional painting or drawing as he gradually made his way around to Harry's table. He shared it with Anita, Sarah Carter, and John Gamble, and Sirius crouched between Harry and Sarah. Harry focused so hard on not making it obvious that he was watching the man that he didn't realise he was painting the grass purple.
"What's your name then?" Sirius asked Sarah, who told him and then asked for his. "I'm Sirius. Is that your house?"
Sarah nodded, carefully dabbing green paint along one side to create textured bushes in front of the red-brick building. "That's a funny name."
"I'm a funny person. What about you three?" he asked the rest of the table. "What are your names?"
They introduced themselves, John excitedly, Anita warily, and Harry with just a shrug.
"That's an interesting name. It's nice to meet you, shrug."
"His name's not shrug, it's Harry," Sarah provided helpfully. "Harry Potter."
Sirius stared at Harry, mouth gaping slightly. His grey eyes flicked briefly from Harry's eyes to the scar on his forehead and he made a strange sound, a strangled sort of squeak, and then he snapped his mouth shut tightly. For a moment he seemed to struggle over what to do next, but eventually he said stiffly, "Well. Harry. Grass is green, not purple."
Sarah giggled. Harry flushed, glancing down at his picture.
"I know that!" he snapped. "It's… it's…"
"Art-stick lie-sense?" Sarah provided.
"Yeah!" Harry said, although he had no idea what art-stick lie-sense was. It sounded good and everyone knew Sarah was the best artist in class.
"Uh huh," Sirius said. "Well. Carry on, children."
He got up and stalked over to Kingsley and it was only then that Harry noticed Sirius slipping a wand back into his pocket. He watched with narrowed eyes as Sirius spoke briefly to Kingsley, who glanced over to Harry dispassionately then narrowed his eyes ever so slightly when he looked at Anita, and then Sirius turned and walked briskly out the classroom, ignoring the surprised look from Mr Gibbon.
"I don't think they're from Ofsted either," John said thoughtfully. "He was weird."
Harry said nothing. Kingsley sat back down.
"What's art-stick lie-sense?" John asked Sarah.
"It's when an artist paints something that's not real but it looks prettier. That's why it's a lie, see? But it makes sense because everyone knows why you're lying and that it's for a good reason."
It was only at the end of the class, when John showed off his painting of a pink dog under a bright blue sun, that they found out it was actually called artistic licence and that Mr Gibbon preferred realism.
A few days later a new moon hung over Little Whinging and a conveniently placed tree allowed Sirius Black to stand hidden from the street lights, keeping him unseen by any still-awake Muggles that might be looking out their windows. Sirius liked new moons. It was easier to forget about old friends and traitors without that glowing reminder in the sky.
He didn't jump at the sound of the quiet voice, but only just. A familiar old figure approached, standing beside him in purple robes and fixing his gaze on the house across the street.
"You should know better than to creep up on Aurors, Dumbledore," Sirius said.
"Did you solve the trouble at the school?" Dumbledore asked in reply.
"It wasn't dark wizards."
Surprised flickered across Dumbledore's face. "You said the magic occurring at the school was dark."
"I know, but not by wizards. One of the girls was possessed by a demon. Anita Darzi."
Dumbledore's surprise this time was more obvious. He stared at Sirius. "Demonic possession in a child?"
Sirius sighed and nodded. "I noticed her aura was extremely dark through the AR glasses. We got her name and address from the school records, investigated the house and family, confirmed that she was possessed. Also found out the older brother had been abusing her and it looks like she's a witch. We dealt with the possession, told them about magic and put them in contact with a Squib therapist that can hopefully help the girl deal with the possession, and alerted the Muggle authorities about the brother."
Dumbledore shook his head, sighing wearily. "That poor girl."
They were silent for a while. It was a warm night, but neither man was bothered by it in their long robes, cooling charms keeping them untouched by the heat. A cat wandered over, rubbed against Dumbledore's leg, and hissed at Sirius, who responded with a low, canine growl that sent the cat running.
Dumbledore was the first to speak again, voice quiet. "He's safe there, Sirius."
Sirius scowled. "I'm not thinking of kidnapping him."
"No," he answered quickly. When Dumbledore raised a sceptical eyebrow, he sighed. "A little. But I won't. I told you when—after—I just know that Lily's sister is the kind of Muggle my parents talked about, and she'd probably hate for Harry to be living with her, but I won't take him away. You said he's protected there and I… I'm not his godfather for a reason."
"What was it again?"
"If you don't already know—"
"Then you won't tell me," Dumbledore finished with a sigh. "At least tell me—do you wish you were?"
Sirius shifted, eyes staring at the window on the left of number four. There was the faint glow of a night-light visible through the curtains but otherwise the house was dark and quiet.
"No," he said quietly. "They had a good reason to not pick me. I just… seeing him the other day, I couldn't help thinking about them. Wondering how much of them is in him. I could never have been his godfather, but I wish I'd been the Secret Keeper. I wish Lupin hadn't betrayed us all." He paused, then added in a quieter and yet more threatening tone, "I wish I hadn't cursed him as hard as I did so I could see him get Kissed."
"Is that why you had the prison built?"
"Death's too good for him. He ever wakes up, he's getting Kissed."
"They will have him executed anyway," Dumbledore said. "A werewolf with no soul—it's a more dangerous thing than one with."
