Actions

Work Header

The Meaning of Mistletoe

Chapter Text

“Dumbledore wants everyone in the Order to know” said Snape sullenly in way of greeting.

Sturgis Podmore was a bit more friendly, like he always was to Remus, but he still looked grim as he relayed the news. Harry Potter had disappeared from the muggle house where he was living. There was no trace of dark magic used but still Dumbledore wanted everyone ready in case they had to fight.

Remus tensed instantly. His face hardened with concern, his shoulders tight and rigid. His right hand closed around his wand with new strength.

He listened silently to Podmore’s explanations. There were people investigating already. No, he didn’t have to do anything. No, no, nothing he could help with right now. But Dumbledore wanted everyone on alert and ready to go in case they heard something or they were needed somewhere. This matter had to be resolved quickly.

Remus nodded, and didn’t say any of the things that were coming to his mind. Remus had amassed a veritable amount of knowledge of the dark arts (enough, he knew, to make his closet friends distrust him during the darker days of the war) and he had learned quickly what professional Aurors took years to realize: that caution and restraint were more important than any spell. Impulsiveness took more lives than any dark creature could.  

“I am sorry, Lupin” Podmore said as they stepped out of the threshold (they hadn’t even gone in, too much to do right now). Snape looked at him straight in the eye and said nothing as they apparated away to another house, another member to warn.

Remus went inside wondering if it had been Snape, the person who came visiting last night. Or perhaps this quiet, surly, version was the impostor after all.

***

Severus Snape apparated back in the front garden of Remus Lupin’s shabby house hours later, a little bit before dinner time. He immediately discovered that old and unkempt as the house looked, its wards and protections were top notch and also that werewolves were truly strong, even the thin and sick-looking ones.

“Get off me” he hissed as he tried to shake Lupin off to no avail. Lupin had both of his wrists caught in an iron grip and a knee on his back to keep him down. He quickly uncovered with his free hand a bottle with a clear looking liquid and splashed Severus liberally with it while muttering an incantation. It smelled faintly of something sour and of alcohol.

Nothing happened. Nevertheless, Lupin still waited a full minute before letting Severus go. He did offer his hand to help him up, though.

“All right” Lupin said, still breathing a bit quick. “All right” he nodded. His left hand went through his hair twice but the right kept clutching his wand tightly. “It’s you.”

“For the future, lets agree on a password.” Severus said as he got up and shook the grass and earth from his clothes. The sour smell of All-Reveal potion clung to him.

Funny. People, and in fact most books, thought that only time or the incredible complex Thief’s Downfall would reveal a Polyjuice user. That Lupin had gone for the significantly cheaper option of All-Reveal was… ingenious. Of course the potion was too weak to revert the effects of Polyjuice, but it would tell if someone had taken it which was more than enough when you thought about it.

He wanted to be angry. His wrists ached! But this was exactly why he had come to Lupin in the first place.

“I have a better idea” Lupin said, his eyes were scanning the deserted road behind Severus and he had positioned himself strategically between him and the door. His wand was still pointing straight at him. “Passwords can be learned by third parties, after all. Personal questions are better. For example: Did you come here last night?”

Lupin was oddly amicable in his hostility. Polite yet threatening, a picture of restraint and control that reminded you that at any moment he could snap and be… not in control. But, just this time, he had the right to be. He smiled a big beautiful smile full of sharp teeth.

“Yes” answered Severus simply.

Yes, he had. Scared and distraught and so in need of an ally.

Lupin’s face relaxed slightly. He was still an image of pure strength, but the look in his eyes changed and his voice was soft.

“Just… tell me. Tell me what is going on, Snape.”

What was going on was that Severus Snape had no trouble tracking down one Petunia Evans, now Dursley, to a little town in Surrey where he saw how exactly she was treating her nephew. Which somehow led to last night and Severus knocking on Lupin’s door with a toddler half-asleep in his arms.

No one was more surprised than Severus. But at the time it had seemed like the only sensible thing to do.

***

In all honesty, Remus didn’t know what to make of Snape’s behaviour. Not now, facing the man who was trying to remain calm despite his obvious anxiety, nor in the afternoon with the perfectly composed and detached gentleman, nor the previous night with the anxious mess that had knocked on his door.

Remus had been bewildered. First at seeing Severus Snape, who might very well had come to kill him, Remus wouldn’t put it past him. Perhaps the stress was becoming too much and he had gone in a murderous rampage of revenge against everyone who ever wronged him. But although Remus could had been firmer with his friends, he should hardly be on top of the list. He ought to have heard of other killings before Snape came to him. Henrietta Bullstrode came to mind.

Secondly, he noticed with bemusement the fact that Snape was wearing a black Queen t-shirt on top of a plain long sleeved one. With the crown and the four member’s faces. And jeans. Severus Snape was wearing light faded jeans.

That there was a child in his arms and that it was Harry Potter didn’t register until much later, and by then Remus had already offered him to come inside. It was the polite thing to do after all.

When Snape asked him to take Harry for the night, he said yes. Remus had met Harry when he was only two hours old and still wrinkled and red in the face. He had sworn to protect him right then, even if it was the kind of oath you made in your heart and not aloud. Remus took Harry from Snape’s arms and watched the young man go, still confused at what had happened.

***

Remus admitted, in the light of recent events, that he knew nothing of Severus Snape. Despite having known him for all of his years in Hogwarts whatever his impression of the man was it was wrong and incomplete.

But there were other things that Remus knew with more certainty.

Like how children were supposed to cry and be upset when they were taken from their homes. But Harry hadn’t cried. He hadn’t cried at all and he hadn’t asked after his mum even once.

(Remus had assumed that if Lily’s sister had adopted her son, she wouldn’t make him call her Aunt).

Remus made him a bed in the sofa and Harry fell back asleep without fuss. In the morning, he made him breakfast which Harry ate quickly and quietly and when he was done he even went to put his mug and plate in the sink, and then took Remus’ and carried them too. 

It was such a surreal situation, looking at this tiny person. This tiny human being that had Lily’s eyes and James’ everything and who could walk and move despite being so, so, small.

Snape had said that it would be for a short time, that it was an emergency. Having fed Harry, Remus went about how to keep a small child amused and occupied. Snape was right, after all. He did not have anything else to do. He had been getting less and less hours on his job, so that now he was on “call as needed” and he knew he would be fired soon. He was, by far, the best charms caster out of the whole staff, but this didn’t change the fact that he would be permanently dismissed soon. It was the way of the world.

He got one of his books on creatures (one he knew wasn’t particularly dark and scary) and set on entertaining Harry by pointing at the pictures.

“This is an illustration of a forest, see? Here we have the trees. Sitting in this tree there is an owl.”

“Owl” repeated Harry, his eyes in the drawing and on Remus’ finger as he pointed.

“Very good. And here in this branch there is a flying buzzsnap. It has blue wings and it goes bzzz.”

Harry attempted a bzz sound as he pointed, too, to the flying buzzsnap.

“This is a troll” Remus explained.

“Throll.”

“Yes. Here, the troll has brown skin.”

“Brrrown.”

“Very good! But sometimes they can also be grey.”

“G’rey” said Harry, his little hand slapping over the image.

The illustration turned into a grey troll.

It was… It was very faint. The brown had been kind of dusty to begin with. But there was no denying that what had previously been brown was now stone grey.