"Let them, when it's done," Sirius said dismissively. "Let them behead him with silver and burn the remains, but I want to see him suffer first."
Every summer, the very day after Harry finished school, Severus Snape picked him up from Privet Drive and Apparated him to Cokeworth, where Harry would spend four weeks before Snape had to return to Hogwarts to begin preparing for the upcoming school year.
They were the highlight of Harry's life. He relished those four weeks where he didn't have to put up with his stupid fat cousin who didn't have half as many chores and got all the easy ones, or get called nothing but 'boy' by his aunt and uncle, or pretend to be a Muggle. He didn't even complain about the fact that Snape made him do school work during the summer holiday, because it wasn't boring sums and spelling. Snape taught him how to make potions to cure colds or just to give people fun dreams and help them sleep, letting Harry help him crush beetles and weigh plants. It was one of his favourite things to do with the man, because potions were Snape's passion and he was always most relaxed when brewing.
When Snape picked him up this year, Harry brought up Anita and Sirius as soon as he was settled in at Snape's home.
"Sirius Black was at my school last week."
Snape's expression turned sour in an instant, face darkening with a scowl, hands jerking slightly as if he wanted to grab his wand. "What would an Auror be doing at a Muggle primary school?"
"One of the girls is a witch," Harry told him. He sat on the sofa in Snape's living room while Snape was settled in his armchair. "Anita Darzi. She's been turning skipping ropes into snakes and a football exploded and it was full of bugs and one of the other girls, Peggy Elliot, she started speaking funny after she teased Anita for liking lizards. Then Sirius Black came to my school and Anita wasn't there for the whole last week of term."
"That's a little extreme for accidental magic," Snape remarked, "but Aurors don't investigate incidents of children's magic. Black had no reason to be there. Was he alone?"
Harry shook his head. "There was another man with him. I think his name was Kingsley."
If Snape recognised the name, he gave no indication of it. "Did either of them speak to you?"
"Sirius asked what my name was, but he asked everyone at my table. He stared at my scar. I think he was surprised to see me."
"I don't think he likes me," Harry added, remembering it. "Why wouldn't he like me? You told me he was my daddy's friend."
"He's also a bully, and bullies don't have reasons for disliking people."
Harry thought about this. "You said my daddy was a bully too. Do you think he didn't like me neither?"
Snape's mouth tightened slightly but his voice softened. "I'm sure your father liked you, Harry."
"Do you like me?"
"Do you think I would bring you here every summer if I didn't like you?"
"Why do you like me though?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
Harry shrugged. "I wouldn't like someone if their daddy bullied me. If someone's daddy is a bully they're probably a bully too. Dudley is, just like Uncle Vernon."
Snape leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees, dark eyes boring into Harry's green ones. "Are you a bully?"
"No!" Harry cried before Snape even finished asking. "I don't bully people."
"Then I have no reason to dislike you." He leant back again, glancing away. "You take after your mother, Harry. She was my friend and I owe it to her to make sure you grow up well."
"Does that mean you'll take me away from my aunt and uncle?" Harry asked slyly. "I'd grow up good if I wasn't living with them."
Snape gave him an unforgiving look. "I've told you before—No. There are protections on your aunt's house that keep your safe from the Dark Lord."
"But he's gone, you told me."
"But not dead, and we don't know how long he's gone for or where he's gone to. Until you're old enough to look out for yourself, you have to stay with your aunt."
Harry puffed himself up, straightening his back. "I can look out for myself."
Snape very rarely smiled, but his mouth quirked slightly at that. "Oh? Do you know the wand movements for a basic shield charm? Or the incantation?"
Harry drooped. "No."
Snape stood up. "I'd better show you then. Get your trainers."
Harry leapt up, running to grab his trainers from their spot by the front door then running back and sitting to put them on. "If I learn to do the shield charm, can I leave my aunt's house?"
"You can leave your aunt's house when you're a qualified wizard."
Harry considered that. "Will I be qual-ee-fed if I learn the shield charm?"
"Qualified," Snape corrected, and carried on only when Harry repeated it correctly. "No. You'll be qualified when you're seventeen."
Harry scrambled up, laces trailing. "That's forever away!"
"It's ten years."
Snape scowled. "It's not forever, it'll be over before you know it. Now do up your laces so we can go before I change my mind and you can spend the afternoon helping me clean the kitchen instead."
The field where they practised spells was an hour's walk from Spinner's End, abandoned and therefore well away from any Muggles that might see them. Snape would show him spells and then let Harry try casting himself. Thus far he hadn't managed to do more than conjure sparks and today was no better, but he enjoyed trying.
On the way back, Snape abruptly grabbed Harry under the arms and jerked him up, making him yelp.
"I'm not stupid!" Harry snapped as Snape put him down, staring at the snake that was hissing at him from between the grass, the one he'd almost trodden on. Then he gasped and grabbed at Snape's sleeve, looking up wide-eyed. "Severus, that snake talked!"
Snape was staring at Harry just as wide-eyed as Harry stared at him, mouth hanging open.
"Stupid human," the snake repeated. "Nearly trod on me."
"I didn't mean to," Harry defended himself. "I just didn't see you."
"Big foot, stupid," the snake hissed once more, then slithered off, disappearing under a bush.
Snape snapped his mouth shut and swallowed audibly. "Harry, you… you're a Parselmouth."
"No I'm not," Harry denied instantly, responding to the tone more than the statement, then asked, "What's a Parselmouth?"
"It's someone who can speak to snakes."
"Oh. But I can't, it was just that snake was talking English."
"No," Snape said quietly, "it wasn't. It was hissing, speaking snake language. You hissed back."
Harry thought about it, frowning. "I don't think I was."
"Trust me, Harry. You were. I don't know what you said to that snake; all I heard was hissing."
"It called me stupid and I said I wasn't. Was I really hissing? Is it bad?" he asked when Snape nodded.
Snape hesitated. "No. Not really, but… Harry, this is important so I need you to listen carefully." He crouched, putting himself more on eye level with Harry. "There are a lot of people who think that being a Parselmouth makes someone a dark wizard. That it makes you evil."
"Why do they think that?"
"Because Salazar Slytherin and the Dark Lord could both talk to snakes, and it's made a large number of people think that Parseltongue—that's the language that Parselmouths speak—is evil."
"But you said it's not."
"It's not. It's just a language, Harry. It makes you no more evil than speaking French would, but not everyone is as clever as I am. You're clever as well, so you have to understand that other people are stupid and think it's bad for you to speak to snakes, and you have to keep it a secret."
Harry nodded, not completely understanding but believing that what Snape said was the truth and agreeing to keep his newly discovered ability secret.
On the thirty-first of July, Harry woke up early. He had his own room at Snape's house, smaller than his one at Privet Drive but, in his opinion, nicer. At the Dursleys, he wasn't allowed to put anything on the bland magnolia walls 'because it'll ruin the paintwork', even though Dudley was allowed to, and he had plain blue bedding. At Snape's, he had green walls and photos of his parents, he was allowed to tack up any pictures he drew, and his bedding was Care Bears to go with his Bedtime Bear. At Privet Drive, he had almost no toys or games and was forbidden from touching Dudley's; at Snape's, he had puzzles, board games, and a handful of Famous Figurines, a range of magical action figures modelled after various famous witches and wizards. He was intent on collecting them all, but for now only had two four-figure sets—the Hogwarts Founders Edition and the Albion Edition.
He left his room only to use the bathroom then returned and pulled out a colouring book and some crayons and spent almost an hour colouring a hippogriff blue and pink. (Mr Gibbon might prefer realism, but Harry was fond of using his newly discovered artistic licence.) He checked the clock on his wall almost every five minutes and only when it read exactly seven o'clock did he abandon his colouring things and scurry across the hallway to Snape's bedroom, knocking hard on the wood then listening carefully for a response.
"What?" came the gravely, half-asleep reply.
"It's seven o'clock. Are you awake?"
"Yeah, you are. You're talking. Can I come in?"
There was a grunt, which Harry took to mean yes. He pushed the door open and edged into the dark room, sidling up to the bed where Snape was buried under the covers, just the very top of his head visible. Harry climbed onto the bed, bouncing slightly.
"Sev-e-rus," he sing-songed. "It's time to get up."
"Potter," Snape growled without pulling the covers down, "if you don't stop bouncing I'm going to transfigure your legs into worms."
"You wouldn't really do that," Harry said, but he stopped bouncing nevertheless.
"That'd be bullying."
"That'd be revenge, there's a difference. Go back to bed."
"But it's seven o'clock and you said I can get up at seven o'clock on my birthday."
Snape sighed and rolled onto his back, pulling the cover down but keeping his eyes closed. "It's not your birthday."
"Yes it is."
"No, I definitely remember it was your birthday last year."
"It's every year!"
"That sounds greedy."
"Everyone has one every year, so everyone is greedy then. So come on. I wanna open presents and Gareth is coming over and you said we can go to the museum today and look at the dinosaur skeletons."
Snape groaned and finally opened his eyes, glowering at Harry but without any real malice. "You're still in your pyjamas. Get dressed and I will get up."
Harry was out of the room in a flash. By the time he changed out of his pyjamas, Snape was in the shower. Harry waited impatiently for him to finish and dress, then grabbed Snape's hand as soon as he came out and tugged him to the stairs, hurrying down almost too fast to be safe. When he reached the kitchen and found a small pile of gifts on the table, he hopped about in an excited little jig.
"Is that what they are?" Snape asked, yawning. "They look to me like mess taking up my kitchen table."
"Presents aren't a mess!"
"Well if they don't disappear soon then neither of us is getting breakfast and I get grumpy without breakfast."
"You're always grumpy," Harry remarked, earning himself a baleful glare. He shrugged. "Well you are grumpy a lot."
"Open your presents," Snape replied simply. "What do you want for breakfast?"
"Eggs and soldiers, please."
Order given, he climbed onto a chair and gave his attention to the presents. There were five, which was only a fifth of what his cousin got every year, but Harry didn't mind. He'd seen his cousin get mountains of gifts at birthdays and Christmas, but he'd also seen Dudley lose interest and abandon half of those gifts within a month of getting them. This, Harry decided, was the result of having too many things to properly give his attention to each of them, so he decided that fewer presents were better.
Three of them were from Snape: a book of stories, some new clothes, and Famous Figurines: Potion Masters Edition. The fourth was from Albus Dumbledore; Harry had never met him but every birthday and Christmas he sent a large box of sweets, which made Snape mutter about how all Harry's teeth would fall out. The fifth was from all the other teachers at Hogwarts, a colouring book whose pictures would move when they were filled in with the accompanying magical colouring pencils.