“Oh, Harry. Look at what you did!” Remus exclaimed in amazement.

“sorry”

“No, no. That is all right.” Remus said absentmindedly. His fingers caressed the illustration in wonder as the brown slowly came back to the picture.

“…”

“Harry?”

The child was sliding down the chair. He looked around and not finding what he was looking for attempted to get inside Remus’ only and very cramped closet.

***

Remus brewed one of the angriest cups of tea of his life. He didn’t drink it. He just brewed it because that is the English thing to do when you are upset. Instead, he got the cocoa tin down and prepared two excellent chocolate milks. One for Harry and one for him.

They were punishing him for doing magic.

He was able to perform magic at the tender age of three (five or six years before most kids did anything remarkable) and they were punishing him and locking him in a cupboard.

The chocolate helped. Seeing Harry smear his face helped immensely.

By lunch time, there were three cups of tea untouched in the kitchen counter and the table’s surface was barely visible under the books and papers. They had seen three of the pictures in the book, which is a lot considering what little patience small children have. Then, Remus had gotten some paper and a pencil and made Harry draw, which kept him entertained for a very long time and also led to those two new teacups because HE DREW HIMSELF UNDER THE STAIRS. THEY WERE PUTTING HIM UNDER THE STAIRS LIKE A PAIR OF OLD SHOES. Remus was going to MAIM SOMEONE.

At lunch time, Harry was lifted from the floor where he was playing with a slipper as if it were a car, and sat on the counter from where he could observe Remus preparing lunch and look at all the colourful labels and point all the words he knew. He also learned the word “mushroom” which he found quite enjoyable to pronounce.

Snape and Podmore came during nap time. When Remus went back inside Harry was just waken, his hair even more dishevelled. He looked at Remus expectantly. Quiet.

Such a small thing! Utterly dependent and vulnerable. He seemed to know… Harry seemed to know that he was at the whim of adults and he calmly awaited for them to make up their mind.

Remus felt a wave of protectiveness surge in his chest and he had to look for support in the wall.  Had that been Snape and Podmore? Was it someone in disguise?

He spent the afternoon checking and updating all the numerous wards and charms in his house, with Harry sitting on his left hip looking at everything with wonder. If Snape had come looking for safety, he had chosen the right place because out of Gringotts or Hogwarts the house had to be one of the most secure buildings in the whole country. Remus knew because he had made it so himself. A house that can contain an adult werewolf inside is a house that can also keep a lot of people outside.

***

“She, they… They were not treating him well.” Snape said now, leaning against the counter on Remus’ small kitchen.

“Yes, that’s the impression I got.”

Snape paused and looked at him with eyes full of – something Remus didn’t want to explore right now. He waved at Snape, indicating he should go on.

“I had to take him away from there.”

Remus absolutely understood and supported that. Still, it seemed that perhaps Snape had forgotten some tiny little detail in his rush to rescue Harry. Like letting people know he was doing that.

Remus should have alerted people right away; he certainly should do it now.

But again, Remus was cautious. Just as his father had been rash and impulsive and still was, in a way, although age had taken a lot out of him. Remus took the time to think, always, before acting or speaking. James and Sirius used to make fun of him, said the world could crack open like an egg and Moony would still be thinking. Less often, they would say he was like a locomotive. Hard to start, but unstoppable once you got him moving.

Remus thought now. How could they discover Harry’s disappearance so quickly yet not know what was going on in that house?

Snape deserved the opportunity to explain himself.

“Before I could get to Dumbledore” Snape spoke with a mellow voice that was like warm sheets and the sun on your skin, Remus hadn’t really noticed that before, “they had already found he was missing and…”

And Minerva had been so sure that it was the muggles. That they had done something. Because apparently she had warned Dumbledore that they were not good people. But Dumbledore had insisted on leaving Harry there.

Remus nodded and looked to the side, to the kitchen table where Harry was quietly finishing a bowl of rice with vegetables for his dinner. What child ate vegetables without fuss?

They argued softly (so as to not upset Harry) on what to do, how to break the news to Dumbledore and make their case. Who in the Order could possibly support them. Who would be willing to take Harry once they successfully exposed the Dursley’s unfitness. They talked about it over Harry finishing his dinner and drawing some more and while Remus looked through his things and made a pair of jammies out of an old shirt with a flick of his wand. Remus insisted that the longest they waited the weirdest it was going to look and that they had to tell Dumbledore now, this night. They were still talking about it when Remus called Harry to brush his teeth and give him a bath, because he was quite certain you shouldn’t use Scourgify on a child, and then the talk came to an abrupt end when they realized Harry had a purple ring of bruises on his arm.

***

Remus had run out of mugs in which to make tea.

Harry was once again fast asleep on his makeshift bed on the sofa. The sound of his breathing was the only good thing in the world.

Both men sat at the kitchen table, the drawings and the mugs between them, and a silence that had mass and density.

Snape said McGonagall had issued a warning before, and yet Dumbledore had left him there. If they talked to Dumbledore now and he didn’t listen… If there was the slightest chance that Harry was sent back to that house…

“He is not going back” said Remus at last. His words were made of iron and steel, coal and steam. “I won’t allow it.”

“No” Snape agreed, simple and quiet.

***

Severus knew what it was like to grow with bruises and screams and insults and the acrid taste that fear leaves on your mouth. Lily had been made of light and laughter and he would not have her son sullied so. Even if he was also Potter’s son.

No child deserved to grow up like that.

***

Sometimes, miracles are big and astounding. The waters part, the sky breaks and pours, the stone cries and the dry tree blooms once more.

Sometimes miracles are something intimate and quiet. Sometimes it is just two enemies finding each other and making a pact for someone else. Sometimes it is just a conversation in a dark kitchen with no apologies extended, but an understanding. Something as simple as finding that he and you have made the same vow.

Sometimes miracles come to the chorus of a thousand voices, awed, scared; and sometimes the only accompaniment are the soft breaths of a sleeping child.

***

It was an incredibly complex operation that they nevertheless managed to complete in a little under two weeks.

They were both aware they were not suited to be parents. The werewolf and the deatheater. Of course they should not be minding a child! But they were obviously better than the muggle family and how could they trust anyone else? How, after they had let Harry go there? How when they said Harry had to go back? The others hadn’t seen the bruises, may not know about the closet under the stairs, but the muggle family hadn’t even bothered contacting the police when Harry disappeared, even denied there was another child living there when Dumbledore and McGonagall went to talk to them. That should be enough to disqualify them. It should be enough to show that anyone else would be better and that insisting on taking Harry back to the Dursleys was lunacy.  

They were too young, too. Too young to be anyone’s guardian and yet they were older now than James and Lily had been when they had Harry, older than when they defied Voldemort, rejected him, older than when they made their last act of resistance and died protecting Harry.

Snape was teaching at Hogwarts now, Potions, rather than DADA as he would have liked, and he was also Head of Slytherin to boot. The youngest Head of House in the records. He could hardly take care of a toddler and people would definitely notice if he were to secrete one in his chambers at Hogwarts.

Remus, for his part, was on his last few days employed before he got the usual dismissal. He was and always would be unemployable.

If you looked at it that way, neither of them could possibly hope to be able to protect and raise Harry, not for any length of time.

But of course Snape wasn’t looking at it that way. Slytherins always have to go at things sideways.