When he'd cleared the wrapping paper away and Snape served up their breakfast, Harry tapped the Famous Figurines box on the side of the table. "Why aren't you in here?"
"I'm not famous."
"Why not? You make really good potions. And you're a Hogwarts teacher."
"Hogwarts has had hundreds of potion masters before me and will have a hundred more after. A person has to be more than 'really good' to become famous."
"But you're super good!" Harry insisted.
"Until I do something unique and worthwhile, even being super good isn't enough."
"Then you should do something like that," Harry said, not entirely sure what he meant. "Then you can have a figurine made of you."
"I don't think anyone would want a figurine of me," Snape told him blandly.
Snape didn't respond to that immediately, eating a spoonful of cornflakes. Harry couldn't read his expression, but eventually Snape cleared his throat and said, "That's kind of you to say, Harry."
Harry grinned at him and carried on with his eggs and soldiers. After, he fetched his other figurines and convinced Snape to play with him on the living room floor, taking Glover Hipworth from his new set to brew some healing potions for Morgana Le Fay from the Albion Edition, who got in a fight with Salazar Slytherin. Snape wasn't impressed that Harry declared Morgana the winner.
"Salazar Slytherin was the best wizard of his age."
Harry held up both figures. "Morgana's younger. She doesn't have any grey hair like Salazar. So she'd beat him."
"That isn't quite what I meant. Salazar was an immensely powerful wizard."
"Morgana was a super powerful witch. She could beat him. You just think she couldn't 'cause she's a girl."
Snape frowned. "Where did you get that idea?"
Harry shrugged, setting Morgana's figure down beside Glover to await her healing potion and picking up Rowena Ravenclaw. "It's what Anita Darzi at my school says whenever one of the boys says they can beat girls at anything. Tony Hopper says boys are better than girls at everything, but I don't think that's true because girls are just the same as boys pretty much. They've got the same arms and legs and a brain and stuff. It's just that they sometimes wear dresses or skirts instead of trousers and they have to sit down to pee."
Further discussion was cut off by a sharp knocking at the door. Harry immediately abandoned his toys to leap up and rush over to it. "Gareth's here!"
Snape scrambled up after him, grabbing Harry by the shoulders before he could yank the door open.
"What have I told you?" he scolded. "You do not answer the door, Harry."
Harry pouted. "But it's just Gareth."
"You don't know that. It could be anyone."
"But it's—" He broke off at Snape's glare, shuffling his feet and sighing petulantly. "Fine. 'm sorry."
"Good. Go back to your toys."
Harry started to do so then changed direction and made for the stairs instead. "I gotta get his present!" he yelled back as he clambered up them. He ran to his room, dropped to his knees in front of his drawers and pulled open the bottom one to take out a badly wrapped present, leaving the drawer hanging open when he hurried out again.
When he got downstairs, a young white man about Snape's age was on the sofa, Snape settled in the armchair opposite. He had dark reddish-brown hair tied in a ponytail that reached his lower back, was clad in Muggle jeans and a t-shirt, and there was a large, gaudily wrapped square package sat on the floor beside him. He was Snape's friend and cousin and the Muggle Studies teacher at Hogwarts.
"Gareth!" Harry greeted loudly, bounding up to him with a grin and thrusting the present under his nose. "I got you a present, I wrapped it myself too. Happy birthday. Is that one for me?"
Gareth took the present, lowering it so he could actually look without crossing his brown eyes, but he was smiling. "I don't know. Is your name Harry?"
"You know it is!"
"Then I guess it must be because it says 'To Harry' on it, although I'm not sure why you're getting presents on my birthday."
"'Cause it's my birthday too."
Gareth huffed. "I need to complain to someone in that case. No one asked me if I wanted to share my birthday, and seeing as I'm older I think we'll have to move yours to another day."
"I don't think you can move birthdays," Harry told him earnestly. "Do you really not like sharing with me?"
Gareth's expression softened. "Nah, I don't mind. Are you going to open your present?"
Harry shook his head. "You first."
"Alright. Let's see here…" He tore away the paper with some difficulty, the entire thing wrapped in as much sellotape as paper, but eventually got it free to reveal a brightly coloured mug with his name painted on it.
"I painted it myself," Harry told him, looking nervous. "We went on a school trip to a pottery—that's a place where they make mugs and bowls and stuff—and we were all allowed to paint one thing to take home. Do you like it?"
"It's wonderful, Harry. Thank you."
Harry beamed at him and turned his attention to his own gift. Beneath the paper was a plain brown box, more than half as tall as Harry, and Gareth warned him to open it carefully and from the top. He did so, unfolding the flaps to peer down into the box.
"Lego! Is it a castle?"
Smile almost as big as Harry's, Gareth levitated the pre-built model from the box and set it on the floor. Harry gasped and even Snape, whose mouth had tightened at the cry of Lego and the thought of his house being overrun with little blocks, couldn't contain an astonished noise.
"It's Hogwarts!" Harry cried.