“I have the money” he said. He had the professor salary plus the extra stipend as a Head of House, and with room and board for most of the year he didn’t have much need or occasion to spend money. Nor did he had the inclination to, not when he was still mourning.

(He mourned Lily, but Remus knew that, just like him, he mourned the loss of a world where they had had friends, a group to belong to even if it was imperfect. They mourned the start of the age of adulthood).

So yes, Snape was in a good position to provide.

“You have the time” Snape went on. “It is the most logical solution.”

“At the very least, nobody will ever guess that we are working together” Remus answered drily. Logical it may be, but it still sounded mental. Everyone knew Snape hated him, almost as much as he despised James and Sirius.

So they set to it and it was exhausting.

Remus spent most of the day taking care of Harry, bathing, clothing, feeding him, but also making him feel loved and safe and happy; while Snape went around doing Dumbledore’s bidding and investigating some residual groups of dark wizards. Then Snape came to Remus’s place to babysit Harry and prepare dinner while Remus went to make a show of looking into the werewolf community as Dumbledore had requested.

They both attempted to talk to Dumbledore about the Dursleys and they were both shut down. Harry had to be with his blood relatives. It was imperative.

Harry also had to be happy. That was imperative, too.

If Dumbledore had no qualms about sending him back, then they would have no qualms about keeping him out of that house.

(They would be forever grateful to Molly Weasley for suggesting the unthinkable and saying they could imperius the muggles to behave like decent human beings, even if it was categorically rejected.)

Neither of them knew how or when, but they also found time to discuss and design a safety plan which involved acquiring a house and making it safe and moving Harry there.

Fortunately, Dumbledore requested their help less and less. People weren’t that inclined to talking to Snape and everybody felt a subconscious fear or Remus. Like, of course Remus was nice and gentle and no one doubted his allegiance (anymore). The poor boy, he had been such a good friend of James. But still, he shouldn’t be near a toddler, you know? Might not be safe, is all.  What if he was feeling a bit peckish and ended eating someone? (even, Merlin forbid it, Harry himself?).

Remus would cut his own chest open and tear his heart out rather than seeing Harry in danger. So of course he worried too, even though he knew perfectly well that he only posed a threat one night of the month. He worried enough that he voiced his concerns to Snape, because Harry deserved not just better, but the best.

“You stay with the child” said Snape in way of greeting the next time Remus saw him after this chat. Snape was coming from some Order business since he was dressed in robes rather than jeans. “And you eat anyone who comes after him. You eat them, do you hear me?”

Of course they both were investigating Harry’s disappearance so as to not arise any suspicions in the Order, but it was all for show. They knew where Harry was! They just had to feign that they didn’t!

And yet.

Many of Voldemort’s followers had escaped imprisonment. Many thought that there was something special about the child. That he would become an ever bigger Dark Wizard. That if he were killed, Voldemort would return.

Snape had managed to uncover some plan from a small group near Bristol to find Harry and… do something terrible to him. Just as Remus had heard some werewolves and northern hags boast that they would eat the little Potter. Remus had thought it little more than pub talk, though. Snape obviously gave more credibility to the Bristol plot.

Snape made him swear that he would kill them, if it came to that. It was actually an easy vow to make.

They spent half the night reviewing the list of wards and safety measures for the house. It grew so late that Remus invited Snape to stay and sleep on the couch.

***

A child’s mind is a beautiful and complex thing. It is like a palace of white marble in the middle of the desert. Full of air and empty space and yet not much room for certain things.

The passing of time. There is no room for that until much later, when the ground floor and the gardens are full and construction of the towers begins.

Life, on the other hand. There is nothing more fascinating for a child than seeing a living thing. This is why worms hold such attraction to little kids. Many rooms are dedicated to store knowledge on life.

Thus, Harry couldn’t say very well what had happened lately. He still hadn’t gotten a good grasp of time. Plus, he was discovering so many new and interesting things that they were piling over the old ones, covering them.

He was vaguely aware that there had been another house with a thin hard woman who was like a pencil. She screamed and hurt Harry’s arms, but she also gave him food. The round pink child that used to kick Harry on the legs he had almost forgotten, his memory hidden by a room full of all the interesting looking creatures Harry had seen in a book.

For some reason, he remembered vividly the room under the stairs where he used to sleep and spend most of the day.

But he didn’t dwell much on that.

Then, there had come the big room that was also a house. In there, Harry had learned about creatures and foods. He had also seen a spider by the window. It had an orange and silver back, which obviously made it so much more interesting than other spiders.

Then came the house that would become home. It had a small garden in front and a big garden in the back where Harry could run and play and look at the plants. It was there that the Baggy Man (the man who gave him an apple, cut in slices, and asked a lot of questions about Auntpetunia and took Harry to the house that was a room, that man), it was there that he taught Harry about blowing dandelions seeds. He told him that the name meant lion’s tooth and that you could eat the leaves, but better in soup and not right away, child, spit that out right now. He talked a lot about all the things the plant could do and Harry listened intently but still forgot many of the words. He remembered that the plant could make you wee, because that is the kind of information that seems relevant to a child.

The Baggy Man had a big nose and hair that resembled a black plastic rubbish bag. His name was Severus and Harry rather liked him, although after a while he didn’t see him so often. He knew a lot about plants.

The house that would become home had a kitchen where Harry had a stool with painted pink and yellow flowers to stand on and help prepare their meals. Harry liked raisins and chocolate. He liked cheesy omelettes and the trays Remus made of roasted vegetables, with carrots and potatoes and onions, hot and salty. 

Harry lived with Remus now. Remus was very big and very strong and knew all the names of the things. Remus kept all the bad things away.

There was also a living room next to the kitchen. It was the biggest room in the house. There was a table and many shelves and things Harry was allowed to touch and things that he wasn’t.

Upstairs, there was a bathroom. Harry had another stool there. It was blue and it had a picture of a yellow fish. There was also a room that was Remus’s room and then there was a room that was Harry’s room! Harry had a bed and a closet and a chest of drawers that were all his own. It was okay if sometimes the wallpaper changed colours, he wouldn’t be punished.

In this house, if Harry made noise he was not grabbed by the neck by a big fat hand and locked in the closet. Remus taught him a song about the number of magpies, and Harry would sing it as often as he liked and if he got a word wrong, Remus would tickle him until Harry was squealing and shrieking with laughter. Sometimes he changed the words on purpose and gave four for a ball and six for… chocolate! and then he would run as Remus chased him. Remus always caught him and lifted him in the air.

***

The house was a simple cottage near a tiny muggle village (with a pub) and a slightly bigger town (with a store and a primary school) a bit farther away. It was perfect. Close enough to people that Lupin could get the bare necessities and far enough to keep their privacy.

The walls and the foundations were stone, old and solid. The roof needed repairs which was all right because it lowered the price and they were going to do extensive work in the attic anyway. It should hold a grown werewolf in and not let anyone see or hear anything.

Not that Harry would be staying in the house when Lupin transformed. Lupin was quite adamant that Snape took him for the night.

Snape had extensive knowledge of the dark arts, of curses, hexes and poisons. Lupin knew about all kind of creatures and spells and countercharms. It was quite providential that their expertise complemented so well. Lupin knew to bury a silver coin under each corner of the drystone wall that surrounded the house. Snape knew to plant hawthorn and holly on each side, plus some feverfew and angelica by the door. They did the wards together, against dark and not so dark creatures, against wizards and spells, against every curse they could think of. Even against themselves.

Two weeks after getting Harry they moved in. Snape couldn’t be there, though. He was in a small and seedy pub in Glasgow chatting to some people and feigning interest in buying a dark artefact until the Aurors came to arrest them.

Two of them had been planning on getting to Harry, had already learned that he used to be in Little Whinging. The third was just an unscrupulous apothecary, the kind that will sell you the ingredients for a love potion and say it is none of his business what you choose to do with it. During the chaos of the arrest Snape got the chance to relieve the apothecary of a box of fairy wings, crushed and dusted and highly illegal. The dust was used as an enhancer and a leave-of-senses. However, if spread in a circle under a certain phase of the moon by someone wearing silver in their left hand, it would make a barrier of confusion and disinterest so that any wizard trying to cross it uninvited would most likely forget why they wanted to do it.    

***

It shouldn’t had been so easy for Remus to disappear. No, not disappear. Disappearances leave an absence, a shape. Remus had faded. Let himself be sacked from his job (“what will customers say? I know you are not contagious, but…”), removed himself from wizarding spaces and let everybody’s minds drop his name.

It shouldn’t had been so easy to step in the role of a father, and yet here he was. Years after accepting he was condemned to a life of solitude, for who would dare share their life with a monster? And how could he impose such a weight on anyone? Two years after seeing his group of friends disappear in less than a week, taking with them what little acceptance Remus had ever known; here he was, with his life now orbiting around a three-year-old.

In the month he had been taking care of Harry, Remus had changed. A change profound and lasting, he could tell. Even if Harry went somewhere else, Remus would remain changed. His bones and sinews, his very blood was now different.

Harry had changed, too, so much that he seemed a different child. When he arrived, blinking sleep in Snape’s arms, he had been quiet and gentle and, Remus had thought at the time, quite unafraid.

Well, that was a big load of hippogriff manure. This Harry, the Harry that had spent a month under Remus’ care occupied on changing him to the core, well he was noise. He was a bundle of songs and laughter who yelled excitedly for Snape to come outside because he had found a pretty flower and who screamed for Remus to catch him as he jumped from the top of the couch and who sung the magpie song all the time as if it were the best thing in the world.     

***

The full moon came upon them quicker than expected. By the time they realized it, Snape didn’t have time to brew the Wolfsbane. Which he didn’t know he would have to in the first place because until then he hadn’t thought to give a look to the ingredient cost and the complexity of the recipe and he certainly hadn’t known the absurd prices at which the prepared potion was sold.  

He had stared in horror, not just at the fact that Lupin had been riding the transformations without the potion, but at his nonchalance. As if it were perfectly natural to have a cure be unattainable.

“Don’t worry too much about it” he had said. “And remember, don’t let him swallow the toothpaste.”

He had given Severus an old travel bag full of supplies with the approximate same weight and size as Harry. Apparently, to take care of a child you needed an amount of materials equal to said child. Then he kissed Harry twice, once on each cheek, and reminded him that it was just one night and that he had to be good for Severus.

There was something of routine to it that made it all the more terrible to witness. Severus had seen the beast (quite closer than he would have liked). Now he saw the man, perfectly collected, undress and lock himself behind all kind of barriers to calmly wait in a cell of his own for the torment of the moon.

He checked the chains and barriers and heard Lupin do the same from the other side. He picked up Harry and the bag and checked that every window and door were locked before disappearing to Spinner’s End.

***

“Oh!” said Harry at reappearing in Severus’ foyer. He immediately pushed himself away with his arms to get a better look. It made holding him most uncomfortable.

Severus had been alone with Harry before. When he first took him and on Lupin’s cottage. But it was something else to have James’ brat running around his childhood house touching everything. Such entitlement from a young age.

He did not recall having a VHS player, but Harry spotted it as soon as he set foot on the living room and asked to watch a movie. This, of course, took Severus a while to understand because the original request was to put the singing mouse.

“There is no mouse” he said. There would be no such idiocy in the house.

However, Harry was happy enough to instead make a drawing of a grotesque creature with disproportionate big ears and a deformed nose. The monster was called a derivative from Michael.

Lupin had already fed him dinner, since the moon rose late in the summer. So Severus only had to give him a snack and then keep him entertained until bed time. Harry sung the magpie song three times.

The toothpaste was strawberry flavoured and Harry did try to swallow it. He giggled at Severus’ frown, full of happiness and mischief. And perhaps the laughter belonged to Potter, Severus wasn´t sure, but the crinkle of his eyes and the way he threw his head back as if laughter were an activity that had to involve all of his body, that was all Lily’s.

Lily would be remembered as the beautiful witch who married James Potter and gave birth to The Boy Who Lived. She would be remembered as a tragic mother.

Severus didn’t talk about her, but if he were to describe her as being made of light no one would disagree. It was misleading, however. It gave the impression she was some kind of light spirit, gentle and sweet.

When Severus said she was made of light it included hard and unforgiving. She was the blinding bathroom light in the middle of the night, the one that makes you regret all your bad decisions and exposes all the lies. She was the presence that filled the room completely and claimed it from the darkness. Looking at her was terrible, because it made you all the more aware of all the bad things in the world, the things that hid in the dark and that you wished you could ignore, but you couldn’t, not with her. She would make you face the world as it really was. She was also a balm. She was the beacon of hope, the lone light in the night that showed not everything had to be dark and scary. She reminded you that, eventually, there would come the daylight.

She was so much more than a wife and a mother, the brilliant muggle-born girl that refused to let the world be a bad place. God, how he missed her.

***

Harry had no understanding of abstract concepts like right or wrong. He did not know what melancholy was, or existential anguish, or happiness. He couldn’t define it and he couldn’t describe it.

But he was very, very, happy.

Harry was warm. Harry was fed. Harry lived with Remus who was big and strong and made him feel safe because Remus never hurt Harry and he wouldn’t let anyone else hurt him either. Remus would pick him up and Harry would bury his face in his chest and everything would be good. He didn’t have to be afraid. Plus, not only Remus knew the names of all the things, he was also willing to tell Harry about them.

Sitting on Remus’s lap, Harry learned the letters and the numbers. Harry was there by himself, so absolutely nothing happened if he said which one was the F and which one was the H before the pink kid did. Harry could say all he thought about letters. Harry liked the letter O because it sounded funny, and the letters T and Z because they were fun to draw.

Harry liked the number 2 and the number 8.

One day, Harry saw a robin come to the bushes near the door. It was fantastic! The bird had an orange face and chest and Harry stared at it for a long while.  

Harry learned another song. This one was about a wonderful woman who had six white horses, and puppies and red pyjamas. Harry’s pyjamas turned red, just like the woman’s.

Harry had no understanding of right and wrong, but he had experienced both and now, at last, the experience was starting to balance.

***

There was absolutely no reason why Severus should spot Mundungus Fletcher twice in Diagon Alley.

Of course, there was any number of reasons why two wizards who knew each other would go to a wizarding place at the same time. But Severus hadn’t seen Mundungus, he had spotted him. Fletcher was obviously trying not to be seen. (And if he lost that dirty old green bowler hat, he would have much better luck).

Again, many reasons for that. Or just one. Severus was Severus and not many people tolerated his presence.