It was, three feet tall and perfectly proportioned, complete with a lake, Quidditch pitch, and the edge of the Forbidden Forest. There was even a Lego squid in the lake. Gareth slid down from the sofa to show Harry where the castle opened up, revealing a Great Hall filled with students and teachers, staircases that could move, and even hidden passageways that Harry would have to find for himself.
"It's so cool!" Harry breathed, staring in amazement. "But Lego is Muggle. How'd you get one of Hogwarts?"
"Built it myself."
"Wow! That must have taken forever!"
"A while," Gareth agreed. "Take a closer look at the people in the Great Hall."
Harry got down on his belly to peer closer, looking over the hundreds of little figures. All four student tables were filled, each with their house crest painted on the front of their black robes, and the staff table had a variety of teachers including, Harry realised, real people. He pulled out the one in the headmaster's chair and held it up for Snape to see.
"It certainly is," Snape agreed, but Harry had already turned back to the castle and was pulling out another figure.
Snape blinked and took it from him. He stared at it for several moments then looked over at Gareth, who didn't bother trying to hide a smile.
"Really?" Snape asked him, and he just shrugged.
Harry spent the morning playing with it, his Famous Figurines now delegated to being the giant villains against whom the Lego characters had to defend themselves and the castle. He was even reluctant to stop for lunch and birthday cake until Snape said they'd be going to the museum afterwards.
As always when they went anywhere near wizards, Snape put a Concealing Charm on Harry to hide the scar on his forehead, then all three of them Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron pub and took the underground to the London Museum of Natural History. Harry spent the afternoon dragging the two adults from display to display, getting them to read the information plaques because he hadn't brought his reading glasses with him, marvelling over dinosaur bones and wax statues, and never noticing when Snape clenched his fists and glared at the other visitors.
"Remind me why I'm here," Snape muttered to Gareth when they were in the particular busy insect section, where Harry had his nose to the glass of the butterfly display cases until Snape called to him to stand back a bit.
"Because you're too pragmatic for theme parks and too soft to not take him out for his birthday."
"I'm not soft," Snape growled in reply.
"You're a little bit soft. Just soft enough for a seven year old." When Snape's scowl didn't fade, Gareth leant in a little and added in a stage whisper, "Don't worry, Severus, I won't tell anyone."
"I'm going to poison you."
"Nah, you won't. Whoa," he added, staring at a woman who'd just entered with another crowd of people. "Don't see that everyday."
He was referring to the woman's attire, which was a navy, 1870s style dress, complete with a matching hat. She completely ignored the looks people gave her, but had a kind smile for anyone that complimented her dress. She was quick to correct anyone that thought she was a museum employee who'd wandered in from the Victorian-era section, gesturing to the young girl with her who was dressed more normally in shorts and t-shirt.
"Why come out like that when she knows she'll get so much attention?" Snape muttered, disapproval evident in his voice.
"Because not everyone cares about the attention they draw," Gareth replied. "She pulls it off well. I wonder if she's single."
"I thought you were in a relationship with Sinistra."
"We're not exclusive."
"Does she know that?"
Gareth scowled at him. "I'm not a cheater. Not in relationships, anyway."
Snape snorted and shook his head. "Harry, are you ready to move on?"
Harry drew away from the butterfly display with some reluctance, but when he noticed the increased amount of people in the room he took Snape's hand and kept close as they headed for the next section.
"Severus, can I get a butterfly pet?" he asked.
"No," Snape answered without hesitation. "Butterflies aren't pets."
"You can't tame them. They would fly away."
"What if I kept it in a cage?"
"Would you like to be kept in a cage?"
"No, but I'm a person. I'm too big for a cage."
"A butterfly probably feels the same way," Snape told him. "They don't live very long and I'm sure they don't want to spend their few weeks of life stuck in a cage, even a big one."
"I guess. Can I get a different pet?"
"That's not something I can decide, Harry. It would be living at your aunt's home; you would have to have her permission."
Harry's shoulders slumped. "She'll never let me have a pet."
"She'll have no choice when you go to Hogwarts," Gareth remarked. "Every Hogwarts kid deserves a pet and Petunia can stick her objections where the sun doesn't shine."
Harry giggled at that and Snape's mouth quirked, though he tried to hide it.
They went to the gift shop at the end and Harry was looking at a book about gory battles in history when the little girl with the woman in the Victorian dress came up to him. She stood by him for a minute, glancing between the shelf of books and Harry, while the woman with her inspected the adult section of books, and then blurted out, "You shouldn't buy that. It's wrong."
Harry looked at her, startled. The girl was about his own age with black hair tied in a short braid and ears that stuck out from her head. She was of east Asian descent, but her accent was pure northern English.
"How do you know it's wrong?"
"My mum and dad said all history books are wrong because they're written by people who weren't alive when that stuff happened."
"That's 'cause it's not history until everyone that was alive dies. If they're still alive, it's the present."
"My mum and dad were alive when it was history," the girl argued. "My daddy has been alive for ever and ever. He knows all about history."
"You're lying. People can't live for ever and ever."
"Victoria! Vous ne pouvez pas dire aux gens que."
The girl scowled up at the woman in the Victorian dress. Harry wasn't sure if the woman was her mother or not; she was white with dirty blonde hair, in her early thirties, but Harry had learnt about adoption just a few months ago.
"Pardon," the girl said sulkily. "Mais c'est vrai."
The woman didn't answer that, turning her attention to Harry. "What Tori means is her parents are historians that have found evidence contradicting many things the history books say."