Severus added seven more items to his purchase. Some lady ferns leaves and milk of three different kinds of poppies, so that even a master potioneer would have trouble figuring out what he was going to brew just from the list of ingredients. If anything, the poppies were more suspicious than the aconite. On a whim, he added a jar of honey from white bees. Incredibly expensive and easily replaceable with other types of honey. But its delicacy was irreproducible.  

***

Harry turned three years old fifty-two days after his change of life. Remus wished he could do more for him. Throw him a proper party with lots of kids to play with, balloons and funny hats. Harry, however, didn’t miss any of that and was absolutely flabbergasted at being allowed to eat the cake Remus bought him.

Snape didn’t come. He claimed to be occupied with other matters and Remus kept a calm even face and didn’t call bullshit. It was all right. If Severus had finally realized what he was doing for the son of his sworn school enemy, if he never wanted to see Harry again, Remus would still be there for Harry.

Besides, he was reasonably sure that Snape would come around. He just needed a few days to freak out. Remus had a muggle bank account and Severus was putting money there and he was brewing him the Wolfsbane potion, even though Remus insisted, because he thought he should, that it was not necessary. Snape argued quite scathingly that of course it was, shut up Lupin, we can’t have you looking like dead warmed over when you are taking care of the child. Or had he forgotten that there were still many people out there who wanted to hurt Harry?

Snape had a way of going from cold to hot in seconds. Today Harry was Potter’s son and Snape hated him. But every day he was Lily’s, and Snape would do anything for him.

***

Harry asked again to see the singing mouse during the August moon. Severus said no.

He had no idea how, but somehow the child ended standing on the kitchen counter, rummaging through the cabinets and taking bags and cans of food and asking what they were. Severus lectured him on the multiple uses of parsley and to his surprise, the brat remembered that dandelions had a diuretic effect too. So he showed him garlic and clove next, let him smell and touch. He quizzed him later and he remembered most of it.

***

Snape brought a VHS player with a small assortment of tapes to the cottage. He spent the better part of an evening setting it up and muttering angrily to make it function in the magical household.

He gave no explanation as to why he would do such a thing. His frown was so impressive Remus preferred not to ask and retired to a corner of the couch, a cup of tea by his side and Harry in his lap to study all the common household items depicted in an illustration of boggarts’ hiding places.

Remus didn’t know Severus Snape, but he dared say that neither did his so called friends. They certainly didn’t know this version of Snape who dressed in jeans and long sleeved shirts with muggle bands (sometimes a short-sleeved shirt on top of a long one) who hummed muggle songs to himself.

That was a funny thought, wasn’t it? Remus didn’t have to guess as to why Snape clung to the long sleeves. Brilliant Snape in love with the older Slytherin students. Remus had plenty of first hand evidence of Snape’s magical talent. He knew how valuable he would be as a follower. No one would let pass the opportunity to snatch him to their side.

Half-blood Snape.

Remus was half-blood too, although the fear of his illness had kept him isolated of both muggle and wizarding community. Still, he had grown with the muggle fairy tales his mother told him and she had given him a muggle education, convinced he would never be allowed entry in the wizarding world.

Remus wasn’t proud or arrogant by any means. The world never let him be. So he was quite fair when he said, even in his mind, that he too was a talented wizard. He had a natural understanding of charms, an excellent memory and a remarkable knowledge of magical creatures’ behaviour. He, too, had received an offer to join the mad group where he would be accepted and appreciated for his true worth.

Half-blood werewolf Lupin.

It had been very easy to reject it. Remus guessed as easy as it must had been for Snape to accept it. Remus had had his group of friends and so there was little that he needed in the world.

Or so he thought. After that night, after Sirius' betrayal… Some thoughts are too horrible to hold, cannot be given shape into words. But he had thought, in his mourning, that they had suspected him, feared him, doubted his allegiance and saw him as the one who would cave and become a spy for Voldemort.

What a funny little world this was, where the one everyone suspected was always the loyal friend and the one everyone thought would follow Voldemort had become the spy.

***

Severus spent the full moon of October in the cottage. Spinner’s End was too cold to stay over, after almost two full months of no use. He could probably have managed, but Harry had been coughing and sniffling lately and Lupin had been on the Wolfsbane for three moons now. He reported remembering everything and being perfectly calm, if a bit bored. It should be safe for Harry to stay, then. Lupin would not try to get out, could not get out (had already ascertained that back in June) and even if something went wrong, Snape would be there to stop him.

Snape had made a habit of not always being at the professor’s table, so his absences wouldn’t be associated with the full moon (he had figured it out, after all, why shouldn’t someone else?). After class, he took a floo from his office to Hogsmeade, and from there he apparated to Octon, a reduced medieval village whose main feature was its name starting with Oct- and thus being easy to remember as the October route.

Severus never apparated directly in the cottage (the Blue Cottage, as they had both started to call it to differentiate from the derelict thing where Lupin used to live. Its windows were painted blue). And he never took the same route. Sometimes he made as many as six jumps, sometimes it was just three. In either case, he always stopped at the designated village of the month, to lurk in a dark corner for a while and make sure he wasn’t being followed.

Was it paranoid? Possibly. But he was an ex-deatheater. He couldn’t afford not to look over his shoulder, specially whenever he wandered away from Dumbledore’s wing.

He stood by the farm wall for fifteen minutes, until he was satisfied and he apparated once more.

***

“Now we see the story, look”, explained the child as the TV screen turned blue and the white letters formed a castle. He seemed inordinately excited at the novelty of having Severus in the house while Lupin was sick and it was dark outside.

Severus agreed to watching a film because it meant that the child would stay in a fixed position for a determined length of time rather than running around the house and ransacking the kitchen asking questions about food. Severus vaguely remembered having watched animated films as a child, but not many and not often.

Harry was looking at the screen absolutely enraptured. The story did not wait to pick up the action, opening with a second class offense as a witch performed an illegal partial transformation on a rude muggle. The switch from the crime scene to a picturesque village left Severus at a loss. Particularly when all the town inhabitants performed a choreographed singing number.

The child seemed to notice Severus’ bemusement. He leaned towards him and confided that the arrogant looking fellow who was boasting in the best Potter brag tradition was not to be trusted.

And yet everyone in the village seemed to follow his lead, like blind little Gryffindors.

Harry dutifully pointed that the girl was good, as she liked to read. Other good characters were: Her father. A big yellow horse. An animated candlestick (what) and animated clock (just what) and animated closet (someone must have bribed her way through the Improper Use of Magic Office) a sentient and opinionated teapot (with some resemblance to Molly Prewett, well, Weasley for the last years), and the violent ferocious beast from the prologue. He was good too, Severus would see.

He didn’t know about the Beast, but the girl had thoroughly rejected the marriage proposition from the arrogant buffoon and it was most satisfying. A pity, that none of the characters felt compelled to break in to song and dance then.

***

Harry fell asleep at some point during the process of introducing the Beast to grooming and manners.

Severus didn’t move. He wrapped Harry in a blanket and let him sleep, feeling his little chest rise under his hand. He left his hand there for a minute, relishing the sensation of his breath and heartbeat while in the TV the cutlery taught the Beast how to brush his teeth or something like that. Then Harry shifted, let a strong breath, and grabbed Severus’ hand and Severus just couldn’t move after that.

He watched the rest of the movie, like a fool. Gaston’s death was good.