"Oh," Harry said. He had a feeling the woman was lying, but wasn't sure how because Tori couldn't be telling the truth about her dad living forever. "What was that language you spoke?"
"French, if I'm not mistaken," Gareth answered before the woman could, coming up beside Harry and smiling charmingly. The woman didn't return it.
"You speak it?"
"Not very well. It's been a while since I learnt. But let me think… Votre robe est belle."
"Your accent is terrible," she told him, smiling, "but you said it right at least."
He continued with the French accent as he said, "I think my French accent is better when I speak English, oui?"
"Non," the woman said, laughing. "That's terrible, sir."
"Ah, well. A man can try. I'm Gareth, by the way," he introduced, holding out his hand. She shook it.
"Jennifer. Is this your son?" she asked, gesturing to Harry.
"No, I'm a friend of his godfather. That would be the grumpy fellow in black standing by the keychains."
Godfather was the lie they always used when out and about. Harry knew it wasn't true, but he liked to pretend it was because his real godfather was in a specially built prison for part-human creatures, imprisoned for betraying the Potters to Voldemort.
"Why's your godfather grumpy?" Tori asked Harry.
"He's not, that's just his normal face. His grumpy face looks more like this." He attempted to imitate one of Snape's scowls, but smiled instead when Tori laughed. He put back the book he'd been looking at—accurate or not, the pictures weren't good enough for him—and instead picked up one about butterflies. "Are you French?"
"No, but Jennifer used to live in France and so did my mum and dad, and we have a holiday home there so we all speak French. We've got ones in Italy and Greece, too, but I'm not so good at them."
"Wow, you must be really rich. Is Jennifer your godmother?"
Tori shook her head. "She's my gov'ness."
"What's a gov'ness?"
"It's like a babysitter only they live in your house and teach you stuff and help look after you and stuff."
"Don't your mum and dad look after you?" Harry asked curiously.
"Yeah, but when they're busy or at—" She cut herself off, glancing at Jennifer.
Tori looked back to him. "Yeah, at work. What's your name? Mine's Victoria but everyone calls me Tori, except when I'm in trouble."
"I'm Harry." There was an awkward pause between them, each struggling to find something to discuss. Gareth and Jennifer were talking animatedly, clearly getting along, and Snape was scowling at everyone in the vicinity. Eventually Harry gestured to the stuffed animal dangling from Tori's hand and asked, "Do you like tigers?"
Tori lifted the stuffed animal and hugged it. "Yeah, they're my favourite. I've already got four tigers at home, but I want another one."
Five stuffed animals seemed a bit excessive to Harry. He'd had a look through the ones for sale, but there were no butterflies and he figured that seven was a bit old to be getting stuffed animals anyway. People would think he was a baby, so his Bedtime Bear would suffice.
They stayed together for a little while as they looked around the gift shop until Snape finally had enough and demanded they leave. Harry bought the book on butterflies while Tori stuck with her tiger. Outside the museum, they started to say goodbye only to realise they were all going in the same direction and even taking the same train at the underground. Only when they all got off at Leicester Square station did Gareth ask Jennifer, "You wouldn't be headed for the Leaky Cauldron by any chance?"
They were, so they stayed together all the way to the pub. Jennifer asked Harry his age and, when he told her what day it was, she wished him a happy birthday and added, "You'll be in the same year as Tori when you get to Hogwarts then; she turned seven last December. I assume you're going to Hogwarts, that is."
"Yeah!" Harry half-yelled defensively. "I'm a wizard."
She smiled apologetically. "I didn't doubt that, I just wasn't sure if you'd be going to a different school."
That mollified him. "No, my mum and dad went to Hogwarts, so I am too, and Severus and Gareth are teachers there."
"I might not go to Hogwarts," Tori said. "I might go to Beauxbatons like Jennifer did."
Harry was shocked. "But Hogwarts is the best school in the whole world! I've never even heard of Beauxbatons."
"It's in France, and you don't know Hogwarts is the best if you've never been to it or Beauxbatons."
"She's got a point there," Gareth said, cutting off Harry who'd started to defend Hogwarts on principle. He looked at Gareth in shock.
"But you work at Hogwarts. Doesn't that mean you think it's the best?"
"It just means that's where I could get a job. I've spent time at Beauxbatons; it's a nice place. Very beautiful."
"When have you spent time at Beauxbatons?" Jennifer asked.
"After I finished school. I did some extended study there."
"Ah!" Jennifer said with a grin. "Now that's something Hogwarts doesn't have, for all that you like to claim you're the best in Europe."
"I've never claimed we're the best," Gareth said with a laugh.
"We are… lacking… in certain areas," Snape agreed. Harry was shocked by them both.
"But I thought Hogwarts IS the best!"
"We're the best at some things," Snape told him. "Our Transfiguration and Charms departments are unparalleled, and we do produce are large number of highly successful graduates, but there's room for improvement."
"But I thought it was the best at everything," Harry persisted, stunned by the idea that the school they worked at, the school his parents had attended, was now being talked about in such a way.
"Beauxbatons is the best at everything," Tori said proudly. "Isn't it, Jennifer?"
"I'm afraid not, Tori. As Mr Snape said, Hogwarts does have the best Transfiguration and Charms departments. The Potions teacher of my day wasn't very good, either, but I think they've got a new one."
Tori huffed. "I'm going to ask my daddy which school he thinks is best. He knows lots of stuff."
They reached the Leaky Cauldron then and parted ways. Jennifer and Tori used the fireplace to Floo out first. Gareth tapped two fingers to his head in mock salute as he said goodbye to Harry and Snape and also Flooed back to his own home. But before Snape could Apparate Harry away a large man with matted hair and whiskers approached them. He was dirty and smelly and had a smile that made Harry edge behind Snape's legs.
"Snape," the man greeted in a growly voice. Snape turned to him, hand going to the pocket where Harry knew he kept his wand. He didn't look pleased to see the man.
"Didn't know you had a littl'un, Snape."
"I don't," Snape said stiffly. "I'm just watching him for a few days. Excuse us."
"He's scary," Harry whispered to Snape as they headed for the Cauldron's Apparition room, where people could come and go without worry that they'd get in the way of the pub's patrons.
"He's a very dangerous monster," Snape said back just as quietly. "If you ever meet him again, get as far away as possible."
Harry nodded vigorously; he didn't need telling that twice.
Snape Apparated him back to Spinner's End and they got fish and chips from the takeaway for dinner, had cake for afters, then Snape insisted Harry have a bath before he could play until bedtime. He only kicked up a slight fuss when that came, tired but unwilling to admit it and wanting to play longer with his Lego. He tried to argue that being seven meant his bedtime should be later—or never—but Snape wasn't moved. Harry pouted and dragged his feet as he headed up, grumbled about brushing his teeth and got into bed, but within minutes of snuggling down he was fast asleep.
Harry spent just over another week at Spinner's End. Most of it was spent playing with Lego Hogwarts, but he also helped brew a couple of simple potions. On the last day they went out to the fields and Snape showed him some new spells and let him try some himself. To his delight, when he attempted the Lumos Spell he managed more than just sparks for the first time and held up the glowing wand. It wasn't very bright and it flickered unsteadily, but it was there.
"I did it! Look Dad, I did it!"
Snape froze. Harry frowned, confused, then realised what he'd just said and flushed, lowering the wand and staring at it as the light flickered out. "I-I didn't mean—'m sorry, I don't know why I said that."
Snape swallowed. "I… that is… it's fine, Harry." He paused, wet his lips, and asked, "Do, uh… is that… is that how you see me?"
Harry shrugged. For a long moment neither of them spoke. Harry didn't know what to say and when he glanced up it occurred to him that maybe Snape didn't either. It would explain why he stood there looking stumped and a little afraid. As Harry had been the one to say something stupid, he figured it was up to him to sort it out.
"I am sorry. I know you're not my dad and you don't want to be, and I promise I won't say it again." It suddenly occurred to him that this might put Snape off bringing him to Spinner's End every summer, afraid that Harry would start really thinking he was his dad, so he hurriedly added, "I really mean it so please don't make me stay with my aunt and uncle every summer."
Snape relaxed ever so slightly at that. "I'm not going to do that, Harry. I promise you, you'll always be welcome at my home."
Harry smiled gratefully, but it didn't quite reach his eyes and he handed back the wand. "Are you mad at me?" he asked as Snape took it. "For calling you that?"
"No. I was just surprised. We should get back."
Harry nodded and they walked in silence together, but the trip back to Spinner's End was an hour's walk and the silence became uncomfortable quickly. Harry had never felt that way around Snape before and he didn't like it, so after twenty minutes, desperate to make things how they were before, he asked, "Can I take Hogwarts back to Little Whinging with me?"
He was pretty sure Snape would say no—the Lego castle was big and would be awkward to move without taking apart, which he was unwilling to do—but it would give him an excuse to argue and pretend to sulk. Pretend, because even if the castle could be moved he wasn't sure he wanted it at Privet Drive, where Dudley might break it down and steal pieces for his own Lego sets.
To his surprise, Snape didn't immediately refuse. "I did wonder if you'd ask that. It's not an inherently magical toy and it would be a shame for it to collect dust in my house for most of the year."
"Really? You'd actually let me?"
Snape's mouth tightened and he didn't look down at Harry. "There isn't really space for it in my house. Even in the living room, it takes up a great deal of room. It would be better suited at your aunt's. Moving it would be difficult, but I may be able to shrink it without it coming apart."
Harry hadn't thought of that and now that it was actually a possibility, he quite liked the thought. There was still the problem of Dudley, however, which he mentioned to Snape. The man considered it for a minute.
"I could enchant it," he suggested eventually. "Either with Muggle repellant, a jinx, or charming the pieces together. That would mean you couldn't take it apart yourself."
"Even the moving bits?"
"No, they would still move."
"Okay. I think that would be good. I don't want to accidentally break it either. I don't ever want to take it apart. But what about the people? I don't want them stuck together."
"I can enchant them separately, perhaps to prick the fingers of any Muggle that tries to touch them."
"Is that allowed?" Harry asked sceptically. "I thought you can't do magic on Muggles."
"Strictly speaking, I wouldn't be. I would be enchanting an object for a magical child. If your Muggle family happened to interfere with that…" He shrugged. "I can't be held accountable for their actions."