***

Remus woke to the smell of breakfast. He dragged himself downstairs, joints aching, and went to make the chamomile tisane that helped settle his stomach. Even with the potion, the transformation was hard on his body.

“Good morning. How was the night?” he asked, ignoring Snape’s frown at the amount of sugar he was putting in his mug. People who didn’t transform had no business judging his aftercare.

“We watched a film and I put him to bed.”

“Ah, Beauty and the Beast wasn´t it? He has been watching it daily. He doesn´t usually get to the end.”

Remus took a careful sip of the infusion. He felt terrible, but the Wolfsbane meant he would only feel terrible for a day instead of three to five. It was such a difference that even this bad day turned better, knowing that with a nap and a good night sleep by the next day he would be fine.

“Doesn’t Gaston remind you of someone?” blurted Remus. He had been thinking about it for a while and he didn’t have anyone else to talk about it. (Don’t think why, don’t think why, don’t think why they are all gone). By Snape's expression, he did.

“He does hold a resemblance to Potter, yes.”

“What, James? No! I meant…” well, to be fair, fifth year James had been a bit like that. Especially the way he would talk to Lily. Although James never got such a deep and potent voice. “I haven’t thought of that, now that you mention it” he admitted finally. It felt… It felt as if he had to be extra sincere to Snape. As if they couldn’t afford even the smallest of lies.

Snape looked quite pleased with his admission.

“But the chin” Remus went on. And because he knew he was right, he deliberately waited until Snape had taken his cup of tea to his lips. “That is Malfoy’s isn’t it? Like a brunet Lucius Malfoy.”

Snape sputtered tea all over the table. Remus awarded himself a point, even though he didn’t know exactly what game they were playing.  

***

It didn’t matter who. It was the words, not the person. A passing remark that Severus was not a spendthrift, precisely.

No one was going to look in his account to see how much money he had saved. The Gringotts’ goblins could be counted on their discretion. But perhaps one of them would mention that he often changed galleons into pounds. Someone could wonder, what did Severus do with his money and his time?

He could not afford for anyone to ask that and worse still look for an answer.

His façade of grim and boring, concerned with potions and not much else would not be enough. People liked that story. The serious character with no life. But once they got in their heads that he must do something to fill his day, suddenly studying potions and collecting stamps or whatever quiet activity they had assigned him would not be enough.

So Severus put on his long robes and went to one of those establishment that Lucius had shown him, places that don’t quite manage to shake the sleazy air despite the expensive décor.

The best way to hide a secret is behind another secret.

He let himself be seen entering the house and he spent what he considered a reasonable amount of time, almost ninety minutes, in one of the lounges with an overpriced drink.

He let himself be seen exiting the place, careful to appear as if that were the last thing in the world he wanted. The second time he did this, he spotted a worn green bowler hat.

And now that they thought they had the answers, they would not ask the questions.

***

Having watched, or heard, or just been in the same room as the TV played Beauty and the Beast over a hundred times Remus found his limit.

“We are watching something else” he said to a Harry that was protectively hugging the videotape.

Harry pouted and did not look convinced as Remus pushed in the first tape he found. The familiar music and the white letters over the blue background mollified him enough to at least release the tape and sit in the couch.

It was all good for about an hour. Harry liked the fairies and the girl dancing with the woodland creatures and laughed happily at the melting disaster the birthday cake was.

But then Aurora returned to the castle of her birth right. Remus was making a mental note that the film would come in handy in the future, to help explain why Harry was also living in a cottage in the woods (well, country). Only then Aurora was crying in her bedroom and Maleficent had sent a green light to lure her and they didn’t even get to see her touch the spindle because Harry freaked out and started to cry like Remus had never heard before. He was scared out of his mind and it took Remus a whole hour to calm him down.

Harry had a nightmare that night and ended up sleeping in Remus’ bed, clutching the t-shirt Remus slept in with both of his fists. He did not have any more nightmares that night, but Remus still barely slept. Once you become a parent, a true parent, your child crying is like a cruciatus in sound form.

The next time they saw the movie, weeks and weeks later, Remus forwarder past the scene of the green light, and had to let Harry clutch his hand in the final scenes with Maleficent. Mostly, Harry watched the first half of the movie, forwarded to the funny scene of the kings fighting and falling asleep and didn’t even bother with the rescue and Aurora awakening.

***

Severus spent barely five minutes in Dechmont, enough to confirm that yes, no one was following him, because that would be the cherry on top of a disastrous night.   

Nights came so early on December.

He kept telling himself that Lupin would have gone to the attic. They knew it held him. And he would have taken the potion, anyway. He had just finished brewing it the weekend before and had taken the whole cauldron content to the cottage (in a glass container, goblin crafted, because apparating upset potions and this required the utmost delicacy). Lupin had careful instructions on how to heat and take it and not to add even a crystal of sugar. Snape had seen him take the potion plenty of times now, not trusting him to do it right the first few times. He knew that as much a Lupin complained about the taste, he still drank it all as he was supposed to.

So Lupin would have drank the potion and locked himself in the attic, just in case. Even if something was wrong with the ingredients and the potion didn’t work (why would that happen, he had brewed it himself, measured the aconite dose four times), there was the attic that they knew could hold a grown wild werewolf.  Harry would be perfectly safe.

It would no matter that the moon was already in the sky and Snape hadn’t arrived there yet.

Nights came so early on December!

He had just enough time if he skipped dinner and went right after the fourth year double session with Ravenclaws and Slytherins. He would have time to spare, even. But he wasn’t counting on a fight breaking between the students (how? Griffindors were the troublemakers) and someone throwing half a bottle of belladonna essence in one of the boiling potions. He had vanished the ensuing toxic cloud quickly enough, but he still had to give them detention, finish the lesson (they would not leave his class without understanding the basics of poison antidotes, those were important) and send some of the students to the infirmary because belladonna was poisonous after all.

He could still have made it if it weren’t for that fool McKendrick, the new DADA teacher, accidentally hexing himself in the face when he attempted to teach the seventh year students a mirror Protego. The Slytherin Head Girl had come down to the dungeon and drily informed Severus that the DADA professor had lost his eyes and was possibly choking.

(She would have encountered another professor quicker if she didn’t go to the dungeons. The girl must have been hoping that by the time Severus made it to the classroom the professor were beyond help).

McKendrick had indeed been choking as all the students confirmed. “His lips were going blue and everything” informed a Hufflepuff. But he had managed to execute a non-verbal spell that liberated half of his face and quite possibly saved his life.

He had lost his eyes; the girl had not been exaggerating. It wasn’t something as gruesome as empty eye sockets, though. Instead, he had sent his eyes somewhere else and the upper half of his face was now smooth flesh and skin.

“It was the flourish” the Head Girl confided in a whisper. “He always adds a little flourish to the wand move” she demonstrated, making her wand twirl over her fingers. It looked very nice, if you didn’t mind the possibility of hexing yourself in the face.

“Can you see anything?” Severus asked as he appointed two students to help the professor to his chair and sent the Head Girl to get the rest of the teachers.

“It’s all daaaark! Oh, I am blind! Blind!”

Severus had to identify what kind of charm each student was casting at the time, and what were they thinking, to get a general idea of the combination of curses that had vanished McKendrick's eyes. And then he, plus the seventh year class and all the professors who were free at the time, had to go around the castle looking for dark corners where the eyes could had been sent to. Some of the ghosts participated in the search, too.