Harry grinned and Snape gave him a slight smile back, which for him was practically the equivalent of a normal person's grin, and the awkwardness of earlier was gone. When they got back to Spinner's End he bugged Snape to start enchanting the castle immediately, then hovered around him as he did it until Snape snapped at him to go pack his bags for the morning. He did half of it before getting distracted by his Famous Figurines. They were far too magical to take back to Little Whinging, so he decided he needed to play with them as much as possible now before he left in the morning.
It was a warm summer, even late into the night, and that evening Harry and Snape sat out in the small garden with mugs of cool milk and coffee, respectively. The garden was neatly trimmed but lacking any plant-life besides the grass, a few bushes, and a single apple tree that never produced any fruit. Being at Hogwarts most of the year, Snape didn't have the time for tending a proper garden. There were no outdoor toys, but Harry didn't mind as there was a playpark a few minutes' walk from the house and Snape would take him a couple of times a week.
It was a clear night, the stars and full moon easily visible, and Harry pointed up to them. "We learned about stars in my science class."
"What did you learn about them?"
"That they're super big—even bigger than the whole world—and really, really far away. Even further than Australia, which is all the way on the other side of the world, and they only look small because they're so far away. We also learned that the sun is actually a star, but we call it the sun because the people from a long time ago didn't know it was a star when they named it."
"That—" Snape began, then broke off, back straightening, expression alert as he set his coffee down on the small garden table. Harry sat up straighter too, alarmed.
Snape shushed him, cocking his head as he listened hard, hand drawing his wand from his pocket. For several long moments they were silent. Harry tried to listen, but all he could hear was crickets and the slight rustle of a breeze through the apple tree. Snape must have heard nothing either, for he relaxed a little and set his wand down, but said, "Drink up. It's time for bed."
Still a little on edge by Snape's actions, Harry did as told without argument, but as he lifted the glass to his mouth there was a growl from the end of the garden. Snape was on his feet in an instance.
A great big wolf leapt out of the bushes at the end of the garden and Harry shrieked. Snape darted between him and the wolf, wand raised and shouting a spell, but it was already on them and Snape went down with a scream, wand falling from his fingers and curse fizzling out harmlessly without even touching the wolf.
Harry's chair was knocked aside and he fell out of it, crawling away even as something warm and wet splashed across his left side. He turned to look and cried out at the sight of the wolf tearing into Snape's throat, feeling his trousers grow wet with urine. He grabbed the dropped wand and scrambled to his feet, pointing it at the creature as it lifted its head and looked towards him, blood dripping from its jaws, vicious teeth bared in a snarl.
Snape twitched, the skin of his face nearly luminescent under the glow of the moon, mouth open but making only weak gargling noises as blood poured out of his neck. It soaked through his robes, too, where the wolf's claws had shredded his chest.
Harry couldn't remember any spells. Snape had taught him shield charms at the beginning of the summer and, as he always did, he'd tested and tested Harry on the incantation and wand movement, making him memorise every new thing that he learnt, but right now Harry couldn't remember anything. His mind was completely blank.
When the wolf leapt, all he could do was scream and thrust the wand out before him, screwing his eyes shut to the coming death. He smelt blood and felt hot breath and wet saliva on his skin, but teeth never latched onto him. Instead there was a painful yelp and gagging noises and the wand left his hand. He opened his eyes to see the wolf back away, the wand jammed in its throat, choking and staggering as it pawed at its snout trying to get it out.
For a moment Harry just stared, then his senses kicked in and he ran for the kitchen door, slamming it shut behind him and fumbling to twist the key in the lock. He stood at it, staring through the glass partition in the top half at the wolf still staggering around outside. He glanced at Snape, but the man wasn't even gargling now, lying motionless in the blood-soaked grass. Swallowing thickly Harry looked back to the wolf, almost daring to think it would choke and die and he'd be safe, but the wolf vomited, forcibly ejecting the wand, and after coughing and gagging a few more times it turned towards the door, and flung itself at it, making Harry lurch back so fast he fell on his butt.
He hurried up again, running through the living room and snatching down the pot of Floo powder above the fireplace, spilling half of it in the process. The fireplace was too small to actually Floo through, but it was connected to the network and could be used for calls. Harry had never done it before, but he'd seen Snape do it and he tipped the whole pot of powder into the empty grate. It instantly burst into bright green flames that made him step back, then he knelt by it and stuck his head in the fire. For an instant his mind blanked and he said nothing, but the smash of glass from the kitchen frightened his brain to life and he yelled out, "Hogwarts!"
His head spun so much he thought he'd be sick, then it stopped and he found himself staring out into a cosy little sitting room. An armchair was in pride of place before the fire, in which lounged a tall bearded man who looked thoroughly startled to see Harry. Harry didn't wait for him to get over it.
"Help! There's a monster, it killed Severus, it's going to—"
Sharp, hot pain lanced across his back and he was dragged out of the fireplace. He lashed out wildly, hit something soft with his left arm and something hard with his right. He grabbed the hard thing and pulled, realising it was Lego Hogwarts only as it toppled over. One of the towers caught the wolf, who yelped, and Harry rolled, instinctively trying to face what was attacking him despite the agony in his back.
He tried to lash out again as the wolf bore down on him, but his arms were weak now and he barely managed to lightly whack it across the snout. It responded in kind, a paw as big as Harry's head striking him across the face, and he barely felt claws slash his cheek open before the force of the blow knocked him unconscious.