“He was looking at Marzara’s rack” the Head Boy informed Severus while he desultorily looked between the arches of a gallery. “He is always trying to get the girls’ attention.”

Useful information. Snape would check the Astronomy tower next, as it was and always had been a meeting place for couples.

Snape couldn’t well leave, at least not until the eyes had been located if not until after they had been reattached to their face. He lost almost two hours with the search and by the end, when they found them in the Ravenclaw’s quidditch locker room, he had been ready to murder McKendrick himself and call the whole thing off.

He was reasonably sure that Minerva would have his back. 

Severus came in to the house panting, his heart beating wildly and dreading what he would find.

Harry was on the couch, a bowl of cereal in his lap as he watched the French village sing praises to Gaston.

***

It would had been better if he didn’t do anything. The child was well, so Severus didn’t have to worry about anything else.

He still went upstairs to check on the wolf. He told himself that he wanted to look at the wards, that he didn’t really care if the potion had worked or if Lupin was all right.

The wolf went to his feet as soon as he opened the door and Severus raised his wand in alarm. But the wolf stopped, froze immediately. It- he looked at Severus anxiously, but he respected the distance.

“There was a problem in the school” Severus said. “Harry is fine, watching his film.”

A canine form is particularly suited for showing certain expressions, like relief.

They descended the stairs together. A werewolf form is also particularly suited to express certain messages, such as “I am going down to check on him and there is no power on this Earth to stop me from crossing that door.” Lupin put his massive head over the railing in the first floor landing and listened to the familiar music of the movie and Harry’s soft humming. He was actually wagging his tail.

Nothing else should had come from this. Having both assuaged their worries, Severus would descend while Lupin went back to his lair to spend the night.

Only the animated clock was doing something funny and Harry wanted Severus to see so he paused the film, because he had learned how to use the player better and faster than both of them, and climbed the stairs to go find him.

“Beast!” Harry screamed.

He was a Potter, after all, quick to draw blood with wand or words.

Severus put himself between the child and the wolf. He was sure now that Lupin wouldn’t hurt him, so perhaps he was doing it the other way. So Lupin wouldn’t have to see Harry screaming and crying at his form.

“Beast! Beast! Beast!” Harry repeated merciless as his father had been. He ducked between Severus legs, crawled under his robes and emerged on the other side, the robes tangled still over his head. He run to the retreating wolf and… hugged him. Pressed his face right against his side as his little arms tried to embrace the massive form.

There was no sending Lupin back after that. Harry lost all interest in the movie and instead insisted on playing with the wolf. The game consisted on Beast and Harry going on an adventure to help Little Red Riding Hood collect the food she had lost in the forest. Severus found himself in the living room levitating a bunch of apples for Harry to gather while Beast defended the Magic Basket.

Thank Merlin and Morgana that Lupin was transformed. The look he was giving Severus was full of meaning that Severus did not feel particularly inclined to read. He suspected it was something along the lines of “you besotted idiot” and who was Lupin to comment anyway.

***

Seven minutes. That’s how long it will take a child to decide he wants to ride on top of the murderous beast with huge fangs and massive paws. In case you wonder. Shy of seven minutes.

***

The wolf was still giving Severus a look later that night when Harry was passed out on top of him, both hands buried deep in his fur. He, the wolf, not Harry, had a kitchen towel wrapped around his left leg as a make up bandage for the injuries suffered when battling the Wicked Pied Piper of Hamelin. There was a sock on the floor that Harry had attempted to use as a bandage for the muzzle, but it kept falling down.   

Severus still did not want to analyse that look. Severus had his robes open so they would billow behind him and was a bit flushed from playing the aforementioned Wicked Pied Piper of Hamelin, a vampire who lured little children to his cave to eat them. He suspected he would have to play the role again in future occasions, because Harry had shrieked with laughter when Severus chased him.

***

In the morning, Snape barely stayed long enough to get breakfast started before apparating back to Hogwarts. He did say he would try to come back later that night or during the weekend, so he at least acknowledged that they ought to talk about the not so disaster that last night had been.

Remus dragged himself to the kitchen, his muscles aching although not as badly as when he had to transform without potion. That was agony. This was just sore muscles and swollen joints.

There was bread in the toaster and two mugs with a simple charm to keep them warm. Harry’s milk (in a blue mug that he had chosen himself and which he liked a lot) and Remus’ tea with a spoonful of honey.

Harry was a bit confused on whether Remus was or wasn’t the wolf. He seemed to accept that he was (Snape kept referring to him as Lupin even in wolf form) but nevertheless Harry recounted the night’s events, just as he always did when he spent time with Snape, although with wild inaccuracies. He told Remus how he and the Beast picked the golden apples to heal Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma.

“And where was Belle?”

Belle was with the Grandmother, of course. She was reading her a story to make her feel better until they could get her the apples. Also, Harry fought a vampire. He gave him one of the apples and his fangs got stuck and so he couldn’t eat children anymore and had to eat pea soup. And then they got the apples to the Grandmother and she healed.

“And then there was a party and everybody was at the party and there was cake. The blue fairy made it. Can we make a cake?”

“A cake?”

“For Sevesus.”

Remus knew where his limits laid. He thought he may have baked something with his mother when he was child, before Hogwarts. He remembered that flour was required and there was no flour at the house.

“Why don´t you make Severus a drawing of cake? I am sure he will like it.”

So Harry did just that and informed Remus that Severus would bake the cake with him.

***

Lupin would have to spend Christmas with his father. They weren’t close, but he couldn’t just not go. In fact, Severus insisted he went, because they really couldn’t afford to arouse any suspicions.

Severus had no inconvenience in minding Harry. His mother had passed away a few years ago and if his father wasn’t dead, the bottle would take care of that soon enough. Until then, Tobias certainly wouldn’t show his face in Spinner’s End. Not since Severus became of age and told him what exactly would happen if he dared raising his hand against his mother ever again.

Severus could had been punished, imprisoned even. He did not care and his father saw it in his eyes because he left that same night. Severus really couldn’t understand why his mother hadn’t been more grateful, just as he never understood why she, a witch, allowed him to treat her that way.

Spinner’s End was chilly and would only warm up by the time Severus had to leave. Lupin insisted he stayed at the cottage. They could transfigure the couch into a bed for the night and it would only be for a few days. Severus surprised himself by accepting.

***

Remus didn’t want to miss Harry’s Christmas morning. He argued that he could just apparate for lunch with his father, whereas Snape pushed and pushed for him to go the night before if it meant looking conventional and unremarkable. Remus found himself sharing way more that he intended of his personal life, to convince him that going the night before would definitely give reason to comment.

He loved his father and he knew that his father loved him. But their relationship was tainted anyway by Remus’s lycanthropy and his father’s blame. It had been fine while his mother lived, but since she passed away from cancer it had become difficult to hold a conversation. Remus insisted on living on his own and trying to survive in the world, insisted on not depending on his father. While his father seemed convinced that Remus could never do anything for himself (for lack of natural talent or the world’s prejudice, he couldn’t say) and that he had to provide for his sick boy.

Both wanted the best for the other, yet they usually ended arguing and saying the most hurtful things.

So Remus stayed and saw Harry’s expression of wonder at his four presents.

(They had agreed that they would give him one present each, but here he was with one package and one little thing that hardly counted as a present it is clearly smaller than the official present, from each of them).

Harry got a Beauty and the Beast themed colouring book from Snape as well as a box of chocolate wands. He opened the box and promptly distributed the wands, because it turned out Harry was the kind of kid who shared treats and sweets. Snape bit the end of his chocolate wand in bemusement under Harry’s attentive gaze.

Remus had gotten him an assortment of plastic cups and dishes of different colours and sizes and his very own set of crayons.

The crayons he may not have needed. Harry opened the colouring book to a random page and started to colour with his index finger. It probably was the first time Snape witnessed Harry’s magic given how he stared, eyes wide open and brows high. He finished his chocolate wand without noticing, chewing on automatic as he saw Harry fill Belle’s gown.

“Look!” Harry proudly lifted the book.

“Very good” said Snape, sounding honestly impressed although as serious as always. “But you have coloured outside the lines.”

Harry put the book back to fix it and also change the gown to blue, instead of yellow (the result came a bit greenish in certain parts). Snape’s eyes searched for Remus. He looked like a man who had just witnessed a miracle and didn’t want people to know how moved he was.

***

Harry ate two whole chocolate wands before Severus took the box away and explained he had to save them for later, which okay, Harry could do. He coloured the whole page of the book, which was his, it had been given to him, and saw in puzzlement as the colour vanished from the paper. Severus, who was a very wise man and knew a lot of stuff, almost as much as Remus (yet, sadly, not how to properly watch a film), indicated that he ought to use the box of crayons for the colour to stay.

The box of crayons was also Harry’s.

Harry spent a happy morning colouring inside and outside the lines until Severus called him to the table and presented him with a tasty meal. There was something called Christmas pudding that tasted strong and sweet and which Harry liked very much.

After the meal, Harry made Severus read him one of his books. Severus did not know how to read the book properly, as he forgot to point the presence of the glass fairies and the flying buzzsnap and the redhat goblins (these were always accompanied by a frown and the hands made into claws, to signal that Harry remembered they were not good and he should never try to touch one if he saw them in the garden). Harry had to do it for him and show him what to point and what to say.

Even then, Severus pointed at things Remus didn’t. He said things like “This is a fern. Ferns grow in wet places” and “redhat goblins like to hide under nettles. This is a nettle. No, don’t touch it, even in the picture.” Harry retired his finger from the page, staring at Severus. “Nettles burn your fingers, but they have multiple uses. This is why muggles made them a symbol of protection and life and death. You can be sure that something behind a barrier of this plant will be very well protected.”

“Oh.”

Remus returned much later that day, when Severus had Harry twisting and squirming out of his arms and almost unable to breath from laughter. Severus was playing the Wicked Pied Piper Vampire of Hamelin, who had the most refined tastes and so insisted in adding salt and lemon and other herbs to all the little boys he captured to eat. This, of course, facilitated the escape of those little boys when the vampire had his back turned looking for the basil leaves. It was all very humorous.

***

“What’s this?”

“It’s a present, Snape. For you.”

“We said no presents.”

“We said one present only for Harry, each, and look how much we listened. Just take it, you don’t have to open it if you don’t want to. But it is Christmas, we are working in this together, and I am giving you a present to show my appreciation.”

***

Snape had a small package in the inner pocket of his coat robes. He had purchased it without intending to use it, just as an insurance in case the werewolf became emotional and decided to exchange gifts, because Snape would not be put in the position of having to accept a gift without having anything to give back. And no, the Wolfsbane didn’t count, that was just practicality. Lupin couldn’t very well care for Harry if he was in agony.

Lupin had given him a muggle book of poetry. That was… nice. He gave him the leather calendar in turn.

***

Severus suspected that Lupin’s Christmas gift to Harry was some sort of delayed revenge for the VHS tapes.

Severus had the impression that he spent the remainder of the holidays until his return to Hogwarts sitting cross legged on the cottage’s floor, playing Kitchen and Potions with Harry who sometimes was a vendor of ingredients and sometimes was a cook making a cake but in either case required Severus to pass him the pink bowl and the blue spoon to use as a mortar.

***

When Remus woke after the moon of February, breakfast was ready and under a heating charm. There was also a glass bottle. Remus didn’t need to uncork it to get the citrusy aroma of a pain relief potion.

The last moon there had also been a potion for the sore muscles, which Snape presented and Remus drank without a single word exchanged.

(Remus would have said thank you, but Snape looked like he would throw the potion to his face if he so much as acknowledged that he was doing something nice exclusively for Remus and not for Harry).

Remus took a careful sip of the potion. He wished he were better at potion brewing to know if the faint taste of honey he was getting was a required ingredient.

***

The school term ended with the expulsion of McKendrick. Officially, he was just taking leave to rest and heal properly from the eye accident, but his behaviour towards the 6th and 7th year girls certainly didn’t help.

It had become more obvious after the accident, because sometimes the eyes would detach themselves from the face and follow the girl around, floating gently in the air.

Snape actually caught the Slytherin Head Girl putting the eyes inside a jar with the probable intention of dropping them in the lake. Since she was being helped by the rather voluptuous Ravenclaw Head Girl and another female Gryffindor prefect he thought it better to let the other Heads of House deal with it.

***

It had been a year since Harry was snatched from his home. Only it wasn’t his home and he hadn’t been snatched, per se. During that year the Order had uncovered enough conspiracies and dark wizards to flood the Auror department and the Winzegamot. It had also become a bit more obvious that the Dursleys were not the best foster family.

In fact, they were worse than some of the plots discovered. The Daughters of the Eye of Ra believed that Harry would be the next dark wizard, more powerful than anything ever witnessed. They wanted to direct that power and scorch the Earth which was bad for the world, but not for Harry who would be treated like a king and in fact had a palace waiting for him somewhere in the Mediterranean.

This time they sat on the little stone bench in the house wall, rather than on the kitchen, looking at Harry playing in the backyard.

They could give him back. They could make it so that no one knew of their involvement.

But he would be sent back to the Dursleys. Dumbledore was weirdly adamant that it had to be. Something about a protection that he couldn’t get anywhere else.

Perhaps he was starting to think like a Slytherin, but Remus thought that rather than putting Harry in a bad home, not matter how safe Dumbledore claimed it was, they could leave him in a good home where he grew happy and redirect all efforts to making sure no threat whatsoever got near him.

“It’s our fault” said Snape out of nowhere.

Remus turned to look at him and became aware that as he was doing so he was also keeping Harry within his vision. Children change you in so many ways.

“Yours, mine, everyone's” Snape went on. “It’s our fault for letting a one-year-old vanquish the Dark Lord. It shouldn’t have been him. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point.”

Harry was running around with a tablecloth tied around his neck like a cape. He was acting some sort of story that involved a lot of running and putting a basket over his head. From time to time he stopped, distracted by the three butterflies fluttering between the flowers.

“He has done enough, hasn’t he? He has paid enough. Enough that we should leave him well alone. Enough that we shouldn’t rely on him for anything else in the future. Not a single demand.”

Ah, what a fascinating thing were Slytherin minds. What was Snape thinking, guessing, to go and say a thing like that? Why would he imply that Harry would have to do something else in the future?

In the garden, Harry froze in place as a butterfly suddenly sat on his arm. He looked at it with a smile and offered his finger. The butterfly jumped and perched between his knuckles saying hello with a flick of its wings.